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Oh? Where am I? Lorist opened his eyes groggily to the milk-yellow wooden wall beside him. The wooden patterns formed an odd picture. The soft bed veil fluttered above the gold-plated bronze bed rack with the wind.

The breeze of dawn entered his room from the two open windows, causing the violet crystal wind chimes that hung by them to ring a pleasant tune. Looking at the chandelier hanging from the white ceiling and the magic beast bear engraving on the wall, he finally snapped awake. Oh, this is Palace Ursa Rex, my new home. I'm within Maria's bedroom...

His initial puzzlement came as no surprise. Even though he had been living in the palace for three to four months already, he spent most of his time sleeping in his master bedroom with Sylvia or within his study. Last night, it was Maria's turn to accompany him. He didn't call her to him, but instead, went to her room and spent the night there. It was no wonder he didn't recognize where he was when he woke up.

"Dear, you're awake..." Maria opened her eyes groggily and brought her naked body towards Lorist. She reached her right hand out to feel Lorist's crotch up in a practiced manner and soon wrapped it around the morning-hardened shaft. Soon, she retreated into the blankets with the grace of a swan all the way until her head reached his crotch.

'I don't want any 'morning exercise' today.' That was what Lorist wanted to say at first, but his body responded more honestly than he wished. Even after going at it twice with Maria yesterday, Lorist's member hardened like steel from her playful tongue teasing. I think I'll have to get more rest in the study later today... thought Lorist as he raised her up and plunged himself deep into her.

What he didn't expect was that there would be so many things that he had to deal with.

"Your Grace, according to Tarkel's report, our emperor has just lowered the amount of money required for an honorary noble title. An honorary viscount title cost only five thousand gold Fordes, but the honorary count title is still the same at eight thousand."

Charade looked at the documents in his hand with a stricht expression. "During the latter half of last year, His Imperial Majesty has entitled more than 130 honorary nobles and gained no less than 500 thousand gold Fordes. What's worth noting is that most of the ones purchasing the titles are tycoons from our dominion who benefit most from the trade in Morante. After becoming rich, they hope to be able to mingle among high society, so they spent that money to gain imperial honorary noble status."

Lorist shrugged. "This isn't something we can do anything about. We can stop them from gaining honorary noble status, can we? The imperial decoration is far more glorious than our own after all."

Charade's response, however, put Lorist at a loss for words. "No, Your Grace, they purchased an honorary title from the empire and returned to convert them into noble titles conferred by our house after paying a fee. It costs about eight thousand gold Fordes to gain honorary baron status from our house, but the process of transferring an imperial honorary noble title to one of ours cost only two thousand plus. They will save three thousand gold Fordes in total by doing so."

"Pitiful merchants, wanting to save that small amount of money," muttered Lorist with admiration.

Offering honorary titles for sale was common among the kingdoms and powerful noble houses. For the rich, obtaining an honorary title was akin to making sure their family and household would be kept safe. They would also gain a hike in status and be allowed to mingle among the noble circle. If they were lucky, they might even gain ownership of land one day and become a proper landed noble. House Kenmays was one such example.

Only by mingling in the noble circle first could they stand a chance to serve a liege and possibly earn their favor. Becoming a proper landed noble would no longer be an impossible dream to achieve in the long term. That was why many of the new rich in the Norton dominion wanted to convert the titles. What dissatisfied Charade was how they'd buy titles from Auguslo for conversion. Wasn't that letting Auguslo benefit for nothing?

Lorist on the other hand was quite satisfied that those imperial honorary nobles converted their titles to Norton honorary titles. That meant that the confidence in House Norton's continued development in the future was high. They believed in the stability of the institution than in the empire. It was a sign that everyone still kept a clear head and didn't pay attention to Auguslo.

However, he also felt a little uncomfortable with the notion of having been taken advantage of. After some consideration, he instructed, "Well, just adjust the conversion fee for an imperial honorary title to about two times the total price. That will stop anyone from doing so, and His Imperial Majesty will no longer benefit from this conversion scheme.

Charade nodded. That was a surefire way to curb the matter. If the conversion ended up costing more than buying one from House Norton directly, they'd rather go for the latter option from the get go.

"Your Grace, as the number of honorary nobles in our dominion grew by quite a lot, many of them are petitioning for us to expand the special noble districts for them to purchase land and build manors and castles. After the administrative bureau made a survey, we believe that we can set up three more special noble districts between the existing ones and Palace Ursa Rex. We can link them together with the five older ones. It's still a rough draft for now, and we will naturally make sure that the districts are at least 300 meters away from the palace for security purposes."

Charade handed a document to Lorist, who gave it a look and signed. The request for three more special noble districts to be built was approved just like that.

"Another thing, the administrative bureau is preparing to move forward with our residential area construction plan in Redriver Valley and Salus in the coming two years. The house finance department has approved the plan and is ready to invest five million gold Fordes for the development over the course of five years. It's estimated to earn us around 37 million gold Fordes after that. This is the master plan, please sign here."

The real estate business of the seven towns of Felicitas had earned the house great returns for their investment. Even though there were quite a number of obstacles they had to work through and only finished development after six years, they were all solved in the end. It could be said that almost everyone living in Felicitas bought their own homes and started living in them. The house earned 13 million gold Fordes in profit from that, causing Viscount Spiel, the chief finance supervisor of the house, to turn his sights on the three million plus citizens in The Northlands.

Spiel came up with a plan to have almost all the citizens move into houses they bought within a span of ten years. He was intent on scouring their wealth clean. If they had no money, that was no matter. The house could let them take loans and buy houses, which would have to be repaid in a decade or two.

Two years ago when Lorist was still in Morante considering how to deal with the Trade Union, he sighed with awe at Spiel's harshness and sharp wit when he read that proposal. It could make almost all the citizens into workers slaving away for their own homes. Lorist understood that the house had invested no less than 50 million gold Fordes in the dominion during the past decade, including the salaries and bonuses of the soldiers, the costs of forcing the refugees to move and providing them with farmland and houses, the starting of new factories and mines, and so on. Behind all that was a huge, jaw-dropping budget.

The wealth in The Northlands didn't lie in the millions of gold Fordes it provided the house, but rather, the many factories and small business spread across it, such as food stalls, grocery shops, salons, tailors, the production of daily necessities, as well as the job opportunities they all provided workers. The passage of the past few years caused every commoner household in The Northlands to amass up to tens and hundreds of gold Fordes, which they kept for emergency use.

Spiel was gunning for the gold Fordes of these commoner households. If he could spur them to spend their hard earned stash on the newly developed houses, the amount the house would earn was unbelievable. Spiel's eyes were bloodshot at the thought of that. But considering that the house was fighting a war with the Trade Union and required time to recover, the plan was postponed back then.

Last year, Spiel brought that plan up again and Lorist finally allowed it to be carried out in Redriver Valley and Salus. Given that those two places were among the first territories of the house, they were the next candidates for the housing project as the citizens had lived there for quite some time and had amassed quite a bit of wealth.

After signing the document, Lorist handed it back to Charade and asked, "Is there anything notable about the situation with Montside?"

Charade replied, "Your Grace, because of the private land ownership policy, we received nearly 100 thousand applications. Currently, we are doing initial surveys and that will take another half a month before we have a conclusive picture on things. We estimate that we will approve around 30 thousand citizens in the first wave. There are around four thousand qualified mercenaries and retired soldiers which we requested. The rest are people who have only trained with the local garrison forces for a few days, only there to fill up the number."

"Montside is different from other provinces. We don't need to develop it as a whole for now. Everything must be done with proper pacing," Lorist said as he put his legs on his desk and leaned into his chair, "Sending powerless citizens there is exposing them to danger carelessly. The place is far too close to the wildlands and Magical Dragon Mountains. So far, Firmrock has set up defense lines around the most dangerous areas, while Tigersoar had almost exterminated all the magic beasts in the wildlands. I estimate that it will take around four to five years for the situation there to stabilize. The citizens we're recruiting to send to Montside now should be just enough to populate a few towns. We don't need to rush this."

"I understand," Charade said after some thought, "But, Your Grace, many honorary nobles wrote us or sent people on their behalf to ask about the private land-owning policy. I suspect that they're trying to rely on buying land in Montside to become recognized as landed nobles."

"Hehe, aren't they optimistic? Tell them that each person can only own up to 17 square meters of land at most. The allocation of land will also be based on drawn lots. Even if a mercenary band signs up for it, the land they receive might not be linked together. Also, not all the land in the province is for sale. At most, half is open for civilian purchase and the other half is to be used as land to enfeoff to people with contributions."

After Charade left, Malek and Tarkel entered right away, not giving Lorist any time to rest.

"Your Grace, we have news straight from the imperial capital. His Imperial Majesty has stationed Fiercegale legion in Messen. The reason they gave for that is that they're preparing to eliminate bandits in the eleven central provinces. There are also rumors that Whitelion legion is going to be called back and stationed in Welbassia," said Tarkel.

Lorist stood up from his desk right away. "What's that fool thinking? Is he going to declare war against our alliance?"

Malek and Tarkel knew who Lorist was referring to as a fool, but they feigned ignorance.

Welbassia neighbored Yungechandler and the two provinces were separated only by Egret Lake and linked by a single mountain path on land. Madras's Ironguard legion was stationed at the border in Lichtana Citadel back in the day and forbade Charade's convoy from passing. Auguslo was going to use more than 100 thousand refugees to besiege the citadel and opened up a bloody path for the northbound convoy to pass.

Fortunately, Lorist rushed all the way from the dominion and led the convoy through the frozen Egret Lake and used a night attack to cut of Ironguard legion's water supply, which allowed Auguslo to take the citadel with ease and storm Yungechandler. Currently, Auguslo was moving Whitelion legion back to Welbassia, obviously with ill intent against Yungechandler, which was under Norton control. Given that Whitelion legion was an army used to deal with internal threats, was Auguslo sending the message that House Norton was to be treated as an enemy nation?

The newly formed Fiercegale legion was also stationed at Messen, which was a blatant affront to the alliance of four houses! Apart from House Shazin, whose dominion had moved to Koribia, one of the central provinces, Fiercegale's presence in Messen seemed to aim to cut off House Norton, House Kenmays and House Felim's contact with the outside world just like Whitelion. It was no wonder Lorist called Auguslo a fool for intentionally doing something so provocative.

"Have Els bring Ironguard legion to Yungechandler and rebuild Lichtana Citadel. Include the mountain path into the defense perimeter and set up cannons on Bread Hills. Make sure to let it seem like our defenses are really tight. Also, build a few shipyards at Egret Lake to construct cannon-armed ships to sail and patrol the lake. Not a single boat or raft on the other shore should be allowed to enter the waters. Get the shipbuilders from Bullhorn Bay. Our house has invested near ten million gold Fordes in Yungechandler and the development is just about to finish. That fool is obviously not going to let us profit that easily."

Lorist quickly came up with countermeasures. "Also, have Jaeger travel to House Shazin's dominion. Give the reason that we've received an invitation from him to defend his dominion. That way, we can sandwich Fiercegale legion along with House Felim's Pegasus Legion in Southern. I wanna see how Auguslo gets Fiercegale out of there."

"Understood, Your Grace," said Malek.