Time passed really quickly and soon, it was the 7th month of Year 1785.

"Your Grace, Whitelion spent three months to wipe out the bandits within Wesstwood and they are on their way to Phapsia next. What's surprising is that His Imperial Majesty started to properly supply the legion after the new year and no longer owe them any payments. Whitelion's morale is high now and they're fully confident that they'll be able to get rid of the bandits," read Jinolio from a secret report sent from the central provinces.

Lorist shook his head slightly. "Whitelion is going to have it tough soon... Sybek will not be able to take care of the bandits in Phapsia."

"Why does Your Grace think so?" asked Jinolio curiously.

"It's simple," Lorist said before he pointed at the map of the central area hanging from a wall, "Among the eleven central provinces, apart from the territories of dukes Handra, Forund and Shazin, Wesstwood is the least infested with bandits given that it's located between those three provinces. Whitelion made the correct first step and didn't let us down after we sent them there during the winter.

"Yet, they took three months for Wesstwood alone. That is also taking into account that the three dukes helped to seal off exit from the province using their respective household forces, leaving the bandits no way to escape and allowing for complete extermination. The current state of Whitelion makes it a heavy-armored legion. It doesn't have enough mobility and can't match the bandits in terms of speed. Instead, they are hugely disadvantaged in a pursuit.

"Phapsia used to be the territory of Duke Farkel, but during his resistance to our emperor's conquest, he chose to burn down the capital of his province, Freimox, and left for the Trade Union after he lost. His current whereabouts are unknown. Even though Farkel's burning of Freimox allowed our house to take advantage of the migrants, Loze had to raze down the territories of the landed nobles there to procure the food the refugees needed. Some of the nobles and knights that weren't captured are still unaccounted for.

"That's why the bandit crisis in Phapsia is the most serious. It is also the source of the farmer's revolt in the central provinces. Apart from some logistical support from Shazin, there's nothing else we can do to help Whitelion when they're in Phapsia. The immobile legion will have a long and grueling time ahead of them given how the bandits can simply outrun and evacuate the troops. I don't think the legion has any initiative in this battle at all."

"I understand now, Your Grace. So a heavy-armored infantry legion like Whitelion isn't much use for the extermination of bandits in a whole area. A highly mobile cavalry legion like Jaeger and the guard brigade would be a far better choice, right? As long as they set their sights on the bandits, there's no way they can escape."

Lorist nodded praiseworthily. "Not bad. The guard brigade is an elite force that can head the extermination of the bandits and a light cavalry unit like Jaeger can set up the defense perimeter and scout around. Whenever they find that the bandits are escaping elsewhere, they can give chase until the bandits have nowhere else to run. Either way, a defense perimeter will still have to be set up to prevent any of the bandits from slipping away and allowing the problem to spread."

Jinolio had been with Lorist for quite some time. Lorist was quite happy with his third disciple and taught him much in every facet he could. The only thing he found fault with Jinolio was his pacifism. Jinolio had always been avoidant of fighting others and he could be said to be the one with the least talent for battle among Lorist's three disciples. during the latter part of last year in the 10th month, Jinolio oly only just started learning the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique from Reidy three years later than Howard.

"Your Grace, here's a report Viscount Camorra sent. The report was written by Baron Fenston, Jillin Harbor's security chief, and it states that since the 4th month of this year, nobles and trading fleets visiting the harbor have declined in number. This year's number is estimated to be less than half of last year's. Baron Fenston had conducted much research into the matter and discovered that Andalou Merchant Guild had set up a large trading point at Flowater Creek. Many of the traders stopped there instead. Baron Fenston hopes that our house will come up with a countermeasure for that."

The formation of the market at Jillin Harbor was an outlet Lorist used to sell the products and ores produced by the nobles in the northwestern area. There were 31 provinces in the Krissen Empire and the lands were vast with rich resources. Apart from the goods House Norton purchased to be resold and the ones they produced, the other goods would be transported to Morante and sold there. One such trip would double the revenue easily and around two million gold Fordes could be made per annum.

Even though he had to split half the profits with Auguslo, the million-Forde income was a reasonable amount for the house. More importantly, those imperial nobles were able to sell their goods through that channel too and earn some amount of money to be able to afford the luxury goods House Norton produced. The formation of the market at the harbor was good news for Auguslo, House Norton, the imperial nobles and the poor folk of Jillin Harbor.

But now, somebody lost to temptation and began to reach out for that delicious piece of cheese, and that was none other than the illegitimate son of Auguslo, Wecksas. What's he thinking? Does he really have that much capital to found a trading point just like that? If they were going to sell their gods at Morante as well, Lorist could write the Free Union a letter to cause them trouble and squash them like the ants they were. After all, the maritime trade route belonged to the Nortons, so Andalou would have no choice but to use the land route, which was easily much more expensive.

"Is there any word from Tarkel?" asked Lorist. Affairs concerning the interests of House Norton would be investigated by Furybear at first notice to gain a proper grasp on the situation.

"What do the reports say?"

"Yes, Your Grace. This is Sir Tarkel's investigation report," said Jinolio as he took out a thick folder.

"What does it say?"

"During the new-year celebration last year held at the imperial palace, Count Wecksas introduced the main investor of Andalou formally. It's said that he is the successor of a merchant guild from the Romon Empire that had already been exterminated. His name is Selik and he is preparing to restart his career in the Krissen Empire, so he joined hands with Count Wecksas to found Andalou Merchant Guild. But due to the count, the situation of Andalou doesn't seem optimistic. Probably as a token of apology, Count Wecksas introduced Selik to the emperor.

"According to Selik, his family offended a powerful duke in the Romon Empire and caused the downfall of the trading guild. Selik also suffered a huge injury during his escape and has two long scars on his face. So, he would often dress in a black robe and doesn't like to show his face. However, Selik's troubles weren't in vain as he managed to catch the attention of his pursuers to allow for most of his assets to be transferred out of Romon. He even managed to help a bunch of loyal subordinates to escape.

"Sir Tarkel has sent two informants to the Romon Empire to find out more about Selik, but they would take at least half a year before a conclusion can be reached. During the celebration, His Imperial Majesty showed admiration for Selik's talent and chatted with him personally for more than three hours. It's also rumored that Selik was even offered a chance to serve as well as a title. However, Selik refused His Imperial Majesty's request on grounds of his crippled and wounded body, which the emperor expressed great regret for.

"After the rainy season, Selik guided Andalou in the founding of a large trading point in Flowater Creek and promoted it aggressively. As the prices they purchased goods at are similar to the prices of Jillin Harbor, many landed nobles traded their household products to Andalou to avoid the trouble of traveling so far or to curry favor with Count Wecksas.

"In terms of funding, our informants have ascertained that Andalou received financial backing from the emperor. There is proof that His Imperial Majesty allocated around 800 thousand gold Fordes to Andalou. As for the traders mostly stopping at the trading point, our house has written a letter of objection to His Imperial Majesty, but the reply we got was that this is normal competition in trade and the imperial house has no right to meddle in it.

"The target of trading of the goods purchased from the nobles on the other hand isn't Morante. Instead, Andalou sends out trade convoys to the Trade Union. Our informants aren't sure what sort of relationship Andalou has with the Trade Union, but they've all heard Selik said one thing. 'Merchants have always strived for profit. Even an enemy or the devil himself is my friend and customer if he can bring me profits'."

Lorist furrowed his brow at the new conundrum. He didn't think that Andalou would have such a talented businessman who not only grabbed Jillin Harbor's business but also obtained Auguslo's support. Most importantly, they managed to circumvent the trade central Lorist forged in Morante and managed to form a relationship with the Trade Union. The Trade Union lacked lots of raw materials and resources, so that trade route was crucial to them. Only then would they stand a chance on growing powerful once more.

This is a truly surprising development, Lorist thought with a bitter smile, Who would expect the Krissen Empire to supply its sworn enemy, the Trade Union, with resources and raw materials? They also managed to perfectly outmaneuver our house's control. Even the new Peterson kingdom between the Trade Union and Krissen Empire won't be able to do anything about this...

With the support of the Krissen Empire, perhaps Peterson could still be able to stop the trade route to the Trade Union. However, the empire itself was supporting the use of that trade route, so Peterson could only begrudgingly accept the status quo. While he could afford to upset the Trade Union, King Peterson wouldn't dare to offend the new Krissen Empire. Even though House Norton had influence there, there was nothing that could be done. If the Trade Union partnered up with the Krissen Empire to deal with them, the newly independent Peterson kingdom would no doubt fall.

The sole goal of a merchant's actions was to make profit regardless of whether the customer was friend, foe or demon. That saying was just like the one Lorist heard in his past life: 'capitalists would even sell the rope that will be used to hang them'. Selik was a true merchant and that was the kind of thing Lorist found hard to deal with.

"Are there any suggested countermeasures in the report?" Lorist could only count on sourcing a solution from the others. Many brains were better than one after all.

Jinolio flipped to the last page of the report and shook his head. "Your Grace, Baron Fenston has suggested increasing the purchasing price for the goods by around ten percent. But Andalou raised the price to match us right after that, causing most of the traders to stop there instead of Jillin Harbor."

Lorist's eyes flashed as he paced around in the room twice. He stopped and said, "Send an eagle message to Jillin Harbor to raise the purchasing price by thirty percent. If Andalou matches up to us, raise it by 1.5 times!"

"But, Your Grace, we'd have almost no profits like that," Jinolio said, startled, "If we purchase at such a high price, the profits after we deduct manpower and transportation costs would be negligible! We can only barely break even. Your Grace, this would not just harm them, but ourselves as well! Even if Andalou gets suppressed, we would not be unscathed either!"

"Haha... That's exactly what I want: a pyrrhic victory. Think about it, Jinolio, if we raise the purchasing price and only break even, then Andalou would have to raise their prices as well. But if you take into account the higher cost for transporting on land, which they rely on, do you think they'll have any profits? I think they'll be losing money while we can at least break even."

"But what if they don't raise their prices to match ours?"

"If they don't, nobody would sell them any goods. Their trading point would fail if that's the case, Though there are some who would do barely profitable business, nobody would conduct business that lost money. They will be forced to give up on this trade route because they won't be able to make up to the emperor, their investor.

"As for our house, we will be able to continue breaking even for two to three years. The most important thing is for us to stop Andalou from trading with the Trade Union, the enemies of our house. We must always remain alert and anyone that tries to aid their recovery is going against us. That's why raising the price to match Andalou's is the only thing we can do now."

"Understood, Your Grace. I'll send the message immediately," said Jinolio.