The one who followed Patt into the large tent was a man who looked to be in his forties that wore a loose-fitting grey cloak that did not quite fit his physique as well as a set of brown breeches; they were obviously the clothes the convoy provided for the people to withstand the winter cold. Even though this middle-aged man wanted to present himself as a noble, his eyes that looked all over the place unnervingly gave his nervousness away.
Lorist had a bad impression of that man on first glance. Even though he seemed rather sharp, he lacked the refined air of a noble and seemed more like a merchant or a butler, as could be inferred from his eyes that kept on moving nonstop as if he was plotting something in his mind.
"I, the heir of Viscount Tebri, Tebri Tim, give you my congratulations on the victory, great sir," said the man as he bowed deeply to Lorist, who still remained seated.
Lorist started laughing out loud right away. No descendant of nobles would address oneself as the successor when making an introduction and would only state their family name and their dominion's location. While this might be able to fool the common folk, any noble who had received proper education for etiquette will be able to see through it right away. It seemed that the man's identity was quite questionable.
"I am Norton Lorist of the Norton Family from the Northlands and I am the person in charge of this convoy. May I know who you really are?" Lorist didn't bother to hide his suspicion at all.
"I, I really am Viscount Tebri's son. If you don't believe me, you can ask the ones whom you've saved. Many of them know me personally and have grown up with me together. Otherwise, they wouldn't be willing to heed my instructions and want to leave with me at all..." said the middle-aged man with a flustered look, as if Lorist had struck his most sensitive part with his question.
"Is that so?" said Lorist indifferently.
The man slumped downwards like a ball that had lost all its air. "That is definitely true, sir. I am indeed the eldest son of the viscount. However, I'm the only one who's still alive that bears his blood as my family members have all perished. That's why I'm his sole successor."
Lorist suddenly came to an understanding. That man was in fact an illegitimate son of the viscount, whose family had probably been wiped out by Count Cobry just recently. That's why this man dared to call himself the successor of the family head.
"What kind of post did Viscount Tebri assign you?" asked Lorist.
"The Lord Viscount had me manage the business of the three orchards within his dominion. Due to spending most of my life among the common folk, I haven't had much interaction with people of noble standing," said the man honestly without hiding a single thing.
"Alright, how about this? Mister Tim, I'm not the least bit interested in whether you're truly the heir of Viscount Tebri. I heard that you requested us to give you some weapons and equipment for free. Let me ask you this then: why do you think we have the obligation to fulfill that unreasonable request?" Lorist said as he stood up and stared at the middle-aged man.
"S-sir... Isn't there an obligation between nobles to help each other? And... I-I also want to equip my men to go up against the count's forces..." From Tim's point of view, Lorist's aggressive speech and gestures pressured him greatly and made him forget all the arguments and excuses he had thought up before. Flustered, he could only resort to that traditional reasoning.
"Haha, Mister Tim, first things first, you, are not yet a noble. Don't think that just because you're his son and heir that you will automatically become one. You must have the recognition of at least three other landed nobles to be able to officially lay claim to the position of the viscount's heir. Only then can you go to the capital to obtain a birthright certificate from the senior noble that the Tebri Family has pledged allegiance to. The aforementioned method is the proper, more traditional route to ensure one's noble status. The other method is to assemble a strong army and force the local lord to cede their title and the right to rule the dominion to you. I believe that second method is what you're trying to achieve. Am I right, Mister Tim?
"It could also be possible that Viscount Tebri did not register your name in the family registry as his eldest son. That should cause you quite a lot of trouble if you were to attempt the first method. Then again, Mister Tim, you should not forget your status as a war prisoner of Count Cobry. And we, the Norton Family has managed to defeat the count's forces, so we have the rightful claim to the spoils of the battle. In theory, we have all the right to kill you or sell you to a slave trader, unless you are able to pay a suitable ransom for your freedom like other nobles would should they be captured.
"And when it comes to the obligation between nobles to look out for each other, Mister Tim, do you really understand what that entails? That clause only applies when the neighboring nobles of a region get attacked by invaders or waves of magical beasts. And as it stands now, I am a noble from a different nation entirely. Even if you were a noble, there's completely no obligation for me to lend you a hand. Heck, I can even have your head lopped off and offer it to my senior noble for a reward because you're from a different nation. Your excuse of wanting to help us resist the count is also really pathetic, you know that?"
The middle-aged man was currently shivering and sweating all over. Back then, the moment he called himself the successor of Viscount Tebri, the citizens of the dominion would instantly bend to his will and not offer any sign of resistance. Even when he was captured, he still had some degree of influence among the other prisoners there. He did not expect that his self-proclaimed status of a heir would be instantly torn down by a true noble within moments.
Lorist merely walked around that man and examined him carefully before saying, "Mister Tim, personally, I don't care if you're trying to impersonate a noble or whether you're really the viscount's son. It's a good thing to have ambition: it helps motivate one to strive hard for one's goals. If you can offer a favor of equivalent value to me, then I will forgive your ignorant transgressions. However, if you think that you'll be able to take from me without offering anything in return, then I will really have to consider how I should punish a charlatan like you. Should I hang you or behead you? You're free to make the choice."
Tim instantly slumped limply to the ground as he recalled how his father, Viscount Tebri, so casually ordered someone to be beaten to death with a gentle and smiling expression as well as how his other brothers who were the legitimate sons of the Tebri Family caned some of the dominion's citizens to death for having startled their mounts. From a young age, he had been taught how to live his life humbly given his status as an illegitimate son and slowly gain his father's trust to become an official in the dominion by his mother who was one of the count's maidservants. He was also instructed to take advantage of his status as the illegitimate son of the viscount to glean some advantages for himself from the dumb common folk.
But when his father and brothers were all killed by Count Cobry's forces, he was struck with the sudden revelation that he was the only person who still carried the blood of the viscount. Even though he hadn't received any etiquette lessons for nobles nor awakened his Battle Force, he had been allowed to learn how to read and write as he had gained the favor of his father. But his hardships didn't stop him from building his reputation as the sole heir of the viscount among the dominion's citizens and he capitalized on his experience and wit from his days as a traveling merchant as well as his skills as an orator to form an insurgent force by recruiting the citizens of the war-torn land and had managed to erect a stronghold within the western mountains. However, that all ended when the count's forces crushed his own and made him their captive.
Originally thinking that there would be nothing more waiting for him other than death, he was quite surprised to discover that the powerful rebel-sweeping forces would actually be defeated by a convoy's military escort, thereby liberating him from his predicament. After having his fill of food on the night of the camp's occupation, he went around to ask about the convoy and suddenly realized the potential benefits he could gain from that opportunity. He thought that the moment he introduced himself as the heir of the viscount, the master of the convoy would treat him like a person of exalted status and adhere to his every request. At that time, he had already thought up a number of proposals and even planned to use the convoy to crush Count Cobry and fantasized about his glorious return to the viscount's dominion with a large military force and become the noble that everyone admired and respected.
But when Lorist prompted him to choose the way in which he would be put to death, all those fantasies vaporized within an instant. So this is what a real noble is like. Sociable, yet cruel, and having subordinates that would be willing to do anything for him, unlike my own who can only be swayed by fear or the promise of a reward. To Tim, Lorist reminded him of the fearful side of his father that had the life of the common folk at his fingertips.
Shriveling up on the ground and crying out loud, Tim pleaded, "Sir, please have mercy on me... I shouldn't have ever dreamed about gaining the title for myself... Please spare this pathetic life of mine! To you, I am but an existence that only compares to that of an ant... I'm not worth your attention at all..."
Lorist took a step back and said, "Please get up, Mister Tim. If you would like to become a noble, you should at least have some degree of self-respect. No noble would ever humiliate oneself like what you just did. A proper noble would never submit to anyone, even in the face of certain death. Perhaps, you have misunderstood my intentions. I've mentioned that I don't care whether you're the viscount's son or not. What I want to know is what status were you assuming when you made that request of me?"
Seeing the dumbfounded look on the kneeling man, Lorist gave a bitter laugh before proceeding with his explanation. "MIster Tim, if you think that you will be able to get what you came for without any reciprocation, then I can kill you for being a fraud and liar, because that act would have insulted the Norton Family name. You should know that nobles hate nothing more than petty tricks and being insulted."
Tim felt a chill down his spine and once again had a flashback of the moment he witnessed his father ordering for a fisherman to be hanged for attempting to hide his catch in order to avoid paying his fair share of tax. That fisherman lost his life just because he dared to try to trick the viscount. He could clearly recall what his father had said back in the day, "I don't really care about the fish you were trying to hide from me. But I can definitely not forgive those who dare to lie to my face."
Tim nodded in agreement to Lorist's previous statement.
"Mister Tim, if you're not approaching me as a conman but as a noble, then I should offer you a helping hand as well. However, nobles don't give their help without expecting anything in return. Are you prepared to pay the price for my assistance?" Lorist asked.
"I can help you form and army, take the dominion back for you and even give you the proper training and lessons necessary on the customs and traditions of nobles so that you will act and behave like one and not embarrass yourself in front of other nobles. However, this will not come cheap, Mister Tim," Lorist said.
"I... I have some money and supplies that I can offer you for your help..." Tim was gradually getting the drift of what Lorist was hinting at and he was even more excited after Lorist said that he would provide him with the training necessary to become a proper noble, or at least, behave like one.
"That's the spirit, Mister Tim. It's great that you intend to cooperate with me. However, can you tell me where you would get the money and supplies from as payment for my assistance?"
Tim then told Lorist with absolute honesty about the location of the funds and resources he had. He mentioned that when Count Cobry's initial assault began, Viscount Tebri had brought Tim along with him to bury a stash of gold coins in a secret location so that he would one day be able to use it to regain his power. He also instructed Tim to not return to the castle and head to the areas within the dominion that had yet to be taken over to move the food and supplies to a cave within the mountains which he had discovered when he went out on a hunting trip with Tim. It was an abandoned bear cave that only the two of them knew of.
Having carried out the viscount's instructions properly, he returned to the dominion only to find that the castle had already been taken over and the viscount as well as all the rest of his family had all been put to death. Tim said that there were almost tens of thousands of imperial gold coins as well as enough food to last 3000 people for up to six months.
Looking at the map, Lorist noticed that the hiding place that Tim told him about was only 1 day's worth of travel away. He then called Reidy to bring Els over and instructed him to bring Patt, Tim and several other soldiers to head to that location to bring the gold coins and supplies back to the camp.
Before they left, Lorist wished them a smooth journey and promised Tim that he would arrange for someone to start the etiquette training when he got back.
When he returned to the large tent, Reidy came up to him and reported, "Milord, Knight Josk has come over with a group of people and has requested to meet with you."