Even though that maidservant called Irina seemed really timid and shy around Lorist, she was very hardworking and helpful. After preparing a comfortable hot water bath for him, she silently carried the wooden bathing tub as well as the bath water away and even tidied out the room right after Lorist went to bed.
Probably because of the relief of his journey's completion, Lorist managed to get a real good night's rest.
The clear chirps of the birds prompted Lorist awake during the morning. He got out of bed, went to the window and saw two birds perched onto a branch on a tree not far away, fervently singing without a single worry in the world. A slight fog could be seen blanketing the bastide and the whole of the maple forest in the distance, causing the buildings within the bastide to give out a strange, astral-like feeling.
A brand new robe was placed at his bedside: it was probably brought over by Irina. After he put the robe on, he noticed that the young maidservant was lying curled up on the floor mat beside the couch using a rough rag as a blanket, seemingly sound asleep. I wonder what she's dreaming about, thought Lorist as he looked at the satisfied smile on her fair little face.
After standing there and observing her for a moment, Lorist took a clean blanket and lightly put it onto Irina's body before quietly leaving the room.
Down the flight of stairs was the living room and the study. Lorist had placed his sword on the table in the living room the night before. After retrieving it, he walked to the end of the corridor and just as he was about to go down one more floor, the door right beside the stairwell opened. Patt poked his head out and said, "Milord, good morning. Are you going to train? I want to join too."
Lorist nodded and went downstairs with Patt to start their morning training.
A well-built man stared at Lorist and Patt as they executed the eight basic swordsmanship moves until he got bored and yawned before taking up another wooden plank and started sawing away at it.
"Milord, that's the son of the cooking lady," said Patt as he looked towards that man.
Lorist turned his head to look. Seeing the man who was diligently sawing at the wood, he nodded towards Patt, signalling his understanding.
Shadekampf also made his way outside and gave that man a greeting before he went to the yard to wash his face at the well. After a while, a servant went up to him and said something to him for a few moments before Shadekampf nodded and sent the servant away.
After Lorist and Patt finished their session, Shadekampf came over to report that Butler Gleis had sent someone to notify him that there will be a feast at the main dining hall that night during which Lorist will formally inherit the position of the family head. He also told Lorist that he could only look around nearby the bastide without traveling too far away because of the event that night.
Lorist nodded and after he had his breakfast, he brought Patt and Shadekampf as well as three Zeno Horses before the three of them rode at a leisurely pace around the bastide.
The Norton Family bastide was built on a large, white-colored stone hill. Aside from the main road leading from the family's castle, the elevation of the ground on which the castle was built was around ten or so meters, making it easy to defend but hard to attack. It's no wonder that Viscount Kenmays had failed to breach the castle during the attack half a year ago and had to leave empty-handed following the death of tens of his subordinates.
Shadekampf led his way up a small hill and pointed to the east before saying, "Milord, look. That is Wildnorth Town."
Wildnorth Town was located not too far away from the Norton Family castle and it was built upon a small rocky hill. The weird thing about the hill was that it had a blowhole in the middle of it. The earlier citizens of the town had probably settled on that hill for that exact reason.
"How many people are there in that town?" asked Lorist as he looked at it from afar.
Shadekampf shook his head and couldn't even answer a simple question like that. "Milord, I myself am not too sure about it as a population check has not been conducted in the town for years."
Normally, a large town like that should be able to support the bastide with manpower and resources. However, the founding ancestor of the Norton Family had left quite a huge problem for the future generations given the Wildnorth Town's questionable loyalty. As Lorist stroke his chin, he thought, sigh, how should I handle the garrison of Wildnorth Town...
"Huh? Isn't that Wellickson? What's he doing there?" Shadekampf asked curiously.
Lorist turned his head in that direction and saw Wellickson and another servant placing several baskets over the edge of a short cliff. The contents of the baskets couldn't be seen from where Lorist was.
"Let's go and check it out," said Lorist.
The three of them rode down the hill they were on, circled a few vineyards and ended up at the edge of the cliff where Wellickson was.
"Where the heck is this? I didn't know there was a place like this within the bastide," exclaimed Shadekampf with both his arms covering his mouth as he gasped.
Lorist was also surprised to see that as well. However, he thought that it was only natural for them to miss out on that place given that it had been hidden beyond the cliff. From their current vantage point, a low-lying terrain that was really close to the white hill where the castle was built could be seen. Having been shielded from view by the trees in the forest, not many knew of that place's existence.
Over there, row after row of wooden houses could be seen where several women and children wearing old and torn clothing could be seen collecting the baskets that had been passed down. Within those baskets were bread that were distributed among the people there.
The ten baskets which they brought over each contained a 30-centimeter-long black bread. Wellickson was talking to someone below the cliff at that moment. "That is the food ration for the next two days. We will send you more in the future. I will be quite busy at the bastide for a while, so I won't be coming over. What am I busy with? Oh, it's just that the Second Young Master of my family has returned to the dominion to inherit the position of the family head. Everyone in the castle is feeling rather finicky..."
At that moment, Lorist showed up beside Wellickson and caused him to jump in surprise. However, Lorist merely ignored him and looked at the people beyond the cliff for a bit before asking, "Who are you and how did you get here? Why are you hiding at this spot?"
The man who was being stared at by Lorist had stopped distributing the bread and handed the basket to a person beside him before he looked up the cliff.
"He's... He's called Pajik. You... why are you asking him that question instead of me?" said Wellickson timidly.
That man called Pajik quickly climbed up from below the short cliff and clapped the dust off his body before he said, "Wellickson, he has a better eye than you and knows that I'm at the Silver rank. That's why he asked me instead of you."
Wellickson said curiously, "Even I know that you're a Silver rank. How is that significant?"
Shadekampf came over and said, "But milord hasn't met Pajik before. Milord, I know this person. Technically, he used to be a captive of the First Young Master; The First Young Master admired his talent and said that he wanted to ask him to become a knight of the family before he set out for battle. However, he never did come back alive. We wanted to give him his freedom, but Pajik said that he wanted to uphold the promise he had with the First Young Master, that was to stay at the family dominion for three whole years unless the First Young Master comes back to make him a family knight."
After introducing Pajik to Lorist, Shadekampf asked, "Pajik, hasn't it already been three years? Why are you still here?"
With a bitter look on his face, Pajik replied, "It's all because of Mistress Pesha..."
Being informed about his situation as well, Wellickson started to explain it to Lorist.
Half a year before the date he would regain his freedom two years ago, Pesha gave that man a personal maidservant, much to his delight. However, three months right after that, the maidservant's belly started to swell, revealing that she was in fact pregnant. After doing some digging around, Pajik only found out that the maidservant used to serve the First Young Master personally and Pesha intended to adopt the child the maidservant had with the First Young Master as her own stepson. That was why she felt distressed that the maidservant, who was the child's biological mother, to continue staying at the castle and decided to give her to Pajik so that he would bring her away when he leaves after his term as a captive is over.
However, that particular maidservant had been impregnated by Pajik. Given that he wasn't some sort of noble, there wouldn't be any problems for him to have an illegitimate child or two. In fact, he was quite elated that she was willing to bear him a child. That's how he suddenly become a loyal 'slave' of the mother-to-be and her unborn child and did his best to take care of the maidservant.
Now that the child had been delivered, Pajik had properly become a 24-year-old father whose every action seeks the best for his child. To make more money for a better living, he went to see Butler Gleis and took over the management of the slave camp. Last time when Viscount Kenmays attacked the bastide, Pajik was the one who had defended quite a number of attacks from several Silver ranked mercenaries and even killed two of the viscount's knights who were stronger than Pesha in the process.
Lorist nodded and said to Pajik, "Knight Pajik, if you're willing to become my family's knight, then please attend my inheritance ceremony tonight. It will definitely be an honor of the Norton Family for someone of your abilities join our ranks.
That night within the candle-lit dining hall, a flag bearing the emblem of the former Krissen Royal Family that was shaped like a rose could be seen hanging on one wall of the hall. To the left of the flag was the Norton Family flag with the Raging Bear depicted on it and to the right of the Krissen Royal Family flag was a large map which detailed the range of the Norton Family's dominion, as enfeoffed by the founding emperor. In front of the flag was the longsword which the founding emperor had used to grant the title of a baron to the founding ancestor of the Norton Family around two hundred years ago.
The inheritance ceremony was far simpler than Lorist had imagined.
At Butler Gleis's beckoning, Lorist walked to the front, knelt before the longsword and recited, "Under the witness of the myriad divinities, I, the eighth generation descendant of the Norton Family, Norton Lorist, shall once again recite the oath of the founding ancestor before the banner of the Krissen Royal Family. I shall defend the northern borders in the name of the empire and will always silently await the summons from the royal family. I will bring the family back to the olden days of glory as it used to be during the days of the founding ancestor, and the Norton Family will never submit to anyone's will other than that of the members of the royal family and the elders of the Norton Family."
Lorist stood up, took the longsword that was placed on the table in front of him and raised it up high, before he turned and faced the rest of the people within the hall.
The sounds of applause gradually increased in volume until everyone within the hall was clapping and cheering. From that moment on, Lorist would be the new family head and is officially a baron.
Pesha was rather mad as Pajik and Patt had stolen her spotlight and got knighted by Lorist before she was. She merely made a rushed salute when it was her turn and became the third family knight to be knighted.
After that, Lorist announced three things. First, the castle defense unit of the bastide will undergo a reorganization. The current members of the unit are mostly veteran family soldiers who were in their late thirties to forties. Some of them had even returned to service after their retirement as the Nortons had lost quite a lot of their men during the stormy years that have passed.
Lorist said that he wished to recruit around 120 people from the bastide aged between 16 to 25 and promised that he would help them awaken their Battle Force within a time span of three months to six months.
However, Pesha was the first one to speak out against that plan. "It's impossible! The cost of forming a castle defense unit of 120 people is not something the family can afford."
Lorist laughed out and said, "Even though I might not have much, money is definitely something I don't lack!"
It was at that moment when Shadekampf and a few other servants carried two large chests into the room. After they were opened, the gleaming golden light that emanated from within filled the eyes of everyone present. Both the chests contained 10000 gold Fordes that Lorist had brought along in the carriage and it was time to put it to good use.
After seeing the money in front of her, Pesha was speechless. Lorist then ordered Patt to be in charge of the recruitment and training of the new unit.
Before Lorist made his second announcement, he gathered the illegitimate sons and daughters that the Old Master had fathered as it was something that concerned them.
"As the illegitimate children who shares the same father as me, you can still be considered descendants of the Norton Family. The least I can do for you is to provide you with the proper education and training for nobles. If anyone of you can also reach the Silver rank in Battle Force training, you may choose to roam the world or serve the family. Should you choose the latter, you will be allowed to use the Norton name and even form a branch family for the Nortons in the future.
"The last announcement I have is, Pajik, the newly-appointed family knight, will be in charge of the slaves in the camp to build a citadel at another location. The location of the building site will be kept secret for now, but I encourage anyone within the bastide who is interested in helping out to follow along as well."
After announcing everything he had to say, Lorist sent Butler Gleis back to his room, much to the immense dismay of Pesha, who had wanted to complain about Lorist's actions to him after the ceremony.