"Milord, what are you being so careful about?" asked Belnick, who was currently leaning against the walls of the horse carriage.
Having bid the four family heads and the garrison squad leaders farewell, right after the horse carriage exited the range of vision from the town, Lorist ordered Shadekampf to slow down and gave him a shield before instructing him to be careful. After that, he took another shield and covered Belnick's body with it before he took out a few javelins and placed them within hand's reach and patiently waited.
"Sigh, if Patt were here with me, it would've been so much easier. Shadekampf, even though I've been forcing you to train your Battle Force, you've only just made it to the Iron rank not long ago. You're not of much use on the battlefield at all," complained Lorist.
Shadekampf responded, "But milord, you've just said not long ago that I was better suited at management tasks rather than battles. Why are you calling me useless now?!"
Lorist said, "Even so, you should learn from Charade's example. He's definitely up to par with you when it comes to management, but he's a Three Star Silver rank nevertheless. In another two years, I believe he'll be able to make another breakthrough."
"Milord, how can you compare me to Sir Charade? He's someone who's fit to become a prime minister! I can only manage a bastide at best," said Shadekampf, obviously understanding the extent of his skills relative to Charade's.
Seeing the two arguing casually as they made their preparations, Belnick, who was bandaged all over and even covered with a shield, couldn't help but ask what was going on.
Lorist replied, "Hmmm, Brother Beck, don't you think something's fishy? Even though I didn't let you drink Master Dunbarsen's medicine, your condition is still stable as it was just now. What was that about not being able to move your body in fear of unsettling your organs? That's nothing but bullcrap. You've been hoodwinked by that so-called master for two whole years. He's been feeding you force-dispersing toxin for the whole time, causing you to be unable to circulate your Battle Force to restore your body. It's like you were being imprisoned at Wildnorth Town for three whole years."
"Cough... Cough cough..." After Belnick listened to what Lorist had said, before he managed to say anything in reply, the cold breeze outside had caused him to cough rather severely.
Lorist helped to readjust Belnick's coverings and patted on his back to soothe the coughing. "Don't talk, Brother Beck. I know what you're trying to say. Why would they do this to you, right? Shadekampf, tell him about the current situation of the family from the moment Brother Beck left the bastide three years ago to Wildnorth Town."
Shadekampf started from how the Old Master died from the refusal of the garrison to heed their orders and the attack of the Kenmays Family as well as his journey to Morante City to find Lorist to return to the Northlands to inherit the dominion. Just as he was about to get to the part about the convoy, several people appeared within their field of vision.
6 riders with black cloths veiled around their faces emerged from the forest further up ahead. Armed with their crossbows, they started aiming at Lorist's group as they diverged and attempted to flank them.
"Shadekampf, disperse the horses and secure the carriage to the ground. After that, get back in here to make sure Brother Beck is protected," instructed Lorist.
Shadekampf quickly stopped the horses and pushed the sharp-tipped rod that acted as a handbrake for the carriage deep into the ground to secure it. After that, he quickly untied the harnesses around the horses so that they don't destabilize the carriage should they get startled and run around frantically. Following that, he jumped back to the passenger seat and lifted his shield up to protect himself and Belnick.
Lorist had already gotten on horseback after Shadekampf untied the harnesses and prodded the horse's abdomen by tightening both his legs and rushed forward to one of the riders at his right. With one hand holding tight to the horse's reins, he used his free hand to grab a javelin and managed to knock away an incoming crossbow bolt.
Aside from the rider who was rushing at Lorist, the other 5 had their attention on the carriage and within but a short moment, the shields set up around the carriage had taken more than 10 hits from the crossbow bolts.
Having deflected two arrows heading his way, Lorist neared his enemy as time went on. Noticing that his crossbow was not having any effect, the opposing rider humphed coldly as he put it away and drew his sword in preparation for the collision. A blade glow manifested around his sword: the enemy was actually a Silver ranked combatant. However, Lorist was curious about the unstable blade glow of the assailant which flickered from time to time unpredictably.
As the two were but meters from each other, the enemy raised his sword high and aimed for Lorist's head. On the other hand, Lorist used his javelin as he would a lance and successfully parried the incoming slash. Just as the enemy was wondering why the javelin had not broken into two from being struck by his blade glow, it had already found its way deep into his throat...
With a kick, Lorist knocked the dead rider off his horse and jumped onto it, effectively switching from an ill-equipped workhorse to a properly saddled mount.
Having noted that their crossbows were not able to pierce the shields set up around the carriage, the frontmost rider drew his sword as he approached. At that moment, a javelin soared through the air and pierced that rider before it knocked him off his horse with its momentum. Having had his chest punctured, the rider on the ground took his last breath after struggling for a moment in pain.
The remaining four riders were greatly surprised and turned to the direction where the javelin came from, only to see Lorist approaching at high velocity. The leader pointed to Lorist and roared, "Let's take care of him first!"
Even though three of the four riders' swords had blade glows, Lorist charged among their ranks fearlessly...
In an instant, the five of them crossed swords and thunderous sounds rang throughout the battlefield.
Lorist turned his horse in the other direction as he witnessed three of the four riders wobble and fall from their horses. The lucky surviving one had a pale look on his face as he stared at his fallen comrades before he snapped out of it and attempted to escape while screaming at the top of his lungs upon seeing Lorist catching up to him.
Lorist let out a cold smile and said, "Do you think you can run?" He took out the crossbow that was slung from the saddle, loaded it, aimed and pulled the trigger. The crossbow bolt pierced squarely through the back of the escaping rider and with a loud grunt, he fell off his horse.
He then returned to the carriage and knocked onto the shield with his sword. "Shadekampf, come out and go clean up the battlefield."
The shield moved apart and revealed Shadekampf's face. "Milord, is it over?"
"Yup, none of the 6 who attacked us escaped."
"Alright. Milord, I'll be on it right away," said Shadekampf before he climbed up and excitedly headed towards the corpses.
Lorist got back onto the carriage and helped Belnick sit up, only to notice the streams of tears that were streaking down his face.
"Brother Beck, what's wrong?"
"How... How can they do this?! This is rebellion! Without the Norton Family, they wouldn't be able to enjoy their current lives! How can they have no gratitude at all?!" mumbled Belnick.
"Gratitude? Haha..." Lorist started laughing out loud before he continued, "Brother Beck, you think far too well of them. 200 years ago when the ancestor of our family accepted them as citizens of the dominion, most of them were con men, vagabonds, criminals, thieves, gamblers and debtors. It was precisely because those people had nowhere better to go that they accepted the ancestor's invitation to live in the desolate Northlands. The founding Norton ancestor took them in as folks of his dominion and even aided in the construction of their town so that they could settle down. However, have they ever showed any sign of appreciation for his efforts? No. In fact, they even exploited the loopholes in the flawed conditions my ancestor offered to take advantage of my family. Had it not been for the benevolence of my ancestor, something like that would never have been allowed to continue. From their point of view, the absence of the Norton Family might even give them more freedom.
"It's a shame that the society here on the Grindia Continent is dominated by nobles, and there are no rewards for people who don't put in any effort. Their ancestors have effectively sealed off any chance of the people of Wildnorth Town to be able to work their way up the ladder of society, as they prioritized the short-term benefits too heavily to the point that our family doesn't treat them as our own and even put up our guard towards them as we would our enemies. For example, even though they were able to train in Battle Force, nobody from our family gave them any proper training and instruction about it. They couldn't even acquire a merchant's permit. However, given their peasant status, they should be thankful that the Norton Family doesn't exploit them like most other nobles would their own citizens. That's why they are so desperate for a quasi-noble title from our family."
"But didn't you just allow them to expand their forces and even said that you were prepared to grant them three honorary knight titles?" Belnick asked after recalling the proposition Lorist had made to the four families of Wildnorth Town.
"That's right, I've mention that I would prepare to do that, but I didn't say when. If they really want that title, they must carry out my orders without question until I am satisfied. And to satisfy me can take up to tens of years. Maybe their family wouldn't exist anymore by then," said Lorist.
Well, their extermination is a given. When Charade and the rest of the convoy arrives, the first thing I on my to-do-list would be the extermination of Wildnorth Town, thought Lorist hatefully.
"Milord, you will definitely make a great dominion lord," said Belnick.
"Naturally. That's what I think too," said Lorist narcissistically as he nodded with full seriousness.
"Milord, it's done," said Shadekampf as he brought five other mounts back to the carriage. On the saddles of the mounts were the armor and weapons as well as other miscellaneous supplies of the attackers. Not far away, 6 buck naked corpses could be seen completely stripped of all their belongings. Shadekampf hurriedly tied two of the horses to pull the carriage.
By the time Shadekampf was almost finished, Belnick said, "Shadekampf, drive the carriage over there and let me see if there is anyone I recognize."
Shadekampf agreed and fastened the harnesses of the other 5 horses to the back of the carriage before he drove it to the pile of bodies.
Lorist helped prop up Belnick so he could look at the faces of the six corpses.
"I know two of them. The one to the farmost left is Master Dunbarsen's nephew. Two years ago while I was still recovering, Casey and him helped me with my baths. He frequently asked me about Silver ranked Battle Force training as well. In the beginning, I answered quite a number of his questions. However, after I noticed something was amiss, I stopped entertaining him completely. Thinking back, it was from that point onwards when he stopped visiting and my 'injuries' started to worsen, which Master Dunbarsen blamed on the damage of my internal organs," said Belnick.
"And that bearded guy in the middle is some relative of Master Dunbarsen. He came to the hut quite a number of times and even brought me fruits. He was the one who told me about the death of the Old Master, however, he didn't mention anything about the outside world other than that. I really don't understand why they didn't do anything when the Kenmays Family attacked. They definitely had the ability to defeat the viscount's forces... Don't tell me they don't understand that without the Norton Family, they would lose their only backbone for survival?"
After Lorist helped Belnick back into his sitting position, he pointed towards the arrow-filled shield and said, "Didn't you see that? Their target was you. They want to wipe you out so nobody will be able to find out that you've been poisoned by Master Dunbarsen once you recover from not consuming the toxin. I'm sure they've been plotting to kill you for the past two years to deal a fatal blow to the forces of our family. The people of Wildnorth Town don't even consider themselves as the citizens of the Norton Family dominion and never had any intention to weather the good and bad times with us from the very beginning. The moment they noticed that they weren't punished for their first betrayal, they took the benevolence and forgiveness of our family as a sign of weakness and began to go even further to the point that they consider an act of ambushing us like this to be the most natural thing to do without batting an eye.
"Brother Beck, surely by now you understand why I had your squire Casey and Supervisor Kedan stay back at Wildnorth Town. I can no longer trust anybody there. Apart from Shadekampf, I don't even trust Supervisor Kedan fully. Given your state, you can even be fatally injured by an eight-year-old child. Even though Casey is your squire, given the time he had spent at the town, there's no guarantee that he hasn't been bought over by the people there already. For your safety, I've decided to return to the bastide with only the three of us.
"And to my expectations, Master Dunbarsen had no choice but to resort to an ambush like this. However, I bet he wouldn't dare to imagine in his wildest dreams that the six he sent out would be killed by me so easily. Hehe, there's a saying that goes, 'swallowing one's teeth after having them punched loose by another'. They won't even be able to mourn for their losses publicly. Sometimes, I feel like a bully for even bothering to plot against those of Wildnorth Town. Their intentions and ambitions were practically written all over their faces for me to read! There's no challenge in that at all! Shadekampf, what are you still standing there for? Let's get back home as soon as possible."