Baron Camorra quickly noticed that he had just made a grave mistake. He never should've treated the family of the Roaring Raging Bear of the Northlands as the common noble families that he had been dealing with. In terms of history and heritage, the Norton Family far exceeded even that of the duke's Loggins Family. Families that have 200 to 300 years of history like that had their own pride and stubbornness unlike most other dominion lords that would easily lower their heads and butter up the ambassador of the duke by giving him expensive gifts and women in fear that they would offend him for some reason.
Thinking that the Norton Family was completely different from what he had heard before, Baron Camorra thought that there was a high chance that he wouldn't be able to fulfill his mission this time around. Didn't Viscount Kenmays tell me that the Nortons had already become weak and incompetent? I heard that he had brought hundreds of farmer soldiers to attack the Norton Family bastide and even besieged them for three whole months and only had to stop because they ran out of food... I believed that if it were possible, he would've liked to continue the siege longer...
Even though Viscount Kenmays sounded rather casual when he said that at that time, within a short six months, the Norton Family managed to plunder the Redriver Valley Bastide all of a sudden and left it burning to ashes after everything was taken. Baron Camorra still recalled the scene when Viscount Kenmays went to see the duke about the issue: the usually elegant and refined viscount's face was purple with rage and he even fainted after spitting out mouthfuls of blood as he muttered, "My gold coins... my gold coins..."
Most people thought that the viscount was agonizing over the gold coins that he had used to purchase all the goods that were taken at the bastide. The massive amounts of shipment that the viscount brought into the Northlands some time ago had caused so many people to be green-eyed with jealousy. It was then when the people of the Northlands wondered whether the wealth of the Kenmays Family could actually rival that of a kingdom, as they could manage to bring in so much resources all at once.
Right after the incident of the bastide burning down, while others were secretly delighting in the viscount's loss, Baron Camorra had been spending money to bribe one of the personal attendants of Viscount Kenmays and got to know that the viscount had fainted on that day because of the loss of his secret stash of money that he had stored at the bastide. It had already become the loot of the Nortons.
According to that attendant, there were exactly 100000 gold Fordes stored at the bastide and he was certain of that figure because he had filled up those chests himself within the secret room at the bastide. He remembered clearly that there were 5 chests that each stored 20000 gold Fordes stacked neatly together.
That sum of money was actually the result of the efforts and methods the viscount had meticulously employed over the years ever since he first joined the family's trading group at the age of 16. Aside from the three of his personal attendants, nobody else including his own father knew about the money. Now that it had been taken by the Norton Family, the viscount could only despair: even if he could eradicate the Norton Family by the time his 2000 soldiers arrive, the existence of the money had already been revealed and it would no longer be his personal cash as it would have to be handed to the family itself. It would never make its way back into the viscount's hands.
Baron Camorra was shocked to hear the figure of the private savings of the viscount: that amount was easily six times the annual income of the duke's dominion. He was really familiar with the duke's income and expenses and the formation of the duke's Northland Army of at least 20000 people would add another 40000 imperial gold coins to the duke's upkeep. The duke's annual income was just around 60000 imperial gold coins which was roughly equivalent to around 16000 gold Fordes. That was the main factor that limited the duke's ability to further expand that army.
To most other people, Baron Camorra was merely someone who had lucked out to gain his position today. Looking like a monkey-faced clown, most people felt that he had managed to gain the duke's favor by mere coincidence. What they didn't take into account was that while the duke had many weaknesses and shortcomings, he wasn't a ruler that could easily be swayed around like that. The reason he trusted Camorra and even granted him the title of a baron was because of the achievements he had gained by his own ability.
Baron Camorra was originally a commoner born in Gildusk City and he had spent most of his life in the slums among the lowest dredges of society. He did everything he could to survive including being a liar, a thief and a gangster. However, he was finally caught for stealing at the age of 16 and just as he was about to have his hand amputated as punishment, the local dominion lord intervened out of nowhere and forgave Camorra of his crimes and even gave him a small fortune and some clothes.
That benevolent dominion lord said to him, "I can't have a young boy like you dying from having your hands cut off on the day my son is born. That will forever taint this auspicious day of mine. That's why I forgave you and even graced you with this little gift. You don't have to thank me, this is the fortune that my little angel has brought to you. I can only advise you to change your way of life and find a proper job so that you can secure your own happiness and livelihood with your own efforts. If you don't listen to what I have to say, you will definitely be captured again and die a dog's death from having your hands amputated. However, at that moment, your death will no longer have anything to do with my precious son."
As if he had gained a sudden revelation, Camorra went to the Shrine of Singwa and carried out all sorts of chores there during the day to earn his share of two pieces of black bread. During his free time, he also spent his time learning as much as he could from the priests of the shrine and after three years, he had gained the trust and admiration of the priests of the shrine and one of the senior priests promoted him to become a warden. From a position at the jail, Camorra spent 10 short years to be promoted to the level of a security captain and spent another 10 years to become the chief tax officer of Gildusk City and caught Duke Loggins's eye.
If one were to pick the poorest duke out within those of the Krissen Empire, the Duke of the Northlands would definitely fit the bill. One of the duke's ancestors had once took the post as the prime minister during the time of Krissen III and had a reputation in the history books as the virtuous prime minister. Back then, the Krissen Empire was fraught with natural disasters as well as internal and external conflict and it was the leader of the Loggins family at that time that had used every method at his disposal to unify the empire and grant it peace and stability. In the end, he died from overwork at his work desk and that prompted the emperor of that time to elevate the title of the Loggins Family from a viscount to a duke and grant the southern part of the Northlands to their family as a hereditary dominion.
However, the Loggins Family could not have hated Krissen III more. Even though their dukedom was 10 times larger than their previous viscounty, the profit the family made had decreased more than 10 times. Krissen III had actually claimed the profitable viscounty for himself and ceded the desolate northern lands to their family as their dominion instead. To the Loggins Family, that was a stab in the back that they didn't deserve considering the contributions the family had made to the empire. Perhaps it was the emperor's way of punishing the family for hogging so much power within the empire for so long and making the emperor feel like he's nothing more than a figurehead.
During the reign of the former Krissen Empire, the revenue of the Duke of the Northlands was merely around 100000 imperial gold coins. That amount was akin to the profit that a common baron earned in the most prosperous areas of the empire. The previous leaders of the Loggins Family had tried to develop their lands before, but none of the leaders were as talented as the former viscount and they were mostly plagued by their limited funds and the natural hazards of the Northlands. Surprisingly, the Loggins Family had produced a number of family leaders that excelled in the military, causing them to be known by some as the family that had relinquished their scholarly brilliance to become military brutes.
When compared to many of his predecessors, the current Duke Loggins was not accomplished in both academic and martial prowess and was only average at whatever he did. He also had lots of shortcomings like lust, greed, indecisiveness and a fond liking for spending on unnecessary luxuries. However, one redeeming factor that he had was his ability to judge people. He had picked Camorra to manage the taxes of his dukedom and organize the formation of the Northland Army as well as manage the logistics and supply of the army.
Camorra, not letting the duke's expectations down, had spent three whole years revamping the taxation system of the dukedom and helped the chaotic dominion recover its revenue by up to six times like it used to be in the old days, thus allowing the duke to no longer have to save up just to make ends meet as well as allowing for the original 3000-strong garrison of the dukedom to be expanded into a staggering 20000-strong Northland Army. The income of the dukedom also ensured that the army would be able to sustain itself in terms of equipment and supplies.
After merely three years, the duke was extremely satisfied with Camorra's performance and fulfilled his promise to make him a baron. Naturally, it was merely an honorary title that didn't come with a dominion. That meant that Baron Camorra was only an honorary noble.
The night he was given the title, Camorra locked himself in his room and cried himself to sleep. He knew that most of the people around him treated him like a joke and didn't know how much effort he had put in to get to where he was. Even though he wasn't even 45 years old, he had lost half of the original volume of his hair over the years of stressful toiling. He was extremely thankful for the duke's favor towards him and he continued to believe that as long as he served the duke well, he would one day gain a dominion for himself and become a proper landed noble.
After receiving the report from Viscount Kenmays's attendant, Baron Camorra secretly told the duke about it. The duke was absolutely staggered by the sum of 100000 gold Fordes and was even considering sending out the entire Northland Army to get the whole amount for himself. However, Baron Camorra said that he shouldn't make such large movements lest he attracts the attention of others. Duke Loggins understood that Camorra was referring to the Second Prince and that man was even greedier than the infamous duke himself.
On the other hand, it would be easy to come out with an excuse to pester the Norton Family: ever since the Second Prince's Iblia Kingdom had decreed for all landed nobles of the Northlands to be under the jurisdiction of the Duke of the Northlands, the Norton Family had not made a visit to the duke himself for a single time even though they paid their taxes regularly. They could also argue that the Norton Family's lack of notification to the duke when they selected a new family leader was a disrespectful act to the duke as he was their senior noble and not reporting the fact meant that they were treating him as if he didn't exist. It could also be said that among the old noble families of the Northlands, the Norton Family had become a rogue family that did not have any associations to a senior noble.
After deciding on the excuse with his trusted subordinate, the duke decided to send none other than Baron Camorra himself to the Norton Family as his ambassador. To pressure the Nortons to submit, the duke had also sent one of the five Gold ranked knights he had to accompany the baron on his journey as well as an escort of 20 Silver ranked knights and two small squads of elite soldiers of the Northland Army.
The duke also instructed Baron Camorra that if the Norton Family knew what was good for them, not only did they have to hand over the 100000 gold Fordes, they also had to give two thirds of the resources they had plundered to the duke to gain his forgiveness for the Norton Family leader's disregard. And if the Norton Family refuses to abide to those conditions, the escort that the baron brought with him would be more than enough to wipe the family out.
Ever since the First Young Master and the previous family leader of the Norton Family died, the Nortons no longer had any Gold ranked fighters. One Gold ranked knight, twenty Silver ranked knights and another two squads of Iron ranked elite troops should be more than enough to frighten the wits out of the Nortons already. What other choice did they have but to obey the will of the duke? At the time, that was what Duke Loggins and Baron Camorra believed. The duke even joked that the real reason the escort of that might was sent was to ensure that the 100000 gold Fordes would be transferred back to the duke's dominion safely.
Not knowing the true situation of the Norton Family, the duke and the baron even laughed about the conflict between the Kenmays Family and the Nortons because there wasn't even much of a point to fight for lands as desolate as their dominions' as most of the more developed places of the Northlands was at the south where the duke's dominion was located.
If the duke knew about the decimation of the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew, then he definitely wouldn't have underestimated the might of the Nortons. Had he known that Lorist managed to single-handedly defeat the twin Gold ranked shield-bearers, the duke might have considered sending all five of his Gold ranked knights along with the baron as well as another 6000 of his troops. However, if he truly did that, then everyone would know that he was going to rob the Nortons of their gold.
During all his time in service to Duke Loggins, Baron Camorra had seen many nobles who would endure any and every kind of insult he threw at them and try their best to please him. As the duke's ambassador, Baron Camorra had been to many dominions of other noble families to provoke, to mediate, to threaten, to extort, and most often to collect taxes. Before he was even given the title of an honorary baron, the landed nobles were already extremely respectful to him. Camorra had even met some nobles who were willing to send their wives and daughters to accompany him in bed for some extra perks like a small tax cuts.
Before he arrived at the Maplewoods Bastide, Baron Camorra had assumed that the Nortons were just like the usual noble families he dealt with. But nobody would've expected for him to run into trouble the moment he arrived at Firmrock Castle. At the foot of the newly-constructed defensive wall, the Gold ranked Knight Tabik who had accompanied him shouted for everyone within the Norton Family to show up and receive them. But a young knight merely peeked over the wall and bluntly asked the arrogant Tabik to shut up.
The Nortons' construction of a castle at Morgan Hills was news to the baron and he didn't expect that they would have a Gold ranked marksman among their ranks as well. When he was making his way through Firmrock Castle, the baron had also noticed the ballistas which were set up on the wall as well as the metal-armored soldiers who were manning them and felt that he had neglected to investigate the true military prowess of the Norton Family and started to worry whether he would be able to successfully complete his mission,
By the time he arrived at Maplewoods Bastide, he noticed something different about the place when compared to Firmrock Castle. The people of Firmrock Castle, no matter whether they were soldiers or workers, weren't remotely bothered by the presence of the men sent by the duke: apart from a few curious looks, most of the people didn't even show the slightest interest in the duke's men. However, at Maplewoods Bastide, the moment the duke's name was uttered, everyone there either panicked or showed their deepest respects. Even though the entry of the 200 or so soldiers into the bastide's castle was denied, Baron Camorra noticed that they were being served the best food the bastide had during the reception feast.
The one who was present at the feast was the old and cunning Butler Gleis, whom Baron Camorra didn't manage to glean the slightest information about the family from despite his incessant questioning. The baron decided to test them out by secretly asking Knight Tabik to flirt with the female knight of the family and noticed that even though the other members of the Norton Family were mad at that act, they did not dare to take any action. At least, that was the case until the Gold ranked marksman who escorted them humphed in annoyance, causing Tabik to cease whatever he was doing.
The baron was also keenly observing the situation when the Norton Family's new leader entered the hall and he saw that the Gold ranked marksman and the Silver ranked knight that was beside him were extremely respectful to that young family leader from the very bottom of their hearts. Thus, Baron Camorra decided to test the young leader's reaction with his usual arrogant and rude act: most other nobles usually attended to him more respectfully after the commotion he caused and the baron expected the family leader of the Nortons to react the same as well.
But he was extremely taken aback by the huge reaction the young man exhibited which involved his questioning of the baron's legitimacy as a noble. The baron could also feel the seething killing intent which radiated from the eyes of the young man when he turned his gaze to him. What deep, black eyes... They seem like an unending abyss of darkness... After he was gazed at, the baron felt like he was being eyed by a high-ranked magical beast as if he were its prey and found himself frozen and unable to move before his train of thought got disrupted entirely as he awaited his impending doom.
That kind of desolation and helplessness had caused the baron to lose his usual cool and rationality to the point that he even hurriedly took out his nobility certificates when Lorist demanded him to prove his legitimacy. Having one's legitimacy as a noble questioned was the paramount insult one could experience no matter whether one was a landed or honorary noble.
By the time Tabik was calmly attesting to the baron's identity, Baron Camorra only felt a pang of humiliation. He understood that he would definitely become a laughing-stock among the noble circles and that would only serve to reinforce his reputation as the clown who merely got lucky.
Baron Camorra silently kept the certificates and documents he had placed on the table and readjusted his robes and removed the light blonde wig from his head to reveal his bald, shiny scalp. With a pale face, he performed a standard noble greeting towards Lorist and said with a serious tone, "With utmost respect, Lord Norton, I represent my liege, Duke Loggins, to ask the Norton Family a question and to discuss two other matters..."