A look of surprise flashed through Lorist's eyes as he didn't expect that clown-like skinny man to recover his calm so quickly and even managed to carry out his job as an ambassador properly despite having just been humiliated. It seems that this guy is rather strong-willed and is definitely more than meets the eye...
Once again wearing a solemn expression, Lorist stood up straight and said in a strict fashion, "I welcome your arrival. As the head of the Norton Family, I, Norton Lorist, represent the family to receive the greetings of the duke."
Baron Camorra observed Lorist carefully and no longer dared to look down on that young man. Lorist was different from the other nobles he had encountered in a way that even though he sounded rather polite, there was not a shred of respect towards the duke that could be picked out from what he had just said. In fact, the tone of speech Lorist used seemed to suggest that he considered the duke to be on the same level as he was. Instead of the much detested arrogant pride nobles usually had, it was self-confidence that was oozing out of Lorist's being.
"Lord Norton, as the overlord and Duke of the Northlands, Duke Loggins would like to know why the Norton Family haven't paid a single visit to him even though it has already been three years since the Second Prince designated all the nobles of the Northlands to be under his rule. Isn't that against the common conventions of nobility? And after the passing of the previous baron, why didn't the new family head pay a visit to the duke to gain his permission to succeed the title? The Lord Duke has already waited patiently for three years and could no longer withstand an insult like that. That's why he would like to know if the Norton Family considers him as an enemy." Since Baron Camorra didn't recognize Lorist's claim to the title of a baron, he addressed him as Lord Norton instead.
Lorist laughed slightly and said, "The Norton Family has never once considered Duke Loggins and his family as an enemy, and also acknowledges his rule over the Northlands. Otherwise, the we wouldn't have bothered to pay the taxes on time in the first place. However, we do not acknowledge the duke to be our senior noble as it is publicly known that the Norton Family has been entitled by the Krissen Royal Family themselves. Let me ask you, Lord Baron, since when has Duke Loggins been a member of the royal family?"
"Didn't the Second Prince already order all the nobles of the Northlands to take the duke as their senior noble?" Baron Camorra asked.
"Lord Baron, can the Second Prince be considered a representative of the royal family? I think not, as all the nobles know that the only one who can do so is the Third Prince of the Andinaq Kingdom who has been nominated as a successor by the emperor himself. So since when did the Second Prince have any authority to will the Nortons to become a subordinate noble family of the Loggins Family? What he did was just as laughable as a neighbor selling your house without gaining your permission. Naturally, if Duke Loggins is able to gain the agreement from the Third Prince, then we will immediately pay our due respects to the duke. But right now, just as you have mentioned, I have many things to settle as the new dominion lord and I can only hope that I will have some free time to visit the duke in the future," Lorist said.
"Ugh..." Baron Camorra didn't expect Lorist's answer to be that reasonable. "That means that the Norton Family is intent on going against the Lord Duke?"
"Whether I am going against him will depend on his own judgment. If he thinks that my reasoning is fair, he should go see the Third Prince and gain his approval to govern our family. If he thinks that the Norton Family is antagonizing him, he can simply send his Northland Army to force us to submit. Even though the Norton Family's might is pretty small in comparison to the duke's Northland Army, we are still the Roaring Raging Bear of the North and we will still have the ability to cause the duke a substantial loss," said Lorist as he casually threatened the baron.
It seems that the issue with the Norton Family's allegiance will be a troublesome one. The Nortons are really different from other nobles, they are not even bothered by the threat of the duke's army. Having no other choice, Baron Camorra decided to skip the issue and move on to something else. His true goal that day was not to force the Nortons to submit to the duke but rather to get the 100000 gold Fordes from them.
"Lord Norton, I think it's best if we solve that issue at a later date. I will definitely tell the duke your words exactly. We will just have to wait and see what he decides," said Baron Camorra. "Can we move on to talk about the other two issues?"
"Naturally. Sit down, I'm all ears." Since it was a negotiation, there was no need to be so formal. Lorist heartily asked the baron to take a seat before talking about the issue.
Lorist's impression of the baron had took a huge turn after the short conversation they had. He observed that the baron had quickly changed the subject upon noticing he was at a disadvantage since he wasn't able to force the Norton Family to submit.
"I need to first ask you to not spread this issue out. The duke wishes that the Second Prince doesn't find out about it as the Second Prince has been secretly suppressing his plans to build the Northland Army by setting up a huge number of obstacles. That was why the duke had secretly gathered a huge amount of gold and gave it to the Kenmays Family so that they may help him to secretly purchase a bunch of military supplies. However, he didn't expect that the Kenmays Family would store the gold at the Redriver Valley Bastide. Following the result of the conflict between your family and the Kenmayses, which ended with the bastide being set on fire, the gold must have come into your possession. The duke hopes that you would return the gold to him and also offers his heartfelt thanks for your cooperation.
"The sum of gold coins that were taken is 100000 gold Fordes exactly and they were stored within five huge iron chests," said Baron Camorra as he instilled some truth to his lie to make it more palatable. The might of the Norton Family had far exceeded his expectations, so he dropped his approach to threaten them and tried to test the waters first.
Lorist really wanted to applaud at what the baron had just said. What a talent he is! He could actually spin such a convincing lie that would definitely sound perfect to those who don't know better. He even knows about the sum of the gold, and that fact reinforces that the money could have belonged to the duke. Too bad the duke doesn't know that Butler Boris had already joined the Nortons and he knew almost everyone at the Redriver Valley Bastide, allowing him to easily pinpoint Viscount Kenmays's personal attendant who was in charge of watching the money as well as his family members. After only 50 canes, the attendant had obediently revealed the location where the gold was stored.
I don't know where the duke got the information and sum of the gold... But for him to stretch out his claws of greed so quickly and even send such a powerful escort along with his ambassador... He definitely doesn't have any good intentions. It's too bad that he had underestimated us. Right now, he's stuck in a difficult position.
Lorist looked at Baron Camorra with a weird look on his face that basically said, 'come on, keep on spinning more stories for me to hear'.
Baron Camorra's face flushed slightly from being stared at so intensely and he asked gingerly, "Lord Norton... What do you think about the matter..."
Lorist hummed a few times before he said, "Let's put that aside first and talk about the other issue. What does the duke want to negotiate with us about?"
"Oh, due to the years of internal conflict within the former territories of the empire, the duke's manor is in a really bad state and the Gildusk City's fortifications have not been maintained for quite a while: the walls have even started to crack up. As the duke is a little short on funds, there is no way for him to commission for any repairs to be done. I heard that the your family had won a huge victory against the Kenmays Family and got all the construction materials they have stored at the bastide. That's why the duke hopes that you will be able to provide half of the loot to him so that he may renovate his manor as well as begin the repair works..." said Baron Camorra as he decided on his own accord to reduce the original amount of two thirds to only a half.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, that was all," the baron said as he nodded.
"Hehe, only those two requests?" Lorist asked as he laughed.
Baron Camorra once again nodded and said, "Yes, only two requests."
"I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have a request as well..." said Tabik, who was angered that Lorist had completely neglected his presence before he decided to interject between Lorist and Camorra's conversation.
Lorist looked at the Gold ranked knight with surprise and said, "Then, oh-so-admirable and respectable knight, please tell me about your request..."
"I see that your family has a rather abundant supply of metal armor. Even the most common soldiers you have are equipped with those. However, our Northland Army has 20000 soldiers but we have less than 100 sets of armor for ourselves. That's why I want your soldiers to remove their sets of armor and let us bring them back..."
Tabik had always looked down on Baron Camorra and he didn't understand why the duke was so fond of a mere baron who did not even have a dominion like him. This time, Tabik only reluctantly joined the expedition to the Norton Family dominion as he felt that it was very embarrassing for him to be seen together with that clown of a baron and the baron's earlier flustered reaction only served to prove his point. It was fortunate the baron managed to pretend that nothing had happened before and conversed with Lorist normally. Secondly, Tabik felt that he didn't need to be there as he doubted that the Norton Family would resist the orders of the duke given the looming threat of the Northland Army.
However, after seeing the lightning bolt-like green arrow nail his mount to the ground back at Firmrock Castle, he understood that there was a Gold ranked marksman that he couldn't afford to offend, causing him to stop his overbearing behavior and do his best to not cause any trouble. When he was teasing the female Silver ranked knight earlier, he stopped immediately after hearing the marksman grunt with dissatisfaction.
Given that Tabik managed to make it to the Gold rank, he was definitely no idiot. However, the moment he saw the Norton Family's young leader enter the room, he thought that an opportunity had showed up before him. Firstly, the Gold ranked marksman within the room had let down his guard by laying back in his chair and staring towards the roof. Secondly, the Norton Family leader was sitting right in front of him and it was almost too easy for him to lash out if he needed to. From Tabik's observation, he could tell that the Norton Family head was not even a Silver rank. Otherwise, the Battle Force flowing within his bloodstream would definitely be detected by a Gold ranked fighter like Tabik. At most, the youth could only be an Iron rank.
As Baron Camorra carefully negotiated with the Norton youth, Tabik grew even more impatient and thought, why does the duke's ambassador have to talk so respectfully to a mere commoner? Shouldn't he be spouting orders instead? Even if the Nortons have a Gold ranked marksman, what could they do against the Northland Army? If everyone in the army spat out a mouthful of saliva, the Nortons would easily be drowned alive already...
The reason Tabik was being in his best behavior was because he feared that the Gold ranked marksman would intervene and challenge him to a duel. While he wouldn't necessarily die from a conflict with the marksman, it would still be rather embarrassing to be pummeled for no good reason. The last thing Tabik wanted was to become a huge joke after his return to the duke's dominion with the clown.
However, due to some kind of luck, the young Norton Family leader who didn't know what was good for him was seated right in front of him. As long as he held him hostage, the Norton Family would have no other choice but to yield. Even the Gold ranked marksman would have no choice but to submit unless he wanted his lord to die, and that was hardly possible. Taking into account of the 20 other Silver ranked knights he brought along with him, Tabik planned to force the people in charge to open the castle gates to allow his 200 or so soldiers enter the castle to set the situation in his favor.
As long as I can hold that Norton kid hostage, then the duke's demands will definitely be satisfied and I would take most of the credit while that clown over there will remain nothing but a joke. Maybe the duke might even strip him of his title and let him return to being a dirty commoner and I might stand a chance to receive a title and dominion myself and my status will ascend to that of landed nobility...
Even though Tabik was busy fantasizing, he was also very wary of his surroundings. However, his worries quickly evaporated as the Gold ranked marksman had actually fallen asleep within the room. I really don't get how he's able to sleep so calmly in a situation like this. The guards of the Norton kid are also not paying attention and are whispering about something among themselves. I just need an excuse to act right now.
Even though Tabik had considered lashing out to catch them off-guard, that would be far too unrefined and undignified of him given his status as a Gold ranked knight. He would definitely not be able to feel proud for his own success if he had to rely on ambushing to deal with a puny Iron rank and that act would forever taint his reputation for the rest of his life. The best solution was for Tabik to cause the Norton Family head to argue with him so that he would have a perfectly reasonable excuse to take him down.
Having thought through his plan, Tabik told Lorist of his unreasonable request.
As expected, Lorist started laughing, but his laughter got softer as time went on.
"What are you laughing at?" Tabik asked, dissatisfied.
"Do you see the door over there?" Loirst asked as he pointed at the door of the grand hall.
"What about it?"
"You will find the gates of the castle after exiting the hall and taking a right turn..."
"Why would I do that?"
"Are you an idiot? Don't you understand that I'm asking you to fuck off? I really don't get how a bird-brain like you managed to become a Gold ranked knight. I guess idiots have their own kind of luck too..." Lorist said.
Even though Tabik expected a backlash from his suggestion, he really didn't expect the young master of the Nortons to manage to enrage him to the core of his being. Lorist's brutally honest insults were something a Gold ranked knight like Tabik had never needed to endure ever in his life.
"You will pay for your words today..." said Tabik with a hoarse voice before he thumped on the long table and broke it into half. As the bowls, wine glasses and wine barrels flew all over the place, Tabik leaped over to Lorist with both his hands outstretched...