Viscount Kenmays stared at the spot his father's fist landed on while breaking a cold sweat.
"Fa-father... Are you crazy? That is Count Lopez's dominion and he is one of the most prized subjects of the king... Have you forgotten the king's words? He wants our family to work well with Count Lopez... We're supposed to distract Duke Loggins on the surface while the count works in the dark and sends the duke a critical strike with his elite troops, right? Even if we were to decide to attack him, what would we use against him? Our disobedient soldiers? Also, Count Lopez has quite a number of Silver ranked knights..."
"The king? Are you talking about that idiotic Second Prince? Right now, he already has his hands full with other stuff, so there's no way he would have time to care about the happenings in the Northlands. Before I departed towards here, I received a piece of news that the army of the Second Prince suffered huge losses at the Melein Duchy and has almost crumbled completely. Duke Melein led his army on a counterattack at the borders of the Iblia Kingdom and he is currently sweeping three districts within the royal capital with his forces. I think that the Second Prince will have to prostrate himself in front of his father-in-law, Duke Fisablen, to save his arse this time. Otherwise, he might even lose the royal capital..." said the Kenmays Family leader as he snickered.
"As for Count Lopez, do you think he is truly loyal to the Second Prince? Even though the Second Prince asked the two of our families to work together, has the count done his part? After he got his dominion from the Second Prince, he has been doing nothing but flattering him. The count only knows how to demand our family to help him out with something, but never once has he reciprocated the favor on the occasions when we requested for some additional forces from him and used the barbarians in his dominion as an excuse. Ironically, the barbarian threat he kept musing about actually dealt him a rather fatal injury and a few of his Silver ranked knights even perished in battle. Look at this," said the family head as he took out a letter.
"This is the letter requesting reinforcements sent by the count himself. With this, we can even bring all our troops in the open into his dominion and castle without the slightest resistance! When we arrive, the count will simply 'die on his sickbed' from the injuries he got. After that, we can swallow up his dominion and men and attack the surrounding nobles until we conquer the whole of the eastern part of the Northlands."
"But father, that area is quite close to the Magical Dragon Mountains... The barbarians are bound to be a threat to us... Didn't we give up on taking over the eastern Northlands so that the count can resist the barbarians for us?" asked the viscount.
"The current situation has changed completely from that time. After the return of their Second Young Master, the Norton Family's strength has increased by leaps and bounds and their land is no longer something we can aspire to take for ourselves. The plan to develop Morgan Hills will also have to be scrapped. While our losses are still minimal, let's head east and let the Nortons face off against Duke Loggins while we wipe out the rest of the nobles in the eastern Northlands and take their dominions instead."
"Father, even if we unite the eastern Northlands, the mountain barbarians will still remain a problem. The barbarians there are far more active than those of other places and they would be quite the obstacle for the family's plans for the eastern Northlands..." said the viscount, unconvinced by his father's reasoning.
"Hehe, did you forget the barbarian slaves I bought some time ago? Weren't you curious why I treated them like important people and gave them whatever they wanted? This is where they finally come into play. I can start relations with the mountain barbarians of the Magical Dragon Mountains and trade with them. I could even hire some of their troops for our own ends as well. I promised the barbarian slaves that as long as they can satisfy my requests, they will be able to continue to live their lives in luxury. With their aid, I believe the barbarians of the Magical Dragon Mountains will become a new source of wealth for our family," said the Kenmays Family head as he pointed on the map.
"Look closely at the map. If we continue our plan to force the Norton Family to submit and develop the Morgan Hills, then our route outside the Northlands will be within the grasps of Duke Loggins and he'll continue to suck out the blood and wealth of our family like a damned leech. However, if we take over and develop the eastern Northlands instead, we will be able to construct a new metal bridge across Metropoulos River to link the eastern Northlands to the outside world. As a result, our family will no longer have to rely on that duke's Hendliff Suspension Bridge and hand a part of our profits to him. Based on these reasons, I believe that focusing our efforts on the eastern Northlands will be the most optimal route for our family to take..."
"But the forces we have is not enough to carry out your plan. The soldiers are still against following any of my orders..." said the viscount while he looked rather crestfallen.
"That's because you ordered them to march forward to their deaths!" said the Kenmays Family leader angrily. "I, on the other hand, am glad that they didn't follow your orders. Apart from women and your personal fund of 100000 gold Fordes, what else do you have in your head? Did you think that you would be able to conquer those extremely well-fortified walls with only 2000 soldiers? If that were the case, the Second Prince would have reigned supreme long ago. I already thought that we were rather lucky for our forces to have arrived at the Northlands before the Second Prince suffered his recent losses. Otherwise, they would've been ordered by the Second Prince to become fodder for the forces of the Melein Duchy! I didn't expect that the first thing I heard when I came over would be bad news... 500 people! A quarter of our forces have already been wiped out within one afternoon... I... I really want to pummel you to death..."
The family leader took some deep breaths to calm down and retained his calm. "From now on, these soldiers will no longer be under your command. Muribad..."
"Sir!" One of the men who entered the tent with the Kenmays Family head stepped forward and replied out loud. He was a big-built man with a military air about him and looked to be over his thirties.
"Muribad, I hereby appoint you as the Regiment Commander of the Kenmays Family forces. Take command of that unit from now on."
"Yes, Old Master. I will not let your expectations down."
The Kenmays Family head nodded and said to the viscount, "Muribad was originally the Regiment Commander of the Local Defense Army of the Romon Empire and is a Three Star Silver rank. However, his whole family had suffered as a result of offending the nobles of his nation. I brought him and his family over and he has agreed to serve the Kenmays Family as our knight."
"Sully, come over."
The other man stepped forward. He was a dark-skinned man who was at least one head taller than Viscount Kenmays at a height of 2.2 meters. His bulging muscles seemed to give of a metallic sheen and made him look exceedingly tough.
"He is called Suleimos and he used to be a gladiator of the Hanayabarta Kingdom. A Two Star Silver rank, he was forced to fight countless death battles for the entertainment of the people. I spent a huge sum and used some favors to purchase him and had someone else teach him the ways and practices of a knight. He is also willing to serve our family as a knight. Now, you will perform the knighting ceremony on the two of them," instructed the Kenmays Family leader.
After the ceremony, the family leader asked Viscount Kenmays why he was smashing everything within the tent with abandon when he entered the tent.
Viscount Kenmays proceeded to explain the issue of the knight carnival to his father.
The Kenmays Family leader shook his head and said, "You really need to use your head more. You could have participated in the carnival without necessarily having to fight yourself and used the chance to see if any wandering or freelance knights were willing to join our family. To the Northlanders, we are outsiders who are not familiar with the land. That's why we will be able to better integrate ourselves here with the help of the knights who are willing to serve us and assimilate into the ranks of the Northland nobility..."
"Father, I think that these wandering knights are nothing more than savage dogs with poor upbringing who will leap at the slightest chance to grab a piece of meat. They are not so different from mercenaries and don't have better fighting prowess than them either. I think we should not recruit them into the family." The viscount voiced his full objection to his father's suggestion.
"You're wrong. While one or two dogs won't amount to much, if we have a whole pack of them, even ferocious wolves will have to retreat and be on their guard. Our family can't only rely on our soldiers. Even a person will need two legs to walk stably. While these wandering knights are not excellent if you consider them individually, they are perfect candidates for a knight brigade. Afterwards, bring Suleimos with you to participate in the carnival and let him pick some candidates to join our family. Other than that, spread the word that the Kenmays Family is intent on forming a small knight brigade and that we welcome wandering knights to join us."
"Do we accept everyone who applies?" the viscount asked.
"No, we will only recruit Silver ranked knights. When we begin our plan to unite the eastern Northlands, a Silver ranked knight brigade will make sure that the mountain barbarians think twice of offending us. Let any knight who comes to join us stay within the camp. I will bring Muribad and Suleimos with me to the dominion of Count Lopez tomorrow afternoon while you will mingle around here with the other nobles and focus on recruiting the wandering knights. If anyone asks, tell them that we have mobilized our forces to answer the count's plea for reinforcements," said the Kenmays Family head.
"Alright, father. I understand. You mean to say that we're not recruiting the wandering knights to become our family knights, but rather only to join our knight brigade, right?"
"Yes. You can also tell them that anyone who performs well will be promoted to a family knight one day," said the family leader as he nodded.
Lorist was currently watching the battles of the knights from the walls while Telesti accompanied him.
"Milord, I really don't like to witness violent acts like that..." complained Telesti. She had unwillingly accepted Lorist's invitation to watch the carnival battles moments ago. On the other hand, Vinny looked at the battles with an expression of excitement and fascination.
"My dear Telesti, you can't stay cooped up in your room all day only to analyze the construction models. That will affect your health you know. There are lots of benefits to taking a walk now and then in the sun. Don't tell me it's a waste of time. If you fall sick and can do nothing but rest in your bed, you would waste even more time as a result," Lorist said.
"Sigh..." Telesti looked at the battles with a furrowed brow. "Why do men love to fight and compete like this? Isn't it much better to sit down and chat while drinking tea?"
"That is a good idea. I have some fine tea leaves within my room. Should I invite my beautiful Miss Telesti for a lengthy chat on life while we enjoy some drinks?" said Lorist with a brilliant smile on his face.
Telesti rolled her eyes and said, "It's just another one of your tricks again... I will not be tempted by it..."
Ah, it truly is wonderful being able to flirt with a beautiful woman... Just as Lorist was about to resume his advances, Patt rushed over hurriedly with a solemn look and said, "Milord, a messenger has arrived."
Sigh, I guess I have no choice. Urgent matters come first. Lorist could only bid Telesti goodbye and head to his room with Patt.
The messenger was a mercenary who was sweating profusely. Anyone who traveled 7 hours straight switching between 3 different mounts would no doubt look like that. Lorist recognized that mercenary as one of the guys who had dueled with him back at the construction site of the military base near Poplar Coast.
Upon seeing Lorist, the messenger revealed a startling piece of information which shocked him deeply. "Milord, a military unit flying the flag of Duke Loggins appeared outside Wildnorth Town this morning. The people of the town opened their gates to receive them and there is an estimated number of 3000 to 5000 soldiers within the unit that had set up their camps outside the town. Boss Hausky has already led some scouts to try to find the route the duke's men took after he ordered me to come to report the news to you..."
"What did you say?!" Lorist refused to believe what he had just heard. He was not unfamiliar with the terrain of his dominion. Given the presence of the Bladedge Mountains, the Blackmud Marsh, the Magical Dragon Mountains, the Black Forests as well as the Morgan Hills, there was no route through which an army could enter the Norton Family dominion without passing through Firmrock Castle. He really couldn't fathom how a unit that huge could have made its way undetected into his territory.
Thinking that Lorist had not heard him clearly enough the first time, the messenger repeated what he said once more.
"Patt, bring me the map of the family dominion."
Lorist turned to the mercenary and said, "Have you notified the people at Maplewoods Bastide?"
"I have when I was on the way here. I shouted the news to the guards of the walls without going inside and traveled here right away," replied the mercenary.
"Shadekampf, bring this comrade of ours to get some rest. Make sure he has a good meal before he sleeps. It's best if he takes a quick hot-water bath as well," said Lorist as he tossed a small money pouch to the mercenary.
Patt then placed the beastskin map on top of a table.
The two of them looked closely at the map and didn't spot a single route which could allow for thousands of men and horses to cross. However, Lorist did not discount the possibility of one such route existing.
"Milord, when I was a child, I heard that Wildnorth Town had a smuggling merchant convoy but I've never seen a trace of them all my life. I think the people of the town must have used that secret route. Otherwise, they would've had to pass through Maplewoods Bastide if they wanted to reach the outside world. Unless the soldiers of the duke somehow flown their way into our territory, they must've taken that secret route," said Patt angrily.
Lorist nodded and said, "We already know that Wildnorth Town has been preparing to rebel for some time now, but since when have they got in touch with Duke Loggins? Also, the messenger must have taken at least 7 hours to get from the Maplewoods Bastide to this place and we still don't know the status of the bastide. Is that army heading for Firmrock Castle right now? Patt, get Paulobins to immediately to lead some scouts for some reconnaissance and make sure to monitor the duke's army from afar. I will also have to ask someone to let the soldiers who are camped outside of the walls into the castle before I do anything else."