"Your Grace, His Imperial Majesty sent you a letter," reported Jinolio as he entered with an intricate, pale yellow envelope.
"Open it and let's see what our emperor is going to say this time." Lorist was currently quite preoccupied with something else. Since Jinolio was his third disciple, he had Lorist's trust and was allowed to deal with such matters.
It was currently tea time and Lorist was lying on a mat on the ground beneath a small pavilion in his garden. His two youngest children, Jadebins and Rolinors, were crawling all over his body. The two children were roughly born around the same time. One of them was Sylvia's youngest child and the other was Daisy's. The two of them were nearing the age of three and they were treating Lorist like a big, living toy, climbing all over him and tripping from time to time with joy.
To prevent displeasing the two little fellas, Lorist had no choice but to lay on the ground unmoving with a grim expression. He had to push the kids apart from time to time to prevent themselves from getting into a fight from overexcitement. Usually during tea time, Lorist would gather with his family and play around with his children. But when the women mentioned the new clothes that just arrived in stores for the autumn season, they all left their children to Lorist and swarmed to the markets. Lorist had his hands full looking after his children.
Fortunately, some of his elder children had to leave after tea time to receive lessons from their tutors, leaving behind the two energetic toddlers and a depressed Anderbael standing in a horse stance. Though he was supposed to attend two periods of additional vocabulary class, he slipped away when his tutor's attention slipped and used a stick to knock on a hornet's nest which he discovered in the garden. Had the leader of the guards, Patt, not passed through at that moment, Anderbael would definitely end up with swelling stings all over him.
When Patt brought Anderbael over, the tutor happened to be telling on him to Lorist. Lorist really couldn't deal with Anderbael. He tried corporal punishment and good old chiding, but the bear of a child stubbornly refused to change. In the end, he resorted to punishing him by getting him to get into the horse stance.
"Your Grace, His Imperial Majesty mentioned two things. The first concerns the Fiercegale plundering incident in Messen. He hinted at the scandal being a trap we set for him and asked us to not go too far and pursue the matter any longer since we obviously benefited from it."
Lorist snorted twice and said, "After all that, he's regretting it now? If he knew this was how it'd end up, why bother starting in the first place? If he didn't try to block our front door, why would we plot against him? He's not doing what he should and is paying pointless attention to our house, completely forgetting who saved him from Falik Plains in the first place. When it suits him, he'd come groveling to us and begging for our help, but when he no longer needs us, he tosses us away like a used rag.
"I more or less understand that he's a disloyal dog who sits when there's something in it for him and barks when there's not. Just ignore him. He's accusing us without any evidence anyway. Salt merchant committee sends out its convoys during the 4th and 9th months every year and the nobles were waiting to engage in their usual trade. It's Fiercegale's own fault for causing public outrage by preying on such a high-profile target. If the fish didn't bite the bait, how would we even get a hook on it in the first place?"
Lorist moved the snotty Jadebins off him and wanted to get a piece of cloth to wipe his face. But Jadebins simply rubbed his face on Lorist's pants. In fear of hurting him by pulling away, Lorist had no choice but to endure. He'd just have to change into another pair of pants.
"What's the second thing?" asked Lorist.
"Oh, His Imperial Majesty objects to the monopolization of the fishing catch in the whole of Egret Lake by Ironguard. He demands us to retreat to the center of the lake and not cross the middle line and also for us to not use the bank of the lake as a training ground for our cannons."
The year was going really sourly for Auguslo. Not only did the scandal with Fiercegale flare up, Whitelion, which he stationed in Welbassia and Yungechandler's border as well as House Norton's Ironguard which was stationed at Egret Lake displeased Auguslo greatly. He found himself in quite a difficult position as he didn't expect Whitelion to get along so well with Ironguard.
Back then, Auguslo had agreed to Lorist's request to send a legion of troops to Malivia to aid House Norton against the Trade Union as a reserve force. Based on Auguslo's three-year experience fighting the bloody battles in Falik Plains, he believed that the legion would be used as enemy fodder. There was a good chance that House Norton wouldn't be able to resist the assault of the Trade Union and use that legion to shield their own forces during their retreat.
At least, that was how Auguslo envisioned it. That was something he'd do if he was in that position. That was why when he returned to the imperial capital, he restructured the two legions under his control and shifted all the elite troops into the royal guard. Even the general of Whitelion, Ripleid, was moved to the royal guard to serve as general. Those that remained were knights that Auguslo didn't quite like for a variety of reasons like not willing to swear unconditional loyalty to him, so he stuffed them all in WHitelion and sent them to Malivia. In fact, Auguslo had practically given up on the entire legion.
The newly appointed general of Whitelion, Sybek, was a famous three-star gold-ranked knight in Andinaq who had pledged loyalty to Auguslo's father, the third prince. After the third prince's death, he wasn't regarded highly by Auguslo because he opposed one of his guerilla plans during the civil war. That marked the start of their cold relationship. Even when Auguslo was leading his 300-thousand-strong army to attack the Trade Union, Sybek only ever took the position of colonel or division sergeant major without ever being given a chance to take the helm.
However, during the bloody battles in Falik Plains, Sybek saved Auguslo's life once. That time, Auguslo was situated too far at the frontlines as he was inspecting the enemy encampments when two Trade Union blademasters attacked all of a sudden. Fortunately, Sybek happened to be passing through during a patrol. Otherwise, it would've been truly dangerous for Auguslo. The enemies were two rank 2 blademasters and even if Auguslo's own blademaster bodyguard could barely take on one, Auguslo wouldn't be able to fend off the other.
Now that Sybek had finally saved Auguslo's life, he began to catch his attention. However, given his straightforward personality that prompted him to say what he thought, he didn't give Auguslo any special care or respect. Naturally, Auguslo soon gave up on Sybek for his lack of sensibility. It was already quite surprising that he was even appointed the general of Whitelion.
Even though Sybek was a rather straightforward person, he was no fool. He knew why he was appointed to be Whitelion's general, but as a traditional royal family knight, he agreed to his assignment and started to reform his legion. He worked hard with his own troops and soon won their loyalty, managing to gain a thorough grasp on the legion.
Being sent to help the Norton forces out, Sybek understood his position and obediently followed any orders the Nortons gave them. The Nortons were quite satisfied with his cooperation and didn't neglect giving him some benefits as well, such as subsidizing some of their rations and giving a part of the supplies they obtained from the Trade Union. They even received some magic beast jerky that was shipped all the way from The Northlands.
In the end, Whitelion's troops had a better time at the frontlines than the royal guard in the imperial capital. That was especially the case given how they returned with lots of spoils after two raids in Trade Union territories with the Nortons. Not only could they switch out the cruddy bronze armor given to them by Auguslo for cutting-edge mithril armor of the Trade Union, the soldiers of Whitelion also earned quite a lot of coin for themselves.
Sybek greatly appreciated the Norton system of spoil distribution. It didn't have anything to do with who raided faster. Instead, the units received an amount of the spoils proportional to their contributions. There was a specialized unit that dealt with the pillaging, before an inventory of all the spoils was made for them to be appropriately distributed. Each soldier's due was accounted for clearly. Whitelion also received similar treatment as the Norton troops without any dicrimination, filling each soldier in their ranks with gratitude.
Under such circumstances, Auguslo's intent on causing trouble for the alliance of four houses by stationed Whitelion in Welbassia and Yungechandler's border had the opposite effect. When salt merchant committee sent a convoy to the imperial capital during the eighth month, Whitelion had requested a high toll price of one small silver per person. The convoy paid a total of 40 or so gold coins for the 4000 plus people and about 100 in total for the whole convoy.
However, after paying that sum, the convoy increased the prices of their goods by 20 percent a the imperial capital, causing Auguslo to be secretly cursed by the citizens, who attributed the rise in prices to the greed of the emperor, much to Kenmays's delight. By paying a small sum of 100 or so gold coins, he managed to earn a few thousand more in profits.
During the beginning of the 10th month, the scandal regarding Fiercegale spread to the imperial capital and everyone believed the rumor when they heard it. Some of them even believed that the one behind the incident was none other than Auguslo himself, given that the emperor had formerly established his greed with the populace. The last time, it was his collection of a toll that caused prices of goods to rise. So there was hardly anything surprising about him orchestrating the plundering of the trade convoy.
After hearing the rumors, Auguslo ransacked his bedroom once more. He only wanted to cause the alliance of four houses some trouble so that he would have better bargaining chips with Lorist to get something out of House Norton instead of antagonizing them fully. He was well aware that he couldn't match House Norton in terms of might, nor did he want to force Lorist to revolt. All he wanted was to show off his might as the emperor to make Lorist lower his head slightly. He wanted to let the other nobles in the kingdom understand that even a swordsaint wasn't exempt from following the orders of an emperor like him.
But how in the world did it devolve to this point? Auguslo still didn't understand it no matter how hard he thought. Though the crimes of Fiercegale were undeniable, why would they go so far as to plunder salt merchant committee's trading convoy? And even though Whitelion only collected around 100 gold Fordes as toll from the other convoy, why was the rise in price of goods sold blamed on him? He didn't have anything to do with it.
It was dinnertime and the main dish of the meal was two fishes. They're longtail whitefishes caught from Egret Lake, Auguslo's favorite.
"Oh? Where did longtail whitefishes this huge come from?" Auguslo didn't remember asking anyone to catch any for him.
"Your Imperial Majesty, they're gifts from Whitelion. There are 14 in total and they're being kept in the live well. They're incredibly fresh," replied a butler respectfully.
"Whitelion? Are they fishing at Egret Lake?" asked Auguslo.
"No. It seems that the fishes were given by House Norton's Ironguard legion. Apart from the 14 given to Your Imperial Majesty, there are tens of carriages of them being sold in the city. They were cleared out completely in around two hours. The Whitelion soldiers said that they would be bringing in another batch from Ironguard tomorrow to be sold," replied the butler.
What's going on here? Has my Whitelion legion turned into fishmongers? thought Auguslo angrily as he ate the fish and resolved himself to visit the legion tomorrow to find out what in the world was going on.
Early the next morning, Auguslo traveled lightly and only brought a squad of imperial guards with him to Whitelion's encampment in Welbassia. On the way, they encountered Whitelion soldiers escorting four carriages of fish, seemingly towards the imperial capital. Though Auguslo had wanted to stop them to ask about it, the soldiers didn't pay any attention and continued to travel at full speed, as if the fishes within the carriages were more important than anything else. After all, dead fish didn't sell as good as live ones.
Though filled with rage, he didn't bother to chase the fish-escorting soldiers down. He decided to deal with it when he arrived at camp. But when he finally arrived in the afternoon, his temper flared once more. Where's everyone? This camp is practically empty, save for a few people walking around!
Fortunately, the gates were still maned. Auguslo angrily asked where everyone had gone and received an answer he didn't expect: they went working. Work? What kind of work?! Auguslo felt like he was going to faint. The guard explained in more detail about the job.
Firstly, House Norton was rebuilding Lichtana Citadel and it was going to be a huge project. The uphill path to the citadel and down to Bread Hills were included within the scope of construction. Most of the Whitelion soldiers went to help construct the citadel and were paid on a daily basis. They were also provided with two meals daily and were allowed to drink ale.
The other one concerned helping Ironguard with the fishing at Egret Lake. The guard mentioned that the lake was covered almost entirely in sails. The soldiers were also paid on a daily basis and if they did well, they were also allowed to take a fish or two back for dinner. Currently, Sybek was negotiating with Ironguard because he felt that the share of ten percent of the catch Whitelion was getting was a little unfair. He hoped that it could be raised to three-tenths, but the stingy general of Ironguard, Els, didn't agree. The generals have been arguing about the matter for the past two days.
Soldiers not intending to work could in turn purchase fish from Ironguard to sell them in the various towns, but they would bear any risk by themselves. It was said that it sold rather well in the imperial capital yesterday, so they made off around three in the morning for another run. The guard said that if he wasn't on duty today, he would've joined in with them to share the profits.
Ridiculous! How could they do this? How could they work for House Norton?!
It seemed that the soldier standing guard didn't know that the elegantly dressed noble before him was the emperor himself. He rambled on and complained that they were only paid one month's salary in the past three, making them unable to feed their families well without doing any extra work. He also mentioned that if he weren't a soldier of Whitelion, he would want to move to The Northlands for a new career.
Auguslo blushed with embarrassment. He knew about the shortage of compensation for Whitelion. Initially, he wanted to get Whitelion to collect toll from passing trading convoys to make up for the lack, but so far, they've only collected toll from salt merchant committee once. Other trading guilds shifted their routes to the sea to dock at Jillin Harbor. Come to think of it, using 100 gold Fordes to make up for three months of payment was really laughable. It was no wonder the soldiers went to find work.
Auguslo then asked why Whitelion themselves didn't group together to fish for themselves.
The guard replied that firstly, they had come upon the idea too late. It was only after the soldiers of Ironguard set sail in their fishing boats did Whitelion understand their purpose. Additionally, the side of the lake Ironguard was on was filled with boats while not a single person dared to sail on Whitelion's side. That was because the boats of Ironguard had cannons installed on them and used the lake as their training ground. From time to time, they would fire their cannons, so nobody dared to stay near the side of Whitelion, to say no more of preparing to sail there.
Flipping out in rage, Auguslo couldn't resist writing a letter of complaint to Lorist. Currently, all he wanted was to be given a cut of the fishing operation at Egret Lake. That way, he would at least be able to earn around 100 thousand gold Fordes in a year.a