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TL: This chapter is a bit long so it took me a little longer, which also means it’s easy for me to make a mistake. If you spot Engrish please point out to me, thanks.
Chapter 91 – The gathering storm (5)
The Randner region was situated between Arreck and Vlada’s borders. The area was designated during the rise of the kingdom’s beginning with strong military forces to prevent the Highland natives from attacking the northern areas. Over time, the control of the south got stronger and became a true defensive line against invaders.
Count Randner situated himself in Fortress Patalone. Even though it was not the biggest fortress, it had a long history of a hundred and thirty years, and the construction method was influenced by Elven design that resurged in popularity. It was currently deemed to be a rare work of art from that era.
It was the House of Randner’s biggest pride and showed how much they respected traditional values. This respect had also won them considerable prestige from nobles of higher ranks.
Interestingly, the current Count Randner who had a ‘good reputation’ of being two-faced, benefitted just as much as Fortress Patalone’s fame.
It was a few days after Lord Macsen’s defeat, and a few riders urged their exhausted horses toward Fortress Patalone. The gatekeeper of the fortress was a veteran soldier who had guarded the fortress for half his life, and it was the first time ever since the November War that he saw such urgency from the riders.
The riders and their horses looked like they had been traveling without rest, and the gatekeeper quickly realized that they were carrying armbands that signified an urgent report. The news of the unrest in the north had also reached his ears, and he immediately ordered the guards to raise the gate.
The gate was raised halfway noisily, and the riders rushed in without even waiting to confirm their identities and rode straight to the heart of the fortress.
The report from the scouts was quickly transferred to the chamberlain. There were three levels of reports in regards to their urgency, and upon listening to the scouts’ explanation, he quickly stamped it with the highest level of urgency and handed it to his aide who started running in order to send it to Count Randner.
This level of urgency had not appeared for nearly a decade.
The chamberlain then quickly pulled a rope that rang a bell in Count Randner’s office. It was an antiquated system that was replaced by magic, but Count Randner had a quirk of disliking magic and would use machines whenever he could.
It was well known within the nobles’ circle that he thought that magic was unreliable.
Count Randner was currently in his office. He wore a monocle, a fur coat with a silver ruff that matched with his neatly trimmed beard, and a faint smile that held a sliver of warmth, though anyone who knew him well would know that he was hiding his thoughts.
His hair had turned completely white and no one could guess how old he was, but they would never underestimate him; he was known for amongst the higher echelons as a noble who participated in the November War.
It was a war that left the kingdom greatly wounded and any survivors from that war were perceived as skilled.
The person who sat in front of Count Randner and caused him to wear a smile was a Highland native in the Randner region. These natives would hardly admit they were citizens of Aouine. The majority of Highland natives were considered barbarians, but there were exceptions like the ones from the Karsuk region and were instead highly regarded.
Two centuries ago, the Highland natives in Aouine were still considered as barbarians, but they were gradually influenced by the kingdom’s civilization. However, there was one point that had not changed yet. The Highland citizens still pursued their freedom, and the kingdom could never tolerate the danger of letting become independent. Randner’s region was still fraught with small skirmishes every year.
There was of course exceptions, and a few groups of Highland Natives were willing to accept Aouine’s rule. The guest Randner had was one such person, and came from the area that the Count governed himself.
He came with a simple goal. He desired to have their taxes exempted.
Madara’s invasion had caused significant damage to the agriculture and production sectors. Even if the heavy taxes were exempted, they would still find it hard to survive since they could not collect any harvests.
The kingdom seemed like they could not see this point and instead increased their pressure on them to pay their taxes.
Count Randner carefully listened to his guest speak about their circumstances. He always wore a smile, but he did not express his opinion. Even though he seemed like an affable old man, his guest did not dare to see him as one.
Just when his guest was about to plead for Count Randner’s understanding and state his request, the bell rang.
Count Randner’s expression changed. It was the first time since this afternoon where he was unable to maintain a smile.
He could not remember how long he received this level of urgency.
“My apologies, but I have to leave for a while. Please wait.” He got up with a frown and nodded ruefully as he spoke.
“Certainly, my lord,” the guest stood up in a panic and a little fearfully, not daring to show any signs of dissatisfaction.
Count Randner left the study room and pushed open a door that led to an adjacent room. He saw that his advisor and his right hand waiting for him. Since these were his trusted men, he did not bother to keep a smile and instead changed into a dark expression: “What’s wrong?”
“It has something to do with Trentheim,” his advisor answered.
“It’s still that matter?” Count Randner received a silver-tipped pipe from a servant, sat down on a chair and took in a deep breath before he continued to speak, “that useless fool still hasn’t solved that rebellion? It has been half a month!”
The old noble said with some anger.
“There’s new information regarding this issue from Lord Palas.”
Count Randner paused.
Even though Lord Palas was Graudin’s subordinate, he was once his subordinate and had also participated in the November War. Even though he only participated near the end of the war, Count Randner admired his abilities and began to groom him.
His loyalty could be trusted and Count Randner saw him as one of his most trusted subordinates. Therefore he calmed down when he heard it was news from the old knight.
“What exactly did he write?”
The advisor did not answer and instead presented the report.
Count Randner carefully read through the report. He stood up, paced a few times in silence, before his sullen eyes glared at his advisor.
“That worthless piece of shit. His soldiers are useless swill as well…… When did this start?”
“Approximately fifteen days ago.”
“That’s right, fifteen fucking days! Trentheim is in such a huge mess and it took this long for the news to reach me, what the fuck are you and the rest of Trentheim doing!” he threw the parchments into his advisor’s face, causing them to scatter all over the room.
“My lord, this is unlikely a simple rebellion. No matter how much Lord Macsen underestimates them, he shouldn’t be defeated by an army made of civilians. The fact that the news can be delayed so long is also because of the enemy’s control.”
“I don’t need you to tell me that, you halfwit!” Count Randner roared in fury, but he quickly calmed down: “…… The real enemies are definitely made up of mercenaries, but they are insects that buzz only if they smell profits. This is clearly a ploy.”
The earlier reports stated that Graudin had offended the mercenaries, but Count Randner was certain that the mercenaries would not go against his son as they would offend the entire nobility and even the kingdom.
He sat down in his chair and tapped the emerald ring on his thumb. His advisor had been with him long enough to recognize that the Count was thinking, and wisely shut his lips to wait for the old noble to make his decision.
“I’m concerned with two things.” Count Randner said after a long pause: “One, is Graudin dead or alive? Two, who is the mastermind behind this?”
The advisor did not speak. He knew there was more to come.
But at that moment, the front doors were pushed opened forcefully with a groaning sound and a tall man walked in with large confident strides.
“Father.” The man’s loud voice reached Count Randner first before he could reach him physically.
Count Rander’s lips closed until his son stopped before him.
“Didn’t I tell you to knock on the doors before coming in?” He said coldly.
“You did say that the accomplished don’t care about the trivial things, father.”
The man wore a black shirt with long sleeves that was covered by a coat with gold cuffs, along with a longsword hanging from his belt. His features made him look like he was in his late twenties, but he was past forty.
He was Count Randner’s second son, Andrei, and the only son who was not appointed with a land of his own, as he had willingly given up to do so in order to assist his father.
“So you heard the news?” Count Randner was not offended by his son’s thoughts.
The urgent report must have caused a significant amount of panic, and he was not surprised if his son knew about the contents of the letter.
“Well, I’ve heard that it was urgent. What happened exactly?” Andrei glanced at the people in the room, then his eyes hovered over the parchments on the floor, before dropping down on the sofa comfortably.
“Your younger brother has gotten into trouble.”
“It sounds like you’re happy to hear that.” Count Randner’s eyebrow was raised and he sounded like his temper was going to flare again.
“My apologies, father,” Andrei lifted up a cup to make a feeble attempt at disguising his emotions, but he ultimately laughed and put it down, “I know I shouldn’t do it, but I just can’t control my emotions.”
Count Randner shook his head with resigned reluctance. He had done the same thing when he was young. In the end, this was a small matter to him.
But a family squabble was different from someone else hurting his descendants. It was rare for nobles to try and harm other nobles openly. Scheming was very different from murder, and the blood of a noble was precious.
Count Randner was furious over this report and had decided to make it a blood feud, and he planned to announce to the entire kingdom that his family was not to be trifled with.
“Firburh has been taken and there has been no news on your younger brother. I believe he’s most likely dead. Also, Lord Macsen suffered a complete loss to the rebels.”
Andrei was shaking his head when he heard that his younger brother was missing after the rebellion at Firburh. If Graudin was killed because of mere civilians, House Randner would be disgraced. If this news got out to other nobles, Andrei felt like he would not be able to raise his head in front of others.
However, he sat up in surprise when he heard that Lord Macsen was defeated. Count Randner’s advisor continued to explain the report in detail.
[This isn’t a game anymore.]
Andrei was someone who could read between the lines. He immediately got up and said: “Father, there’s something very wrong about this. Please allow me to gather our men and let me lead an army straight away and exact revenge on the leader of this rebellion.”
But Count Randner shook his head with a little disappointment as he looked at his son.
“Do you know who’s the mastermind?”
Andrei knitted his brows, not understanding the question.
The experienced Count Randner pointed at his temple: “The sword in your hand can cut down your enemies, but it can’t bring you towards victory. You should think again.”
“…… The biggest suspect is the one who benefits most from this incident.”
“Yes,” Count Randner nodded: “the kingdom will eventually split into three factions, but as of right now, the Royal Faction is the most likely culprit behind this rebellion. The crafty little wench…… No, the people around her are the ones who would propose a scheme like this. If they are trying to force me to make a decision because of the situation in the north, they truly are underestimating our House too much.”
“But this might also be an attempt to cause tension between us and the Royal Faction, father.” Andrei did not want his father to choose Duke Arreck’s faction.
Rather, he wanted to have an arranged marriage with the princess. With her aid, he could easily become the head of House Randner.
There were also the rumors of the princess’s beauty and her fame as “the brightest gem on the kingdom’s crown” that even reached the kingdom’s neighboring country, Kirrlutz, despite her young age.
But Andrei’s thoughts did not escape Count Randner’s eyes, and he glared at his son coldly: “You fool. Do you really take me as someone who cannot see what you’re thinking because I’m outraged?”
“Your pathetic thoughts of lusting after the princess and the family’s position are clouding your judgment.” Count Randner’s voice was severe: “Marrying the princess? Do you really think that’s possible? She would think of choosing the Kirrlutz empire even before she considers our House! If you can’t attain the things that you want, then stop thinking about it! House Randner cannot become overly greedy, so only reach for the things that you can get, do you understand?”
He rapped the silver pipe onto the table: “Listen well, it doesn’t matter which side House Randner supports, the most important thing is that this House retains its autonomous control over our region at all times. This is the most important thing.”
Andrei was momentarily stunned at his father’s words, but he quickly shrugged his shoulders: “Understood. So what should we do now?”
Count Randner tapped the emerald ring on his thumb: “Since the Royal Faction killed my son, House Randner will definitely pay this with blood. I’ll torture and slaughter every single mercenary in that city as revenge. Then I’ll see what move that little wench and her men makes—”
“Oh?” Andrei got excited and patted his sword, ready to go into a battle.
“No, House Randner cannot send its members to quell a small rebellion like this. We will be lowering our status if we did so.” Count Randner shook his head, displeased with his son’s eagerness: “The Royal Faction and Duke Arreck are looking at us very closely, and we cannot allow ourselves to be underestimated at this point of time.”
Andrei made an unsatisfied noise with his tongue. He unbuckled his sword irritably and threw it onto the sofa, before plopping down lazily again: “Very well, father, you have made your point. However, even though Lord Palas has a pretty good army under him, he isn’t very much stronger than Lord Macsen. I doubt that old knight is capable of winning if we don’t send our men, since the report stated that Lord Macsen was defeated completely.”
Count Randner nodded. Even though his second son’s actions were frustrating to him, he was outstanding when it came to military affairs. His other sons were not as useless as Graudin, but they were still middling.
“Continue,” he said.
“Let me think. You’re going to send some of our men along with the Highland natives. Ah, don’t tell me you’re thinking of having Madara send in their undead soldiers too? While they do have military strength, they are not humans. Lord Palas is a knight who’s quite rigid, and he might not be able to control them. Besides, can you really trust that Incirsta who’s always putting on that stupid grin on his face? I heard that he’s only a Baron in Madara’s ranks.”
“And would that be reasons enough for not trusting that undead?” Count Randner scoffed. He turned his gaze away from his son and looked at his advisor: “Draft two letters for me.”
“Yes, my lord. What would you have me write?”
“The first letter is to be sent to Madara’s nobles. Tell them the thing they want is still in Firburh. They must send out their forces if they want to complete the transaction with me. The second letter is to be given to that messenger of the Highland natives. Tell them if they’re willing to participate in this war, I’ll exempt them from taxes. I’ll even provide provisions for their armies they send out!”