Richard was impressed by the tree-lined streets and fully developed sewage system. Asking a few casual questions regarding tax rate and population, he quickly noticed that an enormous sum had been spent on the people’s welfare. Alice was most certainly not earning any money from her citizens, perhaps even losing it instead.
Just as they reached the city gates, he suddenly dismounted from his horse and examined the deep hoofprints on the ground carefully. Fuschia’s glance wandered over as well and her heart immediately skipped a beat. Even she could tell that these prints were less than an hour old, something Richard would definitely notice as well. With the griffins on hand, he would be able to catch up to Alice’s troops quite quickly.
However, he just squatted there for a long time before acting like he hadn’t discovered anything. Mounting his horse once more, he turned towards the general, “Let’s take a look at the barracks.”
Fuschia let out a sigh of relief, cold sweat beading all over her body. Although the situation hadn’t devolved, she started blaming her lady for escaping too late. If Richard had taken some faster griffins or not used the twenty minutes of rest, Alice would have been trapped in her castle with no way to fumble her way out of the situation.
When they arrived at the barracks, the general arranged for a small troop to demonstrate their training for Richard. He then followed reservedly to the castle, where a butler was already waiting with a guest room prepared. The general showed some measure of reluctance to show him Alice’s study, but a glance from Fuschia got him to agree.
The Earl’s study was rather rich and colourful, the chairs, bookshelves, and tables all a third larger than normal. Decorative carvings could be seen everywhere, but the patterns adorning these showpieces were quite simple. This room shone through in its fluid craftsmanship, displaying a low-profile luxury rather reminiscent of old-fashioned nobles.
The only issue was that much of the furniture and decoration here was just too new. Ash wasn’t yet caked into the fireplace, no sign of ageing on the various baubles. This was the primary difference of this castle from that of a more renowned aristocrat— one of the two most important rooms within had ornaments and sculptures placed within that weren’t up to standard. Even the painting on the wall was a replica.
The study had a partial map of the borders of the Sacred Alliance hung on a wall, Alice’s territory and its surrounding conditions marked out clearly. Richard approached the map and pored over it for a bit before walking over to the desk, sitting right on the table as he was used to before fixing his eyes on Fuschia.
The gaze left the woman sweating buckets; never had she thought the gaze of someone so much younger than her would leave her so suffocated. However, this wasn’t due to any powerful aura on Richard’s part; she was just drowning in guilt.
“I can tell the Earl isn’t doing all that well,” he said indifferently.
“Yes. My Lady uses all of her money on the development of the territory and the welfare of her soldiers,” Fuschia admitted. Outside of Sauron and Goliath who inherited their positions from their ancestors, none of the Archerons were rich. Gaton himself was no better than Alice; forget personal pleasure, even the equipment of his soldiers wasn’t all that great.
“Alright then, I’ll leave these here.” Richard placed the small chest with seven rune sets on Alice’s work desk. Fuschia opened her mouth in response, but was unable to muster a single word.
The woman suddenly felt weak and powerless, only able to nod dumbly. She was well aware of the value of that box: it contained nine million gold in runes! Such an amount was several times greater than Alice’s combined revenue from her lands and private planes!
Richard laughed, not saying another word as he allowed himself to be led to the guest room he had been allocated. Sitting down with a view of the starry sky, he delved into meditation.
Alice’s soldiers were busy setting up camp within the wilderness. While her generals were gathered together to ensure full preparations before the war, she was instead wandering the woods aimlessly. The Earl was not vexed and uneasy, not knowing where to go or what to do. She had managed to escape her castle, but now she had mobilised an army without a purpose.
It was all because of those runes. Why did they have to be sets?! When she had first given her conditions for the marriage, there was no expectation that they would be fulfilled anytime soon. Even if he had talent, Richard wasn’t supposed to be this fast.
She had convinced herself that the first set he had given her as down payment as a price for controlling Sauron and Goliath. On the pretext that she was helping him maintain control of the floating island, she had accepted it without any guilt. However, these seven sets were different.
Alice grew more and more annoyed at the thought Richard and the runes. A rage boiled up from the bottom of her heart, a single punch breaking down a thick, old tree. The prickling pain in her fist helped her cool off a little.
While Richard was meditating peacefully under the starry sky, she went on a rampage in the forest.
Richard rode his griffin into blue skies the next morning, heading south-east alone. Fuschia stood rooted to the ground, watching as his silhouette gradually merged into the clouds on the horizon. She finally let out a sigh that she had been holding in for almost an entire day.
This flight took three days and three nights, taking him across almost half of the mainland. It was only early morning of the fourth day that he saw the boundless sea.
He had left a rather sizeable war in his wake. Alice’s troops had passed through two nobles’ territories and charged straight towards Duke Solam at the speed of lightning, the war so sudden that the Duke was caught unprepared. He barely managed to mobilise a small army, holding a decisive battle in a small town called Feura that was 47 kilometres from his borders.
Alice had given up on her usual erratic style of command for this battle, fighting head-on against the Duke’s troops. The war was short but fierce, Solam’s advantages in might and terrain overpowered by her exquisite command. However, Alice had paid a hefty price for this victory; this was the largest casualty rate her army had faced in recent years. When Solam’s army retreated, she had to withdraw from the territory as well.
The outside world didn’t understand the point of this war at all. Alice had taken a huge risk charging through the fiefs of multiple nobles, heading deep into enemy borders for no advantages at all. The Duke had sustained some damage— Feura’s famous hot spring was destroyed to the point that it would not be recoverable for the next ten years— but there wasn’t much loot to be had.
Was she just venting some past grievances? Whatever it was, this direct assault had dispelled the notion that Alice only knew guerilla warfare, solidifying her reputation even further. However, those proficient in military matters chose to reserve their opinions instead. The Earl had been feared for her keen outlook on strategy, the ability to force her enemies into misplaced battles where she could achieve great benefits at minimal cost. However, the victory over Duke Solam was a pyrrhic one. She ultimately gained nothing, and the loss of the resorts wouldn’t greatly affect the Duke’s economy either.
Word spread that Alice had gotten a mage to make a large basin of ice water for her after the battle, pouring it directly onto her head. This little detail piqued the interests of the upper class, discussions about her psychological state now making their way to tea tables. Nobody noticed the four griffins that had arrived at the Undying Volcano close to nightfall and left at dawn.
In front of Richard was a magnificent palace that contained hints of the barbarians’ style. Inside was the portal that led to Klandor’s mainland, currently under heavy guard by a dozen soldiers that were all above level 13. Even a bird wouldn’t be able to sneak in.
The old man Richard had met in Faust was standing next to him, pointing out parts of a map of the barbarian continent as he mentioned things to be aware of on the other side. The map showed that Klandor’s mainland was no smaller than Norland itself, but outside of the two huge mountain ranges and a large river, only a small part in the west was marked out in detail. The rest was almost completely blank; one family could only do so much in a few centuries. It was difficult for the Salsons to leave the range of their allies in Klandor, lest they be attacked by hostile barbarians.
The old man flashed a helpless smile after finishing his explanation, rolling up the map and putting it in Richard’s hand, “This is all I can help you with.I have arranged for a ship on the other side to take you off the island, and as a distinguished guest of the Salson Family the Windstep Tribe’s barbarians will be friendly to you. But beware: the moment you leave their territory, you might meet with danger at any time.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA