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160 Winter’s End

 Lancaster City, the study in the mayor's keep.

The interior of the study was decorated luxuriously. Still, despite the walls being lined with book racks and arranged to the last corner with rare manuscripts, there was no sign that any of those items had been read.

The hearth was burning brightly, warming the room as if it was spring, a completely different world from the ice-cold weather outside that sent chills down the bone.

Thud, thud, thud.

Someone was knocking on the Teslia sandalwood-door-a material as expensive as gold-from the outside.

"What is it?" Corinth, the mayor of Lancaster who was also known as the Black Buck lowered his quill and asked calmly.

"We have found the corpse of the Baron of Nigelania, My Lord." His retainer reported with a voice that was not quite loud but audible enough for the mayor.

"Humph. I've told that fellow not to be rash..." Corinth snorted coldly. "You may enter."

A man wearing the Lancaster city watch's standard issue armor entered respectfully, bowed and placed a parchment on Corinth's desk and quickly left at his gesture.

Corinth then picked it up and studied it carefully, only to fling it on his desk after just a moment, his aged face showing a troubled look.

He had already known about the emperor dropping the heir of one of Valla's old noble houses down at Lancaster, who then proceeded to bully the citizens without restraint.

Although Corinth was the mayor of Lancaster in name, a Count of the Empire and two ranks higher than Nigelania, he couldn't actually act against him as he wished.

And the reason was simple: Lancaster City was the only one of Tierra's four counties to mostly survived the collective assault on Tierra by all her neighboring nations because Corinth had surrendered straightaway. As a matter of fact, what remaining pockets of Tierra radicals in the city was banished to the northern peasant district and subsequently wiped out.

Therefore, as repayment for his tactfulness and as a role model to persuade other locations to surrender as well, the then-emperor naturally allowed the Corinth the defector to keep his place as mayor.

But now that the Empire had complete control over the former Tierra territories it was given, people such as Corinth who weren't born in the Valla Empire were naturally a thorn in the new emperor's side.

That Nigelania who was dropped here unceremoniously, doing as he liked and even slowly eating away at his authority as mayor was just the first step.

Corinth certainly could tell what that emperor was scheming: if he couldn't bear having the slow death of Nigelania humiliating him, they would seize the opportunity and dispose of him! Even if he had gone through so much difficulty establishing so many contacts to keep his place as mayor, everyone down to his closest confidants would be replaced by people like Nigelania, while the mayor himself would be reduced to a puppet with no actual power.

And yet, if Corinth would live with Niegelania's provocations, they would still scrape away his authority-it would look bad, but things would not end well for Corinth either if he did not stop it in time.

In fact, some of the nobles in the city who were not that strong in will-or should Corinth say, having 'long-term' goals began extending olive branch at Nigelania.

And each time he received his covert reports of such details, Corinth could not help thinking that those nobles were having brain-farts. The reason all of them could keep their status was because of Corinth, why would they assume that things would end well for them if he falls?

In fact, Corinth was already on the move to remove Nigelania.

But in the end, that greedy fellow died because of his own greed even before Corinth's plans came to fruition, destroyed ever so easily by a few peasants.

"A fitting end for that idiot," Corinth murmured coldly.

That beings said, things could get problematic for Corinth despite Nigelania's delightful end.

Even if he had complete evidence proving that Nigelania had run off to get himself killed up at northern Lancaster, the new emperor would not care for such things-he had as many measures of setting up Corinth as he wanted.

Corinth sighed deeply. The last few years felt much more tiring than any decades before.

Not only would he have to endure the bloodsucking of Valla's royalty, Lancaster was deteriorating at every passing moment even as she spiraled among her own nobles' politicking.

In that very moment, he missed the Foolish King of Valla who supported his revolution in commerce and eventually helped to develop Lancaster as a city for trade.

"Well, no point in regretting it now."

Corinth leaned into his chair, considering his strategies for whatever that would come next.

That was when someone pushed open the door to the study by just tiny seam.

The old man looked towards it by reflex to find a tiny, adorable round face.

"Why are you here, Gwendolyn?" The old man asked his granddaughter mildly.

"You're sighing again, Grandpa!" The little one briskly opened the door upon realizing that she was found out, dashing inside and climbed into Corinth's arms. "I asked Mother to leave the city during the seeding festival, but she said that I need your approval! It's been so long since we went outside the city, can we go this time?"

The old man patted her head. "Of course I would allow that. But I'll have people guarding you both, so don't run off, got it?"

The little girl beamed immediately, nodding her little head and firmly gnawed the old man's cheek. "Thank you, Grandpa!"

Her saliva was all over the old man's face, between laughter and tears as he watched the girl run outside with a look of tenderness.

"I'll have to work harder for Gwendolyn..."

Hence, he picked up the report on his desk and reread it from the start, scrutinizing the uncertain details this time around. "So Nigelania wanted to get his hands on that weird but extremely popular healing potion from an unknown source? And that source is unknown even for reports on my end?"

Having managed Lancaster over decades, Corinth had innumerable eyes watching his city. Be that as it may, for the source of that potion to remain unknown must mean something interesting behind it all.

"Let's see if I can meet that undying Mister Marni..."

The old man casted a pensive look outside the window.

At the moment, a single ray of sun had pierced the thick dark clouds, streaming slight warmth over the snow-filled land.

Winter was over.