Leguna awoke to a nice fragrance the next day. He opened his eyes drowsily and saw the sumptuous meal served on the table.
There was wine, vegetables, and bread. But the fragrance of those alone wouldn't a man wake. The most tempting-smelling dish was a plate of roasted meat. Leguna sat up lazily and rubbed his eyes.
"Sir, you're awake?" a gentle female voice asked.
Leguna was only just reminded of the fact that there were two other barbarians in his quarters. He shook himself awake and saw Frenda put the clothes beside his bed.
"Umm... Do you need me to help you dress?" Frenda asked furtively.
"No," Leguna smiled. He was no young master and being waited upon made him feel rather uncomfortable. He put his clothes on quickly.
"You make this?"
"Yes," she nodded, "Some in your band came to me with the ingredients and asked me to cook it. I prepared it according to a family recipe."
"It's not bad. It smells great."
Usually, he would be served cooked food, but Arikos had given special instructions for Frenda to cook for him. What the man had in mind Leguna didn't know, but he knew it was something petty along the lines of seeing him embarrass himself in front of Frenda.
So, he had to keep as calm as he could. He munched away quietly and heard a rumble from behind.
Leguna turned around and noticed Legg's son. The young boy looked at his food yearningly. However, Frenda held him tight without letting him move.
"Apologies, Sir, are we disturbing you? We can leave if you'd like," she asked.
"I would be unnerved if you two stand there while I'm eating."
"We'll leave immediately."
Frenda hurriedly pulled the child away to fill their stomachs with some fresh air outside.
"Hey! I didn't mean it that way." He pointed at the opposite end of his table helplessly. "Sit down."
"Sit down! I can't finish everything on my own, anyway. Just sit down. Let's finish it before I leave."
Hesitant as she was, she didn't dare go against his wishes.
"Yum! Your roast meat tastes wonderful. The wolf and bear meat you barbarians usually eat don't taste good because of the texture. I didn't think you'd be able to prepare the beef we brought with us so well!" Leguna praised as he munched away. He looked at the pensive woman and child and chuckled. "Eat, quick! Don't need to be afraid of me. I'm no monster."
Seeing Leguna's smile, Frenda let down her guard and forked two pieces of meat and one piece of bread for Legg's son before taking some for herself.
"Wonderful." He nodded when they finally began to eat. "I'll be heading out soon, so watch my house if you will. Clean it up while you're at it."
"Yes, Sir," she said with an obedient nod.
After finishing breakfast, he summoned the key people of their envoy band and went to Legg's residence.
"Hey! Legg!" Leguna called out when he saw the warriors bar the entrance of his residence, "I have come to negotiate! Legg!"
"Let them in," Legg instructed.
After that, Leguna entered with Arikos and a few others.
He looked at the hostile glares from the other barbarians as he boldly stepped into the middle of the tent. "Well, as scheduled, we should start our negotiations today."
"It is so--" Legg nodded. "--How do you wish to proceed?"
Leguna found a place and sat down. "We'll go at your pace and be straightforward about it. Lately, your tribe seems to be rather restless. I heard you have started gathering warriors from the southwestern settlements, yes? Are you going to head south for an invasion?"
"I thought we were rather secretive with the whole affair, but it turned out we were discovered after all," Legg admitted casually, "That's right, I am indeed gathering warriors. I intend to head south."
"South to where?" Leguna asked carefully.
"To Hocke, of course." It was as if Legg didn't feel the pressure of Leguna's glance at all.
Leguna didn't expect him to be that direct. While barbarians didn't like to talk in circles, Legg was even more exaggerated in his candor. "Alright. Since you already admitted to it, it'll be easy to settle this matter. I am requesting that you disband your men."
"Disband?" That word seemed like a joke to his ears. He bent his huge body forward and asked in a low voice, "On what basis?"
"On the might of Hocke's forces." Leguna's face turned grim. "You have gone to Hocke before and know how powerful our empire is. Do you think a mere 15 thousand barbarian warriors can take the empire out? Aren't you giving yourself too much credit?"
Legg wasn't enraged by those words. Instead, he nodded. "You're right. I have gone to Hocke, so I understand that there would be no way for us to mount a successful invasion under normal circumstances."
"Then why bother trying? Do you think there's too many people in your tribes already and want to wear the numbers down through war?"
"Don't forget, I mentioned normal circumstances. I have gone to Hocke, so I can roughly tell at what stage the war your empire has with Stok is. While you aren't completely beaten yet, I'm sure a sudden influx of 15 thousand mid-order barbarian warriors would be a headache to you."
Leguna kept silent. Legg spoke the truth and wouldn't be intimidated. He had seen Hocke for himself.
"As you said, it would be a headache, but that's all it is," Arikos said, "Don't forget that Hocke has a population of tens of millions, far more than you'll ever have. If you force us to conscript our citizens, I'm sure your 15 thousand barbarians can be crushed as easily as ants."
"Oh, I won't force you to conscript your citizens," Legg said, "I never said I would lead my tribesmen to conquer your whole empire."
"Then what do you want?" Leguna asked.
"All I want is the northern part of Hocke," Legg said, "Hmmm... I recall it was a province called Semralsin, right? Roughly that area."
"You're delusional! How dare you demand a whole chunk of a province of our empire?"
Legg looked at Leguna and gave a solemn nod. "That's right, this is what we want. In fact, we can handle this amicably. Just have your citizens there evacuate. That way, we can avoid bloodshed on both sides."
"Legg!" Leguna roared. The barbarian warriors had their hands on their weapons.
"@#$" Legg said in a calm tone, seemingly trying to calm them down.
"Are you trying to take advantage of our predicament? A proud and mighty barbarian warrior is actually scheming?" Leguna mocked.
Legg actually smiled at hearing those words. He looked at Leguna with his slanted eyes. "Listen, Leguna. Invading the south is something I have begun to think about since I became king. I have dedicated my all to this. I admit that this method is a little shameless, but I have decided on it regardless. If you want to mock me for that, so be it. But I would advise you to forget about asking me to call my forces off!"
"Even if you can take Semralsin, you won't have peace! I can guarantee you that once the war with the south settles down, the next step we'll take is to go up north! Do you think you'll be able to survive the might of our army?"
"I will use Stok's help to," Legg said, not the slightest bit enraged, "In fact, if that's what you intend, I don't mind going into an alliance with Stok. They can supply us with good equipment and supplies from sea. Think about it: when we get those fine weapons you humans make, how much damage do you think we're capable of dealing to you? That's why you won't dare make a move against us, because if you do, you will have to face enemies on both sides of the continent."
That was when Leguna understood the kind of dedication Legg held. He was willing to even cast away the pride and arrogance of the barbarians and work with Stok, another human nation.
The barbarians who worshipped strength usually wouldn't join hands with other races, but Legg was willing to ditch that ancestral tradition and choose to ally with Stok. His resolve really seemed steeled on invading the south.
"If you can peacefully leave Semralsin, I will consider letting my tribesmen support your war with the south after we settle down. However, that can only be done after Hocke recognizes that the north of the empire belongs to us," Legg said, "I believe that even humans like you wouldn't be so underhanded as to go back on your word, right?"
Leguna pondered for a moment and said, "What if the empire continues to send you supplies if you agree not to go south?"
"Are you even trying?" Legg sighed. "Leguna, I thought you would understand my viewpoint after all that I've tried to show you."
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