Gazing at the distance, Richard realised that his father was a great man. He was looking at the distant Azan Peninsula, and its city with a population of over 100,000. The city was built along the shape of the coast, looking like an arc extending to the archipelagos of the Apennine Seas while being steep in the northwest. The long, narrow piece of land was like a beast in slumber lying between the heavens and the seas.
The houses and streets of Azan were organised systematically, with a 20-metre tall wall surrounding it to protect its residents. Vast lands and inexhaustible water lay on the outskirts of town, the Rhine River cutting through its centre to empty out into the seas as it provided unending irrigation for the fertile land.
The renowned Blackrose Castle upon a hill within the city, a complex and majestic building that could house more than 3000 warriors. Trebuchets were built atop the various towers of the castle, looking over the city with disdain. None of them had ever been put to use since their construction; no enemy had ever breached the city walls.
The castle city was the best of deterrents, designed more than carefully with a fortified core and complex mechanisms protecting it. The wooden battlements at the top could be extended and retracted, and the tunnel-like entrance to the city had at least five layers of sluice gates at least ten metres deep. There were many other traps as well, not visible to the naked eye. Indeed, it was claimed that only a thousand warriors could protect Blackrose Castle once it had been completed, the castle being impenetrable as long as they had sufficient supplies.
Many travelers of various identities visited this city, each with their own motives, but they all had to agree that the architect of Blackrose Castle was a genius. An unnamed general from a noble family was once invited to perform a thorough analysis of the castle, and he concluded that even with a well-equipped army of 50,000 alongside siege one would have to pay a disastrous price to take the castle.
However, the castle had never been put to the test. Its previous lords had never been keen on defence, and even if they had the weaker army they’d rather use the vast plains of steep mountains to kill their enemies using guerilla warfare. What’s more, they’d always won.
The lunacy of the Archerons was well-known within the Sacred Alliance. Nobody would fight these lunatics, especially with the family having geniuses within its ranks at all times. Duke Joseph of the Renon Peninsula, once the biggest enemy of the Archerons, once said the combination of lunacy and genius multiplied the family’s power. A 20,000 man troop of his had been defeated by the Archeron elites in a long, violent battle, less than a tenth surviving the battle. And this wasn’t with any random soldiers; Joseph’s troops were amongst the best on the entire continent!
The Acheron family tree had two marquesses and seven earls to its name in its several hundreds of years of development, alongside numerous viscounts and barons. The family also held more than 25 million acres of land despite their rather short history, their strength and influence in the Sacred Alliance not to be belittled. It was bizarre how many of their ranks occupied noble positions despite them not having a duke, forget a grand duke, to their name. They had great armies, powerful mages, strong warriors, and countless subordinates of strange occupations like dragon warlocks, hellriders, and shadow shamans. This was in a continent that was never at peace.
Indeed, Norland was always enveloped by the fires of war. The human race occupied less than half of the continent, and was constantly at war with the other races for land and survival itself. However, humans didn’t war like the demons; the latter did fight against the other races, yes, but they also fought ceaselessly amongst themselves. The neverending battles on the continent affected the depths of the oceans, and even many other planes.
With such chaos in the lands, it honestly wouldn’t have been difficult for the Archerons to have a duke or grand duke of their own in a couple of generations. They just had to use their resources wisely, establishing a complete government with law and economy and distributing their profits amongst their ranks. At least half of the current dukes of the Alliance came about through these methods, something that made the royalty of the other kingdoms act like the Sacred Alliance was a bunch of parvenus and country bumpkins, the royal family being the worst of them all. However, the Sacred Alliance’s royal family had inconceivable might, so it had still garnered the respect of the old, esteemed families.
The rise of the Archerons was inferior to none, but their short history left them without as much wealth and power as the other families. Another problem was that they were simply too crazy to garner any respect.
The current leader of the Archerons, Marquess Gaton, was a prime example. He was a mere grade 3 warrior fifteen years ago, but he improved quickly with time. Just a decade had passed since he’d defeated the Silvermoon Palace of the Evernight Forest, shocking the entire Sacred Alliance. Many had stepped foot in the forest before him, but none were daring or skilled enough to succeed at the task with fifty rune knights and a thousand men.
Gaton was already a marquess at 33 years of age, having moved into Blackrose Castle and taken control of Azan, which was the territory of the Archeron leader. His experiences were described like legends as they spread mouth to mouth, and they were still being written down in books. The truth was, however, that his influence only extended to Blackrose Castle and the lands he’d usurped. The other members of his family almost always turned a blind eye to his commands, and he was merely a titular leader who’d have been disregarded completely if not for Blackrose Castle.
Some historians who’d studied the Archeron family tree had concluded that there was one reason for the Archerons not having a grand duke in their ranks: there was a rebellious streak in their bloodline. No Archeron would be subordinate to another, even if the other was their own father.
The study wasn’t detailed, nor were the historians extremely knowledgeable or reputable. The cold, hard truth was that they wished for sponsorship from the Archerons, or they’d end up on the streets. Those with capacity wouldn’t have delved into research on an uncharted family to begin with, and these people would ultimately die as plagued beggars on the streets.
Rumour had it that the leader of the family had flipped through their research for only a few seconds once it was sent to him, ordering all its members to stop supporting the historians. It was the first time the rebellious Archerons had followed through with an order. There was only one reason for this. Even if the report was filled with utter nonsense, with illogical statements and baseless accusations, their conclusion was the absolute truth.
Rooseland Village was a mere 3,000 miles from Azan, a journey less than half a month. Mordred had filled Richard in on his family history during the trip, along with some information about the customs and the distribution of power on the mainland. By the time they’d arrived in Azan, Richard knew a little more about his family.
Family. It was a fairly new term to the boy who couldn’t even grasp the concept of a father in the past. However, it was very important to the mighty knight, and held a broader meaning than most. It wasn’t just the direct and distant bloodline relatives, also including the various noblemen and knights under the various members. The bloodline linked every member of the clan, but it also transcended that. Different bloodlines possessed different abilities, and their combinations would often result in new powers. Some were stronger than others, and many died to chase after them. Thus, royal marriage held a completely different meaning in Norland. It wasn’t just political, also intended to produce stronger, more powerful descendants.
As Richard stood before the entrance of the castle, he should already have had a deep understanding of his roots, the Archerons. However, he found himself more confused than ever, the information Mordred had given him like tiny puzzle pieces that he could not put together.