Although Meissen was exceedingly poor, it had plenty of land.
In fact, Meissen made up one twentieth of the Kingdom. However, seventy percent of Meissen was mountains or forests, and it was covered in trees.
The Lord’s estate also owned vast stretches of land. No one knew for sure where the Lord’s lands began and ended, but at the very least, his properties included three forests.
The estate itself was also extraordinarily enormous, being at least three times as wide as the palace of the Crown Prince where Ernst had formerly resided. Each and every room was also large, their ceilings high.
Thanks to this, even with Ganche’s physique, he was able to live here without any problems; yet he was able to sense the voiceless cries coming from this mansion, which had fallen into disrepair.
“Lord Ernst. A large hole has cracked open in the wall of the corridor.”
The life of a man in the militia was a leisurely one, Ganche thought. Ever since Targes had become the captain, they spent every morning to afternoon training, but it seemed like there hadn’t been any training before then.
The militia’s main job was to cultivate the fields around the estate and to gather firewood, the soldiers had said with placid, peace-loving faces.
“Humm. There are also holes on the second floor of the south building as well as the first floor of the east building, and also on the second and third floors of the west building.”
Ernst replied while writing something upon some documents.
“So you were aware of them…”
As always, Ernst’s brightness caught Ganche’s tongue. Just how much information was contained within that small, golden-haired head? It was mystifying to him.
“That’s right. I know about it, but I don’t have the money to make repairs.”
Saying that, Ernst smiled wryly.
Two months have passed since Ernst came to Meissen, and one month has passed since he and Ganche became partners.
For this one month, Ernst had shut himself into his office as if trying to make up for his past neglect.
No one was allowed to come near the office lest they disturb his work, and Ernst didn’t invite anyone to spend time inside other than Ganche.
It makes me feel lonely when we only spend time together from dinner to breakfast the next morning, so whenever you don’t have anything to do, come stay beside me, Ernst said.
Feeling happy but also nervous about causing trouble for Ernst, Ganche had timidly entered the office – but it didn’t take long for him to realize that his fears had been unfounded.
While conversing casually with Ganche, Ernst read mysterious and complicated papers, and he wrote up official documents which Ganche was sure freely made use of many difficult-to-understand, abstruse sentences; and when the head butler entered the room for business, Ernst calmly pointed out, without overtly saying it, that the calculations in the papers filed to him three days ago were incorrect.
In Targes’ words, ‘Lord Ernst’s head has ten people inside of it.’
Even with all of Ernst’s intellect, the issue of Meissen’s financial difficulties was a formidable one.
In Meissen’s current situation, the basic tax paid by each villager was 5 sitts. The militia was exempt from taxes, so 539 people, excluding the soldiers, paid taxes. In other words, every year, the Lord came into possession of 2695 sitts without fail.
But the Lord of Meissen must also pay taxes to the King of Rintz. The amount was decided by the size of the territory and the number of citizens.
Although the militia didn’t have to pay taxes to the Lord, for some reason when the Lord had to pay taxes to the King, the entire population was taken into account; in other words, this number included the militia.
The Lord had to pay 1 sitt per person under his rule. As such, every year, he had to pay 696 sitts, as well as a land tax of 2500 sitts, totalling 3196 sitts which had to be paid.
The current status quo was a deficit of 501 sitts every year.
The vastness of Meissen’s land had become its liability.
The minimum tax stipulated by national law was 5 sitts per person, and the Lord was able to change the amount of tax so long as the number was above 5 sitts.
Up until Ernst had been made Lord, the neighboring lord of Rintz had collected Meissen’s tax and paid it to the King.
At that time, the tax collected for each person had been 10 sitts.
Every year, the Lord of Rintz had collected 2194 sitts from Meissen and pocketed it for himself.
“Couldn’t you raise the taxes? If it were even just 6 sitts, you could at least work out the payment for the Kingdom’s taxes…”
Once, Ganche had said this. But Ernst gave a decisive reply.
“That would certainly be true. However, the yearly income of someone who leaves the village to find work is, at most, 7 sitts. Though I have on hand data collected over twenty years, the situation in reality has changed greatly. In the villages where people leave to become migrant workers, the number of people who leave consists of half their population. That half earns the taxes which the village has to pay… I understand that even 5 sitts for each person is already harsh.”
“…That does seem to be the case.”
“But this amount of tax was set in place by national law. I can’t do anything about it.”
Ernst sighed heavily.
The way Ernst spoke to anyone was always in this way.
First, he acknowledged and affirmed what the person said.
After, he would talk about the present situation, as well as his own thinking of how the issue at hand should be dealt with.
He never ignored the other person’s words or denied what they said, and no matter how off the mark their answer was, he never treated it as foolish.
Finally, he absolutely never spoke to the other person with condescension.
There had been a time where one of the militiamen had said something exceptionally rude to Ernst.
Targes, who had also been there, had instantly frozen in place, but Ernst merely changed his posture into a calm stance and accepted the militiaman’s words. Then, he nonchalantly corrected the soldier’s misunderstanding.
‘I haven’t been deceived by that person’s appearance, or his personal history.’
Targes, grinning cheekily, had relayed these words to Ganche.
Did Ernst have a secret plan for recovering the deficit that would occur every year from now on?
He knew that the head butler had heavily criticized Ernst, saying, ‘He only lowered taxes to curry favor with the common people.’
Ganche had been so aggravated that he wanted to strike him, but when Ernst heard this story, he just laughed quietly.
The Vice-Captain of the militia, Aldo, had been born in Meissen, but from when he was 40 up until he was 80, he had been a mercenary in the Gaidla fief. Even in that territory, a single person had to pay a tax of 15 sitts to the Kingdom.
The tax collected from the people was only one part of the taxes the Lord collected – was how things usually were.
It was unheard of for a fief to be like Meissen, where the tax collected from the people fell short of the tax to be paid to the Kingdom.
‘Aren’t you the ones doing it wrong?’ Targes and Aldo said, when Ganche brought it up.
‘What the head butler said is right, isn’t it?’
At that time, Ganche had been so indignant that he pounded his fist on the desk of the barracks, splitting it in half.
He understood that even though Ernst was incredibly concerned over the lives of the people, if he was too kind to the point where he disregarded the reality of the situation, it would only lead to a disaster.
To say nothing of doing such rash things for foolish reasons like raising one’s brownie points.
Ganche wasn’t able to come up with any good ideas on how to help with Meissen’s financial difficulties. Since he wasn’t able to help Ernst here, then he wanted to find some other way to help.
Ganche stood from his chair, and said to Ernst:
“Lord Ernst. How about I repair the holes in the estate?”
A slightly surprised expression appeared on Ernst’s face when he heard Ganche’s proposal. He agreed to it.
“Even if you say you’re going to repair the estate, no matter how I think about it, just how are you going to…”
“It sure is an extremely ambitious project for fixing up, isn’t it.”
“If you make it that misshapen, Lord Ernst’s going to get angry.”
Ignoring the noisy commentary, Ganche swung an axe with one hand. The tree that he had carried over became logs. Some of it was piled up to be made into firewood.
“Ya have to pack the rocks according to the formation of the rocks inside, or it won’t work.”
“That sounds right. Looks like you have to carve the rocks.”
“Ya probably don’t know this, but the rocks actually have something like eyes. If ya aim for those eyes, the stone’ll break easily, y’see.”
“This rock formation or whatever is something that needs some experience. We should really leave it to an expert, yeah?”
“…so if you do it like this, ya should be able to break it open like paper…”
Today’s training had ended in the morning. Although there was work to do in the fields, the militia had 157 adult men. Ganche didn’t have as many men as the captain or vice-captain, but there were still a plentiful number of hands. They spent one hour working on the lord of the land’s fields before they were finished.
As a result, the militiamen who had plenty of time on their hands were always on the lookout for anything interesting to do.
“…Quiet! If you’re not going to help, break it up.”
Though Ganche glared at them, they had spent three months in close contact. Up until Ganche had become Ernst’s partner, he had slept in the barracks with them.
By now, there wasn’t anyone who was afraid of Ganche.
“No no no no no. I’m worried that you might mess something up.”
“It’s just plugging up a hole. How exactly is he supposed to mess that up?”
“You yourself told me it was easy, so are you now saying this simple thing is actually difficult?”
The soldiers of the fourth platoon said, ‘That’s right! That’s right!’, all of them nodding their heads with know-it-all expressions on their face.
This was why Ganche hated the people of Schell continent.
Since they lived for 200 years, by the time someone became an independent adult, they were already past 40 years old.
To them, Ganche was the same as a baby.
‘You may not know this, but-’ they said, flaunting their knowledge; the ones who didn’t have any academic background talked about their experience.
There wasn’t any room for Ganche to cut in when these people, who had been around before his parents, and before his parents’ parents, talked to him about their experience. The difference between what he and they had experienced was far too great.
In his opinion, the people of the Schell races would never be a match for the Grude in terms of physical power, so they clung to their one point of living for twice as long and used it to bask in a sense of superiority.
Ganche had that sort of cynical perspective.
Before you start quibbling about your theories, why don’t you lift a finger and test it? Though Ganche always thought this, he wasn’t foolish enough to say it aloud.
If he said something like that, they would nag him twice as much as before.
Even so, that dialogue baked into his brain, ready to be unleashed.
“…What are you doing?”
A new voice joined in. Knowing that this was Targes, the militiamen corrected their behavior. After undergoing training every day, they were finally able to conduct themselves like soldiers.
“You can see it if you use your eyes. I’m fixing the estate.”
Ganche answered glumly.
Although Ganche was just a common soldier, he didn’t belong to any platoon, and his position was the same as the captain’s.
In the beginning, he had made a contract with the captain, Targes, to be hired as part of the militia. The contract lasted for one year, and during that time, the rank of Ganche would be equal to that of his employer, Targes.
At present, Ganche had made a contract of companionship with Ernst, so his contract of employment with Targes had been destroyed.
Since his rank had been equal, even if the other person was the captain, Ganche didn’t salute or use formal language. It was only when Ernst was around that Ganche changed the way he behaved.
He was like a kid who acted like a good boy in front of his parents.
When Targes had told him that, cackling, Ganche had gone to smack him – but as if he’d predicted that would happen, Targes had just barely dodged out of the way.
“I know that you’re trying to patch the hole, but… is it really okay like that?”
All Ganche was doing was taking the planks that he’d chopped with the axe and nailing them to the wall around the hole.
Originally, the stone foundation had been layered with wood, which then had wallpaper pasted on top of it. After many years, the wind and snow had peeled off the wallpaper, rotted off the wood planks, and weakened the exposed stone foundation, causing holes when the stones fell off.
As the militiamen had said, it would be better to inlay a stone that was the same size as the hole, but Ganche didn’t have any method for creating a stone that was the hole’s dimensions. He had forcibly filled the hole with thick poles and rocks, then nailed on some planks to add support to the top, but after being asked so many times whether this was really okay like this, he felt depressed.
They were right – Ernst wouldn’t be happy with something as clumsy and unsightly as this.
He had started off these repairs in triumphant spirits, but maybe it would be better if he just gave up…
“Everyone’s gathered around here – is something happening?”
Upon hearing the light voice of a boy drift over, the militiamen who had been teasing Ganche now quieted down.
“No… uh… the wall…”
Targes answered, inching in front of the misshapen wall repairs to hide them with his own body.
“Aah, so you’re fixing the wall. Is everyone helping to fix it?”
Speaking with a cheerful voice, a small face suddenly popped up amidst the soldiers.
When those blue eyes saw the wall that Ganche had repaired, they slowly opened wide in surprise.
“Um… Lord Ernst…”
Ganche trembled with fear as he opened his mouth. Ernst turned to look at him, and then a smile split across his face.
“How wonderful. Ganche, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a solution like this myself.”
“Eh…? It’s so haphazard; are you really fine with it?”
When Targes asked him this in disbelief, Ernst answered nonchalantly.
“The hole is closed, so I’m satisfied… I had been under the impression that, in order to repair the estate, I would need the appropriate amount of money to commission an expert in carpentry to do so. Yet nevertheless, all I wanted was for the holes to be closed.”
He kneeled and traced the site of the repairs with his white hands.
“Ganche, you have a very flexible way of thinking.”
As he said that, a kind smile rose over Ernst’s face.
Perhaps it was because they wanted to earn Ernst’s praise, but the militiamen scrambled to start repairing the estate. In the blink of an eye, they had fixed all of the defects.
Upon seeing those repairs that were just as unsightly as Ganche’s, the head butler threw a fit and acted like he was about to faint, but since the Lord himself had given his approval, there wasn’t any problem with them.
“Lord Ernst seems like a pretty surprising person, doesn’t he?”
After they had finished training, Targes asked this to Ganche, who had been drinking alcohol with Aldo.
“Since they hate even just training, they try to take it easy whenever they can. But he was able to make those guys who have laziness soaked into the marrow of their bones do all of that work in just a snap… and without even giving them an order.”
He plonked himself down on the chair and helped himself to a drink.
“All Lord Ernst did was admire what Ganche had done. That was all it took to make those soldiers get up and move like it was a fight.”
“That’s right. Once I came here, I learned full well just how hard it was to get those soldiers to want to do anything. No matter if you screamed at them or coaxed them, they wouldn’t move at all.”
“I’m very sorry for that…”
Before Targes had become the captain of the militia, that role had been filled by Aldo.
Although Targes had spent over fifty years moving from place to place as a mercenary, before that, he had been a knight in the Rintz Kingdom’s army.
Those who could become knights in Rintz Kingdom were limited to those who had been born with the title of knights. Their rank was second only to the nobility, and Aldo, in respect to Targes’ accomplishments and title, had ceded to him the position of captain.
However, Ganche thought.
When he looked at the fief’s soldiers, he understood Aldo’s previous hardships. He wondered if, when Targes appeared, Aldo saw it as a blessing from the heavens and threw in the towel.
Although Targes had firmly refused him countless times, it seemed like he’d been shoved into that position before even realizing it.
Targes sometimes whispered into people’s ears, Even though he has the face of a good person, you can never be too careful with Aldo.
“I thought that it was impossible to motivate Meissen’s troops, but Lord Ernst was able to do it so easily. Those troops, deep inside, they want someone to acknowledge them and make them feel like they’re needed. He was able to see that in an instant…”
“…Wait. Lord Ernst is certainly an amazing person, but what you guys are saying is that he’s the kind of person who manipulates others into acting as he pleases?”
At this rate, Ernst was going to seem like just some sort of scheming tactician.
“Well… you have a point. He was royalty, after all.”
Targes kept on drinking.
“When I was a knight, I served at His Majesty’s side. When I was a mercenary, I also served the royalty of other countries. The people of royalty… in general, they don’t pay any mind to the feelings of other people. Especially in places like Rintz Kingdom where there are only two royals, their status and authority in the kingdom are as high as the sun in the sky, becoming existences that others aren’t able to trespass upon. Lord Ernst had been the crown prince up until half a year ago. Only a select few were allowed to speak with him, and he couldn’t leave the royal palace. Lord Ernst wouldn’t have the need to pay any mind to the motives of other people.”
“…When you think about it that way, he seems like a pure person.”
Aldo murmured admiringly.
“That’s right. That’s why I feel that he’s rather scary.”
Targes said, his greenish-blue eyes laughing happily.
“…What he did, he didn’t plan at all.”
When Ganche told him about the conversation of that afternoon, a hollow expression came over Ernst’s face.
“But, it was thanks to everyone working that it became so easy to take care of.”
Certainly, no matter where you walked in the manors of the estate, you would no longer feel a cold wind. Ernst had also stopped wearing his cloak.
“With all due respect…”
They were seated in front of the fireplace, and when Ganche spoke those words to the small body perched upon his knee, Ernst giggled.
“You’re my companion, Ganche. You don’t have to be afraid of saying anything.”
“Then… Lord Ernst, you won’t become angry?”
“What should I be angry about?”
“Lord Ernst had been the crown prince, and now you are the noble Lord of the fief, too. Yet even so, everyone just speaks to you as they like, and I wondered if that wasn’t terribly impolite…”
When Ganche had been a mercenary, most of the people he had served had been nobles. No matter what country’s or what territory’s nobles they were, they more or less shared the same conduct: they disdained the lower classes.
The people surrounding them always acted with courtesy and moderation so as to not upset the nobles.
Because Meissen was such a remote region, the militia and the servants who were just common people treated Ernst with incredibly crude manners.
“Humm… Well, isn’t it fine like that?”
Fufufu, Ernst giggled, leaning back on Ganche.
“It’s a valuable thing for people to be able to speak to me without hesitation. If everyone reveres me and carefully selects the information they want to give me, then I might end up choosing the wrong path to walk on… Though sometimes I might be surprised by it, even if they just hurled profanities at me, I feel like it would be to my benefit.”
He turned around, his blue eyes reflecting Ganche.
“Besides, since Ganche will always get angry for me first, there’s nothing for me to be upset over… I have to apologize, but the fact that Ganche’s heart can be thrown into such disarray over me makes me feel so happy.”
Unable to hold himself back, Ganche kissed those mischievously smiling pale red lips.
He greedily devoured that small body. It had been one month since the last time they indulged in each other.
Ernst’s slender body was still unaccustomed to it, but although Ganche couldn’t savor him to his heart’s content, these days where he could deeply intertwine himself with Ernst made Ganche feel the joy of supreme bliss.
As they lay beneath the bedsheets, Ganche loosely gathered in his arms that beloved body which continued to sweetly pant.
“The words that the lord says might also lead his subjects astray.”
Ernst whispered this quietly.
A Dunbertian’s eyes were able to see well even without much light. Though the room was shrouded in darkness, Ganche’s eyes were able to make out Ernst’s face, which still contained traces of passion.
“People interpret things according to what’s convenient for them. Thus, they will bend what was actually said to fit within their own selfish interpretations, and share that with other people… this propagation can’t be underestimated. After passing through several people, the shape of the message will break down, changing into a piercing sword that will be turned against me. Or, it may become a rope which ties my hands.”
He lowered his eyes, his thin fingers rubbing Ganche’s chest.
“Ganche, you seem to think that everyone acts as if they aren’t aware that I was formerly royalty, but… perhaps, out of everyone, the people of Meissen are the ones who most view me as the former crown prince.”
His boyish face twisted with self-deprecation.
“Since I’m the former crown prince, nothing should be impossible for me. They all think this… It’s as if they believe I carry a magic wand.”
Ganche had also felt uneasy about this. When he conversed with the militia troops, there were times where he could tell they thought this way.
It wasn’t just one or two soldiers who had absurdly said to him, ‘Why don’t you just try bringing it up with Lord Ernst?’
“…I also believe that, if Lord Ernst sets his mind to it, anything is possible. But I feel this way not because you are the former crown prince, but because Lord Ernst is Lord Ernst.”
As if weighing the true meaning of his words, those barely-visible blue eyes gazed up at Ganche in the darkness.
“The overpowering light which radiated from your body had instantly pierced my heart, but in the bathing chamber, when I saw the unfathomable depths of your blue eyes, my heart had been captured and bound to you.”
Those blue eyes widened. They became slightly glossy with tears before slowly falling shut.
“Ganche, you are truly amazing. You were able to heal my melancholic mood, just like that.”
He smiled, and when he opened his eyes again, they no longer showed any signs of tears.
“I want to tell you about what I imagine the future of Meissen to be. I can’t speak of this to anyone until I can clearly see the path which leads to it, but I want to tell you, at least, Ganche… Even if it might just end as a pipe dream of mine.”
Ganche hugged that slender body in his arms.
“I will stay by Lord Ernst’s side until the end. Though I have no education, and I may not understand the complexities, if Lord Ernst has a use for me then I will work myself to the bone to fulfill it… however, even if this story ends as a pipe dream, I believe it will be fine. If it is a dream that Lord Ernst and I look at together, then I believe it will be a happy dream, no matter what it is.”
“…Ganche, you’re like rain which falls upon parched earth. Your words fill up my heart and take my breath away again and again.”
Ernst reached out his small hands and hugged him tightly.
The Dunberts were people of destruction.
They lived in battle and died in battle. They didn’t possess the culture to create, and they moved according to fleeting emotions.
They were a people who despised boredom, and who chased after a moment’s exaltation.
Yet even so, if he was with Ernst, and if he walked alongside Ernst toward the future they had looked at together, then he would never feel bored even if he spent the rest of his life in this quiet and tranquil land.
Ganche was drawn into the future Ernst spoke of.
The future of Meissen, which no one had ever imagined before, unfurled before his eyes there.