Arc 2, Crescent Moon
There were two kinds of people who visited the estate.
Those who strove to learn and study letters, and those who only wanted to converse with Ernst. The adults were often the latter.
And both of those were people whom Ernst met in the estate.
“In the old days, this was still a place where you could make a living. But nowadays, that ain’t the case anymore…?”
“That’s right. How’re the children s’posed to live from here on…”
The ones currently chatting in front of Ernst were people from the Kata and Latelle villages. These two groups were people who lived nearby and were able to reach the estate after walking one hour on foot.
Of course, this sense of distance was according to Meissen’s standards.
“Back when us few were kids, we had winter work to do in the winter. But now, there ain’t any…”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s ‘cause of that, all I’m doin’ now is drinking tea all carefree.”
“You guys, watch your tongues. If I were the Lord right now, I wouldn’t give ya permission to set a single foot in my estate.”
“That’s right. And besides, this ain’t tea but hot water.”
At that, the adults roared with laughter, and Ernst smiled wryly.
He would have liked to serve them tea, but Ernst had never drunk any tea or the like ever since coming to Meissen. Meissen’s financial problems were worse than Ernst had anticipated, and there weren’t any luxury items at all.
“What was the work you performed during the winter?”
“Well, that was a whole buncha stuff. Like growin’ wheat…”
“But ya could do that now, couldn’t ya?”
One of the farmers teased.
“In Meissen, if ya don’t work all year round, ya won’t be able to eat. Grow some wheat, grow some potatoes. But, in the past, there were more jobs to go around.”
“Yeah, money-makin’ jobs.”
“Ya could weave baskets with the wheat straw, or weave nets… but nowadays, if ya don’t use it as kindling for the fireplace instead, you’ll freeze in the winter…
“You can’t make kindling out of the trees?”
“We would chop ‘em down before winter came, but… in the past, there were more people goin’ out to do it. Nowadays there’re less people in the village, and it’s harder to get enough firewood for everyone.”
“Well, for us, we lost our jobs.”
The women started talking with determination.
“In the winter, we took the sheep’s wool that we’d sheared earlier in the spring so we could weave and knit it, and that in itself kept us busy. Meissen’s wool could fetch a good price over in Rintz fief, and even in the Caprix fief over in Lux Kingdom.”
“Aah, back in those times I could even buy some firewood for myself.”
“So you own some sheep?”
“In the past, we did. Up until when, I wonder~? Think I kept them up until seventy years ago, or so.”
“Humm. Did you end up having to eat them?”
Around that time, Ernst was certain that the wheat crop had been particularly poor.
“Well… that was part of it, yeah. But the biggest reason was the Caralime village.
At the women’s words, the remaining villagers didn’t disguise the scowls on their faces.
Ernst looked down, watching the militia’s training.
Recently, the soldiers had achieved remarkable growth.
It was because the leadership had come out. Once the captain gave a single command, they were able to quickly carry it through.
All of these people had become soldiers because they had been poor.
If they joined the militia, they would be given food and a place to sleep. Moreover, if they were in the militia, they would be exempt from taxes. The villages sent out their able men to the militia so that the burden of taxes on those villages would be lighter.
And, of course, it was also a way to reduce the number of mouths to feed.
The people of the town also came to Ernst’s audience hall. The town was made up of people who had the rank of merchants.
“Still, up until about 50 years ago, trade was still a viable business, too.”
The traders of the town of Saiquani grumbled.
“I sold clothes, I sold confectioneries. I also sold books.”
“Yes. Well, that said, in Meissen there wasn’t anyone who bought books other than the lord. He sure bought a whole lot of different kinds of books…”
The man sent Ernst a meaningful glance.
It seemed to be saying either ‘Do you know the contents of those books?’ or ‘Ernst can also buy books from me’.
“Currently, our business partnership with the estate is quite significant.”
“Although I am not very certain of this, it isn’t viable if this estate is your only business partner, is it?”
If there was anyone who best understood Meissen’s financial straits, it would be Ernst.
“In the past, there was greater non-domestic trade, correct?”
After all, the villagers had told him that Meissen’s wool had sold for a good price.
“Yes, that – is how it was. I purchased crops, firewood, handicrafts, and the like from the villagers, then went to sell them in other fiefs. Then, I would bring items I had purchased from the outside to sell in Meissen. But currently, trade isn’t as lively as it was in the past.”
“The reason for that is because right now, few of our villages in Meissen have produced enough surplus that they can afford to sell.”
“Even so, villages like Dada, Kata, Latelle, Hrike, and Sounica will sell the items they’ve produced.”
“Humm. So it seems that those five villages have built up a way of living.”
“Well, they are still villages of Meissen. They’re only just barely managing to keep things that way.”
The people who had come to visit the estate were limited to the villages of Kata and Latelle, as well as the people of Saiquani. The remaining villages and towns were too distant from the estate to feel free to visit.
When Ernst thought back to the time he had first entered Meissen, and specifically the villages he had visited along the way to the estate, he remembered the emaciation of the villagers as well as the inadequate clothing they wore on their bodies.
The people of Meissen had to put forth their best efforts just to be able to live.
“But whether you’re a farmer, a hunter, or a merchant, money is absolutely important for all of us.”
“And other than us merchants, if someone wants to sell something, they can only sell to a merchant…”
The merchants proudly nodded their heads.
The Rintz Kingdom had exceptionally high class discrimination compared to any other territory or country.
Citizens who were not merchants were not allowed to sell the items that they had harvested or produced to other people. They were only allowed to sell to a single recipient: the merchants.
Furthermore, the class that each person belonged was rigidly, severely decided.
In other words, someone who was born to merchants could only a merchant, and also someone who was born as a peasant could only be a peasant.
If someone were to seek to reach a standing other than what they were born with, then on top of having to prepare complicated, complex official documents, they would also need a large sum of money.
However, there were many things regarding the changing of one’s position that couldn’t be approved with money.
That was the thing which no one could dare to transgress: the national law.
Furthermore, there was another national law in Rintz Kingdom that placed a heavy burden on its people.
Everyone had to pay a toll of money to the lord who presided over their lands. But of course, on top of that, the hunters and woodsmen had to also pay firewood and meat, and the farmers had to pay with their crops. Since artisans and merchants didn’t produce their own goods, they had to pay a higher tax.
Ernst strongly wished to do something about the taxes, but he couldn’t find any loopholes to exploit in the tax law.
All the lord could do was change the rate of his taxes.
But even that wasn’t allowed to move down, only up.
“Then for the people in your town, are you able to keep yourselves fed with your business?”
“Absolutely not! We can’t make a living just with what we gain through trade.”
“Yes, completely agreed. The money we earn all goes into purchasing the things we need to live, like firewood and food.”
“That’s right. First and foremost, from the money we earn through trade, we have to store away the portion that will be used to pay our taxes. What remains can be used for buying our life necessities. But recently, things are extremely difficult…”
“Exactly, it’s extremely difficult, so we have no choice but to start ploughing our gardens and the outskirts of our town to do farmwork.”
“The farmers make fun of us because of it, too…”
The men laughed self-deprecatingly.
“How did things get this way?”
“Hmm, well, it’s probably because of Yakiya village, I’d think.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. Before we knew it, the Yakiya and Maine villages were doing something quite splendid, weren’t they.”
“But, well… nowadays, the Maine village… you know?”
Saying that, the merchants all laughed in ridicule at this village that only Ernst didn’t know.
The children who were returning to their homes were handed a thinly-cut piece of wood. Though this wood had come from a huge tree, it was only a small slice. Its width was merely the same as three of Ernst’s arms lined side by side.
Each of those pieces of wood had a single character written at the top. This was so that the children would be able to continue to study even after they had gone home. The children could carve the wood with rocks to practice writing and remembering the word.
Once they had finished writing over the one sheet of wood that Ernst had given them, they were allowed to throw it in the fire. Of these children who traveled to Ernst three days a week, some of them had parents with faces that weren’t exactly happy.
But, for the sake of that one thin board of wood that Ernst handed out, those parents didn’t say anything.
There are so many named characters and villages that’ll show up in this arc that I feel like I need to make a spreadsheet…
I have about 6 more chapters translated for daily updates, but since I’m binge-reading a couple of stories right now, I might be a little slow when I need to get back to translating later hehe~