Arc 2, Crescent Moon
On the next day, they departed early in the morning again, and they arrived in Caralime village just before noon.
Though Ernst watched them from the window of his carriage, he couldn’t really see if the militia’s movements were any different from how they were yesterday. It seemed like this wasn’t something with such a straightforward fix.
Caralime Village was even worse than expected.
This village, which was three hours away on foot from Arruca, the first village Ernst had ever set foot in when he arrived in Meissen, really deserved to be called the village of Kleber’s disease.
Of the thirty villagers, not counting the seven children, all twenty-three adults were affected by the disease.
“When did this village first start seeing a rise in Kleber’s disease?”
In the village head’s house, Ernst met with the four elders of the village. Though they were called elders, they were all 140 to 170 years of age, which in the capital would still be considered working age.
“Well, let me see… back when I was a child, my mother was a normal adult… so maybe it was about 160 years ago.”
“Very well, then; what this means is that up until at least 160 years ago, there were people who didn’t contract the disease?”
The villagers nodded. If a bystander watched this scene, then including Ernst, this would only look like a group of little boys gathering around to conspire over something.
“Just what had happened to cause this situation, I wonder.”
“We wouldn’t be able to know that. We don’t even know what causes Kleber’s disease, after all.”
Hearing the villager say those words as if distancing himself from them, Ernst smiled wryly and nodded in agreement.
He was right; no one had found the cause of the disease.
However, if every single villager had Kleber’s disease, which was said to occur in 1 of every 100 people, then he had to consider that there might be something causing it in the village.
But it seemed that rather than trying to investigate the cause of the disease, they had to focus on giving their all to survive each and every day.
“I had heard that this village focuses on shepherding?”
At Ernst’s words, the villagers smiled cynically.
“Hmm. Did the other villages say something to you?”
“Something like that you were lazy…”
“Those guys don’t know anything at all, but they always act so smugly, always making fools of us.”
After they spent some time cursing the other villages, one of the villagers turned to Ernst.
“Honorable Lord, have you ever ploughed a field?”
“Then, how about shepherding?”
Ernst lightly shook his head to deny it.
“Working on the fields isn’t a job that you can say you’ll only do over the summer. It’s impossible to cultivate enough food for the entire year in just the short summer season. That’s why, in the winter, you would have to plant winter crops.”
This was also what the Kata and Latelle villages had told him. They grew wheat over the summer and root vegetables over the winter.
“Ploughing the frozen fields over the winter is a very power-intensive job. I believe that the honorable Lord should understand why this would be a difficult task for us…”
The men discreetly looked at Ernst. The people who had fallen ill with Kleber’s disease would only be able to exert the same power as a little boy or girl throughout their entire lifetime.
“More and more of the villagers contracted Kleber’s disease, burdening our parents. Though they had ploughed wide fields, if things continued like this then we, their children, would struggle to work on them.”
“That was why we left them to become pastureland. When it comes to pasturage, you can just ride on the back of a donkey while you work.”
“That said, it isn’t as if it’s all easy. We have to take many things into consideration when we work as shepherds. Which kinds of grass can we let them eat, when should we move the sheep, how many animals can we take care of before they start to starve… many things… Honestly, we have to think about so many things.”
“How we can calm the sheep down with our limited strength, how we can shear the wool as quickly as possible, which sheep we should breed more of… we had to think about these kinds of matters.”
“In spring, in summer, in fall, in winter, we followed after the sheep. That was how we, in our own way, worked as hard as we possibly could.”
The men looked away with distant eyes, as if remembering the faraway past.
“But in the end… all of our efforts were for nothing, all because of that damned Arruca village. Because those bastards were so sloppy with their work, no one would even take a look at Meissen’s wool anymore! And those other villages, without even knowing anything, all blamed us for it!”
This was a village on the outskirts of a land that was already on the outskirts. Not a single one of the villagers has ever received an education.
The villagers had tried to keep in mind to speak politely to Ernst in the beginning, but once their emotions grew more and more intense, they began to forget.
The only people in this place were Ernst, his butler Mais, and the villagers. But once the villagers’ voices could be heard outside, the door quietly opened to reveal Targes’ figure.
The villagers hadn’t noticed Targes’ appearance; Ernst sent him an order with his eyes, and Targes withdrew.
“What did the Arruca village do?”
When the villagers’ emotions had somewhat subsided, Ernst quietly asked this.
“Those bastards… they copied us.”
“Yeah… those bastards abandoned ploughing their farmland, migrated over to where they are now, and started shepherding, just like us.”
Farmers weren’t allowed to change their lands.
But that only applied to migrating between territories. It wasn’t illegal to change land within the same fief.
“But those bastards, they didn’t think over how to care for their sheep as much as we did.”
“Those guys just kept increasing how many sheep with low-quality wool they had. Once they sold their low-quality wool to the other fiefs, no one would buy for a high price anymore. The prices of Meissen’s wool were smashed all at once.”
“And on top of that, Arruca Village’s shepherding was sloppy, too. They let the sheep eat up all the grass, so the sheep eventually starved…”
“Those bastards walked however many hours it took to get to our pastures and let their sheep eat our grass. And because of that, our sheep starved…”
Tearing up, the villager squeezed out these words.
After stepping foot in Caralime Village, Ernst found it very surprising.
He had heard that it was a village of pastures, but he barely saw any sheep. He had wondered if maybe their pastures were far away, but apparently, that wasn’t the case.
Just like the town of Saiquani, which was now unable to live off of trade, this village of Caralime was now unable to live off of their shepherding.
“Up until now, how did you get by?”
“We depend on the migrant workers. Every year, ten of our people leave the village to go find work. With that, we’re somehow able to pay the taxes and eat.”
“But that’s also becoming harder to do. Starting next year, if fifteen people don’t leave to find work, then we won’t be able to survive…”
The villagers sighed and looked down.
By the time Ernst exited the village head’s house, the outside was covered in only a very dim light. Even though they had spoken for barely half a day, it felt like many times more than that.
Ernst was very, no, extremely tired.
The only soldiers who had accompanied him to the village included the captain, twelve of the new recruits, and Ganche.
When they noticed Ernst, they lined up.
“Sorry. I kept you waiting.”
It was hard to make out the expression of Targes, who stood two heads taller than Ernst. Even though it took half a day to travel here, they wouldn’t be able to return to the mansion in this amount of time.
“It’s impossible to return right now.”
“It seems so… if we left now, then it would be midnight by the time we returned to the mansion. We’d still be coming back here tomorrow, right?”
“That’s correct; I still want to look around a little more.”
He wanted to look around the village tomorrow.
“Then we’ll just camp outdoors. Lord Ernst, are you alright with that?”
Of course, he nodded.
He might have predicted this would happen. When Targes had left the mansion, he had brought with him enough firewood and food for one night.
On top of that, in the daytime he had been ordering the soldiers to find a place where they would be able to set up camp.
“Why don’t we stay inside the village?”
One of the troops asked Targes.
“Just at a glance you can see how exhausted this village is; they can’t afford to accept this many people. And besides, you guys need to learn how to camp outside.”
That was certainly true, Ernst thought. Over here, the only people who had camped outdoors before were Targes, Ganche, and Ernst.
Even though Ernst, the former crown prince and now lord, knew how to camp outdoors, somehow not a single one of these militiamen had ever slept outside before.
“Don’t let the fire go out, or else wolves might come near.”
Targes said this while smiling, and the soldiers frantically rushed to stoke the fire with kindling.
“How was it? The village.”
They were a total of fifteen people, so they lit three fires.
Ernst, Targes, and Ganche, these three people surrounded one of those fires.
“Humm. It seems like these villagers live by cooperating well with each other.”
The soldiers had lit their fires a little further away, and as they surrounded the flames, they chatted loudly. Their continuously playful attitude worried Targes.
“These thirty villagers seem to live in three groups.”
“I also confirmed this. In the past, it seems like they used to live each on their own. They had several houses, they said, as well as several cottages here and there, but they decayed and broke down. Now they live inside of the more sturdily-built houses in three groups.”
During the time Ernst had been talking with the villagers, Targes had ordered the new recruits to train while he himself nonchalantly took a look around the village.
“I see. Every year, this village sends out ten people to leave and find work outside, so it seems like the entire village shares everything like one big family.”
“It certainly seems that way. Even though there are seven children in this village, their mothers don’t have to worry about leaving to find work since the children will live alongside the elderly villagers.”
It was unusual for the common people of Rintz Kingdom to bind themselves in the form of marriage. Even if a child is born from freely lovemaking, no one minded.
Especially in poorer regions like Meissen, children were treated as treasures whom all of the villagers worked together to raise.
Although all of the Schell races were similar in that their bodies were less likely to become pregnant and they rarely had children, in remote places, their particular customs became more prominent.
“This village may be impoverished, but I feel that it’s moving in the right direction.”
After some time, the militia soldiers had quieted down. Even though they had been told not to let the fire die out, they had all fallen asleep.
“Those guys… they’re really stuffed full of complacency all the way up to their heads.”
Sighing, Targes stood. He walked a few steps away, then turned to look back.
“I’m going to go watch over that fire over there, so Ganche, you keep an eye on this fire here… Since I’m going over there, I’m not going to come back, so you two feel free to do whatever you like later.”
Grinning with a smirk, he headed off into the distance.
Even if they were told ‘you two feel free to do whatever you like’, considering they were by the fire, they wouldn’t be able to hide anything and Targes would still be able to see them.
It didn’t matter to Ernst if he was seen, but he worried that it would worsen Ganche’s position. They wouldn’t be able to spend time as usual in this kind of place.
“Lord Ernst, whenever you feel like getting some rest, please do so.”
Ganche said this while adding kindling to the flame.
Even though they were this close to each other, and their scents were mingling, and he had immediately come to Ernst’s side, he seemed to composed and unaffected now. Even though for Ernst, he always spent every night wishing he could feel Ganche.
Though Ganche let out a puzzled voice, Ernst disregarded his concern. He stood up and brought himself over to Ganche, who had been sitting cross-legged atop a cloth sheet he had carried with him. Ernst set himself down upon Ganche’s lap.
He rested his back on Ganche’s wide chest.
“Humm. This is better.”
Hugging Ganche’s muscular arm, Ernst closed his eyes. Ganche brought his free hand to gently stroke Ernst’s head.
It had been a long, long day.