Arc 2, Crescent Moon
The next day, Ernst looked around the village. There were very few sheep, but all of them were well-fed and healthy.
“Since the price of Meissen’s wool fell, we’re unable to raise any more than this.”
“But we still have the same pastures as before. Each and every one of them gets to eat well and become plump.”
Different from the villagers Ernst had spoken with earlier, today, a young villager explained this to Ernst.
“With this many people, are you able to maintain your grasslands?”
“It’s impossible, unfortunately. Because of that, our pastures shrink a little every year.”
The villager spoke with frustration in his voice.
“What would happen if you increased how many sheep you have?”
“It isn’t that we need more hands for shepherding. We’ve developed techniques for herding our sheep, after all. Our problem lies in shearing the wool. We need to use our own hands to shear the wool, that’s why… if we increased how many sheep we took care of, then we increase how many sheep everyone has to shear together in the spring. However, there are villagers who have left to find work who can’t return during the shearing season.”
“If you don’t shear a sheep’s wool, it can suffocate when its wool grows too long. This is especially the case for our Caralime sheep, which have especially fine, long wool. For these guys, we absolutely have to shear them all before the snow melts.”
Ernst’s feet paused at the words the dark-skinned villager spoke, and he looked over at the sheep grazing in the distance.
They dug through the snow by themselves to eat the grass hidden beneath it. In the area of Schell Continent where Meissen was located, even if the snow fell, even if the earth froze, the vegetation living beneath it would absolutely never wither.
One of the reasons why Caralime Village turned to shepherding was because it was easy to secure food for the sheep in the winter.
Even if they weren’t given feed to eat, the sheep that lived in this land would dig up the snow on their own to find some. The villagers, like the people of other territories, didn’t need to harvest large amounts of grass in the summer, and neither did they have to prepare for winter.
To reach Arruca Village, it was faster to leave from Caralime Village than it was to return to the estate first.
During the two days that Ernst spent in Caralime Village, the new recruits of the 2nd platoon that had been left behind at the mansion were sent back to the estate, and the 1st and 3rd platoons proceeded to Caralime Village in their place. From there, the 3rd platoon escorted the new recruits who had been brought to Caralime Village back to the estate.
Mais also returned to the estate with the carriage Ernst had ridden. Though Ernst had been told that the snow this year would be deep, it was deeper than he had expected, so Ernst judged that it would be better not to bring Mais with him.
Mais came from the town that was nearby the estate, Saiquani, and his parental grandfather had served the previous lord of the fief.
All of the people working at the estate were people whose parents and whose grandparents had worked at the estate in the past. The head butler was the only person who had directly served Ernst’s predecessor.
There were two things that Ernst looked for in the people who worked at the estate.
One was to handle the miscellaneous manners of the estate.
The other was to assist Ernst and strengthen Meissen by helping him manage and maintain it.
Ordinarily, the lord of the fief would have several administrative officials working under him to ensure the management of the fief would go smoothly. But Meissen didn’t have anyone in that position, and in Meissen’s current state, Ernst didn’t think there was anyone who was currently fit for the task.
Mais was still young, at 40 years old. From here on, he would be able to learn many things under Ernst, and Ernst had also thought about giving him some responsibilities in the future. For that reason, Ernst had brought him from the estate.
But Mais had the same flaw as other people who had grown up near the estate.
And this flaw was that when he faced people who lived in villages far from the estate, he held disdain for them in his heart. Without any reason, he scorned and looked down on them. He was unable to hide that attitude of his.
If Ernst brought along Mais like this, all that would happen was that the villagers’ hearts would harden.
Ernst wanted to change Meissen. To that end, he keenly felt that he had to first change the hearts of the people living there.
Yet, it wasn’t all that easy to change someone’s heart.
Ernst, Targes, Ganche, and the 1st platoon, a total of 25 people, set off toward Arruca Village.
In the winter, no one traveled the road between Caralime and Arruca. The snow fell deeply, reaching up to the militia troops’ calves. Ernst’s knees were completely buried.
The snow that fell over Meissen was light and fluffy.
Ernst had restrained Ganche from trying to carry him, but after Ernst tried to take three steps without moving forward at all, he gave in. No matter how much he tried, it was impossible for Ernst to travel there on his own feet.
Once Ganche lifted him up, Ernst’s field of vision widened all at once. From his high vantage point he could see far into the distance, but all he saw was the vast, uniform expanse of the snowfield, as well as a deciduous tree that hadn’t lost its leaves even in the winter.
“Is that tree from the Grude Continent?”
Ernst murmured, letting out a white breath.
“No, there isn’t any tree like that in the lands of Grude. That land only has things that are full of thorns, after all.”
“Then in that case, is it true that Meissen’s trees have some Grude influence in them?”
Without disturbing the marching ranks of the troops, the 1st platoon leader, Brez, shyly joined the conversation Ernst had been having with Ganche.
“I come from the village of Iben. When I was a child, the trees that people carried back from the Ekse Mountain were dead in the winter.”
“Humm. Then around when did they become like this, not losing their leaves even in winter?”
“After the New Year next month, I will be 97 years old. I first noticed this when I was 64, so I believe the trees must have been in this state for at least 33 years.”
Surpassing Ernst’s expectations, Brez was able to clearly list out the number of years.
Noticing Ernst’s expression, Brez continued.
“I was 30 when I volunteered to join the militia and began my service at the estate. After that, there was also a period where I left to become a mercenary for the sake of my village. When I was around 60 I returned to Meissen and once again joined the militia. Then, after three years, I was allowed to return home to visit my parents. At 64, a child I had with a woman in Kata Village was born… it was when I returned with my child to my village that I noticed the trees. I remember it very well.”
It was under those circumstances that the sight had been carved into his memory, Ernst thought, nodding.
Ganche walked through that deep snow without any trouble at all. The militia troops following after him also tried their hardest to keep up, but in the end, there were still some stragglers.
Even the horses that Targes and Brez rode seemed to hate the snow that buried their feet.
Ernst rested his cheek on the Ganche’s mantle. It was made of animal leather, and was part of the militia’s equipment. From the thick nape of his neck drifted the beloved scent of the forest.
When Ernst looked at the foliage spread out above his head and breathed in Ganche’s scent, he couldn’t help but feel like they weren’t really in the midst of winter.
Deciduous trees that didn’t die in the winter.
Someone must have noticed that this wasn’t normal.
By the time they caught sight of Arruca Village, even Targes’ horse was out of breath.
The militia soldiers seemed like they were going to sit down in protest at any moment.
Under these circumstances, only Ganche remained unruffled.
“You’re not tired?”
Leaving behind the straggling militia soldiers, Ganche kept walking forward, briskly passing through the snow.
“Not at all… When I breathe in Lord Ernst’s scent, I become stronger than anyone.”
Ernst immediately stopped himself from speaking more. After taking a quick glance around the perimeter, he pressed a light kiss to the tip of Ganche’s manly chin.
“What a coincidence. When I smell Ganche’s scent, I also become stronger.”
Ernst smiled, and Ganche smiled back.
“And besides, Lord Ernst is like a feather… you’re lighter than my sword.”
Although Ganche said this in jest, Ernst knew it to actually be true. Before, Ernst had tried to hold Ganche’s sword for fun, but he hadn’t been able to budge it a single bit.
“I’d have to eat all of the crops in the whole of Meissen to be heavier than that sword.”
Seeing Ernst knit his thin eyebrows together, Ganche threw his head back and laughed.