Arc 2, Crescent Moon
After returning to the estate to greet the New Year, Ernst and his entourage departed for Iben Village. Iben Village was a 7-hour walking distance away from the estate.
Targes, Ganche, and the 5th platoon accompanied him. The carriage Ernst rode on was driven by another butler, Arker.
Ernst had heard that Arker had just turned 52 years old. His grandmother had previously worked at the estate. He had come from the town of Saiquani, and his mother was a merchant.
He had also been working as a merchant up until Ernst had become lord.
Around the royal capital, people were considered adults by age 40, and they began working at age 45.
However, here in Meissen, people began to work at age 30. Of course, children brought up by merchants, like Arker, were relatively well-off. Ernst had been told that Arker had started working after he had turned 37.
Iben Village was located in the south of the estate. Its population of 46 included 3 children and 34 people with Kleber’s disease.
This was the village where the 1st platoon leader, Brez, hailed from, but Ernst hadn’t brought Brez to accompany him.
So that everything went smoothly this time, Ernst took care to not bring along anyone who came from the village.
Without any preconceptions, he wanted to look at these villages with his own eyes.
They stopped for a night at the mansion they had used the last time, then headed toward Iben Village the next day. Their legs moved quickly because they hadn’t brought along any new recruits. They arrived at the village just before noon.
“The sheep in this village are also different from the ones in Caralime, it seems.”
Ernst spoke with three of the villagers, including the village head, in a vacant house. Targes and Arker were with him.
“Caralime never brings any out of their village, so we don’t have any.”
The village head smiled bitterly.
Iben Village didn’t have much land that could be considered pasture. The sheep went inside of the village boundaries to eat grass.
Before speaking with the village head, Ernst took a look at the sheep. If the boy of Arruca Village hadn’t explained it to him, Ernst wouldn’t have been aware of the different qualities of the sheep’s hair. The sheep of Iben Village were different from Arruca’s.
Their hair didn’t have any luster, and Ernst also had the impression that the color was weaker.
“Back then, we wanted to try using wool to keep ourselves fed, so we raised plenty of animals. It worked out so well for Caralime, after all. It could for us too, right? But with the sheep we have here, it couldn’t happen.”
The head of Iben village was a 132-year old woman. In the past, she had left the village to work and live in the household of an affluent merchant. Though she was no longer able to work after she grew older, she had sent all of the money she had earned back to Iben Village as a remittance to be saved away.
In this village as well, the villagers lived by working together to support each other. Half of the villagers left to find work while the other half remained to care for the children and the elderly.
“Why didn’t it work out?”
“Because their hair is bad. If we’re talking length, well, it sure has some, but the color isn’t good. Back in the old days, we somehow got t’ sell it after we dyed the wool, but Caralime’s – boy, Caralime’s sure was good, wasn’t it? The hair was long, and the color was nice and white. Over there, they just had to let their sheep eat grass, then cut the wool once a year. There was no way we over here could compete with that kind of effortless and easy wool. For us, we wouldn’t be able to sell our wool for a decent price unless we dyed it. But, even if we had enough hands and labor to dye our wool, we wouldn’t want to sell it for the same price as one bag of Caralime’s wool.”
“If we sold it for the price of that bag, we would go into debt each time we sold wool.”
As the village head spoke on and on, the villagers chimed in with agreement.
“In that case, what do you do with those sheep?”
“Well, we can eat them when things go south, or for a celebration feast. We use the harvested wool to make clothes for the villagers. All they do is eat the grass that’s out there, so we just leave ‘em be.”
Once Ernst started talking with a woman, the conversation flowed easily. Unlike men, they didn’t hesitate to speak or try to hide things for appearances as often.
“If that is so, what is your current means of living?”
“We rely on the people who leave the village to work. The land here isn’t very good. When it comes to crops, it doesn’t yield very much. We have a limited amount of land… it isn’t enough to fill the bellies of all the villagers. Later, we started selling firewood collected from the mountain. Half of the people in our village are farmers, and the other half are mountaineers.”
Mount Ekse, which served as the border to Rintz fief, loomed near Iben Village. The mountain was so steep that it was impossible to climb over it to reach Rintz.
“But in recent times, several issues piled up and bit by bit, we weren’t able to chop down trees anymore. More and more people had Kleber’s disease and weren’t able to do hard labor, and the blades of our tools grew dull. We were just about only able to bring down young saplings. Well, even with all of that, we could sell surplus wood after we’d gathered enough for us to use sparingly over a year.”
The village head said this with a laugh. Though there weren’t any women left in Arruca Village, in Caralime Village, the women there had also smiled and laughed even in the midst of their impoverished living circumstances.
Women were strong.
Yet, in order for these women to continue smiling, their circumstances had to change.
The village head spoke about the things Ernst asked, as well as the things Ernst didn’t ask. In Caralime Village and Arruca Village the conversations were like pulling out teeth, and the villagers would rather do anything other than talk to him about what happened, but that wasn’t the case for Iben Village.
Perhaps because they were starved for the chance to converse with someone who came from outside the village, they let out a stream of words without holding back. They spoke so much that Ernst even had trouble keeping up with them.
“That sure was amazing.”
As Ernst exited the vacant house of the meeting and headed toward the location of the 5th platoon, Targes said this, astonished.
“The lady said that she had served in a merchant’s house in Rintz fief, after all. You have to have that amount of influence if you’re going to be in a merchant’s house.”
Arker chimed in with a self-satisfied look on his face, saying, “It was a good thing that this finished up quickly.” Ernst guessed that he had heard something from Mais.
In the beginning, the discussion in Caralime Village had been incredibly stagnant. Whenever Ernst asked a question, they answered with only ‘Yes’, or ‘No’, so he barely made any progress at all.
Ernst had been willing to patiently wait for their words, but he knew that Mais, who had been accompanying him at the side, had grown frustrated. He had stamped his feet in irritation, and sometimes he had even clicked his tongue.
On the other hand, when the Caralime villagers began cursing out Arruca Village, he had listened in with a face brimming with interest.
Since the conversation with the head of Iben Village had progressed at a rapid pace, Arker hadn’t shown the same set of behaviors as Mais did. But it seemed that even so, Arker shared the same faults Mais had.
One couldn’t confine themselves into thinking that only a fast and flowing conversation was good. They had to carefully sit back and listen to the other side’s story. If they hated the thought of that, then it simply wouldn’t do.
“Lord Ernst, will we be able to return to the estate tomorrow?”
“No; tomorrow I’ll be going to check out Mount Ekse.”
Arker showed a grimace at Ernst’s words.
“You don’t have to make that face, Arker. It’s fine if you stay behind here with the 5th platoon.”
Ernst said, smiling woodenly. The moment Arker heard those words, his face flipped to a smile. Though he couldn’t say that Arker wasn’t honest all the way down to his roots, unfortunately, just that wasn’t enough to serve Ernst’s needs.
Iben Village offered them the use of the vacant houses. The militia squad split up into five of the houses and went to bed. Ernst and Ganche together took one of the houses for their own use.
“Lord Ernst, are you tired?”
Ganche sat directly on the hard floor, so Ernst perched himself upon Ganche’s toned thigh. The bed was so shabby that it seemed like it would break as soon as Ganche sat on it.
“If you relaxed on the bed, wouldn’t you be able to have a better rest?”
“I feel more comfortable when I’m touching Ganche.”
Saying that, Ernst adhered himself to Ganche’s broad chest. A light laugh drifted down as Ganche’s muscular arms hugged Ernst.
“It seems that Caralime Village is a bit of an insular village.”
“Is that the first village you went to?”
Ernst nodded in confirmation.
The stories that Ernst had heard from the three villages all jumbled together within him. They tangled with the thought in Ernst’s mind of wanting to better Meissen.
“It isn’t as if Caralime, Arruca, and Iben are located that far from each other. Even Arruca and Iben are only separated by a day’s worth of walking. Despite this, the sheep kept by each of these three villages are completely different.”
In Arruca they used tree bark as firewood, but in Iben, they used proper pieces of wood. But there was very little, and the fire seemed like it was about to flicker out.
Ganche draped his own coat over Ernst’s shoulders.
“Caralime Village seems to be quite an industrious village. What I believe roughly happened was that they bred Arruca’s sheep with Iben’s, thus creating the sheep they have now.”
“Really, you think so?”
“I can’t quite say for sure since I have never kept sheep myself, but… the glossy sheen of Arruca, and the length of Iben. After crossbreeding the two of them, then selectively continuing to breed the children which display both of those characteristics, don’t you think that you would end up with a Caralime sheep after several generations?”
“That does sound right…”
“Though it is possible for them to have bred in other varieties of sheep, we can’t forget how extremely difficult it would be to procure sheep from Rintz fief and send them across the valley. One could bring lambs across by carrying them on one’s back, but it isn’t always possible to do that. Though this alone doesn’t prove that they only used sheep located within Meissen. There are also ways to procure sheep from Lux Kingdom, but I heard that the sheep from Lux aren’t particularly good.”
“…I see what you’re saying. So in the end, it seems that Caralime’s sheep were achieved by breeding the varieties of sheep which originally came from Meissen?”
“That’s what I believe.”
But that wasn’t something known to anyone outside of their own village.
When Ernst visited the villages, in what manner did the villagers act when they started to speak with him, and how did they treat him on their first meeting? Ernst had quietly observed their behaviors and actions.
Iben Village had accepted Ernst with the village head’s cheerful nature. Arruca Village had tried their best to provide a warm welcome to their visitors even though they didn’t have the means to do so, and this in itself made a warm feeling spread through people’s chests.
Yet Caralime Village had remained unyielding ‘til the end. Since Caralime had been the very first village he had visited, Ernst had thought that all of the villages would be this way, but the two Ernst had later visited told him that this wasn’t the case.
As such, this begged the question: for what reason was Caralime Village so resistant? Even though Ernst and his party had camped on the village outskirts for two days, the people of Caralime didn’t even come near them.
The reason why Caralime Village so stubbornly rejected all outsiders, Ernst thought, was probably because they were trying to protect their sheep.
“Ganche, tomorrow I want to go up the mountain with you and Targes.”
“Just us three?”
“That’s right. We’ll also have a villager as our guide, but the 5th platoon and Arker will stay here.”
Mount Ekse was arduous and steep. It wasn’t a place where a large group of people could go.
“I’ve heard that there are beasts, but even if a wolf jumps out, it will be fine as long as Ganche is there, right?”
Ernst peered up at Ganche with a little laugh. Ganche’s large body curled over as if covering Ernst, dropping a kiss upon Ernst’s lips.
“If a wolf dares to try and attack Lord Ernst, I will beat it down and end it.”
What a dependable man he was. Ernst clung to him, tasting his tongue.
I’m currently trying to build up a stock of translated chapters. Once I have enough, I’ll release them on a regular schedule. At least for this arc. Hehe. (〜￣▽￣)〜