Arc 2, Crescent Moon
Ernst returned to the estate from Eitt Village, and several days after, he began making his way to Yakiya Village.
This was the village next to the Bastelis River, which served as the border to Lux Kingdom.
It was an eight-hour walk to the north of the estate.
Ernst departed from the estate with Targes, Ganche, and the 4th platoon.
He didn’t allow his butlers to accompany him since it was likely that they would start complaining. Instead, Ernst assigned them duties. Along with doing their usual work on the estate, Arker would have to teach the children mathematics while Mais would have to recite words to teach them letters.
Neither of them were willing, but they nodded.
Teaching another person wasn’t an easy task.
You might think you know something, only to realize that you were uncertain of the details and understood much less than you thought. This experience would also teach perseverance and patience.
Those two were still quite young. In Ernst’s mind, he wanted to present them an opportunity to once again re-examine themselves and, hopefully, find room for improvement.
In between Yakiya Village and the estate was yet another mansion built for the Lord.
But this one was even more beaten-down and collapsing than the mansion on the south side that they had used before. When one of the militiamen timidly touched the grand front door, it fell off.
Since that option was thoroughly crossed off, all they could do was camp outdoors.
A month had passed since they celebrated the New Year. Ernst felt like there was less snow falling, now.
“Will spring be coming soon?”
They sat around the fire, eating dinner as they kept warm. They ate roasted dried meat and bread. In Meissen, vegetables rarely appeared in meals. Even the Lord had few opportunities to put vegetables in his mouth.
“Spring won’t be coming for a long while.”
The leader of the 4th platoon, Cobo, answered.
“Every year after the first month passes, there are some days where there’s less snow. But after about ten days of that, the snowstorm starts up again. But we consider that blizzard to be a sign of spring, since the weather starts to warm up after about a month of blizzarding.”
“The snowstorm lasts for an entire month?!” Targes blurted in surprise.
Targes had been in living in Meissen since the summer of last year, and Ganche, since the end of fall. Like Ernst, they had no clue what Meissen’s weather was like throughout the year.
“To be honest, this spring-heralding snowstorm is the worst and most dangerous one of all.”
“Why is that?”
“It makes tons of heavy, watery snow, and once the spring sunlight starts to shine, it’s very easy to cause an avalanche. There was a huge avalanche some years back. Maine Village got buried beneath it.”
“How extensive was the damage?”
When Ernst asked this question, Cobo turned away.
“Thankfully, none of the villagers were hurt at all. But the people of that village were mountaineers, and they lived off of wood and timber. When the avalanche happened, it tore down many of their trees.”
“If that’s the case, then how is Maine Village able sustain itself…?”
Cobo hesitated to speak. His gaze cut to another militia soldier who sat around a different fire. The person he was looking at was one of the foot soldiers of the 4th platoon, Siska.
If Ernst recalled correctly, Siska was from Maine Village.
Ernst’s resounding voice cut through the cold air.
Upon hearing his name being called, the soldier jumped in his seat, fearfully turning around to look at Ernst. He hadn’t heard the conversation they were having over here. Without any idea why his name was suddenly called, he began to walk over, trembling with fear.
“Y…you called for me…?”
“There’s no need to be so nervous.”
Ernst put on a smile, gesturing for him to take a seat by the fire.
Siska made himself small and sat on his knees, looking first at Cobo, then at Targes, with a gaze that begged them to save him.
“I just want to hear about Maine Village.”
“Maine Village… you say?”
Ernst’s blue eyes caught the way Siska’s body slightly stiffened.
“That’s right. I heard that in the past, Maine Village maintained its livelihood through lumber. How much forestry does it do now?”
Seeing how nervous Siska was as he spoke, Cobo stepped in to help him out.
“Lord Ernst’s question means, if before there used to be ten, how much would there be now?”
“Ooh… um… about five, I think…?”
Even though Ernst was the one who asked the question, Siska looked at Cobo and answered. Moreover, he answered the question in a way that sounded like he was asking a question.
“In that case, what means does Maine Village use to sustain itself?”
“Nowadays… it’s… forestry and farming.”
Maybe it was simply because he was sitting before Ernst, but Siska’s tense figure seemed strange.
Back when Ernst had been watching the militia train, he had noticed that Siska was always moving around. Even though he had been a soldier of the militia for 32 years, he took the initiative to seek out Ganche for training, and also often went to watch the newcomers train, as well.
The hesitant Siska in front of him felt like a different person.
“In that case, they’re able to make a living by selling firewood in Meissen and by cultivating fields?”
There it was again. Siska’s blue eyes flicked around restlessly, and he fiddled with his fingers.
“…But perhaps that’s not correct?”
When Ernst quietly posed this question, Siska’s head jumped up and he wildly shook his head from side to side.
“No! No! ….Tha…That’s exactly how things are.”
Saying that, Siska once again hunched over, his body rigid and stiff.
After allowing Siska to return to the other soldiers, Ernst quietly observed the situation. Even though the soldiers had been happily conversing just a short while ago, now only scattered murmurs reached Ernst’s ears,
Ernst observed Siska’s actions from the corner of his eye, but he made sure not to look directly at him.
Whether Ernst intended for it or not, his position as the former crown prince exuded heavy pressure.
Ernst decided: he would wait perseveringly and patiently until Siska found the courage to speak with him.
Finally, after one, and then two soldiers dropped off to sleep, Siska trudged back toward Ernst.
“Uh… Uhm… Lord Ernst…”
He spoke in a voice so small that you could barely hear it.
“I have something… I would like to tell you…”
Though Ernst knew that Siska’s entire body was packed with nervousness, he nodded, acting like he hadn’t noticed. He added a fresh piece of firewood to the flame and prompted Siska to take a seat.
After settling down next to the fire, Siska still wasn’t quite ready to begin talking. Cobo, as Siska’s direct superior, was afraid of Ernst losing patience and growing angry. He wanted to urge Siska to hurry and speak, but Ernst stopped him with a glance.
Judging by Cobo’s current appearance, he likely knew something about Maine Village’s circumstances. The soldiers who were supposed to be sleeping also looked somewhat stiff and awkward.
“I think that sooner or later, you would figure this out, but… the thing is, Maine Village…it took on, um… a merchant’s standing…”
The wood in the fire snapped, and the fire crackled.
“They changed their rank?”
The changing of one’s rank in society was not so easily done. Just preparing the documents for the application was impossible for the villagers, who had no education.
But even before that, one would have to request a change in rank from the lord who ruled the lands. It was no good to request it from a lord of a neighboring fief who only temporarily ruled the supplicant’s lands.
Meissen had no ruler for a hundred years, so just who did the villagers request the change in rank from?
“The riverfolk of Yakiya village had changed their standing and become merchants. So Maine Village also thought, ‘We should become merchants too’… Yakiya Village told us how we could do it.”
In the documents Ernst had received, neither Yakiya nor Maine Village had any people listed as merchants. Once someone became a merchant, they would have to pay the merchant’s tax. But none of the people in either of those villages made more money than the base tax that merchants had to pay.
After hearing Siska’s story, Ernst’s thin brows pulled together.
“Humm… Let me ask, for what reason did you want to become merchants?”
He didn’t touch on the matter of them changing their social rank; instead, he asked why they wanted it.
“There’s this tree called the Kalia Tree in Maine Village. It becomes very light once it’s dried, and when it’s put into a fire, it burns for a long time and lets out a nice smell. It sold really well in Lux Kingdom and Rintz Kingdom… but, at some point, one of the people in our village noticed something. We sold one tree to the merchants for 500 aquia, and then they sold it to Lux Kingdom for 1500 aquia.”
Siska’s hands tightened, and he turned a powerful gaze on Ernst.
“Since it’s those guys’ damn job it’s not like we didn’t get that they’re gonna sell it for more than what they paid us. But, fucking selling it for three times the price…!”
Cobo was about to scold Siska to watch his language, but Ernst made him stand down. There was nothing profane in these grievances which spilled from the heart.
“That’s why we asked the merchants to buy from us at a higher price. But those guys just turned their noses up at us… no matter what good things we managed to harvest, our only option was to sell to those merchants. No matter if we were mountaineers or farmers, we could only sell to merchants. That’s why, we went to Yakiya Village after they had changed their ranks to merchants and asked them to tell us how we could do it.”
“What process was it?”
“A lot of money was needed… To change one person’s rank, the village would have to prepare over a thousand sitts.”
1 sitt was a thousand aquia. In Meissen, the tax that one citizen paid each year was 5 sitts. In the case of Maine Village, which had 46 villagers, that amount was the same as 5 years of taxes.
“That sounds like it was a very large sum, wasn’t it? Was Maine Village able to prepare it?”
“We borrowed it from the merchants…”
“And with that, you were able to change ranks?”
“Yes… but, in the beginning, it turned out very good.”
For the first time, a smile spread across Siska’s face.
“We brought the Kalia trees to Lux Kingdom. Even though we could only change the rank of one person, anyone could help transport the trees. I also went to help out many times. Back then, I hadn’t joined the militia yet. We sold for a very high price in Lux Kingdom. The royalty, nobles, and rich merchants all bought it from us… I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard that they used the wood for an aphrodisiac.”
Ernst, of course, had also read this about Kalia wood in his books. As for actual experience with it, he had none. If one thought it was true, then it would become true. The wood was probably used in brothels and other places like that.
“We sold it so fast, it was nearly flying away… of course, we didn’t sell one tree for 500 aquia. We sold it for 1 sitt. Normal merchants sold it for 1 sitt and 500 aquia, right. Since we were selling the trees that we cut down ourselves, we didn’t want to lose out to the merchants. All we thought was to just keep selling and selling, and then we’d more than make up for the thousand sitts we paid to change ranks.”
One tree for one sitt. Ernst reckoned that if they cut down 200 trees per year, they would make back their money in 5 years. But then, the village also needed to sustain its livelihood. They wouldn’t be able to use all of their earnings for repaying their loans.
“But… things didn’t get better immediately, like we thought it would…”
Siska whispered, subdued.
“From the start, the Kalia tree was a slow-growing tree. It was also difficult to take root… but even so, we cut down too many of them. After three years, there wasn’t a single Kalia tree in all of the mountains around Maine Village.”
It was as what was written in the plant encyclopedia Ernst had looked at in the royal palace.
The Kalia tree was a tree whose roots weren’t very stable. The young trees were especially weak. It was said that the tree would only germinate and bear fruit if all of its conditions were perfectly met. Therefore, it did not bud every year.
“We worked with all our might to make more Kalia trees. We built a hut for budding Kalia trees, and we planted the saplings in the mountain.”
Ernst was surprised. What were the circumstances which let the Kalia tree bud? Did they learn through experience?
“Then, 20 years passed since we started planting trees. There were as many… no, there were more Kalia trees on the mountain than before. There were enough that we could start chopping some down next year, so we were finally able to feel relieved. Up until then, we’d had to scrape by on selling cedar and oak, which only sold in Meissen.”
Sparks danced around the bonfire.
“That moment was when the avalanche happened… in just an instant, all of the Kalia trees were washed away. So that we could plant Kalia trees, and so that we could make a living, we had cut down the cedars, oaks, and pines… the Kalia trees and the few other remaining trees weren’t enough to support the mountain.”
The Kalia tree, with its shallow roots, wasn’t able to hold back the falling snow.
“The Kalia trees ran with the snow into the Bastelis river… the hut where we grew the Kalia sprouts was also washed away…”
Siska turned a weary gaze on Ernst.
“Everything was gone… all we were left with was the loan.”
The less villagers they had, the less taxes they would have to pay. Villagers who joined the militia would be exempt from taxes. Ernst now understood why there were so many soldiers who had come from Maine Village.
All of the villages in Meissen were destitute, but Maine Village might be the only one burdened by loans.
“Is there still debt left to be paid?”
Siska sent a pleading glance to Cobo, as if he didn’t understand the meaning of Ernst’s words. But Cobo also didn’t understand the meaning of ‘debt’, so he looked up at Targes.
“The question he asked is how much of the borrowed money do you still have left to pay back.”
“Aah, um… we borrowed a thousand sitts, and we returned 283 sitts over two years… um…”
Seeing Siska counting on his fingers, Ernst helped him out.
“It should be 717 sitts.”
“Aah, that’s right. We had about 700 left.”
“Humm… was there not an interest rate on the debt?”
This time, he didn’t know the meaning of ‘interest rate’. He looked at Cobo again, and Cobo turned to Targes.
“…Was it decided that you would return more money than what you borrowed?”
“Aah, that’s right! It’s so terrible! After this year, the amount of money we had to return was over a thousand sitt, isn’t that cruel? Even though we returned 283 sitt, so all we had left to return should have been around 700. That’s why after the new year, all of the villagers went to go shout at the merchants we borrowed from, but we weren’t able to have a conversation about it at all…”
“After borrowing money, it’s a given that you’ll have to return more than what you borrowed.”
Targes told him, an admonishing tone in his voice.
“Eh…? How come…?”
“If not, why should they lend you money? It’s not like they’re a charity… ah, no… it’s not like they’re lending you money out of the kindness of their hearts? They’re not your family or your friends. Let’s say I lend someone 1 sitt. When it comes time to pay me back, they’ll give me 1 sitt and 100 aquia. Since I know that I’ll make a profit, I’ll be willing to lend my money to the other person.”
Siska hung his head; it seemed that he understood Targes’ explanation. He now knew that the current debt that the village was burdened with was the correct amount of money.
Siska had joined the militia about 30 years ago. Since that time was around when they took their loans, the interest rate over 30 years was 300 sitts. The interest plan should be roughly around a 10 sitt increase per year.
“Did people leave the village to find work?”
If they didn’t, it would be impossible for them to pay back the borrowed loans.
“Yes… every year, about 30 people leave. There are 15 people who are always gone… the person who’s been away the longest has spent 30 years always working outside the village.”
Of the 46 villagers, 9 were supposed to be children. Of the 37 adults, 30 of them left the village to work, showing just how dire the situation was in Maine Village. The older children may even be working to make firewood to sell in Meissen, as well.
“You said that you borrowed the money from merchants. Where were those merchants from? Saiquani? Or from Folea?”
Saiquani Town was close to the estate and primarily did business with Lux Kingdom. Folea Town was close to Arruca Village, and it did a lot of trade with Linz fief.
“None of them. The only merchants rich enough to lend us a thousand sitts were the merchants of Lux Kingdom.”
After letting Siska return, Ernst quietly gazed into the fire.
The soldiers who had been pretending to be sleeping, along with Siska, had now fallen asleep.
Ernst sat on a thick rug, leaning back on Ganche who sat behind him.
Targes and Cobo kept quiet, as if waiting for Ernst. But Ernst didn’t have anything to tell them.
In every village, the people cooperated together, shared their wisdom with each other, and did their best to keep living.
Even though everyone was struggling at their very limits just to be able to survive, the problem was like a tangle of many threads. No matter how hard he searched, Ernst couldn’t find the place that would unravel them.
Hello!!! Good news!!
I contacted the author, Tsukiya-sensei! She is super, super sweet and kind, and she very generously gave me permission to translate this story T_T)b
In celebration of the successful contact, I’ll be releasing translations daily up until chapter 46, after which I’ll resume the weekly upload schedule. We’re going to start seeing some progress soon! Everything we’ve been reading until now, particularly the relationships between villages and the reasons why each village is poor, all comes into play very soon.
Also… So this is really embarrassing, but…….. I realized while translating chapter 49 that I’ve been misreading some names. The country of Rintz Kingdom (and also Ernst’s last name) is spelled リンス [ri n su]. The fief next to Meissen which has that valley is called リンツ [ri n tsu]…… this is so shameful. orz. I am secretly a villager of Meissen and don’t know how to read… I’ve already fixed these instances in previous chapters. From now on, the neighboring fief and the valley will be referred to as Linz. Very sorry for the confusion!