Arc 2, Crescent Moon
Inside of Ernst’s office, the head butler, Sington, sat in one of the chairs around the large desk.
On his other side was the commander of the militia, Targes, and next to him sat the vice-captain, Aldo.
Ganche sat down in his own chair that had been made exclusively for him.
Ernst stood by the window, gazing at the garden which spread out below him.
Though he called it a garden, it hadn’t been well-maintained. It was completely covered in snow, so it was simply a white snowscape. It would likely be a meadow in the summer. Beyond the vast snowfield lay the deep and unfathomable forest.
The ground was still thick with snow, but the snow was starting to fall less. Ernst could even walk leisurely in it, a sure sign that spring was approaching.
Ernst turned around and looked at each person that he had gathered. Each of them carried obedient expressions on their faces. Perhaps it was because there was something in how Ernst looked which hadn’t always been there.
“This is what I have decided.”
Ernst sat in the chair at his desk and quietly issued his proclamation.
“Twenty days from now, the head and one other person of each village and town must gather at the estate. Eleven villages, two towns – all of them. Twenty-six people in total. I appoint Sington to manage their care and hospitality.”
Sington opened his mouth in alarm, but Ernst held up his hand and stopped him.
“The term has not yet been decided. They may return after three days, or they may stay for more than ten days. During that time, spare no expense to ensure that they feel welcomed and lack for nothing during their stay.”
Sington was over 150 years old, his face full of wrinkles. That wrinkled face now paled, then reddened, panic and dismay written all over his features. Ernst smiled sardonically at the sight, then turned to Targes and Aldo.
“During the time that the village heads gather at the estate, send the militia to each of the villages to ensure that the daily work can continue. The militia should similarly be dispatched to the towns. The number of soldiers we deploy should be twice as many as the people we gathered; in other words, select a minimum of 52 troops to send out… Pick the people who would serve the most use as possible for the task.”
Aldo smiled bitterly at the last words of Ernst’s speech. Aldo, who had served as the captain for fifteen years before Targes arrived, best knew the character of each of the troops.
“I will be making use of the grand banquet hall, so we will first have to make preparations before carrying out what I have commanded.”
Targes grinned with a satisfied expression and nodded.
“L….Lord Ernst. W, w, w, why, are you doing such a…! If you gather twenty-six people, the estate won’t be able to hold up…!”
After finally reviving himself, Sington shouted.
The head butler was capable of welcoming a small number of people, but regrettably, they lacked the capacity to handle more. For the lords of other lands, they could invite even fifty people just for a tea ceremony.
“It will be alright. There are plenty of rooms in the estate. We will not lack in rooms even if we assign one to each person. Though bedding and such will need to be prepared, the people will not complain even if the bedding is not anything luxurious. If at any point there is not enough, then you can simply use the ones given to the militia.”
“Indeed. Our current number of soldiers is not at the maximum, so there are many pieces of unused bedding.”
Aldo said this to Sington as if trying to calm him down.
“Wha… what about the tableware? Aah, and also, the meals and… aah, and then, the firewood…”
Seeing Sington wringing his hands and counting off on his fingers, the captain and vice-captain of the militia both smiled wryly at him.
“It will be fine. If there is not enough tableware, what the militia troops use is fine. As for firewood, we can begin gathering it now. Ganche, I’d like to ask you to handle the matter of the firewood.”
“Yes. I can also take the opportunity to gather food, as well.”
Ganche nodded vigorously, like he was happy that he had been given a role.
“You’ll… gather food… but, how? Anything you plant right now will be impossible to harvest twenty days from now…”
Sington looked imploringly at Ganche, who was over a hundred years younger than him.
“I can do it. While I prepare firewood in the forest, I can catch some deer and boar. From those, we can make dried meat.”
“There is no need to prepare a feast. Moreover, a feast would only poison the people of Meissen. It will be fine to present them with food that is merely slightly better than what is normally eaten here. We should take care to not injure their stomachs.”
“Aah… that is true…”
After being reassured countless times, Sington calmed down.
“Ganche will prepare the meat. The rest of the food shall be purchased from the villages of Meissen.
“Eh… but, the villages of Meissen only have just enough to feed themselves. For them to have anything to sell…”
“I don’t believe that all of the villages only produce enough for their own consumption.”
Once Ernst said that, the names of several villages arose in Sington’s mind, and he nodded.
“There is not much time until the gathering of my subjects, so everyone, I ask that you move swiftly.”
The three soldiers leapt from their chairs, performing a beautifully synchronized salute before leaving the room. Sington, who was still muttering to himself as he wrung and counted his fingers, followed after them.
Now alone in his office, Ernst quietly let out a breath.
This limited period of time without snow was Meissen’s busiest season. The migrant workers who had left to find work would also return at this time, something which made every village abound with liveliness. By the time it was over, Ernst wanted to unify the hearts of the people of Meissen so that they could travel together on one path.
Nothing might come of gathering the people of Meissen together here. Their displeasure with each other might erupt, creating irreparable consequences.
Would Meissen continue as it was, eventually dying beneath its dull, clouded weather? Or would it seek out a new sky to live under?
It was very important to know the answer to this.
The militia soldiers-turned-messengers ran around Meissen. Though there were people who were displeased by the order, the messengers carried with them the Lord’s formal summons. These villagers, who were unable to read well, were struck with fear by this single striking sheet of paper, and they hastened to join the gathering.
They were not allowed to refuse to leave. Though Ernst was sorry to have to force them, it would all be meaningless if even a single one of them did not come.
The preparations progressed steadily.
After he had recovered from his panic, the head butler worked splendidly. Relying on his memories of the past, he dug up bedroom furnishings in the estate one after the other. It seemed that this time, they wouldn’t have to borrow any from the barracks.
The logs that Ganche had cut down were stacked high next to the stables, the pile now growing even taller than the building.
He always came back carrying a log on his right shoulder and a deer on his left shoulder. He did this several times a day. Sometimes the deer on his shoulder was a boar instead.
The sole cook employed at the estate wasn’t able to handle all of it, so the militia troops also helped to take out the animals, prepare them, and dry their meat.
While Aldo selected his troops, Targes prepared the banquet hall.
The militia troops played an active role here as well, carrying a large table into the spacious but completely empty banquet hall. They also gathered thirty chairs. The large fireplace hadn’t been used for a hundred years; as they thoroughly cleaned and swept it, they knocked clouds of soot from its chamber.
There were two butlers and three maids. The estate had too few servants, so the militia troops had to compensate for the lack of hands.
For the militia troops of Meissen, most of the work they did was more like a manservant’s than that of a soldier’s. They gathered firewood, cultivated the fields, and also did the power-intensive work around the estate. Yet even so, the only ones who were paid wages were the platoon leaders and above.
It was quite unfair, considering that the butlers and maids were also paid with wages.
The butlers and maids came from towns. The militia troops were formerly impoverished peasantfolk, so in their minds, they were satisfied as long as they had something to eat. This point was also something that Ernst wished to change.
An enormous chunk of meat sat on a plate in front of Ganche. In the blink of an eye, the roasted meat settled into Ganche’s stomach.
Ernst fondly watched Ganche eat. He took a drink from his wine glass filled with plain boiled water. It was said that in the past, Meissen had once grown grapes and made wine from them.
“Starting tomorrow, we may not be able to eat together for a while.”
“Are you changing the time of your meals? Lord Ernst’s meals, I mean?”
Ernst always moved according to punctual, set times. By now, the people of the estate also moved according to his schedule.
Seeing how surprised Ganche was, Ernst couldn’t stop smiling wryly.
“I’ll have to decide that after I see the situation… I’m actually just playing it by ear.”
Ganche had been in the middle of cutting the meat, but he now stopped moving his knife as if he had just lost his appetite.
“Ganche, you don’t have to mind it. Just keep moving according to your schedule. I may also have to sleep late, but no matter how late it gets, I’ll be sleeping by your side… Though I may end up waking you up.”
Ganche looked up in a flash and said:
“Such a thing, there is absolutely no need to worry about it at all!”
“Is that so?”
Laughing, Ernst touched Ganche’s hand.
At first, Ernst took his meals on an enormous, rectangular desk. When he ate together with Ganche, they also used this desk. But when they each sat on opposite ends, they felt so distant from each other that Ernst couldn’t stand it.
After that they gradually got closer and closer, and now they ate together on a small desk. If Ernst stretched out his hand, Ganche would easily be in reach.
Before changing his dining table, Ernst first changed the dining etiquette.
The proper way of doing things was that when the Lord took his meals, there must always be a butler and maid standing by in the room. They were there in order to wait on his table, but their presence made it a little too awkward for him to be able to enjoy chatting with Ganche to his heart’s content.
For that reason, Ernst changed the dining etiquette, declaring that it would not be necessary for anyone to stand in the room to wait on him as he dined.
Now, the butlers and maids left after preparing both Ernst’s and Ganche’s meals, leaving them alone.
“Lord Ernst, how are you going to bring everyone together?”
Ganche asked as he resumed eating.
Ganche’s plate only had meat on it. Sometimes there were also potatoes and such, but since Dunbertians were completely carnivorous, they wouldn’t receive much energy from eating anything else.
Thanks to Ganche, the people in the estate were able to eat meat much more often. Ernst’s plate also had meat on it. But, since Ernst habitually ate very little, he was only able to eat half of the thin piece of meat before he set down his hands.
“Humm. First of all, they will be able to meet and understand others who also live in Meissen, just as they do. Through this, these people who have isolated themselves in the small worlds of their villages and towns will experience a broadening of their horizons.”
“Aah, that sounds like a good plan.”
“You think so?”
“Yes. From what I’ve seen, I believe the villagers who live on opposite sides of Meissen have never met before.”
After quickly finishing up his meat, Ganche gulped down a glass of boiled water. As he refilled his glass with the water pitcher, he took the plate Ernst offered him.
“That’s exactly it. Even though they all live together in Meissen, they know very little about each other. In my opinion, this causes them great harm.”
Ganche cleaned Ernst’s leftover meat and vegetables into his stomach.
“But that isn’t all you planned, is it?”
Ganche abruptly raised his head. Ernst wiped at his dirty mouth with his finger.
“Humm… You understand quite well.”
Licking at the sauce on his finger, Ernst laughed.
“My plan is to allow them to meet, discuss, and come to understand each other. Then, if it seems that they will be able to accept it, I’ll try to show that destination to them.”
“Yes, that destination. What I want is to show them a small part of the future of Meissen that I had once told you, Ganche.”
Ganche’s copper eyes lit up with a smile.
It was the dream that the two of them had once spoken of together.
But as for whether they could take a step toward making that dream a reality depended on the people of Meissen.