Arc 2, Crescent Moon
It was the fifth day. All twenty-six people looked tired.
But, they still let out a detailed stream of complaints.
“Snow is something that falls from the sky. You guys didn’t make it, or anything. So why do you want us to pay you for it?”
“Because even a small amount of money is crucial for Maine Village.”
“We can’t live if we don’t have water. You guys might not know this, but it doesn’t snow over in Eitt Village. Even if we want to gather water from the forest, the Weiss forest is too dangerous to enter in the winter when all of our young people are gone.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with us. Besides, if there’s water in the forest, why don’t you just make it flow toward your village? Use your heads and use your bodies to help yourselves.”
“Just how are we supposed to do that without any tools… Are you telling us to dig from Weiss Forest to our village using our hands?”
“If you need money to buy tools, then how about I lend you some? Since we’re both people who live in Meissen, I can give you a special, discounted interest rate… It won’t be anything like the enormous interest that Maine Village over there had been fooled into taking.”
“…What did you say? So we really were tricked after all?! Those damn Lux merchants!”
“No, aren’t you going a bit too far? I don’t particularly think that it was an unfair amount…”
“Hah! That’s why you lot aren’t good at conducting business. Don’t you know of the phrase ‘small profits and quick returns’? You Folea merchants.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. In the first place, isn’t ‘small profits and quick returns’ only used when talking about buying and selling!? Can you really use it to refer to lending money?”
“Moneylending is also a fine business. Rather than overcharging one person with an enormous interest rate, it is better to charge a small interest to a large group of people, don’t you think? If you force a huge interest rate on someone, then they’ll eventually run away… But then, it isn’t as if Folea has any money to spare for lending to peasants.”
“…Kuh! …But the whole reason why things are like this was because you guys stuck your noses into our business with Linz fief, isn’t it!? Saiquani was supposed to handle business with the Caprix fief of Lux Kingdom. Business with Linz fief was supposed to be ours…”
“Who ever decided that? If someone wants to do business somewhere, then as long as they have the status of a merchant, nothing else matters.”
“Who decided it… that’s just how it’s been ever since long ago.”
“Huumm. How idiotic. If it was written down anywhere, then show me the evidence. Can you pull out a contract, or anything of the sort? Come on, bring it over.”
“Damn you! I’m telling you, our ancestors have operated business this way for generations!”
“I’m. Telling. You. Evidence. Show me some proof.”
Ernst could hear the Folea merchant grind his teeth. The peasantfolk snickered as they watched the merchants argue with each other.
On that day, as well, Ernst didn’t speak a single word. All he did was watch.
The sixth day. The weariness on their expressions grew more visible.
Even though they didn’t look as if they had the energy to speak anymore, they still grumbled out a stream of complaints.
However, whenever someone interjected with a sarcastic comment, it seemed that no one had the energy to respond as alertly as they had before.
There was no longer a need to keep Targes and Ganche around.
After determining this, Ernst let the two stand down.
The seventh day. They continued to let out their dissatisfaction on this day, too.
Each and every one of them began to passionately complain about the individual hardships they suffered in each of their situations.
Just earlier, they grew angry whenever another person mocked their village or town, but now they quarreled over which of Meissen’s villages or towns forced people to live the most miserable and suffering lives.
And then, as if remembering Ernst, they turned back to look at him like they were asking him to support their claims.
Hey, the way we’re forced to live is absolutely terrible, right? We have to endure more than anyone else, right?
When they asked him to agree with them like that, Ernst merely closed his eyes, not providing them with a single response.
The eighth day. As expected, they continued to boast over their misfortune.
Whenever someone talked about the woes they suffered, someone else jumped in to shout about how they had been through something much worse.
Bit by bit, as if they were regaining energy, people started shouting at whoever cut in while someone else was speaking.
You shut up! A number of times, Ernst witnessed the scene of people shouting these words.
The ninth day.
When it came to bragging over their hardships, Yakiya Village was out of the running. No matter how they thought about it, they were the wealthiest village in Meissen. They might even be better off than Saiquani Town.
But even so, Yakiya Village scraped together the ills they suffered and joined in the war.
Ernst watched them do this, silently observing.
Did they want to have good fortune, or did they wish for bad fortune, instead?
As he pondered over such vague questions, Ernst merely silently watched his people.
The tenth day. On this day, as if they had all agreed on this beforehand, they all pressed toward Ernst and hounded him for answers.
Just whose side are you on! The village that is the worst off in all of Meissen is Arruca Village, isn’t it! No, it’s Caralime Village since all of our villagers have Kleber’s disease! Maine Village is the worst off since we’re the only ones who owe loans! It’s Eitt Village that’s menaced by Grude beasts! We can’t do enough business, so we have no choice but to do unfamiliar fieldwork, so it’s Saiquani! No, it’s Folea, whose business was stolen!
All of their bellows and roars flew toward Ernst. It was as if the flames of anger rose from each person’s entire body. Had Ernst been captured as their mutual enemy?
Everyone was made to eat their meals in the same room.
Sharing meals together was said to be the most enjoyable and relaxing way for living beings to bond, and it was possible to have casual conversations over trivial things which they normally wouldn’t speak of in a place like this. Thinking that, Ernst had decided that everyone would eat together in the same room.
In the beginning, only people of the same village or town spoke to each other. By now, however, Sington reported to Ernst that at times he heard laughter bubble up in the room.
But judging by their appearances today, Ernst understood that what Sington said wasn’t likely all that it was. Probably, it was also a place where they could let out their complaints about Ernst.
Ernst stared at them all with sharp eyes, which he then closed. No matter what they said to him, no matter how rude the things they shouted to him were, he never opened his mouth to respond.
The eleventh day.
Ernst always arrived before everyone, taking his seat and waiting for everyone else to be ready. Today the people here looked at him, then openly scoffed in his face.
Every single fucking day, all this lord does is shut up and sit down there. The lord sure has a ton of free time on his hands. Someone said this, and everyone laughed.
He’s always the first one to take a seat, and then he waits for the rest of us to come in. Does he really want to watch us shout at each other so badly? Just what the hell is this?! Just what did he bring us all here for? Is it that much fun to watch us fight with each other? In the end, this is just entertainment to relieve the boredom of an oh-so-dignified noble, isn’t it. Ridiculous!
As they shouted this, everyone left the room early.
In this room which had no one else inside it, Ernst only kept quiet and continued to sit.
The twelfth day. The people who sat next to each other slowly began having conversations together.
Rather than have some meaningless conversation about the weather as one might expect, they instead began talking about their cultivation techniques for this year’s crops.
Though the conversation started between people who sat beside each other, it gradually widened, finally becoming a friendly chat. It wasn’t a conversation only between women, like it had been in the beginning. The men also joined in.
Only Ernst did not join in the circle, and the people also acted as if no one was sitting in Ernst’s place.
Ernst quietly looked at the happy appearances of these people.
The thirteenth day.
On this day, Ernst noticed that the way people walked was lighter than before.
For as long as they could remember, they lived a lives of hard labor. They had likely never before been able to eat their fill and not have to work for such a long period of time.
Every morning, Ernst listened to the head butler, Sington, describe how their meals went.
When they ate their three meals a day, did they leave anything behind, or did they not? Were they eating like they were uncomfortable, or did they look like they were enjoying the food? He even confirmed how quickly they left the room after eating.
In the beginning, people left the room as soon as they had finished their own meals.
He said that people like the ones from Arruca Village, which didn’t have enough food on a daily basis, didn’t eat all of the food presented to them.
But starting from the morning of three days ago, people started staying behind even after they had finished eating their meals.
No one had suggested they do this, yet somehow things turned out this way. As they became caught up in their conversations, people started leaving the room later.
Finally, during last night’s dinner, Sington reported that everyone had finished eating their food.
The people most likely hadn’t noticed it, but the amount of food they ate had been gradually increasing.
Compared to the very first breakfast served at the estate, the breakfast served this morning was twice the amount. Currently, the amount served to the people was the same amount Ernst ate.
All of the people ate this amount, and none of them showed any signs of their stomachs having a breakdown.
Ernst observed his people attentively.
Their complexions seemed to have gotten better, he thought.
He felt as if they were brimming with life and spirit.