Arc 2, Crescent Moon
“I think… that this is a very difficult problem to solve.”
It was Targes who broke the oppressive silence.
“I cannot say which one I find is the better option. Or rather, I am embarrassed to say that I completely don’t know which one would be better.”
“It’s the same for me. I was born and raised in Meissen. Ever since I was a child, we were always poor, and hunger was always with us. For everyone to no longer have to starve would be something like a dream world come to life for us. But, if we were attacked, I don’t believe that us soldiers of the militia would be able to defend against it with our power.”
“There is not a single squadron in the Kingdom’s army which can stand against a foe on its own. For example, if they know that after holding out for five days, allies will come to their aid, then they will be able to prepare and fight. Meissen, however, cannot hope for that. No matter how quickly our messenger runs, they will need ten days to reach Linz fief. In midwinter, crossing the valley won’t even be possible.”
Ernst once again moved his gaze onto the map.
It took ten days to reach Linz fief. However, Linz fief had no military forces. From Linz fief, one would have to go to the royal capital, and then, the senate would assess the situation and discuss whether they should dispatch the kingdom’s army to Meissen.
Then, by the time the King had given his blessings to the order to dispatch the kingdom’s army, how many days would have already passed?
Even then, after the army had been dispatched, the would only be able to cross the Linz valley one by one. Even if they carefully crossed the valley one by one, would the valley be able to hold up long enough for all hundreds or thousands of soldiers to safely cross it?
Finally, would the King even deign to dispatch some hundreds of the 1.5 million soldiers of the kingdom’s army to such a remote place that was so distant from the royal capital?
“Lord Ernst, what are your thoughts on this situation?”
When Targes asked this question, Ernst turned to face him. He took a short moment to come to come to a decision.
His own predictions were, most likely, correct.
And the soldiers in front of him, most likely, also had the capacity to accept these possibilities.
“Even if Lux Kingdom were to launch an attack on its own, and if Meissen’s request for assistance were to immediately arrive at the King, it is almost certain that Meissen will be cut off from the rest of Rintz Kingdom.”
Targes and Aldo sucked in their breaths.
“No matter how much wealth Meissen produces, it is not worth crossing that valley to protect such a far-off territory from the capital. Even if Rintz does decide to protect Meissen, Meissen does not have the power to maintain this protection. The reason for this is because there is not enough food on this land to sustain the tens of thousands of soldiers in the army.”
Even if the hundreds of soldiers from the kingdom’s army were to drive back the enemy, this would only be possible for the first battle. If the soldiers of Meissen were to fight, they would only be a match for negligent enemies who had been caught off guard.
If they wanted to confront the army of another country who had come to launch an all-out offensive, then the Kingdom of Rintz would also have to put all of their efforts into battle.
Although Ernst had said to Targes and the others a figure of tens of thousands of soldiers, if that situation were to actually occur, Ernst predicted that the number of people Meissen would need to be able to semi-permanently accept would be in the several hundreds of thousands range.
“…So does this mean that Lord Ernst thinks it would be better for Meissen to continue as poor as it is, going on this way without really living, but without being killed, either?”
When Aldo spoke these words, Targes mentioned another possibility.
“…Does Meissen have to continue belonging to Rintz Kingdom, though? …What if, say, Meissen submitted to Lux Kingdom…”
“Captain! What in the world are you saying!”
“Hold on, Aldo. I’m not done explaining what I mean. From a topographical standpoint, Meissen is closer to the side of Lux Kingdom than it is to Rintz, so the ease and convenience would be higher, wouldn’t it? For the merchants, it’s also geographically easier to transport their goods to Lux Kingdom, right? And if it came to that, we would only have to defend the Rintz Valley against enemies… I mean, from the opponents of Rintz Kingdom. We would be able to make quick work of them.”
Once Targes had finished his proposal, Aldo was so overwhelmed that he wasn’t able to speak another word.
Ernst, on the other hand, had been quietly listening to the two’s exchange.
Targes’ suggestion was a path Ernst had considered innumerable times.
As of this moment, Ernst had considered several possibilities.
There were three paths laid out before Meissen.
The first was, to continue as they were without doing anything. To let the villages and the towns quarrel amongst each other, continuing to live as poor and impoverished as they were now. They would be ignored by the outside world, and those who lived within Meissen’s borders would know only despair.
The second was the path where the villages and towns cooperate and work with each other to live.
If the environment around Meissen did not experience any significant changes, they would be protected from the outside. There would be less people leaving Meissen to find work in other territories, and its people would somehow be able to feed themselves.
But that happiness would only have shallow roots, and would easy be affected by outside factors. They would not have the power to cope with unexpected natural disasters, not to mention that Lux Kingdom, Rintz Kingdom, or any large existences on the scale of countries could collapse Meissen with just a single cough.
The final path was to unearth Meissen’s wealth, and strengthen Meissen itself.
If Ernst were to choose the final path, an infinite number of paths would branch out from that point forward. Which of those roads should he take, and where would those roads lead to? Ernst thought of each and every path, and considered all of them.
No matter which one he chose, they were all roads full of thorns.
Yet no matter what, to submit to another kingdom was not an option that he could take.
“…If we were to submit to Lux Kingdom, what would happen to Meissen’s people? What I wish to protect is not the land of Meissen, but the people who are currently living and who will later be born upon these lands. If Meissen were to become a part of Lux Kingdom, would Lux Kingdom really allow the people of Meissen to continue living in this territory? What Lux Kingdom would desire would be the wealth which exists in Meissen’s lands. It would not be the people who reside there.”
Targes looked at Ernst, taken aback.
“Meissen’s people might discretely be driven away. Or there is the possibility of being treated as servants or slaves. Even if they were lucky enough to be allowed as citizens, would they truly be accepted as people of Lux? Even if Meissen was poor, it had never been unfairly persecuted by Rintz Kingdom. Our circumstance was not one in which we had no other choice, and which would allow those looking from an outside perspective to sympathize with us, so to speak. In other words, we would have abandoned our country of our own will. Moreover, we would be people who had stolen the land we lived on from our own country; would the people of Lux truly be able to accept and trust us with all of their heart?… Finally, if it is the case where the people of Meissen wish to return to Rintz Kingdom, would the Kingdom of Rintz be willing to accept these people who had once sold the land of their country to another kingdom?”
Targes’s large body shrank, ashamed.
“…I understand. It is exactly as Lord Ernst says.”
“Having said that, the way things are now, Meissen’s people will remain in poverty. If we were to produce wealth, then there would be no path shielding us from Lux Kingdom’s attack other than death. There is no point in indulging in a short period of happiness if it means being attacked by other countries… In order to enrich Meissen, we must also build up defenses at the same time.”
Ernst turned his gaze back upon the map on the wall.
“Does Lord Ernst have a plan of some sort?”
Ganche asked happily. Excitement was written all over his face. His enormous body reacted the same way as a small child, making Ernst want to pet his head.
“I’m unsure if it can be called a ‘plan’, per se…”
Whispering that, he began to explain his reasoning.
The first thing to do was to prevent his people from starving, and then increase their numbers. He also had to create schools and hire teachers. Give his people education, allowing each and every one of them to become strongly independent.
He would hire doctors to allow his people to live healthily, trying to let their lifespans reach as close as possible to the average lifespan of the Kleber, which was 200 years.
“In the beginning, we would have to seek out these teachers and doctors from outside of Meissen, but eventually, the people of Meissen will be able to fill these positions. It would also be good if those people who came from outside wished to settle here, as well as if the people of Meissen wished to change their positions to those occupations. Of course, they must be people who are ambitious and enthusiastic in their education. The process for the change in rank must be followed as usual. It isn’t something that can be pushed through simply because of the kindness of the Lord’s heart.”
“Why is that? If we follow the normal procedures, then the people of Meissen would have to pay large fees to change their ranks.”
Aldo posed this question, and Ernst answered.
“The reason for that large fee is to measure the person’s determination while they gather that sum. Even if they wish to go through with it now, would that always be the case ten years later? Youths can sometimes be caught up in a strong moment of impulse. If they decide their lives on that impulse, they may later find that they regret their decision. After working ten years to gather the money necessary to change their position, and after continuously questioning themselves for ten years whether it was worth this money, they will be able to confirm their own true desires.”
“…So the one confirming their intentions is not Lord Ernst, but the person themselves.”
That’s right, Ernst nodded.
Another person’s intentions were not something one could ascertain just by trying. Even in the case where someone is unskilled at studying, there are times where that person can overcome their difficulties and complete their studies from their desire to succeed.
There are also people who, even if they seem addleminded and distracted, are able to overcome their obstacles because of the strong feelings hidden within the depths of their hearts.
A person’s true intent is not something that can be measured by other people, but something that the person themselves should ascertain.
And also, Ernst continued.
“We must increase the number of troops from the current count of 157 to at least 300, and they should be stationed along the Bastelis River where we come in contact with Lux. We’ll have to purchase armaments which are specialized for defense and build up a protective barrier.”
“Do you want to build up a wall along the entire Bastelis River?”
Targes asked, taken aback.
“Precisely. Though, it won’t be built all at once. In the beginning, we’ll plant trees. We’ll plant trees between the Bastelis River and area planned for constructing the wall. They must not be planted in an organized row. They will have to be planted in an irregular fashion, as if to prevent a large army from marching across.”
“Aah, so we’ll use the trees to impede their movements… So does this mean that the people of Meissen should be prevented from trespassing into this forest?
“No, that’s not necessary. I want the people of Meissen to enter the forest in order to gather the firewood they need to live. The more people who enter the forest, the easier it will be to notice anything strange. Besides, a forest which only has few signs of being worked by people is still a young forest. This was something that the head of Maine Village had said…”
The lives of the people of Maine Village, who were mountaineers, did not rely solely on the Kalia tree.
After listening to them speak about their wealth of experience in raising pine trees, cypresses, cedars, and all kinds of trees which would sell for high prices, Ernst could only feel admiration for them.
“In the beginning, we’ll plant trees. Once they’ve grown tall enough to conceal Meissen from the other side, we can begin constructing the foundation for the defensive wall. This foundation should be solid, enough to build a wall that will be tall and thick enough to last for many months and years.”
Ernst paused his words, turning his gaze on Targes and Aldo.
“Then, the troops will be split into two groups. Captain Targes and Vice-Captain Aldo. I would like one of you to command the group of soldiers to be stationed along the Bastelis River… Your primary task will be to plant trees. This is to create a simple garrison in a way that will not alarm Lux Kingdom, making all of our efforts in vain. That said, we will gradually strengthen this encampment. We should aim to make this a garrison which can conceal arms by 50 years from now. Of course, the soldiers must also be trained sufficiently in these weapons.”
Targes smiled bitterly.
“As you say. Even if we have the weapons, if no one can use them then there would be nothing we could say… However, it takes strength to do mountain work. In our minds, this work could serve as training… in the eyes of an outsider, it would only look as if we were planting trees, but it would actually be physical training in reality. This would also be feasible, wouldn’t it…”
Ernst continued to the next matter.
He wanted to develop the Linz Valley in a way that would allow a large army to easily pass through.
“Developing the Linz Valley will take a massive amount of time and an astronomical amount of money. Of course, I would prefer to use the Kingdom’s money for this, but if that isn’t possible then I would like to negotiate for Linz fief to cover half of the cost. Yet even if Meissen must begin this development on its own, it must absolutely be done.”
“Is developing that valley even possible!?”
“If we gather people with the skill to do so, then it is possible. There were places that have been developed that were much more difficult than the Linz Valley. There is no reason why that valley alone would be impossible. The only issue is the amount of money. Yet even that matter would resolve immediately should the King decide that this development should be done.”
Finally, Ernst spoke of one last thing as if ot harden his resolve.
“I will raise the taxes on the people of Meissen in ten years. Even if it is to 8 sitts, I do not believe that this will be enough to raise the suspicions of Lux Kingdom. However, if after 50 or a 100 years they turn back to compare to the past, they will be able to clearly see that Meissen has changed. It is inevitable that this will happen.”
“That is… it’s far too grand… It’s so grand that my head can’t keep up with it… Just the development of that valley is already nearly impossible, but when I think about how long the Bastelis River is, the time and money it would take to build a defensive wall along it… just thinking about it makes my head spin.”
Aldo exhaled a deep breath.
“That’s true. However, it s only when you consider our present circumstances that it seems like a grand and improbable dream. In 300 years, it will be an ordinary, everyday scene… In order for the future to become that way, we must begin by taking the first step right here.”
When Ernst made this speech, Targes nodded, his eyes lit up as if he saw something truly dazzling.
“It would really be amazing if things turned out that way…”
The two people left the room, leaving only Ernst and Ganche inside the office. With no one around to get in their way, Ernst sat on Ganche’s lap in the chair.
“I also would like to see what it would look like fifty, or a hundred years from now…”
Ernst clutched the arm that had been wrapped around his waist with a strong, painful grip.
“Don’t say any more… I will only feel more afraid.”
Their lifespans were the biggest problem the two of them faced together.
They were of different races. Because of this, the time they had to live was different.
Ganche, who wasn’t even 30 yet, would die in about 70 years. Even if he didn’t lose his life in battle, as a Dunbertian, Ganche only had 70 years remaining of the time he had been given.
On the other hand, Ernst had just turned 61 after the passing of the new year. The time he had left amounted to 139 years. After Ganche died, Ernst would have to live alone for nearly 70 more years.
This was something that neither of them could do anything to change.
“That Ganche will no longer be here anymore… just the thought of that is enough to make me feel as if I’ll go mad. But, I… I don’t want to turn these days, this time that I’m supposed to be spending together with you, into ones shrouded in sadness because I’m afraid of losing you.”
With his large hands, Ganche wiped at the tears that spilled from Ernst’s eyes.
Ernst was wrapped in a tight, firm hug.
“Lord Ernst, I am so grateful for how strong you are. For how, even though I would be leaving you first, you did not reject this me who is currently alive… for how you had chosen to allow me to be the honor of being by your side. For all of this, I am eternally grateful.”
“It was because I knew without a doubt that I would be happy with Ganche. If I can spend as many joyful days as I can together with Ganche, then even when I am left alone, I will be able to live out the rest of my days satisfied… That’s why, Ganche, you have to stay with me for a long time. I want you to keep filling my heart until I’m satisfied.”
Ernst felt Ganche’s kiss fall upon his hair. Ganche exhaled a hot sigh on the back of Ernst’s neck.
“That… would be difficult.”
“So this was a difficult request…”
Ernst looked over his shoulder at his beloved person. Ganche kissed him, his thick lips covering Ernst’s small ones as a skillful tongue slipped into Ernst’s mouth.
“…Yes. The reason I say this is because I am always receiving many things from Lord Ernst, each of them always making me brim with joy. Yet I do not have the self-confidence to be able to offer to Lord Ernst the same things Lord Ernst has given to me…”
“What are you saying?”
Ernst looked up at those copper-colored eyes from below.
“Ganche, you staying by my side is enough to make me stronger. Ever since I had come to Meissen, there were many times where I just wanted to run away… But, what gave me the courage to stand up and face these hardships was just the thought of you, Ganche.”
Ernst reached out his hand and stroked Ganche’s cheek.
“Even if, later on, death will make the two of us part… right now, with the time that the two of us have been given, let us live happily together.”
Ganche took Ernst’s hand and pressed a reverent kiss to its back.
Ernst straddled Ganche’s knee. He brought both of his hands to cup Ganche’s large face, and as his nose brushed against the tip of Ganche’s, he whispered:
“This is… my dream, you know. Right here, in my hands, is my dream come true.”
Heheh. He chuckled for a bit.
“I will spend the rest of my life thinking about these days I spent together with you. Eventually, there will come a time where I no longer cry as I recall those days. When I instead think back on them and smile, that will be because I know that I will be meeting you again soon. In this estate, in that room where Ganche and I passed our days together, I will remember Ganche’s voice, and scent, and warmth as I release my last breath… That would be such a blissful scene, don’t you think…?”
Ganche kissed him deeply, sliding his hand beneath the hem of Ernst’s coat. He changed the angle of his kisses several times, his impatient hand rubbing Ernst’s slender chest.
After his tongue had explored Ernst’s mouth to its content, he suddenly pulled back. He wiped at Ernst’s wet lips with the back of his thick finger.
“…When that time comes, I will go to meet you. I will be sure to have everything put in place to be ready for Lord Ernst’s arrival.”
“I’ll be looking forward to that, then.”
As tears streaked down Ernst’s cheeks, he laughed. Ganche gently licked away Ernst’s tears.
“Although I still can’t tell anyone about it…”
To stop himself from continuing to be carried away by his emotions, Ernst brought up another matter.
“I’ve been thinking that I would like to prepare one more shield to protect Meissen.”
“Yes. Even if we develop the valley so that the troops of Linz fief as well as the kingdom’s army can come to meet us in our hour of need, this still won’t be enough. If Lux Kingdom launches an attack on Meissen after we have opened the valley, then their enemy will be all of Rintz Kingdom. In other words, they will come with the conviction to fight against Rintz Kingdom’s full army.”
Ernst turned back, his gaze resting on the map on the wall.
“If time allows, I would like to go to Grude Continent – or rather, Grude Country.”
“I want to go to Grude Country to seal an agreement. When Meissen sends for aid, Grude will provide military cooperation – that is the pact I wish to form.”
If they looked at the map of Meissen, anyone would be able to understand it.
The place geographically closest to Meissen was not Rintz fief, nor was it Lux Kingdom; it was the Grude Continent.
Ganche hesitated to say.
“I know; this is an extraordinarily difficult road. Even if the nation of Grude is considered a country, it is completely different from the countries of Schell Continent. I suppose that nation, rather than being called a ‘country’, would more accurately be described as a collective community.”
“Yes. Grude Country… seems more like a meeting place for the elderly people who had unintentionally survived to old age?”
Ernst smiled wryly at Ganche’s commentary.
Grude Country consisted of only a few elders and soldiers.
However, nobody was able to clearly perceive just what kind of country the nation of Grude was.
The reason for this was because, like the Sistica Continent, Grude Continent was extremely difficult to go through. Since Grude Country was in close proximity to the countries of Sistica Continent, it had no history of forming diplomatic relations with countries other than Sistica’s.
For that reason, there had never been an instance of a kingdom trying to negotiate with Grude Country.
As far as Ernst knew, there were no kingdoms that had sent out delegations to Grude Country, and neither had any kingdom received an envoy from Grude Country.
“It would be difficult to sign mercenary contracts one by one. We never know when Lux will launch their attack, after all. Yet even so, we cannot exchange contracts with tens or hundreds of people from Grude while waiting for that day to come. If we did, then no matter how wealthy Meissen would be, it would collapse just from the money needed for their contracts. That said, it isn’t likely that I would be able to hurriedly contract them after Lux had begun attacking.”
“That does seem to be the case. Generally, since my people are spread out amongst the other continents, all who are left in Grude Continent are those who are no longer able to fight satisfactorily.”
“Yes, exactly – there are those people. Even if Grude Continent is nearby, there would be no point in going if there was no one I could form a contract with there. Besides the people who are always fighting in other lands, there is no one else who can be considered Grude Country’s soldiers other than those people who always remain in the continent.”
Ganche hugged him, letting out an admiring sigh.
“As one might expect from you, Lord Ernst. I can only sigh before your deep insight.”
Ernst couldn’t stop his cheeks from reddening and growing hot from Ganche’s compliemnt.
“Ganche… Ganche, you always think too much of me. I am just a small, uninteresting person. Even if I say I want to forge a pact with Grude Country, doing so isn’t as easy as saying it. I will be ridiculed as an idiot by even my own country, not to mention other countries, for going there to discuss… Just, if there is a chance, then no matter how slight it is, I want to try and seize it.”
While being hugged by Ganche, Ernst stared fixatedly at the map.
“If we are able to seal an agreement, then will this shield be enough to protect us? …Is there anyone in this world who would be so reckless as to fight against an ally of the mighty Grude race…”
Ganche’s warmth heated Ernst from everywhere their bodies touched, filling Ernst’s entire being.
It made him feel as if there was nothing he had to be afraid of at all.
Outside of the window, the last traces of snow were falling.
It was a snow heavy with moisture. It would melt easily under the warmth of day, as spring quickly drew near.
The seasons move in cycles.
No matter how long winter lasts, the seasons will inevitably pass, and spring will come.
The seasons revolve in cycles.
As such, it should not be the case that Meissen alone will be trapped in an eternal, dark winter.
It is inevitable that spring must come.
No matter who it is, no matter which land they stand upon, as long as they steadily walk forward step-by-step, then it is an absolute certainty that in the place where they are, spring will come.
Here’s the final chapter of this arc! I actually cried a lot while reading Ernst and Ganche’s conversation… T~T Ganche, don’t die and leave Ernst alone…
I included some fanart I drew at the top! It’s a scene from early in this arc. I thought the image of the leafy tree alone in the snow was really striking.
There are a couple of interludes before the next arc starts. The first two are conversation chapters, but the three after that are very important~ They’re some of my favorite chapters, so I hope you’ll enjoy them too!
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