Arc 3, Waxing Moon
They rested overnight at the town’s inn, and in the morning, Ernst changed out of his traveling clothes to meet with the Lord of Linz fief.
When they had arrived in town late last night, Ernst had sent Mage to carry his message to the Lord. Yet even so, Ernst was made to wait as a guest until the afternoon.
Served only a single pot of tea and without being presented with any form of lunch, Ernst and Targes waited on and on as time passed by.
“Just how long are they going to make us wait… . Lord Ernst, do we really have to meet with them even when they they treat you this way?” Annoyed, Targes tapped his fingers on the table.
“If we wish to develop the Linz Valley, we cannot proceed without the Lord of Linz’s cooperation. Even if we were to bring our discussion to the Senate, the first thing they would request would be the approval of the Lord of Linz fief.”
Ernst had somewhat predicted that he would be made to wait like this.
Ernst had left Meissen twenty days after Targes had returned with the ministry’s response. This was enough time for the ministry to send word to the Senate, and for the nobles comprising the Senate who were close to the Lord of Linz to whisper into his ear.
However, that he left Ernst waiting for this long may be a sign that even as of now, he had not yet settled on a decision.
Yesterday, when Ernst had sent Mage to announce his arrival, he hadn’t presented the reason behind his visit. What Mage had informed them was that since Linz fief was on the way to the capital, they were simply paying a visit to the neighboring Lord.
Thus, this meant that since Ernst had been left waiting for this long, there was no doubt that the Lord of Linz knew the true reason behind Ernst coming to visit him, and that the discussion with his administrative officials over what kind of manner he ought to meet Ernst with must be continuing even now.
In the case that the kingdom wouldn’t fund the valley’s development, it would be very desirable for Meissen if the cost could be split with Linz fief.
Of course, if by any chance neither Linz fief nor the kingdom were willing to provide any funding, Ernst had every intention to carry it out by himself.
He had to go through with these negotiations, however, to avoid that kind of worst-case scenario where the others meddled and interfered without putting in any money for the trouble.
Unused to being left waiting for this long, Targes paced around the room, and he restlessly drummed his fingers on the table.
Ernst himself merely kept silent as he watched Targes’ behavior, the thoughts within his mind continuing to turn.
Going by how long Ernst had been made to wait, as well as some previous information he had obtained, Ernst was able to predict the temperament of the Lord of Linz.
Ernst pondered over various responses he could exchange with the Lord of Linz. The road Ernst traveled hinged upon the Lord’s reply. Ernst thought over the various paths which branched from here.
After he had pondered over twenty paths, a smile slowly formed in the depths of Ernst’s heart.
The Lord of Linz was easy to defeat.
After concluding this, Ernst’s heart quickly turned toward the Senate.
In the end, Ernst and Targes left the Lord’s mansion and returned to the inn deep into the night, when the rest of town was already completely asleep.
Ganche and the others were still awake, waiting for them.
The long period of waiting had pushed Targes’ anger to its limits. In the blink of an eye, he devoured the meal prepared by the inn to satisfy the ravenous hunger he felt from not eating for an entire day.
Ernst’s hands quickly paused, and without saying a word, he held out his own plate full of meat.
Targes reached for it for a moment, then stopped himself, saying, “No, no–”, but Ernst just set the plate in front of him.
Ernst was already plentifully full from the bread and hearty soup, and more than anything, his heart was also full from the satisfaction of a job well done.
The Lord of Linz, with his character being as Ernst had guessed, narrated the words Ernst had predicted he would say, proceeding along the path Ernst had hypothesized and toward the agreement Ernst lead him into.
When the Lord met with Ernst, he first said that Linz fief didn’t have the money for developing the Linz Valley, and moreover, he was hesitant to move onto this project without the understanding of his people; after Ernst had spoke with him for half a day, however, his attitude had undergone a complete change.
The development of the Linz Valley has always been the dearest wish of the people of Linz, and no matter how much time and money we must spend, we will absolutely see this done, he had said whilst tightly gripping Ernst’s hand, tears even springing into his eyes.
Of course, it was Ernst who had softly pulled the man’s hand to guide him into these thoughts, but the Lord of Linz did not realize this at all.
Even the people who sat with the Lord of Linz – his administrative officials, chief butler, and even the captain of the Linz militia – did not realize this fact.
However, Targes, seated next to Ernst, looked over with a meaningful glance, showing that the militia captain of Meissen had caught wind of his plans.
He was heartened with such savvy people by his side, Ernst thought.
It was because even while Ernst had been discussing with the Lord of Linz, his eyes firmly capturing the Lord in his sights, he had used all of his senses to perceive the other people of Linz fief – and as Ernst lead the Lord along, he did the same with the others.
Even if someone on the same level as Ernst visited Meissen and tried to lead Ernst’s people in the same way, if there were people as discerning as Targes, then it would be no easy task.
On their way back, when Targes had indirectly asked about what Ernst had been doing, Ernst had relayed this thought to him, making Targes huff a breath of laughter. Then, Targes said something that Ernst couldn’t comprehend: If there were another person in this country who has a mind like Lord Ernst’s, I’ll walk on my hands from one end of Meissen to the other.
In any case, the pending issue of Linz fief had been resolved.
When a group of people were of one mind, there was a high probability of their decision becoming much stronger.
Tomorrow, too, as well as the following days in the future, they would discuss the development of the Linz Valley; through this, it truly would become the greatest goal of the fief of Linz.
Targes hungrily gobbled down his food as he explained what happened that day from beginning to end, and when the soldiers cheered for the success of Ernst’s persuasion, Ernst raised a toast to celebrate passing through the second barrier of their mission.
They purchased horses and a carriage from Linz fief, then proceeded on the main road.
Brez drove the carriage while Targes took up position on the carriage’s right, Mage and Minaha on the left, and Ganche guarding the rear.
Ernst was alone, and as he was rocked in the carriage, he felt the tension from the troops thick in the air.
The main road was dotted with small dwellings which Ernst hadn’t seen the last time he has passed through here, as well as the figures of the Kingdom’s soldiers.
It would seem that of the various main roads which connected to the royal capital, this road, which ran from Linz fief to the fiefs of Gris and Mutica, had few sightings of bandits.
The reason for this was because it would be difficult to call any of the territories connected to this road as ‘wealthy’ ones, given their lack of large cities, and because the merchants here would more often be carrying crops rather than any sort of highly-priced artisanal goods; and moreover, the merchants wouldn’t carry much money on them, either.
The road which passed through Sminacca fief faced the opposite situation as the busiest road in the Kingdom.
Sminacca fief consisted of a city with a population of over 1.5 million people, and with its Lord being Kataliner, the grandfather of the current Crown Prince, this territory was second only to the royal family in terms of wealth.
From the carriage window, Ernst looked out over the abundant and rich fields of Grad fief.
It should have been about two hours since they had last passed in front of the kingdom’s soldiers on the road, but Ernst still couldn’t see where the next station of soldiers was supposed to be.
Even if few bandits appeared here, there seemed to be far too little vigilance set up in this stretch of the road.
Last night, Targes had gathered the militia troops and showed them some points on a map using the information he had gathered from his last trip through here.
In all of the places where bandits had once appeared, the kingdom’s troops were now stationed.
Nevertheless, Targes’ vigilance toward the threat of bandits did not decrease; yet the younger Mage and Minaha’s tensions had already relaxed.
There wasn’t much that could be done, in any case – these two had never left Meissen before and were enraptured by the sights of new fiefs.
It was understandable, Ernst thought. If someone only had experience with Meissen’s farmland, then the sight of this land’s abundant wheat fields which stretched so far that you couldn’t see their end would be something they had never seen before in their life.
After passing by a single village and seeing the vast expanse of farmland which followed it, it would make one think that the people of Grad fief must be incredibly efficient at plowing and tending to their fields.
The population of Gris fief was exactly 2,100 people. About 80% of them were field workers, so around 1,700 people tended to the fields.
Gris fief was about one-tenth the size of Meissen, which itself held enough territory to be one-twentieth of the entire Kingdom.
Ernst reminisced over the sight of the villager he had seen through the carriage window when he passed the village.
He was a farmer with stocky body and a cheerful expression on his face. He had carried in his hand a farm tool with iron metal at its end.
The farming tools carried by the people of Meissen were made entirely of wood.
Iron was expensive, and so they were unable to attach any to their tools.
If the people of Meissen were given the same farming tools as the ones here, Ernst wondered if Meissen’s farmland would be double what it was now. Even if its soil had grown infertile, there were still ways to enrich it again.
If the lands of Meissen were able to bear crops as rich and plentiful as the lands of Grad fief could, would the people of Meissen be like those of Grad fief, their bodies well and strong, and able to smile so happily?
The plains of the wheat fields glittered in the golden light of the sunset, the austere beauty of this sight washing over Ernst.
“The forests in Gris fief had been felled to make way for new fields, so it is full of open spaces. Even if a bandit wanted to ambush someone here, there would be nowhere for them to hide. …The place where we must be our most vigilant will be in the next fief, Mutica.”
“That’s right, isn’t it… That forest at the border of Gris and Mutica will be dangerous, won’t it.”
“Exactly; I was also thinking about the traps that forest might have. …That forest is at the border of both Gris and Mutica, but the people of both fiefs have been fighting over its possession for a long time. That’s why it has become dangerous for people of either place to enter, even if there is an implicit truce now that their negotiations are over.”
At the inn, the militia troops gathered around the map to discuss the road they would take from here. Ernst was unable to keep up with their discussion of military strategy and tactics. He sat in a chair and, keeping silent, listened in on their conversation.
“We could reach this forest by tomorrow, but night would have fallen by the time we left the forest, which won’t work,” said Brez, who had gone with Targes to deliver the letter to the ministry.
“Yeah, you’re right… Last time we passed through here, our horses galloped half a day from town to the forest. This time, Lord Ernst is present with us, so we can’t proceed that way.”
For the knight-born Targes to have galloped his way through, that must have meant that he sped his horse past like a burst of wind. Ernst hoped that the villagers he had passed along the way hadn’t been startled.
“So then, we should rest the night before going through the forest, then continue on in the morning?”
“I think that sounds right. It would be best to avoid encountering any bandits in an unfamiliar forest at night, where the visibility is low. During the day, there are still ways to cope with the situation if we are to be attacked.”
“…Yeah, that’s right. Lord Ernst, we may have to take a day longer – would that be alright?” The soldiers’ discussion stopped as Targes sought out Ernst’s approval.
Ernst nodded his affirmation.
There was a limited period of time to pay tax to the Kingdom. The tax had to be paid this month, and with today, they were halfway through the month.
The travel from here to the capital was about two days. If nothing unexpected happened, there would be no problem.
Although it appeared that there was room for them to relax, if they were pressed into the worst situation of having been robbed of their money, then they would lose everything.
In Gris fief, people did not struggle to even just find something to eat.
Although one wouldn’t meet someone dressed up in expensive clothing, and the merchants here weren’t adorned in precious metals, they all had faces that said their stomachs had been filled. Their skin was glossy, and more than anything, their eyes showed life in them.
The people of Meissen, especially the villagers who lived far from the estate, were always hungry, their skin chapped and rough, their bodies aged and older past their actual years, and their eyes were dull and gray, without any dreams or aspirations in them at all.
Although the development of the valley was important to prepare against Lux Kingdom, what Ernst wanted most first and foremost was to be able to fill the stomachs of his people.
How much money would it take to furnish all of the people of Meissen with iron tools like the ones made in Gris fief?
Then, Ernst pondered over what reason he could present for giving these tools.
They could not be left to think that the tools had just come out of nowhere for them, all because of the Lord’s whims.
The people of Meissen were not only farmers. The people of other classes could not be left envious of them.
And then, for the farmers themselves, Ernst wanted them not to debase themselves by saying that this was the Lord’s favor, but to accept the tools with their backs straight with pride, realizing their duty to pave the way for the future.
What Ernst wanted was to give the farmers of Meissen a sense of pride and duty as they developed their lands, expanded them, and made them flourish with abundance.