Arc 2, Crescent Moon
The next one to make a move was Yakiya Village.
"To our bees, the Kalia tree is indispensable. Although the fact that this tree blooms in winter makes it precious, the fragrance is what really makes it so important."
As he spoke, he looked at the head of Maine Village. For a moment, his gaze faltered as if he was unsure of what to do, but then, he grew more resolved and spoke.
"I understand that you're suffering a difficult situation… so how about this? For each Kalia tree you don't cut down, we'll pay you 50 aquia."
"But if we do that, then our loan…"
"Right now, how much do you have left?"
One of the merchants of Saiquani Town asked.
The merchants of Saiquani crossed their arms and pondered for a while, then suddenly came up with a proposal.
"In that case, Saiquani will buy that credit."
Not understanding what he was saying, the people of Maine Village looked at the merchant.
"What that means is, I'm saying we will take over your loans."
Even though what he just said was unbelievable, the faces of Maine Village's people lit up with great joy.
"However, there are conditions. First, you have to plant more Kalia trees. You have as many trees as you once had before everything happened, right? Increase the numbers of your trees to how many you had 20, 30 years from then. Once you've increased them to that point, you should have enough to harvest."
"But if they cut them down, then we'll be the ones in trouble."
"I understand. Because of that, there should always be a number of trees left behind for Yakiya Village. Maine Village has probably also learned from their experience. You should know what happens if you cut down too many of your trees. As such, about how many trees would be feasible to cut down every year?"
"Yes, you're right… about 100 trees should be alright."
"In that case, sell 100 of your trees to Saiquani. We'll buy the wood of one Kalia tree for 1 sitt."
"…Really? Before, you bought them for 500 aquia, didn't you?"
"I apologize for that. This time, we'll buy them for 1 sitt. I ask that you put your faith in the merchants of Saiquani."
A doubt-filled expression appeared on the head of Maine's face, but a woman of Latelle Village spoke up just in time to help Saiquani.
"You ought to try believing in them just once, don't you think? However way it works out, since they said they'll take over your loans for you, I don't think this is such a bad deal for your end."
"Well… I suppose you have a point…"
"Very well, then. We've completed our negotiations."
The merchants of Saiquani forcibly wrung out a promise from them.
As Ernst carefully watched over them, he smiled wryly at how fl.u.s.tered Maine Village looked.
"Next, Yakiya Village."
"…What is it?"
"I would like to ask you to sell your honey to Saiquani."
As soon as he said that, the head of Yakiya Village scowled.
"Why should we sell it to you? We can go to sell it by ourselves."
As a stormy atmosphere crackled between the two of them, Ernst cut into the conversation.
"Humm… As far as that goes."
He continued to look between Yakiya and Maine Villages.
"On the matter of your two villages holding the merchant rank, I believe you might be mistaking something."
Confusion overcame both of the village heads as they studied Ernst.
"On this occasion, I had asked for both of your villages to bring with you the doc.u.ments for your change in rank. When I looked at them, however, both of your doc.u.ments contained some deficiencies."
"Eh…? W, what sort of…?"
"Humm. First, I would like to ask, to where did your two villages submit your applications?"
"Eh… a, application…?"
"Correct; that is, where did you report this to? In other words, after preparing your doc.u.ments, to whom did you hand them over?"
"That'd be the n.o.ble Lord."
"The Lord of where?"
All of the other people in the room were shocked by Yakiya Village's words.
"Caprix fief? Isn't that a territory of Lux Kingdom? Why would you hand it to Caprix fief's lord?"
"Eh…? Caprix fief might be part of Lux Kingdom, but I had been told that since we were doing business in Caprix fief, we should get our position approved by Caprix's lord…"
After being told by the people around him that something was off, the voice of Yakiya Village's head wilted.
"Who was the one who told you of this? What I would like to know is, when Yakiya Village first tried to change rank, who provided you your instructions?"
Ernst asked in a gentle and quiet tone of voice, so as to not make it seem as if he was pressing for answers.
"That is… we asked the Lux merchants we usually made deals with…"
The merchants of Saiquani looked with pitying eyes at Yakiya Village.
"They had cheated you."
"Eh… no way…"
"Well, you should be glad, right? Even though you weren't able to change your rank, you were always selling your wares over in Caprix fief, right? As such, you should be happy for your luck. No one caught you even once."
The woman of Kata Village said this consolingly.
It was strictly forbidden for someone who wasn't a merchant to do business. If you were found out, you would be forced to do hard labor for over ten years. Lux Kingdom had similar punishments.
Seeing that the two villages looked as if they still couldn't believe this situation, Ernst explained definitively what had gone wrong.
"In the applications you submitted to request the change in rank, there are clear defects. In both of them, the name of the village was wrong. There were also mistakes in the body of the text. Moreover, the paper is crude and would never be used for an official doc.u.ment, and on the surface of this paper, there are no engraved ornamentations which serve as the critical watermarks proving the authenticity of the application."
The lord's seal of certification was also completely wrong. Though it likely attempted to mimic the seal of the lord of Caprix, it ended up as something which didn't bear even the slightest resemblance.
"It is understandable that both of your villages believed this. You were lured with deceitful words, and official doc.u.ments and the like are things which you usually would not have seen. Moreover, when they changed the lettering, they employed a trick which made the doc.u.ment unreadable unless looked at carefully."
In truth, the contents of the text and the handwriting were very childish, but Ernst didn't want to invite the rest of Meissen to mock them by saying that they hadn't noticed the name of their own village was written wrongly.
Even if they themselves were unable to read, there would certainly be people who would laugh at the illiteracy of others.
"S… so that was what happened…"
If Maine Village paid a price of a thousand sitts to change their rank, then Yakiya Village must have also paid the same amount. Completely depressed, the head of Yakiya Village hung his head.
"Ah! …If that's true, then we don't actually owe any loans, do we…"
"I am sorry to have to say this, but that is impossible."
When the woman of Maine Village raised her voice with delight, Ernst gave a rueful smile and held back her expectations.
"The doc.u.ments for the loans were all correct. It was not specified what the loan would be used for, but it stated the money to be loaned as well as its interest rate. Seeing that you had borrowed the money, even if it was as a result of deception, the loan will not be invalid so long as the doc.u.mentation is correct."
Maine Village had brought the doc.u.ments for the debt they carried along with the doc.u.ments for their change in rank. It was a formal promissary note, completely different from the change in rank's crude excuse of a doc.u.ment.
"W… well, shouldn't you be glad? If this was really the case, then Yakiya Village and Maine Village would have become criminals, right? …Ah… speaking of, Lord Ernst is the Honorable Lord, right… um, is this…?"
"It's fine. I'll overlook it."
The head of Sounica Village fearfully posed this question to Ernst. Ernst just waved his hand to settle the matter.
This problem wouldn't have happened if there had been a Lord ruling Meissen. If one wanted to say that these two villages had committed a crime, then one must also question the fault of the Kingdom, which had allowed the territory to go so many years without a Lord.
A relieved atmosphere filled the room, and everyone laughed at how the village head of Sounica had actually forgotten that Ernst was the Lord.
Affected by the joy in the air, Ernst also laughed, a warm feeling spreading in chest. Yakiya Village and Maine Village. When all of the other villages and towns saw the distress those two were in, they felt sympathy from the bottoms of their hearts and comforted them.
The formerly fractured Meissen was going to become whole.
"So then, would you be willing to sell your honey and beeswax to Saiquani?"
The Saiquani merchant gleefully resumed his negotiations. A wry smile coming over her face, the woman of Yakiya Village nodded.
"It seems like we have no other choice, right? Since we're not merchants after all."
When she said that, everyone shared a laugh together.
"But how much would you be willing to buy it for?"
"Let's see… you guys were selling one bottle of honey for 200 aquia, I recall. In that case, we'll pay 210 aquia for it. For the beeswax candlesticks, we'll pay 5 aquia each."
Crossing his arms, the head of Yakiya Village thought it over. Even if they had mistaken the legitimacy of their position, they were still a village who had worked as merchants for many years. They were able to calculate and figure out how to best make money.
"But we were selling one bottle for 200 aquia to the Caprix fief, right? If Saiquani buys from us for 210 aquia and then goes to sell in Caprix, that'd be a loss of 10 aquia, wouldn't it?
"Heh. That's why you guys were unseasoned merchants… You really think we would sell a bottle for 200 aquia?"
The merchant of Saiquani grinned cheekily as he said:
"We'll be selling for 300 aquia."
"…! Can you really sell that?!"
"Well, you'll see. I'm going to try selling it with a little twist."
"What are you planning to do?"
The merchant of Folea, who had been calculating how to make money off of the carpets, joined the conversation.
"…This isn't something I should be telling a business compet.i.tor, but… well, fine. Folea won't do business over in Caprix fief, right? I've thought it over. Since it's a good opportunity for us, I figure – how about we abide by that differentiation you guys talked about? Saiquani will only do business with Caprix fief, Folea with Linz fief."
"Hmm… well, fine. I won't disagree."
"Good… so, are you ready? The bees of Yakiya Village make their honey using the Kalia tree's flowers as their primary ingredient. People say that when you burn the wood of the Kalia, its fragrance has an aphrodisiac effect. As such, I want to advantage of that as much as possible. In other words, I want people to come up with the idea that if they eat this honey with the person they like, their feelings will be realized – or something like that. The candles, too, can be lit when you want to create a nice, romantic atmosphere."
Ernst felt it was interesting how unyielding the merchant was. The merchants of Saiquani certainly had to have strong hearts in order to compete with the merchants of Lux Kingdom.
"But… the Kalia trees are a problem."
The head of Maine Village now spoke after having kept silent while listening to the honey negotiations.
"Even if we try to plant new Kalia trees, the seedlings won't be able to grow. We tried building cottages to serve as nurseries for them, but that didn't work very well, either. We had to always keep burning fuel to keep the temperature stable, but humidity was important, too… so if we kept burning wood in the cottage to keep the temperature warm, then the moisture in the air would dry up, and it wouldn't be any good."
"Aah, that's very true… even if we planted a hundred Kalia seeds, only ten of them would sprout. Even if we carefully raised those ten sprouts, after a year pa.s.sed, there would only be a single one left alive in the cottage."
The two people of Maine Village heaved heavy sighs. The head of Eitt Village then turned to them and said:
"You've been to Eitt Village once, right? Our forest is warm all year round. When we talked about our drought, it is only our village which suffers a lack of water. Inside the forest, moss is always growing."
"Moss is… so does that mean that there is humidity there?"
The head of Dada village asked this to Maine.
"That'd be swell! We'll have to bring the people of our village over to take a look immediately. If it looks good then we can grow our saplings in Eitt Village, then plant them in the mountains of Maine Village.
"Yes, exactly. Only when they're saplings, they need heat and humidity. When they reach up to about my knees, that's when they have to be planted on the mountain. Once they get to that stage, it's the opposite. They need coldness and snow."
"…So then, we'll do it like this. Our Maine Village will grow the saplings in Eitt Village's Weiss Forest. In order to care for our Kalia trees, Maine Village will have to travel back and forth to Eitt Village many times. When we do, we'll bring snow with us. How does that sound?"
"That would be an enormous help. In that case, when the people of Maine Village are staying with us, we'll take care of feeding them. Though for us, we only have dried meat and such."
"Ooh, that would help us greatly, thank you… Of course, the biggest problem is whether the Kalia seeds can safely sprout into saplings…"
"That's true enough. You'll just have to watch over them carefully."
The female head of Eitt Village gave a hearty laugh.
The fifteenth day.
On this day, everyone had been allowed to return home for half a day. They returned in the afternoon.
Everyone had bright and sunny expressions on their faces.
"For having taken part in this discussion and bearing with my request for so long, I must give you all my thanks."
Ernst stood from his chair, and after looking around at each person, he slowly lowered his head and bowed.
The twenty-six people all hurriedly stood, their chairs clattering.
A chuckle slipped from Ernst as he urged them to sit back down.
"As all of you already know, the tax levied upon each person in Meissen is the minimum amount of five sitts. This is something the merchants already know quite well, but between the tax collected from all of Meissen and the tax which I must pay to the King lies a deficit of five-hundred and one sitts per year. But there are other expenses beyond that, as well. Expenditures such as the repair of Meissen's roads and the wages paid to the servants of the estate… among others. Every year, all of those lead to a deficit of eight-hundred to a thousand sitts."
Everyone turned pale with fright upon hearing that amount of money.
"However, for the next ten years, I am willing to maintain this situation and endure anything which may happen as a result. Once those ten years come to an end, the tax levied upon each person will increase to eight sitts… During this period of ten years, I wish for each of your villages and towns to grow strong."
Ernst met each and every person's eyes, as if showing them his determination.
The people in the room looked hesitant, unsure – but the moment they looked at Ernst and met his gaze, all of of them returned strong, decisive nods.