Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi Wo Shite:
“The feeling of getting deceived.”
It had taken them one month to travel to the fief. Although that was quite a long distance and would usually make for a boring jurney, for Ariel and Rion who knew next to nothing about the world outside of the capital’s city limits, every day was rather enjoyable and brought new things to see. Not to mention, this trip became like their honeymoon, even though there was no such custom in this world. That was why no matter where they would go, it would without a doubt become enjoyable for them.
That said, they also had some disagreements, the first matrimonial quarrels they had experienced as a couple. Those were caused by Rion refusing to consummate the marriage. He kept saying that they should not do that kind of things until Ariel reached adulthood, a shockingly principled excuse that no one would expect to come from him.
Ariel, unsatisfied with that, continued to press him pointing out that age did not stop him from sleeping with other women in the past, heavily wounding his heart in the process. It was an incident that could be commemorated as the first time Rion got angry at Ariel.
But digressions aside, their journey was about to finish. At last, they had reached Bandeaux, their new territory. Their final destination was the town of Camargue, where the seat of the barony was located, but upon arrival, their mood changed completely and turned gloomy. The cause of that was the ambiance the territory gave off.
The highway they were traveling on was completely unmaintained, with rough surface and bridges so bad crossing them made one anxious. And if that wasn’t enough, every person they passed by looked dispirited. They couldn’t also fail to notice there were very few citizens on the road in the first place.
Rion was warned the territory was poor and offered little in taxes but he didn’t expect it to be this ruined. Suddenly, he started feeling that he was deceived.
However, there was no deception on the King’s side. The monarch himself was unaware of the actual state of things and that was something Rion would understand soon after grasping the situation here.
Finally, Rion had arrived in Camargue. Just looking at the town’s condition increased the weight in his heart. This place was a fortress on the kingdom’s borders and unlike the capital, it carried a blunt aura.
As if that wasn’t enough, the outer walls of Camargue were so heavily damaged, that in Rion’s eyes they looked as if the town experienced war recently. To him and Ariel, with their knowledge of the world limited to what the capital offered, this place looked like an abandoned castle.
They had the feeling they came to a very outrageous place.
But even so, coming this far, it was not as though they could just turn their back on it. They had somewhere in mind to escape to if the need arose but that could be done at any moment, so they decided to enter the town for now.
As they approached the western gate, they saw an inner through the opening. The structure of the fortifications was different than in the capital, but Camargue was also protected by two layers of walls. It was an old town built for war.
That said, nowadays this feature was useless, the most recent war had been so long ago that none of the residents of Camargue remembered it now. That was also probably why the military installations located between the walls looked deserted.
The whole picture made a bad impression on town visitors.
「Halt! What is your business in this town?」
As they arrived at the gate within the interior walls, they were challenged by a soldier that emerged from the sentry post located to their right. As one would expect, they were to be inspected before passing the internal walls.
「I am Rion Frey, by the order of the king the new baron of the Bandeaux Territory.」
「Eh? You are?」
The response of the gatekeeper made Rion feel down. Although he knew he did not look like a feudal lord, personally witnessing this kind of a reaction made him feel miserable.
「…Yes, I am」
「Ah! Excuse my rudeness, sir! Would you mind waiting while I inform the castle that you arrived?」
Seeing Rion’s displeasure, the gatekeeper immediately understood his mistake and instantly adopted a courteous manner.
「Oi! The new lord has arrived! Notify the castellan immediately!」
Prompted by the voice of the gatekeeper, a second soldier ran out of the sentry post in a hurry. Seeing that, Rion sighed deeply. It was not surprising to see those soldiers conduct themselves worse than those in the capital, but they also paled in comparison to the guards at the Windhill mansion. It made Rion question their ability to actually protect the border.
「I want to enter the city.」
「You shall be accompanied by the castellan, sir.」
「And you expect me to just stand here until he arrives, soldier?」
「If I only need to head towards the castle, I can get there myself. I don’t expect it is to find?」
「No sir, I mean, yes sir, you are free to go, of course.」
「Well then, open the gate man.」
Although it was good that they followed his orders, it was overshadowed by the fact that they accepted his introduction and authority at face value on their first meeting. And Rion was the type to mind even the smallest details when it came to his subordinates.
When the gate was opened, the castle came to view immediately. With this, it was impossible to get lost. Ariel remained on the horse while Rion descended to the ground and started to lead it by the reins.
As one would expect, the inner side of the wall was lined with buildings but they showed no signs of habitation. There was no such phrase in this world, but if Ryou was to describe this town in a concise way, he’d call it a “shuttered street”.
「It seems terrible, doesn’t it?」
「It does. To think that even the town is in this situation, rather than saying it hardly yields any tax, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was told it brings none.」
「Well, I would be surprised.」
It was the usual Ariel who couldn’t get jokes.
The two of them headed towards the castle while being followed by stares from both sides of the street. The residents surprised by their sudden arrival couldn’t tear their eyes off the two.
With Ariel this was obvious but Rion too was a dashing, handsome man of the type rarely seen in this poorly maintained town. Interested in the new arrivals the residents looked at them full of curiosity.
Their questions were answered nearly immediately by the person that came from the direction of the castle.
「Excuse me, are you perhaps the new lord?」
As he expected, it would still be this kind of reaction.
「Yes. I am Rion Frey. My wife, Ariel, is riding on the horse.」
Assuming that this person was the castellan, Rion immediately introduced Ariel.
「Is that so….」
Different from the gatekeeper, this man did not try to hide his gloom. So even the castellan of this place was like this. One after another, the people here made Rion more depressed with each meeting.
「My name is Cassius Rott, I work as the castellan of this place. Let me guide you to the castle. 」
Rion was uneasy about what kind of sights would welcome him in the castle but unexpectedly it was well maintained and looked nothing like an abandoned ruin.
Ariel felt the same.
「Mhm. Surprisingly, some tasteful things were on display, weren’t they?」
She began to recount her impressions while looking at the furniture in the room.
「You can tell that?」
「To some extent, it would be embarrassing if I had no appreciation for fine art.」
An eye for art was an indispensable ability for the nobles. Being sold a counterfeit and showing it to other members of society would be a source of enough embarrassment to make one avoid other people for a while.
Some people still failed, of course, and were ridiculed behind their back. But Ariel, being a daughter of House Windhill, would never let that happen to her, so she studied the subject hard and could safely be called a connoisseur.
「Well, I personally neither know nor care much about art. But it’s good to know we can sell them for good money to patch the budget.」
「Rion, that attitude is wrong.」
「Good things are expensive because they last longer. Obtaining one well-made item saves more money in the long run than buying many cheap ones.」
「…I know that much.」
「Do you? Or are you like those foolish people with poor judgment that think high price tag guarantees quality.」
「…I am sorry, Ari.」
It looked like Rion was one of the fools with poor judgment after all.
「Ehm, Sir, Madam, may I speak now?」
The castellan, whose existence was forgotten, interjected at this point.
「Ah, yes, go ahead.」
「Thank you… Where do you want me to start from?」
Although he asked to be allowed to speak all he had to say was this? It almost made Rion think that he was being ridiculed.
「My predecessor left without warning, sir, and I was made to assume his duties in haste. I do not have a full grasp on the situation yet, I thought it would be best to start with the thing sir wants to know.」
「…What happened to the previous castellan?」
「He returned to the capital, sir.」
「Even though he did not hand his duties over properly? Isn’t that odd?」
「That is a question best asked to him, sir.」
「…Is it now.」
Although the behavior of the previous castellan irked him, he didn’t think much better of the current one. He did not expect the man to be loyal from the start, but he didn’t think a bit of professionalism was too much to ask for. He too had served another in the past, after all, and furthermore, he had performed his duties with loyalty and dedication. He considered the castellan’s behavior to fall short of the standard.
As a result, in his heart, he decided against relying on Cassius.
「Fine, I expect you to prepare all the documents I’m about to list.」
「I will need all the past and current budget balance ledgers, and a detailed breakdown of current revenue and expenses. I also want a report on the territory’s trade goods and their market value. I don’t expect it to be recent, but the more up to date the information, the better.」
「Oh, yes. I also want a chart of local administration with a clear description of duties. As for the senior officials… I guess I’ll have them introduce themselves later?」
「Ah, of course, sir.」
「Good. I will personally interview them about the state of things, so warn them to prepare a report about the situation they are in and the problems they are facing.」
「When will you have those documents ready?」
「…I will have to check and come back to you, sir.」
「I want to familiarize myself with that information as a first priority, have them ready by tomorrow morning. As for the senior officials, arrange the interviews as their work allows.」
「Enough of this, then. Do you have a map of the town?」
「I believe so.」
「Bring it to me immediately. I will be heading out.」
「It will be hard to live here if I don’t know the place.」
「By the way, don’t worry about guides or escort. The only thing I need is a map.」
「The guards will…」
「I don’t need an escort. Judging by what I saw so far, I’m much stronger than any of your soldiers.」
Rion, who wasn’t in a habit to brag about his own strength, said this because he started to lose his temper. It was his way of declaring that he wouldn’t rely on any of them.
Rion’s first impression of the Bandeaux Territory was of the worst possible kind.
Before even an hour passed Rion could be already seen outside the castle.
He was walking around the town without referring to the map in his hand at all. In the end, he would have to return to the castle anyway and since it could be seen from all locations in town so it was impossible to actually get lost. Furthermore, what he was currently searching for is something that wouldn’t be drawn on the maps in any case.
(…. Maybe it would still be fine even if I took Ariel with me. What a blunder.)
After walking for a while, these thoughts resurfaced within his mind again.
She was eager to go with him and it looked like the things he was worried about wouldn’t happen anyway. That being the case, he angered Ariel for nothing by forcing her to stay behind.
(Does this mean that this town is so unattractive that even the criminals won’t settle in it?)
What Rion was searching for was a lawless, slum-like area just like the one in the capital and the underground society that should exist in its shadow. He knew that they were the best people to ask for the town’s real situation. One could learn some really surprising things by sifting through the information that circulated in the capital’s underworld. It was like looking for gems in a pile of gravel but for Rion, it would be enough. He wanted to know everything he could about his new territory.
In particular, he needed to learn why it ended up in such a poor state. Rion suspected the officials, including the castellan. That was why he wanted to obtain information from the local underworld but he couldn’t find anything like that.
This was a huge miscalculation of his.
Far from being able to find a dubious downtown, he couldn’t even find a sign of people living in the backstreets. It now looked to him like the town’s population might be actually very low. That being the case, it wasn’t surprising that there was no organized crime here. Outlaws didn’t bother with things offering zero prospect of profit.
It seemed that the situation of this town was actually worse than he initially thought. If this was also the case for the rest of the territory, how should he even attempt to govern here?
It wasn’t even a day since he arrived and he felt like running away already.
And on the second day, that feeling only intensified. Although it was still not past his deadline, none of the documents he requested the day before arrived.
So he called for the castellan, Cassius, to inquire about the reasons only to hear that…
「The documents do not exist?」
「Oh no, sir, we have plenty of them.」
「…Then what stops you from bringing them here?」
「There is little fact in them, sir」
「I don’t care, bring them over!」
Thinking that he was attempting to hide his embezzlement, Rion shouted at Cassius but…
「But sir, reading them will make you misunderstand!」
The reply that the castellan offered was a little different from his expectations.
「Those reports are fraudulent, they are full of falsehoods.」
「Who did such a thing?」
「My predecessor and his subordinates.」
「To hide the fact they embezzled money.」
As Rion expected there were corrupt officials here but having his suspicions confirmed didn’t make him happy. It only made him realize that the situation was more complex than he thought it was.
「Your predecessor was corrupt?」
「And not just the previous one, sir. The one before him, the one before that one and all the rest of them for a long time now. This has been the case ever since this territory became a part of the kingdom.」
This was plausible. Corrupt government officials weren’t really that unusual. But even so, the way Cassius described it made him curious.
「And you had no part in that?」
「Of course not, sir. After all, we were never allowed any say in how the territory was governed.」
This too made Rion curious.
「We as the original inhabitants, sir, the people that have lived here for generations.」
「…I think it is time you told me the full story.」
Being urged by Rion, Cassius began talking about this region’s circumstances and history.
It went like this – In the past, there were several family clans that held power within the Bandeaux region. Although the place was not a part of any country it would be a stretch to try and call it one. But even so, the clans, by cooperating against any invaders, were able to preserve their autonomy. They were called the Six Clans of Bandeaux, the castellan was a member of one of them and headed clan Rott.
However, the land of Bandeau could not, in the end, go against the flow of the era and had to submit to the growing influence of the Grand Flamm kingdom in the west. However, due to the strength of their resistance during those times the territory was not handed over to any of the nobles and remained under a direct rule of the crown.
For those powerful local clans, rather than being a problem, it was actually a very much welcomed development at first. None of them would easily accept to follow another family after all. However, the reality of the situation proved different than what they expected.
The crown dispatched one of its officials to Bandeaux granting him full authority over the territory and demanded the clans to work as his underlings. That official’s status was uncommon as he was neither a vassal of the king nor a direct subordinate or even a follower of an aristocrat.
The worst part was that for government officials this new post on the eastern outskirts of the kingdom was akin to a demotion, so no one capable wanted to go there. And those of poor aptitude that did get sent, seeing a place where nobody could complain about them, neglected their job and indulged in luxury.
The land of Bandeaux steadily declined.
However, the misfortune of Bandeaux didn’t end just with that. Before they knew it, the unofficial status of their land changed from place to demote people to, into place that you reward people with so they can quietly retire. Somewhere to gain a bit of extra retirement income without putting in any effort.
As this kept continuing the economic situation turned so bad that people began to leave in droves.
And now a new lord was coming to such a place. Not yet another government official who would squeeze the assets for his own gain but a person to rule this place as his own.
There was suddenly a chance that Bandeaux might possibly change for the better. And whatever populace remained in the fief was expecting many things from the new lord.
「…Then the lord arrived and he was a child with heterochromatic eyes, a bearer of misfortune. And all those hopes were crushed.」
Hearing Cassius’ explanation did not lighten Rion’s mood, on the contrary, it made it turn even worse.
「….My apologies, sir, I shouldn’t have said that.」
「Whatever. I’ve already gotten used to being scorned for my eyes and it is true I lack experience.」
「…I am truly sorry.」
Cassius could only repeat words of apology towards Rion who no longer hid his displeasure.
「Enough already, I really do not care about all that. So what you are saying is that the financial documentation is not only inconsistent, it’s completely made up in order to hide the previous official’s embezzlement from me and anyone else remaining that would try to investigate it…」
「…And that there are no other legitimate records left…」
「…And that we have no actual idea about how much tax does the territory bring?」
「Do we even know who should be paying what and when?」
「…We do not.」
「Then how am I supposed to govern this land?」
「Go and investigate this instant!」
Cassius immediately left the room just as Rion ordered. But to be honest, Rion did not expect much. Just because he could ask people inexperienced with the administration, like the castellan, to do something didn’t mean they would know how to do that thing.
He just wanted the guy to leave the office.
「I should have been more skeptical. Being given land and rank just like that is not a normal occurrence after all.」
Even though Rion was looking and sounding troubled Ariel was still enjoying this situation. When he had been a valet, Rion kept all his emotions to himself, never uttering complaints. And now that she became his wife she could finally see this side of him too.
「So what should I do now?」
「Hmm? Haven’t you made up your mind already?」
「…It will be troublesome, though.」
「I have told you once already. As long as I’m with you, I don’t mind anything else.」
「I see. Right, I’ll try to keep at it a bit longer then.」
Rion wouldn’t be disheartened by something like this. He had faced situations much more absurd and much crueler, for he had faced the world itself.