“The New Feudal Lord That Is The Seed Of All Worries.”
Cassius and his peers were trying to figure out their fief lord, Rion. They knew well that he didn’t harbor pleasant feelings towards them. But despite that, no matter how severely they treated him, he still wouldn’t stop the daily training routine.
Harsh punishment was handed out to the fief population that turned to banditry. At least that was the former castellan’s initial impression but the outcome of that proved to be different. The captured outlaws looked to be grateful for their new livelihood, that was free of worry about the next meal, and were treating the forced labor as if it actually wasn’t a punishment.
The other bandits, who came to know of this situation, started to surrender one after another. The public order in the territory improved almost overnight.
Furthermore, thanks to the labor of the former bandits, the fief had become livelier. The highway was now in a good state of repair, the reclamation of the fallow land was proceeding nicely and some of it was about to be reborn anew as proper fields.
But even then, the clan heads were pessimistic, since a lot of time would pass until the first harvest and the financial situation of the barony didn’t change. The territory was on the verge of going bankrupt. And then, suddenly, a large amount of money was transferred from the capital.
The funds embezzled from the treasury of Bandeaux by the former officials were unexpectedly returned. While much of that ill-gotten coin had already been spent, the total amount was still an accumulation of years of fraud. Even the part of it that was recovered made for a huge sum. Enough to cover the running cost of the barony for years to come, even assuming no tax income.
The clan heads could not know that once the Investigation Bureau found proof of an official’s corruption, then even if the person himself was already dead, the embezzled money would be reclaimed from the assets of their children, grandchildren or even the great grandchildren. It was so determined to use this chance for redemption that it would even aggressively go after other relatives if nothing could be claimed from close family.
Thus, the financial problems of Bandeaux were solved. And that was something that Rion did on his own. His personality might have been extremely problematic but the clan heads couldn’t help but acknowledge his ability as the fief lord.
And the changes didn’t end here. For Rion, all that happened until now was merely a stopgap measure and the proper reformation of the barony started now.
「Making the captured bandits do forced labor… Not bad, Rion. In the capital tasks like working in the mines are left to criminals as well after all.」
「From your tone… You’re not entirely happy with this?」
「More thought into how you use them wouldn’t go amiss. If you’re going to have them work, let them work more efficiently.」
「More efficiently? Do you mean their working hours, environment, or something else like that?」
「My problem is mostly with where you make them work.」
「…There are no mines in this barony.」
After all, Rion also wanted them to work in a mine. Punishment as an idea required having people do work they disliked. If the labor forced on the criminals did not fit the criteria, they would not change.
「I’m not talking about that. Having them cultivate land is fine but there are better places for them to be doing that. The areas they are reclaiming now may have been farmland in the past but that doesn’t necessarily make them worth the effort.」
「I see. I haven’t thought of that.」
「It’s better to look for a place ideal for farming. The presence of a water source is a good indicator. Some of the fields you are reclaiming used to be farmed, but lie far from irrigation. Abundance of good soil also matters but you’d probably need some professionals to judge that.」
「Alright. I’ll arrange things immediately.」
Just like that, a new policy was enacted. The barony might have obtained funds but they were nothing without people to utilize them properly.
People like the person Rion was speaking to now, an acquaintance from the Royal Academy. His name was John, he was one of the commoner students who were formerly ad-hoc tutors of the late Vincent. He had since graduated and now came all the way to Bandeaux in order to apply for the job that Rion advertised throughout the bars and restaurants of the kingdom with recruitment posters. A method unknown in this world Rion used as he had nothing to lose.
John wasn’t alone, other people from the school days came too. And it wasn’t as though all of them were having trouble finding jobs. They did so simply to be of help to Ariel for the sake of her late brother.
That made them less like Rion’s subordinates and more like his guests.
「Time for my report now.」
This time it was Octo wishing to present his report. He too was one of the former tutors of Vincent.
「Trade? We are yet to produce any goods, though?」
「That’s true but let me elaborate nevertheless.」
「I’ll start by explaining what I learned about this area back in the capital when I tried to research the topic.」
「There are few reasons as to why the trade never flourished here even though this fief has made contact with other countries. The first and foremost problem is that the countries approached barely have anything worthwhile to sell.」
「Both the Ox Kingdom and the Hush Kingdom?」
Bandeaux shared a border with two other countries. Both of them were so small and poor that even higher ranked nobles of the Gran Flamm Kingdom had more individual wealth.
「Yeah. Both of them are so poor they were not worth invading. Which is why they are still existing.」
What Octo said just now was not entirely accurate. The reason why Gran Flamm kingdom didn’t invade the two was not their lack of wealth but the high price of the war against Bandeaux.
The only actual payoff from that conquest was some poor land. The Six Clans, that could have been a valuable new asset, were so diminished by the fighting that they ended up amounting to nothing.
Any war against those two kingdoms could be expected to yield similar results and, instead of making it stronger, would just weaken the country more. Due to that, the government officials decided to apply diplomatic pressure in lieu of more war. That proved to be a success and those two realms, while still technically independent, were now no different from vassal states.
Thanks to this, while the barony might have been a national border, it was under no risk of being attacked anytime soon. That sense of security was one of the factors that prompted the officials sent here to do fraud.
「What merit would there be in trade then, if the neighbors are that poor?」
「I haven’t finished my presentation yet. There are other reasons why the trade never took off over here. Some distance to the south there is a major trade route the fief never tried to tap. It leads to the Merica Kingdom, a very wealthy and industrious country. 」
Merica was not a state that should be compared to the neighbors of Bandeaux but rather to the Gran Flamm Kingdom itself. It could be reasonably said to be the greatest obstacle on the Gran Flamm’s quest for dominance.
「All the goods flow along that route, huh? If we did something unexpected some of the trade from that direction could end up going here instead.」
There was no way for them to fight a full-on trade war. Being weaker, the only thing that Rion’s territory could do was to collect any trade spilling from that route.
「Oh, you understood really fast.」
「Well, there was this strange merchant the other day. His consortium wanted to do business here so it made me curious about the subject.」
「Are you sure that business was not a shady one?」
「A permit was issued, it’s a perfectly legal enterprise.」
「…Will it even be able to pay tax?」
Octo was actually more worried about the fact that Rion gave a license to a suspicious merchant. That was because neither of them was aware of Rion’s connection to the underworld and Rion had no plans to tell them in the future either.
「Of course, they are honest merchants.」
「Is that so… Let’s put that topic aside for now. Coming back to trade, there are yet more problems in that area.」
「There are still more?」
「In a sense, this is the biggest obstacle of the lot.」
「And that is?」
「The risk of travel. The barony of Bandeaux is surrounded by mountains. There are mountains on the border and the highway goes through some of the ranges as well. 」
「I believe the bandit threat subsided significantly.」
「There are many demonic beasts still roaming there. According to the research I’ve done in the capital, the mountainous region of this land is apparently infested by monsters. The subjugation should be a duty of the territorial army.」
「…Which is apparently not fulfilled properly. I expect to hear that they did not think it was a good time for that or some other similar excuse.」
As always, Rion was really strict on Cassius and his group.
「So the plan would go like this. We secure the highway. We make carrying goods over it an enticing prospect and spread that information among the merchants. That, in turn, demands cooperation with our neighbors and lowering of tariffs. Doing this will solve the problems with trade. 」
「In that case, the subjugation of the demonic beasts comes first. And I have someone who specializes on that in mind.」
「The territorial army?」
「Exactly. As for the plan of the operation and budgeting…」
「Leave that to us, my lord.」
Said the clan heads who until now were just listening in silence. They were driven by the feeling of not wanting to end up as chess pieces without agency, which was how the things had been developing until now.
「Can you do it?」
「It’s a military matter, we’re confident.」
「I see. I’ll leave it to you then. Do not tarry with the preparations, however, make sure not to rush when executing the plan.」
「Do not rush, lord?」
「The complete annihilation of the demonic beasts is a project for several decades. What we need now is a plan that would decrease their numbers enough so they stop attacking travelers. One that doesn’t lead to high casualty rate among the troops. Demonic beast population can recover easily, rebuilding the manpower pool is hard.」
「…Yes, lord baron.」
These kinds of statements coming from Rion threw Cassius and the others into confusion each time. They just couldn’t tell whether he was warm- or cold-hearted. The correct answer, in this case, would be cold-hearted, of course. The reason why he was so mindful of the soldier’s lives was simply that he needed the army. But he didn’t trust them enough yet to start being kind towards them.
「I think it would be good to design a chain of military outposts along the highway. It would be good if the travelers always had somewhere to escape when under attack by demonic beasts and it might even give an impression we are seriously looking after their wellbeing.」
Rion’s attention already returned to Octo.
「Rion, don’t surprise us so much.」
「Well, the plans that you suggest may be simple but they are effective. I do not mean to look down on your origins but it’s quite strange how you are able to come up with those ideas despite coming from the slum.」
「I’m only trying to put myself in the consumer’s shoes.」
「Consumer’s shoes… I see. I’ll be using this as a reference.」
This concept of putting oneself in the service user’s shoes did not exist in this world. Bars only tended to offer food and beverage, while most other shops offered terrible service. Even the prostitutes only considered selling their own bodies. No one had thought of incorporating extra services into their establishments.
That was exactly why his businesses in the capital city slum managed to gather customers even though they were in an area people hardly dared to approach.
「Also, while we secure the highway, we need to start publicity efforts. Well, little by little at first.」
Of course, it didn’t need saying that Rion intended to start on that immediately. If he didn’t work on laying the groundwork now it would only result in wasted time later.
As for why he didn’t go into detail, that was because the group that would be tasked with that was illegal. He would make it happen as fast as possible, and besides, he planned to extend his reach to the neighboring countries anyway. This was the perfect excuse.
「Ah, you’re right. Now, coming back to cultivation efforts…」
「Eh? Wasn’t that John’s brief?」
「…Okay, so what about that?」
John, thinking the issues under his care mostly resolved, could only offer a puzzled look as he asked.
「It seems that there are small fortifications spread all over the fief. Try to survey those locations for farming potential.」
「Cultivating crops near the fortifications?」
「Fortified positions are almost guaranteed to have a supply of water. We can use that for irrigation.」
「You’re right. However, won’t those places be inconvenient to live in?」
「They are forced to work as a punishment for their crimes. It’s actually better if the housing arrangements are inconvenient. The comfortable environment should only be a privilege of the honest farmers.」
「…Mhm. That’s true.」
John was satisfied with Rion’s answer. However, some of the people present still had reservations.
Predictably, Cassius spoke up as their representative.
「What is it?」
「Are we going to release captured bandits back into the strongholds?」
The dissent was reasonable and it was normal to think that way.
「Only if the land around them is good for farming.」
「But having them holed up in a fortress again will…」
「Just destroy some of the defenses then. And besides, do you think they would want their food provision halted again?」
There was no way the prisoners would throw away their current livelihood devoid of food problems. After all most of them didn’t choose banditry because they really wanted to, they did it to avoid starvation.
「Well then, there’s no more problems, right? 」
Being unable to refute the arguments, Cassius was no longer able to raise objections.
「As we have decided earlier, we need to find someone to survey the quality of the soil. Start on that as soon as possible. Now that I think of it, we need someone to inspect the water sources too. Make finding those people a priority.」
「Alright, I’m next then.」
Yet another alumnus of the Royal Academy was about to start his report. Although they had no practical experience, all of them had graduated with recognition for excellence.
The territory government that had ground to a halt had now begun to operate again and achieve progress.
The only people being left behind were the ones born and raised in the territory, who wanted to do something for their land the most, Cassius and all the clans of Bandeaux.
After the working day had ended, the clan heads gathered in a certain bar in town.
This was not something like a drinking party to vent their frustrations from work. Although they were indeed sipping alcohol, they were doing it in silence just lazily indulging in their own thoughts.
After some time like this…
「…What do you think?」
Cassius asked no one in particular.
「I admit that he’s good. He doesn’t have any experience but he was able to achieve this much. If this territory were to show actual growth as a result of his efforts he would really be a lord worth serving.」
Kiel of Clan Blue answered that question. The subject of their discussion was clearly Rion and they seemed to rate him highly.
「Just because his ability is excellent doesn’t make him a good ruler. There are plenty of talented lords in history who we now call foolish or evil.」
Apollo of Clan Yellow voiced criticism Kiel’s assessment.
「Are you thinking of his personality? How should we even start with that? He may be ruthless but that’s a necessary attribute for someone that stands above his peers. Besides, that heartlessness saved people that have fallen so low that they took up banditry.」
Mohit of Clan Green disagreed with Apollo in turn.
「I know that.」
Apollo assented to Mohit’s statement. Not only had Rion given food to the former bandits, he was yet to sentence any of them to death.
「In that case, what are you anxious about?」
「I can’t figure out his true nature.」
「We already know that he comes from the capital city slums and that he leads the criminals there. The Crown should know that too, so why was he made a noble and given Bandeaux as a fief?」
「That is the question.」
「Sure, his magic is strong. It’s not strange to see him being made a noble. However, a baron from the start? With his own territory? I have never heard of such a thing.」
Because Rion’s first impression of them was horrible, he had not told the locals a single thing about himself. Not that he would want to talk about the matter regarding Vincent anyway. And even his connections to the slums were not something he would normally wish other people knew.
Furthermore, it was not as though talking about his story would clear the clan heads’ doubts. After all, Rion still didn’t know that he was the missing son of the king and the queen.
「In the end, that is what it comes to. We know too little about our lord. Even his wife doesn’t seem to be normal. Her magic and the farewell gift from her mother are way beyond the ordinary.」
All of them had shared Cassius’ thoughts. They knew too little about Rion. That being the case, they would normally remain quiet and keep outwardly appearing loyal. Even if Rion became aware of that, he would probably still say nothing.
Yet here they were, gathering to share their worries.
The reason why they considered serving him honestly despite knowing little about his true nature was because they felt something in him.
「Have Weiss and Schwarz returned yet?」
Kiel asked Cassius.
「They sent a person back early. The scope of the investigation proved much larger than expected, they will most likely be delayed.」
「So there are that many secrets behind him…」
「Seems to be the case. In the meantime we can only wait until those two return. However…」
The events began to progress with unexpected momentum. From the looks of it, they might soon find themselves completely abandoned by Rion. This sudden urgency prompted them to meet in such a fashion.
「There’s still a chance to learn a bit more about him.」
Everyone shared the same thoughts as Mohit.
「Did anyone hear anything during training?」
The fact that Apollo asked meant he hadn’t personally. Neither had the others. With the sole exception of Cassius who had something that came to mind.
「I do not know how significant that may be, but…」
「What did you learn?」
「It seems he is aiming to defeat the knight commander.」
This pronouncement of Cassius surprised not only Apollo but all of those present. They all found this a truly interesting statement.
「From how he spoke, it looked like he had fought him before.」
「…Hostility towards the Crown? No, that cannot be the case. He wouldn’t have been given the territory if that was true.」
「Agreed. That’s why I was thinking he may be close to the knight commander.」
「I see. A student wishing to defeat his mentor, or something similar, huh? That seems likely.」
「No. That’s implausible.」
「His swordsmanship is unlike anything taught in the kingdom. He may be copying the techniques but the foundation is a complete mess. I don’t know about the army or noble retinues but there’s no way you would end up with that kind of swordsmanship by learning under the knight commander.」
「You’re right. It is too unrefined. Actually leaving the knight commander himself aside, that is not something you end up with from being taught by an instructor.」
All of them had considerable martial prowess. The clans may have lost their war for independence in the past but the six heads still were the inheritors of the force that tormented the kingdom’s army during the conflict. From their perspective, Rion’s skill with a blade was no different than a child’s.
「He has talent, though. And his vision is way outside the norm. It’s not usual for a beginner to be able to meet my sword that much.」
「Same. With his extreme dynamic vision I had no choice but to fight him seriously.」
Those words of Apollo prompted nods from the whole party. This was the reason why Rion always ended up with all those bruises.
He might not be aware of it himself but his dynamic vision was excellent. Due to that, although he lacked skill, he could still avoid the opponent’s blade and could see through the openings.
Initially, all of them were holding themselves back but because their swords wouldn’t connect, they had to take him a little bit more seriously. And by the time that Rion could avoid their blades no longer, they were already rather serious. Being on the receiving end of all that meant ending up on the verge of fainting.
「Would the knight commander, or anyone else of importance, miss that kind of talent?」
「If they would, they wouldn’t be fit for their jobs.」
「There’s no way one would aim to defeat that kind of opponent, though, right? They can’t be friendly.」
「That being the case…」
Although there was still another possibility in their minds, not a single one of them had the confidence to put it into words. In the end, no matter how often they met, they were not able to arrive at a decision.
「As I thought, this matter should not be rushed. More information is necessary to make sure if he’s a leader worth following. Let’s wait until the other two return. After all, we, our predecessors and the common folk have already waited for so long. Waiting for just a little more won’t change anything.」
Cassius said that jokingly, but not one of them felt like laughing.
The six clans of Bandeaux had inherited a desire from the generation past. It was the yearning for the time when Bandeaux would be their own again.
Yet more waiting might sound like a good idea but not being able to find the right opportunity to rebel would make them another unfulfilled generation. But even so, the desire that has been passed down to them was too profound to be simply discarded. It had somehow made them all restless.
And then Rion appeared showcasing a surprising amount of talent, this had prompted them to dream that their chance may have indeed arrived.
Simply, they were thinking whether he was worth adopting as a leader of their insurrection.
And they couldn’t decide on that today either.
The Black and White clans. The leaders of those two had not introduced themselves to Rion yet. They were not in Camargue, or anywhere else in Bandeaux for that matter. They were investigating Rion’s background.
When they would come back, far from arriving at a conclusion, the clans would face even more worries. But that was something the present leaders were yet to know.