Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 15 - Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Where the Future Is Headed

A month and a half had passed since Ryoma Mikoshiba defeated Count Salzberg and took over northern Rhoadseria. The day was beautiful. There was hardly any wind, and the sunlight was soft, so the weather was pleasant and warm. It was a perfect day for a trip.

Most commoners didn’t have any rain gear, so they hardly went outside on rainy days. They did all of their business on fine days like this one, and indeed, the cities’ main streets were bustling with more activity than usual. For those who didn’t have any business on such a peaceful day, they might indulge in tea and a book under the shade trees in their garden.

Sadly, the current ruler of the citadel city of Epirus couldn’t afford to spend his time relaxing.

“Please look at this,” said a girl in a maid’s uniform.

Ryoma was in his office, deep within the Salzberg estate, where he’d been poring over documents since morning. The girl, Laura Malfist—one of his most lovely and trusted lieutenants—handed him another stack of papers. It was heavy enough that she could’ve used it for weight lifting.




“There’s more?” Ryoma grumbled. It was already approaching evening. Ryoma hadn’t had a single moment that day to sip tea or read a book, but he’d managed to whittle down the pile of papers to a mere dozen or so. Unfortunately, Laura had just added more to the pile.

Having spent all day cooped up in this office, Ryoma couldn’t rejoice about the extra work. He wasn’t lazy, but it was discouraging to complete a mountain of paperwork only for it to suddenly increase in size just as the end was in sight. In fact, not to mince words, he was honestly fed up.

I mean, I guess this is partially my fault. Still, my name’s not Sisyphus, is it? 

Zeus punished Sisyphus for cheating death twice by making him roll a boulder up a hill. As he reached the peak, the boulder would roll back down, forcing him to repeat the act forever. While some might pity Sisyphus for having to do meaningless labor for eternity, no one seemed to have such mercy for Ryoma. Rather, anyone would agree that Ryoma was getting his just deserts.

That wasn’t to say that no one was on his side, though. Laura, who’d just added to his workload, was stricken with guilt that manifested on her lovely features.

“My apologies,” Laura said as she bowed her head. She was clearly uneasy about increasing her beloved master’s burden. “I really am trying to pick only those that require your immediate attention.”

Laura felt all the more guilty because she knew that since they’d seized Epirus, Ryoma had been getting just four hours of sleep a night. In truth, he was lucky to get any sleep at all. As unfortunate as it was, there were too many issues only the new leader of the north could handle. Ryoma made full use of Lione, Boltz, and some of their newest recruits, splitting up the workload with them as much as he could, but matters that required his direct and personal attention kept crawling out of the woodwork. Having few reliable retainers was one of the downsides of being a new noble.

“That’s not your fault,” Ryoma said with a resigned smile as he placed the bundle of documents on the table. “I complicated things for you, after all.”

Should I have gone easier on them? No. I think getting rid of all those festering wounds was the right call.

After Ryoma defeated Count Salzberg, he eliminated the ten houses of the north. But as his domain expanded, the task of managing it became exponentially harder. An annexation like this one, accomplished by military force, was especially rife with difficulties.

To make matters worse, Ryoma had removed most of the existing governors, the majority of them second- or third-rate rulers. Their personalities were questionable, and they were, simply put, pathetic dregs of no use whatsoever. Keeping them in their positions would have led to nothing but corruption later down the line. Yet despite all that, Ryoma was still in the machine called the regime, and removing too many of the cogs would break the entire system.

On top of all that, Ryoma needed to implement new laws he’d never enacted before on this new domain of his. They were utterly revolutionary measures by this world’s standards, and realizing them would require a great deal of trial and error.

With all of this combined, Ryoma hardly had time to breathe.

I guess my estimates were still too optimistic.

Bringing the ideas in his mind to fruition took a lot of work, as one might expect. But had Ryoma truly understood what that meant? He was starting to faintly feel like he hadn’t. Still, Ryoma felt that these tasks were necessary, and now was the only time he’d be able to do them. Knowing that didn’t make all the paperwork any less agonizing, though.

No point in bitching about it. I guess I’ll get a few more out of the way. 

Ryoma couldn’t very well give up on everything now. The lives of many were riding on his shoulders.

Sighing deeply, Ryoma switched gears. The goddess of fate, however, seemed dead set on harassing him that day. As soon as he looked at the document before him, someone knocked on his office door. It seemed the guest he’d planned for had arrived. Turning his eyes to the clock on the wall, he rose from his seat.

“Laura,” Ryoma prompted.

Laura nodded and opened the door. As soon as she did, a floral scent filled the room, as if it were a woman’s inherent charm.

“My apologies for interrupting you in the middle of work, Baron Mikoshiba,” Yulia Salzberg said as she bowed her head. Her smile was glowing.

Lady Yulia was dressed quite differently compared to the last time Ryoma saw her. That time, she’d been wearing mourning clothes for her husband, who’d perished in a duel with Ryoma. Now she was wearing a chic, classy black dress. She wore many more decorations compared to last time too.

“Not at all. Please, come in,” Ryoma said with a smile as he beckoned her inside.

Laura led Lady Yulia to a chair in a corner of Ryoma’s office meant for guests.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Lady Yulia said as she took a seat.

“Here you go,” Laura offered, presenting them with teacups, though it wasn’t clear when she’d had time to brew tea.

“My, thank you,” Lady Yulia replied. She nodded in gratitude and sipped on the tea without the slightest expression of caution. Their words and their attitudes naturally put her at ease. “Hehe... Yes, like I thought,” she said, a giggle leaving her lips.

It had the taste and aroma unique to Qwiltantian tea, and just this single cup held significance.

He makes some grand gestures, doesn’t he? Making a show of this foreign flavor... Yet it doesn’t come across as sarcastic. 

It was just tea, but the meaning behind it wasn’t lost on Lady Yulia.

Ryoma smiled at her.

I see my guess was right on the money.

Since the Holy Qwiltantia Empire was on the eastern coast of the continent, importing goods from there to Rhoadseria was extremely expensive. During Ryoma’s second meeting with Count Salzberg, when they made their secret deal, Lady Yulia had intentionally served him this tea. She knew that when Ryoma met with Simone Christof previously, Simone had served him Qwiltantian tea too. Lady Yulia had meant it as silent admonishment for dealing with Simone. Ever since then, Ryoma had made sure to meet with Simone more discreetly. That was why Ryoma chose to serve Lady Yulia this tea today. That said, Lady Yulia had never verbally criticized Ryoma for contacting Simone.

Ryoma’s secret meetings with Simone in one of Epirus’s brothels felt like a sweet memory to him now.

“Looking back on it, that was a gentle hint that there was an information leak in the Christof Company, right?” Ryoma asked.

Lady Yulia remained silent, but Ryoma hadn’t expected a response.

I guess she can’t answer that... Ryoma thought. It would be proof that she had been betraying her husband all along.

“Well, regardless of what the truth is, I just thought this tea would be the best fit here.”

“Yes. You’re quite right, Baron Mikoshiba,” Lady Yulia replied.

A serene atmosphere hung between them. Most people would think it strange—it had only been a month since Ryoma slew her husband—but Lady Yulia didn’t hold any grudges against him for that. If nothing else, she at least kept up a serene front with him.

“It’s strange,” Lady Yulia whispered, full of emotion. “When I first met you, Baron, I vaguely had this feeling about you, but I never thought this day would really come. Yet it has, and so soon, at that.”

Ryoma nodded. “Yes. I felt the same way.”

“First, I wanted to express my deepest gratitude for accepting my father’s, Zack Mystel’s, allegiance,” Lady Yulia said. She placed her cup on the table, rose to her feet, and bowed deeply before him.

A noble lady bowing before a newly appointed baron was unthinkable in this world, but neither of them felt it was unnatural. Ryoma accepted Lady Yulia’s attitude as a given, a stark display of the nature of their relationship.

“Oh, no, your father does very good work,” Ryoma said. “Thanks to you two, I could make the final decision to settle things with Count Salzberg. And I know that you both play a big part in how our occupation of Epirus is received. Because of you, there hasn’t been any opposition. I should be thanking you.”

Ryoma wasn’t just showering her with empty compliments. Lady Yulia and her father Zack had leaked information to Ryoma about Epirus’s interior affairs and about the ten houses of the north.

When Zack Mystel first received the letter asking him to be Ryoma’s informant, he’d thought it was a joke. Then he’d suspected that it was some plot against him. That was all in the past, though.

The Igasaki clan still gathered intel for Ryoma, but there was a limit to what they could do. When the war started in earnest, Count Salzberg’s side turned more cautious and guarded. The Igasaki clan could gather information from Epirus’s streets, but intelligence regarding Count Salzberg and the ten houses became much more difficult to obtain. It would have cost the lives of the clan’s operatives to do so.

In addition to gathering intel, Lady Yulia and her father had helped Ryoma manage the fallout of the war. Had it not been for them, the occupation of Epirus wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it had.

“Your praise is excessive, my lord. I’m honored.” Lady Yulia bowed her head again. “Father hopes he can remain in loyal service and be of aid to you in the future as well.”

Lady Yulia’s attitude was sincere and earnest. By calling him “lord,” she expressed her intention to genuinely serve him. That was how it appeared on the surface, at least.

This could all be a ruse, but neither she nor her father have done anything suspicious yet. Gennou’s people haven’t reported anything shady, so I can probably use them freely. Still, how do I put them to use?

Given this world’s low literacy rate, not many people in Ryoma’s service could handle paperwork. Most commoners only knew how to write their own names, and even fewer could do basic arithmetic. However, managing internal affairs required one to both write and crunch numbers. Ryoma trusted Lione, Boltz, and the Crimson Lion mercenaries and greatly valued their combat prowess, but they weren’t very good at paperwork.

Yulia Salzberg and Zack Mystel were currently the most capable and reliable people Ryoma had to help run the Mikoshiba barony. Lady Yulia had effectively done just that for Count Salzberg ever since she’d married him, and her father was a monster of a businessman who led the emerging Mystel Company, becoming chief of Epirus’s trade union. They weren’t just good at writing and arithmetic. Litigation, office work, accounting—they were perfect for the job in many ways. Ryoma had to be wary of them, of course, but no one could deny that they were capable. Besides, while Lione and the others had their doubts about them, Ryoma wasn’t that wary of Lady Yulia and her father. After all, Zack’s secret messages had given Ryoma the final push he needed to seize the ten houses.

The two of them were highly disgruntled with Count Salzberg, so I doubt they resent me for killing him. Whether I can keep them both under my control comes down to my abilities.

They didn’t resent him—that much was true—but that didn’t mean they were keen on serving him.

That’s one misunderstanding I absolutely cannot make.

Right now, Ryoma needed all the help he could get, so he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Yes. I believe I’ll ask you two to aid me in the future. Not many of my vassals are skilled at management,” Ryoma said with a wry smile.

“Yes, understood. Father is already arranging for some promising young merchants from the union to be dispatched here, but...” Lady Yulia’s expression turned troubled.

“He can’t get enough of them yet?” Ryoma asked.

Lady Yulia nodded. “No, unfortunately not. In most situations they would be more than sufficient, but they’re not enough for your purposes...”

“Yeah, I follow. Well, you can make up for what’s missing by working in tandem with Simone.”

“Understood, my lord.”

Ryoma didn’t miss how Lady Yulia’s expression momentarily stiffened at the mention of Simone Christof’s name.

I guess the bad blood between them still bothers her.

Lady Yulia’s family owned the Mystel Company, and it had a troubled history with the Christof Company. Zack Mystel had snatched the position of union head from Simone’s father, which had led to her father growing weak, senile, and infirm. On top of that, the Mystel Company had also applied a great deal of pressure on the Christof Company. One couldn’t expect these two families to start getting along on a whim, and Ryoma didn’t want that to begin with.

A ruthless battle between two merchants... Well, I thought they might’ve gone as far as poisoning Simone’s father, but I was just assuming the worst.

Cornering and finishing off a weakened opponent was a basic tactic, but it seemed Zack hadn’t stooped to poisoning his rival, which was honestly a relief to Ryoma. He couldn’t have a murderer helping manage his domain together with the family of his victim.

I heard that before Lady Yulia married Count Salzberg, she was quite close with Simone. Maybe that’s why Zack went easy on the Christof Company.

Ryoma had gotten that feeling when he first visited that brothel, but it seemed Lady Yulia really was pressuring the Christof Company and interfering with Simone’s potential clients. Even so, Lady Yulia had no real intention of crushing the company altogether.

If that was what she wanted, she could have resorted to arson or assassination.

It almost seemed that what she really wanted was to continually harass Simone to drive her out of Epirus.

I suppose the only way I’ll know for sure is by asking her about it.

Whatever the truth was, the fact that Lady Yulia had never crossed the point of no return meant that their relationship could possibly be mended.

“You can rest easy,” Ryoma said. “Northern Rhoadseria’s commerce sphere will remain under Zack Mystel’s jurisdiction, just as it was before. I will ask you to cooperate with the Christof Company, but considering the distribution of goods, your business should flourish like never before.”

“Thank you very much,” Lady Yulia said, unable to mask her surprise. “But are you sure?”

“Yes, absolutely. Under the condition that you obey the law and act fairly and in moderation,” Ryoma said, his tone of voice an implicit warning.

Ryoma didn’t have any issues with the Mystel Company growing wealthy. All people, not just merchants, worked in order to make a profit. However, that didn’t mean one could stoop to any means to do so, and there was a limit to how wealthy one should be. Ryoma wasn’t childish enough to reject the wealthy altogether, but he wasn’t lenient enough to pardon rich people who’d rather watch the destitute starve than spare them a dime either.

“Are you talking about what you’re going to do next? That...”

Lady Yulia was referring to a message that had been forwarded to all the major companies in northern Rhoadseria’s commercial sphere. It contained only a simple outline of an idea, but the company heads had gone pale as soon as they’d read it. Only one man laughed about it—Yulia’s father.

“Yes. It’s still just a draft, so it’ll probably see a lot of revisions, but the overall direction will follow the outline. I have no intention of placing restrictions on everyone’s business, but that’s all predicated on you acting in accordance with that plan.”

“And if someone were to disregard those laws?” Yulia inquired.

“It goes without saying,” Ryoma replied with a cold smile. “They will be crushed without exception.”

Lady Yulia swallowed nervously. Business in this world ran on contracts that could be renewed each time. Even Rhoadserian law stipulated that individual contracts would take precedence.

At first glance, that didn’t seem so bad. Logic dictated that once a contract or a promise was made, one must honor their side no matter what it might entail. However, this could lead to negative consequences, because it enabled one to bind the other in a promise to do anything, no matter how absurd.

There was no cap on interest rates for debt, and there was no reason to compensate for breach of contract unless it’d been agreed upon when the contract was made. In extreme cases, both parties could agree that if one was unable to repay with money, they would instead pay with their life. William Shakespeare’s famous play The Merchant of Venice deals with this topic extensively. Of course, most people learned when they were children to not make promises they couldn’t keep, and most would agree that whoever made a promise they couldn’t fulfill was at fault. The same went for business dealings.

Be that as it may, not all contracts started with both parties on equal footing. For example, the Mystel Company, the largest merchant company in Epirus and Lady Yulia’s home, dealt with countless other companies. Most were medium- to large-scale businesses, but small stalls, retailers, and traveling merchants were also among their clientele. Were small merchants like those, whose profits were minimal, truly on equal footing with the Mystel Company when they negotiated?

The laws Ryoma was preparing to implement would revolutionize the existing trade conventions. They would set a ceiling on interest rates and outlaw retraction of credit loans, as well as tackle several other issues. It would both honor contracts and set limitations on them.

I do agree that things need to change, Lady Yulia thought.

Lady Yulia’s current standpoint was that the people well acquainted with the new laws should be the ones to enforce them. In addition, an initial investment would be necessary until things started moving in earnest. When all those factors were added up, the sum was large enough that it even made the Mystel Company pause.

Based on what he said, though, there would be advantages.

This was just her impression of the initial draft Ryoma had shown her, but the new laws would benefit the Mystel Company’s future dealings. Setting a maximum for interest rates and recompensation sums was particularly useful, and though these restrictions could limit the merchants’ freedom, it could also guarantee much profit. After all, the laws also applied to those who made them. In other words, the Mystel Company could draw a line in the sand when dealing with the Mikoshiba barony. Since nobles often made absurd demands, these kinds of limitations were appealing to a merchant family.

The implementation of these laws didn’t mean that everything would change radically all at once, especially since they would only apply within Ryoma Mikoshiba’s domain. The more pressing issue was the significance of a regional governor executing those kinds of laws.

Nobles do have a right to autonomously govern their domain, and their method for doing so is left mostly to their discretion, but...

As far as Lady Yulia knew, Ryoma’s suggested laws were beyond what a governor was allowed to do. In truth, his actions could influence the entire country’s economy. Essentially, Rhoadseria’s ruler stipulated that kind of legislation and strictly defined the responsibilities and freedoms of the nobility. In addition, they guaranteed each governor’s right to self-rule, giving them full authority on all matters of justice, legislation, administration, and military affairs within their domain.

Communication in this world was limited to smoke signals, runners, letters, and messenger birds, and with monsters and bandits prowling the highways, twenty-four-hour communication across borders was impossible. Therefore, it was difficult and inefficient for the sovereign to manage more distant domains, specifically regions along the border where war could break out at any second. The most logical solution for not just Rhoadseria but for any country was to give those regions the utmost authority and autonomy.

Regardless of how peace loving or warmongering a country might be, the only way to survive on this continent was to expand. Sitting quiet and focusing on nonaggressive defense didn’t stop other countries from trying to invade. It could maybe stall for time, but eventually things would start falling apart. Trying to defend something was much harder than fighting an opponent to the death, and that held true regardless of if one was defending a person or a country.

For example, there was a belief in martial arts called “shinbu fusatsu,” an idea that originally came from the Book of Changes, one of the five Chinese classics. While it might be a faulty translation, the closest interpretation was that those with the strength of the gods must not needlessly kill, but use their virtues to restrain themselves.

The idea was passed down into Japanese martial arts, where many interpreted it to say that the essence of divine behavior was not to kill, but rather to incapacitate. In other words, martial arts weren’t merely a weapon for slaughter. In addition, with the changing of the times, martial arts became more than a tool to increase one’s station. It became a way of life, which might have influenced the interpretation of the original belief as well.

That wasn’t the only interpretation of shinbu fusatsu, though. It could also mean that those without the strength of the gods had no choice but to slay their enemies if they were to defend themselves. This interpretation mocked the original lofty meaning, but reality often failed to align with ideals. Indeed, throughout the western continent’s history, several countries had tried to maintain a nonaggressive defense, but they had all fallen to ruin. One such country was the Kingdom of Thene, a country that Lionel Eisenheit, Emperor of the O’ltormea Empire, had consumed.

Ryoma’s way of thinking is the very opposite of the Kingdom of Thene’s policy. No, in a way, maybe it’s the same.

Was their policy the wish of Thene’s citizens after experiencing the horror of wars, or was it the result of someone’s intentions? Nonaggressive defense sounded good on paper, but it was nothing more than an ideal. And the Kingdom of Thene was far too weak to uphold that ideal. Or perhaps it had simply grown too weak.

Among the western continent’s central kingdoms, Thene had held an average amount of national power, and its politics and national policy were much the same as its neighbors. By all accounts, it was an average county with little to make it stand out. But all that had changed sixty or seventy years ago. After losing a territorial dispute with a neighboring country, the Kingdom of Thene went through a period of great change. It sought to reconcile with its neighbors, hoping to achieve peace and stability, and it avoided war with them, stressing dialogue over military action.

Thene’s ruler probably feared warring with other countries over minor disputes, so they began restricting their nobles’ rights to self-rule. Their reasoning for that was clear; even a small border dispute could escalate into a major war. Plus, if the fiefdoms each handled taxation differently, it would be detrimental to the financial growth they sought to achieve.

It was a sound idea, but many of the nobles had opposed it. No one liked restrictions on their authority, but war after war had worn the country down, and most of the citizens viewed the enacted reforms favorably. Some good came of it too. The citizens weren’t conscripted into war, and the land experienced a financial boom far beyond what was expected of a country its size. It did lead to a war with the kingdom’s nobles, but once that ended, Thene enjoyed over twenty years of stability. Sadly, Thene’s people failed to understand one thing: to the weak and impoverished, the strong and the wealthy were but targets to knock down from their thrones and devour.

Though they might be wealthy, those who refused to shed blood in war would never find true peace. So when a young Lionel Eisenheit brought war upon the land in the name of reviving his own failing country, Thene’s peaceful days came to an end. Charging in like a demon, Lionel broke through the country’s insufficient defenses and crushed the kingdom, striking it out of the history books.

Lionel Eisenheit was a warmonger, so this was an extreme example, but it illustrated that a country should use opportunities whenever possible and that nobles needed freedom to maintain a country’s safety and prosperity. That said, freedom shouldn’t be distributed equally among all nobles. A noble’s rank and their domain’s position could influence how much freedom they received.

That only stands to reason.

If Lady Yulia were in the queen’s shoes, she wouldn’t give all the nobles equal freedoms either. Counties far from the capital and near the border shouldn’t have to send runners to consult with the sovereign about every emergency, but there was no need to give governors near the capital that same amount of freedom. In fact, if a ruler were to give all their nobles equal ruling rights, the whole country would cease to function as a singular entity.

But what should be done in Baron Mikoshiba’s case?

Compared to Count Winzer’s territory in the south, Ryoma’s domain is closer to the capital, but it’s still relatively far. Even though he’s the lowest rank of noble, he should be given the highest degree of autonomy. However...

Was Ryoma smiling because he understood her concerns, or was it because he didn’t even notice them?

I doubt he didn’t realize it. But in that case...

In that case, just what was his endgame? As she thought about the answer to that question, something clicked into place.

I see. So that’s what he’s after.

There was no one reason for her realization. Fragmented bits of information had just converged to form a bigger picture, an image of a future no one in this world could envision.

But he’s different. He’s completely unlike any of us.

Lady Yulia felt inexplicably fearful of Ryoma, but at the same time, a sense of excitement and elation overcame her. With a small sigh, she reached for the teacup sitting on the table. She needed some way to calm her heart, which had begun racing.

Later that night, Lady Yulia went to the Mystel Company to report the outcome of her meeting with Ryoma.

Zack Mystel, her father and the estate’s owner, listened to her account, then smiled in satisfaction. “I see. A novel and fascinating idea. He knows what to focus on. I would love to accept him into my family as a son; he would surely help the company grow. A pity, really. He has such talent as a merchant too. Truly regrettable.”

Coming from a man who’d built up his company into a lucrative business, this was the greatest compliment of all. Yet he’d said it to the one person who wouldn’t overlook his meaning.

“Father!” Lady Yulia shouted, her fair brows rising. It was an unusual gesture for her; she always kept her emotions well hidden.

Zack’s comment was inappropriate and almost disrespectful to Ryoma Mikoshiba. This world’s class system wasn’t as strict as Japan’s was in the Edo period, but knights, royalty, and nobility still stood at the top. Zack’s lament might have sounded like he was claiming Ryoma had no talent as a governor.

Lady Yulia was perhaps being overly cautious, but considering her current position, her concerns weren’t unfounded.

Besides, accepting him as your son would mean...

Lady Yulia was undeniably beautiful, but Ryoma wasn’t even twenty years old yet. Lady Yulia was over thirty, so their age gap was substantial. But even if she wasn’t fit to be his legal wife, she could be his concubine. Moreover, their age gap wasn’t all that shocking in this world. In most cases, men spent a long time setting up their fortune and career, so they could be in their forties or so when they started looking for a bride in her teens. It wasn’t unheard of for women of high social standing to search for younger grooms either. It was perfectly possible that Lady Yulia, with her innocent yet alluring charm, could enter into an arrangement.

Nonetheless, her father’s implication that she should be sent to Ryoma was crude. After all, it hadn’t been long since her husband passed away.

I didn’t love him, and Ryoma is talented enough that I could entrust our futures with him, but...

A widow couldn’t marry her husband’s killer; it would look incriminating. Plus, Lady Yulia was already infamous among Rhoadseria’s nobility for being a foul woman and an evil wife. There were instances where a noblewoman married the victor of war to preserve the family line, but that was only in times of emergency. Lady Yulia’s new lord didn’t need to draw that kind of attention to himself, so her concern was understandable.

Zack merely stared at her, amused. “I was joking, my dear,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “No need to take my words so seriously.”

All too quickly, the smile vanished from his features.

“Or maybe you should take them seriously,” he murmured, leveling a probing glance at his daughter. “I’ve asked you to take on difficult tasks for me for years now. If there’s anything I could do for you, I’d do it. And you’re still at the peak of your womanhood. Maybe it’s just my bias as your father, but you are a beautiful woman and are sure to be of aid to Ryoma. If you truly wish to wed him, I could try talking with him.”

His words were a father’s repentance for sacrificing his daughter’s happiness for years to comply with Thomas Salzberg’s whims. Although he’d gone through hell and back to build his business, deep regret ate away at his heart.

Most marriages in this world were a means of tying families together. They weren’t the products of true love. Finances and power were the main considerations, not the affections of the people involved. They were marriages of convenience, and they contained little of the modern notions of love. Even so, those marriages weren’t necessarily unhappy or misfortunate. Given time, even unwanted connections could bloom into genuine love.

No parent gave their daughter away expecting her to suffer, but despite Zack’s hopes, Lady Yulia’s marriage had brought her only humiliation and pain. As a father, he naturally regretted forcing his daughter into such a miserable situation.

Though Lady Yulia was happy to see her father express such sentiments, she shook her head.

“Father, I’m delighted that you feel that way, but...”

There was never any love between her and Count Salzberg, but that didn’t mean his death came as no shock.

I won’t say I don’t want to marry ever again, but for now, I just want to focus on work, no matter the task. If I ever remarry, it will be much, much later.

Lady Yulia wanted to drown herself in work until Count Salzberg became nothing but a memory. A day when she would once again want to marry might arrive—a year from now, or perhaps ten—or it might not ever come. Not to mention, no matter how hard she strove to maintain her beauty, age would eventually mar it. She was still young, but there was no escaping the passage of time.

Still, if the goddess of fate will show me pity...

That thought was a reckless wager.

“I see. Well, you have plenty of time. Think it through,” Zack said, nodding. Picking up on his daughter’s thoughts, he returned to the main topic at hand. “Incidentally, since Baron Mikoshiba is intent on establishing new laws, it seems he’s seriously considering forming his own country. A country unlike any this world has seen.”

Lady Yulia sighed. “So that really is what he’s thinking...”

She had suspected as much, but hearing a third party say it drove home the importance of it all. She felt her heart might collapse under the weight of it.

Zack, on the other hand, laughed. “He attacked villages to concentrate refugees in Epirus because he expected this, didn’t he?”

Rather than go around the villages to create a census, Ryoma had concentrated the population in one place to speed up the process. On top of that, he forbade the refugees from returning to their original homes, on the condition that he would grant them fields and houses equivalent to the fortunes and assets they had before. Because of that, there wasn’t much unrest among the people, but it was certainly a burden on the Mikoshiba barony.

“So it wasn’t just to increase tensions in Epirus during the war or have them eat through our supplies faster,” Lady Yulia surmised.

“No, it wasn’t. That was part of the plan, certainly, but as far as I can see, it was more than just that. It will influence matters one, two, and even three steps ahead. The reason he won’t let the refugees return to their villages is that he sees it as a means to stop them from rebelling. His intentions don’t end there either.”

Zack took another sip of wine as he imagined the future that Ryoma was trying to create. As he did, he felt a surge of heat well up inside him—a sensation he’d long since forgotten.

“In which case, we must talk with Christof’s girl, then,” Zack stated, looking back at his daughter. “Yulia, my apologies, but could you handle her?”

“Me?” Lady Yulia asked. Her father was the leader of Epirus’s merchant union, so apologizing to Simone and handling their future relations should fall to him.

“Even though Count Salzberg played a part, it would just make things worse if I were to apologize now,” Zack explained. “Plus, you’re close to her in age, and you’re already acquainted with her. I think it’d be faster if you did it.”

Lady Yulia couldn’t argue with that; her father was certainly right. She was the best person for the job in terms of efficiency and certainty...but was that something a parent who’d just admitted to using their child should say? However, being able to switch gears quickly was how Zack had raised the Mystel Company to success in just one generation. Besides, his words weren’t entirely the product of calculating self-interest.

What a difficult man you are, father.

Yulia could only smile bitterly at him.

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