“But… Master, how many rune knights do you wish to recruit? I believe there will be quite a few applicants.” The old steward was tactful enough to avoid the topic of rune production, nor did he ask why the contract would be with Richard and not the Archeron Family as a whole.
“Hmm… Thirty should do for now,” Richard responded.
“That’s all for now, go take care of it. Also, tell Nyris and Agamemnon that I plan to return to the Forest Plane tomorrow, we’ll meet in the Church.”
The butler left hastily. Richard exited the study as well, heading towards the warehouse in the basement to conduct the final inspection of the 8,000,000 gold’s worth of equipment that had just arrived.
This time, it wasn’t just weapons and armour. A total of fifteen ballistae were mixed into the shipment, with thirty bolts each with varying enchantments like piercing, acceleration, and tracking. There was even a batch of bolts that could release acid mist, something prepared with special consideration for the environment in the Forest Plane.
He met Coco once more in the corridor. She seemed to have a lot on her mind as she instinctively shrank back at his sight, but then she suddenly gathered her courage and took several steps forward to arrive right in front of him. She opened her mouth to speak.
And then she turned red as she closed her mouth again, not knowing how to start.
Richard frowned. He had nearly forgotten about this girl’s treachery, and not giving her any real punishment was not equivalent to forgiving her. He had just been too busy building a foundation in Faelor and the Forest Plane, giving him little time when he was back in Norland. When every minute and second counted, why would he give her the time of day?
“Richard. I… I…” the girl continued to grow more panicked, the words stuck in her throat.
Richard did his best to soften his expression, saying gently, “There’s no hurry. Take your time and say whatever you need to. Is there a reason you’re looking for me? Can the steward not help you?”
Coco finally gathered her courage, “The steward has already done his best, but… It’s about my father and brother…”
Richard stood in the corridor and listened patiently as the sobbing girl stammered her way through the story. Although she talked for a long time, she wasted a lot of time on useless descriptions and flitted from point to point, the explanation so chaotic even Richard had difficulty following completely. However, he waited the full fifteen minutes it took to understand the gist of the problem.
The issues were the same, her father’s debt and her brother’s crime. Now, however, the two were connected to each other. Much of the money Coco was sending back had been used to establish contact with various key personnel in an attempt to reduce the charges against her brother. However, this would be no easy affair; the lords and judges of the court couldn’t afford to blur the lines in such a high-profile case.
It wasn’t that their stance could not be changed, but even the slightest lowering of the sentence would need a huge price that Coco’s income could not support. Although her income was quite paltry overall, it was several times higher than that of the free Archeron warriors who struggled through life and death every day. The soldiers did not object for now— Archeron tradition emphasised that those who continued the family line were just as important as those on the frontiers— but if they found out she hadn’t even gotten into Richard’s bed yet or about the role she had played in the rebellion, things would be entirely different.
Gazing at Coco intently, Richard just couldn’t find an answer for her right away. He could only have her prepare a copy of the information about her father and brother for him to look at in more detail before he made a decision.
When Richard returned to the study that evening after finishing the inspection, a thick report had already been placed conspicuously at the centre of his table. He used an entire half hour to look through every page in detail, going through the records, accusations, testimonies, and all sorts of proof. Ten more minutes of thinking later, he found himself no better than nearly an hour prior.
The father’s debt wasn’t really a big issue, but her older brother’s disgusting acts had a huge effect in the area. There was conclusive evidence as to the crime, and the only criticism one could make of the sentence of twenty years of forced labour was that it was too light. Richard could use his authority to forcefully suppress the matter, even going so far as to declare the brother innocent, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He eventually sighed and closed the file, placing it in a basket of other documents in the upper left corner of his desk for later consideration. There was more paperwork for him to deal with tonight.
Many of the reports in the upper right corner of the desk had a strip of paper jutting out from them, which meant the steward had already looked through beforehand and added his opinion as to how they should be handled. For those, he could just take a glance through and sign off on the decision. However, there were at least twenty important matters for him to deal with himself.
Richard was feeling a little jittery, the warmth forcing him to unbutton his shirt a little. He had to be meditating or crafting runes, not dealing with these useless things. He realised he was in dire need of an assistant, someone who could aid in managing the lands. At the very least, they had to be able to take over control of the day-to-day affairs of his territory.
However, Richard was going to leave the next day, and he himself wasn’t quite sure when he would return again. He forced himself to calm down, continuing to bury himself in the pile of documents. A thought suddenly appeared in his mind: perhaps Alice would be suitable for this.
The Earl’s territory seemed to be developing greatly, becoming more prosperous by the day. Her only problem was the one common to all Archerons, a lack of time and money. It would take an enormous amount for her to accelerate growth in the early stages, and although these investments would be useful in the long-term they would not be returned soon. Alice had been just like Gaton, only inheriting a small fief from her family. In only a matter of decades she had turned that into an earldom with a hopeful populace, an aspect in which even Gaton was somewhat inferior. Gaton’s might came from his miraculous expansion, tearing down enemy after enemy on his way to the top.
In the meanwhile, Richard only had control over the Archeron island. The vassal fiefs on the mainland were all semi-independent now, the local lords not really caring for his orders with many in secret contact with enemy organisations. Even the symbol of the Archeron Family, the Blackrose Castle, had fallen into the hands of the so-called elder assembly. Unable to wipe out these thorns in his side right now, he could only pretend to see nothing and remain indifferent be it in the face of disobedience or open opposition. Now was not the time to settle matters with them.
However, that didn’t mean he was on the losing end. With the family cemetery shifted over to the island, Blackrose Castle was an empty symbol that was no longer the pillar of support behind the Archeron Family. Every powerful Archeron longed for the approval of the family tombs, so as long as the situation persisted his enemies would wear out before he did. The moment they made a move, he would be able to choose the timing and battlefield to destroy them all in one go.
Time slowly trickled away. By the time Richard was done reading through all the documents, the golden rays of sunrise were starting to peek out on the horizon. Gazing at the thick stack of documents on the table, Richard sighed. From his perspective, all of them had been trivial matters. Of course, in the eyes of the people they affected these were life-changing events.
Butlers and stewards could plan for daily life and take care of logistics, but he had no authority to take decisions on many matters regarding even the lord’s own citizens, forget external affairs. That was a problem for the lord to handle.
The old steward knocked on the door to the study at six in the morning, bringing Richard his breakfast. Richard took the information Coco had sent and thought silently for a while before passing it to him, “Take a look at this and check how to deal with it, I can’t make the decision to declare him innocent. If things really won’t work, dismiss Coco’s obligation as my partner and send her off the island.”
The old butler froze but did not say anything. As he received the document, it felt so heavy that it would drop from his hands. How was Coco to survive off the island? What was she going to use to support her family?
Afternoon arrived quickly, and Richard met Nyris and Agamemnon at the Church of the Eternal Dragon before returning to the Forest Plane with them. It hadn’t been terribly long back in Norland, but three months had already passed in plane time.
During times of quiet, the powerful were normally unwilling to stay on other planes. One could raise their strength much faster on a primary plane, and the changed flow of time between various planes did not also cause a changed flow of life. Eight years of growth was eight years of growth, whether one was on Norland or in Faelor.
The moment he returned to the Forest of Plane, Richard entered the laboratory to see Rosie’s progress. She could already draw most basic rune formations, her rate of learning not too much slower than his own back in the day.
When he entered the laboratory she was leant over the worktable fully focused on runecrafting, not noticing his arrival at all. She was dressed to ease movements, her long, simple gown tight around the hips and hair tied into a bun atop her head. Still, she was stunning even without any makeup.
Watching her, Richard suddenly remembered an old proverb that said men hard at work were the most charming. Right now, he felt women were no worse.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA