Chapter 34

A moment of silence passed.

Alan Pendragon’s voice was then heard once more.

“What does the chief of Riverbelt think?”

“Yes, Ah, well, we’re fine. I will follow the will of the Pendragon family.”

Bilbo answered with great anxiousness.

“Is that so? I see. Well, it seems Bearville and Setin Village share the same thoughts as Pala. But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do those things… What are you planning to do then?”

Robinson gave a slight flinch before slowly raising his head.

“Then we ask you just for the tax reduction and give autonomy to our three villages. We don’t have enough people to build joint farms, so we will set up our farmland and pay you thirty percent taxes for three years.”

“…

Pendragon remained silent. Bilbo gulped and looked around at the situation.

Unless one was a fool, it was evident that the village heads were threatening Alan Pendragon with the labor that their villages could supply.

‘Heehee. What can you do? You’ll have no choice but to agree to our request. It’s not like you can kill us all because you don’t want to comply.’

Robinson and the two heads gave a sly grin, their heads still bowed low. Alan Pendragon was still a mere child and he wouldn’t be able to turn down their requests so easily.

Even if the mills and the mines were reopened, they had no use if there weren’t any workers to run them. It didn’t matter if Alan Pendragon didn’t agree with their initial request. All they had to do was adjust the compromise to the level they wanted from this conversation and…

“Let’s do that then.”

“H, huh?”

The three men raised their heads at the unexpected answer. As they looked up, they recoiled at what they saw, a smile on the face of the man that sat on the dragon throne. It was a smile that was so cold that it didn’t match with the gentle, calm voice of Alan Pendragon.

“Thirty percent for three years, then back to regular rates afterward. Let’s do that.”

“Is that truly your will..”

“How pretentious! How dare you doubt the words of the master of the Pendragons!”

“Heuk!”

Robinson’s neck shrank in like a turtle at the scolding words of Melborn. But Alan Pendragon waved his hand at the sight.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. People can make mistakes when they’re surprised. Anyway, I’ll keep going so raise your heads.”

All the residents in the palace slowly raised their heads.

“I accept your demands. I will grant you autonomy. Just run your farms on your own and pay taxes on time. But…”

He stopped his words for a moment.

Struck with ominous feelings, the three village heads loudly gulped. Alan Pendragon continued his words with a bright, beautiful smile.

“You know who's the owner of the land outside your village, right? Every time you step on my land, you will pay one gold coin each. One person, one step, one gold coin. Do you understand?”

“…!”

Robinson’s body stiffened up with a shocked expression.

“Of course, I won’t interfere with anything that goes on inside the villages. You can play king and do as you wish! Ah, before I forget, since it’s my land, I won’t place any soldiers near your village. You said you’ve been keeping order with vigilantes for three years, right? Well, I’m sure they will be delighted to keep up the same task. You three may leave now.”

Robinson and the two village heads stayed frozen in their place with stunned expressions. It was written autonomy, but read imprisonment.

Besides, they were to protect the towns on their own? If the rumors reached the hidden bandits, it was obvious where they would target to loot and steal from.

“What are you still doing here? I don’t have time.”

The guards started to approach the three men at Alan Pendragon’s apathetic words.

“Y, y, y, your grace!”

Reality had struck Robinson with the predicament he was in. He flopped down, his face touching the ground.

“I, I will do everything that your grace commanded me to the first time you spoke! Taxes, payment, production! I’ll do everything as you say! Please, show us generosity!”

“Ah, p, please show us generosity!”

Two other representatives and their residents all knelt simultaneously. But Alan Pendragon was silent. Amid the breathless silence, he rose from his dragon throne.

“You! Do you think the Pendragon family is powerless?”

“Heuk! N, not at all.”

“Or are you commanding me, the master of the Pendragons, to revoke my decision?”

Even though it was early summer, the voice of Alan Pendragon sent chills down the backs of everyone present. Those kneeling on the ground were shocked and could not return any words. They shook with fear and sweat poured down their faces as if it was raining. Bilbo and the residents of the Riverbelt village also shivered in their place.

“Well, since it’s the first time, I’ll be generous to you.”

“Ah…”

Robinson raised his head as if to greet angels descending from heaven.

“I, Alan Pendragon, master of the Pendragon Duchy, command the villages of Bearville, Setin, and Pala. Taxes will be the same as before. Salary for the mines and mills will remain the same. You will offer up the same amount of grain. Your three villages will not receive any of the produced goods from the mines and the mills for one year. If you don’t like these terms, feel free to make your living inside your villages with autonomy.”

“…

Robinson and the village heads remained silent, shaking in their place. Guards walked up to them and raised them from their place, before escorting them out of the palace. Bilbo’s face turned pale at the sight of three men being accompanied out of the palace. It was the same scene he saw when he was entering the palace.

“Let me see, so only Riverbelt is left?”

Bilbo was watching the three men be taken away and jumped at the voice of Alan Pendragon.

“Yes, your grace.”

“Riverbelt will be held to the first policy. I heard you were rebuilding the town, so you probably require a lot of things. Tell me, what do you need?”

“Y, yes! We are short of seeds for the fields and farming equipment. A, and we need things to rebuild the hou…”

“You’ll need tools and materials such as wood. General Melborn, provide them with the required materials immediately, and set the interest at ten percent per year for loaning them the materials for five years.”

“Yes, your grace.”

Melborn smiled and bowed his head.

“How’s your situation with food?”

“Um, w, we have some food, but now that we have more people returning to our village…”

“Two months’ worth of wheat for a hundred people, five pigs, and ten sheep. I will give you this, think of it as a present. Riverbelt is right next to Elsen River, right? For the remaining year, one mile upriver and downriver from your village will belong to Riverbelt village. Also, I will not charge any tariffs on goods coming from your village for the next year. What do you say? Is this enough?”

“Ah…”

Bilbo was speechless and stood in his place with his mouth hanging open. The scene was similar to how Robinson had reacted, except the connotations of the actions were completely different.

“Hm? What, do you need anything else?”

“N, no… that is enough, no it is more than enough that I… Sob.”

Eventually, thick tears started flowing from the eyes of Chief Bilbo.

The meetings with the representatives of each village proceeded smoothly. After a while, Raven met with all eighteen representatives when the clock passed noon. He stood up from his throne, moving his head left and right to ease his stiff neck.

“I would rather set out on another expedition. That was arduous.”

“You did very well, your grace. I, Melborn, was truly inspired today.”

Melborn bowed his head with a bright expression. His demeanor was in complete contrast with how he had been acting during the meetings.

“Don’t mention it. It was all thanks to you, General Melborn. I just acted as you told me to.”

“No, no, your grace. Even if I told you the basics, not anyone can appropriately utilize the carrot and the stick according to the situation. You were excellent, your grace.”

“It’s nothing…”

Raven came down from his throne feeling humbled and yet awkward. Melborn had informed him of all required information regarding the different villages, their characteristics, and what to watch out for during the meetings. Melborn had served as General of Conrad Castle for decades, and he knew everything about the duchy inside and out. Raven had sought his advice after talking with Elena Pendragon about his worries.

From the locations of the villages to their population, specialty products, and geography, there was nothing that Melborn didn’t know. Even the tax and grain tax rates had been advised by Melborn. He had advised in such a way that the burden on the people would be minimized, while the duchy could benefit as much as possible.

Of course, it was Raven’s judgment when he showed kindness to those who obeyed him and gave no mercy to those who dared defy him. But ultimately, the meetings with the representatives would not have gone as smoothly as it had without the help of Melborn.

“General Melborn, in the future, please take care of all issues regarding our territory, especially the mines. Just make sure to give me reports.”

The middle-aged man’s ability was crucial to Raven who only excelled in battle. Raven knew this fact, which was why he decided to leave the affairs of the duchy in Melborn’s hands.

“Huh? N, no, how could you say that. I am glad that you trust me to that degree, but I think I am better suited to take care of the matters of Conrad Cas…”

“This is an order. Until I say otherwise, please take care of our territory.”

“…

Melborn closed his mouth and made eye contact with Raven. The gaze of a middle-aged administrator and a battle-worn warrior clashed in the air. Melborn spoke in a low voice, breaking the awkward silence.

“You cannot trust anyone that easily, your grace, even if they are your subordinates.”

“You aren’t just anyone.”

“What if I were to steal the duchy’s wealth? Besides, how can you say such things with ease when you aren’t completely aware of my abilities?”

Raven was surprised by Melborn’s attitude. The atmosphere surrounding him was incredibly sharp, unlike his usual self. It became even clearer that not just anyone could become the General of a duchy. But Raven burst into laughter after staring at Melborn for a moment.

“Then let me ask you one question. How many years was I in bed for?”

“Three years. Why do you ask?”

“Then what have you been doing for the past three years?”

“Excuse me?”

Melborn was unable to comprehend Raven’s words and frowned. However, the middle-aged man’s eyes sparkled as if he noticed the hidden meaning of Raven’s words.

“According to what you say, isn’t it only normal that you should’ve taken over the duchy in the three years when I was unable to take action? If it was me, I would’ve been able to do it in only one year. But instead of taking over, I heard business went on as normal during my absence, all thanks to a certain someone. Hm, I don’t know whether I would call this someone intelligent or foolish… Well, anyway…”

Raven patted Melborn’s shoulders twice before turning his body.

“I think that someone is competent and loyal enough to continue his good work in running the duchy. Then, I leave it to you, general.”

“…

Melborn blankly stared at the young man’s shrinking back.

“Haha, I think this old man is about to get busy soon. Hahaha…”

The self-claimed ‘old man’ had a bright smile, like that of a young man, spread over his mouth.

***

“I’ve already heard the stories. You did a great job.”

“I shouldn’t take credit, it was all thanks to General Melborn’s efforts. Anyways, I was thinking of assigning General Melborn to oversee the entire Pendragon territory and the matters of the mines as well.”

Raven and Elena sat facing each other. It was the first in a long time since the two had gathered together to have tea.

“I agree. General Melborn is a huge cornerstone of our family. It must have been frustrating for him to only take care of Conrad Castle. This will be a nice change of pace for him. I think this is a great decision. I’m proud to have you as my son.”

“E, ehem!”

Raven felt awkwardly embarrassed by Elena’s eyes that were full of affection and trust. It caused him to turn his head and cough in vain.

“A, anyway, I think we should be able to reopen the gold mine, iron mine, and the lumbermill in about fifteen days and get them working again. Since the crystal mine is located further away, I think it’ll be better for me to personally visit it with soldiers.”

“You’re going to head there personally?”

Elena’s expression darkened at Raven’s words.

“Yes. I need to look over the mine and the lumbermill we received from the Seyrod family as well. I’ll also be able to meet the leader of the centaurs on my way there as well.”

Elena took on an even grimmer expression.

“Hm. The Ancona Orcs reside in the forest due to their friendship with Duke Klein, but the centaurs are…”

“I know that they are difficult to talk to, those elf-copying bastards.”

Centaurs.

Half-horse, half-human. Similar to orcs and goblins, they were intelligent and could speak the human language. Instead of being called monsters, they were called demi-humans.

Centaurs lived in deep forests or on top of large mountains in big groups. They detested other races, especially humans and orcs, but were fond of elves.

Their reasoning was fair.

Elves were a race that claimed themselves to be the guardian of the forest, just like the centaurs. As humans and orcs recklessly cut down the trees and destroyed the forest for their benefit, it was only natural for the elves to loathe them.

The same held true for the centaurs that resided in Ancona Forest.

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