Chapter 71

The Aragon Empire was wide, so incomparably vast. It was impossible for the emperor and the imperial army to rule over such a large land and maintain its security without help. Therefore, the first emperor distributed the authority to rule over sectors of land to various founding contributors in exchange for taxes. Thus, around half of the empire was ruled by local authorities. They were the High Lords of the empire.

Since the establishment of the empire, there were six such High Lords, but over time, the number increased to thirteen. The high lord families that accompanied the founding emperor were more prestigious than their counterparts that had joined later. The lords that ruled the lands on the outskirts of the empire were less powerful, and their status varied on how early they had joined into becoming lord over a territory. The lords with shallow histories held less power and influence in political matters and in status.

The Bresia County was one such family. They had become high lord over the Sisak territory only a decade ago. The Great Territory of Sisak was located on the far eastern part of the empire. The Bresia family bought their land with money, yet, their position was significantly lower than other high lords of the empire.

The land of Sisak was quite large but mountainous and barren even though the Bresia County had paid a sum equivalent to 30% of the empire’s annual budget in order to obtain it. Still, Count Bresia was satisfied. He was never interested in institutional society and imperial politics from the beginning. All he ever wanted was his own estate.

Originally, Sisak was a province that was ruled by an administrative official dispatched by the emperor. The administration constantly had petty quarrels with the Bresia family. However, the officials and imperial soldiers all left when Count Bresia bought the land.

The count had finally achieved sovereignty over the land. But the county was the only one that was happy.

As imperial troops numbering close to 2,000 left the land, the land of Sisak became unguarded. Count Bresia obtained his title of high lord by paying an equivalent price, but he only had three knights and around two hundred soldiers.

And to pay the huge sum to obtain the land, he had spent half of his entire savings. To compensate, he squeezed the people of the land for taxes, and ultimately didn’t bother to enlist more soldiers to secure the land. It resulted in a barren land with a deficient number of soldiers. He was a high lord who sucked on the blood of the people of his land.

On top of the bandits and robbers, monsters that were hiding in the deep forests and canyons started to attack the villages and farms whenever they had the chance. Eventually, all villages organized their own line of defense, but there was a limit to the efficiency of untrained men.

Ultimately, Sisak became a territory that saw the most number of mercenaries come and go even though there was no territorial dispute or war.

***

“One more drink!”

“Kuhaha! She’s become quite zippy!”

“Oh, come on! Order another dish as well.”

The sun was high in the sky, but the pubs of Elma, the second largest town in Sisak, was bustling with people.

Elma was an administrative town that hundreds of imperial soldiers and administration had resided in the past. Originally, there were over 3,000 residents in Elma, but now, that number had decreased to around 2,000.

Jingle! The pub door opened with a ring, but none of the mercenaries paid attention. They were absorbed in their respective activities as they drank and dealt with the young waitresses that were basically prostitutes.

Three people came in through the door. All wore dark robes with the hoods covering their faces. A girl, who seemed to be around 13 or 14, came to the three people’s table at a quick pace.

“Welcome. Drinks, food, women, we have everything.”

“Two beers and one chicken. I’ll have fried rice and bacon for food.”

The girl was momentarily surprised at the mercenary’s voice, which was cold and low, but then replied with a friendly smile.

“You must be familiar with Sisak to be looking for fried rice, sir. Just a moment please. I’ll go get the beers first.”

The girl bowed then quickly walked back to the kitchen. The mercenaries harassed the young girl with lustful eyes, but she paid it no attention as if she were used to it.

“I thought rice was only eaten in the south, but it’s a little unusual here, Lo… Sir Valt.”

Isla took off his hood as he spoke, and Raven replied as he also took off his hood.

“Sisak has a lot of mountains, so it’s hard to build large wheat farms. But thankfully, it gets a lot of rain which makes it suitable to build rice paddies in the mountains. Be careful of how you address me, by the way.”

“I’ll remember it, Sir Valt.”

The title “my lord” was used to address nobility that were usually quite high in status and owned territory. If used carelessly, it could arouse suspicion or draw attention to them. On the other hand, “sir” was a title used for common nobility, as well as free knights so there was no problem using it.

“Here are your beers! Alcohol is to be paid for in advance. 40 Bronz.”

“Here.”

Cutting off the girl’s words, Raven presented four coins and an additional silver coin on the table. This startled the girl as she quickly took the silver, and put it into her clothes before getting closer to Raven. She smiled.

“How can I help you? Ask me anything.”

She was quick-witted and picked up on things fast as she worked in a pub full of mercenaries. Raven took a sip of his beer, then spoke in a low voice.

“How many knights does Baron Nobira, the lord of Elma, have? What are their names?”

“It used to be three, but now there’s two.”

“Their names? All three of them.”

Raven asked once more, trying hard to stop his voice from shaking. The girl looked around and came in even closer before speaking in a hushed voice.

“Sir Derek Ramelda, Sir Ruv Tylen, and Sir Gray Valt. But Sir Valt died 3 years ago because of that incident…”

The girl blurted. Even though it had been some time, it seemed to be hard to bring up such a sensitive topic.

“Then Sir Gray Valt… what happened to his territory?”

Raven was a little choked up as he spoke to the name of his dead father. But the girl whispered without noticing.

“The town of Moncha that belonged to Sir Valt went over to Sir Tylen. Right now, his second son, Jess Tylen, is basically the owner of the village.”

“Jess… Tylen.”

“…..!”

The girl was spooked. She had never heard a name spoken with such a dreary and dark voice.

“No survivors from the Valt family?”

“None. The Town of Moncha was also in a mess after the incident. Lots of torture, some dead. It is called a village, but it is a huge wreck. Now, it’s basically a rural farming village. Oh, it seems like the dishes are ready. Then…”

The girl whispered quickly, then headed back towards the kitchen while moving through the mercenaries.

“……”

Raven’s eyes shook as he stared at the girl’s back.

Gray Valt. As he expected, his father was already dead. As well, the village of Moncha, which was given to his father as a knight of the Nobira Barony, had become a rural farming village.

Raven’s father, Gray Valt, received the village in return for ensuring its security. Around 50 percent of the arable land in the village belonged to Gray Valt, and he had leased the land to the villagers. None of them were prosperous, but they weren’t poor either. In this matter, the Valt family and villagers had lived in harmony.

But after the treason, Gray Valt had died, and the villagers had become serfs.

Moncha was a farming village. Most of the empire’s citizens were peasants. Ordinary peasants cultivated the land for whoever owned the land and shared in half of the harvests.

But serfs were different. They were considered the property of the landowner, only receiving enough to continue their survival. They had no freedom, and no identification token. They were literally slaves.

“Here are the dishes you ordered. Do you have any more questions?”

The girl brought the dishes to the table, then looked up at Raven.

“There seem to be more mercenaries compared to the last time I was here. Are they being hired by Elma?”

“What? Did you come here without knowing?”

The girl looked at Raven in wonder and Raven nodded in return.

“I’ve got business in Bresia, not here.”

“I see. Most of the mercenaries here will be employed by Sir Tylen or Sir Ramelda. The two families have been in a dispute.”

“Hmm…?”

Raven narrowed his eyes.

Tylen and Ramelda were both knights under Baron Nobira, the lord of Elma. Even though the knights serving under the same lord may not get along well, it was very rare for them to actually get into a fight.

“The town of Moncha that is being occupied by Sir Tylen is located right next to Sir Ramelda’s land. They have been on bad terms for the past three years because of that, but it seems like they are getting ready to settle it once and for all this time. Both are making excuses that they’re recruiting mercenaries to fend off monsters, but everyone knows that they’re just greedy for each other’s land.”

“Hmm, so Baron Nobira isn’t planning to interfere?”

At Raven’s words, the girl smiled and shrugged.

“Well, the lord doesn’t really care. It does not matter who ends up with the lands, the lord is going to receive the tax anyways.

“Hey! Come take our orders!”

“Yes! Well, I’m a little busy so…”

“Yes, you can go.”

As the girl trotted off elsewhere, Raven took a sip of his beer. Then Isla, who had been remaining silent until now, spoke in a low voice.

“Lo…, Sir Valt, what are you going to do?”

After a moment of thought, Raven answered as he took in another sip.

“We’re going to stick to Derek Ramelda.”

“Yes.”

After answering, Isla remained silent as he ate and drank.

Anyone else might have been curious why Raven was asking around about Baron Nobira, a mere subordinate of Count Bresia, and about Nobira’s knights. Isla, however, was not interested at all.

Isla had already sworn his loyalty to Alan Pendragon, and he had no other thoughts than to follow his lord through anything. But, the other being was different.

[Ray, is the man named Tylen the human who set Ray up in the past?]

Soldrake, the only being in the world who knew about Raven’s past, asked a question. Raven nodded heavily.

“Yes. Ruv Tylen… That bastard….”

It all started with a letter; a letter with a red-colored seal of an unknown family. Ruv Tylen, his father’s friend, had handed that letter to Raven. If Raven was to deliver the letter to Count Bresia, he would recommend Raven to become a knight in training in the County along with his own son, Jess. It was a goodwill shown by a friend of his father towards an illegitimate son of the Valt family.

The offer was accepted without hesitation. There was no room for suspicion, as Jess Tylen was to accompany Raven as well. If he stayed in the village of Moncha, he would never achieve anything anyways. He would perhaps become a soldier in Baron Nobira’s family and clean up after his older brother, who would most likely succeed his father.

Raven had only told his brother the story, then ventured to the count’s castle with emerging hope. When he delivered the letter and a recommendation to Count Bresia with Jess, he had thought everything would work out well.

But the next morning, everything changed. Jess, who had come along with him, brought another letter sealed with the same seal as the letter delivered yesterday, and talked to Count Bresia and his knights telling them that the dirty bastard had changed the letters.

As soon as Count Bresia heard this, he ran off somewhere with a blue face. He came back in the time it took to drink a cup of tea, and pointed his fingers towards Raven, calling him a traitor.

Raven's hands were cuffed, and chains were wrapped around his body. Less than a day later, all the members of the Valt family, including his father and brother, were dragged in, their bodies bound.

Raven had no idea what was going on. He was tortured and asked where he received the fake letter from. His father and brother were tortured along, desperately defending Raven, saying that he was too young to have planned this himself.

Raven knew nothing about what had happened, and neither did his brother and father. Their tendons were cut, needles pierced the skin under their nails. Even their eyeballs were pulled out. Raven begged them to call Jess and Ruv Tylen, but to no avail.

Three days later, Ruv Tylen came late at night. After giving a gold coin to the torturer, Ruv Tylen ignored Raven and had a short conversation with his dying father.

Then the next morning, his father confessed to Count Bresia that he was responsible. He said he had received five gold bars to tell his second son to deliver the letter. The eldest son had to continue the family, so he sent his dirty, illegitimate son, whom he didn’t care about, to deliver the letter…

Gray Valt, a loyal knight who had never told a lie in his life, told his first and last lie as he shed tears of blood.

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