Chapter 161: The Touch of the Wicked (1)

It started in a small rural village with a low production mine. The money didn’t circulate, and one by one, the younger population began to leave the village to make money in a port city in the West. If it continued like this, the small village would eventually disappear.

However, as long as there were people living in the village, there would be merchants who would regularly visit to conduct business. They usually visited the village every one to two months, but this time, they were the first to discover the accident. No, this should be called a tragedy, not an accident.

“Wh… what is this? What the hell happened?”

The merchant was devastated by what he saw in front of him — the village had been completely destroyed. The village’s buildings were broken and burnt with corpses everywhere. The merchant looked for any survivors, but it was useless; the small village had been completely destroyed without a single sound or rumor. He immediately went to the nearest supervisor to report the situation. 

Officially, the Northern region was a territory under Duke Sean Palan’s command, but the actual administrative work was done by the officials dispatched from the royal palace. When the official received the report from the merchant, he quickly sent people to investigate the situation.

However, the village was too small and there were no survivors, and so, there was no evidence to be found. In the end, it was concluded that bandits had struck the village. In the North, there were quite a few former Republican soldiers who refused to be ruled by a kingdom and disappeared into the mountains to become thieves. It was concluded that they had most likely attacked the village. The official asked the nearby villages to pay attention and also promised to find and punish the thieves. The matter was dealt with in a routine and logical manner as any such incident would normally be dealt with. 

However, the problem didn’t end there; several other villages continued to disappear. The only thing in common was that the villages were in the mountains with little outside interaction and that the villages were thoroughly destroyed with no survivors. As the number of cases increased, one more thing was found out — most of the corpses left in the destroyed villages were either men or the elderly. There were few corpses of children and women and there were even traces of someone being dragged after rebelling. In other words, it wasn’t a simple thief, but a slave trader aiming to kidnap humans. 

“The world sure is an ugly place.”

“I agree. A slave trader?”

The people living in the Northern region gathered together in twos and threes and gossiped about what had happened recently. A slave trader who could destroy entire villages and kidnap people? That was enough for the residents to be terrified. 

“But isn’t it a bit weird?”

“Huh? What’s weird?”

“There’s not a lot of slave traders. If you want to capture and sell a perfectly fine person as a slave, you have to have a slave market, and it would need a lot of money and manpower to transport and manage all that people.”

“Yeah, you’re right, but what about it?”

“How does a country not know such a huge organization is operating within their country?”

“Huh…now that I think about it, you’re right.”

“Then, isn’t Duke Palan incompetent? What use is there being a Master of the sword when you can’t even govern?”

“At least this didn’t happen when we were still part of the Republic, right?”

The people’s anxiety slowly turned into dissatisfaction with a regime that couldn’t come up with an adequate countermeasure for large-scale slave traders. When Duke Palan noticed this, he tried to calm them down, but nothing worked. The best method would’ve been to capture and punish the slave traders who were raiding villages and committing violent crimes, but Duke Palan and his men weren’t able to do so. He enforced checkpoints to the point regular merchants complained, but slave traders, or even those similar to them, couldn’t be found. The people couldn’t be convinced unless Duke Palan could produce results. The residents of the Northern region began to distrust Duke Palan’s ability to govern them.

Then, another incident happened. Some of the women captured by the slave traders escaped and they gave shocking testimonies. They had listened to the conversation between the slave traders and had heard that the Grand Duke Forrest was behind it.

***

“What?”

Milton was startled and jumped out of his seat.

“Calm down, dear.”

“How can I calm down…”

“Let’s listen until the end first.”

He restrained himself for the time being when Queen Leila held Milton’s hand and began to gently soothe him. 

‘Damn it, so you used my name, huh?’

Milton had a rough idea of what would happen next.

“Continue.”

“Yes, Sire… according to the women’s testimony…”

***

It’s said that the captured women took the chance to escape when the slave traders had let down their guard. According to their testimony, they had almost been sold to the southern part of the continent. They had been put on ships on the Western port and almost been sold to the Waterport Kingdom in the southern part of the continent. At least, that’s what they thought — that’s what they had heard when they had eavesdropped on the slave traders.

Milton’s name hadn’t actually been spoken in the conversation, but everyone who knew anything knew it — the maritime trade route between the Lester Kingdom and the Waterport Kingdom was monopolized by the Grand Duke Forrest. Out of all of Milton’s businesses, that was the most profitable one, so everyone knew about it. In other words, if you wanted to use that route, you had to be the Grand Duke Forrest’s person.

And if the Grand Duke Forrest was behind this matter, it made sense why the investigation hadn’t made any progress. If the country was behind the slave trade, then it’s impossible for it to be caught when the country was investigating it. While there wasn’t any direct evidence, this was enough for the Northern residents who had already been full of disbelief and the ‘truth’ had far-reaching influence.

“I knew this would happen. I knew that if we believed in such a corrupt kingdom, the country would turn like this.”

“From the state, noble bastards are all like this. They don’t see people with low status as humans, they just treat them like useful livestock.”

“We have to go back to the Republic. If we fell for the policies and deals that the kingdom shows us, then our descendants will become slaves for the rest of their lives.”

Voices of dissatisfaction gradually increased in the Northern regions. Until now, Queen Leila hadn’t been leading them with strength and authority, but with money, food and policy. She knew that if she forced them, they would most definitely rebel, so she didn’t have any other choice. In fact, she was quite successful as people began to not believe in republicanism more as the economy continued to develop.

However, no matter how successful a policy was, the disadvantages couldn’t be avoided. Because Queen Leila had been gently suppressing and having it naturally disappear rather than forcefully eradicating Republicanism, it had still remained in the Northern region. That was only natural. Even if her plan went smoothly, it would take three generations before Republicanism would completely disappear. 

But that time wasn’t right now. Currently, Republicanism remained strong in the North and if they were further stimulated, it would only lead to uncontrollable chaos in the North. However, that was the current situation right now.

***

“The Northern people have already begun to systematically revive Republican. Although the numbers aren’t completely accurate, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 residents would participate, Your Majesty.”

Queen Leila sighed at the messenger’s words.

“What is Duke Palan’s response?”

“He is currently gathering troops and preparing for armed conflict. However, he sent me to receive formal orders from you, Your Majesty.”

“I see. Good work. Go and rest for now.”

“Yes, thank you, Your Majesty.”

Once the messenger retreated, Queen Leila turned towards Milton.

“It seems like the Republic did something?”

“Most likely. The Republic’s intention is to stop us from intervening in the war with the Empire.”

Milton and Leila were both convinced that the Republic had something to instigate this incident. The reason they believed this was because the problem with the slave trader was obviously a deliberate manipulation. Why would the royal family do something dirty like dealing with the slave trade? The profits obtained from the maritime trade with the South were enormous and the industrial domestic output was sufficient. The country wasn’t financially squeezed, so why would they have a hand in such a dirty business? In conclusion, this was most certainly a conspiracy created by the Republic. They had most likely sent elite troops to attack the villages in the Northern regions and had operatives hide amongst the civilians to rouse the people.

“You’ve been completely beaten by Siegfried.”

Milton nodded in agreement with Queen Leila’s words.

“You’re right. We were in the middle of deciding whether we should or shouldn’t intervene in their war against the Empire, and he completely got rid of our options.”

Milton sighed. From a global perspective, this wasn’t something that could be ignored. This was something that had to be dealt with immediately.

And while Milton dealt with it, Siegfried would go to war against the Empire.

“Seriously, he really used a disgusting method. He sacrificed the citizens and stained your name with the slave trade… Should we say he’s thoroughly practical and efficient?”

“You’re right, with that bastard’s personality… hm.”

While he was responding to her, Milton suddenly felt something wasn’t right.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ah, no, um, how should I say it? I don’t have much evidence, it’s just a gut feeling…”

“What’s the matter? Don’t just keep it to yourself and tell me.”

“Do you really think this is Siegfried’s plan?”

“What do you mean?”

“How should I say it. Don’t you think the method is a bit different?”

“The method is different?”

Queen Leila thought for a moment before continuing

“Are you saying that you don’t think Siegfried would sacrifice innocent people or use strategies that would harm civilians? You think that highly of him?”

Milton smiled at her question.

“Naw, I’m certain he’d be willing to use any method, no matter how cold-hearted it may seem. But…”

“But what?”

“There’s a difference between being cold and being underhanded, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Not out of consideration for the civilians, or out of respect for his enemies, but for the sake of his pride, Siegfried wouldn’t use such underhanded ways unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“Do you have any evidence for saying that?”

“No, I already told you, I don’t have any.”

“……”

Queen Leila just stared at him, the look on her face asking what kind of nonsense are you spouting.

But Milton continued to speak with considerable confidence in himself.

“Not to mention, that bastard needs to focus on the war against the Empire right now. The uproar in the North is most likely the work of someone else.”

“So you don’t have any evidence, it’s just your gut feeling. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Exactly.”

Queen Leila nodded her head at Milton’s response.

“Then, assuming you’re right, let’s think about countermeasures.”

In any case, she decided to believe in her husband since he was oddly sharp with some things.

***

It was vague reasoning without any basis, but Milton’s prediction was correct.

The one burrowing into the North and spreading such poison wasn’t Siegfried, however, that didn’t mean it was an easy opponent. 

“Sir David, the plan to manipulate the public opinion is going smoothly.”

“You weren’t caught?”

“No, of course not, Sir.”

The man who received the Ghost’s report and smiling with satisfaction with Siegfried’s right hand, David. As Siegfried’s hidden right hand and one of his close associates, David was currently burrowing into the Northern region of the Lester Kingdom. 

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