Chapter 23: Homeward (2)

“My Lord, we have a guest from the Charlotte Merchant Company.”

‘What was to come, has come.’

Upon receiving the chamberlain’s report, Milton had a faint smile.

“Guide them to the parlor. Ah, and don’t serve us tea. It’d be a waste.”

With that slightly petty order, Milton headed towards the parlor and saw the sullen expression on the face of the Charlotte Merchant Company’s manager.

“It’s been awhile. How have you been?”

Seeing the faint smile on Milton’s face, the manager gritted his teeth.

“Yes, My Lord. Thanks to you, I’ve been very well.”

Thanks to Milton heading into the battlefield, the manager had been in trouble with the Charlotte Merchant Company’s Headquarters. Since he could have lost his managerial position, it was only natural for him to grit his teeth at Milton.

“I’m glad to have been of help and to see your bright expression… it’s certainly rewarding.”

“……”

The manager’s face hardened at Milton’s blatant sarcasm. Instead of continuing the conversation with Milton which only served to raise his blood pressure, the manager decided to quit with the small talk and got down to business.

“The total amount Viscount Forrest borrowed from us is 10,500 gold. Initially, 8,500 gold were borrowed with the fief as collateral and an additional 2,000 gold with the title as collateral.”

“Did I do that?”

“Yes, My Lord. Surely you’re not trying to back out of it now?”

Unintentionally, the manager raised his voice.

“Because you participated in the war against the Strabus Kingdom, interest wasn’t charged. However, if you do not pay fifty percent of your debt within this month, we will seize your collateral, My Lord.”

The manager had briefly investigated Milton’s situation before coming. Milton had gone to the battlefield to avoid the debt but now…

‘They said he didn’t make a big enough contribution and was discharged in disgrace? What an idiot, he couldn’t even do anything over there. There’s always useless people everywhere.’

This was the impression the manager had of Milton. Because Milton’s achievements on the Western Front were reduced as much as possible by the higher-ups, there was a limit to the information available to the Charlotte Merchant Company. Not to mention, Nelson had dealt with Milton’s dismissal process as quickly as possible. Given the limited official information available, it was reasonable for the manager to consider Milton to be pathetic.

“Fifty percent… that’s a lot of money. And I have to repay all that within this month?”

“That’s what you’ve agreed to on the contract. Please don’t blame me…”

“Fifty percent is bothersome. I’ll just pay off the whole thing now.”

“…My Lord?”

The manager was startled by Milton’s words.

Milton handed him a check, “It’s an official check issued by the Strabus Kingdom. It's exactly 10,000 gold and I’ve prepared 500 gold in cash, so I will go and get it for you now.”

“……”

“What’s wrong? You’re not going to take it?”

“Ah, no, My Lord. That’s…”

Patting his shoulder, Milton put the check directly into the manager’s pocket.

“Now that you’ve gotten the money, get out of my sight. You’re not someone I want to see often nor are you a beauty.”

The manager might have a lot of issues with Milton, but Milton had just as much against him. Ultimately, Milton had to join the battle because of the debt owed to the Charlotte Merchant Company. And so, the manager left the Forrest Manor after writing Milton a receipt and receiving the money. Having been thrown out, the manager had a slightly dazed expression on his face.

“How… how did he earn this much money in only a year?”

Even though he had received the money owed, it left a bitter aftertaste. Assuming Milton would not be able to pay off the debt, the manager had reported to the Headquarters that he would be able to seize the estate and the title. However, since Milton had paid off the debt, he had now falsely reported to the Headquarters.

“Damn… am I getting screwed over again?”

***

With his debt repaid, all of Milton’s problems were resolved. Now it was time to think about the future.

‘But I guess… it’s impossible to live in complete peace?’

Before joining the war on the Western Front, Milton tried to live a peaceful life as an ordinary nobleman. But his thoughts had changed after returning from the Western Front. Currently, it was a confusing time where blood was spilled due to a confrontation of ideologies. While the history of mankind was said to be a history of war, behind every great war was a conflict of ideas. The Northern Republicans would never stop trying to spread their ideologies across the continent. They firmly believed if they conquered the world, there would be peace throughout the continents and paradise would be established.

‘What bullshit.’

Milton didn’t agree. Having spent his entire life in a democratic country, Milton believed Republicanism was a loophole-filled system. While the current society wasn’t without problems, every society had its problems. There was no perfect system for a perfect society. However, it took countless lives before Milton, no Park Moonsoo, and the other twenty-first century people to realize this. And this world was going through that same process now. Chaos was inevitable, particularly where Milton lived - the Lester Kingdom that bordered the Republic. Unlike the Strabus Kingdom, Lester Kingdom wasn’t warring with the Republic, but there were always confrontations at the border. In other words, he was living in a time and country where a war might break out at any moment. For him to survive in this chaotic era…

'I need strength. Power, money, military power, information power, etc. Whatever it may be, I must have the strength to protect myself. This is that kind of era.’

Milton decided to strengthen himself and prepare for the future than live the peaceful life of the present. When it came to strength as a lord in this era, it was military power. Unlike the nobles in the Capital, military power was an indispensable part of power for the nobles at the border.

If the villagers rebelled, the nobles had to be able to suppress them and to fight if there was a conflict with the neighboring fief. Of course, a conflict with the neighboring fief wasn’t a common occurrence since the loser could lose everything. But it was necessary to prepare for something that could happen at any moment.

Regarding military power, Milton, fortunately, had a trump card. Jerome Taker was an Expert Class Knight and disregarding his status, he was an excellent teacher. Having raised his class to Expert, Jerome was motivated and stubbornly insisted he would turn Rick and Tommy to Expert Class as well. Because of this, the two complained every day but gradually their Strength stats increased.

“I can leave the Knights’ training to Jerome, but the soldiers are still a problem.”

With a sigh, Milton opened the Manor’s status window.

Territory - Forrest Territory

Population - 7,360 people

Funds - 7,550 gold

Main products - wheat, barley, oats

Military power - 4 Knights. 50 Probationary Knights. 10 Calvary. 100 Infantry. 50 Archers.

Disregarding the Knights and probationary knights from the mercenaries, there were less than 200 soldiers. To be honest, he could increase the size of the troops if he wanted to. Soldiers were a very popular profession for commoners, so a recruitment announcement would attract many people.

However, it’s not just about recruiting soldiers. They have to be fed, trained, armed, and given a monthly salary. Although they didn’t cost as much as Knights, soldiers still cost money. Basically, just having an army would have maintenance costs.

Even after paying off his loan from Charlotte Merchant Company, Milton still had quite a lot of money left. Without a doubt, 7,550 gold was the most amount of money Forrest Manor had since its creation. Even so, he couldn’t spend it willy nilly. The first priority when increasing the number of soldiers was to create conditions that could sustain that increase.

“Should I earn more money? But we have a buffer this year, so it won’t be as bad as before.”

Since the early times, money begets money. As long as there was a buffer, things won’t get as bad. In fact, while Milton had been operating the supply units at the Western Front, he had frequent contacts with the merchants of the prosperous Forrest City. Because of this, he had gained experience in commerce.

‘I wonder whether there are any great investment opportunities.’

Just as Milton was debating how to spend the money, “My Lord, I have something to report.”

Seeing how Max had already reported in the morning, Milton knew something had happened.

“What is it?”

“Some of the merchants are saying they would be willing to buy the excess food from our territory, My Lord.”

“Food? Ah... now that I think about it, the overall harvest wasn’t great this year.”

“Yes, My Lord. Due to the poor harvest, food prices have risen considerably. And because you went to the battlefield, we were exempted from taxes this year, so we have quite a bit of extra food.”

“Is that so? Then if we sold the extra food, we’d earn more money.” Milton was ecstatic.

He knew it was darkest under the candlelight but to think the ability to earn more money was right under his nose. And here he was trying to think up ways to invest the money, how silly.

“Right. So then, which merchants contacted you about this?”

Seeing the anticipatory look on Milton’s face, Max read out from the list in his hands.

“Cornell, Charlotte, Bemerick, Romania Merchant Companies, and…”

“Wait, wait a minute… Just how many merchants reached out?”

At Milton’s question, Max looked at the list.

“Nine merchants reached out looking to buy the extra food, My Lord.”

“Nine?”

Milton was shocked. Forrest Manor was a secluded country manor in a remote region of the country. At most, merchants would visit once a year, but to have nine merchants contacting them? Since he was born, this had never happened before.

“Food prices have gone up that much?”

“Yes, My Lord. Not only was it a poor harvest, but the Strabus Kingdom is also importing food in large quantities. So the prices went up and the merchants are desperate to secure the stock.”

“Strabus Kingdom is importing food…? Ahhh. I see.”

Milton understood what was going on. Strabus Kingdom planned to launch a massive attack this spring. Although winter in the Grey Mountains was long, the snow would melt in April and the country would be able to move. Knowing that the Hildes Republic was in the midst of a famine, the kingdom was mobilizing its military with the intent of pushing them out. The answer was simple -- when a large army moves, it requires a large number of supplies to maintain it. And if the Strabus Kingdom, whose food production is pretty bountiful, is importing food, then they’re preparing for a large-scale attack.

‘Thanks to that, food prices in neighboring countries, like this one, are skyrocketing. Which is great for me.’

Milton couldn’t miss this opportunity.

“How much surplus food is there in our estate now?”

“800 bags of wheat, 1,100 bags of barley, and 600 bags of oats, My Lord.”

“And there won’t be any issues if we didn’t have that surplus?”

“Yes, My Lord. After multiple calculations, the surplus is the amount left after subtracting the emergency stockpile.”

“Good. In that case, tell the merchants we will be auctioning off the surplus food.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“And quietly inform the other merchants of the auction as well.”

“The other merchants, My Lord?”

Milton gave Max a bright smile.

“Got to make this a competition.”

Milton had decided to earn a lot of money with this opportunity.

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