Chapter 27: Meeting Charlotte (2)

“Ooooh…”

Milton could not stop a sound of awe from escaping his mouth.

The elegant young daughters of the noble families that Milton Forrest had seen while living in the capital, and the countless beauties that he had seen on TV in his previous life as Park Moon-Soo...

Including all of them, there had been no one with features as beautiful as the lady before Milton right now.

Brilliant blonde hair and blue eyes like twin lakes, and soft skin reminiscent of white jade without a single blemish; these came together to form her aesthetically-pleasing face.

More than anything, the air she exuded was awestriking. The energy enveloping her was not the result of feminine qualities such as purity or beauty, but rather was a mysterious sense of majesty.

He had heard the saying that your soul would be taken if you keep complimenting a beautiful face, but…

Today was Milton’s first time actually living and breathing this saying.

“This would be my first time meeting you. I am Viscount Milton Forrest.”

For a moment Milton had indeed lost his soul, but he came back to his senses and formally introduced himself.

“I am the owner of Charlotte Merchant Company. I would prefer if you would call me Charlotte.”

Milton pondered as he watched her greet him gracefully.

‘She doesn’t have a surname. A commoner? … No. That can’t be.’

Her posture, her voice and tone, and down to the etiquette with which she greeted him…

The courteous demeanor of this woman in front of him was so elegant that it made Milton, a countryside noble, look rather awkward. This was not a form that could arise unless one was drilled with the proper rules surrounding etiquette from a young age, so as to artlessly imprint it into one’s body and mind.

‘She’s not a commoner. She probably hasn’t mentioned her surname to hide her identity. If anything, the name ‘Charlotte’ itself could be an alias.’

There was almost no information that Milton could conjecture about the young lady in front of him at this moment. As these things tended to go, an adversary whose identity was unknowable could be more dangerous than one who openly displayed animosity.

Milton snapped back into full focus and sat facing her.

“I’d like to first give you my thanks. It’s due to you good people that this major income has come into our stead.”

“It is my pleasure. It would be splendid if we may use this opportunity to begin forming a good relationship.”

Hearing her words along with her gentle smile, one could go well beyond the level of a ‘good relationship’ and degenerate to a sell-out serving up every part of himself to her.

‘How could a woman’s looks be so…’

If a woman’s looks were to be classified as a weapon to use, the lady in front of him would be a master class without a doubt.

Milton refocused his wandering attention and quickly got to the point.

“Although, I must admit that I simply cannot understand this, no matter how much I mull over it.”

“What are you speaking of?”

“I am speaking of your winning bids at the auction. Do you mean you can generate a profit at the price at which you purchased the goods?”

“……”

At Milton’s words, the lady took a sip from her tea without a word. As she dodged answering this question with her powerful silence, Milton continued to press on.

“You see, the other merchant companies have lodged a complaint with me. They ask why I had opened such a meaningless auction, when we appear to have already come to terms on a secret agreement.”

“Oh? Dear me, were there such bad people amongst our crowd?”

“As far as I can see, this goes beyond the realm of understanding. With all due respect, the price you bid was just that ludicrous.”

“I did not think that buying things at an expensive price would become such a problem. Did this cause trouble for you in some fashion, Viscount?”

“No, it did not.”

“Then I believe there’s no further reason for me to be questioned like this, Viscount. Would you not agree?”

‘Have a load of this woman…’

Milton could feel her backing him into a corner. It was certain that she was plotting something, but it appeared she had no plans of telling him.

If that was the case…

‘They probably have their own motives in responding to my summons so readily in the first place, right? Then should I try pulling instead of pushing?’

Milton first put on a stern expression, and spoke to the lady as if he was conceding.

“That does seem to be the case. My curiosity may have been excessive.”

“…….”

“Then it appears we have no more business to tend to. Congratulations on your success at the auction. If that’s all…”

Milton stood up from his seat as if they were finished.

But as soon as he did so…

“P-please wait just a moment.”

The branch manager who was standing behind Charlotte hurriedly held Milton back.

“Tsk…”

The chairwoman clicked her tongue at the state of affairs, and Milton silently cheered at his victory in his mind.

‘Looks like you guys really did have some sort of aim in answering my call after all.’

If Milton had not called them over himself, the other side would likely have arranged for this meeting themselves with whatever excuse they could find. Milton sat himself down again and put the ball in Lady Charlotte’s court.

“Please, if you have business left to speak of, go ahead.”

The woman sighed quietly at his words and began talking. It seemed that no advantage would come out of dragging this along any further.

“Viscount Milton Forrest. It has been brought to my attention that you shouldered your forefather’s debt as soon as his peerage was passed onto you, and you found yourself facing the crisis of having your title and fief taken from you.”

“Well, strictly speaking the title was-… Well, that’s not all that important so please continue.”

“Yes. And so you jumped into the fray at the Western Front of the Strabus Kingdom in order to remunerate the debts you owe our company. Furthermore… it appears you garnered quite the accomplishments during your service.”

“Hmm…”

Milton crossed his arms and neither confirmed nor denied her claims.

The owner of Charlotte Merchant Company formed a smile and continued.

“You brilliantly impeded the Hildess Republic’s plans of seizing the Strabus Kingdom’s supply depots in the commercial city of Pratinos. Then, you operated a supply unit through the goodwill of a frontline commander and amassed your funds. Not only that, but you overcame a crisis where Crow Fortress, the station you served, almost fell due to the betrayal of an insider. Furthermore…”

“That’s enough.”

Milton waved his hand to stop her ballooning breakdown of his activities.

“It seems you have carried out quite the investigation on me.”

“You’ve piqued my interest, you see.”

“Pardon?”

Milton felt his heart momentarily leap on its own.

“How was he able to prepare such a large sum to remunerate the debt in that short time? We investigated your past to answer this question – and this was the information we stumbled upon.”

“Oh. Yes… I see.”

‘Go figure. What was I thinking?’

For a flash, Milton was disappointed but regained his composure. In any event, it seemed it would be better to think of the woman in front of him as a wicked fox and a trickster rather than a merchant.

“As a result of those investigations, I assessed that Viscount Milton Forrest will most definitely become an important figure in the future.”

“It’s quite the honor to hear that. Then is it safe to assume that the sum you paid at this auction was an investment in my expected growth?”

“Yes, it’s safe to see it as that. To start with, the relationship between you, Viscount, and us at Charlotte Merchant Company has not exactly been cordial. If we are able to erase our bad blood at least through this ordeal, we believe it would be beneficial for the both of us.”

“I can see it would be.”

Milton nodded his head in agreement with Charlotte. But in his mind…

‘That’s a lie.’

Milton did not trust a single word that the woman – no, the wily fox – said to him.

An investment looking towards his future potential?

It sounded nice on paper, but it was too good to be true. In fact, it made Milton’s sense of alertness even greater, since these were words which sounded sweet to his ears. If he were to accept these words with delight, he may not be able to see the truth.

This was a typical song and dance that con artists would use when swindling someone.

‘What are their real goals? What do they want out of forming a good relationship with me?’

Milton could not figure out their intentions as ever.

However, it seemed that it would be more helpful to take their side rather than showing enmity – for now at the least.

“I understand now. Thank you for holding my prospects with such high regard.”

“Of course.”

“As repayment, our fief will endeavor to prioritize Charlotte Merchant Company first and foremost for future trading opportunities.”

At Milton’s words, the lady smiled and responded.

“Thank you. I look forward to the continuation of our relationship.”

Afterwards they conversed back and forth, exchanging stale compliments with each other.

Charlotte focused on acting as if her sole objective was to become acquainted with Milton, while Milton in turn drew the appropriate boundaries by acting as if he was unaware of any motive beyond that.

The conversation reached its end in this manner. Milton saw Charlotte off in person as she made her way out, saying his goodbyes.

“I hope you have a safe and easy journey home.”

“Thank you. Well then, I shall see you next time Viscount Forrest.”

With that, she walked off to her carriage.

As Milton waved her off into the distance, he talked to himself.

“She’s a grade-A fox. Let’s keep my distance and not get all wound up.”

As she made her way back after her meeting with Milton, Charlotte was lost in thought.

‘Milton Forrest, huh… was it worthwhile coming all this way after all?’

It was true that she felt Milton’s future potential was worth investing in. However, the value of the investment did not arise from the criteria of a merchant.

This lady needed the talents of Milton Forrest in a slightly different meaning.

As she arrived at her carriage, a middle-aged gentleman who was already on standby opened the stagecoach door.

“Did your business go well? Ms Charlotte.”

The woman beamed brightly as she sat in the carriage and spoke.

“I can’t be sure yet. We need to keep an eye on him for a little longer.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. But now that we’ve spread the seeds, all that’s left is to wait for the buds to sprout.”

The gentleman nodded at her words and chimed in.

“From what I’ve heard, there seems to be a substantial possibility that a territory war will occur targeting the Forrest Viscounty. What shall we do?”

“Leave them be.”

At Charlotte’s response, the middle-aged gentleman cocked his head to one side and queried.

“If the seeds we spent all that effort to spread were to be stamped out without seeing the light of day, we would just be losing our investment – would we not?”

“What I want is not some sheltered flower in a greenhouse. It’s a weed that continues getting back up even when trampled and grows stubbornly. If he’s a figure that would be stamped out with only this much, we might as well consider the investment money to be lost and dust our hands.”

At her words, the man nodded and answered.

“Understood. I shall do as you please, Ms Charlotte.”

As the carriage set off, Charlotte formed a smile and murmured to herself.

“Milton Forrest. Is he perhaps the one I’ve been looking for?”

Her voice was tinted with a hint of anticipation.

As the saying goes, one can become envious of even their own cousin buying land. In simpler terms, one could feel inferiority or envy when they see other people get ahead.

It is not a good emotion, but it is a natural part of the human condition. The important thing is accepting these emotions and controlling them.

But what happens to the small fry who cannot do this?

“3,000 gold? That greenhorn made that much?!”

“Strictly speaking, it was not 3,000 gold but close-”

“Is that important right now?!”

Viscount Harmon shouted at his chamberlain, whose only mistake was that he made an accurate report.

“Ugh… this youngin…”

Viscount Harmon grumbled to himself annoyedly.

Of the lords that governed over the three territories surrounding Forrest county, he was the most impatient. Not only that, but he also had a small heart, and was considerably greedy as opposed to his lack of competence. A small fry like him could not stay still after hearing that the Forrest fief made a killing at their auction.

“Impudent brat. How dare a youngin like him leave us out while making all that?”

The Chamberlain who was listening beside him thought that age had nothing to do with it, but did not dare to spit that out. He was well acquainted with the nasty temper of his master, Viscount Harmon.

While Viscount Harmon muttered insults about Milton as if he were placing a curse on the latter, his conviction that he could not stay still grew larger and larger.

“I should send a letter to Count Rosscaiz to hurry things along.”

Viscount Harmon, Viscount Rosswai and Count Rosscaiz had recently formed a secret agreement. They decided to instigate a territorial war to capture Forrest county, and fairly split the territory in threes between them.

For a lords’ war to occur, the rewards reaped on victory usually had to be significant.

The Forrest county was but one of the many minor fiefs of its kind that dotted the countryside. For all the pains to capture it, they would only have ended up paying more taxes to the Capital with minimal gain.

However, the Forrest territory recently had a bountiful year; and having also raised a fortune in the auction, the value of the territory changed. The three lords were furtively preparing for battle, feeling that there were significant earnings to be made if they captured this territory – even if that meant war.

As they needed to move their troops simultaneously, Viscount Harmon received the order to stay put until the time of reckoning so they could match their timing.

However…

Try as he might, Viscount Harmon did not feel he could wait much longer with his level of patience.

Winter would soon come in full force. Would it not be better to mobilize the troops and attack the enemy before then?

Furthermore, rather than all three of them attacking together and splitting the Forrest county between them, couldn’t he have everything for himself if he were to attack and win alone?

All sorts of temptations shimmered alluringly in Viscount Harmon’s mind.

Most of them had to do with creating a more bountiful future for himself. An ideal future would be one where he achieved an overwhelming victory and took the whole Forrest county under his wing, ascending to the position of Count. Then Count Rosscaiz would not be able to push him around as he pleased.

Harmon felt as if he could make this enticing future a reality, if he were to seize the day right now and mobilize his army.

“Hmmm… I shouldn’t have made that promise after all…”

He wanted to take his troops and go attack the Forrest territory at once. But the promise he had made with the other two nobles lingered too much on his conscience for him to attack first.

Ultimately, the Viscount stayed put in his considerably anxious state, like a dog waiting until it finds a place to defecate.

Anyone would be able to tell he was not at peace.

‘Hopefully at times like this, nothing out of the ordinary happens until the day of battle…’ Viscount Harmon’s chamberlain wished to himself.

However...

“My Viscount. A letter has arrived from Forrest county.”

Of course, something was always bound to happen to betray those desires.

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