CHAPTER SIX: PLANTING THE SEEDS
"There we go!" Jean said as he dropped a bunch of scrolls and books onto an old wooden table. It'd been two days since they'd arrived at Pordenfers and they hadn't done much but inspecting the town and otherwise lazy about. Today however, Saito had decided to get to matters and so Charles had retrieved every document concerning the shire from the local church's archives: maps, plans, blueprints, graphs, reports, everything. Since the tavern was the only stable place in town besides the church, they'd chosen it to serve as their provisional headquarters.
"So… this is all we've got to work with…" Malicorne sighed in exasperation over the amount of material.
"Huh? I thought you were used to these kinds of things, being a noble and all," Saito commented.
"Me? Oh no! I've got other people who do that for me," he replied.
"Ah… then… does anybody here know where to begin?"
"Well, these houses kind of look like shit, so maybe you should start with those," Jean suggested. The other nobles in the room flinched at the young man's inappropriate choice of words, while Saito grunted at the mere fact that it was Jean that'd spoken up, but choose to follow his suggestion anyway.
"I see you point," he grumbled before continuing. "Very well then, as we've all been able to see, every single building in this town seems to be thoroughly rotten, so I believe that we can all agree that there's no use in trying to repair them," he said as he fished forth an unfurled one of the scrolls in the pile, the others nodding and humming in agreement at his statement.
"However, if we are to demolish all these buildings, we'll be having a large area to work with…" he said as he looked over the map, sneering at the size of the town. "It'd take us forever to finish… Does anybody have any ideas on how we could do it any faster?"
"If I may, my Baron," Charles began, "I myself am quite skilled in the terrestrial arts of magic. Using my skills I would be able to raze every house in this entire town with a simple minor earthquake spell. However, the castle would also be put in significant risk of collapsing, should we opt to use that method."
"Never mind the castle, what about the church and tavern?"
Saito questioned, the Count's face showing obvious surprise at his younger lord's complete disregard for his own home.
"They would undoubtedly crumble along with the rest of the town, I'm afraid."
"Then earthquakes are not an option. The church and tavern are the only hospitable buildings here for miles, I'll not have them fall for anything. Besides, I'd like to have at least something to remind of this town's past, some cultural heritage. The settlers need to know that this town has some history behind it."
"But, my Bar… erm, Saito, what of the castle?"
"We'll deal with that later," Saito answered his advisor, smirking in a way that told one that he had a plan for it. "Now, any other ideas?"
"We could sure use some manpower," Malicorne commented.
"What about it Charles? You said you were an Earth mage, couldn't you be able to summon some golems or the like to help out?"
"I could, but unfortunately that wouldn't be nearly enough. Golems are intended more as bodyguards than anything else, therefore normal golem summoning spells won't allow for that many to be summoned at one and the same time."
"Hmm… and I'd wanted the ground cleared by the time the settlers arrived, but I guess that's impossible. Oh well, we'll just have to let them do it themselves, it shouldn't be too much trouble."
"Certainly not! It's expected of a subject that he tends to his own needs himself. We may have to provide food and protection, but we cannot do everything for them." Saito hummed absentmindedly at the Count's response whilst examining the town map.
"The wood was rotten right?" he suddenly asked.
"As far as I saw it, yes," Malicorne answered.
"Does anybody know roughly what these houses are made of then?"
"I do," his advisor began. "Like most houses in this part of the country, they're made primarily of wood with a stone base. However, some of the more outlying buildings are made of clay; there are several such in the western reaches of the shire owned by freemen. The only buildings in the town that are built with stone walls are the castle, the church and this tavern."
"I see, that means there won't be much material for us to reuse. We'll have to order stone and bricks from… wherever that's ordered from, we'll be needing mortar too. Then we can have the settlers cut the trees in the forest for wood, there seems to be a lot of those here anyway."
"What about the roads then?" Malicorne asked.
"Ah yes, good point? What about them, Charles? Any other solid roads besides the square"
"Aside from the old stairway leading to the castle, there are none, sadly."
"Then we're going to need stone for that too. However, I want those cubic stones then, none of that rounded nonsense, I hate those!"
"As you wish."
"How about asphalt?" Everybody looked at Jean as if he was a three-headed monkey.
"Idiot, what makes you think they'd know about asphalt in this age?"
"The Chinese had it long before the West discovered it, several hundred years in fact. I thought you of all people would know, being Japanese and all."
"Just shut up!" Jean shrugged defiantly at Saito's command with his arms crossed, but did as he was told. The other two nobles were utterly clueless as to what they'd been talking about. Just as Saito was about to continue, he felt that he'd had enough of Jean's presence in the room. "What are you doing in here anyway? Shouldn't you be out working on something?"
"I don't know, go help Siesta with whatever she's doing."
The servant in question was about to retort with "Why don't you go do it yourself?" when he remembered that he was Saito's servant after all, and instead came up with a better question: "But I don't even know where she is?"
"She's at the church helping the monks out with some renovations, I think," Malicorne answered, his tone perfectly neutral, even sounding friendly in contrast to Saito's hostility.
"Thanks, I'll be gone then," Jean said and then promptly left the building, starting to vex himself on Saito's hostile disposition towards him.
"Well, now that he's out of the way…" Saito continued as he opened a book from the pile, "we should get onto the next matter. I see this place doesn't have much in the way of natural resources?" Saito questioned, looking at Charles for answers, since he already seemed to know just about everything about the place.
"Not too much, I'm afraid. Pordenfers was never such a settlement to begin with. Actually, the population has always been struggling with food shortages. Keeping them fed will be a difficult task, for as I said, this soil isn't the most fertile in the land. Neither do we have any precious minerals."
I just hope we don't have to sink to hunter-gatherer levels to stay alive, Saito thought.
"What about the marsh then?" At this, the Count observer raised his eyebrow.
"What about it?"
"Aren't there any fish there we can sustain ourselves on? Or is it possible to turn it into paddies for rice farming?"
"Rice?" Saito was a first a bit confounded to heard the two nobles repeat the word so questioningly, but then he remembered that since Tristain was more or less analogous to mediaeval Western Europe, rice was most likely virtually unknown here.
"Never mind that… what about game?"
"That there is plenty of. Unfortunately, since they're mostly found in the thick Emerald Forest, hunting is significantly harder a task than in the other, much thinner forests of Tristain."
"Damn! What about berries?"
Guess we do have to turn into hunter-gatherers after all.
"While there is scarcely any fruit in the shire, the Emerald Forest is filled with berries of all sorts. Though I assure you, that won't be nearly enough to sustain the populace. Not even we would survive on that." Hearing those words, Saito's shoulders sacked, he felt like giving up, the whole endeavour seemingly hopeless. Charles couldn't help but smirk at the Baron's frustration, even though he liked him.
"Let us… leave that for now then, we'll think of something later."
Just as I expected. In a few days, his spirit will be completely broken, I can feel it already, Charles thought. Too bad though, he's such a nice lad.
"So… farms are completely out of the question then?" Saito asked, hoping in desperation that wasn't the case.
"Actually, Baron… Saito, it's not completely impossible, merely very, very difficult, but it can work. Rye has been grown here before, though it requires a lot more work and care than usual, while barley can grow in the westernmore parts of the shire. Anything else however, is out of the question. That excepting the soil on the castle hill, which is very good; the only good soil in the domain in fact. It has always made for a perfect demesne."
"It's a piece of farmland directly around the manor or keep," Malicorne answered. "It's controlled by the lord of the land who then pays people who work the land for him. They then get a small share of the food produced as well as money to survive."
"Also, like I said, the soil farther out in the western reaches of the shire has traditionally always acted as the bread basket of this domain," Charles added.
"Let me guess… there's a catch, right?"
"I'm afraid so. While it does provide enough food for a hundred or two, it's just barely enough to keep them alive. Usually, this shire ends its life in two ways: either the populace starves to death or they revolt and either kill the lord or die trying."
Saito felt like ripping his hairs of.
"Fine, whatever! We'll grow what we can, hunt like hell and pick berries, then we'll figure something out in the meantime. Now, on to the next matter before I go insane!"
"I don't think we've gone over out defences yet," came Malicorne's reply.
"And we're lucky in that aspect!" Charles pointed out. "This settlement was originally founded with the intention of acting as an outpost to keep marauders out and stave off a potential attack from Germania. As you can see here," he picked out a scroll among the pile and unfurled it, revealing a very detailed topographic map over Pordenfers, "the town is located right inbetween a marsh and a thick forest. An enemy army will be forced to pass through the town to get to the other side, meaning that numbers won't matter."
"I see," Saito nodded.
"Furthermore, since the castle is located on this hill, we will have the tactical advantage over any enemy, as all the surrounding lands are relatively low lying and flat. We'll be able to take out a significant portion of them before they can even come near the town."
"What about ammunition?"
"Sine the purpose of this place is military in nature, or at least intended as such, we can simply requisition more from the Ministry of War, with a large discount at that!"
"But then again, we'll also need to pay the soldiers, and that money has to come from somewhere," Malicorne observed. "While we may have enough from the royal grant now to pay for everything, sooner or later our coffers will run dry. We'll need something to generate a sufficient income from if we are to keep this place up and running."
"Very astute, Count d'Arnaud, a source of income will definitely be necessary for our survival. Would you be so kind and hand me that large book over there?" Charles asked, gesturing at a large, red book at the far side of the table, which Mal promptly handed to him.
"This book details every natural resource in this shire, along with every single little detail about them. The two most common sources of income for past rulers have been timber, of which plenty can be taken from the Emerald Forest, and gravel, which can be extracted from pits at the shores of Lake Lagdorian."
"But won't that upset the water spirit?" Saito asked concerned.
"Not particularly. All we'll be doing is dig for sand after all. It's been done before and she's never had any complaints thus far, so I can't see why she would now."
"How about fishing there? Maybe we can supply some more food for the people that way?" Malicorne suggested, something which was quickly shot down by Charles.
"That however," he said, snapping his index finger for emphasis, "would anger the water spirit considerably."
Malicorne just sighed, while Saito growled.
"Does every other noble also have to go through all this?"
"No, most nobles hire other people to manage their properties for them," Charles responded.
After having had lunch following the meeting, the group set about their business. Malicorne and Charles were per Saito's orders supposed to demolish as many buildings as possible before the settlers arrived. But, as they were forbidden from using any greater-area spells, they were forced to deal with each building one by one, which they much to their dismay would soon come to realize was a quite tedious task.
As thanks for helping with the restoration of their church, Serge and his fellows would renovate the tavern, sparing the newcomers at least some work.
Jean on the other hand didn't get away as easily: his job was to remove any old mortar from the rocks of the demolished houses so that they could be reused as building material. While he clearly saw the logic in his assignment, he was still annoyed that he had to do it all by himself, especially when he could have Charles or Malicorne do it faster with some water spells. Siesta had been assigned the easy task of just shuttling the stones from the rubble to him, so why should he have to put up with doing some arduous task like this? So went his thoughts. The man in charge himself was away on "important business", as he'd expressed it.
"Important business my ass!" Jean fumed, talking to himself. "He's probably just using it as another excuse to slack off while we're doing all the hard work. Damn title's made him all high and mighty…"
"Is something wrong Jean?" He hadn't noticed Siesta coming up right beside him with the next load of rocks and so he jumped in surprise when she startled him.
"Wha- what? No, no! Nothing at all! Erm… " He tried to come up with something else than what he'd been thinking about, knowing that even though she harboured little ill will against him, she was definitely more in favour of Saito. "It's just that all this scrubbing and hacking is giving me blisters and the pain is really bothering me," he told a half-truth. His hand was indeed full of blisters and almost every little action carried with it that burning pain that would turn anybody into a pissant.
"Oh, so that's it. Though it sounded more as if you were angry about something… or with somebody," she prodded, a bad habit she'd developed after Saito's departure.
Goddamn her nosiness!
"Uh… well," he stalled, keeking at her to see if she had any ulterior motives with her question. After having lived under Louise's rule for several years, he knew exactly how to deduce from someone's face if they carried any malintent. However, he found only innocent curiosity in the eyes of Siesta, and so he let himself ease up a bit.
"Well, actually… it's Saito. I just think he's treating me a bit unfairly… I know he's really pissed at what he thinks I did with Louise, I would've been too had someone done the same to me, but it's been six years already. Don't you think this is just a bit too much," he confessed as Siesta loaded off the rocks for him.
"I can understand how you're feeling, but still Jean, what you did was a pretty serious thing. It's not something you can expect somebody to easily forgive," she answered him in a gentle tone, yet with enough force to try and make him understand his wrongs. Only in Jean's mind, he hadn't done any wrongs.
"I've told you already, I didn't do her! Neither did I make out with her, not even once! I swear on my very soul I didn't do anything wrong! Why's it so hard for you guys to understand?!"
"Well, you two seemed rather close, and being all alone with her like that… it does give reason to believe-"
"Believe what? That I lack morals? She was my best friend's girlfriend for crying out loud! I'm not the type of guy who goes behind people's backs! And if that isn't enough to convince you, I can tell you that she's a raging dominatrix, the Queen of Pain! Now tell me, who in their right mind WOULD want to go to bed with her?!" he almost yelled, practically fuming at this point. Siesta was simply confused.
"What's a dominatrix?" She asked innocently, making Jean facepalm for having put himself in an uncomfortable position. He didn't really want to be the one explaining that to he, she'd probably take him for a weirdo if he did, or so he thought.
Ultimately though, he did it anyway.
"WHAT?!" was Siesta's reaction.
"See, now do you get me?"
"But… I had no idea she… was like that."
"No idea?! Come on! She hits me, kicks me, whips me, pushes me around, stomps my head into the ground and tries to blow me into smithereens whenever she doesn't sentence me to hard labour! How and when did it NOT occur to you that she was that type?!"
"I see you point," she finally said.
"So, do you believe me now?"
"Well, I guess… yes. Still, he doesn't and I don't think he will either." Jean sighed at that.
"Yeah, I know, he's just so damn stubborn, been like that for as long as I've known him. I swear, if someone would've shot him the head and nailed his heart with a pike, he'd still be living because he'd be too stubborn to admit he's dead." No matter how gruesome the description, Siesta laughed at the blonde's rant.
"You're right. I guess that's why I like him though," she admitted.
"Aye, I've noticed. I guess it's a good thing to have in the end."
"You've been at him for a long time, eh?" Siesta hummed and nodded her head at Jean's question.
"Since long before you came here."
"Yet still you have only come this far," he mused, making Siesta pout. Evidently, she was not happy about it.
"Stop teasing me about it."
"I'm not teasing you, rather I'm astounded over how time after time he's been able to pick Louise over you, even though you outmatch her in every single way. It's more like… I feel sorry for you."
"What do you mean by that?" she eyed him warily. She wasn't the easily offended type, but neither was she naïve.
"That even though you've tried so hard, he's only let you this far... It is not your fault Siesta, not by any means. But I'm just wondering… considering that he's never… properly returned your feelings… do you still love him?"
"I do," she answered, her voice barely audible.
"Then I suggest you take your chance now," he finally spoke.
"I said you should take your chance now. Now that he's finally back from years of lonely wandering and Louise is nowhere near, this is the opportune moment for you to confess!"
"What?!" Her face turned beet red within a second.
"Don't shy off! You say you've loved him for years and you say you still do. If you're so certain about your feelings, you should have no doubt about doing it now! This is your best chance at finally claiming him!"
"B-but… I couldn't!" She defended, her perspiring face flushed redder than the flag of Soviet Russia.
"Why?! Don't stall! You'll only let this chance slip away!"
"W- well… he's a noble now and I-… I'm just his maid, so I don't th-"
"Think what? That he wouldn't accept you because of that? Come on now! That isn't true and I know you know it. That man has never ever made any difference between noble or commoner, so why would he start now?"
Siesta sat thinking for a moment, unresponding to Jean's question, unsure of what to say. Though he'd been perfectly right in what he'd said, she just couldn't get herself to make a move on Saito… not now, she didn't know why, she just couldn't. Jean noticed that her position remained hesitant and facepalmed in response. He couldn't believe anybody could be so apprehensive.
After six years, she still isn't sure enough to bring herself to that! What's wrong with her?!
He couldn't for all the world figure out what it might be, but he felt that he couldn't just sit by and let everything pass by him anymore, he had to do something.
So he turned to Siesta, lifting one leg and putting it on the other side of the log he was sitting on, then firmly gripped both of her arms and looked her dead in the eyes.
"Listen to me! Your letting the chance of your life fly right by you! I'm telling you, confess to him already! If you don't do it now, I promise, you won't get any other chance at it, life won't give you one!" he said, sweating profusely as he did.
Shit! What am I doing? This probably sounds totally awkward, coming from me of all people too!
His train of thought sped away at hypersonic speeds, trailing off into completely different areas than where it'd started.
"Why?" His train of though was violently derailed however, crashing into the side of a mountain as Siesta spoke that one word.
"Why? Why are you doing this? Why do you even care?" she said. He could notice a pair of nascent tears in each of her eyes, it was obvious he was making he feel uncomfortable.
Yeah… why do I? Now that I think about it, it's really none of my business and it hasn't ever been… so why am I so dead set on getting them together?
He pondered the matter for a good time, all the while still locking the maid's arms in a strong grip.
"Because I care…"
"I know it's not a good answer at all, it's none of my business really, but I just care. I care about you Siesta and I care about him too. It's just… I've seen you going after him for so long, you've really tried your hardest to come across to him yet you've always lost to someone as Louise. Louise, who constantly beats and berates him for every little thing, who can hardly even admit her own feelings for him even though she'd felt them for so long. You've treated him better in every aspect and yet he's always chosen her… it's just not fair." He loosened his grip on her as he spoke, not wanting to hurt her too much.
"I care because you're my friend and that's what friends do, they care. Now thing is, Louise is still after him, just like you are, so don't you go assuming that the way is completely clear for you now. I'm sure that sooner or later, she'll know that he's holding up here and then she'll simply come over and try and take him back. And you know what? She probably will, because if I know Saito, that idiot is just going to forgive her again and fall right back into her arms, and then your chance is going to go lost… FOREVER! That's exactly how it's going to end and I'll be damned if I let that happen again!"
Damn… that was cheesy… real cheesy… almost as bad as one of those Brazilian soap operas! God I hate those!
Siesta pondered his words for a while, still uncertain. Jean himself was trying to figure out why in the world she was so apprehensive now when she had no qualms about openly showing her affections and declaring her love for him six years earlier. When he'd first come to Halkeginia, he'd first thought they were a couple, only to find out they weren't…
And that's when he realized where the problem lied, or at least so he thought.
"Look, just because he's rejected you once before doesn't mean he's going to do it now. That was a different time under different circumstances, that's all gone and changed now, you won't have to worry about a thing."
"You sure he would accept my feelings then?" she asked him and looked at him with a doubtful yet somewhat hopeful expression.
She made a sigh of relief and regained her composure, her eyes bearing a new look determination. Looking at him with a serious expression and nodding, she hummed in affirmation.
"Then I'll try, Jean. I promise you, I'll try my best."
"And I'll be rooting for you, all the way."
They looked at each other with confident gazes, like two relay runners set on winning. Then Siesta stood up and was about to leave, intent on capturing her prey, when something struck her mind, which made her stop in an instant.
"What is it?" Jean asked.
"I just remembered something."
"Saito isn't here."
"Well, where is he then?" She turned around to answer him.
"He said he was going away on some important business, when I asked him."
"Oh yeah! That!" Jean remembered, the irritation from before instantly returning with the memory. "That's what had me pissed before! You know, for some reason I can't believe that it's anything but an excuse to lazy off. I wonder what the hell he's doing now anyway."
"I'm glad he we finally get a chance to meet under better circumstances, Baron Hiraga."
"Likewise, Count Motte."
"Pray tell, what is it that brings you here?"
"Well, if it is all fine with You, I've come to propose to you a trade, one that I think that you will find most… 'beneficial'."
"Is that so? Tell me, what is this You have to offer?" the Count wondered, his questioning answer bearing with it a sly tone in addition to an equally sly face. Saito just smiled even slier at his question. To the random observer, it'd seem as though the two were engaged in a contest to determine who could act the sliest of them.
"It might not seem to be much at first glance, but if memory serves me right, I remember You having a certain interest in these…" Saito replied as he produced a book bound in thick leather from a bag hanging at his side. The Count was surprised to say the least and he wondered just what the mundane Baron might have to offer him, if not…
"Wait! Is that… you don't mean…"
"Indeed, my good Count, another artefact for your… extensive collection."
"May I… examine it?"
"Certainly," he said as he opened the cover and put the book on the table for the noble to browse through.
"Amazing… how did You come over this?"
"As You might know, I was sent out by Her Highness to retrieve any number of otherworldly artefacts that I could find. Suffice to say, my search yielded me finds that Her Highness in her own honest opinion could… do without. Thus, the Ministry of Research entrusted them to my care."
"I see. And it's.. it's in Albionese! This is incredible!"
"Is it not? However, Count Motte, I didn't come here to do charity," Saito said and closed the book right before the Count's eyes. "This is a business proposition, I do not expect to leave empty-handed."
"Erm… of course not, Baron Hiraga. Please, what is it that You desire?"
"You should understand, Count Motte, that these items are very difficult to come by. It will thus not be unreasonable of me to demand something of great value in return."
"I'm fully aware of that, Baron, I'm no fool. Now, would You please reveal what it is You want?" Motte was now beginning go get annoyed at the Baron before him, it seemed as though he thought that he needed to explain everything to him.
I'm a Count for Brimir's sake, of course I'd know that! I wasn't born yesterday!
"Then, I assume it shouldn't be to unreasonable of me to ask that you free… some 60 households from their oaths and let them come with me."
"Sixty households?! You can't be serious!"
"Oh, I thought that perhaps considering your vast property, that might be a rather humble request, but oh well. I'll be taking this somewhere else then, there are others who've expressed their interest in this," Saito said as he stood up from the armchair he began to slowly stand up from the armchair he'd been sitting in.
"Wait! Please! I'll reconsider!"
"Tell me… sixty is all you want them?" Motte asked with a defeated sigh.
"To be honest with you, Count Motte, I had originally intended to have twice as much, but since we are such good acquaintances, I thought I'd make you a kinder offer," he lied. Freeing sixty households was an outrageous demand and he knew it. Not to mention it was illegal to trade in serfs: the households he had mentioned had personally granted him the right to speak in their stead to free them, thus it was possible for him to buy their freedom, but even that bordered on the unlawful. However, in his desperation, the Count seemed to have forgotten that, and as long as Saito was able to convince him that he was being favoured, he didn't mind. "Others however, have already expressed their willingness to give me even more than that."
The Count was sweating profusely.
"Very well, I'll release those sixty households from their duties," he gave in. Pulling a document and a quill from afar using his magics, he signed a piece of paper and handed it to Saito. When having ensured that the contents of it didn't differ anything from their agreements, he calmly rolled it up and put it away in his cloak.
"I'm glad we could come to an agreement, Count Motte."
"Ah…" the red faced Count nodded, already browsing through his latest acquisition.
Exactly at that time, the doors opened and a beautiful young maid with shoulder-length red hair entered the room. She couldn't have been much older than Saito herself.
"Your bath is ready, Milord."
"Ah… good…" he replied absentmindedly, continuing to skim though the porno mag.
It was then that Saito got an idea.
"Count Motte!" he called, Motte a looked at him, a bit surprised.
"Do you thing you could also give me her?" he gestured at the maid, who now bore an expression of surprise coupled with fear.
The lewd Count glanced at her, then at Saito, then back at his magazine. Flipping a few pages, he smiled and nodded.
"Fine, you take her. Mariette! From hereon, you're now freed of your duties and responsibilities to me and are to please this gentleman here in any way he wishes, understood?"
"Err… Yes, Count Motte!" she replied, feeling a bit panicked.
Not another pervert! He'll probably be even worse than Motte… she thought, feeling her hope fade away.
"See her as a gift, Baron," Motte winked and gave Saito a sly look as the Japanese Baron left.
LATER BACK IN PORDENFERS
"Ah… that was some nice tea!" Malicorne exhaled, leaning back on his wooden chair.
"I must agree, that tea you made was really wonderful, Mademoiselle," Charles added.
"Really, it isn't much at all."
"No need to be humble, this is truly some very fine tea," he said, seeming very pleased. "What was you name again?"
"Siesta, eh? That's an odd name… Are you from the south? Romalia, perhaps?"
"No, my Lord, I'm out of Tarbes, my family lives there too."
"Tarbes, eh? That's were the war between Albion and Tristain broke out, was is not?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"I see, it must have been difficult for your family…" he said with a solemn tone. He knew how war affected the common man, so he couldn't keep himself from feeling a bit of sympathy, despite how much his fellow nobles (present company excepted) looked down upon it.
"Yes, it was. Our crops were burned and almost all of our livestock died in the attack. Life's been very hard on them ever since, but it's getting better, slowly."
"I'm glad to hear that. I hope they'll be able to fully recover someday, that war was indeed a horrible thing. I pray that such a thing may never happen again." Coming from a noble, who were supposed to gladly risk their lives for Queen and country, such words were outright blasphemous. However, he knew that he had no honour, already having lost it in what was surely counted amongst the most outrageous blunders in human history, so nobody besides commoners ever cared for his opinion anyway.
"Thank you, my Lord." Siesta smiled, feeling glad that someone important actualy cared about her.
Exactly, only commoners.
In fact, those were the only people he could relate to anymore. While his title may still have remained, everything else that goes with it was gone. He was the Count of Artois, a province no longer Tristainian due to his naïveté, and without a land to tie to the name, the title became devoid of meaning.
In a way, the title was more of a way to ridicule him than anything else.
"Speaking of praying, isn't this the time for mass?" Malicorne asked, dragging the dishonoured noble out of his self-deprecating bog of thoughts.
"Indeed it is. I believe Father Durant will be holding one over at the church,"
"Then we should be going," Malicorne answered and headed out the door, followed by Charles and Siesta, everyone but Jean left for the services, leaving the blonde man alone with his cup of tea.
"Hm! Didn't even notice me," he snorted as he took another sip of his hot, red beverage. "Then again, I wouldn't want to go to church anyway." He leaned back onto his chair. "Better they didn't, I might've ended up with the Inquisition after me, like what happened with Tifa that day… what was it, six year ago?"
"Six years…" he sighed.
"What happened to her anyway?" he asked himself, starting a dialogue with himself, a habit he'd gotten into during the six years he'd been stuck on the alien world he'd fallen onto, under the "care" of Louise.
"Last I heard, she went to the royal palace after Saito left," he replied to himself, altering his voice and tone a little to give himself the sense that he was actually talking to somebody else than himself.
"Yeah… hasn't been much news about her since… six years…"
"That's how long we've been here… stuck on this godforsaken rock of all worlds…"
"Aye… away from home… I wonder what mom and dad must think of me…"
"They probably think that we're dead or something… having disappeared like that… everybody else will probably think that as well…"
"Hm… I guess all I have to look forward to then, is a future here…"
"And what kind of future is that?"
"One of sweat, blood and tears… hard labour it seems," he chuckled to himself, joking about his own predicament. "Still, it beats being whipped at and blown into the skies. I'll manage."
"Still, that's not the kind of future I want!"
"Yeah, it sucks big time, but what other choice do I have? Sure, I can go back to the academy and try to make something of my life, like becoming a chef or something, but then I'd most likely just end up having Louise making my days a living Hell again."
"How about going home?" He laughed at that question. Different voice or not, it was still he who'd said that to himself. He already knew what his own answer would be, the whole discussion was almost pointless.
"And how the hell am I supposed to do that? It's not like there're any flight services with 'Destination: Earth' anywhere here. Let's just face it, I'm stranded on this stupid medieval fantasy Earth look-alike for the rest life. I'm simply fucked."
"Well, go look for it then?"
Truth to be told, the only reason he still kept going on like this, debating with himself, is because he was divided in his own mind. He could decide if he was going to do one or the other. An indecisive man, quite simply. Also, he felt that should he keep his thoughts only in his head, he'd go insane, so he spoke them out. The irony of it all was that what he did to stop himself from losing his sanity only made him look exactly what he was trying to avoid.
"It's better than staying here for the rest of our lives. I mean just look at us, we're pathetic, slaving away at the behalf of others!"
"True, if I live my life out here, I'll just go away as another nameless commoner, or perhaps even less, an absolute nobody. I'll be treated like shit for the rest of my life. At least back home I had a future I could actually look forward too. I mean, not that I had any plan, but I had possibilities! I could be a writer… or a photographer… or a chef in some nice restaurant… or I could go away doing charity in Mali or Cambodia or whatever. At least I had something to do I know I'd love."
"Exactly! So why sit around here?"
"Because if I leave Saito, I'll either starve to death or be whipped to death."
"Heh, some life this turned out to be…"
"You know what?" he said to himself, or his advocatus diaboli persona, whatever it was. "Fuck this place! I'm not going to stay here for the rest of my life! I'll find a way home, if it so is the last thing I do!" He slammed his fist in the table decisively, only to pick it up a second land and clutch it as it hurt.
"You know though, you won't leave Saito," he said to himself again. How funny, seconds ago his alter ego had been suggesting the opposite, now it simply switched sides, as always. He'd made that persona to criticize every move he made, so as to hopefully avoid blunders. Whether it was a conscious decision or not to start talking to himself like this however, he couldn't remember anymore.
"Nay, he's my friend, he's just misunderstood everything, that's all. I know he'll come to his senses soon, I know he will…" he said to himself. Had anyone seen and heard him at this moment, they'd think he was deranged, as in seriously mentally ill. "We'll be friends again… soon."
"Hm, whatever you say."
And that was it, he didn't have anything else to say to himself, end of conversation. Feeling a bit dry from all the talking though, he took up his teacup, intending on finishing whatever was left in it.
"Gahh! It's gone cold!"
SOMEWHERE IN TRISTAIN
"Don't worry, I'm not gong to hurt you," Saito said to the maid in front if him. They were sitting in an open carriage en route to Pordenfers and she'd been silent the entire journey. Being past midnight, it was cold out there and so she was draped in a brown silk cloth to help fend of the cold and even though it wasn't perhaps the most effective solution, the results were satisfactory enough. The stars were shining brightly above them and the lanterns on each side of the carriage illuminated their faces, the lights seemingly dancing about as the carriage rocked from side to side.
"Right, I've heard that one before," she mocked him. She didn't care much for punishment as lords rarely beat their pleasure girls for fear that any bruise or injury would tarnish the beauty for which they were adored. Thus, she could afford some sarcasm, hell, some lords even liked it.
"My intention isn't to make you into my pleasure girl, if that's what you think."
"Oh really? Then why did you bring me along?" she asked sarcastically.
"Because I don't like the idea of people being used like that to pleasure others," he answered determinedly. The look she gave him was one of the purest disbelief.
"Of all the nobles I've ever met, you surely are the weirdest yet," she said offhandedly. She didn't know why, maybe because he seemed younger but she somehow felt at ease around him.
"I haven't always been one you know."
"Like what? Are you trying to tell me you were a commoner or something?"
"Precisely!" Derflinger exclaimed as he popped out of his sheath, eliciting a yelp from the red-haired young woman.
"What the hell?! Did that thing just speak?"
"Hey! It isn't exactly nice calling people "that thing", you know!"
"And since when exactly were you classed among 'people', Derf?" Saito asked, his eyes closed in exasperation.
"Eh… eheh, I guess I ain't them. But that doesn't change my point! This guy's as honest as they get, you won't find a more truthful man than this one here right before you. You know, if I were you, I'd claim him right now. The two of you would make quite an item if y-"
"Enough is enough!" Saito yelled as he forcefully pushed his partner back into his sheath.
"Err… alright," she stuttered stupefyingly, finding what she'd just seen a tad too hard to believe."
"Sorry, he does that all the time."
"Rrrright… so, if what you say is true, then what are you going to do with me?"
"I'm going to take you to a better place, someplace where you'll earn a living and hopefully stay clear of any perverted lords… though I can't promise much about perverts in general, you won't have to do their bidding in 'that way' anymore." She raised an eyebrow at that.
"Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
"It's a bit cold, but otherwise I'm pretty fine, thanks," he said kindly, as if she'd been honestly concerned about him.
Maybe he's just dense…
Shaking her head, she decided to ask another question.
"What is this place then that you're taking me to?"
"This place," he gestured at the large fort-like structure that was the Tristainian Royal Academy of Magic. While she stared at it in awe, he produced a small scroll from one of his pockets. "Here, take this. If you show it to the man in charge, I'm sure you'll find a position."
"A- ah…" she took the scroll handed to her and jumped off the wagon at his gesture.
"Well, good luck then. It was nice to meet you… Mariette, was it?" She simply nodded in affirmation, dumbfounded by the sudden turn of event. Saito smiled and bid her farewell before the convoy moved on. Not until it was gone did she move, a cold gust of wind bringing her back into reality. She then turned around and walked up to the front gate to see if it was open.
"No luck, it's locked," she snorted to herself. "Guess I'll have to wait till morning then. What an ass, leaving me out here in this cold, and in the middle of the night on top of that! Who was that anyway?" She unfurled the small scroll in her hand, her eyes bulging out at the sight of the his name, illuminated by a torch hanging beside the gate.
"Baron Saito Hiraga?!" You've got to be kidding me! Argh!" she stomped, angry at herself at having forsaken a chance with a celebrity just like that.
THE FOLLOWING DAY
OUTSIDE CHÂTEAU D'HIRAGA
"I can't believe he really ordered us to destroy it," Charles said to Malicorne in a morose voice, staring at the old building with a forlorn look. He looked like as if his soul would abandon him any minute.
"Don't worry, I'm sure he has some plan for it," Mal tried to console the Count. "But you know, we better get started, standing around and feeling sorry for it isn't going to make things any easier."
"I guess you're right."
At the same time not too far away, on the outskirts of the old town, the soon-to-be residents of Pordenfers got their very first glimpse of their new home. Their feelings were mixed: some were enthusiastic about coming to a new place and discovering new environs while other were simple glad over the chance to leave their own lord and start life anew; some others were less hopeful, feeling their futures uncertain in this new, wild place; some looked at it with disdain and pure contempt, thinking they had it better where they came from, feeling tricked and lied to as they gazed at the town with its many ruins and decrepit houses; then there was of course the bunch who simply didn't care either way and who never cared for pretty much anything anyway.
With the exception of the last group however, everybody's thoughts changed to that of utter despair when they saw the castle crumble and fall apart right before their eyes. Bad omen, rang the phrase in everybody's thoughts, very bad omen.
Those then who could tear their gazes away from the now nonexistent castle looked with wonder and confusion upon the man that'd led them here, who stood proudly on his carriage, sword on his back and hands on his hips, his face sporting a confident smile, his entire being radiating with this confidence in a crowd filled with despair and hopelessness, confusion and utter stupefication much like a lighthouse on a cloudy, moonless night. For a while, he merely stood like that and some of the settlers began thinking that perhaps his mind wasn't among the healthiest. Then suddenly, he spoke.
"Did you see that?!" he called out. "Did everyone see that?! That, my friends, shall be the sign of a new beginning, for you and all of us! For from those castle ruins shall you salvage the stones with which you shall build castles of your own! Never again shall you have to lead lives of slavery! In here, every notion of nobility and commoner with be void, for in here, you are all free and equal men!"
The crowd stood amazed, looking like a see of white as everyone's bulging eyes stared at the unlikely leader like he'd just come out of a spaceship. Then someone cheered, followed by a second and a third and yet another one, successively growing into a massive roar of praise and euphoria as the people hugged each other, even complete strangers, and threw their hands in the air in praise of their emancipator. Only a few did not join in on the ecstatic celebrating, knowing full well what such a radical promise entailed, and looked on instead with fear at what they felt to know would be their undoing.
Then again, there were those who simply didn't give a damn.
Having spent all night planning it however, Saito was merely relieved that it'd been received so well.
Saito lay on his bed in the tavern, unmoving and exhausted from having stayed up for so long in one go. He'd been up ever since yesterday morning and hadn't had an ounce of sleep since, so the first thing he did when he returned to his room in the night was collapse on his bed, lying on his back and trying to get some sleep. For some inexplicable reason however, it didn't seem to work, something was still keeping him awake and he had no idea what it was or why.
His mind was still full of worries over what he'd do with his newly acquired domain, but he knew that wasn't the cause of his insomnia: he'd been on the verge of falling asleep countless times on the trip back from Count Motte's lands. Neither could he think straight in any way, his senses dulled by the fatigue. As a consequence, he didn't notice a special someone sneaking into the room or even sitting down beside him. It wasn't until he felt the stroke of a hand on his cheek and heard a voice that he recognized the presence.
"How are you feeling?" Siesta asked. Saito found her voice to be ridiculously soothing, almost like a lullaby, and he had to strain himself not to fall asleep as he heard it. Sitting up on the edge of his bed, he slowly turned his head over to her and managed a tired yet delighted smile.
"Well, I've been up for 48 hours, at least if this world spins as fast as my own, so I can easily say that I've had better times" he replied groggily, his eyes locked in an unchanging squint. While Siesta couldn't make any sense of his rambling about spinning worlds, but she could understand that her unrequited love was too tired to be save any time for her.
"I see… I'll leave you be then, you probably need a lot of sleep for tomorrow."
Or so she thought.
"No! Wait… please stay." She hadn't been prepared for his hand to grab her arm as she was about to leave, her heart bounced as his fingers encircled her wrist and locked it in a strong grip, much stronger that how she remembered it from before his departure. "I could use some company," he added, not wanting to be alone. She sat back down beside him and gazed at his face, noticing how much difference all those six years had made. His features reflected that of his age: one of adulthood, yet still retaining that youthful freshness it'd had in the past, while also showing a hint of the harshness he'd had to endure during his travels. They remained as such for awhile, simply locked in each others stares, unable to pull themselves from it. She didn't dare pull her eyes from him, as if fearing that he might just disappear yet again, just like he had all those years ago.
"Why did you leave?" she suddenly asked.
"Why did you leave? You didn't have to, you know? You could just have found another place to stay, anyplace! I'm… I'm sure even my family wouldn't mind… having you as a guest… it'd be an honour for a commoner to be able to host a noble anyway…"
Saito let out a long heavy sigh.
"I… I couldn't stand this place anymore, to be frank, Siesta. It reminded me too much of Louise, too much of Jean… too much of all that'd happened before, but most it reminded me of what I'd lost. It felt humiliating, like fate was laughing me right in my face… What more, I felt like I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't know what I would do or where to go. All the time I'd spent here up till then I'd been Louise's familiar… and that's pretty much the only purpose I had in this world, it was all my life." Siesta nodded understandingly, yet not liking what she heard at all. Surely there must have been more meaning to his life here than just being Louise's familiar, she hoped.
"And when the contract was broken, I felt so bad, even though I didn't show it. I hid it beneath the faith that if I at least was Louise's boyfriend, I would have some direction in this life, some reason to keep on living here. She'd become everything to me and then all of a sudden, it all just fell apart, like a fine porcelain vase being shattered by a sledgehammer."
"But Saito…," she hesitated, unsure if it wasn't rude to ask such a thing. But then again, how rude was it not of him to speak to her of her rival as his only point in life? "Didn't we mean anything to you?"
"Of course you did, of course! That's not what I meant, you're all wonderful people and I don't think I'd been here if it weren't for all of you. To be honest, you were among the reasons I chose to remain on this world. But…"
"But even though you were my best friends, I still wouldn't have had anything to do here without Louise. As her familiar I had a purpose in this life, a role to play, responsibilities to fulfil, I had something that would give me something to do each day instead of just loitering and wandering about aimlessly. When she cheated on me and we broke up, I lost that role. Suddenly I found myself with nothing to do, no purpose in this life, I mean…what was I supposed to do?" he rambled on, Siesta listening intently if a bit downcast, but she understood what he meant. He had no roots in this world. In the end there was nothing that tied him here but the woman who'd gone and betrayed him.
"Even you remember it, for two weeks I just sat around at the academy doing nothing; I barely talked to anyone except you. But then this one day when Reinard came and asked me if I wanted to practice with the Order of Undine Knights again, it hit me: I was still a knight! So the next day I went away to the Royal Palace and to see if there was anything they needed my help with. Louise was vehemently against sending me out on any dangerous missions, and with her being royalty and all there was nothing I could do but sit on my ass just like I did back in the academy. It wasn't until I approached the Queen and personally asked of her to send me away on that quest for artefacts. I needed to come away from here, I had to find myself, discover who I truly was and find a place for myself here now that I'd chosen to remain. Luckily, Henrietta understood that and gave me that mission, and as her authority superseded Louise's, there was nothing to stop me. I was free to go," he finished. Siesta opted to remain silent however, something clearly bothering her.
"And you didn't think about me?"
"I had a purpose too, I was your personal maid, remember? Your servant. My purpose was to serve you, but with you gone, I suddenly had no one to serve. I had to go back working at the academy for six lonely years! Sure, I may've had my friends there, but it wasn't the same. I was ridiculed! People laughed at me as the useless servant whose master had abandoned her, do you know how that feels?! To be humiliated like that! And what was I supposed to do? I was only a commoner, they were nobles, I had nothing to say to them. So while you ran away on your little quest for self-discovery I was left her with my purpose taken away from me. I mean, couldn't you have taken me with you? Or at least tell me in advance? " Saito was silent, not knowing how to respond to that.
"I missed you…" she then mumbled.
"I missed you too," he replied and she looked at him with a curious expression. "And you're right, it was stupid of me to just go off like that. Already then did I realize that I should've brought you with me, but when I finally did that it was too late… I was already deep within Germania by that time. Though I can still remember it, those lonely nights and days… it wasn't always adventure and excitement as you might imagine, most of the time I spend wandering from one place to another. Especially when I crossed the Albenbergen, I felt lonelier that I have ever felt in my entire life, I didn't see another human face for several weeks. I kept thinking about you, I wanted to see you again… to be near you and I cursed myself so many times for not bringing you with me. I could really have used your company, for in all honesty, as much as my sword can talk, it can never make up for real human contact."
"Hey!" Derflinger yelled as he popped out of his sheath! "That wasn't very nice!"
"Shut up!" he yelled back, causing the loud sword to slide back into his protective scabbard.
"What I mean to say is, I think..." He was very tired at this moment and he wasn't fully at his senses when he said this, as he would never have dared to say it in a more sober state. "I really did miss you, Siesta, more than just simply missing human contact, more than just missing a friend. You're… of all those times, you were always the one who really cared for me and… I guess I never really appreciated it back then… not the way I learnt to while I was out wandering. I… I hope you can forgive me, Siesta, for I swear I'll never do something like that again. I love you, Siesta," he confessed and the black-haired girl felt like her heart would rocket up and out of her head at the moment. Feeling her ears burn like smouldering coal, clouding her mind, she responded by grabbing him by his shoulders and leaning in for a rapid kiss, spurred by her hitherto suppressed desires. It was something she'd yearned for since ages ago, ever since the time he'd rescued her from Count Motte.
When their mouths parted and Saito tasted his lips, trying to conserve that somewhat sweet and slightly sour yet heavenly taste he'd sensed, he felt even more tired than he did before, as if she'd applied some sort of sleeping agent to her lips. Still, his eyes managed a squinted bulge (whatever that looks like) when he realized what'd happened, looking at her extremely flushed face as if he'd just seen the ghost of his old deceased great grandmother offering him riceballs.
"Does that mean yes?" the dulled black-hair asked, to which Siesta responded with a nod.
"I love you too, Saito," she returned his confession, and that was all he needed before he lunged himself at her, embracing her and pressing his head to head against chest like a scared child would to his mother.
"Wah! Saito, what're you doing!" she exclaimed, startled by his sudden action. But when she didn't receive any reply she looked down only to find his sleeping face resting on her chest, using her big breasts as a pillow. When she tried moving off of the bed, his arms prevented her, holding her in place as if they were made of stone. Resigning herself not too reluctantly too her situation, she took off her boots, apron and other clothes unnecessary for sleep and crept into the bed, making sure that her newly attained prize also got under the warmth of the covers. And as she went to sleep that night, she knew that no matter what dream she'd be blessed with for the night, none would be as blissful as the one she was living in: the one great dream come true.
Author's notes: First of all I'd like to apologize for being so ungodly slow in updating this. The reasons for this can be summed up as a mix of lots of schoolwork, laziness, games (Elder Scrolls IV) and my betareader being sick. Still, I know I should've posted this a long time ago. This here version has been proofread only once and that by myself, so if there are any errors or the like in it, blame me. Also, I'm very well aware of the fact that Jean might come across as a Mary-Sue in this chapter, but I'll assure yee all that it's nothing that'll persist throughout the story, so I'll endeavour myself to balance him out a bit more.
And last but certainly not least: a big thanks to all of yee who're still following this! I promise I'll not drop this, no matter what, and I'll keep updating till I've finished this, even if updates may come a little slow. I hope you all liked this chapter too. ^^