035 The burning capital? (1) p.3

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“Also...”

A viscount spoke out from the lowest seat.

“I heard he has started operations on the copper mine in his territory?”

“Oh? And he only started governing the area last year?”

Count Chambrey quickly caught on. As expected of a greedy person, he was weak to money. Lavallee snickered to himself. Rather than calling him a bat, it might have been more appropriate to describe him as a moth drawn to the flame.

“Indeed. His achievements do not correspond to his age in the slightest. I learned of this previously and sent investigators. Here, take a look at this report.”

He placed the documents on the table for the nobles to inspect.

“Oh? This is!”

“T-This harvest of wheat...even though the area had difficulties paying the annual tribute? Immediately after the Viscount started governing the region?”

“Public safety also improved drastically, I see. Marquis Lavallee, surely this is a joke on your part?”

An overly dramatic but predictable reaction. Marquis Lavallee chuckled.

“No,  these are the actual findings from the investigation. These were made possible by pulling some strings with my friends in the royal court and the reports were personally approved by them. Isn’t it unbelievable?”

The results of Tullius’ governance was more than sufficient to leave even him surprised. The most extreme southeast border of the kingdom was so barren that adventurers would not consider going there either. Tullius managed to restore the vitality of that abandoned land.

Of course, Victor, the illegitimate child that he sent in as a spy assisted him but the harvest of wheat should not have been affected by him. The team that Tullius hired could not have made any difference during the planting season. He did something even though he went there alone without any capable personnel. With that in mind, he must have had excellent expertise in agriculture.

“This young man is very competent. A few years ago, I established friendly ties with his brother. I did not wish to handle such a person...perhaps because of his reputation.”

“Still, we will not be inviting the ‘slave murderer’, yes?”

“Of course. We just expelled Cartan because of his lack of public morals.”

“Aren’t there rumours that the brothers are on bad terms?”

Just as Lavallee was expressing his regrets, Mearbahn and Langoune disagreed. Tullius’ achievements were worthy of praise, but he was just a small fry in the grand scheme of things. The potential that Tullius had did not measure up to the risk he might bring. For the seniors and the next-generation leaders of the centralist faction ― the people of power within the faction, they found it difficult to accept.

However, there were some nobles who seemed intrigued at such a prospect.

“So your Excellency is having difficulties with deciding on how to handle the Viscount in question?”

“It seems to me a great waste to leave such a capable young man by the wayside.”

Count Chambrey represented the relatively new members who lacked an influential voice. He desperately wanted such a talent 一 young, single and most importantly, being able to draw in wealth. He wanted to be the person to have invited new blood that could outwit the old guards and the other entitled scions that would have sinecures handed to them on a silver platter. If presented with the slightest chance, these group of people would want to strip everything they could from Tullius.

(Dance before me, fools. Revel in your delusions while you can.)

The Marquis’ lips curled.

The visionary responsible for the quick development of Marlan was Tullius. It was child’s play to read the minds of these fools who were so easily baited.

They were probably now thinking about the daughters among their relatives. Establish a blood connection with Tullius by marrying him into their family, then reap the benefits of being associated with him…

Lavallee still had other effective plans to plant spies in Tullius’ camp by marriage. The first plan to make use of Cartan’s long lost daughter failed completely but with a little skullduggery, the marriage plan was still feasible with a different bride. In fact, the lack of anything suspicious about the bride made this the perfect plan.

If anybody realised the potential of using this strategy to establish a relationship with Tullius...he would immediately execute them all.

In the first place, Lavallee had no intention of welcoming Tullius to his faction. No matter how skilled he was, he was too dangerous. He was too unpredictable, doing so much to take back a mere slave. There was no way he could let loose a mad dog like that.

Also, he had neglected to mention it to the nobles present, but Tullius had been quietly creating his own faction. If Chambrey stupidly approached him and made unwelcome overtures, he would use it as an excuse to eliminate him.

Of course, if Chambrey was unfairly accused of a crime without sufficient grounds, it would instead cause a real rebellion. But this was his homeground, He could always come up with other methods. In addition, Tullius’ faction was still incomplete.

At this point in time, the young man would be eagerly coming up with some pretext to return to Marlan. The young man would be doing so in order to escape the Marquis’ clutches and resume the building of his own faction. Now that he had divulged information about him and revealed how juicy Marlan was to these nobles, how would things turn out?

Lavallee predicted that there would be families pressing him to stay for a betrothal. And Tullius would be unaware that it was all part of his plan.

He would take decisive action the moment a member from his faction form a relationship through marriage with Tullius on their own initiative. This was Lavallee’s second plan to make up for the first plan failing.

(Taking handouts was never the way of the aristocrat. Instead, one should tear away the hand that feeds.)

While concealing such thoughts, Marquis Lavallee opened his mouth with a show of feigned ignorance.

“What a difficult young man, Sir Tullius is… What do you say, my compatriots? I believe we should end this conversation as it is, and reconvene another time to continue the discussion.”

“......I do not believe I need to wait, as I have already made my decision.”

Count Langoune objected, as it was in his nature to do so.

“I wonder about that. His territory is completely isolated by high-altitude forests and close to the border. How he would entertain guests is beyond me…… Do you really think this matter requires careful attention, Marquis?”

As expected of Count Mearbahn, as they had a long history together. The puppetmaster of noble society was hiding something behind clouds of misdirection, all while avoiding making definitive statements.

Count Chambrey said nothing, as if to express his unease.

Thusly, the curtains closed on the day’s meeting in accordance with Marquis Lavallee’s aims. It was supposed to be a bitter day for the Marquis, but it ended without even a sour aftertaste. That thought rested lightly in his mind.

Truly, it would have been wonderful if that had been true.

x    x    x

That day was entirely uneventful.

The clear autumn sky was beautiful, and a refreshing breeze carried the last traces of summer on its winds. A group of five women walked through the market, light coats keeping away the chill, and busy workers welcomed the arrival of a season of rest. It was a mundane first day of fall.

That day, Nikola was also in the market, leaning on his canvas as he drew the likeness of passers-by. None of his works were selling. He might be the third son of a merchant, but he was no way adept in calculations nor negotiation. He was utterly devoid of business acumen, and when his older brother took over the family business, Nikola took the opportunity to leave home and pursue a career in the arts. However, even in that he was hopeless. His poor conversational skills and lack of anyone to recommend him left him with no choice but to sketch portraits on the streets for a living. Even though Broussonne was the capital of fine arts, a third-rate artist like him would never be able to mingle with the upper-crust members of society. That was his lot.

“Hah…”

Nikola raised his head and let out a turbid sigh.

As evening fell, the streets were clearing as people hurried home. It was almost time for him to pack up his easel and leave. He had had four customers that day. In the end, one of them had torn up his finished work and refused to pay. It added up to a miserable sum, just enough to pay for dinner for the night. Last month, and the month before that, he had been unable to afford to pay his rent. With that in mind, he wanted to stick it out a little longer, but when the sun went down the less reputable members of society would come out from the shadows. If he ended up running into thugs, he would be pressured into giving up what little coins he had left.

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