Editor: Areth Kyntaul
While supporting me, Nier said, “Her Majesty was such in a good mood tonight. That’s the first time I’ve seen Her Majesty get drunk.”
I weakly leaned on Nier and murmured, “Ah… yeah… I’m drunk, too… I feel really sick…”
Mom looked really happy today. Not only did she drink one cup after another, but she even sang loudly at the end.
I must say, Mom’s singing is… so-so… I’m not sure if her voice was affected because she was drunk, or if she was just poor at singing, to begin with. However, we still had to humour Mom when she sang…
I wonder what Vyvyan’s singing is like. Elves should have very graceful voices, so Vyvyan shouldn’t have a problem with singing.
Tonight’s banquet wasn’t an official one. It was just a simple dinner to celebrate our arrival. However, if you were to consider the dishes served, it was anything but a simple dinner.
All of the food served was available in the city. I gave the dishes extra attention. The meat, hot soup and smoked fish were all quite good.
Judging by the food, this city shouldn’t have to deal with starvation. However, according to Castell, there was indeed a food shortage.
When I got back to my room, I sat on my bed.
Nier carefully undid the buttons on my clothes, leaving just my under-shirt. She stroked my face and said with a smile, “Your Majesty… did you… want to… that… we… tonight…?”
“Sorry, Nier… I’m feeling a little lightheaded…”
“It’s alright. I’ll do the moving.” Nier licked her lips and then knelt down beside the bed and stared intently below my waist-line, like a hunting-dog getting the approval to dig in from its master.
“… Alright, alright. You win. You win.” I gave up and lay back on the bed. I was done. I had completely given up… Let her knock herself out as long as I don’t have to die.
I fully believe that Nier will soon be pregnant. I’ll be safe once she’s pregnant. At least I can get a one-year break! Yes! I’ll get at least a one-year break!
“I apologise, sister-in-law. If possible, I would like to borrow Onii-sama for a bit.” Freya stepped out from her room just as Nier was about to pull my leather belt off.
She didn’t panic at all despite seeing what we were doing. Nope, she didn’t even blush.
Nier looked at her angrily, frowned and asked, “What do you want to borrow His Majesty for?”
“Of course it will not be for what you are doing.” Freya chuckled softly and then continued, “It is about work, or rather, the work that is coming up.”
“His Majesty is drunk, now. Discuss it tomorrow.”
“If Onii-sama is already asleep, what are you doing?”
‘Forget it. You could give Nier forever, and she wouldn’t be able to out-talk Freya. Freya usually would never disturb me when I’m sleeping. This is the first time she’s made an exception which means that it’s important business.’ I sat up and looked at Nier apologetically.
I then looked at Freya and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Onii-sama, it is a debt issue.”
“Ah? Do you owe someone money? Just pay them back, then. If you don’t have enough, just let me know and I’ll go ask Her Majesty for some, just as long as it’s not a ridiculous amount.”
“No, it is not I who owe someone money, but others who owe you money. And a large amount for that matter. The debt would require everyone in this city to not eat, not drink, and work to pay the debt. And even then, it would take about fifty years to pay it off.”
While Freya wore a teasing smile, I could see that this was definitely no minor matter from the look in her eyes.
My brain switched back on. I wore my clothes back on and stood up. I walked over to Freya and then turned my head around to tell Nier, “Sorry Nier, I’ll be back soon.”
Nier nodded with a slightly disappointed look and replied, “I will wait for you to come back then.”
I went with Freya to her room.
Luna was already asleep. She must be exhausted from today.
There was a candle on the table on one side, and underneath the flame was an account book. It looks like Freya has been scanning through these books ever since she came back. This place used to be comprised of small towns and villages, so when you stacked all the account books together, it was one tall stack. That said, they look like they’ve all been opened, now.
I took a look and saw the debts that villages owed the landlords. That’s not quite right. They were the debts they owed the empire.
The people pay taxes to the tax official. The tax official hands it over to the lords of the domains, and then the lords of the domains send the annual total to the royal family.
What I noticed was that most of the debts the people owed were food debts.
No, not a food shortage, but poor harvests, which forced the people to sell more food in order to make enough to pay taxes. In reality, according to the laws of the empire, if a region has a poor harvest or suffers from a natural disaster, then the tax they must pay for the year is reduced or even annulled.
Mom understands the habits and characteristics of officials, but she’s also too lazy to go and arrest every single one of them.
How much in taxes a region must pay is decided upon their situation for the particular year in question. They just need to pay ninety-percent of what’s required, which circumvents the officials from illegally selling food or arms.
The problem lies with the officials who were previously in charge of this area. They forged numbers, even when harvests were poor, and embezzled more than ten percent.
Here comes the problem. The people, who didn’t have much food in the first place, then had to sell even more food, thereby leaving them with barely any food left over.
To make matters worse, when the palace was built, we naturally had to replenish the food warehouse. The food in the palace was from collecting the remaining food.
Though we did purchase the food from the people, the people can’t refuse to sell it because it’s an order from the royal family. There’s no room for questioning there. Refusal would be treated as treason, and you’d be sentenced to death.
This had a snowball effect on the people.
As the snowball rolled, their debts increased into this number that was making my hairs stand up. Rather than calling them my people, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to call them my slaves! They were slaving away to repay a massive debt. They were doomed to never leave this city.
For me, this was a city, a city where I would take the first steps to becoming emperor. But to them, this was a prison designed to gather them all here.
“That is how it is. Actually, this is the case in many places.”
When Freya saw my expression, she shrugged and then continued, “A village is a village, a lord of a domain is a lord of a domain. Under normal circumstances, the two are only connected by tax matters. Officials have no right to interfere with the people’s freedom as long as they pay their taxes. That is if they were lords that were not greedy.”
“In that case, the lives of the people on this land would be none of their business. However, if the lord wanted to extort the people, how would they control the people and prevent them from leaving?”
“Answer; by chaining them down with taxes. If they did not pay the tax amount required annually, their debt would be recorded. So even if they had no way of culturing the land in winter, the interest would still continue to increase, nonetheless. A year later, the people’s harvest in the second year would only be enough for them to pay off their debt from last year while their tax due for this year would be another year owed…”
“The process would repeat itself like that afterwards. The people and the lord have no direct connection, but they have become the lord’s slave as a result of their debt. As a result, the people must provide whatever the lord asks of them. That is the most frightening thing.”
“But… but… are you saying that the empire is completely in the dark about this? … Are you saying that Mom is unaware?”
“Her Majesty definitely knows, but what does it have to do with her?” Freya looked at me and explained, “The Empire collected the taxes, and the officials and lords fulfilled their duties, so is there any reason for Her Majesty to bother with the origins of the money? Her Majesty also needs the lords and officials. And it so happens to be that said lords and officials are well aware that the empress knows what they are up to.”
“They are afraid of Her Majesty and therefore definitely will not try to do anything to her. And when the people’s rage explodes, Her Majesty can use the crimes she has not yet charged them for as a reason to conveniently execute them. Thus, the people are appeased. That would only serve to bolster the empress’ just image in the people’s hearts.”
“That is political trickery, Onii-sama. Just officials and lords, who do not have personal interests, always have grand ambitions. They are a valuable asset in times of war. However, Her Majesty will definitely not allow the officials serving her to harbour any grand ambitions in times of peace and prosperity.”
My hands and feet went ice-cold as I looked at the account records before me. What I heard made me completely sober.
‘I never knew there would be such a thing happening. Is the fairness and justice I’ve always pursued something impossible to achieve? Just how dark is the world that I want? I’ve always been in the royal palace watching the people in the royal capital. I never imagined there would be such connections.’
Freya folded her arms. She looked at me as if she was smiling but at the same time not and said, “Your Majesty, if I were you… I would start collecting taxes…”
T/N: Cue the geniuses who are going to come in talking about how to rule in 100% theoretical fashion on a digital screen like they could control every possibility or otherwise predict them, despite never having ruled a country.
E/N: Or having at least studied economics, politics, or sociology… You know, any related field.