The news about the arrival of the Knight and his contingent quickly spread throughout the village. It triggered the curiosity of the whole village. The villagers gingerly talked about the affairs that happened in the village plaza. There were some young men bragging about what they saw to the young ladies of the village. Their chest puffed up as if they were a protagonist of a heroic tale, adding sweet nothings to their every word. The ladies, on the other hand, giggled sweetly in turn, triggering the young ones to brag to point of insanity. On the other hand, the elders were looking daggers at the naive youths, some even shouting at the young brats to help in tilling the fields. Nevertheless, the hoarse shouts just fell into deaf ears, the young ones still ever busy with their bragging. They would just shout ‘okay’ or ‘I’ll go later’ to the elders then eventually forgetting it altogether in a few minutes.
This was a daily happening in the village of Lother.
Meanwhile, the married women of the village gossiped like disturbed chickens about the secrets of the Madame’s beauty. Wishing to learn how the Madame maintained her beauty after carrying three children. After all, no women wished to be neglected by their husbands. Wanting to become beautiful was something inherent in every woman.
Thus, they decided to ask the maids serving the Madame later. Perhaps, they knew how the Madame’s managed to keep her beauty.
The other villagers and elders discussed the village issues discreetly. They were thinking about the new changes that the newly assigned lord might implement. They also planned to raise some issues about the village. Though, some of them ambitiously dreamt to become one of the lord’s steward by showing their worth.
========= Village of Lother – The Commander’s Manor==========
After establishing his merits through the regular monster campaign enforced all over the country. Knight Brooks managed to earn the trust of the Baron and the current King of Rutherford. His exemplary courage and wit in battles earned him a rich award from the Baron and a fief from King. During his three years stint in the monster subjugation army, he led a lot of victories and conquered a lot of lands which was once infested by monsters. He also saved a lot of soldiers which included the Baron. The knight earned the admiration of many people, some of them even decided to follow him to his new fief. He was then awarded a fief, the village of Lother. From then on the former landless knight became a pioneering knight, the knight had finally succeeded through grit. It was decided that the knight would facilitate the development of the wilderness near the village.
(1000 Acres = 4 square km)
“The village of Lothar is around 2000 acres alone.” The white-bearded elderly village chief seriously reported; “Aside from that, the size of the forest of wilderness is still unaccounted due to the presence of dangers caused by wild animals and monsters. Still, the forest of wilderness contains abundant resources of nature… though fraught with danger. We currently have about 73 families living here, a total of around 500 villagers. We also have self-learned carpenters, forest foragers, hunters, farmers, few militiamen, etc.”
The village chief was trying his best to get the new lord recognized the exact value of the village. He knew that a simple snap from the new lord would affect the lives of all the villagers.
The pangs of passion coming from the old man received the nod of the other village elders. Knight Levo was also continuously nodding along with them, acting as if he understood the explanation of the old chief.
The look of approval from the knight truly appeared genuine.
“Lord, what are your plans for the village. Should we expand to the wilderness? Plant more crops or focus more on foraging?” One of the elders asked. "How about the trade and caravans? Would you implement a new policy or continue with what we have?”
The questions carried the hope of the villagers for new ideas for the development. The people seemed to be expecting a lot from the lord. Yet, looking at the dumbfounded face of their new lord. Their gazes wavered and dimmed a little.
It seemed like the knight does not know much about land management.
Seeing that face, the village head thought that the lord… was indeed more of a warrior than a manager. Something common to new lords originating from the military, they were nobles but had zero experience in managing lands. They were good at wars and battles but bad in managing their lands. Streaks of disappointment immediately flashed in the elderly village head's face. But nevertheless, he immediately hid it from the knight and everybody in the room.
“Kuhumm, that’s enough let me handle this, Levo,” The madame intervened. “Let's first start with the introduction. He is Knight Levo von Brooks, my husband. I’m Annis von Brooks. I would be the one assisting my husband in issues about the management of the fief, policies, taxation and land distribution. Now, introduce yourself and your duties to your new lord.”
The wise look of the madame alleviated some of the worries of the village elders especially the old chief. The eloquent introduction of the madame was rather effective.
In turn, the villagers introduced themselves one by one.
“This old man is called Bose, at your service lord Knight, I am the current village chief. I’m responsible for overseeing the whole village. Accounting and distribution of harvest and yields are something I also handle. I am also the one who received the sealed letter of the lord Baron.”
“Lord, I am Zaan, the head carpenter of the village responsible for building and repairing houses, sheds and tools.”
“Higgs! Sir Knight. I’m the head hunter of the village. I scout the forest and wilderness for resources needed by the village. Hunting wild monsters to prevent monster overruns is my responsibility. We also foraged foods such as vegetables and berries from the forest from time to time.”
“Gil, my lord, I am the herder. I take care of the domesticated boars, goats, and cows of the village. I usually bring them daily in the nearby grassy hills.”
“Sean, my liege…”
The introduction took a lot of time during the meeting. It seemed like the madame was trying to get as much as possible information from village elders. The focal point of the meeting focused on the villagers and their jobs. Then the madame's questions revolved around goods, peddlers, and skills of the villagers.
After the initial show of anticipation, the long introductions and queries dwindled some of the village elders' interest.
Some of the elders wondered why the Madame insisted on knowing such tedious thinks. If they were in her position they would rather talk about the new gossips coming from the nearby town. Going home and lazing around would be more interesting than remembering such wearisome things. That’s what the ladies and women do in the village.
Forcing to keep their eyelids in check from sliding down, they nodded continuously to each of the introductions. Feigning attentiveness was their answer to this dreary experience, some of them even couldn’t wait to return home.
Well, anyway it’s rare for a village to have a lord presiding over it. Usually, the management of the village was left to rot in the old chief’s hand.
The usual routine was to follow the orders of the chief, then finish it. Though they thirst for new interesting things, most of them don’t even put a little effort to do something new. As long there was food and water in their tables, all things were good and well.
Never did they thought that noble couple was actually watching their every movement, yes, everything. From the elders' room-exploring eyes, soft yawns, and even their unsettling fidgets.
Nevertheless, the meeting still continued. The madame only showed a beaming smile after each introduction.
Catching a glimpse of the madame's calculating grin, the attendants of the Lord’s family smiled wryly. The maids shuddered. The esquires’ shadows were now nowhere to be seen. Upon seeing the madam smiling, the esquires’ immediately told the attendants that they would patrol around the manor until the meeting ends. The gentle smile of the madame was a bad omen. A simple simper carried the most devilish plots they knew in the knight's household.
The elders had offended someone that they should not.
A few minutes had passed from the aspect clock inside the meeting room as the meeting continued after the elder's introductions. The temperature inside the old manor turned warm after the fireplace was lit up.
According to the letter of the Lord Baron, the lord would focus a lot on the current status of the village. The available coins in the village coffers, the harvest's yields, illnesses, infrastructures, manpower, and issues which might need immediate attention. This was the standard question that should be us by the new lord according to protocol when they received their new fiefs. Though, only a few of the new nobles really cared about this.
"Ahem, the assembly today would be a simple question and answer," the madame said. "Remember I'll be the only one asking questions. You guys would just answer, as simple as that. Do you get it?"
"Yes madame," the elders replied in chorus.
"Ciera, please do write up all their answers in a paper," The madam walked towards to the little lady then patted their head intimately. The eight-year-old lady’s eyes shone as she purred in delight.
The old chief and the elders threw a surprising look at the little lady, their bored eyes had found something interesting. The villagers' curiosity had been tickled by the young girl. Most of the eight-year-old brats in the village would usually play around the village like noisy critters. Those little kids don’t even know how to write their names.
Hearing her mother's request, the little lady leisurely strode, a proud smile held in her adorable face. Carrying a piece of paper, a bottle of ink, and a newly cleaned writing brush, she sat at a chair near the oak wood table. She tried to imitate her father who was sitting straight at the nearby chair. She then looked at the villagers, waiting for the answers that she would write.
"Okay elders, let's start with the first question." The madame’s eyes turned a bit sharp. "How much do we have in the village coffers?"
"This Old Bose answers madame. We currently have 2 gold coins, 73 silver coins and 202 copper coins, all Rutherfordian."
“Oh, where did you get those gold and silver coins?” Madame Annis asked, her eyes showing a bit of interest as she waited for the answer. It was rare for a little village to have gold or silver coins since the currency was only used in big towns or cities. She knew that the villagers only barter goods with other nearby villages. The peddlers and passing merchants would also only barter their goods rather than release their hard-earned silver or gold coins. It was stupid to pay the villagers gold or silver since most of them would only keep it as heirlooms rather than spend it. At most, they would only pay copper coins for goods.
“Madame, the gold and silver coins were earned from the carcass of a dead monster. Last year, we found a dead magic beast in the forests.” The village chief Bose answered. “I knew that monster parts are worth a lot in the capital so we brought it to the village and sold it to a passing merchant. The merchant had no goods in his hand to barter with us, so he paid us gold and silver coins instead.”
“Hmnn, you were indeed lucky. Alright, what's the current status of the animal husbandry and the past season's harvest?”
"We have 4 oxen along with two calves; 73 domesticated boars distributed throughout the households; 22 sheep with 5 cossets; 7 goats with 2 kids; 63 egg-laying hens and an unknown amount of chicks. The figures were based on the last census before the winter." The old chief answered quickly. "For harvest; it's mostly lentils, beans, onion, parsley, peas, coleworts, and others. Most of them are already pickled in a salt brine before the arrival of cold weather in order to last longer."
'What of the illnesses? Are there any epidemics? Do we have any doctors or herbalists here?
"None madame, aside from fever, coughs, and indigestion due to overeating. We have no doctor nor herbalist, but this old man knows a little due to my experiences in the town."
“The infrastructures?” Manpower? The knight butted in. “Are their former soldier’s in this village?”
"This little manor, the deep wells, and the stone and wooden walls in the outskirts are all we have Lord." It was built by the army en route to the forest of wilderness for a monster campaign a few decades ago."
Unbeknownst, a glint of coldness, arose from the madame's eyes peering pointedly at the elders. There actions and faces were gently crossed out with red paints in the madame's mind. In her eyes, the fidgets of an adult man were not so nice to see.
“As per the soldiers, we once had a lot of soldiers but they are already in old age.” The village chief answered as he scratched his head. “Most of them love to patrol all across the village to reminisce and share stories rather than to guard.”
Hearing the unperturbed exposition of the old chief, little Ciera's hand waltz with her feathered pen dancing throughout the dull paper. Nearby the knight and madame, Liszt proudly looked at the broad shoulders of his parents. Whilst, little Klive played with the dust-laden mahogany table after failing to keep his back straight and chest puffed, unlike his father and elder brother.
"As per manpower, aside from those people in here. We only have another 207 people working in different areas; most of them are middle-aged men and old ones who don’t wish to retire." Sighing, the face of the old man was cast with shadows. "Please, punish the incapability of this old man."
To properly feed a village who focuses on planting, at least half of its population must work to assure a stable supply of food before the first snowfalls. Considering the size and age of the farmers, it was a miracle that the village even managed to survive past this winter.
The old chief then looked at the other elders. The elders, on the other hand, also looked at the old chief as if encouraging him to tell something.
“Well, we also have a lot of young ones.” He then scratched his head. “But most of them are lazy bums?
“Lazy bums?” The knight raised his eyebrows upon hearing the explanation of the chief.
The villagers gasped in surprise as they looked at the knight, they saw the crushed arm of the oak wood-carved chair.
“Why?” The knight threw a piercing gaze at all the elders in the room.
The villagers lowered their heads as they gazed at their feet as if it was an unfathomable abyss. No one dared to look at their new lord as sweat poured at their backs. They felt they were standing in front of a predator, the hairs in their backs stood.
In the Kingdom of Rutherford, lazy people were something every lord loathes. It would be fine if they were nobles or rich merchants who could just sit while others run their businesses, but if they were not? That would be a very different story. In some fief, some hot-headed nobles would even whip the slothful ones in front of their whole domain to set an example. After all, the founder of the kingdom instilled the word hard work as one of the greatest virtue of the kingdom. It was known to be one of the reasons for the economic success of the kingdom after the great war. It’s even written in the "Analects of the First King of Rutherford", a book revered by scholars all around the Eudorian continent.
A few moments later, the knight sighed and simply looked at madam. He then looked at the crestfallen old village chief. His brows and hair were graying white, his back arching, and the wrinkles were starting to take over his callous palms. He doesn’t look like someone who’s lazy.
His looks were earned through farm work and paper works.
A stifling bout of silence loomed all over across the four sides of the cold room. Some of the faces of the elders paled, they knew that they had failed in disciplining the young ones. So, the punishment was inevitable. They thought of their sons, daughters, and grandsons that would undergo whipping. Their faces crumpled and their scalps went numb. They doted heavily at their children and grandchildren unlike those in the towns and cities. They were willing to take over the work of the sloths despite their old age which made the young ones to become like this.
Suddenly, a sneeze from little lord broke the silence, all the people present stopped and looked at the child tinkering a dusty wooden chair. Even the young lord and young lady, Lizst and Ciera, awkwardly glanced at their little brother.
Seeing the focused look of everyone in the room, the child suddenly found his courage to boast.
Innocently scratching his tiny nose, the child slowly stood up and proudly looked at the people in the meeting room and said.
"Don’t worry old grandpa. My father and mother will solve all your problems away. You see, I even saw Uncle Baron, Uncle Rich, and Uncle King begging my father for help. Also, they'll... mnhnn- mhnn…
Hearing the scandalous tale of the young kid, the people in the meeting room smiled wryly, blowing away some of the seriousness in the room. The maids and attendants sweated upon hearing the words of the little kid especially hearing the ‘king part’. When the esquires who had just returned from their patrol heard it, they immediately walked away again to excuse themselves, their aim now was to patrol the whole village. They wouldn’t dare to return until they’re sure that the meeting was already finished. Nevertheless, they never forgot to cast a gaze at the kid whose mouth was now covered by the big hands of his burly father.
"Stop it Klive! Return to your seat and wait. Hmnn... Anyway, for the last question, any issue or problem that requires our immediate attention?"
For the final question, a not so old man took a step forward and answered. He peeked at the Lord. Though, hiding his sight immediately when the Lord looked at him. The Knight was enamored by the gingerly old man. Thus, he repeatedly glanced at the old man, teasing the nervous old dud.
"Th-this Ol-old Gazz will an-answer the query Madame;" Biting his tongue, the old man stuttered inviting mirth of nervous cackles from the lord and the attendants. “The village is currently experiencing problems with the-the weakening land and lower yields during harvest. We already did our best to find a solution but still to no avail. We ask for guidance from the Madame and th-the K-knight!"
“Alright, we will look at it.” The knight answered in a deep voice, he then closed his eyes. “As per the slothful ones, I’ll put my judgment for later. Remember, the first king once said ‘we shall show no mercy to the sloths’.”
The meeting concluded after a short message of encouragement from the knight and the madame.
The elders' shadows receded swiftly from the place as if they were veering away from the sun. They ran to their homes, bringing the warning of the new lord. Only the old chief along with his family remained to make arrangements for the knight and his contingent.
The knight’s contingent was given hospitable single-story houses prepared for village guests.
On the other hand, the knights family were asked to stay at the village chief's house, it was the biggest house in the whole village aside from the old manor. They were asked to stay here for a day since they were still going to clean the old manor.
The old man and his family told the knight that they would sleep in one of their empty houses. And like the other elders, the old chief immediately excused himself and ran back to his eldest son's home to share the latest news.