Travelling in the desert turned out to be exceptionally unpleasant, and it was far worse when travelling with a caravan. For me, anyway, I am sure it made sense for people who couldn’t afford a chariot and driver, which was most everyone except high ranking nobles and priests. If we had to travel by donkey, I might have gone mad before we made it to the first village, but thankfully we were able to use mules which were much faster.
Compared to donkeys, anyway. I could have probably made it to my destination faster on foot if it wasn’t a desert. Of course, I would need to carry water with me if I was on foot, and that would slow me down and I obviously wouldn’t be able to carry food or goods with me as well. Hence, the mules.
In a lot of ways, it put into perspective just how much the desert limited the size of our empire. A lot of the land was simply so inhospitable that despite our power and wealth, we could barely reach a couple hundred miles away from Sharon’An. The river that we lived on was our lifeblood away from which the sheer brutality of the sands would leave nothing but bleached bones.
Each leg of this trip was around sixty miles in length. Our caravan would be moving around thirty miles a day and that was with the Skills of our [Caravan Leader]. Traveling a few miles an hour on the back of a smelly animal with nothing to look at but open was mind numbing. I swore that, after this business with the peace treaty was done, I would have a road built and carriages invented if it was the last thing I did.
I spent most of my time singing, and lamenting the fact that I lacked a Skill that would help us move faster. My only consolation was that I could try and use this as a way to test some of my theories about Skills. I currently believed that every Class had a list of Skills that they could obtain and the higher the Class level, the more powerful and interesting Skills would be available. That part was somewhat of an obvious point, but it was the basis for the next part of my theory.
If there was a list of Skills that someone could get, what decided what they would get? My observation - which is to say, my interrogations of [Servants] and [Laborers] - was that the largest basis for obtaining a Skill was whether or not you needed it. If you were a [Warrior] having trouble staying alive and it was reasonably certain that your next real battle would kill you, you would be far more likely to gain a defensive Skill in training.
How much you wanted a Skill and how much you tried to obtain a Skill were lesser factors, but they were also factors. If you had no real “need” then the next most important factor was how much you tried or trained to get a certain Skill. Of course, my data was contaminated by the fact that few people tried or trained for Skills that they didn’t want.
Nevertheless, I certainly needed to reach my destinations on time; speed was imperative, especially because the faster we moved the more time I would have to prepare each village. I also wanted, desperately, to have this end faster. Which only left training, which I am fairly sure my singing counted as. If I did level up, I would expect to get a Skill that would make this ordeal more tolerable.
At least my singing probably made this trip more tolerable for the people I was travelling with, and it was a lot of people. First, there was myself, but I was an [Imperial Princess] and so I needed both [Servants] and [Soldiers] to guard me and there was the [Caravan Guide], who had a couple of [Servants] and hired [Guards] with him. I was bringing riches with me, in part to pay the villagers and in part to begin the process of decorating for the Hin’Tye [First Prince’s] visit.
I wasn’t going to carry the gold myself, which meant more mules and more mules meant more [Servants] to take care of them. Then we needed to have more [Guards] to protect the treasure and watch over the [Servants] to prevent theft and more [Soldiers] to watch over the [Guards]! And all of these people have to eat and drink, which means more mules and even more [Servants]!
Camping out in the desert was at least tolerable. Cold, yes, but I had blankets and a tent. I can always add more layers if I am cold, but there is only so much an [Imperial Princess] can remove in the heat. It is a mark of [Slaves] to go about naked, and even then it is only the men usually. Not that we had nearly as many [Slaves] as I expected, but that was an effort for another time.
The food available for dinner and breakfast the next day only strengthened my conviction that my decision to plan for [Messengers] and [Couriers] to meet and supply us while we traveled was a good idea. Not that it was particularly poor, but it was basically just bread and salted meat. And by salted meat I meant jerky because anything that could spoil would spoil in the heat. So to fulfill Father’s request - and coincidentally add to my own comfort - I was going to make even the travelling luxurious for the visiting prince!
I had the [Map Maker] I dragged along mark the position of our overnight camp on the maps. I would have [Laborers] brought out to construct some small structures. Rooms for the upper ranks to sleep in, a dining area, and most importantly, latrines. Plus, they could raise some poles that linen could be stretched between to make an impromptu structure if need be. Actually, as I think about it, having a waystation like this built might just be a good idea in general. Another thought to put in my back pocket for later.
I had [Messengers] relay my orders back to Al’a’xeria; I wasn’t going to wait until I returned to the city to get this started. One of the flaws in Ra’Sharon as an empire was that the backbone of our- Well, our basically everything, was [Laborers]. [Builders] and [Masons] were skilled positions that we had far fewer of then one might initially imagine. Not that we didn’t have a lot of them, but they spent more time doing detailed work than anything as mundane as constructing a stone room in the middle of nowhere.
Back on Earth, this probably wouldn’t be all that important in the grand scheme of things. It would be a waste to have a trained, educated, and skilled worker doing a job like hauling stone that an uneducated peasant could do just as easily. In this world though, Skills were a thing and a [Builder] or [Mason] with a [Leader] Class or a consolidation of [Leader] and one or both of the other two leading a team composed of [Builders] could set up a basic structure in less than a day.
[Laborers] would take a much longer time. Although, compared to an Earth civilization with roughly the same technology and in a similar location, they were still incredibly impressive. Much of the reason that it wouldn’t make much of a difference if the workers on Earth were skilled or unskilled for a project like this is that the project simply wouldn’t be possible in the time frame I desired. I would probably be just making it Al’a’xeria now if it weren’t for Classes and Skills. Instead, I was entering the first village.
Nater was a salt mine, which meant a couple of things. First, an absurd amount of wealth was produced here. Salt was an incredibly important commodity and was worth its weight in gold in some places. It had surprised me to learn that the more educated people I had met were aware that salt was necessary to survive, especially in an environment like Ra’Sharon where the heat caused people to dehydrate quickly. Salt was, in a quite literal sense, life.
But it was also death, because the second thing about Nater was that it was a place where [Slaves] went to die. Ra’Sharon didn’t have many [Slaves] compared to its population, but you would never know it here. Nater was almost entirely made of [Slaves], [Overseers], and [Taskmasters] and was, essentially, a bunch of huts and a pit.
Salt mining - something I had never even thought about on Earth where I was more worried about having too much sodium - was deadly. It carried all the risks generally associated with mining but added extreme dehydration to the mix because the salt would suck the water right out of the miners. Not to mention that the Ra’Sharon desert was hot as hell and that the [Slaves] were poorly treated in general.
After meeting with the [Head Overseer] however, I decided that it had to change- partially, at least. Ideally, there wouldn’t be slaves or [Slaves] of any kind, but I simply lacked the power to do such a thing. Worse still, from the view up above, when considering the empire, it was somewhat hard to justify improving things in a place like Nater. People died in Nater all the time, but if there was somehow a shortfall in salt, people would die all over.
Regardless, some changes did have to occur. Nater was close to the border and we had a history of skirmishes with the Hin’Tyes, which meant that a portion of the [Slaves] here were Hin’Tye [Soldiers] captured in battle or maybe even civilians that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It would be a poor start to our peace for them to see their people enslaved barely a hundred miles past the border. Especially not when the area itself was also incredibly valuable commercially and strategically.
“And so, I want you to make certain all Hin’Tyes in the mines survive until we pass through here,” I was saying to the [Head Overseer] over a cup of wine. “More than that, treat them well. I don’t want to see starving or scarred men when we pass through and I free them as a gift.”
“Your Highness,” the [Head Overseer] wore almost as much jewelry as I did and it jingled softly as he set his cup down. “A significant portion of the workers here are captured Hin’Tye [Soldiers] or similar Classes. It isn’t like they lose their levels in [Soldier] or whatever else they have when they take up the [Slave] Class; for all the trouble they could cause if they revolt, these men are also our best workers. There hasn’t been any skirmish of significance in weeks, the [Soldiers] are still alive because they are far hardier than some peasant sold into slavery by their parents.”
“And you worry that salt production would suffer,” I sigh, knowing that this problem would have to be addressed and trying to think quickly. Thankfully, my travel had given me an idea, one so simple I had to wonder why it had yet to be implemented.
“I am uncertain that this would solve the fact that there would be an immediate dip in production,” I speak slowly, choosing my words carefully and constructing my arguments in my head. “But my own studies and education have led me to some interesting ideas for how to apply the [Singer] and [Musician] Classes. I believe that - with the correct stimulus - many of them could gain Skills that increase Strength and restore energy to those who listen. A single [Singer] might be able to improve the efficiency of the entire mine, if everyone can hear him.”
“Perhaps that is so, Your Highness,” he agrees readily as a [Slave] tops off his wine. “Yet ideas that could work in the future really do nothing to solve the issue before us now. A more practical solution would be to simply keep the [Slaves] out of sight.”
But then I couldn’t get the goodwill from the [First Prince] by freeing his people for him, which I felt would be a great bonus to the start of negotiations. Of course, on the other hand, the [Soldiers] could be a part of those negotiations. A more acceptable proposal might be to offer to return the [Soldiers] in exchange for other [Slaves]. There would be less of a hit to the salt production but I would also be not nearly in as good a spot with the peace treaty than if I simply freed them at no cost.
It would also require me to stomach being a more direct participant in the trade of [Slaves]. It already left a bitter taste in my mouth that I had to leave any slavery alone, but actually being part of the trade would turn my stomach. I don’t think I could do it- is what I wish I could say, but salt was life and compromising the freedom of a few to aid in a peace between two large civilizations was a trade I would take if I had to. I would hate myself and the world as I did it, but I would do it. Still, I desperately considered what options I might have. [Singers] and [Musicians] were not an option for now, and it wasn’t like there were any other Classes… That had Skills… That…
By Podi, I am a fool. The answer was obvious, even if it was expensive and I was an [Imperial Princess] or Ra’Sharon! If there was one thing I did not lack, it was gold. I was wealthy beyond the dreams of most people, and that kind of wealth could move mountains. Or at least get someone to travel to a salt mining town for a while, anyway.
“I have already sent to Al’a’xeria to build a waypoint between here and the city,” I gave a victorious smile. “It would be little trouble to send for additional [Masons]. Salt is essentially stone, yes? Their Skills can make up for the loss of [Slaves] until more can be brought north.”
“That would be… Costly,” the [Head Overseer] mulled the offer over. “If Your Highness is truly willing to pay for such a thing, it might be enough to shift the balance.”
“I will also have a [Quarrymaster] sent for,” I continued, thinking of how to improve further. “They will not likely be able to stay long - Father’s projects always require more stone - but unless I missed something when I checked, none here have that Class. It would likely be a boon to your work here.”
I had used [Scholar’s Eye] to check, and no one seemed to have the Class. Although I certainly hadn’t seen everyone and the Skill was far from perfect, so I could be wrong about that. It did allow me to see that the [Head Overseer] also had the [Warrior] and [Merchant] Classes though, which was something. It was rare for people to accumulate too many Classes, and so I thought it unlikely that a Class like [Quarrymaster] had evaded my sight.
“Unfortunately, in all likelihood I am too high level to be able to benefit much from another Class. I simply would not be able to level it much.” the man shrugged, “but I will certainly try, and production will likely be boosted while he is here. Still, the cost… Are you sure you wish to do this, Your Highness?”
“Yes, I am.” I was glad to have found a solution that involved freeing people instead of trading them, “have the Hin’Tye men taken care of. I don’t care if they still work, but before our scheduled arrival with the prince I want them to have bathed the day before. Lighten their work until then, feed them well and forbid the other [Overseers] from beating them.”
One more problem solved, a seemingly infinite amount left to go.
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