I was reincarnated into this life.
Wars always bring hardship. With the men away to fight a war, the women are left behind to take care of themselves. To some, this is a good opportunity to profit at the expense of the defenseless women. That is, until I come along and change everything. Fear me, scoundrels!
Hello everyone. It's me, the reincarnated Lady Felicia. How are you all doing? Just a recap, we received news some time ago that the neighbouring kingdom of Surfes was building up their army in preparation for a war. We feared that war would come in summer.
We were right. Right now, we at the end of summer and nobody doubted that a war will happen. Currently, we are in a somewhat festive mood, though. Why? Because tomorrow is the Aging Ceremony.
The 'Aging Ceremony' on the final day of the Summer Harvest Festival was originally the time of celebration when everyone became one year older. Unlike modern times, the dates of a particular month had no particular value to such middle age society. Instead of saying "I was born on the 5th of May 1990," in this society, people would normally say, "I was born on the summer night of the 50th year of Moonlit Flames". Therefore, while there were some minor variations, generally a person became one year older during the Summer Harvest Festival, which the 'Aging Ceremony' was a part of.
This summer's harvest festival is a sad one. The day after the Aging Ceremony, the army will march forth towards the ducal capital of Remus. From there, they will march towards war. Some of them may not even make it back alive. Some will become maimed for life. Some will return, but from what father said, there is no guarantee for that at all. After careful consideration, father decided to lead the troops only after the aging ceremony is concluded, to give the troops time to say goodbye to their family members.
Mother cried a river. She begged father not to go, asking father to stay and just send Sir Mosro instead. Of course, father had to disagree. As a baron, it was father’s duty to go to war. Besides, my second brother who was studying in the knight's academy in the kingdom's capital of Forlen would also be fighting as part of the apprentice knights corps.
Of course, I worry about father, and about my older brother. But I knew why they had to go. It was their duty to protect the people and to fight for our king. It was the sacrifice we had to make for the privileges we received. To do anything less would be a betrayal of our station. I showed father a determined face as he led the column away on the dirt road. Finally, just as father's silhouette was about to disappear beyond the hill, I yelled loudly, "Father, come back soon! Don't worry, I'll take care of mother!"
Father must have heard it, because in front of the rising sun, he raised an open hand towards the sky without looking back. Then he was gone. Mother and I, as well as all the women and children of the village stood watch, some shouting promises and encouragements, until all of the soldiers were gone from sight.
What are you saying? I'm not crying. These aren't tears. It's... morning dew. Yes, that's right, it's just morning dew. Damn, there's so much morning dew this morning.
On the first day of the 10th year of my second life, my father left for war.
Everything went as normal, until two weeks later.
Some scruffy looking people rode across the town escorting a carriage that looked pretty extravagant. They rode past me while I was discussing with the representative of the fishermen about the possibility of switching to a new method of large scale fishing. I didn’t think anything of it, assuming that it was probably someone important either passing through or stopping by to meet mother.
When I went back a couple of hours later, though, mother was on her knees, crying on the dirt ground while the crude men loaded up our silverwares and mother's gold jeweleries into a cart.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!" I yelled at the top my lungs.
It shocked them so much that they stopped working for a few seconds. The moment they saw me though, they went back to work loading our valuables onto the cart, totally ignoring me. Meanwhile, a fat man wearing some kind of expensive looking velvet coat stood in front of mother saying some stuff that I couldn't hear while waving one of those thick papers in front of her face.
"Stop what you are doing!" I commanded, which the rough men ignored.
"Maids, stop them!" I commanded, to which our two household maids took up spears and thrusted it at the five rough men loading up our valuables.
They were clearly surprised at suddenly being attacked by these gentle-looking household maids. Unlike the rest of the kingdom, it has always been a Rusenfel tradition to arm and train our household servants in warfare. Our household servants weren't just servants, they were also our family's bodyguards. While their skills wouldn't be comparable to a trained knight, they were more than capable of fighting bandits.
Thus it was that the five men quickly drew their swords and surrounded the maids. Then suddenly the fat man turned away from mother. He look at me the way one would look at an insect with his small piggy eyes.
"Go away, peasant, or I'll have you stripped, crucified and lashed at the center of town."
"How dare you call me a peasant. I am the Honourable Lady Felicia Belphere Metrune, first daughter of Baron Alphonse Lartes Metrune. How dare you come here and cause such ruckus!"
"A lady? Wearing peasant's clothing?"
I was visiting my farm, why would I want to wear my best gowns to visit my farm?
"Impersonating a noble is a serious crime, little girl. You, the spiky-haired one, catch the girl. We're taking her with us," the fat man said as he turned around, scolding mother again.
The spiky-haired man sheathed his sword and came forward, while making a lewd face. One of our maids tried to stop him but she was intercepted by two of the men. If given a specific order, though, they would still rush towards me, even if it would kill them.
"Serin, take care of him," I ordered as I walked forward towards the fat man.
"Yes, my lady."
"Hey, little girl, where are you going? Come have some fun with big brother," he laughed.
"What are you waiting for, Serin?" I asked as I took another step.
"Y-yes!" Serin replied before she took a quick step forward, swung her 5 foot measuring staff towards the spiky-haired man's legs and brought him down. She then took off the fake end of the staff, revealing a sharp knife which she pointed at the man's neck. "S-sorry for this. Are-are you in pain?"
"Not as much as the pain I will give you, little girl!" The spiky-haired man growled as he put his hand on his sword while still on the ground.
"Th-that's good!" Serin said as she stabbed that hand with the knife end of her staff, "Th-then please forgive me for this!"
The screams of that man grabbed the fat man's attention. He turned around seeing one of his men on the ground, bleeding. Then his gaze turned towards Lili and I, who approached him calmly, walking past the thugs and our maids.
"You dare attack a ducal official?"
"You dare cause trouble at someone else's barony and terrorize the baroness?"
"I will have you hanged, little peasant."
"It's funny that you say that, because I'll make sure you hang first. You are in MY territory and that is MY mother after all."
"Impersonating a noble is a grave offense, little peasant."
"Impersonating a ducal official is a grave offense as well, fatty."
We must've glared at each other for minutes until he seemed to give up and turned away.
"Let's go, men. We've got what we're here for," he said as he turned to enter his carriage. Meanwhile, one of his lackeys moved to attach the cart to his horse.
"You will leave our stuff here!"
"You don't seem to understand, little girl. This is payment for a debt the baron has with the duke. Unless you can pay 300 gold right away, I'm afraid we will have to take these as prepayment."
"Please don't take away my mother's locket..." mother sobbed on the ground.
I knew the locket she was talking about. It was an oval locket 2 inches long made of solid gold, inside it was a drawing of mother and grandmother when mother was young. Grandmother died of some mysterious illness 4 years ago.
"You will leave them here."
"Are you deaf, little girl? I said this is prepayment for the debt. This here is the proof!" he said, waving a piece of paper that vaguely appeared to have some writing on it and a wax stamp on its lower right corner. I couldn't tell what was written on it though, as he kept shaking it around.
"Then you should've talked to father while father was here. He left less than two weeks ago."
"I go wherever I'm told. I was told to come here, right now to settle this debt. It's not my fault that the baron isn't here!"
"You know what? I think you're lying, so go away before I have you hanged." I was very confident that this man was a scoundrel looking to steal our family's stuff, because the duke knew that my father was fighting at the battlefield. Grandfather wouldn't be so cruel as to do this to his own daughter and granddaughter. But unless I could find proof, I couldn't just execute him. I didn't have the baron's authority.
He looked very angry at my words but turned around and entered his carriage. "Leave it!" he said towards the man who was unsure about whether or not to connect the cart containing our silverware and jewellery to his horse. Towards me, the fat man said, "This is not over, little girl. I'll be back!"
That night, after I managed to calm mother down, I asked her what happened with the fat man. She told me how the men suddenly came to the mansion, kicked open the door and told her that he was a ducal official and he was there to collect on our family's debt. Mother said it was true that father had some debt with the duke, but not as much as 300 gold.
Let me give you an idea of how much 300 gold is. 10 gold would be enough to make a nice small house. A mansion would cost around 40-70 gold, depending on the size. To build a small port with two docking arms, it would cost only around 120 gold. It would be unimaginable that father, who was always careful with his money, would take on that much of a debt without telling mother.
Not to mention, the timing of the 'official's' arrival was too suspicious. If he really was the ducal official, then he could've just talked to father two weeks ago before he left for the battlefield. It would be unlikely that the duke would forget such a big debt as well.
But it was all simply an assumption. We had no proof that he was an impostor. So the only thing we could do was to ask the duke himself. Thankfully, he didn't go to the battlefield with the army.
So the next day, I gathered the villagers and informed them that we may have been targeted by a scoundrel and that my mother the baroness had conscripted them all to protect the barony until I could get an explanation from the duke himself. It wasn't the best arrangement, but the villagers accepted their duties readily. The sowing of seeds would still be done, but now there would always be militias consisting of the women of the village patrolling day and night.
To make my journey easier, I had mother write a letter of introduction for my journey to the city of Renus. I also took some of the money I had in my stash for travel expenses as well as a secret weapon I made the moment my steel foundry was completed. I planned to travel quietly to meet the duke and hopefully arrive home before anything bad happened.
The letter of introduction would help greatly. Of course, the duke himself knows who I am, I am his granddaughter after all. But his guards probably won't recognize me, as the last time I visited the duke was two years ago, during the Aging Ceremony. That was about the time when father and the duke discussed marriage between me and that jerk.
I also couldn't just take the family carriage. For all I know, there could be a trap somewhere along the road. If I travelled as the Lady Felicia, there was a good chance I would be beset by bandits. No, I had to travel incognito. I needed to make myself look like a peasant or a free lady. That would be the best course of action while still allowing me to reach Renus in the same time it would take if I travelled as Lady Felicia.
A one-way trip to Renus would take three days after all. A round trip would probably take seven days. Many things could happen in seven days. If anything happened to mother or the barony while I was away, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.
I did promise father that I would take care of mother after all.
"Serin, Lili, take care of mother. I'll be back within a week," I said as I wrapped my body in a leather cloak instead of the velvet ones that nobility often used.
"But we are your servants, how can we let you go on your own?" Lili argued.
"How many times do I have to tell you? Stop calling yourself my servant. We're friends, aren't we? Besides, you know what my mother’s like," I said while holding both of Lili's shoulders.
"How cruel, are you calling your own mother weak, stupid and incompetent?" mother sobbed at the dining table.
Aren't you the only one saying that, mother?
Lili gave mother a pitying gaze before she said, "I understand. I'll stay with the baroness, but at least take Serin."
"No, Serin has never been outside the barony, and she's not used to camping outside. It would be best if I go alone."
"Then you won't mind if we tag along, will you, my lady?" said a voice at the door.
"Ah, you guys. Shouldn't you be at the farm?"
"We heard what happened and we wish to offer our help in any way, my lady," Lemy said as he, Somme and Gani knelt on the floor. "Please take us along, my lady. We swear to protect you and serve you in every way we can."
"But even so, what can you all do? Even you, Lemy, you are only 11, what can you do if we are ambushed by bandits? It would be best to avoid battles altogether."
"My lady, if you go alone and you are ambushed anyway, where would we, your servants be able to hide our faces, my lady?"
"Geez, you and Lili are just the same! I've told you many times, you're not my servants, we're friends!"
"Then will a friend watch friends go into danger alone, my lady?"
"Ahhh!!! Fine, you can come, just be quiet. No, Lili. You and Serin will stay here. But we only have two horses left, and I don't want to share my horse."
"You can take a farmer's wagon, can't you? It would look pretty suspicious anyhow for little kids like you to ride for three days without adults' supervision," mother said, suddenly sounding very wise.
My mouth made the shape of an 'O' as the realization sank in. Of course, mother was right. Even though children could enter the workforce far earlier than in the modern world, they would still be considered ‘children’ and would not be allowed to travel far without adults. For a young girl and three young boys to be riding all the way to Renus on our own, it would definitely look suspicious even if we all wore cheap peasant clothing.
"But we still don't have any adults!"
"Fariha can be the adult," mother said as she gestured towards one of our maids, who stood silently behind mother. The 21 year old Fariha then bowed towards me as if acknowledging the order.
"Okay that will work. All three of you go home and bring whatever you may need, but we will travel light. Fariha, please prepare the food and supplies for the journey and change your clothes to something more normal. In the meantime, Lili and Serin, find me a wagon that looks worn but still in good shape."
"Yes, my lady," everyone said at the same time.
"Isn’t this nice, my lady? The open roads, the refreshing nature and the sound of crickets as you sleep, it makes life worth living for."
"Stop talking nonsense, Lemy. You being poetic disgusts me."
Lemy looked like he got hit by two arrows on his chest as he received my words. He then sat quietly at a corner of the camp with his knees up and his head between his knees. He kept repeating the words, "nonsense” and "disgust" with a sob.
As for me, I couldn't care less. Such horrible playacting was embarrassing, annoying even. He was trying too hard to sound adult-like. His everyday actions were already adult-like. I wouldn't trust the management of my farm to anyone other than him. So he should be more confident in himself and stop trying to be someone he was not.
We camped alongside the main road to Renus on the first night of our journey. We had made good progress and there was no sign of bandits, so we were confident that we could make it to Renus in two or three days. The wagon and horses were in good condition, so we had no worries there.
I was cleaning my weapons in front of the fire when Fariha approached me.
"My lady, it's my turn to keep watch," Fariha said with a bow.
"Oh, is it time already? Did you even get any sleep?"
"I've taken a nap, my lady. It's not a problem."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, please have a rest, my lady. We'll have to move first thing in the morning."
"Alright, wake me up at dawn," I said as I laid down on the same cloth Fariha just vacated. Closing my eyes just as I heard Somme and Gani replace Lemy, my mind drifted off into dreamland.
"We are entering the Barony of Halston, my lady. Should we enter the town or go around it?" Fariha asked while urging the horses faster.
"How far will going around it set us back?"
"If memory serves, if we arrive at the intersection at noon, we will be spending the whole day and night on the road. We will only be able to enter Renus the day after. If we enter the town, we can reach Renus by tomorrow afternoon."
"Then the choice is obvious. We don't have the time."
"Understood. If we push the horses a little more, we should arrive at Halston before dusk. My relatives run an inn at Lapis Square. We'll be safe there."
True to her word, we did arrive at Lapis Square in the eastern part of Halston just before the last light. Fariha's cousin was fast with his work. The horses were quickly freed from their burden and the cart shoved into an empty space next to the stables. As Fariha seemed to be the most experienced, all of us followed behind her as she asked for a room at the desk.
"Welcome to the Laughing Fox. Are you looking for a room?" the receptionist greeted with a bewitching smile. She was a young girl probably around 11 or 12.
"A room for two, feed for the horses, dinner for five and a warm bath, please," Fariha answered.
"Right away! That will be 3 big copper, please. Or if you wish to pay with wheat grain, it's 15 cups," she said with a wink.
"Will silver work?" I asked as I placed a single silver coin onto the desk.
The receptionist raised an eyebrow at the single silver coin on the desk. I was wearing a cloak that covered my body and part of my face, so she couldn’t see my face very well. She looked at me curiously as she quickly placed a single palm onto the silver on the desk, effectively hiding it under her hand. Then with a smile, she said, "Of course! Let me find you some change. Please wait a moment."
As the receptionist entered a room behind the desk, I looked at Fariha and asked, "Did I just make a blunder? Should we start running?"
"Too late to start running. Don't worry, she's my cousin. She won't betray us," Fariha assured.
"Oh, so you DO know she's your cousin? Years you disappear without news, didn't even come back for your own little sister's 14th Aging Ceremony. Suddenly you return with a bunch of people who look as suspicious as that old witch by the creek," said a voice from behind.
The person speaking it was a striking woman in a barmaid uniform. She looked to be an adult, but it was hard to tell her age for sure. Her voice and the slight wrinkles on her face suggested that she might’ve been at an advanced age, but her body still looked like a young woman. She was also quite beautiful and enticing in an adult kind of way.
"Good evening, aunt. How have you been?" Fariha spoke in a respectful tone.
"Busy! You have absolutely no idea how hard it was to find someone to replace you when you ran away."
"And how is Faruna?"
"Ignoring me, it seems. Faruna's fine. She married the son of the carpenter at Lyre Street."
"I see, is she happy?"
"Your sister's fine," the woman said just as the receptionist girl came back with the key to our room and the change.
I quickly put the 12 big copper into my pouch under the cloak while Fariha grabbed the key.
"Mama, please don't scold big sister. I'm sure big sister had her own reasons, right big sis?" the receptionist made a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
Fariha looked away uncomfortably.
"Well, go take a seat. Tonight's menu is barley bread with rabbit strips and spinach soup. I'll get papa to warm up this morning's baked beans for you and your friends."
"Ah, aunt. Please don't trouble your-"
"You still like baked beans, don't you?" the woman asked with a piercing look.
"Yes..." Fariha said with her eyes to the floor.
"Good, papa cooked too much this morning. Don't forget to say hello to papa."
Later after dinner...
"Why exactly are you boys following us?" I asked, turning back to the Lemy and the others.
"Err, my lady, we were wondering where we'd be sleeping."
"Isn't that obvious?"
The boys shook their heads.
"The stables, of course."
The boys made a look of shock.
"Have you ever seen peasants pay for two rooms when they stay at an inn?"
The boys looked uncertain. To tell the truth, I've never actually looked at peasants on the rare chances I was able to travel. For all I knew, peasants could possibly rent two rooms, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. An inn's rooms are pretty pricy after all.
Unable to argue with me, the boys dejectedly left for the stables.
"Actually the inn has a boarding room for low budget travellers. They'll have to share the room with other people and there's no bed, only straw mattress. But they'll get to sleep inside and they'll only be charged for the mattress they're sleeping in."
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"
"Because you looked like you were having so much fun, my lady."
"I did not!"
"But you did! So should I ask for three mattresses, my lady?”
I pondered, considered and decided.
"Nah, just let them experience sleeping in a stable."
"I'm pretty sure they've had plenty of experience sleeping in a barn, my lady."
"But not a stable," I said with a giggle before she added a giggle of her own.
"So do you want to talk about it?" I asked while having a bath. Fariha was behind me, washing my arms and the back of my neck.
"Talk about what, my lady?"
"You know what. I'm talking about you, this inn and that woman you called aunt."
Fariha hesitated as if trying to decide if she should, but at my prodding she sighed and started telling her story.
"10 years ago, when the war with Surfes was at its fiercest point, my little sister and I lost our father during the campaign to retake the River Country. Our mother died of pneumonia the following winter. We had no way to support ourselves, so we went to the only relative we knew. Aunt was father's little sister, but we had never met her and we didn't know what to expect. Thankfully she sympathized with our plight and took us in."
She paused as she washed my back.
"There was always something off about it. As if I was living a life that wasn't meant to be mine. Then one day, I came across a handsome nobleman who swept me off my feet. He told me he'd like me to serve him personally both in public and in bed. I accepted the job. I've served him ever since."
I turned around, my face making taking on the shape of '0', "Wait, you're talking about father? You have an affair with father?"
"I wonder if it's too early for you to know this, my lady." She sighed with her palms on her cheeks.
"Does mother know?"
"She does. She told me, "Fufufu, I'll allow it, but don't expect any child you give birth to will get equal treatment." The baroness is so kind."
"Mother said that? She knowingly let father have a mistress?"
"I was told it's quite common, my lady. But you should already know the baroness's habits."
"Yes, she's like a child in an adult's body, always playing around," I agreed as I got up and allowed Fariha to wipe me dry. "So I'm guessing you have no problem with your relatives now?"
"None, my lady. It turns out they were never angry with me."
"Then can you ask them if they know anyone who rent carriages? We can’t go see the duke in a farmer's wagon. The guards will never believe us even with mother's letter. Besides, we need to hurry. Being entangled in bureaucracy won't do us any good. I wonder if the fine dress I left in the wagon still fits me."
"I'll ask them to arrange it, my lady. But it will have to be in the early morning, there's a curfew in place right now."
"Alright, I'll leave it to you."
"Good night, my lady."
"Felicia Belphere Metrune thanks the duke for granting my humble self an audience at such a short notice," I said as I made a curtsey with head bowed.
"Raise your head Lady Felicia and come join me for tea."
I did as told, sitting on the chair opposite the duke. A maid arrived shortly bringing tea and cookies with her. After placing the tea and cookies onto the table, she made a bow before leaving without a word.
"I must admit I was surprised to hear that you asked for an audience just two weeks after I sent your father and brother off to war. So to what do I owe this pleasure, granddaughter?"
"Didn't mother explain it in the letter?"
A pause as we made way for the wind to blow.
"You mean this letter?" Grandfather tapped on two pieces of paper on the table.
"I think so."
"Read it yourself. Sometimes I wonder if she really is my daughter," grandfather said as he did a facepalm with his right hand.
"Please excuse me," I said as I took the letter.
Quote:This letter is to certify that the lady carrying this letter is Lady Felicia Belphere Metrune, daughter of Baron Alphonse Lartes Metrune and Baroness Latreia Tullenaris Melstad of the Barony of Mruna as well as the granddaughter of Duke Reginald Aubray Melstad of the Duchy of Renus...
"Oh, this is the letter of introduction. Should be this other one instead."
I'm not in the mood to write. Ask my girl what happened.
Without realizing it I also made a facepalm, with both hands. With both letters in my hands, I lamented my fate of having such a carefree mother. It was no wonder that grandfather was depressed. In that brief moment of time, grandfather and I truly understood each other.
"I see, so this scoundrel tried to grab your family's valuables using my name?"
"And your mother did nothing?"
"Not exactly, she was... well... crying..."
"I see. She pulled a magnificent performance again. It seems."
"She did the same thing when she was younger. Let's just say that your valuables would likely be safe even if they were taken."
"I don't follow..."
"She was playing around. Your mother is everything from a schemer, a queen, a bully all the way to a villain. But one thing she isn't, is a victim. She likely already arranged for someone to steal the valuables back. It's possible one of your maids, Suin, that was tasked to do that. That maid had a reputation before she became your maid."
"Oh! I never knew, Suin has always been nice, and the meals she cooked have always been excellent."
"Meals, heh, right, of course. If you had known her past, you probably wouldn't want to eat her cooking ever again. But let's put that aside. First of all, it's true that your father owed me money."
So it is true after all?
"Now, don't look like that. It's not the kind of debt that scoundrel made it out to be. Your father simply owed me some back taxes. Two years of back taxes to be exact. Your barony hasn't been doing well financially."
"We'll pay, don't worry, after the war is over, we'll pay everything."
"War over, you say? Certainly you are still a child. I am sorry that my daughter is so irresponsible that you have to shoulder her burden."
"What... do you mean?"
"This war will not end with the coming of winter. This war will last for generations. Many of us will grow old by the time the war ends. Some, like me, will probably die of old age before truce is signed. Even you will likely see your sons off to fight the same war your father fought."
"But won't they all come home as winter comes?"
"Yes, but only because no army can fight both the enemy and the coldness of winter at the same time. If any army can do that, then they will likely own the battlefield. Unfortunately such a thing is impossible. No army will march against the snow so they can be frozen to death in enemy lands."
"So the war will pause at the start of winter and start again in summer next year?"
"Correct, and every year the same cycle will start again. Until either side loses or both sides run out of men to fight their wars. That was what happened before you were born."
I couldn’t believe it. I expected it to an extent, as this was of course a medieval-like world. So I wasn't surprised that we have wars. What I wasn’t expecting was that the same war would be waged at the end of summer every year. Will we have to keep watching our men go to war every year? Will we have to live in constant worry that our men will never come home?
"You look worried, granddaughter. I understand how you feel, I felt the same way every time I sent men to their deaths. Rest assured that even if all your family's men fall in battle, I will not take the barony away from you."
"Oh my, how comforting are your words, grandfather."
He laughed loudly, smacking the table as he did. I quickly held up my cup of tea to avoid it from spilling onto my expensive fine dress. That made him laugh even harder.
When he recovered, he said, "You should come often, Felicia. My other grandchildren are such bores. Putting that aside, you must be tired. I'll have the maids prepare-"
"Please, grandfather, there is no need for that. We are in a hurry. If you will write a letter denouncing the scoundrel and giving me power to execute the troublemakers, I'll be out of your way immediately."
"Execute?" he looked shocked, "Are you really 9 years old?"
"10 right now, grandfather."
"My point exactly! That is too young to decide on executions."
"We need a strong and firm message, grandfather. Otherwise, this thing will happen again."
"Still, you're just a... alright, I'll write the letter. Please wait here. Call the maid if you need anything."
About an hour and a short nap after, grandfather returned with a piece of paper in his hand. He handed it to me and told me to read it first.
Quote:By the authority of Duke Reginald Aubray Melstad,
Baroness Latreia Tullenaris Melstad and Lady Felicia Belphere Metrune shall have the full authority of the governing lord, which includes raising an army, performing trials on criminals, signing treaties that do not infringe upon the rights of the crown and the duke and giving mortal judgement in the absence of the governing lord Baron Alphonse Lartes Metrune.
This document is lawful and applicable for as long as the War of Surfesian Agression that started on the summer of Year 241 of Succession has not reached its conclusion.
Signed and stamped,
Duke Reginald Aubray Melstad
"This 'mortal judgement', is it referring to death sentence?"
"Correct, though it can also mean 'life imprisonment'. It's open to your own interpretation, really."
"Thank you for this, grandfather. Having my name there can be useful," I thought as I imagined all kinds of ways I could abuse this authority.
What good is power if it can't be abused?
"Umm, my dear granddaughter, you're making a very unpleasant face right now."
"Please thank your aunt for finding us the carriage, Fariha. It would’ve been a lot of hassle if we had gone to Renus with the farm wagon."
"They don't mind it, my lady. They did get paid for it after all."
"Right, shall we go have breakfast, then?" I said as I led the way to the restaurant side of The Laughing Fox.
We had arrived at Halston yesterday night, right after curfew after spending half a day in Renus. Grandfather had offered us lodging in the castle for the night. I refused politely as we needed to return home as quickly as possible. Grandfather relented but he asked me to come again for a longer visit next time.
I did feel a slight tinge of regret. The duke's castle at Renus was a beautiful castle by any standard. Instead of a castle, it should be called a palace, because there was absolutely no chance for it to withstand enemy assault. It was simply not built as a fortification. Perhaps the original builder thought there was no need to build a fortified castle as the city of Renus was protected by two layers of huge limestone walls. Comparing it with my family's mansion was like comparing heaven and earth. As I looked back at the majestic castle behind me, I swore that I would build a castle too.
That would be prohibitively expensive, though.
I took a seat at the table already taken by Lemy and the others. While waiting for breakfast to arrive, I sipped on a cup of coffee gently. Fariha wasn't around for breakfast, she told me she'd be in the stables getting the wagon ready for travel. I asked her if she needed the boys' help, but she told me no, since she was only going to check its condition as well as transfer some stuff from the carriage. Apparently, she planned on having her breakfast during travel.
What a dutiful maid.
And as for the boys, I paid for them to sleep in the inn's common boarding room this time. As the tension had passed, I didn't think there was any more need to be so careful. Since this was probably the last time they would be here, I decided to splurge a little like any good employer.
Thank me you ungrateful wretches!
Today's breakfast is some kind of stringy roasted meat with carrots and mushroom soup, yum. I'm saying that with full-on sarcasm. Whoever the cook was, he or she didn't seem to know how to soften meat for roasting or maybe the cook simply didn't know how to roast meat in the first place.
I would have liked to have a choice. But it seems like the inns of this world don’t offer such convenience - you eat what they cook. I swear, if Mruna ever becomes an important trade port, I'll build a fast food joint. 'Felicious' will be a good name, I think. Wait, maybe that’s not a good name, it will give the wrong impression that I'm delicious or something.
Uaaah! Imagining men licking and biting my body now! Ewww!
Fariha returned shortly after my breakfast arrived, carrying with her my leather travel cloak. Curiously, she was already in her travel gear with the hood of her cheap travel cloak covering her face. She put the leather cloak on me, making sure that the hood properly covered my head before she whispered, "We need to go, my lady, right now."
"What's the hurry? I haven't even finished my breakfast yet."
Sure, the roast meat wasn't at all good, but it was food. While I wasted food, some villagers in the town could be starving to death.
"The enemy is here!"
Hearing that, I abruptly stood up, accidentally knocking over the cup of herbal tea, spilling its contents on the table. The boys followed suit, though I noticed both Somme and Gani quickly grabbed the roast meat from their plates and hid it inside their bags. I quickly crossed the distance to the front door as I told them to hurry.
"No my lady, not that way!"
Shortly after Fariha said that, I collided with someone at the door, causing me to fall back on the floor. With my hood falling back from my head, I could clearly see the person blocking the door. Of course, he could also see me. It was the thug whose hand was stabbed by Serin’s staff.
"Watch where you're going, brat. Unless you want to...IT'S HER!" he yelled as he pulled out his sword with his uninjured left hand. I noticed that his right hand was bandaged and he seemed to take special care to avoid moving it. He raised his sword as if he wanted to cleave me in two.
But before he could do that a slab of meat flew to his face and knocked him out cold.
I could hear Fariha mutter, "Ah, it must be Yoru's turn to make breakfast."
My relief was short-lived,though. Before I could catch my breath, three more thugs appeared and advanced with swords drawn. Fariha quickly pulled me by my cloak with an apology and led us out through the back door. She told me to run to the stables to get the wagon out while she held them off. I didn't waste time arguing with her, Fariha would know how to take care of herself. So along with Lemy, Somme and Gani, we quickly made our way to the stables. Fariha arrived just as we managed to take the wagon out of the stables.
"My lady, we should take their horses too so they can't give chase!" She said as she pointed at three horses and told the boys to take one each.
It took them several tries to get the horses to obey. I was plenty worried that the thugs would appear at any time. Fariha seemed to understand my worry, so she had us leave first and told the boys to catch up to us quickly. They agreed and shortly after, Fariha and I left the town of Halston behind in our open-topped farmer's wagon. The boys caught up to us way later, almost at noon. We breathed a sigh of relief at seeing them and allowed the horses to proceed at a trot. It wouldn’t be good if the horses go tired or twisted their ankles when we needed them.
That night, we made camp a little further into the woods for fear of being discovered by the thugs. We also had to forgo making a campfire, as the light could be seen from the road. Thankfully, we had blankets prepared, though we had to share them. Needless to say, none of us slept all that well, that night.
I'm sure some of you are telling me to just ride through the night, but you need to remember, this isn't the modern world. There are no streetlights, no headlights and no electricity. The only type of light would be ones that come from fire. If there were any ambushes on the road, we wouldn’t be able to see them before we were right where they wanted us to be.
We broke camp at first light. With yesterday's episode still fresh in our minds, we prepared only the lightest of breakfast. It was only some pieces of dried meat, some bread and a bottle of clear water from the nearby stream to be consumed while on the road.
A decision was made to send Lemy and Gani riding ahead to uncover any traps or barricades in our way. They were to return if they discovered anything such so that we could try to find another way home. With a bow, they quickly galloped forth, leaving Somme as our sole protector. Somme was also riding one of the horses we stole from the thugs. Only Fariha and I sat on the wagon.
Seeing as they had not returned, we picked up speed and tried to cross into Mruna as quickly as we could. The tension was thick as Fariha pushed the horses fast while I kept my hand on my precious secret weapon that I finally managed to complete after many failures. Somme was riding by our side, trying to match our speed with his beginner-level riding skill.
Everything was fine, until we arrived at the narrow road about two miles from the border of Mruna. Logs of wood on wheels, covered in sharp spikes were suddenly pushed in front of us from the bushes on both sides of the road. Seeing this, our horses abruptly stopped in front of this blockade and within moments, another wheeled log of spiked wood was pushed in place behind us, trapping us on that tiny section of road. My mind suddenly wondered if Lemy and Gani had been captured, or worse, betrayed us.
No! No, they would not betray us. They can't possibly betray us. We're friends!
"There you are, you little bitch! It took us the whole night to prepare this. When we saw your friends riding ahead, we knew you were about to arrive."
It was the same man that Serin stabbed in the hand, but...
"We left you at the inn!"
"Of course you did, and stole our horses too. Your mistake was that you didn't steal my horse. I thought this would be a failure, we couldn't catch you when you left, but to think that we can catch you when you arrive, what a fortunate turn of events. For us."
More men appeared from the bushes with swords in their hands. I counted twelve men that just appeared, not including 'stabbed hand'. They were circling us, waiting for a chance to pounce. Somme and Fariha had already took out their weapons; Somme wielded a poor quality sword that he bought from the blacksmith while Fariha wielded a 7-foot long spear.
"What are you all waiting for? We're not paid to capture them. Kill them!" Stabbed Hand commanded and the bandits roared as they rushed towards us.
So I pulled the hammer of my musket and pulled the trigger.
BOOM! Two of them fell. It seemed like at such a short distance, the gunpowder had enough power to send a bullet through an unarmoured man and punch through to the unarmoured man behind him.
Ahh, this recoil is too much! It's hurting my wrist.
Everything became quiet for a while, as the smoke, thick as it was, settled. They looked at the two men on the ground that died instantly with the sound of an explosion. Their faces pale, not able to grasp what just happened.
"All of you! Throw down your weapons and surrender or should my boomstick kill more of you?" I ordered as I pointed the barrel of my musket towards a concentration of bandits.
Spooked by that action, the bandits I aimed the barrel of the musket at immediately threw their swords to the ground and raised their arms in surrender. To be fair, though, it wasn't actually a musket. It was actually more like a two-barrelled deer rifle that got shortened to one foot in length, the buttstock replaced with a shorter buttstock that looked more like a pistol's handgrip. In other words, it was a two-barrelled pistol, with one barrel on top of the other instead of side-by-side. The only reason I called it a musket was because it looked like a musket or a flintlock pistol.
Let's just call it a pistol from now on. Or a gun.
"Pick that up! Pick up your weapons!" Stabbed Hand yelled, before he grabbed the two closest bandits to him and pushed them both forward, "Kill the bitch now!"
So I pulled the hammer for the other barrel, took aim at Stabbed Hand and pressed the trigger. BOOM! The muzzle of the pistol released more thick smoke. The bullet travelled the air, punching through the two bandits that Stabbed Hand threw in front of him until the fragments pierced through and hit Stabbed Hand's body in multiple places like a scattershot bullet. Unfortunately, the penetrative power was greatly reduced and the fragments didn't have enough mass to cause serious damage. However, it was enough to wound Stabbed Hand and push him to the ground.
"Put down your arms! If I have to ask you to surrender again, I might as well just kill all of you on the spot." I said with false bravado. After all, my pistol only had two barrels. I had just shot two bullets. I couldn’t just tell them to wait while I remove the casings of both bullets and insert new ones.
In other words, I was out of ammo.
That still didn't stop me from waving the barrel of the pistol around, though. Even though it was empty, just holding it allowed me to keep their fear trained on the smoking barrels. Early firearms were, in actuality, no different in killing potential compared to a bow or crossbow, especially considering the reload time of early firearms. What put firearms heads and shoulders above the bow and crossbow, was the intimidation and psychological effects it put on the enemy.
Everyone would pause if they have a bow or crossbow aimed at them. Replace the bow or crossbow with a piece of metal pipe that spouts fire, thick smoke and loud bang, everyone would stop in their tracks. To a society that had never seen anything like it, the psychological effect brought by fear would most definitely be double or triple that of people who saw it on a regular basis. Add to the fact that the weapon killed four people and wounded another in just two shots, the fear was total. It would've been like watching trebuchet balls falling a couple of feet’s away from where you were standing.
Out of the 14 remaining bandits though (8 of them pushed the logs to block the road, 12 more appeared after, 4 of them killed by my pistol, one wounded, some of them killed by Fariha), two of the bandits refused to lay down their arms, despite having my gun aimed at them. This was very unsettling. If this went on a while longer, I would have to make an example of them. Unfortunately, the gun was empty, so I wouldn't be able to make an example of them anyway.
Just as I was sweating about what to do, Lemy and Gani returned with a group of spearmen at their tails. They were actually women, though. Lemy and Gani had apparently ridden through the road without encountering any opposition or blockades. So they went ahead up into Mruna. At the border, they came across the border guards and asked them to go and provide escort for us. Then they went into Mruna and informed mother about us before riding back to meet up with us.
"Wait, border guards? Since when did we have border guards?" I asked Lemy while the border guards tied up the bandits, including the two bandits that refused to lay down their arms earlier.
"Apparently the baroness had them organized while we were away," Lemy answered.
"And where did they get the spears? Father took them all with the army."
"It seems like the baroness had them prepared during the days that we were gone. They had only started their duties this morning."
I guess we were lucky, then. Had mother decided to start their duties a day later, we would likely have been killed. So my lazy mother can actually show some initiative. Good job, mother.
So with the bandits tied and walking behind us, we marched into Mruna.
"This trial is to judge the crimes of the bandits. Let them in!" the wife of the village chief spoke.
Mother and I were sitting at the judges' seat, basically a long bench with a table in front. On our right, was the gallows, which to my knowledge, had never been used. One our left and front were the audience, villagers who wanted to see the trial. The bandits were brought in as a group, all 18 of the surviving ones including Stabbed Hand and The Scoundrel, into the clearing in front of the gallows. Cries of anger and insults abounded as apparently these men had done as they wished in the village while we were away, prompting mother to organize the women's militia patrols.
Accusations against them were read one by one, witnesses and victims were called. Most of them committed only minor offenses, offenses that would’ve been normal in a tavern or a bar. However, four of them made terrible crimes that made me explosively angry.
The Scoundrel tried to take our jewellery and finery, as well as my gun prototypes from my lab, and stabbed one of my farmhands to death when he was in the way. Stabbed Hand raped a woman and killed her only son when he interfered. The other two not only raped the village girls, they even attempted to rape both Lili and Serin, and would've succeeded if Lili’s mother Suin hadn't fought them off.
"The gallows! All four of you! I want your necks dangling on a string!" my judgement was met with cheers by the villagers.
"Felicia, why don't you sit down and let me handle this?" mother said.
"No! Your crimes are unforgivable. Your punishment is death!" I cried with more cheers from the villagers.
Beside me, mother sighed and stood herself. "With the authority granted by the Duke of Renus to both myself and my daughter, all four of you are sentenced to death by hanging. Sentence will be carried out immediately."
Amidst the cheers of the crowd, my anger, that felt like it would explode violently, started to ebb away. Looking at the four criminals being pushed to the gallows made me feel good that justice had been met. I wasn't ready to watch them dangle, though. Killing people when they were charging at me was OK, my life was on the line after all. But watching people being executed while I sat a small distance away would give me nightmares. So I quietly left.
Or I tried to leave, when mother caught the collar of my dress.
"Where are you going to, dear daughter?"
"Ah? I'm just going back to my farm."
"What's the rush? Stay and enjoy watching them dance to their deaths."
"Mother, how can you expect me to watch people die? I'm a little girl, it will give me nightmares."
"Yet, you didn't mind passing judgement just now. Are you still calling yourself a little girl?"
"Sit and watch."
"Mother, please, let me go. I don't want to watch," I pleaded as I tried to pull free from mother's grip.
Mother made no sign of letting go or loosening her hold on my clothes.
"No, you will watch, my girl. This may be the only thing I will ever teach you in all seriousness, but listen well and carve it into your head. Everything has a consequence. Once you execute someone, they die, and someone will grieve for them."
Mother pulled me to her, face to face, her hands on my cheeks, she told me, "As a fair ruler, you must also grieve for them by watching their final moments until the end. Only when you watch and feel nothing about it, have you crossed the line. Once that happens, you are just another monster. Kindly protect the world by removing yourself from it or you may soon find your life cut short by those you care about the most. Remember this well, my lovely daughter. Watch and grieve, for that is the last respect you can give them for their struggles in this world."
"No, mother. I can't," I pleaded as my vision blurred.
"Yes, you can. You are destined for great things, I can tell. Inevitably, you will have to do this again. When that happens, remember my words. Grieve, but do not despair. Reflect upon it, but do not regret. Let their ghosts rest in peace knowing that their deaths make the world a better place. Now wipe your tears, my daughter, it has ended."
In front of us, the four scoundrels swayed in the strong wind that signified the coming of autumn. It was supposed to be a little hot, but it felt cold instead. It felt like I was doused in cold water. I wasn’t wet, but I was shivering, and the tears in my eyes flowed anew.
Father, please come back soon.