Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 96. What’s Important.
“Are you finally done?” Lea asked with a yawn when she heard Laien and Yin move a little. They opened their eyes too, so their daily training should be completed and they wouldn’t go back to it after exchanging a few sentences like the first time around, hopefully? She certainly wished they wouldn’t as she was already thoroughly tired of being holed up in this carriage, but if necessary, she would wait as long as it took… but she simply hoped not to need to wait too long.
“We are,” Laien replied with a laugh, finding the disheveled and lazy-like appearance of the current Lea to be rather amusing. “Come on, let’s see how everyone’s doing,” he said brightly and without delaying any longer, took a few quick, gentle leaps across the pillows and jumped out of the carriage. He was soon followed by Yin and the other three youths, who joined him at this high vantage point the forefront of their caravan had stopped at.
“The Grand Camp, is that it?” Laien mused while looking upon the humongous camp-like area that was spreading across the many nearby mountainsides as far as his gaze could reach. “It seems to be separated into lower and higher districts. There are mostly tents in the lower parts, while wooden houses start appearing midway, with some stone houses sitting near the top, close to the few large streams that originate up there. Overall… it doesn’t look like a habitable area,” he judged blatantly. The unsanitary conditions in the lower parts of the camp needed not to be explicitly mentioned, but judging by the lack of any kind of fields, mines or any other thing, this location wasn’t one where a large number of people could potentially live for a long period of time, much less try to settle down.
“If they sent Johan and the rest of them anywhere else but to the higher parts, even if just temporarily, I will get angry,” he thought discontentedly but in the end, he wasn’t all that worried about this matter. He was sure that even if the higher-ups of the Ruishi Federation turned out to be as unreasonable as Victoria, Arslan wouldn’t have let them do anything of this kind without making a fuss. Considering that Arslan also had Jasmine and Reian at his side to help him, Laien assured himself that nothing unpleasant could have happened to his friends.
“I see you guys are finally out,” Sirius greeted as he jumped off the coachman’s seat. “Little master Arslan is currently in that small fort up there. Would you like to go there first or would you rather go and see how the Ulme Village kids are doing right below us?” he inquired, his gaze focusing on Laien in particular as he expected the answer to come from him, just like it usually would.
“Right below?” Laien raised his eyebrows and took two more steps forward, then looked down. Sure enough, he quickly saw many vaguely familiar faces from amongst those five thousand people they brought with them. As for those few hundred of Ulme Village, he had spotted them immediately thanks to their white clothing which they had gotten from Reian on the first day of their journey to the Ruishi Federation.
“They seem to be doing well,” Yin commented with a slight smile. They had obviously received special treatment as their camp had been set up outside the wooden palisades that surrounded the Grand Camp; some experts must have also taken out the bunch of large, wooden houses for them, so they would live rather comfortably in this period of time.
“Looks good,” Laien nodded contentedly. With the place they were given, there would be no issues with sanitary matters as they were making use of the high part of the same stream as that military fort, so apart from going uphill to get the drinking water every time, they wouldn’t face any issues. “Let’s go to Arslan first. If there’s nothing interesting to do in the fort, we can then all go do something else,” he said lightheartedly. He was intending to go with the flow instead of seeking out anything specific to accomplish, at least for the time being.
“Sure,” Sirius agreed. “Should I lead the way, or would you rather do it?” he asked, having become quite aware of Laien’s tendencies during those last two weeks or so.
“We’ll follow you,” Laien said with a laugh. There were times when he enjoyed being in the spotlight, but at the moment he didn’t feel like it.
“Mm, come then.” Sirius waved his hand and collected the carriage into his interspatial ring, then headed to the gate of the fort at a leisure pace.
Laien and Yin stuck a few steps behind Sirius, while Lea, Luca and Daniel followed suit. Admittedly, the latter three of them were feeling a bit helpless. They had waited for those two to finish their training for so long, but then they were made to tag along without being asked anything. Although they weren’t all that annoyed by it as they were used to obediently following their superiors in the Fortress-City of Lugna, it still was a new, a bit strange experience to them to be treated in the same way by two twelve, thirteen years old boys who were pretty much their peers.
A few minutes later, their little group was led to the spacious guest room within the fort by one of the gate guards without encountering any accidents along the way.
“Laien! Yin!” Arslan opened his eyes and stopped meditating the moment the two appeared in the guest room. He had spent many hours here already since he had been told the Grand Council was just about to reach its conclusion, but the meaning of ‘just about’ appeared to be different here compared to his hometown. Thus, he inevitably got incredibly bored; he had even started trying to engage in a meditative training, even though doing so was fairly pointless to him, who was yet to master a Qi Manipulating Art or gain any insights he could ponder upon.
“Aren’t you a little too excited?” Laien asked wryly. It’s only been a little bit of time and yet Arslan was so excited to see them; he had a difficult time finding another word than cute to describe that.
Arslan merely laughed happily at Laien’s teasing. “Want to play something or go look around? I’m so bored of sitting here and waiting,” he proposed impatiently.
“I don’t think so.” To Arslan’s surprise, Yin replied in such a way with a slight smile on his face and glanced over his shoulder, at the still open door behind him. “A whole bunch of people is coming,” he added with a laugh, guessing that by the time he finished saying so, Laien and the four White Guards would start hearing the sound of footsteps that were being made by over a dozen people too.
“Looks like the council ended,” Laien pointed out the obvious, glad to be able to settle the most annoying matter first. If possible, he’d love to go sightseeing around this country with Arslan like they were planning to do since a few days ago, but to do that they first needed to deal with the most pressing matters.
“Took them some time.” Arslan let out a little sigh. For the future reference, he made sure to remember that the Grand Elders of the Ruishi Federation saw ‘just about’ to mean ‘just about eight hours’. This way, he wouldn’t waste so much time if he happened to need to deal with them again.
After a few breaths worth of time, eight grey-robed Grand Elders and their sixteen personal bodyguards appeared at the doorstep and entered the spacious guest room. The eight grey-robed Grand Elders quickly spotted the group of youths in the center of the room, amongst whom the youngest one ought to be Mustafa’s son, and approached them readily.
“As the oldest of the Grand Elders, I officially welcome you to our Ruishi Federation, young master Arslan,” the fatigued-looking old man said formally and bowed ever so slightly in Arslan’s direction. “I apologize for the long wait, reaching the conclusion of has been harder than expected,” he said bitterly, not having enough strength of mind left to hide his own discontentment.
“Elder Simon,” one of the three grey-robed Grand Elders who stood to one side spoke up with an amiable smile. “If you greet our guests with such a bedridden attitude, how are they supposed to feel welcome?” he asked with a laugh, then smiled at Arslan and bowed his head slightly.
“This Elder’s name is Samuel, I’m glad to welcome the heir to Makarash, who had been making news of himself in the eastern Faren Yimarate in the recent days, in our country,” he said amicably, displaying nothing but warm and very welcoming attitude. He and his two companions appeared to be happy, relaxed and very happy to be having this conversation, much unlike the other five Grand Elders present, with those three to the other side of Elder Simon in particular.
“I’m happy to be here too,” Arslan said straightforwardly, all the while looking up at the faces of the grey-robed men and women before him. “I understand you’ve been discussing the matter of the people in the Grand Camp. May I know what conclusion you reached?” he asked, getting straight to the point without wasting time for chatting about pointless things.
“I wonder if that sounded nice enough?” he wondered quietly. He had taken some time before to come up with those two sentences for the moment he met those Grand Elders, but now that he had said them aloud, he wasn’t so sure they sounded as good as they did in his head.
“A rotten conclusion,” the old, grey-robed woman said with a snort and sent a poisonous glance toward Elder Simon. If he hadn’t given in, Elder Samuel’s faction wouldn’t have obtained the necessary majority to push their plan through. She had never expected a garbage human like Samuel to do anything positive for their country, but she had thought better of Elder Simon until today.
“Elder Sophie, isn’t it unbecoming to act in this way?” Elder Samuel asked, causing the look on Elder Sophie’s face to turn ugly.
“Enough, don’t start,” Elder Simon said with a sigh and gave a stern look first to Sophie, then to Samuel. He had listened to those two bickering endlessly for the past month; he had had enough of hearing them argue and poke at each other until the day he would die and turn to dust.
“What conclusion did you reach?” Arslan asked, pretending not to have heard this little exchange of unpleasantries between the Grand Elders. He was on this journey to learn new things, but he didn’t think it would result in anything good if he suddenly started to play the role of a mediator as a complete outsider that he was. It might have worked if it were some regular nobles involved, but not when the Grand Elders of the Ruishi Federation were the ones involved.
“A very simple and practical one,” Elder Samuel responded with a smile. “The eight million foreigners in the Grand Camp who can’t make themselves useful for our country in any way and are only a burden to our hard-working citizens, we are going to expel them all within three days,” he informed happily, pleased to be able to deliver this kind of news to Mustafa’s son and not some half-assed excuse akin to ‘we couldn’t reach the majority necessary to make a choice’.
For a moment, no one said anything as they all digested the news they had just received. If it was during the time when Mustafa had taken full control of the southern Eulene, then they wouldn’t have worried… but currently, Mustafa was confined to the south-western part of the Faren Yimarate. Sending out eight million Euleanians out of the Ruishi Federation at random would certainly lead to a huge disaster, given how heated the atmosphere in Eulene was those days.
“Can I ask you why?” Laien inquired, directing his question toward Elder Samuel. The map appeared to be the happiest one given the current outcome, so he thought it would be best to hear his arguments first. “That being said… unless Mustafa does something to help, it will end up in a massacre,” he mused quietly and suppressed a sigh. He was more or less able to predict the outcome of what was about to happen and certainly enough, it pained him a lot to think about it.
After the City of Masalle had been devastated by Mustafa, Ikarians were bound to have been left with a lot of hatred and no realistic object to take revenge upon. Yimar Furi and his elites had also perished thanks to them… so the remaining soldiers were like mad dogs who suddenly lost their owners. They would pound and bite at the slightest sign of weakness, at the slightest smell of blood… and the eight million helpless people throw out of the Ruishi Federation would likely prove to be more than enough to rouse them and many others into action.
“That’s pretty simple, actually,” Elder Samuel said with a smile. “Most of those people came here within the last one hundred years. Those refugees who found proper jobs and proceeded not to cause trouble, we welcome. However, those eight million people who can’t do anything sensible are too much for out mountain country. There’s not enough land for them to plow nor animals for them to graze, nor do they have any other useful skills. They aren’t even talented enough to be of use in the military… they are a great burden for our fifty-million country, both financially and in terms of social unrest they cause. Thus, faced with the options of allowing out Federation to fall into a decline or to expel them, we chose to do the latter,” he explained in in rough detail, bringing up the few points he saw as the most important.
“Excuses, all excuses,” Elder Sophie said angrily before Laien could provide his opinion on the matter. “If we really tried to, we could find something to do for all of them. You simply want to see them gone because you resent them. You are inhuman,” she rebutted, refusing to allow Samuel to have his way with such an important guest. She was already amazed enough that his deceptions had worked on Elder Simon; she didn’t want young children to also be corrupted by his terrible views.
“I won’t deny that I resent them,” Elder Samuel said casually, displaying not a hint of anger that Elder Sophie was oozing with. “How could I not? They are the people who brought fall to their own countries, came here, then proceeded to only cause trouble without providing anything back in return for the grace they received from us. It’s not our duty to suffer for their sake. We’ve always upheld our principle of neutrality… we should let foreigners settle their businesses on their own like we always did,” he elaborated, speaking in a very honest manner, without hiding his thoughts and opinions. He was absolutely sure that what he was calling for to be done was the best choice to take for their country as a whole, so he didn’t feel bad and was unapologetic about it.
“You’re not worth talking to,” Elder Sophie snapped back with clear fury present both in her voice and in her eyes. However, instead of continuing the pointless discussion with Samuel, she shifted her gaze to Arslan and the two youths who stood closest to him. “What do you think about it? This old madman intends to sentence eight million blameless people, women, children and elderly included, to an uncertain, dangerous fate. Do you think he is doing the right thing?” she asked, literally trembling at the thought of what was going to happen to all those poor people. Women would be raped, children enslaved, elderly and men killed… how could anyone make such a choice and still claim to be doing the right thing like Samuel was doing? She truly couldn’t see that man as anything else but the Devil’s incarnation.
Laien and Yin sighed inwardly, both of them having complicated feelings on this matter. Was Elder Samuel advocating the right thing, or was Elder Sophie in the right? They couldn’t tell which one of those stances was correct as they just didn’t know enough about Eulene and the Ruishi Federation itself. Yes, they pitied those people who were about to be thrown out with nothing, but that was merely their emotional response. They didn’t want to act on it alone and attach reasons to it to justify it as being ‘the right thing’. In the end, they weren’t sure what the right thing was, after all.
“It’s not right to do it,” Arslan answered after a moment of thought, causing the look in Sophie’s eyes to brighten. Yet, he soon added a few more words which made that happiness turn dim. “I don’t think it’s right to do it at this time. You should wait for my father to take control of the southern lands, then if you need to, you can expel them. At least in this way, they wouldn’t be in danger.”
“Interesting suggestion,” Elder Simon said eagerly, a clear smile making a rare appearance on his fatigued face. “We didn’t take the latest events into consideration since not all that much is known about the inner workings of the Grand Yimar Mustafa’s camp. Are you saying your father would allow them to settle back peacefully?” he inquired, omitting the part of ‘as long as he wins against Yimar Maar’ on purpose. He didn’t want to make it sound as if he doubted Mustafa’s strength in front of his son, so even though he was quite intrigued, he managed to keep his tongue in check thanks to his plentiful experience that came with the centuries of fulfilling the duties of a Grand Elder.
“That’s…” Arslan opened his mouth, then closed it, swallowing his words back. If it was up to him, he would have agreed to let those people back… but he couldn’t claim his father would make the same choice, nor could he be sure his father would give in were he to request that. Allowing him to travel around with Laien and Yin was one thing and letting him decide the matters of politics was another. “I’m sorry, I spoke too fast. I can’t be sure if my father would welcome them, but I can at the very least say that he would allow them to pass through the lands without harming them,” he said in a formal tone, feeling rather embarrassed to have said something rash without thinking twice prior.
“I see.” Elder Simon couldn’t help but let out a quiet groan. Had Mustafa been winning the war overwhelmingly, he wouldn’t have hesitated to call another Grand Council and attempt to get ten out of thirteen votes to overrule their original decision within three days. However, he was well aware that a premise without a solid backing wouldn’t gain enough support and it would merely waste their time while the eviction would start anyway. There was nothing he could do.
While Elder Simon and Elder Sophie were sighing, Laien brought up another subject. “Does this plan include everyone in the Grand Camp without exception?”
“Ho,” Elder Samuel, being the one with the clearest mind, caught onto the meaning behind Laien’s words half a second sooner than the others and responded quickly. “You probably mean the five thousand refugees you brought here? Do not be concerned. Five thousand and eight million are very different things. As a favor to young master Arslan, we can accommodate those people in the professions they are skilled in or as long as their characters are adequate, as servants across the country. Of course, however, if they do cause trouble, they will be treated like everyone else,” he explained with a calm smile and towards the end, shifted his gaze from Laien to Arslan, seeking a confirmation from the boy. Was he willing to receive a favor of this kind, or did he not want to be indebted to them?
“Yes, I would be grateful if you did so,” Arslan said and inwardly sighed with relief. Truth to be told, he felt bad for all those people in the Grand Camp, but he didn’t know them personally and they weren’t even related to him in any way. As long as Johan, Albert, Sarah and the rest were able to live safely, he wouldn’t feel guilty about those eight million people for longer than a day at the very most.
“It shall be done,” Elder Samuel said with a nod, causing Elder Simon and Elder Sophie to frown in a more or less secret manner. That sly old man had spoken up first and he made sure not give them a good chance to interject, so even though they wouldn’t have objected to the request to begin with, it now seemed like it was mostly Elder Samuel to whom Arslan owed a debt to. It was frustrating, but if they tried to argue it openly and right at this moment, they would only make fools out of themselves; they were aware of that well enough to not attempt such silliness.
“Eh,” Elder Sophie let out an unconcealed, heavy sigh. “And you boys, what do you think?” she asked the two youths at Arslan’s side, expecting them to fully agree with Arslan’s point. She had no idea who those two, but she could guess they were some friends of Arslan’s. Thus, she doubted they would go against the young master’s opinion even if they felt he was in the wrong.
“It’s hard to say,” Laien said and shook his head resignedly. He looked Yin in the eye, knowing that both of them shared similar feelings on this whole affair. They really didn’t want to let people die pointlessly, especially when children were involved… and if it was the past them, then especially Laien would have already jumped into an argument with Elder Samuel and attempted to reverse the decision of the council in some way, or tried to find a way for those eight thousand people to leave the Ruishi Federation safely and move on to live somewhere else than in the southern Eulene.
Yet… the two of them remembered how incredibly close to death they had gotten while fighting Yimar Furi and his men, all because they got involved into something that quickly escalated into a problem they could no longer handle with their strength. Staying true to their hearts was very important to them… but in this case, both of them were coming to the same conclusion. It was beyond them to aid those eight million people; they could see if there wasn’t some safe way they could lend a hand, but they wouldn’t throw themselves into the middle of the storm anymore.
Staying true to their hearts… yes. They weren’t actually straying from their path by choosing not to get themselves involved too deeply. What was currently most important to them was not to recklessly endanger one another’s life anymore, be it by helping other people or getting involved in other kinds of events which they very well knew would turn out to be incredibly dangerous.
“I see,” Elder Sophie said uncaringly, attempting and failing to mask the disappointment in her voice. She was unaware of the thoughts going through Laien and Yin’s minds, so she assumed the boys chose to follow Arslan’s opinion and weren’t willing to elaborate on the subject. She couldn’t blame them, to be honest, so she didn’t try to force them to make their stance clear.
As the awkward silence fell in the guest room, Elder Samuel was about to speak up and suggest moving somewhere else, when a huge explosion shook the fort and echoed loudly throughout the mountains. Laien, Yin and every one of their group were startled… but the Grand Elders and their guards were unnaturally calm, if not even resigned.
“That Julien, and he asks us why we issued the gag order…” Elder Simon said helplessly and shook his head. He had sent Victoria to accompany the messenger just in case because he expected Julien to act up, but he didn’t think the man would actually exchange blows with her.
“Let him fight it out,” Elder Samuel said with a shrug of his shoulders. “He will calm down when Victoria tires him out. Then, we can punish him accordingly,” he said while aiding himself with some Qi as to make his voice audible through the sounds of repeated explosions coming from the outside. The clash between lightning and fire… it always was no needlessly flashy and destructive.