Aden’s Study. The Keep,
Greenfields, Souville province,
“What about the tax revenue statistics from the third month?” With an amused gaze in his eyes, Levi asked running his fingers through the hair of a red-haired Lolita, seated at Aden’s desk with a sheet of sketching paper. From his seat at the edge of the table, he stared down at what appeared to be a stick drawing of a noblewoman.
“Its continuation is on the fifth page my lord, please refer to the bottom,” Robert, the household’s steward, said. He wore a simple grey coat with black hoses and his brown hair appeared well-groomed, much unlike Levi’s tousled obsidian curls.
“The increase during that period was coincidental, my lord. The farmer’s harvest was in surplus, so lord Aden raised the tax briefly to deal with the overflow. The following two sessions however were normal hence the difference.” Robert said before hesitantly asking “However, is this okay, my Lord? Reducing this session’s tax by this much would seriously affect your financial capabilities during the first months of the coming year, especially given our currently skyrocketing expenditure.”
“Just do as I said. The towns are still stabilizing, some leniency should be permitted for the common folk.” Levi dismissed Robert’s concerns with a light wave before looking back at drawings on the table.
“Any progress on the keep’s renovations?”
“Yes, The barracks repairs were completed yesterday and the blacksmiths and most of their equipment have already been relocated here.” Robert nodded and said. “But I was informed that we might not be able to complete the repairs of the Keep’s hall before the first snow start.”
“Fair enough, I did not expect this much anyway. Especially given how many serfs we pulled out of the workforce,” Levi said.
“How about the budget I requested?” He asked the butler.
“It’s on page seven, milord,” Robert said as Levi flipped through the small booklet.
“The cost for repairing the Keep’s facilities are estimated to come in at around five hundred gold Royals. For the newly formed militia, it is estimated to cost around thirty copper Tehs to train a single man for a month, this includes the daily wage you insisted we pay them for their service and their feeding during the entire training session. Given there are four hundred of them, excluding the fifty that are slotted to join the logistics unit, the training budget for this winter is estimated to come in at an excess of twelve hundred silver Thales.
Equipping the militia to your specifications comes in at around twelve hundred and seventy-five gold Royals. To equip a single crossbow archer with the ‘standardized’ chainmail-and-gambeson armour, a helmet, a crossbow, a round shield, a bullock dagger and five baskets of bolts cost around two hundred and fifty silvers, the cost inflates to forty-two hundred and fifty Thales for the three ‘platoons’ of fifty archers if the plan to arm a portion of the platoons with windlass arbalests holds. As for the infantry, their equipment consists of the standardised armour, a helmet, a kite shield, a bullock dagger and an iron-tipped spear with the cost-per-individual at around a hundred Thales and the total coming in at three thousand Thales for six platoons.
The total expenditure including the cost for running the towns and maintaining both keeps and its servants is sixteen hundred and seventy-five gold Royals.
Our reserves are nonexistent since Lord Aden drained most of it in the war effort and the rest were stolen by the traitors during their mutiny, but taxes and the spoils of war from looting Redwater come in at approximately one thousand and thirty gold Royals after deducting our expenses,” the butler said collecting the leather-bound booklet before tucking it in his cloak. Levi drummed his fingers on the lothwood table in thought for a while before responding.
“Good, anything else I should know?”
“Yes my lord,” Robert replied with a nod,” the crossbow twine and the fletchers needed for producing the bolts can be made in town but it would be best to purchase these from one of the lesser mountain tribes at mount Aiga if we want to meet the allocated timeframe. Also, sir Justin’s team finally recovered the last of the horses that escaped from Redwater stables. All hundred and twelve animals have been accounted for.”
“Hmm… OK then, I want you to tally the cost of the twine and fletchers needed. Sir Justin would again be tasked with purchasing them,” Levi said.
“Also, a few more of the captured knights have agreed to your proposal,” Robert replied.
“Oh? What about Gilbert?” Levi asked with a crooked brow while the lolita also looked up curiously.
The steward shook his head.
With an understanding nod, Levi replied. “You may leave. I’ll check in on him later. Also, inform the blacksmiths that I would stop by at the smithy later to check their progress on the task I gave them.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Watching the steward leave he turned back to the lolita in the room.
Seating on the edge of the furniture, he asked peering at the drawings on the table with a perplexed expression. “Javi? Who(or what?) in the world are you trying to draw?”
Lancelot’s only child looked back down at the shallow pile of paper on the table, blushing in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry about wasting so much paper, I got carried away,” she said fiddling with the charcoal nib in her hands. “I’ll ask Mother to send you another bundle later when we get home.”
Chuckling, Levi stared amusedly at the twelve-year-old apologising to him. Until a few days ago James had never truly met Lancelot’s family. Although he had inherited memories of them from Levi he had only until recently actually met them.
After the incident with Sean, the over-protective Viscount hadn’t let his family near the castle once and he even sent them away to somewhere else when Levi decided to attack Redwater.
It was until two days ago did Lancelot decide it was safe enough for them to return.
Pinching Javi’s nose, Levi replied.
“I am not angry about the papers, just tell me what you were drawing.”
“Really? But you always got angry if I wasted too much paper and always made me bring more whenever I came over as punishment.” Javi said, peeking up at him, doubt clouded her gaze.
Levi smiled remembering how his predecessor could go on forever, lecturing on the importance of these ‘scholar materials’ and how to efficiently use them. Although James knew Levi meant well, he was still slightly baffled by this.
‘I mean it’s just paper, right?’
Shaking his head he got rid of those unnecessary thoughts. “Don’t think too much, just tell me what you were drawing.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. I was trying to draw a portrait of lady Luna, mother showed me a painting of her she received when she was younger.” Javi said, a colour of excitement gradually returning to her face.
“She was so beautiful, just like Mother! I want to be just as beautiful as her when I grow up and marry a valiant sir just like Father.” The young girl continued animatedly. “That was why I was drawing a picture of her, but, but…”
Looking down at her crude drawings a colour of embarrassment stained her face. With a smile, Levi sorted out the pieces of parchment with charcoal drawings on them.
Checking the earlier pictures, he realised that they were not that bad for someone of her age, the only problem was that as she continued her attempts to redraw the image, she got sloppier with each new iteration until the images eventually devolved into mere stick drawings.
‘This isn’t bad, this?.. Girl, you are just being lazy!’ Levi said in mock outrage as Javi ducked upon hearing his raised voice.
With an amused shake of his head, he picked the charcoal nib she dropped on the table. Pulling out a plain sheet of parchment paper, he scooted to a more comfortable position on the table before he started to draw.
With an avid fascination, Javi watched as clean flowing lines quickly appeared on the paper. Soon the outline of an effeminate face and features appeared, becoming clearer by the second.
James was never an artist. Actually, he was terrible at visual arts, having his expertise lie more in the realms of memorizations and logical analysis.
But yet there he sat on Aden’s treasured table, shading in realistic features to the image he was drawing. This didn’t come to Javi as a surprise, however, as she was aware Levi is capable of such minor feats.
Watching the image gradually come to life, Javi suddenly remembered something.
“Levi, I heard father tell mother there was not enough money to run the town and comfortably maintain the castle through the coming winter, so why don’t you want to take more from the townspeople.” The red-head asked, cocking her head to the side in a bid to make sense of Levi’s choices.
“Mother once said that the people have to pay the tax, just like the lord has to defend his people. So don’t feel guilty about anything, I’m sure the townsfolk wouldn’t mind too much.
“It’s nothing like that Javi,” Levi said with a mildly amused smile.
“The town’s situation has been very unstable lately, all the recent news and the lockdown has heavily agitated the community. If I suddenly increased the tax a lot of people might not suffer this winter and trust me when I say the public is at its most productive state when it is comfortable. Doing this will help me win some goodwill with the people, and make them more compliant with my recently unreasonable demands.
“That is just proper human resource management and the reason why I am the Lord and not your father.”
“Are you sure?” The girl asked doubtfully. “Father sometimes calls you a milksop when talking with mother, and when I asked tutor Jin what that meant she said it is used to describe a person who is indecisive and lacks courage.”
Levi’s scribbling came to an abrupt halt.
“Are you sure that is not the real reason?” she asked again.
Turning his head from the portrait he was working on, a warm smile appeared on Levi’s face.
“Your old man loves to court death doesn’t he?” he chuckled. “No, it’s not. Also, I’ll try to remember this the next time I see him. Thank you for informing me.”
“You are welcome!” Javi said innocently with a bright smile before pausing as she suddenly realised something.
“But,” Javi said hesitantly, “father is just twenty-nine years old. I knew he was old, but is he really that old?”
“Nevermind,” Levi said, suddenly sounding depressed.
Levi looked at the mischievous girl giggling craftily at him. Although he didn’t know the reason why he knew she did feel elated upon noticing his suddenly downcast expression.
With a giggle, she swiped the now completed drawing from the table when Levi wasn’t paying attention.
“Woah! so pretty!”
Looking at the picture he had to admit his mother was one fine catch. With perfectly symmetrical facial features and most probably limpid brown eyes like his, she was indeed a fair lady.
Although neither iterations of himself had ever met the woman he had seen quite a few well-preserved paintings and had heard descriptions about her countless times which was why he could so easily recreate her portrait.
Watching Javi run around the room, holding the picture to the light and giggling made James slightly nostalgic.
A flashback. Images of his childhood on earth, A farm, with a much younger version of himself alongside some other kids playing in a wheatfield.
Levi’s nostalgia didn’t last for long though. A soft knocking sound at the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Lord Levi, may I come in?” a soft voice called.
“Oh no! It’s Mother!” Javi panicked, rushing to block Levi’s mouth with her hand.
“Come in!” Levi replied before she could stop him.
The door opened and a beautiful woman walked in. She had a face very similar to Javi’s. Her eyes were green with a bluish tint and her hair was auburn, like her daughter’s.
“Good afternoon Lady Junita, How was your day?” Levi asked with a light smile.
“Wonderful my lord.” She replied with a curtsy and a soft smile. Although it was not obvious, her left brow was crooked up in a questioning manner as she stared at Javi’s right hand positioned on Levi’s chin and her left hand resting heavily on his chest as she leaned into him.
The woman’s eyes hovered on the scene for a brief second before shifting towards the messy pile of paper covered with Javi’s drawings and handwriting, littering Aden’s favourite table.
Seeing this her smile grew visibly wider and she turned to her daughter with crescent eyes.
“Javi? Won’t you greet your mother?”
“Mo-mother.” Javi stuttered, collecting herself.
“I am sorry, my lord, I will have a servant send some fresh sheets.”
Watching their interaction a hint of schadenfreude, Levi almost didn’t want to intervene.
“What for? Don’t bother. I was using the sheets to teach Javi about fine art.”
Lady Junita stared blankly at Levi, but he returned the gaze with a warm smile.
He knew such a shallow lie could never fool the lady but he never planned on fooling her in the first place and she knew. His message was clear.
Lady Junita stared at him for a second longer before sighing resignedly. Gently retrieving her daughter’s hands, she curtsied once more.
“I came to pick Javi for her afternoon lessons, we’ll be taking our leave now milord.”
“Take care,” he nodded.
“Bye-bye Le… I mean Lord Levi.” Javi said, peeking at her mother’s poker face before sticking out a tongue on her way out.
Walking towards the window he looked outside the window, at the townspeople busily going about in preparation for the coming winter.
He stood there in silence listening to the sounds of their footsteps dampen.
“A milksop huh?” he muttered to himself, “Oh, how far from the truth can one man get…”
Pausing again for a moment he spoke seemingly to himself.
“Now, my dear host, what do you suggest would be the most suitable punishment for a grown man.”
“I am too vindictive? Well, that is my middle name.
“I think that’s perfectly normal for me.”
“Of course not”—Levi suddenly chuckled in good humour—“I didn’t mean that literally. To clarify, vindictive is not my middle name. That is just a saying in my previous world.”
In a tent.
Aden sat on a cushion opposite Vaiu reading a scroll. A plate of food by his side had gone cold, unattended.
A few moments later his fist clenched together, rumpling the corners of the scroll.
“Are you sure he is alright?” Aden asked as he shut his eyes. His body trembled in anger.
“Yes,” Vaiu replied. “Probably a bit shook given the unusual recklessness with which he ordered the insurrection and lockdown of Redwater, but he should be fine.”
“I have no information on his location right now, but I could order a search if you want…”
“It’s not a problem.”
Aden sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose. Vaiu watched him hesitantly.
“I am sorry about your friend,” she said finally. “By the time I got the intel, it was already too late to change anything.”
“It’s alright,” Aden said with a dismissive wave. “It’s only thanks to your efforts that we could plan an escape route for their Majesties, and we could make it out without much fanfare. Things could have gotten much worse than it currently is.
“Besides, it’s reassuring to finally confirm that even you are truly not all-knowing.”
“Hmm…” Vaiu squinted.
“So, Ahem… what happens now?” Aden asked, suddenly pressed to change the topic of their conversation.
Vaiu’s squint morphed into a blank expression.
“So quick to forget, are we?..” she said with a hint of schadenfreude upon noticing him cringe at his blunder. “Well, thankfully for you I am not so forgetful.”
“Now, I escort you to Greenfields, while we negotiate how you are going to settle the accounts you now owe both myself and the Creed.”
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