Titan Beneath the Heavens
Chapter 152: Seventeenth Episode: Chapter 7
Chapter 152: Seventeenth Episode: Chapter 7
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
It was already the middle of the 10th month, yet a massive golden sun still burned high up in the skies of Vielonna. Young Oscar thought that the ball of shining light resembled a golden Ti, whichever direction it was observed from. It mercilessly blinded the people below with endless heat and light.
Oscar adored his current lifestyle. He could issue a command as he pleased and a massive crowd would shuffle back and forth to fulfill his wish. Of course, there were also the golden Tis. To be precise, it was an abundant sum of 5007 golden Tis (after the conversion of golden bricks) which he'd swept clean by winning the title. The mere thought of it was enough to get the young man all worked up once again.
Things had gone smoothly according to Marshal O'Neil's plan. On the second day of the competition, which was the 18th day of the 9th month, the garrison force of the Imperial Guards Fifteenth Region who were stationed at Vielonna marched upon the city at 8 am, establishing complete control over the merchants who entered and exited the trading hall by 8.34 am.
When the commanding officer of the Fifteenth Region, General Vangol Abberning Hagrid, explained their intentions to the executive council of the trading hall, he was answered by a ghostly laugh. "Theft in the underground state coffer? Impossible!" in order to verify the words of the general of Imperial Guards, the executive council of trading hall immediately summoned three gatekeepers to check on the coffers. When the coffer's door was opened again at 11 am on the same day, the chiefs finally saw the coffer as they'd requested, but naturally, nothing was in there.
Just as O'Neil Andrew Morisette promised, not even a copper was left behind. His Imperial Highness has not gone back on his words.
As a result from the shock, a dozen chiefs of Vielonna Trading Hall executive council collapsed on the spot; two died of heart attacks, and three others were later diagnosed to be suffering from memory loss.
The unluckiest one had to be the chairman of the executive council. The Manzonola brothers, who had been organizing a petition group, had originally planned to report His Highness to the capital, but these two old guys who had just been released on bail by the Ministry of Justice were returned to the prison only after a few days.
General Vangol Abberning Hagrid informed the provincial capital community of the exact details of the theft of the state coffers on the afternoon of that same day. Furthermore, he also announced the initial findings of the Imperial Guards and relevant judicial departments.
What surprised the merchants, who were already burning with impatience, was that the Imperial Guards didn't discover the whereabouts of thieves, but instead, they found a large pile of evidence of crimes committed by the upper echelons of the trading hall. Some men among these small-scale merchants were intelligent, for instance, Georgio Verones. Master Geo and several friends from the trading hall had studied through the night to conclude that not only was this incriminating pile of evidence legitimate, it was also absolutely unacceptable for the merchant class which believed in free trade and fair and honest business.
Through the night, Georgio Verones and his friends gathered a large number of small-scale merchants who were emboldened by anger and property losses to surround the Vielonna City Hall and the Provincial Government. Some were even bold enough to mobilize mercenaries and threaten to pound at the door of judiciary departments to demand public justice for the financial fraudsters who were confined in there.
The merchant's group submitted a letter written in blood to the head of Burton Provincial Government, who stepped up to solve the matter. The highly publicized letter could be summarized into four parts. First, the government must quickly make countermeasures against theft from the coffer; second, to investigate the facts of crimes committed by financial fraudsters, further expand the scope of investigations, and eliminate all the criminals involved in this financial fraud; third, the punishment for the chief offender must be fair and publicised; fourth, the illegal gains confiscated by the government and the judiciary should be used to indemnify for the merchants' losses.
The governor of Burton Province was in a dilemma as he couldn't accept the merchants' "pleadings". They were indeed asking sincerely, and some had even shed tears in front of him. Despite the earnest begging of these merchants, the governor couldn't agree to the idea because the prisoners were in the hands of the Imperial Military Intelligence Bureau, and he hadn't actually laid eyes on any of the fortunes confiscated by the Imperial Guards.
Finally, enraged because their complaints were not heeded, the angry merchant's community began a more drastic action on the 19th day of the 9th month. It started out with a strike at the market! The Vielonna Trading Hall existed only in name; the merchants closed down the shops and markets, even the hotel restaurants put up signs of ceasing business. Those affected rushed to the streets with various signs and slogans and began mass demonstrations. Some radical merchant groups and chambers of commerce even went on a hunger strike and sat in the lobby of the judiciary and the provincial government every day.
Perhaps trying to ignite more hatred and anger, the leader of the strike actions, Georgio Verones, fired yet another heavy shell. To be exact it was a list of properties which was said to have been compiled by a friend of Master Geo from the Investigation Department of the Imperial Military Intelligence Bureau. This list revealed an unimaginably astronomical figure of assets belonged to the trading hall's chiefs, which they had bought using the cumulative blood, sweat, and tears of numerous small-scale merchants.
Therefore, the actions of merchants escalated again out of desperation. They broke into the houses of these chiefs carrying tinder and various knives. Imperial Guards had been nominally stationed to watch over these large residences and protect the families of those prisoners. In actual fact, they observed the event with excitement, although still preventing the families of the prisoners from escaping. Once they saw the angry crowd rushing in, they immediately returned to their posts.
The first to fall into the hands of these angry mobs was unquestionably the Manzonola House. In the midst of bloodthirsty shouts and screams, these merchants demanded every Manzonola in the world to be pushed into pillars of fire. The evening of the 24th was the day of ruin for the Manzonola House. The large family which used to live in glory was fell by the angry mob. These merchants seemed to have lost their senses as they didn't even let babies still in their swaddling clothes off the hook.
The public set up rows of stakes in the main square located in front of Serevan Palace, and watched with satisfaction as every member of Manzonola was burned into ashes until late into the second half of the night. When that was done, people began to chant the names of the next House that would suffer the same fate as Manzonola.
Just like this, Vielonna fell into complete chaos as the violence and lynching continued to escalate. It was only now that the noble community began to appreciate the benevolence of His Highness Prince O'Neil. His Highness had previously deployed the limited troops of the garrison forces around the prime site where these nobles lived. Although its distance from the chaotic downtown was only one wall apart, the interests of the noble community remained intact in spite of the week-long burning and looting.
The chaos continued to worsen until Prince O'Neil woke up in the morning of the 3rd day of the 10th month and decided it was time to stop all this nonsense.
Hence, the troop of the Fifteenth Region which had been on standby around the area of Vielonna entered the city. These fully armed forces began to suppress the revolt to restore peace and stability. They managed to capture the crowd that stirred up troubles, and among them was Master Georgio Verones, who was much respected and depended upon by the small-scale merchants. Even though they held a rally the following morning to support their leader, they had no choice but to submit to the offensive Imperial Guards eventually.
On the 11th day of the 10th month, the urban area of Vielonna generally restored its calm. Only a few of the merchant groups still didn't give up on the rally and parades, but the scale was under control and limited to numbers of below 100. On the 15th day of the same month, the provincial government of Burton Province finally stated their stand on the matter.
"On the behalf of the supreme ruling authority of Vielonna, we promise to send a request on the demands stated by all levels of society to the imperial government!"
On the 16th day, comparing the "criticism and denunciation meeting" held publicly by His Imperial Highness Prince O'Neil Andrew Morisette with the Holy Day of God, to the merchants, this day was just as worth celebrating!
Early in the morning, the Imperial Guards opened up the main streets leading to the Serevan Palace. Merchants rushed to the venue one after another, some even came from other provincial trading organizations. By around 10 am, the crowd at the square in front of the palace had grown into tens of thousands of people and the Imperial Guards were forced to seal off the venue in advance. One hour later, when all the churches in the village of Vielonna rang simultaneously, under the watchful eyes of the audience, the Marshal of the Guards, also known as the Chief of the Military Intelligence Bureau and the Imperial Envoy, His Imperial Highness Prince O'Neil Andrew Morisette stepped up to the temporary podium constructed in front of the palace.
"Bring forth the criminals!"
The young prince's words incited a loud cheer from the crowd.
People began throwing rotten eggs and overripe tomatoes that they had prepared beforehand at the criminals. The guards who escorted the criminals had to lift up tall shields between them and the sea of humans.
Marshal O'Neil listed aloud the criminals' long criminal records. Although the crowd was already aware of the information, His Highness the Prince revealed even more horrifying actions of the criminals that were previously unknown to the public. The crowd overwhelmed the field in anger, and soon rotten eggs and overripe tomatoes were replaced with small rocks and stones. The Imperial Guards, who had been prepared, immediately formed a blockade, constantly hitting at the crowd which had lost control with shields and wooden sticks.
The denunciation and criticism meeting was interrupted at this point and didn't resume until shortly after noon. In fact, it was because His Highness the Prince needed to take his lunch break.
Marshal O'Neil then mobilized a large number of troops to completely seal off the venue. Heavily armed Imperial Guards were positioned at the stage in front of the palace. Just when the merchant crowd was baffled at their confusing actions, the soldiers of the brigade began to carry out bags of golden Tis from the palace.
Once again, the crowd broke into a commotion. "Those are my coins!" "Give me my coins!" the merchants screamed and dashed ahead regardless of their own safety. The Imperial Guards had to reveal their ice-cold swords to calm down the erupting disturbance.
"Excellent!" Marshal O'Neil finally spoke, "I know these are your coins. I also know that they are the hard-earned fortune you have accumulated after years of hardships!"
"But if you rob these golden Tis in front of me right now, you are no different from these criminals tied to the stakes!"
The crowd looked at the criminals, and then at the Imperial Guards who were already in position, and the chaos slowly calmed down.
O'Neil Andrew Morisette pointed to the temporary tent outside of the meeting place, "You are all good citizens who have made countless contributions to the empire, so the empire will not stand by and watch as you suffer losses. These are the illegal gains that the criminals extorted from you and, according to the agreement, the empire will compensate you for the loss. That massive tent over there is the registration desk, where the audits department was established jointly by nine large bank company groups. They will calculate your gains and losses in accordance with the account documents kept by Vielonna Trading Hall and the underground coffer, and compensate you with corresponding amounts of golden Tis!"
The cheers of the crowd burst out suddenly like a storm raging with great momentum. Prince O'Neil raised his hand up in the air abruptly and cleared his throat, but didn't commence the great speech which would later be known as the "Titan Business Manifesto" until the crowd finally got ahold of themselves.
"I'm eternally grateful to the God of Light who gifted great Titan with a land rich and plentiful in resources! As a merchant, the gold coins we have in hand are the artifacts that make our motherland prosperous! They are the tools for us to remain free! The gold coins we pursue should be the fruit of own hard work in line with all legal and moral principles in the world. It should be a precious, spiritual wealth, one not obtained by degenerating ourselves into a slave, a traitor, or a loser...."
No one continued to follow the speech of His Highness the Prince as hysterical shouts of delight had completely drowned the province of Vielonna.
Prince O'Neil received a great round of applause from the southern nobles who scrambled and rushed over when he returned to Serevan Palace. They knelt down on both sides of the red carpet that the prince walked upon, and some nobles even kissed the edges of the carpet.
O'Neil Andrew Morisette revealed an expression smug with success! As the door of the palace closed behind him he pulled his wife into his embrace, swirled her around several times, and didn't let go of his sweet princess until Alanis begged in a playful manner.
"My sweetheart! I want you!"
"Hahaha, not right now!" Alanis placed her hand over her husband's mouth. As his wife, she was naturally proud of his success. "Go on! They are all waiting for you!"
"Let them wait!"
"No, you must strike the iron while it's hot!"
"Yes, my lady!" Oscar immediately raised his hand in salute, and finally left after leaving a passionate kiss on his wife's lips.
"Marshal!" Viscount Paurol Jawock, who was obviously trying to ingratiate himself to His Highness, shouted outside the prince's meeting room, "I must say that your speech just now was wonderful! Many people in the crowd were visibly moved and I saw some even had tears rolling down to their cheeks…"
"Well, Paurol, you don't have to remind me that it was you who drafted the speech," Oscar responded to the groveling remarks with a smile and sized up the little rascal who had great literary grace but a disreputable character.
"Your Highness, that's not my intention!" Paurol Jawock commented and carefully pulled Oscar away to the side. "I assume you don't know about this yet, but my fathers and several men that look up to him were planning to cancel the original plan they'd agreed to with you! They certainly want to take a share of the spoil you obtain from the merchants," the man murmured in the young prince's ear.
Oscar stared at the young man in front of him and didn't quite know how to regard this person who could sell out even his own father. Suddenly, Alpha III's advice rang in his ears. He had told Oscar that as a ruler, hedgers, conspirators, various kinds of rascals, and even dog breeds raised by whores held indispensable roles in providing assistance.
Oscar's smile deepened as he patted the young man's shoulder.
"Paurol, do you remember that it was me who conferred the military rank upon you? Therefore, if you are still up for the plan, know that I'll always welcome you to my place."
Almost instantaneously Paurol Jawock knelt on his one knee, "Always at your service!"
"Alright! I have to go check out for myself what kind of price your father and his men are willing to offer me!"
"92 golden Tis per mu of land? Has anyone heard of this before?" as the head of the national enclosure operation, Count Philip Goolean raised his question to the public.
The great lords and nobles present there didn't forget the other identity of this count, who was the confidential secretary of Alfa III His Majesty and the most trusted minister of the emperor. Faced with such questioning from this minister, the local dukes and marquises and the rest of public officials from the governors of the five provinces kept their mouths tightly shut.
"His Imperial Highness! Have you ever heard of this?" Philip turned back to young Oscar who stood beside him and noticed the smiling young man shaking his head.
"Since you completely disregard the agreement and the empire's dire financial situation, then I'm sorry for not giving you an alternative!" a cold expression washed over Count Philip's face, "I insist on the pre-agreement price of 50 golden Tis per mu! Nothing more, nothing less!"
The nobles had finally gotten their spirits up at the mentioning of this, and certainly, they disagreed unanimously with this arrangement. The nobles screamed back at full force to fight against the price offered by the emperor's confidential secretary without any more considerations. Nobody could take away their lands or golden Tis!
Those relatively quiet nobles eventually joined in the quarrel. They were the ones who wanted to use this opportunity of enclosure operations to regain their former feudal estates and manors. As long as the agreement was not established, they would have only the title of nobility without any actual power.
"Enough!" O'Neil Andrew Morisette's shouting finally calmed the scene. This Marshal of Imperial Guards widened his eyes which resembled bronze bells and ripped the collar off his Marshal's uniform in anger.
"Look at you!" the Marshal pointed to the lords who were present, "You are part of the empire's officials! How can you bargain as shamelessly as those social pariahs!"
"Your Imperial Highness! It's wrong for you to say so!" retorted a gray-haired nobleman. "These lands belong to us. If the empire is to withdraw them, then it's only fair that we are given appropriate compensation in return!"
"Yes! He's right! Right! That's how it should be!" the people echoed in the background.
Oscar tilted his head slightly to the side, and Baron Messier, who stood behind him, took the opportunity to deliver His Highness a file of correspondence. The young prince simply glanced at the file and then looked coldly at the first old man who provoked him earlier.
"Marquis Morelly! If the Imperial Tax Bureau records are accurate, before the armed riots in year 791, Morelly House's hereditary feudal estate was just a valley that produces walnuts along with the castle located on top of the valley! But look at it now, Ola… you have eight plantations, four pastures, and a fertile grassland. Even the number of castles has doubled!"
Oscar threw the file away and raised the heavier, thicker Titan Codex to the front of old Marquis Morelly.
"Marquis, my lord, do you care to explain it to everyone? Share with us the secret of your rapid expansion of land!"
Marquis Morelly stared at the Titan Codex in front of his eyes and pursed his lips in silence.
"Similarly!" Oscar looked around at the nobles present, "Everyone, try to recall what you have done in these years! Although His Majesty the Third didn't make inquiries about the trailblazers in those illegal activities, we would like you to recall thoroughly and check if you are qualified to bargain with the empire!"
The nobles and lords went completely silent.
A slight sneer crept across Oscar's face, "In my opinion, at 50 golden Tis per mu, Count Philip has already considered the problem by putting himself in your shoes! I only have to air your dirty linens to His Majesty, and the empire would be more than happy to save these expenses!"
The great nobles bowed their heads as they listened quietly to the prince's reproach. In fact, they were unsure whether the young man who had played his cards well was genuinely angry.
"However…" it turned out that Oscar wasn't actually upset at the matter, "these coins don't belong to me, but those who violated the law and created troubles. I think it's appropriate to compensate your losses with these coins, but never forget the fate of those merchants! These coins were borrowed from hell by the Imperial Guards! There is interest, and putting these coins in your pockets certainly will not guarantee you a moment of peace! The next time you offend the Titan Codex again will be the time for you to return these borrowed coins to hell! And the interests will be all of your associations, just like those merchants that went bankrupt and lost their family! They can't even retrieve their bones!"
His Highness the Prince's remarks made the nobles tremble in fear. As if on cue, the Imperial Guards opened the windows of the palace just at the right moment, and noises of about tens of thousands of people came flooding the palace.
"Hang them! Hang them! Hang them..."
"The penalty ritual has commenced?" Oscar asked Baron Messier.
"Yes, Your Highness! It has been going on for quite a while now, and the masses are indeed very supportive of it!"
"Excellent!" the expressionless young prince nodded.
"70 golden Tis! Let's each take a step back and agree with this amount!" Prince O'Neil announced all of a sudden.
The crowd of nobles finally let go of the breath they didn't realize they were holding as if a great weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Nonetheless, these lords turned to look at Marquis Sherman Gondo Jawock who had kept quiet all this while. Marquis Jawock was their leader, as the Marquis held the largest amount of land after the armed bandit forces of their House had retreated to the mountains.
"Sherman, do you want to take a break and discuss with your old friends?" Oscar glared at Marquis Jawock who appeared as if nothing had happened, and made an additional remark, "Rumors have it that… it was you who suggested the ridiculous amount of 92 golden Tis per mu in the first place!"
"That's certainly not true, Your Highness," Sherman replied casually and quickly shook his hands in exaggerated motion at the prince, "70 golden Tis! I absolutely agree with this great suggestion. 92 golden Tis per mu is indeed exorbitant, it's definitely not me who requested that!"
Marquis glanced back at the rest of the lords after his reply and tipped them the wink, "Let's agree on 70 golden Tis, alright?"
"Yes! Sure! Okay! Alright! Definitely!" the nobles who finally compromised echoed in unison.
Oscar gave a light pat on Count Philip Goolean's shoulder, "I'll let you take care of the rest!"
Emperor's confidential secretary nodded and assured the prince to not worry.
Rushing from one conference venue to another, O'Neil Andrew Morisette finally felt like he was a powerful figure. It seemed that the whole world revolved around him.
The second venue was slightly smaller than the previous one. In fact, it was a study room located in Serevan Palace. His Imperial Highness, who was surrounded by a group of officers, entered the room and naturally brought himself to the main seat behind the desk. He cast the fine cigar box on his desk to the Brigadier General of artillery soldiers, whose appearance resembled the unluckiest man on earth.
It seemed that the officers were in a discussion about the Brigadier General of artillery soldiers. Torry had originally wanted the fortress artillery arranged outside of the city to be brought into the city for a few shots, but his idea was rejected by His Highness the Prince.
Without warning, the topic of conversation began to digress, and all of a sudden, the men were talking about the adopted daughter of His Highness the Prince. Someone jokingly said that even if Torry had fired the artillery, it would not frighten Lady Elizabeth. It was also mentioned that even if Lady Elizabeth was scared, she would run straight into the arms of the Marshal. The overall atmosphere of the study room was light and playful.
Oscar didn't interrupt his officers from making these vulgar little jokes. He realized that he was already inseparable from them, as he felt his entire body itching once he hadn't met them for one day.
"All right you guys!" the Marshal finally came forward to stop the nonsense talk. By that time, the cigar box had been passed one round among the hands of the officers, and finally, it was handed to an unfamiliar face.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" the prince looked in confusion at the smart soldier whose arm donned the armband of the Southern Army Group.
"Marshal! Colonel Payne Lubelly, the chief staff of Army Southern Group Combat Department, reporting for duty!"
"Ola!" Oscar exclaimed as he remembered meeting this colonel, who at that time was still the confidential secretary of Silver Fox Alan, in the northern battlefield. He never thought they would meet again on this occasion.
"Why did Marshal Alan send you here?"
"Marshal, you've remembered inaccurately! I was sent by Marshal Alan to the Second Corps of Eighth Region as a staff officer, and then the commander of the Southern Army Group, General Eugene Mir Bradley, assigned me to this position. Oh, and..."
Something else seemed to have rung a bell in Colonel Payne Lubelly, "Now I am commissioned by General Eugene to serve as your coordinator with the Southern Army Group headquarters."
Oscar nodded and pointed to the cigars in the colonel's hand, "I welcome you to join us, my lord coordinator!"
Payne Lubelly returned the cigar box to its original position under the watchful gaze of everyone, "Your Highness, I don't smoke."
The soldiers in attendance seemed to be examining the expression of the young prince, but Colonel Payne Lubelly spoke again, "But I'm truly honored to join your battle formation!"
Oscar nodded in satisfaction and motioned the colonel to take to his seat.
"So... who would like to speak first?" Oscar looked at the crowd of officers.
The division head of the Military Intelligence was the first to volunteer, as usual, "Your Highness, would you like to hear our bills?"
Messier spread out a document in delight and began dictating, "Including both the competition and confiscation of coins from the criminals, we've accumulated a total of..." Baron shifted his gaze to Colonel Payne Lubelly who maintained a straight face, "hmm, a grand amount! To the point where His Highness suffered a cramp from counting the coins!"
The crowd of officers burst out laughing, and even Oscar couldn't help but join in. He then quickly waved his hand at his officer, "Enough with the nonsense, continue on!"
"Yes, Your Highness!" Messier performed a deep bow, "According to Vielonna Trading Hall's system records and the state coffer's copy, we are required to compensate a total amount of 1087 million golden Tis to the affected merchants. Then, regarding this enclosure operation's compensation plan, if we go on with the price of 70 golden Tis per mu, we estimate at least 80 million to even 100 million!"
Someone from the crowd whistled at the abundant amount mentioned, and Oscar also nodded reluctantly. This indicated that his room full of gold would soon be emptied.
"It seems that the enclosure operation has been exaggerated. A 100 million golden Tis can only recover hundreds of hectares of land from the nobles, I know that they actually occupy more than this amount!"
Messier flipped over to a new page, "As for the reimbursement to the nobles, the local finance department of the five southern provinces can solve one-third of them, in addition to the 60 million golden Tis we currently have in our hands… it should be possible!"
Oscar spread out his hand and announced, "Let's toast to us being poor again!"
The officers broke into laughter once more.
"However, Your Highness, we still have some priceless objects in our hands!"
"Oh?" Oscar's eyes widened.
"Have you forget about it?" Messier was once again excited and turned to another page of the document, "We have hundreds of precious paintings and antiques, as well as countless jewels!"
Immediately Oscar's spirits were dampened, "Don't they all belong to the merchants? They would come and collect their belongings once the coffer case is closed!"
"No, Your Highness! I don't think they will!" Messier laughed treacherously, "Indeed, we don't know much about what happened behind the curtains of the Vielonna Trading Hall. It turns out that the underground coffer has a regulation of not accepting material objects but only coins. Those financial giants must have deposited these pieces of jewelry obtained from the black market or unknown sources in the coffer because they thought that was the safest place in the world!"
"You mean... these things are now without owners?"
"No, Your Highness, I mean that they are now all our spoils of war! The kind that we can relocate freely!"
Oscar was perfectly content with the news and lit his cigar, "Next time, remember to announce good news first. I was scared to death by that previous bad news!"
Messier nodded obediently, "Your Highness, actually there is more good news!"
"As you've said earlier, the lands occupied by the great nobles are definitely more than the amount measured by the enclosure operation. However, His Majesty the Third nonetheless chooses to support you. Please take a look at this decree which has just been delivered!"
Oscar took the document over, and at first glance, he had already leaped from his seat.
"From the 9th month of year 791 to the present, all housing and land sales contracts of the five southern provinces during the aforementioned period have all been nullified. The Imperial Secretariat has instructed the related local taxation departments to join in the operation of Ministry of Justice, and all properties and lands must be returned to the original owners. The commissions for both parties are to be paid in ten-year terms, in installments without additional interests!"
Oscar laughed out loud and slapped his hand on the table, "Look what His Majesty the Third has done? The southern nobles right now must feel worse than eating flies!"
"Yes, Your Highness!" Messier chirped in, "This document will let the nobles know that their commissions for the lands have drifted into the depths of the sea! The seller can pay off their debts in ten years' time, without interests! Now, these nobles can't even bargain!"
Oscar glanced at the bottom of the document, and sure enough, he noticed Kachev Drakas Ferdinand's signature after His Majesty the Third's. The young man couldn't help but snort, "This old fox deserves his nickname! Publishing this government clause was definitely his idea to take away my credit! By doing so, the southerners will only remember the emperor's benevolence!"
Messier smiled faintly, "Your Highness, this is only a simple matter! This official document can only be distributed after being mimeographed. You just have to place your signature in front of Duke Kachev's!"
"Am I allowed to do so?" Oscar's mouth gaped open.
"You are the military and political adviser for the five southern provinces and the person who specifically executive this administrative order. Don't you think you're allowed to do so?"
"Messier, you really are a brilliant guy!" Oscar gave an imposing laughter, "Just do as you said, and place my signature behind His Majesty but before the old fox Kachev."
His Highness the Prince had been occupied the whole day and finally, it was time for refreshment. It seemed as if dinner had to be postponed too. Lord Rowel, the palace chief, commanded all the attendants to push two carts of high tea to the prince's study room. Their arrival was immediately welcomed warmly by the officers.
Vielonna was once the capital of Titan's previous dynasty. Although there were already no traces of the old dynasty to be found in the current Titan, its unique imperial flavor was retained in the traditional palace high tea.
Lowel prepared some the highly flavored Vielonna Kung Fu Black Tea for His Highness the Prince and the officers. This special drink required mixing Assam black tea originated from the Far East and some pure brandy. When heated, the blue and white flames danced with each other soothingly, and the interior of the study was immediately filled with the fragrance of the tea. In the meantime, the brandy in the tea was deprived of its alcoholic taste and bitterness and replaced by the sweet taste of glycol. Finally, before actually tasting it, adding in the right amount of properly roasted sugar cubes into the drink would produce a unique charred aftertaste, all of which would make Vielonna Kung Fu Black Tea live it up to its name of imperial refinement and unpredictable style.
"There are more sandwiches and almond cookies!" the young prince shouted loudly, and the officers immediately transferred the plates with his orders in front of him while they indulged themselves in jade-green jello and Burton honey cheesecakes.
After several rounds of devouring, the tea break eventually came to an end. Although the scene couldn't bring oneself to be complimentary, those who surrounded His Highness the Prince were some officers that wouldn't listen to reason. For instance, Princess Alanis wouldn't enjoy a tea break with her husband. She would much rather be with Sasha gossiping about Elizabeth than to deal with these men equipped with shoulder straps.
"And so… it's time for us to discuss how to utilize these spoils of war we hold in our hands!" O'Neil finally spoke. He had been busy picking his teeth just now.
Almost instantaneously, the officers paused their own discussions, but Major General Janin Sherman, who recently took office at Southern Military Intelligence Bureau Division as chief assistant, broke the brief silence!
"Your Highness! I suggest that we utilize this fortune as military expenditure! As you have been informed, most of our Southern Branch operation personnel are still stuck in the chaotic war zone and they urgently need funding for operations!"
"I agree with utilizing this fortune for military spending!" Messier quickly stood up, "But no matter what, the funds must be transmitted from the headquarters, and they are also struggling with much difficulty as well! Our friends from the Statistic Division constantly complain about the massive expenditure and the lack of funds!"
Several of those chief officers who had traveled down south with the young prince nodded in unison, but their southern colleagues weren't too keen on giving up either.
"Your Imperial Highness, the next stage of our mission is to clear up the remnants of the armed bandits, and the Southern Branch needs urgent funds!" Janin Sherman who had been promoted to Major General recently retorted strongly on just grounds.
Messier was feeling somewhat annoyed. This guy was only the leader of a small operation unit last month, who did he think he was?
"General Janin! I hope that you consider the issue of the overall situation. The financial situation at the headquarters is also desperately stretched. If even the funds of headquarters are not strengthened, how can the Southern Branch fight alone?"
"Alright!" Marshal O'Neil finally interrupted the sudden quarrel. "Sit down, all of you, and listen to me!"
Oscar rose from his seat and his hand traced over the five southern provinces drawn on the battle map.
"I think... it seems more practical to spend our loots in the south!"
A cheerful smile washed over Janin Sherman's face, while on the other hand, the rest of the chief officers from the capital lowered their heads, completely disheartened at the fact that their master seemed to have acquired himself a new favorite.
"However, this money can't be used as military expenditure!" Oscar turned away from the map to face the crowd of now dumbfounded officers, "First of all, we need to turn these loots into golden Tis. Everyone knows that these prizes came from dirty and illegal means, and therefore, it must be difficult to get rid of them. I'm thinking of putting them up for auction as well as black market transactions... at the soonest, we can get results by next spring."
"What do you think of when I mention the coming spring?" the prince suddenly asked. All of the officers shook their heads in confusion, apart from Colonel Payne Lubelly from the Southern Group Army headquarters who abruptly stood up.
"Marshal, spring is the season for all things to recover and the season for sowing!"
Oscar couldn't help but re-examined the experienced and steady colonel of the Imperial Guards, "Exactly! Colonel Payne is right, spring is the season of sowing! Earlier before, I kept an eye on this year's agriculture and noticed the farmers' harvest is low, even though we're already in the middle of the 10th month. Therefore... these loots will be turned into grains, various kinds of materials, and most importantly, they will be turned into wheat seeds!"
"Grains and materials can be distributed to people in difficult winter conditions in the form of material loans. As for wheat, we will implement wheat seeds into each household next spring, and then..."
"Then wait until the time of harvest to recall our loan with a meager interest!" Colonel Payne Lubelly added on to the prince's remark, which made young Oscar pay even more attention to him.
"But... this is the matter of local government and Ministry of Agriculture!" Janin Sherman voiced out his confusion; he couldn't understand the reason to invest so much in those poor farmers.
Oscar waved his hand and replied, "Have you not realized that I have the power to represent the five southern provincial governments? Besides, our general strategy for the South is also decided based on the advantages we have. The recovery of agricultural production in the South will drive the development of the entire region. Although in such a brief period the level of production will not be restored to that from before year 791, what we need to do now is to lay a solid foundation for the stability of the entire region."
"That's right!" echoed one of the officers, "The farmers don't request for much, a few acres of land and a stone house are sufficient to please them. Moreover, the bases of the armed bandits are mostly on barren mountainous areas. As long as we fundamentally change the state of existence there, perhaps we can even save the effort of offensive attacks as they will start to crumble internally!"
Oscar nodded in agreement, "That's what I thought too! What do you all think?"
Messier was sharp and sensitive enough to realize His Highness the Prince had already made up his mind, and so he tried to provide an out for his fellow colleagues.
"Your Highness, on behalf of headquarters, we only need to request for one representative from the empire's Ministry of Agriculture to be transferred over. As long as the funds for starting production are in place, we can take action according to the strategy deployed by the Ministry of Agriculture. After all, they are the experts in this field. Besides, we also want to prevent anyone from having ulterior motives to misuse this fortune. The bureaucrats in the south have always been very courageous, so it's not impossible that they may want to seek profit from it!"
"Your explanation makes sense!" Oscar finally decided, "Look for time to get in touch with the farming departments of the five southern provinces, but don't reveal too much to them. Demand them to come up with a rough plan and wait until we have all the spoils of war exchanged into golden Tis before referring to the Empire regarding this matter."
"Yes, Your Highness!" Messier gave a smug look to Janin Sherman. At least for now, this huge sum of coins had fallen into his hands.
Late night in Vielonna was still lit up by starry lights. Behind the bright colors and moving shadows, several mottled figures appeared on the cold and dark ancient walls. It was as if a whole city had been trapped in between the frames of four walls.
The wheels rolled into the streets where the stones were paved, and sounds of horses' gallops became more audible to the ears. The guards positioned below the city walls immediately tensed up. They scattered around to move roadblocks in an attempt to stop these visitors who had already entered the military restricted area.
Smoothly, the carriage of His Highness the Prince passed through this sentry under the ancient city wall and entered a walled courtyard. A towering pillbox stood in the yard, but the inside was too dark to be distinguished, though from the weathered stone walls one could vaguely confirm its long history.
This was the military prison of the Imperial Guards of the Fifteenth Region, for about a month, this place had been detaining successively big merchants awaiting to be brought to justice.
"What is it?" Elizabeth felt a twinge of fear when she was led into this pitch-dark dungeon.
"A present!" O'Neil Andrew Morisette laughed. His hands caressed the lady's back, but it didn't seem to have eased the beauty's shivering.
The prison guard was leading in front with a torch to light the way. On both sides of the dungeon were locked doors, and strange screams and wails echoed from behind them.
"What on earth are you up to?" the woman was getting impatient.
"We're here!" the prison guard stopped in front of one door, and from within his arms, he reveals a set of keys to open the door.
A sudden wind rushed out of the door, and the woman huddled into the man's arms. Oscar reluctantly embraced the trembling warmth. He thought the conditions in here were rather acceptable, at least, much better in comparison to Damorga!
"Who? Who is it?" the weak man asked, frightened at his surprise visitors.
Elizabeth immediately grew alert. She recognized this voice; even if she were to be burned into ashes, she would never forget this voice.
"Oh God! Isn't this the chairman of Vielonna Trading Hall? What happened to you?" the woman cried in a faint voice, but anyone could detect the woman's bad intentions.
The old man struggled, and his sudden movement frightened the woman. But Elizabeth's eyes had finally adjusted to the dark now, she couldn't help but laugh when she noticed the old man was tied to the cross.
"Where's the younger brother?" Elizabeth turned around to ask the young prince.
His Highness the Prince scratched his head awkwardly, "My men might have used too much force… his dead body was hung up by afternoon."
"Haha!" Elizabeth moved toward the bloody old man with cautioun, "Where's your walking stick? Those tools that you used to torture women? Don't you have them with you?"
"How can we keep him quiet?" the woman asked the young prince once more.
Oscar returned her a weak smile and motioned to the prison guard. This man who wrapped himself in black garments immediately revealed a needle and thread and began sewing the old man's mouth shut. Oscar shook from the victim's miserable cries, while on the other hand, Elizabeth was getting more excited at the old man's suffering.
"As I've promised, almost everyone in the world named Manzonola is dead. He's the only one left behind, so how do you want to handle him?"
Elizabeth took the Marshal's sword from His Highness the Prince without a word.
"Can you leave for a moment?" the woman mumbled mechanically.
Oscar pivoted and headed for the door, and soon he heard the low moans of the old man coming from the prison. A brief moment later, the whimper was replaced by the woman's intermittent sobs.
Embracing the woman from behind, he accompanied her to leave this horrible dungeon. Oscar gave the room behind him a final glare, only to realize the old dog had already been chopped into bits and pieces.
Oscar took back his sword before spitting at the chopped corpse, "You deserve this!" Then he bit the woman's ear softly.
"My little baby! Let's do something wonderful..."
It seemed like O'Neil Andrew Morisette was becoming more and more like a real prince.