"Has Hebron fallen?"

"Seems like they lost all their soldiers crossing the forest."

"Do we need to tell the Baron?"

"No need. They'll send word from inside."

The arrival of Hebron's forces at Nurha Barony was an unprecedented event in recent years.

To the soldiers guarding the gate, I said casually,

"We've taken care of the goblins in the forest, so you can relax. From now on, it's safe to enter the forest. But remember, if you're caught hunting without care, you'll be fined."

The Eastern Forest was part of Hebron's territory, just poorly managed until now.

Hearing my words, the soldiers looked at me in surprise. I just waved and went deeper into Nurha Barony.

"It's quiet."

The vast plains were empty. The wind carried with it the smell of human life, which was mostly unpleasant.

Most of the barony's residents lived inside the walls, where merchants and their carriages congregated.

Nurha Barony had a bustling trade. It was a small rural marketplace that went unnoticed in Vreio, but after living in Hebron, where even seeing a merchant was rare, the mere act of trade seemed exciting.

At the city walls, another check was conducted. The first one was to distinguish humans from monsters, the second was to confirm the person's identity.

I showed the Hebron baron's nameplate to the soldiers and introduced myself.

"I'm Lewis de Hebron."

I used to visit Nurha Barony once a year. This was my fourth visit, so the soldiers recognized me.

Again, I told the soldiers about the goblin clearing.

News like this was bound to spread.

"Weak territories are easily shaken by rumors."

Once inside, I made my way to the market. Booths lined the square's edge, and goods were displayed on the merchant carriages. People were busy buying and selling.

The air was thick with the smell of inexpensive spices mingling with food.

At the market's entrance, at the busiest intersection, was a regular trader.

The Serpens Merchant Group.

Not a group that Lewis de Vreio would remember, but in these parts, it was quite big.

They had four branches and owned fifteen merchant carriages. Their security was competent, and they often helped out during tax collection when mercenaries were scarce.

One of the merchants from the group recognized me. He rushed over with the exaggerated enthusiasm typical of his profession and asked,

"Young master of Hebron! You've changed so much in just a few months, I almost didn't recognize you. What brings you here now?"

"I have some items to sell. Could you take a look?"


The merchant hurried towards the carriage from Hebron.

He was taken aback by the sight of the carriage filled with iron swords and goblin teeth.

When a soldier from Hebron mentioned we had three carriages, the merchant darted between them, excitement flashing in his eyes.

The merchant turned to me with a hopeful expression and asked,

"What's all this?"

"These are items we collected during the goblin clearing. Some were charred by the spirit's fire, but we've sorted out the usable ones."

"Just a moment, please!"

The merchant quickly summoned the manager, who had been resting. A disheveled man came running, even in broad daylight.

He reeked of alcohol and perfume, as if he tried to mask the stench of drink with fragrance.

"This is the head of the Serpens Merchant Group."

I hadn't anticipated meeting the group's leader in such a rural area. He seemed to be enjoying a relaxed day while his underlings managed the smaller tasks.

Although his name was Serpens Junior, he was a man in his late forties. He was born into the business, inheriting it from his family.

"I'm Lewis de Hebron."

"Did a wizard appear in Hebron?"

The reason the head of the Serpens Merchant Group showed up wasn't due to the items I'd brought. It was the signs of magic left on them. The iron swords, once belonging to goblins, bore scorch marks.

I had done my best to clean them, but the melted iron was beyond my power to fix.

"It's not a wizard, but an elemental mage. Inferno."

At my call, Inferno appeared. The imposing figure stood beside me like a statue, displaying the authority of a mid-level spirit.

Inferno glanced at me, a stern look in his eyes, but I merely raised an eyebrow.

It was my signal that I had no particular order to give.

"I, I am grateful!"

The head of the Serpens Merchant Group stammered.

His eyes lit up. It was a significant event that the eldest son of the Hebron Baron had summoned a mid-level fire spirit and cleared the goblins from the eastern forest.

He smelled opportunity in the air.

"I want to sell these items."

Regardless of the merchant leader's thoughts, I needed funds.

I required money to fortify the territory.

"I'll take a look."

The head of the Serpens Merchant Group inspected each item in the carriage personally, while the merchant followed him, noting down the inventory on a piece of paper.

One carriage was stuffed with odds and ends from the goblin hunt, and another was filled with various beastly byproducts.

In particular, the carriage held a considerable amount of high-quality ash wolf skins, which looked likely to fetch a good price.

"...... 437 gold and 40 silver."

The annual tax of Hebron was 300 gold.

Even that could only be gathered by scrimping and saving all year, occasionally borrowing money when they fell short.

The skins of robust beasts fetched high prices, as anticipated. The sum was higher than I'd expected, suggesting that the leader of the Serpens Merchant Group may have hiked up the price to win my favor.

I struggled to suppress my excitement. Back when I was with the Ducal House of Vreio, I never gave a second thought to money. There were instances when I handled ancient books or rare materials that even money couldn't procure.

'Earning money through toil and sweat certainly feels different.'

The profit was made by thoroughly hunting down the goblins and beasts in the eastern forest. While the number of prey would dwindle in the future, Hebron, in return, secured a safe passage.

From the carriage I'd traveled in, I pulled out a box.

"I also wish to sell these."

As soon as the merchant opened the box and inspected its contents, he responded at once.

"These are the works of Baron Hebron. I trust in your craftsmanship. There are 27 sets, I'll take them at 3 gold each."

1 gold was enough for a poor family of four in Hebron to survive on for more than half a year. Obviously, 3 gold was a substantial sum, but it felt somewhat less impactful after the earnings of 437 gold.

The leader of the Serpens Merchant Group then posed a question.

"Did you manage to subdue the goblins?"

"Do you require more explicit proof?"

Half the items I'd sold to the Serpens Merchant Group were from the goblins.

There were also several bundles of teeth to be sold inexpensively to wizards.

"No, no. I expressed myself poorly. I intend to send a merchant carriage to Hebron. How large should the escort be?"

Serpens, in line with his merchant instincts, approached the matter in a roundabout way. He seemed to be trying to gauge the security situation in the eastern forest through the size of the escort.

"Three will suffice. I've hunted all the beasts that pose a threat to humans."


Unless the area was deemed safe, one would not dare to send merely three soldiers as an escort on a trading route.

I was implying that the security in the eastern forest was nearly flawless.

The leader of the Serpens Merchant Group bit his lip.

He led me to a more secluded location and spoke in hushed tones.

"Two centuries ago, Hebron was a strategic juncture."

"It was referred to as such even before it was christened 'Hebron'."

"In the past, there was a bridge on the western cliff. It was a key passage for merchants."

The reason behind the establishment of the region now known as 'Hebron' was the 'Cloud Bridge'.

Stretching over a kilometer, it was a monumental bridge, though I'd heard it had been demolished over a hundred years ago.

During a territorial dispute, my ancestor burned the bridge as a final measure.

Beyond the Cloud Bridge lay the territory of Viscount Jaison.

Once it had been the right arm of Hebron, but that was a tale from two centuries ago.

Viscount Jaison's dominion was a bustling city that put places like the Barony of Nurha to shame. One could significantly shorten the route to pay the king's taxes by passing through Viscount Jaison's territory.

Recent rumors told of peculiar noises emanating from the forest beyond the cliff, though beastly howls were common in such areas. Perhaps a creature with an unusually resonant call had emerged, typically the first to be singled out as prey.

"Do you intend to construct a bridge?"

"Merchants don't build bridges. That's the privilege of the lord."

Owner Serpens remained firm. But I had an inkling of what such a merchant desired. At the Ducal House of Vreio, we often broached more extensive matters, and I had a habit of eavesdropping on these discussions.

"What if I were to exempt the bridge-building merchant from any taxation?"

"......Are you serious?"

"There's no reason for me to lie."

Owner Serpens seemed to be tallying potential profits in his head. It wasn't merely about bridge tolls but also the waived taxes for passage through Hebron territory and for trading within Hebron.

Even if it meant colossal immediate losses, the potential for sizeable long-term gains loomed large, especially if Hebron were to grow substantially. If it didn't, the Serpens Merchant Group would collapse along with Hebron.

There wasn't a compelling argument for Owner Serpens to accept my proposal. The notion of Hebron, barely surviving, suddenly prospering was far-fetched.

But then something occurred that toppled that assumption.

The supplies for three carriages served as the proof.

"Please afford me some time."

"Take all the time you need. Hebron isn't in any position to rush, either. We've just begun to subdue the eastern forest."

The owner summoned several merchants and retreated into the accommodation, leaving one merchant to guard the group's carriages.

I provided the remaining merchant with a list of items the Barony of Hebron required.

"I'll arrange for it."

"I'll accept any items that can't be prepared immediately next month. I plan to visit Nurha monthly from now on. Alternatively, you can bring them when you visit Hebron."

"Certainly, sir."

"And do include a few sets of the latest fashionable attire."

The merchant, clearly accustomed to such requests, assembled a selection of trendy clothing for each gender and age group.

"Here you go. This red blouse is a top seller. I sold two just today."

"This is the latest style?"

I questioned my vision. The design was hopelessly plain. Disregarding the poor fabric quality, the garment resembled something you'd only find in the portraits of our ancestors hanging in the Ducal House of Vreio.

Glancing at the price tag of the blouse—the alleged top seller—it read 2.5G, translating to 2 gold 50 silver. It was pricier than twenty pieces of clothing crafted by my father.

"Yes, it's the current trend from the capital......"

"That's excessively long for a stylish dress. Isn't it fashionable to have hemlines below the knee? And these frills are outdated, stylish a century ago. Wearing these in the capital would be nothing short of embarrassing."

The fashion trends in the Xenon Kingdom's capital and the Duchy of Vreio developed in parallel. The fashion designers serving both territories overlapped, and their creations were instantly distributed across both regions.

Fashion trends took several months, if not years, to permeate other territories.

Especially these rural regions.

The merchant regarded me with a stunned expression. He must not have anticipated someone from such a remote location reciting the latest fashions from the capital.

More so, this person was a young lord, previously confined exclusively to Hebron. Even I found it staggering.

The merchant found himself at a loss for words.

"Bring me several fabric sets. That purple one seems somewhat like the current trending color. Also, that white and yellow cloth. And..."

I proceeded to order various items.