"Your total comes to 42 gold and 22 silver, but let's call it 40 gold."
Before I knew it, one of Hebron's wagons was brimming with fabric and sewing supplies.
40 gold was a significant amount for the cash-strapped family of the Baron of Hebron.
'This is an investment. It's for Hebron. And for my father.'
Doing something for my father felt odd. Duke Vreio never cared about my actions, and none of the other children did anything for the Duke.
They were all focused on showcasing their own talents.
'My father would love this.'
My father was a skilled craftsman. If I showed him the latest fashion from the capital, he'd surely outdo a dress worth 2 gold and 50 silver.
Even though I spent more than anticipated, it wasn't too much since I earned more than I expected.
As planned, I purchased a few more items.
"I'd like to see some weapons."
"Right this way, please."
Compared to the whole month I'd spent earning money, I spent it all in no time.
Good swords, shields, and spears for soldiers were costly. If made without care, the balance of the weapons could be off.
Sadly, Hebron's technical skills weren't enough to produce such high-quality weapons.
'I need talent. Maybe a technician, an administrative expert, and a magician for urgent jobs would suffice?'
If I had been taught how to manage a territory by the Vreio Duke's family, this would've been easier. However, being the third child meant that I could've been cut off from the Vreio family's registry.
Luckily, in my past life, I loved reading so much that I'd studied the textbooks used for territorial management education.
I had a list in my mind. The past me was very interested in those who were kicked out of the Vreio Duke family. I often called them in and dreamt about taking over the Duke's family.
"I'd like to hire some workers. Could you assist?"
"I'll tell the lord."
"I'd also like to buy some slaves."
"We don't have any right now."
"That's fine. I need several slaves. This discussion is becoming lengthy, so ask the lord to come see me."
"Yes, my lord."
In the Xenon Kingdom, trading slaves was allowed. The royal family wouldn't ban a business that brought in so much tax revenue.
Most of the slaves were descendants of other races who had lost in wars with the Xenon Kingdom. Occasionally, entire families from houses that had revolted were sold into slavery. There were also slaves from other countries, but not many, as war prisoners were sold for a high price and sent back home.
'For now, using slaves as soldiers seems best. A few months of training, and they could stand toe-to-toe with regular soldiers. With intense training, a battalion of slave knights could be formed quickly.'
The quickest way to bolster Hebron's military strength was to hire 'mercenaries.' It was less costly than buying slaves upfront, and they were battle-ready, needing no training.
'You can't rely on mercenaries. They'll eventually leave Hebron.'
In the long run, slaves were more reliable. They couldn't harm their master, and they were bound by magic to obey. Purchasing weaklings at a high price might seem illogical, but for those capable of training them, slaves made the best soldiers.
'Combine the Rising Sword technique, Aura Practice Method, and the unwavering loyalty of slave soldiers, and we could rival a noble family's knight brigade.'
Soon, the lord came to see me.
His demeanor had shifted entirely. It was clear he smelled money.
"We can find as many workers as you need. Many skilled laborers are under contract with us."
"Get me 20 on a half-year contract."
"That's 2 gold per person, so you'll need to pay 40 gold upfront."
Without the lord of Serpens introducing us, securing long-term employment for 20 workers would have been impossible.
With the Goblin extermination still a secret, no worker would willingly choose to go to Hebron.
"What kind of slave are you looking for?"
"I'll need 50, priced around 20 gold each. They should be between fifteen and twenty in human years. Gender and race don't matter, but they shouldn't be sickly or lazy."
20 gold was the cost of one horse. With 50 horses, Hebron's messengers could become a cavalry.
But warhorses, trained for combat, cost more than 50 gold each.
"20 gold will get you average slaves. Are you sure that's okay?"
Talented slaves commanded a high price.
You'd need at least 50 gold, and some standout slaves could fetch more than 100 gold.
"Ordinary slaves with no special talents. That's exactly what I need."
"That's 1,000 gold in total. Give me a deposit of 100 gold, and I'll bring 100 slaves to Hebron. You can pick half."
The lord's eyes lit up. He saw an opportunity to offload his slaves and make a tidy sum.
"I'll pay with something other than money."
Disappointment flashed in the lord's eyes. He seemed to remember the old saying: when dealing with a poor lord, only cash should be accepted. But he quickly masked his feelings and looked at me.
I leaned in close to the lord, whispering,
"An ancient magic circle that can identify magical abilities. It doesn't even require a magic stone."
Lord Serpens swallowed audibly. His brows furrowed, a sign of mild annoyance.
"...I've never heard of such a thing."
Now in his late 40s, Lord Serpens had gathered a wealth of knowledge over the years, but the ancient magic circle wasn't among them.
That was unsurprising. Only a handful of grand wizards from the Magic Tower, those with a keen interest in ancient magic circles, knew of its existence.
Among them, the only one who had actually activated the circle was the Lord of the Magic Tower, for whom the circle held little value.
"Imagine how beneficial it would be to have such a magic circle, unheard of until now."
"Do you have it? Do you possess that ancient magic circle?"
The lord looked at me, eyes wide in anticipation.
"Prepare 100 slaves and bring them to Hebron. I'll select 50. If I'm satisfied, I might take all 100."
"If this ancient magic circle you speak of doesn't exist, you'll owe a penalty."
From the purse I'd received from the lord, I produced 200 gold and handed it over.
"A deposit. If my claims are false, keep the money. And the slaves. But if I'm telling the truth, return the gold."
For Lord Serpens, it was a risk-free deal.
If the magic circle existed, he would gain a significant sum of money.
"I'll arrive in Hebron in ten days."
"I'll be waiting."
As fitting for a manor built on commerce, the Manor of Baron Nurha was lavishly decorated.
The latest trends from the capital were evident in the purple carpets adorning the floors, although they clashed with the painted wooden floors beneath.
"Good to meet you. I'm Lewis de Hebron."
"I'm Baron Nurha. It seems you don't remember me. Your father and I were well acquainted."
Baron Nurha approached with an air of superiority. He was in his early 50s, nearing the average life expectancy in the Xenon Kingdom. Though the nobility typically lived well into their 70s.
"Sadly, my father never mentioned you."
"Is that so?"
Baron Nurha's eyebrows twitched. His complexion reddened, as if he'd expected me to be embarrassed.
Baron Nurha squinted at me, asking,
"Did you eradicate the goblins in the forest?"
"Yes, I did."
"I heard you've become a Fire Elementalist."
I sipped the tea brought by Baron Nurha's maid. It was quite ordinary, without any notable qualities.
'It's a tea that suits the House of Baron Nurha perfectly.'
"Congratulations. It appears Hebron is cultivating talent as well. Our eldest son attends the Royal Academy, practicing swordsmanship. Our second son plans to join him there soon."
"I see. That's good to hear. But if you've said all you need to, I should be on my way. If I don't leave soon, I'll end up spending the night in the forest."
I bid him a polite farewell, but I couldn't bring myself to look at Baron Nurha directly. Just the thought of his greasy face made my stomach turn.
"Do you know that you're required to pay taxes when conducting trade within Nurha's territory?"
"That's typically a merchant's responsibility."
It was customary for the lords to levy taxes on commercial activities within their fiefdoms. However, imposing taxes on buyers, who weren't the primary participants in commerce, was an unusually aggressive measure.
"We revised our territorial laws earlier this year. The tax now stands at 30%."
While I could appeal to the royal court for a judgement on the legality of this, the court was over a fortnight's travel from Hebron by carriage, assuming no unexpected delays.
In these remote territories, the lord's word was law. In the early days of the Xenon Kingdom, the lords were a powerful ruling class that didn't pay taxes to the king.
I smoothed my clothes, a habit I had when trying to contain my surging emotions.
The ability to conceal one's emotions was a critical skill for a nobleman.
"In that case, there's no need for taxes. I'm considering cancelling all trade. Upon reflection, Hebron is woefully impoverished."
"Are you trying to insult me?"
"Not at all. I'm simply offering an opportunity. The soldiers of Hebron, who eliminated the goblin horde, are now starving. They've tasted blood. If they can't find a new adversary, they'll soon grow unruly. As you know, isn't that often the case with the uneducated?"
"How dare you threaten me!"
He seemed to interpret this not as a greeting, but as affirmation.
"Take care, until the day we meet again."
I bid Baron Nurha farewell and made for the door of the reception room. The soldiers standing outside were all stiff, their eyes shifting nervously as I approached.
At Nurha's command, two guards moved into action.
They attempted to bar my way with their spears.
A robust spirit manifested, igniting a fierce flame. As the fire roared, threatening to engulf the lord's manor, the soldiers hesitated, unsure of their next move.
I offered the innocent soldiers a choice.
"If you value your lives, run."
The soldiers didn't flee. Nor did they attack me.
"Arrest him at once!"
Nurha's order was not carried out.
The sound of soldiers rushing up the stairs echoed in the hall. They stopped before reaching the second floor, where the office was situated. They'd encountered an intermediate fire spirit.
No one in Baron Nurha's territory could stand against an intermediate spirit.
Brushing aside the soldiers' spears with my fingertips, I said,
"To succeed... Open your gates and welcome Hebron."
With that, the trade with the Serpens Merchant Group was called off.
No, the trade was merely deferred. The Serpens Merchant Group had been informed of Baron Nurha's strong-arm tactics and assured that the special territorial laws were solely applicable to the House of Hebron.
The carriages of the Serpens Merchant Group fell into line behind us. The group's leader had left to gather the slaves, promising their arrival in Hebron within ten days.