Black Cat Chapter 160: Suspicious Lord

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 I soon found out why Mr. Novak had told me to expect lunch, but not at night.


 After dropping off the viscount and his family, the magic carriage was put into the guests’ garage of the mansion, but the building where Mr. Novak and I would be staying was in a different location.



 From the garage, we passed through a narrow underground passageway and exited outside the castle walls.


 Not only us but also the knights were to stay in a building outside the castle walls.



 Therefore, it seems that four knights accompany the Viscount into the mansion to protect him, and they take turns at different times.



“Aside from me, a catkin, even all the knights are outside the castle walls…” (Nyango)


“Well, there’s a lot going on. I’m sure you’ll be bored tonight, so I’ll take my time and talk to you.” (Novak)



 The quarters outside the city walls were not well cleaned and the bedding looked like a damp mite’s nest.


 Mr. Novak, who was sharing the room with me, tried to use tick-repellent powder, so I waited and began cleaning the room.



 I opened the windows and used a vacuum cleaner with a wind magic circle to remove the dust.


 After carefully dusting the futon, I put the futon dryer in mite-killer mode to give it the perfect finish.



 After dusting the tables and other surfaces with a rag, the dust was at a level where people could live in them.



“Oh, that’s amazing, Nyango. You’re so skillful. The futon is so soft, so fluffy!” (Novak)


“When you raise the temperature above a certain level, all the mites die, so we can sleep peacefully now.” (Nyango)



 Incidentally, the bathroom was also in a terrible state of griminess, so I washed it off with a hot water high-pressure wash that combined the magical magic circles of temperature control and water.


 I didn’t want to go into a bathroom where the floor was slippery with something I didn’t know if it was moss or mold.



 And for dinner, we were served only hard bread and fried eggs, and not even tea.


 The cook who came to the dining room of the quarters made fried eggs for the number of people and put them on a plate, then bowed his head repeatedly… saying sorry, and left.



“It’s hard… I can’t eat it all…” (Nyango)


“Hey, Nyango, there’s not a shadow of honey in the air…” (Novak)


“What kind of harassment is this… This hard bread…” (Nyango)


“You think they harassing you, don’t you? I hear the knights here are being fed the same thing.” (Novak)


“Eeeh… They are a knight from a count family, right? Is this what kind of meal they have?”


“Well, the pay seems to be better than average, but it seems like you have to take care of your own needs…” (Novak)



 Most of what Mr. Novak told me was so far-fetched that I doubted it was true, but the menu in front of me was not going to change no matter how many times I looked at it or how many times I chewed on it.



“I hope you’re not saying that the viscounts aren’t being served this kind of food, too.” (Nyango)


“I hear the treatment on the other side of the wall is as different as heaven and hell.” (Novak)



 It is said that the people of Count Grobrus’ family and their guests are served extravagant menus at every meal.


 However, it seems that Viscount Lagart is not welcome.



“There are dark rumors about Count Grobrus’s family…” (Novak)



 Mr. Novak, who tossed out half a loaf of bread because it was too hard, scurried around and then whispered in a hushed voice.


 Of course, he’s not being watched, so it’s probably just a pause to get the conversation going.



“Rumors…?” (Nyango)


“Yeah, it’s just a rumor, but I heard that they are collecting more annual tax than the government stipulates…” (Novak)


“Oh, I’m not supposed to hear that, am I?”  (Nyango)


“It’s a rumor, a rumor… It’s just a rumor.” (Novak)



 In the Kingdom of Schrendl, it is forbidden to collect taxes that exceed the tax rate determined by the state.


 Even though the management of the territory is left to the nobility, if exorbitant taxes are imposed, the people’s lives will be strained, and the country will suffer as a result.



 Nobles are told to manage their territories by determining taxes within the limits set by the kingdom.


 If they were to collect annual tax in excess of that tax rate, it would be an act that could be taken as rebellion against the kingdom.



“On the way there, there was the Kaya Village, where we stopped for lunch, wasn’t there.” (Novak)


“Yes, it’s the grain depot, isn’t it?” (Nyango)


“What do you think compared to Ibouro in Lagart territory and Kilmaya in Escalante territory?” (Novak)


“What do you mean… It’s kind of plain, or rather desolate considering the size of the village…” (Nyango)


“That’s right. The past few years have seen a good harvest of grain, and trade has been lively. There is movement of goods and money, but… there is no money left in the pockets of the common people.” (Novak)


“Is that… really true?” (Nyango)


It’s a rumor, a rumor… only a rumor, but if it’s not true, why is Kaya so somber…” (Novak)



 The knights of the Lagart family, who were sitting around the table listening to Mr. Novak’s story, nodded silently.


 I asked them with my eyes if it was true, but they just gave me a vague smile.



 It would be fine if it was just Mr. Novak, the coachman, but as a knight of the Lagart family, it seems like they can’t talk about suspicious rumors about other families.



“There are rumors that the country’s secret agents are already probing… And it is suspected that there may be a spy among the Lagart family members.” (Novak)



 It’s all rumor, and it’s only on the level of that… but when you put it that way, the Grobrus family’s response makes sense.



“It seems that Count Grobrus’s territory was once famous as a place where it was easy to live during the time of the previous head of the family.” (Novak)



 According to Mr. Novak, until the leadership of the previous lord, land cultivation projects were actively carried out in various parts of the territory, and they continued to improve the land by actively accepting farmers who could no longer earn a living in other territories.


 The annual tax was cheap, if you cleared the land, you could own it, and you could earn money from bare land… these rumors spread, the number of people increased, the amount of farmland increased, and the Grobrus territory prospered.



“The turning point came when they cleared most of the land in the territory.” (Novak)



 If there is no more land to clear, there will be no land for people to come and live on.


 The people who flowed in from other territories were all poor, so they had no money to buy land.



 They would live on the land as peasants, renting it from the landowners and paying land rent in addition to their annual tax.


 I felt as if I was being told the story of Atsuka’s own.



“What further compounded the situation was a famine that occurred about 15 years ago.” (Novak)



 There was a year of bad weather with long rains in the summer, and many people died of starvation in the Grobrus territory, which depended on agriculture.


 I heard that even in the village of Atsuka, the potatoes were wiped out and people starved to death during the winter.



“At that time, it is said that there were people who acquired the land of the dead and became large landowners. This is another rumor, but I heard that a number of people with large farmlands died at that time, some of them were killed not because they starved to death, but because they wanted to get their hands on the land…” (Novak)



 The distortion of the land being monopolized by a few wealthy farmers increased social unrest, and surprisingly, it was Andreas, the current head of the family, who corrected this distortion.



“Then, isn’t he a good lord?” (Nyango)


“That’s outrageous! This is just a rumor, it’s just a rumor… Sir Andreas seems to have lured the wealthy farmers into a trap and destroyed them one by one…” (Novak)


“Oh, then what happened to the lands?” (Nyango)


“Everything… All of it is under the direct control of the lord.” (Novak)



 In other words, it seems that Andreas Grobrus, the current head of the family, obtained the farmland that the pioneers had cleared and the wealthy farmers had spent money to acquire, simply by making a hard bargain.



“Wouldn’t the people riot if he tried something so heavy-handed?” (Nyango)


“No. What would happen if the wealthy farmers who have been charging exorbitant land fees lose their positions and the lords who succeeded them lower their land fees…?” (Novak)


“I see… the people will be on their side.” (Nyango)


“Yes, the people were happy to cooperate with Andreas because he was going to crush the greedy wealthy farmers.” (Novak)


“I see… Huh? You said that the Grobrus family collects more taxes than the regulations, right?” (Nyango)



 From what I have heard so far, they took the land from wealthy farmers through unscrupulous means, but it seems to be good for the people.



“Yes, he was a good lord up to that time. What was cunning of Andreas was that after he took most of the land for himself, he slowly and steadily raised the price of the land and the annual tribute, as if he were strangling them with yarn. That’s what happened.” (Novak)



 Rather than simply raising prices, they say they are improving waterways, redrawing boundaries to make them easier to understand, widening roads, etc., rather than directly referring to the size of the land. It appears that the tax amount was gradually raised due to land-related construction and maintenance.



 If the reason was the maintenance of roads, bridges, levees, etc., in addition to the original amount of annual tax, the country would not blame them even if the total amount exceeded the stipulation in a single year.


 It seems to me that this is a very cunning and very deceitful way of doing things.



“How much of this story is true?” (Nyango)


“Well, it’s just a rumor, a rumor…” (Novak)



 I’d like to make a judgment on how much of what Mr. Novak said is true, but I don’t have enough information or criteria to make such a judgment.


 The only big towns I know of are Ibouro and Kilmaya.



 However, even in villages smaller than Kaya Village in Viscount Lagart and Marquis Escalante, there were a number of fashionable restaurants and clothing stores in the center of the village.


 At the very least, it seems certain that the lives of the people of Count Grobrus’ domain are not affluent.



 Only the lord makes a profit, and the people live in poverty.


 If it was Japan in my previous life, it would seem like a distorted society, but in this aristocratic society, it’s normal… could it be?



 After all, it was right to accept Viscount Lagart’s request and head for the royal capital.



 I don’t know what is right, but at least I could realize that there are many different lords and many different territories.




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