That was a problem, since the war was now happening in Wolfgang’s territory. While the Black Bandits were beyond their capabilities, exterminating the ordinary bandits consisting of deserters were not.
But no matter how timely these bandits were exterminated, damages were inevitable. The burdens of civilian damages were entirely on the Count to deal with. Although his subjects from his home territory back when he was but a Baron still pledged unwavering loyalty, more and more subjects from the newly acquired lands emigrated to escape the war.
The situation was like a bog, and he was waist deep in it. How did things come to this? It was obviously because of that mysterious organisation, the Black Bandits.
“Just what are they? Those things that hide behind that abhorrent name ‘Black Bandits.’”
Wolfgang muttered, and one of the combat knights replied.
“It must be one of the Marquis’s schemes!”
Wolfgang shook his head in response.
“I thought so too at first. But look at what they’ve been able to do. Reinrant, Alkendo, and even Skoland were defeated. Is there a reason for the Marquis to command a unit with such combat prowess in secret, especially when it utilizes tactics that risk Central’s involvement?”
Nobody had anything to say. Each person Wolfgang named was a close friend and compatriot who had come together for the same goal.
“According to the rumours, the Black Bandits are suspected to be an organisation of warlocks.”
“Yes. From the words I hear, Central is simply maintaining close surveillance and analysing data rather than intervening, since this is the first time warlocks – who are usually solitary creatures – have formed an organisation and act together.”
The rumour had a point. Central’s main concern would be the safety of their own agents, not the personnel of the Count nor the Marquis.
Then it would make sense how the proud and capable forces of the Count were utterly crushed. But so what? They couldn’t just complain to Central on the basis of a mere rumour.
Suddenly, a man entered the Count’s meeting room. It was Wolfgang’s friend Dallas, who was in charge of internal affairs.
“How did it go?”
Wolfgang’s gaze flickered with desperation, but Dallas shook his head weakly.
“The Seven Grand Merchant Guilds said that any more investment would be unlikely.”
Everyone in the meeting room groaned in despair. War was like a bottomless pit when it came to money.
Paying his soldiers, compensation for the dead and civilian damages, and requisition of military supplies. There were mountain loads for money to be spent, but there wasn’t anything that could bring about said needed money.
Emigration of his subjects led to reduction in tax income. The only reason why the Count could support his army up until now was thanks to the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds’ investment and the New Port City’s war gambling, the pot of which had grown larger in scale thanks to his consecutive victories.
But that was only for a moment. At first, many bet on the Count since victory was practically assured, raking in huge sums. But because victory was so guaranteed, the return rate dropped accordingly. The amount of gambling had dwindled as the battles went on, and the money they received was minimal.
“So this is what Sir Isaac meant.”
Dallas reminisced bitterly. Isaac had visited when the war of attrition was just starting. He advised that they lose a few battles on occasion.
It wasn’t just Wolfgang and his combat knights, who had been religiously studying the sword, that had been enraged. Even Dallas himself, who was in charge of the treasury, joined in the fray, and they unanimously kicked Isaac out of the building while hurling derogatory insults at him.
“Is there really no other method?”
Dallas shook his head again at Wolfgang’s question.
“It’s difficult enough to even pay the soldiers right now.”
“If I empty my private funds…”
“And that’s how we’ve managed to last until now. All that’s left is the rights to your territory, but no one will pay for the rights to land that can evaporate if we lose the war.”
“What if we hold out for as long as we can? The Marquis must be in a similar situation to us.”
“… Their scale is beyond ours to compare.”
Unlike Wolfgang, the Marquis was a prestigious family boasting a long history of power. The funds they could bring were different in magnitudes.
“So we win the battles, but lose the war because of money…”
Wolfgang muttered emptily, when a messenger entered the room.
“What is it?”
“Sir Isaac from New Port City wishes to see you.”
Wolfgang frowned at this untimely visit. He couldn’t envision Isaac’s intentions, but Dallas insisted.
“Meet him for now. Sir Isaac is the only person that could get us funds in our current situation.”
“Do you really think that money-obsessed wastrel will give us a loan?”
“We will have to make it happen. That’s the only way we’ll be able to survive.”
“It’s been a while, Lord Wolfgang.”
“… Yes, it has.”
Wolfgang suppressed his anger when Isaac remained seated on the couch. It was them who were in need, and Isaac likely visited them knowing that to be the case. He held his infuriated vassals back and greeted Rivelia with a momentary glance, but she looked so gloomy that Wolfgang dared not to speak to her.
“I have neither the will nor talent to waste precious time from busy men, so I’ll make it brief.”
“… Go ahead.”
“New Port City will make an investment.”
Dallas immediately responded to Isaac, only to realise his mistake and coughed in embarrassment. Even if they were in dire situations, it was not wise to immediately bite at the opening offer at the negotiating table.
But what Isaac said was enough for Dallas to forget about his embarrassment.
“I can see that you are all quite desperate, so New Port City will invest 1 million Giga, cash, and 1 million Giga’s worth of military supplies. If that isn’t enough, I’ll do a second round of investments on an identical scale.”
Everyone from the Count’s faction was at a loss for words. The scale of this investment was beyond their imagination. Wolfgang barely kept his calm at Isaac’s enormous offer.
“You have that much financial power?”
“Well, it’s very simple for me. I’ll let you in on the secret. New Port City’s monthly income is around 3 million Giga.”
3 million… The Count’s yearly tax income revenue barely passed 700 thousand… He had heard how New Port City was raking in cash, but to think it was this much.
“We would have no choice but to accept an investment at even half of what you have offered, but what is the reason you are investing in us?”
Isaac lit his cigarette without Wolfgang’s approval. Though it was very rude for a guest to do so, nobody would point out that fact given the elephant in the room that was Isaac’s money.
“Of course, it’s not free. As I’ve said before, this is an investment.”
“So you want something in return.”
“Although it shames me to say this, the Wolfgang Family won’t be able to repay your investment even if we pool all our assets. Are you saying our family has that much of value to you?”
“For me, yes.”
“… What do you want?”
“I want you to give your rights over your fiefdom to me.”
“Impossible! Hand over the territory you say? That’s putting the cart before the horse!”
The rights over a fiefdom was a document that proved they ruled that land. Although it was possible to sell or buy them, the procedure from the Department of Administration is very convoluted and strict, so it didn’t happen on a regular basis. Plus, if Isaac took Wolfgang’s fiefdom and the Count were to win the war, Isaac would take over the Marquis’ lands too. All of the soldiers and knights who fought and died for Wolfgang would have fought for nothing. Wolfgang raised his hand to calm his turbulent vassals, then glared coldy at Isaac.
“Why do you want our territory?”
“That’s because I want to live.”
“Yes. The due date on the Emperor’s task is nearing, but I have yet to solve this unemployment issue. The mercenary business I started was a catastrophic failure because nobody is volunteering, what with the war becoming so intense. So what other method do I have? After looking for another method, I realised that the Lord’s Representative has the right to buy and sell territory. If I buy another fiefdom, it will become mine, just like New Port City. So I’ll just send over all the unemployed population into that area and solve the problem. The reason why I chose you, Lord Wolfgang, is because I need land and you need money. You could say it’s a mutualistic relationship.”
“I understand what you say. But there is one flaw in your plan.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“If you buy my fiefdom, it will become your property just like New Port City, as you’ve said. That also means the unemployed population in my land will become yours too.”
Isaac smirked at Wolfgang’s remark and threw his cigarette butt into his cup of tea.
“Hey, Lord Wolfgang, there are countless businesses and projects I can initiate. I’m only limited with my options because I am locked in that tiny piece of land called New Port City. I don’t even have to think about complicated business projects. I just need to start a construction project building a massive wall around the entire Countdom itself, and unemployment will be solved.”
“Surround the Countdom with a wall? What pointless project…”
“And it’s something you wouldn’t know when it would end even if I put all the people living in the Countdom to work. No matter how pointless the project is, it just needs to provide them a proper pay and lower the unemployment rate. I don’t need to consider profit; it’s not like I don’t have money.”
“So this is why they call you Isaac the wastrel.”
Dallas muttered, impressed by Isaac’s ingenuity. Isaac seemed to have heard Dallas and smirked at him.
“And it’s a project I’ll stop as soon as I finish the task our Emperor has given to me. What I need is the method to achieve that goal, not the territory itself. Which is why I will put a condition that will ease your troubled minds, Lord Wolfgang and vassals.”
“As soon as I finish my mission and become free of the shackles that is New Port City, the rights to the fiefdom will be given back to its original owner. How about it? They call me money-obsessed, but I’m innocent. Why do you think I was so obsessed with making that money? It’s because throwing money at it is the only way I can accomplish this impossible mission”
“Wow! Such a blatant lie.”
Isaac heard Rivelia’s quiet comment behind his back, but he ignored it and continued.
“Will that satisfy you? I couldn’t care less if you won the war and took over the Marquis’s land too. Managing that land would be a headache, and I doubt it turns much of a profit anyway. It’ll be less than the monthly income of New Port City. I can’t even use all the money I saved. Even the chairman of the Central Bank of the Empire greets me outside the building when I visit them. You know why? Because my personal savings eclipses the Empire’s annual income.”
“T, that much!”
Rivelia ducked her head, unable to look at the faces of the Count and his retainers, who had been impressed by Isaac’s charade. It’s true the chairman of the Central Bank greeted him outside. No official of the Empire would meet one of Central’s Directors in his chair. His private funds being greater than the annual income of the Empire? Maybe, if his private savings weren’t immediately transferred into the Empire’s treasury.