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Confidential Talks On A Ship (Part 1)

The waves splashed against the sides of the flatboat, which seemed to weave its way through the bed of reeds.
Even though it was surrounded by marsh, there was still flowing water in the area. Reinhold raised his hand to get the boatman to stop paddling the oar and jotted down the direction of the current on the map of the waterway.

「Are we really going through this waterway, Reinhold-san?」

Godhardt, who was drinking even though the sun was still high in the sky, asked doubtfully.
There was a lot of water in the marshlands north of Aitheria, but there were no records of any trading ships passing through them.
Only the local fishermen used this path, catching small fish like borganga, secco, and bouzgiola in their fishing boats.
(TL: These isekai fish names are translated directly from the raws and the author uses other languages like German or French in his works, so if any of you know what are they in English, let us know.)

「I've been investigating it bit by bit, and it doesn't seem impossible so far.」

「Not impossible, huh. That's a convenient phrase.」

A third passenger muttered mockingly.
It was Marcel.
He was the Master of the Textile Guild and was also the current chairman of Aitheria's city council.
There was a reason why the three members of the city council had come out to this place in a flatboat.

「As we have discussed earlier, if we can move through here, Aitheria will profit a lot, Marcel-san.」

「Your logic is sound, but when you see the real thing…」

The flatboat that the three councilmen and the boatman were on was owned by the city council to use for communications purposes. The boat was light, which made it possible to pass through shallower waters than a trading boat could. However, even though this boat was able to traverse the marsh, they could not set up a canal immediately.

「It definitely needs a little dredging, but it will be extremely profitable once it's completed.」

Reinhold admitted that it was necessary to dig up the soil at the bottom of the marsh. There was a lot of required construction. It was not impossible, but there were many issues to overcome.

「Now that you've brought it up, Reinhold-san, what are you going to do about manpower? Aitheria can afford the expenses after the success of the Grand Bazaar, but it will be difficult to gather the necessary manpower.」

Marcel had only been appointed to the council due to the shortage of personnel. Despite that, however, he had risen to the challenge. He was quickly becoming an adept player on the political stage, having met the former emperor and other imperial nobles in quick succession during last year’s Grand Bazaar as a member of Aitheria’s council. He had had no choice but to adapt quickly after being thrown into the deep end of the pool and being forced to negotiate with grandees of such calibre.
Regardless of one's talent, there wasn't a more ideal place to learn politics.

「I will use mercenaries.」

「Mercenaries, huh. That means it'll lead to…」

There was a reason that Marcel groaned in response to Reinhold's answer.
Among the problems that Aitheria was facing now, the mercenary problem was of great importance.
The problem with the Northern Three Territories was settled, and the witch hunting riot was prevented.
Eventually, the northern part of the Empire had become too peaceful for the mercenaries.

The mercenaries who had flocked to Aitheria in anticipation of a battle began to leave, seeing that there was no fight to be had. If all they were doing was leaving, they could have been paid a cancellation fee for their troubles. However, there were some more malicious mercenaries who had taken the opportunity to raid any small villages they came across.

「Most of the mercenaries were originally law-abiding citizens. They only became mercenaries due to a lack of jobs.」

「But they won't go back to being law-abiding citizens even if you give them jobs. The mercenaries probably won’t stay here for long.」

「Even if they don’t stay, Aitheria will prosper if the canal is completed. Once we prosper, we can change the way we interact with these mercenaries.」

Marcel groaned deeply after hearing Reinhold's words.
Marcel knew very well that some of the mercenaries would be willing to put away their weapons and become farmers or citizens if they were given a job. However, he couldn't fully agree to it as the chairman of Aitheria’s city council.

It was more important for Aitheria to be stable than to be profitable. As chairman, it was his duty to maintain that stability. If the desire for profit ran rampant, a repeat of what happened with the previous chairman, Bachschouf, was bound to happen. Marcel was sure Reinhold understood that.

The canal would definitely be profitable.
Aitheria, which was surrounded by the large, long-standing Belfrau River, was a city that prospered through water transportation. It had been a commercial hub since it was first built during the historical era of the Old Empire.
However, there was a dark side to that prosperity.
All three members of the city council who were on the ship were concerned about it.

「Certainly, if we can pass through the canal here, there will be no need for us to pay the river tax.」

Godhardt muttered while laying drunkenly on the floor of the boat.
Reinhold and Marcel both nodded.
Several nobles had been blocking off the basins of the Belfrau river that flowed north of Aitheria. In recent years, they had begun imposing river taxes downstream of Aitheria because their financial standing wasn't always reliable.
The taxes from each noble was not a lot, but they added up to an unexpectedly large amount.

Reinhold, who mainly dealt with imported goods in Aitheria, had heard merchants complain about the problem, but he only realized the magnitude of the problem once he became involved in the octopus trade.
The issue was also raised at the Imperial Parliament, but the nobles' response was unsurprisingly poor.
It was an obvious result, since the number of cities that were directly controlled by the Empire and had seats in the parliament like Aitheria did was low. Most of the seats were filled up by nobles, so such disputes would naturally be resolved in favor of them.

Rather, the trend of imposing river taxes in their own territories seemed to have spread.
The expenses of keeping up appearances as a noble increased every year, but geese that laid golden eggs did not exist.
That was why this canal was needed.
It was not just because they wanted to buy octopus and dried fish. If they could transport goods to the northern city port through this route, all of the suffering guilds could finally breathe easy.

This was all possible because nobody owned the marshland. Nobody was interested in extracting mere low-quality peat from the land.
The fact that it was the Empire's territory sounded nice on paper, but in truth, nobody wanted to pay for this land.
In most cases, it would be something to celebrate about, since the Empire could expand their territory, but this was just a piece of land that had been sealed off forever and avoided out of embarrassment.
If a canal was made and established, this land would eventually be acknowledged by the Imperial Parliament as annexed land for Aitheria. This land was just that undesirable.

「If the burden of the river taxes were solved, Aitheria's Textile Guild will be saved, I'm sure of it.」

Marcel, because of his difficult position, had to squeeze out those words.
As the chairman of Aitheria's city council, he could not solely represent the entire Textile Guild. He was only one of the three representatives of the Textile Guild, and he wanted to act as the chairman, not be seen as a profit greedy Guild Master.

「Marcel-san, this discussion will benefit all of Aitheria.」

「I know. I was born and raised in Aitheria, after all.」

Marcel took Reinhold’s outstretched hand. Godhardt’s then put his large, rugged hands over the hands of the other two men.
The gamble had paid off.
Marcel had wanted to agree on the canal issue, and Reinhold had had a hunch that he was already close to agreeing, but the problem had been Marcel's position as a politician.
When Marcel said that he was a citizen of Aitheria, and not the chairman of Aitheria's City Council, victory was finally achieved.
With the way things were going, Aitheria would gradually decline, but they could still make it in time.

「Now… Since Reinhold's agenda is over, let’s move on.」

Marcel cleared his throat and began to talk.
What a cunning, old dog. He had pretended to accept Reinhold and Godhardt's invitation and tagged along, but it seemed that he had actually brought a confidential topic of his own.

「What is it, Marcel-san? I hope it's nothing ominous.」

「It's actually a rather happy issue.」

「Oh? I'll happily welcome it if it's something good.」

Godhardt sat up straight after finishing all the booze he had brought.

「Although this is still private and confidential… Actually, there's going to be a marriage interview in Aitheria.」

「A marriage interview, you say?」

It wasn't uncommon for there to be marriage interviews. As the name suggested, Aitheria was the Old Capital that had flourished since ancient times and there were plenty of inns and dishes with a long history behind them, so it was an everyday occurence for nobles to have marriage interviews there.

「For Marcel-san to inform us ahead of time, is the person someone important? For instance, a marquis?」

When Godhardt said the word "Marquis", he was thinking about Arnoux Sachnussenburg. Even at his age, it would not be unusual to have a marriage interview.
There would be some effect on the government, as he was the Lord of Aitheria and its surrounding territories. There would probably be many things to pay attention to in advance.

「Young Lord Arnoux will be a good husband, won't he?」

「… Who said it was about Marquis Sachnussenburg?」

「Was I wrong, Marcel-san?」

There were countless nobles lower than a marquis that came to his mind, but they were not that important.
Just when he thought it had been exaggeration, Marcel muttered.

「The prospective groom in this marriage interview… Is His Majesty, the Emperor himself.」

Both Reinhold and Godhardt could only smile feebly at the magnitude of this matter.
Certainly, the current Emperor was still single.
There were many disrespectful rumours that he was impotent since he was a late bloomer, but most thought that he would marry a wife sooner or later. The time for that to happen had finally come, and moreover, the interview would be held in Aitheria.

「If that's so, then we must prepare the proper formalities.」

「That's what this discussion is about, Godhardt-san. There is no precedent for this kind of formality.」

「It's impossible to have no precedent. Let's ask the church for help, if necessary. If it is for an auspicious event like this, no one would be unwilling to help.」

For Reinhold, failure was not an option. Even though he had given his fishing charter in Aitheria to Godhardt, there might be benefits for him if this marriage interview in Aitheria was a success.
He did not have any regrets about the fishing charter now, but his desire to obtain another imperial charter or royal decree was still burning even now.

「So, who's the partner?」

Marcel shook his head weakly at Godhardt's question, and muttered softly.

「It's Celestine de Oiria, the Princess Regent of the Eastern Kingdom.」

This time, the other two were speechless.

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