The townsfolk all had deep respect for Old Hugo and it only took a few lines from him to disperse the crowd of up to 3000 people. Within less than half an hour, only tens of people remained at the plaza.
"Milord, please follow me back to the town hall for a seat," Old Hugo said as he pointed at a three-storey, brick-and-wood building not far away.
The town hall was rather old and simple with the first floor's main foyer having a few old and worn tables and an old sofa which had been patched up multiple times.
"Dominion lord, usually, we would be on the second floor as the first floor here is mainly used to manage the affairs between Whitebird Town and the nearby villages while the third is used as a storage warehouse. We store all the wealth we've gathered up over the past five years there and I will bring you the inventory to check right away," said Old Hugo.
"There's no rush for that, Old Hugo. First, tell me about the situation of Silowas Island during the past five years. I have to apologize to you here as the original dominion of my family is located at the very borders of the Northlands and it's incredibly inconvenient for us to travel over here. That's why we haven't bothered to visit our new dominion, Silowas Island, during that time. In a sense, it can be said that I didn't carry out my responsibilities as a dominion lord, and I am truly sorry for neglecting my subjects here," Lorist apologized as he sat down on a stool he found while inviting Old Hugo to do the same.
"Dominion lord, please don't say that. I have long been in the military and have heard about the impressive reputation of the Norton Family of the Raging Bear. The Northlands is thousands of kilometers from this place and between here and there is the enemy nation, the Madras Duchy, so the inconvenience of transport is definitely something that isn't within anyone's control. This is definitely not your fault," Old Hugo said as he waved his hands fervently.
"Right now, that's no longer the case. The family has managed to set up a port at the Northlands and we have come by ship on this trip. In the future, it would only take one month to travel over here. Old Hugo, let's begin talking about the situation here."
"Alright, dominion lord," Old Hugo said before he began to recall. "I only returned to Whitebird Town after my retirement from the Whitelion Legion during the 3rd month of Year 1765. Back then, I was 53 years old and Silowas Island was still the principality of the Second Highness. I remember seeing the Second Highness looking in the direction of the imperial capital at the port often. Two years after I returned, a messenger suddenly came and according to him, the Second Highness managed to grasp power and influence over the affairs of the kingdom and enfeoffed Silowas Island to the Norton Family.
"Many of the Second Highness's men left the island after that and took with them almost everything. Even the garrison force was disbanded and their equipment taken away, leaving Silowas Island completely unattended to and sinking into chaos. One month passed just like that and Whitebird Town had completely become garbage with nobody overseeing it. Every day, somebody would get into fights and the inhabitants of the town could no longer continue to live like this.
"It was at that time that something happened. A small boat came to the island and its crew wanted to resupply themselves here. It was then when the sailors realized that nobody was in charge and began to lose all inhibition and go wild. Within only three days, they already killed seven townsfolk and even captured quite a number of women. At that time, I realized that three of the sailors breached into my neighbor's house and intended to rape his wife and daughter. So, I couldn't resist the urge anymore and killed those three bastards with my sword. And so, the townsfolk began to eliminate the sailors of that small boat with me and proceeded to elect me as the mayor of the town to take charge during the absence of the dominion lord.
"At that time, I felt that since I've returned to my hometown, I might as well do my part to contribute to it. That's why I rebuilt the garrison force of Whitebird Town and tried to restore order. At the same time, I elected multiple other officials like a security officer, a secretary, a tax collector and an accountant. These tables that you see are their usual workplace.
"When Silowas Island was still the principality of the Second Prince, the tax rate was at 50 percent. I don't know how much the usual tax levied by your family is and I didn't know where to ask, so I just used the old system set by the Second Highness and paid the officials with it. The records of all transactions are detailed in the accounts, so you can inspect them at any time.
"Apart from that, when the Second Highness was still here, there were seven other different taxes, namely, a poll tax, an alcohol tax, a boat tax, a fishing tax, a leather tax, a salt tax and a trade tax. At that time, the yearly income generated by Whitebird Town only amounted to 2000 gold Fordes and the lives of the townsfolk was still decent and they wouldn't have to worry about food as long as they worked. When Viscount Aslan first came over to collect taxes, he was still reasonable and only took ten percent. But on the second and third years, he incremented the main tax by ten percent each year and even took over collecting the alcohol and poll taxes.
"Two years back, Viscount Aslan raised the main tax rate to 50 percent and not only did he take over collecting the 7 other taxes, he even introduced 6 new ones with the excuse being the restoration of the empire. I've made my objections heard before but Viscount Aslan said that I wasn't a person appointed by the dominion lord and was elected by the townsfolk, so I didn't hold any legitimacy. Having no other choice, I could only request him to detail the taxes we needed to pay in an invoice.
"Dominion lord, during the past two years, the whole of Silowas Island paid 5700 plus gold Fordes each year to Viscount Aslan, almost more than two times the original tax we had to pay..."
"Wait a second, Old Hugo, didn't you say that Whitebird Town only had a yearly output of 2000 plus gold Fordes? Then how did Viscount Aslan come up with a figure of 5700 gold Fordes?" Lorist asked.
"Oh, milord, in some sense, the Whitebird Town is the administration center of the whole island. Before the arrival of the Second Highness, the island only had three villages and one town. But after His Highness came, he brought along with him another 4000 or so people with half of them living in Whitebird Town and the others forming another village nearby.
"When the Second Highness left, he enfeoffed the island to you, milord, and more than half of the people that followed him here left the island with only around 1000 who refused to leave and wanted to continue living in that village. A few years later, quite a lot of immigrants came over again and the current population count of Silowas Island is at 12000 people. During the year before, the tax collected rose to 4000 gold Fordes and coupled with the extra miscellaneous taxes introduced by Viscount Aslan, the total amount levied is around 6000 gold Fordes. However, we were unable to collect that much and if we continue to pay Viscount Aslan like that, we would be losing more than 700 gold Fordes every year," explained Old Hugo.
"Why was the total tax set at 6000 gold Fordes despite you being unable to collect that much in the first place? What is going on?" Charade interrupted and asked.
Old Hugo shook his head hopelessly and took out a map of Silowas Island. "Dominion lord, please take a look here. Not far east from Whitebird Town is Seaview Manor. That place is the most luxurious area on the whole of the island and every evening when the sun sets, the beach right in front of Seaview Manor will reflect golden beams of light. The beach's beauty can rival even that of the Platinum Beach in the Sidgler Province of the Madras Duchy. However, its area is much smaller. Even so, it's still a great place to spend summer and have fun near the ocean.
"That manor was the original residence of the Second Highness. But when he left, it was occupied by a few other nobles of the kingdom and they turned the whole manor into their own place for luxurious living and we aren't even allowed to approach it. Milord, you've probably seen those extravagant ships when you docked at the port, right? Those ships are the ones used by those nobles when they come here to have fun.
"Also, over here, half a day's travel from the town is Farama Village where the men of the Second Highness that remained behind stay. Even though the people there occupy one of the richest fields, they refuse to pay any taxes at all with the reason being that they are the men of the Second Highness and have served him through high and low and anyone who demands taxes from them is being disrespectful to the Second Highness himself. We've been unable to deal with those people.
"But Viscount Aslan doesn't care about these things and he puts all the taxes Seaview Manor and Farama Village owe on us. We're unable to do anything about it as none of our complaints are heard. After that, Hector came up with an idea for us to form a fishing team and sell the catch to merchants. That way, we were able to make up for the deficit and even have some extra funds for the garrison force's food..."
"Milord, that Viscount Aslan has been captured by us," Jim reported when he entered.
"Where did you catch him?" Charade asked.
"He brought two of his attendants and attempted to escape by ship, but their sailors were all drunk at the town pub and were unable to set sail. When we came to the port, we notified Captain Wilson and some of his sailors said that they saw attempting to board. After we checked, we found and apprehend them," Jim said.
"Bring that dogshit viscount over here. I want to hear how he plans to explain this to me," Lorist instructed.
"I object! I'm a noble, you cannot treat me so rudely!" Jim only went out and came back in within a moment with a skinny man dressed in noble robes. Perhaps because he heard Lorist call him a dogshit viscount, he became incredibly mad. Jim had to drag him by his clothes all the way into the tent.
"Old Hugo, who's that Hector you just mentioned?" Lorist said as he ignored the loudly complaining Viscount Aslan and continued to chat with Old Hugo.
"Dominion lord, Hector is our head secretary and he graduated from the Mobor Academy of the empire and served as an apprentice instructor there before. But when the academy was ruined in the days of the civil war, he came back with the Second Highness to Whitebird Town with his family and took up a position as the official for the transport of goods. When the Second Highness decided to leave the island, he didn't want to follow and remained at Whitebird Town. I appointed him to be the head secretary of Whitebird Town as he is well-versed in writing official documents," Old Hugo replied.
"Oh, Old Hugo, you've all done well. I am very thankful for your presence on Silowas Island that stopped the situation here from sinking into chaos. As your dominion lord, I offer you my gratitude and respect for your hard work. The Norton Family will definitely not forget your efforts," Lorist said as he stood up and saluted Old Hugo. Charade, Els, Patt and Jim who were within the room did the same.
"This... this... Milord..." Old Hugo only stammered, not knowing how to react at all to the situation.
Lorist waved his hand to indicate that Old Hugo didn't have to keep up formalities before turning around and taking a look at the pale and frightened Viscount Aslan. He said with a warm smile, "Viscount Aslan? I've long heard of your great name. I am the dominion lord of Silowas Island, Norton Lorist, and I'm incredibly glad to finally be able to meet you."
Lorist's smile caused Viscount Aslan to develop a wrong impression. Perhaps thinking that Lorist was merely a man from the rural Northlands that hasn't had much real world experience, he felt that Lorist would be really easy to deal with. The skinny viscount straightened his robes and said in an arrogant tone, "So you're Count Norton who came from the Northlands? As a noble, you must apologize to me and reimburse me for that kind of treatment. Your family soldiers violated my status rudely and that is not an offense that a noble like me can overlook. You must punish your soldiers right here in front of me in order to obtain my forgiveness. Otherwise, I will definitely sue the Norton Family for violating the pride of nobles in the noble court and make your barbaric acts known to all the other nobles of the kingdom..."
"Oh no, how scary... I definitely cannot bear to have that happen..." Lorist said as he pretended to speak in a fearful voice. He turned to Jim and said, "Are you the one who offended Viscount Aslan? Come over here! I will punish you!"
With Jim in front of him, Lorist gave him two light slaps on the face and said, "You idiot, how could you force the noble and revered Viscount Aslan to appear before me in such proper fashion? Look at him, he's overstepping his bounds right now. You should've stripped him naked and covered his whole body with horse feces before dragging him over. Only then will he beg us to give him a torn rag to protect his noble pride with and not make such excessive demands of us."
Lorist lightly slapped Jim's face twice again and said, "Do you remember this lesson now? Remember the feeling of these slaps well. That is your punishment."
Jim laughed out loud and said, "I have learned my lesson, milord. I will never repeat this mistake again."
Lorist nodded and said, "Very well, stand to the side."
Everyone within the tent burst out in laughter with only Viscount Aslan staring wide-eyed with his mouth agape.
"Objection! I want to object!"
Lorist walked over and gave him a harsh slap on the face, causing the skinny viscount to turn 180 degrees and his face to swell up with his lip broken. He even spat out a few of his teeth and fresh blood could be seen flowing out of his mouth before he fell to his butt onto the ground dizzily.
"Object my ass! Yours truly still hasn't even mentioned the debt you owe me and yet you dare to complain up front? Let's go over all your mistakes. First, I am a landed noble of the rank of a count and you're only an honorary viscount. Be it rank or status, I am far superior than you in either regard! You actually dared to put the blame on me in front of my face and ask me to give you respect and accuse me of violating your noble pride? Are you joking? You're pride is worthless! In my eyes, a viscount like you is nothing but a pile of crap!"
Stretching his right foot out to stomp of the viscount's face, Lorist said, "And you still dare to object! Are you challenging the honor and pride of the Norton Family? It has just been a few short years, yet the nobles have forgotten how the roar of the Raging Bear sounds like... How regrettable. I believe I must remind the nobles of the kingdom the consequences of incurring the rage of the Raging Bear."
Viscount Aslan flailed around and said, "AI emm the taksh kollectur uuf da Shekend Hainisss... I wuss orderrd tu komm hier..."
"You still dare to talk back?" Lorist couldn't understand what the viscount was spouting and increased the strength of his step, causing the viscount to let out cries of pain.
"Ah, where was I just now?" Lorist asked as he forgot what he was just talking about.
"Milord, you were going through the mistakes of the viscount with the first one being his lack of respect for you and his challenging of the Norton Family," Howard reminded.
"Ah, that's right. Second, on what grounds have you come to collect taxes on my dominion? From whom did you get the guts to do that? I will definitely hang all the members of your family for this..." Lorist rebuked.
The viscount suddenly turned quiet as he took out a small golden-threaded beastskin scroll from his robe and waved it in the air.
"What is this?" Charade said as he took the beastskin scroll and unrolled it. Clicking his tongue, he said, "Milord, this viscount was truly sent here to collect taxes. This is the appointment letter signed by the Second Highness.
Kicking the viscount away, Lorist said, "Get up. I have questions for you."
Taking the scroll Charade handed over to him, Lorist saw what the scroll stated. 'Viscount Aslan Robiossen shall collect taxes from the dominion of Count Norton and Jillin Harbor on behalf of the Andinaq Kingdom and carry out his duties with pure dedication to his utmost abilities and make his contribution to the restoration of the empire.'
The letter was signed 'Krissen Auguslo', the Second Highness's name, dated on the 23rd day of the 5th month of Year 1768 along with the private stamp of the regent of the Andinaq Kingdom belonging to the Second Highness.
"Ah, I didn't think that Viscount Aslan here was truly appointed by the Second Highness as a tax collector! And to think that I thought you were a conman!" Lorist said as he finally understood what the viscount was trying to say despite the stinging pain in his mouth.
"You... you actually dared to treat me like that! You Nortons better be ready for the rage of the Second Highness! He'll definitely turn your family to ash with his 300000-strong army!" Viscount Aslan cried out as he struggled to stand up and held his pained face while giving Lorist a hateful stare.
"300000-strong army? Hehe, I'm so afraid right now. Seems like a puny viscount like you is cared for so much by the Second Highness that he would mobilize the whole army for you... Is that why you've been raising the tax rate ridiculously? Speak!" Lorist shouted, causing Viscount Aslan to jump in fear.
"Didn't you read the appointment letter?" Viscount Aslan said stubbornly.
"Hehe, since you're a tax collector sent here by the Second Highness, why did you try to escape?"
"I wasn't escaping. I was just getting on my ship to get my appointment letter so that I can prove my identity. It's your family soldiers that offended me first."
"Is that so? Since you're still insisting that you're innocent, no worries. We'll find out after we head to the royal capital and bring you in front of the Second Highness. I'll see if he really did instruct you to increase the tax rate. We'll know by then... Els," Lorist called out.
"Milord, please give me your instructions," Els said as he stepped forward.
"Have Jim work with you to bring this dogshit viscount to the wooden structure outside. Strip him naked first and give him 30 canes. Since he dared to cane Old Hugo three times, we'll pay him back ten times as much! After that, cover his body with some glue and feathers. Don't forget how the folk of the Northlands treat fraudsters and liars," Lorist instructed lazily.
"Yes, milord. I know the custom of the northlanders well. Liars are covered with feathers and paraded around for everyone to see. We will definitely do so accordingly," Els replied.
"Understood, milord," Jim agreed casually.
After that, Viscount Aslan squealed out like a pig that was about to be slaughtered. "No! You can't do this! I am a noble! I'm the tax collector appointed by the Second Highness!..."