Arc 2, Crescent Moon
When Ernst entered Meissen, the first village he visited was Arruca. This was the village where he had parted with the hunters.
Two months had passed since then.
Once they were beside the village, Ernst separated from Ganche and walked into Arruca on his own two feet.
The village head that Ernst had previously met tottered over toward him.
He was 147 years old… Ernst remembered from two months ago.
The head butler of the estate, Sington, had said that he was 151 years old.
Up until Ernst had been made lord, Sington had taken on the role of connecting the lord-less Meissen with the neighboring Rintz fief. His main task was to collect the taxes and pass them over to the government officials who came from Rintz fief.
Ernst looked at the village head in front of him.
He was about the same height as Ernst, whose body had stopped growing after boyhood. But this village head had grown old. He didn't have Kleber's disease. In spite of that, he still had the same height as Ernst.
His harsh and severe life had robbed the village head of his youth.
"Do you remember me?"
Ernst tried to speak in a quiet voice so as not to sound intimidating.
The village head slowly nodded his head and invited Ernst to his house.
Arruca Village seemed to be in far more dire straits than Caralime Village.
Arruca Village had a population of 36 people. There were 5 children, and of the 31 adults, 27 of them had Kleber's disease.
"Does Arruca Village still engage in shepherding?"
Though there was a fireplace, there was no fire. The house seemed to have begun falling apart, but they couldn't fix it.
As such, a cold wind blew inside.
"Haa… in the old days, we used to do a lot of shepherding…"
In the village head's house, seven elderly villagers including the village head spoke with Ernst, who was accompanied by Targes.
"Humm. Then do you no longer tend to sheep anymore?"
The seven villagers exchanged looks with each other. Who was going to be the one to speak? They looked as if they were trying to pressure or compromise others into speaking.
"Nowadays… we only tend to five of them…"
The village head answered.
"In that case, do you do farming?"
The villagers looked at each other.
It was much easier to get the people of Caralime Village to talk, Ernst thought.
Arruca Village didn't seem to have a clear leader. The village head might have just been called that simply because he was the eldest.
"We farm… but that said, we only grow wheat…"
The village head reluctantly answered.
"Humm. You're not able to stay fed this way, are you?"
Once again, silence pervaded as the villagers kept themselves quiet.
"The young people left the village to find work… so…."
The village head answered, grumbling.
"I see. Then when I had first entered Meissen, was that before they had gone to find work?"
At that time, there were more villagers than there were now. Presently, only the seven eldery villagers and the five children were in the village.
"What will you do to get firewood? Will you buy it?"
The other six villagers looked down at the floor, willing the village head to do all the speaking for them.
"Firewood… we… can't buy any… in the forest, we peel off tree bark… and like that…"
At the village head's words, Ernst subtly glanced at the fireplace. There wasn't anything in there that could be said to be called firewood.
Arruca Village was at the edge of the forest. This forest was the same forest that Ernst had passed through. It was the kind of forest that had far more evergreen trees than deciduous trees.
He wondered if the Grude influence was stronger in the evergreen trees. The forest was filled with enormous and towering trees.
Just as that hunter had said, the people who lived in Arruca wouldn't be able to cut down those trees.
"Was life in Arruca Village difficult even under the rule of the previous lord?"
Ernst asked this, though he thought that perhaps the 146-year-old village head might not remember those times.
"Before… things weren't like this."
The village head said in a subdued voice.
"When I was a child, we grew plenty of crops and had more than enough to eat. In those days, no one left the village to go to work."
His emaciated body trembling, one of the villagers spoke.
"Lord Ernst, you went to Caralime Village first, right? Those guys, what did they tell you about us…!? No matter what, they must have been slandering us and saying all sorts of wretched things about us!"
The villagers who had been sitting quietly like dolls suddenly came alive, sparked by their anger.
"Those guys were doing something amazing. But they wanted to keep it all to themselves!! …No matter how many times we bowed our heads them, they refused to tell us anything."
"Over, and over, and over again, we bowed our heads and begged them… There was even a time where the entire village came to bow to them. But those guys, all they did was jeer at us…! The entire village came to bow to them, and they just laughed…"
Just like yesterday, the villagers were overcome with emotions, and their eyes welled with tears.
When did this story happen? Although Ernst wasn't too sure of what exactly they were speaking of in the first place, he quietly sat there and listened to the villagers' indignation.
"That was why we had to think over how to take care of the sheep by ourselves. Even though we put in our all… our sheep's wool was dry and frizzy…"
"The quality was bad, so we could only sell for low prices to the merchants… And in order for us to feed the whole village, the only thing we could do was raise more sheep…"
"This land was supposed to be a rich pasture. The forest didn't die even in winter, and as soon as you dug under the snow, you'd find lush grass growing."
Even now, the forest hadn't withered.
"Yet despite that… at some point, the trees of the forest kept growing bigger and bigger, and more of them kept showing up… and then the trees grew into our pastures."
"We desperately tried to cut down the young trees so that the forest wouldn't spread any more than it already had. But after so many people contracted Kleber's disease, we didn't have enough manpower…"
"Even now, the forest is spreading. There isn't enough grass to feed the sheep as we thought. Now, at best, we can keep and feed ten of them."
To Ernst, it felt as though the passion of these villagers as they fervently let out their grief melted the cold atmosphere of Meissen, making it disappear.
"Even if we wanted to return to our old lands, those bastards of Dada Village are there… Those guys, even when we bowed our heads to them, they refused to leave our lands."
The head of the village sighed, powerless and resigned.
A feeling of hopelessness pervaded the village of Arruca.
Wanting to have the same success as Caralime Village that had dedicated itself to shepherding, Arruca had abandoned their old lands; but when the place they had migrated to turned out to be unsuitable for grazing, when they tried to return to their old lands, they had found that the Dada Village had expanded and taken their farmlands.
No matter which village they desperately and earnestly begged, both of them flatly refused to help. No matter how many times they refused to give up and continued to ask, they were always completely shot down.
Like that, Arruca Village became a village that had given up on everything.