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Son of Destruction

Chapter 76: Hakai No Miko Chapter 2.4-1


Michena finally came to her senses after fainting. The first thing she does after coming to is immediately falling prostrate.

“Not knowing that you are his new Lords.h.i.+p, I was terribly rude to you…!”

Michena repeatedly apologized as if she were a criminal who had been brought to their trial, which made Souma and Shyemul exchange wry smiles as if it were too exaggerated.
However, to Michena, the feudal lord is the person who holds authority over her fate. It wouldn't be odd if she were to be killed here on a whim, all the more with Souma being deemed an invader that was able to subdue the ferocious zoan.
Due to that person trying to console her, the daughter of a poor commoner, while going so far as to even appear awkward, she became even more confused.
It's Shyemul who helped the utterly perplexed Souma. At first she watched Souma's troubled behavior with a bitter smile, but since it didn't seem like the matter would come to a close no matter how much time has pa.s.sed, she became irritated.

“Cut it out! There's something Soma wants to ask you!”

Due to Shyemul saying that while baring her displeasure, Souma wondered whether she isn't going a bit too far there, but the addressee Michena gets up like a weighted spring and stands at attention.

“Yes! Your Lords.h.i.+p, please ask me anything you like!”

For Michena, Shyemul's oppressive manner of speaking was a lot more natural than Souma's modest behavior.
Comprehending that it wouldn't do any good if he behaved too modestly, Souma throws out his chest a bit and says with a haughty tone,

“Very well. Then at once—”

…then immediately changes his mind, due to him being uncomfortable with that style of speaking, and changes his tone.

“—Keeping it broad is fine, so please teach me about the city's financial situation.”

In his back he can hear Shyemul rebuke him with a “You weakling” in a murmur, but he ignores it.
What Souma planned to work on first was grasping the available funds.
The most important matter in the strategy simulation game Souma played in the past are funds. Hiring soldiers, improving the equipment or reclaiming new land; all of these required money first.
And that's probably no different from reality either.
Whatever he's going to do, it will cost money. Hence he had to precisely understand how much funds he has on hand so he could understand how much freedom it would allow him.
However, even Souma didn't think that he would be able to grasp the financial situation easily by himself, who was no more than a simple senior high school student. Then again, while it may be true that it's difficult, he can't believe that it's better to leave everything up to someone else either.
How much tax revenue is there? How many expenses are there? What kind of products are traded?
As it's fine to start with this much at first, I should put some effort into understanding the city's finances, he a.s.sessed.
However Souma realized that only this much was already overly optimistic thinking.
Peeking at the doc.u.ments spread out by Michena, he furrowed his eyebrows.
The block similar to an alphabetic writing body that has been noted down horizontally on the left side are very likely the letters of this world. But he didn't understand the meaning of the lines of symbols to the right of those letters.

“…What are these?”

“Yes. Here's the collected tax, over there the expenses. The result of adding both of them is written on the most right.”

Michena promptly answered Souma's question while pointing on the symbols, but that wasn't the answer Souma was looking for.

“No, not that. The one lining up over here, the symbols that look like two swirly, flabby lines.”

“The numbers?”

In contrast to Michena, who looked mystified as if asking him why he's questioning something so obvious, Souma was honestly and simply surprised.

“So these are numbers. —By the way, what number is this one?”

Souma pointed at one swirly-looking symbol.

“That's a thousand. Those are one, two, three, four, five, in other words five thousand. Next—” Michena points at a symbol with three rods intersecting. “—Given that this is a hundred, and three of them, it adds up to three hundred. In total it becomes five thousand three hundred.”

“Haa~. I see…”

Due to Michena's explanation, Souma was in a state where it wasn't clear whether it's fine to call him baffled or simply in awe. Furthermore, Michena presented one doc.u.ment after the other.

“Over here are the records of the tax revenue of each village located within the fief. For example, those are the taxes paid by the Kobo Village. From the top, in order: wheat, barley, people—”

“People!?”

Souma was surprised by the surprising term that shouldn't fit the occasion.
I wonder, does something like an evil governor receiving a girl in case the taxes aren't paid, as often seen in historical plays, actually happen in this world?

“Yes. With the scale of this village, they can be forced to send 25 men as workers to the city. But, in most cases they pay with woolen goods instead of leaving as workers.”

Not only money and goods serve as possible tax payment methods, but even workers. In the eyes of Souma, who grew up in modern j.a.pan where things are paid for with money, that was slightly astonis.h.i.+ng
Souma is completely forgetting about it, but the forced labor within “Taxes in kind and service – Forced Labor,” which is an old taxation system that Souma was taught in j.a.panese history lessons during middle school, is the precise definition of taxes changed into labor. Such taxes weren't rare by any means.
After that, Michena continued to carefully and thoroughly teach Souma without reluctance no matter what question is asked, but as might be expected, financial affairs isn't something that can be learned by a novice in a day.
What turned into an especially impeding hindrance for Souma was him not knowing the currency and value of things in this world. Once he looks into the account book, he sees how many silver coins are remaining and how much wheat has been stored, but Souma can't imagine what kind of value he should attach to these numbers.
He tried several times to convert it into j.a.panese money, but with that not going smoothly either, he's truly on the verge of throwing in the towel.

“I really was a bit too optimistic about this…”

Even Souma couldn't help but to grumble this.
After all, it seems as if it's better to trust and rely on the people from financial affairs rather than a novice like me meddling with these matters unskillfully.
Michena called out to Souma, who had become half-hearted due to thinking something like that.

“Your Lords.h.i.+p, are you still listening?”

“…Ah, excuse me. I'm with you.”

Souma was about to give up, but since Michena is going out of her way to explain it all to him, he fixes his own motivation with the thought, It'd be rude to her if I don't at least invest a little bit of effort into understanding all of this.
He dips the tapered point of a thin, wooden, conic stick into ink and writes down a summary of the explanation by Michena just now as memo in his own way. And then, each time he had any questions, he immediately asked Michena.

“This is the wheat collected as tax from a village, right?”

After first pointing to a column of text about the wheat collected in a village, he moves his finger to the column of text about the wheat entering the city.

“Isn't the amount carried to the city smaller than the amount levied from the village?”

“That's because the wheat from the village is in bags and the wheat carried into the city is on wagons.”

Souma was confused by Michena's explanation.

“Eh? It's the same wheat, right? Why does it matter whether it's transported in bags or on wagons?”

“…? That's only natural, isn't it?”

The wheat levied from the village had been stuffed into bags and is regarded as unit bags during the counting. However, in case these wheat bags are brought into the city it changes to the unit wagons because wagons are used in that situation.

“Uwaah…even though it's the same wheat, even the counting units are different depending on the location.”

Souma's rallied will power seems to have just vanished into thin air. Even so, he somehow musters some energy and continues asking,

“By the way, how many bags fit on a single wagon?”

“According to Holmean law, roughly 20 bags on one wagon is decided.”

“Umm…with 20 bags placed on one wagon, the number of wagons is…”

Michena watched Souma crunching the numbers with all his might with a gentle smile.
At first I only thought that this boy is a terrifying person who uses the ferocious zoan as his limbs. But while repeatedly talking to him to explain the financial affairs of the city, I understood that Soma might instead be called a very calm boy and is far from being dreadful.
Besides, in contrast to the previous lord who left all of financial affairs to his officials, she has a favorable impression of him as he's striving to understand the financial situation by putting in great efforts as soon as there's something he doesn't understand.

“These letters are wh-e-at. And this flabby one is ten thousand, so one, two, three…”

He was apparently summarizing the contents he was just taught with a troubled look. Being curious in what way he's doing that, Michena sees him writing cryptic scribbles once she peers at his hands. He's likely trying to memorize the unknown characters with symbols and pictures. As it looked as if a child, which was mature for its age, is frantically imitating acting like an adult, Michena unintentionally felt warm in her chest.
That is, until Souma said his next words—

“Huh? Somehow the calculation doesn't match up…”

Michena felt startled.
However, without noticing Michena's state, Souma once again turns his eyes on the paper in front of him and notes something down while repeatedly tilting his head unable to come to term with it.

“As I thought, it's not correct.”

Michena felt a slight cold sweat coming out.
As a matter of fact, Michena had been taught about the oddity in the taxes' income and expenditure by the Chief of Financial Affairs. However, she never did expect Souma to point that out before she could broach that topic herself.
In a hurry Michena conveys the information she had been given by the Chief of Financial Affairs.

“It's due to an instruction by His Highness Prince Vulitas to report a lesser tax revenue to the royal capital for the sake of creating entertainment expenses for him…”

Souma understood, flas.h.i.+ng a bitter smile.
He only met him face-to-face at the time when he took this city, but once he's reminded of the face of that fat, greasy Vulitas, he thinks that it's surely true.
Souma was told about the contents of the account book he was handed once again by Michena, but a short time later he tilted his head in confusion once more.

“Huh? After all it's not correct?”

“Eh?”

Michena raised her voice in disarray.

◆◇◆◇◆

Michena walked back to her usual workplace from the feudal lord's office, but there was still something that she wasn't fully satisfied with.
It's the matter about the calculation not being correct as mentioned by that boy feudal lord. Because a black-furred zoan had showed up and said that he wanted to consult about something with the lord, our conversation remains unsettled, but it doesn't seem like the lord was telling a lie back then.
However, it's also hard to imagine that a person, who can't read and write, would discover calculation errors in such a short time.
Feeling restless due to that murky feeling staying in her chest, Michena resolutely got several stones and a calculation board from the shelves.
This calculation board is something where notches have been carved into a single wooden plank. At the beginning of each of those notches there's written characters meaning one, ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousand. And the stones are polished round stones that seem to have a size allowing for exactly ten of these to line up in a single notch of this calculation board.
This is a device used during calculations by adding and removing the stones into the notches.
At first Michena calculated while humming a tune. But, before long she stops humming and her face gradually becomes more and more serious. Additionally, as time pa.s.sed, her face turned pale and finally she started to perspire cold sweat.

“The calculations are off…”

She began to aimlessly pace around the room while at her wits' end. No matter how many times she recalculated, the amount collected as taxes and the amount sent to the capital so far don't match.

“W-Why?! How!?”

It's probably normal for there to be a bit of a gap in the total amount between the time when the wheat, which had been recorded in the account book, had just been collected at the village and the time when it was stored in a warehouse of the city, Michena viewed optimistically.
There's a reason why Michena underrated this.
Actually, the matter of the quant.i.ty of wheat and woolen products, which were levied as taxes, decreasing during the process of calculating is something that still happens.
For example, let's a.s.sume five and a half bags of wheat were paid as tax. But what's recorded in reality as tax are only five bags. This happens because the unit of wheat in this era is bags. Thanks to that, fractions of the unit are left out of the calculation. Moreover, in case these bags are transported into a city on wagons, the fractional wheat bags on each wagon, which is next counted as a wagon unit, end up being left out of the calculation as well.
As result of that, it was common for the wheat, which is finally stored in the city's storehouses, to be around 10 percent less than the initially paid amount of wheat by the village.
So, where does that left-out wheat go?
It's a custom for it to go into the pockets of the finance officials as emoluments, turning into a precious source of income for them.
At first Michena thought that it might be that which Souma was pointing out.
However, in the calculations she did herself, an amount that can't be casually explained away has vanished somewhere. If it's going this far in scale, it won't be concluded with it just being the side benefits of an official.
Judging that this is after all too much for her to handle, Michena rushed to the office of the Chief of Financial Affairs.

“What's the matter all of a sudden?”

Due to Michena, whom he sent as a scapegoat to the new lord, turning up with a pale face, the chief widens his eyes in surprise.

“To tell you the truth, it was pointed out by the new feudal lord that the amount of levied wheat is odd…”

The chief, who had become worried that he might have messed up somewhere, is stunned that it's something like that.

“I told you already, didn't I? That's because of His Highness Vulitas' order—”

“Even if you include that, it still doesn't balance out!”

Having his own words drowned out by her, the chief looked slightly daunted, but he immediately switched over to baring his displeasure and said over his shoulder,

“What stupidity are you going on about? Even you know that the amount decreases somewhat on the way from the village to entering the city's storehouses, right?”

“It's not a discrepancy at such level! It's a huge amount…”

Thereupon the chief laughs while visibly fed-up with her.

“There's no way that something foolish like that is possible. You were taken for a ride by the new lord. Hah, as if a king of beasts, who can't even read and write in the first place, is capable of something like calculation.”

“T-That is—”

Having her own words completely denied, Michena tries to get the Chief of Financial Affairs to believe her by telling him in a somewhat exaggerated way about her exchange with Souma.

“His new Lords.h.i.+p pointed out the miscalculation with a bam-bam after taking only a single glance at the account book! It's true! It was really overwhelmingly quick!”

As expected, if the recount goes this far, even the chief will feel suspicious.

“Don't tell me, you took a calculation board with you!?”

“Eh…no. Umm, there was no calculation board there.”

Just as she said so, the chief laughs scornfully while snorting.

“Good grief. Please keep the jokes at bay. Tell me how you are going to calculate without even a calculation board? How silly.”

“B-But, he really—”

Due to Michena trying to argue even further, the chief becomes exasperated.

“Enough! I have a dinner party appointment with my colleagues after this! Stop giving me troubles with such worthless matters!”

The chief, who drove Michena out of his office like that, leaked a sigh and shook his head slightly as if saying “Man, oh man!”

“…Geeze, felt like I perspired a bucket of sweat there worrying about being exposed.”

It's a definite truth that the previous feudal lord, Prince Vulitas, falsified the taxes and used them to pay for his own entertainment.
But, he wasn't the only one.
If a person like Vulitas stands at the top, those below will naturally imitate him as well. In other words, even the officials followed suit and embezzled the taxes by falsifying the numbers.

“For heaven's sake, that brat is trying to make worthless bluffs…”

The ulterior motive of the bluff is probably to watch how I'm going to react.
The embezzlement of the officials including the chief was agreed upon among them, regulating who is making a move on which taxes. They paid careful attention so that it wouldn't be discovered. Moreover, when Vulitas became a prisoner, the Chief of Financial Affairs fortunately falsified the account book so that even the share, which he had embezzled so far, was completely accounted to the wasted entertainment expenses of Vulitas.
If it's like this, even a person very well-acquainted with finances will likely not even notice that there had been any embezzlement, let alone find proof of it, unless they invest a considerable amount of time. To say nothing of the likes of a king of beasts, who can't even read and write; there's no way that such a fool will easily understand the account book by just looking.
That new lord seems to successfully use the beasts by deceiving them, but don't think for a moment that you can trick a human in the same way as well! The chief scoffed.
However, with Michena's face having been so pale, he felt slightly uneasy.
I have still some time until the appointment time anyway. The chief decided to try doing the calculations using a calculation board while at the same time wasting some time with that.
At first the chief calculated while humming a tune. But, before long he stops humming and his face becomes gradually more and more serious. Additionally, as time pa.s.sed, his face turned pale and finally he started to perspire cold sweat.

“The calculations are off…!” 1

Translation Notes:

Last two sentences are almost completely the same as above with Michena – very likely intentional.




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