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    Re-translated & Proofread: May 15th ’24

    “Sir Ian, you need to focus.”

    Ian turned his head at the tutor’s words.

    The guest room in the west annex. Unlike before, a refreshing breeze entered through the open windows on all sides. Seeing his apathetic student, the tutor sighed and scribbled with his pen.

    “Now, let’s try again. Suppose 100 villagers offered five sheaves of wheat as tax. If half of that is sent to the capital, and then half of the remaining is distributed among the mansion servants, how many sheaves are left in the end?”

    Ian lightly yawned and shifted his gaze. The study time he spent a couple of hours each afternoon was truly unbearably dull.

    “I don’t know.”

    To avoid appearing suspicious by changing too quickly, he had initially pretended to calculate using his fingers.

    But even that grew tiresome after a few times. Ian made up his mind and feigned ignorance.

    “At least try to calculate.”

    “Hmm. Could it be 100 sheaves?”

    Moreover, there was an unexpected benefit to utilizing the bastard’s dullness. The tutor and the steward frequently exchanged notes about Ian’s educational progress.

    Most of it was trivial, but occasionally, they would let slip information such as the marquis’s schedule.

    “…We’ll stop with mathematics here. Next is literature. Last time, we read ‘The Fate of Destiny,’ right?”

    The tutor lacked enthusiasm. Whether Ian understood or not, he steadily went through the assigned material and collected his salary.

    It was fortunate for Ian. Since the tutor easily gave up when he claimed not to know, there was no need to pretend to study desperately.

    Knock, knock.

    “Come in.”

    “Excuse me.”

    The steward entered, carrying snacks. The fact that the steward himself, rather than a servant, brought them implied an intention to observe the child’s learning attitude.

    “How far have you progressed?”

    “We’re about to wrap up with literature.”

    “I see. It seems to be ending early today.”

    “Sir Ian is following along so well.”

    Oh my, how amusing.

    Ian munched on the snacks and looked down at the book, which was half filled with illustrations. The steward showed his palm to the tutor and quickly wrote something down. It was not visible from Ian’s position.

    “Well then, keep up the good work.”

    “Yes, Steward.”

    Thud.

    The tutor read out the few words and wrote them down on parchment, instructing Ian to copy them.

    Thus, the tedious afternoon study session concluded. As the wall clock chimed, the tutor gathered the books and stood up.

    “I’ll see you out, teacher.”

    “No, it’s alright. I’m in a hurry today. Sir Ian, continue practicing your writing.”

    Ian usually greeted and saw off the tutor, learning about walking, greetings, or social etiquette.

    However, on days like today when he refused, it meant he was going to meet someone in the household.

    “Yes, then I’ll see you next time.”

    Ian nodded without any particular response.

    The tutor, who had put on his coat, smiled and left the room.

    ‘Is he going to meet the steward?’

    Sometimes it seemed like he met the marquis or marchioness, but since moving to the annex, there were many servants wandering nearby, so he couldn’t follow him.

    Giving up, Ian lightly stretched his body after roughly putting away the parchment. One fortunate aspect of having a larger room was that he could train his body even without going outside.

    ‘Stamina is mana.’

    Cultivating stamina with mana, and then filling that stamina with mana again. That was precisely why the sages called grand mages remained healthy even as white-haired elders.

    “Sir Ian.”

    Knock, knock.

    And that night.

    The steward called for Ian after he had finished his dinner.

    “The marquis requests your presence in his office.”

    The time had finally come.

    ***

    Marquis Derga’s office was located on the top floor of the mansion. Since it occupied an entire floor, Ian had never walked through that corridor. Ian followed the steward with curiosity but composure.

    “Marquis, Young Master Ian has arrived.”

    After knocking on the thick door handle a few times, permission was granted from inside.

    “Come in.”

    Creak.

    Unlike Ian’s previous room, which only had a single luminous stone, the office was as bright as day. Densely arranged mana lanterns shone from various spots.

    Yet, the gloomy atmosphere was likely due to Marquis Derga’s presence.

    “Did you call for me?”

    Ian asked politely, but Derga gave no response. Compared to the peasants who toiled in the fields day and night, it was a truly carefree work environment, but the marquis must have been busy and distracted in his own way.

    “…You’re aware of the luncheon the day after tomorrow, I assume.”

    “Yes, of course.”

    Derga muttered, still not taking his eyes off the documents.

    “I heard other officials from the central government will be accompanying us this time.”

    The first meal must have been quite impressive. A child from a rural frontier, a bastard no less, discussing Fuhlen’s philosophy seemed to have piqued their interest.

    “You’ll need to be more attentive than last time.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Is this all he was called for?

    Derga had said little even when the room was changed. Ian patiently waited for him to continue. The sound of the pen nib gliding across the parchment persisted, and the marquis heavily opened his mouth again.

    “The Cheonrye tribe has requested a handwritten letter from you.”

    Ian was aware that they had informed the Cheonrye tribe of the condition of sending Derga’s second son for the truce.

    They had also enclosed a potion that only reacts to blood relatives, so there was no need to mention anything about bloodline.

    Of course, they wouldn’t know that he was a bastard of lowborn origin. Anyway.

    “A handwritten letter from me?”

    They seemed to want a security measure in their own way.

    What if Derga, feeling sorry for his son, tried to make a last-minute switch? Considering the Cheonrye tribe’s emphasis on family bonds, there was ample room for such suspicion.

    “Those barbarians are stirring up trouble, as usual. Tsk tsk. They’ll use the blood potion again at the treaty ceremony.”

    Unlike the Bariel Empire, the Cheonrye tribe had no separate mages. They were beings whose very bloodline defied nature, no different from beasts.

    “Well, I have no reason to refuse.”

    They wanted to receive the handwritten letter and later compare the handwriting. To confirm that Ian was indeed Derga’s bastard and the designated target.

    “Regularly write and send letters. I’ll instruct the tutor, so you just need to copy. Surely you’re not an imbecile who can’t even do that.”

    “I’ll do it without any mistakes.”

    Creak.

    At that moment, the small door attached to the office opened. The clerk, with a pale face, sought out Derga.

    “Marquis, no matter what I do, the calculations don’t add up.”

    He was carrying a stack of documents piled precariously high. The marquis waved his hand at the clerk, who looked like he would collapse with the slightest misstep.

    “Enough. I’ll handle it myself.”

    It was a glance telling Ian to wait for a moment.

    The documents he had been working on were left open on the desk, but the marquis didn’t seem particularly wary. Ian was close to being illiterate, and even if he could read, his level was limited to stringing together syllables.

    “Wait here.”

    Derga commanded as he entered the clerk’s office. Ian, who had been smiling politely, instantly changed his expression.

    ‘Let’s see. What’s keeping him so busy?’

    It was early spring now. Diligent lords tended to their territories even when the ground was frozen, but Derga was clearly not that type of person. Hadn’t he been enjoying his back-alley outings until the day he met Mollin?

    Rustle.

    Ian quickly skimmed through the documents. His skill in rummaging through papers without disrupting their order was quite smooth.

    ‘Hmm?’

    Ian furrowed his brows as if he had expected it.

    As he had guessed, Derga was maintaining a far greater number of private soldiers than he could handle.

    Given the size of the Bratz frontier, it should be around 300 at most to function without strain. However, judging by the expenditure on military provisions, it could range from 2,000 to 3,000.

    ‘It’s a wonder it hasn’t collapsed.’

    Moreover, the taxes imposed on the villagers were more than twice the recommended rate of the capital. In hindsight, it might have been natural for the Cheonrye tribe to annihilate House Bratz in history.

    A precarious situation that would crumble on its own even if left alone. Ian glared at the small office in disbelief.

    What on earth was going through this fellow’s head to manage the territory in such a manner? Despite being a family that had lasted for generations, not just any random bunch.

    ‘Could there be another source of money?’

    Regardless of how long they had been operating like this, it seemed quite tight to cover the expenses with taxes alone.

    ‘There shouldn’t be anything special in the Bratz territory.’

    As expected, the Bratz territory bordered the Cheonrye tribe’s land beyond the frontier. The soil wasn’t particularly fertile, nor was there a sea. There were no resources important enough to be memorable.

    ‘If there were, the previous emperor wouldn’t have divided the territory among other nobles.’

    The former emperor had rewarded the nobles who had fought alongside him against the Cheonrye tribe by granting them portions of the territory. If there were important resources, the palace would never have done that.

    Click.

    At that moment, the door opened without warning.

    Ian, who had been leaning on the marquis’s desk, instinctively held his breath and poured out mana.

    Zing. Zing.

    “Hm?”

    Simultaneously, all the lanterns in the room went out.

    The same happened in the clerk’s office.

    Since the moon was hidden behind clouds, darkness engulfed the surroundings in an instant.

    “Marquis? Are you alright?”

    “The mana lanterns were replaced not long ago, weren’t they?”

    “One moment. I’ll light a candle, aah!”

    Thud!

    The clerk bumped into something.

    Ian silently moved to the center of the room before the moon came out, concealing his presence. Derga fumbled in the dark, searching for his desk.

    “Ian, answer me.”

    “Yes, Father.”

    Ian’s clear voice echoed in the darkness. Judging by the sound, he seemed to be standing near the sofa.

    “Is anyone out there?!”

    The clerk, who had gone to find a candle, kept tripping, and the darkness showed no signs of lifting. Derga shouted in irritation.

    Zing. Zing.

    Then the lanterns lit up again. Ian, who had caught his breath, had withdrawn his mana.

    Derga’s eyes met Ian’s, who was standing calmly. His absinthe-colored eyes were bright.

    “Are you alright?”

    “……”

    The marquis looked down at his hand gripping the desk. The documents were slightly disarranged, but he could attribute it to his own tampering in the dark. He opened the drawer without suspicion.

    “Enough. Come here and take this.”

    “What is it?”

    It was a small pouch with a handful of coins. Derga tossed it lightly as if it were nothing, and it landed precisely at Ian’s feet.

    “It’s from your mother.”

    The small pouch lying on the floor.

    Ian slowly picked it up.

    “Always look at it, remember your place, and be mindful of your behavior.”

    When the news about Ian, which Hannah had been conveying, abruptly stopped, his mother attempted suicide. If she couldn’t meet him alive, she would do so in death.

    Faced with that unexpected action, the marquis had no choice but to compromise and promise to deliver letters and gifts. If she died, it would be as if Ian’s shackles were gone.

    “……”

    Hannah had meticulously informed him of these events through the coachman. Since he had been generously rewarding her for her errands, there was unlikely to be any falsehood mixed in.

    “You may go.”

    Derga waved his hand.

    Ian quietly left the office, holding the worn pouch. Leaning against the dark corridor and loosening the string, various items spilled out.

    Clink!

    Five gold coins. Dried flowers. A tiny note.

    A single gold coin was equivalent to a commoner’s monthly earnings. Ian examined the letter with a composed expression. The neat handwriting indicated that someone had written it on her behalf.

    Then, would it truly contain only his mother’s sincere feelings from beginning to end?

    ‘No. There’s a possibility that Derga’s intentions are hidden within. Like swapping the letter…’

    Ian fiddled with the gold coins and then proceeded to read the letter.

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