‘‘All for a family, eh… But, sir, is that really true? Alright, I know that being part of the highest nobility of the empire, they must possess greater power than the average nobles. However, as much as to be able to make decisions that negatively affect three kingdoms close to them… that’s something that I find hard to imagine’’
‘‘Do not underestimate the empire, boy, for if it is true that there is more than one, it is also the case that its powers far outweigh those of the other kingdoms. Moreover, rumors say an equivalent value between the two existences of twenty to one is not necessarily impossible’’
‘‘… Twenty? That seems a bit much. Are you sur-… no, if you say so, it must be correct then… sir, that means a dozen unified kingdoms could never overthrow an empire?’’
‘‘No boy. Do not misunderstand my words, for I have said nothing of the kind. After all, I am just a simple merchant. As big and famous as our company has become, we cannot and will not meddle in the affairs of the aristocracy. Therefore, I have no idea whether those rumors refer to the difference between wealth, power, or even history since no proper research has been done on such a matter’’
‘‘… Okay… although I don’t think that’s a problem, I’ll stop talking about it. Wow, this information is still hard to believe, but since you are the one who said it, I will. I, Lendo Klen Quarto, have to believe that the Grand Dukes possess enough power to influence the houses of their neighbors at will… Why did they decide to do that? There must be an incredible reason why they act like sons of-… like evildoers. Perhaps they do it to keep an unlimited supply of food near their borders… no, that’s not possible, after all, the number of animals in the area is not big enough to feed entire cities, besides, the trees in the forest don’t even bear fruit… So, maybe they found another valuable resource to extract and sell… Is that really it? I find it hard to assume because if it were due to trade, it would be in their interest to clear the obstacles that hinder the transport of materials to other realms… This is difficult… as much as I think about it, I find it hard to find something that justifies their actions’’
‘‘Definitely, it is evident that you have inherited the family blood, as the gift of the gab runs through your veins. However, it is tiring and boring to listen to you mumbling alone for so long plus, seeing the state you are in, it seems that alcohol is about to knock you out before we finish talking’’
Listening to the young man speak while his voice was gradually decreasing in tone until it became almost inaudible, the merchant looked at him who was with his head down, his eyes about to close, and his body stretched out on the armchair, unconsciously looking for the most comfortable position to sleep.
‘‘I don’t wish you to fall asleep here, nor would I want to call someone to come and take you away, as that would sully my reputation, so hurry up and go and fill your cup with water before it’s too late’’
Rising from his seat, after a subtle nod, the reluctant young man moved forward to comply with the order he had been given.
‘‘… Now, you’re overthinking it, kid. The motivations that drive that family are not something they go to great lengths to hide. Of course, the lower class will never know about it because whoever says it in public, and those who hear it, won’t be alive for long. Even so, for people like us, who know how to keep our mouths shut, and who are in a moderately high position, such is an open secret’’
‘‘That it’s not a secret, you say, eh… but then, why didn’t I know about it?’’
‘‘Well, that’s because the hot-blooded youngsters, knowing that, could give rise to a misfortune that would wipe out the family. With that said, now that you’ve grown up enough, I’ll tell you. The reason is simple, boy. It’s due to the hunt’’
‘‘… Hunt?… Who does it? To whom? Or… Is that what I’m thinking?’’
‘‘You tell me, how would I know what you think? I am not a fortune teller, after all. Anyway, the hunt I’m talking about is the one that nobles perform as part of a game or training for their heirs and knights. Actually, it might be what you imagine, as if I remember correctly, you have been invited to participate in them a couple of times’’
‘‘No… I mean, yes… Yes, I have participated in some similar events, but on those occasions, were released small beasts meticulously bred not to be too violent, plus it was held in small forests located in the vicinity of large cities, so, no doubt, the safety of the participants was guaranteed… Thus, no, I have not done what you have mentioned’’
Having returned to his seat some time ago, the young man shook his head insistently in denial of what was attributed to him, so eager were his actions that the glass, which had been exchanged for the cup from before, which he held in his hands, spilled a little water on his pants.
‘‘Calm down. Don’t get worked up over trifles. Now, despite your denial, in my eyes, there is not much difference between the two cases. After all, in the end, they are just naive people playing at being powerful, even though some hunt mere animals, while others go after the real beasts’’
‘‘If you say so… wait, sir, does that mean the forest hasn’t been cleared for that reason alone? Really? Just for the amusement of the little dukes?’’
Thanks to the little bit of clarity he had gained after drinking water, the young man finally understood the meaning of those words, causing his eyes to widen in surprise, and consciously, so as not to repeat his past actions, he tried not to rise from his seat gripping the armrests of the armchair with both hands.
‘‘Certainly, that’s what I said…I’m concerned that so far, you realize’’
‘‘But, if that is true, it means that hundreds die each year because of their useless hobby… No, that’s the least of it, for even if they did nothing, people fall everywhere due to disease or famine. Therefore, the worst thing is that due to their dirty pleasures, we as merchants must spend large amounts of money just to make a single trip between kingdoms, which could be avoided if we did not have this forest as an obstacle … sons of bitches’’
‘‘I knew it was a good time to tell you, as now you don’t get carried away with sentimentalities such as empty compassion and pity. Good home schooling has taught you correctly that money is the most important thing above all else’’
Despite the rude words the young man had blurted out without thinking, the merchant looked at him with an unusual look of pride and a smile on his face.
‘‘You’re right, boy. While I resent the vulgar way you expressed yourself, I’ll let it go this time since I don’t doubt that word is the right one to describe those people. However, don’t forget that it should never be said publicly because if you do, it’s not only you who will pay for the consequences’’
‘‘… As was to be expected from people like this. So fearsome’’
After a short shudder at hearing such a threat, silence fell over the place.
Looking at each other, playing with the glass in their hands, or watching through the window at their sides, neither seemed to want to continue the conversation until, with a slight start, the young man remembered something he had overlooked.
‘‘Sir… now that I remember, why did you tell me about this? After all, it has nothing to do with the concerns that I mentioned to you’’
‘‘Well, that’s not entirely true, for in reality, thanks to the dukes’ savage hobby, the number of beasts in the forest is not as large as you might imagine since they decrease in large numbers every year, giving rise to a stable ecosystem that is barely maintained’’
‘‘I see, so that’s why those guys have forced the other kingdoms not to get too involved with the forest because they don’t want the balance in it to be broken… black blood is definitely coursing through their bodies’’
‘‘Enough of badmouthing them, as if you get used to it, you might end up mentioning something about it when you leave, and if, because of you, I have to eliminate my precious workers, rest assured that I will never inherit my position from you’’
‘‘Ah! Okay, sorry… although that wouldn’t be all bad…’’
‘‘Trying to disguise his mumbling with the silly look of a drunkard, the young man did not answer the merchant’s questioning’’
‘‘What I have told you should have made it clear that the danger on site is low if you ignore the possibility of getting lost if you enter without a proper map. However, the perfect harmony that the dukes have strived to maintain for centuries has been brutally affected for several decades, making the number of beasts less and less’’
‘‘That’s because of our client, isn’t it?
‘‘Yes, that is due to him, but don’t forget that this is something that only we know and that we have not told anyone else. Therefore, from the duke’s point of view, he must think that the beasts have nested in another part of the forest, far from his properties’’
‘‘But it is not, because here it is as clean or even cleaner than there is’’
‘‘Considering that there are no longer enough beasts to hunt, it can be expected that he will demand that the neighboring kingdoms create a group in charge of chasing them away from wherever they are to send them to his territory’’
‘‘Then, you will meet our client’’
‘‘They will meet the crazy old man’’
The silence followed for a moment as they thought about what they had said.
‘‘… Sir, when will that happen?’’
‘‘Rumors indicate that it will be a short time before they move, one or two years at the most’’
‘‘I get it… surely grandfather will be sorry to lose his late father’s most important client. Personally, though, I think it’s a good thing we don’t have to come here anymore’’
‘‘Who said we wouldn’t?’’
‘‘Don’t talk nonsense. We’ve been safely mapping the best passable route in the forest for almost a hundred years, so why on earth should we throw away all that hard work?’’
‘‘No, but if you said what you said is true, when our client disappears, the beasts in the vicinity will return to their normal numbers. So, the danger will increase. Besides, if something happens to you, who will be in charge of taking the position of head of the house since my grandfather is about to retire and I don’t think I’ll be…’’
‘‘Silence! Damn, the alcohol has definitely fried your brain. How could you think of yourself as an option for such a position? After all, my father would rather give it to his secretary than to you, you ignorant fool… Anyway, don’t worry about it, my son, as you will soon get the experience you lack, and you can stop hiding your origins’’
‘‘Don’t tell me that…’’
‘‘Yes, next year I will entrust you with the leadership of the caravan to-…’’
For the second time, having forgotten the words of the merchant who had earlier ordered him to remain calm, the young man got up from his seat, startled by the words he heard.
‘‘Calm down, idiot. Don’t scream so loud that people outside could hear you, for even though I said it would be soon, it is not now. Before that happens, I will send you to the nearest holy realm to undergo a treatment that will turn you into a real man and not an imitation of one’’
‘‘No… please… wait…’’
‘‘No, it cannot wait since the decision to bring you on these recent trips was so that you would get used to the journey. Moreover, it had already been decided that this would be the last one, as when you returned home, you would be moved immediately without notice. Thank my parental mercy for telling you about so many things ahead of time, for when it was my turn, your grandfather did not take the trouble to do it’’
‘‘Don’t sit down, you’ve been here for too long, and from the noises outside, it sounds like preparations for departure have already begun’’
Rising from his seat while still holding in one of his hands the glass with which he had drunk the wine, the merchant walked to the window near him to see from a better angle the view outside. Standing with his back to his son, he stood there for a few seconds before turning around to continue talking.
‘‘Yes, as expected, I was not mistaken. We will soon resume the trip’’
After advancing towards the young man and having reached his side, the man picked up the crystal glass and the book that were placed at the foot of the armchair to then go to put them in their respective storage. However, before the book was put away, once the glasses were put away, he paused for a few moments to read the cover of it first.
‘‘Hmm… good stuff you took here, but it’s a pity you didn’t read it carefully. Now then, get out before it takes too long. Ah, but before you go and lock yourself in your room, ask one of the servants to come and fill the water tank, as it is about to run out…’’