”Before anything else, tell me, how much do you know about this place?”
”About this site, you say, sir… just in case, do you mean the whole forest?”
”Of course, it is, boy, what else would it be but that?”
”Ah… no, please excuse me for the silly question. It’s just that I thought that, in addition to the above, you might be referring specifically to the trade route along which the company’s caravans travel or the specific location of the customer living in these parts”
”… I see. It’s not entirely wrong to think of multiple solutions to solve a question, but you’re worrying too much, and this is not the right time to do that. Don’t be so nervous, kid. Speak freely, for this is not an exam but a mere informal chat”
Having noticed the evident nervousness expressed by the young man, the merchant, as if dealing with a small child, told him to relax, then, while exchanging the crossed legs and with one hand he lifted the bottle of wine from the floor, he continued speaking.
”In fact, come over, take this, and go get one of the glasses kept in the cupboard so you can let yourself go a little while you drink. Oh, but do it in moderation, as the alcohol in this drink is really strong, so it might be too much for you. Also, don’t forget to answer the question I asked you while you’re moving”
In order to keep the conversation flowing, the man handed his conversation partner the bottle of wine he had been drinking from, which was already half full.
”… All right… whatever you order, sir… Well, what I know about this forest is not much, actually… because the books with which my teachers taught me did not detail much about it…”
As he complied with the order given, the young man spoke while trying to focus all his attention on the movements he was making, thus forgetting the respect with which he should treat the one he was talking to.
”The first thing I can recall is having read that the total area of the forest is unknown, as the dangers that abound in its depths do not allow map-making scholars to go deep enough to make a proper measurement, and although a rough estimate seems possible by taking the diameter of its borders with the surrounding kingdoms, as it borders a forbidden zone, an accurate result cannot be obtained”
After taking out one of the glasses from where it was kept, the young man placed it on the table and then filled it with the wine from the bottle in his hands.
”Although the measurement is inaccurate, what is clear is that this forest is at least the size of a small country, so if you do not have a transit route created and mapped for decades as our previous boss did, it is easy to get lost among the enormous trees that compose it…”
Having filled his glass, he stood facing the table with his back to the merchant, with no plans to return to where he was sitting, and there, he slowly began to drink from his now-served drink.
”Speaking of trees. This is something that was not detailed in the books, but I heard it from some co-workers at headquarters, and that is apparently, there is a law that prevents excessive logging on the site…”
”Specifically, such a law dictates that if you deforest an area of a couple of square kilometers, lumberjacks must move to another location if they want to continue their work. To top it off, before leaving, they must plant at least twice as many seedlings as the number of trees they cut down, and they are not even allowed to return there until the saplings are completely grown out…”
”That is so strange. Why are they being forced to do that? It makes no sense since, by commercial logic and for the safety of their people, the natural thing would be for the adjoining kingdoms to send hundreds of men to eliminate the potential danger located on its borders”
After several drinks, the young man, having lost his embarrassment in speaking, answered the merchant’s question while rambling over his words.
”Hmm, that makes some sense, boy. However, haven’t you thought that they don’t do it because they don’t want to disturb the nests of beasts hidden in such lands? After all, you yourself mentioned that those beings are dangerous to deal with”
”… I said that?”
”Oh! Right, I said it”
”… I guessed it, you really are weak with the drink. Enough, now go put that thing away and then sit down where you were before so we can continue talking like two men and not like a man plus a beast”
Despite the young man’s alcoholic state, he followed the order given to him to the letter, putting away the bottle of wine that was about to be emptied but, before doing so, filling the glass in his hand for the second time, to then staggering forward to sit on the armchair in front of the merchant, and being there, after another drink, he continued with the conversation.
”Yes… I said it… sure that I said it, and I didn’t lie, for the beasts of this forest are undoubtedly dangerous for ordinary people like us. It is obvious that they are, and that is a fact that is not to be doubted after seeing the size and strength they possess, but are they dangerous enough to frighten entire kingdoms? I don’t think so…”
”Of course, there have been cases in which hungry beasts have gotten out of their territories and devastated small villages in the vicinity, but considering that such beings do not move in packs, that is something that could be avoided if a few moderately skilled fighters resided there, for although it would probably be impossible for them to kill the attacker, they should at least be able to chase it away…”
”Just think, if even the poor can hopefully defend themselves from such attacks, let alone what an entire kingdom could accomplish. That is why, if the major cities surrounding the forest decided to create a united coalition, they could easily send highly trained knights to protect the lumberjacks while they eliminate portions of the trees in the area, and, what’s more, not only knights but mages themselves could be recruited to control any unexpected situation that might arise”
”Boy, it’s not that easy to move mages”
”Is it not? Really? Forgive me for saying so, my lord, but that is something I must question, for there haven’t been only one or two of them that I have seen wandering among the cities as if they were homeless hermits, so it should not be difficult to buy their services for a few gold coins. In fact, I’m surprised we don’t have any hired in our company”
”So, why is it like this, da-… sir?”
”… I see. It seems that when I return, I will have to send a letter to my father to ask him to reinforce this subject of study for later generations. Although, it will have to be done with care because if it goes wrong, it could give rise to a madman who wants to enter that world”
”Hmm? I’m sorry, sir, but what did you say? I didn’t hear you”
”Forget it, boy. It was nothing”
Dismissing his murmur with a simple gesture as if what he had said was irrelevant, the merchant asked the young man a new question.
”Now then, everything you have said indicates that you have roughly enough knowledge about this site. Of course, you still haven’t mentioned anything about the flora, fauna, or precious minerals that can only be obtained here, but that’s something we’ll deal with another day. For the moment, my focus is elsewhere. Tell me, what are the kingdoms that border this forest?”
”Kingdoms?… Sip-… Oh!… it’s over… Well, the surrounding kingdoms, if I remember correctly, are three. They are the Crete Kingdom, the Sord Kingdom, and the Adell Kingdom… No?”
”Yes, you’re right-…”
With a jump and a shout, the young man got up from the seat where he was sitting.
”… if you interrupt me again I…”
With a look of annoyance never before seen on his face, the merchant lashed out at his colleague for having interrupted him with a childish celebration, with threatening words that made the latter tremble slightly, causing him to sit back down formally in the armchair.
”Sigh, anyway, as I was saying, you were right, but you failed to mention the most important one”
”H-Huh? Is there another one? B-But on the maps…”
”Of course, there is, idiot. You have forgotten the Grand Duchy of the Alberts”
”Duke? But, sir, that’s not a kingdom. It’s just a nobleman’s territory.”
”True, in theory, it is not, but in practice, that small piece of land, compared to its neighbors, has much more power and vote, as it is only by the will of that family that this forest has not been reduced to ashes”