Updated: Nov 8
Tara and the Grand Duchess face off in the first round of their game.
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Episode 118. About 11 months (10)
The Grand Duchess opened the book with a meaningful smile and looked at it, her eyes glittering.
"It's my favorite book these days. It's the best-selling book here. Have you read it?"
I neither confirmed nor denied it.
"Well, I suppose it would be a disadvantage for you if you told me that. Alright, the question then. In this book, Andrei Pitt argues that monarchs should be feared, but not hated by their citizens. But now the people of the Empire both fear and hate the Emperor."
Ugh. Why would Andrei write a book like that...? I needed to focus. Focus!
"Do you know what the book claims is the practical reason why the people of the Empire hate the Emperor so much at present?"
"Is that your question?"
“Then it must be too easy. Shouldn't the future Aide of the Prince be able to solve this short-answer problem? The question is still to come, so listen closely.”
I feigned nonchalance, but internally I was terrified. I was grateful the Duchess mistakenly thought I had already read this book.
"He says taxes are the main cause of the citizenry's hatred of the Emperor. I also agree with this idea. Now, here's my question. Tell me why the Emperor is hated, and provide an alternative to the tax issue. I'll give you 10 minutes to think."
Oh, it was a longform essay! Wasn't this a relief?
Without realizing it, I let out a small sigh of relief.
Only the crackling sound of the wood burning in the fireplace filled the parlour.
I had 10 minutes. As soon as I heard the question, my mind churned and I began to sort through the problem. Then I got straight to it.
After taking out the paper and brush pens that I had prepared in advance, I first listed the reasons why the Imperial people were dissatisfied with the taxation system, and then wrote down the alternative solutions. I tried to determine which angle to base my explanation on.
Then, after selecting one alternative that was most suitable for the tone I wanted to set, I began to write down the reasons for suggesting that alternative.
If I had more time, I would've liked to use the archive in the office building to enrich the information using statistical charts and research from prominent scholars, but that was currently impossible.
In order to solve the difficult task in the short span of 10 minutes, my hands moved frantically to fill the blank page, it felt like my head was spinning wildly as the deadline approached.
When I looked up and glanced at the Grand Duchess, she had her hand on her chin and was staring at me with her blue-eyed gaze. Like she was observing some strange creature.
It didn't matter what perspective the Duchess was watching from.
At first glance, my appearance probably wouldn't have been out of place for a mad composer, a delusional poet, or a beleaguered novelist.
Hmm. How could I solve the problem in a way that would make my argument even more persuasive?
I carefully looked down at the word covered page and pondered my solution. I tapped my fingers on the page.
"Now, stop. It's been exactly 10 minutes. Go ahead."
Okay. I'd do it the way I did best.
I nodded and immediately began to explain my argument.
"Are you familiar with Count Gento, whose estate is located in the Hanov River basin in the east?"
"What? I asked you why the Emperor was hated, so why are you asking that all of a sudden?"
“This is my way of answering. I want you to listen to the end."
"Huh. Yes, that's right. I met him at the Palace a few years ago. I had a pretty good impression of him."
“Indeed. There was a farming family living by Count Gento's estate. The household was made up of a family of four, and they wanted to give up their status as free men and entrust themselves to the Gento estate for protection. Count Gento gave them a small plot of fertile farmland on one side of the estate and even built them a castle called Armstrong."
“If he even gave them a castle, it sounds like they were accepted as vassals.”
"Yes. He welcomed them as life-long vassals. When the Armstrong farm entered the Gento estate, the Count demanded a head tax (inhabitant tax) and a land tax. The father of the Armstrong family, who didn't have the money to pay right away, promised to pay the taxes the next year, when he had income. Count Gento was very understanding. Instead, he demanded interest on the grounds of equity with other farmers.”
"That's right. It shouldn't be unfair."
Seeing the Grand Duchess nodding in agreement, I deliberately began to accelerate my story.
“Three months later, the walls of Gento Castle collapsed and the head of the Armstrong family was obligated to one month of compulsory service to pay for it. Six months later, a group of bandits appeared in a mountainous area near Gento, and the head of the Armstrong family was mobilized for Military service. After a year, when income was generated from the cultivated land, the Count of Gento received the income tax, as well as the uncollected head and land taxes. For reference, the interest rate was 30%. Then one day, Count Gento distributed soap to the people of the estate and collected a hygiene tax. Another day he implemented a new tax for the purpose of constructing a new aqueduct, but the new waterway was constantly delayed after only the foundation had been completed. Two years later, the eldest daughter of the Armstrong family married. And then he also collected the marriage tax."
The Grand Duchess frowned.
"Did she marry a young man from another region?" She asked with a disapproving expression.
"No. She married a local resident. As you know, the marriage tax was initially intended to make up for the loss caused by the departure of young people when they marry other young people and have to leave an estate. That's why it's said young people tend to delay their marriage as much as possible.”
“He looked like a good person. Yet, he was a man full of greed.”
"Then that same year, the father of the family went missing while serving in the Military, and his wife, who had remained at the famine-stricken farmhouse starved to death. The Lord of Gento then confiscated the arable land using the death tax. In principle, if there is a child able to inherit the property, he should not have been able to collect the death tax, so the Count charged the remaining son, Niels Armstrong, with theft, and evicted him from the estate.”
The air settled heavily in the parlour. I slowly moistened my throat. The Grand Duchess's hand, which clutched the arm of her chair, had turned white and completely bloodless.
"It was said that Niels, who'd had everything taken away from him, resented and hated the Empero even more than he hated Count Gento himself, because it was the Emperor who had granted the Count the estate and entrusted him with its protection in the first place."
"What happened to the child, Niels?"
“Niels was left wandering, he abandoned his surname, Armstrong, and has been employed by the Elias Family. He now attends the academy and works hard at his job. In a few days, he will be 17 years old.”
"Ah. That's a relief."
The Grand Duchess closed her eyes tightly as if she was taking a moment to compose herself.
"Yes. I've heard the reason. So what's the alternative?" She asked calmly
“There are many alternatives, but there is one that must be prioritized before that. That is, the Empire should stop collecting income-undifferentiated taxes immediately. Prior to that, a thorough income survey would be fundamental. So, you would have to bear the administrative costs associated with that. Also, forms of taxation should not be created or removed based on the location of your permanent residence. In other words, standardization of tax items is absolutely necessary. The issue of taxes is so serious that I honestly don't know where to start. Nevertheless, there is a precedent, so first of all, an income survey must be carried out immediately, and it must be supported by the active consent of the parliament.”
The Grand Duchess stood up from her seat and slowly walked around the parlour.
She listened to me while nodding her head, and when the whole explanation was over, she stared intently at my face.
"When did you start thinking of this?"
The question was a bit disconcerting.
This was not my idea. It was merely a suggestion based on trying to apply the tax system I'd learned about in modern times to the Empire.
I hadn’t studied tax law in particular, but this suggestion was possible thanks to the fact that I researched it once while working on a job-related TV program.
After contemplating what to say, I decided to use Niels as an excuse.
"I've been thinking about it ever since I heard Niels's story."
"Hmm. Is that so? You didn't study it specifically?"
"I searched for a lot of related books."
"Hmm. Indeed. Usually, when asked this question, six out of ten people propose increasing taxes on the nobility. Why didn't you do that?"
"I agree with that idea. But not now. Now it would just be counterproductive."
"I think the taxation of the nobility should be handled later. If you raise taxes on the nobles right now, they'll just squeeze more out of the serfs on their estates. If the Emperor legislates the aforementioned alternatives and establishes a tax system, it will not be as much of a problem to increase taxes on the nobility afterwards."
I narrowed my eyes and stared intently at the Grand Duchess.
At this, the Grand Duchess glanced at me once, contemplated something, looked at me again, pursed her lips thoughtfully and then sat down again.
"It's burdensome, so relax your glare."
"Yes! Grand Duchess."
"The young lady's way of speaking is not befitting."
"You're satisfied, aren't you?"
"This depends on my satisfaction... But what about you?"
As if a question had suddenly come to mind, the Grand Duchess tilted her head and asked.
“What would you do if I told you I didn’t like any of your answers? Am I not in a situation where I can lie and refuse your answer, even if I do like it?"
"Oh, I'm sure you can. But in my opinion, the Duchess is not such a bully... No, I didn't think you would do anything against the rules."
"How do you know this about me?"
“Because you were the best friend of my late grandmother,” I answered without hesitation and grinned.
“... That feels good, but you have a tendency to only think of the world as too beautiful. I'm not satisfied with your answer!"
I jumped up in surprise.
"I meant that I am unhappy that your answer was good. Did your wish not come to pass?"
I couldn't hide the laughter that leaked out.
“You surprised me, Grand Duchess. Hehe."
"Don't make such a fuss."
"Well, what is your wish then?"
"Yes. My wish is that you will sign an agreement stating you will not bring up an arranged marriage with Theodore in the future."
"It's just like Naviene's granddaughter to achieve what she sets her mind on. Fine, I'll sign it," the Duchess agreed readily.
She signed the certificate I had prepared with elegant flourish.
"Well, as for my father...”
"Why? Are you afraid to deal with your father after all this? Don't worry about it. If I win the next round, Lloyd will be satisfied with my wish."
Oh. That kind of confidence only came with having a 99.999999% chance of winning.
That was somewhat ominous.
Editor's Note -
Poor Niels! I also wonder if his surname 'Armstrong' is a reference to the American astronaut Neil Armstrong? (Credit to Sam for pointing that out!)
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