translated by myonnie
Bertine looked back at Cecilio and asked, “How much should I pay?”
Cecilio thought of the shortfall in the reparation fee and felt sorry for her.
“The king of Saint-Leuhan asked for a reduction of a thousand large gold coins in exchange for you. Of course I refused, but they didn’t reply. Then you came. Honestly, I was surprised that the king of a country sacrificed a woman to bargain for the reparation fee.”
Cecilio continued his words with a sympathetic expression.
“But hey, both I and the Allies were ridiculed a lot. Anyway, this store wouldn’t be able to earn a thousand large gold coins even with a hundred years, no?”
There were many commoners who had never seen large gold coins in their lifetime. Since that amount would be enough to feed a family of four for a year.
“A thousand large gold coins...”
“Until now, the Empire has taken advantage of the ignorance of people in this country. They’ve been skimming money from the price that should go to the citizens. Unfair deals, fraudulent contracts. They rented the land at unfairly low prices and wouldn’t return it to the landowners. And Saint-Leuhan Kindom was doing business with that empire, even handing them over military funds.
Cecilio continued telling Bertine, who couldn't say anything back.
“I want to rebuild this country with the reparation fee. I want to build schools and hospitals. To do that, I have to claim the shortage of fees. But it’s hard to do that if you’re in this country. Do you understand?”
Bertine's expression didn’t have the same vigor as before.
She also knew that Cecilio had a good point.
“Your Excellency, I’m sorry that our country’s demands were very selfish.”
“You're a victim. You don't have to apologize. I am responsible for the actions of the servants who treated you so rudely and humiliated you. I apologize. And you are right.”
The servants only knew that Saint-Leuhan bargained and Cecilio refused. They were angry that Bertine suddenly came despite that, but Cecilio bowed his head low without using that as an excuse.
“Your Excellency, that's enough. Please raise your head. I understand your thoughts very well. It’s hard for me to go back to my country, but I feel bad that my presence here is hindering your politics.”
Cecilio didn't press Bertine anymore and said,
“I'm not asking for your response right now. Let me hear your answer soon.”
And he went home.
Bertine had decided that she would build her own power in this country. But if her existence was going to be a drag on the country’s growth, she had no choice but to give up.
Evans, who seemed to have been listening to the conversation, stood with a troubled face, water dripping from his hair.
“Miss Bell, I caused you a misunderstanding.”
“It's fine. I’m the one who allowed you to live here, Evans. You shouldn’t worry about it. I was hoping I could make use of your architectural talents. Yet after listening to His Excellency’s story, it seems like I must give up staying here.”
“I want to help you, Miss Bell. I want to return the favor. Damn, I don’t know what to do...”
“Thank you. It’s unfortunate that I can’t support you any longer. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
The next day.
“Miss Bell, what’s wrong? You’re not as energetic as usual.”
Adan, a peddler in his fifties, peered into her face anxiously during the imperial language tutoring session.
“Actually, I have to close this place and leave this country soon.”
“Eh? But you just started the store. Why?”
“There are various reasons, and if I want to stay here, I have to pay a thousand large gold coins to this country. Earning that much money is impossible no matter how I think about it.”
“A thousand coins...”
The other students were also left speechless at the amount.
“But I will continue the imperial language tutoring sessions until the last minute I have left.”
The class continued in melancholy for a while, but Adan interrupted the class and asked a question.
“Miss Bell, you rewrote the contracts that the farmer in this country signed with the people of the empire into the official language last week, right?”
“You mean the wheat farmer's contract?”
“Yes, yes. Did the empire’s middleman buy the wheat at the correct market price? I’ve heard rumors that the wheat in our country was being purchased cheaply.”
“You’re right. The price was too low compared to the empire’s selling price. That’s why I advised them to have the contract rewritten.”
Adan clapped his hands in excitement.
“Then, isn’t Miss Bell generating money for this country? Thanks to Miss Bell, the wheat farmer isn’t getting ripped off. If you can prove that, I think the country will consider it too. My point is, earning actual large coins isn’t the only way.”
Hannah, who had been listening to the conversation, added.
“Once I can speak the imperial language, I can find a job in the empire. If I can’t speak their language, the only work I can do is clean up garbage and sweep the road. Once I get a well-paying job after memorizing the language, it’ll be thanks to Miss Bell.”
“Hannah, you wanted to work in the empire?”
“Yes. After the war ended, they began recruiting people from this country again.”
Adan explained his idea.
“If Miss Bell intervened between the empire and the farmers with landlords in this country, checked the contracts, and asked them to see how much they profited, they should allow you to stay, right?”
“Also, Miss Bell!”
Henna, an innkeeper who was listening to Adan and Hannah, had a confused face.
“Why does Miss Bell have to pay that money in the first place?”
Bertine hesitated for a moment, but she decided to be honest with these people who were worried about her.
“I've always kept it a secret from everyone, but I'm a noble from Saint-Leuhan Kingdom. I was sent to this country in exchange for a reduction in the reparation fee. I couldn't talk about it because I thought no one would come to this store if anyone found out.”
After all the students heard it, they started giggling.
“Oh no, Miss Bell. Did you really think we wouldn’t find out?”
“There was a rumor right after Miss Bell moved in. A noble from the empire moved into this country. I didn’t expect it to be Saint-Leuhan, though.”
“Right after? A rumor?”
“Everyone said that it’s weird how this person came right away after their country lost the war. That should mean they were kicked out from the empire!”
The students told her, taking turns one after another.
“But honestly, it doesn't matter to us. Miss Bell, you took care of David and the others and gave away free soups, right? And you eat the same food in the same place as everyone else. We all think that as long as you’re not a bad person, it’s fine.”
“Right, and see. You give eighty percent of the profits to the person who made the accessories, right? Those who lost their husbands in the war are delighted.”
Both Adan and Henna’s faces grew soft as they continued talking.
“Above all, Miss Bell doesn't look down on us, the people of the south. You’ve never made fun of us even once. Why would we hate you?”
“True. You came from Saint-Leuhan, the place where rich people gather, but I’ve never heard of you complaining about living here.”
Bertine was at a loss for words, grateful for their magnanimity. She never thought they were so kind to her even after discovering her true identity.
“So it’s like that. Everyone knows...?”
Bertine laughed, covering up the fact that she was about to cry from joy.
“Miss Bell, we’ll help you look for anyone who has deals to settle with the empire. How about you help take a look at contracts from now on? That will help the people in this country, and allow Miss Bell to stay here, won’t it? A lot of people can’t read or write even our own official language, let alone the imperial language. Everyone would be happy if Miss Bell could help us.”
Bertine, who was thinking about giving up living in this country, felt a little energized.
Agriculture flourished in this country, and industry flourished in the empire. They need to partner with each other, but the people of the empire had unilaterally siphoned off profits from the south.
Even if the Allies won the war and the land returned to its original landowner, it was all for nothing if the subsequent contract was unfair.
“That's right. Maybe the important people in this country have too many things to do right now, and they can't keep an eye on individual contracts. I'll discuss it again with them.”
“Good luck, Miss Bell.”
The next thing she needed to do before His Excellency Cecilio came here was to gather evidence. She had to convince him that she was a valuable person for this country.
Dorothee approached her quietly after the students had returned.
“Dorothee, I love the people from this country. I want to live here... but I don't want to be a liability to the hard-working His Excellency Cecilio.”
Having said that, she didn't want to waste the goodwill she received from her students until the end. Let’s jump into this muddy struggle, she thought.
“I’ll try as much as I can. I'll give up and go home after I’ve done that.”
Bertine flashed a smile, so as not to make Dorothee worry.
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