Chapter 0 “The Earl’s Son”
As we look back upon history, we will often find that under the surging current of time, even the wisest leaders will find it hard to keep their heads over the water.
——《Imperial Chronicles, chapter 35, note 7 —— Pertaining to the reflections on the Roland Era 12》
On this summertime afternoon, the scorching sun hanging in the sky was still mercilessly radiating heat. For the sake of welcoming the triumphant return ceremony, countless scarlet armored guards had already encircled the first pier inside the harbor, their formation so tight that not even a trickle could get through.
And for a hundred paces around the pier were hard pressed imperial capital public security soldiers exerting all their strength. Not only did a large number of them had their clothes ripped, shiny epaulets torn off, lively looking hats pulled away, even their boots had been stepped on countless times.
What made the one thousand public security soldiers who had been ordered to the harbor to ensure order feel helpless was the fact that the enemy they were confronting were the fifty thousand enthusiastic residents’ of the imperial capital.
Brimming with enthusiasm, the crowd of citizens were armed with flowers, cheers, applause —— and of course, a very large number of the young women were ready to offer their own kisses or even chastity. In this kind of uproar, the one thousand public security soldiers felt as if they were a broken boat at sea, about to be capsized at any moment by the wave.
Right now they were extremely envious of the guardsmen standing inside the security perimeter surrounding the dock because these people could leisurely arrange themselves into formation, show off their recently acquired brightly polished weapons and armor, and at the same time didn’t have to worry about their cheeks being grabbed by the zealous citizens at any time.
For the sake of this triumphant return celebration, his majesty the great emperor Augustine VI had ordered for the Lancang Grand Canal that leads into the imperial capital river district to be widened to twice its former size! For this reason, the Empire invested ten thousand river workers for half a year and paid close to three million gold pieces.
And the reason for this investment was to let the flagship “Dandong” of the imperial 6th Expeditionary Fleet pass unhindered through the Lancang Grand Canal and directly reach the east gate harbor of the imperial capital. This way, the military can receive the acclaim of the people and demonstrate the might of the imperial fleet.
Nobody cared whether or not this flaunting was worth it or not because the first imperial finance minister who had raised objections to this proposal was immediately ‘retired’ by the infuriated emperor. As a result, the succeeding finance minister’s only option was to rack his brains out and search through east and west just to squeeze out the last bit of coin from the imperial finances all in order to satisfy that “extravagant old man”.
Of course, the finance minister could only bury that appellation “extravagant old man” deep within his heart, very, veeery deep……
As the afternoon sun warmed the wide surface of the canal, the crowd was unable to restrain their cheers when the first trace of a sail appeared in the distance
When the moment finally came where the enormous warship – stretching over two hundred paces – slowly approached the harbor, its awe-inspiring outline sent shockwaves through the waiting crowd.
The imperial 6th expeditionary fleet flagship “Dandong”, the pride of the imperial navy, the biggest and most enormous warship in history had been repainted in black and overhauled for the sake of this welcoming ceremony.
Amidst wave after wave of cheering, Dandong with its Thorn Flower flag fluttering on its mast slowly approached the harbor like a massive black beast.
As the ship dropped anchor, the tens of thousands of waiting citizens were already boiling, countless hats were thrown into the air, countless shoes were stepped on and lost, and countless legs were bruised in the jostling. As for those pitiful public security soldiers resisting with the best of their abilities could only watch their cordon shrink, and shrink again……
At the same time, the imperial expeditionary fleet commander, Earl Raymond was currently standing at the prow of the ship, expressionlessly watching the cheering crowd.
This thirty nine years old imperial first class general, a Earl of the empire, was wearing his grandest attire, a set of full bodied light armor, a scarlet cape fluttering behind him in the wind, two medals on his chest —— awarded for the previous two times he had participated in the expeditionary fleets. And no doubt this triumphant return would award him a third imperial medal.
The Earl’s gaze was somewhat slack, not at all focused on the cheering crowd in the port, and if observed closely one would discover that his brows were slightly wrinkled, seemingly a bit impatient.
Damn it, this armor is too heavy and too ridiculous!
As a navy officer, the Earl didn’t believe that wearing such heavy armor was suitable for naval combat. It was all a show on behest of the military. As for wearing these medals, the earl secretly thought the whole idea was even more ridiculous. Just like the newly rich flaunting their wealth —— true nobility wouldn’t deign to do something so shallow because he felt such an act was beneath his dignity.
Moreover, the cheering crowd below was really too noisy, their acclaim was like giant waves that are constantly eating away at the Earl’s already worn patience.
Subconsciously, he looked down at the deck.
For the sake of just this welcoming ceremony the Dandong had already been repainted three days ago, the old bloodstains removed, the deck planks worn from the expeditionary battles re-laid, and even the bow ram had been replaced…… Damn it, those bootlicking courtly bastards had actually replaced the ram with a figurehead in his majesty’s likeness, and reportedly this statue had been carved by an master sculptor and delivered personally a few days before.
For this reason the imperial navy even had to pay an extra ten thousand gold coins.
It’s most certainly grandiose alright, but don’t those idiots know that in naval combat, the first part on a warship to be destroyed was the bow ram?
It seemed to him that this ten thousand gold coin expenditure was a waste. Instead of the work of a master sculptor, a sharpened stake would have a more practical effect.
In fact, deep down, Earl Raymond secretly thought that even arranging this so-called 6th expeditionary fleet was a preposterous and beyond belief strategic error.
Starting from several decades ago, the Empire had been repeatedly conducting “expeditions” down into the southeastern region of the sea.
He couldn’t deny that there were countless islands in that region, like casually sprinkled pearls in the ocean, with strange forests, with barbarous stone age level aboriginal tribes, with gold, gems, spices, and bounties of the sea.
But the Earl couldn’t consider ‘going off with a dozen massive warships to bully the aboriginal tribal kayaks’ was anything that could be called an ‘expedition’.
It was plundering, it was massacre, it was robbery, it was invasion, it was bare-faced looting!
The earl didn’t believe there was anything wrong with this though. The weak would always be eaten by the strong, so the weak had to maintain a servile attitude to the strong. But he believed the mistake in the imperial policy for the southeasyern sea was this: these operations called ‘expeditions’ were conducted far too frequently, and the results obtained became smaller and smaller.
In the first two or three expeditions, the mighty imperial navy had been invincible, when ship after ship returned with gold, gems, spices and marine goods; it had caused a sensation across the Empire.
But good things never last because even an abundant granary wouldn’t be able to stand up to the repeated harvest. Excessive plundering had annihilated the aboriginal tribes near the coast, and the following expeditionary forces had no choice but to head further and further out, thus extending their route and making it an immense trial for the fleet supplies.
After all, the south seas didn’t just consist of easily bullied tribals with their gold and gems, there are also the stifling hot climate, rapidly changing weather, terrifying giant waves, as well as countless reefs, maelstroms, and storms……
The excessive harvests had turned what could have originally been a fertile granary for the Empire into a desolate and overgrown field. As such, the harvest later on became less and less. Ironically enough, the triumphant return ceremony grew more and more magnificent with each passing expedition……
Earl Raymond had commanded the three expeditions in the last several years, gaining this earl a resounding reputation in the south seas and earning him a series of nicknames:
Robber! Butcher! Executioner! …… With his hand covered in the aboriginal’s blood, he was an egregious invader, a demon who burned their homes and enslaved their people.
Of course the earl wouldn’t care about this, but one thing that made him a little uneasy was that the excessive invasions had already provoked some abnormal developments among these aboriginals, especially in a military aspect. Even to the extent that before he returned this time, he had heard of some aboriginal island nations forming a so-called coalition in the most distant reaches of the south seas, all in order to withstand the Empire’s endless plundering.
Fortunately, this particular vexation wasn’t anything he had to worry about anymore. He knew full well that this was his last expedition. From now on he would stay at the imperial capital, and if everything went well, take up an illustrious position at the imperial high command, spending eight or ten years until the current military affairs chancellor retired, then using his family’s influence to succeed him. If he had a bit of luck, perhaps he could even take up a political career in his later years, trying for prime minister.
As for expeditions, fuck it. That was the headache for the next expeditionary fleet commander.
Even if those aboriginals developed to where they could build magic cannons, it still wasn’t his problem.
In a wave of fervent cheering, descended from the deck under the attentive gazes of the entire crowd, and finally he again stood on the soil of the imperial capital! He waved at the crowd…… but this motion was more like waving off a fly.
First of all, an official attired as a courtly attendant read aloud the emperor’s commendations from the deck and instructed him to enter the imperial palace early the next morning to receive his awards.
His wishes were fulfilled, his political prospects were bright.
But the next grey clothed servant pushing through the crowd whispered another piece of news by his ear and dropped Earl Raymond’s heart to the ground.
It was news from home.
The expedition had been away for years, on the boundless sea where news travelled with difficulty. Raymond still didn’t know what the circumstances were at home.
Most importantly was his wife and child. Three years ago when he left on the campaign, his wife was already close to giving birth, and he still didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl!
The news from home was: A boy.
But, the newborn boy was, apparently, a retard.
This one piece of bad news instantly knocked him down from the peak of happiness.
One piece of bad news!
Practically every bigwig in the imperial capital had come to welcome him, and they all saw his expression descend to critical mass of depression.
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