"If your enemy has a conscience, kill him with it."

Jinolio put a large stack of documents on the table.

"Take a look, Your Grace. They document the money spent to maintain Morante for the last three years. The Union lost 3 million gold Fordes in the first year, 5 million in the second, and just over a million last year. The trend suggests they'll have evened things out by the end of this year.

"This suggests Morante's been made completely self-sufficient. It no longer needs trade to supply its own demand, or at least will have needed none very soon. The guilds have also become the direct employers of nine-plus-tenths of the people. They work for the union for money, then pay that money right back to the guilds to buy the things they need. The Union might as well have done away with money in the city altogether if this kept up for a couple more years.

"We discovered a few letters between a guild vice-president and a few of his associates in the inner city. They were arguing over whether it was worth feeding the people not involved in production in some way or another. It's actually pretty interesting. His associates were arguing that they should move half the city's population to the dominions.

"The vice-president argued against it. He believed the people in the city were far more educated than the obedient plebs in their dominions and that the Union could exploit this. He talked about having moved his operations to his dominion, but that it was not up to standard, so he had to move it back to the city.

"We've picked up from a number of letters and documents that the guilds are still debating how the city's management was to be handled in the years to come. The city is no longer as impressive as used to be. It is also no longer the biggest trade port on the continent.

"One document is a proposal to disband the city almost entirely and scatter its inhabitants across the entire country. The abandoned districts would then be turned into resorts, retreats, villas, and palaces for the nobles away from the plebs.

"The big-seven vetoed it. Twinhead Dragon's President Cobleit rejected it outright. In his statement he made it abundantly clear that the problem was temporary and that it would go away once the war ended. They were not to disband the city under any circumstances. He even went as far as saying that, rather than disbanding the city, they should expand the city. He wanted it to be the biggest and most glorious city on the continent when they were done, a worthy of being the Union's capital."

Lorist tapped the table lightly as he listened. He had to admit that Cobleit was brilliant. His foresight was far greater than the rest of the gold-grubbing merchants. The Union's current state was those fools' fault. If they hadn't implemented the aristocracy, Morante would've remained the number one trade city on the continent. They weren't happy being rich commoners, however. They just had to be nobles too. They were tired lowering their heads in front of nobles far poorer than they just because the latter had a title and the former didn't.

In their own greed, they forgot everyone else was greedy too. Everyone jumped to become nobles and abandoned the city, leaving it to fall into ruin. Factories and productories were moved out of the city in a couple of months and tens of thousands lost their jobs. Without salaries they couldn't pay taxes. Without taxes there wasn't money to maintain and run the city.

The people were turned into vagabonds. When the guilds finally took note and started doing something, they did it in such a way that the people were turned into slaves in all but name. The guilds and merchants shouted freedom from the rooftops, but clamored slavery in their homes. How pitiful…

At least the highest officials, those on the council, still had some sanity left. They knew this system would collapse once the war ended and saw the city's potential to grow back afterwards.

"That all? Well done, Jinolio. Quite comprehensive," praised Lorist.

Jinolio smiled in a troubled manner.

"It's not all good news, though..."

"Oh? Out with it. It can't be worse than our current situation, can it?"

"Our occupation has crushed what shadow of an economy was still alive in the city. The people are completely dependent on us for food, and without anything to do, they're lazing around all day. If this continues, they'll start making trouble if for no other reason then to beat back the boredom..."


How? I am this city's conqueror! I should be bleeding it dry of all its riches, not sinking all my money into feeding its sheep!

Jinolio shrugged.

"It's true, Your Grace. If we try to pack up and leave without leaving food for the people, they'll probably rise up and kill us before we get out. We could kill them all before we leave, but that'd ruin your reputation.

"I'm only speaking hypothetically. I know Your Grace would never kill so many people just because they're inconvenient. Callisto Hills isn't sending food anymore and nobody can work because the guilds are gone and with them the resources needed to keep business going."

It's like I dug a pitfall for the Union only to bury myself in it! Ah...

Lorist stood up frustratedly and knocked Jinolio's head.

"Aren't you a daring one? You dare speak to your teacher like this?"

He paced back and forth in the room, wracking his exhausted brain for a solution. His eyes flashed brightly several minutes later.

Is the Union not coming for the city so they don't have to worry about the city's people? Do they want to dump them all on me? No, that can't be. The food we got from the convoy was meant for the city...

Of course! We took the convoy! Without the convoy they can't feed the city! The bastards are leaving the city for me so they'll be spared the headache of having to figure out how to feed the city!

Callisto Hills had its harvest just before the convoy left. It'll be three months before they have another harvest and can send more food.

They were planning to tide themselves over until Callisto had its next harvest. But we've taken their convoy and their food. They'd only be making more trouble for themselves by retaking the city under these circumstances. So that's why they gave up on the city and pulled back to Mauvlin...

They really are shameless, honorless bastards. Morante is their capital but they'll give up on it because it's not convenient to have it right now. A noble would've rushed back without any hesitation.[1]

It can't be that simple. They know the food issue alone isn't enough to put us in a bad position. The real problem is the people that have nothing to do. They are going to start making trouble out of boredom.

"Jinolio, what were the people doing before we took the city? How are the rations distributed?"

"Sir Tarkel sent people to investigate. His report should be here..."

"Tarkel, speak."

"Yes, Your Grace. There were less than 800 thousand people in the city before the war. The slums had at best 100 thousand. The population skyrocketed when the war started as refugees fled from the plains. Some joined rich cousins or children. The richer ones bought houses and started small businesses.

"The Union conscripted 140 thousand from the city. Their families got more rations, which meant everyone else got less. They've lost 20 to 30 thousand in the two years since. Families included that's 400 thousand.

"Most were involved in production industries. The biggest was textiles, second is military equipment, mainly thanks to the war. Fishing is third. Fourth are jobs related to the guilds, but with them gone there's no bringing those back. Without the products to work, most of the production industry is gone. People have already started making trouble as a result."

Lorist smiled bitterly. He now suddenly had to both feed and work these people.



[1]Lorist calls it 'shameless and honorless', I call it smart and pragmatic. If your enemy wants to relieve you of such a burden, then why not let him? Never look a gift horse in the mouth.