C33 – Loaner
After entering the castle, Rocher sent Shire to a maid.
“Excuse me, he is here to see the earl.” Rocher saluted the maid.
“It is my honor.” The maid bowed.
Shire turned his gaze towards the young maid. She appeared quite youthful, dressed in a black gown and donning a white apron around her waist. Her brown hair was neatly tied up behind her head. Despite her role as a servant, her demeanor bore a striking resemblance to the nobility she served, and her actions displayed a high degree of formality.
After Rocher had departed, the maid made a sweeping motion with her hand, as if she intended to dispel Shire’s intense scrutiny.
“Come with me.” She ordered.
Shire proceeded to follow her through the castle’s corridor. The flooring consisted of rugged stones, while the walls had been meticulously smoothed, adorned with half a dozen copper candleholders. Regrettably, the candles within them were only halfway burnt. Along the corridor, numerous display tables stood forlorn, their intended marble busts completely forgotten. The picture frames on the walls remained devoid of any artwork. The entire castle presented a desolate appearance, starkly contrasting with Shire’s initial expectations.
“Has the castle always appeared like this?” Shire inquired as he surveyed his surroundings. A diamond-shaped window at the top allowed milky white light to filter in, revealing the constant ebb and flow of dust particles.
“What has it been like all this time?” The maid didn’t understand.
“I thought this place would be even more… luxurious”
“You don’t understand, the Lord Count is remarkably frugal. Imagine yourself with a yearly allowance of 750 gold coins. What choices would you make?”
750 gold coins! A single gold coin could secure a small piglet. Did this mean there were more than seven hundred of these adorable creatures? Their numbers would double annually, ensuring a perpetually abundant supply of pork. Fried pork, pickled pork, stewed pork, pork with bread, and succulent roasted suckling pig…
“Buy pigs.” Shire blurted out.
The maid laughed mockingly.
“My God, which country did you come from?”
“What’s the problem?”
“If it was Lord Reney, he would have saved all the money in the vault,” said Wang Yao.
“It doesn’t seem to be better than what I said.”
“What are you talking about! This money serves as a crucial reserve. We can exchange those ornamental trinkets for gold, allowing Lord Reney to allocate more funds for lending purposes.”
“Loan? Lend money to others?”
The maid enthusiastically proposed, “Certainly, extend loans to others at an interest rate of 5% per month, and then accumulate the interest. Lord Reney always profits from this strategy.”
At a 5% monthly interest rate, if you were to lend someone a hundred gold coins, they could earn 5 gold coins in interest every month. In just two years, they could recover the entire amount. Shire carefully calculated and realized that it was indeed a highly lucrative endeavor.
Shire pondered aloud, “Imagine if someone like Count De Alberta continually lent money to make a profit, amassing all that gold in the vault. Just how wealthy must they be?”
Curiosity got the better of Shire, “Considering the vast wealth of Lord Count, why hasn’t the castle been renovated?”
Inquisitively, Shire asked, “Didn’t we discuss this earlier? We should be saving this money and using it for future loans.”
Shire questioned further, “So, we’re simply stockpiling gold in the vault? What’s the purpose? It’s not like Lord Reney doesn’t have uses for it.”
The maid responded, a hint of annoyance in her tone, “What do you mean he has no use for it? How can you say that? Think about it. With this much wealth, the Count’s descendants won’t ever have to worry about finances. They can pursue their dreams freely—investing in real estate, raising armies, constructing estates, and preparing for marriages. Money will no longer be a concern for them. The Count is a truly benevolent man. He even takes care of us, providing us with fine clothing and jewelry.”
Deep in thought, Shire acknowledged, “I see your point.”
The maid, realizing her earlier sternness, apologized to Shire, “I apologize if my words came across as harsh. I am honored to serve Lord Reney and his family. That’s why I can’t stand to hear others question them.”
She then guided Shire to the bathroom, a spacious room albeit dimly lit. In the center stood a stone blast furnace, with a vigorous flame beneath it and a broad pot on top, simmering with scalding water. A large wooden tub sat beneath the furnace, large enough to accommodate several people.
The maid ascended a ladder beside the furnace, skillfully turning a long pole to tilt the pot and release the boiling water into the tub below. Shire widened his eyes, realizing that taking a bath in such water would probably singe off a layer of hair. Noble bathing practices seemed quite torturous.
Fortunately, the experience improved as the maid descended the ladder, fetched a smaller wooden bucket from the corner, and poured it into the tub, adjusting the water temperature to make it bearable for Shire.
She gestured towards the cabinets and walls, indicating the bath towel, bathing cap, gray alkali soap, flower petals, and herbs for Shire.
“Do you see these?”
“Ah, so thorough.”
“It’s thorough, but you won’t be able to use it. If I return and discover these items missing or used, you’ll find yourself in a difficult situation,” the maid warned.
Shire simply shrugged, recognizing that his request was limited given his current residence in another castle.
“I’ll deliver your new clothes shortly. They’re of average size, so they should fit you perfectly,” the maid assured Shire.
After the maid departed, he removed his coat and trousers, unfastened the bandages encircling his body, and gently probed the wound on his back, discovering a substantial scab.
Shire leisurely eased himself into the bathtub filled with steaming water, reveling in the delightful sensation it provided. The comfort was so exquisite that it sent shivers down his spine. Every pore on his body seemed to open, granting him a profound sense of cleanliness. The stains, dust, and traces of blood on his skin all dissolved in the hot water, transforming its clarity into an unusual hue.
Having lived for seventeen years, Shire had never before experienced the luxury of bathing in a proper bathtub. He cherished this opportunity, meticulously scrubbing every inch of his body to ensure it was immaculate. In the past, whether he bathed in the river or doused himself with a bucket of water, he always felt it was insufficient for true cleanliness. Now, however, he finally had the chance to thoroughly cleanse himself.
“If I were to earn 750 gold coins annually, I might not even need to invest in a few hundred pigs,” Shire contemplated. “I could acquire a grand mansion with a spacious bathtub, allowing me to indulge in hot baths whenever I pleased. Morning, post-lunch, midday, and after an afternoon nap, right through to the night—each moment would be an opportunity for relaxation. I could sleep when tired, waking up naturally the following day. What better life could one aspire to?”
“Bah, what happened to your dreams?” Gradiu impatiently prodded him. “Get up and extricate yourself from this enervating water.”
“It’s so warm; I’d like to linger a little longer,” Shire replied, sinking further into the tub. “Don’t rush me.”
“The water will soon grow cold, bone-chilling even. When you eventually emerge, your whole body will shiver, and you’ll feel miserable. This is the nature of it! The hot bath is a double-edged sword. The greater your delight in its warmth, the more torment you’ll endure when it cools,” Gradiu cruelly shattered Shire’s idyllic reverie.
“Yes, yes, thank you for dispelling my enjoyment,” Shire conceded, sensing that the water was no longer as piping hot.
The prospect of the water turning icy sent shivers down Shire’s spine, eroding his initial enthusiasm for the bath. He didn’t stay immersed in the hot water for long. While it was still pleasantly warm, he hastily clambered out of the tub and redressed.
“So long as your posterior can still move, go find a few demons to dispatch on my behalf,” Gradiu urged, “Don’t fixate on indulgence, mortal. Powerhouses seldom savor such luxuries. Powerhouses are always on the move.”
“If you don’t derive enjoyment from it, why strive to become stronger? Have you been toiling all this time?”
“Certainly, presently I’m exerting myself to ensure you work hard, affording me the chance to taste a fresh soul.”
“Besides seeking souls, what other pleasures do demons pursue?”
“I’ve returned to my peak, a colossal mountain of strength. Yet, wielding that power to carve the world asunder doesn’t provide the same comfort as your soak in the wooden bucket filled with hot water,” Gradiu nonchalantly remarked.
“Do you really enjoy it?” Shire asked.
“Alright, let’s venture outside and engage in conversations with the nobles. Please refrain from bothering me.”
“You see, you’ve finally grasped how I feel. I, too, get quite exasperated when you persistently pester me.”
“You’re mistaken as well. My invincibility lies in my ability to remain concealed,” Gradiu maintained his silence within Shire’s psyche.
Shire surmised that it wouldn’t matter what he said; Gradiu seemed unreachable. This situation struck Shire as unjust. He was compelled to endure the devil’s absurdities, whereas the devil could simply conceal himself whenever Shire babbled nonsense.
He pushed the door open and stepped outside, where he encountered the maid, adorned in her new attire, patiently waiting.
“Come here,” she beckoned with a friendly smile. “You make me feel considerably better. Please don these clothes, although you are, without a doubt, strong, mature, and formidable…” She appraised Shire’s physique.
Shire donned the new clothing she handed him: a wool sweater, fur pants, a leather vest, a sleek black leather jacket, and a pair of boots in a soft straw hue.
“Do you reside in this city?” The maid collected Shire’s old garments. “I can have these cleaned and sent to you.”
“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I will be living at the Hunter’s Church,” Shire clarified, “which serves as the headquarters for the Devil Hunters.”
“Oh, that is a cursed place.” The maid was a little surprised.
“As long as I’m here, a curse is nothing” Shire said confidently.
“I need to observe.” The maid pursed her lips. “Let’s go.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“I’m going to see Lord Reney. Where else can I go?”
Ascending the spiral staircase to the upper levels of the colossal castle, Shire marveled at its sheer size. Its thick, imposing walls harbored strategically placed shooting holes, offering a vantage point for crossbowmen to aim at the courtyard outside, where noble children played under the watchful eyes of their nannies and knights.
As the maid pushed open the mahogany door, Shire’s eyes fell upon a bustling gathering of people.
The living room was relatively modest in size, with a middle-aged noble occupying the head seat. His broad build and receding hairline, accentuated by streaks of grayish-brown hair framing his temples, were overshadowed by his prominent nose, small eyes, deep eye sockets, and thick beard, collectively giving off an unsettling aura. Shire surmised that this was none other than Lord De Alberta, the Count of Gray Tree Hall.
Seated next to the noble was a tall, broad-framed young man with maroon hair, exuding a confident and proud demeanor.
Rocher, standing on the red wool carpet, held his helmet and spoke in measured tones. Armored guards brandishing axes and swords lined both sides of the living room, their gaze fixed on the knife Shire carried, sending a chill down his spine.
The intense scrutiny from the guards left Shire feeling unnerved.
“Move forward; you are stronger than them. Overpower this corpulent lad. The nobles will meet their end, plunging this place into chaos, creating an opportunity for us to revel. Fear not; I’ve regained a substantial portion of my strength. Even if we find ourselves encircled, I can aid in our escape,” Gradiu urged with a shrill voice.
Shire muttered inwardly, “Stay composed; I still require the reward promised to me.”
“As I mentioned previously, this is Sir Shire, the Devil Hunter,” Rocher indicated, signaling for them to be introduced.
Shire offered a slight bow to the nobility, displaying his respect.
“Shire,” Count Reney rasped, raising a glass of grape wine to his lips to ease his parched throat. He wore an exquisite brocade robe, adorned with a fur drapery over his shoulders. “I heard about Frederick’s demise.”
“Indeed, Master Frederick perished during the mission.”
“And you have inherited his key and stewardship of the local Hunter Palace?” Reney inquired.
“I am now the sole Devil Hunter within the Holy Church, so I believe I have indeed assumed those responsibilities,” Shire replied, shrugging.
“Then you must also inherit your debt… Shire, by month’s end, your Hunter Guild owes me 205 gold coins, in addition to 12 silver coins and 23 copper coins,” Count Reney casually tapped the table with his finger, adding, “With a 5% monthly interest rate, do ensure not to overlook your repayment.”