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Chapter 2 The Crisis Of A Country In Decline

“Haa…”

Finally, Teruya regained his senses and exhaled loudly. That allowed him to notice the heavy atmosphere within the room, a very anxious Julia, and a very furious Maia who glared daggers at him.

“Sir Teruya, is everything fine?” asked the queen.

“Ah, yes… All is fine. —”

He was quite aware of what he had just done. In contrast, he was perfectly oblivious to the souring mood around him until he had noticed Maia’s clenched fist.

“— I’m sorry, though. I got carried away.”

Despite the apology, his eyes still sparkled with excitement.

“D-do not mind, nothing did happen after all. Actually, Sir Teruya seems to like railways, no?”

“I love them!”

The declaration was strong, and justifiably so. Railways were Teruya’s particular hobby. He was a so-called ‘train-otaku’ that had always liked trains, even as far back as in kindergarten.

Whenever he would travel somewhere, he would go by train.

All his spare money would be spent to either get on a train, or to buy something about the topic.

His bedroom was positively buried under a pile of railway memorabilia.

His usually docile character took a back seat whenever the topic related to a train came up and he would go on, and on, and on, making his conversation ‘partners’ worry he would forget to take a moment to breathe.

He rode the train back home after school.

And on holidays.

And when he didn’t, he would read a book on trains instead.

The only time he went out to meet people would be when the members of the Train Enthusiast Club gathered.

In fact, he was summoned while on his way back from a railway museum.

Incidentally, all this was why he was categorised as a ‘creepy otaku’ and avoided by his peers.

“Why would you call the railway a demon?” he asked.

He was still feeling a little miffed. His beloved railway was being demonized and treated as a malevolent force. In his vexation, he failed to notice that Maia was about to draw her saber in reaction to the undertone of hostility in his demeanor.

“Your frustration is understandable,” replied Julia, waving a hand to signal Maia to stand down. “Let me explain.”

“Everything started a decade ago in one of the Empire’s research workshops. The engineers there were researching ways to expand the cargo capacity of a horse-drawn carriage and, by extension, improve the long-distance transport of goods. They stumbled on a method to allow a metal wheel run along a metal rail.”

“I see,” said Teruya, nodding. His eyes were aglow.

“The Empire was already familiar with the concept of a plank way1, but the idea of running a carriage on a steel rail was new to everyone. The workshop succeeded in constructing a prototype. It proved capable of transporting twice as much as it’s road-bound counterpart.”

“No doubt,” agreed Teruya and nodded proudly.

The advantage of a railway lay in its efficiency. The same horse, harnessed to the same carriage, could pull more than twice as much weight when moving along the rail due to vastly reduced friction on the wheels.

“Since then, the railway developed quickly and spread across the Empire. Then it was extended to this Kingdom’s capital.”

“Uh-huh.”

“All that brought us, however, was misfortune.”

“WHYY?!”

Teruya, now absolutely fuming with anger, couldn’t stop himself from shouting, startling Maia into attempting to draw her saber again. Julia stopped the woman once more.

“May I know, why?” asked Teruya again in a newfound state of calm brought about by the light reflecting from the blade of a half-drawn weapon.

“The railway made it very easy to transport goods throughout the Empire.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?”

“It is not, and it is unprecedented in the history.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Teruya.

“Are you aware of our history?”

“To an extent? I heard that an Imperial expedition of old made a way through the Alps, conquered the lands on the other side and was permitted to establish a kingdom there.”

“Correct. This places the Kingdom in a very special situation.”

“How so?”

“Due to the existence of the mountains themselves. The Alps are high, steep, and difficult to climb. Often, especially in winter, passage is impossible. That forced the Kingdom to find a way to prosper without outside help.”

“I see… Because the road links to the Empire are tenuous, you had to cover your needs on your own?”

“Just so.”

“But you still trade with the Empire, right?”

“Of course. However, in the past, the majority of that trade was in luxury goods such as ornaments and sculptures. Even when the roads are open, other kinds of merchandise are not really viable due to exorbitant transport cost.”

“Makes sense, getting cheap stuff across the mountains would yield a measly profit at best.”

“The railway changed all that. It brought the Empire’s cheap products to our Kingdom, products we were manufacturing here already. Food preservatives – oil, salt, and vinegar – in particular, were imported in huge quantities. Our local production could no longer find a buyer.”

“Now I get it.”

With this, Teruya finally understood the situation. The local products, like oil and so on, had been replaced by cheaper imports from the Empire, depriving the local craftsmen of their livelihood.

“Moreover, since then the markets in the capital city had been flooded by cheap preserved food – bacon, sausages, salted vegetables. At first, I was glad to see a lot of cheaper food come in, but then the downsides became apparent. People were no longer buying the produce of the local farmers that come to the capital to sell their crops. As a result, the rural areas are becoming impoverished.”

“That should affect the Kingdom’s income too, right?”

“It does…”

Julia answered the last question with sadness in her voice. To put it simply, the money that was supposed to flow into her coffers was being siphoned away by the Empire.

Economy, at its essence, was an exchange of money and goods between people. The old adage said that a populous, lively place would prosper on its own, maybe even become rich. The Kingdom, because of its isolated location on the other side of the Alps, until recently had an isolated economy, contained entirely within its borders.

The railway changed all that.

Now the entirety of the Empire had been added into the mix of choices available to people, and those people did opt for imperial products as they were cheaper. This caused the money to flow abroad, and no longer circulate within the local economy, shrinking its size. The Kingdom was on the road to poverty.

“Some of the Kingdom’s fiefs and nobles have declared bankruptcy, their assets falling under direct imperial control as a result. We have looked for ways to reverse or prevent that, to no avail though. It is a lost cause. Janet’s work on teleportation was a desperation measure, we hoped to shut down the railway by offering a superior alternative.”

“Ahh…”

The fact that a railway was an indirect cause of his current predicament left Teruya somewhat conflicted.

“Our peasants and merchants start to become concerned. If we end up being unable to find a solution, the Kingdom will collapse.”

Julia finished her explanation with eyes looking firmly down at her feet. She, therefore, couldn’t instantly notice that the fire in Teruya’s eyes ignited anew.

“Uhm…”

The young man cleared his throat loudly to catch the queen’s attention and said, “do you mind if I do something about it?”

“Sir Teruya?”

“You see, I may have no super abilities, but I know a thing or two about railways.”

“By all means,” said Julia from the bottom of her heart.

From her point of view, no ordinary person would have as much excitement in their eyes while discussing the subject of a railway. A person like this young man here was likely to possess an extraordinary amount of knowledge on the subject, a vast amount that even sages couldn’t hold a candle to. So, she was convinced. This stranger from a different world could surely save her Kingdom through his love of railways.

“In that case, please take me to the station immediately.”

“Right now?”

“Yup. As the saying goes, strike the iron while it’s hot.”

“It is afternoon already. I humbly suggest we postpone that until tomorrow. After all, certain preparations have to be made first.”

“Oh? …Is that so?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Alright, let’s do that then. —”

He really wanted to dash out right at this moment, but he reluctantly deferred to the queen. It would undoubtedly impossible to simply ‘see’ the railways without any sort of preparation.

“— I’ll go back to my room and start my own preparations. Please excuse me.”

Having said that, he turned towards the exit leaving Julia in the pavilion.

“Now then, what exactly should I prepaaaaa…”

The moment he entered the main building, he was forcefully pulled into a corner, away from prying eyes, and found himself staring into the sharp end of a saber. There to stop him from screaming, no doubt.

In shock, he obeyed the unspoken threat.

After turning his head a little, he saw his assailant was Maia, the queen’s elite guard.

“You will never again do anything that rude. Whatever the common sense in your world, in this Kingdom what you just did amounts to disrespect punishable by death.”

Teruya could do nothing but nod in agreement. He now found he was in agreement with the saying that things get really scary when a beautiful person gets angry at you. It was definitely very scary to be threatened by this particular beautiful woman.

“And that bit when you said you can do something about the railway problem? Her Highness is troubled by this. Really troubled. So you know what’s going to happen if those words prove to be bullshit, right?”

Teruya nodded vigorously. Very vigorously.

“Good. That’s all I wanted to say. Work hard tomorrow.”

Having said her piece, Maia headed back towards the pavilion, while Teruya…

Teruya’s knees went weak and he collapsed to the floor.

Footnotes

Mine passageways were usually wet and muddy, and moving barrows of ore along them was extremely difficult. Improvements were made by laying timber planks so that wheeled containers could be dragged along by manpower. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_way_(history)#Plank_ways
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