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Chapter 5 Royal Railway

They boarded another train and returned to St. Bernard on the following day.

“By the way, I heard that the Royal Railway runs all the way here?”

“It does, sir. We can find it right this way.”

Sebastian guided Teruya to the southern portion of the railway yard. A small train, about two sizes smaller than its Imperial counterparts, awaited them there. It had fewer passenger cars, two, and fewer customers onboard.

“Seems a bit narrow.”

“To my knowledge, the trains were built smaller to keep the production costs low.”

“Can it run on the Imperial Railway?”

“I do not believe so. It operates on a narrow gauge and cannot run on the wider Imperial track.”

“What do we do about our luggage?”

“We can have it shipped back along the Imperial Railway.”

“Sounds troublesome.”

A while later, the train had finally set off. It took forever to fill up due to the lack of potential passengers. Once it did, however, it did so at an impressive pace as there weren’t any trains ahead of them.

“We’re travelling quite fast…”

To Teruya, the speed was comparable to that of a car on a local two-way street. At the very least, it seemed faster than the fastest sprinter in the world. However, any further musings on the subject were unceremoniously cut short by a strong impact that made them suddenly lurch to the right.

“Wh-?”

The moment Teruya gathered his wits to react, Sebastian had him covered already. The entire passenger car shook violently multiple more times before finally tipping over to the side and coming to a stop.

“Are you alright, sir Teruya?”

“Yeah, somehow.”

Thanks to Sebastian’s timely intervention, Teruya suffered no injuries.

“What has just happened?”

“I think one of the rails may have broken, derailing the carriage.”

“Does such a thing happen often?”

“It does, unfortunately. The Royal Railway allows for rather impressive speed, but it often breaks due to its frailty.”

“And the Imperial Railway doesn’t?”

“Not at all, they suffer from the same issues, but achieving the same amount of speed is impossible due to congestion.”

“…Right.”

Teruya left the overturned carriage and backtracked to where the derailment had occurred. The rail had indeed broken. Judging by the jagged edges and obvious rust, the damage seemed to be a result of a gradual degradation rather than a sudden failure. The condition of crossties was even more of a surprise.

“Say… I never noticed it before, but isn’t this stone?” he asked Sebastian.

The ties, or rather, for lack of a better name, the cross-stones did indeed seem to be made of stone.

“Is that a problem, sir? It makes sense to use stone when laying down the track, no?”

“Well… Sort of?”

Stone had been used to fix the track in Teruya’s world, but only in the earliest days of rail’s development. It kind of made sense here if the engineers intended to replace a road with a railway.1

“Luckily, it seems that the locomotive was unscathed and can be placed with the passenger cars right back on the track as is.”

“Is that doable?”

“Yes. The vehicle is not heavy. We shall seek out the help of local peasants too.”

“Very idyllic.”

Some peasants gathered soon after and did help with the recovery of the derailed passenger car. In a joint effort with the passengers, they managed to lever the overturned carriage back onto the track. In the meantime, a replacement section of the rail had been brought from a nearby station to replace the damaged one.

“Finally, on the go again.”

All the work had been completed, so the train master issued the command to depart prompting all the passengers to go back in the carriages. The train started running again as if nothing had happened. Even though there was such an accident on the way, Teruya and Sebastian arrived at their destination, Coltuna, on the same day. The butler led his master off the train as soon as it stopped moving.

“We have arrived at the terminus, sir.”

There were certainly a large number of freight cars here, but they all seemed to be in a state of decline.

“There’s not many here, huh?”

“The majority is being used on the Imperial Railway.”

“How do we get to the Royal Capital?”

“We will take the water route, sir.”

“Because of our cargo?”

“Yes, sir. That is correct.”

Teruya could see a dock near the station where luggage was being busily loaded onto a riverboat.

“Are we travelling to the capital by boat?”

“Indeed. That is the plan according to our itinerary.”

“How long will it take?”

“Four days, give or take. It depends on the river currents.”

“Is that considered fast?”

“We are going against the current, so it takes twice as much to navigate than the other way. We ought to get going right away.”

The two of them managed to acquire a berth on a boat without issues. Two days of smooth sailing later, the ship arrived at the Rutherford territory.

“Sir Teruya, welcome to Rutherford domain.”

When the boat reached the shore, Sebastian stepped off first and assisted Teruya off as usual.

“It’s a pretty big territory, isn’t it?

“It is a declining territory of hilly fields and wetlands,” replied Sebastian with a note of self-mockery.

“Still your home though, right?”

“Oh, that it is. But there is no industry here and a lot of people are moving out. In the olden days, the local economy was thriving with the help of river shipping, but ever since the railway was built, all that has vanished overnight. All we have left is wheat, some meat processing, and vegetables, all of which comes from the empire in bulk depressing the prices everywhere.”

“I see.”

Teruya did see. This place had been adversely affected by the changes in logistics brought about by the opening of the proto-railway. It became easier for people to transport goods, so cheap imports from afar came into the market and displaced the local sources.

“Please follow me, sir.”

He was guided by Sebastian to a three-storey mansion.

“Is this your house?”

“Not at all. It is the residence of the lord, Earl Rutherford.”

“Oh, the home of Miss Elizabeth then?”

“Indeed. Sir Teruya is a guest of the royal family, milord would like to welcome you to his domain.”

“Eh? I don’t have that sort of position though?”

“Regardless, Her Majesty recognises you as a guest, so it is only natural for the Earl to welcome you as one. It would be a disgrace to the Earl, if sir Teruya rejected his invitation.”

“…Really?”

“That is the honest truth. A royal family’s guest declining an invitation can be seen as a display of mistrust. That would lead to discord between the royal family and earl’s family at best and a civil war at worst. Therefore I implore you to accept.”

“…I understand.”

Since an outbreak of a war would be problematic, Teruya thought that it certainly would be better to stay for the night.

“I was seriously scared there for a bit. Even though war might have been a bit of an exaggeration, the impact on the relations would not be good. And it is a duty of the lord to greet a guest from a distant land. Honestly, I look forward to it.”

“Look forward to it?”

“Nothing has really been happening, so a visitor from afar will be a good distraction.”

“Nothing has really been happening here for a while, sir. A visitor from afar will be a good distraction.”

“I see, just like a travelling bard or poet,” replied Teruya, as he was being guided by Sebastian inside the mansion.

Once inside, they found themselves in a hallway. There was a staircase in front and corridors extending to the left and right. Many portraits hung from the walls depicting the successive heads of the family.

“Welcome to the Rutherford House,” said someone in a lively voice. “I am Jack Rutherford, the present lord of the estate. I sincerely welcome you under my roof.”

“I am Tamagawa Teruya. It is my pleasure.”

“Hahahaha! Relax and feel at home here. We shall be having dinner soon. By no means could it compare to the food in the capital, but do enjoy our local dishes to your heart’s content.”

“O-of course.”

Albeit he was still reluctant, Teruya followed the Earl to the dining room and prepared himself to have dinner. According to the host, the food wasn’t as good as the capital’s, but Teruya actually enjoyed it more. Pork and cabbage stew, sweet potato and carrots, potato salad, onion steak, pheasant pie, and so on… All those dishes were delicious.

“Was the food to your liking?”

“Absolutely. Very delicious.”

Teruya spoke honestly, but omitted one small detail. He felt Earl Rutherford’s sharp glances on himself the whole time and the tension dulled the taste of the food a bit.

“Thank goodness. These ingredients are basically all we have. In excess, if I am to be honest.”

“Really?”

“Really. Nothing will sell in the royal capital these days, even if we preserve it in salt or oil.”

“Why would you preserve food in oil or salt, though?”

“If we do not, it will rot before it can even reach the royal capital. Only preserved food can be sold.”

Even freshly harvested produce had no commercial value if it went bad during transportation.

“The railway has changed everything,” muttered the Earl. “It makes the country head in the wrong direction.”

“Maybe so. But what if the railway passed through your territory?”

“What do you mean?”

The earl’s gaze became sharper.

“If that was the case,” said the man, “products from elsewhere could enter local markets.”

“But you would also find yourself able to sell things you couldn’t sell before.”

“Oh? Can you do that?”

“It’s certainly possible,” said Teruya with confidence.

“Hmm… Something to look forward to, I guess.”

From that point on, Teruya continued to talk nonstop until the time came to call it a night.

The next day, Teruya boarded the boat again and left for the royal capital. The ship sailed smoothly and reached the destination after two more days.

“We have finally arrived.”

“Yes, sir. We have.”

There were many ships docked at the bustling port, all busy loading and unloading.

“There are big ships too, I see.”

“That vessel came along the main river. From Ostia most likely.”

“Is that the upriver port town?”

“Indeed. Almost all the ships that are docked in the capital came from Ostia. From there, cargo is transferred onto another riverboat or a train.”

“Couldn’t they go directly to Coltuna?”

“…Cannot be done, sir. The ships are too large to navigate that far up the river.”

“…I see.”

So transport by ship suffered from a critical issue as well. Teruya took careful note of what he had seen thus far.

Footnotes

The first method of affixing the tracks, it allowed for horses to travel on the tracks, but nowadays, train tracks usually are kept separate and the other methods of affixing the tracks are much sturdier, more economic and reliable.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railroad_tie#Stone_block

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