Return119 The Ransom Part I  Release that Witch首页

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Petrov Hull sat at the desk and subconsciously fiddled with an exquisite parchment—that was the program the Longsong Theatre sent on every weekend afternoon. Usually, he would have chosen a favorite play and let the housekeeper pay the deposit, before giving the invitation to Shirley.

But now he did not read a single word.

Seven days had passed since their departure. If everything went smoothly, father should have already returned yesterday with the duke. Perhaps there was a delay on the road. Or perhaps the people were tired, and rested an extra day in Border Town? He tried to comfort himself, but yet he grew more anxious.

Prince Roland Wimbledon left a deep impression on him. Petrov felt it was incredulous. How could such an outstanding prince have such a bad reputation in the king's city? People commented that he had a bad character and was dandy, incompetent and ignorant... none of these evaluations tallied with the prince he knew.

But this was exactly why he felt so uneasy.

He was afraid that the duke would lose to him.

"Master Petrov," shouted the housekeeper at the door. "There's a letter from Longsong Stronghold."

[From Longsong Stronghold?] Petrov was dazed for a second. "Bring it in quickly."

After opening the cover, the first word in the letter already left Petrov stunned.

It was a letter written by Prince Roland!

"Duke Osman Ryan attacked my territory with force and tried to start a rebellion. The duke himself was already executed on the battlefield, and Longsong Stronghold is now back under my rule."

[The duke was defeated?!] His heart sank, and then he continued reading.

"Duke Ryan's accomplices, other than a few diehard rebels, had already surrendered and pleaded guilty. The families who rebelled against royal family were supposed to be executed as well, but I have been merciful. Only the main ones involved would be sentenced to death and the rest of the captives could be redeemed with money. The place to carry out the exchange would be at the lord's castle in Longsong Stronghold. The list is as follows."

This official letter was written in an awkward manner, without using the diplomatic language, but the meaning was loud and clear—the duke had failed in his rebellion and the prisoners could be redeemed with money.

Petrov lowered his eyes to find his father's name appear in the first line.

"Hedee!" He shouted the name of the housekeeper. "Prepare the carriage. I'm going to the lord's castle in Longsong Stronghold!"



Earl Honeysuckle's territory was in the east of Longsong Stronghold. When Petrov rushed to the castle's area, it was already half an hour later. The lord's castle was filled with the "Militia" he had never seen—they had no shiny armor and no cloak or ribbon. Each held a peculiar short stick in the hand with a sharp bayonet at the top. They stood neatly in two rows, with their head held high. Petrov could feel their undeniable presence.


After reporting his identity, Petrov was given access to the garden, and then led by a guard to the castle hall.

He had come to this place many times, but today, he felt like he had stepped into a completely foreign territory. The guards on the aisle were all new faces. No one nodded or smiled at him, but just looked at him blankly. At the entrance of the hall, a knight came up toward him.

"What's your name?"

"Petrov Hull," he replied with a slight displeasure. He did not like the interrogative dialogue and therefore emphasized his name a second time. "Sir Hull."

"Oh." The other party looked disbelievingly. He looked over the list. "Earl Shalafi Hull is your..."

"Father."

"Please accept my apologies," the knight said without changing his expression, "I'm Carter Lannis, Prince Roland's Chief Knight. Please come to the side room so that we can check if you have any weapons."

After the search, his God's Stone of Retaliation was also removed by the guard.

"That's not a weapon," Petrov said.

"Of course not." The knight nodded. "After the meeting, we'll return it to you. You can rest assured."

He opened his mouth but finally decided against speaking. [Return it to me? That God's Stone of Retaliation stone is considered a top grade stone and is worth at least 50 gold royals. It'll certainly be replaced by a defective one when they return it. Forget it,] he thought, [and take it as part of the ransom.]

As he walked into the hall, he saw Prince Roland writing on his seat. He raised his head and was startled to see Petrov, but then he laughed. "We meet again, Mr. Ambassador."

It was still his familiar face and tone. Petrov started to relax a little, bowed and saluted. "Greetings to you, Your Highness."

"Have a seat." Roland lifted his hand to direct him to his seat. "I'm sure you're aware of what has happened. Your father was not hurt. He was one of the first that surrendered."

"Thanks for your kindness, Your Highness," said Petrov. "I'm not sure how much ransom is required. As long as Honeysuckle can afford it, I'll arrange them to send the money immediately."

"I don't need money." Roland shook his finger. "I want livestock and men."

It was normal to want livestock. In the last 50 years, the conflict between the lords was usually settled with the losers compensating with cattle and sheep. Petrov had read this more than once in books. Why... did Prince Roland request for men? "Your Highness, the Honeysuckle domain does have a lot of cattle, sheep, and horses, but as for men..."

"It's very simple. Masons, carpenters, farmers, serfs are all useful to me." The prince handed over a paper roll. "You can follow the values here, as long as the total numbers add up to 3,000." He smiled. "By the way, because the earl can be considered as the one with the largest title, so his value is also the highest."

Petrov spread the roll of paper on the table.

He saw that it was listed with occupational categories and livestock species, followed by a number: cattle 3, sheep 2, mason 10 and the like. He understood immediately what the prince meant.

The value of 3,000 meant that he needed to pay a thousand cattle or three hundred masons to redeem his father. Of course, his territory did not have so many cattle or masons. Arranging the items on the paper into different groups would produce a variety of options. As a noble that dealt daily in trade, Petrov was instantly aware that there was a lot of maneuvering he could do. He just needed a few days to calculate an optimal solution that had the smallest cost to meet the requirements of 3,000 points.

"Your Highness, could I..."

"One day, I can only give you one day." Roland stretched out a finger. "This refers only to the time for you to make a choice. After all, it would take three or four days to gather so many resources and people. And I won't stay here forever. I'll leave after a week at the most."

"A day is really..." Petrov was taken aback suddenly and stared with his eyes wide open at the prince. "Hang on, did you say... that you wanted to leave?" He fell into thoughts. [What does this mean? If the letter was correct, the duke died on the battlefield. Longsong Stronghold now belongs to His Highness, yet he actually wanted to leave. Is this place less significant than the small and broken Border Town? No, this isn't the main point! The point is if His Highness departed, who'll run this magnificent city?] His heart became tumultuous. [Will he allow duke's children to inherit it?] He knew very well this would be impossible. "That'll give the duke's children an opportunity to gather troops to avenge their father? Would he consider the five families aside from the Ryan family or the other noble families?"

"Yes," said Roland, "I'll take the ransom and return to Border Town."

His heart was suddenly filled with a thought, and once this idea appeared, it could no longer be suppressed.

"Your Highness," said Petrov in a low voice, after swallowing hard, "Excuse me, is there also a numerical value to 'redeem' Longsong Stronghold?"


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