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120 The Ransom Part II

Roland stared at Petrov with a look of interest and laughed. "You're the first person to ask me that," he said. He took the cup and had a sip, and then said in a casual tone, "Longsong Stronghold is undoubtedly mine, even if I'm not here. What I really need is a person or a family to run Longsong Stronghold on my behalf. Therefore, what you should ask me isn't the ransom, but the "agency fees".

Agency... Petrov was no stranger to this word. Many of the nobles had no time or interest in trade, while they had large output in their domain. Some sharp-sighted businessmen would help them to sell goods. In order to obtain this right from the noble, the businessmen had to pay a sum of money in advance as a deposit.

"How many pieces of gold royals would you require?" he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down.

"This is a long process, so you don't have to pay it all at once." Roland paused, and then said, "30 percent of the monthly tax of Longsong Stronghold, as well as supplies which value 1,000 points. The rest belongs to you."

"It was not that outrageous," Petrov thought. As long as he could control Longsong Stronghold completely, this price was even reasonable. He confirmed that His Highness was not kidding. The prince really intended to keep his word.

"This was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Petrov thought to himself. He and the prince were not enemies. The duke has completely failed, and his children would be deprived of their inheritance. If the Coalition forces could not defeat the prince, then who could stop him from controlling the Western Region? Aligning themselves with more powerful forces was the basic principle for the continuation of the noble. If he could earn His Highness' trust before the other four families, then Honeysuckle would own the biggest domain in the Western Region.

"Your Highness, why don't you wish to stay here? This castle is larger than the one at Border Town."

"What you meant to ask was why I wouldn't run Longsong Stronghold myself?" Roland looked at the slightly embarrassed Petrov and laughed. "There are many reasons. The power struggle here is too complicated, and straightening out the relationships takes too much time, much less getting some profit from it. Supporting a local noble family who can govern better than me, is a win-win deal. There are many other reasons that you can think about slowly." The prince started playing with the silver cup. "By the way, if you were chosen as the agent, would you try to revenge the duke?"

"Of course not, Your Highness!" Although the question was a little unexpected, Petrov still replied immediately.

[The duke was already gone. The five families now need to think about how to carve up his territory. Who would still care about revenge?] thought Petrov.

However, Petrov also knew that these were not the real reasons why His Highness did not want to stay in Longsong Stronghold. [The power struggle is too complex and difficult to straighten out? With his oppressing power, he absolutely can exterminate the opposing forces in the span of one to two years. All the nobles would forget the loser Ryan, just like what Ryan did in the past. Yet two years isn't enough to construct Border Town into such a big city like Longsong Stronghold.]

[His Highness Roland might have a more complex plan.]

"In that case, this city..."

"I'd gladly be your agent, Your Highness!" Petrov blurted out. Yet he soon seemed hesitant. "But, the king, no, I mean your elder brother, might not agree with this result. If he arranges a new duke for the Western Region, I would be unable to oppose the king's city."

"You don't need to oppose them." Roland threw two letters before him. "Look at this, and the document I found in Duke Ryan's office."

Petrov quickly scanned the contents of the letter, and could not help but gasp.

The first seal looked like a secret letter. The new king Timothy and Queen of Clearwater had a battle in Eagle City and suffered a major failure? The content of the second letter was even more horrifying. The document was only half written but stated Duke Ryan wanted to annex the north. His intention to be an independent king was revealed clearly on paper. The letter was not complete, hence it was impossible to know who the intended recipient was.

He understood His Highness's intentions—no resistance was needed because the new king was already at hard times himself. Otherwise, the duke would certainly not want to be independent. His elite knights were enough to wipe out the Western Region, but still a far cry from the knightage of the king's city.

[A secret letter may be forged, but this document is indeed in Osmond Ryan's handwriting. Unless the prince finds a witch that can imitate another man's writing...] he thought, and then denied the speculation.

[The prince doesn't need to go to so much trouble to deceive me. Acting as the agent for Longsong Stronghold isn't a unilateral transaction. If I can't establish a firm foothold in Longsong Stronghold, His Highness won't also stand to gain. Moreover, the duke designated by Timothy is bound to be the enemy of Prince Roland.]

If the Honeysuckle Family wanted to override the other four big families, then I would have to rely on the support of the prince. On the contrary, in order to ensure my interests to be better protected, the prince should also help the Hull family to hold the position more firmly.

As soon as he thought of this, Petrov stood up slowly and bowed to Roland. "The Hull family is at your service."

"Well." The latter nodded. "At the moment it's still undecided if you should be the agent. Let me first ask you a few questions."

"Please go ahead, Your Highness."

"How are you going to deal with those forces against you?"

"What's your estimate of the monthly taxes? How are you going to guarantee to provide supplies which value 1,000 points?"

"What measures do you have if I ask you to develop the business on a large scale?"

"... "

Petrov thought that His Highness just wanted to take this opportunity to get some information about the noble in the Western Region. He did not expect the latter to ask such strange questions as if he were being assessed for his administrative or general business knowledge.

A series of questions followed and Petrov racked his brains to answer them one by one. His Highness looked more and more impressed with each answer. In the end, he clapped his hands and said, "Yes, we'll stop here today. When you've put together the ransom valuing 3,000 points, you can return to redeem the earl. Rest assured. He'll be well taken care of these days."

"Your Highness, about the agent rights..."

"It'll be announced on that day." Roland implied that it was time for the knight to escort the guest out.

Petrov left the hall with mixed emotions. He then saw Carter returning to him the God's Stone of Retaliation—it was still blue and translucent, and worth 50 gold royals.


"So what did you think?" Roland looked at Nightingale who had emerged from the side.

"Well, he said more or less the truth," she shrugged her shoulders and said, "He was much more sincere than the ones interviewed before him. By the way, do you really think that it's a good idea for you to repeat the same things to everyone? What about those letters? Aren't the contents supposed to be of the utmost secrecy?"

"Not everyone," the prince looked over the list and said, "They're from the five big families. These great nobles are the only ones suitable for managing Longsong Stronghold. For those that aren't strong enough, even if they were to get this position, they wouldn't be able to run Longsong Stronghold properly. Instead, this would only cause the various forces to start an endless internal strife among themselves. As for Timothy Wimbledon being defeated at Eagle City, that isn't really a big secret. It would soon spread throughout the whole Kingdom of Graycastle. I was just trying to speed up the process."

[These two messages come at just the right time,] he thought, [If the Second Prince did not suffer such a defeat, it would probably be much harder to recruit an agent—if the use of coercion was needed, the results would not be so perfect.]

"So... Have you already decided to choose him?"

"If all goes as planned," said Roland with a smile, "Anyway, he was the first person to take the initiative to ask about this matter. A subjective initiative has always been the most important quality of a staff. I did not expect to discover among the five families such a talent who's proficient in administration and trade. I thought they were only good for getting on their horses and fighting and killing."

He found Petrov Hull's name on the list and used the quill pen to outline a circle.