As we look back upon history, we will often find that under the surging current of history, even the wisest leaders find it hard to keep their heads over water.
——《Imperial Chronicles, chapter 35, note 7 —— Pertaining to reflections on the Roland Era 12》
On this summertime afternoon, the scorching sun hanging in the sky still mercilessly radiated heat. For the sake of a welcoming ceremony for a triumphant return, countless scarlet armored guards already encircled pier one in the harbor so tightly that not even a drop of water could trickle through.
And for a hundred paces around the pier were hard pressed imperial capital public security soldiers exerting all their strength. A large number of them had ripped clothes, shiny epaulets torn off, impressive hats pulled away, even their boots had been stepped on countless times.
What made the one thousand public security soldiers who had been ordered to the harbor to ensure order feel helpless, was that the enemy they confronted was more than fifty thousand enthusiastic imperial capital residents.
The crowd of citizens brimming with enthusiasm was armed with flowers, cheers, applause —— and of course, a very large number of young women ready to offer their own kisses or even chastity. In this kind of uproar, the one thousand public security soldiers felt as if they were in a broken boat at sea, about to capsize at any moment.
Right now they were extremely envious of the guardsmen on the dock, who could leisurely arrange themselves into formation, showing of their recently acquired brightly polished weapons and armor, and didn’t have to worry about having their cheeks grabbed by zealous citizens at any time.
For the sake of this triumphant return celebration, his majesty the great emperor Augustine VI had ordered for the Azure Grand Canal that lead to the imperial capital river district to be widened to twice its former size! For this reason the Empire had invested ten thousand river workers for half a year, paying close to three million gold pieces.
And the reason for this investment was to let the imperial 6th Expeditionary Fleet flagship HMS Red Eastern pass unhindered directly to the imperial capital east gate harbor, receiving the acclaim of the people and demonstrating the might of the imperial military.
Nobody cared about whether this flaunting was worth such a cost.
Because the first imperial finance minister who had raised objections had been immediately ‘retired’ to the countryside by the angry emperor. And the succeeding finance minister’s only option had been to rack his brains and search from east to west to squeeze out the last bit of coin from the imperial finances and satisfy that “extravagant old man”.
Of course, the finance minister could only bury that appellation “extravagant old man” deep within his heart, very deep, veeery deep……
As the afternoon sun warmed the wide surface of the canal, when the first trace of a sail appeared in the distance, the crowd was unable to restrain their cheers.
Along the river an enormous two hundred paces long warship slowly approached the harbor, its awe-inspiring outline shocking everyone in the waiting crowd.
The imperial 6th expeditionary fleet flagship ‘HMS Red Eastern’, the pride of the imperial navy, the most enormous warship in history. For the sake of this welcoming ceremony the warship had already been repainted and overhauled, the hull lacquered an intimidating black. Amidst wave after wave of cheering, HMS Red Eastern slowly approached the harbor like a massive black beast, the bramble blossom flag fluttering on its masts.
As the ship dropped anchor, the tens of thousands of people waiting were already boiling, countless hats were thrown into the air, countless shoes were stepped on and lost, countless legs were bruised in the jostling. And those pitiful public security soldiers resisting with the best of their abilities could only watch their cordon shrink, and shrink again……
The imperial expeditionary fleet commander, earl Lehman, stood at the prow of the ship, expressionlessly watching the cheering crowd.
This thirty nine years old imperial first class general, imperial earl, wore his grandest attire, a set of full body light armor, a scarlet cape fluttering behind him in the wind, two medals on his chest —— awarded for the previous two times he had participated in the expeditionary fleets. And no doubt this triumphant return would award him a third imperial medal.
The earl’s gaze was somewhat slack, not at all focused on the cheering crowd in the port, and if observed closely one would discover that his brows were slightly wrinkled, seemingly a bit impatient.
Damn it, this armor is too heavy, and too ridiculous!
As a navy soldier, the earl didn’t believe that wearing such heavy armor was suitable for naval combat. It was all a show on behest of the military. As for wearing these medals, the earl secretly thought the whole idea even more ridiculous. Just like the newly rich flaunting their wealth —— true nobility wouldn’t deign to do something like that. He felt such an act was beneath his dignity.
Moreover, the cheering crowd below was really too noisy, their acclaim was like a tsunami hitting the wave breakers, wave after wave eroding the earl’s already worn patience.
Subconsciously he looked down at the deck.
For the sake of just this welcoming ceremony the HMS Red Eastern had already been repainted three days ago, the old bloodstains on the deck removed. The deck plants worn in the expeditionary battles had already been relaid, and even the bow ram had been replaced…… Damn it, those bootlicking courtly bastards had actually replaced the ram with a figurehead in his majesty’s likeness, and reportedly this statue had been carved by an imperial master sculptor and delivered personally a few days before.
For this the imperial navy had paid an extra ten thousand gold coins.
Martial grandeur was martial grandeur. But didn’t those idiots know that in naval combat, after warships collided, the first thing destroyed was the bow ram?
It seemed to him that this ten thousand gold coin expenditure was a waste. Instead of the work of a master sculptor, a sharpened stake would have a more practical effect.
In fact, deep down, earl Lehman secretly thought that even arranging this so-called 6th expeditionary fleet was a preposterous beyond belief strategic error.
For several decades the Empire had been repeatedly conducting “expeditions” into the south sea region.
He couldn’t deny that there were countless islands in the south seas, casually sprinkled like pearls in the ocean, with strange forests, with barbarous stone age level aboriginal tribes, with gold, gems, spices, bounty of the sea.
But the earl couldn’t consider ‘going off with a dozen massive warships to bully aboriginal tribal kayaks’ was anything that could be called an ‘expedition’.
It was plundering, it was massacre, it was robbery, it was invasion, it was bare-faced looting!
The earl didn’t believe there was anything wrong with this. The weak would always be eaten by the strong, so the weak had to maintain a servile attitude to the strong. But he believed the mistake in the imperial policy for the south seas was this: these operations called ‘expeditions’ were conducted far too frequently, and the results obtained became smaller and smaller.
In the first two or three expeditions, the mighty imperial navy had been invincible, when ship after ship had returned with gold, gems, spices and marine goods, it had caused a sensation across the Empire.
But after all, even an abundant granary couldn’t stand repeated harvest. Excessive plundering had annihilated the aboriginal tribes near the coast, and the following expeditionary forces had no choice but to head further and further out, their routes extending, an immense trial for fleet supplies.
After all, the south seas didn’t just consist of easily bullied tribals, not just gold and gems, but also stifling hot climate, rapidly changing weather, terrifying giant waves, as well as countless reefs, maelstroms, storms……
The interim harvests had turned what was originally the Empire’s granary into a desolate and overgrown field. Each time the harvest of later expeditions grew less. But ironically, each time the triumphant return ceremonies grew more magnificent……
Earl Lehman had had commanded the three expeditions in the last several years, gaining this earl a resounding reputation in the south seas. This imperial navy general had a series of nicknames in the south seas:
Robber! Butcher! Executioner! …… His hands were covered in aboriginal blood, in the hearts of the aboriginal clans he was an egregious invader, a demon who burned their homes, enslaved their people.
Of course the earl wouldn’t care about this, but one thing that made him a little uneasy was that the excessive invasions had already provoked some abnormal developments among these aboriginals, especially in a military aspect. Even to the extent that before he returned this time, he had heard of some aboriginal island nations already forming a so-called coalition in the most distant regions of the south seas, in order to withstand the Empire’s endless plundering.
Fortunately, this particular vexation wasn’t anything he had to worry about anymore. He knew full well that this was his last expedition. From now on he would stay at the imperial capital, and if everything went well, take up an illustrious position at the imperial high command, spending eight or ten years until the current military affairs chancellor retired, then using his clan’s influence to succeed him. If he had a bit of luck, perhaps he could even take up a political career in his later years, trying for prime minister.
As for expeditions, fuck it. That was the headache of the next expeditionary fleet commander.
Even if those aboriginals developed to where they could build magic cannons, it still wasn’t his problem.
In a wave of fervent cheering, descended from the deck under the attentive gazes of the entire crowd, and finally he again stood on the soil of the imperial capital! He waved at the crowd…… but this motion was more like waving off a fly.
First of all an official attired as a courtly attendant read out loud the emperor’s commendations from the deck, and instructed him to enter the imperial palace early the next morning to receive his awards.
His wishes were fulfilled, his political prospects were bright.
But the next grey clothed servant pushing through the crowd, whispering another piece of news by his ear, dropped earl Lehman’s heart to the ground.
It was news from home.
The expedition had been away for years, on the boundless sea where news travelled with difficulty. Lehman still didn’t know what the circumstances were at home.
Most important was his wife and child. Three years ago when he left on the campaign, his wife was already close to giving birth, and he still didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl!
The news from home was: A boy.
But, the newborn boy was, apparently, a retard.
This one piece of bad news instantly knocked him down from the peak of happiness.
One piece of bad news!
Practically every bigwig in the imperial capital had come to welcome him, and they all saw his expression descend to critical mass of depression.