Limasosya's roads were worse. They were muddy and covered in puddles, making it really hard for coaches to traverse. Oask cursed as he turned the coach around to avoid the puddles, potholes, and giant rocks.
A rainstorm raged from midnight to dawn and soaked the roads. It didn't help that Limasosya's terrain was hilly either. The coach had to dredge along one step at a time.
"They're a little too shabby. Why can't they just maintain them?" Claude asked, seated beside Oask.
Sitting in the cabin on such a bumpy road was pure torture. Nobody could endure that constant bumping.
"It's not that it can't be fixed. Nobody can be bothered. It won't take long for it to look like this again. Limasosya is a mining prefecture and the roads linking it to the rest of the world are mostly like this, mainly from the heavy mine carts that constantly run on them. The toll they collect from the mining companies can only barely cover the maintenance of the roads in and just around the settlements. Far off roads like this is out of the question."
This world's roads were mostly made of a kind of crude mortar called stone lime. The road was loosely paved with cobblestone and the gaps filled with stone lime, a mixture of stone powder, pebbles, and clay. It was just fine for most roads, but inadequate for the heavy loads it bore here.
His instincts told him they should have used concrete; they did have it, after all. But a moment's thought reminded him that they didn't produce nearly enough for use on something like this, not to mention how expensive it was. He brought up the thought to Oask, but the man said they had tried it and it only improved road conditions for a little longer, but even it didn't last.
There had once been a busy commercial street in the capital. The road fell into disrepair. To attract more customers, the owner repaved the road with concrete, but it was all ground to dust and mud again in just a couple months.
"We have to take a rest soon. Just look at the horses' hooves. They're completely sunk in. They need a cleaning, too. The road's too wet as well," Oask said, frowning.
"Alright. We have time. A day or two won't make a difference," Claude consoled.
"Let's stay in Whitewood tonight. I planned to reach Bentario by tonight so we could arrive in Gourneygada tomorrow. I had hoped to drop you off at Fokby Hill in two days, but looks like we'll be a day late."
They turned several more corners, then stopped in a nearby thicket. Claude joined in the horse cleaning.
"Uncle Oask, are you familiar with Limasyosa?" Claude asked, trying to start up the conversation again.
"I am. When I was still in the army, I was stationed here for five years. After that when the second war between our kingdom and Nasri broke out, a unit of Nasri troops fought their way to Bentario. I was tasked to defend the city and before I fired a shot from the wall, I was blown away by a grenade and bled lots. When I woke up, I found myself at the field hospital. By the time I recovered half a year later, the war was already over and my unit had to be reorganised following the retreat of Nasri's troops before I got to earn any merit for myself."
Oask had only participated in three battles in his life, and in that particular one he got hurt and spent his time recovering only to find that the war was over. He did say that he got out lucky, though, given how the casualties amounted to two-thirds of the troops. But thanks to his injuries happening in the beginning of the conflict, there was still ample support to send him to the field hospitals to be treated. It was said that the later stages of the siege resulted in heavy casualties and many injured soldiers were just left to die because of the sheer difficulty of moving them away from the battlefield.
"After I retired, I worked as a guard for a trading convoy and would come here a few times a year. Most of the time, the convoy would come here to purchase ores and other products, but they began to decrease in number over time. Apart from you and the family I transported to the prefectural capital here, Kritataro, I haven't come here in the past three years. The man of that family seemed to have been employed as a high executive of a large mining company and I heard he earns a crown each month. How envious."
"Uncle Oask, you mentioned that this prefecture is heavily dependent on mining, right? What are the resources mined here? The geography books I read said that there are more than ten mineable resources being produced here. Is there really that many?"
"Ho, you bet. Gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, tin, and coal are the common ones. There are also limestone, granite and saltpetre. Your geography books are right, but there's far more than that. The metals alone easily number more than ten. I heard some convoy owners say that the whiteroot powder, greenflower stone and fluorescent stone essence produced here are always short of demand. The prices of those goods are always rising year by year."
Greenflower stone was a building material similar to marble. It had a smooth and glossy texture and was considered the best building material there was. The other name for fluorescent stone essence is earth crystal. It was an earth-attribute magical crystal.
Oask pointed ahead and said, "We'll arrive at Whitewood in another stretch of ten or so kilometres. That place is most famous for producing whiteroot powder. It's said that back then, the workers who dug up those fossilised plants thought it was junk rather than the metal ore they were searching for.
"The mining settlement here was later named Whitewood because of the fossilised plants they found. It was only after a herbalist heard about the matter and rushed down to see, that they realised they were the materials used to produce whiteroot powder. Trash became treasure instantly and Whitewood became a proper town, and was later elevated to full city."
Does that mean that the most crucial ingredient of alchemy experiments are produced here? Claude's interest was piqued. "Uncle Oask, Do you know how much the whiteroot powder produced here cost?"
He shook his head. "I'm not too sure either since I'm not too interested in it. It isn't anything cheap, mind you. But if you really want to buy whiteroot powder there, you must be careful because there are lots of scammers here who employ children to sell other powders as whiteroot powder. Some of the kids will claim that they stole some from the mines and wanted to sell some to make up for their family's needs. Many people who don't understand how things work and want to get a cheap deal will fall for it easily. The convoy I travelled with bought from a proper mining company there. Even though it's more expensive, at least the quality is assured."
After another two hours of rest, the muddy path dried till it cracked. Claude and Oask had some dry rations before continuing on their journey. By four in the afternoon, they arrived at Whitewood.
Claude was checked and questioned once more before he entered the city gates. The guards inspected the conscription order from Bluefeather and the stamp on the passport before putting down their own keeper stamp on it and allowed the coach entry. Oask only had to show his dignitarian identification and wait on the coach while Claude was checked.
Claude found the security of Whitewood to be really tight. Each gate of the city was defended by a tent of keepers. Other than that, they were even more alert within the city than outside it. Only four soldiers were in charge of the checking during the entry, but eight were stationed to guard the gates from the inside. A tent of troops also patrolled the walls nonstop, and they had their attention focused inside the city. Most notably, the slow matches of their guns were lit, and they were ready to fire at any moment's notice.
Oask wasn't surprised by that in the slightest. He saw his fair share of such situations when he was in service. Perhaps there was a situation in the city, such as an escaped convict on the loose, so they increased their security to make sure nobody could escape.
"Most of the time, it's not a big deal. A few escaped convicts trying to break through the walls are just trying to get themselves killed. Back when I was in service, we arrested the fellows running a private gambling ring and the boss of the gang got more than 40 men charging towards the gate defended by only a tent of troops. Even though one volley of fire killed only four to five of the, the others immediately begged to be spared and flattened themselves on the ground."
Claude learned quite a bit throughout the journey, such as the checks and stamps on his passport, the constables being put in charge of security of the city, and the defence of the gates handled by the keepers. As for the local garrison force, they could run checks but not grant a stamp of passage on passports.
Oask brought Claude to a tavern called The Pullcart. It was the favourite place for coachmen of the heavy mining carts to gather. Claude saw that more than 20 mining carts were parked at the backyard. There were three stables built of logs that kept many work horses within. Some six coachmen were busy feeding their horses.
Since there was still an hour or so till dinner, Claude decided to go take a walk. He didn't want to drink and boast for a whole hour like Oask was inclined to do.
He turned left after leaving the tavern and walked along Mario Street. Oask told him that most of the shops of those mining companies were opened there. It was close to The Pullcart, only some ten minutes away.
But he was stopped the moment he stepped on the streets. A scrawny, rat-faced man asked, "Friend, do you want whiteroot powder?"
Claude shook his head with a smile.
"It's really cheap, friend, a box only costs one crown. I got it from the mines myself and can guarantee the quality. Those shops sell one box for three crowns, you know. The profits are all taken by the selfish company owners. We mine for them to make a living, but the arrangement is too unfair, so we stole some from the mines to make up for it. We're not that greedy, you know. All we want is to be able to earn a little more to eat well..."
The scrawny person continued to mutter and Claude stopped in frustration. "Do you think I can afford anything that costs a crown a box? What's whiteroot powder, anyway?"
"I knew that you wouldn't be able to afford it... What a waste of my time and saliva following you all this while," the guy cursed, "Hey, fool, give me a thale for a cup of ale, will you? Think of it as an apology for wasting my time."
Claude swallowed his rage.
"And why do I have to apologise?"
"Hah, foolish kid... You're a stubborn one, aren't you? Want me to get someone to beat you till you're kneeling and begging for mercy? You waste so much of my saliva and time, so of course you have to pay me back for it! Give me your money..."
Claude's eyes flashed as killing intent oozed out of him. "Buzz off!"
The scrawny man started backwards, but he still talked back stubbornly. "Just... just you wait!"
Claude ignored him and turned to leave. What a second-rate annoyance. After failing to trick me, he's gonna resort to extortion? Looks like Uncle Oask was right about there being many scammers here.
The man watched as Claude left for the distance. He grit his teeth and followed behind, but staying a good distance apart, intent on seeing where he was going.