A middle-aged tax officer came to look at their waterline. “It'll be two gold donnes per week for a ship like yours.”
The mariner promptly handed over two round coins the size of his thumb. The face of the coin bore a carriage, meant to represent trade. Its back was a stalk of wheat, meant to signify livelihood and food. These were gold sorres but the officer was asking for gold donnes, which was the official currency of the Marharden Kingdom. This was no problem, though. Sorres were the mainstream currency of this corner of the continent, which meant that it possessed stronger value than donnes. The choice was also deliberate since it was meant to act as a form of bribery; two gold sorres were equivalent to two and a half gold donnes so the tax officer had extras to pocket.
The officer smirked at the mariner appreciatively, finally leaving with his records to the next ship with unmistakable delight.
“I’m surprised that a commoner can hold so much power here.” Locke scratched his chin in visible bewilderment. The mariner was a high-rank Knecht and the tax officer was only a regular person; it had been weird to witness the leverage the latter had over the former.
“Knowledge can bring one to greater heights.” A voice rang without warning, scaring the daylights out of Locke. The only person capable of sneaking up on him was none other than Magister Pierson. The great Magister had ditched his usual bamboo hat for a formal caster robe. One of his eyes remained hidden under a patch while the other saw through a monocle. Pierson looked like a proper intellect, which was essentially what he was. He’d spent centuries studying and his fashion choice had suited that set-up. The Magister appeared more approachable like an old wise man, rather than the distant and merciless Magister.
Locke later learnt from Pierson that literacy and education were the east coast commoners’ best shot at a better life. Farmers were at the bottom of the hierarchy here since there wasn’t much viable land for plantations. Trades and businesses were the way to go here. With that considered, the sight of a commoner facing a stronger high-rank Knecht without an ounce of fear suddenly made more sense. He even caught the mariner watching the officer leave with obvious envy. Was intelligence that much of a defining factor here?
They had arrived at their destination so Locke quickly brought Kristin and Laffey off the vessel. The fact that the Sanctum had a Magister escort a large shipment of Botanians to the east coast meant that something was happening under the wraps. Despite his close ties with the Sanctum, he was still a knight. It was best to distance himself from their dealings.
“Here.” Pierson handed over a vermeil card to Locke. “You may go to the Briean Trading Association if you wish to return to the Three Western Isles.”
Locke pocketed it carefully. The Briean Trading Association seemed to be the Three Western Isles’ spy on the east coast.
They bid Pierson farewell, finally walking over to the main street. Morrington Harbour was only a port but the population and area were almost on par with an Aomarian province. The streets were under the heavy watch of soldiers, who were mainly regular people with only a few beginner Knechts. Their leaders, on the other hand, were low-rank Knechts. The east coast knight’s overall competence appeared to be somewhat similar or god forbid, better than the Three Western Isles.
Locke, Kristin and Laffey stood out on Morrington Harbour since their attire was largely different from the locals. Even so, the three new faces hadn’t attracted the attention of the patrol team. The harbour was filled with many foreigners so the locals were used to exotic fashion. The soldiers were mainly here to keep crimes at bay. The place was densely populated and every inch of land owned translated to wealth; there were often brutal crimes taking place. Apart from that, they were also tasked with spot-checking wanderers without identity. They had no status here but their appearances had suggested that they were far from beggars. The soldiers’ interests weren’t piqued.
“Brother Locke, where shall we go first?” Kristin was beaming with excitement. Everything was new here. There were even caster stalls around, which were a rare sight even in the Imperial City of Princeton.
“I think we should get some form of identification and local currency first,” replied Locke.
Morrington Harbour’s administrative region was located in the southeastern part of the city. The area had been the first to be developed, noted by its pristine marble paths.
“Good day, Herr. How may I help you today?” A formally-dressed attendant showed them into a discreet room in the city hall. The employees of the office were trained to have keen eyes. The man had noticed the three from the moment they stepped past the entrance. The way they carried themselves had indicated that they must certainly hail from wealth.
Locke’s quasi-Ritter status was the other thing that the officers gaped over. They were able to notice that since the city hall had equipped them with a special gear that allowed them a look at a person’s true potential. They were most likely loaded so the attendant had invited them into an isolated room out of respect. The attendant’s judgement was proven further when Locke pulled out a full box of gold bars from his spatial ring.
“What title are you looking to have? A knighted status would require five thousand gold sorres, a dukeship would be ten thousand while a baron title would require twenty thousand.” The young attendant licked his chapped lips. The gold bars in the box were worth at least thirty thousand gold sorres.
“I’d like a baron status, the remainder shall be converted to gold sorres,” Locke laid out clear instructions.
“And for the ladies?”
Women with ducal titles were common on the east coast but Locke wasn’t aware of that. “They’ll just register as regulars.” They weren’t here for fun, after all. The attainment of status was merely to avoid any unwanted trouble.
“Very well, please wait a moment.” The young attendant set to work. They were seasoned employees so the proceedings were done seamlessly. Locke had only gotten to half of his tea when the documents and baron brooch were laid down. There seemed to be two things that could decide fate here: knowledge and money.
“Pardon for the intrusion, Frau. Are you a caster?” The attendant turned to Kristin, who looked like she’d rather be somewhere else. She was dressed differently from Locke and Laffey, donning a pale red robe that looked like the regular caster’s dress. The officer could sense her extraordinary presence from experience alone.
“Ah, that’s correct.” The question caught her off guard. Kristin had made sure to keep her mana sealed so it’d been a surprise to have someone note her identity.
“Mid-rank Lehrlings are eligible for direct noble titles here. Could you kindly tell me your current status and display relevant proof?” The words rolled off the attendant’s tongue smoothly. It was apparent that he’d repeated it enough to his clientele.
Kristin didn’t have any proof of her status but there was one thing she was capable of. She manifested Firewall with control so fine that any damage to the room was avoided despite the spell’s destructive nature. The attendant fell silent at the display, quickly presenting her with an aristocratic brooch and document. Firewall was the hallmark of being a mid-rank Lehrling. The spell worked both as a defence and attack, which made it popular enough for a commoner to take note of. Kristin skipped away on the street, overtly proud that she’d gotten a noble title without much effort. She admired her badge under the sunlight.
“Alright, let’s go look for somewhere to stay,” prompted Locke. To him, the baron brooch was nothing of value. They had nothing to their names here; no estate, no power, no territory and no land. They may have spent a few ten thousand gold sorres but the nobility was merely face value. Even so, it was sufficient for now.
Red Maple Inn’s signage caught Locke’s attention, it stood out from the other establishments on the streets. Morrington Harbour was a bustling place so many taverns had functioned as an inn too. After a brief inquiry at the reception, Locke had requested a huge suite on the second floor. With everything considered, it was best that they stick together in an unfamiliar place but Locke wouldn’t deny that the choice was partly made upon ulterior motives. Laffey had no opinions on the arrangement and Kristin was more than happy to be obedient.
“The east coast sure does treat casters better.” Locke mused to no one, fingers brushing the edges of Kristin’s noble brooch. Simply put, knights weren’t the receiving end of special treatment here. A quasi-Ritter like Locke would’ve been able to attain viscount ranks in all territories of the Three Western Isles so it’d been puzzling that he had to spend a fortune to be a mere baron. Kristin, on the other hand, was handed a title just by being a mid-rank Lehrling.
Are casters really on another level here? Locke couldn’t help but arrive at a chilling thought. He had no clue if this was the norm of the east coast or the whole of Magion. Now to think about it, Magion was the origin of spellcasting so the idea wasn’t impossible. Locke was sure he’d find out sooner or later.