144 The King’s Rewards

 In the game, King Leon was about forty years old. He had a lean face, a head of gray hair and a gentle nature. Garbed in his luxurious royal garments, he was just the perfect picture of a gentleman.

He was also a wise king no matter which point of view one could judge him from. Although he had the rotten luck of being the king of Norton when it fell to the Dark Side.

"I have never committed any sins or made any grave mistakes, yet why is my kingdom falling into the abyss while it's in my hands?" Those were his last words.

He didn't live to see the day when the Kingdom of Norton collapsed completely. On the eve of the collapse, he was killed by his most beloved niece, Princess Annie who had by then gone mad. Not only was his head cut off, even his soul was sucked into an evil demon device that was in Annie's hands, imprisoning him even in his afterlife.

Because of this, he held the first spot in Firuman's top three most tragic figures.

But right now, none of these events had happened yet. When Link saw the king, he thought he looked just like the king in the game, but with some crucial differences. Because he met the tragic king a year earlier from the main timeline in the game, he didn't have that much gray hair on his head and his wise eyes had not yet been darkened by despair and frustration.

"Your Majesty," said Link in a humble tone. He took a deep bow and performed a ceremonial gesture that a Magician would do to another Magician of a higher rank.

"Take a seat," said the king as he waved his hand. Servants in the throne room then led Link to his designated seat.

King Leon waited for Link to settle down as he looked on with a gentle smile on his face.

"Annie has been telling me about you," he said. "To be frank, I was a bit skeptical when she told me about how you saved her life and the whole city during the massacre in Gladstone. But now that I've heard of what happened here today, I finally believe everything she said about you."

The court Magicians have already divulged everything that transpired in the square of Jade Street to the king - everything from what spells were used and the details of what went on in the battle were revealed to him with nothing left out.

King Leon could make out from the reports that there was indeed a very powerful Magician at the scene-a Magician so powerful that only a few others in this kingdom could rival his strength. In fact, he might be the only one with these kinds of capabilities right now because the other Magicians were academic scholars. They were obsessed with abstract pursuits like discovering the true nature of reality and the world and thought fighting in battles should be left to the crude Warriors.

That was the reason why the Battle Mages in the army were usually those of average skills and limited knowledge and who knew that they had no future in academia. In addition, they were born into families having low status. These Magicians were looked down upon by the scholarly Magicians and because of that, these Battle Mages would usually hold themselves in low regard as well.

He would be surprised to find another Magician like Link in the kingdom, someone who possessed high talent and battle skills and who had a promising future in academia if he chose to go down that path.

In this regard, the king estimated that the Dark Elf Kingdom of Pralync would also be facing the same problems, though probably not as serious as the Norton Kingdom.

Because of this, King Leon had planned to assign Link to the battlefield in the North as the commander of the Magic Legion in the army.

Meanwhile, Link was still unclear of the reason why the king had summoned him. Thus he decided to respond with utmost courtesy and humility, just to be safe.

"Your Majesty," said Link, "I only did what duty and honor compelled me to do."

"It is just as you said," nodded King Leon, "you did what duty and honor compelled you to do, and so I shall do the same. Alder!"

Then, a white-haired scholar walked in slowly, holding a thick book in his hand as he approached the king reverently. He flipped the book open and placed it on the reading table next to the throne.

The eagle-eyed Link noticed that the book was titled The Land Records of the Kingdom. His heart began to beat faster as he realized what the book title would entail, though he managed to keep a calm facade.

The reason was simple - in the Kingdom of Norton, whenever the king was presented with the book, it meant that the king was about to reward someone with a piece of land!

Link was about to receive his own piece of land!

In the game, he was already a Level-7 Magician and had climbed up through the ranks to become the commander of a legion in the army before he was rewarded with his own land. Although it was only a small piece of land with an area of about ten miles, he had received enormous profits from it, plus everyone who inhabited the land would address him as my lord and bow to him whenever they met him. He'd even had young and beautiful maids working in his residence. All in all, it was simply a blessed life to be a landowner.

The king sat on the throne as he flipped through the book quietly. He stopped after flipping more than a couple pages into the book and turned his gaze back to Link.

"There's a wasteland called Ferde Wilderness southeast of the Girvent Forest. The land there is poor and infertile, the climate is insufferable with its constant harsh winds. No one wanted to have anything to do with this piece of land, but if you like, this wasteland with a radius of more than a hundred miles will be yours."

Herrera couldn't hold in her thoughts any longer, so she stood up the minute the king finished his sentence.

"Your Majesty," she said, "please pardon my effrontery, but how could you reward such a desolate land to someone who had made a genuine contribution?"

Herrera had been so happy to see that the king was going to reward Link with land. She knew that such rewards were only given to the best of men, especially to those who had made an exceptional contribution to the military. Link had rescued the city of Gladstone - that could be considered as a great military contribution.

And since the king had decided to reward Link for his achievements, shouldn't he be given something decent instead of this ghastly place with no profitable value like the Ferde Wilderness?

The Ferde Wilderness was an infamous desolate wasteland in the Norton Kingdom. Although it was connected to the sea in the east, the sea there was full of jagged reefs which made it an unsuitable site for commercial ports or even small ordinary docks. There would be at least three large-scale hurricanes coming in from the sea every year, and the squalls there could lift a grown man off his feet and carry him off. Needless to say, the soil there was so infertile that even weeds wouldn't grow on it, let alone crops. Although its area was vast, the population there consisted of no more than 5000 people, and all of them had to eke out a living in very poor conditions.

In fact, even robbers, bandits and fugitives who had little choice for the places they could go were reluctant to go there. Only those who were extremely vicious and extremely desperate ended up in the terrible place.

King Leon shrugged and stretched out his hands in a gesture of helplessness in response to Herrera's protest.

"I'm afraid the other pieces of land are already owned by someone else," said the king. "And the rest is either too small or is under too much dispute. So what do you think, Link? If you're unwilling to accept this reward, I can give you gold coins instead. Maybe I can give you ten thousand gold coins and award you the title of Baron, how about that?"

This was his original intention, of course. Link was just too young and his position in society was still unestablished. Though he did make some great contributions to the kingdom, if he was to be rewarded with a piece of land that many coveted, it might elicit hatred and jealousy among his courtiers and bring unnecessary troubles to Link as well.

The king had only offered the land to show him that there was the possibility of being handsomely rewarded if he continued to help the kingdom.

In fact, his real idea was to offer Link a barren land that nobody wanted so he would reject it, and then he would reward him with gold coins instead. This was the plan that the king had in mind, and it was one that he had employed many times before.

Link was amused at how this reward from the king had turned into something that sounded more like a bargain in the market. He had to hold in his laugh, though.

As for the Ferde Wilderness, he knew from the game that it was indeed barren and lifeless. It was, after all, called one of the three worst places in Firuman. Players who were rewarded with this piece of land after their service in the army were all so frustrated that many of them even deleted their accounts because of it.

That was until one player accidentally discovered that the black clay in this territory developed an exceptional anti-magic property when baked into bricks. This player then sold the bricks and made a vast fortune from it. He even made it into the list of top thirty richest players in the gaming system, with the nickname of 'the King of Bricks'.

Furthermore, the area of the land awarded to that player didn't exceed 10 square miles anyway. But now the king was offering a piece of land that was hundreds of miles wide to him - it was simply a deal he couldn't refuse!

Once he'd made enough money from the bricks, he would then use magic spells to change the squally climate of the Ferde Wilderness to make it more temperate. Who knew, maybe in ten years he could turn the Ferde Wilderness into the Ferde Farm!

However, even though Link was eager to accept the reward, he concealed the excitement and carefully chose the right words to ask the king another question.

"Your Majesty," he said, "may I ask what status I will have as the owner of this land?"

King Leon was stunned upon hearing this question. He didn't think that Link would accept this worthless piece of land. He gave it some considerations and finally came to a decision. Since he wanted this desert-like wasteland so much, then he would grant the young Magician's wish and give it to him.

"You're a cunning young man," said the king, laughing. "You wouldn't own the land as a commoner, of course. How would you like it if I make you a Baron?"

"I would be honored, Your Majesty," said Link. "May I ask if the land and title would be hereditary?"

What a greedy young man, thought King Leon, his eyes widened. While it was true that Link had indeed made a great contribution, but it was far from enough to be worth such a big reward. He'd only offered the title and the land to show his generosity and to encourage the young man to keep up his good work. He never thought that Link would turn out to be so greedy. Who would've thought that land and title would not be good enough for him, and that he would be so bold as to demand them to be hereditary?

Still, things had come to the point where King Leon had no choice but to concede to the demand. No one wanted the wasteland that was the Ferde Wilderness, anyway. Plus, there was no way to create any income or value out of the land. So even if there was honor in the title of Baron, the rewards were little more than a sham once everything was considered.

"Yes, of course," said the king. "Your land and title will be hereditary, so you can pass it on to your future son and he will pass it on to your grandson and so on. Are you satisfied now?"

Link was about to answer the king when Herrera tugged on his sleeve to stop him.

"Link," she whispered, "don't you think it's better to choose the gold coins over the title? That piece of land would only be a burden to you. No amount of magic could transform it into anything close to profitable!"

She was only trying to help Link make the best decision for his own good. No matter how she considered it, it seemed to her that Link was choosing the less favorable option here.

Still, Link's reply to her well-meant advice was a gentle shake of his head.

"Gold coins don't last very long," he whispered. "I'd much prefer a land of my own."

"Your Majesty," said Link enthusiastically as he stood up, "thank you very much for your rewards. I am very pleased and honored to be the recipient of your generosity."

"I'm glad you like it," said King Leon, laughing. At that moment Link was only a naive young nobleman who hadn't seen much of the world in the king's eyes. He might be exceptionally gifted in the area of magic, but he seemed to have very limited knowledge of practical matters-one could even say that he came off as slightly ignorant in worldly affairs.

Of course, owning land was a good thing, but it also depended on the kind of land you owned and its location too. With a place like the Ferde Wilderness in your possession, you might as well have owned nothing.

But this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, either. King Leon liked to have such a talented and capable Magician who was so easy to control under his wing. One never knew how they might come in handy one day.

"It's all settled, then," said the king. "You should return to the academy for now. I will send the letter of declaration and title deed to you soon. As for the awarding ceremony, I'll let you know when I've found a good auspicious day for it."

Since Link was only awarded the title of Baron, there wouldn't be much involved and only the two people present here right now were enough to make the awarding ceremony valid.

"Your Majesty," said Link as he raised to his feet, "I am forever indebted to your generosity."

"It is only my way of encouraging you, young man," replied the King as he nodded gently. "I hope that one day you will be the pride of the kingdom."

These were general words of encouragement that King Leon had said to every young man he'd seen some potential in. In fact, he'd said it so many times before that they were almost a mechanical reflex instead of heartfelt. Nevertheless, whenever he looked back on this precise moment in the future when the Norton Kingdom's safety was in jeopardy, his heart was filled with gratitude.

He thanked his past self for making such a wise investment.