25 Returning Home

Throughout the entire venture, Berengar's absence throughout the camp went entirely unnoticed. By the time Sieghard and the servants awoke, they saw Berengar cleaning his rifle next to the fire. Sieghard could not help but exclaim in his heart.

'This boy is too dutiful; even on a hunting trip, he awakes at the crack of dawn.'

It had become a habit for Berengar to awake at dawn, in both his previous life and his current one. By now, he was used to running on a few hours of sleep a couple of times a week. In his hands was a glass of water which he had boiled over the campfire to rid it of impurities, at least to the best of his ability. He refused to drink polluted water and had spent the morning purifying a large supply of it.

Since coffee had yet to be transported to Europe, he was forced to drink water this early in the morning. He was beginning to consider expanding his territory when he came to power. It would not be easy to establish a trade route from the mountains of Austria to the near east, and if he wanted to retire in luxury one day, he would need coffee.

Berengar's plans were simple, work hard for thirty years in establishing an industrial and economic powerhouse in his family's territory, and then retire in luxury, giving the reigns to a well-educated heir to continue his legacy.

As of now, he had no desire to spend the remainder of his adult life at war. Something he had managed to do in his previous life. Of course, life did not always go as planned, and the future was unknown to him. There may be a necessity for him to expand his territory in time.

As of now, he was still just the son and heir of a lowly Baron, which meant he had no authority to make such decisions even if he desired to do so. Instead, he spent the remainder of the next few days being dragged around by his father hunting stags and collecting the meat. When he finally returned home, he was exhausted and covered in grime.

The first thing he wanted to do was take a bath and cleanse himself of the filth he was covered in. Throughout the duration of the hunting trip, he had never revealed the full capabilities of the rifle; despite successfully hunting a buck of his own, his father was not impressed with the limited range that was displayed, and the exceptional reload time of the rifle.

The man had a traditional mind and felt that Berengar's use of what he incorrectly referred to as hand cannons were merely the fascination of youth with the newest technology. If he had known that the previous night Berengar had taken out three targets in a matter of minutes at a distance of 100 yards in the dead of night with his rifle, then he would probably have a heart attack from the shock of such a thing.

Unlike an arrow, the rifle which fired a minie ball projectile was fully capable of piercing through a knight's hardened steel breastplate, let alone a common brigandine. Even the muskets fielded by Berengar's militia were capable of such a feat, albeit at a severely reduced distance.

There was a reason that during Berengar's previous life, after the invention of muskets, body armor slowly disappeared from common use. Even with the advanced manufacturing processes of the renaissance and the surpassing era, the breastplates used by heavy cavalry were only useful against melee weapons and musket fire at long distances. At close range, the steel breastplates used by cuirassiers would be punched through by a musket ball like an arrow through a common tunic.

If the medieval knights of the current era charged on horseback against a firing line of musketeers, they would be ended up as a bunch of blood-filled sieves, and such a frightening spectacle would be sure to affect the morale of the soldiers behind them.

Even Berengar's militiamen who wielded such terrifying power had no way of knowing how capable their weapons were. After all, it is not as if they tested their guns on straw dummies covered in steel plate armor. That would be ludicrously expensive. Only Berengar was aware that his militia was capable of such an incredible achievement.

After arriving in the village with his father and the servants who followed them into the mountains, Berengar noticed a familiar sight waving towards him in an alleyway. It was his loyal slave who currently had tears of joy in her eyes that he had safely returned. The entire time he was away the pitiful young lady was in constant fear that her lord and master whom she had pledged her life to had perished in the ambush set up by her dastardly fiance.

When she saw him covered in the dirt and grime of the mountains, she could not help but smile; there was not even a scratch on him. Truly she had worried too much. Without arousing suspicion, Berengar approached the alleyway where she was currently alone; as he finally fell out of sight, Linde rushed over into his embrace and nuzzled her porcelain cheek against his chest, dirtying it in the process.

Berengar accepted her embrace as he petted her sleek strawberry blonde hair in an attempt to calm her down. He had only been gone a few days and felt that she was overreacting. Nevertheless, he did not scold her, as he actually felt happy that she cared enough to worry so much about him during his absence.

After all their relationship was complicated, to say the least. She was his concubine, and brother's fiancee whom he had forced himself on, and practically brainwashed into being obedient to him. Though he did not feel remorse for such actions, ultimately in Berengar's mind such actions were justified, and the young lady deserved her fate.

After stroking her luscious red-gold hair for several moments Berengar responded kindly to the young woman

"See, I told you I would be fine"

Though she still continued to sniffle, the buxom beauty wiped the tears from her eyes and began to smile. Everything turned out fine, and she could not be happier. However, Berengar could not abide the muck that had spread across her doll-like face and heavenly body from their brief intimate moment as such he whispered into the girl's ear

"Meet me in the bath"

The girl nodded her head and smiled as he departed before her. Things would not bode well for the couple if she was caught following him into the bath, as such they had to be extra cautious about how they moved from here on out.

And with that being said Berengar took off and headed towards the bath. Linde waited a few moments and did as she was commanded; not long after the young vixen found herself enjoying the company of her master in the warm water of the bathhouse, which proved to be a worthy investment.

By the time the two were finished getting reacquainted with one another, it had already turned into evening. Dinner would soon be approaching, and he knew his father would have his chefs cook their gains during the hunt into a lavish feast. As such, the two left the confines of the bathhouse and separated; it would not look good if they arrived at the dining room together.

When Berengar finally entered the Dining room, he saw Lambert with a wicked smile on his face, he was the first to arrive, and the teenage youth was certain he would be enjoying the feast without his older brother this night.

However, when he saw the handsome features of his older brother walk into the area, the young boy instantly went pale, with the expression that he was witnessing a ghost. How could it be possible that his brother had survived the ambush he had set in place?

Nevertheless, Berengar sat down across from Lambert and snickered at the boy, savoring his distraught expression to the fullest. He was beginning to think he might have become a true sadist after his many nights with Linde, as he now enjoyed the suffering of his enemies on a deeply personal level. The expression on Berengar's face told Lambert all he needed to know about the fate of the assassins he sent.

However, Berengar would never admit to it. If he bragged about killing four assassins, nobody would believe him, and those who did would instantly question how a young man with no combat training whatsoever had managed to defeat four brigands by his lonesome. Eventually, the effectiveness of his rifle would be discovered, and his weapon designs would no belong to him alone.

Eventually, the rest of the family arrived, and Lambert had heard the tales of his father and brother's exploits from the Baron himself. Yet, there was not a single mention of the men who were supposed to ambush them.

'Is it possible that the Count's men were unreliable and deserted? Then what was with Berengar's smug grin earlier?'

Eventually, Lambert concluded that the men could have deserted and decided to write a letter to Count Lothar informing him of the operation's failure. Secretly Count Lothar would send a party to investigate the last known coordinates of his men-at-arms and come to the same judgment.

For now, Berengar could relax and enjoy the new dishes, which used the venison of their hunt as the meat of choice. Berengar savored the taste of venison; truly, it was one of the best meats a man could dine upon. After finishing his meal, he returned to his quarters. He needed to brush up on his history of this world.

After all, it had been some time since he read about the many changes in the timeline from the world he once knew, and he would need to become accustomed to his surroundings if he wished to prepare for the upcoming war.

Berengar arrived at his chambers and quickly latched the door behind him. He opened up a scroll and spread it across his desk, the oil lamp in the corner providing the proper illumination necessary to view it. Truly it was different from his own timeline.

The year was 1417, yet the Holy Roman Empire was at the height of its power; on the map in the Center of Europe lay the Holy Roman Empire, whose borders stretched beyond their peak in 1138 to encompass all of Italy aside from the papal states, as well as all of the regions that would one day consist of the Netherlands, and Belgium.

The Empire had also annexed the Teutonic State as a Vassal territory extending into the baltic. The Teutonic State was still a force to be reckoned in its own right, as it was victorious in the battle of Grunwald in this timeline; the victory sparked an extended campaign that lasted five years. During this Campaign, the Teutonic Order had conquered all of the coastal regions of the Baltic from Pomerania to the borders of Finland.

Though the Teutonic State held the authority of its own Kingdom, it was essentially a theocratic Vassal State of the Empire and a puppet of the Pope; as such, its Grandmaster was not afforded the ability to vote upon the next Emperor, unlike the Kings who presided over the other kingdoms.

The feudal system of the Holy Roman Empire in this timeline was far more streamlined. Splitting into a very linear vassal system instead of the complex and convoluted semi-autonomous regions of Berengar's previous life. The Holy Roman Empire was comprised of several kingdoms including the Kingdom of Germany, the Kingdom of Italy, the Kingdom of Bohemia, and the Swiss Confederation.

The leaders of these territories were Kings in their own right and held varying control over the vassals beneath them, which were split into Duchies. These Dukes ruled over the various Counts whose land comprised the territory of the Duchy, and the Counts presided over the Barons, who in turn presided over minor lords and their knights.

Berengar currently resided in the Barony of Kufstein, a Vassal region of the County of Tyrol, which was a Vassal of the Duchy of Austria, the southernmost Duchy of the Kingdom of Germany. The Duchy of Austria in this timeline was far larger than in Berengar's previous life at this point in history.

The size of the Archduchy of Austria included the Counties of Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Salzburg, Carinthia, Trient, Lower Steiermark Karnten, Upper Austria, and Lower Austria, and finally Steiermark which was the region ruled by his fiancee's father, Count Otto von Graz. Seeing as how Graz was the seat of power of the County and where his family derived its name from.

Aside from the changes with the Holy Roman Empire and its vassal states, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles held the same territory in this timeline as they had in Berengar's past life. Even the Reconquista was going exactly as it had in the other timeline.

The only other major change to the geography of Europe was the Balkans being held by the Byzantine Empire, which had over the centuries since the Crusades to the Holy Land recovered much of its lost territory. Extending from the Balkans, through Greece and Anatolia, all the way into the Levant.

Though it has not yet been able to reclaim its former North African regions, it was currently doing so. Despite it being the late Medieval Ages, Europe had begun to take its place in the world as a powerhouse. However, they were far from reaching their full potential.

Berengar gazed at the changes of the map with a growing sense of ambition. He was beginning to get the suspicion that being a Baron was not his destiny; in the back of his mind, the thought of reaching greater heights began to manifest. He did not know what the future held for him, but now was not the time to think about it.

He had plenty of work that needed to be done, and much of it could not be accomplished until he held absolute control of his family's lands. For now, he had to be patient and play the long game. Soon enough, the Kingdom of Germany would find itself embroiled in civil war, and he had to convince his father to declare him Regent before that happened.

The hunting trip had not been a complete and total waste of time; he was capable of stopping his brother's wicked plans and growing closer to his father. Gaining his father's trust would be paramount for his plans to acquire power.

With that being said, Berengar heard a knock on the door and decided to end his studies for the day, He initially thought the knock on his door was most likely going to be Linde, and he could spend some time relaxing with his favorite toy.

However, when he opened the door, he saw little Henrietta looking up at him with a frightened expression. The young girl held her favorite doll in her hands as she looked up at her big brother with tears in her eyes.

"Big brother, I had a nightmare. Will, you read me a story?"

It had been a while since Berengar had told his little sister a bedtime story; after all, he had been occupied with other things during the night as of late. As such, he let out a sigh and pet her silky blonde hair as he led the little girl to her room.

Where he spent the next hour telling her the story of the Battle of Castle Itter during the Second World War in his previous life, where German and American forces came together to free prisoners of war from the Waffen-SS days before the end of the conflict had occurred.

His fantastical telling of Machine guns, tanks, and cannons, as well as the brotherhood forged between former foes, enthralled the little girl who thought her brother was making up such an incredible story. In the end, Henrietta fell asleep from over-excitement, and Berengar kissed her on the forehead before leaving her room and returning to his own quarters.

When he returned Berengar had found Linde lying naked on his bed, waiting for his arrival with a pouting expression on her lips. Damn this girl; she was just too sinful. The young lord immediately closed the door to his chambers behind him and enjoyed the company of the beautiful young woman for the night.

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