Basked in the rays of the blazing summer sun, the wheat field shone in a vibrant, dark green.
It’s the first wheat that was grown on a field cultivated according to Souma’s instructions. The progress of the wheat growing up strongly was joyous for Souma.
But right now there’s no smile to be found on Souma’s face as he gazes at the wheat. A stern expression was carved into his face.
That was owed to the report given to him by Michena before visiting this field for an inspection.
“We are short on funds.”
Due to Michena saying that first after opening her mouth, Souma questioned her about the precise reason.
Despite her saying that there won’t be any issues with investing money into reclamation and technological development because the need to send taxes to the royal capital has vanished, now that those things have just started to gain momentum, she makes a full turnover, saying that there’s not enough money.
“I’m very sorry, Lord Soma. My predictions were too optimistic.”
Once Michena apologizes by bowing her head very deeply with a mortified expression, Souma, who happens to have an idea about the reasons, consoled her without pressing her any further.
“It can’t be helped. It’s mostly my fault that the tax revenue decreased.”
Besides the crop tax, which is to be paid after the harvest of wheat and other produce, the major taxes collected in Bolnis are the poll tax, which should be called municipal tax, that’s levied from the city’s residents, and traffic as well import taxes, which are collected when people and merchants enter the city.
In addition to ordering a drastic crop tax reduction the other day, the city’s residents are fleeing, and the merchants don’t approach the city due to my infamy, likely resulting in a decrease of the poll and traffic taxes, Souma judged.
“No, the tax revenue is mostly as expected.”
However, Michena makes it clear by denying that to be the problem.
The reduced crop tax, of course, and even a decrease in the poll and traffic taxes were within Michena’s estimation. Rather, the poll tax’ revenue was bigger than expected as the decline in residents was lower than predicted, owed to the plan to advocate the residents’ liberty to leave the city before and after Souma’s “Decisive Battle over Bolnis” succeeding.
When Souma asked about the details, Michena lightly bit her lips while looking frustrated.
“We were done in by the merchant guild of Jeboa…”
As result of investigating the state of the wheat’s ripening in all pioneer village, who have to pay crop taxes, in advance, it was reported that this year would be almost the same as any average year. Hence Michena came up with a budget after deducting the money lost through the tax reduction from the harvest amount of an average year.
And, certainly, the wheat harvest was that of an ordinary year.
And just as Michena had calculated, the budget to start on reclamation and development as Souma desired was sufficiently covered even after accounting for the tax reduction and the losses in income.
“But, wheat had its price beaten down.”
The wheat, which was paid as crop tax, is mostly stored in they city’s grain storage as provision. The wheat of the previous year, which had remained in the storages as surplus, was always sold to merchants at this point.
But, because Souma and his group are opposing Holmea, they had the price beaten down to a bargain of less than a half of an average year’s price by Jeboa’s merchants who anticipated that there wouldn’t be anyone else buying the wheat besides themselves.
“What’s going to happen to the salary scheduled to be paid out to everyone?”
What Souma worries about at the foremost is the salary of the soldiers and government officials.
In the worst case it’s fine to suspend the reclamation project and the technological development, but it would be a disaster if everyone’s salaries were to be used up or had to be held back.
“We have rather a surplus in wheat to be paid as salary. But, salt…”
At this time it was common practice to basically pay the salaries of the soldiers and civil officials in kind as long as it didn’t cause troubles with guaranteeing the provisions of local fortresses or troops on a battlefield.
And, usually it was paid in wheat and salt.
Leaving aside wheat, which serves as food, hearing about salt being paid as salary might sound weird to a modern person. But, it’s an essential spice for staying alive. Moreover it’s also a seasoning that’s always used to flavor dishes. In an era with no refrigerator, salt, which was likewise a preservative to conserve foodstuff, had an extremely high value.
For example, there’s a famous story that paying the wages of soldiers in ancient Rome with salt turned into the root of the word soldier1. Moreover, the rock salt harvested from Poland’s “Salt Pit Wieliczka” was even referred to as “White Gold,” providing for a third of Poland Kingdom’s finances.
Only from these facts, it’s obvious that salt was extremely valuable in the ancient as well as the medieval times.
“I will increase the percentage of wheat for the salaries, but going without any salt at all is impossible. We suffered quite the serious blow from being unable to sell the wheat, even while knowing that it had its price beaten down, for the sake of obtaining funds to purchase charcoal and iron ore, which had been demanded by Sir Dvalin and his men, as well as the salt.”
Bolnis, which isn’t close to the sea, relied on importing salt. For that reason they had to sell wheat – even while being aware of its fixed, cheap price – to change it into funds for buying salt.
“If we are going to guarantee the scheduled budget, we must sell more wheat. But, I guess the prices will be simply beaten down even further on the next turn…”
At that point Dvalin, who happened to be present, interjects,
“How about picking a fight with the merchants?”
Even if it might be temporary, Souma’s group rules over Bolnis. Dvalin couldn’t swallow that the merchants were performing such plain exploitation against those rulers. Having done business with human merchants when he ran his own workshop in his native land, Dvalin is well aware of their stubbornness. Now that those stubborn merchants had started such exploitation against them, who are somehow in the process of growing into one of the local powers, it seemed as if they had some kind of objective that wasn’t limited to simple short-termed greed.
That’s something Michena sensed as well.
And she guessed that it might be the will of Jeboa’s merchant guild.
“I wonder whether it doesn’t bear the meaning of applying pressure and exacting revenge by the guild.”
The Ocean Nation Jeboa is located southwest of Bolnis.
They own a huge harbor, where merchant ships visiting the Benes Bay lay anchor, in the peninsula protruding out of the Benes Bay. It’s a county that has been prospering from its marine trade since ancient times. For that reason the power of the merchants has grown strong, and even now they are supporting the king and the country as a kingdom. However, it’s common knowledge that the king has become a puppet of the merchant guild.
It’s a merchant guild, but they are an organization that simply gathered the merchants together for the sake of shared protection. For that reason they don’t move for the sake of some merchants’ profit in the first place.
In any case, the ones deciding the administrative policy of the merchant guild are the ten most prominent, wealthy merchants, who are even called “Committee of Ten” in Jeboa. But, as they are also business rivals, it’s a daily occurrence for ugly disputes using each other’s weaknesses taking place within the guild.
If the corn merchants were told to beat down the prices by the merchant guild of Jeboa, it’s only thinkable that Bolnis is causing some kind of disadvantage for the whole merchant guild.
And Michena believes that to be the fact of Souma having actually cut off the trade route connecting Jeboa and Holmea.
Being told so, Souma was surprised.
“W-Wait a moment! I’m not hindering any trade!”
After all Souma had at least come up with the idea of luring merchants into the city by even abolishing the city’s traffix tax as he had learned from Oda Nobunaga’s “rakuichi rakuza” 2. As he had just gained total control of Bolnis, he considered the lowered amount of caravans visiting the city being owed to uneasiness about the public order.
Even so, he objected to himself shutting down the trade route as outrageous, but Michena replies while looking hesitant to speak about it,
“That might be because of your Lordship’s declaration to abolish slavery…”
The caravans in this era used a great number of slaves to carry the baggage. However, because Souma abolished slavery, such caravans weren’t able to pass through Bolnis.
“In short, because of me, Jeboa’s merchants became unable to go sell goods in Holmea…?”
No matter how much Souma calls it an evil practice, it’s an undeniable truth that the industry and transportation of this era was supported by slaves. The adverse effect of having abolished that all of a sudden ended up becoming apparent in an unexpected place.
“In that case, can’t we instead apply pressure on the merchants from our side to turn the tables on them?”
“If it’s said that we are shutting down the trade route, can’t we negotiate with the merchants using that as chip instead?” Dvalin suggests.
“I think that will be difficult.”
While saying that, Michena spread out a map on top of the table.
“It’s not commonly known, but there seems to be an illegal bridge around here.”
Michena points at a spot located south from Bolnis.
“It appears Jeboa’s merchants have set up a shortcut connecting this bridge with this place here. Apparently they are trying to establish a trade route to Luoma.”
In this era it was the country’s and feudal lord’s privilege to build a bridge across a river.
Because rivers sometimes serve as borders between countries or territories, building bridges arbitrarily is widespread among smugglers and illegal immigrants.
However, above all, the reason for limiting the means to cross rivers mostly boils down to securing a high crossing toll at the bridges, and otherwise not allowing others to cross their bridge. In Bolnis there was a bridge crossing the river within the city, and it served as valuable source of funds because of the toll.
However, even though it’s just crossing to the opposite shore in front of their eyes, the people living in that area are greatly troubled with expressly going to the place where the feudal lord built the bridge. At those times the locals occasionally built unauthorized, small bridges. Even the feudal lord – considering the locational circumstances – often tolerated many of those bridges as long as it didn’t become too uninhibited.
What Jeboa’s merchants targeted this time was one of such bridges.
“Won’t all be fine if we destroy it then?”
“If Jeboa’s merchants are putting pressure on us by relying on a different route, won’t it be fine to simply get rid of that route?” The one who suggested something so dangerous is Zurgu.
“If you order it, Sir Soma, us zoan can tear it down before the day is over with our swift feet, you know?”
However, Souma shook his head at Zurgu’s suggestion.
“Seeing as we are already at war with Holmea, I don’t want to also antagonize Jeboa.”
Even under normal circumstances, if we go this far without thinking it over properly, we will completely make Jeboa hate us. In a situation where we are fighting against Holmea, we cannot afford to have Jeboa in our back as enemy as well.
“But, then, aren’t we telling those guys in that place called Jeboa that it’s simply fine for them to do as they like at this rate?”
Zurgu grumbled, looking upset, but that was a thought commonly shared by everyone present.
“Let’s endure for now. We aren’t strong enough to fight enemies left and right.”
Upon Souma’s words, everyone in the room had similarly bitter expressions.
However, Souma further continues,
“―For now at least.”
Those were words filled with the conceit that they will definitely become strong enough to do so in the future.
A smile formed on everyone’s lips at those words.
“I also believe it to be better to not aggravate the situation with Jeboa.”
Michena agreed with Souma’s opinion.
“But, the problem is the salt. For the meantime we will be alright, but at this rate sooner or later impediments to the lives of the city’s people will emerge.”
Due to that everyone pondered while donning troubled expressions once again.
But, once Souma suddenly lifts his head, the situation among the zoan is somewhat weird. While looking at each other, they are making eye signals.
Even Shyemul turned around to diagonally behind her with a “Really?” and glared at Garam with a stern look. Being glared at, Garam is flustered by his sister’s gaze.
“What’s wrong, Shyemul?”
Once asked by the curious Souma, Shyemul sighed once as if to say “Good grief,” and then said,
“If it’s salt, we have it.”
A loud commotion is triggered by that statement.
“N-《Noble Fang》! That’ a secret of the zoan living in the plains!”
Garam blamed Shyemul in a hurry, but that actually served as confirmation of the salt’s existence.
“What are you saying, 《Ferocious Fang》!? Even if it’s temporary, Soma is the one who has become our Clan King. What’s the point in hiding anything from him!?”
Souma asks Garam, who’s pressed for words due to his sister’s rebuttal, whether there’s really salt to be found in the plains. Upon that question, Garam confessed even while curbing his temples as though he had a headache.
“Of course. Even us zoan can’t survive without salt.”
Now that he mentions it, it makes sense. Besides, even the meals provided during my stay in the village of the Fang Clan were properly salted. Since the zoan, who didn’t have any trade with humans, possess salt, they must obtain it from some other place.
“But, from where…?”
Naturally there’s no ocean in the Solbiant Plains. Souma didn’t understand how the zoan are obtaining salt despite that.
Having lost any will to hide it any longer, Garam reveals the answer to that.
“There are salt stones that can be mined from the mountains.”
“No way, rock salt!? Rock salt can be mined!”
The Dolnas Mountain Range surrounding the Solbiant Plains grew out of the ground because of Seldeas’ southern and western plates clashing against the central plate. The large amount of ocean water, which got locked up on land in that process, turned into a huge rock salt layer. The zoan discovered a part of that layer that appeared on the surface due to changes in the planet’s crust, and turned it into a source of precious salt.
“Garam, how much of those salt stones are there? Can’t that rock salt serve as supply for this city?”
Due to the question including Souma’s hopes, Garam brooded over it for a moment while folding his arms, and then answered,
“It’s not like I have actually seen it with my own eyes, but I have been told that it boasts of an amount allowing to supply the zoan of the plains for a thousand years.”
He doesn’t know the precise amount, but it seems to be quite a bit. However, Garam warned Souma, who was happy that he could resolve the salt problem with this,
“But, the salt stones fall into the jurisdiction of the Eye Clan. It’s not an issue I can decide at my own discretion. ―But, I will try asking the Head Priestess through Lady Shunupa.”
Accepting Garam’s request, Shunupa at once sent forth a messenger to her clan and after a while, a positive reply was delivered from the Head Priestess.
However, at the same time, the Head Priestess had added a verbal message that it’s just a temporary measure and that she’d like to personally meet with them at the zoan’s festival “Boloro,” which will take place on the next autumnal equinox. However, for Souma, who wanted to directly talk with the Head Priestess in due time, that was a godsend proposal.
Either way, having the prospect of being supplied with salt thanks to the zoan’s rock salt, Souma ordered Michena to refrain from selling wheat for a while.
However, this did nothing more than simply resolving the problems with salt. It’s not like it could resolve the lack of funds because of Jeboa’s merchant guild beating down the prices of wheat.
To build up our own power, money is always lacking, no matter how many funds we have.
Especially Dvalin’s dwarves, who have accepted Souma’s request on wanting to develop a new industry in this area, are struggling a lot and thus require vast amounts of funds and resources.
However, Souma couldn’t come up with an idea how to earn money in the city of Bolnis, which so far has had no special product, at all.
Even though he expressly visited the pioneer village for an inspection, Souma’s mind was fully occupied by the worry how to best resolve this matter of lacking funds.
“Hey, Soma! Isn’t that Pipi!?”
Souma, who stared vaguely at the wheat field with a gloomy face, looked up into the sky after being called out by Shyemul.
Once he did, he discovered a single bird flying over from the direction of Bolnis with a clear, azure sky as backdrop. No, it’s not a bird. It’s a harpyian, a race said to be born from birds by the Bird God.
Making her two arms that served as wings glistening in cobalt blue flutter powerfully, it was a little girl with likewise cobalt blue, short hair that swooped down upon the ground. To humans she looks like a very young girl, but despite appearance, she’s a fully-fledged adult.
Her name is Pipi Toto Gigi. At present she’s the leader of the seven harpyians under Souma.
She laid down her huge wings on the ground and lowered her head while genuflecting, performing the unique bow of harpyians, and then said to Souma,
“Lord Soma. There’s a message from Lady Eladia that she’d like you to urgently return to Bolnis.”
Soma recalled the elven beauty he left behind in Bolnis. As far as Souma knows, Eladia is a gentle woman with a calm demeanor. She’s not a person that would pointlessly kick up a fuss. For her to even go as far as expressly using Pipi to tell me that she wishes me to return to the city as quickly as possible, means that it’s not trifle matter, Souma judged.
Once he asks just what has happened, Pipi stands up while saying “Excuse me.” Then she suddenly lifted her right leg up highly and thrust the tip of her foot into the small gap between her upper body half and her hanging clothes.
Due to that Souma unintentionally widens his eyes and hurriedly averts his face to the side afterwards.
It’s not because he was so surprised by the flexibility of Pipi’s body.
Pipi is wearing the traditional attire of her race.
It’s a matter of course, but a harpyian’s arms are huge bird wings. For better or worse, there are claws growing out of the wing bend (the part of the protruding joints that are responsible for folding the wings), but as something that’s used to climb tall trees or cliffs, these claws are strong but not suited for fine work. Also, since the feet are bird feet with claws growing out of them, it was much the same for this side, too.
Hence, compared to other races, the harpyians are bad at producing items or handling tools, no matter what.
The racial attire of the harpyians is a wide, oblong cloth with a hole for the head right in the middle. The cloth hangs down at the front and rear of the harpyian’s body, and is only tied with a rope around the waist. And of course something like underwear doesn’t exist.
If she thrusts a foot into the bosom of that traditional attire, it’s natural for her small breast to become visible.
And not only that; in order for not becoming a hindrance at the time of excretion and the unfolding tail feathers at their rear during flight, even the part of the cloth that hangs down at the front and back of her body is extremely short. For that reason even a very risqué place becomes visible if she she raises one leg like just now.
Despite this, the harpyians are indifferent to such things.
That’s owed to the harpyians, who are bad at making things and who inhabit the southern tropical jungles, not having the culture of wearing clothes in the first place. Because their contact with humans increased in recent years, it slowly reached the point of them wearing clothes, but even now they feel no reluctance towards exposing their naked body.
“Lord Soma? I’d like you to accept this.”
Being urged by Pipi, who skillfully stands on one leg while presenting a rolled-up parchment clutched in her right foot, Souma received it while making sure to not look below.
However, although it’s a letter that was finally handed over to him in such manner, Souma naturally can’t read the characters of this world. He shifts his look at Shyemul, who’s next to him, looking for help, but she shakes her head left and right, showing that she can’t read the characters either.
“Let me see. Please hand it over to me.”
The one who received the letter from Souma after saying so is Marchronis who accompanied them on the inspection. Given that he led a unit as Company Commander Aide, he could read and write as long as it was limited to the characters used normally.
Scanning through the roughly written sentences, Marchronis raises a slightly surprised exclamation of “Hoo.”
“It looks like a merchant, who is saying that they want to help us, has come to the city.”
That sounded like good news to Souma. At present, where they are running short on funds, being given assistance by merchants was truly equal to salvation from heaven.
“Understood. Let’s return to the city right away!”
“Welcome back, Lord Soma.”
The beautiful Eladia expressly welcomed Souma, who returned to Bolnis within a mere few hours, at the city’s gate.
However, Souma, who scuttled out of the carriage, which was pulled by two kiryu and steered by Shyemul, in front of Eladia, was in no state to give her a decent reply.
It was the same when they went to examine the place to build the encampment just before the Decisive Battle of Bolnis, but it seems that Shyemul has the habit of driving recklessly if you allow her to hold onto the reins. Shyemul, who interpreted Souma saying to hurry as commitment, performed a reckless manner of driving that wasn’t inferior to the previous time at all.
Apparently having foreseen that, Eladia held out a wooden bowl filled with water to Souma, who was in a state unable to talk or even answer to Eladia who came to greet him.
Once he gulps down the water and takes a breather, Souma had finally the composure to at least talk.
“Mrs. Eladia, you said that a merchant has come?”
“Yes. Right now he is staying in the anteroom.”
Even by just bowing and showing a gentle smile as she says that, Eladia lets loose an elegance and grace that captivates one.
“Understood. As I will get my outfit in order right away, please prepare some appetizers in the audience hall.”
However, for a change Eladia didn’t reply to Souma instantly.
Immediately after pondering for a little time while pressing a finger against her slender chin, her look became serious and she said,
“Lord Soma. Please stop.”
Even at the best times, we are still making a visitor wait for quite a long time. It’s not unlikely for us to give the person, who went out of his way to offer us his help, a bad impression by making him wait any longer. Being flustered while thinking so, Souma looks at Eladia’s face in surprise.
Due to that Eladia said in an admonishing tone,
“You are the lord of this city, Lord Soma. You must not easily meet with visitors who arrived without any kind of forewarning.”
Souma hasn’t considered himself to be such an important person until now. Rather, he’s the type of person who feels bashful and embarrassed when having things exaggerated like this. Of course Eladia also sensed the inner workings of Souma’s mind.
Eladia smiled softly, just like a blooming flower.
“I’m very well aware of you being a person who doesn’t like to act strong, Lord Soma. We consider that as very likable, too.”
At that point she changes her tone into a strict one.
“But, at times it’s important to bluff. Lord Soma, it’s not just you who will be looked down upon otherwise. The great cause touted by you will also be made fun of.”
Due to Eladia’s words, Souma felt as if his cheek was hit by a palm. What she’s saying is completely reasonable.
“It’s just as you say Mrs. Eladia. ―What should I do?”
Souma obediently admitted his mistake and asked Eladia for advice.
This is Souma’s strong point.
He doesn’t consider himself a superior human. Hence, if you point out to him his ignorance, he will obediently admit it and accept advice. That was his magnanimity.
Due to that, Eladia squints her eyes faintly, as if looking at something dazzling.
“Then let’s tell him that you are busy with work, Lord Soma, and have him stay in an inn for today. Normally we should welcome him by giving a banquet hosted by you, Lord Soma, but I believe that it might be advisable to pass on that while giving some kind of reason.”
Warmly welcoming guests, who expressly visited from a distant place, by holding a grand banquet is a courtesy of the territory’s lord and his family. But, Eladia recommends to deliberately skip on that.
“Having said that, not holding any kind of welcoming party will be quite rude as well. Accordingly I think it would be best for Sir Marchronis to stand in as substitute and entertain the merchant by holding a private welcome party.”
Marchronis was surprised due to his name suddenly being dropped here. He is no more than a Company Commander Aide who rose up from being a poor commoner in the Holmean army to which he formerly belonged. He has absolutely no experience in entertaining guests.
However, among the humans there are many people who look down upon the various races as sub-humans. In case the merchant was such a person, it’s highly likely that he would take being entertained by members of the other races as an insult. As such, there was no suitable person in Souma’s current group who would be able to make human guests feel welcome. Except for Marchronis it would at most be Michena, but she’s even more unreliable.
“Please have a peace of mind. It won’t be any problem if you simply give suitable responses. Even if you are asked something, you just have to answer with 『Please ask Lord Soma about that』 and I will support you with the rest.”
From Eladia’s way of speaking, Souma noticed that it’s not only because he is a guest who visited without previous arrangement.
“Mrs. Eladia, is there possibly something wrong about him?”
“Yes, Lord Soma. There’s something I’m slightly bothered about.”
Eladia confirmed Souma’s guess.
“There’s no positive proof, but to me that man doesn’t look like a merchant at all.”