“That person is the merchant who offered his assistance?”
Souma, who checked the merchant staying in the antechamber while staying hidden, asked Eladia who’s standing next to him.
“As you say, Lord Soma. ―That merchant called Robnas has said that he came as messenger of a certain wealthy merchant who sympathizes with your cause.”
Having received Eladia’s explanation, Souma asked Garam about his thoughts of the merchant.
“Hmm. Going by the movement of his body, he’s not a merchant or anything like that, but rather someone who’s quite experienced in battle.”
Upon Garam stating that he regards all of his movements as having an air of someone who’s well-versed in handling weapons, Zurgu objected,
“In these times there are probably quite a few merchants who can use weapons, don’t you think?”
Among the merchants transporting goods from one city to another, it’s not rare to find some who are armed in order to protect their merchandise and their lives from brigands and bandits. Also, when such merchants failed their business negotiations, it often happened that they made a complete turnaround, quickly changing into bandits themselves.
If you consider it like that, it’s not strange for a merchant to have somewhat learned how to handle weapons either.
Because that opinion of Zurgu was reasonable as well, Souma ended up being troubled.
“Mrs. Eladia, why do you believe that man to be no merchant?”
“Intuition, I guess?”
Something like disappointment appeared on everyone’s faces due to Eladia’s reply. However, far from feeling offended by that, Eladia let a small chuckle slip.
“My, even though I may look like this, I do have confidence in my ability to grasp a man’s character. I wouldn’t have been able to survive for long, if I didn’t have that ability.”
She says something depressing without any hesitation.
Souma dispels the awkward atmosphere with a single cough.
“A-Anyway, the problem is that man’s true identity and his objective, right?”
Souma raises two fingers.
“I can think of two possibilities. First, feigning to assist us, he will try to investigate our internal affairs. Second, he’s truly trying to assist us.”
“When it comes to fellows who would try to get a read on our internal affairs, it would be Holmea, huh?”
Once Garam asked while furrowing his brows, Souma shook his head slightly.
“That’s not certain. It might be a power other than Holmea. Especially now that we likewise have a dispute with Jeboa’s merchants on our hands.”
“But, Soma. If it’s about investigating our internal affairs, I can understand, but I can’t believe that there are truly humans who want to assist us, you know?”
Upon Shyemul stating that as if saying “Don’t be ridiculous!”, Souma smiles bitterly.
“Even I believe that a simple assistance out of good will is close to impossible. But, if you consider that they might be able to gain some kind of benefit from helping us, you can’t completely deny the possibility.”
Now that the trade route has been locked down by Souma’s group, it’s not necessarily unthinkable that there’s a power that plans to use that to weaken Jeboa’s merchant guild.
If such a power exists, it’s possible that they will turn into a clue allowing to resolve the current situation.
Under these circumstances, we have to find out the objective and the true identity of that man at all costs.
“I wonder, isn’t it possible to find out that man’s aim somehow?”
Souma asked everyone, probing whether anyone has a good idea.
“Alright, leave it to me!”
Thereupon, the one who stepped forward as the very first is Jahangil.
“If I twist his neck a bit, even that guy will surely spill the beans!”
No sooner than saying that, he strongly swings his tail and then tries to go to literally twist the man’s neck in high spirits. Due to that Souma grabbed Jahangil’s girdle and held him back.
“W-Wait a moment! That’s no good! I mean, you mustn’t do that.”
However, Jahangil, who doesn’t stop immediately even after being told so, dragged Souma along just like that before finally stopping his feet. While looking down on Souma over his shoulder,
“It’s not allowed?”
“That’s obvious, isn’t it!?”
It was the face of a dinosaurian whose expressions are hard to read, but Souma feels as if Jahangil looks somewhat downhearted.
Souma feels bad once he considers that Jahangil went out of his way, trying to resolve the situation in his very own way, but as expected, resorting to direct measures at this point in time is too rash.
“Can I have you entrust this to me?”
The next one who stepped forward was Eladia.
He certainly didn’t expect her to use violent means like Jahangil, but just to be sure, he asks her what she’s planning. In response Eladia smiles sweetly and smoothly said something outrageous.
“I’m a woman, so there are methods to sound out a man’s secrets.”
Implicitly she’s saying that she will seduce the man with her body to find out his true identity.
Souma and the others uniformly frown at that.
Especially Souma felt a strong resistance towards doing something that forces the elven girls to act like sex slaves even though they have been finally released from that state.
“That’s a bit… Another method is―”
Just when Souma tried to reject Eladia’s suggestion, her expression with its gentle smile until then completely changed. She purses her lips firmly and furrows her beautiful eyebrows, revealing a silent rage.
“Lord Soma, are you looking down on our resolve?”
It’s not like she had raised her voice, but it was a tone that made anyone listening to it nervous.
Due to Eladia, who usually smiles gently, showing her anger for the first time, Souma freezes in surprise.
“All races can live equally. For that reason we will found a nation. Those were your words. However, the path to that goal will be severe and we will also have to pay with huge sacrifices for it.”
Eladia gently places a hand on her chest.
“Since we prepared ourselves for those sacrifices while believing in your great cause, we followed you, milord. What’s there to hesitate about with merely one single elven woman? Lord Soma, are you insulting us that our resolve goes only this far?”
That touched Souma’s heart accompanied by a shock as if his head had been bashed.
Even though it’s this late in the game, he fully realizes the weight of his own words and becomes speechless.
And, it was the same with the others as well.
If you consider her past, it’s obvious to anyone that this will be a deed where she herself will hurt her own feelings very much.
However, it’s her herself who daringly proposed to go for it.
For Souma, for everyone present here, she will allow her body to get tainted once again.
Everyone was lost for words due to Eladia’s resolve.
It’s simple to tell her to stop here. But, if I say that without offering an alternative method or a breakthrough solution, that won’t be any more than mere pity.
It will be pitying her, who prepared herself to kill her own heart for the sake of everyone.
Just how much of an insult would that be?
That’s why everyone had no other option but to remain silent.
After a moment of silence, Souma finally opened his mouth.
Sensing Souma’s resolve from his face, Eladia revealed a tender smile again and replied with “Yes.”
“I order you.”
Souma deliberately said this to Eladia who stated that she’d like him to entrust it to her.
“Please disclose that man’s objective and his true identity, no matter what methods you have to use.”
“It shall happen as you wish, Lord Soma.”
Souma resolved himself anew to get his hands dirty and to sip muddy water, as long as it’s for the sake of the people who abode and believed in his words, but even so there’s something he can’t yield on.
“However, I don’t like the way of calling yourself with merely. No matter who of you it might be, I consider all of you my precious friends. Please don’t use such way of talking about yourself in the future.”
Upon those words, Eladia only bowed her head very, very deeply.
Now then, the merchant who introduced himself as Robnas and offered his help to Souma’s group this time.
If you were to speak of his correct full name, it’s Robnas Fabius.
As is obvious from the fact that he has a surname, this man is no mere merchant.
As matter of fact he was one of the generals of Romania.
Around one month ago he was secretly summoned by King Doldea and first told following:
“Robnas, what do you know about the city called Bolnis?”
Romania’s king Doldea is an old man who will turn 69 this year. Contrary to his thin body that seemed to have wrinkled skin sticking to it like a dead tree, his eyes had a glint, overflowing with vitality. He was at an age where it wouldn’t have been weird for him to have handed over the throne long ago, but even now he reigned in Romania as its king.
“I recall it being a city located in the west of Holmea.”
Upon Robnas’ reply, Doldea asks further,
“Well, what about the news that the other day a rebellion of sub-humans took place in that city, and that the damned Darius, who headed there to subjugate them, suffered an overwhelming defeat?”
“I believe right now there is not a single person in the royal capital who does not know about that.”
Speaking of General Darius of Holmea, he’s a famous general who was even called the natural enemy of Romania. He’s a person of such caliber that a reward of 1000 gold coins has been placed on his head by King Doldea, who was made to suffer many bitter experiences on the battlefield by Darius.
For Romania the news that this very Darius was defeated by slaves who started a rebellion caused a shock going beyond that of Holmea in a certain meaning.
“The rebels of Holmea, huh…? They seem quite interesting.”
Recently the circumstances of the battle narrated by a peddler, who said that he had actually witnessed the sub-human rebellion with his own eyes, became a topic in the bars located in the capital’s back alleys. Apparently the drunkards are giving loud applause to the soldiers of Holmea, who have amassed a lot of resentment during the battles over many years, having been routed by sub-human slaves.
Feeling curious about those rumors, the king secretly invited that peddler to the royal court to have him tell the full story and although he could sense some exaggeration in regards to the sub-human’s strength, the weakness of Holmea’s soldiers to be kicked around by them caused great pleasure to King Doldea as well.
Recalling that, Doldea reveals a smile on his wrinkled face.
“Finishing the conquest of the west by destroying Holmea is our Romania’s longstanding desire.”
The discord between Romania and Holmea dates far back to the time of the nations’ founding. In the past they boasted of a flourishing prosperity as one large country, but because of a succession dispute between two princes the country was split in two, which was the beginning of Holmea and Romania. Hence both countries suppress each other and harbored the longstanding desire to revive the former large country.
“Now that Darius has lost his standing, it’s the best opportunity, I believe. ―Accordingly I want to make a request to you.”
Upon Robnas stating “Anything you wish, my King”, Doldea nodded his head once in satisfaction and said,
“I’d like you to go to Bolnis and ascertain the sub-human slaves with your own eyes.”
Robnas, who was thus ordered by Doldea, boldly passed through Holmea while being accompanied by only very few guards and finally arrived in Bolnis.
“My master has said that he wants to lend you his strength by all means.”
The reason why Robnas disguised himself as envoy of a wealthy merchant who offered his assistance is because he assumed that Souma’s group is likely troubled by a shortage in funds due to the dispute with Jeboa’s merchant guild, going by the information he had gathered along his journey.
First I have to deeply infiltrate these sub-human slaves in order to investigate how much power they possess. He judged that it’s the best move to use what they want the most right now as bait for that sake.
However, even though he went this far, he was told that the all-important leader of the slaves, a man called Soma, was absent. For him to be absent even though I have expressly come here like this to tell him that I will help them, what a rude guy. Shouldn’t he normally greet me while prostrating himself? This was the egoistic dissatisfaction which Robnas harbored.
And, what spurred on his dissatisfaction even further is the welcome banquet that was held on that evening.
The one who filled in as host instead of the absent Soma is a man called Marchronis. But because he couldn’t get into the swing no matter what subject this man broached, it was a banquet that completely lacked any excitement.
Not only that, he probed whether he could really use these guys, but due to repeatedly being told “I’d like you to ask Lord Soma about this,” no matter what he asked, he couldn’t get to the point at all.
On the other hand, that caused the period spent on talking with the elf called Eladia, who poured him alcohol while snuggling up to him at that time, to become long.
And then the banquet came to a close without any kind of result. It was decided that he would lodge in a room of the feudal lord’s residence.
“Good grief, what a waste of time…”
At the moment when Robnas started to consider that it would maybe be better to return to Romania quickly, there was a knock on the door of his room. Due to that, Robnas asks, “Who’s there?” and opens the door slightly.
“Thinking that you might have not had enough alcohol, I have come bringing some for you.”
It was the elf called Eladia who was present during the previous banquet. She has a hand-held basket with an alcohol bottle and food hanging from her hand.
Learning that she’s the visitor, Robnas cheerfully ushered in Eladia with a complacent expression.
“Well, this is very welcome. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking that I haven’t had enough to drink yet.”
A single woman visited him, an important guest, at such time. Robnas is no one who doesn’t understand what this entails.
Due to Eladia’s butt moving seductively as she placed the alcohol and food on a table, Robnas swallowed down his spit.
He also wanted to buy such a beautiful elven slave one day each time he caught sight of them in Romania’s royal palace and the mansions of the influential lords.
But after having gotten to know this elven slave called Eladia, the elven slaves he had seen so far might as well be considered unpolished village girls at the most.
“Sir Robnas, let’s have a toast first.”
The taste of the alcohol offered by such beautiful elf is exceptional.
Moreover, this Eladia is not only beautiful. The perfect responses1 she places within the pauses of the conversation are great. The extent of her knowledge that allows her to answer swiftly to whatever I say is good, too. Either way, I can’t believe that she’s an ordinary elf.
If I were to be told that she’s a high-class slave that strayed to this place from the distant center of the continent, I would agree at once.
And Robnas repeatedly went through the wine cups offered to him, but he felt an irresistible carnal desire due to the lascivious nape and breasts of Eladia, which she allowed him to see from time to time.
Robnas nonchalantly extends his hand towards Eladia.
However, on the verge of his hand touching her, Eladia’s body smoothly escaped his grasp. Once he pulls back his hand that failed to seize its prey, Eladia closes in once again as if leaning in closely.
This was repeating itself since some time ago.
If I extend my hand, she smoothly slips away. However, she doesn’t distance herself much. Just a little bit more. She keeps a distance that I will reach her if I extend my hand just a little bit further. And, if I pull back my hand, she smoothly closes the distance again. That’s yet again provoking.
I see, so that’s what’s called playing around with a high-class prostitute, huh? Robnas had his lust stirred even further.
However, having finally run out of patience, Robnas forcibly closed the distance and embraced Eladia’s shoulder.
Robnas’ nasal breathing becomes even rougher due to the voice alongside a sigh leaked from Eladia’s red lips that give one the impression of being petals of a rose.
And then both of them flopped on the bed while being entangled.
Eladia, who quietly slipped out of the guest room where Robnas stayed, headed to Souma’s office after washing her body. Even though it was late at night, the room was illuminated by the bright light of candles and the main members besides Souma had gathered there.
“I’m very sorry for having made you wait.”
After thanking Eladia, who bows while saying so, for her work, Souma inquired about the course of events. Before answering to that, she first checks back with Marchronis,
“Sir Marchronis, I have a question. ―If I remember correctly, I recall there was a country that’s opposing Holmea to the extent of being called its bitter enemy, wasn’t there?”
“That’s Romania. There are other smaller countries as well, but the two strong nations, Romania and Holmea, are competing over the hegemony in the continent’s west.”
Having listened to Marchronis’s answer, Eladia declared to Souma,
“There is no doubt that this man is a spy of Romania. In addition we can assume that he’s a general or a commissioned officer with a fairly high social status, but surely not a common soldier.”
Surprised voices of “Ooh” escape everyone’s mouths.
Among them Souma recalled the face of the peddler called Hopkins whom he got to cooperate with them at the time of taking this city.
Souma gave Hopkins, who had to leave this area, money to start over in Romania, but at the same time he made a request.
It was to grandly spread rumors about Souma and the others in Romania’s royal capital.
It’s such a powerful country that it’s called Holmea’s arch enemy. If they learn about Holmea’s domestic affairs being in disarray, they should make some kind of move, even if it’s not an immediate attack. He casually requested that as something profitable which might become a restraint against Holmea, but it apparently bore unexpected fruits.
“So he wasn’t a merchant after all, right?”
When Souma confirmed that once more, Eladia nodded slightly.
“Yes. ―His hands are different to begin with.”
Souma reflexively looked down at his own hands upon Eladia’s words.
“Yes. Hands change depending on how someone lives their life. For example, if it’s a farmer, their hands’ skin is creased and the dirt of soil, which doesn’t come out even if washed, remains under their nails. If it’s a scholar, the skin of the fingers that use a pen is hard and bulging. But, the hands of that man are those of someone who wields swords and spears.”
Everyone nodded in comprehension. However, that leaves the question for the reason why she judged him to be a general or a commissioned officer with a reasonably high social standing instead of a spy or a common soldier.
“The skin of his inner thighs has become hard.”
“If it’s a merchant, the skin around their butt will probably become thick because they sit for long periods at a desk writing in account books and in the coachman seat of their peddling cart.”
In this world, where harnesses haven’t been developed yet, riders have to make sure to hold themselves on the horse by pressing both legs against the horse’s torso when riding. For that reason the inner thighs, which touch the horse’s back, are scrubbed and that part of the skin ends up becoming firm.
At that point Eladia asked Marchronis,
“Even around here horses are precious, right?”
With only that much Marchronis grasped her reasoning and said “I see.”
If it’s at the level of mounting a horse for simple traveling, even Marchronis is capable of that. However, it’s different when it comes to galloping across the chaotic battlefield while controlling an excited horse. Besides, if one doesn’t get used to riding to the extent of the inner thighs’ skin becoming tough by straddling horses since childhood, it’s impossible to use a horse at such high level.
However, where the capability of giving a valuable horse to a young child is concerned, it’s limited to families that have assets such as nobles.
Additionally, Eladia argues that Robnas knew words quoted from military history and tactic documents which are known around her, while being unable to understand the jargon often used by merchants.
“Lastly, I sensed a hostility towards Holmea that contained no falsehood. If you put those things together, isn’t it appropriate to consider him to be someone from Romania?”
All what Eladia said was understandable and accepted as valid.
“Considering all that, I can predict that man’s aim. It can probably be summed up as him having come here to first investigate our internal affairs in order to establish a common front with us when Romania attacks Holmea.”
Souma also agreed with Garam’s opinion.
“After all there’s the saying, the enemy of your enemy is your ally, isn’t there?”
However, recalling the behavior of Robnas, which he had observed from the shadows, Souma frowned.
“But, what bothers me is that man’s attitude. No matter how you look at it, it appears as if he’s looking down on us.”
“I also felt bothered by that.” The one who said that is Shyemul. “That’s not the behavior of someone who says that he wants to help us out as friend!”
Robnas’ haughty behavior apparently rubbed her pride the wrong way. Even while soothing her, who has said that as if spitting out the words, Souma also shares her view.
“He probably plans to use us rather than struggling together with us.”
I guess his idea is to make use of us as diversion at the time when they attack Holmea under the utmost conditions of bestowing us a small territory and approving the liberation from slavery.
“I also believe it to be something like that. ―That man said that you, Lord Soma, are a man who won’t be able to become more than a local feudal lord and made reckless remarks about him being greater than that.”
Eladia shows a gentle smile on her face as usual and it’s not like her tone has become rough either, but everyone present felt some dreadfulness from her that mustn’t be touched upon.
“I dare say, isn’t that letting slip that it’s the idea of Romania’s king to acknowledge you as local feudal lord if you surrender to Romania?”
Eladia’s guess hit the mark.
Robnas carried with him an informal consent of King Doldea stating that he’s allowed to acknowledge their liberation from slavery and moreover accept Bolnis and its outskirts as territory of Souma’s group if they surrender to Romania as conditions offered to Souma in case negotiations are held.
“In that case refusing it is the best idea, right? If those guys and Holmea bite each other on their own accord, won’t that be convenient for us?”
Garam’s opinion was reasonable. All the others seem to have the same opinion.
However, only Souma thought differently.
“I have a little idea.”
With an expression similar to a brat who reveals his treasured prank, Souma announced his thoughts to everyone.
After hearing his words, the faces of everyone displayed something similar to smiles as well.
Even though she elegantly conceals her mouth again, even Eladia can be heard giggling. And then she brought he mouth close to Souma’s ear, and said,
“Lord Soma. I know just the right anecdote. How about a story like this?”