“I wonder, aren’t they going to pay ransom?”
Souma, who ate lunch together with Shyemul and Garam, suddenly said.
It’s a section of the courtyard located not far off the feudal lord’s residence.
There were many humans knitting their brows while considering it barbaric that Souma, the temporary feudal lord of the city, eats his meal in such a place.
But, with Shyemul being a zoan who dislikes places surrounded by walls and as Souma also preferred dining below the sun rather than inside the dim, humid mansion that has no comfortable lighting and breath-ability like the houses of modern Japan, it had become a custom for the two to go out to the courtyard, if the weather allowed for it, and take their meals there.
Although it was just coincidence that Garam happened to be present there today, he was given a share of their food.
“Just whose ransom are you talking about?”
While asking that, Shyemul stabbed pig meat with skin onto a skewer, grilled it over the fire and offered it to Souma.
Souma first takes one bite after receiving it. The thoroughly grilled skin is crispy, and once he sinks his teeth into it, oily grease overflows from underneath. Alongside the flavor of the rock salt and other spices that were sprinkled over it, an indescribable umami spread fully throughout his mouth.
“Yeah, it’s delicious. ―Look, we have arrested the previous feudal lord, right? It’s the ransom for that person.”
Even after being told all that, Shyemul still couldn’t remember him. While chewing her own share of meat, she only tilts her head to the side.
Garam threw a lifeboat to that younger sister of his.
“It’s about that fat rabbit.”
“Aah, that one, huh?”
Even Shyemul only once met Vulitas Sadoma Holmeanis, the previous feudal lord of this city, together with Souma, but she completely forgot about him. Just as she remembers, Shyemul raises her eyebrows.
“However, according to Marchronis, it’s impossible to use that guy for negotiations, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. But the situation has changed since then.”
Beforehand, negotiations or any contact with Holmea, which tried to subjugate Souma’s group by dispatching military forces, was impossible. However, until this very day Holmea is in a state with no prospect of sending out another punitive force as they still haven’t recovered from the serious blow in the “Decisive Battle over Bolnis.” In that case there might be room for negotiations, depending on our side’s demands.
As expected, the condition to acknowledge the city’s independence and autonomy is likely unreasonable, but I have a hunch that it will pass through if it’s at the level of demanding ransom. Besides, because we suffer from a lack of funds due to the lowering of prices by Jeboa’s merchant guild recently, I want to earn some money in advance, even if it’s just a bit.
“I can’t believe that a guy like that has overly much value, but isn’t that fine?”
Since the zoan also had situations where they would demand concessions from their opponents in clan wars with the condition of releasing the captured clan chief, Garam agreed as if it would be the most natural thing in the world.
Souma feels relieved after having obtained Garam’s approval. He puts the last remaining slice of meat into his mouth, and swallows it down after chewing it properly.
“Thanks for the delicious meal.”
Once Souma says that while putting his hands together, Shyemul imitates him in that.
“Thanks for the delicious meal.” 1
Souma asked Garam, who’s bewildered by their unfamiliar behavior,
“What’s that person called Vulitas doing right now?”
They were unable to use him for negotiations despite expressly having arrested him, but having said that, it would have been a waste to let him go for free. Vulitas himself was given into Garam’s custody with Souma emphasizing that he should be treated politely.
However, Garam said something unexpected.
“I have left him in Lady Eladia’s care. ―We don’t know the proper way how to treat human royalty. I was told by her that it would become troublesome later on if he’s treated imprudently.”
Now that he mentions it, that makes sense, Souma judged. However, he’s puzzled that Eladia, who went through painful experiences as sex slave, volunteered to take care of Vulitas who also abused elves as sex slaves.
“I believe that she won’t do anything strange, if it’s Mrs. Eladia. Anyway, we should go have a look and ask how he’s doing right now.”
Thereupon Shyemul got up.
“In that case I will go call for her while taking the opportunity to fetch some hot water from the kitchen.”
Suddenly a person stood in front of Shyemul who turned her feet in the direction of the kitchen in order to prepare an after-meal tea, just like usual.
“I have brought hot water. Here you go. Please use this.”
It’s Eladia who held a small pot with steam rising from it.
After having been appointed as chief court lady the other day, Eladia had started to help Shyemul with taking care of Souma like this. Having said that, it’s not like she’s getting involved with everything. She simply prepares some things, which are necessary for the sake of Souma, in advance like now, and quietly offers them to Shyemul.
As for this, even Shyemul considered that to be a big help.
But, at the same time Shyemul’s wariness has gone up somewhat.
“…I’m sorry for you having to go out of your way. It’s a great help.”
However, there’s no way for her to refuse it as long as she believed it to be done out of good will, and thus Shyemul accepted the pot. Shyemul places the pot on a small fireplace made out of a stone circle, picks dried leaves out of a bag hanging at her waist after reheating the water once, and then boils some tea.
Sensing a presence constantly observing her hand movements during that time, Shyemul lifted her face, causing her eyes to meet with those of Eladia.
“…Is something wrong with the tea?”
“No, the zoan’s tea is considerably different in aroma and color from the tea we know. It’s very unusual.”
For Eladia to think of it as curiosity is owed to the normal tea in this world being hot water served after adding taste and scent through dried flowers and spices.
“I like this tea. It has a taste similar to oolong tea. It also rinses one’s mouth after having eaten meat.”
Souma said while accepting a bowl with tea from Shyemul.
No matter how much one can say that Souma is a growing boy who enjoys greasy meat, he would quickly get fed up with the zoan meals which only consist of meat dishes without this tea.
“You really like that tea, don’t you Lord Soma.”
Eladia’s casual words make Shyemul actively feel a sense of impending danger.
“Yeah. Soma likes my tea.”
“Indeed, that seems to be the case.”
Once Shyemul points out that Souma likes her tea while puffed up with pride for some reason, Eladia responds with a gentle smile.
Due to sensing the oddly tense atmosphere between the two, Souma looked at Garam with a questioning look. Realizing that, Garam leaks a single sigh after glancing at his sister who has all fur around her nape stand on end.
“Don’t worry about it. ―The wildcat is simply cautious, probably making sure that her own turf won’t be stolen.”
Hearing that, the criticized Shyemul stares daggers at him.
“《Ferocious Fang》, just whom might you mean with wildcat?”
Suddenly having the brunt of the attack shifted from Eladia at himself, Garam plays dumb and returns to the topic at hand.
“Who knows? ―Rather than that, Lady Eladia, Soma said that he has something he wants to ask you.”
Souma smiled wryly at Shyemul who groans while baring her teeth in frustration, but because he wanted to confirm about Vulitas with Eladia as Garam said, he went along with the topic change.
“Mrs. Eladia, how’s the former feudal lord of this city doing?”
Even after being asked, Eladia couldn’t immediately remember about who Souma was talking. She placed a finger on her chin and pondered. Seemingly recalling after a short while, she clapped her hands together with a quiet plop.
“Aah, that sleazebag…”
A faint mutter escapes Eladia’s lips.
Souma and the others were startled by her scornful tone which was so cold that it could freeze one’s spines. Owed to the difference to the gentle smile on her face, they doubted their ears, wondering whether they had misheard.
“If it’s His Highness Vulitas who has been arrested, we have been kindly taking care of him inside one of the residence’s rooms.”
And then Eladia replied with a smile as if her previous words had been a complete lie.
We must not touch on that subject.
Souma and the others uniformly and firmly swore.
“A-Anyway, could you allow me to meet with Vulitas?”
“That is, of course, Lord Soma. ―Is as soon as now alright with you?”
Receiving such a response from Eladia, Souma requests her to lead him to Vulitas at once.
The place were Vulitas was kept was one of the guestrooms of the residence. Contrary to the other captured young nobles, who have been crammed into free living quarters of servants with several sharing one room, Vulitas, who is a royal prince after all, is apparently receiving special treatment. By handling it like that, it also carries the meaning of restraining the young nobles’ dissatisfaction.
“Even if the young people were to complain about giving them a private room instead of a communal room, most of them will become silent if asked 『You wish to be treated the same as the royal prince?』” is Eladia’s remark.
No matter how much Vulitas might have been looked down upon as imbecile and retard, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a royal prince. To demand being treated equally to him is nothing the young nobles can do, as one might expect.
Two elven women holding bows stood on both sides of the entrance door to Vulitas’s guestroom. Once they notice Souma, they place their bows at their feet, press their right hand against their abdomen and as if using that place as fulcrum, bow by bending their backs.
Once Souma stepped into the room, passing in-between those two while following Eladia, he heard a loud and stiff “Hii!” from atop the bed set up inside the room.
As he shifted his attention in that direction, he found Vulitas, who still wore thin pajamas as he had apparently been in the middle of a nap, quivering on top of the bed.
Vulitas, whom he saw for the first time in several months, seems to have become mentally quite unstable. As usual he’s fat and corpulent, but it looks like his cheeks have sunken in somewhat.
Eladia bows towards Vulitas with a flowing movement.
“Your Highness Vulitas. ―My master, Lord Soma Kisaki, has come visiting as he has business with you.”
Since Eladia indicated with a hand to come in front, Souma walks ahead, taking Shyemul along. As soon as Vulitas sees him, he jumped off his bed with his unhealthy face dying crimson out of anger.
“You!? Because you little brat instigated those slave, I’m…”
Vulitas was about to approach Souma while jeering and spitting saliva.
Promptly Shyemul tries to stand in front of Souma in order to shield him with her body, but faster than that, Vulitas stops his feet, having his eyes widen in surprise. And not just that. Very fast his face turned pale and he started to tremble violently.
Souma wondered what might have happened to him, but it seems Vulitas’ eyes are not turned his way but behind him.
Once he turns around wondering what’s there, the one he saw there is Eladia who was smiling gently.
“What might be wrong, Lord Soma?”
Being asked with a curious expression in reverse, Souma’s dons a confused expression. He wasn’t fully satisfied with the outcome, but right now Souma put priority on what he ought to do.
“There’s no mistake in you being Your Highness, Royal Prince Vulitas Sadoma Holmeanis, correct?”
“Indeed! I’m Vulitas Sadoma Holmeanis! The likes of a lowly bastard such as you has…”
Even though he had a vigor that made him flare up at Souma in the beginning, that vigor suddenly waned in the middle of his speech again, and Vulitas started to falter. And his eyes were turned to behind Souma after all.
However, even if I try to turn around, I will only find Eladia with a troubled expression while applying her hand on her right cheek there.
I must not touch on that topic, I must not touch on that topic.
Once again Souma recites that strongly in his mind and then forces himself to consciously face Vulitas.
“Today I came here as I have a request for you.”
Probably because he’s vigilant of Eladia, Vulitas didn’t respond anything to Souma’s words. Out of necessity Souma continues with his next words,
“I want to demand ransom for you from Holmea.”
“Ransom, you say?”
Once Vulitas, who surprised about hearing of his own ransom, asked by parroting Souma’s words, Souma nodded once and continued,
“If the ransom is paid, we will release you at once.”
Joy quickly spreads on Vulitas’ face.
“Yes. ―For that reason I’d like you to write a letter to Holmea.”
“Ooh! I will! I will gladly write it!”
Vulitas accepted to write a letter without any hesitation.
“Lord Soma, what should we do about the intermediary?”
As Souma, who had safely procured Vulitas’ promise that he would write the letter, is walking through the hallway in order to return to his office, he was called out by Eladia from behind.
“Yes. Normally it would be fine to send a negotiation envoy together with the letter, but I fear an envoy from us will be lent no ear.”
In Holmea Souma’s group is still treated as slaves who started a rebellion. Not only would they not accept the letter, if things go badly, it’s even of concern that they might one-sidedly pretend that negotiations never happened, even if they established those at great pains.
“In order for that to not happen, it’s necessary to engage someone, who possesses personal connections and social status that can’t be slighted by Holmea, as intermediary,” Eladia says.
“Won’t it be fine to request that of the city’s merchants or celebrities then?”
Upon that question, Eladia showed a somewhat troubled expression.
“It seems there’s no person that we could ask to act as intermediary in this city.”
Seeing as they rule the city, there have been many occasions where the influential people of this city had been invited to the lord’s residence. And taking charge of those receptions is Eladia in her role as chief court lady. For that reason she had already investigated almost everything about this city’s influential people, but there was none among them who seems to have a connection with Holmea’s royal palace.
“What would be the best option then?”
Having expected that question, Eladia smoothly answers,
“Even if they might not be able to serve as intermediary themselves, they might know of a person capable of it. How about summoning them to this residence to ask them for an introduction?”
Souma was about to entrust this matter to Eladia, seeing as she has planned it already up to this point, but once he mentioned that, a bitter smiled formed on her beautiful face.
“This is your duty, Lord Soma.”
Souma ends up reflexively asking back “Mine?”
“I’m sorry to say, but we are still considered to be slaves. In the end it’s something that can only be discussed by you yourself, Lord Soma.”
He understood the reason, but Souma couldn’t agree with it right away.
That’s because Souma is a typical Japanese who considers himself to be bad at negotiations. After he fell to this world, he had opportunities to participate in negotiations, but all of those were pushed on him, driven by the circumstances.
To say nothing of it making him worry no matter what, once he considers that the negotiation partner will be influential people and merchants who all seem to be eloquent.
“This time it’s a about gaining experience, Lord Soma.”
Eladia persuaded the hesitating Souma like that.
“On this occasion you will only request the introduction of an intermediary. It will be fine as it won’t be as stiff. Besides, I shall support you from the shadows.”
Unable to wipe away his worries even after being told all that, Souma looks over his shoulder at Shyemul, who walks behind him, looking for help. Shyemul, who noticed Souma’s stare, hit her chest once.
“Weren’t you capable of properly negotiating with a slave trader as other party? If it’s you, you will do just fine, Soma.”
Involuntary Souma smiled wryly due to Shyemul’s way of speaking as if she’s bragging about her own achievement.
At the time when he bought Dvalin from a former slave trader in this city, it was no more than simple haggling, but even so, if he’s told so by Shyemul, he feels like it will work out one way or another.
“Understood. Please teach me what’s needed as I’m bad at negotiating.”
“As you wish, Lord Soma.”
Eladia consented with a smile.
Several days after that, a merchant with the name Lazareph was invited to the feudal lord’s residence.
This Lazareph is a merchant who’s making business by selling the goods, which he bought from Jeboa’s trade dealers, in this city. He is one of the top three merchants in the current Bolnis, but that’s also because many of the major merchants escaped when Bolnis fell into Souma’s hands. Before that he was at most an medium-scaled merchant.
Hence, rather than being a capable merchant, Lazareph himself is no more than a kindhearted man who simply continues his trade steadily.
However, for Eladia, who was entrusted with choosing the right person, that was a convenient circumstance.
In the last few days she had taught Souma the basics of negotiations, but even so she couldn’t afford to place too much of a burden on him. On the other hand, it would be troublesome with a party that seems unable to introduce the all-important intermediary.
As for that aspect, Lazareph has connections with Jeboa’s trade dealers. Moreover, he doesn’t possess a character of trying to gain profit by tricking Souma. In every way he was the most ideal practice partner.
Without knowing that he was invited because of such ulterior motives, Lazareph visited the residence at the appointed time.
The ones who greeted him first are the beautiful elven court ladies.
Lazareph most certainly didn’t expect to encounter this many elven court ladies in the lord’s residence of a mere provincial city and thus is immediately overwhelmed by that spectacle.
That might also be related to the drive of the elven court ladies. After all, even for them, it’s their first time to serve a customer after having been appointed as Souma’s court ladies. It’s more than understandable that they are enthusiastic about it.
“Sir Lazareph. Please, come this way.”
Lazareph was guided by Eladia, who was the only one with a calm demeanor among the court ladies, to the audience hall. With the double door being opened, Lazareph nervously enters the hall.
“Welcome, thanks for coming.”
Where Souma, who greeted Lazareph, stood was not close to the lord’s chair installed in the deepest part of the hall, but on the other side of a huge table that had been set up in the center.
Due to that Lazareph felt relieved, guessing that Souma isn’t trying to force him into something, but seeking a dialogue.
“Come on, please sit down first.”
Being prompted by Souma, Lazareph sits down on a chair. After making sure of that, Souma sits down as well. Behind him stands Shyemul at attention while wearing her torso armor that’s been knitted out of ivies.
Her acting like that was for the sake of Souma not being belittled by the other party rather than serving as his bodyguard. No matter how many other races might obey him, it’s undeniable that Souma himself lacks things such as dignity and formidability. Accordingly, with Shyemul, one of the zoan who are still feared as atrocious beasts by the city’s humans, standing behind him, it will compensate for his missing dignity.
But then again, this time even that seems to be unnecessary. Several months have elapsed after Souma took the rule over this city. And even though he has the accomplishment of striving to pacify the city’s population with the maintenance of public order during that time, Souma’s ill repute, which gave the residents a strong impression once, appears to be going strong even now.
Even though they are only sitting while facing each other, Lazareph is in a state of continuously wiping away the cold sweat gushing forth since some time with a handkerchief.
With the other party like that, even Souma was able to keep his composure.
Just as he was taught by Eladia, he exchanges some light chatter about things such as the recent events in the city after receiving a formal greeting. While he was doing that, Souma gradually reached the point where he could speak without a hitch.
Choosing the right time going by Souma’s state, Eladia, who stood behind Lazareph under the pretext of acting as waitress, sends a signal to Souma to proceed with the main topic.
“Mister Lazareph. Today I invited you as there’s something I’d like to consult with you about. ―As a matter of fact…”
Having seen the signal, Souma finally broached the topic of whether he couldn’t request of Lazareph to act as intermediary between them and Holmea. Lazareph reveals a baffled expression due to being requested as intermediary for the sake of demanding Vulitas’ ransom.
“As I’m only running a small business in this city, interacting with the royal palace is something I simply cannot do…”
Just as Eladia had investigated, it was impossible for Lazareph. Thus, just as planned, Souma shifts the conversation towards the possibility whether he knows someone whom he could ask to act as intermediary.
Hearing that, Lazareph’s face brightened up quickly.
“Ah, true! I know just the right person for that!”
Since they would have to invite yet another person if Lazareph didn’t have an idea, Souma feels relieved, too.
“Just what kind of person might they be?”
Lazareph lowered his voice somewhat and told Souma who unconsciously allowed his voice to show his excitement as a troublesome matter would be resolved with this,
“Actually a guest from Jeboa has been staying in my house since around a month ago. As that person’s family is a prominent mercantile household even in Jeboa, I’m sure that they also possess a connection to Holmea’s royal palace.”
Eladia, who listened to that from behind while feigning ignorance, squinted faintly.
Not only herself, but also the other elven court ladies have perked up their ears to the gossip in the city to collect information, but it’s the first time for her to hear about such an important person staying within the city. Eladia judged that they have to quickly gather information until the time when that person is invited to the lord’s residence on another day.
However, a story that made Eladia, who developed such a plan, doubt her ears spilled out of Lazareph’s mouth.
“As a matter of fact, he has come here today as well while accompanying me.”
Certainly, Lazareph has brought several attendants along. However, because Lazareph didn’t introduce any of them while being guided to the audience hall, all of them were held back at the anteroom as simple, low-ranked attendants.
“He has already come here?”
Lazareph nodded at the surprised Souma.
“Yes. He told me to ask you whether he could meet with you, Your Lordship.”
At that point, seemingly believing that he would be criticized for having stayed silent about that, Lazareph hurriedly provides an explanation.
“This is by all means that person’s own request. Suddenly intruding upon you without any kind of appointment or acquaintance is extremely rude. He said, if there was any chance within the flow of the conversation for him to be introduced, that would be sufficient. Even I wouldn’t dare to introduce him arbitrarily since he said he wouldn’t mind it even if this might have been a pointless visit.”
No way, Eladia thinks.
There’s no way for a merchant, who’s referred to as wealthy, to come along for such an ambiguous reason. Most certainly he had some kind of confidence that he would be able to meet with Soma.
Upon Lazareph’s words, Eladia switches her feelings towards distinct alertness because of the strangeness of the situation.
Just in case I have taught Soma about the aspect that he should be cautious in negotiations with merchants which also applies to the discussion with Lazareph. However, leaving aside Lazareph, suddenly taking on a sly, experienced major merchant with such stopgap knowledge is close to suicide.
To be frank, I’m at the point where I’d like this to be moved to another day in order to gain some time for a thorough investigation of that person and to work out a counterplan. However, with a person, who fulfills our request to be introduced with, being right here, it would be equivalent to discourtesy to postpone a meeting to another day.
Being looked at by Souma, who is puzzled about the best way to respond here, Eladia had no choice but to reluctantly nod.
“Understood. Please introduce that person to me by all means.”
“Ooh! You have my deepest gratitude!”
Even Lazareph, who had covertly examined Souma’s expression, feels relieved.
The one who entered the hall after a short time while being led by an elven court lady was a young man who had a dark brown skin due to frequently being exposed to the sun.
What he’s wearing is a loose, tubular dress which had its cuffs extensively removed. And a white cloth similar to a white keffiyeh (a cloth wrapped around their heads by Arabs) that’s coiled around his head. All of it reminded Souma of the very definition of an Arabian trader.
What made Souma particularly widen his eyes is his hair. Even though he’s a man, flaxen hair, which extended to around his waist, spills out from beneath the cloth around his head.
The youth, who saw Souma, spread his arms in an exaggerated manner and raised his voice in admiration.
The powerful voice of the man echoed within the audience hall.
“Yo, yo, nice to meet you. I’m the Ten Committee Member of Jeboa’s merchant guild, Menahem Shapiro’s…”
Upon the youth’s introduction, not only Eladia, but Souma was also surprised.
Because they have already caused a dispute with Jeboa’s merchant guild, they have investigated the wealthy merchants called the Ten Committee Members who are running the guild. And, there’s no doubt that the name Menahem Shapiro existed among them.
The young man narrowed his eyes like a thread and grinned at Souma and the others who are shuddering upon the arrival of this outrageous big shot.
“…son, Yoash. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”