The Benes Bay was an inland sea trying to cut deeply into the Seldeas Continent, up until its central area. It was an inlet surrounded by land with a gentle sea that hardly ever became stormy. Because of that, the marine trade in the Benes Bay has been flourishing since ancient times. And it was the Ocean State Jeboa that had become the West’s key player in that marine trade.
The coastline of the Benes Bay in the area referred to as West had few coves and gulfs to take refuge from storms and high waves, but in exchange many reefs and wide shallow beaches. Hence it was a bad area to construct big port cities where large trade ships with a deep draft could anchor. As an exception to that, the Jeboa gulf, which possessed a cape that would become a natural breakwater and a peninsula part that protruded into the Benes Bay, had been used for a very long time as port for large trade ships.
As the eras passed, that gulf developed and transformed into a huge port. At the same, the small town that had been nestling close to the port grew into a commercial city, and then turned into a country at some point – Jeboa.
And on that day, the ten wealthy merchants called the Committee of Ten, the decision-making body of the merchant guild that held the real authority in Jeboa, carried out their regular meeting. The location of this regular meeting was the residence of Cornellius, a wealthy merchant who had built his huge riches through the sale and processing of precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper.
The ten men, including Cornellius, who surrounded a huge round table creaking under the weight of the many dishes in the parlor that was the epitome of luxury even within the residence, were the members of the Committee of Ten. The merchants, who ate the meat personally cut by the host with bare hands, faintly widened their eyes in surprise.
“Hoh… Bolnis-styled, huh?”
It was a meat dish using the zoan spices that had recently started to become popular even in Jeboa. In Jeboa, which prospered on sea trade, various spices had been imported from foreign countries, not limited to just mustard and fish sauce. However, if one were to speak about spices matching with meat dishes, the zoan ones were exceptional.
However, they were still rare spices just recently exported from Bolnis. Alongside the craze over Bolnis dishes, the prices for these spices had risen so steeply in Jeboa that it was ridiculous. At present they could be traded for the same weight in gold. Cornellius freely using those spices in his dishes allowed a peek at the size of his fortune.
And yet, the ones partaking in those dishes were only merchants who weren’t inferior to Cornellius in any way. In front of the dishes that would cause any commoner to hesitate to even touch them, they ate what was served with relish while calmly chatting with each other.
Around the time when most of them had finished eating, Cornellius asked about their impressions of the food. In response the other merchants cheerfully replied that he had allowed them to enjoy a plentiful meal. However, despite the satisfaction of his guests, Cornellius’ expression remained stiff.
“You’re right, it’s delicious. ――However, if you eat too much of what’s delicious, it will harm your body. Am I not right?”
The harmonious atmosphere at the venue immediately cooled down. The ones present here were all wealthy merchants representing Jeboa. They realized that Cornellius used the dishes to state a warning about the influence of Bolnis that had suddenly started to gain in strength.
“However, it’s human nature to desire eating delicious food. And isn’t it a merchant’s nature to earn money by satisfying that demand?”
If there were merchants seeing the benefits in trading with Bolnis, there were others who sympathized with Cornellius’ warning.
“It would be a waste to allow precious dishes to cool down. But, if you eat hot dishes in a hurry, you’re liable to get burned.”
On the contrary, the next opinion was based on the current, explosive situation between Holmea and Bolnis.
“But, I’ve heard that a starved lion is aiming for the dish. It’s not a bad idea for us to snatch away the tasty parts before it’s devoured by the lion, is it?”
Using roundabout words so as to not commit themselves to anything, they sounded out each other’s intentions. Anyone present here planned to kick down and forestall the others. Moreover, while taking into consideration that the others might plan the same, they tried to slyly outfox each other.
“Thanks to those runaway slaves, I had to shoulder unnecessary expenses!”
The one who raised his voice in irritation at the other members of the committee, who only spoke indirectly, was the trade dealer Jacob. He was a merchant who had amassed riches by circulating goods from the continent’s center to Bolnis. Having become unable to use the labor of cheap slaves for transport because of the slavery ban issued by Souma in Bolnis, he had suffered big losses.
When he was asked what they should do about it, Jacob answered that further sanctions were necessary.
“I object.” The one opposing that demand as the very first was the elderly corn trader Kajaphas. “We should stop the current beating down of wheat prices right away. Only fools see nothing but the immediate profits as they rejoice over obtaining wheat cheaply. The amount of harvested wheat in the Solbiant Plains has abnormally skyrocketed in the last five years. Right now, most of it is heading into Bolnis for its own demand. However, in the near future they will also become capable of setting aside wheat for export. If absurdly cheap wheat floods the markets in great quantities, the wheat of others won’t get sold anymore. Once that happens, the farmers growing wheat in other regions will go bankrupt. Afterwards it will be us who will be forced to buy wheat from them at their asking price.”
Following the old Kajaphas, opposing views were raised in succession, asking what the idea was about the merchant guild, which protected the freedom of trade, to impose sanctions contradicting that very principle. And not only that. It even went as far as some starting to ridicule Cornellius and Jacob, who had spearheaded the vote for the wheat bargaining five years ago, for things not showing the results they had expected.
Having his pride hurt by that, Jacob roared in anger, “All of it is because some profligate son has been doing unnecessary things!”
The other wealthy merchants all immediately turned their eyes in the direction of a single man. It was Menahem Shapiro ― a man in the prime of his life with his skin tanned brown by the sun. He was wiping the remaining soup in his bowl with a torn piece of bread while feigning ignorance and not joining the conversation.
His son Yoash being a frequent visitor of the Divine Son of Destruction’s place was already a well-known fact. Moreover, that wasn’t all of it. Even the propagation of the novel goods created by the Divine Son of Destruction in Jeboa could be traced back to Yoash. Thanks to that, Bolnis managed to earn a tremendous revenue through export, which more than compensated for the losses through the price war on the wheat.
“Sir Menahem, we’d like to hear your opinion about this!”
Being directly addressed by Jacob, Menahem pretended to have only just now realized that the conversation had turned in his direction, wiped his mouth with a handkerchief in a deliberately calm manner, and then said, “I don’t know who you might mean with that profligate son of yours, but I also feel a strong sympathy with his parents. After all, I’m also at a loss what to do with my profligate son.” Although Jacob’s comment obviously hinted at his son, Yoash, Menahem played dumb. “Even if I want to scold him, that guy doesn’t give me any excuse to do so. Good grief, he sure is a crafty one despite being my son.”
In other words, he had no intention to blame his son, nor did he see any reason to do so.
Even Jacob became speechless due to that. It was only wheat that had been instructed to have its prices beaten down by the merchant guild for the sake of applying pressure on Souma’s group. At the moment Jacob were to try including other wares besides wheat, it would be rejected because of the objections by the other merchants. And what Yoash was dealing with was nothing but spices, glass, soap, etc. This wouldn’t satisfy for Yoash to be condemned by the merchant guild.
“If that profligate son of somewhere violated the rules of the guild, it would be best to immediately punish him with a remonstration or an expulsion. But――” After taking a short breath there, Menahem powerfully declared, “The first principle of Jeboa’s merchant guild is to protect the freedom of trade. Though that’s nothing I’d need to tell you who are all esteemed members of the Committee of Ten.”
As Jacob glared at him in vexation, unable to find any words to refute, Menahem answered by laughing scornfully. Due to the state of those two contrasting poles, the flow of the conversation inclined towards a betterment of the relationship with Bolnis.
At that moment, a skinny man, who looked timid at a glance, shyly raised his hand. It was the wealthy merchant Juda who mainly dealt in wine brewing, and the sale and distribution of that wine.
Looking nervous because all eyes suddenly turned his way, Juda said, “A-Aren’t you forgetting t-that letter?”
Thereupon, the merchants of the committee looked sour at once. Only one among them looked proud as if feeling approved, Jacob.
“You’re absolutely right! We mustn’t forget about that!”
With Jacob’s words as a start, the other merchants also stated their opinions one after the other.
“No, but with that, the fear of damaging Jeboa’s independence will…”
“You’re correct! We aren’t some vassal state!”
“But, isn’t it better to not deliberately burden ourselves with unnecessary danger?”
Even after that, the merchants of the Committee of Ten continued to vehemently argue about their opinions. But, in the end, they didn’t decide anything on that day.
Once Menahem returned to his own mansion after the meeting finished, he was informed by the butler, who welcomed him, that his son Yoash was waiting for his return.
“Yoohoo! It’s been a long time, father!”
Menahem exchanged a hug with his son, who came to greet him with both hands spread as soon as he entered the mansion’s parlor, while smiling broadly. And then, after both had confirmed each other’s sound health, they sat down on the big cushions spread out on the floor.
“It looks like a meeting of the committee took place today, but how did it go?”
Menahem pulled a sullen face at Yoash who started to talk about that first.
“Hah, how did it go, you ask? As usual it was a waste of time…”
Even Menahem understood the problematic issue that the Committee of Ten lacked the power to decide promptly. However, his understanding didn’t result in him considering what to do about it. The current structure of the committee, even without the ability to make prompt decisions, lessened worries about unnecessary chaos cropping up, compared to allowing the centralization of authority on a single person. And above all else, if he tried to change the system of the committee in an unskilled manner, he would be in danger of being sabotaged by the other wealthy merchants.
At that point, Menahem suddenly recalled a certain rumor.
“I heard that you declined the proposal by the 『Divine Son of Destruction』 to let all business run through you. Why did you refuse it although you could have made even more profit by monopolizing it?”
“As expected, you’ve got sharp ears, father,” Yoash laughed.
Certainly, Souma had offered Yoash to leave the distribution of all the products of Bolnis in Jeboa to him. Souma, who didn’t know even the basic fundamentals of business, thought that it would likely be more reliable to have Yoash handle everything than doing it himself. However, Yoash had turned that down with a wry smile.
“Then it would be easy to beat down the prices. I think it’ll be better to have a competition by also adding other merchants.” He said, with 70% of Bolnis’ products being handled by him, and the remaining 30% being allotted to other merchants.
At a first glance, it might look as if Yoash had relinquished a good opportunity to make huge profits. However, Souma, who trusted Yoash deeply because of this, became able to make demands in the business negotiations about the remaining 30%. Because of that, Yoash could essentially express his own opinion on the remaining 30% as well while dealing with 70% himself.
“The city of Bolnis ― no, that Lord Soma is like a chicken bearing gold eggs. If you turn a chicken into meat after killing it, you might gain temporary satisfaction. However, if you feed it plenty of fodder, and rear it carefully, it will continue to produce golden eggs for a long time to come.” Even while saying so, Yoash locked away in his chest, But then again, even if the chicken is a chicken, it still got fangs and claws quite capable of killing a lion.
It’s just as Yoash says, the current Bolnis is the very definition of a chicken producing golden eggs, assessed Menahem.
The various rare goods, such as soap, distilled liquors, and glass containers which were much cheaper because they were mass-producible while being far more delicate than the glass wares until now, hid more than enough value to circulate them to the empire that gathered all luxury goods in the continent’s center. In reality, when several of those goods fell in the hands of the empire, even influential nobles and royals attempted to sound out whether it was possible to obtain a lot more of them.
However, even considering all that, it looks to me like my son has gotten involved with them a bit too much.
Once Menahem casually warned Yoash about it, Yoash looked slightly bewildered for a moment, but immediately pulled a face as if he had grasped something.
“Well, I suppose it’s because you haven’t been to Bolnis yet, father.”
Menahem felt offended. Even though he might look like this, he still intended to always keep his ears pricked up for news about the situations of various places as one of the wealthy merchants representing Jeboa. Bolnis was no exception to that.
“No, don’t misunderstand. I haven’t said that it’s your fault or anything, father. That city ― no, Lord Soma is just too far outside the norm. I can’t understand that man even while watching from nearby,” Yoash chuckled, and then looked up to his father, “Father, I have a little request.”
“What is it this time? You want another ship?”
This begging of his profligate son was a common occurrence. Most of the time he asked for new ships or sea charts, but this time it was something else.
“As a matter of fact, Lord Soma has been saying that he’d like to visit Jeboa. Accordingly I wanted you to have him invited with your authority.”
Menahem’s face turned grim.
At present the “Divine Son of Destruction” is no more than the boss of revolting slaves. If someone like that tries to come to Jeboa under some kind of official formality, it’d likely be impossible without someone’s referral. However, the issue is their confrontation with Holmea. If I nonchalantly invite them, it’s very likely to turn into a handicap for Jeboa as it’d incur the displeasure of Holmea, one of the nations called a major power in the West. Even the criticism from the merchant guild against the Shapiro Company, which would be the ones having invited them, would probably be rather intense.
Menahem was about to refuse his son’s request for its obvious implications, but Yoash spoke up before he could, “――Having said that, I’ll give up on that since it’s clear that it’s nothing you could agree on right now, father. How about you allow me to take you to Bolnis so that you could take a look with your own eyes, instead?”
Menahem brooded over this proposal for a moment. Yoash was seen as a profligate son and simpleton by society, but Menahem valued his son very highly. Yoash seemed to be superficial, but his ability to see through the value of things was undoubtable.
“Very well. I’m also curious about Bolnis and that 『Divine Son of Destruction』.”
He was one of the Committee of Ten said to lack the ability for snap decisions, but Menahem was different in private. Still within the day when he had consented to the invitation to Bolnis, he entrusted the company during his absence to his eldest son Daniel, got ready for traveling, and left Jeboa together with Yoash on the next day.
Sitting on the cushions covering the interior of the carriage which was pulled by four horses, Yoash rested opposite his father with a small table carrying wine cups between them, and took out something out of his bag a little while after they left the city towards Bolnis.
“Father, let’s enjoy a peaceful trip while eating this.”
What Yoash held out with those words was a small piece of bread.
He very likely got a cook to bake it in time for our departure.
When Menahem brought his nose close to it, it had the savory aroma of freshly-baked bread.
“Hoh. I suppose this is a Bolnis-styled bread, huh?”
This was yet another product originating from Bolnis. It was a bread which was in the process of spreading in Jeboa with a speed that supplanted the traditional breads because of its savory and softness that couldn’t be found in the common breads. However, the hardened, slushy substance that had been applied on top of it was something Menahem saw for the first time.
“It was baked after smearing a mixture of butter and soybean mito on it.”
He had heard rumors about the Divine Son of Destruction making mito out of soybeans instead of tubers. However, it was the first time for Menahem to see and eat it. First he bit off a mouthful of a part that had mito applied to it. As he did, he thought that it might be simply salty unlike the sweetness common to mito made out of tubers. However, as he continued to chew, he was able to taste an umami he had never experienced so far. Moreover, with the addition of the butter’s mellow flavor, an indescribable deliciousness spread inside his mouth.
“Hoh…! This is quite a find.”
Yoash let a chuckle slip upon seeing his father narrowing his eyes due to a taste he enjoyed for the first time. Due to that, Menahem asked him with his eyes whether something was wrong.
“Please make absolutely sure to avoid the topic of mito mixed with butter in front of Lord Soma. Somehow it appears he’s uncommonly fussy about mito, and regards this way of usage as heresy.”
He wouldn’t complain about it when meeting face-to-face, but it seemed as though he wouldn’t look overly happy about it either. Menahem was astounded about Soma being such a crybaby that his mood would worsen over food. In addition he was told about several anecdotes, such as Souma looking as sad as a child that had its toy stolen when someone tried to get him to hand over freshly-made soybean mito.
The difference between Souma’s childishness, which his son told him about, and Souma’s brutal tyranny as it was gossiped about on the streets, caused Menahem’s interest in the “Divine Son of Destruction” to grow more and more.
It was around the time when they had traveled in the carriage for three days while talking about all those topics. Menahem tilted his head to the side in confusion.
The carriage, which had been violently rattling and swaying for all their journey, had suddenly quieted down. Even now he could still feel light impacts and a slight swaying. However, compared to moments ago, it would be no exaggeration to describe it as non-existent.
“Oh? It appears we’ve entered the sphere of Bolnis’ influence.” Yoash, who likewise noticed that change, said with a blank facial expression.
It’s his typical expression of obviously knowing something but deliberately withholding that information.
Once Menahem questioned him about it, Yoash replied, “You’ll understand if you exit the carriage.”
While being puzzled by his son’s way of speaking, Menahem got out of the carriage, and froze in shock.
“…! What the hell is this!?”