“Mr. Menahem, thank you very much for visiting us!”
Menahem observed Souma, who welcomed him with a smile plastered all over his face, in a cool-headed manner while smiling. As a merchant, he had experienced business negotiations and conversations with countless people so far. Among those people were also men who could be described as heroes of their generation.
Such great men were clad in unique auras that seemed to overwhelm others with just their presence. However, Menahem couldn’t feel anything like that from the young man calling himself “Divine Son of Destruction” on their first meeting. No, to go even further, he appeared ordinary to Menahem.
He couldn’t feel any particular resourcefulness from him, nor any atmosphere that would put pressure on him. A perfectly average person who simply looked good. If Souma had been introduced to him as the young master of some prosperous noble or merchant house, he would be able to immediately agree on that.
“We will give you an official welcoming banquet in the evening, but believing that it might be nice to have lunch together first, I invited you over.”
Menahem, who followed Souma into the pavilion, felt a faint discomfort. The interior of the pavilion was quite bright. Menahem frowned light, and as he sensed the sunshine pouring down on him, he looked up. Up there he found a skylight installed in the ceiling, allowing the azure sky to peek into the pavilion.
The skylight, which had a pattern with many grids added to it, was so big that you could as well call it bold.
This should be the source behind the brightness. However, making the skylight too big will likely result in difficulties during winter when the cold air is going to blow into the building.
At the moment of pondering about this, Menahem’s thinking stumbled. It was still early spring, a season where the weather would continue to be cold for a while. In fact, he felt a coldness outside the pavilion that would make him duck his head if only a slightly stronger wind were to blow. And yet the temperature inside the pavilion was warm enough that it felt pleasant.
Having a suspicion, Menahem looked up once more. Once he strongly strained his eyes, he felt like the azure sky visible through the window seemed to be distorted. And not just that. The clouds floating in the sky, which should be white, appeared to have a little green tinge.
“Is that possibly sheet glass…?”
Souma cheerfully laughed at Menahem’s question, “Yes. It’s something we’ve just recently finished at long last.”
Menahem had heard rumors that using glass sheets produced by dwarves for windows had recently become a fad in the continent’s central area. However, as of yet glass was precious, which limited this usage to places like cathedrals or royal palaces. Menahem was astonished that this new invention had already been introduced in such a remote city located at the edge of the West, despite that.
For Souma, who had lived in modern Japan, an application of glass for windows was a very natural occurrence. Because of that, he had firmly requested the dwarves to produce sheet glass at the very beginning of the glass production. However, for the people of this era, glass was still an extremely expensive product that also served as a substitute for gems. For them a glass window was equal to decorating a window with jewels.
In the “Observation Records of the West”, a traveler’s journal written by the adventurer and merchant of the continent’s center Mark Paulo, you could find the following sentence: “The West had amassed enormous amounts of gold and silver. They were overflowing with so many riches that they could decorate their palaces and commoner houses with jewels.”
But, as a matter of fact, there exist no records of Mark Paulo having ever visited the West. His “Observation Records of the West” is no more than a collection of rumors about the West he had heard by accident. In future years, the “decorating with jewels” part is theorized to be a wrongly passed-on story about sheet glass that had spread even to the commoner houses back then.
“For you to not only succeed in the mass production of glass containers, but even go as far as creating sheet glass; you truly live up to your name.” Menahem didn’t say that as flattery, but merely stated his real thoughts.
However, Souma only replied, “It’s thanks to our dwarven artisans,” while forcing a smile. Because of that, Menahem ended up feeling disappointed.
He had praised Souma for having succeeded in creating sheet glass which was still a novelty in the center of the continent. He believed that it would be fine for Souma to be more proud of this. But, albeit being proud of the dwarves’ skills, his reaction towards the sheet glass itself was rather weak. It was almost as if he was saying that sheet glass wasn’t anything unusual.
With this Menahem could fully understand why he had been warned that Souma would label something ground-breaking such as the buttons, which would bring about a revolution in fashion, with 『I didn’t think that it’s anything so significant』.
Calling this guy ordinary is more than outrageous. Hasn’t Yoash previously mentioned that I would have the carpet pulled from under my feet if I just judged him by his appearance? Still, it’s an undoubted fact that this young man has invented many things that have shocked even me.
Souma guided Menahem, who had readjusted his judgment of Souma in secret, to a room with a big table. Menahem and Yoash sat down on chairs with Souma sitting opposite of them. Before long, elven court ladies placed one bowl with steam rising from it in front of each person.
Menahem’s eyebrows faintly twitched after seeing the content of the bowl. Until now he had been continuously and utterly surprised by the things he saw. But contrary to his expectation that something outlandish might completely throw him for a loop again, he was served a transparent soup tinged with a faintly brown color. As for garnish, only finely cut vegetables floated in the soup as if being a poor excuse.
If it came to the soups Menahem knew of, they were a lot more syrupy with many different ingredients cooked together. This here only looked like a soup made by a poor person who was stingy on ingredients.
Well, a watery soup might be better for softening hard bread. Menahem assessed, but the all-important bread was nowhere to be seen. I can’t eat soup like this. There are regions in the southern deserts and similar where they eat soup by scooping it up with their hands, but with a watery soup like this, even that would prove to be difficult.
The elven court lady, who stood behind him as his personal waitress, quietly whispered into the ear of Menahem, who was puzzled how he should go about this, “Please drink just the soup by using this.”
What the elven court lady pointed at was a tool closely resembling a spoon as it was used for compounding medicines. However, its scooping area was rounder and bigger than the spoons Menahem knew.
With this it might be easy to scoop up the soup.
Menahem scooped up the soup with unpracticed hand movements, carrying the spoon to his mouth.
Menahem was surprised by the delicious taste, thickly spreading inside his mouth.
It’s far from being something like a poor man’s soup. It has a rich taste, and on top, it’s such a complex deliciousness that I don’t really know how to express it.
Menahem was confident in his palate as he had personally traveled on merchant ships and fully enjoyed the gourmet food of various regions. However, even his prided tongue failed him at identifying the flavor of this soup.
The taste overflowing with rusticity might be based on mountain bird meat. I sense the fragrance of seafood, and moreover, the sweetness of vegetables in there. However, that’s all I can grasp. There’s one flavor I can’t identify at all.
It was something Menahem had never tasted so far, and thus it might be inevitable that he couldn’t guess what it might be. What was completely unexpected about the soup’s taste was the fact that it used kombu ― a seaweed that was regarded as nothing but a weed growing in the ocean not only by Menahem, but many other people.
“I’m very pleased to see that it seems to suit your taste.”
Menahem quickly came back to his senses thanks to Souma’s voice that wasn’t filled with ridicule, but simple, pure joy. When he looked at his bowl, most of the soup was already gone. Menahem felt ashamed over having lost himself in an excessive attempt to detect the secret behind the soup’s flavor. Souma ordered a second serving for him. After a short time, yet another bowl with a new spoon was placed in front of Menahem.
The method of serving one dish at a time instead of bringing all completed dishes to the table at once was unusual, but the next dish he was served was another unknown to Menahem.
“What might this be…?”
“It appears to be something called 『Tempura』, a dish from Lord Soma’s home country.”
According to the elven court lady who served the food, it was a dish that had been fried after plastering seafood and vegetables with a layer of egg and flour dissolved in water. Menahem had already eaten fried food where the ingredients had been simply fried in oil without any batter, but something like this here was a first for him.
The court lady stopped Menahem who immediately attempted to grab the tempura with his bare hand.
“Please use this.” What she pointed at while saying this was something like a small trident made out of silver. “It’s a tool called fork. Please eat the dish after stabbing it with the fork.”
Menahem immediately agreed with its utility. With this it would be possible to eat even hot food, and there was no worry about the hands getting dirty from oil either. Just like the spoon, it was a great idea.
When he thrust the fork into the tempura, he could hear a satisfying crispy sound. He brought it to his mouth and tried to bite off a mouthful.
“…! Oh my god!”
Behind the crunchy wheat layer he tasted a slice of white fish as it could be caught in Jeboa’s sea. The fish slice, which was as soft as it would be impossible to achieve by frying it without any batter, caused a juicy tastiness to spread in his mouth as soon as he chewed on it. Adding the emphasis of a rich oil to a light-tasting white fish resulted in an indescribable deliciousness he had never experienced so far.
However, Menahem wasn’t surprised by its simply delicious taste, but the lack of saltiness in the fish fillet.
As of yet it was an era where foodstuff was preserved by pickling it in salt. Leaving aside areas close to the sea, fish that had to be transported inland would always be pickled in salt. However, the fish he ate just now possessed a juiciness as it was impossible for fish pickled in salt.
In fact, the fish used in this tempura had only been caught at Jeboa’s port yesterday. It had its blood drained, put into ice that was preserved in an ice house, and on top of it, delivered via air transport by employing harpyians.
Menahem would never come up with the idea that something like this took place, but either way, he fully understood that unbelievable efforts and techniques had been applied here. Menahem felt shocked by just that.
Just how much effort has been spent for merely one, single dish!?
It was only natural for Menahem, one of the richest merchants in Jeboa, to receive a pompous welcome wherever he went. The people receiving him always tried to show Menahem how welcome and very delighted they were over his visit, not just through words, but also exaggerated gestures. Occasionally it went so far that he was stumped by it.
However, what about this?
The absurd effort put into a single dish that he could sense through his tongue and stomach passed on the intent of making Menahem feel welcome more passionately and eloquently than a million words could have done. Even Menahem, who had become immune to the flowery words of those welcoming him, had no other way but to honestly wave the white flag at this.
Even afterwards one unknown dish after the other was served, making Menahem astonished anew every time, and then, at long last, something that seemed to be the main dish was carried in. In a period where meat was precious, it was a standard to use a meat dish as the main course to entertain noble visitors. Going by the savory aroma and the violent sizzling sounds of the oil, it appeared as though a meat dish had been prepared after all.
If one were to speak of meat dishes served as main course in the regions around here, it would be common to mention cows or pigs that had been roasted whole after replacing their intestines with vegetables and fruits.
However, what the court lady brought in front of Menahem was no more than a single plate with something similar to meat placed on top. It was only reasonable that Menahem couldn’t clearly identify the object on the plate as meat. It had a shape different from the meat Menahem was used to. Its surface, which had light burn marks, was uniform without any tissues such as tendons or fat. Because of that, it appeared as though it had been made in a beautiful, elliptical shape.
Menahem stabbed into it with his fork, and timidly carried it to his mouth.
“Amazing…!” He unintentionally shouted out his admiration.
Even though meat will become tough if you roast it, what’s up with this soft and full, grilled meat? I’ve never eaten any meat with a texture like this. It seems as if the meat melts inside my mouth even without chewing on it. In addition, the dark reddish-brown sauce poured on top of it is also exquisite. The sauce, that perfectly harmonized a fruit-like sourness, the sweetness of vegetables, and a spicy flavor, combines with the meat and allows the deliciousness to explode within my mouth.
Moreover, even the meat is nothing I’ve eaten before. I feel like I’ve tasted something similar somewhere, but I can’t pinpoint where. Menahem, who had been brooding just what kind of meat it might be while thoroughly chewing on it, finally realized its real identity.
“This is the meat of cows and pigs…?”
Once he asked so half in doubt, Souma replied, “Yes. ―It’s a dish called minced beef and pork steak.”
Menahem experienced for the first time how grounding two types of meat and mixing them together, instead of simply grilling them separately, gave birth to a completely different taste. Once he had tasted a meat dish with such an elaborate cooking method, he couldn’t think of whole roasted cow or pig, which he had considered as luxury so far, as anything but a simple dish that cut corners in the preparation.
“Did the cooking suit your taste?”
Menahem put in his best effort to squeeze out the overly simple reply, “You allowed me the privilege to enjoy myself plentifully,” to the smiling Souma.
“That’s wonderful to hear. Because we obtained precious sugar from Mr. Yoash the other day, we managed to create this meat dish, and the soon following ice cream. Please look forward to it.”
Yoash cheered loudly next to Menahem, who was confused by the name he heard for the first time.
“Yoohoo! That sweet snow, right? What a wonderful pleasure!”
It seems to be a pastry created by freezing cow milk with sugar to ice. Moreover, given that it uses large amounts of ice and salt to make it, it looks like it’s only served to very esteemed guests.
Having this explained to him by his son, following words flashed through Menahem’s mind: “Please give it a rest already.”
Menahem and Yoash, who had received cordial hospitality from Souma over the next three days after their lunch, were now in the middle of their way back to Jeboa.
Yoash called out to his father, who was staring in the direction of Bolnis, which wasn’t visible anymore for quite some time now, with vacant eyes, with a broad grin.
“Father, what did you think of Bolnis?”
Menahem smiled bitterly at the intentional question as Yoash was well aware that he had suffered a big shock. Now he could understand why his son had become so engrossed with Bolnis.
The knowledge of the young man called “Divine Son of Destruction, and the things created based on it are well worth it. The Divine Son of Destruction hasn’t mentioned his wish for me to introduce him to Jeboa even once during the three days of entertainment. Very likely it’s been my son’s suggestion. My son believes that I won’t be able to not invite him on my own accord, even without the Divine Son of Destruction bringing it up by himself.
And as irritating it is, I’m already planning to invite the Divine Son of Destruction to Jeboa to further strengthen my connection with him. Even if it might result in the criticism by Jeboa’s merchant guild becoming slightly bad, deepening favorable relations with that Divine Son of Destruction is beneficial. No, rather, trying to build a good relationship with him in such a situation might even cause him to have a much better impression of the Shapiro Company.
What had strongly pushed Menahem towards this decision were the dishes he had been served during his stay in Bolnis. It’s not because he simply got ensnared by the deliciousness of the cooking.
Cooking had an abundant history. If one lacked food, they would prioritize filling their stomach. Accordingly any thoughts about trying to cook beautifully and deliciously came second or third. The idea of trying to make delicious, beautiful dishes first came up when people had enough food. And, no matter how abundant the food might be, cooking wasn’t anything that would be perfected in a day. It was something that would be polished after piling up several decades or even several centuries of trials and errors.
Cooking was history in itself.
If it came to a history and abundance that brought forth many dishes that were so elaborate, it was already in a sphere Menahem couldn’t even imagine. And this wasn’t all that astonished Menahem. What surprised him the most was his inability to see the circumstances that led to the dishes he had been served.
Cooking was also culture. Just as it was with the race, a completely different cuisine would be created depending on the customs and topography of the region. In areas close to the ocean, it would be fish dishes, in the mountains it would be cooking based on wild animal meat, and in the plains it would be dishes made out of grains.
The dishes he had been served in Bolnis all had such backgrounds if you looked at them individually. But, if it came to the cuisine as a whole, things were different. When he thought that he might be shown a dish that would remind him of seafood, he was served something of the mountains, immediately followed by something of the plains. It was an array of dishes with completely different backgrounds.
This makes it impossible to guess the birthplace of the Divine Son of Destruction going by the cooking style. If I have to force a conjecture, his homeland might be described as follows: A superstate that had developed over the course of several hundreds years of history after being blessed with bountiful oceans, mountains, and plains, or after absorbing many different cultures via annexation and trade.
However, it’s impossible for me as a merchant to never have heard of such a huge country. Moreover, Yoash hasn’t mentioned anything about the Divine Son of Destruction having such a backstory either. It’s truly impossible to understand this.
What might be the closest to this among the countries Menahem knows was the empire located in the continent’s center. However, Menahem sensed the shadow of modern Japan ― a large country that had accumulated a far wealthier history than such an empire.
It was only natural that Menahem couldn’t make heads or tails of this. Still, he sensed the danger from just this.
My son’s previous description of the Divine Son of Destruction as a sea demon with its main body hidden beneath the water and just a huge arm sticking out is spot on. Above all, you never know what might shoot out from the sea, when and where. If you approach something like that carelessly, you might get caught by his arm, be dragged deep down to the ocean’s bottom, and perish there.
But, Menahem thought, my grandfather built the foundation of the current Shapiro Company by embarking on merchant ships into the sea haunted by pirates. My father headed to unknown lands said to be full of danger to purchase goods in person, raising the Shapiro Company into a wealthy company of established reputation. Would I be then suitable as an ocean trader if I were to fold the sails after being afraid of a sea demon? Menahem laughed.
“Let’s make every effort so that Lord Soma can visit Jeboa.” Due to the unconcerned expression, which looked as if he was saying that it was only natural, of his beloved son, a mischievous spirit sprouted in Menahem. “And I will disinherit you who’s much too prodigal.”
As expected, even Yoash’s eyes widened when he suddenly had a disinheritance thrust at him. Menahem was pleased by the reaction of his son following his expectations, but he deliberately put on a solemn expression, and continued, “Even I, who’s going to invite the Divine Son of Destruction without acquiring approval by the Committee of Ten, will have to take responsibility before long, and retire. I plan to leave the future of the Shapiro Company to my eldest son Daniel.”
At that point Menahem grinned broadly.
“Despite disinheriting you, you’re my beloved son. At the same time as I retire, I will share my fortune with you. You may use that money to start a business in any place you like.”
Guessing his father’s ulterior motive, Yoash went along with his fishy acting.
“Once I’m disinherited by you, father, I won’t be able to enter Jeboa any longer out of shame. ――Most fortunately even someone like me has been welcomed by a person who was kind enough to be my friend. I think I might open a small store in the city of that person.”
“I see. Very well. You have been disinherited, but Daniel is your only sibling. Help each other out in the future, so that the Shapiro Company may flourish profusely.”
With Menahem taking responsibility by retiring and Yoash being disinherited, criticism by the other merchants would be averted from the Shapiro Company.
Moreover, if the Shapiro Company forms an even closer and deeper connection with the Divine Son of Destruction using Yoash, who’s going to be disinherited officially, as intermediary, it’ll likely grow much, much bigger. However, suddenly doing something like that will increase the tensions between the Divine Son of Destruction and Holmea.
But, even if the Divine Son of Destruction were to be defeated by Holmea, the Shapiro Company itself could survive by cutting all ties with Yoash. Besides, if we deepen our friendly relations at this point, it might be possible to employ the craftsmen, who create the distilled liquor and soap, at the Shapiro Company once they lost their place to go after losing to Holmea.
Such were his determined calculations.
“Nothing less of you, father. You sure come up with cunning moves.”
“Not as cunning as yours.”
Menahem and Yoash, who had a conversation that would remind Souma of the “Conversation between the Evil Magistrate and Echigoya” if he had heard it, loudly laughed.