A girl swam in the ocean. Her face still possessing traces of innocence. She freely swam, letting her silver hair unrestrictedly flutter in the water.
However, it was only the beginning of spring, a season when spring could barely be heard approaching in the far distance, even on land. As of yet, the ocean water was cold, and one might freeze down to their core when staying in the water for too long a time. And yet, the girl only wore a broad chest band, covering her modest breasts, and a leather skirt as it was traditionally worn by fishermen and hunters. It was nothing you’d describe as an outfit capable of protecting her from the cold.
Still, no matter how true this might be, the girl swam through the sea at a speed surprising even the fish while having a bright smiled plastered across her face which lacked the slightest hint of unhappiness, seemingly immune to the water’s chill. Yet, that was no real surprise.
What the girl used while fervently moving it up and down as if trying to kick the water weren’t two legs, but a huge fin. The area beneath her waist didn’t split into two legs as with humans, but extended straight down in one line, and at the tip grew a huge fin that looked like a half moon laying on its side.
She was a merman. A half-man, half-fish race deemed to have been created by the Water Goddess.
The merman girl spotted a swarm of small fish surging within the sea like a cumulonimbus cloud. With a mischievous smile cockling her small lips, she swam onwards, drawing a single, large arc, and then plunged into the swarm head-first after gaining momentum. The small fish panicked and fell into disarray due to the sudden attack.
Having plentifully enjoyed the fish’s confusion, the girl swam towards the surface by powerfully waving her fin, and let her head peak out on the waves.
“Aahh! That was fun!”
It had been quite a long time since she could swim this much to her heart’s content. Because she was never allowed to leave the kingdom’s circumference, he had been unable to swim at full throttle. Besides, because she had to always worry about someone watching her, the kingdom’s vicinity had been very cramped. Tired of such restrictions, the girl stole away from under the watchful eyes of the old nanny attending to her, and swam all they way to this area which was close to land and far from the kingdom.
Around now, nanny must have fallen into panic after noticing my absence. The girl giggled at the comical image of her nanny searching for her in a dither. But, it I don’t go back soon, I’ll start feeling bad for nanny.
Judging so, the girl was about to dip underwater again, but suddenly something flashing in a glitter at the edge of her sight caught her attention.
What could that be? It looks like something is twinkling in the direction of the shore.
The girl swam towards land, obviously having her curiosity piqued.
“…! It’s a mirror.”
It was a hand mirror. Apparently having been washed ashore as part of luggage of a sunken ship, the mirror reflected the sunlight while being partly buried in the sand, which caused its twinkling glittering.
The girl swallowed her spit. A mirror was a treasure. That applied all the more for merman. Symbolizing that was a huge mirror as decoration behind the throne of the successive generations of queens. It was said that this mirror was something that had been found around a hundred years ago inside a shipwreck, and the commoner man, who presented it to the royal family, not only obtained the position and right to levy taxes from a hundred families, but was also appointed to nobility, and even offered the hand of the youngest princess by the queen back then.
Moreover, for the mermen, a mirror wasn’t merely unusual either. If one spoke of mirrors in this world, they meant bronze mirror arduously polished with metals. However, even a precious mirror would become cloudy right away when exposed to the saltiness of ocean water. Because of that, one had to regularly get a mirror polished by bearing high expenses to maintain its radiance.
Thus, for mermen, a mirror was something fairly valuable and expensive. Not to mention the girl’s budding interest in her own appearance. It was only understandable that she desired to possess her own mirror, and not a water mirror created by pouring water onto a tray.
The girl quickly surveyed the vicinity. She had heard about evil humans catching her kin and selling them off as slaves on land. For that reason, she had been warned about not going ashore to the extent of making her ears bleed.
But, no figures could be seen near the place where the mirror laid. Moreover, its location was a small cove with only that place forming a depression in the rocky beach. Over there the girl might stay hidden from the surrounding area, allowing her to remain undiscovered even if she were to go ashore.
Resolving herself, the girl left the water while dragging the lower half of her body with both hands.
And just as she was about to place her hands on the mirror buried in the sand-covered beach, she heard the throaty yell of a man, “Now! Get her!”
Surprised by that, a net was cast atop the girl. At once she attempted to escape its clutch by waving both her hands, but she only caused her body to increasingly entwine itself in the net.
“Hurry up, and silence her! Quick!”
One human male after the other leaped out from a trench-like hole dug into the sandy beach, where they had laid hidden so far. They swarmed the girl who was caught in the net. The girl tried to scream, but her mouth was blocked by a cloth smelling sourly. Even the hands, she thrust out in a frantic resistance, were instead caught by the men, and bound with a rope.
“Hurry, we gotta get away from here!”
No sooner than those words and the footsteps of the rough men faded away, silence returned to the beach. All that was left on the deserted sandy beach were the small waves crashing ashore.
It was right after Souma had bid farewell to Menahem and Yoash that an invitation to Jeboa by the Shapiro Company was delivered to him. Receiving it, Souma felt a pang of relief in his chest. After all, the other party he had entertained was the president of the Shapiro Company who likely received elaborate and extravagant hospitality at any place he visited. Souma had to win the favor of such a person to obtain an invitation to Jeboa.
When Souma had consulted with Yoash after being at a loss how to best entertain Menahem, he could only pry the overly useless advice, “I think it’s fine to act as usual. Just do what you always do,” out of him.
He was told to go with the usual, but whenever Yoash visited Bolnis, he merely treated him to the dishes of modern Japan he had reproduced together with his cook Marco. It wasn’t as though he handed Yoash especially expensive gifts, or held any great banquets for him. Souma was very anxious whether this much would be sufficient.
And, just as he had expected, Menahem’s response didn’t look overly promising. At first he showed a gentle smile, but his face continued to gradually cramp up each time they dined together. Although he repeatedly insisted that he fully enjoyed the dishes, Souma felt that the cooking style might not have suited his palate after all. Even so, he tried to have various dishes served, hoping that one of them might be to Menahem’s liking, but that seemed to backfire instead, seeing how Menahem started to actually look greatly troubled towards the end.
Souma felt secretly depressed that Yoash, who looked like the incarnation of joy in contrast to Menahem, might have have duped him.
But, since I was invited to Jeboa this quickly, I must have somehow managed to get a passing mark from Menahem.
Alongside that feeling of relief, Souma quickly began to prepare his departure to Jeboa as if he feared that Menahem would change his mind. On the day when he was finally about to leave Bolnis, Jahangil boarded the carriage once again.
It was a common occurrence for this dinosaurian warrior, whose expression was as unreadable as ever, to try come along with Souma without even giving an advance notice. At this point, neither Souma nor Shyemul had any will left to complain to him. But, there was still no way that they wouldn’t call out to Jahangil with him being armed to the teeth while roughly breathing through his nose.
“Umm, Mr. Jahangil. What’s with this getup…?” Souma timidly asked.
Jahangil loudly snorted once as if doubting his ears why Souma would ask such a silly thing.
“We’re going to invade Jeboa, aren’t we? Just leave it all to me!”
It appeared that he had heard about Solon’s words from someone.
“No, you see…the talk about invading was a metaphor. It’s not like we’re going to start a war with them, okay?”
With Holmea about to attack our side, it’d be much too ill-advised to turn Jeboa, which is literally sitting in out back, into our enemy.
Explaining as much to Jahangil, he blinked his vertical pupils for a little while. For some time Jahangil remained unmoving as if frozen, but suddenly he got off the carriage while dragging his tail which seemed to droop down lifelessly.
“Huh? You’re not going to come with us?”
Exactly because Jahangil had often come along with them to one place or another even without battles astir, it was more than unusual for him to meekly get off the carriage.
Confronted with Souma’s question, Jahangil curtly replied over his shoulder, “I hate the ocean.”
The dwarven warrior leader Dvalin shared his sentiment on this, “I’d like to refrain from getting close to the ocean, too. Besides, I’ve still got the work you asked me to do for you.”
These two were former slaves who had been brought to the West on slave galleys. They had been locked up with many other slaves in a cramped and gloomy bilge, and finally landed in the West after being thoroughly rocked around by waves for many days. By now they must be sick and tired of the ocean.
However, leaving Jahangil aside, Souma wished for Dvalin to accompany him. Dvalin was the one in charge of running and controlling all the workshops producing glass and soap, the biggest export hits of Bolnis. For the negotiations with Jeboa’s merchants, it’d be a great help for Souma to have Dvalin around when he were to be asked to explain details about the production state of the workshops and the future outlooks.
Because of that, he had previously sounded out Dvalin about accompanying him, but Dvalin’s bad disposition towards the ocean, which he had fully shut out so far, probably reared its head upon Jahangil’s words. From the very start, Dvalin, as a dwarf, felt bad with large accumulations of water such as the ocean, even without recalling the bad memories from his time as a slave. This was something related to a dwarven racial trait. Compared to other races, dwarven bodies had a higher density of bones and muscles. For this reason the small dwarven bodies were relatively sturdy and strong. However, that disposition actually turned into a disadvantage in water.
A human body could float on water because of its relative weight being only slightly heavier than that of water. Because of that, humans could float by just letting air enter their lungs and paddling through the water with their arms and legs. However, the entirety of the dwarven race could be described as hammers in water because of their body structure.
As for Souma, he wanted Dvalin to come along if possible, but neither did he want to force him. As for Dvalin, he’d find it difficult to refuse if his benefactor requested this of him, but in the end he didn’t want to go to the ocean.
Jahangil, who had looked back and forth between the two worrywarts, suddenly moved. He quickly grabbed Dvalin, who had been brooding with a frown on his face, by the scruff of his neck, and tossed him onto the tray of the carriage as if throwing away some trash. Dvalin crashed onto the carriage so loudly that Souma and Shyemul instinctively ducked their heads, but the dwarf immediately started to loudly protest from the load-tray, fuming.
“Bloody hell, Jahangil! Yer betrayin’ me!?”
However, Jahangil only snorted loudly as if having done a good deed, and left the place with lumbering footsteps. For a while Dvalin kept looking angry, but seemingly resigning himself as it’d be bad manners to get off the carriage after having boarded it once – albeit against his own will – he flopped down with his legs crossed, sulking.
After confirming that, Souma placed a foot into the stirrup of the horse a stable boy had brought over, and nimbly mounted its back. Then, just like always, Shyemul grabbed the holster of his horse.
“Well, let’s be off then, I’d say.”
Souma departed for Jeboa while being seen off by Eladia and Marchronis.
Having left Bolnis, Souma deliberately let his horse walk at a slow pace. While it might be true that he had been invited over, he’d be looked down upon as being desperate if he headed to Jeboa in a rush, and thus he kept the relaxed trot of his horse, suppressing his impatience over the need to somehow achieve building a beneficial relationship with Jeboa until Holmea would come attacking.
At noon of the fifth day after their departure from Bolnis, Souma’s group finally caught sight of the ocean after having determinedly stuck to the road leading towards Jeboa.
“Soma! Is that the ocean!?”
Even though she knew what an ocean was, it was Shyemul’s first time to see the real thing. Souma unintentionally let a chuckle slip at Shyemul whose eyes were sparkling with excitement. She completely looked as if she’d immediately dash towards the sea if not for her hold on Souma’s horse.
“Indeed. Let’s make a short stopover.”
Souma decided to drop by the ocean. Once they left the road, heading down to the sandy beach, he told Shyemul, who looked all fidgety, “Go ahead, and take a closer look.”
The instant those words left his mouth, Shyemul rushed up to the foreshore like a dog who had her lash released.
“Awesome! Soma, this is the ocean, right!?”
At first, Shyemul leaped back in an exaggerated manner each time the waves washed ashore, but eventually understanding that the waves posed no danger to her, she began to frolic around at the water’s edge.
“These are waves, eh!? Wow! Also, the water is salty, just like you said! Who has poured this much salt into the water!?”
She didn’t doubt the words of her Navel Master whom she offered her absolute loyalty, but in the end, even Shyemul couldn’t help getting all riled up when getting in contact with the actual ocean like this. She played around with the waves just like a little puppy who had been brought along to the ocean for the first time.
In contrast to Shyemul, the other zoan looked rather stupefied. Even they knew of the ocean just like Shyemul, but still, they couldn’t comprehend that the sea, they had seen from far away, was truly a mass of water. That’s because they didn’t know anything wider than the plains as zoan. The conception that boundless equaled the plains had taken firm root in their minds. Because of that, they had simply and arbitrarily interpreted the sea in the far distance as a plain thickly overgrown with bluish-black grasses.
However, now that they were actually standing at the shore, they had no choice but to admit that the ocean consisted of water. This spelled the moment when the zoan warriors, which had been accompanying Souma, were overwhelmed by the difference between their old common sense and the reality spreading out in front of them, resulting in their inability to do anything but to stand around stock still while dumbfounded.
Garam and Zurgu, both extolled as great men on the plains, were no exception to this either.
“Hey, Garam.” Zurgu, who even now looked as if his soul had left his body, addressed Garam who was staring at the sea while standing right next to him.
“Somehow it looks like there was no golden country on the other side of the mountains after all.”
Zurgu was overwhelmed by the vastness of the sea he saw with his own eyes for the very first time. However, being a sourpuss by nature, he couldn’t honestly admit that, and thus wanted to recover his usual frivolousness through Garam’s angry shouting that would be hurled back at him for being teased. But, what he received as reply was a voice that was just as dumbfounded as his own.
“Yeah. It looks like there was no country of fire either…”
The two continued to gaze out towards the sea in silence for a while.
In front of Jeboa’s gate, a man, who introduced himself as employee of the Shapiro Company, came to greet Souma’s group, who had been delayed in their arrival by a day due to the unscheduled detour. When Souma apologized for their lateness, the man was thankful instead.
Being guided by that man, Souma’s group finally entered Jeboa. They had resolved themselves for facing troublesome formalities to get into the city, but the Shapiro employee got the grim-looking gatekeepers to clear the way with a single nod. This let Souma and the others actually feel just how much clout the Shapiro Company possessed around here.
Beyond the gate awaited them a main street continuing straight all the way to the harbor. The place was packed with people of not only different hair and eye colors, but even different skin colors, and the energetic touting by the vendors of the stalls lining up on both sides of the street ceaselessly assailed the small group.
The shapes and contours of the houses standing in rows along the street represented a chaotic mix, and even just looking at their roofs, there were all kinds of flat, round, and pointed roofs. However, as could be expected of a city housing rich merchants, the buildings didn’t use cheap, sun-dried clay, but reddish-brown, baked bricks.
But, even in Jeboa, a melting pot of so many various human races and cultures, Souma’s group had been garnering the attention of the pedestrians traveling the street for a while now, apparently because it was rare for zoan to not be slaves.
The people occasionally glancing their way and whispering amongst each other with hushed voices gave all of them a bad feeling, which was also the reason why they unconsciously felt relieved when they arrived at the mansion which had been prepared for them.
“Yoohoo! Thank you for visiting. Please think of this place as your own home.” Yoash greeted Souma’s party with a smile plastered all over his face when they entered the mansion.
Behind him stood Menahem who ought to be busy with work.
“I thank you very much for having invited us over on this occasion. We shall rely on your kindness for a while.” Souma expressed his gratitude.
In response, Menahem said, “Don’t worry about it.”
Thereafter, he frequently looked behind Souma, at his retinue, seemingly curious about something. Souma immediately grasped what it was.
“Marco, come here for a moment.”
Souma called out to Marco who had been staring at the foreign building and its interior design, he encountered for the first time, with eyes and mouth wide open. Because the written invitation had included a request to definitely bring a cook along as well, Souma had allowed Marco to accompany them on their Jeboa visit.
“Marco here is my personal cook.”
“Oohh! So that’s him, huh!?”
Menahem smiled broadly after Marco was introduced.
I thought that he might have disliked the cooking of modern Japan, but maybe he’s been unexpectedly pleased with its taste, Souma thought, feeling relieved.
Thereupon, Zurgu addressed Souma, “Sir Soma, I’d like to take a look at the harbor and similar, if possible.”
Zurgu was the one among the zoan open to progressive thinking. Having already recovered from his initial shock after witnessing the ocean, he seemed to be curious in the harbor said to have huge trade ships anchored. This was something Souma gladly wanted to approve of, but he deliberately shook his head.
“We will stay low in here for a while. Please tell our other companions that they’re forbidden to go out for the time being.”
Going by the excessive reactions towards the zoan by this city’s residents, I should not let them get into contact carelessly. It’s probably the best to restrict them to go out for a while as it’ll also avoid any unnecessary troubles.
Zurgu appeared unhappy with that decision, but once he saw Yoash grinning widely, he grasped that it was likely the correct judgment in this situation.
At that point, a servant showed up, and whispered something into Menahem’s ear. Menahem had been in a good mood until then as he explained to Marco that he could freely use the kitchen and that they had also assembled rare ingredients for him, but now his face clouded over.
“It looks like we were beaten to the punch…” Menahem’s way of talking suggested that something had happened. Being confronted with a questioning look by Souma, Menahem sighed once, and then announced, “Several members of the Committee of Ten have visited, requesting to extend their greetings to you, Lord Soma.”