Seven people around Cornelius of the Committee of Ten visited Souma at Menahem’s mansion.
“This is a fairly hasty visit of a guest who only arrived a little while ago.” Menahem, who went outside to deal with them, broached the topic in such a way after a simple greeting.
Cornelius returned a smile at Menahem who was trying to refuse their plea to greet Souma, if chance permitted, while insinuating that it might be rather rude to desire a meeting with a guest, who just finished a long journey, without giving them a moment to catch their breath.
“I’m well aware that we’re intruding upon you, but it would be a violation of courtesy to not give him a single greeting as members of the Committee of Ten, right? Besides, if you consider that we’re saving the other party the time and effort to come greet us individually, I’m fairly certain that it’s a joyful opportunity for them.”
Not only did he clearly state that it had ultimately been Menahem personally who invited Souma, but he also admitted that they were arbitrarily intruding upon them. As Menahem had planned to introduce Souma as his guest at the meeting of the Committee of Ten, Cornelius beat him to the punch, thwarting the need to do so.
“You should know that visiting unannounced qualifies as discourtesy. They are important guests I have invited myself. My dear friends of the committee, I plan to formally introduce my guests at a meeting in the future.”
Scurry back home since I’m going to introduce them to you later.
“Ha ha ha, Sir Menahem, you mustn’t be so stingy. The Divine Son of Destruction is currently in the center of attention in the West. I’d like you to humor us for a bit, even if it’s just taking a short glimpse at him.”
A guy like the Divine Son of Destruction is nothing but an unnecessary seed of trouble. As if we’d let you make facts that would allow the suspicion that there’s some kind of connection between us and such a guy. Just shut up and hurry up, bringing the Divine Son of Destruction here.
In the shadow of the mansion Souma and Yoash watched the two men exchanging a tense duel of words, fighting with roundabout expressions of their true intents.
“The one arguing with my father right now is Merchant Cornelius.”
“I see, so that’s him…”
Even Souma had heard of Cornelius. He was said to be a wealthy merchant with a renowned reputation of being the best in the West when it came to dealing with precious metals. His biggest trade partner was Holmea which owned the copper mines with the highest yield in the West. But him not being able to afford offending that trade partner wasn’t the only issue here. According to rumors, he had suffered huge losses after becoming unable to use slaves for the heavy labor of transporting the huge amounts of copper ores he bought to Jeboa, thanks to Souma’s declaration of slavery abolishment.
The one losing his patience behind Cornelius was the dealer Jacob. He was a merchant profiting from exclusively selling rare goods he had imported from overseas to Holmea’s royalty and nobility. The reason why he hated Souma was similar to that of Cornelius, but it was said that Jacob, who was a retailer, paid all the more attention to staying on good terms with Holmea.
Juda was in a similar situation as Jacob. He was making profit through the production and sale of wine using the high-quality grapes harvested in the circumference of Jeboa. It was said that Juda had been in the process of expanding his market towards Holmea’s royalty and nobility in the last few years. Because of that he couldn’t afford to displease Holmea even more so than Jacob.
According to Yoash, these three were clearly against an improvement of Jeboa’s relationship with Souma. The other four were exhibiting a passive opposition after weighing the merits and demerits between Cornelius’ group and Souma. For this reason they also seemed awkward about confronting Menahem.
Menahem and Cornelius had been continuing their arguing during Yoash’s explanation of those circumstances. However, with the situation being fully stuck in a stalemate, Cornelius finally pressed Menahem to make a decision.
“If you’re not going to allow us to meet him, it can’t be helped. We don’t have time to waste on fruitless endeavors. It’s very regrettable, seeing how we went out of our way to free some time in our busy schedule.”
It was an ultimatum along the line of The one refusing the greetings first is your side. Even if you were to request the opportunity for greetings next time, we won’t have any free time for you in our schedule.
Menahem wanted to invite Souma to the meeting of the committee and introduce him there after laying the groundwork with the other committee members. But, now that it had come to this, he had no other choice. He had a servant waiting behind him call Souma.
When Souma showed up at their location, accompanied by just Shyemul, soon thereafter, a slight murmuring broke out among Cornelius’ group. Cornelius himself only knitted his eyebrows, but Jacob plainly showed his contempt, and Juda looked baffled. That’s because Souma, whom they saw here for the first time, didn’t look like a monster who would pull off something as appalling as rising in revolt against Holmea while leading a small amount of zoan and slaves.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Kizaki Souma.”
When Souma introduced himself, Cornelius first returned the greetings as representative for the committee member present in place, “In the name of everyone, welcome to Jeboa. ―However, if compared to Bolnis which has shown remarkable growth in recent times, I’m sure that this city shouldn’t look anything but calm and peaceful to you.”
The intent behind Cornelius strongly emphasizing the part about calm and peaceful was a restraint, telling Souma to not cause any undesired turmoil, and a jab, telling him to get out of the city as soon as possible.
However, Souma shook his head as if telling Cornelius that it was a preposterous claim.
“It’s full of things that keenly interest me. For example――”
Souma raised his fingers as he listed all the things that piqued his interest after seeing them in the city. Moreover, it was somewhat nasty because he talked about them openly without any hidden meanings. Cornelius tried to read the intent behind his words, but he ended up confused because Souma simply spoke of what gave him joy.
“No, well, umm…I’m really happy to hear that you’re evaluating Jeboa so highly.” Cornelius pulled himself together after clearing his throat once, and went for the crux of the issue in one breath, as if unable to stand being thrown off balance once more. “So, what kind of objective do you have in coming to Jeboa?”
Unconsciously Souma had been somewhat excited about Jeboa, which overflowed with an exotic atmosphere, as it was his first trip after having fallen into this world, but now he finally braced himself.
“My objective is friendship.”
Once again Cornelius became astonished about a big word entering the fray here.
“Any kind of ship is always welcome in Jeboa’s port.”
What Cornelius meant with the ship and port analogy was that Souma’s side simply had to compromise since the door of friendship with Jeboa was always open for anyone.
Souma undauntedly retorted at that, “There wouldn’t be anything as joyful for me as us putting our hand on top of each other.”
The merchants in this area concluded the establishment of business by holding out the upturned palms to each other, and grasping them after stacking up their hands. However, this was impossible if both sides didn’t hold out their hands. Souma wanted Jeboa’s side to compromise as well, and not only his own side.
This exchange was the result of him having learned the basics of negotiations from Eladia and Yoash during the last few years.
Afterwards Souma, who wanted to tie an agreement of non-intervention with Jeboa before the full-blown battle against Holmea, and Cornelius, who wanted a withdrawal of the slavery abolishment and special privileges for Jeboa’s merchants, continued a battle of words, trying to induce their conversation partner to make a verbal slip or concile on their position. The rundown wasn’t all that different from the time when Souma had talked with Yoash for the first time. That alone made it simple to counter the easily predictable attacks of Cornelius, but with their topics starting to enter a loop, Souma became slightly fed up.
However, the one running out of patience earlier than Souma was Jacob.
“I’d like you to give it a rest already! Why do I have to waste my precious time on the likes of a bandit leader who tries to steal a country by instigating slaves!?”
It was an insult that made not only Menahem, but even Cornelius frown in disapproval. He had slandered another party, who was in the process of becoming a political power, as evildoer. This was an impolite conduct that would demand not only a withdrawal of that statement, but also some kind of concession. Moreover, if this didn’t come to pass, it wouldn’t be odd for the other party to tell them that they would draw their final measure, namely armed force.
However, Jacob further added, “At any rate, this place stinks. It smells just like a cattle shed. I’d like you to wrap this up as soon as possible,” seemingly estimating that such repercussions would never happen, seeing Souma’s strained relationship with Holmea .
His intention was clearly to have the negotiations break down.
Even though it would be natural for Souma to fume in rage with his face bright red after being confronted with such an insult, he merely smiled bitterly, contrary to Jacob’s expectations. Rather, he was soothing Shyemul, who was grinding her fangs furiously in his stead, with his eyes.
“Now that’s a problem. We’re definitely no bandits, you know?” Souma scratched his cheek with his finger while looking truly troubled.
Jacob felt disappointed by that. In an era where strength meant everything, a person followed by many people should possess a reasonably high amount of pride. Thus Jacob couldn’t believe that he would only earn a bitter smile after insulting Souma’s side so harshly.
This guy has no guts, has he?
Jacob, who furthered his scorn towards Souma in his mind, came up with a good idea.
“If you say you’re no friend of bandits, how about I give you a chance to prove yourself?”
“Prove ourselves…you say?”
Jacob revealed a nasty smile at Souma who blinked in surprise.
“Indeed. What would you think about doing a little mountain bandit subjugation for example?”
“What’s with that totally uncouth guy!?”
After having Cornelius’ group go back using the wish to carefully consider Jacob’s suggestion as pretext, it was Shyemul who spoke up first. Not only had she been slighted as zoan for stinking of beast, but her beloved Navel Master had been ridiculed. If Eladia hadn’t constantly drummed into her to remain silent, no matter what might happen during Souma’s negotiations, she might have attacked Jacob with her machete or cursed back at him.
While smelling his own body, Zurgu said behind the indignant Shyemul, “Hey, Garam. Do I smell so much?”
Garam treated him with silence as if telling him to not bother him with such nonsense, but from the fact that he casually sniffed his own arm, it was apparent that he secretly also minded this claim.
“《Mad Claw》, and 《Ferocious Fang》! Is now the time to talk about silly nonsense!?”
Being reprimanded by Shyemul, the two shrugged their shoulders lightly as they exchanged bitter smiles.
“Now, now, calm down, Shyemul.”
Souma himself was aware that he looked unreliable. He paid no heed to Jacob’s belittling words of him. Besides, right now they had to consider Jacob’s suggestion, and before that, there was something he had to confirm first.
“What does he mean by mountain bandit subjugation?”
Jeboa’s merchant guild was known for tracking down bandits, who attacked their merchants, to the end of the planet while offering high amounts of money for their heads. Just the existence of bandits that would attack merchants affiliated to that guild was already a surprise, but it was even more surprising that the guild had left these bandits to their own devices so far.
“It means those bandits are simply that tenacious…” Yoash answered while smiling wryly, instead of his father who had a bitter expression.
According to Yoash, those might be remnants of General Darius’ defeat in the battle against Souma. Having turned the mountains near the border to Bolnis into their territory, they were supposedly attacking caravans and peddlers who happened to pass that place. They didn’t number more than 20 people, but not only were they more capable than the usual bandits in that area, but they also shared a strong solidarity.
However, Jeboa can be seen as a country as well. Shouldn’t they be able to easily kill a mere 20 bandits?
Once Souma pointed that out, even Yoash’s face turned sour as if he had swallowed a bitter bug.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve already dispatched a subjugation force around three times.”
The power of the royal family in Jeboa with its strong influence by the merchants was relatively weak, and the number of soldiers in their standing army was low. Even so, they still possessed around 2,000 soldiers at their disposal. However, although they used those soldiers three times for a mountain hunt, they only discovered a crude mountain hut the bandits used as a base, but didn’t yield any mentionable results as they didn’t spot the bandits or any of the pillaged goods. But that wasn’t all. It actually turned into an endless cycle of the bandits laying low right after a mountain hunt, just to resume their raiding after some time had passed.
Hearing the story of Jeboa not being able to catch the bandits despite going as far as mobilizing its army for mountain hunts, Souma had a certain possibility pop up in his mind. Menahem, who saw through Souma’s guess from his face, nodded once.
“It’s probably just as you’ve guessed. To move the national army in Jeboa, the vote of the Committee of Ten is required. A call to request the king to move the army will only come to be with that vote being in favor of a dispatch.”
Souma saw his conjecture confirmed.
If they have to follow through such troublesome steps, the talks about a bandit subjugation will likely be leaked at some point. It’s like kindly asking the bandits to make their escape since they’re going to perform a mountain hunt soon.
Of course, Menahem and the others had also noticed as much.
“A part of the merchants, who had guessed the same, put their money together, hired mercenaries, and had them board an empty carriage in an attempt to lure out the bandits. However, all of that also ended in vain.”
The bandits seemed to be quite cautious. They didn’t indiscriminately target all the merchants trying to pass through their turf, but only attacked after carefully assessing their prey.
When Souma brooded with a gloomy expression after listening to all of this, Garam made a proposal, “What are you going to do, Soma? Are you going to call reinforcements?”
By now the zoan warriors had already started to gather in Bolnis after having received Souma’s call to arms. They had two harpyian warriors accompany them as messengers for emergencies. If Souma entrusted a letter to them, it would reach Marchronis and Banuka within a day in Bolnis, allowing them to prepare more than enough zoan warriors for a mountain hunt.
However, Yoash became pale upon that suggestion, “Please desist! If a foreign country’s army crosses our border without permission, it will turn into needless strife!”
It would turn into a terribly serious matter if warriors, who could only be described as part of armed forces, were to step into Jeboa’s territory without obtaining permission. It would be an act very apt to trigger a war between Souma and Jeboa if things went badly.
“But, it was your buddy who asked us to get rid of the bandits, no?”
Being confronted with Shyemul’s naive question, even Yoash sighed, dropping his shoulders.
“That’s the reason. Even though those men told you to subjugate the bandits, they haven’t said that you can use it as a reason to call in military forces. It means, they’re telling you to subjugate the bandits with the forces you have at hand right now, or hire mercenaries to do so.”
In short, they had an unreasonable demand forced on them. Everyone present pulled a sullen expression.
“Since it’s not like we were given a time limit, let’s consider it carefully.” Yoash strained himself to say so with a cheerful voice, but he was immediately shot down with a denial.
“No, I don’t think that we have that much time.” It was Souma who countered in such a way. “I believe they will immediately spread a rumor about this.”
Even from the short conversation they had, Souma was fully aware that Jacob scorned and hated him. He was the kind of guy who would try to sabotage their side in such a competition without shrinking away from suffering a bit of a bad reputation or disadvantage. In this case he might also spread a rumor that they had asked Souma’s group to subjugate the mountain bandits while playing innocent about putting them on the spot with an unreasonable request. All for the sake of damaging Souma’s evaluation, assuming he were to fail in the subjugation or refuse doing it after fanning the hopes of the merchants who were troubled by the bandits.
Moreover, if they were to wait too long, the bandits would get wind of the rumors, and go into hiding, making it impossible to actually carry out the bandit subjugation.
It was a truly vicious harassment.
“Doesn’t some kind of method exist to make Jacob understand, or do we have no choice but to subjugate the bandits with the forces at hand…?”
Although he was the one voicing it out, Souma also comprehended that either option would be difficult. Even if they offered another solution at this point, it was obvious that Jacob would insist on a non-approval as long as they didn’t carry out the bandit subjugation. Getting the merchants of the opposing faction except for Jacob on board would likely cause the merchants aware of the circumstances to take this as a lucky chance to demand privileges in Bolnis from Souma. That would only increase Souma’s side’s losses.
Souma felt that it would still be better to think in the direction of the bandit subjugation in that case.
However, if we just regard doing the subjugation, it won’t be impossible with our current forces. The zoan warriors I’ve brought with me to Jeboa number thirty, and all of them are hand-picked, brawny warriors. Even if the bandits might be former soldiers, I’m sure they won’t stand up to our warriors. However, that only applies if it’s a normal battle. As expected, flushing out bandits who might lurk anywhere will be a challenge with these numbers.
Still, as long as they invest some time, it should be no trouble for the zoan, who are excellent hunters, to discover the bandits’ hiding places from their faintest tracks. Also, it’s probably possible for the harpyians to spot any suspicious people from the sky.
But, if the bandits learn that we were requested to subjugate them, they will definitely run away in all directions at the slightest sighting of a zoan or harpyian.
The more he thought about it, the more Souma groaned about this deadlock-like situation. At that moment, Shyemul asked Souma, “Our means are limited, and we don’t have any time either. ――What are we going to do, my 『Navel Master』?”
She said this in a tone full of her belief that Souma would be able to immediately offer them a smart solution. Souma was happy about her trust, but that still didn’t mean that he could readily come up with a way to break through this complicated situation.
Souma was about to say that it’d be impossible, but then stopped himself all of a sudden. Next he lowered his eyes, placed a finger on his chin, and started to brood.
“Wait, wait, wait – Our means are limited, and we don’t have any time either. The same can be said about the other side as well, no?” Souma widened his eyes slightly, obviously having thought of something, and began to mumble something under his breath. “Come on, think. What are you going to do? What kind of action are you going to take? There’s no time and money. Hurry! What will you do?”
This was a familiar sight to Shyemul and the others of Souma’s group, but witnessing Souma pacing around the room while speaking to himself was astonishing for Menahem and Yoash who saw this for the first time.
“Lord Soma, what might be wrong?”
“…Please don’t mind it. It’s Souma’s usual sickness.” Shyemul answered Yoash with a wry smile while feeling a bit embarrassed.
Souma pondered for some time while murmuring to himself, but all of a sudden he stopped walking around, and quietly said, “Alright!”
Thereupon, Shyemul and the others lined up in front of him, silently waiting for his next instructions.
“Shyemul.” Naturally he called out her first. “I want to contact Mr. Marchronis. I’ll have you write a letter for me later. Have a harpyian messenger get ready.”
“I hear and obey, my 『Navel Master』.”
Next Souma called out to the array of great warriors ― Garam, Zurgu, and Dvalin.
“I already said so earlier, but please enforce the ban on going out for everyone until the situation has been resolved.” The three nodded at that with gloomy expressions, but immediately grinned broadly after hearing Souma’s next words. “And have them be prepared to fight at any moment.”
Then Souma turned towards Menahem, “Mr. Menahem, please pass on the following message to the Committee of Ten: We’re preparing for battle, but that’s just for the sake of the bandit subjugation. We don’t have any intention to cause an uproar in your city.”
This was a strategic move to not give Jacob’s group the chance to nitpick over their preparations for the bandit subjugation being a front to cause trouble in Jeboa.
“Very well, I will immediately inform all members of the committee.”
“Also, there’s one thing I’d like to confirm, if I may.”
“Hoh, what would that be?”
“Earlier you mentioned the hiring of mercenaries, but are there any mercenary bands in this city?”
“Of course, but why?”
Even without wars, mercenaries must eat. Because of that, many mercenary bands stayed in Jeboa as it was a city with a lot of opportunities to work as guards for caravans or the mansions of merchants.
After nodding repeatedly, looking glad that everything fell into place, Souma added, “Mr. Menahem, I’ve got a request. Would you allow me to borrow several carriages, the drivers to move them, and flags of the merchant guild?”
Menahem had wondered what Souma would ask of him, but it wasn’t anything special. Menahem immediately accepted, answering that he could prepare all of that right away.
“And, I have one more request.” However, that wasn’t the end of Souma’s requests. “I’d like you to perform the negotiations with the mercenary bands since I plan to gather a great number of them for a large-scaled mountain hunt.”