As soon as the next day after his return from the bandit subjugation, Souma was invited to a meeting of the Committee of Ten with Menahem as his official referrer. This happening so quickly was owed to Menahem inviting Souma by somewhat forcibly hijacking the meeting which was scheduled to discuss another matter related to Souma on just that day. Menahem’s action, which clearly took into account that it would cause a backlash by the other committee members, was out of consideration for Souma who had pointlessly wasted time with the unplanned bandit subjugation.
Of course it simultaneously bore the intent to create an obligation of gratitude from Souma, but as Souma didn’t have that much spare time until Holmea would start its invasion either, it was actually in his own interest.
At once Souma put on an attire slightly more gaudy than usual, prepared his gifts for the committee, and headed to the official residence of the merchant guild, located in the city center, on a carriage arranged for by the Shapiro Company.
The guild’s headquarters was an old building that had been reconstructed over the years from originally being a money-exchange house associating with traders and sailors. Because consideration towards Jeboa’s royal palace came into play here, the building’s exterior had been kept humble, but once Souma stepped inside, it immediately became obvious that he had entered a merchant guild lording over trade in the West. Souma was completely overwhelmed by the paintings and sculptures, which even an untrained eye could identify as high quality objects of art, decorating the hallways, which were laid out with soft carpets. It was such an extravagant interior design that even the zoan warriors accompanying him only went inside after reflexively dusting off their bodies to get rid of their loose fur.
“Please wait here for a moment.”
A servant had led them to the antechamber right next to the saloon where the meeting of the committee was held at this very moment. Having been told to wait here until the committee was done with another visitor, Souma was about to sit down on one of the provided chairs.
But, at that moment, he could hear someone shouting angrily from somewhere.
“Shyemul, did you hear that just now?”
“Hmm? Yeah. ――It appeared to be a woman’s voice. I think it came from the other side of the door over there.” Shyemul pointed at the door of the big saloon, where the meeting with the previous visitor was taking place just now, while her ears twitched.
As Souma was puzzled, wondering whether they might be in the middle of a very heated discussion, the door suddenly flung open.
“Enough! I shall excuse myself at this point!”
The ones coming through the door accompanied by shouting were a woman sitting in a bucket-shaped palanquin interposed between two sticks, and two male human slaves who carried said palanquin with one at the front and the other at the rear.
Souma was startled by the appearance of the woman. Her age was around 20. Her long, blond hair had been tied into one plait at the back of her head. She looked like a strong-willed woman with a cold, frigid look. Even though it was still early spring, the woman had decked out her body with thin, golden and silver chains, but otherwise she didn’t wear much more than a thin cloth lightly wrapped around her waist, and a leather belt which was just big enough to cover her small chest.
And not just that. The bucket she was occupying was filled with water – water the woman scooped up every once in a while, rinsing her body with it.
However, that wasn’t what had startled Souma. The lower body below the woman’s waist was a tail fin, similar to that of dolphins and orcas.
It was Souma’s first time to witness the race of oceans, the marman.
The female marman, who heard Souma’s muttering, turned her face towards him, “Who are you?”
As he was timid to begin with, Souma was overawed by her sudden, inquisitive tone, ending up lost for words. The woman clicked her tongue quietly.
“Isn’t it very rude to stare at others in such a manner?”
Because of the sharp accusation in her voice, Souma apologized in panic, “I’m very sorry. It’s just that it’s my first time to see a marman in person.”
However, being all worked up, this excuse alone didn’t calm the woman’s rage. She opened her mouth, about to state her mind some more, but once Shyemul stepped forward so as to cover for Souma, the woman widened her eyes slightly, staring at Shyemul for a short while.
Thereupon, Shyemul snorted lightly, “Didn’t you say that it’s rude to stare at others in such a manner?”
Shyemul gave her tit for tat by hurling back the woman’s own previous words at her. In response, confusion dyed the woman’s expression, but then she immediately giggled.
“You’re right, I have been impolite. Allow me to apologize.”
Souma felt relieved seeing how the woman’s attitude had softened.
“No need to. It was me who acted rudely towards you first.”
“It’s only natural to be captivated by another race you see for the first time. I just have been slightly irritated, okay? It was definitely impolite of me to vent my frustration at you, who’s unrelated to all of this.”
After both spent some time insisting on it being their own fault, Souma suggested, “Let’s just decide that we both have been wrong and wronged here?”
The woman had no objection towards Souma showing his tolerance by not only abstaining from criticizing her, but even compromising for both sides to be at fault, although it had been her who had lashed out at him arbitrarily.
“You’re right. Let’s go with that.”
Just when the woman consented to his suggestion, a guild servant appeared, inviting Souma into the big saloon. After seeing off Souma who had bowed at her and then headed into the saloon, the woman urged on her slaves, heading towards the guild’s exit.
The woman had passed Souma as she was carried outside the building, but suddenly she frowned, and called out to her slaves, making them stop.
“A male human accompanied by free zoan…? ――Don’t tell me…”
The woman called over her luggage boy, and whispered into his ear. Immediately after nodding once, the boy returned into the guild building. Then, a little while later, the boy came back, panting, and told the woman, “It’s just as mistress suspected, that person is the rumored――”
In response to the boy’s words, the woman looked up at the residence she had just left, and muttered in surprise, “So that’s 『Divine Son of Destruction』 Soma Kisaki?!”
When Souma entered the saloon, he was greeted by ten piercing pairs of eyes.
Even while pretending to be unfazed by that, Souma still gasped lightly. All of the men sitting around the big, round table installed in the room’s center looked like they’d be hard to deal with. More than half of them were the wealthy merchants who had visited Menahem’s mansion the other day. And mixed in-between them was also Jakob. But he averted his face as soon as his eyes met Souma’s.
Until now it had been Jakob who had taken the initiative in raising criticism against Souma, but seeing him casting his face down so as to not meet anyone’s eyes while making his fat body as small as possible caused some of the committee members to snicker and laugh in scorn. Jakob himself apparently noticed it as well, and kept trembling in humiliation.
“Before extending my greetings, I’d like to first offer my presents to all of you.”
Hearing Souma’s words, each zoan carrying presents stepped forward.
What was first placed down with a thump in front of the committee members was a single, large plate. Of course it wasn’t just a simple plate. It was a glass plate produced by the dwarven glass artisans. Only this plate alone was an item that would easily cost more than ten gold coins. Next the zoan turned over head-sized bags, letting small beads and dried leaves fall onto the plate with a rustling.
Surprise showed on the faces of the committee members. The characteristic fragrance wafting into the vicinity doubtlessly belonged to zoan spices. Those were spices that would make even the Committee of Ten go into a frenzy, but for the zoan they were normal ingredients they dealt with on a daily basis. Naturally this would lead to them handling the spices roughly. The spice beads bounced off the plate as they vigorously spilled out of the bags, but the zoan didn’t care at all.
Then a jar with a dark-brown liquid was put down next to the large plate with a thud.
It’s obvious that it’s not just any wine. Very likely it’s that golden wine, said to give even Yoash trouble to get his hands on ―― whiskey.
The sound of someone swallowing down his saliva could be heard awfully loud in the saloon. The ten committee members gathered here were all wealthy merchants representing Jeboa. It was easy for them to stack gold coins as high as the whiskey jar, and pile up as much gold dust as the spices laying in front of their eyes. However, luxury items became a mighty weapon going beyond gold and silver in a place like this where all kinds of discussions and negotiations were held. Depending on how they were used, they could achieve results surpassing their value.
What’s more, the zoan clearly treated all these valuable goods as if they were insignificant, trivial goods. It was provoking, but it also compelled the committee members to fully realize the wealthiness owned by Divine Son of Destruction.
“Please allow me to introduce him formally,” Menahem stated after ascertaining the impact on the other committee members, “This gentleman is Lord Soma Kisaki, the Clan King of all zoan in the Solbiant Plains, and current lord of Bolnis. ――But then again, I think he’s best known under the popular name 『Divine Son of Destruction』.”
“It’s an honor to meet you. I’m Kizaki Souma.” Making his voice brim with confidence, Souma was secretly convinced of the success in the negotiations.
In addition to having subjugated the mountain bandits who pestered Jeboa’s merchant guild, I’ve shown them that they’ll be able to trade for glass containers and spices if they form a friendly relationship with me. There’s no way that merchants, who are sensitive to profits, would have no interest in forming a favorable relationship with us. Besides, Jakob, the one who had been the driving force behind Cornelius and Juda in clearly opposing me, is now in a state where he can’t stage any attacks since we’ve obtained evidence of his relatives collaborating with the bandits.
Even now Jakob was curled up, fearing to look at Souma.
Now’s the best time to obtain the necessary majority to approve the conclusion of a treaty of friendship between Bolnis and Jeboa.
This was Souma’s belief. And just as Souma predicted, it was only Cornelius and Juda who opposed the conclusion of the treaty. However, it was only Menahem and Kajaphas who approved of it. The other six members all abstained from voting, resulting in the treaty between Bolnis and Jeboa being rejected.
“Damn it! What an ungrateful bunch knowing no decency or debt of gratitude!”
Once they returned to Menahem’s mansion after the meeting, it was Shyemul who vented her rage by shouting.
Even though Souma had gone out of his way to subjugate the bandits for them, they had simply knocked aside Souma’s hand, held out in friendship. It wasn’t just Shyemul who had the urge to file some complaints either.
“But, I suppose it’s a small salvation that we got them to stop beating down the wheat prices.” Souma said while making an effort to sound cheerful to soothe the raging Shyemul.
They didn’t manage to conclude a treaty of friendship, but instead the plan to abolish the price war against Bolnis’ wheat was approved by majority vote, following Kajaphas’s proposal. However, although the wheat price issues had given Souma headaches, it only turned the whole endeavor from being a minus to a zero. You could as well say that Souma hadn’t gained anything substantial.
But, griping about it at this point wouldn’t change anything. Right now he had to think about his future actions rather than dwell on the past.
“Still, somehow it’s kinda weird, you know…?”
The words and attitudes of the committee members at the meeting were mostly positive in regards to Souma. Some members even made remarks that sounded like blatant flattery, and after the meeting many invited Souma to visit their mansion so strongly that it looked as if they would never stop.
All of that triggered a question in him.
If they all want to form friendly relations with me to such an extent, why haven’t they given their approval to the treaty?
Speaking of strange things, the same could also be said about Menahem and Yoash. Even if it was for the sake of monopolizing the trade with Souma, they weren’t proactive in deepening the friendship between the other committee members and Souma. Of course, it was hard to believe that they would actually sabotage Souma’s efforts behind the scenes, especially considering the loss of trust they’d suffer upon exposure, but they still didn’t look overly surprised by the outcome of the meeting. It was almost as if they had expected for this to happen.
Once Souma had considered things up to this point, and shifted his eyes to the two, he saw Yoash scratching his cheek with a troubled look.
It looks like there’s more to it, after all.
Souma was convinced of it, but he deliberately didn’t ask for the reason.
Yoash staying silent although he should be aware of our side vaguely suspecting something means that there’s probably some reason he can’t talk about it.
Understanding this, Yoash also bowed lightly towards Souma for being considerate of their circumstances.
However, Souma’s face clouded over because the negotiations with the merchant guild would apparently become much harder than he had expected. It was completely unforeseen for Souma that Jeboa would be so reluctant to form a friendship with him. He believed that the merchants would choose future profits over the events in Bolnis so far, but now he had no choice to admit that this had been a naive perspective.
Adding to this, it had also been a mistake for him to have fully relied on Yoash alone for information about Jeboa and for acting as contact point for the negotiations. In this world where communication equipment or similar didn’t exist, it took a lot of time and effort to exchange messages with a neighboring city. And this applied all the more if it came to a neighboring country. Under such circumstances, it was difficult for Souma to set up his own information network in Jeboa. In addition to that, he had depended on Yoash against better judgment because he was capable and took a friendly stance towards Souma.
Now, at this late point in time, Souma felt that he should have chosen negotiation partners and sources of information other than Yoash, but it was too late. Also, only now Souma started to rack his brain, pondering what would be the best course from now on.
What he recalled then and there were Solon’s words.
“Water, eh…?” slipped out of Souma’s mouth unintentionally.
Hearing him, Yoash asked while tilting his head in confusion, “Lord Soma, just what do you mean with water?”
“Hmm? ――Ah, I was actually told by Mr. Solon that I might obtain water enabling me to break the deadlock in the current situation if I came to this city.”
As of yet Souma hadn’t understood the meaning behind Solon’s words. He had tried to ask Solon about it, but was shouted down with, “Use your own brain a bit without always begging an old man to tell you everything!”
Suddenly a butler entered their room. He whispered something into Yoash’s ear and passed him something like a letter. Yoash opened it, briefly scanned its content, and put on an expression as if he had understood something.
“Hoh, oh my, oh my――”
“What’s wrong, Mr. Yoash?”
“Lord Soma, I think this might be the water in question.” Yoash handed the letter to Souma. “It’s an invitation for dinner by the envoy of the marman in this city.”