On the next day Olga immediately visited Menahem’s mansion. Souma believed that he would immediately receive the marman queen’s reply, and thus greeted Olga with a happy smile. However, as soon as she saw Souma’s face, Olga suddenly began to act suspiciously.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I’m not flustered or anything like that. I’m the epitome of calmness, coolness, and composure.” Before Souma could point out that she didn’t look like that at all, Olga cleared her throat, and continued, “Allow me to pass on the words of Her Majesty the Queen. 『We will grandly welcome you whenever you might come to our island』.”
Something rang odd about that in Souma’s ears. If this was all she had to say, there would be no need for Olga to personally come to tell him. It’d have been more than enough to send a servant. Besides, the somewhat awkward look of Olga bothered him.
But, either way, he was told that he’d be welcomed by the marman queen. It’d be no mistake to take this as a first step towards the tying of a friendly relationship with the marman, causing Souma to slightly feel like having actually accomplished something.
“Seeing how you have come all the way here, how about some tea?” Souma invited Olga over, also with the intent of showing his gratitude for her having deliberately visited him in person.
However, Olga apologetically turned him down, and went back.
“Say, Soma, didn’t that woman act odd somehow?”
Since even Shyemul had noticed as much, it was clear proof that Souma hadn’t simply imagined Olga behaving suspiciously. However, he didn’t understand the reason why she would act like that.
Even while not feeling all that comfortable with Olga’s behavior, it was still a fact that he had obtained a promise for a reception by the marman queen. Souma immediately began his preparations to cross over to the marman island.
Just when Souma was busily getting some presents and the personnel that would accompany him ready, Yoash suddenly showed up.
After hearing that Souma had been invited to the marman island, he congratulated Souma, and furthermore asked, “So, when are you going to depart to the island?”
“If possible, I’d like to go tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”
Because of the unplanned bandit subjugation, Souma had wasted a number of days. In this situation, where he didn’t know when Holmea might attack, he wanted to meet the queen to conclude a treaty of friendship as soon as possible.
But, Yoash furrowed his eyebrows upon hearing Souma’s reply.
“I’m sorry, but Lord Soma, has the other side informed you as to when you should come?”
“No. I was told to come whenever, but not at a particular time…”
With his frown continuously deepening, Yoash further asked, “What about the guide then?”
“No guide has been mentioned…” Even Souma, who had been somewhat festive after hearing Olga’s words, started to falter, sensing something unusual from Yoash’s voice.
With Souma acting like that, Yoash sighed, “This sure has become troublesome.”
Souma asked him what he meant, but without giving him an answer, Yoash guided Souma’s group outside the mansion, and led them all the way to the seaside.
“Over there you can see the island where the marmen live.” Yoash’s finger pointed at the silhouette of an island. “The royal palace, the abode of the marman queen, is in a cave on that island.”
“Hoh, I had been sure that they would live at the bottom of the sea.” Garam widened his eyes slightly, saying so with a voice full of admiration.
Souma also shared his view. He had also imagined it to be some undersea city or the Palace of the Dragon King.
After saying, “Everyone thinks so at first,” Yoash continued, “It’s forbidden in Jeboa to approach the waters around that island. After all, many reefs can be found there, making it an area difficult to pass by boat as the currents over there are quite complex thanks to all those reefs. And above all, ships that come close without permission are all sunken by the marmen.”
Souma was surprised by the dangerous implications.
“B-But, I was invited, right?”
Yoash strongly shook his head at Souma, “No, you misunderstand. If you had really been invited, they’d have designated a time for your coming, or sent a guide for you.”
“In other words…”
Yoash nodded deeply, saying, “You’re right. The words we will welcome you whenever you come to the island mean try coming if you think you can. Basically, they’ve diplomatically turned you down.”
Understanding that he had rejoiced too quickly, believing that he’d be able to form a friendship with the marmen, Souma became totally depressed, as might be expected.
“Even though I had thought that I finally took a step forward…”
Still, as he couldn’t give up at this point, Souma asked Yoash, “Isn’t there any method to somehow drag the marmen to the negotiation table?”, since he had nothing else to lose anyway.
He expected that Yoash would clearly deny it, but instead Yoash replied, “Well, if you ask if there’s such a method, you could somehow say there is…” While gathering the hopeful stares of Souma and his friends on him, Yoash continued with a bitter smile, “…you just have to cross over to the island by yourself.”
Souma’s group was flabbergasted by Yoash’s suggestion.
“But, they refused Soma from coming to the island, didn’t they?” Shyemul asked back with a tone as if she’d cry, “Outrageous!” any moment now, probably because she couldn’t stomach the marmen’s attitude of brushing away the hand Souma had extended towards them in friendship.
“It’s just as you say, but at the same time, the queen herself said that she’d 『welcome whenever he came to the island』. If Lord Soma was truly able to cross over to the island, even the queen wouldn’t be able to flatly refuse his visit.”
“I see. In short, it’s our business how we do it, as long as we manage to cross over to the island, right?”
Once Yoash agreed with Shyemul by nodding, pensive looks crept onto everyone’s faces.
“How about taking advantage of the night’s darkness to secretly get on the island?”
It was Garam who proposed this. It was a suggestion very typical for a zoan who would hunt even during the night while relying on his five, sharp senses. But, at the same time it was a suggestion by a zoan who didn’t know the sea.
With his body trembling slightly, apparently horrified by the idea, Yoash answered, “No way! There are already many reefs around that island even under normal circumstances, but going there at night is like asking to run into those reefs. If that happens, you will open up a big hole at the ship’s bottom, or flung off the ship due to the impact. In any case, you’ll definitely sink in the ocean at night.”
“In that case, would it be better to swim over?”
Next to Zurgu, Dvalin openly grimaced at his suggestion. In the eyes of a dwarf, whose body didn’t really float in water, telling him to swim over was like ordering him to die. Moreover, Yoash rejected Zurgu’s suggestion as well.
“I think it’d be wiser to not consider that. The marmen are always guarding the vicinity around the island. If you’re spotted by a marmen patrol, you won’t ever be able to escape them in the water. Above all, this area of the sea is full of sharks. Even among the marmen many lose their lives after getting attacked by sharks, but in the case of humans or zoan, it’d be like they’re willingly offering themselves as fodder.”
However, the zoan’s reaction was weak. Even the two great heroes representing the plains, Zurgu and Garam, who always tried to go with proactive, decisive approaches during ever-changing war situations, seemed to be confused.
When Souma asked them what was wrong, Shyemul answered for all zoan, “Hey, Soma, what’s that thing called 『shark』?”
Souma could actually understand their bewilderment. For inhabitants of the plains, the word ‘shark’ couldn’t mean much either way.
“Umm, it’s a very huge, carnivorous fish. Even in my former world, you’d occasionally hear stories about arms or legs being bitten off by sharks when people were swimming in the ocean.”
“They bite off the arms and legs of people!? Such amazing fish existed!?”
Comparing it to the zoan’s knowledge, such a ferocious creature would register as a wolf or wildcat. The image of a mysterious life-form combining fish and wolf face crossed through their minds.
“Yeah, but, I wonder, do Jaws-like sharks exist over here as well?”
‘This is a different world. A monster-like shark like “Jaws,” which was also the name of the movie showing the mortal combat of humans with a huge shark and which I had seen in a special TV series of old masterpieces, might exist over here.
“What’s that 『Jaawz』 you mentioned just now?”
“It’s Jaws. A man-eating shark who’s as big as a boat. He’d swallow something like a human whole.”
Imagining the spectacle of a huge wolf-faced shark munching on a human head-first while barking menacingly, caused the zoan’s fur to immediately stand on end. And, as if they had arranged it in advance, all of them took a step backwards, away from the ocean.
“…I think it’d be better to give up on the idea of swimming.”
“Yep, I have no objection to that either.”
Garam and Zurgu commented gloomily.
However, now that it had come to this, they had no means to cross over to the island. If a ship and swimming were no options, only the sky was left as an alternative.
At that point, Souma remembered the harpyians for a split second, but immediately erased the idea from his mind. In reality, he had once pondered whether he wouldn’t be able to fly through the sky if he got many harpyians to carry him like the crow helicopter of a certain hero of apparitions. 1
But, when he had suggested that idea to the captain of the harpyians, Pipi, she had quickly retorted, “You sure are a funny guy.” For Souma, who had secretly longed to fly in the sky, this was a slightly disappointing and embarrassing memory.
Besides, even if something like that would be possible, they’d only be able to cross over to the island one by one, which would be meaningless. For a little while, Souma prowled along the coastline, wondering whether he might come up with a good plan to get on that island. As he walked around, a carriage suddenly came to a halt in front of him.
“Ohhh? Lord Soma? What might be wrong for you to wander around in such a place?”
The one getting off the carriage was Souma’s cook, Marco. Ever since they had come to Jeboa, Menahem had apparently found a liking in the plump boy, and allowed him to sample various kinds of local dishes. Souma had also permitted it as long as it served the development of new dishes, but he definitely hadn’t expected to run into Marco at such a place.
“Today, you see, I’ve been allowed to try out the fish and shellfish of the fishermen living in a village down the road.”
Probably believing that it’d be a good idea to occasionally taste some local cuisine with a plain taste, and not just stick to the elaborate dishes eaten in the city, Marco had turned his attention in this direction today. However, seeing how Menahem went as far as preparing a carriage and giving him pocket money to buy food, all for the sake of Marco’s food development, clearly showed how lavishly Menahem treated him. This also stemmed from his apparent hope to headhunt Marco, if a chance were to present itself.
But then again, Marco himself didn’t perceive Menahem as anything more than a nice guy allowing him to eat delicious food. Just like Souma, Marco had turned into an adult over the last five years, but him being very dim-witted when it came to matters other than eating and cooking remained a constant over all those years. Even now, he was fully absorbed in ranting about the fishermen’s dishes he had eaten a little while ago with his eyes sparkling.
This caused Shyemul to get pissed off at Marco. Even though they were frantically racking their brains on how to cross over to the marmen island, his head was filled with nothing but food.
“Come on, Marco. Soma visited this place for an important matter. Consider our circumstances a bit, will you?”
Marco became crestfallen by Shyemul’s reprimand. Just as Shyemul was about to tell Marco, who was hanging his head gloomily, “All’s fine as long as you get it,” Marco forestalled her by saying, “Next time I’ll come back while making sure to have a share for everyone, okay?”
Apparently he believed that he had been scolded for having eaten all the food by himself. As might be expected, even Shyemul became stupefied by that, unable to retort anything.
“Ah! Please take a look at this, Lord Soma! Fish, it’s fish!”
Moreover, even though he had just received a scolding, he squealed in joy, obviously having completely forgotten about it. What Marco was pointing at with his cheeks blushing in excitement was the seine fishing that was just then carried out at the beach. Several dozens of people, be it men, women and children, jointly pulled on a rope while singing. The plethora of fish surrounded by a net in a patch of the sea were thrashing around by jumping out of the water, causing the water to spray in all directions.
Under Souma’s eyes, the net, which was finally pulled up on the sandy beach, was bloated up with so many fish that it was even visible from a distance
“Whoa! What an amazing haul!”
Yoash stood next to Souma, who had cried out in admiration.
“Makes sense, since we’re in the season of 『Meline’s Blessing』 right now.”
When Souma asked back, Yoash explained to him, “Correct. In a distant past, the pure, beautiful girl Meline had jumped into the sea, sacrificing herself, during a period when the fishermen around here suffered from bad catches. The legend says that many fish would gather in Jeboa’s coastal waters during this season ever since then.”
Souma was positively surprised over the existence of such a legend. In reality, the phenomenon of many fish gathering, which the ancient Jeboans described as Meline’s Blessing, was a result of a change in the ocean currents. During this season, the currents at the bottom of Jeboa’s seas would shift, causing the cold water at the bottom of the sea to be forced up close to the surface. Because that water was rich in minerals, plankton, which lived on those minerals, would strongly multiply, triggering fish, who preyed upon plankton, to gather in great numbers.
“Ah, they look so damn delicious～ I wonder, would they taste better grilled or boiled?”
Despite just having mentioned that he ate plentifully at the fishermen village, Marco’s brain was already filled with the question how he’d prepare all the caught fish, beaming a wry smile on Souma’s lips.
But, Souma himself loved eating fish as well. Especially because he couldn’t eat it often as it was difficult to procure fresh fish in Bolnis which was far away from any ocean. This was also the reason why Souma couldn’t help but enjoy eating fish every day since he came to Jeboa. For no particular reason he gazed at the sea, wondering whether he should ask Menahem to prepare a fish dish for dinner this evening as well.
And just then, Souma felt like he had a deja vu. A net filled with plenty of fish, close to bursting, and that which came up during their previous discussion.
He remembered having seen something related to both back when he was still in modern Japan. However, it wasn’t just the scene of fishing. That was, yeah, I saw it in some kind of documentary on TV. In the documentary, they used that, and…
Something clicked in Souma’s mind.
“…Oh, that’s it! This should work, shouldn’t it?”
As if the gears in his mind suddenly started to turn again after the removal of foreign elements which had blocked them, Souma’s thoughts began to race. And finally, a certain plan took shape in his head.
“Mr. Yoash, tell me, are we really going to be welcomed by the marmen if we cross over to the island with our own effort?” Souma confirmed with Yoash while somewhat vacantly watching the people raising cheers over their good haul on the beach.
“Well, of course. Since they said that they’d receive you, they won’t send you away or anything like that.”
Hearing Yoash’s response, Souma further asked with a mischievous look, “Even if we use a somewhat dangerous method?”
“As long as it’s not an exceedingly cowardly method…”
If they were to use cowardly methods like casting poison into the ocean or threatening the marmen with hostages, it’d invoke the marmen’s wrath instead. Even if any of such methods allowed them to reach the island, any further negotiations would be in vain.
As if to show him that it’d be alright, Souma flashed a smile at Yoash who was knitting his eyebrows, wondering whether Souma was planning to employ some evil plan.
“Could I ask you to prepare a ship for crossing over to the marmen island then?”
“Certainly. It shouldn’t pose much of a problem to introduce a capable captain to you, seeing how many of them keep up a good relationship with our Shapiro Company.” Although Yoash guessed that Souma had come up with some kind of idea, he still emphasized, “However, if it comes to Jeboan sailors, all of them thoroughly know of the marmen’s dreadfulness. Even if we were to tell them to sail to the island, they’d likely scurry back home with a tapping against the bilge by the marmen.”
On sea, even a ship owner must abide by the instructions of the captain. It was a rule for those going against the captain’s orders to be tossed overboard by the sailors. Yoash warned Souma of that, but all he could see on the young man’s face was a confident smile.
“It’s okay. We won’t allow the marmen to approach the ship.”
Precisely because he was a Jeboan, who were very familiar with the scariness of the ocean and the merman, Yoash couldn’t help but feel dumbfounded by Souma’s boasting.
Seeing him like that, Souma added, “Also, since I want to buy up all the fish, including the net, over there, I’d like you to handle the negotiations.”
Behind Souma, Marco broke out in loud cheering.