Leaving the beach where the people did their dragnet fishing, Souma headed straight for the official residence of the marmen in Jeboa to request a meeting with Olga. Olga was quite surprised by his sudden visit. Even though Souma had gone out of his way to offer his support to the marmen, she had only been able to pass on a nicely-packaged rejection. Meeting him right afterwards was quite awkward for her, but the circumstances made it only harder for her to turn him away, and thus she received Souma, albeit unwillingly.
However, in contrast to Olga, Souma was smiling all over his face.
“I’m planning to visit the island tomorrow, so could you please inform Her Majesty the Queen in advance?”
Hearing him, Olga’s face darkened. She was certain that Souma had taken the queen’s word at face value, not understanding the underlying implications as he wasn’t a Jeboan.
Certain of that, Olga tried to explain it in simple terms, “I won’t tell you to stop, but I think that it’d be better for you to give up on the idea of an audience with the queen.”
Personally, Olga harbored a good impression of Souma who had willingly offered her to find her kidnapped sister. However, Olga was the marmen’s ambassador, and a Warrior Leader. She had to stop anyone from approaching the island without permission, no matter who they might be. If possible, she didn’t want to use force against Souma, and thus she chose her words carefully, trying to persuade him to give up on visiting the island.
However, Souma confidently declared that it’d be alright, looking as if it wasn’t a big issue in the first place. Hearing that, even Olga couldn’t avoid getting angry at his stubbornness.
Olga was one of the marman women who prided themselves to be the rulers of the sea. Moreover, her military prowess was excellent enough for the queen to have entrusted Olga with the leadership of warriors. It’d be unreasonable to ask her to not feel offended when being nonchalantly told that it was no problem, despite her explicitly telling Souma that he’d be mercilessly chased away, should he approach the island without permission.
“Listen well, okay? I shall personally welcome you!”
Olga declared with the intent to tell Souma that she’d personally prevent him from crossing over to the island, if he were to try it.
“Sure. Please don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”
But, far from getting discouraged, Souma worried about Olga instead. Souma’s concern for her was genuine, but it only fanned Olga’s anger.
“Right back at you. I’m a rather clumsy person, so the welcome might become quite rough. Please be careful.”
Olga barked, “My visitors are leaving,” to a servant, and quickly went back inside the mansion. Her attitude was similar to what you’d call “scattering salt to ward off evil” in Japan. However, Souma only tilted his head in puzzlement at being somewhat chased out of the official residence by the servants.
“…Did I say something wrong?”
Shyemul spat out a deep sigh at Souma who had muttered this while seriously surprised.
“My 『Navel Master』, you’re an unbeatable genius at unconsciously hurting others.”
On the next morning, Yoash took Souma’s group to Jeboa’s port, and guided them to a ship. It was a small sailing vessel with a square sail bound to a mast that was located in the center of the hull.
Then again, although it was called small, its overall length still amounted to 18 melt (approx. 18 meter). Its shape was peculiar, resembling a bathtub with the height getting taller at the bow and stern. Its gauge was deeper than expected, and the hull had been plastered black with asphalt to prevent flooding. In later years, this type of ship would be called the Jeboan Roundship.
In the “Epic Poem of Homer”, which became a precious literary work for researching the ancient times, one passage described the Jeboan as follows:
“They (Note: The Jeboan Merchants) came – greedy swindlers with their black ships’ bellies full of alluring goods.”
The “black ships” mentioned here were the Jeboan Roundships. The text clearly described how the ancient Jeboan merchants amassed huge riches through sea trade in the Benes Bay, using those very ships.
And the one Yoash introduced as captain of that ship was a rough man who could be easily mistaken for a bandit or pirate.
“Bein’ asked by Shapiro’s young master, there ain’t no way I’d refuse. Still, just so ye know, if things look tiny bit iffy, I’ll be pullin’ out my ship.”
“No problem. But, I believe you won’t need to worry.”
The man tried to scare Souma and also threaten him with his authority as captain, but he only earned himself a cheerful reply from Souma.
That ain’t the attitude of a guy who’s gonna take on the marmen at sea. Either this guy’s a complete retard, or a man of unbelievable character.
The captain was confused by Souma’s attitude, which he found difficult to get a read on. But then again, he was a guy who would settle problems with brute strength rather than witty planning, and thus he immediately came to terms with the wish of his new employer.
“I’m also a merchant. Ye pay, I deliver. However――”
At that point, the captain looked at his ship. A big amount of fish had been loaded atop its deck. Having heard about Souma’s plan, Yoash had said, “I think fresh-caught fish might be the best in this case.” And after negotiating with the fishermen, he expressly bought up the fish that had been caught early in the morning, including the net.
“――What’s the deal with all the fish?”
“Hmmm, I’d say something like a present?”
The captain was flabbergasted, wondering what Souma was thinking to give fish to marmen, who were experts at catching fish. However, ultimately their agreement only consisted of him bringing Souma’s group to the marmen island, and he had also received the firm promise that it’d be no problem for him to turn his ship around, should they get obstructed by the marmen on the way. Thinking that it’d be better to get on with business rather than complaining, the captain ordered Souma and the others to board the ship.
But before Souma could get on board, Yoash called out to him, “May the blessings of Meline be with you, Lord Soma.”
Souma recalled the term “Meline’s Blessing” he had been told about when watching dragnet fishing the other day. As it was apparently evident from his expression that Souma was troubled about its meaning, Yoash gave him an explanation.
“Meline’s Blessing were originally words used when praying for a good haul, but nowadays they’re used as general prayer for good voyage on sea.” Then Yoash smiled wryly, “But, if you were to tell this to a marman, they’d only laugh at you.”
The changes of the ocean currents at the bottom of the sea, which humans couldn’t possibly know about, were completely natural for the marmen who lived underwater. Of course they knew that the gathering of fish wasn’t owed to Meline sacrificing herself, but to the change of currents. The marman apparently looked down on the stupidity of the land-dwellers for labeling such a natural phenomenon with such an exaggerated term.
“I’m pinning my hopes on you, Lord Soma. That you’re going to smash that arrogant attitude of the marmen who are boasting that they would never lose to land-dwellers when it comes to the ocean.”
Being seen off by Yoash with a hand placed on his chest and a light bow, the ship with Souma’s group slowly left the port.
As the ship got further away from the coast, the reactions by the zoan, who departed to the sea for the first time in their lives, was divided into two factions. One faction were those trembling in fear over the vastness and endless depth of the ocean, trying to stay away from the ocean as much as possible by huddling together at the center of the deck. By the way, the one in the middle of that knot of zoan was Dvalin, who had kept his eyes closed ever since their departure while incessantly reciting prayers. The other faction were those frolicking around in excitement. It might be needless to point out, but the one representing that faction was Zurgu.
“Ooohh! Wow! You really can’t see the bottom!”
The red-furred giant intently peered into the ocean from the ship’s side with curiosity sparkling in his eye. Usually Garam would warn him about his behavior, but currently he was looking down at the ocean together with Zurgu.
“Yeah, not at all. Just how deep is that ocean thing?”
Shyemul snorted proudly behind the two men, who were acting like children.
“The ocean thing is in some places deep enough for an entire mountain to fit in.”
Zurgu loudly expressed his admiration with a shout of astonishment, but Garam grimaced in annoyance, saying, “You’re just parroting Soma’s words anyway, aren’t you?”
Shyemul was lost for words as Garam had hit the bull’s eye.
As Souma was watching their exchange with a smile on his lips, the captain called out to him, “Hey, visitor. We’re gonna soon enter marmen waters.”
Induced by the captain’s words, Souma looked ahead of the ship, just to notice that the marmen island was a lot closer now. The island, which had looked like a tiny dot at the port, was now big enough that Souma had to move his head sideways to get a view of its whole extent.
“Okay, please stop the ship around here for a bit.”
With Souma’s request as a cue, the captain started to give instructions to the sailors. In response, the sailors bustled around the deck, folding the sail that had been bulging in the wind, and casting an anchor, which was a bundle of big stones bound together by ropes, into the water.
“Come on, it’s time to get things ready.”
Immediately after hearing Souma’s words, the zoan on deck started to move. Souma wanted help out as well for the sake of leading by example as the one who had proposed the plan, but before he could move a single finger, Shyemul blocked his way and pointed at the edge of the deck.
“You’re in the way. Wait over there.”
“In the way, you say… That’s nothing a proud zoan warrior ought to say about their own 『Navel Master』.” Souma protested, but it only caused Shyemul to sigh in an exaggerated manner.
“Yeah, it’s truly saddening for my 『Navel Master』 to be a fool who keeps forgetting about his own blessing.” Then she bared her fangs with a grin, “Do you have any further objections, my dear 『Navel Master』?”
Having his protest shot down by Shyemul, Souma curled up in a corner of the deck, completely dejected. In front of him, even Marco joined the zoan, who were swinging their machetes around, while complaining how much of a waste it was. Although Souma wouldn’t be of much use, as Shyemul said, just watching from the sideline caused him to feel out of the loop. Accordingly Souma stood up and went around, asking whether they needed his help, but with all of them telling him to keep watching as he’d be a hindrance, as if they had agreed on it in advance, Souma lost heart.
“Hey, Soma!” Shyemul yelled towards Souma, who was wallowing in self-pity while doodling の on a black plank smeared with asphalt.
Once Souma lifted his face, Shyemul widened her eyes with all her fur standing on end.
“What the hell is going on!?”
Probably out of nervousness, a faint trembling could be sensed from her voice. Because of that, Souma realized that everything was ready at long last, and swiftly stood up.
“Alright! It’s time to go!”
“Olga-sama, what are those guys doing over there?”
Peeking out from the ocean while swimming upright on the spot, a female warrior asked her leader, Olga, who had been staring at Souma’s ship. The information about Souma’s ship having departed Jeboa’s port was almost immediately passed on by a marman warrior who had been watching the port.
According to that warrior, they would only come at them with a single, small merchant ship. Because of that, Olga got pissed off over being taken lightly by Souma and the others. Just one damn, small ship. Me alone would be plenty to take it down. However, Olga had deliberately taken 20 of her warriors along to lie in wait for Souma, fully prepared for any eventualities.
And yet, after finally arriving, the ship had merely stayed anchored in front of the marmen’s territory without having moved for a while now.
“I don’t have a clue either. However, they stopped the ship at a rather tricky spot.” Olga clicked her tongue.
Right now the boat was anchored right outside the waters set as marman territory in the contract with Jeboa. If they had entered deeper into marmen waters, Olga’s group would have moved. But, it would likely cause friction with Jeboa’s merchant guild afterwards, if they meddled with the ship where it was now. Having said that, it was also a location way too close to simply ignore.
“Anyway, stay sharp. They might plan to use a lapse in our attention to plunge through.”
Although she said so, Olga herself considered that possibility to be very low. No matter how fast the ship might be, it wouldn’t be able to outpace a marman in water. If they passed the marmen’s warning line for just a single moment, the marmen would immediately chase down the ship and riddle it full of holes. It was impossible for Souma, the captain and everyone on board of that ship to not be aware of that.
As Olga kept watching, wondering just what they were planning, she noticed that there was movement on deck. Suspecting that they might try to push through their defense line at long last, tension spread among the female marman warriors. But, from the distance they could only see how the people on board were working on something, without the ship showing any signs of setting sail.
“Are those guys going to scatter poison?”
It was only natural for her to think so, seeing how the people on deck occasionally poured buckets filled with some kind of liquid into the ocean.
Olga laughed scornfully at that, “If they did that, it’d be an absolute waste of time.”
Casting poison into the ocean to kill the marmen was a very classic approach by land-dwellers. However, a plan like that could only work in narrow, closed-off waters, such as inlets and gulfs. Even if you were to add poison to the waters here, it’d immediately get thinned out by the ocean currents.
“It looks like I’ve overestimated the 『Divine Son of Destruction』.” Olga muttered as if to ridicule herself.
Then she caught sight of something new starting atop the ship. This time they repeatedly lowered and raised something into the sea along the ship’s side. From the distance it wasn’t clear what they were using, but it somehow looked like nets filled with fish.
“Are they actually fishing over there?” Olga immediately rejected her own words as ridiculous inside her mind.
Certainly there are many reefs around here, turning this area into a fishing zone with a bountiful gathering of many fish. However, they’ve announced that they’d sail to the marmen island. So it’d make absolutely no sense for them to suddenly start fishing here. Wait, don’t tell me they’ve given up on reaching the island, and have decided to grab a haul before heading back since they went out of their way to rent a ship anyway? Or are they planning to force their way through after making us lower our guard by leading us on, as I suspected earlier?
Olga was confused because she couldn’t grasp Souma’s intention. As if to cut through Olga’s bewilderment, one of her female warriors shouted.
“Warrior Leader Olga! Their ship has lifted its anchor!”
Just as she pointed out, the sailors at the back of the ship were in the process of raising the anchor.
“Stay on guard! They might be planning to push their way through!”
As soon as several warriors dived underwater in response to Olga’s warning, heavy, low vibrations were transmitted to the part of Olga’s body which was still underwater. It was a warning by the women who had dived down moments ago.
By using vibrations created through the quivering of their throats and the air circulating in their bodies, the marmen could pass on simple messages underwater.
“They must be underestimating us quite a bit.”
Olga clicked her tongue at Souma’s group moving their ship towards the island, although they should be aware of Olga’s team’s movements to intercept by now.
Moreover, aren’t they proceeding awfully slowly, as if they’re inviting or belittling us?
As expected, even Olga’s pride as a warrior wouldn’t allow for her to be ridiculed to such an extent. She immediately shifted to an aggressive approach.
“Knock against their bilge! If they don’t show any signs of turning around despite that, riddle it with holes!”
She chose especially talented warriors from among those she had brought along, and ordered them to head towards the ship.
“With this, they’ll likely become shellfish.”
When attacked by their natural enemies, starfish, Japanese scallops would escape by vigorously opening and closing their shells to swim away, and apparently similar shellfish existed in this world as well. The expression “become shellfish” had developed into a characteristic marman proverb signifying “desperate escape” and “running away with one’s tail between one’s legs.” Jeboan sailors would always do so whenever the marmen knocked against the bottom of their ships.
At least that was what Olga expected to happen.
However, a flood of voices signifying escape and danger reached her through the sea. And not just that. Even the warriors, who were supposed to head for the ship, turned around and swam back.
“Warrior Leader Olga! It’s no good! We can’t get close to the ship!” A female warrior frantically shouted after popping her head out of the water.
“What was that!? Explain yourself!”
Being unable to stop the likes of a single, small ship was unforgivable for a marman warrior, the ruler of the seas.
As Olga got angry over them being cowards, the warrior said with a ghastly pale face, “That’s…Warrior Leader Olga, of all things they could have done…” The woman took a breath, and continued, “…they have been assembling sharks around their ship!”