Chapter 3 – Story 15: Proposal

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“Us marmen are a weak race.”

Tethys’ words were unexpected. The marmen were called the rulers of the seas. Even Souma hadn’t anticipated that their queen would label them as weak.

“Did you hear the story that we originally didn’t belong to this part of the sea?”

Yoash had told Souma that a marmen clan hailing from the east had swallowed the few marmen living in this part of the sea, and permanently settled down here.

Once Souma indicated his confirmation by nodding, Tethys further asked, “Then, do you know why we came to this land from the eastern seas?”

Souma shook his head.

“In that case, let me tell you. Our ancestors lost in battle against the humans, and thus were driven out of the eastern seas.”

The ancestors of Tethys’ clan had lived in an area far east from here, close to the continent’s central area. The reason why they had to abandon their homeland and escape to the area around Jeboa stemmed from them being dragged into disputes taking place on land.

“The trigger was something trivial. A small country by the ocean, which had a deep friendship with us marmen, got attacked by an empire.”

The attacking empire loudly proclaimed this to be the fault of the small country, but most of their claims were false. Anyone having some understanding of the countries situated in the central area would know that it was a military maneuver to obtain the ports owned by the small country as the empire burned with a desire to unify the continent’s central area.

“Our ancestors were driven by righteous indignation, and because they had also kept up friendly relationships with the small country in question, they decided to support that country.”

The marmen assisted by escorting allied ships carrying military goods, and destroying the empire’s ships, which tried to stage a sea blockade, in the seas around that small country. Because of their efforts, the small country, which everyone believed would fall in no time, continued to fend off the empire, a major power of the continent’s central area, for several years.

But, even that country’s fervent resistance had its limits. Confronted with the empire’s overwhelming force, the small country finally caved in, vanishing from the map.

“However, the story didn’t end there. The empire, which had completely lost face over having had so much troubles with a small country that ought to have been easily crushed underfoot originally, was fuming with anger. And of course they turned their anger at the marmen.”

But, Tethys’ ancestors took the empire too lightly, saying that they would never lose, no matter how big the empire might be.

“The empire cited General Inkdias, known for being a great commander, and ordered him to subjugate the marmen, our ancestors.”

Ordered to subjugate the marmen, General Inkdias immediately had all the trees in the surrounding mountains felled, and created tens of thousands rafts where the logs were tied together by iron chains. And connecting the rafts, which he moved to the sea all at once using a river, with chains, he created a suspension bridge to the island inhabited by the marmen.

Of course, the marmen frantically obstructed that project. But, even if they were able to capsize one raft, the same couldn’t be said about thousands of rafts connected by chains. It resulted in them being unable to prevent imperial soldiers from flooding onto the island.

“Once they managed to land on the island, our ancestors already had no way to repel them. With heartrending grief, our ancestors decided to abandon the island. However, that wasn’t the end of their suffering.”

The marmen, who temporarily escaped the island after vowing to recover it, wanted to rest their exhausted bodies on nearby coasts and islets to recover enough strength to stage a comeback. However, the imperial soldiers, who had already been deployed to those places by Inkdias, lied in wait for the marmen. All the marmen, who went on land, were killed by the soldiers, and even those, who managed to escape harm, had no choice but to scuttle.

“The number of our brethren, who were swallowed by the waves after running out of strength as they had to swim without rest while exhausted, is unknown. Moreover, I’ve heard that many of those victims were weak marmen such as our children and elderly.” Tethys breathed a heavy sigh as she recounted the tragedy she had been told by her ancestors. “Our ancestors, who managed to escape to this place, fought against Jeboa for the sake of obtaining an island. But, they had no other choice as they were in such a peril that they might have perished soon if they didn’t manage to procure this island.”

At that point, Tethys smiled faintly, “We’re referred to as rulers of the seas. But, we aren’t undefeatable. This is true for Inkdias who built a bridge to our island. And it’s also true for you, who didn’t allow our warriors to get close with sharks. The land-dwellers come up with one new method after the other to defeat us.”

Upon their queen’s words, the present marmen princess and Olga hung their heads in discouragement.

“We fear the land.” Tethys declared. “But, at the same time, we can’t stay away from it.”

Tethys lifted her hand with just the index finger raised. Her finger pointed at the huge bronze mirror hanging on the wall behind her coral throne.

“Did you hear that us marmen highly value mirrors?”

Souma bobbed his head in confirmation. It was something he heard from Yoash when he sought information about what to choose as a gift for the marmen.

“Do you also know the reason?”

Souma brooded for a moment. What struck his mind first was the aspect of the marmen being a race with matriarchal society. But, in such a case, the dwarves should be the same as they also had a matriarchal society.

Unable to come up with the reason on the spot, Souma frankly shook his head.

“Let me tell you then. ―Mirrors are something we can’t produce ourselves, no matter what we try.”

Someone whispered behind Souma, who was unable to immediately understand the meaning behind Tethys’ remark, “It’s fire,” it was Dvalin, “The marmen probably can’t handle the strong flames needed to process metals.”

Tethys nodded at Dvalin’s guess, indicating that he was correct.

Now that I’m told this, it makes sense. Even if they tried to start a fire strong enough to process metals, you won’t find any trees to fuel the flames in the ocean. What can be used to fuel a fire should be at most driftwood and seaweed that was dried under the sun after being washed over from rivers. That’s why dishes created by using fire are regarded as the highest hospitality by the marmen.

“It’s not just mirrors either. The decorations adorning my body right now, the armors and weapons used by our soldiers, and even indispensable goods for our daily lives such as knives, pots, or kettles are all things we can’t create without our own hands, and thus need to obtain from the people on land.”

That totally sounds like the people on land have the marmen’s lifeline in their hand.

“I don’t know if the marmen survived by themselves in the distant past, but now that we’ve learned of beautiful ornaments and mirrors as well as the convenient tools produced on land, a life without all these things is already unimaginable for us.”

Souma could somewhat understand the marmen’s circumstances as explained by Tethys. He remembered having watched a documentary on TV about the aborigines of the Amazon and Africa to have become unable to return to their former, traditional ways of life after they grew accustomed to the convenient appliances the Europeans and Americans introduced to them. Besides, even Souma himself thought on many occasions about how easy it’d be if he had this or that at the time when he had just come to this world. In his case, he had to give up on it because it was impossible to obtain such items in this world. But, assuming it was something he’d be able to get his hands on, he’d definitely hang onto it even if asked to give up on it, unable to part with it.

Tethys sighed deeply, “While fearing the land, we can’t stay away from it. Thus we cannot afford to destroy the current relationship between us marmen and Jeboa. ―Even if it’s something meager like forming a new friendship with you people.”

Sensing something more hidden in her voice which was blended with resignation and humiliation, Souma deliberately stepped forward, and aggressively asked, “That’s also true even if your children are being kidnapped?”

Tethys’ eyes widened slightly, then she narrowed her eyes and stared at Olga with a reproachful look. In response, Olga’s face turned ghastly pale, her body stiffening.

Tethys sighed once more as if lamenting, “Good grief, this child is truly incorrigible,” and then faced Souma again, “Indeed. It’d be a different matter if you had definite evidence, but otherwise we can’t allow for cracks to appear in our relationship with Jeboa over mere speculations.”

If the Jeboan merchants became unwilling to sell them what they needed, the current livelihood of the marmen would fall apart. And not only that. The anxiety that a war with Jeboa might start again over this issue wasn’t far-fetched either. In such a case, it wasn’t set in stone that the marmen would be able to win against Jeboa who knew of the marmen now unlike a hundred years ago. At least, Jeboa had probably learned of the shark plan used by Souma on this occasion. If they adopted a similar plan, the marmen would be forced to pay a heavy death toll to repel the ships closing in on them.

With only that, the marmen queen Tethys had to pay careful attention to her clan’s relationship with the people on land.

“Are you disappointed now that you know about the rulers of the seas being in such a wretched state?”

Souma was capable of comprehending Tethys’ points. But, he couldn’t approve of them. Even in his former world, the oceans were regarded as an unknown, dangerous world, which was inaccessible to humans, in the past. However, as seamanship and shipbuilding technologies evolved throughout the eras, the oceans lost their mystery, and became part of mankind’s territory. Even in this world it’d likely result in the same once civilization advanced.

With the passage of eras, the marmen would lose their superiority as a race inhabiting the sea, becoming either an aboriginal race left behind by scientific development, or perishing in due time.

Shouldn’t they deepen their exchange with those on land to avoid either fate?’ Souma wondered. ‘She’s right, manufactured metallic goods, which can’t be produced in the ocean, might tie the marmen to the land. But, those items should at least improve the lives of all marmen. Some things might be lost because of the exchange with the people on land, but I’m sure that the marmen will obtain a lot more through it.

Once Souma confronted Tethys with his thoughts, she asked in an amused manner, “So, what new can you people bring to us marmen?”

At long last, Souma had managed to draw Tethys’ interest. Souma carefully pondered about his next words for the sake of further reinforcing that response he finally obtained. Back when he had decided to meet with Tethys, he had thought about several things he could use during the negotiation. However, Souma deliberately gambled for the sake of making the best use of this chance.

“We can lower the number of slaves needed on the island.”

It was something he had come up with back when he observed the island from the ship. There was no guarantee that Tethys would show any interest in this without any proof backing his claim. If things went badly, it was also imaginable that it’d earn him a bad evaluation by Tethys for having suggested something inopportune.

Souma harbored such worries, but after scrutinizing Souma’s words in silence for a while, Tethys replied, “Hoh, that sounds very interesting…”

Tethys didn’t stop at words alone, but also leaned her body slightly forward. Souma found his suspicion confirmed by her reaction.

The marmen relied on slaves of other races to get around on land. However, if those slaves staged a revolt, the marmen would have no means to fend them off as they were powerless on land. Just that should make the marmen feel a latent threat from the slaves even while using them. They ought to believe that it’d be better to lower the number of slaves if possible at all. And Souma’s prediction was right on mark with this.

Souma looked upwards, shifting his focus to the cracks in the ceiling which allowed ocean water to stream down into the room.

“Isn’t the water flowing into this room ocean water carried over by slaves?”

When gazing at the island from the ship, Souma had noticed how slaves were going back and forth, carrying buckets from the coast to the hill on the island’s northern side, which was located right above this cave. At that time he had wondered what they were repeatedly carrying back and forth with such a big number of people, and immediately came up with the idea that it had to be ocean water.

“It’s just as you say. This water has been carried over from the ocean by slaves.” Tethys confirmed.

The cracks, which allowed the water to stream in, were connected to the top of the hill that possessed a cave. The slaves poured the water they had fetched from the ocean in there. But, this ocean water transport was very heavy labor. Not only did it require a substantial number of slaves, but because the marmen couldn’t afford to overuse their slaves too much, they limited the usage of that system to the times when they had visitors, or when a change of the water in the cave was necessary.

“If you leave that to us, we can draw the ocean water without the need for anyone to work on it, regardless of day and night.”

What Souma planned was the application of a windmill. The windmills introduced by him were used to drag up water from the underground for the farming in the Solbiant Plains’ reclamation villages, and to pull up the water from a river for his garden in Bolnis’ feudal lord’s residence. They had plentifully demonstrated their worth. Additionally, if it was atop an island located right in the middle of an ocean with nothing serving as shielding, the worry that a windmill would break from too strong gusts of wind was far more prevalent than the problem of not having enough wind to move the windmill. Given that Dvalin had checked out that aspect in advance, Souma believed this issue to be solvable.

“Also, we can provide you with an industry for the marmen on this island.” Souma proposed something else he had been considering for some time.

“Even if you say industry, there’s nothing on this island, you know?”

Souma nodded as if fully understanding her reservations, and further added, “You’ve got marine products.”

Obvious disappointment crept onto Tethys’s face in response to Souma’s answer.

“If you want fish, you should ask the fishermen on land, don’t you think?”

If it came to a simple competition over fish hauls, the land-based fishermen were superior compared to the marmen. The reason for that were their nets. Compared to fishermen who could make big nets and haul in huge amounts of fish in one go, the marmen fished by diving and using harpoons or their hands. This produced an unbridgeable difference in the amount hauled in.

However, the marine products desired by Souma weren’t such fish.

“No, what I’m looking for is something that’s difficult to catch with nets.”

If it came to marine products that were caught by diving, the marmen had a clear advantage. And not just that. Considering the discord between the marmen and the fishermen Souma had heard about from Yoash, this also followed the idea that it’d be better to not have the marmen get involved with highly-contested marine products.

“Umm, do you know of abalone?”

Souma was worried whether the term abalone would be understandable, but that proved to be a needless anxiety.

“Yes, I do. But, do you eat those?”

Marmen also ate abalone, but because of its ugly appearance, it was treated as low-quality food which was rather unpopular with the Jeboans. However, in the eyes of Souma, a modern Japanese, abalone was far from being of low quality, and instead registered as a high-quality ingredient.

“Yes, it’s a high-quality ingredient! I’d like to get my hands on such shells. Also, can you catch crabs?”

When speaking of crabs eaten in this world, it’d be about the crabs inhabiting rivers. But for Souma, crabs were connected to the ocean. However, crabs inhabited surprisingly deep parts of the ocean, and were difficult to catch with the fishing techniques of this world.

“Sure. We also often catch and eat the crabs living deep in the sea where the sunlight doesn’t reach.”

There was no way that the marmen wouldn’t catch crabs. Compared to fish, shells and crabs were rather easy to obtain.

“What about seaweed then?”

“We can get as much seaweed as you like, but why would you need something like that?”

“To eat it, of course.”

Tethys was surprised. The marmen lived in the sea, but they didn’t have the custom of eating seaweed. Compensating things like the vitamins necessary to keep living by eating raw fish, the marmen had no need to eat vegetables just like Eskimos. Because of that, the marmen perceived seaweed in the same way as the people on land would perceive plants. Them using broad, long kombu-like seaweeds as replacement for doors by hanging them in front of the entrance like curtains was the perfect proof of that.

“Please dry all these marine products. If you do, we’ll buy them off you.”

It was necessary to pickle seafood in salt or boil it, but if it came to things like kombu, just drying them under the sun would be enough. In such a case, even the marmen should be plenty able to use that as industry.

Because of the propagation of Japanese food, which Souma reproduced in cooperation with Marco, the consumption of kombu and such, which hadn’t been eaten in Bolnis so far, steadily spread among the people. Of course it also played a big role that Souma, the highest authority in the city, liked eating those dishes. Even so, some among the commoners had tried those dishes out of curiosity at first, and nowadays they had become popular enough that a further increase in demand was expectable.

Besides, Souma had aimed for such an economic partnership from the very start, rather than a simple military alliance. Military alliances were prone to fall apart easily with the changes in power among the surrounding countries. However, Souma believed he’d be able to reach a far deeper friendship with the marmen through an economic partnership. But then again, he couldn’t deny that he was also driven by his desire to improve the quality of the food he ate.

“In addition, shark fins, scallops, squids…oh wait, maybe octopus is no good. I wonder, do all of you eat octopuses?”

Shyemul drove her elbow into Souma’s side as he kept counting the names of dried seafood, which he had eaten back in Japan, on his fingers. Souma quickly came to his senses after having become completely absorbed in talking about food. Feeling awkward as everyone was staring at him in wonder, Souma unnaturally cleared his throat once.

“Umm…how about it? Of course we won’t pay you for the dried marine products with just money, but also items and technologies.”

Tethys pondered about Souma’s proposal. The surrounding marmen princesses whispered amongst each other with their eyes sparkling. Noticing that, Souma fully realized that his proposal wasn’t bad for the marmen at all.

After a time allowing one to slowly count to twenty had passed, Tethys finally lifted her eyes.

“Indeed, it’s a very interesting proposal.”

Souma tightly clenched his fists when he heard her words.

“――But, only this much is somewhat too little to make me give my consent.”



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