Chapter 3 – Story 16: Conditions

 

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“…It’s too little, you say?” Souma had almost believed that he’d be able to receive Tethys’ approval, but being faced with an unexpected turn of events, he started to panic in his mind whether he had made some mistake.

“Honestly, your proposal is wonderful. I’ll readily admit that much.”

What pleased Tethys above all was the idea of starting an industry on this barren island. The revenue of the marmen living on this island mostly stemmed from their contract with Jeboa to protect the Jeboan trade ships from pirates. It’d be fine to describe it as Tethys’ clan having been hired as mercenaries to keep the sea routes safe.

However, this only allowed the young and strong warriors to earn foreign currency. Many of the other marmen still lived primitive lives of collecting shellfish and crabs. But, should the industry suggested by Souma succeed, it would also provide employment to the weak marmen, and not just the young folks. Doing it like this wouldn’t just benefit the whole island, but also give many marmen a purpose in life.

“Nevertheless, you haven’t mentioned the drawbacks accompanying the acceptance of your proposal, have you? Until now we’ve maintained a friendly relationship with just Jeboa. I’m sure Jeboa won’t be overly happy with you suddenly cutting in here.”

Jeboa, which fought the marmen in the past, couldn’t be expected to rejoice over the marmen building up their strength. It was clear that they wouldn’t approve of this whole endeavor.

Besides, Souma’s proposal was ultimately based on theoretical assumptions. Completely unforeseen problems might crop up after they actually put it into practice. Moreover, even if it were to succeed, it’d still take time for the plan to show results.

That alone made it impossible for Tethys to displease Jeboa, which was the marmen’s sole contact on shore at present.

“And, apart from that, another big problem is――” Tethys inserted a short pause there, before spinning her next words, “――the danger of us turning the powerful western nation Holmea into our enemy.”

That possibility couldn’t be denied. It was common knowledge that Holmea’s king Warius harbored strong feelings of hatred and rage towards Souma’s group for having seized the slaves that should have presented to him at his birthday festival, having stolen a city, and even having ripped a big ransom off him to free his little brother. It was very feasible to believe that the marmen would be labeled as enemies for just stating that they had a friendly relationship with Souma’s group.

“And as if to prove this worry, I’ve already received a letter in regards to this matter.”

We’ve been beaten to the punch, while regretting this in his mind, Souma outwardly feigned to be calm. Very likely Jakob or Cornelius, who knew that we got in contact with the marmen, sent a letter to Tethys to contact her before we’d reach the island.

“Just as I said previously, we do not wish to get dragged into the disputes taking place on land.”

The marmen had the past experience of having turned the empire, the ruling country in the continent’s center, into their enemy for the sake of helping an allied small country, resulting in them being driven out of the sea where they had lived until then. This was more than enough to trigger a fear in the marmen to not repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.

However, Souma also was in a bind. He couldn’t afford to go to war against Holmea while having a latently hostile relationship with Jeboa. He had to use the marmen as means to hold back Jeboa by forming a friendly relationship with them, no matter what he had to do to achieve this.

“All I’m asking of you is to build a business relationship with us. It’s not a military alliance. I highly doubt that Holmea would regard your trading with us as such a big deal.”

It wasn’t as if Jeboa had a clearly hostile stance towards Souma’s group. If it came to holding Jeboa in check, just the fact of Souma’s group having a friendly relationship with the marmen would suffice as deterrent. Besides, among the merchants doing business with Bolnis weren’t just Jeboan merchants, but also merchants from Holmea. If trading with Souma’s group were to be labeled as a crime, it’d actually result in a need to punish Holmean merchants as well.

Souma revealed a grin, “Moreover, Holmea doesn’t have the leeway to make a move against you.”

Tethys expressed her astonishment with a “Hoh” due to Souma’s confident, bold statement. In this critical situation with Holmea, Souma’s words meant that Holmea would have its hands full just dealing with his forces. No, Souma’s cocky attitude might even suggest that his side would crush Holmea.

Tethys put her hands together and brooded for a while. In order to not repeat the tragedy from a hundred years ago, Tethys had not only kept her distance from the matters on land, but also strained her ears to learn of the situation in the West by installing an ambassador in Jeboa for example. Of course, she had roughly grasped the difference in power between Holmea and Bolnis. As such she couldn’t simply swallow Souma’s words at face value.

“Aren’t you bragging a bit too much, considering that you’re nothing more than the lord of a provincial city which is about to take on a country that’s regarded as one of the leading powers in the West?” Tethys watched for Souma’s reaction while including ridicule in her remark.

“Bragging, you say?” Souma responded with a wry smile.

“Do you have some guarantee then?” Tethys decisively broached the core of the matter.

In response, Souma pondered while slightly tilting his head to the side, and then brushed his forebangs up all of a sudden.

“So you can’t simply trust the words of the『Divine Son of Destruction』?”

What faintly shone on his exposed forehead was a symbol, seemingly combining 8 and ∞. It was an eerie seal that also looked like two snakes entangling with each other while biting each other’s tails as they squirmed ― the seal of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction.

Seeing that seal, Tethys’ words got stuck in her throat. When she heard the rumors for the first time, she confirmed the matter with an old woman, who had been passing down folklore, to make sure of the truth, and only then she as a queen learned of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction. And even though just the appearance of a divine child belonging to a goddess, which had been kept secret until now, was already an earth-shattering event, that divine child himself far exceeded it with what he had accomplished by now.

Even just the story of him having gained the trust of the zoan, who had been opposing the humans, no sooner than appearing in the plains all by himself was hard to swallow all of a sudden. And yet, he led the zoan, who were on the verge of annihilation, into raiding a fortress and gaining control of a city, just to finally repel Holmea’s strongest general, Darius, whose name even the marmen had heard of. Moreover, in merely five years, he developed Bolnis, which was no more than one of Holmea’s provincial cities, into a thriving metropolis that had amassed riches rivaling countries. At this point, one could only be flabbergasted as it sounded like the story of some hero in a myth, but certainly not like a deed that could be achieved by a single person.

However, right now and here was sitting that very person in front of her eyes, stating that he’d crush Holmea.

“Don’t tell me, the Divine Son of Destruction…” Tethys quietly muttered to herself.

The smile currently showing on the Divine Son of Destruction’s lips is twisted and has a shadow hovering over it. And at the same time as the Divine Son of Destruction revealed himself as such, unrest spread among those accompanying him. Especially the zoan girl who has been demonstrating her absolute loyalty while sticking to him closely, can’t hide her anxiety.

They’re probably fearing the Divine Son of Destruction’s powers even while obeying him. It’s an expression of just how terrifying he is. I’ve heard rumors that he defeated the army of the renowned Darius through dreadful, black arts, but maybe those are actually true. Tethys concluded.

However, when Souma named himself to be the divine son of that goddess, Shyemul and the others understood that this was a situation where he was likely bluffing as they knew how much he disliked Aura for having summoned him to this world. Moreover, Souma screwed up when he tried to smile calmly, simply resulting in his face cramping up.

Not being aware of all this, Tethys sighed as if having resigned herself.

“I’ve fully understood your point. You’re saying that us marmen will be able to obtain a huge gain if we join hands with you.”

“Quite so!”

Tethys held back Souma, whose voice bounced in expectation, by raising her hand lightly.

“However, we have concerns about our relationship with the land-dwellers becoming too deep. We fear that our relationship with other countries will worsen. And if I consider my people’s anxieties towards these things, I can’t simply agree with you here as a statesman.”

Contrary to Souma’s expectation, words of refusal left Tethys’ mouth. However, Tethys smiled at Souma who was obviously dejected.

“But, your proposal is too good to simply dismiss. Besides――” Tethys suddenly hid her mouth behind her hand, giggling, “I can’t coldly turn away a person who enjoyed eating our food so much, despite us being scorned as savages for it by the land-dwellers.”

The marman princesses and Olga, who had been watching their exchange, cast friendly smiles at Souma.

“Accordingly, I have a suggestion for you. How about we have you solve one of the problems afflicting us marmen in order to convince my people of a friendship with you people?”

“Problem means…?”

Tethys told Souma, who was cautious of what unreasonable demand she would make, “Just as you said some time ago, our children have been abducted. I’d like you to determine the criminals and make sure that they can never kidnap our children again.”

Souma couldn’t respond right away due to the unexpected, difficult problem thrust at him. According to what he had heard from Olga before coming to this island, Jeboan merchants seemed to be involved in the kidnapping. If this was true, and even if it was just a part of the Jeboan merchants, it’d become a tremendous affair for Jeboa’s merchant guild.

If I try to search for merchants doing something like this, it’s certain that we’ll incur the merchant guild’s displeasure.

In other words, Tethys forced Souma to decide which side he wanted to support, Jeboa or the marmen. If he were to simply consider the advantages and disadvantages, it’d be evident that prioritizing the relationship with Jeboa over one with the marmen would be smarter. However, when he heard that innocent children were kidnapped and sold off as slaves, it became impossible for Souma to ignore this matter.

Souma accepted his fate, “Very well. We will do our very best to resolve this matter.”

Five years ago, Souma might have stopped at this point. However, during these five years, Eladia and Solon had taught him various things, resulting in Souma having become slightly more experienced at diplomacy.

“If I can get the Jeboan merchants, who are close to us, to cooperate, it should definitely be possible to fix this problem.” Souma implicitly asked Tethys to not blame the Jeboan merchants, who had cooperated with him, even if it became clear that some of the Jeboan merchants were involved in the kidnapping. At the same time he feared that Tethys would be appalled by his ambiguous attitude.

“Understood. I leave it in your hands.”

However, Souma’s reply aligned with Tethys’ interests as she didn’t wish to go on a confrontational course with Jeboa either. If the relationship between Jeboa and the marmen deteriorated because the marmen flailed some pointless sense of justice around, it’d be like putting the cart before the horse.

Seeing Tethys’ satisfied smile, indicating that he had apparently passed her judgment, took a load off Souma’s mind. However, just then Tethys put on an expression as if she had suddenly remembered something.

“Sorry, but I’d like to add one more condition.”

Souma nodded at her. Even just finding the criminals who were kidnapping the children was already a Herculean task. Now that it had come to this, Souma was resolved to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.

With Souma eager to accept any unreasonable demand, Tethys smilingly said, “I’d like you to share some of the black juice from before with us.”

Souma’s eyes started to dart around so restlessly that one could ask just where his resolve from moments ago had gone to.

 

◆◇◆◇◆

 

Atop of the ship, on their way back from the island, Souma hung his head in desperation while holding fast ontu the ship’s side.

“Ugh~. My precious pseudo-soy sauce…”

Souma was completely devastated after having promised to supply Tethys with soy sauce in the end.

Obviously totally fed up with behavior, Shyemul commented, “Give up, Soma. You were the one who said that we had to form a friendly relationship with the marmen at all costs. That means you just need to follow up on your own words here.”

Souma glared reproachfully at his most faithful retainer who had apparently grown the habit to meddle with him whenever he got sulky. In response, Shyemul threw out her voluptuous chest with her nose twitching as if challenging him to talk back if he was so annoyed with her.

Garam, who didn’t feel like letting these two mess around like that, interrupted with a grim voice, “Soma, was it truly okay to make such a grandstand?”

Garam’s worry was very reasonable. Souma had always remonstrated those who advocated that there was nothing to fear of Holmea, and rather opted for a cautious approach. Thus it was unexpected for Souma to brag in front of Tethys that they would crush Holmea.

“Well, it remains unlikely that Holmea will blame the marmen for having gotten involved with me.”

He had told Tethys the same, but Souma believed that Holmea wouldn’t complain just because someone did business with him. Rather, if Holmea did something like that, they’d be forced to question the culpability of Jeboa as well, on top of the Holmean merchants.

“Even in the off-chance that Holmea applied pressure on the marman because of that, it’d happen after they defeated us. It’d be kinda impossible for Tethys to file a protest with me at such a time.”

Garam and Shyemul smiled bitterly at Souma who chuckled gleefully over having pulled off such a trick. All that would await Souma if they got defeated was an execution as a horrible criminal. Even Tethys wouldn’t go as far as complaining to Souma’s beheaded head, but everyone present felt like that would be nothing to brag about.

“What stupid stuff are you spouting!?” Shyemul slapped the back of Souma’s head.

“Stop screwing around.” Garam stopped Shyemul from starting their usual shenanigans, “So, what are we going to do about the marman children? We need to find their kidnappers, don’t we?”

“Hmm. …For starters I’m going to ask Yoash whether he has some clue. The rest depends on his reply, I’d say?”

No matter how friendly he might be towards Souma, it was still unclear whether Yoash would cooperate in disclosing something that would become a scandal for the merchant guild, but they had no one else they could rely on.

“Anyway, let’s try doing whatever we can. We’ve gotten this far, so it’d be a waste to leave it at just being treated to delicious fish dishes.” The instant he said this, everyone else grimaced.

Once Souma asked with his eyes what was wrong, Shyemul spoke up as their representative, “My dear 『Navel Master』, I don’t really want to tell you this, but I don’t think that eating fish raw can be counted as good hobby.”

Garam and the others confirmed Shyemul’s statement by nodding all at once.

However, Souma muttered under his breath, “They really don’t get it, do they?” Believing that a fish’s true taste and its food texture could only be fully experienced by eating it raw, Souma even felt pity with Shyemul and the others who didn’t comprehend this simple truth. Even foreigners of his former world, who initially had aversions towards eating raw fish, fervently hyped sashimi and sushi once they learned of the deliciousness of raw fish.

I’m sure, Shyemul and the others will immediately feel ashamed of their own ignorance once they learn how wonderful raw fish tastes. It’s truly the epitome of Japanese food!

Souma basked in a sense of superiority as he thought about all that, but the next words of Shyemul hit him like a shower of cold water, “Eating raw fish is scary as it’s likely that they are filled with bugs.”

All blood audibly drained from Souma’s face.

“…Bugs? P-Parasites…!”

Come to think of it, Souma recalled, it’s possible to safely consume raw fish in modern Japan thanks to the development of freezing technologies and aquacultures, but before that existed fish that couldn’t be eaten out of fear for them to be infested with parasites. Also, I’ve heard that squids are thinly sliced to kill the parasites, which are often infesting them, when making sashimi.

“B-But, the marmen always eat them raw, so…”

Souma tried to somehow grope for a reasoning that would put him at ease, but he further remembered, Parasites are apt to be seen as cause for harm when they infest someone, but unexpectedly they often don’t hurt their host. It’s because the parasite will likely die alongside their host. However, there are cases where parasites, which are considered harmless, cause serious damage to a host they weren’t supposed to infest under normal circumstances. The prime example for that is echinococcus. Echinococcus is mostly harmless if it infests foxes or dogs, but it’s said that once they infest humans, they’ll stay hidden for a long time, before suddenly causing a grave impairment of liver function, which can lead to death in the worst case. If the marmen are inside the cycle of the parasites, they probably won’t suffer any serious consequences, even if they do get infested. But, if there had been any parasites in the fish I ate…

With his face having become pale, Souma asked Shyemul with a trembling voice, “Shyemul, d-do you have deworming medicine…?”

Shyemul spat out a deep sigh.

However, even after this Souma would often eat raw fish, regularly earning him a severe scolding from Shyemul. Shyemul noted following down in “Shyemul’s Memo” which was passed onto future generations:

“I have a hard time understanding Soma’s bad habit of trying to eat raw fish to the extent that he’d need to take deworming medicine each and every single time.”

 

 

 


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