“Just what have you done!?”
The caravan’s guards ended up completely dumbstruck by the all too sudden outburst of violence, but coming to their senses from Gros’ outcry, they surrounded Jahangil with their spears at hand.
Having those spears turned at him, Jahangil lightly snorted in displeasure, “For you to point your spears at me, a descendant of the great dragons, it sure looks like you wish to die, apes.”
Jahangil’s gaze clearly told that he had recognized the guards as enemies. He corrected the grip on his chains with a clanking, and took a step forward.
This is bad!
Thinking so, Souma immediately spoke up, “Stop, Jahangil!”
That command surged out with a voice more powerful than he had expected himself. Jahangil, having fully entered a combat stance, unintentionally stumbled. Even the guards surrounding him directed their eyes at Souma in surprise.
Using that opportunity, Souma wedged himself between both parties, standing in front of Jahangil.
“This man is my subordinate! The responsibility for his actions are mine!” Souma declared stoutly while sensing Jahangil blinking at his his back.
Oh shit, now I’ve done it, was a thought he couldn’t deny crossing his mind.
If I was to try keeping the damage to a minimum in this situation, it might have been the best choice for Jahangil to get cut down for his arbitrary action. But, it’s also a fact that Jahangil acted so violently because my own, careless remark. To begin with, I’ve been fully aware that Jahangil, one of the highest, noble class among dinosaurians, still has the habit to unreasonably try forcing his ideas through by high-handedly relying on his former authority.
And even without that, he had plainly declared the other day that we’d find the marmen as long as we completely wreck the whole caravan. Based on that, I should have been able to predict that he’d fall back on this kind of drastic action. It’s my own fault for overlooking that. But, even so it might have been the correct path to slay Jahangil as a small sacrifice for a greater cause.
At this point, Souma’s body didn’t belong to him alone anymore. Beginning with the zoan of the plains, he shouldered the responsibility for an uncountable number of people such as the various races he had freed from slavery, the people in the pioneer villages, and the residents of Bolnis. In this situation, where they couldn’t afford to cause a huge friction with Jeboa, which was located in their rear, before the war against Holmea, Souma had the duty to keep the effect of this uproar to a minimum, even if it meant discarding Jahangil.
However, what resurfaced in Souma’s mind as he pondered all that were his grandfather’s words.
『Yer done and over with when ye discard those below ye over something like this』
This was his grandfather’s remark when he watched on TV how a politician, who was questioned as suspect for misappropriation of donations during a session of the National Diet, pushed the responsibility on his secretary.
『Forcing his responsibility on the secretary doesn’t mean that the investigation is goin’ to stop there. It ain’t much more than a stopgap measure. But, things gonna become miserable for that secretary』
『But, gramps, secretaries exist to cover for the wrongdoings of politicians at such times, no?』
After tapping the head of small Souma who repeated something he had heard from a friend at school, his grandfather said, 『Now listen, Souma. The ones satisfied with that are weak fellows only bowing their heads at their superiors. The more backbone a person possesses, the more they’d want to fully rely on their own effort. It’s because they’d want to get crushed after using all they’ve got at their disposal. But, being discarded over such a worthless matter is miserable. People with a true, inner strength won’t ever follow someone like that politician』
Five years already passed since he fell into this world, and his grandfather’s face was nothing but a faint memory at this point. But, even nowadays, his grandfather’s words dwelt in Souma’s mind, and above all else, had burned themselves into his heart.
He didn’t know whether he had truly made the correct choice here. But, Shyemul silently but resolutely standing next to Souma full of pride, as if she was saying that this was the place she belonged to, blew away all of Souma’s worries.
Gros pushed his way through the guards, who were unsure how they should deal with this situation, planted his feet in front of Souma, and started to shout at him, letting his spit fly, “Do you understand what you’ve done here!?”
But, contrary to Souma’s determination, the situation was really bad.
“A-A-As of now, you’ve turned our Jeboan merchant guild into your enemy!”
The merchant guild was an organization built on mutual aid with its first principle being to safeguard all its members. Something like damaging the caravan load of Juda, who wasn’t just a normal guild member but even a member of the Committee of Ten at that, couldn’t be seen as anything but a hostile act against the merchant guild.
Souma had ended up turning the Jeboan merchant guild into his enemy.
Due to Gros mentioning the word enemy, Jahangil started to deeply growl behind Souma. Just when Souma thought that he had to somehow get Jahangil to step back here as it’d turn into a disaster if he were to rampage once more, Niyusharl and Palsharl, Jahangil’s sons, finally arrived at the scene, and pulled their father away while soothing him.
But, this alone didn’t change the situation for the better.
At this point, the merchant guild probably wouldn’t stay silent about this either. It was to be expected that they’d try to thoroughly defeat Souma, even if only to demonstrate the guild’s dignity to the rest of the world. In the worst case, it was imaginable that they’d intervene with armed might from behind in the middle of the battle against Holmea.
Considering that I’d need to attempt to fix my relationship with the guild to prevent that from happening, I don’t know what they might demand from us in exchange. It’s pretty obvious that the guild will not only overbearingly ask for high reparations, but also request various privileges from us in a very unfavorable treaty.
If he were to accept all of this as told, it’d result in a heavy blow against the framework supporting Souma’s power. However, no other bright idea on how to avoid fighting the guild came to Souma’s mind.
Either way, for now we’ve got no choice but to earnestly apologize.
However, Gros completely disregarded all apologies from Souma.
“We’ll inform Jeboa of this as soon as possible. I’d like you to get ready for the consequences!”
Gros had one of his guards mount a horse, and sent him off towards Jeboa without giving Souma any time to stop him. Due to that, one of the elven court ladies present on site looked at Eladia with her eyes as if asking for instructions. Then she shifted her eyes to the bow and arrows carried by a nearby city guard. It was a look meant to ask whether she should shoot the messenger to death before he could leave to inform Jeboa as that would corner Souma into a predicament.
However, Eladia stopped that court lady with a little shake of her head. Even if they shot the messenger here, it wouldn’t solve the situation in any way. After all, this place wasn’t filled with just Souma’s allies. Many humans such as the caravans and peddlers waiting for the cargo check had witnessed what happened here. If they were to kill the messenger in front of them despite that, it might actually worsen the whole situation instead.
While all of this went on, the messenger left the arrow range. They had no way to prevent Jeboa from learning about the uproar that took place here anymore.
“For the time being, please come with me to the lord’s residence since I’d like to extend our apologies.”
He believed that it was an underhanded move, but trying to curry some favor by giving them a warm welcome, Souma tried to invite the caravan members to a banquet.
But this only earned him some angry shouting from Gros, “I’d like you to stop screwing around with us! We’re not going to stay a single moment longer in a city like this than we already have!”
This was the very definition of a flat refusal. No matter what Souma said, Gros didn’t listen to him, single-mindedly focused on wanting to leave the city as fast as possible. Reluctantly Souma cleared up the congestion by using the soldiers, and opened up a path for the caravan while straining himself to improve Gros’ impression of them, if even for a bit, but to no avail.
This is going to be a tough nut to crack.
Leaving aside Juda, but even Cornellius and Jakob would likely take good advantage of this to blame Souma harshly. Even if Souma were to ask the Shapiro Company for mediation, it was questionable how much of an effect it’d have. Rather, going by the exchange between Menahem and Yoash at the time of their departure from Jeboa, it was much more likely that the Shapiro Company would wash its hands clean from Souma and his group.
Those are truly depressing prospects. I won’t be satisfied if I don’t give Jahangil a good scolding later on.
While thinking so, Souma looked at Jahangil who was following from behind. Noticing that, Jahangil, surrounded by his sons, trembled slightly. Apparently he had finally grasped what he had done after having been taught by his sons. He was writhing as if somehow trying to make his huge frame as small as possible. Even his tail, which he usually swung around widely with a calm demeanor, was standing on attention as if an iron rod had been driven into it.
Despite the current situation, Souma unintentionally got amused by the difference to Jahangil’s usual, arrogant attitude.
He seems to be reflecting about this plentifully. I guess I’ll let him off with a little scolding afterwards.
Probably because he regained some composure thanks to those silly thoughts, Souma noticed a certain circumstance. It was just when Gros took one step outside Bolnis’ gate. A deep sigh escaped Gros’ mouth.
Souma felt this to be completely out of place.
Important merchandise bound for Holmea’s royal palace had been ruined. Although it wasn’t his fault, he probably should be depressed when considering how he had to explain this to Holmea. He might have sighed once, full of discouragement.
But, the sigh just now was different. It was one of relief. Why relief? Why did he feel relieved? If it was truly a false accusation, he would be angry, but not relieved. His precious merchandise got spoiled as a result of being falsely accused. No one would feel relieved over having something like this done to them. In that case, did he feel relieved that the plan to use his caravan as a decoy didn’t come to nothing? No, that’s not it either, Souma thought. He would have successfully caught the other party in his trap. In such a case, he’d chuckle at his accomplishment, but not feel relieved. Besides, there would be no need to pretend transporting marmen, nor would it be necessary for him to try leaving the city so quickly. Rather, there was no way that he’d be able to feel relieved over being able to leave the city.
Why did he feel relieved then?
A flash traveled through Souma’s mind.
As expected, this caravan does carry the marman children somewhere! Gros is relieved that we haven’t found the hidden children! Souma was convinced.
But, the problem was that he didn’t know where the children could be. They had thoroughly examined the wagons, and thanks to Jahangil it had become clear that the children weren’t stoved away in the wine barrels either.
So, where are they? Where are they hiding them?
Souma was frantically pondering, but he couldn’t come up with a solution. Besides, he didn’t have the time to leisurely think about it either. The caravan had already left the city.
At this point I’ve got nothing to lose anymore anyway.
Having decided as much, Souma yelled with a stern voice, “Hey! What’s that!?”
It was a bet. If they had really hidden the marman children somewhere, it was unthinkable for Gros to not feel worried about that hiding place. However, if he was only concerned about that place, he’d be apt to disclose that hiding place himself. Souma guessed that Gros had consciously kept his eyes away from that place in order to avoid that happening.
However, it was the instant when he felt relieved over having left the city. Only at this moment his caution, which he had strained until then, would relax a bit. He would likely recover his wits if not for that shout being hurled at him at that very moment. Souma was certain that he’d turn his eyes to the place where they were hiding the children.
Now that Souma had his back to the wall, he made a swim-or-sink wager. And, just as Souma had planned, Gros was taken by surprise, and got all shaken.
First Gros turned his eyes towards Souma in surprise. Then he turned his face towards the wagons, clearly exposing his agitation. Souma followed his eyes, not missing a single of their movements. And then, with Souma looking, Gros’ eyes concentrated on a certain object.
However, for a moment there, Souma couldn’t understand. Why look at them? Why is he looking that way?
Souma’s brain got flooded with question marks. In the meantime, Gros calmed down, and turned around to Souma in a hurry.
“W-What the hell is going on!? A-Any more of your false accusations won’t do either of us any good.” Gros’ voice trembled faintly.
He was panicking as if his previous headstrong attitude while blaming Souma was all but a lie. He let his eyes wander all over the place as if to gloss over his own blunder. But, Gros’ words didn’t enter Souma’s ears anymore.
What does that mean? Why did he look at them?
Such questioning continued to swirl around Souma’s head.
Don’t tell me…they’re in there?
But, Souma immediately denied that idea. There was no way that they could have hidden living marman in there. Leaving aside if it was just for a short time, but hiding the marmen all the time in such a place until leaving the city was unthinkable.
However, just then a single flash of light cut through the darkness engulfing Souma’s mind. It was a certain piece of knowledge. What surfaced in his head was something about the marmen he had observed so far. Their figures and behaviors Souma had personally witnessed. The lives and history of the marmen they had told him about. All kinds of information about the marmen raced through Souma’s mind. And finally it led him to a single possibility.
“Are the marmen possibly…”
A certain hypothesis took shape within Souma. But, this was based on Souma’s knowledge from modern Japan. It was knowledge from Earth that couldn’t be unconditionally applied to the Seldeas Continent, a different world. But, at this point Souma had nothing else he could cling on.
In the next instant Souma shouted, “Arrest all of them!!!”
No one could react to Souma’s overly sudden yell. The sole exception was Shyemul who wholeheartedly trusted Souma and followed his words without the slightest doubt. Shyemul leaped at Gros with the agility of a beast about to sink her fangs into the windpipe of her prey, forcibly twisted his arm, and pressed him down to the ground. Gros tried to cry out in protest, but Shyemul prevented that by thrusting her machete at him.
“Don’t resist if you don’t wish to die! ――You guys, hurry up and arrest the lot of them!”
The latter half of her words were directed at Garam and the others who were frozen in surprise. Garam and Zurgu, who were on the receiving end of Shyemul’s yell, immediately hurled similar instructions at their warriors while targeting strong-looking caravan guards and jumping at them.
Due to this sudden attack after they had been politely allowed to leave this city up to this point, the guards were suppressed without being able to do anything.
Gros protested while being pinned down by Shyemul, “W-What is going on!? If you cause any further violence against us, you will truly turn the merchant guild into your enemy!”
But, Souma forced Gros into silence with a single roar. It was rare for Souma, who had such a gentle personality that it could as well be called a singularity for a ruler in this violent era, to raise his voice in such a way. It was so unusual that it caused those who knew Souma to stiffen up in confusion and shock. But, Souma didn’t have the leeway to take this into consideration.
“Hurry! It doesn’t matter what method you use! Have them quickly spit them out! Make them throw up at any cost! Right away!”
He couldn’t wait for even a second. Hearing the impatient orders of Souma, the people around him began to move in a hurry. Being among them, Souma felt how his own heart was thumping as if trying to pierce through his chest. With this, the option to let this pass as a misunderstanding was gone. If he didn’t find the marmen after doing all this, it’d spell his doom.
Time that felt like an eternity for Souma passed. But, in reality, it didn’t take much longer than slowly counting to a hundred.
And then, finally, someone shouted, “H-Here!”
Following that, a small commotion occurred.
“It’s a marman. Unbelievable, she’s still alive!”
The commotion transformed into an explosive cheering. Within the bursting shouts of joy, Souma felt relieved. At the same time, a powerful emotion welled up from the bottom of his stomach. While obeying that feeling, Souma left the circle of cheering zoan, and headed over to Gros who was still being pinned down by Shyemul.
Souma loudly stomped down on the ground right in front of Gros’ face which had become ghastly pale.
“Could I have you explain yourself!?” Souma was fuming with anger.