“This lady here is Her Majesty Tethys’ daughter, Third Princess Admetey! You bastards dare to hint that she might be lying!?”
As might be expected, even the old sly schemers of the Committee of Ten became dumbstruck for a short while. Just the fact that one of their members, a representative of Jeboa’s merchant guild, had abducted marman children and sold them off as slaves despite Jeboa’s friendly relations with the marmen was already an outrageous scandal. But, with one of the victims actually being royalty, the whole matter had spiraled far beyond the scope of a scandal.
Moreover, they weren’t the only ones surprised by this new revelation. Even Souma, the one who had rescued Admetey, heard about this for the first time. With his rage that had seethed until now blown away, he asked Olga with a puzzled expression, “E-Excuse me, Ms. Olga. That girl――no, that lady is your younger sister, isn’t she? Are you possibly a princess as well?”
“No, my father, one of the prince consorts, had me together with a female warrior. But, Lady Admetey was born by Her Majesty, making her a full-fledged heir to the throne.”
In other words, they were half-sisters. Among the matrimonial marmen, where houses were succeeded by women, Olga, who was born by a female warrior, had no right to inherit the crown, even if she had the same father as Admetey.
Olga had used a gentle tone to explain this to Souma, but once she turned around to the committee members, the corners of her eyes shot up again, and she roared like a raging fire, “You scum! Not only did you steal our children, but even went as far as kidnapping Lady Admetey, trying to sell her as slave! Do you really understand the consequences of your lowly crimes!?”
Hearing her angry bellowing, the faces of all committee members turned ashen pale just like Juda’s beforehands. They had perpetrated a felony against a girl who was the princess of an entire clan. This was the same as if having slighted her entire clan. It was almost as if they had broken off all relations with the marmen, and declared war on them.
If this developed into a total war with the marmen, their maritime trade would collapse. The tremendous losses produced by that would very likely shake the entire framework of the merchant guild.
But, that wasn’t the full extent of the implications. The impetus for the war would be the merchant guild’s breach of faith towards the marmen. For the guild, which honored trust above all, it’d equal to a loss that couldn’t be even estimated with something like money. For this very reason, the committee members trembled like frail leaves in the wind.
Even the Shapiro Company’s Menahem was no exception to this. Having sided with Souma from the very start, he had watched the course of events without getting too panicked. Rather, he had planned to strengthen his company’s authority within the guild by acting as mediator to stop Souma from blaming Juda too much. However, the situation had taken the worst possible direction, surpassing Menahem’s predictions by far.
He has done something really terrible. Once Menahem glanced at Juda, he could see that Juda was already on the verge of fainting. Very likely Juda hadn’t known that a marman princess was among those he kidnapped.
But, it didn’t mean that this would serve as any kind of excuse to defuse the situation. At this rate, they would not only be unable to avoid a confrontation with the marmen, but it’d also become a heavy blow to the guild’s trustworthiness.
At this point Souma was the only one present who would be able to appease the fuming rage of Olga. After having concluded so, Menahem asked Souma to mediate.
“Lord Soma, could you please put in a good word for us?”
Around this time, Souma, who had also been pissed off by the treatment of the marman children, finally regained his calm with Olga raging even more furiously than him. He could understand Olga’s feelings of exasperation, but Souma also knew that this would end badly if left unchecked.
Tethys herself had tried to not aggravate the situation despite the possibility that her own daughter might have been kidnapped because she wanted to avoid a confrontation with Jeboa. If this affair became publicly known, Jeboa’s merchant guild might be reproached by society. But, at the same time, Tethys would need to clearly exhibit her anger over this felony to the public in order to preserve the dignity of her race and hers as its queen. Not to mention, the response couldn’t be settled with just some half-hearted protest now that her own blood had suffered damage from it. In the worst case, she’d have no option but to declare war on Jeboa.
But, that was nothing the marmen or Jeboa’s merchant guild wished for.
Also, this matter had yet another aspect to consider. If the fact of Admetey’s abduction became publicly known, Tethys would have to punish those who were around Admetey. If she did that, it was possible that it’d also include Olga.
It wasn’t as though Souma didn’t feel like Jacob and his ilk simply got their just deserts. But, he also sensed that it’d be better for the marmen to push the entire blame on Juda alone without escalating the situation any further.
“Ms. Olga, Juda’s actions are inexcusable by all accounts, but the others haven’t been involved in this case. Could I have you forgive them in deference to my honor?”
Olga was fuming in anger, but she still couldn’t ignore Souma’s words since he had rescued Admetey. And yet she couldn’t suppress the feelings of rage gnawing at her. But, Admetey, who was in her arms, also advocated for the merchant guild.
“Elder Sister. ――No, Warrior Olga, let’s follow Lord Soma’s suggestion on this.”
As princess, she had been very likely schooled a lot more in diplomacy than Olga. Admetey admonished Olga that they couldn’t afford to start a direct confrontation with Jeboa’s merchant guild just because of her.
Being told so by Souma and Admetey, even Olga couldn’t keep kicking up a fuss any longer. She groaned for a short while, but eventually sighed, apparently having accepted their request.
“Very well. ――Someone like Lady Admetey hasn’t been kidnapped, and Juda holds the full responsibility for the abduction of all the other children. Will it be fine with this?”
“Yes, Elder Sister. This will do.”
“But, Lady Admetey, I must report this to Her Majesty without hiding anything.”
“Of course. I am certain Her Majesty would have reached the same decision.”
Souma also felt relieved over Olga having yielded.
I don’t think that Tethys desires a war with the merchant guild. This will allow us to avoid such a war from taking place. But then again, we might have evaded a war, but we’re talking about that shrewd queen here. I’m sure she’ll pull out various compensations and concessions from the merchant guild in exchange for laying the entire blame on Juda alone.
But, that was a matter concerning the negotiations between Tethys and the Committee of Ten, and didn’t matter to Souma any longer.
As Souma was brooding over this, Menahem approached him with several committee members in tow.
“Lord Soma, seeing how we have caused you a great amount of trouble in this matter, words cannot express how deeply thankful we are for you blessing us with your kindness.” Menahem and the others bowed all at once.
“Not only will Juda lose his rank as committee member, but he will also be banished from the guild. His property will be confiscated and handed over to you and the marmen as apology and reparations.”
Juda, who had been hollowly staring into empty space as if his soul had left his body, turned his face towards Menahem upon the mentioning of his name. But, all he managed to do was to flap his mouth open and close like a dying fish, just to immediately hang his head.
Although he kept his life, it’d be impossible for him to do business in the West once he got exiled from the merchant guild. Also, with all his assets confiscated, a fresh start in another land would be beyond his power. For Juda this spelled the end.
“Moreover, we would love you to have a friendly relationship with our merchant guild as you had wished for before, Lord Soma. We would like to work out the details of that pact with you in the near future. Would you be alright with this arrangement?”
Souma, who had his high-strung emotions cut off by receiving an apology, returned to his usual self upon Menahem’s suggestion.
“Eh? No, I haven’t done anything significant. ――Right, Shyemul?”
Shyemul sighed in resignation at her Navel Master who not only didn’t boast about having exposed the trick behind the marmen smuggling no one had understood until then, but actually behaved all humble instead. Misunderstanding her sigh as him having possibly done something wrong, Souma started to become flustered.
“Mr. Menahem, you don’t need to do anything so exaggerated. Umm, your declaration of having a friendly relationship with us would be more than enough, yep.”
Jacob, who had been bowing his head while deeply frustrated, jumped at those words.
“T-That will put me in a bind!”
It wasn’t just him either. Not only the other committee members, but even Menahem, who had sided with Souma, was unable to readily consent here.
It was Olga who reproached them in Souma’s stead.
“What’s with your attitude after having bothered Lord Soma this much!? If you say you cannot form a friendly relationship with Lord Soma, us marmen won’t stay silent about this!”
In response to her harsh rebuke, the committee members became silent with agony coloring their faces. After a while Menahem finally spoke up.
“Our Committee of Ten shall officially announce its friendship with Lord Soma. ――Would it be alright with that?”
His last words were directed at the other committee members behind him. Several vented their complaints even after things had developed this far, but Menahem said with a harsh tone, “Such a grave matter being kept at such a low profile is an act of good faith and kindness by Lord Soma and the marmen. Or do you gentlemen wish to go to war against the marmen?”
The other members had no choice but to unconditionally agree with Menahem. Seeing Souma cocking his head in confusion, wondering whether he was actually demanding something so difficult from them, it convinced Menahem’s suspicion that Souma hadn’t realized it.
In reality, properly and officially concluding a friendly relationship with Souma wouldn’t be much of a loss for the merchant guild. No matter how detailed the agreement, for them as stubborn, old foxes it was a daily occurrence to search for loopholes in agreements and exploit them. However, if it came to an obscure friendly relationship, this would be difficult. Especially since they had incurred a huge debt with Souma on this matter. If Souma were to say “this is no friendship” during price negotiations, the merchant guild would be compelled to concede because it owed Souma. Moreover, the nasty part about this was the lack of a fixed time period.
Even though Menahem lamented that a slightly more greedy approach would have been easier to handle, a smile formed on his lips. After all, it’d have been pointless for him to sacrifice his own son for someone with an ability that could be handled by him. Also, he knew that the profit, which the Shapiro Company could have gained from that, would be negligible.
Menahem bowed deeply once more for the sake of hiding that smile.
A while after this chain of events, the royal palace’s purveyor and slave trader Pilemon found himself in Holmea’s palace.
“Today I am visiting in accordance with your esteemed summoning. What kind of business might you have with me?”
Having been called to the palace without any prior notice, Pilemon had resolved himself that something might have happened. However, things appeared to be worse than Pilemon had prepared himself for.
Sitting on his throne, displeasure oozed out of King Warius’ entire body without him making any effort to hide it. On top of that, the eyes of the chief vassals on the left and right glared at him full of rage and contempt. Exactly because he never failed to bribe the vassals so that they’d accommodate him in business, it was Pilemon’s first time to be confronted with such looks.
“Today morning a letter was delivered from King Jeboa.”
King Warius tossed the letter at Pilemon as if getting rid of trash. A letter by King Jeboa, who was no more than a puppet of the merchant guild, might have been written up by him in person, but the contents could be unmistakably regarded as following the guild’s will.
Pilemon picked the letter up while feeling a bad premonition gnaw at him.
King Warius looked down on Pilemon with eyes full of disdain from his throne while declaring, “It looks like you piece of shit conspired with a merchant called Juda, kidnapped marman children, and sold them as slaves. King Jeboa is asking me whether Holmea might have instigated this to drive a tear between Jeboa and the marmen.”
The face of Pilemon as he read the letter with trembling hands gradually turned pale. What he held in his hands was a letter in name only, and instead resembled more of a harsh demand for explanation from King Warius. The intent of this letter was clear: The responsibility for smuggling marmen was ultimately to be found with Juda and Pilemon alone, without any relation to the merchant guild. And not just that. It also served as a means to claim the guild itself being one of the victims.
“You see, Pilemon, it’s only understandable for Jeboa to suspect something like that if you, whom I allowed to freely enter my palace, pulls off such shenanigans. Still, I might not remember quite well, but did I actually order you to carry out such schemes?”
His tone was calm and gentle. But, looking at King Warius’ face, you could see how his eyelids and lips twitched as he suppressed a violent fury. This was his usual state right before his temper would explode.
Pilemon’s prediction about this was right on the money. King Warius had received such a rude letter from King Jeboa who he despised so much that he’d trample down on him like some random ant crawling across the bare ground, if not for the merchant guild’s backing. Warius, who prided himself over being the king of Holmea which was a major power in the West, went beyond irritation, and immediately reached a state of extreme rage.
“Y-Your Majesty! These are outrageous, false accusations!”
King Warius thundered at Pilemon who tried to somehow talk his way out of this, “Shut up! Just being suspected of something like this must mean there’s some truth to it!”
Suddenly King Warius looked as if something had dawned upon him.
“Oohh, I see. That’s how it is, huh…?”
King Warius, a man prone to doubting, had the bad habit of divulging in groundless suspicions towards his retainers by finding some absurd reasons once he got worked up. And right now, this very habit was about to rear its head.
“Even though you had been transporting marmen, my country doesn’t possess any big harbors that would allow for ships heading for the empire to dock. Still, our neighboring country Romania owns such a port, doesn’t it?”
The mutterings, similar to a monolog, by King Warius struck home. Pilemon had transported the marmen, which were carried over to Holmea, all the way to Romania for the sake of putting them on ships bound for the empire.
Right as Pilemon wondered what would be wrong about handling it like that, King Warius roared, “Does that mean you little fucker tried to drive a wedge between Holmea and Jeboa in cooperation with Romania after having forgotten your debt of gratitude towards me who treated your favorably!?”
“A-A-Absolutely not, Your Majesty!”
Pilemon tried to evade King Warius’ anger by rubbing his forehead against the floor, but King Warius wasn’t one to be appeased with something of this level.
“How unsightly, you ingrateful mutt! On top of having all your property confiscated, you will be expelled from my country! See it as an act of my benevolence that I allow you to keep your life!”
After yelping, Pilemon begged King Warius for forgiveness, over and over again. But, without the king amending his views, Pilemon was kicked out of the palace by the royal guards upon King Warius’ order. And yet, this didn’t calm King Warius’ seething fury. He sat on his throne with both hands tightly clenching the armrests, his shoulders heaving up and down, and his breathing going roughly.
“Your Majesty, please calm your anger by drinking this.”
At that moment, the grand chamberlain offered his king a gilded cup filled with wine that had been diluted with water. King Warius grabbed the cup with his still trembling hand, and took a single sip from the wine.
“…What’s this wine…? Bring something of a better quality!”
Diluted wine was something drunk instead of water, but this one had no taste. The chamberlain’s face darkened once the king voiced his displeasure.
“That is…new wine was scheduled to arrive, but…”
The wine of this era, which lacked any decent means of preservation, got spoiled a lot faster than wine in the modern era. Because of this, the royal palace had merchants constantly deliver wine of good quality, but the new delivery ended up delayed. For this reason, they currently only had such old wine, which had lost most of its aroma, on stock, the chamberlain explained.
When King Warius asked why the wine delivery got delayed, the chamberlain told him certain circumstances after hesitating for a short while.
In response, King Warius’ eyes shot wide open, and immediately following, his whole body began to tremble.
“You! Not only have you stolen my slaves, but now you’re even reaching out for my wine…!” This became the final drop, causing King Warius’ temper to burst out. “Just how much do you plan to get on my nerves, you damn Divine Child of Destruction!?!”
The present chief vassals and chamberlains all huddled their bodies upon King Warius blurting out a flood of unintelligible insults with a deafeningly shrill voice.