106. Undecided (4)
Daybreak reached the Lome Kingdom’s capital, the sun cresting the horizon over the sea. Along with the sun came a ship, which was headed straight for the city’s harbor. This ship appeared ramshackle and battered, seemingly on the verge of sinking every time a wave lapped against its hull. Due to this, as well as its already forregin appearance, the ship’s arrival did not go unnoticed. .
“Oi! Stop there!”
Guards stationed at a tall bridge built over the mouth of the harbor called out to the suspicious ship, ordering it to stop. However, the ship continued drifting forward with no sign of stopping or turning away.
“Oi! Hold on, stop! That’s an order!”
The soldiers perched on the stone bridge watched rapt attention, their spears and helms glinting in the morning light. Suddenly, the boat came to a dead stop. Eerily, none of them had seen an anchor being released.
The soldiers, visibly taken aback, murmured amongst themselves.
“W, what was that…?”
“Didn’t it stop right away just now?”
“…Do boats these days do that?”
The soldiers examined it from above, finally able to fully see the ship’s deck. There were a multitude of unfamiliar people aboard, and they were carrying crates and other items which the soldiers couldn’t identify. The crewmen seemed strong, with bulky frames, and there was what looked to be a woman with a slender frame directing them
“What’s the matter?” one of the crewmen asked.
The soldiers presumed this man to be the ship’s captain, and the knight overseeing the bridge decided to find out more about what was going on from him.
“Who are you…? What business do you have in the capital?”
“Ah, I’m a merchant from the Lania merchant guild. The name’s Halsem! I came to sell my wares here!”
The knight glanced at the soldiers behind him, but they shook their heads, none of them having heard the man’s name before either.
“…A new merchant, what do you all think?”
“Well, you know, the entire continent is preparing for war these days. Think of all the weapons and supplies our kingdom paid for before heading off to fight the demons. He’s probably just taking advantage of the situation to peddle his wares.”
Deciding that the soldier’s reasoning made sense, the knight shouted at Halsem.
“Hold for boarding! Prepare your merchant certificate along with your ship’s manifest!”
The knight and soldiers threw a ladder made of rope and wood planks over the edge of the bride, climbing down to get on the ship. The knight took a look at Halsem’s certificate and the cargo list while his men examined the cargo and crew’s identifications.
“Hmm… The certificate is legitimate, and the manifest seems to be in order.”
Halsem let out a small sigh of relief. While his certificate was more than real, the crew was using forged identifications prepared by the Aylans Kingdom. Soldiers like these would be hard-pressed to tell the difference or go through all the proper channels to verify them one by one.
“But your boat is in terrible shape.”
“We ran into a blizzard during our journey.”
“In the middle of the ocean…?”
“Yes; if it were merely rain, we’d let the water flow out slits on its side; can’t do that with snow.”
“… is that so?”
As Halsem and the knight spoke, the soldiers continued to rifle through the cargo. Their interest was piqued by the novelty of many of the items they found.
“It’s strange, there’s no weapons. Are these clothes? They look like they’re made for servants. Did nobles order these?”
“I thought you came to sell weapons since you came all the way here during times like these…”
“Is this dried meat…? There’s so much of it!”
Halsem cut a slice of the dried meat with his dagger and presented it to the knight.
“Venison, from the North. I think you’ll find it to your liking.”
“Is that so…?”
The knight slightly raised his visor and ate the sample Halsem gave him. The texture was more tender than he had expected and the flavor sweetened as he chewed. His eyes widened in amazement, and he glanced at the other foodstuffs Halsem had brought.
“Hmm…it tastes quite good.”
“Of course. I only sell the best. This stuff’s so expensive that even nobles—if they’re not higher than a Count—can’t get their hands on it.”
“…Is it that precious? Oh my! I ended up getting treated with such precious food.”
“No,” Halsem interjected. “Aren’t the people uneasy these days? Especially us merchants; we’re risking our lives to make these sales. Considering you’re working so hard to keep guys like me safe, don’t you deserve a little luxury every now and then?” Halsem flashed the knight a toothy grin, all the while trying to get a read on him. Even though he couldn’t see the face under the helmet, Halsem could tell the man was pleased by his posture. Having been pampered, it was likely that his suspicions were lowered.
“…Oh, there’s quite the lady here, too,” one of the soldiers said while looking her up and down. He was checking her identification, though his gaze was much more focused on the person herself.
“So… your name is Ellin. Are you a merchant too?”
“Yes! Of course!” Ellin said, putting on her brightest face.
“What do you do?”
She stiffened at the question.
“Uh, that’s… misc, miscellaneous work…?”
The soldier frowned at her hesitation.
“She’s my sister!” Halsem said hastily. “I handle sales and she organizes my inventory!”
“Sister? Is she your biological family?”
“Yes!” Halsem continued, speaking quickly. “We come from a rural area. It was wiped out because of a plague, so I’m traveling and conducting business like this with my only sister!”
“Traveling…? Ah! While doing business? A business while traveling with family… sounds good. But, isn’t it dangerous traveling with such a beautiful woman? You’d better be careful.”
“Yes! We’ll be careful! But still, we also need to eat and survive, so we can’t just stop doing business.” Halsem nodded, but the way he spoke was little more than verbal groveling. Then, feigning sudden remembrance, he clasped his hands together and reached for the leather pocket hanging on his waist, handing it to the knight.
“…What is it?”
Knights and soldiers were forbidden from receiving bribes to let these anyone pass inspection. Anything resembling a bribe would besmirch their honor.
It wasn’t money. The taste of the venison was still on his mind, and now that a new curiosity had been thrust before him, his interest was piqued.
“…Is it like a snack or some kind of medicine?”
The knight put the powder into his mouth. He stuck his tongue out at the bitterness, but it went back into his mouth after what Halsem said next.
“This is much better than reindeer meat.”
Halsem looked around before approaching the knight and whispering,
“It’s good for down there.”
“You can’t disappoint a woman as a knight, right? This is a magical powder that will let you satisfy any woman! If you have a lover or wife…h-hmm! Just in time, consider this a gift, if you want it, that is. Would you?”
The knight quickly shook his head.
“No, we can’t receive bribes…”
“Didn’t I say it’s a gift? On top of that, we don’t have many of them to sell. Besides, why would I use something like this as a bribe? It’s not money, right?”
“…Is, is that so?”
The knight and soldiers looked between one another, and Halsem quickly pulled out a bag of the powder for each one of them.
“I don’t think anything is wrong though?”
“There was nothing suspicious about the items either.”
“Their identifications have been verified too, so…”
The knight and his men climbed up the ladder to the stone bridge again.
Halsem grinned and waved his hand to the knight and soldiers as the ship continued into the harbor. As soon as they were out of sight, his head whipped toward Ellin.
“You nearly got us caught! All this time pretending to be a human, and yet you can’t act like one?! How can you call yourself a doppelganger!?”
“I didn’t think he’d ask me questions about work. Not all of us are such natural liars!” Ellin spat.
“Bah! Why did Tom put this dimwitted kid with me? Does he want us to get caught? I’m nervous! It would’ve been better if I, by myself…”
“You want to try getting into the royal family alone…?”
Halsem shut his mouth.
The boat arrived at the dock. Halsem’s eyes sparkled as he saw the Lome Kingdom’s capital for the first time in his life.
“Ooh! As expected the City of Knights…! Knights here, knights there…even ordinary soldiers look like knights…? Can we succeed in sneaking in?”
Most of the walls and the roofs of the buildings were made of layered stone. Statues of knights seemed to be everywhere, and soldiers patrolled the streets thoroughly.
Ellin stepped off the boat, looking around before discretely sticking her head over the side of the dock and peering into the water. A woman’s face took form amid the bubbling foam. Her upper body mimicked a human woman’s, while her lower body was that of a sea dweller’s, with scales and a fin; she was what was known as a Siren. She was also one of the Demon Lord’s Apostles who had been dispatched to support Ellin and Halsem, who were unfamiliar with anything related to the sea.
“Apostle Firiz! Thank you.”
“I’m also the so-called Apostle who serves Her Highness… I’m sorry that I could not do more.”
“No! You’ve been a great help!” Ellin said, smiling. Firiz smiled back, Ellin’s compliments making her happy.
“I also helped, though…?”
Ellin looked to Firiz’s left, where another figure had emerged from the water. Unlike Firiz, this demon had the head of a lizard. His name was Lennon, and he was a lizardman as well as another Apostle.
“I’m also thankful to you, Apostle Lennon!”
“It’s unbecoming to beg for a ‘thank-you,’” Firiz sneered. “This is why lizards are…!”
“Shut up, Fish!” Lennon spat back. “You’re no use when not in the water.”
“In the water? You show your power in the mud! You’d lose to me if we fought underwater…!”
“It’s not mud but swamps! Better than thrashing about uselessly out of the water…!”
“Y, you both are too loud!” Ellin hissed. “Please calm down a little!”
The two of them glared at each other.
“… I need to go.”
“You come straight here if anything happens!” Firiz reminded Ellin. “I’ll float the boat right away!”
“If anything happens up there, the lizardmen will save you, even if we need to attack the city,” Lennon said with a hushed bravado.
“…We’re in big trouble if you do,” Ellin responded affectionately. “Please keep an eye on the boat!”
Ellin got up from her seat and she turned her attention to the crow. It was still in its cage, undisturbed, on the boat. Ellin lifted the birdcage and shook it.
“Tom! We have arrived. Oi~!”
The crow tilted its head and only pecked at its feathers.
“…What…? Is he sleeping…?”
Ellin sighed. Realizing the communication network wasn’t working as smoothly as she’d hoped it would, she turned to Halsem.
“What do we do now? We’re entering the royal palace, right…?”
“…Should we dress up as, or rather, transform into nobles?”
— Ω —