69. Aylans Kingdom (4)
“S-slaves…? What do you mean slaves…? What use do Demons have for slaves?”
Halsem had a lot of questions, but as time passed, his face grew pale.
“I-is it… so you could eat them…?” Halsem trembled as he began to visualize the image of human slaves being eaten alive. “Don’t joke around! Even if they’re slaves, they’re living humans! Even if they’re treated like cattle, they’re not food raised for your kind!”
“…We do not eat human flesh.”
“Don’t lie! You just said you’d chew on me…!”
When Tom looked at Ellin with a frown, Ellin spoke in a panic.
“B-but he was trying to rat us out…! He might have if I hadn’t scared him a bit!”
“I was planning on putting him to sleep with my magic in that case.”
Halsem began to fidget as he misunderstood Tom’s usage of the word ‘sleep’ to mean ‘death’.
Tom turned to him to speak.
“The slaves we are planning to buy are Dwarves.”
“Dwarves? Why do Demons need Dwarves…?” A look of horrified realization crossed his face once more. “…To eat?”
“Why are you still on that? Nobody is eating anyone.”
Tom’s words fell on deaf ears, as Halsem would not leave the thought alone. He sighed. It was apparent that he was going to need to spend some more time convincing him that they didn’t eat people.
One, two, then three hours passed. Only then did Halsem begin to finally calm down and show signs that he was beginning to understand.
“S-so… in reality, Dwarves are citizens of the Demon Kingdom, and you’ve come to save them?”
“Yes, that summarizes everything that I’ve been saying this whole time.”
It was the most persuasive argument he could think of. And it helped that it was at least passably close to the reality of the situation.
‘I was planning on making use of the Dwarves under their classification as slaves, but since this guy refuses to believe anything…’
Ellin suddenly appeared beside Tom and whispered in his ear.
“Um… is it really okay to lie like that?”
“Well, nobody would believe him if he tried passing the explanation on to someone else that actually knows a thing or two about the Dwarves. But there’s no real reason to explain how, actually, we’re planning on using the Dwarves for city and wall reconstruction, castle remodeling, and preparing supplies to this guy. There is no real reason to reveal these details to the humans.”
Tom turned to Halsem again.
“So… what do you think?”
It was a refusal without hesitation. Tom’s eyes twitched.
“I have no idea what you’re trying to do. But I guarantee that it’s dangerous and must be stopped.”
“It’s not anything dangerous at all. You just have to buy us some Dwarves.”
“I’m a merchant of crafts, not slaves! Look for someone else! I’m not going to help you!”
It was rare to find anyone who experienced the events in either the Golden Fief or in Lania to speak so boldly. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he was a gambler.
Halsem sighed as he continued.
“A-and… I know that you’re not such a bad person. My continued existence might be proof enough of that. I survived even when I was closest to you, and the only ones that were killed by the Undead were the soldiers.”
Halsem faintly smiled, recalling the events in the Golden Fief.
‘Now that I think about it, there was quite a bit of trouble with these monsters. All the most talented gamblers were so dispirited… It makes me laugh thinking back to that time!’
He knew that the one standing before him was a fearsome monster, but thinking about that time naturally brought a smile to his face.
“More than anything, there is no benefit to me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. There is a benefit.”
Tom placed a leather pouch on the table and smiled.
“I’ll make you the greatest merchant known to man.”
Halsem stared blankly ahead of him. All he owned―the entire collection of his possessions―consisted of a few pretty trinkets and some small pieces of quaint furniture loaded onto a pitiful wagon pulled by a donkey. This could be considered his entire estate, but now, before him were two massive stallions with thick muscles and flowing manes pulling a supply wagon with large, sturdy wheels.
Halsem had had a goal back when he had started his work as a merchant―to become a household name. To be known all throughout the land as a great merchant. He had believed that it would be amazing to become a leader of a grand merchanting company as someone that had started with nothing. There was a romantic appeal to that idea which had enticed him.
However, dreams and reality were very different. He had only started working as a merchant a few months ago, but all he could buy was a donkey and a worn cart on the streets. He even had to fix it by hand as he went along. The stallion and supply wagon that he had seen in his dreams was simply that, a dream. These things… were now sitting before him.
‘… How many years would it have taken me to buy this wagon and these horses?’ Halsem swallowed drily. ‘Five years? No, they’re stallions! They’re not simple horses! I-I don’t know much about horses, but they even look expensive! It might have taken me ten years of saving or more…!’
“What do you think?”
Looking at Tom speaking so flippantly, Halsem felt his stomach ache. Tom had granted him all of these things that he had dreamed of so easily. He still wasn’t a merchant lord that was renowned everywhere, but these things in front of him now were all things that the average merchant would be drooling with envy over.
“I’ve heard that mountain bandits were starting to get more common. Safety is of the most importance.”
Tom pushed a bag full of gold coins into Halsem’s hand.
“Hiring more quality mercenaries and guards might be best. Also, this will be helpful in buying the goods themselves.”
Halsem began to feel anxious.
‘F-fine! I’ll buy in slaves like this guy wants! It’s just Dwarves, right? Just some Dwarves…! But… what if these guys change their minds…? I can trust them, but they’re still demons, right?’
Halsem struggled with the decision before finally coming to a conclusion―safety always came first.
“S-still… I still want to want to climb to the top through effort! Do you think I’ll just agree with these cheap methods?!”
Halsem spoke with a trembling voice, and Ellin―who was observing the wagon and horse beside Tom―spat out a single sentence in reply.
“So you’re a coward.”
Halsem felt insulted.
“A coward…? You’re talking to me? You fiend!”
“Hm? You’re not? Aren’t you refusing, in reality, because it’s dangerous? Why? Are you just that scared? Or do you not trust us, then? Because we’re Demons? How does a man have such frail nerves…?”
When Ellin began to taunt him, Halsem’s eyes began to twitch.
“I am a gambler! I always put my life on the line! Even my work as a merchant has involved risking myself! I never knew when I’d be bankrupted by some bandit or mugger! I have no guts? This is nonsense!”
“Then accept our deal!”
Halsem almost spat out ‘fine!’ at Ellin’s taunting. However, he had managed to stop himself at the last moment. He pinched his forehead and shook his head.
“I’m not going to fall for such simple tricks Miss Demon! So don’t look down on me!”
“…Ah, you’re not falling for it…?”
Ellin looked surprised as she turned to Tom. Tom sighed and spoke to Halsem.
“Mister Halsem, you’re a merchant, so I’m only offering you a deal.”
Halsem turned to look at Tom. He was stunned.
“Merchants always move toward the greatest benefit to themselves, and they don’t let go of any chance that might net them a great advantage. My deal isn’t even extremely risky or dangerous, either, so what downside is there?”
“Isn’t it more disadvantageous to the person that misses out on this opportunity?”
“T-that is true.”
“Then, why is it that―now that the opportunity is at your feet―you refuse it? You’ve failed as a merchant, if this is really your choice.”
“We have many people that can fit the criteria. There are more than just one or two merchants in this city. How long do you think it’ll take us to convince another?”
Halsem froze at Tom’s words. Thinking about it, there was no real reason that they ‘needed’ him. Canibar was overflowing with merchants passing through. More importantly, there were many more merchants that were more respected and well-known than him. There was no real reason for him to not accept this offer. Rather… he was being ‘full of himself’ in trying to avoid the deal. Other merchants would be dancing with joy if they were in his place. Considering the large compensation, he would be struggling in his sleep for the rest of his life, regretting this decision. As he began to think of such things, his mind turned blank.
“What will you do now, Mr. Pushover?”
Ellin laughed lightly as she taunted him once again. Halsem grit his teeth, watching her.
‘Aah, isn’t this too much? To make a top-class gambler like me so hesitant?! But, an opportunity like this… isn’t too common.’
‘Life has to be lived on the edge!’ he decided.
‘This opportunity… I won’t let it go!’
“Isn’t that too obvious of a bait? But, as you said, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You must put my safety first in return!”
Upon hearing Tom’s answer, Halsem turned to the stallion and supply wagon.
“Ha, hahaha! Yes! Let’s try this out then! I’ll shoot to be the greatest merchant with this opportunity!”
Halsem burst into laughter as Tom and Ellin looked at each other and smiled in satisfaction.
A single resident in the streets, watching the scene from a distance, frowned as he continued on his way. This resident was a servant of Shabel Canibel. He had received the order to ‘investigate these people’ on the Count’s orders.
“Are they suspicious as expected?”
Shabel listened to his retainer’s report as he looked over the map of the Kingdom of Aylans and the Holy Kingdom laid upon the office table. The retainer reported that the actions of the merchant who had just entered the territory, Halsem, were strange. The merchant had entered the city with nothing more than a shabby cart pulled by a donkey had bought a pair of great stallions and a supply wagon. A merchant buying such things on its own wasn’t all that strange, but for one who only had a shabby cart pulled by a donkey a day earlier, it was a different story. Buying such things overnight was too suspicious.
Shabel, who had received the report, felt it was suspicious as well.
“How about their identities? Do they look like they have been manipulated?”
The servant held out an identification card.
“No. Halsem was registered in the Merchant’s Guild as a merchant several months ago. It appears that he has been actively working as a proper craft merchant.”
“What about the two other people?”
The servant looked strained.
“The pair’s identities are iron-clad. It appears that they have been correctly distributed by the Mercenary Guild. It’ll take more time to look into it further.”
The servant looked at the Goblin-made Mercenary card in his hand.
“What about the Mercenary Guild?”
“There is no information from the Mercenary Guild regarding them, but if they had registered in the Mercenary Guild within the Holy Kingdom a few days ago, it can’t be helped that the information is delayed.”
This meant that there was some possibility that they were agents of the Holy Kingdom. However, he couldn’t simply capture the saviors of a great many refugees for interrogation based on a slim suspicion.
‘Is there no other way than to simply observe them for a few more days?’
“Keep your guard up. Observe them properly and report any change in their behavior. I don’t mind even if it’s something minor.”
The servant nodded and excused himself.
Halsem’s actions were suspicious, but there was something else even more so. That was the activities of the Holy Kingdom. Three months had passed since the declaration of war. They would have to wait for another three for the war to actually start, but…
“They are gathering an army.”
There was an army gathering on the border regions of the Holy Kingdom. Of course, it might be a defensive force against the Kingdom of Aylans, but separate from the fact, an army was being gathered and equipped. According to reports, there were 100 Holy Knights, 250 priests, 500 knights, 50,000 infantry, 5000 archers, and 50 siege units. They were preparing as if they might invade at any moment. That was the report a week ago.
‘Are they planning on invading earlier than the agreed-upon six month period?’
They had already prepared an invasion force with three months remaining. He did not understand why they would station their entire army for anything other than defense, considering the issue of supply, unless…
‘They are surely not thinking of invading already, ignoring the Continental Law… are they?’
Count Shabel clenched his mouth shut. He was overthinking it. Even if the Pope was mad, there was no way that he would ignore the Continental Law, upheld for thousands of years. If he broke any of those ancient rules, he would lose the grace of the other kingdoms and receive their ire. No matter how powerful the Holy Kingdom was, they would still have to avoid becoming enemies with all the other kingdoms. Unless they had the confidence to win against dozens of kingdoms and empires, that is.
“I’ll have to keep watching the situation for a bit longer to know for sure.”
Currently, the manpower within Shabel’s territory was slightly over ten thousand men. Utilizing all manner of defensive magical tools, they would have the strength of about twenty thousand men. However, that was still pitifully lacking and they wouldn’t be able to hold their ground.
“I should raise our numbers just in case.”
It was possible to request support in a month’s time even if they did invade. If they did nothing in the meantime that is…
It was at that moment where everything changed. The door burst open and a soldier hurriedly entered. He was looking exhausted and pale, forgetting to even greet the Count as he held out a letter orb.
Count Shabel read the letter orb and froze.
The letter orb was a means of mobile communication made possible through the use of magical technology. Using an orb of glass about the size of a human hand, they were able to quickly deliver messages with only slight restrictions and were quickly adapted to deliver reports and transmit orders during wartime.
However, there was a limit on the distance, which made the role of the scouts critical. They had to be within the set distance to make their report. But if they needed to survey the area outside that distance, then they had to get back within range as quickly as possible if they found something worth reporting.
The scout hiding within the foliage within a forest in Canibar territory shut his mouth. His eyes trembled as he doubted what he was seeing. It was a procession hundreds of meters long. An army made up of 100 Holy Knights, 200 priests, 500 knights, 50,000 infantry, 5000 archers, and 50 siege units. An army of 55,800 men. It was the entire force that had been deployed along the borders of the Holy Empire a week ago. It was an army separated from the defensive unit, but no one suspected that the gathered force would be used for an invasion.
Well, some had thought about this possibility, but it was not taken seriously because violating Continental Law was too audacious to consider.
‘They are mad! The Holy Kingdom is mad! No, is it just the Pope that’s crazy?!’
‘With what confidence did they choose to break the Continental Law? Those rules had been maintained for thousands of years! Don’t they fear the other Kingdoms?!’
The scout quickly raised his letter orb to send his report. The army of the Holy Kingdom, named the ‘Paddle of God’ this time, was commanded by Janus, from the Heretic Interrogation division.
A man in his early 50’s with graying nose hairs and a bald head was wearing full plate armor and a black surcoat. He had been noticed during his time as a Holy Knight for his skills and his deviant tendencies, allowing him to be promoted to interrogations. Ultimately, this had also led him to command this army. In addition, he was one of the ‘Evilesse’ experiments being researched in secret by the Holy Kingdom. A devilish biological soldier made with the blood and lives of countless children. A monster possessing both youth and immense power. He was one of the Evilesse Holy Knights.
— Ω —