Day 19th, 8th Month, the Year 2812, Western continent calendar: (Negotiation 1)
“Oh, Mikoshiba-dono… I heard you’ve recently bought a lot of slaves. Is your preparation to find personnel for developing the peninsula progressing smoothly? Well, it is not bad to have some fun with some slaves, but I’m worried about the peninsula’s development you see. After all, those slaves can only be regarded as cattle or horses for the grunt work. I can’t help it but feel like you might use those slave as bait for the monsters at the peninsula.”
The moment Ryouma entered the reception room, Earl Salzberg immediately showered him with probing comments.
As expected of the lord of Epiroz, he had already grasped Ryouma’s movements.
The appearance of the Earl and his wife was not as glamorous as the first time they had met.
Although what they were wearing were nonetheless tailor-made clothes, the accessories on their bodies were minimal, and their outward aspect had a more relaxed air to it.
There were three steaming cups on the table, one of them was for Ryouma.
“Oh my, dear… For you to talk like that out of the blue, please let Baron-sama sit first… Please forgive my husband’s rudeness. Now, please sit down.”
After having chided the Earl, his wife promptly invited Ryouma to take a seat.
“Oh, that was indeed rude of me! After all, the Queen has been constantly sending messengers, that’s why I had become impatient.”
The Earl offhandedly delivered the remark while stroking his head.
As expected of husband and wife. Their coordination was exquisite.
“Ah, please don’t mind it. Actually, I have a matter to discuss with Earl-sama…”
Ryouma looked at the Earl while feigning a troubled expression.
“Ho ho? Do you need something from me? Well, when the messenger came so suddenly like that yesterday, I thought something had happened but… As expected, is this about the slaves? It seems like you’ve really overdid it and bought a lot of slaves yesterday. Did they do something troublesome? If you wanted me to, I could make use of my name… Although it might be a bit impossible for all of them to be taken back, I can recover some of your money if you so wished.”
The Earl smirked.
He gave the strong feeling of being someone who wanted to sell Ryouma a favour.
Although Ryouma had yet to say anything, it would appear that the Earl was convinced that Ryouma was troubled by the slaves he had recently acquired.
(He believes that the slaves I bought are causing me trouble, and I couldn’t smoothly sell them all back… And as expected, he’s being watching us. The problem is whether that was by order of Lupis or if they did it by their own initiative.)
From the start, the reason Ryouma visited the Earl was not because he wanted to return the slaves.
He came because he wanted to negotiate a different matter.
But, the Earl’s attitude was far too patronizing. It was as if he really wanted to forge some ties with the fledgling Baron before him.
At once, Ryouma talked about the reason why he had come while pretending to be in a hurry.
“Yes… In fact, I was in a pinch…”
“As expected, is this about the slaves?”
Ryouma shook his head.
The day before yesterday, Ryouma had purchased a lot of slaves from the slave merchants and was currently giving them basic training.
He came to the Earl’s residence not to sell back the children.
With Ryouma denying the Earl’s guess, his wife summarily followed up on the question.
“Oh, my? Then what’s wrong? Our household has been asked by the Queen to help Baron-sama as much as possible. That’s why I beseech you to please don’t hold back. I’m sure we can help you, even if a little bit. Am I right, dear?”
Hearing the woman’s query, cold sweat ran through Ryouma’s back.
Although she spoke of it in a casual manner, some of the words held some clear indications.
(Being asked to help, huh… Does that mean they were asked to watch me? That bitch! As expected, she won’t leave me alone and is using the Earl to watch me, huh… Fine, I’ll play your fucking game, but I don’t have to play by your rules…)
For Lupis who was wary of Ryouma’s existence, she couldn’t just leave him be. And sure enough, it turned out that she had ordered the Earl to keep an eye on him.
Once he arrived at that conclusion, Ryouma could no longer accept what was said by the Earl’s wife at face value.
The reason why they received Ryouma with a warm welcome in the first place might also have been due to the Queen’s order. However, the couple were actually not the Queen’s loyal dogs she thought they were.
Despite them conveying the impression of being staunch loyalists, they had actually been embezzling the Royal resources all along.
(As expected… He’s the type of person that will always choose the side which benefits him the most… If that is the case, I still have room for negotiation… In exchange for the salt vein profits, I should add a condition where he will give Lupis a false report about me… Well, everything depends on how well I play my cards here, and that’s why I can’t afford to screw up now.)
It was dangerous for Ryouma to antagonize the Earl and his wife at the moment.
He had to be precise with his timing.
And right then was the best timing for him to make a certain deal.
“Well, please, do not hesitate to tell me what troubles you, Mikoshiba-dono. I will do my best to help you… So then, if it was not because of the slaves, then what is your dilemma?”
The Lord of Epiroz looked at Ryouma with an inquisitive gaze.
It seemed like he was very worried about what could possibly concern the young newly entitled nobleman.
“Actually… There’s a salt vein in the peninsula…”
Following Ryouma’s first sentence, the room temperature dropped by several degrees in an instant.
“… Wha-what do you mean by that? Why do you know something like that? Did you investigate it yourself?”
All traces of laughter disappeared from the Earl’s face, and his gaze turned sharp.
He looked at Ryouma with undisguised suspicion.
The reason why he did not try to cover it was because he thought that there was no meaning to it.
(Fuck! Why does he know about the vein? The Mistel firm should’ve managed that matter with the utmost care! Is it because of the other day’s dinner? What should I do? Should I kill him now? No, maybe I should confirm it first, before killing him…)
In the worst case scenario, he would just have to end up killing Ryouma. <EN: Apparently the Earl isn’t familiar with the concept of “plot armour”.>
Baron versus Earl, even though both were of noble rank, the difference in power was not small.
Besides, at the time, they were inside the Earl’s residence, and the capital city was quite far away.
Frankly speaking, the Earl could have pretty much done anything he wanted in his corner of the country. However, before he really committed himself to killing Ryouma, he needed to corroborate what was really going on.
“To tell you the truth… I’ve received news of this yesterday.”
“What?! Let me see it!”
Ryouma held out a letter.
It was made using a most common type of paper and ink that everyone could buy from any shop. The characters were messy, clearly in order to disguise the handwriting.
There was no way to ascertain the author’s identity.
After the Earl read through the letter, he fell silent.
(Tch! Which bastard dared to do this kind of wanton thing?!)
The Earl tried to control his enraged heart and to analyze Ryouma’s intentions.
(Damn it… Who dared to tell him about this matter? Is this the doing of Christoph’s little bitch? I’m sure it was her… If it’s that girl, it wouldn’t be weird for her to have sniffed this matter out.)
Currently, inside Epiroz and its surrounding territory, there were very few people who could openly oppose the Earl.
Amongst them, the Christoph firm, who lost their position as the leader of the business alliance, was the Earl’s most dangerous enemy.
Thanks to the Earl backing the Mistel Firm, the holder of the reins of the economy of Epiroz had changed.
However, the Christoph Firm, who had served as the trade alliance leader for many years, were an old and established firm, boasting a long history behind them.
(I’ve let Mistel be the leader of the trade alliance for three years now. If we can hold the position for another two or three years, we can completely crush the Christoph firm… No wait, I guess that was why, huh… )
‘The Christoph firm that had been holding their ground against the Earl’s pressure, had finally made their counter-attack’. That was the most likely story.
(But why did she leak this information to him?)
For Simone Christoph, finding the salt vein at the Wortenia peninsula and wanting to make money out of it was fine and all.
After all, she was a woman who managed a business firm, but the problem was how she did it.
(Why did she tell him about the vein? Why not move by herself?)
The answer was in relation to the Earl’s misappropriation of the vein. To effectively use this information, it would have been more productive if she had used Ryouma to report this matter to the Royal officers.
After all, it was the truth that the Earl had been embezzling the Royal family’s resources. With that, his family would have been executed.
(That is why she told Ryouma about this matter. Other than that, there’s no meaning in telling him. Well fine… Let’s calm down for now… It won’t hurt to hear what he has to say for a bit… This is my territory after all…)
Earl Salzberg’s gaze turned even sharper and colder. He was ready to bare his fangs against Ryouma. In fact, there was a time when the Earl had bared his fangs against his own father. <EN: pow! Enter the flashback>
Earl Salzberg’s household, whose territory bordered with the Zalda Kingdom, had been on the verge of bankruptcy due to repeated increases in the military budget.
They had had to increase the number of troops; followed by a necessary increase in weapons procurement; not to mention the construction of a fort. The list would go on and on.
In spite of that, the Royal family had never helped them. They left the territory to be operated at the discretion of the ruling Earls.
In other words, they wouldn’t intervene with what the Earl was doing, but the Crown wouldn’t give them any money either.
However, without reinforcing the army, they wouldn’t had been able to defend the territory.
They had saved and scrimped on as much as they could, but the Earl’s household still could not shake the ghost of bankruptcy that had been haunting them and had been left in a poor state. They could only maintain the bare minimum appearance of a noble family.
Nevertheless, the Salzberg household had never complained and dutifully clenched their teeth, enduring their suffering out of sheer loyalty towards the kingdom’s Royal family.
The then heir and current head of the Salzberg family, Thomas Salzberg, however, was of a different nature. He would do anything to satisfy his desires. He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.
It all started when a rock salt vein was found within Wortenia five years ago.
A territory that then had belonged to the Royal family, and which now belonged to the Baron Mikoshiba Ryouma.
On the mountain a day’s march north of Epiroz, a certain salt vein was discovered.
It was an accidental find.
The Wortenia peninsula had no inhabitants. That was why the peninsula was filled with monsters wandering around the territory unhindered.
Other than runaway criminals and exiled prisoners, the people who would go to that territory willingly would usually hold a certain profession.
And those folks were either adventurers or mercenaries.
People who made money out of fighting. For them, the peninsula was a good battlefield that allowed them to gain good battle experience, and also a place for them to earn some income.
In any case, only powerful monsters lived there. The leather and fangs from those monsters fetched substantial amounts of money.
Although they needed to put their lives on the line to get them, they considered the rewards to be well worth the risks.
And one such group of adventurers was the one who chanced upon the salt vein. However, even if they had found it, they couldn’t directly profit from it.
Although salt was an essential item and could be traded at a hefty price, it was not something that was profitable unless one were to sell it in large quantities.
They talked about their finding at the guild when they returned to sell the goods they got from the peninsula.
And that was how it eventually reached Thomas Salzberg’s ears.
For the Salzberg estate, which faced dire financial problems, such a finding, if properly handled, would have been nothing short of a blessing.
At that time, he was just a 30 years old young man. He had begged his father desperately and had asked him to use this opportunity to rebuild the household’s economy.
After all, from his perspective, they had practically found a buried treasure in their backyard! To quietly let such a treasure that was practically in their grasp to go to waste or end up in someone else’s hands was something he could simply not abide.
If it had been located deep within the peninsula, even Thomas would have hesitated, but this salt vein was located only a day’s march from Epiroz.
Although it was dangerous with monsters around, such a distance still could be considered as close. And the encounter rate with monsters was also not that high.
However, Thomas’ father ignored his pleas. No, not only had he been ignored, his father even looked at him with contempt.
It was obvious that his father was angry.
His family had been protecting the border for many years, proving time and again their loyalty to the Royal family.
Even though it was right in front of them, Wortenia still had belonged to the Crown. His son’s idea of bolstering their ever decreasing treasury using the rock salt vein was the same as embezzling the Royal family’s property.
With his pride and loyalty on the line, the previous Earl outright rejected his corrupt son’s plan. He considered it a breach of the fealty owed to the Crown as a guardian of the public peace and order.
However, in the case of Thomas, who had been looked down by their peers because of their lack of money since a young age, his heart bore no loyalty for the Royal family, but resented it instead.
Not only was the territory far from the royal capital, what was more, the royal family had never helped them in their time of need with their economic struggles. In his eyes, for the Royal family to not intervene had been the same as to neglect them.
Of course, reinforcements would come if the Zaldians decided to launch a full-scale invasion, but for small skirmishes, all of it was to be handled by Earl Salzberg and the surrounding nobles.
For Thomas’ father, that was the proof that the Royal family trusted his household.. FFor Thomas, it was different. For him, doing something like that without expecting expecting anything inthing in return wasn’t just not worth it, and bordered on , but it bordered on sheer stupidity.
Thomas preferred more tangible things over something obscure such as trust. Specifically, he preferred money, resources, and power.
The discussion between Thomas and his father then took a turn for the worse. There was no longer any room left for compromise between them.
Practicality and pride. There were cases where such ideas could work together, but this time, only one could be chosen.
It is said that it is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities. In the case of the overly greedy Thomas, he opted to cross path with his father.
The reason? He couldn’t find any way other than to do that to fulfill his desires.
(No matter who, I won’t let them get in my way…)
The Earl kept repeating to himself his life motto.
He wouldn’t sit idly and let his life end then and there.
After all, he had managed to get everything he now had only after he painstakingly killed his own father…
Editor’s notes: There’s a hidden quote from another fantasy work (non-asian) hidden in the chapter. Whoever finds it first, wins the internet!
Translator’s notes: And I, the translator didn’t even notice. XD (Lol non-asian)