Day 19th, 8th Month, the Year 2812, Western continent calendar: (Negotiation 2)
“You… What do you want?”
The Earl who had been silent finally opened his mouth.
He already had no intention to pretend and hide the truth. The tone of his voice had changed completely into one of someone who was looking down at his opponent.
He threw away his pretentious mask and looked at Ryouma with overt suspicion and vigilance.
The Earl then remembered the existence of the person who might have given the information to Mikoshiba Ryouma. He was still unable to find the reason why she did not move on her own.
Although such a juicy piece of information was enough to bring the Earl down, she did not use it herself.
And the person who received the information from her came to the Earl, and not the Royal family.
(Which means, there’s one possibility… Did he want to blackmail me?)
It was something that normal people would have done when accidentally gaining information that could be turned into money.
Although the man in front of the Earl was also a nobleman, the person himself was of commoner origin. It was normal for someone like that to not be too insightful and simply ask for gold or power.
(Fuh, stupid… Do you think I will obediently pay you? No, rather, if I really gave you the money, what would you do then, huh?)
If Ryouma had really wanted to blackmail the Earl, he should have never showed his face directly. Once a blackmailer let his identity be known, he would lose one of his strongest advantages.
However, the Earl’s expectation was betrayed by Ryouma’s reply.
“Let’s see… I want to make a trade with the Earl.”
Despite receiving the Earl’s cold gaze, Ryouma’s voice did not falter.
He faced the Earl head-on.
“Trade? What do you want to trade? I thought for sure you would want to blackmail me.”
Both the Earl and his wife stared at Ryouma with wariness.
With the way the atmosphere around them had become, the word ‘trade’ could be said to have had an element of extortion. So the Earl’s ears mistook Ryouma’s underlying message as that.
The same could be said of his wife.
That was why the Earl and his wife kept looking at Ryouma with suspicion.
“Blackmail, huh? I did think about it, but that is not what I meant… If I were to do that, I’m sure your Excellency wouldn’t hesitate to cut me down…”
In response to Ryouma’s answer, the Earl showed a broad grin.
That was exactly what the Earl was thinking.
After all, the threatened person should never lightly let off someone who threatened them. Because if they did, the extortion would never end.
Two times, three times, Ryouma could have extorted money and other things from Thomas Salzberg until he was robbed blind of all he possessed, be it riches or power.
That was why the Earl decided that he would never bow down to blackmail.
Even if he were to hand over some gold, it would be with the sole purpose of killing the blackmailer.
“I see… To be able to understand that, for a man who was once a commoner, you’re not bad at all…”
Five years had passed since the day he began to embezzle the salt vein.
Although this secret was strictly concealed, there were a few people who managed to find out about it. However, it never reached the ears of the Royal family because the Earl had swiftly dealt with those who would disturb the clandestinity of his operations without mercy.
The Earl himself also understood that the things he did were dangerous. That was why he did it carefully and with no lack of ruthlessness.
“Dear… I’m curious about the thing that Baron-sama wants to sell to us.”
“Indeed. Well then, Baron Mikoshiba. What is the item that you want to sell?”
The Earl asked the question after hearing that his wife’s curiosity had been piqued.
His tone, although still condescending as ever, was now missing his previously displayed high-handedness and was no longer looking down towards the former commoner.
Right now, the Earl was dominated by his own curiosity. The Earl wanted to know what was the thing that Ryouma wanted to sell for the trade.
“Please look at this.”
Ryouma pushed the prepared documents towards the Earl and his wife.
“This is a contract, right?”
“It is the contract regarding the transfer of the salt vein.”
Following Ryouma’s statement, the couple quickly confirmed the contents.
“What does this mean? There’s no money required for us to pay written in these documents…”
The couple’s doubts were natural.
Since Ryouma had come with the intention to sell something, he should have written the selling price, but there was no such thing on the documents.
“I’ve come to sell, alright, but I do not have any intention of getting paid with money.”
The Earl and his wife showed puzzled expressions after having heard this.
“Then, what do you want from us in exchange?”
“I want the Earl to become my backer…”
“What do you mean by that? I’ve already told you last time that I will help you as much as I can, haven’t I?”
Towards the Earl’s words, Ryouma shook his head lightly. If that was what Ryouma really asked, it could be said that the Earl had already delivered.
Certainly, previously, the Earl had promised to take a friendly attitude towards Ryouma and to assist him as much as he could.
However, that was not the Earl’s true sentiment.
After all, he was being ordered by Queen Lupis to monitor Ryouma, and he felt obliged to do so in order to avoid possible attention towards his defalcation of the rock salt vein.
So in the end, the truth was that the Earl did not genuinely want to help Ryouma. At least until now…
(I see… Instead of pretending to be helping him, he wants me to truly help him, huh…)
The Earl now understood Ryouma’s wish.
(Well, it’s not like I didn’t want to help him at all… Besides, compared to Lupis who’s only capable of sending down orders, this man knows what courtesy is, especially the part where he did not ask for any money in return… In addition, he seems to possess some wisdom despite being a former commoner…)
Ryouma who saw the Earl relaxing his expression lifted up the corners of his mouth into a smile.
(As expected, it was the right decision for me to not ask gold from him, huh? Well, he needs money to the point that he embezzles from the Crown after all… That’s why there’s no way for him to willingly give money to me. In the first place, the management of the vein is already in his possession. Even if the vein is something that belongs to me, he’s not someone who would compensate me even if I were to demand it of him.)
The Earl needed gold, that was why he misappropriated the salt vein.
Even though it would’ve been a legitimate request had Ryouma asked the Earl to pay him off, the Earl wouldn’t have nicely and peacefully handed the gold over.
Ryouma was able to see through the Earl’s facade and discerned that he was a true money grubber.
Confirmation was given to Ryouma that his decision was right by way of the expression the Earl currently displayed.
“Baron Mikoshiba-sama, I still can’t understand the value of these documents. Can you please elaborate?”
The Earl’s wife, who was born from a merchant family, was also in possession of a strong political acumen.
She married into the Earl’s household in order to establish familial connections, but she was also very good at dealing with business related issues.
From her point of view, these documents held a value that could be turned into a huge amount of money. Yet, she told Ryouma that she didn’t know of their worth.
This was in order to ascertain two concerns of hers:
Firstly, to see if Ryouma actually knew the value of these documents or not, and, secondly, whether or not this idea had come from Ryouma himself or somebody else.
She suspected that someone was actually pulling the strings from behind.
“I don’t believe there’s the need for me to explain it, though. The Lady is famous for being well versed in this kind of thing, am I wrong?”
Ryouma answered her together with a smile on his face.
A silent exchange took place between the two of them.
(Don’t get shaken… His answer does not seem to be a lie. He really believes that from the bottom of his heart…)
“Fine then… I will admit that your proposal is worthwhile. But I’d like to have a little bit of time to consult this matter with my husband.”
“Very well… We shall stop here for today… Please let me know whenever you are ready.”
The couple nodded their heads following Ryouma’s words.
Neither side wanted the negotiations to conclude so soon. Therefore, no one present showed any sign of dejection.
(Well, I guess it was natural… Besides, I also wanted to add some new conditions as well… It would have been terrible if we had signed the deal today… That way, I wouldn’t have had enough time to plan everything properly.)
The Earl seemed interested in Ryouma’s bait. What was left was to make him grab it with both hands.
(Please do take your time worrying about it…)
“Alright… we will go with that. Let’s meet again another day.”
After finishing their talk Ryouma bowed towards the couple and left the mansion led by the maid who was waiting outside the door.
“He left… But still, is it alright like this?”
Earl Salzberg, who was staring at the carriage Ryouma rode from the window, asked the woman sitting on the sofa.
“Yes, he should also understand everything already… Well, there’s also the possibility that what he said was all an act, but if that is the case then he is a really great actor…”
The Earl’s wife shrugged her shoulders.
She had an absolute confidence when it came to judging people.
Let alone the time when she was still just the daughter of an affluent merchant, after she married the Earl, the amount of sly foxes gathered around her had increased.
And as a result of meeting that kind of people on a regular basis, she became competent at discerning people’s intentions.
“I see… For me, Mikoshiba’s proposal sounds good enough, but, what do you think Yuria?”
The Earl spoke his mind while sitting in front of his wife. His tone was not that of someone who held the true power within the family. It felt like he was refraining himself.
But that could be explained easily. The Earl was a warrior at heart.
He preferred aggressive action and had a ruthless personality. But he also knew that he was not perfect.
Especially when it came to diplomacy and politics, he understood that his ability in that regard could at best be considered mediocre.
He strongly felt that it was only wise of him to ask for his wife’s opinion on such matters.
His wife who had seen many kinds of people for many years was the most reliable partner for the Earl.
“There’s something that I’m worried about…”
“Worried? Is it about that woman from the Christoph firm?”
For the Earl, the most worrying matter was about that.
The firm that had lost its position as the leader of the business alliance. Originally, they should have been crushed a long time ago. However, they managed to hold their ground, even though their business scale had been shrinking as of late.
But, the thing that the Earl’s wife said next defied the Earl’s expectations.
“No, it’s something else… The one that worries me the most is that man, and his true intentions…”
“About Mikoshiba? Certainly, he’s more knowledgeable compared to the normal commoner. His courtesy is not bad either… And he has a good head on his shoulders. For me though, he’s a bit lacking but… You think he isn’t?”
“No, I also felt that way… Even during today’s negotiations, I didn’t feel that he had an ulterior motive… It’s just…”
The Earl looked at his wife who was being vague with a wondering expression.
“It’s just, what? What are you worried about?”
“Somehow, someday, it felt like that man might actually crush us…”
“Khu, Khuhahahahahaha… Yuria, your wisdom has helped us a lot of times. That is why I trust your words. But for something like that to happen, isn’t that impossible? How much power difference do you think exists between us and Mikoshiba? It might be different if we talk about 100 years later, but even if we talk about 10 or 20 years later, I don’t think there would that much of a difference from the current situation.”
The Earl laughed off his wife’s concern. He thought that for her worries to come true the impossible had to happen.
There was a clear power gap between Mikoshiba Ryouma and Earl Salzberg.
Economic power, political power, diplomatic force, and military power.
The Earl overwhelmed Ryouma in every aspect.
And the biggest difference lied in their power bases, that is, their fiefs or territories over which they ruled.
The territory Ryouma possessed, not only was it a conflict zone bordering another kingdom, but it was also a territory filled with monsters, and there was a grand total of 0 citizens in it.
It was a difference that was not even worth comparing.
“I guess so… Yes, you’re right.”
“Of course I am, Yuria. You’re worrying too much. Hahahaha, still, you really make me laugh, I feel refreshed. If you are still worried, send the maid from that time and let her spy on him. You let him have her first for that reason after all. How about that? Still worried?”
Hearing the Earl’s words, his wife nodded her head.
She still felt not entirely convinced of something.
However, it was something vague even for herself. That was why she tried to brush it off just like her husband told her to.
Since she was not a goddess that could predict everything.
“Fine… Let’s just do that… Well then, let’s see how many conditions will be added before we seal this deal with him. If we can officially secure the salt vein, we can finally relax.”
“Umu… I will leave that to you then…”
This decision would decide the fate of the Earl’s household.
Mikoshiba Ryouma who gained support in exchange for the salt vein, and the Earl who gained the vein without even spending a single coin. At the time, it still remained to be seen which side had gained the most. But all that would be revealed at a later date, that is, the day the two of them faced against each other… And this story shall also be told.