There was a platform and a blackboard at the front of the assembly, and then some tables and chairs in front of that. It’s probably because there were so many attendees that the meeting room was arranged just like a school classroom.
When everyone was seated, the man who called out to everyone stood at the platform and spoke.
“Honorable friends, thank you for taking the time to come out here today. My name is Wanz, and I am the promoter of this event. I may be inexperienced, but I shall do my best to serve as the facilitator for today’s meeting.” [Wanz]
The man who named himself Wanz bowed and a round of applause welcomed him.
“Thank you. If I may cut to the chase, my friends, what do you think of the current state of the town’s public order?” [Wanz]
The reason he asked that question was to emphasize that the current Gimuru was in a dangerous situation, so there was a need to work together.
“Gimuru’s guards aren’t incompetent. I hear they’ve hired more people and have even strengthened their security policies.” [Merchant 1]
From time to time, there were people who would retort, but…
“I have heard that as well, and I don’t believe Gimuru’s guards to be incompetent either. However! It was precisely because they believed that they couldn’t handle all the crimes that they had to hire more people and put into place even tighter policies! They knew they couldn’t handle it, that’s why they had to get more help!” [Wanz]
“Well, that’s…” [Merchant 1]
“They were forced to increase their hands and tighten security, forced to take desperate measures, and because they had to employ so many on such short notice, the new guards are poorly trained. Because of that more guards are dying and more criminals are escaping pursuit. Of course, they’re doing their best. We acknowledge their efforts. But! There is no denying that the very guards meant to protect this city have themselves become victims! My friends, this is the reality! Can any among you really say with certainty that if we simply left everything to the guards, everything will turn out well? That we will without question be safe? Do you trust the guards that much?”
“B-But—” [Merchant 1]
“—My friends, when the trust you’ve given is betrayed, the one who will be hurt will be none other than you. No. It will be the people precious to you.”
Like that the people who argued were spoken down. And each time a seed of doubt would be planted into those who observed the exchange.
I too am thinking about that one-in-a-million ‘what if’. Maybe that’s the reason why I can understand what he’s saying, but at the same time it feels like something is off. As for what that something that feels off is… I thought about it for a while, and I realized there was a big difference between me and Wanz.
I have prepared myself and my surroundings, so that if this one-in-a-million ‘what if’ were to occur, I would come out unscathed. But I have no intentions of pushing my methods onto someone else. Wanz, however, appears to be compelling others to think the problem through, and then stir doubts within them by telling them about the worst possible situation.
“This year, the store I’ve been studying under for many years has finally permitted me to go independent. Yes, I am an inexperienced man who is finally leaving his nest for the first time, a newcomer to Gimuru. Unfortunately, I am not so brave a man as to leave the situation to Gimuru’s guards. I was able to open a store, but everyone in town is just like the people gathered here today, always uncertain.” [Wanz]
“The town is in a bad situation, after all.” [Merchant 2]
“I was thinking we needed to do something about all these crimes.” [Merchant 3]
Wanz stirred doubt in the people by mixing in words such as ‘us’ or phrases like ‘I’m just like you.’ And every time people agreed with him, more and more people accepted him.
Stirring doubts… Is he related to those frauds?
The more I watch, the more I wonder if that’s the case, then as the retorts against him grew less, I remembered something.
The air in this place. It’s an air I’m familiar with.
Those meetings that have already been decided by the upper brass. Meetings that are there only for the sake of it.
They may be called meetings, but they’re not looking for a new opinion, and neither are they looking for an argument. Any arguments are either shot down or ignored, but then they never mattered in the first place anyway. Frankly, in those cases, calling for a ‘report’ would have more than sufficed.
They say preparations are important when starting something, but in this case, the script has already been prepared, and the actors are merely playing their roles. To that end, there should already be people here who advocate for Wanz.
By stirring doubts and taking the initiative, Wanz and his cronies are able to stir the situation wherever they please. Already, the air is pointing toward ‘cooperation’. He hasn’t said anything bad just yet, but at this rate, things could turn for the worst.
The more I think about it, the louder the warning bells peal. Perhaps there really are nobles pulling the strings behind Gimuru. And if Wanz and his cronies are responsible for the worsening public order, then this meeting could very well be a trap. Just what do they want people to do under the pretense of ‘cooperating’?
“As fellow store owners of the same city, let’s work together to overcome this tribulation!”
A round of applause erupted even louder than at the start.
I called out to the person beside me.
“Excuse me.” [Ryouma]
“Can I have a moment?” [Ryouma]
I left the confused Carm and raised my hand. All eyes gathered on me, but I was sitting furthest to the back, so it took awhile before Wanz found me.
“Umm, I’m sorry, I don’t recognize your face, may I know who you are?” [Wanz]
“I am Ryouma Takebayashi. I own the laundromat known as Bamboo Forest at the western side of Gimuru near the Residential District.” [Ryouma]
“Ryouma Takebayashi-kun! What a great pleasure it is to make your acquaintance. I have heard much about you despite my terse history with Gimuru. I’d heard you were a young but brilliant manager. My apologies for not recognizing you immediately.” [Wanz]
An apology with a cheerful smile. Faint laughter could be heard from the crowd.
“I am the only child here, and I’m also sitting furthest back. I suppose it can’t be helped.” [Ryouma]
“Thank you for your understanding. So, how may I be of service?” [Wanz]
“Yes. Your speech was of great interest to me personally… I myself have also just opened my store at Gimuru this spring. As a newcomer, I don’t know that many people; hence, I believed this would be a good opportunity to meet with the store owners of Gimuru. Of course, I too hold my fears regarding the worsening public order, and so do hope to form good relationship with everyone here and if possible cooperate.” [Ryouma]
That was indeed my purpose for coming here. I didn’t know many store owners in Gimuru, so I figured I should take any opportunity to form a good relationship with the locals. And if we can work together, then why not? You could say that I put a lot value to the word ‘peace’. I’m not sure if that’s because I used to be Japanese, but no matter how much I value it, that only applies to people ‘I can work with’.
“Ohh! So you—” [Wanz]
“And that’s exactly why!” [Ryouma]
“I wish to know. What plans do you actually have in regards to the worsening public order that you seek cooperation? Exactly what is it that you want us to do?” [Ryouma]
The moment I said that, Wanz’s mouth froze for a moment. But it was only for a moment. Had I not been paying attention, I wouldn’t have noticed it. At most, I would have thought it to be my imagination.
“Of course! An obvious question. Please do excuse me.” [Wanz]
Wanz started talking again, but his words weren’t for me, but for the other attendees, to coax them.
Information exchange, secret communication, night watch, self-defense classes, seminars to raise employee awareness on anti-crime measures, etc… He kept on saying stuff like ‘We can’t rely on the guards!’, and kept trying to get people to join his cause by stimulating their sense of duty and self-importance.
Also, there seemed to be about 4 or 5 people working with Wans. They would take turns agreeing with him, enlivening the place and giving their opinions.
“And that concludes my proposal. What do you think?” [Wanz]
“Amaz—” [Merchant 2]
“That will not do.” [Ryouma]
Immediately, I spoke over the man about to praise him, and bluntly rejected Wanz’s proposal.
Silence froze the room, and there was even faint hostility coming from a part of it.
“It will not do? What do you mean, Takebayashi-kun?” [Wanz]
“Exactly as the words mean. Such measures are long-term. There’s no point in panicking and implementing them in haste.” [Ryouma]
“It’s true that they don’t have immediate effect. However! If we don’t start them, we’ll never get anywhere.” [Merchant 2]
“Exactly!” [Merchant 3]
“Nothing is going to happen if we give up before we even try.” [Merchant 4]
“Seriously, this is why today’s youth are…” [Merchant 5]
As expected, they’ve already started to shoot down my arguments.
I’ll need to brace myself.
“Idiots. Every single one of you.” [Ryouma]
“What?” [Merchant 5]
Neither the people who tried to provoke me nor the people who tried to strike me down expected that I’d insult them so bluntly. They were all tongue-tied when I said that.
“Shut up, Carm.” [Ryouma]
“!? …” [Carm]
I feel bad for Carm, but he needs to shut up right now. Fortunately, he’s quick on the uptake. I intentionally used a different tone, and it looks like he got the message. It doesn’t seem like he agrees, but at least he’s agreed to keep quiet and believe in me.
“The public order has been worsening all this time, and the situation is only getting worse, and yet you’re saying that we don’t need a plan that can make a difference right now.” [Ryouma]
“Well it beats doing nothing!” [Merchant 2]
“It doesn’t hurt to learn self-defense either, does it?” [Merchant 3]
“Don’t we need patrols?” [Merchant 4]
There were faint voices of agreement too, but others spoke loudly over them, and then everyone started giving their own opinion, turning the whole place into a mess.
“Everyone, please calm down. Thank you for your proactive participation in this meeting. Thanks to that various opinions have been brought forward. Personally, I believe that the patrols could still have immediate effect, and just as someone said, the self-defense lessons indeed don’t hurt. What do you think?” [Wanz]
“If you want to do patrols, then patrol. If you want to study self-defense, then study. You can learn whatever you want. But when it comes to self-defense, Wanz-san, didn’t you just say earlier that some of the newly employed guards were themselves killed and turned into victims because of poor training?” [Ryouma]
“It is a fact that some of the guards have died to armed thugs and thieves due to insufficient training. Even the guards who devote themselves to fighting crooks have suffered casualties. And yet you’re telling me and all the merchants gathered here that we should learn self-defense in our spare time so we can save ourselves? You think that’s feasible? I don’t think so. Oh, right, didn’t you say, ‘the guards work hard, but if they can’t get results, it’s meaningless’? I fully agree with you. It is indeed meaningless.” [Ryouma]
The same was true for the patrols.
“The patrols can certainly act as a deterrence. But if you find a suspicious person or a crime in the act, there’s a high probability hostilities will break out. Armed burglars with the intention of killing will also flare up when spotted, and there will probably be those who will silence eyewitnesses as well. It’s the same issue with the self-defense lessons. Can you really deal with those people? Please look around you.” [Ryouma]
The difference between men and women aside, the people gathered here were either plump, thin, or old. They’re merchants. Most of them don’t regularly train their bodies.
“To make things worse, it’s hard to find one’s way during a night patrol. There likely won’t be much people other than the people patrolling, so you won’t have eyewitness. I don’t know how many people are gathered here today, but I am also an adventurer, so let me tell you what I think as someone who works in a combat profession… Don’t underestimate real combat.” [Ryouma]
Though they lived in a world where weapons and magic were always at hand, they usually lived in town, where the guards would come to save them when they’re in trouble, and any threat to their lives is a distant story.
Do you really understand? Do you want to die? Do you want your families and servants to die? I looked at the people in the room with those kind of thoughts.
When I did they all averted their eyes from me. Only one man from two rows ahead met my eyes and stood up. It was Darson-san.
“Ryouma, I understand how you feel, but calm down. Withdraw your killing intent. If you pressure them like this, they won’t be able to talk either.” [Darson]
“On the contrary, Darson-san. If a ‘child’ like me could silence them with a little pressure like this, then that’s all the more reason they shouldn’t be suggesting to learn self-defense and take the crime issue into their own hands. If the people quietly listening were to accept this proposal, they would have to take up arms, and in the worst case, they, their families, or their servants could die. Alternatively, they might end up killing someone. Are you people prepared for that?” [Ryouma]
“That pressure isn’t something a child could muster… But now that you mention it…” [Darson]
For a moment, Darson looked like he’d eaten a bug, but then he turned to the facilitator.
“Wanz-san. I am a former adventurer, and I believe Ryouma has a point. Regardless of the reasons, fighting with a criminal is a kill-or-be-killed situation. I’m not against learning self-defense, but I think it’s overly optimistic to think we’d be safe with just that.” [Darson]
“…In the first place, what exactly does ‘self-defense’ mean here anyway? We do everything we can to prevent crime regularly, but when all of that proves insufficient, and we end up in a dangerous situation where we have to do something or be killed, in that sink-or-swim situation, when we defend ourselves, that’s what we refer to as self-defense. And the first step that one should take then is to flee from the threat and not let it approach oneself. That’s self-defense. If you’re approaching someone with the intention of fighting, that is no longer self-defense. That’s just martial arts. Don’t misunderstand the two.” [Ryouma]
“I see, I see… So the two of you are current and former adventurers. Your opinions are very important for everyone here.” [Wanz]
I added a few words to what Darson-san said, but Wanz just nodded. I’m finally starting to get this guy. He never breaks his easygoing attitude and positively accepts anything he is told, then he rejects it. He’s used to this. At least, it feels like that.
“In that case, what do you think we should do? Please give us your opinion as specialists.” [Wanz]
“That’s a good idea!” [Merchant 1]
“Surely, you have a good answer prepared.” [Merchant 2]
“Hire some adventurers or mercenaries. Even retired ones will do. Get some people who can actually fight and establish a system that will allow them to regularly patrol the streets and respond in case of emergency. We can source the funds from everyone here. If we all chip in a little, then the expenses should be considerably cheaper than just one person paying for it. You’re all merchants, right? Let’s solve this like merchants do. There’s no need to play adventurer or mercenary.” [Ryouma]
Oddly, we were discussing something similar a few days ago, so I was able to reply immediately.
Some of the merchants voiced their agreement, while some begun talking among themselves.
“Sigh… And here I was wondering what you had to say, but it seems my expectations were too high.” [Wanz]
“Is there a problem?” [Ryouma]
“Hire adventurers and use everyone’s money to pay for it. It does sound like a good idea, after all it solves both the financial and security issue. But there is a big hole with your proposal!” [Wanz]
Since he’s emphasizing ‘big hole’…
“Stop being cheeky. Say it. What’s the problem?” [Ryouma]
“In that case, I’ll get straight to the point. Your method will get the attention of the nobles.” [Wanz]
Those words were enough to send the meeting into a clamor.
“Do you know why the ‘guild’ exists? To the nobles, that is.” [Wanz]
“To ‘manage the authority and strength of the commoners’, yes?” [Ryouma]
This too I heard recently. By the way he’s putting on so much air, he probably wanted to say it himself.
True enough, when I got it right, his mask showed signs of breaking.
“…You knew? You knew and yet you proposed a plan like that?” [Wanz]
“Is there something strange about knowing?” [Ryouma]
“Hey! Don’t just talk by yourselves! Explain it to us too!” [Merchant 7]
“Oh, excuse us!” [Wanz]
As expected, the other side has the initiative.
“I’m sure you are all aware that the nobles are always wary of a certain thing. That certain thing being none other than the ‘rebellion of the masses’. Of course, nobles use their wealth and authority to protect themselves with powerful weapons and a private army. However! In terms of numbers, the nobles amount to no more than a tenth of the population.
If you look at history, there are many precedents were the masses have united and overturned them. To the nobles, it’s a terrifying thing that could happen any time. So what should they do to prevent that? Well, they decided that it would be best if commoners could be unified.” [Wanz]
Like an actor performing on stage, Wanz spoke to the merchants.
“All the guilds are approved by the king and function under the management of the country. The nobles can’t meddle at a moment’s notice, but the nobles are the ones that manage the country. In other words, the guilds are under the management of the nobles.
Through the merchant guild, they can understand our wealth. Through the adventurers guild and mercenary guild, they can understand our strength. We gain various benefits through the guild, but at the same time, we are being monitored by the nobles. Should our authorities and strengths be gathered too much into one point… You understand what I’m getting at, yes? A unified force – so long as it’s still small – can still be easily dealt with by the nobles.” [Wanz]
“B-But Wanz-san, calling this a rebellion is too much. No one here is thinking something like that. That Ryouma is also but a child.” [Merchant 8]
“Oh, no doubt! Neither me nor you nor anyone for that matter here is thinking about staging a rebellion! But the nobles can’t be at ease if more strength than necessary is gathered. Even if the objective is ‘self-defense’ to us, to the nobles all they see is the possibility of us ‘preparing for a rebellion.’ That’s just how the human mind works. It’s how the nobles think. Our objective is irrelevant. The problem is how the nobles see it! The odds are very high that if we gather soldiers, we will alert the nobles, and every one of us who provided money will be considered as one group, and be treated as ‘colluders’!” [Wanz]
Wanz was saying some really exaggerated things, so the merchants couldn’t immediately wrap their heads around it.
‘Really?’ ‘That’s too much.’ ‘Surely not?’ ‘Maybe…’
Such words could be heard in the meeting room.
“I hate to rain on your parade, especially seeing how much effort you put into your speech, but your worries are needless.” [Ryouma]
“What was that!?” [Wanz]
“As long as they’re sensible people, they’ll understand if we just properly tell them that we just need some people to protect the city and the stores.” [Ryouma]
As expected, Wanz’s information led everyone to a dangerous direction. It’s true that there’s a precedent for nobles suspecting a rebellion when too much power is gathered, but people coming together to hire adventurers and mercenaries is a fairly common thing.
That’s especially true for small villages and settlements. If they didn’t do something like that they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves against monsters and bandits, after all. In other words, there’s no problem as long as it’s kept in moderation.
“Some of you might be aware, but I’m also a friend of the feudal lord of this region. I can contact the Jamil Household beforehand, and explain to them that we mean no ill.” [Ryouma]
I said that with confidence, but…
“…Won’t that mean that you’ll be the only one who’ll get off scot-free?” [Merchant 8]
“No, in the first place, is that even possible?” [Merchant 9]
“I did hear you were connected to the duke’s family, but…” [Merchant 10]
“You seem to be full of confidence, but I wonder if a child like you is really capable of negotiating something like that.” [Merchant 11]
Everyone that responded were skeptical. It can’t be helped.
“Ha ha… Oh, excuse me. But Ryouma-kun, it would appear that you don’t understand the feelings of normal merchants like us.” [Wanz]
“It must be nice to be protected by a noble. You have nothing to fear.” [Merchant 12]
“Even a kid can have a store and make money.” [Merchant 14]
“You people may envious of his security, but you should still watch your mouth.” [Merchant 15]
…I see. Now I get it.
Although they’re all store owners too, they’re different from Serge-san, Pioro-san, and the Moulton Slave Company’s Orest-san. Those three had the mettle to stand up to anyone – even a noble – as long as it was related to business.
They maintain their stores and they can even expand, but these guys don’t have that. They have one store, they work a considerable amount, and do have stable income, so they can afford to live a life of moderate luxury, but that’s it. They’re satisfied with that. They don’t want to be involved with nobles since it’s an unnecessary risk.
They’re fairly successful, I’ll give them that, but they’re not a part of the elite that try to aim for the top. And I doubt I’m capable enough to convince them to put aside their fear of the nobles.
“It would appear that any further talk is meaningless.” [Ryouma]
As I said that, I stood up.
“Oh? Will you be going back?” [Wanz]
“Yes, any further talk is a waste of time. It doesn’t seem like cooperating would be possible either.” [Ryouma]
“I doubt he was ever planning on cooperating with anyone in the first place, though.” [Merchant 2]
“The way he’s acting didn’t seem at all like he was planning on cooperating at all.” [Merchant 3]
Wanz and his likely cronies intentionally talked among themselves loudly, so I added one more thing before leaving.
“Before I go I’ll tell you this. I won’t give names, but the moment I entered, didn’t you judge me and look down on me?” [Ryouma]
When I glanced at them, I saw many people looking down. Ever since I entered this meeting room today, I’ve been feeling those gazes. They laugh, show respect, treat me as equals, but they don’t think that at all.
In that regard, they’re also different from Serge-san and Pioro-san. That was the reason why I knew it was hopeless the moment I entered the meeting room.
It’s true that I’m a child and that I rely a lot on Carm-san. My managerial skills really isn’t anything to speak of, so if it were just that, then I still wouldn’t have minded. This was our first meeting too, so it would’ve been fine if they understood while we continued our relationship. Or at least, that’s what I thought, but in the end, it turned out like this.
“It’s a rare opportunity so I might as well say it. It’s true that I am a child, and that I rely on Carm’s knowledge and ability to manage my store. It’s also true that I have been blessed with my connections to the duke, but the fact that I was invited to this Association of Mid-Sized Stores of Gimuru – aptly named – means that my store is equal yours, and that I possess equal wealth and income.
You think it’s because of my connection to the nobles? Because I’m a lucky brat? I don’t know how each one of you thinks of me — But don’t look down on me.
Even if fate did have a hand in it, just how strong are people with connections and wealth from their work? And just how important are those for business anyway? If you don’t understand, and if you still think I’m a coward for possessing those, then I suggest you give up on your business.” [Ryouma]
I dropped those words with a smile, but no one said anything.
I thought at least one would retort, but whatever.
“…Let’s go, Carm.” [Ryouma]
Carm-san was also petrified, so I had to shake him awake.
After that we left the merchant guild.