“What’s the situation on the Black Streets been like lately?”
“There’s a huge debt owed to me, and I can’t get it back, but we still need to buy all the firearms. I’m stuck with this batch of goods! Nobody buys the swords, armours, and saddles we make either. We’ve had to lower the price of military equipment down so low we’re just breaking even.”
“Couldn’t they be sold to other countries previously?”
“Soldiers from the army are patrolling the Black Streets all the time now. They’ve arrested a fair number of people. We’ve had to stop selling to avoid the heat!”
“Soldiers? Isn’t Kurt responsible for the soldiers? Can’t you talk to him about it?”
“It was the prince’s order! The prince personally passed down the order! And the prince goes to the Black Streets every day. We don’t have a spare moment to catch our breath!”
“Where’d this prince come from…? How come I’ve never seen him before?”
“I’m not sure. The prince brought Castor down in one stroke. The empress really dotes on him too. We can’t touch him. And we can’t assassinate him even if we want to because his bodyguard is the Valkyries’ sword instructor. Even if we were to hire assassins, we’d probably need at least two hundred of them.”
“Yeah, if we anger the empress… We’re all dead meat… Why do we need to kill the prince?! Why not just bribe him? If we can bring him to our side then the problem is solved.”
“You think we can bribe the prince with the amount of wealth that we have? The prince’s wallet is the empire’s national treasury! What’s more is that the prince has nothing he particularly likes. He doesn’t like women, he doesn’t like money. He just likes going to the Black Streets every day. What would we gift him?”
“Just kill him then. How about bribing a servant close to him to poison him?”
“That’s impossible. His close servant is an elf he saved. There’s no way she’d help us. The prince is a half-blood. He’s half-elven. It’s said that the war ten years ago started and ended because of him.”
The fire inside the secret room swayed. Near a dozen people wearing black cloaks were debating at a huge stone table, which was situated in the middle of the secret room. The room built from bluestone bricks was covered with moss and lichens. The figure of a fat person cut everybody’s conversation off and got them to end their debate. They all turned to look at the fat figure. He extended his hand out and placed it on the table. His fingers which were like lotus roots projected a shadow which covered the jewellery and gold on the table.
“The prince’s existence is bad news for all of us. When he brought down Castor, the prices of Castor’s goods all dropped. We merchants who’ve had a monopoly on these goods can’t continue maintain the prices. However, he’s still a valuable asset. As long as he lives, we can use him to instigate another large scale war. Aren’t you all worried about overstocking weapons?”
“Only the elves could put up a fight against the empire if it were such a large scale war. Further, the elves have maintained a friendly relationship with humans for ten years already.”
The fatso snickered and said: “There’s no friendly relationship between the two countries. Does the empress truly like the elves? She just doesn’t have a choice. Just as you mentioned, the prince is a half-blood. He only comes every second month, so where is he the other month? Of course he’s with the elves. Her majesty treats his majesty as her greatest treasure. If the war back then was started because of his majesty, then there’s no reason a second one can’t be instigated with him as the catalyst. If the prince dies while he’s with the elves, then not only is it unrelated to us, the empress will even attack the elves out of despair. She’ll even personally take to the frontlines. If that happens, is there a need for us to be worried about excessive inventory? When that happens, we’ll return to the golden era when her majesty was conquering the lands.”
“But, how do we get the prince killed when he’s with the elves?”
“We have friends among the elves.”
He pulled his chair out, stood up and then said: “I’ll go make the arrangements. You people behave. Be patient for now and don’t do anything illegal. It might be tough to sell your goods, but it’s not affecting your livelihood, is it? Don’t reveal our plans beforehand. Leave the prince alone, got it?”
“Alright, then let’s leave.”
I stepped over a puddle of dirty water and headed to the red-haired lady’s workshop with Nier. The candy pouch Nier had on her belt had been refilled. The candy stand man had already died so I had to make a long trip to buy the candy. Nier’s expression was a lot more relaxed now. The sweetness of the candy must’ve suppressed that sour taste that’d leave people drowning in despair.
“Big sis! Big bro!!”
When we got to the front of the workshop, the children gleefully gathered around us. Nier leaned over with a smile as she scrubbed their heads, and then asked: “There’s no one missing today, right?”
“No! The soldiers have protected us day and night!”
One of the boys looked at Nier, excitedly raised his hand with a wooden sword in it and said: “The soldiers are so cool. I want to become a famous soldier in the future too! I want to be cooler than you, big sis!”
I laughed and looked at Nier. Nier gently looked at him and scrubbed his head with a smile. She then said: “Make sure to work hard then. You need to be brave, loyal and strong to be a soldier.”
“Uhm! I’ll give it my all! Ali got taken into the palace. I want to enter the palace and become a guard too!” He waved his wooden sword around with style and looked like he knew what he was doing. I couldn’t believe he’d picked up some sword skills. His hand movements showed that he knew what he was doing. The children who stood on the side were wowed and clapped.
Nier smiled and clapped as well. Yeah, that kid was more skilled with a sword than I was.
He proudly put his sword away, then looked at me and asked with admiration: “Big bro!! Big bro!! Do you know swordsmanship?”
I rubbed my nose since I felt awkward. I then said: “I don’t. I’d carry a sword with me if I could… But I can’t use a sword at all…”
“What can you do then, big bro?”
The kids looked at me with a hint of disappointment. Their looks of disappointment made me feel worse than the looks of contempt Nier gave me… Why are you all so disappointed? I don’t know swordsmanship. They don’t teach it in the military. Why did I feel guilty like I committed some sort of mistake? I rubbed my nose and awkwardly said: “I… I know military boxing and military wrestling…”
“Spar with big sis then! Come on! Come on! Big sis!”
They pulled Nier up and she looked at me with a serious look.
Hey, hey, hey!! You’re my bodyguard!! Why did you let the children goad you into fighting me?! I did say I know military boxing and wrestling but I treat it like radio calisthenics! You want me to use radio calisthenics to fight with someone who kills people?!
Nier placed her sword down and looked at me with clenched fists. I helplessly smiled. The guard stance for military boxing and wrestling is…
Uhm. What I saw the next moment were the buildings and sky above me…
Nier didn’t use force. She completely guarded against my attack. Her fist beautifully caught me in my gut, and when I leaned over, I got struck with an uppercut, which knocked my torso upright and me onto the ground…
“Please forgive me, your majesty!!”
Nier quickly went down on one knee before me… Shouldn’t you be helping me up and not kneeling right now…?
I shook my head the way you would after getting stunned by a shot to the head. Nier didn’t use force. I used the wall as support to stand up, then looked at Nier, waved my hand and said: “It’s fine. Rise. Did you see that… Eh?”
I saw the children look at me with their terrified eyes. They were so scared they didn’t dare to move. What’s the matter? Didn’t I just lose…? Did I happen to unleash some wicked punch or something?!
“Y-Y-You’re… Your majesty…”
The eldest kid quickly knelt down, prostrated himself on the ground and shouted aloud: “I am very sorry, your majesty!!”
The other children quickly followed suit.
“Huh? Oh right…”
I finally understood why they were scared. I helplessly smiled, crouched down and helped the kid at the forefront up, and said: “Relax, relax. Just act like you always do. I’m really happy when I’m around you all. You don’t have to act like that because of my identity. You haven’t done anything wrong either, so relax.”
Still quivering, he raised his head and asked me with disbelief: “Ar-Are you sure…? We… Can play with you, your majesty?”
“Yeah. Haven’t we been playing together for a long time already?”
I smiled and scrubbed his head. I then stood up and they did too. They looked at me with fear. I extended my hand out and Nier was unsure what was going on. I looked and Nier and said: “Candy…”
Nier handed me the small pouch. I held the candy and teased them for a bit. I leaned over with a smile and said: “Your’s. Enjoy. Enjoy it…”
“You guys ate my bread to, so we’re friends from now. Don’t worry about a thing.”
I gave them all a candy-ball and then returned the pouch to Nier. The children finally eased up and revealed their smiles when they saw the candy. Kids are easy to cheer up. If Nier was like them, then our relationship would probably be really good by now.
“Nier, I’m heading in first.”
Nier nodded and replied: “Understood.”
I turned around, brushed the dirt off myself, then knocked on the door and entered the workshop.
*Black Street(s) = An area where there is poor safety standards and lots of fights