Chapter 146 Elven Elders
Edited by: Kanaa-senpai
Lewya and I walked away from the fields, heading towards the meeting place at the base of the sacred spirit tree to meet the Elven elders. As we drew closer to the massive tree, its presence grew, and by the time we reached its base, looking up, I couldn’t grasp its entirety anymore.
Fairy tales often exaggerate, but this size might match one.
”Huh? What’s that—”
”Neil, what are you doing? Let’s move.”
For a moment, I caught a glimpse of something shining within the spirit tree, but Lewya hurried me along. I was curious, but I ignored it and hastened to catch up with Lewya.
Eventually, we arrived at the place where the massive roots of the spirit tree protruded from the ground, leading to a large circular table. Ten elderly Elves were seated there, with two empty seats in the front. Probably meant for us, Lewya immediately took one of the vacant seats without a word, and although I was puzzled about whether it was okay to do so without saying anything, I hesitated before finally sitting down.
Being at the same eye level as the others magnified the feeling of pressure. Each individual appeared significant, as if they were trees that had been rooted in the ground for centuries, if not millennia.
Was this the aura that came from living for hundreds, or perhaps even over a thousand years? Enduring the sensation that we might be crushed, I held my ground, and I noticed a woman seated across from me was about to speak.
Her words were accompanied by another voice. The speaker, a man sitting three seats away from the old woman, engaged in a tense stare-off. As the tense atmosphere began to fill the air, the woman next to me sighed softly and then began to speak.
”Lorujya, it’s your turn.”
Lorujya, the woman’s name, nodded. She turned towards the man with a triumphant smile, while the man’s face showed frustration. Did even the Elves engage in power struggles and disputes? Despite hoping that such matters would remain hidden, I maintained a composed demeanor, wanting to move the conversation forward.
”*Ahem*, for the first time, I am before your eyes. I am known as Lorujya Nyim Sharalo, the leader of the Nyim clan.”
In response to that peculiar choice of words, I inadvertently let out a subtle sound. Come to think of it, that’s right. When Lewya had returned to the village and then come back to the settlement, she also used an odd manner of speaking. She had mentioned learning it from the elders.
As I remembered these past events and glanced sideways at Lewya, who was seated beside me, it seemed she couldn’t bear the embarrassment. She covered her face with both hands and trembled slightly. Should I point it out? But since they take things so seriously, it’s really hard to bring it up… Still, if I let this slide, the embarrassment might only grow deeper. Plus, I wouldn’t want to be blamed later for not immediately correcting her.
”Hmm? What is it?”
”Well, feel free to speak normally. No need to use formal language with me. Also…uh, by listening to your speech, I think it’s safe to say that your formal language is quite unique. It’s quite different from what’s used in the outside. To facilitate a smooth conversation, using your usual tone would be appreciated.”
As I spoke, Lorujya opened her eyes in surprise, while her lips tightened. Could it be that she was provoked by the correction to her speech? Observing her reaction and recalling her previous interaction with the man, my unease grew. Unexpectedly, Lorujya eased her tightly pursed lips and let out a sigh.
”Ah… I see. I understand now.”
Relief washed over me as her words and sigh indicated that her response wasn’t fueled by anger. Thankfully, it seemed she hadn’t taken offense―
”Calchida!! What do you mean, ‘This is the latest honorifics used in the human settlement’? It’s completely different! I thought it sounded strange! You haven’t even been outside the village, let alone the forest, for the past five hundred years or so, how could you possibly know about that?!”
”Haah! That eager look on your face was hilarious! Believing the nonsense I spread, you stubborn old hag! But… I never thought that such absurdities would be used like this. Using the language of the human village, I believed I’d never have the chance again.”
”You twisted old man! Today, I’m going to knock some sense into that rotten core of yours!”
”Hah! If you can, then go ahead!”
As the two Elves suddenly engaged in a brawl, leaving me stunned, the woman seated next to me initiated a conversation.
”Sorry about that. Those two have always been like that. Even when they were deciding the village leader, they argued about who would become the leader. They just couldn’t decide. So, I suggested, ‘Why don’t they both become leaders?’ But leaving it all to them didn’t work out either, so we ended up with the current arrangement, ‘Why don’t everyone become leaders?’ It’s quite funny, isn’t it? Having ten elders.”
”Indeed, those two are a handful.”
”Once they’re like that, there’s nothing you can do.”
The eight elders, excluding the two who were fighting, gathered around me, and they started chatting freely. It was an odd turn of events.
I had expected a critical discussion that would shape the future of the settlement and the Elven village. Instead, it felt like being at a community center, surrounded by chatty grandparents.
I found myself in a position resembling that of a young person who had wandered into a senior citizens’ gathering, offering vague nods to the endless stream of conversations. While I had hoped the topic would be related to the upcoming negotiations, the discussions veered off to complaints about the brawling pair, recent trends in the village, and casual chatter unrelated to the trade deal. I couldn’t help but wonder when we would get to the point. Just as my internal frustration grew, Lewya came to the rescue.
”Elders, shall we save the casual talk for later and get to the main point? Neil isn’t here to participate in elder’s banter.”
”Ah, right. But before that…”
One of the elders who agreed with Lewya’s words turned his gaze toward the brawling pair and raised his staff while muttering, “Good grief, such troublesome folks.” Suddenly, ice formations appeared above the heads of the brawlers. The ice chunks fell, hitting their heads, and both collapsed onto the floor.
”Alright, that should quiet them down.”
”W-Wait a second!? Is it okay to do something like that!?”
”No matter how much we tell them to cool down, they won’t listen. Sometimes, this is the only way to cool their heads.”
As I worried that cooling their heads certainly shouldn’t involve hitting them with ice chunks, Lewya seemed to sense my unease and spoke up.
”Don’t worry, their heads are as tough as can be. They’ve had ice dropped on them for hundreds of years without any issues.”
”So, they’ve been stopped like this every time…”
Lewya’s explanation appeared to hold true, as nobody seemed concerned about the method used to stop the brawling. Without further comments on the matter, the eight elders who weren’t fighting returned to their seats.
”Well then, let’s begin discussing the trade deal.”
”No need to be so tense. This isn’t a negotiation but a consultation for us.”
”What do you mean by that?”
”We intend to accept the trade you proposed.”
The unexpected response left me astonished. Although the details of the trade hadn’t been finalized, I had planned to discuss and work towards a conclusion during this meeting. However, before even initiating that discussion, they were already agreeing to the trade. It was confusing.
”Are… Are you sure? We haven’t even discussed anything yet.”
”Heh, you’re quite the earnest one. An Imperial negotiator would take the commitment for a trade deal and consider how to benefit or strategize from it. This time, the trade isn’t for personal gain. It’s to ensure mutual peace.
So, rather than gain from each other, we’re suggesting to protect each other. You understand, and that’s precisely why we want to consult, not negotiate.”
”That’s… What do you mean by that?”
”We want to consult on how to protect each other, not haggle over gains. It’s a different kind of negotiation.”
Protecting each other, not bargaining for gains. I had anticipated some level of caution, but I had never dreamed they would approach us so openly and vulnerably. Could it be that Lewya had persuaded the elders without my knowledge?
”…May I ask one question?”
”What is it?”
”Why do you trust me so much? I’m a noble from the Empire. Judging by your responses earlier, it seems you all understand what kind of beings Imperial people are. Then, why—”
”It’s because we know not everyone is like that.”
Another elder who had been silent until now responded to my query.
”We once lived alongside humans. This was during the time when the Divine Tree was still in the center of the continent. Back then, we were tired of human greed, but not everyone was like that. We remember there were those who reached out to us, willing to join hands without expecting anything in return.”
”If I may ask, are you saying that you—”
”Yes, we are the first Elves to bring magic to the human realm.”
I was shocked. Though the exact time frame wasn’t clear, they could be well over a thousand years old. While I understood that Elves had long lifespans, the fact that beings like those from fairy tales were now right in front of me left me speechless.
”Your genuine intent to ensure mutual peace was evident from your conversation with Lewya. That’s why we thought your proposed trade wouldn’t harm us. We assumed you wouldn’t try to deceive us.”
”Wait, conversation with Lewya… You mean the one in the fields?”
Seriously? They heard that conversation? I had spilled various details, thinking it was just for Lewya’s ears. But now, to think that strangers were also privy to that conversation, did I say something strange?
”Elders, I don’t appreciate eavesdropping.”
”It’s because you didn’t bring Neil over quickly. Even though we had received news of his arrival, he didn’t show up. So, when we used magic to locate you, we ended up overhearing your conversation. We didn’t intend to eavesdrop.”
”Well, well, it worked out for the best. Thanks to that, we heard Neil’s honest feelings and prepared ourselves to agree to the deal. So, in the end, it turned out well. Instead of dwelling on that, let’s move on to discussing the trade’s details.”
”Right… Neil, I want to confirm with you again. Your proposed trade implies using the items we Elves possess as negotiation tools, seeking protection from the Empire to ensure our safety. Is that correct?”
”That’s generally the idea. If a high-ranking noble from the Empire were to come, we wouldn’t be able to do much. If an imperial decree is issued to keep the Elves safe, at the very least, they won’t be able to overtly interfere.”
”Overtly, huh? So, even if a decree is issued, there could still be those who work behind the scenes.”
”For better or worse, that’s how the Empire works.”
Dark conflicts was a common occurrence within the Empire, not only among the imperial nobles but also among the merchants who did business with them and the people who dealt with those merchants. The Empire’s citizens were well accustomed to scheming behind the scenes. It was now almost a national trait, meaning that the potential for behind-the-scenes manipulation wasn’t limited to the nobles alone. Dealing with hands reaching out from all sides was practically impossible.
But even if an imperial decree were to be obtained, it wouldn’t guarantee immunity from behind-the-scenes manipulation. It would simply initiate an offensive on both the surface and the shadows. Thus, an imperial decree to protect the Elves was an absolute necessity. If possible, having a few trustworthy individuals in addition to the decree would be a great help, but that would depend on the Emperor’s interest.
”At any rate, we need to prepare something substantial for His Majesty if he’s to consider protecting the Elves.”
”I see. What we want to consult you on is that. Frankly, we’re not entirely sure what people like us have that would interest humans. By bringing up this trade, did you have something in mind?”
”Well, I just had a vague idea that if skilled Elves in magic were involved, there might be something that could pique His Majesty’s interest. However, I won’t know until I see something tangible.”
”I see. Okay, understood. In fact, I had everyone gather some items that might catch your eye. Can you confirm them now?”
”Yes, of course.”
”Then follow me, this way.”
It seemed the items they wanted me to verify were in a different location. The elders stood up, leaving the unconscious brawlers on the floor, and exited the conference room.
”Hey, Lewya, is it okay to leave those two unconscious like that?”
”Ah, those two will be fine if left alone. Waking them up would just make things more troublesome.”
”Isn’t that a bit harsh treatment for elders?”
”When there are ten elders, the appreciation tends to diminish. But let’s not worry about that. We should move on.”
With those words, Lewya continued after the elders. Despite being concerned about the unconscious duo, I also tried to follow along. And that’s when it happened.
’O, heretic possessing the crimson soul.’
Suddenly, those words appeared in my mind, causing me to halt in my tracks. The words had come to my mind directly, not as sounds originating from any specific direction.
Yet, I intuitively understood that the words were thrown at me from behind, making me instinctively turn around. Only the two unconscious individuals lay on the floor, and there was no other figure around. As if drawn by a force, I lifted my gaze upwards, catching sight of the speaker.
”The Divine Tree…?”
’It is so—heretic, I have something to discuss with you.’
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Edited by Kanaa-senpai.
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