“W, why do you think so?” asked Jeanne as she recomposed her expression.
“… I’m going to be saying this off-the-rec… I mean, no mention of this to anyone please”
Jeanne gave the Imperial bureaucrats a look, they stopped their busywork for a moment and quietly left the office. I as well shooed the Royal bureaucrats out and had Aisha stand in front of the door watching for any surveillance. Only Jeanne, Liscia, Hakuya, Aisha, and I remained in the room. I looked at Liscia next to me who was recording the meeting minutes.
“Liscia, you stop writing too”
“… all right”
Liscia put her pen down, so what goes on now won’t be recorded in the minutes. The room fell quiet as if the hustle and bustle earlier were only a lie. Jeanne shrugged.
“Good grief … I wonder what kind of bomb you’re going to bring out”
“Sorry. What I’m going to say is likely going to be protested against as discrimination. If it leaked outside, it may even cause a rebellion”
“… Let’s hear it then”
“The way I see it … I can’t tell the difference between this world’s animals and demonic creatures,” I said, choosing my words.
“Furthermore, I can’t really tell the difference between races like beastmen and dragonewts with the demon race, either”
“What!? But that’s …”
“I know, I know. They’re going to yell at me saying Don’t put us in the same category!”
Previously, when I couldn’t tell the difference between Mystic Wolves like Tomoe and Mystic Foxes like Kaede, I said “Well, why not call them all Mystic hounds and be done with it?” Then Liscia scolded me saying, “Mystic hounds refer to Kobolds so make sure you never ever say that in front of those people, okay!” At that time, I consented, thinking well, I suppose that’s how it goes, but then what is the difference between Mystic Wolves and Foxes and Kobolds.
“Do you know what the difference between Mystic Wolves and Foxes and Kobolds, Jeanne?”
“Well of course. Mystic Wolves and Foxes have tails but their faces and bodies are in no way inferior to humans. On the other hand, Kobolds have the faces of dogs”
“But there are beastmen with animal faces, right?”
Like, for instance, Georg Carmine. If that Lion guy appeared in Japan he would first of all be probably considered a demonic creature. When I pointed that out, Jeanne crossed her arms and nodded.
“Well, now that you mention it … h~m … ah, right. Kobolds have furry bodies. Which means where beastmen are humans with animal parts, then Kobolds are dogs that stand on two legs like humans, I suppose”
“… then how do you tell apart demon races with short or no fur? If that’s how your reasoning goes, then Orcs and Minotaurs with human bodies should be beastmen, right?”
Being retorted to, Jeanne pondered, then finally raised both hands, “I give up”
“I’ve never really thought about what makes humanity different from demons. Now that you’ve pointed it out, I noticed that we’ve been distinguishing demons and humans by feeling”
“You’re right … now that you mention it, I can’t find any telltale differences”
“I wonder why we never noticed …”
Liscia and Hakuya also nodded. Everyone in this world probably was the same.
“Conversely speaking, you can say that the people of this world differentiate humanity and demons by feeling, right”
Speaking of Japanese sensibilities, even if we love shellfish miso soup, we don’t even want to look at slugs, which were the terrestrial equivalent of shellfish, most of us do. Also, people would watch in shock at Australian Aboriginals eat grub they found inside of trees as they calmly eat peeled shrimp (raw ones at that). It’s likely that the sensibilites of the people of this world were along those lines.
“Well there were only humans in the world I was in. Since I lived in a world without Elves or Beastmen or Dragonewts or Demons, I don’t have those sensibilities. Which is why that in my eyes, the demon races are just the same as any other race on the human side”
“Y, Your Highness! … d, do you hate Dark Elves?” asked Aisha, who was standing in front of the door, with eyes like an abandoned puppy.
“Not at all,” I answered and flashed her a grin.
“Dark skinned Elves are cute, right. Of course, classic human beauties, too”
The former was for Aisha, and the latter Liscia. “Really!?” said Aisha with a brightened face as I said that while Liscia brusquely went “Yeah yeah, sure, thanks”, but not at all dissatisfied, judging from the grin on her face. Seeing the two, Jeanne wryly smiled.
“You’re loved, aren’t you”
“I have it too good …”
As I said that, Jeanne leaned against the back of her chair.
“I’m glad you said to keep a lid on it. If we continued as we were, I might’ve had to kill off our country’s esteemed buraucrats”
“… that’s dangerous. Was it that bad?”
“It’s that bad. If what we’re talking here leaked out, it’s not only King Soma’s reputation that’ll go down. The continent might go up in a riot. Am I right, Lord Hakuya”
“It is as you say. I wish he mentioned it to me sooner”
Hakuya nodded and sent me a reproachful glare. Eh? That bad?
“Please listen Your Highness. If what you said about ‘demons and beastmen being hard to differentiate’, countries like the Human supremacist Amidonia and High Elven elitist Holy Kingdom of Gerlean will use it as material to discrimnate against other races. They’ll cast doubt on whether or not beastmen and dragonewts were demons after all or colluding with the enemy, and might clamp down on them with injustice”
The Holy Kingdom of Gerlean, the island country to the northwest of the continent, huh. It had a big and small island but it seems that the small island and part of the large one had been occupied. All rumors, because this country is particularly insular and not much information could get in. High Elves, who had a high tendency of having beautiful women and men even among Elves look down on other people, believing that they’re god’s chosen people and despise mixed blood. This never changed even now after the demon race invasion.
Well, countries like the Principality of Amidonia and the Holy Kingdom of Gerlean would take this information as proof of their race’s superiority. In fact, Amidonia made their own country easier to govern by fanning hatred towards Elfrieden (and blaming any slip-ups on the actions of the Kingdom). This was only turning the hatred against the other races. Jeanne also concurred.
“It’s as Lord Hakuya said. Also, this is not an external matter for multiethnic countries like ours and yours. If that recognition was widespread within our countries, it would be cause for antagonism between races domestically. If we had internal threats in addition to the ones from outside …”
“… sorry. I didn’t think this through”
I honestly bowed my head. These two were right. This is not just a matter of my own honor. I had to have a better sense of crisis. However, Jeanne shook her head.
“We wouldn’t have noticed had you not pointed it out. It’s quite a problem, but this is better than it suddenly erupting without us realizing it. We can make preparations for it, too”
“Thank you … but that said, I can’t think of any countermeasures right away”
“I know. The Humanity Declaration prohibits exile and persecution against other races but only among countries. We could still intervene with discriminative national policies (say, by making it an order from a superior), but for the common people, we could only help supervise those countries”
That’s not going to be effective, and you can’t just deal with each and every individual case, either. If it gets buried in the dark then it’s over. Anyway, since we couldn’t get any good ideas right now, the Empire and the Kingdom should continue to deliberate this later.
◇ ◇ ◇
We called back the bureaucrats we sent outside and continued the conference well into the night. Naturally, it was then time to fill our stomachs. Since Jeanne was a VIP from another country, we ought to have had stopped the meeting for dinner but both Jeanne and I felt it would be a waste of time so we continued conversation over food; something that we could eat while working. Therefore, I decided to treat Jeanne and company to some bread that we were investigating whether we could popularize in the country or not. Jeanne’s impressions were:
“Well this is something! While it looked mismatched to put a staple food on top of another, the two different textures when you sink your teeth into it makes for a best match. The sourness of the tomato sauce works well, too. Also, being able to eat something that you normally had to eat with a plate and fork on bread and with one hand, this is a novel idea I’m taking my hat off to! Magnificent!”
She openly praised me. Huhuhu, you’re thinking it’s a sandwich? Too bad, it’s a “Napolitan bread” 1! … well, I actually wanted to make yakisoba bread but I couldn’t reproduce that rich sauce no matter what. Which is why I used the pasta and tomato sauce that already existed in this world and made napolitan bread.
“I doubted the sanity of it when I first saw it, but it was really good”
“Bread and pasta aren’t something new, and yet a new texture is made when you put the two together”
Seems Liscia and Hakuya also liked it. We’re all but done dealing with the food problems, so it might be good to introduce Earth cuisine alongside novel foods like zelring udon. We could also acquire foreign currency by having a unique food culture. Anyway, the one who took to these unique menus, Aisha, was:
“Whom nom nom, huff!”
She was standing behind me as guard, but while doing that, was intently tossing the napolitan bread into her mouth. In fact, Aisha, how many have you eaten already? The mountain that was on the plate had turned into a small hillock. The hungry Dark Elf was operating normally even now.
“Phew … now then, we should get started on the matter of the occupation of Vannes”
After having a breather after eating the bread, Jeanne broached the topic.
“The Empire wishes to uphold the Humanity Declaration and will not recognize border changes through military action. We would like Elfrieden to return Vannes and its environs to the Principality of Amidonia”
“The Kingdom could not accept that wish. It was Amidonia who attacked first. We have the right of it, don’t you think?”
“Some would see them as the first to be induced to doing it, though?”
“It was an intervention by all definitions. It’s unreasonable to complain when the attacker becomes attacked instead, no? Is the Empire okay with this? The signatory and non-signatory nations will make light of the Humanity Declaration if you allow this attack”
“That is true. Which is why the Empire would have Amidonia pay the appropriate indemnities. As far as the Empire is concerned, both parties are at fault in this matter”
… well, I suppose she’s right. As a signatory of the Humanity Declaration, the Empire would have to stand by Amidonia and press Elfrieden for repatriation of territory. But that said, if they pardoned Amidonia’s attack, they would invite tyranny by the signatory nations and backlash from the non-signatory nations. Which is why they would give harsh sanctions on Amidonia, making them a warning for the signatory nations. The Empire is powerful enough to do so. I sent Jeanne a testing look.
“… If we do not comply, would you escalate to military force?”
“We would prefer not to … but yes, if necessary. Currently, the Empire only brought enough ‘numbers’ to be on par with the Elfrieden military, but we believe we have the ‘strength’ to crush both you and Amidonia together”
“I suppose. We would also like to avoid a fight”
I rested my elbows on the table and folded my hands over my mouth.
“Therefore, let’s first sort out each other’s intentions”
“Sort out …?”
“The Empire does not want to recognize the border change, so you would have the Kingdom return the occupied territory. Am I correct?”
“… yes. That is right”
Jeanne nodded. Having confirmed the Empire’s intentions, I continued.
“As for the Kingdom, we would like to completely crush Amidonia who had continually attacked us again and again. We would also want to have them pay indemnities for attacking us. We took Vannes as that indemnity”
“… I see. You mean you it doesn’t have to be Vannes in particular, right. So in other words, while you won’t return Vannes free of charge, you would be willing to return it if Amidonia pays compensation for it”
As expected, the talks are going smoothly. I nodded and Jeanne breathed a sigh.
“Do you want Lord Julius’ head?”
“While we would be glad if you did that for us, it does not hold any particular value to us”
“So … it’s money after all, then”
“… I suppose. If Amidonia would pay us monetary indemnities, we’ll return Vannes. I can also say that the Empire could also demand payments from Amidonia, which should be about right, no?”
Looking at the long term, handing over land with buried riches for some temporary funds is a minus. However, considering that it was Amidonian territory until recently and considering relations with the Empire, it wasn’t so bad a deal. At the same time, the Empire would accomplish their just cause of restoring territory to Amidonia, and also make a warning of them to the other signatory nations that if they did something like the Amidonians did, they would return their territory but make them pay indemnities. That also means gaining the trust of non-signatory nations. Jeanne took a breath and said.
“Lord Julius is going oppose …”
“No sympathy for the wicked. Ah, make it in Imperial gold coins please. Julius seems hopeless at economics. He’s going to be considering using inferior gold coins for payment”
“You want to get our country involved, are you …”
“You have managerial accountability for Amidonia’s actions this time. You could at least take that responsibility”
“… I have nothing to say to that”
Jeanne smiled wryly and shrugged. She then suddenly looked serious.
“There’s something I want to ask King Soma. Why won’t Elfrieden sign Elder Sister’s Humanity Declaration? If you did, the Empire and the Kingdom would not have been standing at odds on this matter…”
Jeanne gave Liscia a glance.
“I feel bad to say this in front of princess Liscia, but the reason the previous King Alberto did not sign the Humanity Declaration … well, I could somewhat understand the reason. That’s because … the reason he didn’t sign …”
“Because he couldn’t decide whether to sign or not. He’s indecisive like that”
Jeanne seemed to find it hard to say, so Liscia clearly said it in her stead. Jeanne looked slightly apologetic as she said “that’s correct”
“However, I would think that King Soma understands the threat that the Demon King Army poses, and how important it is for humanity to band together. And yet why would you not participate in Elder Sister’s Humanity Declaration?”
She said that while looking straight at me. Well this is awkward. I didn’t want to tell her the reason yet. But if I lied and said I decided without due consideration, relations with the Empire were going to sour. I thought for a while and slowly began talking.
“Well … there’s an ‘old story’ in my world. Once upon a time, there were the two gods of the East and the West”
◇ ◇ ◇
The god of the East said thus:
“The world shall be equal. Therefore, O Mankind, ye shall all till the fields together, and all take equal part in its bounties”
On the other hand, the god of the West said thus:
“The world shall be free. Therefore, O Mankind, ye shall each till your own fields, and each partake in its bounties for as much as ye have worked for it”
The god of the East said to the god of the West:
“Thy way will make those who have prospered even more prosperous, and the impoverished even more impoverished. The world will be wrapped in strife between the rich and the poor”
The god of the West said to the god of the East:
“If man were to gain the same bounties no matter how hard he worked, he shall be deprived of reason to work. Thus the fruits of their labors would also decrease, and all of society shall be poor”
And thus the gods of the East and West opposed each other. The fight between the gods swept up the countries that believed in them. We are right and they are wrong. The countries of the east and west glared at each other. The ones troubled by it were the countries in the border.
Once the countries that believed in each of the gods began fighting, we would be the first to suffer. Our homes and fields will fall to ruin. Now, what are we to do. The people living in the border countries thought, and came up with an inspiration.
“That’s right. While there is nothing we could do against them opposing each other, we shall place rules to prevent a fight”
Then the people of the countries near the borders, together with many of the countries of the east and west together came about with several rules.
“First, to disallow border changes through military action”
“Second, to allow every country equal rights and self determination of their peoples”
“Third, to foster good cultural exchange with the countries of the east and west” 2
◇ ◇ ◇
“What manner of story is that!?”
After I had said that much, Jeanne raised her voice. She looked at me suspiciously when I suddenly began telling a fairy tale, but as the story went on her eyes went wider and wider. Jeanne had been composed up to that point, but having gone this far, she seemed to have lost her composure. Liscia and Hakuya also had the same look on their faces (Aisha had a dumb look, not understanding what was going on). Jeanne hit the table hard.
“Never mind the story, but the rules are just the same as the Humanity Declaration! How does it end!?”
Jeanne wanted me to cut to the chase, but I silently shook my head.
“What happened next … I still can’t say right now”
“I do, however, know how the story ends”