It was about 2 hours after leaving Gilm as part of the escort. There were no monster attacks in particular as Alektor’s merchant caravan traveled down the road.
「Compared to when we were heading to Gilm, there’s been a lot less monster attacks.」
「Seriously. I thought we were cursed considering how many times were were attacked by monsters.」
「That’s right. If we hadn’t been attacked that much, the amount of stamina the escort wasted wouldn’t have been as much. And if that had been the case……」
「Forget about it, it’s no use talking about it now. The important part is that we survived, so we’re going to enjoy our lives as much as we can. Of course, it’s all business.」
The merchant’s voices could be heard from the carriage in front of Rei.
Rei, who was somewhat interested in their conversation, moved to the back of the carriage and called out to the merchants.
In any case, considering the pure range of their scouting abilities, Rei was no better than Set. And as long as Set walked around to keep an eye on the surroundings, it was highly unlikely that they would be attacked by monsters.
「When you came to Gilm, you were attacked by that many monsters?」
Although the merchants were surprised for a moment at the sudden question, they spoke with peace of mind after realising it was Rei asking them.
「Ahh, about 3 times from Abuero to Gilm? No, was it 4 times?」
「That’s right. We were attacked by Icebirds 4 times. That said, there were also a few Goblins, Soldier Ants and Sword Bees. But because there were never more than 10 at a time, we managed somehow……」
「I didn’t expect over 50 Icebirds in that last attack.」
「……There were a lot.」
Rei listend in to the merchants.
Of course, Rei had never traveled along this road. Basically, every time Rei left Gilm, he had traveled on Set. The only time he had traveled along the highways was during the bandit subjugation for his rank up test. Even so, because he had been headed for a bandit’s hideout, they had been moving off the main road. That time he had gone to the dungeon with Elena or to the Orc settlement, they had been completely different road than the one to Abuero, so this was his first real experience on it.
「Well, there certainly were a lot of monster attacks, but it’s nothing strange.」
One of the merchants replied to Rei.
The rest of the merchants nodded as if they agreed with what was said.
In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to be attacked by monsters or bandits along the road. That was why adventurers were hired as escorts, and in the first place, it was natural that there would be more monster attacks near the frontier.
「That’s usually the case, isn’t it. ……However, right now, I don’t think we need to worry about monster attacks that much.」
The merchant’s didn’t quite understand what Rei meant. They all looked at him strangely or with confusion.
Seeing that, Rei stroked Set’s head as Set walked beside him.
Set gave a happy cry at the feeling of getting stroked. Rei spoke again as he saw that.
「After all, Set has come with us. Monsters with a certain level of intelligence will instinctively sense the difference in rank and will hesitate to attack.」
「……But, didn’t the Icebirds not care when Set came to support us?」
「That was probably because they were already in an agitated state after fighting.」
Rei replied to the merchant’s question. Rei was correct, but in actual fact, the Icebirds had been agitated because of the fire tornado that Rei had used, not that he was aware of it.
「Then, only monsters below a certain level of intelligence will attack?」
「Ah. To be exact, Goblins are a good example. It may seem to contradict my earlier words, but becuase it has somewhat higher intelligence, they don’t understand the different in ability between themselves and Set. And……」
Rei continued at the merchant’s prompt as he looked ahead as if to look for something.
「Human’s aren’t sharp enough to notice the aura that Set gives off. If they don’t see him with their own eyes, they won’t recognise that Set is a Griffon. ……In other words, the thing we have to be most wary off is bandits rather than monsters.」
「I see, when you say that, I can understand. Abuero aside, there are quite a few bandits in the area near Sabrusta.」
「……Are there that many?」
At the back of Rei’s mind was the face of the bandit leader who had almost attacked him on his way to Baar. He didn’t know that the bandits were called the 『Prairie Wolves』 and were one of the most powerful bandit groups around Sabrusta.
The important part of the Prairie Wolves where not their numbers but their individual strength. In large groups, the strength of bandits naturally varied and there were some who could be called basically farmers holding weapons. But Egg, the leader of the Prairie Wolves, would not keep such amateurs as his companions, but only those with a certain level of strength. Furthermore, he conducted strict combat training every day and stood out from other bandits, who simply enjoyed the life of fighting.
「Ah. After all, it’s a city near the frontier. In other words, carriages loaded with rare items from the frontier travel through. From the bandits’ point of view, they are mountains of treasure. There’s no reason not to attack them.」
「……I know that, but won’t the lord and deputy lord of Sabrusta send out subjugation forces?」
It was a natural question from Rei, but the merchants just shook their heads and sighed.
Their expressions held surprise, mockery and sympathy.
「They send out knights regularly of course. But it’s more of a token response from the lord more than anything else. They don’t take getting rid of the bandits seriously.」
「What? If the number of bandits increases, the number of people that travel through the highway would decrease, and that would affect the city’s tax revenue.」
「Well, there are various reasons……the biggest one is that there are probably secret connections between the deputy lord and the bandits.」
Rei’s eyes widened at the words the merchant had said casually. However, the next moment, he understood why.
「They must have taken bribes or something similar……from what you said. However, based on that, aren’t they just the deputy lord’s minions? In that case, if the lord of the city finds out, won’t he be sentenced to death rather than just imprisoned?」
「Certainly, if the tax revenue drops considerably, that might happen……after all, this is the only road that connects to Gilm. In other words, to get to the frontier, you have to go along this road, which means more merchants, escorts and so on. Tax revenue might drop, but it will not be to the point where the nobles will notice.」
Rei nodded at the merchant’s reply and frowned at the cunning of the deputy lord. One of the merchants, who mistook Rei’s frown for dislike of bandits, reached a hand out from the carriage and tapped Rei on the shoulder.
「Well, you don’t need to worry about it at this point in time. After all, I don’t think anyone else would go to the frontier in this time of winter except Alektor-san. They would be waiting a long time for a prey they don’t know would ever come……I don’t think they would do something like that.」
「I hope so. ……Well, I understand the situation. I’ll keep a look out for bandits though. I don’t know if there might still be some, though it’s unlikely.」
Rei replied to the merchant before leaving the carriage and walking along the road with Set as they kept watch.
About 6 hours after leaving Gilm, the sun, which had been bright since morning, was already directly above them.
「I’m hungry. It’s about time for lunch isn’t it?」
「This isn’t a good spot. Wait until we’ve found some large rocks or somewhere more difficult for monsters to find us.」
Rei and Set could here voices talking form the carriage near them.
(As expected, I’m starting to get hungry now as well.)
Thinking like that to himself, he looked at Set, who was walking next to him. When he did that, Set gave a hungry cry as he appealed to Rei to give him something to eat.
「I guess we have no choice. Set, be patient until lunch.」
While taking out some dried meat from the Misty Ring to give to Set, they continued on for another 30 minutes. Eventually, they passed a place where some 5m tall rocks could be found near the highway. As soon as it came into sight, the caravan started to slow down.
And after Alektor got off the first carriage……
「Hey, let’s have lunch here. Get your stuff ready.」
He called out to the carriage near Rei.
The merchants who heard that got off the carriage one after the other, and as if they couldn’t wait, started handing out sandwiches they had bought at Gilm to each person as they started preparing a campfire to boil water.
After Rei received it, Set turned to look at the merchant.
「Ah, wait a moment. The meals for Set are prepared by Alektor. If I remember correctly」
「Sorry for keeping you waiting.」
It seemed that Alektor had been looking for Rei. He came over while holding a 1m large bag.
「Yes, here you are. This is Set’s meal.」
He took out a 1kg lump of meat from the bag and gave it to Set.
Maybe Set was too hungry, Rei turned to look at Alektor, who was startled at Set’s cry as he started eating the raw meat.
「Yes. It’s a simplified version of an item box. Though I’m just borrowing this one from the noble this time.」
「……This time? Didn’t you go to Gilm because of Alektor’s decision?」
「There were various background matters.」
Rei had an absentminded expression for a moment at the merchant’s proud answer that there were some shady deals behind it.
Seeing that, Alektor smiled and tried to invite Rei over to where the merchants and Beautiful Raindrops had gathered.
Set, who finished the meat in no time, turned to look at Alektor while giving a cry asking for more.
「……Eh? Please wait a moment. Did you eat all that meat in such a short time!?」
A normal person would take about 30 minutes to eat a kilogram of meat. Rather, it was more likely that they wouldn’t even finish it. However, considering Set’s size, 1kg of meat was nothing more than a snack.
Alektor hurriedly took out the next piece of meat, but that piece immediately fell into Set’s belly as well. ……After this happened five more times, Set’s lunch finally finished.
At that point in time, Alektor’s cheeks were twitching, but he was still somewhat happy that Set had only eaten five pieces instead of eight.
Everyone gathered together and had a simple meal of sandwiches and tea, but of course they weren’t completely disregarding their surroundings. Anyhow, as long as something was nearby, it wasn’t possible for them to approach without getting caught by Set, whether they were monsters or bandits, unless they were at a much higher level of skill. Thanks to that, the group was able to eat a meal with relative peace of mind……except for Alektor, who’s cheeks were twitching as he considered their future food costs at Set’s unexpectedly great appetite.
Of course, not everything was left to Set. Rei and Beautiful Raindrops continued to pay some attention to their surroundings as they ate and talked.
Meanwhile, the conversation between the merchants discussed the war between the Mireana Kingdom and the Bestir Empire which was guaranteed to happen next spring. Rei, who was interested in the topic, turned an ear to it.
「In terms of strength, the Bestir Empire has the advantage, but our kingdom is one of the more powerful kingdoms. There’s no clear conclusion.」
「But, we’re already preparing now aren’t we? Actually, I heard that the Bestir Empire had reached out all the way to Gilm and there was a big commotion about it.」
「No matter how the Bestir Empire prepares, I’ll feel safe with Duke Kerebel and the General Princess.」
「How many times have they lost to the General Princess? Are they going to make the same mistake again?」
Rei listened in on the merchants’ conversation while eating a sandwich, but suddenly decided to enter the conversation.
「I’m sorry, but can I ask a question?」
「Hmm? What is it?」
One of the merchants turned to Rei while eating a ham and cheese sandwich and pouring himself some warm tea.
Rei asked the merchant a question he had always been interested in.
「First of all. Why does the Bestir Empire keeping invading over and over again? It should cost a large amount of money to start a war.」
「……You don’t know?」
Although the merchant was surprised, fortunately or not, Rei had not gained any understanding of why the Bestir Empire was so insistent on invading the Mireana Kingdom. Of course, if he had studied up about it, he would have easily found out, but as it had nothing to do with monster subjugation requests, magic stones or the guild, he had put it on hold.
「Ah. I don’t know. I’ve only been in Gilm for a year. Before then, I had been living up in the mountains.」
In the end, Rei used his usual excuse to explain his ignorance and prompted the merchant to continue the conversation.
「Is that so. ……Well, I’ll put it simply. The Bestir Empire is located in an area surrounded by mountains and land. Because it’s in such a location, agriculture thrives and they have a lot of mines, so it’s a very wealthy empire. They have been pouring in resources into alchemy for nearly a decade. But for the Bestir Empire, there was something they’ve always wanted for ten years, hundred years or even longer. That is……the sea.」
「Ah. The Bestir Empire is landlocked and doesn’t face the sea. And the sea……it brings tremendous wealth to countries because of ports. This includes salt and other marine resources. They have been attacking our country, which faces the sea, because they want it.」
Rei nodded at the merchant’s words, but in the back of his mind, he was thinking about the Demon Soldier he had fought in Gilm. The Demon Soldier he had fought had been created with the magic stone of a monster that seemed to live in the sea, as he had the shell of a crab as well as scales. It would have been very difficult for Demon Soldiers like him to be made without access to any seas or oceans.
(No, if the Bestir Empire’s goal is really the sea, then isn’t it natural to have prepared Demon Soldiers who could adapt to it in advance?)
At the merchant’s words, Rei finally understood why the Bestir Empire continued to invaded the Mireana Kingdom.