“…this gentleman here who is the heir to the Bell Conglomerate, Ronald Bell, son of Alan Bell, the owner of the company I work for,” the manager said.
Hearing this, Irene recalled the discussion with her father before meeting the merchant, she had almost forgotten it.
“Ralph Arnald is not the leader of Bell Conglomerate?” Irene inquired.
“Yes,” her father, Allister, nodded. “He is just a manager of the branch in this city. Aptly, it is referred to as a Bell Branch.”
“I see. I suppose he is a good one being able to raise multiple establishments over the past few years, I can see why you wanted his support, father. But then, who is the leader?”
“He is called Alan Bell, which would make the name of the company his family’s namesake. However, his existence was questionable at best.”
“Huh?” Irene raised her eyebrow. “How so?”
“One, no one knows where he is from nor his current location, not even his face.
“He is said to come into a city, establish a Branch, pick someone from the city to be its manager, and just leave to let the manager ‘grow’ the Branch as they see fit.
“Occasionally, he would come back to those Branches to check on the managers’ progress. But, no one knows when that happened, the managers never divulge it, a testament to their loyalty to him.”
“I see,” Irene uttered. “I suppose he is an eccentric sort?”
“Perhaps. Maybe he thought having the leader of a mercantile company an enigma would add some sort of an appeal, or it could be that Bell Conglomerate was really led by those Bell Branch managers with Alan Bell being entirely a fabrication which would explain the secrecy of their occasional meetings with him.
“However it is, it also makes the location of the main Branch unknown, even if you knew where all the Branches are. That is why I invited Ralph Arnald, as contacting Alan seemed unlikely.”
And here was the young man the Bell Branch manager claimed to be Alan’s son, Ronald. So that’s why he sat directly in front of her father.
“Truly?” Allister piqued. “Is he really the son of Alan Bell?”
“Yes,” the manager said. “He has the family’s red hair.”
“Is that important? I have never heard that the Bells all have red hair.”
“Ah, forgive me, I must have failed to spread that information then,” the manager apologized. “But yes, red hair is the trait of young master Ronald’s family and it was one of the things master Alan told me to spread awareness of.”
“Well, no harm done,” the duke mused. “And since it is your word, mister Arnald,” he then turned to Ronald, “I will believe that you are his son, mister Bell.”
“Why thank you, duke Illyer,” Ronald replied.
“Your welcome. But still,” Allister said. “It is most intriguing to see the son of Alan Bell when I have only invited you, mister Arnald. I never thought a Bell would answer my invitation.”
“Yes,” the prince, Albert al Kirash, interjected. “And I thought my presence would be surprising enough. But it seemed to be not the case, rather it was us who were caught off guard.”
“I see,” the manager chuckled. “Well do forgive us for surprising you instead, your highness.”
“But anyway,” Allister continued. “What is the purpose of your sudden invitation, mister Bell?”
“Well, I will take over as the head of the Conglomerate in the future, so my father wanted me to have experience beforehand,” Ronald answered, which was within the Bell textbook. “And I heard mister Arnald was invited by you, duke Illyer. So I said to myself, why not? And I brought my friend with me as well.”
“Yo,” Joshua waves casually. Now a noble would be offended by his demeanor. But if duke Illyer was that kind of aristocrat, they wouldn’t even have this meeting, to begin with.
“So anyway,” Ronald continued. “I’ll take over the manager in the talking, duke Illyer if you don’t mind.”
“I do not mind. But, this makes a coincidence,” Allister mused. “I too intend for my eldest daughter to be acquainted in talks such as these,” he said while also briefly signaling his daughter, it did not escape Ronald’s eyes.
“Greetings, mister Ronald Bell. My name is Irene ir Illyer,” the eldest daughter, Irene, bowed in her seat. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice to meet to too,” Ronald replied. What a pretty voice… and…
Again, what’re you looking at? (Joshua)
“Though due to the importance of this meeting, I will still be the primary negotiator,” Allister continued. “And I presume you know that my invitation is not just a casual invite for breakfast, correct?”
“Of course,” Ronald nodded. We did spy on him for the whole week.
“Good,” Allister said. “We will talk after we eat.” He turned to the house servants, “bring the food.”
“””Yes, sir,””” all of the servants of the mansion said in unison and left for the kitchen.
Soon enough, a bunch of maids came out from the kitchen carrying trays. They surrounded the dining table, to each member in the table, and placed the contents one by one in front of them.
“Careful now,” Joshua said.
Ronald turned to see that his friend had caught his tray as the maid, who looked frail, had carried the tray with both hands tried to hold it with one to have the other put the tray’s contents to the table almost dropped it due to being too heavy for her.
“I’ll put it down myself,” Joshua continued as he gently nudged the maid to let the tray go. He then placed it on his part of the dining table and slowly took the dishes on the tray to the table one by one.
“Ah, forgive her,” Allister immediately said. “Willow always had a weak body.”
“I’m so terribly sorry sir!” the maid, Willow, frantically bowed at Joshua.
“It’s alright,” Joshua replied as he put the last thing on the tray, a glass of water. “Everythings fine.”
Her name reminds me of…
Yeah… Even her hair color’s the same, just paler. (Joshua)
“I-Is there something wrong, sir?” the pale-blue haired maid questioned meekly, no doubt she had seen Joshua’s look of melancholy.
“No, just an inner thought,” Joshua replied, banishing such expression. “Don’t mind it.”
“Right,” Willow bowed again. “Sorry again for making you put the food yourself, sir!” And promptly left with the empty tray she took from the table after Joshua handed it over to her.
We ought to check on her after this. (Joshua)
Sighing, as Ronald too had felt what Joshua felt moments ago, he looked over his lunch, er… breakfast.
Ah, classic medieval food. (Joshua)
Yes, the stuff we never eat.
And we’re gonna need to eat in a restaurant again after this. (Joshua)
Yep, Ronald finished the [Telepathy] as he picked up the slab of bread with his fork.
And surprisingly, people here don’t eat fish. Did Aquarius ban fishing or something? (Joshua)
“I heard that each establishment have a bell attached to the door frame so that it would chime whenever someone enters, is that true?” Irene asked. “I have never been to one of their establishments before.”
She totally should go out more often. (Joshua)
“Yes,” the manager answered. “As the bell is in our crest, it is only appropriate to have such a thing.”
“But the main Bell Branch building seemed to not have it according to the messenger I sent,” Allister interjected.
Come to think of it, when we entered the Bell Branch, why didn’t the bell ring?
Yeah, what happened to one of the only things you guys splurged on? (Joshua)
“Ah,” the manager quipped. “It broke. A brutish associate of young master Ronald was in a sense of euphoria and violently swung the door which somehow snapped it. That was the last spare.”
Oh, that guy. (Joshua)
Hm, I ought to make him replace those broken bells.
Yeah, especially when even that bell’s a cheap toy. You guys don’t even try to get the same model, just the shoddiest version on the market at the time which you only bought a dozen and dump’em all on the manager. (Joshua)
Your right, maybe we should build a factory to manufacture cheaper bells.
Hah… I give up. (Joshua)
“I do hope that the food satisfied you, honored guests,” Allister said as the maids picked up the dirty dishes.
“Yes,” the manager nodded. “It is quite excellent. As expected of a duke family.”
“Hm, yes, it’s good,” Ronald said. Joshua nodded at the same time.
Yeah right, it’s tasteless. And bread’s hard too. (Joshua)
Don’t say that. We simply have a more advanced palate. (Ronald)
Well, that’s rich coming from you. Pun fully intended. Oh right, you didn’t cut back on food budget, chubby boy. (Joshua)
Don’t remind me that.
“Wonderful,” Allister said. “We shall proceed with our talks over tea.”
On cue, a butler came in with a teapot surrounded by teacups with stacks of saucers on a tray in his hand. He circled around the dining table, filling each cup, and laid it on the table one by one.
Ronald lifted the cup, gazing at the nice color of the tea, and also the watery aesthetics of the porcelain, gently blowing it before taking a sip.
It’s bitter. (Joshua)
Of course it is. It’s tea.
“Sugar, sir?” the butler offered Joshua, showing the jar of sugar cubes. No doubt he’d seen his expression.
“Yes.” Joshua lifted his cup to the butler. “Three drops.”
“Very well.” With a tweezer, the butler dropped three sugar cubes into Joshua’s drink.
SPLISH SPLASH SPLISH
Joshua took another sip. “Much better,” he said.
“Your welcome, sir,” the butler said before Joshua could even thank him. He took a bow and proceeded with his work.
“Alright then, mister Bell,” Allister said. “May I begin first?”
“Sure,” Ronald replied.
“Right.” The duke began, “currently, this kingdom is in a succession struggle as the aging king suffered an illness that will eventually claim his life. And this illness left him unconscious for most of the time so he could not name his successor, causing the crisis.
“There are two factions: the first prince Albert’s faction, my faction, and the second prince Van’s faction.”
“And you’re the only one on prince Albert’s faction,” Ronald continued for him. “Yes, I did my homework before coming here.”
The duke was silent at first, but kept his calm and continued, “Yes. At first, both sides were of equal match. But, as time went on, I became the sole supporter of prince Albert and it was because of my status that this faction remains standing.”
“So what happened to your allies?” Ronald asked, not that he needed to, but hey.
“The second prince, I admit, was a shrewd individual, not to mention the king favored him. So one by one, the other nobles were lured into him, by bribery, blackmail, or both. Otherwise, they would be eliminated.” The duke explained in a somber tone. Prince Albert wore a similar expression.
“Then what makes you?” Ronald asked, his chin resting on his hands. “What made you stick to prince Albert?”
“Because prince Van unfit for the throne,” Allister simply said. “I have seen him with my own eyes, despite his intellect, he will drive this kingdom to ruin, especially when he seeks to invade the Fichs empire and I, being the one to repel them when they invaded, know that it is a foolish endeavor.
“Prince Albert on the other hand has s good head over his shoulder, I believe that he can lead this kingdom better. Furthermore, his highness is engaged to my youngest daughter.”
With the duke’s casual utterance, the first prince Albert and the youngest daughter Elaine both flushed at the same time, not saying a word.
“I see,” Ronald nodded, it was just about as he expected. Regardless, he’s still going to play along. “Then what has it got to do with the Conglomerate?”
“Because as I am the only supporter of prince Albert, prince Van will undoubtedly be after me next. And your Conglomerate is the most successful in my territory, so I would like your support.”
“So it’s not just nobles he’s got?” Ronald inquired.
Tensing up, the duke answered. “Yes, he even coaxed outside merchants to stop trading in my territory.”
“I see, mister Arnald did boast that his Branch’s kept this city afloat,” Ronald commented.
“Indeed,” the manager nodded. “If I may, I did receive a letter from the second prince a while back. And the letter contained good offers from him.”
“Ah,” the duke muttered. The others began to worry as well.
“I’ve burned it just as you asked, young master Bell,” the manager continued.
“…” And this unexpected development left the duke party speechless.
“But you already did your end to ensure prince Van didn’t learn about it?” the manager continued.
“Yeah, we did,” Joshua answered.
“Um, what is this all about?” In the midst of all of this, Irene, the eldest daughter, spoke up for the first time.
“Us pledging our support to you,” Ronald answered.
“…What?” After all of that, Allister now raised his eyebrow. Clearly, he was thrown out of the loop, as well as the others.
“Right, it does seem like you guys will have to convince me not to join prince Van instead, seeing as you guys are the losing faction,” Ronald smirked. “Don’t worry, we already intend to help you hoist prince Albert to the throne from the start.”
“May I ask why?”
Ronald looked at the manager, who rolled his eyes, then to Joshua who looked back at him with a grin. “Because, duke Illyer, prince Albert.” Ronald looked back to the duke and said, “we have another surprise. I believe the intermediate water spirit boy and the just-became greater spirit candidate girl cowering behind you and miss Irene should know.”