Thursday, December 22, 2022 @

Chapter 34, Part 1

 Tachibana Hibiki, the chairman of Tachibana Trading Company, is by no means incompetent as a businessman, regardless of what he does outside his field of expertise. In fact, he is one of the most talented men in the world.
 However, before the rising, the Tachibana family was defeated in the power struggle at the court and fell into the hands of the courtiers. Though the Tachibana family was supposed to decline as a failed noble family, it was rebuilt as a merchant family dealing in basic rice, marine products, and salt from the fishing village where the family was originally born, and imported goods as an extension of the family's business, with the trust and connections that came from the bloodline. In the several hundred years since then, it has established itself as one of the top ten wealthiest merchants in Fuso.
 Nevertheless, as always in this world, rise and fall are the order of the day, and stagnation is always a sign of decline. The Tachibana family, which had been sitting on its throne, only striving to maintain the status quo and protect its vested privileges, was in fact in a situation where its debts exceeded its profits by the time his father died suddenly of a torn blood vessel due to the shock of business failure and Tachibana Hibiki became a young decorative head of the family, and its interests were considerably cut down by up-and-coming merchants who were competing with old powerful merchant families both in Japan and abroad. But then, the company was able to survive for a generation. Hibiki's ability to revive the situation in his own life should not be underestimated.
 The first thing he did when he took office as the head of a major trading family was to change the name of the company. He changed the name of the company from Sea Salt Shop (Umishoya) to Tachibana Trading Company. This was a decision to make a fresh start in business.
 Of course, simply changing the name was not enough. He was also enthusiastic about internal reforms. His restructuring of the business, changes in asset management methods, and the cleanup of internal corruption such as bribery and collusion alone proved that he was an extraordinary businessman.
 In particular, his collection and training in human resources must have been remarkable. Although his main business was dealing with imported goods, he actively hired knowledgeable or skilled local people and Nanbans, and if necessary, he did not hesitate to bring them on board as executives of the trading company. Some people say that this was the reason why he changed the name from the Fuso-style "trading name" to the Nanban-style "trading company".
 At the same time, the education of the same Fuso-kuni people also changed drastically. While many merchant families used to hire workers through apprenticeship, in which two out of five employees were said to be lucky if they stayed, he adopted a more advanced system of instruction and education centered on manuals, in Nanban's words, and at the same time improved the treatment of his employees.
 He did this not out of consideration for his employees, but to secure talented human resources, to prevent the escape, corruption, and extraction of employees, which had been a problem for many merchant families, and to reduce training costs and shorten the period of training.
 In addition, he has the ability to persuade the opposition of his father's and grandfather's generation of executives of the merchant families to his side, and the conservatives of the family who were trying to manipulate him as a puppet, and he can forcefully push through such reforms through forceful retirement, etc. Therefore, despite his radical reforms, he managed to keep the other merchant families united and not divide them. He was also able to retain the trust of his business partners, and on the contrary, he was able to expand the scale of the business... Nowadays, there are few people inside and outside of the country who doubt Tachibana Hibiki's ability as a businessman.
 Of course, even if he is a first-rate businessman, there is no guarantee that he is perfect in other fields, especially as an individual. Every human being has his or her faults. He is no exception.
 His faults can be divided into two main categories. One is his wife.
 When he was suddenly promoted to the head of the family before he turned 20 years old, he received offers of marriage not only from the same wealthy merchants but also from court nobles and feudal lords, and the members of his family recommended whomever they thought would be best for him. However, he turned them all down.
 Finally, after the reform, the cleanup, and the restoration of the Tachibana Trading Company, he married a Nanban immigrant girl who had worked as an employee and a signboard girl at the head office of the trading company since she was a child. Some say that this was to gain the confidence of the Nanban employees or to prevent other families from influencing or interfering by giving the daughter of an influential person as a wife... Whatever the reason, it is true that taking a woman of unknown background as a wife was frowned upon by many people.
 And another reason is that... Tachibana Hibiki was too spoiled and lenient with his only daughter, which is hard to believe given his cunning and calculating nature as a businessman...
* * *
 Around noon in the month of December, a man walks through the corridor of the Tachibana family's semi-foreign-style mansion, which is connected to the trading company's building, in his spare time from work, looking for someone.
 "Kayo~ where are you? Could you come and show me your face, please~? Papa brought you a special present, you know~?"
 A bearded middle-aged man with a smiling face bending at the waist and wandering around the house saying such things in a catlike voice was, to tell the truth, a bit of a turn-off. However, neither the servants working in the mansion nor the miscellaneous workers could say or do anything to the man. All they could do was grimace. Not wanting to be fired for saying the wrong thing. After all, the reason and intelligence of this brilliant and sharp businessman could not be relied upon at all when it came to his daughter.
 Tachibana Hibiki, who revived the Tachibana Trading Company in his own lifetime, was such an individual. In his hand is a silk cloth decorated with mainland-style patterns, which would look good on a kimono or something. It was a gift from a merchant on the mainland with whom he had a close relationship. If sold, it would be enough to feed a commoner's family for ten years.
 However, this is not a particularly exceptional gift for Hibiki, who usually buys and presents his daughter with all kinds of luxury goods and curios for no reason at all. Just last week, he had given his daughter a necklace made of a luxurious pearl.
 "Chairman, it's about time. You have a business meeting with Lieutenant General Konoe..."
 "Kayo~? Where are you hiding? I'm begging you, please come out and let me see you~?"
 "Oh, gosh! Why is he like this...!?"
 After taking a glance at the hands of the Nanban clock on her wrist, the secretary, who is of a mixed race between mainland and Fuso-koku nationals, is in a daze.
 This chairman is neither stupid nor incompetent. He is certainly an excellent businessman. He is a man to whom she owes a debt of gratitude, who hired her from a brothel in Dejima, where she had worked as a child of a customer and a prostitute, and judged her ability without looking at her with colored glasses, and now trusts her enough to entrust her with the management of the account books. She understands that. She gets that, but...
 (but there's a limit, isn't there...?)
 The secretary lets out a tired sigh. Unlike the wealthy merchants who mix their private assets with the store's money, he limits his private payments to his personal assets. He is a man who knows what he is doing. But still, it is not right to give a young girl a thousand ryo box (ryo = a unit of value that was used in the Edo period (1603-1868) = 1.3kg (2.87 pounds) of gold) without telling her a reason and bring it to her from the treasury. At the very least, he should have asked his daughter what it was for.
 And moreover, he is giving three rolls of silk cloth to his daughter. If he sold it to the wife or daughter of a feudal lord or a minister, it would be worth at least a hundred ryo, and yet he is giving it to his daughter without even thinking about it. In fact, he's not even satisfied with the money he's given to her so far... he's being a parent's fool.
 "Hmm, that's funny. Normally, she should be out by now. Why is that? Did something happen to make her angry...?"
 Hibiki's expression turns grim as he wonders why he can't find his daughter. His expression was stern and tight as if he was in a normal business meeting. In other words, he was now thinking about the whereabouts of his daughter as intently and seriously as he does when he is discussing a major business deal or devising a plan to deal with a plot by another family.
 In short, it was a complete waste of his abilities.
 "Oh? I came here because the maid said something... what's this all about, dear?"
 Then a lady in kimono with foreign patterns appears from the end of the corridor. She has honey-colored hair and azure jade eyes that droop as she gazes at her husband. She has an attractive face with a foreign look... she is Madam Tachibana or Tachibana Saime.
 She is a second-generation Nanban immigrant, and although her late parents were born outside of Fuso, she was born in Fuso, lives in Fuso, and speaks no language other than Fuso, so other than her facial features, she is almost the same as a genuine Fuso native. Because of her beauty, she was very popular when she was working as a signboard daughter of the Trading Company, and it was well known among the public that she had received offers of concubines from several noblemen, rejecting them all and accepting Hibiki's marriage proposal with a simple "yes".
 "Oh, Saime!? Do you know where Kayo is? I'm looking for her, but I can't find her..."
 After giving her a hug as a matter of course, Hibiki asked her where her daughter was with a look of deep concern. The wife nodded her head and then answered her husband's question with a smile that had attracted many customers when she was a signboard girl.
 "Don't worry, dear. There's nothing wrong, is there? She's just on a little secret date...!"
 The next moment the air froze as if there was nothing wrong with her words. Her husband stiffened and dropped the silk cloth in his hand to the floor without effort. The expression on his face was completely devoid of emotion. A heavy silence filled the room.
 Then the secretary sighs and hangs her head with a faraway look in her eyes, and is convinced. "Oh, this is going to ruin the whole day..."
 At the same time, no one saw one of the miscellaneous workers of the mansion, who was present at such a scene, leave quietly with a cold expression on his face, and release a message to a pigeon hidden in his room.
* * *
 The sky was clear and sunny for the time of the New Year. It was cold but not as cold as it would be if one were inside the capital's boundaries. It was moderately cool and a good day to go out. It must be good weather for the people living in the capital. Yes, for the people who live inside it.
 "It's depressing..."
 That's what I've been feeling since I woke up this morning. I sat on the porch at the edge of the Oumi family's house, thinking that this day had finally come.
 "But, mister. It's not such a bad deal, is it? I heard you're going to be paid for the whole thing, right? Isn't this a good opportunity for you to have a luxury you normally can't afford?"
 The person who spoke to me in such a questioning manner was the guide who had guided me through the underground tunnels some time ago.
 His name is Magoroku, and he is a few years older than me. This tanned, skinny, but muscular man, who was out of work after the incident at the underground tunnels, was hired by Gorilla-sama as a handyman, and now he lives and works in a hut in the corner of the property with his family. The clothes he wears are the same cotton as in those days, but they seem to have been paid for, and they have been replaced by new ones from second-hand ones that look like rags and are covered with dirt.
 ...This recruitment is probably because of my body. Even if his statement is unreliable from other's points of view, keeping him on hand is for insurance purposes, I guess. Anyway, I know it's a little late for me to say this, but I feel uncomfortable when an older man says to me, "Mister, mister".
 "You say that so comfortably. But I'm a guard for a carefree young lady. I can't afford to let my guard down."
 The content of the handwritten letter sent to Uemon from the other party was euphemistic and formal, and although it was lengthy, if 90% of it is omitted, it was simply "I want to have fun in the town on my own and would like to borrow one of your servant to escort me". In addition, the letter specified my name with detailed conditions. Of course, there was no way that greedy pig would say no when the other party threw a thousand-ryo box at him for the rental fee, which also served as a nuisance fee for the underground water tunnels the other day.
 "D-do your best, Tomobe-san!"
 The white fox half-youkai said in a worried, consoling tone.
 "Hmm, ah... you'd better hang in there too, you know? After all, the princess is a bit tense today."
 Uemon was no fool, and he had taken measures against the gorilla-sama, who was about to be displeased with the unauthorized use of her toys. So, before she knew it, Gorilla-sama was scheduled to attend the Imperial Court's garden party, and she had been quite irritated for the past few days because she couldn't refuse to attend the party now. It is no coincidence that my work and the day of the garden party are on the same day. Of all the days, Shiro would accompany this gorilla. It's unfortunate. She might take it out on her.
 (I hope nothing happened to her...)
 ...the character Kizuki Aoi in the original game loves to bind others, force them to obey her, play around with her hands, and monopolize things, but she herself has a strong aversion to being bound by others, to obey others, to be made to dance with others, and to have her things touched, even if only in a small way.
 Part of this character comes from her circumstances, but the remaining part probably comes from her natural temperament. Of course. She is a genius, from a distinguished family, and intelligent. Therefore, she naturally looks down on those around her and sees others as stupid, foolish, and trivial. Especially in that situation...
 (In the original story, there would have been bloodshed by now...)
 She is arrogant, and that's why she can't allow herself to be tricked by others. She is obsessed with her favorite toy because her surroundings are boring, and she loves, binds, monopolizes, and controls her partner one-sidedly and selfishly because she was betrayed by the one she desperately sought affection from.
 This is evident in the original game. In the game, Gorilla-sama solves conspiracies with violence, carelessly and without regard for the world, and even when she does not have romantic feelings for the protagonist, she does not take care of her toys badly, and above all, when she comes to love the protagonist, she does not consider his feelings, does not trust him, and only seizes him to make sure that he cannot betray her. To prevent him from betraying her, she held his life and death in her hands and forced him to love her only one-sidedly.
 It is a miracle that she does not take any kind of physical action against him, even though she is reluctant and frustrated. To tell the truth, I was so scared that a tragedy might happen at any moment. Gorilla-sama has become rounded up.
 "Tomobe-san, is something wrong...?"
 "No, I may have some bad feelings, but don't worry about it."
 As I'm pondering the difference between the original game and the current gorilla-sama, Shiro tilts her head and asks me, and I quickly return my consciousness to reality before advising her so. Although it is unlikely that there are people who would do something to Shiro, I warn her because she is a half-youkai.
 "Y-yes... I understand..."
 At my advice, Shiro nervously nodded her head, her expression tightening. Was this a little too much of a threat?
 "Eek!? No, please stop! Funyu~...."
 I stroke her head and play with her fox ears to relieve the tension. She looks itchy and ticklish and gets angry. But she seems to be enjoying herself a little, though not seriously.
 "As expected of you, mister. It's a very brave thing to be able to play like that with a half-youkai head, isn't it?"
 "Is that a big deal...? Shiro is such a good girl, she couldn't even kill a bug."
 I responded to Magoroku's words while playing with Shiro. He was slightly afraid of Shiro because she was half youkai. Well, that in itself is not a bad thing... at least at this stage, Shiro is not evil. I hope he will get used to it, even if it takes time, I thought. After all, there is no need to persecute her unnecessarily, abuse her, and make her fall into darkness as in the bad ending. I hope she can live a happy life as a simple half-youkai.
 "...well, I guess it's time to stop messing around. Here it comes."
 I muttered, stopping my hand from flirting with Shiro. I knew this because I saw the Oumi family members coming toward me from a distance across the yard of the mansion.
 I knew it was about time, judging from the position of the rising sun. To tell the truth, I am quite reluctant to do so, but... that's the way work is. Work is a virtue, but not a pleasure.
 "Oh, yeah. I'll pass it on to you while I'm busy. Listen, I'm sorry about the other day. So, eat it up, okay?"
 As if remembering, I take out a bag of sweets from my pocket and hand it to Shiro. Inside is a kumquat candy, which is the reward for the excuse I gave to her because I used her to make an excuse for the old lady of the trading company the other day. The choice is in case of a cold since it is winter.
 ...The money, by the way, came from the extra income Uemon gave me for today's work. But is it a black company that he didn't even give me half of the 1,000 ryo box he had received, instead of just 1 ryo? Really? And why don't I just be happy that I have an extra income? No way. Feudal society sucks, I have to make a revolution (sense of mission).
 "Wait, what am I thinking?"
 "No, I'm just saying that money is everything in this world."
 I say this to the white fox who tilts her head and the guide and bows to the welcoming miscellaneous worker who has come over to us and started walking with him. Well, if I don't work, I can't eat...
* * *

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