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The first day of the Grand Bazaar was sunny again this year.
Even last year and the year before that, the weather mysteriously cleared up on this day.
As far as Marcel knew, or at least since his great grandfather's time, there had never been a drop of rain on this day.
However, the chill was still harsh. During this time of year, if it wasn't raining, it was cold. The old and thin Marcel, who was thickly dressed in baggy clothing, gathered his clothing merchandise.
Marcel was secretly relieved that the Grand Bazaar would launch just like last year.
It wouldn't be a pleasant thing if something bad happened as soon as he became the chairman of the City Council.
At any rate, the previous chairman, Bachschouf, was now a criminal. Marcel, who had been recommended by the council because of his position as the Master of the Textile Crafts Guild, was the safest choice. His only wish was that everything would end with no serious mistakes.
Marcel would have to climb the stairs of the main gate to greet the approaching sunrise and recite a prayer from the scriptures to the G.o.ddess.
He hoped that many merchants would gather this year.
The amount of business that took place during the Grand Bazaar determined how much tax revenue Aitheria received. If possible, he wished for as many merchants to come as possible.
As he rubbed his hands together to warm them up, he ascended the staircase to reach the bell tower. Once the City Council Chairman rang the bell, the Grand Bazaar would commence. This prestigious role was a privilege of being the City Council Chairman, but it was also a responsibility.
Marcel had another concern, but the opening of the Grand Bazaar was the top priority for now.
Holger and Gernot, who were on duty this year, were already waiting by the observation window, where they could see past the main gate. The both of them seemed to be so busy looking out the window that they didn’t notice Marcel.
Marcel cleared his throat with utmost dignity. Even though Marcel was past 60 and still had some vigour, he was just a figurehead for the City Council. The balance of influence between Bachschouf's faction and the current mainstream faction was being unsteadily maintained.
Even so, there were two people who were likely to listen to him: Holger and Gernot. It was because of this that he had nominated these two people for this job.
However, for some reason, they did not turn around, even when he cleared his throat.
He cleared his throat lightly again, thinking they had not heard it, but it was ignored a second time.
At this point, it was useless. Marcel humbled himself and decided to greet them.
「Good morning, both of you. Did the line of carriages you could see extend past the front hill this year?」
From the bell tower, one could see three hills along the highway. There was one in front, one in the middle, and one at the back.
If the carriages and convoys extended beyond the middle hill, the Grand Bazaar would be a great success, but in the last few years, the line of carriages had failed to even reach the front hill, due to the issue with the Northern Three Territories.
Marcel had higher expectations this year, since the situation in the North had calmed down.
「Oh, Chairman. This is a little…」
「This might sound a little crude.」
Holger and Gernot both gave ominous sounding responses, and Marcel’s stomach tightened.
Had the line of carriages failed to reach the front hill? If that was the case, there would be less revenue than he had predicted. There were a lot of things he wanted to work on as the Council Chairman, such as repairing the city walls and dredging the ca.n.a.ls. It would be good if he could secure enough revenue to start work on them.
「Is that so…I was prepared, to an extent. So, how many came? You still need more fingers than you have on your hands to count them, right?」
「Both hands, huh. What do you think, Gernot?」
「That would be a little difficult.」
Marcel’s shoulders dropped when he watched Gernot literally counting with his fingers. It might have been better to buy stomach medicine from the flouris.h.i.+ng pharmacy that had recently opened on Inns & Stable Street.
It was only the first year of his term, and such a terrible situation had already come up.
He wanted to apologise to the citizens who were looking forward to the Grand Bazaar, but there probably wasn’t going to be one next year, given this year’s insufficient experience.
「Then again, hasn’t it been a long time since more than ten crest-bearing carriages came?」
「There has been no record of that for at least the past ten years.」
Marcel tilted his head at their exchange.
Carriages bore crests if there were distinguished people inside.
If anything, it was customary for Baron Branton and Marquis Sachnnussenburg to come to Aitheria’s Grand Bazaar. Some n.o.bles might come incognito, but n.o.bles who visited publicly with a crest bearing carriage were rare.
「Marquis Sachnussenburg and Baron Branton attend every year…what are the other crests, Gernot?」
「That crest belongs to the Count of Bardenburg, His Excellency Johann Gustav. After that are the Counts of the Three Northern Territories: Count Wyndelmarc, Count Karlsenmarc, and Count Sistinemarc. Then is minstrel Baron Crowvinkel and the district Archbishop, perhaps? There’s even the flag of a Cardinal from the Rupsia. How unusual.」
Marcel couldn’t believe the lineup of eminent people that Gernot had suddenly listed, so he stuck his head out of the observation window.
It was an unbelievable spectacle.
Banners, carried by knights who were leading the way for crest bearing carriages, fluttered on top of the front hill, and carriages stretched out endlessly behind them. The amount of luggage transported was often inflated if there were many escorts, but this year was different. Due to the fact that the retainers of royalty and n.o.bility were leading the procession, the scale was not even comparable to that of an average year.
The line continued up the furthest hill, and there were no doubts that it continued even further beyond that.
Just what in the world had happened?
「Hey, hasn’t this suddenly become serious, Chairman?」
「We do not have enough lodgings for the officially visiting n.o.bles. The Council must hold an emergency meeting and a.s.sign hosts for them. Of course, we shouldn’t leave out lodgings for the merchants and escorts either.」
「Oh, yeah…we need to prepare dinner for them, too.」
「No, it might be better to ask about their arrangements first.」
The way Gernot spoke, as if his words were stuck on the tip of his tongue, showed his doubt. It wasn’t likely that the n.o.bles would go out to bars to eat and drink as they pleased.
There were some prestigious shops, but it would just cause more pressure, since there were a limited number of them. His head hurt.
Marcel searched for some parchment in his pockets, since he wanted to write down the things he had to do. At that moment, a letter fell down onto the floor with a thud.
「What’s that letter, Chairman?」
「It seems to be on a fairly good quality piece of parchment.」
「Yes, I also wanted to consult with you two about this.」
When it was unrolled so that they could read it, the words flowed in a way that made it seem that it wasn’t meant to be understood.
「”The person named Damien, who has been captured in your city, is under the protection of the Eastern Kingdom (Oiria). He is to be released as soon as possible. From, Princess Regent of the Eastern Kingdom, Celestine de Oiria.” …What?」
Regarding the Princess Regent Celestine, she was an important person who ruled over the nation in the place of the young King Jurg. Why was this person purposely writing about a criminal in Aitheria?
「There is certainly a man called Damien in prison, but…」
「What’s his crime?」
「He was the instigator behind the witch hunt. He seems to have been under the protection of the Archbishop, but that relations.h.i.+p was broken.」
「I don’t understand this at all.」
The three of them nodded silently at each other. This was surely an elaborate prank. The parchment was excellent, but it became even more suspicious because it didn’t have the seal of the Princess Regent.
「Anyway, the Grand Bazaar is more important right now.」
「That’s also true. Chairman, please ring the bell.」
After he cleared his throat, Marcel reached out for the rope extending from the bell.
Once he pulled this, the Grand Bazaar would commence.
He had lived while being swept along by the currents until now, so at the very least, he wanted to pull this rope by his own will.
While thinking that, Marcel glanced outside through the window again and saw something that was not supposed to be there.
On top of the hill, a large banner depicting “a three-headed dragon and a hawk’s talon” was fluttering in the sky.
「Hi-His Majesty the former Emperor!」
Marcel, who had almost collapsed from the surprise, grabbed onto the nearest object in a hurry.
Ding, dong. Ding, dong…
The heavy bell rang when the rope was pulled, and the sentry corps, who were on standby, removed the latch of the grand gate of Aitheria.
The head of the convoy slowly began to head for the gate, and those behind followed it down the hill like a small wave.
Somewhere, someone whistled, and the bells and drums began to sound.
Thus, the curtains of Aitheria’s Grand Bazaar opened.