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148 A Quiet War

 Upon receiving Klautz's hint, Sereck and Keller turned their attention to the dark-haired young man. Rhode kept silent; his expression remained unchanged as if he didn't hear what Klautz said.

"Since Mr. Rhode isn't willing to speak, then let me do it."

Klautz didn't force Rhode even though he kept quiet. He laughed and looked over at Keller who was sitting beside him.

"Mr. Keller, recently the Merchant Association was a little overboard. I've already given a warning on this matter, but these people seemed not to have any sense of remorse. Instead, they suspected that the ore prices had been deliberately lowered all along, damaging their benefits. Which is why I believe that these people would do such a thing." Klautz spoke with a gloomy tone, whereas Keller had a grave expression on his face.

Rhode lifted his teacup and stared into the swirling red tea. On the outside, it appeared that Rhode wasn't concerned about Klautz's words, but actually, he already recognized the reason behind this matter.

In the Munn Kingdom, merchants do not have a high standing. They could earn a lot of money and reputation in many ways, but they lack the opportunities to increase their forces. The ruling class of the Munn Kingdom had always been strict on trades between countries especially salt, ores and even more stringent on essential commodities such as rice grains so they could balance the price fluctuation of the goods.

Of course, doing it this way would be beneficial for the stabilization of the whole country, but this reflected a loss of business for the merchants. The merchant's true nature was always about chasing benefits at lower costs. Although under the Munn Kingdom, they indeed had many advantages, the moment the law penalized their revenue even by the slightest, it caused much unhappiness among the merchants.

Furthermore, the merchants' rights in freedom of speech was also an issue that they cared a lot about. In the Munn Kingdom, the royal family was the highest of all beings, their words were final. They wouldn't allow big merchant associations to threaten their rights with monopolization of the trade market. So once any merchant associations attempted to threaten the royal family's reign with such methods, to the royal family it meant - death. Pigs that they had fed well, the time has finally come for them to be killed and eaten.

As a result, merchants in the Munn Kingdom were very clear about this. If you run an honest business for a living, then it's all good. But if you ever threaten the royal families' authority and power, then you are dead.

Under such circumstances, many merchants tried to complain or even threaten the Munn Kingdom, thinking that the Munn Kingdom was a tyrant. If this went on, in the long run, who would dare to do business with them? But even when facing these threats, the Munn Kingdom never bothered at all. The Munn Kingdom was situated in a strategic geographical location, where it forced the majority of the traffic for trades to go through them. It was full of affordable and excellent products. If you don't wish to earn money, that doesn't mean that others wouldn't. If you think the venture is dangerous, there will always be someone trying to steal this opportunity in your place to get rich - Chasing benefits were the characteristics of merchants. Morals and justice had never been a thing of their concern.

And in fact, the merchants of Munn Kingdom hoped that they could receive VIP treatment similar those large merchant associations in the Country of Light. In the Country of Light, the Parliament members and the large merchant associations had a very close relationship. Members of Parliament borrowed the merchant associations' money and manpower to increase their influence. And the merchants would benefit from their share of political resources. As a result, the merchant associations within Country of Light had substantial power, some of them even had higher statuses than the lords of the territories.

This had once created much jealousy within the Merchant Union of the Munn Kingdom. They had suggested many times and hoped for the Munn Kingdom to lax on their regulations. However, after Lydia's brutal method of hanging merchants who constantly rebelled at the square outside of Golden City, no one was stupid enough to mention this topic again.

After all, even though it was the merchant's priority to earn money. But if you lose your life, how could you make money?

"I had already given them written warnings, requesting them to lower the ore prices back to acceptable range within three days. If not, I will consider taking some actions to force the price down."

Klautz sighed.

"I've contacted other merchant associations within the region and guaranteed a small difference as compensation to them. However, they will need to maintain their product pricing. I don't wish to see any problem arising from this, besides, due to an attack on the commercial road from before, our exportation route isn't as stable as before..."

Klautz glanced over at Rhode and smiled.

"It's all thanks to you, Mr. Rhode. If this goes on, it'd be hard to say what will become of the Paphield Region..."

Rhode drank a sip of the red tea calmly and continued to remain silent. But Klautz didn't mind at all. Rhode gave everyone an impression that he didn't like to speak but in fact, only Sereck and a few others who were close to him, knew that he actually spoke a lot behind his expressionless face.

Rhode had no idea why Klautz kept bringing up this topic, but he could roughly guess the reason. However, this didn't mean that he was willing to do as Klautz decided. No matter what, the fact that Klautz had invited him to this secret meeting suggested that Klautz actually realized something was wrong, and even if Klautz decided not to be truthful about it, then Rhode naturally wouldn't be dumb enough to raise it up.

"... But I think that the Merchant Union would most likely reject my request."

Klautz's tone suddenly turned emotional.

"This made me very disappointed. Mr. Keller, I know that all along the Keller family had been managing their mining business well and spent a long time in Deep Stone City. I also trust your reputation. I'm not sure if... you would like to broaden your business?"

Keller's eyes widened. He slowly placed the teacup on the table with a stiff expression.

Keller wasn't stupid. Of course, he knew what he meant. Obviously, if the Merchant Union didn't consider accepting Klautz's suggestion, then three days later, the one sitting at the top would be him!

And now, Klautz's suggestion meant that Klautz was hinting for him to get ready and take over immediately.

Keller couldn't help but feel a shiver down his spine. It was evident why Klautz would even make this suggestion. He must have investigated the previous incident and discovered Keller's conflict with the Merchant Union which eventually led him to make this decision.

Keller was glad about his initial decision. Although he had long heard about Golden City's reputation, to be so unscrupulous was definitely out of his expectations. If he gave in and agreed to work under the Merchant Union, then the person that would be replacing him would already be sitting here right now.

Now that they had reached this stage, what would happen to his family?

Keller felt the chills. Right now, he couldn't care less about Sereck or Rhode watching the show by the side. He stood up and answered firmly.

"Please be assured, Mr. Klautz. I will make the appropriate preparations."

"Good."

After hearing Keller's answer, Klautz laughed and turned his head towards Sereck and Rhode.

"So, the next thing I want to discuss concerns both of you - Especially regarding the problems of Jade Tears mercenary group."

"If it is like that, then I have nothing to comment."

Rhode placed the teacup on the table.

"I only did what I was supposed to do, that's all."

After hearing Rhode's reply, Klautz's eyes brightened, revealing his smile once again.

"I understand what you meant, Mr. Rhode. But I have something to tell you... Just two days ago, the Country of Light's envoy, Clinton, had returned to his country. Before he left, he proposed a diplomatic protest..."

"Hmph." Rhode, Sereck, and Keller couldn't help but snort.

Clinton used to be a citizen of the Munn Kingdom. Not only did he become a traitor, he merely became a guard dog for that few years and actually represented his owner to propose a diplomatic protest?

Traitors were never fancied anywhere.

"He felt that the Jade Tears mercenary group's dissolution and Frank's accidental disappearance were related to you. Besides, Frank was a family member of a reputable family in the Country of Light, so this matter wouldn't end so easily. Judging from his nature, it wouldn't be long for Country of Light to officially demand to investigate on you and your mercenary group."

Interesting.

Rhode frowned as he finally understood why Klautz invited him here.

"This is a totally baseless accusation. I think I wouldn't need to be bothered by something that doesn't exist."

Rhode replied confidently as if the poor soul who died at his blade was a total stranger.

"Great! Young men should have such aggression."

Klautz laughed heartily and slapped Rhode's shoulders.

"But you shouldn't be too worried. After all, this is an internal affair of the Munn Kingdom. There will be a limit as to how much the Country of Light can get involved in. Besides, this is Paphield, not that rat nest, Barce. If they want to cause trouble in my territory, they'll have to ask if I'm agreeable to it first. Well, no matter what, you did great..."

Klautz stopped for a moment and lifted his head and stared at Rhode.

"But I have a request, I hope you'll hear me out."

Rhode went silent for a moment and said, "Yes, what is it regarding?"

After receiving Rhode's prompt reply, Klautz's expression turned grim immediately.

"The situation is like this..."

"Recently, according to reports from my men, a village near Lauderdale Range had been attacked by undead creatures."

"Undead creatures?"

Sereck exclaimed.

"That's right."

Klautz nodded affirmatively.

"Although I did not witness it first hand, according to my messenger, the undead creatures were like ghosts who will appear every night and cause severe harm to the villagers. Although I did send the local troops to assist, there were little to no success. Therefore, I wish to hire the help of professionals. Compared to the other mercenary groups, Starlight mercenary group had performed outstandingly well against undead creatures. Also, recently many of Paphield Region's mercenary groups had suffered heavy losses, so I can't find anyone else more qualified than you at the moment. I hope I can enlist your help."

Klautz then shifted his gaze towards Sereck.

"Mr. Sereck. I am aware of the ban set out by the Mercenary Association. However, as an administrative officer, I'm afraid I cannot wait any longer. Besides, those villagers were being attacked by undead creatures. If we had to wait for the rest period to be over, it would be too late. Besides, I'm pretty sure you understand that our church forces aren't strong, if not they wouldn't be tortured by the undead creatures for so long."

"Alright, I understand. Mr. Klautz."

Sereck hurriedly agreed.

"Since it is the command of the administrative officer, we, the Mercenary Association will definitely make exceptions. Please rest assured on this."

"Remunerations will be given by Deep Stone City, which we believe will satisfy everyone. And as for compensation, I can prepay half of the remunerations and the remaining half will be given once everyone returns from the mission. What do you think?"

Facing Klautz's request, Rhode didn't immediately answer. He finished his red tea in one gulp and laid back on the sofa with his arms crossed, narrowing his eyes as he weighed the matter.