Joshua finally understood the motive behind his invitation after listening to Alphonso's explanation.
Being an issue regarding finance, it was actually nothing major. A merchant's troubles would always have money involved.
According to Alphonso, all the merchants in the north have been plagued by the same issue for the last five days. The problem was that the Imperial City had been cordoned off, hence causing all the merchants of this land to be stranded.
Impeded, they were unable to continue their trade.
Their path being sealed also signified that their trade had to be stopped. This issue was no joke for any of the merchants in Moldavia. If they can't leave the land and proceed with their next business deal, they might lose a huge sum of money breaching the trading contract. To make matters worse, their relationships built upon trust would suffer a heavy blow, causing a chain reaction towards the credibility of northern merchants.
"According to my sources, there have been abnormal sightings within the Dark Forest. To avoid any accidents from occurring, the military has decided to seal off the path. We still do not have any solutions to this."
With a fatigued look, Alphonso had explained the current situation of the northern lands and the Empire based on the map he had. "Other than the path by Fort Ural, we could only pass through the dense forest. I'm not crazy enough to risk the lives of my members to the beasts out there. Although there is a long river which we could use as the primary means of transportation in Moldavia, the number of ships we have which could traverse that river is insufficient. With a scarcity of ships within the entire merchant guild, I don't think I can even obtain the chance to use it for myself."
"Why was I not aware of this issue?" Joshua frowned. After he thought for a moment, he replied, "This blockade is completely due to the abnormal occurrences within the Dark Forest. Even the Empire is having a hard time solving it. Since the situation is grave, I doubt I possess the power to tackle such a problem."
"You may not know about this but currently, the path is tightly guarded. Civilians and adventurers may still pass through the blockade. However, for merchant groups as large as the Gray Drakes, too many people get involved in each trip. They are afraid that the sheer number of humans may alert the daemons, thus forbidding us traders from proceeding along the path."
Alphonso felt extremely helpless based on the current situation. He had no other way to deal with this sudden change in event and communication was difficult between them and the guards. "However my liege, even if the others may be restricted, that rule does not apply to you. You have the right to walk past the blockade."
When Alphonso spoke about Joshua's privilege, his tone changed into one of complete confidence in Joshua's capability.
Joshua rarely met with people who placed such confidence in him. He touched his chin and replied, "Interesting. Now, I really want to know on what basis would you feel so confident about my capability."
Without hesitation, the middle-aged merchant spoke the magic word. He then repeated his point, "The underground path of the dwarves!"
Alphonso retrieved a map and pointed at the lava lake near the Mount Great Ajax within the vicinity of Moldavia. "Most people have heard that the count's family had a very good relationship with the dwarves. You should also know that the dwarves had an underground path that links it to every part of the Empire. By using the underground path, we could easily bypass the blockade. My request is actually very simple. I would like to get a chance to meet with the upper echelon of the dwarves!"
When Alphonso spoke of his reasons and request, his face was extremely serious. Politely, he asked Joshua, "My liege does not have to stand up for us. All we need is a chance to meet with the leaders of the dwarves. I have full confidence in persuading them to give us the rights to utilize the tunnel! If we were to be granted permission to use the passage, we could pass through the snow-filled plains and reach the Empire and the south even faster."
"Your thoughts might be on the right track, however the dwarves"
At first, Joshua frowned for a while. Thinking for a while, he then nodded his head and replied, "I just remembered that the dwarves just sent me a letter 3 days ago. It was a letter from Ironborn Moreila. He was an elder from my great-grandfather's era. I had to go through 3 book racks to find a template that I could use to send him a reply Alphonso!"
Joshua pointed to the lava lake area of the map while replying in a serious and loud tone. "We are not strangers, so I'm not going to go through all the formalities. Although I am sort of acquainted with the dwarfs, they might be my citizens under my governance, and my family had a good relationship with them, I am only a newly appointed count for this land. The most I could do for you is to provide you with a letter of recommendation so that you wouldn't be chased out of the lava lake area. Anything that happens beyond that point will be all up to you."
"That will be more than enough, Count Joshua!"
With such promise given by Joshua, Alphonso had his worries lifted. His facial expression improved following that as he felt revitalized. "This favor granted today shall not be forgotten by this humble one. I shall repay my liege whenever possible."
"That is not necessary."
Shaking his head, Joshua gazed into the eyes of the middle-aged man and replied, "What I need is not money."
Joshua thought for a moment as he was trying to recall some of the events that happened within the Empire during this time frame. After a moment of pause, Joshua replied with a smile in his face. "Well then, if you are able to pass through the dwarves' underground tunnel all the way to the northern part of the Empire, there is one thing that I would need your help with. After all, I'm the newly appointed Count of Moldavia and I can't really leave this place during this time."
"If it is within my capabilities, I will fulfill your task," Alphonso replied without hesitation. "On Carlos' name, I, Alphonso, vow to complete the task given by my liege."
"You do not have to be so impatient. We will discuss it further after the banquet."
Joshua shook his hands and made his way towards the entrance. Without any delay, Alphonso quickly rushed towards the door and opened it for Joshua. The butler stationed outside was planning to continue leading Joshua into the hall. However, he was later stopped by his master. Alphonso said, "I will be leading the way for the liege. This would be the direction towards the main hall."
Three of them walked towards the main hall. After a while, they arrived at their destination. The middle-aged man opened the main door for Joshua and said, "Honorable Count, please enter."
A soothing music from the violin and piano was heard across the hall. Accompanying it were the voices of guests chattering and chuckles from the ladies. Joshua could also smell the fragrance of incense within the hall. Alphonso had truly invested a lot in this banquet. After all, even the incense used on that day was of premium grade.
As Joshua approached the hall, the sound of music gradually grew more and more distinct. However, just as he stepped inside, he suddenly raised his guard as a sweet scent permeated his surroundings.
This was not the same scent as the premium-grade incense. It was not from the food served within the banquet. To be precise, this scent was a floral fragrance interlaced with a hint of female hormones.
Joshua was not able to digest this information fast enough. As soon as Joshua entered the hall, the crowd abruptly hushed. With such an appearance, even the performers couldn't help but be dazed for a moment, disrupting each others' tempo and making mistakes during their performance. Fortunately for the performers, no one actually paid much attention to their performance at that very moment.
Complete silence filled the environment.
Intimidation +18 was definitely too much for ordinary people to handle.
Joshua sighed for a moment. His charm was unbelievably low in the first place, although his looks were still passable. He could still accept the fact that his affinity was low. However, possessing a very high intimidation value exerted quite a lot of pressure to his surroundings. With such a level, he could easily silence a crowd wherever he went. It would really kill the mood for any sort of occasion.
Scanning the hall, Joshua was baffled.
"Wait, all of them are women?!"
There were not many guests in the hall. Other than the performers and waiters, there were a total of more than thirty guests. Among those people, more than half of them were actually ladies in dresses and gowns!
"What the heck is going on here?!"
Luckily he could still spot a few middle-aged men with their wives sitting together. As for the young ladies who did not seem to dare approach Joshua, there were about ten of them.
After contemplating, Joshua figured that since there were about four to five people in charge of different merchant groups, those ladies there were probably their close relatives. Each family probably brought about two to three young ladies for the banquet tonight.
By looking at Alphonso who was approaching Joshua, this young count finally realized what was going on.
He was still twenty three this year, a young count with a great future ahead. Someone that was seemingly the perfect husband for any lady. One could never underestimate the mind of a merchant. As merchants, they were known to possess all sorts of tricks and cunning to obtain benefits. If Joshua did not accede to Alphonso's request, he would probably be bombarded with recommendations to marry any one of the beautiful ladies that were present at the banquet this very same day.