I poured hot water into the bath and wiped the sweat off my body with a wet towel, then got dressed and unlocked the door to the shop.
After some time had passed, Layla’s nanny visited the shop again.
「Milady has returned. It has been a busy day for you too, Lord Elliot.」
I think her name was Nunna. Even though she was in her early sixties, she didn’t use any walking supports. She looked well despite seemingly having some trouble walking. Apparently, this old woman has been taking care of Layla.
「Ma’am, what’s wrong?」
Layla asked somewhat quickly. Her face turned red, perhaps remembering what had happened in the room. Only then had I realized the change in her tone when she spoke with Miss Nunna.
As a knight, she speaks in a masculine manner so as not to sound weird…… Or rather, her speech mannerisms are very proper, but her occasional feminine way of speaking is more obvious now.
……Nunna must be the closest thing to a parent for Layla, since she had lost her father and brother when she was a child. It’s no wonder she feels more comfortable speaking with her this way.
「Milady, it’s that day of the week……」
「Oh, that’s right.」
Saying that, she looked at me as if she was at a loss. It’s as if she was having a dilemma. I hadn’t known her for too long, but it was easy to tell from her facial expressions.
「If you have plans, I don’t mind if you prioritize them first…… Well, I suppose it’s hard with me around here.」
Layla was here because her lord Lubreo ordered her to guard me. Daria was the Dungeon Master of the Mining Village (Layla believed so, and I would like to think that Lubreo and his men still thought that was the case), and since I knew things, they must have thought that Daria came here to get rid of me. In fact, it wasn’t as dangerous to me as they had imagined, but Layla had no way of knowing that.
……I don’t actually know if Gratina and Lubreo truly believed what they had chose to believe. In fact, sending Layla to guard me may have been their way of keeping me in check.
「Is it truly an important matter?」
Miss Nunna didn’t know any of the details, so she asked and looked at me with a concerned expression.
「Nope…… You could still do your job if I come along, right Miss Layla?」
「But to leave your shop open……」
「I don’t really have to tend the shop everyday. In fact, we were technically closed since we were called over to Jemma Co.」
After thinking for a moment, Layla told me to accompany her to her house. She had scheduled to teach children how to read on that afternoon.
「Hey now, sit still during lessons. All of you are going to work hard when you grow up, alright?」
In all honesty, the commotion felt like a battlefield. The living room in Layla’s house was so small that it would be difficult to seat ten adults there. The oldest of the children were about ten years old, while the younger ones were still unfit to help tend to the fields.
The children gathered there were mostly neighbors or residents of Abram, but there were also children from poor families in the New Town (although just living there meant that they were relatively blessed). Thus, they were all normal children who knew nothing of behaving in a refined manner, let alone giving compliments.
Although there was a school owned by the Church, it cost money to send them there for education. There were not many children who had the opportunity to receive education, especially in the populated cities. Even though Abram was a large city, the rate of literacy wasn’t very high.
Layla’s lessons were centered around the Church’s teachings, but with more focus on fundamental reading and writing. Just by being able to read gives these children more possibilities in the future. Even though it’s just their very first steps, their parents are paying a minimal fee for it, so they really appreciate it.
Also, I had thought about this when we were at Jemma Co. as well. Although Layla is a stickler, she’s not the type to be so inflexible to apply the rules to every single thing. Perhaps because she’s also honest and straightforward, or perhaps because of her personality, the children here love her as well.
From their point of view, I was an intruder to them, so they kept giving me curious stares. There were a few times when they asked me specifically if I was Layla’s boyfriend, but I just laughed it off. I am a thick-skinned merchant after all…… Although by the time Layla finished her lessons, my face was completely red.
「Do you plan on settling here in Abram, Lord Elliot?」
Nunna asked me when she finished preparing food for the children.
「Well, considering the trade routes, it may be good to expand my business into other cities…… So yes, I’m thinking about expanding to this town.」
Engaging in small talk is a basic skill for merchants. Besides, this old woman taking care of Layla is a good person. Entertaining her takes some time, but not much effort.
「It may be insensitive for me to ask you such things, but milady seems to have taken an interest in you」
She giggled. Well, she does have a long history with Layla. I’m sure that even if Layla knew how to hide things better, Nunna would have seen through her anyway.
「But she is a knight, and her birthright and upbringing may be that of a commoner. With all these things considered……」
「She could just quit being a knight. Of course, I won’t force her……」
I was probably the only one who heard her whispering.
「……Miss Nunna, why would you say that?」
「Milady wishes to remove the stain on her late father’s name. That’s why she’s clinging to her status as a knight, despite her displeasure of fighting. However, it is difficult for a woman to gain recognition on the battlefield.」
Layla was looking at each of the children surrounding her. Nunna looked at her in extreme pity, then continued.
「Getting married is necessary for a government official, but…… Even for an old woman like me who doesn’t understand complicated issues, I do know that no one will take milady as a wife since she has neither status nor land…… Of course, there are those who become knights by marrying into an established family.」
She smiled faintly because Layla herself had rejected such an offer.
「In my opinion, being a knight doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness for milady. That’s why…… if only she could find happiness, even if she abandons her duty as a knight, or even her house…… That’s just what I think.」
That’s right. Layla truly desires to remain as a knight, to defend her honor, and to reestablish her house. Such is the curse that keeps her tied down. That must also be why this old woman finds herself unable to say such things to Layla.
「Is that why you’re telling me all this?」
Yes, Nunna is unable to change Layla’s mind. That’s why she had been waiting for an outsider like me.
……I may not be able to fulfil her expectations though.
「Yes. You are one of the very few gentlemen milady is comfortable with…… Also, if a company so reputable like Jemma’s has invited you to lunch, then you must be a capable man.」
The old woman giggled. She seems a lot more fun-loving than Layla.
「Getting involved with someone like me will only result in her unhappiness……」
「Oh my, that’s not for gentlemen to decide. After all, it is only the woman in question who has the right to decide her own happiness.」
That was when the lessons were over, and our conversation came to a halt.
We returned to the shop. Layla helped me prepare dinner, which we had together. Whether it was because of her training as a knight, or because of Nunna’s education, her cooking was better than I had imagined.
We had some light drinks and kissed each other when we got a little drunk. She resisted a little, but that was part of her acting. She sank into my arms before long. On that day, I lost count of how many times I ejaculated into her on the dinner table.
I made sure the exhausted Layla had fallen asleep, then poured some more wine and narcotics into her mouth to make sure she stayed asleep for a while.
I left her in the bedroom and set up an alarm that would activate if she stirred. It had been a while…… although not exactly that many days, before I had resumed contact.
「……You want to mobilize the monsters?」
This was the first surprise. The first thing Olivia had said was that she wanted to make monsters appear around Abram for a day without causing any casualties.
「What I don’t want right now is to be forced to hide our troops. And on top of that, House Lambert thinks that we’re increasing our forces on the inside…… including the many spies we have, as you can see.」
It was true that if we dispatched our main forces around Abram, the soldiers who could move around in the city would be destroyed. However, it was already known that House Lambert already had a private army in secret. I could also imagine that there were others that would pose trouble just like those assassins. On the contrary, wouldn’t it actually be disadvantageous for us?
I posed the question, to which Olivia and Sara responded.
「You still don’t get it? Who do you think it is you’ve been embracing every night?」
「……Oh, that’s what you mean.」
「Ahem…… the knight Layla may be serious and good at horsemanship, but well… Don’t you think that having her on guard around you all the time is actually hindering our movements?」
Ah, I could somehow tell that Olivia was a little jealous of Layla. From her point of view, I hadn’t been able to embrace her that many times, so I couldn’t blame her. ……To be honest, part of me wished I could, right then and there. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.
「Sara, I’m going to place you toward the castle, so contact Daria on your end. She’s already memorized most of the Underground Waterways. You know how to mobilize large monsters, right?」
Astarte had been working at the shrine the entire time. I had already talked discussed where we should target, but contacting her hadn’t been going too well. Because there were times when customers came in late at night, it had been difficult to possess Dola’s body and hold meetings.
「I’m still waiting for Chana to report the progress on her research on the Assassination Guild……」
Olivie was speechless when I said that.
「It looks like it’s been a lot of trouble. As far as I know, two constituent members have been killed. It may be the end, but I hear that they didn’t have that many people to begin with.」
I wondered how she came to possess that information, but she said that she had checked every report from the guards in town, listened to rumors around town, and came to that conclusion. Even though the Assassination Guild’s member list had come into her possession beforehand beforehand, she wouldn’t have known their faces. I wondered how seriously she had taken her work.
「I’m just doing what I can. Luckily, I’m in a position where I can see information like that…… Besides, if we were only able to move openly, we would only exhaust ourselves dragging our opponents around on the surface. We have to use everything at our disposal if we are to survive.」
……I was somewhat relieved by what she said. It was the same with Daria and even Olivia. Even if I didn’t do anything, they knew how to think, investigate, judge, and act by themselves.
There’s not only one person leading the monsters of the Man Eating Dungeon. I was strangely happy to realize that.
「Just do what you can. I’ll see you again…… if all goes well.」
After that, I told them what had happened at Jemma Co., and that was the end of our short meeting. I contacted everyone else briefly, then went to my bed, embracing Layla in my sleep until dawn broke.