Translator: Adam Seacord
That day, the Lady Knight Layla returned to her home, and bathed after doing some packing. Although, “bathing” didn’t necessarily mean in one’s own bathtub, unless that person was filthy rich. Thanks to Abram’s plentiful water supply and public bath that opened ten years ago, many of its citizens did bathe habitually, but most normally rinsed with water or wiped themselves with hot water and a cloth. For a contract knight like Layla who had no land nor equity, the hot water her nanny prepared for her and a clean, dry towel were already a treat.
「Misstress, you’re leaving already?」
「Uh-huh. They told me a monster appeared by the major road. I’ll go earn some brownie points.」
Nunna the nanny wasn’t told why her master Layla, whom she had raised since Layla was a child, was staying at Elliot’s shop for the a few nights.
「There must be other knights working for that House than you, mistress… And, Elliot-san, was it? The young Lord Lambert seems to have high esteems of him… And you have some feelings for him, don’t you?」
「Wha…!? Th-That has nothing to do with this!」
That’s precisely why Nunna could see a future between Elliot and Layla.
「That man doesn’t seem to have any bones when it comes to fighting, but he seems good at his business… I hear that knights can’t make a living anymore just by striving on the battlefield. This old hag thinks he would make a decent husband.」
Without even knowing, Layla blushed. While her relationship to him was too complicated to describe, she wasn’t absent of feeling from her, and her body had imprinted the ecstasy from numerous accounts of coitus.
「I… Running late! We’ll talk about it later!」
The aging nanny watched with a smile as her mistress fled. The woman never would have dreamt of seeing her girl smile like she did, and blush like any other girl her age, before this previous year…
「It looks she’s already slept with him… What is my little mistress thinking about?」
Her husband joined Layla’s brother and father at the battlefield, and never returned. Layla’s mother, for whom Nunna had originally worked for, was always sickly, and died young during childbirth. Since Nunna had never borne a child of her own, Layla was her master and like her child all at the same time. It was only naturally that Nunna wished for any glimpse of happiness in the girl.
「I wish Elliot-san would go after her a little more aggressively.」
As Layla passed the gate of House Lambert and headed toward the storage area to prepare for her journey with the other knights, Gratina the Housekeeper stopped her in her tracks.
「Knight Layla, you will depart tomorrow morning as part of the second dispatch. Regarding that, Master Lubreo will instruct you further. Stay at the manor for the night.」
While there were quite a few female working if the maids and workers were taken into account, but there were only a few female soldiers who guarded the ladies of the manor, other than Knight Layla. Layla staying at the manor signified her mission to guard Lubreo.
「…Understood. As for guarding Elliot…」
「You needn’t concern yourself with that. Standby in your room.」
And so the conversation was cut short, and Layla felt herself slightly annoyed. The housekeeper paid no mind to that, as she continued:
「There were no attacks during the few days while you guarded him. This probably means that the monster and her gang aren’t in a hurry to kill him… That he doesn’t know anything they don’t want us to know. 」
With that, she quickly walked away without any interest.
Tightening her fists, Layla silently went into the small room provided for her. The workers had already looked over armor and other equipment, but Layla always made a point to check her own equipment, to which she would rely on to protect her life.
She was first drawn to the magical sword Lubreo had purchased for her a few days ago. It was a long sword from the shelf of Elliot’s shop, more expensive than she could afford after saving for a year, and lighter but stronger and more resilient than normal, suited well for defensive combat. The House goldsmith had carved the Lambert crest into the sheath, albeit simple, which was a nice, decorative touch. While she looked over her new magical sword and its every detail, she continued to check her other equipment.
There were more than a few knights who didn’t think kindly of a female knight like her. While it wasn’t anything serious, her equipment had been tampered with more than once or twice. To her relief, nothing was amiss this time. As for her gloves, she carried around the pair that Elliot had loaned her to advertise the shop, which had no way of being messed with.
「…My gloves, gauntlets, and now my sword… At this rate, I’d be covered in Elliot’s creations save for my underwear.」
As soon as she whispered that to herself, she was reminded of their consummation from the previous night, making her blush.
What has become of me? I had pleasant feelings about him. I have always liked that man, more or less. Still, I was convinced that Elliot had Daria, and that they lived in a space where I couldn’t intrude. Before I knew it, I was climbing onto him like a prostitute…
Even when Elliot assertively asked her bed since then, the fact that she initiated their first time, and the tinge of guilt she felt for taking Daria away from Elliot prevented her from refusing him.
There weren’t many House Lambert knights that saw Layla as their comrade. Lubreo didn’t pay much mind to that fact, but he was by no means kind. Layla understood that, even though they had grew up together when they were young, Lubreo had no reason to favor an executed prisoner’s daughter… Her understanding never wavered, even after she began climbing into Lubreo’s bed. And now, Layla was too stoic to admit to herself that she was happy to have Elliot inside of her.
「…Father. Brother. I’ll be home, soon…」
She remembered the words Lubreo had spoken to her, for the first time in the past few years, that affirmed her knightly prowess. To take back her land and rebuild her house… That was Layla’s lifelong dream and curse. She had sacrificed everything for it. She had long abandoned any hopes for happiness as a woman. Layla, when she was only ten, swore to herself to protect her people, live a life of valor, and clear her father’s name… This became her curse. Despite her father’s and brother’s faces fading away into hazy memory, her oath remained as clear as day.
「Please enter the room, armed.」
By the time the maid had called for Layla, it was a little late for the time of an evening meeting. The request to be armed was rare, before tomorrow’s departure. Thinking that, perhaps they would have a ritualistic sparring like they did before jousting matches, Layla walked through the manor. As she noticed that she wasn’t passing any knights along the way, she asked the maid about it, for her to reply:
「Everyone else had been gathered over an hour ago…」
Layla didn’t ask the maid, who seemed quite terrified, any more questions before entering the hall. This was where the knights would gather to hold strategic meetings and to drink in merriment. As they often wore armor to these gatherings, stone tiles adorned the floor in lieu of carpet like the guest quarters. As soon as she opened the door, a thick heat wafted out, along with a smell that Layla had become familiar with over the past few days.
「Layla, there you are. I’m sure you can see why you were called in last.」
From the furthest and tallest point of the room, Lubreo spoke to her from a chair. There knights with their armor partially or completely scattered around the room between them. In the middle of them was a maid covered in semen. Layla recalled her as the laundry maid. Her maid’s uniform were torn to pieces, revealing most of her skin, and her shoulder-length red hair was strewn as it, along with her face, were covered in semen and blood. Her face appeared to be beaten, as her cheeks were swollen and blood trickled out of her mouth along with semen.
「What in the world…!?」
The other woman in the room, Gratina the Housekeeper, answered as she stood by the window.
「This woman took money from our adversaries in exchange for various information. We discovered magical surveillance items, and here we are.」
Some of the knights gave a subtle awkward look as Layla entered, but most of them paid no mind, or else, cracked a slimy grimace saying:
「When I’m told that administering punishment is part of the job…」
「This job wasn’t suited for you, knight Layla.」
Layla nearly enraged. She could never forgive a traitor to her master, but how could this beating be acceptable behavior for any knight? While it was clear that Gratina had orchestrated this, it was evidently under permission and knowledge of her master Lubreo, to which she could not object.
「…There are many methods to interrogate someone.」
With her emotions suppressed, that’s all she mumbled. The knights in the room mockingly stared at her, but she decided to ignore them. She couldn’t deny that this maid’s crime was even worthy of death.
「…She confessed that she was working for House Roland.」
Layla was speechless, hearing this from Lubreo. House Roland was once of the oldest Houses in Abram, always competing with House Lambert, and they were famously ill-tempered. They boasted a sizeable army, and if House Lambert were to take them on, while they most likely wouldn’t lose, there would be considerable catastrophes.
「Whether that’s true or not, we can’t make a move now. I doubt they’re stupid enough to leave any evidence behind, either… There’s no weight behind her testimony.」
He undoubtedly had already completed a simulation of the two houses clashing, and when city nobles clashed within the city, it was the citizens of Abram who suffered. Besides, in that case, it wasn’t unlikely that both houses would be punished by Earl Abram.
「I understand… But I thought tonight’s meeting was about the monsters threatening the city?」
「Most of our procedures are already decided. All you have to do is follow the orders and march on. This is just a little show. To demonstrate to the people that House Lambert will not falter. …Now, Layla.」
Lubreo’s voice, while not loud, echoed through the room with weight.
「All of the men here have already punished this woman, and she’s outlived her use… We’ll end this with you… Off with her head. 」
Layla’s face froze. It wasn’t that she didn’t see this coming… But that didn’t mean she would no qualms with it, either. While the woman’s face was now swollen from the beating, she wasn’t ugly to begin with. Layla didn’t know her well, but she remembered most faces that walked in the manor. Layla thought her name was Grace.
「No… Help me, please… Don’t kill me, I’ll do… Anything…」
The pathetic spy, who had been raped and beating by a dozen men. Perhaps she couldn’t foresee this outcome. Perhaps she knew the risk and took it anyway. She tried to flee, but she couldn’t stand as her legs seemed broken. She lifted her torso up with her arms and dragged herself away, slowly. But she was soon surrounded by the knights in the room, and cornered.
Looking as if she had misplaced her emotions somewhere, Layla drew her sword. The tip of it slightly quivered.
「That woman’s a traitor. You understand, don’t you?」
No emotions were present in Lubreo’s statement. Even still, the knights in the room grimaced. They peered at Layla, whose parent had been dubbed a traitor and executed on the battlefield.
「You are a Lambert knight. So, swing your sword for me.」
Slowly, her sword was raised.
「Please, help, help, don’t kill me, no, no!」
Quiet words escaped Layla’s mouth, which were not heard by the maid fearing her impending death, nor the grimacing knights around her:
「Treachery, is unforgivable. As a knight, unforgiveable… I, I…」
Her screams were cut short, preventing it from breaching the walls of the hall. Grace’s head bounced up nearly to the ceiling, and spraying blood, fell by Layla’s side. The body crashed down to the floor, and twitched for a few moments before turning as motionless as a marionette with no strings. Blood gushed from the cut, and painted the floor red. The stench of blood filled the room.
「Woah, I thought you would hesitate, but you proved me wrong.」
The men cheered Layla on, and complimented her swordsmanship. Layla’s expression remained rigidly frozen.
「My knights. As you’ve witnesses, Knight Layla is one of us. A loyal Lambert knight. You can trust her.」
With Lubreo’s declaration, the men threw their clothes back on, and started to pack.
「We leave half an hour after dawn tomorrow. Rest early tonight.」
Gratina spoke to the knights as she called a servant to take care of the maid’s body. Lubreo stood, and approached Layla.
「Well done, Layla.」
「Master Lubreo, I…」
Finally regaining herself, Layla looked up at him.
「Here are your orders for tonight. Gratina will clean your sword. Wash up, and come to my room immediately.」