Translator: Adam Seacord Editor: Weasalopes
The court of Abram was bustling in anticipation of the parade. There was a particular spotlight on Earl Abram’s distance relative, who had vanquished the monster of the mining village, and who had now been recognized as the earl’s heir. She also had the experience of working as the paladin for the River Goddess in the Grand Cathedral of Palmira, a major city to the west. Her reputation as a talented business advisor preceded her arrival to the city. Her name was Olivia.
However, after she had returned from an expedition, an additional rumor was floating around about Olivia. The rumor, which grew among the nests of the palace pigeons, was that she was only capable of loving women.
Starting with hiring the beautiful adventurer-slash-magician Sara, who had made a name for herself during the expedition, as her private court magician, rumor also had it that she was in intimate relations with a priestess who had a respectable position among the groups of priests who served the Wisdom of the Elder Tree (one of the branches of worship in the temple of Abram). Men in power see this as a political strategy, while the gossiping girls, distant from any politics, don’t see it that way.
…Sara was the messenger, and the priestess was saved from being kidnapped and raped by a corrupt priest, but now they both served as important connections for Olivia to solidify her power. However, neither of them could be seen out in the open. Olivia had accepted all of those rumors as a sense of smokescreen to conceal the truth.
While she was charismatic, her appearance was not boyish by any stretch of the imagination. But, for the young noble girls, she was a mysterious figure they rarely came in contact with, and Olivia, who was a paladin and politician, dressed quite differently than the noble girls. Many of the girls saw the impression of the opposite sex… A certain manliness to her appearance.
To the amazement of those noble girls, Olivia’s next conquest was one of their own: None other than Nina, a close friend of Lady Nora of House Roland (one of the major competitors of House Blare). Olivia and Nina walking through the city together had no chance of escaping ogling eyes. The news would reach Nora in no time. The pigeons were cowering despite their anticipation for the storm to come.
In a nook of the palace, there is a salon where the noble girls gathered. Abram’s salon was smaller in scale compared to that of the Capital or Palmira, but still sizable. At this moment, two women occupied the small table in the center of the salon, who were speaking in hushed murmurs, nose-to-nose. Around them was a meticulous guise of disinterest, as everyone intently listened without uttering a word. The two women at the table were Olivia and Nina.
「The order was… To take her to the designated location at dusk tonight. Is that right?」
She confirmed the order Nina was given. While Nina couldn’t refuse the threatening order, she could sabotage it.
「Yes… But to take such measures…」
Hesitantly, Nina protested as she kept her eyes pointed at the table.
「You want to protect her, don’t you?」
「…I do, but…」
Nina was still reluctant. The situation had grown far beyond her control, and she had more than one thing she wanted to protect. So, she had decided to lean on Olivia.
「What would Nora do in this situation? You know her much better than I do.」
「I think… Nora would go there herself.」
「If we can get across using the method you told me…」
Before she could finish, the air in the salon shifted. The waiting staff stopped in their tracks, and the young nobles held their breath for a moment. Olivia maintained a smile and continued talking to Nina, without even another look. …No one there could possibly tell that Olivia was still worried by the petitions she had to take care of.
A girl, with rather wide shoulders, had come up to the table. While she wasn’t short, her figure appeared smaller. A thin, feminine layer of fat coated her slender, disciplined muscles. The girl who stood there resembled a warrior statue erected in a temple.
「…Mistress of House Blare. May I have a word?」
Nina jolted at that voice. While the voice was hushed and controlled… Her rage seeped through.
「…I figured it was about time you came to me, Miss Nora Roland. I would love to have a nice chat with you.」
While her tone was collected, Olivia was tense to keep herself from being overtaken by Nora’s anger. While she couldn’t let Nora calm down, and she could possibly handle her exploding here and now, that wasn’t what Olivia hoped for.
「The lady with blue hair isn’t with you today.」
「Sara the magician? There are somethings only she can handle, so we’re not always together. …I’m just a newcomer in this court, so I need a lot of friends to help me out.」
While Nora was angry, Olivia knew that she wasn’t stupid. With that in mind, she chose her words carefully.
Desperate to contribute, Nina spoke out. Nora looked at her face, and noticed something odd.
「Nina, your glasses…」
The glasses that Nina was wearing didn’t belong to her. Olivia had lent Nina her spare pair of glasses to substitute for the pair that was broken when Lubreo had raped Nina. As a result, although Olivia’s pair adorned some detailed decorations, they were both wearing the same style of glasses. A woman would notice it more easily than any man. These glasses served as evidence to confirm the rumors for many court pigeons. …That Nora’s closest friend was taken away by Olivia the newcomer.
Olivia covered her mouth with her hand, and shifted her expression. Some would say that she smiled. Nora’s expression drastically changed.
「Take a look.」
Even Olivia’s whispers sounded close to my ears through the audio-transmitting item she was holding. I looked through the Water to see what Olivia was seeing. While I couldn’t be completely certain, I couldn’t see anyone hiding with magic, or any magical items in her line of sight… Or so I thought. I noticed something at the corner of her eye.
Looking at the intel regarding the Salon that Sara had provided, I confirmed that I was looking at Gratina’s Eye. This wasn’t a problem. In fact, we practically picked this location because of it.
「You’re good. She looks enraged, but not under a spell… I’m not completely certain though, since I’m looking through Water. Be careful.」
My voice traveled through the device on the temple of her glasses to Olivia. She had no time to verbally respond, but she squeezed the item for a sound of acknowledgment.
I had closed the shop that day, in the guise of an inventory day. While many schemes intermingled as the parade approached, there was one thing left that I had to support. Olivia guiding Nora Roland to where we want her to be. Nina, after being raped, was blackmailed with that fact and her fiancé, and coerced to lead Nora somewhere. Most likely, Gratina had planned to have Lubreo take Nora for himself. While I couldn’t discern their goal in its entirety, any gain for House Lambert would likely end in our disadvantage. So, we had decided to sabotage it.
We ended up rescuing Nora as a result, but only because it benefited us, not because it was the right thing to do… Although, if Olivia could befriend Nora, we could potentially befriend all of House Roland. I had no problem doing as much as we could for the future.
「Daria, bring me a pitcher of…」
I uttered out of habit, then realized that Daria was currently in the depths of the underground waterways. Some time had passed since she went into hiding there, but my force of habit persisted. Since the sun was nowhere near setting, Shiro and Diana were most likely still asleep or during reconnaissance. Astarte had been locked up in the Temple for a separate operation, but I was sure she would pull it off.
…There were some things about Astarte’s past that I had discovered, but it would be a while until I could ask her about them. I had asked Jemma Firm for a favor in order to confirm it, but they hadn’t told me that any package had arrived, yet.
As I let my thoughts wander, things were getting interesting on the other side of the Water.
「”Why are you with her, out of all people?”…It’s written all over your face.」
Olivia said, as she stood up purposefully slowly.
With some tension in her stance, Olivia leered at Nora. A palace pigeon, who had been watching this from the end of the room, let out a small cry.
「Nora-san. I’ve heard that your Nina-san’s best friend.」
「That’s right. And you have no…」
Olivia swallowed quietly. She spoke with a forced light-hearted tone, as if to taunt Nora by interrupting her. Choosing her words with care:
「On the golden bed of the fiery goddess of war. I’ve only recently come in acquaintance with Nora-san, so I’m a little jealous. But I don’t think we can have the chat, after all.」
A mocking delivery. But Olivia’s expression was far from relaxed. She painted on a defiant smile, but if one looked closely, they should have been able to see the tiny beads of sweat.
With those words, Nora’s faced flushed bright red, then drained immediately. She fell quiet, with her eyes pointed down, to the side. After several moments of silence, Nora looked up, and declared:
「Is that so… But I have something to say to you. Won’t you join us, Nina? You won’t say no to me, would you?」
Olivia nodded subtly, and encouraged Nina to come with them. All blood had left Nina’s face by this point, but she started walking alongside Olivia.
「Well, Nora-san. Where shall we go? It’s a mess right now, but should we use my office?」
「Why would we? Just shut up and follow me, won’t you?」
With utter disregard for the murmurs of the spectators around them, Nora kept walking. Olivia slowly looked around, smiled, then followed her along with Nina. No one in that room would understand why she had smiled.
They exited the palace, and climbed into a carriage that adorned the sigil of House Roland. While it was decorated to catch an eye, it was a large carriage with a reinforced roof, as if to exemplify the lifestyle of House Roland. Most likely crafted with any potential attacks on it in mind.
As soon as they had boarded the carriage, Nora commanded the coachman, and they started moving. The wheels clamored, at first, but once the door was closed, it was less noticeable.
「No one will overhear us in here… So, what in the world is going on?」
Nora instigated, her anger seeming to have subsided. Hearing this, Nina seemed to finally relax. With tears in her eyes, she hugged Nora.
「Nora… Thank goodness. I was so, so worried that you and Lady Olivia would fight…」
Surprised by her best friend jumping into her arms, Nora looked at Olivia helplessly. Olivia held something up to her mouth and mumbled, but soon turned back to Nora, composed.
「No tricks in this carriage, it looks like.」
「Both the carriage and the coachman have earned my house’s trust. That’s without question. What did you want to do exactly, other than piss me off?」
While Nora was completely rational, she did seem short-tempered, true to the rumors. As she consoled her best friend’s tears who wouldn’t let go of her, her attention was devoted to the conspicuous newcomer, Olivia.
「Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just a coward. But I’m glad your secret code with her worked… Even though I knew what it meant, I was worried that you wouldn’t believe me if I was the one who had said it.」
「Right. Your cowardice made you cause such a scene… “On the golden bed of the fiery goddess of war” means that everything you’re about to say is the opposite of the truth. I just thought there had to be a reason for Nina to tell you that code. If this is all for nothing, I’ll going to beat your pretty face to a pulp.」
「…I wanted witnesses to see that you forcibly took Nina away. Otherwise, it won’t end well for her.」
Hearing this, Nora’s expression switched again.
「What do you mean? Don’t tell me…」
「Yes, she’s being blackmailed. We don’t have evidence for who’s behind it so I can’t tell you… But they’re after you.」
「I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Nora… I couldn’t do anything… I couldn’t even, tell you… I wanted to die, but I was scared…」
「Sh-Shut up! Don’t you talk about dying! Sure he doesn’t seem too strong, but you have a fiancé, and… Oh, what in the world is going on!?」
As she consoled her sobbing friend, Nora urged Olivia to continue.
「…I have many enemies. When I was looking into things, I found out, by coincidence, that she was in a desperate situation. From my point of view, I just wanted to prevent you from aiding my enemies, since I wasn’t sure whose side you would take… I only rescued her for my own gain, so don’t thank me for it.」