Translator: Adam Seacord
Through the plaza with the cheering crowd, the parade slowly moved up the main street. Either side of the road were already filled with people, engulfing the site with an odd sense of excitement. Of course, the crowd was never single-minded. Some genuinely celebrated, some were there to be entertained, and some just enjoyed the festive uproar without even knowing what the parade was for, alongside the merchants with pop-up shops and pick-pocketers who were after the purses of all of people above. The diverse crowd kept on cheering, for each their own reason.
The parade was led by soldiers with trumpets. They sounded their shiny trumpets to announce the initiation of the parade. These soldiers weren’t professional musicians, but at a time like this, they were greeted with thunderous applause and cheers. In front of each bar, the bards played along with their own instruments. The bustle of the crowd, the noise, and even the people followed the parade along its route. Even the horses, with plenty of experience on battlefields, were nervously looking around, putting the knights off of their game.
The parade after taking down the monster of the Man-Eating Dungeon was quite extravagant, but the only people in the crowd then were the residence of the city. But this time, it was a ceremony that exemplifies the future of the city. The number of people in the crowd were different to begin with, and the time spent to prepare the parade was not even a contest.
From a bird’s eye view, one could observe the major roads of the city, like arteries, and the people pouring in and out of them.
「The parade will be here, soon. You won’t be able to cross, then. Be careful!」
The knights on patrol were getting on edge on the future route of the parade. Even though they couldn’t join the parade… Well, because they didn’t join the parade, there were mountains of things that they could do. Keeping an uncontrollable crowd in check and guarding them is a difficult feat in and of itself. While they could arrest any low-ranking citizens, they were ordered to keep violence to a minimum on this day of celebration, and most knights didn’t have experience commanding people who were neither soldiers nor their subordinates. Still, the knights and soldiers kept up the good work. Since most merchants knew Olivia from her days as an official, they were supportive of her, which was good for us.
Because of the competition between Houses Roland and Lambert, many knights from both houses were ordered to attend the parade. Those guarding the parade were knights related to House Blare and their subordinates. To them, Olivia was truly a subject worthy of their protection, and someone who had proven her worth in the expedition to the Man Eating Dungeon. It wasn’t a particularly honorable position compared to the knights attending the Parade, they understood the importance of their duties. It had to do with the fact that Olivia’s assassination had been attempted more than once, and the few young men of House Blare had all died in tragic accidents. A perpetrator had been arrested red-handed, and many other attempts were prevented altogether. But all it would take is one assassination attempt to succeed.
「Any suspicious figures?」
「Any suspicious characters?」
「A man who seems to be an informant in New Town. We’re after him.」
The waterway city of Abram, that had originally prospered with business, had fewer knights and soldiers relative to its population. While the mercenaries are brought out as well, but they were ridiculously bad at these kinds of guard duty. Some suggested shrinking the parade, but they were met with various complaints that shut them down every time.
「For the… If there were five more, at least three more men could lead…」
A knight complained, but there were only so many people to go around. Even the soldiers under them were running around until late last night, and from early this morning. Battles that end quickly after vigorous exertion and calm but long-winded guard duties were a different story altogether. The parade had just begun, but the knights looked rather exhausted.
「Lady Gratina, I’m sorry. The crowd has blocked the way.」
The coachman said, bring Gratina’s attention back from looking down on Abram form a literal bird’s-eye-view. It seemed that the people’s movements on the actual day of the parade were contrary to her calculations.
「It can’t be helped. Pick a spot with as few people as possible, and move alongside the parade.」
It would have been best if she could have delegated everything without ever leaving the manor, but even her magic had restrictions. Besides, it was easier to act if she was on the scene. In either case, the staff left at the manor were all hypnotized by her already, where everyone believed entirely that she was still at the manor. Even if someone were to visit looking for her, all they could say was that she was unavailable for the moment.
Outside the carriage, she could hear the coachman and guards chasing the crowd away. Any drunk could come up to them, and even the robbers who wouldn’t ordinarily make a move could get cocky at a time like this and attack a small carriage. Gratina’s carriage concealed its Lambert crest, designed to be mistaken for a merchant’s carriage. This kind of interference was a byproduct of that design, and that’s why she had guarded the carriage with several men. While they were Lambert servants or the youngest sons of lower nobles, they were relatively useful when trouble was brewing, and they were marionettes ready to toss their life away, as a result of years of conditioning from Gratina. Most things that could go wrong in the city could be handled by these guards.
The carriage started rolling again. Gratina looked down at her mirror, and regained her bird’s-eye-view. As planned, the carriage was about to reach the first point of attack…
The parade reached Old Town, in the plaza where the market usually was. The large crowd that was waiting for it welcomed the parade with joyful cheers, and watched the marching. The polished armor gleamed under the daylight, and the embroidered helmets and coats gave off the appearance that each house was competing solely on the ground of extravagance.
「Look at that bright red flag, the outfit! Is that hulk of a man the young lord Roland?」
「So that means, the knight of the same size in blue armor is House Lambert’s next-in-line. Neither of them are even looking at each other. 」
「I heard that young Lord Roland once vanquished a horde of monsters in a cave…」
「It couldn’t have been just him. But even if that were true, he couldn’t beat the princess when it comes to monster hunting.」
There were many travelers among the crowd here, but those who had the luxury of watching the parade from their window were mostly natives of Abram. They usually had no interaction with the noble class, and this was their chance to toss in their two cents.
House Lambert, had made its name and fortune in water-transport (both in and out of the city), and House Roland was more self-sufficient by operating their vineyards and gardens, they were the garden nobles in the city. Both houses had significant history, and they had been in competition with one another through most of it.
Historically, most Earls of Abram were from one of these houses. Although House Blare was close to House Lambert by blood, it was an exception to have a member of their house as their Earl… Although, any long-time resident of Abram would say that the prosperity of the city was a fruit of the current Earl of Abram’s labor. And that’s why, since Olivia was Earl Abram’s niece and only heir, her choice of husband was a perfect topic for bar gossip.
A particularly large, elegant but not gaudy, four-horse-drawn carriage entered the plaza adorning the sigil of Abram. There was a small alcove in the back the size of a storage closet, but the front half of the carriage was lacking a roof, and all of the walls save for a waist-high guardrail. A large chair was placed in the center, on which a woman sat, smiling and waving to the crowd.
「Oh, here they come! That’s the main squad.」
「Look, on the carriage… That must be Lady Olivia.」
「She used to visit shops in rugged clothes… Well I always knew she was a beauty, but this really suits her well.」
「She’s so beautiful… I wonder if it’s true that she can only love women…」
「Rumor has it, the magician in the blue dress next to her is her lover… She’s a stunner, too. Little lacking in the chest department, though. 」
「So, what’s the deal? The next lord Abram is that magician, since she’s Lady Olivia’s lover… Maybe she’s a man after all!」
「Ooh… But I actually wouldn’t mind going to bed with another woman, if it’s Lady Olivia…」
Any conversation from within a building would never reach the attendees of the parade. Most citizens who took advantage of that fact to gossip only did so out of pure curiosity. Meanwhile, the soldiers at guard couldn’t be bothered with gossip.
The most obvious threat of danger was being sniped with bow and arrow from above. A warning would be issued from below, and after a shouting argument, the residence would reluctantly close the window… Of course, the window would be open again in a matter of minutes.
「It’s a stressful situation from a guarding stand point.」
Knight Layla, now riding her horse alongside Olivia’s carriage mumbled as she looked around. The best way to avoid assassination was to not have a parade in the first place, but she understood that cancelling the parade wasn’t an option. Only, Olivia’s popularity far surpassed the imagination of Layla, who was stoic and therefore less aware of the world around her. Elliot had described it to her to some degree, but what she witnessed was far beyond that.
Next to her, on the carriage, the magician Sara was gazing at the scene, helpless. Layla had met this woman at Elliot’s shop a few times, and had the impression that Sara wasn’t a fan of hers. Which made Layla hesitant to spark a conversation with her.
…Even with her limited experience with romance, she could vaguely tell that Sara had feelings for Elliot. She recalled that when she was guarding Elliot, Sara had given her a look of evident caution. While she was clueless about romance, her experience on the battlefield had told her that much. Besides, she was aware of her own pinch of superiority she had felt when Sara gave her that look because she was happy to be bedded by Elliot.
「…Lady Layla, may I?」
Someone spoke to her from behind, and Layla turned. While she didn’t recognize her, it was a lady knight working for House Blare. Layla recalled that she was a messenger, stationed toward the back of the carriage, so she must have been a lower noble. Her light armor has simple and effective, but Layla noticed the particularly large necklace on her.
Layla wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, so she didn’t possess the ability to memorize the faces of all the non-Lambert knights… Even so, her impression of this woman was that she had no distinguishing features, save for the necklace.
「Yes, what is it? Were there any orders?」
Layla nearly lost herself in her thoughts, but she couldn’t forget to attend to her surroundings. She picked up the conversation, while dividing her attention all around her.
「Yes, but also… I’ve always want to speak with you. Elliot-san and his friends have told me about you.」
「Oh, you know them… I have been quite a burden… Well, he has been very good to me…」
She wondered how much Elliot had told this woman. Even though she could feel her face redden for a moment, she knew that no one would blabber about their business in bedroom to everyone they knew. With her force of will, she kept herself from stuttering all over, and kept an especially stoic tone.
「He said that you were very good to him, ever since he first opened his shop in Abram.」
「Oh… Just because I live in the neighborhood. I would tell people about his shop just because I wanted to. Seemed like the neighborly thing to do.」
Layla wondered if she had let her relief show, but if that’s all she wanted to talk about, she didn’t need to be dishonest. Seeming to be happy that Layla had answered, the knight asked her:
「I’ve also heard that you teach the less privileged children in the city how to read and write. Personally, I think it’s admirable… But why for practically no return?」
This was another topic she could be honest about. While she had a faint concern for how much Elliot had told this woman, Layla answered:
「…My father did the same. Just knowing how to read and write, just understanding the concept of basic arithmetic makes a world of difference for a child’s future… And if more kids are educated that way, there will be more talent to go around in the future. Before I started serving the House, I learned alongside those children.」
The knight seemed to ponder for a while after hearing this, but spoke again after that:
「…Layla-san, your father must have been a wonderful man. You are the living proof of it.」
Layla was sure that the knight didn’t mean anything by it, just an honest sentiment. Nevertheless, those words pricked Layla like thorns.
Then, why was my father…
「Oh, please excuse me. I must tell you. When the carriage passes the center of the plaza, Sara will draw attention to herself. When she does, please see if anyone close pays her no mind.」
Then the lady knight fell back behind the carriage. Layla could tell that only a select few of them were given these orders. She was the messenger… Most likely working for Olivia directly.
「…You heard her. I’m going to make a move soon. You do your job.」
Sara the magician mumbled without even a glance at Layla. She seemed confident that Layla had heard her.
「…I did. I’m not sure why I was selected, but if it is necessary to protect the carriage, of course I will cooperate.」
After a moment, the magician stood up.
「Tell you the truth, it’s a gambit trusting you. And not just you. We don’t know who’s spying for who, except for a few of Olivia’s close friends. But Elliot vouched for you, so… I know you’re good at what you do.」
The small box opened in the magician’s hands, in which Layla could see powder of various colors, gem fragments, some sort of tree root, and may other things crammed into bins and bags. Although Layla knew little about magic, she could guess that they were catalysts for casting some sort of spell.
「…A knight fulfills her duties.」
And I would never let Elliot down… She almost added. Layla wanted to mock herself for naturally thinking such a thing, but she didn’t feel too bad about it. She looked away from Sara, and searched the crowd around them, and windows in the buildings. Sara was about to cast a spell, and the eyes of most anyone in the crowd would be drawn to it. If anyone isn’t… There was a good chance that that person was up to something else.
Layla wondered if it was Sara or Olivia who had come up with this strategy, but she quickly gave up on reaching a conclusion. She reminded herself that she was standing on a battlefield, feeling the weight of her sword on her belt. Her Master Lubreo, whom she had devoted her unrequited love for, had rewarded her loyalty with a magical sword. Elliot, whom she now had a special relationship with all because of a small coincidence, trusted her immensely.
I must be a lucky woman. If I can’t at least return the favor with my work… I shall never call myself a knight again.