Translator: Adam Seacord
「That’s troubling… People with power usually have a variety of tactics in their arsenal.」
I told Astarte about Gratina when she came to the shop, and told her not to come back any time soon. I could guess and predict what they would do, but it was always possible that they would do something unpredictable. I couldn’t have been too careful facing off a witch. I would place audio-transmitting items at the Spider’s Web, too, where I would have Astarte remain for the time being.
In addition to that, I wanted to seek her guidance she undoubtedly had some insight on magic. She would never say so herself, but Astarte was definitely of noble birth. She was born around the same time my mother was, and she hadn’t returned to the human world after being turned into a monster, so I was sure that no information would leak from people she knew. …Besides, it was likely that she wasn’t even from this country, but I decided not to prod her about that. I was only interested in what she must know about the world of nobles, their through process, and how they tried to handle things.
「So, Master Elliot, she works as a noble’s housekeeper?」
Astarte double checked. As far as I knew, the answer was yes, and I only knew that she had been working for them since the elderly current Head of the House took power, and that they were no other housekeepers nor butlers. With her right hand on her chin, and with some consideration, Astarte said:
「I believe… Well, it’s very peculiar, so we’ll have to verify this, but… I think her sole weakness is that she is too busy.」
I must have sounded taken aback at how mundane the answer seemed to be.
「You mean she’s busied by her work as a housekeeper?」
Daria asked in my stead.
「Yes. From what I hear, House Lambert is one of the most powerful noble houses in Abram. Even her official duties alone should encompass a lot of work. Even if they have a dedicated manager for each of their lands and gardens outside of the city, taking care of an entire mansion is quite a feat, and as the Head’s right-hand, she would be involved in politics even more than work around the house.」
The duties of a city noble. I was sure there were countless things to be done, but I barely knew any details about it. I just realized that, even though Olivia had simply told me it was hard work, I had no idea what it specifically entailed.
「What does her work entail, for example?」
「A housekeeper’s job, foremost, is to manage all those who work for you. Even if the chief-maid takes care of the house, and the gardener and stable-keep take care of the grounds, the housekeeper would direct them and collect their reports. Of course, if anything exceeded her boundaries, she would turn to the Head of the House, but I doubt that anything happening around the house would not be handled by her.」
「Hmm. So it’s like the job of the clerk at Jemma Firm. That does seem like a lot of work.」
「That’s not all. If the House is involved in any ventures… You said House Lambert was licensed in some sort of business. What was it, again?」
I remembered asking Olivia about this. What was it…?
「Master. I believe House Lambert is in charge of Abram’s water-transporting business. They also provide loans to them.」
Daria jumped in with the helping hand.
「That’s right. Only the care and management of the water gates are performed by Earl Abram, but the rest was in House Lambert’s pockets, she said.」
「In that case, she would also be in charge of receiving reports from those transport companies and moneylenders, and delivering them to the Head of the House. Within her duties, if anything was within her power to make a decision about, she would do so in order to lighten the load of her boss.」
「…That’s more like a head clerk than just a clerk. Even Old-man Jemma only has a few of those in his firm.」
「There’s more. While it may seem inconsequential, the social circle is a vital part of noble life. An invitation for a party is an announcement of a relationship between houses, and depending on the efforts put into the occasion, that relationship can grow or dwindle. I won’t go into the details about those things, but… These are all time-consuming, important duties. Naturally, in noble society, various information from people’s taste in food to taste in the opposite sex, to the number of fine art pieces in possession and an eye to find one… Are all considered a precious commodity. While she doesn’t necessarily need to be well versed in all of those things, it would be one of her essential duties to decide who does what, and what orders to give whom in these fields.」
Just listening to how much work she does gave me a headache. Out of all of that information, there was one that I really needed.
「…I see. If Gratina really did the work as the sole housekeeper of House Lambert, her workload will become her weakness.」
「Yes. You may be surprised to know that nobles are busy people. Therefore, the owner of those Cursing Eyes won’t be able to make as many moves as we can in the same time.」
「Dive into their territory before they’re ready… Can we pull it off?」
「It won’t be easy. Just because she’s tied down, it doesn’t mean she can’t move quickly.」
Astarte answered with some thought. I was worried about the same thing.
「Right. She may be busy, but she’ll have people to move… Besides. Within the next few days, they’ll sniff me out. They won’t be able to verify it, but I’ll be in their line-up.」
「What? Master, what do you…?」
Daria raised her voice in surprise. Astarte seemed to already comprehend.
「Daria, what happed before we came to Abram?」
「When the army… Oh.」
Daria caught on, too.
「Yes. They know that the monster of the Man-Eating Dungeon slipped into Abram around the same time when the army returned. Gratina’s first move is, undoubtedly, to flush out everyone who came to Abram around that time.」
「It’s on the records when Master Elliot had his Merchant’s license printed. Anyone from House Lambert could access that public record with ease.」
「But… Then, can’t we prevent that, somehow?」
Daria started to sound worried… About harm coming my way, it seemed like.
「It would be extremely difficult to forge an official document, and it would be dangerous to destroy one. If Earl Abram finds out, he would begin to suspect us, and that won’t be good for Olivia-san.」
「Making a move now would be detrimental if they have eyes on us. So, we have to give up that end. What we can do is make up some other suspicious figure, but… It’ll only buy us time.」
Then, what could I do? This time, my usual tactics seemed fruitless. My opponent this time was not a charging army, but someone with similar tactics as me, with more weapons in her arsenal. In exchange, she had less time than eye. We were playing on the same board under different rules.
What can I do? What will she do? Think. Think. When I stop thinking, that’s when I lose.
My advantage was that I could move quietly, and that my identity remained hidden. Their disadvantage was her inability to hide completely as long as she belong to House Lambert. My disadvantage was that I had devastatingly less pieces on the board than my opponent. To top it off, it would be more difficult to contact any of them directly, in attempt to keep those relationships hidden. Their advantage was the power of a noble, and the people connected to the House whom she could use. She may also have money, but she couldn’t spend it all on…
Something wasn’t right. Gratina was the housekeeper. It’s not like she controlled all of House Lamberts assets. Of course, it wasn’t impossible for her to have played some tricks with her Cursing Eyes, but I thought it was rather unlikely. Still, something didn’t feel right.
「…House Lambert’s businesses are mostly water-transport and moneylending… Who are their major clients?」
I was missing something. A city is a living thing. House Lambert, to which Gratina belonged to, didn’t simply exist in the middle of that. They had ties of money, people, and commerce. They had enemies and they had friends.
「Master, the company in charge of managing the water-transport companies, that also provides loans to small and medium companies…」
Daria flipped through her memory. Her face gloomed.
「…Is also the biggest retailer in this city. Jemma Firm.」
While all parties were unaware, we were already connected. This city was a spider’s web, with countless strings weaved underwater. Both Gratina and I were waiting for the other to move and pull the strings of the web we stood on. One hasty move, and she would know through the vibrations in the web. Then, I would no longer be the spider, but the butterfly trapped in the web.
Well. Both of us are staring down each other trying to devour them… I suppose we’re both spiders.
「…Jemma Firm holds no animosity towards us. But they would oblige a small favor from their business partner. We can assume they will find out about Daria and I… We have to be careful what we say around that old man from now on.」
Daria’s overly stoic expression actually made me relax.
「Daria, if you look so tense, he’ll see right through you.」
「Wha? Oh, I’m sorry. I was thinking about how to deal with…」
Daria made Astarte smile, too.
「Daria, don’t worry too much. If you let it consume you, you’ll look even more suspicious… Let’s see. I think it would be useful to rehearse some conversations so you’ll know what to say when he asks you some questions.」
After speaking with Astarte, I sent her off with some directions for the Assassin’s Guild. Then, I contacted Sara to have her report to Olivia, as well as look into who had come to research the paperwork for around the time the army returned, if she could.
Sara had some good news, too. The catalyst I had asked her to treat had been completed, which would allow me to create a new type of magical item. This items was a more powerful version of the mind-tricking item I had given Shiro before. I predicted that I could enchant these items with hallucinatory magic which could portray the wearer as a different person, or have the wearer lose the ability to recognize the people around them.
However, I was quite nervous about keeping my workspace in the basement of my shop. A burglar, courtesy of House Lambert, could drop by at any time. I was sure that I should take this opportunity to move it to the depths of the underground waterways. Leaving a small toolkit, I packed up the rest.
I called Nubia and Miyabi for them to come over in the dead of night, to have them move everything to Miyabi’s new lair. Until then, Daria and I would pack up. I remembered when I had packed up my things before: Right before the mining village was attacked, and then before moving to this town. The first time, Astarte help me pack to flee under the moon. But the next time, Astarte, along with Daria, Shiro, Sara, and Diana helped me prepare our move to Abram. I was only moving within the city of Abram, but it almost felt like a flee in the night again.
「I haven’t rushed to pack anything since getting ready to run out of the mining village.」
I was bending over a lot, and my lower back was starting ache. I was stretching my back with this complaint when Daria chuckled:
「I was so happy that day… I had never been outside of that village and you asked me to come with you, Master. That time, I couldn’t help you pack, but this time…」
「Even then, Astarte barely helped… Well, unlike you now, Astarte wasn’t helping me with making the magical items either, so I’m she didn’t know what do with most of these things… She grew up in a comfortable home, I think.」
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