I arrived at the Jemma Co. lunch just in time.
The clerk who led me the way was polite enough not to question the fact that the woman beside me was not Dalia, but Layla, the well known knight of the Lambert family.
Of course, their master, Old Jemma was a completely different story.
「Oh, what a surprise. Instead of Dalia today I see a very interesting pairing of faces.」
「Yeah, a lot has happened…」
I said vaguely, hoping to answer specific questions when they came up later. But Layla who was not familiar with this order of business cut in.
「Lord Jemma, in any other given situation, my presence would be inappropriate, but at present I have been ordered to watch over Elliot as a private guard by my master. Could I be so bold as to ask for you to allow me to fulfill my duties. I could be in a neighboring room.」
Ahh, yes. She didn’t say everything, but she pretty much had revealed all the information that I felt would be permissible to reveal.
Oh well, if I was asked I would be obliged anyway…
「… I see, it seems that you are in a very dire situation. If I can recall, you must be the knight that serves the Lambert house. This may be out of turn, but I am quite jealous of Elliot as he always has beautiful women by his side.」
He said jokingly. I assume he was trying to lighten the atmosphere to relieve some of Layla’s tension.
「Ah, uhm, no, I’m merely boorish and uncouth. That kind of compliment…」
Layla, who was unused to compliments, seemed to be getting flustered as she took his words literally. Well, she was beautiful so it wasn’t mere flattery.
The fact that she was not used to such things was something that I had confirmed from last night into this morning.
….Could this old man have been a player in his when he was younger?
I entertained the thought before coming to the conclusion that there was no surprise to his way with words. He himself was the sole person who had built his empire.
It was true that we would need Layla to leave the room sometime throughout the discussion, and I was certain that Jemma would gently excuse her midway, which I had no problem with.
The issue was, what kind of conversation he was trying to have with me.
It wasn’t as though he was going to take up much of my time. However, I didn’t want to waste the time that we had alone while Layla was out of the room. I decided to get things over with quickly.
「Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Rubelio, the next head of the Lambert family estate. There were some things going on, so it just ended up that Ms. Layla who lives close by became my private guard…. I’ll let you know the details later in the evening」
Honestly speaking, my explanation did not reveal much at all.
I had simply wanted to confirm the things that Layla had said. The important information was concentrated in the beginning, and I had wanted him to know that the details come later on when Layla was not here.
「Ohoho, you truly are a big-shot aren’t you. To think that the heir of the richest noble family would have his eyes set on you. Uhhh, Layla did you say? Since there is a vacant seat, would you care to join us?」
Layla looked startled. She had probably been expecting to stand in the corner. I surmised his thoughts based on his statement. Why had he invited Layla to the table. It was easy to see that it was because Dalia’s seat was now open. From the fact that he was unfamiliar with her, I was able to guess that she had never attended political or business matters. Then why had he offered her a seat?
…. I guessed it was to tire Layla out.
「Come on, he kindly extended the gesture so you should accept it with grace… It was originally Dalia’s to begin with」
The last part I whispered so that only Layla could hear. To Layla, Dalia was a demon of the Man Eating Dungeon, but at the same time she had been a trusted friend. It was unfair for me to use that against her, but I thought that if I said that she would comply.
「Yes…. It would be rude for me to refuse your kindness. Thank you… however, I apologize I am unfamiliar with the manners…」
「Don’t worry, it’s a casual meal with friends and family. There’s no need to stress about that.」
He was speaking the truth, but almost everything he didn’t say was the lie… which was quite common with him. I was sympathetic for Layla, but she probably would not even be able to taste anything during the meal.
「This is…. This perfectly balanced flavor and exquisite aroma. It’s a miracle….」
My prediction had been completely off.
For this occasion, Jemma had invited around 20 or so guests including his (most important clerks) and their families, as well as a couple of his business partners. The meal was catered by chefs of a partner organization, who it seemed had given their all to prepare this luxurious meal.
Layla’s table manners were nothing close to as terrible as she had implied. In fact they may have been better than mine.
But that was to be expected. Although she was from a lower status, she had still been born into the knight class. And until her father had passed away, she must have received some amount of instruction.
However, either it was because she was so serious, or because of the fact that her environment had never granted her luxury.
Personally, I felt it was the combination of the two, but the extravagant meal seemed to be taking a toll on Layla’s emotional endurance.
She was completely engrossed in the meal, but at the same time it was as though she was reminding herself that she needed to converse with the people around her to be polite, which resulted in her eating as fast as she could without being impolite, while going on and on about how amazing the food was.
The children who were seated nearby probably aspired to becoming a knight.
Not to mention, Layla was well-known enough to be at the front of the parade. And besides, young female knights were far and few between. Before we knew it, there was a strange spectacle of young children crowding around Layla, asking her questions while she was telling them how deeply impressed she was by the food.
「Layla, Layla, so do knights not usually get to eat good food?」
It was a direct question that only a child could ask. The parents faces paled at the question, but Layla herself looked unbothered as she answered the question sincerely.
「That’s not necessarily the case, but when you’re out fighting, you can’t always eat a warm meal, you see. And it’s not just knights, regular foot soldiers also just want hot food. So, I can’t be the only one eating well in that situation, or else the foot soldiers will be sad. We’re all have to be in the same mindset in order to find together.」
That was a mere ideal. It wasn’t that I didn’t agree, but it simply wasn’t realistic.
However, perhaps the ideals that her father had instilled in her from childhood had hardened, and she continued to live her life according to the same rules. 「Layla, Layla, the chefs at my father’s store made this meal! Is it good?」
「Yes, very much! Your father’s company and all the customers who stop by must be very happy. I haven’t eaten such good food since the palace ball… I might gain so much weight that the next time I mount my horse, he might be taken by surprise.」
She must have a soft spot for children on top of her honest nature. As the childrens’ questions became more and more off-topic, she continued to answer them earnestly, while still methodically shoveling food into her mouth. The children’s laughter echoed through the hall. Layla was also laughing. There was something strange about the scene. Old Jemma was looking at Layla intrigued, and the parents were gazing at the scene with relieved smiles on their faces.
She had been loved by her mother, and looked out for by the other soldiers, so I couldn’t dare say that she had never known love.
However, I had never met anyone quite like Layla. If anything, Olivie was the closest thing I could think of, but unfortunately I could not think of a time when she had been surrounded by children.
——Ahh, this was a whole new world for me.
All of a sudden, that realization hit me.
「Wow, I had thought that your diligence and seriousness were your best traits, but I didn’t realize that you would be this popular with the children. I can’t read people as well as I used to it seems.」
Old Jemma said with a pleasant look on his face.
「I was also unaware that Layla had this kind of side.」
「You don’t say. It seems women will always be a mystery to us men… but that makes it more interesting, wouldn’t you say?」
The person in question had no idea she was the topic of our conversation, but just like that, Layla was the star of the show for the day.
We finished our meal, and when the time came to mingle and chat about business, Layla was whisked away by the women and children and children before we could come up with any countermeasures.
「Ms. Layla, please tell us about your experiences in battle next…」
「Ms. Layla, let’s play!」
「I’m sorry, I appreciate the invitation, but I am currently in the middle of working…」
「Ms. Layla, please do not worry, I will be in the room next door」
They must have taken my words as permission. All of the children began to talk to Layla at once. I left an overwhelmed Layla, and followed Old Jemma’s lead to the study.
… The goal of today’s visit started here.
「First, get comfortable. I’ll make some tea.」
Jemma poured what looked like tea from a pitcher into a pale porcelain cup, and brought it over to me. On the edge of the cup there was a small piece of paper that read「From what you can gauge, are there any listening devices planted in this room?」
Hmm, so he suspected there was danger even in his own mansion.
I looked around for any magic items, but didn’t particularly pick up on anything.
「I don’t think there is anything in this room. Though, if someone was hiding, it would be a different case.」
「Hmm so I was right – you do have magic abilities, don’t you Elliott?」
…. Shoot. He had asked me so naturally that I had forgotten to hide the truth.
Even if he had suspected me before, this was an obvious mistake on my part.
「…There is no point in hiding it, so yes. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.」
「Haha, seems like I can’t win against you youngins」
Even so, I kicked myself mentally for my carelessness. It was true however, that I could learn a thing or two from this man’s unsuspecting nature. I had to admit, in a simple negotiation, I still would not be able to win against this man. But I had no intention of giving up from the start. I would at least try to pick up a couple of his methods while I had the chance.
「….That girl’s father was an unfortunate man.」
For a moment I had no idea what he meant, but I knew he was referring to Layla’s father.
「I heard her father had a dishonorable death… It seemed like you met for the first time today, but did you know about her already?」
「Yes, I had never officially met her. But I knew about her because I know about every famous person and their network in this town.」
It was true, the old man’s memory was impeccable. As well as the scope of his personal connections.
「How exactly was he unfortunate?」
I wondered how he was going to bring this conversation to the real topic. Or perhaps, he had just thought of Layla in the spur of the moment and was really just going to tell me about her father’s past.
「Lord Balbania was a serious and inflexible man. Out of all the knights that served the Lambert House, there were probably few that were as loyal as that man. From seeing that girl, I can imagine what kind of education her father gave her…. For her to say the exact same thing as her father.」
His eyes strayed away from me, and seemed to fixate on a point far in the past.
Oh, so this old man had a direct relationship with Layla’s father. It made sense, considering he had lived here for quite some time, and he had come into contact with a vast number of people through his trades.
I came upon the realization that the thread that ties us together are intertwined more complicated than I had ever imagined.
「Don’t tell this girl I said this. That girl’s father, he was a criminal. To be exact, he was executed on charges of treason. Though, she may already have guessed from being losing her position and made to work under a contract.」
Treason. A traitor. The dark side of the father she idolized, which sunk her heart into despair.
I had heard this story before from Olivie.
「But that man, he was not the kind of man who could commit that sort of crime. At the very least, there was not a single time when that man was prospering financially. They had not done enough research, and there had not been enough proof to begin with. It was an execution done on the battlefield, so there was no honor, no kind of trial involved. His son lost his life in the same battle too.」
Every word unmistakably brought him closer to the point he was trying to make.
I had heard rumors before. I couldn’t deny that I had thought that may have been the case, but to hear it confirmed by someone who had known her father, and had been around when it happened, was something else entirely.
「I don’t know what was going on in the Lambert household at the time, but I have no doubt it was a premeditated murder.」
Jemma holdings who had close business ties to the Lambert household. What was this old man who was in charge of that company trying to tell me?
「…. This might unrelated to the reason you invited me here today, but it is a very interesting story. I’m not sure what it is I can do with that information though.」
It was half true. Right now I wasn’t in the position to save Layla, who was under a contract as a knight for the Lambert family.
Besides, Layla wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place. He would surely bring up the real topic of conversation after this.
The old man had a mischievous look on his face as he spoke again.
「Oh, I just thought to apologize to you about something. But, it seems like you’ve been hiding something from me, so I believe we are even.」
… How much did this old man know?
「Oh, don’t worry I haven’t told the Lamberts about this…. About the fact that you’re a dungeon master from the Mining Village, and made a deal with Lady Olivia.」
…. Did he really know, or was this another trick. Put on a mask, act normal.
We were already at war.
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