Translator: Adam Seacord
A week had passed since Nubia and Nem had become my monsters. Gordon’s circus suffered without their star performer Nem, but they were let off scot free regarding Nubia, with the understanding that they had no knowledge of his background. Of course, Nubia’s bounty was not in effect in Abrams or even this country, but only in the neighboring country we were at war with. A more accurate assessment seemed to be that the soldiers of Abram never had the right to pursue Nubia to begin with, so there were no legal repercussions to be had at all.
The circus moved their schedule ahead slightly, and began packing up to move on to their next city on tour. It was a rare day where Gustav was in Abram, so Gordon and I decided to have a farewell feast with him.
「I’m sure you’ve already noticed, Gordon. But, Elliot. Someone’s been snooping around you for the past few days.」
Gustave mumbled out of the blue after some drinks.
My buzz immediately dissipated.
「Right, it’s not Abram’s… It’s not Oliviy-girl’s people, but who can really tell? I’m headed out of here before it hits the fan.」
Gordon replies nonchalantly. I thought I had my guard up, but I had no idea. For the past few days, the only shadowy thing I had done was pop into Spider’s Web, so I doubted they could suspect much… Although, the fact I didn’t have Shiro around me worked against me.
Why are eyes on me? Do they know about my monsters?
「I have no idea why anyone would…」
I didn’t think my voice was shaking. Gustave already knew my secrets, but I doubted that Gordon had caught on. After draining his goblet, Gustav continued:
「I had some guys come up to my mercenary team over the past few days about the rumors of the magical items merchant Elliot. Two different men, who each looked like a mercenary, asked two of my guys on separate occasions.」
「…Isn’t it natural to go ask mercenaries about magical weapons?」
With an odd feeling, I asked Gustav. I may have been able to figure out the answer on my own, but there was the person already with the answer right in front me, so I decided I might as well ask him. …Of course, I wouldn’t always accept the whole thing as factual.
「Is your shop well known enough to be rumored about in this town?」
I had no response. I was trying to advertise the shop, but it was way behind even Spider’s Web in both sales and popularity.
「I’d understand if they were asking where to get magical weapons. Why would they bother us if they already know about your store?」
Then, Gordon chimed in with an exasperated tone:
「Elliot. You handed Nubia some weapons. And introduced him to prostitutes. In this city, you were the closest to him… And Nem.」
That made sense. They were still suspicious. Well, I hadn’t paid any mind to the fact that my connection with Nubia is still acknowledged. I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere. I was in a largely populated city, and I wasn’t allowed to forget that. But now I could guess that whoever was snooping around, was out of Olivia’s reach… Although I couldn’t completely rule out other forces, it was most likely House Lambert.
「My circus is a… mostly open book, but I don’t like to have it ripped apart when there’s nothing there to hide. So we’re calling it early. We’ll miss Abram. It paid out pretty well. I guess we’ll head west to Palmira from here.」
The next day, Layla stopped by the shop right before closing. It was her first time back since she had come to interview me the day after Nubia’s disappearance.
「…Hey, Elliot. Daria.」
Daria responded with her usual greeting. Layla seemed to be quite tired. After our customary small-talk, I decided to bring up the subject.
「Are you all right? You seem pretty tired… Still looking into Nubia?」
I was under the guise that Nubia had disappeared with my weapons, so I also had to feign some interest as to his whereabouts. Besides, I was hoping to catch a hint from her expression how much Layla knew, and whether or not she suspected anything of me.
「Right, we have an eye-witness who saw a boat come out of the waterways. It looks like he left Abram… Most likely. Personally, I’m not quite convinced, yet.」
Was that her intuition? Or was there some evidence to back it up?
「Something on your mind? It’s not like he hurt me or anything, so if I could just get my items back, I would be happy.」
「Right, you’re a victim, too… I don’t have anything tangible, just my intuition. I heard that this Nubia was raising the daughter of a woman he had murdered.」
「…Yes, that’s Nem. She and Nubia seemed very close.」
「I don’t know what their relationship were, or what kind of people they were. But, could he just runaway… Leaving someone who he considered his daughter?」
「…I wouldn’t know. Maybe he thought she would be in danger, or that she would slow him down if they had stayed together. We would have to ask them, I suppose.」
That reminded me. Nem was considered missing, but I wondered what people thought of what happened to her? I was hoping that they assumed she got away with Nubia…
「…You’re, right. Yes. I apologize, my mind has been wandering.」
Layla looked up and shook her head. I kept noticing her tiredness around her eyes.
「Are you busy at work, Layla-san?」
Daria brought out cold water from the back.
「Oh, Daria, thank you. …Ah, that’s nice.」
Layla’s complexion improved as I watched. While the hottest time of summer had passed, harvest was not approaching quickly. The water was ice cold, with a touch of flavor from the diced fruit in it. Daria had gotten the idea from someone, and it was a welcome refreshment during the dog days.
Maybe I can make a container that would keep water cool…?
Now that I had stored up some magical powers, it seemed quite possible if I had the inspiration.
「Thank you. A very kind stranger told me about it when I went to pray at the temple.」
I didn’t know that she attended such places. I was happy about it, since I had told her to use her free time as she pleases (and I had been wanting her to be more independent) but I was a little surprised.
「Oh, the temple… Come to think of it, I haven’t been outside of work for a while. I should stop by. …You’re a lucky man, Elliot.」
Daria blushed lightly as Layla laughed. It seemed that Layla only saw us as a normal couple.
「I don’t want to overstay. I apologize for taking up so much of your time.」
「Please. Your gossip helps my business, actually.」
Then, I sensed that Shiro had returned. Since Layla was still in the shop, I told her to standby at a distance.
「Then, I’ll come by again, soon. I only wish I was well off enough to do some shopping.」
Layla left with a self-deprecating smile. Then Shiro returned after a moment.
「Master, that lady had a man’s smell on her.」
Of course, Shiro meant Layla.
A man’s smell…?
「What do you mean?」
「Um… The smell of a man’s semen. I think she’s wiped it clean, but…」
Shiro’s sense of smell is impressive. I wasn’t sure if a human could have noticed the same scent.
「Layla is on her way home from work. Did she stop by somewhere before she came here…?」
I doubted that Miss Stoic Layla would do such a thing during her work day. While my mind wandered, Daria whispered behind me.
「I wonder if Layla-san…」
「Daria, you’ve noticed something? 」
Did she figure out something that I couldn’t? After some hesitation, Daria continued. Shiro had taken the half-full cup of water that Layla was drinking from, and sniffing it.
「Layla-san looked kind of sad today. This isn’t the first time, either… When she speaks of Master and I, she looks at us like we’re blinding. So, I thought…」
「Master, I was right! She’s tried to deodorize it with mint, but the smell’s on the cup, too. She does it with her mouth, at least.」
…I’m missing something.
I thought about Knight Layla of House Lambert. A stoic, beautiful knight who could ride a horse as easily as breathing. Yet she had low self-esteem, owned no land, and was a daughter of a criminal… Perhaps, Layla was being bedded by someone within House Lambert. It was possible that Layla was madly infatuated with this man, but I doubted that she would allow such behavior during work days. There were very few men who could pressure Layla into performing them. Layla was a concubine to the head, or next-in-line of House Lambert. And, most likely, not by her choosing.
「…I think you’ve hit the mark, Elliot. Knight Layla is rumored by some knights to have been “knighted in bed”.」
The next day, I had contacted Sara and Olivia using the magical item at Sara’s house. It wouldn’t be good if anyone found out that I was contacting them at this time. Of course, I still had reputable business with Sara, so I would visit her house every now and again, but prolonged conversations could arouse suspicions. I had asked Olivia to look into Layla already. Her findings confirmed Daria’s guess as well.
「Layla Halpernia. The first daughter of the low-ranking nobles, the Halpernias. Their land is managed by the head of House Lambert. …The Halpernias are related to House Lambert, and their previous head had passed away about a decade ago in the war. They lost their firstborn son at the same time, so Layla is the only one right now with the birthright to lead her family.」
I could tell that Olivia dug deep for me, this time.
「This, I don’t have evidence for… But there are rumors that Lord Halpernia was spying for the enemy during the war. …When I asked those who knew him back then, they all said that Lord Halpernia was an honest man who would never do such a thing.」
I heard a bored sigh from a distance behind her. It seemed like Sara had already heard this story from Olivia, and knew the ending.
So, this is going to be an exasperating story.
「There’s no proof. House Halpernia serves House Lambert, after all. No one knows what happened behind closed doors. On paper, now that no one has claim to their throne, until Layla matures… more accurately, marries… their money and land will be managed by House Lambert. That’s the official spiel.」
Olivia’s tone sounded like she was confident in this story. It wasn’t surprising, considering that House Lambert was treating Olivia similarly.
「…Layla was ten or so at the time. She had no knowledge of politics, I suppose.」
I couldn’t tell if Layla could remain so stoic because she believed in her deceased father and brother, or because she hated them. I thought that she was someone without a dark side, but guess that my judgement of other people was in need of improvement. Understanding my thoughts from my silence, Olivia continued, as if to tease me:
「The rumors of her are terrible, but her accomplishments are impressive and well-praised. …You want her, don’t you, Elliot.」
「…Yeah. At first, I just didn’t want her as an enemy. Then, I didn’t want her to get mixed up. Now, it’s all different.」
「Knight Layla is a force to be reckoned with. Her loyalty lies only with House Lambert… If you find yourself on the other side of her, she’ll be difficult to deal with. But if you could bring her to your side…」
…Olivia was really just like me. Perhaps she was just skilled in reading me, but she said everything that I was trying to. Then, before I could answer, Sara’s voice came through.
「You two are sooo alike. So, stop keeping secrets, because it’s fruitless. Especially you, Elliot. You like that knight, don’t you? So just take her already and make yours like you did with me and Shiro.」
She concluded. As I broke out in laughter, I could hear Olivia chuckle.
「Yes, you’re right. We’ll bring Layla over to our side. We have a lot of prep work to do, though.」