Act 25: Commence Investigation and Hidden Feelings
Cordelia gasped when she heard Christina’s unexpected revelation.
“Fake flora silk?”
Cordelia also frowned because of Christina’s grim words and expression. At the same time, she recalled that Christina had uttered, “Real,” at the store.
She also remembered Christina’s relief and anxiety.
(She was trying to identify if the fabric was genuine……?)
Christina stared straight at Cordelia.
“I firmly believed this after I saw the fabric in the second store. I learnt about this because my friend at the Royal Capital, informed me that she had purchased a dress made from flora silk.”
“Was your friend’s dress…… a fake?”
Cordelia questioned and Christina nodded.
“She told me that she was happy to have a flora silk dress…… But, it didn’t look that way to me.”
That’s a fake.
Christina looked disheartened, and it became apparent to Cordelia that she had visited a lot of stores to investigate them.
“Is it obvious at a glance?”
Cordelia hadn’t been able to tell that it was a fake when she saw the fabric from the side. A heavy aura surrounded Christina, and she nodded.
“From what I can see, it was a completely different material. But, it’s also not the typical silk that appears in the markets. They probably mixed and weaved it with flora silk.”
“So half of the materials are real?”
“Yes. But those who don’t know about flora silk will mistake it for the real thing. But then, I felt like there was a problem with the dying technique too. You need a special material to dye flora silk.”
The words formed out of her lips slowly, as she emphasised her words, and then she continued.
“It’s difficult to nurture the silkworms which make flora silk, and it requires a lot of time. The cocoon is also small and hard to handle, and we need a specific weaving machine and loom to make the silk. The dress won’t be pretty if it isn’t made by a skilled person. Therefore, the fabric is only sold at stores which hire people who have passed the ability test provided by the production association.”
“Three stores said they dealt with flora silk today.”
“Yes. The first and fourth stores are the only approved flora silk sellers in the Royal Capital. The fabric that I looked at was also genuine. But……”
Cordelia completed what Christina wanted to say in her mind. The second store was different.
“Fabrics have various properties, and the quality is different depending on its purpose. It’s also important to produce new fabrics which are in demand. However, it’s wrong to talk about the material as if it was rare and deceive the purchaser.”
“…… Yes, you are correct.”
“The distribution of flora silk should be under strict control. I don’t know how they’re distributing it, but as someone from the Alcott House, I must cut off the source.”
Cordelia put her hands to her mouth when she heard Christina’s decision.
“It’s troublesome, isn’t it?”
“The most troublesome thing is…… that even that store doesn’t realise that the fabric is fake.”
Cordelia said, and Christina nodded.
It was hard to consider that they would pitch the product so grandly if they knew it was fake. If strange rumours spread, then the other two stores would probably contact the flora silk production association. They didn’t seem to care they weren’t endorsed, judging from how they were actively pitching the product, instead of selling it in secret.
“I’m certain that the people at that store don’t know much about flora silk. Flora silk can’t be approved unless it meets a certain standard, so there’s no way the price could drop a lot…… They didn’t seem to question that at all.”
Christina’s complicated feelings, which showed in her voice, revealed that she actively wanted to solve this case, and it also showed her quiet rage towards the fakes. She might also have been angry at the clerks from the second store because they didn’t realise it was a fake, and stressed only on how cheap it was, without knowing what the fabric really was.
(They also said they were proud of it.)
Even though Cordelia though that, she didn’t dare ask Christina about it since she was trying to calm down. There was one thing they had to do first.
“I have to look into that store.”
If they didn’t realise that it was a fake, then the supplier was the culprit. But, they might be deceived if they were careless…… At any rate, they had to quickly investigate the store first. In any case, the only thing they knew was that the shop sold fakes.
However, it was necessary to confirm something before they started their investigation.
“What does Earl Alcott think about this?”
Cordelia didn’t want to choose the option of not helping since she had heard so much. However, she probably wasn’t permitted to stick her nose into another Houses’ business.
“I have also told Otou-sama about the possibility of fakes being sold. But, he can’t act with just my friend’s words. So, he left the investigations to me. I have to report to him, but he’s leaving the investigation method to me.”
I see. The Earl would definitely stick out if he investigated based on what little information he has, and it might become more serious than it actually is if he gets involved. There shouldn’t be anyone who wants to collect too many speculations.
(If it’s Christina-sama, then it wouldn’t be strange for a lady to want dresses.)
Christina had spoken a lot about this, so she wouldn’t refuse Cordelia’s involvement.
“The stores are also a problem, but we have to stop the source.”
Cordelia fired, since she had decided that she would help.
The production association didn’t control the whole process, even if they supplied the stores with silk. Cordelia’s speculation was spot-on.
“The silkworms that make flora silk should be strictly managed by the association. We are planning to investigate them in private, but we would probably face serious difficulties because of their pride.”
“Certainly…… The association would be humiliated by the replicas, but individuals will become hostile if you don’t trust the job they’re doing, so you will need time to deal with that.”
If the association managed the materials strictly, then there should be a considerable amount of data, but it would be different if they needed to verify information, in the case that someone falsified it. Did they lie about the number of cocoons or did they lie about the silkworms themselves……? Cordelia could think of a couple of possibilities just from briefly thinking about it. She had no material to conclude her hypothesis with, so they needed to inspect the possibilities.
(At least, this will go nowhere if we don’t get our hands on that fake silk.)
Cordelia thought, and Christina apologised somewhat.
“I know that you’re a brilliant person…… But, I wished that you were around my age.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened in surprise at the sudden confession.
She didn’t care what age people thought she was, but she felt that Christina didn’t think of her as much of a child.
“So then, why did you tell me all this? If you think of me as young, then you would be worried that I might blurt it out, right?”
There was a possibility that Christina had 『accidentally』blurted it out to Cordelia, if she thought of Cordelia as someone who acted her age. Cordelia couldn’t help but think that it was too careless of Christina, if that were true. However, Christina chuckled at Cordelia’s question.
“I didn’t think about that. It would probably be undesirable for the Pameradia House if the price of silk in Flora drops. I can’t say that Cyrus-sama is very smart, since he didn’t think of that.”
I see, she presented herself as quiet until today, but she does have the abilities of a merchant. Cordelia was strangely relieved when she thought that.
That’s good. But that didn’t mean that she was like a kind saint.
“I’ve asked you something very rude. But, let me correct something. I am certainly a child. I’m glad that I have your recognition, but it’s easier to be a child.”
Cordelia said mischievously, and Christina smiled wryly. However, she had something she wanted to tell Christina.
“Please use me. I will do my best to be useful to you. You told me this much because you wanted me to help you, isn’t that right?”
Although Cordelia had intended to help, she hadn’t conveyed that to Christina. “Please do.” Cordelia smiled.
“…… I’m sorry for being a horrible adult.”
“I’m rather happy to help. Christina-sama…… Sister-in-law, we’re going to be family soon.”
Christina looked a little depressed, and her cheeks flushed a little. Cordelia hadn’t intended to tease her, but her reaction was also charming.
She was delighted that this person would become her sister-in-law. Of course, Christina’s innocent reactions weren’t the only reason for that.
“I’m delighted to know that you value flora silk so much.”
“Even if you’re really familiar with the material, you were able to conclude whether it was real or fake within seconds. You must really love flora silk a lot.”
Christina’s eyes flashed but slowly softened.
“I do. I love flora silk and many other fabrics too. I also like tailored clothes, because I think that clothes have the same power as words.”
“Could you tell me more?”
“…… This is my wish. I’m not confident in myself, and I’m bad at expressing myself with words. Even so, my anxiety calms down a little when I wear dresses that make me happy and catch the attention of others with my appearance. I think that my appearance compensates for my lack of words and confidence, and it transforms my anxiety into confidence.”
Christina said, in a quiet, yet lively, voice, and Cordelia smiled.
Christina’s calm and vivid expressions contained a firm and strong will. I’m sure this is how passionate she is about her clothes.
“Of course, I need to practice how to talk adequately. To the extreme, clothes are just fabric. However, people can change their impressions and expressions depending on the colour, shape and fabric of their clothes. I think clothes are a way to express yourself.”
Christina wasn’t implying that idea to only clothes, but also cosmetics and aromas, which Cordelia liked. What kind of decorations one wore did not directly relate to how comfortable their life was. Still, many people incorporated their own preferences into their outfits at home and on social occasions. Surely, that was because they gain confidence by approaching their ideal image, and therefore, had more leeway.
“Some people insist that you dress up to attract the opposite sex. Of course, I don’t think that’s completely wrong. However, I think that we also dress up because we want to be recognised by other people…… Cordelia-sama?”
“Oh, sorry. I was fascinated by you because you look so lovely when you’re talking so passionately about your ideas.”
Cordelia replied while smiling when Christina tilted her head in curiosity. Cordelia also thought, do you also think about what appearance you want to show Onii-sama? But she didn’t say it. She would interrupt Christina if she did.
Cordelia tore herself away from her strayed thoughts and lightly coughed.
“But if you think like that, then you must solve this problem now.”
“Yes…… My friend is very pleased with the dress, but she would be sad if she found out that it’s a fake.”
‘I want to protect flora silk. I want to find the truth behind the dress which deceived my friend.’
Cordelia sorted Christina’s wishes and then slowly spoke.
“Then, sister-in-law. How would you like me to help you?”
“Thank you very much. Then, could you go to the stores with me tomorrow? I think that having someone younger with me, such as Cordelia, would make them drop their guards.”
“Of course, I would love to.”
“Apparently the other stores don’t stock flora silk. So, we’re just going there to confirm that. I will be ecstatic if they don’t have any fakes.”
Christina looked as if she had mixed feelings.
(…… If they don’t then that’s fine, but we still have to be suspicious of them. This is probably hard on her.)
She had to investigate them, even if she didn’t doubt them. This might be hurting Christina’s conscience.
(But still, it’s something she thinks she has to do.)
She’s really gentle and strong, Cordelia thought.
“Then, sister-in-law. Let’s do our best to prove that the stores which aren’t involved in this really aren’t involved.”
Cordelia said, in the most cheerful and lightest voice she could.
I will clear the suspicions that I created on my own…… I think that’s really rude to the store. However, it was challenging to declare that something that didn’t exist wasn’t there. It was much easier to point something out.
(Finally, we won’t have proof unless we expose the mastermind and clarify the matter. But, she needed to make that decision to get evidence.)
Christina’s expression softened a little when she heard what Cordelia said. “Okay,” she replied.
Then, Cordelia suddenly heard the birds chirping. She looked outside and saw that it was getting a little dark out.
“…… I better get going soon. I have to let Otou-sama and Onii-sama know that I will be going out tomorrow. We’ll pick you up tomorrow.”
“Thank you very much.”
After that, Christina walked them to the front gate. Cordelia gave her thanks and boarded the carriage with Emina.
Then, as she was about to leave, she told Christina what she’d forgotten to say.
“This may sound silly, but I’m thrilled that I could talk to you like this.”
“About the silk and clothes. I’ve never seen you shine as bright as you did today when you spoke about those things.”
“I, I didn’t mean-……”
Christina looked a little embarrassed, and Cordelia repeated her farewells, then the carriage slowly started to run.
Cordelia thought quietly while looking out the carriage.
(She requested that I accompany her tomorrow. But, going around aimlessly is a waste of time.)
I’ve decided to help her, so I can’t get in her way. But the Royal Capital is an essential plot of land to us, so it’s impossible for me to overlook evil deeds.
(I wonder if I can get my hands on some fake flora silk. I might be able to find out where it’s being produced.)
Silkworms mainly eat mulberry leaves, so they should also have absorbed the magic from the land. That magic is also passed onto the thread, and it should be possible to trace it back to the producing area. Luckily, Cordelia had never heard about any artificial feeds. Unfortunately, the Alcott House wasn’t permitted to hire magicians who had graduated from the Magic Academy, so they would need to put in a request to an appropriate institution if they wanted further analysis.
(…… If so, then this situation would get out of hand.)
If I can get my hands on the imitations, then I should be able to get them analysed at the Pameradia House.
Cordelia thought, as she turned to face Emina and asked.
“Say, Emina. Do you think you could buy some of that fake fabric?”
“Buy the fake fabric, you say?”
“Yes. If I get a dress made, then it’ll take a lot of time, right?”
“…… In a normal situation, it would be. They aren’t wholesalers, so I don’t think they’ve thought about selling the fabric on it’s own.”
Emina answered unsavoury, and Cordelia raised the edge of her mouth.
“Yes, 『in a normal situation』correct?”
“I don’t want to say this, but I think the people from today would sell it for the right price. Whether or not it’s good or bad, they seem to have a very flexible mood.”
“Then, let’s go back to the store. Can you get them to hand over some? And I wonder if this is enough money for it?”
Emina nodded at the amount Cordelia had on hand. It was a considerable amount of money to Cordelia, but Emina concluded that it would be enough.
“I don’t mind if they give us scraps. If they ask you for a reason, then would this do, 『the selfish younger sister wants some, even if they’re just scraps』? It’s fine if you tell them another reason, but tell me later so we can match our stories.”
Cordelia obtained a small piece of cloth as a result of going back to the store. The piece of fabric wasn’t big enough to make a handkerchief. She thought that it was unreasonable to receive this little piece of cloth for that amount of money, but there was nothing she could do.
(If I think of this cloth as a piece of information, then it’s cheap.)
Cordelia returned to the mansion and called for Ronnie straight away.
Ronnie was delighted that she had called for him.
“Welcome back, Ojou-sama. Is that a present for me?”
“Yes. It’s a very important present.”
“…… Important, present?”
Ronnie got a bad feeling and tried to pull his hand back, but Cordelia put the cloth into his hand before he could.
Ronnie’s face twitched when he saw Cordelia grin.
“…… What is this? I was expecting some food.”
“My bad, this is cloth you can’t eat. It’s your job.”
“Waaaaaah! I was looking forward to this because I heard you went to a nice confectionery store!”
‘I don’t want this!’ Ronnie seemed to say, and Cordelia desperately tried to stop herself from bursting into laughter. It was a sincere reaction.
“Let’s see, if you finish it, then I’ll buy some delicious sweets.”
Cordelia smiled wryly. She didn’t think about buying gifts, because she had only gone out to town, but one might expect a gift if she called for them straight away. Other servants probably wouldn’t, but this was Ronnie. It wasn’t strange that he interpreted her actions in that way.
“Oh, Ojou-sama…… Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Ronnie, this is your work.”
Emina immediately put Ronnie back in his place because he was sulking. But, Ronnie always acted like that, so it wasn’t very effective. If Ronnie listened to people, then it wouldn’t be strange for him to have corrected his attitude long ago.
“Ronnie, I want you to trace where the fabric was made. I don’t mind if you just tell me where the raw materials come from.”
“Eh? Oh, this is silk. Well, I don’t think I can’t do it.”
Ronnie looked at the fabric and felt it with his fingertips.
“Master has a book on geology, so it’s possible for me to find it out if I analysis what the silkworms eat. Well, I can’t say that I will succeed.”
Nevertheless, Cordelia was relieved since Ronnie looked confident. I knew he could do it. I’ll give him a lot of sweets once he’s finished with the analysis.
“But, I have a bad feeling about this.”
Ronnie muttered seriously before Cordelia could secretly make her decision, and she frowned.
“What do you mean?”
Did Ronnie find something disturbing just by glancing at it? Did he sense something about it, even though I never told him it’s a fake?
But, Cordelia was surprised by Ronnie’s answer.
“My instincts are telling me that you’re involved in something complicated, since this job is different from the ones you usually tell me to do.”
Is that something you say to your Ojou-sama? Cordelia thought and shrugged. She also admitted that he wasn’t necessarily wrong this time.
“But well, I’ve had a good holiday, so this is a good warmup.”
She said, “I’m counting on you,” to Ronnie who had said it was complicated but also a warmup, and returned to her room.
Cordelia changed her clothes and sat down on the sofa after Emina left her room. Then, she opened the small can containing her aroma stone, which was nearby, and the smell of lavender and chamomile drifted in the air.
She hadn’t made any significant progress, but she felt calm in her room. She was a little tired from her outing and slowly closed her eyes.
“How wide is the thread producing area……? That’s a problem, but I also don’t know why they’re running the scam.”
It would be simple if they were only doing it to make money. But I feel like the tactics they’re employing are just too messy.
(The thing I’m most concern about is how vigorous they’re selling the product; it’s as if they don’t care if they get caught.)
If my hypothesis is correct, then the mastermind is selling the fabric, but I don’t understand what they’re trying to do. They probably wouldn’t use such conspicuous methods if they aim to earn money by selling the counterfeit. They should be able to conclude that it is a big risk.
“What the heck are they trying to do?”
Cordelia pondered as she placed her hands over her mouth. I can’t cast aside the possibility that they really thought that they wouldn’t get caught, but it’s hard to imagine that they would think like that.
“But, speaking of crude methods…… It was favourable for me, but Lara’s case was also the same.”
There were a lot of odd things about when Lara came here as 『Carla』. Assuming that she could enter an Earl’s mansion, it wouldn’t be strange if the guards had stopped her from forcibly entering if she caused a commotion.
(In Lara’s case, it’s possible that they knew that I’m an eccentric. They may have also considered that I would sympathise with a child who had nowhere to go and it’s also possible that they didn’t care if Lara failed or not.)
After that, I heard that the Dark Guild that Lara was in was wiped out. But, I also heard that they were only at the bottom of the ladder. The top brass had done a great job at cutting them loose, and it was impossible to find any trace of them.
However, according to Ronnie, “The top brass didn’t do a good job, they were just too stupid to realise that they were being used.” Isma had also said, at the same time, “All the information that the group knows about the top brass was fake.” Apparently, that group wasn’t trusted by their comrades either. In any case, they couldn’t chase after the criminal group since they didn’t know what connections the group had. The only thing they could do was drive the group into a corner. There were a lot of things about the group that worried them, but they couldn’t find any clues on the group since they hadn’t caused any real harm.
“…… I hope that I’m overthinking the connection between these incidents.”
Bad expectations tend to attract bad results. I need to make the worst assumption, but I should connect them. So, let’s stop thinking.
Cordelia changed her mind and rewound her thoughts a little.
(What’s their goal?)
*TICK TICK* She listened to the sounds of the clock as she thought in silence.
How much time has passed? Cordelia fell asleep somewhere along the lines and was woken up by a knock at her door.
The person who was in the corridor was a sleepy Ronnie.
“I’m finished, Ojou-sama.”
“…… I’m shocked. That was really fast.”
Even though some time had passed, it shouldn’t have been enough for him to finish. However, Ronnie carelessly declared.
“It doesn’t matter if I was quick…… Both the warp and the weft are made in Flora. It’s the most famous silk production area, so I compared it with the data there first, and it was a hit.”
I thought he was going to say something more complicated, well that was anticlimactic. Cordelia widened her eyes in surprise.
“Did you notice anything else?”
“Hmm…… Are you asking if the weft is made from flora silk? I can’t conclude this since I haven’t seen the real thing. But the characteristics match.”
“Do you not sell them at Eris firm?”
“Of course not. You know, we can’t be the middleman because only stores acknowledged by the production association can sell them.”
Come to think of it, that’s true. But Ronnie still looked dubious.
“It seems like there’s still something you don’t understand.”
“Yes…… Well, why did they make this kind of cloth? Ojou-sama, where did you get this from?”
“I can’t tell you where I got it from, but what do you mean by 『this cloth』? Is it because it’s mixed?”
Cordelia asked, and Ronnie groaned.
“No, I don’t care if it’s mixed…… The cloth has a sheen to it, but it’s also inconsistent. The person who made this is probably inexperienced. They might be able to hide this well if they tailor it into a dress, but they could do this with normal silk instead of going out of their way to make this mixed weave. This is an inferior product, and I wouldn’t buy something like this.”
Ronnie didn’t have any business skills because he was too honest, not because he didn’t have a discerning eye.
“Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.”
Cordelia said, and Ronnie laughed.
“Not at all. I feel like I’ve done something bad because I thought I would get delicious sweets if I finished this.”
“Oh my, should I decrease the amount to lessen your guilt?”
It was funny to see Ronnie get surprised when Cordelia was just teasing him, so she laughed.
“Sorry, I’m just joking. But I feel bad for Lara if I just get something for you, so I’ll properly prepare something for the both of you. I’m going out tomorrow as well, so I’ll buy you both something then.”
“…… I’m looking forward to it, you know?”
Ronnie smiled wryly while still being a bit dubious, and Cordelia responded lightly, “I know.”
“Ah, one more thing. Ojou-sama, dinner’s ready.”
Cordelia placed the cloth on the table in her room and headed towards the dining room. Ronnie accompanied her halfway there, since he was heading to the library. Cordelia muttered as she watched Ronnie walk, “Ronnie, you’re really amazing.”
“Huh, why so suddenly?”
“You’re not an expert on silk, but you know a lot about it.”
Ronnie said it was easy even with analysis magic, but he finished it too quickly. And if he so desired, then he could easily succeed in the army…… No, she thought he could become an extraordinary magician. However, the biggest factor that prevented him from doing so was his lack of motivation.
(But if he’s too serious then he’ll lose the charm of being Ronnie.)
However, Ronnie got flustered because he didn’t know why she had complimented him so suddenly.
“Stop it, Ojou-sama. I’m flattered, but I haven’t done anything.”
“I’m only saying what I think?”
“But I still feel like I’m being flattered!”
Ronnie wasn’t bashful, and his face was becoming pale. Cordelia’s face twitched as she said, “Are you not happy about it?” Well, she wouldn’t know how to react if he’d turned red either, but she wanted to say, ‘You don’t have to be that surprised’. It wasn’t like she had said something horrible, nor had she threatened him.
(Well, he might be thinking that I’ll be giving him more work……)
She thought and confirmed the details with him to switch the topic.
“That silk is definitely from Flora, right?”
“Yes, definitely. It’s difficult to grow mulberries, the further away you are from the centre. It takes too much effort and money to move the feed to another place.”
If they did move the feed, then it won’t be fresh anymore. Then, the magic will also drop and probably won’t remain in the silkworm and silk.
(But cloth didn’t need magic, and a crude smuggler wouldn’t care about such things.)
Ronnie frowned and stopped Cordelia from thinking in silence with a single word, “Ojou-sama.”
“Don’t get too involved in this. They can’t be good if they’re making such a product for money.”
Ronnie said, as if he was spitting out the words, and Cordelia agreed with him, “You’re right.” That was indeed true, even if she didn’t know what their goal was.
“But we can’t just ignore it if it becomes a problem, right?”
A long sigh escaped from Ronnie when he heard Cordelia’s reply. His prediction of this being 『troublesome』was spot on.
“…… Please report this to the Master. Don’t get hurt, and use me if you need me.”
“No. My future is frightening if you get hurt, so I want to avoid that. But, tell me beforehand.”
His words were mixed with humour, but those were probably his true feelings. He’s always so reliable.
“I will. I’ll be careful not to get hurt.”
I shouldn’t get hurt, but if I did come across such a situation, then Christina-sama will get hurt too. I don’t think I’ll encounter such a situation in town, but I don’t know what will happen.