“… My future master doesn’t trust me.”
Bellway’s agitated voice seemed to return to his normal speaking volume, and I could hear him clearly. My mind chilled as soon as I heard him. It’s that feeling again. The ice lump at the back of my chest spread even further.
His future master was referring to me. I wonder if Earl Thelesia is planning to have his servants work for me. Out of all the servants in the mansion, only Bellway was from noble society. Bellway’s father was a titled knight, but that was only an honorary position and didn’t hold peerage. Unlike nobles who can retain their nobility throughout generations despite not having peerage, there is a law that states that once a titled knight died, all their children will be stripped of their noble rights. I wondered if Earl Thelesia gathered people like that in this mansion so that I would lose all manpower once I leave his protection.
“It’s not just you.”
Earl Thelesia replied with a low growl. It sounded somewhat bitter.
“She doesn’t even trust me. It seems like she’s sounding out Kamil, the soldiers and the maids.”
… So he knows about this? As the years pass by and the number of people around me increases, I gathered information on the citizens of the fief by controlling them indirectly; that does indeed seem like I don’t trust the Earl.
I respect and am grateful towards him. But, while that may be true, I have never thought of confessing my sin to him. I’ve never thought of him as ‘family’ much less a ‘father’ even though he had raised me.
Earl Thelesia and I have a relationship of mutual benefit rather than trust. That’s why he’s in charge of the fief rebuilding project, and why he has participated in the early stages of the refugee acceptance plan that he had suggested as well. He also lets me use his own subordinates who he doesn’t need. And, all the grains produced in Kaldia will be sold by merchants affiliated with the Thelesia House. It could be said that he has a monopoly deal. I’m basically loaning the fief to him until I come of age since the Thelesia House is full of noble priests and don’t hold land of their own. Both of us receive plenty of advantages from this relationship.
… What fucking meaning and value does my trust hold? I frowned, and the conversation between Earl Thelesia and Bellway continued.
“It’s because she distrusts humans since long ago. It seems like she doesn’t realise this herself… but it’s gotten a bit worse since that incident with that commoner child.”
I heard a sound in my mind as if all the pieces were snapping into place.
――― Ah, I see. Is it alright to call the cold feeling in my mind that? Distrust of humans. I couldn’t come up with what that feeling was called, but everything fit.
“Then, what about Kamil? It looks like she trusts him.”
… Kamil? My lips curved without making a sound. The smile I had on my face didn’t have enough power to be called a self-mocking smile.
If what I feel is really distrust of humans, then why did I break down and reveal the secret of my birth to him? I certainly thought that he would scorn me and distance himself from me once he heard about my origins, but he’s still by my side. At that time, he had silently stayed in the dungeon.
“He is the only one who she treats differently. They’re too similar… They’re not close, they’re just not good at driving each other away.”
We’re similar? I do feel a strange affinity with Kamil. When Kamil had that stiff and failed smile on his face, I don’t know why, but I felt really close to him… However, I have never questioned him on the secrets he holds. Now that I know the words ‘distrust of humans’, I can definitely say that I was indifferent to him. Or, I might have unconsciously put up a wall around myself. I don’t want people to enter my world, so I don’t try to step into theirs.
But, I was curious about his circumstances now since he always pretends to keep his distance, like it had nothing to do with him. If that’s the reason why I can’t push him away, then I want him to explode and tell me.
I thought, and my ears became clear. However, the next thing the Earl said made me choke.
“But that too… If she knew that his father was the merchant who had poisoned her family, then she might not keep him by her side anymore.”
The merchant who had poisoned my father. I immediately paled, and my head was spinning. My vision flickered, and I leaned against Rashiok’s back. It was as if cold water had been poured on my head.
He’s a man I killed.
I was the one who had killed my father. But, the person who had been accused and executed for the crime was the merchant who had sold the food to my parents on that day.
My heart thumped violently in my chest. It was cold, but sweat was dripping down from my forehead.
… I had only heard that he was an unscrupulous merchant. He was a man who did a lot of shady things and was suspicious.
Although Kamil hardly ever talked about his father, I can tell from his expressions that he still misses him. He even boasts that his father was a wealthy merchant.
If Kamil ever discovers that I’m the true culprit. A chill ran down my spine. The reason why he follows me, the reason why he stays by my side… The reason why he tries to get close to me….
Urgh… a moan died at the back of my throat without making a sound. I felt extremely dizzy. The back of my temple was aching in pain.
I somehow managed to lift my trembling fingers and poked Rashiok’s back three times. He seemed to have understood my signal and laid down on the floor. My chest felt painful and I wanted to vomit, but I managed to hold it in and got on his back. Then, he carried me to my room without making a sound. He swayed more softly than usual, and I knew that he was worried about me, and this was his way of being gentle.
“You want Claudia to join the fief army?”
“Yes, I want her to register in the army as a guest, and have her become my bodyguard. What do you think?”
The weather changed mid-day, and it was raining heavily right now. There was a lot of water in Kaldia, but it didn’t rain often. As the rain tapped against the window of the office, Earl Thelesia blinked several times at my sudden proposal.
“… I was going to suggest this after you two get to know each other better.”
“Then, can we send Kamil to the east to develop the lands there?”
If Claudia becomes my bodyguard, then it’s possible to move Kamil, who has been my bodyguard up until now. One of the more predictable ways to move Kamil in the future is to place him at the refugee settlement. He understands cultures other than Arxia’s and can get along with others, he can speak Artolas, do paperwork, is skilful, and above all, had Earl Thelesia’s trust. There was no suitable position for him except to send him to the development site. The only vacancy that will open up is that of my bodyguard, so if I have Claudia substitute for him, then he can move right away.
Earl Thelesia nodded and agreed with my proposal.
“Claudia-dono already goes to the barracks quite often. The soldiers have been a little restless since my birthday celebrations, but they will probably calm down once Claudia has a position.”
A lot of soldiers were deeply impressed by Claudia’s spear skills. Our soldiers respected the strong. That’s why no one complained about Gunter even though he is young and has a position above the older veterans. Most of them used to be thieves, so they weren’t against following a woman’s orders. There were many women amongst the bandits, and there were some who were ruled by women who earned more, since they recognised ability. If I’m not mistaken, Claudia will definitely help organise the army.
“I want to accept the refugees who are currently suffering outside of the fortress as soon as possible. I have no objections to having Claudia as my bodyguard and sending Kamil to the development area. Kamil will definitely be able to manage the area well since he understands our intentions.”
I summed up my thoughts on the matter, and the Earl suddenly seemed confused for some reason. His dark black pupils looked directly into my eyes as if he was trying to peek into my mind. I felt as if he could see straight into my heart, so I avoided his gaze by looking out the window, then he closed his eyes, and seemed to be thinking about something for a while.
“… Nothing. Hmm, you’re right. I’ll talk to Claudia about it, and instruct Kamil about the settlement village.”
“Very well, then. I’ll go and call Claudia-dono right now.”
I bowed and exited the office. From behind me, I could hear Earl Thelesia say, “You don’t look well, so you should get some rest after that.” I know that myself. After all, my stomach and head have been aching since this morning, and I might throw up at any moment if I’m not careful.
Even Claudia stayed inside on rainy days, so I visited the room that was given to her. She gave me permission to enter her room in a less spirited tone.
Claudia’s room hardly had any of her personal belongings. She had basically almost nothing besides the clothes on her back when she arrived here. Her room left quite an expression on me, since it was the opposite of Elise’s, who had looked as if she had brought everything from her room. The iron spear lying on top of a piece of cloth on the floor was the only thing Claudia owned, and she was currently rolling around.
“How are you doing, Claudia-dono?”
“I’m so bored. It usually doesn’t rain, but I’m stuck in the house with nothing to do today because it’s raining so heavily today. I want to practice.”
Claudia was the personification of being bored. She sat on her bed and swung her feet around. She seemed unhappy and complained about her boredom. The way she was pouting made her seem like a little kid.
“If you want, I can have the maid prepare sewing tools for you.”
I proposed that she sew, which was what normal ladies enjoyed doing on a rainy day, since I wanted a little revenge. Although, I know she wouldn’t be interested in it.
“… You mean that, right? You found out that I hate sewing, so you’re having fun teasing me, aren’t you?”
“No, of course not.”
I bet she had only said that without noticing my intent, but I was surprised to hear her bitter reply. I sleekly objected, but I was surprised inside. Claudia was shockingly good at reading others. Perhaps, Claudia is usually hyperactive, so she just doesn’t notice other people’s remarks; she wasn’t ignorant. She stopped kicking her feet and pouted her lower lips out slightly. Just by remaining still, she looked like a lady from a good family, because of her elegant features. I don’t usually see her like this… I felt awfully disappointed.
“Jokes aside, Earl Thelesia would like to talk to you. Can you come to his office?”
“Alright, let’s go!”
Claudia seemed glad that she could get up and move around. She lightly jumped off her bed straight away when I told her the Earl wanted to talk to her. Where did her boredom from earlier fly off to? The young lady that I had seen earlier must have just been an illusion. She looks like a lady if she doesn’t move around, these words rolled on the inside of my mouth.
Claudia briskly left her room; she looked right, left, then right again. What is she doing? She won’t get knocked down by anything in a mansion corridor.
“Erina-dono… Where is the office?”