How did it come to this? Chrono asked himself while staring up to the ceiling.
Last night he slept with Layla after getting swept away by his instincts and the circumstances without even trying to make an effort to clear up the misunderstanding. Now he wondered whether it had really been such a good idea to have done something so insincere.
When he looked next to him while pondering about all that, he could see Layla gently snoring.
Right now I’m laying next to a beauty I’d never have been able to get close to in my previous world.
Considering it like that, he felt that his current situation wasn’t all that bad.
Now that we’ve done it, it can’t be helped anymore. It’s no use crying over spilt milk. I’m sure, tomorrow will take care of itself.
Layla moaned lightly, and her eyelashes trembled slightly.
“You can sleep in a bit longer, you know?”
Layla nodded and nestled up to him like a puppy.
“Lift your head a bit.”
As soon as Layla raised her head despite being perplexed, Chrono slid his arm underneath it.
“Now, lower it just like that.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Layla lowered her head somewhat hesitatingly on Chrono’s arm.
“Umm, I wasn’t a bother for you, was I?”
“If I had to describe my feelings, I’d say I felt startled.”
When Chrono played around with her pointed ears, Layla squinted her eyes, looking comfortable.
“Excuse me. I felt like I would never be able to become happy if I were to miss this chance…so I lost my reasoning.”
Layla cast her eyes down in embarrassment, but the same could be also said about Chrono.
“Are you happy now?”
“Yes, I am. Besides, it was my first time to be treated so cherishingly…”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“I think you can guess yourself, but it was my first time.”
Once he recalled the events of last night, his cheeks felt hot. Chrono was convinced that he had read up on sex quite a bit, but fictional stories were just that – fictional.
“…I’m sorry. Umm, it would have been great if I could have given you my first time as well, but…” Layla answered with what sounded a bit like groaning.
“No, if you apologize to me for something like that, I feel slightly stumped as to what to answer.” Chrono scratched his cheek.
Virginity wasn’t anything you were supposed to protect, but rather something to get rid of. No matter how you thought about it, it wasn’t anything that followed the principles of equal exchange.
Still, yesterday night Layla was super cute～ Chrono grinned to himself.
Layla stared in the direction of Chrono’s feet ― or precisely, his nether region where his dick had gotten lively again.
“…I’m sorry, but this is normal in the mornings.”
“N-No problem, please love me as much as you want.”
Chrono sat up, and just when he was about to get on top of Layla, a knocking could be heard from the door.
“What a shitty timing!”
“Lord Chrono, it’s time for work, so it can’t be helped.”
“Ugh, I really don’t wanna go, though.”
Chrono got off the bed, and put on his pants.
“Layla, hide under the blanket.”
“Okay,” she answered and pulled the blanket over herself.
Another knocking could be heard from the door.
“Juuust a second! I’ll open the door in a moment!”
Once Chrono opened the door, he found Tilia standing in the corridor.
Chrono silently closed the door. But, as soon as furious knocking assailed the door, he lightly opened the door again.
“Why did you close it?”
“I thought I saw an illusion. By the way, why are you here, Tilia?”
“Well, there’s something I want to tell you.”
“Wouldn’t you send a messenger at times like these?”
“Usually yes, but I entrusted Sitter with putting the documents in order. So I had no choice but to come here myself.” Tilia’s nostrils swelled in pride. “It looks like it’ll take a bit of time, so would it be okay for me to come in?”
“Why not?” Tilia tilted her head in confusion.
There’s no way I can tell her that it’s because Layla is sleeping in my bed――
“Ah, t-that is, oh! It’s messy in here since I just got up!”
“I don’t really mind though, you know?”
“But I mind! Look, even if I might be a guy, it doesn’t mean that I want a girl to see my messy room!”
“I don’t really get it, but forcing you would be bad as well. Okay, I’ll wait for you in my office then.”
“I’ll come there at once.”
“Okay, I’ll be waiting.” Tilia nodded, and turned on her heels.
After he had confirmed that Tilia went downstairs, Chrono closed the door.
“As you’ve heard, I’ll be going to her office now. Layla, you do the usual. Also, we’re in a relationship now, but you’re not allowed to act all high and mighty towards your colleagues, okay?”
Chrono felt relieved in his mind. In the past his mother, who had been working part-time, had complained about a female coworker becoming arrogant immediately after she had started to date the manager.
When Chrono entered the office in the marquis’s mansion, Tilia was already sitting behind her desk, waiting for him. As something had apparently happened, she looked quite displeased, although he had seen her just a dozen of minutes ago.
“I hurried as much as I could.”
“Hoh. I was certain you had been flirting with your half elf, though.”
Chrono felt a shock as if a nail had been driven into his heart, but he pretended to be calm as he asked Tilia, “What are you talking about?”
“I received a report from a subordinate…”
“Didn’t your subordinate just mishear?”
“I understand,” Tilia sighed lightly, “but, a half elf is a bad idea.”
“Because of the difference in social standing. Love crossing social status tends to be glorified, but reality isn’t as kind.”
“Tilia, do you have experience in romantic relationships?”
“Obviously I don’t. This is just the common opinion.”
“In case of differences in statuses, your partner doesn’t see you, but the money behind you. The assets connected to you who’s going to inherit the Baron Chroford peerage in the future.”
“You’re really amazing, Tilia.”
“That’s only natural. Even though I may look like this, I’m still a proper imperial princess.”
Chrono had said this with the intention to make a sarcastic comment, but Tilia’s nostrils swelled up in pride.
“Did you now understand why I told you that a half elf would be a bad idea?”
“Hmm, well, I did understand the reason.”
But, he continued in his mind, although Layla might be calculative just like Tilia has said, she has desired me as someone who’s given up on many things because she’s a half elf. That should be a decision requiring quite a bit of courage.
Of course, this was all in Chrono’s head, but he wanted to trust Layla who had told him, 『My love will be yours alone』.
Well, if I explained all this to her, she’d likely become angry, Chrono sighed softly.
“So, what kind of business do you have with me?”
“You see, as a matter of fact…I have good and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”
“The bad news.”
“Okay,” Tilia nodded, “then, as for the bad news…Marquis Erakis is dead.”
“That’s a really weak reaction. I thought you’d be a lot more surprised.”
“I’d be surprised had you said he ran away, but him dying isn’t that much of a shock.”
Even if a person sentenced to death dies, anyone would simply shrug it off.
“What’s the cause of death?”
“Poison. It looks like he carried it on him.”
“Are you asking me whether I poisoned him?” Tilia responded huffily to Chrono’s question.
“That’s not what I think, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone else wanted to seal his mouth for good.”
“The possibility of that is low.”
“He was being guarded.”
“I wouldn’t be so careless as to leave him unattended.”
“Okay I got it, Marquis Erakis killed himself. But, I’m baffled that you can sit here like nothing happened.”
“Hmm? Ah, you mean this chair here?” Tilia leaned back. “It’s quite comfortable to sit on.”
“There was no opposition?”
“If they had said anything towards that end, I’d have been forced to tear down the marquis’s mansion.” Tilia said indifferently.
“So, what’s the good news then?”
“The successor of Marquis Erakis has been decided.”
Chrono felt a chill creep up his spine when he saw Tilia smiling broadly.
“Is it okay for me to go back now?”
“No. Or rather, why are you always trying to leave?”
“It’s not always. Only when I have a bad premonition.”
“So you always get a bad premonition whenever I try to talk with you?”
“Hmm, most of the time, yes.”
“I’m sorry to tell you, but your premonition is wrong.” Tilia revealed a triumphant smile.
But then Tilia remained silent when confronted with Chrono timidly asking her, “Then you’re saying that it’s not me who’s going to succeed as Marquis Erakis, right?”
“How did you know?” Tilia groaned.
“I had a bad premonition.” Chrono sighed deeply.
“Anyway, you’re the successor. Starting today, you’re Marquis Erakis.”
“Can I refuse?”
“Why would you?” Tilia asked in return with a serious look.
“It’s impossible for me. I’m a beginner when it comes to managing a territory, and I must succeed the Chroford Barony in the future.”
The Chroford Barony was at the Empire’s southern tip whereas the Erakis March lay close to the northwestern edge of the Empire. If both territories had been close, it might have worked out one way or another, but with them being so far apart, it’d be impossible to simultaneously rule both in any decent way.
“How many years will it take for you to succeed the Chroford Barony? Wouldn’t it be alright to come up with measures in the meantime?”
“I think you’ve got a point there, but is it okay for you to decide on a new lord at your own discretion?”
“It’s not ideal, but we’re in a state of emergency. Father will probably approve of it as well.” Tilia answered while furrowing her eyebrows into a difficult look.
“I’d like to ask one thing: Why me?”
“…Hmm.” Tilia folded her arms while pondering. “It’s hard to explain in a few words, but basically it’s because I’m expecting a lot from you.”
“That’s not hard to understand at all.”
Chrono’s whole body heated up by her unexpected evaluation of him, but he faked calmness.
“But, those are my honest feelings. You were a lost cause when it came to practical skill and school learning, but――”
“That’s an awful way to put it.”
“Really? I tried to keep in mind to not be too hard on you, though.”
“How’s that not too hard on me?”
“I said you were a lost cause, didn’t I? Doesn’t that sound somewhat cute?”
“No, not quite.”
“I see.” Tilia furrowed her eyebrows and cast her eyes down a bit. “So, what are you going to do?”
“I know, I know. I’ll do it.”
“That’s great to hear.” Tilia smiled in obvious satisfaction.
“By the way, what kind of budget do I have?”
“None.” Tilia replied instantly.
“I think my hearing might have failed me. Your Highness, how much funds for the necessary activities would you be willing to allot to your humble servant?”
“I told you already, none. After paying the severance pay for the dismissed servants, not a single brass coin was left in the mansion’s vault.”
“You even dismissed the servants?”
“It wouldn’t be a good idea to keep the servants, who had served Marquis Erakis. It was better to have them resign by paying a generous severance pay. Or do you think it’d have been better to kick them out without paying them anything?”
“That’s not it, but how am I going to rule the territory without money or people?”
“You can levy taxes if you manage to hold out until the tenth month.”
“The problem is how I’m supposed to pull through until then!”
It’d have been better for me to turn it down, if things were going to turn out like this, Chrono sighed.
“Tell me, how am I supposed to levy taxes if I don’t have any administrative officials?”
“I’ll leave my subordinates with you to cover that side.”
“Is it okay for you to do that?”
“I’ve brought them with me for this reason in the first place. So, as you can see, you don’t need to worry about administrative officials.”
“For now I need to get a read on the state of the territory.”
“In that case, I’ll provide you with the necessary information.” Tilia picked up a parchment. “I’m told the unpaid wages amount to 60,000 gold coins.”
“What!?” Chrono screamed in reflex.
“If you deduct the wages of those who died in battle, the amount seems to drop to 39,000 gold coins.”
“Even that is a terrifying sum of money. So what are you telling me to do, seeing how indebted this territory has become?”
“What, since a while ago, it’s all about money, money, and money.”
“If you hadn’t paid out the severance pay for all servants without thinking it over, it wouldn’t have turned out like this, Tilia.”
“No, well, I feel sorry about that, but…”
“Now it’s too late anyway. I’ll somehow handle the budget from my side.” Chrono left the office with a sigh.
“Captain, where should I place this statue?”
“Feel free to use some open spot as you see fit. Just make sure that it’s easy to see.”
Mino put down the statue of a nude woman on the floor in the entrance hall. The statue had the size of a human, but compared to Mino, it looked like a twig.
“Was this the last one?”
“Aye, this statue was the last item in the treasure vault.”
“Still, I have to say, it’s turned out to be quite a bit.” Chrono let his eyes wander across the entrance hall.
The whole place was crammed with art pieces, handicraft, weapons, magic items, and many more. All of it was part of Marquis Erakis’s collection.
“Somethin’ wrong, Captain?”
“It’s just I got a vague feeling that all this stuff lacks unity.”
Collectors gather items belonging to a specific genre or series. At the very least, the collection should have some kind of theme. And yet, I can’t feel the slightest hint from the stuff over here. Basically it gives one the impression of the marquis having collected anything he could get his hands on. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter what he thought when obtaining all this anyway.
Chrono shifted his eyes to his subordinates ― Mino, Lizad, Horus, Leo, White, Gray, Goldi, and Layla. 1
“Everyone, thank you for helping despite having just recovered.”
“No need for thanks. Ain’t no good if we don’t get our weakened bodies back in shape ‘gain.” Mino answered for everyone else. “Captain, ye got us to help out and stuff, but was it really okay to have gone ahead with this?”
“Ah, about that. As a matter of fact, Tilia appointed the next Marquis Erakis.”
“It means that I’m Marquis Erakis right now.”
“However, there’s a catch to this…”
“Okay, what kind of catch?”
Mino covered his face with a hand, groaning in shock.
“Captain, that’s bad news. Being broke is like having no neck.”
“That’s why I planned to sell the former marquis’s collection to raise some funds.”
Since I don’t want to wake any sleeping dogs, I won’t mention that I can’t pay the overdue wages either. I’m really sick of my own helplessness here, but money doesn’t grow on trees either.
“I got that part, but why are ye linin’ up all the stuff out here?”
“You need to make an inventory first before selling it.”
“I think it’d be much less trouble to simply pawn off the stuff as quickly as possible, though.”
“I’d like to have an idea of what we’ve got and how much it’s sold for.”
“Hmm, if ye say so, we’ll do just that.”
I think it’s necessary for doing business, but Mino still doesn’t seem quite convinced.
“Layla, help me with drawing up an inventory list.”
Even though Chrono held out various writing tools such as a board with a parchment affixed to it, a quill, and an inkwell, Layla didn’t show any hint of accepting them. She tucked her chin in lightly, appealing to Chrono about something with her eyes.
“Captain, Layla can’t write.”
“I am terribly sorry, Lord Chrono.” Layla hang her head in shame upon Mino’s response.
“Is that so?”
“Ain’t that many people ’round who can read and write.”
“What do they do when shopping?”
“Even if ye can’t read it doesn’t pose a problem.”
“Then, what about numbers? Can they count numbers?”
“Well, as long as it’s a few.”
“Hmm,” Chrono groaned.
Being able to count and yet unable to read and write. Letters aren’t of relevance for one’s everyday life, but arithmetics are? Then again, it’s pointless for me to ponder about this right now.
“All those among you who can read, write, and calculate, raise your hand!”
“I can do all three.” Goldi raised his hand timidly.
“Where did you learn it?”
“It was driven into me when I worked as a blacksmith. If you can’t read and write to some extent, you’ll get cheated by merchants.”
“That makes sense.”
The literacy rate might be around 10%, no, maybe even lower. Up until now I haven’t been aware of this, but it must be common sense for the people of this world.
“Goldi, I’m counting on you.”
“I won’t disappoint you.”
Chrono passed the writing tools to Goldi, and headed over to the naked woman statue at the farthest edge.
“First, a statue of a naked woman. Second, a jar. Third――”
“First is the statue of a naked woman. Second is a jar. Third is――”
Goldi kept writing the names of the items mentioned by Chrono on the parchment.
“…20th, a poleax?”
“Lord Chrono, this is a Kanuchi-made magic item.” Goldi provided an explanation when Chrono tilted his head in confusion.
“Kanuchi was an old way to call smithing, wasn’t it?”
“Kanuchi is a teaching school for blacksmiths.”
Maybe unexpectedly many humans have come to this world. On the other hand, it seems like their survival rate would be low over here. They’d be in a dilemma if they can’t communicate. The same can be said about landing in a bad place or encountering hostile people first.
Just someone lucky enough to survive and be able to integrate into society could have left their mark behind, like with the Kanuchi. In that regard, Chrono had been blessed with an extreme stroke of luck. Well, you could also argue that he encountered a terrible misfortune by being thrown into this world, though.
“Kanuchi-made weapons are being traded for a lot of money. When it comes on it being a magic item on top of that, I wouldn’t be able to make an estimate for its value.”
“Do you know what kind of power it possesses?”
“A box with an inscribed manual should exist somewhere.”
How unexpected for it to even come with instructions, Chrono stared at the poleax. Its overall length exceeded two meters. The ax blade was double-edged with one side having been made larger. The tip looked just like a spearhead. The butt end was equipped with a counter weight, looking quite capable of easily cracking a human skull.
“Can you hold it, Mino?”
“This much ain’t no problem.” Mino lightly lifted the poleax.
“Okay, then it’s yours now.”
“Captain, are ye serious?”
“I think it’s better to use a weapon for what it was made, if possible.”
Apparently deeply moved, Mino trembled all over.
“Next…glasses? No, crystals?”
“Lord Chrono, those are magic items allowing you to speak with someone who is far away.” Layla explained when Chrono looked down at twenty globes that were stored in a wooden box.
“What kind of reach does it have?”
“You can reach someone anywhere within Harshel.”
“Why haven’t they been put to use despite being so convenient?”
“That’s obviously because they’re expensive.”
“Ah, makes sense.”
Magic communication items were no daily items, but collector’s items. They existed for bragging, and not for actual use.
“I’ll hand them out to everyone later.”
“Is that okay?”
“I’m no collector, after all.” Chrono shrugged his shoulders lightly. “Next, a bow, huh?”
Chrono picked up the bow and carefully scrutinized it. Apparently it had been made by combining various materials.
“That’s a composite bow.”
“Is it anything noteworthy?”
“Its range and power goes well beyond that of longbows.”
“Hoh, that much?” Chrono stared closely at the bow. “Can it be mass produced?”
“I think it’d be possible, given you have a workshop for it.”
I’d like to keep the expenses at bay, but my subordinates might end up dying less if I provide them with high-quality equipment. In that light, the answer is simple. Worrying about it is just a waste of time. But, it does have a single problem.
“But, Goldi, you’d be the only one capable of mass producing the bows, right? Or do you have any other craftsmen we could rely on?”
“That won’t be an issue.” Goldi replied proudly.
I’m somewhat uneasy, but if he’s so confident about it, I might as well trust him on it.
“I got it. We’ll set up a workshop then.”
“A-Are you alright with that?”
“Yep, but if I consider that I’d leave all the work like securing craftsmen or launching the workshop to someone else…”
“N-No need to worry! I’ll do my utmost to meet your expectations!”
“Okay, let’s leave the matter with the workshop for later and wrap up the inventory list first.” Chrono put the composite bow back on the floor, and resumed the inventory calls.
“Jar, jar, jar, plate, plate, painting, painting…big mallet.”
“That is yet another Kanuchi work.”
“Does that mean it’s a magic item?”
Chrono guessed the mallet to be as long as the previous poleax. It gave him the impression of being quite capable of beating any normal being to death. Although, only if you could swing it decently.
When he suddenly looked to the side, he felt like his eyes met with Lizad’s.
“Then I’ll give this big mallet to you, Lizad.”
“…You have my gratitude.” Lizad faced Chrono, placing his right fist on his left chest ― the salute of the imperial army.
“Jar, jar, painting, painting, a palm sized statue of a naked woman…50th, a greatsword. Is this a Kanuchi work, too?”
“You have discerning eyes, Lord Chrono.”
“I just thought that this one might also be Kanuchi-made since the same applied for two weapons in a row. I’ll give the sword to Leo.”
“I shall gratefully accept, Milord. I intend to work hard to not feel ashamed for having received this sword.” Leo took the sword into his hands, and saluted at Chrono.
“Sculpture, sculpture, two swords…are these also Kanuchi-made magic items?”
If it’s something like this, I could use it as well, Chrono picked up one of the swords. Just to notice White and Gray staring his way, their eyes sparkling with anticipation.
“…These swords will be used by White and Gray.”
“I’ll make absolutely sure to put it to good use for you, Lord Chrono!”
Chrono was soothed by White and Gray wagging their tails furiously. Then he continued to name one item after the other in order to finish up the inventory list.
He got fed up by the roughly fifty swords, but he continued the chore while encouraging himself that the end was nigh. Given that Goldi complained about arm pain, they inserted several breaks.
“660th…the last one is a sword, huh? Is this another Kanuchi-made magic item?”
“It doesn’t seem to be a magic item, though?”
“Hmm? There’s a crest on the hilt.”
I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before, Chrono cocked his head.
“Ah, the Imperial household’s crest, isn’t it? Okay, selling it would be impossible.”
“You would lose your head if you did sell it, I believe.”
“Very well, I’ll carry it with me then.”
It might be good for something, seeing how it has the Imperial household’s crest.
“Goldi, how about the list?”
“I’d like you to give me a bit more time.”
After around ten minutes passed, “It’s done! The breakdown of the 660 total items is as follows: 200 jars, 300 plates, 50 paintings, 10 large sculptures, 50 small sculptures, and 50 decorations.”
“That’s quite a bit, isn’t it? How much is it going to earn us? What do you think?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Goldi, even you don’t know?”
“My strength lies in making things.” Goldi furrowed his eyebrows into a troubled look.
“If we don’t know the market price, we’ll likely have the prices beaten down, resulting in us selling the things far under value. Some good ideas…”
“Lord Chrono, if you allow?”
“Did you come up with something, Layla?”
“Would it not be fine to have a great number of merchants estimate the prices?”
“That’s a great idea.”
“N-No, you are exaggerating.”
Layla huddled her shoulders while looking embarrassed, but it wasn’t a bad idea. Chrono had heard about people getting several businessmen to make estimates when moving houses.
Certainly, this method might result in a bigger income than selling the items normally. But, it’s also quite likely that the merchants are going to buy these items for a lot less money than they’re going to earn from them when selling them later on. Isn’t there any way to get more money out of it? Chrono folded his arms.
Picks Co. was a big company with branch stores spread out all over Empire Cepheus. Nikola was a senior company member in charge of Picks’s branch store in the Erakis March, but her business abilities were meager at best. After spending more time than others, she finally reached the point of being entrusted with a store, but it was nothing she could be proud of. After all, being the store manager in the Erakis March was an honorable post at the end of one’s career, prepared for personnel like Nikola. It was similar to saying that seriousness was the only redeeming worth of the elderly. And yet, no, because of that, Nikola diligently did her business duties. Without discriminating against anyone, she also took proper care of the apprentices entrusted to her.
It was around evening when a pair of a man and woman visited Nikola.
The man was probably younger than twenty. He had a tight body build, and a big scar ran from his right forehead down to his cheek. The right eye was closed, suggesting that he had lost his eyesight there. Nikola could immediately tell from his bearing that he had to be a soldier.
The woman, on the other hand, was a half elf. She looked like she was older than twenty, but with elves you couldn’t actually make any proper estimate in the first place. This stemmed from elves being considered to have live spans exceeding those of humans by two to five fold. Half elves usually inherited the trait as well. In contrast to the man, she had a fairly slim body line ― you could maybe even call her underfed ― and wore shabby clothes. Nikola suspected that the soldier had bought himself a prostitute to screw around.
“What kind of business might you have with us?”
“I’d like you to choose some clothes for this girl here.” The man voiced his request upon Nikola welcoming him with her typical business smile.
She immediately judged that he’d gone through advanced education, going by his polite demeanor.
Very like an officer ― noble. That means he must be connected to Marquis Erakis.
“How about the clothes over here then?”
Nikola pointed at a deep blue skirt, which could actually be mistaken for being black, a beige tunic, and a vest with the same color as the skirt.
“Would it be fine for her to try them on?”
“Of course, the dressing room is this way. Beth, show our customer to the dressing room.”
Nikola called the apprentice employee Beth over, and had her guide the half elf.
After a while, the man timidly spoke up, “Excuse me. As a matter of fact I wanted to consult you about something, if possible.”
“What might be the matter?”
“I was ordered to sell off works of art by a certain person of high class, but I have no idea about the market prices.”
“That sounds like a big problem. If you are alright with me, I can offer you my advice.”
Those words reflected her true feelings. Of course she kept the profit of her store in mind, but she thought he might get severely scolded by Marquis Erakis after getting ripped off by other merchants, if she didn’t lend him her assistance.
If a child is about to rush out on a street that’s heavily frequented by carriages, I’ll stop it. That’s just natural for a human.
“May I ask for your help then?”
“Yes, it is my pleasure.”
“Ah,” the man yelped softly.
“Is something wrong?”
“I am sorry for not having mentioned it earlier. My name is Chrono. Will you understand if I tell you that I am Baron Chrohd Chroford’s son?”
“Yes, I understand.”
Anyone in an older or the same generation as Nikola would have heard about Baron Chrohd Chroford at least once.
“Excuse me, my name is Nikola.”
Nikola shook the man’s ― Chrono’s hand.
“Would it be possible to take you up on your offer right away after this?”
“Certainly. It will not be a problem.”
“I am glad to hear that.”
Chrono showed her a broad smile, obviously relieved, but Nikola would soon regretted her own words. On top of being forced to appraise up to 660 art pieces, the actual sale would take place on the next day.
On the next day, Nikola left the store in the care of her subordinate, and headed to Marquis Erakis’s mansion together with Beth. Once their carriage drove onto the grounds of the mansion, Beth stared in wonder, her mouth wide open.
“What is it?”
“We’re not goin’ to get killed, are we?”
“No, definitely not,” Nikola smiled bitterly.
“I’d really hate for us to be erased after having served our purpose of estimating the market prices.”
“You are too much of a worrywart.”
Nikola stopped the carriage, and entered the mansion while holding a box crammed with gold coins. The second she stepped into the building, she got overwhelmed by a wave of hot air. The entrance hall was packed with a huge number of demi-humans and humans.
The demi-humans were surrounding the hall while the humans ― all merchants running stores in the commercial district ― sat on chairs. Nikola and Beth picked free seats for themselves and sat down.
“Is somethin’ goin’ on? Or rather, isn’t that an executioner up there on the stage?”
“Quiet down a bit, will you?”
Nikola stared at the stage directly in front of her. After a short while, Chrono went up on stage.
“Good day everyone, my name is Chrono Chroford. Currently I have been entrusted with the rule of the Erakis March.”
As soon as Chrono inserted a pause after his greetings, a stir occurred among the merchants. The emotions on their faces couldn’t be clearly identified as being either fearful or surprised.
“I would like to hand over the fortune, which was left behind by my predecessors, to you kind ladies and gentlemen at a reasonable price for the sake of procuring funds for our upcoming activities. As the method, I have chosen the auction format which is very familiar to all of you!”
We got tricked. Chrono has called out to companies other than ours. Moreover, he’s trying to maximize the profits by using an auction.
“Our first item is this statue of a nude woman which was created by a sculptor of the northern Free City States! The bid starts at 400 gold coins!”
“Okay, we have a winner!”
“We got a late start, didn’t we?”
“Looks like it.” Nikola nodded at Beth’s remark.
Usually the merchants would have kept each other in check for a bit longer, but the price shot up in the blink of an eye. Overly unnaturally at that.
Having a certain suspicion, Nikola thought back on the earlier expressions of the merchants.
Maybe some among them had tried to beat down the prices of the art pieces to get them as cheaply as possible? And maybe they now needed to frantically clear their stigma of being corrupt? If their infamy spreads, it wouldn’t just bring disadvantages to themselves, but also affect their companies. This would spell their end as merchants. If I assume Chrono had called out to several merchants in anticipation of such a thing happening, it’d make him a terribly cunning man.
“The next item is a Sadal vase which was made a hundred years ago! This item is going to start at 30 gold coins!”
“Oh noes! Manager, hurry, we’ve gotta join in!”
“No, we cannot do that.”
50 gold coins would be a fair price for the vase. It’s too risky to bid more than 47 gold coins for it. But, I cannot afford to not buy anything either. Our store would draw the displeasure of the new ruler, and we’d be ridiculed by our competitors.
“Okay, we have a winner! Now then, the next item is――”
We’ve been had.
All Nikola could do was to laugh at her fate.
On the evening of the next day ― Nikola had been carrying the works of art, which she won with Beth, to their carriage. Last night she couldn’t go back home. One reason was the fact that the auction had continued deep into the night, but another part of it was them being told to stay the night. Furthermore, they were forbidden to leave their rooms, being informed that it was for the sake of preventing any thefts, but Nikola could easily identify it as a measure to hinder the merchants from colluding with each other.
“We couldn’t really buy all that much, could we?”
“It cannot be helped.” Nikola consoled Beth who looked disheartened.
They had won the bids for more than 66 smaller articles centered around plates, and as such Nikola was proud to have kept the damage to a minimum, but she wasn’t quite sure whether they shouldn’t have bought at least one of the bigger items such as paintings or sculptures.
No, my choice should be right, Nikola shook her head. I must still be affected by the heat of the auction. An auction fever of such gravity is something truly terrifying.
Just when Nikola was about to climb onto their carriage――
“Dear Lady of Picks!”
“Is something the matter?”
When Nikola looked in the direction of the voice, she spotted the half elf running her way.
“Lord Chrono is asking for you.”
“Me? For what reason?”
“Sorry, but Lord Chrono has not informed me.” The half elf answered, appearing somewhat embarrassed. “What are you going to do?”
“Of course, I will answer the call.”
Guided by the half elf, Nikola was taken to a parlor on the mansion’s third floor.
“Thank you very much for all your efforts, Mrs. Nikola.” Chrono greeted Nikola as soon as she entered the room.
Currently he was sitting on a sofa with a broad smile plastered all over his face.
It’s a truly nice smile. Well, I suppose anyone would smile like that if they had earned more than 30,000 gold in two days.
“Please, sit, sit.”
“Thank you very much.” Nikola sat down opposite Chrono.
“How did the auction go for you?”
“I would think you are well aware of it, Milord.”
“True,” Chrono admitted.
“What kind of business might you have with me?”
“As for that, you see…actually, I’d like the Picks Company…no, you, Mrs. Nikola, to become our official purveyor.”
“Why would you choose me?” Nikola asked in reflex.
“Your customer service was exemplary.”
The half elf bashfully lowered her eyes when Chrono directed his eyes her way.
It looks like I haven’t been wrong in my assessment of her being his lover.
“For starters, I’d like to request rations for my soldiers from you. I have roughly 650 men under my command. How much money would it cost me?”
“Oh, if it is such a number…” Nikola informed Chrono of the total sum after telling him about the price of wheat.
Chrono nodded in satisfaction.
“How about something like a five-year-contract? With the clause of increasing the amounts based on the sum you mentioned just now when the number of my soldiers increases.”
“In that case…”
On the verge of nodding, Nikola somehow managed to stop herself from doing so.
Uh-oh, that was close. Really close. I got almost swept away by his attitude and atmosphere once again. Chrono has a fairly formidable character.
“Would I not incur a loss in times of bad harvests if we do it like that?”
“That’s why it’d be a contract over five years.”
“…I see.” Nikola recalculated while agreeing.
The current market price is as average as they come. Besides, if I store up wheat during years of abundant harvests, I’ll be able to reduce the risks.
Just when she reached the conclusion that it wasn’t a bad deal――
“As long as you can guarantee the quantity and a quality above standard, I’ll leave the methods to you.”
“――gh!” Nikola gasped due to Chrono’s words which suggested that he’d read what was going on in her mind. “Very well. Then let us set up the contract.”
Nikola shook hands with Chrono.
“……I know that it might be rude of me, but Lord Chrono, are you truly a noble?”
“Yes, of course.” Chrono grinned broadly, but the smile didn’t reach his eye.
It seemed as if he was looking at something worthless.
Maybe nobility isn’t anything of significance to him, Nikola shuddered.
“I’m pooped～” Chrono flopped down on the bed as soon as he entered the room.
It wasn’t the hospital’s sickroom, but a guest room on the third floor of the marquis’s mansion.
“Just as I feared, I’m not cut out for this～”
He didn’t think of himself as suited for being an auction host, much less a fief’s lord, but now that he was thinking back on these last two days, he broke into a smile after discovering a side of himself he hadn’t known.
“It seems like I’ll be able to take a good, nice rest today.”
Chrono closed his eyes ― and then woke up to a knocking. He realized that someone was at the door.
He got out of the bed, and headed over. When he opened the door, he found Layla standing in the corridor.
“I-Is something wrong?”
“Lord Chrono, I would like to receive your love.” Layla answered with her face cast down in embarrassment. “If I am causing you trouble――”
“No, you’re no trouble.”
Chrono ushered Layla into the room, and closed the door behind them. When he turned around, Layla was already sitting on the bed. Her eyes seemed somehow moist to him.
No sooner than Chrono sat down next to her, she snuggled up to him. As she hugged his shoulder, her breasts touched him with only their clothes in-between.
“Receiving your love and affection makes me very happy.”
“The same applies to me as well.”
I can love a beauty like Layla, so it’s obvious that I feel super happy.
“Umm, Lord Chrono?”
“I am terribly sorry that I could not be of much help to you this time.”
“No, you don’t need to mind it.”
“Thank you.” Layla breathed out in relief.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Chrono slowly unbuttoned her tunic, exposing her naked skin, and with it, her scars. Suddenly the question whether it was really okay to continue like this surfaced in his mind.
I’m happy about having sex with Layla. It feels great. But, is that real love? I wonder whether I can really say that I’m reciprocating her love. Am I not just one-sidedly exploiting her in our current relationship?
Such doubts popped up, and vanished. Vanished and resurfaced.
“Layla, you said you can’t read and write, didn’t you?”
“I am terribly sorry.” Layla replied, her words tinged with desperation.
Once Chrono stood up, Layla grabbed his sleeve, “Have I been rude to you in some way? If I was――”
“No, nothing of that sort. Come over here.” Chrono walked up to the desk and drew back a chair. “Sit down.”
Despite looking bewildered, Layla sat down on the chair. Chrono wrote 26 letters, which resembled the alphabet, on a parchment with a quill.
“…Lord Chrono, you will not give me your love tonight?”
“I’ll teach you reading and writing…to study, starting with tonight.”
“Study?” Layla lifted an eyebrow, making it clear that she didn’t quite get it.
“I’ve been thinking how I should reciprocate your love, Layla.”
“And you are going to do it through studying?”
“Yep. Money is…nothing I can offer you on my own discretion.”
“No! I do not need any money! I am fully satisfied with just being allowed to stay by your side!”
“Thanks.” Chrono thanked her honestly. “Well, and because of that, it’s studying since it’s something I can manage on my own. Besides, I think that you might need it in the future.”
“I understand. I shall gladly take you up on that offer.”
Chrono felt relieved when he heard her saying so.
“First I’ll teach you letters, which will become the foundation. We will read them out loud, and then practice writing them.”
Chrono began to read out one letter after the other.