Wednesday, December 21, 2022 @

Chapter 33, Part 1

 It must have been a strange sight to the onlookers. A single ox-cart and a pair of figures were moving side by side through the streets of the capital, which were organized neatly and spread out in a grid-like pattern.
 No, there is no problem at that point. The problem was the family crest engraved on the luxurious oxcart with several maids and servants, and above all, the behavior of the person inside, which must be said to be out of the ordinary.
 It belonged to the Tachibana Trading Company, which was known as one of the ten, if not five, largest trading companies in Fuso-kuni, and was one of the three largest trading companies in terms of foreign trade alone, especially in imported goods. The family crest of Tachibana, which not only meant that the person belonged to the trading company but also represented the Tachibana family itself, which succeeded the chairman of the company, was proudly displayed in gold letters on the ox carriage.
 In the capital, where many rare items from across the sea gather and where the head office of the trading company is located, this family crest by itself has great authority. If it were a member of a royal family or a feudal lord, it's all right, but if it were a poor noble family with no manor or a small family that can mobilize only a hundred warriors, they would surrender easily.
 Now, what attracts people's attention and at the same time gives a strange impression to those who see it is the eccentric or outrageous behavior of the girl who is getting into the oxcart.
 The girl getting into the ox cart is Tachibana Kayo, the daughter of the chairman of the Tachibana Trading Company. She has bright honey-colored hair, which is rare in this country, and eyes that remind people of jade... She also has a pale and pretty face full of exoticism that reminds people of Nanban people in the west and wears a green-toned hakama that incorporates Nanban designs. Moreover, she has a sweet scent of citrus fruits, perhaps because of her perfume, which is associated with the house of Tachibana? If such a person, who appears rarely, opens the window of the oxcart and shows her face, it would certainly attract attention. After all, a noble woman would not show her face unnecessarily in front of a large number of people, which makes it all the more shocking.
 "As I thought, your mask isn't pretty enough. Why don't you take it off? Your visibility is not so good, isn't it dangerous when walking?"
 "I've already explained that proposal to you."
 "It's a pity."
 ...it is obvious that she would attract people's attention in a bad way if she, who is a daughter above the clouds in the eyes of ordinary people, opens her window to the full and talks almost one-sidedly with a smiling face to a servant and a young servant. Moreover, if the content of the conversation is not obligatory but clearly private...
 (And generally, the hate is directed toward us...)
 It was a good decision to leave the central main street, knowing that it would be a long way to return home. Even now, every time we pass someone, we are met with curiosity, suspicion, astonishment, or even hatred... I wonder what would have happened if we had been on Suzaku-street (Suzaku is the name of one of the four celestial animals in Japanese mythology) with its traffic jams?
 ...Surely there is no lack of jealousy, but this is a world where people can barely survive, let alone rise to the top, and where there is not much entertainment. In such a world, people of lower rank who are looked at by those of higher rank are too conspicuous. They may look like scumbags who take advantage of a lowly and naive young lady, and even if they are not, it's not a problem.
 The truth, the reality, and the actuality are unimportant. They just want something to take out their frustration and grudge against in this hard world. And right now, I am the perfect target.
 In short, it's the same theory as "リア充" (Riaru-jū/Riajuu) and "逆玉" (Gyakutama/neet). But in my case, I don't have even the slightest advantage.
 "Oh, yes, I heard about it the other day. I heard that my father caused you a lot of trouble, didn't he?"
 The girl declared, whether she knew my inner gloom or not.
 What Kayo told me about the other day... it was clear that she meant the incident at the underground tunnels.
 The matter of the underground tunnels had been gagged, and as a matter of course I had been under a curse from the imperial envoys to keep my mouth shut. The Imperial Court seemed to be skeptical of my report and Murasaki's, but they still understood that there was something, even if it was not 'youkai mother', so they secretly mobilized exorcists to sweep up the remaining enemies in the underground tunnels... that's what I heard from Gorilla-sama.
 After all, the Imperial Court would not want to believe that the "youkai mother" was under their feet, and besides, most of the "youkai" whom they would kill would have been wiped out by Murasaki or eaten each other. Thus, it is safe to say that the physical evidence has been destroyed.
 Alternatively, the method to look into the memories of some exorcists by using their special powers is not necessarily a universal method. Memories are vague, and the more time passes, the worse it becomes.
 The disadvantage of using the exorcists' method is that the person who is peeping into the memory will be exposed to such a biased memory if the person who is being peeped into thinks so. Or, if a false memory is implanted, it is meaningless. Furthermore, there was a possibility that the person who looked into the memories would be negatively affected mentally and personally.
 Above all, to have one's memories viewed is the same as being stripped naked and having all one's secrets revealed to one's opponent. There is no greater humiliation. The family's secret skills and secrets could be revealed. Unless they commit a mortal sin, the exorcists, as well as the nobles and feudal lords, refuse to have their memories peeked into, which is allowed.
 Naturally, the relatives of the most reliable witness in the underground tunnels, Murasaki, would be very reluctant to have her memory peeked into. On the other hand, the exorcists would not want to peek into the memories of the surviving guides because of the strong status system in this world. They will reject it with goosebumps, saying that the stain will be transferred to them.
 Or there is only one way to look into the memories without bias, but the gorilla who owns me, the possible subject of the memory, would not allow it. After all, she wouldn't want her toys to be destroyed. Although, of course, she seems to have offered a reasonable amount of compensation... anyway, as long as Gorilla-sama doesn't budge, I'll be safe. I should be thankful for that, even though Princess Gorilla is a brute.
 (Well, let's put it that way...)
 If she mentioned it here, her next plan is...
 "I apologize, but please allow me to inform you that a messenger from your family has already conveyed their apologies to the Kizuki family. Therefore, there is no need for you, Miss Kayo, as a member of the Tachibana family, to apologize again."
 "Please rest assured. It is not for Kizuki to whom I am apologizing."
 Immediately, I answered that the apology was unnecessary to avoid any trouble, but Tachibana Kayo boldly went a step further at this point. Damn, of course, huh? So, the next words that come out are...
 "Please stop it, Miss. Remember that you are a daughter of the esteemed Tachibana family, and such a thing is not worthy of causing you any shame or embarrassment."
 The one who interrupted me was an old maid walking alongside the oxcart, just like Shiro and me. Her eyes were sharp and she looked stern.
 "Oh, gosh! Don't tell me what to do every time, do you? You really nag me. If you keep interrupting me, I'll fire you."
 Kayo says, sounding really displeased with the old woman's words. Apparently, she has known this old woman for a long time. She seems to be really upset that she was nailed by the old woman, but I wanted to shout "Nice assist!" to the old woman.
 (But then, it can't be helped if she apologizes to me 'personally' in public...)
 If she made a request or an invitation to me with a proper reason, there's no way I could refuse. After all, what would happen if a mere servant refused an invitation from the daughter of a wealthy merchant family as powerful as a lord? Even if I tried to use the Kizuki family's permission as a shield, there is no way that Kizuki Uemon, a miserly, calculating fat man, would weigh the Tachibana family and me in the balance. Therefore, I applaud the work of the old maid for destroying it before it could be said.
 (...or it could have been a more serious 'threat' rather than an apology, but I guess that's not likely)
 For a moment, I think of a terrible 'threat' that I can never resist, but I deny it immediately. It was hard to believe that a spoiled little girl could come up with such a terrible thing at her age.
 Apart from my inner feelings, a conversation between a merchant's daughter and an old woman continues in front of me.
 "I regret to inform you. Miss does not have the authority to give me leave of absence and I do not believe that the madam would allow it either."
 "Then I'll ask my father! Do you know that the money you're being paid comes from my father's earnings?"
 "Miss, do you think Lord Hibiki can disobey Madam?"
 Kayo suddenly becomes silent in response to the old maid's indifferent rebuttal. Oh, so that's how the power relationship in the Tachibana family is...
 "Gosh, you're really bothering me! ...Ah, that's right! Tomobe-san, are you going back to Oumi's house like this? If you want, I can give you a ride to the house in an ox cart. What do you think?"
 Kayo, who was sulking at her nagging attendant, changed her expression and tilted her head to make a suggestion as if she had a good idea at the next moment.
 She is still very young, and her speech is innocent, but her voice, facial expression, and every gesture are fascinating, alluring, and seductive, combined with her foreign beauty, which, when considered from a step back, is even a kind of mockery. The question is how much of it is acting and how much of it is real...
 "...I appreciate your kind words, but I'm afraid I must decline."
 "Hmm? Why on earth? You are invited by the daughter of the Tachibana family!"
 Kayo asked with slightly puffed-out cheeks. Her appearance showed her childishness appropriate for her age, and at the same time, I could catch a glimpse of her arrogant personality that comes from her lack of hardship and being spoiled.
 "I am afraid that I am out here as an escort. If I were to ride in the ox cart, I would have to take her with me."
 With a glance, I look at Shiro, who grabs my sleeve and paces with me. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to take advantage of her presence here.
 "I see... so that's what you mean."
 Kayo looks doubtful for a moment, not understanding what I mean, but she seems to notice the peculiar sensation coming from Shiro and turns her scornful gaze to half-youkai.
 As a matter of course, a girl who was once attacked by youkai would not think of letting half-youkai ride on her ox cart, even if she does not know that it is actually the same person. So, she should not take advantage of the fact that Shiro is a half-youkai in this way...
 "U-uhh... I-it's okay, I'm fine..."
 Shiro notices my gaze through my mask and replies in a small voice that only I can hear. I feel her grip on my sleeve tighten. I guess she is enduring Kayo's unfriendly gaze.
 (I don't mean to use her, but... should I buy her something later to make her feel better?)
 I apologize inwardly to Shiro and turn my eyes to the ox cart's window again. Kayo opens her mouth while staring at me with a stern look in her eyes.
 "...Tomobe-san, can't you go alone?"
 "Unfortunately, it's my duty."
 This is non-negotiable. I have a duty to protect her. I will be d*mned if I willfully break that duty. Kayo can't force me to do something if there's a chance I'll be cursed.
 Kayo stared at Shiro in deep frustration. Shiro, who was met with hostility, cowered in a quiet voice and peered timidly at Kayo, who was using me as a shield. I naturally take Shiro's side.
 "Please don't look at me like that. She is not to blame."
 "So, you're taking that white girl's side, huh?"
 "She's a fellow worker in Kizuki's household."
 "She's an imitation of a person, you know? Why do you let her grab your sleeves?"
 "It's better than getting lost."
 Without hesitation, I let Kayo's pursuit pass me by. Was it the pampered upbringing or the Nanban blood? She is a girl who is not afraid of anything, and she is always closing the distance between us, but it was not so difficult for me to escape using my mouth, probably because she has never had an argument before. At least compared to dealing with a gorilla.
 "...geez, that's cunning."
 This time Kayo puffs out her cheeks like a squirrel, and I'm quick to interject.
 "...Miss Kayo, needless to say, please don't behave in such a way. You shouldn't annoy your father too much, should you?"
 I don't want rumors spreading that his daughter was running alongside the family oxcart, talking with people who are no better than livestock or slaves. That's how thick the barriers of status are in this world, and how much importance is placed on physical appearance.
 "Then I have a good solution for you, Tomobe-san? Tomobe-san, I..."
 "Miss, as I told you before if you want to buy a servant, please propose it to the princess, not to me."
 "Gosh... at least let me finish!"
 Tachibana showed an angry look on her face. However, I don't want her to talk about this and that in a situation where people around us can hear. Rumors spread fast, and usually, rumors have countless followings to the facts.
 "...then, is it okay if you don't stand out?"
 As if sensing my frustration, the girl asked, narrowing her eyes as if to confirm. Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.

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