Wednesday, December 21, 2022 @

Chapter 33, Part 2

 "...what are you planning to do?"
 "Hehehe, it's a secret! Please look forward to it."
 In response to my question, the daughter of the Tachibana family only has an innocent and amused expression on her face.
 (I remember that originally, a smile is an expression with a belligerent meaning...?)
 I suddenly remember such knowledge from my previous life. Like the gorilla-sama's smile, I'm reminded that women's smiles in this world are not always reassuring. I'm getting a stomach ache.
 "Please don't worry. It's not that absurd. It's really, really simple, you know?"
 Kayo declares as if she's trying to calm my fears. Oh, I can't be at ease for an inch.
 While I'm thinking like that, we arrive at the Wakachiku Bridge. There are naturally several rivers flowing in the vast capital, and this Wakachiku bridge, which is ten and a half meters long and three meters wide, is the border between the area where the residences of court nobles gather and the area where the middle-class commoners gather. Although commoners were allowed to enter, there were huts on both banks of the bridge where soldiers with spears stood with straight backs to catch any thief or a suspicious person who entered.
 ...incidentally, this bridge is also the setting of a small event in the game's capital route. By accepting the request, players are supposed to defeat the 99 tsukumogami (artifact spirit) who possess this bridge and play tricks on them.
 "...Well, let's leave it at that this time. I was sad to find out that you left me alone so much, but I guess that can't be helped, I'll be looking forward to the next time."
 Leaning out of the window, Tachibana Kayo smiles at me with a smile that combines childish charm and beauty, and forcibly makes a promise to me. To tell the truth, I was attracted to her so much that I almost swayed a little despite her arrogant attitude. She is a bit devious, but she is a real charmer.
 (I didn't expect such a thing at her age. Well, that's why she's not treated well in the game).
 Even in the doujin circle area, she was a bad thing. There was a lot of poor but pretty good-looking stuff... I mean, the one drawn by a certain artist was amazing, with full-color beautiful full-page pictures and elaborate backgrounds, and without any mercy, incorporating such gruesome content. The whole trilogy, including the sequels, sold out in no time.
 "...I'm sorry, Tomobe-san, were you thinking something rude?"
 "I'm sure it was just imagination, Miss."
 Kayo tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look, to which I replied nonchalantly. Women are always so intuitive.
 "...well, it's all right. Then, Tomobe-san, excuse me. I'll see you later..."
 Kayo smiled and bowed with an expression of unconvinced. When a superior thanks a subordinate, the subordinate must return the bow. After a moment, I bow to her, and after a moment, Shiro bows to her, too.
 I hear the sound of the window closing. The ox cart starts moving slowly and passes in front of us. For a moment I hear the sound of the servant guarding the ox cart clicking his tongue, but I pay no attention to it. It was a natural reaction in a sense, given the values of this world and time.
 I finally lifted my head from the ground when I saw that the ox cart had completely passed by. But then I saw an old maid standing right in front of me.
 I was so caught off guard that I was startled slightly. It was not that I had been oblivious to her presence, but I had not been aware of it, and so I was stunned by her appearance in front of me. On the other hand, the old maid looked at me coldly and let out a small sigh.
 "I would like to take a moment of your time, if I may be so bold. May I?"
 The old maid asked me, straightening her posture. Of course, I had no right to veto this question. It was a formal question.
 "...Is there something I can do for you? If you are going to start talking to me after the young lady has left, does that mean you want to talk about something of that kind?"
 I asked in a slightly guarded tone. The old maid was silent for a while and then spun out her words in an indifferent manner.
 "......I'm afraid that I might not like to talk about it in front of Miss. Of course, I do not mean to slight or disrespect the Tachibana family. Please keep that in mind."
 "...Then, please tell me what you want to do..."
 After glancing at the guard who was standing motionless in front of the Wakachiku Bridge, I asked, "I needed a witness that this was not an illegal matter." Even in a world where memory is unreliable, the words of those in social positions cannot be ignored, and above all, memory manipulation is time-consuming. It is not so easy to falsify the memories of more than one person. It's just an insurance policy.
 Then, I waited for the old maid's words as if I was bracing myself.
 (Well, I wonder what the contents are...)
 As I guessed, it would not be good for the old maid to get involved with a servant of another family, even if it was only half for fun. I think it might be something along those lines...
 "I understand your feelings, servant, but please don't be too hard on Miss."
 "Yes, that's what I'm trying to... yes?"
 I almost agree with the old maid's words for a moment and give a dumb reply. I couldn't believe my ears. The old maid's words caught me completely by surprise, and I had not expected them.
 I could not have expected that this old woman, who seemed to be a nagging, strict, and old-fashioned woman, would say such a thing about Kayo to me, who was only a servant. It was impossible. And moreover, the way she said that...
 "What you're saying is..."
 "I can't deny that she is a bit pushy, but she is not a selfish person."
 The old maid takes the initiative so as not to give me a chance to speak. Then she glances at the oxcart as it leaves. In her eyes, I could see the tender love that a grandmother shows to her granddaughter.
 "I have watched Miss since she was a baby, and she is really a lonely person. But because of her background, she has few friends and trusted servants, so when there is someone she wants to be close to, she doesn't know how to get close to them... Please forgive her."
 Although it is inevitable because of the times and the worldview, Fuso-kuni is an island nation, a village society, and a class society. Kayo, who is of Nanban descent, is not a member of society. Her father, Tachibana Hibiki, was a brilliant man who established the Tachibana Trading Company at a young age, but at the same time, his aggressive way of doing business, ignoring the old traditions and customs, is not without its share of opposition. There may be some jealousy from his business rivals.
 Therefore, Tachibana Kayo is an outsider. She cannot help but drift away. As a result, she cannot make friends, and her father spoils her as a way of apologizing to her. I understand, I understand. But...
 "...I understand the situation. But why is it so important for me to know about it?"
 Yes, the problem here is not Tachibana Kayo's character or circumstances. The problem here was more fundamental.
 "With all due respect, are you in your right mind saying such a thing to me? Wouldn't your Lord, Hibiki-sama, be offended if he hears you talking like this?"
 It is not an honorable thing to expose the affairs of one's family to a mere servant. Especially if it is the chairman of the company who has a soft spot for his daughter. No, it's not that... it's the way she said it.
 "Since it is Madam who employs me, the person to whom I call for instructions is also the same."
 The old maid said the same thing as she had said in the argument with Kayo earlier. I see, what she means is...
 "...I understand. But for her sake, it would be better to avoid rashness. There is a difference between freedom and indulgence. Uhh..."
 "My name is Otsuru."
 Realizing that I don't know the old woman's name, she blurts it out for a moment, but the old woman soon realizes this and answers with her own name.
 "...Well then, Otsuru-dono, please tell your Madam. It is only the shallow wisdom of an uneducated servant, and perhaps she has deeper thoughts. However, for Miss Kayo's own sake, I do not think it is right to let her behave according to her temporary feelings."
 I had advised her to do so, even though I knew it was too much and I was not in a position to say such a thing. Still, I suggested it.
 "Besides, I'm too much older than she is. She probably doesn't mean half of what she says. It's just like a game for her. So, it is obvious that it is not good for Miss Kayo to be surrounded by unnecessary rumors for the sake of a fleeting feeling. I hope you will reconsider.
 I could guess what Tachibana Kayo's mother was thinking, and I could understand that it was out of the goodness of her heart for her daughter. But... she should at least consider her partner a little more. At least there could have been a better partner. I wonder why she would choose a servant of all people.
 "...I understand, I will pass on your words to Madam. But please note that I cannot guarantee that she will accept it."
 The old maid, who had heard my words to the end, looked thoughtful for a moment and bowed ceremoniously in reply. Then, she walked quickly away toward the ox cart on the city street...
 As I was staring at this scene with a sharp gaze for a while, I suddenly heard a voice calling my name from nearby. When I looked, I saw Shiro looking up at me with a somewhat uneasy expression, probably because she didn't understand what we were talking about.
 "...Seriously, they make us take unnecessary detours, don't they? Let's get back soon, you're getting hungry, aren't you?"
 I pat the half-youkai girl on the head through the shades, and then I walk to the Oumi family's mansion which is just around the corner. Shiro looks at me but follows me silently. My sleeves are wrinkled as she grabs me.
 (Well, well, what should I tell to the Gorilla-sama?)
 I hope she won't abandon me... in the narrow position I'm in, although she has a lot of trouble with my medicine and etc.
 As I crossed the Wakachiku Bridge with these thoughts in my mind, the Oumi family's residence, which the Kizuki family is renting, came into view in the distance, and I involuntarily held my breath under the pressure of it, holding my footsteps. Because...
 ...A girl dressed in a bright peach-colored kimono was standing in front of the building. She was slender and petite but had a beautiful bosom that could be seen even over her clothes... She was clearly staring at me even though we were still quite a distance away from each other.
 And the moment our eyes met, she laughed, covering her mouth with a fan. Gruesomely, like a predator stalking its prey. Yes, it was like a child picking the legs of an insect as a toy...
 With a strange scream, Shiro jumped up and hid behind me, hugging my leg. Although her clothes and hat are hiding it, her tail and fox ears are probably wagging underneath.
 "...as I thought, smiling in this world is a bonus..."
 I muttered this with a tight smile on my face and resumed my steps with the heavy steps of a prisoner on my way to the place of execution...
 ....If I may add, it was on that night that Uemon, who was holding a Senryo-Bako (a large sum of money or a container that was used to store or transport money) with the Tachibana crest on it, told me that I was going to be rented by the Tachibana Trading Company for a day. Haha, d*mn it!
* * *
 ...Evening was approaching in the capital.
 Two figures of a traveler wearing a hat and carrying a walking stick were sitting in a teahouse on the main street of the capital, which was filled with people in the evening. The tea house girl is slightly displeased with the travelers who stay there for a long time, each ordering only a cup of hot tea and a few skewered dumplings, but she soon puts her displeasure aside and goes to take orders from the newly arrived customers, showing her affection for them.
 The travelers stare at the waves of people from under their shades. As night approaches, officials and workers on their way home from work, women hurrying home to cook for their families, peasants returning to the nearby villages after peddling, and a convoy of horses and carts heading for the warehouse just before the curfew... Even though the main street of the capital can accommodate more than ten ox-carts, at the time of the day, it is now still a busy street with people, vehicles, and livestock. On such a noisy street, travelers search for a single goal.
 It was soon found. Yes, that's right. Because the ox-cart had a family crest proudly engraved on it and the crowd of people would be split when the ox-cart passed by. It was easy to spot it at a glance.
 "That's it..."
 One of the travelers mutters emotionlessly. He saw a girl pull down the window of the oxcart and look at the old maid who was waiting by her side and grumbled something to her. But... in his eyes, there is no curiosity, no infatuation, no longing, no hatred. It is just an inorganic and emotionless gaze like an insect observing its prey.
 The traveler puts down the money and gets up, not caring that there are still some dumplings left on the skewer. The other young man hurriedly ate his dumpling and followed him, putting down the same amount of money.
 "Is that the target? Are you sure she's not a shadow warrior (Kagemusha/double body) or something? I can't believe a wealthy merchant's daughter would show her face so openly...."
 "You should be able to tell that much. Anyway, you'd better memorize your target's face... or smell... When the time comes, don't be foolish enough to pick a stranger up on the day of the job, okay?"
 After said that, the two figures follow the oxcart. They should have attracted some attention because of their dirty, rustic appearance, which is somewhat unusual in the capital... but no one paid them any attention. No, people were unnaturally unaware of them. This was the result of a high-level concealment technique.
 In the end, not only the oxcart but also its attendants, including its escort, did not notice or feel anything strange about them until the oxcart returned to the head office of Tachibana Trading Company.
 And no one noticed that the duo figures, who had caught a glimpse of the girl's face as they alighted from the oxcart, had vanished from the scene like the wind before they knew it...

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