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Chapter 11: The Elderly Butler, Thomas
After loading Julieta’s trunk full of personal items onto the baggage area, I climbed onto the horse carriage alongside her. As she held onto a bouquet given to her by the ladies-in-waiting, we departed for the Asbal mansion.
The Asbal mansion was located a certain distance from the royal castle, within the capital’s residential area for upper-class nobility.
As Prime Minister, it might have been better to set up residence in the castle’s vicinity, however, the basement located under the Asbal mansion had also served as an emergency shelter for royalty in the past. As such, this was the better option.
When the gates to the mansion came into view, the coachman called out to me, “My lord, it looks like there are guests”.
I slid a finger through the gap between the window curtains and opened them to look outside. Standing before the mansion’s entrance was the butler, Thomas, my son Sigurd, and the Knight Commander, Jolga.
“Again, exactly as expected.”
“…Father, who are the guests?”
“It’s Sigurd and the Knight Commander. Julieta, it’s been a while, so feel free to act spoiled around your brother.”
Julieta embraced her bouquet, as the sound of her giggles comforted my heart, the carriage arrived at the mansion’s entrance. Thomas opened the carriage doors, dipping into a bow and offered a “Welcome home, my lord”. I generously nodded in return and reached out a hand to Julieta before Thomas did. As Julieta descended from the carriage, half-carried in my arms, Sigurd looked on with a slight knit to his brows. This was the lady he had had a hand in pushing into hell. The enemy of Nasha, for whom he harbored feelings he could never voice… However estranged they might be, Julieta was still his sister. Was it possible he was already starting to feel some guilt? Such naivety would only bring him regret in the future.
“Lady Julieta, welcome back.”
“Thank you, Thomas. I’m home.”
Thomas’s expression faltered for a brief moment at Julieta’s kind reply. However, as expected of a butler serving the Asbal family since the previous generation, he regained his calm demeanor in an instant. After ordering the footmen to bring in the luggage, he smiled gently at Julieta.
“Milady, you must be tired. Your room has been prepared, would you like to take a rest first?”
“Is that so? …In that case, I shall heed your suggestion. Father, may I be excused?”
“Yes, go ahead. After all, I seem to have guests.”
As I gave a low chuckle, the two men stared at me and their expressions soured. It seemed like the three of them hadn’t been able to come to an agreement before our carriage arrived.
The elderly butler, Thomas. He was the Head Butler of the Asbal family and also a supporting character in the route belonging to Sigurd, the Prime Minister’s Heir, as well as the route of the hidden capture target, the Knight Captain Jolga, who appeared only after capturing Sigurd.
Thomas lamented at the suffering of the commoners under the Asbal family’s heavy taxations. Though he had reported them countless times to both the previous lord and Prime Minister Anderheim, every time his reports were ruthlessly dismissed.
In despair, Thomas lent his aid to Sigurd, who had been troubled by his relationship with his father, and helped him enter the Knights’ squad. Thus, after Sigurd built a close friendship with the Crown Prince and stood on the side built around Sacrificial Priestess Nasha, opposing his father, Thomas became the spy that leaked the Asbal family’s movements to the Crown Prince’s faction.
…He was such a convenient existence.
That was, of course, to [me].
After seeing Julieta and her attendant off, I invited Sigurd and Jolga in and headed to the parlor with a fireplace.
As soon as he sat on the leather sofa opposite me, Jolga immediately requested to appoint Sigurd as Julieta’s escort. On paper, it was to guard and observe the recuperating Julieta. In truth, their aim was probably to keep an eye on me and to search the grounds.
“Julieta and I are fine with it, but what about you? Even if it’s just for show, aren’t you part of the Knight Guards attached to His Highness, the Crown Prince?”
In other words, he was the head guard.
“Under His Highness orders, I have temporarily withdrawn from the Knight Guards and am now part of the Royal Knights again. There is no cause for concern.”
“I see, that’s fine. In that case, properly protect Julieta. I’ll say this first… Julieta is far weaker than you may think. Take care of her.”
I waited for Sigurd’s acknowledgment, and then called over Thomas who had been standing in a corner of the room.
“Thomas, I’ll leave this to you.”
The necklace that I held out to Thomas held a single key with the Asbal crest engraved on it. Jolga was confused by the sight, but the expressions of Thomas and Sigurd, who knew what it was, changed in an instant.
“Lord Anderheim, that is…?”
“…It’s a key.”
“I can tell that much at a glance.”
“…Sir Jolga. This is the master key for the mansion.”
The mansion’s master key, as the name suggested, was held only by the master. With that single key, entry was possible into any place within the mansion. That included even the room that Morin wished to investigate—the Asbal family’s secret basement.
Ignoring Jolga who had frozen in shock, I tossed the master key in Thomas’s direction.
“This is a good opportunity, Sigurd. When Julieta is resting in her room, you should spend your time learning how to manage the fiefdom. Thomas, I’ll allow your usage of the key. Gather the necessary materials and guide him.”
Sigurd’s foolish voice reached my ears. Despite being my son, he certainly showed his surprise too easily.
“What do you mean by ‘huh?’. In the near future, I will leave this mansion. After all, this mansion has to be handed over to the current Prime Minister. At that time, I will step down as the fief lord. That position will then be handed to you.”
“…Don’t just decide this on your own!”
“Lord Anderheim, regardless of circumstances, this is absurd. For close to ten years no, Sigurd has barely even set foot near Asbal lands. As such, even if you tell him to become the lord, he will just be lost.”
I sneered at Jolga’s words.
“Such ironic words coming from the source of this issue? Isn’t that right, Sir Knight Commander?”
“…To make things clear, I never had any intention to make you lord after me. However, the situation has changed. I no longer have the time to wait and groom a successor. And I didn’t say that you have to continue being the lord forever. When the situation has calmed down, you can decide to do anything, be it returning the territory to the country or donating it to the church, or even appointing another lord.”
“…What are you scheming?”
“I have no such plans… I’m simply tired.”
I let out a huge sigh.
I leaned back against the sofa and looked up with uncertain eyes at the chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
“For the sake of the royal family? For the subjects? I no longer wish to suffer for such ridiculous reasons. It’s not worth my beloved Julieta being treated so horribly.”
“…That’s blasphemy, Lord Anderheim.”
“Report it to His Highness if you wish. In any case, it doesn’t matter to me.”
I lowered my gaze from the ceiling and let it wander until Thomas, standing motionlessly with the master key in hand, entered my sight.
In Sigurd’s route, Thomas would find a chance to steal the master key and find evidence of illegal doings in the basement that only Anderheim could enter. In Jolga’s route, the master key played a key role in discovering decisive evidence for a certain secret between Anderheim’s first wife—Sigurd’s mother— who was also Jolga’s former fiancee, Yurikano and Jolga.
In either route, it was a tool that Thomas had to go to great effort to obtain.
Yet, it was suddenly handed to him. Undoubtedly, he has been must be feeling bewildered.
Now then…It was about time to execute the plan.
“…Ah yes. First, I should teach you how to enter the basement.”
Thomas stiffened even further while Jolga and Sigurd exchanged incredulous looks of disbelief. To Morin and the others, they had predicted there would records of illegality hidden in the Asbal family’s mansion. And yet, I was inviting them in so matter-of-factly. As my actions were far from their expectations, they didn’t know how to react.
“Even with the master key, the door to the basement requires a certain technique to open. After all, the lock is a bit tricky. I’ll show you on location, come, follow me.”
There were no objections to my suggestion.
I grabbed the candlestick that was sat on top of the fireplace and led the three of them towards the staircase to the basement.