Schemes  

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※Told from Pipi Barlier’s perspective.

The end of our summer vacation was quickly approaching.
On the day that I had invited Mrs.
Achard―Carol-sama―to oversee my violin practice, someone rang the doorbell to our manor.

“I wonder who that might be.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s just Christophe.
He mentioned that he had some business to discuss with Patrice-sama.”
“With my father?”

As our session had been interrupted, Carol-sama suggested that we take a short break.
Wiping off my sweat, I freshened up with some perfume before leaving the room to go downstairs.

“… Correct.”

Just as Carol-sama said, Christophe-sama had come to visit.
He was both the heir to House Achard as well as Loretta’s fiance.
That made him my love rival, but we didn’t otherwise interact.

Furthermore, House Barlier was part of House François’ political faction, which had poor relations with House Achard.
I likely wouldn’t have been able to request Carol-sama’s instructions like I had today if it weren’t for our existing relationship… So just what had Christophe-sama come to the Barlier manor for?

“Father… Just because they’re higher in the pecking order doesn’t mean that you need to humble yourself and bow constantly.”

My father was practically groveling at Christophe-sama’s feet as he welcomed him.
As his daughter, it wasn’t particularly pleasant to watch.
Of course I knew my father wasn’t doing this because he wanted to, but rather because it was necessary within our kingdom’s strict aristocracy… Even though I knew that, it still came off as unpleasant.

“… I should just go back to my room.”

Thinking that I’d be able to dispel my displeasure by immersing myself in the violin, I turned around.
However―

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“I ask that you keep this matter a secret from Dor-sama.”

Hearing that one sentence from my father was more than enough to draw my interest.
As stated, House Barlier belonged to the political faction led by House François, from where Claire-sama hailed.
It was only natural that a hierarchy would exist within the faction, but the blessings that House François had granted to House Barlier should have more than made up for that fact.

My father was… keeping secrets…? From Dor-sama, the head of the very house we owed so much to?

My father brought Christophe-sama to a drawing room deeper within our manor.
As the room’s intended purpose was for nobles to discuss confidential matters, I was unable to listen in.

―Or well, at least not under normal circumstances, that is.

“Father, forgive me.
I’m… Worried.”

Entering the study just next to the drawing room and locking the door behind me, I raised my arm toward the wall that separated the two rooms.
Focusing my senses, I passed my magic through the walls.

“Tell me.”

My magic permeated through the walls, seeping through into the room on the other side and filling the air there.
Moments later, I could hear voices from the other room.

『I can’t do this anymore, Dor-sama will surely notice.』

The first voice that I heard came from my father.
I was currently using new wind magic that I had just learned from one of my recent training sessions with Misha.
Making use of the air all around us, I was able to pick up on sounds in a large area.
It wouldn’t work if something like a magical barrier had been set up, but in a situation like this where the room was only physically sound proofed, it was effective.

My father’s voice was normally so cheerful that it was hard to believe the trembling voice that I just heard was from him.

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『Hm… In that case, what are you suggesting? Do you really think you can back out at this stage?』

In contrast, Christophe-sama’s voice was calm and collected.
Perhaps too calm, to the point of sounding cold.
Just what could these two be talking about…?

『If I could save them of course I’d want to! But you should know that the human trafficking is being done in my territory! At this rate House Barlier will be ruined!』

I doubt my ears.
Human trafficking!? Here? Within the area that House Barlier governs!?

『Patrice-sama, please calm down.
The matter is not yet public, we should be fine for the next while.』
『There’s no way that things are still alright! Christophe-sama, there is no way that you’re not already aware! The rumor is that King Rousseau will personally issue an order to audit the nobility!』
『That’s just a rumor, nothing more.』
『But what do you intend to do if it’s true!? It won’t stop with House Barlier, there’s no way House Achard will get away with this either!』

As I listened in, I could tell that the hand I had placed on the wall was quivering.
Just what… Was this conversation? Could it be that before I could even realize what was happening, House Barlier had found itself in peril?

『Even should an audit begin, it will be a long time before we’re under any scrutiny.
After all, it’s the Spirit Church that’s directly handling the dirty work after all.』

The Spirit Church too…!? I didn’t hold as much respect or faith in the Spirit Church as my father and older generations had, but even then, it was absolutely shocking that the church would be complicit in such evil.
Could it be that by listening in on this conversation, I had taken a peek at the tip of the iceberg for a much larger conspiracy?

『Has Clément-sama said anything?』
『Nothing.
Father has always been that way.
He refuses to speak, he just remains there.
People act based on what they can read from his countenance, and if it comes to it, are cut off.』

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『… So you mean to say that I’m no different.』
『Nor am I.』

What should I do? What should I do!? This doesn’t appear to be a problem that I can do something about on my own.
I must talk to someone about this!

But who?

The first person who came to mind was Claire-sama.
I know that I can trust Claire-sama.
Considering the political faction my household aligned itself with, confiding in her made sense.
However, if I did confide in Claire-sama, it would only be a matter of time before Dor-sama found out.

At that time, would Dor-sama cover for our house―would he protect my father? I mean, considering the circumstance, it was likely my father who had betrayed Dor-sama rather than the other way around.
Dor-sama was a broad-minded individual, but showed no mercy to his enemies.
He had made this clear as almost all of the nobles who had directly opposed him in the past… Were no longer relevant.

“Who else… Could I talk about this with…”

Loretta’s face appeared in the back of my mind.
Loretta was my best friend.
I was sure that she would take me seriously.

At least under normal circumstances.

However, I couldn’t allow myself to forget that Loretta and Christophe-sama were engaged.
While it was clear that Christophe-sama wasn’t who she yearned for in her heart, that didn’t really matter in this case.
Engagements were a promise from one house to another.
Even should Loretta want to side with me, it was a separate question as to whether or not House Cugletto would allow that.
In the worst case, I would only be dragging in an ignorant Loretta into an even larger mess.

『Let me spell it out for you, Patrice-sama.
All that we are able to do is wait for the right moment.
That may not be now, but by my estimate it should not be too far off.』
『… Can I… Trust you on that?』
『You have no choice but to.
I too… Am risking my life in this business.』

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For the past while now, Christophe’s voice had never once wavered, not even by a fraction.
His gentle smile that I had become accustomed to seeing, now haunted my memories.

It was then that I heard the door of the other room open.
It appeared their discussion had ended.
I held my breath and remained in the study for the two to pass.
I could still feel my hand trembling.

“What should I do… What should I do…?”

I was gasping for air, unable to collect my thoughts.
This was no time to be having violin lessons.
Carefully avoiding detection, I returned to my room where Carol-sama was tending to my violin.

“Shall we get right back to it… What’s the matter? Your face is so pale.”
“Carol-sama, I’m terribly sorry, but could I ask that we call off the lesson here?”
“Yes, of course, you really don’t seem well.
I’ll call someone right away.”
“Thank you so much.”

It seemed that I was so distraught, that Carol-sama not only readily accepted my request to cancel our lesson, she also expressed her concern.
She didn’t look as though she was lying.

No, perhaps that’s only what I wanted to believe.
Carol-sama too was a member of House Achard.
If House Achard and House Barlier were conspiring together, Mrs.
Achard, Carol-sama, could very well be in on it as well.

Suddenly aware of the possible conspiracy, I couldn’t help but suspect every little thing.

(Someone… Please, someone… Help…!)

These cries, that none would hear, only echoed on in the depths of my heart.

Translator Note: Ah… It’s been mentioned a couple of times that Pipi adores and respects her father so, so much… So learning that he was hiding something like this from her must be quite the shock… A little worried for her, but I’m sure Claire will do something about it? Or maybe it’ll be Loretta~

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