When I think about it calmly, this makes sense. If things were less hectic these past several days, I may have even considered it. So, I looked up at the girl who was laughing confidently.
“Fufu~, it’s your reliable onee-chan.”
She was the person that asked Melissa and Max to capture a Lyk Skull Bear alive. Claire was twirling her fingers through her hair with a mischievous smile on her face. After seeing her, I suddenly felt all of the energy leave my body.
“…what are you doing here, Claire?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m the client that asked them to capture the bear alive.”
“No, I know that, but how are you the client?”
“Elyse’s condition was getting worse. Didn’t you receive my letter?”
…that is what she wrote.
If I think about it, Crane noticed and kept quiet. He wasn’t trembling out of fear but was trying to hold back his laughter.
Geeze. When it comes to who could be the person that rules this country from the shadow…if I think about it properly…it has to be Claire!
“Okay, I understand why you hired them, but why did you request that the bear be captured alive?”
“Oh, well, if they killed the bear its liver would rot.”
If Alice or I had killed the bear we could’ve preserved it using spirit magic, but…if anyone else did it, the liver would obviously rot. I didn’t even think about that.
“– W-Wait a minute! You two know each other!?”
Max was surprised to see us speaking so casually.
“Know each other…? He’s my brother.”
“…brother? You can’t be serious….”
Max and Melissa turned their eyes to me.
“That reminds me, I never told you who I really am. Actually, I am the earl of the Grances family.”
Max and Melissa screamed out in amazement.
“S-So then, you’re the benefactor that saved my father and the other villagers!?”
“Well, that just kind of happened.”
When they mentioned the name Garrett before, I didn’t realize who they meant. After hearing the rest of their story, it finally dawned on me. Garrett was the leader of the bandits that tried to rob us in Crane’s territory.
Melissa is the daughter of a village chief that turned to banditry when the famine occurred.
“Leo-kun — No, Leon-sama, thank you. You’re our benefactor, yet we refused your request…. We’re terribly sorry!”
Melissa apologized and bowed before Max followed suit.
“No, I really don’t mind.”
“I won’t hear that. Even if we didn’t know, we still opposed our benefactor. We can’t apologize enough.”
“I really don’t mind. Besides, the one really at fault here is –”
“ — Claire.”
“ — Otouto-kun.”
Claire stole my line and tried to blame me.
“…why would I be at fault?”
“I told you to keep me informed on what you were doing, but when I checked with the Guild to see if you’d created a request, there weren’t any created under the Grances name. Why were you using a fake name?”
“Eh, that’s…I didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention.”
The moment I answered Claire flipped her platinum blonde hair with her hand and sighed.
“You know, otouto-kun, I know how you feel, but why wouldn’t you use all of the power available to you in order to help Sophia?”
“I understand that, but, umm…Patrick could’ve interfered with my request.”
“If he were to even try you could easily brush him aside. If you had just used the family name, this all would’ve been resolved much simpler and quicker for that matter. That’s why it’s your fault.”
I couldn’t even form words after hearing her reasonable argument.
“ — A-anyway, you two aren’t at fault.”
Since it doesn’t seem like I’ll win this argument, I’ll just get back to those two. But Claire giggled as she was able to see right through my actions.
“…well, it’s just as otouto-kun said, you two don’t have to worry about anything. Can we proceed with the agreed upon deal?”
“Of course. The Lyk Skull Bear is being kept just outside the Guild. We can deliver it to you immediately.”
“I’ve already confirmed with the Guild that the bear is there. I can give you your reward first.”
Claire said this and placed a stack of ten gold coins on the table. She tried to slide it toward Melissa, but I stopped her.
“…what’s wrong, Otouto-kun?”
“Those ten gold coins are for capturing the bear alive, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. I set the reward higher because we desperately needed it, is there a problem with that?”
“I don’t have a problem with the amount. However –”
I want to reward Max and Melissa properly. I even offered them a thousand gold coins but they refused.
“…I offered them a thousand gold before but they refused my offer.”
“Really? That’s about the price of one of our uniforms.”
“That’s just because our uniforms are completely ridiculous…. Well, I’m betting I can guess what you want to say, but what are you going to do?”
“I’ve already decided.”
I smiled and turned to Max and Melissa.
“You know, I was really shocked when you two refused a thousand gold.”
“Eh, umm…we’re sorry.”
Melissa immediately apologized after hearing my words.
“I’m not mad about it. It’s just as I said, I was shocked. I was impressed that you two refused a thousand gold coins in order to help your benefactor.”
A thousand gold. Even if you split it between two people, they’d be able to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Yet, they refused this offer in order to give back to their benefactor, and that benefactor was me.
I remember how much of an impact that had on me.
“I’m still not satisfied with the reward, but as a start, we can pay you ten gold coins for the Lyk Skull Bear.”
I faced them not as Leo or Leon but as the head of the Grances family.
“That’s more than enough. We just wished to show our gratitude toward you.”
“I’m not finished. You refused a reward of a thousand gold coins in order to help the Grances family. Thanks to that, I won’t have to see Sophia — I won’t have to see my family grieve. You are now my benefactor.”
“N-No, like I said before, we just wanted to repay you.”
“Even so, you are still my benefactor. So, I wish to thank you for helping my family. I’ll grant your wish.”
They both looked at me, wondering what I meant.
After waiting a moment, the realization slowly moved across their faces.
“I’ll return your families to you. We shall release Garrett and the other criminal slaves.”
“You’ll release Father…. You really will?”
Melissa’s eyes opened wide in shock. She told me previously that they each wanted to reunite with their family. She never said anything directly but I know this is what she wished for.
“I won’t go back on my word. However, my gratitude as Earl of Grances goes further than that. We’ll prepare food, clothing, and shelter for you and your families. If there’s anything else you’ll need, we’ll provide that as well.”
“It’s more than enough for you to just release them! Thank you!”
Melissa began crying as she thanked me and Max was tearing up as well.
— But Claire was giggling next to me. Although we’re in a private room, I don’t think Max and Melissa can hear her.
“Claire, you’re laughing too much.”
I kept my voice low as I said this.
“Haha~, you’re as kind as ever.”
Claire looked at me with her jade eyes.
“Well, that’s one of the things that I like so much about you, Otouto-kun.”
I got embarrassed and looked away. I’ll never get used to Claire being so straightforward.
“Fufu~, Otouto-kun, you’re cute when you’re embarrassed.”
It’s frustrating. I feel like I’m being treated like a child by her more and more. But, if I include my previous life, I’m much older than her.
— Now isn’t the time to be thinking about this. I resumed the business talks with Max and Melissa.