Benno—Maybe Lessen the Workload
Friggin’ everybody and their mother is dumping work on me! Do they want me to die or something?!
The day after I heard that Myne had become Rozemyne, the High Priest summoned me to the temple. I’d figured he would since I knew so much about Myne’s circumstances, but the day after the incident? I never saw that coming. That was way too fast for a noble. It always took them days and days to set up meetings.
The store got busier after second bell thanks to the gates opening, and it was then that Gil came rushing in carrying a letter of invitation. It was the first time I had ever gotten one from a noble with no dates or anything written on it—all it said was to come as soon as possible.
“Take care of the store while I’m gone, everyone!”
Mark and I hurriedly got changed before heading to the temple at once. This was going to be an extremely important meeting that determined the Gilberta Company’s future. We knew that if the High Priest determined we weren’t necessary for Rozemyne, the daughter of an archnoble, he could have us eliminated at any given moment. It was time to fight for our survival.
“I appreciate you coming on such short notice, Benno. Arno, clear the room.” The discussion was secretive enough that the High Priest cleared the room even of his attendants.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“...To discuss Lady Rozemyne, I would think.”
“Word travels fast, I see. Who knows?”
There was no point in lying, so I decided to just tell the truth. Besides, the High Priest was the closest person to Rozemyne in the temple, and I didn’t want him distrusting me.
“Everyone who was there with me in the store when Myne’s family visited us—Mark, Lutz, and another leherl of mine, Leon. That should be everyone.” I informed him that Lutz and Otto had taken refuge in my home after the fight in the streets, and that Myne’s family had stopped by to get Lutz.
“That reminds me—Damuel did mention that Lutz had gotten wrapped up in this...” the High Priest murmured. He then began telling me about Rozemyne. She was the daughter of an archnoble who had been entrusted to the temple, and she had created the Rozemyne Workshop in order to save the orphanage. Her achievements were so great that the archduke elected to adopt her, and once she was baptized, she would take up the position of High Bishop.
“We can make the fact that she established a workshop before her baptism look less suspicious by embellishing her giving work and food to orphans. Benno, inform those who know of Myne and her workshop in as convincing of a manner as possible. Remember well that you can be purged at any time if deemed necessary.”
“Understood.” Gunther had told me the same thing, but the words carried a lot more weight when it was a noble like the High Priest saying it right to my face.
“I know that I am asking a lot of you, but the archduke is unfamiliar with lower city matters, and I do not wish for him to grow tired and simply begin to eliminate everyone who knew Rozemyne as a commoner one by one. That can still happen if we are not careful.”
I swallowed hard. It was simple for nobles to eliminate commoners who were inconveniencing them. The archduke protected his duchy, and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that he’d pick a money-making revolutionary like Rozemyne over us. Controlling the spread of information about Myne and Rozemyne immediately shot up to be my absolute highest priority.
“Furthermore, have this. It is from the archduke.”
The High Priest handed me a directive from the archduke. It contained all the flowery prose of a noble, but among all that there were two broad instructions. The first was pretty much, “Hey pal, remember that plan for the printing business we discussed? Get going,” and second was, “I’m gonna come check out that eatery of yours once the Starbind Ceremony is over. Better finish up soon.”
...Can you imagine how terrified I was when the blue priest coming to tour the workshop turned out to be the archduke? At the time, I was more shocked than anything else, but now the thought just hurt my head. I was sure I had two years of leeway before the printing business took off, but now I had none. I could feel my head spinning, but now wasn’t the time to be reeling in shock; my life depended on carrying out these unreasonable orders.
“He said that he would be sending a merchant and a scholar-official to a nearby town’s orphanage. You will need to attend a meeting to discuss this ahead of time.”
“When will that be?”
A meeting with a scholar—in other words, a noble—wasn’t something I could trust to anyone else. I would need to keep my schedule absolutely open, and assuming that Mark would be coming with me, I needed to make sure the store was prepared to operate without us.
“I would imagine not immediately, since he will have to discuss matters with the scholar first.”
“May I ask that someone from the temple’s orphanage accompany us? Someone familiar with the orphanage both before and after the workshop was established would be ideal, if possible.” Nothing would get done if I was alone with the scholar; he would just view a merchant like me with contempt and suspicion, so having someone who both understood the temple orphanage and was close to Rozemyne, the future High Bishop and adopted daughter of the archduke, would make a big difference. I’d borrow as much authority as I could if doing so would keep myself and others protected.
“A fair suggestion. I will ask Rozemyne to send one of her attendants along with you.”
“It is much appreciated. And if I may, I would like to ask whether the archduke is, ahem, serious about this second matter.” Nobody would believe me if I said that the archduke was visiting a lower city eatery, not even if I showed them the directive.
The High Priest glared at the directive with a bitter frown, then gave a slow nod. “He said he would like to discuss your findings over a meal. His reasoning is that you would not be able to speak your mind in the audience chamber.”
...Hold on a second. So this isn’t just him dropping by for a meal—he’s telling me to give a full report on the other town’s orphanage and the printing business? Without holding anything back? No way.
“Erm, would I be right to think that this is him telling me to go on this inspection, compile my findings, and then report it to him at the Italian restaurant?”
“You would indeed.”
“And this is happening right after the Star Festival...?”
“...That would be correct.”
I swallowed the urge to shout “That’s impossible” and instead just rubbed my temples to ease my growing headache. The High Priest gave me the most sincere look of sympathy I had ever seen.
“You have no choice but to consider this a test of your abilities and endure,” he said, offering me barbed words of encouragement in a tone that sharply contrasted his usual restrained noble-esque demeanor.
I widened my eyes in surprise. He was actually letting his emotions show. As I took a closer look, I could see the unmistakable signs of exhaustion on his face. Given how he had summoned me first thing in the morning after the events of yesterday, I could safely guess that he had spent all night cleaning up the mess.
In an instant, I understood that he was always being dragged around by the rampaging archduke. He probably had an even rougher time with things than I did, considering he was close to both him and Rozemyne. Somehow, knowing that there was someone out there suffering even more than me was a huge relief.
“May I ask how many nobles there will be in total? The archduke himself visiting an eatery in the lower city is unprecedented, which will make it a bit hard to prepare for.”
“Of course there is no damned precedence,” he replied, clear irritation on his face. Our eyes met, so I went ahead and gave a casual shrug as if to say “We both have it rough, huh?” Thankfully, it seemed he understood my intent; his expression softened just a little, and a sardonic smile crept onto his face.
“You will be stuck dealing with the archduke for as long as you continue associating with Rozemyne. I have my hands full with the temple and the Noble’s Quarter, so I shall entrust the lower city—and all of the suffering that comes with it—to you.”
“I would like to refuse from the bottom of my heart, but I don’t believe that’s an option.”
“If refusing was an option, I would be doing so myself.”
We exchanged a small laugh, and then the High Priest’s expression stiffened once more. “As for how many nobles will be visiting the eatery,” he continued, “there will be the archduke, the commander of the Knight’s Order to guard him, Rozemyne as the central figure in printing, and myself. There will be several other knights there as guards, but they will not be eating at the table with us. That said, they will be taking turns eating elsewhere, so a secondary eating area will need to be prepared.”
Even just a laynoble visiting a lower city eatery would cause a huge stir, but the archduke himself was coming this time. We wouldn’t even have the leeway to exploit this for marketing purposes. Our best option would be to hide it as much as possible to avoid any trouble; it was impossible to predict what would happen with the archduke, the commander of the Knight’s Order, the High Bishop, and the High Priest all in one place.
I grimaced while writing down the High Priest’s advice. This was going to be far too much work; neither printing nor the Italian restaurant were the Gilberta Company’s main business, so there weren’t many people I could put on them for help. That said, I couldn’t slack on the printing business now that I had a direct order from the archduke. I needed to get the work done no matter what, and had to think about how to lessen the blowback against the Gilberta Company growing so rapidly. There was no end to what I had to do.
First of all, I needed to find a way to stop the guildmaster from whining and getting in my way every time I needed a form approved for something. He would settle down on the surface if I said I was working for the archduke, but he would no doubt work against me in more subtle ways to compensate. I needed some kind of bait.
“...If so many nobles will be joining the archduke, I would like to have my chefs train elsewhere. They are currently training in Lady Rozemyne’s chambers, but would it be a problem for me to send them elsewhere?”
“I intend to educate Rozemyne in the Noble’s Quarter prior to her baptism. I imagine it will be fine once she has left, but I will check to be sure.”
“Could you deliver these to her, then?” I wrote down on some sheets of plant paper that I would be asking the guildmaster to become a partner in the Italian restaurant. I would use the restaurant as bait to get his help in the future, thereby lessening my workload and the blowback I would be facing. Meanwhile, I would send Hugo and Todd to train at the guildmaster’s home, where they would learn more noble recipes.
While I was writing the letter, the High Priest took a bundle off of a shelf and brought it to the table. “Rozemyne’s inauguration as High Bishop will begin as soon as her baptism ceremony is over. The plan is to hold it right before the Starbind Ceremony, and I ask that you alter these to her measurements.” He spread it out in front of me, and I immediately recognized it as the High Bishop’s ceremonial robes. Rozemyne’s archnoble father would be preparing her baptism clothes, but the temple had to prepare her High Bishop outfit, and they simply lacked the seamstresses to do it.
“You have Rozemyne’s measurements already, no? Don’t worry about the sash; she can use the one she has already. I have heard about those special sewing techniques she likes to request. I trust you to know what she wants. Furthermore, I will be ordering a ceremonial hair stick. Use the highest quality thread to adorn it with fanciful flowers.”
“...Understood.” To summarize, I had just been told to control the flow of information concerning Rozemyne, kickstart the printing industry, finish the Italian restaurant, and do my actual job of making clothes and accessories.
...I’m gonna die. At this rate, I’m actually going to be crushed under my workload and die.
When I returned to my store with the burden of overwhelming work already weighing me down, Leon was there to tell me that the guildmaster had summoned me. I listened to his report while changing out of my noble outfit.
“It seems he wants to discuss Lady Rozemyne. Just where did he hear about that?” Leon wondered aloud.
I had heard about it directly from Myne’s family, so I faced some potential problems unless I figured out the guildmaster’s source. I clicked my tongue and sent a return message saying that I could meet him that afternoon, which meant I had to rush and finish my highest priority business before the messenger got back from the Merchant’s Guild.
“Mark, send someone to the smithy and get them to keep on making metal letter types. Get Bierce’s ink workshop to make more printing ink, too. Tell them that we’re gonna spread printing throughout the duchy, at the archduke’s orders.”
Regardless of how the orphanage inspection went, nothing would change the fact that the printing business would be expanding into an industry. The sooner I got things ready, the better.
Mark, having finished changing, nodded and let out a lengthy sigh. “Now that it has come to this, we will have to get the guildmaster involved as soon as possible. We will never be able to keep up if each form takes days upon days to be approved.”
“That’s what I’m gonna talk to him about today. The geezer’s a pain in the ass to deal with, but thanks to his nose for money, he’s not impossible to work with.” I left it at that and finished changing, then grabbed the robes the High Priest had given me and ran up the stairs to Corinna’s place.
“Corinna! We’ve got an urgent job. Alter these robes so they’ll fit Myne.” I spread out the white ceremonial robes, and Corinna widened her eyes in shock.
“But Benno, aren’t those the High Bishop’s robes?”
“I’m asking for Myne’s measurements here, but it’s gonna be the daughter of an archnoble wearing them—Lady Rozemyne, not Myne. Take care not to mix ’em up.”
Corinna lowered her eyes, then gave a deliberate nod. She had probably heard some details from Otto, but she was a merchant who dealt with nobles just like I did. She knew well that, at times, you just had to accept the unreasonable and do your job.
“Also, they ordered a fancy hair stick to use at her baptism ceremony. That means it should be themed around the color white. Use blue for the season, and some gold for her eyes, too. But, y’know... this is an important job. I think we should get some real experienced craftsmen to do it,” I said, indirectly implying that we should get Myne’s family to make it.
“I agree,” Corinna said with a small giggle. She had heard me loud and clear.
With Corinna clear on what work she had to do, I climbed back down the stairs right as my messenger returned from the Merchant’s Guild.
“Alright, I’m heading to the Guild. Mark, get everything ready.”
“It already is.”
I arrived at the Merchant’s Guild and was immediately let into the guildmaster’s office. I found him waiting inside with his granddaughter, Freida. Judging by how he wasn’t acting pompous like usual, he was probably as worked up about this as I was.
“Benno, you know about Rozemyne, don’t you?”
“I’ll be blunt: everything to do with Rozemyne is being kept extremely secret. Where’s the leak? How’d you find out? Depending on your answers, the nobles could kill us all.”
“...So you do know, then.” Freida smiled. “The noble I signed with has a younger brother who is assigned to guard an apprentice blue shrine maiden, you see.”
Freida began discussing her own circumstances and what had happened when she had gone to get her magic tool emptied. The knight had been brought to her room unconscious, some light had burst into the room out of nowhere and dusted over him, after which he shouted about an apprentice shrine maiden being in danger and rushed to go help her. Given that Myne was the only apprentice blue shrine maiden, Freida checked her magic contracts to check whether she was alive, and there she found that her name had been changed to “Rozemyne.”
That knight she mentioned must have been the bodyguard who had been following Myne around everywhere since winter. I never would have thought that he was connected to Freida and the guildmaster.
“Now then, Benno—tell us everything you know,” the guildmaster said. For a second, I considered whether I should keep the rest to myself, but the geezer and his granddaughter already knew Myne pretty well. The coming days would probably be easier for me if I just went ahead and told them the situation now—that way, they’d be stuck dealing with Rozemyne and the archduke just like I was.
“Sure. But if I do, I’m gonna need you to be fully cooperative from now on.”
“Oh? You, instructing me?” The guildmaster raised an amused eyebrow, acting unfazed, but I saw a faint glimmer of worry in his eyes. No matter how rich he was and how much influence he had in the lower city, a noble could easily snap their fingers and have him dead by noon. Almost everything he and his granddaughter knew about Rozemyne was speculation, and unless they got firm details soon, they had no way to avoid potentially stepping on noble toes. I knew they wanted information more than anything else.
“Yep. I’ll be on top here whether you like it or not.”
“...Are you telling me to hand over my seat as guildmaster?”
“Don’t be stupid! Does it look like I want to deal with guildmaster duties on top of everything else?! No! I just want you to stop being a pain in my ass and show some cooperation!” I didn’t have the time to deal with this city’s guildmaster duties while working on spreading an industry through an entire duchy. That would actually kill me.
We glared at each other for a moment, and then the guildmaster nodded. “Show cooperation, hm? It seems a noble of fairly high status is involved here... Very well.”
I told him and Freida the cover story about Myne dying. She was now the daughter of an archnoble, soon to be adopted by the archduke, and we would be spreading book-making throughout the duchy as government business under the archduke.
“...I am absolutely terrified,” he replied.
“I must admit, I did not expect her to have been adopted by the archduke,” Freida agreed.
Rozemyne was now the daughter of an archnoble, soon to be adopted by the archduke; she was not someone they could treat lightly. The guildmaster, with all his noble associates, knew that well.
“With printing being a duchy-wide industry, I’ll need the full cooperation of the Merchant’s Guild. You know how dangerous it is to complain about an industry that has the archduke’s backing, yeah?”
“Hrmm...” The guildmaster fell into thought, clearly trying to work out how much he could profit from this. I tossed him some bait.
“Mind if I send my chefs to train at your place? I want them to learn more about noble cooking before the archduke and archnobles visit the eatery.” Given that actual nobles were visiting the store, it would be wise to teach them not just Myne’s recipes, but normal noble recipes as well. I also wanted to lessen the potential blowback on us by getting the guildmaster involved.
“...What is in it for me?”
“I let you invest in our Italian restaurant and become a partner. How’s that sound?”
I had started the restaurant after the guildmaster’s chef taunted me, but considering that I needed to handle spreading the printing industry throughout the duchy, I didn’t have the time to expand my horizons into eateries. On top of that, the only one who had chefs that could cook noble food, and who knew nobles well enough to run the Italian restaurant, was the guildmaster. And I had no doubt that his home was full of servants trained to serve food.
“...Very well. How much funding do you need, I wonder?” Freida replied, her eyes gleaming as she jumped at the offer before even the guildmaster could.