The Calm Before the Storm II
Turner Jewellery Store was located in the royal capital. With all of its wares being made by a skilled dwarven craftswoman who worked in a studio on-site, its main customers would be royalty and members of the Kingdom’s nobility, ordered and custom made to their taste.
But the truth was that it actually very popular amongst commoners as well, since it accepted orders for more modest accessories.
With a policy that doesn’t discriminate between nobles and commoners, no matter how much the former may demand to be jumped forward in the waiting list, customers sometimes have to wait several years for their order to be fulfilled, but the satisfaction is always high.
When she was considering who to entrust the crafting of Sophie and Tio’s coming of age gifts, Shirley heard about the reputation of Turners and brought the sapphire and ruby she had excavated from the Jewelsaad Mine to them. After Shirley told her that she would acquire all the other requisite materials herself, but didn’t have the skill to make those precious gifts for her beloved daughters alone, the master craftswoman at Turners set herself to work on the designs immediately.
The main piece would be the uncut gemstones that Shirley had mined. She was told to wait a little while whilst the craftswoman determined which other materials would serve best for the accessories, the reply felt like it had been a long time coming but today that letter finally arrived.
The skin of a bejewelled dragon with gold and silver running through its veins is required.
Briefly put, that’s what the letter conveyed.
“A bejewelled dragon… I fought against one of those a few years ago.”
Shirley thought back to a time when she was still only a C-Rank adventurer. It has long been the habit of dragons to sit atop a hoard of gold and precious gems, but there was also a rare kind of bejewelled dragons that actually ate precious metals such as gold and silver, as well as gems, as food.
They were as formidable as ancient dragons. Depending on what kind of valuables they consumed, their skin would harden and take on a new shape. A dragon that made its lair in an emerald mine would see their scales become even tougher and green, whilst one that made its home in caves where seams of gold ran through the rock would have their scales become as dazzling and precious as the contents of a bank vault.
They are often called living gems, considering how they look, and have become a topic of fascination amongst the upper crust of society. As such, there are often requests made to the guild to bring back the scales of these bejewelled dragons.
But, once again, they are no less dangerous than an ancient dragon. A dragon so strong that they would be a match for a party of S-Rank adventurers. The success rate of expeditions that set out to defeat them was low, but Shirley had managed to kill her first during her second year as an adventurer.
“The problem is finding a bejewelled dragon that eats both gold and silver… If I’m not mistaken, there’s still that request posted at the guild. It should be fine to take what I need and still bring back the requested materials. With the reward on offer as well, it’s killing two birds with one stone.”
Since it’s what backs the coinage, the protection of gold and silver mines is a matter of national importance. The subjugation of dragons that attempt to make nests in these mines are quite often submitted to the adventurers guild because of this.
Another reason is that the gold and silver scales collected from bejewelled dragons that try and make these places their home are actually a lot easier to refine and shape into coins than the raw ores mined out of the earth. It could well be a request to actually put the dragon to sleep somehow and harvest some of the scales without killing it, in order to continually exploit it.
“The location was the gold and silver mine near the Mining City, nearby the capital. If I take a dragon, I should be able to get there and back within a day. Since it’s so nearby to the client, the delivery of the materials shouldn’t be a problem either.”
Normally, this kind of high-level request would take even an S-Rank adventurer nearly a week to complete, but how can she be so confident about returning within a single day? Shirley is the Demonic White Sword, that’s why.
By the way, this isn’t anything like the requests she would normally accept since it’s so far out of the way, but of course, her normal rules don’t apply when it comes to her daughters.
“I’ve decided. The next request I’ll be taking is for a bejewelled dragon.”
“I think you’re the only person on earth who talks about fighting a dragon in the same way they decide what to make for dinner.”
As they both stood in the corner of the Deficit House’s dining room, Martha could only hear Shirley’s casual statement to fight an ancient dragon in the same tone a housewife would say ‘since the fish was on special today, let’s have that for dinner today’.
“So, are you happy with how the material hunting is going so far?”
“Yes. Although in the end, the only thing I was left in charge of is gathering the raw gems and metals.”
Originally she had wanted to prepare absolutely everything herself… But, there was no way she could find anything higher quality than what was already being used in the studio. Everything from the adhesives to the tools, it was all top class.
Especially since craftsmen are so picky about their tools, and for good reason. It was more likely that they would do a better job with the chisels and files they had grown used to over the years than anything new that Shirley prepared for them.
“Y’know, I also gave my kids gifts for their coming of age, but… I didn’t feel I needed to risk my life to gather materials for them.”
“If I can’t give my daughters the greatest gift with the best materials possible, then what’s the point of me even being a mother anymore?”
“Don’t say something so ridiculous with such a straight face. Placing a custom order would have been more than good enough, y’know.”
Collecting and dictating the perfect materials to a craftswoman she had researched thoroughly herself. You’d have to search a long time for such a mother in this big wide world, but that was just how Shirley was. If she put time and effort into it, she might have been able to make something herself, but as a former noble, that blue blood that still ran through her veins made her go the extra mile.
“By the way, the kids don’t know yet, right? It’s still going to be a surprise?”
“Of course. I’m only talking about it now since they’re busy getting changed… It seems they’re back, though.”
As she said that, they heard the pitter-patter of footsteps in the corridor.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, mama.”
“Mm. Is the bath ready?”
“We’ll go in now.”
Shirley, her spare pyjamas folded in her arms, stepped out of the dining room. After watching her leave, the three male adventurers who had been silently drinking in the dining room looked at each other, then one of them asked Martha a question as the group’s representative.
“Hey, is there some way we can peek at the baths here?”
In truth, there were a few ways, so long as you didn’t mind becoming little more than a bloodstain on a sword. The proprietress lied, however, since it wouldn’t do to have paying customers killed that easily.
The bath is actually one of the Deficit House’s major attractions. Although it wasn’t built over a natural hot spring, using advanced magic techniques it was possible to circulate and purify hot water, as well as retain its heat. Canary had been lured by the promise of sweets to create the baths that had magically enhanced water to soften and beautify one’s skin, restore fatigue and improve blood circulation.
There were two baths, one for men and one for women, and it was quite a rarity for such a bathhouse that would rival a low ranking aristocrat’s to be built in an inn intended for commoners. In the beginning, she had fretted about bathing in such a public place even amongst members of the same sex, but she had eventually gotten used to it and even come to enjoy the time she spent in there.
“Phew… Now, then.”
“Wait a minute, Tio! You washed it properly, right!? I’m going to wash it again for you, so stay put!”
“Muu… It doesn’t make a difference even if you go overboard with the washing.”
The sweat that stuck to their skin because of the hot summer weather was washed away with the hot water and replaced with the pleasant fragrance of soap. As Shirley carefully washed shampoo through her long white hair, next to her Sophie vigorously scrubbed at Tio’s hair like a man would his own hair, keeping her in place under the showerhead.
“Nope! Our hair is really long, so we have to clean it properly. See, Martha even started putting in new shampoos and soaps for the women here. So if I use this as well as the normal shampoo…”
“Nnnn~… So annoying. Everyone’s hair gets dirty in the end anyways… Wouldn’t it be easier if I just cut it all off?”
“Um, Tio? I’d rather you didn’t say things like that, even as a joke.”
Even if she’s not the type to care that much about appearance, that’s going too far. If she shortened her hair like that, she would lose a key piece of her femininity. When Tio says things like that, the deep sense of somehow going wrong somewhere as a mother makes Shirley feel like she’s dying.
“Jeez… What would you do if Mama or I weren’t here? But, really, how is your hair so soft and fluffy with so little effort?”
“I’d rather have hair like mum or Sophie. You wouldn’t be saying it’s so nice if you had to wake up and comb it every morning.”
“Maybe Sophie can comb it sometime for you in the morning as well… That said, Tio, you really ought to care for your hair a little bit more.”
Those pure white suds and bubbles stuck to the porcelain skin of Shirley and her daughters. As she washed away the shampoo bubbles from her waist-length white hair that stretched even longer than her daughters’, Tio washed the suds out of her hair as well. As Sophie got to work washing her own hair, Tio stood behind Shirley, looking at her with those ever-sleepy looking eyes.
“Mum, do you want me to wash your back?”
“….Is that alright?”
“Mm. Mum is always working hard, so even if it’s small, I wanted to do something for you.”
She handed Tio a sponge covered in bubbles as she swept away her white hair, exposing her back. After wringing the sponge to let out a bit of the excess water, Tio began to rub Shirley’s back with some real force.
“Mmmph…. Mmmpph…. Is this enough strength, mum?”
“Yes. That’s strong enough.”
“Got it. ….Mmmph…. Mmmph…”
Shirley didn’t turn around as she answered her daughter calmly, but truthfully, she was on the verge of tears as she covered her mouth with her hand.
She had heard the legend of the parent having their back washed by their child in the bathhouse sometime before, but until now they had only been stories to her, this was the first time she had experienced it.
She suddenly remembered the time in the past where she would wash Sophie and Tio’s bodies herself. An overpowering sense of emotion welled up from deep in her heart as she thought about those small girls she once washed growing up to wash her instead… It wasn’t a feeling she had ever felt before.
“Mmmphh… There. Mm, it became really pretty.”
“Thank you very much, Tio.”
Ducking her head under the shower, she washed away the tears on her cheeks that she couldn’t let her see. After she returned the favour to Tio and washed her back, they both soaked into the main bathtub where Sophie was waiting for them, feeling the exhaustion from the day’s labours melt away in the hot water.
This was the part that Shirley found the most pleasurable. Ever since her teenage years, she had always been bothered by the weights on her chest that constantly gave her stiff shoulders. It’s not something so troublesome that it affects her in a fight, but there’s nothing quite like feeling that weight slip off her shoulders when she herself slips into this enchanted bath.
As Shirley relaxed into the bath, Sophie narrowed her eyes and stared at those pale breasts that floated so lazily in the water. And when she looked down at her own plateau, she felt a little grumpy.
“I-It’s okay. Since I’m the daughter of that mama, I should get big in a couple of years, right…?”
“Hawawa! T-Tio!? N-Nothing at all! Nothing!”
Tio, who had immersed herself in the bathtub all the way up to her chin, stealthily approached Sophie as if she were swimming and, after seeing her panicking older sister look between her own chest and Shirley’s, put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder with a sympathetic look on her face.
“…I said it before, but don’t worry. You’re only ten, Sophie, so it’s normal for your chest to be flat. Honestly, I’m jealous that Sophie’s arms and legs are already longer than mine.”
“Whaaa!? D-Don’t look at me with such pitying eyeeees! Besides, your chest is more or less the same as mine, Tio――――”
But when she looked, Sophie’s words caught in her throat. Although they would be called small if you compared them to an adult’s, there were undoubtedly two shapes that slightly swayed on her younger sister’s chest.
Had they grown again since she last saw them? She felt delirious as she looked back at her own chest again. There wasn’t even a bump. It was a magnificent plain.
“W-What’s wrong, Sophie!? Why are you crying so suddenly…!?”
“Because… Because of…!”
There’s no way to see what will come to pass a year or two from now. But, somehow, it seems like the future is becoming a little easier to predict. Although she was glad that her height was improving steadily, compared to her little sister, Sophie was stricken by fear by how little progress she was making in the area she wanted to grow the most.