A man in his late thirties scoured the papers on his desk as he would normally be seen doing most of his day. As a Duke, Casper Charlemagne was in charge of much of the kingdom’s affairs. His name was a subject that brought fear to many of the people that encountered him, but not because of his aptitude in magic or fighting. Instead, he held vast amounts of power solely through his connections. With a swift stroke of his quill pen, he could bring big and abrupt changes to many sectors, particularly if it pertained to the military or economy. Soldiers and merchants became nervous when he became involved because it almost always meant a big change was coming.
Careers would either be propelled or shattered, depending on the man’s whims, so naturally, most people preferred to steer clear from his gaze, all but the most daring. However, once in a while, the Duke would take a keen interest in someone particular.
Anyone looking over his shoulder at the moment would see that the documents in his grasp all involved a certain female magic knight, who had recently been promoted, and her peculiar familiar.
Indeed, the Duke’s gaze was now locked on Eryn Faulkner. However, this was not a gaze of regard that one would normally hold for a person that had distinguished herself. Rather, he looked in annoyance at the progress that she made, considering what he should do to halt her achievements.
“I think it’s about time that I put a stop to her, before she falls out of my reach,” the Duke mumbled to himself.
Eryn Faulkner’s recent merits had put her on the fast track to becoming a Baron, which he needed to prevent right away.
In this kingdom, members of the nobility were allowed to ‘acquire’ servants and partners from amongst the populace. Often, those chosen had no right to refuse, unless they had the backing of someone higher up than the noble targeting them. For that reason, many rules were typically set in place to prevent its abuse.
Chosen members could not be a noble themselves. They also must have reached adulthood, which was 18 years of age. At any time, if the chosen member were to gain the backing of more powerful nobles objecting the servitude, then he or she could be released.
In the case of Eryn Faulkner, only her parents held the title of Baronet, the lowest of nobility ranks. This title would not transfer to any progeny, so she was effectively a commoner under this rule. As a result, the Duke would simply have to wait for her 18th birthday to swoop in and claim her for himself, provided that she remained as is. But at this rate, he had to come up with more immediate measures.
A knock at the door sounded before it opened, revealing a young man wearing glasses and carrying a stack of new reports to be passed on. There seemed to be a permanent crease on his brow that was partially covered by his raven dark hair.
“Ah, Dengel. How’s the progress on you know what?” The Duke looked up, eager to find out.
“The bandits are satisfied with the terms. They await your direction, sir. But if I may, my lord, can I ask if this is necessary?” The young man responded with a hint of disgust.
Dengel Berle had been the Duke’s secretary for about three years. He knew all about his interest in a certain Eryn Faulkner and his plans for her. He grimaced at the thought.
He felt a bit of sympathy for the Duke’s current target as he had been subjected to a similar threat before. Having been groomed as a scholar by his parents, despite their background as commoners, he found that he had a knack for mathematics and writing. Openly displaying his talents around town at a young age, he had acquired a role as an apprentice of a merchant guild. With a natural ability to learn, he was able to pick up on things very quickly. Furthermore, he had a natural knack for understanding people’s characters and desires. By the time he became 20, most of the guild’s finances and operations had been managed by him.
However, that came to an abrupt end when the Duke happened to pass by and see his work. Enamored by his ability, the Duke immediately insisted that Dengel join him as a retainer. Though he had been excited by the fancy position at first, each moment he spent with the Duke hinted to him about the sinister character of his lord.
The tasks given to him also left a bad taste in his mouth. Blackmail, bribery, arranged kidnappings – these were just some of the things behind the scenes that the Duke did to maintain his hold on his circle of influence. Each time the Duke requested, Dengel would oversee the arrangements and cover it up afterwards.
When he voiced his objections once, the Duke had threatened to kidnap his family and sell them into slavery in the northern country. Being trapped by his lack of power, there was nothing he could do but comply with the Duke’s wishes. After all, there was no nobility in a higher position than the Duke aside from the royal family, and there was no way they would listen to a mere commoner.
Swallowing his guilt, he would at least try to minimize the impact on the victims. However, he had been given a clear objective this time and little time to execute it. Arrangement of a murder.
“It must be done. I must cut off any more opportunities before I lose her, just like I did back then.” The Duke raised his voice in rejection.
“But…this is in no way discreet…if I had more time…”
“NO, time we don’t have! I waited last time and failed! There will be no deviances from the plan!”
The Duke’s words cut off any room for negotiation. With a sigh, Dengel simply nodded and bowed before his lord. The crease on his forehead twitched with frustration. He would need a strong drink after he finished.
Turning to exit the room, Dengel wondered why his lord had been so obsessed by that girl. He had other women at his beck and call who he played around with. He happened upon some of them on occasion, but they seemed to be missing a bit of life from their eyes. Based on this, he had assumed that his lord was into submissive women, making Miss Faulkner a strange choice.
Unbeknownst by his secretary, Casper Charlemagne had very specific desires. Ones that were difficult to fulfill.
The Duke stared behind him to a single sheathed sword that hung on the wall. The last time the sword’s owner wielded it, it felt as if she were able to split the light coming from the sky. This, of course, attracted the Duke’s attention, and as he continued to stare at her form, he realized that this was exactly the type of woman he was looking for.
Strong, beautiful, courageous, noble, and an indomitable will.
Oh, how he wanted to see her face distort as he tore all of that down and made her submit. Forget all of the women that easily succumbed. He would obtain the greatest pleasure in seeing the strongest will wither under the weight of his body. That had been what he was truly seeking. The inner desire to degrade one’s efforts – the satisfaction of knowing that even great power can be trampled on by his own – the secret desire to control those that futilely resisted.
If it weren’t for his human mask that managed all of the kingdom’s affairs in a productive manner, surely, he would be thought of as a devil of sorts.
And so, he tried to pursue her – the woman knight named Gracia Faulkner. However, she had already married into a merchant family of lower nobility. The only legal way of claiming her for himself was to get rid of the man attached to her. Since her status came from the marriage, it would become null in the circumstance that her husband passed away, which he had his secretary make arrangements for.
However, that secretary came back bearing only her sword and the news that his target had been accidentally slain by the bandits that he hired. Though he had hired bandits that were skilled with the sword, as well as magic, that could hold their own against her, they were obviously not a group that handled protecting targets well, a crucial error on his part. In a fit of rage, the Duke cast a blade of wind which severed the man’s head from his body and destroyed a section of the wall in his study behind him. Sullen that his greatest desire had been taken from him, he hung her sword on the wall as a reminder to be more meticulous in his plans.
The momentary satisfaction of the women he conquered never seemed to satisfy him, so he would make sure that if the chance arose again, he would keep it within his reach, ready to snatch it away at a moment’s notice.
Thus, he became obsessed with power. Power – to control things from the shadows. Power – to manipulate those that would do his bidding. Power – to cover up the mistake that he once made.
However, the law of the land could not be changed. There were still limitations to what he could do, so naturally, he sought for ways to overcome them. Gaining allies amongst the other nobility, harnessing wealth and troops through his management of the kingdom’s economy and military – All for the purpose of changing the rules to his liking one day.
Then two years later, he happened upon a girl who looked familiar. Seeing her form in simple, knight’s armor, he saw flashes of the woman he desired previously. Upon investigation, he found out that she had been his previous target’s daughter.
Once again, the fire in his loins rose up. The more he secretly observed of her, the more convinced he became that she was her mother’s daughter. He licked his lips in anticipation as he watched her grow into the woman of his tastes. She would be a suitable replacement. Though he tried to be discreet, it was almost as if she could sense him watching her in anticipation.
Since she had not come of age yet, he could not technically lay a finger on her. However, that did not stop him from molding her to his tastes, while making sure she would not fall out of his reach. He used his connections to ensure that she could pursue her dreams, taking steps to secretly encourage her abilities and motivate her to become a strong-willed, independent lady. It was easy enough given that she wished to become a magic knight, in which he had power over the guild.
At the same time, he encouraged some to look down on her. To belittle her efforts, such that she would rise up in determination. It became a game to amuse himself with while he eagerly awaited the day she became ripe. Though it was unfortunate that one such man ended up turning into a demon, he was only responsible for planting the initial seeds of discord. Who knew that the Madiswil brat would lose control and devolve into such a state?
However, that one event had unexpectedly propelled the Faulkner girl’s fame, so he had to make sure to reign it in before she acquired a nobility title. If not for his intervention, she would likely have received it already. Then she would be out of his reach.
No, now was the time to act! He would use the connections that he had accumulated all these years to stall for the last bit of time.
The Duke looked down at a report with an image of a chef.
That had been the only abnormal factor in his current plans – an Electi that held a strange, unpredictable power, a potential trump card that he couldn’t take any chances with. He had once tried to lure him away with the promise of wealth under direct servitude to the king, but apparently, he was too attached to his master. How unfortunate.
In that case, he had other ways to split them up. After watching her for so long, he knew exactly what strings to pull to get her to dance. He smiled to himself as he watched his current secretary leave. Things were already in motion. He would just have to sit back and enjoy the final act.