Eryn inwardly sighed as she watched the Duke amusingly order his servants around to prepare the courtyard for the wedding. There were only a few days left, and Eryn felt like she was getting nowhere.
Since discovering the Duke’s secret, he made sure to lock his study with magical devices to ensure she couldn’t get in. Ordering a greater amount of security to keep tabs on her, she saw no other way but to comply with the Duke’s orders. Careful not to make him suspicious, she occasionally put on an air of defiance consistent with her character, only to pretend to be fearful of the potion’s effect when the Duke threatened her with it. Though the potion only lasted for a few hours, she didn’t want to take any risks and reveal to him that her hair clip allowed her to resist its effects.
Often standing by his side during his work, she learned that the Duke was a ruthlessly efficient man, meticulously controlling the processes to ensure nothing went wrong. In general, his servants were well off, provided that they did as ordered. However, there appeared to be a wall between the master and servants, one that didn’t allow most to see his hidden side.
At times, the Duke would retreat to his study with his personal secretary, Dengel, to take care of matters privately. It appeared that Dengel was the only person that had access to the secret dealings that she suspected of the Duke. For that reason, she started tailing Dengel when she had the chance. At this moment, she was peering behind a corner as he was traveling between tasks. However, the secretary was a very perceptive man.
“Lady Faulkner, I know you are watching me. It’s pretty apparent.” Dengel adjusted his glasses as he directed his attention to her without needing to turn around.
Jumping slightly in surprise, Eryn slowly walked out from her hiding spot. She was a knight with good senses. Though she didn’t specialize in covertness, a normal person shouldn’t have spotted her so quickly.
“If you can be quick, I’ll listen to what you have on your mind, but I have an important task to attend to soon.” He looked up briefly at her before his eyes went back through scanning his notebook.
“The Duke. What kind of man is he?” Eryn cautiously asked.
“To put it in simple terms, determined and respected. There’s few that would be able to go against him. In my view, if you follow his whims, which are at times strange, then you will live a comfortable life.”
“A comfortable life, huh? One where I will languish away, only to be the Duke’s plaything?” Eryn said sarcastically.
“I didn’t say that it would be the best life. A caged bird never roams free but is guaranteed a standard of living.”
“But why me? He could have the pick of any girl in the kingdom, one that would be happy to laze around in luxury.”
“My thoughts exactly, but since I’ve known him, the Duke has always been fixated on you. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught him staring at that sword on the wall.”
“You mean my mother’s sword? How did he come to possess it?”
“Frankly, I don’t know. And I might’ve said too much already. If you’ll excuse me now, I have to be going.” Dengel walked away, leaving Eryn behind with more questions.
At least he had confirmed that the Duke had acquired her mother’s sword, Radiant Light. But how? And it also seemed to be the reason that he had targeted her. Various suspicions brewed as she pondered what it could mean. Finally, one thought bubbled up to the surface.
Could the Duke have murdered her parents?
The instant she thought that, a rage threatened to envelop her. A desire to run him through with a sharp object momentarily flashed by.
No, she had to stay calm. It was only a suspicion. She couldn’t act on that without being certain. However, if that were true, there was no way she would ever let him touch her again. Death would be a preferable option.
Hearing some noise in the direction of the ballroom, Eryn walked towards the sounds and opened the door leading to a balcony that overlooked the expansive area. She watched as several teams of chefs filed in, each claiming a spot around the area.
“Oh right, there were mentions about preparations for a cake,” Eryn recalled from some discussions between the servants.
Immediately, she scanned the area, in hopes that one particular person had somehow made his way here.
They had separated on the worst terms, which Eryn regretted as the days passed. However, what could she even say if he walked up to her again? She swallowed the fear that welled up in her throat at the thought.
Seeing the last of the chefs walk in, she saw no sign of her familiar.
“Of course, he wouldn’t be here. There’s no reason he would be.” Eryn’s voice trailed off as she placed her elbows on the railing and stared down at the activity below.
Though she dreaded the event the cake was being made for, she couldn’t help but be entranced by the cakes being created in front of her. The sweets themselves had no sin. She slightly drooled in anticipation as she imagined the sweet taste of each one. Wiping her mouth, she cursed her sweet tooth for distracting her from her goals.
However, as she stared on, she seemed to see glimpses of Claude in every chef. Moments of his enthusiasm, moments of his quirkiness, moments of desire to create something amazing – those feelings overlapped with the fond memories she had during her time with him. In the middle of reminiscing, a loud voice broke through the room.
“We did it, guys!”
That voice sounded ever so familiar! Eryn’s eyes fixated on where it came from. Over in one corner, three chefs were celebrating, their cake apparently chosen as the winner. She recognized the uniforms as she had been over at Cornelius’s home before.
Moving closer to get a better view, she recognized the faces of Bigginton and Wedgeworth, who had been with the Reichenstein family for many years. Cornelius must have sent them in an attempt to reach out to her! But who was that third chef? She couldn’t recall someone with that appearance. As she listened in on their conversation, the voice that she heard before came from that guy.
Disappointed that he wasn’t who she initially thought, she shook her head and carved his face in her mind. Eryn would try to get in touch with one of them later in hopes of reaching Cornelius.
She closed her eyes and stayed around to listen to their banter until they finally left the room, deluding herself just for this moment that her familiar was still nearby.
Having successfully won the contract to make the wedding cake, Biggs, Wedge, and I were provided with a room at the mansion and access to our own kitchen to create the final product for the ceremony. We were also told to make a separate cake to serve to the guests prior to the events. Apparently in this world, the reception was held while the guests gathered. The ceremony itself would take place near the end, in which the couple exchanged vows, and their joining would be announced to everyone.
Given that, there was a small change that I wanted to make to the final cakes, sending word to Cornelius to acquire it from the Faulkner trading company. Hopefully, he can get it in time. In addition, I had asked for some good wines that paired well with dessert. A cake in a fancy setting wouldn’t be good if it made the wine taste bad.
Since there wasn’t much to do until the day before, the three of us started poking around the mansion looking for dirt on the Duke, something that would reveal the reasons behind his acquisition of power.
After walking around the mansion, I got a feel for where everything was.
“Okay, time to check in with the Biggs/Wedge duo to see what they found.”
As I started walking back to my room, a voice called out to me.
That was a voice that I was well familiar with, causing me to jump in surprise. Turning around, I saw Eryn outfitted in a beautiful, classy dress.
“You’re one of Lord Reichenstein’s chefs, right?” Eryn eyed me up and down.
I nodded in response.
“I wanted to apologize to your lord about my circumstances, as he is probably worried about his dear friend. Could you let him know that I’m doing fine? Though I’m sure he is searching for a way to get me out of this.”
I nodded again to her.
“Hey, why aren’t you talking? I don’t recall seeing you around. Are you new?”
Even though my face had been disguised, nothing had been done to my voice. If I talked, it would likely raise her suspicions. I cleared my throat before trying to slur my words a bit.
“Imma…Cid. Yes, yes, new person.”
Damn it, I sounded like an idiot. I mentally slapped myself.
“Really, you sound just like a person I know…”
That didn’t work! And wait, did Eryn think I sounded like an idiot?
“Not know what you mean! I come from East, so new to city!” I tried desperately to deepen the lie.
“That’s strange…people from the East usually have a darker skin color… No matter. Please convey my message to your lord.”
Somehow, I squeaked by. It was now my turn to ask her what was on my mind. A single question plagued my mind since I saw her last.
“Does Milady not wish for wedding?”
Eryn paused for a minute to think. She looked around, making sure no one else could hear her complaints.
“Money and power, that’s what I would be marrying into, is that what you think? There was a time when I thought that would be the easiest way not to lose everything, but it seems like I’d be losing it all the same. So no, this is not what I want.”
“Then, why not escape?”
“Escape? How? The Duke’s power reaches across the kingdom. I wouldn’t get very far because I’d soon be caught. Or are you thinking that you’d help me? But what can a single chef do in this case?”
In my mind, a great burden had been relieved. Eryn had been forced into this marriage against her will. Just by confirming that fact, my heart burned with the desire to free her.
But how? As Eryn said, we would have to essentially escape the kingdom and start anew somewhere else. Thinking about it, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea. We would take Ludmila, Pietro, and Carina, and then set our roots somewhere else. Anything was better than losing her.
“Let’s find a way,” I told her directly, in which she returned a look of annoyance.
“How do you propose that? Do you have some special power to stand up to the kingdom? I hardly believe that someone so convenient would be a mere chef! Let’s see you figure out a way to release me from these magical shackles that bind my abilities first!” Eryn spoke in a harsh tone, unconvinced that my assistance would matter.
I looked down at the wrists that she thrust towards me, each with a bracelet attached. Giving a light tug on them, neither one could be removed from her wrist. A circular stone was imbedded into each one. Could it be that magic stone powering its effects? Given that they were magically imbued, there may be something that I could do. I activated my skill, ‘Eyes of Providence’.
Instantly, purple dots appeared along the surface of the stones. I pulled out a hammer and lightly rapped on one of them. Purple cracks started forming around the impacted area, showing that mana had started leaking in a wider area. Another tap of the hammer, and the stone shattered.
Eryn’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the stone in her left bracelet being destroyed so easily. She brought a bit of mana into her hands, confirming that her magic had no longer been restricted. I turned to the other bracelet and did the same, shattering it also after two swings.
Eryn was speechless. How was it possible for equipment made of such high-quality stones to be shattered so easily? And with a simple, ordinary hammer… unless…
“It can’t be! Are you…Claude?” Eryn said, realizing only one person with that ability.
“What makes you think that? I’m just a wandering chef who has lost his master,” I joked.
I felt a light punch impact my stomach, but since I wasn’t expecting it, it nearly knocked the wind out of me. Right after, two arms wrapped themselves around me as I was drawn into an embrace.
“You idiot! Why are you here?” Eryn whispered, with tears starting to form in her eyes.
“I’m a sore loser. Can’t give up on you that easily,” I said, finally recovering from her love tap.
Having finally reunited, I briefly returned the hug. At a distance, my eyes caught the sign of someone approaching.
“Let’s find a better place to talk.” I started leading her away.