The day of the wedding ceremony.
The front gates of the Duke’s mansion were thrown open to a myriad of guests, a vast majority being those that sought favor from the powerful man that resided there. According to Dengel, most of the attendees on the invitation list wished for the Duke’s rise to power. By early morning, the front gardens had been filled with the sounds of boisterous guests, numbering in the hundreds.
Men of nobility along with their retainers and bodyguards were scattered across the grounds matching wits, showing off, and doing whatever men and women of their standing often did.
Many of those guests could be heard giving their approval that the Duke had finally chosen a partner to wed. Romanticized and exaggerated remarks of the woman who had risen to fame after helping to slay a demon were being flung around. Despite the bride being of lower status, they could not refute the Duke’s choice. Instead, they bolstered the lady’s achievements to hide their personal reservations of her.
In fact, some of these nobles had been a little annoyed that he had not chosen one of their daughters instead. However, there would be many chances to gain his favor as long as they remained in his good graces.
Though the important moment that declared the joining of the groom and bride was set to happen at noon, the guests were already filtering into the grand ballroom of the mansion.
The grand ballroom had been decked out with tables of fancy food, offering the guests an extensive line of high-class hors d’oeuvres to munch on as they communed with each other before the main event started.
At the center of the ballroom stood a giant wedding cake, towering nearly a story high. The cake had been situated such that rays of sunlight shone down at it and splintered into a kaleidoscope of colors that dotted the surrounding ground. This effect was created by the scattering of light through the crystalline sugar decorations which were carefully fashioned on the cake. The adjustments to the decorations in the days before to suit this specific environment made it even more of a spectacle than the initial cake that won the contract.
For the nobles who were met with this awe-inspiring sight, many felt a slight weakness of their knees as they were caught off-guard by the grandeur of the ceremony’s centerpiece.
‘This is the power of the Duke!’
‘What ability he has to request a consumable work of art such as this!’
Those kinds of thoughts ran through the minds of his supporters as they internally comforted themselves that they were on the same side as this powerful man. The cake, as grand as it was, was almost a waste to eat.
Fortunately for them, there was another cake nearby, not nearly as grand, but was being cut and served to the guests.
“A slice of cake for you, my lords and ladies? You will find its taste in no way inferior.”
A chef held out a plate of cake towards the passing nobles that had just finished staring at the larger centerpiece. The ladies were the first to walk up and take a piece. A collective moan of excitement filled the air after the first bite.
“Oh my! The sweet creaminess!”
“This is…ice cream? In a cake? How lavish!”
“The sweet taste is so divine, and it doesn’t lessen even after several bites! I can’t get enough of it!”
The chef, who was Claude in disguise, gave a slightly awkward smile as he watched the women eat the cake.
‘I kind of feel bad now for doing this, but sacrifices have to be made.’ I thought, trying to maintain the cordial, professional smile on my face.
“Cake for you, sir?” I beckoned the men this time. Though a few of them took the plates I passed to them, a few hesitated.
“Hmm, I don’t think something this sweet would go well with my wine.” The man said, swirling the half-empty glass in his hand.
“Understandable. A treat this sweet would certainly coat your palate and make your wine bitter. In that case, how about I recommend you the proper wine to pair with this?” My hand moved over to some glasses of wine that were on an adjacent table.
One of the men who had already sampled the cake moved over and took one. Take a hearty sip, his eyes widened at the taste.
“This…is wine? It is nothing like any that I have ever tasted! A heavy accent of fruit and sweetness comparable to a dessert, yet the subtleties of wine still preserved. Another glass if you would please!”
I nodded with pleasure. Seeing this, the remaining men had lost any further reasons to deny sampling the cake. The prospect of a cake and wine pairing that none had ever experienced was too tempting to turn down.
As the crowd happily walked away with both items in hand, I gave a sigh of relief that the result had been so favorable. I had completely forgotten how common wine was drunk at these kinds of events. It was not until after we had designed the wedding cake that I had recalled the difficulty of pairing ice cream and wine. There were likely those who wouldn’t partake in any of the cake due to it clashing with their drink.
That wouldn’t do. I needed to make sure that most of the guests would eat their fill. Not only because of the plan, but in part, my own pride that wanted to impose on others to sample the dishes I created. Therefore, I had requested for some wines that went well with dessert.
Unfortunately, all of the wines that I had sampled had the same problem – the sweetness of the cake brought out the wine’s bitterness. This led to one question:
How could I make the wine taste better without reducing the sweetness of the cake?
I was no expert in wine. The intricacies of delicate flavors complimenting each other and negating the problematic combinations went well over my head. I needed a simple solution to this issue.
“Here. Have a glass of juice to cleanse your palate.” Wedge handed me a glass.
“Juice…that’s it! Wedgeworth, you’re a genius!” I cried in excitement.
After cutting a bunch of fruit and soaking them in the wine, I added some extra sweetener to it and gave it a stir. The additional flavors and added sweetness in the wine bridged the gap I was facing. The answer before me was to serve my own drink to pair with the cake, a drink known in my world as Sangria.
I would have to take notes of this drink as a product for future distribution, but for now, it seemed that nearly every guest took a glass of it. Not only the cake, the wine also contained a copious amount of my secret ingredient. Now, I would have to pray that it kicked in at the right time.
Looking around at the packed ballroom, there were so many people here that it would be hard to pull off a successful assault.. Given that each Lord had brought many of their able fighters and magicians, one could say that a significant portion of the kingdom’s might had been concentrated in this one area.
If the plan failed, then Cornelius would be severely short-handed in our attempt to capture the Duke and make him confess. His supporters would likely get in the way and allow him to escape long enough to formulate a plan of counterattack.
With the ceremony set to begin in another hour, I looked over at Biggs and Wedge, giving them the signal.
“Oh, looks like I have to get some more supplies from the kitchen. Can you two take my place?”
“Yes, Cid boss.” The two nodded and took over my place serving the food and drink.
Casually walking out of the ballroom, my steps picked up as soon as I detected no one around me. I quickly made my way to the room that I had been staying in to change into my normal chef uniform, which doubled as my battle outfit.
After I checked that my stats were what they should be, I pulled out a wooden box that was stowed underneath the bed. With a click, the latches were undone, and the lid lifted, revealing a brand-new firearm that Katsys had made for me. Next to it, a total of ten cartridges, each containing a hundred pellets, laid in a row.
Katsys had done far more than what I had requested. When I had tested it out, I found that the pellets flew in a straighter, farther trajectory than before. Apparently, she had taken out the unnecessary parts and re-designed the gun to focus on accuracy. The mechanical launcher was scrapped for an imbedded wind stone to propel the pellets, magically launching them forward. This was the perfect adjustment to complement my newfound skill, though I’d have to keep an eye on my MP, which I finally had a serious use for.
Loading one of the cartridges in, I dumped the rest into my Item Box before heading out the door. Though I needed to head back and wait for the ceremony to start, there was one more pit stop I had to make.
Minutes later, I found myself in front of the Duke’s study.
“My lady needs a weapon.”
Fifteen minutes before the start of the ceremony.
Eryn was sitting in a room staring at the mirror. The sight of herself in complete wedding attire made her feel the gravity of the situation. Her heart pounded as she stroked her thigh once again to make sure things were in place.
The door knocked with a few soft raps before it opened. The Duke was in his formal attire, a large mantle with many decorations covering his shoulders.
“It’s time,” he said with a slight smile. “Your destiny awaits.”
“My destiny, huh? Only according to your schemes.” Eryn stood up. The ruffles of her dress swaying as she did.
“I still see quite the life in your eyes. You’re planning something, aren’t you? Then, let’s make sure that nothing gets in the way.” The Duke backed Eryn towards the wall.
He pulled out a bottle from his breast pocket and uncorked it. Pressing Eryn against the wall, he forcibly brought the bottle to her lips as she tried to tilt her head side to side to avoid it.
Finally managing to pour the liquid down her throat, Eryn went limp for a while. The Duke stared at her face fiercely as he waited for her to open her eyes. After a few minutes passed, she opened her eyes and stared blankly ahead.
“Hmph. Now, I order you to follow my lead. You WILL agree to be my wife. Is that understood?”
Eryn nodded, her eyes never leaving the Duke.
“Good. Now link arms! We must put on a show of happiness for our adoring countrymen, regardless of how hollow it may be for you. Nothing would please me more to take you as you struggle against my control, but now is not the time for such play.”
Eryn reached out and grasped the Duke’s extended arm.
The two of them walked towards the grand ballroom and opened the doors at the stroke of noon.
“Introducing Lord Casper Charlemagne and his bride-to-be, Lady Eryn of house Faulkner!” A footman yelled out to the room.
The sound of clapping and cheering echoed around the room as musicians began playing music. However, something appeared to be strange. Scanning the room in front of him, the Duke saw that the ballroom looked much less occupied than expected.
Were the guests waiting in the garden, where the ceremony would be held? Yes, that must be the case. He had walked by merely an hour ago and saw a crowd several times as dense.
He tugged Eryn along as they walked down the middle of the ballroom and out of the building, the guests and servants following them.
As they walked through the pathways to the large clearing of the garden, there were hardly any people scattered about, only a few that joined the group after noticing the ceremonial music.
At this point, a feeling of anxiety was gnawing at him, growing with every step. When he first stepped into the open garden, the shock of the scene in front of him made his legs feel like iron weights.
The garden had been just as empty as the ballroom. Of the nearly six hundred expected guests that were checked in, less than a hundred of them were in attendance. The Duke looked back to make sure that they hadn’t lined up farther back. As he scanned the crowd, he noticed a few people taking their leave and quickly running off like they had urgent business to attend to.
Dumbfounded by this turn of events, a small voice tore through his wave of panic.
“Not the wedding you meticulously planned, is it?”
The Duke looked down at the voice, seeing Eryn with a grin of satisfaction on her face. She reached under her skirt to draw something.
“You? You’re not under my control? What did you do!?” The Duke jumped back in surprise as he saw a dagger slicing the spot he once stood. He looked down at the bracelets that should have been sealing her abilities only to find them not reacting, even as Eryn started forming a fireball in her free hand.
The guests that could fight rallied around the Duke, while the others ran off for safety. This further pared down the number to just under thirty.
“You. Even if you have your abilities, it is foolish to strike me on my own grounds!” The Duke waved his hand to signal his guards.
Contrary to his expectations, only a few soldiers and magicians came out of hiding, forming an obviously incomplete perimeter around Eryn.
“What?! Where are my guards?! Where are my men?!” The Duke shouted in surprise.
At that moment, another voice chimed in to answer that question.
“I’d imagine that they are all in a hurry to find a toilet somewhere. Though that might be a bit tough seeing as they are competing with several hundred of your guests.”
Due to the shock of the events, the Duke had overlooked a person who had remained standing at the edge of the garden despite all that had happened. The man was wearing a chef’s uniform, one that he had seen before, but not with any face that he knew of.
“Who are you?!” One of the guards barked.
“Me? I’m just a chef. A chef that is here to serve you the next dish.”
The man brushed a hand wielding a small mana stone across his face, causing his looks to distort. The illusion of his face, cast to hide his appearance, disappeared from the surge of magic and revealed the familiar face of the Demon Cleaver. In his hand was a small hammer that he brandished at the Duke.