Eryn had gone through quite an exhausting time since Claude and Katalina left the country. Being informed by Pietro and Carina, she had learned that her close family members were not who they seemed to be. However, it was fortunate that there were allies in another country that could guard her friends while she investigated the murder of the Auxerre family.
Once she was able to examine the scene of the crime, there were quite a few points of suspicion in the attack. Like others that knew about Claude’s abilities, she questioned how the cuts could have sliced through both metal and flesh.
The few people that had seen Claude in action knew that he always broke his opponents’ armor by fracturing it through its weak points. Though he could cut flesh, like in the case for monsters, he had never drawn blood with his knife on a person.
In fact, many of the people that were gung-ho about his capture only had the rudimentary understanding that he could ‘cut through things.’ This misconception had spread widely through the ranks due to hearsay and ignorance, something that Eryn had to shake her head at.
Unfortunately, her voice alone had not been able to reach out to everyone. She couldn’t be trusted due to her close ties with the accused. At this point, even blatant facts wouldn’t move people from their preconceived beliefs.
Just as she wondered how to move forward, she got a big boost of help from someone.
“I have confirmed it. Sir Evers is not the murderer.” Roderick, the Captain of the Royal Guard, had returned after engaging him at the mountain border.
After more than a week of being told otherwise, this sudden statement surprised everyone.
“How can you say that? He even kidnapped the princess!”
“Yeah, weren’t you a staunch lover of his cuisine?”
His men questioned the truth of his statement. Yet, Roderick simply raised a hand to quell them.
“I have fought with him, twice in fact. Once, during the debacle wedding of the former Duke, and again, as he tried to escape capture. Though I attacked him in disguise, the response of his attacks, the lack of bloodlust, the will to protect – none of those feelings had faltered. The man I faced, was not a criminal in hiding, but a noble protector guarding a princess against harm.”
Roderick had been convinced of Claude’s innocence after meeting with him. The Princess had chosen to be under his care, rather than being coerced. These were the claims that he made to his men.
Roderick continued, “But then, why would our gentle and wise princess willingly choose to go with Sir Evers, to escape the kingdom with him by her side? That, my men, is the true question… I’m afraid that her wisdom told her to suspect what had TRULY happened, and for that reason, she may have been targeted as well.”
Roderick paced around and looked at his men.
“Why were we, the Royal Guards, not sent to retrieve the princess? Why were we, as the royal family’s greatest defenders, not in charge of her safety?”
His men looked at each other, realization dawning on their faces. In fact, Roderick had disobeyed orders to find them on his own.
“Instead, the army was sent to capture them, men under the direct orders of Prince Oswald!”
Several gasps were heard in the crowd as to what this suggested.
“How can it be, her own brother?!” Muffled cries along those lines blanketed the crowd.
Roderick raised his hand to quell his audience once again.
“I do not intend to point fingers as to who is responsible. However, I simply ask you of this. Open your eyes. Seek the truth. Do not simply believe in the loud voices that yell constantly about rumors and lies. They are there to provoke anger and hate. Listen to those that know of Sir Evers’ deeds and judge for yourself whether he is truly the villain you make him out to be, or if he was an unfortunate victim in some grand scheme.”
A seed of doubt had sprouted in the hearts of the soldiers. The more they asked around, the stranger the circumstances of the murder had become.
There were witnesses that recalled how pleasant the air between Marquis Auxerre and Sir Evers had been prior to the incident. There was a lack of motive that could explain the evil deed.
Guards at the perimeter of town had recalled the chef passing by to check the outskirts, verifying that he had been traveling in a direction opposite from the Marquis’s home.
Not until they really listened that they realized that they had been tricked. The initial voices that boomed over the others had, in fact, overwhelmingly cast Sir Evers in a negative light and had drowned out the facts supporting his innocence.
However, no one could figure out how another ‘Claude’ could have shown up at the murder scene.
Finally seeing that the tide had turned, Eryn proposed a possibility.
“What about visual manipulation by magic?” Eryn cast her Mirage spell warping her surroundings such that she blended into the background.
The men jumped in surprise at her sudden disappearance, but then, she poked her head through the spell. It looked like only her head had been floating in the air.
“With enough magic capability, maybe you can disguise yourself as another person.”
Though she off-handedly made that comment, she knew of a person that could do exactly that. Cornelius had changed Claude’s face with an illusionary ice spell before. However, that had been a point best left secret.
Yet, the vague explanation seemed to spark something among the crowd.
“Extreme magic capabilities? There’s no one else that exemplifies that than the Chancellor, haha.”
As soon as a soldier said that, everyone froze. The Chancellor worked closely with the royal family, especially Prince Oswald. He also had the most information about events happening throughout the kingdom. It would be difficult for anything to avoid his gaze, especially all the details that the soldiers had discovered recently. Yet, he had made the call to arrest Sir Evers. Though the severity of the situation called for haste, why had he ignored other possibilities, especially since a disguise could have been employed?
The trust in the royal family and its supporters suddenly waned.
Slowly, people gathered on either side of the political chasm spreading within the kingdom. However, who was there to lead those that were starting to gather against the royal family? It seemed like only this point was keeping the kingdom from the brink of civil war. For weeks and weeks, the people waited for someone, anyone, to take the helms.
As Eryn walked through her own town, cries of support were given to her. Rather than the new king who had called for Claude’s arrest, the townspeople believed in their lord and what she had been doing. After living here for several months, they held the firm belief that her chef had been incapable of committing such crimes. The guards, merchants, shopkeepers, and laborers had all tasted his food and knew of the joy that it brought him when they showed up for a meal. It was hard to believe that such a straightforward man could raise a knife in blind rage.
Eryn arrived back to her home, mentally exhausted from the day’s tasks. Fortunately, Dengel had everything covered for the moment when it came to the trading company. That meant she could focus on rallying supporters to overrule the call for Claude’s arrest.
At dinner time, she looked around in surprise to see only Carina.
“Where’s Pietro?” It was strange for him to be absent during evening meals.
“Chancellor Willingham sent him a message asking for a chat.”
Eryn bolted up from the table, looking like she wanted to race out the door.
“Calm down, he’ll be just fine. He brought his sword along, so not even demons can lay a finger on him.” Though Carina had reassured Eryn just now, even she had been secretly nervous. However, involving her further would simply wear the poor girl thin.
Eryn slowly sat down, a bit embarrassed by her overreaction. He was still far ahead of her in level and in fighting experience. Despite her progress in learning mana control swordplay, there was much that could be done before she could close the gap in skill. She had to admit that there was not much that she could do against the Chancellor, even with her magic skills.
After dinner and a bath, Eryn retired to her room. In the weeks that Claude had escaped, she tried to take her mind off his absence by keeping herself occupied. Once she could convince everyone of his innocence, that would pave the way for his return. The momentum had certainly swung in her favor after Captain Roderick had gotten on-board. Pretty soon, the newly-crowned King Oswald would have to reverse the false charges.
After that, what would he do? Would he try to sweep everything under the rug? Or would he try to actively suppress the voices that held him in discontent? The rapid change of rulers had perturbed the entire kingdom.
In the midst of pondering things, a set of rapid footsteps approached her bedroom door, which swung open. Carina’s sudden entrance had caused her to jump.
“What is ever the matter, Carina? It’s getting late at night.”
“Young Miss, the town guards rushed over to report that squadrons of men are marching towards the town from the capital. It won’t be long before they arrive.”
“Squadrons? From the capital? Not from the North?” Eryn gave Carina a look of confusion. She didn’t have the slightest clue what was happening.
“Close the gates and man the borders. I have a bad feeling about this. I’ll be out there shortly.”
With a nod, Carina went back to the messengers. Eryn grinded her teeth at the unexpected trouble that had popped up. She looked over to her wardrobe.
Her normal armor had been shattered by Claude and had not been replaced yet. Since it was a custom-made set, it took time to make another. However, a job that normally should’ve taken days had stretched out to weeks as the Guild kept running into issues getting the approval for its completion. Someone had obviously wanted to punish her in secret and keep her away from her normal duties.
With the word of men marching upon her town, it was highly likely that the kingdom had decided that they couldn’t let her continue rallying support. The might of the kingdom was being flaunted to provoke fear and make the new lord surrender her efforts.
“So, it has come to this… to give up in the face of an army or to risk death fighting for my beliefs…” Eryn clenched her fist. She had to make a decision, here and now.
Immediately, she rushed to her wardrobe for something to change into.