“So what are banquets like in this neighborhood? Do you like, dance around in circles? That’s what I saw in the movies back in my place. Or is it different, since it’s a completely new place?”
Both Isaac and Rivelia were unaccustomed to banquets filled with smiles, chats, drinks, and dances. Isaac never had anyone to invite him, while Rivelia prioritised her swordsmanship over the countless invitations she had received in the past.
“Hm? You don’t know?”
“I’ve never had any interest in banquets.”
Rivelia, still mad about before, replied in a cold tone without even looking back.
“But you should still know the basics of dancing right?”
“What a boring life you have.”
Rivelia finally exploded, and Isaac quickly escaped her room.
Even so, one needed to be properly dressed when attending a noble’s banquet. But the two didn’t bring clothes fit for a banquet, considering that they’d come here on official business. That was when the branches of the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds doing business inside Wolfgang’s lands approached the troubled two and solved the issue.
It was unknown when they’d received word, but the guilds showcased hundreds of dresses designed specifically for occasions like this. The designer was greatly disappointed when Rivelia coldly rejected all of his recommendations, opting for a knight’s ceremonial uniform.
“So you chose that in the end?”
Isaac dashed his lips in disappointment and scanned Rivelia from top to bottom. Rivelia shivered and sent a sharp glare at Isaac, who in turn shrugged and averted his eyes elsewhere.
The banquet didn’t have the atmosphere Isaac expected, where nobles gathered and talked with a smile as people danced to music in the background. The entire banquet was filled with hairy men, with not a single woman in sight.
“It is an honour to see you. I am Rhineland.”
“Nice to meet you. It is an honour to meet Sir Rhineland, who has risen in fame as ‘The Flash.’”
“Oh! You know of my name!”
“Ahem! My name is Pount.”
“Ah! The Knight of Destruction. Greetings!”
It was disgusting to see two middle aged men, one skinny and the other the size of a mountain, squirm their bodies because a girl around the same age as their daughters acknowledged them. But nobody else minded; they just wanted to get just a single word in with Rivelia.
Rivelia would have coldly cut them off if they were trying to make moves on her through whatever means, but the group only showed sincere respect and camaraderie to a fellow swordsman. She had no choice but to respond kindly to them, and when the greetings were over, a heated debate about swordsmanship was opened.
As fellow knights on the path to swordsmanship, they were eager to receive advice from Rivelia, who was by far ahead of them. The magic knights couldn’t join in the conversation, but they stayed around to sneak just a couple more glimpses at the famous Rivelia.
While everyone’s attention was on Rivelia, Isaac dragged a chair to the corner of the room and sipped his wine alone, wondering if he was looking at a banquet or a lecture on swordsmanship.
Rivelia gave brief and formal replies at first, but she soon got invested in the debate and continued it with a keen interest. Isaac clicked his tongue when the debate progressed to a sophisticated theory regarding the pros and cons of using a weapon that did not adhere to a typical body-to-weapon size ratio.
“Still so much to learn.”
To be completely invested in a debate without thinking about identifying or at the very least be on guard against those suspected to be turncoats.
Isaac continued to sip alone in perfect isolation, when he felt a familiar tugging on his feet. He looked down to see eye to eye with a girl he’d never seen before.
The cute child with chubby cheeks and sparkling eyes smiled brightly when their eyes met and put her finger on her mouth as she said ‘shh!’. She then crawled under the chair.
While Isaac contemplated on how to react, a taller girl who seemed to be her elder sibling appeared with light footsteps.
“Found you! Now Julia is it!”
It seemed the two were playing a game of tag. The new girl tapped Julia’s butt and ran away, and Julia crawled out of the chair to chase her sister, circling the banquet. Isaac muttered as he watched the two children scream with joy, holding on the skirt of their well decorated dresses as they ran about.
“As usual, the children are so energetic.”
The two chasing each other ran into Rivelia from behind. There was no way Rivelia would even budge at being hit by children, so the older girl was thrown onto the ground. She cried out of surprise, and Julia began crying with her.
“Oh dear. Lailia, Julia, you should have been careful.”
Rivelia was stumped watching the two children cry in front of her, but Count Wolfgang soon appeared and picked up his two children. The two seemed to calm down in their father’s arms as they dug themselves deeper into his chest with a sob.
“I’m so sorry about this.”
“Don’t be. It seems the children were quite surprised.”
“Hahaha. It’s nothing. They are quite the energetic children.”
While Rivelia accepted Count Wolfgang’s apologies, the knights took the moment to straighten their postures. How shameful, to be so invested in the lecture that they were completely unaware of their Lord’s presence.
Count Wolfgang put his children on the ground and introduced his wife who stood silently behind him.
“This is Elena, my wife. She said she needed to greet Lady Rivelia personally…”
Even before Count Wolfgang finished his words, Elena bowed as she grabbed at her skirt.
“I give you my greetings as a woman of Dorothy Family.”
Elena seemed to suspect what Rivelia was about to say, so she smiled and spoke.
“The branch family is free of that atmosphere, you see.”
Rivelia nodded as if she understood now. Viscount Dorothy was a vassal family under Duke Pendleton. But usually, nobles under Pendleton line married each other. Well, they didn’t openly oppose anyone who decided to marry an outsider, but everyone tended to shun such a practice.
“Wow! It’s a pretty lady!”
Both Laila and Julia looked up to Rivelia with their sparkling eyes, and Rivelia seemed uncomfortable. Count Wolfgang realised this and quickly changed the topic.
“Now, now. The meal is ready. Though this is cuisine from a rural region of the Western Provinces, our chef has taken great care in his work. I’m sure you’ll be satisfied.”
The meal finished in a warm, friendly atmosphere. Rivelia seemed awkward with Laila and Julia, who stuck themselves to her calling ‘unni, unni’. But there was a warm smile on Rivelia’s face, showing her liking to the children.
EDN: “Unni” is a very non-formal way to address an older girl in Korean, usually used between people who are familiar with each other. Just imagine two girls enamored by a star-studded older sister around.
This rare sight stole the feast’s spotlight immediately; no combat knight could avert their eyes from such a gentle sight, even when they had spent their entire lives hardening themselves with the sword. Count Wolfgang would cough to bring his knights back to their senses, but that was just a momentary interruption. On the other hand, Count Wolfgang and Elena smiled warmly as they looked at Rivelia and their two children.
“Wow! It’s as if I don’t even exist. This is the first time I’m feeling so sad.”
Isaac muttered, sitting on his chair at the corner of the room. The curious eyes from a nearby servant seemed to ask why this man was even here.
The next day. After Count Wolfgang profusely apologized to them for his act of impropriety, Isaac and Rivelia left the castle and headed straight to the nearest airport.
Isaac looked down on the Wolfgang Castle from the observatory of the airship heading to New Port City with a cigar in his mouth. He then spoke to Rivelia, who was lost in her thoughts next to him.
“So, how was it?”
“I’m asking what your thoughts were after seeing Count Wolfgang and his knights, who are suspected demonic turncoats, in person.”
Rivelia was on guard with all her senses on full alert at the thought that this could be her first contact with demons, even if she couldn’t identify them. But Count Wolfgang seemed nothing like a demon.
She met the combat knights who were suspected of turncoats, but all she received were overbearing stares of respect and awe. Not a single flicker of demonic power or hostility could be detected.
And thinking about the two adorable children and his wife, Rivelia began to think if Central’s information was wrong, but she quickly shook her head.
“This could be a scheme to hide their identity. The growth of Count Wolfgang has many suspicious points.”
“If that’s what you really think, then you’re not much of a noble too.”
Rivelia’s heart ached looking at Isaac’s disappointed face. Which brought an even greater urge to retaliate.
“It’s impossible for a mere Baron to expand his territory this large unless they’ve joined hands with turncoats.”
Rivelia made her argument, but Isaac looked back with belittling eyes.
“Are you saying Central’s information was wrong?”
“Use the given information as reference, and only believe in what you’ve seen with your own eyes. Can’t you tell why I decided to move personally? Erase all your preconceptions and think. How would you rate Count Wolfgang from what you’ve seen alone?”
He was worthy to be a great lord. No doubt about it. A man so gifted that he would have founded a kingdom of his own if he was born in the days before the 7 Days of Calamity.
Although their meeting was short, she confirmed the infinite trust and affection he received from his subjects. Even the merchant employees that brought the dresses subtly mocked Marquis Lichten while praising Count Wolfgang, trying to put him in a positive light.
His vassals and subordinates swore respect and loyalty with their lives, while his soldiers were elites who would die with a smile for him.
It was a monument built not by magic that seduced someone, but built purely by his charms and dignity. Which made it all the more powerful and absolute.
But Rivelia shook her head. If she admitted this, that meant she didn’t trust Central’s information. Isaac witnessed Rivelia’s response and grinned.
“Alright. This is homework. Central said he’s a demon. But your answer was different right? Why? What’s the reason? Well, you’ll find out by the end of this mission, but do think about it until then.”
Rivelia frowned in response to Isaac.
“I will request that Central open a second investigation. If we rely on Directorate of Analysis’ deep analysis, we will be able to deduce for certain if Count Wolfgang is related to demons.”
“No. Reinvestigating is cheating. You must decide with the information given to you and what you saw with your eyes alone.”
“But if the information is wrong…”
“What does that matter?”
“Whether the information is wrong or we’ve been tricked, the outcome has been decided now that I have moved.”
“… What outcome are you talking about?”
“An outcome that will carve a message into your bones – that you have to be prepared if you want to use me.”
The smile on Isaac’s face seemed sinister, which brought the two children of Wolfgang in Rivelia’s mind.
There was no need to visit Marquis Lichten. The single letter requesting a month’s delay to the war was accepted immediately.
Just like that, the war was delayed for a month, and Isaac being the reason was spread throughout the Empire. There were many rumors because of it, but Isaac’s position was beyond needing to care about the rampant conspiracy theories.
“They seem rather haphazard.”
Isaac muttered as he looked at his soldiers ready for deployment. Isaac ordered Rizzly to give compensation to those that give up, but the rumours quickly spread and every man, woman and child began volunteering.
Infuriated, Cordnell announced only those who survived more than 3 days would be compensated. In truth, Cordnell was the real boss of New Port City, who was overshadowed only by Isaac and Rivelia.