A week after Elialia met King Erias with her parents, a huge evening party sponsored by the king was held in the biggest hall of the royal palace.
The hall was divided into six steps. Deepest in was the king and the royal family, then the duke, the marquess, the count, the viscount, and finally, the baron. The positions they would take had already been decided beforehand.
They had to make it for the official start of the evening party, but despite that, it was customary for people to arrive earlier the lower their rank, and for people to arrive later the higher their rank.
Presently, most of the participants have already appeared, and they were merely waiting for the official start of the evening party. In fact, the participants have already started pleasantly chatting among themselves, but this party wasn’t all about them.
The true leading actors of this party were the ‘children’ of the nobles that attended the academy this year.
As people expected to carry the country on their shoulders one day, they have been gathered here to be appraised and blessed. As for if they themselves were aware of that, it didn’t matter.
Around the children were not only parents worried over their children. Some kept an eye on their children to make sure that they would not do anything improper, while others searched the halls for a prospective marriage for their children, giving rise to a particular tension in the air.
Were Ryouma, someone from Earth’s Japan, here, he would have surely described this evening party as a tense parent’s day.
It was in an assembly such as that that another group came. A group consisting of a child that enrolled this year and her parents.
Bells rang to announce the arrival of a new guest, and all attention gathered on the new group.
A moment passed, and then a staff member standing by the entrance called out.
“The present head of the Jamil ducal family, Reinhart Jamil-sama! His wife, Elize Jamil-sama! And their daughter, Elialia Jamil-sama!” [Staff]
With the structure of the hall, there was no escaping the eyes of the large crowd that had entered before them.
But in the face of all those eyes, they neither cowered nor flustered, only displaying a graceful bearing.
Moreover, accessories with large pearls could be seen accompanying their garment of choice for the night.
That along with their bearing caused a commotion among the nobles and their children.
“As expected of the Jamil family, they’re in a different league compared to us.” [Noble 1]
“Lady Elialia should have also just enrolled this year, and yet look at how impressive she is already.” [Noble 2]
“So that’s the Jamil duke? He’s really cool… Not like dad at all.” [Noble Child 1]
“Elize-sama’s crimson dress, and Elialia’s dress with its vivid blue undertone are both amazing. And those accessories…” [Noble Lady 1]
“A broach on the chest for Reinhart-sama, and earrings for the two ladies. To think they could actually use so many big pearls… As expected of the duke’s family.” [Noble Lady 2]
“You can easily see the quality of the fabric and threads used, while the design exposes little, and isn’t too gaudy either. Because of that their accessories stand out all the more, and the whole combination looks really good. As expected, they’re different from the lower ranked nobles that only compete with how gaudy they can be.” [Noble Lady 3]
“Father. I want an accessory like that too,” [Noble Daughter 1]
“T-That? Even a single pearl is really expensive…” [Noble Father 1]
“Any woman would be interested in a pearl that pretty. What do you think, Dear?” [Noble Lady 4]
“Call a jeweler when we get back then. I’m sure we’ll able to get one as long as there’s enough money.” [Noble Father 1]
“Don’t you realize the value of that pearls?” [Noble Lady 4]
“Isn’t it just a jewel? We should be able to get one if we just order from a store.” [Noble Father 1]
As the crowd split and a path opened, voices resounded in the back and vanished.
Tonight’s party was a buffet. They were free to move, but there was no one here who would call out to these three.
It was part of the evening party’s etiquette, and there was a tacit understanding there too, but it was mostly because it was considered rude for a lower-ranked person to call out toward one’s superior. If a person wished to call out to his superior, he would have to ask someone connected to that superior to mediate for him, or simply wait for the superior to call out to him on his own accord. Calling them to halt was out of the question.
Hence, no one obstructed them, and Reinhart’s group easily reached the place that had been prepared for them, then just like everyone else, they used the time until the official start of the party to greet the families they were connected to. From other dukes such as themselves to the marquesses, and when Reinhart reached one of the counts…
“Sorry to intrude on your conversation, but is that Count Bernardo I see?” [Reinhart]
“If it isn’t His Grace. It’s an honor to have your attention.” [Bernardo]
“There’s no need to be so formal. I just thought I should thank you.” [Reinhart]
“Thank me?” [Bernardo]
He had been suddenly called out by a duke, and then the duke even mentioned that he ought to thank him. Count Bernardo racked his head to figure out what the duke might’ve been talking about, but he couldn’t find anything. Reinhart continued.
“I thought of thanking your friend too, but… Count Sandrick didn’t come tonight, did he?” [Reinhart]
“I haven’t seen the count indeed. Apparently, he’s been really busy lately.” [Bernardo]
“Ahh, yes, he should be very busy right now indeed. Then what about Viscount Fargutton, Viscount Danietan, and Viscount Anatoma? Do you think they’re down there?” [Reinhart]
“Who knows?” [Bernardo]
“I see… There’s a lot of people I need to show my gratitude to. By the way, are you
As one might expect, the count has already realized that Reinhart’s ‘gratitude’ was not literally gratitude. He tried to feign ignorance, but Reinhart continued to pressure him with a smile.
“That’s odd. The construction of my new city has been going so well, and you even went out of your way to send so much help. Some few hundred people came. I’m surprised you couldn’t notice that many people leaving your territory.” [Reinhart]
Reinhart did not speak loudly, but he was a duke. A person that high up in the hierarchy had gone out of his way to approach a count.
Naturally, there would be people curious about the contents of their conversation, and there were also those scheming to form a relationship with the duke. Regardless, there were many people secretly watching the duke’s every action.
As a result…
“What are they talking about? A few hundred people?” [Noble 1]
“That many people leaving would be enough to make a village disappear. That’s a bit much even for farmers looking to work away from home, no?” [Noble 2]
“If the count was working with the duke, then it wouldn’t be too strange, but… The person himself says he doesn’t know anything about it. Did his people run away?” [Noble 3]
“The problem here really is less the reason for the migration, but the fact that the count knew nothing of the matter. How could he not notice so many people leaving? Just how does he manage his territory?” [Noble 4]
“If they did escape, why? I hadn’t heard any particular problems with that count’s management, but perhaps, things aren’t going well?’ [Noble 5]
The people eavesdropping on Duke Reinhart and Count Bernardo’s conversation started speculating among themselves in hushed voices while peeking at the count. From the fragments of the conversation that they could pick up, apparently, the situation had turned down an unfavorable road for Count Bernardo.
Moreover, a portion of the quick-eared nobles had already gotten wind of the information beforehand.
“He knows everything. He’s just acting dumb.” [Quick-Eared Noble Lady]
“Why? There’s no point to that, is there?” [Noble Lady 1]
“No. I’m sure he must believe that it would be more disadvantageous to him to admit that he knows.” [Quick-Eared Noble Lady]
“Oh, do you know something?” [Noble Lady 1]
“Yes, it’s information I’ve gotten just a few days ago, but… You know how there’s been rumors circulating that the duke’s territory isn’t in a good state?” [Quick-Eared Noble Lady]
“Yes… Reinhart-sama is still young, so I thought it was only natural that he would struggle some.” [Noble Lady 1]
“Word has it that that rumor was started by another family. Word also has it that several families conspired to gather the troublesome ones in their territories and threw them at the duke. They say people from the Dark Guild have even been employed.” [Quick-Eared Noble Lady]
“My! But now that you mention it, the rumors did feel like they were intentionally started by someone.” [Noble Lady 1]
“They used the Dark Guild? How terrifying… But if so, then that’s why the count is…” [Noble Lady 2]
Like that, speculation gave birth to new speculation, spreading like ripples among the nobles, and the people casually began to distance themselves from Count Bernardo.
No one wished to ally themselves with someone a duke has issues with.
No one wished to be mistaken for an ally of a duke’s enemy and incur the displeasure of a ducal family.
Nothing would be more troublesome than to become friendly with Count Bernardo and be caught up in the anger and vengeance of a duke.
When he realized that people were gradually giving up on him and that he was starting to become isolated, Count Bernardo kept his composure on the surface, but deep inside, he was deeply agitated and was racking his mind to look for a solution.
It was at such a time that—
“Well, tonight is a time for festivities, after all, so let’s have this conversation some other time.” [Reinhart]
—that Reinhart ended the conversation.
For a moment, surprise and happiness filled the count. There was scornful laughter for the duke there too.
“If you’ll excuse me.” [Reinhart]
“Thank you for reaching out to me.” [Bernardo]
Now that he could be leisurely again, not just on the surface, but inside as well, the count bowed deeply, and then saw Reinhart off as he left. The way he left was so peaceful and graceful no one would suspect that he had just concluded a conversation with disquieting intentions hidden within.