In the social function after the banquet, Duchess Renalier invited me to dance. I accepted that invitation and took her hand. After that, we began dancing.
I personally experience directly touching her hand, facing close with her, who is still in her late teens. I wonder how heavy is the burden that she takes on with her small shoulders.
“You have such big hands. Moreover, they are strong and firm. It’s the first time I hold these toughened hands of a man.”
That’s because she has only been touching the hands of the nobles. Theirs would be soft, clueless about physical labors. My hands are gnarled, the kind that belongs to a field worker.
“My apologies for showing you this unpleasantness.”
“It’s nothing like that. These are a worker’s hands. They’re wonderful, but it came as a surprise for me that these hands could actually make those tiny, detailed pastries.”
Duchess Renalier grips my hands tighter, as if she wants to confirm the feel of them. It’s a little tickling.
“Every pastry chef is a magician, after all.”
Yes, magic. With unexpected ingredients and techniques, we continue to make pastries that make people smile.
“Fufu, it’s interesting for a real magic-user who possesses mana like you to express it that way. At least, let me say this. Thank you. Today’s banquet truly improved the influence of my words.”
“I’m glad that I can be your strength. I do not wish for war either.”
“I’m shocked that someone like you would be born to the Arnolds of the spear.”
Until now, the Arnold house flourished through their deeds of arms in the war. Originally, my family would welcome war with open arms to think of what kind of deeds they could achieve through that opportunity.
“It is my intention to make the Arnolds flourish from pastries and special regional products instead of warring. That’s why, a war is just a hindrance.”
I’ve decided it like that. I want to prosper while making everyone smile.
“Hey, have you really not thought about discarding your current territory? There’s a territory near my domain that is larger and richer that I can prepare for you. I can even elevate your peerage rank into a marquess. If I’m not mistaken, you have a younger brother, right? Let him care after your current territory instead.”
That offer does hold a tremendous charm. It’s a huge promotion in the social ladder. However......
“My deepest apologies, but I have to decline that offer. There are also a lot of things that cannot be achieved unless it’s in the Arnold fief. And I actually love my current territory, because I helped shape the land into its current state.”
When I say that, Duchess Renalier looks startled.
“My, I didn’t expect to be rejected. ......But that is so very like you. All right, then, do as you like. However, if I need your strength again, I wonder if you are willing to lend it to me?”
There’s only one answer to that question.
It was within my hypothesis. If I showed my strength right now, she would rely on me later on.
“If Your Grace’s resolution never changes, I will always lend my arms.”
“Then, I’ll be under your care.”
With that, our conversation ends. We continue dancing until the music is over.
The music finally ends and we finish our dance. As expected from dancing twice in a row despite never doing it before, I want to take a rest.
Luckily, there’s an intermission before the next song starts playing, so in this time of rest, I decide to walk away from this spot. If I stay around, the other female scions will most likely expect a dance from me as well.
The servants are carrying the food and drinks as replenishment. The dish this time was prepared by the chefs of the Renalier house while I acted as a support, but because there were a lot of methods and ingredients that I didn’t know about, I was positively thrilled.
“Your Grace, did you recognize those kinds of servants?”
Suddenly, something grabs my attention. After several days in this place, I often get in touch with the servants responsible as the waiters in this area, so I kind of remember their faces, but I don’t remember ever seeing theirs.
“I don’t know. It is impossible for me to remember every single servant in this place.”
That’s a given, huh...... The detail that grabbed my intention wasn’t only their unrecognizable faces. It’s their footwork. Those people aren’t amateurs. Their footwork doesn’t show any useless movements, which is the result of years of training.
There’s no way that mere servants can possess that kind of footwork. Moreover, it’s not just one of them; all three of them are the same. Moreover, their gesture shows that they keep nonchalantly confirming the position of Duchess Renalier. Those servants approach this spot.
“Your Grace, shall we look for a little bit of fresh night air?”
I take her hand and walk toward the terrace, so that I can take her away from this area in a natural manner. I wonder if it was too sudden, because the gesture makes her face redden.
“What do you intend to do?”
“It’s better if it’s just an unnecessary precaution. They,”
I stop talking in that moment. The servants make their run without any sound. It’s an impressive body movement that pushes their way through the rows of people. They are heading towards our direction, no, Duchess Renalier’s.
“Step behind me, Your Grace.”
I step forward to cover her. Then I take out my cake knife. They did some body checking, but because Duchess Renalier is an influential woman and I’m just a pastry chef, they let me bring it in.
I make my stance with the cake knife. Originally, this kind of knife cannot be used as weapon, but I have my Sword Ability. Just by holding a blade, my physical ability will climb up, my movements become sharper, I become exponentially stronger. Moreover, I strengthen my body with mana. Handling both【ability】and mana. That’s what makes me the strongest Arnold.
“You! Servants over there! Hold your position!”
Disregarding my shout, those servants plunge forward towards our place. It’s as I suspected then. It’s not like I expect them to really stop; I want to confirm the fact that they did disregard my order.
They must have planned to hinder me with two of them, while the third servant will grab the duchess. They take out the big knives they have hidden. Those are different than my cake knife; they’re lethal weapons. I have to be on guard. The moment I focus my attention on the knives.
One of them takes out a sharp needle from his mouth and spits it out with the duchess’s nape as the aim. I swing my cake knife and make the needle fall.
It was a surprise attack, with the knives grabbing all the attention. Without the reaction speed granted by mana strengthening, I wouldn’t be able to ward them off. While my posture got disturbed by that action, the other two launched their attacks.
It’s a situation that no ordinary man can shrug away from.
But I’m no ordinary man. With twice the strengthening, that movement has long surpassed a human’s common sense. I reside in a different time axis.
I make my posture down low, then I stop one of the servants by kicking right on his jaw. My foot is raised overhead; I crash it down against the back of the head of the other servant. The third servant who aims for Duchess Renalier makes his way to my side.
He’s fast. He reeks of mana. I can’t reach him with this pace.
Clicking my tongue, I turn around and throw my knife towards him. I hesitate to turn a kitchenware into a direct weapon, but I have no spare time to think like that. At the very least, it’s not the knife that Faruno gave to me, but one that I borrowed from the Renalier house.
Flying like an arrow, the cake knife pierces the right half of the man’s chest , toppling him down. With this, I have curbed down the impending danger. However, the problem only starts from here.
“It’s an assailant!!”
“What are the guards doing!?”
The Four Great Dukes gather around, so naturally there should have been strict security. However, some assassins could trespass and make their move. This incident will undoubtedly drag down Duchess Renalier’s popularity.
Right then, a beautiful voice rings in the room. It belongs to the head of the noble faction, Duke Härtling. With just a single order, the silence returns.
“Why are we, the prestigious nobles of this empire, getting perturbed by this level of incident? Everyone of you, keep yourself close to someone you can trust.”
As expected from one of the Four Great Dukes, he shows how easily he appeases the crowd in a blink of an eye. Then, he walks towards here.
“Duchess Renalier, are you well?”
“Yes, I’m all right. The heir of the Arnold baronetcy protected me.”
Duchess Renalier who was disturbed before has finally returned to her calm state.
“I’m glad that you’re all right. You’re one of the most valuable people in this empire. We cannot lose you. This is a simple suggestion, but it must be difficult to continue the party like this, isn’t it? Let’s close the curtain of the party.”
There’s no other option. The nobles from the imperial faction must have felt especially threatened.
“Yes, I agree.”
Duchess Renalier nods and then speaks out.
“Honored guests, let us have today’s party to come to its end. .....I deeply apologize that it has to end like this. We promise that we’ll strengthen our security. I will call the guards immediately, please return to your rooms with them.”
That way, the nobles make their way back. Today they should shut themselves inside their rooms.
Duchess Renalier shows her firm attitude, but she looks strained. It’s not strange, though. Someone just aimed for her life, and the party that has been going so well has to be destroyed by such an incident at the very end. There must be a mole within the guards. Her mind must be a mess.
I softly grab her hand. Being by my side who just saved her life would have added some ease for her, right? Then she instantly opens her eyes......
She murmurs with a small voice.
Looking at us in that circumstance, Duke Härtling makes a thin smile and speaks.
“The one aiming for Duchess Renalier must have been someone from the neighboring Hartbuffer (ハルトバッファ) Principality. Those facial features and the peculiar scent from them, there’s no mistake.”
Duke Härtling speaks loudly as if trying to make everyone know on purpose. The nobles in the vicinity curse loudly towards the Hartbuffer Principality one by one out of anger and disgrace from having their lives put in danger. The place is heating up, and in that timing, he speaks to me.
“Heir of the Baronetcy of Arnold, you are amazing as a pastry chef, and your martial arts is skillful too. I would have never pegged a toy-like knife capable of instantly defeating first-rate assassins. To my understanding, you must have possessed mana. Oh, how much you must have suffered!! As expected of the strongest Arnold!!”
He’s smiling, but it’s eerie somehow. I don’t know whether he notices my vigilant state or not, but he continues to run his mouth.
“If there’s someone like him, I’m sure we can win the war. It’s suffocating for you to use your talents in cooking. That’s right, if we combine his power with the hero of the last war, Volg the jet black, not even the famous magic knight of the Hartbuffer Principality can remain undefeated!!”
The surrounding nobles get excited with his words. They start to incline their opinions towards his words.
I have confirmed something after reaching this point. He’s the one who drew in those assassins. His objective is to destroy Duchess Renalier’s party. If the assassination succeeds, it will eliminate Duchess Renalier, the head of the imperal faction, while the noble faction will win. Even when it failed like this, he makes my strength to appeal the possibility of winning the war. It’s a two-fold plan.
He got us. That’s why he must have propelled me up into the spotlight.
“Duke Härtling, I’m a pastry chef, not a soldier.”
“Even though you possess this strength? As nobles, it is our duty to contribute to the empire. It is treason if you don’t fight.”
I can hear the righteousness of those words at a glance. However, there’s no way I approve of it.
“Indeed, I am strong. If I’m sent to the battlefield, I can massacre any number of enemy soldiers hurling at me. However, what will that achieve?”
“The more you kill, the less allies we’ll lose.”
“If it’s not within your wish to lose any of those allies, the war shouldn’t happen in the first place.”
“If we win the war, we can obtain the gold and resources of the neighboring land. It’s essential to make this empire prosper.”
I’ve been waiting for those words.
“Winning the war won’t return the lives we will lose. There is a way to make the empire prosper without spilling any blood. Since there’s such method, it is not a necessity to choose the path of carnage. I humbly work together with Duchess Renalier to realize that path.”
Making the empire prosper from the inside is the statement of the imperial faction. Duke Härtling shows a displeased expression at once.
“As a part of the whole, I, with my humble strength, am spreading my pastries all over this empire. The feelings that all the honored guests experienced when tasting my pastry today, will be able to reach everywhere in this empire. I choose that path, because I believe in the path that will make many, countless people happy in that way.”
“......A mere sophistry.”
“No, it’s a conviction. And then, Duchess Renalier has the power to make my conviction a reality. Even without new land, the people’s lives can flourish even more.”
Yes, there are still so many possibilities. Even without taking an inefficient method like war, the people’s lives can still be improved.
“The thinking of someone wet behind his ears. If they attack us, it’s only natural to strike back at them.”
“And in order not to let that happen, there is diplomacy, which is a noble’s job, isn’t it?”
“Fufu, you speak of something interesting. But what happens, happens.”
“......I’m not denying that possibility. If that time comes, in order to protect the peace, I will arm myself with the spear. However, now is not that time.”
Duke Härtling’s discerning eyes pierce into me. And then he raises both hands and show his back.
“I understand that it’s impossible to make you consent...... “With words”, that is. Then, I’ll be returning home now. Your food was truly delicious. I shall look forward to being able to enjoy that again, somewhere.”
His exit draws people’s attention. I notice the last words that he left behind, his minute emphasis on “with words” part. I don’t know what kind of scheme he has in mind right now.
“Heir of the Baronet of Arnold, you’ve helped me.”
“It is my duty to protect you, Your Grace. There’s no need to thank me.”
“Truly a desireless man, aren’t you? I tell you that you have gained my favor and am about to reward you with compensation, you know?”
“That’s because I’m the one who owes so much more, Your Grace.”
“Fufu, I’m really no match for you. I’m completely helpless now, due to wrapping up all of this. Will you allow me some of your time tomorrow, perhaps? I wish to thank you and talk with you a little.”
“Yes, Your Grace. It’ll be my honor.”
With that, the party ends after so many ups and downs. This incident has completely ended...... is the exact opposite of what’s in my mind.
However, it’s the world of politics from here on out. There’s only so much that I can do. Right now, first of all, let’s think of how to feed Tina and Chloe, who must have been starving. It will be our private, modest banquet.
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