Chapter 16: Deep in Trouble II (4/5)

With Fantasia placated, all that was left for Saludy to do was see Kebrilio off. The servants had only opened the door when a group of elegantly-dressed women approached. Cordial first greetings were exchanged between these women and Saludy before the latter swiftly decided to introduce Kebrilio to them all.

As famous as Kebrilio was within the nation, none of the ladies could really say with certainty that the bulky man in front of them was the very same Archmagister. What reason would Kebrilio have to visit the ducal house of his political opponent? It was an unfathomable thought.

Kebrilio greeted them politely. Women of the aristocracy were frightening people to slight. Noblemen may be the ones with power over the court, but it were the noblewomen who held power over the noblemen! 

The greetings and salutations went through quickly, as Kebrilio wished not to remain any longer with them. Bidding a curt farewell to Saludy, he trotted for his coach and was quickly put on the way to the palace.

With Kebrilio gone from the estate, Saludy could finally greet the women here and receive them properly.

Everyone was properly seated now. Preluding the conversation with a polite update of her family, Saludy then fired off a retelling of the yester evening events: the romantic story of how her son met with a beauty.

Being born in a political house, Saludy was a talented speaker. It was but a simple matter for her to weave a fantastical and romantic story how her son came to meet the wondrous niece of Kebrilio. How he brought her home and the plans for lady Fantasia to reside with them for the week. Like silk spun from the finest of threads, Saludy had weaved a masterpiece for the women to enjoy.

For women like them who had no interest in the emperor’s court, romantic stories like these were the best form of entertainment.

To say these women were hooked was an understatement. They all had the same gleam in their eyes in expectation of the mysterious young lady.

It pleased Saludy that her plan was working better than initially expected, especially after all the effort it took to get these women here. Servants had to be rushed out to their estates with an oral invitation to gather for tea. Every recipient was carefully selected by the duchess, two recipients belonging to royalty even. She had a wide spread of aristocratic women throughout the social circles, making their combined influence greater than practically any noble. Not even the emperor felt confident slighting such a party.

Succeeding the tea, the duchess led the excited ladies to the room of the rumored lady Fantasia.

The weary-eyed Elric never saw it coming. A curious crowd of women surrounded him from every front with a calculative light in their eyes. He felt himself gulp in trepidation. Not even being dropped into Nadirheim felt as dangerous as being here. It frazzled at the nerves and ate up at his psyche being around these people. Elric never felt so alone before.

Was it just him, or were they looking under him? Elric peered down and felt his breath hitch—the bloodstained bed sheet was still there! So that was why the two maids felt so suspicious to him earlier!

His face grew scarlet. For some reason, Elric felt as though not even the waters of the Styge River could cleanse him. He didn’t have to be capable of telepathy to know what the rest of the women were thinking. Their smiles and nods were all the proof Elric needed.

Elric felt uneasy about the stares. He could only find himself fortunate that Saludy decided enough was enough and that they shouldn’t be bothering the poor young lady anymore. Bringing everyone’s attention away from him, Saludy had everyone leave the room so they could continue their tea talk in the garden outside.

One by one, the aristocrats filed out from the room, but not before flashing the young lady a warm smile. This was the only sign Saludy needed to see; their smiles were far more valuable to Fantasia’s future in high society than any accolade the emperor could ever grant to a noble. For the noblewomen, accolades were fine and all in the court, but it simply had no relevance to them and was hardly a good measuring stick of a person’s worth. For them, a person’s pedigree and noblesse aura was far more indicative of a person’s worth. And this young lady was certainly blessed to have two finer points in her pedigree: being Kebrilio’s niece and being gifted with a dignified presence. 

No one in Karthian high society would ever object to her being included into it.

The commotion was gone now that no one but Elric was left in the room. Drained of energy and motivation to eavesdrop, Elric fell back onto the bed. What point was there eavesdropping when he already had a good idea what those women were probably talking about? He’d rather not waste any more energy thinking about it right now if he could.

Not that he had the time either. His already-short personal time was interrupted by a knock on the door. Four maids from Kebrilio’s estate had arrived. He recognized the four. One of them was the maid in charge of styling his hair and the others were personal handmaids to the princess. It seemed Flania was determined for Elric’s crossdressing to continue. 

It was a major headache, but it didn’t stop there either. The duchess had actually invited Merlise over to the estate? 

What was the cause for all his current tragedies? Elric would never forget how it was due to the damnable training he received at the hands of the princess.

But what choice did he have? Elric had no more power over his situation. The only thing he could do was obediently get up from the bed and follow the maids downstairs.

It was downstairs that Elric felt another wave of surprise wash over him. A crowd of people was gathered at the downstairs lobby as if gathered for a banquet of some kind. Elric recognized several of the people gathered here, but not everyone. Some were the middle-aged women from minutes prior, some were the young ladies he studied with under the countess, and a few of them were even noblewomen from the grand banquet at the emperor’s place. Of this last group, Elric prayed his hardest in hope that none would recognize him.

  ※※※

The alarmed expression on Fantasia’s face and the way her eyes darted left and right in search of asylum appealed to the hearts of the women there. Her pitiful demeanor held them captivated for a moment before other thoughts began to occur.

The middle-aged women invited by the duchess shared a knowing look at the pitiful-looking person standing there at the top of the stairs. They knew, whether from first or second-hand experience, about this young woman and the bloodstains on her bedsheets. 

Several hid their wry smiles behind their hands at the thought of a petit lamb like her being under the assault of a ravenous wolf.

Many others shared a similar imagery within their heads. Everyone in Karthian upper society knew Hughesin and what reputation he had. A lamb swallowed whole by the big bad wolf, that was the common thought held by many. Even the initial doubters were swayed when they saw the glittering eyes of the duchess.

But there were many that felt something akin to sympathy for Fantasia. If the duchess was to be believed, then Fantasia and Hughesin’s meeting was an accidental one.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter