Once Uhla’s finished drawing on my face, I get up verify she didn’t prank me by grabbing a polished platter. It used to hold trinkets like a chandelier and an embroidered cloth towel for rain or something but they oddly fly off once I pick it up.
“You’re doing that just to annoy me, aren’t you.” Uhla mutters.
“Partly, things like these also annoy me on a visceral level.” I reply with a smile as I check my reflection on the back of the platter.
“Jess!” Yvonne calls out as she walks down the staircase arm in arm with Rowland.
I turn to her and twirl on the spot with my arm open wide to show off. She gives me a grin and a thumbs up. Rowland and Nahl do their best to keep their gazes at eye-level but my right side is a bit too interesting. I notice the looks on their faces when they spot the scars on my shoulder.
“You look great.” I tell Yvonne.
She’s wearing a blue dress with a deep cleavage that fits closely around her thighs while Rowland is in a white suit that clashes a little with his large stature and scar on the left side of his face. They’re both surprisingly unarmed.
“Is that a dagger on your calf?” Uhla asks.
“It’s all I could fit.” I reply with a grimace.
She looks up to the ceiling but doesn’t make any other comment. I wave them all towards the entrance’s double-door and step out without waiting, failing to keep my gait stable because of my dress and sores.
“You’re walking weird.” Yvonne comments innocently.
“These things should be banned.” I reply as I pull the tight silver cloth constraining my hips.
“You could have worn a suit, you know.” She notes.
“Hmrhm.” I grumble at her.
We cross the garden to a carriage. I stand staring at it for a moment, causing Rowland and Yvonne to stand there waiting for me to climb in. Nahl and Uhla settle on the front seat to drive it.
I narrow my eyes at the thing and then down at my dress, realizing that this just isn’t me. I change the umbrella to my right shoulder to draw the broadsword on my back and use it to poke a hole in the cloth between my thighs, ignoring Yvonne and Uhla’s protesting exclamations.
Then, I sheath the weapon and start ripping the dress down to my feet with my hand. I end up with a slightly shredded tear in the front which allows me to move a lot more freely and even looks kind of good because it split the dark-red horizontal bands on the right from the full silver cloth on my left.
“Did you have to do that?” Yvonne asks.
“It was too difficult to move in.” I tell her with a smile.
“Haaa.” She sighs. “Well, at least Leomi will enjoy it.”
I shrug and lion’s step up to the wheel and then leap on the carriage’s roof, unwilling to enter it because Leomi gave a warning during the meeting to take more precautions and even made sure I would have a sort of escort with me, she wouldn’t do this without reason.
Nahl throws me a questioning look after Rowland and Yvonne get in, looking nonplussed by my behavior. I give him a nod and he makes the horses’ reins clap in the air. We depart for Meria’s Keep.
I progressively widen my stance to remain steady with my umbrella in hand while I turn to keep my gaze on the surrounding roofs and streets. I notice that there are more patrols the closer we get but it isn’t out of the ordinary.
As we approach the wall surrounding the Keep, I notice squads of soldiers on the walls and Templars next to Hospitaliers at the gate. It seems like they’re preparing to block an army.
There are no other carriages arriving which means that we’re probably late, surprising considering it’s still the middle of the evening. Dozens of eyes fall on me as the carriage approaches the gate.
I can’t quite figure out whether the fact I’m standing on the roof surprises them more than the weapon hung on my back. Even the officer who briefly checks the invitation Nahl hands over apparently can’t help but glance up to me with a hesitant look on his face.
He still lets us in without bothering me. Once we enter, I realize that I’m probably the only one carrying a weapon apart from those on duty like Nahl and Uhla who leave us as soon as they park the carriage. Yvonne and Rowland step out to leave for the crowd, wisely not inviting me to join.
There are hundreds of guests spread out in groups outside, yet none in the garden. The styles of the clothes vary immensely between those clusters, from classical and overly conservative to daring outfits like mine as well as Yvonne’s to a point.
The only group where the two extremes mix is the one Count Urnan belongs to, which is likely Lance’s faction. I don’t find it too unusual considering people naturally gather with those that resemble them but also around power.
The members of the lower Council stand to the far side in what can only be qualified as lousy clothes compared to the rest of those present. The overall mood of the crowd seems tense.
From my perch, I can see that everyone is facing the upper Council members who stand with the Keep at their back and two squads of armed soldiers guarding their flanks. The situation seems semi-official, which immediately arouses my suspicions.
After all, there wouldn’t be such a gathering unless it was planned or there was an emergency. The latter does not fit because there is no panic so it can’t be a surprise attack and any other emergency could be discussed a day later without disturbing the ball.
No, in this case these proceedings were planned but not organized beforehand by setting up a podium of some kind, which means that Leomi and Cecil conspired to ambush every guest present. As if to confirm my thoughts, Lance walks out of the Keep in her magnificent white and light blue dress.
I enhance my eyesight. She didn’t opt for cleavage but a very tight dress with a slit along her left leg, it has a similar style to the one she wore to Duke Meria’s party but with a much stricter cut that gives her an official bearing that I find very sexy.
Her stiff gait makes me smile proudly, for myself and her self-control. She arrives in front of the Council and bows deeply to them before facing the crowd with them to her back.
“As you’ve just now been told, every single title of Izla Meria’s Nobility is henceforth revoked. As Grand Commander of the Hospitaliers, I will enforce this decree with all the power conferred to me by the Izla’s citizens through the Council!” Leomi proclaims loudly.
A commotion shakes the crowd at the confirmation. The lower Council-members seem utterly shaken by the development, more so than even the rest of Nobility who likely had suspicions beforehand.
Oddly enough, Lance’s faction remains unfazed. Count Urnan even wears a slight smile on his lips. It takes me a moment to realize that, without Noble titles, the Izla becomes a singular entity reliant on the Hospitaliers and honorary titles that will be given out under the Council’s control.
It means they’ve crippled every Noble house since ownership of the lands depends on who holds the title. Instead of their faction gaining most of the titles, they’ve united the Izla into a singular entity controlled indirectly by their faction. After all, the Council, Lance’s faction, and the Hospitaliers are interdependent.
Still, Nobility’s reaction is somewhat lackluster. Perhaps they’re waiting for Leomi to tell them how power will be distributed and don’t believe the Izla can do without them. Most simply don’t understand.
The system of Noble houses and titles is the only one they know of to rule, even the Council has depended on them so far. The fools, Lance wouldn’t make this kind of move unless she was prepared to end them.
Leomi likely changed what she planned to say and how far to go after my actions this morning since the declaration itself puts rebellion on the table, which is why the walls are occupied by soldiers.
“We have grown too set in our ways. In olden times, untitled Nobles roamed the lands with their sword-sworn to deal with that which threatened us in order to prove their worthiness to inherit. Now, we sit in our castles and palaces, awaiting for those same dangers to come to us while using intrigue to determine who rises.” Leomi criticizes.
She is evidently informing those present of the path to take to obtain an honorary title before even announcing those can be obtained. It’s smart of her to use the honorary title system which already exists to provide status to the untitled so that they can function as diplomats, army commanders, or any other position where they would have to deal with titled Nobles.
“To borrow the words of a wise friend of mine, those given the privilege to rule do not have the right to fail their duties. Yet, fail we have so change we must.” Lance speaks up, cutting through the noise.
Cecil and Colby step up together. She’s wearing an elegant green dress while he’s in a black and white suit. Both bear the Council’s insignia and stand tall as they face the crowd.
“By decree of the Council which will be copied and spread all across Izla Meria, those who reach a certain level of flow access will be offered a corresponding honorary title. Should they accept, they will be given responsibilities.” The old man utters firmly.
Silence falls on the crowd as people consider the implications behind these declarations. This means that anyone can now rise to a title if they can gather enough support from the populace.
I smile because as long as this system persists, then Nobility will die in truth. With time, rulers will inevitably be chosen by election. Not to mention that the right to vote won’t merely be given to land-owners as many on the upper Council wished. It won’t be quick but it’ll happen.
“Lady Leomi Lance will be named as honorary Duchess in a moment and carry with it the responsibility to lead Izla Meria’s army.” Cecil announces, causing exclamations of surprise as it implies her access to flow has grown far more than most knew.
Yet, multiple cries of anger arise from the crowd, most expressing their opinion that they can’t do this. But, none finds the guts to appear threatening or approach because they have no weapons.
They’ve also long been crippled in terms of their access to flow because of the Hospitaliers Leomi sent in every village and the revocation of many titles. The old Nobility is simply no match.
“Nobility must become more than static defenders rusting in place if the Empire is to last to the end of the millennia and last another.” Lance speaks up. I frown because I’m not sure how I feel about Nobility even if only the name remains of the old system. “And so as to avoid misunderstandings, the Hospitaliers’ Charter has been amended to forbid any Hospitalier from accepting a position of power in any government other than exclusively military.”
She throws a quick glance my way but I can’t confirm because it’s too fast. I turn my gaze to her faction who, surprisingly, aren’t showing any signs of discontent. I thought they were greedier but it seems that Edusa wasn’t lying when she said the only reason they needed titles was for reform.
While Hetlan won’t give up on the old rules of Nobility, it seems that it may simply be a matter of time. Port-Odo likely will because they’re too close to the Izla not to. It would undermine this decision if the neighboring demesne didn’t follow through.
It won’t be as easy to affect change in Hetlan considering their population didn’t experience the despair of being invaded by an overwhelming force and then learning Nobility is responsible for it.
There is no sign of Thrin or Hakarth in the crowd, which I find odd since they should be taking the opportunity to try to reverse the crippling blow I dealt them. I search for them but find Baroness Otun standing alone to the very back, seeming a bit shocked but not overly so.
She’s in fact wearing a warrior’s outfit and standing rather close-by the rows of carriages as if she came here for a different purpose than anyone else. Arkur isn’t anywhere in sight either, but I have no doubt he’s present.
Chaos reigns the crowd, many of the various sub-groups break up. Even the area where Lance’s faction and those trying to ingratiate themselves into it turns into a mess as even lower Council-members approach them to seek confirmation that this is real.
Lance is cruel to do this before a celebration. You’re grinning. I chuckle. The Council begins the ceremony of elevating Leomi to an honorary Duchess while ignoring the mess they caused, which has the effect of calling the attention of all those present because the Court should be doing this.
Otun, on the other hand, starts walking around as if she’s looking for someone. Her eyes stop on me and she heads over. I jump off the carriage since this is interesting and I have no interest in Leomi’s status.
“Do you have a name I can use outside of your old title, Ladyling?” I ask with a smirk.
“I may give it if this wasn’t a poor attempt at provoking me.” She replies flatly. “I expect there will be no rebellion because of this announcement, you and the Hospitaliers have effectively already won with the moves you’ve made today as well as the killing blow to come, but I’ve heard that Tuala Hakarth skipped away and that the faction broke apart so some will seek her out.” I wait for her to say more but she turns to leave.
“That’s it?” I ask.
“My regiment is coincidentally leaving for Port-Odo with the tide.” She replies shortly without bothering to turn around.
I don’t know what Tuala skipped away from but I didn’t expect Otun to effectively warn me that she’ll try to have her revenge. I twirl my umbrella as I watch her leave almost hurriedly.
I wonder whether she’s being mysterious on purpose or assuming I’m much more involved than I am, or overestimates my intelligence so much her evaluation borders on superstition.
As I ponder, another commotion arises from the crowd. I return to the roof of the carriage. Grace is leading a dozen Justiciers in ranks who are escorting Huan Thrin in chains as well as a few other people who aren’t, including a woman in practical working clothes.
I blink, no less surprised than the rest about the sight, and the big bump on the Lordling’s forehead. I chuckle because he must’ve fought back when Grace caught him. That was you. Oh, right.
The Chief Justicier uses her flow to list out Thrin’s crimes before presenting the others as witnesses, which actually includes one of those I encountered in the alley at Tuala’s side. Grace then writes that the trial will be held in the coming week and asks for all those who have information to reach out to her.
This has to be about the attempted assassination on Rowland. It’s weird Thrin was involved considering how little there was to gain even if he succeeded, I was hesitant to even suspect Tuala considering she’s rash but isn’t entirely mindless.
It means that either the channel of communication was that important to protect, which is unlikely considering Leomi would have figured it out eventually by investigating the circumstances of Rowland’s death, or that Huan Thrin was trying to cover up something else.
Hm, the letter? I catch sight of the Justiciers departing, causing an undercurrent of fright in their wake. This is what Otun meant about Tuala slipping away and a killing blow to come.
Grace’s move is pretty good, although I’m pretty sure she is merely making a point that the law will be upheld rather than trying to drive a wedge by making them all be wary of denunciation by their peers and servants if they were to break a law.
After all, they have naught to be afraid of if they didn’t commit any crimes considering Grace is even more dedicated to keeping the law than the Templar Order, ironically since she got on this path through admiring their legends.
Thrin could have been protecting the identity of the one delivering or receiving the letter. Doubtful, there are witnesses to both so my argument about Lance, or Grace actually, figuring it out stands and Thrin would know as much.
Then what do you mean about the letter? It was gone before the attempt so it could hardly have been intercepted. In fact, the assassination would have motivated the Hospitaliers to send a ship after it.
Sending information means you need to get it first, perhaps Thrin was trying to buy time or muddy the waters about what Rowland saw so as to make inquiries about what was being delivered by who and to who more complicated.
Don’t forget that the fake gathered people for a reason and that Thrin was trying to return to power, both plans are time-sensitive and we screwed with them one after the other.
So, you think he sent information more than a month ago that he didn’t want to be found out until he got an answer about what to do with it? I don’t know, maybe that or maybe Thrin was ordered to keep the channel of communication secret at any cost by Roskal or Cenwalh without knowing why.
The reason would be that it is used to send orders to the impostor. Which means that their target hadn’t been determined yet at the time, apart from killing Elizabeth Vil if she showed up of course since they had an interest in holding someone who saw our face. I was resting and they still failed. I mentally scowl at her.
Let’s recapitulate by assuming there are no coincidences. Thrin gathered a faction together but failed to obtain the leadership position, which is quite unlikely in itself. It means he wasn’t relying on his own influence but more likely Roskal’s or Cenwalh’s.
He was trying to trigger an Arbitration, effectively challenging Lance’s power and thus likely provoking Elizabeth Vil’s wrath at the same time, but what matters is that it was a political attack while an impostor awaited an opportunity to frame Elizabeth Vil.
The issue is in what the assassins’ targets are, which could be related to the information sent by Thrin. Perhaps, but remember they would have assumed that more people would know how to recognize the real E.Vil than there actually are.
Why does that matter? It means that the plot is built to function whether or not the status of the fake is exposed immediately so their main objective cannot have been to make it seem like you breached exile. So the game is still afoot.
We need more information to figure it out, Lance likely has more now since she had plenty of time to talk to Grace. I would rather hunt that woman down.
She won’t be using the mask after we found her by checking the area of the rumors so how would we do that when we didn’t even clearly see her face? The Hakarth and those who followed her. Good idea, they would have reverted to helping them after the failure of their plan.
I turn my attention to Lance, finding that most of the crowd began moving towards the garden and the ballroom located next to it inside the Keep. Leomi is slowly walking there with Cecil, Yvonne, Rowland, and Roisia.