Chapter 52:

Like a Bird in a Cage

Atk 0 Crit All ~My attack stat is negligible, so I can't help but rely on critical hits to succeed!~

Eryn inwardly sighed as she watched the Duke amusingly order his servants around to prepare the courtyard for the wedding. There were only a few days left, and Eryn felt like she was getting nowhere.Bookmark here

Since discovering the Duke's secret, he made sure to lock his study with magical devices to ensure she couldn't get in. Ordering a greater amount of security to keep tabs on her, she saw no other way but to comply with the Duke's orders. Careful not to make him suspicious, she occasionally put on an air of defiance consistent with her character, only to pretend to be fearful of the potion's effect when the Duke threatened her with it. Though the potion only lasted for a few hours, she didn't want to take any risks and reveal to him that her hair clip allowed her to resist its effects.Bookmark here

Often standing by his side during his work, she learned that the Duke was a ruthlessly efficient man, meticulously controlling the processes to ensure nothing went wrong. In general, his servants were well off, provided that they did as ordered. However, there appeared to be a wall between the master and servants, one that didn't allow most to see his hidden side.Bookmark here

At times, the Duke would retreat to his study with his personal secretary, Dengel, to take care of matters privately. It appeared that Dengel was the only person that had access to the secret dealings that she suspected of the Duke. For that reason, she started tailing Dengel when she had the chance. At this moment, she was peering behind a corner as he was traveling between tasks. However, the secretary was a very perceptive man.Bookmark here

"Lady Faulkner, I know you are watching me. It's pretty apparent." Dengel adjusted his glasses as he directed his attention to her without needing to turn around.Bookmark here

Jumping slightly in surprise, Eryn slowly walked out from her hiding spot. She was a knight with good senses. Though she didn't specialize in covertness, a normal person shouldn't have spotted her so quickly.Bookmark here

"If you can be quick, I'll listen to what you have on your mind, but I have an important task to attend to soon." He looked up briefly at her before his eyes went back through scanning his notebook.Bookmark here

"The Duke. What kind of man is he?" Eryn cautiously asked.Bookmark here

"To put it in simple terms, determined and respected. There's few that would be able to go against him. In my view, if you follow his whims, which are at times strange, then you will live a comfortable life."Bookmark here

"A comfortable life, huh? One where I will languish away, only to be the Duke's plaything?" Eryn said sarcastically.Bookmark here

"I didn't say that it would be the best life. A caged bird never roams free but is guaranteed a standard of living."Bookmark here

"But why me? He could have the pick of any girl in the kingdom, one that would be happy to laze around in luxury."Bookmark here

"My thoughts exactly, but since I've known him, the Duke has always been fixated on you. I don't know how many times I've caught him staring at that sword on the wall."Bookmark here

"You mean my mother's sword? How did he come to possess it?"Bookmark here

"Frankly, I don't know. And I might've said too much already. If you'll excuse me now, I have to be going." Dengel walked away, leaving Eryn behind with more questions.Bookmark here

At least he had confirmed that the Duke had acquired her mother's sword, Radiant Light. But how? And it also seemed to be the reason that he had targeted her. Various suspicions brewed as she pondered what it could mean. Finally, one thought bubbled up to the surface.Bookmark here

Could the Duke have murdered her parents?Bookmark here

The instant she thought that, a rage threatened to envelop her. A desire to run him through with a sharp object momentarily flashed by.Bookmark here

No, she had to stay calm. It was only a suspicion. She couldn't act on that without being certain. However, if that were true, there was no way she would ever let him touch her again. Death would be a preferable option.Bookmark here

Hearing some noise in the direction of the ballroom, Eryn walked towards the sounds and opened the door leading to a balcony that overlooked the expansive area. She watched as several teams of chefs filed in, each claiming a spot around the area.Bookmark here

"Oh right, there were mentions about preparations for a cake," Eryn recalled from some discussions between the servants.Bookmark here

Immediately, she scanned the area, in hopes that one particular person had somehow made his way here.Bookmark here

They had separated on the worst terms, which Eryn regretted as the days passed. However, what could she even say if he walked up to her again? She swallowed the fear that welled up in her throat at the thought.Bookmark here

Seeing the last of the chefs walk in, she saw no sign of her familiar.Bookmark here

"Of course, he wouldn't be here. There's no reason he would be." Eryn's voice trailed off as she placed her elbows on the railing and stared down at the activity below.Bookmark here

Though she dreaded the event the cake was being made for, she couldn't help but be entranced by the cakes being created in front of her. The sweets themselves had no sin. She slightly drooled in anticipation as she imagined the sweet taste of each one. Wiping her mouth, she cursed her sweet tooth for distracting her from her goals.Bookmark here

However, as she stared on, she seemed to see glimpses of Claude in every chef. Moments of his enthusiasm, moments of his quirkiness, moments of desire to create something amazing – those feelings overlapped with the fond memories she had during her time with him. In the middle of reminiscing, a loud voice broke through the room.Bookmark here

"We did it, guys!"Bookmark here

That voice sounded ever so familiar! Eryn's eyes fixated on where it came from. Over in one corner, three chefs were celebrating, their cake apparently chosen as the winner. She recognized the uniforms as she had been over at Cornelius's home before.Bookmark here

Moving closer to get a better view, she recognized the faces of Bigginton and Wedgeworth, who had been with the Reichenstein family for many years. Cornelius must have sent them in an attempt to reach out to her! But who was that third chef? She couldn't recall someone with that appearance. As she listened in on their conversation, the voice that she heard before came from that guy.Bookmark here

Disappointed that he wasn't who she initially thought, she shook her head and carved his face in her mind. Eryn would try to get in touch with one of them later in hopes of reaching Cornelius.Bookmark here

She closed her eyes and stayed around to listen to their banter until they finally left the room, deluding herself just for this moment that her familiar was still nearby.Bookmark here

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Having successfully won the contract to make the wedding cake, Biggs, Wedge, and I were provided with a room at the mansion and access to our own kitchen to create the final product for the ceremony. We were also told to make a separate cake to serve to the guests prior to the events. Apparently in this world, the reception was held while the guests gathered. The ceremony itself would take place near the end, in which the couple exchanged vows, and their joining would be announced to everyone.Bookmark here

Given that, there was a small change that I wanted to make to the final cakes, sending word to Cornelius to acquire it from the Faulkner trading company. Hopefully, he can get it in time. In addition, I had asked for some good wines that paired well with dessert. A cake in a fancy setting wouldn't be good if it made the wine taste bad.Bookmark here

Since there wasn't much to do until the day before, the three of us started poking around the mansion looking for dirt on the Duke, something that would reveal the reasons behind his acquisition of power.Bookmark here

After walking around the mansion, I got a feel for where everything was.Bookmark here

"Okay, time to check in with the Biggs/Wedge duo to see what they found."Bookmark here

As I started walking back to my room, a voice called out to me.Bookmark here

"Hey, you!"Bookmark here

That was a voice that I was well familiar with, causing me to jump in surprise. Turning around, I saw Eryn outfitted in a beautiful, classy dress.Bookmark here

"Y-Yes?"Bookmark here

"You're one of Lord Reichenstein's chefs, right?" Eryn eyed me up and down.Bookmark here

I nodded in response.Bookmark here

"I wanted to apologize to your lord about my circumstances, as he is probably worried about his dear friend. Could you let him know that I'm doing fine? Though I'm sure he is searching for a way to get me out of this."Bookmark here

I nodded again to her.Bookmark here

"Hey, why aren't you talking? I don't recall seeing you around. Are you new?"Bookmark here

Even though my face had been disguised, nothing had been done to my voice. If I talked, it would likely raise her suspicions. I cleared my throat before trying to slur my words a bit.Bookmark here

"Imma…Cid. Yes, yes, new person."Bookmark here

Damn it, I sounded like an idiot. I mentally slapped myself.Bookmark here

"Really, you sound just like a person I know…"Bookmark here

That didn't work! And wait, did Eryn think I sounded like an idiot?Bookmark here

"Not know what you mean! I come from East, so new to city!" I tried desperately to deepen the lie.Bookmark here

"That's strange…people from the East usually have a darker skin color… No matter. Please convey my message to your lord."Bookmark here

Somehow, I squeaked by. It was now my turn to ask her what was on my mind. A single question plagued my mind since I saw her last.Bookmark here

"Does Milady not wish for wedding?"Bookmark here

Eryn paused for a minute to think. She looked around, making sure no one else could hear her complaints.Bookmark here

"Money and power, that's what I would be marrying into, is that what you think? There was a time when I thought that would be the easiest way not to lose everything, but it seems like I'd be losing it all the same. So no, this is not what I want."Bookmark here

"Then, why not escape?"Bookmark here

"Escape? How? The Duke's power reaches across the kingdom. I wouldn't get very far because I'd soon be caught. Or are you thinking that you'd help me? But what can a single chef do in this case?"Bookmark here

In my mind, a great burden had been relieved. Eryn had been forced into this marriage against her will. Just by confirming that fact, my heart burned with the desire to free her.Bookmark here

But how? As Eryn said, we would have to essentially escape the kingdom and start anew somewhere else. Thinking about it, that didn't sound like such a bad idea. We would take Ludmila, Pietro, and Carina, and then set our roots somewhere else. Anything was better than losing her.Bookmark here

"Let's find a way," I told her directly, in which she returned a look of annoyance.Bookmark here

"How do you propose that? Do you have some special power to stand up to the kingdom? I hardly believe that someone so convenient would be a mere chef! Let's see you figure out a way to release me from these magical shackles that bind my abilities first!" Eryn spoke in a harsh tone, unconvinced that my assistance would matter.Bookmark here

I looked down at the wrists that she thrust towards me, each with a bracelet attached. Giving a light tug on them, neither one could be removed from her wrist. A circular stone was imbedded into each one. Could it be that magic stone powering its effects? Given that they were magically imbued, there may be something that I could do. I activated my skill, 'Eyes of Providence'.Bookmark here

Instantly, purple dots appeared along the surface of the stones. I pulled out a hammer and lightly rapped on one of them. Purple cracks started forming around the impacted area, showing that mana had started leaking in a wider area. Another tap of the hammer, and the stone shattered.Bookmark here

Eryn's eyes grew wide at the sight of the stone in her left bracelet being destroyed so easily. She brought a bit of mana into her hands, confirming that her magic had no longer been restricted. I turned to the other bracelet and did the same, shattering it also after two swings.Bookmark here

Eryn was speechless. How was it possible for equipment made of such high-quality stones to be shattered so easily? And with a simple, ordinary hammer… unless…Bookmark here

"It can't be! Are you…Claude?" Eryn said, realizing only one person with that ability.Bookmark here

"What makes you think that? I'm just a wandering chef who has lost his master," I joked.Bookmark here

I felt a light punch impact my stomach, but since I wasn't expecting it, it nearly knocked the wind out of me. Right after, two arms wrapped themselves around me as I was drawn into an embrace.Bookmark here

"You idiot! Why are you here?" Eryn whispered, with tears starting to form in her eyes.Bookmark here

"I'm a sore loser. Can't give up on you that easily," I said, finally recovering from her love tap.Bookmark here

Having finally reunited, I briefly returned the hug. At a distance, my eyes caught the sign of someone approaching.Bookmark here

"Let's find a better place to talk." I started leading her away.Bookmark here

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