“New Event : The Royal Ball”
A crowd dressed in gorgeous outfits gathered inside the royal castle’s grand hall where a ball was being held. The vastness of the hall, the number of participants, and the extravagance of the food was on a completely different level compared to the event held at the Royal Academy.
That much was obvious, though. Not only was this ball a genuine one but it was also held by no other person than the king.
Even though organizing such an extravagant event at a time of frequent and widespread demon appearances raised controversy. But given the lack of casualties so far and fears that suspending planned events would expose the graveness of the situation to the citizens, the Crown ignored arguments against it and went ahead with the ball.
This ball was an annual event. It was also an occasion attended by a considerable number of aristocrats, so the noble ladies tended to spend a long time preparing for it. And that probably didn’t help at all in making it easier to cancel.
Anyhow, since the event was held as planned, many of the attending nobles enjoyed themselves very much right now. Of course, because this was an event sponsored by the king, that gathered most of the high society, it would be more than just pleasure time. Many participants would line up to greet the monarch seated on his throne at the far end of the hall and then proceed to where the aristocrats were gathered to try striking a conversation with them. Not all of those were small-talk and pleasantries. For the nobles, events like those also served as a place to conduct diplomacy with the other houses.
However, all that took place only around the venue’s seats of honor at the front of the hall. The guests that were seated at its back, near the entrance of the hall, were nobles just barely qualified to participate. They were not granted the honor of an audience with the king, nor allowed the privilege of a dance with their more distinguished peers, they were merely allowed to savor the ambiance of the occasion.
And to enjoy the extravagant food.
「Rion. It’s in bad taste to be eating all the time.」
Rion was scolded just like that.
「But there’s nothing to do besides eating. And I don’t even drink alcohol.」
「Try to enjoy conversation with people.」
「With whom exactly? There’s no one who would even want to converse with a baron, noble from the bottom rung of the aristocratic ladder, much less with a newly ennobled one.」
「Hmm… You’re right. And we don’t even know anyone either.」
Even Ariel, a former noble lady from a Marquess lineage, could not spot any familiar faces when looking around. And to be honest, there was no way any of her former acquaintances would be seated at the bottom end of the table.
Nobody had even shown a sign of trying to attempt a conversation with them, so far. They didn’t really feel like starting one either. Rion still had nothing to offer to establish good relations with the other houses.
「Shall we leave then? Our attendance has been recorded already.」
「We must not do so until his majesty leaves his seat.」
Departing from the hall before the king and queen would be seen as rude. Even if one decided to leave his seat, the custom forbade going outside.
「Haa. Why were we even called? Just traveling here and back will take two months.」
If you were to ask others present, Rion had just casually blurted out a pretty surprising statement. Having one’s name on the list of the ball’s guests could already be considered an honor. Just this alone ensured that those who sat at the bottom would find the event delightful even if it were boorish.
「Even so, we still cannot refuse to come.」
An unexpected invitation to the ball had arrived from the capital and, what was more, one that had come straight from the queen. Rion didn’t want to leave his territory but, as one would expect, refuse to attend was not an option. Furthermore, even though this was called an invitation, there was no RSVP. After the invitation letter was sent, the attendance was already as good as decided, thus it would be way more apt to call this a summons.
「But it’s still boring.」
「That it is.」
Although she felt that Rion’s words were rather impertinent, Ariel shared the same feelings.
This was the very first boring ball that Ariel had ever experienced. The events young Ariel had participated in might have not been up to the scale of this one. But back then she had been one of those at the head of the table and the balls she had experienced had been busy places where one had to converse and dance with the other participants that were coming one after another.
She had never found herself in a situation just like this in which no one would want to keep her company.
If one becomes terribly bored, there’s a growing desire for a conversation with just about anybody willing. And that would change the situation at a stroke. Just like back in the times of Academy’s cafeteria Ariel and Rion attracted the consciousness of surrounding people.
He, in his black knight outfit with silver accents. And she in a refreshing, pale, light-green dress.
Their clothes might have been far from extravagant but regardless of that their beautiful faces still became the center of attention. However, their aura discouraged any attempts at frivolous small-talk.
And right at that point, something even more surprising happened.
「Baron Frey, I presume?」
Rion was asked by a maid that appeared out of nowhere. Even though she was a servant, the woman of respectable age, was exuding a dignity unthinkable for someone of her station.
「Yes, that’s me. Is there something the matter?」
「The Queen has called for you. Please follow.」
The surroundings were even more surprised by those words than Rion but the maid just continued talking to Rion ignoring everyone else completely.
「Her majesty wishes to talk to you. And your wife.」
「….Is that so.」
Rion looked at Ariel with a silent question. The place the queen was at, was next to the king. Going there would mean passing by numerous, higher-ranked nobles, many of whom Ariel might be acquainted with.
And not a few of them were bound to look with ridicule at the former aristocrat reduced to a mere wife of a distant baron.
Rion was full of worry but Ariel just nodded lightly and accepted the offer. For her being the wife of Rion was not something to be embarrassed about but something that should be boasted with pride. After all, it was not a political marriage. She was able to tie the knot with the man that she loved.
「Well then, we should depart at once if you don’t mind.」
Saying this, the maid started to head back. Rion and Ariel followed without delay.
Because the maid that came to get them had a rather important position, nobody tried to obstruct their way as they approached the seats of honor and they were able to reach the top of the table easily. This made Rion understand that this attendant had enough authority to clear the way among the high-rank aristocrats.
But even though their path was unobstructed, the piercing glares coming from all sides weren’t exactly pleasant.
And for some reason, those looks bothered them despite the fact they should have gotten used to them already. Reflecting on that revelation, Rion noticed for the first time that he had experienced noticeably less of them ever since he had entered his new fief.
Soon, finally, they saw the throne and the queen sitting beside it. At the same time, they started hearing gasps coming from around them.
Guests that were sat close to the thrones were the highest echelon of the kingdom’s aristocracy. Many here knew Ariel’s circumstances.
That, in turn, led them to wonder why Ariel, who should have been turned into a slave, was in this place right now. Having those questions arise in their mind was a natural thing. And it wasn’t just about Ariel, even those who knew Rion very well we’re caught by surprise and went still.
The young couple didn’t even try to meet any of the gazes, though, and simply headed towards the Queen.
Instead of resenting those who looked at them so, they took solace in the warm stares of Ariel’s parents that were mixed in the crowd.
But it wasn’t as though Ariel’s disinheritance was void, so they couldn’t afford to behave as though there were still some connections between them.
The Queen, seeing Rion’s silhouette in the crowd, called his name loudly. Although to Rion, that name was his family name, not his given one.
Hearing her, Rion and Ariel hastened their steps and soon ended up in front of the Queen.
「…It has been a long time, your majesty. I have arrived to answer your invitation.」
Just the Queen’s voice calling her son’s name was enough to gather all the attention. Everyone was full of curiosity, interested in what would transpire next.
「You’re right, it has been a long time. It’s very reassuring that you look fine, though. Incidentally, you have grown quite a bit taller, have you not?」
「Yes, your highness. I finally reached the height that can be called average.」
「Oh, were you perhaps conscious of your small stature?」
The Queen was smiling, looking as if she was enjoying her conversation with Rion. Apparently, she had forgotten that their blood connection should be hidden.
「I was, a little. I believe it is better for a man to be tall.」
「I would like my children to stay small forever, though.」
The Queen had indeed forgotten to hide it.
「I- …Ah, I meant, that when I had first met you, you were really small like a child. That left a very deep impression on me.」
「Is that so… I considered myself more grown up back then.」
「Now, you indeed are. I have also heard that you have married.」
The queen looked at Ariel while saying that. Ariel, who was waiting at the back until now, stepped forward next to Rion to pay her respects.
「It is my pleasure to meet her highness, the queen. I am Ariel Frey.」
「Greeting me as if we never meet before, I see?」
「Of course, highness. I am but a wife of Baron Frey.」
「I see. It’s not unexpected seeing you beside each other like this, you are truly an excellent match. It might be somewhat late but do accept my congratulations.」
「I thank you very much, highness.」
Ariel, receiving the queen’s blessings, broke into a happy smile and her gaze wandered to Rion who was standing beside her.
But that gaze then immediately returned to the Queen. It was very unlike Ariel but at that moment she was staring at the monarch’s face without restraint before studying Rion’s face once more.
It began to dawn on her that Rion’s face looked just like that of the Queen. The blue color of the eyes looked as though it was transferred to Rion outright, both the hue and the brilliance being exactly the same.
「I know Ariel. That’s why I am giving my heartfelt blessing to your marriage as the queen of this kingdom.」
Once again, words of a blessing were said. However this time, Ariel was aware that it was not just a mere blessing. The queen was trying to convey something. Without a doubt.
「Highness. Being your loyal retainers, me and my husband will strive to repay the queen’s favor.」
What the queen was trying to convey was properly understood. That was what Ariel tried to imply with her response.
「I see. I shall be looking forward to it.」
「Well, your highness. I think it is time for us to excuse ourselves.」
Rion, oblivious to the queen’s feelings, just wanted to leave the place in a hurry.
Unsurprisingly, she could not hold them in this place any longer. Rion was a mere baron. Him being allowed to hold a conversation with the queen was already unusual.
「Ah, do wait a little bit.」
But Rion was stopped. The King, of all people, had wrapped up his conversation with someone else and came to them. This was, extraordinary, an exception beyond all exceptions.
「What now… ?」
Rion didn’t want unnecessary attention drawn to him. He replied trying to conceal his bewilderment.
「Now, now, don’t be so disagreeable. It’s an important matter.」
The king casually shrugging off Rion’s lack of courtesy made all the witnesses very confused. With this, even though both of them were very conscious of the surroundings, they managed to inadvertently gather all the attention on them. This, perhaps, was also a proof that they were father and son.
「Is this, by chance, about the demons, majesty?」
「You guessed it, as expected. The demons appeared on your land first, We wish to hear the story directly from your lips.」
「So I guess they have appeared elsewhere too. Are there any casualties?」
「Minor, still, it’s not something that can be ignored. We would hear your opinion on how this should be dealt with.」
This was also extremely surprising. It was unheard of for a king to ask the opinion of a lowly baron.
Rion found himself unable to reply immediately. Nothing good would come from him offering his advice here. And if by some chance, the king had done as he suggested, the future consequences would be even worse. Many of the people present here were involved in national politics. A lot of them could be expected not to think well of the fact that the king asked Rion alone for advice.
「I believe, majesty, it would be more appropriate to ask other people for advice.」
In the end, Rion decided to push all the troublesome things to others.
「What did you say?」
Having his request unfulfilled made the king angry. But Rion continued talking without paying any mind to that. He thought it would be easier to just elaborate instead of soothing the monarch’s anger.
「I believe there are people with much deeper knowledge of the demons and the proper ways to deal with them.」
「…Is there anyone like that?」
And just as Rion expected the king had swallowed the bait.
「Yes, majesty. They are even guests of this ball.」
「Guests of the ball? Who may you be speaking of?」」
Following the king’s question, Rion’s eyes, for the first time tonight, moved in the direction he had so far avoided. The place where Arnold and his coterie were gathered.
「The person just there, Lady Maria Theodore.」
Rion’s finger went up to point straight at Maria standing next to the Crown Prince Arnold.
「…Hold on. What are you talking about?」
「I have once committed a misdeed. Not as serious as my assault on the execution day, nevertheless…」
「Like We said, where are you going with this?」
「I have secretly taken a peek into a precious notebook that Lady Maria had kept on her person. Just enough to see a small part of the first page.」
This was a lie, of course. Rion had pilfered all the valuable information he could from that book. But there was no way anybody else would be able to know that. Furthermore, Maria couldn’t question that carelessly. If anyone else was to take a look at the contents of that book, she would find herself in a spot of bother.
「I have seen mention of the Devil inside. And descriptions of things that would be happening from what on.」
「At that time, I didn’t understand why such a thing would be written down. It is quite rare for a lady to be so immersed in simple nursery tales.」
「But you think different now?」
「Yes, majesty. Now I think that this woman knows of the demons and the Devil that controls them. And that, perhaps, she might be the prophesied hero of the legends.」
The room erupted with noise. Some people started to speak ill of Rion, telling him to stop saying stupid things, others were making a ruckus about the return of the hero from the legends, and lastly, there was a fully convinced group showering Maria with questions.
The verbal petard Rion laid out exploded splendidly.
「Silence! Be quiet all of you! You are in the presence of his majesty!」
The loud shout came from the knight commander, who was giving Rion a terrible glance while yelling to silence the crowds. He was, correctly, thinking that Rion had said all that intentionally expecting this to happen.
Because the knight commander’s intervention was successful and the turmoil calmed down, the King was able to speak again.
「Is what Rion is saying true?」
The question was aimed at Maria.
「Do you have knowledge of the Devil’s return?」
「That’s… I do…」
「And of how to deal with that?」
「I will defeat the devil with our group. That is my duty.」
Despite being hung out to dry by Rion, Maria affirmed without giving it much thought. Her being the one to subjugate the devils was a determined fact and she was convinced that this scene was made for that purpose.
「What about being the hero of the legends?」
「What is this hero of the legends?」
「Have you come from a different world?」
Maria never expected to be asked a question whether she came from another world. She reacted like she was hit straight into the weak point.
「So that was the case… Is the group you were talking about the one you are with right now?」
「Yes. They are the one’s who will fight with me. But there will be others too.」
「Does Arnold really need to be involved?」
「Arnold is the most important among them all.」
What Maria thought of was his importance as her future man but the king understood her words as her needing his strength. He was aware of his son’s martial prowess. He found it natural that it was needed for the fight against the Devil.
「Alright. In that case, we shall further discuss the countermeasures tomorrow.」
With this, Maria’s activities would become acknowledged by the kingdom allowing her to act freely. It marked the start of her endeavors as the protagonist. In the game, at least.
「Now then…. Eh? Where did Baron Frey go?」
「He had departed already. He said he could not bear being the object of so much attention.」
The queen answered the question of her husband frostily.
「And you allowed that?」
「Yes, my lord husband. He was, after all, subject to a torrent of ill words from all directions.」
If the Queen had allowed his departure, the King wouldn’t be able to make an issue out of it any longer. Not that he really had any plans to do so. He was just cross at Rion’s sly retreat from this situation.
Given the circumstances, Maria’s story was dubious and she herself acknowledged that fact. But the king judged it as truth anyway.
And his majesty was not about to give up on Rion even though the boy managed to successfully deflect the subject of demons onto Maria. Also, above all that, it was not as though the World has decided to release Rion from the script.