Chapter 540: Ernes Incident
Goldonia Capital – Ernes Mansion Banquet Hall.
Experts famed to be the best in the capital plays popular music while a songstress whose name even the king knows sings along.
Men and women in glamorous outfits dance to the tune.
「Look how beautiful Ernes-dono’s daughter is.」
「The one with her is Samarl-dono’s heir? I’ve only seen him when he was a child, but he has since matured into a dignified man.」
「Hohoho, when the two families connect, our unity as traditional nobles will become more solid. Good, good.」
Fancy festivities are not uncommon in the capital.
Unlike the lords and nobles who have to travel and stay in lodgings, nobles living in the capital participate in balls and dinner parties several times a week as part of their regular schedule. Of course, it would be a different story if the king or a special influential person was coming.
「That reminds me, have you heard about Margrave Hardlett?」
「Yes, his rudeness is as natural as the flowing of a river and the falling of leaves from a tree, but he went too far on this occasion no matter how you look at it. It appears he also made a bad impression on His Majesty. Oh, how delightful!」
Dance was often accompanied by gossip, slander and sarcastic remarks.
Erich was insulted as someone ignorant about tradition, new nobles were ridiculed as a variant of barbarians, and sometimes rumors of other traditional nobles were whispered behind their backs.
It was a dinner party like any other.
Those individuals amusing themselves by speaking ill of others gaze at a certain person with a sympathetic expression on the surface, but actually have a wide grin on the inside.
「My, Beltz-dono really missed the mark too. Engaging in marriage talks with the Hardlett household was a great adventure for him.」
「I feel bad for his daughter, is it better if we stay away? Gosh, I’m really sorry for his loss.」
「I hear she is being treated like a dog……probably just rumors. But still, for the daughter of a prestigious family like the Beltz to be one of ten concubines, I can’t help……kuku.」
The head of the Beltz family turns red out of anger or embarrassment.
His visit to the capital to attend a wedding of one of his relatives was a disaster.
However, the disaster didn’t end there.
An unusual crash could be heard outside the hall.
It sounded like metal hitting the floor, like the armor of a soldier slamming against the floor.
「What’s that jarring sound? It’s ruining our fun here!」
A noble lady wearing an expensive dress exaggerates her reaction and clings to her dance partner, while the man also exaggerates his reaction and yells at a servant.
「I’m sorry sir. A waiter must have made a mistake. I will immediately scold――」
The same sound reverberates again.
It happened once outside the window, once from the balcony, and twice by the entrance.
Before the sentence can be finished, the front door is kicked down.
The resplendent door decorated with gold and silver topples over, and a group of black-clothed individuals silently rush into the venue.
They number a little over ten.
「A-aren’t those guys suspicious!?」
「Insolence! Insolence! I won’t tolerate such rudeness!」
「Err……when strange people come, I’m supposed to……」
One person’s clear voice can be heard among the stunned nobles.
Experience gained from an attack in the past by Magrado remnants encouraged night parties in the capital to station armed guards, an act previously considered boorish.
Soldiers equipped with steel armor, shields and spears rush to protect the participants.
The assailants are shrouded only in black cloth to conceal themselves from the public and are most likely carrying knives or one-handed swords. It would seem that fully armed guards, even with the disadvantage caused by the ambush, are more than a match for them.
「……I thought they would be an eyesore, but the ordinance saved our lives.」
Nobody can blame the person for muttering such a statement.
Suddenly, windows on both sides of the hall shatter.
The soldiers charging to eliminate the enemy in front of them were caught off guard.
Whizzes of wind follow the short command.
And then, the sound of bolts stabbing into flesh can be heard.
Bolts fly at the participants through the windows which have turned into giant apertures.
The venue became a slaughterhouse as crossbows were fired at the unarmed partygoers without a shred of hesitation.
「What are the guards in the garden――」
The man fell silent as he found guards lying on the ground with their throats slit.
Although the guards hastily point their crossbows at the windows, they can’t fix their aim at the enemy.
「It’s no good, the lights in the garden have been snuffed out! I can’t see anything!」
The assailants aim into the brilliantly-lit room.
The guards aim into the darkness with eyes accustomed to the light.
It was no contest.
The crossbow-wielding guards were mercilessly shot by concentrated volleys of powerful bolts which can penetrate armor and were annihilated instantly.
Other guards can do nothing but cower behind their shields, unable to protect the participants.
「Hide behind me!! Lower your body and run! Those who haven’t gotten this far, do what I’m doing!」
A man shouting loudly flips over two tables and beckons people in his vicinity.
Several bolts are already stuck in the surface of the table, but they can’t pierce through the thick wood of the high-quality furniture.
The middle-aged man, while dragging his silk dress suit on the floor, huddles in the only safe spot in the hall along with a middle-aged lady who loses her large ring and a sobbing young lady whose lace dress has torn.
「Baron Thames, well done! I take back my comment about you being a savage imitation-new noble who enlisted in the military!」
「I also take back what I said about you being a rude uncouth swordsman. If you come by my house, I might feel like discussing your debts.」
「I hated you, but I’ll offer my friend……no, I’ll offer you a servant girl.」
Thames ignores the thanking nobles and speaks at a volume that he himself can also hear.
「The Ernes residence is also near the center where the palace is. The sound of such big windows breaking should be audible. Patrolling security guards will run to check in ten minutes. We just have to survive until then――」
Thames peeks his head out from behind the table to gauge the situation.
Bolts rain incessantly, knocking down one after another.
Those fleeing the scene are shot and those whose back or feet were shot with bolts fall to the ground and cry.
「There is no pause between shots of a weapon which should not be able to fire consecutively, each of them must be holding multiple crossbows.」
Crossbows are by no means cheap.
Additionally, they are not items which can be carried into the capital without a clear reason or identification papers due to their power and ease of use.
It would thus be impossible for a bunch of thugs to gather dozens of them.
「Drawing in the guards with a flashy frontal invasion, then sneaking another squad to the side and timing a simultaneous attack……those are not tactics of ordinary robbers.」
A mournful voice follows the scream of an elderly man.
「The minister of agriculture was killed! Someone help! Ernes-dono――!!」
「T-the master was also shot and has lost consciousness!!」
An old butler who hurried back on his feet was shot in the forehead by a bolt and spasms while standing.
「Lord Beltz was left behind!」
「He can’t be saved! If we go, we’ll get killed!」
The man who abandoned the head of the Beltz family sitting blankly in the middle of the banquet hall jumps in the shadow of a table.
Thames clicks his tongue as he calmly observes his environment.
Others have copied him and flipped over several tables to form a simple barrier.
More than a few guards have already been defeated, but the ones still alive are posturing to defend the tables to the end.
「Fortunately, the walls of the banquet hall are made of stone and won’t break. If we put our backs against the wall and prop up shields and tables in front of us, we’ll manage for the time being.」
The guards also understood that and, while the table protected the flank, led everyone toward the wall.
Bolts are shot as usual, but nobody gets hit.
One could hear someone banging on the gate if you strained your ears.
The capital security has come.
「If we fortify our position with everyone and defend――」
Thames realized something as he spoke.
All the survivors are crawling behind the tables and shields and becoming more tightly packed together.
The enemy is shooting from outside the windows and not advancing any further.
The group in black at the entrance also hasn’t moved much.
His shout was too late.
A tube made of porcelain travels in an arc in the air.
Attached to one end is a burning cloth――
The cylinder falls at the feet where everybody has gathered.
A fire rises up in an explosion.
Screams mix with each other to the point it’s hard to tell who they came from.
The suit containing gold threads, the silk dress and the glamorous lace dress all burn up like the leaves on a tree.
「Oil!? No, gunpowder!? Why is something like that――」
As Thames stood up in shock, there was no bolt that shot him.
Instead, pillars of fire shot up from the main building and annex of the mansion.
There was also another explosion in a neighboring house which started a fire that quickly enveloped the entire building.
「No……they’re not thieves……this is……this is……」
It was a matter of time before the banquet hall burned down from the explosion and fire caused by the tube.
Thames whacks the base of the fire with his epaulette to put it out, then unsteadily walks toward the exit.
He picks up the young lady writhing in pain from the bolt stabbed into her arm.
He tears off the burning part of the dress and lends a shoulder to the now partially-naked middle-aged lady.
He takes one glance at the young man whose guts are spilling out from his stomach burst open by the explosion, shakes his head, and leaves him behind.
「What a disaster……what a disaster……」
He extends his hand down to the befuddled man sitting on the floor.
「I-I’m uninjured. I can walk on my own.」
The man strikes his head with his own fist and then promptly stands up.
「I’m surprised you aren’t hurt. You’re pretty lucky.」
The man replies with a stressed face.
「Don’t be ridiculous. I came here after attending the wedding of a relative and this is what happens. I can’t be lucky.」
Thames smiles despite knowing it was an inappropriate time to do so.
His smile disappeared immediately.
「The minister of agriculture is bleeding badly from a leg wound. That government official over there can’t be saved either.」
「Count Hissar is dead after being shot by a bolt and stabbed repeatedly. Lord Ernes is……ugh, this is horrible! What a terrible injury!!」
The minister, chief official, count, viscount――
High-ranking nobles are on the ground bleeding or on fire with their eyes rolling to the back of their head.
「Whoever did this will be in serious trouble. This will cause an uproar……」
Capital security storm into the mansion as Beltz mutters to himself and begins extinguishing the fire and rescuing the injured.
「That concludes my report. I have of course already dispatched an express messenger to His Majesty. As soon as he awakens, you will likely be summoned. I doubt he has fallen asleep.」
Kenneth, after receiving Talger’s report, freezes in place for a few seconds.
He tries to tell himself to keep calm, but his expression reflects his astonishment.
「The minister of agriculture has suffered a serious leg injury and is in critical condition, and even if he manages to survive, the amputation of his leg is unavoidable. A successor needs to appointed urgently.」
Kenneth nods his head slightly again and again to keep his composure.
「The head government official who you helped is dead, and Count Schlaser who had been in charge of the Former Libatis region is also reported to have died. Marquess Ernes, the host, sustained a serious wound after getting shot in the butt by three arrows.」
Kenneth focused on narrowing his eyes, otherwise they would widen against his will.
「There have also been multiple deaths and injuries……to the sons and daughters of other noble families. We will likely be pressed to significantly revise the marriage policies.」
After a brief moment of silence, Kenneth takes a seat without making a sound.
He instinctively glances at the security guards walking around the mansion.
「Witness reports say that the attackers were highly-coordinated and used a large quantity of crossbows and special explosives. After the attack which didn’t even last ten minutes, the attackers set fire to the Ernes residence and the neighboring residence, then blended in with the smoke and fled…… the guards had to prioritize rescue and extinguishing of the flames to prevent further spread to the royal palace, so the criminals escaped. It was nothing short of spectacular.」
「Not many people can arrange for this number of assailants. Everyone at the venue were traditional nobles and those connected to them.」
Talger nods and waits for Kenneth to continue.
「It couldn’t have been Radhalde. He might be able to assassinate one or two under the cover of night, but he can’t make a catastrophe of this magnitude look like an accident or the work of bandits. It’s much too absurd. That is, unless he is under a considerable amount of pressure.」
「Arson is taboo in the capital. If the military commissioner was an idiot who would consider doing something so stupid, I wouldn’t be struggling against him. I’m more inclined to believe this was done by one of us.」
The two exchanged looks and spoke at the same time.
Anyone who could give a different answer in this situation would not survive in the palace.
「An organized raid party, an abundance of weapons, and vulgar and violent enough to ignore rules. All of the criteria fit him.」
Talger adds onto Kenneth’s point.
「According to the statements of the survivors, those who oppose Hardlett, like Count Schlaser, were targeted. Moreover, Count Beltz who offered his daughter to be his concubine, was not attacked at all despite being in front of the enemy.」
「Then it’s clear. I can’t think of any other person.」
Kenneth had a habit of reading too deeply into everything, but surely he didn’t need to do so with all these obvious signs.
「Should we report to His Majesty?」
「No, only convey the facts until we find concrete evidence. As a personal opinion, mention that the ones murdered were individuals who feuded with Hardlett and list the disturbances caused. Exaggeration――there’s no need for that.」
「It’s so blatant that I want to see some contradicting evidence.」
Kenneth stares up at the moon in the night sky beside Talger as he puts together the report.
「My eyes were not mistaken. A rampage without calculation will be the end for Hardlett.」
Protagonist: Aegir Hardlett. 26 years old. Spring.
Status: Goldonia Kingdom Margrave. Great Feudal Lord of Eastern Area. Mountain Legend.
Friend of the Dwarves. Friend of the King of Aless. Dragon Slayer Hero.
Elf Mediator. Sex King of White City. Mad Demon God. Poison Resistance (strong).