Chapter 75. Social Flop
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In a way, de Braltar might get just what he wanted, I suppose. In a way. It all hinges on how quick-witted his daughter is. We have discussed his business opportunities while the footman went to the academy to fetch the girl in question, and I have to say duke is pretty on the ball. His primary "I want to buy that" is license to pave tar roads at his discretion in his dukedom. Which, admittedly, I'd provide for purely nominal fee or entirely for free as it was. Well, last one more if king brokered some agreement and requested it. Anyway, the gist is that there was no specific reason to deny or ask for excessive price on this. While I'm annoyed at his daughter, I'm not annoyed at his holdings. Further inquiries he makes are the possibilities to have mechanisms crafted for him to order... Which is mostly something he would need to discuss with dad and dwarves. Third is where the things get interesting - he is asking if I can develop some sort of "clever mechanism" to aid in irrigation.

De Braltar's irrigation issues are kinda simple - he possesses extensive grape vineyards, which are stretched along the hillsides. Grapes, for some reason, are vastly better if grown on hillsides, but he is hampered with the fact he needs to have water be carried up top on oxen-pulled carts. Designing some pumps is not a problem, I did give dwarves some basic schematics for it already, all that remains is to figure out duke's exact needs and produce a number of pumps that can feed his hillside vineyards in more centralized fashion. Of course, how much effort goes into it directly depends on conversation we're about to have. I'm not about to put effort into prosperity of dukedom that is liable to get a belligerently minded leader down the line. Elaine de Braltar is the last and only scion of the ducal line, so whoever she marries will be adapted into family as next duke de Braltar... Which means she is going to marry lower-ranking noble in all likeliness... And that more or less means that she'll be the one wearing pants in the relationship, as it is only her children who could inherit the line further.

We're well past discussing the options and possibilities by the time servant finally announces the arrival of daughter in question. So far past, that the last half-hour had been spent essentially on eating hors d'oeuvres and making inconsequential small talk. And if I'm being honest? The wait does not fill me with confidence. I heard the exact order duke gave to runner before sending him off, he was pretty emphatic about not tarrying... But, then again, they're still people living in the yesterday. Maybe two hours is not something they consider long wait.

"Father, what is going on? What was so urgent that I... oh." - hm. That's curious. Elaine trails off pretty quickly as soon as she notices me. I wonder how it's going to play.

"Elaine, dear. Come sit with us." - he bides his daughter warmly, gesturing to the chair obviously set aside for her around the little round table we're sitting at. Given the dispositions, we would end up being seated roughly equidistantly from each other. Nabad. Out of the corner of my eye, I see duke gesturing to his servants, all of whom bow and vacate the room entirely. Something that is clearly not lost on Elaine, as she pauses for a moment on her walk to the chair. I'm... not entirely sure how to interpret the way she looks at me. Wary, defiant, haughty... A little bit of everything, in short.

She curtsies at the table before sitting down on the chair daintily, offering - "Greetings, father. Lady Gillespie. What do we owe the honor of this visit to?"

Duke begins to speak, cuts off, sighs, then starts again. "Elaine, dear." - he offers awkwardly - "Lady Gillespie has some... things to discuss with you and paid a visit to me to arrange this talk without any undue ears." Huh, so he's just going to toss the ball to me like this? Well, I guess. He really can't tell his daughter no on anything, I'd wager.

"Lady de Braltar." - I begin, keeping my voice paced and dry for now - "I have paid this visit to clarify certain actions you have undertaken recently. In my understanding, you made a concentrated effort to pick a fight with me, and I would like to know why. Your father shed some light on it, but I'd very much like to hear your input on this."

She draws back, blinking. "...I beg your pardon, I what?" - she then demands incredulously - "The nerve! I never made a single demarche against you, lady Gillespie!"

"You've been harassing my retainers and friends. Something about them going above their station. Care to explain?" - I press.

Her cheeks flash ugly red and she clenches the edge of table at that remainder. "It is well within my rights to upbraid uppity commoners as I see fit." - she grates - "Who are you to question me on that?!" Duke winces at that, but remains silent. Oh well.

"Lady de Braltar, let me put it as clearly as I can. If you have a problem with my retainers and friends, then you have a problem with ME. Which, I believe, is wholly contradictory to your father's request." - I bite back - "There are good reasons why I chose those people to be my retainers and friends, and I value them greatly. Making their lives harder is not going to make me like you, quite the opposite in fact. So I ask again. Why are you trying so hard to make an enemy of me in spite of your father's request?"

"That's preposterous! They were disrespectful to me, and so I have kindly reminded them of their station! If anything, I should be asking you why do you allow your retainers to act so disgraceful towards their betters!" - she retorts angrily. I can see her cheek twitching slightly. A lying tell? Or just an expression of anger? Curious.

Well, let's make this more interesting, then. A little bluff here, let's see how you deal with it. I raise my hand and snap fingers, throwing a simple illusion spell over myself. Invisibility is an advanced magic by common reckoning, but it is much easier to hide a stationary target. Like sitting me. Both duke and his daughter jump up with shocked exclamations as I vanish from their sight. "You honestly don't think I wouldn't verify this personally before making visits, now do you?" - I offer sardonically. And bingo! Her expression changes notably. The haughtiness is cut by half, replaced by mounting wariness and fear. I dismiss the spell a few moments later. "Yes, I can turn myself invisible to observe how my retainers are treated when they are thought to be alone. Yes, I have trailed them to make sure the rumors I've been hearing lately are true. Yes, I heard you making claims about "taking your place". The big question is, what is that place do you believe yourself entitled to? And why do you give yourself trouble to seek out my retainers to make those claims?"

She pinks, pales, pinks again. Huffs and turns away from me. No dice, huh? I glance at the duke, who is having rather dismayed expression right now. "Elaine, please." - he begs - "I'm sure this is all a big misunderstanding and we can sort this out to everyone's satisfaction. Just... please explain."

"Father, why are you kowtowing to her!?" - she demands shrilly, disregarding my question entirely.

"Because I possess information that could destroy your family entirely, if I choose to use it so." - I explain for him. I guess there's just no helping it. Duke is too meek against his spoiled daughter. I'll have to play the bad cop here.

She turns around as if stung. "What do you MEAN, destroy my family!?" - she retorts - "I'll have you know, lady Gillespie, that I am not lacking in gentlemen who would deem it an honor to fight on my behalf!"

I wave the copy of letter in the air. "This is a letter penned by your grandfather when he was back in Academy." - I explain, and duke swallows heavily - "It was likely written in a fit of teenage rebellion and your grandfather clearly didn't follow through on it... but! Should this letter be presented in court, it will be considered a proof of treasonous intent, and you know what is the punishment for that."

She sits back heavily, her face shocked. "...Are you threatening us?" - she repeats dumbly... then collects herself and thrusts a hand in my direction - "Hah, it's a fake, and everyone will know it's a fake! You cast a spell flowerless! You are not lady Gillespie!"

I shake my heavily embroidered sleeve lazily. "Good try, but futile. His highness is well familiar with my facsimile casting proficiency." - I retort, and she deflates like a popped balloon.

"...Facsimile... invisibility?" - she repeats numbly - "...why. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME!?"

"Excuse me? Doing what? Insisting you leave me and mine in peace?" - I ask incredulously.

She shrieks, waving her hands in the air - "THIS! All this! First you snub me, then you threaten us and have the utter gall to pretend you're the offended party? You're a thug! A brigand masquerading as a noble lady!"

She's unraveling. Good. Good. "Snub you how?" - I push her along.

"HOW!? HOW!? A historic event, and you did NOT invite me! How am I supposed to treat that, if not as an outright snub!? I should have been on that airship of yours!" - she yells, standing up.

"Why would I invite someone I had never spoken to beyond greetings?" - I repeat - "This was not a public ball. This was an outing specifically for my friends to show them the newest invention I made."

"Friends?" - she repeats - "But..."

"I never held any social outings, and I don't intend to start soon." - I continue - "I'm a student in the Academy, I have neither space nor permission to host a ball in my dorm rooms. The trip on airship was specifically me bragging to people I am close to about achieving success in complicated enchantment. The earliest social event I can see myself passing out invitations to would be the acknowledgment of my father as duke in winter."

"You had TWO princes!" - she objects fiercely.

"His excellency crownprince Hiram Hohenzollern and his excellency prince Edward Cullen, yes." - I agree - "I am on friendly terms with both of them. Crownprince Hohenzollern is my neighbor next door in the dorms and I have been engaged for a long time to prince Cullen. You might notice that I did NOT send any invitations to emir Abbas ibn-Salaadin, even though he was still in the capitol, nor did I invite prince Constantine Cullen nor crownprince Alexander Cullen. For simple reason that this was not a social event I'd invite everyone notable in the capitol, but merely an outing between friends."

"But why not ME!?" - she wails.

"Uh... Because you never attempted to talk to me about anything at that point?" - I point out logically - "I knew you existed, but that was about the extent of interactions I had with you. If I were to send invitation to you, I would be essentially obligated to invite the entirety of Academy, and that is well beyond the capacity of airship. And that is not even mentioning the fact the whole outing happened on a lark, and everyone attending simply happened to be free on that weekend. Consider it like this - if you happened to complete a particularly complicated embroidery, would you bother inviting me to show it off? Or it would be simply shown to your own friends over the tea?"

And that's when she flops down and starts sobbing. Yeah, well... That could have gone over better.