The 1st Prince approaches the Empress while Tara gets an interesting work assignment.
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Episode 120. About 11 months (12)
The same day, the Empress's Palace. Afternoon.
As soon as the Third Prince received the letter from Hans, he immediately visited the Empress' palace.
[Being assigned as the overseer for the Hunting Contest banquet is not just something to celebrate. The Emperor is trying to divide the responsibilities of the 1st Prince among the 2nd and 3rd Princes. However, that does not exclude the First Prince immediately. The Emperor is dividing his power. If the Crown Prince discussion starts when his power is divided, it will be more advantageous for the Second Prince. So, Your Highness, take the letter you received from the Duke of Toulouse and bring it to the Empress's Palace.]
“It sounds like he wants me to grovel again.”
[You must go and convince Her Majesty the Empress to call a gathering for the three of you. But you have to be careful, to make them think this is about maintaining the First Prince's claim to the throne, Your Highness. When you come back from the Empress Palace, please ask the Ministry of Finance’s Accounting Team to dispatch a team to the Hunting Contest banquet so that I can also attend. I’ll assist you behind the scenes during the Hunting Contest.]
"When I get the throne I won’t have to bow and scrape like this anymore. Haaah. Yes, but not yet. I have to do it."
Joseph folded the letter from Hans, slammed it into the palm of his hand, and crumpled it into his sleeve so it was out of sight.
Outside the Empress’ Palace, the butler approached Joseph, already aware of his visit.
Thanks to Joseph's conscientiousness, the Empress's butler informed him of her private affairs without asking.
"The timing is bad, Your Highness. Why don't you come back another time?"
"Is she still sick?"
The butler knew that the Empress wasn't sick, and he knew it, the whole Imperial Palace knew it. But as the polite and friendly 3rd Prince he had to pretend that he didn't.
"She tore the clothes of two of her ladies-in-waiting this morning."
"For what reason?"
"They were wearing perfume while the Empress wasn't feeling well, so she kicked them out and ordered them to wash it off."
"Did she hit them?"
The butler's face paled, and he lowered his voice even more as he looked around.
"They have some scratches on their cheeks and forearms."
"Which families are they from?"
"One is the niece of Count Roth from the port city of Berote, and the other is the sixth daughter of the Shyman Family."
“Tell them to wait at the Palace dormitory until their wounds are healed, then let their families take care of them.”
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Come on now, be honest. Wouldn't it be best for her to relieve her anger?"
"Yes, Your Highness!" The butler answered, his eyes full of trust.
When he announced to the Empress that the 3rd prince was requesting an audience, he was given permission to enter after a long moment. The maid glanced at Joseph’s face and blushed as she opened the door.
Joseph forced the corners of his lips up into a smile for the maid. However, when the door closed, he stepped slowly into the Empress's room with a severe and grave expression on his face, as if his smile had never existed.
"Welcome, Third Prince."
Vivian greeted Joseph with a light smile and sent all her maids, including the head maid, Jean, outside.
As soon as the door clicked shut.
The Empress threw the book sitting next to her. As if she bore no genuine intention of hitting him, the book sailed past the 3rd Prince with room to spare, hit the wall, and fell to the ground. Joseph, his gaze trembling, bowed his head slightly.
As a sign of her displeasure, Vivian lashed out at Joseph viciously.
“While your brother was insulted and imprisoned in his private residence, you were put in charge of the banquet the Emperor order for the Hunting Contest? While Franz was bowing and scraping, his brother should have at least been supplicating himself as well. How dare you take over your brother's responsibility as if you wanted this to happen to him!? Did I raise you so poorly? Tell me, Joseph. Why would you do this?”
"… I thought it would go to Kyle if I didn't take charge of the Hunting Contest, so I did it even though I knew it was supposed to be my brother's duty. That day, I wanted to avoid appearing biased towards my own flesh and blood. I only held myself back because I was worried that he would be punished more heavily, but clearly I was shortsighted. I was too careful because all the ministers were present, Mother."
Joseph begged her forgiveness, claiming responsibility as if he had rehearsed it. He had been through this with his mother once or twice before. When his mother was angry she desperately needed something to vent her anger towards. That was why he was here now.
“Even so. Couldn’t you have spared him a word?”
“I was focused on the plan, because I was afraid that even you, Mother, could be affected… I wasn't considerate of my brother. Forgive me, Mother.”
"… That- That is true. Tsk tsk. If you'd stepped forward, the Emperor would have turned his ire on me, asking how I've been managing both of his sons. Haaa. That's right... However, the First Prince should have gotten that duty. Besides, since Kyle is in charge of the Hunting Contest. What will your brother do now?"
[The Empress will be heartbroken, you must act as the perfect son.]
Joseph remembered Hans' words and pulled out a box the size of the palm of his hand and held it out.
“… This is Gultran, which was given to me by the state of Dewell Island as a diplomatic gift a few months ago.”
"What is this Gultran?"
“It's a cosmetic that is said to contain the breath of God and is rumoured to be particularly effective for treating the skin, especially wrinkles. There, it’s used exclusively by the clergy and is not for sale.”
In other words, only those who had been favoured by a priest could obtain it.
Vivian opened the box of Gultran as if possessed, and gazed at the milk-colored cream in the beautiful container.
“… You've experienced a lot of heartache these days, and you've become quite thin. You were always so full of life... It's been bothering me for the past month, Mother. And that's why I visited you today. Acting as a member of the Toulouse family, not as the Third Prince, I plan on demonstrating to the other nobles that House Toulouse is not to be trifled with. I never intended to take his place, Mother.”
"That's true. I haven't been able to sleep at all these days... All right, yes. Keep an eye on the First Prince. How hard must it be for your brother now? That your fragile and smart brother could be subjected to such suffering because of those traitors...”
“Don’t worry too much. Uncle wants to make good use of this Hunting Contest."
"No matter what, as the head of the Toulouse family, Uncle represents the interests of many nobles. Both the nobles who support House Toulouse and the nobles who have not yet chosen their affiliation are afraid of the growing Imperial power. That fear will soon raise animosity toward the Imperial family. His Majesty the Emperor knows that well. That's why I'm in charge of this Hunting Contest.”
"…So you want to use the Hunting Contest? How?"
"I brought this for you. Here, Mother."
Joseph took a step closer and presented the Empress with the letter from the Duke of Toulouse.
The Empress stared at the 3rd Prince's concerned expression for a moment, then grabbed the letter and unfolded it.
The elegant handwriting of the Duke of Toulouse was all too familiar to her. The Empress pouted and quickly read the letter.
[... His Majesty the Emperor has now revoked his favour. So, in order to regain his favour, Your Majesty must present the image of a benevolent, wise, and virtuous Empress. You must dedicate the First Forest of Tandra in the Central Tandra Mountains, owned by the Toulouse family, to the Imperial Palace for the upcoming Hunting Contest.]
"My God. The Tandra Forest!"
The Empress, having only read that far, took a deep breath. It was a forest that had been passed down through innumerable generations of the Toulouse family. The forest was the source for many legends and it was rumoured spirits dwelled there.
The forest, which covered about 300,000 pyeong, was open to Imperial citizens only once a year, for only two weeks, and it was a popular spot that many Imperial citizens flocked to.*
Tandra Forest had been passed down to the eldest sons of the Toulouse family for generations, and dedicating it to the Imperial Palace signalled complete subservience to the Palace.
The Empress quickly read the following portion of the letter.
[The Emperor expected the Toulouse family to dedicate the forest.]
[Dedicating the forest aside, this Hunting Contest is meant to strengthen the harmony between the Imperial family and the nobility, all the direct family members of the Imperial palace will attend. Therefore, if His Majesty asks you to attend, please decline a couple of times and then accept. Also, before attending the Hunting Contest, send a message of remorse to His Majesty, writing as a mother who regrets raising her children poorly. One step back is required for two steps forward. Therefore, for the future of Her Majesty, the 1st Prince and House Toulouse, you must ensure His Majesty's power does not increase during this Hunting Contest.]
“What does that mean?”
The Empress was greatly annoyed, but she did not take her eyes off the letter.
[This humble servant does not dare to guess how disappointed Her Majesty must be due to this incident, however, you are the Empress. You must consider this carefully, Your Majesty. For the sake of House Toulouse and the First Prince, the future of the Empire, now is the time to lay low. Also, in this case, Your Majesty, the 3rd Prince showed his wits and was able to handle things well, so call on him often to discuss the future. The Third Prince was the one who came to me and predicted the Crown Prince assessment would take place during the Hunting Contest. He is worried about the future of the First Prince, Your Majesty, and the Toulouse family. You must understand. Please participate in the Hunting Contest with an air of self-reflection, Your Majesty the Empress... ]
Vivian slowly gripped the letter. Her back was straight and her other hand clutched the armrest of her chair.
Her claw-like fingernails dug into her clenched hands, but the Empress only shoved her nails into her palms deeper until they turned bloodless. Joseph gently wrapped his hand around the Empress's.
“I am lowering my head for now, but I will get my due.”
Since the Empress had stayed at the peak of power for so long, she knew all too well that her brother's words had been right a hundred times before, or possibly a thousand.
"I'm glad I have you at least. Thank god."
Even though she claimed to, the Empress didn't understand the current situation at all.
For this task, the price being asked of her was too high. How had this happened? Where did it go wrong? They’d done what they had always done, but this was the first time it had come back on them so severely.
Previously, there had been many things that had gone wrong among the countless factors they dealt with, but each time the situation had been rectified and resolved. But why was it like this only this time!
"… Something must have gotten twisted in the middle. Yes, maybe it was bad luck.”
Today, after happily cleaning up the warehouse I went back up to the aide's office. There were only two aides still at their desks after regular work hours.
They were also just leaving the aide's office, bags in hand. Of course, Lady Olive was nowhere to be seen.
“After all, leaving work on time is great. It seems the Imperial palace protects work-life balance. That's good.”
When I picked up my work journal, an envelope and a piece of note paper fell out.
The envelope read, "Request to Transfer an Aide to the Captain of the Military Support Team for Hunting Contest."
"Don't tell me I've been assigned work after two days...? Wait, a Hunting Contest?"
Struck by a sudden thought, I hurriedly pulled out my notebook.
"There was something like that! 'The Winter Forest Hunting Contest' incident."
'Haaa,' I sighed deeply.
"Argh. What should I do? I don't know! I have bigger fish to fry, so I need to concentrate on saving myself."
Editor’s Notes -
Apologies to everyone who was waiting for updates these past few weeks! Our lives all exploded at the same time so we got a bit behind on our edits. But hopefully we will be able to catch up a bit.
* Pyeong is a unique Korean unit for measuring area, roughly equivalent to about 36 sqft. 300,000 pyeong is roughly equivalent to 245 acres, 991,736 metres squared or 10,674,953 sqft.
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