The Second banquet begins and the Emperor makes a consequential announcement.
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Episode 128. About 10 months (5)
It wasn't until 5:00 PM, after Nick's shift change, that I was able to get off work.
"Are you attending the banquet? Whew. I was going to attend, but I'm so tired. I've been standing in one place all day, and I thought I was going to go crazy. You have no idea how worried I was standing next to His Majesty, thinking that the muscles I use to run across the battlefield will stiffen and eventually disappear! Anyway, today's banquet is also the first banquet of the Hunting Contest, and it's a gathering of promising young men and women from aristocratic families across the Empire, so I can't afford to miss it. Of course, my brother is attending on behalf of the Bright family, however that doesn't mean I can't attend at a different time. Hahahaha, right?"
Whoa... How many pieces of information did he include in that one breath?
I closed my eyes tightly, then quickly opened them and responded.
“I am not going to attend the banquet. The Commander's muscles have been built over a long period of time so it’s highly unlikely they will atrophy during this assignment. Even if your brother is going to represent the Bright family, you, Sir, are the leader of the Imperial Phoenix Knights, and your presence will make the Bright family stand out even more prominently. So I think you should attend the banquet this evening.”
I spun around to leave after my quick answer, but after feeling his penetrating gaze drilling into the back of my head, I slowly turned around again, wondering what I had done wrong.
And then I saw it. The corners of Commander Nick's eyes were wet.
I faltered and unconsciously took a step back.
"Why–why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're the first person who listened to me so seriously and responded back, Third Aide!"
I took another step back.
"Then I'll take my leave!"
I quickly turned around and walked away. Commander Nick shouted from behind me, the echo of his words hitting me in the back.
"Get some rest today! Don't get sick! If you're sick, you can't assist me! Eat a lot of delicious food! I'll see you tomorrow, Third Aide! Ahahahahaha!"
The Banquet Hall, evening.
The banquet began with a fireworks display in front of Tandra mansion.
The orchestra, which had been brought in from the Palace, began to play, and groups of nobles flowed into the Grand Banquet Hall of Tandra one after another.
Soon afterwards, the Imperial family entered the ballroom, however, Prince Kyle’s seat remained empty. He was busy completing final inspections before the next day's hunt. All of the members of the Imperial family, except for Kyle, were present, including the First Prince, who was currently awaiting his trial.
Under the pretense of submission, the Duke of Toulouse had requested a favor of the Emperor. [… In return for dedicating the forest, all direct members of the Imperial family should attend to strengthen the harmony between the Imperial family and the aristocracy.]
The presence of the 1st Prince had been facilitated by Empress Vivian's visit to the Emperor, where she had bowed her head in apology in public.
“I am honored you have allowed this disgraced Prince to attend, Your Majesty the Emperor.”
The First Prince stood in front of the Emperor and bowed deeply in greeting.
“Today is a meeting of harmony, so we shall forget about your mistakes for a moment. Although you are awaiting your trial, you are still the First Prince."
Seeing the First Prince's unsightly tears, the Emperor gestured as if to say, 'Stop. Leave.' The Empress hurriedly got up from her seat and held out her handkerchief to the Prince.
'As expected, the 1st Prince knows how to admit his faults.'
'The 1st Prince's virtue is truly exceptional since he is so willing to lower himself and ask for forgiveness.'
A flurry of flattering remarks emerged around Empress Vivian.
Joseph, who had been observing the two of them, quickly approached with a smile on his face and led the First Prince to their seats.
As the Imperial family took their seats, each noble family introduced themselves one after another. The introductions proceeded in order of noble rank, starting with Dukes and proceeding down to lesser nobility, with each family briefly offering gratitude to the Imperial family for their invitation.
When the music, which had fallen into a lull, changed to a tune for dancing, the centre of the Grand Banquet Hall filled with pairs of men and women.
Time passed and soon it was already 8 PM. Kyle entered the banquet hall, having taken off his uniform and changed into simple black banquet attire.
When the Second Prince entered, the eyes of many nobles were drawn to him.
'Isn't this the first private banquet he's attended?'
'I was surprised when I heard he was put in charge of the Hunting Contest.'
'I thought about working for his department once, but I hear he's quite a difficult boss.'
'Tsk, you have no idea. It's a tough decision to work there. There's no way to get a good position from the start. Furthermore, if you work under the 2nd Prince it means you'll never be able to work for the Toulouse family ever again. So it's no use even considering.'
These whispers originated from groups of young noblemen.
'His eyes must be so sharp from the time he's spent on the battlefield.'
'This time Toulouse has really managed to catch him by the ankle, and now he's completely at the mercy of Toulouse and their allies.'
'It was good while it lasted. Haha.'
'Shh. You don't know who could be listening. Anyway, if you look at his skills, he's quite good.'
These opinions came from members of the anti-Toulouse faction.
'I didn't like him from the first moment I saw those vicious eyes of his.'
'We should have nipped him in the bud much earlier.'
'I know. Now he has the gall to appear at public events like this.'
'I only left the Military and Security departments to him because I didn't care as long as he kept out of Palace affairs...’
Those were the opinions of the Toulouse faction.
'Ah... It's my first time seeing him out of a uniform. Of course, he looks great in uniform as well, but...'
'Who will be the lucky lady who gets to be married to him?'
'Hmm. Will there even be a lady willing to marry him? According to my parents, Toulouse has thoroughly hindered him this time... Hmmm. If only he wasn't illegitimate.'
'True. It would be a thorny path, standing next to the Second Prince.'
'… Don't you want to try? Even if it does mean being stabbed by a few thorns? I have a feeling that somehow I might be immune to thorns.'
Such were the remarks of the young noble ladies.
Kyle sat on his chair and tried to endure the monotony. It hadn't been even 30 minutes since he’d first sat down, but he could hardly wait to escape.
After about ten more minutes, Kyle reached the conclusion he no longer needed to be here.
After all, the most important banquet was the second banquet, not this one. As if he had read Kyle's mind, the Emperor raised his hand and the orchestra immediately stopped playing. The Emperor continued to the next part of the celebration.
“I, the Emperor, have devised a special event for the nobles of the Empire who have come from afar to attend. I've dubbed it an opportunity for future heirs to acquaint themselves with the Princes. Ha ha ha ha ha. There is nothing more beneficial for the Prince who will lead the future of the Empire and the nobles who will help create that future to have plenty of opportunities to meet. Yes, let's do that. Ha ha ha ha ha."
To paraphrase the euphemistic meaning of the order, ‘Watch everyone. Now all three Princes have the same opportunity. One of them will be the next Crown Prince and the next Emperor. So create your connections wisely.'
That was what Emperor was implying.
The hall buzzed with commotion.
‘Oh my God, not only did he demote the First Prince, now he's letting the Second Prince qualify for the position of Crown Prince!'
In other words, the Second Prince, who had only garnered interest behind the scenes until now, and the First Prince, who had never been officially designated as the Crown Prince, could now compete for the position on the same terms.
The position of Crown Prince, which had previously been limited to the 1st Prince, had been officially expanded to potentially allow the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Prince to take it.
The Empress gripped the armrest of her throne, while the Duke of Toulouse, who was watching from afar, clenched his fists so tightly that his nails imprinted themselves on his palms.
Joseph could easily read the 1st Prince's wordless expression.
"Brother, I'll help you from the sidelines. Don't despair."
A small hint of relief appeared in the eyes of the First Prince, who glanced at Joseph with a mournful expression, and then the emotion disappeared.
"Of course. You just have to do what you’ve always done. Kyle is the true obstacle."
The Palace herald gazed over the tumultuous banquet hall and thumped his sceptre on the floor.
"I, the Emperor, officially begin the greetings between the Princes and future noble heirs. Please proceed slowly to the foot of the podium."
Hans stood next to Joseph and whispered in his ear.
"… Have you memorized all the information I sent to you in advance, Your Highness?"
"Of course, I handled it. However, it was a bit excessive."
"But the young noblemen and ladies will be impressed."
"Yes, yes. I had no idea it would work out this way, but I'm glad. Whew."
As the three Princes stood in front of the podium, the young noblemen and ladies representing each family lined up to shake hands with them.
Walter watched the ceremony with an aggrieved expression. “… Your Highness, just smile a little. Just a little. If you do that everyone will fall for you... Ugh."
The First Prince, standing at the front, greeted the nobles with a far calm and more polite air than earlier, perhaps because he was conscious of the Emperor watching, or because the Empress and the Duke of Toulouse had asked it of him.
Kyle was standing in the middle and greeted each person briefly, trying to learn teach face, before moving on to the next young heir. Then, he soon noticed something odd. His gaze went straight to the Third Prince.
'… He knows every detail about all of them.'
The 3rd Prince knew the names of most of those who came to greet him, and knew the problems facing each individual family.
Kyle also knew most of the names and stories of the nobles he shook hands with, but he didn't dare to voice any of it.
While Joseph called each person by name and asked how they were doing as if he had also been keeping up with their personal family affairs.
'Hmm. Is he making a move?'
Kyle paused greeting nobles for a moment, then quietly issued an order to Walter, who stood behind him.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
“Report in detail on the movements of the Third Prince during the Hunting Contest.”
"Yes, Your Highness."
Since he was making a move now, Kyle assumed his intentions would be revealed soon, but he couldn't be sure exactly when.
Kyle didn't hide his grin.
'This is getting more and more interesting.'
Just when Kyle thought things were slowing down, someone appeared who piqued his interest.
"I’m Theodore, the second son of the Stuart family and the Viscount of Morgana. I come to greet the future of the Empire."
He knew this man well, but this was his first time seeing him in person. He looked very composed, and his blue eyes left a strong impression.
Kyle ended the handshake and stared at his face for a moment, he opened his mouth, his words a beat late.
"I heard you turned down a Palace appointment."
"Oh. I see you’re aware of that. I’ve only put it on hold for a while, so I may broaden my academic horizons. I’m still lacking after all."
“That's a good attitude.”
"Thank you for your generous compliment."
"During this Hunting Contest...”
After a few seconds passed and no further words followed, Theodore was left puzzled. He glanced carefully at the Prince's expression.
"Nothing. Until next time."
"Yes, Your Highness."
He was sure the Prince had wanted to say something, but he decided to close his mouth. Theodore bowed lightly and turned towards the Third Prince, tilting his head.
Oddly, he had a sensation that Prince Kyle was still watching him, but when he turned his head slightly and looked, the Second Prince was busy dealing with other nobles.
'Was I just seeing things?'
Theodore shook his head and waited in front of the Third Prince.
Kyle's prediction that the banquet would be finished around 9 p.m. turned out to be quite inaccurate because the nobles wound up lingering around the three Princes for a long time.
As a result, it was 11 PM when Kyle finally left the banquet, and around 11:10 PM when he arrived at his personal quarters.
As he warmed up his stiff neck muscles and entered the temporary office attached to his suite, Kyle laughed again at an unexpected sight.
"Huh. How can she be so carefree...”
She was asleep on the sofa. The top two buttons of her uniform had been undone, likely because the office was warm from the fireplace, and she was slumped against the armrest of the sofa, her head resting on top of her hand.
Editor's Notes -
A lot of this chapter did not play nice!
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