Where Tara shows her intelligence and Kyle shows his hand and proposes the deal of a lifetime.
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Episode 131. About 10 months (8)
Beth lingered for a while with wide eyes, and then she was forced to go to my father.
After taking a short break, I sat down with him again.
There were several ways to suppress the power of the nobles and strengthen the Imperial power. Among them, there were two methods that I thought should be urgently introduced in the Empire.
I answered after reviewing the methods that came to my mind a few times.
"Your Highness, there are two ways to take advantage of this opportunity. I hope that one of the two is in line with your thoughts."
"What's the first one?"
"One is to send financial investigators from the palace to each noble family. This is a cornerstone for tax reform. We've never looked at the finances of a noble family in detail. So far, we've only recorded everything that each family reported first. Investigations will clearly increase taxes collection, and this strengthens the finances of the palace. There may be strong opposition, but we don't know when we can proceed with this discussion unless it is now."
"What about the other one?”
"It's institutionalization of the talent selection. So far, it has been conducted in a variety of ways when necessary. The selection of talent is made with potential and abilities in mind, but I heard that the Toulouse Family and other aristocrats oversee the process and selection. Is that right?”*
"That's right. Keep going.”
"So institutionalizing talent selection puts talent training, which is monopolized by the Toulouse and the House of Lords, within the Imperial Court system. The chosen talent no longer uses connections and bribes but enters the palace fair and square. They will be a valuable resource for the Palace afterwards. It's also questionable when we'll be able to make another public statement, if not now while the Toulouse Family is weakened."
Silence reigned in the office for a moment.
After I finished talking, I was thirsty and drank water again. Soon I started to feel hungry, maybe that was why the sandwich in front of me looked so delicious as I lifted it up.
After taking a bite, I thought it was okay to dare to eat food in front of the Prince, though I was expecting a rebuff of some sort.
But he wasn't looking at me, he was pulling out the paperwork next to him and quickly looking through it.
What, did he not listen to me?
I almost pouted when I thought about it, but I was mistaken.
He handed me the documents he’d been perusing.
"It's a draft. I'll give you a chance to look at it and sign on the first box. Talk to the Count after you've seen enough today. It is to be announced at the mid-term banquet, it should not be mentioned before that."
"You have already drafted it?"
I took a bite of the sandwich in admiration.
"Yes, this will be the first cornerstone on which to lay the foundation of my history."
I choked as a bite of sandwich got stuck in my throat, nearly killing me.
"You must have been hungry."
"No, Your Highness. I was surprised because you spoke so suddenly."
This guy didn't have a middle ground. I asked him to show me hihs intentions... It was all out in the open. I asked you to, but I was still speechless.
"Well, didn't you ask me to show you everything? I did. Why, are you scared?"
I wanted to wipe the sweat off my forehead, but I put up with it. I was scared for a while, but I didn't want to show it. No. Was I obvious?
"The... Really. I was just eating. Well, I dare to look at your first cornerstone."
Inwardly, I took a slow, deep breath and carefully read the papers he had handed out so as not to miss a single piece of information.
- Draft Talent Training System -
Paragraph 1, Human resources needed by the Empire are only recruited by the Personnel Administration, an independent institution from the Imperial Palace.
Paragraph 2. All positions are divided into a total of 15 offices.
Paragraph 3. The exam is held twice a year, and the selection is divided into 1st and 2nd rounds, only after passing the 1st round, is the candidate eligible to take the 2nd round.
Paragraph 4. Qualifications to take the exam are not subjected to status, but there are reasons for disqualification.
Paragraph 5. Letters of recommendation from Families are excluded.
Paragraph 15. All test contents will be disclosed collectively after the exam. Scores and rankings will also be disclosed accurately.
After reading it through once, I read it twice more and put it down.
"There will be backlash, correct?"
"It would be strange if there wasn’t."
"This draft is written under your name, isn’t it?”
Putting up with the backlash meant that he was confident in getting it to pass.
"There is something I would like to ask about."
"Why did you think of this system?"
"... Are you curious about my political views?"
"Yes, I’d like to know."
“The purpose of this system is to balance power. In addition, it is to aim for a rich and powerful Empire through a fair society."
"What if it deteriorates later?"
“No system is perfect. We must always monitor and keep in check. In addition, the system should be continuously refined and settled with deterioration in mind. It feels like I'm being tested... So, that’s the feeling… What do you think? Was it a satisfactory answer?"
Well, couldn't he take a test? He asked me things out of the blue every time…
Ha… Why did God give this bastard superior intellect, drive, judgement, and roguishness?
Seeing him smile, I was certain. If he becomes the next Emperor without a hitch, the Ocerian Empire will take a leap forward and become quite stable.
"Hmm. I'm asking because I'm really curious. Why do you keep trying to make House Elias your ally? There are many better families...”
"I think they're one of the best families to join my path."
"The answer will come out if you think about it for a bit. Your family has a fairly large business. The capital is strong."
"Oh, you’re choosing us because we're merchants?"
"Why? Do you think it means? I'm not the type to sit back quietly and let others do the work. I need capital to covet power. Nevertheless, I have some conscience and do not want to steal from the citizens of the Empire. Therefore, House Elias is a very suitable family for me."
"Is that all?"
"Of course not. With the fairly high title of Count, he can set an example for the lower aristocrats. I made this choice with the goal of having the lower rank families side with me, by following House Elias.”
"Is there anything else?”
"There's the advantage of it being one of the few neutral families. Neither aristocratic, who are unconditionally opposed to the opinions of the Imperial Family, nor royalists. Therefore, public opinion will deduce that the choice House Elias makes, must be a reasonable one, considering that I have even persuaded the famously neutral House Elias to join me.”
"Count Spencer, Count Battenbir, and Duke Stuart remain neutral."
“Their families aren’t suitable in this case. I'm sure you know that."
Yes, Count Spencer is of Imperial descent, but he hasn't been on the political front line for quite a while and hasn’t been able to. He was old, and he had his heir late in life so, he was too young. Of course, he didn’t participate in the Hunting Contest either.
Duke Stuart was only claiming to be neutral. All the Empire’s nobles knew that he sided with the aristocracy.
Count Battenbir was at the head of the 3rd ranking Family of the Empire, but he recently died screaming on his way back from the desert country, causing a family struggle for succession. Of course, they couldn't attend this Hunting Contest.
"Your Highness, this is only good for you, not for our family. The aristocracy will agree with this system at first, then they will criticize us. We would be considered traitors.”
"Do you think it's a loss for Elias?"
"Yes, absolutely! Since you're using us, why don’t you use your cousin and your brother-in-law's family as well?"
“Did I ever say it was a loss?"
"... Oh my god!"
I gaped, dumbfounded. He continued, unfazed, with his usual poise.
It was unfavourable to our family, no matter who heard it...
‘Should I kill him already?’ I thought with murderous intent.
"Are you only taking immediate losses into account? Did you forget that I said this was the first cornerstone of my history? Well, did you?”
I shut my mouth with a click, vaguely thinking.
Perhaps the Second Prince will become the next Emperor. Actually, he has the highest probability, but thinking it and stating it are two very different things.
Listening to him, you know without a single doubt or hesitation that he thinks the positions of Crown Prince and future Emperor are his.
Some might say arrogance, and some might dismiss it as nonsense, but the Prince before me was very thorough in his calculations.
Therefore, he must have a massive simulation in his head to become the Emperor.
So, what he asserted was almost done.
I finally gulped.
"Where do you think House Elias is going to be by the time this system is settled without siding with me?” He asked and waited a moment for my answer.
"We would be no different than we are now.”
"Yes. However, starting with this choice today, your family will be the one to lead the Empire by my side."
It was all or nothing...
"Tell it to the Count as it is. This is my last offer and a never-before-seen opportunity. After today, I will never reach out to House Elias again. Of course, that goes for you as well.”
Damn it, why do I always have a series of thin ice choices every time? Why? Why?
I was angry, but I couldn't even get angry. This man was a Prince, and I was just a noble girl and an Aide who had just been offered a risky pledge deal by this guy.
Now I had to choose. What was in my and my family’s favour.
On the one hand, if we stepped out of this deal, my family may no longer be offered to become the Second Prince’s entourage, but we wouldn't be involved in the next battle for the throne.
But we were still associated with His Majesty, and my brothers and sisters were working in the Palace. And I still had no clue who was involved in our future demise.
On top of that I won't be able to become a close aide anymore. I may permanently rot in the Aide’s office, or I may be assigned elsewhere, forever far away from the Palace.
On the other hand, if the Second Prince held out his hand today, this choice meant we would be caught in the middle of the battle for the throne in the future.
Neutrality would be broken and confrontation with the aristocratic faction would be established in earnest.
I could also see how my siblings become involved with treason from a better position.
The time left, if my prediction is correct, is about 10 months. I just have to endure it for a while.
There was really only one choice for my family and I.
I would just check on one thing. I was going to ask the question that had a fixed answer.
"It's all good. Your Highness, let me ask you just one question. Is the beginning of your history bloodless or bloody?"
"You're asking for an obvious answer. Still, if you want me to hear directly from me, I'll tell you. Of course, it'll be bloodless."
I closed my eyes tightly and opened them.
"… There will be bloodshed if necessary.”
"Can you promise there will be as little bloodshed as possible?"
You... Are you an ambitious man now?**
*I stumbled upon a difficult part here. The original sentence was: 'The selection of talent is made by Hwang Myung.' Hwang Myung was Korean poet that explored historical themes and the possibility of finding hope in a society laid waste and mired in despair in the aftermath of the Korean War. Through poems like "Bunsu" Hwang sought to recover and rekindle a sense of inner strength and hope for the Korean people. So, seeing the next sentence that states that the Nobles and the Toulouse family oversee the process and the selection, it appeared to me that “inner strength” and “hope” were the main components to go against the nobles who would do selections by nepotism or bribes regardless of the real needs and talents of the state. And thus, you have my interpretation. Please take this with a massive grain of salt…
** Here Tara refers to Kyle as 단-호박 which directly translates to 'sweet pumpkin' but is slang for a very competent, assertive person. Slang can be weird y'all…