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Kyle struggles to hold it together and help Tara, while Helen and Theo respond to a surprise invitation.
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Episode 180. About 10 months (57)
"Because I was in the cave, I was relieved and after running for a long time, I suddenly felt tired..."
But the words didn't stop.
"And then… It rained suddenly, and I was nervous because it was my first business trip… Your Highness was in battle, and seemed very calm...!”
At Kyle's low, determined tone, she finally stopped making excuses.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Her gaze, which had been fixed on her stiff hands twisted in her skirt, moved to focus on him.
"It's an outdoor business trip. It's still January. If you were experiencing such severe aftereffects, you should have told me earlier!"
"Oh.... That's... I."
He was angry at this situation.
At the sudden battle, at the torrential rain that came along with it. At this woman, who followed him on this business trip despite knowing that she was still suffering aftereffects! And at himself, who allowed her to come on this trip in the first place. He was furious at all of it.
He felt the same anger and helplessness he had when he heard that she had injured her hand during the Hunting Contest and saw her sitting there in the barracks. But now he felt even more bleak and helpless than he had then.
Even now, after some time had passed, he still couldn't anticipate Tara's well-being and was powerless to do anything about it.
In his head, the possibilities of what could happen to her, the variables he couldn’t control, cycled through his head endlessly, appearing and disappearing just as quickly, over and over again.
His spiralling emotions. His building regrets. And her firm rejection of his feelings. All of these emotions mixed and dominated him.
He had been feeling a sense of helplessness recently that he hadn't felt since he entered the palace and vowed his revenge.
Because of this woman sitting in front of him.
‘If I had acted earlier when giving her the neutralizer plant...'
But he knew why he hadn't, all too well. At that time, he had no idea how strong his feelings for her would become. His fury increased.
‘No… I might be able to help her now. Calm down, Kyle.'
Kyle took a slow, deep breath, and controlled his emotions.
"I was careless because I was feeling much better, Your Highness."
“Sometimes even a healthy person cannot tolerate something like this. But in your state, how could you follow me so recklessly?"
His tone was harsh, and his expression, which flickered in the firelight, appeared glacially cold. I hastily stretched my hands out and waved them defensively.
"Your Highness. It is not that severe. Ha… Almost all of the aftereffects have decreased, and of course, not all of them have improved, but that doesn't mean I can't do my job. The family doctor said that compared to other young girls, I have very good physique, so after about 6 months, the aftereffects should all disappear. You know that I've been training for a long time with an axe. I can't say for sure, but I may be the most muscular young lady in the Empire. Hehe."
“You are laughing at a time like this?”
I straightened my posture at the Prince's tone of command, and his forehead wrinkled in response.
"Ah. I must’ve been foolish, Your Highness. I just couldn't prepare because I didn't know it would rain like this. This is a very temporary situation caused by some unforeseen variables.”
Kyle pulled his hand off my shoulders and slowly rose from his seat. And then he looked down at me with a stiff expression.
“Tara Elias, Second Aide.”
Oh, man. He even called me by my full name and position.
An alarm bell screamed in my head. I swallowed, and kept my gaze closely concentrated on him.
"Yes, Your Highness."
“What would have happened if some of the remaining bandits came in here while you were asleep?”
"Your Highness was here...!"
I stopped speaking and quickly covered my mouth with both hands.
It was a very frivolous answer.
Of course, because I believed in the capabilities of the Second Prince, I thought such a thing could never happen.
That should have been more reassuring. Come to think of it, this could have been a truly terrible situation.
Just as Kyle said, what would have happened if there had been bandits hiding in the cave?
I could have been killed immediately while defenceless, I could have been dragged away and tortured, I could have been forced to reveal everything I knew about the Second Prince, or I could have been a made a hostage and negotiation tool.
This wasn’t the Republic of Korea where laws were consistently enforced, there were no CCTV cameras installed anywhere, and it wasn't safe from crime.
As the full realization of the danger I had been in swept over me, my vision grew dark and dizzy at the edges.
I slowly got up from my seat. I still felt dizzy, but it was tolerable. I just had to put up with it.
“I was imprudent, Your Highness. I didn't even think about that until now."
"As the Second Aide said earlier, there are variables to everything. Your physical condition is also a variable. How can you fulfil your responsibilities if you endanger your party at every turn by failing to manage your own physical health?"
"I will write a letter of apology as soon as I get back. And will be more careful to avoid this ever happening again."
"... You will also write a report. In great detail. This will also be reflected in your promotion results."
Ugh, my promotion...
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Stop getting up. Your first priority is to get well soon."
It felt as if his anger had eased now. I breathed an internal sigh of relief.
"Yes... Your Highness."
I slid back down against the cave wall. Perhaps because of the wet clothes clinging to my whole body, I couldn't feel any warmth even when I rubbed my shoulders with my hands.
"How bad is it? Your condition now."
"Well... I'm a little dizzy, low energy, and cold, but I can still move around well enough."
Kyle strode towards his horse. Kyle and Walter's horses were brought into the cave before the rain fell so they were dry. He took a blanket out of his horse's saddle bag and walked towards me.
"I'll help cover you with this so you can take off your clothes.
I jerked my head up in surprise.
You'll do what with my clothes? … What do you mean, you bastard?
The first place the Elias messenger reached was the Duke of Stuart’s residence.
"House Stuart is the only family that Lady Tara invited personally, Grand Duchess."
"Oh, really? So that brazen thing dares play with people's heartfelt desires like this!"
It was last Friday evening when she received a telegram from Tara apologizing for being forced to cancel her regular visit due to an urgent business trip.
It had felt good, like a kind of consideration she had not felt in a long time, but that freshness had not offset the accompanying dissatisfaction.
However, that discontentment was immediately dispersed by the invitation delivered by the Elias family messenger.
It was amazing.
Helen tilted her head, contemplating how odd it was that an invitation from a young noble girl had become the source of such genuine excitement.
Nevertheless, Helen was delighted to hear that the Stuarts were the only ones to receive a personal invitation to the party. She set out to find her grandson with lighter footsteps than ever before.
“I'm sure he'll be in the study.”
As she expected, her handsome grandson was sitting in his study reading the newspaper.
“What article are you reading that makes you so serious?”
"Ah! You're here. I was reading because there was something interesting."
"What kind of..."
Theo silently rolled out the newspaper and spread it out neatly in front of her.
It was a business article from the Imperial Palace Daily titled - [The 2nd Prince, who drafted the outline of the Talent Training System - Will his proposed system, which was traded in exchange for holding the Crown Princess Selection, be settled without incident?]
“I thought he was pushing it too hard, but he had a plan.”
“Politics are like that. He's making moves to gain support. Still, there were a lot of complaints from the Phillipe family. It is said that the power of the Second Prince is gradually increasing... House Elias has also joined hands with him. To think that my student, who expressed such a desire for neutrality, would make such a choice."
"How do you view the Second Prince?"
"In terms of character, he's a good person… I don't think there is a more talented person in the Empire when it comes to leading the army and waging war. But that's not enough to succeed in politics, especially with his kind of attitude."
"Why do you think that is?"
“He's too rigid. Even though he has many enemies, he does not bend, so the Second Prince is a figure who creates new enemies where they do not previously exist. Of course, this deal is a bit unexpected, but I don't expect him to change his course so easily."
"Isn't that what he'll have to do now, become a politician?"
"Well, that's possible, but we'll have to wait and see."
"House Elias' recent decision seems to have been largely influenced by the Dragon Fruit incident."
“Hmmm... The Hunting Contest also played a part. Didn't the Second Prince save Lloyd from falling off his horse? Are you questioning it after seeing my student go out of his way to keep the Prince’s faith?”
"... The Earl of Elias is famous for being clumsy, but he was also my grandmother's student. Therefore, he must have a good reason to change his neutral stance. Don't you think so?"
“Once upon a time, Lloyd’s nickname was ‘Loach’. How much would you be willing to bet that a family would be able to maintain their position as one of the top 5 in the Empire without ingratiating themselves in political circles? The choice he made was an inevitable one that was required for the Elias family to rise through the ranks.”*
After letting out a short exclamation, Theodore asked carefully.
"Everyone believes that our family implicitly supports Toulouse. Father often visits the Toulouse family these days. Do you agree, grandmother?"
"Visiting them occasionally is useful, is it not? This is by no means an urgent decision to make. We have to wait and see. Not yet..."
"When you say, 'not yet'. Do you mean only once the positions of the First and Third Princes have been decided?"
"Yes, well, anyone could easily choose at that time. That's the safe choice. Depending on the family's situation, it may be appropriate for the timing to change… But why are you suddenly interested in this, Theo?"
"I'm curious. What will happen to the Second Prince?"
Helen smiled faintly at her grandson, who spoke with a new spark in his eyes. He always lived like water, flowing from one thing to the next without a goal.
‘He’s definitely changed after meeting Tara a few times!'
Helen smiled pleasantly, as she laid the invitation on the desk.
"This is an invitation from House Elias. It was sent by Tara herself, saying she was sorry for suddenly cancelling her visit due to a business trip."
Picking up the invitation, Theodore smiled with genuine delight.
"Her birthday is this Sunday."
"I didn't know that."
Opening the invitation, Theodore frowned as if displeased.
* A loach/mudfish, is a "very slippery freshwater fish with long whiskers", so basically this nickname implies Lloyd is seen as a slippery player in the world of politics/business.