Updated: Dec 26, 2022
(Image to be updated)
Andrei confronts Lloyd with a theory about the Second Prince.
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This edit is primarily based off of Thamalasca's original version of this chapter and includes some of her original editor's notes. So thank you Thamalasca for letting me re-edit this!
Episode 182. About 10 months (59)
Lloyd and Andrei were sitting opposite each other in Count Elias’s drawing room.
Wide-eyed, Lloyd stared at Andrei wondering what kind of nonsense was coming out of his mouth
“… Come again… Who is interested in whom?”
“Second Prince Kyle Amure… in my disciple. I’m saying that he sees your daughter as a woman, Count.”
The Count’s teacup stopped halfway up to his mouth.
"Haha. I’ve never heard anything so absurd… That rude, cold-blooded, bastard Prince? … In love with my daughter?
The Count scoffed at the notion.
"Haha. I know it's hard to believe. But I saw…!"
The Count shook his head in disbelief and clicked his tongue.
“Tut-tut, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Do you know what he did to our Tara? During the Sorbonne Wine Incident, he suddenly attacked my family and tried to punish Tara for so-called blasphemy while staying in my house. He would’ve had her whipped if she hadn't fainted.”
He continued, “Do you know what else he did? He was the one who sent Tara, who was supposed to enter the Ministry of Security, to a Military command post in the Durben Tripoint, which is a disputed area. What kind of man sends the woman he likes to a dangerous conflict zone?"
“Ah… At that time… He still…”
Lloyd continued heedless of Andrei’s words.
“And how hard did he make her work over there for her to come back half her original weight, a mere 7 months later? How much was she tormented and starved to come back so haggard?”
“That’s because my disciple was trying to lose weight and… Obviously he wasn't that interested in her back then…!”
Thoroughly furious, the Count banged on the table with his fist, cutting Andrei's words short.
“And do you know what happened next?” Lloyd asked resentfully.
Count Lloyd was implicitly demanding that Andrei drop the issue and just listen to his tirade.
"Haha. Count. Please calm down…”
“As soon as our Tara came back from Durben, he called her in as a witness for his investigation and interrogated her. In my view, the investigation was just a fancy pretext to imprison us for his own ends. And then, during the Hunting Contest he drew us in, and then coerced us into supporting the Talent Training System and allying with him without giving us a way out. Not to mention, in the process I almost fell off my horse and died. On top of all that, do you know what he whispered in my ear afterwards?! Argh!”
Lloyd, who was now roaring, saw Andrei's astonished expression, and suddenly realized he was getting a bit too worked up. He paused for a moment and gulped down some water.
“Apologies, I got carried away. Anyway, in the end, we had to side with him. So, our family has gained many enemies among the noble families. Not only that, but he promoted Tara to Second Aide in order to keep her hostage…"
"No… That's what my disciple wants all of you…”
Lloyd waved his hand at Andrei, unwilling to listen.
‘Do all parents lose their wits like this when their children are involved?' Andrei wondered.
"Ah! Of course, the Second Prince is very interested in our Tara. As you know, she inherited my intelligence. So, how could she not be fascinating to him? He does not deserve to notice what an outstanding woman she is because his pompous arrogance knows no bounds. I pity the woman that attracts the interest of such a person… But love her? I don’t think so. Besides, I’ve never heard of him showing any interest in a woman. Rumours about him abound during the day, but nothing comes of them at night. So, your hypothesis is preposterous!”
Getting worked up again; Lloyd tried to calm himself down by taking a deep breath and sipping some tea.
Andrei had a lot to say but didn't.
Come to think of it, there was some truth to Count Lloyd's words.
‘Am I wrong?'
He tilted his head.
‘If it wasn’t love, then what?'
It had to be. If the Second Prince's behaviour towards Tara wasn’t incited by romantic feelings, there was nothing else that could explain the subtle feelings he'd observed from him.
'Have I lost my edge? No, no. No way.'
He decided to give it another shot. He didn't want his findings to be buried like this.
After all, he was the head of the best intelligence organisation in the Empire. He had a reputation to uphold.
“Count. Some time has passed between the events that you speak of and now… Also, why else would the Second Prince personally come to see me to ask such in-depth questions about Tara?"
“You know. He's very thorough. If you decide to bring somebody in as a close assistant, you need to trust him or her and be able to entrust that person with your work. You would not want to foolishly appoint someone untrustworthy, so you would normally order an investigation, right? But he conducted it himself, directly!”
‘Huh? Was that all?’
"Ah… How can I say this? It just didn't feel like a normal background check…?"
“… So, what kind of questions did he ask?” Lloyd asked with obvious forced patience, as if he was still unconvinced but willing to humour Andrei anyway.
He took a moment to consider the questions the Second Prince had asked.
1. Did you warn Tara about the assassination at the Winter Forest Hunting Contest?
2. What do you think about Tara's constant entanglement with big events?
3. Do you think she has a chance of winning the Elias headship challenge?
4. How do you view House Stuart's interest in her?
Having recalled all of the questions, Andrei concluded that it was better not to tell Lloyd.
None of these were obvious questions a man would ask about a woman he was interested in.
At Lloyd's urging, Andrei smiled bashfully.
"Haha… Come to think of it, I think I misunderstood. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…"
Andrei's empty laughter resounded throughout the office.
After a while, the office became quiet.
“You can’t always be right. I understand."
Andrei’s image was shattered, but he persevered in trying to recover it.
“Rumours are circulating against the Second Prince. The whole Empire knows that Elias is now on the side of the Second Prince in earnest. So be prepared. I was originally going to tell Tara, but I didn’t know she would leave so quickly on a business trip.”
Lloyd's face hardened instantly when he heard the rumour.
"This… Is this some plot to stimulate the Emperor's anxiety and increase his vigilance against the Second Prince?"
"Yes. It is likely a trick, but once rooted, some rumours turn out to be true.”
“Does the Second Prince not already know? He also has an affiliated intelligence organisation."
“It’s possible, but if he knew, he should have already dispatched an investigation team. It seems that the information has not yet been delivered to him. Rumours that are not based on facts are sometimes filtered out during the information gathering process.”
“Ah… Then, what should I do…?”
"What do you want to do? Do you want to make a supportive statement? Do you want to take on some challenging responsibilities? Or… Do you want to test his capabilities?"
Andrei's eyes lit up under Lloyd's attentive expression.
“What is the difference between each of those three cases?”
“If you want to make a supportive statement, you have to be proactive. All you have to do is to inform the Second Prince’s palace of the rumour, then locate the source of the rumour. You would have to assess the damage that could be inflicted by the rumour and ways to manage it, then provide that to the Second Prince's Palace as well. Of course, you would have to achieve it all with the Elias family capital.”
“What if we want to take on more responsibility?”
“It's just a matter of playing to the right sides. You only need to let on that, certain rumours are circulating. And be very careful about it. You'd have to hide that this information came from the Elias family. That will make the aristocratic faction less restrained.”
“… And, if we want to see his abilities, we have to stay still.”
"Yeah. That's right. A lot of events will center around the Second Prince regardless. Now that we're leaning towards him, why not test whether he will be a worthy monarch? It's not a bad idea to simply observe the situation without getting involved. In this case, it is the most peaceful option as it does not require involvement with the other factions of nobility. What would you like to do?”
"I do not know. This is a serious matter, so I should consult the family first.”
“Yes. If my disciple returns quickly from her business trip, she will be a great help in reconciling the options.”
“I’ll wait… Only, there is one thing that bothers me.”
"What is it?"
“I am afraid that it will be of no use if the Second Prince learns this information before I discuss it with the family members, that is, before he returns from this business trip.”
“Waiting is also a possibility. Who knows which action will bring the best result? Whether you prefer to wait or get immediate benefits is entirely up to you as the Count."
Lloyd nodded slowly.
Observing Lloyd's face as he drank his tea, Andrei was sure he would wait. And that conviction was confirmed with Lloyd's next words.
"You have to be careful with things related to the palace. Especially for a powerless family like ours… So, we’ll wait."
"That's a good idea. Okay then."
Andrei had just said goodbye and was about to leave, but Lloyd hurriedly grabbed him.
“You are helping out a lot. If you tell me the amount you want, I will pay it.”
"Ah… Oh, my apologies. But, as your daughters’ teacher, I couldn't stand still on this issue. There will be many more things like this in the future. So, don't worry about all my hard work. Anyway, I don’t expect much from the current Elias family… But I know you’ll pay me back in the future. So, do your best. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha."
Lloyd, who saw Andrei out of the office after he displayed his exaggerated laugh, rubbed his temples.
“He’s saying that if the Second Prince becomes Emperor, he will ask for the payment in full. Then, Andrei is hoping that he will come back quickly... In that case, he thinks that the Second Prince has a chance of succeeding!”
Lloyd looked at the office door for a long time while immersed in thought. He mumbled unknowingly.
"I thought it was only a 50/50 chance…"