Updated: Jul 6
Fred answers Tara's question and the final pieces of Kyle's plan in the Central Provinces come to light.
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Episode 204. About 10 months (81)
"Am I allowed to pass judgement on your talent, Your Highness?"
Fred asked, turning to Kyle for permission.
“Didn’t you thoroughly evaluate me for the past year? There is no reason you can’t do so now in front of me."
Ah. He gave his permission, however his tone was quite harsh.
Fred blushed and laughed, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment.
“Haha. Yes, Your Highness. In that case, I, your humble servant, will explain myself.”
Fred looked at me and then began his calm explanation.
“I wanted to see what kind of talent His Highness was working with. I had never expressed such sentiments to him, however, His Highness understood my intentions and sent the Second Aide to me.”
Did that mean I was somehow the opposite of what he expected?
I nodded and continued listening to Fred.
"Honestly, I’ve considered that His Highness may recruit talented, low-status individuals before. However, recruiting female talents such as the Second Aide seems very unconventional to me."
"In what way?"
"It's possible to hire women as talents for the inner palace. However, His Highness is a high-ranking official with a great history before him. I've never considered having a woman as an advisor or as a person with whom one can discuss state affairs."
"That's why it's unexpected.”
"Yes. So far, there has been no precedent in court politics. Of course, some limited cases appear in the history books, however....”
"Indeed. They do appear."
"Oh! You've come across those historical records as well?"
The surprised admiration in Fred's voice made me feel somewhat indignant. It sounded like he was asking, 'You actually know about this?'.
Even Fred Berg seemed to have some unconscious prejudice against my status as a young woman.
Purposefully, I shrugged my shoulders lightly.
"I have my position for a reason."
Kyle nodded his head briefly as if my response was perfectly normal, then crossed his arms and leaned against the back of his chair.
For some reason, that action triggered a deep sense of reassurance, it meant he had faith in me.
“More than 150 years ago, the Emperor’s consul was a woman. However, before becoming a consul, she worked as a long-time assistant in the inner palace, and at age 60 was called upon by His Majesty the Emperor to serve as his consul. However, perhaps as a pity, it was recorded that she was mainly appointed to take care of the duties left by the recently deceased Empress rather than to consult on state affairs with the Emperor. At least, that's how it was recorded in the official annals, however, unofficial histories interpret it differently."*
"You know of that as well?"
Fred's eyes widened slightly.
"Yes. I am aware. I'm a literature enthusiast. The other version appears in a historical account called [The Unacknowledged History of the Modern Empire]. According to this record, she was actually a brilliant economist, and she had quite a bit of involvement in Imperial Court matters and finances. It is said she was called on by the Emperor quite frequently.”
She frowned slightly in response to his reaction, and continued her explanation.
“She was the first to point out the harmful effects of corruption among government officials, and led a large-scale campaign to subjugate the main nobles leading it. It was written that this issue affected almost a third of the Imperial finances at the time. Of course, thanks to this, the Toulouse family was granted their exclusive business dominance. I'm not entirely confident in its accuracy, since it’s an unofficial history, but I am also more inclined to believe it."
"90% of the story is true. However, the Toulouse family was not hand-picked for their position, they took it."
Kyle added casually.
Wow. Straight from a member of the Imperial family. An actual living witness.
Without realizing it, I lifted my thumb in response.
Then Kyle beckoned, gesturing me to go on. Fred ended up answering the command instead.
"Indeed. After that, women often occupied important administrative positions outside of the inner palace, however, none ever became the Emperor's consul. Nor has this been seen in the histories of neighbouring countries. This point aside, the Second Aide is still young. I have also heard the rumours that have been floating around. However, despite all that, His Highness was able to look past those things, see the Second Aide’s skills and recruit you as one of his talents. However..."
As if his throat suddenly felt dry, Fred paused to take a sip of his drink.
“However, I initially doubted your abilities. But those doubts were short-lived after you came to investigate me. I realized that after you saw through my disguise and demonstrated your ability to effectively leverage that knowledge to get the information you wanted. I thought, 'Ah….. As expected, the Second Prince’s people are truly exceptional!’. And that was what finally convinced me.”
After Fred Berg finished speaking, I glanced back at Prince Kyle.
I often thought myself that I was only able to be here because of the Second Prince.
Hearing my own thoughts reflected in someone else’s opinion, I was struck with a powerful realization that in the Empire it would be very difficult for the Second Prince to make the choices he did when it came to choosing his people.
Suddenly, I was curious.
As expected, the Second Prince was quick to catch on.
“I have a question I would like to ask.”
"In my humble opinion, all of Your Highness's choices have lacked common forms of prejudice. How have you been able to avoid that?"
At my question, Fred also leaned his upper body forwards as if he was also curious.
Kyle glanced between Fred's expression and mine and tapped the table with his index finger.
“This is an interrogation.”
"I would never, Your Hi-... No, Your Highness! As one of your subordinates intent on sharing Your Highness's place in history, I merely want to better understand your choices, that is the only intention behind...!"
"Do so in moderation!"
"Yes, Your Highness."
At his resolute tone, I quickly straightened my posture.
I heard Fred forcibly holding back a burst of laughter. I kept my eyes on him, silently telling him, 'Be serious, please!'.
Still intently shifting his gaze between me and Fred, Kyle slowly opened his mouth.
"Do you know what you can never afford to have when dealing with an enemy on a battlefield?"
Fred was able to reply in a matter of seconds.
"Prejudice… You think the answer is prejudice.”
"Yes. Prejudice invites misjudgment, and misjudgment costs people their lives. A leader’s biases are particularly poisonous. I learned this through experience, at the crossroads of life and death. That is how you survive a battle."
Fred and I nodded in unison. That was all that needed to be said.
He was able to learn open-mindedness, one of the most important human values, from his time on the battlefield.
It was a principle he'd risked his life to learn, and made him who he was today.
How many people in the Empire could claim to have the same mindset?
In addition, he was smart and was good at achieving the things he wanted.
Huh. I suppose God truly was biased.
After that there was some further discussion about basic preparations, then Fred departed.
As soon as Baron Fred left the drawing room, Kyle looked at me with a questioning look in his eyes, as if he had been waiting.
Ugh. That expression came out whenever he was suspicious. Damn it, what was it now?
"Your Highness? What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?"
True to form, Kyle's immediate follow-up question was wholly unexpected.
"That's how I learned it, but what about you? You also lack prejudice, unlike the rest of the Empire's aristocracy. It's not like you've ever been on the battlefield. You're a young woman from a noble family and until recently you confined yourself to your room for years. How did you learn this lesson?"
His commanding presence was less intense than before, but his sharp gaze remained.
As expected, you should never talk in front of this guy for too long. He had a remarkable ability to apply pressure whenever I let my guard down.
I shook my head quickly.
However, I didn't really need to linger on it much. As a victim of discrimination myself, I knew the feeling better than anyone else.
“..... I was the target of that prejudice. People who looked at my appearance without ever looking at my abilities. People who only ever saw my mother's origins. And through the books I spent those 7 years in my room reading I saw and experienced a lot of people who wasted their lives with those prejudices. That's how I came to know it. Through the pain of being a target of prejudice and being directly discriminated against.”**
"So you don't judge others recklessly because you know the pain of it?"
"Yes. I know how badly it hurts."
I forced myself to play it down and say it casually, but there was a hint of bitterness in my final words.
There was nothing else to add. Instead, he placed an untouched plate of carrot cake in front of me.
"Oh? I'm fine. I'm not the biggest fan of cake."
"Isn't your plate too clean for you to claim that?"
Well, I never saw him eating any.
"I didn't want it to go to waste."
"If you don't want to eat it….”
Then, within seconds, Kyle's long fingers began to pull the edge of the plate back towards himself.
"Oh! Well, uh. If you're not going to eat it, I'll eat it. It's not good practice to leave food uneaten! He he."
He shook his head in response to my words.
Either way, I ate the carrot cake. He leaned his chin on his hand and watched me curiously.
"Your Highness, why are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm proud of you."
"What? Proud of me? Why?"
"Those who are discriminated against for being weaker often try to return the pain they have suffered. Very few people I know think like you. It must have been difficult for you, but you did well in making it through that."
"Ha, ha. Yes. I learned a lot from it. Ha, ha. So please stop watching me. If you keep staring at me like that I'll get indigestion."
"Why should I?"
Because you’re staring at me with that handsome face!
“It makes me feel embarrassed when someone looks at me like that. Especially if that person is His Imperial Highness, the Second Prince of the Empire.”
"Is that so?" He said slowly with a smirk.
Ugh. Stop laughing.
Still, he did not divert his gaze. I stopped halfway through putting the cake in my mouth and furrowed my eyebrows at him.
Then, with a grin on his face, he pulled his gaze away.
Ugh... this man was incurably wicked.
I was finally able to savour the cake and think.
What exactly did he see in Fred Berg that made him value him so much? Why did he choose him as someone he wanted to include in his History?
He'd had his eye on him since a year ago.
I flipped over my slice of cake and asked him.
“There are two things that make him stand out from others. The first reason is that he, as an administrator, aims to improve the universal standard of living for the people of the Empire."
I nodded my head and eagerly cut into the slice of cake.
Kyle took turns looking between my fork and me.
“Why is this important?” he asked.
There was no easy way to say it. Damn.
Kyle pointed to the left side of my mouth and abruptly handed me a napkin. Then he frowned slightly.
‘Are you going to just keep eating without answering?', his gaze seemed to be asking.
His forehead furrowed again when I took the napkin and wiped the edge of my lips. Regardless, I answered, poking at the slice of cake.
Editor’s Notes -
I’m intrigued by way this series addresses the issue of gender roles and history in this section. This discussion of the female consul is really similar to how women’s history and other minority histories are often obscured in historical sources. Stuff like this has happened in the real world all the time. Women and minorities were overlooked by the historians of the time or previous historians ignored their true contributions and existence. Oops, my history buff side is showing… anyway…
* This paragraph was a mess and some of the info in here should be taken with a grain of salt. I did my best!
** I could write an entire analysis based on this. How prejudice has shaped both Kyle and Tara and how both view it differently. In fact I might do that at some point in the near future because I think it is a really interesting angle to discuss and tells you a lot about their characters!
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