Hans and Joseph reveal their intentions to the Duke, Tara goes on an outing, and we discover what Andrei has been up to.
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Episode 255. About 9 months (14)
Hans shrugged as if it was no big deal.
"There's an interesting person in the Elias family."
"The first aide the Second Prince has ever allowed by his side, the fat young lady."
"Is that the same young woman the Emperor talked to at the banquet after the hunt? She didn't seem very fat... What about her?"
"She became his closest confidante in a short period of time, so I thought she might have a deep relationship with the Second Prince. I thought I'd try to do something. But since the Second Prince is moving fast, we have to move quickly as well, hahaha."
"... Has everything you've planned so far gone according to your wishes?"
The Duke's question made Joseph, who was in the middle of lifting his teacup, burst out laughing.
For a moment, Hans's expression withered, but then he smiled nonchalantly as if nothing had happened.
"The 2nd Prince was lucky. There were times when things went wrong, but it wasn't a big deal. Crucially, he still hasn't caught onto me yet."
"It sounds like a lot of things didn't go your way."
"... Not to the point of derailing the larger goal. Perhaps the Second Prince has had a change of heart because of the games I've been playing. Or perhaps the rumour incident has made him impatient."
At Hans's words, Joseph cleared his throat with a 'hmmm', and then changed the subject.
"What kind of extraordinary luck does that man have? He came back from a near-death experience in that seaside village, and on top of that, was even able to become the Second Prince of the Empire... By the way, I can't believe that Franz’s aide did such a sloppy job. If he hadn't been caught, the whole Empire would have been in an uproar with the rumours spreading far and wide. Hmph. It's a shame, isn't it, Uncle?"
The Duke neither affirmed nor denied Joseph’s words. Or rather, he was incapable of it. His head felt jumbled and dizzy, but one thing was clear to him.
Joseph had been keeping his claws carefully hidden while preparing things behind the scenes, and he was now intent on fully showing them.
He had been expecting the Second Prince to gather more power and challenge for the throne, but he was also advancing his ambitions sooner than expected.
All to the disadvantage of Franz, who was currently being backed by House Toulouse.
"The Second Prince is moving fast, and we can't afford to stand still."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Preparations have already been in place for a long time. As long as Your Grace is willing to lend a hand."
The Duke's gaze went directly to Joseph's at Hans's words.
"... Do you realize the implications of what your man is saying, Your Highness?"
Joseph replied sharply, "It means that from now on, the House of Lords, led by the House of Toulouse, must choose me to be the next Emperor, Uncle!"
There was a moment of heavy silence.
"I know it's sudden. But, Your Grace, if you think about it for a moment you'll realize that the only Imperial family member worthy of becoming the next Emperor is the one sitting in front of you, His Highness the Third Prince. And that will happen quite soon."
"Is it... really that easy?"
"He's a legitimate prince with the support of the nobility. And if he's the only option, he'll naturally ascend to the throne."
"I understand the 1st Prince's trial is happening tomorrow morning, the 21st, so you need not worry about him."
"It seems like he will be trying to get an acquittal."
Despite the Duke's heavy implication, Hans continued to smile good-naturedly.
"Haha. He wishes he could, but there are people watching. You could ensure he only ends up paying a fine."
"Tsk tsk. It's not like I haven't thought about buying a judge, I just won't do it because the Emperor is paying close attention to this trial."
Hans smirked and shook his head at the Duke's words, laughing. As if to say the Duke didn't know nearly as much as he thought he did.
"The first attempt, tomorrow's trial, will observe all necessary formalities. The outcome will not be favorable, so the 1st Prince will appeal immediately. There will be a second trial six months from now, and then a fine will be issued."
"Will the Emperor's interest disappear after six months?"
"Perhaps by then the Emperor won’t, or rather, will be unable to, care about the trial."
With those words, Hans slowly raised his teacup, stared at the Duke, and slurped his tea.
And in his eyes, the Duke saw a gleam of intense ambition overflowing from his gaze.
Afternoon, the Capital city.
For the first time in a long time, I took the Elias Family carriage to the center of the Capital. A message had arrived from Duchess Helen Stuart this morning requesting that we spend four hours together today.
Beth, who had agreed to rendezvous with me after my self-defence lesson, was dropped off halfway, and Bernard rode beside me on horseback escorting the carriage alongside four bodyguards.
After my birthday, my father had assigned the four bodyguards and ordered me to travel with all of them whenever I went out.
It was a bit of a hassle, but after the events of my birthday I understood and accepted his request.
I stretched and looked out the carriage window. The day was clear and the streets of the Capital were bustling with life in full bloom.
Then the carriage stopped and Bernard opened the door.
"We're almost there, I'm going to stop by a blacksmith's shop and come back."
I walked down the carriage steps and jumped to the ground with a flourish.
"Of course, take your time... Huh?"
I was about to take a step toward the teahouse named [Where's Your Teahouse?], which was located right next to the office of the The Imperial Daily newspaper, when I stopped.
"The singing... Do you hear it?"
I turned my head in the direction of the sound.
"... Aaah...That nursery rhyme, I hear it. Peter often sings it when we train, so I'm used to it. Peter said it's a favorite among the children because the lyrics are fun."
"Yes, it’s an interesting song."
The children humming the song gradually walked over to where I was standing.
[Oh ho, where did the kid mercenaries go?
Off to the vegetable farm we go.
There were two mistakes the mercenary kids made!
They cut the cucumber into a long thin peel,
and rolled the pumpkin into a wheel!
The cucumber peel made them really mad!
And the big pumpkin laughed happy and glad!
The Kid Mercenaries made two mistakes!
The Kid Mercenaries made two mistakes!
The Kid Mercenaries made a funny mistake!]
"This is the vegetable version, but the animal version includes snakes and tigers. Anyway, goodbye, I'll leave you to it."
Bernard left for the blacksmith's, and after watching the children scurry away, I muttered to myself.
"If they had it changed that much in such a short time span, it must have cost them a lot of money... A Baby Shark version would have spread like wildfire without costing a dime..."
But I quickly shook my head.
"No, no, no. Baby Shark is too addictive, and a parody of it would have let the original mercenary song spread further. Even if it costs money, you have to add to it to erase the original song. But where did they get the funds? I don't think they would have touched the national treasury... Is it possible?"
My head cleared as if awakened by a sudden thought. At the same time, an intense curiosity welled up in me.
Did they really do that? Ugh... I couldn't wait to find out if I was right! I'd have to ask in detail when I saw him tomorrow.
The estate of Count Knox, a small town.
Andrei had arrived at Count Knox's estate this morning, about twenty kilometers south of the capital.
Beginning two days after Tara's birthday, Andrei had been visiting Black Society branches across the Empire en masse.
He'd wanted to clean up any relationships that could hinder him in the future, namely any unnecessary connections to local governments.
There hadn't been much to clean up. Since Andrei had such clear standards, there wasn't much possibility of causing problems in the first place.
He had also looked closely at the documents to see if there was any evidence of illegal behavior.
If there was illegal behavior in one of the branches it simply required him to rehabilitate those who had fallen into the path of criminality and accept them as new subordinates.
Of course, there were some backroom deals and violence involved in the rehabilitation process, but it wasn't enough to stop Andrei from moving forward with his goals.
Not only that, but he had also needed to organize the private and sensitive information he had gathered about various high-ranking officials within the Empire.
In the future, this information might be of great use to him or the future empress, so he took the time to organize it now.
Of course, he did it all in the name of checking the condition of each branch.
He had been on this business trip for 3 weeks already.
There was a Black Society division in the basement of a ramshackle pub named [Pete's Tavern] in the center of Count Knox's territory. And it was here that Curtison voiced the concerns that had been nagging him for the entirety of the trip.
"Aren't we cutting the steak too soon, even though we haven't even grilled it yet, Chief?"
"Tsk tsk. You don't understand. The pan is already heated, and all I have to do is put the meat on it! Steaks taste best when cooked at a high temperature, all at once!! Kahahahahahahaha."
"No, what I mean is that even if she were to rise to the position you think she will, you may not even get the role you want. Aren't you getting a little too far ahead of yourself?"
At Curtison's explanation, Andrei shook his head with a smile that said, 'You don't know what you're talking about.'
"Tsk, tsk. Don't you realize how much my disciple values me? She seeks me out whenever there's an issue. That means she's desperate to learn as much as she can from me."
"She's not that desperate..."
Curtison muttered to himself, but Andrei pretended not to hear.
"Come on, let's find out if they're involved in anything illegal. I can't allow a single blemish on my reputation since I'm the future Empress's teacher and am destined to be the teacher of the future Crown Prince! Getting things like this done in advance will be good for my disciple, or rather, the Future Empress! Ahahahahahaha!"
Curtison glanced back at the tightly closed warehouse door, then took a step closer to Andrei and whispered.
"... I'm afraid someone might hear you, Chief. Even if it's true, as you say, that a Prince who hasn't even ascended to the throne yet will make her the future Empress because he likes her… Even if you say it a hundred times over… Counting on being a teacher for a future Crown Prince who hasn't even been born yet? Are you sure you're not just being vain and overconfident these days?"
"Oh, so Count Knox has this much money in his account?"
Andrei wasn't listening to Curtison at all.
Frustrated, Curtison was about to say more when the warehouse door burst open and Max, the leader of the branch investigating Knox, rushed in.
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