Tara negotiates with Aria and the written exam begins, with unexpected results.
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Episode 34. 85.5 kg (7)
"Hmmm. I don't know.... how to describe it. It feels like I could snap my fingers and hold the earth in the palm of my hand. Do you know the feeling?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You asked me what it feels like. That's what it feels like. Like the world is mine to conquer. Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho."
I bent my neck back and broke out in even louder laughter.
"Are you crazy?"
"So, have you considered it? Are you going to make a deal with me?"
"Come on! I only came because I was confused. What do you mean, 'I'll give you what you want'? How on earth would you know what I want? I just wanted to see your face, and see what kind of nonsense you were going to spout!
"No way. There's no way. You came all the way out here in your pajamas just to see me squirm? You? No, no way. So, now what? Shall we do as I suggested?"
"What are you talking about? I... I’m just here to go on a walk."
A walk? It was obvious she was here for the exam study guide.
But I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
"Oh, yeah? Then let's enjoy a walk! It's so nice to breathe in the fresh air, free of dust and grime.... How nice."
And with that, I turned and wandered around the fountain, making my stride as leisurely as possible.
Aria stood there looking dazed, then followed in my footsteps with a puzzled expression on her face. She looked like a puppy waiting for me to drop some scraps.
Argh. Why did she have to be so cute?
I forced the corners of my lips to curl upward, and opened my mouth to deliver the punchline of my argument.
"...What shall it be.... This... or that? Even if the kudzu on Mt. Mansusan is tangling... We too shall be entangled, and live for a hundred years more."*
I sung note after note in a clear voice.
"Are you actually crazy? Why do you keep quoting all these strange things I've never heard before?"
Despite the impatience in her voice, I knew she was hanging on my every word.
"You want the study guide, don't you?"
I paused, waiting for her to come closer. She didn't say anything, but her face, illuminated by the soft backlight, was full of greed.
"...That... Why are you suddenly bringing that up? Really. Why do you always say such weird things?"
"You don't like me, do you?"
"Do you want the study guide?"
More suppressed want.
"I've already made up my mind! This poem represents my decision. The choice is yours, Aria."
"....You know, you're really weird? What the hell do you want me to do? What do you want me to choose? Come on. What the hell is with that weird poem?"
"Hmmm. Well, this poem is... Once upon a time, there was a king of a certain country. Before he became king, he beseeched a man to become one of his servants, 'What do you think? Why don't you join me instead of worrying about everything? Come and I'll show you how I see things.'"
"What are you talking about? Seriously. You think you're the King and I'm supposed to be the servant here?"
I bit my lip and forced back a wry laugh.
"It's a parable, a metaphor. It's not a perfect metaphor, but I'm making a proposal to you, just like that king of old. Won't you join me?"
"....What! You want to be some horrible loser king and I get to be some lowly servant?"
Aria pouted. She was clearly offended that I'd compared her to a vassal, even though I'd explained it was only a metaphor. Despite her indignation, she didn't pull away, but instead moved closer to me.
This was quite the family tree that I wanted to be a part of.....
"Well, I can't help it if you think that. What do you say? Choose."
Silence. It was so quiet, I could hear the seconds ticking by.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, I sighed heavily and turned away.
Then, as if on cue, I heard Aria's urgent voice call out to me.
"....So, what happened to the vassal you were talking about?"
"He died, he was beaten to death with a mace. He refused the King and decided not to join him."
"What? You're crazy! What are you saying? Are you going to kill me if I don't listen to you?"
"Argh. Aria, it's just a metaphor, a metaphor! I didn't have a good analogy, so I had to use it. Let's just forget about everything that happened and try to do better. If I help you, you're not allowed to attack me in the future. Do you understand? And from now on you need to call me big sister!"**
"You heard me. Stop saying that. Say it to me. Sister... Call me "big sister" from now on. This is a condition of our deal."
"What if I don't want to?"
"Then there will be no exam study guide and no help."
"I don't need your help!" She said stubbornly.
"Really? Okay, then. Hmm. Don't you think we've been outside for too long? It's a little chilly...."
When I turned around with the intention of leaving her behind, Aria spoke, her voice tiny like an ant's.
I firmly corrected her without even looking back. A few seconds passed.
Oh, my God.
A chuckle escaped my lips. She heard it, but I pretended indifference and kept walking.
"Okay, okay. Okay, sister, sister, you're my big sister, okay?"
"Ha, yes, good. That's enough. I look forward to your continued support."
"You're so mean."
"Well, that tactic has worked for me so far… The study guide is in my room, so let's go there together. But Aria, do you really want to be an administrator?"
"Yes. I want to do it! I'm going to be an administrator as well!"
Aria was walking ahead of me in the direction of my room, I glanced at her, trying to gauge her mood.
"Oh, I see. You really do want to be an administrator. Are there any other reasons?"
"Why would there be any other reasons? Father is giving me a chance to become the next family head, what more reason do I need?"
"Oh... I see. It's about the Second Prince again...!”
"No! It's not like that!" Aria shouted.
I took a momentarily step back at the ferocity of her glare.
The words, 'What's so great about that asshole?' almost spilled out of my mouth.
Aria's eyes blazed fiercely, but her face was also so flushed. I was slightly concerned something might be wrong with her.
A sixteen-year-old in the depths of a brand-new crush.
The written examination was held in the great hall of Franz Senior Academy, named after the First Prince, Franz Amure.
I had expected a large crowd of the Empire's noble children, but I hadn't expected it to be so crowded that I couldn't find space to walk.
As I stepped into the main entrance of the academy, I finally caught a breath of fresh air, since the only people now remaining were those taking the test.
The families of the candidates that clung to the iron gates of the main entrance, praying for a passing grade, reminded me of CSAT exam day in Korea.***
It was like taking the CSAT every year...
For aristocrats from the provinces without any connections to the Palace and lower-ranked aristocrats from the Capital, the administrator's test was a priceless opportunity.
My mother said goodbye. I was escorted into the great hall, where I sat at an overcrowded desk and took the exam for eight hours straight.
And as soon as I returned to the mansion, I went straight to Aria.
Now that the written test was over, I wanted to hear more details about how I was going to be humiliated during the interview.
Aria's information was not very detailed.
[...They bribed a interviewer].
[How are they going to embarass me?]
[...I don't know, do you? How am I supposed to know that?]
Suddenly, giving her the study guide felt like a waste. I wondered if sacrificing it for this little bit of information had been worth it.
But what was done was done, and it was a great advantage to know in advance that the interviewers had been bought.
I called Niels into the room and handed him a letter to send to Andrei.
Three hours later, I received a reply back.
[What a favour! The price is 50 gold. I'll deliver it by tomorrow.
P.S. Don't you think you have too many enemies?
The always generous, Andrei Pitt].
Ha. Generous... You really think you're so generous?'
I shook my head, folded up the letter, and tossed it into the fireplace.
It disappeared in a bright flash of flames.
The next day.
Niels came through the door panting and holding a message from Andrei.
"I was surprised to find it this morning, My Lady."
"What can I say, it's what he does."
Despite the fact that House Elias had plenty of people coming in and out every day, no one was allowed to wander through the mansion grounds uninvited in the middle of the night.
How many people does he have in House Elias?
I suppressed my curiosity and opened Andrei's message.
[.... Jason's academy classmates, or more accurately, his cronies, Tommy Rabbie, Sam Maddox, and Bob Mitchell. Jason uses them for all his dirty work.
Key tactics: laying traps, stirring up crowds, and spreading rumors.
P.S. This interview isn't going to go well and I can't wait to see how it turns out! Mwahahahahaha!
Most delightfully, Andrei Pitt.]
The man was insane, Gah. This was crazy.
I jotted the names down and went to the fireplace in the main hall.
Once again, the note disappeared in a flicker of flames.
I went straight into the mansion's study and scanned the back issues of the newspapers for details on the administrative exam until I came up with the desired result.
Then I summoned Niels again and sent a message to Bernard.
Less than an hour later, I received a reply.
[There are no shortcuts when it comes to training, only practice. And since you have four days to spare before the interviews it would be best if you practice steadily for four hours every day. Please come to the park this evening. You won't be picking up an axe for the next 4 days.
P.S. - I'm not exaggerating, I can't shorten it.
Shit.... Did I really have to do this? Yes, I did. What if I passed out and died trying to save this damned family?
I trudged into the dining room to grab an early bite to eat. Today had been a busy day, sending a lot of letters back and forth.
And it would be another hellish four days.
I came to a certain realization. I never wanted to do this transmigration thing ever again...
Lloyd Elias's office, one day before the practical interviews.
"What? Everyone passed? That doesn't make any sense. Didn't you say only Chloe, Tara, and Aria passed yesterday?"
Count Lloyd Elias was taking a break from his work, and his teacup was now frozen half-way to his mouth.
"Yes.... That's why you said you had 'useless boys'."
"It's already absurd that Aria was accepted... That was reversed in a day? And all of my children got in?"
"...Yes, Your Excellency. We received a message from the Palace today instructing all of them to attend the interviews tomorrow."
"From the Palace? Not the administrative office?"
"That's right, a messenger from the Third Imperial Palace. With a confidential message stating that Empress Vivian made a special arrangement on your behalf."
"So... Logan and Jason, who were rejected, both passed? Huh... This is strange. How am I supposed to take this...."
Count Lloyd’s brows were deeply furrowed, as if he was profoundly anguished.
Dylan shook his head as he watched Count Lloyd's expression turn serious.
Editor’s Notes -
* Here Tara is singing a classical Korean sijo poem. They can be read or performed with musical accompaniment. This particular poem, Hayeoga 하여가 (何如歌), was composed in 1392 by the 3rd King of the Joseon dynasty Yi Bang-won for an influential political rival, Jeong Mong-ju, during the overthrow of the Goryeo dynasty. This requires a mini Korean history lecture to understand, especially because Tara tells Aria a vague version of this story as a metaphor, so please bear with me.
Yi Bang-Won is the king in the metaphor, and Jeong Mong-ju is the servant/vassal. When this poem was composed, Yi Bang-won was a General fighting to help his father overthrow the Goryeo dynasty and Jeong Mong-ju was an influential statesman who supported the Goryeo regime. Yi Bang-won wanted to convince Jeong Mong-ju to end his support for the dynasty and switch sides.
Sijo poems tend to conceal layers of metaphorical meaning and you can find a full breakdown of this particular poem’s meaning here, but the gist of the poem is that it’s a request for Jeong Mong-ju’s peaceful surrender, 'Your dynasty is ending, join me and see the future we can create'.
However, Jeong Mong-ju responds to Yi Bang-won with another poem essentially saying 'no thanks, I'll stay loyal to my King' and then gets assassinated by Yi Bang-won shortly after (beaten with a mace). The nearly 500-year-old Goryeo dynasty falls, and Yi Bang-Won eventually becomes a King of the Joseon dynasty.
Both Yi Bang-won and Jeong Mong-ju remain well known historical figures and this exchange is quite famous. Jeong Mong-ju was beaten to death in a place now known as Sonjuk bridge in Kaesong, North Korea, and he is still memorialized there for his loyalty 600 years later.
Now, this is all very cool history, but as Tara discovers, it’s a bit too violent and context heavy to use as a good metaphor for this situation, especially when Aria has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. 😆
** Here Tara is specifically asking to be called Unnie 'big sister' 언니, because this is the proper respectful form of address that a younger sister should call her older female sibling (rather than the ruder phrasing Aria typically uses).
***The CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) or Suneung, is a grueling 8 hour Korean university entrance exam required for pretty much any student in Korea who wants to get an advanced education (kinda like the American SAT). The entire country pretty much grinds to a halt every November when it’s administered.
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