Updated: Jul 31
Tara presents a solution to the Count's problem which he is reluctant to accept...
This chapter is dedicated to Tori, thank you so much for your support!
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Episode 36. 80kg (1)
"There is a high probability that House Elias's knights will want to change their allegiance to serve the Second Prince. That’s one of the outcomes I’ve predicted."
My father's eyes lit up for a moment.
"How did you..."
Dylan smiled sheepishly and shook his head.
"Please explain in more detail."
Father leaned forward, and I quickly organized the explanation in my head.
"As you know, the knights' guild controlled by the Second Prince is prestigious, and there are many knights in the Empire who are eager to join it. However, I’ve heard that the selection criteria is very strict and the standards are high, so most knights don't even bother applying.”
However, House Elias will be paying our knights to work alongside them. What choice do you think they’ll make if the Second Prince trains them and they’re given an opportunity to stay with his guild?"
"That... That depends. They are House Elias's knights, no matter what. Even though all knights have the freedom to choose whom they serve, wouldn’t they stay loyal to House Elias?"
After Dylan's response, I turned back to my father and asked him the same question.
"How do you see it, Father?"
"I think... He'll win our knights over and make them his own, that bastard."
At Dylan's dejected sigh, Lloyd spoke up again.
"We preserve our neutrality, while he gets to keep some of our troops. In a way, it might appear that this was the intended outcome all along..."
"Isn’t that even worse? Obviously, it wasn't your intention, but if it looks that way...”
A heavy silence fell over the office. But it was only momentary.
I shrugged and took a sip from my teacup.
"Yes, but it doesn't matter, because only the Second Prince will be aware it's happening. It will take another six months or so before the knights can be trained and deployed to their official posts. If we see a hint of that happening, we'll just have to make sure the knights we sent to the other princes do the same. Of course, the loss to our family would be upsetting, but... We can live with that. That's why I didn't tell you. Even though I knew this was a possibility."
"Hah... I see. That will be fine, as long as we give the other knights the go-ahead to fully integrate into their forces... It'll cost time and money, but they're private soldiers, so we'll just have to recruit more, hahaha. Yes… yes."
"But it might cost us an entire year’s military budget."
Father froze as if Dylan's words had stabbed a dagger through his heart.
But after a moment he attempted a forced laugh.
"That's okay, ha, ha, ha. It’s worth it for what House Elias spent on it. Ha, ha, ha."
After my father's hollow laughter faded, there was a moment of silence.
"Yes, Father. We just need the Princes and other nobles to think that we're neutral. And as for the Empress..."
"Really? Do you have any ideas? What about the Empress? What should I do?"
The Empress was the eldest daughter of the Duke of Toulouse.
The Duchy of Toulouse was a formidable House. They were a family of public officials and politicians who had served as ministers of state for generations. They had kept the Empire afloat since the time of the Sun Emperor, when Imperial power started to decline.
Half of the bureaucrats in the palace had some connection to House Toulouse. It was an open secret.
All the members of the Imperial Family, including the current emperor, Louis Amure, grew up listening to stories of House Toulouse's prestige from an early age, and eventually the Empire welcomed an Empress from their House.
The Empress had extended an invitation to Father, the Head of the Elias family, in her capacity as the Head of House Toulouse. Given her prestigious position in House Toulouse, there was a clear message being sent here.
Lloyd gulped, his expression hopeful as he hung onto my every word. I could no longer see any mistrust in his gaze.
But my next words would be enough to send him into a panic.
"Now, the most likely candidates for Crown Prince are, by far, the Second Prince Kyle, and the First Prince Franz. But, Father, they have very different power bases. Prince Franz has the absolute support of the nobility, including House Toulouse. Prince Kyle has no noble support, but he has a lot of skills and competency. In fact, his talent is unrivalled, so much so that even the nobility recognizes it."
"So the way I see it, the balance of power until now has been very equal. But Prince Kyle's official request for troops means he's about to upset that balance. No one is saying anything, but everyone knows it."
I paused, clearing my throat, while I gathered my thoughts.
"Because of that, the Empress is interested in speaking with our family privately, she wants the support of House Elias and she's testing us the same way Prince Kyle did earlier."
"Yes... that makes sense."
"Most likely, the Empress will ask you something along the lines of, 'You aren't really neutral, are you? You're just trying to fool Prince Kyle are you not?'... A family like ours would not have appeared useful to the Empress until now, because we have had no interest in politics up until this point. But now, she likely believes our support could be useful."
"Yes! So what's your solution?"
My throat burned in anticipation of the important words I was about to speak, so I took a quick sip of water to quench the sensation.
I adjusted my tone to convey utmost seriousness in order to offset the absurdity of what I was about to suggest.
"You'll have to 'act'."
"Act? W- What do you mean?"
"You need to pretend to be clueless."
"Pretend to be clueless?"
I nodded vigorously to emphasize my meaning.
"We sent knights to the Second Prince and the other Imperial powers after he requested it. We want to make sure that action will be seen as neither a 'trick' nor a ‘political manoeuvre' on our part. In this situation, we want to act like we only did it to make a good impression on the Imperial Court. Like we stumbled across this opportunity on blind chance. So you need to pretend to be clueless and useless. You need to pretend that our family isn't important."*
The Count's gaze flicked to Dylan, then back to me, as if he was perplexed.
"Me? I have to pretend? Count Lloyd Elias?"
He could pretend to be smug, but he had never feigned incompetence before, so it was somewhat embarrassing for him.
"Why don't we just give the Empress what she’s asking for? Why not do the same thing we did for the Second Prince, and give the same to the other princes and the Emperor?"
His voice sounded desperate.
"It would come off as mocking. The Second Prince is not the kind of person who would get offended by such a thing, but it's possible she could. If anyone other than Prince Kyle were to discover we attempted this kind of manoeuvre, they would feel condescended to, and their opinion of us would completely change. That strategy worked when dealing with Prince Kyle, but it will not work when dealing with anyone else, especially not the Empress. Far from helping us stay neutral, such a tactic may turn her against us."
"Ha... I guess so. But do I really need to act like a fool? You want me to throw away my dignity? Our family's dignity? Is this really the best way?"
Count Lloyd Elias was undecided, and still very uncomfortable with the idea of putting on an act.
"What do you think, Viscount?"
The Count already knew what Dylan was going to say, 'We should keep our heads down. It's not the best solution.’ He was expecting the words to come out of the Viscount’s mouth any minute now.
But that expectation vanished as quickly as snow in the late spring heat.
"...I don't see any other way. If we want to remain neutral, we need to be as inconspicuous as possible, but the Empress has already interpreted what we did to Prince Kyle as being in her favor.... She's already developed an interest in House Elias, so I think it's best to eliminate that. Lady Tara's suggestion seems to be the best move."
I nodded at his words.
"It's not that difficult, Father. I've played the fool in the past. It's surprisingly easy. If you practice before attending the meeting, you'll be able to put up a convincing front."
After that, I worked with Dylan to create a hypothetical strategy of how Father should respond during his meeting with the Empress.
When we finished, Count Lloyd Elias frowned.
‘I don't want to do this. I hate it. I don't want to look like an idiot,' Lloyd thought to himself.
"Father, neutrality. You don't want the family’s reputation to be politicized."
"Well, yes, I did. Hmmm. It's just... Do I have to choose? The nobles are all pushing for the First Prince anyway, so we might as well..."
When my Father started squirming like a dog in need of a pee break, I subtly pressed him further.
"Father! You can't falter. You've dealt with Prince Kyle- or rather, that bastard before! And you know that we have to be more careful from now on."
Count Lloyd slammed his hand on the desk with all the anger he felt towards the Second Prince for putting him in this situation.
"Damn you, Prince Kyle, you rotten bastard!"
"Yes. The Second Prince is a tough opponent. But, no matter how powerful the First Prince is right now, there are no guarantees. We don't truly know what will happen to our family if we side with the First Prince and he doesn't succeed. You can do it- No, you have to do it! Let's do this! Fighting!" I shouted.
I pumped my fists in the air trying to win over my father's wavering resolve.
Some would say that Koreans cheered like this too often, but there was nothing like a good cheer of ‘Fighting!’ to provide motivation.
"Yes, yes. I'll do it. I'll do it. I hope I don't have any problems. Hmm... But we should remove this one, number two."
Dylan and I looked at the sheet of paper where we had written down the guidelines.
Together we read point number two, which my father was pointing to with his index finger.
[Guidelines for Operation 'Act' During the Count's Meeting with the Empress].
[1. Refuse eye contact with the Empress and blink frequently as if anxious.
2. Laugh loudly and nervously, even when there’s nothing to laugh about.
3. Stutter and avoid answering questions. Or, pretend not to understand the question. Respond with phrases like, "Yes?' and 'What?'
4. Shake one of your legs violently whenever the Empress speaks.
5. Keep asking for the toilet, like a puppy that needs to go to the bathroom.
6. Stare blankly and doze off during long stretches of conversation.
Strategy 20. Constantly repeat yourself and tell the same stories over and over again.]
After we finished reading it, I remained adamant.
"Father! That's the point. We can't take it out. You have to do it."
Editor’s Notes -
* This originally included a unique Korean idiom - 소뒷 걸음질 치다 쥐 잡은 것처럼요 - A cow catches a rat while stepping back: An expression to describe a situation where one achieves something by slim chance or pure luck.
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