Updated: Jul 31
Tara finalizes her preparations for the interviews and strikes an alliance, but is troubled by an ominous dream...
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Episode 37. 80kg (2)
I had just left the room after giving my father one last cheer, when he quietly called me back.
His shoulders were still slumped in despair.
"...I heard that you didn't let anyone come into your room all day yesterday. Is it because of the interview?"
At my father's words, I turned towards the mirror on one side of the office and looked at my reflection. I looked worn out.
I seemed so... fragile...
I had been training hard lately, but the nightmare I’d had last night had taken even more of a toll.
"It was nothing… just a dream..." I mumbled absent-mindedly.
That was right… a dream. I stood frozen in thought, staring at the doorknob.
"Pardon? A dream?"
"Uh... No, nothing… I just have a lot on my mind, because of the interview."
"Don't worry about the interview, it will be easier to pass than the written test. Most of the time if you pass the written test the interview is a breeze."
'…But I know this interview will be harder than normal. Not to mention my strange dream.' The words stuck in my throat and I forced myself to swallow them.
Instead, I politely bid him farewell and left the office.
The morning of the interview.
Aria, still fuming over the news that all the siblings had passed the exam, came to Miss Tara's room before the interview. Tara just stared at her sister with a confused expression on her face, the very picture of innocence.
She listened to Aria, shrugged her shoulders and said, "It can't be helped. I didn't see this coming either."
"You call that an explanation? I did my part! I gave you the information you wanted, and you gave me the study guide, but I didn't need it at all! So I want it back! Give me back my information!"
'What? Give the information back? What the hell is she talking about...?'
Beth, who was listening in on the conversation from the sidelines, stared at them wide-eyed. She watched Aria's ranting from afar and decided not to say the words that popped into her head.
She glanced sideways at her lady. Miss Tara appeared nonchalant, as if she had been expecting this. She only casually rearranged her skirt.
'Hmm. What's going on with the hemline?'
"Hmm.... Aria, I know you're feeling resentful, but what's done is done. Obviously, you made a formal deal with me that day, and neither you, nor I, could have predicted that things would turn out like this. So there's no point coming to me and making a fuss about a bad deal, is there? And there's still some business I could help you with. Think about it."
"What do you mean? What kind of business are you talking about? Your study guide was worthless, but my information is still valid because you're going to use it in your interview today! So what could we possibly have to discuss!"
Tara shook the wrinkles out of her cape, and tied it over her dress.
"The Second Prince, Kyle Amure."
Miss Aria's face instantly brightened, as if his name was magic.
"Um, uh... Don't be ridiculous. I'm also interviewing, so if I get into the Palace I might end up next to His Highness Prince Kyle anyway. So you better watch out for me!"
"I managed to meet him in private even without working for the Palace. Even if you make it to the Palace, what are the chances you'll even see him at all? Are you still going to blame everything on me if you don't make it through your interview, just because I gave you those notes?"
"You- You might fail today as well!"
"If that happens there's really nothing you can do. That's why you need my help! Wouldn't you have a better chance of seeing the Prince in person if I also pass?”
Miss Tara's words made Aria take a step back. She started to say something, then stopped, then started again.
Afterwards, Miss Aria continued to glare at her sister as if she couldn't think of anything else to say. Then she spun around and slammed her foot against the door.
"Argh! This was pointless! You need to stay with me today, got it?"
Beth shook her head as she watched Miss Aria stalk out of the room and slam the door behind her with a loud bang.
"She has one hell of a temper... Oops."
Beth clamped her mouth shut. The words had spilled out before she could stop them.
She glanced at Miss Tara.
"It's all right, Beth. Insulting a superior only counts if the person concerned knows about it."
But blasphemy was blasphemy. A servant should never speak ill of their masters, especially in their presence, it was unthinkable.
"I must be careful, though, My Lady."
"Yes. There's nothing wrong with being careful.”
"By the way, Miss, did I see that right? Why are you wearing your training pants under your skirt?"
"Oh... Good eye, Beth. I think I'm going to need these."
"You see, today I'm going to be embarrassed, and I've been preparing for it...."
"What does embarrassment have to do with your training clothes?"
Sometimes her lady said things that didn't make sense. Beth wanted to let it go, but she had no idea what Tara was talking about, and she couldn't resist asking.
"...I'm only preparing for the most likely possibility."
Tara sounded unsure. Was she tired today?
Beth stared at Tara for a long moment, then put a hand to her lady’s forehead.
"Huh...? What is it?"
Tara's eyes widened at the unexpected movement. She turned to look at Beth.
"Hmm. You don't have a fever... Wait a minute!"
"Wh- What are you?"
Tara's words bounced right off of her. Beth quickly scurried over and held a plate piled high with macarons towards her master.
"I think I've been depriving you of too much chocolate lately and you're a little sensitive, so here. Pick two and eat them!"
Beth thought her lady would rush in eagerly, but Miss Tara merely grinned and turned around.
"What? You're doing it again."
"It's just... Miss, you've been acting differently since yesterday morning."
"Well, I don't know, you seem a little upset, and your mood has been a little...."
"It’s nothing.... Let's get out of here. We're going to be late."
Beth tilted her head as she watched Tara get ready and leave the room. Something was definitely strange.
‘What's wrong with her? Why does she look so off?’
Beth stared at the ground, then raised her head in sudden realization.
‘It’s gone! Her expression!'
Her lady was always vibrantly expressive. Her emotions were always right there on her face. It was always so natural and subtle.
But since yesterday morning, she’d had an odd look in her eyes. She was different. Strange would be a more accurate description.
She had looked so deep in thought lately. Her eyes were serious and her normal expressions were muted. That strange look in her eyes hadn't faded, even a day or so later.
‘What could have happened in such a short amount of time...?'
Struck by an eerie chill, Beth crossed her arms and rubbed her forearms.
I sat in one of the Elias Family carriages as we made our way to the Interview. Beth and Niels both sat across from me. There were no guests to tend to in the annex today, so Niels had come along with us as an escort.
"...My grandmother once said that if you sleep in borrowed underwear the night before an exam, you're guaranteed to pass...."*
Beth chattered incessantly, excitedly listing old wives tales and tricks to help you pass a test.
As I listened to her, my thoughts drifted back to the night before last.
I had slept for 14 hours straight after taking the strong medicine Dr. Oliver had prescribed for a persistent cold.
That night I thought I was going to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep, but instead I fell into a frighteningly vivid nightmare.
It felt too lifelike to be a simple dream, so I thought it might be real.
I dreamed of my pre-possession self. I had dreamt of being Yeon-woo quite often since coming here. But that night's dream was strikingly different from my previous ones, which were usually about everyday life.
It was like the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi's fable about dreaming about a butterfly in a flower garden. At that moment, I couldn’t tell if I was the butterfly, or if the butterfly was me.**
The dream felt so lucid that it was impossible to distinguish fiction from reality. I was once again running through the swamp, with soldiers chasing me as I fled in fright. Eventually, I fell headfirst into the mud.
Prince Kyle was staring down at me again, and to my shock and horror I could see the dead bodies of my family hanging in the background behind him.
A voice had echoed from the darkness beyond.
[... The Elias family was the most pitiful of them all. What’s the point of having a clean reputation when you have no worthy heirs? It's always like that. In times of crisis, the families that can’t keep their heads down or fail to walk the tightrope are always first to be wiped out. Especially if they’re being deceived. They were the most heartbreaking family to write about....]
That was what Author Kim had said to me once when she was writing the plot of The Chronicles of Oceria.
Immediately after waking up from the dream, I broke out in a cold sweat. I just sat there for a while, leaning against the headboard in a daze.
I’d felt so anxious and afraid.
My entire family would be wiped out, decapitated, tortured... and not just the immediate family, but also the branch family members. It felt like the vague concept of execution had suddenly become a visceral reality right before my eyes.
Now, more than ever, I had to prevent it…
I snapped out of my reverie at the sound of my name being called and saw Niels and Beth in front of me, staring with wide eyes.
"We called you a few times. I thought you were sleeping with your eyes open."
"Oh... I was thinking. What is it? Are we there yet?"
"Yes, we need to get out now. They're telling us to enter through the back."
The Grand Central Hall.
The interviews were being held in the Grand Central Hall, which was attached to the main hallway of the Imperial Palace.
More people had passed the written exam than I expected, and the gender ratio was about 8 - 2, in favour of the men.
I had been lost in serious thought until just a few minutes ago, but as soon as I entered the interview room, my mouth fell open and I almost exclaimed in excitement, ‘Wow! How grand! The Imperial Palace is truly impressive. Look at how elaborate…’
I forced myself to swallow the words and turned around to admire the Grand Hall further.
The banners of all of the most powerful noble families in the Ocerian Empire hung on the walls.
The gilded banner of the Amure Imperial Family was displayed in the centre, and it was by far the largest and most ornately decorated of them all.
But that was just the beginning. Elaborate and imposing chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and dynamically posed statues of famous Ocerian heroes looked down upon the Great Hall from between the banners.
Each statue reflected a unique emotion. Some of their gazes were cold, others angry. Some smiled, while others stared expressionlessly....
Everything in the room was eye-catching and many of the interview candidates appeared to be impressed.
There were about 100 interviewees in the Great Hall, half of whom, like me, were looking around in admiration, and the other half were talking among themselves as if they had already seen it all before.
Half of the candidates were from the Provinces, and the other half were from prestigious Capital families.
And, as expected, my siblings had all been here before...
I glanced over to them, where they stood off to one side chatting with other noble children. I glanced at Logan and Chloe, before my gaze moved over to Jason.
Logan looked up when the second son of Count Boten tapped him on the shoulder.
"...Hey, Logan. Isn't that your sister, the famously hefty Lady Tara? Hahaha!"
"Huh. She's a lot slimmer than expected, isn't she?"
"Hahaha, yes. I was expecting her to look like a lumbering cow, but instead she looks more like an overweight sheep! Hahaha."
* One horribly inaccurate MTL mistranslation of this saying got a laugh out of me,"If you wear stolen underwear the night before, you're guaranteed to have sex the next day."Just what kind of advice are you trying to give her here Beth? 😆
**Zhuang Zhou was an important Chinese philosopher (predating Confucius by around 200 years) who wrote the Zhuangzi, one of the two foundational texts of Taoism. The fable Tara cites here, “The Butterfly Dream”, is a philosophical reflection on the blurry lines between dreaming and reality and is meant to reflect the false dichotomy of sleeping and being awake. The text goes:
“Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou.
Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.”(Source)
I feel like there is more that can be read into this, but I’d need a degree in Eastern philosophy! Either way I think it’s a very interesting philosophical framework for the transmigration trope in Korean novels.
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