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  • Writer's pictureRina

Chapter 42


Tara seizes on an opportunity and makes a surprising bet.


This chapter is dedicated to Shelby Eggy, thank you for your support and lovely comment!


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Episode 42. 80kg (7)


They say that blood is thicker than water, but none of my siblings looked inclined to help. All of them remained where they stood.


Not that I ever wanted them to do anything in the first place.


The interviewers looked on in bewilderment.


What if Beth or Bernard or my father had been here with me? Would they have been on my side?


But then someone stepped forward. Her voice was scarcely audible.


***

"...But women and men have physical differences."


Aria had never intended to speak up. She had seen people laughing at Tara before the first interview, and expected the same would happen during the second. She had planned to simply sit by and watch.


However, this was too far, even for her. She’d mocked her sister herself back in the mansion, but never in front of so many people. Tara had also fought back earlier, but now she was just sitting back and letting it happen.


Aria felt strange, like the broccoli in the vegetable soup she’d eaten this morning had wedged itself in her chest. She'd blurted the words out without thinking about it.


Or maybe, that was just what she wanted to believe…


But all eyes were on her now, and she could tell people were thinking, ‘those two must be cut from the same cloth’.*

Aria regretted it. She wished she could sew her own mouth shut. She didn’t even fully understand why she’d done it.


What was wrong with her?


Blushing, Aria straightened her back stiffly and stared off into the distance past the heads of the gathered crowd, as if she could force herself to withstand the stares.


***


'An aristocrat is an aristocrat, after all. I can see she’s trying to stand tall.'


I hadn't been holding back for lack of something to say.


"I mean, that's what I'm saying," Sam Maddox said, "women should stay in the positions they're suited for, because of their physical differences. Why are you trying to intrude into a man's role?"


Patience...


"And if you weren't already at a disadvantage, the Lady's body is... Tsk tsk."


I had been waiting for that fat, hawk-nosed idiot to say something that would justify my anger.


As if on cue, everyone's gazes scanned my body from top to bottom.


"Oh my!"

"Don't you think that was a little harsh? Ho-ho-ho-ho."

"Yes, that was a little too much! Haha."

"Indeed, I think you're right."


I heard murmuring and giggles from the group beside Chloe.


"Hahaha. What will it take for your sister, no, this Lady to just give up? She must be so embarrassed."


Jason smirked at Sam Maddox's words and shook his head.


"No. I'll be damned if she gives up, hahaha. I wouldn't have bothered doing this if she was going to give up that easily. I want to see what ends up happening!"


Jason winked at one of the interviewers, who then stepped forward as if about to clear the air.


"Well. Hmm. Perhaps Sir Sam Maddox, who raised the issue, has a point. Hmph. What do you say, Miss Tara Elias?"


"......"


"Why don't you abstain? You can reapply to the Inner Court rather than the Ministry of Security. We can't keep delaying the physical exam because of this..."


He made it sound like I was actively sabotaging the physical interview process.


The absurdity of it was frustrating beyond belief.


Was this the calibre of behaviour I should expect from the Ocerian aristocracy? Or rather, from the children of the aristocracy? It was sobering… These were the people who would run the Empire in the future.


No wonder I often heard that the mainstream nobility was rotten…


There was an art to fighting, but these were not worthy opponents.


Jason, his cronies, and the group of female aristocrats standing with Chloe sneered at me. Meanwhile, a group of male aristocrats sat by the sidelines and looked on with amusement alongside the bribed interviewers. And finally, a group of rural aristocrats watched the proceedings with bemused interest.


‘Okay. Now that I've laid out the board, it's time to play! I didn't just waltz in here unprepared, you idiots!'


I smiled slowly as I surveyed the crowd surrounding me.


Then I quietly started the first sentence of my speech. I needed to focus on preventing myself from stuttering and while also conveying sufficient determination.


‘Breathe…’


"You have every right to feel that way. Even though His Majesty the Emperor has made it clear that he will accept candidates of high nobility, both male and female, who are fit for any position, he has nonetheless granted 'exemptions' in recognition of the differences between men's and women’s bodies. But even so, I can see why you all might find the Emperor’s generosity burdensome."


Embarrassment flashed across their faces when they realized that they had just blatantly refuted the Emperor's directive.


"That being said, I don't want there to be any stain on the honour of House Elias. I do not wish to quietly abstain and switch to a department I don't even wish to work for, especially after being subjected to so much slander."


Secondly, I reminded them I was an Elias, and had the full support of my family behind me.


I paused for a moment and took a deep breath.


The atmosphere in the hall felt different. At least some of the faces in my line of sight seemed to agree with me on some level.


Many of them had odd expressions.


I could practically see them thinking to themselves, 'I thought they said she stuttered? That she'd been thrown out of her House... Wasn't she rumoured to be mentally ill? Wasn't she said to be a shut-in who has all kinds of issues?'


Their confused expressions were curious.


I continued.


"I wouldn't dare challenge the Security Department if I was someone who gave up easily. I don't want to be singled out for being a woman, nor do I expect to receive extra credit, so I'll accept Sir Sam Maddox's challenge. However, in the Ocerian Empire, there is strict decorum between nobility, and I refuse to tolerate indiscriminate verbal abuse and mockery of my aristocratic honour. Therefore, I demand an apology."


Thirdly, I reminded them that I, too, was a noble of this Empire that valued honour so deeply.


The hall hummed with conversation again. This time, however, the sentiment was different.


I saw nodding heads and serious expressions instead of sneers. As well as a few looks of suspicion and intrigue. At the same time, everyone turned to look at Sam Maddox.


"It's not a big deal, so pretend to take this in stride. There will be another opportunity."


At Jason's quickly whispered suggestion, Sam Maddox cleared his throat and put on a benevolent expression.


"Hahaha. What do you mean slander? I wasn't mocking you! I was merely telling it like it is. Nevertheless, as an aristocratic member of the Ocerian Empire, I recognize that I have offended your noble ladyship's infinitely tender heart. I apologize, with all sincerity I...!"


But he never finished his sentence. I immediately raised my arm to shoulder level, palm outstretched, to cut him off.


"You said earlier that you wanted to apologize. It’s easy to say sorry, but words have power, and you must always be attentive. You can't repair the hearts of others who have been hurt by your words with such simple language, especially mine. I expect your actions to match your words."


"What?"


Sam Maddox's eyes narrowed in genuine puzzlement.


At the same time, I let my small smile fade and looked straight at him with utmost seriousness, trying to skewer him with my gaze.


"I want a Taltine Apology, in front of the Elias Family mansion here in the Capital."


A flurry of mutters swept through the crowd.

"What?"

"Oh my God!"

"How did she think of that..."


The crowd stopped its chattering quickly however. The ruckus had evolved to the point where it was interfering with their ability to follow along. The crowd was anxious to focus so they could follow the spectacle.


The old civil servant in charge of managing the training grounds approached a random nobleman and asked.


"Um… Honourable Sir. What is a 'Taltine Apology'?"


The young interviewee, excited at the opportunity to show off his knowledge, chattered excitedly.


"When the third Emperor, Taltine Amure, was still an Imperial Prince, he wronged the Captain of the Capital Guard and it caused a great loss of honour for the Knight Commander. When Prince Taltine realized his mistake, he attended the Capital Guard's inspection ceremony, knelt before the Knight Commander and apologized. The incident was recorded in the historical record, and noble families in Oceria sometimes demand a 'Taltine Apology' from those who have dishonoured them."


"Ah..."


"But this has never happened before, not that I know of... for a noblewoman to do this...!"


The young interviewee trailed off as he launched into further explanation. The old servant had heard what he needed to hear and was already walking away.


It was true. This tradition had always been practiced between men only, and it had never been demanded by a female aristocrat. Or rather, it was more accurate to say that there was no anecdotal evidence of a female noble ever making such a request of a male noble.


"Huh! Th-that's ridiculous... Why should I give in to such an unreasonable demand? This is going too far!"


"However!"


Everyone's heads instantly snapped in my direction, like the crowd was a colony of meerkats in a nature documentary.


Ha! What an amusing situation this was!


At any rate, having gotten their attention, I finally made him an offer he couldn't refuse.


"If I pass this practical exam with an above-average score, I will receive a Taltine Apology. If I score below the average, I will apologize to you, Sir Maddox, in the same manner. What do you say?"


The training hall rumbled again. A woman who appeared incapable of even finishing the test at first glance was confident enough to take the physical exam under the same conditions as the men. And to top it off she was willing to wager on it!


This was definitely not the kind of behaviour they had expected of the woman from the rumours.


"She's really going to do it."

"The odds are stacked against her... Where does her confidence come from?"


"That's quite the bet. Well, I wasn't expecting much from the lady to begin with, but since you were so generous as to offer this first, I'll take it. However, since I'm making this wager on my honour as an Ocerian nobleman, I expect you will pay the consequences accordingly. All these witnesses will be watching. Hahaha."


When the fat hawk-nosed man laughed amiably I wanted to rip his mouth clean off, but I held myself back without betraying my emotions.


"I trust you to be a man of your word."


"Oh my. This bet wasn't my idea, but I suppose I'll have to be satisfied with this, since the test can now continue despite the delay the lady caused us. Thank you to my fellow interviewees for your patience and understanding. Interviewers, let's begin...!"


"Some things need to be done properly."


While Sam Maddox continued his rant, boasting of his accomplishments, I suddenly noticed a man standing behind him.


The man was thin, light haired, and well-groomed, with a neat and upright posture.


‘Who is that?'

___


Editor’s Notes -


* 가재는 게 편이라 - "the crayfish sides with a crab" is the Korean version of 'birds of a feather flock together' or 'like attracts like' used to say that two people of the same kind are drawn to one another.


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