Tara receives her Taltine Apology and prepares to confront Jason.
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Episode 49. 80 kg (14)
P.S. - Is this enough to cool your anger? I sent this on purpose because I knew you'd miss me. Isn't your teacher awesome?
Andrei, the super awesome Chief of the Black Society]
Ha! That punk!
The barely-contained anger I had only just managed to rein in felt ready to explode again.
Ah, the people in this cursed novel world!
"Oh seriously. Why does he think I spent money on hiring him? Oh, come on!"
I wondered if I had made the right choice in choosing Andrei Pitt as my teacher.
But the moment I opened the documents, the anger that had been accumulating in my brain melted away like snow.
"... As expected, he's in a whole league of his own. Argh, I have to admit it! He's good at his job."
The square in front of the Elias Mansion.
Dawn was just starting to break. The Taltine Apology had been scheduled for dawn at the request of the Maddox family.
However, many citizens of the Capital had gathered in the square in front of the mansion, eager to witness the famous 'historic apology'.
There weren't too many people, but the crowd wasn't insignificant either.
Sam Maddox knelt before me with a pitiful expression on his face.
"... As a nobleman of the Ocerian Empire, I apologize for the stain I have brought upon your dignity, Lady Tara Elias. Please accept my sincere apology, Lady."
I stared down at his haggard face, slowly rising to my feet.
It felt good to look down on someone for once. But, alas, I shouldn't get used to it.
He grew even more nervous when I only stared down at him wordlessly.
"... Lady Tara?" He prompted.
Someone laughed. How could he stand it?
I spoke emotionlessly. My voice was low, but sharp enough to reach the ears of everyone gathered.
"... Yes, My Lady."
"Once upon a time there was a hunter."
"Listen until the end. It's a story you ought to hear."
He glanced around, conscious of the staring onlookers. Part of him wanted to get up and leave this place as soon as possible. But he knew, we both knew, that if he did he would never see his name on the Maddox family register ever again.
He looked around, seemingly searching for someone in the crowd, but then his wandering eyes ceased their search and he nodded through clenched teeth.
"Y-Yes, My Lady."
"The hunter was hungry, so he went up the mountain with two of his hounds to hunt a rabbit."
The onlookers followed my words silently, looking bewildered and yet strangely enraptured by the situation, as if they were wondering what on earth this strange young lady was talking about. To be telling such an odd story out-of-the-blue in the midst of receiving a Taltine Apology!
"After searching all over the mountain, the two hounds finally found a rabbit and caught it. But the rabbit was far too small, and the huntsman was disappointed. The day was cold, the sun had gone down in the western mountains, and he was hungry from running around all day. So do you know what the huntsman did?"
I could hear people in the crowd murmuring around me.
"Oh, my!" Someone exclaimed.
"Of course, tsk tsk."
Other tongue-in-cheek comments followed from onlookers who understood where my story was going.
Sam Maddox, too, seemed to have realized the significance. His face was frozen and had been drained of all color.
"He ate his loyal hunting dogs, one after another, even though had been at the center of it all."*
I glanced around quickly, then leaned in and spoke so quietly that only Sam Maddox could hear me.
"This isn't good for House Maddox, nor is it good for House Elias. And yet, I requested your apology, Lord Maddox. Because while my public reputation is important, I am more concerned that if I let the infractions of a vassal go unpunished, something far worse might occur in the future. So Lord Maddox, think long and hard. A frog stuck in a well will never know of the ocean."**
I said it in the hopes that Maddox, trapped in the small well Jason had constructed for him, would gain a little enlightenment, but I wasn't confident that he understood.
"Things aren't always what they seem, so I'll accept your apology. I'm sure you've learned something from this, and I hope you'll think and act differently next time."
With those words, I turned on my heel, pulled up the hood of my cloak, and headed for the mansion with as much dignity as I could muster.
The soldiers standing at the entrance to the manor saw me from a distance and opened the iron gates, saluting politely.
Beth followed, keeping a respectful distance, like the most dignified of maids. But she couldn't resist.
"Miss. You were absolutely stunning. People were falling down in shock!"
Beth held her mouth tightly closed while she spoke, as if she was trying to imitate a ventriloquist.
"I was so shocked and angry when I first heard the rumors of what happened, but seeing you today made all my anger disappear, you were simply wonderful."
"I didn't want to die."
Beth's mouth didn't stop moving, and I had no idea whether she'd heard me or not.
"My God, you must be the only unmarried noblewoman in the Capital, nay, in all of Oceria, to make a nobleman kneel in front of you like that. That was awesome!"
Awesome? Ah... That was something Author Kim used to say.
"Hah, oh my! Miss, Lord Maddox is so angry that he's running away!"
I was deeply curious, but I resisted it.
I needed to further consolidate an image of dignity and nobility to prove that the rumours about me being a fat, world-weary shut-in were false.
"Miss. Shall we retire to rest now?" Beth asked as we entered the hall.
"No, I still have Jason left to deal with. Maddox was just an appetizer, he's the main course, and I'm planning on kicking his ass."
"What? But, My Lady. The kind of person he is... He might do something behind your back later–!"
I grabbed Beth by the shoulder in response to her rapid protests. Surprised, Beth flinched.
"I'm sorry, My Lady. This is your family, and I was so recklessly out of line."
"Yes. You have a tendency to do that. Just be careful in the future."
My words aside, I never found Beth's behavior annoying, because she felt more like a colleague who helped me with my work than a subordinate maid who worked under me.
"We're going to clash with each other at some point anyway, and thanks to the damn Prince, I need to do this now. Follow me, I need to discuss this soon!"
"The Prince? Ah... You'll be leaving soon. How could he send you away like that..."
"I know. He did it on purpose, to humble me. But, I mean, is being an administrator a joke to him? What kind of human being does that? Aargh!"
"Miss, calm down. You're going to get hurt. Look at me."
Several maids and servants in the hall chattered at the sight of me, my face was flushed and I looked like I was ready to run out and fight someone.
"I really want to kill him."
I grinned over at Beth, who had responded with her own determination.
"Beth. You know you're not allowed to say things like that in public? You might get caught."
"Hehe. Of course, I know."
"Okay. Then go tell Bernard to come over. I’ll be in my room in the meantime."
"Yes. It's such a beautiful day today, the weather's just right..."
"Yes? What does that mean, Miss? Your expression is also odd..."
I suddenly realized why those words came to mind.
"I'm just saying. I must bring Bernard, so come on."
Beth tilted her head, but answered quickly.
"Oh. And Beth!"
I called urgently to Beth when she was just about to turn around.
"Tell the kitchen to bring some pomegranate tea to Father's office."
"Quickly. Tell Bernard that today is 'the day' and that I'll be waiting for him in the hall!"
I nudged Beth, who simply stood there at a distance, and headed for my room to pick up the papers Andrei, the self-proclaimed 'super awesome Chief', had sent me.
My father had summoned Jason to his office before breakfast this morning, after catching a glimpse of us when we returned late yesterday, and he had ordered me to his office afterwards.
Even though he’d fallen out of favour, Jason was the eldest son. The privileges afforded to the firstborn were incomparable to those I received.
So it had to be today. Today. Because if I didn't do this now, he would get off even lighter.
A muscle in my cheek jerked wildly. I was curious what my father would do. After everything that had happened yesterday, and what I was about to reveal, would he leave Jason alone, or would he do something about it?
The hallway in front of the office.
"Miss, Sir Bernard will be here shortly, and the tea is being prepared, but why pomegranates all of a sudden?"
"It lowers one's blood pressure."
"Eh? Are you worried about your blood pressure, Miss?"
"No. Not me, Father."
By now, Beth had gotten used to me and understood my intentions without me having to explain them.
"By the way, Miss. If you go in there now, won't that create a firestorm?"
"Of course it will, but he'll have to take a side. It's my brother or me."
I grinned at Beth's wide eyed expression.
"There’s a saying that it isn’t the mother-in-law who beats you, but the sister-in-law who tries to stop her that is more hateful.”***
"Is there a saying like that?"
"Okay. By the way, do you realize how evil you look right now?"
"Hehe, yeah, I do."
After a few minutes of waiting, Bernard walked into the hall, his face set in a hard expression.
Instead of an axe, he was carrying a briefcase, and he was dressed in the cleanest combat clothes I'd ever seen him wear.
"Isn't this happening too soon? Is it really 'the day' already?"
'The day' that Bernard would have his justice served.
"Don't you know that two bombs going off at the same time create a bigger impact than just one?"
"Ah... Um, I meant rocks, large projectiles."
This world hadn’t developed chemical weapons like bombs yet. At best there were catapults, which flung rocks as ammunition.
"Hmmm. I see."
"This is going to have huge consequences. You should know that."
"Big consequences, you of all people must know, My Lady."
"I know you scored well in the second round of interviews, but you also got a Taltine Apology and predicted a war was about to break out."
Beth's eyes widened in surprise.
"Huh? How do you know that Bernard?"
"There was a rumour among the knights. They didn't seem to know the lady's name, but ummm, they mentioned that the Second Prince confirmed something that a 'fat lady' had said."
The phrase 'fat lady' bounced around in my brain, and for a second I was about to argue with him.
"What do you mean 'fat'?"
But Beth was one step ahead of me.
Bernard's furrowed expression transformed into a smile.
"Those aren't my words, that's only what I heard," he replied briefly.
Beth couldn't argue any further with Bernard's bluntness.
Beth, ever the mother bird, had taken my side without a second thought. She muttered something about knights having rotten character and 'how dare they doubt the Elias Family's honour'. But, when I gave her a warning glance, she stopped herself and covered her mouth.
And then, as if in a moment of realization, she asked in surprise.
"Huh? But Miss, a war?”
Beth's voice was loud enough that the servants who had been clearing the hall in the distance all glanced in our direction once more.
I hastily covered Beth's mouth.
"I'll explain later. Right now, we need to get our revenge first and get Bernard back."
Editor’s Notes -
So many notes and references in this chapter!
* I've seen this story/allegory of the hunter killing his hunting dog used in a lot of Korean manhwa and was curious where it comes from. 토사구팽 - 'to kill and boil the dog after the hunt' is a very old Chinese proverb and is symbolic of using someone then throwing them away once they've outlived their usefulness. It likely originates from a famous text written between 771- 453 BC (yes, when I say this proverb is old I meant it’s probably at least 2,400 years old). It’s kinda crazy how it’s still in common use today.
** Another common proverb used when someone lives naively or small-mindedly, isolated from the broader picture or the truth. This proverb also originated from Zhuangzi, the same Chinese writer that wrote the proverb of the Butterfly Dream (referenced in chapter 37)
*** This is a Korean proverb that basically means that someone who looks down on you and offers false sympathy can be worse than someone who physically abuses you.
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