In which Bernard makes an important choice and Tara runs into some unsavoury characters.
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Episode 52. 80 kg (17)
A large number of people concentrated on their respective tasks. More than fifteen people were working in the 15 square meter office.
The room was bustling with paperwork, but the people were calm and the atmosphere was cold.
Jason sat on the black leather couch watching the office, while my father sat by the desk with his eyes closed.
Bernard and I explained the documents prepared by Andrei and him next to the budget officers.
Dylan also reviewed the documents, tried to estimate the salaries of the Elias knights across the Empire, then sat down with the vice-captains and asked them the necessary questions.
The vice-captains had been drawn into the unusual atmosphere and glanced at Jason for a moment before they reluctantly gave their answers. The lawyer was serious as he worked out the illegality of the documents that budget officials had already sorted.
Finally, the four knights that the Commander had called in separately were guarding the entrance of the office so that no one could enter and exit without permission.
Time passed slowly as the documents were analyzed, and the cup of tea on my father's desk had long gone cold.
At last, the reviews were completed.
"… We'll have to find out more, but the information is pretty specific. I've recorded all the witnesses," one of the budget officers said.
He was followed by the lawyer, who gave his analysis.
"There are signs of Philippe tampering with the funds. That's also something which requires the bank's cooperation, so it will take some time to confirm."
“If we want to compare the status of each region's armoury and the higher ranked knights, we must visit them ourselves. If Your Excellency gives an order, we will immediately form an investigation team and depart. How many people should we send, Your Excellency?"
After listening to the Commander's words, the Count gave his instructions with a stern face.
"Divide them into three units, and each unit will have thirty men."
"Yes, Your Excellency."
That were a lot of men. It was typical for the merchanting groups to have that many when a big deal was being made. It meant that this was that important.
"Dylan. What do you think the investigation will look like in a week?"
"Some of the investigations will be completed, but we need time to put the cases together and draw a conclusion. We'll need to determine the legality of the charges and seek advice from specialist lawyers who are familiar with these kinds of corruption cases. I'd give it a generous two weeks, Your Excellency."
Jason's face had already hardened, but now it seemed to have turned into plaster.
"I'll give you ten days."
Another twenty minutes or so passed, and the family head of Elias' desk was covered by a tall stack of papers that Andrei and Bernard had brought with them, as well as the documents that had been rushed in from the business office building.
"We'll have a general meeting with the merchanting group in ten days. Then, it will be decided what will be done with Jason Elias, the vice-captains and anyone else involved. In the meantime, those involved will be confined in the mansion and their respective quarters. Anyone who violates this will be treated as a criminal. Also, since this is a matter of severe disgrace to House Elias, this will be kept a secret. Understood?"
The colour drained from Jason's face at the words 'severe disgrace'.
"Yes, Your Excellency!"
With that, everyone left the office, and Jason was the last to leave.
He stared at the door in front of him, as if he'd forgotten to glare at me before he left. Perhaps because of the dark cloud hanging over him.
This wouldn't be enough...
Bernard and I left the office.
"Are you okay?" Bernard asked with a hint of worry on his face, gesturing at Jason with his chin.
"Ohhh, are you worried about me now? What can I say? This is for the good of the family, for my revenge, and to get my knight back. I mean, when you see something wrong and can correct it, you should do so, especially if you’re me."
Bernard gave me a puzzled look as I shrugged.
"You sound like you're on a mission."
"Oh... Is that so? By the way, what about the oath, Sir Bernard? I passed the interview, and it seems you'll be reinstated. It's been a good week, so what do you think?"
I shrugged deliberately and poked Bernard in the shoulder.
It was as if I was poking a persimmon I couldn't eat. If I got rejected this time, it would be real, so I spoke with a light-hearted voice.*
"When are you leaving? I heard it's soon."
"I have fifteen days to prepare and ten days to get there, so I have to leave in five days."
"Then I'll do it tomorrow and get ready too."
"Sure. Wait...? What? What did you just say? What are you going to do?"
"The oath. I'll do it tomorrow. Please dress formally. You know that, right?"
"Oh my god... Really? Truly?"
I stared at Bernard with wide eyes, the corners of my mouth twitching uncontrollably. I couldn't help but laugh.
"Y–Yes. Okay. Formally. I'm going to dress formally. I'll be a really nice master, Bernard. You won't regret a thing. I won't let you. Do you hear me, Bernard?"
"That's my responsibility. Whether I regret it or not, my decision won't change and I will serve you until the end."
Oh, my... What a burst of awesomeness. Was this the beginning of him becoming a General?
I nodded as solemnly as I could, trying to hold back the tears that were almost leaking from my eyes.
"Yes, Bernard. Of course it's up to you. Good thinking. Look forward to it, Bernard. I'll make you a General!"
I shouldn't have said that last thing. As soon as the word 'General' came out of my mouth, Bernard's face morphed into a huge scowl and he spat out a single sentence.
"... Do me a favour and cut back on that nonsense."
"Uh... Um, sure. Haha..."
"I don't think Lord Jason Elias will stay still, are you sure you're going to be okay?"
"Ah. Right. So today I have to go to the Central Bank and visit Andrei. You're coming with me, Bernard. Okay?"
"Why do you have to be there all of a sudden?"
"You asked. It's because of brother Jason. I think I'll be okay, as long as I'm prepared."
"Come on, let's go. I'll explain on the road. I have too much work to do before I have to leave for the Durben Tripoint. Ha... That damned Second Prince."
I tapped him on the shoulder and Bernard gave me a 'not again' look.
Nevertheless, as I walked ahead, my knight in shining armour followed me without a word.
Dress Shop Alley in Central Square.
We left the carriage at the stables by the entrance of the main square and continued on foot.
It was very busy and the carriage paths were complicated, so walking would save time.
But, of course, nobles who valued dignity over profit didn't often make choices like mine, and Beth was worried that my job would be seen as disgraceful.
"I wouldn’t have gone to Durben if I cared about that. And surprisingly, people aren't that interested in other people."
After meeting Andrei and going to the bank, Bernard went to an arms dealer while I headed to the dress shops.
I was reading today's newspaper while walking to save time.
It was a habit from my days as a scriptwriter.
I'd be making calls as I walked, looking up materials on the subway and finding an excuse for a member of the cast who had a flat tire right before the show at a dinner party...
Anyway, I focused on the newspaper.
[... One of the issues that lawmakers are sharply divided over during the upcoming regular budget review every fifteen years is an 'increased Military Budget' which was brought up today after a long struggle. The parliamentary meeting ended without reaching a conclusion.
Representatives of the nobility, accused of making political decisions for personal gain at the expense of the safety of the people, were aware of this view.
They pointed fingers at the very reason for the proposal, saying the Second Prince was using the war with Skandoa, a war that would never happen, as an excuse.
May 1, 1815 in the Imperial Calendar.
"Hmm... It'll be hard to get it to pass through..."
I didn't realize how far I'd walked, but the sound of chatter and the feeling of having eyes on me made me fold my newspaper and look up.
I knew there were rumours about me in the Capital, but I never imagined that everyone would recognize me like this.
Surprisingly, people were very interested in other people's bodies. Especially here.
Beth and I had gone into town to buy a dress for Durben and a uniform for tomorrow, but I could barely hold my head high.
It was such a shame that I couldn't call on Elias' exclusive designer because I had to get to Durben on such short notice.
"Ah... This is why being an idol is so hard."
"Oh, no. Celebrities. Being a celebrity must be hard."
"You're right, My Lady. You know everything. Thanks to you, even I will become famous. Hehe."
"That's not a good thing, Beth. Look at their gazes. It's all judgement."
"... That's because they're jealous. You've done something they can't. It's jealousy, really."
"Alright. Let's have a mental victory."
With each step we took, jaws turned and dropped.
Men cursed or gawked at me from behind, and women criticised me, demeaning my appearance and citing what had happened during the interview and the 'Taltine Apology'.
A few of them gave me a thumbs up, but the vast majority were looking down on me.
Clearly, the commoners and nobles held different views. Many commoners had cheered for me when I'd received the 'Taltine Apology' that morning.
As we approached the shop, noblewomen getting out of their carriages joined in on evaluating me.
'That's right. No matter how much I may want an apology, I'm a noblewoman.'
'A noblewoman is supposed to set an example for others.'
'That's what I'm saying. A noblewoman’s physical appearance and attitude...'
Every sentence began with 'a noblewoman...' and probably ended with 'tsk, tsk, tsk'.
Phew. What a bunch of bigoted aristocrats. This rotten class system was what gave birth to Les Misérables, you guys.
I cursed at the nobles in my mind and stiffly lifted my head, walking around the city more slowly and leisurely until I entered the biggest dress shop, Dignity of Nobility, which sold both ready-made and custom-made dresses.
Only a few minutes had passed since I'd entered the dress shop when a gaggle of noblewomen started to gossip, giggle and laugh as soon as they saw me.
"Oh, my... What a shame. I don't think there's a dress that will fit her. Hahahaha."
"No matter how you tighten the corset, it'll explode. She'll have to get it tailored. Hahahaha."
"Oh, that was too harsh, young lady. You should apologize quickly."
"I know, I'm not supposed to judge people by their looks, but Lady Tara, I didn't mean to call you a...!"
I resisted the urge to raise my middle finger, stretched my index finger and brought it to my lips, glaring at them.
Those skinny aristocratic skewers didn't understand and their eyes widened.
Just by looking at them I could tell they had tightened their corsets to the max and would collapse if they took a short walk. I would lose weight for my health, but I had no intention of becoming a skewer like those noblewomen.
This Empire had a particularly high number of noblewomen as skinny as models, and it seemed that Empress Vivian, who was quite thin, was leading the beauty standards in that direction.
"It's okay. It's all true. Well..."
*마치 못 먹는 감 찔러나 보듯 (poking a persimmon you can’t eat) means 'a person you cannot have'.
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