༺ Imperial Palace Conference ༻
The Imperial Palace Emperatos.
A white palace towering in the vast land of the city of Shangria.
Built hundreds of years ago using dragon technology, the Emperatos Palace boasted a grandeur beyond the reach of human technology, inspiring awe and respect for the Empire and the royal family in all who saw it.
Despite facing numerous crises over the centuries since its founding, the Imperial Palace Emperatos remained an invincible fortress that had never once allowed an enemy incursion, and it was one of the symbols representing the grandeur of the Empire.
People looked up at the towering palace as if they were reaching out to a goddess, imagining that the royal family living there led a refined life as if they existed in the heavens.
But for Elizabeth, this palace felt no different from a rat’s den in the back alleys of the city.
Early in the morning, Elizabeth set foot in the Emperatos Palace for a meeting.
The palace garden, ablaze with exotic flowers, would generally lift the spirits of onlookers, but for Elizabeth, it felt like a smokescreen trying to somehow hide the stench emanating from the palace.
As she arrived at the conference room, the eunuch announced her entry with a booming voice.
“The noble Little Sun of the Empire, Her Highness Elizabeth von Galateia, the Third Princess, has arrived!”
Most of the bureaucrats were already gathered in the conference room.
Valier, the Minister of the Imperial Administration, Duke Aizenfeld, the leader of the local nobility Major General Elias, the captain of the Imperial Police, Commander Ludwig, the commander of the Royal Guard, Grand Mage Runhardt of the Imperial Palace and his daughter, the Chief Mage Greta…
High-ranking nobles and bureaucrats, each boasting an enviable status and power from all corners of the Empire, were gathered in this palace, and as soon as the princess entered, they bent at the waist with due respect.
In response to their salutations, Elizabeth simply nodded her head while keeping her back straight, for a royal should not bow to anyone.
Upon entering the conference room, the first thing Elizabeth looked at was the throne.
The empty throne was not strange. The emperor was getting older and his health was deteriorating to the point that recently, he was unable to attend meetings due to health red flags.
This fact was not officially announced to the public, but everyone here already knew it.
The problem was that even the seat of the Crown Prince, right below that throne, was empty.
Elizabeth opened her mouth as she looked at the vacant chair.
“Where is my older brother again?”
“…I apologize, Your Highness.”
“I see. Since we don’t know when he will arrive, shall we start the meeting among ourselves?”
What she said wasn’t anything special, it was the same as always.
As soon as Elizabeth sat in her chair, the meeting immediately started as if it had been waiting for her words. The main content of the meeting was, of course, about the ongoing victory festival.
Because of the festival, how much the number of tourists had increased compared to normal years, what was lacking, what was needed… As each bureaucrat started talking, Elizabeth, as a royal representative, expressed her detailed opinions on each agenda.
“Limit the traffic of horses and carriages, and only allow logistics to move at specific times. Leave the central road as free as possible for tourists, and use the Tethys River waterway for other logistics.”
“Mobilize all the reserve forces of the City Guards and the Knights, and increase the patrol personnel to more than 50% of the current number. Crimes against tourists do not stop, and this is related to the face of the Empire. Even if they are foreigners, let them be judged by the stern laws of the Empire.”
“Understood, Your Highness.”
The meeting proceeded smoothly under Elizabeth’s unhindered leadership.
Then, all of a sudden, the door of the conference room opened and the eunuch shouted out.
“The Great Little Sun of the Empire, His Highness Wilhelm von Galatea, the Crown Prince, has arrived!!”
As the door swung wide open, a man stepped into the conference room.
The man, who had silver hair and red eyes like Elizabeth, arrogantly scanned his surroundings as he confidently strode through the conference room.
Then he calmly sat in his empty chair and, leaning back arrogantly in his chair, said,
“Don’t mind me, continue the meeting.”
He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was late for the meeting.
Some might interpret such a commanding attitude as the confidence of a future emperor, but Elizabeth saw something slightly different.
His clothes and hair seemed hastily groomed but still had a disheveled appearance, and his eyes looked a bit vacant and half-open.
Most tellingly, a strong scent of perfume and alcohol wafted from Wilhelm when he sat next to her.
It seemed that there would be no worries about his succession if such a prince, more interested in his own pleasure than important meetings, became the emperor.
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at her own blood kin. It was such a subtle change of emotion that no one could notice.
Wilhelm looked bored already, not long after arriving at the meeting.
The one sitting in that position was supposed to listen to the voices of all the people, but while Elizabeth and the prime minister were leading the meeting, Wilhelm merely sat there with a look of annoyance.
In the middle of the ongoing meeting, Ludwig, the commander of the Royal Guard, who had been waiting for the right time to speak, cautiously addressed the Crown Prince.
“Your Highness, the Crown Prince. Actually, Deputy Commander Frida has been seriously injured. She said she may not be able to participate in the parade and asked me to deliver the message.”
At that, emotion appeared on Wilhelm’s face, which had been expressionless until now. It was clear anger.
“Frida is injured? What the hell happened?”
“…Well, she… fell from her horse and rolled.”
“Fell from her horse? A master class? You expect me to believe that now?”
Sir Ludwig closed his mouth as if apologizing.
Wilhelm’s face twisted even more violently in anger.
“That… that useless wretch! There’s a limit to uselessness! Especially at such an important time!”
Unable to suppress his anger, he insulted his colleague for quite a while in this public place.
All the nobles and bureaucrats present kept their mouths shut and their heads bowed, pretending not to hear the prince’s words.
Elizabeth was lost in thought for a moment. She had already heard through the imperial intelligence department that the iron-blooded knight had lost to an unidentified man in the arena.
As far as she knew, the intelligence department would have surely reported it to Wilhelm as well. Yet, his attitude looked as if he was hearing this fact for the first time.
Of course, it was obvious. He must have listened to the report but didn’t really pay attention. He probably didn’t care about any report while indulging in pleasure, and he probably didn’t even read the remaining reports.
After the war, she had heard that Frida often relieved her stress in the arena. However, she had not expected that Frida would return after such a miserable defeat.
She understood why Frida excused herself, saying that she had fallen from her horse and was injured. Those who should know would have already heard the news, and she wouldn’t be able to show her face, even out of embarrassment. She wouldn’t want to show up at the parade either.
However, Wilhelm was not the type to understand such things. Wilhelm, who had been expressing his anger violently for quite some time, shouted in a tone of voice that showed his anger had not subsided.
At that, the saintess, Charlotte, who had been sitting silently in a corner of the meeting room, slowly raised her head.
“Find a way to fix Frida, and bring her back healthy before the parade.”
Charlotte silently stared at the prince. It was the senior nun Adele that served the saintess, who answered on her behalf.
“Your Highness, the Crown Prince. I’m sorry, but the Saintess has already bestowed treatment upon Frida.”
Even for the senior nun, it was an unusual event for a nun, who was neither a bishop nor an archbishop, to attend a palace meeting.
However, Saintess Charlotte was suffering from aphasia and couldn’t communicate with anyone, so she needed someone to convey her words.
The one who played that role was Adele herself.
“She’s already been treated? Then what’s the problem?”
“Frida has severely injured her face, causing damage to her brain. The brain is a very sensitive area and must be treated carefully even with magic. If the treatment is forced, there may be a risk of permanent disability that cannot be cured with sacred power…”
“Just get to the point. How long does this careful treatment take?”
“Well, at the very least a week-“
“A week!? Ha! There are only two days left until the parade, and you say a week? That can’t be. You must make her healthy by tomorrow.”
“Your Highness, with all due respect, that is impossible. Frida is at risk of damage to her memory or becoming vegetative.”
“Shut up, just bring her before the parade, whatever the aftereffects! All she has to do is look healthy on the outside!”
At the command to bring his niece, even if it meant turning her brain into a fool, the complexion of Commander Ludwig, who had to endure the prince’s anger in front of him, hardened, and the color drained from Adele’s face.
Originally, even the crown prince of the empire should not show such tyranny to a saint. Like Frida or Greta, who should have been here, the saintess was only temporarily participating in this meeting because of the parade.
No matter if she was a colleague, the saintess is not a servant of the prince like the other people in this meeting room. It’s not right to treat her, who is under the protection of the church, as if giving an order to a subordinate.
So, Adele tried to muster the courage to protect the saintess. But before that, there was a gentle touch on her shoulder.
When Adele looked to the side, she could see Charlotte gently nodding towards her. Then Adele could say nothing.
Charlotte made eye contact with Wilhelm and nodded her head slightly with a resigned look. Understanding her intention to treat Frida, Wilhelm’s anger finally subsided a bit.
As the prince’s anger subsided, the meeting was finally able to proceed again. Various agendas were continued through the mouths of bureaucrats, and the meeting proceeded normally in Wilhelm’s indifference.
Soon, there was talk of needing personnel to supervise the inspection of the parade route on the day of the parade.
No one disagreed that another field manager was needed to prepare for any incidents on the day, given that Dr. Brown would be present.
Suddenly, Wilhelm, who had been quiet all along, spoke in a casual tone.
“My beloved little sister can handle it.”
“…What do you mean, brother?”
“Oh, Elizabeth. The demonstration operation of the parade route, awaited by the people of the empire, no, the whole continent. Naturally, a person of suitable rank should watch the scene. Wouldn’t it be good for you to experience riding on the parade route too?”
Elizabeth doubted Wilhelm’s intentions for a moment.
Wilhelm, the Crown Prince, despite being hailed as the Hero of Light, was a contentious figure among the people. And the Second Princess did not reveal her face at all.
Elizabeth, the young third princess, had been effectively substituting for the ailing Emperor in public duties in their stead.
Therefore, Elizabeth also had considerable popular support that could not be ignored.
A man who, in normal circumstances, would not find it strange to completely block her participation in the parade, clearly had impure intentions in trying to put her on the most eye-catching parade route.
However, Elizabeth did not show that she was doubting the Crown Prince’s intentions. She just lifted her red lips and showed a beautiful smile as if painted.
“I’ll do as you say, brother.”
At her soft and obedient attitude, Wilhelm nodded in satisfaction.
After the meeting, Elizabeth calmly left the conference room.
Soon, her loyal knight, Katarina, stuck by her side like a shadow.
And she whispered a secret message to the princess.
“Your Highness. Commander Ludwig wishes to see you.”
“Without anyone knowing, avoiding others’ eyes?”
“Okay. Oh, about the demonstration operation of the parade route. Can you check it out in detail again?”
“If it’s your command, Your Highness.”
“Okay. Anyway, thanks for the good news, Katarina.”
He had been indifferent no matter what, but it seems that even he, who had always been on the side of the Crown Prince, couldn’t remain unresponsive to the remark about not caring if his niece was made into a fool.
Of course, this wouldn’t have confirmed his change of allegiance yet. However, judging from his request to meet, which was different from before, it was certain that the reaction was more positive than before.
This way, Elizabeth, who beautifully smiled in front of Wilhelm pretending to know nothing, was systematically increasing her faction behind the scenes.
To fulfill her ambitions someday.
However, her power was no different than a sandcastle. Most of the people were those who either thought that Wilhelm should not become the emperor or had no other choice because they were displeased with the Crown Prince, rather than those who genuinely supported her.
A weak force that would certainly crumble without a trace if a violent wave hit even once.
Therefore, to build this sandcastle more solidly, it wasn’t enough to act underwater as she was doing now. The emperor’s health was deteriorating day by day.
If they support her while the emperor is still alive, it’s a common throne competition, but if they support her after Wilhelm becomes the emperor, it’s a rebellion. So she had to settle the score while the emperor was alive.
Suddenly, a person came to Elizabeth’s mind.
A man who might be the only one who could solve all her problems right now.
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