Her overwhelming confidence was felt all the way to the chancellor. The entire aristocracy flinched.
“…You’re quite right.”
“How dare you mock Her Highness!”
“They should be imprisoned immediately!”
Riding her momentum, the royalist subjects spat out words of support for her one by one.
“Do you mean, then, to leave the whole thing alone?”
“If there are suspicions, it’s only right to clear them up!”
The nobleman retorted, a step too late.
The room erupted into an uproar.
They argued again.
The only difference was that the nobleman’s language was somewhat milder.
Princess Marianne shouted, rising from her seat. Her face was filled with irritation.
At the sound of that, the nobles fell silent again. They realised that they had been disrespectful in her presence, and that she was angry.
Their bodies turned, not towards Josef, but towards Princess Marianne.
Instead of being embarrassed, Marianne cleared her throat. Then she addressed them with the graceful, commanding manner with which she was accustomed.
“Let’s be blunt, let’s get to the point, let’s settle this now. Those of you who feel I’m flawed will stand to the right, and those of you who don’t will stand to the left.”
The royalist faction stood to the right of Marianne and the aristocratic faction to the left.
The royalists would naturally move to the left. After all, they were against discussing the princess’s faults in the first place.
The problem was the aristocrats.
Unless they had been standing on the right from the start, how many of them would have had the courage to move to the right to meet the princess’s fierce eyes.
The courtiers on the left sneakily sized up the situation. They seemed to be waiting for someone to make the first move.
The chancellor raised his voice and called to the princess.
He tried to hold his ground and turn the tide, but it wasn’t enough.
The momentum in the room had already shifted in favour of the princess and the royalists.
The princess called to him in a calm voice.
“If you will stand to my right, I will have my people investigate. I will comply, but on one condition.”
As she spoke, she turned her head and swept her gaze over the nobles present.
A few of the noblemen flinched as she made eye contact with them. Marianne held them in her gaze and spoke.
“As easily as you seek to control my life, I firmly believe that you are prepared to do the same with your own.”
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. It was the kind of smile you expect to see on a public speaker’s face: clichéd, pretentious.
“Now that you have discredited the life of a royal princess, you offer your life as a noble man.”
The aristocrats fell silent, and I did the maths in my head.
‘What kind of nobleman life is the princess talking about?’
No matter how much they thought about it, they couldn’t come up with an answer. They could not fathom what they might lose if they stood by their convictions.
Kindly, Marianne explained it to them.
“We must thoroughly investigate and punish to prevent any future troubles. Let’s use death penalty or execution1궁형 (literally “palace punishment”) in historical contexts often refers to the death penalty or other severe forms of punishment as a deterrent.”
Someone spoke in a trembling voice at the mention of the word “execution.”
“Yes. Let’s cut to it.”
Marianne interrupted him with a fresh smile.
“Let’s dry the seeds in a different way2this phrase can also be used figuratively to mean “let’s try a different approach” or “let’s try a different method”.”
She made a sly gesture with her scissors as if she were snipping and cutting something.
An ambiguous silence enveloped the room.
Nobles and royalists alike were speechless at the hand gesture the princess did.
To be or not to be. Marianne looked at Josef with a girlish smile.
“Your Majesty, if my innocence is proven, I beg of you that those who have brought such a great blemish upon me with their cunning three-pronged tongues be sentenced to the gallows.”
It was a light coo, like she was begging him to buy her jewellery or a dress.
Josef crossed his arms and looked at Marianne with interest. Or more accurately, he looked over Marianne’s shoulder at Mariella.
‘Wow, life outside the pages of a novel is really coming to life here.’
Behind her, Mariella was silently admiring.
She had discovered a new talent in Marianne.
Some of the tricks were her own, of course. Tricks like bringing the tea table here, and reversing the positions of the noble and royal factions to give them a vote.
But it was Marianne who pulled it off. Certainly, Marianne had a talent for crushing others.
As she marvelled at the new situation Marianne had created, her eyes met those of Josef, who sat in the distance.
The corner of his mouth twitched up slightly, then down as he tried to maintain his composure. She frowned slightly.
Marianne nudged him with a loving look. Josef put on his best human face and grinned.
“That’s a good idea. After all, you know me well.”
“High, Your Highness…!”
Someone from the noble faction tried to persuade Josef.
“Well, then, we’ve got the prince’s permission, too…Let’s get started.”
But Marianne would have none of it. She motioned to a servant behind her back to bring something.
A moment later, the servant emerged with something. It was a large hourglass.
“You have five minutes. This argument is flawed from the start. You’ll have to ask me directly about my chastity.”
Snap. She snapped her fingers, and the servant flipped the hourglass over.
“We’ll see what you choose to do.”
It was a completely impersonal tone.
The royalist faction shifted lazily to the left. The Nobles stared at each other, unable to do anything about it, but there was no time to waste. The sand in the hourglass was falling at a rapid pace.
The clock ticked.
Time passes quickly with the sound of falling sand. At this point, with less than half the sand left, all of his subjects had gathered to his left. The room was eerily silent.
Marianne, who had been watching with her arms crossed, raised her voice in an innocent tone.
“What’s going on? Where have all the people who were raising their voices in front of me a moment ago gone?”
It was an obvious provocation, but the aristocrats all lowered their heads. They just stood there and looked at each other.
Most of the aristocracy were people who had risen to power with the development of commerce. In other words, they were nouveau riche. They had been running the country for decades, but they were lucky to have the circumstances fall into place, and it was not the result of their own abilities.
They were only used to having the upper hand in fights they knew they could win. Walking a tightrope, where one wrong step and you’re off, was not their speciality.
The Duke of Jovaton, a merchant, clenched his fists. He was the patriarch of House Jovaton, which had protected the royal family since time immemorial. The Jovatons were a renowned knightly family that had produced two Swordmasters. His crimson blood was filled with the promise of his ancestors.
He knew what the petty aristocrats feared and how to address it: they were waiting for someone to step forward and take the blade for them. If he led the way and stood at the princess’s right hand, they would follow.
The chancellor turned to his right, just as he was about to take a step.
Someone grabbed his arm.
He frowned, looked at the man who had stopped him, and stood still. It was his Lord. The true head of the aristocratic faction, the ruler who was currently hiding in the crowd.
The chancellor asked, unable to hide his embarrassment.
The man stared at him wordlessly, then nodded once, heavily, and disappeared into the crowd.
The chancellor stared in disbelief at the man’s disappearance, then decided to do as his master commanded.
Marianne’s voice came over the sound of cheerful applause.
“Now that the allotted time is over, shall we take a head count?”
The room was still silent. Not a breath was being taken.
Marianne composed herself with a stern expression and a theatrical tone of voice and looked around the room.
To her left, the room was packed with people, while to her right, there was not a single ant in sight.
She loved it. She really did feel like a character in a novel.
“Oh, I don’t need to count, there’s no one on my right anyway.”
A sparse chuckle erupted from Marianne’s left.
“I don’t know why you’re dragging this out so long when it could be done so easily. A woman’s honour can be lost so easily, but a man’s?”
Marianne mocked the aristocrats with glee.
Mariella, who had been watching Marianne’s monologue from the back, quietly came up behind her, sensing that if she went any further, she might be in trouble.
‘There is no need to cause unnecessary trouble in politics, which is a group fight.’
As she was about to stop Marianne, Josef, who had been watching them from the highest point, leapt to his feet and called for attention.
“Let’s break up the meeting. What a relief to see such an important matter concluded so quickly.”
No sooner had he spoken than most of the nobles bowed politely to the prince and filed out of the room. The royalist subjects followed them, grumbling amongst themselves at the sight they hadn’t seen in so long.
Marianne and Josef were left in the empty room.
They stared at each other, then slowly moved toward each other.
Like a butterfly, Marianne fluttered across the red carpet and, unable to resist the emotions rising within her, rushed to Josef and embraced him. He deftly picked her up and lifted her slightly. It was a fairy-tale scene indeed.
Mariella thought that they were like two characters from a fairy tale. An innocent prince who knew nothing but love, and a strong-willed princess who wanted to protect him from the harshness of the world.
It’s a wonderful scene.
‘If only he wasn’t such a creep on the inside.’
Mariella whispered sweet words into Marianne’s ear and at the same time met Josef’s gaze staring at her.
Josef let out a small laugh at Mariella’s renewed attitude.
The sight fuelled Mariella’s irritation.
“Your Majesty, since the meeting ended early today, why don’t you join me in the garden for tea, and I’ll have the musicians give a small recital.”
Knowing nothing, Marianne broke free of Josef’s embrace and grabbed both of his hands in her own. The prince pretended to consider her request for a moment, then granted it.
“There are some menial tasks that remain, but, well, I can do anything for my dear ‘Marie’.”
Mariella wordlessly clenched and unclenched her fists. Now the prince was deliberately calling her Marie.
She strained her eyes to glare at Josef. He smirked and pretended not to notice.
A subtle undercurrent passed between them again.
“I’m so excited, I’ll go ahead and get the maids and servants ready. What kind of tea does Your Highness like?”
Only Princess Marianne, who knew nothing, was giddy with excitement.
“Anything you have prepared, my little star. I’ll go and get dressed and wait for you.”
Marianne slipped out of the conference room, her face glowing with excitement at their first alone time together.
The princess’ maids ran after her.
Mariella did not immediately follow her, but stood still and stared at the prince.
Josef slowly walks towards her with his hands behind his back.
When he was in front of her, Mariella smirked and hurled a sarcastic remark.
“What an incompetent man.”
Josef smirked back, undeterred.
“That’s my job.”
A lavish, spacious conference room.
A couple of men and women standing close together, looking at each other and laughing softly.
All they were exchanging was a friendly laugh, but somehow it felt like they were holding a knife to each other’s throats.
As they stood there, revealing their naked emotions to each other, a familiar voice broke the silence.
It was Julian.
Josef called his friend’s name.
Julian walked quickly towards him. His steps were somewhat angry.
Mariella raised her head slightly, made eye contact with him, and quickly lowered her gaze to the floor.
Julian glanced at Mariella with disdain, then walked over to Josef and brushed the dust off his shoulders.
Then, in a polite but somehow aggressive tone, she admonished him.
“Josef, marriage is sacred, and you must do what is best for the princess.”
Josef nodded, unapologetically.
Julian patted him on the shoulder a couple of times to indicate that he believed him, then turned and left. He didn’t forget to glance at Mariella on the way out.
Mariella looked in the direction of where Julian had gone and turned to Josef.
“The Duke of Bayer seems to have very few friends.”
She meant, ‘Doesn’t he have any friends?’
Understanding her, Josef grinned broadly, then admitted it.
“Our Julian was brought up by the Pope, and is very pious and serious.”
She nodded finely, with a subtle expression.
“You mean to say that his only close friend is Your Highness.”
“My Lady Marie is very good with words.”
“I’m sure I’ve told you several times not to use that title again.”
Instead of taking it as a condescending or high-handed comment, Josef shrugged quietly.
- 1궁형 (literally “palace punishment”) in historical contexts often refers to the death penalty or other severe forms of punishment
- 2this phrase can also be used figuratively to mean “let’s try a different approach” or “let’s try a different method”