Marquis Ansen Siegrid has been thinking a lot lately.
Until now, his life has been one of triumph.
Born the third son of an insignificant count and destined to inherit no titles, he deliberately wooed the young marchioness of a neighbouring town and married her for a huge dowry.
On their first night together, his wife was thrilled with the prospect of a loving family life, but he fell asleep thinking about the title he could get for his dowry.
After their marriage, he spent the money from his wife’s inheritance on the capital of Verdan, trying to woo the high nobility.
His behavior was typical of a rascal who lacks ability, is lazy, but overflowing with ambition for fame and power.
How did he manage to connect with high nobility while living such a pathetic life? Just when he thought he might finally get a decent title, the Third Holy War broke out.
The nobleman in the capital who was supposed to be his contact had been purged by the Order after getting mixed up with a family of dark mages. Other nobles he had spent money on were in a similar predicament. There was nothing left of his fortune. He reached out to his in-laws, but all he got back were pennies and bitterness.
In the midst of his despair, a ray of hope descended. His wife’s brother, the only son of the old Marquis of Siegrid, had been killed in the war.
As his wife was the first daughter of a marquis, he inherited the title of marquis along with his father-in-law’s estate.
The Marquisate of Siegrid had a large area of flat land near the river, which was ideal for accumulating wealth, but that was as far as it went.
The marquisate was far from the capital, and the family name itself had little political significance, so the Marquis of Siegrid had little influence in Verdan politics.
Ansen Siegrid thought quickly.
He decided that now was the time to claim a place in the royal castle, and he returned to the Verdan capital to use the Marquis’s vast wealth to enter politics. Verdan was short-handed, with more than half of the capital’s senior nobility killed in the war. The Marquis of Siegrid was able to gain access to Luxenthook without much difficulty.
The rest of his life was uneventful. He dabbled in the royalist faction, but when the tide seemed to be turning, he quickly moved to the aristocratic faction. Even there, he didn’t rise as high as he had hoped. But he was content to eat as much beans as he wanted, as the aristocratic faction was gaining ground in the castle.
Until Princess Marianne came along.
It was a few days ago.
The Marquis of Siegrid, accompanied by his friend Baron Dominic, was on their way to a meeting in Luxenthook, much to the chagrin of Count Brett.
Count Brett had been the natural leader of the noble faction that had fallen into disarray after the death of the Duke of Jovaton.
As he led his nobles through the corridors of the castle, he met his match. Princess Marianne was returning from a walk in the gardens with her maidservant.
As soon as Count Brett saw her, he turned and tried to pretend he hadn’t seen her, but the princess was one step ahead of him.
“It’s been a long time, Count Brett.”
She clasped his hand in greeting.
He stopped in his tracks, smiled broadly, and returned the greeting. It was natural, but everyone there knew it was a bluff to hide his fear.
“Haha, Your Highness, how have you been?”
Marianne glared at him, then smirked.
“Yes. I would have been happier and more joyful if I hadn’t bumped into the Count. Strangely, the sight of Count Brett’s face reminds me of that time when I was locked in the North Tower and couldn’t get out.”
“Your Royal Highness, I think you have a misunderstanding…”
The Count smiled awkwardly and excused himself. He was about to tell her that it was the Duke of Jovaton, not him, who had tried to destroy her. But before he could, he was interrupted by Marianne.
“Oh? You seem to have forgotten, but only a month ago I was lying in ruins, not in the gardens of the royal castle, but in a corner somewhere. I was very sad and desperate, and if you dismiss that as a misunderstanding, I’m the one who made up a memory that doesn’t exist.”
“Or are you trying to tell me, Count, that I’m crazy, so you can use that excuse to get rid of me this time?”
The count was silent. The other nobles standing behind him all lowered their gazes.
“There’s no answer. You can ignore the princess who might be kicked out, is that it?”
Marquis Siegrid engraved the information about the princess in his mind.
Princess Marianne, with her cute appearance and elegant way of speaking, had a natural talent for pushing people to the edge.
“Th, there’s no way. I’m running late for a meeting… If you’ll excuse me, Your Highness, I’d better get going.”
Count Brett pretended to check his watch, then hustled out of the room. Marquis Siegrid followed him.
“Be careful, everyone.”
He heard the Princess Marianne’s voice behind them.
“Because I’m here with both eyes open.”
He turned around, and there she is, wide-eyed and smiling frighteningly. The glow in her eyes was so eerie that even when he closed his eyes, he could see it.
Siegrid quickly turned away and followed Count Brett.
Count Brett muttered softly, wiping the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief. The sound made Siegrid wonder if he’d made the wrong choice in joining the aristocracy.
The aristocracy, which he had thought would rise to power until his death, had run into a reef in the form of Princess Marianne and was sinking.
* * *
“Apparently, Count Brett, the long-time foreign minister…”
“I wonder if it has been 20 years since the Count entered the Verdan capital. Marquis Alphonse, who has served the king for generations after inheriting the family, is a good candidate.”
To the extent that he was pushed even by the king’s servants. Right now, the royal castle was fighting fiercely to decide who would be the next chancellor.
Until now, the most vocal noble faction in Luxenthook had always been the one pushing for the position, but after the failure of the last witch hunt, the two factions had come to blows.
Which side could produce a chancellor would be the difference between victory and defeat.
“The Chancellorship is not a position for loyalty alone!”
“But loyalty should be the foundation, and we can’t afford to have another repeat of what happened last time, can we?”
“Well, it was a matter of course, and we had no choice but to do so. Do you think we did it out of disrespect for the royal family?”
“You must have been the instigators.”
Baron Dominic, Count Brett’s brother-in-law and Marquis Siegrid’s best friend, fought against the royalists and was outnumbered. Apparently the last incident with the princess had taken its toll.
He quickly changed targets.
The Baron turned and knelt down to face Josef.
“Your Highness, this is nothing more than a pointless battle of words. We need your wise sire’s help.”
The prince has been in the grip of the nobility until now. Based on his experience, Baron Dominic believed that he would move as they wanted this time as well. Several of his subjects knelt behind him.
Not to be outdone by this, the nobles of the royal faction stepped forward.
“Your Majesty, they are trying to erase all their faults, and we must not allow them to do so. Please make the right decision.”
“Your Majesty, make a decision…!”
All the subjects chimed in.
Josef rubbed the underside of his chin, stalling for time.
He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then spoke in a slow, soothing tone to calm his subjects.
“This is a very difficult problem. Beder’s words seem correct, and Hilberg’s words also seem correct. Hmmm… I need to think a little more about this problem. Let’s move on to the next agenda for now.”
The subjects had many things they wanted to say, but they remained silent. They all knew that behind the smiling fool Josef was the fearsome Princess Marianne.
Siegrid was unnecessarily nervous. The longer Josef stalled, the better for the royalists. Soon the Pope would return to Verdan and the coronation would take place. Without a chancellor from the nobility, everything would go their way.
The Marquis of Siegrid, not a bright man, but with a haunting sense of the benefits to be gained, watched the other side in silence. Marquis Alphonse seemed to be in good spirits today.
‘If only I had stayed on their side.’
The Marquis of Siegrid sensed that this frustrating situation would not be resolved any time soon.
* * *
Princess Marianne was not the only threat to the aristocracy. In recent weeks, security along the border had been poor.
“The road to the province of Dambardi has also been taken over by a band of bandits.”
“Dambardi? It’s a long way to get there.”
“It’s more dangerous because it’s off the beaten track.”
Grunt. The aristocrats made a sickening sound.
Verdan was a country born alongside the division of the Empire of Rembato. It was created by knights and lords who made a contract with the peasantry, who rebelled and established a country with vast land.
It had a vast and fertile plain compared to the neighboring three countries, and was nicknamed the ‘Land of Gold,’ but paradoxically, it had few mines, so it had to import things such as gold, jewels, and iron.
The nobility of the aristocracy took advantage of this to build up their wealth.
Their main trade partner was Piet, a country to the north of Verdan. With its mountains and lack of flat land, and more cold days than hot, Piette needed the grain from Verdan to keep its citizens from starving.
The nobles bought grain from the Verdan cheaply and traded it for precious metals, iron, and liquor from the Piet. They would also visit the small country below them, Greenard, to import silks and other goods from the East, but the main trading post for the nobility was Piet.
Verdan and Piette were on the same border, so the upper classes travelled overland. But in recent weeks, the roads to Piette have been plagued by bandits. There are already twelve nobles who have had their goods plundered by bandits.
“They won’t touch a company as big as Count Brett’s…”
“Count Brett doesn’t even look at us…”
“Even the royal family doesn’t care.”
“How shall we bear this loss.”
When everyone sighed and said that the land was worthless, Count Siegrid alone stared at the land absentmindedly. He didn’t need to operate a company because he inherited vast lands from his father-in-law. He didn’t want to take the risk when he could make money sitting still every year.
‘I’m glad I stayed put.’
He applauds his choices in the past. The bandits on Piet’s border were his friends’ concern, not his.