“You must have a lot of money, right?”
On the way home, Baron Dominic suddenly grabbed him by the shoulder and said.
“Now what does that mean?”
“Well, I couldn’t tell you, but my business was taken by a band of bandits. It was a pretty big investment, so I’ve lost a lot of money.”
“Enough to bankrupt you?”
“It’s not quite there yet, but it will if this situation continues.”
“Then why don’t you go to Count Brett? He’s your brother-in-law, after all, and I’m sure he’ll do something about it.”
The Baron hesitated at that.
“… Actually, I have a situation.”
“I’ve been trying to get some alcohol in here.”
The Marquis of Siegrid looked genuinely sorry.
Count Brett was the owner of the third largest shop in Verdan, and his shop sold many things: jewellery, silks, tea, but most famously liquor. Through one way or another, Count Brett had made connections with high ranking Piette nobles who manufactured liquor, and he had an exclusive contract with them. Still, the liquor of Piette was almost monopolised by Count Brett.
Judging by Baron Dominic’s demeanour, he was trying to exploit the fact that he was Count Brett’s brother-in-law, to exploit the loophole.
That’s why he couldn’t ask his brother-in-law for help.
“Just lend me a moment. Just for a little while, and I can pay you back as soon as things calm down.”
“How much do you need.”
Siegrid wanted to hear what his friend had to say. He wanted to help as much as he could.
The amount of money Baron Dominic was asking for was outrageous. When he heard the exact amount, he flinched.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have that kind of money.”
“You don’t have it? You’re not pretending?”
Dominic changed colour and pecked him.
“We’ve had a pest infestation the last few years, so we’re not making much money. I’ve had to spend some money on repairs to the castle on the estate, and my wife has been ill, so I’ve had to take care of her…”
“It’s a very transparent lie. It seems like you just want to protect your own assets while your friend is in danger.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You don’t remember anything about how I behaved when you were in danger?”
“Of course I remember. I remember everything. Are you drunk? Why the sudden change in your behaviour?”
As Dominic continued his sarcasm, Siegrid was slightly offended.
“It’s because of anger, isn’t it! Your friend is in a dead end and asked you to lend some money to help him recover, but you hesitate and turned out to be a despicable friend!”
Baron Dominic blushed and accused Siegrid of cowardice, hoping that this would make him give him some money.
But the Marquis was steadfast.
‘Nonsense. Doesn’t he know that I’m trying to get money for Miss Lindgren?’
Ringlen was an actress with the Blue Deck theatre company in the Verdan capital. It wasn’t quite as prestigious as the Violsenets National Theatre, but it was still a pretty good theatre company. Lindgren was a rising star, just moving up from supporting to leading roles, and she was looking for a sponsor to pay for her wardrobe and living expenses.
To woo her, Baron Dominic, known for his penchant for revealing women, promised to pay for all her costumes and props for her starring debut. It was a large sum of money for the baron, but he was confident that the carriage he had sent to Piette would be returned and the problem would be solved.
Suddenly, a band of bandits intervened.
The props and costumes the baron had ordered had been completed, but payment had been delayed. It was rumoured that Lindgren, embarrassed and humiliated, was furious with the Baron.
‘I can’t cross this line, absolutely not.’
Siegrid firmly resolved that he would not cross the line, no matter how much Dominic tried to persuade and coax him.
* * *
Days passed. The relationship between Baron Dominic and Marquis Siegrid remained frosty. More precisely, Baron Dominic was unilaterally ignoring her.
The Marquis was in a difficult position. It was Baron Dominic who had brought him from the royalist faction to the aristocratic faction. Without the support of the Baron, the brother-in-law of the Count of Brett, his position is ambiguous.
‘Nor can I lend money that I know will go to an actress.’
The Marquis’s head is spinning. He has no idea how to get out of this complicated situation, as every crisis in his life has resulted in a ridiculous situation being resolved by luck.
‘No. I might as well just give it to him and be done with it, I can’t ruin everything for money.’
He recalled Baron Dominic’s offer.
‘It’s still a considerable amount of money, even when I think about it again. I’ll try to provide it for him just this one time, but what if it happens again in the future? They say the first time is difficult, but the second time is easy.’
His tilted head snapped back into place.
In Luxenthook’s meeting hall, the noble faction and the royal faction subordinates were fighting tight, criticizing each other’s candidates for chancellorship, but Marquis Siegrid alone was preoccupied with personal matters.
As he pondered the situation, he was startled by a sudden glance.
‘Am I mistaken?’
Marquis Alphonse was staring at him. Siegrid shifted in his seat, just in case. Alphonse’s gaze followed him intently.
‘What is it?’
He didn’t know what it meant, but he didn’t think it was good. The Marquis’s eyes burned like the sun as he looked at him. It was as if he was looking at the enemy who had killed his parents.
As soon as the meeting was adjourned, Marquis Alphonse walked towards him.
“Marquis Siegrid, do you have a moment?”
“Haha. I’m a little busy.”
Instinct warned. Without hesitation, Siegrid trotted off.
But Marquis Alphonse would not give up so easily.
From that day on, he followed him like a stalker.
“My wife asked me to come home early today.”
Each time, Siegrid would come up with a different excuse. But this was not the end of Alphonse.
“Marquis, I have a letter for you from Marquis Alphonse.”
“You must be going mad, at home!”
Siegrid’s head snapped up at the servant’s words. Baron Dominic was enough to make his head spin, but Marquis Alphonse was making it worse.
“What the hell is Marquis Alphonse doing to me! If he’s so mad at me for sticking to him like a bat out of hell, he should have done it fifteen years ago, not now!”
After he had shouted and thrown things about like a madman, his anger subsided and he felt calmer. The Marquis of Siegrid ordered his servant, who stood against the wall and watched him impatiently, to tidy up the room and then left the house. He went into town to have a cup of tea and ponder his future.
As he sat leisurely in the café, he felt a tap on his back. He turned around to find Marquis Alphonse standing there.
Siegritte screamed in surprise. Marquis Alphonse frowned and asked.
“What’s so startling?”
“Haha, it’s not like we’re on a friendly greeting.”
At Marquis Siegfried’s awkward laugh, Marquis Alphonse replied with calmness.
“Soon it will be.”
“What… are you talking about?”
Siegrid looked puzzled, not quite understanding what he was saying.
Marquis Alphonse looked serious and lowered his voice.
“Ansen Siegrid. I have sought you out all these years because I have a serious proposal to make to you, but you must be careful: you must not tell anyone what you have heard today.”
As soon as he heard those words, a warning bell rang in his head. The Marquis of Siegrid held out his palm in a gesture of refusal.
“I will not listen, for I am a man of fewer words than I appear.”
But a man who would have stopped when he heard his opponent’s intentions would not have been so persistent in his pursuit. Marquis Alphonse didn’t care about Marquis Siegrid’s wishes and said what he had to say.
“Marquis Siegrid, our royalist faction is ready to support you.”
Marquis Siegrid’s brows furrowed in surprise.
“Will you be our chancellor?”
The words were so outlandish that Ansen Siegrid threw away his manners and raised his voice. She even splashed spit in Marqui Alphonse’s face. Alfonse wiped the spittle off his face in silence.
‘Yes, I’m sure you’re dumbfounded too.’
Marquis Alphonse didn’t want to say such a thing. He didn’t want to follow him like a stalker.
He had his own reasons.
* * *
It was a few days ago.
When there was a lot of fussing in both camps over the choice of a chancellor.
Josef had called Marquis Alphonse aside in private.
“I see you are all preoccupied with the question of the next chancellor.”
Marquis Alphonse’s face flushed when he heard that. Despite his nonchalant demeanour, he was secretly hoping that he might be the next Chancellor, and he was ashamed to have the Prince point it out to him.
Whether or not Marquis Alphonse was aware of this, Josef offered him a suggestion with one of his trademark sunny smiles.
“Actually, I have an idea. I was thinking of making the Marquis of Siegrid the next Chancellor, and I’d like to know what you think.”
Marquis Alphonse looked like he couldn’t believe his ears.
He had reason to be. The Marquis of Siegrid was originally a member of the royalists.
A greedy man who wanted far more than he could afford. He demanded much from the king and the nobility, and when no one would listen to him, he changed sides and crossed over to the nobility, as if asking when did he ever pledge loyalty to the king.
“Your Majesty, the Marquis of Siegrid is a small-minded, greedy man, and a poor judge of character. If he were any other, the Marquis would be…”
He could think of ten thousand reasons why the Marquis of Siegrid shouldn’t be chancellor.
Marquis Alphonse tried to convince him, but Josef cut him off mid-sentence.
“I know. And that’s why I want him to be chancellor, don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing this to ostracise you, but to take this opportunity to play a little prank.”
“What do you mean, a prank…?”
“They are still reeling from the backlash. Thanks to Marianne’s letter, they cannot even utter the ‘dark’ in dark mage, and Duke Jovaton, who played a stabilizing role, suddenly committed suicide. Even if they try to start something new, they will be too afraid of Marianne’s retaliation to act recklessly. Their power has shrunk in an instant. However…”
Josef drew out his words. He took a breath, then slowly repeated his earlier words.
“However, that’s only for a little while. Soon they’ll be back on their feet, and maybe they’ll even use this as a lesson to grow into something more threatening. That’s why we need to do something about it, to put a nail in the coffin that stops them from growing any further.”
“I fail to see how that has anything to do with making Marquis Siegrid a chancellor.”
“I know that Marquis Siegrid is a traitor who used to be on our side and went over there. That there are quite a few such people over there. So let’s use it.”
“Their current centre of power is Count Brett. Threatened by Marianne’s actions, they’ll want to unite. And if they do, we’ll be the ones in trouble, so let’s scatter them.”
Josef rose from his seat and took a few steps towards the window, his back to the door. Marquis Alphonse’s eyes followed his movements. When he reached the window, he half-turned and looked down at Marquis Alphonse. The sunlight created a halo behind his back.
“I’m going to use Marquis Siegrid to create a faction within them.”
Marquis Alphonse looked up into the prince’s face, mesmerised. This did not seem to be the Prince he had known.
Here was a monarch before him, strong, cold, and clear-eyed.
The great King Bayon II, the man who had raised Verdan’s status to its highest peak, seemed to have come to life.
‘Where is my lord, whom I have served all these years, and is this, in fact, the true form of His Royal Highness?’
While Marquis Alphonse was in a state of confusion, Josef suddenly smiled. He flashed an angelic smile and said.
“…That is the opinion of my wife, Marianne. What do you think?”
A lie, of course. Today’s number was the result of days and days of brainstorming between Mariella and Josef.