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“Chase, what do you think? Do I look presentable?”
Claude stood in front of a full-length mirror, checking his appearance several times.
He usually didn’t fuss over his attire so much, but anxiety glued him to the spot today.
“Of course. You look neat and courteous, yet not too conspicuous. Just right.”
Knowing Claude’s unease, Chase praised him with a bit more exaggeration than usual.
Claude attempted a smile, but the anxiety didn’t dissipate easily.
He had carefully chosen a white vest, beige silk trousers, and a navy jacket to appear as polished as possible.
The only notable difference from his usual self was that he let his silver hair, which he typically pulled back to reveal his forehead during important moments, fall freely.
He partially covered his eyes on purpose. Claude, who believed in the saying that to read someone’s mind one must look into their eyes, didn’t want to expose his restless heart.
“You’ll be… fine, Your Highness.”
Understanding the intent behind his action, Chase whispered words of encouragement from behind him. The tension was palpable, to the point where even raising his voice felt risky.
“If Your Highness is ready, I can guide you…”
“No, I’ll go alone.”
“Excuse me? I’d like to accompany you at least to the greenhouse.”
“I want to go alone.”
“Understood. Please take care.”
With somewhat heavy steps, Claude left the palace towards the artificial greenhouse. The imperial greenhouse was located behind the emperor’s palace, a considerable distance from Claude’s western palace.
It would have been a comfortable distance to walk with Chase, but he didn’t want to show his unease to anyone.
“Greetings, Your Highness.”
“Yes, it’s good to see you.”
As the palace servants passing by greeted Claude with a bow, he responded with his usual smile. Yet, internally, he felt far from being cheerful.
Only Claude was fully aware of his state. His steps were heavy, and his gaze was directed downward.
“Don’t be disheartened.”
He eventually stopped, taking a deep breath to collect himself.
“The moment I’ve been preparing for has arrived. I must seize the opportunity.”
The more he tried to pull himself together, the stiffer his face became.
The compulsion to maintain a calm facade and the inability to do so made him struggle when suddenly Iva’s voice popped into his mind.
‘I’ll give you a cheap place to stay. Come with me.’
An unexpected chuckle escaped his lips, instantly relaxing the tense muscles on his face.
Just the sound of Iva’s voice dissolved his intense stress almost effortlessly.
“If I miss this opportunity, I might as well ask Young Lady to take responsibility.”
Recalling the cheerful Iva, another voice naturally came to mind.
‘I cannot tell you.’
As he remembered Ray’s defiant eyes, Claude returned to his usual demeanor.
He straightened his shoulders and back, lifted his head confidently, and gave a composed smile. It was a demeanor that often emanated when he was filled with self-assurance.
“No, I have to keep Young Lady close by.”
Murmuring to himself, he finally reached the greenhouse.
He brushed back the hair that covered his eyes. His forehead and eyes became distinctly visible.
“Greetings, His Highness Claude.”
The guard at the entrance of the greenhouse saluted him.
“Is he inside?”
“Yes, please enter.”
How long has it been since I last visited the greenhouse? He leisurely observed the plants that seemed to have grown lusher and larger than before as he made his way in.
“Have you arrived?”
In the center of the greenhouse, where sunlight was most abundant, a middle-aged man was reclining on a wooden rocking chair, engrossed in a book.
“I greet the Sun of Bergen Empire, Your Majesty Adhvan.”
It was his father, Emperor Adhvan Bergen Elihu.
“It’s been a while.”
Adhvan acknowledged the greeting without looking up from his book, merely flipping its pages.
Yet, Claude respectfully bowed to him.
The emperor’s silver hair and blue eyes, a hallmark of the royal family, were intense. Despite being in his 50s, his strict self-care still emanated an imposing presence solely through his gaze.
Claude took a seat on a wooden chair, a bit distant from Adhvan.
“I received a thank-you letter and some gifts from the Fenet delegation, mentioning the enjoyable welcome they had received in the empire. You did well.”
Adhvan continued speaking while still looking at his book.
“Your trust in me has made it possible, Your Majesty. I am grateful.”
“Especially, the head of the delegation, Bridget expressed a keen interest in fostering friendly relations with us. It seems we might discuss trade matters in the near future.”
“Really? If we are to have our first trade with the Fenet Empire, it’s only natural to consider the winter herbs…”
At the mention of herbs, Adhvan’s gaze shifted from the book to Claude for the first time. Their eyes met, and Claude was momentarily taken aback as he quickly apologized.
“I apologize. I spoke out of turn on a matter Your Majesty has yet to decide upon.”
“No, go on.”
Adhvan closed his book, giving Claude his full attention. Sensing a positive signal, Claude felt his opportunity had come. His voice grew more assertive.
“I’ve heard that Fenet’s herbs, grown in cold and harsh conditions, have exceptional efficacy. If it were up to me, I’d prioritize trading those herbs first.”
“And what should we offer in return to maximize our gain?”
“Fabrics, Your Majesty.”
Claude met Adhvan’s gaze unflinchingly.
“I’ve heard that due to the cold climate, their clothing and shoes are thick, resulting in a high consumption of fabric.”
“Bergen Empire has the advantage of producing fabrics easily and at a lower cost. I believe it would be profitable for us.”
Upon finishing, Claude naturally awaited Adhvan’s evaluation.
This was the clearest and most confident he had ever been while expressing his opinion before Adhvan.
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