Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 14 - Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: The House of Lords

“Your Majesty... Queen Lupis...”

Hearing a voice calling her name, Queen Lupis stirred and awakened from her slumber.

“Meltina?” she groggily murmured.

Meltina approached the queen’s bed. “My apologies for disturbing your slumber, Your Majesty,” she said, her familiar voice laced with dread and shock, “but I have urgent news, so I insisted that the guards let me in.”

Meltina’s strained tone immediately jolted Queen Lupis awake.

“I see. Very well.”

It’s dark, Queen Lupis thought as she sat up and glanced at the sky between the window’s curtains. She then looked at the marionette clock on the wall, confirming that it was around 2 a.m. It’s only been an hour since I got in bed.

It hadn’t been long since Queen Lupis had finished her duties for the day and gone to bed. Normally, she’d be asleep for another five hours, after which one of her attendants would come to wake her up. These few hours of sleep were her only respite from the long days full of duties. Everyone serving her realized this and knew better than to disturb her while she slept, but something urgent enough to justify waking her from what little rest she got had happened.

“Well?” Queen Lupis tersely prompted, her tone understandably grim. She still wasn’t fully awake, and she could very much use a cup of strong tea, but the moment she heard Meltina speak, her bad mood became the last thing on her mind.

“Our spies in the north have just contacted us,” Meltina said gravely. “They report that Epirus has fallen into that man’s hands.”

Queen Lupis swallowed nervously. She didn’t even need to ask which man Meltina was talking about. Only one person in Rhoadseria was poised to take over Epirus.

“Meltina, are you sure?” Queen Lupis asked, only realizing her voice was shaking after the words left her lips.

This had to be true. Meltina Lecter wouldn’t have barged into her liege’s bedroom in the dead of night if she wasn’t sure. If there was the slightest possibility of it being a lie, Meltina wouldn’t have dared wake her like this. But though Queen Lupis knew this, her heart couldn’t accept the truth so easily.

Meltina nodded, looking crestfallen. “Yes, I’m afraid so...”




“I...see.” Queen Lupis sighed heavily. “We were prepared for this, but I didn’t think he’d really triumph over the ten houses of the north.”

Only a month ago had Queen Lupis received news of Ryoma’s attack on the ten houses of the north.

Later reports spoke of refugees from the ten houses’ domains forcibly evacuating to Epirus, so I suspected he intended to cut off their supply chain and carry out a prolonged siege, but I didn’t think he’d make his move this quickly.

If Ryoma had tried to win the war through a prolonged siege, it would’ve given her time to maneuver and implement countermeasures against him, but now those plans had gone down the drain.

That terrible man. Why does he always do things I never expect?

When Ryoma was on her side, she’d been mostly taken aback but also delighted by his achievements. However, now that he was her rival, she couldn’t regard his actions as pleasant surprises.

“What of Count Salzberg, and the other heads of the ten houses who came to Epirus to help him? Are they alive?” Queen Lupis asked.

Meltina hesitated.

It looks like she really doesn’t want to answer that.

Queen Lupis could tell by Meltina’s expression that she was bearing bad news. Still, Meltina had to say something or else things wouldn’t move on.

“Meltina?” Queen Lupis said, urging her to answer.

“Well... Based on the report, Count Salzberg and the majority of the heads of the ten houses have either perished or their whereabouts are unknown. We’ve also lost contact with their families, who had been moving from their domains to Epirus as well.”

Queen Lupis could practically feel all the color drain from her face.

He killed Count Salzberg? That’s a problem in and of itself, but did he really harm the heads of the ten houses and their families?

Given the size of Count Salzberg’s army, and the ten houses’ armies united under him, they should have outnumbered Ryoma’s forces 8 to 2, or maybe 7 to 3. Needless to say, Count Salzberg had had an overwhelming advantage.

On the other hand, considering that the Wortenia Peninsula was such a difficult domain to govern and that Ryoma had only governed it for a few years, the fact that he’d raised an army only four times smaller than Count Salzberg’s was rather startling. No one would’ve believed it was anything but an overestimation. This was proof that while Queen Lupis and her aides had taken Ryoma seriously, he had exceeded their expectations.

“Are you saying they got caught up in the chaos of his attack on Epirus?” Queen Lupis asked.

Meltina shook her head. “I’m afraid that we don’t know much about that yet, but...”

The information that Meltina’s spies in northern Rhoadseria had delivered was fragmentary at best, so even though they could determine who won the battle, they didn’t have the minute details. This wasn’t uncommon in wars, and there was still a chance that some had successfully escaped Epirus. Sadly, in all likelihood, very few of them had gotten away.

Meltina continued, knowing what she was about to say would shock her mistress. “We’ve only been able to confirm the survival of three people, namely Count Salzberg’s wife, Lady Yulia, and Count Salzberg’s Twin Blades, Signus Galveria and Robert Bertrand.”

Queen Lupis looked up at the ceiling. She’d guessed why those three in particular had survived.

Lady Yulia and the Twin Blades? If that’s true, then he must have wanted them to live...

Since those three had survived by Ryoma’s will, those whose status was still unknown had almost certainly perished.

Meltina was speechless as she watched her queen react.

I accounted for the possibility that he would overcome Count Salzberg, and I was prepared for a great deal of bloodshed if he did, but...I didn’t expect this much, Meltina thought, realizing that despite her caution, her predictions had been wrong.

Unfortunately, Meltina had further news to report to Queen Lupis, including the fact that Baron Vector Chronicle had gone missing soon after Meltina had sent him to mediate the war. If she were to tell that to the queen now, it would be too much of a blow to her liege’s gentle heart, yet Meltina couldn’t not inform Queen Lupis of this.

He went missing, eh?

It was such a convenient turn of phrase. Meltina was disgusted with herself for using it to describe the situation. It wasn’t incorrect, since they really didn’t know where Vector was right now, but it carried the implication that he might still be alive. The phrase meant that they’d lost contact with him and didn’t know his current whereabouts, but it didn’t clarify if he was alive or dead. Just because there wasn’t a body, it didn’t mean they could hold onto hope that he might still be alive.

It was wishful thinking, and even Meltina recognized that, so she was fairly convinced that Vector hadn’t survived. The letter she’d received just a few days ago from Vector contained his thanks for being granted this duty and a fervent promise that he would fight Ryoma Mikoshiba and take Ryoma’s life, even if it resulted in his own death. He’d also worded himself in a way that suggested if he should fall, they ought to put the fact that Ryoma had killed the queen’s messenger—albeit an unofficial one—to good use.

When she’d read his letters, Meltina had wept. She’d realized just how shallow and foolish her plan had been. And since Vector had written with such passion, his disappearance meant that there was absolutely no chance he’d survived his mission. The die had already been cast. All that remained was the question of how they were to take advantage of this situation.

On that day, a veritable tremor ran through Rhoadseria’s royal palace.

The sky outside the castle windows was a vast azure expanse, no clouds in sight. A pleasant breeze blew across the land as warm sunlight shone down. It was the very definition of fine weather, but the steps of the people walking through Pireas’s streets sounded melancholic. The same held true for the nobles, the knights on patrol, the court ladies, and the palace’s attendants.

As a heavy air hung over the city, a group of women dressed as court ladies sat in a secluded room in the corner of the palace.

“I see everyone is accounted for?” one woman asked, glancing around. The other women all quickly nodded.

This woman, the apparent leader of the group, was Charlotte Halcyon. Her lush blonde hair was elegantly arranged, and her ice-blue eyes were quite distinctive. She was certainly a beautiful woman, and just about any man would be drawn to her looks. Yet that was solely based on appearances and grooming. If asked whether they wanted to spend a night with her or take her as their wife, those same men would likely refuse. Of course, some foolhardy men perhaps wouldn’t mind a night of inconsequential fun with her, but most men would reject that idea.

Although Charlotte was in her twenties, beyond the prime age for marriage as far as noble ladies went, she was neither engaged nor rumored to be in any sort of romantic relationship. There were two reasons for this. The first was Charlotte’s family. She was by no means lowborn—quite the contrary. Her status was so high that it was a problem. Her father was Marquis Arthur Halcyon, leader of Rhoadseria’s House of Lords and a high-ranking member of Viscount Gelhart’s nobles’ faction, a faction which still had significant influence on the country. Since Charlotte was born to such a lofty status, her chosen mate would have to be of similar rank. The title of marquis was one of the highest-ranking noble titles in Rhoadseria, so this narrowed down the list of candidates.

The second reason Charlotte remained single was that she was of royal blood, a result of the royal family’s past attempts to win over the country’s most influential nobles. Needless to say, Charlotte took great pride in the knowledge that royal blood ran through her veins, though that knowledge was a double-edged blade. Despite her blood ties, Charlotte would never inherit sovereignty. Her claim to the throne was extremely weak, and that fact alone made it difficult to find her a worthy groom.

With those two issues compounded together, the difficulties became all the worse. If nothing else, her betrothed couldn’t be some derelict second or third son without a fortune to their name. Charlotte had no male siblings either, so her potential groom would become the heir apparent to the title of Marquis Halcyon. Because of this, she couldn’t marry into another house. Doing so would force her to leave behind her maiden home and become part of her husband’s house instead. Strictly speaking, her groom would have to marry into her family.

Charlotte could lower her standards, in which case there would be more possible candidates, but they were, for the most part, second or third sons of barons or viscounts—men not worthy enough to carry on the Halcyon name. Whoever wed Charlotte would need to be of a pedigree deserving of House Halcyon.

The only solution left was to look to a royal or a high-ranking noble from another country. When influential nobles of the same country married only among themselves, their blood grew too thick, making it harder for different nobles to coordinate their vested interests. For this reason, marrying outside the country was probably the safest choice.

But the goddess of fate refused to smile on Charlotte. The antagonism between the nobles and the royal family over the last ten or so years had continually caused her problems. The deceased King Pharst II felt pressured by the nobles’ rising influence and desperately sought to regain sovereignty over the country. His heir, Queen Lupis, tried to do the same. Though Queen Lupis seemed calm at the moment due to diplomatic factors, the turbulence from the past few years probably made her unwilling to accept a Rhoadserian noble marrying an influential aristocrat from another country. She could claim the groom was a spy, or insist that they were trying to take over Charlotte’s family.

This problem wasn’t exclusive to Charlotte either. While Marquis Halcyon and his family were promising nobles within Rhoadseria, they weren’t unique or irreplaceable. There were several other nobles that equaled them in rank and influence, yet most of their daughters had already found grooms. Some of them were ten years younger than Charlotte, and some had children already.

For all that, the main reason Charlotte wasn’t married was because of her overbearing, intimidating attitude. After all, she’d lived in the palace up until her teens, surviving the power struggles that raged there. As a court lady, she managed Queen Lupis’s female attendants. True, she didn’t have any administrative power, but though she wasn’t in a position to directly nominate ministers or generals, she did have authority over the cooks who fed the king and the maids who waited on the bureaucrats, and that was enough to give her a strong footing in the court. And since she was in a position to speak to the sovereign directly, this gave her the freedom to whisper false charges and slander in their ear.

Of course, saying such dangerous things was risky. If she were too obvious about her lies, the sovereign would lose trust in her, perhaps even have her beheaded for her actions. This was why Charlotte had never criticized or bad-mouthed anyone in front of Queen Lupis. Even if the queen were to prompt her to criticize someone, Charlotte would merely remain silent and smile.

It wasn’t that Charlotte couldn’t criticize anyone; she simply didn’t want to. Everyone else knew this too. She was like a nuclear weapon with a safety on it. That was the influence afforded to those who served the king and the royal family.

Charlotte understood all too well the cruelties of a power struggle, so she kept herself sternly in check. She only ever used her authority after a great deal of careful deliberation. She cautiously spun her plots and delivered blows that would utterly defeat her opponents. Her decision to be that way was a wise one, and she’d earned her position through effort and prudence.

One could favorably describe Charlotte as sagacious, or more negatively as sly, but her manner of speech offered a glimpse of her strong will. This was why, despite her fine pedigree and well-groomed appearance, she’d remained unwed for so long. But Charlotte didn’t bemoan her fate. She knew that maintaining her position within the court was the best thing she could do as a member of House Halcyon.

This is why my presence here is important.

The night prior, a messenger riding on a fast horse had arrived at the capital with news of the northern rebellion’s conclusion—news that quickly spread through the palace. The court was a battlefield where one fought with information, finances, and authority rather than weapons. Any nobleman—assuming they weren’t petty bureaucrats who didn’t care who was in charge or fools who didn’t know their place—was wise enough to realize that they had to keep their ears peeled if they were to survive. Or rather, only nobles who were smart enough to realize that survived in the court.

Soon after the news had reached the palace, Charlotte had been informed of it too. What was most important to her now was to decide her future course of action and begin making preparations for it. In other words, Charlotte and the other women gathered here weren’t simple attendants or court ladies.

“Good, then since our time is short, let us cut to the chase, shall we? I assume you’ve all heard what happened, yes?” Charlotte asked.

Everyone nodded again. There was no need to elaborate on what she was referring to, and if anyone were foolish enough to ask, Charlotte would have no doubt ostracized and expelled them from the group. Thankfully, she didn’t need to do that.

Of course they know.

Charlotte nodded, satisfied.

It was late in the afternoon and past the royals’ lunchtime, a convenient time for the court ladies and attendants. But it was still daytime, so they were all on-duty and couldn’t be away from their appointed posts for long, mainly because their constant proximity to their masters was why they were so privy to their secrets. Charlotte had only gathered them here because the matter was that urgent, and only one matter could prompt her to do his. Any woman who didn’t know this was certainly lacking skills in gathering intel. And if anyone was that incompetent, associating with them or their families was nothing but a liability.

These women had been dispatched to the palace at their families’ behest. They were all noble daughters and ladies, but they weren’t there to display their families’ loyalty to the royal house. They were there to learn appropriate manners and form connections. They basically functioned as a cross between a maid and court lady. They had other important reasons for going to the palace, though. One was to gather news, and the other was to serve as diplomats who helped coordinate the different noble families’ vested interests.

All of these ladies were currently most interested in handling a number of matters that had cropped up as a result of the northern rebellion. Normally, this wouldn’t call for much concern, since private wars between nobles were outlawed in Rhoadseria. Attacking and wiping out another house was an act punishable by death, but in most cases, it was resolved by a demotion in one’s noble class, confiscation of one’s land, or mandatory financial reparations. But the problem was that, this time, the man who’d instigated this private war was Ryoma Mikoshiba.

Since Ryoma was an upstart who’d been promoted from commoner status, most nobles disliked him. But since Queen Lupis was the one who’d granted Ryoma his title, no one could openly dispute his legitimacy. Moreover, his contributions during O’ltormea’s invasion of Xarooda were so remarkable that they couldn’t be ignored. So while the nobles loathed Ryoma, the ladies present were under the impression that recklessly recommending he be put to death might incur Queen Lupis’s ire. Therefore, they all kept their mouths shut.

The first to speak was Bettina Eisenbach, daughter of House Eisenbach, a noble family that was second to House Halcyon in prestige.

“News that the upstart slew Count Salzberg is bound to spread to all the country’s nobles before long,” she said with a morose expression.

She had a plump chest, a curvy waist, an oval face, and blonde hair. She had an odd sort of charm that seemed to naturally attract men. She was certainly Charlotte’s equal in terms of looks. Her moist eyes looked like they might overflow at any second, and the sight of her weeping would make any man rush to her aid—unaware that this was all part of Bettina’s trick.

Bettina’s voice and expression had seemed quite sorrowful, but all she’d done was state the facts. She’d said nothing of actual substance, and her entire intention had been just to get a reaction out of everyone else. Still, everyone here knew of Bettina’s methods, and none of them fell for her act. For better or worse, all the women present were similar to her. All the same, none of them actually said that to her face. They merely pretended to be fooled. But placating each other like this wouldn’t progress the conversation, so Charlotte willingly responded to Bettina’s prodding.

“It’s quite the heartbreaking affair, I’d say,” Charlotte said, hanging her head sadly. “The rumor mill has been quite active as of late. However, House Salzberg has governed the north since before Rhoadseria’s founding, and it has been charged with the northern border’s defense since the kingdom was established. They’re a prestigious warrior house. To think that they could fall like this...”

Realizing what Charlotte was hinting at, Diana Hamilton—the daughter of Count Hamilton—said, “In that case...what of Count Salzberg’s successor?”

“I’m only aware of what my family has told me, but it seems he does not have an heir,” Charlotte answered. “Meaning that, assuming no one crawls out of the woodwork claiming they’re the count’s heir, the headship and title will go to his bereaved wife, Lady Yulia. Of course, given the deceased count’s...proclivities, it’s possible there’s some child we’re not aware of. Or maybe his distant relatives will make a claim to the title. Either way, I doubt Lady Yulia will simply accept that kind of interference. At worst, this could mean...”

“Another war?” Diana finished.

Charlotte nodded gravely. “Yes, though I dread to think of it.”

The other women all sighed woefully. Or, at least, it sounded like woe, but truthfully it was closer to reproachful scorn.

“’re saying Lady Yulia will inherit the count’s title?” Diana asked.

“Yes,” Charlotte replied. “There were cases in the past where, in the absence of an heir, the legal wife took the title. However, that kind of arrangement is frowned upon.”

Women inheriting a noble title wasn’t entirely unheard of in this world. Sometimes, a legitimate heir was named prior to the title holder’s death, but there had been many instances where a noble died in battle and the legitimate heir was too young to succeed the title. In such cases, the noble lady had been granted the title until the child reached maturity.

This was a necessary precaution, since such states of emergency were extremely unstable and volatile. For example, a noble house might be in urgent need of an heir, but its members were quarreling about who would be the worthiest successor. While they did, an enemy might attack the domain in its time of weakness. Allowing this to happen would be the height of folly, but right now, Count Salzberg’s domain was practically helpless—appetizing prey for his opponents.

Now that Count Salzberg is dead, someone must inherit his place, or some self-styled successor will wipe out his relatives. Everyone knows it, but no one is going to support Lady Yulia’s claim to the title. 

Charlotte internally sneered as she looked at everyone’s displeased expressions. She could see in their faces the animosity they harbored for Lady Yulia.

The rumors do paint her as a vile woman, after all. She’s talented enough, but no one would accept a merchant’s daughter. Although, it’s doubtful how many of them would vocally acknowledge their dislike.

Charlotte could tell that none of the women here were willing to share their true thoughts. The most they did was let their displeasure show on their faces, and perhaps even that was merely a calculated facade to maintain their families’ interests.

“But at present,” Charlotte continued, “there isn’t anyone who can prevent her from claiming the title.”

“Yes, that’s right. Nevertheless, considering the upstart’s methods so far, one must wonder why he spared Lady Yulia,” Diana noted.

Charlotte couldn’t understand it either. As far as she knew, Ryoma Mikoshiba was a merciless man, the kind who would drown countless soldiers in a flood, like during the last civil war. In this latest war, he’d attacked the ten houses’ domains, cut off their line of supply, and forced the refugees to overrun Epirus—foul tactics, indeed. He was nothing short of a callous demon.

If he’s that kind of man, why would he let Lady Yulia live?

Charlotte had pondered this question numerous times already, but she was no closer to the answer than when she started. Besides, there were other, more pressing issues to consider right now.

Having judged this an opportune time to broach the subject, Charlotte moved on to the topic Queen Lupis had asked her to handle.

“The question of who succeeds Count Salzberg will be answered soon enough. For now, we must consider how to respond to this war.”




The other women’s expressions instantly changed. All were keen enough to realize the significance of Charlotte’s statement, the real reason they were gathered here.

“Are you, in other words, asking us how the House of Lords should respond to this war?” Bettina asked.

Charlotte nodded silently, and the other women exchanged weary looks. They understood what Charlotte was asking of them, but her request meant they’d have to brave considerable risks.

A long, uncomfortable silence overtook the group until Diana finally grew impatient and asked, “Is this what Her Majesty asks that we do?”

Charlotte had been hoping that they would ask this question, so her answer was prompt and concise.

“Yes, precisely. Soon after Meltina explained the situation to Her Majesty, the queen called for me and personally asked me to do this.”

Everyone sighed, understanding the implicit meaning behind what Charlotte had just said.

The House of Lords wanted nothing more than to judge and punish Baron Mikoshiba for his transgressions, but they couldn’t openly do that. Instead, they were tiptoeing around the question of who would succeed Count Salzberg, hoping that they could get to Ryoma somehow through that. Their only hesitation was the queen’s opinion on the matter, but that was already a foregone conclusion. As powerful as the House of Lords was within Rhoadseria, going against the ruler’s wishes required a great deal of courage.

Had this been about some traditional noble house with relatives in other aristocratic families, some of the other nobles might have disapproved of what the House of Lords wanted to do, but this was about eliminating the upstart noble, the thorn in everyone’s side. Moreover, involving themselves in this wouldn’t put Diana or Bettina at a disadvantage. On the contrary, they only stood to gain Queen Lupis’s favor for taking part.

“I see. Very well,” Bettina said, rising from her seat. “In that case, House Eisenbach does not object to the proposal. I will tell father as such.”

The other noble ladies soon followed her example and declared they would agree to act upon Queen Lupis’s request to pass judgment on the Mikoshiba barony. With this, the sanctions on the barony were decided.

That night, Charlotte visited Queen Lupis’s bedroom to report the outcome of her discussion with the other noble ladies. Queen Lupis listened patiently to Charlotte’s account, the moonlight illuminating the slightly gloomy smile that played on her lips.

“Good. Thank you,” she told Charlotte.

Queen Lupis sounded exhausted, and Charlotte could feel a certain pain in her voice, proof that the queen was racked with conflicting emotions. Although the cause for her anguish was quite clear, Charlotte could do little to help her.

Still as kind as ever, Charlotte thought.

Charlotte couldn’t help feeling exasperated with Queen Lupis. The queen had gotten the outcome she wanted, and yet she couldn’t rejoice. Charlotte would never voice her exasperation, though.

She was never suited to be queen in the first place.

In Charlotte’s eyes, a ruler needed to be decisive and ruthless, two traits Lupis Rhoadserians lacked.

Once upon a time, even Charlotte Halcyon—infamously known within the court as the Frosty-Eyed One—had admired the title of princess, innocently believing that some day a charming prince would swoop into her life and whisk her away. Of course, the heroines of such stories typically ran into unfortunate circumstances. In one story she’d heard, a traitor killed the protagonist’s father, forcing the family to wander their stolen country in an attempt to regain it. In another story, a girl’s mother died in childbirth and her father remarried, but his vile new wife and her daughters tormented her. There was even a story about a princess who had to wed a centuries-old evil dragon in order to protect her people.

Charlotte had heard all of these tales from her wet nurse, and the wet nurse had only told her the synopses and outlined the tragedies, but for the most part, they concluded happily with brave, dashing princes saving their heroines. The banished princess, the girl abused by her stepmother—they both ran into a brave hero who rescued them from their plights.

There were some stories where the main characters met terrible ends, but the protagonist was usually some sort of dark hero who fought for vengeance and took justice into their own hands. Whether one liked such tragic works was a matter of taste, but they certainly weren’t the kind loved by the majority, to say nothing of their appropriateness for children. Even if it was a double standard, people tended to prefer happy endings.

But by now, the story of that vile dragon almost feels like a masterpiece to me.

Charlotte thought back to how she’d pestered her wet nurse into telling her that story time and again, of how a terrible evil dragon awakened to pure love, returned to his true form of a human man, and ruled the kingdom with the princess. It ended well because the vile dragon was actually a young man cursed to live in draconic form, but it did beg the question of how he remained a young man when the curse was lifted. A dragon could live for centuries, and this one was described as old, so once the curse was lifted, his human body should have experienced all that accumulated time.

That kind of tragic twist offered no solace to anyone, but had Charlotte been the one casting the curse, she would have made sure that it worked that way. Curses were born of grudges, of a desire to torment an enemy, and the best way to torture someone was to wait until they started believing in hope and then snatch it away.

From the moment the dragon turned out to be a human, the story had already been cheapened. It was obviously done so he’d be an appropriate age to wed the princess. It did come across as a natural conclusion of the story’s feel and flow, and a happy ending where the curse was lifted and the power of love saved the prince’s life felt fitting, but it wasn’t realistic. The dragon could have just as well been an infant or an old man on his final days before he was cursed. Perhaps he simply took on the form of a young man to suit the princess’s tastes.

The story of the exiled princess was just as unrealistic as the dragon one.

It would have made more sense if she’d been caught and executed soon after the traitor usurped the throne. Or maybe she should have been forced to marry the usurper, her parents’ killer, in order to solidify the traitor’s reign.

Stories with outcomes like that were realistic; similar situations had happened plenty of times in this world. The diary of House Halcyon’s first head included several stories that Rhoadseria would wish to keep secret. One of them was of Rhoadseria’s first king, whose wife was the princess of a rival country that ruled over the continent’s east at the time.

The fairytale of the beautiful girl tormented by her stepmother was lacking in realism too. It made no sense that the heroine wouldn’t harbor any grudges for how she was treated. It would be natural if she were to seek revenge. It was even probable that at some point she would just snap, pick up a carving knife, and slay her stepmother and stepsisters. It was certainly a dismal and unsatisfying outcome, but it was a reasonable one, much more likely to happen in this world.

But none of the tales Charlotte’s wet nurse had told her ended so tragically, and she’d only read them so that she could tuck Charlotte in bed. Realistic, unembellished stories were fuel for nightmares, and fairy tales weren’t just for amusement and escapism, but also for teaching morals and lessons. Besides, with the bleak reality of this world, there was little need to include it in a story as well. Why make up tales when one could easily recount a tragedy that had actually taken place?

For that reason, most stories were convenient fantasies. But when a child heard them time and again, they would become the same as reality, and imagining the people in their lives as such characters came naturally to them. It was similar to how a child might be torn between believing the one who delivered their Christmas presents was Santa Claus or their own parents. It was a naivete one could maintain only for a short period of time. Dreams inevitably came to an end. The question was when that day would come.

In my case, it came early.

There were plenty of women in Charlotte’s age group who were still, to some extent, living on that line between innocent dreams and bitter reality. Many noble ladies received an excellent education, but despite their intellect and cultivation, they were arrogant and insolent. They were adult women with matured bodies, but they were still extremely emotional, and they threw tantrums when things didn’t go their way.

The worst part was that the mistress Charlotte served was one of these women. The same could not be said of Charlotte Halcyon, however. She had the authority of House Halcyon, but she never allowed herself to be a powerless maiden driven by fantasies.

Queen Lupis has been through quite a bit of heartache since the civil war, and she’s improved somewhat, but her inexperience really does show when it comes to things like this.

Her mistress needed only to state her wishes for them to be granted, but it required a great deal of time and effort behind the scenes to make her demands a reality. Charlotte handled much of that work, so when the queen asked her to make the necessary preparations, all while racked with guilt, Charlotte had to wonder what Queen Lupis was thinking.

It’s the same for this entire incident, really. I can relate to her fearing him, but she could handle herself better. My future is on the line here too.

With those emotions in her heart, Charlotte Halcyon gazed at Queen Lupis Rhoadserians, the greatest gesture of friendship she could offer her sovereign.

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