In the aftermath, Tara braces herself to attend dinner with the Prince.
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Episode 22. 90 kg (9)
She had walked in so confidently, as if she thought she knew exactly what he was thinking. He was curious about her abilities because Andrei Pitt was her teacher.
What about this young 18-year-old girl, who had been confined away from the world for so long, had stimulated Andrei's interest?
The ploy with the garnet brooch, which he had dismissed to her as a trivial trick, could actually have been a clever tactic, had it remained unnoticed.
In addition, it was quite impressive that her young servant hadn't disclosed the identity of his master, even after being caught.
[...So, I thought it was spying at first, but not anymore. Your Highness is using our Family as 'bait'.]
How many of his close aides could have guessed something that rapidly, formulated a tactic to confirm it, and then carried out a plan…? Probably very few.
So, he had wondered how strong the will of this 18-year-old girl could be.
[Can you handle it? No matter the outcome?]
[Yes. Of course I can handle it, Your Highness!]
Her resolved expression had trembled, at odds with her confidently voiced arguments. She had presented herself as willing to bear any punishment, but appeared so tense she looked ready to jump out of her skin at the slightest touch.
She had also mentioned she was going to take the administrative exam. It wouldn't be easy to get a position, but she was still willing to test herself and take on that challenge.
She had shown much more endurance than the average person. But could she really succeed well enough to obtain a government position?
He had wanted to see how tough she really was. So he'd pushed her.
But he had also given her plenty of chances to escape.
Had she been an ordinary noblewoman, she would have been more than willing to pass her crimes onto her servant. But instead, she had chosen to bear the punishment herself.
A shallower woman in her position would have felt hopeful at his offer.
Who would want to harm a noblewoman? What a foolish thought.
He had seen her shudder when she saw his knight walk through the door carrying the whip.
He had expected her to get on her knees and beg, to ask him to forgive her just this once, to claim she would never be so reckless again...
But that 18-year-old girl had looked straight at him and knelt down. She had squared her shoulders and waited to be whipped, while hyperventilating so much her breathing was laboured.
He’d thought to himself, ‘Yes, she’s holding out now. But things will be different as soon as he lifts the whip.’
He had gestured to his knight, Chris, and signalled that he should swing the whip as wide as possible so it would pass by her and only brush her collar.
It was obvious she would lose her nerve and try to run away the moment Chris lifted the whip.
But instead, she endured her terror until the whip struck the floor. She had turned white as a sheet.
It was unexpected. No, it was rather remarkable.
Until she promptly passed out.
Ha! It had been truly amazing.
How could someone so faint hearted have walked into his office so confidently?
He didn't care if he was accused of being cruel towards a woman. To him, 18-year-old Tara Elias was not a woman.
He only cared to know whether she was useful and talented. That was what mattered to him most.
Yet it felt strangely unsettling.
I was reluctant to walk to the banquet alone.
"Beth, let's go to the annex so I can attend with my mother."
"Huh? Miss. How did you know Lady Isabelle was invited to the banquet? I only learned about it while you were asleep."
“He said it would be tomorrow.”
"The fact that the deadline was set for tomorrow means that he already knew that no one in the family would be arrested for this. Of course, it didn't matter whether we solved the homework problem or not."
At Beth's call, I stopped walking and turned to look back at her. Her face was grave and she swallowed.
Huh, why was she so nervous? She had been so anxious ever since my meeting with the Prince.
"Oh, come on. If you're going to say things like that, at least explain it to me! At least follow through and don’t cut it short! I'm one of the victims of this incident! You're giving me a headache, Miss!"
"Are you complaining or are you just annoyed?"
"Hehe. Sorry, I'm curious!"
She truly had a talent for talking.
"Hmm. All right, listen up. You know my teacher, Andrei Pitt, is here, right?"
"He gave me a homework assignment. To find out the Prince's reason for coming here."
"I see. So that’s why Master Jason tried to see him, Lady Aria sent him a letter and you visited him and fainted."
"Crap, no need to bring up any details! I'd rather pretend it never happened…"
“So, what's so important about that, Miss?”
Uncomfortable, I glanced around. The Prince's cutting words had lodged themselves in my chest, and I was reluctant to voice my theory.
Ugh. I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"The deadline for the assignment is tomorrow."
"Hmm…Think about it. If Andrei thought that they were here to arrest the Countess and my mother, why would he need to assign us that task as homework? That can't be the reason. That means that the Prince isn't here to arrest Countess Victoria and Mother. Which leaves us with a different explanation. Perhaps the Prince is actually trying to escalate this to the whole family. It’s natural to be concerned about that possibility. That's why I was so restless about the Prince's visit."
"Are you following so far?”
"Okay. Then I'll finish explaining. Are you sure you understand?"
"Ah, yes. Of course, Miss. Please tell me. So?"
"It was strange that Andrei and my father made the deadline tomorrow when the Prince will be leaving. If we no longer have to worry about the Prince's visit, that means it doesn't actually matter whether we solve the problem or not. If they were truly worried about his reasons for being here, they would have given us a very short deadline and tried to find a way for the Countess and my Mother to avoid arrest. But ever since they assigned us the homework the vassals have been absent and my father has been watching it all without making any moves. That means that there is no danger of the Elias family being swept up into this situation or anyone being arrested."
"Oh… Then why did they give you that assignment?”
"Hmm. Well, it means that it was just that, a mere problem to solve."
"Just a problem?"
"Perhaps they still had some expectations? Maybe they knew we weren't likely to get the information, but didn't know the precise reason behind the Prince's visit. They must’ve thought it would be good if one of us figured it out, and that even if we didn't, there was nothing to lose.”
"Ah… Maybe you and Lady Isabelle won't have to go to the banquet. It would be embarrassing to see him again.”
"Umm. But Beth, according to aristocratic banquet rules, wives of the nobility are required to be present at banquets attended by the Imperial family. You probably didn't know because no Imperial family members have come to our house previously. Moreover, as long as the crime remains unconfirmed, my mother remains the wife of an aristocratic family and there is no chance of her being arrested. So of course she has to attend."
"Wow, Lady, I'm very impressed right now. I'm so proud.”
“Hahaha… That’s right. Thank you… It's not that impressive.”
"Huh? Why not? None of the other 18-year-old aristocrats I've met are so well spoken. You are truly remarkable to me, Miss."
"Ah, thank you. That makes me feel a bit better... Thank you Beth... Let's go. I'm hungry."
Damn. I should have said 'let's go to my mother' instead of 'I'm hungry'... Being hungry was getting awfully familiar to me.
Each step I took towards the banquet hall felt heavy, as if I were dragging a hundred sandbags behind me.
The Prince hadn't arrested Niels yet, probably because of his ruthless personality. He was sending a message that he intended to punish me later.
Would he do it after the banquet? During the banquet itself? Or before he left tomorrow?
Ha... I want to go back in time to when I first heard about that damned homework assignment.
As the dinner party started, I hunched quietly by the edge of the table, concentrating on my meal.
But my every nerve was focused on him; Kyle Amure, the Second Prince.
As expected, the Prince had been seated at the head of the table with my father, where they were engaged in a serious conversation.
Even though I didn't want to look at him, I couldn't help it. I kept glancing at him, trying to read his expression and the slight movements of his lips, which I struggled to make out due to the distance between us.
He was going to tell him, wasn't he? Haaa... Why did I have to faint?
It was only a matter of time before my act of sedition became known, but I still wanted to believe there was a chance to change the Prince's mind before he left tomorrow.
My father's gaze occasionally strayed towards me.
No way... Had he already told him? He had no reason to hide what I had done...
By the way, why wasn't Chloe making a move on the Prince?
The Prince often seemed lost in thought, tapping the table with his long fingers whenever the conversation paused.
Hmm… His fingers were white and slender. They would have looked beautiful playing the piano.
When a knight came in and reported something, he nodded his head briefly without answering, and his expression remained brooding.
His jawline was sharp... His eyes... impassive, but he was striking like a figure in a painting.... How unfair. He truly had it all...
The Prince lifted his teacup to his lips and took a sip, his forehead wrinkling slightly.
‘It must be bitter... Hah, serves him right!'
The exclamation escaped my lips without me realizing it, and for a moment the eyes of everyone at the table were focused on me.
I smiled awkwardly and pretended to get absorbed in my meal again. Then, a belated realization came over me.
I wasn't scared right now.
In the annex office, the mere sight of the Prince sitting in front of me with his indifferent gaze had been enough to intimidate me.
Was it because he was further away now?
No, that wasn't it. If the fear I had felt earlier was at 100% intensity, I was now only 50% afraid of him.
This time, instead of looking at him, I looked at the people around him. All of them had tense expressions and moved unnaturally, painstakingly careful with their every action and word. My father and his vassals were the same. Like I had been earlier.
The only relaxed person among them was the 2nd Prince himself. Only him.
They were obviously terrified of being accused of sedition, and worried they might be punished. It certainly created an ill atmosphere.
Chloe glanced at me when I unwittingly spoke aloud again. I covered my mouth in surprise.
What... Why was she smiling at me like that?
At first I thought I might have imagined it and tried to casually glance back over at her. Then my head whipped towards her and I stared.
I hadn't been mistaken. A smile still lingered on the corners of her lips.
Thoughts whizzed through my head.
‘Why is she so confident? Why does she look like she knows something...? No way… Don't tell me she... The answer to the homework...! How?’
Chloe was the only one of us who hadn't tried to meet the Prince privately. She hadn't even made the slightest move.
What could it be?
I was curious, but I would learn about it tomorrow anyway.
My head was starting to ache. I'd been through so much today and I was exhausted.
I abandoned my unfinished roast chicken leg and put down my fork, I hadn't even managed to eat half of it. Unbelievably, my appetite was gone…
I glanced at the head of the table again, hoping that the banquet would end soon.
The Prince's eyes were on me. He tilted his head slightly to the left and raised one of his eyebrows.
Editor’s Note -
Disclaimer that the MTL in this chapter was a hot mess in places and frustratingly vague in many areas (enough that it isn’t practical to point all of it out individually). Earlier chapters of this series tend to be that way and also tend to be on the longer side, which is why they can be a lot of work to get through. But at least we get a good idea of Kyle's intentions that we don't get as much in the manhwa!