Episode 20. 90 kg (7)
It was a nonsensical statement. Not my person?
"That is, someone that you can trust when you give them a job. But you immediately defended this servant and took credit for it. If he was your trusted person you would’ve had faith that he wouldn't fail even if he was caught. However, since you confessed right away without believing in him, that means he isn't a worthy asset to you. Now, what will you do I wonder...”
I immediately turned my gaze to Niels in front of me.
His eyes were large and bewildered. At first, disappointment filled them, and then sadness.
“He insisted until the very end that he did it alone. He claimed he was greedy and wanted to conceal this so he wouldn't get caught. But the ironic part is that this is the object he claimed to covet."
The Prince withdrew the object I had told Niels to hide in the office.
A garnet-studded brooch.
Garnet, also known as 'pomegranate stone', was the birthstone of January and symbolized truth and friendship. The brooch belonged to Tara, who had been born in January.*
Among Imperial aristocrats it was tradition that a newborn child would be presented with a brooch studded with their birthstone.
I had needed it to be an important item in order to justify my entry into the office, moreover, it needed to be something prized enough to wear at the banquet.
That was why I had chosen the garnet brooch.
But, ironically, I'd had no idea that the fact this garnet brooch was so clearly mine would betray the fact that I was the one who ordered it hidden.
It had been so ridiculously reckless of me. My head spun.
I'd shot myself in the foot...
The Prince had known all of this from the moment I'd requested to enter his private office.
How hilarious it must have been for him when I strode in here pompously claiming I was here to find something....
Not to mention, what I had done to Niels filled me with shame.
He had so earnestly tried to cover for me, despite knowing that deceiving the Imperial Family was a serious offence.
However, I had failed to return his trust, had assumed he would immediately reveal my plans the moment he was caught, and then tried to minimize my own sins.
Damn, I had made a huge mistake.
I hadn't taken him seriously when he said he was willing to accept responsibility and superficially treated him like he was one of my people, but when things went wrong I'd regarded him as disposable, fit to be used once and then thrown away.
As I sat there, dazed and distraught, the Prince spoke to Niels.
"Well then, I'll ask you again. Do you still claim this was your doing?"
"...Yes," Niels answered quietly, his head bowed.
‘Oh no, Niels, don't do that. I'm so sorry.’
My chest constricted and I suddenly felt terribly homesick.**
Ugh. I just wanted to run away. I wanted to be back in Korea. I wanted to escape this place.
"That's some admirable loyalty. Now I'm curious. Your Lady has already confessed to it. So why do you still insist it's your fault?"
Niels didn't answer the Prince's question.
"Are you mad? His Highness the Prince asked a question! Answer him!"
The harsh words from the knight standing next to me finally brought me to my senses.
I needed to fix this first. I could always blame myself later.
“Hey, don’t yell at him!”
I moved myself in front of Niels.
“L-Look at me. Niels. I… I'm sorry. So tell me. Why did you do that? Why are you covering for me?"
His clear eyed gaze trembled slightly with hesitation.
"It's all right now. You can say it. It's all right."
I looked Niels straight in the eye and nodded my head emphatically.
Then Niels, who had maintained his silence until now, finally opened his mouth.
“…It was the first time.”
“That someone acknowledged me.”
“Before I became a servant I was sold out for profit, and I had never been paid a wage before. I've lived my life being treated like an object that gets thrown away when it is no longer needed. All I did was clean this house. But then the Miss entrusted me with a job and gave me a gold coin… I felt like I had become someone valuable… No one has ever treated me like that. Not even once….”
Tears welled up. Through my watery vision, I reached out to take Niels' hand, but I never finished the action.
The Prince was not the type of person who liked standing still.
"How touching. Let's finish this quickly. We've wasted too much time."
The Prince, who had been sitting behind the desk, came around and gave Niels an annoyed look.
I truly hated him, so damn much.
Rebelliousness rose in me. My will to fight which had previously been extinguished suddenly kindled back into scarlet flame.
"Your Highness, I was ignorant. Niels, please stop. It's all my fault, so even if I get punished, I'll take it."
A long moment passed, I heard the sound of him tapping his fingers on the desk, then the Prince sighed quietly.
"I have no intention of punishing the Lady. In compliance with the rules, I will punish this servant and leave it at that."
"I swear that I won't say a word!"
"I see you understand why I won't punish you.”
"You said it was a game. If the purpose of your visit to Elias mansion was simply to play such a game, you wouldn't want to cause a scene. But I can't just let one of my people get hurt."
I put particular emphasis on the words 'my people'.
I had lost a lot today, but I had gained at least one thing. Someone who would believe in and follow me. That was enough for now.
"Cause a scene? Ha. That's absurd. Is that what you think of me? You must have misunderstood something, because this game I am referring to is not the kind you are thinking of. If you can come up with spying and bait, surely you can imagine what kind of games a person in my position might play?"
To play a game usually means to do something for enjoyment. But if it's clearly not about having fun, then what could it be? Not simply enjoyment. If it wasn't just for amusement then...!
Only then did I realize it.
A Prince was in a very different position than an average person. The types of games he played would be different. He wouldn't be treading in the same waters and searching for a single criminal.
Indeed. How ironic.
As a Prince, was his ‘game’ about the battle for Imperial power? He was enjoying the Imperial power struggle as if it was a game, even though such a game couldn't possibly be fun.
How did the saying go, "A born genius can't win against those who try, and those who try can't win against those who enjoy it."?***
The Sorbonne wine affair was not a simple smuggling scam. There was a figure who had planned this from the shadows.
I never considered that figure might be related to the Imperial power struggle.
Then what was the purpose of the Prince's visit here?
Maybe he had heard that his greatest political rival was involved? However, he had visited in person. Why?
Oh! It was a warning.
Perhaps they couldn't be accurately identified because they did their part and then covered their tracks.
This was intended to deter those who were allied with his enemies from recklessly entering into this struggle.
"Do you understand now?"
"Your Highness, then who...?”
"Stop. Perhaps I've told you too much. You have plenty to tell Andrei Pitt, but now what will you do? The next decision is yours. I'm curious what choice you will make."
"I've spent too much time playing on Andrei Pitt's chess board. Besides, I don't have any more time to spare for a noble girl. As for the crimes of trespassing on the quarters of an Imperial family member, and daring to scorn the Imperial family with lies, I will punish the servant, and take no further issue with the Lady due to the loyalty of the Elias Family. Leave and retire to your rooms. Clearly this is in the Lady's best interests?"
As soon as the Prince spoke the command, knights immediately grabbed Niels and picked him up. I quickly reached for one of their arms.
“No! It- it's my fault. If there must be punishment, then I deserve it. I'll take it! I'll do it!"
But the knight slapped my hand away easily. The strength in his blow was enough that I staggered and grabbed the nearby armrest of the sofa.
The knights who had taken Niels had already hauled him to the door.
Niels' face as he gazed back at me was pale, bloodless. He was biting his lip and clearly trying to force back his terror.
"Please! Your Highness! Please! I'll take it. I should be punished! It's my fault! Please!"
This was outrageous!
It was horrible. An innocent person was being harmed because of me. Somehow I had to stop Niels from being punished.
I crumpled onto the sofa. My legs trembled and I felt like I was going to collapse.
At the Prince's belated command, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Ha... I’d done it.
“Even for the same crime, nobles receive different, more lenient, punishments than commoners. Are you saying you want his punishment now?"
I slowly lifted my head and stared at the Prince. Still expressionless. There was no sign of emotion anywhere on his indifferent face.
But, the knights had clearly stopped. That meant the outcome depended on my answer.
My thoughts whirled for a moment. Then I made a decision. Only one answer would satisfy him.
"...Yes, I'll take his punishment."
"Yes. I mean it."
"You'll be considered guilty of sedition. Do you accept that?"
Oh... So this was the choice I was being offered.
He knew that Andrei Pitt was my mentor and had inferred which assignment he had given me.
If I was charged with sedition it would all be wasted, whether I knew the answer to the homework assignment or not.
I closed my eyes tightly and then opened them. Was my homework really that important? No. People were more important.
“Yes, I’ll accept that. So please punish me."
Another assessing stare.
"Hmm… Why should I do that? And risk criticism from other nobles?"
Argh! This man and his taunting. I had just made up my mind... That was his specialty. Singling people out.
And now I was in the same place I had been in before. Obviously, this bastard was enjoying the current situation.
But, I was still in the middle of a mess.... And again, I needed to be extremely polite.
"...It’s your duty to enlighten the reckless people of the Empire..... Is it not? And as an Imperial Prince you have carried that out. Perhaps you feel pity for such reckless fools...?"
"Ha! Perhaps a little..."
He laughed again. It was a joke, of course.
"Can you handle it?"
The same comment. The result would probably be the same. But it was my responsibility. I could pay him back for this humiliation later.
"Yes. Of course I can handle it, Your Highness!"
"No matter the outcome?"
Oh... He sounded intrigued.
"Yes. That's right. Whatever the consequences."
"Nick, how many lashes?"
“Because you're a minor, around 10 lashes. After that, you can choose between a fine of 100 gold or 300 days of labour.”****
Damn, 100 gold. So I was being robbed after all. Ha... My eyes were downcast.
"Would you still say you'd rather be punished in his stead? I'll give you a chance to reconsider."
The indifferent gaze of the knight standing next to the Prince prevented Niels from speaking.
"I'd like to ask you a favor instead."
Editor’s Notes -
Oh boy! As you can tell by the notes section this chapter was a challenge to get through. Which is fitting because this is probably the chapter that determines your opinion of Kyle and whether you like him as a character. He certainly holds nothing back when it comes to Tara’s attempt at tricking him.
* The meanings given here are two common modern meanings of the garnet birthstone, but like any well known rock there is a whole plethora of other meanings attached to it in different cultures and periods. The name 'pomegranate stone' comes from the fact that ancient civilizations thought garnet resembled the red gemlike seeds of the pomegranate, which is possibly why the latin root of ‘garnet’ is the word granatus meaning 'seed' or 'grain'.
** There was a word in here (갈포) that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. It might be a typo or some kind of reference or slang that went over my head. I ended up omitting it and making some assumptions based on the rest of the sentence to get this interpretation
*** This is a paraphrase of a proverb by Confucius. As far as I can tell it's intended to be a motivational saying, meaning that if you enjoy something you are more likely to succeed at it, but in this case Tara is reflecting that it’s difficult to compete against someone like Kyle who seems to take genuine enjoyment from Imperial political scheming.
**** I'm a little uncertain about the 10 lashes part due to some confusing wording. The translations were not helpful in the least here. In the manhwa the punishment is 50 lashes, however, that could be because the manhwa author changed the number to make this part more dramatic? Either way, take this with a grain of salt.