“Alright, let us do this. Take a step this way. Go back. Go back two steps. Hands. Pay attention to your hands! You are too stiff, your majesty. Try again. One, two, three, four, good. Not bad…”
I let out a sigh and wiped the sweat off my forehead. Luna ran over to me and handed me a cup of honey-lemon ice water. Ice didn’t exist yet in this era. This ice was taken from the snowy mountain in the East. The ice was transported here slowly in small amounts, which is why only royalty gets to enjoy iced water.
Luna picked up her silk handkerchief and wiped the sweat on the corner of my forehead, looked at the lady-in-waiting with concern and said: “His majesty has just recovered, so let’s wrap up here today.”
“I’m fine, it’s just dance practice.”
I smiled and placed the exquisite cup down. I then looked at my dance partner who looked like a girl who was carefully selected from a noble family. She was quite pretty, but she was relatively shy and didn’t dare to touch me. The lady-in-waiting looked at me slightly concerned and said: “Your majesty, if you are not feeling well, please let me know.”
I smiled weakly and said: “Ah, I’m fine. It’s just that I lost my appetite recently…”
I lost my appetite partially because of that weird soup. I still have no idea what ingredients were used to make that soup. It smelt like burnt rubber and harassed my nose. Everything I ate the following day seemed to have the smell of rubber as well which was why I lost my appetite…
Nier stood at the door with her back to us. Nier has been lifeless lately. When I tried to ask her about it, she just gave me glares and coldly replied, “Nothing”.
“Since that’s the case, let us wrap up for today. You have already learnt the basics. All you need to do now is practice diligently.” The lady-in-waiting and my dance partner gave a deep bow and then said goodbye. Luna sent the two off while I threw myself onto the chair to the side, undid the button right at the top of my shirt and let out a sigh of relief.
Castell has already sent the news out and Castor has already responded. Their king personally wrote a response letter saying he was willing to come over and negotiate with us. If the negotiation is successful, Castor will become our vassal state.
In other words, this matter is basically over. And if they become our vassal state, we can get them to lower the tariff fees, or even get rid of them all together and get them to ensure that their goods fulfil our requests. Since our country would be providing yours with protection, you can withdraw your navy. You’ll only need our protection. You can keep a few sailing boats. Your army can disband too. Just keep a unit to perform routine monitoring and patrols. Other than maintaining your independence in name, you can leave everything else to us.
That’s what it means to be a vassal state.
Put another way, I’ve saved Castor from a crisis and satisfied the empress’s wishes at the same time. Plus, I got to act competent in front of the retainers, so they sincerely bow and salute me when they encounter me in the palace now.
“Your majesty, Mr Castell seeks an audience with you.”
Luna came back, looked at me, softly sighed and said: “Ever since you came back, lots of people have asked to see you. If you are not feeling well, you should turn them away.”
“I can turn everybody but Castell down. He helped me a month ago, even though the weapon idea he gave me was out dated…”
I stood up and Luna ran over to support me. I chuckled and said: “I’m okay, I’ve recovered. Tell Castell to go to the dining hall. Luna, prepare some dishes.”
Luna turned around and went downstairs. As my close servant, she does far too much. However, I don’t intend to have anybody else look after me. Although I now accept this place as being my home and her majesty as my mom, I still miss the elf imperial capital. Luna reminds me of all the little things about Lucia.
I walked out the door and said to Nier who was standing there: “Let’s go, Nier.”
Nier nodded and then followed behind me.
Castell was already at the dining hall when I arrived. He sat in the guest seat and had the maid prepare his napkins. Luna pulled my chair out for me, and then prepared my napkin and the small silver bowl for me to wash my hands in. I used the fragranced water to wash my hands, then looked at Castell and said: “Castell, you completed your tasks excellently this time.”
“Thank you for your compliments, your majesty.” Castell bent forward at his hips to bow with a smile, then looked at me and said: “Your performance has also won my complete respect. I was amazed by your intellect when we were at the elf nation. I was also very surprised when you were able to see through such a convoluted ploy here in humanity’s nation. I also suspected that the silver coins were frauds, but I never found any clues.”
I chuckled. You can’t believe everything Castell says. How could somebody as smart as Castell not have seen through Castor’s ploy? I think he knew it, but didn’t mention it to her majesty because he was unsure what she thought. And from the look of things, Castell is a close retainer of the empress, so he must know how to look after himself.
“A toast to her majesty.”
The two of raised our glasses. The first glass is to pay our respects to her majesty. I drank a mouthful of the mellow wine, then placed my glass down and said: “You’re in charge of negotiating with Castor, right?”
“Castell nodded and said: “That is correct. I have brought with me our initial demands which I have written down on a sheet of paper. Would you please take a look, your majesty.”
“What about her majesty?”
“Her majesty has already provided her orders.”
“Then do as she said. Why are you bringing it up with me?”
Castell smiled as he shook his head and then said: “Your joke is not funny, your majesty. You are already a major figure in everybody’s eyes. You did not think that you could avoid political matters after that event now, did you? Your majesty, you have already gotten yourself involved, and are considered a dazzling new star. The two factions will try and curry favour with you from now on.”
I smiled bitterly, picked up the empress bread before me and said: “Is that so? I was mentally prepared, but it still feels somewhat surreal.”
“Your majesty, my advice to you is to not attend any private balls. Do not attend any events prepared by the army, do not accept gifts and do not see guests at night. If you can do that, you will be fine. If you can maintain a political power balance, you will be fine.”
I looked at Castell, laughed and said: “Well, you’re my guest tonight.”
“I belong to the empress faction. Showing me a special favour is the equivalent of showing her majesty a favour. Nobody can say anything about a son being attached to his mother. To celebrate you taking a perfect step into the political arena, I would like to honour you with my second glass. Your majesty, I wish you the best of health. Long live her majesty.”
Our glasses clinked together gently for a toast. The wine as red as blood swished around inside. We exchanged smiles, had our drink and then started eating dinner. This is Castell’s second dinner at the outer court. I think people would definitely think that Castell was my favoured retainer if they saw us.
But I could tell that Castell didn’t devote his loyalty to me. As he said previously, he won’t protect me. He belongs to the empress faction, so he’ll only protect the empress. To be honest, I want to have a squad like the Valkyries for myself and my own power. But would that cause a misunderstanding with the empress?
Well, whatever. I don’t intend to contend for power. I’m fine with just Nier protecting me. Nier says she hates me. She frequently makes sarcastic remarks and mocks me, but she saved me when I was in a pinch. That is enough for me. Nier understands what my thoughts are and she’ll protect me.
Yeah, I should focus on learning to dance next. That way, Nier won’t be able to stomp on my feet when we next dance.\