“Does that mean young lady Sarnez will be traveling with me?”
“I think that is probably what will happen. We are worried about sending you alone, so, it doesn’t sound bad for you to go with the Duke’s family as they head over to meet Merchant guild leader Haas.”
Cardinal Boutier softly commented.
I felt like I knew why they were worried about sending me alone.
Sir Geens’ assassination attempt only happened last month, so they were concerned and worried despite me being an Archbishop.
I nodded my head before observing the dessert trolley that an attendant of the Empress Palace brought in.
‘It looks delicious.’
“Your highness, we brought more kinds of the pralines you enjoyed last time.”
“Thank you very much.”
The plates for the main dishes that I basically washed clean were gone and simple desserts began to fill the table.
I looked at Percy, who was dozing off on the table, and made a new resolve.
My travels overlapped with Christelle’s again but I was not planning to avoid things that would get me involved with the main characters now that I made a deal with the chimney bird.
I had already made up my mind on that day I made the deal with the Empress.
I decided that if I could not avoid the main story no matter what I did, I might as well work hard to be the one to control the flow.
‘Might as well gather some information along the way.’
“Will his Royal Highness be going with us as well?”
“My son will be busy for a while.”
The Empress immediately shot it down. This was a bit unexpected.
I knew that he would be busy since he just became the Imperial Crown Prince, but this development where that punk was not going somewhere when Christelle and I were going……
It was a bit shocking.
“You look disappointed.”
“Not at all, your Majesty.”
What the Empress said was so unbelievable that I took her joke as her being serious.
An odd aura roamed around her cherry-colored eyes when we made eye contact. It was too late but I still bit down on my lips.
I thought that it would be better to change topics and quickly took a sip of tea before breaking the silence.
“Your Majesty and your Eminence, if you would please allow it, I would like to participate in the ball at the Blanquer Duchy next month.”
“Our little prince is finally going to dance.”
The Cardinal was openly happy. I felt embarrassed hearing her phrase it like that.
This was the first time I have requested to go out since the polo match.
I recalled how Eva’s eyes had sparkled when she asked me about it during the Imperial Crown Prince succession confirmation ceremony.
‘Have you made up your mind, your highness? Will you be my dance partner?’
I had also seen how her gaze had instantly turned sharp.
‘How long will you have to think it over, your highness? I don’t like you!’
“I’m all for it. I’m happy that you are getting along with the Pair de Riester of the Empire, my little prince. Are you trying to show your face at young lady Blanquer’s Beau Monde début?”
“Yes, your Eminence. I plan on being the young lady’s dance partner.”
My teacher commented. Her beige colored eyes suspiciously sparkled under the monocle.
“Not Christelle’s dance partner?”
I was confused. I turned my head to see that the Empress was giving me the same kind of gaze.
I wondered what the heck they were talking about.
Of course, it was understandable they thought this was because Christelle was the closest young lady that I knew, but anybody would be able to see that her number one choice was someone else.
“I would think that young lady Sarnez would partner with his Royal Highness if she went.”
The two adults gasped at the same time.
I almost coughed because the expressions on their faces were exactly the same to the point that it was scary.
I let out a fake cough and calmly continued to speak.
I didn’t expect to say something like this today, but I thought that I might as well appeal to them about the two main characters’ close relationship.
There was nothing that prevented them from being engaged again because the first time fell through.
“The first outsider his Royal Highness allowed into Romero Palace was young lady Sarnez. He even held a feast in Romero to introduce the young lady to the two of you.”
“That was an act. Did you really think that I would not be able to figure out that clown act by little kids?”
“Wait, why are you phrasing it like th……”
‘Your Majesty, why are you suddenly angry?’
I became anxious at this unexpected response and rubbed Percy’s back.
He chirped in joy in the middle of his sleep.
The Cardinal started to speak, as if to mediate the situation because she could tell that I was placed in an awkward situation.
“Our little prince has quite the imagination, Frédérique. Why don’t we call Laura?”
“Tsk. It looks like my child is going to suffer.”
The two of them said something I could not understand before calling for Laura, the Chief of Staff.
Anyway, it seemed as if I would be able to watch Eva’s Beau Monde debut at a close distance since the Empress did not oppose it.
I was happily taking a bite of a Gâteau Basque when Laura walked in and placed a wooden box that was about the size of Demy on the table before leaving again.
‘What is this?’
“This is the reason we invited you today.”
The Empress grumbled.
I thoroughly chewed the cake and its sweet black cherry filling before sitting upright.
Our conversation did not seem to be over despite having talked about Percy and my new territory.
I had heard about how she cared a lot about efficiency, but I didn’t know we would cover so many topics over a single meal.
“Aightz Village, the place you guys stayed at, is part of the Imperial family’s territory. They are self-sufficient so there are basically no outsiders going in and out. The territory itself also has a low population.”
Silence filled the room. My jaw slowly dropped.
Based on this piece of information, it was understandable why granny Marlene and grandpa Remy had never seen the territory lord or even known the person’s name.
Their territory lord would have been the Empress for a very long time and the Empire would have taken the taxes directly.
‘Wait a minute.’
Now that I think about it, the reason we did not get attacked by demonic beasts in the forest, despite having four divine items, must have been because of the barrier around the Imperial Palace.
The Cardinal laughed as I blinked.
“The villagers there will be rewarded properly as they did their best to look after a member of the Imperial family.”
“The village will probably prosper in the near future as well.”
The Empress added on before opening the box. I saw a familiar plant and ore.
One was the cotton-like medicinal herb that Eva and Gerrit found while the other was the transparent pebble they found.
However, this one was much larger than the other one. It seemed to be the size of my fist.
“Do you know anything about them?”
She asked in her low husky voice. I looked at the Empress and answered honestly.
“I saw them both for the first time in Aightz. I heard that this is the flower used as Gerrit’s medicine while this is for ether…… Yes, capturing ether inside of it. They were both amazing.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
I immediately responded. The Empress and Cardinal exchanged meaningful gazes.
My teacher was the one to speak first.
“First…… This is called sun halo weed. I was told that only a small amount of it grows around the border but for some reason, it was growing in Aightz.”
I quickly snapped out of my thoughts. I recalled Sir Geens’ pain-filled voice from that day.
‘The moon halo weed does not have any poisonous properties. There is just the side effect of making ether unstable when mixed with the sap of sun halo weed. I put some sun halo weed sap on your teacup when I touched it back then.’
I quickly lowered both hands from the table and clenched my fists.
Although it was all in the past, my body remembered the fear and my fingertips were shaking.
The Cardinal looked at me and her eyebrows relaxed.
“Johann left everything to Frédérique’s decision. He said that the sun halo weed is indeed the medicine for his son, but it is also what he used to harm you. He said that he could not dare to ask us to let him grow it in the Imperial Palace.”
“That is why Frédérique wants to ask your opinion on the matter, my little prince. Will that be okay?”
I was temporarily at a loss for words.
I could not even imagine what kind of thoughts must have gone through his mind as he said that.
The Cardinal spoke as if she understood.
“If you don’t want it here, the Imperial Palace won’t support-”
“No, your Eminence, please help Sir Johann and Gerrit. Please.”
This was an issue that required no thought. I gently scowled before relaxing my face.
“I had simply faced a side effect because I had drunk it mixed with moon halo weed and that is all in the past. In addition, Gerrit is just a kid. A kid who would suffer forever without that medicine.”
I probably would have answered the same way even if Gerrit was the one who attacked me.
“Procuring the medicine from the border will be expensive and difficult. We should be able to grow strong seedlings in the Imperial greenhouse and garden if you would allow it, your Majesty.”
The gardeners of the Imperial Palace were skilled and hardworking. I looked at the Empress with desperation.
She looked at me and snorted.
“It is because you are like this that that rude mercenary bastard won’t fully give me his loyalty.”
“It’s fine, moving on.”
She pointed toward the transparent ore instead of explaining the situation to me.
“I will let you know since you don’t seem to be lying about not knowing what this is. This is called a holy stone.”
A shock went through my body as if I had been struck by lightning.
The Empress tilted her head after seeing my reaction.
“You do know what it is, it seems.”
“That…… There is no way not to know when you call it a holy stone, your Majesty. Isn’t it the item that the Holy Kingdom used as a weapon during the Warring Era?”
Holy stones were ores that had appeared in all of the history books I had read until now.
They were famous for only being found in the Holy Kingdom. The Holy Kingdom’s army cut these into different sizes before filling them with the four different authorities of the Almighty God and using them like bombs.
Some of them would explode as soon as they hit the ground, killing hundreds of the Imperial soldiers in the process, while others would freeze thousands of soldiers nearby to their deaths.
The Holy Kingdom’s different ways of attack, such as by using these holy stones, were the reason that the war did not end quickly despite the Empire’s overwhelming numbers advantage.
The Empress responded with a calm gaze.
“How is that in the Empire……”
I did not finish my sentence. I had no idea why this happened to be found on the Empress’s land.
This, as well as the fact that a portal that was used during wartime remained and teleported the main characters and I to a different neighborhood, all seemed like some sort of foreshadowing.
I got chills on my back. It seemed like the author of QNW did not forget about war as a keyword.
“I have no idea either. But you should know better than I do, as someone from the Holy Kingdom, how capricious and cruel the Almighty God can be.”
“However, it is a good thing that a new resource has appeared in the Empire. That is the case even if I cannot figure out how this can be used.”
It oddly sounded as if she would one day figure out how it could be used.
My palms got sweaty despite her not giving off any pressure as a sword master.
“Cédric put some flames into this thing as a test but it broke quickly without lasting very long. The wind that the Imperial Instructor blew into it leaked out quickly as well. The only thing that could be put in there was the pure ether of a priest. There must be a special refining process to safely turn it into a weapon.”
I gulped. The Empress’s red eyes looked directly at me.
The next question was so heavy it made it hard to breathe.
“Do you know the way to do that?”
“…I do not, your Majesty.”
The Cardinal’s Holy Domain brightly flashed inside the room as soon as I responded.
A gentle air current flowed out of the circle and tickled our hairs, as if it had pulled air from a different world.
The Cardinal gave a Divine Oracle without any hesitation.
[Oh Almighty God, please forgive this child’s comments.]
The Holy Domain slowly turned clockwise without any reaction.
I finally managed to let out a breath.
Despite telling the truth and expecting that my teacher would be confirming it, I truly had been anxious for a few seconds.
The Cardinal deactivated her Holy Domain and walked up to me once it was revealed that I was telling the truth.
I quickly stood up.
“I’m sorry, my little prince. I had to confirm it.”
“That’s okay, your Eminence. I understand.”
I meant it.
I was the prince of an enemy kingdom and could have easily lied, saying that I didn’t know this top secret information despite knowing it.
However, the Cardinal just caressed my cheek with a pitying look on her face.
I gently smiled back at her show of affection when the Empress grumbled.
“That’s enough, Aurélie. It makes it seem like I’m the villain.”
“But you are the villain.”
She scoffed and brushed her silver hair back.
“I didn’t expect them to teach military secrets to their child if they didn’t even teach him the Disciplines of Kingship. Furthermore, you were always kept in check by the Prince Consort, so…… It would be weird if you knew.”
She then motioned with her chin toward the holy stone.
“Take this and go test a couple of things. The crown prince, the Imperial Instructor, and that little Sarnez girl will cooperate as well.”
“When you say test some things…”
“I’m telling you to find the secrets behind how to make the holy stones safe. There is no rush but wouldn’t it feel better to know how to do it?”
It was an Imperial order.
I nodded my head without being able to reject it when an idea suddenly flashed in my mind.
An ore that could not handle special ether but could contain pure ether.
I urgently asked my question.
“Your Majesty, may I cut off a piece of this and use it for personal reasons?”
The Cardinal asked back in a surprised voice.
I felt a bit embarrassed and answered her, only for the Empress to loudly sneer at me.
I withstood the two adults’ gazes that seemed to be saying that I was quite a peculiar kid before successfully managing to gain a large holy stone.
I also politely asked them to not tell anybody about my plan.
I would only use a third for testing and use the rest to be crafted……
‘It feels like it could be a decent present if it works out. Mm.’
Oooo a present….