Meanwhile in the Empire
The Emperor’s palace was in turmoil, much owed to the foul mood of its lord.
“What is happening!? Why won’t my daughters come at all!?”
He flung his arm wildly and smashed a vase to the floor, his maidservant jumping in fright.
One month has passed since he learned about the two daughters he had with that villainous woman and ex-fiancé of his.
In order to bring the heirs to the Imperial throne home to the capital, he had asked four mages to cast suggestion magic on his daughters, but the first three of these casters had their curses rebound and their bodies sliced in two.
Although the fourth caster hadn’t died, his curse was prevented by some means and Albert was struggling to find a magician that could actually do the job.
“Shit… All of these magicians are worthless… Can’t even cast a spell on a ten-year-old girl…!”
Albert stomped into his office, roughly rubbing at his hair and sitting down furiously in his seat, remembered the words his beloved wife had told them on the day of his ascension to the throne.
“Albert-sama’s benevolence will be known across the Empire… No, the whole continent will know you as a great man!”
Then why isn’t it happening? He was the ruler of the largest country on the continent, a man who was supposed to be an Emperor whose name would resound through the ages.
Does he turn his frustrations to that family living in the Kingdom? Vent his anger at the failures of the mages? Or, should he blame himself? Not having come to an answer, he sighed as he heard a knock at the door.
“Please excuse me.”
An elderly man dressed in a tailcoat opened the door. It was the Lord Chamberlain who had long served the Imperial family.
“Her Highness Princess Philia wishes to be granted an audience, Your Imperial Majesty?”
Albert frowned when he heard the Chamberlain’s words.
Although Philia and Albert were brother and sister, their relationship had begun to deteriorate rapidly eleven years ago once she had started to question him and wading into politics herself.
“…Show her in.”
Despite that, if you exclude his daughters in the Kingdom, his sister is the one blood-related family member he has left. He decided to grant the audience, even if he was reluctant.
A young but dignified voice sounds in the office. Albert couldn’t help staring at her when she entered, blonde hair shining in the sunlight from the window, those blue eyes reflecting a strong force of will.
Philia Ragdoll, Princess of the Empire and his younger sister. Albert himself is loath to admit it, but she has strong popularity amongst the people, probably more than he or his government does.
“It has been quite some time, Your Majesty. Was it not half a year before I last had the privilege of looking upon your esteemed face?”
“Hmm, I hear that you’re conducting your own tour of the Empire?”
Albert was disgusted by how she seemed to be acting like some innocent sister who was happy to see her brother, but he held his tongue.
In the past, she had always just been his cute little sister, but as time went by Albert grew more and more frustrated and bitter about how talented she grew up to be.
…Of course, Albert didn’t realize it himself, but this feeling of inferiority that helped opened a chasm in their relationship.
“So, what is it you require of me?”
“I shall go straight to the crux of the matter. My older sister who fled the Empire eleven years ago… I heard that Shirley is now an adventurer in the Kingdom, living with her two daughters.”
Philia stared coldly at him, those blue eyes that seemed to blame the Emperor.
“What’s more, those two girls seem to share a connection to Your Majesty by blood.”
Having come all this way to tell him personally and with such a cool tone, it must mean that the Princess is well aware of what the Emperor is up to.
“What are you thinking, Your Majesty? Relations with the Kingdom are already so tense… And now you seek to rob a woman you betrayed of her children! You took everything from her eleven years ago and now you want her daughters as well!”
“I betrayed her? No, the opposite! She sought to deceive me and, worse, she was unbearably cruel to Alice!”
Their relationship is already bad enough that they’ve started to argue only a few sentences into a conversation and the atmosphere in the room is tense. If you had told someone who didn’t know the full story that eleven years ago, Shirley was very close with both brother and sister in this room, they wouldn’t believe it.
“You still cling to such lies…! How can you believe such outrageous and unproven accusations!? Were you simply blinded by that harlot!?”
“How dare you speak that way about your sister in law!? Are you to say that her tears were mere lies as well!?”
“Of course I will! Why even mention tears? What can you possibly prove with that? What’s more, for a woman who resides in the position of the Empress but cares more for her own debauchery than the poverty of the commons, I shall call her whatever I please.”
In truth, this was the biggest reason Albert had come to hate Philia. How can his sister speak like that of his muse? The one who helps soothe his weary soul and takes him away from the stresses of power, if only for the time they spend together?
In fact, when Philia tries to bring up that Alice should be removed from her position every time they talk, the gap between them widens more and more.
Even worse than that, she’s always pining over that evil woman who had attempted to deceive and swindle him.
“…Actually, right now, that woman doesn’t matter. What matters is that, as the Emperor, you need to place your own people above this magical buffoonery. Even if those two are related by blood to Your Majesty, since Shirley was exiled as a criminal, her children are ordinary commoners who have nothing to do with the trappings of power. What’s more, if this is heard about by King Edward, the Empire may gain an ill reputation for kidnapping.”
It’s not just a matter of trustworthy relations. In the worst case, trade relations could be ruptured with the Theocracy and the Duchy, having an effect on the economy of the already shaky Empire.
“Why would bad rumours spread simply because a father wishes to greet his daughters? Besides, we can ignore the inane barking of such tiny countries in the first place.”
“The size of the country doesn’t matter!”
Albert’s ridiculous words giving her a headache, Philia desperately tried to reason with him.
“The Kingdom is a country that can be seen as the headquarters of the powerful Adventurer’s Guild and is ruled by the Black Lion King, a sage ruler the likes of which hasn’t been seen on the continent in centuries. It has a strong and well-trained army, so much so that the Duchy and the Theocracy don’t even think about going to war with them. On the other hand, our Empire is funded by the taxes of the people, but that woman’s ludicrous spending has plunged our treasury into chaos. Comparing the two countries, is it really wise to continue worsening our relations? Will you keep pulling on the Lion’s tail, he who considers his citizens an extension of his own body?”
“Y-you dare insult our Empire whilst being an Imperial family member yourself!?”
“I must tell Your Majesty the truth because he refuses to see reality!”
But those words didn’t reach the Emperor, in fact, Philia’s exasperated tone only made things worse. She tried to imagine the figure of the woman she admired so deeply. No matter how much she wanted to scream, she had to stay calm and cool, just like she did.
“In any case, Your Majesty must stop using magic to interfere with the Kingdom’s citizens and also rein in this insane spending. If you truly care for the suffering of the people, you must turn your eyes inward.”
“Two… Two girls who bear the right to inherit the Imperial throne dwell in the Kingdom. So long as Alice is being so unfairly accused for something that she cannot help, I have no intention of giving it up. What’s more, you accuse her of spending too lavishly, but it is necessary for the Empress to be dressed in finery and splendour to dazzle foreign guests and emissaries.”
“Speak no more!”
She tried to reach out to him, calling him the way she used to, but Albert batted her hand away.
“I… I am the Emperor! A man who will become a legend of this continent! My judgement can never be wrong!?”
He looks like a petulant child. Albert glared at Philia with wild eyes, who was stunned into silence, then pointed a quivering finger at the door to his office.
“Get out! I don’t want to see your face!”
“…Then, please pardon me.”
Deciding not to add more oil to a raging fire, Philia curtseyed with as much respect as she could muster and left.
“Your Highness, is everything alright?”
The red haired knight Lumiliana rushed to her Princess’ side when she emerged from the office, breathing a heavy sigh.
“I am fine, don’t worry yourself.”
“As much as I wish to believe you, you do not look fine at all. This palace is not fit to rest in, we should retire to the hotel by carriage. I managed to get a good room there.”
She walked one step behind her Princess who maintained her grace and dignity, remaining vigilant in this palace that was full of enemies for her. Lumiliana stepped into the carriage after checking for any traps or sorcery, then invited the Princess in after her. As soon as Philia stepped inside, she collapsed into a seat, finally not having to keep up the farce.
“Ahh, jeeez…! Why is His Majesty always like this? Doesn’t he realized he’s being used by Alice at all!?”
“…It truly is a shame. If I may speak frankly, what I heard through the door was quite pathetic.”
The two girls can’t help but be disgusted with the emperor’s disgraceful behaviour. Especially the way he had complete contempt for the Imperial citizenry.
“That’s why I’ve been saying that woman is utterly unfit to be Empress. Oh, if only my older sister had become Empress instead, how amazing would things be…”
“Lady Shirley Earlgrey… The fiancée of the then crown prince, who was falsely charged eleven years ago and is now exiled to the Kingdom?”
Philia was only six years old at the time, but she still fondly remembered meeting the person she admired all that time ago.
When Shirley was introduced as her future sister-in-law she had been struck by her beauty, intelligence and strength of character, as a Princess who had no blood related older sister she became very attached to her, trying to emulate her in every way she could.
Although they only truly had a relationship for about a year, Shirley and Philia had such a warm relationship it was like they were true sisters.
She was well-liked at the time by the previous Emperor and Empress and when Philia thought of Shirley becoming her true sister-in-law, she was happy from the bottom of her heart.
“Because of her white hair and strange eyes, she was ostracized from the Duke of Earlgrey’s family, yet despite all that, she was still so kind. She always let me sit on her lap and we would read fairy tales together.”
“I haven’t met her, but I can tell just by listening to the story. She really was a lovely person, wasn’t she?”
“Yes… That’s why, such a thing…”
It was a chilly February day when she learned of the false conviction that had occurred whilst she and her parents were abroad.
They returned in a hurry once they heard the news, but by that time Shirley had already escaped after enduring torture for a month. Despite being so young at the time, Philia understood the truth the moment she saw that devilish woman wearing an evil smile, standing by her brother’s side.
She was only seven at the time. Although she asked about where Shirley was every single day, the wound in her heart only deepened every time she was rebuffed, whilst also widening the relationship between herself and Albert.
“So, when I heard that my older sister was still alive in the Kingdom, I was really happy. I thought she may have died, so I was really surprised to hear that she had become an adventurer.”
“…Don’t you want to meet her? If that is what Your Highness wishes, I can escort you…”
She answered quietly, but immediately.
“The Imperial family has done something absolutely unforgivable to her. She won’t ever want to see my face again.”
“That’s… Your Highness, you don’t have to carry the guilt for something you didn’t do.”
“Even if I was young at the time, I can’t run away from the fact that I couldn’t do anything for her back then, not even speak up against my brother on her behalf.”
She was a member of the Imperial family. She may not have ordered it herself, but as someone at the top of society, she should have at least being able to do something for Shirley.
No matter what Lumiliana says, how can Philia as a member of the Imperial family that cast her aside, ever think that Shirley would want to see her again?
“I have no right to meet her and should simply pray for her happiness from afar, but…”
Because Albert was aiming for her two daughters, she couldn’t do nothing.
Using her intelligence sources, she had learned that Albert had hired various sorcerers to use magic in an attempt to kidnap the children, but all had failed so far.
What was that older brother of hers going to do next? Being his younger sister for such a long time, Philia had some idea.
“Lumiliana… This isn’t an official order, but something I want to ask of you.”
The person she loves like a sister is about to have what she holds most dear stolen from her by that elder brother once again. Even though she’s sure that the person in question wants nothing to do with her, as a Princess she has to act.
The greatest political maneuverer of all the Princesses on the continent summoned a new determination and looked deep into the eyes of her best friend and faithful follower.
“Philia is one of the four ancient forms of Greek love, considered even more valuable than eros as it was a sign of an affectionate love amongst equals.”