The New Year’s banquet continued smoothly. The high-ranking nobles came out one after another to greet the royal family. Each time they did, the nobles gave the royal family small gifts until they began to pile up behind Milton and Leila, as well as Violet, Sophia, and young Elizabeth. When she saw that the gifts were towering high above her, Elizabeth smiled brightly.
Once the formalities were over, everyone started to enjoy the banquet in earnest. The young men and women either danced in the hall or went out to the balcony to enjoy their time together. The nobles who were on the older side were busy mingling and making connections with each other. As the nobles began to gather in groups, it was easy to see at a glance that the nobles were gathering in distinct factions.
‘Broadly put, there are two factions.’
The original Lester Kingdom’s nobles called themselves the Orthodox faction, while the nobles who joined after the western part of the Strabus Kingdom was merged called themselves the Progressives. But truthfully, the nobles’ powers were so weak compared to the royal power that it wasn’t enough for them to get into a fight between themselves.
However, since there were factions, extreme differences in opinions existed. The Orthodox faction argued that the country should develop only through a central government, while the Progressives argued that a country would prosper only if they had the autonomy to encourage commerce and local productions. In fact, regardless of whether their argument was right or wrong, both sides were arguing for a side that most benefited them.
Most of the Orthodox nobles had risen to power in the central government after Queen Leila had reconstructed the Lester Kingdom. They insisted on strong centralized policies because they wanted to hold the power in the kingdom.
On the other hand, the Progressives were taking advantage of the fact that the Strabus Kingdom’s granary region was in their territory, and were using the vast amounts of food produced as a weapon to benefit from the commerce. That was why they wanted local autonomy and to encourage trade.
Ultimately, in Milton’s eyes, it was a political fight for their own gain. Both were annoying, but to him, the Orthodox faction was worse. Not only did he not like them, but he also felt disappointed with them.
The current Orthodox nobles were those who had followed and trusted Queen Leila even when the Lester Kingdom had been on the brink of destruction. The piece of shits that only cared about their own well-being either sought exile abroad or were captured and killed by the Republic.
So most of the Orthodox nobles were loyal to Queen Leila and were genuinely devoted to their country. But the moment they had taken charge of the government and held power in their hands, they lost their original intent. Perhaps they haven’t realized it themselves, but their current appearances were no different than that of a politician who was frantically fighting because he didn’t want to lose the power he held in his hands.
This was the poison of power. Even a person who was virtuous and had a sense of justice couldn’t guarantee that once they indulged in the sweetness of power, they wouldn’t get corrupted.
This was why Milton felt disappointed and betrayed by the Orthodox nobles. If you compared them to how they were in the early days of Queen Leila’s accession, then they had changed way too much.
Still, Milton hadn’t gotten involved in the country’s internal affairs since it was under the jurisdiction of Queen Leila. If Milton had been in control of what happened within the country, then both factions would have been pressed down so that they wouldn’t be able to say anything. That was Milton’s way: to nip it in the buds if it was bad, harmful, or annoying.
But Leila’s method was different. She would keep an eye on them but leave them alone unless there was a big and immediate concern. She believed that there were times when poison was just as necessary as medicine was when taking care of state affairs. In other words, Leila’s philosophy was that there were times in which dog shit could be used as medicine.
And today was that day. She gathered all the nobles of either faction to her side and began talking.
“Some of you may already have heard, but I plan to gradually change the framework of this country.”
At those words, the nobles closed their eyes in resignation as if what was to come had finally come. In fact, the new idea, the democracy, that Milton had been advocating had reached the ears of the nobles. They had all heard about it but were pretending to have not heard about it.
They were all reluctant to listen to Milton, insisting on breaking down the boundaries between commoners and nobles to give everyone a chance.
However, there was nothing that they could do; the royal family’s power was too strong. In the end, they could only pretend not to have heard and just wait for it to pass. Some hopeful nobles even predicted that it was merely bait to temporarily coax the Republicans in the north.
But Queen Leila really meant it. While it was impossible for her to immediately accept such a radical policy as the one Milton explained, she planned to gradually reduce the power of the nobles.
Today was to be the start of it.
“There’s a few people I would like to introduce to everyone first.”
At Queen Leila’s gesture, an attendant opened the door to the banquet hall and about 30 people entered the hall. The nobles’ expressions turned sharp the moment they saw the newcomers. Although they were dressed neatly, it was obvious to the nobles that they were feeling awkward. If they had been born and raised as noble, then their manners would naturally be that of the upper class, but the nobles couldn’t see any of that in the newcomers.
‘Are they commoners?’
‘Is she really going to give the commoners the right to participate in politics?’
Queen Leila spoke as she saw the nobles’ uneasiness.
“As you may have guessed, these are the representatives from the Northern regions who were elected by popular vote. I plan to make them members of the parliament and have them discuss all matters relating to the North.”
At those words, the nobles began to quickly think.
‘Northern member of the parliament? Is she planning to create a parliament in the Northern region of the country?’
‘As long as it doesn’t harm us personally, we can’t continue to oppose it.’
‘If she entrusts them with the affairs of the North, then wouldn’t it go against the central government?’
‘Well, we can’t go against the royal family anyway; I think it should be fine?’
The nobles were divided in half. The Orthodox nobles were reluctant since the central government’s power wouldn’t reach the north but the Progressive faction thought that as long as there wasn’t a problem with their foothold in the Eastern region, then it’ll be fine.
Queen Leila continued to explain.
“In the future, the parliament will govern the Northern region and they’ll have limited autonomy regarding taxes and laws.
In other words, she was creating a parliamentary system in the North so that they could self-govern. Up to here were all things that the nobles expected. However, the following words were beyond their expectation.
“Also, I will grant similar rights to the nobles who govern the Eastern region. They will be given autonomy over taxes and laws and will support the budget for public service in the North as much as possible.”
The Progressive nobles brightened instantly. Hadn’t the royal family just given them what they had desperately wanted but didn’t dare ask for themselves?
“It is a wise decision, Your Majesty.”
“If we give authority to the locals who know their own situation very well, then the lives of the people will become more prosperous and the kingdom will become richer, Your Majesty.”
“Your Majesty’s wisdom truly reaches heaven.”
The Progressive faction praised Queen Leila as if she was an unparalleled wise ruler. Conversely, the Orthodox nobles’ faces contorted as if they had bitten into a big. Wasn’t it obvious that the central government’s power would weaken if the Northern region, formerly the Hildes Republic, and the Eastern region, formerly the Strabus Kingdom, were granted autonomy?
However, the queen wasn’t finished talking.
“Also, I plan to select a few from the central government’s officials and send them to rebuild the newly acquired Southern region. It has been war-torn for a long time that the people are exhausted, so I will grant them a tax exemption for three years and boost their budget.”
At those words, the Orthodox nobles’ faces brightened. The newly acquired Southern region referred to the territory obtained from the Valence Kingdom. Although the territory had been devastated due to the Valence Kingdom’s exploitation and wars, it was originally a fertile land that had a robust population. Once the Orthodox nobles’ heard that they would be governing such a territory, all expressions of dissatisfaction disappeared as if it had never been there.
With this, Queen Leila had divided the factions into three and had given them control over the North, the East, and the South respectively. And so, she had managed to balance the three factions and prevented them from becoming dissatisfied.
But, this wasn’t her goal. Dividing up the spheres of influence was a means to an end.
“The reason I have entrusted all of you with control over the local governments is that I trust in your abilities. I hope you will never let me down.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“We will do our best to develop the Eastern region.”
“We shall do our best, Your Majesty.”
Queen Leila smiled as they made their promises.
“The royal family will do our best to support you. So I hope you will become a pillar of strength for the provincial regions as it develops.”
All of them looked back at her with happy expressions as she smiled dazzlingly at them. They hadn’t done anything, and yet, they had gotten everything they wanted. How could they not be happy?
But there was something they didn’t know; they didn’t know the truth behind Queen Leila’s sweet proposal.
“Wasn’t it easy?”
Those were Queen Leila’s first words once they had returned to their rooms after the New Year’s banquet had ended.
Dumbfounded, Milton looked at her.
“You’ve moved so far from democracy… can you really do this?”
“Didn’t I tell you before? You have to boil a frog slowly and those fools are already in the pot.”
Milton slowly shook his head in response.
‘She’s seriously a demon.’
North, East, South. Leila’s real goal was to have these three regions compete with each other as they developed.
The North had representatives elected by the people using a parliamentary system based on the democracy that Milton had talked about. The Eastern region, formerly part of the Strabus Kingdom, was entrusted to the nobles who lived there while the Orthodox nobles were given the territory obtained from the Valence Kingdom, the Southern region, to manage and rebuild.
Although the three groups were given autonomy, the royal family held the three most important powers: budget, military power, and personnel affairs. While she had promised to approve the funding needed to develop each of the regions, Queen Leila still controlled the budget. In addition to the income brought by the maritime trade that Milton personally oversaw, the taxes collected from each region were eventually handed over to the central government. That meant that the royal family ultimately decided where and how much budget was to be allocated.
Now, the military power; there was no need to talk about this. Milton had sole authority over the military in the Lester Kingdom. Except for the Central Guard directly commanded by the royal family, Milton commanded all of the troops. Therefore, no matter how much their power grew in the countryside, the nobles could not increase their military power more than absolutely necessary.
Once he had taken control of the military, Milton had restricted the nobles from gathering and training soldiers. It was to the point that if you were accused of gathering more troops than necessary, then that accusation was more than enough to be considered a crime worthy of subjugation.
And the final and most important power: personnel. Leila had clearly told them that she would give them the authority to govern each of the regions. However, she didn’t give them the power to decide who would get where. In the case of the nobles, the right to grant or take away their peerage was in the hands of the monarch, so there was no difference there.
And while the citizens were able to elect members of the Parliament in the North, Leila had made that appointment conditional: those who had been elected by the Northern people had to face the royal family and be evaluated. If that person did not pass the personnel evaluation, then he could not become a member of the parliament. And even if they passed the personnel evaluation and became a member of the parliament, there was the possibility of being removed from that position if they were discovered to be dishonest or incompetent by the auditors sent by the central government.
In the end, Leila had made it so that the citizens may elect their own representatives, but the royal family had the power to dismiss them at any time. And there was no need to mention the Eastern and Southern region’s nobles.
“So basically, you’re having them compete amongst themselves while keeping each other in check, right? Especially since their budget depends on their performance?”
Queen Leila smiled brightly at Milton’s question.
“That’s right. Isn’t it great?”
“It’s… I’ll say it again, but democracy isn’t like that at all.”
“The idea you described to me is too extreme. We’ll start with the parliamentary system and voting. We just have to get these two things established first, then we’ll introduce the rest slowly.”
Republicanism was so deeply rooted in the Northern region that it would be impossible to send in nobles and have them rule over the people. In fact, when the royal family had sent in officials in the beginning, those officials had been appalled by the citizens who refused to work with them.
However, this time, since the representatives had been elected by the residents, they should be able to work with the citizens. But in the end, as long as it was regulated by the central government, it would be very different from the democracy that Milton had talked about.
“I know it seems like I’m only doing what’s beneficial towards me, but it’s too difficult right now to introduce a constitutional monarchy on top of the perfect democracy you talked about, dear.”
“Then when would it be a good time?”
“It’s difficult for as long as I’m alive.”
Leila meant that she would not be giving up her power and authority. She was a capable queen and was confident that she could govern her country well, and was in reality governing well right now. So why should she weaken the authority of a monarch?
“But didn’t you tell me it would be okay for democracy to take hold of the country?”
“You’re right, I did. But I never said when, did I? There must be an appropriate time for it, right?”
“Then when do you think that is?”
“About 200 years from now?”
Milton could only sigh at Leila’s calm response.
“...I’m probably being harsh to say this, but I think you’re really petty and a cheater.”
This time, it was Leila sighing at Milton’s frankness.
“I’m sorry. It’s too bad that a woman like me is your wif… oh!”
Milton had suddenly grabbed her wrist and pulled her into his arms as he spoke.
“Luckily, I like bad women.”
At that, Leila placed her arms around his neck and smiled bewitchingly.
“Then, should I continue to do what I want?”
Although she had a child, her beauty hadn’t faded in the slightest. Every time she was in his embrace, and as a woman, not just a ruler, Milton thought:
‘No matter how much I think about it, I’m certain that the woman in my arms right now is the most beautiful woman in the world.’
And so, Milton decided to stop thinking about complicated things like politics.
Later historians would say that at this time, each province developed at a rapid pace thanks to Queen Leila’s skillful division of power that caused each region to compete with each other. But, this was only possible because Queen Leila von Lester, a remarkable figure, had skillfully balanced each side while staying in the center. In other words, it was Queen Leila’s political skills, rather than the policy itself, that allowed for the divided regions to operate with maximum efficiency; it was Queen Leila who was extraordinary, not the policy.
After her death, the balance collapsed, and the aristocratic society slowly faded as the North’s development accelerated and the parliamentary system established itself throughout the country. That was exactly 200 years later.