“Your Highness, I’ve created a place where you could meet with the Second Prince. Won’t you think about talking with him?”
The First Prince frowned at her. He would have drawn his sword if it hadn’t been Claudia who had spoken those words.
“What are you saying? You want me to talk with that bastard Byron?
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“What would I even gain from talking to him right now? It’s pointless.”
Claudia gave him a smile.
“Do you remember Count Troian, Your Highness?”
“I remember. He was definitely…”
“He was the first one from the Second Prince’s faction to be assassinated. But isn’t it odd, Your Highness?”
“We never sent anyone to assassinate Count Troian, Your Highness.”
“That’s true. But it wasn’t someone under my command taking the initiative?
Count Troian had been the first person to be assassinated in the Second Prince’s faction and with his death, the First and Second Princes began to take extreme measures and began to assassinate the members of the other faction.
Claudia shook her head.
“At first, I thought the same thing, Your Highness. I thought someone who was overly loyal had done such a thing. But after investigating a bit, there was something odd about it.”
“What do you mean, something odd?”
“One morning, he was found in his bedroom with a dagger in his heart. Anyone who saw him would immediately think he was assassinated.”
“That’s right. But what about it?”
“There’s a common request when you use assassins as a political maneuver, Your Highness - to make the death seem as natural as possible”
“Ahh… so that’s a thing.”
For assassins, the greatest achievement is when they are able to hide the assassination itself. They’ll use poisons or create an accident by tampering with either the horse or the carriage to make the death seem natural. To use weapons and blatantly leave traces of assassinations were considered bad policies. But there had been nothing covert about Count Troian’s murder, as if showing everyone that he had been assassinated.
At first, Claudia didn’t think there was anything strange, but after that incident, she realized that the damages incurred on both sides were getting bigger. Once she focused on it, she realized that the damages were too big, however, the assassinations continued without stopping. Feeling suspicious, Claudia looked at the situation closer and realized that some of the people who had been assassinated had died even though those deaths hadn’t been ordered. Most of the time, the people who were assassinated without commission were those who incurred the citizen’s resentment or secretly embezzled the country’s finances.
Feeling something was wrong, Claudia ordered the spy in the Second Prince’s faction to look into it on that side. She soon found out that it was the same on their side and came to the conclusion that a third faction was hiding. Upon hearing Claudia’s words, the First Prince was furious.
“Who joined the fight? Is it the two brats?”
The First Prince was talking about the Third and Fourth Princes but Claudia shook her head in denial.
“I was suspicious of them as well, Your Highness, but it’s not them. They’re nowhere near the throne.”
“That’s true. But then who the hell…”
“I’m not sure who, but in order to find out, I hope that you’ll meet and make a deal with the Second Prince, Your Highness.”
The First Prince sighed, “I have to make a deal with that bastard Byron… I don’t like this.”
He knew that Claudia’s advice was helpful but he was still reluctant to join hands with his enemy, the Second Prince. Claudia gently grasped her husband’s hand and said in a low voice.
“The process isn’t important though, is it, Your Highness? It’s more important to be the winner in the end.”
Claudia whispered in a low voice to the First Prince who was struggling between his pride and his interests.
“Trust me, darling. The day when the king’s crown shines on your head will definitely come.”
“Che, fine. I just can’t win against you.”
The First Prince eventually decided to accept Claudia’s repeated pleas.
* * *
In an office that was neither luxurious nor austere someone was busy with paperwork.
“My Liege, I have something to tell you.”
Someone came in with a serious expression.
“What is it?”
“It’s said that the First Prince and the Second Prince met in secret, My Liege.”
Hearing that, the woman looked up from her documents with a serious expression.
“The two of them met? For what reason?”
“I don’t know, My Liege. But it’s said that Claudia Vamos was there, My Liege.”
Gently closing her eyes, she fell in deep thought. Then, shortly after…
“Was I too greedy? Maybe they noticed.”
She knew better than anyone else in the world how sharp Claudia was. She got up from her seat and spoke to the man in front of her.
“Immediately stop communicating with the assassins and cover all tracks.”
“What is it?”
“Marquis Byron  mobilized private soldiers and attacked the assassin branch we dealt with before we could do anything, My Liege.”
Frowning, she replied.
“Did she maneuver things around to make the two princes meet? Quick as always with things like this.”
The First Prince, full of arrogance and authority, was only able to become a candidate for the throne because Claudia was behind him.
Not only did she have excellent political skills, but she would also accurately attack her opponents if she thought it was the perfect timing… If Claudia had intentionally done this, then it was dangerous.
‘She probably moved so quickly under the assumption that our side was keeping an eye on their movements. And if that’s the case then…’
If that’s the case, then what would the other side do next?
Just as she was thinking it through...
Bang bang bang!
There was the sound of someone pounding on the door outside. And at the same time…
“This is the Royal Family’s Silver Lion Knights! Charlotte Merchant Company’s Head, immediately come out!”
There was a loud noise outside and the people making the fuss knew exactly who was inside. That’s right. The woman inside the office was the merchant magnate of Lester Kingdom, the owner of Charlotte Merchant Company, Charlotte herself. She had been responsible for the recent assassinations between the First Prince and the Second Prince’s factions. Perhaps her enemies knew all that and conducted the raid against her.
“The owner isn’t here.”
“Move out of the way! We’ll know that once we search inside.”
“We cannot just allow you to suddenly search us without any legal process.”
“If you don’t get out of the way, I’ll arrest you for obstructing the execution of government affairs!”
The noise from the outside could be heard even inside the office. But, even in such an emergency, Charlotte was calm. However, she wondered how the enemy connected the dots and retaliated so quickly.
‘Even if they were provoked, this is too fast. If they skipped over the middle and came straight at me then…’
She looked at the subordinate in front of her.
“You were followed.”
“For- forgive me, My Liege.”
‘It was my mistake. I insisted that they reported directly to me because it was important. But instead, I gave them the missing link.’
Even in this urgent situation, she was calm.
She had already suffered crises more serious than this and had prepared for such a moment. She crossed the room to stand in front of a large mirror.
“I completely lost to that vixen. It would be best to hide in the Capital for a while.”
When she pulled one of the decorations on the side of the mirror, it moved to the side and revealed a secret passage. It was something she had prepared for such a situation. But before entering the passage, she glanced at the man who had reported to her.
“My Liege, let me guide you.”
As he tried to follow her, Charlotte raised her hand and stopped him.
“Nelson, this is the end of our relationship.”
“My Liege? What do you mean…”
“Tell that vixen this isn’t over yet.”
The man replied with a startled expression.
“My Liege, what do you… Do you doubt me? I truly am loyal to you, My Liege…”
“Your family was probably taken as hostages.”
Charlotte’s words caused him to become speechless.
“If you had completely betrayed me, you would have brought knights with you. But you couldn’t do that and just let someone follow. How weak…”
He looked sorrowful but Charlotte just nodded.
“It can’t be helped. When your family is taken as hostage, most people would give in. It’s that vixen's favorite method.”
“My Liege… I… I…”
“I don’t blame you. But this is the end of our relationship. From here on out, we go our separate ways, so if you follow me…”
Charlotte responded to him coldly.
“Then I’ll kill you.”
She truly meant it. Having served her for many years, he knew that very well. Whatever she said, she generally followed through.
“You’ve worked hard. Take care.”
With those words, Charlotte disappeared through the secret passage. Soon, the only one left in the room was the man with a hopeless expression.
* * *
Charlotte Merchant Company was the Republic’s informants. The leader of Charlotte Merchant Company had assassinated the leading figures of the kingdom. They had been deliberately manipulating the prices. Charlotte Merchant Company…
“There’s no end to this. Are they planning to blame everything on me? Soon enough, they’ll start saying natural disasters are also my fault.”
She gave a deep sigh. Charlotte had been officially labelled as the Great Villainess of Lester Kingdom. The rest of the world believed she was hiding in the darkness and trying to secretly escape. But the lady in question was leisurely drinking tea in her sunny garden while listening to the rumors about herself. Currently, there was a large bounty on her head and all the soldiers in the kingdom were eager to find her. But she wasn’t worried at all.
After all, there were probably only a few places in Lester Kingdom that could be safer than where she was currently at. This was because she was in Duke Sean Palan’s manor with Sean Palan himself standing guard in front of her right now. No matter how much the guardsmen and the Royal Knights searched through the entire Capital, they wouldn’t dare enter his manor. Who would dare to search the house of Sean Palan, the one and only Master and Duke of the kingdom? Duke Palan wasn’t someone who would agree to a search even if the king himself brought his knights directly to the door.
Duke Palan spoke to Charlotte.
“My Liege, isn’t it regretful?”
“Isn’t Charlotte Merchant Company something that you had spent much time and effort to get it to where it is right now, My Liege?”
“I left about 80 percent of the company under a different name.”
“But isn’t it still regretful? After all, haven’t you lived as Charlotte for almost seven years now?”
“That’s also just a false identity.”
Looking at Charlotte talking so calmly, Duke Palan smiled bitterly.
‘She’s strong. She’s an ideal monarch without a single wavering of her heart. But… is this alright? She’s still just a 17 year old girl.’
Duke Palan remembered Charlotte’s childhood where she had nothing to be jealous of or any worries. Even now, Duke Palan could clearly remember the young girl with an innocent smile brimming with happiness. But that innocent girl became a monarch with a spine of steel who wouldn’t shed even a single tear. It was the result of hardships, adversity, and above all revenge and tenacity. Duke Palan thought it was pitiful and regrettable.
Charlotte, who knew Duke Palan’s heart, spoke with a calm expression.
“People will change as they grow up.”
Guilty that his inner thoughts had been seen through, Duke Palan bowed.
“Forgive me, Lei…”
“Don’t say that name.”
“… Forgive me, My Liege.”
“It’s fine as long as you understand it.”
Putting down her teacup, Charlotte continued to speak.
“If that vixen decides to make her move, it’ll be difficult to move about in the Capital for the time being. I’ll go down to the countryside and lay low for a while.”
“I’d like to be of assistance but… I probably shouldn’t right, My Liege?”
“You’re too noticeable.”
Seeing Duke Palan sighing, Charlotte spoke.
“Don’t worry. I’ve prepared a few rooms dedicated to defense.
“Yes, My Liege. But where in the countryside do you plan to be?”
At his question, Charlotte turned to look in a direction.
“I plan to go down South and handle a couple of things I’ve been pushing aside.”