Episode 41

War On The Table (6)
1 month ago
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Erwin Iperia.

Even though I had never met her in person, I was well aware of her information.

Occupation: Chairman of Iperia Industry.

What’s noteworthy was the “Industry” part.

“It’s a concept that doesn’t exist in the kingdom.”

It was a mega-corporation that covered the entire magitek industry.

Interpreted in the kingdom’s terms, it would be as if many guilds had merged into one.

“It already feels like we’re in a different era.”

While the kingdom polished its traditions and etiquette, the empire advanced in technology.

Not just in magitek but also in science, commerce, and culture.

“Military power, except for the might of single individuals, we’re completely outmatched.”

Even at this point, the only thing the kingdom had over the empire was a few exceptionally strong swordmasters.

If it weren’t for the gorge, the kingdom would have become a colony of the empire long ago.

And then, various magitek items from Iperia would have poured in.

Like magibikes, magitrains, and automated dolls for security.

Erwin Iperia was the current chairman, a capable person who took over the conglomerate from her father and made it the top business in the empire.

It was because she’s too kind, but in terms of technological development in magitek, she surpassed anyone in the empire.

‘Being too nice was her downfall.’

Officially.

She was an outstanding developer but not an exceptional manager.

‘Everything was taken by the emperor.’

Starting from the magitek research lab, all of her factories were seized.

Despite being the mother of the emperor’s child, she lost everything.

‘Because she was a commoner.’

The empire proclaimed that commoners could rise to high positions, but it didn’t apply to Erwin.

‘They created a ladder for commoners to climb, but they made the ceiling even stronger.’

The empress, of noble origin, prevented Erwin from entering the palace.

‘I heard that as soon as her daughter was born, the crown princess claimed her as her own.’

Even her daughter was taken away right after birth and registered as an adopted child.

‘Fortunately, it seems they meet regularly, but not as mother and daughter; rather, as a mentor in technology.’

People of the world think the current princess was the child of the crown princess, but anyone could see that this woman was the princess’s mother.

‘Carmen, the queen, doesn’t know this.’

That was Erwin’s hidden secret.

She did mention her daughter earlier, but if probed further, she’d probably deflect, saying, ‘students like daughters.’

‘After all, this story comes from the emperor.’

Regrettably, this knowledge was from the future, so I couldn’t tell anyone.

How did the emperor fund the war?

By purging the chairman.

He converted all stocks to state ownership.

Employees who resisted were thrown in jail for ‘coincidentally’ revealed corruption.

Factories that produced necessities and vehicles began producing weapons.

Thus, the emperor successfully raised the initial funds for the war.

‘A woman is not to be loved, but to be dominated.’

He proudly proclaimed it himself, and I still remember it.

‘There was a need for a huge sum of money for the war, and it just so happened that the pocket I made outside was full.’

That’s how this woman met her downfall.

Without even leaving a last will for her own daughter.

Having everything she built taken away, denounced, and even leaving a stigma in history as a criminal involved in corruption.

Such a pitiful person.

But now, I was the political son of Queen Carmen.

Quietly listening to the conversation from behind, ready to step in to help Queen Carmen if necessary.

‘I thought so, but this isn’t even a negotiation.’

Queen Carmen was fully prepared to deal with the empire.

She analyzed every expression, every politically charged word, trying to steer it in a direction beneficial to the kingdom.

“…Chairman Erwin.”

“Yes!!”

But she had never dealt with someone like this before.

“So, you are saying that you will provide billions in capital, yet leave all its management to the kingdom, including the leadership, faculty, and operational plans of the academy?”

“Yes!!!”

Chairman Erwin stood in opposition to Queen Carmen.

“Just meet a few of our conditions, and the kingdom can do as it pleases with the rest!”

“Those conditions are… sigh.”

It was probably something like this:

‘Keep the doors of Gibraltar Gorge always open, open the ports in the southern straits, or cede part of the kingdom’s land.’

These were proposals the kingdom couldn’t just accept.

Figuring out how to refuse them while snatching away billions in capital must have been a tough dilemma.

“The empire’s demands are simple! One: Physical violence and physical punishment are prohibited! Two: Accept ten imperial exchange students each year! Three: Allow us to place five managers in the dormitory building for imperial students!”

“…….”

“That’s all! Oh, one more thing, can we pass through Gibraltar Gorge just on our first trip to the capital? Just for the children!”

“Sigh….”

Queen Carmen let out an audible sigh.

“Eh? Oh, is that not possible? If you need more money, I can provide as much as you want! If there’s a problem with our demands, we can discuss and closely coordinate here!!”

“No, that’s fine. It’s doable.”

Queen Carmen adjusted her posture to regain composure.

“Just those four things, including passing through Gibraltar at the entrance ceremony. Nothing more?”

“Yes! Nothing more! Oh, if there’s anything you need, please tell us! We’ll prepare whatever we can!”

“I would like to hear what the imperial officials think about this.”

Queen Carmen gestured behind Chairman Erwin.

“Though they’re not practitioners, the ministers of education and diplomacy are experts, so I’d like their thoughts on the current situation.”

“Three years of study in the kingdom will greatly aid the holistic growth of imperial students.”

The kindly-looking Minister of Education nodded heartily.

“We’re not imposing the imperial curriculum, but I personally hope that age and grade levels will be respected. It’s a request.”

“Seventeen years old for the first year, nineteen for the third?”

“Yes.”

“…That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Queen Carmen glanced at me.

“With sufficient capital, three years should be enough to open the academy.”

If the academy opened in four years, Princess Naria and I would be the perfect age—seventeen—to enter as freshmen.

“And from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?”

“As I mentioned in a previous letter, His Majesty the Emperor wishes to establish a healthy relationship between our two nations based on the cultivation of future talents.”

“…….”

“And Chairman, you have been granted ‘full authority’ by His Majesty the Emperor for this matter.”

“…….”

It was incomprehensible to the people of the kingdom.

Iperia wasn’t a noble house, and Erwin was a commoner.

How could such a person have higher authority than ministers, granted full power by the Emperor?

“Honestly, I don’t quite understand. What does the empire stand to gain by giving so much to the kingdom?”

In the end, it was Queen Carmen who broke first.

‘She would never usually say something like this.’

She looked quite tired.

Although she glanced at me occasionally, I kept my mouth firmly shut.

“What exactly is your purpose? What does the empire gain from this?”

“What we gain, as I mentioned, is exactly that!”

Chairman Erwin stood up with a beaming smile.

“Diverse experiences for the children! Exchange between the kingdom and the empire! If we go a step further, this could be a small but significant first step toward reconciliation between our two nations!”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes!”

Her bright sky-blue eyes were as clear and transparent as a cloudless sky.

“The resentment built up over time can’t be resolved quickly. But I believe after the children visit the kingdom and start exchanging gradually, in fifty, a hundred, two hundred years…”

None of those present would be alive by then.

“Our descendants might live in different countries, speak different languages, but at least they won’t point swords at each other and shed blood.”

“Such an idealistic view…”

“Your Majesty.”

Before Queen Carmen could interject further, I whispered in her ear.

“She has a lot of money, really a lot.”

“…….”

“Her personal assets might be comparable to the royal palace’s annual budget. Definitely.”

“……!!”

Queen Carmen’s eyes wavered for a moment.

“Truly?”

“An estimate, but I’m certain. Just considering the value of her company, it wouldn’t be strange even when compared to the whole kingdom.”

“A kind of ‘king,’ then.”

“Yes. A king in terms of capital.”

Queen Carmen nodded briefly and then stood up.

“I sincerely thank Chairman Erwin Iperia for her proposal. We will consider this matter positively and will respond in writing later.”

Queen Carmen extended her hand first.

“Ah, really?! I’m so happy! Thank you!!”

Chairman Erwin immediately rushed to the table and grasped her hand with both of hers.

“Shall we draft a detailed contract then?”

The moment the word ‘contract’ was mentioned.

“Yes, let’s do that.”

Queen Carmen finally looked relieved, smiling and gesturing toward the table.

“Let Foreign Minister Hex Romana and I handle this. The contract will be discussed in writing, as we have talked about. The two ministers will sit here.”

“Ah, what about me?”

“Chairman…”

Suddenly.

“This is Grey.”

Queen Carmen suddenly pointed at me.

“Grey? Please show Chairman Erwin the sights from atop the second gate wall.”

“……I shall do so.”

For a moment, I wondered how a mother could place such a political burden on her son.

“It’s an honor to serve you, Chairman Erwin Iperia.”

“Oh, the honor is all mine! But…”

I greeted her with proper manners, but Chairman Erwin looked puzzled.

“Grey, isn’t that the name of the eldest son of the Gibraltar family?”

“…Yes, it is.”

“Wow! I got it right! Hehe, high fiveㅡ!”

She stretched out her hand towards me, laughing foolishly, but Chairman Erwin didn’t know that Queen Carmen’s expression had hardened behind her.

“Ah. You don’t know what a high five is? It’s like this, where you slap hands together.”

“No, I know. It’s just that you should know who I am.”

I hadn’t introduced myself yet.

“I also have a bit of interest in the empire.”

As the political son of Queen Carmen, I high-fived Chairman Erwin and opened my mouth again.

“I’ll guide you to the wall, Chairman.”

All eyes were on me.

Not only the knights of the kingdom but also those from the empire.

“…Imperial language?”

“I’ve learned it.”

“……”

Chairman Erwin looked startled and her expression hardened as I spoke the imperial language fluently.

“Then.”

Soon, Chairman Erwin leaned in and whispered to me.

“Can I speak comfortably in the imperial language…? My head starts to hurt when I try to speak the language of the kingdom.”

“Feel free to speak. In whatever language or style you prefer.”

I responded with a smile, extending my hand in the manner of an escort, adhering to kingdom etiquette.

“It’s an honor to guide you, Lady.”

“Ahaha!”

Chairman Erwin burst into sudden laughter.

“Lady…! Ah, thank you, little knight. Then, please show me around.”

Chairman Erwin placed her hand on mine somewhat awkwardly.


A little later.

“This is a view!”

Chairman Erwin, who followed me without a single escort knight, enjoyed the scenery from the wall along with the wind.

“Are you not taking pictures?”

“Oh my. Is the young master of Gibraltar suggesting such a thing? Hey, you shouldn’t casually take photos of someone else’s military facilities!”

“Ha.”

“Are you laughing?”

“It’s alright to take pictures.”

At my words, Chairman Erwin suddenly glared at me with suspicion.

“What? Hey, it seems you don’t understand something…”

“I am here on behalf of the Margrave of Gibraltar. My words carry the weight of the Margrave’s. Just as you are here representing His Majesty the Emperor.”

“…….”

“What’s wrong?”

“Umm, you’re not a child, but rather a young adult. Do children in the kingdom mature this quickly?”

“I did come to understand the ways of the world a bit earlier than most.”

“Oh my, such grand words. It’s truly surprising.”

Chairman Erwin stuck out her tongue and carefully pulled out a camera.

“Then, just one—”

“Shall I take it for you?”

“What?”

“If you prefer to take it yourself, I understand, but…”

“No, no! I’d be grateful if you took it. The method is…”

“I saw how you did it when we first met.”

After receiving the camera from Chairman Erwin, I quickly aimed it at her and pressed the shutter.

“Kyak?! Hey! At least let me get ready…!”

“You look pretty. Very natural.”

“Hmph. Let me see. …Not bad?”

Chairman Erwin stuck out her tongue again as she looked at the photo I had taken.

“You’ve got talent, haven’t you? You could become a photographer someday!”

“You’re the first to suggest a career in photography for the heir of Gibraltar.”

“Why? The future is uncertain, right?”

Chairman Erwin continued to browse through the photos stored in the camera’s projection stone.

“Even a Margrave can take photos as a hobby. A Margrave is a title, not a profession, right?”

“You really are an interesting person, Chairman.”

“And so are you. I’ve heard people from Gibraltar are so cruel they can kill someone just by brandishing a knife, but that must be a lie.”

“…….”

If Queen Carmen had said that, I would have thought, ‘Does she realize what she’s saying?’ But this woman doesn’t need to think that far ahead.

“Chairman. You mentioned earlier that you have a daughter.”

“Oh? Ah, yes, I do! That is…”

As I expected.

“All the children of my company’s employees are my sons and daughters! Our company… well, the guild is like a family!”

She’s evading the question.

Trying hard to smile and laughing heartily, her face said, ‘That should be enough to change the subject.’

“In that case, Chairman.”

I reached out toward Chairman Erwin’s left hand and gently lifted it.

“Now.”

“Uh, uh…?”

“Are you single?”

Chairman Erwin’s left ring finger was bare.

“Perhaps.”

Her ring finger was clean, without a mark.

“Do you have any plans to marry?”

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