Chapter 68: Ceremony of Triumphant Return (1)

‘Huh? What’s this? This feeling that she’s going to swallow a dozen guys as a dessert?’

When Princess Leila, with her MAX Seduction trait, decided to go all out, Milton couldn’t focus.

“How about now, Count Forrest? You still won’t marry me?”

“No, that’s… it’s… it’s not a matter of like or dislike…”

“You don’t want to? Or…”

Princess Leila gently pressed her soft body against his as she whispered in his ear.

“You want to?”

Milton lost all rationality. He reached out and locked Princess Leila within his arms.

“Hey!”

Shocked, Princess Leila gasped as Milton suddenly hugged her tightly against him.

‘Did I tease him too much?

But at the same time, she couldn’t help but wonder if all men’s embrace felt this warm and safe. She had been through a lot in her life, including almost dying, but this was the first time she had been held in a man’s arms like this. A firm chest and thick biceps, the warmth spreading throughout her body…Princess Leila lost herself for a moment. Once she regained her sanity, she panicked.

“Count, that’s enough now…”

At that moment…

“My Lord, there’s a matter that needs to be reported…”

Jerome entered the barracks.

“Ah? Jerome? This is uh…I mean this isn’t…”

“Sir Taker! Ah… you came. This is all a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding about…”

Seeing the two so flustered, Jerome calmly spoke.

“I’ll come back later, My Lord.”

When Jerome left, Princess Leila turned to look at Milton.

“Do you think he misunderstood?”

“Thankfully he doesn’t say much but… he most likely did.”

They both sighed deeply. 

* * *

Ten days since the Southern Army set camp.

Within those ten days, more and more nobles in the Capital were advocating for the Ceremony of Triumphant Return.

“Your Majesty, please allow the Ceremony of Triumphant Return for the Southern Army and Count Forrest.”

“Now is the time to show benevolence towards the people and not a monarch’s sternness. Please allow the Ceremony of Triumphant Return, Your Majesty.”

“Your Majesty, it’s well known that Count Forrest’s achievements are more than enough to warrant the Ceremony.”

Originally, only a small part of the nobles had wanted the Ceremony of Triumphant Return. But then, Princess Leila had convinced a few nobles, and they in turn convinced other nobles that a Ceremony was essential in appeasing Count Forrest who was currently camping outside the Capital. Fearing for their own lives, the nobles insisted that Count Forrest be given carrots and not the stick — the Ceremony must be held. With most of the nobles insisting on the Ceremony, King August was backed into a corner. But he still didn’t allow the Ceremony of Triumphant Return to be held.

‘I’m not finished yet. This is still my country.’

King August was greedy and not capable of being a king. He wasn’t stupid but he only used his intelligence to stay in power. Because he had lived decades of his life like this, King August refused to change his thinking. He knew very well that if he held the Ceremony of Triumphant Return, then he would no longer be at the center of power. That’s why, he would never permit the Ceremony to happen. 

But, it was also unreasonable to ignore the noble’s petitions. Rumors had spread that if the King didn’t hold the Ceremony, then the Southern Army would attack the capital. The rumor spread as though it was a fact. Not only the nobles who had been influenced by Princess Leila, but also the nobles who feared for their lives, they all insisted that the Ceremony of Triumphant Return be held. He couldn’t continue to ignore the nobles' petitions when the royal power had been weakened by the civil war.

Eventually, King August decided to go into seclusion. He used a sudden illness as an excuse to hide away inside his palace and refused to meet with the outside world. He believed this was the best option in this situation.

‘It’ll be impossible to hold the Ceremony if I’m absent. And even if the nobles hold one, it won’t be one that I recognized.’

Like a poisonous snake hiding from view, he hid in his palace and fiercely calculated the situation. The only thing he could recognize was Princess Leila, a current favorite of the people. Since there was no way he could win against her, he could only retreat. But the wind couldn’t always be in her favor. Eventually, there will be a weakness on the other side, and that’ll be the time for his counterattack.With such thoughts, King August went into seclusion. 

“There’s no other choice. We should just hold a Ceremony of Triumphant Return ourselves.”

The nobles moved as expected when the King went into seclusion.

To be truthful, there were more nobles in the Capital who didn’t want to hold the Ceremony. Until a few months ago, Milton Forrest was just a barbaric noble from the South that they hadn’t even heard of, but now, he was praised as a hero of the country. Far more nobles in the Capital were envious of his achievements and didn’t want to recognize him than those who sincerely praised and admired him. But, no matter what they thought, they couldn’t possibly speak it out loud when the mere presence of the Southern Army camping outside the Capital was like a sword pointing towards them. In the end, the nobles decided to hold the Ceremony of Triumphant Return while the King was hiding in his palace “sick.” And they informed the Southern Army of this.

* * *

“It all happened as expected.”

After reading the letter from the nobles, Milton turned towards Princess Leila. Most of the letter’s contents were useless, but the main point of it was that they were holding the Ceremony of Triumphant Return and pleading with him to no longer be angry and to enter the Capital. It wouldn’t be wrong to consider it a letter of surrender.

Looking at Princess Leila who had induced this situation, Milton thought to himself.

‘She’s one scary lady. Anything she wants, she ultimately gets.’

Feeling Milton’s gaze on her, Princess Leila glanced at him.

“Can you stop looking at me like I’m terrifying?”

“…Are you sure you can’t read people’s minds?”

“Hmm… Maybe I can’t? Maybe I can?”

“……”

Princess Leila laughed at Milton’s troubled expression. 

“I’m just joking. You’re just easy to read, Count Forrest.”

“Really, Your Highness?”

“Anyway, you can’t be like this in front of other people. People think I’m a pure and elegant woman.”

“Then you’re saying you’re not actually a pure and elegant woman?”

Princess Leila burst out laughing. 

“Does it matter? Anyway…”

Princess Leila’s face turned serious.

“Both the nobles and my father are acting as I wanted. So now, we should move onto my next plan.”

“The next plan? I didn’t even know you had another plan, Your Highness.”

Princess Leila gave him a meaningful smile at his question. 

“Look forward to it.”

“What… What are you planning? 

“You were just about to say ‘plot’ weren’t you?”

“……”

‘She’s a vixen. No matter what anyone says, she’s a vixen.’

Pouting, Princess Leila crossed her arms.

“Well, fine. I’ll tell you first since you have to stand on the stage as well, Count Forrest.”

“What’re you ordering me to do, Your Highness?”

“That’s…”

Princess Leila began to explain the scenario she had planned. Having heard her scenario, Milton sighed. 

“Are you really going to do that, Your Highness?”

“When you do something, you should do it thoroughly.”

Milton didn’t have any good memories with King August. Although the meeting itself was short, it still didn’t have a good impression of him. But for the first time, Milton pitied King August.

“Tsk… she really knows how to properly screw people over.”

* * *

Southern Army’s Entrance

Although there had been some friction, in the end, the Ceremony of Triumphant Return was held and the Southern Army entered the Capital. 

“Hurray! Hurray for the Southern Army! Hurray!”

“Hurray for Count Forrest!”

“Hurray for Princess Leila!”

All the ordinary citizens of the Capital came out to throw flowers and welcome the return of the Southern Army. To them, the Southern Army were the forces that had saved them from the rebels, Milton Forrest was a great hero, and Princess Leila was the only hope in the current royal family. This was the result of Princess Leila’s informants securing the public’s sentiments in advance. Milton confidently rode his horse forward amidst their enthusiastic welcome. Waiting beyond the ordinary people were the knights and nobles.

“Praise be to Milton Forrest, the hero of our country.”

Kneeling on one knee, the nobles greeted Milton. Usually, nobles and knights didn’t kneel for anyone besides their own lords. However, the return of a hero was the exception. Although temporary, a Ceremony of a Triumphant Return was an event where even the king looked up and paid homage to the recipient. They knelt and bowed their heads at Milton.

‘Wonder how many of them are actually sincere.’

While that silly thought crossed his mind, Milton gazed at them with a smile.

There were moments where you had to be submissive in politics. For them, this was probably one of those moments. For him to expect sincerity right now went beyond being unreasonable to being absurd. Milton finally reached the stage after riding past the kneeling nobles’.

The Ceremony of Triumphant Return would be over once Milton stood atop that stage, received his medal and was recognized by the King. However, King August was using an illness as an excuse and had secluded himself in his palace. And so, an elder noble appeared in front of Milton to take on King August’s role.

But…

“Wait a minute.”

Princess Leila suddenly appeared and intervened. She reached out her hand to that elder nobleman.

“It is the King’s duty to award the hero of the Ceremony with a medal. Since he is secluded in his palace from a sickness, I’ll take over his part.”

The nobles’ eyes widened in panic as Princess Leila spoke.

“Your Highness, the nobles…”

“We’ve come this far, and you plan to ruin things now?”

Princess Leila was subtly warning the nobles who were trying to make excuses as her eyes drifted towards Milton whose face had turned unpleasant. She whispered so that only the nobles could hear.

“Don’t forget that the Southern Army is inside the Capital now.”

“……”

The nobles didn’t dare say anything in response. Although they didn’t believe the Southern Army would make such an extreme decision, they also couldn’t help but worry, ‘what if they did?’ In the end, the nobles politely handed her the medal. Then, Princess Leila took Milton’s hand and walked up to the stage together.

And…

“For saving the country from the brink of ruin, I honor Count Milton Forrest’s achievements and award him this medal of glory.”

She then personally pinned the medal onto his clothes. This was a bit different from the original ceremony. Instead of looking up towards him from the ground, she had given him the medal on the same stage. She took Milton’s hands and turned to speak to the people from the stage.

“Praise the great hero who saved the people from danger. This is a command from me, Leila von Lester,  a member of the royal family and as the next heir to the throne of Lester Kingdom.”

As she commanded with a voice filled with dignity, the people all cheered enthusiastically.

“Wahhhh!!”

“Hip hip hurray! Hip hip hurray for Count Forrest!!”

“Hurray for Her Highness, Princess Leila!!”

“Hurray for Lester Kingdom!!”

Drunk from the atmosphere, the citizens all loudly cheered. But the nobles were devastated. Their expression looked as though they had bitten stone as they were eating soft fluffy bread. 

‘Just now…did she say the next heir to the throne?’

‘We completely lost. This was her intention from the beginning.’

‘Who knew it’d end like this.’

This was the Ceremony of Triumphant Return. It was a national event that held a great deal of authority. And at such an event, Princess Leila had announced to everyone watching that she was the next heir to the throne. If no one objected to such an announcement made during an official event, that statement would soon be taken as an official declaration. With King August missing the event, and the First Prince’s defeat, Princess Leila had taken the opportunity to announce that she would be the next monarch as the only attending member of the royal family. 

No, it was more subtle than that. She had actually said she was ‘the next heir to the throne,’ and not ‘the next monarch.’ Technically, what she said was the factual truth since she did have the right to inherit the throne. The only problem was that she had taken the opportunity to ‘imply’ that she would be ascending as the next monarch when the current king wasn’t there. But did she really have to grab this chance to say it here? At the Ceremony of Triumphant Return? At an event filled with the Southern Army? At a situation where the people were all enthusiastically cheering? It was insane.

The only person who could make such statements was the current monarch, but King August hadn’t attended the event in order to flaunt his authority and undermine the ceremony. He really should have attended and formally opened the Ceremony of Triumphant Return himself. But because he hadn’t, there was no one who could refute Princess Leila’s remarks, and as a result, her declaration became valid and official. The nobles were hesitant and were glancing at each other, but in the end, began to clap one by one. No one could stop the exquisite trick that Princess Leila had played on the Lester Kingdom’s political sphere. 

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