Chapter 69: Ceremony of Triumphant Return (2)

There was only one throne. That meant, as someone got closer to the throne, someone else had to fall. And at the moment Princess Leila was establishing her presence in the Ceremony of Triumphant Return, the man who had been closest to the Lester Kingdom’s throne was drunk.

Skyt von Lester, the First Prince. 

He had completely lost his self-confidence after his defeat in the civil war and was no different than a crippled.

“Damn it… alcohol! Bring me alcohol!!”

The First Prince had terrified all the maids with his temper. One maid carefully brought him his alcohol but…

Shatter!

“Kyaa!”

Irritated by something, the First Prince had violently thrown the alcohol bottle at the frightened maid. 

“You damn wench! Even lowly sluts like you laugh at me now?!”

“Your— Your Highness, I wasn’t… Kya!”

Smack!

Before she even had the chance to say anything, the First Prince punched the maid.

“Ah! Your Highness… please… forgive me… Kya…”

Almost dead from the First Prince’s kicking, the maid begged for forgiveness, but lost in bloodlust, he had no intentions of stopping. His violent assault only ended when the maid fainted without being able to say anything.

“Huff… huff…”

Breathing heavily, the First Prince staggered and grabbed the bottle of liquor rolling on the floor only to drink straight from it. 

“Those damn traitors… They eagerly wagged their tails at me when I was close to the throne, but now I don’t even hear a peep from them? I’ll never forget this.”

The First Prince ground his teeth as he remembered the nobles who had distanced themselves from him. He was determined to behead all of the traitorous nobles and enslave and throw all of their family members into a mine the moment he ascended to the throne. 

But would he be able to succeed the throne at this point?

After his defeat during the civil war, he was now one of the most hated by the people. Princess Leila had spread that the First Prince’s carelessness and stubbornness had led to the defeat in the civil war. The families of the soldiers who had died during the civil war blamed the First Prince; they hated that their fathers and sons had died because of his mistake. The nobles who had supported him had jumped ships long ago, and it was impossible to try to turn things around now. The only thing left to him now was…

“My love, you’re drinking too much.”

“Claudia…”

His wife, Claudia.

She appeared with a worried expression and began to take care of him.

“You have to take care of your health. I’m afraid you’ll get sick if you continue like this.”

“……”

The First Prince turned crimson with shame, but he couldn’t be angry with her. He truly loved and felt thankful towards her. She had physically and emotionally supported him and never abandoned him. The First Prince was both dismissive and vicious towards everyone else, but greatly cherished his wife, Claudia. She had captivated him with her intelligence and beauty.

‘That’s right…even if I lost everything, at least I have my wife.’

 The First Prince hugged his wife as he cooled his head.

“I’m sorry, Claudia.”

“My love…”

“I haven’t given up yet. I don’t care what humiliation I endure. I will survive. And I will surely make you the queen.”

At his oath, Claudia gave him a bashful smile.

“Don’t strain yourself, my love. I’m happy enough to have you at my side.”

“Ahh… Claudia. My dear lovely wife…” 

The First Prince tightly embraced her. As she hugged him back, she gently pressed her lips against his. 

Then…

“…huh?”

The First Prince felt something entering his mouth. A small pill the size of a bean had entered his mouth and down his throat. Claudia then roughly pushed him away. 

“Cl— Claudia. What did you… gah…”

Thud!

Bewildered, he fell to the floor before he could understand what happened. 

‘I can’t… I can’t breathe…’

The First Prince, whose breathing was getting increasingly difficult, couldn’t believe what happened.

“Why…? Why…?”

The words that were squeezed out of his throat held more questions than resentment; that’s how much the First Prince loved and trusted Claudia. But Claudia spoke down at him with a disgusted expression as she wiped her lips. 

“I should throw away useless tools.”

“Ug— ughhhh…”

Looking at his purpling face, Claudia gave him a small smile as he breathed his last breath. 

“Don’t worry. Even without you, I’ll climb to the highest position. To a seat even higher than where you were going to place me.”

The First Prince died listening to the invectives from his beloved wife. For a man who had once been the closest to the kingdom’s throne, his death was miserable.

Once Claudia had confirmed the First Prince was dead…

“Kyaa!!! Doctor!! Doctor!!”

Sobbing, she screamed for a doctor while the people who had gathered were greatly confused by the First Prince’s sudden death. But no one suspected Claudia. 

* * *

After the Ceremony, Milton quietly prepared to return. He had done everything that he could. He won the war and helped Princess Leila as much as possible to grab power. Milton’s current role was to simply exist as the physical deterrent while stopping the nobles’ nonsense. But that would change the moment Duke Palan returned to the Capital. Soon, Milton would return back to the South and wait quietly until Princess Leila took over, then be recognized as a Marquis and Margrave. 

‘Now, this is the stable and peaceful life I had imagined.’

Although there had been some twists and turns, Milton thought his life purpose had finally returned to its original state. 

However…

“I’m sorry, Count. But please wait a bit longer before you return to the South.”

Princess Leila sincerely apologized to Milton.

“The situation changed. The First Prince suddenly died. They’re insisting it’s…suicide.”

Milton frowned.

“Will you explain what exactly happened, Your Highness?”

Princess Leila sat down with a tired expression as Milton looked ready for an explanation. By establishing her presence and receiving the support of the people during the Ceremony of Triumphant Return, Princess Leila had gotten rid of all stumbling blocks. All she had to do now was to slightly strong-arm King August into recognizing and formally transferring the throne to her before all her goals would be met. But suddenly… there was a problem. 

It started with the death of the First Prince. People already knew that the First Prince lived like an invalid after his defeat in the civil war, drinking his days away. But then, he suddenly died. The cause of death was poison. After his attendants testified that the First Prince’s mental state was very unstable and other various evidences taken into consideration, it was concluded that the First Prince had swallowed poison and committed suicide. 

However, Princess Leila came to a different conclusion after hearing the entire story. She couldn’t let go of the fact that Claudia Vamos had been the first person to discover the First Prince’s body. Could Claudia have killed her own husband, the First Prince? Princess Leila believed Claudia was capable enough to murder her husband. Claudia was more ambitious than anyone else, and was willing to do anything for her ambition.

But the problem was that there was no evidence. 

Claudia had carefully cultivated her image; she was known as a benevolent and wise woman. If Princess Leila was to suspect Claudia without any evidence, then those who sympathized with Claudia or those who dislike Princess Leila would all attack her as being heartless. In fact, everyone would point to Princess Leila for being the reason the First Prince fell into depression and committed suicide. So, at this point, Princess Leila couldn’t rashly attack Claudia. 

Without a doubt, Princess Leila was convinced but…

There was nothing she could do in this current situation. Once realizing that attacking was impossible, Princess Leila quickly turned her mind to possible countermeasures.

‘If that vixen killed her husband… why? The reason is most important.’

Since he failed, he’s now useless, so kill him. No, that was impossible. As long as it was hers, the Claudia that Princess Leila knew was greedy enough to even eat the bone after eating the meat. And if that Claudia killed the First Prince, then she had a reason for it. Princess Leila ran through multiple scenarios in her head to determine the reason.

‘Since a prince of the country died, a national funeral must be held. And I, as a member of the royal family, must observe a mourning period. In that case, she’ll be able to buy time. But…’

She could understand up to here. But even if Claudia bought herself some time, what could she even do at this point? 

Right now, Princess Leila had the support of the people, and held the Southern Army in her hands, and half the nobles on her side. So even if Claudia bought some time, it didn’t seem possible to change the situation, especially since Princess Leila’s position in Lester Kingdom was stable now.

‘Wait… maybe? Can’t be?’

Princess Leila thought of the worst thing Claudia could do in this situation and quickly moved her people to watch Claudia and Marquis Vamos’ actions and secretly smuggled information to her.

‘As I thought… so she’s coming at me like this.’

Princess Leila sighed. Although she knew her opponent wasn’t someone to hold back, she also didn’t think her opponent would take such extreme actions.

‘This isn’t something that could be prepared in a short period of time. She probably… started preparing the moment her husband lost the civil war.’

Having predicted her enemy’s move, Princess Leila immediately reacted. First, she had to convince Milton to delay the Southern Army’s return. 

That was because…

* * *

“Strabus Kingdom’s troops crossed our borders.”

“Strabus Kingdom? That’s impossible… Why are they crossing into our country, Your Highness?”

Milton was truly shocked. Could Strabus Kingdom possibly be planning to invade Lester Kingdom? In that case, it was debatable whether Lester Kingdom even had a 10 percent chance of winning. Although Strabus Kingdom had exhausted a lot of their strength due to the recent invasion by the Republic, they were still known as a military powerhouse and would be able to conquer Lester Kingdom with only 20 percent of their military power. Milton, who had once experienced war on the Western Front of Strabus Kingdom, knew very well how strong Strabus Kingdom’s military was. Having understood his thinking process, Princess Leila calmly spoke. 

“Fortunately… even though Strabus Kingdom’s troops crossed our borders, it’s not an invasion.”

“It’s not an invasion, Your Highness?”

“That’s right. They came after being officially asked to send troops to our country. The border guards also said they checked that the edicts were stamped by the royal family before allowing them to pass.”

“Edict, Your Highness? Do you mean that the king asked for reinforcements from the Strabus Kingdom?”

“No. My father, no, the current king would never bring in a force strong enough to surpass his own power.”

“If that’s the case, then who did, Your Highness?”

“Officially, the owner of the seal is… Skyt von Lester. It belongs to the First Prince who recently committed suicide.”

“The First Prince asked for reinforcements? What do you mean, Your Highness?”

Seeing Milton not understand what was going on, Princess Leila explained her speculations.

“The whole thing’s probably like this. The moment the First Prince was defeated by the Second Prince in the civil war, Claudia probably thought it would be difficult for her to become queen and stopped supporting the First Prince.”

“Right, that’s understandable.”

‘It went beyond a simple defeat and was directly connected to the national power weakening.’

Milton could understand up to here.

“Claudia probably chose a different method at this point. Perhaps, she believed that since the Second Prince had the Republic at his back, she would also need the backing of a foreign country?”

“And that was Strabus Kingdom, Your Highness? And the First Prince readily agreed to that?”

“Readily agree… would he really have agreed?”

Milton frowned at her meaningful question. 

“Surely…?”

“Claudia had the full trust of First Prince Skyt and controlled his entire faction. And of course, every document that required his seal passed through her hands. If she really wanted to…”

Although Princess Leila trailed off, Milton was able to fill the rest in.

“She forged the First Prince’s name and brought in a foreign army.”

“Exactly.”

Princess Leila paused to sigh.

“And that’s why she probably killed the First Prince once she had confirmed that reinforcements from Strabus Kingdom had crossed the border. She had to stop him from talking since it would be a criminal offense if it was known that she had used the First Prince’s seal to request for foreign reinforcements.”

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