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The Pawns on the Board
“…They got us. We can’t arrest the Head Priest.”
In the royal office a few days after the eventful banquet.
Morino entered the office with a bitter look on his face. Immediately after, he placed the stack of accounting ledgers in his arms on the desk.
Nasha was thinking of arresting Malacia and then exchanging his freedom for her sister, while Lutora held a grudge of her own against Malacia. They both protested in anger but were stopped by Sigurd.
“Calm down, Nasha, Lutora. Let’s listen to what Morino has to say first.”
“How could you stay so calm! Isn’t your lover in the Shrine’s hands!?”
“…It’s exactly because she’s in their hands. If we make a wrong move in haste, what if something even worse happened to Melia?”
Hearing Sigurd mutter reluctantly, Lutora regained his senses. He hung his head. The one who wanted to scream most was probably Sigurd. But he gritted his teeth and endured. Jolga patted Sigurd on the shoulder. He then met his gaze with Lutora, who was biting his lip and nodded silently.
“Don’t be too eager, Lutora. That is what the opponent wishes for. Sigurd…You did well.”
“…Thank you, Captain.”
“Miss Nasha, you’re not the only one worrying about Melia. Let us remain calm.”
The three of them regained their composure hearing Jolga’s matter-of-fact words. Morino, prompted by Jolga, retrieved a single ledger from the stack of accounting ledgers he placed on the desk earlier. He opened the ledger to where he had bookmarked and handed it to Vikram.
“Please take a look at this, Your Highness.”
“It’s the total daily expenditure of the royal family over the past few years, excluding any official and diplomatic fees…It is the royal family’s ledger.”
From small expenditures for daily routine tasks such as the thread used for mending to the large expenditures like the carriages and precious metals the royal family bought, the numbers were neatly recorded in the ledger.
“When I compared the budget that was approved by the parliament for royal expenses to the actual expenditure recorded in this ledger, I found a discrepancy.”
Crown Prince Vikram’s expression changed.
Just from what Morino had researched these past few days, the difference seemed rather substantial.
“The sum recorded in the ledger is far greater than the allocated budget. If so, the compensation for the difference has to come from somewhere…tracing the castle’s flow of money, it led to the Shrine.”
“…What do you mean?”
“The determination of the budget requires approval from the parliament, where the Prime Minister holds a lot of influence. To reduce the Shrine’s influence on it, the approval of the budget was handed over to the royal family. However, that backfired. The portion of the budget meant for the continued operations of the Shrine was embezzled…by the former King, Queen, and their relatives.”
The Crown Prince and his aides were dumbfounded.
If that were true, it was a scandal of tremendous proportions. As a direct descendant, the standing of the Crown Prince would be in danger should the facts of this matter come to light.
“Since Malacia assumed office as the Head Priest, I found countless petitions to reconsider the Shrine’s budget, recorded in his name. Prime Minister Anderheim seemed to have planned to pass the petitions somehow…In the end, all the attempts were stopped by the royalty.”
“…How could that be…”
Vikram held his head. When his parents, the Royal Couple, were still alive, his enthronement was far in the future. While he had been formally educated in all the matters related to governing, he had no practical experience. Even so, it wasn’t a matter that could be brushed off with the excuse of “I didn’t know”. After all, Vikram was undeniably a descendant of the Hero Palcemith, a direct descendant even amongst royalty.
“…Additionally, although Suimo is mostly sold overseas, we managed to track down some leads. We investigated those customers and found something unexpected.”
Knowing Lutora’s past, Morino did not know how to reveal the truth and hesitated. Lutora grasped his hand and said, “It’s fine, please just tell me”. Morino pushed ahead, despite his hesitance.
“… All of the customers were families having someone with an illness without treatment. What is more commonly known as an [incurable disease].”
“While Suimo does have narcotic effects like ecstasy, it also has pain-relieving, calming effects. Its effects cannot be compared to what is officially permitted in the country…And most incurable diseases happen to give intense pain in the final stages. And that pain…”
Morino let out a sigh.
“And that pain…is on par with the pain the Dragon Priestess suffers, or worse.”
Hearing Morino’s explanation, Lutora remembered.
When he lived in the same house as Fiona, her uncle suffered from an incurable disease.
He had a gentle personality despite fighting an illness. Whenever he suffered from fits due to his illness, the pain he suffered was unbearable to see. His family suffered as if they were the ones in pain. They wished to at least take away his agony.
“Don’t tell me…”
“Yes…It’s exactly what you’re thinking. The recipients of Suimo were all people who needed it. Whether to treat this fact as good or evil…my mind is in a mess.”
“…But isn’t it a fact that Malacia was selling Suimo illegally outside the country? Can’t we charge him with the crime?”
Nasha sent an entreating gaze at Morino, wanting to rescue Melia no matter what. But Morino could do nothing but shake his head quietly.
“It is unmistakably a crime. However, all the funds he got from selling Suimo were used for the operation of the Shrine. Should we prosecute him for his crime, we will then have to reveal the crimes of the royal family…If things don’t go well, the Crown Prince can be disinherited.”
“No…That can’t be true…!”
“Do you think I would lie in a situation like this?”
Back then, Head Priest Malacia had whispered in Morino’s ear.
“Investigate the royal family’s ledgers.”
Morino had thoroughly investigated his opponent, Prime Minister Anderheim’s accounting ledgers and company records. However, when it came to the royal family’s ledgers, he had overlooked them and the Crown Prince’s relatives. He thought there wouldn’t be a problem and left them untouched. It was frustrating, but Morino was thankful for
the fact that Malacia had whispered the warning only for him to hear, and not the other attentive nobles in the room.
“…Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do in this situation. With such sparse information
we can take no action.”
This was a development that even Morino, hailed as a prodigy, had not predicted.
In the silent office.
Lutora, slapping his face with both hands and standing abruptly from the sofa, came to a decision.
“If we don’t have enough information, we just need to go and get it. I’m going to the Shrine.”
“Didn’t Malacia say as he left? If we have any concerns, we should send someone to the Shrine. So I’ll go and squeeze information out of them. I’ll also be able to check on Melia’s situation. It’s hitting two birds with one stone.”
“Don’t do it Lutora, it’s dangerous!”
Unlike Jolga or Sigurd, who wielded a large sword to cleave their enemies, Lutora was more proficient in using daggers in a backhand grip and wore a military uniform that was tailored shorter to make better use of his nimble body. Nasha, who exclaimed reflexively, clung to his back. Lutora was briefly
surprised before he patted the teary-eyed Nasha on the head.
“It’ll be fine. Malacia had proclaimed so in front of countless retainers and nobles. If anything happens to me, the blame will immediately fall upon the Shrine so they will not do anything untoward. I’ll keep my guard up and send detailed reports.”
He was hurt, having lost his lover once. The girl who made love sprout in his heart anew, entered a relationship with his respected lord Vikram.
He could never express his feelings.
He would live his life hiding those feelings.
“I understand…Lutora, can we rely on you?”
“Leave it to me, Prime Minister. It’s in decent hands.”
“…Shouldn’t that be ‘in good hands’?”
“Isn’t that better than ‘in careless hands’?”
Lutora cheerfully winked.
The entourage finally broke into smiles.
Would be the last day that the entourage would ever gather around the Crown Prince.
Was something none of them could ever imagine.