Author: alyalia

“…Mother.”

 

Oh, Lawrence.”

 

Patricia welcomed Lawrence with open arms, pleased to see her son after a long time. He slightly furrowed his brow and pushed her away.

 

“What did you call me for? You said it was urgent.” Annoyance was blatantly evident on his face.

 

Patricia looked at her son with pity. For some reason, since puberty, Lawrence had not been as affectionate towards her as before. And no matter how much she asked, he wouldn’t tell her why. It was frustrating, but she just believed that time would solve everything.

 

“Please, have a seat.”

 

“I’m busy. Can you just get to the point?”

 

“We haven’t seen each other in a long time.”

 

“… Don’t you think I’ve been avoiding you on purpose?”

 

“What did you say?”

 

Ah, never mind.” He sighed loudly as if to make sure she heard and slumped down opposite the empress. “Now that I’ve seated, let’s hear the main issue.”

 

“Have you heard about the swordsmanship competition?”

 

“Of course. I have my own aide.”

 

“I heard it was Duke Gracie who submitted the proposal,” Patricia whispered softly, even though they were alone in the room. “Something seems off.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Have you ever seen the first prince’s swordsmanship skills?”

 

“No.”

 

“While waiting for you, I asked a few knights.” She tapped the table with her fingers, shaking her head. “Nobody knows. They even said they’ve never seen him hold a sword.”

 

She had asked a few knights personally hired by the first prince, but they just shrugged nonchalantly without giving any useful answers.

 

“It doesn’t make sense that nobody knows the swordsmanship skills of a prince.”

 

“So?”

 

“He must be hiding his skills.”

 

“…Skills?”

 

“Yes. After all, the best swordsman right now is none other than you.” Patricia smiled satisfactorily, continuing her point. “That means he intends to win against you in the swordsmanship competition.”

 

“…The rumor that I’m the best swordsman was started by you, wasn’t it?”

 

“That’s because it’s true.”

 

“If I were to compete against Duke Gracie, who do you think would win?”

 

“Obviously, the young and strong Second Prince.”

 

Ha…” A snort of laughter escaped his lips. The deep furrow between his eyebrows clearly showed how angry Lawrence was. With golden hair just like Frinel’s, Lawrence brushed his hair back in irritation.

 

“This is why I don’t come to the empress’s palace, Mother.”

 

“Second Prince.”

 

“You’re completely ignorant about swordsmanship. Yet you spread such rumors…!”

 

It was true his swordsmanship skills surpassed others. But the best swordsman? That was absolutely not the case.

 

Duke Gracie was still a formidable presence. No matter how old, the aura of his swordsmanship behind his imposing figure indicated that Duke Gracie’s skills were far from diminished.

 

“How do you intend to portray me as someone who knows no honor?”

 

Anyone with a slight knowledge of swordsmanship couldn’t claim him to be the best swordsman. Yet, his mother spread rumors in the social circles that he was the empire’s best swordsman.

 

Among the noble ladies ignorant of swordsmanship, that rumor might have been taken as truth, but not among knights. Had he not been a prince, he would have surely been the subject of ridicule.

 

He clenched his fist. “That was a position I wanted to earn with my own strength.”

 

“Why strive for that position with your own strength when your mother has the power?”

 

“I can reach it on my own. Why should I rely on Mother’s power!” Lawrence yelled angrily. “I don’t need a position that’s merely for show.”

 

“All you have to do is put on a facade first and then make it the truth.” Even as her son raised his voice at her, Patricia didn’t blink an eye, calmly responding. “Just ignore such nonsensical things.”

 

“Even though I’ve already felt ridiculed?”

 

“Who dares to ridicule you!” She slammed her hand down on the table fiercely. Continuing to raise her voice as if genuinely angry. “If someone ridicules the Second Prince, tear their mouth!”

 

“…Mother.”

 

“If someone glares at the Second Prince, gouge out their eyes.”

 

“Mother!”

 

“We are of a status that permits such actions. We sit in a position that allows it.” Patricia slowly stood up and moved behind her son. “Didn’t this mother pave the way for Second Prince?”

 

She gently massaged his shoulders, softening her voice. “The path to becoming emperor.”

 

A temptation akin to a devil’s whisper brushed by Lawrence’s ear. He twitched one eyebrow fiercely. Then, he firmly brushed off the empress’s hands that were massaging him.

 

“I will go there by myself.”

 

“It’s a parent’s role to help their child without struggling.”

 

“Believing in a child to stand on their own is also a parent’s role. Your words sound like you don’t trust me.”

 

“What are you talking about? Why would I?”

 

“In fact… Are you not fretting over the possibility that I might lose to my brother?” His eyes, as clear and blue as rippling water, emitted a sharp light.

 

“Isn’t it?” Lawrence smirked slightly.

 

He had hit the nail on the head. Yet, Patricia did not concede a single word, countering his point directly.

 

“What are you talking about, Second Prince? You know how much I care for Frinel. Of course, the issue of succession is another matter.”

 

“You care for my brother?”

 

“It’s a sincere desire to see a son of my blood ascend to the throne. But how well have I treated the first prince over the years?”

 

At the empress’s words, he just closed his mouth as if he had nothing to say.

 

She looked at Lawrence fondly. Patricia believed there was justification for her actions, although she admitted they might be shameful to her son. That’s why she only secretly tormented and abused Frinel when they were alone. Thus, Lawrence was completely unaware of her past torment towards him.

 

“If something stands in the way of my son’s future, it can’t be helped.” Patricia trembled her eyelashes sadly, slowly shaking her head.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Then, she carefully placed a previously prepared item on the table. A small jar, perhaps the size of an adult’s thumb.

 

“I think, eventually, the first and second princes will have a final duel.”

 

“…Surely not…” Lawrence’s eyes trembled with shock at the sight of the small jar.

 

She feigned a tragic expression, slowly parting her lips. “Apply this poison to your sword in advance.”

 

“You mean to poison my brother?”

 

“If the first prince becomes emperor, our family is finished.”

 

“If Mother has treated him well, why would our family be targeted?”

 

His sharp retort made the empress’s facial muscles twitch momentarily. But she quickly masked her expression and shifted the conversation.

 

“Even if you fail, it’s fine. If Second Prince loses and the first prince wins, there’s another way.”

 

“What way?”

 

“As sad as it is, I plan to offer a toast in the name of the empress.” Patricia suppressed her rising smile as she continued. “Of course, that toast will contain… the same poison as on the Second Prince’s sword.”

 

“…You will be blamed as the culprit.”

 

“I will drink from that cup too. I might suffer a bit, but I will have an antidote… and the First Prince didn’t have it.”

 

At her words, Lawrence was silent for a moment. A quiet tension filled the space between them.

 

After some time, feeling suffocated, Patricia spoke again. “It won’t be easy. Even if the relationship between brothers has been distant—”

 

“No.” Cutting her off firmly, Lawrence, with a resolved face, picked up the jar. “Let’s do it.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I’ll follow Mother’s advice.”

 

Then, he smirked. A chilling coldness flowed over his face as he stared intently at the poison.

 

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