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Suddenly, I was bothered by what Bern had just said.
“Hold on. You’re not speaking your mind, are you?”
Bern didn’t budge when I asked him this.
“What are you saying? I just answered Lady Leticia’s questions about my sister’s engagement, that’s all.”
He responded to me calmly. It was a meaningful response, one that was almost humorous.
People really change so quickly. Watching him curl into himself alongside Yuri in the past…and seeing how far he’d come, I couldn’t help but exclaim to myself.
“That’s quite hurtful, Bern. We used to talk about everything in the past. Am I being hung out to dry by my most trusted subordinate because you don’t recognize me as a master?”
We stared at each other, trying to read the meaning in each other’s eyes.
In the end, Bern stepped down first.
“It’s just my personal opinion. Please treat it as nothing but nonsense.”
I nodded in agreement with his preface. Seeing my reaction, he opened his mouth again.
“Your majesty, I’ve told you that I saw hell.”
“Yes, you did.”
“It was the nobles who created that scenario. In the past nobles had the power to bring people together and protect them. It was only after fulfilling their responsibilities could they earn their own titles. But as times changed, the original attitude that nobles should hold was forgotten. Eventually they became the weights that chained people down with arrogance and righteousness.”
“Of course I know that. That’s why I punished them harshly this time, so that this wouldn’t happen in the future.”
A weak smile appeared on Bern’s face.
“I’ve said this before earlier. The elegance a noble should have has been lost to time. Isn’t that why this whole thing happened in the first place?”
“Yes. As you say, Bern. That’s why we need to establish a new system, and implement real change before people forget about the pain of this incident.”
“You’re correct. But your majesty, I think that if people’s consciousness doesn’t change, the result will still be the same.”
“What do you mean?”
“Before answering that question, your majesty, may I ask you another question?”
“What’s the real difference between nobility and the common folk?”
“What a vague question. From the surface, it’s the difference of wealth and power. And then there’s the difference in living standards and value systems that accompanies those surface level differences.”
“I agree with that. I also think that if you think harder, that’s the only real difference.”
“It’s nothing more than a difference resulting from where one was born and raised, with nothing to do with actual talent or charisma. It’s not unlike gender. Even though one might be male or female, that doesn’t affect your actual capabilities.”
Bern issued these thoughts in a laidback tone.
It was like he was confronting himself, organizing his thoughts again.
“Because of something like identity and gender, one’s trajectory in life is determined when they are born…at first glance it seems effective. Since your life has been decided for you, all you have to do is work towards a given goal. But people aren’t born with the abilities that match their given life paths. The son of a leader might not have the skills of a leader. When given a predetermined future, how many people will actually work as hard as required of them? Of course I’m not saying that no one is working hard at all…”
Bern’s words left me dumbfounded.
I understand the true meaning behind them.
They were quite outrageous. But I couldn’t ignore them.
“If someone’s future is determined, then they have less and less space for personal growth. And their original strengths would remain unrecognized and waste away. No matter what kind of political system we’re building, growing up in a closed off, limited environment like that will lead to nothing but a dead end.”
“In other words, you have doubts toward policies concerning identity, especially that of nobles?”
“It’s nobles who created that hell in the first place. I think there are too many people willing to mess around with a predetermined future in place.”
His words denied the current status system of our nation. In fact, they were completely undermining our foundation.
“But Bern, even if what you’re saying is correct, that we ‘decide people’s futures based on their capabilities and personality’…simply speaking, a merit-based society, then won’t companions headed down the same road start competing with each other?”
“As you suggest. I have to say that I’m not completely opposed to the nobility system. Everything has two sides. Predetermining the inheritor reduces unneeded conflict. That’s the benefit of the nobility system.”
“Then what are you trying to say?”
“If people’s consciousness doesn’t change, then the outcome won’t change. Your majesty, what I’ve said earlier must seem like a fallacy…but no one has even discussed it in the past. That’s the issue.”
“And what does that mean?”
“In our current environment, there’s no possibility for individuals. ‘This is the way things are’: that kind of mindset makes people set in their ways, with no other options. Why can’t people participate in politics? Why are women barred from work and society? My sister is the same way. If she were a man, this country would never let her go. Even as a woman…her talent is obvious from everything she’s done within our territory. I can’t comment too much on the benefits of bonding with a nation across the sea, but personally I think that it’s far less than the potential loss of someone like my sister. But according to the sensibilities of our nation, that’s just the way things are. Women are supposed to head the household, and ‘it’s best’ that they get married and have children. In the end, they’re supposed to get married to a good enough suitor…and it’s precisely because of these preconceived notions that no one opposes this engagement. Ensnared by the trap of supposed common sense, we’ve overlooked the potential loss to our nation.”
“How harsh to hear. Ensnared by the trap of supposed common sense, huh…”
“Back to what we were talking about before. Lady Letticia, you ask if I would ever regret my stance. This is my response. Even if I were unhappy about losing my position, I’d still feel like I were wrong for feeling that way. My sister is the eldest, and good at what she does. I’m dissatisfied that my abilities don’t match up to hers, but it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. That’s what I think, and I hope that my sister can remain here as the leader of our territory.”
Bern’s words brought a bright smile to Letty’s face.
“My dear brother, what Bern just said is exactly what I was thinking.”
“Oh dear, did you forget already? What I told you earlier is that I have full intentions to become king.”
Hearing this, Bern’s eyes opened wide in shock.
“Women support this nation, yet everyone who participates in national politics is male…policies like that will only skew toward a certain type of view. Even when Grandmother took over the position of king, it was only viewed as a transition period. That’s why I want to be the first female king, introducing a completely new perspective to our politics and creating completely new opportunities and value systems for our people.”
Letticia communicated her thoughts with a clear tone of voice.
“Just like I was saying earlier, my brother has already crushed this country’s ruling system with a hammer. Now it’s still in that state. What follows this is creation, and I’ll be the one to do it. Concerning practical matters, I’m already just as good as you. I’ve also prepared thoroughly for the job. You know better than anyone else of my abilities.”
I laughed after she finished speaking.
“Hahaha! I didn’t realize what your expectations were at all.”
“Heh heh. Seems like I’ve communicated things quite well.”
Both of us laughed.
“I see, I see. In terms of your practical capabilities, you’re already miles ahead of most of my idiot staff, and I have no doubts about your abilities. Plus you have your grandmother backing you up and discussing things with you. So it seems you aren’t speaking of a pipe dream after all. After this, all you need is for both of the princes to go away so that the nobles have nothing to say against you.”
“Precisely so. So I want to bring a political upheaval.”
Bern, who had randomly walked into our conversation, seemed completely confused.
“You’re correct. But Letty, everything you’re thinking right now is nothing but a dream? I’m sure you’ll bump into obstacles and rejection in the real world. Even so, you’re sure you want to go through with this?”
“My brother, what’s the difference between someone who has no dreams and someone who wanders blindly? As long as I can become king, even if others reject me or if I encounter unexpected situations. I’ll still work toward my dreams, looking forward. I’m prepared for a thorny road ahead.”
Her gaze was serious, filled with determination.
“You’re so sure about this. Letty, do you know what my final hand against the second prince is?”
“Of course I do.”
She whispered a few words into my ear and I nodded in confirmation.
“Please go to the battlefield without worries, my brother. I’ll take care of everything from here on out.”
“I never expected my sister to clean up after me, but since you know everything there is to know…I’ll be at peace going to war in the North.”
“Yes, I’ll respond to everything with utmost speed. Just focus on the battle. I’ll pray for your success here in the capital.”
The clock began to toll. It was a serious, heavy sound. I stood when I heard it.
“Then I’ll be going.”
“I’ll pray for your victory.”
With Letty and Bern’s eyes on me, I left the room.