How to Survive at the Academy - C.143

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Return to the Rothtaylor Mansion (1)

“Rothtaylor Mansion… It has been nearly five years, father.”

The fierce succession conflict for imperial authority is starting to take shape after years of ongoing tension.

One day, the sudden renunciation of the imperial succession rights by Crown Prince Rindon brought an end to the longstanding nerve-wracking tension.

In the midst of Emperor Clorel’s three daughters, there were covert struggles for power and influence… but now, they too were becoming stories of the past.

The third princess, Phoenia, once backed by the majority, was relegated to the corner of the Acken Island at the southernmost part of the continent, and following her, the second princess, Persica, was hardly seen as she holed herself up in the imperial library.

Was it out of disgust for the many sycophants bound solely by lust for power? Or simply a stratagem to catch her breath before the real battle?

The reasons are unknown, but at the very least, it was good news for the first princess, Sella.

“If commanded by His Majesty, I must make the visit. The Rothtaylor family has contributed greatly to the empire, so it is only necessary to maintain the dignity of the imperial household in return.”

The girl had an indiscernible chill about her, much like the calm winter air settling around her.

Without arrogance or flamboyance, she simply radiated a delicate dignity, like a finely crafted ice sculpture.

Even her hair shimmered with a bluish hue, reminiscent of frosty snowflakes.

At the center of the colossal audience hall, in comparison to the girl’s stature, sat the ruler of the Clorel Empire and the venerable Emperor Clorel himself.

An elegantly laid silk carpet stretched from the emperor’s throne straight to the base where Sella stood.

The royal guards, standing firm with their spears, did not so much as twitch. The many confidants gathered to offer counsel to the emperor silently bowed their heads in one corner of the hall.

“Everything will be prepared, and I will depart on time. However…”

Emperor Clorel had commanded the first princess, Sella, to visit the Rothtaylor Mansion.

It seemed that the discussions were already settled with his closest confidant, Crebin Rothtaylor.

“It’s a pity that timing won’t allow for a reunion with Phoenia.”

Princess Sella of the Frost voiced her thoughts with a bow.

A tense silence spread among the emperor’s nearest attendants. Her words carried weight and many implications.

It had been well over a year since the Princess of Mercy, Phoenia Elias Clorel, left the imperial palace for her studies.

Even if Princess Phoenia’s support base was strong, their presence would wane in her physical absence—it is the way of power.

During this school break when Princess Phoenia was to return, if her supporters reorganized and reaffirmed their loyalty, it would not bode well for Sella.

Although Sella wanted to remain in the palace to monitor the situation, she was not pleased with the fact that she must travel to the distant Rothtaylor Ducal Estate, especially during this crucial period of Phoenia’s return.

While Phoenia herself claimed to have little desire for power, Sella did not believe her.

Therefore, she was not thrilled with Emperor Clorel’s direction to leave her place at this crucial time when Phoenia would be returning. But of course, Sella had no right to refuse.

“I understand your desire to reunite and make amends with Phoenia after such a long time, but for you, a trip to the Rothtaylor Ducal Estate could pose a far greater opportunity.”

Was it an attempt to forcibly separate her from Princess Phoenia? Sella’s words were loaded with such questions, but Emperor Clorel did not beat around the bush.

“You know well what it means to be invited to a Rothtaylor mansion’s social gathering.”

Sella nodded.

Head of the Rothtaylor household, Crebin Rothtaylor, did not particularly enjoy hosting social events.

Yet there’s a reputation of leading the continent’s most influential power. This necessitates him to mingle with various nobles.

Thus, when such social events are organized, they are grand affairs.

For lesser nobility from the frontiers, these events are golden opportunities, it is rare for such influential and noble individuals to gather all in one place.

Traditionally, the imperial court would send close confidants to these events to honor the gathering, but this year, the envoy is to be no less than the first princess herself.

The longstanding relationship between the Clorel Imperial Court and the Rothtaylor family is a deep one, the purpose of the envoy to showcase this alliance.

Being used as a symbol does not bother her particularly. After all, the position of a princess is more about the symbolism than the actual power—this Sella knows well.

In fact, this Rothtaylor social gathering was an opportunity.

In order to become the empress, mastering the Rothtaylor family—a crucial tool—is a must. Gaining a deeper understanding of the family and its members, and cultivating relationships with them, is necessary.

But it doesn’t end there.

Encompassing a massive scope, the social event takes place over five days, to accommodate the busy schedules of the attendance.

Looking at the list of people invited, the room would be filled with prominent figures pivotal to the empire. The mere names that come to mind were all heavyweights.

Jazhul, the count who managed the empire’s largest granary region in the south on his own.

Roland, the investor in charge of the practical financial flow of Elte merchant group.

Evian Nortondale, the head of one of the most renowned warrior families.

Balvern, an epochal innovator regarded as the father of alchemy in the city of Crete.

Saint Clarice, hailed as a lofty messenger from the Telos Order.

Sinir Bloomriver, the leader of the magical Bloomriver household, known as the ‘Witch’s House’.

Legionnaire Magnus Callamore, infamous for claiming more Ains’ lives than any other on the northern grasslands.

Including Princess Sella, the first princess of Clorel and a powerful candidate for the next imperial rule, widely known as the Princess of the Frost.

Of course, since it’s a Rothtaylor Mansion, all figures from the Rothtaylor family would attend.

The most noble of them all, the head of the family, Crebin Rothtaylor, and his heir, Tanya Rothtaylor.

And according to Crebin himself, there were plans to reinstate his precious son, Ed Rothtaylor, during this event.

His son, who he personally exiled for disgracing the noble Princess Phoenia, was now being welcomed back into the family fold—an enigma in itself.

“Well… the actual successor is his younger sibling, Tanya Rothtaylor anyway…”

Sella exits the audience hall, escorted by the knights, and departs from the central imperial palace.

Crossing the ornate imperial gardens, her thoughts deepen.

With so many participants, not everyone can be won over.

Although she will try her best to open up to many and develop wide connections, she realizes the need to set priorities.

Strength, financial power, and religious support.

Her focus narrows down to Legionnaire Magnus Callamore, investor Roland associated with the Elte merchant group, and Saint Clarice of the church.

Additionally, it was also important to get acquainted with the Rothtaylor family members, especially since she had yet to meet the current successor, Tanya Rothtaylor—this was the chance to do so.

“Hmm…”

What comes to mind is Ed Rothtaylor, who is to be reinstated at this event.

It’s unclear what Crebin Rothtaylor is thinking. Sella had heard long ago that he was nothing but a notorious reprobate beyond redemption.

After all, wasn’t he the man who had spent nearly two years living in squalor as a disgraced noble?

Having lost all dignity and authority, and without the family’s glory, he would know how hellish it is.

Such a person is more likely to cling to the family rather than govern it.

Being out of favor within the family for years and without the opportunity to meet with other powerful families, he’s likely to be left on the sidelines at the social gathering.

Still, she considered taking a chance on him if potential emerges… but given the limited time, she’s uncertain if it’s worth investing that time in him. Frankly, he’s just not that important of a figure.

“Princess Sella, please prepare for your journey to the Rothtaylor Ducal Estate.”

“Will do.”

Sella conveyed instructions to the guard and then entered through the palace doors.

Regardless, the person Sella is most concerned about is still Princess Phoenia.

There’s no telling what she might do during the holiday return to the imperial palace, especially since Sella herself will be absent.

Worryingly, she decides to remind her confidants to be vigilant.

* * *

“I’ve been waiting for you. Please come in.”

Phoenia’s head of the guard, Claire, bowed deeply.

I extended my gratitude and crossed the threshold of the royal residence. Tanya entered behind me, gazing around hesitantly.

“It feels like a whole different world here, brother.”

Tanya, experiencing the royal lodging for the first time, scrutinized her surroundings before quickly clearing her throat, worried she might have seemed undignified.

The most luxurious and extravagant facility on Acken Island is the Ophelius Hall. The royal lodging barely edges out in expenditure but difers in scale.

While Ophelius Hall is a grand dormitory for all sorts of nobility students, this royal lodging is solely for Princess Phoenia.

Though it’s less than half the size of Ophelius Hall, considering it’s built for only one person, it’s extreme luxury.

We passed the guarded front gate, moved across the garden, and proceeded toward the lodging that resembled a stately home, which was quite a walk.

Finally, through the immaculate and opulent corridors, we arrived at Princess Phoenia’s reception room.

“Just a moment, please…”

Before entering, Tanya quickly tidied her hair and straightened her outfit.

Tanya has met Princess Phoenia several times before, but this was her first official visit since becoming the student council president.

Tanya had just written to the royal lodging yesterday.

It’s morning.

Summer break has begun, and we, the Rothtaylor, are returning to our family home. However, before that, there is something we would like to ask of Princess Phoenia. That was the tone of the story.

Princess Phoenia is not someone who can be met easily. However, perhaps due to my position as student council president, or maybe simply because of our name, she surprisingly agreed to meet with us quite readily.

As a result, we Rothtaylor siblings have come to the royal residence early in the morning.

As the door to the reception room opened, we saw Princess Phoenia alone on an extravagantly expensive-looking sofa.

The lace dress she wore emitted a subtle atmosphere, and her platinum blonde hair cascaded down following the line of the garment.

The sofa was ridiculously large in comparison to the girl’s small frame.

She looked pure, yet at the same time, somewhat lonely.

“Greetings, Princess Phoenia. Thank you for granting us this meeting.”

I greeted her first, and Tanya quickly followed suit, bowing deeply.

Princess Phoenia glanced down, nodded, and then turned her gaze toward the opposite sofa. Tanya and I didn’t say a word and simply sat down across from her.

“You seem well, Ed Rothtaylor. And Miss Tanya too.”

“Yes. Have you been at peace, Princess?”

“……”

Princess Phoenia didn’t answer right away; she just looked down once again.

“As always, everything is the same.”

A butler came in with grace and set down tea. Tanya hurriedly took a sip.

“Princess Phoenia. The reason we’ve come to see you today is…”

“You need my authority, don’t you?”

Phoenia cut straight to the point without hesitation.

While I couldn’t tell exactly how she perceived Tanya and me or how she was scrutinizing us,

at the very least, she did not appear hostile.

Rather, Princess Phoenia’s tone was even somewhat gentle.

“Since I am the primary contributor to your expulsion, Ed Rothtaylor, with my endorsement, your restoration should become much easier.”

Her words were rather frank.

It basically came out as asking for a push in the direction of my reinstatement.

As mentioned, returning to the Rothtaylor estate is a big gamble for me. It requires a lot of preparation.

Although I’ve decided to go with Lucy, relying on force alone won’t solve everything.

In noble culture, most problems are ultimately resolved with ‘authority.’

The recognition of someone noble and high-ranking makes it difficult for others to harm that person.

“Now that I think about it, I haven’t sent my regards to the Rothtaylor family in quite a while. Ed Rothtaylor, could you please deliver my personal letter to Sir Crebin?”

Phoenia was not long-winded. The letter had already been prepared in advance.

Presented by a slowly approaching servant, Princess Phoenia’s letter was laden with luxurious gold trimming and sealed with the Clorel royal crest.

Not just anyone can be entrusted with a letter from the royal family. The weight of this single letter is heavier than it seems.

The important thing is that it is not sealed with wax.

An unsealed letter implies that the sender fully trusts the messenger, believing deeply that they would not tamper with the letter in any way. It is an indirect expression of trust, a classical method historically used to introduce a trustworthy person. Admittedly, it’s needlessly complicated protocol, but royal etiquette has always been so.

Essentially, I have received Princess Phoenia’s endorsement, as if she bestowed upon me her authority. The letter itself grants a special privilege which prevents the bearer from being treated carelessly.

“I didn’t write a letter of proxy. Just carrying that should ensure your safe and glorious return.”

“I didn’t expect you to help so readily. I was prepared for more… negotiation.”

“……”

Princess Phoenia didn’t bother to respond at that point.

She was known to view the Rothtaylor family with a certain skepticism, and I had been ready to delve into the internal affairs of the Rothtaylor family to exploit that sentiment.

However, Princess Phoenia had indeed cooperated readily without resorting to such troublesome things.

But she didn’t say anything more. There was an awkward silence, and for a while, she simply gazed at me steadily.

Her gaze was oddly wistful and heavy, and although I tried to find a topic for further conversation… I couldn’t find anything suitable.

* * *

― ‘The carriage sent from the Rothtaylor estate will arrive in about two days.’

Tanya told me this, and then she returned to the Ophelius building. It truly was time to go home.

I wouldn’t be able to manage the camp while I was away at the estate. Therefore, I needed to take measures to ensure everything would be okay during my extended absence.

I installed locks on the cabin door and cleaned up any tools strewn about outside.

All traps set throughout the forest had to be collected, greased, and stored, and food supplies had to be sorted, saving only those that could be preserved in the long term.

I decided to finish all of this today and was on my way back to the camp when…

“Hey, Ed. You’re back―ehe!”

Yenika, sitting at the campfire, greeted me with what seemed like exaggerated excitement.

As she put on a show, her tone heightened nervously and cracked, revealing her agitation.

“Look, bell let us use some precious herbs for the curry―! I had a taste while checking the seasoning and, wow~… the aroma is incredible―!”

“…….”

I blankly stared back at Yenika, squinting into a crescent moon, and she started to fidget nervously, sweat trickling down her forehead.

“Why are you so wary around me…?”

With a hiccup, Yenika demonstrated the very essence of who she was.

When I hit the nail on the head, she suddenly turned her gaze away.

“…….”

“Are you fretting over something unnecessary again…?”

“Well, you see… it’s just that…”

Ever since the end of term exams, Yenika had been behaving like this.

Yenika hugged her knees and rested her chin on top of them, always adopting the same posture when disheartened.

“Sometimes I think I know you well, Ed… but at times, I feel utterly clueless.”

“Me?”

I removed my shoes to shake out the dust and began to speak.

“I assure you, within this academy, there’s no one else who spends as much time with me as you do.”

“What’s the point if we’re only physically close… When I don’t know what you think, or what attitude you have towards life.”

Yenika sighed heavily with these thoughts. I wondered why she was acting this way, until a certain possibility crossed my mind.

“Is this because you gave up the valedictorian spot to me? You think you’ve offended me?”

“Gasp…! No! No! No! No! No!”

“With five denials, it must be true…”

As I continued to clean my shoes, dust filled the air. I scowled and waved my hands to disperse it. Clothes always get dirty quickly in the forest, no matter how little one moves.

“Nobody is born knowing how to act properly. We all learn as we go.”

“See, Ed… this is separate from that, but…”

“……?”

“Could you, Ed, maybe do something to offend me? Like a mistake or a slip of the tongue…”

When I looked at Yenika with an utterly baffled expression, she flailed her arms, showing a face so apologetic it made me feel even guiltier.

“Or, did I already make a mistake with what I just said?”

“Have you eaten something odd?”

Finally, Yenika closed her eyes tight and confessed.

“I feel like my head’s about to explode. I just keep having these bad thoughts…”

“Bad thoughts?”

“… The thought that you might come to dislike me.”

That left me speechless.

Yenika had a good heart and always meant well, but sometimes her actions could unintentionally offend others.

As someone who is good and capable, she’s likely been resented before, which probably explains her current behavior—fearing that I might feel the same way.

“Worry is its own burden.”

“…….”

“Even if you’re a bit impolite, do you really think I’d dislike you so easily? To me, you’re someone truly special.”

Yenika abruptly inhaled and shyly peeked to gauge my reaction. Seeing tears glistening on her lifted eyes, it seemed she’d been suffering internally.

It was as if I had wronged her, but I’d always tried to treat Yenika well.

“Anyway… I have something to tell you. You’re not going back to your family over the break, are you?”

“Uh?”

“Would you be open to taking on a simple request?”

* * *

Two days later, a luxurious carriage crossed the Mekses Bridge.

Waiting at the front gate, bundled up with luggage, I took Tanya’s bags to help her.

“They’ve sent quite a large carriage. But, considering the amount of time you’ll spend in the carriage, it’s better to have one that’s large and comfortable.”

“Did you sleep well last night?”

“No, I did some work hoping to sleep in the carriage. You look a little tired, brother.”

“Finishing up the camp work wore me out.”

“Yes, well… but…”

Tanya glanced at the carriage coming over the Mekses Bridge, then leaned in close and whispered,

“The atmosphere is so intimidating; are we going to keep it this way in the carriage too…?”

I turned and saw two girls standing side by side.

One girl with pinkish-blonde hair in a white blouse and dark blue pleated skirt, wrapped in a brown shawl, and another petite girl with unkempt white hair, dressed in a simple shirt and skirt.

Without a doubt, it was Yenika Faelover and Lucy Mayrill.

They were looking at each other as if puzzled, as if wondering why the other was there.

… That’s how things had turned out.

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