The birthday party of the First Prince, Kiser von Britten, was a grand celebration, fit for the heir apparent. The banquet hall, which could hold over a thousand guests, was already packed—it had been an Avalon custom for an extraordinarily long time to not miss the birthday of an unmarried prince or princess. Such events were known as the prince’s (or princess’s) ball.
The long rows of tables were piled high with fish and other seafood, but the nobility were unconcerned with such petty delights; they gathered in groups of three to five and chattered between themselves. They had occupied themselves with their own agendas before the main character had even arrived.
Nobles live for their own glory. As such, they tended to choose a partner of similar means; so, even if their outward appearance was less than satisfactory, the groom would be willing to ignore it.
And yet, any Young Lady of an esteemed house would be humiliated if no one asked for her hand in dance. Family aside, it would imply that she lacked feminine allure. What the young women present at today’s ball were most concerned about, however, was which girl would be the Prince’s partner by the end of the night.
“Just once, I wish I could be the Prince’s partner,” sighed one of the young ladies clustered at the side of the banquet hall.
“Don’t dream too much. That would mean beating the women from more powerful families.” Another girl gestured towards the center of the hall, where the daughters of the powerful counts—notably the Twelve Marquis—stood in the limelight.
“It’s just wishful thinking! Stop reading into it so much.”
“So dream more realistically, girl.”
“What are you saying? It’s all the same.”
A different girl, this one a petite, cute blonde, raised her finger and tilted her head inquisitively. “Aside from the Prince, who is our Empire’s most popular bachelor?”
The other ladies mulled over it for a while.
“Young Master Babel?”
“There are others apart from Young Master Babel, of course. Not talent-wise, I mean,” the girl shrugged, “but maybe in appearance.”
The blonde girl’s eyes became misty and absent.
“Ah, here she goes again.”
“Do you think I’m sick? Not even Young Master Veron’s face impressed me.”
“Wait, what? Young Master Veron where? You saw him?”
“Now that you mentioned it, Senna, I want to see him too. But there’s so many knights present, it’s going to be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
“Oh, right! Isn’t Senna’s father the Imperial Knight’s commander?”
“Yes.” Senna smirked proudly. “You must know that the Imperial Knights have quite a few very attractive men.”
“Yes, it’s true. I mean, I know the training is hard, but at least no one from the Imperial Knights looks like the unlucky son of Count Shibre.”
“Hey!” One of the girls shot a glance at the big man in question as he strolled over to the central table. “Keep your voice down!” She glanced around nervously. “My father told me something,” she said in hushed tones. “Count Shibre discovered a mine that could output the Empire’s budget for at least several years!”
“Surely not?” Senna inquired with wide eyes.
“Yes. My father is in total control of the Imperial Archives! Not too long ago, he saw that there were high-grade mana stones being stocked up and sold—from Count Shibre, of course.”
“Oh my God… If that’s the case, then a new power has risen, right?”
“I believe Count Shibre’s goal is to add another seat to the Twelve Families! It seems like the Emperor was happy, so maybe the accumulated favor means it’s not impossible? Especially now, it won’t hurt to add another family!”
“Uh-uh. I don’t like this… and I’m not dancing with someone with,” Senna cast a fearful look at Count Shibre’s son, “that kind of look.”
Even though it wasn’t particularly hot outside, his entire body ran with sticky oils. His face was bloated with an excess of fat and flesh, just barely revealing the two pinholes that were allegedly supposed to be his eyes.
As the daughter of a knight, Senna despised a man that couldn’t look after themselves. Worse, Young Master Pig set Shibre was infamous for flirting shamelessly with the noblewomen.
She grimaced “Where is he going?”
“From the looks of it, it seems he’s heading towards the daughter of Marquis Brolly.”
“Natasha moon Brolly?” Senna shook her head, watching the center of the banquet hall with a concerned expression. The girl in question, with her striking broccoli-colored hair, needed no introduction. “Not wise…”
“What do you mean? He’s aiming for a young lady that will be on the same level as him.”
“H-Hi.” The overweight young man nervously fiddled with his clothes. “Lady Natasha, if it’s not too much to ask, will you dance with me?”
“Hmm.” The young scion of Marquis Brolly turned to examine the man. The sight of his face made the corners of her mouth twitch.
This pathetic Pig… She was struggling to keep her expression under control.
Was she worried about the consequences? Not at all! Feuds were a problem for the elders to take care of, not the children.
Natasha only wanted to shine wherever she went. If she responded poorly here, her image would shatter. That would ruin her chances of being chosen by the young men here, to say nothing of the Prince.
Yes, Natasha. Think about the Prince, and use this Pig as your stepping stone.
Natasha felt the eyes on her, and plastered a wide smile over her face.
“You are Young Master Pig set Shibre, right? I heard your father’s contributions have made the Empire more prosperous.”
“It’s nothing. We were just serving His Majesty.” Pig puffed up his chest and offered Natasha his hand with renewed confidence. “Lady Natasha, may I have this dance?”
“Apologies, but what can I do?” Natasha hastily apologized. “I’m not in the best mood to dance right now.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Please, accept my heartfelt apologies, Pig.” She gently bowed before Pig could say anything else.
There was nothing Pig could say, but it was evident that he was unwilling to give up. She wasn’t just the daughter of a higher-ranking family—she was a Brolly, with all the prestige that entailed.
“I suppose I didn’t notice you weren’t feeling well. Please accept my apologies for being so insensitive—”
“No! On the contrary, I’m feeling quite down because I had to turn your request down.” She smiled and shook her head sadly.
Natasha had caught the eyes of some of the noblemen.
“Marquis Brolly’s young daughter has a lovely heart.”
“Doesn’t she? She can turn down the lower-class children without offending anyone or marring her pride.”
“She’s not from the Twelve Families by mere accident.”
Everything went according to plan. Natasha’s grin stretched even wider as the men’s voices tickled her ears.
Pig, whether he understood Natasha’s intentions or not, wore a rotten expression as he walked away.
“Damn this,” he muttered. The music in the banquet hall hid his sudden foul mouth from everyone except his nearby friends. “I don’t even like your face—at all! I was just curious because you come from a family with some clout, but you dare refuse me?”
Pig wheezed, his cheeks flushing like an oversized, flabby tomato.
Children of the lower aristocrats approached and rubbed their hands together expectantly. Pig didn’t mind them. It was only natural, after all; people flocked to the powerful, and Pig had power.
“First of all, he’s the one who approached her first.”
“She’s known to turn down men who dare to get close to her.”
“That’s foolish. She has no right to treat Count Shibre so casually.”
“Hmm.” Mollified, Pig let out a little cough.
“Let’s go somewhere after the banquet. I know a place—”
“Eh? Okay.” Pig smiled. “I’m a little excited if it’s Baron Trax’s suggestion.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the steward.
“Princess Charles de Pontier, daughter of Duke Pontier, is entering!”
Pig turned towards the entrance, and his eyes were instantly entranced by the red-haired beauty entering the banquet hall. He had seen a lot of ladies, but he was taken aback by her tiny, white-gowned stature.
“I heard that the Pontier’s daughter was one of the most beautiful ladies in the Empire.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve last seen her. But she’s still a beauty even on the verge of bankruptcy, I guess.”
The other men’s gossip made Pig come to a halt, his lips twisting into a little smile.
He whispered under his breath, “Princess Charles, you say?”
The Pontier family, one of the five great dukes, would make for a fantastic companion no matter how much the family is falling apart.
This is going to be so much fun. Pig licked his lips. His frustration was gone, replaced with furious plotting.
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