Isaac asked again, and Laila squeaked out her answer as she clutched her forehead.
“Because she’s a woman?”
Another hit and Laila’s forehead was now reddening with a hint of swelling. Rivelia’s eyes turned angrily.
“Wrong. That’s just a difference in sex. Would anything change if the damsel was a man? No, all sorts of women would have thrown their bodies at him to get anything going. She should be glad that she’s a woman. If she was a man, her life could derail completely with one wrong thrust…”
“You should watch what you’re saying!”
Rivelia retaliated by smacking the back of Isaac’s head. Although Isaac felt no pain thanks to the defensive coat, Isaac bit his tongue out of reflex.
Isaac grumbled as he took out a fresh cigarette and continued speaking to Laila, who seemed a little refreshed.
“Strength, power, money, land, and honour. Having just one of these would entice them like a carcass to vultures. Humans always prefer the easy way. At least the damsel has the Pendleton name to protect her from those vultures, but what do you have? You have no buffer to protect yourself, and you are young. The number of people looking to manipulate a child like you are countless.”
Laila argued back, enraged by Isaac.
“I have people that have sworn loyalty to my family.”
Isaac frowned at the answer.
“Haven’t you heard? I killed all of your loyal subjects. If any of them are alive, they chose their own lives over loyalty. What are you mistaken about? Do you think I’m an advisor that won’t hesitate to teach you about life lessons? I am the enemy you’ll need to kill one day. You aren’t working for your guardian right now. You’re working for the man who killed your parents. Don’t forget that.”
Laila’s face paled at Isaac’s cold criticism.
“Listen well, brat. The people you need to guard against the most are those most forward in swearing loyalty to you. A young lord is the perfect target to turn into a puppet. If you return home after you’ve matured, they will flood you with knights, citing your protection as their priority. Why would they do that? Is it really to protect you? Because they are loyal? Of course, it’s highly likely the case, considering Wolfgang’s ability to inspire, as I’ve witnessed personally. But each and every one of those knights will be men around your age. Why? Because if they luck out and the two of you get together, that family becomes part of the hereditary Dukedom. I guess being a woman is a disadvantage in this case.”
Both Rivelia and Laila didn’t bother hiding their anger and glared at Isaac, but Isaac continued without hesitation.
“Your land—the Wolfgang’s and Lichtens’ combined—will be vast, and they will approach you for an empty plot of land. The loyal vassal families? I bet you they will fight amongst themselves to take those lands with their branch families the moment they see you. Do you think it’s any different?”
“T, they would never do such a thing!”
Isaac’s cold, relentless bombardment finally shattered Laila’s emotionless mask, who shouted back with tears in her eyes.
“Human greed knows no end. Perhaps they won’t in the beginning, but will it persevere until the end? The subject of their loyalty was Count Wolfgang, not you.”
“No! You’re wrong!”
Laila shouted out in a final act of desperation and Rivelia carefully hugged her head pitifully. Laila wailed relentlessly within Rivelia’s arms; all of her emotions that had been building were now bursting out in an instant. Rivelia gently caressed Laila’s head, but her eyes glared menacingly at Isaac.
Isaac continued to smoke detachedly. Slowly, Laila’s cries grew quiet, and she left Rivelia’s arms, asking Isaac with her red eyes.
“… Then what must I do?”
Isaac reminded himself that Laila was indeed a protagonist, being able to regain her composure in such a short time, and snickered.
“Why are you asking me? You should figure it out yourself.”
“… I am asking for your advice.”
Laila bowed her head down onto the floor, and Rivelia’s glare went from sharp to ferocious—like a wild beast. Isaac shrugged and spoke.
“There is no answer. It’s not an issue that can be solved just by doing well yourself.”
“Why is that?”
“This is something I’ve been contemplating for a while myself. The Empire has been rather indifferent in their reaction at the birth of a second hereditary dukedom. It was completely opposite to what I’d expected, but after thinking for a long time, I understood their reasoning.”
“Do you know why the Empire is accepting the birth of second hereditary Dukedom? It’s because even if that title were to come true, it will most likely end in your generation.”
“I will lead the Wolfgang Family into a lasting dukedom!”
“That is why the Empire is relieved. Being a woman is disadvantageous as well. If either you or your sister was a boy, the Empire would have reacted completely differently and done everything possible to oppose its creation, including publicly arguing against it. You and your sister are all that’s left of the Wolfgang name. Let’s say you truly are gifted and grew up to the level of the damsel. Then people will begin targeting your sister instead. Your sister is also part of the main family. What will you do if she marries some nobody and asks that you give them some land? When the size of your realm barely qualifies as a dukedom?”
Laila grit her teeth and answered Isaac.
“… That will never happen.”
“Do you know the meaning behind those words?”
Isaac snickered at Laila’s declaration. Ah, she was truly an interesting brat.
“Kukuku, I guess you really are a protagonist. Alright. I’ll teach you a method. It’ll be a long time before it comes in handy, but there’s no harm in making preparations now. Do you want to maintain your dukedom?”
“Then create a faction that is loyal to you. That is the reason you must go to the Campus. The Campus is where the handpicked geniuses of the entire continent are gathered. You will stay there until graduation and staff your dukedom with people you handpicked yourself. I’m not sure if this is fortunate or not, but the entire succeeding generation of the vassals who swore loyalty to your father have perished. The survivors are branch families who have no relations or simply vultures who are simply attracted by profit. So you only need to give them some reception, but you should weed them out the moment they cross the line.”
“You said not to trust humans.”
“But they are also animals driven by self-interest. Simply put, so long as you give them the reward, they will continue to serve you. To be a vassal of a dukedom, a hereditary one no less, is an enticing title many would volunteer to serve under. You need to pick and choose the real among the fakes and fill the list as you wish.”
“Can I maintain the dukedom by creating a faction of my own?”
“No, it’s impossible as long as you’re disadvantaged by your gender.”
Laila looked back, unsatisfied by Isaac’s answer.
He gave her an answer and still maintained that it was impossible. Isaac bore Laila’s eyes straight on and spoke.
“When you grow up, I’m sure you’ll find a man that suits your taste. If you don’t anyone of a decent status will do. Marry him and have his children.”
Isaac snickered in his mind, thinking what he was telling a child. But Laila listened to him keenly.
“You don’t need daughters, but the moment you have a son to inherit your land, you must erase your husband’s family, whether they are noble or peasant, main or branch family. All of them. Not a drop of blood left behind.”
“What are you saying?!”
Laila looked back blankly while Rivelia objected. To speak of wiping out her husband’s family entirely.
“That’s what politics is—to hold onto power. Countless nobles have fallen because of their in-laws. The moment you have a successor, your in-laws turn from ally to enemy. You are no longer necessary to the in-laws as well once you have a successor. If the man you chose is a noble, they will intervene with your matters as in-laws. If he’s a commoner, it might be simpler, but outsiders will start using his family to get their way.”
“If… I can’t give birth to a successor?”
“You have an excellent piece of insurance called your sister. It’s not a bad idea to leave all the child bearing to your sister while you focus on consolidating your political power.”
Laila’s face turned pale. If she did that, her sister would hate her forever. But her father and mother died in front of her eyes, for the title of Duke. If the dukedom required it, it had to be done.
“… If I do all that, can I maintain the dukedom?”
“No. Everything I’ve said can only be done after you meet the prerequisite. It has yet to be achieved, and it’s very difficult to do so.”
“… You’re saying I must show strength and talent befitting the title of Duke.”
“That’s right. What’s even more difficult after that is to maintain the Dukedom. The Pendletons already have a solid foundation to build upon, but you need to build the very foundation from scratch. It may crumble in the middle, and you may have to build it all over again. This is only possible depending on your effort, willpower, and most definitely your talent.”
“… I will, I will make it happen.”
Laila grit her teeth and declared to herself so. Isaac shooed her away roughly.
“Work hard. Go have some rest or wash yourself. You look hideous.”
Laila nodded and walked out of the room. Isaac got out a new cigarette and spoke.
“Cordnell, take care of the brat.”
“Huh? Yes. Yes Lord.”
Cordnell, who was watching Laila with great pity, immediately rushed toward Laila at Isaac’s order, while Rivelia sighed deeply, a deep sadness in her eyes.
“Did you have to tell her now?”
“I’m surprised you even let me finish. I was expecting you to stop me halfway through.”
“The Directorate of Analysis has also determined that maintaining the Dukedom will be difficult. Is such a cruel method really the only way?”
“Cruel? What is?”
“Are you really asking that?”
“What a joke. You call this cruel? You should be well aware what happened to the original owner of this body over a mere title of baron.”
“Hey, damsel, you listen here too. Everything I said just now is a daily occurrence in the field of noble politics—the very environment you are living in right now. You should really graduate from that naivete if you don’t want to lead your own family to ruin.”
“But you could have waited until she matur…”
“Shall I make a prophecy now? I heard that one of Wolfgang’s barons was a distant relative of his? I bet you all the other families are currently scouring the continent in search of Wolfgang’s branch family. Just a single drop of the Wolfgang blood is plenty for a claim on the Wolfgang dukedom. That’s how tempting of a prize it is. Because the successors from the main family are daughters, the family that finds a man with even a single drop of Wolfgang’s blood will try to aim to become the next Duke.”
“I am also a direct successor to Pendleton, yet it hasn’t happened to me.”
“That’s because Duke Pendleton is alive and watching with both eyes open. What kind of lunatic would do something like that? And even if Duke Pendleton didn’t exist, Central won’t let that slide. But Wolfgang doesn’t have such assistance.”
“Which is why if you want to see the brat acquire the title of Duchess, you better teach her well. I’m sure there’s some connection between you two since both of you are protagonists. Give her some private Pendleton-style lessons on lordship. No, maybe both of you need to learn together?”
Isaac snickered, and Rivelia’s nose flared in anger before she walked down the stairs, saying that she had work to do.
“But that was still too harsh.”
Rizzly spoke with a hint of disappointment on his face, perhaps thinking of Laila as his disciple. Isaac smirked.
“Are you really saying that after seeing her grit her teeth and stand firm like that? Having too much bottled inside will have problems in the future, so she needed to empty her emotions at one point. An opportunity presented itself, so I used it. Even if she is just a piece of insurance, it’ll be a problem if she breaks before I get to use it.”
Isaac grumbled his answer, and Rizzly poured Isaac a glass of fruit wine and spoke.
“Pendleton is receiving Central’s aid, but you said Wolfgang has no such thing right?”
“Aren’t you trying to be that assistance yourself?”
“Me? What a joke. I’m more curious to see if I’ll survive until that brat grows up. Well, I have no intention of surviving until then. But there can be others who can help instead.”
“Like the elves, North Bears, or non-humans?”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
Isaac replied with a smile in response to Rizzly’s scheming smile.
One of the four main heads of Port City that once possessed riches en masse and had wielded great influence in the government—and now the only person who held the rights to one of the waterways—Zeroman came to the rooftop of New Port City’s City Hall and kneeled in front of Isaac and his administrative body the day after reunification was decided.
It was a symbol of complete surrender.
“I will introduce myself. I am Zeroman, the current mayor of Port City.”
“I’ve heard the stories. You would have lived the rest of your life in ease if you stayed put, but that nosy little head of yours couldn’t keep out of this exhausting mess.”
Isaac’s direct answer soured the mood and raised some coughs from the administrative body, but Zeroman nodded in agreement and smiled bitterly.
“That is why I am regretting it recently.”
“At least you know now.”
The weak smile on Zeroman was familiar to Isaac. A smile that was disappointed and tired of humans, dejected. Just like himself… It was probably why he gave up on everything and let everyone walk over him, using his rights like they were their own to seek profit for themselves.
“Aren’t you old enough to know what kind of animals humans are?”
“… What can I say? This is the home I was born, raised, and now die in. Not to mention I have no successors, so I have no choice but to do as they wish.”
Isaac criticised him and Zeroman nodded knowingly.
“One thing I know to hold true for humanity is that we will deny even the most conspicuous of outcomes.”
That comment dug at the Port City’s residents, who had been riled up by the prospect that reuniting with New Port City would restore their wealth and status to prior levels.
But these fools were so consumed by greed that they didn’t even have such foresight.
Zeroman was sick of the citizens, who framed him as a traitor for refusing to reunite with New Port City—all the while while these exact citizens used all of his wealth as their own.
“Let me ask this one thing. How did you get away?”
The question was puzzling, but everyone realised this was about how Zeroman managed to escape the massive debt from the casino incident.
“It’s nothing. I found there was no need to join once I let go of my greed.”
“Really? Hm, fine. Brat.”
Laila came next to Isaac at the call. Isaac patted her head and spoke at Zeroman.
“I will purchase your waterway. In return, teach this brat.”
“… Teach her as in?”
“Teach her how despicable humans can become for profit, how selfish these animals are, how treacherous they are, and so forth. Teach her the world. People who’ve neglected to thank charity. Who delude themselves into entitlement. You’ve met them all, so you should have much to teach. There will be many who will look down on her and manipulate the little ‘representative’ in the negotiation. They will make plenty of fine samples for her studies.”
“It’s a job too heavy for me.”
“Well, I recommend you do it anyway. The brat doesn’t have any experience, so if someone doesn’t hold her straight from the side, she’ll get swept up in the current. What do you think I’ll do if I don’t like the result?”
“There are many people around you who lose their lives due to unfortunate accidents. You don’t want to see them die meaninglessly after you’ve given everything to them right? Unless, it’s revenge you want, which I don’t mind either.”
“I, I will do my best.”
Realising Isaac’s intention was to clear the board if he didn’t like the results, Zeroman bowed his head low, cold sweat dripping. From the experiences of his long life, he knew that Isaac wasn’t joking.