Krilos got off his carriage and slowly made his way into the palace. The guards who saw him on the way saluted him respectfully.
Within three short years, the crippled man with two glaring scars on his face had put the finances of the empire into order. Not only did he help the emperor form three new legions, he also increased standards of living for the people, birthed new industries, and reinvigorated the empire's economy, allowing the emperor and the empress to finally host some activities in the palace.
"Respectful greetings, Count Selik," greeted the minister of the interior, Hendry, with a deep bow. "His Imperial Majesty is having tea in the garden with Her Imperial Majesty. As it is the young prince's birthday today, the empress is preparing to host a celebration. His Imperial Majesty has summoned you to ask for some funds for the celebration."
Henry revealed the reason Krilos was summoned without hiding anything. Krilos smiled at him and nodded. "Thank you, Sir Hendry. I recall that your wife mentioned that it would be your thirtieth marriage anniversary next month. I happened to get my hands on a bottle of Forest Moondew, also known as the perfume of fairies. I believe this is a fitting gift for your anniversary."
Hendry looked rather happy to hear that. Forest Moondew was a famous perfume on the continent and only few bottles were produced each year, with each costing more than ten gold Fordes. He believed that his wife would be able to show off to the other female party-goers with perfume like that and wouldn't come to pester him for the time being. "Thank you, Lord Count. I am humbled and grateful to receive such a gift."
It was quite laughable when one thought about it. Krilos currently served three roles. The first was as the mastermind behind Andalou to develop it into the largest trading guild in the empire. The second was his position as the finance minister of the empire, which was forced upon him by Auguslo. He was in charge of the empire's spending. The third position was that of the sponsor of the imperial treasury. In other words, he was the emperor's personal wallet, a thankless effort, really.
To make sure Krilos served him faithfully, Auguslo generously gave him the title of an honorary count and said that as long as he could serve the empire for a decade, he would be made a landed count.
Perhaps Auguslo believed that the son of a merchant who was exiled from his nation couldn't be any better. Auguslo, with his great judge of talent, didn't mind his status and crippled body and made him the finance minister straight away. Naturally, Selik didn't let his hopes down the slightest. He used three years to turn around the horrible financial situation of the empire to the point that Auguslo was in a mood good enough to celebrate his son's seventh birthday.
Krilos didn't like being called to the empire's central of administration, the palace. He preferred to work in his little office at Andalou where he felt his most free. But he didn't have a choice, the one who always summoned him was the emperor himself, his arch nemesis. He had to suppress his desire for revenge to meet the emperor and handle him.
Auguslo had long forgotten about the liar Marquis Krilos who used to serve as the Union's envoy. He was no more than a small figure. But the pain on Krilos's body and his need to ruin his face and hide always reminded him who he was and what his goals were. He was to be sneaky as a poisonous snake, striking fatally only when the opportunity presented itself.
After making his way through a few corridors and taking a few turns, he saw a lush and viridian garden basking under the warm glow of the 11th month son. Some maidservants were playing around on the beautiful grass, tossing sacks of spice at each other, their laughter sounding clear as bells.
It was tea time, the most relaxed period for the maidservants of the palace. As if he didn't see the beautiful scene before him, Krilos took out a grey cloth with a lowered head. Hendry hurriedly received it and carefully wrapped it around Krilos's face before tying it at the back of his head.
This had to be done because three years back when Krilos was summoned to the palace, the scars stretching from his forehead to his chin shocked the maidservants. So, Auguslo allowed Krilos to mask himself when he visited the palace. While others saw it as Auguslo showing benevolence towards a subordinate, Krilos thought it to be an insult. Auguslo just didn't want his face to terrify his wife and the maidservants.
"Aha, here comes our finance minister," said Auguslo with a smile and a golden goblet in his hand. He seemed to be in a rather good mood.
"My humblest greetings, Your Imperial Majesty," greeted Krilos expressionlessly, before he bowed formally to the empress. Per noble etiquette, the queen should reach her hand out for Krilos to kiss. However, she only bowed slightly before hurriedly making her way to a corner of the garden.
"My dear Selik, please forgive our empress's behavior. She has grown up in the great northeastern plains, so the scars on your face would remind her about the ferocious grassland barbarians that often attacked that area. Those wild folk love to trace a knife across their face to show their ferocity after all. When our queen was six, she hid in a pile of grass and witnessed the barbarians overrun her home and kill her parents right in front of her. That is a nightmare she will never be free from, so she's especially sensitive to your facial scars," apologized Auguslo on the empress's behalf.
"I am sorry for that," Krilos apologized without a change in tone, "But the scars on my face are far from voluntary. Your Imperial Majesty knows about my experiences being on the run. These scars are the ones that convinced my pursuers that I was dead and allowed me to escape with my life. So, I can only apologize if they cause any fright to Her Imperial Majesty."
"No worries." Auguslo waved the goblet in his hand, and a maidservant quickly came forward to serve Krilos a silver goblet filled with good wine.
"We had you come to the palace to discuss Helleist's seventh birthday, which is coming in another three months. We plan to hold a birthday celebration for him after our grand new year's celebration and all nobles are invited to attend. The empress and us would like to hear your thoughts on the budget of these two activities. Naturally, when permissible, we hope that the ceremony can be as grand as possible."
Krilos was speechless. What's the point of making such a big deal about it? Prince Helleist's birthday is on the 7th day of the 3rd month and there's more than three months remaining. There's no need to start planning for it now... But after some thought, Krilos remembered that it was the rainy season during the third month, which made it really inconvenient to leave home.
Usually, the celebrations on the 1st day of the 1st month would last for more than ten days. The nobles and their family members couldn't stay in the imperial capital until the rainy season was over, after all. They would usually leave before the ice melted in the 2nd month to their dominions to spend the rest of winter and the rainy season. Auguslo was worried that the nobles would not attend his son's birthday celebration because of the rainy season and that would absolutely embarrass him and his wife.
It was all to blame on the bad timing in which Helleist was born--right before the rainy season. The reason there wasn't any grand celebration in the past was because Auguslo would simply celebrate with his wife and some maidservants in the palace. Perhaps to make up for the simple parties they threw back then, they wanted to host a grand celebration for the prince's seventh birthday and invite all the nobles to attend.
The reason Auguslo brought up the new year's celebration alongside with the prince's birthday was so that he could give the nobles a reason to stay until the third month and attend his son's birthday, making it much merrier. But tending to those nobles and their families wasn't an easy affair. They had to be provided with places to roam and parties to attend so that they wouldn't feel bored waiting through winter and the rainy season. All that naturally cost quite a number of gold coins.
"Your Imperial Majesty, the financial situation of the empire is still a little tight. Much money still has to be invested in transportation and civilian development to fix the damage wrought by the war. Even though I wouldn't personally encourage for so much money to be spent on such an event, I recall that Your Imperial Majesty's personal treasury should have enough money to fund such a celebration. Perhaps--"
Krilos suddenly stopped speaking. He recalled that the reason Auguslo brought up the two events together was because he hoped that the spending of hundreds of thousands of gold Fordes could be taken from the national treasury instead of the emperor's own wallet, even though personal celebrations like that were usually paid for by the monarch himself.
"Well, Selik, even though our personal treasury has grown to contain near a million gold Fordes, allowing our family to live a rather prosperous life, I believe such a grand celebration will help boost the nobles and officials' solidarity, so it wouldn't be out of the question to foot that as a public expense, just like the new year celebrations. What do you say?" Auguslo's face didn't blush in the slightest when he said that.
Krilos sighed inwardly and bowed. "As Your Imperial Majesty wills, I will do my best to gather the funds needed for the prince's birthday celebration. I'll also arrange for appropriate accommodation for the nobles and source more supplies, as well as hire performers from across the land. I will come up with a budget for that within three days for Your Imperial Majesty's purview."
Auguslo smiled gladly. "We know that you won't disappoint us, Selik. We are assured with you in charge. The empire is at peace now and the people are enjoying a stable life, so a celebration like this is worth it. We have considered whether to announce Helleist as our crown prince during the celebration. That will also give the nobles who have waited so long to participate in it a good reason to stay..."
Krilos's eyes flashed. By the time Auguslo finished speaking his mind about his plans, he lowered his head and said, "This humble servant dares not question Your Imperial Majesty's decision. I shall return swiftly to draft up the budget for the celebration. I will be taking my leave now, as time is of essence."
Auguslo laughed dryly, but that was also a part of Krilos which he liked. The finance minister cared not for anything else but finance, which was why he appointed him to the post in the first place. Naturally, his innate talent for such matters was also a huge factor. Auguslo waved him away. "Be on your way then, Selik. We shall be counting on you for this matter."
Krilos nodded and bowed before he left with Hendry, the minister of the interior.
When he left the palace gates and got into his carriage, Krilos looked really excited. He knocked on the wall of the carriage. Soon, the guards asked from outside, "Milord, do you have any instructions?"
"Go to Count Wecksas and ask him to see me immediately," said Krilos.
END OF TRL