Kon kon. There was a knock at the door from the other side.
Philine seemed a bit nervous as she looked over at us.
Claire-sama and I both gave her a nod. Philine reciprocated before inviting the visitor into her room.
“Excuse me…… Oh?”
When Hilda noticed our presence in the room, she raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“I came here because I had something to discuss with the princess, but you two were here as well, huh.”
“Yes, since this is something that concerns the two of them too. You don’t mind them being here, right?”
“Of course not. However, I’m really pressed for time right now. I’d appreciate it if you could keep the conversation as short as possible.”
It was just a casual remark, but if this was the same Philine from before, she would’ve fallen under the pressure and let the other person take the initiative in leading the conversation.
“Of course. Thank you for making the time for me even when you’re so busy. This won’t take long, but please have a seat.”
Philine appeared to be calm as she suggested for Hilda to sit down.
Hilda had a surprised look on her face.
She must’ve noticed that Philine was doing something she wouldn’t have been able to do before.
Philine was a girl that could do anything as long as she put her mind to it.
The results of our training from before were starting to show.
Hilda sighed as if she could guess what had happened, and went to take a seat.
“So, what did you want to talk about?”
She threw away the smile that she usually put on just for Philine and asked with a cold expression on her face.
“Hilda, what are your thoughts on the Empire right now?”
Even so, Philine continued the conversation without faltering.
She was no longer afraid of whatever expression the other person had on their face.
“That’s quite the abstract question you’re asking there. I think the Empire is a wonderful nation. It’s probably the best nation in the world.”
“That’s right, and I agree with you. However, do you think we’d be able to stay like this? Don’t you think the Empire has made too many enemies?”
Philine pressed Hilda, who was the type of person that usually gave nothing but perfect answers.
Hilda didn’t flinch at all from her deadpan expression.
“It’s true that the Empire has a lot of enemies. However, sooner or later, they’ll eventually fall under the control of the Empire anyway. The Empire has that kind of power.”
“Is that so? What about the three-way alliance that Sousa, Appalachia, and Bauer tried to form not too long ago? We managed to find a way around it this time, but if that alliance ever came together for real, don’t you think the Empire would be in danger?”
“There’s no point in talking about ‘what-ifs’. That alliance doesn’t exist, and the Empire still stands strong.”
Hilda seemed to only think about things in hindsight.
“It’d be pointless to talk about it if it was just a baseless assumption, yes. However, these potential threats exist and they’re very dangerous. It’s true that the Empire is doing well right now, but wouldn’t you agree that the Empire is currently walking on a tightrope right now?”
Philine didn’t pull back at all.
She insisted that her assumptions were definitely worth looking into.
“I understand. I agree that there might be some dangers that exist, but there’ll always be some trial-and-error when it comes to diplomacy. There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to diplomatic affairs. No matter what risks you might be able to think of, all you can really do in the end is pick the best option.”
Hilda tried to dismiss Philine’s concerns as impractical.
“I am a member of the Imperial family. I’m well-aware of just how difficult handling diplomatic affairs is. But is the Empire’s current foreign policies really the best option? Don’t you think there are even better options out there?”
Philine pushed even further.
She was implying that there were alternatives that could be found.
“…… What are you trying to get at here, Princess? What do you think the Empire should do then?”
“I think it’s time to put our invasive foreign policies to an end and have everybody conciliate instead.”
Philine revealed one of her hands here.
Now then, what will Hilda come out with?
“…… Are these thoughts that those people from Bauer planted in your head?”
Hilda threw a sharp look at us.
“That’s not it. These are thoughts that I’ve always had.”
“Princess, do you even understand what you’re saying? You’re opposing Her Majesty’s judgments.”
“Princess, you should know better than anyone what sort of fate lies ahead for people that go against her. Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
Hilda’s words became distorted with cynicism.
“I am a member of the Imperial family. I have a duty to protect this Empire’s future. Even if that means I have to go against my mother, I won’t allow our foreign policies to put our people at risk.”
“Do you really think you can do anything about it? With all due respect, even if you are the Imperial Princess, you don’t hold much power. You’re not the heir to the throne, nor do you have any political backing to help you out.”
“Yes, and that’s why I want you to lend me your strength.”
Hilda fell silent, but Philine continued regardless.
“You have incredible political skills as an individual, and you are deeply involved in the Empire’s magical technology department as well. If you can lend me your strength, then I will no longer be just a powerless princess.”
Hilda, who continued to remain silent, stared at Philine.
I could tell she was trying to determine her authenticity.
“Please lend me your strength, Hilda – for the sake of this nation, and for the sake of our people.”
Philine pleaded seriously and lowered her head.
No matter how skillful Hilda was, she was just a bureaucrat. The fact that somebody like Philine, who was a member of the Imperial family, was bowing her head to somebody else was something that should not be taken lightly.
“So then, what’s in it for me?”
Hilda’s tone, which had remained courteous up until now, suddenly became rougher, which seemed to catch Philine completely off-guard.
While Philine was still dumbfounded, Hilda pulled out a cigarette and put it in her mouth.
“Y’know, a reward. A profit. What do I gain by working with you?”
“For the nation? The people? The future? No no no, only people like you, who’ve never had to go through any trouble can say stuff like that. You’re such a goody-two-shoes it makes me wanna cry.”
Philine could not hide her bewilderment from Hilda’s sudden change in character.
The knowledge she borrowed from our negotiation training probably ended here.
“Do you even know how much effort I’ve had to put in just to get here? Do you know how many hardships I had to face so I could go from barely surviving in my daily life to where I am now? Haah?”
Philine quivered in silence from the intimidation.
“You want me to lend you my strength? That’s so easy for you to say, huh. Naturally, you’ve got a suitable reward prepared for me if I do it, right? Don’t tell me you seriously thought you could get me to cooperate with you out of goodwill or something, right?”
Philine couldn’t say anything back to Hilda, whose words were hitting her like a huge slap in the face.
Right as I wanted to open my mouth to help out, Claire-sama stopped me.
Her eyes were telling me to wait and observe the situation a little more.
“If you want me to lend you my strength, then give me something just as valuable in return. If you can’t even do that much, then stop interfering with these important matters and go back to being the useless decoration of a princess that you are!”
After Hilda hurled her words out, the room was completely encompassed in silence.
We stayed like this for a while.
Will the negotiations be called off?
Was it okay to continue letting Hilda speak like this?
Just as I was having these thoughts,
“…… Is that all you wanted to say?”
The one who broke the silence in the end was none other than Philine.