Frederick had just finished enjoying his welcoming dinner with Mayor David and several important figures in Morn, when he was informed that Franz had arrived with his men. Frederick had already notified the guards to direct Franz and Sophia's men towards the encampment across the river and have the two nobles report to him straight away.
"Your Highness, Count Franz requests an audience with you."
"Thanks, Erhart, you can send him in. Have people send some food and refreshments." Frederick earnestly replied.
Frederick saw the door open once again and he immediately recognised the familiar stocky frame of Franz von Rhine, Count of Saar. Leon's father was a middle-aged man in his forties that had a martial air about him. The von Rhine family had always been a loyal and staunch supporter of the von Erlitz's and in fact the founding Prince's sister had married the first Count of Saar. As a result, Frederick and Leon were distant relatives and had always been as close as brothers, which was helped by their similar age.
Frederick got up from his seat and stretched his hand out to warmly welcome his Uncle. Franz tightly grabbed onto his hand and vigorously shook it before wrapping Frederick in a tight hug.
"Hah, I haven't seen you in two months and look at all the trouble you've caused." Franz laughed heartily as he took a good look at Frederick.
"No thanks to Leon, of course. But come Uncle take a seat we have much to discuss."
"Right, that we do Your Highness." Franz replied solemnly.
Frederick and Franz engaged in some warm banter and caught up about each other's personal affairs over the last month they had not seen each other for. Until they heard another knock on the door and Erhart came in with some servants with food and refreshments. Erhart walked over and once again informed Frederick that their final guest was here.
Sophia had arrived with her entourage and was on her way to the residence. Frederick thanked him and asked him to have her shown here immediately. Frederick waited for the room to be cleared before he asked Franz.
"Hmm…do you think she is sincere about joining us?"
"She's always been a hard one to predict. She has always been a rather greedy woman and did not care too much about the trappings of power. So long as she could live her life uninhibited and in whatever way she wished, then I believe she would not mind losing her powers." Franz replied with a slight tone of disdain.
"Of course, I'm simply abolishing landed titles and returning the powers ceded by my ancestors to the aristocrats back to me. All pre-existing titles will be converted into honorary titles with stipends and privileges which will be determined at a later date. Erlitz can no longer remain divided like this with so many decision makers, Franz."
"Don't worry, whatever happens I will always be right behind you Frederick. However, Your Highness I'm at a loss over what your future plans for Erlitz are after this abolishment of landed titles, why the need for a centralisation of power." Franz asked with curiosity.
Before Frederick could reply, he once again heard a knocking on the door.
"Please enter." Frederick answered.
Through the doorway sauntered a stunning woman. She looked as if she was in the prime of her life and anyone would guess she was only in her mid to late thirties. However, the truth was she was almost fifty. With the verve and vim of a much younger woman Sophia von Hesse curtsied in the presence of Frederick.
Frederick and Franz had stood up upon her entrance and he walked over to greet her.
"Countess Sophia, you are as radiant as ever. Had I not known the time, I would have thought the sun was still out, for it is so bright in here." Frederick flattered with a straight face.
"Oh, Your Highness, you flatter me too much, your words are still as pleasant sounding as ever." Sophia responded with much delight.
"Please do take a seat, Count Franz and I were just exchanging pleasantries and awaiting your arrival."
On mention of Franz, Sophia feigned shock and ignorance. With barely concealed disdain she asked,
"Oh dear, Franz how very sorry I am, I did not notice you were already here. Oh please forgive my manners. How good it is too see you after such a long time."
"No, no, that is fine with me. Don't mind me." Franz reacted woodenly.
Frederick watched with slight amusement at the way the two ex-lovers interacted. Many years ago, before the two of them inherited their positions, they had been betrothed. Sophia fell in love with the young and dashing Franz, who was strong and handsome, simply the greatest catch of the time. However, Franz only saw Sophia as a sister and never held any romantic interests towards her. Instead he fell in love with the daughter of a lesser noble. Of the two, Franz was the first to inherit his position and in good conscience could not continue to be betrothed to Sophia without having any feelings for her.
As a result, his first act as Count had been to break the agreement between the two families. Naturally this caused an uproar across Erlitz and it took many months and intercessions between the Royal Family and the two other parties before they could return to an amicable relationship. After all it did no good for two of the four pillars of the nation to be on unfavourable terms.
So, the heartbroken Sophia who had always been confident in her looks and figure became severely depressed by Franz's rejection. However, fortunately the two came to an arrangement after she decided to give up upon seeing how happy Franz and his now wife were.
Afterwards, Sophia had managed to find herself a good and loving husband but the relationship between Franz and Sophia had remained strained ever since. Every time they met, Sophia would throw verbal barbs at him whilst Franz, still feeling a little guilty would respond with only a few words and seeing Franz's lack of a response would lead her to ignore him entirely.
Fortunately for Frederick, this night was no different and the two took a seat despite an unnatural gap between them. Frederick chuckled at this and Sophia awkwardly shuffled her chair a little closer towards Franz. Franz tried his best to maintain a nonchalant face, but Frederick could tell he looked a little uncomfortable in this awkward silence, as he did his best to avoid looking at Sophia.
Frederick felt that the mental torture of Franz had gone on long enough as he could see the corners of Sophia's mouth curled up in delight as she acknowledged Frederick's aptitude in granting her a slight win over Franz.
"Ah, Countess please do try the refreshments. I am sure you have had a long journey and my apologies for having you travel such a long way." Frederick opened the conversation.
"Please, no need to apologise Your Highness, it is a necessity for a vassal to attend to their liege, when called upon." Sophia happily replied.
Seeing how she had expertly brought up the topic of vassalage in anticipation for the night's main discussion, Frederick was further impressed by her tact. He decided to stop beating around the bush and asked directly.
"Countess, what are your thoughts on the abolishment of landed titles?"
"I have no issues with Your Highnesses' plan. However, I merely wish to ensure that my property and assets remain in my hands, no?"
"But of course. Nothing changes but for the fact that you will no longer have a domain and as a result none of the powers associated with the management of it. You will keep your title in an honorary form and be granted a stipend, to be determined at a later date. These will be the arrangements for all landed nobility in Erlitz, except for myself of course."
"Hm…these arrangements sound satisfactory to me. However, is Your Highness, really not considering accepting my family's marriage proposal? My granddaughter is rather beautiful, she has all the curves in the right places, and sizable assets." Sophia questioned with a raised eyebrow.
Franz spat out a mouthful of water before he once again assumed his stoic face. Sophia gave him a mere glance out of annoyance before she looked back at Frederick with anticipation.
Frederick coughed at the unexpected attack and felt a headache coming on. He knew he should have expected this topic to come up, but he chose to tactfully decline by ignoring the question.
"Countess, since you have no disagreements then I will be needing your help in convincing Count Albert into coming around to agreeing with my proposal. After all, I am sure you are aware he has no good intentions on coming down south."
Sophia looked a little disappointed that Frederick chose to ignore her question but chose to humour him this time. After all, he could not escape her granddaughter at the Great Ball his mother had planned, and Sophia was confident that her granddaughter could seize the goods.
"Ahh, but of course Uncle Bertie has always been a little unruly. If you would allow me to speak with him first when he arrives tomorrow, I will most certainly try to bring him around. After all, we are your loyal subjects and spilling the blood of brothers and sisters is in no one's best interests."
"Very well, I must thank you in advance then Countess. Hmm… the hour is getting late. We should retire for the night and reconvene in the morning."
With that Sophia stood up and curtsied before leaving the room as she was escorted to her room for the night. Franz watched the back of Sophia for a little while before he shook his head and bowed before Frederick and he too retired for the night.
Frederick was left in the room alone, still slightly unaccustomed to having people bow or curtsy before him as a sign of deference. Although he had been in this world for two years and had slowly adjusted to his position, there were times when he felt a little nostalgic for his old world.
Frederick sighed, before he got up and returned to his room to rest for the night. He knew the next day would be definitely chaotic and trying for him.