7 Sophia II
Frederick woke up early, it was just after sunrise. As he got dressed, he heard a knock on his door and he gave permission for the person to enter. He saw the Commander of the Royal Guards Erhart enter and he bowed before Frederick.
"Your Highness, apologies for interrupting your rest."
"No need, I was already awake, what is it that you needed to report to me this early in the morning?" Frederick asked with curiosity.
"Count Albert arrived with his men just after midnight. He and his men have set up camp about a kilometre away from ours on a small hill. The scouts say that he came with about three thousand of his men."
Frederick's eyes shook a little upon hearing the number of men Albert came with. Excitement bubbled away in his mind, he was more confident than ever that his plan would succeed. Especially now that Albert had taken almost all of the men he could spare down south, it meant Stolitz would have almost no one defending it. Since the men on the border could not be moved, Stolitz could expect no reinforcements.
Frederick was glad he listened to Phillip and developed a plan to counter Albert those many months ago. Now, it would allow him to avoid the headache of confronting Albert on the battlefield. Fortunately, he had no need to personally order his men in the north to take action. With Phillip at the helm, he was sure the old hawk would have seen the opportunity and seized it already. It was just a matter of time before he received Phillip's report on the circumstances up north.
Frederick let out a sigh of relief, given that the hard part was over, and that Albert had decided to follow their predictions. He finally noticed Erhart had been standing and waiting for his reply for the last few minutes as he had been staring off into space.
"Ah, sorry Erhart, I was a little distracted. What was the last part again?"
"Count Albert has requested an audience with Your Highness within Morn and asked for immunity from any hostile actions on your part." Erhart answered without hesitation.
"Of course, we should meet and of course we will not harm him. He is still my vassal, despite his impudent actions. Perfect, arrange for safe passage for the Count and inform Count Franz and Countess Sophia. We shall make it a working lunch."
"Working lunch, Your Highness?" Erhart responded with a little confusion.
"Yes, have a feast prepared and we can discuss our issues over food." Frederick replied without any hint of his internal embarrassment. Sometimes in his excitement he would forget that modern phrases or sayings were meaningless in this world and would inadvertently slip in one or two words.
"Right away, Your Highness, I shall inform Mayor David to have this organised. Countess Sophia and Count Franz shall be notified straight away. I will also have a messenger sent to Count Albert relaying your intentions." Erhart bowed once more and left to carry out his orders.
Frederick had a servant prepare some food as he headed over to the dining room. Surprisingly, there was already another person in the middle of their meal, this early in the morning.
"Oh, Your Highness, good morning, do forgive me for not waiting for you." Sophia responded as she stood up and gave Frederick a slight curtsy.
"Good morning, Countess, I did not expect there to be someone who was awake before me." Frederick replied good naturedly as he too took a seat. A servant quickly came over with some food and set the table.
Frederick had always loved the food served in this world ever since his arrival. It was just so different, new and refreshing, they were made by culinary experts that he was unable to experience in his past life. Of course, he never forgot that his position as a Prince made him more privileged than a vast majority of his subjects. This was one of his motivations for making the lives of his people better, so that perhaps one day they too could enjoy wonderful foods on a daily basis.
"Ah, well when you get to my age, no matter how much you wish to sleep, sometimes your body keeps you from it. What a pain." Sophia replied with a little annoyance as she returned to finishing her meal.
Frederick thanked the servant and dug into his food as he and Sophia merely exchanged glances every now and then. Frederick had not interacted with Sophia much before and was a little unsure as to what he could speak to her about. Had it been Franz, then naturally the topic would have been Leon. However, Frederick definitely did not want to start talking about Sophia's family, after all it would only be a one-way ticket to becoming her newest family member.
"Your Highness, might you indulge an old lady?" Sophia asked with anticipation.
"Countess, you are not an old lady. In my eyes you are still very beautiful, after all age is but a number." Frederick countered.
"Haha, Your Highness, have I ever told you, your glib tongue is too much for my maiden heart. Perhaps Your Highness is not aware of it but you are rather popular with the ladies across Agenor. However, I can see how uncomfortable you are with mentions of your love life, so I will not ask again."
Frederick sighed with relief as he heard Sophia laugh aloud before she continued.
"Your Highness, I have heard some rather troubling news about Styria. I am also very suspicious of the party that is on their way to Erlangen to attend the Great Ball. I believe their one and only Princess is leading them. There are rumours that she and the Crown Prince of Pruse are to be wed. So, I am not quite sure as to why she would be attending what will clearly be a wife finding party, for lack of a better word, Your Highness."
Frederick awkwardly smiled as the topic he wished to avoid had once again come up. However, he knew that Sophia would not have brought up her suspicions about Styria were they to be merely baseless rumours. Sophia was a well-known figure across Agenor, she would travel quite frequently across the continent, making friends and meeting new people each time. As a result, she had built up a notable contact list of associates.
Frederick had only realised the extent of her connections after Phillip setup the spy network. One of the first orders he had issued was for an in-depth investigation into Sophia, Franz and Albert. Although he trusted Franz greatly based on their familial relationship, he still erred on side of caution. After receiving the report on Franz and seeing there was nothing unexpected, he had personally informed Franz and apologised. Franz had taken it in good stride and did not make anything out of it. He accepted the situation and forgave Frederick and their relationship had become stronger because of it.
As for Sophia, well there were a few suspicious parts, but they were not too concerning. After all, everyone had some secrets and they deserved to remain as such. However, he knew no matter how developed his spy network was, it would never be able to compete with her contacts amongst the noble circles of Agenor. As a result, he respected Sophia a great deal more than Albert.
Albert had been quickly identified as an enemy that needed to be removed, regardless of whether he harboured any ill-intentions towards him or not, his personality and outlook were clearly incompatible with the new Erlitz, Frederick wished to create. As a result, he would have been removed sooner or later.
Frederick thought a little longer about what Sophia had said before he cautiously replied.
"Countess, your concerns are acknowledged, however I am not sure what can be done about this. If they wish to attend the ball, I have no right to interfere with my mother's invitations. Much less have them rescinded. To do so would spark a diplomatic row that could potentially end in an undesirable war between our nations."
"Ahh, Your Highness has misunderstood my intentions. I am not too sure of their intentions either, but I only wished to notify Your Highness and ensure you kept an eye open. After all, it never hurts to be a little cautious. Just take it as a warning from this old lady. I shall not take up any more of your valuable time Your Highness. See you later this afternoon." Sophia responded in a playful tone as she rose and left the room.
Frederick watched Sophia leave with a complicated expression. Before he had even resolved this issue around Albert, more and more problems cropped up. He still needed to be wary of Pruse to the north, Weser to the east and now even Styria appeared to hold ill-intentions towards his Erlitz. Time truly waited for no one.
Frederick sighed aloud and realised that ever since he became Grand Prince he had been sighing a lot. He sighed again before he placed all these other problems to the back of his mind. He knew he should only focus on one thing at a time. He needed to prioritise making Erlitz stronger in order to deter these hungry wolves from taking a gamble.
Frederick quickly finished his meal and went back to his room to prepare for the meeting later in the afternoon.