Frederick followed the hastily departing back of Max. There was not much else he could do at this moment, after all he could not simply start a scene at the Palace gates. Not if he wanted to remain a figure of authority.
Frederick had Erhart dismiss the Royal Guards and had him immediately check on the Styrian party. On his journey from Stolitz, at the occasional rest stop he managed to catch a hold of various rumours. The most dire ones were that the Princess had already died and the remaining party was already on their way back to Styria to deliver the news. The more optimistic ones were that she had pulled through but had become horribly disfigured. None of the rumours assuaged the anxiety in Frederick's heart.
However, he would not jump to conclusions, the first thing he needed to do was establish the facts or grasp a hold of as many as he could. The situation had already occurred and no amount of rushing about and making baseless assumptions would prevent the attack on the Princess and her party. He also needed to meet with Jacques and grab his account as soon as possible.
The best outcome for Frederick would be the Princess being cured and not holding a grudge against him or Erlitz. But the chances of this realistically occurring were very slim, after all if he were in her situation, he would probably be fuming mad as well. A specially invited guest was assaulted on their way to attending the said event. How embarrassing. Frederick could already hear the condemnations from the other parties attending the Great Ball. After all, if it could happen to a party as prestigious as one from a major nation like Styria, how could the ones from smaller countries remain unharmed?
Politics was a cruel world and slander, rumours or insinuations were the weapons of the Court.
However, Frederick had to deal with whatever Max was about to throw in his way first. He could already guess it would have something to do with this event, most likely he had come up with a plan and was now demanding Frederick follow it to the tee. Frederick decided to indulge him for now and at least hear what he had to say. It did neither of them any good to become too wilful and make enemies of each other. At least, Frederick believed so, as for whether Max thought the same way, well only time would tell.
Frederick entered Max's office and saw it was as immaculate as ever. He had once thought the office of a Prime Minister would be stacked with documents and be an untidy mess of paperwork, ink and books. But Max had always been an overachiever and was an exemplary official.
Frederick nodded at the orderly shelves and clean room. He made his way over to the seat behind the grand table of the Prime Minister's office. It was a rather simple desk that merely had its edges gilded by gold flakes. It was a powerful statement, ornate but also functional, just like the position of Prime Minister. At least, Max gave him this much respect and did not have him sit in front of the desk like any other official beneath him. Although Max had a slightly terrible attitude towards Frederick, it was more so to the person rather than for his position. It was essentially along the lines of, you are still inexperienced, just listen to me.
These sorts of people who always thought they were the smartest in the room always grated Frederick the wrong way. Frederick tried to remain open minded and give them chances to improve themselves, but sometimes it was better to set the record straight as soon as possible.
Before Max even sat down, Frederick opened his mouth.
"Max, your attitude towards me is simply unacceptable. Do not forget I am your Prince. You serve at my pleasure. It does not matter how long I have been Prince, if you disrespect me, you disrespect the office. I cannot have a mere subordinate question me at every turn nor order me around as if I were their subject not their liege. Understood?"
Frederick saw Max's eyes open in shock, before anger crept into them. He immediately responded.
"Your Highness," he stressed before continuing, "I may be your subject and I may be your Prime Minister, but every wise lord needs to remember that without counsel from those that serve beneath them, what difference is there between tyrant and benevolent lord."
"Max, surely you jest. Tyrant, benevolent lord, those are but labels tacked on by historians, we serve the here and now not some distant future that we cannot see let alone conceive of. You only need to worry about serving me. Do not be distracted by what is good for the country, what is good for the world many years from now. Leave that to me. I am the Prince, the direction of this country remains my one and only concern. I only need you to follow my instructions." Frederick replied passionately.
"Your Highness, then you wish for me to be but an ornament? A wallflower perchance? Then I might as well tender my resignation. If Your Highness merely wishes for yes men and blind followers, then you may as well start up a church. I hear the King of the Isles recently declared himself God's representative in this world. Should I immediately draft a new proclamation?" Max replied facetiously
"Max you test my patience. Know that you're treading a fine line. I can only tolerate so much. Hmm, fine, since you believe yourself so smart, let me hear what you have to say." Frederick decided that this was going nowhere and threw the ball back to Max.
Max smiled brightly before he started speaking.
"Your Highness, this situation we now find ourselves with the Princess from Styria is rather disconcerting."
Frederick could not help but interject and ask, "How is the Princess?"
"She has stabilised for now, she was poisoned but fortunately it was not a rare poison. However, she may need at least half a year to recover fully, she was cut across the shin, fortunately it was a shallow wound, the Royal Physician has guaranteed there will be no scar. But the poison and the length of time it was allowed to percolate has put some of her organs under strain. Had they arrived even half a day later, there was a high chance she would have become paralysed. If that had occurred, we might as well offer our heads to her father the Archduke."
Frederick listened with great concern at the events and could not help but thank Lady Luck in his mind. His mind whirred away, thinking of all the possibilities and how he could extract Erlitz from this precarious situation. After whittling away the many possibilities, his mind arrived at the safest and easiest option. He looked up in dread and saw the smile on Max's face.
"I am sure Your Highness has realised the gravity of the situation. There is but one option available to us left, well, other than war. You must marry the Princess."
Even though Frederick had already guessed Max's answer, the words that came out of his mouth still gave him pause. Frederick had come from a world where romance, love and stories of soulmates were particularly prevalent. Although he had never managed to find his other half before his unfortunate death, he had plenty of experience dating women.
Women his Mother had introduced to him, women he had met at clubs, at bars, at networking events. He was not a playboy, but neither was he ever serious with any of the women. He would take them to dinners, to movies or other 'couples' experiences and in one or two situations managed to take them all the way home but more often than not he found himself unable to go any further than just friends. He either felt things were not right or that the women were too obvious in their desires, whether it be for money or his status. Eventually he became tired of the lifestyle and two months before his unfortunate death, he had decided to break up with his partner of three months and just remain single for the foreseeable future. Funnily enough, that period became single for the rest of his life.
This was also partly the reason why he had so strongly tried to dissuade his Mother from arranging the Great Ball, he did not want to force himself into a situation where he would need to marry another woman for the sake of convenience. He knew it was naïve to think that someone in his position could marry for love, but it was a hope of his, nonetheless. But now it appeared fate had once again decided to railroad him into a situation he could not back out of. At least not back out of without dire consequences. He could not sacrifice the lives of his people merely for his own selfish desires. That was not who he was nor if he had a choice, will ever be.
"Max, do you honestly think it will work?" Frederick asked dejectedly.
"Your Highness, it is a fifty fifty but it is honestly the best shot we have. It is all up to Her Highness when she awakes and whether she is willing to accept your proposal." Max replied in all seriousness.
Frederick was a little surprised by Max's shift in tone, it appeared he had softened a little towards him. He made a quick guess that it probably had to do with his quick acceptance of the situation. Frederick sighed aloud.
"I guess I will need to visit Her Highness and apologise for our failures in person. I hope she will forgive me." Frederick got up and gave Max a nod before he left the room.
Unbeknownst to Frederick, Max watched the departing back of Frederick. In this moment, he felt there was an air of loneliness about him, it resonated deeply with him. He too had once left his house at the age of eighteen and embarked on a journey that had led him here, to the highest office in the land. Yet here was in his eyes merely a boy, trying to weather the storms on his own, he could not help but hold a little respect for this person. He thought to himself, "Perhaps I have been a little too harsh on the boy."
Max sat for a long time in his seat continuing his introspection.