21 Beneath the Surface
Frederick left Max's office with a lot on his mind. He would need to meet the Princess as soon as possible, so that he could work out a way to convince her to marry him. Him marrying her had many advantages, but her marrying him was not the same. After all, an esteemed Princess from a major power like Styria, marrying into a middling power's royal family, on the face of it, seemed disadvantageous towards the major power. Since they would then be tied down with that country's baggage.
Frederick decided to find Jacques and have him report what he saw. Phillip had Jacques put up in one of the guest rooms in the eastern wing of the Palace, to make it easier for Frederick to find him.
Frederick wandered on over to the eastern wing and was then led by a servant to Jacques' specific room. Apparently, he had been overly eager in his attempt to pursue some of the assailants that fled and had ridden straight into a tree and suffered a fractured arm and ankle. Fortunately, one of the other Styrian knights had been following not too far behind and had managed to drag the unconscious Jacques back to the camp. The rest of the details he would have to find out from the man himself.
Frederick sighed as he walked into the room. Laying on the bed was a golden-haired, handsome man. When he had first met him, dressed shabbily and looking a little unkempt, the most that could be said about Jacques was that he was noticeable. However, now that he had been well-fed and well-kept, it was unmistakeable that the lowest compliment for the man would be, handsome.
Frederick was a straight man and he had met many good-looking people in his past life, but still he had to admit, Jacques was certainly up there. However, annoyingly enough, the man was vain and proud of it.
Frederick could not help but sigh, upon realisation that he had surrounded himself with too many people very confident in their looks. There was Leon's dumb grin and now here before him was Jacques' version. Whereas Leon's was a genuine and happy confidence, Jacques loved to joke around and tease people, a natural playboy. Frederick put aside his distasteful past-life memories that resurfaced because of Jacques.
"Jacques, you look like you tried to fight a tree and lost."
"Haha, Your Highness, surely you jest, how could I possibly fight and lose to a tree. Haha." Jacques laughed in embarrassment.
Frederick walked over and took a seat beside the bed. He gave Jacques a mocking glance before he launched into the reason for his visit.
"Jacques, tell me honestly who were the ones that attacked the Princess?"
Frederick saw Jacques expression quickly switch from his usual playful face to a rare serious
expression. Jacques opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Your Highness, it's me Phillip, might I come in?"
Frederick immediately answered, "Very well, come on in."
Phillip entered and bowed to Frederick before throwing a disapproving look in Jacques' direction.
"Your Highness, I did not mean to eavesdrop, but I overheard you ask Jacques here about the identities of the assailants. It is perhaps better for me to inform you. I just received some new information from a contact of mine."
"Hm, very well then, tell me, who were they?"
"Your Highness, have you heard of Libertas?"
Frederick shook his head at the unfamiliar term, "What is this Libertas? A person, group, place or…?"
"Well, Your Highness, Libertas is the name of an ancient god from the south, who represents 'liberty', the earliest records of this god are as old as two-thousands years old. However, over the past two millennia the ancient gods have fallen out of favour. But now there is a cult, well at least an organisation that claims to represent Libertas and the idea of liberty. They seek to, hmm, what do they call it, ah, bring about a global revolution. Break the shackles of despots and tyrants, which apparently monarchies such as ours qualify as."
Frederick listened to this with fascination. But his brows furrowed while he was in deep thought, however, Phillip had not finished.
"There are rumours that the reason why the Great Frankish Empire imploded so spectacularly was because of background influences, and I suspect this Libertas was a major influence. After all, although the Philosopher Prince laid the foundations and attempted to spread his ideas, they were still bound within the current system. However, this group is rather radical and from the outcome, I guess even they must have been surprised by it. But it seems they are now making a move on Styria."
Frederick had always felt the fall of the Great Frankish Empire was suspicious, but he had neither the time nor the resources to investigate, since the former empire was a mess, to put it kindly. But if it were true that an outside organisation had managed to push such a large and established nation off the cliff so spectacularly, then it was definitely a scary one.
Frederick thought a little longer before he took a look at Jacques.
"Were they Southerners, the ones that attacked the Princess?'
"Some of them were, well at least the ones that left their bodies behind. However, the two that managed to escape were definitely not Southerners. One had an accent from the North and the other sounded like a Frank."
"A Northerner and a Frank? Pruse north or Svea north?"
"I think Pruse? I have never heard a Svean speak before, so I cannot be sure."
"Either way, it seems they have their tentacles all over the continent. We would have to be naïve to believe they have no operations here in Erlitz. Phillip, Jacques, I am going to need you to investigate this further, we cannot have them hiding in the shadows without knowing who they are or what they are planning. What a pain." Frederick complained.
"Very well, Your Highness. Leave this with me."
"Yeah, sounds interesting, at least it beats spying on a Princess. You know it made me feel like a pervert." Jacques too complained.
"Oh, how is the Princess? What is she like?" Frederick asked Jacques.
"Well, I only spent a couple days with them, when we were rushing our way to the Capital. She gradually grew more and more delirious, so I only talked to her the night of the attack. I explained who I was, and she believed me. She has quite the sharp wits about her, but even she did not expect to be attacked on her way to Erlangen. Before I could ask her why she came, the physician in their party kicked me out. I haven't spoken to her since. But I think you and her would get along well. I just have a feeling." Jacques smirked.
Frederick laughed in response, before he looked over at Phillip.
"Your Highness, the Princess' full name is Eleanor Maria von Habsburg and is the youngest daughter of the current Archduke of Styria. She has four elder sisters all married to various families across Agenor and three elder brothers as well as a younger brother. From my sources, the Princess is the most cherished by the entire family as there was an incident when she was five. As for what the incident was, the Archduke supressed all information, even I cannot find anything more. It is also said that Princess Eleanor is a champion of public education, she even spent her own money to open up a school for children, that provides free lessons. From all I have heard, she is a virtuous and much-loved Princess, but also humble. A rather admirable young lady. Oh, she is also a year older than you."
Frederick hesitated a little before he decided to ask the two for their opinions on Max's plan.
"So, do you think there is a chance that if asked her to marry me, the whole situation could be solved?"
Frederick looked at the stunned faces of both Jacques and Phillip. He already regretted asking. Jacques face scrunched up before he burst into laughter. Phillip however, managed to supress his laughs and merely chuckled.
Frederick waited a little longer for some other response. But from the looks of things it appeared neither were willing or dared to offer their counsel. Slightly fed up, Frederick gave up and left the room, to find his Mother. Perhaps she would have some good advice.