22 Theresa von Erlitz
Frederick found his Mother asleep behind a table full of plans. Food, drinks, workers to seating arrangements, document after document requiring her approval. Frederick felt a little sorry for his Mother, however, she chose to organise the Great Ball of her own accord.
Frederick walked over to the sleeping figure and picked her up in a bridal carry. He carried her over to the bedroom beside her office and laid her on the bed. It was not often that he saw his Mother looking so peaceful, at least not recently.
His Mother was only in her late-thirties and would be turning thirty-nine this year. She was the eldest daughter of a neighbouring Duke and had married Frederick's Father after his first wife died in childbirth. What should have been Frederick's elder sibling was stillborn.
Frederick's Father in his grief spent some time away from the Court and there he met his Mother. She had been on a visit to Erlitz, a shy nineteen-year-old girl visiting a foreign country for the first time. While he was a grieving widower and father, it had taken him many years to conceive a child with his first wife, yet what was to be a joyous occasion became a nightmare he would never forget.
In this time of grief, a bright spark of light came into his life and the two eventually became close. Although Frederick's Father never forgot about his first wife and child, he was at least able to move on with the help of Frederick's Mother. And, so, Frederick's Father nearly twice his Mother's age married and within a year conceived Frederick's elder sister Maria, him not long after and finally his younger sister a few years later.
Frederick's Mother was still as beautiful as she was during her maiden days. Pregnancy and childbirth had not marred her beauty but instead had changed it from an innocent flower into a mature matron. Of course, these were merely from the body's memories and his Father's recollections.
Frederick decided to let his Mother rest and instead went off to find his younger sister. Surely, she would have some advice he could rely on. Well, as reliable as a fifteen-year-old would be.
Frederick found his younger sister Theresa sitting under her favourite pergola in the Royal Gardens. She appeared to be reading a book and had her face buried so deeply, she failed to notice his presence. Frederick could not help himself and crept behind her before he poked her on her sides.
"Wahh!" she shouted cutely. Frederick giggled before it turned into laughter as he watched the myriad changes of expressions on his younger sister's face.
"Frederick! Why do you keep scaring me! It's not funny. Geeze." She lectured in an exasperated tone. However, before Frederick could get a word in, she punched him in the stomach.
Frederick bent over in pain. Although she was only fifteen, she still packed quite the force in that tiny frame of hers.
"Sorry, I'm sorry, my bad." Frederick apologised.
"Hmph! Stupid brother. So why did you come and interrupt me?" She asked a little peeved.
"Right, right. Umm, Theresa, do you know much about the Styrian Princess Eleanor?"
"Um, you know I saw her once, when Mother and I visited Styria almost five years ago. She was very nice to us. Since she was the closest to my age, she and I spent a few days together around Wien. She seemed to have a dream that she really wanted to achieve. Whatever, it was she didn't say. But she was very close to her uncle Prince Klemens, but I heard he has started to withdraw from public life in Styria. I wonder why. Anyways, I like her. But why are you asking me this? What do you have in mind?" Theresa looked over at Frederick, full of curiosity.
'Haha, would you believe it, I think Leon is calling for me." Frederick feigned idiocy and ran off.
Theresa stared at her fleeing brother's back and shook her head in disbelief. She thought to herself,
"Is brother really alright?"
Frederick having fled from his younger sister, was unfortunate enough to actually bump into Leon. Frederick did not think Leon had already returned from the east so quickly, he must have raced back to the Capital.
"Ah, Frederick, I was just looking for you. But, why do you look so exhausted? Did you fight with someone again?" Leon asked with his dumb grin.
"Urgh, don't even get me started. Did you just get back from the east, you look pretty dirty yourself."
"Yeah, Father thought you would need my help, plus I wouldn't leave my brother to fend for himself against a horde of beautiful women." Leon laughed in delight.
"About that, did you hear about Princess Eleanor being attacked on her way here?"
"Oh, the Styrian Princess? I think I heard a few people talking on the way over, but I did not put much stock in it. Have you gone to see her?"
"No, I was finding other people to ask them about their thoughts on something…"
"Hmm, must be something big, if it's got you so nervous. I hardly ever see you like this."
"Well, let's talk more back in my office."
Frederick led Leon back to his office and settled down for a long discussion. He quickly relayed what Phillip told him about the attack as well as the organisation in the dark, Libertas. Frederick sat back and gave Leon some time to process the information. He watched as Leon's brows became more and more furrowed.
"Wait, so how do you plan on dealing with the Princess? Won't she be angry at you?"
"Probably? I don't know, I haven't spoken to her yet. But as for the plan, well, its less of a plan and more of a hope. Well Max thinks the best thing to do is to get her to agree to marry me."
Leon spat out the mouthful of water he had been about to swallow.
"Uh, he wants me to marry her."
"Come on, am I dreaming here?" Leon looked around a little deliriously.
"I think this is the only way forward. What else can we do? I doubt they would be satisfied with a 'full investigation', I guess we could give concessions but then what, we might as well fight a war and see what happens. Or I guess I could abdicate. Maybe that would appease them." Frederick replied a listlessly.
"True, there aren't any better alternatives. On the bright side, you can wed yourself a beauty. I heard of the Five Beauties of Wien, she ranks the top, beating her sisters."
"What? There is a beauty ranking in Styria? How did you come to know of this?"
"Of course, there was also a Five Beauties of Frankia but well, you know how that ended. I think Pruse has Three Beauties and Iberia has Ten Beauties. Ahh, what I wouldn't give to meet one, let alone marry one." Leon reported dutifully.
Frederick watched as Leon was taken away by his daydreaming and he could not help but cough in annoyance.
"Well, what do you think? Do I have a chance?"
"See the one thing I have never understood about you is your lack of confidence in your own looks. Do you never see yourself in the mirror? Do you not realise, you are the continent's most sought-after bachelor? It's not because of your position, it's because of your reputation as a world class beauty. Why else do you think your Mother was able to organise a Great Ball so successfully, it even attracted another beauty like Princess Eleanor. Not just any one can organise and invite so many different beauties from across the continent you know."
Frederick felt there was something wrong with the statement Leon just made, "World class beauty? Isn't that how you describe a female?"
"Fine, fine you are very handsome. Happy?" Leon replied unphased.
Frederick rolled his eyes, "So I'm in with a shot then."
"Of course, of course, don't worry I have your back. Women are very simple. I heard that the way to a woman's heart is through the stomach. You can cook, I don't know when you found the time to, but the things you make every now and then are quite good. I think she will fall in love, in no time." Leon declared confidently.
Frederick knew Leon definitely had no experience with women. He even got the quote wrong and Frederick decided to just ignore his 'helpful' advice on courting women. He would have to rely on himself. The best way was always the old-fashioned method, communicate.
Frederick decided not to put off meeting the Princess any longer. Just as he was about to leave his office, Leon asked him to hold on.
"Wait, before you go, I think I should just let you know, Otto is up to something, the troop movements on the border seem a little suspicious. Everything looks normal on the surface, but I have a feeling that something is about to happen."
Frederick paused, "Do you think he is going to attack us?"
"No, probably not, at least not after Albert fizzled. But now with this tenuous situation with Styria, he might have second thoughts."
"Hmm, find Phillip and get him to monitor the east a lot closer. Have whoever is in Weser right now to look deeper or keep an eye out. The last thing we need is a war in the east. Did you tell your Father your suspicions?"
"Of course, he said I might be onto something, he is keeping a vigilant watch, he's had some of the other forces garrisoned in the cities closer to Albert's lands redeployed to the border with Weser."
Frederick nodded in approval, "Good, at least with your Father there I don't need to worry as much.
Go find Erhart too and make sure the men are prepared to fight or deploy if anything comes up, can't help to be prepared."
"Understood, well good luck with the Princess, but I'm sure you won't need it." Leon smirked as he left the office to carry out the orders.
Frederick sighed, before he too left the office and went off to look for the Princess' room.