Corruption Among the Nobility

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The very next day, I found myself in my room rummaging through books and news articles about Bauer’s political system.
Now that I had committed myself to the task, I decided to start by doing what I could.
Having heard from Rei that the Church’s policies could be a good reference for how to shorten the financial rift, I asked Rei to arrange a visit to the Church.

Once Rei had left the room, I perused one specific article I found.

“Human trafficking…”

The article detailed that particular nobles were secretly involved in human trafficking.
The news had come to light during my vacation in Euclid.
While it initially caused quite the stir among nobility, my father explained that the commotion soon died down.
To my understanding, the journalist who wrote the article had gone missing and the associated publisher had halted their work on a follow up.

“… They dealt with the journalist and covered everything up…”

Human trafficking was strictly illegal.
I heard that in the distant past, the kingdom had slavery as well, but in the present it had been outlawed.
If the details recorded in this article were true, the nobles involved would certainly see everything stripped from them, that was just how large this scandal was.
I was confident that nobles with a guilty conscience had put pressure on the publisher..
As for the missing journalist… There should be no need for me to spell that out.

A detailed reading of the article was enough to give me a general idea of who that particular noble might have been.
While it may have been difficult for the average noble, I was the daughter of the Finance Minister and, as a result, had a grasp on the flow of money within the kingdom.
The flow of money follows the flow of people, and so too does information and influence.
The information I had, the details within the article, as well as the results of an independent investigation conducted by House François, all pointed me in the same direction.

“Marquis Clément Achard… Is it really you behind all of this…?”

That’s right.
If everything that I had examined was accurate, the mastermind behind this incident was Clément Achard.
I shuddered as I recalled my encounter with him at the Achard Estate.
Had that monster of a personification of noble supremacism really stained his hands with something so insidious?

“Do you really think anything and everything will be forgiven because of your lineage…? The Achard name, the pride of your esteemed ancestry is in tears…”

House Achard originally held the title of Duke alongside House François.
However, the house had been demoted to that of a Marquis under Clément-sama’s leadership.
The reason was simple.
King Rousseau aimed to distance Clément-sama from authority.

King Rousseau’s intentions were clear to me now.
He was aiming to solve it―the corruption plaguing the nobility.
Unlike House François, it appeared that House Achard was involved in a plethora of shady dealings.
Like lizards shed their tails, the house continued to scapegoat others.
This caused their overall influence to plummet, and they were inevitably demoted.
One particular incident which led to a significant decrease in House Achard’s influence was also the main reason that King Rousseau was referred to as the Wise King.

“There are plenty of unsavory rumors circulating about how Clément-sama is trying to reclaim his influence… But… I’d much prefer this one be a misunderstanding.”

I personally could not think fondly of Clément-sama.
I believed that he fundamentally misunderstood what it meant to be a noble.
That said, to the very least, I wanted to believe that we shared the bare minimum of dignity that all nobles should.

“But still… This corruption that plagues our nobility, it’s absolutely irredeemable.”

It didn’t stop just with House Achard.
I wouldn’t have known just from my lectures at the academy, but many journalists and critics had spoken against Bauer’s aristocracy.
I had only found out because I specifically sent for books and newspapers from the outside.
Regardless of King Rousseau’s ambitions to introduce change, it was undeniable that the Royal Academy still catered to us nobility.
It was only natural that the education at such an academy would lean conservative.

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“I had no idea that things were this bad.”

I had been raised watching my father, the quintessential noble.
That was all I had known, so I believed all nobles were virtuous in spirit and held a sense of duty to serve within their position.
In reality, there weren’t many nobles left who retained such qualities.
I then recalled the words once spoken by a student who stood with the commoner’s movement.

―Royals, nobility, they’re all just parasites leeching off of the commoner’s taxes.

Even just remembering those words made me seethe.
However, if I distanced myself from my biases and looked at reality, I knew that the words weren’t too far from the truth.

“Just how did it come to this…”

A particular scholar once asserted that the aristocracy had continued for far too long.
A system that becomes complacent will inevitably corrupt.
While nobles still competed against other nobles for authority around the clock, for a long time now, nothing had opposed the system itself.
As a result, perhaps we as a society had already forgotten the ideals that should have been our foundation.
That was the scholar’s assertion.
Incidentally, after that, the scholar had been forbidden from participating in the kingdom’s academia.
This happened under the previous king’s rule, when the nobility held even more influence than they did now.

“… The people around me… They’re all okay… Right?

At least so far, I hadn’t come across any bad rumors regarding House Barlier or House Cugletto, Pipi and Loretta’s houses.
That said, House Barlier seemed to be positioning to strengthen their ties with House Achard, and as for House Cugletto, Loretta was Christophe-sama’s fiance.
Of all people, I didn’t think that Baron Barlier or Count Cugletto would ever intentionally tarnish their reputations… But among nobility, and especially with a power disparity involved, there were too many ways things could become twisted.
Perhaps it was best that I mention something to the two?

“There’s no way that my father… Is somehow involved… Right?”

The fact that I’d even harbor such doubts toward my father was the pinnacle of disrespect, and I knew that.
But as I looked into the kingdom’s poverty and as I learned more about the corruption, I couldn’t help but harbor doubts toward things I once took for granted.

Just as those dark thoughts tugged at me,

“Guess~ Who!”

A carefree voice filled my ears as my vision was obscured.

“Hey! Rei! Just what are you playing at!?”
“Well, I mean I called out to you when I got back, but this whole time you’ve just been brooding over something and never responded.
I felt lonely!”
“Eh…? Ah, so that’s how it was… That was rude of me, forgive me.”

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If I had been ignoring Rei then the fault was my own.
I meekly apologized.

“… Claire-sama, just what happened? It’s not like you to just apologize like this.”
“Hey, what is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean, the usual Claire-sama would say something like―Oh, I didn’t even notice you were there―and just shrug me off…”
“… Do you really see me as someone who would do something so unreasonable?”

It was frustrating that I couldn’t deny it outright.

“I’m just thinking about something.”
“What about?”
“Nothing in particular, and what does it matter to you?”
“That’s so C-O-L-D, Claire-sama, let me share your worries.
I mean, happiness shared is doubled and worries shared are halved, right?”

Her words strangely found their way straight into my heart.

“… That was rather wise.”
“They’re words… That an old friend once said to me.”
“Then I’m quite grateful to that friend of yours.

I opened up to Rei about the things that had piled up.
From my doubts of Clément-sama, to my doubts toward my own father, everything.

“The chance that Dor-sama might be as corrupt as the rest of them, huh.”
“Of all the people, there’s no way that my father would be… Is what I’d like to think, but I didn’t think that this was even a possibility for any of the other nobles either.”

Rei gave me a hmm, thinking a little before,

“Just what do I say hereー Corruption… Mm, corruption? In a sense, I suppose you could say so, but that’s all just posturing…”

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She began mumbling.

“What are you saying? Mumbling to yourself like that.”
“Ah, I’m sorry, I was just talking to myself.
Well, I think Dor-sama is probably fine.”
“On what basis?”
“Well, that would be Claire-sama, I suppose.”

Unsure what it was Rei wanted to say, I urged her to continue.

“I mean, Claire-sama, seeing as Dor-sama raised you to be such an honest natured person, I find it hard to believe that he would do something unsavory.”
“Even if he did play a part in something of that nature, I think it would be best to think that he had some sort of reason that compelled him.”
“… You seem to think rather highly of my father, don’t you?”
“Well yeah, we are accompl- cough, cough, he is your father after all.”

It seemed that Rei was just about to say something, but looped back to that.

“… I suppose you’re right.
There’s no way that my father would do something unsavory just to advance his own self interests.”
“Oh, just so you know, I serve Claire-sama 100% out of my own self interests!”
“I already know that, shut it.”
“You always play so hard to get~ But that’s also what I love~!”

After that, Rei fooled around to play things off, but it was true that my exchange with her had blown away my hesitations.
Though it frustrated me to admit, Rei made a great confidant.

“But hm, there’s something strange about this article.”
“Strange? What part of it do you find strange?”

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“I mean, if they’ve investigated this far, both the journalist and the publisher should have narrowed down the culprit to Clément-sama too, right? If so it makes no sense that they wouldn’t just expose the name.”

Now that she mentioned it, that did seem strange.

“Perhaps they couldn’t include the name because they did not have concrete evidence?”
“In that case they simply wouldn’t publish the article until they did have the evidence they needed.
I mean, in this kingdom where the nobles hold all the influence, they must know that if they didn’t reveal everything in one fell swoop that they’d be the ones to suffer.”
“… You have a point.”

The fact that the journalist had gone missing also added credibility to Rei’s reasoning.

“In that case, what do you make of this article?”
“Hmm, I can’t say anything conclusive, but I get the feeling that the article itself was written this way for a reason.”
“For a reason…”
“I can’t claim to know what for, though.”
“Well, we can’t do anything about what we don’t know, so why don’t we start by doing what we can?”
“That’s true.
How are things proceeding with the Church?”
“I’ve made arrangements for your visit.
We can visit at any time, how does tomorrow sound?”
“Very good.”

Rather than stumble around in my anxieties, I needed to focus on the things that I could do.

“… Perhaps I’ve… Begun to resemble you in some ways.”
“It was nothing.”

Rei looked dumbstruck, and yet, her dumb expression brought me so much comfort, so much comfort that―it frustrated me to no end so I decided that I’d never tell her that directly.

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