The remainder of the court session was uneventful. Officials presented their reports and petitions while offering advice on various problems the country faced. Olrich listened to them dutifully, taking the appropriate measures to resolve all the issues brought to him.
Konrad was forced to admit that in the role of emperor, Olrich didn't laze around. As the session approached its end, a middle-aged official stepped forward.
"Your majesty, we've received news that the Prosperous Wind Empire's third prince set out yesterday. He brings with him legions of betrothal gifts and is on his way to take his bride."
Olrich's good mood died in a heartbeat. The man who announced the news could feel the pressure of Olrich's gaze weighing down on him. He pitied himself for being the one having to say those words. However, if he didn't do his job, his head would, for sure, roll onto the floor.
Olrich's pressure vanished as quickly as it descended, and his eyes cleared up.
"The Prosperous Wind Third Prince is a man of honor and virtue. Entrusting my daughter to him. My heart is at ease. You may begin the preparations to receive him with the honors due to his rank."
"Yes, your majesty!"
The official heaved a sigh of relief and excused himself.
"If there is nothing else, the court is dismissed."
From highest ranked to lowest, the court officials bowed and excused themselves, leaving only Konrad and Olrich.
Olrich rose from his throne, leading Konrad back to his imperial study.
"You've broken through to the Grand Priest Rank?"
"Yes, adoptive father!"
"Good, my efforts on you were not wasted. When you comprehend the first layer of the Infernal Soul Devouring Art, we can truly begin your training. Although spiritual talent is much rarer than its martial counterpart, training a mighty priest is much easier than training a knight.
As long as talent and resources are sufficient, rapid progress is natural."
Olrich dropped into his seat, letting a deep sigh bypass his lips.
"Adoptive father, are you concerned about the impending arrival of the Prosperous Wind Third Prince?"
"How not to be? Although the Prosperous Wind Third Prince is a man of honor and virtue, and their imperial family peaceful, the distance between the two countries is humongous. Should she marry him, in this life, I might never see her again.
I only have this one daughter. Even if she must get married, it should be at home!"
Olrich roared and slammed his clenched fist on the mahogany table facing him. Konrad couldn't tell what part of his words was acting, and what part was reality. Was he not aware of Olrich's true intentions, he would have really fallen by this show of the "concerned father."
A pity that he knew the real crux of the issue. With a smile, he stepped closer toward Olrich, who stroked his temple within his fingers.
"Is your majesty still considering ways to avoid the marriage?"
Olrich shook his head.
"That is pointless. What way could there be? And don't say killing or I will slap you. The world knows I tricked the church into believing my daughter was a boy, all for the sake of dodging those arranged marriages.
If the third prince dies on the road, we are the first suspects. Having thoroughly offended the Great Void Empire, once we add the Prosperous Wind Empire, the kingdom alliances will be willing to support them in a "righteous" attack against us.
Individually, we don't fear any one of them. But once the four join hands, the result is unpredictable. Moreover, though weakened, the Northern Barbarian Kingdom still stands.
Once we show signs of weakness, they will knock on our doorsteps. All for what gains? Are we going to kill all the pureblooded Paragon Spirit bachelors of the secular world?"
Another sigh escaped Olrich's lips.
"What would be the consequence of outright rejection?"
"This arrangement stems from the Celestial Church's will. If unable to carry it out, Gerhard will submit a petition to the Celestial Church.
While they don't involve themselves in the matters of the secular world, they still hold the final say. Though his petition cannot reach the high-level, it can grab the attention of a deacon. Which is enough to bring us trouble."
Konrad's eyes widened in surprise.
"The Holy Flame Church's head exarch's petition cannot reach the Celestial Church's high-level?"
"How could it ever? Disciples aside, the Celestial Church is divided into four levels. Celestial Priests, celestial deacons, celestial protectors and celestial elders. Elders are at the Divine Rank, protectors at the Star Taming Stage, and deacons at the Crossed Tribulation Saint Rank.
As for the priests, the weakest are at the Rising Saint Rank. You tell me, in such a dreadful structure, what weight could one Gerhard have? The Celestial Church only needs to dispatch one random protector to turn this country into ashes, and they have hundreds of them.
Hundreds of protestors, thousands of deacons, tens of thousands of priests.
You tell me what weight we can possibly have in their eyes. Therefore, even Gerhard isn't willing to request help. Not only would he lose his face as head exarch, but he couldn't escape punishment.
Unless some new development occurs, this marriage is…unavoidable."
Konrad was startled.
"Their Saints number…in the tens of thousands?"
"Right! Therefore, in this world, besides the Infernal Cult, anyone who attempts to challenge the Celestial Church's will…is courting death."
Olrich could never forget the day his father brought him alongside his brothers to pay their respect to the Celestial Church. The humiliation of spending three days at their doorstep. The awe caused by the legions of tyrannical auras that awaited inside to suppress them in silence. And the gazes that looked at them like inferior monkeys unworthy of dignity.
Olrich would always remember that shame. And even if it took ten thousand years, he would wipe it all off.
"Summon the princess. She should at least become aware of her inevitable wedding."
Olrich's voice spread to the imperial eunuchs guarding the entrance, and they immediately departed to summon Nils. Meanwhile, as he stood by his side, a strange light flashed within Konrad's eyes.
In less than five minutes, the eunuchs returned with Nils who stood between them. They then excused themselves, returning to guard the entrance.
"Father, what can I do for you?"
Olrich's eyes rose to meet Nils' and the lack of vigor he saw within daggered him. These days, in his presence, she was always like this, showing no sign of her past exuberance.
"In a week at worst, the Prosperous Wind Third Prince will arrive to officially request your hand. I've sought all possible solutions but avoiding it is impossible. You will soon get married."
As he spoke, Olrich's tone was mild and helpless.
"All daughters must ultimately get married. That is only natural. Father don't worry. I won't make things difficult for you. When the third prince arrives, we shall go through the betrothal ceremony, and I will follow him back to the Prosperous Wind Empire to become his dead wife."
Nils replied in a polite bow that caused the faces of both Olrich and Konrad to contort into frowns.
As she raised her head, Nils got a glimpse of that sudden change of face. Although Konrad's quickly returned to its usual shape, the frown didn't escape her eyes.
Her father she could understand, but what did any of this have to do with that Konrad? Or did she misunderstand his gaze?