Loud gasps were unilaterally heard from all three Empresses, shock evident on their faces, even the first wife.
They looked at the Emperor, before facing Ezra with scrutinizing gazes of envy.
But the boy himself was completely silent with multiple thoughts going through his mind.
You couldn't blame him, the offer was just that good.
The treasury the Emperor mentioned was like the bank of the entire Empire and much more.
Royal heirlooms from generations, mana techniques and artifacts up to platinum rank, platinum and gold coins of an unimaginable amount, mana and magic weapons of different types, all were kept there.
It was in and of itself a literal goldmine, and while Ezra's head was busy calculating how to get the best out of such an opportunity, the Emperor's voice rang out once more.
"You are allowed to take a single mana technique of your liking, as for what that is, your combat instructor will teach you"
Ezra raised his head and asked…
The Emperor was almost laughing once again. His son didn't think about the treasures or techniques, but the word "Combat instructor". He was too much like his younger self, and this was why he was willing to give him such an opportunity.
"Yes, I forgot to mention, you are going to start training that body of yours from next week" he said before a baffling reply came.
"Can it be shortened to three days later?"
"Ha-ha, of course, and I wasn't done talking" the Emperor said before pausing to build up tension, and it worked.
The empresses were already thinking of ways to make sure Ezra failed by stagnating his growth or killing him whenever the opportunity showed itself, while also marking out powerful nobles they would call to pressure the Emperor into giving their own son's such treatment, but their thoughts came to a standstill hearing the emperor's last words.
The emperor, who didn't even spare them a single glance then continued.
"You have the ability to ask for one thing to be given to you, while I hold the right to determine whether or not such a thing shall be granted" he paused again, before turning towards his three wives and saying…
"All my sons shall have the same treatment of picking anything in the treasury as well as a suitable mana technique when they chose their path, whatever it may be"
Only then did the tumbling hearts of the three empresses calm down to a suitable level, but the emperor had already ignored them and was awaiting Ezra's answer to his third gift.
The boy in question had his thoughts become chaotic as it was just too much, but managed to calm down, before rationally dissecting the situation and came to two conclusions.
'It's a test as well as a trap'
Yes, this was the meaning of this whole scenario. Ezra had seen from all his conversations so far that his father was always testing him, throwing different hurdles to overcome.
He almost failed when he was picking his path, but luckily pulled through by giving an answer that wasn't an answer.
Now he was given three so-called gifts that would spike the greed of man, making it hard to think, but what he knew was…
'Father is ruthless in his evaluations'
Yes, that was it, his fathers was testing him relentlessly to know the limit of his insights or short-sightedness. One wrong answer could spoil the image he had built up till now.
'If so…then I'll just use the same trick' Ezra firmed himself and stood up to face his father with a confident gait, before answering…
"I thank the emperor for his offer, but I have to say that all three gifts are life-changing and with immeasurable importance"
"Hmm" the emperor only nodded as a sign for him to continue.
"And so, such life-changing matters are to be dealt with patience and knowledge, with this, I ask for the emperor's permission to postpone the day I collect each gift" Ezra replied, and a booming laughter came right after.
"Hahaha, of course you do, very greedy, I see"
"Aren't we all? The weak can only make the best of every opportunity after all"
"Hmm" the emperor nodded, neither affirming nor denying the statement, before he spoke…
"You have two, no, three months to select or decide on your three gifts, meet the royal advisor for the third gift, and if you're still hesitant after that, the three gifts will be forfeited" the Emperor placed down his verdict before finally going out of the dining hall.
"Thank you, father"
"Don't thank me, it is the fruit of your efforts and your worth that won you those gifts, and if you want more…well, for one, try not to disappoint me, and do not forget that I can take those gifts within the next one and a half year if I see fit. So, I'll say it again, try not to disappoint me, for I'll be looking forward to your progress these next few months. Surprise me well enough, and I might surprise you"
"I will do my- no, I will do as much as is needed to be done to avoid becoming a disappointment" Ezra said with a small pause.
"Farewell, father" but he never got an answer as the Emperor walked out like he hadn't heard, but had someone looked closely, they would have seen a thick smile on the Emperor's face.
As soon as the Emperor left, the wives and children looked at each other. This dinner had become so eventful that the empresses forgot their appetite, and so, without saying a word, each empress hastily stood up, took her son's hands, before moving out of the hall to their respective rooms.
Schemes and plots going through their minds as to make use of any means necessary to slow down Ezra's growth.
For the first five years, the empresses were looking at him as a slightly talented boy who experienced a mental growth spurt. Now, they had designated him a threat to their plans going forward, and they would have to do something about him.
He couldn't be allowed to develop freely, else their sons would be in serious danger by the time he grew up.
And so, they set out, each using her own means to create different schemes, as well as brush up their sons, because with such an anomaly as youngest, their son's future was now at stake, so they would have to mature faster in hopes of not allowing the formation of an insurmountable gap in levels of power.
As for the mother of the child being schemed against…
She was moving hastily to her room while pulling Ezra by his arm.
The door was opened, then closed with force.
Ezra looked at his mother's face, only to see a face full of wrath and worry.
It seemed she wanted to say something, but didn't know where to begin.
Seeing his mother in such a state, Ezra pulled her close and embraced her, well, just her hips because he was short.
"You! You! What do you think you're doing? Do you have any idea what you have gotten yourself into? Those witches already hate you, but now you gave them a reason to kill you? Why did you do it? Answer me!"
She spoke in an aggrieved tone, as tears came out from her eyes towards the end of her sentence.
"I don't have backer's like they do, I only have one person in all of nobility, I-I"
Her voice quivered but she continued on.
"I don't know if I can protect you from 'them', but I don't want to lose you, like I lost everyone else"
She said with her eyes red from tears, but when she looked at her son with her face plunged in the depths of despair…she found her son smiling.
Smiling, as he used his finger to wipe away her tears. He made her sit beside him on the bed, before he began to talk…
"Mom, you know what is not fair?"
His question perplexed her, but she answered no less.
"Well, everything. Different demarcations that the common man is ruled by, talent, skill, wealth and so on, but what it mostly not fair is that my mother doesn't believe in me"
"You want to protect me with every fiber of your being. Why don't you let me do the same? You want to avoid the pain of losing me at any cost. Why do you think I want anything different?"
"But mother, do you really think this is the best way we can live?"
"Running from fear of our enemies every time, avoiding their gazes, taking their insults and attacks when we did nothing to deserve it?"
"No, we can't keep living like this, because this isn't living, we're only surviving day after day"
"Being patient is a virtue, but can only be a virtue when used in moderation"
"Mom, we're done being patient, scared and hopeless"
"It's time to take the fight to them. So tell me mom, are we pushovers that'll allow any street rat to walk over us?"
"I can't hear you?"
"What did you say?"
All her inner fury came out as she screamed till she was satisfied.
"Are we country bumpkins that'll let some dirty old hags turn us down?"
"So, mom, we can't be afraid of tomorrow, or we will never really live, we need to embrace it"
"Em-Embrace it?" she asked bewildered. She never had someone to teach her such things because of her background as a maid.
"Yes mom, embrace the future, as it takes us through lawns and thorns, but even then, there is only one thing that can grant our survival"
"Which is?" his mom asked, annoyed at the suspense.
"Strength, mom, overwhelming strength"
"Only with more than enough personal strength will we be able to survive in this world of hyenas"
"Personal strength, financial strength, and an outstanding reputation"
"These three things are the only things that can guarantee our survival in the days to come"
"Yet I know it won't be easy, not at all, but with enough talent, effort and a little luck, I shall gain these three things and protect you. And this…this is just the beginning"
"We shall pay back our pain twofold when the time comes, so I need you to-mmm" before Ezra could say the last word, he found his mother covering his mouth with her hand, her tears had dried, and her beaming smile back in its place, before she started speaking…
"I trust you Ezra. I always did and still do, but I guess even I forget how special a boy you are. Would you forgive your mother for acting so embarrassing and uncultured?"
"Mmmm" Ezra grunted while nodding his head.
"Oh, sorry about that" she said, quickly releasing his mouth.
Yet, he hugged her again with his head on her stomach before saying…
"Of course I do mom, after all, it's your job to worry about me"
"Hmm, is that so? I didn't know"
"Mom, we'll survive this coming storm, I promise you"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever you say"
He detached the hug before taking a serious demeanor which caused his mother to laugh.
"So, this is what we'll need to do…"
And so Ezra began to break down his plans to his mother.
This is the beginning of Ezra's journey, as for where it would lead to? We can only read to find out.
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