༺ What a Long Vacation (5) ༻
Reuniting with the Minister was the worst.
The scene I had witnessed a few months ago replayed before my eyes. Where else would you find a Minister who would be exercising during work hours?
I hesitated to enter even after opening the door. The Minister’s office was hotter than the already warm summer day due to his exercise, and it felt more like a sauna than an office. The Finance Ministry’s building was a mess.
When I stayed by the door, the Minister jerked his chin at me with a look that said, ‘What are you doing?’ Yeah, shit, I’m going in.
“If you’re switching to the military, please take me with you.”
“Did you get heatstroke? What are you talking about?”
I spoke up because his appearance was more fitting for an Imperial Commander than a Finance Minister, but I was scolded immediately.
Right, it was too late to switch to the military now. I knew it, but I still tried my luck. Sometimes you just have to try even when you know it’s not possible.
The Minister frowned at my comment and threw the dumbbells towards a noticeably dented area of the floor. Those weren’t there last time. How much had he been throwing them?
‘Is the floor below just a storage area?’
Luckily, it seemed like no one suffered from the noise the Minister made. Well, who would complain when the perpetrator was the Minister himself?
As I stared blankly at the dumbbells, the Minister finally spoke, holding his shirt.
“There’s nothing special. It was business as usual.”
I replied casually to his abrupt question. He would understand the meaning, anyway.
He nodded at my response, and then his expression turned stern again.
“The retirement of a man younger than me…”
The escapade of the previous Count Horfeld seemed to have struck a chord with many civil servants.
Well, it made sense. Count Horfeld was only in his 40s, and it must have been infuriating for the Minister, who was still rolling around in his 50s.
“I do envy him. Retiring at that age isn’t easy.”
Retiring in my 40s? That would be impossible. I’d be lucky if I could retire before I died.
The more I thought about it, the more curious I became. How did he manage to retire, especially since he wasn’t just a sideline but a significant figure? Did he have something on the Emperor?
‘Such good things should be shared.’
It would be selfish of him if he was planning to keep it to himself.
“I should retire soon, too. Then, I can make you the Minister.”
“Don’t even joke about such terrible things.”
I cursed reflexively at his sudden provocation. Who would want to ruin their life by becoming the Minister?
The job of an Executive Manager was already hard enough, but I would really die if I became the Minister of Finance. I was never cut out for administrative work to begin with.
However, the Minister just laughed at my reaction.
‘What a jerk.’
If only his personality was half as good as his abilities.
The report quickly ended. The incident, despite its importance, ended too quietly.
Then, the Minister changed the subject.
“By the way, I heard you visited your territory.”
“Yes. I just returned today.”
“What did Count Tailglehen say?”
“He doesn’t really care about other people, so he didn’t say much.”
Despite another Count’s retirement, his response was surprisingly unremarkable. I had expected him to call on me at least once since I was at the mansion, but there was really no reaction.
Oh, wasn’t that the question?
I felt a bit awkward at the Minister’s firm tone. I assumed he was talking about Count Horfeld, but I was wrong.
“If you were suddenly called to your territory, there must have been a reason, especially if they included those guests.”
“I was called by Mother. It had nothing to do with the Patriarch.”
At those words, the Minister’s hands stopped organizing his reports.
He must have thought that the Patriarch had called me for work-related issues. He wouldn’t have expected a summons from my mother. After all, even I was surprised when I received her invitation.
“Perhaps she was worried about her unmarried eldest son.”
I lightly replied to ease the awkward tension as the large Minister fidgeted uncomfortably. Well, he knew that Mother and I didn’t have a close relationship. He must’ve been worried if he had touched a sensitive issue.
“I can imagine how frustrated she must have been.”
The Minister immediately seized the opportunity as soon as the mood lightened, and I regretted my words.
“Exactly. She even mentioned an engagement.”
He looked puzzled at the strange topic, so I nodded.
I had braced myself for some pressure about marriage when I went there. However, I didn’t expect to be put on the spot with Marghetta sitting right next to me, let alone having an engagement mentioned at the end.
If I hadn’t thought of an excuse quickly, I might have actually ended up engaged, one with no date set for the wedding.
“She suggested that I get engaged to Lady Marghetta, but what’s the point of me getting engaged right now? That’s why I postponed it for the time being.”
After a brief explanation, the Minister sighed and gestured.
“Come here for a moment.”
“What is it? Just say it from there. My ears work just fine.”
“Come here, I said.”
I approached him reluctantly since he insisted, only to feel something jab at my chest.
“How do you like the taste of the fist that crippled the scoundrel who went against the heaven’s mandate?”
He then added some incomprehensible bullshit. Shit, had this old man finally lost his mind?
The surprise attack nearly knocked me out. Well, it had been almost two years since I last took a hit from him.
What should I do with this idiot?
‘Even saying that he’s an idiot is putting it too kindly.’
If there were a harsher term, I’d gladly use it. Watching him squirm and hold his chest, I barely held back a sigh.
I knew he had been carrying a deep wound in his heart since that day, a pain difficult to shake off.
How could I not understand? Even I, who was just her superior, found it overwhelming. Imagine how it must have been for him, who was much closer to her.
‘I thought leaving him alone was the best medicine.’
It turned out to be poison. If I had intervened actively, maybe this twisted situation wouldn’t have happened.
“You can’t even feel the punch since you’re already a wreck, huh?”
“What are you talking about? You suddenly hit me!”
I almost raised my fist again at his loud protest, but I held back. This brat wasn’t someone who was going to be fixed with brute force.
It was late, but now was the time to administer the medicine. Besides, an innocent lady had already become a victim.
But since it’s too late, I’ll have to make it stronger.
“Calling you an idiot wouldn’t be enough given how you’re playing with people. Should I call you the 2nd Prince instead?”
His eyes flashed at that comment. As expected, calling him the 2nd Prince was effective.
“Come to think of it, even the 2nd Prince didn’t toy with people’s affections like you.”
There wasn’t anyone crazy enough to like the 2nd Prince, so I wasn’t wrong.
“Pushing the lady away like that? Are you out of your mind?”
“Isn’t it more rude to accept when I’m not ready?”
I sighed at his retort. He still didn’t get it.
Yes, it was rude. It was a great insult to entertain another’s affections while your heart harbored someone else.
That was why I said nothing when he refused the lady’s proposal a year ago. It pained me that he hadn’t gotten over Hecate yet, but his actions weren’t wrong.
But now? His words suggested a postponement rather than a firm refusal. It was an indecisive situation in which he neither accepted nor rejected her love. That was even worse.
“Did you explain to the lady why you can’t marry someone else? Did you tell her about your reasons?”
If he had told the lady about Hecate, it would have been understandable. If she still chose to wait, no one else had the right to be upset.
Of course, I doubted he had told the lady, considering how he had bottled up these feelings for two years. Still, I asked just in case.
“How can I tell her that?”
I knew it, this punk.
He quietly avoided my gaze, making me sigh again.
“You’re still a child despite your age.”
Maybe that was to be expected. He joined the war at seventeen and faced that incident at nineteen years old. What could change in just two years?
He was the youngest back then and still was. I treated him too much like an adult, but he’s indeed still a child.
Damn it, I thought he could handle himself.
“If you can’t accept her, then don’t give her any hope. From the lady’s perspective, it’s just false hope.”
Realizing that he was just a kid, my tone softened slightly. It was partly my fault for leaving him alone.
“Yes, the lady is only eighteen, and she’s not in a hurry to marry. But what about later?”
“In a few years, will you still push her away? Can you take responsibility if she misses her prime while waiting for you?”
He fell silent at those words. He probably wasn’t sure himself.
The lady might be heartbroken for a while if he refused outright, but at least she would have the chance to find someone else. But what was the point in giving her hope and wasting her time?
I understand why he’s behaving this way. He must be scared. He was afraid of getting closer only to have her leave like Hecate, or pushing her away and losing her forever.
That was exactly the kind of worry a child would have.
I continued speaking, but I wasn’t sure if it had any effect. It was just an impromptu lecture, so I just said whatever came to mind.
It was an unplanned sermon. I never expected things to be this bad.
Holding my throbbing head, I sighed for the hundredth time. If he had shown any progress in moving on from the past, I would have continued to trust him, but how could I remain silent after seeing no change at all?
Of course, it was none of my business. A subordinate’s well-being and a lady I barely knew getting hurt? Strictly speaking, it was none of my concern.
But how could I ignore it? The subordinate in question was that bastard, and I couldn’t let him go astray and end up joining those people.
‘They were young and foolish.’
Every year, I went to the graves of the brats I treated as my children, the brats who dared to die before me. The despair I felt with six was already overwhelming, and now there was going to be one more? The mere thought was unbearable.
After much contemplation, I reached for the communication crystal. The situation had worsened after two years of neglect, and I couldn’t delay any further.
‘I didn’t want to resort to this method.’
But its effectiveness was certain.
With that resolve, I contacted someone I knew would do the trick.
— Minister of Finance?
Fortunately, the connection was successful.
— It’s been a while. It’s a shame that we couldn’t see each other even when we were both in the capital.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t even been able to say hello.”
— I understand that the Ministry of Finance is busy, so don’t worry too much about it.
I hesitated for a moment at his light laughter. It was the first time I contacted him after a long while, and the reason wasn’t particularly pleasant.
But it had to be done. He was the only one I could trust.
“Deputy Commander, I have something to discuss with you.”
Let’s see if you can withstand what he has to say.
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