༺ It Will End Even If It’s Long (1) ༻
For the first time, I was defeated by the Minister not through force, but through words.
However, my resentment was directed not at the Minister but at myself. There wasn’t a single word that was wrong in the Minister’s words. How could I refute when he spoke words that were so accurate?
In my heart, I wanted to counterattack rather than passively endure it, shouting back, ‘What should I do, then? What do you know about me?’ However, that would be a clichéd and insubstantial rebellion.
Also, it was impossible. He had explained in detail what I should do, and few knew my situation as well as the Minister did. No matter what I said, it was an argument that was in his favor.
‘The Minister is indeed the Minister.’
Maybe his speech had improved after spending two years as a Minister, or maybe I was so messed up that even this rough nobleman could find plenty to say. Or maybe it was both.
The path back to my office felt longer than usual today. Was it because my heart felt heavy?
“In a few years, will you still push her away? Can you take responsibility if she misses her prime while waiting for you?”
If I didn’t feel anything even after hearing those words, then I wasn’t human.
I would marry someday. If I did, then the only one who came to mind as a partner was Marghetta. But when? When would that someday come?
After Marghetta passed the eligible age? After she gave up her expectations for me? When it was too late to find someone else? When she no longer had any tears to shed?
‘Have I gone crazy?’
There was no way even a damned bastard would be like this. I was being too selfish.
I thought that Marghetta, who showed me excessive kindness, would understand my situation without me having to explain it to her and would wait for me.
As if it were a given.
I sighed while roughly wiping my face. It wouldn’t have been this frustrating if I hadn’t given Mother that excuse about Marghetta being a civil servant.
No, that wasn’t it. Even before that, I already did something unforgivable to her. My thoughts almost ran away in a strange direction.
As I was shaking my head slightly to clear my thoughts, a glimmer of light glowed from my chest. Who was it this time?
‘Who’s calling me now?’
With my current state of mind, I might even interpret ordinary words differently.
Still, I couldn’t ignore it, so I took out my communication crystal.
If they had to initiate direct contact through the communication crystal, then it must be something urgent.
“Prosecutors’ Office’s Executive Manager Carl Krasius speaking.”
— Sir Carl, do you have a moment?
I hesitated for a moment, then confirmed the identity of the caller and quickly composed myself. I hadn’t expected the Invincible Duke to call me at this hour.
“Yes, of course.”
— That’s a relief. Please come over when you can. I have something important to discuss with you.
“Understood. I will be there shortly, Your Grace.”
As soon as I ended the call, I hurriedly made my way to the Imperial Military Headquarters.
The Invincible Duke maintained his usual gentle smile, but there was a subtle stiffness in the corners of his eyes.
It was extremely rare for him to initiate contact like this.
I was only in the Capital for a short time during the recent incident with the Mage Duchess, so he only wanted to see me before I left. But this time, it seemed like something significant had occurred.
I picked up my pace and clutched my chest, which ached both internally and externally due to the punch I had taken earlier.
“How do you like the taste of the fist that crippled the scoundrel who went against the heaven’s mandate?”
The imposing voice of the Minister still echoed in my ears. He was quite spicy.
The Invincible Duke greeted me as usual. I was welcomed with great hospitality; he personally seated me and served tea. But now that I was face-to-face with him instead of through the communication crystal, his expression was decidedly filled with tension.
Something was deeply troubling him. For a Duke and even more so for the Deputy Commander of the Imperial Army to display such emotions, the matter at hand had to be something extraordinary.
‘Is it about the Emperor?’
After all, the Emperor was the only figure who could dominate the Invincible Duke and the person who had recently started to counterbalance his influence.
As I reached that conclusion, I felt parched. Could it be that the Emperor finally made a move? If a conflict erupted between the Emperor and the Invincible Duke, the Empire would be shaken.
“Now, have some tea. It’s a popular blend these days, so it’s quite decent.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
I took the cup he offered, bowing my head slightly as I held it. I pretended to sip the tea while occasionally glancing at the Invincible Duke’s expression.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
It seemed like he was about to bring up what was bothering him, so I set the teacup aside.
If the issue was indeed related to the Emperor, there might not be much I could do. Even my position as the Prosecutors’ Office’s Executive Manager was ultimately based on the Emperor’s authority.
Still, there had to be some way. Perhaps I could find a way to halt the Emperor’s actions or weaken them slightly.
“I heard from the Minister of Finance.”
Why would the Minister be involved in this?
“Marghetta… I know that child well. How can such a young child be so intelligent and charming?”
The following words made me anxious in a different way than earlier.
First of all, it wasn’t an issue related to the Emperor. That was good news. However, the Invincible Duke brought up the same issue that the Minister had scolded me for. This was a tremendous catastrophe.
“I was surprised when I heard that the child’s proposal was rejected, but I understood when I heard that the other party was you.”
The Invincible Duke took a casual sip of his tea and smiled.
“But I can’t accept the news this time.”
“Well… I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need for you to apologize to me.”
I closed my mouth after the Invincible Duke’s words.
And upon seeing my reaction, the Invincible Duke let out a bitter smile and continued speaking.
“I know your circumstances well, Sir Carl. How could I not know?”
That’s right. The Invincible Duke was also well aware of this matter. During the Great War, I served under the Invincible Duke in the Prosectuors’ Office’s Division 4, and it was with his assistance that I could falsify Hecate’s signature.
However, I couldn’t bring myself to speak about it so openly even when he said that he understood my situation. Even though he knew it, my behavior this time was so vile that he called me like this.
“Sir Carl, I know that your wounds run deep. But I held back because I thought you could get up on your own, and that trying to fix you might only break you further. And I believe that the Minister of Finance felt the same way.”
“I apologize for disappointing you.”
“Well, you don’t need to apologize to me.”
Of course, the first person I had to apologize to was Marghetta. But that didn’t mean that I offended the others any less.
“Sir Carl, have you made any efforts all this time?”
I couldn’t answer his incomprehensible question. What effort was he talking about?
“In my opinion, Sir Carl, it seems like you haven’t made any effort to move on from the past.”
It was a heavy blow to the chest, but I couldn’t refute the words of the Invincible Duke. Moreover, it came right after the fact-based violence I received from the Minister, and it made me feel like an inept child.
When I cast my gaze downward in silence, I heard the Invincible Duke sigh. I didn’t dare to look at him.
“It would’ve been better if you could move on alone, but it seems like you weren’t able to.”
“In that case, you should share it with someone. What difference will your efforts make if you carry a problem you can’t solve by yourself all alone?”
I knew how heavy the burden was because it was impossible to handle it alone. I didn’t want to pass on that weight to someone else. What crime had that person committed to bear such a burden?
Even though it was impossible now, I believed that I could handle it alone someday. I thought that was the right way.
“By the way, wasn’t it when you had just become the Executive Manager and when the Managers were still inexperienced?”
He suddenly changed the subject, but I didn’t feel relieved.
“At that time, you said something like this to me. You found it frustrating that the Managers were complaining alone when the department was designed for working together on tasks that others couldn’t handle.”
“Yes, I said that.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
I felt the premonition of an attack as he turned the conversation that way.
However, the analogy felt somewhat unfair. A department was originally a unit designed to work together, but personal matters were, quite literally, personal.
“It seems like you consider that matter and this one to be different.”
“Oh, no, that’s not it.”
I was taken aback by his words, which seemed as if he could read my thoughts. Did it all show on my face?
But regardless of my embarrassment, the Invincible Duke continued without hesitation.
“This is no different. If you can’t solve it alone, then share it with others. The person who’s willing to confide in you wouldn’t mind sharing your burden.”
“If you don’t believe my words, then look at me. Am I not your witness?”
“Your Grace, that’s—”
I opened my mouth since the conversation seemed to be heading in an unfavorable direction, but the Invincible Duke raised his hand to stop me.
“I originally had three children. Besides the child who would inherit my title and the child who would become the Crown Princess, there was one more.”
I felt ashamed. The person who had saved me was bringing up his own pain in order to persuade me.
“My youngest child was a son. He passed away before his father, but he would have been about your age if he had survived.”
The Invincible Duke then picked up his teacup with slightly trembling hands. No matter how much he had opened up compared to before, the pain of losing a child was something no one mentioned lightly.
“I first mentioned this to you about three years ago.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“How did you feel at that time, Sir Carl? Did you resent me for suddenly burdening you with such a heavy topic? Were you wondering why I was talking about something so unnecessary? Or were you simply not interested at all?”
“No… I wasn’t, Your Grace.”
“In that case, it’s simple.”
The Invincible Duke nodded satisfactorily at my response. His hands were still trembling, but his eyes remained calm.
“Sir Carl, you already knew the answer yourself. You’re just turning a blind eye to it.”
I remained silent for a while, my head lowered.
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