༺ It Will End Even If It’s Long (2) ༻
The undefeated Invincible Duke possessed remarkable strategic insight. He wasn’t content with just defeating me, who was KO’ed; he delivered the final blow.
But how could I have resisted? It was my fault for behaving so recklessly that the Invincible Duke had to intervene.
“I was really surprised when I first saw you, Sir Carl. You didn’t look like him, but there was a strange resemblance. It must’ve been because you had the same air about you.”
He added with a laugh that he might have adopted me as his son if we looked more alike, making it harder for me to raise my head.
“That’s why I kept watching you. You are you, and that child is my child, but I kept seeing him in you. That was unfair to both you and him.”
During the Great War, the Invincible Duke showed unusual interest in a mere team manager he had just met. Thanks to that, the Prosecutor’s Office’s 4th Division, which wasn’t under the Imperial Army but the Ministry of Finance, could establish its position smoothly.
Hearing the reason behind it was heartbreaking. He must have felt torn inside for seeing me as his deceased son, yet not being able to turn away because of the resemblance. He also offered me various kinds of support. The man who bore the Empire’s fate couldn’t find peace even within himself.
“Over time, I realized my mistake. I had trapped you in my prejudice of resemblance and failed to see the real you. I couldn’t let go of the past.”
I heard this three years ago. The Invincible Duke was shackled by two burdens. It was the unforgettable yet necessary parting with his son, and the need to fully acknowledge someone else who was completely different.
“So, I finally told you. Keeping it to myself seemed pointless. It wasn’t good for you, the child, or me.”
That was the day I received a sudden call from an unexpected superior and an unexpected confession of the past. Yet, the Invincible Duke’s expression was brighter than ever on that day. He wasn’t smiling, but he seemed more radiant than ever before.
What did he say again back then? Ah. It was like finally taking off a blindfold that had been covering his eyes, and only then was he able to see the world as it truly was.
“I’ve never been prouder of any decision I made than the one I made that day. Thanks to it, I gained a great man as a friend.”
“Those words are too generous.”
I bowed my head even lower, and the Invincible Duke gently lifted my head while laughing. Although it was meant kindly, it felt strange, like a warrior seizing their enemy’s head.
He continued speaking.
“It took a long time to let go of that child and talk to you about it. What I deemed impossible to overcome was eventually resolved with time.”
“That’s a relief.”
The Invincible Duke nodded and quietly gripped his teacup.
“It’s all about time. Perhaps, with more time, you will also be alright.”
I almost nodded absentmindedly at those words, but I held myself back. Agreeing in such a situation would be stupid of me.
“But it’s obvious that you’ll struggle during that time. How can I just stand by and watch that? It’s already been two years.”
The Minister and the Invincible Duke trusted me and let me be for those two years. But today, they concluded that it would be problematic to leave me alone any longer.
“I’ve experienced your pain, Sir Carl. I know how to resolve it.”
He patted my shoulder as if to acknowledge the hardships I had been through.
“Why should you go through the same lengthy process? It’s the role of someone older like me to guide the younger ones and prevent them from wasting time.”
I bit my lip, speechless.
I understand your pain because I endured it myself. You don’t need to suffer for years like I did. That was what the Invincible Duke was saying.
“If you can’t handle it alone, talk to someone. It took me five years to find that solution. Two years should be enough for you, Sir Carl.”
“…Maybe it was more than enough.”
“It’s even worse because you’re aware of it. Then, why did you do it?”
The Invincible Duke’s laughter filled the office.
After sending Sir Carl away, I sat back down. His action of looking back several times as he left was so comical that it was hard to keep myself from laughing.
‘He’s still so young.’
He was just over twenty, so he was young indeed. He always seemed rigid, pressured by the responsibilities of the Prosecutors’ Office’s Executive Manager, so it was satisfying to see him act his age for once.
It was a pity, though. He used to be a joyful and lighthearted child, almost like a noble from the North.
“Please, Your Grace.”
“Please, I beg of you. I’ll take the responsibility, so please…”
He changed after Hecate left.
From my perspective, it was like a lightning bolt out of the blue. Although five had fallen, Sir Carl and Hecate had survived.
Even while bedridden from injuries inflicted by a rebel, Sir Carl invited me to his wedding, asking me to brighten the occasion. So I felt relieved, thinking that at least these two had survived.
But upon returning to the Capital, only Carl remained, his head bowed while begging.
‘Enen is being too harsh.’
He was struck by the most terrible disaster at what should have been his happiest moment. It must have felt like falling from heaven into an abyss.
Back then, I could only send Sir Carl away with words telling him not to worry, which now seemed ironic. Hecate was already dead. What comfort was there in merely overlooking the location of her grave?
‘I should have reached out to him at that moment.’
I trusted him to handle things on his own, fearing that meddling would only deepen his wounds.
In hindsight, it was a foolish thought. What I called trust was actually neglect.
How could a nineteen-year-old bear the grief of losing the woman he was about to marry and the tragedy of having to falsify her last moments? He might’ve been legally an adult, but at nineteen, he was essentially just a student.
‘It’s the same with all the adults around.’
Neither I nor the Minister of Finance were adept at caring for others. Instead, I often met with Sir Carl over work issues, amidst succession disputes and internal purges.
Sipping my cold tea, I sighed. Expecting him to just manage on his own after neglecting him was conscienceless of me.
I hope he can start moving in the right direction from now on.
The Invincible Duke pushed me out as soon as the conversation ended, sending me back to the mansion.
“Resolve this while your emotions are still fresh. Talk to anyone—Marghetta, your family, a subordinate, a servant, or someone indebted to you or whom you’ve advised.”
“Your Grace, isn’t this too sudden?”
“Do young people these days think that waiting for two years is too sudden?”
Each of his words felt like a sharp dagger.
With heavy steps, I headed towards the mansion. The Minister must have been informed by the Invincible Duke as I received a call from him on my way back.
“If you come back to the office, I’ll consider you married to your work and report it directly to His Highness the Crown Prince.”
That was all he said before hanging up. That kind of statement alone would quickly kill off any intentions of going back, not that I had any to begin with.
And it’s been a while since I left work while the sun was still high. However, this early clock-out wasn’t exactly a good thing.
I felt utterly lost. The Minister and the Invincible Duke had offered me advice, and it seemed right to follow it. But when it came to speaking up, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. It’s impressive how the Invincible Duke confided in me. How did he even manage it?
I had to speak to Marghetta about everything I’d been holding back. I even vowed to join the 2nd Prince if I didn’t tell her today.
At the same time, imagining Marghetta’s reaction made me hesitate again. Would she be angry because I didn’t tell her? Would she cry, wondering how I could bear it alone? Would she thank me for finally telling her, or just embrace me?
The more I contemplated the possibilities, the more my hesitation grew. Was I always this indecisive?
‘I really am a child.’
I was indeed a child, and the fifty-something Minister was right.
Experience was invaluable.
I’m doomed. At this rate, I might end up in a forced meeting with the 2nd Prince.
‘I didn’t realize my mansion was this close.’
I arrived at the mansion, which felt unusually close today. This was driving me crazy.
I lingered at the main gate, sighing. If I entered without the courage to speak and encountered Marghetta, I’d likely say nothing, and things would just continue as usual.
That couldn’t happen. The situation was already frustrating with everything that had been building up. If I delay any further—
Turning around, I saw Louise holding something in her arms. Did she go outside?
As if reading my thoughts, Louise extended the ingredients she was holding and spoke.
“I thought I’d make something for a change. I bought some ingredients.”
They were indeed mostly cooking ingredients.
“There should be enough of the usual stuff in the kitchen.”
“Well, I use some unique ingredients.”
That was true. Louise’s ingredients in the pastry club were anything but ordinary. Smiling at her, I nodded, and then a thought struck me.
Courage. It was the courage to open up to others.
Louise, who had known me for only a semester, found the courage to share her past with me.
“Louise, do you have a moment?”
Maybe consulting someone who had the courage to share their problems first would help me a bit?
To put it simply, I was desperate for any lifeline.
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