< — Meeting People — > (4)
Roy swallowed hard. His eyes were clouded with despair. With a frozen expression like that of an expressionless doll, Roy turned and began to walk to his Lord. Roy’s flexible body moved robotically as if sound would come from his joints. He walked until he was two steps away from his Lord and knelt on the spot.
A hush fell over the crowd at the unbelievable sight. Most of the nobles in this place had heard of Duke Taran’s strength but they had not actually witnessed it. But they had witnessed Roy’s madness quite a lot. There were also many who had watched Roy’s duels. The man’s personality was insane but they all acknowledged that his skill was superior. One couldn’t help but trust what they saw with their own eyes.
Without realizing it, people began to think that maybe Roy Krotin’s skills were better than the Duke of Taran’s. They thought that even if Duke was his master, he would have a hard time taking the reins of Roy who ran around wild, like a crazy horse. However they realized they got it completely wrong.
For a moment there, people had forgotten. The Duke of Taran was the knight called the War’s Black Lion. The greatness of his skill in combat was acknowledge even more in enemy countries (1). In front of him, the bold ‘Mad Dog’ was like a frightened puppy. The weak-hearted women grew sympathetic, forgetting that they were just accusing Roy of being barbaric.
“In the time I haven’t seen you, you’ve learnt terrible jokes.” (Hugo)
It was a monotonous voice.
Roy leapt to his feet. He seemed like a new recruit that was full of spirit.
‘I’m going to get hit.’
Roy had a premonition. Roy’s premonitions were never wrong, even more so when it was a bad one. It was too scary when his master was angry. The aftereffects from one blow in the stomach would last at least a week. If it were a regular person, their internal organs would burst and they would die instantly. Even if it was himself, he wouldn’t be able to eat properly for a week and would have bloody stool. Roy lowered his gaze, waiting for his punishment but when no punishment arrived, he quietly lifted his head.
There was a familiar face beside his Lord. It was the Duchess. In the meantime, Roy was thinking, ‘There is something strange about a blue shawl on a pink dress.’
Lucia broke through the gathered crowd and went up to Hugo. She did not see Roy at the peak of his mischief and did not notice the strange atmosphere of the crowd. He was her destination and the only one in her eyes so she didn’t have time to look around.
When she looked into his eyes, the leftover prickly feeling from meeting those unpleasant people melted away into nothingness. Because she was happy, a laugh escaped her mouth. He immediately extend his arm and wrapped it securely around her waist.
It was thereafter that Lucia noticed Roy standing there.
“Sir. Krotin. It has been a while.”
Lucia felt that Roy was looking at her with a somewhat spirit-less gaze so she spoke carefully.
“Umm…the party is fun, isn’t it?”
It was perfunctory greeting.
‘Kuk.’ someone burst into laughter. The culprit was the King. Kwiz guffawed and broke into fits of laughter. People looked at the King roaring with laughter and one by one, they began to laugh too. Soon, the party venue was filled with the sound of loud laughter. Lucia was confused; she didn’t know why they were laughing.
‘Why are they laughing when I was just greeting him? Did I make a mistake?’
Hugo wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her flustered figure into his bosom. He frowned at Roy who was standing funny and gave him a look signaling: Go back immediately and behave yourself.
Roy understood the unspoken command and quickly made himself scarce. Knowing his master’s nature, he wouldn’t call him back later to punish him for a previous situation.
‘I will not forget this debt, Milady.’
Roy praised Lucia to the skies. She was his life-saver. Roy was quickly making his way out of the party venue in jubilation then suddenly, he stopped. He turned to look at the woman he had just passed by. The woman stood alone at the entrance of the party hall where there were very few people. Her face was familiar but he couldn’t really remember where he had seen her before.
‘She gives off a bad smell.’
The women had a dreary aura around her, contrasting the merry atmosphere of the party and her gaze was fixed somewhere. There were many people gathered where she was looking at so it was impossible to tell who exactly she was looking at. Of all things, the ducal couple was among these people. For some reason, Roy had a bad feeling. He took a very close look at the woman then he turned away.
The middle-aged man who fainted was carried away somewhere by the servants. No one paid attention to the poor middle-aged man. People gathered around the pillar where the knife that the Duke of Taran threw was embedded and whispered amongst themselves. Seeing the knife embedded deep in the stone pillar with only the handle left, people looked on with awe and fear. Someone ‘generously’ tried to pull out the knife but it did not budge.
Later on, the construction expert that was called advised that the pillars could collapse if the knife was carelessly touched. Eventually, the knife was left alone, unremoved. In the future, it even became a specialty that foreign envoys visited to see at least once.
* * *
As the afternoon passed and it drew closer to evening, the people in the banquet hall increased. Once the day got completely dark, the crowd would move to the Outer Palace which was being prepared and the ball would begin.
After greeting, talking and smiling with people for half a day, Lucia felt like her facial muscles were in spasms. She couldn’t even remember who she had greeted. Because she had been standing continuously, her legs were sore and she wanted to collapse into a soft sofa and rub her legs.
Lucia’s social debut today was successful. People were practically lining up to greet Lucia. The King and Queen who should have been the protagonist of today, could only tolerate the attention which was focused on the Ducal Taran couple.
Lucia was about to give her habitual reply of, “I’m fine” but she changed her answer to, “I’m a little tired.” She wanted to complain to him that it was hard.
“Shall we go back?”
For the words, ‘I’m tired’ to come out of her mouth which had ‘I’m okay’ sewn on it, she must really be having a hard time. Hugo grabbed her shoulders and pulled her into his chest. Leaning on him would help her reduce the weight on her legs a little. She was definitely very tired. She was usually uncomfortable with physical contact in public yet now she obediently leaned into his arms.
“But the ball hasn’t even started yet…”
“It’s fine, you’ve already stayed in the banquet hall for this long. It is hard for everyone to attend both events. In any case, I planned to just show my face in the ball and then go. We have tomorrow too.”
“Can we really go home?”
Hugo smiled. The word, ‘home’ warmed up his heart.
While the ducal couple who were in their own world, people hovered in their vicinity but could not get close.
“…This is not a very rare sight, is it?”
No matter how many time Kwiz saw it, it was still fascinating. It was the Duke of Taran of all people! Expressing his affection in public with no hesitation! Is this an omen?!
Beth laughed as she listened to her husband’s mumbling.
“My Queen, you already knew so why didn’t you give me a hint?”
“Because I thought it would be interesting. This small thing can serve as a diversion for Your Majesty, can it not?”
Kwiz looked at Beth who was full of smiles and gave a small sigh. His wife was gradually becoming more tough and indifferent as she raised their three sons. These days, when he visited the back palace, he was secretly watched by the Queen. He also had three sons that would flip and pounce on him if he wronged their mother. If he didn’t want to be bullied in his old age, he had to build up his score from now on.
“What does my Queen think? Is Taran Gong being authentic, or acting out a play?”
“Is that important?”
The Queen was right. It was not important. The fact that the Duke of Taran expressed his affection for his wife in an official event was a silent warning to everyone: I am behind this woman so don’t try any nonsense. Of course, as the Lady of the Ducal House of Taran, she was in a position that no one could ignore. However it was on a different level when the Duke proclaimed himself as her strong shield.
“The Duchess will be quite busy.”
Everyone who came here knew that the shortcut to attacking the Duke of Taran was the Duchess. Many people were already looking at the Duchess with blazing eyes.
“But, what is Katherine doing that she doesn’t even show her face?”
“She hates this sort of event. Don’t you know? I’m sure she’ll come out for the evening ball.”
Kwiz clicked his tongue when he remembered his sister who always made him worry about when she would mature. They were both his sisters but why were they so different? Because they had different mothers? It was a thought he had had before but here he was, having it again. He had to find a suitable bridegroom for his sister but the problem was, there was no one suitable.
1. His fighting prowess, how good he is in battle, etc.