< — I love you — > (4)
These days, Kwiz was troubled over money issues. Before he became king, he didn’t know that money was such a big issue. The places that needed money were overflowing while the amount of money available for use was limited.
“Gong. What is a good way to make money?”
“Since when did you become a merchant?”
No matter how much Kwiz whined, Hugo had no advice to give regarding economics. Hugo was not an economist. He didn’t know much about making money. It was just that he had many of such experts under him. The only criteria Hugo used for hiring people, was ability.
He didn’t care about their status and he compensated them as much as their ability were worth. There were many capable and talented commoners that worked under Hugo. Hugo distinguished people only by their position and capability. It wasn’t because he held skepticism or doubt towards the social status system. To him, both high-born and low-born were all the same in that they both died when their head was cut off. The King was not born with an extra life. To Hugo, as long as they weren’t rude to him, people were people anyways.
“This king doesn’t know either if he became a merchant or a king.”
“If the amount of money being earned is unsatisfactory, then just cut down on the things that are using it.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m cutting down on the palace budget. That of the previous king.”
As he was saying this, Kwiz inwardly ground his teeth. That damned old man! Now, he couldn’t even say that aloud. Kwiz had already lost four times in a row in the bet with his adjutant. His stress had increased as the number of words he couldn’t use increased.
“I mean, his budget was on quite the huge scale.”
The previous king was a big spender. He was greedy for wealth, but he was more interested in spending than collecting. Interestingly, he liked to give prizes to his subordinates for one reason or the other, and when he awarded prizes, he squandered generously.
There was a reason why the previous king who was terribly fickle and incapable of stably managing the state affairs, did not lose the support of the people.
“First, I’ll have to purge those useless mouths that were crapped by the previous king.”
The adjutant’s eyes lit up. He had decided on the word to ban for the next bet.
“Do you know how many half-brothers I have? Most of those bastards are dead, so we can put that aside. But there are 26 princesses. Twenty-six! This is why the budget is worn out.”
Kwiz’ breathing was rough. He had no obligation to feed and house the children of the dead old man whose faces he didn’t even know. The only person whom he recognized as his blood-related sibling, was Katherine. Although he had shown slight interest in the Duchess recently, it wasn’t enough to feel affection towards her as a sibling.
“I’m going to kick them all out.”
“I’ll inform each of their maternal families to come and collect them. And if there’s no one that is willing to take them, I’ll marry them off.”
It was a petty decision. There was no generosity as the King or as the eldest sibling of the family.
Hugo’s evaluation of Kwiz was that he had many merits, but he also had many demerits. A typical weak point of Kwiz’s, was his stinginess. To put it in a bad way, he was cheap and didn’t care to act generous enough to not lose face.
However, as long as Kwiz’s stinginess wasn’t directed towards himself, he didn’t care either way. But suddenly, a fragmented piece of memory came to mind. On the day his wife came and proposed to him, she said this to him with a sorrowful expression:
[A princess must be ready to be sold at any moment for the benefit of the royal family. If a suitable dowry is offered, the royal family will marry me off to whoever it is without batting an eye. Before I am sold off…I want to sell myself.]
Hugo’s mood soured.
Coincidentally, his wife talked about ‘what ifs’ yesterday and he had said that thinking about the ‘what ifs’ was useless. But now. Hugo was thinking about those ‘what ifs’. What if she hadn’t come to find him. What if he had laughed off her proposal. If one step was wrong, she would not have been the wife of Hugo Taran right now.
But that didn’t happen. Hugo still thought it was useless to think that perhaps things could have turned out a different way. Nevertheless, the hairs on his back were raised in fright. She could have been included in the bunch of useless mouths that the King was trying to get rid of. She could have been married off to a chosen man, regardless of her will, and someday, he would have met her as the wife of another man.
Hugo felt sick. When he imagined his wife becoming the wife of some other man, his stomach turned inside out. She was his woman, and no one could challenge that. When he remembered the reality, he broke out in a cold sweat, relieved.
Hugo glanced at Kwiz who kept on talking about something. The late king who neglected his children was terrible, but the bastard sitting in front of him was also terrible. What was so hard about being a brother and taking care of his sisters a little?
A moment ago, he inwardly agreed with the benefit of Kwiz’s project to drive away all his half-siblings. However, the moment he was personally involved, he changed his mind.
Useless mouth? The more he thought about it, the more uncomfortable he became. The image of her calling herself an illegitimate child came to mind. It was his first time seeing her belittle herself, so he was very surprised. Hugo had never once thought of her in that concept.
‘Was her life in the palace very hard?
Hugo often heard his wife talk about her childhood, but he couldn’t remember her talking about her time in the palace. Now that he thought about it, she didn’t have a single handmaid in the palace and did all the work herself. Hugo felt angry afresh from the facts that he already knew. She must have lived a miserable enough life in the palace that she didn’t even want to remember it.
[Before I am sold…I want to sell myself.]
At that time, he simply thought her words were interesting. The deep guilt he felt towards her, stabbed into his chest like a sharp needle. Why couldn’t he understand her misery and desperate feelings when she came to him and said such a thing back then? Displeasure towards the late king rose again in his heart.
‘He deserves to die that way.’
Hugo sneered as he remembered the shameful death of the late king.
* * *
When Lucia got home, she asked Jerome about the flower embroidered handkerchief. Jerome laughed on the inside and calmly replied on the outside.
“Master checks it every day and carries it around with him.”
“It’s been several months now. From the time when we were in Roam.”
“You did not tell me this when you told me to gift him a handkerchief last time.”
“I thought you knew.”
Jerome replied nonchalantly.
“I thought Milady gave it to him. If Milady didn’t give it to him, then where did Master get the handkerchief from?”
Lucia could not tell Jerome that she didn’t give it to him. If she said she didn’t give it to him, the only explanation was that he took it secretly. She didn’t want to undermine her husband’s authority as the master of the house.
But Jerome already knew. He had personally witnessed his master secretly take a few pieces from the basket where the maid had put the completed handkerchiefs, so that she could make a parcel for young master Damian.
He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it himself. It was a bizarre action, completely unlike his master. However, Jerome was a faithful butler that didn’t question everything his master did. The reason why he kept his mouth shut in front of the Madam was out of caution. No matter how trivial the incident was, it was impossible to know what effect it would have on the two’s relationship, so Jerome was always careful with his words and actions.
“…I meant I didn’t know he carried it around.” (Lucia)
“Is there any problem with that?” (Jerome)
“There isn’t, but he has to keep up appearances. How can he carry that kind of thing around? People will laugh if they see it.”
“You don’t have to worry. Master is magnanimous.”
Looking at the grinning Jerome, Lucia realized all over again why Jerome was a capable butler. Jerome had a smoothness that didn’t correlate with his age. The fact that he could wrap her husband’s shamelessness, unreasonableness, and selfish aspects with the word ‘magnanimous’ was really amazing.
Lucia thought hard about the meaning of the handkerchief. When she imagined the scene where he secretly took the handkerchief that she was supposed to send to her son, she couldn’t believe it and felt speechless. And while she couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness, her heart fluttered at the thought of why he did such a thing.
It suited him more to confidently ask for a handkerchief if he needed one. His cautious heart which made him unable to do so, pervaded her heart like a warm energy.
The handkerchief was an opportunity. Lucia retraced every single attitude he had towards her, his words and his emotions that he showed through his expressions. Perhaps she was already aware of it. But she heavily nailed it down with the thought that it wasn’t true. It was purely because she was a coward.
Lucia reconfirmed her feelings to herself.
‘I love him.’
And she took a guess at his heart.
‘Maybe…he loves me too.’
But she didn’t know whether he had acknowledged the feeling of love. He might not be certain of his heart yet and may still be in a stage of denial.
‘Should I wait? Or…should I bring it up first?’
There was a crossroad placed in front of her, and a difficult choice to make between them. She felt more indecisive than that day when she went to the Ducal residence to propose to him.
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