Lucia came out to greet her husband with Evangeline in her arms. Evangeline stretched out her little hands to Hugo, happy to see him.
Hugo took Evangeline into his embrace and pecked her on the cheek, then he wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and lightly kissed her lips.
“You must be tired from the carriage ride all day? You haven’t had dinner yet either.” (Lucia)
“What about you?” (Hugo)
“I waited to have it with you when you came back.”
“I told you not to wait when it’s late.”
“It’s not that late. You should stop by your office first. Your aide has been waiting for you for a while now. I think it’s urgent.”
Hugo returned his daughter to his wife and headed for his office. Lucia turned away from her husband’s retreating back and gave Damian a bright smile.
“Damian, welcome home. You must be tired, right?”
“Have you been well, mother?”
“Wow, my son had already grown so much taller. Alright, let me hug you.”
Lucia gave Evangeline to the nanny and gave Damian a big hug. He was now so tall and big that Lucia couldn’t wrap him up in her arms anymore. Going from holding a soft baby girl to hugging a boy with a sturdy frame, made her feel his growth more distinctly and she felt emotional. She felt like he was growing up so quickly.
“Bobba. Bobba.” (T/N: She’s trying to say Oppa, I think.)
Evangeline, who was with the nanny, excitedly reached for Damian when she saw him.
“Looks like Eve is excited to see her older brother. Say hello.”
Damian took Evangeline into his arms as the nanny handed her over and Evangeline clung tight to his neck with her short arms. Damian supported her with his hand and held his small, soft little sister firm. She had the sweet smell of a baby, mixed with the smell of milk. His heart grew warm and it finally hit him that he had really come home. He was thrilled that his sister hadn’t forgotten him even though he hadn’t seen her in a couple of months.
“Who did you come with?”
“He’s my friend from the academy. I invited him.”
“Oh my, a friend?”
As soon as the Duke of Taran who seemed like he could kill someone with his eyes alone left, Chris watched the figure full of warmth with wonder, then he bowed towards the Duchess.
“Greetings to the Duchess. I am Chris Philip.”
“Ah, we have met before. I’m glad to meet you again as Damian’s friend.”
Lucia sweetly received the greeting with pleasure. Chris was amazed that both the Duke and the Duchess remembered him even though he had only greeted them once about a year ago.
‘Maybe my impression is so strong that people can’t forget me once they see me.’
Chris’ confidence was boosted with his delusion.
“You both must be hungry. Damian, can you take your friend up to your room? I will call you when the food is ready. Do you want me to take Eve?”
“No. I’ll watch Eve.”
“You’ll do that?”
Damian took Chris to his room with Evangeline in his arms. As soon as the door to the room closed, Chris sighed heavily as if he was letting out the breath he had been holding.
“Wow. I thought I would die from nervousness. Hey! How can you let me freak out like this? You could have at least told me in advance!”
“It was beyond my control. I didn’t know my father would come either.”
“Let’s never ride in the same carriage as your scary father for hours again, hm? There shall be no uncontrollable incidents in the future. If such a thing happens again, you must block it. Okay?”
Chris stared at Damian, who shrugged his shoulders vaguely in response, then he put on a friendly expression and approached Evangeline, who was clinging to Damian. Once he touched the pretty little hands hanging onto Damian’s neck, Evangeline pulled her hand away and quickly turned her head.
“Ai, little lady, you’re discriminating against me.”
Chris muttered dejectedly.
“I wish the little brat at home was a cute little sister.” (Chris)
“You have a younger brother?” (Damian)
“I have a little demon. Like you, I’m quite older than my brother. He’s five years old and once you take your eyes off him, he causes an accident.”
Evangeline fell asleep in Damian’s arms. Chris carefully observed the child that was sleeping peacefully with her arms still clinging tight to Damian’s neck.
“The baby is so quiet, is it because she’s a girl? My little brother gets so cranky before he sleeps. I’m glad to meet you, lady Taran. Although it’s sad the feeling isn’t returned.”
Chris couldn’t resist gently holding the small hand of the baby girl, his remaining regrets manifesting.
Damian was about to leave his room to put Evangeline to bed in the nursery room, when he met the maid who was coming in just as he was leaving. The maid informed him that their meal was ready.
Damian took Evangeline to her room first and lay her down. Chris, who was following like a baby duck, held Damian’s arm when Damian started to head down to the dining room.
“Wait, do we have to eat with your father when we go down?”
“Probably. Father hasn’t had dinner yet too.”
“…I think I might get indigestion.”
“I’ll give you medicine for it.”
Chris ate dinner and eventually asked Damian for digestive medicine.
* * *
The last month of the year was the busiest month but once there were only ten days left till the New Year, everything had been finished and it became the slowest time of the year. People usually took a break from work for about 10 days to meet friends that they had rarely heard from or ended the year by spending time with family. It was a custom that most people followed, regardless of their status or position.
Today was the last day to visit the palace this year. Hugo sat opposite of the King, enjoying a relaxing teatime after his year-end meeting was over.
From this evening onwards, it was the beginning of a very long holiday. Last year, Damian has come home for the winter but had to leave for the academy just a few days before New year because of limited time. This year, Damian would be attending the New Year party and also making his social debut, so this was going to be the first end-of-the-year where all four members of the family were together.
His wife was excited, and he was also affected so he felt like he was looking forward to a special holiday.
“Have you found my replacement?” (Hugo)
When Kwiz first established the central policy-making body, he promised Hugo that he would leave him in charge for only two years. Two years had already passed and several months had also passed. Hugo wanted to simplify his unnecessarily busy schedule. And so, for a few months now, he had been urging the King to find his replacement. When the King only drank his tea without saying anything, Hugo raised a brow.
“Gong, why don’t you keep holding onto it?” (Kwiz)
“You made a promise, Your Majesty.”
Hugo frowned, showing that he certainly did not want to.
“I have no one but you.”
“I am sure there are a lot of people who want to sit in that seat.”
“There are a lot indeed. Which is why it can’t happen.”
The central body which the King had been pushing forward with lightning speed, had been growing steadily over the span of two years and would remain the country’s top department as long as Kwiz was king. The head of the central body was at the center of power.
“To be brutally honest with you, this King has absolutely no intention of making the central department a playground for nobles.”
“I am a noble too.”
“Gong is excluded.”
After watching the Duke of Taran hold the position of Head of Central for two years, Kwiz reconfirmed that the Duke was truly not interested in power play. Although he was in the best political position to cultivate power that was only next to the King in those 2 years, he remained alienated from noble politics like before.
Kwiz was also very satisfied with the way the Duke did his work. He wasn’t interested in picking only obedient people for the important positions and simply picked them if they did well at their work. Even if it was a politically influential noble, if they weren’t proficient at their job, he cut them off without any hesitation. Thanks to that, the central body had a surprisingly transparent structure, considering the amount of power it held and it consistently gave great results.
Kwiz had figured out that the Duke was not a wolf that led the pack but a lone tiger. No one was strong enough to stand on their own, but he was not the type to lead the majority. He was someone that was more accustomed to energetically blowing someone’s head off than engaging in an intricate mental fight where you smiled even if you didn’t like it or held hands on the outside while hiding a knife in your heart.
Kwiz trusted in the Duke of Taran’s disposition, which found the struggle for power bothersome and he also liked the Duchess’ actions. Just like her husband, she was not interested in taking control of the social circle. He didn’t know whether the two of them became a couple because they were similar but if the couple continued to live satisfied like this, he couldn’t see the Taran family becoming a problem in the future.
“It is a controversial position regardless of who has it. As long as it is Taran Gong, people can’t exactly say anything openly.”
Everyone knew about the King’s firm trust in the Duke of Taran. Day in, day out, the King called the Duke to meet privately for food after every important meeting. The king’s favor was like a double-edged sword, so although many were envious of the Duke, no one dared to move carelessly.
People were afraid because the Duke was unpredictable. The Duke’s image as a knight was stronger than his image as a politician. And knights were a group that caused trouble when they were displeased. To put it bluntly, if he were to kill every single one of them and run to his territory, there was nothing they could do and the dead had died uselessly. There was no one who wanted to be subjected to such a fate.