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“Kyle suggests glass. What do you think?”
Kyle was the first prince and Claude’s elder brother, a strong contender for the next emperor. Without a moment’s hesitation, Claude calmly replied,
“Even if the glass is transported securely by ship, it remains at a high risk of breaking. I don’t believe it’s suitable as a gift.”
“What if it’s individually packaged to reduce the risk of breaking?”
“Individual packaging would require too much manpower and cost. Even if they arrive safely and yield a profit, the preparation time would mean limited quantities.”
Claude confidently finished his answer. For a moment, the composure on his face almost faltered. That was because Adhvan seemed to smile approvingly at him.
Caught off guard, Claude blinked once. But when Adhvan’s face returned to its usual stoicism, Claude thought he might have imagined it.
At Adhvan’s gentle call, Claude straightened up.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“You’ve contributed immensely to this endeavor.”
At the unexpected praise, Claude struggled to suppress a smile that involuntarily began to form.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“I’ve been informed of all your efforts at the western palace to assist the imperial court.”
All Claude had ever desired in the imperial palace was for Adhvan to recognize him. Even from afar, he wished to be acknowledged for his worth.
And Adhvan knew all of it. Memories of his efforts from a young age to gain the Emperor’s attention passed through his mind like a mirage.
Claude eventually couldn’t maintain his composure and felt a bit choked up.
“I’ll grant you another opportunity to prove your worth. Wait patiently as you have been.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I will wait.”
With praise like today’s, he could wait forever.
“At the recent imperial conference, the honor of hosting the party by Blanche was mentioned.”
“Yes, I’ve heard.”
“My aide, Flah, suggested entrusting another event at the palace to Lady Iva, who hosted the party. What do you think?”
At that question, an image of Iva planning a nocturnal escape spontaneously came to Claude’s mind. A laugh almost escaped his lips, and his composure almost broke.
“I had a hard time bringing Young Lady with the help of my assistant Chase. I’m not sure if she’d want to take over a task again.”
“Is that so?”
“However, if I were to take on Your Majesty’s task, I would carry it out with a stronger sense of responsibility than anyone else.”
Adhvan observed Claude, whose expression had softened slightly upon mentioning Iva.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Your Majesty, His Highness Claude, it’s soon time for dinner with Princess Julian.”
Flah, Adhvan’s aide who had been by his side for 30 years, entered the greenhouse to report.
“Is it? It’s time to see our little one already.”
Upon hearing Julian’s name, a smile spread across Adhvan’s face. The sight made Claude feel a hint of bitterness.
While he had to strive so hard to earn a single praise, Julian made the emperor smile with her mere presence. At times, he wished he had been born a princess too.
As Adhvan rose from his seat, Claude immediately followed.
“Let’s go meet our baby.”
* * *
In the Imperial Palace dining room, after what felt like ages, the entire royal family had gathered.
Emperor Adhvan, the Empress, and the Empress. The two married princes, their wives, and even Claude, all waited for Julian, who had yet to arrive.
They exchanged pleasantries and laughs, but they all shared the same thought: Without Julian, such a gathering would never occur.
As the heartwarming conversation continued, the voice of a dining room attendant echoed.
“Princess Julian has arrived.”
She made her entrance, looking more splendid than one would expect for a mere dinner.
“Greetings to Your Majesty!”
She wore a sky-blue dress adorned with numerous jewels, her hair half-tied and draped in various shiny accessories to the point it could strain the eyes of onlookers.
The unusually high heels made her seem slightly wobbly, and she looked like a child dressed in ill-fitting clothes.
Claude felt a strange sense of deja vu observing Julian’s attire.
Contemplating where he might have seen such a dress, he realized it was quite similar to the dress Iva had worn when they dined together a few days ago.
For a moment, Claude felt that she seemed entirely unfamiliar. Despite her silver hair and blue eyes, which were unmistakably similar to his own, and the fact she was his only younger sister, she felt like a complete stranger to him.
“Glad to see you, Julian. Come here.”
Yet, unlike him, everyone else naturally greeted Julian with warmth. This too felt odd to Claude.
Lost in confusion, Claude just stared at Julian. She simply smiled back, innocent and radiant.
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