Men, unless ailing or elderly, typically refrained from riding in carriages on lengthy journeys, a matter of personal pride. However, throughout the entire journey to the capital, the king had not budged from the queen’s carriage. No one dared to openly confront him, but surreptitious glances were occasionally cast in the direction of the queen’s conveyance.
“You should at least check outside,” Eugene expressed her concern, but Kasser paid it little mind. He spoke with confidence.
“Who would wish us harm? Right now, I’m fulfilling the responsibilities of a king.”
“What responsibilities?” Eugene inquired.
“Ensuring the well-being of the next heir is one of the most critical duties of a king. So, I need to contribute to your emotional stability to ensure the safe birth of our child,” Kasser replied matter-of-factly.
Eugene, like many modern people from Earth, possessed a wealth of miscellaneous knowledge. Prenatal education was among her areas of expertise. She began to share her knowledge of prenatal care with Kasser.
She explained that for a child’s healthy development in the womb, not only was the mother’s physical health essential, but emotional stability also played a vital role. A husband’s attentive care was a significant factor, and she emphasized that any discomfort during pregnancy could have lasting effects.
Eugene glanced at him briefly, using her prior words as a pretext. She hadn’t intended to spend the entire day like this. Nevertheless, Kasser’s argument wasn’t entirely without merit, as her symptoms of morning sickness had notably improved.
Though the carriage was quite snug, Eugene relished this precious time alone with him. Ever since learning of her pregnancy, she couldn’t help but feel overjoyed whenever she witnessed his inability to conceal his excitement. They had never spent several consecutive days together like this before.
Of course, other factors contributed to her contentment. The well-constructed carriage provided ample space and comfort, with minimal jostling. Since crossing into the Hashi Kingdom, she had felt a deep sense of ease, her heart lighter.
Reclining against a plush cushion, Eugene observed Kasser, who was half-lounging. Kasser, with a puzzled expression, remarked, “You’ve been looking at me like that for the past few days. It’s as if you’re studying me… yet also as if you’re not looking at me.”
He’s perceptive, much like his father, Eugene thought, her bewilderment transforming into a smile. Whenever she gazed at Kasser, she couldn’t help but be reminded of the boy who so closely resembled him. She hadn’t disclosed her foreknowledge of the future. She feared that speaking too much about their unborn child might alter their destiny.
She was determined not to be swayed by baseless superstitions. Her plan was to narrate the tale of their child’s journey once the child had safely arrived. Kasser would undoubtedly find it fascinating.
“Our child will likely bear a strong resemblance to you, won’t they?” Eugene inquired. “Considering the hair and eyes, they’re sure to have your striking features. Besides, if it’s a boy…”
His expression appeared somewhat disappointed. “Don’t you want them to take after me?” Kasser mumbled.
“It’s not that… I’m just curious about a child who resembles you.”
As she spoke, Kasser tenderly kissed Eugene’s hand and added, “I hope our second child turns out to be a princess who takes after you.”
Eugene let out a soft chuckle. “We haven’t even welcomed our first child into the world, and you’re already talking about a second one? Do you realize how challenging childbirth can be?”
Kasser shrugged, a playful glint in his eye. “If it’s tough for you, there’s not much we can do, but…”
Eugene chuckled wryly as she gazed at him, a blend of regret and longing in her expression. “I must really like you, you know.”
She didn’t just want the two of them; she yearned for a family of three. She had begun to dream of a joyous family life, embracing motherhood and eventually becoming a grandmother, even though marriage had never crossed her mind in her previous world.
As she closed her eyes and painted that future in her mind, she drifted off to sleep without realizing it. Kasser smiled as he observed Eugene, who had fallen asleep so swiftly. Lately, she had been sleeping quite a bit, often dozing for more than half the day. They could be in the midst of a conversation, and suddenly, she would slip into a peaceful slumber.
Her motion sickness seems to have improved compared to before. That’s a relief,’ he thought. He had learned about morning sickness, a common symptom among pregnant women, from Marianne. He felt somewhat embarrassed about his prior ignorance, having mistaken it for a form of motion sickness.
“Take it easy on your mother, little one. Just rest quietly and come out when the time is right,” he softly murmured to Eugene’s belly, a strange sense of happiness welling up within him. Only half a year ago, he couldn’t have imagined himself engaging in such tender gestures.
He continued to gaze at Eugene’s peaceful sleeping visage. In the past few days, his mood had been rather peculiar. Even without the influence of alcohol, it felt as though he were inebriated. He felt light-headed, and bouts of laughter would spontaneously bubble up for no apparent reason.
Kasser, who had always maintained meticulous control, surprisingly found his newfound, uncontainable self rather endearing.
Aldrit’s desert trek proved to be much more arduous than anticipated, thanks to an unrelenting sandstorm that practically shackled his every step. It was the kind of sandstorm he had often feared, one that might have sealed his fate beneath its suffocating grasp had he possessed a little less experience.
In his exasperation, he turned to the tiny mouse tucked safely in his pocket. “Mara, is there any way to navigate through this wretched sandstorm?”
Mara shot Aldrit a withering look. “Are you stupid? Do I look like God to you?”
Aldrit fell into an awkward silence.
“Get a grip! If you die out here, I’ll have to find myself another companion.”
The mouse’s abrasive tone, oddly enough, proved instrumental for their survival. Aldrit persisted, finally emerging from the sandstorm’s clutches and safely reaching the Hashi Kingdom. He arrived with just about a month remaining until the arrival of the dry season.
While Aldrit successfully made his way past the city gates, getting any closer to the royal palace seemed an insurmountable task. Undeterred, he boldly inquired about Sven’s whereabouts from the palace guards. However, their response left him utterly bewildered.
“Sir Sven and the Queen have embarked on a journey to the Holy City.”
The Queen was absent from the kingdom. Aldrit hadn’t contemplated such a scenario. It was only after the fact that Mara sighed in recollection.
“Oh, right. Anika went to the Holy City.”
Aldrit couldn’t hide his frustration. “And now what do we do?”
“I assumed he would have returned by now. How long has it been since we last heard about the Holy City trip?”
The uncertainty of the Queen’s return weighed heavily on Aldrit. He fretted about where he would spend the night, fearful that if his true identity as a wandering traveler were exposed, he might be apprehended without delay.
Mara suggested that he meet with one of his subordinates to gather more information.
“He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he might come in handy.”
Mara was confident that, with the assistance of his Inquisitor subordinates, they could navigate the capital with ease.
However, their plans took an unexpected turn. A few days prior, even individuals at the highest echelons of the executioner hierarchy, including Rodrigo, had been apprehended under the chancellor’s orders.
“These useless bunch!”
Aldrit reluctantly abandoned any hopes he had of relying on Mara. He now needed to find a way to blend into the capital on his own. His survival skills honed in the desert proved somewhat helpful, allowing him to endure for about a fortnight.
“Your Majesty, the Fourth King!”
“Her Majesty has returned!”
Finally, the royal couple had made their way back to the capital. The city gates swung open, and a procession of carriages, flanked by vigilant guards, entered. It was just a fortnight before the active season was set to begin, an unusual time for the king to depart from the palace. The anxious citizens erupted in cheers and welcomed the king’s return. In the midst of the jubilant crowd spilling onto the streets, Aldrit, his robe turned inside out, observed the spectacle from the shadows.