“It’s time to stop crying.”

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I told Hassel who was still busily sniffling before me.
I admit, he was pretty when he cries, but how long must I sit in the garden and comfort him?

I watched as his beautifully sculpted face struggled a little as he squeezed out a response, “I-I’m sorry for my impertinence… I was so happy to see the princess… ”

“Yes, yes.” I nodded my head as I wiped the tears from Hassel’s cheek that still tickled by.

Even with my small actions, Hassel’s eyes fluttered violently.
I was embarrassed because I could see clearly what he was thinking.
So I cleared my throat and diverted his attention to more important things, “By the way, Hassel, why are you so sure that you are the father?”

Maybe I was wrong, but so far, it felt as though every one of the potential fathers I have met was so certain that they were Rustina’s father.
I found it strange why they all thought this way, when normally, people wouldn’t easily admit to this fact, and yet they were seemingly sure of Rustina’s paternity.
Why is that? Are all the men in this novel truly this weird?

Hassel flailed his arms around in a way that was rather uncharacteristic for someone with his standing, while his face was reddish and resembled a ripe peach.
Just then, he looked at me intently and spoke in a sweet voice, “Oh, that’s right… The princess and I made love.”

Oh, so that was it?

Why am I not even surprised anymore?

I gave him a hesitant smile, clenched my jaws and looked at Hassel, “Make love? Yes, perhaps that may have happened…” I started, “… still, that does not mean you are the father.” I added.

“I know you don’t like me, your highness.” He began, “How dare I even dream of becoming the Princess’s husband? But, I could not just stand by and watch, I’d… ”

“Stop.” I covered Hassel’s mouth with my hand. 

I guess he really likes Etricia. 

It’s so cute seeing him act all shy in front of her. 

Regardless, his words do not have enough weight to them.
I cleared my throat and addressed him in a much more formal tone than before, “By the way, it seems as though the commander of the Imperial Knights is fooling around in a place like this.
You know there will be consequences for this, right?”

“If you punish me, I will accept it gladly.
I’m not fooling around; rather, I’m on vacation today.” Hassel informed me, with tears still filling his eyes. 

He’s become more coherent at answering but he still hasn’t stopped crying.

I sighed, “If you were a father…  But, if you only want to watch from afar, then I will break you.” I told him with a slightly warning tone.
Besides, with his outstanding looks, like this, then I’m sure Rustina will grow to like him.

Hassel got up from his position, put his hand on his chest, and said to me, “I will do anything I can.
I swear on the honor of the Drojans.” 

His eyes looked determined, so I naturally nodded after hearing his answer, “Uh, uh…well then, this matter seems to be done.”

Thereafter, I got up from my seat and tapped Hassel on the shoulder.
There was something strange about how he was treating me, still, there’s nothing wrong with being careful.
So I asked, “Then… Why did you break up with me?”

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He lowered his head and his darkened eyes stared back at me, “It’s not like we’ve broken up.
To be honest, I still have the princess in my heart.”

The red color that dyed his cheeks quickly spread to his ears and blew kisses on his neck.
A blushing Hassel covered his lips with the back of his hand and avoided my gaze.

It was a pose that could easily be misunderstood if someone passed by and looked at it.
I was startled and called him out for it, “W-what? Why are you making such a face!”

He gave me a puzzled and helpless look, and so I told him once more, “That look! don’t do it.”

“Alright…?” He replied hesitantly.

I felt like my face was going to explode after heating up due to the way Hassel was looking, while the latter only gave me a pitiful gaze.
In the end, I turned around and avoided him first, “I just have to go because the child might be looking for me.”

“If it’s the child…” He started. 

I noticed the light glimmer in his eyes, I caught on to what he wanted to say and so I waved him off, “I’ll invite you next time, so come then.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I have something to check…” We have to see if you’re Rustina’s real dad.

At my words, Hassel laughed softly, as if he was moved by me. 

Ah… His graceful appearance made my lips twitch as well.

“P-Princess!” Suddenly I heard someone calling my name.

It was Belle. 

She was calling for me loudly and so my head naturally turned at the sound of it, “Princess! Where are you now?” She continued to exclaim as I spotted her from a distance, looking for me.

“What a fuss, I have to go now.”

“Is something wrong? I will escort you.”

“No, there is no need…” However, before I could even finish the sentence, Hassel grabbed his sword and came in front of me with determined eyes.
He then gave me a warning look and so I stopped myself from arguing with him further.
I had no choice but to accept his offer to escort me to Belle’s direction.

After seeing them, I immediately approached Belle who was pushing Rustina in a stroller. 

The child was crying heavily.
Upon seeing me, Belle gave of a huge sigh, “Hah… ugh… hah, Princess.”

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Bell wept and clasped her trembling hands together and began to explain, “I went out for a walk with Princess Rustina… I’m sure she was in a good mood then and even smiled.”

She quickly wiped her tears with the back of her hand and continued to lay down on me the cause of her distress, “I found your highness here, and on the way I saw Sir Hassel was with you too, but when I turned my back, well… she didn’t stop crying.”

Belle explained as she gave the crying child a worried look. 

“Perhaps she is hungry?” I told her but Belle only responded with a more panicked look.

“I had thought that that was the case as well, but when I offered her a bottle she angrily pushed it out and spat some of the milk.
I even checked her diapers but it was clean, I…” Belle stuttered out, “…I think she was looking for you, your highness.” She concluded.

I immediately understood what Belle was talking about as I often saw how the child went off on her tantrums.

 When Rustina cries, she cries hard like it was nobody’s business.
Whenever she was on her crying sprees, it would seem like the world was on the verge of collapse and she sounded miserable.

Anyone would be sympathetic if one would hear her panting and crying.
So I guess I can see why Bell was so startled.

“It’s okay, you did a good job.” I told her.

Still, Belle looked unconvinced, “Uh-uh, uh…”

When I looked at Rustina, her crying red eyes immediately turned to look at me. 

She stared at me between hiccups and immediately reached out her hands towards me, as if wanting to be carried.
I relented and moved towards her, “Yes, yes.
I’m here.
Couldn’t you wait for a moment?”

Earlier today, I could have sworn she was doing well with her Nanny and Belle, but she was weird today.

Hassel, who was standing a little further away from me, approached us slowly.
It was apparent that he seemed unsure of himself and hesitated in taking more steps forward and settled at a distance.

I gave him a sideway glance and asked, “Do you want to see her? Oh, there, there, Rustina…”

Hassel nodded his head and walked towards us.
As soon as he was near enough, he tilted his head slightly to peek at Rustina who was now lying back in the stroller. 

He had indescribable eyes as he was looking at her.

Rustina’s pupils widened as she faced Hassel, “Uh, uh uh…”

For a moment it seemed as though Rustina was awestruck. 

I was like that too when I first saw him in the garden.

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Perhaps she, too, has never seen such a handsome man like Hassell.
Well maybe that isn’t completely true, she did see one a few days ago…

Still, I wondered if she secretly disliked his face … for why was she suddenly so quiet?

Just then, Rustina’s hands and feet began to struggle.
Her face turned white and her pretty eyes began to turn red and she burst into tears, “Ahhh! Uwaaahh!”

I immediately grabbed Rustina and patted her on the back.
As the child cried, Hassel only  stood still. 

“What are you crying about this time?” It’s almost astonishing to see the child cry again after being quiet.

“I, Princess.
May I try to comfort her?” Hassel cautiously offered his hand to me. 

‘No way, a man who has never had a child, knows how to comfort them?’

“Uwaaaah! Aaaah!” Rustina continued to weep uncontrollably without stopping to even catch her breath. 

Ahhh! Aww! uh, uh…” Rustina’s face appeared as though she could easily cry some more, and so I looked at Hassel in despair.
He took her from me and held her in his arms.
As he flopped her around, I couldn’t help but notice that his movements were rather professional.

It made me absentmindedly wonder and ask out loud, “Hassel, did you ever have a childwithout me knowing? No, were you a married man?”

“I’d be sad if you think that little of me.
Who would I marry, your highness? You’re the only one for me.”

My heart ached at Hassel’s sad eyes.
It stabbed my conscience so that I could no longer look straight into his eyes.

I laughed awkwardly to diffuse the tension between us, “I said it because you were so good at comforting the princess.”

“Is that so? I have a nephew who searches for me often.
By the way, the baby is gentle…”

It looks like he couldn’t take his eyes off of Rustina.
He seemed to be overcome with emotion at the thought that it might be his own child.

I feared he might burst into tears at any moment, “Oh, you can’t cry, again…” I warned him.

“It’s so, so, so, so pretty.
I’m not going to cry….” He insisted but then I saw a small glistening tear, drip down at the side of his cheeks.

Tears welled up from his pretty eyes and a clear liquid landed onto Rustina’s cheek and wet it.

Rustina looked at Hassel intently.
Soon after, her lips began to pout, with an unknown expression on her face, “Uh, boo-boo.”

“Oh, don’t cry.” Hassel seemed to whisper to himself.
I looked at him and noticed the slight smile on his face as he struggled to contain his tears while Rustina who stared back at him had almost look disgusted.

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“Ahhh! Aaaah! Whoa!” A cry broke out again and Rustina thrashed around to get out of Hassel’s arms.

I hurriedly picked up the baby,

“It can’t be helped.
I think we should go back in and soothe her.” I told Hassel.

He gave me a guilt stricken look and uttered softly, “I’m sorry.”

Hassel lowered his head and kept his eyes glued to my hands. 

I shook my head dismissively and replied, “It’s okay.
My baby is a little sensitive these days.
It was good to see you, though.”

“Princess, I…”

Before he could finish his sentence, I cut him off and spoke, “Hassel, I’ll call you at some other time.
So I think it’s better for us to just end things here, for today.”

‘Otherwise, my father would see us here, come to me and make a fuss.
Rustina’s voice was so loud that he must have heard her cry.’ I felt a chill run down my spine as I imagined the King finding us here.
I want to avoid that scenario, so I’d rather arrange a different time for us to meet comfortably.
Besides, something tells me, he’ll know where to find me.

Speak of the Devil!

I saw his majesty’s face suddenly appear in the hallway on the second floor. 

The King’s booming voice started to travel towards us as he shouted in an irritated voice, “Etricia! Come to the office right now! You…?”

I saw his eyes shift from me to Hassel. 

I quickly cleared my throat and explained, “Ah! Sir Hassel is here father because I called for security.” I hurriedly waved my hand as I made an excuse.

Father’s eyes narrowed and his eyes bounced back and forth between Hassel and I.
I could tell that he was suspicious just by his contemplative look and the fact that he had been far too quiet for my comfort.

“It’s not like that!” I insisted, “I’ll go, I’ll go…so please don’t overexert yourself.”

At my words, my father cleared his throat and beckoned, “Hurry now and stop making a fuss, or I will catch you myself and drag you up here.”

“All right.”

I couldn’t run away anymore.

I nodded and reluctantly left the gardens, with Etrica wrapped securely in my arms.

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