Those heavy footsteps stopped in front of the door to the room Camilla was in.
“Please excuse my rudeness.”
He said those words as the door opened.
The person she expected to see suddenly came into view ―――― It was Alois, breathing heavily and dripping in sweat. He had a fierce expression that she had never seen on his face before as he stepped into the room.
The children were cowed into silence by the sudden change in atmosphere. The uproar died down to nothing in an instant. The children clammed up as they hid behind Camilla. Even the boisterous young boy and the old woman were silent as he entered, their eyes wide open in shock.
Alois ignored them all and walked straight to Camilla. As he looked at her, he struggled hard to regain his breath, inhaling and exhaling deeply, interrupted by coughs. Then, he closed his eyes, taking a final deep breath.
But, that hardly seemed to settle down Alois’ feelings. When he opened his eyes again, they were incensed with anger.
Camilla’s shoulders jolted in surprise as Alois spoke in a low voice she had never heard him use before. It seemed calm, but the anger bubbling beneath his words was easy to hear.
“You are the kind of person who just runs out into the middle of the night without telling a soul, is that it?”
A single woman walking the streets at night alone. They would either have to be a fool or a harlot. As she realized the implication behind those stinging words, Camilla raised her face.
But when she looked up to scowl at Alois, she was only met by his cold glare.
“Do you understand just how much of an uproar there was when we couldn’t find you in your room? I’ve sent all the servants in the mansion around town to look everywhere for you.”
Alois had promised to go with her to the orphanage when he returned. He was probably the first one to notice that Camilla was gone when he came to take her along. There were many people who saw Camilla’s exchange with that young boy. After hearing the story from those onlookers, he could easily deduce where Camilla had gone.
“There are a lot of shadowy places in this town and it isn’t safe at all. It’s a wonder that you weren’t kidnapped off the street. I thought you would have at least some sense about you, but I suppose I was wrong for not expressly telling you.”
“Ah, Lord Alois, please wait a moment…! This girl, she…!”
As Alois coldly reprimanded Camilla, the old woman in the bed tried to intervene. She wanted to protect Camilla. But, her brave action was cut short by Alois’ icy words.
“Old lady, this is an issue between Camilla and I. I am aware that I am intruding in your home and I hope you can bear my unreasonable request, but would you please remain silent for now?”
Despite the words being polite, the connotations felt anything but. The old woman couldn’t press him any further and lowered her head, staying silent.
“Camilla, I did everything I could to make sure that you had everything you needed. But, from the beginning, you only ever complained.”
“…What are you…”
“Yet still you selfishly took off in the middle of the night, without caring about just how much trouble you caused myself and my household, and whilst I was worried about you here you are having fun in a place like this.”
“Having fun… What are you…!?”
Camilla squeezed her fists and spat out those words.
“‘I’m exhausted’, is that what you’re going to say next!? Even though you truly don’t care at all!? Why exactly do you think I was on the streets all alone!?”
Simply setting her up to live her days like a doll in a dollhouse, how is that providing her with everything she needed? Just what was Camilla to Alois?
Camilla couldn’t bear her feelings been so thoroughly trampled on.
“I wanted to go out, so why could I not simply go out!? The only reason I am here is that I was trying to help!!”
“It isn’t your place to be helping people like this. You should have called someone for help yourself.”
“But, I…! I was asked for help? How could I simply leave them be!?”
“Go back to the mansion and fetch a servant. If you had done that, at the very least, I wouldn’t have had to run through town searching for you.”
Camilla bit her lip.
Alois wasn’t wrong. After being asked for help, the best thing she could have done was obediently return to the mansion. That way, it would have been easier to get the old woman home. There would have been an appropriate response straight away.
It just wasn’t something that even crossed her mind at the time. Although the boy wouldn’t have gotten any help from the estate alone, it would have been different if Camilla was with him. But, Camilla didn’t make that choice. Because of her anger, her frustration and, most of all, her pride.
“W-Wait, Lord Alois! She…! She really did help me! And back then, I didn’t know that she was acquainted with Lord Alois…!!”
As Camilla was lost for words, the boy jumped in front of her with a panicky voice. The boy tried to hide Camilla behind his back, looking up at Alois with a pale face.
“Don’t get mad at her, she didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Rolf, that isn’t the issue here. Stay silent.”
At Alois’ rumbling voice, the boy named Rolf trembled slightly, but still stood his ground.
“N-No! I won’t stay quiet!”
“Wait, stop being rash!”
As Rolf squared his shoulders, Camilla tried to stop him. Alois is well known as a charitable and kind lord. But, a lord he remains. With a single word, he could have anyone who opposed him exiled from Mohnton.
And right now, it doesn’t seem like Alois is his usual calm self. It must have taken great courage to talk back to him like this.
“…Because everyone thinks I’m a liar, no one helped me even though I begged.”
The boy’s lips trembled, but he didn’t stop talking.
“Everyone in town thinks of me as a bad kid. I know it. Even if granny really collapsed, no one believed me at all. But still…! But still, she was the only one stupid enough to help me…! There wasn’t anyone else that could help!!”
As Rolf shouted so quickly his words became a blur, he pointed at Camilla. Alois kept looking down at that small boy, as his expression didn’t change. If you combined both the difference in status and stature, Rolf was standing up to an intense atmosphere of intimidation.
“If it wasn’t for her, granny would still be lying in a back alley. I owe her…!”
Alois stayed silent. He still looked down at Rolf. Rolf, meanwhile, refused to back down. As neither of them blinked, silence blanketed the room.
All that could be heard was the sound of the crackling fireplace. Those flames burned as hot as the flaring passions at play. There was the hoot of an owl in the trees. The silence felt like it would go on forever.
Then, that tense atmosphere was interrupted by the sudden tiny sound coming from a young child’s stomach.
Alois and Rolf turned to look at the source of the disturbance at the same time. They weren’t the only ones. Everyone in the room couldn’t help but look.
The culprit was a young girl, hiding behind Camilla’s skirt. The first child who had piped up to say she was hungry before.
The girl looked confused when everyone had turned to look at her, then after a moment, she looked down and slowly moved a hand to her belly. When her face turned back up, her eyes were welling with tears.
“UWAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I’M HUNGRRRRRYYYYY!!”
Was it truly just hunger? Or could she no longer stand that fierce atmosphere that had engulfed the room? Either way, the girl burst into tears. Alois rubbed the back of his head as Rolf let out the breath he had been holding that whole time. As if it was contagious, the other children began to cry one after the other.
“Hey, just endure it! Today is different than usual! Since granny needs to sleep, there isn’t going to be any dinner!”
As Rolf tried to calm down the situation with an embarrassed look on his face, the girl shook her head side to side through her tears. Instead of being quiet, she actually shouted over Rolf.
“No no no no! I’m hungry!”
“Stop being so selfish! Can’t you little kids just calm down or something!?”
“Noooo!! Both the lord and big bro are scary!!”
The girl’s cries echoed through the room. Far from getting her to stop, Rolf only made the girl cry even louder and although the old woman tried to do something, she could barely move from her bed and her voice only came out as a cough. Alois didn’t know what to do as he stared at the ceiling.
Camilla, meanwhile, let out a sigh as she rubbed the crease between her eyebrows.
After taking a deep breath, she made her decision.
Camilla didn’t cry or shout that word. But, her voice still pierced through the din of that noisy room.
“I will prepare something for you to eat. Now, stop crying! Show me to the kitchen!!”
The children stared at Camilla with blank faces.
No, not just the children. Both Alois and Rolf looked at Camilla as if they couldn’t believe what she just said.
“…Camilla, are you…?”
Alois looked at Camilla with disbelieving eyes. A nobleman’s daughter like her preparing a meal for a big group of children like this… Can you really do that? He didn’t say it, but his expression was clear.
“Did I not tell you before that cooking was my hobby?”
Camilla said that, with a snort of laughter.
“Even for this many people?”
“Whether I am cooking for one or cooking for ten, it doesn’t matter.”
As Camilla stuck out her chest, Alois frowned. Then, he sighed as if giving in.
“…Very well. I’ll help you out as well. I’d be worried if I left you alone.”
“Lord Alois will?”
This time, it was Camilla’s turn to look disbelievingly at Alois. As Alois rolled up his sleeves, she noticed his thick and clumsy looking hands. With those hands of his along with his tongue ruined by years of food violence, how could he possibly cook well?
“I’m also a man of Mohnton. Even I have a little confidence in what I was taught.”
Cooking was a common virtue in the land of Mohnton. It had nothing to do with whether or not one was a commoner or a noble.
“Did I not tell you that before?”
As if issuing her a challenge, Alois spoke Camilla’s exact words back at her.
Shokugeki no Camilla?