The meal was almost a riot.
In a dining room next to the large kitchen all the children were sat at the same long table.
Before the children, the gently simmering soup and sliced up bread had been placed. In the center of the table, there was a large omelette based dish, garnished with salted cabbage and fried beans.
But, you couldn’t see even a trace of that neatly plated food now.
Even after cooking and serving the food, Camilla and Alois were kept busy.
“Geh, carrots hate.”
“Don’t be so selfish! They’re only small portions, so just swallow them without chewing!”
Camilla scolded a child trying to throw away the carrots on their plate But, since they hated carrots so much, they cheekily yelled ‘No!’ and kept trying to do it anyways.
She was about to keep telling them off, but suddenly voices were raised behind her.
When she turned around to look at the voice that cried out, she saw Alois racing over as far as his heavy body could take him. Just as she was looking, she suddenly saw a boy reaching onto the plate of the girl sitting next to him.
“Ahhhh! He took my breaaaaad!”
“It wasn’t me!”
“It was you! I saw it clearly!”
Saying that Camilla rushed over to the boy to scold him. But, before Camilla could get there, the boy wolfed down the bread he’d taken and played dumb.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about? There’s no bread.”
As the boy mumbled that whilst trying to hide the sound of his chewing, the younger girl burst into tears.
“Why are you making your younger sister cry!?”
Camilla flicked the boy’s forehead. But, the boy didn’t stand for it.
“Why do I have to be nice just ’cause she’s my sister? Because she’s younger than me? I want a reason, a reason!”
“A reason, you say?”
Camilla pinched the boy’s cheeks hard with each of her hands. Then, as she grinned straight in his face, the boy suddenly felt a little frightened.
“The older brother who bullies his younger sister should have no complaints about being bullied himself, right?”
The boy looked up at Camilla. Even if he spoke rudely, he’s still just a little boy. Camilla is big enough that she looks terrifying as she loomed over him. The boy’s shoulders stiffened and he tried to pull away.
“Now, if you understand, then hurry and apologize properly. I will not bully a child who can say sorry. From now on, do not take food without permission, either. Am I clear?”
The boy sobbed and turned to apologize to the girl. As he was doing that, a clamour started up again somewhere else.
As Camilla turned to look for the next source of trouble, she caught Alois’ eyes as he was looking her way. But, it was just a fleeting gaze. Alois suddenly had to respond to a child screaming across the table and he rushed over.
The sounds of plates and pots being stacked on one another mixed with the sound of running water, filling the silence of the now calm kitchen.
The table had been completely cleared away and the children tucked away in bed. After delivering a meal to the old woman who ran the place, still stuck in bed, Camilla and Alois began to clean up the kitchen together.
Camilla washed the dishes, whilst Alois dried and put them away. They played their assigned parts in silence for a time.
Their job had already taken them past the hours that even the adults should have gone to bed. The chilly breeze stung at their hands already cold from the water.
“…….You’re quite used to handling children, aren’t you?”
Alois suddenly spoke that, barely louder than a murmur. He spoke it so quietly that it took a moment for Camilla to realize he was talking to her.
“It really was surprising. Your cooking, not to mention the way you worked with the kids.”
“I showed you something unsightly, didn’t I?”
Even more than her hobby of cooking, this was the other thing that Camilla never wanted people to know about. But, since everything was exposed now, all she could do was laugh about it.
“I did tell you that I often went to an orphanage in the capital, yes?”
Alois nodded as he remembered. It was one of the last conversations that they had together before the problems in Grenze.
“I told you that I was doing it as a charity, but that was a lie. In truth, I merely wanted to borrow the kitchen. Because, if I made them food, the children would be happy to eat it.”
“…..Isn’t that the definition of charity?”
“It is nothing so high minded as that. I was just doing it for myself. Not to mention, the orphanage itself was being run by the mother of my friend.”
The orphanage in the capital was in a far better state than this old house, it wasn’t even a fair comparison. But, children were the same no matter where you went. They’re cheeky, mischievous and full of unrestrained energy. A refined and elegant nobleman’s daughter could perhaps coral maybe one or two children, but they would be no match for anything more than that.
So, Camilla had gotten used to running around and shouting herself hoarse, to the point where she had taken on a way of being and a tone of voice completely unsuited for her role as a noblewoman.
“Yes. She was my maid. That said, she was quite a bad girl. I have a feeling that her bad habits rubbed off on me.”
How to slip out of the mansion unseen, how to disguise yourself as a commoner. Her tongue that has gotten her into so much trouble was mostly her fault as well.
“In the first place, her mother was the one who taught me to cook. Both parent and child were corrupting villains.”
When Camilla was sentenced to be exiled from the kingdom, her friend was the only one who truly tried to stand up for her until the very end through all of her tears. She demanded that she be allowed to go with Camilla, but the Prince expressly forbid that the accused take anyone along with her, so they were separated.
It was nostalgic to think back on it now since it already seemed like so long ago. Was everyone doing well for themselves? Did they run into any problems because they were so close to her? As she ruminated about that, Camilla stood in thoughtful silence.
Camilla sighed, shaking her head. Looking down, there were still plenty of dishes in the sink to get through.
“Alright”, Camilla muttered to herself and got back to work.
“We ought to finish things quickly, Lord Alois. It is already quite late.”
As she turned to look at Alois, her vision was filled with his pudgy face.
Had he been looking at Camilla this whole time? When Camilla had suddenly raised her head to look his way, his eyes widened as if he was flustered.
“Ah, y-yes, let’s.”
After stammering that out, Alois looked back down at his work, only speaking again sometime later.
“……I believe I have misunderstood you.”
“When you first arrived and demanded that I ‘lose weight’, I thought of you as a shallow person who only cared about appearances and didn’t have a shred of gratitude. A self-centered and foolish person who didn’t understand her position at all. Although you were easy to handle, you also had a short and fiery temper, so I couldn’t think of you as anything but a selfish girl.”
“You truly thought that lowly of me!?”
It felt like every insult she had ever heard thrown her way in her life was suddenly piled on top of her, so Camilla couldn’t help but blurt that out. But, Alois continued with a serious face.
“…But, that wasn’t all of it. I should have been able to tell straight away just from talking to you.”
“You still will not take back the words from earlier, though?”
Camilla laughed dryly. His bad first impression of her hadn’t been wiped away, he had simply gained another impression of her on top of it.
– Well, it does not feel too bad.
“Lord Alois, you’re surprisingly honest at times?”
As she poked him with those words, Alois’ eyes narrowed. Then, staring at Camilla for a while like that, he finally let go of the breath he was holding in.
“My face and my body, those are the parts you hate, right?”
As she looked puzzled at his sudden words, Alois turned away. He shifted his gaze away so as not to meet Camilla’s eyes. It was as if he were looking at something in thin air that she couldn’t see.
Alois breathed a sigh as he looked at that void.
“…Camilla, I… I think I am going to lose weight.”
Camilla blinked. She heard some sort of audible hallucination, so she touched her ears to make sure they were still working.
“What caused this change of heart all of a sudden?”
No matter how much Camilla had told him to ‘lose weight’ before, he had never seriously done anything about it. Had the words of intent to lose weight truly been uttered by this big man himself? Actually, the first question to ask was whether or not he was serious? Was he just leading her on again?
As Camilla stared at him suspiciously, Alois still just looked at that empty space. He had been wiping the same plate for about a full minute, which had long since been dry.
“Somehow… Somehow, it happened… In order to lose weight, where do you think I should start?”
“….Umm, well, the first thing to do would be to reduce your amount of meals, even just by one?”
These were the words that Camilla had been so desperately waiting to hear, but her thoughts weren’t keeping pace, so all she could do was start reciting the plan she hatched so long ago.
After all, eight meals are far too many.