In the end, Alois barely scolded Nicole at all, nor did he ask why she was in that room in the first place. Eventually, he just had Nicole leave the room with Camilla.
As they stood outside, Camilla told Nicole, whose face was as pale as a ghost, to go and get some rest. She waited in front of that room for a long while, but Alois never emerged.
From the next day on, Alois’ old diet returned.
Rather, it was even worse than before.
He had completely lost himself to comfort eating.
“Lord Alois! How can you be eating this much again!?”
It was a few days afterward, during morning tea. Camilla doesn’t know just how many times she has said that at this point.
“Have you already given up on losing weight!? Just how much are you planning on eating!?”
As Camilla shouted, Alois’ hands stopped shoving food into his face as if he was startled. Then, instead, he reached for the smaller snacks instead.
It was a basketful of baked goods, like small cupcakes and miniature doughnuts powdered in sugar. There were also rounded cuts of buttercake topped with almonds as well as colourful cookies with even more sugar on top.
Was the icing on top of those cookies a mischievous ploy of the cook? Camilla herself couldn’t resist those cookies with cute red and blue flowers iced on top of them.
But, she regretted taking one as soon as she took a bite. Instead of being simply sweet, would it be more accurate to say it was like gnawing on pure sugar? She grew even more concerned about Alois’ health when she thought about him eating these hand over fist.
As she was thinking about it, Alois began to eat even more of them. There was quite a strange disparity as she sat opposite him, not eating anything at all.
This hadn’t just started today, either. Ever since Nicole broke that dish, Alois has been like this.
Not being able to bear watching, Camilla had tried to get him to stop many times, but her words fell on deaf ears, almost like when she had first come to the mansion. Although he might sometimes show signs of returning to normal, he would soon be lost in thought again and then go back to eating even more than before.
“I-I’m sorry, Camilla. It’s just lately, I…”
Alois let go of the cookie he had in his hand and sat back in a slump. It was almost as if you could hear the air deflate out of his body as he hunched over.
“I was trying to be careful…”
“You said the same thing yesterday.”
As she glared at Alois, his shoulders just slumped even further. After that, his hand unconsciously began to reach out towards the cookie he had put back in the basket.
At Camilla’s shout, Alois’ hand came to a stop. It’s like she’s trying to keep a child in check.
“Just whatever is the matter with you? Was that thing really so important?”
When it broke, Alois did say something about it being his ‘father’s dish’ as he held some of the scattered fragments of it. Alois’ father had already passed away. So, it made sense that the dish was probably some sort of keepsake.
– Dish. A dish, hmm?
Collecting dishes and pottery was a common hobby. Perhaps Alois’ father had given him a high-quality piece of his collection as a gift? Or was it some kind of heirloom? If it wasn’t important, it would have been in the kitchen with the rest of the kitchenware. Not something that he held so dearly.
As he said that, Alois took the cookie and ate it.
“I didn’t particularly care about it.”
Alois’ eyes looked pained as he averted his gaze. How can he say it wasn’t something important to him if he’s this obviously torn up about it?
“It has been nearly ten years since my father passed away. I was just a little shocked, that’s all…”
Saying that, he took yet another one. As he nibbled on that tiny cookie he held in both his hands, he looked pitiful, like he was some small creature that had been engorged to a tremendous size.
“Lord Alois, please pull yourself together. Now, show me a stout heart!”
“Yes. I’ll be alright, don’t worry.”
“Just make sure to be careful! It wouldn’t do for anyone to see the Duke like this!”
“Yes. I’ll be alright, don’t worry.”
Like talking to a brick wall.
As she returned from their tea together, Camilla was full of worry as she walked through the courtyard.
Alois was still sat down at the table back there. Because of how he was feeling lately, it seemed like he was a little behind the ball these days. Even so, apparently he was able to separate his private issues from his public obligations, so his work wasn’t affected. Perhaps it’s because Alois has learned to trust Camilla somewhat that he doesn’t feel the need to put up a front when having tea with her.
– Then, maybe it would better if he just focused on work for the rest of his life?
His heart would probably break even more if he had to do that, though. Camilla sighed, dismissing the suggestion that had floated through her mind.
Honestly, things really had been going awfully well recently up until now.
She had a feeling that something would happen. In her eighteen years of life so far, whenever things seemed to be going well, there was always some kind of pitfall waiting for her. Camilla, who had been exiled to this strange place out in the sticks after having her engagement to the Prince canceled, knew this all too well.
– I was far too weak.
Her passion hadn’t been strong enough and she was struck down.
Alois, despite losing his parents at the age of fifteen, had inherited the title of Duke and had done fairly well in his position. Alois was usually calm and hid his emotions well. Rather than simply being tolerant, he managed to keep certain things at arms length, so that way he rarely got angry. It was rare that he would have to rebuke a servant, but even when he did, he never raised his voice.
But, when Camilla ran from the mansion in Grenze, that was the only time she had ever heard Alois shout. For someone to be so calm around Camilla, a person who never hesitated to argue, it was a rare thing.
He was diligent and dedicated to his work, not to mention always keeping that calm attitude of his. It was a disposition that would make him amiable to others and would keep him away from falling into blunders as well. Other than his appearance, Alois was the archetypal ‘good boy’.
So, no matter how important a keepsake of his father that dish might have been, it was still strange to see Alois fall into such a slump about it.
– Was that really all there was to it?
Even if that was the case, the only other person she could ask about it wasn’t in this world anymore. She was hesitant to ask Alois considering his present state of mind as well. It was irritating to be left in the dark and she was worried that things were only going to get worse.
There was something like a haze on her thoughts. Try as she might, Camilla couldn’t think of something that she could do by herself. With a resigned sigh, Camilla shook her head.
– Fine, then. Putting the past aside, I’ll have to do something for Alois as he is now.
Alois’ past. For now, she had to push the trepidations she had about it to the future.
The future, meaning marriage. It was still too early to feel so uneasy about something like that. She had to worry about his weight first, not to mention his skin. The first thing on her mind was to make Alois thin.
– Focus on one thing at a time! For now, I need to get Alois his motivation back!
But how would she go about doing that?
As Camilla was deep in thought, something crossed in front of her vision. She had just left the courtyard and entered through the doors of the mansion. As she saw two girls giggle and laugh as they passed by, Camilla recalled.
– Those maids are always spreading gossip.
Those rude young servant girls. One of them had curly blonde hair and looked a little like Liselotte. Because of that, Camilla had remembered her face.
The girls passed her by completely, heading towards the inner part of the mansion. She was a little peeved about not being offered a single word of greeting.
Then, she heard a familiar voice.
Although it was usually bellowed from her stomach like a soldier’s war cry, today it was barely a whisper.
As she turned to look for the source of the voice, the girl stood beside her.
With her mouth closed up tight as if she were biting her lip and her fists tightly balled, it was the maid who was a member of the Ende family. The girl whose magical powers had been running rampant, the problem maid called Nicole.
“Do not call me Mistress.”
As Camilla scolded her, Nicole didn’t reply. Instead, she merely looked at Camilla with her red eyes, trembling on the spot a little bit.
But, that only lasted a moment. Right after, she bent her waist and bowed deeply.
“I…! I have decided to do this on my own! For the Mistress who came to such a foreign place I-I would like to bring you some comfort!”
All that Camilla could see of Nicole was the back of her head.
As Camilla puzzled over her words that she couldn’t understand at all, Nicole raised a finger to the sky. As her finger moved in the air as if to spell out words, Nicole’s began to stand on end. And, for just an instant, there was a vortex of wind around her.
Camilla’s cheeks numbed as the strong magical energy was unleashed. But, that disappeared in a blink of an eye as well. The wind, the magical power… And even Nicole.
“…I am sorry.”
A faint voice leaked out of the mouth of the figure that stood in front of her.
Camilla’s eyes shone. She blinked twice, not being able to comprehend what was in front of her. She opened her mouth… But, no words came out, simply a gasp.
Nicole had disappeared. It had happened in an instant.
Instead, a gentle looking young man with locks of silver hair flowing over his shoulders stood in front of her. A person whose elegance and beauty had always captured Camilla’s eye, even though others complained about his lack of manliness.
He smiled kindly as he looked at her softly with those eyes brimming with magical power.
Camilla could barely breathe out the words.