2.5 – 3
Hundreds of years ago, Mohnton was once effectively a penal colony.
Thinking about it rationally, compared to the green rolling hills and pastures of the rest of Sonnenlicht, Mohnton was a very different land.
It was always humid, with miasmic winds constantly on the air. A damp and horrible swamp like this, who would ever willingly move here? Your skin would crack and redden if exposed to the miasma for too long and if you were someone with strong magical energies, just coming into contact with it could make your powers run amok.
Yet it would make sense for exiled criminals to find themselves submerged in such a place, digging manastones out of the swamps as their skin was covered in sores. The well-established mining industry that operates throughout Mohnton had not yet developed back then. Manastone excavation was a difficult and hazardous task, that truly put a miner’s body on the line.
There weren’t just a few deaths either. But no matter how many people died, the manastone mining had to go on. For the war machine, for the study of sorcery, for royal prestige and to cow the nobility into obedience. Even if there were some sacrifices, they served their purpose.
Therefore, there wasn’t much cause for worry if someone died as a result of the mining.
It was the House of Montchat and their vassals, the House of Ende, that organized and coordinated these mining efforts. This was also doing the Royal Family’s dirty work. That was what it meant to be a shadow.
The Montchat family, who proudly boasted of their bloodline being a cadet branch of the royal family, was said to have kept their marriages within the family in order to keep their lineages pure. Other noble families in the territory followed the lead of their liege lords and did the same.
Of course, this was long ago now.
Camilla didn’t know much about the history of Mohnton.
She had known that it had a reputation for being a miasma filled bog, though it was a land rich with manastones. What she also had known that its lord was from a branch family of the Royal Family, although that lord very seldom visited from Mohnton, nor did anyone for that matter.
More than anything, Camilla simply had never been interested in Mohnton’s past. You could say the same for most of the young daughters of the nobility in the capital. It was an eerie and enigmatic swamp. The lord was a bulbous and ugly toad. Who exactly would be interested in the profundities of a land that could make your skin fester simply through being licked by the wind?
In particular, back when Camilla was still in the capital, there was once a push to find a marriage partner for the head of the Montchat family. ‘You seem delightfully enchanted with him, so why not marry?’ would be the mocking words she would hear if she ever showed any interest in the Mohnton lands or the Montchat family.
Even when Camilla had been sent to these lands, she didn’t care to learn anything further about the House of Montchat or the history of Mohnton. That was only natural. It had been completely against her will. She had no desire to marry that man. She even held a faint hope that everything might be cleared up and she could return to the capital, as much as she would deny that, so she never truly intended to immerse herself in the culture of the Montchat family.
But, she was beginning to rue her lack of studying.
“…I am not a criminal!”
“Of course you ain’t. This all happened over a few hundred years ago.”
As Günter melted a wad of butter in the frying pan to grease it, he bluntly cut through Camilla’s angry shout.
“These days, when a criminal is locked up, that’s usually just the end of it. That said, people don’t exactly choose to come to a place like this if they can help it. This damp and depressing place.”
As he swivelled the melted butter around the pan, he threw on the chopped up onions. A pleasant simmering sound swept through that quiet kitchen.
“Times may have changed, but this place still clings to the past. Everyone’s so gloomy and withdrawn, and because of that whole stigma about their ancestors being criminals, fun and bright celebrations are always frowned on. There’s no festivals or anything like that around here. Did you know that?”
Camilla shook her head instinctively, despite knowing that Günter couldn’t see her with his back turned. She had been in this mansion long enough to understand just how gloomy and withdrawn it was.
But, that didn’t tell the whole story.
“Grenze was never half as gloomy as here.”
That was the only town that Camilla knew in this land, other than the nearby capital of the territory. The biggest mining town in Mohnton, Grenze. Because of the abundance of manastones being excavated from the nearby swamps, there was a healthy trade over the border, with the merchants’ comings and goings adding to a vibrant and energetic atmosphere.
There was a great diversity amongst the people who walked its streets, with foreign visitors from both near and far mingling with each other and the locals. The voices she heard echoing up from the markets during the day were happy and cheerful. It seemed like the complete opposite of what Günter was saying.
“That place is unique.”
Placing carved up pieces of chicken, spices and diced mushrooms into the pan one after the other, Günter kept the heat high and he fried them together.
“Grenze has only exploded like that in the past few years. When Lord Alois came to power, he opened the borders and the foreigners poured in after that.”
As the ingredients were tossed together, they began to smell delicious. As she listened to Günter talk, half of Camilla’s mind was thinking about how she could do at least that much herself. The problem was what came next.
After chopping it all up and frying the ingredients together… What came next?
“That’s why Grenze has deep trust in Lord Alois. He would have been pretty loved over there, right?”
“That may be the case.”
Rolf and the old lady who ran the orphanage that she visited in Grenze seemed to know Alois quite well. During that riotous meal that they had, the orphans didn’t seem shy about playing around Alois at all, even swinging around on his arms and legs.
– So they were not simply making light of him?
Although that idea did appear in her head, perhaps instead it was because they trusted him?
“That said, people sure as hell weren’t happy with it in the beginning. Lord Alois had only just became the lord, and he was young, too. There was a bunch of resistance, but he managed to swing them around to his side with some compromises.”
Günter looked behind him and took a small hempen bag left on the kitchen bench. As he opened it up, Camilla saw that it was full of barley. He took a measure of it and added it to the frying pan.
“If you’re alone, there’s always a limit on what you can do. Good thing for that guy, he had a bunch of allies.”
As he said that, he moved over to the pot. Taking a ladle full of the soup from it, he emptied it into the frying pan. Then, he grabbed a measuring jug from the bench. It wasn’t water inside, but condensed milk. After waiting for the soup to cook to his exact preferences, he then added in some of the milk.
As he poured in the milk, the soup in the pan had reduced to a point where a delightful aroma found its way to Camilla’s nose.
Camilla kept her hands on her waist without much charm as she stared at him. There was some strange sense of familiarity in Günter’s words, despite it being something that shouldn’t be much of his business.
“You seem to have a spot of sympathy for Lord Alois?”
“That’s right. I said it before, but I’m indebted to him.”
“And just how long have you two been together then?”
“Let’s see… It was about the same time as when he was opening the borders in Grenze. Back then, there were a bunch of things that Lord Alois couldn’t overlook.”
Camilla said so as she exhaled.
She stared hard at Günter’s back, her eyes determined to know more. That said, there was one thing Camilla wanted to know most of all.
“…So, what did you and Lord Alois do together when you were alone?”
Günter’s shoulders jumped as he turned around like he had been startled by the question.
His wide-eyed expression slowly gave way to a bitter look.
He frowned as his lips bent unhappily, shaking his head.
“I’m just a cook, ain’t I? It’s the only thing I can do anyways.”
“Were you only there just to cook for him? Were you not actually friends?”
“Listen here, you… When it comes to cooking, nobody can make anything as delicious as I can…!”
The irritation he felt from his rude guest was etched on his face. Was it a reaction to having his cooking skill trivialized like that or had he gotten flustered about Camilla hitting the mark? He may have just been angry at Camilla, who acted like she knew everything about him despite just meeting for the first time.
But, Camilla overpowered his frustrations as she pridefully stuck out her chest. The reason why she didn’t feel any intimidation at all was because of her supreme self-confidence.
“When it comes to food, even I can do that.”
“Haa? You were completely lost trying to figure out my soup just a while ago.”
“I have already figured that out.”
Camilla laughed mirthfully despite Günter’s needling comment.
“That peculiar sweetness… It was that wine, was it not?”
The signature product of the House of Storm. A wine that was enjoying even greater popularity this year even found its way to the remote land of Mohnton.
Günter found himself thrown off balance by Camilla’s expression of self-assurance.
He even felt his anger slip away, being faced with that impeccably dignified atmosphere of hers. He absentmindedly stood agape as he looked at her… Yet, although they stood in silence for a while, Camilla didn’t say a word.
It was indeed that exact wine. She had managed to eventually deduce the flavour even though he had only used a few drops in that big pot of soup.
She was correct, but…
“…Is that the only thing you know?”
She only knew about the wine.
How can she act that haughtily with just that?
edited by: ApoPie