3.5 – 4
The afternoon had passed, but it was still too early for dinner.
A chill wind blew through the deserted kitchen.
As the wind ruffled his clothes, Alois peeled the carrot he held in silence. Once he was finished peeling the last of the carrots, he wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“Excuse me… Lord Alois.”
As Alois quietly worked, the only other person in that kitchen, Camilla, called out to him from behind his back with a slightly tentative voice.
After giving Frida his answer and seeing her off, he had gone to the kitchen and had been peeling carrots the entire time. Camilla was hesitant about approaching him, considering that worrisome atmosphere around the man.
Alois spoke out without turning around, cutting Camilla’s words short. His tone wasn’t harsh, but it couldn’t be considered timid. If anything, it seemed hollow and monotone.
“That girl, do you think I answered her feelings sincerely?”
“…You noticed us?”
“I could hear you.”
“Guh,” Camilla breathed out uncomfortably, hit by a pang of guilt. It only made sense though. If Camilla and the others were so close that they could hear what Alois had to say, naturally he would be able to hear them as well.
But, it didn’t seem as if Alois was angry with Camilla about it. He breathed out and continued to speak, his voice quieter than before.
“Do you think I gave her the wrong answer?”
Even if the tone of his voice didn’t betray it, the swirl of anxiety running through him was plain to see. Camilla frowned slightly in silence, then decided to move forward and stand side by side with Alois.
Peering at his face from beside him, it was clear to see just how downcast Alois looked. For the first time since he came into the kitchen, he stopped peeling the vegetables in front of him, turning to look at Camilla as he did. He looked like a child who had just given his teacher an answer to some sort of problem, waiting anxiously to see whether or not she would approve of it.
“…I do not think you were wrong.”
As Camilla returned Alois’ uneasy gaze, she sighed softly.
The words that Alois had returned to Frida had been kind and considerate, without any intention to hurt the girl’s feelings. If she was in the same situation as him, she couldn’t think of a better way to reply than the way he had. He hadn’t made any mistakes. If she really was a teacher grading his answer, she would have given him a perfect grade.
“But, it wasn’t the right answer.”
Frida wasn’t a teacher. She hadn’t given him a problem to solve. What she had wanted to hear wasn’t an answer so perfect it could have been rehearsed, but Alois’ true feelings. She didn’t want to be consoled or persuaded to give up. Even if the answer she wanted might have hurt her, she still wanted to hear it.
Alois, though, hadn’t understood that.
Turning back to the counter, Alois began to peel the carrots in silence once again. Was he aware of just how defeated he looked? As Alois stared down at his hands as he worked, those red eyes of his looked more sullen and sunken than ever.
Camilla remembered the time when she accused Alois of ‘not being sincere’ back at the orphanage in Grenze. When she had said that, Alois truly snapped at her for the very first time. At the time, she thought the reason he had been so angry at the accusation was because he truly considered himself to be ‘sincere’.
– It was the other way around.
Camilla’s mouth remained closed as she looked at Alois from the side.
Alois is kind. Alois is calm. That’s what everyone said about him. He treats everyone the same. Nobody was discriminated against or got special treatment. And yet, was that really how he felt?
– He himself knows just how insincere he is, that’s why he lashed out back then.
All that could be heard in the kitchen was the carrot being peeled.
As Camilla’s words went unquestioned, the only thing that filled the air was that brisk evening wind.
What exactly should they do about all these peeled carrots?
By the time they realized it, those vegetables had piled up in front of them. Camilla and Alois exchanged grimaces as they looked it over. They initiated a quick strategy meeting, pulling in the cooks of the Montchat household who had just arrived in the kitchen to begin preparing dinner.
“We ought to use them for dinner, after all? That said, I hope they are fond of carrots.”
“No, no, even if every one of them loved carrots, this goes above and beyond.”
At Camilla’s suggestion, the head chef shook his head frantically. Even if they used it in the meals distributed to the townsfolk of Einst, the quantity that Alois had peeled in those hours would still leave a lot leftover.
“Sorry about all this. I got a bit lost in thought.”
Alois’ shoulders drooped as he reflected on his rare blunder. Looking at the strangely expressive Alois in front of him, the head chef crossed his arms as he pondered what to do.
“Hmm… What to do, what to do…? If we grate it… Maybe we can make a cake out of it?”
“That’s right. Lately, the kids in town have been getting annoying, asking for all sorts of sweet things. I didn’t know what to do about it since we barely have any sugar in stock. Carrots have just enough sweetness to them to work though, right?”
Indeed, it wasn’t a bad idea at all. Alois also nodded along in approval. Though whether that was because he thought it was a truly good idea or was just relieved that his mistake might get solved was up in the air.
“In that case, I’ll pitch in and help. Camilla, can you lend me a hand?”
“Ah, no. I’ll excuse myself this time.”
Camilla shook her head as if to throw water over Alois’ newfound enthusiasm.
Cooking was her self-professed hobby and it wasn’t rare to find her in the kitchen. He figured that she would jump at the opportunity to make a cake and took it for granted that she’d agree. So, Alois and the cook both looked quite surprised at Camilla’s sudden refusal.
As the two of them gazed at her in stunned silence, Camilla frowned.
“I cannot make sweet things.”
As if trying to dodge their disbelief, Camilla spoke the truth as vaguely as she could.
End of Part 3.5
Going to be returning to a one chapter per day schedule so I can actually work on other series for now.
Edited by ApoPie