4 (1) – 8
It seemed that the issue of the Lörrich succession had only gotten more serious.
As they advanced deeper into the winter season, the air outside was so cold that it began to prick the skin. Whilst they walked through the courtyard that was covered in a thin veneer of snow, Camilla heard about it from Alois.
“Lord Alois, straighten out your back!”
Camilla slapped the small of Alois’ back with her hand. That smacking sound echoed through the deserted garden beside them. Alois, as if startled by the sudden sound, quickly stretched out his back that was hunched over just a second ago.
“Y-Yes… So, as I was saying, I’m not quite sure what to do about Rudolph, it’s causing me no end of grief.”
“Raise your head! Eyed forward! Make sure to always look proud!”
“Yes! You know… I thought taking a stroll would be a little more relaxing than this.”
Alois mumbled in confusion, though that was only natural.
Resolving to have him exercise in one way or another, Camilla invited Alois to start taking winter strolls with her a few days ago. Alois agreed, and the two of them had walked together instead of their usual afternoon tea ever since.
However, it seemed like the two of them had very different ideas of what a ‘stroll’ was. She watched every step Alois took like a hawk, admonishing him for stepping out of line even once. It was walking in name only, to Camilla this was actually in effect practice for his social debut.
– When he straightens out his back and tightens his hips, he doesn’t leave too bad of an impression to any onlooker.
Camilla wasn’t satisfied with simply slimming Alois down alone. Camilla herself may have some trouble seeing it as vividly as before, but her goal from the beginning had been to take him back to the capital with her and flaunt his newly acquired good looks.
There is no well-respected aristocrat in the world who walks around with a hunched back. He had to carry himself with pride, every step he took elegant and graceful.
“Lord Alois, your shoulders are sagging! Keep them up!”
“Yes… Like this, then?”
Although Camilla’s instructing was strict, Alois didn’t seem to mind that much. He honestly took Camilla’s advice, doing his best to adjust himself straight away.
Perhaps that’s as to be expected of a duke? He’s very quick to learn. Or perhaps he had learned all this in the past, and his once good posture had been ruined by becoming overweight? Nobles were usually taught how to carry themselves from an early age, after all.
If she could get him to at least walk up-right, then that would be a great leap forward to shaping him up as a proper man. He wouldn’t be an embarrassment to be seen alongside either…
As she imagined standing side by side with Alois in the royal palace, Camilla’s eyes dipped to the floor. The thought of haughtily lauding it over the frustrated faces of Liselotte and Therese were suddenly pushed to the corners of her mind, replaced instead with an emotion that she had never felt until coming here.
It was like a dark fog, spreading from her chest all the way to her head. Whenever Alois made serious attempts to change, Camilla felt this unfamiliar sensation seeping through her. Just what was this awful feeling…?
“Camilla, are you alright?”
“Ah… I-It’s nothing.”
Alois looked to his side in worry, suddenly not feeling Camilla’s hawk-like eyes on him anymore. As he gazed at her, Camilla raised her eyes and shook her head.
Then, looking at Alois, she spoke as if to try and take her mind out of her thoughts.
“Ah… Lord Alois, your stride is much too small! It makes you look weak!”
“Ahh, this is…”
Unlike how he usually was, Alois didn’t suddenly snap to attention at Camilla’s instruction. This time he was the one whose eyes dropped to the floor, with a bit of an embarrassed smile.
“That’s because I’m walking with Camilla.”
As Camilla looked at him in confusion, Alois scratched the side of his cheek bashfully.
“If I don’t at least do this, we wouldn’t be able to walk beside each other.”
As Alois said that, Camilla looked down at her own feet.
Covered up by her dress were Camilla’s slender legs and difficult to walk in heels. Beside her were Alois’ huge feet. Right now, he was making small steps, hardly proportionate to his size.
Camilla blinked. If she thought about it calmly, it was obvious. Their walking speed wouldn’t be the same.
– He was just walking slowly for my sake.
That dark and foggy feeling welled up so deeply that Camilla groaned. ‘What’s wrong?’ Alois said with concern on his face.
– Uuuuu… Even though he was just a toad…!
Gritting her teeth, Camilla glared at Alois.
So frustrating. It was frustrating that it actually made her a little happy to realize that. But more than anything else, it was painful.
As Alois and Camilla kept walking side by side, he kept his pace slow and deliberate. Their conversations drifted from Blume to keeping his knees from wobbling, then back to the Lörrich family issues. But, Camilla wasn’t really paying much attention.
– I never wanted to come to a place like this at all in the first place.
What she wanted to do was return to the capital. She wanted to look down on all the people who had mocked and scorned her. That was the reason she had decided to shape Alois into an ideal man.
– I love Prince Julian.
She had never truly desired to marry Alois from the beginning. She had tried to slim Alois down, but it had never been for his sake. In the beginning, Alois had treated her as if she was some kind of pitiful burden, and she had felt nothing for him.
But now, that felt wrong.
Whenever Camilla saw Alois trying to change for her sake, she felt it. The name of that dark emotion that swirled through her… That was probably guilt.
“Camilla, is that fine with you?”
“Eh!? Ah, yes! …Yes?”
As Alois asked her that, Camilla answered reflexively. But she had no idea what she was actually saying ‘yes’ to. As Camilla looked doubtful, probably trying to figure out just what she had agreed to, Alois sighed.
“I was talking about visiting Blume. Because of the issues with the Lörrich family lately, I thought it would be good to visit Rudolph personally. That being the case, I was hoping that you could accompany me, Camilla.”
“Wait, me? Would that be alright?”
When she had demanded to go to Einst, he had been reluctant, so what caused this sudden change of heart? As she looked at him, Alois seemed to falter just a little bit.
“…Camilla, I think it would be good for you to see the rest of Mohnton’s major towns. Even though you’ve been here for over half a year, you’ve only visited Einst and Grenze in that time.”
Certainly, Camilla might be seen as a bit withdrawn for not having travelled much at all in the better part of a year. She was, after all, in-effect a marriage candidate for the highest lord in the Duchy. Usually, in Camilla’s position, she would be travelling around the land, greeting the nobility and letting the people see her face.
“Officially the reason for my visit is to offer New Year’s greetings, so we will be staying in Blume until the beginning of Spring. It might be a slightly longer stay, but I hope during that time you will get to know the people of Blume. It will also be a good opportunity to meet the members of the Lörrich family as well.”
It seemed that Alois was finally interested in having Camilla fulfil that role.
– So suddenly? Just why…
No, she can’t say she didn’t know. There was only one possible meaning behind this.
“Next year, at the end of Spring, I will be turning twenty-four. By that time, I’ll strive to have your ideal figure, Camilla.”
She hadn’t noticed, but Alois had come to a stop. Standing slightly in front of her, it was as if he was blocking Camilla’s path.
His back was stretched straight. As he kept her in his gaze, he stood with dignity.
That silver hair of his that fluttered in the wind reminded her slightly of Prince Julian’s.
Yet although those eyes of theirs were the same red colour, they weren’t similar at all.
“Next year…when Spring comes, will you formally become my fiancée?”
Camilla’s breath caught in her throat as she blinked.
No matter how furiously she thought, she couldn’t find an answer.
End of Volume 4 (Part 1)
Edited by: ApoPie