The Devoted Fanatic V
“The Madame’s birthday party… You wish to have Anne prepare it…?”
Maria smiled softly as she sipped the tea Karina had brewed for her.
“Isn’t it true that every year on grandmother’s birthday, she has a tea party with her closest friends in the afternoon? This year, I would like to ask Anne if she could bake the sweets and prepare the tea to be served.”
“B-But, Princess Maria…”
She was upset and could feel her heart palpitating, but she desperately did her best not to let it show on her face.
Instead, Karina hesitantly asked Maria.
“Anne is still inexperienced in her role. Even when it comes to Madame’s friends… No, especially because they are her friends, there would be serious consequences were she to slip up.”
The Duchess was a woman who placed great importance on how she was perceived, especially so amongst other women of high standing.
The only reason she ever took in that harlot’s daughters in the past was so that the women in high society would think of her as ‘compassionate’.
“I know that. That’s why I wanted to request that you lend your assistance to Anne, Karina.”
“That’s right. But, when it comes to the main serving, I would like Anne to be in charge. Karina, can you watch over her as she does?”
(She wants to have me assist Anne, that inexperienced child?)
Karina could barely hide her shock at the answer. It was unthinkable for her to act as Anne’s assistant.
“Princess Maria. These days, Anne has truly been neglecting her work. She only ever speaks about how dissatisfied she is with the tasks she’s given, I hardly think she’s suited for such an important job.”
“Is that so…? Then, I’ll have to ask her what she’s so dissatisfied with. Having said that, I am sure that Anne can make the tea party a success.”
That kind of conversation could spell trouble.
It was Anne, after all. She might complain to Maria that Karina was piling an impossible amount of work on top of her. Reluctantly, Karina agreed to Maria’s proposal.
“…I understand, Princess Maria. I, Karina, will do what I can to instruct Anne.”
“Thank you very much, Karina! Just like I thought, I can always rely on you!”
As she was thanked by that smile that was as pretty and pure as a newly bloomed flower, the smile Karina returned had more complicated feelings behind it.
(Even so, when it comes to Anne… Just like I thought, she has been trying to get on Maria’s good side…)
Even though she was still so immature, she was showing an unexpectedly shrewd side of herself.
Inside Karina’s heart, a mixed flame of jealousy and irritation flared. If that girl was going to be an obstacle to her happiness, then so be it.
(I thought that after all this flattery, Maria would choose me. Ah, what an eyesore that girl is. In the first place, if the worst comes to pass, how can I repair my relationship with the Madame if I’m not the one serving her…!?)
Seemingly worried that Karina stopped talking, Maria called out to her.
“Is something wrong, Karina?”
Karina quickly raised her head. Impossible, had she let that resentment show on her face?
“Are you worried about Anne?”
“Ah… yes. I was just thinking that cute little junior maid of mine might be in trouble if the Madame doesn’t like how she serves her at the tea party, that’s all…”
“You truly do have such a strong sense of responsibility for your juniors, don’t you Karina? What’s more, you’re so kind.”
Karina saw herself reflected in the princess’ crystal clear eyes and was dazzled by that beautiful smile.
“However, don’t you agree? I think it would be good too if Anne and the others are one day skilled enough that they don’t need you to teach them anymore, Karina.”
She gulped hard at those words.
Maria softly took Karina’s hand in hers, looking at her like a saint.
“You wouldn’t have to stay here anymore, Karina, you would be able to work for yourself. Don’t you think so too?”
Because she was going to go to the royal palace.
“Of course, you’re right! You’re exactly right, Princess Maria!”
Karina clasped her other palm over Maria’s hand, nodding at her words.
(That’s right, I will! Because I can’t take care of those girls forever, I will have to harden my heart here!)
What Maria said was correct. What an amazing master, worthy of her respect. She wasn’t like the shrill and hysterical Duchess she had to serve all this time.
If Karina could serve her from now on, she would be truly happy from the bottom of her heart. If it was for her sake, she would do anything.
(…But, it’s still true that Anne has curried favour with Maria. What a truly underhanded girl. Until I get rid of her, I can’t rest on my laurels.)
It was then that a flash of inspiration struck Karina.
If Maria wished to leave the preparations of the birthday celebrations to Anne, then Karina could use it to secure her position.
(That’s right. Using this tea party, I can teach Maria just how truly unreliable a girl Anne really is…!)
Karina gulped again, a smile on her face.
Leading up to the day of the Duchess’ birthday, Karina was more strict with Anne than ever.
In the name of ‘training her for the tea party’, she would put her through all sorts of rigours. Anne took to the work more seriously than she expected, but there was no mistaking the colour draining out of her face through fatigue.
And so, the day of the tea ceremony finally arrived.
Working busily by herself, Anne prepared for the celebration, setting the table and baking sweets.
Karina leisurely took tea by herself in the servant’s quarters, sometimes checking in to make some new order or demand of her.
“The colour of the sweets is unseemly. All of the macaroons, please bake them again.”
“I…! I understand… Head Maid.”
It looked like Anne wanted to snap back at her, but she followed along with her order more obediently than usual, probably because she knew the consequences looming over her if she failed today.
(Hmph… Did you see that? How can anyone call my way of teaching wrong if such a lazy girl like her can act like an adult!)
Anne was moving around constantly, but suddenly she came to a stop as if she had run into a spot of trouble.
“Huh…? Where did all the eggs go…”
“What are you doing, Anne? Get back to work.”
“I’m very sorry, Head Maid. But, could you please bring me two eggs from the henhouse…”
“What did you just say?”
She had the gall to ask her boss to do such a menial chore?
As she glared at her, Anne suddenly shook her head saying ‘Oh, no, nevermind’, and made to leave the kitchen. Of course, she had no idea that Karina had already hidden away the eggs that Anne had brought before.
After making sure nobody was following them, Karina also followed Anne on her way to the henhouse.
As Anne bent down to pick up an egg, Karina suddenly clasped a hand over her mouth.
“Behave yourself. You don’t want to get hurt now, do you?”
As she flashed a small knife in front of her eyes, Anne stiffened up and stopped resisting. After gagging her with a strip of cloth and binding her hands and feet, Karina pushed Anne into the corner of one of the chicken coops.
“There’s no use screaming, no one will hear you over the clucking… I’ll let you out when this is all over, so just keep still, alright?”
No one could see what was happening in the small wooden hut from outside, and no one came here except in the morning and the evening.
Satisfied with Anne’s terrified nod, Karina went back to the kitchen.
Now that she was out of the way, the rest would be easy.
“Madame! Princess Maria! There’s trouble, Anne has run away!!”
As she rushed into the Duchess’ room to report that, the two looked at Karina in surprise. The first person to respond was the Duchess, who seemed to have momentarily forgotten her rage against Karina.
“What did you just say!? Just whatever happened, Karina!?”
“Y-Yes. She had been pushing all of her jobs onto me since this morning, so I thought she was simply skipping… But she really has disappeared!”
Maria looked pale as she called out to her like she couldn’t believe it.
“Is that true? That Anne is gone…?”
“Yes. Just how could that girl have betrayed all the trust that you placed in her, Princess Maria…!?”
“Then, what of the tea party!? What will happen to my birthday celebrations!?”
That was the question Karina had been waiting for.
“Please rest easy, Madame. I, Karina, have done my utmost to prepare for this tea party. In fact, I am ahead of schedule, so everything is nearly in place.”
In pure relief, the Duchess took Karina’s hand.
“After all, I knew you were the only one I could rely on. I’m truly sorry for losing my temper at you the other day.”
“No, please don’t say such a thing. Please just leave everything to me!”
Glancing towards Maria as she said that, she saw Maria smile and nod. After returning to the kitchen in triumph, Karina rolled up her sleeves.
(Now then, let’s finish it off!)
The sweets had already been prepared by Anne.
On top of the cake, the centrepiece of the birthday party, only a single strawberry had been placed next to the decorative frosting in the shape of a rose. By placing the rest of the strawberries on the cake, Karina finished the decoration.
All that remained was boiling the hot water for tea, and the preparations were complete.
The tea party to celebrate the Duchess’ birthday party went off without a hitch.
Surrounded by her oldest and closest friends, the Madame looked happy. What’s more, her friends were full of praise for the tea party.
“These macaroons are truly delectable. They’re easy to eat and the flavour is to die for.”
“These cookies are so wonderfully sweet… Did your usual maid make these? She truly has gotten better since last year, then?”
“I’m so jealous that you can enjoy such a wonderful tea party at home.”
“Is that so? My head maid has served in my home for many years, I am quite proud of her.”
The Madame, who was in a good mood, motioned for Karina who had been waiting in the corner of the room to come closer.
“Karina, please prepare the cake soon.”
“As you wish, Madame.”
Just as she was ordered, Karina brought in the cake and unveiled it on the table. The cake had a simple design, but the decorations of cream, frosting and strawberries gave lent it a neat elegance.
“This is the maid who made today’s sweets, then? Did you make this cake as well?”
“Yes. For the sake of the Madame and her dear friends, I have baked it from scratch with all my heart.”
“Oh my. Truly, what an ideal maid you are?”
As she took those compliments as if they were only natural, Karina began to cut up the cake. The piece with the most ornate decorations was reserved for the Madame.
After doling out the servings of cake, Karina once again returned to the corner.
“It’s delicious. It truly is a sight better than the previous year’s cake. Your skill has certainly improved, Karina.”
“…I am deeply humbled by your praise.
Anne’s sweets and cakes were praised as more delicious than the ones she had baked herself last year.
Hearing that, she felt slightly conflicted, but since she was being praised it was all the same.
(If only Maria were participating in the tea party as well, she could be here to see me being praised as well… But since it’s just a celebration for the Madame and her friends, it can’t be helped.)
The women chatted happily as they ate.
(When I get the chance, I’ll have to throw Anne off the premises… Once she’s outside, there’s no way they’ll believe anything she has to say if she tries to get back.)
“So as I was saying, now that my granddaughter is back, the place truly has become lively! I truly am proud of her as my grandchild as well. At today’s tea party as well, that child…”
The Duchess’ hands suddenly stopped.
As her eyes opened wide, the fork dropped from her fingers.
The next moment, she threw the plate she was holding to the floor and screamed.
“GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!? NOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!”
Everyone nearby was startled by her sudden cry. But her friends sitting next to her, looking down at the cake she had thrown to the floor, suddenly screamed as well.
“W-What is this!? Why is such a thing…!?”
“Whatever is the matter!? P-Please calm down, everyone!!”
As she ran to the table, she tried to calm down the shrieking older ladies.
But then, she suddenly saw just what they were screaming at as she laid eyes on the cake.
Goosebumps ran up Karina’s back.
It was a rat’s dead body.
Covered in sponge and cream, the bloody corpse of a rat lay in the ruins of the slice of cake.
Its head was poking out of the piece that the Madame had just eaten from.