5 – 2
Rather late in the day, it was suddenly decided that the two of them would have a tea party, so here they were.
The afternoon was already bleeding into the evening, and it was almost time for dinner. As the red of the setting sun lit up the courtyard, Alois and Camilla sat across from each other at a round white table.
On the table, there was a veritable mountain of cakes and pastries made by Günter. There were miniature white cakes, topped with fresh cream. Raspberry tarts, their filling a vibrant shade of red. Savoury sized cherry pies and perfectly uniform cookies that resembled cobblestones.
They were different from the spur of the moment artisan creations of Klaus, the confectionaries that Günter made were all just like you’d see in the recipe book. The fact that none of them deviated from one another in either appearance or taste was proof of his skill.
But, as is always the case in this house, they didn’t make their way to Alois’ plate without being coated in sugar first. Not to mention that extra dollops of sweet cream were added, along with bastings of syrup, honey and saccharine jams. It was as if the original taste were buried under an avalanche of sugar.
– This tradition of theirs is utterly absurd.
She had seen how much effort Günter had poured into making these back in the kitchen, so it hurt her heart to see them bastardized like this.
“Is something wrong?”
Alois looked puzzled when he saw how bitter Camilla looked. There wasn’t much energy in his expression when he called out to her as if he were exhausted. Was the work that piled up during their stay in Blume so overwhelming that it was even causing Alois problems? It wasn’t unusual to see him spend all day in his office lately.
“…Nothing in particular.”
“I see…?” Alois mused as she answered him, then took a bite of one of the tarts that were far too sweet for Camilla.
“It feels like it has been a while since I’ve eaten this much.”
Alois laughed as if he were slightly troubled by the huge stack of food in front of him, although taking another bite straight after.
It was definitely true that as of late, Alois’ diet had begun to resemble what was normal for a man his age. They had also started to take regular walks together instead of taking morning or afternoon tea, with the number of sugary snacks he was eating being reduced as well.
What’s more, ever since returning from Blume, Alois has apparently begun practicing riding again. “Something like swinging a sword around is still a little too much for me,” he had said, which is why he chose to take horse riding back up. Even though he was so busy with work as of late, he still took time where he could to practice his equestrian skills. That probably was part of the reason why he seems so tired.
She had seen him take the reins of a carriage before, so he must know how to handle horses. The main issue in the past was that there was no horse strong enough to carry Alois’ weight. That, however, has changed.
– Somehow… I feel like it would suit him.
Not able or willing touch those violent sugary traps on the table, Camilla instead gazed at Alois, sipping her tea.
Alois, riding on horseback… she thought to herself that, perhaps, she might like to see that someday.
Camilla had arrived in the Duchy of Mohnton in the waning weeks of summer. That was already more than ten months ago.
Spring had already come into bloom. Alois’ twenty-fourth birthday was drawing nearer by the day. After Alois’ birthday, it wouldn’t be too long until Camilla herself turned nineteen.
It felt like the one year anniversary of her being exiled to this place would come and go like the wind. Just how much weight had Alois lost in the better part of a year?
The amount of food he was eating had drastically reduced, and he began to take up different types of exercise on his own initiative. Because of the ointment and creams from Einst, his skin condition had begun to improve as well.
That being said, Alois was still quite a thick man, and his skin was still blemished. His true face still seemed somewhat hidden behind the remaining pockets of pockmarked and flabby skin. Although she can gather that what she could see of his face behind the imperfections was quite neat, it would be a long stretch to call him handsome with those leftover pimples and excess flesh.
– There’s still some work left to do.
Camilla felt a little frustrated at being so close yet still not being across the finish line.
No longer truly desiring to return back to the capital with him, the original reason she had to turn him into a beautiful and handsome man worthy of envy had gone away. But, it was only human to feel like finishing what you’ve started, and she felt a responsibility to see this transformation through. Even though Alois himself seemed motivated now, Camilla couldn’t afford to rest on her laurels.
And after Alois became a beautiful man… would she marry him? Or would she not?
-…We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
As she waved away the thought that never seemed to leave her heart, Camilla watched Alois eat.
He ate like a proper gentleman, not wolfing down his food like before, though he didn’t seem to have any complaints about the taste. He didn’t spill any of the cream or smear the syrup across his hands as he ate in a way you could almost call graceful.
Morning, noon and evening. One thing about Alois hadn’t changed. No matter how much sickly sweet or disgustingly fatty dishes were placed in front of him, Alois would polish them clean without fail. He ate those dishes with relish as if they were truly delicious, even though she knew that he had an excellent palate.
Taking meals like this was a historic tradition for the Montchat family. Inherited from the progenitors of their line. It wasn’t something that Camilla, a stranger in this land, could so easily change.
– I know that. I know that, but…
Abundant salt and sugar were symbols of wealth. She understood the reasoning behind it; rich meals were their own signs of authority and power.
– But things that ought to change really should!
No matter what the justifications were, it was still desperately unhealthy for his body. Antiquated traditions shouldn’t be treated like immutable dogma.
The only conclusion she could draw was that this tradition was the last obstacle in Alois’ way to finally becoming thin.
“Second, change what kind of food is being served!”
Camilla suddenly slammed a fist on the table as she suddenly revived her old plan. Alois raised his face in surprise.
“What do you mean, all of a sudden?”
“This isn’t sudden whatsoever, I’ve always thought this way. Even if it’s a ‘tradition’, the amount of extra seasoning being added to your food is preposterous, Lord Alois! Surely you’re aware of this!?”
Alois blinked in silence, without denying or agreeing with her words.
“Even if you cut down on your meals, there’s no possibility of losing weight with such sweet and greasy foods! What’s more, it’s bad for your heart! Lord Alois, don’t you think that this kind of food is ridiculous as well?”
“I’m sure that you would rather eat food that truly tastes good as well, am I wrong? You have such an excellent palate as well-”
He spoke quietly, but Camilla’s words still trailed off at that sound. Even if he hadn’t raised his voice at her, there was a strange power in that voice that caused Camilla to inadvertently stop talking.
In front of her, Alois’ looked stern. And considering how mild-mannered he usually was, that angry look in his eyes was off-putting. Camilla sat back in her chair, surprised herself by how she shrank back from the sight.
“…I’m sorry, I lost my temper.”
“No… it’s as you say, Camilla. I understand that this isn’t good for my body.”
Alois let out a deep sigh, then took a large bite of one of those miniature cakes.
“Tradition… tradition, huh? Indeed, it might be time to face it…”
Camilla raised her eyebrows at Alois, who spoke softly to himself. Hearing her, Alois turned back to look at Camilla, smiling softly as if to try and reassure her. Then, he suddenly looked up at the sky.
The fading sun of the afternoon had dipped below the horizon, and the sky was beginning to blur into darkness. A wind flowed between the partings of the cloud, swaying the trees in the courtyard. Even after winter’s demise, its chill winds remained, like the echo of a death rattle.
“It’s becoming windy now, huh? It’s about to get cold out here, shall we head back inside?”
Although she nodded obediently, she still looked at him suspiciously. He’s aware of what things really ought to taste like, and he knows just how bad it is for his body… Yet why did he end the conversation that could have lead to changing it?
– What is he hiding?
Despite Camilla’s distrustful scowl, Alois kept that regular smile of his. It felt like he and Camilla had become closer lately, but just as always he still held certain cards close to his chest. Just from the way he reacted emotionally, it seemed as if it was a sore spot for him as well.
– If you need someone to talk to about it, why not me?
Camilla studied Alois’ face, that seemed submerged in both equal parts fatigue and secrecy.
He said that he liked her, he had proposed engagement to her, yet still, it was as if he wouldn’t truly let Camilla into his heart. Whether in Einst or Blume, it was as if he always neglected to tell Camilla about the most important things. If only he laid it all out to her, that would clear up the misunderstandings between them. Camilla knew that he wasn’t hiding things from her out of malice, but she still couldn’t help but be bothered by it.
It’s not as if she wanted him to tell her every single thing. Camilla herself had things she didn’t want to say, after all.
But still, Camilla felt a deep sense of frustration at Alois’ attitude.