5 – 3
The incident in Blume was clearly Alois’ fault.
The fact of the matter was that he had incited a riot, causing many people to be injured. It was also undeniable that Alois was inextricably linked to the debacle. The end result of his actions may have seen Lucas’ crimes revealed, but that was simply that: a result. The ends did not justify Alois’ means.
Deciding to hold a festival in Blume was also Alois’ fault. The fact that, under Alois’ guidance, the treasured traditions of Mohnton were intentionally torn down was a grievous fault. This wasn’t the first time Alois had acted out in such a manner as well, taking into account the issue of Grenze. As a result of his new policies and developments in Grenze, especially in promoting trade with foreign countries, the town had become full of rogues and merchants of ill-repute, unbefitting the great land of Mohnton.
Not to mention, the disaster that took place in Einst the previous year. The massive damage done to the town had caused a major imbalance in Mohnton’s economy.
That too was Alois’ responsibility. If only he had responded to the crisis more expediently, a lot of the damage may have been avoided. The expenditures on reconstruction were also unnecessarily huge, it should have been possible to restore the town to working order on a much more modest budget.
That was the view of the three noble families that held sway over Mohnton.
Say what you will about those old men, but they were excellent sophists.
It wasn’t long after returning to the capital that he held meetings with the noble delegates of the Duchy of Mohnton, lead by the Meyerheim family.
Due to their extenuating circumstances, the Lörrich family had excused themselves, so the only two families represented were the Meyerheim and Ende houses. Although he was used to remaining impassive as he received undue blame from others, either directly or through snide remarks, for once he couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it.
Although one would expect that the representatives of the Lörrich family would be the ones barracked for the debacle in Blume, due to their absence it was Alois instead who received the heapings of scorn.
Rather, it was probably a good thing that the Lörrich family hadn’t attended. They might not have been able to manage things quite as diplomatically when confronted like that.
Even a month after the end of those intense meetings, they still weighed on his mind.
This wasn’t helped by the fact he was constantly receiving letters, complaining about one thing or another and either subtly or directly ascribing the blame to Alois. This wasn’t anything new to him, either. Ever since Alois’ reign as Duke had begun, they had always been trying to jostle him in such a way.
Such things didn’t happen in the days when your predecessor was in charge.
That was their dog whistle.
The former Duke Montchat, Alois’ father, died eight years ago. Yet despite that, memories of the previous Duke still remained fresh in their hearts, and Alois couldn’t escape the constant comparisons.
If only the previous Duke hadn’t passed away.
The ghost of his father seemed to haunt him still, his revenant shade kept alive in the hearts of those nobles who hated him so.
With those thoughts pressing down on him, the pen between Alois’ fingers came to a halt. Rubbing his temples, he breathed out a sigh.
He was troubled by how he and Camilla had parted after the tea party that evening, but this wasn’t something Camilla needed to know about.
No, in fact, she would be better off not knowing.
There had been a new name on the tips of the tongues of those nobles, with which they so furiously lashed at Alois; Camilla.
Camilla has had a bad reputation in Mohnton, ever since she first arrived. Not to mention, the rumours that had spread about just what she had done in both Einst and Blume. They say that she’s a disturber of the peace. Those old men are questioning whether or not her real intentions were truly something malicious after all.
What’s more, Alois was very young compared to those experienced noblemen. In fact, after what had happened in Grenze, he had done a good job fending off the wolves as well as he had.
Alois had gained his own sort of experience through all this and had learned to roll with the punches, even sometimes avoid them entirely.
But, what about Camilla?
If Camilla accepted Alois’ proposal, she would inevitably come under the same sort of fire that he did. What’s more, she had a much shorter temper than he did. Perhaps she would try to take them head on and inevitably take a direct blow.
Alois had eventually come to find her passion quite endearing, but he hardly expected everyone else to think the same way. Certainly, her fiery attitude could very quickly leave a bad impression with those noblemen, and could also have a negative effect on the relationships he was trying to cultivate with the leaders of various towns in the region. As a result of that, it might even be possible for more ambitious traitors like Lucas to rear their heads again. Even if such a thing didn’t happen, he could definitely foresee that the number of complaints heaped up against him would increase. Alois’ power would be openly questioned, and even the common people’s impression of him as a ‘good lord’ would change.
The only other alternative was Alois forcing Camilla to be someone she wasn’t. And he would feel awful for pushing such a thing onto Camilla.
– Can she truly be happy, remaining in this land?
Alois asked himself that, staring down at his hands.
He didn’t have an answer. If it was the case that she had nowhere else to go but here, then perhaps she wouldn’t have any choice but to surmount those obstacles.
But, that wasn’t the case now.
Alois took out the unsealed envelope from the drawer of his desk. Despite the simple design of the envelope, there was no mistaking the immaculate seal upon it. The seal of the royal family.
Inside the once sealed envelope was an invitation to the wedding of Prince Julian and Lady Liselotte, being held the next month. Then, in plain words at the bottom of the invitation, as if almost an afterthought;
But Alois still hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell Camilla.
An hour later, Alois heard the sound of a knock on the door of his study.
When he asked who it was, it was a senior maid who responded.
“I have brought your late night meal.”
As she said that, the maid brought food into the room on a trolley. Before Camilla had come to this land, such a thing had been a nightly occurrence. But, for the last few months, it hadn’t happened at all.
“I don’t remember asking for such a thing.”
Alois shook his head, motioning for the maid to leave. But, she did not. Boldly continuing to wheel the trolley, she brought it up beside Alois and placed the dish on his desk.
Alois furrowed his eyebrows in a glare.
“I do not want it.”
“That will not do. This is necessary for Lord Alois, after all. As Lord Alois seems to be unhealthily thin nowadays, I have taken it upon myself to serve the meals that the master deemed necessary.”
The ‘master’ the maid referred to was the previous Duke Montchat; Alois’ father. She was one of the senior servants who had been serving this house since before the previous head of the household had passed away.
“One dish after waking up, two dishes for breakfast, a dish at brunch, two dishes during lunch, and a serving of snacks for afternoon tea. After that, three dishes at dinner then another before bed. Master’s words left no room for doubt. In order to properly carry out his will, I must faithfully serve Lord Alois as such.”
Seven full meals a day. Thinking about it in light of his current diet, Alois’ father had set a ludicrous amount of food to be eaten. That was beyond doubt. Yet, the servants had faithfully followed their late Master’s orders, and Alois had also gone along with eating in such a way as if it were only natural.
But, that was in the past.
“Why now, so suddenl-”
As Alois’ eyes gazed at the dish in front of him, the words died on his tongue.
The late night meal, glistening in fat, had been served on a light blue plate, complete with an eye-catching decoration. It was ringed with intertwined colours of dark blue and gold. Alois’ expression changed drastically once he remembered exactly what that plate was.
“To think that I forgot one of the Master’s orders. Thankfully, one of the remarks of the head of the Meyerheim family helped me regain my memory.”
The maid who looked down at Alois as she spoke so deadly seriously wore her chestnut brown hair in a bun, the hair colour characteristic of the Meyerheim house.
“…This plate is…”
However, Alois didn’t hear her words at all. He couldn’t take his eyes off the dish in front of him.
“Just where did you get this… this plate…”
He was absolutely sure. This should have been hidden away in a room that Alois had expressly forbidden anyone from entering.
Of the three plates that had remained to him, one had already been shattered. The surviving two, no one should have known where they were. He had planned to keep them locked away, consigning them to the depths of his memories…
“I sincerely hope that you will follow Master’s instructions henceforth.”
As she lifted the hem of her skirt in a small curtsey, the senior maid left the room.
All that remained in the room was the exorbitantly seasoned dish and Alois who couldn’t tear his gaze off of it.
Alois was all alone. There was nobody there to pressure him with their gaze. Yet, all the same, Alois’ shaking hand reached out towards the dish.
– I have to eat.
No matter the taste, no matter how much of it there was, he could not be permitted to not eat. As both a good lord, and a good son. The half-forgotten teachings that swam in his addled memories still had their hooks in Alois, tormenting him even now.
Death hadn’t dispelled them.
If anything, death had only made them stronger.
Like a ghost.