5 – 8
She had already been pursuing Alois more aggressively for a few days now.
However, despite him continuing to try and escape her, when they finally met, it was in a way Camilla couldn’t have predicted.
“Lord Alois! A-are you alright!?”
Even though it was still late at night, Camilla had rushed into his room with a loudly raised voice.
There was one large bed in the room and only a single shelf for books, as well as a fireplace, and two chairs. Other than that, Alois’ room seemed devoid of possessions. Even though she had visited his room many times in the past, she could never get over just how plain and empty it really was.
And on that bed, Alois was lying down. A court physician was assessing him on one side, whilst the rest of the bed was surrounded by servants. There was Vilmer, the long-serving chamberlain and Gerda, the head of all the maids. Besides them, there was also the head butler and the senior most maid directly under Gerda. Those four made up the most veteran servants in the household, whilst a large number of their subordinates stood silently behind them.
As Camilla burst into the room in a flurry, they turned to glance at her. Then, without any more reaction to her entrance, they turned back to look at Alois. She felt a little uncomfortable with their uniform movement, as if they were all tied together with string, but that wasn’t important right now.
Camilla pushed her way through the ranks of servants to reach the bed. A few moments later, Nicole finally caught up to Camilla and entered the room, out of breath. Realizing the heavy atmosphere, she felt a shudder run up her spine and she tried to make herself scarce at the fringes of the room, but no one paid her any mind.
“Poison… is it true that you were poisoned!? Are you truly alright!?”
“I’m fine. Camilla, I’m sorry, for making you worry like this.”
Alois was awake, lying slightly propped up in his bed. He was wearing white clothes as if he had been brought to a hospital back in the royal capital. His voice didn’t tremble, but the colour had been drained from his face and his eyes looked haggard. It was a hard sight to bear.
“It really isn’t anything worth worrying about, though. I barely swallowed any of it. The doctor told me to rest just in case.”
“How is this not something to worry about!?”
“It’s nothing to get into an uproar about. As you can see, I’m alright.”
She wanted to say more, but Alois shook his head. Camilla could scarcely believe what she was hearing. Alois was the lord of this land. What’s more, a Duke with royal blood. And such a man, someone had tried to poison him. How could a matter like that be dropped simply because he was still alive?
Somebody had undoubtedly tried to murder Alois. They had aimed for his life. This was absolutely something to get into an uproar about.
And it didn’t seem as if Camilla was alone in that way of thinking.
“That will not do, Lord Alois.”
It was Gerda who spoke next. She stood a little away from the bed, but she emerged from the shadows of the other servants to step forward and speak.
“We must find the culprit who poisoned you. An investigation should be conducted, and the poisoner identified as soon as possible.”
“That’s not needed. I don’t consider this to be a serious matter. I am telling you now, I am ending it with this. Also, no one shall speak of this outside of the mansion. Make sure everyone else is aware of that.”
As Alois stubbornly retorted, Gerda’s eyes subtly narrowed by a hair. As the two of them obstinately looked at one another, no one in the room said a word. Despite the room being full of so many people, you could barely hear anyone breathe.
“We only want to look for the person who endangered your life, Lord Alois. Why are you so insistent on stopping us?”
The first one to speak was Gerda.
But, despite Gerda’s question making sense, Alois didn’t respond. That impassive face of his simply continued to stare at her.
“…Are you thinking of shielding someone? Do you have an idea of who the culprit may be?”
Alois still remained silent. All he did was breathe and blink. If it weren’t for that, one might think he truly had died.
“So there truly is someone to protect? So be it… Look for the source of the poison. First, speak to the maids who prepared and served the meal.
At Gerda’s command, her second-in-command maid nodded with a stern expression. Then, she left the room, with several other servants trailing behind her. Although Alois had expressly forbidden it, she had instead chosen to obey Gerda’s words.
Alois glared as she called her name. But despite that steely tone of voice, Gerda wasn’t intimidated.
“If we simply leave the culprit be, then your life will still be in danger, Lord Alois. To find the poisoner, we shall use any and all means. Lord Alois, you may rest in the meantime.”
Cupping both her hands in front of her, Gerda stretched out her back as she spoke.
“You needn’t concern yourself with this matter anymore. All that you need to do is follow Master’s orders. Nothing need change.”
Then, she bowed. Despite clearly disobeying, she kept the etiquette of a good servant.
“‘Eat. You shall not be allowed to leave even a crumb.’ We shall have your late night meal brought to your room, so make sure to heed the words of the Master without fail.”
Camilla blinked in surprise at Gerda’s words. Alois, meanwhile, seemed to grow even paler. That expression of steel from just a moment ago collapsed in an instant, as his lips trembled.
“…With that, I shall take my leave.”
But, Gerda turned on her heels and left, not paying any notice to Alois’ state. The rest of the servants followed in her footsteps.
The only people left were Alois and the doctor, as well as the stunned looking Nicole. Of course, Camilla stayed as well.
In that room that suddenly seemed much more cavernous than before, Camilla spoke first.
“…Late night meal?”
Even though Alois laid there, still recovering from poison, that was the first thing she could say. Camilla wasn’t a bad person, but she often had a habit of being insensitive.
What’s more, she was still surprised by what had just been said to Alois.
Despite looking like the prim and proper servant, Gerda had never truly acted like she took Alois’ words as gospel, but this went far further than ever before.
– Well, I too think it’s important to find whoever the culprit is…
Despite how she went about saying it, Camilla found herself agreeing in principle with Gerda. In fact, the person she had doubts about now was Alois, who really was acting as if he was trying to protect someone, despite being the one who was poisoned. If they didn’t catch the culprit now, the same thing might happen again.
– But, why didn’t he say anything…!?
Camilla thought to herself bitterly. Even if they were the senior most servants in the mansion, even if they were the ones who organized all the other employees, even if they really did have an intimidating air about them… it was unthinkable that he be cowed like that merely by words.
“Lord Alois! Don’t eat before going to sleep!”
“I have to eat.”
As Alois muttered weakly, Camilla wondered if she was hearing things. Staring at Alois in utter disbelief, she noticed that he was trembling.
“I’m not allowed to leave any food, so why did I spit it back out…? Why did I vomit…?”
Alois hugged himself with his arms, his eyes turning down to the ground. It was as if he couldn’t hear Camilla’s voice anymore.
“Why couldn’t I swallow it…?”
And as he tightly wrapped his arms around himself, power began to flow from Alois. Camilla instinctively flinched backwards. She could feel something faint, shimmering against her skin. Behind her, she could hear Nicole let out a frightened gasp.
She remembered this feeling.
– It’s like in Einst…
That strong magical power continued to grow, turning Camilla’s skin numb from the energy. As Alois’ thinking became more and more unstable, the magical energy in his body began to grow unchecked, running dangerously throughout the room.
“I have to eat… I have to eat more, to make up for everything I vomited…”
Not seeing Camilla shudder at the awful sensation of the magical energy crawling over her skin, Alois stood up out of bed. The doctor was trembling so much that he didn’t even think to stop him. Neither Camilla nor Nicole could say a word, either.
As Alois staggered on unsteady legs, he began to make his way towards the door. As he opened the door and left, it was only after it closed behind him that Camilla could breathe again. She could feel that the rampant magical energy in the room was slowly beginning to fade.
“…ah… Lord Alois! He’s gone!”
As Camilla regained her senses and tried to run after him, someone tugged back on her arm. When she turned around, she saw Nicole’s petrified face. As she held onto Camilla’s arm for dear life, she looked up at her with tears in her eyes.
“You can’t! It would be bad if Lord Alois got even more upset! There might be an explosion!”
Other than him, Nicole was the person with the strongest magical power in the mansion. She would have a much better idea about the true danger of Alois’ magic raging out of control than Camilla.
“There’s nothing we can do now! He has to calm down by himself!!”
Camilla stood still, as Nicole looked at her more determined than she had ever seen her.
The desperation in her voice wasn’t just a warning about some vague danger. She was truly worried about Camilla’s safety.
“I’m sorry. But, I cannot just leave Lord Alois like that.”
The Alois that Camilla knew was always calm. It was rare to see him moved by passion, whether that by joy, anger or sorrow. But now, that man was whipping himself so harshly that he had begun to tremble violently, causing his magical energy to lash out of control.
There was probably no one who could approach Alois now. Perhaps, by tomorrow, he would have calmed down. He might even be able to wear his mask, like usual.
But, what about today’s Alois? He would suffer alone and in torment, with no one by his side until the sun rose. Such a thing like that was too painful to think about.
“I am just going to check on him. I’ll be back soon.”
And with a proud laugh and a bold smile, Camilla ran a gentle hand through Nicole’s hair, trying to reassure her.
Then, despite how uneasy Nicole still looked, Camilla opened the door and left that room.
Now, where had Alois gone?