5 – 9
She found Alois in the old storeroom, next to his own bedroom.
It was a room that he didn’t want to let anyone enter, a room where Nicole snuck in one day and broke an important plate. Just why on earth did he come here of all places to eat? In front of that family portrait, its frame covered in dust, Alois sat alone at a table as he ate something, his back turned to Camilla.
As soon as she had stepped into the room, she had felt a crawling sensation on her skin. The room was so full of rampant magical energy that even Camilla, someone who had next to no magical power herself, knew just how powerful it was.
Even though she hesitated for a brief moment, Camilla eventually steeled herself and marched into the room.
“I’m sorry, but please leave me alone for now.”
However, as if to curtail Camilla who had plucked up her courage to face him, Alois wouldn’t even turn to face her.
“I’ll be fine. Just for today, please leave me alone.”
Camilla frowned as he tried to push her away with his words once again. This man, is he always going to be so set on building walls around himself?
“There’s nothing you can do for me, Camilla. Please, for today, just go back to your room.”
“As if I could do such a thing!?”
Ignoring Alois’ words, Camilla kept striding boldly into the room. The only things that could be heard for a brief moment were Camilla’s footsteps, as well as the quiet and restrained sounds of Alois eating. He eats and eats, even if he shouldn’t.
“Lord Alois, just what on earth are you eating!?”
She bellowed that out as she walked over to him,
“…I wonder, just what have I been eating all this time?”
“The food I eat, just what is it meant to be?”
From where she stood, Camilla could only see Alois’ back The portrait of the former Duke and Duchess hanging above Alois seemed to cast a shadow down on the table.
“Taste doesn’t matter. I can’t think about whether it’s good or bad. The only thing I’m allowed to do is chew and swallow. There could have been poison mixed into my food for years and I wouldn’t have known. Or, perhaps, I’ve just become accustomed to enjoying poison?”
“I knew that something like this would happen sooner or later. Neither father, nor mother, nor anyone would allow me to change. Things such as meeting new people or trying to move forward, I knew they were forbidden, the only thing I’m allowed to do is protect this land, as it was. Someone like me, who disregards his father’s will like this, has no value at all in the eyes of his servants.”
“Do you even hear what you’re saying!?”
She could barely understand the words that Alois muttered under his breath. But, even though Camilla raised her voice at him, he still kept talking.
“This dish is my repentance, my parent’s will, and also… their insurance. Just why am I still alive? I don’t understand…”
Something in the room began to stir… was it dust? The magical energy in the room popped and crackled viciously. As he kept speaking, Alois’ voice began to waver as well.
“Just why couldn’t I swallow it? Just why did I spit it out? And even vomit? Father and mother would never permit me to do something like that… But, when I saw that flower, for some reason I thought that I didn’t want to die…”
Words were meaningless now. Standing behind Alois, Camilla grabbed his shoulders as firmly as she could.
Alois, who had been eating elegantly with his knife and fork even now, finally set them down. She didn’t hear them drop to the table. She also did her best to ignore the burning pain from the magical energy that ran through her hands as she touched Alois.
“Please get a hold of yourself this instant, Lord Alois!”
“I do have a hold of myself, Camilla. I always do.”
Alois turned around to look at her, the turn throwing off one of her hands as if the force Camilla was using to grasp his shoulders was nothing.
“I always did my best to be a good son. And I was, until I met you.”
He ate all the dishes served to him just like his parents wanted and he gained weight just as his parents expected. He ate dish after dish that could have contained any amount of poison, and he was ready to die any time.
Alois never complained, and always strived to meet other’s expectations. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to die. But, instead, because he wanted to be a ‘good son’ for his parents.
“But, father won’t forgive me now. Mother won’t look my way either. The person who poisoned me was acting as my father’s hand. That means I’ve been a bad boy, Camilla…”
Alois looked up at Camilla. His face was completely different from that usual subdued expression he wore.
He was grimacing sadly, his eyes puffy and red.
He looked delicate and vulnerable like he would break at a single push. That face of his that looked on the verge of tears… it was a young boy’s face.
“Father and mother, they’re always watching. They know what I did to them. They know that I should have died instead of them… they know that with my own hands, I killed them myself!”
Alois suddenly grasped at Camilla’s arm that still held his shoulder. He looked utterly desperate as he grabbed her slender arm with both of his hands.
“I have to be a good lord! A good son! Otherwise, the only thing I can do is die! I can still feel them cursing me, even now!”
His magical power began to swirl visibly around him. One of the old vases in the room shattered, smashed to pieces by a violent lashing of magical energy. But Camilla kept staring straight at Alois, ignoring the distant sound.
– He really is too much of a good boy.
Camilla recalled the impression that she’d had of Alois time and time again as she grew to know him.
Rather than a good man, or even a good person, he reminded her of a ‘good boy’. And now, she knew the reason.
Alois was still a child. He was still merely a boy who remained bound to his parent’s will, not allowed to spread his wings at all. He was still afraid of his father and mother and did everything to keep in their good graces, without doing anything for himself. It was as if for this child, who didn’t know how to be selfish, time itself had stopped.
That was the true nature of the man known as Alois Montchat. The truth that was buried in his heart, beyond his meek appearance. Fragile and vulnerable, that’s why he kept everyone at arm’s length, for fear that what little he had would break at the slightest of touches.
Perhaps Alois too was aware of just how twisted it was.
He must have always been a clever child, even back when he truly was a child. That cleverness was why he hadn’t failed. That cleverness too was why he took that burden onto himself because he deluded himself into thinking that he both could and should.
“I wanted to change.”
Alois still gripped Camilla’s arm as he looked up at her.
“I was scared of change, but, I thought that if you were with me, I really could. But, this is too much. I’m scared. I’m scared, I don’t want to be betrayed again!”
“I can’t ever be free of my father and mother. I can always feel them there… All I see are bits and pieces of memories, and most of them are bitter, but sometimes I see my mother’s smile… If the only memories I had were painful, then this wouldn’t be so hard, but those glimpses I see are… They might have actually loved me, once!”
When his parents had died, Alois had inadvertently felt an unmistakable sense of relief. But, that sense of relief in of itself had festered into a burden of tormented guilt. Those vague and fleeting memories of a gentle mother’s smile, whose face he couldn’t even remember anymore, were like poison to Alois. Just how could he conflate his mother’s smile with a person he knew he was relieved to have seen died?
Every time Alois had hoped, those hopes had been betrayed. But still, he had kept hoping. Like an infant, waiting for their mother.
“Just what are these memories? I’m sure that my parents never loved me… Then, just why do I have them? Where do these memories come from?”
Alois wallowed in blind confusion at those fragmented memories. In that sense too, he couldn’t move forward. Like a lost child, wandering alone through the dark swamp, as the mud slowly mired around his legs.
“…Please help me.”
Alois muttered so softly that it was almost a whisper. As Alois’ emotions began to twist in fear, the magic in the air shimmered and swayed. He was trembling. The strong grip he had of Camilla’s arm before had become weak.
“You have to help me, Camilla. Please, please help me…”
Like a child clinging to his parent, Alois whimpered. Tears finally began to form in the eyes of that child, who had held them back all this time. They began to pool in those red eyes, slipping slowly down his cheeks.
“I want to change. I don’t want to be scared of mother and father anymore…”
The tears streamed down to his chin now. Then, suddenly, he began to grip Camilla’s arm strongly. It hurt.
“I have to get out of here. I want to leave it behind. That’s all I want, but… I’m not strong enough…!”
Alois’ desire to change wasn’t something that was permitted either by his parents or the people of this land. Even if they poisoned him, he had to remain the same. If he changed, he would die.
But, even so, he couldn’t help himself. Alois truly wanted to change. He wanted the power to overcome that fear.
“Camilla, please, you have to take me away from here. I can’t be here anymore, so-”
‘Please’, the word never came out of his mouth, swallowed up by the sudden dry sound that echoed through the room as something hard struck against his cheek.
Alois slowly took his hands off Camilla and held his cheek. Just what was that pain? His skin was starting to redden.
“I am not your mother.”
As much as Alois’ cheek ached, so did Camilla’s hand sting.
That was the first time she had ever struck anyone in anger, and she didn’t expect her palm to hurt quite so much.
Was it due to the pain? Or simply the shock? Either way, the swirling magical energy became even more violent than before.
The dish on the table broke apart with a bang. Even though the jagged pieces cut at her skin as they flew, Camilla didn’t stop.
“I’m not going to coddle you. And I can’t simply save you, either. Lord Alois, just how old are you now?”
Alois stared silently at Camilla. He looked like a child who had been struck by his own mother.
“You’ll be twenty-four soon. What’s more, it has been nearly nine years since your parents passed. You’re a fine adult. Who even has the right to tear you down?”
In place of a voice, the magic that surrounded Alois expressed his emotion. Raging out of control, it knocked ornaments and books off the shelves and even left cuts on Camilla’s skin. Constantly cracking and snapping through the air, the sound of the rampaging magic was constant.
It looked like even Alois was frightened by the maelstrom now. Perhaps, it may have reminded him of the time that his parents died.
“Nobody has the right to tear you down if you really want to change. But, I can’t just praise you or comfort you because you ask for it. There’s no use expecting something like that from me. I’m not your mother, and I don’t want to be your mother either.”
“Suffering is something you have to deal with yourself, and you have to save yourself with your own two hands as well. You also have to know your own limits. You have to make a decision by yourself if things have gone too far. Because that’s what an adult does!”
“If you want change, start with changing yourself. You want to lose weight!? Then limit the amount of food you’re eating by yourself! Exercise as well is something you have to do because you want to do it as well. You’re not a child anymore!”
As she said that, Camilla clapped Alois’ cheeks between her hands. Then, she smooshed and stretched out his face with her fingers. Because she felt like if she let go now, he wouldn’t keep his eyes on her.
“I’m not going to coddle you and I’m not just going to just tell you what you want to hear! Sometimes, I might even say the things you’d rather not hear at all! But, if you ever want someone to talk to, then I don’t mind listening! Don’t just keep it all to yourself, like there isn’t anyone around you who cares!”
Even if it wasn’t Camilla, Günter or Klaus would always hear Alois out if he needed someone to talk to. If there was a problem, they could put their heads together to find a solution.
Despite that, Alois always refused when people held their hands out towards him. His fear, his guilt from the past, and his parents’ binding words, Alois used these to keep people away.
But, if he truly stopped to look, he would understand. Alois’ parents weren’t here any more. Instead, there were all sorts of people who would look his way instead. People who trusted Alois, because he had earned that trust.
Alois suddenly extended a hand towards Camilla again. As he did, the tears began to well up in his eyes again. He tried to keep them back, but they hopelessly spilt over all the same. But, he took a deep breath, swallowing down the sob in his throat.
“I want to change.”
Alois bit his lip, then kept talking, his voice tired and soft.
“I can’t let things stay the way they are. I want to change. I want to change, Camilla.”
Alois’ arm looped behind Camilla’s back, holding her tightly. She didn’t realize that Alois had pulled her into a hug before it was too late.
“W-what are you…”
Even if her eyes suddenly opened wide in surprise, and she tried to escape him, Alois didn’t let her go. Alois’s tear-streaked face was so close.
Nine years… Or, perhaps, even longer than that. These were the tears that Alois had kept inside all that time.
Alois shut his eyes tight. She could see the tears glistening on those silver eyelashes. Camilla couldn’t say a word, as she was transfixed by him, who only wept in silence now.
She kept watching him without saying anything. She forgot his sudden hug and just kept staring at him.
Those tears that changed a boy into a man subtly caught the light of the single lit candlestick in the room. The flickering reflections that ran down his cheek looked like they had been caught alight.
“Camilla, please stay by my side. Please, don’t go back to the capital. There are all sorts of dangers around me. And this land itself isn’t safe. There are so many things that might hurt you. But…”
Alois’ voice was faint, but his words were clear.
“I want you to stay here, by my side. I want to change, with you at my side…!”
The magical power in the room had converged back on its master before she knew it.
All that it left in its wake were the ruined antiques that the room stored.
Behind Alois, she heard something tall topple over.
But, the only thing Camilla noticed was the power in the arms that held her.
Everyone kept waiting for Camilla to smack someone in this novel and the first person she actually smacks is Alois. Poor Alois.