6 – 7
Therese was six years old when she learned that she was, in fact, a daughter of the Storm family.
The Neumann house was forever teetering, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before it finally collapsed.
Her father and mother had often apologized to Therese. For all the hardships that she was being put through, that she was having to endure as such a young girl, saying that they were failures as her parents. We’re so sorry.
She didn’t want to hear those words. They only made her more miserable.
Therese’s nature was twisted by those constant apologetic words. Although they never told her things directly, Therese was a bright girl for her age, and eventually figured it out.
You’ve become an outsider. So, we apologize. We’re not your real family. Just thinking about it was painful. It was miserable. She wanted someone to save her from that pain. She couldn’t take it anymore.
But, even though the Storm family were her real parents, they didn’t want to take Therese back, not letting her stay whenever she came to their home. It made sense, of course. Because they were the ones who had thrown Therese away in the first place.
– I want to be saved.
Therese had always clung to her cousin’s hand. Although her real father and mother had abandoned Therese, there was still that girl… her real sister…
– Please don’t leave me.
Camilla, without knowing anything, had pulled her hand away from Therese’s. To Therese, it was a betrayal by the one person she had left to cling to.
Even though they were family. Even though they were sisters. Even though they were true sisters.
– I would never abandon you like that…
No matter how fearsome their opponent might be, she wouldn’t abandon her. That hand of Therese’s that Camilla abandoned all those years ago would now be the very same hand that saved her.
So long as Camilla asks Therese to save her.
– I am different from you, sister.
That was all.
Therese pushed Katarina off her and barrelled past Patrick, rushing to Camilla’s side.
She didn’t care about the astonished look on her parent’s faces. Sidling up beside Camilla, she spoke in a whisper so soft that only she could hear.
“Oh, my poor sister.”
At the sound of that sweet voice, Camilla turned to glare. She was met by Therese’s face, that was full of a bright smile.
“Those parents of ours have already abandoned one child. There’s no reason why they would hesitate to do so again. I don’t think there’s any reason to so desperately cling to them, is there?”
In contrast to that sweet voice, those words were laced with venom. As far back as she could remember, ever since her attitude towards her changed, Camilla had never recalled Therese being so frank and direct with her words. Perhaps there was no time for biting sarcasm or veiled mockery now?
“I won’t abandon you, sister. If you wish for me to save you, then I’ll do everything I can to help you. That’s what family is for, isn’t it?”
“I don’t need you to save me!”
Camilla pushed Therese away from her. Patrick and Katarina glared in fury, but neither of the two girls cared.
“Please don’t be stubborn, sister. Just take a moment to think about this calmly. With the position you’re in right now, can you truly say that there is anyone else you can cling to? I can talk to Miss Liselotte on your behalf. I am sure that I can help convince your accusers to seek a lighter punishment for your crimes.”
“I do not need it! I haven’t done anything wrong!”
Therese didn’t hesitate, even after Camilla’s firm rebuke. She simply looked at her sister with a pitying gaze and a shake of her head.
“You’re only lying to yourself, now. I am the only one here who is truly on your side. But, that’s fine by me. No matter how tough things may get, no matter how hard they might be too endure, you can always ask me to help you. You can always take my hand, sister.”
Therese smiled, reaching her hand out to Camilla.
Camilla silently glared at the hand held out towards her.
Camilla would not take Therese’s hand.
Even if Therese was truly her sister, that didn’t change what she had done. She had played a role in Camilla’s fall, and continued to hurt her after the fact. The inclination to forgive and forget, to take that hand that offered salvation… didn’t exist at all in Camilla’s heart.
That’s because Camilla didn’t come back to the royal capital to be judged. She hadn’t come here to save herself, either.
Camilla herself was a part of the mayhem that was currently tearing apart Mohnton. She was here for the sake of that land, as well as for Alois’ sake.
She had nothing to be ashamed of. She wasn’t afraid. That being said, she also had no intention of martyring herself either.
Camilla believed steadfastly in everything she had done, and in the same vein, she also adamantly believed in Alois.
So, even when the day of the trial came, she held her head up high.
Even with all those eyes on her, most of them staring with undisguised hatred. She puffed up her chest, stood tall, and looked straight ahead.
She would not have any regrets.
Time flows back, to when Camilla had almost arrived in the capital city after leaving Mohnton.
Thinking about the girl who wasn’t here anymore, Alois grimaced in exhaustion.
He had received a report the night before that Vilmer had been seen in the town of Falsch, ruled by the Ende family. Not long after he arrived, the formations and movements of the rebel forces had begun to change. Although the Falsch and loyalist forces had been clashing intermittently near the town for days, suddenly the rebel forces had been withdrawn.
Klaus said it was the precursor to a new offensive. Apparently, they were going to direct all of Einst’s soldiers at a single point as a spearhead.
The warriors from Einst were a much more formidable foe than those of Falsch. After confirming the details of their strategy with the heads of the Ende family, they would launch a furious assault on the capital.
The soldiers of Einst were easily the most talented and skilled warriors in all of Mohnton. In a straight fight, even the handpicked capital garrison wouldn’t be able to resist them. The people of Blume couldn’t be expected to withstand either. Many of them were more learned men, not anything like Einst’s hardened troops. At best, the only real defense the town had were the vigilantes.
There had been a gathering of volunteers, but they couldn’t be expected to stand against a true army. Both Grenze and Blume were not places used to war, and it was unreasonable to expect them to resist the soldiers of Einst.
With Einst and Falsch joining forces against him, Alois knew that the vast bulk of Mohnton’s seasoned fighters now stood against him. Everyone else knew just what Alois was up against as well.
And in the midst of such adversity, Alois’ reputation as a lord did him no favours.
Despite how kind and gentle he may seem to be, how could people truly lay down their lives for a lord who was so distant and insincere? Because of how he had acted as a lord for a long time, Alois knew he had cultivated little by way of trust and loyalty. Alois was painfully aware of it.
He hadn’t wanted to let her go. Trying to dispel the deep remorse he felt over it from his mind, Alois shook his head. Right now, the only thing he could do was to solve the problems that lay before him.
Even if everyone else were to give up and abandon him, Alois himself could never give up. In order to protect this land, in order to protect Camilla, he had to stand tall and look straight ahead, not shirking from the slings and arrows.
Those were Alois’ sincere thoughts.
– Though, in saying that, I really am exhausted…
The dawn of the fifth day since Camilla had left was fast approaching, as the night sky began to brighten. Alois was all alone in his bedroom.
When the soldiers of Einst began to march on the capital, things would get even more hectic. Klaus had forcibly removed him from his desk and told to get some sleep before that happened.
Whilst Alois took a rest, Klaus was organizing things in his stead. Alois had insisted that he just listen to ‘one more report, one more report’ before sleeping, but as one report blurred into the next, Klaus got frustrated and kicked him out. Alois finally relented and said he would take a rest, but he was finding it difficult.
He thought about heading back to work soon, but his body felt sluggish and hard to move. Maybe Klaus was right, and he should take a rest before he actually collapses.
Alois sank into his chair, his hand on his forehead. His nerves hadn’t settled enough to let him fall into a deep sleep, but maybe if he stayed still and closed his eyes, he’d be able to sink into a fleeting nap.
Just as he felt like he was on the verge of sleep, someone knocked on his door.
“…Lord Alois, would now be a good time?”
It was Nicole’s voice he heard through the door. After giving her permission, the door opened slowly, and he heard her nervous voice.
“I’m sorry for disturbing your rest. But, I felt like I really ought to give this to you…”
Nicole had a small basket in her hands.
As he peered inside, he saw a pile of slightly misshapen cookies.