6 – 8
Alois stayed seated in his chair as he looked at what lay inside Nicole’s basket. Nicole shook ever so slightly as if she were intimidated by him.
“Um, this… these are the Mistress’ cookies.”
“Yes… umm, though, the truth is she just made the dough, I baked these ones…”
The biscuit dough that Camilla had made before being taken to the royal capital, still left unbaked, had been kept preserved by Günter. Nicole told Alois that they had already used up several manastones keeping the storage box cold so that the dough wouldn’t go off.
“I asked Head Chef Brandt if I could have some of it. Um, I know I did something truly selfish without asking… the Mistress even said that she didn’t want Lord Alois to eat any until she had made the taste perfect too…”
But, even so, Nicole still looked at those cookies. A mix of trepidation and frustration flashed across her face in a blur.
“But I’m sure that, deep down, the Mistress would really want you to eat these, Lord Alois.”
More than anyone else, Nicole was the one who had spent the most time by Camilla’s side in this land called Mohnton.
She had been saved by Camilla, she admired Camilla, and she always wanted to do her best for Camilla. But now, Camilla is far away and all alone.
Nicole was just a single young maid. She didn’t have power enough to rescue Camilla on her own, nor did she have any way to really help Alois either. But despite that, she wanted to do something, she couldn’t just wallow in sadness.
“Umm, the cookies, I’ll leave them here, then? I’m so sorry I bothered you so early in the morning.”
After closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, it felt like something had been lifted off Nicole’s shoulders. With a short bow, she placed the biscuits on the table and left the room quietly.
Once the echoes of her footsteps in the hallway died away, Alois was left all alone with those cookies in that silent room.
Alois managed to haul his exhausted body to its feet.
Then, he approached the basket that Nicole had left behind.
The basket was small, with the bottom of it covered by a white cloth. On top of that were a disorderly pile of vaguely round shaped cookies of all different sizes.
It wasn’t as if he were hungry. But, perhaps his body moved on his own, simply hearing Camilla’s name? He unconsciously reached out to the basket, took one of those cookies, and brought it to his mouth.
The biscuits had a soft texture and a simple taste.
He felt like he’d eaten something like this before. It was far less fancy or nuanced than anything the chefs in his kitchen would make, yet he still found the taste irresistible. This taste, it’s…
Was it similar to the cookies that he had from the orphanage in Grenze?
They were only similar to the biscuits that he had from the orphanage.
The truth was, the taste that Alois had only had once, long ago, really was unforgettable.
The lamentable prince, who knew not even his own face. The penal duchy occupying the wilds of the north, a land of criminals and sinners. A child, unloved by their parents. The only thing he had ever asked for out of desire, a cookie with a simple taste.
His parents’ demise at the hands of his own magic. A final magic charm kept secret for years. That tiny spell that Camilla had cast.
Something overflowed from the depths of his body. Sealed magic and sealed memories.
Alois stood in silence. As he stared down at the biscuit in his hand, he couldn’t move, the breath caught in his throat.
He called her name through a desperate gasp. He saw a fleeting image of Camilla’s raven black hair, overlapping with the face of a crying girl, whose name he never learned.
“You, once again…”
She had found him.
Just how had she done it again?
“Alois, you alright?”
Had the time for their meeting already come? As Klaus said that, he didn’t even knock as he strode into the room.
Alois stood with his back to the door as Klaus approached him. But, he stopped a few feet away.
When he spoke his name, Alois turned around to look at him. When Klaus saw Alois’ pale face, he was taken aback.
Klaus stared at him in stunned silence for a few moments, then turned away from him, muttering.
“Alois… your eyes.”
Hearing that, Alois raised a finger to his eyes.
They were damp and wet, with water spilling down his cheeks. It took a moment for Alois to register that those were, in fact, his own tears.
The more the tears fell, the more he felt his magical power pumping through his veins. It was unconsciously beginning to take the form of that loathsome curse from back then.
Alois put his hand on his chest, trying to hold back that despicable hex from his past. As Alois did, Klaus stepped back from him, murmuring faintly.
“You’ve remembered… You’ve seriously remembered who you are?”
Without saying anything, Alois turned to look at him slightly.
The complicated look on Klaus’ face was obvious as he looked at him.
“…Do you want to go back to the royal capital?”
As Klaus asked him that, Alois hesitated for a moment.
But, it was only a moment, as he nodded.
The royal capital still held Camilla. With this, he may be able to truly bring her back.
“I want to go.”
They were the most honest words he’d ever spoken in his life. The truth was that he had wanted to chase after her the moment she stepped out of the house.
Klaus frowned bitterly. Brushing his hair off his face with a frustrated sigh, he didn’t hesitate to say the cruel words on his lips.
Alois knew why Klaus would say it. But even if he knew how Klaus would react, he couldn’t help it. He loved her, after all.
“…There’s no way I can let you.”
Klaus’ face seemed pained as he stared at Alois, who was suppressing his magical power. It was a painful expression, but a strong one.
“Just now, we got a message from a scout in Falsch. It seems like a joint attack from the Einst and Falsch forces is imminent. The mages from Falsch are already moving as a vanguard. The biggest battle so far is going to begin any moment now.”
“…Is that so.”
“We’re completely on the backfoot right now. But, you still have people standing by your side, since they believe in their Lord. Your opponents are rebels, you have to show that you’re the legitimate ruler of this land.”
It was a still and quiet morning. The only thing that could be heard from outside was a faint birdsong. Klaus’ strong voice echoed in that silent room.
“I know just how much you want to go to the capital… If I were you, I’d just leave all this behind and go straight away! I mean, what truly ties you to this land anymore!?”
The truth was, Alois had no reason to feel any responsibility for Mohnton. If he abandoned this land and left for the capital, knowing this truth, the only people who would scorn him for his decision would be the people of Mohnton themselves. Rather, it would be the people of Mohnton who would become the object of scorn, should they try and keep him here against his will.
“But, you can’t. What would happen if you left now? We don’t have enough men, and morale is hanging by a thread. The opponent is marching right up to our gates with enough power to flatten us completely!”
“Honestly, I really want to let you go. But, I can’t allow it. If you’re really dead set on going, I’ll stop you, even if that means fighting you myself!”
“Klaus, I know.”
As Klaus teetered between duty and friendship, Alois shook his head.
He’d always known that Klaus was a good man. But, Klaus wasn’t physically strong, he couldn’t hope to ever beat Alois in a fight. Even though he must have known that himself, he still said it.
Alois truly had a good friend in him. Even if their numbers weren’t huge, the people who still stood by Alois’ side were truly loyal. If Alois left them now, just what would happen to them all?
He truly wanted to go to the royal capital straight away. But, Camilla had also wanted to protect this place as well, to protect Mohnton. He couldn’t turn his back on them. Even if it wasn’t Alois’ land by birth, it was still a place that Alois wanted to protect.
“I won’t leave.”
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Alois said that. He did his best to calm down, controlling his pained breathing.
He tried to reassure him, but Klaus’ face looked bitter and full of self-loathing. Just what kind of expression did he wear as he faced Klaus? Alois himself couldn’t know.
“Alois, I’m sorry.”
Klaus managed to breathe out those words as he looked up at Alois.
“Just a little more… just wait a little bit longer, until we can turn this around. Two days? No, maybe even just one day…”
Despite the circumstances, Klaus was still scratching his head, trying to formulate a plan.
But, the light at the end of the tunnel was so far away, no matter how much he thought he could barely see a glimmer.
“Lord Alois! My deepest apologies for interrupting your rest, but there’s urgent news that you must hear!!”
A soldier barged into the room unannounced, raising his voice. The man looked like he had run a marathon. His face was flushed red as he panted. It was immediately obvious that something unexpected had happened.
Both having the same bad premonition, Klaus and Alois’ expressions stiffened as a chill ran up their spines.
“Reporting! The rebel leaders in Falsch had called up the troops from Einst, and in response, they’ve…!”