6 – Final
“Lord Alois… Lord Alois! Wait just a moment, please!”
Just how many times had Camilla called out to Alois, who marched quickly in front of her?
Ever since leaving the courtroom, Alois hadn’t let go of Camilla’s hand even once as they walked. They walked through the streets of the capital, towards the northernmost gate. That was where Eckhart had said their carriage would be prepared.
Even though the trial had started around noon, Camilla had lost track of time in all the tumult. The sun was already beginning to set. As the fading sun still shone down on the streets of the royal capital, a chill night air began to creep through its alleys, scattering the flowers that had been set up in celebration.
At that time of day, there were few people heading towards the city gates. As Alois had already lead her away from the center of the city, there were scarce few people on the streets and the buildings weren’t quite as packed together.
Alois finally came to a halt as her voice echoed through the silent street. He finally let go of her hand that he had been gripping so tightly, she had begun to feel a twinge of pain.
“Just what is wrong with you, Lord Alois!? This isn’t like you at all!”
Not listening to Camilla’s words, not trying to be gentle with her, not matching his pace to her own, it wasn’t like the Alois she knew at all. The fact that he didn’t even spare a thought for Diana, who was finding it hard to keep up with them, was also very unlike Alois.
Now that she thought about it, he had been acting strange ever since he laid eyes on Camilla’s parents back in the courtroom.
“Are you angry? I’ll have you know, I’m not bothered by such a thing at all!”
“…I’m sorry, Camilla.”
Alois looked slightly hesitant as he turned to look back at Camilla. His expression was an unsightly mixture of shame and stubbornness.
“I was cruel to your parents in front of so many people.”
“You said nothing that I would call cruel at all! In the first place, Lord Alois, you didn’t say anything, I decided to say those things myself!”
Camilla wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was past the age where she lived in fear of her parents. If she was angry with them, if she couldn’t forgive them, if she didn’t want to acknowledge them anymore… As she was now, Camilla would say exactly what was on her mind.
There was no need for Alois to regret what had happened on Camilla’s behalf.
“I know that.”
Alois’ face twisted bitterly. As if he couldn’t hold it back any longer, he spat the words out.
“But, it was making me so angry!”
Camilla was slightly taken aback by how strong Alois’ voice suddenly sounded.
He wasn’t angry for her sake, but for his own. He was so angry that he had forgotten his usual calm demeanour in public, humiliated her parents and half dragged Camilla out of the courtroom and down the street by her hand.
“I’ve shown you something strange, haven’t I…”
“No, not at all…”
As Alois’ eyes were cast downward in shame, Camilla shook her head. She silently looked at Alois’ face for a few moments, which was a mess of conflicting emotions.
Alois wasn’t the type of person to get angry like that.
He didn’t let his strong feelings show so obviously.
He was always calm, keeping his emotions under control. Whether in joy or sadness, smiles or tears, he had always suppressed his own feelings and put others first.
A ‘good boy’, who never lost his temper and always thought of others first.
Camilla had known that side of Alois.
“You’ve finally learned to be selfish, haven’t you?”
Alois frowned slightly. He looked slightly uncomfortable as he met Camilla’s gaze.
As he stared back at Camilla, who had been gazing at him the whole time, Alois spoke quietly, as if he were slightly embarrassed.
“That’s because of you.”
“Fu… fufu… fuhahahaha!”
Just why was it that those words of all things set off her laughter?
It really was strange.
All that bitterness, pain and loss… it felt like a heavy burden had suddenly been lifted off her back. Relief rolled over her like a breaking wave. Instead of losing everything, Camilla had gained a new way forward, one that she had chosen herself.
She laughed and laughed and laughed, until she could feel tears at the corner of her eyes.
When she heard Alois’ anxious voice, Camilla caught her breath and wiped the tears away. It was the first time she had been unwittingly brought to tears like that. During all the hard and sad times she had endured before, she had always just grit her teeth and endured it.
“I’m sorry. I just really am relieved.”
She knew just how strange she must have seemed. But, she really was relieved that Alois had come. Perhaps Camilla really had been more scared than she herself knew. But, that strong front she had been putting up was now unravelling because of Alois.
It was at that moment Camilla realized she could cry all she liked.
“Thank you very much, Lord Alois. I’m glad you came.”
Camilla laughed again, as she kept wiping away the tears. Maybe it was too early to feel completely safe, but things were definitely better now. She didn’t have to steel herself any longer.
Alois simply gazed at her, as Camilla smiled and laughed through her tears.
He tried to stammer out words, but after taking a deep breath, he looked at the ground. Then, slowly raised his hand, looking slightly uneasy.
“Just once more… can I say something selfish?”
“Though this time, it’s a question for you.”
Camilla didn’t understand what Alois meant straight away.
Alois looked straight at her. Compared to the first time they had met, his body was lean now. He was still toweringly tall, his silver coloured hair flowing in the evening wind. As the sun continued to dip, his long shadow stretched down the street. The owner of that shadow gently touched Camilla’s cheek.
There wasn’t a trace of that rough and pudgy skin anymore. Those thick hands had become slim and shapely. There wasn’t anything left of the features that earned him the nickname of the Toad of the Swamp.
“Was I able to become someone that you could approve of?”
That handsome face of his looked at Camilla anxiously. Those emotional red eyes of his glinted with a hint of desire. It was the face of a man who couldn’t hide his feelings anymore, a face of his that Camilla had never known.
Camilla understood what his question meant.
She almost pulled back on instinct.
As Camilla inched backwards ever so slightly, Alois’ eyebrows twitched. If she pulled back and rejected him now, just how badly would he be hurt?
But, even so, Camilla was determined to say what was on her mind.
“I… I am not going to accept you just because I know that you’re Julian now!”
She wasn’t going to fall in love with someone just because they were Julian. She wouldn’t approve of him just because he was Julian.
“I’ll do it because you’re Alois.”
She raised a hand to her cheek, giving his hand a squeeze. Even if her cheeks were flushed, or her eyes were still red, Camilla didn’t look away from Alois for a second.
“Who you really are doesn’t matter to me. Your face or your body… don’t matter either… of course, do not misunderstand, I prefer you this way! But, that’s not what’s important!”
If Alois began to put on weight again, Camilla would definitely put in every effort to slim him down again. But, that’s right. The only person that she’d want to whip into shape and make lose weight was Alois. He was the only one.
She kept speaking without stopping to think. Did she even know what she was trying to say anymore? She felt an odd sweat begin to form on her forehead. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest, her face begin to flush, and her vision starting to shimmer.
“The year that I spent together with you, Lord Alois… I didn’t hate it at all!”
Camilla fell in love with the man they called the Toad of the Swamp. She got angry with him, argued with him, travelled with him and eventually took his hand.
They laughed and cried together as they grew closer. They had come this far side by side. Always together with Alois.
Alois smiled. In the orange glow of the setting sun, that happy smile was more fair and charming than any she had ever seen.
Then, he drew closer to Camilla. As the sun ebbed away, the cold winds began to rustle more and more.
The celebratory flowers danced on the breeze. As the spring winds swept towards the north, the petals were dyed the same colour as the sky.
Camilla looked slightly puzzled as Alois came even closer. She wasn’t disgusted, though. In fact, she was surely happy. But, she didn’t realize what he was about to do.
Taking advantage of her confusion, Alois closed his eyes as he pulled Camilla close, kissing her with all that he had.
Author’s note: Diana was watching the entire time, but read the mood and kept her distance.