The Capital; One Month Later (2)
The royal capital was all hustle and bustle.
Shops lined both sides of the boulevards as carriages rattled down the street. The loud voices of peddlers hawking their wares or trying to drive foot traffic into one shop or another echoed into the midday sky.
“…Come to think of it, Lord Alois, couldn’t you have just changed your appearance with magic?”
As they passed through the busy streets, Camilla looked up at Alois with a frown. The embarrassment from having completely forgotten about that was plain to see on her face.
“Don’t be an idiot, I wouldn’t have had half as much fun if we did that.”
Diana made a light jab at Camilla as she walked beside her. As she and Camilla strolled side by side in their cheap-looking clothing, she looked up at Alois as well.
“Besides, half the excitement is wondering whether or not someone will find you out.”
“You really are a bad girl, aren’t you?”
Camilla looked flabbergasted as Diana grinned. Alois still felt a little restless as he watched the two of them talk.
– Just what is going on?
To his eyes, it was like both of them had transformed into normal common girls. All the gorgeous dresses and expensive finery that distinguished nobility and their close servants had disappeared, replaced by simple shirts and skirts. Even the way they’d done up their hair had been taken down several notches of complexity and they had only used a bare modicum of makeup. Of course, Camilla didn’t suddenly adjust her well-practised manner of walking or change the way she talked, but unless you looked really closely it would be impossible to tell that she was a noble.
What’s more, Camilla’s face was bright and happy, despite her words. That villainess from the rumours seemed like something from a distant memory as she strolled down the sidewalk next to him.
Of course, the Alois who was with them was not quite his usual self either.
He wore a patched shirt and hempen trousers, along with tough but breathable leather shoes. To complete the outfit, his characteristic hair was hidden under a wide-brimmed hat.
He’d never really paid much attention to fashion before, but this was the first time he’d worn truly modest clothing like this. He couldn’t quite feel comfortable wearing this sort of clothing that he’d never tried on before.
What’s more, Camilla had suddenly taken him out into public with these kinds of clothes on. He was wondering just what people would think of him, but to his surprise, not a single person seemed to be paying attention. As he was bewildered by the whole thing, time flew and eventually they found themselves in the centre of the royal capital.
Camilla didn’t seem to share any of his restlessness as she looked through the display window of a store. Diana seemed like this was second nature to her. When she went inside to have a look at something, the store clerk treated Camilla as if she were just any regular customer as well. Alois felt like he was the only sane one in this topsy-turvy world.
“…Camilla? When you lived in the capital, did you always do things like this?”
When Alois whispered that to her, the corners of Camilla’s mouth curled upward.
“Oh my, afraid of being found out?”
“If people found out, things might get worse. What’s more, going out without a guard, you’re defenceless…”
“You don’t need to worry about such a thing. Because, no one is really going to suspect that a noble would walk outside like thi- Ah, there it is! The flour!”
As Alois asked that, Camilla dashed away from him. Racing in front of the grocery store she spotted, she looked at the bags of flour for a while, then picked up the biggest one she could handle. She quickly paid for it, then pushed it into Alois’ arms without waiting to hear a protestation. After making sure that Alois had a good grip on it, she flashed him a mischevious smile.
“I have a few more things I need to buy, so be prepared. Diana… have you seen any eggs?”
“They should be in the back, right? Honestly… you’re making something again, aren’t you? Well, whatever, so long as everyone’s happy.”
As Alois stood there in stunned silence with the sack of flour in his hands, he watched Camilla and Diana disappear into the back of the grocery store together. His mind couldn’t quite keep up with what was going on.
She had said that, for a ‘change of pace’, they should have a walk around town. Unlike the slightly stuffy palace, there was something liberating about the fresh air of the city outside. If it weren’t for the fact that they had snuck out of the castle in disguises like they were some kind of thieves, he might have been able to enjoy himself.
What’s more, the sack of flour… Alois looked puzzled as he looked at the sack in his hands.
Just what on earth did Camilla bring Alois out to do, exactly?
Suddenly, he heard a high pitched voice. In the same moment, he felt something soft bump against his back. Alois, who had been lost in thought, dropped the sack of flour he was holding in surprise.
As he looked behind him, he saw a girl who had fallen back onto her behind. She looked like an ordinary town girl, but there was something in her appearance that caught Alois’ eye.
There was a magical tool around that girl’s neck. The tool, which was large enough that it had to be held with two hands to operate, was the so-called ‘camera’ that had become outrageously popular in the past few years. The tool was cube-shaped and worked by burning a sight through a pinhole lens onto a piece of paper. Because they’re a relatively new and expensive item, it was strange to see it in the hands of normal common girl like this. The only two people he could think of that would possess one were wealthy hobbyists… or reporters.
“Sorry about that, I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
She quickly scrambled to her feet, giving Alois an embarrassed smile. Straight after, he heard a gruff voice echo down the street at her.
“Oi! Don’t laze about! There are rumours floatin’ around that famous Julian is walking the streets right now! We gotta find him ‘fore the competition does!”
“Alright, alright! I got it already!”
The girl yelled back at him in much the same way as the man ran down the opposite side of the boulevard. Then, with a quick movement, she grabbed the dropped flour and pushed it back into Alois’ hands.
“Uh, basically, sorry ’bout that! Here, your stuff.”
After pressing the flour back onto him, she gave him a wave and dashed off. Whilst staring at the flour in his hands again, Alois slightly readjusted his hat.
– That was surprising, I wasn’t found out…?
Even though another person had looked right at him like that. He felt a smile tug at his lips, but Alois straightened his face out straight away. For a moment there, he felt himself getting sucked into Diana’s idea of ‘fun’.
– No, no, I can’t. None of this is even necessary, much less fun.
More importantly, if it was discovered that he was out in the town, there would be an uproar. Getting caught by the reporters would cause no end of bothersome trouble. What’s more, it wouldn’t just be a mere bother if some remnants of the recent rebellion caught wind of it and plotted to do something.
He really ought to return to the castle with Camilla after all. Although Alois didn’t know exactly what she was up to with this escapade, it really was far too dangerous for her to walk around without a guard like this.
– I should be able to use magic to defend myself, but…
“We found them! Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Camilla’s sudden voice broke Alois out of his thoughts.
As he looked up, he saw Camilla carrying what she’d picked up as she walked alongside Diana. It wasn’t just eggs that she held in her hands either. There was an assortment of butter, nuts and fruits as well.
“Camilla, I’m sorry for saying this after we’ve already gone out, but-”
“Now then, let’s get going, Lord Alois.”
Cutting off his words, she joined her arm with his without hesitation. As Diana took care of the other goods, she seemed to be almost buzzing with delight as she steered Alois down the street. Alois couldn’t bring himself to stop her as he felt like she was dragging him along.
As he tried to say something, she craned her neck to look up at him. But, that bold smile of hers forced him to swallow his words.
“It’s alright. I won’t take up too much of your time. It’s far too nice of a day to spend it cooped up in the palace, regardless.”
Alois was sure she knew what he wanted to say.
She knew, but she still was determined to take Alois somewhere.
“…Just where exactly are you taking me?”
Camilla grinned at Alois’ question.
“My secret spot!”
Camilla nodded, that grin only getting wider. It was fearless and bright… like a child thinking up a trick.
As she kept smiling happily, she pulled Alois’ arm on even harder.
“You’ll understand when we get there!”
There was no way Alois could go against her as he was already swept up in her rhythm, underneath that clear blue sky.
Just off the main boulevard, there was a building next to a large church.
At first glance, the two-story stone building looked like a large townhouse.
But, as soon as they entered through the front door, Camilla was suddenly surrounded by children who stared at her in astonishment.
“Ahh! Camilla appeared!”
“What the!? She’s still alive!”
“Craaap, you know you’re a celebrity now, right!”
“Watch your mouth! Besides, what do you mean ‘still alive’!? Don’t go writing me off!”
Alois looked on from behind the scene in sheer confusion. Diana, meanwhile, deftly managed to avoid all the children and headed deeper into the house. Perhaps she was dropping off all the things they’d bought.
Thanks to that, none of the children were able to hold her up. Hearing the uproar, though, it seemed like more and more children appeared from deeper within the house.
Alois looked around in wonder as he stepped inside.
The interior of the house was made up of long hallways painted in white, lit by the light of candlesticks mounted to the wall. There were more doors he could count on two hands dotting the hallway, with most of their doors being open already. Looking through one of the open doors, he could see that it had two child-sized beds against opposite walls.
Next to the beds was a little wooden desk, as well as a small chair. On one of the desks, there was a vase of flowers, on the other an open book. And, of course, a child peering out at him curiously through the open door.
“Is this… an orphanage?”
Camilla turned around with a nod at Alois’ words.
“I told you about it before, didn’t I? This was where I secretly came to cook.”
In the royal capital, cooking was considered an unfit hobby for the nobility. So, Camilla often came to this orphanage to practice in secret, sometimes going officially using the excuse of ‘charity’.
It wasn’t just about cooking, though. She came here when things became too painful or too difficult, and she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Camilla had come to this orphanage more times than she could remember. She cooked, played with the children and listened to all their mischevious stories.
It was the place Camilla wanted to protect the most in the entire royal capital.
“Now then, I’m going to borrow the kitchen as per usual! Lead on, kids!”