It was Blanche. A peek over my shoulder revealed her standing in the hallway with a maid by her side. Tears welled up in my eyes again at the sight of her, as she happened to be wearing the same pink dress the doll had on.
I didn’t want to cry in front of Blanche so I surreptitiously wiped away my tears. “Have you been well, Blanche?”
“Yes, Lady Abigail. But um, that is…?” Blanche was looking at what was left of the doll in my hands. At first glance, one could barely tell that it had, at one point, been a rabbit. Now it was a mere shadow of its former glory.
“That is…” What should I say? I hesitated for a moment before trying to pass it off as casually as I could. “I wanted to give you a small doll, but I messed up a little and the cotton appears to have gone everywhere.”
It was an obvious lie. The doll had clearly been destroyed by some sort of a sharp object. Not only that, Sabelian was right behind me, sword in hand. It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to say: “Your total son-of-a-bitch dad here was the one who destroyed your present!”, but I held the words back. No matter how I felt, I didn’t want her to see her parents fighting even if she knew there was no love between them..
Blanche’s gaze drifted over to Sabelian for a second before focusing back on my hands. She then wrapped her tiny hands around mine. “I have a maid who’s very good at sewing. She’ll put it back together in no time.” She smiled, trying to console me before carefully taking the scraps away from my hands. Her small hands could only hold so many so I placed the remainder into the box beside me. “Thank you, Lady Abigail. I’ll treasure it.”
Ah, I feel like crying again. I had to look up the to ceiling to keep anything from leaking out. How was such an angel begat from human trash like him? The man’s previous wife must’ve been the incarnation of Buddha himself.
Despite wanting to spend a little more time with Blanche, it was more imperative to get away from Sabelian at the moment. Standing up, I lowered my head in an approximation of a nod in his general direction and quickly made my escape. I all but ran back across the hallway.
The moment I set my foot down on the staircase, the tears I had been holding back simply overflowed. Damn it, I hadn’t planned on crying. But… Blanche accepted my present today, right? She held my hand, too. She said thank you as well. And… And….
Certainly, a good many wonderful things had happened today, but despite knowing that, my tears wouldn’t stop flowing. I could only hide behind a nearby pillar and covered my face with my hands.
* * *
He looked at the scrap of pink cloth from the doll’s dress that was in his hand, then placed it down on the table. It was just a piece of cloth no bigger than a fingernail, but Sabelian couldn’t take his eyes off of it for some reason.
“Is there something worrying you, Your Majesty?” He glanced up at the owner of the voice. It was none other than his aide, Millard. The man had seemingly appeared out of thin air next to him before he even realized it.
“It’s nothing.” A strange look crossed Millard’s face when Sabelian said that. If there was truly nothing going on, for what other reason had the king been making a face resembling that of a philosopher deep in thought, with a scrap of cloth in his hand, no less.
His expression as remote as ever, Sabelian suddenly spoke… “How’s Queen Abigail nowadays? What kind of rumors are there about her?”
Millard found himself unexpectedly surprised by this. Sabelian, showing interest in that Abigail? He responded in a low voice, “According to my sources, she seems to have stopped harassing all the maids. She also appears to be visiting Princess Blanche quite often.”
“For what reason?”
“It didn’t seem to be anything too special. I heard it’s mostly to give the princess gifts.”
Gifts. Sabelian thought of the doll he ripped apart earlier today. By all rights, there should have been a needle hidden within at the very least. Contrary to his expectations, however, there really hadn’t been anything inside. …So it really was just a gift? No, there was no way.
Yet, come to think of it, the dress the doll wore looked exactly like the one Blanche had on. Sabelian fiddled with the scrap in his hand. He didn’t regret his decision as he considered his actions necessary given the circumstances. At the same time, however, seeing Abigail cry was somewhat disconcerting.
In the year since their marriage, many things had occured between the two of them. He had witnessed Abigail rage in front of him like a madwoman; he’d seen her beg in front of him like a beggar. But he had never seen the woman cry. He had never seen her look so truly hurt before…
“I have heard similar accounts. I’ve been told that she seems like a different person.” Sabelian turned to look at Millard, his face still devoid of emotion. “She appears to have turned over a new leaf. What do you think?”
“I believe it’s all an act, based on the queen’s personality.” Millard’s reply contained an unmistakable note of hostility. “She’s trying to make you lower your guard. That must be the reason she’s approaching Princess Blanche as well.”
While Sabelian had initially been of a similar opinion, he was no longer quite so sure. The look on Abigail’s face when she had skirted around him in the hallway was still all too fresh in his memory. That expression of hers… was it really just an act?
Sabelian fell into deep thought. Right then, a servant stepped into the room. “Your Majesty, there are two people requesting an audience with you.”
Sabelian inclined his head in affirmation. Shortly thereafter, two middle-aged men walked into the room. One of them was Duke Stork, who was smiling brightly at Sabelian. “Have you been well, Your Majesty? I hope I’m not imposing on your work overmuch.”
“What do you want?” It was an extremely cold voice, not one anyone expected to hear from a man talking to his father-in-law.
Duke Stork didn’t seem fazed at all, however. The man simply maintained his smiling face as he responded, “I deeply apologise for bothering you. I am merely eager to hear Your Majesty’s response to my inquiry in your remarrying.”
Sabelian’s face turned even colder upon hearing this. Duke Stork continued speaking, not having noticed the change in Sabelian’s expression. “Your Majesty has yet to produce another child despite being married to Queen Abigail for over a year. Why don’t you consider getting a second wife for the future’s sake?”
“As I have informed you in the past, I have no interest in remarrying.”
“My other daughter, Karen, is a very beautiful and outstanding girl. I believe that Your Majesty would definitely…”
“Enough.” Sabelian cut the man off ruthlessly. His face was even more chilling than usual, which was saying something. “There will be no second warning.” His words fell like the blade of a guillotine.
Stork felt his neck turn cold at the thought for he knew very well that the king was not one to make empty threats. The man wouldn’t forgive him just because he was his father-in-law. There was no benefit to annoying the man any further. Duke Stork closed his mouth, and forced a smile. “My deepest apologies for my presumptuous words. I spoke merely out of my concern for Your Majesty. I’ll be taking my leave, then.”
Duke Stork left the room with a bitter face. The other man remaining in the room just stood there silently, not saying a word. With an edge in his voice, Sabelian addressed him, “Do you have something to say as well?”
“Your Majesty, Duke Stork has a point. If not Karen, will you not at least consider other households? You must uphold your duties as the king.” Sabelian’s expression remained stony. But the man didn’t back down. “If you don’t get a prince sooner or later, Sir Raven’s child might end up becoming the next king.”
Raven was the previous king’s illegitimate child. Because of this, while his claim to the throne was weak, he still couldn’t be ignored. Gender mattered when it came to succession. If Raven managed to produce a son, and Sabelian didn’t, the castle would become divided into two parties between Raven’s son and Sabelian’s daughter.
“I suggest that you either marry a good woman from the kingdom, or royalty from another country.”
“Are you suggesting that I don’t know this already?” The man shut his mouth. Duke Stork might’ve left, but the king was still very sensitive to this topic. “Abigail’s enough of a handful for me as it is. I have no intention of taking in another woman at the moment.” Sabelian turned his attention to his work after that statement, indicating that the conversation was over as far as he was concerned. The man bowed in response.
“……I understand. I apologize for bothering you, Your Majesty.”
“Leave. Millard, I’d appreciate if you left for a bit as well.” The two left quietly. After the room emptied out, Sabelian put a hand to his forehead in annoyance. When he did this, he realized the pink scrap from before was still in his hand. Seeing it reminded Sabelian of something Abigail once said in passing. You don’t have to worry, it’s not about fulfilling your duties as a husband. Rather, I would like you to fulfill your duties as a father, at the very least.
Duty. Duty… The very word his subjects carelessly flung at him earlier; the senseless bleating to fulfill his duties as king. Those duties, and the duties of a husband that Abigail mentioned were one and the same. They were simply demands for him to make more children. “Fulfill your duties as king.” He’d heard this refrain countless times over his entire life. Never once had anyone told him it was alright to ignore his duties.
Acting like a father. He had never considered himself lacking in that department, but after what happened today, he wasn’t so sure anymore. He could remember Blanche’s face when she looked at the destroyed doll – a doll worth no more than a copper coin. She wouldn’t have minded such a thing being destroyed before, so what was so different this time?
Sabelian’s head hurt. Not wanting to ponder any further on the subject, he picked up his papers. Burying himself in work would surely make this strange feeling go away. Skipping meals, he worked without rest until the sun set and night fell. He worked out the cricks in his neck as he exited his office, his body sore from having sat down for so long.
It was really quite nice that they now occupied separate rooms. He wouldn’t know what to say if he met Abigail now. When he entered his apartments, the servants helped him change. For some reason, they all wore rather stiff expressions. “W-we’ll take our leave now, Your Majesty. Please rest well.”
A little perplexed by their behavior, Sabelian entered his bedroom. Upon doing so, he felt his entire body freeze in place. It seemed that today’s strange happenings were far from over.
“Welcome, Your Majesty.”
The scent of roses permeated the air while faint candlelight illuminated his bedroom.
Taking center stage amidst this rose-scented semi-darkness, was none other than Abigail herself. Dressed in a nearly transparent nightgown, the woman lounged seductively on his bed.
Her lips curved in a sneaky smile, as if she had just been waiting for him to appear.
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: MWO Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan