The way things were going, the merchants would never be welcome at the castle ever again. A brown-haired merchant, after much hesitation, opened his mouth to say, [I-I have a true magical artifact in my possession.]
[I trust it’s not something like that invisible dress again?]
[Of course not, Your Majesty! You boys over there, bring it in!] He barked the order at two servants who immediately leapt into action. They returned presently, carrying a large, flat object with a cloth draped over it. [This is a magic mirror made by fairies. They say it’s a mirror of truth.] The merchant observed Abigail’s face uneasily, cold sweat trickling down his back. Much to his relief, the queen appeared rather intrigued this time round.
[…A mirror, you say?] Abigail stood up and slowly approached the covered object, her gaze fixed on it. She reached out a hand and the cloth came away to reveal a bright, reflective surface. The gleam in her eyes intensified as she put her hand against/on the mirror and muttered under her breath, [Mirror, mirror.]
The words flowed naturally, almost as if she had owned the mirror from the start. Her lips parted once again. [Who’s the fairest of them all?]
The mirrored surface began to ripple. Abigail’s reflection vanished under a wash of pitch-black darkness, followed shortly by a voice. [Not you, at the very least. That stupid question isn’t doing you any favours either.]
An insolent answer. The merchants all paled as one when they heard it. The merchant responsible for this burgeoning disaster, in particular, was one step away from a mental breakdown. Shaking like a leaf, he managed to find his voice. [I-I’m very sorry, Your Majesty. It looks like the servants brought in a defective mirror…!]
The aforementioned servants were similarly on the verge of collapse themselves but it was nothing compared to the added frustration the merchant suffered as bewilderment gave way to understanding. Magic mirrors were originally made to serve as conversational partners to noblewomen. They were made to only compliment the other party without end. Among these standard, praise-filled mirrors, one mirror stood out. A maverick that refused to fulfil its intended purpose. It had been put aside to be returned to the fairies, but to think the servants would mistakenly bring in that one mirror of all things….
[A defect? Did you just call me a defect? You think to compare me with trash that can only spout blind flattery?!] The enraged mirror was virtually frothing at the mouth. The merchant hastily threw the cloth back over it, immediately reducing the mirror’s tirade to muffled, if still intelligible, howls. [Hey, yo! What the hell are you doing?! Get this thing off of me!]
[Take this thing away and bring me a different one!]
[Y-yes, sir!] As the indignant mirror blistered the unfortunate merchant’s ears with what was clearly a comprehensive vocabulary of expletives, the servants scurried to do as they were bid.
Unexpectedly, Abigail indicated for them to leave it be. [Y-Your Majesty…?]
[No need.] So saying, Abigail removed the drape once more. Her placid expression was again reflected along with the hapless merchants. [Did you just call me stupid?]
[Yes.] The mirror replied belligerently. Unperturbed, Abigail continued speaking.
[And why am I stupid?]
[Because you’re asking a stupid question. ‘Who’s the fairest of them all?’ No one would be able to properly answer such a subjective question!] Abigail’s face twitched slightly at the mirror’s scathing words. As if the scorn in its tone wasn’t enough already, it then dealt the final strike.
[Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As such, your question was just plain stupid.]
It was nothing less than blatant provocation. Forget the rest of it, what the mirror just said was more than enough to land the merchant in prison.The man prostrated himself in front of the queen, begging, [I-I’m sorry. Please forgive me,Your Majesty. I’ll bring you a new one imme- ]
[No need.] Abigail’s voice was filled with satisfaction, leaving the merchant understandably confused. [I’ll be buying this mirror.]
[I like it.] Abigail felt everyone in the room freeze in surprise at her declaration, even the maids. The mirror too, seemed to have lost its tongue. Smiling widely, Abigail asked it directly, [So, dear mirror, what should I call you?]
[….Just ‘mirror’ is fine.]
[You have no name?]
[What use do I have for a name?] A mirror was just a mirror. There was no need for it to be called anything else.
Abigail didn’t reply immediately, taking a moment to contemplate her response before declaring, [I’ll call you Verite from now on, then. How does that sound?]
The mirror remained silent. To be precise, it was shocked speechless. Everything it’d heard about Abigail pointed to an impatient, arrogant woman with a penchant for buying all manner of shiny items. It would rather choose death over serving a woman like that. Hence the hell-bent provocation. It’d been completely convinced she would destroy it if sufficiently enraged.
But instead…she smiled. Said she liked it, even going so far as giving it a name. The woman before it was wearing a smile that looked a little, no, very evil, but she didn’t seem all that bad anymore. […I suppose it’s not terrible, for a name.]
Verite, meaning ‘truth’. It wasn’t a bad name at all. Abigail crossed her arms over her chest before continuing to talk. [Alright then, Verite. Can you do anything other than swear at me?]
[I’m probably smarter than anyone who works in this castle.]
[Nice.] Abigail smiled as she spoke. Her response elicited a reciprocal swell of emotion within Verite – a feeling that was equal parts happiness and the joy of being appreciated. It had gone from being potentially reduced to a pile of shards to gaining a master – even receiving a name on top of it all! [You will work in this castle from now on. But, you must be mindful of three rules while under my employ.]
[What are they?]
[First off, stop speaking so rudely.] The woman’s venomous glare gave little room for refusal.
[…Fine. I mean, I understand.] Verite still sounded somewhat annoyed, but its attitude had softened considerably from before.
[And second of all, always speak the truth to me, just like your namesake. Don’t ever lie to me or try to flatter me, ever.]
To think she’d tell it, a being created specifically to flatter, to not flatter… Verite choked back its laughter. [I’ll do that. And the last rule?]
Abigail approached the mirror. With her nose mere millimetres away from the glass, she whispered oh so very quietly into it, [From now on, any question I ask that’s in any way like the first, your answer will be this: The most beautiful person in the world is Princess Blanche.]
[What? Hell no! I just told you, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!]
[I don’t care. Just answer with ‘Princess Blanche’.]
Surely the queen was still trying to test it, or so Verite thought until it was very quickly shot down in flames. Those eyes…that bloodlust…it was on a whole other level… No, it couldn’t back down here! Having already declared the question too subjective and thus unanswerable in no uncertain terms, it certainly wasn’t about to take any of it back. What would happen if it rebelled against Abigail? No, the punishment didn’t matter; it’d attempted suicide once before after all. This was a matter of principle: if it surrendered here out of fear for its life, its pride would be shattered forever.
But then…the terrifying sight of Abigail’s eyes was enough to set its surface atremble. Coming to a decision, Verite opened its figurative mouth. [The fairest of them all is….!]
* * *
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
“It’s Princess Blanche.”
“Then who’s the loveliest of them all?”
“Then the cutest one…”
“Blanche! Princess Blanche! It’s all Princess Blanche! You happy now?! Just stop asking already!” Verite bellowed in pure deafening rage as I clapped my hands over my ears. The damn thing was remarkably loud for a being without an actual mouth.
“Hey! I told you to stop speaking so rudely!”
“Screw it, whatever! I’d much rather sit here throwing compliments at you! Do you even know how many times you’ve repeated the same question?!”
“I didn’t ask that many times, did I?”
“You’ve asked me the same damn thing eleven times today alone!” Eleven? That many? Guilt had me moving a little ways away from the mirror.
Blanche’s image that had been on the mirror moments ago was then replaced by that of a blue-haired, silver-eyed boy who appeared to be no more than 18 years of age. It was the form Verite had taken after I had once mentioned that I felt like I was talking to myself during a conversation. “Aren’t you being a little excessive? How can you talk about Blanche for literally the entire day?”
“Listening to my rambling is your job, you know, my dear mirror. Besides, the answer’s already set in stone. You just have to agree with me that Blanche is pretty.” Verite’s shoulders drooped noticeably. I could hear him lamenting under his breath, “Ah, working is so tiring.”
I gave him a consolatory pat or two. Working life is hard, hey. In any case… “Well, that aside, let’s move onto the next topic.”
“Blanche’s gift. You know, like shoes, bags, accessories, dresses… say around 20 different types in total? Come on~ turn that frown upside down. This is supposed to be fun!” I swore I heard an audible crack that instant. “So what should I get? Shoes? Dresses? Give me a suggestion.”
“I won’t! No way! You got her cookies, didn’t you? Just give her that and get this over with already!” Oh boy, Verite seemed pretty mad now. Even so… It was pretty cute how he still stayed to talk with me despite that.
A few months had passed since the day Verite came to stay. During this time, I realized exactly why magic mirrors were so popular among noblewomen. I got along well with Clara, and the other maids were pretty good to me. Even so, I couldn’t actually treat them as I would a friend. No matter what, I was still their boss. I had to maintain a fine balance of being generous, yet firm; I had to keep them close, all the while preserving a certain emotional distance. Verite was perfect in that regard. He was the only one I could talk to freely. I was a little annoyed at how rude he was at first, but…
Well, he’s kind of like a friend, so whatever! Verite was still complaining in the background of my thoughts. Oh, look at him getting all mad again…
I adopted a wheedling tone. “Verite~ You know I like you the most in the entire castle. Can’t you talk about Blanche with me, please? I’ll listen to you talk about magic too.” Nerd talk was supposed to be an exchange, not a one-sided attack. Verite listened to my chatter, so it was only fair for me to return the favour.
There was a moment of silence. When he spoke again, his tone had mellowed somewhat. “…Well, I suppose there’s no helping it.”
“Thanks! Can you help me pick out a wrapper, then?”
“All right. Bring it over here, Abby G.” Seeing as he was back to calling me by my nickname, he was no longer in a foul mood. He had a quick temper and flared up easily, but his anger dissipated as fast as it came.
I brought over a piece of soft silk along with a length of ribbon. Verite’s silvery eyes brightened at the sight of them. “Mm, the purple ribbon goes well with that.”
“You think so too? You really have a great eye for things like this. I’m going to wrap this up just so. Ah… I hope Blanche likes the present.” I wrapped up the glass bottle in silk and proceeded to adorn it with the ribbon, unaware I had started whistling cheerfully to myself sometime between. Verite seemed rather taken aback by my behaviour.
“You seem even happier than the person receiving the present.”
“This is the joy of giving. I hope Blanche likes this gift…”
“She will. I’ve never seen a child unhappy in the face of cookies. Especially those sugar cookies.”
“Alright, I’ll trust you, my dear mirror.” I put the finishing touches to the beribboned gift and stood up. Verite waved me away, trying to get me out of the room.
“See ya later, Abby G.”
“Yeah! I’ll tell you all about what happens later.” I took the gift, and headed for Blanche’s room immediately.
Following behind me as usual, Norma maintained a silent presence in contrast to Clara’s nonstop chatter. “What’s that gift, Lady Abigail?”
“They’re violet sugar cookies. They’re a specialty from my hometown.”
“Ah, I’ve heard about those. I heard they don’t even export them since they’re so tasty…” Her eyes burned with enthusiasm. It didn’t take a genius to see how badly she craved a bite.
Catching a glimpse of her expression, I couldn’t help but grin. “Don’t worry. I have two more bottles. You ladies can share one of them.”
“Of course. But you have to promise to share it.”
“You’re the best, Lady Abigail!” One could practically see the stars in her eyes. She seemed to be in the throes of ecstasy despite having yet to taste a single cookie. Norma on the other hand had yet to venture a single word.
Just as we were approaching our destination, I saw someone exit Blanche’s room. That’s…Duke Stork? What’s he doing with Blanche?
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: Midwinter Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan