There was a clack as Abigail slowly put down her knife. Calmly, she raised her head to find herself on the receiving end of Sabelian’s impassive gaze. She didn’t look away. Instead, she lifted her chin and answered in a confident voice, “Yes. That did indeed happen.”
“Was there a reason for doing so?”
“She wasn’t feeding Blanche properly.” Sabelian didn’t respond immediately; he simply stared straight at Abigail without any change in expression, eyes void of emotion. Facing such a Sabelian had been the cause of many a chill crawling down countless backs.
But Abigail didn’t turn a single hair. To Sabelian, this whole incident was news. Up to this point, there had been no complications or issues arising from Miss Jeremie’s methods of education. None of the maids had ever brought up any concerns, nor had Blanche herself ever ventured a word of complaint. “I heard it was all being done for Blanche’s sake though?”
“What, starving her?” Abigail snickered. She was unbelievably good at it. Snickering, that is. “That kind of treatment is too cruel for a child. Miss Jeremie isn’t respecting Blanche’s rights, not just in terms of meals, but in many other ways as well.”
“She never once asked Blanche’s opinion on the dresses they were selecting for her.” This reminded Sabelian of the time he’d received Abigail’s monthly expenditure report to find that she’d used up her allotted budget again. That came as no surprise. The Abigail he knew was a woman who was terrible with money. She used to ask for more money on an almost daily basis, not to mention assaulting his ears with her constant complaints on how small her budget was. And the things she used to spend it on…
Except this time, she’d blown her entire budget on dresses for Blanche. A woman like that… willingly spending money on Blanche. Sabelian began tapping on the table with his finger as he spoke. “Miss Jeremie told me that Blanche lacked the maturity to make such decisions for herself just yet.”
“Even dogs and cats have their own will and desires. What’s more, Blanche is a human.”
How intriguing. Sabelian stopped tapping the table. “Then what would you like to see happen? We’ll need someone new to replace Miss Jeremie, to say the least.”
“It doesn’t matter who, so long as said person treats Blanche with respect.” Her answer was completely outside of Sabelian’s expectations. It was not surprising given that he’d been operating under the assumption that Abigail was only doing this to make Miss Jeremie look bad. When taking into consideration that not only was Miss Jeremie part of the previous queen’s inner circle, she also happened to be Duke Stork’s cousin and had ten years of experience as a nanny under her belt, there was little doubt that such a person could only be an eyesore to Abigail. As such, Sabelian had assumed that all this was orchestrated by Abigail in an attempt to take over Miss Jeremie’s position out of sheer jealousy.
Of course, none of this showed on his face. “And if I bring in someone from the Stork family?”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Abigail answered before adding, not bothering to hide her annoyance at what was clearly an issue she took to heart, “As long as they don’t try to control Blanche’s meals.”
Meals. What an interesting condition. Unexpected, even. Sabelian couldn’t even begin to imagine what was going on in Abigail’s head. “It seems that meals are quite important to you, Abigail.” Abigail flinched. What a fascinating expression. Sabelian thought as he continued on like he hadn’t noticed. “I understand. I’ll relieve Miss Jeremie of her current position as a nanny. Her replacement, however…”
He let his words trail off into a momentary silence. As usual, it was impossible to figure out what the man himself was thinking as cool blue eyes regarded Abigail unblinkingly before continuing. “…should be you, was what I was thinking.”
“Yes. Since you’re Blanche’s mother and all, there should be no problems.”
Abigail seemed a bit surprised. Actually, she seemed very surprised. “That… Blanche wouldn’t like that.”
“Do you dislike Princess Blanche?”
“Then please take on that role from now on.” After much hesitation, Abigail finally nodded her assent. Having achieved the purpose of tonight’s dinner, Sabelian dabbed his lips with a napkin and placed it to his left before standing up. “Our business is done here. I’ll be excusing myself then.”
Sabelian walked out of the dining hall without missing a beat. Millard, his ever-faithful shadow, turned to speak as soon as the door closed behind them. “Are you fine with this, Your Majesty?”
“Putting the queen so close to the princess. Wouldn’t it be dangerous?”
Sabelian threw an indifferent glance that was the equivalent of a raised eyebrow at Millard. He then looked away, seeming to consider his words. There wasn’t a trace of emotion in his voice when he finally replied, “I trust she won’t be that stupid. As I shall be assigning more guards to Blanche, there shouldn’t be any cause for major concern.”
“Even so, I don’t think it’s advisable to put Princess Blanche in her care. Why did you make such a decision?”
“I wanted to see for myself.” Words of curiosity spoken with a distinct lack of the emotion itself. Likewise, Sabelian’s expression reflected the same dispassionate disinterest. “I want to see if she has really changed, or if it is merely an elaborate ruse. With this, I should be able to see for myself soon enough.”
If it really was an act, it was unlikely that Abigail would be able to successfully maintain her facade in front of Blanche daily. It was inevitable that her mask would slip sometime. Plus, there were a lot of Sabelian’s people around Blanche at all times. If Abigail tried anything at all, or showed any inconsistencies in her behaviour, Sabelian would be notified immediately. Sabelian turned his gaze to his aide after speaking matter-of-factly.
Millard, on the other hand, had a strange expression on his face. “Your Majesty, could it be…” Millard hesitated, not quite sure how to give voice to the question brewing in his mind. He hesitated a little more before asking carefully, “Did you fall in love with the queen?”
“Love?” Sabelian repeated flatly. The air around them seemed to drop several degrees that instant. Sabelian’s voice carried the chill of frostbite, his eyes so terrifyingly cold as to make one numb just by looking. His face could’ve been carved out of marble for all the warmth it held. At that moment, that which flowed through his veins was ice and he was not of flesh and blood, completely devoid of warmth or emotion. “Is such a thing necessary between a couple?”
To Sabelian, a couple was merely another form of an exchange. Love? Even without love, one could marry, sleep together, and beget a child. Such a thing was no more than meaningless frivolity. Foolishness. Sabelian’s eyes darkened, shadows lurking in the depths of the frozen abyss. He seemed to be warning Millard not to pursue the subject any further.
Millard seemed to have more to say, but found he couldn’t get the words out. He could only swallow them back bitterly. Sabelian started walking again as if the conversation had never taken place. Millard, with his fist balled tightly at his side, quietly followed his master. Only the sound of their footsteps echoed throughout the hallway.
* * *
The chair on the other side of the table was empty. I sat in my seat quietly, resisting the urge to fiddle nervously with the neatly-arranged silverware before me. There were still ten minutes till the promised time. Arghh, I’m way too nervous!!! I couldn’t stop looking at the time any more than I could stop drinking water from nervous anticipation. I think this is my fifth cup already?
But could you blame me? Today marks the first day I get to dine with Blanche! I wasn’t even able to sleep the night before from sheer excitement!! “Clara, how’s my face looking?”
“You’re beautiful as always.”
“Thanks. I don’t look scary or anything?”
“You do, but it’s all right!” No, it’s not all right! I picked up my spoon, peering frantically at my reflection on the back of it. Ughh, this isn’t good at all…! I looked even scarier than usual in my nervousness! It seems that anxiety does nothing for this naturally menacing visage of mine. Come on, think happy thoughts…look happy, look happy…!
I tried forcing a smile out of my mouth with my finger only to end up looking even more ghastly. Sigh, maybe I should’ve just worn a mask. Or a veil to hide my face? I couldn’t stop myself from heaving a great sigh. I’d been practicing my smile every day, but I still hadn’t gotten anywhere, as demonstrated by current evidence. Come on Abigail, you can do this. As I disconsolately poked at my cheeks some more, I heard the sound of light footsteps approaching the entrance.
I put my spoon down and stared intently at the door, my heartbeat loud in my ears. I heard sounds coming from there, but no one actually came in. A little while later, Blanche poked her head in. The girl flinched in surprise when her eyes met mine. “H-hello, Lady Abigail.”
“Welcome, Princess Blanche.”
Blanche nervously moved towards the table under my gaze. She stammered out a few words under flushed cheeks. “T-thank you for inviting me to the meal. Am I late by any chance…?” Blanche’s nervous, stiff self was really cute and just a tiny bit sorry to look at.
I almost put my hands over my mouth; she just looked all kinds of adorable. Oh boy, just what am I going to do with this kid? She’s just so~ cute~!! “You’re not late, so don’t worry. Here, take a seat.” Calm down, calm down you idiot. You’re going to look like a demon if you smile here.
Blanche made her way onto her seat. To think there’d be a day where I could eat together with Blanche… I’ll feed you as much food as you want! “I’m not sure what you like to eat so I prepared a normal meal for now. The food should be here soon.”
“Y-yes. Thank you.” Blanche seemed a little nervous, but thankfully not enough to flinch whenever she looked at me or met my gaze. Was she getting a little more comfortable around me? It must be the cookies. Man, good food really is the best way to a person’s heart. As I indulged in such happy thoughts while observing Blanche’s every endearing action, the maids brought in the first course. The first thing on today’s menu was pea soup.
“Here, let’s eat.” I took a sip of the soup. Hmm, the flavor is really nice. It was slightly sweet, and quite warming in the mouth. As I slowly savored the flavor, I noticed Blanche staring at the soup all wide-eyed. Hm? Why’s she doing that? “Blanche, aren’t you going to eat?”
“Ah, um, well…” The child hesitated again before speaking. “…..Can I eat all of this?”
“What?” What was she talking about? Blanche, too, seemed just as confused by my confusion.
“Well… I was told to eat just half normally…” Comprehension hit. Gaaaah, Miss Jeremie, you birdbrain! Half a bowl for a growing child?! What in the world were you thinking?!
“Lady Abigail, your face – your face..!” Clara hurriedly hissed from behind me. Oops, control yourself, Abigail. Control yourself!
I covered my mouth with my hand quickly. Thankfully, Blanche didn’t notice. Seeing her continued hesitation, I hastened to reassure her, “Eat as much as you want. You don’t have to eat too little, nor do you have to eat too much.” So saying, I resumed drinking my soup. Blanche, too, grabbed her spoon lightly.
She scooped up some soup and blew on it for a little bit to cool it down. Then she opened her tiny mouth, put the spoon in it, and went nom in a single, adorable movement. Her eyes immediately lit up from within. It seemed reasonable to say that she liked the taste of the soup quite a bit. With every sip she took, the smile on her face brightened until it was simply dazzling. Ahh, I feel so satisfied just looking at her eat. I now understood exactly why my grandma always stuffed me with food whenever I visited her… I just wanted to watch the little girl eat all day.
To think Miss Jeremie refused to feed such a cute girl like this…that woman must have a heart of stone! Speaking of stony hearts… now that I think about it, did Sabelian really say nothing after seeing her eat so little? “That reminds me, did His Majesty not say anything when you ate with him?”
Blanche raised her head to look at me. She seemed a little confused. “Ah, um…? I never actually ate with Father, so…”
“What? Not even once?”
“Yes. Father is busy with work, so he eats by himself.”
Figures. I shrugged mentally. He doesn’t even care if his daughter falls down—with him being the perpetrator, no less—so why would he even think about eating with her? The thought probably never even crossed his mind. I wonder why Sabelian hates her so much? I recalled the few rumors floating around the palace that I’d heard.
The previous queen, Miriam, died not long after giving birth to Blanche. For the next ten years, Sabelian didn’t take in a new queen. They said it was because of grief. Something about loving his old wife so much that he refused to remarry, or so the rumour goes. Apparently that was why he refused to see Blanche. Since his wife wouldn’t have died if Blanche hadn’t been born and all that.
If that were true… It wasn’t like I couldn’t empathise with Sabelian. But this just made Blanche all the more pitiable as she had done nothing wrong at all. It wasn’t like she got her mother killed because she wanted to. Poor Blanche… Her mother died early, and her father isn’t the least bit interested in her… At the very least, I should try to treat her better.
By now, Blanche had finished her soup and was looking down at her empty plate sadly. Hoho, my dear Blanche, did you really think the meal would end after just some soup? Right on cue, the maids brought in the next course. As the dishes came in one after the other, Blanche’s face lit up more and more with each successive course. “Is it tasty?”
“Yes! Very much so! It’s too tasty…”
Oh boy, here I go wanting to cry again. The familiar joy and contentment filled me as I gazed at Blanche, who herself seemed about ready to burst with joy. She seemed happier than a dog that had just heard the word ‘walk’. We didn’t talk much but with the ever-bubbly Clara’s help, our little conversations flowed naturally without becoming awkward, making for a convivial and fun atmosphere.
In what seemed like no time at all, the meal began to near its end and Norma placed the final course—dessert—in front of us. Today’s dessert was an éclair. A mouthwatering masterpiece consisting of an oblong choux pastry filled with just the right amount of crème pâtissière and topped with seasonal berries and even more cream. I cut a piece and put it in my mouth. The soft texture and sweet flavour of the custard-filled pastry spread across my tongue. Mm~ it’s just melting in my mouth. Surely, Blanche would absolutely adore this!
Anticipating a blissful reaction, I looked to Blanche eagerly. But, to my surprise, Blanche only took a single bite before putting her fork down. She pushed her plate my way. “L-Lady Abigail, would you like some…?”
Gasp, what’s this? Does she not like it? “Do you not like the éclair? I can have the chef bring over something else immediately.” I shared a quick glance with Norma.
Seeing the maid about to make her way back to the kitchen, Blanche quickly responded,“N-no! It’s not that it’s not tasty…”
Is it because there’s too much? I began mentally ticking down a list of possibilities. Blanche paused for a bit before continuing in a rush. “It was so tasty that I…I wanted to give you some more…”
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: Midwinter Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan