Blanche smiled sweetly, her cheeks poppy-red. Ah, Lord, please grant me one wish. Just one. Please let me touch those cheeks of hers! It is all I ask!
Blanche’s smiling face was as adorable as ever but what really hit me right in the feels was her heart of gold, how natural her first thought was to share her eclair with me. I can’t imagine just how badly she must want to eat all of it herself, yet she didn’t even hesitate to offer.
I choked back a sob, feeling the tears well up in my eyes. My teeth caught on my bottom lip as I attempted to hold my rampaging emotions in check and maintain a serene front. “Go ahead and eat to your heart’s content. I can always have the chef bring more. Now, go on, eat.”
“Y-yes! Thank you for the food…” I watched as Blanche happily resumed eating where she left off and man, was she doing a good job of it too. Her cheeks stuffed with food were as round as a little chipmunk’s and, together with her content expression, reflected pure bliss.
Sigh~ what a lovely little thing. Maybe Sabelian didn’t like Blanche because he’d never seen her this way? What had been a stray thought took root. What if he were to see her smiling face and witness for himself how lovely she was? He might very well end up changing his mind about her! And then he would probably hate himself bitterly for ignoring the girl for all of 11 years.
I imagined a scene where a remorseful Sabelian was giving a heartfelt apology to Blanche… Hohoho, just the mere thought of it makes me so excited.
The beginnings of an idea slowly began to take form. Just then, the maid brought over the extra eclair I’d requested. Whilst thinking of all the thrilling possibilities, I took a hearty bite and began hatching a plan inside my head.
* * *
Sabelian was reading in his study, the natural light filtering through the windows dancing over the pages of the book he held. It’d been awhile since he’d last had the luxury of indulging in this particular pleasure due to the sheer amount of work on his plate. Being able to do so now was a nice change of pace for him. Only here could he feel that he was truly alone, closed off from the outside world and its never-ending roar. For him, solitude wasn’t something to be dreaded but an old friend who had long accompanied him and he welcomed its loyal presence like nothing else. At this moment in time, immersed in absolute quiet, the warm sunlight casting a peaceful glow over him and his surroundings, doing what he enjoyed most—Sabelian was truly in his element. There was nothing he treasured more in the world than moments like now.
Right in the midst of his thoughts, a knock shattered the tranquil silence like a hammer to glass, intruding upon his hard-earned solitude. Millard, huh. Sabelian clicked his tongue in annoyance as the only possible culprit came to mind. Millard was the only one bold enough to intrude on him like this. “Come in.”
The door opened in response to his terse summons. Sabelian kept his attention on his book, refusing to even look at the offender, “What is it?”
“Ah, well…” Unexpectedly, it was a woman’s voice. He looked towards the voice to see Abigail standing at the doorway, shifting awkwardly and looking quite out of place, “…I seem to have interrupted something, huh.”
An unexpected visitor. Sabelian toyed briefly with the idea of chasing her out for a second, but thought better of it and closed his book instead, laying it aside. “Take a seat.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t too happy about his break being interrupted but come to think of it, Abigail had never ever set foot in here of her own accord until today. The stiff expression she wore was a clear indicator of how uncomfortable she felt about it. Thanks to their using separate rooms as of late, Sabelian found that he had a lot more patience with her than usual so he merely regarded her calmly before asking, “Is there something you want?”
She probably had something important to discuss or she wouldn’t be here otherwise, he thought. “I wanted to ask you to do something.”
“And what would that be?” She wasn’t here to request that they sleep together again, was she? The sudden unpleasant thought had Sabelian narrowing his eyes at the woman opposite.
Uncomfortable she was, but nervous she was clearly not for even under his stare, she proceeded to state her purpose with an air of calm confidence. “I want you to have a meal with Blanche once a day.”
Blanche again? It was rather novel to find that, contrary to his expectations, every new thing Abigail did was still capable of surprising him. Where making requests was concerned, Abigail had quite the track record so it came as no surprise to Sabelian that she was still making them. What differed was that her requests had gotten quite peculiar as of late. Normally, her requests fell under two known categories: his love, or more money.
But a meal, huh. That’s something new. Sabelian couldn’t fathom what Abigail stood to gain from this request of hers. “Is it necessary to do so? Blanche isn’t a child anymore. I have no intention of teaching the heir to this country to whine or act cute.”
Abigail scowled at his indifferent response. Her next words came out through gritted teeth. “I’m hoping that you two could build a relationship, not have her learn how to act selfishly.”
“Relationship? Why would there need to be such a thing?”
“Because you and Blanche are family.” she all but growled, with a particular emphasis on the word.
Family. What a strange concept. Sabelian was having a hard time understanding Abigail or where she was coming from. Nor could he seem to wrap his head around a concept so foreign to him. Why did family have to eat together? He’d certainly never done anything of that sort when he’d been Blanche’s age. “I heard you’ve been taking meals with Princess Blanche. However, is there really a need for me to be a part of it?”
“You’re Blanche’s family as well, so I’d appreciate if you did so too.” It was clear that Abigail was unwilling to give in on this matter. Sabelian, on the other hand, couldn’t see why the woman was so fixated over mere food.
When Sabelian didn’t say anything in response to that, Abigail took his silence as rejection and—a possible reason for it dawning on her—hurriedly spoke up. “Is it because of me? You don’t have to dine with me present, if that’s what you want. I don’t mind. As I’ve said, you don’t have to fulfill your duties as a husband but please do act like a father at the very least.”
Acting as a husband would be easier than this… Sabelian thought as he threw her a sideways glance before asking. “What do you mean by ‘duties as a husband’?”
Rather than answer immediately, Abigail shut her mouth, considering her reply. After a moment, she opened it again, seeming to choose her words carefully, “…Your love, or sleeping together, I suppose.”
Sabelian found his curiosity kindled despite himself. It wasn’t a stretch to say that the Abigail of the past asked for his love all the time but clearly, this was no longer the case. What made her change? “May I ask you something in turn?”
“What is it?”
“Why do you no longer desire my attention?” Abigail was initially struck dumb by the abrupt change in subject but upon recovering, she didn’t know what to say either for it wasn’t a question she could easily answer. Sabelian observed her brooding countenance and, perceiving her difficulty, decided to take the initiative to ask, “Did you get a lover?”
“I’m not trying to interrogate you or punish you for it,” He clarified, “I won’t take issue with you for finding yourself a new husband. I can even take in your child with him as my own if you’d like.”
All things considered, Sabelian thought that shouldn’t be a bad offer; it could even be called generous. Except, he waited in vain for a response. When there was still no forthcoming reply from the woman opposite, Sabelian looked at her only to notice that her face had gone completely rigid.
“What did you say? A new husband?” She seemed to have finally found her voice, which rose at the tail end of that question. She seemed flabbergasted, disbelieving. Mad, even. “Do I really look like that type of person to you? I would never do anything that would make me unable to face myself in the mirror! How could you say something like that?!”
Her eyes blazed purple fire, every line of her body expressing her indignation and fury.
Combined with her malevolent expression which would do a harpy proud, it was enough to scare just about any man, really. “I have no intention of ever being such a disgraceful mother, especially to Blanche. Please do not ever mention such a thing again.”
She was now glaring daggers at him. In the face of her impassioned outburst, Sabelian didn’t say anything. In fact, he was somewhat puzzled. Why was the woman so mad in the first place? He didn’t understand one bit. It did feel like he had done something wrong, though. Or said, as it were.
“…I spoke out of line. Forgive me.” The words came out stilted and a little clumsy. This was, of course, understandable. Sabelian had no memory of apologizing to anyone since reaching adulthood. The rabbit doll incident had been the first instance he could ever recall. It wasn’t an exaggeration to call him a ‘perfect’ king. He wasn’t one to make mistakes, nor did he allow his emotions to lead him overmuch when making decisions, if at all. This rational, impersonal aspect to him had led to his being labelled a cold-hearted king by some.
Though as a human, he might be fallible and thus, imperfect, as a ‘king’, Sabelian was indeed perfect. As a ruler who made no mistakes, naturally, no apologies were required of him. Due to this, there had never been a need for him to make any. But within a relatively short time frame, he’d already done so on two occasions—first, the aforementioned rabbit doll incident and now, this—and to Abigail, no less.
Last time, Abigail had let go of her anger rather easily in the face of his apology, but he had a sudden sneaking suspicion that would not be the case today. Sure enough, her next words confirmed exactly that. “I can’t just let it go this time. I’ll forgive you if you take me up on my earlier request.”
“…You mean, the meal?” Recalling the matter of the meal, Sabelian could not help but frown, his brows drawing together. “Once a day is too much. How about once a month?”
“Once every four days is the least I can take.”
“Once every ten days?”
“…Ten days should be all right.”
“Four!” Abigail’s eyes were burning fervently as she stood her ground. The fire in her eyes refused to dim, making her resemble nothing so much as a mighty general on the battlefield, determined to come away with nothing less than victory. The thought and the subsequent image it invoked brought a small smile to Sabelian’s lips.
Seeing that, Abigail frowned. Not understanding the source of his amusement, her voice came out a little sharply. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s nothing.” Perceiving his gaffe, Sabelian immediately rearranged his face to its usual impassive mask before raising his hands in surrender. “I understand. I will dine with Princess Blanche once every four days.”
Abigail’s face immediately brightened. Without thinking, she’d placed her hands on his desk, leaning forward with shining eyes. She probably hadn’t even realised she’d gotten to her feet. “Really? No take backs?”
“Yes. I promise.” Abigail seemed delighted to hear that. It’s just a meal, Sabelian thought to himself. Just what about that makes her so happy? Try as he might, Sabelian really couldn’t figure out the workings of her mind. He stared thoughtfully at Abigail for a moment longer. “I have a condition, however.”
The happy expression froze on her face as the sentence registered, effectively popping her bubble of elation. “…Condition?” Abigail eyed Sabelian nervously before asking warily. “What condition?”
“A simple one. It should be easy enough to meet.” Sabelian laced his fingers together and rested them on his knee. “I want you to be there with us during the meal.” In today’s conversation alone, the various expressions that had flitted across Abigail’s face were ones Sabelian had never seen before. What other expressions could she make that he still hadn’t seen? The faces she’d made—how many more were there he had yet to know about? If he started dining with her, would he be able to see more of them?
He still harboured doubts about her intentions so this was as good a method as any without requiring too much of him. This way, he could observe for himself and it should be able to tell him if Abigail really was putting up a facade or not. “If you take me up on that condition, I’ll dine with Blanche once every four days. How about it?”
“…Dine? With you?” Abigail looked like she had just swallowed a bug. Chewed and then swallowed it. Not that it bothered Sabelian in the least.
“You don’t want to?” he asked, his tone one of light enquiry, “Then I suppose that meal with Blanche is…”
“N-no, nothing of that sort. I’ll do it.” She spoke with a smile so forced her cheeks were beginning to ache from the effort.
“The deal is complete then. Please inform me of when I should begin attending.” So saying, he picked up his book, intent on getting back to his reading. He wanted to make the most of what remained of his interrupted solitude. Abigail didn’t seem to take the hint though, for she remained where she was.
“Is there anything else?” Sabelian looked at Abigail quietly, waiting. The woman seemed a little lost in thought, if her faraway gaze was any indication. He had the impression she was debating inside whether to voice out whatever it was that bothered her.
“May I ask a question?” She sounded slightly hesitant when she finally spoke up. Sabelian nodded. At any rate, it was probably about Blanche again. When he gave her the go-ahead, Abigail quickly opened her mouth and the words tumbled out as she took the plunge. “Is the reason why you’re avoiding Blanche and I…because of the previous queen?”
What in the world is she on about? Sabelian frowned as he tried to make sense of her words.
“I heard you loved the previous queen very much and I can understand that. But I don’t think avoiding Blanche because of it is- ” Abigail was just warming up to the subject at hand when…
“Wait, wait, wait– ” Was that surprise she detected in his voice?
Sabelian had raised his hand in the universal gesture to stop. He was more than just surprised by what he’d just heard. No, not even close. Completely taken aback, more like. This attempt to make sense of her words went just as well as all the previous ones, which was to say, not at all. “What in the world are you talking about? Who told you anything like that?”
“That I loved the previous queen.”
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: Midwinter Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan