“I heard it from the rumors floating around the palace. Is it not true?”
“Hah…” Sabelian put a hand to his forehead. So, the servants had been spreading these sorts of rumors in the ten years he’d remained unmarried? His eyes glinted coldly at the thought. Putting his hand back down, he spoke firmly, “It seems like you’re laboring under a misapprehension. My failure to remarry all these years has nothing to do with feeling any love for the previous queen.”
Why was he explaining himself to this woman? He didn’t understand, but he continued on anyway. “I’m not avoiding Blanche because of that reason. To think you’d believe such a stupid rumor…”
“So why do you avoid Princess Blanche? Don’t you have any fatherly love?” There was no response. The man just sat there, almost as if time had stopped for him. Did I ask a stupid question? Abigail wondered as regret filled her for asking in the first place. As she opened her mouth to tell him that he didn’t need to answer, Sabelian spoke, “…I don’t understand what this fatherly love you’re talking about is.”
Sabelian fell silent, again without response. Seeing that, Abigail didn’t probe any further because he somehow seemed rather depressed at that moment. An awkward silence settled over the room that was only broken by Sabelian rising slowly from his desk. “In any case, the child is still the heir to this country. I will try my best in educating Blanche, so there’s no need for you to worry.”
“There are many good books here. Please enjoy a few of them if you have the time.” So saying, Sabelian left the room. He could hear Abigail bidding him goodbye from behind, but he didn’t reply. Slowly, he walked through the hallway. The words that came out from Abigail’s mouth a while ago kept playing back over and over in his head. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, Sabelian could hear his stomach turn over.
Love. What a ridiculous thought. If Miriam heard this, she would jump out of her grave. Love didn’t exist for Sabelian be it in the past or the present. Since it didn’t exist now, it probably wouldn’t exist in the future either. There was no problem in not having such a thing as he had lived perfectly fine without it up till now.
It occurred to him that he’d made a foolish decision. He should have refused the invitation. He shouldn’t have let Abigail in his study. If he had done all that, he wouldn’t have to feel this strange emotion anymore.
He regretted his decision, but he didn’t turn back to call off the meal.
* * *
“Doesn’t understand what fatherly love is…is what he said.” I tried to do my best impression of Sabelian as I recounted it to Verite, who was watching me do all this through the mirror. “Hmm, and?”
“It didn’t seem like he actually loved his previous wife either.” I was a bit shocked when he’d told me he never loved his previous wife. He seemed almost insulted at the suggestion…I thought as I continued, “I thought Sabelian loved his previous wife quite a bit. If he didn’t, why not remarry for almost eleven years straight?”
“You should have asked.” Verite said bluntly.
“But the atmosphere there was…” Sabelian’s expression had visibly darkened when he’d said he had no notion of what fatherly love was. Blanche almost seemed like a sort of wound on him. Because of that, I couldn’t really ask anything more, “If only I knew why Sabelian dislikes Blanche so much…I’d be able to help the two get closer then.”
“Hm. I did hear a few rumors in the palace.”
“Rumors? You were here all this time. How did you hear anything? Through the maids?”
“Nope, I can see anywhere that has a mirror in it. So I end up hearing all sorts of rumors.” Verite sounded pretty casual about it, but I was taken aback. Look at any place that has a mirror in it? Isn’t that amazing? That’s basically a CCTV! I wanted to ask more about this ability of his, but right now I was more curious about Sabelian. “So what were those rumors?”
“Sabelian was born without emotions and whatnot, seeing as he’s so cold to his own daughter and since he even managed to chase out his own mother.” Ah, right, there was that too, huh. My mother-in-law didn’t reside in the palace. She had been banished all the way out to the distant borderlands. Apparently Sabelian chased her out because he was afraid of her taking his power for her own. He sounds like a total psychopath, honestly. But he didn’t seem completely devoid of emotion purely based on what he looked like when he’d talked about Blanche. He is still an asshole though. “Anything else?”
“There is, but…they’re not very nice rumors.” Verite frowned a little. He rubbed his cheeks before speaking in a tone of clear annoyance, “There are stories about how Blanche might not be Sabelian’s kid.”
“Eh? Is she adopted, then?”
“Nope, apparently Miriam cheated on Sabelian.” My jaw dropped at that bombshell. Cheating? R-really? Oh my God, that woman…! I had to know, “Is that true?”
“Don’t know. It’s just a rumor. But according to it, Sabelian hates Blanche because she’s not his baby, or so it goes? He’s stayed single for over ten years from the feeling of betrayal.” I quickly closed my mouth. Cheating. It makes sense that he’d hate Blanche if that were the case. But…
“But Blanche looks exactly like Sabelian!” I exclaimed, half in protest, half-questioning. The two had completely different personalities but there was no question that Blanche was Sabelian’s daughter. Her face even looked like Sabelian’s, to say nothing of her hair and her eyes. A girl like her, from a different father? Verite seemed unfazed, though. “There’s one more person who looks just like Sabelian.”
“Another one?…Could it be…?” I trailed off hesitantly. Verite nodded. “Raven.” Oh my God, am I in a soap opera or something? Cheating on you with your stepbrother?? I haven’t talked to Raven much, but he seemed the quiet type. I recall he was living quietly away from the public eye…
“Of course, it’s difficult to know if this was really true. Miriam’s dead, after all. We could try to get something out of Raven, but…” Verite trailed off.
“There’s no way he’d tell the truth.” I finished for him. I’d have watched this with a bag of popcorn in my hands if this were indeed a drama. But this was real life for me now.
“Ughh. So, what if this really is true? How do we make the two like each other?” I scratched my head in frustration. Treating the child your brother had with your wife as your own daughter… There’s just no way. Unless Sabelian turns out to be the incarnation of Buddha himself, there’s no way. But it wasn’t like I could let things with Blanche stay this way forever. Ugh, my head hurts…
“Hey, calm down. These are all just rumors. It’d be better for you to see all this for yourself.”
“See it all for myself? How?”
“The mirrors in this palace all serve as my eyes.” Saying this, the mirror shimmered and Verite disappeared. Sabelian appeared in it instead. He seemed to be in his office, looking over a document carefully. “Are you showing me Sabelian in real time?”
“Yeah. Maybe you’ll find something if you keep watching him from here?” Verite casually said something that was very much a crime. I glanced at the door, worried about someone coming in unexpectedly. “I don’t think this is right, though. He’d be seriously mad if he found out. Hold up, you aren’t doing this to me when I’m alone, are you?”
“No! I respect other people’s privacy, you know. You know what, I’ll stop showing Sabelian as well.” Verite almost sounded a little guilty. Sabelian’s image soon disappeared, and Verite appeared again. “So how are you going to do this now, then?”
“Ugh…Maybe if I ask him myself later…”
“You think he’d tell you?” Verite shot my idea down, sounding bored.
“He probably won’t, but…I think this is the type of thing you should be asking the person involved himself.” This was too big of a topic to just rely on rumors and predictions. After all, even the rumor about Sabelian loving Miriam turned out to be false. The cheating thing probably was false as well. “I’ll get closer with Blanche first, then I’ll help the two meet more. I think that’s the most important part.”
I’d thought it was all over when Sabelian asked me to join in the meal as well.
To think I’ll have to see that stupid face every four days…The thought had me shuddering at first, but I decided to think positively. It’d be better for Blanche if I was there for emotional support. If the two of them were to eat together on their own, it was clear as day that there wouldn’t be a single word between them.
There’s no helping it, then. I’ll have to step in. I need to make this perfect. Just to see Sabelian apologize to Blanche in the future!!
* * *
The palace kitchen was extremely busy with the meal preparation. They were usually quite busy during dinnertime, but they seemed especially so today. “How’s the meal between His Majesty and the princess going? Any problems?”
“None at all, sir!”
The chefs looked over their subordinates with especially strict glares. Judging by the looks on the faces present, they were all on tenterhooks. “You all have to be very careful today. After all, that Miss Abigail is the one who asked for this.”
Everyone swallowed nervously when they heard Abigail’s name.
She had turned rather mellow after her death but before then, she had been an extremely difficult person to deal with. Not only did she have a trying personality, she was also a gourmand. The head chef had been shamed by her for this very reason on more than just one occasion.
That Abigail had come all the way to the kitchen today. She entreated them to make every effort on this occasion since Sabelian and Blanche were having a meal together today. The woman had been smiling, but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was making threats here. The head chef couldn’t even begin to imagine how he’d be punished if he failed today.
“Since they’re almost done with the fish, we need to bring out the main dish. Bring out the sorbet in the meantime.” As the maids brought out the sorbet, the cooks got to work on the steak. The steaks began to give off a delicious aroma as they sizzled on the grill. Surely she shouldn’t be able to find any complaint with this, the chef thought as he viewed the ready dishes. Since the woman was the type to complain if the food was slightly cool when she ate it, the head chef quickly called for a maid, “Here, bring it out immediately. Don’t forget what I told you…Hey, are you listening?”
The maid turned in surprise to see the head chef, who seemed rather unhappy with her lapse in attention. “What? Ah, yes…! I’ll serve it right now.”
The head chef eyed her somewhat distrustfully, but he was far too busy to do anything about it himself. In the end, he simply waved the maid off and she left the kitchen with her cart. Since the kitchen was a bit of a ways off from the dining hall, she needed to hurry. The maid’s face was stiff with strain as she made her way down the hall, the cart’s wheels clattering loudly across the floor.
“I’ve been waiting. Welcome.” The maid returned to her senses when she heard a voice. There was someone standing in the hallway.
It was Miss Jeremie. She smiled at the maid brightly.
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: Midwinter Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan