Apparently, in this country, dinner is primarily made of stewed dishes.
Yesterday was some indecipherable sort of stewed fish, and the day before that was some sort of a pork stew.
And today was a duck stew.
The seasonings are mainly salt and pepper, with a combination of a few fragrant herbs.
For me and my palate, the herbs were kind of a no-go. The fragrance was too strong. Also, it was over salted and the duck meat was too tough.
Even though it was such nice, plump duck to begin with!
(A duck confit with citrus would be nice, or roasted duck with a spicy marinade. Or while they’re at it, duck and onions grilled over a charcoal fire and served with a salty sauce…)
Aah, I wished they’d just let me make it. It was an honest-to-God waste of good duck.
Compared to the artisan in charge of the afternoon sweets, the level of skill was completely different.
No, well, there was a distinct possibility that I was just being picky, too.
But no, seriously, the amount of herbs was absolutely unbearable… I could almost cry from the overwhelming smell alone.
(Come on guys, show a little care in your prep work. If you do, the meat will actually get tender… and you won’t have to cover up the smell with so many herbs, because it’ll disappear on its own…)
Duck has a very distinct smell to it. It can be quite delicious, but it can also be hideously bad. Apparently, most people who don’t like duck just can’t stand that smell.
(The people of this world and I can’t have that different senses of taste, I don’t think.)
What one is used to eating, difference based on culture, or places you eat, the people you eat with, the atmosphere in which you eat and so on… there’s a whole, indefinitely list of factors that influence our sense of taste, but things that are “delicious” should still be “delicious” regardless.
For me, the most basic rules were “Eat the ingredients of the season at their optimum times, making the best of their flavors in the simplest of ways.”
When it comes to creating the “greatest of flavor,” neither the quality of the ingredients nor the skills of the chef can take all the credit.
(Hunger is the best spice.)
While reciting the old adage like a charm, I decided to eat the bread.
White, soft bread. Umm, something like Heidi’s white bread.
And how delicious it seemed, still comfortably warm and freshly baked and clocked in the lingering, fragrant scent. With a savoring bite, it was easy to taste the steady, wheat taste, I had come to adore. Truthfully, I really wanted some jam or butter, but that would’ve been the very definition of luxury. Since there wasn’t any in sight, I made do with the bread by itself.
I ate the bread and butter, and the Giadi fried with salt, and ended my meal with a glass of herbed water.
(Sorry, but trying to eat all of this would’ve been nothing short of torture…)
As I was — a delicate young princess — I’m sure I would never be allowed to cook for myself, but I desperately wanted to meet the cooks and have a sit-down.
(Please, I’m begging you, let me make it!! No, I’ll even bear with it if you’ll just let me give directions!)
If I could just do that, I think my appetite would see instant improvement.
Once the meal was over, it was evening free time.
In my hands, I had a book Lilia procured for me. A history of the Kingdom… apparently, Alterie was quite fond of history, and thus the majority of the books Lilia brought were on history.
Since the one thing I needed most at the moment was knowledge, I was quite thankful for that.
(… I think Alterie was a pretty amazing little girl.)
Even though it was something concerning myself, I couldn’t help but feel impressed as if it were about someone else entirely.
I didn’t have Alterie’s memories. But I did have Alterie’s knowledge.
An example of my unconscious use of it would be, for example, language.
There was no freaking way it was Japanese, and from my passable knowledge in English and French, I knew it wasn’t them, either.
I could understand it, though.
I hadn’t even the slightest trouble with reading or writing, and though the books Lilia brought me were old, often mixing in obsolete words, I understood and had few problems, if any.
It’s not like I was translating from Japanese in my head. I was definitely, properly thinking in the Continental Common Tongue used in Dardinia.
It strangely ceased to amaze me after some time had passed, that I perfectly understood a language other than Japanese.
That, and the varied educational and cultural knowledge that I slowly recalled… for example, when I looked at a teacup, I knew exactly what techniques were used to make it, and even the name of the kiln that forged it would occur to me.
Furthermore, when I would hear place names, the landmarks and hot spots and what they were famous for would pop into my head… without a doubt, this is all Alterie’s knowledge.
Though I had no one to compare myself to and no way of knowing just how accurate this information was, as a 12-year-old girl, really, just how absurdly extensive was Alterie’s knowledge?
What honestly impressed me the most is that Alterie knew the full names of every single one of the knights and maids in her detail.
Knowing someone’s full name means knowing their family lineage and their social position, and it’s a pretty serious undertaking.
And that meant she personally understood each and every one of them as individuals.
It had to be quite the arduous task.
(Crown Princess, huh…)
No matter how you look at it, despite her age, Alterie was well aware of her position as the Crown Prince’s consort.
All those things I didn’t understand when I first woke up slowly came back to me as I settled in to my situation.
Someday, I might regain Alterie’s memories.
However carefree I looked, on the inside it was just a continuous chain of confusion. It felt like being tossed haphazardly into the middle of a situation where I had no choice but to blindly grope about.
But as time went on, Maya and Alterie began to overlap.
As days passed on and knowledge emerged, the realities that felt flimsy as daydreams became more substantive and clear, and felt as if they carved themselves into me.
As it stands, knowledge is undoubtedly also a type of memory, and it’s quite possible the day will come where I don’t doubt that I am Alterie herself at all.
“I’ve prepared a post-meal lobe tea, if you like.”
Lobe tea has a very refreshing taste when you drink it.
It tastes like roasted green tea mixed with oolong, and it’s sure to make an appearance after eating something fatty. Apparently it works well to wash down the oil content. It’s like a Pu’er tea without the peculiarities.
Having served the tea, and perhaps having business to take care of, instead of standing nearby, Lilia withdrew the room.
I was quite used to eating alone, so I wasn’t particularly bothered.
I left my seat, intending to wash my sticky hands.
Normally this is the sort of thing I needed to call one of the maid-servants for, but after my evening meal they have cleaning to attend and take turns having meals of their own, so I used my own discretion.
I set my hand on the door.
“…… the Crown Princess refused a meeting with the Lady Duchess?”
“Seems so. But isn’t that just natural?”
“Of course it is. No matter if it is His Excellency the Duke, he can’t coerce Her Royal Highness into anything, after all.”
Hearing a man’s voice, I unconsciously stopped myself.
He was probably one of the knights on my detail. If I saw his face I’d know immediately who he was, but I couldn’t tell just by his voice yet.
(Eh? This… waitaminnut, this wasn’t the bathroom, but the hallway?)
Being eeeextra careful not to open the door, I silently went back to the other side of the room.
After washing my hands in the bathroom I returned to my seat, and almost immediately Ellelucia and Julia came back.
Since I’d finished my after-dinner tea, I removed the napkin from my collar and folded it, leaving it on the table.
That was the “I’m done with my tea” signal. The two of them started cleaning up, so I let myself think over the things I’d heard earlier.
The knights in my guard detail knew I’d refused to meet with the Duchess.
And they thought it was the obvious, natural choice.
From their voices, it sounded like they thought she deserved it.
(Well, they are from the Imperial Guard, after all… I guess that’s the foregone conclusion, huh.)
Imperial Guards were something like the royal family’s private army. According to the country’s laws they weren’t, but in practice it was fine to think of them that way.
That just goes to show how very close they were to the royal family, and with the personalities in their regiment, it was no wonder they burned with loyalty for the royal family.
That’s exactly why most of them who grieved the loss of Princess Efinia held no warmth in them for the perceived cause, Madam Ruschella.
(It was just too much, after all…)
Half a year after my mother, the princess, passed, the moment the mourning period was over the Duke welcomed Ruschella as his second wife.
Normally, the mourning period should have continued for a full three years. Six months is nothing more than a provisional mourning period.
In the case of an auspicious event a provisional mourning period may be recognized, and a quick end too the mourning period forgiven, but this was just much to much, so naturally they were showered in criticism.
For sure, the wedding of one of the Four Archdukes who supports the country is an auspicious event, but it was an event that would never have occurred if not for the death of the princess. Rumors went round that it was as if they had eagerly awaited the princess’ death.
(Seems as though due to the abruptness of her death, there were even those who suggested it was assassination…)
It got to the point where, as the topic burning its way through society spread through the theaters and playhouses in the streets, it was quickly adapted into plays; the most popular were musicals featuring satirical versions of the Duke and Madam Duchess, where they poisoned the princess to death.
Of course all the names were changed, and they apparently became a count and countess, but anybody with ears knew just who they were modeled after.
Even if reality was that she died in childbirth, it was impossible to blame people for thinking otherwise.
The King’s permission is required for any of the Four Dukes to officially marry.
In order to receive permission to marry Ruschella, His Majesty the King required these conditions — that I be wed to the Crown Prince, and that the Ducal house abandon all rights over me.
(The thing to pay attention to there is that, though the Ducal house was required to abandon all rights over me, my rights concerning the house are completely untouched.)
The Duke accepted the terms unconditionally.
Even though it means losing any and all rights to the daughter the princess gave birth to, there was a bigger reason why he needed to officially marry Ruschella.
And of course, thinking about it politically, having your daughter become the Crown Princess would generally be a greater gift than nobleman dare pray for. Even if it was a daughter he held no rights over, a daughter is a daughter, or so the Duke probably thought.
My marriage to the Crown Prince would bear him nothing but advantages.
Never would he have thought, at that time, that that marriage would screw his plans all to hell as his greatest error.
(I think sometimes the smartest people are the ones who make the biggest blunders.)
On the other hand, as I heard it, apparently His Majesty the King was so overwrought with rage that he hadn’t a single political thought in his head.
His impotent anger of an elder brother who allowed his younger half-sister such an ill-fated death was directly linked to his decisions to bury that precious younger sister, who had married out, in the royal family’s mausoleum, and to completely remove the daughter she bore from the father’s influence.
And so they also say that my marriage at just seven months of age to His Highness the Crown Prince was held as if His Majesty wished to make insinuations about the Duke.
Normally, in these situations there’d be an engagement, and after I’d gotten to a reasonable age things would head in the direction of marriage naturally. Nevertheless, His Majesty sealed all objections based on my age by using Princess Efinia as a precedent, declaring he would never allow such mistakes to repeat themselves.
It was determined that an official ceremony could be held once I’d matured, but all the other formalities have long since been taken care of.
In other words, my marriage has been legally acknowledged by both church and state.
(I think the one being caused the most trouble here is the other person caught up in this mess, His Highness the Crown Prince. I mean, married at 15 to a 7-month-old…)
His Majesty the King couldn’t forgive the travesty his beloved younger sister endured. That’s why once I, the daughter she left behind, entered his custody, he almost stopped dealing with the Elsvelts altogether.
His Majesty’s sweltering hospitality toward me and his vengeance on the Duke were issues unavoidably bound up in one another.
Normally, even though the Crown Princess would not have her own palace, he went out of his way to have a new palace for the Crown Princess constructed; moreover, as a wedding present, he took the city of Al Beizell — whose ruling family had ceased without a legitimate heir more than twenty years previous — which the royal family had long taken charge of, and determined it to be the Crown Princess’ territory.
Well, the price of the new palace was, per tradition, a burden that the consort’s family carried as part of their congratulatory gift for marriage, and actually, Al Beizell was a city that the Elsvelt family — having no large port cities in their territory — had always held hopes for possessing; no doubt, going out of his way to grant me that place just goes to show the intensity of His Majesty’s harassment.
Moreover, it shows his thoroughness that, even though this is my parents’ home, I was immediately whisked away from this castle after birth and this was my first time to even visit.
(In my opinion…)
If the Duke had just waited those three years, he might’ve been ok.
My feelings on the subject aside, I think the people of this country can’t fault anyone for just loving their sweetheart more than their wife from a political marriage. Especially those of political rank.
Even still, the Duke’s treatment of the princess was just too much.
Though there weren’t many people who would look Duke Elsvelt — one of the country’s most prominent nobles — in the eye and criticize him, but the tragedy of the youngest princess, who was popular with the countrymen, was so popular that, not just stage plays, but even the troubadours made songs of it, and spread it to the neighboring countries.
But at the time, the Duke had a reason for being absolutely unable to wait.
(Ruschella was pregnant…)
Just then, Ruschella became pregnant for the fifth time.
By the Kingdom of Dardinia’s national laws, only children born from an official marriage were able to inherit.
That is why, no matter how the Duke wished to acknowledge them, the five living children Ruschella bore out of wedlock will never be more that illegitimate children, unable to receive rank, fortune, or land, and unable to inherit.
It isn’t completely impossible to retroactively acknowledge someone as a legitimate child, but in those cases, the woman giving birth to the child in question must officially marry into the household before the child is born.
(And that was one thing the Duke couldn’t make happen…)
Because from the moment the princess was born, the Duke was the princess’s official fiance.
Consequently — and I don’t know how many people actually realized this — at the time, the only person able to claim succession to the Ducal House of Elsvelt was Alterie.
(Helluva backhanded favor though…)
By the kingdom’s laws, only a legitimate child can be acknowledged as an heir. That was final, and not even His Majesty the King could overturn it.
For example, even if His Majesty the King had a child, if the mother was a mere lover or prostitute, that child would have no claim to the throne.
This is why the Duke absolutely could not allow the child Ruschella was carrying to be illegitimate. No matter how badly his reputation soured, it was absolutely necessary to rush the marriage… in order to make the child that would be born his heir.
Just before I turned a year old, Ruschella bore a son.
… but he was stillborn.
Afterward Ruschella went through many pregnancies… but every single time, she miscarried.
It’s common knowledge that, once one has miscarried, it becomes easier and easier to miscarry again.
After that, Ruschella never bore another child.
And now, as it stands, everyone has that fact laid out before them.
“Crown Princess Alterie is the sole heir to House of Elsvelt.”
Since the Duke abandoned all rights to Alterie in order to marry Ruschella, it’s better to say that she is is the daughter of the royal family than a daughter of the House of Elsvelt.
However, it was an established, immutable fact that Alterie was Duke Elsvelt’s only heir, and that ended up being of critical importance.
(I heard Ruschella’s already 41 years old. It’s not completely unheard of to have a child at her age, but I think we can say safely say that’s not going to happen.)
I’ve heard about it before from a friend that works as an obstetric nurse. Miscarriages become habit. Moreover, it would be a late-life childbirth. If you consider the level of their medical standards, it’s probably impossible.
That’s why, unless the Duke resolves to divorce Ruschella and bring in some other woman — whether as a consort or as a wife — chances are he’ll never have another legitimate child besides Alterie.
(In a sense, His Majesty the King’s revenge yielded an unexpected ace in the hole.)
At this rate, if the Duke can’t have another legitimate child, the entire Elsvelt estate will belong to Alterie… and consequently, the Crown.
The Duke could make his illegitimate children into branch families, and then dispense his fortune to them. However, there are very precise national laws and regulations involved, and put simply, a legitimate child… rather, the next Duke, would have to grant approval or it won’t be possible.
Since Alterie cannot hold both the position as Crown Princess and Duchess Elsvelt, officially, she cannot become the suceessor to the Ducal house.
Even so, Alterie is presently the Heir Presumptive and the representative of the future children she will probably have — who will become the proper heir or heiress.
From the moment they are born, Alterie’s second child will become the unconditional heir of Duke Elsvelt.
Well… I, as the core of this whole debacle, was still just 12 years old, and it felt as distant as a dream.
“Princess, it’s about time for your bath if it pleases you. Hot water has been readied for your use.”
Lilia’s voice startled me. I was a little too lost in thought. In a really unnecessary direction, too.
I nodded my understanding and stood up.
Compared to “over there,” baths are an an ordeal unto themselves here. It’s hard for the people who have to prepare them, and hard for the ones who have to take them.
Embarrassing as it is, they refuse to let me bathe alone.
I’m putting up with it by telling myself it’s just like a bunch of girls bathing together.
(…. Oh? Come to think, whatever happend to the message we sent to the royal castle?)
I had some doubts in that regard, but once I got in the bath I completely forgot the lot of them.
… And later, that would be something I very deeply regretted.