Thinking that Rod might have been getting sick of eating Dorian one meal after the next and wanting something familiar, I asked them to serve Atian cuisine for lunch. But Mother’s private dining room as master of this castle was in use as the Army’s war room, so the castle steward decided to have our lunch served on the ‘board room table’ in Mother’s office.
I suppose I need to start thinking of these things as ‘mine’, rather than ‘Mother’s’, but I’m not quite ready for that.
I sat across from Rod with Mireia at his side, where both of us insisted she sit despite her protests.
“Give it up,” I told her with a smile. “The female guest of honor should sit to the right of the male host. If you were male, you would be to the hostess’s right, but you aren’t, so there you go.”
“I shouldn’t be considered anything like that!”
“There’s only three of us dining together, Mir,” I said with a smirk. “You can’t go any lower than third place in this situation.”
“Get used to being with us,” Rod stated. “Or say you’ve changed your mind and you want me to send you away. I’m not going to let you help us without accepting our feelings and help in return.”
She bugged her eyes out a bit, then looked down, embarrassed, as Rod set a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
The tenderness in his eyes as he turned his smile her way wasn’t in the least bit false. But Mireia knew she had unconsciously created it, back when Parna’s people had her under their control and the guilt she felt was easy to see as her eyes shifted away.
The maids finished setting out our soup and retreated from the room to fetch the main course, except of course for Genette, who stood by at the door. Rod had made his knight attendants guard the door outside, keeping Hedrit company.
While we had our soup, Rod gave me an update on the situation. The most important item he mentioned was that the man whom Fan Li had chased down and put to sleep turned out to be Mr. Beretin, the noble-blooded businessman and local official related to a downriver viscount of the same name.
I was immediately tempted to send one out to find him, the moment I heard that. Fan Li had been using spiritual senses (in other words, fairy sense and fairy sight) on every human she saw, looking for anything supernatural to explain their behavior.
She had seen no demons, no gidims possessing humans, no spirits like the fairy-infecting dark spirits, creatures that the Fairy Queen had theorized might be infecting mortals in the same fashion as the fairy-infecting ones found in Mára and Feraen.
No, Fan Li had seen only pure, unadulterated, non-possessed mortals, including when she scanned Beretin. So, when I powered up my spiritual vessel, waking her once more so she could cast [Blood Effigy] once more in order to double-check, she simply tut-tutted me.
– This one did not mistake what she saw the first time, Your Highness. And a mortal does not require demonic possession to commit evil behavior. They are fully capable of such acts on their own.
With that, she metaphorically rolled over and went back to sleep, reducing the spiritual vessel herself.
Instead, I sipped my soup in silence, studiously holding back the wry smile that wanted to grow. The ancient scholar had taken one look at my fear, then slapped it into the third row just like that.
The fact of the matter was, I had honestly expected to find demons among the perpetrators today, since demons had been the attackers who struck the Upper Town from the shipping basin. But just because Parna and Cullen had demonic allies didn’t mean every act was the fault of demons.
And even though the slaves had probably been destined for demonic customers, it was mortal merchants doing business with them. There had been mortal merchants behind everything else in those warehouses, so naturally, those guarding it were mortal too.
Rod fell silent and contemplated his soup once he finished. I knew the look he was wearing. He didn’t know how to say what he wanted to say.
“Your Royal Highness, just say whatever it is,” I told him. “I promise I won’t take offense.”
He frowned and shook his head. “It’s not like that, Ti. I’m just not sure what advice to give you.”
I tipped my head. “Do I need advice?”
Before he even prepared an answer, I was shaking my head. “No, I probably need all kinds of advice, right? On a lot of different subjects. So, what subject do you have in mind, Your Highness?”
“It’s ‘Rod’, Ti,” he answered, very pointedly.
I stared at him for a bit, then decided to ask him. “You stopped calling me that, after you found out about… what happened to me. Now you started again. Can you tell me why?”
He had a sour look on his face for just an instant, then his brow wrinkled and he shook his head again. “We’re going to be married. You’re going to have my child. I decided to stop being a baby about it and get over it.”
No reply came to mind. My thoughts were completely empty for several seconds as I tried to understand what he meant. I mean, arranged aristocratic marriages are very common, as are extramarital affairs, concubines etc. for those in arranged marriages who still want love. What exactly was he saying?
His face grew sour again, then he pushed what was left of his soup away and sat back. After contemplating me for a moment, he said, “You are still…”
He glanced over at Genette, then chose different words. “You, the one who is with us now, have rescued my sister twice, lent critical help to my brother, assisted me in the Tabad and are now becoming the mother of my children. That’s so many different ways you’ve become precious and irreplaceable to me and my family. Why can’t I…”
Another frown, then he finished. “The number of reasons for me to be grateful are too many for me to be on a formal basis with you. Does that explain it?”
The table was too broad to reach across and take his hand, so I just smiled and nodded. “Alright, Your Highness. If calling me by my nickname doesn’t trouble you…”
“Ti, it’s ‘Rod’,” he stated once again.
I sighed, then looked over at the pink-haired beauty sipping soup and quietly watching the show on the sly. I smiled at her as I caught her eye, while wondering if she was eating popcorn in her imagination.
Looking back at Rod, I grew a defeated smile and repeated, “Rod.”
“Don’t forget it,” he warned, with the corner of his mouth curling up slightly.
The look he had for me wasn’t the tenderness he had for Mireia, more like the affection of a brother. The exact look he ought to have for a girl he was brought up together with.
It felt a lot better that way.
During the main course– smoked salmon and egg-salad on toast and a pasta with pesto sauce– I decided that Rod should have had sufficient time to think, and asked, “Have you sorted out the advice you wanted to give me yet, Rod?”
His lip twisted and he nodded. “That’s right. We got off topic. Hm.”
After a sip of tea, he decided, “While I was speaking earlier, it struck me that you ought not be dependent on me, or Colonel Morgas, or whomever else to brief you about issues such as what I was talking about. Your general staff should be doing it. Which raises the question, where is your general staff? Lady Sasara certainly had one.”
I put my knife and fork down and frowned.
Yes, even though it is so clearly an open-face sandwich, Atian etiquette required us to eat it with a knife and fork. We had hastily stopped Mireia from picking it up with her fingers, just earlier, leading to making plans to have the maids start tutoring her in these things.
Colonel Morgas and Amana took over military command because the original Army staff had been wiped out, over at Army HQ. Viscount Amalis was the Lord Mayor of the capital, which was important, but local nonetheless. It had nothing to do with the Ducal government. I had not even thought about it until now, but who was responsible for the things that fell under neither the viscount’s staff nor the Army staff?
“Just a moment,” I said, pushing my chair back. I went around to my desk and pulled open the drawer with Inda’s ‘cheat-sheet’ notebook.
Leafing through it, I found page after page of notes on this noble and that, and copious notes on the situations in each city and region, including a very lengthy discussion on matters here in Narses, but nothing on Duchy-wide matters.
I was sure this could not be right. Finally, I put my hand on Lucy’s pendant and called her out.
“Call Amana, dear,” I told her after she shouted “Out!” as usual.
“Are you having trouble already?” my sister wondered as a greeting.
Suppressing a laugh that I had no time to explain– I didn’t have the luxury to fill her in on everything that had happened in the few hours since they took off, after all– I told her, “We’ve handled things so far, but I just have a question.”
After she heard the gist of it, she admitted, “I have no idea. I was always focused on the military situation, so the question never came up. I was only meeting with Amalis because we were investigating the attack.”
Would I have to start asking the maids or something? This was going to be an embarrassing, ignorance-exposing question.
“You should ask Benedetta,” Amana then told me. “I’m sure she would know.”
“Why would Mother’s head maid know?” I puzzled, honestly confused.
Amana’s bright laugh came through Lucy’s connection perfectly. It was like my sister was standing in front of me, laughing in my face. Which wasn’t pleasant.
“Tiana! That’s just a job she does on the side! Don’t you know? Benedetta is Mother’s Lady-in-Waiting!”
My jaw dropped open from the shock.
Many people in the modern world are confused by the term ‘Lady-in-waiting’. They think it is some sort of glorified maid. In manga based in historic European settings, they often call any old personal maid to an aristocrat a ‘Lady-in-waiting’, at least in the English translations. But it’s just like how they call any old male servant a ‘butler’. It’s completely fallacious. The people they call ‘butlers’ are very often footmen or valets. The estate would normally only have one butler, and he is the general manager running the estate, not a common servant.
In the same fashion, the women they call ‘Ladies-in-waiting’ in manga are usually just lady’s maids. A ‘Lady-in-waiting’ is nothing like a maid. She’s the personal assistant to a queen or a duchess. If she’s not too proud, she might tidy things up in the queen’s personal quarters, but it’s much more likely she supervises the royal chambermaids who do that job.
After all, upon becoming the Duchess’s Lady-in-waiting, she has stepped into one of the highest ranking jobs a noblewoman in the Duchy can hold.
Which is a problem, of course. “… is Benedetta even a noble?”
Rod gave the answer, sounding amused. “Apparently your father made Carson and Benedetta viscount and viscountess a very long time ago. Although I only learned about it myself a few years ago.”
“Mother had a viscount working as her butler?” I answered, a little stunned.
“Carson is also the general manager of the duchy’s businesses, you know,” Amana answered, still on the line. “He’s a very busy man.”
“My entire childhood is a lie…” I muttered, feeling blank. Amana’s laugh rang out again.
“I’ll let you go,” I told her. “Thanks.”
We said our goodbyes and Lucy disconnected it.
“How do I contact them?” I wondered.
“There’s a communication crystal tied to the Royal Network at the estate in Atianus, but…”
He turned to Genette. “You can get hold of them, right?”
Genette nodded. “Yes, Your Royal Highness. The castle steward can contact the Pendor Estate directly. However, if I may, My Lady…”
She was waiting for my permission, so I nodded. “Go ahead.”
“I have never heard of a ‘general staff’. I think that’s why you can’t find any mention of it.”
“She had to have something!” Rod protested, causing Genette to flinch and draw back slightly, her ears flattening.
“Rod, she’s just my maid!” I scolded him. “Give her a break!”
He cleared his throat and grimaced. “Sorry.”
To his credit, he really did look apologetic.
“If I may…” Genette said, looking at me again.
“Of course,” I told her. “Go ahead.”
“I think Benedetta’s assistants are the ones who would organize news and gather information for Her Grace. Perhaps it’s them you’re talking about?”
“Well…” I mulled. “Normally, the Lady’s Maid would be organizing social calendars and the like…”
“But that’s for a normal duchess whose husband is running the show,” Rod pointed out.
“So where are they?” I asked my maid.
She hesitated, then frowned, her ears and tail dropping again. “They… may have been with Fairy Inda on the day of the attack, My Lady.”