The long tables laden with delicacies lined the walls. Everything you can think of, and things you have never dreamed of, lie in wait. The chef prepared whole roasted ducks and the aroma permeated the room, making one’s mouth water. Everyone enjoyed the feast.
Everyone… except for Caville.
His forehead turned into a frown as he tasted the food. He seemed sensitive to the taste of heavy spices and didn’t like them very much.
Elody comforted the sullen chef and said, “Don’t be so glum, the meat is delicious. He just has sensitive taste buds.”
The chef could only nod at Elody’s words. Then he fixed his gaze towards the young lord. Only to find him ogling at the cake that he made.
Caville took a slice of cake. Giving it an experimental bite, he was surprised to find how easily the spongy layer gave way to his teeth and nearly gasped when his taste buds practically sang under the flavor. It was the best cake he had ever tasted in his entire life.
Caville soon forgot his distaste towards the heavily seasoned foods and ate two more plates of the special cake.
The chef’s gloomy look was nowhere to be seen. The duke’s relish towards the cake restored his wounded pride and he couldn’t be anymore jubilant.
As the party continued, Elody permitted Caville to eat without manners for the rest of the day. As soon as he heard Elody’s concession to release him from the stifling custom, he began to eat his food with even more gusto, and Elody too, let go of her manners and etiquette for the special day.
‘On such a joyous day, manners are the least important!’
A while later, the small chatter across the restaurant eventually stopped and it was finally time to open the presents.
Norman gave a book to both Caville and Elody, while the maids presented handmade outfits. Brien bestowed Caville a wooden sword created from expensive blackwood and he gave Elody a cute hairpin.
“Here, Caville. I’ve prepared a present for you.”
Elody held out her present to Caville. The maids were full of anticipation and excitement.
Caville tore off the wrapper with his clumsy hands, he was surprised to see a big, fluffy rabbit doll. Caville picked them up and turned them over in his hands, letting his eyes roam freely over every stitch so lovingly made. He raised his eyes to Elody, who had that look in her eye, caught between pride and fear of rejection. Before Elody could speak, he hugged the rabbit doll tightly with all the strength his little hand could muster.
“I love it!”
His lovely appearance urged out a unified squeal from the maids, “Oh, my!”
Elody was relieved to see his expression. The doll she gave him was hand-crafted by herself and Caville seemed to really love the present. She considered her gift as a huge success.
“Thank you, dear wife.”
Although the doll had uneven ears and was flawed in several places, Caville didn’t seem to mind those imperfections. If anything, Caville hugged the doll even tighter. He then sent a big smile towards Elody.
“Here…. This is the present I’ve prepared for you, wife. Norman, the gift, please.”
“Yes, your grace.”
Norman held out the gift he had hidden behind his back. The maids tried to contain their excitement.
Elody opened the present box that Caville gave her. Her eyes widened at the unexpected surprise. It was a glass jar filled with candies. There’re sugar covered fruit jellies, liquorice of all-sorts, sour candies, and others. But the candies weren’t what caught her eye. It was the letter that sat right beside it. Elody quickly picked up the card and began reading its contents.
The paper was scribbled with Caville’s handwriting. The letter contained only two short sentences.
[Thank you. I love my wife the most.]
Elody was touched. It hasn’t been long since Caville learned how to write, so his handwriting was a bit messy, but it was enough to warm Elody’s heart.
From the bottom of her heart, Elody was grateful.
It was the best birthday present she had ever received.
* * *
After the birthday party, both Elody and Caville washed up and changed into their night garments.
Then, they immediately sat down and began arranging the presents they received one by one.
They were enthusiastic at first, but not long after, they started to doze off and went into a deep slumber. Their small bodies were sprawled side by side on a warm, fluffy blanket. The maids couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
“Oh my! How lovely they are!”
Elody’s hairpin, which was given by Brien, was pinned into Caville’s fluffy black hair. Marie and Emily giggled at the sight of their antics.
As they were about to carry both children to the bed. Marie discovered something.
“Oh, what could this be?”
“What is it?”
Marie’s gaze happened to fall onto the little scrawls on one side of the wall. It was a scribble marked by Elody to keep track of Caville’s height every year.
“Look at this, it’s so cute.”
“I can’t help but feel that they are growing up too fast….”
“I suppose so.”
After the two children were put to bed, Marie and Emily left the bedroom and closed the door gently.
Before long, two additional lines marked the wall, indicating their new heights.
Caville grew one inch (2.54 cm) taller and Elody grew a bit as well.
A year passed by quickly and the seasons changed. Seasons fade in and out like soft lullabies, their transitions slow but never faltering.
First came spring, in every hue of pastels, the gardens were filled with newly sprung grass and blooming flowers. Then, summer prances in shades so vibrant the fair-goers shade their eyes. Next comes autumn, an ever-changing mosaic of scarlets and gold. Lastly, comes winter with its icy hooves sparkling in a sun that has lost its heat.
Soon, the seasonal carousel is complete for another year as spring has come to wake up the empire once again.
* * *
Throughout the year, Elody’s daily schedule was packed without a break. She had to visit the library to study medicine, manage the land’s affairs, and teach Caville how to read and write.
Not to mention, Elody also had to regularly collect the herbs she had planted with the help of several maids.
“Madame, this is a weed, isn’t it?”
“I think so.”
The weather was gorgeous that day. Clouds drift by on the most relaxed of breezes, helping their eyes to appreciate the bluebird sky all the more.
Seeing the pleasant weather, the maids brought a couple of baskets which consisted of fresh bread sandwiches, quiche, and sausage rolls, in case the duchess decides to have a picnic.
“The sky is very beautiful today!”
“Yes, it’s a perfect day to harvest the herbs, madame.”
Marie and Anna would always accompany Elody whenever she went to harvest the herbs.
Anna was fond of flowers and plants, and she liked gardening. So when she heard that the duchess wanted to grow herbs of her own, she immediately volunteered to help.
Eight-year-old Caville was still smaller than his peers, but his height has grown quite a bit. He has also become more lively than before.
“Caville, would you like to walk with me?”
“Of course, wife!”
It has become a habit for Elody to take a stroll with Caville in the gardens on sunny afternoons. Frankly, it’s similar to walking a dog….
Sometimes, she’d even devote most of her spare time just to watch Caville train.
‘Hmm… He’s improved.’
His posture was no longer sloppy and he seemed more confident in wielding the sword.
‘As expected of a genius.’
Then, Elody approached Brien with a proud smile on her face.
“He’s improved a lot, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. He’s a talented one.”
Elody had a strong personality. If the lesson seemed too difficult, she would not hesitate to argue with Brien and lower his demands.
“Speaking of which, will you be watching today’s lesson as well, your grace?”
“I will… unless Caville refuses to have me here.”
Brien then turned his gaze towards Caville. Hoping his glare would shoo her away.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go too well.
Upon hearing Elody’s words, Caville pouted his lips and shook his head, as if telling her not to go. Brien couldn’t be more disappointed. It seems that he’ll have to suffer for quite a while….
“Caville’s still a baby. Just let it go until he matures.“
“Well, is there a baby this big? Babies are called babies for a reason.”
“He’s a baby in my eyes.”
Brien could only shake his head after hearing Elody’s words.
In Elody eyes, Caville would still be a baby no matter how much he grows up. Even if he turns into an adult, he would forever be Elody’s baby.
Elody was so stubborn and adamant about this fact that Brien could only grumble and continued with his training.
After spending a year together, Caville and Brien had become attached to each other. Caville slowly opened up to him and was no longer afraid. The fear that was holding his growth in swordsmanship slowly diminished until it was gone and thus his skill grew by leaps and bounds.
Other than teaching Caville, Brien was also in charge of managing the estate’s knights. Elody’s decision was proven to be correct. Within less than a year, Brien managed to reinforce many knights into their militia. The knights’ quarters and training grounds situated in the renovated castle were now packed with existing knights and apprentices.
“Madame, I think we’ll have to recruit more servants into the mansion.”
“Alright, Norman. You take care of recruiting the new servants.”
“Understood, your grace. I’ll get right to it.”
As the people in the estate increased, the workload for the servants increased as well. The small number of servants were struggling to keep up with the new chores every day. When Norman saw they were scrambling to keep up the pace, he finally decided to ask for the duchess’ permission to hire new workers.
A few days ago, the knighthood ceremony was held, and Caville was finally dubbed as a knight.
The ceremony was conducted by Sir Vedos. Several qualified apprentices were also appointed as knights. The kneeling squires would swear an oath of allegiance to the duke. Then the master of the ceremony would dub the new knight on the shoulders with a sword.
Throughout the ceremony, Caville seemed anxious as he was not used to the presence of so many people. In order to calm him down, Elody would hold his hand and smile at the child, as if telling him that everything’s alright.
Suddenly, at that very moment, an idea struck Elody’s mind.
The idea was to repair and renovate the mansion’s greenhouse and build a laboratory next to it.
Elody could have done this sooner, but she was too busy dealing with Caville’s affairs.
“Madame, the construction workers will arrive tomorrow.”
At Norman’s words, Elody put down her mug of cocoa and said “Yes. How long will the construction take?”
“Not too long, as there’s very little to repair.”
“That’s a relief. Oh, right! I was supposed to go to the market with Caville today.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. Marie and Sir Vedos will accompany you, your grace.”
“Alright. Though it seems that Caville doesn’t want to go.”
“Well, it is his first time going outside the mansion.”
Norman smiled like a benevolent grandfather and looked towards Elody and Caville.
Throughout the conversation, Caville sat next to Elody. Elody sighed and shifted her gaze towards Caville.
He was well-fed and raised with care all year round. However, it seemed that he had become overly attached to Elody, he couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from her.
Caville was still afraid of tall adults and crowded places. His symptoms had improved… but without Elody beside him, he’d still be awfully anxious.
‘He may have developed separation anxiety….’
Elody looked at Caville quietly and Caville stared back at her, his round eyes blinked innocently.
At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to join the war without Elody beside him.
‘But… I’ll only become a burden if I follow him to the battlefield. I might even put Caville in danger.’
‘Should I distance myself from him…?’
Elody thought for a moment, but she couldn’t do that.
“Wife, do we have to go?” Caville said with his puppy dog eyes.
‘How could I separate myself from my cute baby?’
Furthermore, Caville always listened to Elody. He was a sweet and gentle child. If Elody scolded him, he would listen to her, when she told Caville to do something, he’d obey her commands. Caville was very obedient, just like a well-behaved puppy.
“Yes, we have to go. I have some herbs I’d like to buy.”
The mansion had a lot of herbs and most of them had been harvested. However, it still wasn’t enough. Herb samples from other regions were also needed. So, Elody had no choice but to go to the market and check the items that the merchants sold.
“Madame, madame! The carriage is ready!” said Marie as she approached Elody with an excited face.
Marie was a tall, red-haired maid. She was kind, cheerful, and bright, perhaps that’s what drew Elody to her. It didn’t take a long time for them to become friends.
“Alright. Let us go, Caville.”
Elody smiled at Caville’s sulky face. He loathed the idea of going outside the mansion. Nevertheless, he’d still follow Elody wherever she goes.
Elody then buttoned up Caville’s attire and walked with him to the carriage, hand in hand.
* * *
The market was more lively than Elody thought it would be. The shops were stuffed and the footpaths were crowded with stalls. A myriad of spices embellished a bright and overflowing market stall giving off a sweet redolent smell. People continued to bustle around the busy marketplace, browsing through an assortment of vibrantly colored stalls, and occasionally buying an item that catches their eye.
Elody paused for a moment to survey the flamboyant scene. Some stand excitedly near a corner of a stall brimming with eager excitement, lovers strolled hand in hand, casually browsing, whilst housewives hustled, bustled, and haggled over the price of fruits and other imported merchandise.
Everyone’s expressions seemed bright. Perhaps it was due to the reduction of taxes to half. This reduced rent may have lessened the residents’ burdens.
Elody smiled softly at the cheerful atmosphere. She then held Caville’s hand and continued to look around.
“There’s a lot of people here. Be careful, your grace.”
“Yes, thank you. Sir Vedos.”
Brien acted like he’s actually worried about Elody, but truthfully, his gaze kept drifting to the redhead beside him. Surprisingly, Marie didn’t seem to hate his stares either.
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