…In truth, the situation was more or less as she had expected.
The ominous foreboding was itself something that Beatrice had been unable to escape.
In the first place, the premonition had started the moment she had heard who had been selected to head to the capital this time around.
The first two were Emilia and Roswaal; that was fine.
She hadn’t been told the details, but the two aforementioned had business at the capital’s castle. Naturally the two of them would be going. There was no question that Puck would accompany Emilia, so although that was lonely, it couldn’t be helped.
Further, it seemed that Subaru Natsuki, the boy who had been hanging around Emilia these last few weeks, would be going along as well. On top of that, he had been the one to drop in to the Forbidden Library to tell her about it.
Going on and on about something she hadn’t asked about, Subaru showed entirely no consideration for Beatrice as she was trying to concentrate on reading. He was a truly infuriating fellow, so she was relieved that she wouldn’t have to see his face for a while.
Finally, one of the maids would accompany them to handle seeing to their needs. Normally, the older of the maid sisters would take on that role, the one who was unwaveringly loyal to that good-for-nothing Roswaal.
However, just this once, it didn’t turn out that way. The one who had asked to accompany them was the younger of the maid sisters. The older one had yielded that role to the younger, and as a result, the older sister and Beatrice would be the two to remain in the mansion.
That fact itself wasn’t something that she minded. Beatrice hadn’t particularly gotten close to anyone in the mansion – Puck was an exception – and she had no intention of being friendly to them.
No matter who it was that she would be spending several days alone with in the mansion, it wasn’t something that she would give a second thought to.
…That was based on the assumption that her routine as a librarian was not disrupted.
“Good morning, Beatrice-sama. This is your breakfast of steamed yam.”
“I see, I suppose. Leave it there, you know.”
“It’s noon, Beatrice-sama. I’ve prepared a steamed yam for your lunch.”
“Hmm, I see, I suppose. I’ll put the plate out later, you know.”
“Here is your supper, Beatrice-sama. This evening, perhaps a steamed yam will do.”
“……I, I see, I suppose. Steamed yams aren’t bad, you know. Hmm, that’s fine, I suppose.”
“Good morning, Beatrice-sama. Breakfast has been especially steamed with extra effort.”
“For pity’s sake, I suppose! There are limits to what Betty can take, you know!!”
When, a bit more than a day after the party had left for the capital, a meal of steamed yams was offered for the fourth time, Beatrice reached her limit, came flying out of the Forbidden Library, and poked the older of the maid sisters with her finger.
The girl, Ram, with peach-colored hair and faint red eyes, and an altered maid outfit that exposed white skin, held a steaming plate in one hand and tilted her head; her expression showed no reaction to what Beatrice had pointed out.
“Beatrice-sama, if you need to visit the bathroom, there’s no need for you to go to the trouble of telling Ram about it.”
“Oh, come now! Who was speaking about that kind of limit to endurance!? You’ve been disrespectful nearly from the beginning, but lately it’s been happening a little too often, you know!?”
“You’ve gone and unmasked her, have you? Ram has been like this since she was born.”
“And now you’re showing too much of your true face, I suppose! There are limits to impudence as well, you know!”
Ram’s haughty irreverence wasn’t something that had begun recently, but before now, she would not have talked back directly to Beatrice’s face. In light of this change, no, this deterioration, Beatrice ended up stamping her foot.
“You can’t get away with overdoing that, just because Roswaal is away, I suppose. I demand that you shape up in your duties as a servant, you know. Firstly, put some effort into improving the food situation, I suppose.”
“You say that, but Ram has been laboring diligently each time on the flavor of the steamed yams. The salting, the duration of steaming, the selection of yams and mayonnaise…… Isn’t it too early to be getting tired of them?”
“What matters! Is that it’s all the same meal, you know! Can you not make anything besides steamed yams, I suppose!?”
“Ram isn’t proud of that fact.”
“That’s exactly right, you know! It’s nothing to be proud of, I suppose!”
As Ram gave a faint impression of standing her ground proudly, Beatrice spoke roughly to her, wide-eyed.
She couldn’t stand the warm scent of salt that drifted faintly in the hallway. Atop a plate were placed freshly steamed yams, and next to them white mayonnaise – the curious condiment that Subaru had devised – was arranged as well. There was no question it would be delicious. Beatrice loved mayonnaise.
However, if she were to show approval here because of that, she couldn’t hope for the situation to improve.
“So, for now, Betty must harden her heart, and briefly forget about mayonnaise.”
“Depriving yourself like that…… *munch munch* could have ill effects on your health, Beatrice-sama.”
“That’s Betty’s steamed yam, I suppose! Don’t think you can just go ahead and eat it, you know!”
As they were speaking, Ram’s hand had reached for the plate. Stealing her breakfast from that hand, and while snarling like a cat, Beatrice glared at Ram and asserted herself.
“You rely too much on your little sister…… *munch munch* You’re entirely forgetting…… *munch munch* your duties as a…… *munch munch* servant, I suppose…… *munch munch*”
“Beatrice sama, some tea?”
“*munch munch*…… I’ll take some, you know.”
From a teapot placed on the serving cart, the fragrant aroma of tea was spreading through the hallway. Accepting the tea poured into a cup, Beatrice’s eyes narrowed in satisfaction at the warm flavor.
The steamed yam, delicious. The tea that Ram brewed, this was also delicious. Honestly, although one could hold nothing but doubt about Ram’s ability as a servant, her yam steaming and tea brewing were perfect. Satisfaction.
“But this is no time to be satisfied, I suppose!”
“Beatrice-sama…… Hasn’t Barusu been rubbing off on you lately?”
“There’s no call for that kind of insult, you know!! I can’t believe you, I suppose……!”
Trembling furiously, Beatrice expressed her indignation at having something like that pointed out. It was unthinkable for her to be under the influence of the black-haired youth who had come to stay at the mansion. How long did they think she had spent here?
There was no way that she would be open to change now, after all this time.
“Setting that aside, it’s quite strange, isn’t it. Normally, Ram is the one to accompany Roswaal-sama, so it’s exceptionally rare to have a chance to be alone in the manion with Beatrice-sama.”
“……At this moment, Betty, too, is painfully aware of that.”
“Are you always making demands of Rem like this, when she stays together with you?”
“Demands! Did I say demand, I suppose!? I didn’t say that! Your little sister can do anything, so there’s no need for Betty to go to the trouble of saying anything, I suppose.”
As Beatrice clutched the hem of her dress and ground her teeth, Ram nodded at her solemnly. Although Beatrice had just plainly stated that Rem exceeded Ram in ability, Ram showed no sign of concern.
Not only that, she smiled faintly at Beatrice.
“Ram is very proud of her little sister Rem, after all.”
“If nothing else, I’m impressed by the strength of your heart……”
When placed in a situation of being compared to someone else, being found inferior is hard to take for anyone. Even for Beatrice, it was something she had personal experience with. It was something she felt more particularly when she was next to Puck.
There was no doubt that he was her beloved big brother. Despite that, she did feel an urge to envy him over the difference in the circumstances they had been placed in.
“Ram loves everything about Rem, after all, including her surroundings. It’s a different situation than yours, Beatrice-sama.”
“……Listen to you, talking as though you know anything about it, I suppose.”
“It’s just a bit of conversation. Besides, Ram has her hands full with her own concerns……Please be at ease.”
“At ease, you say? I wasn’t particularly worried, you know.”
While Ram spoke with a sparkle in her eye, Beatrice responded while licking at the salt and mayonnaise that had stuck to her hand. Then, after draining the cup of tea, the meal was finished. After wiping her fingertips with a cloth, Beatrice turned towards the hall’s doorway – the door that connected to the Forbidden Library. Behind her…
“What is it, I suppose? Let me remind you I’m expecting something more palatable for lunch, you know.”
“It’s not that; it’s only that something like eating while standing in the hallway is poor manners……”
“Setting aside that you nibbled at it first, what an outrageous bit of abuse, I suppose!!”
With her hand still on the door, Beatrice bellowed at Ram as she returned to the serving cart. Ram maintained her unruffled expression, and continued her speech with an “In addition, “.
“Ram has a full plate of jobs to attend to. Because of that, she has no time or effort to expend on meeting Beatrice-sama’s demands. Please extend your understanding to her.”
“That doesn’t sound like how someone hoping for understanding would put it, you know……?”
“Whether it’s stated politely or rudely, the steamed yam future will not change, after all.”
“Then at least say it politely, I suppose!”
As Beatrice seethed, Ram once more smiled faintly, and curtsied politely where she stood. If nothing else, the gesture was the perfect image of a maid, and Beatrice let loose a drawn-out sigh.
She watched Ram’s back as she pushed the serving cart, moving off into the distance.
“……This might be the most I’ve ever looked forward to the return of Roswaal and the others, you know.”
She whispered that with a tired-out face and voice.
With that sort of heartwarming exchange as a basis, Beatrice passed the dragged-out days of her time watching over the mansion.
The return of Roswaal and the others was on the fourth day after they’d left by dragon carriage – in other words, having no one but Ram for company went on for three days, and during that time, it should be noted that the meals were all steamed yams.
Regardless, thanks to their safe return from the capital, most of the problems that had been making Beatrice suffer stopped being problems. That was not, however, thanks to Rem, who, on her return to the mansion, took care of all of Ram’s accumulated chores at once, and offered meals other than steamed yams.
Unfortunately, Rem had not returned to the mansion. And it was not only Rem, but also Subaru who had gone along with her to the capital. The two of them remained at the capital, and the group that returned to the mansion consisted of the pair of Roswaal and Emilia, and Puck along with them.
As well, the various problems were not resolved; rather the matter was concluded with a decision that they would be set aside for later and shelved.
All of that came about thanks to Roswaal’s first visit to the Forbidden Library in a long time…
“Beatrice. It’s been so long, do you mind if I come i~n?”
“……Oh, it’s you, I suppose.”
When the man dressed as a clown opened the door and brazenly stuck his head inside, Beatrice sighed.
Beatrice was seated atop a wooden stepladder. When spending time in the Forbidden Library, that was her constant position. In truth, it wasn’t that often that she met with Roswaal in this room.
Indeed, what was occurring here today was something that hadn’t happened for several years. She didn’t remember it that well, though.
“What brings you here, you know? Just so you know, Betty won’t lend you any help with that crestfallen girl, I suppose. That’s your jurisdiction, and not something Betty needs to involve herself with, you know.”
“Tha~t’s quite cold of you. Even when the Great Spirit whose so important to you is heartbroken over Emilia-sama? Even though you were kind enough to lend Subaru-kun a ha~nd?”
Although the provocative words seemed to be testing her, Beatrice held her silence and narrowed her eyes. Seeing her guarded attitude, Roswaal shrugged, and then walked over right to her side. He smiled, and though perhaps it was her imagination, he seemed to be enjoying himself; Beatrice found it suspicious.
“Somehow, you look like you’re in a good mood, I suppose.”
“Does it look that wa~y? Me, in good spirits?”
“……It does, you know. If you enjoy that girl being saddened in the capital that much, you’ll forgive me if I question your tastes, I suppose. Maybe it was too late for that from the point you started wearing makeup, you know.”
“O~h, don’t be like that. It’s the sort of thing that tends to put one in a good mood. For me~, the time for my dearest wish is coming steadily closer. With what’s just happened, I’m sure of it, you se~e.”
“When you say your dearest wish, you can’t mean……”
“The dearest wish of the Mathers clan, indeed. If I put it that way, it’s easier for you to understand, perha~ps? To you, who are both the guardian and librarian of the Forbidden Library, handed down from the time of the first Roswaal, yes?”
Roswaal closed one eye, and Beatrice, caught in the gaze of his yellow pupil, was at a loss for words.
The facts that Roswaal had spoken of were something that only Beatrice could grasp the true significance of. Seeing a slight glimpse of its meaning was something only Roswaal and Puck could do. And, by now……
“By now, Betty…… is no longer concerned about what will happen, or what might happen, I suppose.”
“That’s a terribly sad thing. Howe~ver, there’s something to look forward to. Hope, too, still remains. I know of your kindness and weakness. Isn’t that right, Betty?”
Called by a familiar nickname, Beatrice lifted her head as though she were ready to lash out.
However, that exact reaction was what Roswaal had hoped for. He nodded at her, looking satisfied. Seeing that for herself, Beatrice immediately brought her rampant emotions under control.
Then, hugging her knees atop the stepladder, she turned her face away from Roswaal as though escaping from his gaze.
“Hope and expectations both have long ago dimmed, faded, and worn away. So Betty will always stay here…… I wish for nothing more or less than that, I suppose.”
“I suppose you could say that. But…… if possible, I would wish for you, too, to obtain happiness. You are worthy of that.”
“……There, indeed, you can say whatever you want when it’s only words, you know.”
As Beatrice’s cheeks bent into a cynical smile, Roswaal’s eyes lowered with just a hint of sadness. But, when he raised his head again, not a trace of that pity remained on his face.
He simply clapped his hands, and continued “That’s fine.” with his usual demeanor.
“No matter what sort of choice you decide on, I just wanted to let you know first. You’ve had as much time as you could want to worry over it, bu~t that time was necessary regardless. In order for you to be properly prepared.”
“I will head to ‘Sanctuary’. On the surface, it will be seen as going to explain about the Royal Selection to Garfiel and the others, but the truth of it is exactly as you are already aware. At the tomb, Teacher is waiting.”
“……We aren’t awaited, I suppose. At the very least, neither Betty nor yourself.”
“Ah, that’s true. I can’t disagree. …That’s why we must go to meet her. That’s what the time was for. That’s what this chance is for. That’s all there is t~o it.”
Loosening his lips, Roswaal showed a smile.
It was something different from the smiles that frequently showed up on his face, based on irony or mockery.
It was simply a genuine smile that looked forward to the future that awaited, anticipating wholeheartedly seeing it with his own eyes, the smile of a young man full of youthful innocence.
Finishing with that, Roswaal turned away from Beatrice, and withdrew from the Forbidden Library.
Exactly as he said in his last words to Beatrice, he would head to ‘Sanctuary’. If that occurred, Beatrice had a fairly good idea of what would happen.
Left alone in the Forbidden Library, Beatrice reflected on Roswaal’s words, and closed her eyes.
“After all this time……”
After all this time, she couldn’t think that anything would change. Unlike Roswaal, she wasn’t able to hold on to hope or expectations.
But on the other hand, just maybe, if something were to be set into motion……
“Mother…… How much longer must Betty……?”
That sad whisper, that nevertheless carried a faint intensity, fell to the floor of the Forbidden Library, and vanished.