In that case, it was time for her third plan, ‘exercise’.
Honestly though, it was hard for Camilla to imagine that huge figure of his excercising. It was strange enough that such a barrel shaped human being could even walk upright. Since Alois is so heavy, whenever he moves it seems like things sway slightly around him as he walks. Camilla was frightened by this sensation when she first arrived, thinking that it was some kind of earthquake, but now she just responds with ‘Oh, Alois is walking’.
But, exercise is absolutely necessary to lose weight. Moreover, in order to turn Therese green with envy, it would be best if he put on a little muscle as well. So, she has no choice but to move the mountains.
As they ate a meal, Alois and Camilla faced each other.
Although, even though this is an actual meal, Alois is usually eating something at all times anyways. If anything, calling it a meal is just a formality, but it does give them an opportunity to meet. And these opportunities were called breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as morning tea.
Moreover, Alois and Camilla’s lives didn’t really synch up with each other. Camilla is treated as a half-hearted bridal candidate, which in reality means she has nothing to do, but as a duke, Alois is shouldering a lot of responsibilities every day.
It seemed like Alois took care to clear out his schedule so that he could always take morning tea with Camilla.
Camilla, meanwhile, wished that he would put that much care into improving his figure instead.
“Lord Alois, do you have any hobbies involving physical exercise, by any chance?”
Camilla asked him that as they sat outside during morning tea on a fine day. Camilla wasn’t going to dive straight into the topic of making him do some exercise without any tact at all. She had learned that much.
The sweet treat on offer today was a cake that was plastered in sugar. Even the layers of sponge beneath the icing and the cream between them only tasted like sugar. Despite the fact that Camilla had to push her plate aside after only one bite, Alois ate it hand over fist.
“I’m not particularly suited to moving my body around like that. I much prefer to read a good book instead.”
Alois’ answer didn’t leave much room for surprise. It was exactly how Camilla had expected him to respond.
“Even though you’re a noble, you don’t practice fencing or riding horses?”
The nobles of Sonnenlicht are usually also knights. Of course, commanding soldiers is left to the lower rungs of the aristocracy and all the fighting and dying is done by commoners. But, technically speaking, nobles are expected to be able to participate in a war. And for that, they kept up with horse riding and practicing their swordplay.
Although someone who has reached the status of a duke couldn’t practice alongside the lower aristocracy, they were still expected to keep up the equestrian and fencing skills. If their territory suffered invasion, they would have to take command of their forces, but a commander who can’t ride a horse could hardly lead anyone to battle.
“Well, in the past, I probably used to do things like that...”
Alois scratched his head as if he were troubled by it. Back in the day, was he leaner? Did such a time truly exist?
Camilla eyed him with suspicion since she had always thought that he must have been born into the world in this round shape.
“Don’t you have any interest in picking them up again? Surely moving around will help you to think more clearly, no?”
“No, you see, I....”
As he mumbled out some excuse, Alois didn’t look her in the eyes. Then, blinking, he suddenly looked at Camilla as if he suddenly realized something.
“Camilla, what kind of hobbies do you enjoy?”
“Well, I’ve never heard you talk about anything like that, so I was interested.”
―― That makes sense.
When it came to conversations between Alois and Camilla, it usually boiled down to food. Camilla trying to stop Alois filling his face with food and the young duke attempting to make excuses. That was all it ever was. When Alois’ detestable body shape caught her eye, it was inevitable. When she looked at that shape of his, she didn’t feel like discussing things like hobbies and family like normal men and women did together.
So, this sudden question had left Camilla a little lost for words. Because of this surprise attack, Camilla suddenly forgot the hobbies she kept up with only was window dressing to impress others.
Alois repeated the tail end of the word that Camilla muttered, so quietly that Alois could only catch that. Just then, Camilla realized that she had almost blurted it out.
“Ah, no, my hobby isn’t particularly interesting at all, you know? It’s not something you would care to hear about!”
“That’s not true at all. If it’s Camilla telling me, I want to hear everything.”
The frog drew nearer. Because of his huge body leaning forward over the table, it begins to slope at an angle and a cup of tea teeters on the edge of spilling. Reflexively, Camilla reached out to stop the teacup from falling over, but when she looked back up she found herself reflected in his eyes.
“I’m afraid you might find it boring here at the manor, so it would be good if you had a hobby to keep you busy. If you need anything, I can prepare whatever you would like. Please just let me know.”
“No... No no no no! Don’t pay it any mind!”
“You don’t need to hold back on my account.”
Alois’ face drew ever closer as he leaned across the table. Even though it wasn’t a particularly hot day, sweat glistened on Alois’ face, giving off an almost palpable sense of heat the nearer he came.
Camilla couldn’t meet his gaze. But even though she turned her eyes away, it was impossible to not see Alois’ body, like a blanket covering her vision. ‘Please tell me’, it seemed to be coercing her.
In her mind, Camilla was biting her lip. This man doesn’t take a hint. She had tried to broach the topic of exercise by cleverly bringing it up as a potential hobby, but it seems to have backfired spectacularly.
――It can’t be helped. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g beats being stared at like this.
Exhaling a deep breath, Camilla said it.
“..............I like to cook.”
Camilla murmured the words as if she were confessing some great sin.
“It’s not something I like to talk about much, but... I like to cook things like meals and sweets... Since I’m the daughter of a count, I’m ashamed of having a hobby like this...”
In Sonnenlicht, nobility would never have to stoop so low as to do their own cooking. Cooking is a job that involves butchering and wetting one’s hands with blood. It’s the work of a man to sully their hands with foreign blood. And more than that, only a base born man should be having to handle corpses.
Even if a nobleman decided to hunt on horseback, he would bring along a servant to handle the quarry. For an aristocrat’s hunt, the work is done once the prey is felled. The bleeding and gutting are left to their lessers.
Blood aside, making bread and sweets isn’t well thought of either. The kitchen is seen as an unclean place, not to mention that mingling with chefs whilst using knives and coming into contact with fire was highly unbecoming for a nobleman’s daughter.
Of course, this wasn’t the case for commoners. In their world, both men and women baked and cooked. Some even aimed to become chefs. There was nothing shameful in it at all.
As for Camilla, she awakened to this hobby of hers when she was seven. The first time she secretly made sweets in the kitchen was when she was coaxed into it by a particularly bad maid. She didn’t make cookies with some sort of conviction like the orphans had. But when she felt the joy of seeing others eat what she made, that’s when it all began.
However, when they found out, Camilla’s parents frowned upon it and Therese made fun of her. ‘Camilla, my dear cousin, do you still cook like you did back then? I am praying for you that the dirtiness of the kitchen doesn’t contaminate your body. I pray each and every day for you, but it seems like my prayers go unanswered’, ever since they were children, Therese had teased her about it like that, so she began to feel deeply ashamed of her hobby. She swore never to let anyone know about it.
But, Camilla is also vulnerable to the heat of the moment. She’s not good at hiding her true feelings or deceiving others. It’s one of the factors that got her banished from the capital as a villain.
“Cooking, is it?”
Alois, however, simply nodded as she sat anxiously.
“That’s a good hobby.”
Camilla couldn’t tell straight away if he was being honest or sarcastic. If it was Therese, ‘good hobby’ could only be something said at her expense, but this was Alois. Judging from his appearance, Alois is a dimwitted fool, so could he really have put such an implied meaning like that in his words? 𝒻𝓇𝘦𝘦𝘸𝘦𝘣𝘯𝑜𝓋𝘦𝑙.𝒸𝑜𝓂
“...You really think it’s a good hobby? Yet, still, it’s not exactly a praiseworthy hobby for a noblewoman, is it not?”
As Camilla asked him doubtfully, Alois looked confused for a moment. Then, he seemed to realize what she meant.
“In the duchy of Mohnton, we love food above everything else. Even if it might be something looked down on in the capital, that’s not true here. Anybody who can make delicious food is someone to be admired.”
“....Even a noblewoman?”
“Of course. Noble or commoner, it doesn’t matter. Cooking is both honourable and a virtue. Something to be proud about, not ashamed of.”
Camilla looked down in silence. She had always hidden her hobby away, never bringing it up with others, so this was the very first time a fellow aristocrat had praised her pastime.
――E-Even if this frog tells me that, it doesn’t make me....!!
She’s truly frustrated at how happy those words made her.
She doesn’t want him to see just how foolish her face looks right now. However, when the thought that maybe this place wasn’t so bad after all crept into her mind, Camilla shook her head.
――N-No... I can’t take something like this as a conciliation...!
“You’re free to use the manor’s kitchen anytime you please. My only request is that if you make anything, please let me taste it as well.”
“You’d truly eat it? Ah, y-yes, then I will!”
Holding her hands to her cheek, Camilla answered impulsively.
Because, she didn’t think she’d have a chance to get someone to eat her cooking. When Camilla was living in the capital, there was someone that she could perhaps call a customer of hers. But, now that she was all alone in this distant land, Camilla had even been prepared to give up her hobby of cooking forever.
She liked making things, but the true joy lay in having others enjoy her food.
――Cookies, I’m so sorry I tried to throw you away.
As a fellow cook, it was something she should never do. Camilla apologized in her heart as she did her best to keep her mouth closed and hide that swelling feeling of joy inside her.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Alois, meanwhile, simply smiled at Camilla like usual.
Camilla, who was thinking just how much of her food she could have him eat, didn’t realize something important at the time.
“How is making you eat more going to help me!!!”
It was a while after leaving Alois. At the end of the day, Camilla finally realized it.
She had intended for him to lose weight, but somehow she had been roped into making him even fatter.
“H-How can he flatter me so easily like that... He’s just a frog man...!”
It was a blunder. She had been taken for a ride by such a stupid man again.
No, the fact that she was finally beginning to realize something means that she wasn’t completely being played for a fool.
Is it possible that he was actually smarter than Camilla realized?