「Oh my, Master Lucius.」
I blinked as I looked at the smiling boy. His appearance was completely different from last night. He was dressed in casual clothing. His smile was something my husband could never make with his face. And even if he could, he would never do it. I got distracted with his facial expression and unconsciously stopped stirring the pot. I made a short bow.
「Good morning. You didn’t need to trouble yourself by getting up so early. It will take a bit longer to finish the breakfast, so please kindly have some more rest in your room.」
It was already another day, but still, the dinner was not too long ago. However young he may be, the fatigue of yesterday must have accumulated in his body. Until the breakfast was complete, it would be best if he rested for a bit longer. As I thought that and smiled at him, he shook his head.
「Oh, no. I was thinking that maybe you need help with something. I would like to help my older brother in any way possible. As the breakfast gives you energy for the whole day, it’s the first step!」
He clenched his fists suddenly to express his determination. Good heavens! A young aristocrat from a noble family insisting so eagerly to help with household chores – was highly unusual! But maybe from his standpoint it wasn’t so strange. He didn’t seem to notice my confusion and entered the kitchen. He didn’t hesitate to roll up the sleeves of his clothes, even though they looked as if they were made from some top quality fabric. He stood next to me. At that moment I stopped simply standing there in confusion. This beautiful boy, an heir of the grand noble family was to help with the cooking chores like a simple maid? That would not do.
「Master Lucius, really, it’s fine. Please go back to your room and have some rest! The preparations here are almost done, anyway. All I have left is just making the tea…」
「Well, in that case, let me brew it! I could at least do that!」
He said it in a strong, reliable voice but added a very quiet「probably…」at the end, which I heard. That’s right, it wasn’t just about making tea. He wanted to prepare breakfast for that man, for his「older brother」. I thought it was quite praiseworthy of him.
Even so, it wasn’t the problem in the first place. How could I, the mistress of this house and the hostess, allow my guest to prepare tea for us? And, what is more, that man…. But, while I was thinking that, young Lucius had already taken the teapot I had prepared and, by imitating my own hand movements, dropped the tea leaves inside, and without any reservation poured in some boiling water that had been heated on the magical stone. As I prepared tea every day, I knew that he had just spoiled those tea leaves by pouring the water too hastily. However, he smiled sweetly and said「Finished!」with so much pride in his voice, that I couldn’t point it out. I simply answered 「Thank you very much」awkwardly.
I brought everything onto the dining table. That man joined in and all three of us gave thanks to the goddess with our hands raised in prayer. Then we started the Japanese-style breakfast. The man took a teacup filled with the herbal tea young Lucius had prepared. The boy didn’t even try to conceal his excitement with which he was looking at the man and awaiting his reaction. I was sure the man was aware of this look, but was determined to ignore it, he avoided the gaze and raised the cup to his mouth. He was on the verge of drinking it when suddenly he stopped in his tracks and frowned. Without taking the smallest sip he put the cup down onto the saucer. Young Lucius looked confused. The man poured himself some plain water from a pitcher. Flustered, the boy looked at the man’s face and then at the teacup.
His eyes were asking why he didn’t drink it. The man didn’t so much as look at the boy and dumped the tea while drinking water from his glass.
「All the flavor of the tea is dead. Would you be able to drink something like this?」
Even though he didn’t utter such words, I felt as if he asked「How dare you waste tea leaves?」. Dumbfounded Lucius opened his eyes wide. I almost hid my face in my hands, but somehow restrained myself. The man drank up his water and looked at me somewhat accusatory. His gaze seemed to be asking how come I let that boy do something like this. Even if he asked me that, what choice did I have?
Saying something like「That’s not how you brew it.」to somebody who for the first time in his life was preparing the tea for another person would just break his heart. After all, everybody makes mistakes at first. Having said that, I was the person responsible for this estate’s kitchen. I couldn’t just use excuses.
At least it was only one part of the whole meal, so I could still make amends. But this time it was tea. Tea! That man cared more for his tea than for his food. And he was annoyingly particular about his herbal blend. How many times did I have to suffer because of this? Even though now, after his personal guidance I learnt it well enough to receive his authorization to make it, at first I made him frown over and over again. There was no way he could simply drink quietly the tea that Lucius, a complete beginner, brewed by learning through imitation. Especially because it wasn’t normal black tea. Lucius tried to prepare that man’s special blend of herbal tea, so the brewing timing was even worse than if he had made standard black tea. It was a lost case right from the start.
I glanced sideways at Lucius who was sitting stiffly, as if frozen, and raised my own teacup. There was no usual delicate sweet scent. Instead, it was overwhelmingly grass-smelling. As for the taste, it was sour at first but left a bitter aftertaste. I must say it was a massive failure. It was horrible. With all my might I restrained myself from making a grimace. Starting to understand, young Lucius finally tried his own tea. His beautiful face twisted in a grimace. The man finished up his breakfast quickly without paying attention to the two of us sitting with grim faces. He quickly stood up. It looked like he was to leave for the palace shortly. We hastily tried to finish our food too. He shot a sharp glance at the table with his sunrise colored eyes. Lucius shuddered in surprise. The man turned on his heel, not looking at the boy to the very end, and headed to the door. Seeing his back I stood up in a hurry and said.
「Please, wait! I’ll be outside in a second to see you off properly.」
「It’s not necessary. I’m off.」
Even though he turned back to look at me when he said that, I saw a slight wrinkle between his brows that indicated displeasure. I thought his feelings were understandable. I somehow couldn’t run after him. I prayed he would be in a better mood after work and looked at young Lucius. He was staring at the teacup with his shoulders dropped in sadness.
「It’s only natural that my brother wouldn’t drink such tea…」
I was sorry but I couldn’t deny it. In the end, I should have stopped him back in the kitchen, so it wouldn’t have become such a problem later. I lost to this young boy’s irresistible proud smile. But it was as if I had allowed a toddler to write the word ‘beginner’, even though he wasn’t even able to say it yet.
Tea was something special to both me and that man. And only the people who received his permission were allowed to handle the herbal blends he made himself. He was just trying to help but in the end I unintentionally let him make and ruin the tea. I’m certain that even though it was the truth, that man wouldn’t have any interest in hearing it.
I did wrong to both Lucius and that man. I knew my husband’s character so well that if I only took a little time to think about the situation, I could have guessed the outcome very easily. I was overpowered by Lucius’s energetic will…. what kind of an excuse is that?
「Forgive me, master Lucius. Had I taught you how to brew it properly…」
「No, it’s not your fault, Filmina-neesama. It’s all because of my idleness, that’s all.」
Although he somehow managed to put on a smile on his face, there was no vigor in his voice. He must have felt shocked. His eyebrows, which were so similar to that man’s brows, were frowned in a pitiful way. Seeing this face like this I don’t think anybody would have been able to resist the urge to comfort him. I was no exception. I opened my eyes thinking of what words I should use when suddenly Lucius changed his countenance, as if he had a resolution of some kind.
I wondered what was the intention behind this brave look and blinked in surprise. He abruptly picked up his cup full of the herbal medicinal tea and drank it all in one gulp. Huh? I opened my eyes wide and looked at him finishing the whole cup of tea and putting it back onto the saucer. I thought that he should have at least added some honey. It might have reduced a bit of sourness from the mixture. Drinking it all in one go surely made the taste even more intense.
As one would expect, his eyes filled with tears. But then he took the teapot and started filling his cup full with the tea again. Without a second’s delay he drained his cup once more. I didn’t even have time to stop him. He clenched his fists and wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes in a harsh move.
I said his name timidly. What in the world was his intention? With his face stiff and tightened, he turned his face towards me. His sunrise colored eyes were still wet from tears.
「Filmina-oneesama. I have a favor to ask you.」
「W-what is it?」
To the formal tone of his voice I straightened up immediately. Lucius took my hand in his across the table. There was no time to escape. He held my hand tightly with both of his so that I wouldn’t get away. He looked straight at my bewildered face.
「Would you teach me how to brew tea properly? I would like to make delicious tea for my brother to drink.」
Did I hear him correctly? No, there was no mistake. This heir of a grand noble family… asks for something I would never have thought I would hear. I was at a loss for words. Was he being serious? But seeing his earnest face and his serious sunrise colored eyes I lost all my doubts.
It would have been great to just answer with something like 「No problem, it’s an easy task.」. Well, even though it’s a special blend of herbs, one could say it’s still only tea. However complicated it might be, it’s not like the brewing method is unteachable. If I would ask him why he wanted my help with making tea and if he said that it’s to make amends for his mistake, I must say it’d be an understandable reason. And I might have consented. If in fact he wasn’t staying here for two weeks, and if it wasn’t that man that Lucius wanted to please, I would have consented. But as the reality was so bad – I couldn’t have consented.
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