The feast began. The king and queen took their thrones and the nobles settled in according to their ranks. The long table was packed with dishes prepared by hard working servants.
Starting with the day’s main course, the lark, a tongue-licking dish with pickled artichokes, honey-coated plums, plump blanched, stuffed red meat, salad with crunchy cheese, soft white bread, baked carp, chocolate-covered biscuits …. Endless plates came in.
Millicent tried to sneak a cookie baked with walnuts and blueberries and was slapped on the back of her hand.
She had no choice but to give up and meekly carry the dishes away, but Mrs. Galbraith, the maid of the royal court, cried out,
“Everyone has been eating and drinking like starving beggars for the past ten days! Go to the kitchen and move your hands faster!”
Her nervous breakdown was reaching its peak.
“And go get more wine out of the oak barrels. Not the 20-year-old stuff, but the stuff that’s been aging for 30 years!”
Millicent ran in a panic, hoping that Mrs. Galbraith would not whip her.
The oak barrels were in the cellar. She opened the heavy lid and carefully poured it into an empty bottle. The deep aroma of well-matured wine hit her nose.
As she left the kitchen with five such bottles in a tray, someone grabbed her elbow. It was Rubert, who had slipped out while the king was talking with the Duke of Hamston.
“I’m busy, Rub!” Millicent quickly shook him off.
“Since when have you been such a dutiful maid?”
“It happened from the moment I was about to be killed by
Mrs. Galbraith before the chambermaids.” She complained, but Rubert did not care.
“What were you up to?”
“What? Perhaps there was a stain on the silverware I carried?” Millicent asked back, too much like a maid.
Rubert wrinkled his brow, “No, what was it with you and His Majesty?”
“I don’t know either. Go to the king and ask him yourself. And then tell me,” Millicent said irritably.
“You already know what His Majesty’s intentions are,” Rubert murmured thoughtfully. “He has been deliberately neglecting Charlotte Brennan in an attempt to pressure the Duke of Hamston. The Duke’s always reacted lukewarmly towards the war. He had the fewest soldiers and the fewest expenses.”
Speaking of which, there was someone more resentful than Charlotte, who was humiliated earlier in the masquerade. He was a short, dwarfed man like his daughter.
He was the Duke of Hamston. He was older than Millicent remembered from her childhood, and she did not recognize him right away.
The Duchy of Hamston was founded about the same time as the founding of Kintland. During its long legacy, it raged fiercely as the de facto real power in the kingdom.
In particular, George Brennan, now Duke of Hamston, wielded power during the reign of the previous king, Frederick II, as if he himself were a regent.
Being such a man, he could not have been too happy about the recent situation in which he had to submit to the downright young Frederick III. Nor was there any reason to support a war in which the king would further nurture his royal power by pacifying the remaining rebel forces in the north and stabilizing the borders.
“Still, I would never have thought His Majesty would provoke the Duke of Hamston by dancing with an insignificant maid.” Rubert clicked his tongue. “…His Majesty is truly unpredictable…”
“Isn’t everyone expanding their interpretation?” Millicent snorted.
People always tried to give greater meaning and interpretation to the King’s actions. But experience had taught her that the world was far more likely to turn left and right for no good reason.
“By the way, why, of all maids, was it Millie?” Rubert didn’t even listen to her.
“I must have been at the closest distance to him.”
“No. His Majesty’s eyes aren’t like that.”
“There’s always meaning in every of his actions that takes place at the court,” Rubert insisted stubbornly. “You really met His Majesty for the first time just now, right?”
“Well, that’s — I’ve met him before, but I didn’t know he was the king.” Millicent gave a rough explanation of her relationship with Frederick, whom she had bumped into several times.
“Are you really an idiot?” Rubert asked pathetically before Millicent could finish her story.
His expression was similar to Tracy’s, who had scolded her during the masquerade.
“How come you don’t recognize His Majesty when you see him?”
“Consider yourself fortunate that your head didn’t fly off right away.”
Millicent was rendered speechless. As it turned out, his name was not Phineas or Frankie. The name Frederick certainly had the power to execute her at will.
No more was he the unassuming man she had come across by chance.
“You’d better stay out of the King’s sight anyway. There’s nothing good to get entangled in. Look at me. I was a poor priest from a butcher’s shop, and somehow I’ve managed to get myself into a big bet,” Rubert said seriously. “Moreover, don’t you have to sneak around his court and kill the ladies?”
It was Millicent’s reality.
“I’m worried about you, Millie.” He added.
“I always did, and I’ll avoid him often from now on.” Hoping that Rubert would not bring up his feelings any further, Millicent quickly replied. “According to what you said, I’m just a disposable card that the King used briefly to provoke the Duke of Hamston. I don’t see how I can get involved any further anyway.”
And with that, she returned to the banquet hall where Mrs. Galbraith breathed fire like a black dragon.
Millicent passed the wine around as she walked between the tables. She struggled to keep the wine from being taken away from the Count of Arlan, a drunkard who wanted every bottle, but she made it to the throne.
“His Majesty’s cup is empty,’ said Jadalin, who discovered Millicent.
As a wise wife, she was not ordered to please the king. She too had seen her husband take Millicent’s hand and danced with her more than a moment ago and, like Rubert, ascribed meaning to it. But she did not know what it meant.
So now was the opportunity to explore it further. However, Millicent showed no expression.
She only poured wine into the king’s golden cup without wavering. Even as a child, she had the talent to be expressionless.
Or rather, her mother had to work hard to teach her the faces of various emotions.
“Thank you,” Frederick said, bringing the full golden cup to his lips.
Jadalin raised an eyebrow. Millicent, of course, was as surprised as she was. By nature, royalty didn’t thank their servants.
It was a hospitality they took for granted, as if breathing.
“The maids are so busy turning over the grill on the fire so the bread can be golden, but they don’t get thanked, right?”
His gray eyes, with a hint of blue, remembered what Millicent had said when they first met. It was not a very good sign.
Millicent knelt, feigning humility, “I am only glad to serve Your Majesty.”
She involuntarily stumbled again.
Her bow, which her mother had always teased her about before she died, saying she looked unladylike and drunk.
“Right,” Frederick barely smiled.
“Would you like another drink, Your Majesty?” Millicent, her stomach churning, tried her best to avoid Frederick’s face.
“Yes,” Jadalin murmured, rather confused.
Millicent backed away stealthily to get out of the uncomfortable position, and at that moment she had just found a suitable excuse. Charlotte Brennan snapped her fingers as she shook her empty glass.
Millicent rushed over without looking back. Charlotte was so drunk she didn’t need to drink anymore. Her speech was slurred and her face was red. Millicent wondered if the reason the banquet hall ran out of wine so quickly was because she had drunk it all.
“Wine tastes different depending on where it comes from and how it’s aged.”
Millicent just wanted to fill her glass and hurry away, but Charlotte recognized her.
“It’s also the ability to choose the right kind of food to go well with the wine flavors.” Charlotte said. “A lowly maid like yourself wouldn’t know much about it, would you?”
“I guess so.”
Charlotte bluntly picked a fight, but Millicent was not swayed.
“What were you before you became a royal maid? Did you work in a brothel by any chance? I heard the women there get paid for walking up and down the back streets in their skirts.”
Unfortunately, Millicent’s indifference seemed to scratch Charlotte’s nerves even more.
“No. There were so many rats in the back streets of the capital that there was no place to step.” But Millicent had no special choice.
“I chose this one. It’s the one that goes best with the lark. It’s expensive, but I bought it and presented it for His Majesty’s banquet,” Charlotte pointed to her full cup of wine. “Tonight, I put my life and death on the line. My father always says that his daughter is useless. He’s been thinking a lot, and there’s only one way his daughter could be useful.”
She chuckled. “But you ruined it. You ruined everything.”
It was not a good time to fix that because the person who had ruined Charlotte’s performance was the king.
“Are you the Queen’s confidant? So you deliberately intervened if I was to be elected Royal Mistress?” ( Charlotte)
Millicent underestimated Jadalin. Now Charlotte’s anger was misdirected at her (Millicent). What Charlotte should be concerned about was her life, not her reputation.
“Then you mean that some maid like you, wherever you came from, dared to humiliate me, the Duke of Hamston’s daughter.”
Charlotte rose from her seat. Millicent roughly guessed what was going to happen next. But there was no way to stop it. After all, Millicent had no other choice. Charlotte raised her wine cup. She put it to Millicent’s head and tilted it. Since Millicent’s hat was white so it quickly turned red.
The poured wine dribbled down, covering Millicent’s face, nose, and chin. Everyone witnessed the maid’s humiliation. The banquet hall fell silent.
“There’s dust in the cup, you stupid thing!”
Charlotte slammed the empty cup down on the table and slapped Millicent on the cheek.
“Bring another one!”
At last the time had come. Millicent went silently to the kitchen. She poured a new glass of wine in an oak barrel. She also chose a glass to replace the one Charlotte had thrown away. She had to prepare a special glass just for Charlotte Brennan.
“I’ll do it. You go back to your quarters and wash up,” Tracy said. She showed surprising sympathy. Perhaps she had experienced something similar during her time as a maid.
“No, I’ll be fine.”
It was too dangerous to show her expression, so she bowed her head. She was soaked in wine and messy, but fortunately the hat played its role faithfully. It hid Millicent’s face perfectly.
Tracy only grunted and turned her attention back to the pot. Millicent wiped the wine from her face with a handkerchief that had been lying around. Then she took a moment to catch her breath.
She waited too long for this. The moment when she took off her hat was special. Because she could not take it off often. Slowly, she untied the string tied under her chin. She grabbed the loose hat with her left hand and pulled it down. Her long hair flowed over her shoulders. It was black like Frederick’s, but much more bristly and lighter in color.
For the first time in a long time, she was out of the bondage that had held her to the vows with Mr Mulally. Millicent truly enjoyed the moment.
Eventually, she slowly poured wine into a new glass. When it was half full, she stopped. She took a potion from her pocket. It was the water from the mushrooms she had boiled in the morning. If too much was consumed, the bitter taste would be strong and the effect would be accelerated. Only eight drops were added. That was enough. She then poured more wine over it.
Originally, she tried to use German fish, which could be found in the East. It was full of deadly poisons from the scales to the intestines. That was suited to the cup card Charlotte had drawn.
But German fish poison would be too fast. It could kill you in just a couple of hours after you put it in your mouth. That would be a problem for many things.
Instead, Millicent chose beautiful white mushrooms. The ingredients were strong and the toxicity did not disappear even when heated over a fire, so it was good to use. And the medicinal effect could be adjusted according to the dose.
Charlotte would be fine after ingesting this beautiful poison. At least for a day. But soon she would have a fever, cough, and dizziness. After a few days like that, she would lose her cognitive abilities, suffer from a choking sensation, and death would follow.
The poor lady who caught acute pneumonia after her humiliation, the sad woman who withered and died of a broken heart. The world would remember Charlotte Brennan as such, thanks to the unexpected help of the King.
“You look really different without your hat.” Tracy said as she watched Millicent putting the specially made glass on the tray.
“It’s much prettier and… dangerous,” she said to herself, but Tracy tilted her head as if she was confused.
Millicent responded only with a spare smile.
“For Lady Charlotte.”
Millicant went to the dinner hall. She approached Charlotte again, who was munching on her grapes.
“You are that girl from earlier, aren’t you?” Charlotte was not sure. “Your face looks completely different. But you look familiar…?”
Millicent said nothing. Charlotte accepted the glass of wine and gulped it down. Perhaps it was the right combination, or perhaps she did not taste the deadly bitterness of the poisonous mushrooms. Or perhaps she was too drunk to have a sense of taste.
“I told the Lady I could see the initials AB.”
Millicent finally opened her mouth when Charlotte had emptied her glass about halfway.
“I see it more clearly now.”
Charlotte’s drunken eyes widened in shock.
“Ann Belvard.” Charlotte gathered the words, which were scattered in a faint echo, and spat it out.
Then she felt the presence of the hair tickling her neck more surely.
“I don’t know what that name means to the Lady, though.” Millicent smiled brighter than she had in a long time.
“How–?” On the hand, Charlotte paled. Even the hand holding the glass shook.
“I just said what I saw.”
“What did you see? A ghost? A curse?” She grabbed Millicent’s arm. She gave a fairly strong grip with a hand as small as a leaf.
“… You don’t mean revenge?”
“I don’t know, but whatever the lady thinks is the correct answer.”
Charlotte shuddered and poured the remaining wine into her mouth. It was a foolish attempt to assuage her fears. Then it was all over.
Millicent no longer had any business with Charlotte Brennan.