Lavinia- The Mess that is Ehrenfest
It was still the season of Leidenschaft, but the weather in Ehrenfest capital was similar to Ahrensbach in mid-autumn. As Lavinia was led by the castle’s chamberlain named Norbert, she could already feel the air was devoid of the warmth and humidity she was more accustomed to. Even in summer, there was a certain crispness in the air that reminded Lavinia of the royal academy in early spring.
The temporary room arranged for them was adequate. It was about the same finery expected for the future First Lady of a middle duchy, she supposed. It was oddly familiar, and she just missed the warm balcony in her residence in Ahrensbach at most. There was nothing obvious to complain about.
Or so she thought… until she picked up the sharp smell of spice and herbs commonly used in Lanzenave’s imported incense. Then, Lavinia looked closely as her entourage explored the room. There were many Ahrensbach’s products all over her chambers that looked quite out of place for the colder climate of Ehrenfest.
The daybed by the window, the thin cloth curtain by the bed, and knick-knacks by the fireplace like the dolphin’s sculptures for example.
“Is there… anything dissatisfactory, Lady Lavinia?” Norbert asked respectfully. “Lady Veronica prepared the room. She told me you can ask for anything you are lacking in this room, however temporary your stay here may be.”
How Lavinia wished she could say she lacked nothing. “I wish to have a thicker cloth for the canopy of my bed. I am not yet used to Ehrenfest’s climate. My retainers and their families will surely feel the same way.”
Not even an Ahrensbach lady like her used thin cloth for the canopy in chilly weather!
Norbert nodded, “Of course, Lady Lavinia.”
The change was quite prompt. Moments later a set of thicker cloth more suitable for Ehrenfest was brought in by a group of attendants. After that was done, she had her attendants unpack a suitable dress for the welcoming feast. She had her head attendant Gertrude service her as she took a refreshing bath to wash away her exhaustion and refresh her mind.
“It is as Georgine said… my future mother-in-law is very proud of her Ahrensbach’s lineage,” Lavinia murmured softly as she sat inside the bathtub. A ranged soundproof barrier was already erected for their privacy.
Gertrude nodded, working to loosen her stiff muscles from the long journey. “There’s nothing wrong with being proud of one’s lineage, but for this room’s arrangement, it was quite out of place. Is this the hospitality one can expect from a former Light Goddess of a middle duchy?”
“Why was it not Lady Florencia who prepared my room in the first place?” She wondered aloud. Lavinia hoped it was not due to the soon-to-be second lady’s unwillingness to provide hospitality. However, from what Georgine and Lavinia’s other sources had told her, it was very likely Lady Florencia had chosen to back down and surrender the work to Veronica.
“You would think”, Gertrude sighed. “However the rest of our group that arrived before us said that their rooms in the Visitors Annex have similar issues. It was all organized by Lady Veronica’s people. In fact, the building had been closed prior to our arrival.”
Lavinia blinked as Gertrude washed her hair. “Closed? Where on earth do the Sovereign nobles stay when they return, then?”
The older attendant’s face was similarly puzzled. “I haven’t a clue. They recently opened that building for us new arrivals until we acquire estates of our own. In fact, the scholar dormitories and buildings are closed as well. Only the knight dormitories and training grounds are open.”
“My word.” A headache was slowly brewing, and her shoulders were massaged again to reduce the new tension. “Nevertheless… the room conveys her desperation to tell me we are of the same Ahrensbach lineage.”
She was not impressed at all.
Later that night there was the welcoming feast. Thankfully the dining table was heavily blessed by Cuococalura starting with the bread alone. It was thick yet soft, with the fragrance of herbs. The slices of pome and herbs were arranged in the bread like a garden on top, and it was a simple delight for the eyes. It wasn’t anything like the bread Lavinia had had before.
As the salads were served, Veronica began to speak. “I apologize if these peculiar dishes are nothing like what you are used to back home, Lady Lavinia. Our chefs used to serve the trendiest Ahrensbach dishes, but it would seem there has been a shift in our castle’s cooking.”
Everyone at the table seemed to tense when that heavily veiled woman spoke. It was like everyone was terrified of a ternisbefallen’s menacing bark when it was really the arrogant grunting of an irritable old feltze.
Lavinia ate the salad called “chicken and chutney,” which was served in charming edible cups made from fried thin dough. It was a melody of flavors in her mouth. The mixture was cold , but it balanced well with the warm bread.
I see. If the food is this incredible, Veronica cannot find any faults. So she is pushing it under Ahrensbach as an insult instead. How foolish.
A young voice as clear as a bell spoke. “I apologize if my Romulus chefs offend, Lady Veronica. They do their best to be innovative in Cuococalura’s craft, but perhaps their work is not suitable to everyone’s taste.”
Ah, it was Lady Rozemyne, Aub Ehrenfest’s newly adopted daughter. The girl looked like young Mestionora when the goddess was newly adopted by the Supreme Couple. Her hair was as dark blue and shiny as a starry midnight sky, and her eyes were honeyed gold like a waxy full moon. Somehow Lavinia thought the girl was out of place here, like shining a light amongst the chaos.
Lavinia responded to her in kind. “I do not think there is any need for an apology,” she said with a smile. “This food is far superior to anything I have in Ahrensbach to date, and this is the first course. I look forward to what comes next.”
In truth, the heavily spiced food at Ahrensbach’s capital city didn’t suit her. It was an immense relief when she moved out of the castle for marriage and had her chefs make less spicy dishes. If Veronica revered the spicy dishes of Ahrensbach city then Lavinia was glad that Veronica’s chefs did not cook for the night.
Rozemyne beamed cutely, her demeanor was like an excited shumil. “I shall tell my establishment of your praise!”
Lavinia hid her astonishment behind her smile. Her establishment? It was unbelievable that such a young child owned any sort of facility. But then Lavinia had the pleasure of seeing everyone at the dining table look to Rozemyne for explanations on each dish, to which she answered with eloquence and confidence in her every word.
True to Rozemyne’s descriptions, every course was a marvel. The “ soup dumplings ” inexplicably held a savory, delectable broth and savory filling in a thin casing. The curry dish was reminiscent of a similar meal from home, but was much more intricate and featured seafood from Ehrenfest . Even the meat entree, which was lamb, held a balanced blend of Ehrenfest herbs and Ahrensbach spices.
Every single dish I touched was extraordinary. They were better than any dish from Lanzanave, Ahrensbach, or even the Sovereignty. All seemed like unique inventions never seen in this world before.
Yet, while Lavinia marveled at the dishes served in her meal, she was heavily disappointed by the conversation and company (aside from the young girl).
Lord Sylvester's firstborn and supposed heir frequently spoke in an unfiltered, unprompted manner. “Lady Lavinia, I have heard so much about the grand duchy of Ahrensbach from my grandmother. Could you tell me more? I love hearing about the land where my great-grandmother came from!”
Veronica looked at her grandson proudly, while half of the table was spelled into silence. Lady Florencia’s genial smile was still there, but she averted her eyes from her son. Aub Ehrenfest had a restrained smile. Lord Bonifatius, a man who looked very much like a Dunklefelger, raised an eyebrow at Wilfried. The most interesting reaction was Rozemyne; the girl covered her mouth daintily with her eyes wide.
So… a seven-year-old girl realized the implication of such a question from her foster brother, while a boy her same age is ignorant about what he is saying. And the boy’s biological mother is staying silent without correcting her child.
Lavinia gave a diplomatic answer. “The climate of Ahrensbach is very different from Ehrenfest. Leidenshaft’s grace is more abundant and Verfuhremeer makes the land moist…”
The weather was a safe topic, nothing to be proud of over Ehrenfest.
The boy continued to ask about Ahrensbach as if it was their only common topic of interest. At some point, he sounded more like he was reciting someone else's lines rather than speaking his own mind.
Meanwhile, her fiancé had seemed to be intentionally avoiding her, not talking to her or even looking her way.
This simply will not do.
“Aub Ehrenfest, I am quite curious about Ehrenfest’s lands. What are some of the adventures you have had in the provinces?” Lavinia started by asking a question that should have been simple enough.
He looks like a boisterous man. Surely he has adventurous stories to tell?
But Lavinia was mistaken. Sylvester looked at her, finally, and answered with a puzzled voice, “I have not visited any provinces per se... I am quite occupied with my duties in the castle, you see.”
“That’s right!” Veronica huffed haughtily, “Why would the archduke deign to visit such lands? Is it not an archduke’s duty to rein from the heavens and not stoop down below?”
Sylvester has not even left the central district on official business, let alone the castle?! A headache slowly brewing, Lavinia persisted. “It would seem that Ehrenfest does things quite differently from other duchies. Aub Ahrensbach visits his provinces on rotation quite frequently. My sister has also told me that the First Lady of Drewanchel leaves the castle on occasion for internal diplomatic events, thus the second lady occasionally minds the castle on the First Lady’s behalf. After all, how can one rule from the heavens if they are not knowledgeable about the lands below?”
Everyone in the room seemed stunned by her statements. Perhaps Ehrenfest has become even more corrupted after Gabriele’s arrival than I had originally thought?
Lady Florencia finally said something, albeit quietly. “I do remember my mother helping the Second Lady manage the Frenbeltag castle during such times long ago…”
Veronica’s face began to redden and puff like a taunadel, as if she wanted to throw a tantrum with poisonous barbs but could not rebuke her words. Before the woman could do so, Lord Bonifatius interjected. “Pardon Lady Veronica’s statement, Lady Lavinia. She doesn’t know about an archduke candidate’s duties as she is an archnoble .”
Lavinia gazed at Bonifatius piercingly. If she does not know, then why are you not teaching Sylvester if you do know?
That was when Rozemyne stepped in again, her young voice a careful balance of innocence and competence. “I do not know about the duties of Aub Ehrenfest yet, but isn’t it the duty of the temple to travel around Ehrenfest?”
She continued to wonder out loud, cupping her cheek adorably. “We travel the land in spring to distribute the blessings of Flutrane and receive news on how our people fared after passing Ewigeliebe’s severity. In autumn we see how blessed they are by Forsente in the Harvest Festival and hear about their preparations under Schutzaria’s protection to face Ewigeliebe’s severity once more!”
Lavinia couldn’t resist. “Oh my! Then what can you tell me of our Geduldh, Rozemyne?”
The girl knew quite a lot. Lavinia found herself enthralled as she enjoyed her dessert and listened to Rozemyne’s stories. She recounted how in the north the spring came so late they had to beckon the spring goddesses through prayer. The thaw had brought a bounty that slept under their river’s ice. Then she spoke about how the East country gate was very beautiful, and how one could see the boundary that separated the Gods’ garden from endless white sands devoid of life.
Rozemyne also spoke of the central district. Near a city called Fonterdorf, the goddesses of spring hid their bathing spot from the eyes of mortals and the water was full of healing properties. In the fall, commoners throughout the duchy would gather in their respective towns to play a game where they would kick around a weak feybeast that looked like a ball. The game was in celebration of a successful harvest.
Even the unruly Wilfried and the boisterous Aub Ehrenfest hung onto her every word. Veronica listened as well, scowling when the north was mentioned, but otherwise she had a neutral look on her face. Lord Bonifatius looked exceptionally pleased. It was obvious how doting and loving he was towards his only granddaughter. Florencia…perhaps she was listening but was mainly stroking her laden stomach absentmindedly.
Thanks to Rozemyne’s intervention, dinner ended on a much better note. When Lavinia returned to her chambers after dinner, she summoned her attendant Gwendolyn, who also had scholarly training. Gwendolyn was attending to her at the dinner and had a similar opinion.
“Lady Rozemyne is quite a brilliant child, she is truly a little Mestionora that shines amongst the rest. I shall transcribe the tales she told, they were a wealth of information.”
“Indeed. Another excellent archduke candidate that is out of place in Ehrenfest like Lord Ferdinand.” Lavinia concluded. “Gwendolyn, I wish for you to find out everything about the young lady.”
“Understood. Should I inquire about Lord Ferdinand’s absence as well?”
Lavinia nodded, glad her retainers were always quick on the uptake. “I recall spotting Justus in the castle earlier today during our tour with Norbert. Seek him out and unearth what his lord is doing during these trying times.”
The results of Gwendolyn’s gathered intel and Lavinia’s own observations over the next few days collated into an abysmal assessment of Ehrenfest’s current state of affairs.
Not only was Lady Rozemyne, a newly baptized girl who was highly competent for her age, still in the temple, but she was also the High Bishop of the temple. Where in the name of the Gods is there a temple with a young girl at the helm?! It made Lavinia indignant that a brilliant girl was given such a large flaw at a young, tender age.
But that was not all. It would seem Ferdinand was curiously absent because he was also in the temple, still , but not upon Aub’s orders like Rozemyne. He had renounced his status as a noble and was serving as a High Priest in seclusion from society.
Ferdinand, one of the most brilliant and renowned nobles in recent history, first in class for three courses in the academy for 6 years in a row, a high manaed archduke candidate, was removed from politics completely .
A rare feystone was being left to rot amongst the waste, all because his stepmother aggressively tried to assassinate him on multiple occasions. Veronica wouldn’t even allow him to be a minister for fear of Ferdinand usurping Lord Sylvester one day.
Does this duchy mistake Chaoscipher for Gebotordnung?!
Then there was the issue of mana supply. Lavinia could not witness this herself since Ehrenfest did not have unmarried fiancées contribute to mana supply (perhaps on Veronica’s orders), but based on her intel there was not even the bare minimum number of suppliers in the archducal family. An archducal family that was made even smaller as their current First Lady was waiting for Entrinduge's arrival. The suppliers were only Aub Ehrenfest, his mother Veronica, Lord Bonifatius (who only returned from his retirement to supply in Florencia’s stead), Lord Ferdinand (who supplied despite being stripped of his status), and Lady Rozemyne.
Lavinia triple-checked her reports, but her intel was not mistaken. Lady Rozemyne, formerly of the house Linkberg, the seven-year-old princess of Leisegang still in the season of her baptism, was supplying the duchy’s foundation already. From what Gwendolyn heard from other attendants, Rozemyne and Ferdinand would go into the supply with Bonifatius to devote mana.
Curiously, the most exceptional individuals in the family had to supply mana while avoiding Lady Veronica as much as possible. They had to hide as if they were thieves sneaking in to steal the foundation when they were doing the honorable duty of supplying mana to it instead.
It was madness. Pure insanity. Even in Ahrensbach those who were demoted to archnoble status still stepped in to supply. There was still a duty to uphold as a former archduke candidate to supply the foundation until enough of the younger generation reached autumn and took on the role. It was not unusual due to Ahrensbach’s tradition to demote nonheirs, but the practice became even more of a critical necessity after the former Second Lady’s passing. Even Lavinia would help with supply during the winter season, as did her late husband when he was alive.
Currently her father, mother, paternal uncle and aunts, Georgine, Alstede, the late second wife's surviving two sons, her eldest sister Emiliana and her husband, and a few members of close branch families all supplied the foundation. Wolfram was set to take Lavinia’s place in the supply. And that was considered to be relatively early, but acceptable since he was to be their heir.
This was considered the bare minimum , an especially low number due to the civil war. Ehrenfest was operating with much less than that. In fact, even the smallest duchies had a minimum of seven suppliers. To have less than seven was considered a dire situation.
Whether due to ignorance or Schlaftraum’s blessing, the man she was about to marry had dared to be Aub and planned to only have one wife in such a desperate situation. Georgine was not exaggerating; he was deep in spring at the peril of his duchy. It was around the time he would have to take on another wife anyway, so Griefechan favored Sylvester whether he wanted it or not.
On top of that, the bulk of the burdens went to none other than Lady Rozemyne and Lord Ferdinand, both of whom supplied the temple and foundation. Justus told Gwendolyn how much mana the temple demanded, something most nobles did not know since the temple was shunned. It was a place that demanded more mana than Lavinia had ever imagined, and she wondered how other duchies would fare given how many blue priests the Sovereignty took.
In any case, the Ehrenfest archducal family did not even wait for Lady Rozemyne to be at the height of her summer for foundational and temple supply, let alone her autumn… and curiously enough, their heir who was older by one season was not made to have anywhere near the same amount of responsibility.
Veronica must have instilled the same twisted education in Wilfred, or perhaps worse…the boy is given privilege without the obligation. The signs were already there. Why else would they announce an heir over twenty years too soon?
Lavinia was stewing it all over, sifting through the reports and drinking Ehrenfest’s sentis fruit tea, a new favorite of hers. She and her retainers were holding small eavesdropping tools as they exchanged their thoughts.
Gertrude sighed, hiding her lips from Veronica’s people by turning to straighten the bed sheets. “Lady Rozemyne, the poor dear. So much on such small shoulders, it is more than even Gluklitat would bestow. And Lady Florencia…how is Aub Ehrenfest so irresponsible as to impregnate Lady Florencia in such a precarious situation?”
Gwendolyn nodded, her face half-covered behind a wooden board. “Indeed. It would appear he has a habit of being stirred by Beischmacht at the worst times for his duchy. When his predecessor’s health declined, then the predecessor's death…and continued to sire children without taking in extra support.”
It would seem that we will have to acquire an engagement with a third wife to share the burden, and with haste. There should at least be one other wife to step in for supply when one is pregnant and child-rearing, especially when the husband is already the archduke.
There was a deep generational imbalance in the archducal family skewed towards the younger generation, and the gap made things tricky. They needed more archduke candidates to fill in ranks, at least until there was a third wife and Sylvester’s older children grew old enough. However, they had to be careful not to take in anyone that would covet the heir’s seat and take it away from the younger generation. An idea came to her.
“We need to grow our archducal family, perhaps using Drewanchel’s method as a temporary measure. Look into the more neutral archnoble families and see if there are any suitable young girls that could be adopted. Preferably ones that could be a pool to select a third wife.”
They would need to set the groundwork now if they wanted to secure an engagement within a year or two. With luck, they would find a girl that someone in the family, likely Lord Bonifatius, could adopt by next summer.
“Understood,” Gwendolyn nodded, looking to all outside observers that she was nodding in approval of the wooden boards. The Veronican scholar near her thought she was approving their work and looked exceptionally pleased.
Lavinia rolled her shoulders a bit and took another “sip” as she made her next inquiry. “What is the state of the rest of the city?”
“Don’t even get me started on their downtown area,” Her guard knight Crescentia groaned, hiding her lips as if she was yawning on guard duty. “I went to scope out the area to ensure the security of the city, but it was a disaster.”
“What happened to their sewer system?”
That question was promptly answered with information from Justus yet again. Lavinia could feel her entire entourage wanted to hide in their hidden rooms in shame when the mystery of unclean downtown was solved. It was once again caused by Gabriele. At this point Lavinia believed her grandaunt should be disowned from their family tree.
Apparently, after being demoted the spoiled woman demanded the province given to her husband be upgraded to the same level as the capital. Thus both the materials and the funds needed for entwickeln of capital were directed to build Groschel instead. Ehrenfest never recovered enough to go back to that project due to reasons that may or may not have involved Lady Veronica.
“Fine then. We should never, ever make any remarks about their unclean downtown…” Lavinia admitted. “That is, until I am crowned and can move to fix this issue…which is one among many.”
She then sent her scholars to find more information, hopefully, more details on the two exceptional individuals the archducal clan exploited and also… “If we have finished reviewing information on these nobles, I’d like to invite them to a tea party to assess their suitability to join my entourage.”
Her mednoble attendant Agnissa began to move, discreetly sending invitations to the neutrals and the nonovert Veronicans to start solicitation. Unfortunately, the majority of them were third rate at absolute best, but there were a few who Lavinia felt she could train up to standard. The most capable was Justus’s sister Gudrun, who was a former attendant of Georgine and was, fortunately, able to come out of retirement. Lavinia invited her and a handful of the most capable, receiving a favorable response from them all.
Now that she had Ehrenfest nobles entering her entourage Lavinia took her time to get to know them. Gudrun, who was also both an attendant and scholar like her brother, informed Lavinia that nobles from the provinces had arrived early to socialize due to her arrival. A slight sense of apprehension began to enter Lavinia’s consciousness.
Would the provincial nobles even give her the opportunity to prove herself? Gabriele’s shadow threatened to stain her threads before it could intersect with others, and ignorance seemed to be the norm in Ehrenfest rather than the outlier.
“Rest assured, Lady Lavinia. My brother has informed me that our people are following the lead of Elvira and Lady Rozemyne. They shall reserve their judgment and assess you fairly as our future goddess of light.” Gudrun smiled reassuringly, “You may see it for yourself. I believe you will enjoy yourself when socializing with the current Ehrenfest as we have been deeply blessed by Flutrane for the past year.”
“Then I shall look forward to it.”
She did end up enjoying herself. The cutting-edge cuisine seemed to be Ehrenfest’s pride at the moment, and Lavinia gladly partook of their treats. The tea parties focused on neutral and Leisegang nobles were particularly enjoyable.
Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said with tea parties of the devout Veronica faction members. They attempted to mimic the grandiosity of her homeland, however, it was nothing more than an ill-informed caricature. Especially the veils. The sun is not even shining that brightly, and there is no salted water in the air. What are they protecting their faces from?!
Curiously, in spite of spending most of her time in the temple Lady Rozemyne seemed to be the most favored topic among the ladies. Lavinia had already heard of the young lady’s excellence, but the ladies seemed to worship the girl for her special events in the Romulus Ristorante. The hottest topic of discussion was the concert from a few weeks ago, which featured Rozemyne, Lord Ferdinand, and Aub Ehrenfest himself!
I would have liked to have seen that. In my memories, Aub Ehrenfest was proficient in harspiel. More than that, Ferdinand’s musical prowess is legendary… I have heard him perform at the academy during my time, though I have never heard him sing after his voice changed. Ferdinand’s performance in his maturity must have been a sight to see.
In any case, Lady Rozemyne was a prodigy. To think she composed songs at that young age, even performing at the level deserving to share the stage with Lord Ferdinand. The ladies also spoke of Lord Ferdinand’s obvious fondness of the girl as her guardian, he even dedicated a song to her as a baptism gift. From what she heard, the song was quite catchy. She would have her attendant buy all the scores from the concert later.
Aub Ehrenfest performed but the commentary on his skill was lukewarm. Lavinia had a feeling the ladies did not want to go in-depth about it in front of her. She could guess why… Aub Ehrenfest was famous for wooing his current wife through Kunstzeal’s grace.
This concert sounded wonderful, but anyone could tell it was an effort to gain political cohesion for Aub Ehrenfest before Lavinia’s arrival. It was a grand event that gathered so much attention and support, but it was hosted by none other than Aub Ehrenfest’s newly baptized adopted daughter!
When I thought Aub Ehrenfest and this duchy couldn’t surprise me anymore…why is his adopted daughter helping him with socializing for political support instead of his current First Lady?!
Then she overheard one of the ladies express condolences to Elvira that the summer heat was too much for Rozemyne and she was resting again in bed. It was then that Lavinia learned about Rozemyne’s frailty. There were no doctors assigned to her, only her guardian acted as one.
What on earth is wrong with this duchy?
Elvira- The Lady from Ahrensbach
Elvira had learned to read her daughter quite well, she was an open book to her now. When they gathered before departure for the engagement ceremony, Elvira could see Rozemyne hiding Angriff and Verdraos under Verbergen’s shroud when she saw Veronica. Then she was full of wariness towards the Ahrensbach delegation as if expecting they would attack her. Yet, Rozemyne was surprisingly in a very good mood after the engagement ceremony at the border gate.
What a myriad of emotions my daughter had today!
The ceremony itself was quite interesting, though it was truly devoid of spring. The goddess of light in question did not appear to be like Gabriele in the slightest, but Elvira and Heidemarie both agreed to keep a close watch on Lady Lavinia just to be sure. Rozemyne was similarly guarded, but for some reason, her expression lit up like an excited shumil when she saw Lavinia’s entourage.
“What is it, my dear?” Elvira asked, smoothly giving her an eavesdropping prevention tool to inquire about her enthusiasm.
Her daughter grinned. “I just noticed that there is at least one boy that is around my age in their group.
Has spring already come?! “My, my! Did you feel the arrival of Bluanfah, my dear?!”
Elvira peered around and saw that Rozemyne’s line of sight was drawn to a shaggy boy who was dressed like a mednoble. Though I do wish her standards were higher…
Rozemyne shook her head. “Not at all! I was merely excited to get more young talents in our duchy, is all!”
“So you were moved by Ewarchlaren instead of Bluanfah…” Elvira sighed, feeling a mixture of disappointment and relief. Then again, it was much too soon for their little girl to be harboring a rafel this early into her summer.
"And Ahrensbach cannot have him back."
Why would they want a mere mednoble boy back?
After Lady Lavinia officially moved into her temporary residence in the palace, a flurry of social activity began. Nobles from provinces all over the duchy had come under the pretense of participating in the upcoming Hunting Competition, but Schutzaria was still preparing to raise her shield; it was obvious that they had come as representatives of their provinces to collect information on the new lady in advance of the winter social circles.
Thankfully Elvira and Rozemyne had succeeded in placing more of their people inside the castle, in particular, the chefs were valuable assets. The commoner chefs were teaching court chefs to improve the cuisine served to their archducal family.
From what Elvira understood, the chefs in both Romulus and Remulus were a group of commoners with a grudge against Veronica due to her poisonous habit. They were very cautious of poisoning attempts in their domain, and it relieved Elvira to know Rozemyne had more allies in the castle once she moved in. Especially with those handling her food.
Culinary trends were a wonderful tool for socialization, so Leisegang sent their bumper crops of prehre and apfelsiege for Rozemyne. Armed with an abundance of fruit from Leisegang, Rozemyne held tea parties to unveil simple late-summer treats using the fruits from their relatives.
It was the trend suggested by Heidemarie before: using salt or alcohol on the sweet fruit. The first dish was a “soup” made with fruit and salt. Prehre juice was mixed with salt and spice to elevate its sweetness. The dish was served cold to chase away the vestige of Leidenshaft’s heat!
Then there was the second dish. The chefs cooked sliced prehre with alcohol and sugar then burned for glazing. It was an excellent way to warm one’s palette that was chilled by the cold soup before it.
These were considered simple dishes so Rozemyne deemed it as sharing treats from family. The debut of the prehre dishes was a success. It became a trend immediately to process fruit simply by baking it or salting it to bring out new freshness.
“My, salting the fruits brings out the natural sweetness.” Lady Lavinia commented, “How mysterious!”
Heidemarie responded to Lady Lavinia by explaining, appealing to her scholarly side. “It’s because the salt makes the part of our tongue that tastes sweet even more sensitive. On the contrary, if you eat sweets after sweets without water or tea it would dampen your palette.”
“Ho… so eating something bitter would make what one eats afterward sweeter?”
“Yes! It’s the same principle.” Heidemarie chuckled softly.
There was the same gleam of curiosity that was very Drewanchel in her eyes, and Elvira had to applaud her girls for bringing in the sweets trends that tickle the Drewanchel in Lady Lavinia.
Lady Lavinia was very active socially, but she also took care to not be overzealous. Not even once did she wear a veil, much to the chagrin of Veronican ladies. It was the same as declaring the veil an outdated trend that she was not going to promote. This was a plus in Elvira’s assessment, wearing a face veil in Ehrenfest’s climate was pointless. It also made your socialization partners wary of hiding much of your face from them.
Elvira was still a bit cautious of Lady Lavinia. Her concern was strengthened when Lavinia promptly hired Gudrun and accepted many former aides of Georgine who chose to stay in Ehrenfest. They seemed to be her guide in socialization and fed much intel about Ehrenfest. It was obvious that Lady Georgine made it known how politically inept Sylvester was in Ahrensbach.
This was a curious thing since Lavinia and Georgine were supposedly in different Ahrensbach factions. However, as this lady was thrown to Ehrenfest barely three seasons into widowhood, Elvira suspected she was not very beloved by Ahrensbach’s First Lady. If so it made sense for Lady Lavinia to abandon her mother’s faction and trade intel with Georgine about Ehrenfest.
At least Lavinia had not decided to be Veronica’s ally yet. Elvira heard from her allies in the castle that Lavinia did not like Veronica’s attempts to pressure her to pick sides. Lady Lavinia accepted about one of every three invitations Lady Veronica sent to her and as time passed the more impatient their Chaocipher became.
So obvious… Veronica is worried Lady Lavinia wouldn’t choose to adopt Wilfried.
On the other hand, Elvira was nowhere as anxious as her dreadful aunt. She sent Lady Lavinia invitations for tea parties whenever it was convenient for the future First Lady to attend, with no pressure, and no rush. Elvira also did nothing to aggressively push her daughter to Lady Lavinia as Veronica did for Lord Wilfried, simply because there was no need. Just like a schwäne, she would appear graceful and solemn above the water's surface while paddling with all her power underneath. The noble society of Ehrenfest was already bustling with proof of Rozemyne’s excellence, her fashion and talent were already like Ordoschnelli perching upon everyone's shoulders. Elvira had to do her best on her daughter’s behalf to rise to those expectations.
It was a pity her daughter once again had her stamina halved in the season of her birth. Rozemyne’s attendants in the temple told Elvira it was impossible for her to attend tea parties too vigorously in summer, but Elvira had to push her a bit out of necessity. After all of the flurry of activity, Rozemyne fell ill near the end of the season.
She received a lot of well wishes, and Leisegang sent Rozemyne a variety of fresh pomes that were good to fight the lingering heat of fevers. Elvira didn’t even know there were so many shapes and colors for pome. Most interesting is that the smaller pome are bite-sized, Countess Leisegang wrote, and should fit in Lady Rozemyne’s mouth.
Rozemyne happily made the bigger and colorful pome into “sorbet” and produced marbled sweet treats with the smaller pome that were dried like loule from Dunklefelger. Another product that was the trend of enjoying the fresh bounty of the season with just a bit of salt and creativity. Another reason to hold tea parties and share treats.
“The idea behind these sweets is also as simple as glazed prehre, but for another variety to be created in the very same season…”
“As expected of Lady Rozemyne, the owner of Romulus Ristorante!”
Lady Lavinia, who was enjoying the pome sweets, hummed. “Are the dried pome on top a representation of the upcoming autumn?”
Elvira smiled coyly, “My my, how very observant of you, Lady Lavinia.”
Lady Lavinia returned her smile in kind. “You overpraise, Elvira. I have a fondness for dried rohre from Dunklefelger so I know this pome is dried with a similar method. Which is amazing considering the climate of Ehrenfest. Even if dried food is associated with late autumn and winter in northern regions like Ehrenfest, I believe it represents the Light Goddess’s love for Geduldh’s children that aim to reach the blue sky.”
So Lavinia is admitting that she would favor talented Ehrenfest nobles who aim for more under her reign. How fascinating!
“Lady Lavinia is really blessed by Mestionora.”
Elvira also complimented Lavinia, careful to keep her praise modest and graceful. She glanced briefly at Florencia who also attended the tea party, and resisted her urge to sigh at the ever-present serene mask of their soon-to-be second lady’s face. Was this the difference of the lady born to the first wife of Aub from a greater duchy and the third wife’s daughter of a (formerly) high-ranked middle duchy?
She couldn’t say she knew better, after all, Elvira herself was a mere archnoble lady. But if her grandfather had become Aub Ehrenfest she would have been in the same rank as Sylvester and Georgine. Even Rozemyne, for all her excellence, was birthed by a third lady of mednoble rank. Lord Ferdinand was the son of an unknown mistress.
A person’s brilliance depends not on their innate status, but on their character and their upbringing… if all that mattered was lineage, Lord Sylvester should be an excellent person by Ehrenfest’s standards.
Heidemarie signaled their attendant to bring the surprise event of the party. “If you do not mind a little prank,” Heidemarie announced mischievously, “would you like to see our result from experimenting with this wonderful phenomena?”
Lady Lavinia’s greenish-blue eyes gleamed with curiosity. “An experiment? You really know how to tickle my fancy, Heidemarie.”
Heidemarie smirked, “It’s just a little something my dear sister found during her trip to Ilgner. She gave some to me as a gift to play with.”
Lady Lavinia cupped her chin, “Ilgner is the southern province east of Garduhn, if I recall correctly…The jour fish that was served by the castle chef is from there. It’s uniquely sweet.”
Again, Lady Lavinia was not an arrogant person. In fact, she was quite modest for a lady of her rank. She managed to show herself as eloquent and well-read so naturally, and her awareness of the rural Ilgner province told them she had done her homework meticulously.
Heidemarie’s attendant came forward with a tray, on top of it was a vase of bright pink flowers with needle-like petals and serving plates of roasted vegetables.
“This is a flower native to Ilgner called arthitle ,” Heidemarie explained, “it blooms from late spring to autumn. The plant is edible as a vegetable and is a secret ingredient of cheese for the southern region.”
“Oh my, you roasted the flower?”
“Othmar has been selling sugar sentis since last year so I know flowers can be edible but…”
“How wonderful there are more flowers to grace our palette!”
“It looks cute rather than glamorous like sentis.” A lady took one of the flowers displayed on a vase. “My, the scent is sweet and musky!”
Elvira chimed in, “It’s still under the experimental phase, but we can expect notes from this scent for rinsham next year.”
Heidemarie had the plate of roasted arthitle served, “I will say it again, this is a prank… try the roasted arthitle before eating honey pound cake.”
“Fu fu fu, how interesting!”
“Then I shall partake!”
It was interesting to see who was the bolder one in their group. Florencia obviously wouldn’t take the risk with Gedulh’s burden she was carrying. Lady Lavinia looked calm, but Elvira could tell she was the one who reached out the fastest for the so-called “prank dish” Heidemarie served.
“It tastes like a mix of potatoffel and vargel…”
“With a hint of noust.” Another lady added.
Heidemarie was very smug when the ladies were all given another small portion of honey flavored pound cake. All were curious about what the prank was. Lady Lavinia’s eyes widened in shock, unable to keep her composure.
Half of the ladies quickly reached out for their more bitter tea only to be surprised again. “How could this be?”
“Sweet, everything tastes like Sovereignty’s sweets!”
Lady Lavinia looked at Heidemarie with fascination. “There must be something within arthitle flower that evokes similar phenomena of eating salted sweets at a completely different height!”
“Correct.” Heidemarie answered, “Without proper cooking technique arthitle flower would taste very bitter, but even cooked properly the substance that makes it taste bitter remains. Even if we couldn’t taste the bitterness of the substance any longer, it still heightens the sweetness of any food we eat afterward.”
“How mysterious… I would love the recipe!”
Elvira shook her head, “It’s a trade secret my daughter wishes to keep for Romulus. Today’s prank is just a little preview for another surprise in autumn.”
“We cannot wait!”
While the ladies expressed their anticipation for autumn and complemented Rozemyne, Lady Lavinia was quietly observing. “Rozemyne is a very good and responsible girl for her age, Lady Elvira.”
Lavinia understood completely why Rozemyne wished to hide the method of cooking arthitle. It was to prevent the flower from being misused for poisoning. Elvira considered it a work well done for both sides to assess each other, and dare she say… both of them were satisfied.
Leidenschaft was preparing to put down his spear when Lavinia hosted a larger tea party in the castle. The members of every faction were invited, and it was clear to Elvira what Lavinia’s plan was: to see how opposing factions in Ehrenfest would interact.
Elvira sent word to the ladies of the Florencia faction (especially the Leisegang clan) to be on their best behavior. If she guessed correctly, this event would be a microcosm of how Lavinia would rule factions upon her marriage. Will she advocate for balance? Side with Veronica? Be swayed by Leisegang? It was their chance to observe, and Elvira did not want to ruin this opportunity on behalf of settling old grudges.
The party was held in one of the larger castle gardens and there were tasteful decorations. Tables were adorned with Ehrenfest cloth at the base and an overlay of thin Ahrensbach cloth. The centerpieces had sentis flowers and the new trendy scented candles from Ehrenfest.
As for refreshments, the exclusive chefs Lavinia had brought with her had made dishes from jour and an Ahrensbach fish, sweets made from Leisegang provinces and Ahrensbach ones. Even the drinks were made of native Ehrenfest falold with Ahrensbach sugar instead of the typical honey to sweeten it.
The message was clear: harmony in both cultures, one not overshadowing the other. No Ahrensbach supremacy, no Leisegang dominance. Each side played a part in the bigger picture.
An exemplary display of a First Lady with this gesture alone. I am already eager to see how she leads us through this event. Elvira glanced at a certain veiled someone at the main table. But the obstacle in the way of her ideal reign as First Lady is not us.
Giebe Leisegang, her cousin, had assured her they had the elders under control. Thanks to Rozemyne’s efforts and the change in posts in the castle, the younger generation was ready to integrate themselves and forget about the past grudges they weren’t even involved in. Countess Leisegang, who flew over for the occasion, was sitting poised at her table and ready for anything.
Veronica was seated at the main table with Lavinia, Florencia, and Elvira herself. Elvira sipped on her drink as she waited for Lavinia’s opening remarks as hostess.
But then, just like the hearing last winter, Veronica spoke up before Lavinia did. “Must we light these scented candles? I believe spiced incense is more in fashion, don’t you think?”
Lavinia looked at Veronica, she didn’t respond but just observed her future mother-in-law’s tirade.
“And this jour… such a small fish, unbefitting to our refined palette.”
Brigitte, who was also attending the tea party on behalf of Rozemyne, frowned a little. Elvira mentally sighed. Veronica always raged about how cruel they were to her mother Gabriele, but would any native nobles accept an arrogant princess insulting them left and right like Veronica did?
Elvira also thought this was good despite the annoyance. Lavinia got a firsthand look at how Gabriele acted when she came to Ehrenfest and wreaked havoc so much she was demoted to archnoble for her conduct.
Lavinia at last responded. “Lady Veronica must certainly be jesting. Have you not been resting for a long while in your chambers? These wonderfully scented candles are a delight, much gentler in scent with hardly any smoke…” She cupped her cheek, “Perhaps it’s your preference, but I never liked the smoke from traditional incense.”
“As for jour, how unfortunate we don’t share the same preference… I am getting fond of this unique sweet fish.” She cleared her throat, “If that is all, mother-in-law?”
Lavinia smiled, and then instead of waiting for an answer she turned to address the crowd. “As Leidenschaft begins to rest his spear and Schutzaria raises her shield in the protection of Geduldh, I thank you for coming to my tea party. I have not been in Ehrenfest for long, yet I feel most welcomed in this land that shall soon become my Geduldh.”
She looked at each familiar face with a warm gaze. “I shall take this opportunity to ask the ladies of Ehrenfest to be my Anhaltung and Ewarchleren. Your support shall be my foundation once Flutrane brings change and the crown of the light goddess is graciously bestowed upon me from my predecessors.”
The phrasing was so subtle one could miss it. Or rather, Elvira did not want to get her hopes up by misinterpreting. But the implication sounded like Lavinia was not just taking on Florencia’s position as First Lady, but she was also taking back the power of the crown from Veronica. Elvira’s heart stubbornly fluttered, still wanting to expect something from this talented lady that she had been observing.
“Let us enjoy this day as ladies from the same Geduldh. As your hostess, I am excited to have Dregarnuhr pull our threads much closer today than ever before.”
Lavinia concluded her opening remarks as hostess, and many ladies waved their schtappes. The lady smiled demurely before going to socialize around the room.
“Quite impressive, is it not?” Elvira said to Florencia, curious to see her reaction.
Veronica spoke over Florencia instead with a haughty snort. “Hmph. Of course, as expected of a lady from Ahrensbach. It is a wonder that she even deigns to give her inferiors the time of day.”
Silence fell over them. It was a mere vestige of Schaltraum her aunt would ever relent for the sake of peace. This was the attitude that caused the unending cycle of grudges; Veronica saw them all as inferiors that she had to trample over.
“Perhaps you should confirm if that is her intention, Lady Veronica.” Elvira gestured to Lady Lavinia, who was making her rounds and speaking to none other than Brigitte. “Is she not speaking to the sister of Giebe Ilgner at the moment?”
Lady Veronica smugly glanced at the tablecloth and Elvira resisted her urge to wearily shake her head. Of course, the table had thin cloth on top of Ehrenfest cloth, but that was because the thicker cloth couldn’t be placed above a transparent fabric in the first place. How deluded could Veronica be to interpret this arrangement as Lavinia’s intention to brandish Ahrensbach’s superiority over them?
Sooner or later someone as astute as Lavinia wouldn’t waste her time correcting Veronica’s misconception. It was truly a mystery why for all her brilliance and ruthlessness that suppressed her political enemies, Veronica had become so confused in this matter.
Eventually, Lavinia made it back to the table. After taking on some refreshment, the lady looked at Elvira with warm familiarity. “I look forward to Dregarnuhr letting our threads intersect once more, Elvira. I would especially enjoy spending more time with the young Mestionora under your care.”
The look on Veronica’s face when Lavinia expressed her wish was priceless.
“My my, it would be our honor, Lady Lavinia. In fact, it would seem that Dregarnuhr may have offered us her protection. Have you heard of the Ventuchte’s Splendor Competition we are holding in the Romulus Ristorante soon?”
Veronica sneered. “Why, Elvira? Are you planning on inviting our future First Lady to your restaurant now?”
Lady Lavinia looked intrigued, “What could this event be about?”
“It’s a fashion show where disciples of Ventuchte gather to show the splendor of autumn and womanly beauties. We would be gathering goddesses of autumn to grace the venue, and of course, our little Mestionora would be among them. She would be the host.” Elvira was proudly bragging that at seven years old, Rozemyne was already hosting many of the grandest events their duchy had ever seen.
Elvira was also assessing how Lady Lavinia reacted to the implication that Elvira's daughter had a big enough influence that could detract her light. She worried that Lavinia’s reaction would be like Florencia, that she would view Rozemyne’s influence as a threat.
There was no displeasure in those aquamarine blue eyes, and for a moment Elvira saw a shadow akin to Hirschur in Lavinia. Like a potential mentor interested in a promising protege.
There was a time in the past when Elvira visited the teacher in the academy before. The woman saw Lord Ferdinand’s potential and desired to see that talent bloom. Elvira heard about the eccentric professor’s desire to protect Lord Ferdinand and how it would put her at odds with Veronica but Hirschur did not relent.
After Eckhart’s first Interduchy Tournament Elvira met with Hirschur and offered to help support her in secret. The asylum she provided Ferdinand had also protected her son, it was the least she could do to provide support. Hirschur refused. The professor did not want the support to be interpreted as being involved in Ehrenfest’s factional politics. It was an admirable sentiment, so Elvira graciously accepted her refusal and took a step back. She would never forget the steadfast and protective look in Hirschur’s eyes.
“By all means, I wish to attend, not to mention I have yet to prepare for my Starbind Ceremony dress…” Lady Lavinia smiled. “What a wonderful opportunity, Elvira.”
“Ohohoho, it is my pleasure.”
Veronica attempted to overturn Lavinia’s decision, saying her exclusive seamstress was the best this duchy had to offer and they had already secured the best-imported materials from Ahrensbach. She argued that the seamstress understood the trends of Ahrensbach better than any boutique in Ehrenfest.
Lady Lavinia deflected and expressed her joy to attend the event and see her new friends there, “isn’t this the first ever fashion show not just in the duchy but also the country?” She grinned. “How could the future First Lady of Ehrenfest miss such a momentous occasion?”
Elvira knew Veronica wished to distance Lady Lavinia from them, but really… After everything this tea party conveyed, the woman still held the delusion of pushing her new daughter-in-law to be the duchy’s new champion of Ahrensbach instead of Ehrenfest’s new goddess of light.
“Lady Veronica is a [narcissist] so that insane behavior was to be expected,” Rozemyne mumbled when she and Heidemarie returned to Linkberg estate. They had a tea party with her that also doubled as a briefing for her daughter to stay up to date. “It makes a lot of sense…”
Heidemarie leaned in, “What is a [narcissist], Rozemyne? I haven’t read about it.”
Rozemyne looked troubled for a moment, “Erm… in simple terms, a [narcissist] is an abnormally selfish person. They disregard the feelings of others and think of themselves as the most important. A [narcissist] assumes that everyone should hold only their point of view. Nothing is ever their fault. They also want to be the center of attention all the time.”
Elvira let out a tiny gasp.“Daughter, if I didn’t know you had only run into her once I would suspect you have known Lady Veronica for your whole life…”
Heidemarie nodded, “It fits that woman’s personality perfectly!”
Rozemyne’s face had a bitter expression just briefly, then she sighed as she seemed to rein in her thoughts, “It also explains Sylvester’s upbringing since he was raised by someone like that.”
Elvira and Heidemarie tilted their heads in confusion. “What do you mean, Rozemyne?” Heidemarie asked.
“I told Aub Ehrenfest repeatedly that Ferdinand is overworked, but he seems to think it doesn’t matter since Ferdinand ‘likes work’ and ‘wants to be busy.’” Rozemyne shook her head, “My explanation didn’t get through to him, so we have his new castle workers stopping him from trying to give work to Ferdinand.”
“So Lord Sylvester is a narcissist too?” Heidemarie winced openly.
Rozemyne shook her head. “Everyone has a bit of selfishness to a degree. It’s natural since we need it to survive. But being raised by a genuine narcissist like Lady Veronica gives Lord Sylvester bad habits. In regards to Ferdinand…Sylvester is deluding himself into thinking that he is not in the wrong for overworking Ferdinand because that is how Veronica taught him to think. He actually believes he is doing a favor by letting Ferdinand do what he likes: work, which is what Sylvester doesn't like.”
What a twisted thought pattern! But it describes both mother-son perfectly. However, it horrified them all that Aub Ehrenfest thought the chalice incident was the fault of Bezewanst and Veronica, but he didn’t see how he had responsibility as the archduke. Lord Sylvester was even angry that the Leisegang provinces demanded reparation for the issue.
With a husband and mother-in-law like that, Lady Lavinia had a tough future ahead of her.