***


Millicent sat at the table and ate black bread and overripe strawberries.
Beside her, Tracy, the old maid, was making pudding with milk and eggs.

 “Are we going to eat it?” Millicent asked with a sliver of hope, even though she clearly knew the answer. 

“It’s for the Queen,” Tracy stirred the ingredients and answered nonchalantly.
“I always serve pudding or cookies dipped in milk  for dessert in the evening for the Queen and His Majesty.”

“But why do you only make one?” 

Tracy said it was for two people but when she finished making the pudding, only one pudding was left to harden cold.

“Because His Majesty doesn’t eat pudding.”

“Why?”

“Oh, you’ve never seen His Majesty, have you?” Tracy snorted.
“He is not the kind of person who would eat something like this.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll understand when you see His Majesty later.” Tracy chuckled as Millicent tilted her head.
“He’s scary.
He’s not the kind who eats pudding with a little spoon.”

Tracy’s words brought up a memory that Millicent had overlooked.
However, Millicent’s thoughts were quickly quelled as Tracy pushed a tray of pudding at her. 

“Are you done? It’s my turn to eat dinner now.” Tracy smacked her lips.
“Now, take it to Her Majesty the Queen.”

 As she was brushing crumbs from her skirt, Millicent suddenly came up with a strange idea.

“Why don’t you make two puddings, pretending one is for the king and one for us?”

 “…you’re skinny, but you’d really go nuts if it was something to eat,” Tracy clicked her tongue.
“Just making the queen’s pudding is exhausting enough for me.
Go quickly.” 

Without any choice, Millicent gave up.
It was just as well anyway.
For she had promised to meet Charlotte Brennan after dinner. 

Millicent walked with light steps, holding the tray of pudding.
It took her a great deal of patience not to gobble up the queen’s dessert. 


The queen’s reception room was crowded.
Five court ladies were holding colorful silk fabrics and engaged in conversation.
And Queen Jadalin, in her chair watching them silently.

“We’ve decided to have a masquerade ball at the banquet,” Jadalin said to Millicent as she approached with the pudding.
“My maids are going to join in the play and dance in masks.
They are all fighting to get good roles, even though half a month has gone by.” 

“Good roles?” 

“It’s a play that imitates the gods of ancient mythology, but each role has a different weight.”

“What role do you like best?”

“The god of beauty.
She has the most beautiful costumes and sings alone in many scenes.”

Millicent listened attentively to the ladies.
They were polite, but the content of their conversation was no different from an argument. 

“Lady Adriana is too tall to be the god of beauty.” The most vocal of  them was Charlotte.
“And pink is the right color for the god of beauty.
It wouldn’t be the right size for you anyway.”

Charlotte snatched the pink silk that the taller lady named Adriana was holding. 

“Take on the God of Hunting and the Moon then.”

“Aren’t you too short to take on the God of Beauty?”

While Adriana was indignant and questioned Charlotte, Jadalin whispered. 

“Charlotte Brennan approached you, didn’t she?”

“How did you know?” 

Millicent was taken aback. 

“That lovely lady got excited like a dog that smells bones when she heard the word fate.
Her eyes lit up when I surreptitiously played your story.” (Jadalin)

There were some people who were too absorbed in that kind of entertainment.
Millicent nodded. 

“How are you going to do it?” (Jadalin)


“It’s better if you don’t know,” Millicent cut off Jadalin’s curiosity at once.

There was a line that no client, no matter how high the price, could cross. 

Jadalin stared at Millicent with her light brown eyes.
Millicent held out the pudding tray without wavering under her gaze.

“I don’t like pudding very much.
Would you like to eat it instead?”

For Millicent, it was an unexpected stroke of luck.
Without hesitation, she attacked the delicious pudding with a spoon.
The soft flavor filled her mouth. 

“I guess we’ll soon find out if you’ll disappoint me or not.” Jadalin’s cold gaze touched Millicent’s cheek, who was busy chewing.
“And I’m not accustomed to disappointment.
You’d better be careful.” 

Even though she had seen the whole process of making the pudding and brought it directly, Millicent had an intense fear that the pudding might be poisoned.
It was an inherently frightening quality of Jadalin, the Queen.

“You won’t be disappointed.” 

Momentarily confused by the unexpected intensity, Millicent replied matter-of-factly.
She licked the spoon as well, not wanting even a morsel of the sweet dessert to be wasted.

“I don’t know where Cardinal Mulally got such an unusual child.” Jadalin smiled. 

Millicent’s carefree demeanor seemed to have once again intrigued her.

But the queen’s laughter was buried by the ever-increasing voices of her maids. 

“Stop it!” Jadalin interceded, rising to her feet in frustration.
“Let Lady Adriana Beasley take the role of the god of beauty.”

“ No, Your Majesty!” Charlotte jumped up.

But Jadalin raised her left hand to keep her mouth shut.
Adriana, who had been arguing with Charlotte, knelt down and bowed with an elated expression on her face, “As expected, the Queen is benevolent.”

She was a very tall woman, as Charlotte had said.
How long were her legs, but she was a head above others.

“Lady Charlotte can take the role of the god of fire.”

“Isn’t that a very insignificant role!” 


Charlotte twisted her lips like a spoiled child at Jadalin’s cold orders one after the other. 

“It has little importance and the dance is too easy.
It doesn’t even have a good song!” Charlotte complained in a high-pitched voice.
“You want me to sit by the fire and sew through the whole masquerade ball?” 

The woman across from Charlotte interrupted, “Oh my, that role really suits Lady Charlotte.” 

She was a lady with fair skin and 

a buxom figure.
She looked like a soft, plump marshmallow. 

“With constant practice on how to be calm, Lady Charlotte will get out of the habit of leaving Her Majesty’s dog by the side of the road every time.” 

A smile bordering on ridicule spread among the ladies.
Charlotte glared at them sharply, but the buxom lady didn’t even raise an eyebrow.

“Lady Jane Grant understands my deeper meaning,” Jadalin, too, raised her lips, as if Charlotte deserved the treatment.
“The God of Wise Wisdom would suit you well.”

The voluptuous Jane bowed politely.
Then she placed a scarlet silk gown over her body.
It was the color worn by the god of wisdom. 

“Lady Elizabeth is taking the role of the earth god…” 

Then a woman with brownish skin and large, frog-like protruding eyes bowed respectfully.
A crucifix necklace hung on her neck.

“The god of marriage would suit   Lady Ophelia.” 

The lady bowed, too.
She had a strong jaw which gave a strong impression, and exuded a luxurious aura.

“Come on, now it’s all settled.
Stop arguing.”

Jadalin sat down again, after having neatly arranged the situation. 

“Dance and sing!” 

The queen sat, stroking the wolfhound cub on her lap.


“The hunter….
No, did the man named Frankie deliver this cub well?” Millicent asked, pointing to the dog. 

Perhaps it had a bath, there was no trace of dirt on his fur.
She wanted to touch him again.
She tried to get his attention with the desert spoon, but the little furry thing was too content with his master’s touch to even look at her. 

“Frankie?” Jadalin asked back.

 “A tall man with no mustache.” 

He said he wasn’t a hunter.
He gave Millicent an annoying riddle that she would soon find out his mysterious identity.
She didn’t have the talent to give a decent description of his appearance.
She wasn’t even sure his name was Frankie.

 “Lady Charlotte left the dog behind and the man said he would take it to Your Majesty.”

“A servant of His Majesty brought it to me.
His name must be Frankie.” Jadalin didn’t think much of it.

Was the man not a hunter, but the king’s servant? Millicent snorted, thinking how the man had hidden his identity like it was a big deal, but it was nothing special.

The orchestra began to play.
The queen’s attendants danced and sang along according to their respective roles.

It didn’t seem like they needed much practice.
Each had memorized not only their own role, but all the roles in the play.
They all seemed to have received a high level of education.
They were full of grace and culture. 

Watching in a daze, Millicent felt strange.
Was it anger? Or jealousy? She wasn’t sure, as she was always bad at defining her emotions.
As she did so, she suddenly realized that all her prey was gathered in one place.

 If she just lit the fire and closed the door, it should have been a one-shot deal.
But Millicent tightened the string of her hat, tied under her chin, even tighter.
It quieted the eagerness boiling inside. 

One at a time.
The hunt would be more interesting when done carefully.
There would be less danger of being caught and hanged before leaving the royal palace. 

Millicent’s eyes flashed like those of a predator hiding in the bushes as she observed Charlotte Brennan, her first prey.

Unaware of what was going on, Charlotte sullenly pouted her lips throughout the practice. 

Eventually, when the practice was over, Queen Jadalin retired to her bedchamber.
After brushing her auburn blonde hair and tending to her nightgown, the ladies-in-waiting left one by one.

“Follow me,” Charlotte finally said, tugging on Millicent’s arm.

***

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