Chapter 13: Belated birthday.
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"A cake… Alright, I’ll make you a cake. One for now, and as many as you want in the future. You’ll have to show me the kitchen though."

Really, what small desire it was. Just a cake, just someone to celebrate the birthday that had already passed. Once she’d finished crying he would have to talk with her a bit more, it’d be nice if she could find a desire that would last bit longer than just a cake. People needed proper ambition to live long lives, otherwise they’d just end up like him and take the plunge for no good reason.

"Okay, okay, I know the way."

Alice still sniffled as she spoke and hopped down from the bed. She looked at Gabriel’s arm with teary eyes for a moment, eventually deciding to hold onto his slightly tattered sleeves and tugging it quietly. Naturally, Gabriel decided to follow her out of the room. He knew where the kitchen was, but he couldn’t really tell Alice that so he kept quiet about it.

"Muh, it’s bright…"

Alice had to shield her eyes when she stepped out of the room. Gabriel had lit all the lamps in the hallway as he walked so it couldn’t be helped that it was brighter than she was used to. But she would just have to get used to it, for he had no plans of stopping it in the future.

"People should live bright lives. So, I’ll turn on all the lamps for you, you just need to bask in the light."

A dark life was the first step to a sad life. Since Gabriel had decided to help this pitiful villainess, he naturally couldn’t let her life either of those lives.

"…They’re warm…"

The little girl muttered to herself as they walked through the hallway. The lamps that had been dim for so long, with all of them lit the usually cold hallway had become nice and warm. The added light also allowed her to see the colours better. While this meant that she could also see the signs of wear better, it was still like entering a completely new world, one she couldn’t hate.

"Here. With the new maids… gone, there shouldn’t be anyone in the kitchen…"

The east wing of the mansion, dark and silent, not even the maids came here unless they had to. So this kitchen, the only people who had gotten to use it recently were the orphans that Alice had brought along with Gabriel. Mere children who never got to eat a proper meal, kids who barely knew what food was were suddenly put in charge of preparing meals for someone else. It must have been terrible, and it certainly explained the state of the sandwiches Gabriel got. Then again, as he inspected the kitchen, he realized that just getting those sandwiches was already good.

"Christ… Can’t even call it barren."

To call it a kitchen was almost an insult, there was practically nothing here. Vegetables, meat, dairy products, fruits, practically everything was scraped as clean as could be. What little remained was spoiling so it would be questionable to eat, only the things with a long shelf life such as flour, some sugar, a smidgen of butter, and simpler spices were left.

"Right then… Cake."

Cake… He had some experience with making food thanks to his sister, but making a cake from these scraps? It would definitely be a challenge.

"…Is it impossible?"

Alice was probably quite aware of the state of this kitchen. And this world, compared to his past world, was quite a few years behind in some regards. Cakes were a bit of a rarity here, not something only nobles would have, but not something commoners could have once a month either due to the expensive ingredients and skill needed to make them.

"Few things are ever impossible. If I just change the definition of cake a little then I should be able to manage. Would you happen to know if there are any apples or pears in this estate?"

It wouldn’t technically be a cake, but his sister had never complained before so it should be fine right? He’d just have to make a bit of an effort so that he could make a proper one next year. If it was a year… there were a lot of things he could achieve in a year with the right knowledge and a bit of planning.

"Apples…Apples… If I ask the maid in Elder Brother’s kitchen nicely then she’ll give me some of the older ones! I’ll be right back!"

Alice’s expression lit up before she bolted out of the kitchen, leaving Gabriel to wince on his own. What a joke it was, one of the children of the previous duchess actually had to ask a maid nicely just to get a few old apples.

"Ah… What to do, what to do…"

He huffed out some air now that he was alone, meandering over to the stove to turn it on. There were two types of ovens in this world, the ones fuelled by wood that commoners used, and the ones fuelled by magic that nobles used. The magic ones were somewhat similar to ovens of his world, the inside was filled with magic lines that would release heat, and there were three smaller magic formations on the outside that were attached to it.

Eras Dai Motak.

The first one was the magic formation that would fuel the oven itself, translated to the ancient language it should be Fire Release Heat. The two next ones should be to somewhat control the heat since Motak meant Heat and Ras meant Cold. Kandar if he recalled meant Activate so it was probably what was used to start the oven itself.

He brushed away the thin layer of dust that covered the formations and activated them, they already contained mana so all it really took was a touch. The oven came alive, both the inside and the four plates atop it. There were no separate controls for those plates so this was probably an older model. Or had the ones that had separate controls for each plate not yet been invented? The story didn’t focus too much on these things so he couldn’t be quite sure.

"Right, now then…"

With the oven heating up, he climbed onto a nearby chair so that he could lean against the table. His finger drummed the wood in a rhythmic fashion as his thoughts moved.

"Leonardo shouldn’t be a problem… But if she’s too attached then it won’t be good."

Now that he’d spent some time here, it was clear that her family was one of the key factors that led to Alice becoming the future villainess. They, or at least Leonardo, he hadn’t met the others yet, hated her on a fundamental level so it would be hard to alter his perception. Thus, dealing with Leonardo required a different tactic. That in and of itself would be rather easy with what Gabriel knew, the problem was Alice’s feelings.

If she was attached to them, if she loved them even though they didn’t love her, then she would be sad if he handled them in his way. It would be easiest if she hated them, but he didn’t want to push her into hating them against her will. Despising your own family… It was a sad thing. Necessary at times, definitely, but still sad.

"Gabriel! Gabriel! Look, she even gave me some peaches because I asked so nicely!"

Alice came running into the room while he was pondering his future course of action, proudly holding up some bruised apples and mushy peaches. Looking at those fruits, the corners of his lips couldn’t help but twitch. He definitely had to at least raise her expectations so that she wasn’t overjoyed by things like this.

"Alright, then I better get to work. Ah, but can you tell me the name of that maid and how she looks later? As your new butler, I should definitely go and thank her."

There was nothing to do about the situation now so he could only take the fruits for now, making a mental note of the maid. Depending on what Alice decided, it may become necessary to remind that maid of who would become the future ruler of the Vritara duchy.

"What kind of cake will you make?"

Alice stuck close to Gabriel as he got to work, eagerly and curiously inspecting his work. As for Gabriel, he put two metal pans on the stovetop and picked out the sugar, butter, honey, flour and some cinnamon.

"It would be called a peach and apple cobbler, but I don’t have everything I need so I’ll make a slightly simpler version."

The apples were quarter and tossed into one of the pans along with some sugar and honey, the peaches cut into similar sizes and put aside. The butter was melted in the other pan while he mixed the sugar with the cinnamon that he had to crush first. Once the butter was melted, he poured it over the sugar and mixed it thoroughly before adding the flour, mixing it by hand until it formed slightly springy crumbs.

He filled the bottom of another pan with some of the crumbs and then mixed the stewed apples with the peaches, placing the sweet mixture on top of the crumbs. All that was left at this point was to cover it all with the remaining crumbs and throw the pan in the oven, baking it for close to half an hour, Alice practically bouncing in the seat she had picked.

"There we go, a cheating cobbler."

He placed the desert on the table once it finished baking, but it really looked a mess. He didn’t have any of the measuring tools he was used to so the crumbs were drier than he expected, and because of how mushy the peaches were and how bruised the apples were, the filling was too runny. Even his sister would laugh at him if he placed this on the table.

But still, there was one thing here that was runnier than the filling he made, Alice. Her nose was dripping and her eyes were already wet again as she looked at the unappetising decoction Gabriel had placed in front of her. The spoon she held shook even as her hand was resting on the table and her crimson eyes couldn’t move away from the pan.

"It should be eaten hot, just don’t burn yourself. And Alice, happy belated birthday."

She snapped back to reality when Gabriel spoke, the shaking spoon finally stretching out to scoop up some of the food. She brought it to her mouth, and before Gabriel could remind her to blow on it, stuck it in her mouth.

She had just barely stopped crying by the time they first reached the kitchen, but now her tears were already flowing again. The food was fresh from the oven so her mouth was definitely too burnt to taste anything, and with the sobbing that interrupted her chewing it would be even harder to taste anything. But still she chewed, and still she cried.

"It’s delicious… It’s really delicious…"