“Hey! Beako!” Subaru called after the spirit as she was leaving the dining room. Beatrice had stayed behind for a bit after lunch, finishing the jam filled parachintas that she mostly just played with earlier.
It was Subaru’s ninth day at the mansion. It had been two days since the troubles around the mabeast attack were resolved. Well, more like three, but Subaru counted the seventh day as part of that, since she slept through most of it due to her injuries. Since Ram had reassured Subaru that the situation was thoroughly dealt with, she had moved on with great excitement to trying to enjoy her well earned peace and quiet. Certainly, there was a chance that someone would attack again in the future, however, with the mabeasts having raised quite the alarm, Subaru did her best to banish such pessimistic thoughts from her mind.
She won, and she was not going to let it go to waste!
“What does the girl want, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, turning around as Subaru hurried over to her, leaving Rem to finish cleaning by herself. There was still some degree of annoyance in her voice every time Subaru called her ‘Beako’, but she seemed to have given up on discouraging it.
“I was wondering if you think you’d enjoy something sweet, but with the texture of soft bread.” Subaru asked. “I’ve got another dessert from back home I don’t remember the exact recipe for, but I wanted to try it out!”
“Betty has no idea what to picture, in fact. Does the girl want something, perhaps? Is she trying to buy Betty’s good will so she can intrude on her peace and quiet in the library some more, I wonder?” Beatrice asked with her brow furrowed.
“I’m not going to pretend like I wouldn’t like to learn some more stuff.” Subaru admitted, scratching the back of her head with an awkward grin. “But until I catch up on hamoji, the library won’t be of much use to me. Actually, I half just wanted to see what else I could import from home, and half do something nice, since you kept Felt and Emilia-chan safe. Muffins seemed like a good way to do that.”
“Muffins?” Beatrice asked. “Betty believes she has heard of those before.”
“Oh, really?” Subaru asked surprised.
She didn’t see them in the illustrated cookbook kept in the kitchen, though of course she only really whizzed through it in her spare time, and most of the recipes in there were for fancy, noble foods. Since this world did have a concept for some other basic foods from Earth, like cakes, tea and so on, perhaps she should have anticipated that they’d exist.
“I guess they might not have been as unique as I thought they were.” Subaru noted. “Would you like it if I tried making some? Probably with Rem’s help.” Subaru clarified, knowing she’d probably mess up the preparation on her first try without the maid’s aid.
“Betty is unsure. From what she recalls, those were peasant’s treats, I suppose.” Beatrice replied, scratching her mouth with an extended index finger as she gave the matter some thought, causing fine sugar dust to snow down from her lips to the floor. “They’re just batter with a bit of sugar. Too plain, perhaps.”
“Just batter?” Subaru asked, raising her brow. “Are you telling me people here can make muffins, but they haven’t figured out what makes them good yet?”
“What makes muffins good?” Beatrice repeated.
“Ah-ha-ha!” Subaru laughed with a measure of pride, straightening out, puffing out her chest and tapping the tip of her nose. “Muffins can be filled with tons of things! Berries, chocolate chips, fruit shavings, even slices!” Subaru began counting off. “Nuts, vanilla. Let’s see, you can also fill them with jam if you like, though that’s probably a bit tricky. Heck, I’m pretty sure there were people who put meat or cheese in them!”
Subaru herself never made muffins before, but she had a rough enough understanding of how they were made thanks to her mother, that she could try. As for the different fillings she knew about, there was a coffee shop not far from their home back in Japan that as a gimmick had an entire menu booklet filled with nothing but muffins. Though many of them you had to order in advance. They were mainly for parties and catering. Her parents brought all sorts of muffins from there for one of Subaru’s early teen birthday parties.
“Well, if the girl so insists on making extra work for herself, who is Betty to oppose, in fact?” Beatrice shrugged theatrically with a sigh, holding up her hands to each side.
“Great!” Subaru grinned. “Should we start with berries or chocolate chips?”
Beatrice who had already turned around by the time Subaru finished the question stopped then quietly noted: “Betty would prefer chocolate.” before heading off.
“I’ll have some for you by dinner!” Subaru shouted after her, before turning back around to rejoin Rem’s cleaning efforts.
“Subaru-kun, Rem isn’t sure it was wise to promise Beatrice-sama these muffins if Subaru-kun isn’t confident in her ability to make them.” Rem cautioned, looking up from wiping the table clean. She clearly paid attention to the short conversation.
“Pah! Nonsense Rem!” Subaru shushed her with a wide smile, patting the maid’s head, causing Rem to blush. “You managed to figure out I was messing up the parachinta recipe even though you never saw it before. With your help, there’s no way we can’t make them! Easy! Plus I have a full two hours off again this afternoon!”
“Rem appreciates Subaru-kun’s praise.” the blushing oni said with a smile, rising up from the shining table. “However, Rem can’t help her today, as she has business in Irlam.”
“Wha—?” Subaru looked up with wide eyes. “It has only been, what, four days since you last went shopping! Did we run out of something already?”
“Oh, uhm.” Rem looked unusually flustered for the question. “Rem, she— Rem needs to check on the village, to make sure everyone is still doing well, after the past week’s events.” she finally explained.
Subaru narrowed her eyes, giving Rem a discerning look, to which the girl just blushed harder, averting her eyes from Subaru’s as she nervously glanced around the room.
“I think I know what’s going on.” Subaru said measuredly, lifting a crooked index finger and tapping her own lips thoughtfully.
“She does?” Rem exclaimed in surprise.
“Of course!” Subaru declared with a knowing wink, giving a gentle push on the maid’s shoulder with her fist. “You want to check on the kids, don’t you?”
Rem’s eyes gleamed for a moment, then she gently bit down on her lips and hung her head with a big smile.
“Hey, Rem! What’s with that expression?!” Subaru asked, her surprise evident. She felt as if the girl was mocking her for some reason.
“Nothing.” Rem said, shaking her head before looking back up. “It’s just that Subaru-kun always has her priorities right.”
“Ah.” Subaru nodded uncertainty. “Well, I guess I am… Pretty great?” She hummed thoughtfully, before the facts caught up with her. “Oh, damn, right, that means I’ll need to figure out the muffin stuff! Most of that was a bluff, I don’t even know anything about making them other than that they’re made of batter, and— Oh! And I don’t think we even have any moulds!”
The oni maid giggled, raising a hand politely before her mouth, as the black haired girl before her sunk her hands in her hair in frustration.
“Rem believes that there is a recipe in one of the cookbooks, and there should be moulds too. If Subaru-kun asks Nee-sama, she’ll surely help read anything difficult.”
Subaru hung her arms and sighed in defeat. She really was going to have to use up all two free hours of today on experimenting.
“Well, it can’t be helped!” she exclaimed, straightening herself out and squaring her shoulders. “A promise is a promise, so I guess I’ll have to do it!”
“It will be wonderful to try Subaru’s dessert when Rem returns.” the maid smiled sweetly, holding her palms together.
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“Should have expected this, when Barusu couldn’t even read the thermometer.” Ram sighed.
“ Hai .” Subaru muttered with dejection, standing in front of a tray of smoking, rather than steaming, burnt brown monstrosities that she couldn’t in her right mind refer to as muffins.
This was the second ‘successful’ batch, in terms of actually being bakable. To be precise, it was the second batch that came out as a solid food, rather than remaining a paste. The previous batch had issues, namely that Subaru put both the wrong kind of chocolate into the batter and too much of it, so the muffins that came out would just fall apart into this chocolatey, gooey mess when she tried to take them out of their moulds fresh. When she tried to let them cool and solidify a bit, they instead got stuck completely inside the ceramic moulds, and were reduced to large brittle flakes by the time she forced them out.
At least that time, Ram helped out with the baking itself. This time, she had gone off, leaving Subaru to look after them, however between her inexperience baking and the fact that she was still getting used to how the time crystals worked, she ended up letting them bake for far too long. She at least managed to get them out their trays this time, but they were blackened by the heat. An abject failure.
“Truly, Barusu’s incompetence is beyond measure.” Ram continued her beration, looking down at the smoking ‘muffins’.
“ Hai .” Subaru repeated, condemning herself to this.
“Wasting Roswaal-sama’s resources on vanity projects, and failing to even pay attention!”
“ Hai .”
“Ruining perfectly good baking materials, Barusu should be ashamed.”
“ Hai .”
Ram hissed a bit, then turned away from the ruined batch, fetching a kitchen cloth with which to move the baking tray. Around the same time, heavy steps sounded on the other side of the kitchen’s door, and it soon swung open, the large figure of Rom on the other side, right behind and above an upset looking Felt, dressed in her butler uniform matching Subaru’s.
“If you people won’t let me leave the mansion, the least you could do is not burn it down while I’m in it!” Felt announced, casting her gaze around the room.
“ Hai .” Subaru said one more time, hunching forward and hanging her head low enough above the cookies that a lock of her hair touched one of them, getting dipped in a slightly melting chocolate chip.
“If Barusu can’t be careful with her cooking, she could at least pay attention to her body!” Ram scolded as she returned with the cloth, and pulled the tray out from in front of Subaru, before putting one hand on Subaru’s head, and wiping off the chocolate covered lock using the cloth with the other.
“What was that supposed to be?” Rom asked, poking his head into the kitchen.
Since his arrival, he’d been granted residence as a guest, both as Felt’s only living ‘relative’, and as thanks for his efforts in saving the village’s children and then Rem. On Subaru’s suggestion, Rom got a wish too, which simply was to let him be the one who looks after Felt, which he reasoned on how it wouldn’t be very easy for him to escape the mansion now that everyone was aware of his presence, and Felt wouldn’t leave him behind anyway, so until the month is over and Felt gets her chance to resign from the selection after her official introduction, he would be willing to put up with their ‘benevolent incarceration’.
“Muffins.” Subaru answered the giant’s question miserably, as Ram picked up the tray and headed to the garbage with it.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!” Felt exclaimed suddenly and stomped after Ram who paused in response, hovering the tray of muffins over the box in which daily kitchen refuse was collected for disposal.
“Does Felt-sama have an objection?” Ram asked.
“Yeah, I do!” Felt fumed. “What do you think you’re doing, throwing those out?”
Ram narrowed her eyes at the young girl before sighing.
“Felt-sama, these are clearly burned, unfit for serving at dinner.”
“So what, just because it’s not perfect, you’re going to throw them out?!” Felt asked demandingly. “You think them being a bit burned would stop a real person from eating them?”
“A real person?” Ram asked, leering down at the girl.
“Someone who isn’t lost in some sweet toothed pillowy noble world filled with frilly skirts and nail polish and velvet curtains and all that!”
Ram rolled her eyes, and placed the tray down on the table closest to the refuse bin.
“If Felt-sama wants to eat them, here.” she said simply, wiping her hand on the cloth then putting it down next to the tray.
“Yeah, well, maybe I will!” Felt huffed, walking over and carefully grabbing one.
While the tray itself was still piping hot, most of the muffins had cooled off somewhat, so she had little trouble with it, and started turning it in her hand.
“These muffins look weird.” Felt noted, as Rom squeezed past the kitchen door and entered, walking over to his ‘granddaughter’.
“Yeah, what are these little black spots?”
“Burnt chocolate pieces.” Subaru sighed.
“Choc—?” Felt began. “Isn’t that stuff for cakes and candies nobles eat? Never saw a muffin with it mixed in like that.”
“Back home, we used to put all sorts of things in muffins.” Subaru explained, turning to Felt fully. “Meant to show it to Beatrice, since she loves sweet things.”
“Just how fancy a place did you blow in from?” Felt asked, furrowing her brow as Subaru.
Subaru couldn’t answer right away. By all means, her family wasn’t particularly rich, her father likely had to save up for a bit to buy her those guitars, but they weren’t poor either, and even if they were, modern day Japan was a far cry from this world stuck somewhere between the Medieval and Victorian eras.
“Back home, chocolate was easy to come by.” Subaru said, dodging the question.
Giving the muffin a distrustful look and sniffing it, it was finally a look from Ram that forced Felt to make up her mind, and bite into the muffin. She evidently wasn’t going to let a single look of ‘I told you so’ get past her pride.
A surprised look appeared on Felt’s face, and with a few breaths blowing out her lips to cool off the food in her mouth, she continued chewing with a strange, almost excited look.
“This is what fresh chocolate is like?” Felt asked.
Up until now, the girl avoided desserts. She insisted on keeping to a simple diet each day for each meal. Subaru wasn’t sure if she didn’t trust sweets, had a painful cavity, or was just too proud of her background to eat fancy things she otherwise couldn’t, but Felt had avoided this stuff like the plague up until now.
“Oh, it’s good?” Rom asked, approaching the tray on the table.
“It’s—” Felt began with a full mouth, stopping as she glanced at Subaru, then pushing her nose up a bit and looking away. “It’s strange. Haven’t had anything like it, so—” she said, stopping to swallow. She glanced at Subaru again, then at the muffin in her hands, stopped for a moment, and then looked upset again for a moment before taking another bite. “It’s fine.” she ended, giving the verbal equivalent of a solid three out of five.
The giant reached for the tray, picking one up and putting it in his mouth, all in one bite.
“It’s…” Rom began, chewing on it. “It’s definitely burnt, but the chocolate makes up for it.” he said, reaching for another.
“You guys actually like it?” Subaru asked with a sense of relief.
“‘Like’ is a strong word.” Felt noted, giving her a somewhat cold look before a different mood came over her, looking at Subaru’s sorry expression. “But it’s definitely not something to be thrown out.” she said with a sigh.
“I think I taste a bit of caramel.” Rom noted, his jaw moving around.
“Maybe I used a bit too much sugar?” Subaru suggested.
“Mmm, or you didn’t mix it up enough.” Rom nodded as he put the second muffin in his mouth, noticing Felt giving him a strange look as he did so. “What? I’m old. You think I haven’t picked up anything in my years but how to drink? I used to know all sorts of people.” the giant grumbled.
“Are you going to play baker with Subaru too?” Felt asked condescendingly of the giant one and a half times her height.
“You really like testing my patience.” the giant groaned, rubbing Felt’s head with his large hand.
Subaru would soon go over and try one of the muffins herself as well. It definitely wasn’t great, not even close, but perhaps because of those in her company enjoying them, their taste seemed to improve. Even Ram would take one eventually, even if her only comments were on how such a sweet would get any chef fired.
Even with most of the taste being burned out of her creations, this little event helped Subaru’s afternoon pass sweetly.
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“My sister has returned.” Ram announced casually as she entered the kitchen, as dinner preparations were beginning.
“Really?” Subaru asked, looking up from chopping some vegetables. “Mind if I—”
“Go ahead.” Ram sighed with a wave, to which Subaru quickly put down the knife and hurried to the nearby table where she managed to save two muffins from Rom’s hunger and picked them up.
Making her way out of the kitchen and then to the main hall, as expected, she heard Rem making a bit of noise in the service wardrobe. Reaching there, she found the maid changing her dirtied shoes to clean ones, a long object wrapped in cloth near her.
“Rem!” Subaru called out happily. “I managed to save you two muffins!”
“Huh?” Rem lost her balance for a moment in surprise as Subaru interrupted her while she was pulling the shoe over her heel while standing on her other leg. “Subaru-kun?”
“You said you wanted to try it.” Subaru noted. “It didn’t come out too good, but Felt and Rom seemed to like it, so I thought I’d save you some.”
Lowering her foot, and testing her shoe on the floor, Rem collected her thoughts then smiled, stepping over to Subaru.
“Rem is grateful, Subaru-kun. Truth is, she had completely forgotten.” she said, taking one of the muffins.
“Ah, the kids were lively and distracting I’m sure!” Subaru laughed, before shooting her a slightly more serious look. “They didn’t try to mess around with you, did they? If that boy blew snot at my Rem-rin, I’d—”
Subaru stopped as Rem seemed to blush heavily for some reason.
“Rem? Is everything alright?” she asked, confused.
“Nothing’s wrong.” Rem replied with her head slightly lowered and a cheerful smile adorning her face as she held the muffin and stared at it, before her eye wandered to the bundled up object nearby. “A-actually, Rem was hoping to give something to Subaru.” she said with a little stutter, stepping over to the object, grabbing it with one hand through the cloth and holding it up to Subaru. “This is for Subaru-kun.”
Taken aback by the strange and unexpected announcement, Subaru looked around for a small table, and put the second muffin down, before reaching out and grabbing the unknown, wrapped object with both hands.
“Wait a minute…” Subaru mumbled, feeling the familiar weight, shape and size under the cloth. “You didn’t—”
Reaching under the cloth, she felt the smooth touch of wood. Grabbing onto it, she unwrapped the rest of the cloth to reveal what she had expected as the excitement bubbled up inside her.
“How did you get a new lyulyre?!” Subaru exclaimed, holding up the precious object in her hand in disbelief.
“Rem didn’t, really.” the oni said, blushing even harder than before, looking at Subaru’s excitement as she flipped the instrument around and tested the chords. “It’s only that when Rem went to recover her morningstar, she found the remains of Subaru’s instrument, and— Well— She thought she’d ask Irlam's carpenter to see if they could replace the shattered body.” Rem explained.
“Rem— this is—” Subaru was beyond words. She thought she could kiss playing music goodbye, at least until she got some money and a chance to visit a city, but once again, without a word, Rem gave her her instrument back! “I don’t know what to say.”
“Subaru can praise Rem a little if—” Rem began, looking away, but her words were interrupted when Subaru, unable to contain herself, embraced the girl.
“Thank you so much!” Subaru said over Rem’s head. “I promise not to smash it again, even if I’m playing the Who .”
“What?” Rem asked.
“Oh, right, sorry. Sometimes I still forget that no one knows bands from— home.” Subaru noted, letting go of the girl. “ The Who was a band of four men in my hometown.” Subaru explained. “They had a couple of really great songs, but were also famous for destroying their instruments at the end of performances.”
“Minstrels would destroy instruments in Subaru’s hometown?” Rem asked with big eyes.
“Well, some musicians. Again, you remember what I said about demons and passion and all that? Although the Who wasn’t really metal, hm.” Subaru clarified, trailing off in thought for a moment, before snapping back. “But yeah, I’m not going to do that with this, I promise.”
Rem looked at Subaru with a bit of bewilderment evident in her expression, probably still trying to picture what kind of mad man would destroy an instrument that was good enough to use for a performance, but finally she just smiled and hung her head.
“It truly makes Rem’s heart glad to see Subaru happy with her instrument.” she said as she raised her head. “Although, Rem must admit, it’s a bit strange to hear of ‘bands’ of only four.”
“Actually, they went down to as few as three, then two after their reunion.” Subaru recalled. “They’re probably still going, come to think of it.”
“Is this common in Subaru’s hometown?” Rem asked with curiosity.
“Oh, absolutely!” Subaru nodded. “Bands usually range between two to eight people, sometimes more even, though the most common number is around four. With stuff like Jazz or Swing, that number can go way up though.” she explained with passion. “In the kind of music where guitars are involved, there’s generally one or two people with guitars, someone with a bass , which is like a deeper sounding guitar, someone on drums— Drums are way more important than most people think, then of course keyboards with a lot of them.” she listed. “Though some bands mix it up, bring in other instruments, or replace some with similar instruments, it really is all about what works , you know?” Subaru finished, only after realizing that she went on yet another of her rambles.
The maid before her didn’t seem to mind, she just listened to her patiently and with a smile.
“Subaru was in a band too?” Rem asked.
“Aaaaaah.” Subaru answered awkwardly. “At one point, I really would have liked to, but—” Dark memories of her once friends and the music club flashed through her mind and she stopped the thought there. “Being in a band was sort of a dream of mine, but it didn’t quite work out, so no. I wasn’t.”
“Rem is very sorry to hear that.” the maid said with a frown.
“Hey, don’t be upset on my behalf!” Subaru said with a slightly forced smile. “Who knows if I’d even be here if I was in a band, right? There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now!” she declared.
The oni blushed once more, smiling up at her junior servant. “Rem is truly, truly glad to hear Subaru say that.”