Once Casimir knew Odette was being well taken care of by most of the staff, he went searching for someone. He found Maude dancing in the dining room as she dusted the ceramic fruit bowl. He was reluctant to approach her, as she seemed to be on some sort of roll. Maude sang a lullaby as she continued, tapping her toes along with the beat.
“Good heavens, child!” She finally squealed once Casimir cleared his throat. She stuck a hand on her hip and shook the feather duster in his face. Casimir scrunched his nose in an attempt to quell an oncoming sneeze. “Why can’t you just say hello like a normal person?”
Casimir chuckled as he lowered himself onto one of the dining chairs. “Sorry, Maude. I just needed to talk to you.”
“Oooh,” Maude said, rubbing her hands together. “Love problems?”
“What?” Casimir spluttered. “No, no. I have a proposition.”
Maude sat across from Casimir and leaned forward on the table. “I’m listening.”
“Well, with Jean-Luc locked away, this place is going to fall apart.”
Maude chuckled. “Oh please, honey. All he did was walk around and spray things with that strange bottle of his.”
Casimir shook his head and suppressed another laugh. “Point being, we lack a butler. I think you would be wonderful in that position.”
Maude went uncharacteristically silent for a moment. She lifted a shaky finger to her chest. “Me? A butler?”
Casimir smiled. “You said it yourself. Jean-Luc was useless around here. You’ve practically raised me since I was young, and I never gave anything back to you. Consider this a promotion of sorts.”
Casimir’s heart stopped. “Do you not want the job? I’m sorry, I just-”
He was cut off by Maude’s chest smothering him. She had wrapped him in a big bear hug and rubbed his back. “Of course I want the job, dear. Though I’ll admit I won’t be able to master looking like I have a stick up my-”
“Okay!” Casimir blurted, hugging Maude back. “I get the idea.”
Maude finally let him go, and he noticed the tears in her eyes. “You have such goodness in you, Casimir. You’re like a son to me, you know that?”
Casimir smiled softly. “And you’re like a mother.”
A playful smile stretched across Maude’s face. “And you’ve given me too much trouble up until now! Get out of my sight so I can finish up in here.”
“Out!” Maude ordered, smacking Casimir’s behind with her feather duster for dramatic effect. Casimir practically ran out of the room, laughing as he went. Something seemed to have lightened the entire place, and he soon found himself joking around with Cherie in the kitchen. Even Ming cracked a smile as she handed Casimir two cups of coffee.
Casimir found Odette in the courtyard, examining the strange roses.
“Hey there,” he called. “I come bearing gifts.”
Odette smiled and stood up, dusting some dirt from her pyjama pants. She had decided to stay in her pyjamas all day – she had deserved it, after all. Casimir seemed to have the same idea, for he was in checkered pants and a tank top that showed off strong muscles.
“Can’t say no to that,” Odette said as they sat down to drink their coffee. “And I believe you also owe me a story or two.”
Casimir chuckled darkly. “Where do you want me to start?”
Odette paused for a moment to think. There was so much she wanted to know.
“Start from the beginning,” Odette said. “How Emiliano-slash-Elric is your older brother, and why he’s not running this castle.”
“Because he’s a bastard.”
“Well, yeah.” Odette laughed. “But we both knew that.”
“No, no. I mean he was a bastard child. Born out of wedlock.”
“Your parents weren’t married when they had him?”
Casimir shook his head. “No, they were married.”
Understanding dawned on Odette. “Oh,” she said softly.
Casimir smiled softly as he watched Odette work out the details. Eventually she sipped her coffee and asked another question. “Are you related maternally or paternally?”
“Maternal,” Casimir answered. “We have the same mom, but not the same dad. It’s why he didn’t inherit the estate when my parents died. When my father found out, he was livid.”
“Did you ever find out who his father was?”
Casimir raised his eyebrows and sighed. “Want to take a guess?”
“Oh my stars,” Odette whispered after a beat.
“Uh-huh,” Casimir acknowledged. “I didn’t figure it out until my parents died. It makes sense, really. The butler and the Queen.”
“That’s why he wanted me gone.”
Casimir nodded solemnly. “I think he thought if you went, I’d go too. Jean-Luc has hated me for years.”
Casimir inhaled deeply. “Because I killed him.”
Odette reared back. “But he’s alive!”
“Believe me, I was just as shocked as you. We got into a huge fight once over a girl.”
“Well, Maddie, but also another one. She had been attacked in the woods when we were younger by some sort of creature. Looking back, it might have been a teenage Maddie doing some strange experiment. There’s a fairly big age gap between us.”
“I still don’t understand why that would prompt you to try and murder your own blood.”
When Casimir spoke next, his words were quiet. “Seeing that woman go slowly mad was awful. I blamed Elric for letting his crazy girlfriend on the loose.”
“I thought you loved Maddie.”
Casimir shook his head. “I never did. It was only the excuse I used when I locked her up after killing Elric. I had no proof that she had anything to do with that woman, but I knew I didn’t want her hurting anyone else.”
“So you killed Elric because he allowed his girlfriend to hurt someone?”
“He was an enabler,” Casimir answered. “He set Maddie up with a huge room in the castle basement, let her experiment on anything she could get her hands on. My entire family knew about it, but everyone let it slide. The woman going mad was the last straw. Once my family died, I knew I could go after Elric.”
“How did your family die?”
“The plague,” Casimir said quietly. Odette placed a hand on his skeletal one, and he looked up in shock.
“I know what it’s like to lose a parent,” Odette said quietly. “No matter the circumstance.”
“My parents were always awful,” Casimir shrugged. “It was my sister’s death that hurt me the most.”
“What was her name?”
Casimir polished off the rest of his coffee and stood up, extending a hand to Odette. “It might be easier if I show you.”
Without letting go of her hand, Casimir led her across the bridge and to the small nursery. As he held the door open for her, Odette looked at him skeptically. “You’re not going to knock me out, are you?”
Casimir laughed incredulously. “Don’t even joke about that!”
Odette smiled at his distress as she entered the nursery for the second time. It was unchanged – urns, living flowers, Casimir’s tiny baby shoes on the wall.
But most importantly, the bloody teddy bear.
“What is that?” Odette asked, peering into the bassinet.
“My old teddy bear. This was the room…” Casimir trailed off, clearing his throat.
“The place where you tried to kill Elric?”
Casimir nodded. “I found him here, glaring at the urns. Saying horrible things about both my mother and father. And about Rose.”
Casimir nodded once more. “My younger sister. The plague swept through the land. My parents didn’t make it, and neither did Rose.”
“I’m so sorry,” Odette murmured, examining the bust of Rose’s torso and head. “How old was she?”
“She was fifteen, about to turn sixteen. She was the one to make me laugh at the dinner table and always the one to force me outside into the gardens to smell the roses. It was only luck that Elric and I survived, but when I saw him gloating over their graves, I lost it. I….I don’t even remember much of what happened. I lunged at him, and just started punching until all I could see was blood. Jean-Luc finally pulled me away, and Maude tended to the broken skin on my knuckles.” Casimir paused to rub his hands as if remembering the pain. “When I left, he was so pale…We all thought he had died. Jean-Luc supposedly disposed of the body.”
“But he didn’t know about Elric when I was brought back here,” Odette pointed out.
“I know. It baffles me, unless he’s just lying. Perhaps he just stuck Elric’s body by the beach and left, never knowing he was alive and well.”
“Maybe Jackie found him,” Odette murmured to herself.
Odette smiled at their role reversal. “A woman in town. She has crystals from all over the world. Maybe she was travelling when she took pity on Elric. Where is he right now?”
“In the dungeon, with Maddie and Jean-Luc. They’re all separated, though. I have no clue what to do with them.” Casimir said, finally standing up.
“Maybe they can change.”
Casimir scoffed. “People like that don’t change, Odette. Trust me.”
“You changed,” Odette pointed out.
He scoffed again. “I don’t believe that.”
“Well I do,” Odette said firmly. Casimir looked up and was surprised at the ferocity in her gaze. “When I first came here all those months ago, you were cold and cruel. You let all your experiences dictate how you lived your life. Now, you’re…freer. Lighter, I guess. You’re not living in spite of your past, but because of it. Not to mention you’re a lot nicer.” Casimir and Odette laughed together. “I trust you. It’s not something I ever thought I’d say, but I do.”
Casimir was at a loss for words. He could only stare at the wonderful woman in front of him, lecturing him on not only his good points, but his flaws.
“And if you don’t believe me, look at your hands.”
Casimir’s brows furrowed in confusion. At Odette’s further insistence, he lifted them up to examine the knuckles that once almost beat a man to death. The skeletal bones still snaked up his fingers, but they were lighter than before.
Almost as if they were fading.
Odette and Casimir both felt something shift within them. Before either could address it, Casimir grabbed her hand again and pulled her out of the room.
“What are you doing?” Odette laughed.
They skidded to a stop in Odette’s loft. Casimir let go of her hand and grabbed fistfuls of the curtains before tearing them down. They crashed to the floor, revealing a bank of windows looking out on the vast sea.
“They’re not stuck,” Casimir said dumbly. “They’re not stuck!”
Odette watched in surprise as Casimir sprinted from the room and stuck his body over the stair railing. “Maude! Skyler! Jacqueline! Everybody! Take down all the curtains, all the art!”
Odette smiled at his boyish excitement and turned back to the window, enjoying the view for the first time ever.
In the parlor, Casimir wrapped Maude in a hug and lifted her off her feet.
“Maude!” He said excitedly. “The windows!”
“Good heavens,” she chuckled. “I know. But what changed?”
Casimir closed his eyes and basked in the early afternoon sun streaming in from the window. “My mindset.”
“All thanks to Odette, huh?”
Casimir turned to Maude and smiled without inhibition. “We have to thank her somehow.”
Maude nodded. “Then let’s get to work.”