GosickS I – Prelude 2

[2]

At St. Marguerite’s School, on a morning in the dead of winter…

It was the morning after that night in the desolate garden at Castle de Blois, a stone fortress that had stood surrounded by the dark forest for centuries, when an eerie-looking box had been hitched to a carriage and then vanished into the woods.

The carriage headed toward St. Marguerite’s School, a distinguished institution that boasted a long history of educating the children of the aristocracy. It was located on a sprawling campus, preserved since medieval times, near a village on the gently sloping foothills of the Alps. In that school, a young teacher was sitting nervously, waiting to welcome an unusual guest.

On the first floor of the school building, built in the shape of the letter U, was a parlor lavishly furnished for the purpose of greeting noble visitors. A middle-aged man entered the room and sat upon an elegantly crafted chair, engraved with a motif of intertwining leaves, in the corner furthest away from the windows. A young woman sat down on a plain school-issued chair in front of him. The two of them faced each other silently.

The woman bore such a youthful-looking face that she could have been mistaken for one of her students. She had wide drooping brown eyes behind large round glasses, and wavy brunette hair that curled down to her shoulders.

This teacher’s name was Cécile, and she had been a student at this school only a few years before. She was still young and inexperienced, but also quite popular with her students.

Her large eyes were opened wide in fear as she gazed at the man before her. He was a frightening, and yet beautiful man, the likes of whom she had never encountered before. Sitting there in a dim corner of the room, he seemed to be shrouded in a heavy darkness despite the broad daylight outside.

The man who sat on the delicately ornamented chair wore his glossy blond hair tied into a cascade that flowed down his back like a horse’s tail, tight jodhpurs, and a blouse. With a thin riding crop gripped in his hand, the Marquis de Blois appeared every inch a nobleman, living up to the rumors that surrounded him. He was a mysterious and fearsome man, powerful even by the standards of the aristocracy, influential in the government, and someone who had played an important role in the Great War.

The Marquis wore a monocle of high magnification on his right eye, disfiguring his uncommonly handsome face. The view of his green eye through the monocle, ornamented with silver, appeared strangely distorted. The lens was far too thick, making his menacing right eye appear oddly magnified next to the left one. The pupil seemed to pop out, like a ghost jumping at Cécile. As she gazed at him timorously, she could do nothing but merely sit in her chair, not daring to say a word.

“…Mademoiselle.”

The intimidating nobleman at last spoke. His eye, magnified under the monocle, narrowed slightly.

“Y-yes, sir,” answered Cécile in a strained voice.

“Have you ever owned any animals?”

“…Animals?” Cécile repeated, bewildered. Memories of her childhood flashed through her mind. “Let’s see, I had a dog, a bird, and then a snake that I had to get rid of. It made my mama faint and she told my papa to throw it out. Also, a cat. And then, uh…”

As she counted on her fingers, she was impatiently interrupted by the marquis. “That’s enough.”

“Huh?”

“I want you to look after a wolf.”

Cécile stared at him, dumbfounded. “A … wolf?”

The marquis chuckled. “That’s right.” Behind his monocle, his green eye suddenly opened wide. “A tiny, little wolf.” He handed a stack of papers to Cécile. “I’m talking about this girl.”

“Oh…?” Cécile answered, still confused.

And then she took a look at the papers in her hands.

She was holding a dossier of the daughter of the Marquis de Blois, a twelve year old girl. An application for enrollment of a new student had arrived last night, and Cécile had naturally reviewed it that same night—the application of the youngest child of the House de Blois, Victorique de Blois. She had apparently never attended school in her life. But this in itself was not unusual among the children of the aristocracy. It was common for such families to retain a private tutor.

The problem was…

She had only been brought to the school last night, or rather at daybreak, and no one had yet caught a glimpse of her. Moreover, there was not even a single photograph attached to this file. Cécile wondered if there was something possibly wrong with this girl. Even so, there was one thing she wanted to set straight.

“Your jokes have gone too far, my lord.”

The marquis’ eye behind the lens narrowed to a thin line, perhaps out of surprise at Cécile’s solemn reproach.

“…What did you say?”

“How can you refer to your daughter as if she’s an animal? As an educator, I don’t feel this is proper.”

“Is that so?” The marquis sneered at her righteous indignation, then stood up. “I don’t give a damn what your feelings are,” he said cuttingly, towering over her with a malevolent, disquieting energy. Cécile instinctively rose from her chair and took a step back.

He grinned, and brought his face close to hers as she trembled in fright. “You may be a working woman now, but from what I’ve heard, you used to be the daughter of a nobleman. And so I will leave you, my lady, with a word of advice. My daughter is a beast. A legendary beast. Don’t try your luck, if you value your life.”

“A-are you threatening me?”

“Make no mistake. It’s not my anger that will shorten your life. My daughter is a beast. I suggest you avoid any foolish missteps, unless you want your throat torn out by a wolf. You should give it no more than the barest of necessities, and keep a safe distance at all other times.”

“A safe distance…?”

“Don’t go near that thing. Don’t let anyone go near that thing. It’s dangerous. Now, hear that? Somewhere out there…”

The marquis narrowed his eye behind the lens in an expression of apprehension. But his pale, thin lips were holding back laughter, as if he found something unbearably funny.

“The animals are howling!”

Although it had been a pleasant winter’s morning, the sky was steadily growing darker. Somewhere a dog was barking in a thin, fretful voice. A flock of birds flew away all at once, seemingly startled by something. Their wings rustled unnervingly as they faded into the distance.

“They sensed it arriving!”

“S-sensed what?”

“That thing. That beast. Yes, and like those animals, the world will soon awaken to that thing’s existence. Oh, yes, and when they do, they will wish they could fly at once from the face of Europe, just like those fearful birds just did. As will that worthless new breed of human in the New World, too!”

“M-my lord?”

The parlor fell back into silence. The marquis returned to his senses, and covered his face.

And then he turned to Cécile, who looked up at him in terror from behind her round glasses, and moved that pale, beautiful face of his close to hers.

“There are only three things that you must absolutely provide. A lady-in-waiting delivered these things while it was still in the tower, but from now on, this daily task shall fall upon you, my lady.”

“Wh-what are those things?”

“The first one is…”

The marquis narrowed his eyes.

The sound of birds flying away echoed again from the outside. On that peculiar morning, it felt as if all the animals of the school were attempting to flee, as if the natural world had been thrown into an uproar….

The Marquis de Blois murmured in a low voice. “The first one … is books!”

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