Gosick II – 5.6

[6]

The villagers gathered in the old stone church.

The small but strong young men of the village pinned down Derek, who had been captured. The others kept a short distance away from him, staring down at him with their unnervingly cloudy eyes.

The church was enveloped in cool, damp air, and from the rose windows, the moon hanging in the darkening sky rained down its pale light upon the stone floor.

Large torches were still burning in the emptied plaza, their crackling flames echoing in the distance.

Someone was approaching. The heavy wooden door creaked open, and Sergius entered the church, flanked by Ambrose. Sergius’ footsteps rapped loudly against the stone tiles.

Then Inspector de Blois suddenly appeared, and strode toward Derek as if he himself had been the one to apprehend him. “Let’s have a nice, long chat in the town downhill. I’m putting you under arrest. Now stand up.”

“…Wait, inspector.” Sergius said in his thin, hoarse, and yet unyielding voice.

The inspector turned around.

Sergius’ profile was lit by the brilliant orange glow of the small torch that Ambrose carried in his hand. The flame’s reflection flickered in his eyes. “I would like an explanation.”

The inspector promptly stepped back, and tried to signal something to Kazuya. Kazuya threw an exasperated glance at him, then turned to Victorique.

Victorique was crouched down among the flower petals overflowing from the pews, cradling the old bronze vase that Derek had stolen, carefully inspecting it. She looked so much like a kitten amusing itself with a new toy that Kazuya and even Ambrose both hesitated slightly, reluctant to interrupt her. But Ambrose steeled himself and said, “Excuse me, Miss Victorique. You did promise to solve this case for us.”

Victorique lifted her head, rustling her long blond hair, and looked over at Kazuya. “Kujou, explain the parts that you already know.”

But a troubled look appeared on Kazuya’s face, and he said nothing. Victorique looked up at him in surprise. “Kujou, you…”

“…Yes, yes. I’m nothing but a gifted half-wit. You articulate it, Victorique.”

“Hmph…” Victorique finally let go of the vase and stood up. She stepped into the center of the circle of villagers and looked them over. They recoiled slightly, each one shrinking back half a step. Only three of them fearlessly stared back at her: Sergius, the headman; Ambrose, standing next to him, torch in hand; and the maid Harminia.

“Alain changed places with the papier-mâché Winter Man, and burned to death. And then Raoul was mistaken for a wild wolf in the forest, and was shot. Both of these incidents were orchestrated by Derek.”

“But how…?” Ambrose murmured. “Just before the first incident, everyone saw Alain pass through the town square and run away after he was hit with hazelnuts. Right after that, the Summer Army and Winter Army had their battle, and when the Summer Army won, I personally set fire to the papier-mâché. There wouldn’t be much time at all for him to make the switch.”

“Alain changed places with the figure much earlier than that. It was in the morning, when the square was deserted. Ambrose, you gave us an outline of the festival at dawn. After that, the square was temporarily emptied of people. That’s when Derek knocked Alain unconscious, wrapped him up in a blanket, and switched him with the papier-mâché.”

“But…”

“The person we witnessed prior to the incident wasn’t Alain. We only saw him from a distance. Alain and Derek are of similar builds, and they also wore roughly the same clothing. Derek disguised himself in Alain’s characteristic beard, glasses, and hat to fool us into thinking that he had passed by.”

Derek lifted his head. “You have no proof.”

“Raoul is tall. It would be impossible for him to disguise himself as Alain. But you, Derek, have about the same build.”

“But…”

“And then…” Victorique uncupped her clenched hand to show Derek what she was holding.

…a hazelnut.

For a moment, Derek stared up at Victorique, not understanding her implication. Then at last rage, followed by something akin to despair, turned his pale face a deep red. “God … damn it!”

“This just fell from your body a few minutes ago. If you hadn’t disguised yourself as Alain, then where and how would you have gotten this hazelnut stuck to your clothing?”

Derek had no answer.

Mildred, standing behind the villagers, leapt forward, her vibrant red curls swinging. She jumped onto Derek, and against his struggles, yanked down the cuff of his trousers.

Another hazelnut came tumbling out.

A foreboding silence enshrouded the dank and gloomy church. The bright light of the torches burning in the square streamed in through the stained glass windows, dyeing Victorique and the villagers’ faces an eerie orange.

The first one to break the silence was the tiny Victorique. “And in the forest where Raoul was shot and killed, there was also a hazelnut on the ground. Because you, Derek, were there.”

Sergius looked up. He shook his head uncomprehendingly.

“In other words, Derek lured Raoul into the forest in advance, and shot him to death. Meanwhile, at the festival, villagers were constantly cracking whips, pounding drums, and firing their guns into the air, and likely no one would have noticed the sound of a gunshot in the distance. And then he probably waited for the right time to throw a rock into the woods and make some noise … perhaps when Sergius passed by the window and looked outside. Sergius was sure to assume that it was a wolf, and fire his gun into the forest. Then Derek would come running out and start yelling that Raoul was in the forest and that he had heard a scream.”

“If that’s so…” Sergius murmured. “Then the one who killed that visitor…”

“It wasn’t you, Sergius.”

“To think…” Sergius’ face contorted, hidden behind his golden beard. He silently looked up at the sky for a moment, then murmured in a soft voice that could barely be heard, “To think that I’d be saved by Cordelia’s daughter…”

Victorique didn’t respond. She simply looked up at Sergius’ face, clenching her jaw, as if holding back something that threatened to burst forth at any minute.

*****

Ambrose timidly spoke. “But … what could possibly have been the motive? According to what you’ve just said, those three visitors were thieves, but what occurred wasn’t just theft, but murder….”

“A rift must have opened up between them.”

Derek’s head had been bowed, but at Victorique’s words, he looked up. A peculiar smile distended his features. “That’s right….”

“Over dividing the spoils?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Not over a reason like that!” Derek snorted.

“Then what?”

“I know an object’s true value. So I steal things to keep them safe. I don’t lack for money. But in the end, money was all Alain and Raoul wanted. They used my wealth to commit their thefts, but they still betrayed me, and planned to steal the vase so they could get down the mountain before I could and escape in my car. I heard them discussing it. They did it in private in the middle of the night so I wouldn’t find out…. But even if I did get the vase, I never planned to sell it. I wanted to keep it safe in my home. But them, they wanted to sell it to a collector for a high price…. And I was in their way…” Derek glared into each of the villagers’ somber faces.

The burning torch crackled in Ambrose’s hand. The orange flame reflected onto Derek’s wrathful face, staining it a ghoulish red.

“It’s all your fault. All of you backward fools. You have no idea how much treasure is in your village. Hey, you maid over there. How can you eat off such exquisite medieval silverware? You priests share the blame, too. Leaving a vase lying around like that in your church; it’s unbelievable. Whether it’s a vase or silverware or anything, leaving something in the hands of a person who knows what it’s really worth, someone who’ll take care of it the way it deserves, that’s true happiness. That’s my happiness!”

“Perhaps being useful is an object’s happiness,” Ambrose said curtly.

“What would you know?!” Derek snapped, and then lowered his head and choked back a sob.

*****

The villagers’ heavy silence filled the inside of the church. The rising humidity nipped coolly against their cheeks. The moonlight was becoming brighter, beginning to flood the stone tile floor in shapes that matched the pattern of the rose windows.

Finally, Sergius called out to the village youths, “Take him away! I’ll be the one to deal with him.” When Inspector de Blois tried to protest, he interrupted him in a loud voice. “We have our own laws here. As long as you are in this village, you shall abide by them.”

“But this village belongs to the kingdom of Sauvure. You can’t just ignore Sauvure’s laws and those who enforce them.”

“…This is Sauvure, you say?” Sergius turned his back to him and laughed loudly. His husky voice broke through the sparkling stained glass of the church’s high ceiling, reaching all the way to the starry sky above. Then he glowered at Inspector de Blois with his cloudy green eyes.

The inspector cringed fearfully away from him; he sensed something beyond what he could see with his eyes. What stood before him was not simply Sergius’ small form, but some other intangible something. This was the inhuman presence that was feared by the townspeople at the base of the mountain.

Sergius parted his sneering lips and slowly murmured, “This is no village.”

“…What?”

“You call this Sauvure? You know nothing at all. Good sir, this place is…”

The villagers and everyone else exited the church, leaving Sergius and Inspector de Blois by themselves. The inspector’s face looked even paler than usual under the pallid moonlight flowing in from the ceiling. The flower petals strewn on the stone tile floor had withered and lost their lively color, as if their life force had been sucked dry by that inhuman presence—by the Grey Wolf….

Sergius was still laughing.

A doubtful look crossed Inspector de Blois’ face. He stared steadily at Sergius, wondering if the man had gone mad.

But Sergius was clearly enjoying himself. He started to whisper softly to the inspector, then burst into laughter once again.

“This is Seyrune. The Kingdom of Seyrune. I’m not the headman—I’m the king. We were never the same people from the start. Even the likes of you should understand that, right?”

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