chapter six—the golden butterfly
Kazuya took off the mask and hid behind Victorique, his face burning red with embarrassment. The villagers in the square, still holding casks of wine and brightly colored fabrics, turned nonplussed looks upon Kazuya and the others.
Dancing, making up voices… That was much too embarrassing. While Kazuya cringed to himself, Ambrose ran up to him. “Excuse me, but those unfamiliar words you were using, are those in fact…?”
“Yes, they’re in my native language. I don’t know much about what the dead speak, but I thought that if I spoke in a language that no one here recognized, then maybe it would have the right effect.”
“How many vowels does it have? Is it written from right to left? Oh, you write it vertically! Also…”
As usual, Ambrose began to pester Kazuya with questions. When Kazuya finally wrested himself away from him, he called out to Victorique. “Explain to them about the, um … murder that Miss Harminia committed.”
Victorique nodded. An unreadable expression on her face, she looked down at Harminia, who was being held down. “A dove flew away.”
“I spent some time in the study where that incident occurred twenty years ago, thinking. Harminia came in, and I had a conversation with her. Later on, she left, and I thought some more. And then … a white dove flew past the window.”
“As soon as I saw that, the wellspring of wisdom spoke to me.” Victorique looked up at Kazuya with a queer smile. “You know, this chaos is structured the same way as the theft of the Dresden plate in the flea market. You understand, don’t you? Mildred released the doves from her skirts, and when everyone looked up into the air out of their surprise, she stole the plate. She needed the doves so that she could use a moving object to restrict everyone’s line of sight.”
“True… But what about it?”
“Just substitute gold coins for doves. It’s a very simple thing. Oh, to think it all came about just because of this,” murmured Victorique.
They went into the grey manor and entered the rear study—the stage for a twenty-year-old tragedy.
Victorique calmly began to speak. “At the time of the event, Harminia was a mere child, six years of age. In her own words when she spoke to me of this incident, she said something to this effect. ‘Wouldn’t it be difficult for Cordelia, a girl in her teens, to stab an adult man in the upper back from behind?’ Why would Harminia say such a thing? She was trying to insinuate that committing this crime would be even more impossible for herself, a child at the time, than for Cordelia.”
“But Harminia truly was a small child!” Sergius barked, interrupting her.
“Even for a child it’s still possible, depending on the method.”
“No, it’s impossible,” Sergius insisted forcefully. He started for the door without bothering to wait for her response.
Ambrose silently stopped him. “Master Sergius… All you have to do is listen.”
Sergius glared at him sternly. “Admonishing me? Foolish boy.”
“It’s just as he says, Sergius. All you have to do is listen to me, so just stay put,” Victorique whispered quietly.
Sergius looked back at her, barely containing his rage, but he no longer attempted to leave.
An ominous silence fell upon the study. The polished medieval weapons on the display shelves gleamed dully on the wall. Dust rested in white heaps on the writing desk and the bookshelves.
“There are several curious facets to this case. The first one is the fact that Théodore died in a locked study. Then there were the gold coins scattered on the floor. Furthermore, he was stabbed from behind with a dagger through his upper back. Lastly, the time.” Victorique looked up at Sergius’ stern face. “Sergius, you mentioned about the time. You said that you believed it was exactly twelve o’clock because you looked at your own pocket watch, and because you knew Cordelia to be a punctual girl.”
“And yet… You also said that, for some reason, the people who were with you all gave conflicting testimonies about the time.”
“That’s right. But that—”
“Why did the people in the manor that night all have differing recollections of the time? Think about it.” Victorique looked around at her audience.
As the young men restrained Harminia, her lips curled into a slight smile.
Finally, Victorique pointed at the wall with her dainty finger. “This grandfather clock always chimes, but it didn’t chime that night, did it?”
In the room was a large grandfather clock. The numbers on the old and intricately ornamented dial had faded away, but the pendulum still moved in a precise rhythm.
Tick, tick, tick…
Sergius shouted, “You’re right!”
“That night, the clock didn’t chime. That means only Sergius, who checked his pocket watch, could be certain that the time was twelve o’clock, whereas the others thought differently. …So why didn’t the clock chime?”
The gazes of the people surrounding Victorique were riveted to her small face.
“…Because Harminia was hiding inside of it.”
“What?” Sergius snorted in laughter.
Victorique ignored him, and went on with her explanation. “Harminia sneaked into the study before Théodore entered, when it was still unlocked. And then she climbed into the grandfather clock and hid herself in the pendulum case. For a child’s small body, it can be done. Then, holding her breath, she waited for Théodore to enter the room. I suppose that the clock never chimed for that entire time. Eventually, Théodore came inside. It was at that point that the gold coins scattered on the floor made their debut.”
“What do you mean…?” Sergius’ earlier expression was gradually disappearing from his face, and his cheeks were turning pale.
“How on earth could a little girl hidden inside a grandfather clock kill Théodore?” Victorique continued. “Do you think a child could stab an adult man to death under her own power? It can’t be done. However, another way exists. It is possible if one depends not on the strength of one’s arm, but on one’s body weight, and the force of gravity. Young Harminia didn’t stab him from a standing position. She jumped down from her hiding place above the grandfather clock, murder weapon in hand.”
A chilling silence came over the room. All of those present swallowed hard, but dared not speak. They gingerly looked up at the grandfather clock, and then gazed at Harminia, who was quiet and expressionless. A faint smile shone abruptly on her face.
“The gold coins weren’t on the floor at the beginning. Harminia had them. And she sent them raining down. Sparkling coins, streaming down, weaving bright golden threads from the clock to the floor, like a golden meteor shower. When Théodore saw them falling from up above, his eyes were immediately drawn to them. Even if he hadn’t noticed them at first, he would have noticed sooner or later once he heard the sound of them hitting the carpet. Startled by the rain of gold, he would walk over, stopping directly underneath the clock—the location easiest for Harminia to jump down from. ‘Use a moving object to restrict the line of sight.’ Théodore’s movements were restricted according to what he could see. And then Harminia would look down on him standing on the floor in front of her, and jump from the clock. The force of her body weight was enough to plunge the dagger down to the hilt. Théodore crumpled to the ground atop the gold coins, expiring without a single cry. Now I have explained two mysteries—the scattered coins, and the dagger lodged in his upper back. After Harminia had killed him, she locked the door and again hid in the clock, patiently waiting for someone to discover his body. That is why the study appeared to be empty.”
Victorique’s voice began to tremble slightly. “And the one who came in was Cordelia, the maid. She saw the body, screamed, and ran back out. Harminia then escaped through the door. That led to Cordelia being assumed as the only possible killer. Simply because of an inference that was far too hasty. …Now, Sergius.”
Sergius’ shoulders twitched. Fatigue had caused his face to look much older over the space of a single day. But his gaze overflowed with the dangerous light of a stubborn old man, unyielding and admitting to nothing.
“Sergius, it’s your responsibility. How will you make it up to Cordelia, who was driven out of the village despite being innocent?”
There was a long silence.
At last Sergius’ shoulders trembled, and he spoke in a choked voice. “…I will use all the power vested in me as the leader of this people, and punish this woman.” He glared at Harminia with a mixture of rage and contempt, and pointed his finger at her.
Harminia cried out, “No! I absolutely refuse to be exiled. I don’t want to leave the village!”
Ambrose restrained Harminia as she tried to wrench herself away. “Even Miss Cordelia climbed down the mountain safely and lived on the outside. And Brian Roscoe lives in the outside world, too. If you search him out and ask for his help—”
“I hate Cordelia and Brian. I want to stay here!”
“But the outside world is such a wonderful place…” Ambrose murmured reflexively, then clamped his mouth shut.
As Harminia struggled, Victorique approached her. “Tell me … what was your motive? What could possibly be the reason that a six year old child stabbed to death a headman revered by the entire village?”
“Take a guess,” Harminia said in a low voice.
At this brief answer, Harminia’s eyes bulged out, and she shouted, “How did you know that!?”
“The only time I can think of a child and a headman crossing paths would be during the fortune telling at the midsummer festival. Some children may resent him for giving them inauspicious fortunes.”
Kazuya remembered the gloomy expression Victorique wore when she said that she wouldn’t grow any taller. There were also the mysterious words that Harminia had blurted out when they ran into each other at the exit to the church…
The outcome always comes to pass.
And yet there was one time it didn’t…
When was the one time it didn’t?
Victorique murmured, “One doesn’t have to put stock in a mere fortune telling. But Harminia, you possessed a strong faith in the laws of this village and the words of the headman. You had no choice but to believe in your fortune.”
“Yes… I had to believe it… But I couldn’t accept it!” Harminia muttered. “I asked something that I shouldn’t have. Out of childish curiosity, I asked for a terrible thing.”
“When I would die.”
Harminia stared back at the assembled villagers, tears in her eyes. “I was told that I would die twenty years from then, when I was twenty-six. Twenty-six…? I wanted to live longer. Much, much longer. So I had to kill the one who had told me this fortune, Master Théodore, in order to undo it!”
His voice trembling, Sergius shouted, “That’s why?! That’s why you killed such a great elder?! An insignificant child like you?!”
“You would never understand unless it happened to you! That despair, that anger, that sorrow!”
They glared at each other. Harminia’s eyes bulged outward, looking as if they would burst and spill down to the floor. As for Sergius, his eyes were bloodshot, and his fists quivered with rage.
The look on Sergius’ face now began to resemble that of a religious fanatic, his eyes rolling toward each other bizarrely, making it hard to tell where they were looking. He pointed at Harminia with his shaking finger, then shouted in a booming voice, “Ambrose, cut off her head!”
“…Huh?” Ambrose’s mouth dropped open.
Sergius continued loudly, “Cutting off the heads of criminals was once our custom. Eventually there were fewer villagers who committed grave crimes, and the practice was abandoned…. But when I was your age, I had the duty of beheading criminals.”
Inspector de Blois, who been listening near the back of the crowd, hastily stepped forward. “Um, Mr. Sergius, allow me to state this again, but I am arresting Derek and taking him to the police station. And the statute of limitations has already run out on this girl’s crime. If you have this young lad behead her, then he’ll be the next one charged with murder by the Sauvure police. And if the villagers turn a blind eye, they’ll be charged with aiding and abetting—”
“This isn’t Sauvure!”
“…No, you can’t just make up a funny name and call it your own country.”
“Get out!” Sergius gave an order to the young men, and they obeyed, lifting up Inspector de Blois and carrying him down the hallway. His shouts faded away, and in the distance, they could hear him yelling faintly, “Kujou, do something!”
In a voice that nearly shook the walls, Sergius thundered, “It was enough to punish Cordelia with exile because her crime was never proven. Harminia, you will lose your head, and it will be buried separately from your body. You will never return on midsummer festival nights. Sinners shall never reappear in front of the descendants. Ambrose!”
“M-Master Sergius…” Ambrose was trembling violently. His face, beautiful enough to be a lady’s had he been born female, was pale and waxen.
Sergius removed a large axe from the display shelves and threw it at him. Ambrose caught it automatically, then screamed and flung it away. The axe hit the floor, stirring up white particles of dust.
Sergius’ swollen red eyes glowered at his young assistant. “Do it. If you are going to inherit this village, then you shall not suffer a sinner!”
“But … she was only a child. It’s already been twenty years. And, and…”
“I, I… When I was a child, Harminia often played with me. She may have been a little eccentric, but she was gentle, like an older sister to me. Even if she killed Master Théodore, she’s still a kind person as far as I’m concerned. I won’t do it. Master Sergius!”
“That is the law of this land. Harminia will die at the age of twenty-six, just as Master Théodore foretold.”
Confronted by Sergius’ glare, the will to resist drained out of Ambrose. He slowly picked up the axe with his thin, shaking arms. His teeth chattered audibly from fright. Tears dripped down his pale cheeks like flower petals from his large, clear eyes. His slender shoulders shook violently.
He turned to Kazuya for support. Kazuya was also shaking.
“Good sir… Out there, in the outside world, what would happen in this kind of situation?”
Kazuya replied tremulously, “The police would arrest her. And then … they do an investigation… Victorique?”
Victorique parted her lips. “They hold a trial.”
“A … trial?”
“Yes. Harminia and the police would each have someone represent them, and they talk to each other. And then they decide whether or not a crime was committed. Depending on the severity, one could be sentenced to death, or sent to prison, or even be released. For a crime committed by a child, the death penalty would be unlikely.”
The axe fell from Ambrose’s hand. His face looked very forlorn, but also powerfully determined. Lips taut, he lifted his head sorrowfully. He stared at Sergius, who smoldered in rage, and addressed him haltingly. “I’ve always respected you, Master Sergius. And I also loved this village. I was born here, and you acknowledged me, a child who had nothing. But … there’s more to the world than that…. And so, well… Harminia, run!”
Ambrose suddenly shoved away the young men who were restraining Harminia. In the midst of their shouts of surprise and protest, Harminia lurched into motion like an inhuman creature, jumping through the air and grabbing hold of a long spear that was displayed on the wall.
She turned around. With her eyeballs popping out, she parted her bloodless lips and murmured something.
Then she dodged her captors and fled like a panicked rabbit.