As the curtain of night fell, the villagers put out the rising flames. The carriage from the town of Horowitz at the foot of the mountain arrived some time later to retrieve the travelers. In the darkness, the old coachman seemed not to notice the disaster that had befallen the nameless village. He simply eyed the line of people—Kazuya, Victorique, Inspector de Blois, Derek, Mildred, and Ambrose—and muttered in puzzlement, “I brought six here, and I’m taking back six again … but is it the same six?”
When it came time for Ambrose to climb into the carriage, he hesitated, and looked back at the basin where the village was. The basin merely sat there in the twilight, unmoving like a stubborn old man, giving no hint of the human lives it contained.
As if trying to explain himself to no one in particular, Ambrose murmured, “When I saw that bridge burning down, I just … ran through the fire. I’ve always wanted to cross that bridge. Ever since I found out about the outside world from Brian Roscoe… Ever since I found out the nameless village wasn’t all there was to the world… I realized that I, more than anyone, couldn’t live out the rest of my days there.”
With this, Ambrose drew himself up and climbed into the carriage. He extended his hand to the hemp cord that bound his hair, quickly untied it, and threw it out of the window. His silken golden hair fluttered free, spilling down around his feminine, refined features.
Victorique said quietly, “The outside world is … a good place.”
Kazuya gave a slight gasp, and gently squeezed Victorique’s small hand. Inspector de Blois pretended he didn’t see them, but then his eyes briefly strayed toward his half-sister.
“You may never be let out again. Not after causing all this uproar.”
“Even so, I am satisfied.”
Kazuya was startled by her answer. This was the first time that he had seen this pair of siblings, who held each other at such a strange distance, actually speak directly to one another—barbed and sinister though the words may have been.
“I have cleared Cordelia’s name. Daughters must always protect their mothers’ honor.”
“…Hmph!” Inspector de Blois snorted. “Even if Cordelia Gallo was driven out of her home village on a false charge, it doesn’t change the fact that that woman caused a lot of trouble during the Great War. And it doesn’t change the fact that the daughter who inherited her blood can never be allowed to live freely.”
“Is that father’s version of events?”
“What?!” The inspector turned a menacing glare upon his tiny half-sister. Victorique quietly returned his gaze, showing no signs of fear.
The inside of the carriage fell silent.
And then, with hooves pounding against the steep slopes, they began to descend the mountain, the carriage shaking just as violently as it had on the way up.
“What will happen to the village now?” Kazuya quietly wondered aloud.
Ambrose, sitting in the seat across from him, answered him. “I can’t say. I’m sure it will take some time for them to rebuild the drawbridge. But I suppose … they’ll continue living the same way that they always have.” His face was pale and haggard.
“What about you, Ambrose?”
“Me, well … I’ve always longed for the outside world. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I think I’d like to live out there.”
Derek had kept his silence, but now he spoke, his high voice wretched. “What’s so good about the outside world? You people don’t know the value of those antiques. And so many of them burned in the end….”
Mildred sighed, remembering. “Yeah. That means money must have burned in that fire, too. Makes me sad just to think of it…”
Inspector de Blois poked Derek’s head, sighed in disgust, and addressed him lecturingly. “Derek, you were just about to undergo judgment by that village of antiques. And you can readily assume that their punishment would be a lot more brutal than what you’d get under the laws of Sauvure. Did you see that axe? Getting your head chopped off by that dull, rusty, medieval axe isn’t a very appetizing thought, is it? The first blow probably wouldn’t be enough to cut your head off; they’d have to chop down on you over and over again, and it would be a long and painful time before you could finally die….” He trailed off, shuddering at his own words.
The inside of the carriage was quiet for the next few minutes.
They could hear the rhythmic thumping of the horses’ hooves as they descended the mountain road. The carriage heaved back and forth with a jarring rattle.
At last, the inspector mumbled, “Anyway, what was that kingdom of Seyrune thing all about?”
“…Seyrune?” Victorique repeated.
The inspector quickly oriented himself toward Kazuya; apparently, he no longer wished to speak with his sister. He began to speak through Kazuya as he normally did. “When the headman and I were arguing over what to do about Derek, he said something strange. ‘This isn’t Sauvure,’ and ‘This is no village.’ Then he announced, very proudly, ‘This is the Kingdom of Seyrune, and I’m the king’.” He shrugged. “You can’t just go live in the mountains and declare yourself your own country. This land belongs to Sauvure. What a crazy old man. …Oops, excuse me.” He noticed Ambrose’s gaze, and squirmed slightly.
Victorique sighed deeply. “I see. So that’s why….”
All eyes turned to her.
She languidly ran her fingers through her long blond hair. Then she narrowed her eyes a little sleepily, and looked at Kazuya sitting next to her. “Kujou, do you remember what I said about the ‘chosen people’?”
“Yeah, I do.” Kazuya nodded. “About the gods of Greek mythology, and the Norse giants, and the celestial beings of China…”
“Right. While I was reading material on this subject, I realized that in actual history—for the most part, ancient history—there did appear people who seemed like gods.” She sighed. “Long ago, a forest people once conquered eastern Europe. Their legends still live on to this day. The Baltic coast was invaded many times, but that forest people was absolutely never defeated. Their bodies were small and weak, but they repelled invaders by means of their uncommon intelligence. They defeated the Khazars in the ninth century, the Pechenegs in the tenth through eleventh centuries, and the Kipchaks in the twelfth century. And they also fended off the invasions of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Most of their enemies were large tribesmen on horseback who attacked from the plains. The Seyrune lived in splendor, but at the outset of the fifteenth century, they suddenly vanished. Not because of any wars. They simply disappeared one day from the annals of history. So where did they end up?”
No one had an answer.
“Their name is the Seyrune.”
Ambrose timidly said, “I don’t know about that history, but we in the village are taught that we are Seyrune. I’ve been told since I was a child that although this is the kingdom of Sauvure, and our land takes the form of a village, we aren’t actually a village; we’re a kingdom…. But we’re never allowed to say that. We must never let that name leave our lips. Otherwise we’ll be persecuted, and our village burned down.”
“Yes. They are a persecuted people.” Victorique nodded. “What comes to mind when you think of the fifteenth century? That was the time of the Inquisition and of witch hunts. The small, clever, and enigmatic Seyrune were swept up in that wave and labeled heretics, and were eventually unable to retain their tiny kingdom on the Baltic coast. They were driven out, not because of war, but because of persecution. And starting in the fifteenth century, the legends of the ‘Grey Wolves’ suddenly appear in Sauvure, of quiet wolves who lived deep in the forest and could speak human languages, and children who were particularly bright being called children of the Grey Wolves…. Is that not because the Seyrune were driven from the Baltic coast in the fifteenth century, and fled to the mountains of Sauvure to live there in secret? And are they not called ‘Grey Wolves’ because of the wolves that dwelled abundantly in the forests of Eastern Europe where they once lived? But after they fled to Sauvure, their villages were burned whenever they were discovered, and they were driven once again into the forest. Eventually, their numbers dwindled, and all that remained of them was an old and traditional village. This is most likely that village.”
Victorique lowered her voice. “Do you remember the midsummer festival, with that battle between summer and winter armies? That was a ritual to pray for a good harvest; similar traditions exist all over Europe. But why was the Winter Army the only one on horseback? I can venture a hypothesis about this. Namely, that it originates from their long history of battling enemies who were mounted on horseback. It isn’t only a ritual to banish winter, but also a ritual to expel the seasonal invasion of large horse-riding tribesmen, driving them out of the lush forests and back to the dry plains where they came from.”
The carriage continued its rough descent down the mountain.
The flame in the lantern flashed on Victorique’s face, plunging it into the dark shadows and bringing it back out, over and over again.
No one said a word.
At last, Victorique spoke in her husky voice. “At any rate, all of this belongs to the distant past. And we are living in the present. In the present…”
A wheel hit something large, perhaps a rock or tree root, and the carriage rocked wildly.
The lantern snapped back and forth, and for a brief moment, it shone brightly on Ambrose’s face on the opposite side of the carriage.
Tears were glistening on his cheeks. “In the present?” he asked softly.
“Oh… Then, we must live on,” he murmured, smiling slightly, but it was hard to make out in the dark.
Mildred yawned widely, then muttered, “I don’t understand all this complicated stuff, but all I know is if you’re healthy and have money, that’s good enough. You don’t need anything else. Though I sure wish I had more money!”
Ambrose chuckled. Kazuya responded with a smile of his own. Mildred yawned again, then closed her eyes, too tired to stay awake any longer.
The carriage continued clattering down the mountain. Horse hooves thundered on the twisting and turning road.
Victorique let out a tiny yawn.
“Are you tired? Did you get sleepy?” Kazuya asked.
She nodded silently. Then she whispered, “Kujou, sing.”
“…You want me to sing?”
“Why? Jeez…” Kazuya sighed.
Then he began to sing a children’s song that he knew well. As he sang in a full voice, he thought he heard Victorique giggle softly. “Wh-what?”
“So are you, Victorique.”
Victorique giggled some more.
The carriage still had a long way to go.