From the clear sky, the white glow of palpably humid sunshine fell onto the elegant gardens that fanned out through the grounds of St. Marguerite’s School. But hidden deep within the gardens, at the end of the long twisting path inside a garden maze, a small villa that looked like a gingerbread house stood perfectly silent, its windows largely impervious to the rays of the dazzling midday sun. Across the French windows of the bedroom, bobbin lace curtains draped shut, and the inside was dark.
On top of a canopy bed, a bulge protruded from a down quilt. It was a small lump, so small that it could have been mistaken for a kitten hiding underneath, and it was squirming slightly.
“Achoo! Achoo! Ach-choo!”
Every time a sneeze rang out, the lump beneath the blankets quivered….
Under the down quilt, Victorique was in the throes of a nightmare.
She saw herself in a darkened room with a round floor. Books covered every surface of the room, and in between the piles of books she caught glimpses of a small rocking chair, a table, and a bed.
The room contained no exit. This was the tower room in the castle of the Marquis de Blois where Victorique was once imprisoned. The round floor floated in space, and a ladder stretching up from the distant world below was her one tenuous link to the outside. Three times a day, a young maid would deliver her tea, food, and a luxurious change of dress. Once a day, an old butler would come carrying a stack of new books. And that was all…
In her dream, the tiny Victorique, clad in a beautiful dress, was half her current size. She sat with her head bent over a book in her lap, reading by the light of a skylight high above her, a square hole cut from the sky.
I’m bored, I’m bored…. Bring me more books. More, more!
Fearful of the wrath of the Grey Wolf, the residents of the de Blois household delivered stacks of books to the top of the tower on a regular basis. There Victorique, a mere child of ten years old, would stamp her feet against the floor and let out a hoarse, haunting wail at a volume that shook the whole tower.
I’m bored. I’m bored…. Bring me something, anything that can release me from this eternal torment, this tedium. Go, bring it to me!
Every night, the members of the de Blois household trembled and kept a hushed silence whenever they heard that eerie, husky voice echoing from the tower….
After one of her loudest sneezes yet, the quilt squirmed again. Finally, a small golden head peeked out from the covers.
Even Victorique’s glossy hair, which had always tumbled down her back like a turban come undone, now hung down in a bedraggled mess, making it hard to tell which side contained her face and which the back of her head. She sneezed again, swaying her hair, and only in that moment did her face become visible. Her normally rosy cheeks were bright red and puffy.
“U-ugh…” Victorique slid across the bed, groaning. “It … hurts!” While panting hot breaths, she attempted to extend a trembling hand toward the bedside table. She parted her lips, which were just as red as her cheeks, and gasped, “I-I’m…”
And then, in her husky voice, she murmured as if still in the grips of her bad dream―no, her memories of the past….
“I’m, I’m … boored!”
Victorique reached toward a stack of heavy books on the table. Through hazy eyes, she watched her small, uncertain hand tremble. At last, her hand grasped a book, and she shakily brought it toward herself. With a blissful smile on her flushed face, she began to turn the pages.
And then her face turned tearful.
“I … read this one yesterday!”
She reached into the stack for another book, but…
Her vision too blurred to see, Victorique accidentally knocked down the stack of books. They thudded against the floor, scattering all over the carpet. In a panic, she tried to get out of bed, but didn’t have the strength. She stared at the floor and stretched out her trembling hand … but she couldn’t quite reach all the way down.
“Ugh…” Victorique grimaced in frustration, then fell back into bed with a sigh. “Kujooou…” she groaned. “Pick them up… Pick up my books…”
Her face turned sad. “I … am … bored….” She sniffled. “Damn you, Kujou….” She groaned again. “You really are gone….” Her voice was small and lonely.
Victorique crawled back underneath the covers. All signs of life vanished from the small, luxurious bedroom, replaced only by stillness.
From the window came the faint sound of a little bird flapping its wings.
Cécile emerged from the garden maze in a hurry, carrying her class materials, textbooks, and notes with both hands. She briskly entered the gingerbread house and peered into the tiny bedroom, worry creasing her brow. “How are y―oh, Miss Victorique!”
Victorique was curled up in the center of the large bed, panting heavily onto the pages of an opened book that she was stubbornly trying to read.
Cécile stared at her in alarm. “This won’t do. You need to rest.”
“Cécile, just in time.” Victorique rose unsteadily in bed, her face flushed. She pointed at the book, then launched into a monologue, occasionally pausing for breath. “I was just reading the memoir of a medieval monk. Achoo! He was still quite young when he wrote it; apparently, keeping a diary was a hobby of his. Now it remains as a record of daily life in that era.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Hmph…” Victorique was momentarily thrown off by Cécile’s complete lack of interest, but she soon recovered and resumed speaking. “So, it all started the night this prominent bishop from the city was to arrive at this monastery in the mountains of Sauvure.”
“Hmph… According to this journal, a robbery happened to occur in the village on that all-important night. Some silverware was stolen from the home of a wealthy merchant, who saw the thief escape through his window.”
“Oh, dear. Silverware can be rather expensive.”
“Shut up and pay attention. And then, in another incident, a pig was stolen from a family of farmers. The villagers were at their wits’ end. How could something like this occur just as the bishop was paying a visit? They had wanted to show him how pious they were, but instead these terrible incidents happened. The villagers were enraged, and they quickly captured whom they assumed were the perpetrators of each crime.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“Hmph! The one who stole the silverware was a drifter. They believed that he had stolen them with the intent of selling them in another town. And they claimed that the one who stole the pig was an impoverished youth from a farmer family.”
“The villagers were mad with rage, and they decided to try the two for their crimes. The young monk describes that dark, dreadful night in vivid detail!”
“And at the very moment that they were about to hear their fate, the bishop arrived in town. And … then … h-hey! Cécile! What do you think you’re doing?!”
Cécile took the heavy book out of Victorique’s small hands. Victorique stared up at her in astonishment.
“If you’re sick, then you need to sleep. I’m confiscating this book.”
Victorique’s face crumpled tearfully. “H-how could you? I wasn’t finished yet, you fool!”
“I’m not a fool, I’m your teacher. Go on, get to sleep.”
Cécile lifted the book up to head height. Victorique grabbed at it furiously, but her arms were too short to reach. She bit her reddened lip in frustration. “I hate you!”
“And I hate sick people who won’t go to bed as they’re told.”
“If Kujou were here…” Victorique’s puffy cheeks puffed up even more than before. In a forlorn voice of longing, she whispered, “If Kujou were here, he would listen to me.”
Cécile chuckled. “That’s true. But I’m not Kujou, and I won’t listen to you. All right, pull up your covers, and close your eyes. And don’t move! Bye-bye for now, Miss Victorique.” She promptly left the room.