Have an Allison update.
Chapter 5: The Entrusted Ones
“What do you mean, Schultz isn’t back? At this hour? Who went into town with him this afternoon?”
“It was me, sir.”
“What in the world is going on? You were supposed to stick toge-”
“THAT’S MY LINE, SIR!”
“Ack! Let’s not raise our voices, now. What happened?”
“Damn that Wil! He told me he’d be back by dinnertime and left without me, asking me to keep my mouth shut!”
“What, on his own?”
“No, sir. We ran into some of his friends by coincidence on the way back to the hotel. We had a fun chat and got invited to their country house.”
“And you’re saying that Schultz went along with them?”
“They said I could come too, but I declined. I tried to stop Wil, sir. I really did. Then he said he’d just go without me, and asked me to cover for him.”
“Schultz asked you to cover for him? …In any case, it’s already dinnertime. Why is he still not back?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Maybe he’s going to stay the night there. It’s getting dark, and it’s started snowing.”
“That’s not acceptable. If he were to get into trouble, what would we say to his parents?”
“Don’t worry, sir. He doesn’t have any.”
“Ah, of course. …Now, are you absolutely certain that Schultz did such a thing? You’re not lying to me, are you?”
“I’m offended, sir. How could you not trust your own student?”
“…Other students, perhaps, but you…”
“Then how else would you explain Wil being gone? Did I kill him and dump his body in the lake, do you think?”
“No, well… ahem… my word. I would have believed the story if you were the one absent, but to think Schultz would do something so audacious…”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Or perhaps you killed Schultz and buried him somewhere? That sounds much more likely than—”
“…I’m going to get angry, sir.”
“Enough of this farce—you’re actually Schultz, aren’t you? My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, you know.”
“…Can I hit something, sir?”
* * *
Just as Wil’s friend and the teacher were talking at the hotel.
Large snowflakes poured from the pitch-black sky, covering the valley. There were torches burning at every door; light was leaking out the windows. The village was glowing.
Inside a certain house deep within the village, Allison, Wil, and Benedict were hiding in the basement. Fiona had brought them three mattresses—they took off their coats and sat comfortably against the walls. There were blankets spread over the thin folding mattresses. There were even more blankets folded neatly in a pile to the side. There was a single lamp on the table.
“We can finally breathe slowly. Today was a very fun day.” Benedict said in Roxchean.
“Oh? Don’t you mean ‘busy day’?” Allison replied in Roxchean.
“No, I mean it was a fun day. I haven’t done things like this in the past half year.” Benedict answered in Bezelese. “I’m going to follow her to the end. Once we escape the village, I’m taking her to the capital. You two don’t need to force yourselves to come—especially you, Wil. You’re here on a school trip.”
“That aside, do you believe her?” Allison asked.
“At this point, whether she really is the princess or not doesn’t matter. What do you think, Wil?”
“I agree with you.”
“Huh.” Allison groaned.
“So you’re living in hiding? That sounds cool.”
It had been ten full seconds of silence since Fiona made her shocking declaration. Allison was the first to speak.
Wil, taken aback by both Fiona’s statement and Allison’s assumption, turned. Benedict spoke up.
“Allison. That is a little different. I do not know details, but this country’s Highness and her family passed away ten years before. That is what I heard.”
“What?” Allison blurted out, astonished. “Is that true? Wil? I thought this was a kingdom.”
“That’s what I learned as well. That there was a fire in the royal palace ten years ago, and that everyone lost their lives. That Iks was a kingdom in name only.”
“So what’s going on here?” Allison wondered. All eyes were on Fiona.
“There was one survivor… Me. Would you believe me?”
There was no answer. Fiona continued.
“I don’t care if you don’t believe me.”
“How do your villagers think?” Benedict asked.
“I didn’t tell a soul. And I don’t intend to. But I’m going to announce my identity at the rally tomorrow so I can declare it to as many people as possible. Everyone is keeping an ear out for the referendum, and the rally will even be broadcast on radio. That’s why I need your help. And that’s why I’m helping you now.”
Fiona finished coldly.
“That’s my answer.”
There was another period of silence.
“I understand. Thank you.” Benedict finally replied, and immediately shifted his tone. “Now, everyone. Let us get sleep for tomorrow. But everyone, aren’t you hungry? I worked out very much this afternoon, so I am very hungry.”
Allison and Wil agreed, loudly and meekly respectively.
“I’m getting hungry myself. All right. I’ll make you dinner, just as I promised. Don’t come trying to help—it would be awful if someone spotted you. Wait in here.”
Later, the four of them ate the dinner prepared by Fiona.
Quite a bit of time passed after Fiona went upstairs. When she finally returned, she was carrying a large pot with a double-layered base. Inside the lower compartment was burning coal that kept the contents of the pot warm. In the upper compartment was a dish of vegetables and bacon boiled in cheese melted with white wine.
There was little conversation around the dinner table. After the meal, Fiona brewed them tea. Then, Benedict took the lead to thank Fiona for the meal and compliment her cooking.
“It’s been a while since I had a meal like this.” Fiona answered, cleaning up the plates and taking them back upstairs.
Allison thought for a moment and asked,
“You two don’t think she’s telling the truth, do you?”
She sounded neither suspicious nor sarcastic—Allison was being quite sincere.
“Well, she doesn’t have any proof.”
“I’m quite surprised myself. I don’t know what to say. But it would really be something if she really is the princess.”
“Or—and I’m sorry to suggest this, but—maybe she’s delusional, and only thinks she’s the real princess.”
“That’s also a possibility. But let’s keep the conjecture for tomorrow, once she’s revealed everything. We’ll think about it once we’ve escaped the village. For tonight, all we need to know is that she’s the one who gave us shelter.” Benedict said. Allison and Wil nodded.
Suddenly, they head the sound of footsteps. The hatch opened, and Fiona entered. She was carrying a small lamp, a dirty piece of cloth, and a wooden case.
“Will this suffice, Mr. Benedict? It’s my grandfather’s old toolkit.”
Benedict got up. He took the box and examined its contents.
“Yes, it’s here. Thank you. I will use it well. And please the lamp as well.”
Benedict took out an oiling tool from the kit. He brought his case from the corner of the room and pulled out the submachine gun. He placed the gun on the case and the cloth, next to the lamp, and began to take the gun apart.
Fiona watched, fascinated. Allison reached over and picked up the magazine pouch. Two of the magazines were still full.
“So you did have a weapon after all.” Allison grumbled.
“I remembered now. Saying that, I had the weapon.” Benedict said, not sounding sorry in the least. Allison put the pouch back, astonished.
Benedict took apart the submachine gun into two main parts—the barrel and the body. He oiled the parts and polished them with the cloth. Fiona watched silently.
Eventually, as Benedict was finishing up, Fiona spoke up quietly.
“Have you ever killed someone?”
Benedict glanced at her and nodded.
“Yes. But that time, if we wanted to protect our lives, there was no other method.”
“I see.” Fiona replied. She then continued. “If… hypothetically, if I wanted to kill someone, do I just have to point the gun at him and pull the trigger? Is it… is it difficult?”
“It will depend on the person.” Benedict answered. He finished putting the submachine gun back together, and placed it back in its case.
Fiona went back up the steps, opened the hatch, and reached outside. She retrieved something she had left upstairs and brought it to Benedict.
“Will you teach me how to use this?”
She was holding out a messenger bag. Benedict took it and opened it, tilting it towards the lamp to see inside. Inside the heavy bag was the large handgun Fiona had been carrying earlier.
“You don’t know?”
Benedict took out the gun. He attached the grip to it, and took out a wooden stock that was used to secure the gun to the shoulder so it could be aimed like a rifle. Because the gun was mounted into it, this model was also known as a holster stock. Other things were also inside the bag, including a case of ammunition and several empty magazines.
“Grandfather hid the fact that he owned things like this. I only found them after he passed away, while I was cleaning his bedroom. I don’t even know where the bullets are supposed to go. Or if this gun is still usable.”
Benedict took up the gun. He took out the magazine and pulled on the slide. Once he was certain that the gun was not loaded, he examined it from every angle and checked its functions. When he pulled the trigger, the hammer came down with a click.
“This is not broken anywhere, I think.”
“Then will you teach me?”
“No. I will confiscate it like this.”
“There is nothing good from you having a gun. You will be hurt.”
Fiona was stunned. Benedict looked her in the eye.
“And you will never be necessary to use this gun. You must not. The Highness must not swing a gun in front of so many people.”
“Y, yes?” Wil looked up, not expecting to be called. But he quickly stood, passed by Allison, and went over to Benedict and Fiona.
“Saying that, I will loan this to Wil.”
“If something bad happens, use this to protect your and Allison’s bodies. Of course, it is good if you never use it. Or think of it like a heavy protecting talisman.”
“…All right. I’ll hold on to it.”
Wil received the messenger bag and returned to his seat. Allison leaned over and looked inside.
“Miss Fiona.” Benedict said.
“Before, you said, ‘if I wanted to kill someone’?”
“Yes. I did.”
“Even so, you do not have to kill. You must not kill. But instead,” Benedict paused. “I will hit him. I will ouch him with my fist.”
Fiona’s eyes widened.
“…You’ll ‘ouch’ him?”
“Yes. I will ouch him.” Benedict replied, dead serious.
“All right. …Thank you.” Fiona replied, smiling. She began to chuckle.
Benedict looked on as Fiona laughed, and quietly whispered to Allison in Bezelese.
“That is how you say ‘punch’ in Roxchean, right? ‘I will ouch him’?”
“It certainly is.” Allison replied without a hint of sarcasm.
* * *
The flickering light of the lamp faintly lit up the skulls laying by the wall.
Even the sound of the howling snowstorm outside was largely muted in the basement.
Three mattresses lay side-by-side on the floor. One was empty. On the mattress next to it sat Benedict, who was leaning against the wall.
On the last mattress was Wil, curled up in a ball with his blanket wrapped over his head. He was fast asleep. Next to him was Allison, lying in a very similar position. They looked much like a pair of bagworms.
The hatch opened, and Fiona came downstairs with a lamp in hand. Benedict looked up and held a finger over his mouth.
Fiona extinguished the lamp on the table and placed a pack of matches next to it. She then sat on the mattress next to Benedict’s, placing her lamp on the shelf next to her.
“Are they really asleep?” She asked quietly.
“Yes, I believe they are asleep.” Benedict replied.
A little earlier.
All of a sudden, Wil said that he was sleepy. Allison agreed.
Fiona told them that the tea they drank at the village hall was one that the villagers often drank to help them get to sleep. She also told them that the tea had no negative side-effects, but that its effects must still be lingering.
Benedict told Allison and Wil to get to sleep. Fiona told them where to find the bathroom upstairs. They snuck into the bathroom and back, one at a time.
Wil picked up one of the blankets and picked out a mattress. He asked if one person should take one mattress. Fiona nodded.
“Will you sleep up in your room, Miss Fiona?” Benedict asked. To everyone’s surprise, Fiona shook her head.
“These are the only spare mattresses I have. I don’t want to sleep upstairs and have the other villagers find out I didn’t do as they told—I’ll just sleep in the chair here.”
“I cannot permit that.”
Benedict insisted on sleeping on the floor, but Fiona was adamant that she could not let a guest do so. They argued back and forth for quite some time.
“This is ridiculous.” Allison finally said, and threw a glare at Wil, who had been watching quietly. “You’re so dense, Wil!”
Allison bent down and pushed Wil down, to one side of his mattress. She then placed a blanket over the fallen Wil, and picked up another blanket for herself and sat down right next to him.
“Problem solved! Good night, everyone.”
Benedict and Fiona watched in awe as Allison flopped down onto the mattress.
“Now go to sleep, Miss Fiona. We have to sortie in early morning tomorrow. I am confident in waking up early tomorrow. I will wake up everyone with no mercy.”
Then, Benedict added that he would also go to sleep.
Fiona brought her blanket over to the mattress at the very end, took off her shoes, and arranged them neatly by the mattress. Her gaze was briefly drawn to the small skull on the ledge. It was the one Allison had greeted.
“Um… may I ask you something?” Fiona asked quietly. Benedict also replied quietly, careful not to wake the others.
“Yes? What is your question?”
“When you went from being an ordinary soldier to a hero… People began to treat you differently, didn’t they?”
“Yes. Very differently. I, who was a normal countryside air force pilot one day suddenly became an historical hero. Everyone looks at me with curious eyes. My rank jumped upward three levels like I died in battle. Friends and comrades I played with suddenly became very very far.”
“Was it… painful?”
“Yes. It was painful sometimes, to be honest.”
Fiona averted her gaze. But Benedict continued.
“But—there are people who look at me completely without change. It is because there are extremely complicated and complex reasons. But I was happy to meet the two people again.”
Fiona glanced over at the two, curled up like a pair of bagworms.
“Saying that, after you have done what you want to do, I might have three people like that.”
“Right… I hope so. Thank you.”
“Let’s sleep. It is time to say good night.”
Fiona blew on the lamp. The basement was engulfed in darkness, the silence broken only by the sound of blankets being pulled over.
“Good night.” Said Benedict.
“It’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to say this.” Fiona said. “Good night.”
* * *
The endless curtain of snow suddenly weakened overnight, and came to a stop before dawn. Early-morning stars began to sparkle in the sky, now nearly empty of clouds.
In the pitch-black basement, Benedict checked his watch. The phosphorescent hands glowed dimly in the dark.
“It’s almost time…”
He slowly pulled back his blankets and quietly sat up. Putting on his coat, Benedict walked slowly and groped around the table. He found a match and lit it, then lit the lamp. The room was instantly filled with light. The first sight to greet Benedict today was the skulls lined up on the shelf.
With a wry grin, he exhaled. His breath escaped his mouth in a visible puff. Rolled up in blankets on the mattress next to his was a black-haired woman. He turned. Two people were lying on the mattress behind him.
Benedict’s eyes narrowed in amusement as he stared at them for some time. He then crouched down next to Fiona and stared at her sleeping face. Eventually, he glanced at his watch and shook his head in defeat. He lightly shook Fiona’s shoulders.
Fiona opened her eyes. Looking at Benedict, she blinked several times before sitting up.
“Have you slept well, Miss Fiona? It is a bit quite early, but it is now the morning.” Benedict said.
“Thank you. Did sleep all right?” Fiona asked, slowly getting up with her blanket over her shoulders.
“Look there.” Benedict said, gesturing with his eyes at the mattress at the end of the room.
Fiona momentarily burst into laughter.
“Hah hah hah…!”
Wil was lying straight, pinned between the mattress and the blanket. There was an uncomfortable look on his face.
Atop him was Allison. She was lying perpendicular to him, with her stomach on his. Her blanket had fallen to the floor, under her knees, and her coat was on top of it. And for some reason, as Allison lay with her arms in front of her, she was wearing Wil’s coat. Her face was pointing to the side, nearly impossible to see under her messy golden hair. But Allison was still asleep.
Benedict and Fiona looked on for some time.
“Actually, the way Allison sleeps…” Benedict began, whispering. “…That way is bad for your back.”
“…Is that the problem here?”
“Well… should I wake the two people up?”
“I’d love to watch a little longer, but we don’t have time.”
“I understand. Let’s wake them.”
Benedict crouched down next to Wil and shook him by the shoulders. Wil’s eyes snapped open.
“Oh… good morning.” Wil said in Bezelese.
“Morning. Have you slept well?” Benedict replied in Bezelese and Roxchean. Then, “I will leave the last person to Wil.”
With that, Benedict stepped aside.
Wil looked up at the girl laying across his stomach.
“Ah. I knew something felt heavy.” He mumbled nonchalantly. It almost sounded like he was commenting on the weather.
Wil took hold of his coat—the one Allison was wearing—and began to shake mercilessly.
“Allison! Wake up!”
Allison’s blond hair slid in front of her face from the impact. But Wil continued to shake her by the shoulders.
Eventually, Allison sat up without warning. She sat on her knees for a few moments and slowly turned, looking at the now-freed Wil.
“Good morning.” Wil said to her.
“Oh. Good morning.” Allison answered reflexively. Her long blond hair, spilling over Wil’s coat, was a tangled mess covering half her face. Her visible eye was also half-closed.
Allison looked around herself.
“Hm…? Where are we?”
Wil thought for a moment before answering mischievously,
“We’re going to be late for dinner, Allison. We’re already out of time. I guess we won’t get to eat tonight.”
Several seconds later.
“WHAT?! Stupid stupid stupid Wil! Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?!” She cried indignantly.
“Because you always get angry at me if I try to wake you up.” Wil replied matter-of-factly, holding back a yawn.
“How many times do I have to tell you?! You have to wake me up anyway! Now we’re both going to be late for food!”
“Actually, I’m good. And we’ll spilt the punishment.”
“Argh… how could you be so relaxed?! This is why you’re always you! Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
“All right, all right.”
“Once is enough!”
At that moment, Allison went silent like a finished clockwork toy. As soon as Wil pulled his feet aside, Allison plopped onto the mattress and fell right back to sleep.
Benedict and Fiona watched, first in amusement, then in shock.
“We used to do this all the time. We’d tire ourselves out playing during the day and pass out. Then we’d wake up too late for dinner. Allison’ll be up soon.” Wil explained.
Thirty seconds later.
Allison slowly sat up. She was scratching her head with her right hand, worsening the tangles. Her eyes were half-closed.
“What are we supposed to be doing today, Allison?” Wil asked. Allison pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked at Wil, Benedict, Fiona, and the skulls lying in a neat row on the ledge.
“Um… let’s see… right. We’re taking the princess to the capital.”
“Good morning, Allison.”
“Good morning, Wil.”
It was almost light outside. Everyone got ready.
Allison and Benedict put on their wristwatches and synchronized them.
Along with Wil, they tightly wrapped their coats around themselves, put on their hats and gloves, and tied their boots around the ankles so snow would not seep inside. Benedict put his submachine gun in its case. Wil slung the bag with the handgun around his shoulder. Neither were prepared to open fire immediately. Wil did not even load his magazine.
Fiona was dressed in the same clothes as yesterday, though with Benedict’s suggested addition of fur gloves and a hat.
The four sat around the table, eating the bread, jam, and hot tea Fiona prepared for them. They made plans for their escape. Benedict drew a simple map of the village on the back of his poster.
“There is a very hard barbed wire in the forest beside the village. And here is a hole I made. It is right from the house in which Allison and Wil were jailed. The hole is about three hundred meters beside the house in which Allison and Wil were jailed. There are about four houses in the way. When we go inside the forest, we will not be able to be seen from the valley until we go to the lake entrance.”
“Right. But how are we going to get into the woods without anyone noticing? This strawberry jam is to die for, by the way.” Said Allison. Fiona thanked her. Wil blew on his hot cup of tea and listened carefully.
“First, Miss Fiona must go out and look. Are there some people walking around? This is Stage 1. Because it is winter, there are usually not quite many people outside at this time.”
“And? Pass me a piece of bread, Wil. Thanks.”
“If there are no people outside, we must move to the forest with Miss Fiona. We must be careful so they can’t see us.” Benedict said. He then scooped up a large spoonful of jam and stirred it furiously into his tea. Fiona’s eyes turned to dinner plates.
“What are you doing?”
“Oh. In my country, we drink like this. It is delicious.”
Wil added that some people in the West drank their tea this way. Benedict continued.
“Normally, we place jam on a dish and eat it beside our tea. But soldiers do not like slowness, so we put them together. Sweets help you be less tired, so we pilots enjoy them.”
Fiona cringed. “Even if I ever become a pilot or go Cross-Mountain… I doubt I’ll ever do that.”
“Er… let me go on. The road is visible clearly from the house. So we will move in a line on the snow when we are going to the forest. We will hide our bodies.”
“How?” Fiona asked. Benedict replied.
“I have a very good plan. It is the plan used many times by the military.”
He took a sip of tea.
* * *
The sun was rising, but it was still dark.
The deep snow fallen overnight, and the dim sky growing steadily brighter.
There was no one to be seen in the village. Houses covered in thick blankets of snow stood silently in a light fog. There was no wind, no chirping of birds. The torches in front of the houses’ doors had all been extinguished, and no one walked the streets.
“A good plan, huh.” Allison mumbled.
“Quiet, Allison.” Wil whispered.
Something was squirming along the fields of snow. Small mounds of white, making their way across the white canvas. Though difficult to see, there were signs of snow being scattered in their wake.
Allison lowered her voice even more.
“A snowscape camouflage plan? These are just bedsheets.”
Four objects were squirming through the snow.
They were people covering themselves with bedsheets. Fiona had prepared the sheets for everyone. They had their feet tucked into the folds, moving awkwardly while looking ahead through small openings in the front. They moved for a distance, then stopped, then began to move again and stop. Benedict was in the lead, followed by Fiona, then Allison, with Wil bringing up the rear.
They had traveled about a hundred meters since leaving Fiona’s house.
Being in the lead, Benedict cleared their way through the snow while watching their feet as well. When they reached an embankment by a field, Benedict scattered snow over himself and slowly slid down first. The others followed after. Four mounds of white gathered under the small slope, huddling together in conversation.
“Are you all right? Are your backs not hurt?” Benedict asked. The others shook their heads.
“We are half to the end. Let us be strong.”
With that, Benedict continued to lead.
Slowly but surely, the sky grew bright. The four mounds carefully passed by one of the houses.
“It’s going better than I expected. I’m impressed.” Allison said quietly.
The mounds pressed forward.
Eventually, they passed by a large tree and arrived at another embankment covered with a heap of snow. Benedict stopped and carefully poked his head out of the sheets, surveying his surroundings. He then slowly withdrew behind the cover of the embankment.
There were fifty meters to the forest now. There was a single house standing in their way. To their left was the village hall and the steeple—the center of the village.
Benedict waited for Fiona, Allison, and Wil to catch up with him before speaking.
“There is one house past this pile of snow. And there is one middle-aged man outside the house. The man is holding a rifle. The man must be the guard. This is not a good situation.”
Fiona cut in quickly.
“Don’t shoot any of the villagers. Don’t kill anyone. Do you understand?”
“I understand, but I do not want us four to be shot. No matter what, I think we need your help, Miss Fiona.”
“What are you planning?”
Benedict whispered something to her.
He then gestured for Wil to come over.
“Please give back that handgun. In trade, I will give you this submachine gun.”
The man was standing next to the house with a rifle slung over his shoulder. He looked to be over forty years of age, and was wearing winter coveralls, earmuffs, and a pair of gloves as he sat on a simple chair in front of a wooden wall. His gaze was locked on the upper side of the village.
Suddenly, something moved in the snow-covered field next to the house. Though surprised at first, the man quickly stood and took his rifle in his hands.
As he stared a hole through the snow, someone came forward with his hands in the air. He was followed by Fiona.
“Please don’t shoot.”
“Fi?” The man gasped, lowering his rifle. The man with his hands in the air was a stranger, whose hat was firmly pressed over his head. Fiona was standing behind him, holding him at gunpoint.
“Walk faster.” She said, giving the man a push on the back. The man lost his balance and rolled down the pile of snow. Fiona carefully made her way down after him.
The villager looked on in shock.
“Get up and walk. Stop over there.”
Fiona forced the man to the front of the house.
“Wh, what happened, Fi? Who is this?” The villager asked. Fiona slowly approached him.
“I heard a strange noise on the first floor this morning and went to see what it was. That was when I found this man rummaging through the pantry. He listened to me once I pulled out my gun. This is the man you were talking about yesterday, right? Are there any others?”
The villager was lost for words.
“I wonder if this is going to work.”
Wil and Allison poked out their heads from behind the piles of snow, still covered under the bedsheets.
Fiona had forced Benedict to the house, and was now talking with the middle-aged man standing guard there.
“Wil. If this doesn’t work out, fire away on your submachine gun. We’ll make our getaway in the commotion. What do you say?”
Wil suddenly felt the full weight of the submachine gun on his back.
“No. Fiona said we shouldn’t shoot the villagers.”
“I knew you’d say that.”
“And how’re we going to cross the lake without Benedict’s aerosan?”
As they watched, Fiona deftly snuck the gun over to Benedict. He immediately held the villager at gunpoint. Fiona grabbed the astonished man’s rifle.
“Mission complete.” Benedict said, punching the man in the solar plexus. The man collapsed in a heap.
“All right!” Allison cried, ready to leap out of the snow. At that moment, the villager fell to the ground. And,
Clang! Clang! Clang!
The cacophonic sound of empty tin cans clattering together echoed through the valley.
Fiona flinched at the noise and turned to Benedict, shrinking back.
“Wh, what is this?”
“Look at this man’s back.”
Fiona did as Benedict instructed. There was a white line attached to him. The line was tied under his arm, and was connected to a tin pail. The pail was rigged to clatter if the man fell.
“Amazing. The villagers are incredible.” Benedict mumbled in Bezelese.
“They’re on to us! Run!” Wil and Allison cried simultaneously. They flung aside the bedsheets and leapt down the slope. Allison slid down expertly. Wil rolled.
“Wh, what do we do?” Fiona asked, clutching the rifle. Benedict jammed the empty handgun into his pocket and received the rifle.
“They’ve certainly found us.”
He then pulled out the bolt, a component necessary for opening fire, and tossed it into the distance.
“So let’s run!”
The moment Benedict spoke, the door opened and three men in their forties rushed outside without even their jackets.
Benedict pushed Fiona ahead of him to keep her safe. Fiona reached the wall and climbed up the pile of snow that had slid down the roof. Benedict followed after her, carrying the rifle.
“Stop!” The men cried as they gave chase.
Benedict reached the top of the mound of snow and turned. The moment the first of the men began to climb, Benedict said in Roxchean,
“I am very sorry.”
Then, he took the rifle in both hands and slammed the stock against the diagonal support under the eaves.
The support bent slightly. That was enough. Unable to withstand the weight of the snow, it broke. The eaves folded as the snow atop them fell in waves.
The two men who were reaching for Benedict were buried in the snow. Four feet stuck out of the pile, struggling to move.
Once the snowfall ceased, Benedict met the third man’s gaze.
“Save them fast, please. They can suffocate to death.”
The man paled at the reminder and began to desperately dig at the snow.
“Don’t worry. We will give the rest to that man.” Benedict said to Fiona. He threw aside the rifle and gave her a push on the back.
Allison and Wil quickly caught up to them. Benedict pointed at the forest ahead of them.
“Run run run! Let’s escape!”
“You don’t need to tell me twice! Let’s go, Wil!”
Through the deep snow, they made a desperate run for the woods, with Allison slapping Wil on the back and Wil being slapped on the back.
At the stone steeple.
Underneath the sharpened roof was a small space surrounded by four straight pillars. Though the area was actually used for lighting a beacon fire, this time two men were standing there. One was a white-haired man who was already past sixty. The other was a tall, bald man who looked to be well over eighty.
Both were holding rifles—rifles equipped with scopes for hunting and sniping. The older man knelt with one foot in the front, and took aim.
Through the scope he could see people fleeing. A man leading a familiar woman by the hand.
The crosshairs overlapped with the side of his face.
The old man hooked his finger onto the trigger.
Having waded furiously through the snow, Allison, Wil, Benedict, and Fiona were only three meters from the tree at the forest entrance.
There was an explosive noise, like a whip cracking right next to their ears. It was followed by the sharp sound of gunfire.
Benedict fell forward without warning. Fiona, following after him, almost trampled him.
“Duck!” Benedict howled, sitting up and pulling Fiona onto the snow.
Allison followed suit, pushing Wil to the ground from behind and ducking down next to him.
“Pfft! What was that?” Wil asked, spitting snow out of his mouth.
Benedict said to Fiona, whom he had pulled to the ground.
“They are firing.”
“They’re shooting at us.” Allison said to Wil, whom she had pushed to the ground. There was another sound, accompanied by gunfire. Snow spewed into the air from right next to Benedict.
“Let’s crawl on our stomachs. Behind that tree over there.” Benedict said, giving Fiona a push.
The two of them crawled across the snow and huddled behind the tree.
Benedict poked out his head from the shadow of the tree and surveyed the direction of the village.
“Move faster! Duck your heads!”
Soon, Allison and Wil crawled over the snow, with Allison spurring on a teary-eyed Wil. Benedict beckoned them behind the tree and looked back at the village. He could not see the men they buried in the snow. The steeple was visible to their far right.
“That’s where they’re shooting from…” Benedict mumbled.
At that moment, a bullet shot through the trunk. Splinters flew. Benedict withdrew behind the tree and grumbled.
“Why don’t we just shoot the man? It doesn’t matter who he is—we could just say he died in an avalanche.”
The steeple. The white-haired man was talking to the older man.
The older man did not answer, instead driving another bullet into the tree trunk. He then pulled back the bolt with unbelievable fluidity, removing the empty casing and loading the next round.
“We can not let her see such a grisly sight. We can kill the man later. Send the others in their direction.” The old man said, taking aim at the tree.
The village elder pulled the trigger again. He did not reload. He quickly exchanged his gun with the one in the white-haired man’s hand. He took aim at the tree again.
Behind the unfortunate tree being pummeled by gunfire.
Benedict was clinging to the back of the trunk. Huddled behind him was Fiona, with Allison and Wil lying on their stomachs behind them.
Benedict quickly looked around at the woods, searching for the tree he had felled last night.
And he found it.
“Miss Fiona.” He said.
“Wh, what is it?”
“You have a white-colored handkerchief, correct? Please let me borrow your handkerchief.”
“What’s wrong? W-were you hit?”
“No. I am fine. The problem is that my handkerchief is green-colored.”
Another shot pierced the tree trunk. Fiona flinched.
“I will surrender with a white-colored flag.”
“Why?! We’re nearly there—we’ll make it into the woods if we run for it!” Fiona cried. Benedict quietly shook his head.
“I just checked and confirmed it. The hole I made is completely covered. They already knew my plans from the start. They certainly missed us on purpose when they were shooting their guns at us. We are in a corner. They must think I kidnapped you or persuaded you, Miss Fiona.”
“…Why would anyone want to kidnap me?”
“Have you ever borrowed a big sum of cash from the people?” Benedict asked with a chuckle. Fiona replied with utmost gravity.
“Do you hear me, Allison? Wil? We are going to surrender. Is that all right?”
“Fight to the bitter end!”
Wil and Allison replied simultaneously.
“In favor, two. Against, one. No vote, one. The democracy means we are going to surrender.”
Allison frowned and clicked her tongue.
“I am sorry, Miss Fiona. I did not know that the villagers here are very skilled. After we surrender, please explain to the villagers. And—”
“In exchange for taking you to the capital, we got food and mattresses to sleep. But I did not protect your promise. I am sorry. I want to apologize and pay you back some day, so please come to my home.” Benedict said, handing a small note to Fiona.
Fiona looked at the note incredulously.
Then, she slipped it into her pocket with a chuckle.
“I’ll keep it for now, but I can’t guarantee I’ll need it yet.”
“I feel very complicated.” Benedict replied.
It was nearly day. The icy-cold blue of the sky towered over the white valley.
About forty people carrying rifles, handguns, planks, and shovels approached the woods. Most of them were in their forties or older. Among them were the man Benedict had knocked out, the men buried in the snow, and even the woman who tricked Allison and Wil at the village entrance.
Allison, Wil, Benedict, and Fiona poked out their heads from either side of the tree and looked on. Shots had not been fired since Benedict took out and waved the white handkerchief.
“Everyone here is old.” Allison commented in spite of the situation.
“I’m the only young person in the village. I’ve always had to play with the adults, ever since I was little.” Fiona said.
Wil listened to Fiona as he watched the villagers draw near. Benedict handed him the empty handgun. Wil quickly slipped it into his bag.
The villagers were lined up before the forest. Eventually, a bald man—who arrived later than the others—addressed the people behind the tree.
“Good day, everyone. Please, come on out.”
“Well, I do not think they will shoot suddenly come now. Let’s go.” Said Benedict, slowly getting to his feet.
“I don’t believe this. I’ll get in trouble if I don’t join up with my unit today.” Allison grumbled from behind. “Let’s go. I wonder if they’ll lock us in the basement again?”
With that, Allison took Wil’s hand and helped him up as he was lost in thought—or rather, she forcibly pulled him to his feet.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure they don’t.” Fiona said, stepping out into the open first. She took off her hat and gently fixed her messy black hair. She held out her left hand as though protecting the others behind her.
“If you’re going to shoot these people, you’re going to have to go through me.”
The villagers exchanged shocked glances. The elder spoke up.
“We have no intention of shooting them. We just want to ask them some questions. Come over to us, Fiona. Leave the rest to us.”
A wave of worried confusion spread throughout the crowd.
“Stop getting in my—in our way.”
“Wh, what are you saying, Fiona?” Said the plump woman who met Allison and Wil at the village entrance, stepping forward. “Those outsiders must have said something to trick you. Please, Fiona—don’t act like that. Please listen to the Elder.”
“No. And don’t call me Fiona. That’s just what everyone here calls me.”
“What do you—”
The woman froze mid-sentence. As the villagers looked on in shock, Fiona spoke.
“My real name is Francesca. And I am the princess of this country.”
Fiona said no more. She stood there resolutely, with the villagers frozen in shock before her. The clear morning sky, mere minutes before daybreak, was a beautiful dark blue.
“I wonder how they’ll react?” Allison wondered.
Benedict and Wil replied quietly.
An old man stepped forward.
“Did those people tell you that? That you’re not actually a country girl, but the princess who died in the fire ten years ago?”
It was the tall, bald man—the village elder.
Fiona shook her head.
“I figured it out myself. No… I remembered it myself.”
Several seconds of silence followed before the elder spoke again.
“Then what are you going to do?”
“I asked these people to take me to the rally at Kunst today, so I can reveal the truth. These people agreed. This man here is the hero who discovered the mural. He said he’ll take me to the capital by aeroplane. I’m going to announce my survival in front of the entire city. I’m sure I’ll make the radio broadcast, too.” Fiona answered.
The villagers held their breath. But the elder looked Fiona in the eye, unflinching. Time passed in silence. Not even the wind howled through the valley.
The elder finally closed his eyes in defeat.
“Do as you wish, Fiona.”
The villagers turned to him, bewildered.
“You can’t be serious, sir!”
The elder lightly waved off their fears.
“Fiona is twenty years old now. She has grown into a fine adult. We are not to interfere with her actions, whatever they may be. Am I wrong?”
No one could respond. The elder took a glance around the crowd and turned back to Fiona.
“You heard me. You are free to choose your own path. But remember this—if you go to the capital, but fail to accomplish your goal…”
He took a deep breath.
“…Then come back to this village, Fiona. This valley is yours. This village is yours. We will all be waiting for you, no matter what you decide to call yourself.”
Fiona nodded sadly.
“Thank you, Elder…”
“What’s going on here, Wil?”
Allison and Wil were looking at one another in confusion. The former was poking the latter in the side.
“I’m not sure… yet.” Wil replied.
The elder said to Benedict, standing behind Fiona.
“You said you’d take Fiona to the capital. Can we take that to mean that you’ll also take responsibility for her safety?”
“It is the soldier’s duty to protect people. I will protect Miss Fiona, without worrying who she is. I promise it as an officer of the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force.”
“Then I have nothing more to say. Fiona. Are you ready?”
Fiona nodded. The elder called over one of the men—the bearded fifty-something man who had lied to Benedict the other day. The elder ordered the man to take Fiona and her party to the lake. The man, who had a rifle slung over his back, nodded.
“This way, please.” He said, sounding surprisingly deferential.
Benedict stood by Fiona and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Can we go?”
Side-by-side they began to walk toward the villagers. The villagers parted, making a way for them. The two slowly made their way through the path. The villagers watched in silence, each and every person looking just about ready to cry.
“The two people over there, too.”
Wil and Allison finally snapped out of their reverie. Exchanging glances, they quickly followed after Benedict and Fiona. They awkwardly walked through the path cleared by the villagers.
Allison suddenly spoke up.
“Oh! My bag!”
A middle-aged woman quickly produced Allison’s bag from a sack. The man standing beside her spoke.
“This is yours, isn’t it? We’re terribly sorry.”
“We haven’t touched anything inside. Your Air Force-issue gun is in there, as well. We saw your identification. You really were from the Roxchean military, weren’t you? It was our fault we mistook you for an intruder. Please forgive us.”
“Huh? …What’s going on?”
“We’re so sorry. Please, take care of yourself.” The middle-aged woman said, handing Allison her bag.
“Wha…? Thank you.”
As Allison took the bag, astonished, the man spoke again.
“We’ll make sure to send your car back to the military by today. Where should we take it?”
“Huh? Oh, umm… to Mushke, please.”
“I understand. We’ll have it sent to the Mushke postal office.”
“We’re so terribly sorry.”
Allison was confused. Wil watched the villagers in silence. Soon, they made it to the end of the path cleared by the crowd. The villagers watched the five people depart.
Their eyes refused to lose sight of them, even as they disappeared down the slope of the road.
The man leading Fiona and the others said absolutely nothing until they left the valley and reached the lakeshore.
Fiona wiped away tears once or twice along the way. When Benedict quietly handed her his green handkerchief, she accepted it.
Not even Allison, walking at the very back, said a word. The atmosphere wouldn’t allow it. On occasion she looked at Wil, walking next to her in careful thought, and pulled him back onto the road whenever he went astray.
When they were nearly out of the valley, the sun rose above the eastern mountain ridge. The light shining down on the Central Mountain Range instantly changed angles, hitting the frozen lake in the hollow.
“Argh… this is way too bright.” Allison complained, putting on her sunglasses.
The group left the valley and stepped down onto the lake. The frozen plain stretched endlessly before them.
Benedict turned to the place where he had parked his aerosan.
He frowned. There was nothing there.
“What’s wrong?” Fiona asked from behind.
“Er… I, hmm… This is very strange.”
The bearded man pulled the rifle from his shoulders.
“Please excuse me. Cover your ears.” He said to Fiona. Waiting for her to follow his instruction, he fired two shots into the air. Soon, they heard a single gunshot from the distance. The man fired again.
“Please give us a few minutes. Our friends will be here with the aerosan.”
Benedict shook his head with a bitter grin.
“What?” Allison asked.
“Er… well… I’m sorry.”
“You all are very skilled. I can only be surprised.” Benedict said to the man.
The bearded man did not reply; he only glanced at Benedict.
Soon, two horses carrying one man each emerged from behind a ridge connected to the lake, pulling the aerosan behind them.
“Hey, isn’t that from this side?” Allison asked. Wil asked her what she meant. She explained that the aerosan was a vehicle used by the Roxchean military for traversing snow-covered areas.
Benedict explained to Fiona that they would take this vehicle to the encampment near Mushke.
The bearded man said something to the two men who brought the aerosan over. The two men looked at Fiona in shock, but their surprise quickly gave way to sadness as they nodded.
The men untied the ropes they used to haul the aerosan and pulled off the cloth used to protect it from snow. One of the men went inside to do something, and came back out.
“We’ve put things back so the fuel tank is connected and the battery is usable.”
Benedict climbed inside. Allison and Wil peeked in.
“Squeeze in a little more.”
Pushing Wil into the corner of the tiny aerosan, Allison followed with her legs bent before her. Benedict put his submachine gun in the shelf. He then called to Fiona.
Fiona looked back at the three men.
“Thank you all so much.”
The men said nothing, only smiling gently. The bearded man gave his hand a light wave, beckoning her to go. Fiona ran to the aerosan, took one more look at the men, and climbed inside. She poked her head out of the hole in the roof and waved at the men. She watched them wave back at her.
“Ready? Are you sat down? Are the doors locked?” Benedict asked the cramped trio. “It will be a little noisy, but please endure it for a short time.”
He started the aerosan. Several loud roars later, the engine sputtered to life and the propellers began to spin.
It slid across the morning lake, roaring across the ice.
The aerosan disappeared into the distance, spraying snow in its wake.
The bearded man finally broke his silence as he watched.
“She’s gone. …To think that we’d have the honor of seeing her away.”
The three men lowered the rifles they had slung on their shoulders. Holding their rifles with both hands, they held them over their chests toward the departing aerosan.