Here's the last update of Allison II. I'll be starting the next volume sometime in the coming weeks.
Chapter 8: Conversations and Letters
It was a luxurious room.
The sun’s rays illuminated the thick carpet and the intricately-designed furniture. A beautiful painting decorated the wall. Next to it was a large bouquet. Further inside the large room was a door leading into another room.
Wilhelm Schultz gaped at the hotel room he was led into. The moment he opened the door and took a single step inside, he had found himself rooted to the spot. He was in his sweater, with his coat hanging from his arm.
In the very middle of the room was a round table with ornate carvings. Standing next to it was Fiona. She wore a white blouse and a navy skirt. Over her chest shone a golden pendant.
“Er… excuse me.”
Wil slowly stepped forward. On either side he was accompanied by men in red clothes, similar to the police uniforms. Fiona addressed the two royal guards.
“Would it be all right if you gave us some time alone?”
The guards exchanged glances.
“This is my friend—he helped me out back in the village. He’s also a friend of Major Carr’s. We’ll be all right. I’ll ask for some tea later, so would it be all right if you left us for a bit?”
“Of course, Your Highness. And please, we’re happy to honor your requests. If you’ll excuse us.”
The guards bowed respectfully, left the room, and quietly shut the door. Unable to hide his anxiety, Wil stepped up to the table.
“Take a seat, Wil. You can put your coat on the empty chair.”
Wil did as Fiona suggested and hung his coat on the back of a chair. It slid down once, so he had to pick it up again. Then, he finally sat facing Fiona.
Fiona looked him in the eye.
“Thank you so much, Wil. I wanted to thank both you and Allison in person. Major Carr told me that she’s left already… but I’m glad I could at least see you like this.”
“It was no problem, Your Highness Princess Francesca.” Wil replied.
“Please, call me Fi. I wanted to tell you that, too. And thank you again, Wil.”
“Not at all, Fi.”
They laughed quietly.
“I’ll be leaving this country tonight as well. I’m really glad we had the chance to meet like this.”
“What happened to you and Allison afterwards? I was so worried… about both the aeroplane and your school trip. Was everything all right?”
Wil gave a wry chuckle and answered Fiona’s questions.
“After the commotion, we went back to the Mushke area and landed on the lake. We left the aeroplane there and headed into the city. We sent an anonymous radio call to the encampment just before we ran, and we saw a truck rushing over soon after. Then, we got the car back at the post office in Mushke…”
Wil caught the shadow flitting by Fiona’s eyes. But pretending not to notice, he continued.
“Then, Allison suggested going for tea downtown. But unfortunately…”
“Did something happen?”
“We ran right into my classmates, who were on their way back from visiting Slankalans. Allison had no choice but to run, and I got on the bus with my friends. Allison left by aeroplane the next day—two days ago.”
“I see… I’m sorry. This is my fault.” Fiona said, crestfallen. “I suppose I’ll have to apologize to Allison later.”
“Not at all. Allison really enjoyed everything, I think. She said in the aeroplane, ‘It’s amazing that we get to help the princess’.”
This time, Wil failed to catch the shadow flitting by Fiona’s eyes. He smiled.
Fiona shrugged and changed the subject.
“And what about you? Did you get into trouble?”
“Everyone—the teachers, the students—was so distracted by the news that Princess Francesca was alive that I just had to write a few pages reflecting on my actions. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t regret what I did one bit. I’m very happy that I got to experience what I did.”
“I see.” Fiona smiled as Wil laughed.
“You’re not Princess Francesca.” Wil said. Fiona stared at the brown-haired boy before her.
“You’re someone else. After all, Princess Francesca, though brought to the village by Dr. Bain, passed away ten years ago.” Wil continued. Fiona’s tone grew solemn.
“Did… did Major Carr tell you that?”
Wil shook his head.
“Two days ago, I received a phone call from Benedict while I was at the hotel. He wanted to thank me for the successful shot just before he left. He told me that he managed to take care of the aeroplane issue, and that his rank remained unchanged. And finally, he talked about you. ‘I want you two to simply rejoice at the fact that Princess Francesca has come back to life’, he said. That was all.”
“I see…” Fiona whispered, hanging her head. Wil closed his eyes.
A moment passed in silence. Wil opened his eyes.
“You’re not Princess Francesca. But you are a true princess. You’re twins, aren’t you?”
Fiona looked up.
“You and Princess Francesca were twins. But because royal tradition only allows for one child to be recognized, you could not become a princess. You were entrusted to that village, raised as the granddaughter of Dr. Bain. Am I correct?”
Fiona’s eyes were wide. She shook her head.
“I can’t believe it…”
Then, she smiled and nodded.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m not Francesca. I’m her younger twin, Fiona. But how did you know?”
There wasn’t a hint of irritation in Fiona’s tone. Wil thought for a moment before answering.
“I have several reasons to think so. First, Captain Warren mentioned that you resemble the young Princess Francesca. That would have been rather unlikely if you and the princess were total strangers. And again, if you were strangers, you wouldn’t have been so desperate. But if you were trying to avenge your family, your actions make a great deal of sense. Also, your pendant was a big hint.”
Fiona picked up the coin hanging over her chest. First, she examined the royal crest. Then, she flipped it over and examined the flower bowing to the left.
“Yes. Princess Francesca’s crest. Do you know the name of that flower?”
“No. Do you?” Fiona asked, curious.
“I looked into the flower after the incident. I managed to find it in an illustrated guide our biology teacher brought from the school. It’s called the Linnaea—it’s a very small plant that grows at high altitudes.”
“I know the names of almost every plant there is, but… ‘Linnaea’… I’ve never heard of it.”
“That’s not surprising. The Linnaea is not native to this country. It’s not a plant known to many Roxcheans, since it grows mostly in the coniferous forests and highlands of Sou Be-Il. And even fewer would know about it in Iks.”
“I see… but how did the flower’s name tip you off?” Fiona asked.
“The flowers only bloom in sets of two. The stem splits and grows into two flowers, each pointing in a different direction. That’s why, in Bezelese, they’re known by another name—‘Twinflower’.”
“I don’t know who might have thought up this crest for you. But Princess Francesca, the original owner of that pendant… she probably knew that there was another flower that matched hers.”
“I… I see.”
Fiona looked down at the little flower resting on her fingers.
Then, she smiled. she looked up at Wil.
“Major Carr knows everything—that I’m Francesca’s twin, and how I got my hands on this pendant. I told him on the way to the capital. Wil—no, the true Hero of the Mural, alongside Allison.”
This time, it was Wil’s turn to be surprised.
“Major Carr told me the truth after I told him everything. That he wasn’t the real hero—that you and Allison were the ones who cross the border and found the treasure. It was very fun listening to that story.” Fiona said brightly. Wil was a little embarrassed.
“I see… er… please don’t tell anyone, if at all possible.”
“Of course. Then let’s make things fair, shall we? Could you listen to my story? About how I learned the truth without Grandfather knowing, and how I came to find the pendant and the cufflink?” Fiona said, smiling. Wil nodded.
“By all means!”
* * *
My oldest memory is from when I was three or four, when I was buried in a pile of snow that fell from a tree. I was crying my eyes out.
Of course, I was living in the village back then, as well. Grandfather, the elder, and all the aunties and uncles in the village. They were so kind to me.
I helped Grandfather with his clinic, learned to make medicinal herbs, cooked, and cleaned… I had a normal life. Grandfather told me that my parents had passed away in an avalanche. But I wasn’t lonely or sad.
And on that fateful day… winter of ten years ago.
Grandfather went on one of his regular visits to the capital, but out of nowhere he returned by carriage at midnight, when it was still snowing. That had never happened before, so I was very surprised.
“We have an emergency patient.”
That was what Grandfather said. I’d never seen him look so desperate and angry in all my life.
He told me to stay in my room, and took the patient to the treatment room. Then, he told me to keep the fire going in the fireplace, and to have boiled water on hand so he could use it anytime, and locked himself up in the treatment room. All day long.
“I’m all right.”
That was what he said each time I asked if he was okay. Several times afterwards, he asked me for more boiling water and fresh bandages. I still remember clearly making his meals, too.
That day, Grandfather told me to turn away all patients, no matter what. It was a very snowy day, but when a woman came to the door for her usual medicine, I just gave it to her at the door.
It was night.
I fell asleep at the fireplace, tired. When I opened my eyes, it was midnight.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Because of all the snow piled up on the ground and the full moon above, it was clear as day. It was almost blinding.
As I lit the fireplace and boiled more water, it slowly grew dark outside. I remembered then that there was going to be a Midday Night that night.
I took the boiling water into the treatment room.
I often went into the room to help look after patients, so I did the same then as well.
In the room was a single bed, and a table covered with bloodstained bandages. Grandfather was sitting in a chair next to it, sleeping. He looked exhausted.
I put a blanket over Grandfather and went to check on the patient like I usually did. I thought that, if something had happened to the patient, I should do something. That I should wake Grandfather, if necessary.
The world was filled with pale moonlight. The white sheets of the bed were blinding. She lay there.
I was shocked. There were bandages covering her face. Only her eyes, nose, and mouth were not covered. The rest, wrapped up in clean white bandages. She was young. About the same age as I was.
She was breathing quietly but steadily.
She seemed to be asleep, so I turned to leave. But at that moment,
Someone suddenly spoke. I flinched. I looked around, not knowing who it was. But I finally realized that it was her voice. I walked up to the bed. She turned her head and looked at me.
“Who… are you…?”
A weak voice escaped her lips. It was a girl’s voice. I had never heard the voice before, but I thought it was beautiful and clear.
“I’m Fiona. But everyone calls me Fi.”
“Fi… I’m so happy to meet you. I really am.” She said.
I didn’t know why she was saying such things, but I answered, wanting to hear more of her wonderful voice.
The Midday Night passed by in silence. I was just about to turn on a lamp.
“Fi… talk with me.”
She said suddenly. Patients often said things like that. That they were bored and wanted someone to talk to them. But because I didn’t know if she was all right to speak, I asked,
“I don’t mind, but are you all right to talk? Doesn’t it hurt?”
“It’s okay if I just listen… Please, Fi. Tell me about you. Tell me as much as you can.”
So like I usually did, I pulled a chair over to the bedside. In the dimming world, I talked about myself.
How I had lived in the village all my life. How the villagers were very kind and taught me many things. How they were all very happy whenever I learned something new. How I had no parents, but wasn’t lonely thanks to the villagers.
She smiled at points along the way, so I continued. Grandfather did not wake. I wanted to let him rest, if even a little longer.
Even as we spoke, the moon slowly disappeared from the sky. It grew darker and darker. After telling her as much as I could, I asked her,
“Say, what’s your name?”
She replied in her beautiful voice. That it was a secret… for now.
“You’ll know one day, Fi… You’ll know. Soon…”
I thought she was being strange. At the time, I didn’t understand what she had meant.
It was pitch-black. I couldn’t see anything in the room. The moon floated overhead, shining a dull red.
“Fi… could you do something for me?”
I asked her what she wanted. She answered,
“Take these bandages off my face.”
I immediately asked her if that was all right. But, strangely, she said that her face wasn’t injured at all. And she asked me again.
In the dark, I fumbled around and unwrapped her bandages, moving her pillow. The bandages were clean, and came off easily. Sighing in relief at the fact that her face was really uninjured, I finished unwrapping the bandages.
She thanked me. But because it was so dark, I still could not see her face. ‘Should I turn on the light?’ I asked, but she declined.
And soon, the great shadow in the sky disappeared.
The lunar eclipse ended, and the red moon turned into a thin, white arc.
Light began returning to the room as well.
And I looked into her face.
She said, meeting my gaze.
To be honest, I was confused. I was very confused. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do.
I looked upon the girl who had the same face as me.
“You didn’t think that she was your twin sister at the time?” Wil asked.
“Back then, not at all. I knew about twins, but I’d only ever heard about them. So I assumed that, maybe the world was full of people who resembled each other closely. And I wondered if I should point out our resemblance. In the end, I didn’t.”
Lying on the bed, she smiled gently.
I still remember that smile like it was yesterday. Such a soft and beautiful smile. The moment I saw it, it occurred to me that I might never be able to match such a face. I realized with all my being that the girl was different from me. She was a girl who only looked like me, but had a beautiful voice. That was her.
“Say…” She whispered. “I… I’m badly hurt. So I think I might die.”
Whenever a patient said something like that, I would always say, ‘Don’t think like that. You’re going to get better, I promise. Dr. Bain is amazing’. So that was how I answered then, too.
“I see… but just in case. Listen to me, just in case. Okay?”
“Okay. But only just in case.”
“Thank you, Fi. You see… someone did this to me.”
“What? Who? Who could do something so horrible?”
“But… you’re safe. You weren’t hurt. I’m jealous.”
“If I die… will I go to sleep in this village, do you think? I will, won’t I?”
“Then… Fi? Could I leave my body to you? Please. Promise?”
“...All right. I promise, just in case. But—”
I was going to say that such a thing wouldn’t happen. But,
“Thank you, Fi. That was all I wanted to ask.”
“No problem. But you’re going to get better, okay?”
“Okay… then… please put the bandages back on my face.”
I agreed and did as she asked. She thanked me again, and I replied, ‘Don’t mention it’. Then, I told her that I had to go and boil water and watch the fire.
“I see. Thank you for telling me about you.”
“Not at all. I can tell you lots more later.”
“See you again, Fi. Thank you…”
Those were the last words I ever heard from her. That beautiful voice I still remember to this day.
And so, I left the room. The living room was completely bright by then, and I fell asleep while I was watching the fireplace. Morning came.
Grandfather came out of the room, looking dejected.
He looked very sad. I asked him,
“Grandfather, what happened to the patient?”
Grandfather slowly shook his head.
The next day, Grandfather buried her in the village cemetery.
Apparently, he’d told the other villagers that she was an orphan he had been treating in the capital, and that that was why he brought her there to be buried. Everything was covered up.
In any event, the entire village was in an uproar that day—the rumors floating around since the day before had been proven true. The royal palace had burned to the ground, and Queen Calensia, Sir Brown, and Princess Francesca had gone missing. Chances of their survival were dismal.
And the days went by as usual. Even I knew that the queen’s family had gone from the world, but I didn’t know why Grandfather’s regular trips to the capital stopped completely. But I was happy that he stayed in the village all the time.
I never told anyone that I had spoken to the girl with the beautiful voice who looked like me. That memory remained a dreamlike recollection in my mind, occasionally surfacing as it grew up alongside me.
This summer, news reached even Iks and our little village that someone discovered the mural. It was just around that time that Grandfather passed away.
“I see… so that’s why you didn’t recognize Benedict.”
“That’s right. I wasn’t in any state to know. Although I do feel bad about it.”
“Actually, I’m sure he must have been happy.”
“N, never mind. Please tell me more.”
Of course, Grandfather didn’t tell me the truth on his deathbed, as I claimed on the balcony. He was nothing but a loving grandfather to me until the very end.
I decided to bury him with the villagers’ help.
And that was when I finally realized what the girl from ten years ago had meant.
She was sleeping in the cemetery. I retrieved her body and buried Grandfather where she had been sleeping. All alone, I began the task of polishing her remains.
That was when I found it.
“What? You mean…”
Wil was stunned. He glanced at the pendant shining over Fiona’s chest.
“Of course… if it was made of gold…” He gasped. Fiona pulled up the coin into her fingers.
“Yes. It was just as clean as it is now. Do you understand what that meant?”
“Yes! I get it! Incredible… This might sound strange to say, but… to get revenge on the ones who killed her and her parents, Princess Francesca made an unbelievable decision. And she acted on it with everything she had.”
Fiona wore a look both angry and vicious, but her face was tinted by sadness.
“I found two tiny shining objects in her remains. One was the pendant, and the other—”
“The cufflink! When Nichto took her hostage, Princess Francesca must have pulled off one of his cufflinks with her teeth. And… and she swallowed it so she could use it as evidence, along with the pendant that would prove her identity. Because even if she died, someone would find those things one day, when her body was retrieved.”
Fiona slowly nodded.
“The moment I found the royal pendant and saw the crest, everything fell into place. That the girl was Princess Francesca, who supposedly died in the fire at the palace. Why Grandfather brought her to the village on the night the palace burned down. Why I saw my mirror image in the moonlight that night. And what she meant when she asked me to take care of her bones.”
“And I came to a conclusion: That I was a twin, and she was my older twin Francesca. That because of the rules that allow the monarch to have only one child, I had to be entrusted to Grandfather—Dr. Bain. That Grandfather was a royal physician.”
“And that conclusion turned out to be right.”
“No one came out and told me, ‘You’ve got it’, but I was confident. But I couldn’t solve the mystery of the cufflink until the end. I could imagine that its owner was involved with the incident, but I’d lived in the countryside all my life—I’d never seen something like that before, and I had no idea that people engraved family crests on them. And of course, I couldn’t go around asking the other villagers about it, either.”
“So Benedict brought you the final puzzle piece?”
“Yes. The moment I noticed the same cufflink on that poster, it occurred to me—that God must have created me to pass judgement on that man.”
Wil exhaled loudly.
“The one Allison greeted in your basement that night must have been Princess Francesca. I was curious that hers was the only small skull in the room. Thank you for telling me your story.”
Fiona nodded and jokingly replied,
“Although it’s no match for the story about the mural.”
They laughed cheerfully.
Then, Wil pointed out two problems and asked Fiona how she would deal with them. The first was that Nichto must have had allies, and the second was the problem of where Fiona would live.
“Well… I’m not sure, but it’s true that there must have been other culprits. But now that Nichto is dead, it won’t be easy to find the rest of them. Although Captain Warren’s fired up about the investigation, even though he’s still in the hospital. That’s a problem we’ll have to struggle with from now on.”
Then, the look on Fiona’s face shifted into a troubled one.
“And as for where I’ll live… to be honest, I wish I could do something right now. I can’t stay at a hotel like this permanently, and I don’t know what to do about my expenses. But I don’t want to rebuild the palace, like some people are telling me. The prime minister came to visit the other day, and asked me to try and use as little tax money as possible.”
“It must be a lot to deal with.”
“Yes. Do you have any suggestions?” Fiona asked jokingly. Wil’s reply was immediate.
Wil looked Fiona in the eye.
“I have a good idea. Actually, that was part of the reason I came to visit you. In fact, I had to tell you. That’s why I went so far as to rudely unravel your past.”
“Will you have a listen?”
Fiona leaned forward in her chair, her elbows on the table. Wil spoke.
“You must live in that village—the village where your grandfather sleeps.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” Fiona replied, crestfallen. “The villagers know better than anyone that I’ve lived there since I was a baby. And they know better than anyone that I’m not the real princess. I lied to the people of the country to avenge my murdered family. I chose to bury the truth to the end. There was no other way, I think. But I can’t go to the villagers who loved and looked after me and ask them to play along. I couldn’t.”
Wil listened quietly.
“And security is going to be a problem, too. I don’t want to bother that quiet village with all the commotion it’s going to involve. I’m sorry for shooting down your suggestion, Wil.”
Wil replied that that was all right, and added,
“Then there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Nothing you told me will be a problem, Fiona. I guarantee it.”
Fiona stared, bewildered. Wil continued.
“A lot of things about the village bothered me from the moment I first set foot inside. First, the fact that they fed us tea spiked with sleeping herbs. No one would go that far, even against a pair of outlanders. Not only that, the woman who happily told us how to get to the village hall and the shrewd old woman who met us there both struck me as suspicious. And now that I think about it, the reason our car got stuck must have been because they set up traps in the area.”
“And the barbed wires Benedict told us about, which are set up in a circle all around the village. They were much too secure to be merely for keeping animals out. Then there were the village men, who were coordinated like well-trained soldiers. Also, when you told us that you are a princess, Allison guessed that you were living in hiding. She also pointed out as we flew to the capital that the village was protected. And in the morning, she also noted that the village was full of older people. I also noticed that the age range there was skewed disproportionately to middle age and older. In addition, there were the restricted documents Captain Warren mentioned, which listed the names of all members of the royal guard.”
“I saw the crests displayed in the village hall. I’m sure you’ve seen them as well.”
“What? Yes, of course.”
“The princess’s crest—the Linnaea—was among them. But it was pointing to the lower right. The opposite direction from the one in the pendant. Didn’t you think that was strange?”
“I heard this when I was about fifteen—apparently, one of the villagers had copied down the design from the city and made it here. But the person made a mistake, and the princess’s flower was done backwards. They found out too late, so they just left it as it is.”
“That’s probably an excuse they made up for you. The flower wasn’t reversed by accident.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Linnaea that points to the right is yours. It’s your crest.”
“It’s the other half of the Twinflower. It was your crest all along. Just like two flowers bloom on the Linnaea, each in different directions.”
“Let me get to the point. The entire village knows about you. They knew all along that you’re one of the queen’s twin daughters. In fact, I believe that when you were born twenty years ago, many guards and attendants must have been dispatched to the village where you were to be sent. All under the guise of average villagers. The area must have had been connected to the royal family for a long time, or maybe there was a secret villa of the royal family there.”
Fiona blinked silently. She stared at the brown-haired boy across from her as though looking at a magician.
“So things will be all right. They’ll welcome you back with open arms. And they’ll be proud to protect you, just as they have for the last twenty years.” Wil declared.
Fiona closed her eyes. A single teardrop ran down her cheek.
A moment of silence passed. Wil spoke.
“I’d wanted to return something very important to you, but I couldn’t bring it here. I’m taking very good care of it for now, so could I send it by post to that village? To your name?”
Fiona opened her teary eyes and smiled.
“Yes! By all means.”
* * *
After that, Fiona looked so happy. We drank tea together for a while.
The teacup was very thin and beautiful. The saucer, too. I was afraid of what would happen if I dropped it.
After the attendant left, Fiona slowly walked over to a cabinet on the side of the room and opened it. It turned out the cabinet was actually a new model of refrigerator.
Fiona took out a bottle of strawberry jam and scooped up a heaping spoonful into her tea. I was floored.
She took a sip and started laughing, saying that it tasted strange. I tried putting jam into my tea, too. It was delicious.
I heard from Fiona that she promised to exchange letters with Benedict. It looks like she’s planning to officially invite the Hero of the Mural, Defender of the Princess to the Kingdom of Ikstova later.
I also heard that, once civilians are allowed to visit Sou Be-Il, Benedict’s going to invite Fiona first. I don’t think that day will be too far off. He also wants both of us to come, too, and promised to send us tickets.
The four of us might be getting together for tea someday soon.
That’s about all I have to say.
I wrote this before, but I just wanted to tell you again—thank you so much, Allison.
It was a really memorable trip. The best.
This letter’s probably going to reach you in the beginning of the new year.
So here’s my new year’s greeting: Happy New Year, Allison.
P.S. When we were talking about going to Sou Be-Il, Fiona said, ”Please tell Allison that I won’t get in her way next time”. I wonder what she means…?
-To be continued in Volume III-