I was in a small, stone room with just a simple bed, and desk.
Above me was a far, high, sorry-excuse of a skylight, but the only source of light from the moon was currently covered by massive clouds, making the room so dark I couldn’t even see the tips of my fingers.
The intermittent sounds of dripping water resounded within the room, most likely the water seeping out from somewhere. The only noise I could hear was one type of noise because I had been listening to it for quite some time, enough to know if it seemed off.
And it was a frightening noise of forcibly breathing with a narrowed airway, which is obviously the breathing of someone suffering from a terrible fever.
The source of the breathing was lying down on the simple bed, body shaking not from the cold, but from the fever. Even though I sat by his feet with my corporeal body, I could feel his body shivering.
It was a fever that could have immediately been cured if things were normal from the start.
But unless he was in an environment that could even cure him, then he wouldn’t have the energy nor the determination to do so.
It seems that this person wanted to die.
I wonder just when did I realize that.
Because it’s a mystery, or maybe because it’s a dream, the time in my dreams never correspond to when I sleep in the real world. Even if I were to sleep for just a few hours, a week would pass in the dream. That’s probable, even now.
I stared into the pitch black darkness while praying that I would quickly wake up.
A corporeal body doesn’t feel fatigue, but I’m really tired right now, to be honest.
I mean, that’s because there’s nothing I can do about all of this.
I can only be a ghostly bystander, unable to even touch or talk to him. I came to understand that reality in this hateful nightmare that constantly repeated.
When I despaired at how I couldn’t even do anything about his pain, and alternately, him not yet knowing the joy of living, my heart broke. But it’s true that death is also a salvation for him. When I came to that realization, this time, I was attacked with a terrible feeling of hopelessness and nihility as if I had nowhere to run, imprisoned in a box that won’t open.
At the very least, my only salvation is the darkness, hiding his weak, ill figure.
He’ll die very soon.
And up until that moment, when his breathing stops and he feels cold to the touch, I’ll continue on to gaze at this nightmare.
It was a miracle that my tears never came out.
That may be because I knew this was a dream, and that even if I cried, there was nothing I could do. Or I may have turned completely numb at this long nightmare. Or maybe I was an even more heartless person than I thought I was.
He’ll die very soon.
I softly opened my eyes.
Very soon, the Bernhardt that I didn’t know would have his life extinguished.
I came back to reality, a strong shock going through my body.
I opened my eyes in surprise, but a fine, dark mesh was strangely blocking my view, preventing me from seeing.
W-What is this!? I panicked for a moment, but immediately remembered that I had hidden my face with a veil. I glared at the veil that was evidently fluttering in front of my eyes for having the nerve to surprise me. I thought for a moment that my eyesight had turned weird from watching that nightmare for too long.
After that, I tried to calm myself down a bit, and remembered just now that I was on a boat heading towards the Island of Grief, having incidentally dozed off from the swaying of the waves rather than the seasickness I was worried about.
Ahh, even though I wasn’t planning on sleeping because I’ve been seeing that nightmare… In the end, I still fell asleep…
Anyways, having woken up from that dream, I completely remembered where I am right now, and let out a sigh of relief, the stiffness in my body dispersing. Just then, my head gradually cleared up, and noticed that my back was completely covered in something warm.
What’s this? It’s warm, but slightly hard?
Bern, the warmth’s true identity, held me through the blanket when I had stirred restlessly, and noticing I had woken up, he called out to me.
Bern has replied a ‘Good morning’ to me as I murmured incomprehensible things like uwaa’s or ughh’s.
I just can’t understand how he could do that so smoothly. Does this guy have no shame? Ah, but, he does blush at the weirdest things. No, wait, that’s besides the point.
“How long was I asleep for?”
“Not that long. I was thinking of waking you up soon. Look.”
When I turned to look at where Bern was pointing to, the island that had been the same size as my thumb when we left was already close.
The closer we got, the more of the island’s details came to view, wrapped by deep black rocks, almost completely hiding the green vegetation. Rather than something rising from the ocean, it’s more apt to say that God recklessly piled up rocks on top of each other.
The prison tower was like a big tree that sprung forth from the small island, heavily taking root in the middle of the sea.
Since the ground scaffolding at the root part of the tower was small, looking at it gave a feeling of anxiety. Particularly because we were heading round the island towards its southern side, we had to go through a small space below the cliff, but as I raise my head to look at it, it made me think how scary it is knowing it could fall at any moment.
Having said that, as we went around while watching the tower, the boat we were on headed towards the incredibly precarious pier at the wharf on the island’s south side.
With Bern partly holding me in his arms, we were able to move from the unsteady swaying of the boat to the pier.
I probably would have been able to do this by myself if I was wearing the typical travelling clothes that I wore until yesterday because they were easy to move in, but today, I’m wearing a proper, noble-like dress. Despite saying that, it was decorated simply — just the bare minimum. Moreover, I even went so far as to wear a veil to hide my face, which means I could happily declare, A full-body disguise!
Even Bern was similarly dressed like me — a subdued coat but was by no means cheap-looking, and wearing a hat that he hid under. With this, the number of people who can declare they’re going full-body disguise have increased to two.
In other words, from our appearance, others would see us as ‘high-ranking people visiting the prison tower for some reason or other,’ as we disembarked onto the Island of Grief.
After all, Bern was the one who thought of this, allowing us to enter without too much suspicion and hindrance.
When looking from afar, the island looked compact, but when we tried to disembark, it surprisingly felt big. I mean, of course it would be, since people live here, of course it would.
The wharf and the prison’s entrance were connected, so the gatekeeper immediately greeted us.
Even if we didn’t plan on talking with the gatekeeper, we wouldn’t do it even if he did as I earnestly looked up at the prison tower we finally arrived at.
The tower didn’t look that tall, but you wouldn’t be able to see the top of it even if you bent your neck at a ninety-degree angle from the ground.
The original black wasn’t black anymore, having changed colors with mold growing over the many months and years. The tower’s rocky surface was always wet due to the wind blowing in from the sea, seemingly shining like the scales of a reptile. As if the tower itself was a creature with a will of its own…
When I gaped at the tower with my mouth open as I looked up at it, I was called out to.
Bern, who seemed to have had a chat with the gatekeeper, beckoned me over.
Since I don’t particularly have any reason to disobey him, I walked onward to this prison tower, with its gloom becoming increasingly terrible, and where Viola, who has never met us her whole life, resides.
In the first place, what happened yesterday was, as everyone knows, I let all the anger that I myself didn’t even know I was holding in at Bern when we were at the Marquis’ territorial port.
I one-sidedly got angry, cried, and explained myself to him, and he could only respond in a terribly business-like manner. Hmm, that was slightly annoying after having thought things through more calmly overnight. Well, I’ll leave it be.
What Bern proposed to help settle my problems is to meet up with Viola, who was being held inside the prison tower.
That’s because, he said,
“I don’t think I can get rid of your troubles, Lizzy.”
I see. I mean, you’re right, but is it just me who feels like giving up early?
Compared to when he proposed it to me, he doesn’t seem that interested.
“In addition, it’s only supposing that this so-called previous life really does exist.”
“Because I can’t confirm it myself.”
This obstinate jerk! I cursed him, but it made me happy thinking just how serious he’s responding to my claims, enough that it made it slightly unbearable.
“Anyways, Viola’s someone important that you need to talk to. And luckily, we’re not in a hurry with our journey, and the Island of Grief‘s close-by.”
When he put it that way, it did make you think that there was no other choice but to go.
Even if I don’t think too often about it, I’ve given up on talking to Viola, and figured I would never be able to my whole life, so I felt sort of indebted to him.
But would talking to her change anything?
It’s not like I need a clear answer. And yet, will I be able to obtain something that will help settle this piling gloom in my heart?
I don’t know.
I don’t know, so I have no choice but to go.
Isn’t that how it’s always been? I had no other choice but to idly think things through all by myself. I don’t know what’ll happen, but in the meantime, I’ll try doing something about it. I’ll try jumping into it.
Because of that, I decided to head towards the Island of Grief to meet with Viola.
“But this is surprising.”
We were passed onto the jailer by the gatekeeper, and were taken to the room of the most important person in this place, aka the warden who manages the prison.
The room, with its expensive furniture and the lit fireplace, was a complete change from the cold, inorganic feeling of the prison on the way here.
While waiting for the warden to arrive, Bern returned as I said the words from earlier.
“I didn’t think you would ever tell me to try and talk to Viola.”
My thoughts would be very far off from his if I had been by myself. I wouldn’t do something like Alright! Let’s head straight to the Island of Grief! since I would have never thought of it.
Sneaking a glance at Bern’s side profile, his face looked slightly pale despite the fireplace shining on it, but he looked extremely healthy. His expression looks slightly —or rather, extremely dissatisfied with my words.
Despite having said that, I remembered his painful breathing in the dream when he had fallen ill and weak, and a shiver ran through me for a moment, like a cold hand gliding down my spine.
A dream is a dream. I plan on distinguishing those two things clearly, but…
I might be more worried about it than I thought I was.
“To be honest, I hate it. That’s because you’ll definitely get hurt if you were to talk to Viola. Moreover, no one would willingly want to come to a gloomy place like the Island of Grief.”
It brought the distracted me back to my senses, for him to bring up the subject on his own.
And then I looked at Bern, eyes wide open in surprise.
That’s because you’re the kind of person that could set up a picnic in a graveyard if it was necessary, so of course I’d be surprised if you were to feel gloomy and hateful of something. But wait, that whole thing about setting up a picnic at a graveyard when need be is just a what-if though.
I don’t know how he took my surprise, but his whispering grew louder with confidence.
“I doubt I’d be able to properly understand the reason why you got mad at me. Besides, I said this yesterday as well but if we let this chance go, you might not be able to talk to Viola, ever. Even I understood that much, and if I chose to forbid Viola from seeing you, then I’d be ignoring your feelings…”
He’s recently been thinking things through very much in his very own way, even more than I had thought.
To have someone think and worry for my sake like this, isn’t that really amazing? That thought gushed forth, shaming the part of me that figured it might be better to just give up while we were ahead, and I murmured a little thank you to him.
The warden was a man who looked more skilled at paperwork than his body suggests, whether or not he’s yet to become middle-aged.
It was actually a small let-down since seeing as he was the head of the jailers, I figured someone that definitely looked gorilla-like and stern would come instead.
In the beginning, it seemed he didn’t know what to do with us, nobles suddenly dropping for a visit, but when Bern showed him a special travel certificate different from the one we had been using for this trip, all at once, his treatment of us changed from that of nobles to a boss that he was afraid to offend. It felt like it was only a matter of time before he’d start rubbing his hands together like a fly.
Whatever was different about the certificate was something I didn’t think too much about seeing as it’s extremely powerful, like a certain tanuki Duke from somewhere, or an art teacher that has a loose screw.
I’m of the opinion that a human life is still important even if you’ve become insensitive to it. Yes, exactly that.
Even though the warden would offer us things like sugary sweets, or wine whenever the conversation allowed it, he happily and immediately allowed us to meet with Viola when we brought it up.
After that, we were told of several important rules. For example, coming into contact with the prisoner, directly handing things over weren’t allowed —anything that could possibly be prohibited.
“Did you have any questions?”
Since I already let out an Uhmm, I timidly tried asking him.
“I’d like for it to just be us and the prisoner in the visiting room.”
I figured it was meaningless of me to request that despite asking, but nevertheless, there was no reason for me not to ask.
The warden was visibly surprised, his gaze wandering about.
“I don’t mind going through a body inspection before entering the room.”
When the warden hesitated whether he should stick to rules or duty, Bern quickly took out a thick envelope from his pocket. And silently slipped it on top of the table.
D-Don’t tell me…!?
“There are things we men don’t know that women could only talk about with each other. Besides, that prisoner is a mere female swindler. Right now, she can’t even borrow power from the man she colluded with, can she even do anything?”
Bern smiled kindly, reminding him, Right?
“If that’s the case, only this lady will be meeting with her, without you?”
For an instance, Bern hesitated answering, and then,
“Yes. I plan on not coming in with her, but instead watching by the entrance.”
Eh!? Ah, is that so?
For a short time, the warden compared and wavered between his duties and the contents of the envelope, but it looked like the balance leaned towards greed.
Am I going to talk to her by myself? By myself!?
“I see… Then I shall make an exception.”
Seeing how thick it was, he couldn’t declare what was inside, but the warden pocketed the envelope, somehow already knowing its contents.
Ah~ I see…
Seeing an illegal deal happen right before my eyes, I told myself, But well, as long as things went peacefully but then was ashamed of turning a blind eye to it as we were lead towards the visiting room.
On the way there, there were many noble prisoners, and the warden explained that furniture can be brought into the prison 5 meters long in every direction, and meals can be exchanged for luxurious ones depending on the gold. Now that he mentioned it, the inside was cold, but was by no means dirty compared to the tower’s outside appearance.
The visiting room was rectangular, two rows of rusty lattice patterns together in the middle of the room, dividing it and leaving about one meter of space in between. It was carefully calculated that even if either the prisoner or the visitor were to reach out as much as possible, they wouldn’t be able to reach the other.
The warden specially prepared for me a soft, claw foot chair that didn’t match the unadorned, stucco-covered, white room. Though I would have been fine with just a normal chair.
“I’ll leave the door open, okay?”
“I’ll be standing by the entrance, so if something happens, call for me.”
“And don’t get up from the chair and approach Viola.”
“I get it already.”
After finishing up the question and answer that went on for a while, all I had to do now was wait for Viola.
Naturally, I wasn’t very nervous.
If I had to say, it’s harder to believe that I’m on the Island of Grief right now that it doesn’t even feel real at all.
When I killed time by opening and closing* the palm of my hands for no reason, the door in the room opposite of me that was obstructed by the lattice pattern was knocked on.
I choked. My heart started pounding faster as if I had been skipping work.
It made a creaking sound, and the door opened.
And then, a woman in between two jailers appeared, her beautiful, golden-colored eyes meeting my veil-covered ones.
*This is actually called Guba or something like that. There’s no English article of it, but there is one on Japanese wiki. As for a tl;dr, it’s one type of rock, paper, scissors in Japan. Gu is rock, choki is scissors, and ba is paper. So it’s basically doing rock and paper over and over. I figured opening and closing would work. Here’s a video if you guys want to know what it looks like exactly.