Lucia is Left Holding the Fort
When Eric brought the innkeeper’s wife back with him, Sir Agliardi listened to her words carefully, the furrow in his brow growing deeper and deeper.
After Lord Reynard left to see the couple off, the only ones left in the room were His Highness, Sir Agliardi, Eric, and myself.
“The Gorgonne Company, eh?” Sir Agliardi murmured.
Apparently, right around the time that Ronnie had disappeared that evening, a merchant had come to deliver some goods that had been ordered. Even more suspicious, when Lord Reynard returned shortly after, he reported that no one had seen the Sacred Maiden, and only the Gorgonne Company had passed through the gates.
Sitting next to me on the couch, Eric said what we were all thinking, half-yawning. “Honestly, they’re pretty suspicious.”
“You think so as well?” Sir Agliardi asked.
“Of course. I mean, for three people to disappear in that short a time, there’s no way it’s not connected. That merchant is fishy. The woman who disappeared, didn’t they say she was really pretty? The Sacred Maiden might not have a great personality, but she’s pretty, too.”
I felt the same. Actually, probably all of us who’d heard the story were thinking it.
Slavery and human trafficking were forbidden in the kingdom of Banfield, but that didn’t
mean it didn’t happen. In fact, I’d very nearly been sold as collateral to pay my debts, myself. In
my case, I’d been lucky enough to have someone to refer me to my job as a laundrymaid, so I’d managed to escape that fate. But occasionally I heard stories of people who were sold due to debts, or were kidnapped by slavers to be sold as slaves, even if they were publicly called servants.
“Still, what Eric said before is true. Would anyone snatch the Sacred Maiden — the one person who will save us all — as if she were an ordinary woman? If the Sacred Maiden is lost, the Cristallo Sacro can’t be purified. Who would kidnap the Sacred Maiden, when that means we’ll continue living in fear of monsters? It makes no sense.” Sir Agliardi stared at the floor, head in his hands. “And yet, there is no reason for the Sacred Maiden to have disappeared on her own. The only explanation for her sudden disappearance that I can think of is that someone took her.”
As he pondered, the door opened and Lord Reynard entered, Sir Celes and Sir Gaius behind him. “Commander. These two have learned of a disturbing rumor.”
Sir Agliardi raised his face. “What is it?”
“It appears that there is a suspicious drug being traded on the black market.” “A drug?”
Lord Reynard nodded. “Yes. It seems to be largely used by prostitutes in brothels taking their first customers, or those who wish to force…” In the middle of his report, Lord Reynard noticed me sitting next to Eric on the couch and hastily cut his words short. “My apologies, perhaps we should not discuss this in front of a young lady…”
“Please, don’t mind me. Keep going,” I told him. “It might have something to do with Miss Maria.” It was a little bit awkward, but Miss Maria was more important right now.
At my request, Lord Reynard coughed once, then continued his report, “It apparently paralyzes the limbs and induces a dream-like state of mind. So long as it is not used regularly, there are no extreme side effects, so it seems to be traded frequently.”
“Do you know who sells it?” Sir Gaius asked.
“We do. No one was willing to point fingers directly, but when we consolidated our information, the primary seller in this town is…”
“The Gorgonne Company?”
Up until now, the prince had listened silently to everyone’s reports, but now he spoke. For a moment, Lord Reynard fell silent, taking in His Highness’s dangerous expression. But then, as if making up his mind, he nodded.
“As you say, Your Highness,” he replied. “We believe it to be the Gorgonne Company. They have a dedicated warehouse not far from here, although it is located away from the main roads. Either the Gorgonne family home or that warehouse — both strike me as suspicious.”
“I see. Fernando, use whatever means you must.” The prince’s emerald green eyes glittered
with rage. “Bring Maria back.”
Sir Agliardi nodded. “As you command. We do not know for sure that the Gorgonne Company are the ones who took the Sacred Maiden, but we will begin our search there. Celestino, Gaius, go to the warehouse. I will investigate the main house. Reynard, protect His Highness. Eric and Lucia…please wait here. The hour is late, so you are welcome to sleep if you can.”
So we were making a move now, in the middle of the night, rather than waiting for morning. But of course, the two of us presented a problem: I had no means of fighting, and Eric was too young. Even so, both of us stubbornly shook our heads.
“Again!? I’m going with you this time! I’m hardly going to sleep now, and if all I’m going to be doing is just sitting around the inn anyway, I might as well do something!” Eric insisted.
“I know I might be in the way, but isn’t there something that I can do!?” I added.
“It’s too dangerous for the two of you to go outside at this hour,” Sir Agliardi said firmly. “I understand how you feel, but I want you to wait here in the inn.”
We both argued, but Sir Agliardi would not yield. In the end, we were forced to agree and had to stay behind. I watched as Sir Celes and the others set out, now dressed in their uniforms, and couldn’t do anything but pray.
Please, let Miss Maria be all right!
After we saw the knights off, Eric said with a yawn, “I’m going back to my room. There’s nothing we can do here but sit around worrying. Lord Reynard, you’re good with watching His Highness on your own, right? Come on, Lucia.”
“Yes, that might be a good idea,” Lord Reynard agreed. “Miss Lucia, I know you may not be able to sleep, but at least try to rest a little.”
So he said. I couldn’t say I was happy with it. But I couldn’t intrude on His Highness’s room forever, so I decided I would at least return to my room.
Eric grabbed my wrist. “I’ll walk you there,” he said. “G’night, Your Highness, Lord Reynard.”
Waving half-heartedly at the others, he led me out of the room. Even if he was one of the foremost of the Academy’s mages, Eric was still a young boy. Staying up this late must have been hard on him. He’d been yawning constantly for a while now.
As we walked down the hallway towards my room, I admitted, “I’m…worried for Miss Maria.”
Eric paused beside me. “So this does bother you?”
“Of course it does! If I could, I would go looking for her myself,” I said unhappily.
As if he’d been waiting for those very words, that bright, sweet grin spread across Eric’s face
again. There wasn’t a trace of the bleary sleepiness of only a moment ago.
“Then let’s go, Lucia!” “Eh?”
As I stared at him blankly, unable to understand what he was saying, Eric glanced around us and leaned close to whisper, “Let’s sneak out and look for her. I can use magic, and you’ve got your Soap, right? Come on. I want to apologize to the Sacred Maiden.”
“But, how?” I asked.
“Well, I’d been thinking of sneaking into the Gorgonne house, but if we bumped into the Commander over there, we’d have a problem. So let’s ask where that warehouse is and check it out. It’s just the Captain and the bear over there, so even if they find us, we can probably talk them around.”
He made it sound so easy, I found myself nodding before I could think better of it. “But, will we really be all right…?”
“We’ll be fine! As long as we don’t run into too many people, I can stop them with a bit of magic. Come on, let’s go! We’re racing against time here! And besides…”
Tugging my hand, Eric gave me a shy smile. “Don’t friends help each other?”