Lucia Searches for a Hidden Room
“If it turns out we were wrong about this place, there’s going to be quite a ruckus!” Despite his words, Sir Gaius seemed rather cheerful.
Echoing Sir Gaius’s excitement, Eric replied, “It’ll be fine! Big companies like this one always have a skeleton or two hiding in the closet, anyway. And don’t you think this place is really suspicious?”
Those two really did seem to get along. They were bantering like old comrades, so in sync with each other that they seemed to be on the verge of forgetting where we were.
“Anyway, let’s search quickly. Before someone finds us,” Sir Celes said, apparently resigned to the situation. He began feeling around the side of the hearth.
I joined the search, turning back the heavy curtain. If anything in this room was suspect, it would have to have enough space for someone to come and go. The hearth, the bookshelf, the full-length mirror… Wait, a mirror?
“Isn’t it a little odd to have a mirror in a parlor?” I asked. Or was this something that happened a lot in rich peoples’ houses?
“There’s a wardrobe next to it, so maybe it’s so people can try on clothes or check the fabrics they’ve ordered?” Eric suggested.
That did make sense. And yet, something was still bothering me…
“But, this mirror is strangely dirty,” I noted. It was an elegant mirror well-suited to the elegant room, but for some reason the surface was covered with fingerprints. Normally, anything with a shiny surface would be polished when the room was cleaned, which made the condition of this mirror very odd indeed.
Prompted by my interest, Sir Celes and the others also gathered in front of the mirror.
“Looks like the dirt’s all right at the height where you’d push it. Think this’s it?”
When Sir Gaius reached forward to press against the most smudged section of the mirror with his large hand, there was a light click as if something had fallen into place, and the mirror slowly swung open.
“Go, Lucia!” Eric cheered. “Hey, aren’t you glad now that we came, Captain?”
Sir Celes ignored him, grabbing my arm. “Lucia, stay close to me. Master Eric, please be cautious.”
What could be past this point? I forced down my nerves, and looked at the corridor revealed behind the mirror.
Leaving Sir Gaius to stand guard, Sir Celes, Eric and I proceeded into the darkness. In no time at all, it dead-ended at a wall, but when Sir Celes stepped to the front and felt around for a moment, he discovered that the wall itself was a door, and opened it.
“Miss Maria!” I gasped.
Inside was a small, windowless room. There was a dusty rug on the floor, and lying on it was the person we had been trying so hard to find.
“So the Gorgonne Company did kidnap the Sacred Maiden,” I heard Eric mutter, as I dashed forward to Miss Maria’s side. Seeing the slight rise and fall of her chest, relief overwhelmed me.
She’s alive, oh thank goodness…
“Miss Maria! Miss Maria!” I shook her, trying to wake her, but she showed no signs of coming to.
Sir Celes knelt next to me. “They probably used that drug on her. I’ll carry her, Lucia. Don’t worry.”
As if he were handling something incredibly delicate, he carefully slid his arms beneath Miss Maria’s back and knees and lifted her up. Miss Maria continued to sleep, and he was right — that couldn’t be normal.
“Seems like the other two missing people aren’t here,” Eric commented.
He was right. The room wasn’t very large, and only Miss Maria was here. Perhaps Gisella and Ronnie were in a different room? Hopefully they were all right…
“For now, let’s leave this place. Our first priority has to be getting the Sacred Maiden back safely,” Sir Celes said, starting back down the hallway.
“We’re not going to look for Ronnie and Gisella!?” I asked, shocked.
“I have to take the Sacred Maiden back to His Highness first,” Sir Celes told me. “Lucia, I know this is hard, but I want you and Eric to come back with me. We’ll leave Sir Gaius here to look for the other two.”
When he said that, maybe it was selfish, but I felt as though I had been pushed away. Sir Celes’s voice wasn’t sharp at all. He didn’t even seem to be angry.
But, when I looked at Sir Celes holding Miss Maria, like a knight from a storybook, it seemed
to drive home the difference between the world that he lived in and mine.
No, I had to stop. This wasn’t the time or the place to think of such things. This still wasn’t over yet. Not until Miss Maria woke up in a safe place, and Gisella and Ronnie were found safe.
Trying to control my clamoring heart, I hurried after Sir Celes.
After rejoicing at Miss Maria’s safe recovery, Sir Gaius listened to our request and nodded. “Got it. Then I’ll keep looking around for those two. A beautiful lady and a guy with curly brown hair, right?” He thumped a fist against his broad chest.
“You sure you’re okay by yourself, bear?” Eric asked.
“What, do you not trust me!? I may not look it, but this old man’s plenty strong, you know!” “You’re a bear, of course you’re stronger than humans.”
Even through their lively back-and-forth, Miss Maria didn’t wake up. Her snow-white eyelids didn’t so much as twitch. For some reason, it brought tears to my eyes.
Miss Maria would wake up, wouldn’t she? She wasn’t just going to sleep like this forever?
“She’ll be all right. If what they gave her is the drug we heard about, then it should wear off after a full day,” Sir Celes reassured me. He must have learned the details of the drug while investigating in town. “I doubt they gave her more than one dose, so we shouldn’t need to worry about any side effects.”
He gave me a gentle smile.
Once we’d returned to the inn and laid the still-unconscious Miss Maria in her bed, Sir Celes turned to me.
“I’m going to go report to the Commander. Will you look after her?” “Yes, leave it to me.”
“I’ll go, too,” Eric said. “Later, Lucia!”
Smiling at my response, Sir Celes re-fastened the cloak he’d wrapped around Miss Maria and left in the direction of the prince and Sir Agliardi’s room. Eric hurried after him.
Alone with Miss Maria, I pulled up a chair next to her bed and studied her sleeping face. Noticing a smudge on her cheek, I dampened a handkerchief and scrubbed it off. Now she really did look like she was only sleeping, as if all the chaos of earlier had never happened.
“Miss Maria…I was worried about you. I’m so glad you’re all right. Please wake up soon.” Of course, there was no answer from Miss Maria.
It was lonely, talking without any response. But when she woke up, surely she would show
me that bright smile again. Surely she wouldn’t just sleep like this forever.
“I was so worried that Eric actually took me with him to look for you,” I told her. I knew she wouldn’t respond, but I kept talking. “Eric said that he’d misjudged you and he wanted to apologize. Sir Celes…he was very worried, too. You’re not alone, Miss Maria. So please, wake up soon. It’s lonely, not being able to talk to you. It’s over now. You don’t have to be scared anymore. It’s safe to wake up.”
As I was talking at the sleeping Miss Maria, someone knocked on the door behind me. “Yes?”
“I’ve brought you a drink, miss.” When I opened it, Ulisse was standing there with a pitcher of water and a cup. “They told me that when the Sacred Maiden returned, I should bring her and her attendant something to drink,” he explained.
Had Sir Celes or Eric asked him, maybe? Certainly, now that my nerves were finally settling, I was rather thirsty.
“I’m sorry you had to go to the trouble,” I said, accepting the cup.
“Not at all, miss. Drink up while it’s chilled.” Ulisse smiled at me. “It’s been a busy evening, hasn’t it? The Gorgonne Company, kidnapping the Sacred Maiden. Never would have thought it of them. Seems that Ronnie let them in. Apparently he’s in quite a bit of trouble with His Highness now.”
I blinked. “Ronnie…took Miss Maria?”
“He said the Gorgonne had taken Gisella hostage.” Ulisse sighed heavily. “Seems he gave the Sacred Maiden to them in trade for her.”
Ronnie had handed over Miss Maria in exchange for his sweetheart? I couldn’t hide my shock. How could anyone do such a…
I looked at the man in front of me. Ulisse was scratching at his hair and smiling brightly at me, the same smile as when I’d met him when we’d gone to borrow the innkeeper’s ledger.
“Mister Ulisse…how did you know that Miss Maria had been kidnapped?” I asked slowly. “That should have been kept secret.”
“Huh? But you told me about it when we first met. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten, miss!”
“I did not,” I said sharply. “And how do you know so much about Ronnie’s situation? That seems very…odd…”
Just as I began questioning the smiling Ulisse, an overwhelming feeling of sleepiness suddenly came over me. At the same time, I noticed that I couldn’t feel my fingertips anymore.
“Oh, so it finally kicked in? I decided you were going to be the next one from the minute I saw you, you know. And I told the truth — His Highness and the rest are busy arguing right
now.” With a click, Ulisse latched the inner lock of the door as his kind-seeming smile twisted. “Now, let’s get on with this.”
I collapsed to the floor as the numbness spread through my entire body. The water cup I had been holding fell with a clatter.
“You probably can’t speak anymore. Don’t worry, you’ll fall asleep soon.” Ulisse snickered; it was an ugly sound. “That’s the nice thing with this stuff: it makes your memory fuzzy. Once I’m done, I’ll clean you up nice and pretty and you won’t remember any of this was more than a bad dream.”
Lying there unable to move, I suddenly remembered Lord Reynard’s and Sir Gaius’s words.
“A short while ago, we learned that there has been a string of attacks on vulnerable women recently, here in Amarith.”
“A woman walking alone around this town right now is practically asking for her life to be ruined!”
They hadn’t simply meant that Amarith was unsafe. They’d meant that there was a serial rapist in the town.
I glared desperately at the laughing coward of a criminal in front of me. Miss Maria was in this room. I couldn’t let him take me down. I’d promised to protect her!
Fighting desperately against the powerful urge to sleep overwhelming me, I struggled to get my voice to work. “S…”
No, I didn’t want this to happen. Someone, help…!
TO BE CONTINUED…