Chapter Thirty-Four: Time for a Counterattack
It had been about a week since we had returned from the palace. The trees on Dahl Island were starting to turn yellow. Occasionally a cold wind would blow in the morning and evening, reminding me of the changing seasons. And this good autumn weather continued as I chatted with Olivia about how the water was getting colder and how the housework was getting a little more complicated.
After a while, Nolan and Ricardo arrived home. They had been out on horseback all morning. However, when they returned, they seemed unusually wary of their surroundings and ordered Olivia to close all the slatted shutters in the residence. Since they were only closed if there was rain or heavy winds, the order stood out as odd.
“Is something wrong? Did something happen?
Ricardo responded, with a stiff look on his face, to a similarly concerned Marco, “It felt like someone was tailing us the whole way here.”
After Ricardo spoke these words, Nolan gave Marco some kind of a look. Immediately, Marco runs to the front door and dashes out of the residence like a bullet. Likely, he has gone to check on the outside.
“Why would… Where on earth did you and Ricardo go today?” When I asked for a detailed explanation, Ricardo spoke instead of Nolan, “We were looking for a woman… A maid who worked at the Minister of Finance’s mansion.”
“The Minister of Finance’s maid?”
Ricardo opened a window in the hallway of the residence, looking carefully from side to side, checking the outside, before finally closing the slatted shutters. He then closed the window further and brought down the bolts.
“Madam. As I told you before, after leaving the palace, Master Nolan and I have been using our freed-up time to do our own research on the death of the Minister of Finance. He was always taking medicine for a heart ailment. Given the circumstances, we’ve speculated that the medicine he took was switched with some type of poison. The most recent hire at the mansion was a well-connected maid. However, she resigned shortly after the minister’s death.”
Nolan had been investigating the case alone after he left his life as a prince living in the Royal Palace and came to Dahl Island. Not for the Minister of Finance, but for Prince Aaron.
“The maid, Suzette Limourie, was also one of Marquis Dortrek’s mistresses.”
And if she’s said to be “one of them”, that must mean he’s had multiple mistresses. What an unbelievable man.
Ricardo continued his explanation as my eyes stayed wide, “Today, we went to Suzette’s parents’ house to look for her.”
On the way back, they sensed that they were being followed. But who possibly would have followed Ricardo?
After hearing the details from Ricardo, Nolan insisted that I stay inside the residence. When I swore to him that I would not leave the residence grounds, he looked relieved before leaving.
He told me to stay here, but then he went off his own.
…Perhaps, he’s gone after Marco?
I ran out of the residence after him and saw him entering the livestock barn. I continued to trail behind him.
As soon as I followed Nolan into the barn, I shouted, “Prince Nolan! What is happening? Why…”
“Why did you follow me!?” Without waiting for me to finish, Nolan grabbed both my shoulders with burning anger. The intimating look held by his pale blue eyes was a little scary.
“Please just do as I say for once!”
“Then, give me at least some sort of explanation!”
Nolan let go of me as I desperately resisted and began to remove the ropes holding the livestock. When he finished that task, he grabbed my arm and dragged me back to the residence.
“The one who’s got the most to lose from an investigation on Suzette is Marquis Dortrek. Those under him might have already found out what we we’re doing.”
Perhaps it was the cold night wind, or maybe it was fear, but my body shook. Possibly noticing this, Nolan loosened his grip a little.
“Do not worry. I asked to borrow some skilled swordsmen from my uncle. Moreover, my uncle just left for the palace.”
“I asked him to pass a message to my eldest brother. But considering the travel time to and back during the dead of night, the backup will take a whole day to arrive, no matter how fast they try to get here. We must hold out until then. Marco and I will do our best to protect you.”
There are three ways into Dahl Island: through the main gate connected by a bridge, through a land path to the southern beach exposed during low tides, or by landing a boat at the south coast itself. Nolan kept all of these means open. He intended to turn the tables and take enemies alive as they barged in through the front door. This was Nolan’s one chance to launch a fully staged counterattack against Marquis Dortrek.
Once evening came, Nolan sent Olivia away to her home.
“Liese, you should go with Olivia.”
“I’m not going. I’m staying here with you.”
“I knew you would say that. But it’s not safe here.”
“Stringing me along then chasing me out, you’re too self-serving, Prince Nolan. I will stay by your side even if I have to cling to a pillar.”
Nolan furrowed his eyebrows in annoyance, but he did not push the subject further. He probably realized that it was pointless to say anymore. “Then don’t leave my side.”
Around the time Olivia was leaving the residence, a group of swordsmen sent by Nolan’s uncle to assist us arrived. Nolan then stationed some of them on the southern beach.
Olivia was bewildered by the sudden time off, but Nolan did not explain. He had just prioritized Olivia’s safety. The inside of the residence was filled with an invisible tension. Ricardo and I went around the house to make sure all the windows and doors were locked, just to be sure.
As the sun set, the darkness of night seemed much more terrifying than usual.
The darkness and silence of night made me increasingly anxious. Though it was long past our usual bedtime, instead of changing into a nightgown, Nolan pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat on it. He likely decided that it would be dangerous to sleep.
At his feet lay two swords, one large and one small. And that brought me more fear. Nolan believed that he’d require the use of swords tonight.
There was nothing for me to do, nor was there anything I could do. I crawled under the bedding as Nolan sat on the edge of the bed, cradling my head in his arms as I lay. We looked at each other silently, with Nolan tracing the contours of my face, almost as if to confirm it was real.
The situation we found ourselves in was very precarious.
There was no knowing what might happen from here on out. We were on a raft on the verge of a major wreck, and we were being tossed out into the ocean—that was the image I had in my head.
Nolan was the only one I could depend on right now. We stared at each other as if to reassure ourselves of each other’s presence.
I removed my arm from under the bedding and touched Nolan’s hand. Nolan’s hand moved and gently squeezed my hand back.
Holding hands like this gave us a slight sense of security on this precarious night.
I thought it was impossible to fall asleep under such circumstances, but it seemed I was already asleep before I knew it.
Suddenly, I was awakened by a scream that came from downstairs. When I opened my eyes, the room was pitch black, and I could not see anything. Not knowing what was going on, my whole body stiffened. I remained still, and there was an eerie silence for a few moments. But then, there was a loud noise again, like some heavy furniture had fallen over, accompanied by yelling.
I’m so scared…!!!
“Prince Nolan, where are you!?”
I jumped out of bed and explored the floor with my feet, somehow managing to get my shoes on as I searched for him.
The light from the hallway leaked through the gaps in the door. As I headed toward the door, wanting to reach the light, Nolan suddenly grabbed my arm and nearly gave me a heart attack.
“Liese, quiet!” Nolan pulled me to him and walked toward the door that led to the hallway, with him standing before me, sheltering me from upfront.
The door suddenly opened. And almost at the same time, a thin, shiny metal object came into view, and before we had time to avoid it, it swung down toward us.
I heard the sound of metal clashing, and I could feel the impact of the sword on my wrist from Nolan’s hand as he blocked it with his own sword. Nolan’s hand detached from mine, and he and the intruder began to clash swords at the entrance to the room. I ducked behind the door of the room, gasping for air.
The intruder gradually made their way into the room.
With a clang, Nolan knocked his opponent’s sword to the floor and quickly kicked it to the corner of the room. However, the intruder promptly brought up the machete on his back and swung it down on Nolan.
—I can’t just watch. I have to do something…!
As I moved sideways along the wall, I felt a hard object hit my hand. I rushed to fumble with it and found it to be a sculpture of a hairy fava bean I had left behind in the room one day as a trophy. The three thick, stiff hairs growing upward from the bean’s head seemed like a very reasonable weapon.
—This is it!
I grabbed the bean by the belly, turned it upside down, ran up to the intruder from behind, closed my eyes, and swung it down with all my might.
I felt violent shock passing through the sculpture, and when I opened my eyes, frightened, I saw that the intruder standing in front of me had stopped moving. Their body then staggered and crumpled to the floor like a large doll.
—I did it…!?
As I approached the intruder’s face to check on their state, I was halted by Nolan, who dragged me out of the room. But just as we stepped out into the hallway, two men pounced on us.
“Your opponent is me!” Marco’s booming voice could be heard, and one man was quickly knocked to the side. Before the remaining man could even move his sword, Marco extended his arm and threw him against the hallway wall.
The man’s body warped unnaturally as he got smashed into a display cabinet. All that could be heard was grunting as the man remained down.
Nolan picked up the sword from the man sprawled out on the floor. He raised the sword to his eye level, moved it under some light in the hallway, and observed it closely.
“Is there something wrong with the sword?”
“It’s poor quality. This is a cheap sword. These men are probably just pawns. There must be a lookout somewhere who reports back to the top.”
At that moment, a faint odor snuck into my nostrils.
“…Fire! There’s a fire.” As soon as Nolan said this, he pulled me to him and ran to the stairs. But as we reached the stairs, armed men came running up from downstairs.
With a roar, Marco lifted a shelf from the hallway and threw it at the men from the top of the stairs. Grunts could be heard as the shelf took several men with it down.
Further down, Ricardo and the other swordsmen were doing the climb, swinging their swords.
“They’ve set fire to the living room! Please get down quickly!”
But Ricardo was followed by a succession of enemies, one of whom knocked over a lamp and set fire to the staircase as well. Ricardo and the other men responded with swords, while Marco wielded a club. There was no time to put out the fire on the stairs.
—I have to help put out the fire in the living room somehow…!
The stairs leading to the first floor was on the other side of the brawling men. Nolan, who had just defeated an enemy, grabbed my arm and ran us back down the corridor. Nolan began speaking as we came to the narrow staircase for the servants on the other side of the residence.
“Liese, please go down first.”
“What about you, Prince Nolan?” I looked at Nolan’s face in surprise, but his expression was deadly serious. Nolan put his hand on my back and turned me toward the stairs.
Another man then attacked us, forcing Nolan to leave me and deal with the man. I put my hand on the cold metal railing and lowered my foot down one step.
I stopped in my tracks, tightly gripping the railing.
Am I to escape here alone?
I hesitated and froze for a few moments, holding onto the railing with trembling hands and looking down at the landing that was dimly lit by the moon.
Looking back inside the residence once more, I saw Ricardo and Nolan fighting desperately amidst the smoke visibly drifting in. The swordsmen sent by Nolan’s uncle were also yelling and drawing their swords. Marco swung two of his enemies around in the back while howling.
Everyone was desperately struggling against death.
Nolan moved deeper and deeper into the corridor, cornering the enemy and gradually moving away from me. Suddenly, the back of the carriage that had gone off into the morning haze came back to my mind.
That morning when I stood alone, stunned.
That morning when my mother left me forever.
My hands that were gripping the staircase railing became cold.
If I could turn back time…
If I had acted differently, then…
—I don’t want to ever feel like that again…!!!
At that moment, Nolan, fighting with his sword against several men, shouted, “Ricardo! Ring the bell!”
Bell—? I instantly knew it was that gray bell.
It was that bell that Nolan and Olivia taught me how to ring the day I arrived at the residence. The bell that was used to shut off the entrance to Dahl Island. Once the bell was sounded, and the gates were to be closed, so that no one can escape from the front of this island.
Nolan will not let any of those attacking the residence and those who ordered it escape.
But Ricardo was busy fighting and was unlikely to move anytime soon. The same was true for Marco and Nolan.
Recognizing this, I climbed up the step I was about to descend.
—I have to ring the bell!
I ran down the hallway, weaving between the fighting men.
Nolan called my name from behind and tried to hold me back, but I kept going. When I reached the center of the building, I made my way up a narrow staircase leading to the top. The stairs leading to the bell were quite steep and challenging to climb.
There was no light, so I had to use both hands to crawl up the stairs. I repeatedly slammed my shin into the steep staircase, but there was no time to feel pain. Somehow, I climbed the spiral staircase and found myself in a narrow space.
Waving my arms around, I searched for the rope attached to the bell.
When the back of my hand touched the cold, stiff rope, and I grasped it firmly with both hands. I then yanked as hard as I could.
Garang! Gorong!!! The sound was louder than expected, and my body shook from the vibrations.
“…I did it!” A squeal of delight escaped from my mouth. I regained a firm grip on the rope and continued pulling it up and down.
May the sound of this bell reach the ears of the gatekeeper at the distant gates into the island. And may the gatekeeper put down that lattice gate.
After ringing the bell for an insistently long time, I headed back down. Halfway down the narrow staircase, I bumped into Nolan, who was just about to run up.
“So you rang the bell.” With a thank you, Nolan took my hand and brought me down the stairs.
The upstairs corridor was no longer filled with struggling figures. Nearly a dozen men were lined up, stretched out on the floor while the swordsmen from our side tied them up.
On the ground floor, Ricardo was working with the islanders who had arrived to extinguish the fire.
As soon as Nolan found Ricardo, he made a short remark, “We’re going to comb the mountains. No one involved shall go uncaptured.”
No one said a word about how there were no mountains on Dahl Island, though.
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