4 (2) – 12
Even if Camilla made little improvement in her relationship with Alois, there was some success with Victor and his group.
Otto and Finne had gone beyond just being able to make sounds and could now play the entire musical scale in order on their oboe and flute. Dieter managed to adjust the power with which he was pounding out notes, and Verrat stopped straining her throat as she sang. Victor, meanwhile, had become able to play simple tunes on his violin.
Whenever any of them made progress, the entire group gathered around and congratulated the individual. Whenever one expressed having trouble with a certain part, they would all encourage the person to keep trying and do their best. Camilla came to realize just how strong the friendship between them really was. What’s more, she understood just why Klaus was so intent on teaching them.
However, those peaceful days were fleeting as the reality they were avoiding suddenly reared its head.
It was a fine day without a cloud in the sky, though the chill in the air was enough to turn one’s skin red. When she went out with Klaus and the others as per usual, Camilla noticed that the central boulevard was much noisier than usual.
Because of the biting winter cold, it was rare to see this many people on the streets. There was something ominous about the noise, those voices echoing down the street had a disturbing air to them.
When Klaus decided to go and investigate, no one argued with him as they all raced towards the cause of the commotion.
At the center of all the uproar was a group of armed and well-dressed men.
Next to the strong looking men, someone cried out. They recognized the young man who fell to the ground.
Camilla’s shout was swallowed up by the noise surrounding them. ‘The poor thing’, ‘What an idiot, huh?’, ‘They’re reaping what they sowed’, ‘No, this is going too far…’.
As she was surrounded by a swirl of countless voices, Camilla was stunned.
Just why were Victor, Dieter and Otto thrown on the ground like that? Otto and Dieter groaned in agony as they were struck over and over again by those men’s fists. Only Victor wasn’t being held down, barely managing to bring himself back upright. Because of that, she could see the bruises and cuts all over his face.
Stumbling backwards, Victor fell to his knees next to Finne and Verrat, whose arms were being held behind their backs by two other men. It didn’t seem as if they had been beaten like the boys. Whilst being forcefully restrained, Verrat’s head hung despondently as Finne cried in terror. At their feet, there were bundles of torn up and shredded paper… That could only have been their musical sheets.
Klaus muttered angrily. The notorious vigilante mob directly under Franz’s control, the group that Victor and his friends had feared so deeply. They were incredibly strict when it came to enforcing Mohnton’s taboos and were well known to make public examples out of anyone breaking the rules.
They must have learned about what the young musicians were doing in the underground cellar. That they were playing music that was banned in this town.
– Just how were they discovered!?
Did someone betray them? That’s what Camilla thought at first, but she shook her head.
In the first place, there had been plenty of rumours about what was happening underground. They must have forgotten to close the door to the underground cellar, and a curious vigilante investigated the noise.
If someone had told the vigilantes about what was going on, the only people it could have been were the five musicians themselves, Camilla, Nicole, Alois, or Klaus. She didn’t think that any of those five friends would betray each other. Then, was it someone amongst Camilla’s group?
Alois had been asked by Klaus’ father Rudolph to monitor his son, after all. And since he was monitoring him, had he also given reports? Taking that into consideration, Alois was the most likely person amongst the nine of them to leak the information.
Camilla denied the possibility of an informant amongst them.
– Lord Alois would never do something like that.
Even if she found it awkward to exchange words or even be alone with him, she knew that he hadn’t changed. Camilla believed in Alois.
“S-Stop that! Stop it, please!!”
In the middle of all the furore, Victor’s scream rang out.
Camilla raised her head again quickly to see. At the edge of her vision, she could see Victor on his knees, pleading with the vigilantes. In one of the men’s hands was Victor’s violin. Grabbing it by the neck, he slammed it down.
The violin was smashed into the pavement, the hollow sound of the wood splintering against the pavement was harrowing.
Even before she heard Victor scream in anguish, Camilla had dashed forward.
Alois’ panicked shout boomed from behind her. But Camilla didn’t stop.
“…What do you think you’re doing!?”
One of the vigilante men turned around to look at Camilla, who suddenly jumped through the surrounding crowd.
“Who the hell are… Wait…”
The man turned around and glared at Camilla suspiciously, then his eyes slowly widened in surprise.
“You’re… Lady Camilla?”
“Oh, have we met?”
“Ah, no, it’s just that you’re famous, after all.”
The man quickly tried to cover up his slip of the tongue.
Even if people knew her name, the common folk of Mohnton shouldn’t be able to recognize Camilla immediately. At the very most, all they should know about her appearance was that she was a young woman with stern features and raven black hair. Victor and the others had no idea who Camilla was until her outburst, after all.
“In any case, what exactly are you doing? I wouldn’t recommend getting involved in a messy affair like this.”
“Let them go.”
“Afraid I can’t do that. These people have violated the rules of this town, after all.”
As determined as Camilla’s words were, the man’s face stayed resolute. Even if he knew exactly who Camilla was, he didn’t seem to fear her. Was the reason he was so defiant due to the backing of whoever was pulling the strings?
“You are treating them as if they are murderers! What gives you the right to beat them and hold them to the ground!?”
“Disgusting displays of vice will eventually lead to more death than a maniac swinging around a knife.”
“Isn’t it just music!? What is so wrong about playing it!? You act as if they’ve broken some kind of military law!”
The man’s mouth bent as Camila shouted at him. As it stretched across his face, it took the form of an unpleasant smile.
“It seems that Lady Camilla has some understanding of these kinds of wicked vices, I see?”
“What did you say?”
“As expected of a noble lady who was obsessed with the vice of her own passions. Because of that, you want to protect people like this who are falling down the same path you did. You sure are kind.”
The man spoke as if he were praising her, but the scorn in his voice was obvious.
“However, if you indulge yourself in vices like this too much, you won’t be able to reach any sound judgments. So whilst I have nothing but the deepest admiration for Lady Camilla’s kindness, this town must deal with its own problems resolutely. Otherwise, we may run into some unnecessary conflict.”
“And what you’re doing is supposed to stop that!?”
The man’s expression didn’t change as he looked at her, still holding the shattered remains of the violin in his hand.
“It’s only natural. Because in this world there are women who, drowning in their own manic desires of love, will try and drag innocent young men and women down into their depravity.”
“Despite all those innumerable crimes of hers being discovered, a certain Lady still couldn’t forget the person she yearned for so desperately. To try once more to steal away the love she insists belongs to her, she would even go so far as to pull the strings behind the man she was exiled to marry… Or, so the rumours go.”
Camilla’s name, who the man had inadvertently said in quiet amazement at the beginning of their exchange, suddenly spread through the throng of onlookers.
A despicably evil woman who attempted to ensnare Prince Julian and tormented the pure and innocent Liselotte.
An awful human being who was exiled to Mohnton as punishment for her crimes.
Like rippling waves, murmurs of Camilla’s name lapped throughout the assembled crowd.
“…Are you talking about me?”
“Oh, no. I was just reminiscing on an old story I heard while doing the rounds. Or, perhaps, do you know more than I?”
As the whispers swirled around behind her, she felt the blood rushing to her head. She felt a deep sense of anger and humiliation.
Certainly, the man hadn’t expressly said that the person he was talking about was Camilla herself, the woman who stood in front of him. All he had mentioned were the vague points that could be affixed to any number of dramas about love and regret.
If she argued against him, she would all but affirm it in the eyes of the crowd. If she stayed silent, she would be playing into this man’s hands.
“Before that woman fell to ruin, she should have given up on her disgraceful attempts at love. This is the same. For the greater good, we must give up these forbidden vices.”
The onlooking crowd had gotten bigger. Alois was somewhere amongst it as well. When Camilla remembered the last time she had spoken out about how she couldn’t give up on Prince Julian, how it had hurt Alois, the words she wanted to rebuke the vigilante with were stuck in her throat.
Even though the shame and rage billowing inside her was almost unbearable, with that thought in mind, that strange sense of self-control restrained Camilla.
“To give up both obsessive love and repulsive vice is most befitting a wise person. Wouldn’t you agree, Lady Camilla?”
– As if I could give up…
Camilla clenched her fists. She glared at the man as she chewed her lip, but she didn’t say a word.
If Alois weren’t here, Camilla wouldn’t have held back. There wouldn’t have been any need to suffer the ignominy this man was causing her, nor would she feel any remorse for still clinging onto the love she felt for Prince Julian. She would have stuck out her chest and told him exactly what she thought.
But, with Alois on her mind… She looked back towards the crowd behind her.
She found herself looking for Alois…but he wasn’t there. Looking back from where she had left Alois, she could only see Klaus and Nicole’s worried faces.
– Lord Alois?
The question that came to her mind vanished as soon as it appeared.
Just where was Alois? Camilla didn’t need to look for him at all.
“Don’t you dare say another word to her.”
Camilla felt a hand on her shoulder.
As she felt herself being pulled back, a familiar shape stepped in front of her.
“Let them all go as well. I will not forgive anyone committing violence in this town.”
“This time… Lord Alois, is it? I didn’t see you amongst the rabble.”
The vigilante’s face stiffened up as he said that. It seemed as if he was fine dealing with Camilla on her own but going against the Lord of this land was beyond him. The other vigilantes seemed to be daunted as well, loosening their grips on the young musicians. Dieter and Otto timidly raised their heads, anxiously watching the scene unfolding in front of them.
“In the first place, we’re not committing violence, we’re simply meting out proper punishment to those who broke taboo. You needn’t involve yourself. Blume’s matters should be settled by those of Blume themselves.”
“I can’t accept that. Blume is part of the Duchy of Mohnton. Above all else, I cannot forgive the fact you insulted her.”
As Alois said that, he stepped forward to shield Camilla. As if he were losing his cool, the man shook his head. He must not have expected Alois to come to Camilla’s defense.
“I would never dream of insulting Lady Camilla. I was merely talking about the stories that everyone has heard… Or Lord Alois, do you too believe that Lady Camilla, who may eventually be your wife, still has feelings for only Prince Julian?”
The man sought to speak Alois into a corner. If Alois admitted that here, to the public it would be the same as confessing that he was a pathetic and cuckolded man, marrying a woman who loved another. Of course, loveless marriages were not a rarity in this country, but it would be the height of shame for a nobleman to admit to that.
Alois turned and glanced at Camilla behind him. Seeing Camilla still incensed and glaring at the man from around his back, Alois sighed.
“That’s right,” he said.
“Despite being exiled from the royal capital, she still hasn’t forgotten His Highness, because she is a passionate and loving person. To condemn her for that would be the same as denying her heart.”
“Are you seriously saying that, Lord Alois…!?”
The man muttered in abject shock. The eyes with which he stared at Alois were filled with utter disbelief.
Going by all the rumours, Camilla was an evil woman. Even after being exiled to Mohnton, she was selfish and petty, delaying marrying Lord Alois because of how much she reviled his appearance. She also had a terrible reputation amongst the servants.
The man just couldn’t understand why on earth he would stand up for such a despicable woman like her.
“As for not being able to toss aside an unrequited love, I am the same. Going by your words, I too am guilty of indulging in that same vice, correct? Then if there is a punishment to be meted out, then I ought to be punished as well.”
“That’s impossible, to punish Lord Alois is…”
“In that case, release them all.”
“Guh,” the man groaned, but as disgusted as he looked, he nodded. The other vigilantes turned their eyes to the man whose head hung low. It seemed as if he was the leader of their group.
The man glowered, closing his eyes. Then, after taking a deep breath, he raked out a humiliated voice.
“…Just as he said, let them go!”
When the man said that, the vigilantes let all their captives go.
After the vigilantes left, the crowd gradually dispersed.
“…Umm, thank you very much…”
With a haggard voice, Victor bowed in front of Alois and Camilla.
There were multiple cuts and a deeply discoloured bruise ruining the cheek of that handsome young man. It wasn’t only Victor who had been beaten though, Dieter and Otto were also injured.
“No, it’s my fault for not helping earlier.”
“Not at all…”
Victor shook his head weakly as Alois tried to apologize.
His eyes trailed towards the broken violin, its shattered remains still scattered across the street. It had been completely destroyed, far beyond the point of repair. The strings were flayed and broken, fragments of wood lost in the snow.
“This was always going to happen. All we were doing is causing trouble for everyone, especially our families… We should have never started playing music in the first place…”
No one tried to argue with Victor’s words.
Those five young people, some of them nursing their wounds, stared at the ground, their eyes hollow and cold.
Edited by: ApoPie