Chapter 36: Kidnapper
I didn’t overthink while Claire and Susanna were around.
However, I got them to leave and got into bed, and when I closed my eyes, I was overcome with despair and a sinister feeling, and spent a sleepless night agonising.
I sighed several times and rolled around in bed. The more I tried not to think about it, the more I was tormented by my idle thoughts.
While doing so, the sky finally started to turn white, so I gave up trying to sleep in the end.
I opened the curtains in the room to bathe in the morning sunlight, washed my face, changed my clothes and did my hair.
I could have put on makeup by myself if I wanted to, but I didn’t since there was no need to go through the trouble of dressing up beautifully.
――― How did this happen?
I stared at the pale face in the mirror and muttered.
Who took them?
Why did they take them?
Do they have a grudge against Orpheus or are they holding the two for ransom?
Claude said that he would let me know if there had been any progress, but he didn’t bring me any information last night in the end.
There probably hadn’t been any progress and the kidnappers probably hadn’t contacted.
――― I hope they’re both okay.
I hope Diana and Marion are safe and sound.
All I can do is pray that for now.
I hope they both come back without incident and in good health.
“It’s alright. It’s going to be alright.”
――― I’m sure they’re both alright.
Of course, they’re both alright.
Anyway, I’ll just do what I can do for now.
After breakfast, I’ll go to Claude and tell him about my decision to go back to the Rosenstein mansion and start over with Orpheus.
I’ll also thank him for letting me stay in his house.
After I tell him all this, I’ll get on the carriage and go to support Orpheus who is probably busy with Diana’s kidnapping.
I’ll be there for him and help him.
“Calm down, I have to be level-headed.”
I’ve made up my mind.
I’ll be an impeccable Countess Rosenstein this time, I’ll clear my name and make Orpheus happy.
I won’t be trapped by that man’s words anymore.
I won’t hesitate.
That’s the last time I’m going to come to a halt because of my self-loathing.
I glared at myself in the mirror and slapped my cheeks.
My pale face, which clearly showed that I was sleep deprived, was somewhat unreliable, but I felt assured that it would be fine when I saw my blue eyes shine brightly.
When Claire came to wake me up, she was surprised to see that I was already ready.
“I woke up early and had time, so I got ready by myself. But I can’t do my hair as good as you…”
Before I got married into the Rosenstein House, I had to take care of myself.
I can tighten my corset by myself, and even though I can’t set my hair in a fancy way like Claire could, I can tie it up simply.
“No, it looks good. You tied it up neatly.”
“Thanks. From now on, I want to start doing things I can do on my own one step at a time. At least I want to get up on my own and change my own clothes. That’s how I’m going to change my mindset.”
“Of course, I’ll ask the servants to do the cleaning and laundry like before. I’ll also ask help with changing into a dress for an evening party and for tying up my hair intricately.”
“Yes! Leave it to me! … Oh, I’m sorry. This isn’t the time to be laughing with everything that’s happened.”
“No, it’s fine. Laugh since times are like this. That way, we can hold out for longer.”
After eating the simple breakfast that Claire had prepared for me, I instructed her to put our luggage onto the carriage and headed for the main wing.
Claude is a busy man.
I have to keep my message brief.
As I walked, I imagined the best way to explain this to him.
I was stopped when I left the entrance hall in the separate wing.
I turned back while wondering who it was and saw the young familiar apprentice gardener standing a short distance away. He was staring at me with an anxious look on his face.
“Morning, Nick. Did you need me for something?”
“Good morning,” he quickly greeted me back. Then, he looked around and took out a small piece of folded paper from his pocket.
“Hmm, I was told to give this to you…”
Nick nodded. He walked over to me and gave me the paper.
I received it and asked, “Who is it from?”
“From a farmer who visits this mansion.”
“A farmer wanted you to give this to me?”
What is this about―――?
The farmer must be a neighbouring farmer who delivers vegetables, eggs and other foods to this mansion.
But I don’t know any farmers.
Didn’t he give this to the wrong person?
“Is that true? Did that person give you my name?”
“Yes. He said he wanted me to give it to Lord Rosenstein’s wife.”
This is strange.
In the first place, how did a mere farmer know that I was staying here?
Don’t tell me―――.
I ordered the boy to stay, opened the letter, then froze.
“… How long has that farmer been coming to this mansion?”
“I don’t know. But he’s been doing it longer than I’ve been here.”
“How long have you been working here?”
“It’s been two years.”
Perhaps, someone had asked the farmer to pass this paper to me.
Maybe in exchange for money.
Along with a rough map, this was written on the paper ‘If you want Lord Rosenstein’s cousin and maid to return alive then come to this place alone.’
Underneath it, this was written ‘Don’t tell anyone about this. If you tell anyone or bring people with you, then I’ll end their lives.’
“So, it’s like that?”
The paper crunched in my hands as it shook.
Diana is the lure.
They kidnapped Diana to lure me there.
Their real target was me.
Why are they after me?
If they had done this because of a grudge or for ransom, then it’s more effective to hold Diana hostage since she’s rumoured to be Orpheus’s lover instead of me, who is amusingly rumoured to be on bad terms with Orpheus.
I hate to put it this way… but I wouldn’t go through the trouble of using Diana as bait to lure me out.
Perhaps, the kidnappers might not have a grudge against Orpheus or want ransom from him, but they have some kind of grudge against me.
Even though I played the bad wife, I don’t remember doing anything to anyone that would cause them to take action to this extent, but I can’t read people’s minds.
It’s possible that someone may have been holding a terrible grudge against me without me realising it.
――― In any case, what should I do?
I know I shouldn’t go.
It’s sheer stupidity to jump right into the fire myself.
However, Diana and Marion won’t be safe if I don’t go.
The kidnappers have already killed the coachman.
They wrote that if I didn’t follow their instructions, then they will harm them both.
In the worst case, they’ll probably kill the two.
The same thing will happen if I talked to someone about this.
I’m sure they’re watching my every move since they went to the trouble of writing that down.
――― What the heck should I do.
I was troubled.
Whether Diana or Marion are saved depends on the decision I make at this very moment.
I think of Diana’s smile which was like a sunflower.
Her swaying platinum hair and amber eyes.
『We can still be friends, right?』
“… Orpheus, I’m sorry.”
I can’t abandon Diana and Marion.
If I were asked to choose between their lives or my own, then I would choose the former.
“… Nick, where’s the servant’s doorway? And I’ll like to borrow something with a blade.”
I thought I should prepare for the worst.
I considered that the kidnappers could break their promise and try to harm Diana and Marion.
“It could be pruning shears or a small knife. If you have something with a blade, then please lend it to me.”
The place the kidnappers designated was a forest which was located a short distance away from Claude’s mansion.
The other day, Susanna, Claire and I went to this forest for a picnic.
I had memorised the route, so I didn’t have to check the map on the way there.
I walked silently along the straight path through the fields while soaking up the sunlight.
The farmers were staring dumbfoundedly at the woman who was in a gorgeous dress and walking through the fields without a servant, parasol or hat, but I didn’t care.
It wasn’t written in the letter that I shouldn’t come in conspicuous clothes nor did it state that I shouldn’t let anyone see me.
So, it’s not a problem.
It is an act of God that many people saw me, and it’s not my fault.
With my unfamiliar shoes and feet that weren’t used to walking, I finally reached the thick and silent forest.
I stopped at the entrance and a cool and pleasant breeze blew at me through the trees.
“Are you Ophelia?” A low voice rang from the forest as I wondered if I should go a little further in since there was no one in the area.
My heart skipped a beat, and my tension grew.
“… That’s right,” I replied, and a man appeared from behind a large tree.
He was a well-built man with unusually sharp eyes.
He wore a plain, inconspicuous outfit, but had a sword on his waist.
The man started at me, then jerked his chin, but I squinted my eyes in defiance, since I had no intention of following him.
“I won’t go into the forest. I’ll wait for you here instead of running away, so bring the two hostages here.”
“What did you say? You’re in no position to make demands ―――.”
I took out the dagger that I had hidden in my sleeves, pulled it out of its leather sheath and thrusted it at my throat.
Then I smiled calmly at the man who had widened his eyes and gulped, “Oi…”
“You’ll be in a pinch if I die, right?”
The man came back to his senses, and glared at me threateningly, “Do you have the courage to do that? It’s not like you’ll die straight away even if you slice your throat, especially with that knife. The blood would clot, and you would suffer. It’s really painful.”
“My, how frightening.”
I felt a cut on my skin when I put more force into the hand that was gripping the dagger, creating a burning sensation.
Something warm dripped down my chest and wet my lace collar.
“Even so, I’m serious. Bring the two here and let them go, then I’ll let you take me. Your goal is to kidnap me, right?”
The man broke our glaring contest, and the man gave in.
He shook his head in disbelief, said, “Don’t run away,” before disappearing into the depths of the forest.
I let out a sigh in relief.
I wondered what I would do if the man didn’t give into my demand but using my life as a threat seemed to have worked.
Therefore, this may let Diana and Marion get away safely… I thought as I put my hand on my chest and frowned when I saw blood soak my fingers.
“… Honestly, what the heck are you doing?”
That was reckless. I had acted outrageously reckless.
It wasn’t that long ago when Juris lectured me for being reckless, but I haven’t learned my lesson at all.
I was scared.
My legs still shaking was evidence of this.
My stomach got upset when I imagined what would happen from here on out.
“I’m sorry, Orpheus.”
I was going to start over with you and be happy this time.
But then this happened.
――― I’m really sorry.
I heard the sound of rustling leaves and from the depths of the forest, four men appeared with the man from earlier.
They all had swords on their waists, and two of them were carrying women who looked like Diana and Marion on their shoulders.
“You’re a brave young lady,” a tall, bald man said with a grin.
When I didn’t answer, they lowered the women on the ground, and forced the women to face me.
Indeed, it was Diana and Marion.
They both looked exhausted, had cloths wrapped around their mouths and their hands and feet were tied so they couldn’t escape.
Diana must have resisted when they were caught because her hair was flowing freely down her back, and Marion had a blue bruise on her cheek which looked like she had been hit.
Marion was shocked when our eyes met.
She’s probably wondering why I’m here.
Diana couldn’t see so she was unaware of my presence.
She stood there with her arms crossed, and she looked worried.
“You don’t look like a wicked woman like everyone says you are. You’re just like a saint, rescuing your husband’s cousin regardless of danger.”
“… Please remove the cloth from their mouths and untie the rope around their hands and feet,” I ignored his teasing words and demanded. The bald man shrugged his shoulders and looked back at his companions.
The men took that as their cue. They untied Diana and Marion and pushed their backs.
“Ophelia-sama!” Marion shouted.
“Diana-sama, it’s Ophelia-sama! Ophelia-sama has come to save us…!”
“What did you say?!” Diana also shouted.
She looked as if she didn’t believe Marion.
“No way, why… Why is Ophelia…?!”
I held the knife at my throat and spoke to Marion, “Take Diana and run.”
“Quickly! It would be pointless for me to come if you guys don’t run away!”
Although the hostages were trying to escape, the kidnappers weren’t moving.
They looked at our exchange in amusement.
They probably were going to let Diana and Marion go once they caught me even if I didn’t threaten them.
――― But I can’t let my guard down.
Diana was almost in a frenzy, but Marion was relatively calm.
She probably concluded that it was better to go call for help than stay here.
She pulled on hesitant Diana’s arm and started running.
“I’ll get help as soon as I can,” Marion whispered as she passed me.
――― I’m afraid you probably won’t make it back in time.
“No! Let me go, Marion! I can’t leave Ophelia here! Please, let me go!” Diana’s shouts faded in the distance, and then I couldn’t hear her anymore.
――― It’s about time.
I only took the dagger away from my throat when enough time had passed.
I tossed the blood stained dagger on the ground, stared at the kidnappers’ faces and prepared myself.
“… So? Where are you taking me?”
The bald man cackled and said the same thing he had said earlier, “You’re brave.”
“Are you really a noblewoman? You’re a little too gusty and it’s a little creepy. Well, it’s better than seeing you bawl though…”
“You don’t need to say unnecessary things. Just tell me where you’re taking me.”
“To the client’s house.”
The man snorted and walked closer to me.
“The client’s house? Were you all hired?”
The bald man didn’t answer.
He stopped in front of me and looked down on me coldly, then he pulled my right arm vigorously.
Immediately afterwards, I felt a strong impact on my stomach.
I didn’t even have time to cough at the impact that was gradually rising up my body before my vision darkened, then I lost consciousness not long after.