Purity – Part 04
The gentle evening sun painted the candy house orange. At summer’s end, the sun set a little earlier. The wind rustled the flowers in the flowerbeds, scattering their colorful petals, sending a few of them to Kazuya as he stood by the window.
It was the time of year when summer flowers fell and autumn flowers sprouted. Closing the book, Kazuya gave the little princess inside the room an inquiring look.
Victorique was lying on the emerald, cabriole-legged couch with her eyes closed. Her rosy cheeks were swollen, and she was breathing softly through her tiny, pretty nose.
“Did she fall asleep?” Kazuya mumbled, disappointed.
“Really,” Victorique grunted irritably.
She slowly opened her eyes. Her long eyelashes fluttered. Deep green eyes regarded Kazuya.
“I was just thinking how the choices humans make are inefficient, illogical, and therefore, ludicrous,” she said.
“You’ve lost me. That’s what you were thinking while listening to the story? You’re an odd one, all right.”
“Hmm? Aren’t you wondering how Roxy died?” Victorique said gloomily, then closed her eyes again.
Kazuya was lost in thought for a while.
The wind whistled, tossing red, white, and pink petals in the air.
Kazuya shrank a little. “Roxy? You mean the maid? Did she die? When? How do you know that?”
Keeping her eyes closed, Victorique said wearily, “She died in the morning.”
“Morning, I see. Which morning again?”
Victorique opened her eyes, her lips pursed in disbelief. “What do you mean which morning? The morning of the execution, of course. You were reading from the same memoir. How did you not realize that? Are you sure you’re not the one who fell asleep?”
“I was awake! How could I read if I was asleep? You were the one who looked asleep. I heard you breathing softly.”
“I fell asleep for only a second. I must say, that squishy pumpkin of a brain you have never ceases to amaze. How do you even stay unconscious with your eyes open? I’m surprised you made it all the way to Europe without dying at sea.”
Victorique rose from the couch, as though a switch had been flipped inside her, and started giving a lecture, berating Kazuya. She seemed a different person from the gloomy girl earlier. Her cheeks were puffed out, and she was shaking her tiny fists in the air, looking delighted.
Kazuya just gaped at her for a while, then chuckled.
Offended, Victorique closed her mouth. “What are you laughing at, pumpkin head?”
Kazuya poked her cheek. Victorique slapped his finger away.
“Anyway, back to the topic at hand. When and how did Roxy die? I couldn’t tell at all from reading the memoir. The author said she hadn’t seen her since the night before the execution, when she was wandering around Paris, searching for the desk. How did she die after that?”
“She was executed,” Victorique said in a deep voice. She appeared a little melancholic.
“Executed? She was a revolutionary, no? When?”
“Roxy died as Vivienne de Jaricot,” she replied, fiddling with the white roses that Kazuya had given her.
“What do you mean?”
“The white-haired woman who was executed after Antoine that morning was not Vivienne. It was Roxy. She was running around Paris the night before, looking for the desk, but she couldn’t find it. The steel key was nowhere to be found, and Vivienne could not free herself from the weight. We don’t know what conversation took place between Roxy and Vivienne when the former visited the women’s prison again in the middle of the night. As the nanny who wrote the memoir said, ‘this is the story of us ordinary women, one of history’s mysteries that will forever remain unsolved’. However, Roxy and Vivienne actually switched places. Vivienne de Jaricot’s lovely blonde hair had turned white from distress. Roxy may have dyed her hair to match, or perhaps her dark hair had also lost its color overnight due to panic and grief. Roxy let Vivienne go and pretended to be Vivienne herself. Morning came, and she was dragged out with Antoine and executed as Vivienne de Jaricot.”
“I can’t believe it…”
“Of course, Antoine would have known that it wasn’t his niece, but the maid. That she switched places with her and resolved to die with him. If the revolutionary government knew that Vivienne escaped, they would have sent men after her. A woman carrying a heavy piece of steel couldn’t have gotten very far. But if the impostor was executed, no one would know she escaped, and no one would come after her. What did Antoine feel in his last moments? Relief? Sadness? The woman he loved managed to escape, while the one who loved him chose to die with him.”
Victorique paused. She inclined her head slightly, and played with the rose in her hand with the innocence of a child.
“Recall the author’s account. The woman’s eyes were closed when she was executed. She might have been afraid of the color of her eyes revealing her true identity. A change in her appearance could be ascribed to her life in prison, but the color of her eyes was one thing she couldn’t fake. Vivienne’s eyes were black, while Roxy’s were blue. That’s why Roxy closed her eyes tightly in her final moments. To protect Vivienne.”
“You read that a middle-aged woman dragged the decapitated body to a corner of the square. How could one woman drag Vivienne by herself with the belt weighing her down? Because it was Roxy. The female revolutionary died not for change, but for love. Hence why I was thinking about the strange choices humans make. There were other ways to live.”
“Then who was the old woman that left the white flower?”
“It was Vivienne,” Victorique said indifferently. “The author of the memoir did not see the woman’s face. She assumed she was old because of her white hair and the way she limped. Her hair changed to white from her time in prison. And her limp was because of the steel chastity belt that still bound her after she escaped from prison.”
Kazuya gasped. “So the woman with the white hair was Vivienne? That she was hiding young, beautiful features?”
“I believe so. And there’s a secret to the white rose she left behind. I think it was a message from Vivienne to Antoine. That she would always be his. After all, she would be living her life with the weight still on her.”
Victorique’s sounded neither childish nor mature. Her face was bereft of emotion.
“White roses signify purity,” she added.
The wind blew again, strewing petals from the flowerbeds. The sun was setting, and rosy twilight blanketed the candy house. It was a little chilly. Leaning against the window sill, Kazuya watched his little friend, who had solved the mystery in no time at all.
“That’s it for the memoir, Kujou. But what do you think happened to Vivienne after that? The former daughter of a Count who disappeared into the streets of Paris, dragging her heavy body along. Where did she go? How did she live her life? A white rose who became an ordinary woman and faded away to obscurity. Humans are strange creatures, don’t you think?”
“Yeah…” Kazuya was staring at his friend’s head.
Memories from a year ago flashed in his mind. He had decided to study in a faraway foreign country, and had taken the long journey on a ship to the Kingdom of Sauville, the little giant of Western Europe. His choice surprised everyone in his family. And then he met a mysterious golden girl, Victorique, a little giant herself, in a way. For some reason, she remained friends with Kazuya, waiting for him to visit her. Perhaps this, too, was a strange choice she had made.
The ordinary people that Kazuya knew all had mysterious sides to them. His sister’s thickheaded and rebellious attitude. His second brother’s love for invention, and his secret lover. The cheerful Avril’s penchant for ghost stories.
Perhaps their individual mysteries would harmonize and eventually create a great wave that would move history, Kazuya thought, standing upright with a serious face.
The lovely roses, despite the absence of wind, swayed softly in Victorique’s hand.
Kazuya poked Victorique’s tiny hair whorl.
“Can you not touch me so casually?” Victorique growled. “You’ve been getting too familiar lately. Now sing and dance while you reflect on what you’ve done.”
“No way. I don’t want to dance. Besides, a little poking should be all right.”
Victorique exhaled sharply. “Pumpkin-headed stripling.” She turned her head away.
Then she slowly got off the couch and walked out of the room, dragging her golden hair behind. Kazuya felt a little sad. He wondered where she had gone, when she came back, her ruffled nightgown swaying. Her face remained impassive.
“What’s up?” Kazuya asked.
“At least say someth—” Kazuya shut his mouth.
Victorique poured half a glass of water into a delicate glass, held it with both hands, and walked slowly so as not to spill it. She placed it gently on the mini-table filled with books next to the couch.
She then put the rose that Kazuya brought into the glass. She stared at the flowers and the glass anxiously for a while, wondering if what she did was enough. The way she was looking at them made Kazuya laugh. He patted her golden head.
“Gah! Hands off!” Victorique snarled.
“Haha. She’s mad. Ouch!”
Victorique’s growl, a dull thud, and Kazuya’s yelp drifted from the candy house and into the dusky, late-summer sky.
The rosy twilight shimmered, gently enveloping the colorful flowerbed maze.
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