Part 72: Rosa and the Witch of the Forest II
The men wanted to hurry her into talking faster, but Kyrie intervened. If something like that really had happened, then it would have been a terrible experience that Rosa wouldn't want to remember.
After taking several deep breaths with her hand over her chest, it seemed that she had more or less resolved herself to talk...
"Which means... maybe about 20 years ago?"
"Back then, my grades weren't very good, and Mother was always angry at me. I tried to do my best in my own way, but I couldn't match up to Mother's expectations at all..."
"...Mother was always very strict with Rosa. I sympathized with her at the time."
"Hmph. You say that, even though you were always talking behind her back."
"Would you give it a rest, Eva?"
"And then? Where did you meet Beatrice, Rosa-san?!"
"Hideyoshi-san, you mustn't rush her now. It's okay, Rosa-san. Tell us at your own pace."
"...Thank you. It was a day I'd been harshly scolded by Mother."
Mother scolded me brutally, saying my name was a disgrace to the Ushiromiya family. Of course, I was doing the best I could. But I had none of Krauss nii-san's dignity, I couldn't get excellent grades like Eva nee-san, and I had no leadership abilities like Rudolf nii-san. I never stood out, didn't particularly excel at anything, and I found myself asking why I'd even been born into the Ushiromiya family.
I began to question more and more why I'd even been born at all. This is what happened on the day I experienced my mind going blank for the first time... For the first time in my life, I realized that in addition to facing or surrendering to my problems, I had the third choice of running away. Though I say 'run away', there was no way I could've left Rokkenjima and gone somewhere else.
But, anyway, I wanted to run away from the mansion and my own self at that time. In a way, it was like a kid running away from home, or maybe a passive sort of suicide...
"...I childishly thought that if I went into the center of the forest, escaped from the Ushiromiya house, and maybe became lost, then I'd make them worry and teach them a lesson."
"And then, you went into the forest that you were told never to enter?"
"...Yes. After reaching the beach, I followed alongside the ocean. I didn't have any particular reason, but I felt that, if I went around to the opposite side of the island, there might be a place there that no one knew about, which might become a hidden house just for me."
"If you go around by the beach, that'd be impossible. It becomes a cliff partway, right? There's no way you could pass that way."
"...Of course. So, I kept going wherever I could, which kept taking me deeper and deeper inland. It's a horrible forest without any paths, but that was comforting to me then. If I could make it through such a dangerous forest, then I'd be that much further away from the Ushiromiya family."
"...How shameful. If you were scolded because of your grades, all you had to do was work harder."
"You mustn't say that. Doesn't Rosa have her talent as a designer instead?"
Literally speaking, he was covering for Rosa, but everyone knew that Rosa's company hadn't been profitable.
"Quit it. This is no time for sarcasm. So, you managed to end up there by coincidence...? At Beatrice's... hidden mansion."
Rosa nodded weakly...
"About how far did you walk? Could you show it to us on a map...? Natsuhi-san, do you have a map of this island?"
"No, there isn't one here now..."
"It wouldn't help. I was just walking randomly. Even if you gave me a map, I wouldn't know. And 20 years have passed since then. I probably couldn't reach it again even if I went into the forest..."
Several people let out dejected sighs. It was vividly clear that in their haste, they'd thought some hint related to the witch's epitaph... or maybe even the gold itself might be resting there.
"But just knowing that it actually exists is helpful. It would take some money, but if we enlisted an aerial photography company to investigate, or asked the businessman who constructed this mansion about what happened at the time, we could probably find some way to search for it."
"That's right. At least we have more options now, as opposed to when we weren't sure it existed."
"...Indeed. It may be worth investigating right away."
"The siblings will do that investigation together. We won't leave you on your own, Nii-san."
It wasn't yet certain that the gold was hidden in that secret mansion, but the sparks seemed to have started flying between Krauss and Eva already.
"Give it a rest for now, you two. Rosa, please continue."
Suddenly, I came across something I thought was an animal trail. I was very tired and had no idea how far I'd walked, so at that time, I naturally took the easiest path.
It was a fence wonderfully adorned in a gothic style. For an instant, I thought I'd gotten turned around and returned to the original mansion. Of course, there were fences around the mansion to stop us from entering the forest. But this fence was decorated differently... and moreover, it was very tall. It probably reached a full two stories up. It was covered with ivy and created a mysterious, solemn atmosphere...
At the time, I believed in the legend of the witch of the forest, Beatrice. I had been told that she was frightening, but some of the servants told me that she'd sometimes help you if you respected her. Since I had little confidence in those days, I believed the only way I could be saved was by receiving her help. That's why I thought what I did. I believed that this was the fence of the mansion belonging to Beatrice, the witch of the forest. I thought that if I could meet with Beatrice, she'd definitely save me.
So, I decided to try going in. But the fence was very, very tall, and it didn't look like I'd be able go over it. So I chose to walk around it. I thought that if I did, I'd eventually reach a gate. But it wasn't that easy. The fence had an incredible length to match its incredible height, and no matter how far I went, I didn't reach a corner. It might have encircled a massive area, or maybe I just had that impression because my child's legs made it difficult to walk in the forest.
Anyway, I couldn't find a gate for a while, and I started to feel sad, as though the witch had rejected me...
It might get my clothes dirty, but if I crawled, it looked like I'd be able to sneak in...
"I don't know if it was the hidden mansion we've been talking about... Still, at the very least, it wasn't a place that we know of."
As I did, the forest suddenly opened up. And what appeared there... was an unbelievably fantastical scene.
A beautiful flower garden spanned the front of the mansion. It was a flower garden of a completely different design from the rose garden we know so well, and it was very lovely. Of course, the mansion was also wonderful. It was a couple sizes smaller than ours, but it was still elegant and adorable at the same time.
It was that black dress embroidered in gold that we would later know from that portrait. I hadn't seen an elegant dress like that except in fairy tales and on the stage of musicals. For a person to be wearing it as her normal clothes... That in itself seemed quite fantastical. That mysterious scene was enough to make me lose my sense of reality. If someone had told me then that it was a dream, I might have nodded obediently and waited to wake up in my bed...
I had forgotten to hide myself in my shock, so she eventually spotted me. At first, her expression was quite listless, but when she noticed me, her eyes opened very wide. It was only natural, considering that a guest she didn't know had suddenly appeared. I lowered my head automatically, planning to greet her and apologize for entering without permission...
Video: The Witch's Flight
Those were the first words she said to me. I grew slightly calmer. Because I realized that we could talk to each other. Because I hadn't been turned into a frog just by meeting her eyes, like a terrifying witch in a fairy tale.
"...I-I'm sorry. I shouldn't have entered the garden without permission..."
"...Who are you? Name yourself."
"I-I am Ushiromiya Rosa."
"...Ushiromiya... Hoh. One of Kinzo's family?"
"Huh? Ah, yes! I'm Kinzo's daughter. G-Good afternoon...!"
I was a little surprised. After all, Father was a great man, feared by everyone. And yet, she had spoken of him without using honorifics. So, I was immediately terrified of her. After all, if she could refer to my fearsome father that way, she must be a witch with incredible power.
After staring at me curiously, she beckoned me to come over. Frightened as I was, I obeyed. After all, I thought she might really turn me into a frog. The closer I got, the stronger that fear became. After all, as I keep saying over and over, that woman and her dress and the flower garden and the mansion... that whole picture was so fantastical and beautiful that it seemed separate from reality. It probably wouldn't have surprised me at all to learn that she really was a witch...
And I really was lucky. She hadn't turned me into a frog. As I awkwardly stood there, stock still, she motioned to an open chair and urged me to sit down.
As she said this, she let an unhappy smile show for just an instant. Because I was full of a strange mix of tension and excitement, I rudely asked her a question all of a sudden.
"...Umm, are you the witch of the forest... Beatrice?"
"Indeed. I am Beatrice."
"...Did she really look like the portrait?"
"...Yes. Really, just like the portrait."
"So, she wasn't just a witch from Father's imagination..."
"Well, what did you talk with her about?"
"...As she prepared some tea, she asked me all kinds of things about myself. First, she was surprised that I had come through the forest. It seems she believed that many dangerous wolves lived outside the fence. So when I told her I'd come through the forest to reach this place, she was shocked. She asked how I had managed to escape from the wolves. Did I give them a biscuit and they let me go? Or did I cover myself in a magic cloak? That kind of thing."
"Wahahaha. That sure sounds like a witch. What an interesting person."
"Quiet, dear. This goes way back, but didn't Father threaten us, saying we should never get near the forest because of the wolves that lived there?"
"Yes, he did say something of the sort. Ridiculous. Even though Japanese wolves went extinct long ago. Truly a trick to fool children."
"I don't remember though. Did Dad really tell us something like that...? It was the witch of the forest, right? I don't think I've ever heard about wolves."
"This was when you were still in elementary school. Don't you remember?"
"Back then, you actually said you thought it'd be cool to try petting the wolves. Father immediately gave up the wolf story and changed it to the story about the witch. Seriously, what transparent lies they were, ahahahahaha."
"Hahahahah. At the time, the witch story had a much more immediate effect on you, Rudolf, than the wolves. I remember it well. Don't you remember those nights when you clung to my back?"
"*giggle* I see, so even Rudolf-san used to be that cute."
"Shut up. I was just a kid."
"...Well, at any rate, if Father's the one who shut Beatrice up in there, it makes sense that he'd use the same story about wolves. To him, the vast forest of Rokkenjima was a wall that shouldn't be crossed, dividing his two incompatible worlds: the Ushiromiya family and his mistress's mansion."
"Considering the height of that fence, it does sound as though Father turned that whole area, garden and all, into a giant jail cell. Just like a border dividing his two separate worlds."
"...Wolves aside, could there have been some breed of stray dogs there at the time? Perhaps the fence was there to protect against those."
"But if she innocently believed that story about wolves, that's pretty... naive. That's nothin' like what I'd expect a witch to do."
"...You're right. I sensed that too. She was very pompous, just like my image of a witch, but she was somehow very childish. She was... how should I put it... too straightforward. She gave me the impression that she didn't know anything about the world. It was as though... she'd come from some fairy-tale land. She really was a strange person."
"...What happened after that? Did you end up talking about Dad at all?"
"Yes. Once every few days, usually on an arranged day but sometimes suddenly, Father would casually appear and they'd drink together, or else take a walk together or something. She said she just happened to be alone on the day I visited."
"I see. An obvious mistress, you might say. My, my. I don't know how much younger she was, but good for Father."
"...We can be sure this was no indecent relationship."
"Idiot, there's no way a lover's meeting between a man and a woman wouldn't have some sensuality. What happened next? What did you talk about after that?"
"...I'd already introduced myself, so I asked about her. When I did, the atmosphere quickly grew depressing. How should I put it... She seemed to grow listless and lonely. It was that same expression I saw on her face in the beginning."
"Well, she was his hidden mistress, after all. If she just walked around wherever she liked, Mom might've found her. I'll bet she was practically under house arrest. Even though she had beautiful clothes, a beautiful mansion, and a garden, she must've felt pretty cramped. I'll bet she had it rough. And then?"
"She was definitely worried about something. I remember feeling really sad myself, when I realized it wasn't something I could do anything about by talking to her. She seemed to forget I was even there. She gazed vaguely off into the distance... and was silent for a long, long time. I thought I must've said something wrong, but it didn't seem to be the type of atmosphere where I could apologize, so I remained silent too for a long, long time, until she remembered I was there..."
And then, ...she muttered unexpectedly.
"...Huh? Y-Yes, that's right. I've never seen wolves, not even in a zoo."
"What is a zoo?"
"Ah, it's a place where they keep all kinds of animals. They're full of rare animals like elephants and giraffes and pandas."
"...So, there aren't any wolves in a zoo? Then, umm, it might not be so scary."
"Even if there were wolves, all of the animals are put in cages, so it's safe. That's why you can safely look at them and learn about them."
The mighty witch of the forest was apparently terrified of wolves. I remember it looked pretty funny to me, at the time.
She didn't know about zoos. I explained how fun zoos could be, but it was very difficult for a person like her, who had never visited one, to understand... On the contrary, as I explained it to her, her expression grew increasingly dismal.
She couldn't see the difference. Apparently, even though she lived in an elegant mansion that was surrounded by a high fence and seemed to lack for nothing, she couldn't see how she was any different from animals shut up in cages...
"Who am I? Everyone calls me Beatrice. And that does indeed seem to be the name of a great witch, as you say. But that isn't me. I cannot use any magic. I simply have the soul of that witch sealed inside my body."
There was definitely something odd about her. Beyond just being cut off from the world, it seemed she truly believed that magic exists.
I think she talked about lots of weird things, but I don't remember the details. All I thought was that... this might be a person to be pitied. She was unable to leave this mansion of her own free will, a prisoner without even realizing it. And she didn't know anything about the outside world, didn't even understand who she was. She probably vaguely realized that she was to be pitied. But since she didn't know anything, she seemed incapable of recognizing her own unhappiness.
Long ago, when I told Nee-san that I felt sorry for a bird in a cage, she said this:
But this wasn't a bird. She really was a person. Even if she'd never been outside the cage, she understood that there was more to the world.
So... I invited her.
"...Th-There really aren't any wolves?"
"There aren't. You'll definitely be safe."
"...I want to leave. But the gate is always closed."
"There's the place I came in through. It's got a crack you can slip through."
"...If we go through there, will there be a world outside?"
"...There really aren't any wolves?"
"*giggle* Right, there aren't any."
I'd only planned on inviting her to go on a short walk, but she kept looking over her shoulder at the mansion, as though she was seriously worrying over the decision. Then, I learned what she was preparing herself for.
I didn't know what her life had been like before then. It was probably something she couldn't express easily. If it was harsh, she just had to say she wanted to escape. If it was sweet, she just had to say she'd stay. For example, maybe it was like how a hot fireplace on a winter day makes the air get thicker and thicker, giving you a headache... Even though you know you shouldn't keep things the way they are, you still need courage to open the window and be tormented by the cold wind...
She was starting to realize that she couldn't stay there forever. She was starting to realize that she had to go outside someday. But, since she didn't know about the outside world, she must have needed courage to take that unspeakable first step outside... And despite that, she had made her decision. She'd voiced her decision to go outside, a decision she was probably making for the first time in her life.
...I hesitated for a moment. Father had decided that she should live here. She was like Father's beloved bird in a cage. If I just let her escape, Father might scold me harshly...
"I want to see."
"...Hmm? See what?"
I was just a little surprised when she finally gave me a gentle smile. Could that have been... a farsightedness brought about by her decision to venture out from her cage? It was a smile so gentle, I couldn't imagine that it had come from that once dark face...
"...When I speak with you, I keep hearing about things I don't know. I don't even know about this thing called school, nor do I know about zoos. I don't know about movie theaters. I don't know about amusement parks. And I feel, from the bottom of my heart, that I want to know about those things. Will you take me to see them?"
I was nervous about how I could keep it a secret from Father, but her face looked so happy, so I went along with her and nodded. But she seemed not to notice the meaning behind my vague smile. She seemed to believe that I'd really take her to all those places. She was pure and genuine. She'd probably never been tricked by anyone. No... maybe it's better to say that she'd never learned how to doubt. Her smile was somehow radiant...and yet pathetic.
...I wanted to find a way to grant her modest wish.
"I...have had enough of Beatrice. I want to know who I am. I want to start out as a new human, not Beatrice. So, I want you to take me away from here. I don't need tea anymore. I don't need this dress. I won't meet with Kinzo again. Please, take me from here, Rosa."
Still, when I saw her serious gaze, along with that brilliant smile that made it look as though a possessing spirit had left her, I could feel a little courage start to rise up inside me. This was definitely something that would get me into a lot of trouble. And yet, it was definitely the right thing to do.
I don't know how it'll turn out... but I'll take her away from here. Of course, I won't be able to talk to Father, and not Mother either. Should I talk to Onii-sama or Onee-sama? No, what about that reliable Genji-san... or, that's right, what about Kumasawa-san, to whom I can always talk when I'm in trouble. I'm sure they'll be able to do something.
Anyway, for now, I'll take her out of here. This was already a place she didn't want to be. So, I took her to the crack in the fence and led her outside.
Every time she found something, she'd ask me about it. And they were all really trivial things. What's that flower? What's that leaf? And that sound? And that smell? It really was like the inside of that fence had been her entire world. So, now that she'd traveled beyond the limits of her world...
...It's strange. When I first saw her, I really thought she was the witch herself, relaxing inside the witch's mansion. But now, it was different. Or actually, the complete opposite. She'd left a world she'd believed to be finite... and was overjoyed at the realization that the world was endless, something she'd never thought of before. So everything she saw was new. It was almost as though she was the one who had been thrown into a fairy tale. If she was Alice, then I felt almost like a rabbit holding a watch...
To her, it was probably a really fun walk, filled to the brim with excitement. But I was actually at a loss at what to do. After all, I walked randomly to get there. Of course I didn't know the way back to our mansion. There were no lights in the forest, and I hadn't brought a flashlight. I realized it would be terrible if it got dark while we were still like this... and grew impatient. She was too innocent, and apparently, she couldn't understand at all how frightening it would be to face the night inside the forest.
But I was the one who brought her outside. I had to take responsiblity somehow and resolve this situation. So, I had a thought. Let's go out to the ocean for now. If we then follow the beach around, we should eventually make it back to the mansion. However, that was much more of a problem than I'd imagined. I didn't have a map or a compass. There was no way I could walk in a straight line through an uncultivated forest, and I immediately lost my sense of direction.
At this rate, night would definitely fall before I had a clue where to walk. But this was no time to cry. After all, that woman following behind me was so innocent and having so much fun. So, I definitely had to lead the way through this forest, for the sake of her smile as well. Gritting my teeth so that she didn't see me looking troubled, I pushed my way through the woods, advancing down a path that wasn't a path.
At that time, I still didn't even have a clue where I was on the island, but for the time being, I was just a little reassured, realizing that if I just went around this way, I would surely be able to return to the mansion. However, though I had reached the ocean, we were at the top of a rock cliff. The beach was far below us. I was tired from walking around the forest for so long, so I figured that an open area, even a rocky beach, would probably be much easier to walk in. So, I suggested that we go down that rocky cliff somehow. It looked pretty dangerous, but I figured there was no other way.
However, Beatrice agreed to my plan without any doubts. Even though she was probably older than me, she meekly obeyed, almost as though she were some kind of chick who thought I was her mother.
I searched to see if there was some part of the cliff I'd be able to get down. Then, I found a place where the cliff had fallen over and made a slope. It looked a little dangerous, but if I went down using both hands and both legs, like I was crawling, I thought it'd probably be okay.
"Indeed. If that's what you're doing, I'll go too. Even getting lost is fun for me. Quite amusing."
...She really had no sense of danger. There was probably no doubt that she'd lived a life without discomfort. Even though she knew it would get dark when night fell, she couldn't imagine how dangerous the inside of a forest could be without a light. Furthermore, it seemed that she couldn't grasp at all how dangerous it might be if she fell from the cliff.
I warned her repeatedly to be careful. I cautiously examined our potential route down. It seemed to be... quite a long drop. I think it might've been about 10 meters down. If you looked at it from the bottom up, it would probably have looked shorter than the roof of the mansion. But looking from the top, it felt almost like staring down from the observation room on Tokyo Tower.
But Beatrice still appeared to be completely without fear. It felt as though she had never even been taught that high places were dangerous. No, maybe she believed that she was a witch... and that she could fly, so there wasn't any need to worry.
"Please be careful. We're... pretty high up."
"Indeed. I shall be careful. It looks like we can get to the ocean if we go down. Is there an aquarium there?"
"No, there aren't any aquariums on this island. But there should be lots of fish in the sea."
"I see. So there are fish. Are there...umm, whales and dolphins and penguins, like you talked about?"
"No, you'd have to go to an aquarium for those. ...And you'd have to leave this island to find an aquarium."
"Is that so? Well, I'm looking forward to it. What kind of fish are whales?"
"Umm, they're really big fish... huh, aren't they mammals? And they spit seawater into the air."
"Hoh. And dolphins?"
"Umm, they're really smart fish, and...oh, weren't they also mammals? They're really smart and can be taught tricks and stuff."
"Hohhoh. Then what about penguins?"
"Umm, ...uh, weren't they birds...?"
"What's going on? We're talking about aquariums, but none of these things seem to be fish..."
"Ummm, uhhh... Well, um, there aren't just fish. It's full of all kinds of things that live in the ocean."
"Hohhoh. I really am looking forward to that... nn-"
She let out what might've been a funny, rushed and short cry... no, it was probably a scream.
It came right out of the blue.
I immediately wanted to say something to her. I wanted to say 'Didn't I tell you to be more careful?!' It was the thought of a child. It was how a child immediately gets mad when something bad happens, trying to find an excuse to show it wasn't their fault.