A beautiful lake filled with clear water. Along the shore of the lake, a big carriage drives slowly.
The lake is called Lake Melville, near the western border of Froinvale.
On the shores of this scenic lake stands a chalk palace used by the royal family for summer retreats.
As summer is drawing to a close and autumn is approaching, there is no one to be seen there anymore.
And at the entrance of the palace, a carriage stops and a silver-haired maid jumps down from the platform.
She walks up to the cabin, gently opens the door, and calls out to the inside.
"...We are here."
"Well... thank you for your hard work."
After taking the hand offered by the maid, Princess Verneuil, dressed in a white nightdress, came down to the cabin.
Her legs are not bandaged, and she steps silently down to the ground on her own feet.
"I want to be a shooting star, huh...?"
She looked around and softly put on the tip of her tongue a line from a memorable poem that the man she loved had sung to her here.
* * *
"What do you mean? That Her Highness is alive!?"
She must be unable to get up properly because of the shackles.
But Valerie twisted her cheek against Lucas's chest and looked into his face.
She did not understand what he was saying.
But at about the same time she looked up, Millie raised an urgent voice from the driver seat.
"Can you two please stop flirting?! There's no time to do that!"
It turns out that Olga's horse-drawn carriage is in front of the them, turning left and right and blocking the road.
It is a single road in the forest, and there is no side road to turn around and pass through.
In the beginning, after getting Valerie back, there is no more use for Olga.
So, Lucas will run away after getting her back, but he had miscalculated.
The carriage was normally faster, but just when it slowed down to catch Valerie, the big carriage overlaps them and block the road.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'll settle it right here."
Lucas pulls himself up by Valerie's shoulders, and Millie pulls the reins to bring the carriage to a stop.
A little further ahead, a big horse-drawn carriage with Olga on board also slows down and eventually comes to a stop.
As the sound of wheels fades away, silence descends on the forest, which is shrouded in morning mist. The neigh of a horse is heard, followed by a short landing sound.
Lucas saw Olga jumping down from the horse-drawn carriage.
In her hand she held a sword, drawn and unsheathed.
She pointed the tip of her sword at Lucas and the others and shouted angrily.
"You! Do you know what you are doing? If you get involved with her, you are just as guilty! Do you want to die for the murder of Her Highness!?"
Lucas jumped down from the back of the carriage and looked at Olga as if challenging her.
"When did Her Highness die? That was a great performance, Olga. If it had been the Commander, I would have found out the truth in two seconds."
"D-Don't drag me into this!"
"I'm complimenting you, Commander. You're not the type of woman who'd cheat a man without a second thought."
"I-I see... so I'm your type..."
At the sight of Valerie wriggling happily, Millie, who was leaning her elbow on the edge of the driver seat, let out a sigh of dismay to Hilarie.
"You guys are always flirting with each other... it's so annoying."
Valerie's eyes widened as if she remembered, though she probably didn't hear their muttering.
"B-But, Danna-sama. We have actually seen the dead body of Her Highness!"
"Was it really her head?"
"I-I really don't understand what you're talking about, Danna-sama. To say that it was someone other than Her Highness is too much of a stretch. I saw Her Highness sitting on the bed when the door closed. I'm sure you saw her too, right? You also heard her voice when she was talking just before. Her Highness was definitely in that room. I mean, I've been in front of the room ever since. I swear no one's been in or out of that room! It's impossible for someone else to have replaced Her Highness!"
"Well, that's right. I thought so too until a little while ago. But..."
"...I-Is it not?"
Lucas smiles at Valerie's puzzled expression.
Olga then stares at him.
The fact that Olga doesn't make fun of him here is enough for she to admit it. Lucas chuckled inside his heart and spoke.
"Commander, please try to remember what was lying around in the room when you discovered the corpse."
"What was lying around? The head of Her Highness on the bed, and... uh... Her nightgown was covered in a lot of blood?"
"And where did the brace go?"
Valerie gasps, "Huh?".
"When the door closed, Her Highness was sitting on her bed, but there was no brace attached to her leg. Do you think a person with a broken leg would take off the brace every time he/she goes to bed? I don't think so. If the bone is displaced while sleeping, it won't stay in place. Neither the maid nor Olga nor anyone else had a brace when they came out of their rooms. Then where do you think the brace went?"
"I... I don't understand, what do you mean?"
"It's obvious. It's still attached to Her Highness' leg. That means it wasn't her Highness in there."
"That's absurd! Where did they switch? On the way to the hidden room I exchanged a few words with Her Highness. You were talking to her too! It was no one else, it was Her Highness for sure!"
"That's right. It was the real Her Highness."
Lucas's words brought a big question mark to the top of Valerie's head.
She grunted, and then she let out a rallying cry.
"I don't understand! I have no idea! Danna-sama, don't be mean to me!"
"Now let me ask you, who was pushing Her Highness' wheelchair when we moved into the hidden room?"
"Who...? Does that have anything to do with it?"
"...I don't remember, but wasn't it the maid with the silver hair?"
"No. It was Olga who pushed the wheelchair. Don't you think it's strange? Ernesto and the others were killed then there was a sign of Human-eating Demon! But Olga, who was supposed to take the lead and be on the lookout, was pushing the wheelchair behind. There must have been a reason why she had to do so. Hey! Olga!"
Lucas turns to face Olga and smiles provocatively.
She does not move, but stares at Lucas.
"Remember, Commander. Remember when Her Highness brought out the sexy lingerie and the maid said she couldn't carry the wardrobe because it was too heavy? That maid is not strong enough. That means the wheelchair was too heavy for her to push. That's right. In addition to Her Highness' weight, there's another person's weight on the wheelchair."
"That's why that wheelchair is so ridiculously big. It's hollow inside... and that's where Her Highness' substitute was. They made fun of us, didn't they? In other words, that wheelchair was a prop for Her Highness to stage her death from the beginning."
"From the beginning...? So, you're saying that Her Highness has been plotting against me?"
"I'm afraid so."
Valerie's eyes were wide open and she was frozen.
Her head refused to understand, Lucas could see.
No wonder. The person who had tried to trap her was a member of the royal family, a beloved princess.
"After sending us out of the hidden room to change the clothes, they pulled a substitute out of the wheelchair and made it sit on the bed, and Her Highness herself hid in the wheelchair. In order to make us believe that she was in the room, she talked louder than necessary and finally made us witness the appearance of her substitute. We were led to believe that Her Highness was in the room, and the real Her Highness escaped by hiding in the wheelchair pushed by the maid, right? Olga."
"Huh, that's ridiculous... Then who's this substitute?"
"I don't know. Maybe, it's too much to ask for someone who looks exactly like Her Highness. But if you hide the face with a veil, there may be someone with a similar shape. In the end there's only the head, anyway."
"No, but... then..."
Valerie's lips trembled, and at that moment, Olga's shrill laughter echoed through the room.
"Hahahaha! If you are wondering what I'm going to say, you are being ridiculous. I know you have a vivid imagination. Maybe you'd better become a playwright instead of a knight. Then why did the body disappear leaving only the head? That's the proof that she's the Human-eating Demon!"
Lucas bites his lip in frustration and hangs his head.
"That's the point... that's the point I didn't understand.
"You see that! That's what your shallow wits are for. The crime of humiliating Her Highness by making a false accusation will never be forgiven!"
Olga boasts proudly. But Lucas looks up quietly,
"I didn't know for sure. Until just after leaving the fortress, you know."
He bared his canine teeth and smiled ferociously like a predator who has found his prey.
Olga's eyes widen involuntarily. Lucas leaves her alone and hugs Valerie's shoulder.
"Commander, do you remember the 'Headhunt'?"
"Of course, I do. W-What's wrong with that? What's that got to do with it?"
"You're so slow... but I think you're cute in that way too..."
"C-Cute... I-I see, I'm cute... Ehe, hehehe..."
When Valerie twisted her body in embarrassment, the twins looked at them with a stern gaze.
"I'm sure he's playing dumb on purpose"
"I'd feel sorry for him if I said that. He's got a girl and he's all excited."
Lucas pretended not to hear the twins' muttering and asked Valerie.
"You know what I mean when I say Headhunt and headless princess, don't you?"
"Don't tell me that the head of the princess is the head of a woman who was cut off by a headhunt...?"
"Well, it's actually the other way around. It was the headhunt who cut off the head of a woman to take the place of Her Highness. Though, I don't know how many people that was killed to search for the owner of a head that looked just like Her Highness'."
Lucas turns to face Olga again.
"We've already got all the stories, why don't you give up?"
Then he pointed his finger at her and spoke.
"Olga! No, Headhunt!"
Please bookmark this series and rate ☆☆☆☆☆ on the Novelupdates -> here!
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for reading.