Léonard pushed the door a little to the side. Claire could hear everything now. More shots rang out. Panicked screams echoed through the castle. No music sounded.
"What happened? Emma!"
"Wait here. I'll go and see."
He rushed into the corridor and disappeared instantly. Restlessly, Claire sat down in an armchair. Her legs trembled. Her mouth dried up. She could no longer even swallow. Why was she so upset? Because of Léonard's departure? Because of Emma?
She could not remain seated for long. Time stood still. Claire followed him downstairs. She no longer picked up gunshots, but screams that grew louder. Crowds were at the exit. She almost stumbled down the last steps when a row of guests pushed her out of the castle.
No matter how hard she tried to get through the gates, she could not find her way out of the seemingly endless mass of people. Further and further out she was taken until she stood in front of the orchard. With a leap, Claire was overwhelmed as Emma dropped down on top of her.
Both spoke the name of the other person at the same time. Both immediately received a wave of relief. Claire could finally stop imagining the various deaths of Emma. She didn't know what to say. Her friend was safe and sound. Nothing had happened.
"Someone shot that man!"
Claire was confused.
"This man, this Imperial Leader or something. Everyone saw it, she ignored us."
"It was a woman."
"She was all hooded up! But when she took off her hood you could see her long hair!”
Why should the Imperial Territory Leader be shot? Is it politically motivated? Is Léonard behind it?
As if Emma could read minds, she immediately asked for Léonard.
"He came to check on you!"
"I haven't met him anywhere."
She was wide-eyed.
"He'll be back to the library! I should wait there!"
Emma pulled her friend closer and dragged her to the castle. The number of guests running out became fewer. They spread out on the street. While sirens of police cars could be heard in the background, they ran into the building.
Claire and Emma were standing in the library.
"He's not here," Emma muttered.
They raced back down the stairs, hand in hand. Where was Léonard? In front of the castle, they could see the count trying to calm the people. No one seemed to care that two young women had raced past him.
In the rose garden, they sat down on the grass. Claire explained that they needed to think clearly now. The shock was no longer present. What happened, happened. The perpetrator had nothing to do with them. Over the wall they heard a policeman, very probably from the HePo, calming the crowd.
"What are we going to do? Without Léonard, we're screwed."
Where is Léonard? He's looking for Emma. She's with me. He's not at the agreed place. Is he hiding somewhere? Could he have left without us? No... that's impossible.
"Ladies, please move outside the castle walls."
An HePo came to them.
He spoke of a lock picking and that the perpetrator must still be inside. Between the hustle and bustle of the people, where the count and countess were lost, Claire and Emma recognised his car. He continued to rest among his own kind.
Amidst the murmurs of the crowd, shots rang out again after a few minutes. A surge of panic scared the group away. It was divided into many smaller units that wanted to flee across the street. Like few, the two waited tensely in their places. There was nowhere they could flee. Léonard was gone for the time being.
Then an HePo crawled out of the building and propped himself up at the entrance. Small-faced and with a bloodstained uniform, he called for help several times before closing his eyes. Another ran out, yelling something about two people. That's when Claire's ears perked up. Her thoughts turned to him.
Léonard and that woman... it's them... of course...
"Emma, we have to get back to the castle. He's still in there."
"What!? What makes you think that?"
"The perpetrator probably belongs to Mönchsberg Abbey."
Emma made no reply.
She let Claire lead her. They passed the second HePo without being noticed. Hastily they felt their way through the vestibule. Where were they supposed to be? Léonard was with them. The gate to the ballroom was closed. Could he be there? She dreaded to think of a corpse rotting somewhere. But she had to make sure he hadn't been shot.
A quick glance was enough.
There was nothing to see. Unless he was hiding behind the tables or one of the sofas. Claire was reassured that she saw nothing unexpected. Her pulse continued to be at top speed. Her lungs had never been filled with more oxygen. The scratchy esophagus and sudden exhaustion, the racing sentences and voice in her head...
She could do nothing. She pulled Emma behind her. She did not fight back.
They examined the entire castle in a rush.
Almost every single door was opened. There was no one left in the entire castle. Several times Claire buckled and let go of Emma. When she tried to get up again, she took off her shoes and ran barefoot with Emma.
Only on the balcony could they hear voices. More HePo sirens brought the valley to life. A shout of hope and the warm and confident power of the policemen bringing back the stray sheep. Claire held on to the balustrade and caught her breath.
"Where is he?"
She sounded angry.
Again, she pulled Emma by the hand. Emma didn't get a chance to say anything.
The blind chase finally ended abruptly in the Bosquet when Claire slipped and landed in a pond with Emma.
"What are you doing?" gushed Emma.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
Only with difficulty do they climb soaked onto the meadow. With the last of their strength, they threw themselves into the dry. Emma only had eyes for herself. She sulked over her dress. It was dirty and wet. There were holes in some places. She had lost a bracelet that she had worn in the morning somewhere.
Claire, on the other hand, was blindsided. Léonard landed on the floor in front of them.
"Here you are."
"You jumped down from up there?" they both asked at the same time.
He looked up with a proud smile. In the sunshine, a figure was dimly discernible. Was it someone from the HePo? Or someone from the abbey?
"Come with me. We have to leave as soon as possible."
They did not have the chance to say anything. With throbbing legs, they trotted after him as he ran through the Bosquet to the barn. There were horses inside.
Is he seriously planning to escape like this?
Without a great show of strength, he jumped onto the animal after he let out a sigh.
“I thought the count must have a car somewhere…”
"What is it?" he said briefly, seeing their problem.
He helped them up and ordered them to hold on tight.
"We ride up the mountain path through the rose garden to the tree stand."
"What tree stand?” Emma asked.
The horses were still saddled, so they galloped across rhododendrons and under fruit trees. While the HePo tried to keep everything under control in front of the castle, Claire could briefly cast her eyes on the walls. The person continued to stand there. She didn't recognise much. But she was sure that their eyes were following them.
They rode among tomatoes and potatoes from the count's land. There was no dead silence among the three. Emma sobbed silently, Léonard took the lead and Claire saw that they had managed to escape from the castle all of a sudden.
They took a narrow, almost unrecognisable path upwards. Gradually they realised that they were safe. No one could harm them, except for the kidnapping of three presumably prize purebred horses.
For Claire and Emma, it must have been the worst day. Wet, due to the heat, aiding and abetting theft, probably murder as well... Now they waded through the denser forest on horseback. Mosquitoes buzzed over pools. A dragonfly was at Emma's side, which she did not notice.
Léonard deliberately blocked Claire's questions. He kept repeating his words to ride to the tree stand. From there it was not far to Kapellengarten.
There seemed to be no end to it and a raised hide was nowhere in sight. At some point, when the spruces were further apart, the distance between Léonard and them increased. He rode faster and faster without looking behind. He did not respond to calls. Attempts to catch him up failed because of the animal. After a ride that seemed like hours, they found the meeting place described.
Léonard was not there.
There, Claire and Emma sat alone next to the wooden structure, in the middle of an unknown forest. The stony ground mixed with little moss and muddy patches did not give the animals the right opportunity to graze.
Rather, Claire and Emma had to concentrate on their situation. Claire tearfully brought her friend to her senses. After a good quarter of an hour, they reconstructed the entire course of the day.
They always came to the same conclusion; Léonard had left them alone. He used the whole farce to remove her from the scene and finally disappear himself.
Late in the evening, shortly before nightfall, they returned to Kapellengarten. They took the same route as the siblings after leaving the two horses at the tree stand. The horses were found the next morning by the HePo and brought back.
Several times Emma pointed out what she was so upset about. Why did they have to look for him so urgently?
The conversation was about him. It was no longer just Emma who wanted to follow him. Claire had to see him again. Only to punch him in the face.
What did he steal? A book never fit in his inside pocket, did it? What about Karoline and Stephan? Was Mönchsberg Abbey present? Who killed the Imperial Territory Leader? Did someone try to frame him or was he responsible?
The most important question remained.
Emma swore she would never forgive him. She was tired and sober. Dried by the wind, they wandered off the road behind the trees towards Kapellengarten.
Claire's pulse had calmed down by now. She was getting hungry and shivery.
"Where is he? I want to throw everything at him, I´ll start with these shoes," Emma grumbled when she could already see the town.
“You can throw mine at him too,” Claire said and threw her shoes into the bushes, ”He will never want to see us again. We were stupid. Karoline and Stephan noticed it from the start, and we fell for it."
"They are stupid! Why didn't they tell us? They never warned us! Stupid Karoline and stupid Stephan."
"Stephan would never have said it anyway, he doesn't get anything," Claire said, "Didn't you see it when he appeared in front of us? His jump?"
"Exactly. How did he not get a scratch?"
"You didn't see it?"
"What? Claire, I'm tired and I want to get out of here!"
"His suit had several holes in the back. Someone tried to shoot him."
END OF CHAPTER VIII
To Chapter IX.1.