Rap, rap, rap.
At the sudden sound of unreserved knocks, Linus raised his eyes from his book.
Who was the idiot who was violently knocking on his door this late at night? When he went to open the door with an unhappy expression, there stood Celiastina with an even more complicated and sullen expression than him. Behind her was a blond-haired young man that he had the memory of seeing somewhere before.
“Is something the matter? Coming here at this time…”
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t think of anyone else to ask help from.”
The young girl in front of him appeared to be even more worked up than the time he spoke to her this morning.
“It’s about the Holy Jail.”
Linus was considerably surprised to hear that word from her mouth.
“Of course, you know about it, right?”
Certainly, there was no way he didn’t know about it. But, more importantly, it was surprising that the young girl already knew about it. –He didn’t think she would learn about it this fast. He had thought that she would learn about it one day, and that it would be something to think about in the future.
“Well, at any rate, do come in.”
He showed in the young girl and the young man behind her and let them sit on a couch. Even though the cough was soft, the two of them looked quite uncomfortable. It was probably due to their impatience not allowing them to relax at a time like this.
“I want to release everyone who is trapped in that dungeon.”
As if she couldn’t wait, the young girl quickly brought up the issue at hand.
“That is quite sudden.”
“I know, but this needs to happen as quick as possible. Even tonight.”
“And you’re saying this to someone like me…”
The young girl drew back and frowned, looking clearly frustrated.
“If it is no use speaking to you, then please point me to someone I can speak to.”
“Oh? You’re much more confident than you were this morning.”
Linus chuckled with amusement.
“You should be more than aware of this by now, right? I am a hopelessly selfish and disobedient saint.”
Linus smiled wryly before he scrawled something on the paper beside him and rang a bell beside his hand. He entrusted the paper to a servant, who appeared shortly, and told them that it was an urgent message for the deputy prime minister; the servant gave a small nod before leaving immediately from the room. Linus decided that if he sent a message to the deputy prime minister then everything would be handled well since the deputy prime minister had been adverse to the existence of the Holy Jail previously.
“…… Is everything going to be okay with that?”
“Please be at ease. If you’ve said you’ve forgiven something then, with just that one word, even a nefarious person who murdered our king would become innocent.”
Hearing that, the young girl sunk into silence with a complicated expression.
Linus exhaled and then looked at the two people in front of him, alternating between them.
“Celia, was it the young man beside you who brought up talk of the Holy Jail?”
When he asked, the blond-haired young man’s body stiffened slightly. And, as if defending that person, the young girl hurriedly answered.
“If he did, is there something wrong with that?”
“No, there’s nothing wrong. If he did, I was just thinking on how he’s quite a courageous lad. Everyone knew about the existence of the Holy Jail, but there was an unspoken agreement not to talk about it. To say nothing of talking about it openly in front of you, Celia.”
“Aeneas did nothing wrong.”
“…… I acted deliberately, knowing how impolite I was. I am prepared to accept any kind of punishment.”
The young man called Aeneas expressed this in a grave tone. While listening to his words, Linus dropped his gaze.
“…… Did you take Celia along with you… to the dungeon?”
“Why are you asking about that?”
The young girl must have sensed the criticism in Linus’ voice, because she defended Aeneas once again.
“An unclean place such as that is not a place where the saint should step into. You understand that much, don’t you?”
“Even though that unclean place was made by that very same saint?”
The young girl declared flatly before glaring at him.
–This strong side of her was also more than he expected. In his heart, Linus secretly admired her. His impression from the morning was that she was an honest and obedient, but unreliable, young girl. Which he didn’t mind. But, for some reason, he had a preference for the confidence she was showing now. She was quite an interesting young girl. From the slightly dirty dust and dirt covered one-piece dress she was wearing, it was unmistakable that she went to the Holy Jail. However, he decided to stop pressing that question. His interest was drawn even more if, upon looking at that place, she started to act firm like this.
“In any case, it was not my intention to find fault with the acts of our free and uncontrolled Lady Saint.”
“Haven’t you already nitpicked me?”
“Anyway, the night is already late today. The matter of the Holy Jail will definitely be dealt with in a way that satisfies you, so please return to your room and sleep. Aeneas, you too. Accompanying this selfish saint must have worn out your nerves considerably. You must also have duties tomorrow and if you don’t hurry and rest your body now then you will become impeded.”
He gently announced a closing to their meeting, however, the young girl seemed reluctant.
“But I need to confirm that everyone who was trapped is safely released.”
“Didn’t I say I would take responsibility? Am I that untrustable?”
His answer came back in the form of suspicious eyes which seemed to say that he was not believable. In truth, he was interested in how exactly, in this one day, the girl decided to appraise him.
“Come now, if these people who were finally freed were to see you waiting for them, would it not be sad to have them be terrified again? At any rate, you will return to your room. Alright?”
If he said it like that then the young girl could not strongly oppose that. She closed her mouth and swallowed her words, though she looked like she wanted to say something still. Emulating Linus, who stood up from his seat now that they’re meeting was over, the young girl and Aeneas also stood up. Linus pressed a hand against the girl’s back and she walked obediently to the door.
“Lady Celiastina, I will escort you to your room.”
Without a moment’s delay, Aeneas lowered his head politely and took Celiastina’s pale hand. Linus finally remembered the young man upon seeing this refined move; him and the red-haired young man together with him.
The two of them were young nobles who should have had a promising future. But, due to Celiastina’s playing, their futures were brutally pushed down to the very bottom. The red-haired young man, even now, was locked away in the aforementioned prison and hanging around life and death. This lad, called Aeneas, lost his fiancée, position as a knight-in-training, his open future, and he even nearly lost his one and only close friend for an eternity. That being the case, then shouldn’t the girl in front of him have become the target of his hatred, to the point of wanting to get his hands on her? And yet, unexpectedly, he was quite calmly displaying a chivalrous spirit, Linus thought as he peered at the young man with curiosity.
He could not see even a little bit of hatred in those eyes. Instead, those clear eyes were showing a gaze one would look upon a beloved master with. Oh my, Linus raised an eyebrow.
Is this boy sane, or is he planning something? In any case, it seemed like there were considerably deep developments that happened in a place of which he could not be a part of. It might have been a mistake to have continued to leave Celiastina all alone and, unusually, Linus felt some light regret at his own actions. It wasn’t interesting for him to be the only one left outside of this event.
Linus called out to the saint, who was leaving the room along with Aeneas. What? The girl seemed to say with her eyes when she turned to look up at him, but he just dropped a quick kiss against her forehead. Immediately, the girl’s face became red. To think that the day would come where he could see with his own eyes Saint Celiastina become flustered like a simple girl. Linus chuckled.
“It’s a goodnight kiss… it looks like it has some sort of startling effect. Oh, I just had a good idea. Starting tomorrow, each time you use polite language to me, I will kiss you once like I did just now. How about that? I wonder how many times it’ll happen in one day?”
“W-w-w-what kind of utter nonsense are you saying!?”
Beside the shouting young girl, Aeneas had a difficult expression. Linus snickered to himself as he thought on how Aeneas was quite interesting as well.
“Oh my, Aeneas, you look displeased or that you have an objection. Ah, I know, I should give you a goodnight kiss as well, right?”
Aeneas stiffened and his expression looked as if he wanted to ask Linus what he was talking about but…
“…… No, thank you.”
After a moment of silence, all Aeneas did was mutter that with a scandalized look.
That night, Yuna couldn’t fall asleep.
Whenever she closed her eyes, the dreadful scenes of the prison would vividly come to mind. Dragged into that crazy world, Yuna suffered alone. She could hardly believe that right now she was lying down in the bed of her luxurious room; she felt like she was still in that dark dungeon and hearing the pained voices of the prisoners.
Why did Celiastina create something like the Holy Jail? Was she really content to torment all those people there? Did she not have any regrets? Did she ever not think to stop it?
–But no answers appeared to her questions. Especially the “other’s” feelings that rise up like waves, she couldn’t feel it at all right now. Celiastina was completely silent.
Yuna opened her eyes slowly.
That mysterious light had said that one day Celiastina’s soul would be returned. Until that time arrived, she had thought she was to play the role assigned to her “as Celiastina” and maintain this body without causing suspicion in the people around her, but…
Was that really all she should do?
As time passed and Celiastina’s soul came back, would she continue on committing those inhuman deeds up to now without any change? If so, what was the reason to restore that girl once again?
(Celiastina, what exactly do you want to do?)
Once more, Yuna asked a question, but as she thought there was no answer.
All that happened was the passage of the long night.
Yuna watched the spreading darkness for a long time, wondering at what time the dawn would come.
The next morning had pleasant weather. There was nary a cloud and the blue skies were refreshing.
Yuna slowly sat up in her bed and her eyes followed the maid that was opening the window to let the wind in. For an instant, she felt like everything that had happened a few hours ago was just a nightmare. But the ghastly smell that still lingered deep in her nose wouldn’t let her forget the reality.
“Good morning, Lady Celiastina.”
As expected, the maid delivered a businesslike morning greeting.
Yuna quietly lowered her weary eyes, and there was no one anywhere to notice her state. Soon, two maids arrived to change her clothes and they appeared all the more relieved when they saw that Yuna was silent. She could read in their thoughts that they had found the things she said yesterday to be unbearable.
After she changed and finished her breakfast alone, she went to Linus’ room the same as she did yesterday.
“Morning, Celia. Did you sleep properly last night?”
Yuna silently shook her head.
“That’s no good. It was surely because you’re so serious and brooded over quite a few things.”
“Hey, Linus, has the matter with the Holy Jail really been handled properly?”
“Of course. I never make a blunder.”
“The people who were imprisoned… are there any in life-threatening conditions?”
“Well, there are those in precarious states. But if you’re just talking about their lives then I was told that everyone is safe.”
“…… there are people whose spirits were broken, huh. And there must be people who have become disabled too.”
“However, Celia, it’s not something to have such a bleak look. If you hadn’t pardoned those people yesterday then not one of those people there would have been saved.”
“It’s best that you don’t identify yourself with Celiastina too much. Listen, because you are not Celiastina.”
“But right now I am Celiastina.”
Linus frowned slightly as he looked at Yuna, who muttered this like a spell. But that was just for a moment, he immediately regained his usual calm expression, and then gave a small shake of his head.
Linus approached the young girl, who was leaning towards the window, and gently embraced her delicate body.
“It looks like you’re somewhat depressed. Let me comfort you.”
“Ack! –I-I don’t need that kind of weird kindness!”
“At any rate, you’re surprisingly intelligent. Last night, since I promised “that”, you seem to have come to a complete stop in using polite language.”
“W-what are you talking about?”
“It’s alright, you know? You don’t have to force yourself to use informal language.”
“Geez! Stop joking and let me go!”
“Oh my, how heartless. Just a few days ago, it was an everyday occurrence for Celia and I to exchange hugs, though? To reject me now isn’t like you, Celiastina.”
Inside the widely smiling Linus’ arms, Yuna turned red and struggled.
“I was right! You two have a shady relationship……”
“Come now, stop resisting already. –And stop being sad too.”
For a moment, Yuna quieted down, but then she suddenly came back to her senses and used both hands to force his arms back.
“N-now’s not the time for me to be doing such dumb things.”
“That’s rude, calling this a dumb thing.”
“Linus, take me to where all the people who were imprisoned are. I want to see how they’re doing.”
In the moment she said that, a stern look appeared in Linus’ eyes.
“That is not possible.”
“You might be someone different inside but your outward appearance is that of Celiastina. It wouldn’t be good for you to appear in front of those who were harmed by Celiastina…… which is something I’m sure I said yesterday.”
“It would be a huge shock to them. There is also a fear that they could cause harm to you. Those who were driven insane might rush to attack you, the source of everything, when they see you.”
Even being told that though Yuna could not accept this.
“Ah, just in time, I thought to talk about this matter. To be honest, amongst the people who were released yesterday, there are those who are terribly agitated. For the time being they are being watched under the pretense of being nursed, but this is just in case. I would like you to remain obediently in your room for a short while until the situation has calmed.”
“…… By that you mean hiding?”
Linus declared this without hesitation.
“I don’t want to! I saw those people suffering with my own eyes! I can’t just ignore that!”
“Please stop making me repeat this. To those people your presence itself is like a poison. There are those who would lose their mind just seeing your face. It’s not just a matter of you going there.”
Refused so bluntly and coldly, Yuna could do nothing but lower her eyes.
“What would you even do when you’re there? You are C-e-l-i-a, no? Doing anything with Celia’s appearance like that will just be taken as an act of deception and betrayal, won’t it?”
Yuna wasn’t able to respond.
Linus gave a single nod as he looked at Yuna, who kept silent.
“Then, now that you’re calm, we should head to the ceremony of worship. This is a rare ceremony where all the important people gather, so it is best not to be absent. Once this ceremony is over, return immediately to your room, understood?”
The atmosphere in the ceremony of worship’s room was very similar to that of the church in Yuna’s village, and she was able to relax to some extent.
It was a welcomed ceremony to Yuna because she didn’t have to do anything within herself and could just listen to the words of blessing from the head priest and offer up prayers to God. However, due to her position, there was a special seat prepared for her in the front row. At the time she noticed that she was dumbfounded, but it was about time she became accustomed to that kind of treatment.
The seats, around 50 people, were mostly filled already with high-ranking nobles of the country. Afterwards, she just needed to walk to her designated seat in a dignified manner. It gave her the feeling of being an actor on the verge of entering from the offstage onto the front stage. Actually, this room of worship was built like a theatre and Yuna was to enter from the wings.
Yuna sucked in a breath and then took a step. The moment she did, she saw a human shape step out just like her from the opposite wing, and she reflexively felt her body stiffen. There stood Asyut, with his unchanging look of dissatisfaction. Yuna was filled with the desire to turn her back on him but somehow she managed to straighten her back and arrive at her seat. Now that she looked, she could see that it was a seat for two people. While feeling disgusted at herself for just noticing that now, Yuna kneeled and assumed a praying position at that seat. Asyut, who was already beside her, kneeled in the same way. It looks like it was just this ceremony which required the saint and First Holy Knight to attend together.
Yuna secretly took a peek at Asyut, but the other didn’t spare her a glance and only stared straight at the altar. Yuna sighed inwardly at how indifferent he was, as usual.
…… If possible, she would have liked to tell him this. That she had ascertained the faults of Celiastina with her own eyes. That she wasn’t saying this to ask for his forgiveness. But that she’s saying this to let him know that she won’t run away. She won’t try to turn it to nothing, like it never happened. That she would face it properly– this reality.
Yuna returned her line of sight to her hands. They were Celiastina’s beautiful hands, pale without a single scratch. Now that she looked at them under the light of the sun, she could see that it was completely different from her own rough and scratched hands. She gently clenched those hands. –Right now, these hands were moving firmly under her will, as Yuna. She was Yuna, but at the same time she was also Celiastina. She felt this once again.
Suddenly, there was a commotion from the wings of the altar that tickled at Yuna’s ears. When she raised her head and looked over there, she saw several soldiers stand in what looked like a circle and whisper to one another. One of the soldiers pointed at the ground and shook his head. At their feet was a black lump– ah, it was a poisonous bug. The same type of poisonous bug that she saw during that time at the river; the one that, when she first woke up as Celiastina, she instinctively brushed off because it was crawling on her knee. Even the royal palace had these poisonous bugs? Yuna watched them idly.
Come to think of it, she was reminded of a story that she heard from her father a long time ago. A story about a boy who woke up and realized he became a poisonous insect. One morning, he woke up and became a poisonous bug that everyone detested– it was just like her right now, Yuna thought. What happened to the boy in the story at the very end? Did he regain his original form again? Or did he……
The soldiers exchanged a few more words after that but, shortly, one of them crushed the poisonous bug underfoot. The foot, which was lowered without hesitation, stole that bug’s life all too quick.
(They killed it.)
An unpleasant feeling gradually spread inside Yuna. Certainly, the insect had carried poison but wasn’t it also something that held a life? Were none of those soldiers conscious of that? If it had been Yuna’s father, he surely wouldn’t have killed it and would have returned it to some dirt. Even if it was poisonous, so long as it wasn’t provoked then it wouldn’t have attacked anyone.
(It is easy to kill living things in this place, isn’t it……)
Eventually, the overture music began to flow. Yuna closed her eyes and lost herself to that music.
It was obvious, but when the ceremony of worship finished, the room of worship which had emptied out became completely and utterly silent.
Yuna was allowed to remain behind alone after she asked a reluctant Linus. She wrapped the remains of the bug, which had lost its life just moments ago, in a handkerchief and buried it behind the building. She felt like she had to do that.
(Though it’s not like that had any meaning.)
When she looked up quietly at the high, high ceiling, she could see many drawn celestial figures, who were dancing about with grace.
(…… O’ God, Vida.)
This time Yuna was alone when she kneeled once more and prayed secretly to God.
(Please hear my prayers. After my own life had come to an end, I was entrusted with a new life for the time being. And I was convinced that I couldn’t let anyone realize that this saint’s body had passed away. Yes, I thought that I would pass the time in the same way that the past Lady Celiastina did until, one day, the past Lady Celiastina was returned to her body.)
(Is that really all I should do? Inherit this heinous and feared heart of Lady Celiastina, and then once again hand it over like that? What would be the meaning of that, is what this foolish girl spent all night last night being troubled over. And I haven’t found an answer to that. But, I realized in the end that no matter what I can’t just inherit everything and leave it like this. Moreover–)
Yuna suddenly raised her head.
(I suspect that Lady Celiastina too does not wish for that. Why did the Lady Saint end her own life? When a person ends their own life, it is at a time when they earnestly wish to end everything. Surely, Lady Celiastina herself had those thoughts. Because she terribly detested herself and her heart, and those deeds committed by following that heart. And so surely, isn’t it because she wanted to forsake herself that she did such a reckless action like committing suicide? –No, I am saying this as if I know the truth, but I am fully aware that there’s no way currently for me to understand everything. But, that’s why I’m saying this, I don’t want to leave things to their natural course in ignorance. I am nothing but an average village girl, and even now that fundamental has not changed. But I want to spend this life, entrusted to me for just one year, on a path that I believe is right. I will make every effort for the sake of not erring on this path that I believe in. That’s why, O’ God, Vida……)
Yuna squeezed her clasped hands tightly.
(Please watch over me. I am sure that my conviction will be likely to crumble many timesl, but even so I am who I am. Even if I’ve lost my past name, lost my body, and am already another person– my soul has not changed and is still me.)
She strongly, strongly prayed silently. So that her will would not waver.
And then Yuna quietly stood up and opened her eyes.
–At that moment, a gentle wind caressed her cheeks, and the sunlight shone in.