Looking up at the high blue sky Yuna breathed out.
For some time she had been raising her voice and, as one would expect, she wasn’t able to hide her fatigue now.
“Shall we take a short rest, Lady Celiastina?”
Beside her Aeneas looked at Yuna’s state with concern.
Yuna and the others had been running about the next day, and thereafter, collecting signatures. Right now, they had even stretched out to the vicinity of the entrance to the gates of the royal palace and soliciting help from the people who passed by in order to release Duo. Signatures were being collected smoothly and in these few days they had actually exceeded a hundred names from twenty percent of the people going in and out of the royal palace.
“I’m okay, let’s continue on a bit more. We’ll have to return soon anyway.”
“Once we return, you will be attending a ceremony immediately, right? If you don’t rest, your body will be impaired.”
“Aeneas, you’re making use of your spare time between training to accompany me, aren’t you? You’re the same in that once this is over you’ll be heading to work, right? Others too. Everyone is in the same circumstances.”
But, Aeneas murmured indistinctly with a greatly distressed face.
“You’re taking too much upon yourself, you know.”
Yuna turned around, surprised at the sudden voice, only to have her vision covered by a spread of white paper. Next, both her hands were filled by the weight of the pamphlets.
It was such an unexpected event that Yuna almost accidentally dropped the mountain of pamphlets. Somehow, she managed not to and raised her head to see Siegcrest, who she hadn’t seen in a while, in front of her.
She dropped her eyes to the pamphlets in her arms again upon being told that. –It was a lot of signatures.
“I thought I should help you in the end. Well, I only asked around a little bit and it became like this. Those are the signatures from all of the holy knights.”
“A-All of the holy knights…”
Yuna and Aeneas stared at Siegcrest in blank amazement.
“Of course my signature is in there too… Honestly, I wasn’t intending to help but then I thought that, since you’ve come this far, it wouldn’t be so bad to help save Duo. But the captain was really angry and that was a problem. He told me not to forcibly drag the holy knights into this with my actions as the Vice-captain.”
She could understand that. The Vice-captain of the Order of Holy Knights would have great influence.
“But, in the end, that captain signed as well. He’s mostly a good guy.”
A smile slipped out from Siegcrest.
“Sieg, it looks like you knew that we were collecting signatures.”
“It’s become quite the rumor, you know. An unidentified super beauty is running around to save the life of an unfortunate young man.”
“You should use that rumor. You need to slowly involve more people. The top won’t be moved by this yet.”
“… Y-You’re right.”
“Sorry, but while us holy knights have a large presence during times of war, during times of peace like this our position is weak. Even with all of our signatures, you’re still lacking a decisive blow. If you’re thinking of moving the people at the top then it’s necessary for you to be backed by someone who has influence and doesn’t lean towards the military.”
Once again, she realized what he said was certainly true. She had acted thinking that Duo could be saved with everyone’s will being gathered, but maybe that was naive.
“… For example…”
“If the king says yes then it’s your victory, Celia. But the king won’t nod unless his close aides all agree. And looking at the aides beside the king that you can reach– it would probably be Asyut or Lord Linus. If you can win them over then I think those two will be able to do something about the others.”
It looked like it wasn’t possible to avoid them, huh. Yuna bit her lip. She didn’t want to face those two at all. Even if she asked them now, wouldn’t the result be the same?
(But this time I’m not alone. There are a lot of people with me with this.)
Yuna strongly hugged the list in her arms. In order to answer to the people who signed, she wasn’t ever going to give up until Duo was saved. First, she would go and see Asyut. Last time they talked he had told her to “take some time to reconsider”. Now, many days after that, and on top of understanding the “position” she and he had– her thoughts on wanting to save Duo hadn’t changed. She was going to tell Asyut that. And then somehow she would get him to understand.
But what should she do about Linus? Beyond Duo’s problem, she and Linus were at cross purposes over a fundamental part. Right now, she was terrified at having to face Linus, who had completely denied her existence. However, at any rate, she needed to give her undivided attention to saving Duo. She wasn’t in the position to run away from Linus.
There was another problem too. Duo himself. He had completely lost his will to live. Even if everything went well and Duo was released, at this rate it wouldn’t have been done for his sake. She needed to get him to be positive somehow.
The only relief was from Yodel. She was secretly moving in order to save Duo. Yuna had heard that Yodel was a person with influence comparable to Asyut and Linus. Should she meet and talk to Yodel directly? The other person might hate having to join hands with her, but they had the same mind about wanting to help Duo. Maybe it was possible for them to properly talk.
(There are still a lot of things that need to be done. What do I do? Where should I start?)
“Lady Celiastina, I really think you do not look well.”
As Aeneas called out to her worriedly, he scooped up the list from Yuna’s hands. Siegcrest too had an unusually concerned voice.
“Hey, you should rest a bit before the next ceremony.”
Yuna nodded ambiguously. It was true that her head hurt from thinking too much. Unawares, Yuna grabbed onto Aeneas’ arm.
“Sorry, but can we rest here… just for a little bit?”
Without waiting for an answer, Yuna staggered on unsteady feet to a nearby overhang. And then she crouched down while being supported by Aeneas.
“I’m sorry. We can go just after a little bit though.”
Yuna slowly closed her eyes. Various information ran around through her head. All of them seemed to run away from Yuna’s hands when she tried to catch them. It was as if it was hopeless to line them up in order. They banged around violently in Yuna’s head and, just for a moment, she tried to clear everything away and make it pure white.
Yes, just for a moment.
Once she calmed down, she would think about this again.
–Ah, it’s finally quiet. I can feel a bit calmer with this–.
Ha, Yuna suddenly opened her eyes.
As soon as the handkerchief that was placed on her forehead shook slightly, it was drawn away. Her eyes followed the direction of the handkerchief without thinking– and then she noticed Asyut standing immediately beside her.
“Have you come to?”
She looked around, still dazed, and what entered her vision was a familiar ceiling, a familiar bed, a familiar table and familiar drawer– she noticed that this was unmistakably her own room. The only thing that was unfamiliar in this room was Asyut, who was standing beside her and examining her state.
“I… fell asleep…”
“You are mistaken. You lost consciousness.”
Yuna was surprised to be told that. But, certainly, her situation probably couldn’t be called “falling asleep”. She caused trouble for everyone again–.
“How long was I unconscious for?”
“It was not very long. The sun has not set yet.”
When she looked out the window, she could see that it was indeed somewhat sunny.
“Why are you here, Asyut?”
“Siegcrest called me. I told Siegcrest and Aeneas to return to their respective positions, but rest assured I will immediately tell them that you have awoken.”
Yuna nodded. And then she passed her gaze around her surroundings, only to realize that she couldn’t find the list that was more precious than anything else. Asyut, who saw her flustered state, seemed to know instantly what Yuna was looking for.
“If you are looking for the signatures then they are over here.”
He took the list that was placed on the table beside Yuna and handed them over to her. Yuna breathed a sigh of relief when she held them.
“You have collected quite a lot.”
Come to think of it, she hadn’t told Asyut yet that she joined the petition. She looked at him timidly, thinking that he would be angry upon learning that, but it didn’t seem like that. Rather, he seemed even calmer than usual. Like how Siegcrest immediately knew that she was acting, perhaps her actions reached Asyut’s ears a long time ago.
“Do you intend to continue with this movement?”
Even if he told her that she was bound to fail due to inadequate help, she didn’t intend to stop. These signatures were something of a support for Yuna. They were a precious support to prevent herself from becoming discouraged about wanting to help Duo.
Yuna looked directly into Asyut’s eyes. And Asyut, upon receiving her gaze, looked back at her.
“I… think I understand a little more. What you meant about being unable to pardon Duo in your position. I said that when someone’s life is concerned then one’s position doesn’t matter, but that was a one-sided opinion… At first I thought it was strange when I saw you stifling yourself to death to be the “First Holy Knight”. I wanted you to value yourself more. But, recently, I realized something during the Ceremony of Display. I realized that there really are people who rely on you and me. Asyut, you’re working hard for those people, right?”
Asyut did not interject and listened to Yuna quietly.
“Now I understand a little bit about the responsibility the saint carries. I think I also understand a bit of what you wanted to say, Asyut… and so I thought about different things on top of those.”
Yuna straightened her posture on the bed. And then, like that, lowered her head deeply.
“But I still won’t yield on wanting to save Duo. So, please, lend me your strength.”
A gentle silence flowed.
Finally, by the time she felt like she was unable to endure that silence a second longer, Asyut opened his mouth.
“Before I answer, there is something I must talk to you about.”
Asyut’s words were neither an affirmative nor a refusal. Yuna raised her head, perplexed. What could he possibly want to talk about?
Yuna fell uneasily silent and Asyut draped his coat over her shoulders before sitting down in a chair beside her.
“First, even if I were to cooperate in Duo’s release, my influence alone is not enough to do this. This is because your influence is too strong, Lady Celiastina. It is absolute that those who defy you are immediately executed. To overturn that… yes, you would need the cooperation of someone politically strong, such as Lord Linus, or religiously strong, such as Lady Yodel.”
“I’ll definitely do something about Linus. I’ll go and see him again and again until he lends his strength.”
We can put aside Lord Linus, Asyut seemed to imply as he shook his head.
“A problem is Lady Yodel.”
“Yodel? But Yodel herself is the one who is acting in order to save Duo. You should know that, right?”
“Her objective is not Duo’s release.”
“This incident was planned by Lady Yodel in order to destroy your authority. Lady Yodel was also the one to instigate Duo’s attack on you.”
Yuna became speechless. He was talking about something she couldn’t ever have imagined. Yodel spurred on Duo?
“T-That can’t be true.”
“It is not a lie. By having Duo executed, everyone’s animosity towards you would be amplified. This applies to the signatures as well. It is just to stir up everyone’s sympathy. She is predicting that, in any case, just the signatures alone will not be enough to revoke the execution.”
“That is how large Lady Yodel’s resolution to oppose you is. Lady Yodel will do anything to have Duo executed. If he is not, then her plan will collapse and, above all, she will have given in to you.”
Yuna shook her head harshly. No matter what he said, she couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t Yodel always wishing for everyone’s happiness? –Yes, didn’t Nasha talk about this? That Yodel was a wonderful person. That Yodel smiled gently at Nasha, who wished for everyone to be happy, and gave her the pendant. There was no way someone like that would sacrifice another person for the sake of their own goal.
“Lady Celiastina, please raise your head.”
Asyut softly fixed the coat that was slipping from Yuna’s shoulders as she looked down and gripped the sheets tightly.
“Lady Yodel’s will has not changed from the past. Even now she is acting only with thoughts of the country in mind. It has simply shifted a little. The truth is that she herself has realized that the path she is advancing on is separate from what she wished for originally– but she is no longer able to stop. I believe that fact is something she may be troubled over.”
Yodel’s eyes came to Yuna’s mind. If those eyes were an indication of her will then it was extremely solid and unshakable. Could a woman like her actually have doubts? Even though she seemed to be a woman who always plunged forward without hesitation.
“Also, there is another problem, not just Lady Yodel.”
Asyut pulled away and once again put distance between him and Yuna.
“Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that Lord Linus, Lady Yodel, and I all moved towards the release of Duo. The moment it is done the three of us will have publicly opposed you, Lady Celiastina. If we also have the signature list then the popular will of the royal palace will also be added to our camp. In that situation, what do you think will happen in the end if Duo is released? –Everyone will be cognizant of how Saint Celiastina’s views can be bent.”
She knew immediately what Asyut wanted to say. Celiastina, who boasted absolute power, will have given in for the first time.
“The saint, who no one could stop until now, would have been stopped by the three of us gathering together. Furthermore, everyone will be given the impression that even servants, if they gather in a group, will be able to push the saint around. This will be an extremely great “fact” for those in the anti-saint faction. This may allow them to gain more momentum… Now that I think about it, the influence on the anti-saint faction may have been less if Duo was released from the start by your final words.”
Certainly, what he said was true. However, the fact that Yuna did not release Duo with the saint’s authority was because it would incite Duo’s hatred towards her, rather than consideration of her influence on the anti-saint faction. Moreover–.
“That’s fine. It’s best that a saint doesn’t have absolute power, just because they’re a saint.”
Those words came out very naturally. Asyut lost his words and took a long hard look at Yuna’s face.
“In fact, it has not been necessary for a long time for the saint to have authority, wouldn’t you say? –I’m sure the people in the past used to give the saint a degree of freedom, for dedicating their entire life for the sake of the country. However, that is different from letting people be hurt by selfish actions. It’s best not to have power for that.”
“That is… true, but…”
Asyut, who was unable to pull himself out of his disorder, gave a vague response.
“But if you explicitly state that then the degree of danger that will befall your person will–“
“Certainly increase, right? But that can’t be helped… or something like that, though I know I’m not in the position to say that. However, I want to stop being an existence of terror to everyone any more than this. If I don’t then…”
She surely won’t be able to return. Yuna added that in her heart.
Deep in her chest the “other” feeling shook as if confused. It was a complicated emotion, as if it were angry, or as if it were being sullen without anger.
“I’m sorry for saying something selfish. But these are my thoughts.”
Yuna apologized to “two people”. Asyut was silent for a while and his eyes dropped to his own hands which he lightly interlocked. But, before long, he raised his head slowly.
“… I understand.”
Asyut took the list of signatures. And then, at the very last page, he signed his name in a flowing script and handed it back to Yuna.
“Then I will do as much as I can. I will try to persuade the others in order to release Duo.”
Yuna was so pleased she was almost jumping in joy at how her words were finally heard.
However, Asyut, who was watching Yuna, gave a smile that was seemingly sad in some way.
Dinner was prepared out of consideration for Yuna’s health and only things that were easy to digest were lined up. While quietly eating the thick warm soup, something like comfort passed through her throat. But, even though she thought it was delicious, she couldn’t bring herself to have an appetite. The other two or three items, she only ate one bite, and then left the rest.
After dinner she called Aeneas and the two of them went out. Originally, her bodyguard was Siegcrest but she didn’t think he would remain quiet and stand back at the place that she would have taken him to. On that point, she could relax if it was Aeneas. She was apologetic for taking up his precious free time but Aeneas didn’t seem to care at all. Rather, he seemed happy to be relied on. Yuna secretly admired how he was chivalric through and through.
Before she talked to Yodel, she would like to secure one more ally. She wasn’t going to be an opponent to Yodel if she was the only one making a fuss. But if Yodel knew that Asyut and Linus were looking to release Duo then she too might agree.
Yuna came to Linus’ personal rooms and took in a deep breath. And then she slowly exhaled. –What kind of eyes would Linus look at her with? When she thought about that, she couldn’t help but be nervous; however, she suppressed her desire to run and stood in front of the door. She got Aeneas to wait here without entering.
And then she raised a hand – on the verge of shaking – and knocked reservedly but firmly.
“… Who is it?”
Immediately, Linus’ calm reply came back.
“It is Celiastina. May I enter?”
Yuna cautiously opened the door. On the other side Linus was seated comfortably on a wide sofa and playing with a glass in his hand.
“You came. Has your health recovered?”
“I heard that you collapsed. You must have accumulated a lot of stress. But that’s not unreasonable, huh.”
Yuna was lost at how to respond. She hadn’t thought she would receive these sympathetic words.
“Since you probably haven’t completely recovered, let us end this conversation quickly. Please, sit.”
Yuna did as she was told and sat down on the opposite sofa.
“Even though I treated you coldly like that, you still won’t give up, hm?”
“… I will not give up. I understand that you do not accept or approve of my existence. But, right now, I wish for you to ignore that.”
“Did you speak to Lord Asyut?”
“Yes. He is going to aid me.”
Oh? Linus implied with an amused smile.
“–You know, I was thinking of helping you too.”
“Like I said when I told you my thoughts directly. Presently, Duo’s matter is not a problem to me and I don’t comprehend why you are that desperate. However, watching you move around is unexpectedly interesting. Even if your true colors were to be exposed, there would be no point to locking you up and confining you in your room at that time. If that’s the case, then it might be fine to let you do as you wish.”
Furthermore, Linus added as he tilted his glass. Was he drinking because his mood was good? But, whether he was drinking or not, his attitude didn’t seem to change much.
“It is very interesting to see Asyut cooperating with you. It would be boring if I objected here… Yes, I will do whatever I can for you.”
Linus extended his empty hand out. It looked like he wanted Yuna to hand over the signature list she was holding. When she saw how she didn’t need to explain what this list was, or how he didn’t even ask, it looked like he understood the situation exactly.
“There is one thing you need to be aware of though.”
“… Is it about Yodel?”
Linus, whose eyes had lowered, glanced up slightly at Yuna.
“You heard it from Asyut, huh. Well, in other words, exactly that. These signatures you collected will belong to me and Asyut. Looking at it, it appears that all of the people in the Order of Holy Knights have signed too. At this point, this list is no longer just scribbles but a “weapon” with more than enough effectiveness… However, these signatures have been collected by you under a veil of secrecy, right, Celia?”
“Officially, Lady Yodel is the one who is doing this petition. That is to say, even if this is a chance to release Duo, this achievement and everything else will be brought to Lady Yodel. Are you okay with that?”
It was similar to what Asyut said. These signatures will make the saint’s authority wobble more and more. In exchange, Yodel would gain everyone’s trust. –She didn’t have any objections to that itself. But, how Yodel would act after gaining everyone’s trust, was the only thing she was concerned about. Was what Asyut said really the truth? She didn’t want Yodel to just do as she pleased and toy with all the trust that she gathered. She needed to ascertain Yodel’s feelings on this matter.
“… Right now, I am only thinking about saving Duo, if possible.”
“You are an unselfish human, hm. Strange.”
Linus returned the list to Yuna with a somewhat astounded expression. And then he suddenly stood up, as if remembering something.
“Ah, yes, Celia. I almost forgot but…”
What now? Yuna also stood up like him and watched him with a suspicious look. Linus walked up to her but she couldn’t see his intentions.
Bewildered, she was taken by the arms and drawn into him like that. In an instant, just as she had that thought, her forehead was kissed.
“–What are you doing!?”
She shook him off, flustered, and tried to take a step back, but behind her was the sofa. And so she fell onto her rear like that.
“I promised, remember? If you used polite language towards me, I would kiss you once.”
No sooner than Linus declared that with a smile, Aeneas opened the door with great force and entered. He stood in the way between Yuna and Linus, as if he was breaking in, and quickly took Yuna’s hands to pull her up.
“It appears that your business has already concluded. Lady Celiastina’s health has not recovered yet, thus we will excuse ourselves here.”
Because of Aeneas, Yuna was pushed out to the hallway before she could say anything. Linus’ laughter fell onto their backs.
“I’ll also be cheering you on, in a way. Good luck, Celia.”
(T/N: Did some cosmetic changes to previous chapters. I changed “sir” to “ser”, “knight-in-training” to “squire”, and properly named and capitalized all the ceremonies. This is why a beta reader is so important!! Or, at least, this is why after translating something it’s best to come back and re-read when your brain is fully in English LOL.)