Yodel was the only remaining one.
Finally, she attained Asyut and Linus’ cooperation. She was scared to face Yodel for many reasons but there was no way she could run away at this point. Feelings of wanting to hurry and see her, but also of wanting to let this pass by and not see her fought against each other inside Yuna.
Asyut was the one to arrange a face-to-face meeting between her and Yodel. The meeting was inside the tower where Yodel lived and it seemed like Asyut was going to guide her there. Her meeting was going to happen in a short time.
“Lady Celiastina, excuse my intrusion.”
Yuna, who had been looking over the signature list on the sofa, raised her head at Nasha’s voice. Nasha entered the room shyly while pulling a small cart along.
“Um, I am very sorry knowing that you just had breakfast but, if you do not mind, would you like to try this?”
What was revealed was a delicious-looking fruit mousse.
“To be honest, I know I am being audacious but, um, this was something I made together with a cook.”
“You did, Nasha?”
“Yes. And because it came out like this I thought that perhaps you would like to try it, Lady Celiastina.”
That’s right, lately, she hadn’t been eating much. She was like that during today’s breakfast too. No doubt Nasha, as a maid, was quite concerned about that.
“Ah, of course we also requested a taste test for poison! You don’t need to force yourself to try it either. Um, it’s only if you don’t mind.”
“Thank you for the dessert.”
Yuna took the spoon with a smile and carried one scoop to her mouth. Just as it looked, the mousse gently melted in her mouth.
“It’s delicious. Nasha, you said you liked eating more than cooking, but you’re also skilled at cooking.”
“Y-You remember me saying that?”
Nasha’s face turned red as she shrunk her body.
“… Um, Lady Celiastina.”
“I have not passed over the signatures I collected earlier at the infirmary to you yet.”
“Ah, right. Now that you mention it, thank you for doing that. I was worrying about a lot of things but you saw that and really helped me out. I’m glad.”
“Oh no, you don’t have to thank me… Related to that though, Mislee has the list for safekeeping in the infirmary. Will you be heading to the infirmary today? I believe she will be able to hand it over to you at that time.”
She sounded evasive somehow. Yuna was worried that there was something hard for Nasha to say. Come to think of it, so many things had happened lately that she hadn’t been able to make an appearance at the infirmary. Maybe what Nasha was trying to say was that it would be good for Yuna to try and go. She still had a little time before Asyut would show up.
“How about we try going right now? Are you okay for time, Nasha?”
“Y-Yes! Of course!”
As she thought, something was strange. Yuna stood up from her seat while thinking that things were odd.
The corridors that led to the infirmary were as quiet and calm as usual. The flowers in the courtyard swayed and rustled to the wind and the trees that reached high in the sky and were basking in the sunlight cast shadows on the corridor. It was a view that she should have already been familiar with but– as Yuna got closer to the white building that was the infirmary she was surrounded by a faint out-of-place feeling.
The white door that was always firmly closed was open just a little bit.
And she could overhear laughter– it sounded like the voices of children? She was certain she could hear bright and playful voices screaming with delight.
She stopped moving, bewildered. Inside her chest the “other” feeling was also confused. Nasha, who noticed Yuna’s pace slowing, gently took her hand.
“Lady Celiastina, let’s go over.”
As her hand was pulled and she started walking again, a child rushed out the infirmary’s door right at that moment. It was a girl around ten years of age. Following her was another girl around the same age.
“Wait! I was gonna do it!”
“Nu uh! It was a promise that I’d get to change the bandages this time!”
The two were playing around while being in high spirits.
As Yuna watched the scene in front of her with an open mouth, Mislee, the manager, soon appeared walking at a relaxed pace.
“Come now, don’t run around so much. There are many people who want their bandages changed, so you two don’t need to compete.”
Mislee’s warm smile never changed.
It was when she successfully caught the two girls running around that Mislee noticed Yuna and Nasha. After her eyes opened widely in surprise, she gave them a gentle smile.
“Oh my, oh my, Lady Celiastina. You came today.”
“… Good morning.”
The young girls who were clinging to Mislee looked up at Yuna with curious eyes. And when she noticed that and gave them a light smile they hurried to hide behind Mislee. It looked like they were shy.
“Um, these children are…?”
“Ah, this long-haired one is Emily and the messy-haired one is Annie. These two have been assistant nurses in the infirmary since yesterday.”
“Yes, thanks to Lord Asyut’s consideration. There are other children inside as well. They’re all children of servants and those who were interested in this kind of care were called here. Now, let’s not stand around talking in this corridor, come in. I will introduce the children inside.”
Urged by Mislee to go on and show Yuna in, the young girls timidly took Yuna’s hands. She still had a slightly surprised expression as her hands were pulled. Led by her small guides, Yuna passed through the infirmary doors.
–The atmosphere was completely different compared to a few days ago.
Yuna immediately felt this. However, it wasn’t just limited to the atmosphere, she could see that various changes had occurred. The patients, who just a few days ago avoided Yuna and had their sheets covering their heads, were sitting comfortably in bed and there were many other children like Emily and Annie who were running around inside.
(It’s this different just from having children here.)
Asyut made a wonderful arrangement. The patients, who had been so stiff, were talking to the children with smiles. Watching this scene, Yuna felt the back of her eyes start to sting and warm.
The patients were taken aback and their eyes widened when they noticed Yuna standing straight at the entrance. Yuna flinched at their gathered looks but– in the next moment, the room overflowed with a warm applause. The moment Yuna realized that was directed at her she became even more confused.
“Thank you, Lady Saint!”
A girl, who was around five or six years of age and especially energetic amongst the other children, said this in a loud voice. And then, following that, there were many “thank you”s given to Yuna. The patients, who in the past couldn’t look at her for even a moment, were welcoming her with applause and calm smiles.
This… this was…
Yuna couldn’t believe this unexpected scene in front of her eyes and so she ended up throwing a look at Mislee and Nasha. But the women only smiled and continued to clap without explaining. It was as if they were saying an explanation wasn’t needed– this entire scene spoke for itself.
“Here, Lady Saint! This is ours!”
The young girl handed over papers to Yuna. –There were a lot of signatures on them. Yuna took them, surprised, because they shouldn’t have known that she was the one collecting signatures.
“Hey, I did it without messing up! I did good, right? Right?”
As the applause slowly quieted down, the young girl who was the first to greet Yuna pulled at the sleeves of the adults around her. The girl was satisfied when everyone praised her, saying she did well and was amazing. And then a young man, around twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, picked her up saying “Come on, you’re not the star here!” and took her to a corner of the room hurriedly. Matching that were the resounding laughs of the patients.
“Well? Everyone has improved quite a lot.”
Mislee smiled widely.
Yuna gave a small nod, not knowing what to say.
“I’m sorry, I told everyone that you were working hard on this movement, Lady Celiastina.”
“The rumors about a beauty who was doing a petition reached even here. The rumors described you as a lady with a gentle expression, flowing golden hair, and purple eyes. –Everyone immediately knew that this was you, Lady Celiastina. And that’s why I didn’t hide it.”
Mislee and Nasha looked at each other and laughed mischievously. But Yuna wasn’t able to accept this situation so easily.
“But that’s… to be welcomed so warmly like this is…”
She had thought about how nice it’d be to have this happen one day, but now when the spectacle was in front of her she was deeply embarrassed.
“What are you saying?”
Mislee interrupted Yuna in a bright voice. And then she looked over the room slowly, the corner of her eyes crinkled. Yuna also followed her line of sight… There were many empty beds. It seemed like the number of patients was half of what it was at the beginning.
“It is unfortunate but, certainly, not everyone was able to welcome you, Lady Celiastina. Because, as one would think, there are some who aren’t able to look at your face no matter what… those people were allowed to leave and return to their own homes. But there are this many people who wanted to wait and welcome you for doing your utmost for Duo’s sake, Lady Celiastina. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it. Once again I’m reminded of just how strong and kind people can be. I’m deeply moved.”
Yuna looked over each person in the room, one by one, as if making sure. There were people who received her gaze but there were also people who averted their eyes, as if uncomfortable. It was natural that they couldn’t so easily forgive Celiastina’s actions. There was no way she thought that things would be forgiven and forgotten with just this matter of the signatures. She was sure that, even now, there were many people who were lost and unsure how to feel. But still, they were here in this place, welcoming her, to cheer on the current her. For Yuna that was more than enough. She had to accept everyone’s feelings firmly.
“Everyone, thank you so much.”
She clenched her hands tightly around the signatures that were handed to her. It’ll be okay, she would work hard. She would work hard to the very end. Meanwhile, the “other” feeling was still confused and sought help from Yuna. Don’t worry, just accept everyone’s feelings honestly like this. Even if she wasn’t able to accept them immediately right now, Yuna was sure that a day would come when Celiastina would understand.
Before she knew it, at some point in time, Asyut was standing beside the door. He must have heard that Yuna came here and arrived to pick her up. Yuna wiped away the tears that had gathered in her eyes and then gave Asyut a nod. Let’s go, to where Yodel was.
Nasha rushed over and gently gripped Yuna’s hand. In that moment, she handed something over.
“Please tell Lady Yodel that “I’ve come this far without forgetting your words for even a moment”. And that– “if it’s Lady Celiastina, I am sure she will be able to support your beliefs together with you, Lady Yodel”.”
Yuna opened up her hand. And what was revealed there, on her palm, was the purple pendant.
Where Yodel normally spent her time was on the uppermost floor of a tall tower called the Priest Tower, where priests and priestesses lived en masse. The soaring austere tower was the highlight of the royal palace’s northeast side. Its outer walls were painted white with countless of windows penetrating through it. There weren’t many ornamental decorations and it was the tower’s existence itself that awed its surroundings. Flagstones extended directly from the entrance and on both sides blue plants called plica gathered.
Yodel was a member of the priest family that sat on the highest position in the country. It was said that women were particularly powerful in that family. Yodel’s mother and grandmother were already dead and so it was natural that she became the leader of that family. She was still young and the weight on those shoulders must have been considerable. And that might be why she couldn’t forgive Celiastina for disturbing the country excessively.
Of course, the inside of the tower was refined. Ordinary, priests wore black robes; they shone well against the white of the building and Yuna followed their movements with her eyes.
It seemed like they used a spiral staircase that was set alongside the wall to reach the upper floors. Yuna was dumbfounded at how they had to take quite a roundabout way in order to reach the upper floors. It would be fine once in a while, but it would be hard coming and going every day.
“I believe the stairs represent the thought that the path to be close to God is not easy. Furthermore, higher ranking priests do not leave this tower often and so I do not think it would be a problem for them.”
Asyut gave her a supplement. Ah, it was true that being able to exit and enter easily wouldn’t allow them to retain their dignity and it didn’t seem good to have many interactions with the outside world. Then, was it unusual for someone to proactively move around like Yodel? She probably couldn’t concern herself with appearances and stay still and secluded in the tower while Celiastina was throwing the royal palace out of order.
“Lord Asyut, Lady Celiastina, we have been awaiting you.”
It was a man of around fifty years of age and a finely kept grey beard who greeted Yuna and Asyut.
“Lady Yodel is at the shrine inside the tower. I will guide you there.”
Lowering his head respectfully, he then turned calmly on his heel and started walking. As he started up the spiral staircase without even waiting for a response, Yuna hurried after him. She quietly told Asyut that she was going now. Asyut nodded in response but seemed somewhat worried. From here on, she would have to depend on herself. Yuna made a fist and psyched herself up.
They continued down a corridor from the third floor landing. There were many doors to their left and right, but she was guided to a large door at the end. It was a large double door. It exuded the atmosphere of this being a very special room. Was this the shrine? A shrine was a more personal small room for offering up prayers to God compared to a church. It seemed this place was an especially holy place even in the tower.
The man, who was her guide, withdrew at this point. Yuna opened her mouth at the back of his figure to stop him from leaving but in the end she didn’t and, after a moment’s hesitation, she knocked… The sound was absorbed by the door. It must have been because the door was quite thick and so the sound of her dull knock didn’t resound. Yuna slowly opened the door.
Inside, Yodel was kneeling in front of an altar and praying to God. At that moment, she had her back to Yuna and so her expression could not be seen. The hem of her purple robes were spread across the white floor and it felt like an uncrossable boundary. There were detailed sculptures gathered on the altar and, because of those, the shrine was surrounded by an overwhelming presence that also seemed to swallow Yodel.
Yuna stood silently at the entrance, but it was only for a short time before Yodel soon stood up and turned in her direction.
“I have kept you waiting.”
It was a voice without inflection. And so it made Yuna all the more nervous. It reminded her of the calm before a storm.
“You said you had something important to discuss with me?”
Yodel slowly walked closer.
Yuna was at a loss. Words wouldn’t come. If she said anything, wouldn’t she just be curtly refused? That timid heart stole Yuna’s voice.
“… It is about the imprisoned Duo, is it not?”
Yodel cut into Yuna, who was standing still.
“It is about the matter of being opposed to Duo’s execution.”
Yuna nodded while looking at Yodel’s eyes. And then she timidly opened her mouth, as if pulled by Yodel.
“I want to call off Duo’s execution. For that sake, I need your help, Yodel.”
“Yes. Duo strongly resists being released by me. So, I thought that, rather than by me, Duo needs to be helped by the support of everyone around him. I wish to ask for the cooperation of people with influence, like you, Yodel.”
Yodel stared at Yuna, as if appraising her.
“Are you serious about those thoughts? If so, then have you not mistaken who you’ve come to for your request?”
“I have also requested Asyut and Linus’ cooperation. The two said they would lend me their strength. Others, such as the captain of the Order of Holy Knights, the Vice-captain, and many others have acted. But without your cooperation, Yodel, then it’ll be difficult.”
“I am not speaking about that.”
In a quiet voice Yodel interrupted Yuna.
“Were you not told by Lord Asyut? About what I did this time.”
Yodel’s gaze slipped to the side. That look seemed to be reproaching Asyut, who wasn’t currently here.
“It’s true… what Lord Asyut said.”
As if she was asked again, Yodel said this without hesitation.
“It is likely Lord Asyut speaks nothing but the truth. Everything you have heard is the truth. I sacrificed Duo for the sake of my own goals.”
What was said clearly from Yodel’s mouth was a great shock to Yuna. She certainly didn’t think that Asyut would lie, but there was still a part of her that didn’t want to accept the truth that Yodel treated people like pawns.
“Do you want my cooperation that much to save Duo? There is a limit to idiocy. I am the one trying to force Duo to be executed. And that will soon be realized, therefore there is no way I would act to save him at this point, no?”
“But, Yodel, what you’re discarding is a person’s life.”
“–You’re the only one I don’t want to hear that from!”
Yodel, who had no expression, showed a hint of anger for the first time.
“No matter who else criticizes me, you are the only one I do not want to hear that from.”
“But, Yodel, you yourself know this, right? Don’t you think it’s strange? You must be thinking that you don’t want Duo to die.”
“I do not think that it is strange. I will never step back. I will have Duo die.”
“Why go that far!?”
“There is no choice because no one else is doing anything. No one else is trying to stop you seriously. In the end, it became something this long. If the situation is left like this then soon, not just the royal palace, but the entire country will fall into ruin for you alone. If that is the case then I have to cut off that negative flow.”
Lord Asyut is also a selfish person, Yodel threw out.
“He said to me that he wanted me to be a person who extended her hand to those who were weak. Even though he should know full well how bad things have become. To leave Saint Celiastina alone and simply extend my hand to those who are weak… the number would be endless. No matter how many hands I had, it would not be enough. To think that he is disillusioned with me, who is acting, when he himself didn’t break down that situation.”
Yodel, who said that, looked like she was terribly hurt. Yuna was unable to bear that.
“I thought that Lord Asyut was a person who was very close to me. I arbitrarily thought that we were quite similar. But it appears that I was mistaken. He easily forgave you.”
That’s wrong, Yuna shook her head. Asyut didn’t forgive the saint. And that’s why when he said he would lend his strength he had a sad and helpless smile. She was sure the hate towards the saint that Asyut had was still firmly rooted inside him.
“Asyut didn’t lend his strength for my sake. The one Asyut wants to save isn’t me but Duo. And surely you as well, Yodel.”
Yodel glared at Yuna.
“Asyut said this. That you yourself are at a loss about the path you aimed for and the different place you’re heading towards. I’m sure that Asyut wants you to stop just this once, Yodel. I believe you can still turn back now.”
“Don’t speak as if you know everything! You and Lord Asyut, no one knows what I’m thinking. Don’t assume things and push them onto me.”
Yodel flapped the hem of her robes like she was shaking off Yuna’s words and then turned to grip the altar, as if she were leaning against it.
Yuna took a step towards Yodel, who had her back to Yuna.
“Please do not raise everyone’s feelings with anger by executing Duo. If Duo is saved then everyone will surely have hope that their voices can be a driving force to move the saint. Hope is better than anger, right?… Yodel, you were the one who started collecting everyone’s signatures, weren’t you?”
“… There aren’t that many signatures that were collected and, from the start, I did not call out to anyone prominent. To me, the signatures were nothing more than a prop to have the servants of the royal palace “participate” in the execution this time.”
Yuna drew near Yodel and turned her around forcibly. She pushed the list she was holding into the hands of a surprised Yodel.
“Look at that.”
It seemed like Yodel recognized immediately that this was a mountain of signatures. She flipped through the pages, silent.
“Those are the signatures gathered from everyone. This many were gathered. Of course, the name of the saint isn’t written. Everyone signed like this because they heard that they would be supporting Yodel’s movement. Even people who are scared of punishment from me signed, knowing that you would be their ally. So many people want to save Duo– and trust in you, Yodel.”
Yodel dropped the list. And the dry sound of the papers striking the ground broke in between Yodel and Yuna. And then Yodel picked up the list immediately. It must have been an unconscious action.
“Please, Yodel. Please save Duo. I’m begging you…”
Yodel shouted. That bitter voice seemed to be something to sever the hesitation inside of herself.
“I am not wrong. My conviction of making this country better has not changed, now and in the past. I came all this way, always for that sake! People who must think about the development of this whole country cannot be caught up in every small event before their eyes!”
“You haven’t changed, now and in the past? Is that true? Have you really thought like this in the past?”
A sharp sound echoed through the shrine.
Silence. For an instant, Yuna and Yodel were shocked. Both of them had no idea what happened just now. After that, Yuna felt her left cheek gradually turn hot.
Even Yodel seemed surprised at herself for raising a hand to Yuna. When Yuna turned to look at Yodel again, Yodel’s body stiffened slightly.
Yuna silently took out the handkerchief that was concealed in her dress’ pocket. Yodel was also quiet as she watched that action. When the folded handkerchief was slowly opened, a beautiful pendant with a purple jewel was revealed.
“Yodel, do you remember this?”
When it was held out, Yodel took it with a sluggish action.
“… Why do you have this.”
“So you remember it.”
Yuna was somewhat relieved. Yodel hadn’t forgotten. She remembered.
“The girl that you gave this to a long time ago is my maid right now.”
“Her name is Nasha. She’s always respected you since she met you a long time ago at that church and exchanged words with you. She told me happily about that time. Of course, Nasha adores you even now. Knowing that I was going to meet you today, she lent me this pendant. And she wanted me to tell you that she’s come this far without forgetting your words for even a moment.”
“Yodel, do you remember the reason you gave this pendant to Nasha at that time in the church? You asked Nasha why she came to the church everyday. Nasha answered that she wished for her friends, strangers, and everyone to live happily. You said– “Don’t ever forget those kind feelings” in response.”
Yodel held her head with both hands and staggered.
“I’m sorry for doing things this way. But aren’t you lying to yourself, Yodel? I also think that you definitely haven’t changed from the past and now, Yodel. And that’s why you’re actually hurting from doing things like sacrificing Duo. And yet, because you think releasing Duo means yielding to me, you aren’t able to release Duo.”
“That’s not it…”
“From the beginning, I haven’t thought about winning against you, Yodel. I haven’t thought about wanting to win either. The important thing isn’t winning or losing. It’s not about who’s right or wrong either. Surely what’s important is what you yourself believe in. And that’s why I want to learn through watching your beliefs and the strength that has always supported those. After all, I’m really weak. I’m instantly washed away by the situation and I will want to give up. Before I know it, I start to think only about getting people to help me. It’s really pathetic.”
It was only recently that she noticed that it wasn’t good to do that.
“At last, I’ve started to see a little of what I want to do and what I should be doing. When I think about the future, I think about how I might be able to open a slightly different world if I had the strength like you, Yodel.”
A different world for Celiastina too.
“That’s why I want you, Yodel, to walk the path that you truly believe in.”
Saying that, Yodel turned her face away. Once again she faced the altar and fell silent. Her elegant robes, which had previously seemed like a symbol of Yodel’s confidence, now looked like a lump of loneliness and confusion that hung over her back.
Even though she called out, Yodel didn’t respond anymore.
“I’m… going now, okay?… I’ll leave those signatures with you, Yodel.”
With her hand on the shrine’s door, Yuna turned back once more. In the breathtakingly solemn room Yodel’s small back looked terribly helpless. In reality Yodel wasn’t a superhuman, she was just a young girl.
Yuna closed the door gently.
In the middle of descending the long spiral staircase, she noticed Asyut waiting at the entrance to the tower.
Asyut showed a relieved expression when he recognized Yuna’s form. Could it be that he had continued to wait? When Asyut noticed Yuna quickening her pace, he slowly walked towards her.
Looking up at Asyut, who stopped in front of her, she felt like her feelings – which had been drawn tight – finally loosen. Yuna gave a slight smile and murmured her thanks.