The weather today was ideal for a departure.
Yuna finished her one ceremony in the morning and walked hurriedly down the corridor.
Her quick footsteps and leaping breath overlapped and the usual quiet atmosphere was transformed just in this moment. As if to soothe the impatient Yuna a gentle sunshine shone in from the window and created a loose shadow behind Yuna.
Following behind that shadow was her bodyguard, Aeneas. It didn’t seem like he was in as much of a hurry as her, but there was a little bit of a bewildered air about him.
“Lady Celiastina, I do not believe you need to be in such a hurry.”
“But there’s no time already.”
Yuna answered briefly and ran up the stairs. Aeneas followed after in the same way.
“We can see the gate from the terrace over there, right?”
“Yes, you should be able to.”
“Then if we hurry we might be able to make it.”
Please, let me make it in time.
Instead of saying those words, Yuna leapt up the stairs as fast as she could and rushed out onto the landing. The flat floor, as if surprised, caught Yuna’s body. As she climbed up even more stairs the corridor that opened up was completely devoid of people. The entrance to the terrace waited at the end of this corridor.
The gate that could be seen from the terrace was often used by aristocrats for going outside anonymously. In this quiet place where few people came, even within the royal palace, the inconspicuously small gate was built as if it was part of the wall of an elaborate building. It was certainly perfect for those who wanted to leave unseen.
This time was no exception and the gate was about to be opened as if it were for an aristocrat to head out incognito. No, this traveler could not be put together with the likes of an aristocrat. In actuality, it was a person from a priest family that held more power than that and, at this time, was organizing their preparations for a journey in front of the gate.
The decision by the priestess Yodel to go on a pilgrimage was recent.
Although it seemed like Yodel herself had decided on this early on in her heart. It took quite some time for an official decision to be handed down, mainly because the opposition from those around her – primarily from those who were priests just like her – was great.
The resistance from her surroundings was certainly not unreasonable. It wasn’t just because Yodel came from a family with a pedigree but that, coupled with her youth and beauty, she was adored by everyone as a symbol of the people of Sibelius who worshipped their God, Vida. While other priests tended to withdraw into the tower, Yodel – who showed her proactiveness and valued her relation to the country – was an important bridge between the average people and priests.
That Yodel suddenly said she wanted to leave on a long pilgrimage to many places. The quickest her journey could take was one year, but depending on circumstances it could take several years. It was not so easy to be able to set out and live away from the royal palace. Still, in the end, the priests and royal palace side submitted, which showed just how strong her will was.
Whatever stirred her up– as long as the person herself didn’t say, it would never be revealed. But still, Yuna had a lot of thoughts. Although it was a short period of time, she had been deeply involved with Yodel as they clashed and this made her feel like she had a vague understanding. Of course, this could just be her own conceit speaking. And that was why she had no intentions of talking to anyone with a self-satisfied expression or confirming it with the person herself. All she wanted to do was to, at least, watch over Yodel’s departure and support her journey.
“I shall wait for you here.”
When they arrived at the entrance to the terrace, Aeneas stopped and said that.
“Huh, now that we’re here already won’t you come with me? Although all we’re doing is seeing her off from the terrace.”
“No, thank you.”
Aeneas shook his head with those few words. Thinking about the various things that happened between Yuna and Yodel, this might have been his way of showing his consideration. If that was the case, Yuna gave a single nod and opened the door.
When she stepped onto the terrace, a cool wind caressed Yuna from the side. Holding down her hair, which was blowing around and being played with by the wind, she looked around the bleak terrace. Thereupon she saw a preceding visitor, who was standing there and just so happened to be looking in the area of the gate.
She could see that it was a man wearing comfortable aristocratic clothes. From his white hair that was mixed with gray she could guess that his age was quite advanced.
Most likely hearing the sound of the door, the man turned around before Yuna could call out. Around his mid-sixties, the man had a gentle-looking face, which was now showing surprise.
“Ah, sorry, I didn’t think another person would be here.”
Yuna hurriedly apologized. After the man blinked repeatedly twice or thrice, he smiled widely at Yuna.
“This is meeting an unusual person in an unusual place, hm.”
Hearing those words, it seemed like this man recognized that the girl in front of him was the Saint Celiastina.
“Are you also here to see Sister Yodel off?”
“Then you have good timing. Because she’s just about to leave right now.”
Come, urged by the man, Yuna approached the side of the railing. Just like she heard, from here she could see the gate clearly.
About ten people, including Yodel, stood near the gate and appeared to be exchanging words. There weren’t any familiar faces like Asyut or the others. There were only two other people, apart from Yodel, who were standing with preparations for the journey. They were probably going to accompany her on the journey.
Yuna thought it was a quiet departure. It was an almost lonely start of a journey for someone as brilliant as Yodel. However, she wasn’t leaving on a journey that was asked of her by anyone; she was leaving on a journey for herself. And Yuna felt like these thoughts showed through.
(Yodel, take care.)
Yuna spoke these words in her heart. The distance was one she could reach if she raised her voice a little, but she didn’t want to throw cold water on Yodel’s departure.
–May this journey become a wonderful thing for Yodel.
At that moment Yodel, who had been shaking hands with those who came to say their farewells, suddenly raised her head. She looked straight up and directly in Yuna’s direction, catching Yuna’s shape firmly without any hesitation. Yodel did not look particularly surprised and merely narrowed her eyes slightly and pressed her lips together.
Yuna also stayed silent and just looked back at Yodel. For a short while they remained like this before Yodel turned away, pulled on the reins to make her horse walk, and slowly exited out the gate.
It was a feeling of a solemn ceremony as she watched Yodel’s back but, at the same time, Yuna felt a new sense of tension.
The one and only supreme being in this world, Saint Celiastina. Yuna, who was ran over by a carriage and had her life ended, chose to enter this woman’s body and obtained a transient life. It was said that the past Celiastina was feared by everyone for forcing the people surrounding her to be executed for no reason and for being an inhuman saint. The one person who struggled hard to correct those merciless actions somehow was Yodel. And now that she had left the royal palace, Yuna thought again on how she must regulate herself. She couldn’t just depend on someone else.
“… She left, hm.”
The man, who had been similarly silent beside her, murmured that with deep emotion.
“It will be lonely from here on. Sister Yodel was stubborn and at times inflexible but, to that extent, she was someone people relied on.”
“… Yes, that’s true.”
“Oh my, oh my.”
The man smiled mischievously and tilted his head.
“Do you really think that? Sister Yodel has treated you quite badly, so aren’t you relieved now that she’s left on a trip?”
“Never! I really will be sad.”
“Well, if you say so, there was worth for Sister Yodel to take up a thankless role. If she had been in the royal palace a little longer, I think you two might have been able to understand each other more. Thinking that certainly does make this a sad event.”
Yuna unconsciously stared at the profile of the man who was speaking so keenly.
Those words seemed to see through her to her heart. For some reason or another they just so happened to see Yodel off together, but who exactly was this person in the first place?
“Um, are you one of Yodel’s acquaintances?”
“Me? Oh no, I’m not someone who would be considered an acquaintance. I’m just an old man who, of my own accord, thinks of Sister Yodel as a daughter. Or perhaps I should say, I think it would be nice if she were my daughter, rather than thinking of her as a daughter.”
“You are also quite beautiful now that I’m seeing you up close. How about you let me think of you as a candidate for it being nice if you were my daughter.”
“My name is Rono. An easy name to remember, right?”
The man, called Rono, continued to talk at a unique pace.
“Oh, excuse me. Who cares about my name, right? More importantly, how have you been nowadays?”
“Looking at it, I believe you seem to be living more carefree compared to a little while ago.”
Yuna gave a vague smile. Certainly, what Rono said was true. Once the complications with Yodel and Duo had calmed down, she was able to adapt to this life with very calm feelings. There were still things she was unaccustomed to but she was able to overcome them well with the help of Asyut, her maid Nasha, and others. –At least that should have been the case, but why was she unable to give a heartfelt smile?
“I have heard that various things have been quite tough. For example, according to what I heard, you’ve lost your previous memories.”
Rono added that as if it were nothing but Yuna became speechless at those words.
“Are you wondering where I learned that from? Haha, when you’ve been in this royal palace for a long time, various stories will naturally come into your ears. I even know of the rumors which say that you are trying to regain your lost memories.”
More and more, she couldn’t understand this person called Rono. But, above that, Yuna felt his words deeply in her body. Recovering her lost memories– recovering the past of the lost Celiastina. Yes, that’s true. But.
There was a stinging in her chest that hurt.
“I… still can’t remember well.”
Noticing that her answer was too much like an excuse, Yuna closed her mouth.
(Come to think of it, I haven’t been able to do anything, have I.)
Haven’t been able? No, wasn’t it that she hadn’t done anything? Preoccupied with picking up the stone that had fallen at her feet, she hadn’t carefully thought about why the stone was even scattered. She had settled down, completely satisfied with the beautiful view in front of her.
From somewhere in a distant darkness, Yuna felt like Celiastina’s purple eyes were staring at her motionlessly.
“Well, don’t rush it. As long as you keep moving your feet step by step, no matter how small those steps are, you’ll find yourself moving forward before you know it. So long as you don’t stop, you’ll surely arrive at your goal one day.”
Right? Rono seemed to imply with his smile and, before Yuna could say anything, he clapped his hands as if just having thought of something.
“Ah yes, did you come here alone today?”
“… No, the person who acts as my bodyguard is back in that hallway.”
“Is that so. No, that is good then. It’s just that it’s dangerous for the Lady Saint to walk alone.”
“It’s not something you need to apologize for. But it might be better for your bodyguard if you returned now.”
“Umm, what about you, Rono?”
Yuna managed to ask that with a feeling of painful reluctance. She wanted to talk with him more. She wanted more conversations.
“I am going to stay here a while longer and bask in the sun. I walk around often within the royal palace, so I believe we will meet again. At that time, if you would like, please call out to me. Those around me say that I am “loitering” but, well, I suppose it is the same thing.”
“… I see, I understand.”
What exactly was she searching for in Rono? Yuna gave a small sigh and nodded.
“Then I will take my leave first.”
Rono nodded with a smile and raised a hand. Yuna replied to that shyly and left the terrace while looking back multiple times. Rono, she recited his name in her mouth. She had no basis for this, but she felt like she would meet him again.
“Were you able to arrive in time to see Sister Yodel off, Lady Celiastina?”
“Mm, just in time. Thank you for coming with me.”
Aeneas held back at the entrance of the terrace, faithfully standing at attention. While taking the hand that was extended to her, Yuna stepped indoors again.
Quite a bit of time had passed with her being called “Celiastina” like this. Nowadays she was thoroughly familiar with that name and was confident that she could respond to being called that name even in a crowd.
–But there was something off these past few days.
The discomfort Yuna felt inside at being called Celiastina was starting to become strong again. When she thought over why it was happening now, the only thing that came to mind were the events of that night.
She couldn’t remember the contents but she had an intense impression of it having been a nightmare and, ever since seeing it, the name Celiastina became a heavy burden in her. To the point where each time that name was called she felt guilt. In the end, who was that black-clothed person who came into her room? An extension of her dream? Not having any confidence in her thoughts, she had passed these several days without mentioning it to anyone, including her dream.
And then she had a conversation with Rono just now.
Which confronted her with thoughts on the reasons for her discomfort and guilt these past few days. She had completely adapted to spending every day as Celiastina. But was that alright? Was it okay for her, who wasn’t the real Celiastina, to grow accustomed like this to everything?
“By the way, what’s next in my schedule again?”
Needing to swallow the uneasiness that was welling up, Yuna took it upon herself to ask Aeneas this question with a bright voice.
“–Yes, the introduction of your new bodyguard.”
However, Aeneas’ voice when it was returned was low as if it were reflecting Yuna’s current mood. Unconsciously, she looked up at Aeneas beside her. His expression was awfully stiff and this just made Yuna even more confused.
“Aeneas, is something wrong?”
“Ah, no… It is something I cannot say. In any case, let us return to where everyone is. I believe it best to hear from them first.”
From Aeneas’ hand which was holding hers, she felt like she could sense his tension. What was weighing on Aeneas’ mind? Was there a problem with the new bodyguard?
She heard about this topic on a bodyguard. There seemed to be talks before on how a single bodyguard for the saint was unreliable, and so everyone fretted about hurrying to find a new, suitable person. However, it would be a problem if something happened to a knight from a distinguished family by the saint with a bad reputation. Having said that, it was not appropriate for the bodyguard of the saint to be someone whose status was that of a disposable pawn. Because there were these conditions, it was repeatedly put off. That they were at this point and that a decision had been made meant that there might be circumstances involved.
At any rate, it was no use for Yuna to be worried as well here. Since she would know the answer soon Yuna pulled herself together and hurried down the hall, lead by Aeneas.
“May I introduce Neisan Acrovis, who will be serving as your new bodyguard, Lady Celiastina.”
Returned to her room, Yuna immediately had a meeting with her new bodyguard.
The one who announced that name in a stately tone was a man of mid-thirties, who seemed to supervise the squires. On that other side stood the young man who was introduced and who lowered his head respectfully. Seeing him, Yuna reflexively became speechless.
Neisan– to Yuna it was a name that she couldn’t forget even if she wanted to.
He was a victim of the Holy Jail.
A young squire who was Aeneas’ close friend and who worked hard for the future. A person who should have been overflowing with aspirations but was driven to the depths of despair by the past Celiastina. Neisan, who committed no crime, was imprisoned and tortured.
(So this is the reason for Aeneas’ grave look.)
Yuna unconsciously swallowed hard. Not in her wildest dreams would she have thought that he would appear in front of her as her bodyguard. What exactly was the meaning of this, and for who?
Was it not just recently that he had been stuffed into a jail and leaning against a filthy wall with no energy?
At that time, Neisan had been so painful to look at that she found it hard to look directly at him even in her memories. His body had been covered in injuries and his upper half, which originally would have been tight with muscles, had wasted away to the point where she had been able to see his bones. His wounded body had been a direct display in front of her of the many tragedies caused by Celiastina and the ruin of what once was.
Neisan had said nothing at that time. No, wasn’t it that he couldn’t speak? She was sure that he had been in such pain that he had been unable to say anything. He must have been holding a large amount of pent-up resentments and grudges that he wanted to throw at Celiastina. Some of the Holy Jail victims had decided “I don’t ever want to meet you again” and it would be natural if he himself had thought the same. Rather, it wouldn’t be strange if there was an even more furious hatred that swirled inside him.
Before a greeting, before anything, that question was what first jumped out of her mouth. Neisan, who received Yuna’s shaking gaze, simply looked back at Yuna without a change in his expression. It was almost the same as the look they had exchanged inside the Holy Jail at that time. She didn’t know what he was thinking, it was an elusive look– time was suddenly rewound and she experienced an illusion as though they were facing each other across the rusted prison bars.
“It is the wish of the person himself.”
When Yuna heard the knight – who introduced Neisan – state that without inflection, Yuna could not believe her ears. She looked around her surroundings, thinking she misheard, but everyone who was present dropped their gazes, stiff like ornaments.
“Is that true, Neisan?”
When she timidly checked with the person himself, Neisan inclined his head in a relaxed manner.
“Yes, I realize that I may be inadequate, but I am willing to do my utmost.”
Maybe because his wounds from the Holy Jail hadn’t healed yet, but that slender and lanky body looked unreliable. No, leaving that aside.
He nodded. Yes, he answered.
(Is he serious?)
Because, how could such a thing happen? Perhaps he was forced by someone? She wished Aeneas was here. Yuna had no doubts that he would have known the details of this situation and told her. But he wasn’t here and there were only unfamiliar people around Yuna.
“Does this please you, Lady Celiastina? If you are inconvenienced by such a person then we can immediately arrange a change.”
A man, who seemed like a civil official, called out to Yuna from the side with a stiff smile. It wasn’t a question of inconvenience, Yuna thought as she furrowed her brows. She hadn’t even taken in the present situation, so how could they tell her to make a decision.
But then Yuna noticed a change in her surroundings.
Each and every person, who had lowered their faces, were taking peeks at Yuna. It was like they were holding their breaths and watching to see what kind of answer she would give–.
Ah, she suddenly understood.
She was sure they were expecting her to refuse here. They didn’t wish for Neisan to assume the position of Yuna’s bodyguard. By pulling them into a place like this they were expecting Yuna to be the one to withdraw from this topic, which was why they introduced him without many details.
So, that was to say, was it true that Neisan himself volunteered? Or did he have other thoughts? And how should she answer?
Glancing at the civil official who was hurrying her answer, Yuna sighed.
“Before I answer.”
“May I speak with Neisan alone? If you say you wish to be my bodyguard then I would like to hear more about that from you, Neisan.”
The civil official turned to the knight beside him with a troubled look. The knight, with lips that were drawn tight, answered with the slightest shake of his head. But Yuna, who wouldn’t overlook that, pressed on before they spoke.
“I want to speak to Neisan. I cannot make a decision on anything when we haven’t spoken properly to each other until now, right? I only need a short while. I’m sorry, but leave us alone.”
If they wouldn’t let her talk to Neisan directly then this situation would be more and more suspicious. It would be unforgivable if they were using Neisan, who was injured, to plan something. When she glared sharply at her surroundings with those feelings, they timidly exchanged looks with one another. She was sad that the people of the royal palace were still terrified of her, but right now it was useful.
“U-Understood. Then, several knights will remain outside the door. If anything should happen, please call on them immediately.”
Despite the hesitant air that remained, the number of people gradually decreased.
Meanwhile, Neisan was the only one who remained cool and did not move an inch.
“Please, sit… though I guess it’s strange for me to say that.”
When Yuna saw out the last person, she offered Neisan a chair, and then sat down herself in another close-by chair. Neisan gave a small bow and then nimbly sat down, opposite to Yuna. She realized from his movements that he must have received special training. At first glance, he had a frail air that looked like he could be blown over, but this small detail might have been his previous style.
“I’m sorry for deciding this all on my own. But I thought that I should talk to you properly.”
“Yes, my lady.”
There was no expression on the other’s face and so Yuna was a bit at a loss, but still she pulled herself together and searched for her next words.
“Umm, about being a bodyguard. Did someone ask you to or anything like that?”
Neisan quietly shook his head.
“I have not been coerced to do anything. Right now, I am requesting this with my own will.”
His voice had no inflections and she wasn’t able to discover his true feelings.
“But, just before, everyone was acting somewhat strange.”
“That must be because they are cautious of me.”
“They are concerned that something will happen to you by leaving you alone together with me, Lady Celiastina.”
“What do you mea…”
Yuna asked her question without thinking deeply, but she soon comprehended what Neisan said. Neisan lost his life at the whims of the past saint and now that his most hated person was standing defenselessly in front of him–.
When she stilled, realizing the true intentions of everyone from just a while ago, Neisan also pressed his lips together. She didn’t know what he was thinking and unexpectedly she felt like those eyes, which held no temperature, were frightening.
Why hadn’t she also thought about that?
She felt a chill run throughout her body. At the same time, the events of last night were brought back inside Yuna.
Midnight. Alone in her room.
A disquieting air. An unfamiliar shadow that appeared.
The silence between two people. The blade that was thrusted at her.
–And then the quiet that returned.
That night, which she had partly treated as events in her dream, suddenly regained their shape sharply.
The intruder’s bright amber eyes.
For an instant, as they looked down on Yuna, those eyes flashed with a light.
Right now, Neisan, who was having a meeting alone with Yuna, retained an expressionless face and slowly blinked. From the windows sunlight shone in and was reflected by light-colored eyes that she could see were a pale gold, and of which looked very similar to the eyes of that night.
Her heartbeat steadily became faster.
“If it is true that you volunteered to become my bodyguard then…”
Just what exactly do you intend?
She wanted to ask that but the words wouldn’t come out well.
“You wish to ask about my intentions, yes?”
Neisan’s quiet voice took over Yuna’s words calmly.
“It seems that those around me think I intend to carry out my past grudge, but I do not plan to do that.”
“During the time I was in the Holy Jail, above hating you or anything, was surviving first. And it took everything I had to do that. Finally, when it was all over, I was able to have time to think on various things. One of those thoughts was that I would surely be unable to take revenge on you. No matter how cruel or irrational Lady Celiastina’s actions are, that the saint “exists here” is the important thing, more than anything else.”
Could one make such a clean decision so easily? Even though he was hurt so completely without any legitimate reason.
Yuna’s discomfiture must have been conveyed, because Neisan added onto his words.
“I believe you are aware but, originally, my role was to perform jobs in the shadows rather than being a knight. Those kind of jobs require a person who devotes themselves to being a tool who kills individuals. Perhaps because I received such training, I do not have much attachment to living. On expectation of that point, talks were raised about me becoming your bodyguard. There were also talks about being promoted to being a squire as your bodyguard.”
“Are you saying you feel a debt of gratitude?”
“No, that is not it.”
Neisan denied it indifferently. If he had no attachment to the grand position of being a squire, then what did move him?
“Of course, it would please me to live a life having nothing to do with you after leaving the Holy Jail. However, that time you looked at me in that prison, I felt like I caught a glimpse of something. And it has stuck with me even to now. I do not know what it was, but I feel like it was very important.”
Yuna was taken aback. At that time, with eyes that Yuna hadn’t been able to read any thoughts from, had Neisan been steadily observing her?
“In the end, no matter how many times I thought about it, the answer would not come. That is why I wish to choose a path that explores another way.”
“And that is being my bodyguard?”
Neisan quietly nodded.
“Saying this may sound misleading but I want to know more about you. If you will permit me that, then I will surely be useful.”
(Want to know more…)
Reflexively, Yuna was at a loss for words.
Could she believe him? That he wasn’t being moved by hatred and that he raised his voice like this, having feelings that were forward-looking. –No, in her head an answer had already come. Naturally, she should refuse. No matter what the person himself said, it could not be good to swallow it whole.
Furthermore, if the amber-eyed person who visited her that night was–.
Before she knew it, her mouth was dry.
I’m sorry, her mouth wouldn’t open to say that. Yuna stared at Neisan’s eyes.
It would be easy to refuse here. The problem would be settled and she wouldn’t need to worry over things later, right? That way would be much easier for Yuna. And yet there was a worried part of her that wondered if this was the right thing to do.
Yuna had to admit it; she was starting to accept Neisan as a bodyguard. People could surely come to an understanding and even if the other person was Neisan, what was wrong with that? Rather, it was because it was Neisan, who had been hurt so much, that she wanted to have a relationship of understanding each other. That’s why.
Thinking up to that point, Yuna felt something catch in her chest. Did she feel like welcoming him as a bodyguard because of that reason? No, she…
Yuna closed her eyes, as if to escape from Neisan’s eyes.
(T/N: I feel a tad guilty because I’m pretty sure Neisan’s name romanizes into “Nathan” but it looked so un-fantasy compared to Asyut and Aeneas that I decided to transcribe it literally from katakana to English /o\.)