Neisan was appointed to be a bodyguard of Saint Celiastina.
The news rushed through the royal palace with a small commotion. There weren’t many people who did not know the name Neisan. Once imprisoned on the whims of the saint, the young squire whose life or death was unknown– to think that he was alive and serving again as her bodyguard. Just what exactly was going on for him too to follow the similar circumstances of Aeneas? It was not unreasonable for everyone to be puzzled like this.
Be that as it may, it was rather painful to just accept the criticisms from her surroundings. Even the moment when Asyut called out to her before the ceremony and said “I wish to speak to you” Yuna was unable to hide her dejected look. What Asyut wanted to talk about was clear as day. Nevertheless, it was obvious that she couldn’t run away.
During the divine service, Yuna listened to the flowing music. She closed her eyes and entrusted her body to the comfortable melody. Beside her, Asyut was the same as usual and offering up prayers, like her. Nowadays Yuna didn’t feel any discomfort sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Asyut, but she wondered what he felt. At the very least, she didn’t feel like he was treating her coldly like he did in the beginning. He was probably intending to criticize her about Neisan, but he wouldn’t be attacking with feelings of hate for Celiastina.
That they were able to build this calm relationship honestly made her happy. But she knew that she couldn’t just be pleased.
Yuna still didn’t know anything about the deep trench that stretched out between Celiastina and Asyut. Even when she peeked, all she could see was an endless darkness, as if there was no bottom. And though they sat here peacefully like this now, what would happen at the time Celiastina returned?
(When Celiastina returns…)
The words that she herself called to mind resounded very clearly in her head.
(What will happen when she does?)
Even when she tried to think about it, she couldn’t do it well. In what way would the original Celiastina, not herself, return to this body? And how would she behave?
(At that time, I… won’t exist anymore, huh.)
She could not feel a sense of reality from those words. In fact, she ended up thinking things like if that time would really come and, at this moment, she could not feel a trace of that impending crisis. –And yet, one day that moment would come around and become reality. At that time, would she be able to accept reality?
Indifferent to Yuna’s distress, the ceremony eventually ended without an incident.
Yuna and Asyut turned their backs to each other and stepped back to the edges of the altar. There was a sensation that the person who had, just a while ago, been close enough to touch was now steadily going away. That made Yuna’s body tremble a little.
Upon arriving at the wings of the room, Yuna sat down in a small chair placed there. Attendees stood up here and there and there was noise as each and every one headed to the exits. Yuna liked this noise somewhat. The simple noises tickling her ears gradually quieted and it was no pain to wait until there was not a sound.
After a while, when her surroundings became completely quiet, she stepped towards the altar once again. Looking up in the center of the room, goddesses – drawn on a ceiling high enough to take her breath away – looked down on Yuna with smiles.
“That is Willibus’ masterpiece.”
Before long, firm footsteps approached from behind. Even though she knew from the start that Asyut was going to come, when a voice called out to her from behind, her body stiffened for some reason.
“A young religious painter. He instantly became famous after painting this ceiling.”
“I see. It really is amazing.”
Yuna didn’t know anything about paintings, but still this painting had an appeal that made one feel that it was wonderful.
“If this is to your taste, shall we have the ceiling of your room painted?”
“N-No, thank you. Having someone look down on me in the morning and at night would be a bit scary, I think.”
“It need not be a painting of people in the heavens. We can have flowers and such painted.”
Asyut answered with a slight smile. When she saw that smile, Yuna naturally smiled broadly too.
“Well, setting that topic aside.”
However, Asyut immediately subdued his smile and returned to his usual serious expression. Even while feeling sadness at that, Yuna straightened her posture. When their talk was set aside, she already knew what the next topic was.
“Lady Celiastina, I heard that Neisan was appointed as your bodyguard.”
Ack, here it was. Yuna’s face became glum.
“Of course, you do remember who he is, right?”
“… I remember.”
That question was more of a demand than an inquiry. There was a clear note of criticism and it felt like he was trying to draw out words of revoking the appointment from Yuna, rather than asking for her reasons.
“I believe Neisan is composed. I don’t think he’s planning anything like how everyone seems to be saying.”
“If he looks composed then that is even more frightening. There is no point in making him your bodyguard if it risks danger.”
“If it’s possible, I want Neisan and I to understand each other. For that, I couldn’t reject him from the start. I want to respond to Neisan’s wish.”
Asyut’s expression became even more severe.
“Neisan’s wish. If being your bodyguard is his wish then I wonder what exactly that meaning is. Have you thought enough about why he wishes for that position? I cannot believe that it is a wish that benefits him.”
Except for a single possibility, Asyut said sharply.
Asyut’s opinion was reasonable. He could only think that Neisan’s wish for the position of bodyguard was to obtain an opportunity for revenge against the saint. And this wasn’t just Asyut’s thoughts, but also the consensus of everyone around the saint.
Neisan said “I want to know more about you” to her. That he wanted to understand the “thing” he caught a glimpse of. Yuna accepted him as her bodyguard due to those words. But no one knew about this. And it wasn’t a reason that would exclude the “possibility” Asyut mentioned. No one was mistaken.
Looking at the silent Yuna, Asyut’s eyes softened a little.
“I apologize for my stern words. However.”
I understand, Yuna implied with her nod.
At the same time, she thought over her own acceptance of Neisan’s request. What exactly was that “thing” he caught a glimpse of? A “thing” inside the girl called Celiastina–.
(That would be… me.)
Yuna clasped her hands strongly together atop her chest.
Did Neisan see another being inside Celiastina? Did he see Yuna, a completely different person?
(I see, that’s what it was.)
From now on, if she spent more time with Neisan, his intuition may change into a conviction. By leaving him at her side, it meant that she was allowing this. To allow, such a kind expression wasn’t suitable. It was surely more fitting to say that she was wishing for that.
(I want that…)
The real me is a completely different person, you know.
Yuna trembled when she felt like she heard her own voice from somewhere.
“Lady Celiastina, are you well?”
Who was reflected in Asyut’s eyes as he called out to her in a worried voice? It should be the reformed Celiastina. And that should be fine. Like she thought, it would be best to keep a distance from Neisan, who detected another being. She knew that. But, but.
“I’m sorry, Asyut.”
She was the absolute worst.
“This is all because I’m selfish and I understand, but… but please–“
Asyut’s eyes widened slightly.
“In the end, I still want to request Neisan as my bodyguard.”
Asyut was surely angry, Yuna thought as she was dragged into her sinking feelings while she gazed at the scriptures by her hand.
After that, he had remained silent and an unpleasant silence followed for a while. He finally opened his mouth and said one thing to Yuna, who had lowered her head and couldn’t think of any words. He told her to contact him immediately if any problems arose.
Asyut then escorted her like that out of the service room and to her own room before parting ways.
Haa, Yuna quietly sighed again, one of many times.
Right now she was in the middle of the Ceremony of Recitation. Simply put, it was a ceremony where many priests sat around her and read out scriptures. All she needed to do as the saint was to turn the pages of the scripture solemnly. That was why she usually thought about other things.
When Yuna was young she learned about the teachings of God and the flow of faith, but listening to the contents of these scriptures here showed that they were far beyond such a level. In the first place, it was a great task for Yuna to understand a sentence on its own, so in that situation she couldn’t even claim to have an “interpretation”. And that was why she checked the hands in her surrounding so that she wouldn’t make a mistake in the timing of turning the pages, but when she was distracted by something else, she wasn’t able to do it well and the end result was someone beside her clearing their throat.
Yuna, who stood up when the ceremony ended like that, noticed her bodyguard Aeneas waiting for her on the other side of the door. Like an old statue, he stared straight ahead without the slightest movement, but when he saw Yuna he began to smile faintly.
“Aeneas, thank you for waiting.”
“I hope the ceremony went well.”
“Reading scriptures is difficult and I was completely lost. But, well, I have to do my best, right?”
Aeneas watched Yuna with gentle eyes as she scratched her head and smiled wryly.
“Well then, let’s return.”
“… Lady Celiastina.”
“How about a short stroll through the gardens? There are flowers that bloom beautifully in this season.”
Yuna blinked at the sudden proposal. It was rare for Aeneas to suggest something. He always remained one step behind, the very model of a bodyguard… although, in rare cases, he had a reckless side.
“There is still some time before your next appointment. Of course, please don’t force yourself to do this.”
“Hm, that’s true. Then let’s go for a bit.”
Yuna also liked walking in the gardens, but more importantly she was curious about Aeneas speaking up. Could it be that he– no, there was no need to guess that he also wanted to say something about Neisan to Yuna.
(The gardens, huh.)
Suddenly, she remembered the flower field that she visited previously. The flower field that she couldn’t remember how she arrived at, where Asyut came for her, and how they spoke a little with just the two of them.
(If only we could spend time together like that again. But I guess it’s already difficult.)
To fulfill that promise of going to see the torch bugs–.
“Is something the matter?”
Aeneas called out to her in a concerned voice, perhaps because he noticed the shadow cast on Yuna’s expression.
“No, it’s nothing.”
Yuna hurriedly glossed over it with a smile. Even if she couldn’t help being flooded by sentimentality in this place, she didn’t want to trouble Aeneas meaninglessly.
(I know that but…)
Yuna wondered why her heart was steadily sinking. A cheerless feeling was spreading and she was driven by an urge to get angry or cry.
And then she suddenly realized. These were not “her own” feelings. Ah, these were “Celiastina’s” feelings.
For an instant her heart skipped. Why didn’t she notice immediately that these were Celiastina’s feelings? She had accepted them as her own feelings without any discomfort. To begin with, recently she hadn’t been able to feel Celiastina’s existence much. Even though Celiastina should have been here together with her in this body, was she becoming unable to sense it?
At Aeneas’ voice, she came to her senses again.
“Are you feeling unwell? It seems better to return to your room right now. We can take a stroll at another opportunity.”
“N-No. I’m fine. Sorry for worrying you.”
When Yuna pushed Aeneas’ back, implying that they might as well now that they were here, he looked back at her over his shoulder with a worried look but resumed walking again. Soon they arrived at a courtyard with a fountain. There was no one in the courtyard and only the sound of the fountain’s spray spread.
“It’s quiet, huh.”
Yuna’s voice naturally became a whisper. For a while the two of them stood silently in the courtyard, but eventually Aeneas broke the silence.
“Lady Celiastina, this may be a presumptuous question but…”
“Why did you appoint Neisan as your bodyguard?”
When Yuna looked up at Aeneas there was a tension in his profile.
“When I became a bodyguard, it was something I had to forcibly request for you to allow, Lady Celiastina. But, in Neisan’s case, you did not push your opinion strongly. If you refused, I am sure he would have withdrew.”
“Do you not think that he is dangerous? Do you not care about what everyone around you is saying? Do you not think an unfamiliar face would be more comfortable?”
“I haven’t really thought about things like that.”
“But in actuality it is like that, isn’t it… there is a large risk in having us as bodyguards.”
In other words, Aeneas was concerned about that. He was probably like that even before Neisan had become a bodyguard. He was fretting about having taken the role of bodyguard by way of forcing his surroundings to accept his intention.
“But I think it’s a good thing that you became my bodyguard, Aeneas.”
These were her honest feelings. He always did things directly with his utmost effort and showed his courtesy to Yuna openly. Just how much did that help her? –But it was a fact that, when she received his gaze, she seemed to forget that she existed in this place as a temporary substitute.
“I don’t know yet about Neisan.”
“… To be honest, even I do not understand what that person is thinking. At the very least, his feelings are different from the ones I had when I thought to become your bodyguard, Lady Celiastina. Which is why it is increasingly on my mind.”
“We did manage to have a tentative talk about some things though.”
“Even when he is not a verbose man who would talk about various things?”
“Hmm, it seemed a bit like that and yet not like that.”
She tried thinking back on that peculiar atmosphere. For Neisan he probably spoke quite a bit, but honestly she didn’t know how much truth was included in there.
“… From the start, that person did not come from a noble family.”
“I-Is that so?”
“He came from a civilian life so, originally, he should not be able to be assigned to the position of a squire. There’s no need to mention being a holy knight, but even being a squire is something only nobles or particularly wealthy people can aim for. Neisan is an orphan of unknown background and so, considering that personal history, he can be said to have an unprecedented career.”
“H-He’s that amazing…”
“That’s how much his abilities stood out. In addition, it is the king’s thoughts that having a system where only nobles can rise to prominence is antiquated. By appointing an excellent commoner, who does not spare his or her efforts, to a responsible position, it is an attempt to encourage the people to look at the “country”.”
“And Neisan was the one chosen, huh.”
“Yes. Currently, he has been adopted by an aristocratic family and so he is also formally considered a member of the aristocracy. There are several other commoners who belong to the Order of Knights. Also, there are people who have been appointed as civil officials.”
“I see. Neisan didn’t say anything about that.”
Although he did say that the occasion of being appointed as the saint’s bodyguard would also make him a squire.
“That person doesn’t want to speak a lot about his own personal history. Originally, he seems to have worked a lot in espionage. And so I believe it is his nature to try and not stand out as much as possible.”
“He did say that. But if he has such an amazing career then he can’t not stand out.”
Yuna gave a laugh but, on the other side, Aeneas’ eyes dulled and he dropped his gaze.
“I apologize for talking about Neisan just now when he is not present.”
“Eh? W-What? Why are you apologizing?”
“I really do not wish to say things about him behind his back secretly. I know that I don’t have that right, but when I think about the possibility of something happening to you, Lady Celiastina…”
Aeneas connected his words haltingly, but at the end there was a note of pain in his voice.
“Aeneas, thank you. If anything happens with Neisan, I’ll definitely come and talk to you. So it’s fine right now.”
Yuna took Aeneas’ hand as if to cheer him up. When she squeezed his hand and gave it a light shake to tell him not to be so troubled, Aeneas appeared a little embarrassed. And then Yuna loosened her grip to release his hand without thinking much on it but– by the time she noticed, at some point, Aeneas was the one holding Yuna’s hand tightly.
“Lady Celiastina, thank you very much.”
The grip of his hand strengthened, together with his voice. When she suddenly tried raising her head, Aeneas’ very serious expression seemed to have come quite close. This was bad. Yuna tried changing the subject but words weren’t coming to her mind well.
“Even though I wish to be your strength, I am the one who is always saved. At this rate, the job of being a bodyguard will be held completely by Neisan. I need to be more reliable.”
“Please do not give up on me. I will put in my utmost effort to be of use to you soon.”
“O-Okay. I think you’re fine though.”
He was looking at Yuna with direct eyes that lacked any shyness, to the point where she couldn’t imagine that he had been embarrassed when she took his hand not too long ago. Yuna was frantically trying to think of how to answer with a head full of steam but then–.
In the corner of her vision, she saw the figure of a person she had just seen recently.
At the other side of the large courtyard, on a bench that was visible between the trees, there was an old man sitting.
If she wasn’t mistaken, that was–.
Aeneas peered at Yuna’s face with a strange expression. It seemed that he noticed Yuna’s gaze going past him into the distance.
Flustered, she returned her eyes to Aeneas.
“I thought I saw someone I knew just now.”
Aeneas looked over his shoulder to confirm and Yuna also looked over at the bench again but– there was no one there anymore.
“There does not seem to be anyone…”
That was impossible. She was certain an old man had been sitting there with his back to them.
(It was Rono, right?)
Even though it was a distant view, she was confident that the old man there was without a doubt the old man she met on the terrace, a few days ago. And yet…
“… Could it have been… a ghost?”
“Ah, nevermind. Sorry, it’s nothing.”
Yuna shook her head. She wanted to shake off her crazy thought too, but she believed it wasn’t implausible either. That strange old man had been able to say words that seemed to see right through to Yuna’s heart, even though that should have been the first time they met.
(… It’s not too far-fetched to think that.)
“Anyway, we should head back soon.”
Casually pulling out her hands from Aeneas’ hands, Yuna suggested that in a deliberately bright voice. As soon as she said that Aeneas had a dejected expression, but that was just for an instant and he soon smiled and nodded, as if pulling himself together.
“Let us take a stroll together again in the near future. There are many gardens inside the royal palace and it is enjoyable to look around in every season.”
“That sounds nice. I feel like I’d become lost if I was alone.”
Yuna, who had left the courtyard behind, ducked her head as she was walking. Saying that she’d become lost wasn’t exactly a joke. The places that Yuna came and went to in the royal palace was generally decided and so there were quite a lot of areas that she had never visited.
“By the way, Lady Celiastina.”
When she noticed Aeneas walking one step behind her, he had called out to Yuna in a slightly stiff voice.
“There is something I wish to report, but… it is extremely personal and so I am at a loss.”
“Eh, what? Is something wrong?”
“You are aware that I was engaged, right?”
“Well, that engagement… has been officially annulled this time.”
Yuna came to a sudden stop.
“… Is it something that surprising?”
Aeneas, who murmured that, had a calm appearance, but Yuna couldn’t believe it at all.
“Why is that? Is it because someone who became a commoner once can’t marry or something like that? If that’s the case then I’ll go to those people and have them reconsider somehow.”
Aeneas denied it clearly.
“From the start, it was something I had no interest in. Both my side and the other side arranged this marriage for each other’s influence. My fiancée was decided when I was young; in other words, this was a political marriage. That’s why when my position was divested and that was used to break this engagement, I was happy. I do not believe there is a need to bring it up again.”
“It’s fine. I believe the other person will find a new fiancé immediately.”
Those cold words weren’t like Aeneas at all.
“But if you two were engaged since you were young, then you’ve known each other for a long time now, right? Even if it was for political influence at the beginning, it might be different now.”
“It was the other person who said they wanted to break the engagement when I had lost my qualifications as a squire. There is nothing easier to understand than this.”
“That’s! That might be what her parents think, but she personally might be in pain. She could be working hard to pacify her parents somehow, but unable to do anything and spending every day crying!”
“I do not believe that is the case though.”
“It might be. Because, Aeneas, you’re a really great person. Leaving out your family, I think there’s more than enough to be attracted to. If that was the case, don’t you think that’s sad?”
When Yuna raised her opinion passionately, Aeneas showed a discomforted smile.
“… Lady Celiastina, sometimes you really do say cruel things easily.”
Certainly, she was aware that she was giving an irresponsible opinion. If Aeneas was in agreement then her saying all of that might have been her barking up the wrong tree. Still, when she thought about how this body was the cause, she had a hard time just staying silent and accepting it.
“Lady Celisatina, what do you think of Lord Asyut?”
Yuna’s eyes widened at the unexpected name suddenly coming out of Aeneas’ mouth.
“Why are you asking about Asyut?”
“Both of you have been forced into something like an arranged marriage. Have you no questions about it?”
“… Well, I think that the other person probably hates it.”
“Is that not the case with you, Lady Celiastina?”
She asked this to herself while being confused. What did she think about marrying Asyut?
(I don’t think… anything. Because, I’m not the real Celiastina.)
When she thought about this truth she felt dizzy. Don’t think too deeply, don’t think, an alarm seemed to resound in her head and everything became unknown.
“Asyut is… a good man.”
Even though she knew her answer was off from the point of Aeneas’ question, her mouth moved on its own to speak those words. However, Aeneas didn’t overlook that answer.
“Is being a good man enough?”
“That wasn’t what I… meant.”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Marrying a woman who I don’t even love. And I think that it’s strange. If we are to be married for life, I want to be together with a person I can truly be at ease with. Do you not think the same, Lady Celiastina?”
“I do. I do, but…”
What Aeneas said was natural. Yuna thought that being bound to such a person would be the happiest thing. But there still existed marriages which one had to accept, whether one liked it or not.
“I know I can’t say that it’s too late because we’re married. But I still don’t know Asyut very well and, if we can both grow to understand each other, then feelings of affection might be born.”
“Might, you say. What will you do if none are born? For me, that would be extremely painful.”
“Of course I think it would hurt too. But, up to now, I’ve been able to find many things that are good about Asyut. At first glance, that person looks to be moved only by reason, but he’s a person who is kind at times where people can’t see it. How many times have I been saved by that? He’s helped countlessly in various roundabout ways so that one can’t thank him. Far from any thanks, he probably does a lot of these in passing so that no one notices.”
Stop, wait. She shouldn’t be saying any more than this. Because, she wasn’t the real Celiastina. On that day, the real her… was hit by a carriage–.
“And, you know, lately when I’m in front of that person I don’t feel nervous. Of course, whenever I’m with people who are always cheerful and kind I have fun, but there’s a person where – even if they aren’t like that – I can relax around them. That’s not all either. Asyut is always by my side when I’m alone and in pain. It’s strange, because I don’t know how he always seems to come at those times… Anyway, although I knew about Asyut only after my engagement had been decided, I’ve already found so many good things about him.”
She wanted to cry.
Abruptly, she felt an impulse to raise her voice and cry loudly and so Yuna sucked in a deep breath.
In her chest, Celiastina was struck with emotion. It had been a while since she last felt emotions so strong that it felt like her heart was being shaken. But she couldn’t feel relieved at that.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Celiastina.
Even while wondering what she was apologizing for, Yuna repeated apologies within her mind. When she did, the emotions that wrapped around Yuna soon withdrew, but then she was attacked by an uneasy feeling of an empty, gaping wide hole having been left behind.
(Wait, Celiastina. Don’t go away!)
She closed her eyes tightly, brows furrowing, and called out strongly. –But even that was empty.
“Are you alright, Lady Celiastina?”
As if in concern for Yuna, Aeneas peered at her face discreetly.
“… Mm, I’m fine.”
Yuna barely managed to nod back.
“But, sorry. I think we really should return for today.”
Aeneas did not say any more than that and resumed walking.
Just selfishly striking out with her own feelings, she was pathetic for being completely unable to accept Aeneas’ words. But Yuna didn’t know what she should do. Inside Yuna was a whirlpool of confusion that she wasn’t able to confront directly. As to why that was, she already knew, and yet she was scared and couldn’t take a straight look at it. But, one day, she wouldn’t be allowed to continue to turn her eyes away. One day she would have to face it and accept it– it was just, whatever was beyond that, she still didn’t want to think about that right now.
“Lady Saint, please grant me your blessing.”
The room of blessing.
Yuna, who stood at the top of the altar, gave a smile at the aristocrats who lowered their heads reverently in front of her.
“Yubius, may the blessings of our God, Vida, be with you… How has your health been after your last visit?”
The man called Yubius raised his head with a happy expression.
“My lady, thanks to you my cold cleared without worsening. Right now, my health is as I look.”
“I’m glad. But please don’t overexert yourself.”
Yubius gave a large nod. Yuna also nodded back before moving her gaze to the kneeling man beside him.
“Lady Saint, please bestow upon me your blessing.”
“Trevasen, I grant you the blessings of our God, Vida. It feels like it’s been a while since I last saw you.”
“Yes, for a while I was staying with my mother, who is recuperating, in the countryside. She is quite old and there are many things to be vigilant about.”
Trevasen had a wry smile as he scratched his head.
“Is your mother’s health not very well?”
“A letter was sent to that extent and so I rushed back home, but the mansion was empty. When I asked, I was told that she went out hunting with her grandchildren who came to play. Honestly.”
When Trevasen shrugged his shoulders, laughter shook the room.
And then the last one– it was just one person, a man flustered in this situation and unable to join the circle of laughter. He wasn’t someone Yuna recognized, so she was sure he was attending this ceremony for the first time.
“This is your first time, right?”
When Yuna called out in a gentle voice, as much as possible, the man’s body jumped with a start before stiffening.
“May I ask your name?”
“Y–, um, of course. M-My name is Lubner.”
His body and voice were shaking and stiff. It was something Yuna was used to seeing, but lately those reactions have become nostalgic. –That’s right, when she had first started the Ceremony of Blessings, everyone was always afraid like that.
“Lubner, our God, Vida, will surely grant blessings upon you… I look forward to seeing you from now on, okay?”
“Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes, my lady.”
“You have too many “Yes”s, Lord Lubner.”
When Yubius chided him in a teasing way, the room of blessing was once again wrapped in laughter. This time Lubner was taken along with them and seemed to be able to show a smile.
Yuna, joining together with them, also laughed.
As she laughed though she suddenly felt a cold wind blow through her heart. Even though it should have been a calm and warm time, her heart became chilled somewhere.
This cold in her heart, did it belong to Celiastina? Or was it her own–.
Everyone’s laughter became distant. Even her own voice rapidly went into the distance, and she stood there on the spot all alone– assaulted by such an illusion, Yuna’s body suddenly shook.
Shortly thereafter, Yuna returned to her own room.
With a big sigh she threw herself onto her bed with all her force. Her body shook as she bounced and then the room was enveloped in a silence that was painful. It made her feel strongly that she really was alone.
“Lady Celiastina, please excuse my intrusion.”
At that moment, a gentle voice that contrasted with Yuna’s heart called out and then the door to her room opened.
It was her maid, Nasha. She pushed in a cart that had a set of teapots and cups on it.
“You must have worked hard in the ceremony. How about some tea during your rest?”
When she saw Nasha smiling sweetly, she felt like her stiffened feelings were able to loosen. Nasha, who also shared the common point of being a commoner, was an irreplaceable friend to Yuna. Up to now, they had become good friends through discussing various things with each other.
“The tea smells lovely.”
Nasha’s eyes crinkled in delight when she smiled at Yuna, who sniffed at the tea.
“Ah, I know! How does having some tea on the balcony sound? The weather is very nice today and there is barely any wind, so it will feel pleasant.”
That might be good as well. Yuna nodded and jumped out of her bed.
“Then I’ll help with the preparations.”
“No, that’s unthinkable! I will prepare everything immediately, so please wait on the bed if you are tired.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Moving around a little will be a change of pace.”
When she opened the balcony doors, saying that, Nasha didn’t protest any more. In the past, the two of them had washed the laundry of servants. Caring about such small details at this point would just hurt Yuna all the more and Nasha seemed to know that.
Yuna spread out a pure white cloth onto the table, prepared at the balcony, with a thud and secured it without any wrinkles. As Nasha placed the tea utensils on top of the table Yuna returned to her room to bring out a flower vase and decorated the center of the table with it.
“Mm, that’s nice.”
Just like Nasha said, the preparations were arranged in the blink of an eye. As Yuna sat down in a chair, she was wrapped with a strange, deep emotion upon realizing that this was the first time she relaxed on the balcony.
Putting her mouth to the tea cup which had hot tea poured in, Yuna heaved a large sigh.
“Haa, this really feels nice. I feel like the tea is even more delicious than usual.”
“Hearing you say that makes me happy.”
Nasha replied, sounding like she was relieved.
“The view from the balcony is nice too, huh.”
Because this room was located in the deepest part inside the royal palace there were no other buildings to intrude on the view. The view that she could see was just a flower garden on one side and, behind that, stretched out mountains.
Yuna was looking out at the flower garden absentmindedly like that but, between the multicolored flowers, she noticed a silhouette moving.
It was a single man. Because of her distance the view wasn’t clear, but it looked like he was walking through the flower garden with both hands clasped behind his back.
Unconsciously, she raised her voice and Nasha also looked beyond the balcony.
“Oh my, someone seems to be there.”
“You can see him too, Nasha?”
“Yes, an old man… I believe?”
Good, it wasn’t a ghost. Yuna breathed out a sigh of relief, having been partly serious. That person was unmistakably Rono. Just a while ago, she thought she saw him at the inner courtyard and now he was in the rear flower garden? Just like the man himself said, he really was an old man who appeared in unexpected places and at unexpected moments.
“I wonder who it is. That flower garden shouldn’t be a place where anyone can just go in and take a stroll.”
While she was staring at him, it looked like Rono noticed Yuna and Nasha and he raised his right hand to send them a greeting. –That was what she thought but, when she looked closer, apparently it wasn’t a greeting but a gesture for her to come over to him.
“W-What is that. It looks like he is calling for us.”
“I… think I’m going to go over there for a bit.”
Eh, Nasha had a shocked expression.
“I know that person, so it’ll be okay.”
Although she said she knew him she only knew his name, but if she said that then she would cause Nasha to be even more worried and so she kept silent on that.
“I’ll come back immediately!”
“Ah, please wait, Lady Celiastina!”
Nasha’s flustered voice hung onto Yuna’s back, but she had already left the room like that.
She arrived breathlessly at the flower garden. She thought he had disappeared again, but luckily she was worrying over nothing. At some point, Rono was now crouched on the ground and seemed to be rummaging around. It looked like he was pulling out weeds that caught his eye and the hem of his clothes, which were finely embroidered, were stained with a little dirt.
“Oh my, that was quick.”
Remaining crouched down like that, Rono only turned his head to look up at Yuna.
“Dear me, to think that you would really come down.”
“It’s because I saw you calling for me, Rono.”
“But I recall telling you to stop walking around alone.”
For some reason she wasn’t able to understand what he said. But it looked like Rono was just teasing and he didn’t pursue it any further before standing up with a grunt of “Here we go”.
“Now then, how may I help you?”
“Huh. Aren’t you the one who wants something from me?”
When she asked that in return, Ron showed a deep smile and then left a short pause.
“… The moment I met you for the first time I noticed that you had many thoughts swirling around in you and that you were looking for help.”
Yuna unconsciously gripped the hem of her one-piece dress strongly.
“Certainly, I feel as if you are outwardly passing your time quietly. But, in the end, that is just “outwardly”. I feel like, inside your heart, you are saddled with a vague sense of uneasiness, like a child who has had a nightmare. Unable to do anything with your own power, you feel like you are being crushed by a great force… Am I wrong?”
Those words shook her heart strongly. Ah, what were the contents of the dream that she had at that time? It was nostalgic and yet terrifying. She could only recall that impression.
“If there are worries that you cannot erase within you, then you may want to try talking to someone for a turn. For all you know, you might feel refreshed. I called you here thinking that.”
It was true what Rono said. During troubled times, it might be better to receive a suggestion from someone rather than worrying alone. But.
“What… should I say… No words come to mind.”
The circumstances surrounding Yuna were too special. Even if she opened up about her troubles, she didn’t even have a rough idea of how to convey them to have someone understand. No matter where she looked in this world, there was no way there would be someone in the same position as her. Surely no one would understand this.
“In the divine service room.”
Rono suddenly raised his head and looked around at the encompassing sky.
“Did you know that there is a magnificent painting there?”
Having the subject suddenly changed, Yuna was at a loss for words.
“There is a painting drawn by a young painter by the name of Willibus.”
“I quite like it since it’s a work that overflows with deep emotion. As long as I have free time, I stand there and stare at that painting. Though its only fault is that, when I continue to stare at it, my neck ends up hurting.”
She didn’t understand Rono’s true meaning as he continued to smile widely.
“Now I can even say the names and features of each and every one of the celestial people who are drawn on that ceiling from memory. Yes, for example, when I think about the most sensual one it would have to be the peach-colored clothed goddess, Luinshista, dancing immediately to your right when you enter the building.”
Yuna’s mouth dropped open.
“But the one I’m most curious about is another goddess. At the edge of the ceiling, there is a goddess who has a somewhat uneasy expression and seems to be concerned about something behind her.”
Ron squinted his eyes, as if he were staring at the painting right now. Yuna also called to mind the painting that she had been looking at with Asyut just a while ago.
“Because the painting stops there, I do not know what she is concerned about. But, because she is drawn differently than the others, it makes a person suddenly become curious.”
“… And what did you do then, Rono?”
“I went to ask the person who painted the picture.”
Indeed, that was a very simple solution.
“Apparently, who Willibus drew was the goddess, Rhodiani. I was surprised when I investigated her. In myths she is called the “fake goddess”. Originally, she was an ordinary human but when her twin sister was to be welcomed into the heavens, she became jealous, and deceived her younger sister to go to the heavens.”
“And Willibus drew that goddess on a ceiling painting in the royal palace?”
Haha, Rono laughed.
“Looking at Rhodiani, I am reminded of a young lady who came to this royal palace several years ago.”
“A… young lady?”
Yes, Rono nodded and closed his eyes.
“She was a very ordinary and lovable young lady. But she was brought to the royal palace suddenly and, in one night, became this country’s most important existence, one which even aristocrats have to kneel to.”
“Even though she obtained a status that young people throughout the country would envy, she always seemed to be afraid of something. At the same time, she seemed to have given up on something.”
Yuna remained silent and stared at Rono.
“I thought that she was very similar to Rhodiani in that ceiling painting. That goddess was frightened of her own past sins and the younger twin that she deceived and stole from… Now then, I wonder just what exactly the young lady I knew was afraid of?”
“… Did you find the answer?”
“No, I did not find one. I’m sure that it is something I am unable to find. If there is someone who can find it, I think it would be someone who is closer to her.”
Yuna stood still there and reflected on the words she received in her heart. Rono’s gaze was nothing but soft and seemed to wrap around Yuna as he watched over her.
“I am sure that “someone” is also thinking that they want to find it for her.”
Yuna’s trembling lips moved a little.
“… I’m… afraid. It’s true that I want to find it. And yet, I’m afraid of knowing.”
“Should the ceiling painting simply remain as a ceiling painting?”
As he said that Rono raised his right hand to the sky. Drawn by that, Yuna also looked up.
“Do you want to leave her as a person in a painting? Because it is frightening to feel that she really did exist here and, even now, she exists right beside you. –If that is the case, then that is fine. I do not mind if you accept those thoughts. They are natural feelings and there is no need to be ashamed. Rather, what would be sad is if those feelings remained unnoticed and you passed your time fooling around.”
While squinting her eyes at the brightness, Yuna bit her lip hard.
Why did Ron understand her feelings so well? Her hesitation, fear… The conflict that she did not say a word to anyone was exposed so clearly.
She questioned what he knew, but that thought quickly disappeared into the corner of her mind.
Right now, above that, Yuna was facing a much more important thing.
“I mentioned earlier that the young lady was similar to Rhodiani. But I believe that Rhodiani exists in everyone’s heart.”
Inside everyone’s heart. Then, inside Rono– and inside her?
“Inside people, there may exist “something” that they want to turn their eyes away from. Like Rhodiani, it might be a sin in the past or someone other than one’s self. Or, possibly, it might be one’s own heart.”
Yuna blinked once.
And then she looked back on the time that she had spent up to now.
At the beginning, it took all she had to get past those hectic days. While she lost herself in running to the end, before she knew it, she became accustomed to life in the royal palace. She began to feel afraid of losing those days. And then, like that, she came this far without caring about the core part– Celiastina and her own self.
(But I was trying to pretend not to notice such feelings.)
And, probably because of that, was why Celiastina felt so distant.
“Be that as it may, I believe it is okay not to forcibly scold yourself and run yourself down.”
Yuna, who was absorbed in thought, was returned to the present again at Rono’s voice.
“If the thought of wanting to find something is enough to move your feet then, first, I think you should visit the historical archive. You should be able to know the truth of the past saints.”
For Yuna it was the first time hearing such a word.
“What was it that the young lady was afraid of? You might not be able to find all the answers there. However, it could become a start.”
Rono smiled cheerfully again.
He was a really strange person. He seemed to see through everything and was watching over her– when she looked at his gentle smile, by the time she noticed, she felt that it was something immensely deep.