“Wow, it looks amazing on you, Lady Celiastina!”
Yuna, who was standing in front of the full-length mirror in her room, sent a wry smile back at her maid, Nasha, who looked at the mirror and exclaimed in delight.
Right now, Yuna looked more like a fashionable aristocratic lady than a saint who served God. She had on a light pink dress, layered with delicate lace, and a necklace with a large jewel; her makeup was also applied more carefully than usual.
“No, really, for this dress to be worn so splendidly…”
The dressmaker beside Nasha had a wide smile as he said this with admiration.
It was recent that he, an expert dressmaker, made a request to present his own work to the saint, Celiastina. In less than a month, when the royal palace gave consent, the dress and the person himself entered the royal palace. And, because he wanted to check if there were any measurements which didn’t fit, it became a dress fitting session right there.
“Perhaps it’d be better to tighten it somewhat around the waist.”
“N-No, this is good!”
Yuna hurriedly waved both hands to do her best not to prolong the conversation.
She wasn’t used to this.
For Yuna, who was only a village girl, it was unspeakably embarrassing to wear a gorgeous dress and stand in front of people. Yuna did think that it certainly suited Saint Celiastina, whose outward appearance was extolled as an absolute beauty; however, due to her indelible nature as a commoner, she could not help but become meek.
“Since everything has been prepared, shall we do your hair as well and not just your makeup? Because you normally keep your hair down, perhaps it would be nice to put it up.”
“No, thank you, this is enough. Really, this is more than enough.”
Not wanting to make this into a bigger event she refused Nasha, but her words didn’t seem to reach Nasha’s ears as she had become completely enthusiastic.
“Once we’re done with your hair, we should show the others. Lady Celiastina, you normally wear plain clothes so I’m sure everyone will be surprised by your appearance, dressed up.”
“Ooh! That would be lovely!”
Disregarding the person being talked about, Nasha and the dressmaker showed their excitement.
“Oh, I know! The first person should be Lord Asyut. Shall I check whether he has time right now?”
Yuna had been drawn along but when a name she couldn’t ignore sprang up her voice was unintentionally rough.
“Don’t say anything to Asyut, please.”
Her voice had become stiffer than she thought. She didn’t want to shock the two of them, but when the topic became about Asyut her shoulders naturally tensed. And, sure enough, their eyes widened and they fell silent at Yuna’s uncommon anger.
“I’m sorry but, um, Asyut seems to be very busy lately so I don’t want to bother him. I’ll show off this dress to everyone when a party or something happens. I’d be happier if they were surprised at that time.”
To Nasha and the dressmaker it was a strained excuse. But it seemed like they understood Yuna’s feelings and did not continue with that topic any further.
“Thank you two for your time today. It’s the first time in my life I’ve worn such a pretty dress. I’ll cherish it.”
“O-Of course, thank you for your generous words…”
The dressmaker exchanged looks with Nasha and, while having a bewildered expression, he replied and lowered his head.
“Then I will excuse myself here.”
“Ah, in that case, let me show you to the gates of the royal palace.”
“Much obliged, Miss Nasha. Then, Lady Celiastina, thank you very much for your precious time. If you have need of another dress, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.”
“Yes, I certainly will.”
Yuna managed to see him off at the end with a smile. As Nasha left, she turned back with a worried look, but soon Yuna couldn’t see her either.
And then, for a while, Yuna stared at the door her guest left through, but eventually she sighed and sat in a nearby chair. A beauty with a tired expression was reflected at the edge of the full-length mirror. When she thought about how that image was none other than herself, she felt even more depressed.
Recently, she had been spending her days in her room, rarely leaving.
Celiastina’s grand past— she was the one who wished to learn about it, and yet now that she actually knew everything a dull shock seeped into Yuna little by little.
The mental wounds Celiastina received during her childhood twisted her powers as a saint. Moreover, Yuna herself was not unrelated. Even though Celiastina was screaming soundlessly; Yuna, who had been right beside her, didn’t notice. She didn’t reach out a hand. Certainly, she had been a powerless child but if only she had noticed something at that time; she couldn’t help but think this.
She was sure it wasn’t just a coincidence that she was connected to Celiastina’s life like this. Yuna was now able to have that belief.
She tried to think it was like this… as much as possible.
That was why she thought to devote her remaining time to Celiastina. It wasn’t for the sake of an unknown saint or for the sake of her country like she had been doing before. It was for “Cella”, her past friend, and she hoped that this time she could stop Cella’s pain. Yes, that was her decision.
Yuna removed the necklace from her neck with heavy hands. While being careful not to scratch the jewels, she placed it softly into a box. She spent some time spacing out at the table, resting her chin on her hands, but then decided to remove her dress before Nasha returned and so she sluggishly stood up.
Nasha had said it as well but it was certainly unusual for her to be dressed in such a gorgeous dress. It was rare for the saint to attend things like balls or showy entertainment, so she had never come across an event requiring her presence where she had to wear a dress like this.
Pinching the hem of her dress, Yuna faced the full-length mirror again.
If Asyut saw her appearance, what would he say? This thought crossed her mind.
(That’s why it shouldn’t happen, huh.)
Yuna sighed again, her countless one today, and finally took off the dress.
She was well aware of her own feelings for Asyut who was at times strict, at times kind, and at all times supporting her from behind. She could no longer lie about these feelings of love for him. However, she knew painfully that she could not show these feelings outwardly.
In Celiastina’s body, she wasn’t allowed to close the distance with Asyut as Yuna.
And that was why she decided not to have as much contact as possible with Asyut.
Honestly, she didn’t want to avoid him obviously. But, when she was beside him, she didn’t know what a reasonable distance to keep was. If she was going to be influenced by her own feelings like this, then it was best not to meet him even if it seemed unnatural— that was the answer Yuna came to.
And, indeed, she hadn’t seen Asyut face to face recently.
Of course, she participated properly in the ceremonies where the two of them were to be present. But she didn’t say any words that were more than what was necessary.
There was no way she could ask Asyut what he thought about this, but she had a general guess without asking. It could be said that the stern expression he showed whenever they met said everything. Asyut probably didn’t understand why Yuna was avoiding him at this point in time. Just when they had started to understand each other, why? She was sure he wanted to ask that. But, in actuality, did he say nothing because he respected Yuna’s thoughts?
If that were the case then Yuna was both apologetic and grateful. With this extension of time that was allowed to her, she wanted to settle her feelings a little. Although it may be difficult to come to a clear solution at the very least she had to be able to suppress these emotions.
Finished changing, Yuna kneeled on the floor and picked up a small box from beneath the bed.
When she opened the lid she could see a single ribbon inside.
This was what she sent to “Cella” in the past as a child. She was extremely touched by how it had been kept even until now.
Yuna gripped the ribbon tightly.
What exactly could she do for Celiastina?
Yuna had done everything up to now with the hope that the royal palace (this place) could become comfortable, even slightly, for Celiastina, who would return. However, before she knew it, hadn’t that become “for her own sake”? The more intensely she experienced her feelings for Asyut the more this anxiety crossed her mind.
These feelings of love for him were undoubtedly Yuna’s own. There was no way this could be for Celiastina’s sake. And that was why she had to settle herself as soon as possible.
(If I don’t, then everything about doing my best for Celiastina’s sake would be a lie.)
That was what she was most afraid of. That her very existence would become a lie.
In fact, nowadays, she nearly couldn’t feel Celiastina’s presence. Even though, at first, when she possessed this body she had been swayed violently by Celiastina’s own emotions, the sense of her intense hatred towards the outside world and the sense of her occasional sorrow. Every feeling had been aligned with Yuna’s feelings and she had felt Celiastina’s presence steadily.
But, right now, Celiastina was completely silent.
(Why can’t I feel anything anymore?)
Yuna dropped her eyes to the ribbon and frowned.
(Celiastina’s heart is… distant.)
Gripping the ribbon in both hands she pressed it against her chest.
Please, Celiastina, you must return.
Nasha, who returned after sending off the dressmaker, seemed sorry to see that Yuna had already changed into her normal clothes, but she immediately switched over her feelings and started cleaning.
“There is still some time after this before your ceremony, will you continue to rest in your room?”
While placing the tea set onto a tray, Nasha only turned her head to ask this.
“Mm… oh, I know, I think I’ll drop by the infirmary.”
Yuna raised her lowered head and replied in a bright voice.
She would head to Mislee’s infirmary and help out a little— by taking care of the seedling. After she returned the ribbon box to its original place, Yuna had thought this.
Mislee’s infirmary was a temporary clinic established by the royal palace. In the past, there was a tragic event where many lives were taken by Celiastina throwing innocent people into a prison called the Holy Jail. Later on, the people who were saved by Yuna were moved to this infirmary and received treatment for a long time.
However, now that that role has ended, it was opened to emergency patients in the royal palace. Mislee, who was in charge of the infirmary, still remained and treated injured soldiers and servants. Yuna had been absent at the infirmary as she devoted all her time and energy on Celiastina’s problem, but now that it was calm she tried to show up in between her ceremonies.
And, a few days ago, Yuna had personally planted a seedling in the infirmary’s backyard. She also took care of it and in these past few days she had been appearing at the infirmary almost everyday. Even though Mislee took on watering it every day, Yuna tried her best to see it frequently herself. It was a plant that was easy to care for, so it would grow properly even if it was treated somewhat roughly, but she thought of it as her avatar and so she wanted to cherish it.
Yes, that seedling was her avatar.
And it was a present to Celiastina.
The moment she learned that Celiastina had always kept her ribbon close at hand, she also got the idea of wanting to leave behind something for her. The ribbon hadn’t been something left behind for Yuna, but it seemed to convey Celiastina’s feelings and Yuna had been really happy.
The plant’s name was… an asiatic jasmine.
It was the same climbing plant that the young Celiastina had raised in the past at the orphanage. During its season, it would be covered with pale pink flowers and it would soothe the hearts of all who saw it. It might not be as splendid as the one Celiastina raised but that was okay, as long as it were to make the people who came to the infirmary and Celiastina, who would return, feel even the slightest bit of gentleness when seeing the flowers.
“Oh my, Lady Celiastina, welcome!”
The person that greeted Yuna, who went to the infirmary, was Mislee with her unchanging smile. It seemed she had been airing the place out because she was opening the windows in the room one after another.
“Sorry for always dropping by while you’re busy. Is now a good time?”
“Yes, of course it is. As you can see, there is no one here right now. Even if that weren’t the case, you are always welcome.”
Mislee, who just finished opening the last window, gestured Yuna to a seat when she continued to stand at the entrance. Aeneas, who had escorted her here, remained outside. Even when she invited him inside, he unequivocally chose to wait outside. Whenever she asked the reason, he answered that his position as a bodyguard should not be broken so easily.
Having been told that, she felt awkward about forcibly dragging Aeneas in. However, Yuna secretly thought those words might have been an excuse. Even she knew by now that he had feelings of affection for her. That she came all this way without facing his feelings was precisely because she was at a loss about not hurting him. But she had a terribly guilty conscience about that.
“Aah, but honestly, you arrived at a good time. I had just been thinking about having tea. And, the other day, I was given delicious tea cakes from a servant’s child who I treated. Lady Celiastina, won’t you join me in my break?”
Mislee said that and delivered a light wink, which made Yuna smile and nod.
“I’ll help brew the tea.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I apologize because it is not a high grade tea but, to that extent, it is simple to brew. Please remain seated.”
Saying this, Mislee withdrew into the back; Yuna watched her until she was gone and then slowly looked around the room.
The number of beds was much smaller compared to the time when Holy Jail victims had been received here. Overall, she felt a refreshing impression. There were different flowers decorating the sides of the beds, most likely from Mislee’s consideration. The multicolored flowers received the light of day through the skylight and painted the room brightly. All the sheets were pure white and not a single wrinkle could be found. Even that showed Mislee’s sincere personality.
“Lately, it has been quiet like this all the time. There is quite a lot of time when there is no one around. I almost feel like I will be scolded for not doing my job properly.”
Mislee returned soon with the tea on a tray.
“However, I try to think about how it is a good thing that everyone is working energetically without injuries or illnesses.”
“But that’s the truth. If people knew that tasty tea cakes and tea come out from here, then everyone throughout the royal palace would gather here.”
“Oh my, Lady Celiastina, this is a secret.”
The two shared a laugh and then had fun for some time making idle chatter. Mislee wasn’t an especially talkative woman, but strangely it was comfortable talking to her. She didn’t merely talk about things that she wanted to talk about, but she didn’t just listen to the other person either. Because a nice flowing conversation had been created, it all became very natural.
“Come to think of it, today was the day a dressmaker came to visit you, Lady Celiastina, correct? Have you already seen them?”
“Yes, just before I came here. It was a very pretty dress but somewhat embarrassing so I took it off immediately.”
“What a waste! I’m sure it suited you very well. And who were the lucky people who saw Lady Celiastina in a dress?”
“No, um, I was only trying it on so it was just Nasha and the dressmaker.”
“Oh no, that’s even more of a waste! Since everything had been prepared you should have went out somewhere with Lord Asyut while wearing that dress.”
Yuna gave a vague smile upon hearing Mislee’s words. Lately, she felt like these fake smiles she made had increased.
“It’d be nice if we could, but the current situation is how it is.”
“Ah, the problem with the anti-saint faction, hm. I understand, but don’t we all require a break sometimes? Even if you cannot go far, you could try dressing up a little and walk through the gardens of the royal palace together.”
Her reply was stuck and she dropped her gaze to the cup at her hands. For a moment, silence descended between the two.
“… Lady Celiastina, is your marriage with Lord Asyut hard?”
Mislee broke the silence with one phrase. Yuna’s raised her head up quickly.
“N-Not at all!”
“Then were you treated harshly by Lord Asyut?”
“No, never, that hasn’t happened at all!”
Hmm, Mislee placed her right hand on her cheek and adopted a thinking posture.
“I’m sorry. It’s because you seem to be dispirited lately, Lady Celiastina. I wondered if something had happened with Lord Asyut.”
When Mislee murmured that, Yuna became even more surprised. Was she that easy to read?
“You know, seeing the current you, Lady Celiastina, I remember myself in the past.”
Mislee nodded with a calm expression.
“About the time I was troubled and could not accept the feelings of my beloved.”
Wha, Yuna’s eyes widened.
“I married when I was seventeen. The marriage was a little early but, thankfully, it was with someone I loved.”
Saying that, Mislee’s eyes grew distant with nostalgia for the past.
“I was very happy. I felt like it was a miracle to have the same feelings as my loved one. Every day was enjoyable.”
Mislee slowly traced the edge of her cup beside her hand. Yuna followed that movement with her eyes.
Mislee’s finger came to an abrupt stop.
“During our married life, one concerning problem came up.”
“… I couldn’t bear a child. From the start of our marriage, it was a joy for us to talk about anything and everything on the baby we would be blessed with. But it was no good. Despite our impatience, months swept by and, just like that, ten years passed.”
Ten years. Yuna caught her breath unknowingly.
“I was raised in a village where it was said that bearing a child was a wife’s job. That was why I was deeply apologetic to my husband and his parents. But everyone was kind. However, conversely, that was also painful. Unable to bear it, I offered to divorce my husband.”
Yuna couldn’t look away from Mislee’s face.
“Because my husband was very kind, he did not accept the divorce. He told me that he wanted to be blessed with a child with me, but if I was not going to be by his side then he didn’t want a child either.”
“… What a great husband.”
“Right? I wonder how much those words saved me. But I was also unwilling to give an inch. I thought that if there was a possibility he could separate from me and have a child with a new wife then that would definitely be better. I was stubborn. Of course, I also loved my husband at the time and it was really, really painful. Gradually, I was unable to understand what my reason was for refusing my husband’s feelings.”
A woman’s heart is a complicated thing, isn’t it? Mislee said with a smile to Yuna.
“Even as someone stood right beside me, supporting me and extending a helping hand, I did my best not to lose to my own heart. I told myself that it would surely be for the other’s sake, too. However, I could not completely cast away everything and it hurt.”
“… And then, in the end, what happened to you and your husband?”
Yuna timidly urged her on.
“Ah, we divorced.”
“I will never forget my husband’s words at that time. He said ‘You are wrong. Even if everyone in the world claims your decision was right, I can assure you that you are wrong’ to me.”
Yuna was immediately at a loss for words.
“… And did everything end with you two having parted?”
Mislee slowly shook her head.
“As you can imagine, there is a continuation. After divorcing my husband, I stuck to being alone. I say ‘stuck to’ but a divorced woman who is unable to have a child isn’t someone who can remarry. On the other hand, my husband was a divorced ex-husband, but he also did not try to find a new partner. I thought he was being considerate to me, so I left the village I was used to and lived elsewhere, but even still he remained alone. When I realized it, another ten years passed with the both of us remaining alone.”
At times Mislee continued her words while chuckling. Seeing her calm appearance, Yuna naturally felt her tension melt.
“In the spring of the tenth year, my ex-husband came to the house where I lived alone, most likely having heard about it somewhere and proposed to me again. He asked to be together once more and, for some reason, after hearing that the strength in my body left. After ten years, I was finally able to come to an understanding.”
“Then, right now…”
“It’s my second marriage, going on the eighth year. I’m happy.”
To think that Mislee had such a past. She always looked calm, but she had overcome a time of deep wounds, troubles, and suffering— like how Yuna personally was right now.
I see, Yuna thought. And that was why Mislee was able to guess at Yuna’s distress?
“I do not know what worries you have, Lady Celiastina, so I cannot say anything important-sounding. However, I thought it might help you to know that there are things like this too.”
Mislee smiled widely, her eyes crinkling.
“You know, this world is one where you don’t know what will happen.”
Where you don’t know what will happen— Yuna was reminded of Asyut’s profile, as he looked down, and she bit her lip hard.
After, Yuna watered the asiatic jasmine in the backyard of the infirmary and crouched down there, staring absently at the small leaves which swayed in the wind.
(Asyut and I… can’t become like Mislee and her husband.)
Certainly, there were innumerable possibilities spread throughout this world. However, surely there were things that existed which had lines that could not be crossed no matter what. Thinking that much, Yuna let out a small sigh.
In this small backyard, there was only a single, large Jume tree growing; then there were stone stiles created with beautiful patterns which lined the ground. After many years, the asiatic jasmine Yuna planted would also grow large and become familiar in this garden. There was no doubt that a time would come when Celiastina could see that sight.
At that moment, a voice called out from over her shoulder and Yuna turned around in answer. Aeneas was standing beside the door.
“It is almost time for the Ceremony of Worship. Will you be attending it straight from here? Or shall we return to your room first?”
“Oh, ah, sorry! It’s already that time, huh.”
Yuna stood up and hurriedly swept away the dust which clung to the hem of her one-piece dress with her hands.
“I’m good, let’s go directly from here. Ack, I see I overstayed.”
Taking Aeneas’ hand, when he held it out, she returned to the infirmary. It looked like a single patient had arrived, unnoticed to her, and Mislee was attending to them.
“Ah, sorry, you have a patient. I didn’t notice at all.”
When Yuna lowered her head, the male servant – who was being treated – stared with eyes popping wide.
“I’m the one who is sorry I could not do much for you. Please come again whenever you wish.”
Mislee responded with a light tone while bursting into laughter at her patient’s reaction. Yuna nodded once and then left the infirmary; Aeneas followed a few steps behind.
“The infirmary is comfortable, so I accidentally forgot the time.”
When Yuna said this, while just turning her head, Aeneas seemed to smile a little. However, he did not respond with any words and he did not walk beside her.
It was a distance that was only a few steps away. However, that was what was frustrating.
“Yes, my lady?”
Yuna continued talking while walking directly through the straight corridor.
“Uh, I’m sorry for making you even manage my time, Aeneas. In addition to that, you’ve been asked to be my only bodyguard. It must be tough, huh.”
“No, not at all. It is fine.”
Of course she was thankful to hear him say that. Was it just because she was a fusser that his answer felt distant somewhere?
(That’s right. It’s Aeneas, so it’s obvious he wouldn’t answer with anything else.)
Yuna told herself this in self-admonishment.
But still, since the time that Yuna and Asyut went to the orphanage alone together she felt that Aeneas had been acting strange. Was he angry that she didn’t say anything and left the royal palace? There was no doubt that he would have been anxious about her; it would be natural that his emotions, which had no outlet, might still be smoldering inside him right now.
“Lady Celiastina, is something the matter?”
Perhaps a shadow crossed her expression unconsciously, because Aeneas asked that.
“Mm, ah, I mean no. I’m okay…”
Yuna waved both hands, flustered, and then turned at the end of the corridor.
“Please do not hesitate to say anything.”
“Oh, I was just thinking about how I’ve made you worry over a lot of things, Aeneas. Things like that.”
Ah, she was an idiot. Yuna hated herself right after she said those words. If she was going to say things halfway like this, then it certainly would have been better not to say anything at all.
Aeneas stopped and blinked as he looked at Yuna’s face for a while, before he soon covered his face with his right hand and let out an uncharacteristic “Ah!” noise of shame.
“I apologize. My attitude has not been very well, has it? I am not angry nor am I sad.”
“Eh, no, that’s not—“
“If anything, you could say I am nervous.”
This time it was Yuna’s turn to blink.
As she returned that question, she noticed that Aeneas’ eyes were unexpectedly colored in seriousness. Instinctively, Yuna shrunk away and, in that moment, took a step back. Whether that was a trigger or not, Aeneas suddenly dropped his shoulders and lowered his eyes.
“… No, I apologize, it is nothing.”
It happened again, Yuna thought.
Once again, she ran away from Aeneas’ feelings. Even though she really didn’t want to avert her eyes.
“More importantly, the time for the ceremony is drawing near. The worship room is right over there, shall we go?”
In the end, this time too, Yuna did not ask anything. She only nodded once and resumed walking silently.
The worship room was filled with a solemn quiet.
Several servants worked hard in preparation for the ceremony but, apart from giving greetings, no one spoke. While Yuna went to the wings of the altar, she looked up at the high ceiling. The celestial people in the painting, splendid enough to be overwhelming, danced elegantly without being disturbed by anyone.
In this ceremony, the saint and the First Holy Knight lined up in front of the altar and offered prayers to the God that the leaders of their country followed. It was customary for the main people, Yuna and Asyut, to hold back and wait until the other worshipers gathered. It seemed like Asyut hadn’t arrived yet. Yuna felt relieved when she surveyed the room, and then she quietly sat down in a seat that was prepared in the wings.
(I wonder if it’s better to talk to Aeneas properly.)
In this tiny space, alone, Yuna thought things over vaguely.
(But what should I say…)
From the start, Yuna was ignorant about matters of love. Amongst the people she knew her age, there were girls who were already married but she thought it was still far in the future for her. And so there was no way she knew of a way to have someone give up on her without hurting them.
(But saying nothing and leaving things vague is cruel, surely.)
However, she hadn’t even been confessed to, so how would she broach it? Thinking up to that, Yuna shook her head wildly. Hadn’t Aeneas been trying to tell her something just now? But she was the one who ran away.
Right at that moment, she overheard people’s voices coming from the altar.
Yuna, who had been worrying endlessly, raised her head and looked in that direction. She couldn’t see anything from here, but it seemed like the servants were greeting someone. Then, it was most likely Asyut.
Yuna felt her heartbeat quicken.
She had feelings of wanting to see Asyut and feelings of knowing that she couldn’t see him. Adding on the matter of Aeneas, everything was a mess. In this situation, if she were to face Asyut, she didn’t think she could act natural. He should be waiting in the wings opposite of her, but in the case that he came over here, what exactly should she do?
(I’m a complete mess.)
For a while, Yuna pulled her shoulders in with nervousness and peeked at the altar, but in the end Asyut didn’t show his face over here. There was something like relief and something like loneliness— but they were mainly selfish thoughts and even she herself knew that.
Eventually, many footsteps began to resound in the area and the voices of people chatting quietly increased. The participants in the ceremony had gathered. In this ceremony, where punctuality was strictly observed, everyone was quick to be quiet again. And in this moment, as usual, the noises from the altar disappeared like fog in a short amount of time and once again a painful silence descended.
Receiving her cue, Yuna prepared to walk to the front of the altar. She stood up from her seat and slowly took in a deep breath. She also closed her eyes tightly, trying not to think about anything unnecessarily. And then, opening her eyes again, she felt her feelings settle just by a little bit.
Taking one step out, Asyut appeared on the opposite side doing the same, and he sent a glance at Yuna. For a second, their eyes connected, and then immediately separated. Yuna headed to her seat as calmly as possible and, without exchanging a single word with Asyut, the gentle prelude music began to start playing, signaling the start of the ceremony.