“The Lord, Vida, is together with us at all times.”
The priest’s low voice resounded through the worship hall.
Asyut, with his eyes slightly lowered, focused his ears on the recitation of the scripture. They were already words of prayer that he had memorized word for word without errors, but right now to Asyut they only resounded exceedingly emptily. Asyut just kept silent and hung his head, not moving like a stone statue.
“Let us pray.”
The priest’s words paused and the place was enveloped in a serene air. The sunlight that came in from the large windows covered Asyut’s closed eyes. It was a painful silence. Eventually, when he opened his eyes, the large altar decorated with elaborate craftsmanship leapt into his vision. Asyut looked up at it, unaffected by its overwhelming appearance.
Next to him, there is no form of the girl who had always accompanied him in this ceremony during the past year.
He was still not accustomed to kneeling in front of the altar all alone like this.
Asyut glanced at the spot beside him, only moving his eyes. The chair, which had lost its owner, appeared somewhat lonely. No, perhaps the one who was lonely was he himself–.
The Ceremony of Worship soon ended. Asyut stepped back to the side of the altar and sighed without notice. Nearly fifty of the country’s statesmen, who had been offering similar prayers, behind him began to the leave the building in their own direction. As Asyut watched their backs, he idly wondered how long this ceremony could continue.
Among the people who were standing up from their seats at their own pace, there was one person who didn’t move and continued to offer prayers in his seat. The elderly man garbed in priest robes and with hair that was streaked gray was one of the high priests, Roblin. Even he, who normally frightened his surroundings with his spread out aura of intimidation, was merely a devout follower when he kneeled in front of God to pray. At last, seeing the moment he raised his head, Asyut walked up to him from the side of the altar.
He called out in a quiet voice. There was already the usual deep wrinkles carved into Roblin’s brows when the man looked at him.
“Lord Asyut, I see. It is impolite to call out to someone in a place of prayer.”
It was a voice that did not hide his displeasure. However, Asyut did not waver.
“If it isn’t in such a place, it doesn’t seem like I can obtain an opportunity to speak with you… Especially recently.”
“Hmph, I do not believe there is a need in and of itself to speak with me.”
Roblin said that over his shoulder and stood up.
“Then I will conclude this matter shortly.”
Asyut stood in Roblin’s way to block his path of retreat.
“–I would like to inquire as to how long you intend to continue this.”
“I do not understand what you are talking about.”
“Of course I am talking about Lady Celiastina. You and your men have taken her away to the Priest Tower and several weeks have already passed. On that note, even the king has not been permitted to meet her and I do not think those are sane instructions.”
“That is not what I do not understand. I am saying the question “how long” itself is meaningless. I believe it was told to you as well, that originally Lady Celiastina is a lady who should have been together with us. Welcoming her into the Priest Tower presently is how things ought to have been.”
“If you stepped through legitimate arrangements then that may be the case. However, right now the things you and your men have done are clearly wrong. It could even be called an abduction and confinement.”
“Watch your tongue, boy.”
Roblin scolded him in a noticeably low voice.
“We cannot allow the king to use the Lady Saint as he pleases any more than this. We are of the position where we must protect Lady Celiastina. No matter what shape that may take.”
“You men? When you’ve left her completely alone until now.”
“The same can be said of you.”
Asyut’s brows furrowed at the words that were returned lightning-quick.
“I regret my own powerlessness. To have the country be churned up by the imposter saint, so great is my mistake that I cannot even face the king. But if these events were devised by the king then I absolutely cannot forgive the king.”
Roblin glared at Asyut with eyes that seemed to burn. His tightly clenched fists trembled faintly.
“Those speculations should not be voiced aloud.”
Asyut chided him in a quiet tone.
Apparently, Roblin seemed to think that the events related to Celiastina in this past year were all traps devised by the king.
Hiding as an imposter, a “saint-like” “saint” would be shown in front of everyone. Finally, after seeing the entire royal palace open their hearts to the imposter saint, the truth would be revealed. That the girl was not real, and that the real one was “that”. The unchanged cruel and merciless saint–. Now then, can the people judge which one of them was truly suited as the saint? Is it the Holy Mark on the neck that is important? Or…
In fact, about this matter, the royal palace was secretly swallowed by a whirlpool of confusion.
From the day it was known throughout the castle that in this past year the saint shown in front of everyone was a fake and that the real Saint Celiastina was taken away by the priests to the Priest Tower, the discord between the king’s faction and the priest faction only deepened more and more. There was the king’s faction which wanted to prune the influence of the priests, and the priest faction which strongly opposed that. There were no signs of compromising between either of them.
To begin with, King Ronbarno had been aiming to weaken the priest faction and laid the foundations for a long, long time. Even leaving the selfish and brutally acting Saint Celiastina unregulated was nothing other than him thinking to expose in broad daylight the dangers of the being called a “saint” and, in addition, “religion” itself having authority and power. It is not a person chosen by God, but a person chosen by the people, who should be suited to standing at the head of people– he wanted to make this known to everyone.
It must have been good fortune to the king for a single girl to suddenly appear there in the royal palace with an appearance similar to Celiastina with no difference. The king certainly used her. Roblin was surely the type that was stubborn about his suspicions.
However, with Roblin, he was not going to simply stay silent and let the king go. Even now, he understood clearly the fact that everything was already going according to the king’s will. And it is on keeping this in mind that he took a reckless action to confine Celiastina in the tower. He was waiting for the time. For the moment he could grab the tail of the king’s “conspiracy”–.
(There is almost no time left.)
The time allowed to the priests was this moment only when the king was showing an attitude of tolerance. The king could start to do something at any time. If he decided to completely discard the priests then he would not hesitate to even lead the soldiers to invade the Priest Tower, said to be consecrated ground.
“Father Roblin, I ask you to please reconsider this. At this rate, even if Lady Celiastina is confined, the issues will not be resolved.”
“I do not think that. If the king prepared an imposter saint then this is an enormous issue that will shake the country. It is absurd to let out Lady Celiastina from the tower without pursuing that.”
“Such thoughts are nothing more than your own, are they not. Where is your evidence?”
“There is none yet. That is precisely why we must move towards elucidating the truth.”
Roblin continued speaking with a strong tone.
“Who exactly was the imposter saint? And, in this past year, who was hiding the real Lady Celiastina? We, who are the children of God, have a duty to reveal everything to God. If we place a lid on the truth now, are you saying it is fine to have a similar thing repeated again in the near future?”
“Even if that were the case, the king has hid that daughter somewhere. No, perhaps she has already been dealt with now that she served her purpose. In any case, we must know everything.”
Asyut kept silent again.
He had no objection to Roblin’s words. However, there was a large misunderstanding. The one matter of the imposter saint was not an event arranged by King Ronbarno. He only used it well.
Even the king could not grasp her whereabouts.
Nobody– knew where that girl had gone.
The girl called Yuna disappeared unexpectedly from the royal palace.
If her words when she had left were everything, then Yuna no longer existed in this world. She was an illusionary girl who had already died one year ago. No matter how much Roblin yelled and shouted, she would never appear again.
If he could find hope in the words Celiastina said right before she was taken away to the tower, then…
–I wish to go and save that girl.
“In any case, for the situation to change the imposter saint must be found.”
Asyut, who had been immersed in his own thoughts unawares, raised his lowered gaze at Roblin’s utterance.
“If your side shows an effort to do that then we will respond with discussions on the treatment of Lady Celiastina.”
Asyut knew well that this condition was basically meaningless. The reason why was because the king had no interest at all in responding to Roblin’s dealings. It was convenient for him to have the imposter saint remain gone like this. Even now the king, while publically conducting a search for the imposter saint who suddenly disappeared, continued to give non-commital responses to the surrounding voices of doubt. If the priest faction began pursuing the matter related to the imposter saint in earnest, the king only needed to crush them without question. From the start, there was no chess piece in Roblin’s hands.
(Not everything should go according to how the king wishes.)
Asyut stared firmly at Roblin.
Even if the king was to try and discard Yuna, Asyut himself would not give up.
He couldn’t lost sight of the faint light he saw in his despair.
Find Yuna who had disappeared.
Asyut responded in an unwavering voice.
“I will certainly reveal the truth clearly to you.”
That resolution had already been made from the instant he lost her in front of the asiatic jasmine.
“Yo, how was it. No progress?”
Siegcrest was waiting to the side of the exit after Asyut left the worship hall. He straightened his back from leaning it against the white wall, wearing his squad’s uniform as messily as usual, and pestered Asyut with that question.
“I saw that old man Roblin come out of here just now. He had that same crabby look you happen to have right now.”
“How do I put it, the other side’s not gonna back out either, huh. From their standpoint of getting all worked up and dragging Celiastina to the Priest Tower, simply releasing her would be like giving in to the king. Once it’s like this, it’s rare they’ll concede to surrendering.”
Bothersome old men, Siegcrest muttered in disgust as he started to walk.
“I wonder what’s gonna happen in the end. Is the person under house arrest at the tower right now really not the Celiastina we know? In the first place, if that’s the case, where did the person herself go?”
Those words from Siegcrest could be said to speak for the feelings of the entire royal palace right now. From the uprising of the anti-saint faction, everything passed by in a rush, and now everything was vague.
“I really don’t get anything. What’s the lie, and what’s the truth.”
Asyut murmured this in a small lost voice that surprised even himself.
“If the Lady Celiastina in the tower right now isn’t the one we know, what would you do?”
“Hah? What do you mean what would I do?”
“I’m wondering if you would still want to hurry and release the unknown Lady Celiastina.”
Siegcrest, who stopped and turned back, looked at Asyut with an expression that seemed somewhat displeased.
“Of course. If a young girl is trapped in a tower against her will, then it’s normal for me to think about wanting to release her. It doesn’t matter if they’re someone I know or a stranger.”
“So you say, but there’s no way you don’t know what kind of person the original Lady Celiastina was.”
“Look, what exactly are you wanting to say.”
Siegcrest asked back without trying to conceal his annoyance.
“Aren’t you afraid for that Lady Celiastina to be released?”
“Hey now, nothing can be done about that even if you worry until you’re exhausted.”
Siegcrest stated that easily in a way that was completely like him.
“In the first place, I only know about Celiastina the Saint through rumors. There are things I haven’t thought about since it hasn’t come close to me, unlike you and the others. But I’m confident you all bear that in mind. Next time, if Celiastina were to try and repeat the same things, everyone will stop her. They’ll stop her with all they have. Maybe we couldn’t do that before, but we’ll be able to do it next time.”
As he said this Siegcrest poked Asyut’s shoulder.
“Before, you were made to bear something super heavy. But you can relax this time. Everyone’s already realized what a true saint should be like. Celia taught us that, right? That’s why everyone won’t make that mistake anymore.”
It’ll be okay, Siegcrest repeated.
“… Is that how it is. No, that might be how it is.”
Yuna disappearing and Celiastina returning didn’t mean that everything would go back to how it was originally. Asyut thought that he was saved by Siegcrest’s words.
“Anyway, nothing’s gonna get settled like this right now. And, either way, we can’t leave Celiastina to be confined in the Priest Tower her whole life. We gotta meet with the priests somewhere and get Celiastina out.”
Siegcrest shrugged his shoulders as they started to walk down the long corridor again.
“The quickest way to compromise would be to capture all the released anti-saint faction people again and execute them.”
Asyut denied that in a flash.
By this time, the members of the anti-saint faction who had revolted were all liberated already by the pardon of the king. Originally, they should have been sentenced to death on the crime of opposing the king and saint. Naturally, even in the royal palace the liberation of anti-saint faction members was divided into people for and against it. The priests, above all, strongly objected to it. To point a blade at the saint was the same as harming God. The priests insisted strongly that the anti-saint faction must compensate for their crimes with capital punishment.
However, in reality, that these events were made out to be a “moving tale” in and of itself was certainly the most frightening thing of all to them. It was extremely inconvenient for the priests to have the saint’s tyranny up to now exposed to the public and to approve the anti-saint faction fighting against that at long last.
And their concerns were also very reasonable.
However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this was precisely why the king decided to pardon the anti-saint faction.
Asyut, who had served by the side of the king for a long time, felt like he could pick up and understand the king’s expectations.
“The king shouldn’t be holding the option of capturing the anti-saint faction again. The inspection body for the priests is planned to be established soon and, from the outset, it was arranged for several main members of the anti-saint faction to be incorporated. The priest faction know that it is too late to stop it now.”
More to say, Roblin and others like him had already given up on this matter as hopeless and were trying to grasp onto a more effective “trump card”.
“Did your sister also join the inspection body?”
“No. Milifaire is working at an institution for nurses under the supervision of the country. It’s likely she’ll continue with that in the future too.”
Siegcrest nodded placidly.
“Well, what with it being a settled talk it’d feel bad to bring it up again when they weren’t punished, so I guess that’s fine. There’s no way but to win over the priests from another side.”
“Regarding that, a direction has been solidifying.”
Siegcrest blinked his eyes at the words Asyut released without delay.
“Huh, what’d you say?”
“I spoke about it with Father Roblin in the conversation we just had back there. He wants the girl, who has been serving as the saint this past year, to be found and brought to the royal palace.”
“You mean, the Celiastina we know.”
“Yes. And he wants everything to be revealed. What exactly happened in this royal palace during that year.”
“So, the girl in the tower really is a different person then.”
Siegcrest shrugged his shoulders in a large motion.
“Then, if you bring Celia to the royal palace, they’ll be okay with releasing Celiastina from the tower? And he accepted those conditions, that old man Roblin? There’s no benefits for the priest faction with that.”
“That’s not true. Father Roblin thinks that, by publicizing that girl’s existence, he might be able to throw out facts that the king does not want exposed. For example, if the substitution of the saint and the uprising of the anti-saint faction were all events devised by the king, then that would be an enormous issue with regard to the country. There are many who would not forgive even the king for treating the saint, a holy existence, as he pleased.”
“And what is it actually.”
“… I don’t know.”
Siegcrest didn’t press deeply when Asyut prevaricated his words.
“But, you know, even if they rouse up a lot of animosity, isn’t that just all there is? I can’t think of it being a trump card that’ll overturn the disadvantage of the priest faction.”
“Perhaps, but it is better than doing nothing at all, no doubt. Either way, it is almost certain that the priest faction will be consumed by the king. For them, they are already wagering on their lives being cast away and thinking it would be fine if they could drag the king down along with them.”
An unproductive battle. Unable to hide his displeasure at last, Siegcrest glared at the sky with half-closed eyes.
“In the end the saint is just a tool for the king’s faction and the priest faction, huh.”
“Are you going to get on that too? Are you okay with pulling Celia out of wherever she might be living peacefully right into the middle of this conflict and exposing her to danger?”
“–what you’re doing, except you can’t say that. Because that is what you’re doing. Look, even I’m curious about where Celia is right now and what she’s doing and, if I could, I’d like to see her. But if it means throwing her out like a sacrificial lamb in front of the king and Roblin then, even if we don’t meet ever again, I’ll secretly leave her alone.”
He understood well what Siegcrest was saying. It was a sound argument, painfully so.
Everyone was trying to use that girl– Yuna, for their own selfish convenience and wanting to take her out to the center stage again. It was the same with Asyut. Because he wanted to see her, he didn’t want the days she spent here to become an illusion, and that selfish desire was even now about to make him move.
“I know you want to see Celia more than anyone else. But, if you’re gonna get on board with this stuff, you better have an appropriate resolution.”
Siegcrest’s words echoed strongly in his mind.
“You’re not gonna go find Celia, bring her back, be like “I’m so happy to see you again”, then say okay bye, right? Then what are you gonna do after that. Have you prepared yourself for everything that’ll happen?”
“You’re the First Holy Knight. Even right now in this moment, that hasn’t changed.”
“Vice-captain, so here’s where you’ve been!”
At that moment, the voice of a young man broke in between the two of them. Siegcrest, who looked like he was going to encroach even more on Asyut, turned around and looked as if he were given the dodge. The owner of the voice was a member of the Order of Knights. He looked to be flustered as he ran over to them.
“I apologize for my interruption. A small problem has occurred and I would like to request your presence urgently.”
“That is, in the vicinity of the Priest Tower, the vice-captain of our unit is arguing with a certain priest. As subordinates we cannot stop him…”
“The fourth unit, ser.”
“Got it, I’ll go right now.”
Siegcrest, who switched his frame of mind instantly, went to leave but also threw his gaze at Asyut who stood still on the spot.
“I snapped at you about a lot of things but I’m your friend, Asyut. If you’re going to go on the path you choose, then I’ll support you with everything I have no matter what path it is. But before you start running, you should think things over carefully again.”
Siegcrest hit Asyut on the arm lightly and then rushed down the corridor behind his subordinate. It was only after he saw that back become small that Asyut left that spot.
(“You are the First Holy Knight”, huh.)
Asyut bit his lip strongly.
He knew that. But he couldn’t deny that he tried not to think about that. Even if he was able to get back Yuna, what did he want to do after that? There was the him who was the First Holy Knight, and then the him who was nobody. Whenever he tried to think on it, his thoughts would always come to stop.
(But… right now, I just want to see her.)
Asyut stopped moving again and looked out the window from the corridor. What he saw was the brown wall of the building beside him and the tall trees that dotted the garden. It was a landscape that was none the better for the change. However, in Asyut’s mind, the back of a girl standing there in a flower field of full blooms appeared.
The season when the torch bugs would emit their beautiful lights was arriving soon.
(T/N: Okay, since this volume didn’t come with a prologue I decided to get out Chapter One as the prologue :) and then I’ll start stocking up on chapters. We’re on the final stretch everybody! Thank you for keeping me company on this journey and also, if you enjoy this series, please consider buying the light novel! It has pretty illustrations that I haven’t been showing.)