Looking up at the evening sky, dyed red, Yodel’s eyes squinted gently in contentment.
The only sounds that reached her ears were the rhythmic hoofbeats of the horse traversing the hill and the wind brushing against clothes. Neither of the two priests, who shared this long journey together with her, opened their mouths as they followed after Yodel.
In the far distance, under the sky, spread the nostalgic sight of the royal capital.
Yodel told herself in her mind.
It was over half a year ago that she, who had rarely left the royal palace since she was born, rushed out of the royal capital on a journey she called a pilgrimage. When she looked back at the impetus for leaving on a journey, her heart felt painful even now.
She was a high ranking priestess, expected to be a mediator between the government officials and the priests. Yodel, who had been in the center of the country since from a young age, had believed from the depths of her heart that she would be the one to make this country more wonderful. In the midst of this, she met Saint Celiastina who was summoned to the royal palace, and the days where hatred was worsened at the saint’s inhuman actions began. Even though everyone around Yodel should have had the same feelings, she was disappointed at the reality where not one person remonstrated the saint. And then, Yodel came to a decision. That she would draw out the voices of anger towards the saint from the country’s people. The method Yodel chose for that was to incite one unfortunate young man and act out a “tragedy” where he would be executed gruesomely by the saint.
At the time, she thought it was a necessary evil. She thought that if everyone said they did not want to become covered in mud, then she only had to be covered in it. In order to move the country, some sacrifices were unavoidable. Yodel tried to convince herself that she did not notice her heart being horribly grinded.
It was Celiastina herself who pointed that out in a desperate voice. She confronted Yodel directly and delivered Yodel from the darkness. Be that as it may, it wasn’t that Yodel recognized and approved her from that one matter alone. However, at the same time, she could only admit that her own deeds were a mistake.
On this occasion, she had lost sight of who she should be and wanted to be. Yodel inconspicuously rushed out of the castle in order to reconsider the future that was her goal.
(In truth, I wanted to continue this journey for a while longer though.)
Yodel closed her eyes for a brief period as her body swayed on top of the horse.
The world was large. There were mountains of things one should see, hear, and feel. The many happenings that one couldn’t see cooped up in the miniature garden called the royal palace awaited Yodel with both arms spread open. And every time she touched those affairs she even thought about throwing away everything and leaving the royal palace behind to continue wandering the world as she was. The title of being from a house of prominent priests had absolutely no meaning in this wide world–.
But Yodel was now following the path back to the royal palace like this.
Because an order to return came down from the king. Of course, she was not simply obeying those orders blindly.
(If I can make use of the little truth I gained from touching the world.)
At that time, she tried to move the people’s hearts in a mistaken fashion. But this time she would not make a mistake.
The meaning of returning to the royal palace was because there should still be something she needed to do as a priestess.
Yodel opened the eyes she had closed and etched firmly into her memory the scenery that spread before her.
About an hour later Yodel, and the priests who accompanied her, arrived at the central gates of the royal palace.
The same as half a year ago, when she departed stealthily, her return this time was greeted by a small number of people. This was Yodel’s own request.
Yodel, without borrowing anyone’s hand, got off her horse in a familiar motion.
“Everyone, I have returned.”
While her companions on her long journey knocked lightly at their necks, she slowly looked over all the people who came to greet her. She couldn’t see any change in the faces of the priests and officials who she hadn’t seen in a long time. Although it had been a while, it was still only about half a year, and so that was natural.
“Welcome back, Lady Yodel.”
The priests lowered their heads reverently. As Yodel returned that with a nod among the familiar faces was a single unexpected person who awaited her and she was inwardly surprised.
“It has been a long time– Lord Asyut.”
When she called out that name and faced him directly, he showed a faint smile.
“Sister Yodel. I am glad you do not appear to have changed.”
“Yes, thank you for your concern. However, I would not have thought you would be the one to come and welcome me.”
“I sincerely apologize for surprising you.”
“No, not at all. It is an honor.”
As she answered Yodel began to lower her luggage that was fastened onto her horse personally, but that was immediately taken over by those who greeted her, and she and Asyut ended up entering the royal palace ahead of the others. This was also a strange stream of events. In the past, he had been someone who she had hoped to be of the same mind, but she herself had stepped off the path and he should have become an immensely distant being.
They slowly walked beside each other on a stone pathway that not many people used. The setting sun that shone in from the windows on the stone wall created long shadows behind Yodel and Asyut.
“According to what I heard, many things seemed to have happened at the royal palace during my absence.”
Yodel spoke to Asyut while removing the clasp on the mantle that covered her.
She had heard that she recalled at this time due to the chaos. What was seen as a large problem in particular was the matter of the anti-saint faction’s uprising. Of course, Yodel had heard of this organization acting in the shadows from before. But to think things would develop to where they would truly attack the royal palace–.
For Yodel the dejection surpassed the surprise. In the past there was the attack by the young man she had used; this time there was the revolt of the anti-saint faction. Although there was a difference in scale, the underlying basis was the same. She couldn’t think of the two as separate things.
“During your absence, Sister Yodel, there truly has been many things that happened. However, many problems have not been settled as of yet. And I believe that is why the king recalled you.”
“If there is anything I am able to do then I would like to serve to all of my abilities… But there may be many who do not wish for that.”
Yodel lowered her eyes slightly.
As Asyut ascended the spiral staircase, he looked back at Yodel who was following him.
“Not at all. Rather, they require your strength.”
“Presently, in the royal palace, the confrontation between the king’s faction and the priest faction has come to a head. Up to now the coals had been smoldering, but now it has become a situation that cannot be glossed over. If it continues like this, there is no doubt that the balance of the country will collapse.”
“What do you mean?”
The confrontation between the king’s faction and the priest faction– it was completely news to Yodel.
“The king is trying to repress the excess authority held by the priests. And the priest faction is violently opposing that. In order to demonstrate their resistance, Lady Celiastina has been confined in the Priest Tower and hidden from the public under Father Roblin’s direction.”
Yodel came to a complete stop on her way up the stairs. The priests had confined Celiastina?
“That is not all. It has been disclosed that, in reality during this past year, the woman we had been interacting with as Lady Celiastina was a completely different person. That woman has disappeared and presently her whereabouts are unknown. Now, in the Priest Tower, is undeniably the true Lady Celiastina. Then, whose intention was it exactly to prepare a substitute for the saint? That this reason has not been made clear as of yet is one cause to the deterioration of the relationship between the king’s faction and the priest faction.”
Impossible, is the shape her lips formed, but she quietly pursed them. It was suddenly an unbelievable story, but Yodel was unable to throw away Asyut’s words. Even as Yodel looked up at Asyut with wavering eyes, he only kept silent and received her gaze.
“Is this true?”
“You must have also felt it yourself during Duo’s matter. The clear difference from what Lady Celiastina had been like up to now. In actuality, it was really a different person. It seems that the true Lady Celiastina knows the details and so I intend to see her soon and inquire on this.”
“Sister Yodel, please won’t you lend me your strength. I would like to request for your presence during my meeting with Lady Celiastina.”
Yodel was increasingly confused by Asyut’s outlandish request.
“By nature, this is matter that should have been resolved properly but Father Roblin’s refusal was stubborn such that nothing had been able to be done until now. Although a meeting with Lady Celiastina has been realized at last, Father Roblin has presented certain conditions.”
And that is to have the presence of a person from the priest faction at that spot, Asyut said.
“I am gravely conscious of how I should not be making this request on the spot of your return from your pilgrimage. However, I would ask of you to be the witness no matter what.”
“Because the other priests will impede on the meeting?”
“That as well. But, above all, it will be a conversation I do not wish for others to hear.”
“A conversation you do not want heard?”
Yodel pondered over Asyut’s words with her mind still in confusion.
“I apologize sincerely but I cannot tell you the details right now. It is something I cannot ask anyone but you, who is not under the influence of Father Roblin and has faced both the past Lady Celiastina as well as the substitute Lady Celiastina.”
Yodel swallowed back the many questions that tried to overlap one another at Asyut’s serious appearance.
The two Celiastinas.
What exactly were they?
(If I can know even one piece of truth then…)
There was no need to pursue it deeper now and would it not be better to accept being present?
Besides, even now she had a high opinion of Asyut and wished to answer his expectations. She was conscious that the matter of Duo’s attack in the past had greatly damaged Asyut’s trust towards her. He had surely scorned her at that time. Nevertheless, he was depending on her for an important event like this.
“… Though I believe I will agree, please allow me to consider this.”
Yodel carefully chose her words and answered thus.
“First, I would like to confirm all the facts. Will you allow me to think about the matter of being a witness again after I properly understand the current situation of the royal palace?”
“Yes, I understand. Thank you.”
Still, there was no doubt she could barely postpone this. The chaos of the royal palace he spoke of was probably quite deep and complex.
She was absent for only half a year. During that time, the state of things had greatly changed.
(What in the world happened.)
Yodel shook her head with no energy and, correcting her posture again, she began to climb the stairs with heavy steps.
The Priest Tower that was stepped into for the first time in about half a year was filled with an uncomfortable air, as if it were another person’s house.
From the beginning it was not a bright and lively place. However, even in its silence, there should have been a sense of absolute security that everyone’s hearts were directed towards God equally. Right now that was completely left out–.
It made her extremely uneasy for some reason. She couldn’t calm down. Even though she should have arrived at her home after her long journey, there was no feeling of having “come home”. Yodel was lead to the reception room and, as if to restrain her restless heart, she clasped both hands to her chest.
“You have come back, Sister Yodel.”
Yodel quickly unclasped both her hands and raised her head.
The person who entered the room was the person who Asyut had brought up earlier in his conversation, the priest Roblin.
Yodel took in a deep breath quietly.
“It has been a very long time. I apologize for my lengthy absence from the tower.”
“Do not concern yourself with that. Observing various things has turned this journey into a provision for you.”
“Yes, thank you very much. However, I heard that various problems have occurred in the royal palace during my absence.”
“Hmph. So long as that insolent man stands at the summit of this country, it was a path that was impossible to avoid.”
By insolent man he must mean King Ronbarno. To think Roblin would comment on the king of the country like that.
“What exactly happened?”
“To be concise, the king utilized the exalted existence of the saint as a political tool and deceived us. You must have already heard but, temporarily, Lady Celiastina was replaced with a substitute prepared by the king.”
“The crime of having permitted those reckless actions is also with us, the priest faction. However, that is precisely why on this occasion we must protect Lady Celiastina. We cannot let the king carry on as he wishes. That man is trying to kick us down into the bottom of the ravine.”
“And Lady Celiastina is hidden– in this Priest Tower?”
Yodel chose her words with extreme caution.
“Correct. If not, the king would have tried to use Lady Celiastina again in a different form.”
“However, the king did not permit you to take Lady Celiastina.”
“Certainly, he did not nod to that. But he did not give permission because he is concealing wicked thoughts in his own heart. Because there is a guilty conscience, the king will be eager to steal back Lady Celiastina from us priests.”
Yodel could not find her next words and held her tongue.
She could not assert that Roblin’s thoughts were entirely a mistake. It was more than enough to think that, where that king was concerned, he had an ulterior motive regarding his treatment of the saint.
However– something caught in her chest. What was this sense of discomfort?
“This will be our critical moment. If we yield to the king now, there is no future for us priests.”
Roblin declared this in a strong tone.
“Sister Yodel, let us face this evil authority directly and fight together.”
Yodel’s mouth tightened. The reception room, whose design was based around the color white, suddenly felt like a cold prison.
“… I have just returned and have not gathered my thoughts well. Only, I am well aware that the situation is alarming. And I would like to devote my body, as long as it is useful, for the sake of God and the people.”
It took all Yodel had to answer with just that.
“For now, I shall give my greetings to the king. I have not reported my return yet.”
“No, there is no need for Sister Yodel to go.”
Yodel unconsciously furrowed her brows at the words that were returned readily.
“The king may be thinking to make an ally with one of the influential priests. Having left the royal capital for a period, you with your ignorance on the circumstances are the most ideal. If you go to see the king, it is certain you will be won over to his side like that.”
“It is impossible for me to capitulate to the king’s authority. Please do not worry.”
“No, since before did you not collude with a person from the king’s faction while standing as a priestess? For the king, you are the most tractable priest.”
“Then, despite having returned on the king’s orders, I won’t greet him and act as if I do not care?”
“I shall report to the king. Sister Yodel, I will have you stand by in the tower like this for a while.”
–How unbelievable! Deep in Yodel’s chest an unspeakable anger bubbled up.
“Are you trying to imprison, not only the saint, but also me in the tower?”
She was unably to suppress her voice from becoming harsh. Roblin goggled before glaring at her, but she returned his glare strongly.
“I will go to the king with my own feet and report to the king with my own words. You do not have the right to stop me from doing that.”
“We are presently in an urgent situation. If we priests do not move as a monolith then we cannot oppose the king’s faction. If you act selfishly here, you will be a burden to everyone.”
“Who is acting selfishly here? When did the consensus of us priests become alike to your thoughts.”
“You may say what you wish. Because if they are mere words then it is easy to say anything. In the end, the question is how one can act based on one’s will. Those who cannot move have no right to stop those who move.”
Yodel unconsciously rose up.
Each one of Roblin’s words stabbed into her. Because in the past she too had the same thoughts as him and acted in the same way. In front of such a memory that she had done herself, she couldn’t help but overlay the past on top.
“Father Roblin, wait–“
“Sister Yodel, you are still too young and cannot see what is important. It is unfortunate but I cannot allow myself to be occupied with the selfishness of the youth. Until you can understand even half of my thoughts, I shall have you be quiet here.”
Roblin stood from his seat and, saying that over his shoulder, turned on his heel and left the room with rough footsteps. Yodel chased his back without a moment’s delay but the moment she exited the door her path was blocked by a guarding priest. She looked up at the man with a glare but she didn’t recognize his face at all. Although he wore priest robes, this priest had a sturdy physique that could match the soldiers of the royal palace and she couldn’t feel anything but a sense of wrongness.
“I am deeply sorry but I must ask you to wait here, Lady Yodel.”
“Who are you? I haven’t seen your face before.”
“I entered the tower during your absence, Lady Yodel.”
“Or perhaps you are a private soldier employed by Father Roblin.”
The priest guard stuck to silence but the answer was clear as day.
(Most likely it’s not just this one. There must be many personal subordinates of Father Roblin in this tower.)
That Roblin had already disappeared. If he was heading directly to the king then Yodel could not stand here and look on with her arms folded.
“This is an order, move.”
“I apologize sincerely, but–“
“There should be no problem if I am within this tower. I am returning to my room. You cannot possibly be saying that even that is not allowed, right?”
She met eyes firmly with her opponent. The priest faltered slightly and she felt his gaze be shaken.
“I will say this once more, move.”
After an instance of silence that was suffocating, the priest showed a slight movement to withdraw. Yodel left that spot with quick feet, seeming to push away the other person. Yodel’s personal room was in the upper reaches of the tower.
If she went up the stairs like this then she absolutely wouldn’t be able to get out of the tower. From the beginning, Yodel did not intend to be confined obediently in her room. Without any hesitation, she stepped onto the steps that led to the hallway.
“Lady Y-Yodel! Where are you going.”
The panicked guard’s voice fell against her back but she didn’t turn around. If she descended the spiral staircase with her back imposingly straight then what would be suspicious in the eyes of others would be the guard who, to all appearances, was chasing her. The gazes of the other priests who followed the two of them, wondering what was going on, slowed the man’s footsteps. In that opportunity, Yodel came down the stairs and placed her hand on the door exiting the tower.
“Halt now, Lady Yodel!”
The guard’s right hand was roused with impatience and strongly grabbed Yodel’s shoulder. At the same time the open air of the night happened to come in from the opened door. Yodel deeply inhaled the damp smell that was characteristic of the night.
“I ask of you to please return. It is forbidden to enter or exit the tower without permission.”
“As a newcomer I see that you do not know that I have been approved of as an exception.”
As she sharply twisted and avoided the guard’s right hand, his complexion changed. It was not that of a calm priest, but the face of a violent and rough man filled with rage. This was the true form of the private soldiers that Roblin prepared.
At this rate she would be brought back by force–.
In that moment.
Behind Yodel came the voice of a young man from just right outside the tower. When Yodel startled and looked back, beyond the door stood a young man dressed in the uniform of the Order of Holy Knights. Blond hair and blue eyes, it was a very aristocratic-looking young man. Of course, it was not a person Yodel could not know.
Why are you in such a place, Yodel swallowed those words and stood still in that spot. Aeneas looked at Yodel, nodded, and then turned to face Roblin’s private soldier like that.
“You do not seem calm. What exactly is the matter?”
The man quickly corrected his posture.
“I have shown you an unsightly appearance. However, it is not something that needs to be discussed. More importantly, as a general rule it is forbidden for a knight to enter the tower.”
“I do not intend to enter. I have come to escort Sister Yodel on the king’s orders.”
The priest’s voice became slightly low.
“The king is already aware that Sister Yodel returned today in the evening. As she has yet to greet him upon returning, the king became concerned about Sister Yodel. He stated that he would like to see her healthy figure by all means.”
“I am deeply sorry but Father Roblin has gone to have an audience with the king in replacement.”
“The king said he wished to see Sister Yodel’s face.”
“Are you obeying Father Roblin’s orders and ignoring the words of the king?”
He must have been unable to find words to respond with since the man fell silent. As expected, even he seemed to acknowledge the difference of weight between the orders of a priest and the orders of the king.
“Let us depart, Sister Yodel.”
Aeneas called to Yodel without a moment’s delay. Yodel nodded and immediately left, following after Aeneas. The private soldier guard did not chase her outside the tower. It was forbidden to enter or exit the tower without permission– just like he said so himself, as long as he was staying as a priest, he was bound firmly by the rules of the tower.
“Ser Aeneas, thank you very much.”
While quickly walking on the pathway leading to the royal palace from the tower, Yodel called out to Aeneas who was beside her. If he had not appeared, there was no doubt that Yodel would have been brought back to her room by now.
“Not at all. If I was of help then that is fortunate.”
Aeneas answered humbly and showed a faint smile to Yodel. But it may have only been that the corners of his mouth twisted.
The series of events just now secretly overwhelmed Yodel.
Anything and everything was as Asyut said– no, the situation had fallen into a state beyond that. Roblin confined the saint in the tower and declared that he was opposing the king. He had clearly invited men who were not of the faith into the tower and used them as his own pieces. And then.
(I myself was about to be imprisoned in that tower.)
Yodel’s body gave a jolt and then trembled.
“Did the king also foresee this situation? And then had you, Ser Aeneas, to come…?”
“Ah, no, that is not the case.”
Aeneas’ tone instantly became evasive.
“It was convenient to say it was by order of the king. In truth, I happened to be there by chance.”
He happened to be there by chance? What did that mean. She didn’t think a squire such as Aeneas had any business to come near the vicinity of the Priest Tower.
Perhaps that question appeared on Yodel’s face because Aeneas averted his eyes with embarrassment.
“… In truth, I am often near that area… when I return from work.”
“At the Priest Tower, you mean.”
Yes, Aeneas nodded.
“Although, even when I go, I am right before the entrance. Whenever I think about trying to free Lady Celiastina somehow my feet automatically head there. Though I know it is pointless no matter how many times I pass by.”
Aah, so that’s how it was. Yodel finally understood.
Even Yodel had heard of the story of how Aeneas adored his master, Saint Celiastina. Of course, it was also famous that in the past there was an extraordinary antagonism between them. That is why, for a long time, Aeneas was a person who was impossible to understand for Yodel. Why was he so easily able to forgive Celiastina? To the point that though she had little to no direct contact with him she thought about trying to ask him these, if she had the opportunity, along with thoughts of antipathy. However, now that she knew about the mysterious woman, she could understand just a little.
“Honestly, I am powerless. Always, there is nothing I can do.”
“That is not true. Because just now you saved me.”
This time it was Aeneas’ turn to smile wryly.
“Ser Aeneas, there are times where I also think myself powerless. But I will be sure to make use of this chance you have given me by saving me. To release Lady Celiastina from the tower and to take things back to the right path as a person devoted to God.”
Yodel stopped in that spot and told him this with force in her words.
Aeneas looked back and, after falling silent for a while, he gave a slow nod.
Raising a voice that passed through noticeably, Yodel pushed open the doors leading to the audience hall with both hands.
She confirmed the state of the room that spread beyond the door distinctly with strong eyes. In this room, which was not very large, there was the king who sat on a throne on a platform and Roblin who was on a knee right before him.
“King Ronbarno, I sincerely apologize for my tardiness. I have come to greet you upon my return.”
Bowing her head deeply, Yodel proceeded to walk to the center of the room.
“Ooh, so you’ve come at last. I was growing tired of waiting.”
In direct contrast to the king who greeted Yodel with a voice that was bright to the point of lacking any tension, Roblin looked back and shot a gaze that was covered with surprise and anger at Yodel. Turning that aside calmly, Yodel stood next to Roblin.
“Hmhm, you have a nice complexion. It seems to have been a pleasant journey.”
“Yes, it was a journey where I learned many things. I thank you sincerely for listening to my selfish wishes and leaving in such a time.”
“I do not mind. More importantly, I had just received a report from Roblin that you were exhausted from your journey and asleep in bed, so I am relieved.”
Yodel looked at Roblin with a side glance.
“As you can see, I have more than enough spirit and vitality. I believe Father Roblin was being considerate towards me.”
“In any event, I must apologize for calling you back in the middle of your journey.”
“Nonsense, I do not dare to accept that. If there is anything I can do then it is my place to make an effort to use all of my abilities, though poor they may be, for the sake of this country and our God. I believe it is my mission to serve beyond the barrier of religion and politics.”
When she stated that decisively, she could almost hear Roblin grinding his teeth from beside her.
She would not yield to Roblin. Having said that, she also would not yield to the king.
So to speak, this was a declaration directed to Roblin and the king.
Yodel bowed her head once more and then looked up at the king directly again.
The king showed a deep smile.