Exactly as he heard, it was a small town.
Although, with that being said, it wasn’t a terribly disused and lonely town. Dull amber buildings stood side by side and there were stone pavings connecting the buildings with beautiful patterns. The residents walking on top of that generally had a good appearance and weren’t much different from the people of the royal capital.
A thick smoke rose to the sky from the chimney of one building and the fragrant smell of baking bread crossed the noses of people who walked past it. Among all the buildings that were short in height, a conspicuously tall tower in the distance could be glimpsed. That was surely the church of the town.
Asyut got off his horse and began to walk through the town while looking around at his surroundings.
It was the most lively time right before noon. There were many people on the street. It seemed, as much as he could see, there weren’t any other travelers like Asyut to be found. Perhaps they weren’t used to receiving travelers, but the gazes from the people that passed by were somewhat sharp.
(I guess I’ll find an inn first.)
He’d stand out too much if he wandered around this town while leading his horse. Thinking that, Asyut asked an elderly person he passed on the road for the inn’s location. The elderly person glanced at Asyut and then averted their eyes in displeasure, only giving him a curt response of “go straight and you’ll see it on your left”.
The inn he was told about appeared to be the only one in town, and so he would stay there whether he wanted to or not. It was a small inn that was ran by a married couple. It didn’t seem to consist of just lodgings and the first floor was said to serve meals to the residents of the town as a restaurant.
He was allocated a room on the second floor and though it only had simple things such as a hard bed and a table with legs he had no complaints because he thought it was fine so long as he could sleep. When Asyut placed his luggage there and descended downstairs, he was offered tea from the owner’s wife. It was almost noon but there were no customers inside the small store. As Asyut took the seat he was offered, the owner returned after having gone to fasten Asyut’s horse at the back of the house.
“That’s quite a good horse you’ve brought along there.”
Asyut gave a vague smile at that admiring voice.
“How long do you plan on staying in this town?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I’ve been traveling to various places aimlessly and I thought I’d set out when the feeling struck me.”
It was the answer he had thought about in advance. If he exposed his identity poorly in this town that was unaccustomed to travelers, he would only stir up unnecessary caution.
“Aah, I see. No, but I think you’ll soon grow tired of this town. At any rate, it’s really a town with nothing.”
Having said that the owner smiled wryly. His wife, who appeared from behind after preparing the tea, took over after his words.
“The people in town aren’t used to welcoming travelers who came from other parts, so I hope they won’t say or do anything to displease you.”
“They’re all country people, so we would be grateful if you let their comments pass by easily.”
They were truly in the service business and were also friendly to Asyut. The thought crossed his mind that, if it was these two, it might be good to try asking about Yuna’s parents. However, Asyut immediately changed his mind thinking it was still premature.
For now, first, he should learn about this town by himself.
If he acted in haste, he would end up taking a roundabout way. This place was the critical moment and Asyut told himself to act calmly.
After a short while, Asyut went out into the town again.
The first destination he chose was this town’s church. When he confirmed its location with the owner of the inn, it seemed like it was the tall tower he saw at first like he thought. A church was something that sat at the center of any town. It had to be kept there.
Although his luggage was left at the inn and he came out light in weight, the probing gazes of the residents along the road were still the same. Every time he passed someone the conspicuous way their eyes turned to him didn’t feel very nice. In the royal palace, whenever he crossed paths with nobles, it was polite for them to lower their eyes, so the unreserved gazes probably weighed on him excessively. Maybe one of the reasons was that Asyut’s walk and the way he carried himself was unlike an ordinary person.
Well, there was nothing he could do about it even if he minded. It wasn’t as if stones were being thrown at him. Asyut came to that decision and, conversely, observed his surroundings as he walked on the street.
Right now what Asyut was walking on seemed to be the largest street in this town. That road, covered with beautiful paved stone, continued ahead drawing a gentle bend. Although it was somewhat conservative to call it a main street, it had more flavor than the streets in the royal capital which only extended straight in a uniform fashion.
Among the houses that were lined up in a row there were various stores that peeked out: a bakery, a butcher’s shop, a tailor, and a general store. None of them were particularly bustling but he saw stores deep in conversation with what seemed to be regular customers. There were also residents inside who closed their mouths the moment they noticed Asyut and, when he passed beside them, they resumed their conversation in the same way. Most likely their conversation topic changed to who the young man who passed by just now was.
Shortly thereafter, the church he was aiming for came before him.
Asyut was thankful that, because it was a tall tower that caught one’s attention no matter where one was in the town, an outsider like him could arrive at it without getting lost.
He went up a gentle slope and into the church grounds. A small graveyard spread out beside the building. Every tombstone was quite damaged, having been exposed to the rain and wind for many years, but the dull scenery was colored brilliantly due to the flowers attached to their side.
Asyut headed directly to the church doors while looking sideways at the graveyard.
He placed his hand on the heavy door. In the church, where deathly silence came back at him, there were no preceding visitors.
Inside the dim light, Asyut walked to the altar as if he were being drawn in. A calm feeling similar to relief spread inside Asyut. For him, where it was a daily routine to offer prayers to God, the place in front of an altar was as calm as always, no matter what remote countryside church it was or not.
“Hello, you are a traveler, are you not?”
At that moment the figure of an elderly man appeared from the aisle beside the altar. He was passed sixty years in age and, wearing a priest’s robe, he came walking over with both hands clasped behind his back. Asyut, who had thought no one was here, had tensed unknowingly.
“–Yes. I apologize for entering without permission.”
“I do not mind. This is a church, not a place where you need permission to enter after all. As you can see, there is no one here right now either.”
“Is it like this normally?”
“Yes, that’s right, it is always quiet. If I had to say if anything was strange, perhaps it would be a traveler having come to this town.”
“The owner of the inn also said that.”
“This must be a boring town for a young man such as you.”
“I’ve only just arrived and so I do not quite understand, but I think it is a calm and lovely town.”
“Why thank you very much. Indeed, tranquil and peaceful may be said to be this town’s most redeeming feature.”
The priest showed a smile that deepened his wrinkles.
“I will be withdrawing to the back but I do not mind if you stay here until you are satisfied. –May God keep you on your journey.”
“Thank you very much.”
While lowering his head lightly, Asyut looked at the aisle the priest left through. If this deserted church was an indication and religious faith was not rooted in this town then it may be an easy environment for Yuna’s parents to live in. Believing in God meant worshipping the saint. Any “miracles” or “strange” things that happened outside of that would be shunned by people in general.
(I see, so Lord Linus’ thoughts fit the most.)
Or perhaps it was his heart that wished to believe Yuna was still sleeping even now that made him feel that way.
In the end, Asyut did a lap around the small church and left the place. Right at that time, the residents of the town entered the church with their parents and children so he was hesitant to remain there any longer. Asyut went outside and looked up at the church once before slowly going down the slope.
Well, what should he do now.
Of course, he wanted to search for clues about Yuna but, to his regret, he was lacking too much information. At the very least, he should do something about not knowing the location of Yuna’s parents.
(That’s right… For example…)
It was said that Yuna’s parents ran a medicine shop in the previous town they lived in. In that case, it was more than enough to entertain the possibility that they would have a similar store in this town.
(If I visit stores related to medicinal herbs or medicine then it might lead to Yuna’s parents.)
With those thoughts pushing his back, Asyut stepped forward into the town.
–However, certainly, just as the owner of the inn and the elderly priest said, this seemed to be a town that had nothing.
The more he walked through the town the more Asyut experienced their words. There was not one factor to be found to have outsiders bother in coming here. To the utmost only the scenery of the “life” of the people spread out; to the extent where he had the illusion that yesterday, today, and even tomorrow would have the same exact days be repeated.
Asyut, who had continued walking for a while, concluded that finding the medicine store on his own would be difficult. Having no choice, he tried asking the residents whether there was a medicine store or not. Although every one of the residents he spoke to had suspicious expressions, they told him there were three medicine stores in total in the town. Three– more than he had thought. It looked like he was mistaken in thinking it’d be easy because this was a small town. If, there were already these medicine stores from the start, Yuna’s parents may have given up on running the same business here.
(No, nothing can be done even if I think about it.)
Asyut immediately switched his mind and decided to visit all three stores he had been told about.
One building was a shop managed by a young couple. Considering their age, they couldn’t be thought of as being Yuna’s parents. Browsing lightly inside the store, he left and headed towards the other store which was, conversely, being tended to by an elderly woman who was up in her years. He listened to her chat and it seemed that after her husband died before her she managed this store alone. This was also not it.
That being the case–.
While restraining his impatient feelings, he made his way to the remaining store.
However, on this day, that medicine store was closed down. Although he tried to ask the residents who passed in front what the owners of this store were like he was treated coldly and told to come again tomorrow when they should be open.
That’s right, he should just come back tomorrow.
He told himself this when his impatience became increasingly worse. It was alright; was he certainly not advancing forward little by little? Tomorrow he would be able to take a further step forward.
Going once around the town, Asyut returned to the inn in the evening.
He noticed this while walking but he didn’t see many men in the town who were in the prime of their lives. It was likely they left to earn money in the neighboring large town. He felt like he understood the reason why this town tended to be cautious about outsiders. It was because the men, who protected this town, were absent during the day that those remaining braced themselves and kept a watchful eye on their surroundings. So that they could deal immediately if someone made even the smallest suspicious movements–.
As if to prove that, after the sun set the atmosphere of the town threw off its reserve entirely and changed.
The restaurant of the inn where Asyut stayed changed into a bar at night and welcomed the men, who were returning home from work, one after another. Even the inside of the store, when business was slow in the noon, became fully occupied in the blink of an eye.
“Business is booming, isn’t it.”
Asyut, who sat down in the corner of the store to take dinner, called out to the owner just as he carried out drinks.
“Aah, in this town there’s just us and one more place as bars. Only dirty men gather here and I’m so sorry for that.”
The owner of the inn scratched his head while smiling wryly. But, though he said that, he seemed happy.
The “dirty men” according to the owner seemed to be enjoying their own beers while watching Asyut and the owner’s exchange at a distance but, as time went on, curious eyes unabashedly turned to him. As soon as they seemed to whisper something to each others’ ears, guffaws followed after– there was no doubt they were getting excited at the topic of an unfamiliar traveler.
Eventually, one of them moved.
Holding three large beer mugs with both hands, a man sat somewhere right in front of Asyut. From his red face, it was clear he was already drunk.
“Hey, mister, haven’t seen your face before.”
And then he placed one beer mug in front of Asyut.
“This is on me. Let’s have some fun and drink.”
As he couldn’t see any dislike in the man’s voice and expression, Asyut thanked him honestly and took the beer mug. Joining the man’s happy voice as he said cheers, Asyut gulped down the beer mug. It seemed just doing that put the man in quite a good mood.
“Where’d you come from?”
“Originally, I come from a town close to the royal capital, but recently I’ve been traveling here and there as I please.”
“Ooh, you really do have that city person feel! Nice of you to come to this remote town.”
“I think it’s a nice, quiet, and gentle town. It’s maintained beautifully and clean everywhere. It must be easy to live in.”
“Oh wow, you’ve said some nice things!”
The man pounded Asyut’s shoulder strongly across the table.
“But the people in town must have been cold. It’s ’cause they’re not used to people from outside.”
“That is unavoidable. It’s an expression of how everyone will try to protect this town.”
“Yeah, yeah, you get it completely! We gotta protect ourselves by ourselves. Both the king and God won’t protect us!”
The beer mug was struck against the table with force and its contents seemed about to spill out. Although he was hiding it, those were unthinkable things to say to Asyut who was the First Holy Knight. However, rather than it being nonsense said due to intoxication, the man must have been the kind of person who was outspoken from the start. He was a kind that hardly existed in the royal palace but to Asyut, who continued to socialize with an exception like Siegcrest, the man was extremely easy to handle, and preferred.
(It really is completely different from the royal palace.)
This man– or rather, every single thing that surrounded Asyut right now.
He thought that everything was fresh and interesting. But, somewhere, he couldn’t get used to it. There was a sense that the world was separated by a single thin membrane, to the point where he wondered if the red-faced man in front of him today was sitting in front of Asyut in reality.
“Mister, you can drink quite a bit, huh.”
“Then this next one’s on me.”
Not noticing that Asyut was somewhat distracted, other men also became amused and started to crowd. There were those who threw casual questions such as how long he was staying in town and where he was going after this, but there were also those who sent completely trivial questions such as what his favorite foods were and how many siblings he had. At this rate, it seemed like he’d drown in a sea of questions. Asyut could do nothing but smile at the men who drew near with a sociability that couldn’t even be compared to the residents during the day.
For Asyut, who knew only living as the First Holy Knight, this time he spent as a young man with no title, neither a knight nor a noble nor a government official, gave rise to a strange feeling. It was different from being happy. It was also different from being enjoyable. Bemused– might be the expression.
If, after the antagonism with Celiastina several years ago, he had thrown away his status and flew out of the royal palace, he wondered if he would be wholly accustomed to a lifestyle like this right now?
“Mister, try drinking this beer too. It’s good.”
“Still, you’ve got a handsome face. Are you a famous minstrel in the city or something? Give us a song.”
“Hey, hey, don’t ask for unreasonable things. Instead, I’ll sing.”
“No way! The beer I’m enjoying will turn bad!”
Suddenly laughs broke out. The owner’s wife, who was carrying a meal to Asyut, gave an apprehensive smile to Asyut.
“I’m sorry, they’re noisy. If you want to have your meal calmly, I can carry this to your room.”
“No, here is fine.”
Asyut shook his head lightly. And then, at the same time, he rallied his feelings.
There was a reason he was staying in the restaurant while being teased by the lively men. Asyut was listening carefully to the gossip of the customers. If they were drinking, he thought there was a possibility of an unexpected topic being brought out as a side dish to the alcohol. It didn’t have to be a topic that related directly to Yuna. No matter how miniscule it was, if he could obtain any information–.
However, in the end, his expectations did not come to fruition. No matter how he strained his ears, he couldn’t hear any sort of information like that. What they talked about happily were things related to the events of the day and how they would spend their next holiday. And, above all, things related to the mysterious traveler who suddenly came to town.
“Hey, mister, why’d you drop into this country town? I heard you’ve traveled to many places but still I don’t think you’d normally come here.”
“There’s no specialty-like specialties here. If you’re on your way to a big city somewhere, there’s a more convenient town that’s close to stop by.”
“Ah, mister, wait! Don’t answer yet, I’ll guess… Hmm, is what I thought, but I can’t come up with a good answer. Maybe you’re being chased by officials or you’re shirking a debt and ran out at night.”
“You have no imagination at all.”
“He doesn’t look like he’s running away from committing a crime.”
“But they say you can’t judge a person by their appearance.”
As all the companions made noise they hummed and hawed and thought right in front of the person himself.
“Ah, that’s it! I know, you’ve come chasing a woman you fell in love with!”
One of the drunkards raised their voice loudly. Asyut blinked twice, three times, and revealed a smile without warning.
“… You’re perceptive, aren’t you.”
When he answered like that the surrounding excitement rose higher.
“Ooh, really? Woah, woah, woah, who is it, this woman.”
“It must be a pretty beautiful woman for someone like you to be chasing after her. But is there such a beautiful woman in our town?”
“Guxul’s daughter is quite pretty. She’s got a good figure too.”
“Eh, really? I think Nastha’s nice.”
“Isn’t she a mother of three now? Is that what you like?”
The topic quickly went astray and digressed. Asyut sunk into his thoughts again as he watched the men display fervent speeches at the parts that slightly differed.
He had come this far with the resolve to chase her anywhere. He wrapped himself in slightly dirty traveling clothes, visited this small town he did not even know the name of all alone, and was drinking beer while surrounded by unfamiliar men. And, just now, it was guessed right by a person he had only exchanged a few words with that he was chasing a woman he fell in love with– it was truly a strange thing.
“Hey, mister, what are you spacing out for? It’s too early to be smashed.”
A new cup was placed in front of Asyut who had fallen silent.
“This time it’s my treat. I won’t accept winding things up if you haven’t drank this area’s local specialty.”
Raising his head, a giant who seemed one size larger than Siegcrest took up a position opposite of Asyut. Asyut reached for the drink that was on the giant with a wry smile. Apparently, it didn’t seem like he had the luxury to be deeply moved.
And so, the first night of his visit to Svet, advanced like this.
The next morning, Asyut finally opened his eyes when he was woken up by the owner of the inn.
It appeared that he had slept soundly all night on this bed he could not even flatter by saying it was comfortable. It was when he was asked whether he would like lunch prepared instead of breakfast by the owner that he learned for the first time it was a time close to noon. He had never experienced this before and so Asyut’s surprise was so great that he was dumbfounded in bed for a while.
Taking the owner of the inn up on his offer, Asyut took a slightly early lunch, and then immediately went out into the town again. Today was the day he intended to make his way to the medicine store that Yuna’s parents managed. Exiting the inn, the sky that he looked up at was as clear as always.
As he walked down a gentle hill he was suddenly called out to up ahead. Raising his head, he saw two men walking up to him with their hands raised.
Asyut immediately noticed that these were two young people he knew by sight.
“You two are from last evening.”
“Yep, yep, we drank together! So you remember. Are you taking a walk or something?”
One of the young men who stopped in front of Asyut, an oval-faced man with hair cut short, asked him this in a light manner.
“Something like that. Are you two on your way to work?”
“Yeah. We’re carpenters. Today we’re doing some repair work on a building in this town for the first time in a while. Right now, we’re taking a short break.”
There, the other young man, who had unruly hair and held back beside his friend, suddenly clapped his hands as if he remembered something.
“Ah, no way! Are you going to see the girl you’re chasing that you mentioned at the bar?”
Was it that topic again even without alcohol? Asyut smiled wryly while feeling astounded.
“Not exactly because I can’t quite meet the person I want to see.”
The oval-faced young man drew back his smile unexpectedly and stared hard at Asyut.
“Joking aside, you really came to this town chasing someone?”
For an instant he was at a loss as to how to answer. But, in the end, he nodded honestly.
“And no matter how much you want to see them you can’t see them?”
“Is it a person with some kind of situation?”
Asyut gave a strong nod again.
“… I see.”
The other man responded back with an awkward noise. The unruly-haired young man, who was watching from beside them, looked between the two as if he were troubled. He pulled on his partner’s sleeve and lightly presesd him about how they had to go now.
“Geez, don’t go pulling a depressed look. You’ll trouble this mister.”
“Y-Yeah, you’re right.”
“Well, we gotta go now since our break’s short. Let’s drink together again at the bar.”
“Alright, see you.”
The young men regained their mood and left the place with easy smiles.
Asyut, who watched their backs for a while, eventually gave a quiet sigh. In this tranquil and calm town there were these sociable and amiable men. On the other hand, this town happened to have a cold expression towards outsiders. Yes, it was a town with two faces.
And just now he felt like he had gotten a glimpse of a deeper part.
(They know something. Something– something is here. In this town.)
Was it no more than optimism to think that it was the “answer” he was seeking after?
After that, Asyut started walking again and experienced the event of being called out to by the residents several times. “My husband said that he drank with you yesterday” “If you don’t mind, come to our store next time”– like that they showed bashful smiles to Asyut.
He recalled in the past how Siegcrest boasted that he could become friends with anyone after a night of drinking. Apparently it seemed that wasn’t an exaggeration. Far from that, he was able to close the distance even with people he hadn’t drank with, so the world was a mysterious place.
Thankfully, he was able to ask questions regarding the medicine store he was heading to from one of the people who called out to him. He was told that the store was managed by a married couple in their forties and that they seemed to have moved in from somewhere several months ago. Their medicine worked quite well on sicknesses and external wounds and so they had some reputation.
(It’s likely that…)
They were the parents of Yuna.
As he went down the hill road that was drawn in a loose curve, he was able to see the small building decorated with various flowers on its eaves. The brilliant flowers looked beautiful against the dull amber walls it shared with the other buildings. At a glance it appeared like a flower shop but the sign that was hung reservedly from its eaves was engraved with a sign that only shops that dealt with medicine were permitted to show. When he quietly peeked inside the shop through its large window, he found that bottled medicinal herbs and the sort were crowded side by side.
Asyut slowly pushed the door and grinding sound of the wooden door echoed in the small room. A woman who was seated in the corner of the store knitting raised her head at the sound.
The moment he entered the store the unique smell of medicinal herbs reached his nose. Asyut unconsciously looked over the inside of the shop over confirming the shopkeeper.
“Are you looking for something?”
How did he broach the topic? Asyut turned to the woman in the shop while hesitating.
“Oh my, a face I don’t see often. A traveler?”
The woman, who remained seated in her chair, smiled sweetly at Asyut. She was a woman of medium build and probably a little over forty years old. Her loose wavy brown hair was bound behind her casually and she wore plain-colored clothes and a white apron.
“Please look around as you’d like. If there is anything you’re curious about, please ask.”
Asyut nodded and reached out to the items in the store as he was told. –Was that woman Yuna’s mother? If so then, according to the investigation documents Linus handed to him before his departure, her name should be Madela if he remembered correctly. Was the father out? Or was he on the second floor of the store?
Various thoughts ran through his head. Asyut didn’t even know what kind of item he was reaching out to right now.
“I recommend that in particular.”
The woman called out to Asyut in a calm tone.
“The medicinal herbs by your hands right now work well for fatigue. If you are traveling then surely you are tired? How about boiling this and drinking it when you return to the inn tonight?”
Asyut tried to respond with something but he couldn’t. Raising his head he stared at the woman again in silence.
“Is something the matter?”
The woman, who seemed to think Asyut’s actions were puzzling, tilted her head a little.
He had to achieve the goal he came here for. He had to be as natural as possible, so as not to alarm her.
“Um, pardon me but… are you Yuna’s mother?”
In that instant he could tell that the blood had suddenly pulled from her face. It was like the unexpected name that had jumped out from Asyut’s mouth had stabbed her heart. –It was a reaction greater than he expected.
“I apologize for the abruptness. Actually, I am a friend of Yuna’s.”
Asyut continued talking slowly so as not to frighten her as much as possible.
“We were acquainted in the royal capital and, though it was for a short period, I am greatly indebted to her. I heard that Yuna seemed to have died in an accident and, unable to give up no matter what, I ended up intruding upon here.”
She remained stiff, not uttering a single word.
“I understand I have caused you trouble for intruding suddenly without any message.”
“… A friend… of Yuna’s.”
She brought that topic up, as if ascertaining that line, and blinked repeatedly.
“And you came all this way?”
“I just couldn’t believe it until I spoke to her parents.”
“Is that… so…”
She placed the knitting set that was on her knees onto a table. And then, giving a deep sigh, she brushed her long bangs up with both hands like that.
“I’m sorry… I’m… shocked. It’s been a long time since I heard my daughter’s name from another person.”
She said that while heaving one more sigh.
“Indeed, as you’ve said, I am Yuna’s mother, Madela. Ever since that accident it’s been hard to live in the previous town and so my husband and I moved to this town recently.”
“Then the accident…”
“Exactly as you’ve heard. A year ago my daughter was hit by a carriage and passed away.”
To be told that clearly from the mouth of the mother was a shock that was like being struck with lightning for Asyut. Somewhere in his mind he might have thought she’d strongly deny her daughter having died.
“And your name is?”
“… I am called Sieg.”
Asyut gave an alias at once. It hurt his heart to lie to Yuna’s mother but he could see it being suspicious if he gave his real name. The name of Asyut, the country’s First Holy Knight, was too widely known.
“Sieg, is it. But how did my daughter know a person of the royal capital?”
A slight searching look came up in Madela’s eyes. Although Asyut was flustered inwardly it was true that he didn’t want to lie as much as possible. For that reason, he started speaking in a vague manner.
“I do not know if you are aware but Yuna was an old friend of the saint, Lady Celiastina. I myself am originally an acquaintance of Lady Celiastina’s and, through her, I was acquainted with Yuna.”
“Through Lady Celiastina?”
Madela’s eyes widened once more.
“… It’s true there was a little relationship with Yuna and the Lady Saint but…”
“I heard she was good friends with Lady Celiastina who spent her days at the orphanage.”
“You know even that much.”
After he nodded, Madela showed a delicate smile.
“That’s a nostalgic story. Come to think of it, that child loved that orphanage… Aah, now that I think back on it, I did a great disservice on that child.”
Right at that time.
The door to the store was opened again with a dull sound. A man with wide shoulders and in his mid-forties entered the shop carrying a large hemp bag.
“Oh, dear, welcome home.”
“Yeah, I’m home.”
From Madela’s words Asyut could tell that man was her husband and Yuna’s father. When the man turned his eyes to Asyut the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly and he called out a “Welcome”. He seemed to think that Asyut was a normal customer. The man opened a door in the corner of the room like that and disappeared into the back of the hall.
“That was my husband Rendo just now. He had gone out to pick wild herbs but has returned for a break. I’m really sorry but my husband is still unused to talking about Yuna, more than me. I’d like to hear more stories since you’re here but could we do that at another opportunity?”
“… Yes, I’m truly and deeply sorry for suddenly intruding.”
He was curious about the continuation of Madela’s words but he couldn’t force her to talk when she asked him to come next time. He could do nothing but withdraw obediently here.
“I intend to stay in this town for a while still. And, as I would certainly like to ask about Yuna, may I impose on you in the near future?”
“Yes, of course. If you come before noon then my husband will not be here either. Next time, I’ll even put out some tea. Oh, that’s right, please take those medicinal herbs just now by all means. They really are effective.”
“Thank you very much. How much are they?”
“No, no, of course I cannot take your money. You are Yuna’s friend so this is a given.”
In a manner that didn’t take no for an answer, the medicinal herbs that were wrapped in a paper bag were pushed into Asyut. When he said his thanks again, Madela turned a soft smile to him. Sent off by that smile, Asyut left the store while feeling a painful reluctance.
As he walked along the street Asyut gradually felt the energy slip out of his body.
–At long last he was able to meet Yuna’s parents.
It wasn’t a dream but a real event.
Was Yuna a girl that closely resembled her mother? Asyut called to mind the figure of Madela who had faced him just now. Yuna might also have that gentle smile reminiscent of sunlight filtering through trees.
“Oh my, you went to Rendo’s medicine store, right?”
A woman with a good physique, the one who told him about the medicine store in detail along the way, saw Asyut and called out to him. Behind her skirt a young girl, who hadn’t been there when he met this woman some time ago, showed her face slightly. When she met eyes with Asyut she hid behind her mother’s back as if in a hurry.
“That bag is one of the store’s.”
“Yes. Thank you for earlier.”
“Their medicine works the best if I do say so myself. They even hold their own against other medicine stores in other towns. Why not do some big spending?”
“You’re right. I’ll have to stop by again.”
They made some easy conversation and parted again. It was another fresh experience for Asyut to talk to others without important business.
Going around aimlessly, Asyut walked through a weaving alley partly taking a stroll. Although it was a back alley there was absolutely no air of danger like that of the royal capital. Instead it had an atmosphere of being a children’s playground and he heard young excited voices here and there.
Eventually he came out onto a comparatively large street. When he raised his head slightly the tall tower of the church approached before his very eyes. No matter how narrow the road was it seemed a person was able to go to the church in the center of the town like this.
Since he arrived here in the end maybe he’d show himself at the church again. He might be able to talk to the old priest once more and so Asyut placed his hand on the door of the church.
When he entered he could not see the figure of the priest from yesterday. Instead, there was a single preceding visitor who sat in a chair with their back facing him. From the glossy long hair he could only tell that it was a woman.
The woman, who was facing the rising altar at the front, suddenly turned around. Her large eyes were striking and she was a woman of the same age as Asyut. Her face, as soon as she noticed Asyut’s appearance, scowled clearly. Asyut stopped moving, taken aback by that reaction. He had been treated coldly many times by the residents of this town in these two days, but it was truly the first time such an obvious rebuff was directed at him.
Maybe it was because he interrupted her when she was offering up prayers alone. He thought that he should leave, but he changed his mind thinking it would be a rude action to turn on his heel and leave the moment he saw her face. After hesitating a little bit Asyut nodded to her and then walked towards the center along the wall of the church.
He looked to the back passage where the priest appeared yesterday but there was no sign of a person at all.
“If you’re looking for the priest, he’s gone out.”
The woman murmured this quietly. It was a small voice but it resounded well inside the church. When he turned around, her eyes caught Asyut firmly.
“You came here yesterday too, didn’t you. Do you have business with him?”
“… You are?”
“I am Hariet. The priest here, Maurice’s daughter. Well, what’s your business?”
“No, I didn’t come here with any business in paricular.”
“Is that so. I don’t think a person like you would drop in without any business though.”
Asyut was troubled on what words to respond with and looked at Hariet with his mouth closed. However, the silence that descended between them was too heavy and hard to bear. In the end, Asyut resigned himself and opened his mouth again.
“I heard this is a town where travelers don’t come much.”
“That’s not what I mean. Aren’t you a person from the royal capital?”
“… Why do you say that?”
She pierced the core straight to the point, so much that he could not gloss it over. He was struck with the impulse that he had to confess everything when he was seized by those eyes, where a deep color dwelled.
“I knew somehow. I took the opportunity to return to this town because my dad passed sixty years old, but I personally lived in the royal capital until a few years ago. You completely have the air of a person from the royal capital.”
“… Certainly, by nature I am a person of the royal capital.”
“I knew it.”
A sharp light glimmered in Hariet’s eyes.
“And why exactly did a royal capital’s person come to this remote town, I wonder.”
“Not anything in particular… It’s simply in the middle of my journey.”
“Stop lying. And that polite talk too. At any rate, you’re probably an official with status.”
“… Then, on the other hand, I’d like to ask why you have to be so prejudiced just because I am a person of the royal capital. I don’t recall ever harming anyone.”
“Self-defense is necessary because it’s late after harm has been done. Yesterday, my dad seemed to have welcomed you carefreely but that can’t happen in the future. If you want to pray at a church tomorrow too then go to another town.”
This was exactly what being unapproachable was.
“–Did something happen to this town before related to the royal capital?”
Hariet shook her head.
“It’s none of your business.”
Hariet must not have planned to speak any more as she quietly stood up and, turning her back to Asyut, she walked to the back of the church. It was such an unilateral and unreasonable attitude. Asyut tried to say something to that back but in the end couldn’t. It was like her frank rejection had stolen his words.
The day came to an end.
When the sun withdrew beyond the horizon, leaving a long trail, the lively laughter of the town’s men began to echo in the inn’s bar as though the leading role changed.
It seemed like Asyut continued to be the only customer of the inn. As a result, the attention in the bar also naturally concentrated on Asyut. Taking a seat, from what he could see of the place, the rough majority of the customers didn’t seem to change from those people of yesterday. Most of the men bore in mind the flow of yesterday’s conversation and threw a barrage of questions at Asyut.
“Mister, did you meet with your girl today?”
Someone slapped Asyut’s back strongly when he gave a small shake of his head.
“Confess already, who is it?”
“I don’t wanna know yet. It’ll be boring if we know the specifics.”
“Hey, from the start wasn’t it a joke that you came to see a girl? If a good looking guy like you came, wouldn’t any girl start breathing heavily and come crashing in.”
“Right. For example, even married women or the lord’s daughter.”
“Ah, that’s it! Isn’t the lord’s daughter the right answer?”
Maybe they were hungering greatly for daily amusement but the men rapidly emptied their beer mugs with just the side dish topic of which daughter the traveler’s lover was.
“If there’s anything I can do, I’ll always help out. If it’s really the lord’s daughter though I might not be much use.”
“Wait, wait, thinking about this, the lord’s daughter doesn’t seem to be ten years old yet.”
“There must be a secret child and that daughter’s a blooming beauty.”
“I see, normally she’s hiding her status and living poorly somewhere in this town, huh.”
“What a sad girl…”
Asyut showed a wry smile at the men looking down with solemn expressions. There the owner’s wife made a rude entrance and grabbed her husband, who had the same solemn look, by the collar and hauled him up.
“Dear, you haven’t been cooking at all! There’s tons of orders so hurry up and return to the kitchen!”
“W-What, just a little while is fine!”
“No it’s not!”
Giving him a strict scolding, she disappeared into the kitchen dragging her husband like that. The people who watched that laughed, shaking their heads, and winked at Asyut.
“That wife is pretty beautiful too, right? But women are just like that. No matter how fragile and ladylike they look, they’ve got massive nerves and a spine.”
“… That’s true. I feel that too.”
“Oh! So, mister, you’re the type who’s already whipped?”
Me too, me too, the men raised both their hands with glee. The owner of the inn peeked his face out from the kitchen at that noise and the corners of his eyebrows sunk down in envy.
In the end, this evening too ended without him hearing any useful information.
However Asyut was more concerned about Hariet’s attitude, whom he met at the church. Exactly like an unseen blade thrusted at Asyut, that girl bared a hostility towards him. Why did she show such a severe attitude just because he was a person from the royal capital?
(Isn’t it because she knows about the “sleeping girl”?)
Thinking in that way, he was able to understand her stubborn attitude. If she thought he was a messenger of the royal palace who heard the rumors and came to do harm to Yuna and her parents and was wary of that.
Asyut finished early and went to his room, sitting on the hard bed.
The light of the lamp placed in the room wasn’t too reliable. However, there was moonlight tonight.
(… What’s happening in the royal palace at this time.)
The problem he tried not to think about these two days abruptly appeared in Asyut’s mind. He rushed out, having pushed responsibility onto the king, and so Asyut wondered how he perceived these events.
If he seriously found Asyut’s actions disagreeable then soldiers should have been released already and were heading here to arrest Asyut. Of course, it was impossible that the king did not know of Yuna’s location. –From the royal capital to the town of Svet was a day and a half’s ride one way. Right now, in this moment, it wouldn’t be strange for the king’s private soldiers to appear.
(If soldiers were sent after me then everyone in the royal palace must be disappointed in me.)
People would not desire a First Holy Knight who committed a crime to the extent of being pursued by the country.
Naturally, if that were the case then he understood he brought it upon himself. He didn’t intend to throw away his status but it was an undeniable fact that he tossed his obligations to choose Yuna and was now here in Svet like this. Asyut himself was keenly aware that he had no excuse.
He had run to this point as the First Holy Knight wishing to be an existence that supported the people–.
(What should I do if I’ve lost everyone’s trust.)
Should Asyut live like how he was right now, as a single person with no title and who abandoned his status and position? If he succeeded in waking Yuna he’d tell her his feelings once more and, if she were to accept him, they could live quietly together.
That wasn’t bad, he thought.
It shouldn’t be bad.
At that moment, the sound of something running up the stairs leapt into Asyut’s ears.
Those footsteps, which were unreserved, crossed the hall noisily and came closer to him. By some chance, if it was what he thought, Asyut stood ready as the door to his room was knocked on roughly.
“Heeyy, mister, you’re there, right? Let’s drink together.”
“Is he asleep already?”
The door was opened without waiting for an answer. There stood two young men with wide grins and carrying beer mugs in both arms.
“Ah, so you’re still awake.”
It was the two carpenters that he met in the town during the day. Asyut secretly released the tension in his shoulders.
“Sorry, I was thinking of resting now tonight.”
He said that as a mild declination but the two didn’t show any sign of pulling back at all.
“I know. It’s full of noisy people down there so you’re tired, huh. We’ll drink calmly like adults.”
“You intend to drink here?”
“We’ve got the boss’ acknowledgement so it’s OK.”
“There’s not enough chairs. No one’s staying in the next room, right? I’m gonna bring one from there.”
During the time Asyut was astounded the two went ahead with drinking preparations on their own. It was an assertiveness that made one wonder what happened to them having gone away from Asyut awkwardly in the day. Without being able to refuse, by the time he noticed, the three men sat down surrounding the small table.
“Right then, once again, cheers.”
Come to think of it, this was also an experience he’d never had until now. As Asyut thought about that he found himself raising the glass that was poured to the brim with alcohol in resignation.
“Hey, I asked today at noon whether you’re really chasing someone, right?”
The short-haired oval-faced young man said this in a light manner.
“Could it be the medicine store Rendo’s daughter?”
“… You know about that?”
Asyut acknowledged that honestly.
“It’s a small town so rumors are fast.”
But, the unruly-haired man continued.
“Yuna’s already dead. Did you come here not knowing that?”
“No, I heard about that.”
“I see. Then it must have been even more painful.”
Painful, that might be the case. But right now the frustration of being unable to get her back won over the sorrow of loss.
“If she was still alive, did you plan on proposing?”
“Woah, you’re falling silent there?”
“… Who knows. There are various problems and, without having decided that far, I’ve come to today.”
“What the heck. Even though you chased her this far?”
The oval-faced man turned criticizing eyes to him.
“In any case, I wanted to see a glimpse of her. I couldn’t think about anything more than that.”
“Well then, isn’t that your answer already.”
The unruly-haired young man pressed on in an easy tone.
“You came to this countryside with just feelings of only wanting to see her, so once you catch a glimpse of her I don’t think you’ll be able to let her go meekly.”
“–Is that so.”
“That’s so! Once you see her, you definitely won’t be able to let her go!”
The oval-faced man also nodded vigorously with his partner. But that energy was also just for an instant and they immediately looked at each other and became quiet.
“But, well, Yuna’s already dead. Sorry.”
Asyut turned imploring eyes to the two people.
“Do I have to believe that?”
“I don’t want to believe that she died. I want to believe in a different possibility.”
The men closed their mouths and stared at Asyut for a while. The bustle of the bar which could be overheard suddenly felt far away.
“… I’m sorry but we can’t say anything.”
After a while of silence the oval-faced man muttered that.
“But why don’t you go to Rendo without giving up?”
The unruly-haired man raised his voice as if in a rush to hold him back. But his partner didn’t seem to care about that.
“See, I’ve noticed recently that anything goes pretty much in this world. Like how we’ve accepted thinking these all-too-common days we spend in this small town like this might continue without any change for our entire lives. But things can happen unexpectedly. You know?”
“I don’t get it at all. What are you talking about. You’re super drunk.”
“Haha, maybe. I’m saying that miracles tumble around a lot everywhere.”
His words that were said in a singsong way soaked deeply into Asyut’s heart.
“That’s why, mister, if you’ve come this far then you don’t have to give up easily.”
“… Miracles tumble around a lot, huh.”
When Asyut murmured this with a serious look, the unruly-haired main shook his hands in a panic.
“No, don’t pay any serious attention to what this guy’s said. He’s just a drunkard.”
“Yeah, I know. But thanks.”
“Alright, now that the talk’s done let’s drink to the end tonight!”
“It’s not settled at all!”
As he watched the two joking with each other a smile naturally welled up on Asyut. And then they toasted again. The light sound of the glasses striking each other echoed in the room.
Thinking on it, even meeting the two of them like this might be one of those small miracles.
(If I meet her I won’t be able to let her go, huh.)
Asyut downed his beer to the best of his ability. The words of the young men surprisingly fell into his heart with a thud. What simple and clear words they were.
Asyut’s gaze dropped to his emptied glass.