A sharp voice leapt abruptly into his ears.
Aeneas’ shoulders jerked and he came back to himself half in a daze.
When he realized it, he was standing stock-still in that spot with a sword gripped in his right hand.
The muscles in his limbs were horribly stiff and an unpleasant feeling of wasted effort dominated his entire body. At the end of his line of sight, which finally focused, the colleague that he had just been crossing blades with was looking up at him in fear on his bottom. Before long he raised a hand to show his intent to surrender.
–Aah, he was in the middle of training using real swords.
Somewhere in his vacant mind he grasped the situation.
Aeneas sheathed his sword and extended his right hand to the colleague who still hadn’t stood up. The colleague showed some hesitation to take that hand but in the end he borrowed Aeneas’ help and stood up.
“You two, take a break.”
Vansaider, the knight commander who was watching the training, said that in a voice without emotion. But, immediately after, he sent a glance in Aeneas’ direction.
“No, actually, you’re finished with today’s practice now.”
And words were given as if Aeneas’ mind was seen through.
Aeneas nodded obediently even as he hung his head. Even he understood that the practice just now was too horrible. The inside of his head was completely empty and he was as good as just swinging his sword to clear the buildup of his emotions. If the knight commander hadn’t called out to him like that then he might have brought a serious injury to his opponent. Even if he continued to participate in the practice in this state there was no doubt he’d cause trouble for his comrades.
“I apologize deeply and I will return to my official duties.”
“Do that in moderation as well. What you need now is rest.”
“… Yes, ser.”
For even Vansaider, called the demon commander in shadowed whispers, to give him words of consideration. A miserable feeling spread through Aeneas’ chest.
He did it again.
Aeneas’ expression twisted, as if making a sour face.
Recently, in one way or another, he was making many mistakes. And he was well aware of the reason. But there was nothing that could be done. He didn’t know what he should do.
(I feel somewhat tired.)
It wasn’t only the training this time. It was everything surrounding him.
He wanted to stop thinking, he wanted to stop worrying, he wanted to abandon everything and do nothing but sleep. And then, like that, he didn’t want to wake up anymore. If there was only an unclear reality with an unseen truth that awaited him when he woke then–.
(No, I really am extremely tired.)
Shaking his head, he encouraged himself.
Even while feeling a hopelessness blocking his heart every day, he made an effort not to give in to despair. He performed his duties properly every day, participated in the scheduled training, and he made sure to take three meals even if he didn’t have an appetite. If those daily habits were to be lost, even just a little, he was afraid he’d lapse into degradation as if he were rolling down a hill. That’s why he stubbornly tried to protect his “everyday” and occasionally pretended to encourage himself. If his surroundings were asked they would say his state was already not normal, but he couldn’t deny that either. In the training just now he was certainly abnormal.
Ever since Celiastina disappeared from the royal palace, Aeneas was terribly unstable.
The last time he saw her she was confronting the anti-saint faction at the main gates and appealing earnestly for every one to lower their blades. Then she collapsed like that, continued to sleep for several days in her own room, and when she woke up she was now taken to the Priest Tower.
And, above all, that Celiastina was an “imposter”–.
For a year ago too. The woman who he faced, exchanged words with, and conveyed his feelings to was a completely different being.
Of course, there was no way he could believe such a story at first. He wanted her personally to acknowledge it as an outrageous fable. That’s why Aeneas, after Celiastina was confined in the Priest Tower, took as much action as possible to talk with her. He submitted a written argument to release her and also went to the Priest Tower to have direct talks. He even requested at least a glimpse of Celiastina to confirm her state, but all of Aeneas’ hopes were brought down point-blank. Still, he did not give up, and visited the outskirts of the tower every day.
And then, coming here, there was Asyut’s sudden departure from the royal palace.
It was said that, according to the king’s orders, he went to pick up the woman alone who served as Celiastina’s substitute.
The king, who was demanded to explain the details to his surroundings, seemed to not respond and just smiled wryly. The king did not open his mouth at all with regard to this matter and persisted “to wait for Asyut’s return”. Of course, his surroundings did not agree.
On the contrary, it was the priest faction led by Roblin that was actively gossiping about this matter. He began to rant loudly about the king’s faction and that for the First Holy Knight Asyut to disappear in this unstable period was because the country was not being managed. He must be thinking that, if possible, he would try to drive Asyut and the king’s faction into a dilemma all together.
But– these strategies in the royal palace meant nothing to Aeneas.
(What was this past year to me?)
What eroded Aeneas’ spirit was a vague impatience that could not be expressed in words.
(Who exactly was the Lady Celiastina that I knew. Where is she right now? I don’t know anything. Yes, without knowing anything, I’ve charged forward alone like an idiot. From here– where should I head?)
What in the world was the truth… He didn’t know.
He didn’t know how to find it either.
Without knowing anything, Aeneas was just repeating his usual days.
Aeneas, who left the training ground, opened the door of the armory that was immediately adjacent to the training ground without strength.
A slightly dusty and bad smell struck his nose. By nature, while training was in progress, it was natural he couldn’t see anyone else. Light from the windows only slightly illuminated the room and overall it was dim. Stepping into there with unsteady steps, he set the sword he was using in its original place.
This sword was no one’s belonging and was simply a provision for soldiers to use as they like. But, for some reason, Aeneas couldn’t remove his eyes immediatley from that sword.
(If I can never see the Lady Celiastina I know again like this then…)
His eyebrows naturally furrowed.
(Where’s the meaning in me continuing to hold a sword.)
At that moment a shadow was cast from behind and Aeneas startled, shoulders jerking.
When he turned around Neisan, who had come at one point, stood in a position that was a little away from Aeneas. His cool expression which showed no emotion was unchanged as always. Instead of feeling relieved at that, he envied that Neisan somewhere.
Neisan was tremendously strong. Even when his own life was exposed to danger, he was not perturbed to the extent that Aeneas was. Even the moment when he and Aeneas learned together that Celiastina was someone else he didn’t show any disturbance at all. How did he become so strong? Compared with Aeneas who was much too weak.
“You’ve looked rough, lately.”
Neisan leaned his back against the wall of the armory and spoke in a frank and unreserved manner.
“That’s right. It’s pathetic.”
Aeneas shrugged his shoulders and showed a self-derisive smile.
“I end up thinking about Lady Celiastina no matter what. It’s like this past year is falling out entirely from my heart. I don’t know how that hole can be filled.”
Aeneas muttered up to that point and then shook his head.
“No, sorry, I’ll stop complaining to you, Neisan. It’s a bad habit of mine. I’ll spit out different things to you, feel refreshed, and then end it like that. I have to face myself properly.”
Neisan suddenly sent a glance at Aeneas but said nothing about that. Instead, he threw out unforeseen words at Aeneas.
“Lord Linus has summoned for us. Are you willing to meet him?”
“I don’t know what kind of matter we were called for but, in all probability, it is involved with Celiastina. If you do not feel like it then I intend to go alone.”
Involved with Celiastina. Aeneas’ shoulders shook stiffly at those words.
“… No, I’ll go. I’ll listen to what he has to say.”
Linus’ office couldn’t be said to be a comfortable place for Aeneas.
Aeneas and Neisan were invited to the sofa but they declined and faced him while standing. Linus also matched them and slowly stood from his chair.
“I apologize for calling you to this place. However, I have a request I’d like to ask of you two.”
Linus broached the topic with a smile that could not be read as usual.
“Asyut will soon bring the woman who has served as Celiastina’s substitute for this past year to the royal palace. At that time Celiastina, who is currently confined in the tower, has been arranged to temporarily enter the royal palace. On that occasion, I would like you two to act as Celiastina’s bodyguards.”
He declared that as if it were nothing. But to Aeneas those were words that went on beyond his comprehension, to the point where he wanted each and every word explained in order.
“The Celiastina this past year was certainly an “imposter”. Only, the surface of the word “imposter” sets it so that the surroundings perceive her as an avatar of evil, but this was due to the guidance of the priest faction. In actuality, the real Celiastina is very grateful to her.”
Aeneas interrupted, unable to bear it.
“Did you know? About… her identity.”
“I wasn’t personally acquainted but I investigated various things and understood through the documents.”
“Whose intention was it to place her as Lady Celiastina’s substitute. The king’s?”
“Who knows, that is not understood. If everything is to become clear then– that would be when Celiastina leaves the tower. I believe it will be the very moment you two are her guards, as I have requested.”
When Celiastina left the tower.
Aeneas felt something cold run straight down his back. If everything was to become clear then he should be gladly longing for that moment. He should be. But the ache in his heart was only the emotions of fear and rejection. He felt terrified to face the “two girls”.
“So, what about the matter of guarding her? Will you two undertake it?”
It seemed that Neisan beside him nodded curtly.
Even while perceiving that at the edge of his sight, Aeneas couldn’t nod right away. He only stood there stock-still and was unable to move even a finger.
“… I’m sorry.”
His lips clumsily spun the words.
“Please allow me some time to consider.”
It took all he had to convey only that.
The short interview with Linus ended and Aeneas left the room like he was dragging along a heavy body.
He also separated with Neisan there and walked through the corridor alone. Somewhere in his mind he thought about how he needed to return to the office but that was also like somebody else’s problem. He didn’t feel like returning to the office right away.
Aeneas suddenly stopped while he was walking through the corridor.
When he raised his head, that he tended to look down with, a white building that stood close to the royal palace entered his eyes.
It was the infirmary.
Celiastina – no, what should he call her now – used to come here passtionately, this small place of healing. Now it was recognized by the people of the royal palace as the place that held proof of the miracle she caused. The asiatic jasmine, which grew greatly due to the miracle, seemed to keep beautiful flowers that were to the point of spilling over and falling even now.
Aeneas hadn’t seen it. Because, for a long time, he hadn’t felt like entering the infirmary.
(But it’s nostalgic. I had tea with that person over there, didn’t I.)
She had treated him, Nasha, and Mislee to a cup of tea she brewed herself. It was a gentle time, like a dream, and a heartrending time. One that may never come back again.
(… To happen to pass by at this time might be fate of some kind.)
It was a mere whim.
Aeneas, who was being buried by emotions that had nowhere to go, wanted something that would draw his eyes away even a little. Aeneas came out of the passage and turned his feet towards the infirmary for the first time in a long while.
When he gently opened the door the bright room, which took in the sunlight, hadn’t changed at all.
Far in the unobstructed room he could see the back of Mislee, the head of the infirmary. As she turned around her eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh my, if it isn’t Ser Aeneas.”
“Hello, it’s been a long time. I apologize for the abruptness.”
“No, no, I’m happy you showed yourself. But is something the matter?”
Apparently, she seemed to be in the middle of arranging flowers. Mislee inserted the multicolored flowers she was holding in both hands into a vase on a table and walked up to Aeneas while wiping her wet hands on her apron.
“It’s not that I have business. Somehow, this place suddenly became nostalgic.”
“Is that so.”
Mislee did not pursue it deeply and, showing a wide smile, she welcomed Aeneas.
“Nasha happened to come here as well. In her case, it’s every day though. Do you know about the asiatic jasmine in the backyard? Nasha takes time out from her busy schedule to take care of that flower.”
“Ser Aeneas, I insist that you please take a look. It’s really bloomed beautifully, to the point where I’m always captivated by it even after seeing it hundreds of times. –Ah, that’s right, shall I brew some tea?”
“No, I’m fine. Please continue working without minding me.”
“Really? Then I’ll take your kind offer.”
Mislee gave a light nod and returned to her work at hand.
Because he was here already he opened the door at the back of the room and took a step out into the yard.
In that instant, a sweet fragrance blew and tickled Aeneas’ nose. Next, his eyes became fixed on the whole surface of the asiatic jasmine that jumped into his vision, at the full blooms of the asiatic jasmine’s flowers which seemed to drive away his clouded feelings in a second.
(It certainly is beautiful.)
Nasha, who was crouched at the watering place that was installed at the edge of the yard, stood up and turned to face him.
“It’s been a long time, Nasha.”
Aeneas smiled vaguely, feeling awkward. Come to think of it, it’s been quite a long time since he saw her, exactly like his words. If there was no person called Celiastina between them then they were pretty unrelated people. But still, Nasha didn’t feel like just a workplace acquaintance for Aeneas. It might be because he superimposed the appearance of himself on her, who had feelings of trust towards her master that was beyond work.
“It really has been. It’s rare to see you here.”
“Yes, Mislee was also surprised.”
Looking at her like this, Nasha seemed a little thin. She was originally a thin woman, so it might be more correct to say she looked worn down.
“I heard you were taking care of this asiatic jasmine?”
“Rather than taking care, at most I just give it water though… It’s very impressive, isn’t it.”
“Indeed. It’s amazing.”
Nasha looked up at the light pink flowers which were blossoming in full glory, and looking as if they would spill over, with a face that was somewhat proud. Drawn by that, Aeneas also moved his gaze to the asiatic jasmine.
“At any rate, Ser Aeneas, your complexion is somewhat bad.”
Before he knew it, at some point in time, Nasha turned her head only to him.
“Is that so.”
“Are you properly eating and taking time to sleep? It’s not good to live recklessly.”
“I’m fine and I’m taking care of myself.”
In answer to Aeneas, who smiled wryly and nodded, Nasha showed a similar smile.
“… You must think I’ve thinned to the point where I can’t say that to other people, right? In truth, that is true. But, even like this, I’ve recovered quite a lot. There was a time where I was even thinner.”
Aeneas widened his eyes. Not many days passed since Celiastina disappeared from in front of them, objectively counting. How did she lose weight in this short time?
“After Lady Celiastina disappeared, I cried every day for a while. Because of that, food wouldn’t pass through my throat and even when I laid on my bed at night I couldn’t sleep at all. My boss told me to take time off and return to my parents’ house, but I was in such a terrible state that I couldn’t show my parents that and so I managed to be left as I was.”
“… So, that’s how it was. I’m sorry I wasn’t any help.”
No, Nasha shook her head.
“I’m sure both of us were in pain.”
“Have you settled down a little now?”
“Yes, somehow. I was able to think little by little that even if I continued to cry, to the extent where I could bathe in tears, it would be of no use.”
Even such a delicate woman was much stronger than him. On the other hand, how about himself? He was staying forever in one place and holding his knees, unmoving.
“Nasha, you’re amazing. I can’t quite change my feelings.”
“I’m not amazing at all, you know. I’d say I was saved by the words Mislee gave me.”
“It’s decided that Lady Celiastina will be able to return soon and, at that time, are you alright with welcoming her in that state? Is what she said. How do I say this, they weren’t words of comfort, but it showed how Mislee really believes that Lady Celiastina will be able to return. And then I was convinced that she was right.”
Aren’t I simple? Nasha, who gave a carefree laugh, looked dazzling.
“I only thought about everything that happened up to now and became apathetic. Things like what the time I was together with Lady Celiastina in this past year meant. Why no one told me anything. Only things like that. But, as I changed my feelings and tried to think about things in the future, a lot of things I wanted to do came to mind. That in and of itself is hard work.”
“Like watering the asiatic jasmine every day?”
“Exactly! If Lady Celiastina is able to come home, I want to show her the healthy blooming asiatic jasmine. Also, I’m challenging myself to make pastries. I have to eat lots of sweet ones with Lady Celiastina.”
“… I see, you’re right.”
Aeneas looked up at the asiatic jasmine again.
If the Celiastina he knew would come home. –She is coming home, is what Linus said. Aeneas knew the reason why he hadn’t rejoiced at that. It’s because something was sure to change at that time. Things wouldn’t stay the same as they were up to now. It might be a good change; however, it might be a bad change. Aeneas was afraid of that.
Losing the past, mourning that, and still adhering to that. Aeneas was imprisoned too much by his own heart.
But that was no good.
He would raise his head and look around at his surroundings. He would accept the future–.
(The Lady Celiastina I knew surely did that.)
At this late hour, he finally remembered.
No matter what circumstances she was placed in she would never stop and didn’t give up. And she was a person who continued to walk, facing forward. He should have always seen that at a close distance.
(What am I doing now with stopping.)
Even if he couldn’t get back the same days, the present would always continue from there, and he would live for the future.
“… Nasha, thank you. I’ve also managed to break through somehow.”
“Let’s wait together for our Lady Celiastina. Because I’m sure she’ll come home soon.”
Aeneas was able to nod honestly.
And then he made an address to Asyut who wasn’t here right now.
(I beg you, please bring her home without problems.)
Because they believed and were waiting.
(T/N: Chapters are released every Friday. But since I’m ahead of schedule there’s an option to sponsor a chapter and have it release immediately the next day, bumping the schedule up a week. You can see the sponsor goal HERE.)