Chapter Three: The Phony Angel
Two days later, thin clouds spread through the sky like a veil covering the face of a maiden.
John visited the mansion before noon and, as promised, negotiated with Virma and snatched away the permission for Riz to go outside. Even though he was poor at talking, when the time came for it, he was strong at negotiations. Riz wondered what his secret was.
In the afternoon of that day, she hurriedly left the mansion together with John before Virma could change her mind. That said, it was only John who ran around in order to prepare their luggage.
For Riz, she was quickly assigned to “be good and drink tea” by John and was chased out of her room without being given any time to object.
Riz’s older sister, Grace, appeared when Riz was drinking tea in the lounge and reflecting on her loneliness. Grace quickly went on and on about how a lady shouldn’t be going on a trip for a week and what would she do if she were attacked by burglars, but what it all came down to was her contrary sister seeming to be concerned about Riz’s health.
When Riz pointed this out, and thanked Grace, she was yelled at. Her sister’s moods were extreme.
The person who came next after Grace was her eldest brother with wanderlust, Daniel.
It was said that he suddenly returned to the mansion. Because Riz took her breakfast in her room, she hadn’t noticed her brother’s arrival.
Daniel, upon seeing Riz, lit up and broke into a smile. Riz thought he was like a sunflower.
“Ooh, who is this gorgeous woman!? Is this woman my future wife?… Ah, wait, it is my little sister Riz!”
“Yes. It’s been a long time, big brother.”
She stood up from her chair and pinched her dress to greet him before both her hands were gripped by her brother.
“Why? Why is it that you had to be born as my real sister. If only we weren’t related by blood then you would be my soulmate! It’s so regrettable!”
“Yes, you’re right.”
Because Riz heard this every time he returned to the mansion she was long used to it.
The reason he continued to be single was because Riz, who should be his soulmate, was his real sister… That was the claim he brandished and he elusively escaped from talks about marriage.
Riz liked this brother.
If one were to look at his facial features only, he might even be more beautiful than Riz or Virma.
However, he was a pretty enormous man. His silk shirt looked like it was about to burst and his jacket’s buttons seemed tight. Riz remembered that he had an average figure until his early teens. His personality was bright and he was intelligent. He was the Milton family’s star of hope, to the point of his body and mind being praised to be as pure as an angel, but one day a misfortune occurred which could never be recovered from.
Two men and a woman brought out knives and argued over her brother.
One of them was an aristocratic woman with a husband. Her son stormed into their mansion with a yell about how Daniel seduced his mother, but even he was entranced by Riz’s brother with one glance. Then the situation developed to where mother and son hated each other and, in the end, the son chose to commit suicide. When this incident happened Riz was living at her grandparents’ mansion, and so she didn’t see the actual dispute.
It was said that Daniel’s wandering began from then, and the way his weight increased before their eyes.
By the time Riz returned to the royal capital her brother was already like this.
However, no matter what his size was, his gentle hazel eyes remained the same.
“Grace was being noisy over this and that, but I heard that you’re spending seven days away from home with a young man…? You haven’t even traveled with me, your brother.”
“Uncle Hine’s art gallery was entrusted to me in his stead, so I’m going to study at another studio to try and be useful as much as possible. The person accompanying me is John Smith, the manager of the art gallery. He also holds a license as an appraiser and I plan on asking him to teach me too. Naturally, his background has been confirmed.”
Daniel nodded many times, jiggling the flesh of his chin, when she talked about the setting that she had decided on with John beforehand.
“John Smith, accepted as the foster son of the former bishop, Petron, of the Seventh Church, and an appraiser of the fine arts… A young man who primarily restores and examines religious paintings. His reputation as an appraiser is superb, but no one has a special relationship with him. Also, no one knows about his life before he became a foster son, and there are no records.”
Riz didn’t reply and just smiled.
Her brother was sharp and capable. By the time he came here, he must have looked up everyone involved with the Milton family.
“Hearing that my cute Riz had a fiancé called Emil Carotion I hurried back to this country only for that person to suddenly die. The person who appeared next was this suspicious young appraiser. I can’t stomach this. In the first place, I saw this John Smith man in the hallway earlier and doesn’t he seem to have a cold-blooded atmosphere?”
“He is a calm and collected person.”
“He looks like a strait-laced person who can’t understand jokes.”
“He’s devastatingly poor at speaking, no, I mean he gives novel expressions.”
Like a freshly severed sheep head. Or like a mole.
“He’s clearly an incompetent man.”
“He’s a wise de—… person. Since he’s an appraiser, he’s rich with knowledge about art.”
“No matter how smart he is, he’s an ugly man.”
“His physical appearance is extremely neat. His manners are also graceful.”
“A man isn’t just his face and head!”
“He is more devoted to taking care of me than the maids.”
“I have doubts about a weak man who only serves others!”
“He’s strong to the point of us not needing guards. He protected me from danger before too.”
“I’m sure he’s loose around women!”
“He doesn’t seem to play around with women.”
“… What’s that man’s weakness!?”
“He’s really bad at painting.”
“Hahaha, I win. I’m good at that, you know!? A man who is bad at drawing isn’t decent and, as your brother, I won’t approve of him!”
“Brother, even if you dock that point from him, I believe John is more than capable enough and he is a reliable man.”
“Riz, whose side are you on between me and him?”
“Of course yours, brother, but I won’t lie about John.”
Daniel covered his face with both hands for a while, lamenting.
“What is it?”
“Until I approve, you are not allowed to kiss that man. Promise me.”
“Kiss? We don’t have that sort of relationship though.”
Daniel lowered both hands and shook his head with a dark expression like a night sky with the moon hidden.
“If this promise is broken then I, your brother, will challenge him to a duel.”
“Please don’t. You’ll be instantly defeated.”
“Riz, my heart has already been repeatedly stabbed. Please don’t add another attack on me.”
Daniel looked like he was about to cry and then reached into his breast pocket and took out a rolled parchment.
He held that out to Riz.
“What is this?”
“A protection charm.”
“This parchment? Is it some sort of certificate?”
“You’re going to the church of the Kiwee district, no? I have several acquaintances there. Bishop Mile, James… ah, this is nostalgic. If you’re ever in trouble, show them this parchment.”
Oh, she understood now. Her brother knew a lot of people. He was probably giving her a letter with the single phrase, ‘Take care of my little sister’. If this was the case then it seemed like she could sneak into the studio without needing to ask for bribes from Virma.
“Thank you, brother.”
“No thanks are needed although, if you’d like, how about we get married?”
“I cannot marry my blood-related brother.”
“There’s the next life. I’m very patient and I can wait that long!”
“Until the next life…”
During the time she was enjoying this harmless conversation with Daniel it seemed like John also finished their preparations. He showed his face in the lounge.
“… So that’s the demonic man who is tainting my Riz…!”
Towards Daniel’s eyes, which burned with jealousy, John gave a look that said “What’s with this man?”.
Still, her brother’s intuition was good. John wasn’t demonic, he was an actual demon.
“Be careful Riz. If that man tries anything that would break etiquette, you can stab him.”
“I know, brother.”
Leaving Daniel, who burned with hostility towards John, she hurried to the entrance. There, Riz and John left the mansion while being sent off by a teary-eyed Virma.
“Each and every one of my lady’s family members are noisy.”
John muttered this with exhaustion in the carriage.
“John, what exactly did you say to convince my mother?”
To be able to stay outside for seven days was equivalent to a miracle. But when she asked out of curiosity he didn’t answer immediately. Fixing his glasses, he turned his head away and so Riz prompted him with one more “Tell me”.
“I’ll tell you one day.”
“Not right now.”
“If I say not right now then it means not right now.”
John smiled as he said this with a teasing tone.
It was happening again, Riz thought with a frown.
Her chest stirred whenever a smile was directed towards her. And then a drop of brightness fell into her heart.
It took about three hours by carriage to reach the Kiwee district. The royal capital of Sprarugle covered a vast area. Because of this, it took time to travel even to just outside of the city.
St. Walham’s Church was a beautiful building with twelve spires.
It was built to be self-sufficient. It had a large field and there was a forest nearby, managed by the Third Church, and so it was unlikely for them to be troubled for food even during winter.
The name of the church was taken from a beekeeper, Bille Walham. When this man converted to the church, he donated all of his bee yards. Then, one day, when a gang of weasels descended on his home, the Kiwee district, and tried to ruin the fields. It was said that in that moment a golden bee flew out and drove away the weasels.
It was also said that the honey gathered by those bees have saved people who were suffering from illnesses.
From this tale, honey became a specialty in the Kiwee district, even today.
After they arrived at the carriage stop, set to the left side of the church, John and the coachman divided the labor of carrying the luggage down between them.
“The other day, I spoke to Madam Virma and requested that a letter be sent to the trade association and I obtained permission to inspect the studio, but…”
He murmured this in doubt as he looked around the area.
Riz was confused at the lack of a greeting.
She wasn’t going to lodge outside and planned on borrowing a chamber in the church.
Most churches were equipped with accommodations. Rather than being used for pilgrims, it was used to take care of or conceal aristocrats with special circumstances.
Because of this, the accommodations for aristocratic use were neat and clean. Depending on the circumstances, one could even employ a chef from the nearby town. She believed John also knew this, which is why he didn’t bring up going to a lodge in town.
“In any case, shall we go and greet the head priest here?”
The luggage and carriage would be watched by the coachman, so Riz and John approached the church’s front door.
St. Walham Church’s history was still young and so the building was new.
That being said, it had been 400 years since it was built. The majestic white walls of the church, along with its needle-like spires, were darkened from being exposed to years of wind and rain. In the front parlor, an angel with a raised bishop’s staff greeted visitors and three doors leading into the nave.
Occasionally, Riz thought that the solemnity, beauty, and divinity of the church wasn’t created only through human knowledge and technique. At that time, God was surely beside the craftsmen and there were great blessings and miracles.
The candles that decorated the walls of the aisles shook. It was close to evening already and, even inside the church, her breath was white when she exhaled. It would probably snow soon.
They grabbed a priest walking through the aisles and asked him to lead them to the head priest. However, he was currently in prayer. From the corridor, they moved into another spire and ended up waiting for a while in a drawing room.
It was around 30 minutes before the elderly head priest, with a friendly face, appeared.
He welcomed Riz and John, but he also behaved oddly. Because he hadn’t been in good health for several days, he had requested a priest named Mile to guide Riz and John.
The head priest summoned that Mile here and had him guide Riz and John to their lodgings.
Mile, who was tall, pretended to be sincere in front of the head priest, but he showed his true character only to Riz and John when they went out into the corridor. He clearly found them to be a bother.
“To come all this way to our church, you nobles are eccentric. If you’re here for religious paintings, then isn’t the Seventh Church in possession of more?”
“I heard the paintings of this church were also wonderful.”
“Miss Riz of the Milton house, I do not know if you will be satisfied…”
As she listened to the sarcasm leaking from his mouth, she could tell that it wasn’t just her personally that he was rejecting but the Milton house. This was land under the patronage of the Third Church, so it wasn’t unnatural to be wary of the Milton house that liked the Seventh Church. Speaking of that, Riz was reminded and brought out her brother’s letter from her breast pocket. She was sure her brother said the name Mile.
When she handed the letter over with, “Excuse me, here”, it was more effective than she imagined.
“Wha!? This is that punk, Daniel’s…!? So that man was part of the Milton house!!”
Mile paled before Riz’s eyes and then started treating her reverently. She was a little curious as to what her brother was, but decided to act like she didn’t see anything.
After their luggage was carried into their accommodations, she wanted to head to the painting studio immediately but was stopped by John.
“You rode in a carriage for three hours. You should rest for today.”
Certainly, she felt exhaustion weighing heavily on her entire body. She might have felt even more tired because of the cold too. Upon thinking of their plans starting from tomorrow, Riz obediently obeyed.
John was naturally in another room but late at night, while she was sleeping, she felt like her head was stroked by him. It was probably a dream.
If that wasn’t the case, perhaps it was a wish of hers.
Riz went to the painting studio the next day after lunch.
It seemed like it snowed for a few minutes in the morning and the air was both chilly and damp.
Thanks to that, John’s overprotectiveness increased.
“How about we rest for another day?”
“Surely it is too cold. My lady, your hair and skin are pale and it almost seems like you will disappear together with the snow.”
“John, I really am fine.”
“Please dress warmly.”
A cloak, with enough fur to make her shoulders feel heavy, was draped over her. Her ears were also covered by a hat. Riz wondered if it was possible that the majority of their luggage was clothes for her to use to keep out the cold? She felt a bit dizzy.
The painting studio was established in a place away from the church. It was a brick building with a domed roof and an official sign hanged down from the top part of the wall. Its large, round stained glass windows were gorgeous.
She didn’t notice this yesterday, but she could see a small town in the highlands on the western side. There were houses with triangular roofs, a chicken farm, a tailor, an eating hall, and a tall red building… Even she, ignorant of the world, knew what that was. It was a brothel. She was a bit surprised at seeing this large brothel which didn’t match the size of the town but, a little while later, she understood it was for aristocrats who were visiting incognito.
On the northern side of the church were two layers of solid, towering stone gates which surrounded the royal capital. The outer gate was white, while the inner gate was blue. This was in conformity with the colors of the country’s crest.
There were similarly built brick buildings around the painting studio. There seemed to be a storehouse, an additional workshop attached, and a rest area for the workers. There was a large water wheel with a roof, aqueducts, and a mess hall was also built. It seemed like there were cooks placed there too so that no one had to go to the mess hall in the highlands.
However, the studio also wasn’t that far from the highland town.
It was a distance that women and children could reach without problems. In fact, the townspeople used the winding road to visit the church.
When Riz peered into the painting studio, whose doors were open, a man around fifty years old and who seemed like the head of the studio turned around from facing a large canvas.
He walked over, clad in an apron that was dirtied from painting tools. Riz pinched her dress and curtsied.
“My apologies for intruding while you were in the middle of your work.”
“Ah, no,” the man shook his head with displeasure, but then his eyes suddenly widened and he stared intently at Riz.
“Are you the Miss from the Milton house?”
“Yes. I will be in your care for several days.”
“I apologize then. I was going to welcome you, but I became engrossed in my work.”
The man scratched his chin, above his beard, and smiled.
“I heard about you from the Father. That you seem to be a gallery owner, miss. My name is Knox, and I’m the supervisor of the painting studio under St. Walham’s Church.”
“My name is Riz Milton and this is my helper, John Smith. I am planning a competition next year at my gallery with the motif of the Spring Goddess and, hearing rumors about promising artists at this church, I rushed over wishing to see their works. I will be sure not to get in the way, and so I was wondering if I could take a look at the artists’ works and working environment?”
She hid the primary reason for their visit and made up a suitable lie.
“For someone as beautiful as you to come all this way makes us embarrassed.”
His tone was friendly, but his eyes clearly conveyed “This small girl is a gallery owner?”. Seeing as he showed no timidness in front of Riz, who clearly looked like an aristocrat, showed that Knox himself might have a high status. Or was it pride possessed by an artist?
“The doors of the church are always open, and our studio is much the same. Please, feel free to take a look around as much as you’d like. However, I’m afraid I have plans to set off for the neighboring town in the afternoon. I will ask Navi, my apprentice, to be your guide.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
That was how she answered, but inwardly Riz was taken aback. When she peeked at John beside her, his brows were also slightly drawn together.
Knox said that his own business took priority as if it were natural. He was looking down on them. Riz thought about revealing her strongest weapon, Daniel’s letter, here too but decided not to at the end.
Knox called for a young boy in his early tens who was cleaning in the corner of the room.
The boy, with freckles scattered over his nose, closed the lid of a medium-sized copper can which seemed to hold art supplies and came over with agile movements.
He made people think of a foal, rich with curiosity. His eyes were large and his hair was chestnut-colored.
“Show these two around the studio.”
The boy nodded obediently and turned his eyes to them. He looked surprised and then shyly lowered his head.
“Well then, please take your time.”
Knox said this, without hiding how he looked like he was freed from a hassle, and hurried away. Riz was bewildered at his excessive attitude, but she quickly looked over the studio.
It seemed like this studio was divided into two rooms by a wall, as if it were a round hard bread.
It was possible the room beyond the wall was divided even more too.
There were many paintings arranged side by side on the wall opposite to the entrance. There was a door at the end and it probably continued into another space.
This side was a room for seeing guests and several chairs and easels were placed here. Maybe it was due to the time, but there was no one else in the room. It seemed like the workers were crammed in the mess hall.
Riz tilted her head. Judging from how the works here were open to the public, she could tell that this place regularly welcomed art dealers. If an artist could catch the eye of an aristocrat then it was highly likely their future would open up.
It was for this reason too that churches had studios, and yet Knox took on a perfunctory attitude as if it wouldn’t be strange if he brought on their dissatisfaction.
Even if Riz was a woman, this attitude was a bit unusual. Did he act like that knowing that the Milton house was supporting the Seventh Church?
“Um… Miss, er, Madam, would you like to see the paintings?”
Navi called out while fidgeting. For a second, she was stunned. Madam?
“Ah, Mister, you too, please.”
Navi turned to John, as if he just remembered him too.
It appeared that the simple boy fell for Riz’s physical appearance. If he had been a young girl, then there was no doubt his awareness would have been snatched by John. Still, to go out of his way to correct his address of Riz to “Madam” and to call John “Mister” meant— they were mistaken as a married couple.
“May we get close to the walls?”
John asked Navi. Navi gave many large nods.
“Riz, let’s look at the paintings.”
Riz startled at having her name called by John without any warning.
Come now, he seemed to say by extending his hand to her. She placed her hand on his, drawn along, and was led to place her hand on the crook of his elbow. Impossible, John was escorting her like a normal man.
“John… when did you grow up?”
“Read the atmosphere, my lady.”
Riz unconsciously lowered her eyes when he whispered that into her ears. She couldn’t resist. Good grief, what was going on here. Did John’s voice have an effect of making her useless?
“How many artists does this studio have?”
Navi turned around to answer John’s question.
“Eight people, Mister.”
“And are all of the paintings of those eight people here?”
“Of course, Mister.”
Every time he was called “Mister” John held back a laugh.
“Come, Riz, look at the paintings as well. Tell me if you find any works you like.”
Although his voice was gentle, his eyes glimmered with a reason. He was telling her to confirm whether or not there were any suspicious paintings. Riz turned her eyes to the wall. This wall, which separated this room from the other side, had 38 paintings in total, including those that seemed to be studies.
Their sizes were all over the place. From watercolors to oil paintings, even the pigments used were everywhere. There were also paintings that decorated the wall where the entrance door was. It seemed like the main paintings were on the wall that separated this room though. The finished products were clearly different.
She strained her eyes and stared at the paintings.
Were there traces of demons anywhere… were there distorted paintings mixed in?
—This was strange. There was none.
She didn’t feel anything particularly off. Every one of them was good— in their own way.
Riz calmly judged that none of them were works to be cared for in an art gallery. Several of them were works that would catch the eye, but they were either a “miraculous work” of the artist or a strange work where glimmers of talent were crammed in.
Just in case, she also checked the works that were displayed on the entrance door wall. These seemed to be works of apprentice craftsmen. The majority of them had flaws that stood out from a technical perspective.
“How are they, Riz?”
“Yes, these are nice works.”
Her bland response seemed to convey her meaning.
“I see. You enjoyed yourself then. Incidentally, Navi, are there any works by an artist with the name of J.L.?”
“Yes! You mean Mr. Julius Lampson’s works, right? Over there!”
The boy pointed to the upper part of the wall. It was a drawing of a praying believer.
It was good but, like the other works, she had no further impression.
In this case, Riz felt like the rough sketch she saw at her own art gallery caught her eyes more. She couldn’t find the completed work of that rough sketch.
She was about to ask whether or not it was displayed when John opened his mouth first.
“Navi, is there a painting of a flock of geese here?”
“Correct. A flock of geese flying above a flower girl walking up a hill… An acquaintance of ours showed us this rough sketch and so we came here, interested in other works of his as well.”
“Ooh, yes! I’m sure it’s that painting.”
“I believe the painting you’re speaking of, Mister, is the one adorned in the church.”
The boy was excited and promptly answered him.
“The church… Are there other works displayed there too?”
“There’s a lot!”
Navi leaned forward and declared this.
“Looks like Mr. Julius is a real master painter, huh!”
Riz and John asked this at the same time.
“Because God exists in Mr. Julius’ paintings!”
Navi puffed out his chest and stated this with pride. His green eyes glittered.
Riz exchanged looks with John underneath Navi’s notice. She didn’t think this cheery boy was lying or trying to trick them but— the things he was saying were extremely suspicious.
“What do you mean in particular when you say God exists in his works?”
John asked this while staring at the paintings on the wall. Riz followed his line of sight and looked at them too.
The value of paintings changed greatly depending on the appraiser or their time period. There were cases where a painting would be evaluated as rubbish to one person and a masterpiece to another. Riz thought about this; a painting that God existed in. Maybe it didn’t appear in her eyes, but maybe the figure of God appeared in the eyes of an innocent boy—?
“Does the painting speak or something?”
“Mister, God doesn’t need words.”
The boy took John’s sarcasm with a smile.
Riz stared at the boy who suddenly looked grown-up. The candles on the work table swayed and she felt like the dim shadow at the feet of the boy swayed in the same way.
“You’ll understand if you see his painting. Because your heart will shake.”
Navi clasped his hands together like a prayer and told them this in a voice filled with belief.
It seemed like they were called the paintings of the sacred eight.
Originally a treasury, the room now called the “Room of Peace” was decorated with 16 paintings drawn by the eight artists that came from the painting studio belonging to the church. It was said that each work was finished under a theme noted by the 16 apostles of the Bible. Two works per person.
Riz stared at the paintings in a clockwise order. Several of them were continuous paintings.
Reeds swaying under a winter sky, a man and a woman standing underneath an apple tree, a maiden playing a harp, apostles in a conversation under a tent, workers carrying heavy loads, people suffering from a plague, angels of blessing descending to a windowsill at night, animals gathered at a blue spring, a saint and an old woman standing by a pear tree, horses running through the plains, friars illuminating a dark night, ashes falling on ruins, a town with its doors closed and fearing a disaster, foreign merchants selling salt, and farmers planting seeds in a field.
Their purpose, the painting of the flock of geese and red-haired flower girl walking up a slope was also there beside the painting of the workers. It was the completed version of the rough sketch Riz saw at her art gallery.
This room, which was built at the opposite end of the confessionals, was an octagon. There were four paintings on the white painted wall right in front of them, and the remaining six sides had two paintings each. The only side that had a door was not decorated with paintings.
There was a semicircular pillar in each of the corners of the sides and a statue of an angel was placed there. There were no windows.
What was surprising was that in this cramped Room of Peace there were many people pushing inside.
They stared at the paintings and prayed as if they were gazing upon a saint.
At this spectacle Riz felt a faint fear before any feelings of shock. She was seeing something that wasn’t any different from idolatry. Did the priests not notice this dangerous possibility?
In the Quito Ezira Empire it was strictly forbidden to make works of art objects of worship. Lively artistic movements and worshiping idols had completely different meanings.
People could feel the existence of God through art, but to place something one created on the same level as God was profane and blasphemous.
Navi, who led them here, looked at the people concentrated on praying and smiled.
“People come here for worship without missing a day.”
“Every day? The priests do not stop them?”
Maybe John had similar concerns to Riz because he asked this in a stiff tone.
“No way! They can’t do something cold like drive away the people who come here looking for salvation!”
The pure boy looked up at John with puffed cheeks as if he was telling John not to say such cursed things.
“Everyone is really religious and good people.”
Riz and John, who stood near the entrance, looked at the worshipers with dubious eyes and then entered inside.
Still, Riz was reluctant to brush them aside as they seriously prayed to examine the paintings. Maybe once it was evening the line of worshipers would end. She could just check the paintings slowly then.
She wanted to ask about the artists first using this spare time.
Were they aware of the fact that their own works were objects of idol worship? What would they do if this terrifying situation was known to the seven great churches? St. Walham’s Church would be misunderstood as spreading heresy and an inquiry would happen. Once that occurred, there would be no way to be saved.
“John, let’s come here again later.”
She told John this and left the Room of Peace. Navi also cheerily followed them.
Just in case, she looked around the interior of the church. During her check of the wall murals, the ceiling murals, and the statues, she discovered several works of art that had blasphemous symbols. However, unfortunately, those seemed to be unrelated to their current matter.
“You do not need to be concerned with these works.”
John said this in a quiet voice so that Navi, walking behind them, wouldn’t hear.
“Why?” Riz asked, also lowering her voice.
“They were intentionally placed.”
“It’s different from distorted paintings?”
“The artists made those blasphemous marks, knowing what they were. They protect the demons who are allowed to visit the church and their arrangement has also been considered to act as a path. They are always made to face holy statues. Thus, demons cannot live in these.”
Now that it was mentioned, there was an angel statue placed on the opposite side of the holy beast of the Seventh Church. She understood now; were those to watch over the demons?
As they progressed through the corridor, they saw priests in vestments and several men talking.
The men were wearing linen aprons with paint on them. These were artists.
“Ah, Mr. Julius!”
Navi said with bright eyes. It seemed that voice reached them since they all turned around at the same time.
Riz noticed that among the priests there was Mile who led them to their lodgings yesterday. His expression disappeared when he saw Riz and John and hurriedly ran away without greeting them.
It felt like rather than being scared of Riz and John it was because of her brother’s letter. She was curious about what sort of relationship he had with her brother, but it was probably better for her not to know.
The other priests and artist who were left behind there saw him off with curious looks.
Navi approached one artist with light steps.
That person was probably Julius. Riz secretly observed him. His facial features were distinct and he had a masculine face. Long black hair was tied at the back of his head.
The painting of the flock of geese had a calm style, so she had expected an elderly painter but he was surprisingly young. Probably around his mid-twenties? He seemed to be the youngest member of his group. The others looked anywhere from thirty to forty years old.
It looked like the artists noticed that they weren’t worshipers from their appearance and they eyed them with curious looks.
Julius placed a hand on Navi’s shoulder and walked over here with him. Riz and John also approached him.
“Are you two perhaps the ones who came from the capital?”
Julius asked this in a gentle tone that couldn’t be imagined from his extremely beautiful appearance.
Riz gave her name like she did with Knox, the director, and made a shallow curtsy.
There were various reactions from the artists right after learning she was an art gallery owner. There were those whose eyes glittered with hope, those who were wary, those who looked as if they expected someone to come poach them, and those who were disinterested.
Julius gave a helpless smile.
From this expression alone, he didn’t seem like a greedy person.
“It sounds like the Madam came here because of your work!”
Julius tilted his head at Navi’s excited voice.
“She said it was the painting of the geese in the Room of Peace!”
“I see… Is that right? If so, that is an honor.”
Julius turned to them and gave a bashful smile. Riz was more interested in the reactions of the other artists than his. There was envy born in them, but more than that their faces turned pale.
She met eyes with one of them. They tried to act natural and averted their eyes.
“Every one of those works are interesting.”
John said this and took a step towards Julius.
“Everyone’s works seems to have gathered the belief of the worshipers. As if it was idolatry.”
John’s words were too direct.
Julius’ smile froze. Tension ran through the other people as well.
“Does everyone feel more appreciated than the teachings of the priests? The donations must be amazing as well. I’ve seen the studio outside and its equipment is not lacking to those in the capital. If there are these benefits then you cannot stop displaying those paintings, can you?”
Her demon had too much freedom.
However, this surprise attack seemed to have its own effectiveness. Two people looked to be shaken. There were also those who were purely angry. The artist Riz met eyes with earlier was one of the former.
Julius faintly furrowed his brows with displeasure. She wondered which one of those two this reaction meant. Was he angry because they guessed right, or did he want to refuse that it was for fame and donations?
“How could you say such terrible things, Mister!”
In the tense air Navi was the first to object.
“Do you suspect these teachers to be gathering believers for the sake of money? You’re wrong! These teachers’ paintings are really wonderful, so everyone comes to pray after being touched in the heart!”
Navi clenched his fists and insisted this.
“Because their paintings move!”
When Riz asked this, Julius pulled Navi’s arm in a panic. He probably wanted to silence him.
But she wanted to hear more details. Riz had already crouched in front of the boy. Everyone looked shocked. Navi’s reaction was even greater; his face turned red and he became flustered.
“M-Madam! Please stand.”
“Navi, does Mr. Julius’ painting really move?”
“Not something like a holy mother weeping tears or anything?”
Navi peered at the expressions of Julius and the other artists many times before looking down with a troubled face. He seemed to regret saying too much.
Riz, praying silently that this was the time for her facial muscles to work, looked up at Julius.
“Of course, I came to St. Walham’s Church to appreciate the works that were reputed to be lovely but… the first reason was because I wished to deepen my knowledge of the teachings of God.”
Navi’s eyes widened like this was a realization. The artists also stirred with a quiet “Ohh”. Only John’s eyes held a look of exasperation.
“I would like to see the work of God by all means. Please, won’t you point the way for this lost and pitiful sheep? Yes, your words are light, your eyes are hope, and your forgiveness brings about safety to the earth.”
There was no doubt that if Greco heard this he would burst out in laughter at this point. It was that exact sentence from the Bible.
But these people were simple. Especially Navi who clapped his hands in joy.
“So the Madam came here to pray too! If the Madam lived here, you could surely see God’s appearance too. Because the 16 paintings of these teachers are ‘miracle paintings’.”
“The first one that brought a ‘miracle’ was Mr. Julius’ painting of the flock of geese. The direction the geese were flying changed. Then, on the following day, a fire happened in that direction.”
Julius probably thought he couldn’t stop Navi’s enthusiasm because he showed a resigned look.
“The next was the painting of the reeds. One of the Fathers saw it, but it sounds like the reeds swayed in the wind. People started whispering that this could mean God was close and was pointing out that a storm would be coming to this place. So then everyone planned for the storm.”
“And the storm arrived as expected?”
“Yes! The people who believed in the painting and prepared were saved, and those who thought it was stupid were harmed and suffered.”
“Were there other ‘miracles’?”
“There were! The angel drawn in the painting that talks about the horror of the plague pointed at the well. Thanks to that, we learned that rot in the well water could spread the plague.”
Navi explained the contents of the miracles with a proud face.
“Then everyone believed these to be sacred paintings where God’s will dwelled and came to worship?”
“That’s right, Madam!”
The artists glared at Navi with grim expressions. Julius’ face was clouded more than anyone else.
“Lady Riz, it is true the church has received donations and there are many who say they wish to see the sacred paintings, but us artists have not accepted any money or goods. We also use our earnings from the monthly bazaar to support the poor and orphans.”
Julius resolutely said this.
“Moreover, I personally do not seek fame. If there is but one person who sees my paintings and feels at ease then that is more than enough of a reward.”
It doesn’t seem like the others are that unselfish though. But Riz swallowed these words back. She wondered what John felt after hearing this. Thinking that, she turned to look at his reaction.
John was watching the artists with cold eyes.
When the worshipers who descended on the church finally made their way home, darkness was already starting to dim the air.
Riz and John returned to the Room of Peace and quickly began to check the “miracle paintings”.
“All of them are oil paintings.”
John held a lamp and roughly looked over the paintings displayed on the wall. During this time, Riz placed the candlestand she brought on a small table. That being said, this was actually prepared by John.
One lamp was unreliable in this darkness. Transferring the fire to a portable candlestick Riz also moved to his side. The breath she exhaled was white. A chill air crept up from her feet and made her body shiver.
“John, about the miracles we heard from Navi, do you think they could be man-made “messages of God” using the darkness?”
Riz shook her candlestick left and right and tested her personal theory.
“Like this, when I shake a light in the dark, it sort of looks like the paintings are moving.”
“You mean a psychological illusion?”
John looked down at her like he was interested.
“There’s no windows here so it’s dark during the day too, right?”
“What I was thinking was an optical illusion.”
“A painting that misleads the eyes, such as a straight line that looks bent, lines that are the same length but one seems shorter, or sizes that are seen to differ.”
“There’s strange paintings like that?”
“I’ve seen them in foreign countries. However, the ones here are different from those designed paintings…”
John said this in a tone as if he was talking to himself and raised the lamp to eye level.
Despite being a demon, he suited the atmosphere of the church very well. The sight of him raising a lamp in front of a painting gave off a solemn impression.
“The other thought I had was to use this enclosed space and intentionally create an intoxicated space.”
What he was staring keenly at was Julius’ drawn painting of the flock of geese.
Riz didn’t open her mouth and waited for his next words. The quiet glow of the lamp stained his cheeks in orange. His black iron eyes were like tears falling in the darkness.
“There are no windows built in the Room of Peace. In this circumstance, if the believers crowd in, breathing would become hard and this would be especially so in the summertime where the air is heated. I would guess there were some who even fainted.”
“So their dazed consciousness would be mistaken as intoxication or exaltation?”
“Correct. We saw in the day that many people were fervently praying. At that stage, haven’t they already entered a hypnotic state? People wish to see what is convenient for them. The moment they pray with the wish to be saved they lose their consciousness, their ears start to ring, and they see hallucinations. They hear things like the message of God or the voices of angels. No, they believe they heard those.”
“And if the people around them fall into similar states…”
“From a group experience, these subjective impressions are suddenly tinged with persuasiveness. The miracle of God is now complete.”
Her back became cold in another sense. Riz took in some deep breaths and settled her emotions.
There wasn’t just the hint of winter in this closed space, but also a variety of smells that mixed together. It was stained in the smell of pigments and the sweat of the worshipers; a smell that couldn’t be removed even if it was wiped with alcohol. Prayers and lamentations were also sucked into the walls.
“My lady, are you alright?”
Because Riz was silent John moved the lamp in her direction.
This space with just the two of them was completely cold in every nook and corner.
“Let us return to our rooms.”
“I’m fine. I want to carefully check these paintings.”
John furrowed his brows but he didn’t object.
“If it becomes painful then say so immediately.”
Smiling at her protective demon, Riz concentrated on the paintings.
The instant she entered this room she had a premonition.
—That the distorted painting was definitely mixed in with these 16 paintings.
Like the time she looked at the rough sketch, something prickled at her awareness.
First, she examined the painting of the geese that was the reason they chose this church. It was several times larger than the rough sketch. If she had to say something then the brush technique was rough. It didn’t seem like Julius was aiming for that texture. Unlike the brush strokes of those who learned this technique, she could see it was the clumsiness of a personal style.
The thing that directly caught her eyes was still the flock of geese in the sky. They flew in a shape that was drawn like an arrowhead. Could this be an important symbol?
“Arrows mean ‘revelation’…”
John responded promptly with “No” at Riz’s murmur.
“Certainly, there are times when arrows themselves mean a revelation under certain conditions, but the shape of these geese is not a symbol of a distorted painting. It’s too obvious.”
“Then, the red roses.”
“Roses are also an easily understood motif, but it doesn’t make sense in this painting, does it?”
She was ruthlessly cut down. Riz stared at the painting, furrowing her eyebrows with concentration. Isn’t it somewhere? A hidden mark of blasphemy. A sign of evil that was marked without the artist himself noticing.
How about the flow of the hair of the girl going up the slope? Is there anything hidden in this slope?
“John, the path is snaking. Is it the symbol of a snake?”
This was also flatly rejected.
“Those aren’t it, my lady. Take, for example, a drawing of overlapping branches and a shadow created on the knot of the tree trunk. Concentrate your eyes more.”
“But the flock of geese really are looking down at the flower girl.”
“Then, can you see a hidden symbol there?”
She couldn’t answer.
There was stagnation. It wasn’t the night; there was a heavy darkness that settled in this space. She knew it, but she couldn’t see it. Riz clenched her fist without thought.
She had to catch this demon no matter what.