Kasser turned around the corner of the hall and stopped short. His lips curved gently into a smile, when he saw Eugene approaching from the other end of the corridor. He sauntered towards her.
The two came closer until they stood directly facing each other with less than a foot between them.
He scanned her countenance. To his relief, her expression was cheerful .
“Where are you headed, My Queen?”
“I was going to the bridge, Your Majesty.”
“I gather you are trying to get some fresh air.”
Above the bridge was Eugene’s favorite place. It was high and often windy ,so she often went there at tea-time.
She had to be careful with the table, on which her tea was laid out, for it was potentially dangerous during strong winds.
‘Was he heading my way because he had business with me?’
Eugene swallowed the sentence and her curiosity.
“Would you like to come along?” She was conscious of the courtiers around her and chose her words carefully.
In the past, she hadn’t given much thought to propriety. She would deliberately keep her tone informal and modern because it made her feel like she was in a play when she used the old-fashioned tone and mannerisms.
‘If even the king doesn’t object to it, no one else should either,’ she reasoned.
She had therefore, decided to speak comfortably. However, observing the royal aides, she realized that the formal, seemingly antiquated form of speech was powerful in expressing authority and maintaining dignity.
She decided that she would maintain a dignified formality around other people, but would drop all pretenses and speak comfortably when she was alone with Kasser.
“Your Majesty, You must be extremely busy looking over the state affairs I imagine. But, perhaps you could take a break and get some fresh air for a while ? ”
Kasser looked at Eugene for a moment and asked, “Would you like me to join you?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I assure you the tea is great.”
Kasser laughed and moved to stand beside her, offering his arm.
“I have received an invitation from the lady, therefore I must escort her.”
Eugene laughed and took the offered arm.
A long line of court officials stretched behind the two. The courtiers following them, smiled in private, revelling in the bliss emanated by the conjugal harmony of the young couple.
He sighed . He was anxious, frustrated and heavily confused.
When she had announced that she would accompany him, he had been ecstatic, but as time passed, he was beginning to worry.
“It will be a difficult journey.”
“I was told Your Majesty travels there in just two days. This time though, it has increased to five days.”
Kasser laughed. “You can’t compare it to that.”
As the queen’s presence at the ritual was suddenly declared, chaos occurred. The preparation required for the accompanying queen was completely different from when the king was traveling alone.
Earlier, it had been utilitarian and devoid of any unnecessary flourish, but now, it had to be both practical and frivolous.
A large-scale procession of close to 100 people was formed, including the royal couple, their attendants and porters. The amount of luggage they carried increased threefold, with additional tents for sleeping and resting, food, and daily necessities for five scores of people.
When Eugene asked Marianne if her decision to go along had caused any trouble, Marianne replied confidently,” Not at all, Your Majesty.”
“It is a sacred ritual that raises rites in the Holy City. I am delighted that it has finally proceeding on the scale that it should, Your Majesty’
“I heard you sleep in a tent at night?”
“Yes.” Kasser answered her.
“You don’t rest even when the sun is hottest, at the middle of the day.”
“I see. When the time comes, we will have people bring food, and water to cool our bodies. There is nothing so difficult about it.” She muttered loud enough for the king to hear.
Kasser gazed at her, trying to read her mind. She seemed so confident.
He remembered what the queen had been like at the ritual, where she accompanied him only once, in their first year of marriage.
At that time, the scale of the march had been quite similar to this one.
However, a marked difference lay in the fact that the previous time, he had detachedly left all preparations to the staff. This time, he was more involved and concerned about making the journey as smooth as he possibly could, for Eugene.
The queen at that time, never left the tent. During the journey, she did not descend from her special palanquin on the camel’s back, and when she was forced to step on the sand, she demanded that a rug be spread first.
When he saw her after her memory loss, he felt strange, as if she were the person he had known, but at the same time, she wasn’t.
Kasser turned to the approaching chief of staff. The attendant bowed his head.
“What is it?”
“The letter of His Holiness has arrived. The knight requests an audience with you.”
Normally, he received a letter from Sang-je when the dry season began, a day or two after returning from the ritual, but this time it was far earlier than usual.
He turned to Eugene and said.
“I have to go. You get some rest and then come down.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Eugene stood to see the king off, and sat down when he had departed.
She wondered if it was a knight whom Jin knew.
The man, wearing the colorful armor, bowed his head.
“Knight Pides. Greetings to Your Majesty .”
“It’s been a while, Sir Pides.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. It has been a long time.”
“What business do you have with me?”
The ninety-nine knights protecting Sang-je,outwardly, had no rank, but internally, a hierarchy existed. It followed seniority in the order they were knighted. The ninety-nine knights always kept that number. When the oldest knight superannuated, a new vacancy was created in his place.
By the side of Sang-je, who preserved youth for many years, the knights were slowly replaced with age. But even for a knight who came in relatively later, if his credibility with Sang-je was strong, his rank went up.
Knight Pides was a young knight who was closely trusted by Sang-je. Therefore, Pides was not the person Sang-je would send, to deliver a mere letter.
“I brought the letter of His Holiness Shang-Je to His Majesty.”
The attendant received a letter from Pides in a golden envelope and handed it to Kasser.
Kasser glanced at Pides suspiciously, and opened the seal of the envelope to draw out a letter. He quickly ran through the contents. It was a ceremonial letter he received regularly.
‘The denomination will not turn you away in your times of distress. Our doors are always open for you. Best regards to Anika Jin as well.”
Kasser looked at the somewhat annoying concluding sentence and raised his head to look at Pides.
“Is this the only letter from His Holiness to me?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Did he have another message?”
“There weren’t any other messages for you,Your Majesty. He did, however, give me an order to fulfil. ”
Kasser’s eyebrows raised. He thought he knew what Pides would say.
“I have a message from His Holiness Sang-je to deliver to Anika Jin. Please grant me an audience with our Anika alone.”
Unpleasant emotions raged deep in his heart and gut. Pides’ presumptuous demand to be alone with Eugene, and his calling her Anika, and not the queen, infuriated him.
He almost expressed his disapproval, but Kasser controlled himself and calmly replied, putting the crumpled letter in the envelope, “It’s not something I have to give permission to, to meet the queen when you are delivering the words of His Holiness. Chief of staff.”
“Yes, Your Majesty?” The staff responded immediately.
“Guide Lord Pides to the chamber. Inform the Queen that knight Pides requests an audience.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Pides raised one hand to his chest and lowered his head in salutation.
“May the glory of Mahar be with you, Your Majesty.”