When Eugene came down from the bridge, she ran into the chief of staff in the hallway leading to the office. He repeated the king’s words verbatim to her.
Knight Pides. It was her visitor’s name.
Knowing her memory loss, Kasser smartly bought her time by sending the knight to wait in the audience chamber instead of directing him to her study right away.
“Has a knight ever asked to meet me before?” she asked the chief.
“In the year of your marriage, a knight brought a letter of regards addressed to the queen, but the letter was delivered to you via a maid instead. This is the first time anyone, a knight at that, has requested an audience with you alone.”
“What do you think could have prompted the change?” Eugene inquired.
The chief of staff’s face grew serious. He chose his next words carefully, recalling the previous situation. “It is not the same knight that has been coming for years.”
“Then this is the first time you’ve met Knight Pides?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
At that moment, a voice from Jin’s memories sounded in Eugene’s head, triggered by the knight’s name:
“Anika, Knight Pides requests an audience with you.”
“Anika, Knight Pides has left you a gift from the Sang-je.”
“Anika, Knight Pides is waiting for you.”
She didn’t know who the voice belonged to, probably a servant, but it seemed that Knight Pides had visited often when she was in the Holy City quite frequently!
“Go to Knight Pides and tell him that I am otherwise engaged. He will have to wait.”
The chief of staff bowed his head. “I will do as you command.”
Eugene went to the office. She paced back and forth as she tried to organise her thoughts. Why did Sang-je send a different knight than usual? Has he noticed that Jin’s soul has changed? If the Sang-je in this world had the same transcendental abilities as the Sang-je in Eugene’s novel, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was able to sense such things from afar.
Although his arrival was unexpected, the knight had come to deliver Sang-je’s message. She had no reason to refuse to see him.
This is the first meeting with someone who knows Jin. Few people in this kingdom knew who Jin really was. That was why, despite Jin having lived in this country for three years, Eugene was able to slip inside her body and assume her identity without anyone suspecting.
‘I can’t always avoid it.’
Her decision was made. She left the office. If the knight noticed something strange, she could claim memory loss or illness. It’s better to conceal the fact that I’m not Jin for the time being. I don’t plan to meet Sang-je just yet.
The audience chamber held two desks that faced each other. The king and queen sat behind one of the desks to face the person who had requested the audience. The desk held necessary documents, but also served as a tangible barrier of the impenetrable gap in status between the monarchs and the visitor.
Knight Pides stood waiting in the centre of the room. He turned when the queen entered, met her gaze, then lowered his head in a bow. Jin’s memories began to overlap with Eugene’s at the sight of him.
“Sir Pides. What happened? Somehow I don’t think you came to see me on an errand for His Holiness.”
Inside her mind, Eugene muttered an interested ‘Oh?’ The sound of Jin’s voice in the memory wasn’t the neutral tone when she spoke to the king, or the intense one she used to address court officials. It was pleased, excited. Something Eugene hadn’t encountered before in the other woman’s memories.
The Pides of the past didn’t wear the armor of today, but a shirt and pants, a casual comfortable outfit. Perhaps this was from long ago; Pides looked younger than he did now.
He addressed Jin with a serious expression. “His Holiness does not know that I am here, Anika. You went out late yesterday evening.”
“And what if I did?” Jin shot back, looking pleased.
“I was passing by yesterday and witnessed it by accident. Doing such a cruel thing will not benefit you either.”
“Cruelty? Did you call me cruel? Do you know what that crazy old man did to me? He cursed me! I am an Anika! Nobody has the right to do that to me!” Jin screamed. Even taking into account Jin’s youth, her reaction was bordering on hysterical.
“Anika,” said Pides. “Shamans only tell fortunes. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. If you only listen for fun and don’t put stock in it, that’s all there is to it.”
“Don’t try to lecture me! You have no right to speak to me like this. I am an Anika!”
Pides sighed. “There is no one alive who does not know you are an Anika.”
Jin snorted. “That crazy old man didn’t know. If you commit a sin, you must pay the price,” she said poisonously.
The scene changed to a banquet hall where people in colorful costumes flitted about, elbowing each other to get to the front. Everything was bright, dazzling. Jin followed the people through the crowd. Knights in gleaming silver armor entered the hall, raising shouts from the gathered assembly, but Jin’s gaze was locked on one of them in particular. It was Knight Pides that held her attention.
‘Uh, what?’ Eugene felt a surge of embarrassment at the sudden romance of the scene. ‘Did Jin have unrequited love for this man or something?’ She felt strange, as if she was leafing through someone’s private diary. Who knew Jin could have such pure feelings?
Back in the present, Pides stood waiting, unaware of the journey Eugene had just taken through Jin’s memories. It had lasted less than a second in the real world. He gave off an sincere, humble aura, perhaps because of his lowered eyes. He was indeed handsome, but was not to Eugene’s taste.
She walked past him, sitting down at her desk. “You may sit, Sir Pides.”
Pides inclined his head in gratitude, taking a seat across from her on the other side of the desk.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “Have you been at peace, Anika?”
“It has been a long time. It’s nice to see an old acquaintance after a few years. However, Sir Pides…”
“I am the queen of this country? When you address me here, you must call me by my title.”
Pides gave a long pause, then acquiesced. “Yes, My Queen.”
“Why did you ask to speak to me in private?” she asked.
Pides gave Eugene a strange look, then pulled an envelope from a padded pocket inside his cloak. He stood, leaning over to place the envelope down within her reach.
“His Holiness told me to give his best regards. And after the queen has read the letter, to bring back her answer.”
Eugene swept the envelope off the desk and opened it, her eyes scanning the letter.
I hope you have been well. Though you are far away, I always pray for your peace…
It was merely a letter of greeting. A pretty formality with nothing of substance to it. However, once the well-wishing was out of the way, His Holiness had left a short postscript. Eugene’s heart rattled in her chest.
―P.S. Did you find what you want?
‘What?’ Her thoughts tumbled over each other like rocks. ‘What does Sang-je know? What was Jin looking for? Perhaps… Is he referring to the seed that disappeared from the treasury? Was it Sang-je who gave her the information about the seed? Why?’
Goosebumps sprung up along her back. Eugene schooled her face to a calm expression, pressing her lips together and clenching her teeth. She couldn’t afford to show to let her agitation show outwardly.
“Please tell His Holiness that I could not find it.”
“Yes, My Queen,” said Pides.
Eugene couldn’t help but be suspicious of Sang-je’s decision to send Sir Pides. If Sang-je knew that Jin had had unrequited love for Pides, it stood to reason that he thought the man might have some influence on her. Perhaps he thought that, after three years of marriage in a strange place, far from the Holy City, her heart would be shaken by the sight of Pides.
“Did His Holiness mention anything else?”
“I was instructed to answer any queries you may have on your family in the Holy City.”
‘How subtle.’ Sang-je was indirect about it, but it was like he was asking “Don’t you miss your home after seeing your first love for the first time in so long? Aren’t you wondering about your family? Don’t you want to come back to the holy city?” Eugene frowned. ‘Am I overthinking this?’
“I am grateful for His Holiness’ consideration. Please, tell me how my family is doing.”
Pides left the royal city immediately after concluding his private audience with Eugene. The knights who visited upon the orders of Sang-je never spent the night in the kingdom. It was as if they couldn’t bear to be away from the Holy City for a moment longer than necessary.
However, Pides took a different route, not the road that would take him back to the holy city. His mission wasn’t finished yet.
In addition to meeting Anika Jin and delivering the letter, he had been given two other, quieter instructions. The first, if Jin agreed to return to the holy city, he was to escort her there no matter the cost or the circumstances. The second, he was to dig up any strange rumors about the queen in the Hashi Kingdom, no matter how small.
Sang-je gave these instructions without explanation, but Pides didn’t mind. To him, Sang-je’s words were God’s words. He was only too happy to obey.
Pides entered the shabby, run-down house he had prepared before entering the royal city. He emerged a short time later, disguised as a common wandering merchant.
As clever as his disguise was, it was discovered before he was even aware of it. Rodrigo, a man with Mara’s ability to sense the knight’s energy, had noticed the knight’s surreptitious return.
For the priests of the Church of Mara, Sang-je’s knights were a grievous object. They could detect a priest as easily as a priest could detect a knight. An ability that kings and warriors lacked. However, the strengths of these abilities differed. A knight had to be in close range to detect a priest, whereas a priest could sniff out a knight from a much greater distance. He was able to slip away quickly.
‘I must avoid him for the time being.’ Rodrigo left the capital, not before warning his members to be careful, since Mahar’s dog was sniffing around.
“The target is moving.”Those who were secretly watching Rodrigo on the chancellor’s orders were busy, too. Some of them pursued Rodrigo, while some remained to see what had spooked him from the capital. The informant sent his findings from the denomination in a report back to the chancellor.
―They were told to be careful, since Mahar’s dog is wandering about in the capital.
Chancellor Verus frowned down at the report, puzzled. “Mahar’s dog?”
He knew it was a derogatory term used for knights in the Order of Mahar. ‘I heard that a knight had visited and left, but what is he doing searching through the capital? Perhaps there is a reason, but it would be better to report to the king.’ Chancellor Verus had decided so.
The knights were beings that followed only the will of Sang-je. And here was no way Sang-je would do anything to bring harm to the kingdom. However, this was only a universally held belief. Verus was not naive or particularly trusting. It was the same as believing that the sun would rise in the morning or set in the evening. A fundamental truth.
He decided that the king must have given his permission to the knight. But he couldn’t think of the purpose… Hence, Verus wrote a report and sent it to the castle.
Just after dawn, the soldiers took control of the roads. The dry season had just begun, and those who had been at work since the early hours stopped the soldiers to ask what was happening.
“His Majesty is heading to the holy lands to attend the ritual.”
After that, rumors spread like wildfire. Some speculated the queen would also come out to attend the ritual. The people flocked to the streets, eager to see even from a distance this queen who had caused the miracle of the Lark tree.