The recollection that came into Eugene’s head then changed into another scene, now in a different place with no one present. When it occurred to Eugene that this was a recollection of a private meeting, she heard Jin speak once again.
“I have a favor to ask of you.”
“It would be my great pleasure to be of help, Your Majesty.”
“Glad to hear that.”
Eugene was deeply astonished by this recollection, as most of what she’d seen of Jin until now was mostly her supercilious behaviors, as someone with a serious anger management problem. But alas, Jin could be a sensible person after all, knowing how to behave around the people she needed to win over.
Instead of her usual authoritative and shallow nasal-sounding voice, she spoke in an unusually amiable tone. And it was most unexpected to hear Jin use the word ‘favor’.
“I have heard a lot about your maternal grandparents who are highly reputed in the Holy City. I need their help in finding someone.”
With interest, Eugene stared at the woman before her, the one she had seen from Jin’s memory. The woman was beautiful but also had a cold exterior. Unlike the other ladies who stiffened in front of her, the woman remained composed with a serene expression on her face.
Count Oscar, the Chancellor’s wife, was the person Eugene was most eager to meet among everyone she invited today. Marianne had given her unusually generous praises regarding the count, about her being a woman of few words and being well-centered as well.
‘I guess Marianne was clueless about it.’
If Marianne held any inkling about the intimate interaction between Jin and the Count, she would have told her beforehand. Jin must have met with the count behind their backs, but their interaction did not seem to have lasted for long.
Among everything Marianne had told her about Count Oscar, it was the count’s private life that intrigued her. Apparently, the count and the chancellor had married for love, and so their marriage was a great deal of scandal as a marriage of convenience was the custom in their society. But Count Oscar being older than the chancellor was the real surprise considering Verus’s fastidious appearance.
The six ladies stood by the table and lowered their heads at Eugene.
“We are very much pleased to meet you, Your Majesty.”
“Welcome and thank you for coming all the way here despite my sudden invitation.”
‘I’ll need to watch for a chance to meet with the Count in private.’
Eugene believed she would be able to figure out the favor Jin had asked if she gets a chance to talk with the count.
But today’s gathering was intended for her to get acquainted with the officials’ wives while listening to their predicaments living as the officials’ wives. As this was a public gathering, she had no notion to show her personal interest in the count today.
Eugene called Aldrit to the office instead of her study. She did not want to draw any unnecessary attention as she knew people would be bound to give a quizzical glance if she let Aldrit into her study, where she had never even allowed her servants to enter before. She could not risk Aldrit getting too much attention, considering his current circumstances.
So instead, she brought only one book out of her many old ones in her study to the office, which she had received from Rodrigo in person not very long ago. The book had most of the incantations that overlapped with the ones in her other books.
Aldrit was now examining it, as he laid it open on the sofa table while Eugene watched him across his seat. He was turning the pages with a very serious look on his face.
‘So he does know how to read.’
Eugene often forgot about the difference between the two worlds. It didn’t occur to her to ask Aldrit if he could read before she handed him the book.
Not everyone could read in this world, as most commoners who live hand-to-mouth lives did not know how to read. But a young wanderer, regarded as a lowly birth, was reading an old and difficult book effortlessly.
‘He is a learned young man.’
His manner of speaking and his choice of words indicated that he was a smart and sophisticated young man indeed. Everyone would’ve thought of him as a noble if they were not told otherwise.
‘It’s not surprising as the sorcerers were the best scholars in ancient times. They must have prioritized educating their descendants despite their harsh circumstances.’
Aldrit, who had been turning the pages of the book for quite a while, spoke with his head tilted sideways.
“There’s something odd about the incantations in this book, Your Majesty.”
“What do you mean?”
Aldrit turned the book around and showed the incantations drawn on the page to Eugene.
“I don’t know much about the spells yet, but the pictorial words that we learn as children in the tribe are used to draw the incantations.”
He then pointed out some of the symbols that were drawn on the page as he spoke again.
“But this symbol with the other one right here has completely different meanings and does not make any sense in the incantation. For example, if this symbol here indicates a herb that is used in cooking, the other one here indicates a tool that is used to build houses.”
Eugene nodded her head. Although she couldn’t read the symbols drawn in the book, she could understand what Aldrit was trying to say.
“Then what will happen if someone uses the incantation as drawn on here?”
“With this incantation, a spell would never work.”
“So, they are just a bunch of meaningless symbols. Are there any useful incantations in this book?”
The book Rodrigo gave her contained a total of nine incantations, all in their own different forms. It contained more incantations than any other books in her study as her other books only contained three incantations at most.
Aldrit sorted out two incantations in the end.
“In my humble opinion, I don’t see anything abnormal in these two incantations.”
‘Just two out of nine?’
Eugene grumbled to herself as she folded the corner of the pages as a makeshift bookmark. The book which Rodrigo had given to her, like it was some kind of rare finding, turned out to be no more than a froth in the end.
‘Did the missing pages contain the proper incantations then?’
Amongst the books in her study, there were just a few with some missing pages. Eugene had leafed through all her books in her study after she found out about the existence of incantations and noticed some odd symbols in the books that remained intact without any missing pages. This confused her as she did not know the difference between the books Jin had torn the pages from and the other books that were undamaged.
‘It’s possible that Jin could tell the real incantations from the fake ones… But how did she know about the spell?’
“Do you have any idea what these incantations can do?”
“I am not very sure, Your Majesty. But they are not strong spells as their structure is pretty simple.”
Eugene felt lost as she did not know who she could ask about the spells.
‘Seems like Marianne is at a loss too…’
It’s been a while since Eugene had asked Marianne to look for scholars who have a profound understanding of these kinds of old books, but she still hadn’t heard back from Marianne so far. Since Marianne wasn’t someone who would forget or neglect her favors, she figured she had asked something beyond Marianne’s capabilities.
“Aldrit, are you sure these are the ancient incantations that your ancestors had used in the past?
“Yes…” Aldrit answered while he glimpsed at the servants who were standing at the corner.
“You don’t have to worry about them hearing what you say, because they can’t.”
It was not an everyday occurrence for a royal to have a private conversation with someone who wasn’t from the palace. But as things always could turn ugly in the most unexpected ways at times, one must take precautionary measures during private meetings. Eugene always kept in her mind that even Jin never met with Rodrigo alone.
But, while one has their servant at their beck and call, they still have eyes and ears. There was no guarantee that they would not let slip what they saw and heard. To prevent that from happening, Eugene had appointed servants who couldn’t hear due to either sickness or incidents, for these kinds of particular circumstances.
“They can’t hear sounds. So, you can speak comfortably.”
“Ah… I see.”
Aldrit then continued talking with a lighter look on his face.
“Yes, there surely are the incantations from ancient times.”
“But you said the spells had been sealed. If so, why can I still find books about them? It isn’t hard to find these kinds of old books if I put my mind to it.”
“Spells were common knowledge that was opened to everyone in ancient times. Although the sorcerers ended up hogging the powerful spells to themselves, they did not force the people from using the spells which were already spread among the people. The kind of spells the sorcerers sealed were very different from these. They were the stronger spells that resulted from years of research the sorcerers devoted themselves to.”
“Something like the spell to avoid the Larks?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Then why are these spells now symbols that often appear in the Mara order’s ideology? How much do you know about Mara?”
“Not very much. But since the Larks appeared, people were forced into a life-or-death situation that had made their lives dreadful. So as people began to turn to God, countless religions which worshiped different existence constantly repeated to appear and disappear. But I have heard that it is Mara that is the most influential of them all.”
Eugene’s eyes widened with surprise as Aldrit just regarded Mara as just one of many religions out there in the world.
‘He just said something pretty dangerous without realizing.’
As Aldrit stared at the floor, he did not notice the way Eugene’s expression changed at his words. And so, he just continued on speaking.
“In my humble opinion… I think the religious groups are using the spells to delude people. From the way the incantations were drawn in the book, we know for sure that there are not many people who truly know about the spells. The structure of the incantations was drawn with exaggeration too.”
“You mean someone exaggerated the incantations in the book purposely to make them look as if they had profound meanings… when in truth they’re mere simple incantations for simple spells.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Eugene then remembered something she had been told by a storyteller she once met.
“The blood of sorcerers runs in my maternal grandmother’s veins. So, I clearly remember she said it was an incantation.”
“Sorcerers… Aldrit, do you know there are actual people out there who are called sorcerers?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Aldrit stared at Eugene in astonishment. Everything Aldrit knew was the knowledge he had learned from the elders in the tribe, as he never had much opportunity to speak with people from the outside.
“They seem to know about the incantations. And rumor has it that they can even tell the future. I haven’t met with them myself, so I can’t be so sure about it, but you said so yourself that there were sorcerers who were interested in foreseeing the future with their spells.”
Aldrit, who was lost in his thoughts for a moment, hung his head at Eugene before he spoke.
“I am sorry, Your Majesty, but I have no idea about the… people you have just mentioned.”
But both Eugene and Aldrit were now brooding over the same thought. They thought about the probability of these so-called ‘sorcerers’ being even remotely related to the ancient sorcerers that studied future foreseeing in the past before they decided to seclude themselves forever.
It was the knocking sound at the door that broke the silence. A servant came near to them and lowered her head before she began speaking.
“Your Majesty, there are people waiting outside to have an audience with you.”
“Alright, thank you for letting me know.”
Eugene then spoke to Aldrit after the servant had gone out.
“Aldrit, I’m afraid I have to leave now as I have other business to attend to.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Do you think you can help me again next time? There are plenty of other books I would like you to take a look at.”
Aldrit wore a troubled look on his face as he lowered his head again, his hands folded.
Eugene sighed in disappointment.
“You can’t stay?”
“I am very sorry, Your Majesty. You have been very generous to someone as lowly as me… but according to our tribe’s precepts, one can never stay at the same place for more than two nights during the active period unless it is a shelter.”
“…You mean you are going back to the desert?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“What happens if you violate the precept? Will someone from the tribe come for you?”
“We can only end our last journey if we live a life without violating the tribe’s precepts.”