“Last journey? Does it mean you will later be settled in some kind of paradise which is solely allowed for your tribe?”
“Paradise…” The corners of Aldrit’s mouth turned up slightly into a smile as he repeated the word Eugene had just said. Although it was just a faint smile, it was the first expression she had seen on Aldrit’s dollish face.
He looked lifeless as he remained still and expressionless throughout the whole conversation with her. But the faint smile that flashed across on his face for a fleeting moment had proved that he wasn’t emotionless after all. He just didn’t show it much outwardly.
“Now that you mentioned it, the final stop to our painful life would be a paradise indeed.”
Eugene frowned after she gave a thought to Aldrit’s words. “You don’t mean death…do you?”
“That’s another way to describe it”
Eugene was speechless. To hear a young man who’s not even turned twenty saying death is a way to his paradise in such an indifferent tone, had made her feel terribly sorry for them. She never knew they were suffering to this extent.
“Can you explain what you mean by it? I think there’s a deeper meaning to it.”
“Our tribe thinks we have received a divine punishment from God. And as a result, we are leading a seemingly endless life of repentance which may not end with just one lifetime. If we ever violate our precepts while we are living, we will again be born as the tribe’s descendant in our next life. That’s the reason we describe our life as an endless journey. And our only wish is for the journey to end. We all hope this will be our last journey. So, when a funeral service is held in our tribe, we offer our condolences by hoping this was the dead’s last journey. We can only rest in peace when our journey ends.”
What Aldrit just said was not a foreign concept to Eugene, as they sounded similar to the concept of the ‘eternal cycle of birth’ and ‘reincarnation’ that she had once heard of.
“The last journey…”
It would have been easier if it was just someone from the tribe coming to have him punished in consequence of violation. Because if that was the case, she would have offered him protection, so that no one could take him away.
But the penalty of violation of their precept was heavier than any punishment in existence.
‘How can I ask him to give up his way to… his paradise.’
Eugene sighed as she knew she couldn’t hold him up any longer. She reluctantly rose from her seat to head to the audience room. She couldn’t afford to keep people waiting for any longer.
“I know you said you can’t stay for more than two nights at one place. But tonight is just your second night here. You will stay for another night before you leave, right?”
“Yes, I will. But I will leave early in the morning tomorrow. Please allow me to do that, Your Majesty.”
“You are going leave at dawn?”
Eugene was disappointed to hear he was leaving so soon but eventually nodded her head as she lowly muttered.
“…Well, it’s true that you must get moving early if you are going back to the desert. You don’t need my permission to leave as you are here as my guest. And a guest can decide to come and go anytime they want. But I will save my goodbyes for later.”
Aldrit lowered his head to Eugene with a wavering look in his eyes. She then walked past Aldrit for a few steps before she turned back to him again.
“About Hwansu, they can take the form of animals and even speak to humans as they get older. Then, do you think they can eventually evolve into something more? For example…like taking the form of a human.”
“I don’t think that is possible.” Aldrit answered in a firm voice. It took Eugene by surprise as she didn’t really expect an answer when she asked. So, she asked him again with a surprised look on her face.
“Why do you think it’s impossible?”
“I once had asked the exact same question to a wise elder in the tribe before and was told that it was impossible.”
Aldrit retraced his memory and told Eugene in the same words the elder had once said to him.
[Larks had entered the world through the gate that we opened. It means they will be subjected to the spells. When our ancestors used the incantations to conjure up the creatures, the spell strictly restricted them to ‘non-human’ creatures. And a spell works just like a law of nature, the way the sun rises every morning and sets every night. No matter how scary the creatures may be, they are just one of the many creations of God. It’s impossible for them to go against nature.]
Eugene nodded her head as she was relieved to know that her sudden doubt was just an unnecessary worry after all. It was devastating just to imagine what the world would become if the larks, which were already too powerful, had the intelligence and the sly ability to imitate human beings.
Although it was even before the sunrise, there were quite a lot of people who were already waiting for the stone gate to be opened. The soldiers then opened it at the exact time with a grand announcement.
Aldrit gazed with amazement at the way the huge stone gate was being moved, among the crowds. He had never seen such a magnificent view up close before.
As the gate opened, he walked past the ramparts while keeping in step with the crowds that were pouring out through the gates. It wasn’t easy for him to keep walking forward in such a big crowd without looking around. He felt like he would be seized by the back of his neck at any minute with someone shouting, ‘He’s a wanderer!’ out loud.
Aldrit fixed his stares somewhere at the endless desert as he kept on walking without slowing down. And the dark atmosphere of the early morning which had surrounded him before, was now replaced by the intense heat of the sun, emitting right above his head.
He finally stopped walking when people no longer came into his sight. He turned a spin from where he was standing and literally saw no one around him. It was just him alone, standing in the middle of the endless desert.
He rubbed his chest with his hand as he had felt a strangely void feeling inside. Even though this wasn’t his first time walking through the sands by himself, he somehow felt like he got left alone all of sudden. Again.
He then turned his head to his left and right like a child who was lost. And when his eyes were fixed at a steep sand hill near him, he carefully went up to the hill and saw the soaring spire of the castle which appeared far in the distance.
After staring blankly at the sight for a while, he took his heavy backpack off from his shoulders. The backpack was a gift from the queen, which he received by a servant before he left the castle.
He unfastened the bag strap and carefully took the contents out from the bag, one at a time. The bag was filled mostly with food, like dried fruits, dried meats, roasted grains and such. There was also a thin blanket with some first-aid medicines. Aldrit quickly rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand before they got teary.
He then made a deep bow on his knees at the castle in the distance after he had put all the stuff back into the backpack. He felt so overwhelmed as this was his first time being treated with generosity and kindness by someone who wasn’t from his tribe.
He had started his life as a wanderer at the age of fifteen followed by the rule of the tribe. Hence, except for a period of the year where he had to go to a designated place to learn a new knowledge from one of the tribe’s elders, he was mostly alone.
He had tried to be positive and thought it was lucky of him to have found shelter to stay during the active period in his first year of life as a wanderer. But to be honest, he was scared and lonely. He thought he was ready to face his death when he was caught by the warrior. But when he heard someone say, ‘Can you release him?’ right before he was about to die, his determination shattered with relief.
Aldrit, who was still on his knees on the ground, stared into the distant kingdom while he listened to the voice which was still ringing in his ears.
[I hope you don’t misunderstand what I am about to say as I don’t mean to diminish the sincere efforts that your tribe has put into repentance all these years. I rather think it’s very noble. But, whatever your ancestors did, all happened in the remote past. And I think your tribe had suffered more than enough to receive an absolution. Don’t you think it’s about time for you all to get free from the sense of guilt?]
As he was going to head out before the sunrise tomorrow, he had paid his last visit to the queen to express his gratitude once again. But what he heard from her after she gave her words of blessing for his journey ahead, came as a great shock to him.
[Getting on your knees is just one of many ways to beg for forgiveness. There must be other ways to repent while seeking for a future for your tribe at the same time. And I think that’s a job for a young man like you. To create a new future for your tribe. Don’t you think your children, your descendants deserve a better future?]
Aldrit, who’s eyes were closed, felt a shudder running down his spine. No one has ever told him something like that before.
All he knew until now was the knowledge he had learned in the tribe from the elders, and he had heard more than enough of all kinds of terrible sins his ancestors had committed in the past. But he had never doubted the teachings of the elders as he always thought it was his bounden duty as a descendant to beg for forgiveness on behalf of his ancestors.
Aldrit slowly opened his eyes. And his eyes were now twinkling with his new resolutions.
‘This is my duty as a descendent. But it shouldn’t be my children’s nor my descendants.’
Aldrit grabbed his backpack and sled it over his shoulders again as he stood up. He tried to think of the things he could do right now to change his tribe’s future.
And through the conversation with the queen, he realized how little he knew about his own tribe. He had never raised questions about why his tribe was labelled as the birds of ill omen or why they must live under constant threats of death.
But to get the answers to all these questions, he had to wait. As according to the rules, he must reach a certain age to be given further teachings. But then, it would take him a great deal of time before he can make a difference to the future.
Although they were called as wanderers, they still had a settlement, a refugee, where the people in his tribe could bring up their children until they were ready to start their own life as an individual wanderer.
Everyone in the tribe knew where it was but the exact location of their refugee was the superlative secret, which they had to keep with their lives.
Aldrit decided to change course, to go back to the place he had left since his fifteenth birthday. He was no longer the same young man whose only goal in life was to faithfully follow the rules of his tribe until the moment of his last breath. He was now a man with a clear goal in his life.
Chancellor Verus reported his further findings to the Mara order after his reports on the other important issues. He had faithfully carried out the confidential operation, while keeping the order under constant surveillance in obedience to the King’s commands.
The rumor about the order receiving its official acknowledgement from the kingdom seemed effective as it has helped to lower their guards, and thanks to that, his operation on securing the list of names of people related to the order was on a roll.
“Your Majesty, I have reaffirmed the fact that it’s the high priest who’s on top of the Mara order’s hierarchy system and we have found no traces of the existence of a higher rank beyond the priest.”
“…is that so.”
The king’s lukewarm responses have bothered him.
“I’ll take a further look into the matter once again.”
“No, there’s no need for that.”
It was only the high priest who had the full authority to the most confidential information within the order. This was something they have found out after years of dedicated investigation. So, the information that they could acquire was limited to the ones from the general followers.
But the investigation was still a success as they found out that the word ‘saintess’ had never been mentioned between the general followers.
“Are you keeping watch on the informer’smovement as well?”
“We have found no particular movements so far since his return to the capital and after the knight had left the capital.”
Kasser had originally planned to arrest Rodrigo. But he felt like he needed to find out about the ‘ritual’ which Rodrigo had mentioned to Eugene. For that reason, he decided to keep his eyes on him throughout the dry season.