“I bet you have an inkling of who the informer really is by now.”
When Kasser commended Verus to keep a close watch on Cage (Rodrigo is his real name), the informer, he did not tell Verus that Cage was indeed the high priest of the Mara order.
The pretext for the surveillance was ostensibly because he deceived the queen, not because he was a heretic. Kasser had kept Verus in the dark as he did not want his exhaustive watch to evoke Cage’s vigilance unnecessarily.
But Kasser knew it was merely a question of time before Verus found out about Cage’s identity.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“When I caught the movement of influential followers within the order making contact with him surreptitiously. But my conjecture hardened into certainty when he left the capital.”
Kasser nodded his head. He already expected it after he read about Verus’s report on his way to the Holy City for the ritual ceremony, as Verus acquired Mara order’s inside information right after Cage left the capital and found out about Knight Pides’s return to the capital.
“According to the intelligence, he is suspected of his involvement in a shady conspiracy and there’s also a speculation that there is someone else behind him who’s giving out instructions.”
“By someone else, do you mean the Great priest or the Saintess that you have commended for investigation, Your Majesty?”
“Although you said you have found no traces of their existence, it’s still hard to ignore since there have been speculations. And even if we arrest the fanatics, I don’t think we can force them into a proper confession. So instead, I am going to catch them in the act to find out what they are really up to. Their next movement is predicted to be around the period of transition from the dry season to the active period. Until then, don’t take your eyes off them and beware not to arouse their suspicion. Don’t leave them any room for doubt.”
“I will keep your words in mind, Your Majesty.” Verus said.
“You may leave now.”
Kasser lowered his gaze to one of the reports that Verus had brought and started reading. But somehow, Verus hesitated before he gave his reply.
“Is there anything else to report?”
“The queen had given me her order to carry out an investigation on Cage before. I would like to ask if there is any information I should keep confidential before I give Her Majesty my reports on the findings.”
“After what he had done to the queen, every information about him is fully shared between me and the queen. There is no need for you to give your reports to her again.”
Normally, Verus would have appreciated king’s consideration for lessening his work. But not this time, as he had received a special command before he came to the palace today.
His wife, who was invited to the place by the queen a couple of days ago, had dropped by his office on her way back home, looking heavily flustered.
[What on earth has happened? What is going on around? Did something happen in the palace?]
He asked her with concern if something unpleasant happened during the gathering with the queen. But Charlotte was looking rather flushed with excitement as she spoke up.
[That’s what I want to ask you. When was the last time you met with the queen?]
[…About a month ago I believe.]
[Tell me exactly. Did you actually speak to the queen or did you just give your greetings?]
[I had paid my visit to the queen as she asked to see me.]
[Yet it didn’t come to your notice? That there’s something different about Her Majesty?]
[What do you mean?]
[The queen seemed like a totally different person!]
Although he sensed a strange unfamiliarity when he met with the queen about a month ago, he didn’t actually give much thought to it. As in his opinion, it wasn’t such a significant change for his wife to show such a dramatic response to it.
He had never had a long conversation with the queen in the first place, so he presumed the same for his wife. But Charlotte gave him a pathetic look as he seemed speechless.
[And you call yourself a Chancellor when you are this tactless?]
[I never knew you were on visiting terms with the queen.]
[I am not. It has nearly been a year since I last met with the queen. But couldn’t you tell right away? From her expression to her way of speaking. Even her gaze looked different.]
Verus got another scolding from Charlotte for his insensitivity when he gave her his honest opinion.
[I was well aware that she was now being addressed as the queen, but it just felt so strange to actually address her differently. As you know, she always insisted on being addressed as Anika before. And I bet you remember the incidents occurred due to her insistence.]
[Yes, I do remember.]
[She was unusually genial towards Lady Waze as well. Although it was a long time ago, I had seen her treating Lady Waze in a very different manner…anyhow, there must be an explanation for the sudden changes in her behavior. But what could it be? There’s no distinct reason for Her Majesty to afresh her relations with Lady Waze who has no significant influence in high society anymore.]
Verus had a bad feeling as he watched his wife who had started to mutter to herself. His wife, the Count Charlotte Oscar was widely known as a woman of composed disposition in a somewhat aloof manner as she hardly shows her feelings outwardly.
However, there was a hidden side of her which only her family knows about. Charlotte hardly takes interest in things going on around her, but she could be persistent once she gets intrigued by something.
Verus knew very well about her persistent nature more than anyone else from his experience. In the year he came of age, he got entangled with Charlotte who was five years older than him and before he knew it, he found himself walking down the aisle with her.
[What plausible excuse do you think I can give to meet with the queen again? In a more natural manner rather than an audience…. Why don’t you try to arrange a meeting?]
[Just come up with some good excuses. A dinner for example, that sounds like a good occasion.] His wife looked adamant in meeting with the queen again, that Verus found himself deliberating.
[…A dinner?] He had suggested.
Apart from his sense of loyalty, the king’s presence has always intimidated him somehow. Therefore, he was content with his current relationship with the king where he just has to faithfully follow the command and give his reports whenever necessary.
What in the world was he supposed to do sitting across from the king during the whole dinner when he couldn’t even think of things to say during the dinner with his own father?
But even Verus Ricksen, who was known as the Iron Chancellor, had an unexpected side as he was indeed a henpecked husband who never dared to contradict his wife, Charlotte. The initiative was taken by Charlotte before marriage and things didn’t turn around differently even after they were married.
Verus was very much committed to Charlotte like he was to the king but just in a different way and he needed to report his progress to her tonight.
He had beat his brains out and decided to find a chance to propose the dinner during his audience with the queen, as asking the king himself was out of his question. But his so-called plan had come to naught even before he could try.
‘I shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.’
It was now impossible for him to pay a visit to the queen when the king himself had told him there was no need to.
“Your Majesty, I have an urgent report to make.”
Chamberlain’s voice was heard from outside. And when he was allowed to enter, he got himself right to the king and placed a round container on the table.
“It is an urgent telegram from the Holy City delivered by the homing pigeon. It seems to contain top secret information.”
Chamberlain’s face had stiffened with tension as this was the first time they received a top secret telegram from the Holy City.
Kasser opened the container and unrolled the telegram on the spot. His brow furrowed as he skimmed through the short message. When Kasser looked up from the telegram to give his orders to his chamberlain, he spotted Verus who was still standing nearby.
“You may leave now.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Although Verus was curious, he left the room right away as he knew he would eventually be told if it was something he needed to know. And whatever related to the Holy City was not under his jurisdiction anyway. He walked down the corridor rather light-heartedly as he now had a reasonable excuse to tell Charlotte.
The chamberlain came out running to inform the queen in obedience to the king’s order. And when Eugene arrived at the king’s office with the chamberlain, everyone left immediately as she entered.
In the office where they were now alone, Kasser showed Sang-Je’s telegram to Eugene.
“So… he’s asking me to come to the Holy City. You expected more than a month.”
“I did. As it will take at least a month for the knight to travel back to the Holy City and then come back again to the capital with Sang-Je’s orders. But looks like Knight Pides had sent a letter to Holy City beforehand.”
“…Sang-Je then sent this telegram as soon as he received that letter.”
– In the name of Mahar,
This was the first line written on the telegram. It was to suppose Sang-Je as the sole emperor of the world as ‘Mahar’s will’ is considered as an imperial order. It wouldn’t be a wise idea to go against him unless one intends to sever relations with him.
Sang-Je requested the queen’s prompt departure upon the knights’ arrival as he had sent a number of his knights to escort Jin Anika to the Holy City. Maybe it’s just a feature of a telegram but Sang-Je’s message felt like a command rather than a request as it was brief and stern.
“Does Sang-Je often summon people through telegrams?” She asked.
“Sometimes, only on rare occasions. But it’s quite exceptional of him to summon an Anika in this manner because normally, at least more than ten knights would be dispatched to escort an Anika throughout the whole journey.”
“Was the Lark tree really a big enough incident for Sang-Je to make such an exceptional move? I don’t understand why he’s making such a fuss about it….”
Kasser broke into a smile at the sight of Eugene grumbling to herself. “Of course it was a big incident. You are the only one who begs to differ.”
He smirked as he remembered the time in the Holy City where Eugene sprouted the seed to summon a Hwansu from the lake. No Anika in the world would use their Ramita like the way Eugene did.
When a small tree sprouted from the seed, she looked around her surroundings and crouched down to start digging up a small hole on the ground to plant the tree. And after that, she just casually dusted her hands as she walked away from it without any hesitation. It was rather him who had his eyes lingered on the tree as he looked back several times while he walked away with her.
The tree sprouted by Anika is considered a sacred hallow which holds God’s power. There would be thousands of people from all around the world who would be obliged to exchange all their fortunes with a sacred hallow, scrambling to get hold of the holiness.
Eugene surely was an Anika who possessed a powerful Ramita beyond imagination. However, everything still felt surreal to him and Eugene herself was not fully conscious of her own power as well.
As if one’s appreciation for gold gradually decreases once surrounded by it, her indifference to her own ability had affected him eventually.
Just a few days ago, he saw a vision of water filling the whole bedroom, but he was more surprised by himself for feeling relatively calm at the astonishing phenomena which had unfolded right before his eyes.
“Just because I received this urgent telegram, it doesn’t mean I can depart right away. I have my own circumstances too.”
“There is no use complaining, as Sang-Je’s knights are likely to arrive in two days at the very least.”
Eugene pouted her lip as she was displeased.
“Is something wrong?”
“No… it’s just because everything I had planned for this dry season in the last active period has come to naught as he took the liberty of scheduling my trip to the Holy City. It’s very annoying actually as I would have gone by myself when the time was right.”
Kasser fixed his stares as if he was bewitched at Eugene’s drawn looking face while she muttered her discontents to herself. And from the way she fell quiet, contemplating on whatever thought that flashed across her mind, to her face breaking into a smile when her eyes met with his… Kasser just couldn’t keep his stares away from her even for a moment.
Kasser looked down on her face as she fell into his arms. He found himself blindly nodding his head at her.
“What do you say to invite a few more people to the Holy City?”
“Who do you want to invite?”
“I’m thinking of inviting the officials’ wives who had not visited the Holy City for a while because of their husbands. I have recently met with six ladies, and I think they will like my idea as well, as a way to reward them for restraining themselves even though there’s no such rule forbidding their visits to the Holy City.”
“That sounds like a great idea. Do as you like.”