The message Pides delivered was simple.
“His Holiness Sang-je has sent an order for you to attend the Celestial Festival this year,” he said. “You and Anika Flora have been given the honor of assisting His Holiness in the festivities.”
Eugene had no idea what the Celestial Festival was, so she stayed quiet. She remembered learning how Sang-je would periodically present divine powers in front of others; she assumed the festival was something similar.
She hadn’t seen Flora since the last Anika meeting. She didn’t know anyone at that point and the whole meeting had come as a shock to her, but she did remember how the other Anikas had mentioned that it had been a while since they had seen Anika Flora.
Eugene hadn’t been pleased when she first met the woman, but she wanted to have a positive relationship with her if she could. As long as they weren’t at each other’s necks, it didn’t matter that they weren’t friends or anything of that sort.
But Flora seemed to have other things on her mind. She had a complicated relationship with the impostor. A simple apology just would not suffice.
Besides, what does Sang-je think he’s doing ordering me around like this? He’s not even human, let alone God, she thought to herself. But she knew she couldn’t say any of that out loud.
So, instead, she said, “I don’t know if I’m worthy of performing such a great task. I’d like to meet with His Holiness to understand the responsibilities before fully committing.”
Pides nodded. “As you say, Anika Jin,” he said. “Shall I tell His Holiness to expect your visit soon?”
“Then, this should be kept quiet for now. As you know, we must keep rumors about the Celestial Festival at bay until the date and attendees have been announced.”
“Yes… of course.”
The knight offered her a curt nod. “Then I’ll be off. May Mahar’s blessing be with you.”
He got up from the sofa and bowed.
A memory from some time ago in the same place flashed before Eugene.
“Sir Pides, I apologize for what happened that day,” the impostor said.
The knight stared at her coldly. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Eugene had never seen the man look at anyone that way.
“It’s just a joke,” the impostor insisted.
“Anika Jin.” His voice was hard. “Giving someone a drugged drink is not a joke. How can you say that it is?”
Eugene was shocked. She realized what had happened: the impostor had drugged Sir Pides’ drink. Did she want to take advantage of him?What was worse was that, in the memory, Pides was so much younger. He must have only been 16.
She was mortified by the thought. Even if she wasn’t the one that did it, Pides believed it was and that was what mattered.
But there was more to the memory.
“Am I lacking in any way?” the impostor asked. “What do you not like about me?”
Pides frowned at her. “It’s not that I don’t like you, Anika Jin, but I promised to serve God above all.”
The impostor was overwhelmed by her emotions. “But what about the other knights? Are you saying that they serve God impurely?” Her voice was loud and harsh. As she looked on at the troubled knight, she clenched her teeth and mumbled under her breath, “Just you wait. I’ll have you no matter what.”
The memory ended right there. Eugene couldn’t tell how the impostor actually felt about Pides. Was it love? Pride? Something else?Regardless, she had left a mess for Eugene to clean up.
“Sir Pides,” she called after him. “Could you stay for a moment? I have a personal question I’d like to ask. It won’t take long.”
Pides nodded and sat back down.
“I know I made you uncomfortable before,” she said. “I also did something that I shouldn’t have. I thought you wouldn’t even want to see my face again. I had hoped you would be relieved that I had gotten married. But, if I may ask, why are you always the one delivering messages to me? If His Holiness is forcing you, I can speak to him about it.”
For a moment, the knight was silent. Then, he asked, “Do I make you uncomfortable?”
Eugene shook her head. “That’s not it,” she said. “It is embarrassing to admit that I have only started to realize a few things now that I’m married, one of them being how I must regard people more carefully. I just hoped you would not feel uncomfortable because of me.”
“Oh?” She furrowed her brows at his sudden response. “Really?”
“Yes,” Pides said. “If you have nothing else to say, then I’ll be going.”
Before Eugene could say another word, the knight was already making his way toward the door. But just before he stepped out he said, “And I wasn’t relieved.”
What? Eugene wondered as he left. Then, she remembered what she had said.
“I had hoped you would be relieved that I had gotten married.”
How weird, she thought. Pides rejected the impostor when she was clinging to him, so why is he acting this way now?
She shook her head. I can’t let Kasser know that. It wasn’t that she thought her husband was sensitive to what she had just learned, but she knew that he would see the strangeness in it and he wouldn’t react positively. She decided that she would just pretend like she didn’t know a thing.
“What happened?” Kasser asked when she finally went to see him.
Although Pides had told her to keep it a secret, Eugene knew that she had to tell him about Sang-je’s plans.
Her husband’s eyes widened at the details of the message. “He told you to attend the Celestial Festival?”
She nodded. “What kind of festival is it?”
“I don’t know for sure,” he told her. “I’ve never seen it. No king has ever seen it in person. It’s mostly because of the date the festival is held, it happens when the last dry season is over.”
It was known that for the kings to avoid the active season, they had to leave the Holy City at least 15 days before the end of the dry season. That only meant one thing: Sang-je’s command for Eugene to attend the Celestial Festival meant that she could not return to the kingdom.