“Did the previous King know?” Eugene asked.
“I’m not sure,” Kasser replied.
That question troubled Kasser deeply.
[“Son, do not trust Mahar.”]
The King’s final words were cryptic. It was unclear what he knew, why he abandoned his birth mother and younger sister in such a manner, or whether it was intentional. Everything remained shrouded in uncertainty.
Whether the King knew or not, it doesn’t matter, Kasser thought.
Although he had never harbored any resentment during his upbringing, he had regarded the king as faultless. However, this incident left him disillusioned.
My birth mother never trusted the King. It means the King didn’t place that level of trust in the woman who bore his child. It’s entirely the King’s responsibility.
Yet, Kasser couldn’t determine if he had the right to feel disappointed. After all, he had married Anika solely for the purpose of securing an heir. For the late king, marriage was merely a means to an end. That’s why the presence of the woman in his arms now felt like a miraculous occurrence.
“Eugene,” Kasser called softly.
“You must have faith in me. Never question my trust in you, no matter the circumstances.” Kasser trembled at the haunting possibility of a tragedy reminiscent of his parents’ past. Such a dreadful occurrence should never be repeated.
“Yes, I trust you,” Eugene replied. To her, it sounded less like a command and more like a plea for trust. That’s why, even though she was the one cradled in his protective embrace, it felt as though she was the one comforting him. It felt comforting and endearing. She smiled and gently patted his back with her hand.
Pides was deeply engrossed in his meditation within the prayer room when a gentle knock disrupted his tranquility. He always entered the prayer room at the same time, and every priest knew not to disturb him unless it was an urgent matter.
Emerging from his meditative state, Pides opened the door and immediately recognized the familiar face of the priest standing before him, causing a wide smile to spread across his face.
The young man, who was around the same age as Pides, lowered his head in a respectful bow.
“It has been quite a while, hasn’t it?” Pides remarked.
“Yes, it has been a long time since I last greeted you,” Joseph replied.
Both Pides and Joseph entered the sanctuary around the same time. Despite their different roles as a knight and a priest, they shared a deep faith and possessed calm personalities. It was uncommon for such a friendship to form between a priest and a knight, given the invisible barrier that often stood between them.
However, their paths diverged four years ago when Joseph entered the sanctuary. From that point on, they were unable to meet freely. The sanctuary stood as a secluded space within the Holy City’s Palace, enclosed by towering walls. Its narrow door, allowing passage for only one person at a time, remained tightly shut.
In the realm of priests, there were no official ranks. However, those who belonged to the sanctuary enjoyed special privileges. Only a select few with unwavering faith and exceptional abilities were chosen for this esteemed calling. It was a coveted position that any priest would aspire to attain.
Yet, those who entered the sanctuary were bound to a secluded existence, cut off from the outside world. Rumors circulated that they immersed themselves in divine rituals within the sanctuary’s confines. Apart from Anika, only the qualified priests had access to the secret library housed within the Holy City’s Palace.
Upon hearing the news of Joseph’s induction into the sanctuary, Pides couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret, unsure of when they would have the chance to meet again. However, receiving the calling of the sanctuary was a tremendous honor for any priest. Thus, Pides sincerely congratulated his friend with genuine joy.
“I apologize for the interruption. I have something important to discuss with you. Can we find a quiet place to talk?” Joseph asked.
“Don’t worry. Let’s find a secluded spot,” Pides replied.
Joseph scanned their surroundings, ensuring there were no prying ears nearby.
“Pides, could we speak inside the prayer room? I hope our conversation won’t draw attention.”
Pides’ expression tensed slightly. Joseph’s demeanor and tone betrayed his unease.
“Very well. It’s my scheduled time to use the prayer room, so there shouldn’t be anyone to disturb us.”
Together, they stepped into the prayer room, their time for conversation limited.
“We don’t have much time to talk. I had to sneak out secretly, so…” Joseph began, his demeanor resembling that of a person fleeing from pursuers. Pides found it perplexing. Wasn’t the Holy City’s Palace supposed to be the safest haven?
“I have forsaken the sacred path and left the palace,” Joseph confessed abruptly.
“What?” Pides exclaimed, shocked by the revelation.
When a priest entered the Holy City’s Palace, they took a solemn oath to dedicate their lives to serving God. However, that oath did not hold an unbreakable sway. Even if a priest chose to abandon their calling halfway, understanding superiors would extend forgiveness to the fallen ones. Through certain procedures, such as taking a vow of silence, a priest could depart from the Holy City’s Palace and resume a regular life.
There were quite a few who veered off the path. For every ten who entered, one would ultimately step away. Yet, as far as Pides knew, priests who entered the sanctuary seldom returned to the outside world.
“Father Joseph, what is happening?” Pides inquired, his voice laced with concern.
Pides had never encountered anyone who served God with such purity as Joseph did. Typically, individuals entered the Holy City’s Palace due to financial hardships, as becoming a priest meant their families received financial support. However, Joseph was an orphan who selflessly donated all the financial aid he received to the orphanage.
Joseph’s voice carried a heavy weight as he responded, his expression clouded with darkness, “It must be due to my lack of faith.”
Pides realized that pressing further would only add to Joseph’s suffering. He needed to be understanding and supportive.
“Where are you headed, then?” Pides inquired.
“To Delano,” Joseph replied.
When a priest chose to abandon their path, they were required to fulfill a final mission. They would journey to one of the six kingdoms and engage in voluntary work for three years. Most priests spent that time providing medical aid at relief centers operated by the kingdom.
“Before I depart, I wanted to see you, Pides, and bid you farewell. You have shown immense kindness to an orphan like me, someone who had nothing and knew nothing,” Joseph remarked gratefully.
“You’re being too humble. We will still have the opportunity to meet again in the future, won’t we? You plan on returning to the Holy City’s Palace after three years, right?” Pides asked, hoping for reassurance.
Joseph remained silent, lost in deep contemplation. Pides felt a sense of unease settle within him as he observed his friend.
Something was amiss.