As the king entered and departed the city, a time-honored custom dictated a stop at the palace to pay homage to Sang-je. This mysterious tradition had always been upheld without fail. Rather than viewing Sang-je as an imposing king, the rulers saw themselves as guests and Sang-je as their gracious host. This practice was their way of displaying respect.
Kasser instructed his warriors to wait outside, venturing into the palace alone. Inside, a priest rushed forward, bowing deeply.
“I seek an audience with His Holiness,” Kasser declared. “It’s a matter of great urgency. Convey the message promptly.”
The priest’s expression showed concern as he replied, “Your Highness, the Fourth King, His Holiness is currently in prayer. He has strictly commanded not to disturb him. The prayer chamber’s doors must remain closed until he emerges.”
Meanwhile, the knight who had previously exchanged heated words with the city warriors stood within the palace walls, growing restless as he waited for an audience with Sang-je.
“How much longer must I wait?” Kasser inquired.
“Forgive me, Your Highness, but I cannot provide an estimation,” the priest replied humbly.
“I cannot wait indefinitely today,” Kasser’s tone was resolute. “Nor can I wait for His Holiness to choose to open the chamber. This matter brooks no delay. If I’m unable to meet with him now, I shall return to the kingdom immediately.”
The priest found himself without words. He lacked the authority to halt the king, the bravery to knock on the firmly sealed door of the prayer chamber, and the ability to gauge priorities. There existed no law mandating the king’s audience with Sang-je before departing the Holy City.
“I will leave one warrior behind. He will wait and see His Holiness.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Turning around, Kasser muttered to himself. “Good. It feels like things are going well from the start.”
He had fabricated a story about an incident at the kingdom’s seed repository. For the plan to work, the incident had to be substantial enough to require the king’s personal intervention, yet not big enough to cause widespread rumors. He had meticulously prepared the story, but if Sang-je had probed too deeply, it would have required additional careful work.
While they had previously agreed on the story, if Sang-je had scrutinized the situation, there would have been gaps in the narrative. If Sang-je had requested a knight to accompany them to assess the situation, that would have posed difficulties as well.
He doesn’t seem to be in the palace right now.
Eugene had informed him that while Sang-je used prayers as an excuse not to be seen outside, he was on his way to meet Alber.
For a moment, he was tempted to take Eugene and leave the city like this. But for now, he had to go alone. He needed everyone to think that the king had left for the kingdom alone, leaving his wife behind in the Holy City.
Kasser swiftly exited the palace. It would be better to leave the palace as quickly as possible before Sang-je emerged from the prayer chamber. He mounted his horse, which was waiting for him, and turned to his warriors.
“Let’s go. We’ll ride at full speed until midnight.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
They rushed through the Holy City. Riding horses instead of carriages was prohibited within the city, so as they passed, the people who were walking stopped and watched or murmured in surprise.
The day had fully dimmed, and the gates had long been secured. The knight stationed at the gate observed the figures approaching, his posture wary. Upon recognizing Kasser, he bowed his head.
“Open the gate. We’re returning from the palace,” Kasser instructed.
Recalling the urgency that the warriors from the Fourth King’s realm had displayed earlier, the knight deduced that the king and his warriors had hurried here in response to some news. Swiftly, he gestured for the gate to be unbarred. Once the king and the warriors had crossed the threshold, they melted into the encompassing darkness.
Some time later, a squadron of knights arrived at the gate, only to find the king and his warriors conspicuously absent.
The leading knight grumbled in vexation. They had been discreetly assigned to track the king’s movements during his palace visit. Learning belatedly that the king had left without announcing his departure to Sang-je—an unprecedented breach of protocol—they had rushed over, their thoughts tangled in bewilderment.
The knight pulled the reins to redirect their course and proposed, “Let’s make our way to the palace. It seems prudent to meet with His Holiness and gather his perspective on the matter.”
Without specific guidance from Sang-je regarding this unusual turn of events, the knights pivoted and set their course back toward the palace.
Nearly midnight approached when the prayer chamber’s door finally creaked open. Sang-je’s tone was sharp as he turned his attention to the priest, seeking answers about the king’s recent departure from the city.
“Are you telling me that everyone just watched as the king left? And isn’t it well past the gate closure? Do you not grasp that once they’re shut, they remain sealed without my authorization?”
The priest trembled visibly, bowing deeply in apology. “I beg your forgiveness, Your Holiness. But there seemed to be no way to detain the Fourth King, who claimed pressing matters in the kingdom…”
Sang-je’s forehead remained creased. “Can you assure me that only the king and his guards departed the Holy City?”
“Yes, Your Holiness. There’s no room for doubt.”
Summoning the warrior who had awaited the king’s return, Sang-je probed into the situation. The warrior recounted the story of a fire erupting at the kingdom’s primary seed repository. The inferno had shattered the seeds and unleashed a formidable lark.