The multitude encircling the palace surpassed her wildest imaginings. The crowd amassed so densely that there was no vacant space to be seen. She had never witnessed such a throng of people in this world before.
The rhythmic singing, now seen with her eyes in addition to being heard, was far more overwhelming than when it had merely echoed in her ears.
Eugene found it difficult to fathom that such a multitude had assembled to sing for her.
One by one, those who had noticed her presence ceased their singing. In an instant, the melodious chorus gradually dissolved into silence. For a brief moment, the murmurs within the crowd seemed to swell before gently receding.
Eugene sensed the collective gaze of the crowd fixed upon her. An inexplicable anxiety washed over her, akin to an actor thrust onto the stage unprepared, causing her to momentarily panic. The only recourse she had was to stand resolutely, anchoring her legs to prevent them from giving way. She bit her lip and managed to lift one hand ever so slightly.
A brief, stifling silence ensued, followed by an explosive outpouring of cheers.
“May you enjoy robust health!”
A deafening cacophony enveloped her. Eugene couldn’t tear her eyes away from the jubilant people with contorted faces who were shouting with fervor. Though their features were scarcely discernible from her vantage point, their joy and goodwill radiated clearly. It was a surreal occurrence.
Overwhelmed by a tumultuous mix of emotions, Eugene closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again.
I haven’t done anything for these people yet.
Nevertheless, they cheered for her simply because she was their queen, wholeheartedly celebrating her pregnancy. Such unadulterated and one-sided goodwill was a sensation she had never encountered before.
For the first time, the notion of being a ruler and serving her people resonated deeply within her.
Until this moment, Eugene had known the joy of anticipating the birth of her child and reveling in her love for her husband. Her happiness had been deeply personal, and her aspirations had revolved around “their home” rather than the kingdom itself.
But now, a profound transformation had stirred within her. She grasped the weight of her role as queen and yearned to make a difference not just for herself, but for the well-being of a greater multitude.
Eugene delicately held the edges of her skirt with both hands and gracefully inclined her waist toward the exultant crowd.
The ensuing cheers felt as though they could shake the very earth and sky, rendering the earlier clamor a mere jest. Eugene slowly straightened herself, radiating a brilliant smile. The fear that had engulfed her just moments before had vanished completely.
Eugene’s presence on the palace balcony was brief. Once she exited the room overlooking the palace walls, the crowd that had gathered there naturally dispersed. The cacophony that had echoed from the palace walls now faded, and the palace returned to its customary serenity. However, Eugene’s perception of the palace had undergone a transformation. It now stood before her as a fortress safeguarding the kingdom.
Setting aside her restless thoughts about Lima’s childbirth, she resolved to concentrate on her current responsibilities. If Charlotte hadn’t suddenly appeared earlier, she would have met with Molly as planned. Although the meeting had been indefinitely postponed, Eugene had given instructions for Molly to be brought in as originally scheduled.
Molly remained under confinement, awaiting her trial. Infiltrating the palace at someone else’s behest was a grave offense, and even though Molly’s confession carried substantial weight as evidence, it couldn’t completely absolve her of guilt. Nevertheless, given her previous actions, she received relatively humane treatment for a criminal. Therefore, there was no need for elaborate procedures to arrange a separate meeting with Molly.
Upon seeing Eugene, Molly immediately prostrated herself on the ground, trembling and unable to utter a word. It was a stark contrast to her previous demeanor when she had faced Eugene without difficulty.
Eugene couldn’t help but wonder if this was Molly’s true nature.
Eugene had initially intended to engage in a conversation, but it now seemed like quite a challenging endeavor. She posed only a few questions to Molly regarding hypnotism.
Molly explained that she underwent regular baptisms, during which she would inscribe sacred symbols on the ground, sit upon them, and offer prayers. A divine radiance would emanate from the earth, and by absorbing this light into her being, her faith would grow stronger to the point where she was willing to sacrifice her life for the gods.
Eugene inquired, “Does your faith diminish without these baptisms?” Molly fell into a prolonged silence before responding in a self-reproachful tone, “My soul is weak, that’s why.”
Eugene contemplated whether the Tanyas sent by Rodrigo before Molly shared similar personality traits with her. Those with low self-confidence often displayed a profound reliance on deities and were more susceptible to the allure of sorcery.
Eugene speculated that perhaps Rodrigo had learned that sorcery from Mara, reasoning that since Mara was a lark, he couldn’t master sorcery himself. To decipher the ancient tribal library’s pilfered texts, a collaborator would have been necessary. It might have been someone like Alber, who had forged a pact with Sang-je, or priests manipulated as experimental subjects by Sang-je.
Could Mara’s ally be a wanderer? Eugene pondered. The hypnotic sorcery carried inherent risks depending on the user’s intentions, and wanderers wouldn’t have been ignorant of these dangers if they had indeed delved into its study. Yet, they had taught Rodrigo how to harness its power.
Wanderers likely forged pacts with the larks, similar to the elders, Eugene mused aloud. They had made self-serving decisions in the best interest of their tribes. Eugene could comprehend, to some extent, why they had felt compelled to make those choices. The fear of their tribes, painstakingly sustained over generations, facing the brink of extinction had driven them.
However, Eugene pondered, Understanding their motives doesn’t necessarily equate to condoning their actions. Her connection with Aldrit compelled her to maintain a balanced perspective, resisting the urge to interpret situations overly favorably for them.
Wanderers aren’t inherently ‘good,’ she reminded herself, contemplating the complex web of alliances and motivations. Just because the wanderers assist us doesn’t automatically make Mara ‘good’ either. While they did share a common adversary, Eugene acknowledged that there was no universal law dictating that an enemy of one’s enemy must be a friend.