The ashen-colored birdie – Part 3
The inner part of the castle’s pavement was made up of white marble, to represent the elegance of the best part of the capital, and blue stone, that reminded the lake Verna.
The royal family called it the ‘aquamarine garden’.
They used it to relax in the afternoon, since only a handful of people had access to it.
“Forgive me for interrupting your talk, Soft-hearted slave merchant.”
A woman showed him a graceful smile while sitting on a plain chair.
She looked to be in her early twenties, and Takumi remembered her.
“It is an honor to meet you again, Her Majesty Eluria Richtert.”
He bowed and went down on his knees, and the woman let out a stifled, soft chuckle.
“Oh my, that politeness is just a sign of your deceitful nature, is it not? I preferred you last time.”
“Guess I should be like that, then. Let’s avoid a roundabout speech.”
As soon as he finished the sentence, someone hit him on his back.
When he turned to see who did it, he found an extremely displeased Lise.
“…You are in the presence of Her Majesty. You must mind your tongue and your attitude.”
“Can’t I just apologize for what I said?”
“No. Keep going as long as Her Majesty wants.”
“Okay, fine. My Queen, can I be forgiven?”
“Yes, of course. Lise, do not bother Takumi.”
Lise hung her head with puffed cheeks at that rebuke.
“So, why was I brought here? There shouldn’t be any problems with the slaves I sent back home or with anything else.”
“Indeed. The operation was flawless, and we have not received dissensions from the surrounding countries. This result is actually quite ideal.”
As she spoke, Eluria turned to face him.
“Let me express again my appreciation for your efforts. I expect great things from Suzuran.”
“I’m glad for your words, but use the guards to call me, please.”
“Oh, was Lise not to your liking?”
“Of course not. Who would be glad of being dragged away by a holy warrior? For a moment I thought it was the inquisition.”
Several orders of clergymen acted in the name of Filia.
The most famous ones were the priests, who spread Her verb and lectured people, but among them were also the inquisition and soldier-like members, who were proficient in battle, called holy warriors.
They were similar to fighting monks, who cultivated their doctrine, protected and taught people, but they also captured the heretics and purified the sinners.
“Still… I didn’t expect the famous archbishop to be a child.”
“Those who saw her had the same reaction, but Lise is a genuine holy warrior who earned such title.”
“Indeed. My title is proof of my greatness.”
She tried to puff her chest pridefully, but missing the raw material, it looked like she overstretched herself.
Now it was clear why the Crest’s archbishop wasn’t a public figure.
“Well, at that age is better not to go around much.”
“We are not fond of exposing her to potential danger, and despite her being the genius who wrote the Law formula, Lise is still a child. Because of that, we allow her to move only in the most secure places, meaning the royal castle and the cathedral.”
“…I could manage myself, since I am not a child anymore.”
She looked depressed, but Eluria smiled happily.
“It will be a problem if you get lost, is it not?”
“It is fine as long as it does not happen.”
“That is true, but given how lovable you are, what if some brute were to kidnap you?”
“K-Kidnap me…? That sounds kind of bad.”
“It does, right? Is it not better to stay here and talk with me, then?”
Eluria hugged Lise, who was now shivering, and patted her on the head. The archbishop’s lack of freedom was probably caused by the queen’s worry, rather than her own will.
“Her Majesty, you look quite fond of your doctrine’s archbishop.”
“Eheheh… As the vessel of the Goddess’ blood, I love my doctrine and children alike, albeit Lise is allowed to be by my side only temporarily.”
“You mean officially?”
“Yes. I asked the overlord of Fortesea to let their guest of honor come and talk with me in her free time.”
Eluria smiled apologetically while the archbishop’s face clouded. Takumi shrugged his shoulder at them and let out a sigh.
“Anyhow, I’m sorry, but being lead here by a child was painful.”
“…I am not a child. Also, I have always been way more distinguished than you.”
She said in a flat, indifferent tone.
“First, to mistake me for someone of the inquisition should make you feel ashamed of yourself.”
“I’m from the slums, you know? There’s barely anything that makes me feel like that.”
“…Her Majesty, I wish for this man to get seized by the inquisition.”
“Oh my, that would be problematic.”
Lise glared at him like a child glares at its parents’ enemies, and Eluria, who should have held her reins, let out a moderate chuckle.
“Why are you looking at me like that? This is the first time we meet.”
“…It is not. I was near Her Highness during your first audience.”
Now that she mentioned it, Takumi remembered that a month before, when he stood in front of the queen, he noticed something silver moving behind the throne.
“…So that was you, huh.”
“That what? This is the worst. Seriously, not even being perceived is just the worst. I want to punish you here and now in the name of Filia.”
“It’s not my fault if I couldn’t see you from there. You’re just too short.”
“I am not. I will let you know that you are looking at the tallest among my peers.”
“You are all still children, so what’s the difference?”
“I-I am still the tallest!”
She remarked annoyed, but the truth was that she wasn’t even 1.4 meters tall, and it was even more pointless to compare herself to other children her age.
“Oh well, I’m sure you’ll grow enough in the next ten years.”
“I told you I am grown enough already! And stop patting me on the head or I will really call the inquisition, for Filia’s sake!”
As he rubbed her head, Lise slapped his hand to push it away.
Eluria, who was watching them carefully, opened her mouth.
“Forgive me, but I shall jump to her defense. I am sure that witnessing your exchange before, she now thinks that you are a bad person.”
“…No, Your Highness. I believe that he is wicked.”
She stated mercilessly, thrusting her index finger at him.
“Not only he dared to negotiate with Her Majesty, who has the Goddess’s blood flowing in her veins, but also rudely conducted himself without apologizing! I can perceive the wickedness in his soul!”
“Lise, you know quite a lot of difficult words for your age… You deserve praise.”
“Y-Your Highness, why are you also treating me as a child…?”
Feeling betrayed by her only ally, Lise started to shiver teary-eyed, and the queen warmly looked at her while repeating how cute she was.
Maybe Eluria was the real wicked one here.
“Still, you cannot cry over something like this. I know very well how skilled you are, Lise.”
“Absolutely. So, stop crying, okay?”
With a lovable smile, the queen wiped her saddened eyes.
Then, after reaffirming how cute the archbishop was with a somewhat excited expression, the other two started to ignore her behaviour.
“Well, I’m glad that you recognize other people’s worth. There’s a lot of guys who can be used if you consider their abilities alone.”
“I agree. In fact, you are one of them, and I am prepared to recognize you only to benefit from your efforts.”
“…I see. But I’m a slave merchant, so I might accept any job outside my area of expertise only after some consultation.”
“That is right… let me assign you something fitting, then.”
She carefully peered at him while wearing a smile that implied something troublesome, giving Takumi a strong feeling of deja-vu…
“Please, do not bother Her Highness.”
A frowning Lise started to hit the slave merchant’s side, but he just shrugged his shoulders.
“…Fine. You won’t mind if I go back now, right? It’s my chance to gather more contacts among nobles.”
“Yes, I will see you there. Lise, can you accompany him again to the buffet?”
“…I do not feel like it, but I will follow your order…”
With dissatisfied words, the girl bowed and grabbed Takumi’s hand before leaving the garden behind.
At first, none of them tried to start a conversation as they walked on the marble in silence, but Lise was the first to break the ice.
“Sheesh… I do not understand what Her Majesty saw into you.”
“She told you before, did she not? I have talent.”
“This is not about your talent, but your luck. You got your contacts with the guards by sheer luck. The big companies were misbehaving, and you happened to find a solution… I cannot think of it as talent or ability.”
She was firmly convinced of her words. It looked like she didn’t want to recognize Takumi, who was now dejectedly shaking his head in denial.
“I had some expectations given your role, but I guess you’re still a child.”
“…You are the worst. I will not turn a blind eye to any other attempt at treating me like a child.”
“The worst is that you stopped using your brain. The very concept of luck is something believed only by lazy people who shut their brain down. It’s not a word that can be used so easily.”
She turned her head to look at his face.
“What do you mean with that?”
“Oh, can’t you get that? Let me show you with a game, then.”
He took a silver coin from his breast pocket.
“Let’s try to flip this coin. If I get the right answer before it falls, would you believe that to be a mere fluke?”
“…Can I guess that one side is not heavier than the other, so there is not the chance of it being counterfeit?”
“Nice guess. Rest assured, this coin is perfectly balanced, so I won’t trick you.”
“Then you will guess the answer out of luck.”
“Let’s see. Try to flip it yourself.”
She stopped walking and took the coin from his hand with a puzzled expression, then adjusted it on her finger.
A clink rang from the flick of her thumb, and as soon as the coin started to spin in the air…
She heard his words clearly, and when the coin fell on her palm, it was exactly as Takumi said.
“I won. Do you think I was lucky?”
“…Of course. It was only a coincidence.”
“And if I told you I just predicted it?”
A smile brimming with confidence formed on his face.
“I took into account the strength you put into the flick, the number of spins, the time it would have taken to land, the surface it was going to hit, and I guessed the right answer. Do you think all of this is simple luck?”
“It is… not possible to do any of that. This does not count! You tricked me!”
Unable to stomach that outcome, she started to pull his clothes while protesting.
“No, I just considered the primary factors and calculated what was gonna happen. If you label it as fortune, it means that you stopped using your brain.”
She looked up at him only to see his face in profile.
“What people call ‘luck’ can be disassembled into analyzing and guessing, but you are now denying that. So, did you become archbishop for a fluke?”
“No…! I studied hard and earned my role!”
“Don’t label everything as luck, then. Everyone put effort and hard work in what they do, so it’s not right to shrug it off as simply ‘luck’.”
The despondent girl hung her head in shame, and Takumi stroke her hair lightly.
“Do you get it now?”
“…Yes. I said too much. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry. Let me tell you a little secret.”
She cocked her head, and he smiled from ear to ear.
“What you just heard was a bunch of nonsense. I got it right by sheer luck.”
“…Can I punch you really hard?”
“I think I’m understanding the queen better now. Teasing kids is fun.”
“You are the worst! And stop treating me like a child, for Filia’s sake!”
He mischievously whistled while she hit him repeatedly on the side.
Then, her hands stopped all of a sudden.
“So, are you really just lucky?”
As she lowered her voice almost to a whisper, her gaze turned to meet his.
“Let me apply your words to myself. I am lucky to be born, and I am by growing up into a noble family and being chosen by a rich person too. My ability is no exception… so is all of this blessed fortune or just misfortune?”
She enquired in a plain tone, and Takumi, seeing through her questions, snorted loudly as if he was bored.
“Sorry, I would never give up or doubt myself, so I never thought about any of that.”
She hung her head again for a few moments, then rose it again.
“That was somewhat interesting.”
“Nice. I’ll tease you again when I get the chance, then.”
“Not that part. I will call the inquisition if you dare to tease me ever again.”
She sharply glared at him, who wore a wry smile and turned to see outside, only to find that no one was there anymore.
He felt that something had changed in the air, as it grew darker and heavier.
Then, a scream thundered in the air.
“Give it a rest!”
The next moment, a voice echoed in the castle.