On the second day of my birthday celebration, a priest from the Ar Xia church would perform a blessing ceremony for me. As soon as their plain carriage arrived in the morning, today’s plans went out the window like yesterday.
Earl Thelesia raised his voice in surprise as soon as he saw the priest who had gotten off the carriage. Faris? Wasn’t the name of the priest who was coming today, Armenes? I felt this was odd, and Earl Thelesia respectfully bowed his head.
The priest was dressed in a white priest’s robes, a veil and with a black shawl on their shoulders. They held a sword and staff, which was taller than their body, in their hands, and it was hard to determine both their age and gender. The tip of the staff was decorated with a triangular symbol that represented scales, and the circlet that was holding their veil in place had an ornament that resembled a third eye. Each was a symbol of the Xia church and the person who held the spirit of Misorua held the scales to weigh evidence; the eye was a symbol of how the Xia church could see through one’s sins; and the sword represented order and punishment.
Just before I paid homage to them, our eyes met for a split second. Their pure black pupils, which didn’t allow any bias, gave me goosebumps.
“Siegmund. It’s been a while.”
Their voice seemed like a woman talking in a slightly low voice, but it also seemed like a man talking in a slightly high voice. Their gender become even harder to determine. Recently, Kamil has been acting like a page, so he took that person’s shawl for them. I could see the priest’s shoulder line, but I still couldn’t determine their gender.
“What happened to Armenes-dono?”
“He’s busy around this time of the year, helping pray at spring festivals in different places. He’s really fatigued right now, so I’m replacing him today.”
Their skin and face still seemed young and vibrant like a teenager’s, but their tone and attitude seemed like that of an old person. But for some reason, it didn’t feel out of place.
Earl Thelesia and the priest walked towards the mansion, and I followed after them in silence. The priest named Faris met my eye as soon as they got off the carriage, but they didn’t pay attention to me at all after that. I can guess how high-ranking this priest is since the Earl permitted the priest to act this way.
There were clear distinctions between priests and other clergies. Priests receive their position from the King, and would carry out various rituals for both the royal palace and the church; they belonged to both the royal palace and the church. Since this priest is disrespecting me, even though I’m a Viscountess, they must at least be a high priest… Comparing that with noble ranks, they had the same status as a senior earl. Why did such an important person give their subordinate a day off to come all the way here?
“When will the ceremony be?”
“It’s planned for noon.”
Faris walked with long strides at a fast pace. I was impressed by how well the priest was handling their long priest’s robe as they walk, and jogged as not to be rude. I occasionally recall that having a child’s body is rough.
“At noon? I arrived too early. Well then, is it alright if I take a look at the garden in the meantime?”
“Of course. Please allow me to show you around.”
Earl Thelesia glanced at Kami and I as he stood in front of the priest. He probably wants us to return to the mansion first. We slowed down, and the two quickly disappeared to the back of the building. Kamil and I were left behind, and, for some reason, there was an awkward silence as we entered the silent mansion.
Kamil was peeking at me, so that awkward silence might have been caused because I was quiet. However, I was swayed by emotions I couldn’t control last night, and it was a little annoying, so I couldn’t even look at him.
There is no prayer room in the Golden Hill Mansion. There wasn’t enough time to build one in the mansion, so the ceremony will be held in a small church to the south. Mansions that belong to the feudal lord usually have a prayer room in them… but apparently, the head of the Kaldia House many generations ago destroyed the prayer room that was in this mansion. However, there aren’t any records from that time around, so I don’t know what had happened. Because such a thing had happened, I’m also interested in knowing why we haven’t been excommunicated from the church yet.
The servants in the mansion had cleaned and purified the church. I think… the inside of the church resembled the chapels in my previous world. It probably felt that way to me because it seemed vaguely western and religious. Although I felt that it resembled a chapel, I actually don’t remember most of the features of a chapel. My previous life’s memories were already becoming vague after having spent six years already in a completely different world and culture. Obviously, since they were just shallow things unrelated to my life.
The inside of the church was deep, and there was an altar in the innermost part of the church. The altar was decorated with a large scale, and the symbol of the Ar Xia church, the third eye, was drawn on the tiles of the wall. I had almost nothing to do with religion in my previous life so it felt bizarre, and I couldn’t help but squint. Or, maybe, it’s simply because the light coming down from the stained glass was just too dazzling for me. Under the stained glass, priest Faris was waiting for me, with sword and staff in hand, at the altar.
White cloth fluttered at the edge of my vision. It was from the ceremonial robe that I was wearing. There were no decorations on it since it was made especially for this ceremony. It was tailored gorgeously, and the hem of my skirt and veil were just long enough to drag on the ground. I put up with the weight while progressing to the altar.
This ceremony was attended by very few people: the presiding priest, the person who would receive the blessing, the person’s guardian if they were a minor, and a non-family member as a witness. Those were the only people who needed to attend the ceremony. Thus, it was only the priest, Kamil, the Earl and me. A person needed to get rid of their sins to receive the blessing of God, so the sins of the person being blessed were judged in this ceremony. So it was more confidential compared to the other ceremonies.
The state religion of Arxia is the Ar Xia church. The religion of the church is called Xia’s teachings, and they dealt with a lot of things. A millennium ago, St. Ahar founded the Ar Xia Holy Kingdom, creating the Xia religion’s largest sect, the Ar Xia church. Since St. Ahar was a direct descendant of the Xia church founder, the shrine maiden Xia Fema, they were often called the Orthodox Church.
Common between all the Xia sects were the concepts of sin, judgement and law.
In all the Xia sects, the ‘Sacred Code’, a book of holy words left behind by the founder, Xia Fema, was treated as the holy scriptures of the church. This book contains an advanced law system that is still being used today and is important to the Xia church, as it maintains order in society, and gives life a reason.
I reached the altar and kowtowed myself at the priest’s feet, then he tapped me on my shoulders.
“I shall begin the ceremony of blessing now. Daughter of Ouwe, Eliza, raise your face and know your sins.”
I raised my face according to Faris’s instructions. The left dish of the scales on the altar indicated sins, and the right represented virtues. It was customary for nobles with fiefs, they put the ‘Sacred Code’ on the left side, and grains on the right.
… Therefore, when I was what was actually there, I stopped breathing for a moment.
On top of the roll of parchment, in the left dish, was a poisonous leaf that I knew well.
On top of the bundle of golden wheat in the right dish was another poisonous leaf for some reason. There was also a tiny, withered wild-flower there as well, as if it were hiding in the leaf’s shadow.
That’s… Why is that here…? I felt shocked as if I had just been hit on the head. My heart was beating so hard it was painful. My throat cramped, and I forgot to breathe.
Priest Faris smiled like the Holy Mother as he looked directly at the agitated me. Then, he turned back to the scales and dropped stones onto the plates as if he was playing a game. The scales shook with a clash, and the sight of Radka shaking behind the prison bars flashed through my head.
My mouth flapped open and closed. Words I didn’t understand rose in my throat, but none of them made it out since they were stuck at the back of my throat.
“… Hmm. The scales are tilted to the right. This makes up for your sins. Therefore, confronting your own sins shall be your punishment.”
My brain felt completely numb, and Faris’s voice swirled dully around. Earl Thelesia softly tapped me on my back as I stared at the scales in a daze, and I could finally squeeze out the breath that had been stuck at the back of my throat.
The poisonous leaf that was placed on both plates. It’s bright green colour attracted my gaze.
Since when did they know? Why do they know? Was it Earl Thelesia who knew? Or did priest Faris find out somehow? My body trembled at the fact that somebody already knew about my grave sin. As if my heart was being filled with ice water, my head went dull, and my hands and feet felt chilly.
“Never forget your sins. ――― Now then, you shall receive Misorua’s blessings.”
Faris’s bright red lips curved up. Then, he pointed beyond the scales.
“Look, Kaldia’s daughter. You pitiful child full of wounds. You need to look at yourself first before facing God.”
There was a full-length mirror there. In the reflection was a cruel-looking Eliza Kaldia, and her blood-red eyes stared back at me.
My body felt paralysed. My heart was almost crushed by the priest when he called me Kaldia’s daughter.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the mirror. I knew it was a virtual image, but I felt like my smile was going to warp into madness the moment I stopped looking. The priest appeared behind me in the mirror and smiled cheerfully as they pulled the veil from my head.
Finally, I froze. It was an illusion.
The me reflected in the mirror looked more like my father than ‘Eliza’. My straight hair that went straight down my back without curling, and my face that had no make-up on. It was as if my father was right there.
In the next moment, someone lifted me up, and I was floating in the air. “What…” I met Earl Thelesia’s eyes when I started talking. I was certainly reflected in his quiet eyes and was able to swallow down the words that had gradually risen to my mouth.
“This is the end of the ceremony. The young child is surely tired from this ceremony. Let her rest well.”
From behind, Faris’s voice intertwined with their laughter and seemed as if it was chasing my back. I felt an uncanny sense of fear, and even though I knew it was shameful, I clung to someone’s neck.
The left dish of the scales represented my ‘sins’. The roll of parchment listed the names of the 138 people who had died in this fief after I was born, and was managed by Earl Thelesia. And, that poisonous leaf. ――― The people who I had let die, and murdering my family with my own hands. I fully understand that those are my sins. But do they want to make those sins flicker before my eyes now? Now that I have started my education to become a feudal lord of this fief? What for?
I clung my shivering body tightly onto the neck to the point of pain. My fingertips were white, and the place where my nail peeled off yesterday were sore and oozing with blood.
“Tsar, calm down.”
Kamil gently stroked my back as if he could see right through me. I loosened my grip on him. Then, I finally noticed that it was Kamil who was holding me.
“Yup, that’s right. I’m sorry for picking you up. But I couldn’t take it anymore.”
He spoke with a kind voice as he stroked my back in a constant rhyme. However, my body was still stiff, and my hands were still opened.
“I don’t know what your sins are, but I’ve ascertained that they’ve been forgiven and that you’ve properly received the blessings. Come on, take a deep breath. There, there.”
Kamil swayed gently as he comforted me. This gave me some relief, but the bitter taste in my mouth grew stronger. He was simply protecting me because I was a child, and I didn’t feel like he was a terrible guy, after all, when he spoiled me like this.
Even though my sins are unforgivable.
That priest has said that ‘this makes up for my sins’. The church is in charge of the justice system in this kingdom, meaning my crime would not be punished in the future. However, there wasn’t anything on the scale that concluded that my sins are over, but there was a book on etiquette. The atonement for my sins isn’t over yet.
I clenched my teeth so hard that my molars felt as if they were going to start ringing, so I relaxed. I took deep breaths every time Kamil patted my back and switch my thoughts.
… Everything is my responsibility, and the crime that I have committed is now known. Was it that unsettling, Eliza Kaldia? No matter how I try to change my appearance, my sins still remain, and I am still Eliza Kaldia. I look like my father? Of course I do. Most of the blood running through my veins belong to my father.
I scolded myself and calmly went over everything that frightened me. Different from the icy cold feeling I had felt during the ceremony, my blood felt as if it was boiling as it mysteriously cooled my brain and body.
It doesn’t matter who the priest is. The problem is whether or not the priest intends to do something against me. I don’t care if everything about me is exposed. I just need to know how the priest found out about this and what they intend to do.
“Kamil, let me down.”
My voice sounded cold. Kamil suddenly stopped his movements as he was just about to enter the Golden Hill Mansion.
“Let me down. I can walk by myself.”
I looked straight back at the suspicious Kamil, and he slowly let me down as if he was flinching from me.
“Thank you. I’m sorry for showing you an ungraceful appearance.”
I looked up at Kamil who had opened his eyes wide and gone silent. Two cold red eyes that looked like blood reflected in his brilliant amber eyes.