My ears reddened and my fingers twitched slightly. Then… I let out a small sigh.
What was he going to say to me? What was he going to bring up? I was full of curiosity.
“I desperately need your help, Lady Saintess.”
Help, he says. Hopefully, the favor he’s asking for would be of help to me rather than harming others. Even better if it could reinvigorate me.
This time, Prince Alois gave a sad smile.
“As you know, our country is currently in support of slavery.”
I could barely resist frowning at the mention of slavery.
“… As far as I know, the slavery institution was abolished by the previous Saint—.”
I stopped my face from distorting and widened my eyes as if to ask what he was talking about. And I didn’t forget to lower my voice slightly.
“I am aware, but… But now that that person is gone…Our father is trying to revive the previously abolished slavery system.”
“…How can that be.”
I had been so focused on the affairs of the empire that I hadn’t considered such events occurring in other countries.
The Saintess did not belong to any specific nation.
This meant that I had to pay attention to, not only the empire that I resided in, but also to the various other nations on this vast continent.
In other words, I had to view all of this from an equal perspective.
I knew that there were individuals supporting the reinstatement of the abolished slavery institution. But I never would have thought that a royal family would be actively supporting it.
“You may have already guessed, but… I am against the system of slavery.”
Was that the truth? Or was he faking it?
“But I am just the fourth prince of one kingdom. The crown prince, my eldest brother, shares the same ideas as our father.”
This was actually troublesome…
Biting the soft flesh inside my mouth, I lowered my gaze, hiding the anxiousness in my eyes.
“I have come here to tell you this because I believe Your Holiness shares the same beliefs as I do.”
Alois’s eyes grew firmer, making him appear more resolute.
“…Please help me.”
“I’ve heard that the previous Saint faced considerable opposition before abolishing slavery. If our royal family resurrects slavery, this will affect many countries at their core.”
…it was hard to focus.
“I am ashamed that as a prince of my country, I am unable to solve this on my own.”
Was he saying this because he was truly unable to solve this by himself?
However, someone who was so skillful in hiding their emotions and drawing out the true intentions of others was by no means ordinary.
Hence, even if there was opposition, he could likely resolve it himself. Despite that, the fact that he was asking me for help meant…he was trying to gain something from it.
I raised my assessment of Prince Alois by a few levels.
“Your Highness, I understand what you are trying to say.”
Whether he would be helpful or harmful to me was yet to be determined.
But as they say, keep your friends close and enemies even closer. It would be dangerous to alienate myself from this kind of opponent.
“I will help you.”
“…You really will?!”
“I have no reason to lie. We are both on the same side.”
“Thank you…really, thank you so much.”
Besides, instead of staying from such a dangerous opponent, I needed to keep a close eye on them and figure out their true intentions.
* * *
I told the prince that I would send him a letter later and sent him away.
“I need to meet with their priests…and do some preliminary investigation…”
As I walked down the quiet hallway, I tied my hair, which I had tidied earlier, into a ponytail.
“Looks like I might have to overhaul slavery and the imperial law, plus there’s my hostile relationship with the emperor—”
While sorting out my chaotic thoughts, I carefully pondered over where to start.
“It would be best to stop the revival of slavery, then I can tackle other things, with that as a starting point.”
To do that, I had to first determine how much of what Prince Alois said was true.
And in order to figure that out, there was someone I had to meet now.
No matter how much I learned or read about this world…
Simply learning the long history of a country didn’t mean you understood and internalized it all. So there were times when I faced limitations.
Coming to a stop, I tilted my head and looked behind me. The hallway was empty.
I remembered the room at the end of the hallway and shook my head slightly.
“I wonder who should apologize.”
In the end, I stopped hesitating and turned around completely. The soft fabric clung to my body before fluttering away.
Soon, I arrived at the door of my destination. Then I knocked on the door with the back of my hand.
Even though I could clearly feel someone’s presence, I didn’t get a response.
I opened the door and walked in, my expression cold.
I cherished Jessie, to the point that I considered her one of my people.
In the beginning, I was suspicious and wary because I thought she was connected to those who were trying to harm me, but not anymore.
I wasn’t so stupid that I couldn’t tell when someone was genuinely pleading versus offering pleas to satisfy their self-interest.
And I wasn’t heartless enough to shake off someone who was desperately clinging to me.
Jessie genuinely clung to me. And asked me to help her. And I genuinely accepted that child.
When I opened the door and entered, a room covered in gray curtains filled my sight. The dark room seemed to reflect the feelings of their owner.
“Jessie, come here.”
“Tsk, no one’s going to notice just because you cry.”
Jessie stirred under the blanket and slowly stood up.
Even though it was a bright, sunny day, the dark curtains blocked the light from entering the room. Thanks to that, everything looked gloomy and dull.
When I saw the spiritless look on Jessie’s face as she walked up to me, I couldn’t stay angry anymore.
There’s a reason I keep saying that Jessie looks like a baby chick.
Her yellow hair did remind me of a chick, but the way she followed me like a mother hen was so cute that I often called her that.
And her delicate heart also played a part.
Jessie had a soft heart.
I always had many things on my mind but there were many times when I acted strong to avoid showing my weak side.
Because of this, I could understand her feelings to some extent.
“What did you do so well that you’re crying?”
I held her shoulders and gently scolded her, like a teacher dealing with crying children.
“I…I shouldn’t have said that…”
She mumbled and sobbing followed.
Jessie was one of the few people that I considered ‘my people’ after Reneben.
Jessie was someone who had aimed for my life, and I’ve suffered injuries because of her.
I can’t say our first interaction was good, but it didn’t change the fact that she was my person now.
“Jessie, do you think it was wrong for me to be angry at you?”
“…Of course not.”
“The temple exists for the people and yet, I was thinking of using the people because I didn’t want to lower the authority of the temple.”
For a moment, my mouth flew shut. More accurately, I was speechless.
“I was very wrong.”
This was the biggest reason why I considered Jessie ‘my person’.
She recognizes her mistakes and tries to correct them and is never too proud to apologize. She was someone who knew how to protect herself even as she sacrificed herself for others.
Many things hovered at the tip of my tongue. I lowered my gaze slightly, considering what to say, then I asked a question instead of replying.
“Jessie, what will you do if I try to take the wrong path?”
“…I am someone who tried to harm God’s blessings. I have no divine power either. The reason why someone like me is able to stay in the temple and help Lady Emilone by your side, is because you accepted me…”
I liked being recognized. I liked receiving looks of admiration and gratitude.
“Any path that Lady Emilone takes is the right path for me.”
Seeing the indescribable trust in her eyes, the rigidness on my face relaxed.
I patted Jessie’s head and made a request that was more like a demand.
“Wrong. If I am taking the wrong path, try your hardest to stop me.”
Seeing tears welling up on her baby-chick-face again, I quickly took out my handkerchief and gave it to her.
Those words almost sounded like an honest confession. And after hearing them, I felt like a burden had been lifted from my heart.
* * *
As I was taking Jessie to my room, Reneben came to visit.
The Goddess Festival was definitely still underway, so I was confused when he appeared.
Reneben rubbed the back of his neck. He almost looked embarrassed.
“I didn’t think I should be enjoying the goddess festival when Lady Emilone is alone in the temple.”
He was almost outdoing Jessie in the pureness of his expression.
Reneben seemed a little surprised to see Jessie’s puffy face behind me, but he politely acted blind.
“Why? It’s a fun time…I’d be glad if you’re enjoying yourself.”
While thinking there were better things to worry about, I reached out and grabbed Reneben.
“I am on the way to my room. If you’re free, do you want to come with me? Jessie, is that okay?”
Reneben pursed his lips and looked down.
“…I’m fine with it.”
“I’m good too.”
They both said practically the same thing. And so, the three of us naturally headed to my room.
Once we arrived at the room, Reneben took off his high priest’s robes. Jessie immediately tried to get tea, but I stopped her and made them sit down.
“Give it here. I’ll serve the tea today.”
I took the glass from Jessie’s hand and gave the two a sharp glare before they could rebuff.
They both stayed seated and stared at me while I brewed the tea and filled the teacups.
Sometimes, they act like children.
Since Reneben was probably tired, I gave him tea that helped relieve fatigue, and to Jessie, I gave calming tea to help stabilize her.
*Whenever I read about ‘calming tea’, I always feel skeptical because the act of drinking tea itself is calming. I can’t imagine anyone angrily drinking tea. What do you guys think?