Lucia Worries About Celes
The day after I said goodbye to Sir Celes, the news that the Sacred Maiden would be setting out on her journey to purify the Cristallo Sacro reached the servants. Apparently, the Sacred Maiden would go forth in the company of the crown prince, Knight Commander Agliardi, the commander’s aide-de-camp, the Dragonslayer, and a fire mage from the Academy.
Of course, there were others besides them — a number of regular knights like Sir Celes, many soldiers, and attendants as well, so ultimately it was quite a large expedition.
In that case, they’re sure to make it home safely. I breathed a little sigh of relief. Please, please keep them safe. Let them not encounter any dragons. That’s all I ask.
Half a month later, the day of Sir Celes’s departure came at last.
The town that morning was filled with a festival atmosphere among all the people who had gathered to see off the expedition as the crown prince and the Sacred Maiden led the way out.
But, I had work to do, so I wasn’t able to see them off.
Clutching the laundry, I looked up at the brilliant, clear blue sky, picturing Sir Celes on the road.
I don’t care if he doesn’t become a great hero. Gods, please let me meet that gentle man again. Please let him come home safe, and unhurt.
Listening to the cheering voices that I could hear carried on the wind, I rested my hands for a moment and stared up into the blue sky, the same blue as Sir Celes’s eyes.
It happened five days after the Sacred Maiden and her entourage departed.
It was raining that day. On rainy days, we used indoor washrooms and drying racks. Today we were washing the sheets, so everyone hiked up their skirts and stomped on the laundry to agitate it, chatting as we worked. Although Rossella, who generally didn’t say much, just listened to us with a smile, as usual.
“I do wish we could do these large things on sunny days, though!” “It can’t be helped. It’s been raining for a while.”
“But they always end up musty. Ugh.”
“They do! Musty sheets are a laundrymaid’s shame! But if the sun is going to be shy, then there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The indoor drying rooms were quite spacious, but even so, there wasn’t enough room to hang all the sheets. We did our best to speed up the process by ironing them before they dried, but we still had to split the load and do multiple washings.
If I used Soap, it would be done quickly, but Chicca had decided that, outside of stains that we couldn’t get out any other way, it wouldn’t be good for us to depend on my magic. So we did the laundry the normal way.
“All right, girls, just a bit more now!” Chicca encouraged us. “Once these are hung we’ll have lunch.”
“Whew… Is it finally lunchtime?” “I’ve gotten hungry,” I agreed.
“I wonder what the menu is today,” Joanne mused. “It’s a little chilly, so soup would be nice. Even if we’re working hard, it’s cold in here!”
At Chicca’s words, we all sped up. We wrung the water out of the cleaned sheets, passed the hissing iron over them, and draped them over the lines. If we’d been outside we wouldn’t have needed to bother with the iron… That was one of the disadvantages of drying indoors.
“Done at last!”
“At least using the iron warms you up a bit.”
“Even if it’s just a charcoal fire, having a source of heat makes everything feel warmer. I think I’ll be fine now even without the soup,” Joanne agreed, having apparently given up on her earlier preference. And certainly, with the charcoal fire and the steam rising up from the laundry, it was starting to get a little hot.
“I’ll get the window.”
“Oh, please do, Rossella!” Chicca agreed.
With Chicca’s permission, Rossella opened the window slightly, just enough to let a little air
in without allowing blown-in rain to dampen the drying sheets.
“Well, now that that’s done, shall we go find something to eat?” Chicca suggested, and we all followed her to the servants’ dining hall.
Within the palace, there were a number of dining areas, meant for the officials, the knights, the attendants, the servants… Even though we all worked in the same place, we had different statuses, and that was reflected in the food. For example, who got to eat meat.
“Oh, it is soup today!”
“How about that, Joanne?”
“Oh, the wheat grains are even a little chewy, this is delicious!”
“It looks warm. Ah, and it smells wonderful. It’s true what they say — hard work makes the best spice!”
The menu for the day was a wheat and potato soup, along with tough black bread and a little bit of cheese. Once we’d picked up our lunch trays and found an empty table corner to sit at, we settled in and started eating.
“Say, did you hear?” a man sitting at the same table asked Chicca. “Well, that was sudden. About what?” she asked.
I didn’t recognize him, but perhaps he was one of Chicca’s acquaintances, because they fell into conversation easily. Listening, I broke off pieces of my black bread and used them to help sop up the soup as I ate.
Then I heard something utterly unexpected.
“Seems that the folks who left with the Sacred Maiden have come back. Everyone but the Commander and his aide, the Academy mage, and the Dragonslayer.”
“What!?” I yelped.
Because, that meant Sir Celes had come back, right!? I’d resigned myself to him being gone for a whole year, so it was even more of a shock.
But, they only just left, so why…?
“Heh! I’m surprised you’re so surprised, miss!” the man said, shoulders shaking with laughter. Apparently, my reaction had been very funny.
I was still frozen with surprise. Chicca ignored me and continued the conversation. “Why would they do that?”
“Well…just between you and me, seems that the attendants were sent back by the Sacred Maiden, while the prince sent the men home.”
“Sending them back here makes no sense,” Chicca huffed. “What’s a small group like that
supposed to do if they meet a dragon on the road or something?”
“How should I know? But according to a soldier friend of mine, the attendants were sent back because the Sacred Maiden threw an absolute fit complaining about them. Something about them making eyes at His Highness and the Dragonslayer or somesuch.”
“So the Sacred Maiden has a temper, has she? What about the knights and soldiers, then?”
“Well, the prince gave the orders, and he didn’t bother to explain himself. Still, I agree, it makes no sense,” the man said. “What’s the point of sending all your fighting forces back?”
“But why would Commander Agliardi accept that? Even if it were the prince’s orders, shouldn’t he have objected, as the head of the knights?”
“Who knows what goes through the heads of the high and mighty.” At the man’s words, he and Chicca both grimaced.
Also listening to the conversation, Jeanne and Joanne both turned to me eagerly. “But this is wonderful for you, Lucia!”
“That’s right! Are you going to go see your friend now? Come to think of it, what was his name? You mentioned before that he was with the Third Regiment, but I don’t think we ever asked his name.”
Well, yes, to be honest I did want to go see him right away, but… I shook my head, cursing the weather. On rainy days, I couldn’t meet him no matter how much I wanted to.
“No, I won’t go today. It’s raining. Sir Celes and I agreed that we would only meet when the weather was good.”
At my answer, the twins’ eyes went wide.
“His name is Sir Celes??”
Bernedetta dashed into the dining hall, her face deathly pale.
She did the laundry for the palace administrators. Being a fellow laundrymaid, sometimes she would come talk to those of us assigned to the knights, but for all her love of talking, she wasn’t the sort of person to run about shouting.
“What’s wrong?” someone near the entrance asked.
Bernedetta didn’t even try to hide her panting — she must have run all the way here. Even so, she replied in a voice that rang throughout the entire dining hall.
“Monsters… Monsters are coming towards Arldat!”