Underneath the Church’s Facade
The next day, Leah woke me up. Being a tumultuous night, I barely had any sleep. I yawned and felt sleepy. Leah, on the other hand, brimmed with energy. She was naughty beyond words every night, yet was full of energy during the day. It was as if she didn’t need sleep or something. With a jolly smile, Leah asked, “Papa, Papa, do you have any work today? Can you take Leah on a tour in the imperial city today, Papa?!”
“Umm, Sorry, Leah. There’s somewhere Papa has to go today, but you can come along if you want. I’m just walking around this time, after all. I guess you could say we’re having fun.”
I rubbed Leah’s head with a smile. Concerned, she asked, “Papa, will Leah get in the way of your work if Leah follows you?”
“No,” I replied with a shake of my head. “Papa doesn’t plan to work today; Papa plans to just take a stroll, not work. It’s fine for you to come with Papa.”
“Thank you, Papa!!”
Leah cheerfully jumped up and tightly hugged me. I caressed her head with a smile. Then, I pulled the door open and left with her. We saw Achilles approach when we left. He smiled when he saw me: “Up already? I thought that you would sleep in.”
“I can never get much sleep when there’s something I have to dedicate my attention to. It’s probably because I feel unsettled.”
I smiled and began to walk. Achilles nodded with a smile: “Terrific. Let us go have breakfast to start. I do not have any plans today. How about you? Is there anything that you wish to investigate? While we are tight on time, we do need to proceed in an orderly fashion.”
“I don’t have any plans to do anything today. I’m just going to go and take a look at the chapel nearby. Is the pope at the chapel at the moment?”
“He is. The chapel arrived before us. However, they did not notify Her Majesty or go see her. Instead, they came to me to ask for their share of our deal. I will not be accompanying you for today, as I need to see to the flavouring business. The elf, Lucilia, is not a patient elf, after all. If you go to the chapel today, I hope you stay calm and will not cause any trouble.”
“Her Majesty, on the other hand, wants me to cause trouble.”
“Of course she does. She has never been one who could sit still; she wants there to be things to resolve in order to prove herself. In reality, however, it is us who resolves the problems. She is always sending us out to clean up messes. We have to communicate with the elves; we have no spare energy to fight with the chapel. Moreover, they have a team of knights. Veirya isn’t here, so who is going to stop Angelina?”
“This man is speaking facts…” I thought, laughing. I said “Rest assured. I’m always very low-key. There won’t be any trouble.”
Achilles nodded: “Glad to hear that.”
Leah and I arrived at the dining hall downstairs. Breakfast was ordinary. The cheese seemed to be a national food; it was ubiquitous in the city. Further, they added all sorts of stuff that tasted delicious. Leah loved it, so she ate a fair bit.
After finishing breakfast, we left the place. Time seemed frozen in the city. When we arrived outside, we saw bustling crowds and people going back and forth just as when we slept last night. The scenery of a city at night tells you how prosperous it is. Back then, you could say that Shanghai flourished at night. If the people of the imperial city could go twenty four hours a day with no breaks, it proved that the city was, indeed, prosperous.
Leah excitedly looked around. Pretty and adorable Leah attracted lots of attention. Lots of people looked at me with envious gazes. I was proud to have such a pretty daughter. I tightly hugged her against my body, while she hugged my arm and followed me.
There was no need to inquire where the chapel was, for you could probably see the tall white pointy tip in the city from anywhere. It, by all accounts, resembled a chapel. Furthermore, it was very similar to Christianity. This world appeared to form very similar religions to the ones I knew.
Lots of people travelled in the same direction as us. Some wore plain robes. I presumed them to be believers. Leah curiously scanned her surroundings. I didn’t pay particular attention to those people. The two of them went along the white stone path to arrive before the white chapel. The plaza in front of the chapel was packed full of people sitting there on long benches. The clergies dressed in red robes went back and forth to quietly converse with people off to the side. I unyieldingly stood to one side with Leah instead of sitting. I wasn’t religious. I only trusted myself.
The loud bell sounded. The hundreds of people at the plaza immediately fell silent. Everyone lowered their heads and shut their eyes to earnestly pray. After a while, someone began to sing long notes, and the hundreds of people followed along. The voice sounded quite dignified. The crowd piqued Leah’s interest; she had no idea what they were doing.
“Are you interested?”
I heard a familiar voice. Startled, I looked over my shoulder to see Veirya’s face. I lingered for a moment; I nearly called out Veirya’s name. Angelina looked at me with a solemn look. My racing heart stopped racing due to disappointment.
“If you are interested, His Excellency would be very keen to see you.”
Leah was glad to see Angelina. She grabbed hold of Angelina’s hand, but Angelina just gave her a rub on the head. Angelina continued to look at me with a serious gaze.
I pondered, “Is that an invitation of some sort? Is this… the feast at Hong Gate?”
“His Excellency is inside right now. He hopes to see you. He wants to apologise. What happened last time was undeniably our mistake.”
I shook my head and touched Leah’s head. In an absolutely serious tone, I answered, “Forget the apology. I won’t forgive you. If an apology could erase the wound on Veirya’s back, I’d consider it, but that’s impossible. Angelina, I don’t want to see your pope. Please pass that on.”
“Do you really not want to see him? It really was an accident.”
“I don’t have any desire to see him. You and I both know it wasn’t an accident. Even if it was an accident, you people were responsible. I won’t ever forgive you. We all know what happened.”
Angelina didn’t say another word. She calmly nodded, and then turned to leave.
I knew that it was irrational to express my absolute reluctance to speak to him. In reality, you should always leave the chance to talk things out. But nonetheless, I had Her Majesty behind me. Queen Sisi didn’t want a peace negotiation, so I couldn’t be selfish. Otherwise, I’d be the one who copped Queen Sisi’s rage, and I couldn’t defy her. Since I had to rely on Queen Sisi, I had to faithfully obey her will. I did kiss her instep that night, after all.
*Feast at Hong Gate – Sometimes referred to as Banquet at Hong Gate, was a historical event during the Chu-Han contention. It tends to be referenced as a figurative way of suggesting a situation where a treacherous plot awaits is disguised as a friendly one.
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