Chapter Five: God’s Chosen One [Emilia]
I never knew my father, nor cared who he was. Even in the heart of the royal capitol, I grew up in a very chaotic place. I lived downtown on the edge of the slums, so there were a lot of orphans around me. It was rare in my neighborhood to have both parents.
Everyday, I would play with the local children or help my mother. Us children gathered at the local church, and the oldest children would take care of the younger, who would take care of the even younger in turn. I learned simple letters and magic from the priest, helped around the church, received bread, and prayed to God. I didn’t know if I was playing, working, or studying, I was just living happily.
Six years ago, when I was fifteen, the winds shifted. When I was Appraised at the church, my amount of mana was found to be unusually large. Most commoners didn’t have magic power, or if they did, they would have tens of units, but my mana level was in the thousands. The person in charge of the Appraisal was terribly surprised, because my level was higher than most nobles and quite rare.
“Excuse me, but are both of your parents commoners?”
“My mother is a commoner, but I don’t know about my father.”
“So you live alone with your mother?”
Now that I’ve thought about it, this exchange must have sealed my fate. A fifteen-year-old girl who had an abnormal amount of magic, but was without any protection. I was easy to exploit and use.
After awhile, a woman named Helena came to the downtown. Her husband was ill and had come all the way to the royal capitol for treatment, but the medical costs were too high and they couldn’t afford it, so he died miserably. It wasn’t long before the depressed widow and my good-natured mother became friends. We frequently visited each other’s homes and shared many meals. I was glad that my mother had such a good friend.
In the winter of my eighteenth year, my mother fell in. I never appreciated Helena more than at that time. As soon as my mother collapsed, she sent me to a healer she knew, who gave me expensive medicine at a discount. When I was at work, Helena helped nurse my mother, who was wasting away, and kept her company.
She was also the one who introduced me to a noble who was researching diseases. She said the nobleman was looking for someone to assist him in his work, so she suggested I go and meet him.
“I heard about him from an apothecary I know. I wish I’d known about him while my husband was still alive. But for your mother, I’m sure he’ll want to help,” she told me. By that time, I greatly trusted everything Helena said, and I jumped at the chance.
Not knowing that she was the one poisoning my mother.
When I first met the nobleman, he was surprisingly kind. In my mind, all aristocrats were domineering and scary, but I believed from the bottom of my heart that he was different. He told me there was still time to find a cure, that my mother would surely recover, and that he would send a carriage immediately to pick up my mother, so he could examine her and her condition himself.
While I stayed with my mother in the nobleman’s manor, he used many expensive medicines, saying, “I need to see the effects.” He also told me that while he was still researching and preparing, he would let me take classes on etiquette and magic when I wasn’t caring for my mother. The only thing that bothered me was that I never saw Helena whenever I went back to check on the house, but I was happy to see my mother’s gradual improvement and was immensely grateful.
Until that day, just a month ago.
“I wanted to give you two more time here, but things have changed. Will you hold up your end of our deal and help me?”
It goes without saying that I nodded in reply to the smiling noble’s words. I didn’t know what would be ahead, but I was willing to do whatever I could. I wanted my magical power, which had only grown more potent with training, to be used for something. The nobleman had no trouble playing me for a fool.
“I want you to become a saint,” he told me with a cruel grin, and explained his terrible plan. “While I was hoping to wait until the Elder Saint passed away before making you a saint, all the pieces are in place: the Appraisal has been forged and I’ve secured my collaborators within the church. But everything has gone awry now that the Saint has been found. You must not only claim to be the Saint, but be accepted as her before this other Saint arrives in two weeks. To belay suspicions about your young age, if anyone asks, you are to say you’re twenty-six.” These were his instructions.
Of course, I refused at first. Deceiving the Saint is like spitting in the face of God. I couldn’t do something that awful. I said I would forget what I’d heard and begged him for a different task. When I clung to his robes, the noble rang a bell and called for Helena in a bored tone, unmoved by my hysterics.
…Why was Helena here? And why dressed as a maid? Before I could voice my questions, the noble coldly instructed her, “Increase the poison.”
“What?” I cried.
“Yes.” Helena agreed.
The noble gave his terrible instructions without hesitation and Helena affirmed it with a smile. For refusing, I was locked up, and the next time I was released to see my mother, she’d deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed.
“Emilia, Don’t look at me like that. Helena was kind enough to come all the way here to help take care of me. I’m sure I’ll recover soon.” As soon as my mother fell asleep again, Helena appeared without a sound. She had two glasses in her hands.
“There’s poison in one, and an antidote in the other. It’s up to you which one I give your mother.” Hearing this, I fell to my knees with tears in my eyes.
Even if I had to deceive God, I would save my mother. That was all that mattered to me.
Arriving at the temple, I entered the innermost room: the one empty except for the image of God illuminated by light. I knelt before the image. Even if the Appraisal could be forged, God would know the truth. I knew I’d be caught and punished.
So I prayed for my mother. It’s all my fault, so please save her.
The noble said that if I went to the temple as a Saint, he wouldn’t do anything to her. Even if I failed, he would protect my mother’s life as long as I never revealed his identity. But after everything, I’m not stupid enough to take his word for it. Failure could result in the death of my mother.
I planned to explain everything honestly if I were caught. And in exchange, I would ask the Saint to help my mother. The nobleman would be captured and my mother would be free. I had no other choice but to bet on the slight possibility the Saint would listen.
“I read about your circumstances in the report.”
“It’s true that I tried to deceive God, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no. It’s only natural that you want to protect your mother.”
Hearing the calm voice of the Saint, the tear I had been holding back dripped down my nose. It splattered loudly on the cold floor. The only things I could see as I looked down and sobbed were my hands in chains and the knees of the Saint who sat without hesitation on the floor of the cell.
You are more precious that anyone else in the world, so why would you come speak to me? Why come here and sit on the cold, damp floor just to see me, the worst kind of sinner? Why would you want to listen to me.
“… I didn’t mean to make you cry, but – Well, you may have heard, but your mother is safe because you told the truth.”
“Thank you so much!” I’d been hoping for it but never heard confirmation. I wanted to believe she was safe, but I’d also been afraid of bad news. Tears overflowed as if a dam had broken. After a long hesitation, a big hand stretched out and awkwardly stroked my head. His warm hand patted me as if I were a crying child and the warmth of his touch only made me cry harder.
The Saint continued to caress my head until I stopped crying. He didn’t say anything, even though it was awkward, and stayed close to me until I’d calmed down. He was kind, no wonder he’d been chosen by God.
I was sure my mother will be fine. If it’s him, my mother wouldn’t be implicated in my sins. And that my mother would be taken care of until she recovered. I wouldn’t forget his kindness.
“Okay, Emilia. Do you swear you’ve told me the truth?”
“Yes. I will accept punishment for my sins.”
“Even if the punishment is worse than dying?”
“I’m prepared.” Since I’d deceived the Saint, it was only natural I’d be sentenced to death. I didn’t think I even wanted to die painlessly. I deserved to suffer, suffer, suffer before I died, so great was my sin. The only mercy I needed was the knowledge my mother was safe.
Accepting whatever came next, I stared straight into the Saint’s eyes. They were the same warm dark brown color as his hair, the same color as the trunk of the sacred tree, and my heart calmed looking at him.
“I see. Then, please become the Saint instead of me.”
“Eeeh?” The sound that came from my mouth was one I didn’t know I was capable of making. I could only wonder if I’d heard him wrong.