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Mornings in the Shrine began early.
Lutora woke up to the faint and distant sounds of hymns, slowly sitting up in the darkness of his room. Accompanying Lutora’s stirrings were small arms and legs stretched unreservedly across his supple, muscular shoulders, and abdomen tumbled onto the sheets.
“…The brats slept here again.”
Uncaring about Lutora’s muttering, the children who had cheekily trespassed in the middle of the night continued sleeping soundly.
Half a month had passed since Lutora started sleeping in the Shrine. Lutora had arrived with the firm belief that he was intruding on enemy territory, but contrary to expectations, Head Priest Malacia welcomed him with a smile and didn’t treat him badly. He even introduced him to the Temple Knights and priests, conscientiously explaining about his stay.
As the Head Priest, Malacia’s days were busy. They began with morning prayers, followed by a breakfast of bland soup with bread, then listening to the confessions by shrine visitors and giving advice to their problems. His lunch would be wild vegetable stew, after which he would head to the shrine’s orphanage, where he would teach the children to read, write and count. In the evening, he would meet with the nobles who, avoiding public notice, snuck into the shrine. When they were gone, he would then have a late dinner followed by a bath. After all that, he would handle all operational matters within the Shrine, then make his prayers in bed before sleeping late at night.
The same routine– rinse and repeat.
After several days of working together, Lutora had lost most of his malice. Malacia soon requested him with a smile one couldn’t refuse, saying, “It’s a good opportunity to teach the children swordplay”. Before Lutora could protest, Malacia introduced Lutora to the children, “This is Lutora, a member of the Royal Knights, who has been staying in the Shrine. He’s a very strong knight. If I recall, there were several of you who wanted to learn swordplay?”
Immediately, numerous small hands were raised, their owners staring in longing expectation at him, making Lutora unable to refuse as he wished.
While the Kingdom of Palcemith was affluent, there was still a disparity between the capital and countryside. Families struggling with poverty no doubt existed.
Children abandoned by their parents, children who had lost their guardians to one reason or another, children sold into slavery. The shrine accepted all the lucky children who managed to make it to the Shrine not minding their origins, or whether they were rich or poor,. However, the shrine was only allowed to raise the orphans until they were fifteen. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to accept new children. Before that deadline, the children had to decide their future…be it to be adopted, enter the workforce, become an apprentice or re-enter slavery.
“The Temple Knights, unlike the Royal Knights, have a pitifully low military power. That’s why they could only act as guards of the Shrine. Political concerns prevent the Shrine from having too much military might. But the Temple Knights are largely orphans who never had formal training in swordplay, to begin with.”
There were more than twenty children who wished to learn swordplay. Lutora himself was young for a knight, and while he had vast experience in receiving training, he had next to none in instructing. Recalling the instruction he had received from his father Jolga since he was young, Lutora was contemplating how to gather the basic training equipment, when the equipment was donated by the Temple Knights.
Having learned of the swordplay lessons, the Temple Knights had gathered together their funds and managed to scrape together enough training equipment for the children to use. The Temple Knight representative who brought the equipment to Lutora, was a young lady, her face hidden under her conical sugarloaf helmet.
“All of us would have been long dead if we hadn’t been picked up by the Shrine. On top of that, I’m not that smart…and couldn’t get an apprenticeship with a merchant family. My features aren’t attractive, so I couldn’t get adopted. The only options left were to become a slave or a prostitute…That was when Lord Malacia appointed me as a Temple Knight.”
The other Temple Knights all had similar reasons for becoming knights, she said.
“To be able to receive training from a Royal Knight is the best. Unlike us, who are only knights in name, you’re a true Knight. If the children can become stronger, perhaps even the rat-tag Temple Knights might be able to be more active and successful. …Sir Lutora, please, we’re relying on you.”
Her sincere bow of gratitude shook Lutora’s conviction, who had simply vaguely followed in his father, the Knight Captain’s footsteps, to the core.
In the afternoon, while Malacia was giving lessons to the orphans, Lutora systematically taught the orphans who wished to learn swordsmanship.
Originally the cheerful mood maker even amongst the Knights, Lutora had a friendly aura despite being nobility. The orphans quickly warmed up to him and started following him around.
“Even so…they didn’t have to invade my bed too…”
It was a recent development. Every night, a few children would sneak into Lutora’s bed while he was asleep. As the eldest orphans left the shrine at fifteen, the eighteen-year-old knight Lutora’s physique was perhaps found dependable by the children. Still, even if there was no hostility, to not wake up even when his bed was being invaded brought Lutora some uneasiness at his sound sleeping.
After changing his clothes, he left his room and came across Malacia, who was moving after finishing his morning prayers.
“Lutora, good morning. …Did you receive a nightly visit again?”
Lutora had already lost the will to rebut the joke Malacia made while smiling.
“A group came…Thanks to that, I slept well and woke refreshed.”
“Fufu, that’s because of the children’s body warmth. …Lutora, today before noon, we’ll visit the Dragon Priestess’s room.”
It had been half a month since he came to stay at the shrine.
Lutora had requested a meeting with Melia countless times and was even willing to be accompanied, but Malacia had firmly rejected his requests.
Looking at Lutora’s immediate tense expression, Malacia continued speaking quietly.
“These few days, I’ve received reports that her condition is stable. However, any action that may be stimulating, or words that may upset her are forbidden. Also…The pain that the Dragon Priestess suffers cannot be put into words. Should Lady Melia hurl verbal abuse, it’s simply a product of the agony eating away at her. Please, do not slight Lady Melia for it.”
“Then first, let us have breakfast. We’ll head to the Dragon Priestess’s room after.”
Nodding back at Lutora’s obedient nods, Malacia left with a flip of the sleeve of his dalmatic robe. Lutora waited until he could no longer see Malacia in the corridor before he slipped his fingers into his uniform’s breast pocket and took out the small magic stone hidden within.
“…Can you hear me, Morino? I’m going to check on Melia’s situation now.”
He couldn’t hear any reply, but a small light blinked within the magic stone, so it should be functioning properly.
To be able to gather information within the Temple with its inviolable wards, Morino Swettso invented this tiny voice transmission device. The receiving device was set in the Royal Office and had the same structure as the eavesdropping magic stones set as decoration at visiting nobility’s tables at banquets. On the off chance the magic stone was discovered, there are plenty of knights who carry magic stones sent by their families or lovers as charms so it wouldn’t be suspicious.
“I will pull as much information as possible from both the imprisoned Melia as well as Malacia. Please carefully record it.”
Lutora grasped the magic stone he had entrusted his words to once before he returned it into his pocket.
As Lutora chased after Malacia who had disappeared down the corridor.
Two small pairs of eyes.
Trained on his back through the crack in the door.