Volume 2 — Chapter 2: The Saint and the Father
The Father absentmindedly turned his blindfolded gaze toward Zero, then mumbled out an awkward “thank you.”
Then, Zero turned toward the Saint.
“Saint. Why did the bandits not immediately kill you? They called you a witch, and said things to the effect that they could kill you at their leisure… but you are still alive.”
Perhaps it would have been better to ask the thieves directly, but they knew that speaking badly of the Saint before the Father would get them killed, so I couldn’t imagine them confessing anything. We wouldn’t know if they were lying or not, and since they had already called the Saint a witch, I wouldn’t expect them to speak exactly in flowery terms either.
Knitting her eyebrows, the Saint shook her head.
“I don’t know…but, they said that they were going to Fort Lotus.”
“It’s an ancient fort. Very close to the holy city. It’s a historic building, but at some point, thieves made it their home…”
“They meant to imprison her in the fort to demand ransom, most likely. Milady Saint has influential members of the Republic of Cleion among her faithful. They would have no qualms paying money to save her.”
The priest cut in with a seemingly legitimate explanation.
After all, the Saint could heal any injury and cure any illness. The rich would put up however much coin they needed to keep this panacea.
“—If I may, Saint.”
Zero faced the Saint through her hood. The Saint also looked at Zero’s face, hidden beneath her hood.
“Where…did you learn to perform miracles?”
In an instant, she had broached the heart of the matter. The Saint breathed a shallow sigh.
“Milady Saint’s powers of healing are a miracle of God. A miracle is not something that can be learned, Miss.”
The priest cut in on Zero and the Saint’s conversation in a gentle, even pleasant tone, completely different from the one he used when addressing me. He spoke as if teaching something to a clueless child, a bit like Zero’s manner of behavior toward me. Zero responded in a voice that clearly showed her displeasure at the priest’s attitude.
“Then she simply woke up one day with the ability to cure sicknesses and wounds, is that it?”
“A miracle is something that one first becomes aware of when it awakes in oneself. Even if one is born with a miracle, it will only manifest itself when one truly requires the aid of God.”
As the priest nodded solemnly, Zero stared at him as if seeing something baffling.
“Then you believe in the Saint’s miracles for no reason at all? Yes, I have heard that there are books documenting the miracles of God located in various places, but isn’t it said that the majority of those were fraudulent? How witches pretend to perform divine miracles, how humans with no special powers use trickery to feign miracles…miracles nowadays are likely the same.”
“…I see. You are still young, yet you seem to know much about many things. It is impossible to deny that there are many swindlers who feign miracles; this is true. But even though they are few, there do exist true miracles of God. As an arbiter of Dea Ignis, it is my duty to find these miracles.”
“Then what is a miracle of God, Father? A miracle of God—and a witch’s work of sorcery. How do you tell the difference?”
The priest stopped in his tracks.
Naturally, everyone else stopped walking as well. Zero and the priest were face-to-face—but at least there was no tension.
Zero had asked out of pure curiosity, and the priest understood that.
“Do you believe in the miracles of God, Miss?”
“I’m in no position to believe,” Zero frowned.
“I do not know what a miracle is. I do not know what to call miracles, nor how to recognize them. How in the world do you distinguish between witches and saints?”
“There are no criteria I look for. I simply know.”
“Know? Without any basis for that knowledge?”
A gentle smile crept its way onto the priest’s lips. He looked as if he were dealing with a curious child that wanted to know everything.
“One day, the day will come that you too will understand. Everything begins with faith. God does not lend a helping hand to those who harbor doubt. Still—it is dangerous for a woman to travel alone, but to travel with a fallen beast, it follows that one would become tainted by depraved thoughts. You must be caught in some situation. If there is anything I can do, I shall do whatever is possible to help.”
“There is no situation. I simply wish to be with Mercenary, and so I am with him.”
Zero replied without hesitation, and, seeming to be tired of the conversation, began walking again at a brisk pace.
After that, we soon left the woods. Once we reached the place where we were camped, Theo jumped down from the trees, where he had been staying as told.
“Zero! Pops! You’re slow, aren’t you?! I was starting to think I’d been left behind!”
“‘Course not. If we wanted to get rid of ya, we’d wouldn’t have picked ya up in the first place.”
“I guess so…but c’mon, understand how a kid feels.”
Suddenly, Theo turned his face away.
The Saint, the priest, and the thieves were standing before him, and when he saw them, Theo’s expression changed.
He wore an expression of clear shock.
“—You!” The Saint cried, and Theo jumped.
Unable to control himself, Theo took a step back. The Saint ran toward him, and hugged the scrawny boy tightly. Upon seeing Theo, the thieves’ eyes widened, and they exchanged looks.
What? It looks like there’s something going on, but—
“You weren’t hurt, were you…?! Ah, thank goodness. I thought the thieves had killed you…!”
A strangled sound came from Theo’s throat, and his entire body stiffened.
It was very odd.
“Do you know Theo?”
“He’s the child I spoke of earlier. The one that fell in front of the carriage…”
Then, it hit me.
So Theo’s working with the thieves, huh.
He pretended to fall in front of the cart to stop the carriage, and then the thieves would strike. When the battle started a kid like Theo was of no use, so his job was probably to take the cart and run.
So, unable to control the cart, he crashed into the inn.
Theo looked at me imploringly. He probably realized that I had guessed at what had happened.