The king’s fortress city was built on the upper stream of a great river; through that river, various people of various ethnicities would make their way through, and it was the sort of wealthy city that served as a microcosm of the country’s prosperity.
As trade flourished, the words of the people who passed through, the accents unaccustomed to the ear mingled their way into the local tongue, and while it was a city that supported many a man, its faith was largely unified under a henotheism that embraced a single chief god in heaven. From large to small, countless churches- places for people to pray and gather- dotted the city.
A single church among them- hidden away near the barracks- was long subject to a certain rumor.
The people would whisper, ‘There is an angel in that church’.
It was by pure coincidence that Leilia wandered into that church: after going to check up on her older brother’s health at the knight barracks, she spotted an old church from her carriage window.
For some reason growing curious about the church, she had her coachman hold and disembarked.
The interior of the church she slipped into through the heavy doors, while old, it was kept thoroughly clean, with no human presence to speak of. The well-used pews stood in file, directed towards the statue of the chief god which was bathed in the sunlight streaming down through the stained glass skylight.
Leilia felt a miraculous guidance at work, falling to her knees to offer a prayer.
For her brother to spend every day without trouble.
For her former maid Giselle to birth a healthy child.
… For her to be able to exchange just one word with that person.
She was praying in her heart, she knew no one would hear even if they were present; but growing somewhat embarrassed, the young girl quickly rose to her feet.
Looking over the room anew, she noticed a small room near the organ for the hymns.
That small room made of black-stained wood was furnished with two small doors, its inside divided with a parquet partition. It was a narrow space that would feel cramped for even a single grown man.
A place for the faithful to confess the sins they could no longer shoulder alone to a cleric.
The cleric would hear them out, and in accordance with their teachings would grant forgiveness.
Her interest piqued, Leilia placed a hand on one of the doors, but it wouldn’t even twitch.
As a test, she tried moving the other door, and that one opened.
In a secret space in a hidden church she had spotted by chance, she felt the sort of elation as if she had discovered a secret base. Once the door was shut, the inside felt even narrower, and large-built for a woman, Leilia felt a sort of pressure on herself; but after basking in the security of being alone, she eventually indulged in some meditation.
Her three-year older brother was currently in the barracks, working as a squire to become a knight. As the oldest son of a young baron house, he would someday have to succeed the territory in the countryside, but in order to build some connections with the center, he had entered the barracks many noble youths commuted to.
While generous to a fault, he was a quick-witted brother who cared for his family. Leilia couldn’t help but wait in anticipation for their meetings every half month.
Her enjoyment only rose after she caught a glimpse of that man her brother introduced as his friend. Unlike her sociable brother, the man- Lutes’ expression never crumbled and he barely ever opened his mouth.
Even when her brother teased, this guy’s a real stick in the mud, he just made a bit of a troubled face, the wrinkle on his brow loosening a little.
With finely chiseled features, he was somewhat taller than her already tall brother, and he had an air to him that made it hard for a young girl unaccustomed to men such as Leilia to approach.
They never exchanged words.
Their eyes only met a few times at most.
They had only ever met the single time her brother had coincidentally dragged him to their meeting.
And yet from the day she first met him, Leilia couldn’t get him out of her mind.
What would she have to do to talk to him?
Like when he was talking with my brother, I want him to show me a bit of a softer expression as well.
As she had never fallen into any love-like love, she was unable to fall under a self-harming lovesickness like the protagonists of the novels she read. It was simply a faint feeling close to admiration.
And as she immersed herself in a deep pensiveness akin to slowly rolling a sweet hard candy around her mouth, the sound of the door opening suddenly resounded. Following on with a thud, came the sound of someone sitting across the confessional’s divide.
An invader suddenly appearing in her alone space, the young girl raised a small shriek.
“…! My apologies. I thought the priest was in, didn’t expect a sister.”
The refreshing voice of a young man came back.
From how his body hit against the walls here and there as he searched for a comfortable place to sit, he did seem to be a man of good physique.
At that moment, for the first time, Leilia realized her side was the seat where the cleric would hear out a confession.
“Um, my apologies, I’m…”
Not a sister, she tried to continue only for the man’s voice to overlap with hers.
“It’s a story I’m somewhat hesitant for a sister to hear, but if I turn back now, I don’t think I’ll ever have the courage to consult again. Sorry, but I want you to hear out my confession.”
At the man’s cornered tone, the young girl sensed a large anguish and naturally replied.
“Umm, what might be troubling you?”
It’s been said talking to others can lighten the heart.
What could he have gone as far as entering the church’s confessional to talk about?
while she might not be enough for the role, she couldn’t say the words that would forsake the man who made his resolve to appear.
“It’s about my good friend’s sister.”
“Not your good friend, but his sister?”
“Yeah, I’m being looked after as an apprentice in the knight barracks nearby, the name’s… I’m not supposed to bring up a specific name in here, am I? Anyways, my friend’s a good guy, and one of the few people who’ll speak frankly to a stick in the mud like me. And yet after all he’d done for me, I can’t get his sister out of my mind.”
“By out of your mind, how are you thinking about her?”
“She just catches my eye. She’s younger than me, but she’s a kind, diligent woman who thinks of her brother. Also, she’s crazy cute.”
At those wanton words suddenly thrown in, Leilia’s response grew half-baked.
Cute, cute eh?
It’s a word I never hear.
Her youth aside, for Leilia who was larger built than the normal girl, the phrase was never directed at her even as flattery.
There was no doubt he was talking about a cheerful cute little bundle of sunshine.
“Lately, whenever my friend invites me out, I end up growing anxious over the possibility he called me to see his sister. If I can just steal a few glances at her, she’s all I think about that night… I can’t consult my friend about this.”
“I swear I’ll never disclose anything I hear here. Please don’t hesitate to speak your mind.”
Leilia’s eyes were frozen on the lines she could see through the wooden mosaics of the divider.
Could this possibly be a love consultation!?
Oh my, I’ve never really been in a relationship before, but will I be able to give any good advice?
But as a fellow human with one-sided feelings, I want to say something that will cheer him up.
Having never heard anyone else- let alone a man- speak of love, Leilia impetuously urged the man for his next words.
“Could it be your feelings are, um–”
“Yeah, it’s lust.”
The man answered in a painfully serious voice.
“If that’s not it, there’s no explanation. If I only know her face and we’ve never even spoken, then I wouldn’t usually ponder over how she’d react if I plunged my hand into her chest.”
“You’re going to do what… with your hand?”
Leilia got the feeling she had just heard some words from the faceless man unworthy of a divine place of worship.
She got the feeling she heard something quite indecent in a splendid voice.
Where did the flow of that pure talk from before go?
“Why does a woman’s clothing boast such low defense!? It’s not like her clothes were as open as the young women I see at the evening balls, but even so, it catches my eye! Just looking at the surface, I’m filled with such an urge to jam my hand in, I don’t know what to do with myself!”
Leilia found herself confirming her own chest.
Her collar was open in a square cut, but she did not possess anything that could be called a valley.
This little sister must boast quite a plentiful ravine.
“… Sorry. That wasn’t something I should have said to a sister. But you told me to speak my mind.”
“No, are you sure you haven’t just fallen at first sight…?”
What… seriously…? Isn’t this sorta thing supposed to be… just a bit more… love, you know? Romance or something…? Isn’t that how it works…?
Still a young girl with some dreams, the inside of her heart was in chaos.
But she got the feeling her brother once told her liking someone’s personality is different from liking their face.
The sole thing she was unable to understand about her helpful, amiable, prided brother, was how his strife with women would never die out.
That girl’s really fun to talk to, if only her boobs were a bit more… or so, he occasionally received eyes of scorn.
Perhaps that field was something only a gentleman would understand.
“I feel that way before I even consider wanting to talk to her. There’s no doubt it’s lust.”
“… Is that so. Looks like you… have it rough…”
Leilia directed a suspicious glance at the shadow beyond the wooden mosaic.
She had lost the mind to listen seriously.
“… What do you think I should do?”
“First off, I suggest that you never mention that to your friend or his sister.”
“… Sounds about right.”
As he left, the man said he would come again.
His tone of voice implied spilling everything had lightened his mood, and while she felt she had been useful to someone, her sense of fatigue was even stronger, and Leilia found herself unable to stand for a while.
Half a month went by, and the time came for Leilia to visit her brother once more.
As her brother headed towards the room designed to meet family alongside the platoon he was assigned to, she wholly unexpectedly caught sight of Lutes.
He was drawing his bow at the shooting range below.
Within a tension as if even the air around him had frozen over, he held his bow straight with steadfast stance.
Entranced by his profile, Leilia couldn’t help but swallow her breath as his arrow pierced into the very center.
Noticing the presence of the young girl, he looked up towards her, their eyes locked.
Suppressing her hair being played with by the wind, she smiled and gave a small curtsy, only for him to give a slight nod and make off in another direction.
Perhaps she had gotten in the way of his training and ruined his mood, she worried, but as she met and talked with her brother, she managed to calm her heart.
She dropped by the church once more on the road home; she had grown curious about what happened afterwards to the man who divulged his worries to her.
As he was affiliated with a knight brigade, he was surely taught the proper etiquette when dealing with a lady.
Even so, she worried whether or not he had been arrested in this half month.
Back then, she had been so flustered by the man’s statements, the words to remonstrate him wouldn’t come out. Thinking for his sake, there were some things she should have said. Like that’s plain out, or you’re troubling the little sister, or mother never raised you to be a man like that. Nothing but regret on her mind, she unconsciously slipped into the confessional. Once the door shut, a voice called from the other side.
“Been half a month.”
The voice of the very same man occupying her mind caused her to let out a shriek.
Across the partition, there was a familiar silhouette.
“Aren’t you a sister in service to this place? I dropped by a while ago, but no one was here. Same story today.”
“I-I come here for service once every half month.”
With the guilt of lie overlapping with lie, the young girl’s pitch shot up.
Perhaps satisfied, I see, then I’m glad I could meet you today, the man grumbled.
“More importantly, they haven’t taken you in yet…! Thank the lord…!”
“Oy, wait a second. Why am I getting taken in?”
As she let out a sigh of heartfelt relief, an angry voice returned from the other side.
“Good grief, you really worried me when you said something like that. It was scary. Even when you weren’t talking about me, I couldn’t help but wear clothes with tight collars.”
Leilia touched the base of her neck.
It was early summer, yet she wore a tight-collared dress with a scarf on top.
She kept prim and vigilant.
“What you say and what you do are different things! I’m going to be a knight, you know! No way I’d actually do it!!”
“There are some things that are plain out the moment they leave your mouth!”
“That level’s normal in the knight brigade! It’s even charming I tell you! Among the senior knights, there are even bastards who make bets over how many days it’ll take to nab the village girls they’ve got their sights on!!”
“I can’t believe it! That’s terrible! You’re the worst!!”
“I’ve got nothing to do with it! In the first place, even women arbitrarily look at this and that to appraise us, don’t they?”
“W-well… that’s right.”
Both sides noticed they had grown too heated, for a while their mouths wouldn’t open.
Getting a grip on herself, Leilia corrected her posture in the narrow room.
“But I’m happy we were able to meet again. You’ve been weighing on my mind this past month.”
“Yeah, likewise. This past month, I’ve been anguished with no one to open up to.”
“You won’t try consulting with any of your knight friends besides the big brother?”
“If I tell them, it’ll go straight to that guy’s ears… and when I tried bringing it up once without mentioning any names, not only did they tease me to death over how I finally grew some interest in women, they used teaching me how to woo women as an excuse to brag the hell of it about all the women they’d ever nabbed.”
“… I’m seeing the knights in a whole new light.”
What sort of improper things were they talking about?
I might not be able to look at the good knights of romance novels the same way again.
But come to think of it, I get the feeling the closed tea parties between women are well saturated with those sorts of tales.
Like how the viscount of such and such has the authority, but he’s weak at night… or so, and how so and so’s fiancé looks so satisfied if she pretends to be entranced after just a kiss, and how he really is easy or so.
Leilia reflected on the talks at the tea parties her aunt had brought her to, growing embarrassed with each passing thought. When those talks came up, unfortunately, a young girl with no such experience could only play it off with a forced smile.
“Umm, so were you able to meet little sister again in this past half month?”
“I met her, or rather, spotted her. How should I put it, it was kinda like that. She’s nice with her hair down too.”
“When I see it so fluffily fluttering in the wind, I get the urge to touch it. I want to ruffle it up and take in the scent.”
“… Sir, just because you’ve spilled everything to me once, have you perhaps come under the impression it doesn’t matter what you say at this point?”
In Leilia’s head, the ‘little sister’ was a small-built lovable woman of abundant chest.
Additionally half in tears from having her hair ruffled up.
“I haven’t actually done something, just to let you know. And she smiled and waved at me. We haven’t looked at each other so intensely since the time my friend introduced us.”
“That’s good! To exchange a glance like that sounds wonderful!”
Even if one side was thinking indecent thoughts, it was still a heart fluttering development.
Right, right, that’s the sort of thing I want to hear! The young girl replied in kind.
“But I felt guilty and ran away.”
“What are you doing!?”
“I don’t know what face I’m supposed to make. In the first place, a woman’s demands are complex. In the past, a woman who approached me said it was wonderful how straight-laced I was! Or something, but in the end, she told me she hated how much of a stiff I was. It’s not like I was even seducing her, but it felt like I was dumped.”
He was undoubtedly dumped, but as befitting a noble lady, Leilia shut her mouth.
He gave off an unaccommodating air, or perhaps a presence as if a joke would just be brushed off.
At that time, a certain thought struck the young girl’s mind.
“So, why don’t you try calling out to this little sister yourself and trying to get along?”
“When it’s lust?”
“J-just leave the lust aside! When you boil it down, you like her face, or you like her air or something, and that means you have a good first impression. Then if you try talking, there’s a possibility you might get to like her more! I think it’s perfectly fine if there’s a love that starts from first sight. And if you’ve got chemistry going on top of that, then you couldn’t ask for more!”
Right! That’s how it should be!
As Leilia spoke with such momentum, the man somewhat pulled back.
“… I don’t want her to tell me she hates how I’m a stiff.”
“Look at that! The fact you don’t want her to think ill of you means you already have feelings for her! How about you try challenging it bit by bit!”
Leilia made a clamor all on her own.
overcoming the hesitant man, she handed down the task of talking with the little sister by the next time he came to the church.
And with a promise in place to report the result after half a month, she left the confessional filled with elation.
Talking with her brother was always interesting.
From the weather to the events that happened around him, he could make everything sound funny and strange.
As a countryside noble with no acquaintances in the city, he must have his share of hardships, but he would never tell Leilia anything painful.
No matter how vehement his womanizing tendencies, the reason they never made for bad rumor was because people would end up forgiving his playful personality.
Leilia loved the creases that showed up by the corners of his eyes when he laughed.
Her brother who had grown into a fearless young man still looked somewhat childish.
Every half month she met him, he would appear as cheerful as ever, calming her heart.
“Leilia, how have you been lately? Has anything strange happened?”
“Let’s see. I gave advice to a friend the other day.”
“Hmm, what sort of person?”
On her brother’s question, she rested her hand stitching the fray in his shirt and looked into the distance.
“… A really strange person. But because of them, I’ve become quite wise in the ways of the world. I learned that a man is imbued with an urge to jam their hand in when witnessing clothing with an open collar… among other things.”
“Wait, Leilia wait. What’s that supposed to mean? What sort of advice? Your brother hasn’t heard anything about this.”
“It’s just as you told me. A man’s preferred personality and face varies from person to person after all. He’s got someone on his mind, but he says it’s not love but lust.”
“Whooooah! Who the hell!? What do you think you’re teaching my sister!!?”
“But the love stories you usually tell me are generally terrible.”
“I never said anything that direct! Who are they and what do they think they’re doing with my sister!?”
Pounding into the wooden table, the big brother cried out.
There were tables and chairs placed here and there around the vast meeting room, and apart from them, there were other families and brigade members who had come for a visit.
Even when Leilia told her brother to stifle his voice, he gave a childish response of I’m not quieting down unless you tell me who this friend is.
The moment when all the attention became embarrassing, the nape of his bent-down neck was grabbed.
“… Don’t make a ruckus in the meeting room.”
At the appearance of her brother’s best friend, Leilia corrected her posture, while her brother pretended to cry as he latched onto him.
“Hear me out, Lutes! There’s a man filling my sister’s head with strange things! But she said it would be a pain if big brother got involved and won’t tell me who it is! I’m not going to do anything strange, just catch him, cut him in three and grill him!”
“Big brother! Cut it out!!”
“… A man.”
At her brother’s manner of speech that might give Lutes a strange misunderstanding, the young girl panicked.
No matter how she peered into Lutes’ face, she couldn’t read anything from his stiff expression.
“… Even if you are her brother, you shouldn’t stick your mouth into your little sister’s relationships. Especially not when she’s at an age where she knows how to judge.”
The young girl perked up at Lutes’ unexpected cover fire.
She wanted him to tell her despondent, sulking brother he was being overprotective.
“But you should understand that your brother is worried. I don’t recommend associating with a man whose name you can’t even say.”
“Lutes! That’s my man!!”
The brother wrapped a hand around Lutes and stuck out his chest.
This time, it was Leilia’s turn for despondency.
Stuck between the abundant expressions of two siblings, the iron-faced man made a somewhat troubled expression.
“Hey, Leilia, give up on a man like that. He’s a man who teaches you all sorts of crazy things. Your brother can’t forgive him.”
“I’m telling you, he’s just a friend. We just happened to sit next to one another in a certain place, and we didn’t even exchange names. I don’t think I’ll be encountering him again.”
It was a lie to evade her brother’s pursuit. Though she didn’t know his face or name, She planned to meet the man afterwards
“You’re worrying me… right, instead of that man, how about this guy! You can’t do much better than Lutes!”
Aware that Leilia held admiration for Lutes, the brother said something outrageous to get back at her. As the hand around his shoulder pulled him close and the other hand pointed him out, the wrinkles on Lutes’ brow multiplied.
“Brother! You’re troubling him, please stop it!!”
“He’s a real stick in the mud, but he’s a good guy. He’s got pluck I say: his heart won’t fold no matter the numerical inferiority. He doesn’t gamble, while ale doesn’t get to him, he’ll tag along for drinks, and he doesn’t play with women at all…”
“Oy, stop it.”
The young girl’s face was bright red, her eyes were growing teary.
While he pretended to try pitching Lutes to Leilia, his real intent was to make Lutes conscious of his sister, that brother of hers. As his sister, she could tell.
But she was so embarrassed she wanted to bury her head in the sand.
Getting in over his head, her brother started grinding his fist against Lutes’ skull, only for his arm to be grabbed and put into a joint lock.
“I’m sorry for my brother… he’s always troubling you, isn’t he.”
“No, your brother is always helping me out. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
When he was supposed to be the same age as her brother, what a reliable person.
Leilia felt her feelings towards Lutes deepen even further as she leaked a miserable sigh.
By her third visit, she was already quite used to it.
It did seem Leilia was the first to arrive that day, and as always, there wasn’t a soul to be found in that church.
Unable to stand just borrowing the place every time, she used the cleaning supplies she brought along to lightly clean off the pews.
When she reached a good stopping point, the door let off a sound, so the young girl hastily fled into the confessional. Eventually, a familiar shadow settled into the seat beyond the divide.
“It’s been a while.”
The man’s voice was heavy, perhaps he had been unable to complete the task. Leilia could tell the result was unfavorable.
“What happened? Were you able to talk with the little sister?”
“Seems she has a man.”
“I heard it straight from her mouth. It sounds like they’re close enough to discuss some extremely private matters.”
“… Is that so.”
Then he surely must be heartbroken.
As if it were about herself, Leilia could feel a tightening on her own heart. She had never seen his face, they had only conversed across the divide, but before she had noticed it, it seemed as if his present state had overlapped with her own.
With Leilia unable to think of any clever consolation, a heavy silence descended. If they parted like this, they might never see one another again, and fearing that, the girl resolved to open her mouth.
“Please tell me about something else.”
“It’s not like you’re constantly thinking indecent things all throughout the day, right? I’m sure you have some daily worries or complaints. I want to hear about you.”
“… Just because I confessed everything when we first met, have you been talking to me imagining I’m constantly thinking indecent things…”
“Oh no, that’s not, you see, don’t mind it. Hey, you have some, don’t you? Some other things to talk about?”
While she gave a response similar to laughing it off, the man regained himself and began to speak.
“Let’s see… a certain senior knight’s being overbearing and a right bother. With the nature of the brigade, it’s only natural for there to be a pecking order, but he pushes unreasonable training on his juniors half for the fun of it. Saying it was practice for night watch, he had us stay up three nights, then sent us mountain climbing in full armor. At the time, too many collapsed along the way.”
“That’s terrible… your instructor doesn’t stop him?”
“He’s got a way with words, that guy. He managed to convince the instructors his stupid juniors stayed up gambling even when they knew it would be a hindrance to training. Because of that, we got even more training tacked on as a penalty.”
“Your knight brigade is…”
“But it wasn’t all bad things. My friend’s good at getting people together, and he encouraged our weakened lot as we all descended the mountain together. Ever since then, our team’s unity has solidified, and they’re calling us a proficient generation with few dropouts to speak of. A few of them are ever stronger than their senior nights.”
From the tone of his words, it was clear the man spoke his heart about his best friend.
The young girl found their friendship, and a man who could honestly praise his friend to be quite appealing. Though she had to wonder about this pecking order of an all-male barrack,
“How did you get to know your friend?”
“… It’s nothing special. When I first started out, I got into a scuffle with an older knight and came out on top. After that, the knight gave a strict order not to get involved with me, and I was shut out from my circle of peers. The one who spoke frankly in my troubles, and the one who helped me get back into the group was that guy.”
“He must be a good person.”
“Yeah, I’m thankful. Truly.”
Even more so why I can’t tell him I harbor these feelings for his sister, he added on.
“… Aren’t you free to think whatever you want?”
“No, but still.”
“It’ll just be painful to force yourself to throw away your feelings. When you’re at your wits end, feel free to come and talk to me again.”
“… I think that’s the first sister-ish thing I’ve heard from you.”
“Oh, wait, that’s right! I’m a sister you know! So please come talk to me again.”
On the verge of forgetting her sister setting, Leilia frantically linked words.
“So you forgot the fact you were a sister.”
For the first time before the young girl, the man raised his voice and laughed.
The two never exchanged a promise to meet again.
For they had simply naturally gotten around to getting together at the church.
After talking about the incidents that happened around them, and the details of their days, they would meet again half a month later.
The man wouldn’t say anything more than that he was part of the knight brigade, the young girl never speaking beyond that she was a sister, there was a tacit understanding neither side would reveal their face.
“Summer’s already over. The days are getting more bearable.”
“Right. And the taste of fall is here. I can’t wait for some foil-roasted foods.”
“I thought everyone in the knight brigade would have a penchant for meats.”
“I like meat as well, but there’s a roasting stall near the barrack I steal around to for midnight snacks.”
“That sounds nice, fish, tubers, butter, and asparagus… I’ll make some next time and leave it on the pews, so please feel free to have a taste.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“My friend caused another mess with women. That part of him alone, I’ll never understand.”
“Oh my! I have someone like that in my family as well. Did he cheat or something?”
“According to the man, he thought things had naturally ended with one woman so he started seeing another, but the woman had no intentions of breaking up, it seems. For some reason, I was dragged in and dragged between him and two women to act as a mediator.”
“You must have it rough… the community appreciates your service.”
“He hammered in the point that I should never mention it to his sister.”
“It’s the same anywhere you go.”
“Once spring comes, I can take a challenge to become an official knight. We’re all taking it together but… I wonder.”
“You’ve all been preparing yourselves for it, right? Just do everything in your power and wait for the Lord’s decree. It’s already grown considerably cold, so take care of your body.”
“You’re right. I train so I’ll be fine, but you should look out for your health. This church freezes over.”
“Fufufu, the truth is, I secretly brought in a lap blanket. You’ve no need to worry.”
By the time she noticed it, two seasons had gone by, and the time had come where she could feel winter’s true advance. The draft was terrible in the old church, a piercing cold rising up from her feet. But as the confessional was sealed and the air was stuffy, the area around her face was seething and uncomfortable.
The man hesitated a while before making an unexpected invitation.
“… Do you want to go drink something warm?”
“Well, you see. It’s cold here, and I’m sure talking around this place isn’t the best idea. I want to thank you for keeping me company every time. I don’t know any stylish shops a woman might like, but at least let me treat you to a cup of tea.”
He didn’t want her to think he was trying to sweet-talk her. The man’s hasty voice gradually rose in tone until it was impossible to make out. Even so, it seemed he didn’t intend to take back his invitation as he intently awaited Leilia’s response.
“… I think it’s best we don’t see each other’s faces.”
“I’m the one who should be asking. To this point, we’ve gotten by without looking at one another. I’ve heard quite a lot about your private life. If the time comes when you no longer need to consult, wouldn’t it be awkward for me to know your face? The way we are now, even if we meet smack dab in the middle of the street, we can stay strangers.”
“… So you want to be strangers.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. It’s just…”
“Don’t blame it on your worry for me. I’ve told plenty of pitiful tales, but I’ll never turn my back on someone I’ve trusted. It all comes down to what you want to do.”
Leilia couldn’t understand why the man hung on so ardently. They had never seen each other to that point and gotten along so well; why would he say something to destroy that?
This was a man in love with an adorable little sister, if he saw me, he might be disappointed in my appearance, she thought. She knew he wasn’t the sort of man who’s attitude would change with appearances, but even so, if he showed even the slightest hint of disappointment, she knew she would never be able to show herself before him again.
“… I am a sister. I cannot go out alone with a man.”
“Ah… you’re, right… I see.”
“B-but if it’s in this confessional, I think it’s perfectly fine that we talk. I’m here to hear out your worries, after all. And you and me, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
The man stayed silent. Leilia herself felt caught on the word friends and shut her mouth. With nothing but a single divider between them in such a small room, they seemed so distant. It was the first time she had ever grown so close to someone of the opposite sex and she had no idea what level of distance to keep.
To think she would feel so sad, not seeing his face.
The man suddenly spoke up.
“Why do you go so far to keep me company in these stupid talks of mine?”
His quiet tone resounded as if he was trying to make an appeal.
“Because I’m a sister. And…”
“I also have someone on my mind. When I listen to you, I feel your situation overlapping with mine. I’m sure…”
“I see… so you were, like that… when I’m the one who kept coming for advice, what am I even saying…”
Leilia’s heart grated at the man’s dejection.
Did he think of her as a vulgar woman who met with a man while her heart was for another? But even so, until the day he no longer needed a sister, she wanted to maintain this peculiar relationship.
As for strange things, there was one more to speak of. No matter how she tried, the confessional door the man used wouldn’t open with Leilia’s strength. This was despite the fact it let off a smooth sound without being caught on anything whenever the man opened it.
Leilia had decided she would clean the church whenever she paid a visit. When wiping down the confessional, she carefully observed the hinge, but couldn’t spot anything that would obstruct it.
Without stopping her cleaning hands, Leilia’s thoughts raged on.
The person she admired- Lutes- had been distant ever since the ruckus in the meeting room. Before that, they were close enough to at least exchange greetings if they saw one another, but at this point, he would swiftly disappear after a nod. Even if her brother dragged him in to participate in his story, he would tack on some reason to bring it to a close.
With such an attitude persisting, even Leilia was put on guard, and she could barely bring herself to smile. Perhaps he had noticed her feelings and was making sure to stay uninvolved with them.
Those gloomy thoughts tormented the young girl’s chest.
If she was being avoided, she need only give chase and talk to him on her own, but when tasked before him, her nearly nonexistent courage would shrivel away.
Meeting her brother and coming to the church.
If she didn’t have those forms of enjoyment, she might have stopped coming to the city altogether.
The church door was suddenly, loudly struck.
Taking Leilia’s plea to not see one another into account, the man would always knock before entering the church. Once she took a seat on the priest side of the confessional, hasty footsteps violently tread onto the church floor and slipped their way into the sinner’s chair.
“Good day. You’re in quite a hurry today. Did something happen?”
“My apologies. I have committed a great discourtesy to a holy site. But listen for I have found something I must quickly discuss with you and made haste.”
The man’s body collided here and there with the walls of the confessional as he spoke.
“The knight brigade will soon enter holiday, right? To be more precise, the break days of knights and squires differ, but me and my friend have been permitted to return to our territories for a month starting next month.”
Leilia was naturally aware. The holiday visited every year, and the topic came up when she went to visit her brother not too long ago. Her brother had mischievously informed her he would bring something nice back as a souvenir.
“It must’ve been a while since you were last home. That sounds like fun.”
“Quite the contrary. My stupid parents arranged for a grand remodeling of the house right in the time period their son was coming home. During the renovations, it seems my parents will be living in a villa in this city, but lately whenever we see one another, they put me to finding a fiancée, so I honestly would rather not stay with them.”
The knight brigade mainly consisted of the second and third sons of nobility. Their statuses varied, but generally speaking, unlike an eldest son whose engagement was decided at a young age, theirs was decided after an extent of years had gone by.
Second and third sons who didn’t want to be dragged around by their parents searching for brides were in no few numbers. But it was possible this man would find a fiancée. This might be a good chance for him to finally forget about the little sister, but the words of encouragement wouldn’t come from Leilia.
“That being the case, if I return to my own residence alone, the servants will just be mindful of me. I was thinking I would just stay in the barracks, but.”
There the man cut his words.
Despite the partition, it was as if she could see him suck in and swallow his breath.
“… On my friend’s recommendation, I’ll be intruding on his house.”
“Your friend’s house…!”
Going to his friend’s house would mean he would be with the little sister his heart desired.
Shut away by the snow for a month, they would have plenty of opportunities to interact. Perhaps it was even possible for them to develop a romance.
Leilia hazily thought.
Huh? Why am I this shocked?
My heart hurts more than when he brought up a fiancée.
He’s such a good person.
If they get some leisurely time to talk, perhaps that little sister might really become his lover.
“… This is a good chance. I’m sure you’ll get along with her.”
As the young girl said that, she suddenly realized.
I like him.
Just as I think of Lutes, I think of him as well.
A man whose face, whose name I don’t know.
When I’m supposed to be playing a sister, just how shameless can I be to fall in love with two people.
“I said it before… I don’t know what face I’m supposed to make when I see her.”
“… Then don’t try to make one. Find some time to talk, and let her know about you.”
“If she learns about me, she’ll know I’m a stick in the mud with no real substance.”
“You think so? In all the times I’ve talked to you, while there were fun times, there’s never been a moment I thought of you that way.”
When it was his chance of a lifetime, the man remained indecisive. More so, Leiia’s encouragement only increased his reluctance. Leilia gradually began to feel irritation.
If he had a chance to be happy, she wanted him to step out without hesitation and grab it. Otherwise, she felt she would keep liking him, holding the unfounded hope he might turn his way someday.
“What are you hesitating for! You can try and fail! Just give it a go! Even if you fail, you have me, don’t you!?”
“W-what do you mean by that!?”
“I mean I’ll do my best to encourage you if your heart is broken!”
“Ah, I see, what’s this… I guess that’s about right.”
On the man’s let-down voice, Leilia flew into a rage at the thought she was an insufficient partner to send him the words of encouragement.
“But if we’re alone together, I have no idea what to do!”
“Well start by doing something! What’s with you!? You do nothing at all and keep making excuse after excuse!! Are you a coward!?”
A majority of Leilia’s words were words for herself.
I haven’t done anything.
And yet, I’m regretting.
If only I called out to Sir Lutes more on my own accord.
If only I had the courage to show my face to the man before my eyes.
“I might jam my hand into her chest!”
“Then go and jam it in!!”
Her head overheating, the brakes weren’t working on the words she blurted out.
Normally, that would be where she shouted at him to stop.
“Got it! I’m going to do it!”
“That’s the spirit!!!”
Listening to the man’s footsteps as he triumphantly departed, Leilia covered her face with both hands in exhaustion. She had sent him off. She had really sent him off to the little sister.
But someone like her, scared of revealing her own face, who did nothing but listen to his words had no right to say such a thing. This was punishment for her heart straying to two men, now neither love would bear fruit.
Leilia entrusted her back to the narrow confessional’s wall as she softly muttered.
“Then go and jam it in… was going too far…”
The last meeting before the holiday.
When Leilia dropped by the barracks, her brother told her he was coming home soon, so she didn’t have to come in the cold.
They set up plans for the break, and discussed the high society gatherings in the countryside they would need to attend. Apparently, the souvenir her brother mentioned earlier was already prepared.
When Leilia tried asking what it was, he simply gave a grin and told her she probably wouldn’t have the time to think about social gatherings this holiday.
She didn’t even have the chance to pass Lutes by.
Once she pushed the heavy door to enter, the young girl was greeted by the church she had completely grown accustomed to. It did seem the man was already in the confessional.
Leilia leisurely passed between the pews as she thought.
This would surely be the last one.
Half a month later, he would be at his friend’s house, spending a month with the little sister. If she wanted to convey her feelings, this was the last time. Because if things hit off with the little sister, the man would no longer drop by this church.
Even when she entered the confessional, the two maintained the silence without exchanging greetings. Perhaps because of the stupid conversation last time around, it was too hard for either to speak. Even so, Leilia resolved herself and parted her lips.
“Do you want to talk face to face?”
“Can we meet each other directly?”
Without comprehending the meaning of the other’s words, they both froze.
But leaving that aside for the time being, they opened their mouths to first clarify their request.
“I understand your worries. You must be scared to meet a man who said he would plunge his hand into someone’s chest the first time you met him. But I swear I definitely won’t do something like that.”
“You might think this is a bit late after I declined your request for tea. But there’s something I want to look you in the eye and say. Before you go to the little sister’s mansion, please meet me.”
Another moment of silence.
“You’re fine with meeting face to face?”
“I should be asking you that.”
Neither side could conceal their surprise that their opinions coincidentally overlapped.
When they desired a meeting themselves, this too-well-put-together scenario had them suddenly grow cold feet.
“B-but I’m sure you’ll be disappointed in me. I’m too tall and plain-featured, I can’t say I have an appealing body.”
She felt ashamed of herself for going on a preemptive defensive.
“I’m the same. My colleagues always tell me I have an iron face. But if it’s with you, I get the feeling just talking on a grassy plain will be enough to satisfy me.”
“… Even if that’s the case, that’s like you’re calling me a woman without charm. Which is irritating.”
“Oh, you’re irritated?”
The man gave a throaty laugh like a cat that received a snack
“Are you alright with it?”
“You’re a sister with a man on your mind. Won’t you be troubled, meeting me?”
“… The man is my brother’s friend, and I’ve only talked with him a handful of times. From the start, it was a hope that would never bear fruit. And I want to try meeting you.”
“… Thank you.”
The young girl placed a hand on the wood mosaic that divided them.
She would have to confess. Not just her feelings, the lie she had carried for so long.
She would have to confess her sins and apologize.
“I’m sorry. The truth is, I’m not really a sister.”
“… I’m in love with you.”
The forceful sound of a door kicked open resounded.
The man leapt out of the confessional. Noticing that, the young girl hurriedly pushed her door open as well. Perhaps he was angry she had cheated him with a lie. It was possible he resented her for her infidelity, after she told him she held affection for another man. Leilia raised her face to apologize.
The light streaming in from the skylight filled the clear snowy air, making the church interior all the more bright.
Right before the church confessional, the two confronted one another for the first time.
The air Leilia took in to apologize stopped in the depths of her throat without being breathed out
The one who stood there.
Black haired, with a well-chiseled face. A tall stature she had to look up at, her brother’s friend, and the person Leilia admired.
Lutes, the man himself.
As if his usual iron face was a lie, Lutes stared at her blankly.
His eyes fastened firmly to Leilia, he began to turn red from the corners of his ears. The man’s voice spilled through the quiet church interior.
“… Don’t tell me I was consulting the one in question…?”
Like a swift current, the contents of all his consultations flooded into Leilia’s head. All the pieces settled into their right positions, and the jokingly plain truth revealed itself before the young girl’s eyes.
You mean the best friend’s sister he talked about was me!?
Exposed in broad daylight, this delightful, yet terrifying fact numbed Leilia’s body. For a while she gazed at him, having forgotten how to blink. The two had met as if someone had set it up and led them on.
Were these awry thoughts mere escapism?
Out of place as it was, the young girl recalled what she had heard from her brother in a corner of her mind.
There’s a rumor about the church.
They say an angel lives there.
A while passed before the paralysis subsided; Leilia adjusted her collar as she muttered.
“P-please don’t jam it in…”