I Became The Pope, Now What?
Chapter 238: 238. Looming War

'When I hoped that there be another victim, I didn't mean this. But who did it? The Duchess? Duke?' Sylvester was left in shock.

"The Duke's castle and the entire town are under strict surveillance by my men. So how did they commit such a crime? As I informed you in my letters, the Witch is likely behind the murders. It's unknown why, but how could she harm a princess in another kingdom's most secured castle?" Sylvester wondered loudly.

Inquisitor High Lord didn't care about the reason anymore. "The time to ask questions has elapsed, young bard. The two kingdoms will burn if we do not stop this from escalating. I'm sure the Administration of the Holy Land is preparing for the worst--but before that, our actions will dictate what happens. Hence, we must act in haste."

Sylvester thought about what could be done. The stakes had suddenly gone so high that things were reaching borderline impossible. But, over the past year and a few months, he had met some important people he understood very well. So, he wondered who he could use to get on top of everything.

"Can we arrest the Duke and Duchess of Ironstone?" Sylvester asked.

"Yes, but not without definitive evidence. I'm certain you don't have that, nor do I have any hope of finding it, for they sit too high in the food chain to be foolish enough to leave evidence behind. So, for now, what matters is that we stop the two sides from meeting on the battlefield. Or else, when the first sword is struck, the chaotic fate will be sealed."

Sylvester sighed in frustration. This scenario was worse than the worst thing he expected. "How can King Riveria be so foolish? The destruction will be mutual. If he goes all out, then Gracia will have to do the same. Both kingdoms are rich and have enough powerhouses. The deaths will be in tens of millions, not to mention the millions more who will die slowly from starvation."

"Indeed. The two kingdoms combined amount to Eastern Sol's three-fourth food supply. This is why we stopped the war years ago, and this is why we must do it again. King Riveria has also grown too old and senile after his son, Romel's disappearance. Knowing his sinister plans for you, you will return to the Holy Land with your men. Consider your mission completed." The Lord Inquisitor ordered him in an authoritative tone.

But Sylvester knew better than most that the mission was an utter failure. 'Is there no way I can be a player in this game? I can't let this opportunity slide.'

He silently thought about all the strategies he could. His own goal was to gather as much soft power as possible, after all.

"My lord, I request you to take me along. I desire to meet someone in Riveria who--if everything goes well--can fix our Riveria problem entirely. At least for a few years."

Hearing him, Lord Inquisitor's eyes shined behind the red visor. The big man was amused, and knowing Sylvester's past wise decisions, he was intrigued to listen. "Speak, young bard. If I find the plan plausible, then you may join me. If not, then you must resign to the Holy Land."

That was all Sylvester wanted. "Respected Lord Inquisitor, you see, I know a man who..."

...

The very next day, Sylvester prepared to head to Riveria. He was also given the Inquisitor Army under General Arnold's command because even though he'd be going on official business with the Inquisitor High Lord, there was no doubt that someone may still try to harm him as the bounty was still on his head and growing ever stronger.

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"You two will be joining me." Sylvester addressed Lady Aurora and Isabella as he wrote a letter in his room. The castle of the previous Baron was now considered a property of the Inquisitors until the new allotment.

"Why are we even going there if a war is about to start? And why Fort Sunflower? The king lives in River City." Lady Aurora questioned him, confused as she thought her need would be near the battlefield.

Sylvester finished writing and sealed the letter. "Because our goal is not to meet the King. We're going to meet Duke Conrad of the Northern Duchy. Don't worry; I will explain everything along the way. Let me send this letter to Felix first. I'm afraid they and the crusader army are in danger. They must rush away and reach this castle."

Isabella was depressed at the same time. The war involved her family at its centre, after all. "I hope you and the Lord Inquisitor are successful in stopping this."

"Stopping is not hard, Isabella," Sylvester answered immediately. "What's hard is to guess what King Riveria will ask in return for stopping."

...

Ender Castle, Duke of Ironstone.

It had been more than ten days since Sylvester had left to deal with the so-called bloodling, who turned out to be a demon.

For the most part, Felix and the rest had nothing to do, as their job was to keep an eye on all sorts of activities in and around the Duke's castle. In addition, they were to keep an eye on the port and roads so any large movements could be noticed.

There was a strange tension in the air for the past few days. Felix, Gabriel and Bishop Lazark felt it. Spy activities against them had increased significantly recently.

Usually, Felix spent his time watching the town while Bishop Lazark kept an eye on the monastery to see if anything strange was happening. Meanwhile, Gabriel acted like a religious teacher and roamed around the entire town, performing house purification rituals and occasionally overseeing marriages.

Their roles were not random, though. Felix was made to mingle with street folks because he was so friendly and easy to trust. Bishop was to oversee the monastery as he had a very high rank himself. Then Gabriel was made to mingle with decent upper-class folks as he was a learned man with a particular interest in religious scriptures.

Each was tasked with gathering intel and being on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

Currently, Gabriel was making his rounds and helping the town's people. "May the holy light enlighten us? You asked for a purification ritual for your home?"

He stood at the door of a small house with a good outer garden and walled area. The family was wealthy but not rich enough to be close to the Duke. This was a typical successful trader's family.

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"Priest Gabriel. Please enter. We were awaiting you. We have prepared all the listed items for the ritual." The man of the house, a middle-aged tall and average build man, greeted.

Gabriel acted as usual. "That is brilliant. May I know the need for this purification? I don't sense any negativity from here."

The trader excitedly replied. "You don't know? It was announced a few hours ago. The Duke's birthday is coming, and a weeklong tourney will be held in celebration. So I wish to have a purified and warm house just in case I'll need to entertain some influential guests."

Gabriel silenced, nodded, and proceeded to perform the small ritual and move on to the new house. This one belonged to a man who worked for the town's administration.

"Oh, so many great lords and ladies will come with their knights. We must have the town cleaned before they reach."

Gabriel noted that as well and moved on after doing his duties. After this, he headed into the market to do the same purification ritual in the shops. Most of the traders were saying the same thing about the tourney and seemed excited as they expected the business to boom for the coming few weeks.

"Thank you, honourable priest. Here's the payment." A shopowner tried to give him a silver coin.

Gabriel rejected it and stepped back. "Please don't. It's against the grace of the lord that his servants ask for money for work so small. If anything, please use that money to feed the poor. That shall bring earn you not only a good name but also good grace."

Shopowners and commoners generally enjoyed it whenever clergymen like Gabriel spoke words like that. It created an aura of wisdom and superiority in the minds of others.

"Did the Duke hold a tourney last year as well?" Gabriel then asked out of interest.

"No, no, this is the first time for his grace's birthday. Usually, he holds one to celebrate his marriage anniversary."

For some reason, Gabriel felt that there was something wrong. Living with Sylvester had taught him to be paranoid whenever something happens out of the ordinary.

'We didn't receive a single invitation yet. Nor did we find out about a tourney like this when it takes months of advance planning to hold such an event. All this seems to start out of nowhere.'

Gabriel had hundreds of doubts, but the means of clearing them were limited. So he cleaned his church robes and brandished the church symbol chain on his right palm while creating a small light. He was, after all, a light wizard too.

He then walked over to the gates of Ender Castle slowly while chanting a hymn from Sylvester's book of compilation.

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♫The love of Solis knows no bounds,

For he nourishes you with everything around...♫

"Halt!" The guards stopped him, four of them pointing their spears at him. "No man, clergy or noble, can pass unless you have an invitation token. Do you have one?"

Gabriel spoke in rhymes. "I'm but a mere small priest of the lord. By his grace, I travel with the bard. This small man wishes the Duke a delightful birthday and hopes he may always find the right way. May the Lord bless him and tourney."

The guard who stopped Gabriel seemed confused. "Birthday?..."

Cough!

As another guard from behind coughed, the one ahead spoke rushedly. "Indeed, Duke's birthday will bring the well-deserved light and joy to our town. Thank you, priest. I will pass your words to my commander."

Gabriel stayed smiling despite the mayhem in his mind. "Thank you, my brother in faith. May the holy light enlighten us."

After that, without wasting a moment, he rushed back to the Crusader camp and entered the leftover carriage of Lady Aurora.

He found Felix and Bishop Lazark in there, appearing serious. The same was the case with Gabriel.

"Gab, grave news." Felix blurted.

Bishop Lazark started. "I returned from Monastery. Cardinal Cornelius has learned that King Riveria's daughter has been murdered--breast cut. Riveria has now declared all-out war on Gracia."

"But how did they do it? We never left the sight of the castle or the town." Felix wondered in a frustrated tone.

"..."

Gabriel didn't usually curse, but this time as he realised the grand conspiracy happening in the town. Then, as he felt the links connecting, he burst. "Good fucking devil! The duke is planning our funeral! We must escape!"

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I Became The Pope, Now What? Chapter 238: 238. Looming War
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