I Became The Pope, Now What?Chapter 381 381. The Promotion Test
The year was 5118 of the Lord, and a momentous event was unfolding across the Blood Sea in the lands of the heathens. The interminable, bloody war between the proud and fierce Elves and the mighty Dragons had reached a new level of intensity as the monarchs of both sides joined the fray. With the very existence of their civilisations at stake, the damage brought by the conflict was nothing short of catastrophic.
Yet, to the Dragons' great dismay, the Elves had begun to gain the upper hand. Despite starting the war, the Dragons now found themselves facing the genuine possibility of defeat, of becoming subservient to their arch-rivals, the Elves.
But for Rathagun Xeek Eldaron, the Elven King, the war was nothing but an uninvited and distasteful distraction as he had to put his focus away from finding ways to get his son home.
To end the war as soon as possible, the King went all out, and without Sylvester ever knowing, he became one of the reasons for the elves' greater, bullish performance against the dragons.
The Elven King just wanted to finish the war fast, no matter the cost.
In the same year, a strange gathering was being organised. Typically, bards were people who had no home, no permanent workplace, or a family. They travelled all year long and were generally loved by most because they brought free entertainment to the people.
Along with entertainment, there were stories of great men and news of what was happening in other parts of the world. The Bards could change the mood of an entire village in times of sadness, such as a drought or a flood.
But, in a strange occurrence, all the significant bards from across the Sol were on horses and carriages headed to the Holy Land. They all met on their way and joined each other, they sang, and they praised the one true lord and his one true bard.
In no time, as the travelling bards never stopped signing, the people became aware of the strange gathering organised by Sylvester. Naturally, they felt envious, and some tried to join, but the Bards knew better than not to take anyone uninvited along.
Among the travellers was the most famous Bard in Sol, of course, after Sylvester. He was an old retired knight in his sixties. His long beard and hair had turned white, but his body was still strong and full of might, his voice firm, and his mastery over the single-string flat board instrument as great as in his prime.
His name was Elvis Van Marston, the unofficial leader of the bards of Sol. He was one of the few truly rich bards, thanks to his previous successful career as a knight. He organised a long convoy of fifty carriages, all reserved for bards to reach the Holy Land.
"I wonder if Lord's Bard is as magnificent as the legends say." Elvis wondered in his luxurious personal carriage, decorated from outside to inside with silk curtains, soft cushions and, of course, the finest wine readily available.
Inside the carriage were his two assistants, responsible for playing the drum and a simple trumpet in the background and providing voices for elevated effects.
"Elder Elvis, I'm more interested in finding out why Lord Bard called us all." Mark Wesley, the first assistant, spoke.
The old bard caressed his beard to brush and hummed in agreement. "It'll be quite a disappointment if he isn't stupendously fabulous. We're all going there just to see him, so it does not matter what he wishes."
At that, his other assistant chimed in while filling the glass of wine. "This new carriage we ride in is said to be inspired by Lord Bard's designs. I barely sense the uneven road underneath. He certainly has a brilliant mind. There is no doubt."
"So it seems." Elvis hummed and drank in silence.
Nobody had any idea what to expect, but they were just interested in knowing more about Sylvester, and this was a rare opportunity to meet him personally.
"Good morning, Bishops... Or should I say trainee Bishops." Cardinal Geralt Brightson, the new tenth Guardian of Light and the Headmaster of the School of Dawn, shouted at the old bearded men standing in a neat square formation.
There were thirty in total, and they were all previously Archpriests, now promoted to the rank of Bishop. But, among them, in the middle was the only young boy with eye-catching shining blonde hair and not a single speck of hair as the beard.
"I will be your instructor and examiner for the whole month. If you fail any test, you lose the chance to become a Bishop... Ah, I forgot to mention, there is an Archbishop among you as well. So be respectful to him because he's your senior."
Sylvester looked at the headmaster and nodded with a smile. The old man was watching his back from the looks of it.
"Now! The first test for today is simple. It's an hour before sunrise, and by the time the sun fully appears, I want you all at the top of that mountain peak! This is the training peninsula, and it was built to train new Holy Army soldiers. So if you can't climb a mere five thousand metre high peak, I will consider you a failure because this is the lowest criterion for a new Holy Army soldier." Tenth Guardian Geralt shouted.
The old Bishop trainees made faces as they appeared to struggle with the fact they'd have to walk such a long distance physically. After all, they were all old men and had many physical ailments.
"What are you waiting for? MOVE!"
Quickly, everyone ran away at speed. The oldest of the members were quick to start crying and cursing themselves as they felt their back pain intensify. But they wanted the promotion, so they never gave up.
The uphill climb was harsh and treacherous. The mere five thousand metres high mountain required a path of twenty metres to reach the peak, and it was filled with many staircases, small water streams, and such.
Among them, Sylvester had it the easiest, however. He jogged with ease and passed by all the others. He moved comically, swaying his arms sidewise more than usual as if mocking the old men.
"Give way!" Sylvester shouted and got in front of everyone.
Eventually, Sylvester gained a lead of five kilometres from the rest of the crowd. But there was one more reason why Sylvester moved faster than the rest.
No, his aim was not to mock the future Bishops but rather make them his friends. The best way to do that was to leave behind a long-lasting impression in their minds. For that, he created a faintly wrong impression as it was the hardest to forget.
Now, he aimed to change that impression into a good one. So, he set up a table where he stood and placed a few glasses full of water and rejuvenation potion mixed.
Soon, the first trainee Bishop appeared and felt surprised that Sylvester was still there. Then, he saw the glasses, and his thirst for water intensified.
He drank it fast and felt the instant effects of the potion. "This... You added a rejuvenation potion to this, Lord Bard? It must have cost a fortune!"
Sylvester chuckled and refilled the glass. "Don't mind it, Bishop. We are, after all, servants of Solis. If we don't watch each other's back, how do we expect commoners of Sol to trust us?"
His words were heard by some other Bishops drinking the water in silence. They all silently smiled upon hearing him and soon continued their journey.
Sylvester repeated the same tactics by making small talk. One by all, they passed by and easily got impressed by the famed Lord Bard.
But Sylvester noticed something at the end. He had counted to twenty-eight, which meant there was one old man left behind. And the man was nowhere to be seen for as far as Sylvester could see.
'Hmm...' Sylvester sprinted backwards to find the old man.
He was fast, as his knightly talent was high. Effortlessly, he crossed a kilometre of distance and finally arrived at a tree. The old man was sitting beside it, his back resting on it. There was a lot of sweat, and the breath was still fast.
'He looks too old... probably in his nineties? If he's becoming a Bishop now, then this is probably his last promotion and the last chance to be promoted.'
"Senior," Sylvester called him as he didn't know the name.
The old man opened his eyes and seemed shocked to find Sylvester waiting there. But, surprisingly, he smiled. "Ah, did the race end? Forgive me, Lord Bard. I'm too old for such physically exerting tasks."
Sylvester was taken aback by the scents. 'Ah... Worship towards me, and so much gentle happiness in him. He doesn't seem to care about his promotion.'
"No, the race is not over. We still have half an hour. Come, I will carry you to the finish line." Sylvester turned around and knelt to let the old man climb on his back.
"W-What?" The Bishop-trainee stuttered. "I can't, Lord Bard... You're an Archbishop. This is disrespectful."
Sylvester smirked and insisted. "Ranks mean nothing, Bishop. We're all sons of Solis. Our power is in our unity, and I firmly believe this is the true aim of this test. Do you honestly believe the church does not know how old you are?
"They would never let all of you climb a mountain at such an age, Bishop. All of this is a test to see our harmony because there is no such thing as individuality in the faith of Solis -- Our unity defines our community."
The old Bishop moved and climbed Sylvester's back in silence. His heart pounded fast, and his emotions reeked of utmost fanatic worship towards Sylvester.
"Lord Bard... You are wiser than the rumours."
Sylvester chuckled and started running much faster as if there was nothing on his back.
"You're not the first one to say that, Bishop. I have the Solis to thank for this blessing -- May his holy light enlighten us."
The bishop repeated. "May his holy light enlighten us."
'Ah, another fanatic follower -- It was certainly a good day today.'
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