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༻Chapter One༺


Where am I?

The last thing I remember is walking through the hot forest, desperately hoping to soon make it to a river…but now instead I find myself enshrouded in darkness and musty air. For a little while longer I stay laying there, unmoving. I know I should be more concerned, but it’s been so long since I’ve been in a proper bed, it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

Eventually I sit up and notice a sliver of lamplight filtering through the door. As quietly as I can, I make my way towards the door and open it, finding myself within a large hallway—and am immediately taken aback. The hallway is covered with wallpaper, and a handful of paintings adorn the walls…even the oil lamp near the end of the hall seems awfully decadent. Is this an aristocrat’s house?

Immediately I question how wise it would be to continue further; but, considering I’ve nowhere else to go, it seems I have little choice.

Once I make it to the end of the hallway, I find a parlor just as fancy as the hall. Near the middle of the parlor sits a brocaded sofa; and upon it, a short round woman with long black hair and bright green eyes, writing in a book. She appears to be wearing a sort of nightgown, yet it’s still lined with lace…now it’s very clear her position is high above my own. I stand half in the doorway and look her, slightly mesmerized. Not because of her status, but rather her manner.

This woman will write, then stop to think, before finally going back to furiously writing more than even before. From this distance I can’t read the page, but it is filled with words scattered about, some crossed out, and others circled. Whatever it is she’s putting together, it seems she’s surely enjoying it. After a few minutes pass, she finally notices me.

“Ah! You are awake!” Her face gleams, and she gently but quickly closes her book, and walks up towards me.

“Please forgive me for bringing you here like this—I saw you had passed out while I was on a walk, and I was not quite certain on what to do, and—” She continues on while I merely look on her, awed. How did such a small woman, at least a foot or more shorter than myself, manage to drag me all the way here? I have no idea how far we are from the forest, but it couldn’t have been an easy feat either way. This woman must be much stronger than she appears...or maybe just more determined.

“…Thank you,” I say to her. She abruptly stops talking, and just stares at me blankly.

“Oh, um…you are welcome,” she replies, shifting her gaze away from me. “Would you like a seat?”

“I wouldn’t mind…” I say and go to sit on a chair opposite to the sofa, and she resumes her former spot.

For a while we merely sit there awkwardly in silence. I focus on the sole sound of the clock ticking onwards, wondering what has happened. Did I say something wrong? What are you supposed to say when someone quite possibly saves your life?

“Is something wrong?” I ask.

“No, no! I was just…a tad surprised, is all,” she answers. “I’ve never met a woman with a voice like yours before.”

Oh…oh. I see now.

“That’s because I’m not one…”

“…You are a man?!” I simply nod yes.

“I am so sorry! I did not mean—”

“It’s no problem,” I say, trying to calm her down. It stings slightly; but admittedly, it’s not as though I don’t largely bring it on myself. Can’t fault her for that.

Instead of feeling better, however, she puts her face into her palms and sighs deeply.

“I can’t believe I brought a man into my house…” she mumbles under her breath. "I had just assumed you were a tall woman..."

“What’s the problem?” I ask, before it finally comes to me. “Are you married?”

“Well…” she leans back into the couch, a looks away from me. “Not yet, but I shall be soon.”

“If your fiancé is here, he should know the situation. Surely he’ll understand.” She chuckles.

“I’ve not even met him yet,” she says with a dry smile. “Truthfully, I scarcely remember his name.”

“You…don’t even know the name of your own fiancé?” I attempt to hide how baffled I am, but it’s hopeless.

“My family chose him for me quite recently. I have merely been here learning how to run a home, waiting for them to make their choice…”

“You must truly be close to your family,” I say, “To let them make such a choice.”

“Truly?” Now she laughs, yet it still feels somehow dark. “They’ve not visited me in months. They only ever talk to me in letters anymore, if at all.” I contemplate saying nothing, as it doesn’t seem my place to speak here. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but ask.

“Then why?” I knew royalty has no say in who they marry, but is it the same for all nobility?

“What else am I to do? It is not as though I can just choose my spouse like the lower classes do.”

“Yes, like we do…” I look away, and sigh.

“No, I do not mean—!” She panics, seemingly thinking I’m offended.

“It’s all right; I know what I am.” The words come out more snidely than I intended, but before I can apologize she goes on again.

“You are so blessed, to be able to choose your wife, your destiny…”

“Does anyone really choose their destiny?” I mumble under my breath, not meant to be heard; but she still hears me.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s just…” I look off in a daze. For some reason, this home, this conversation—they’ve stirred so many old memories…

“Even if your family isn’t directly making a choice for you, the world ultimately decides our fate in the end, doesn’t it?” She stares at me with what appears to be a look of great sadness…and yet, she smiles.

“So, you are just as unfortunate as I.” She closes her eyes as a tear falls down; but, still she continues grinning. “I wonder if, even if I were not nobility, life would still be just as miserable…”

“No,” I abruptly speak. “You…you just have to make do with what’s given to you.”

“What do you do if you can never have what you wish?” she mutters before sighing.

“Please forgive me,” she speaks louder this time. “It seems I have forgotten my manners, being so tired…”

“But you’ve not done anything rude,” I reply, lost.

“I just met you, and all I have discussed are my own issues!” I say nothing, as this is true. But to be honest, I don’t mind. I imagine someone of her standing can’t speak their mind often, so having someone outside to talk to must be a relief.

“Anyways,” she continues, “Is there anything you need?”

While I’d ignored it before, now I notice the intense dryness in my mouth. Come to think of it, I’ve not had anything to drink in quite a while…

“Do you have any water?” I ask.

“Of course,” she says politely, “I shall return soon.” And with that, she disappears into the house.

I stay seated, wandering through my own thoughts. Even though I once lived quite near to them, the lives of the aristocracy still seem so strange to me. And yet, perhaps we aren’t so different after all; at least, her and I. I was never able to marry the one I loved, and the closest time we got to that was so short-lived…

Before I realize it, the woman has already come back with a glass in hand, and gently she hands it to me.

“Thank you,” I say before I begin gulping down a bit too fast, as I feel the water spread through my body.

Thinking of it, it’s been days since I’ve had anything to drink…no wonder I passed out in the woods. I quietly moan at my own carelessness.

“Do you feel better?” she softly asks, and I nod in reply.

“Please forgive me for being so uncivilized tonight,” she says, “Considering I have yet to introduce myself…” Gracefully she extends her hand to me, and smiles.

“I am called Suzette. And you?” I hesitate, suddenly noticing just how unusual this entire situation is. In spite of my status, my appearance, she still insists on treating me as an equal.

“Hikaru,” I reach out my hand and whisper, wondering if this kindness of hers will continue. But to my surprise, she beams.

“Are you from Asashi? Ah, I suppose I should have known, with that outfit!” It appears she’s trying to hide the enthusiasm in her voice, but it clearly fails. I can’t help but grin. It’s rather endearing—most aren’t too pleased to encounter foreigners, even from a different province half of the time.

“I was born there,” I reply, “But came here when I was still quite young…”

“Have you returned since?”

“No, but I’d like to eventually.”

“I see…” she answers a bit dejectedly. “Do you happen to remember what it was like?”

“Not really.”

“Ah, that is fine…” she sighs.

“Why do you want to know so badly?”

“Is it wrong of me to want to learn?”

“No,” I answer, “It’s just rare to see people so interested in other places.”

“Well…” she begins, “Traveling has always seemed fascinating, but the farthest away I have ever gone is the Capital, and the villages around this area.”

“I’ve not traveled to Asashi,” I say, “But I’ve been all over Soleia.”

“Really?!” Now she seems truly excited. “Do you travel often for work?”

“Oh, that’s…” I look away, finding myself embarrassed for reasons I can’t even discern. Normally I don’t mind admitting the truth of the matter at all, but now I have to force myself to speak.

“I gather knowledge on plants and lore, and such; but…I don’t have any sort of job,” I say at last. “Wandering is all I do.”

“Is it because…your condition?” she stumbles upon her words, trying not to be insensitive. For a moment I’m confused about what she means, until I notice my hair. Her’s is as dark as the night around us, whereas mine is devoid of all color. I’m away from society so often, at this point I’ve almost forgotten how unusual it is. Until it’s pointed out to me.

“Yeah, a bit—but I’m fine.” She sits silently for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.

“Is it? There’s…nothing you wish to do?”

“Not in particular. Not anymore,” I say. “I’ve come to accept my lot in life.”

“Ah…” she sighs wistfully.

“I take it you do?”

“It does not matter,” she mumbles, and begins to stand up. “I have already spoke too much of myself tonight, I—”

“No, Suzette. You haven’t.” She glares at me with wide eyes, likely surprised I used her name—and admittedly, so am I.

“This is your home. You can talk about whatever you’d like here,” I say. “And…I wouldn’t mind getting to know you better.”

She looks away from me, with a slight smirk on her face. “Is that so?”

“It shall surely sound ridiculous…” she begins, “but, I have always wished to begin my own bakery.” I’m a tad surprised at how mundane it is, but that’s not a bad thing. More realistic dreams are easier to make reality…

“What’s ‘ridiculous’ about that?”

“Someone such as myself isn’t meant to have such dreams; ‘if a woman must work she’s unfortunate indeed.’ Or so they say. But…” She shuffles in her seat slightly, seemingly thinking of what to say next. “Baking is such a lovely thing...you can take so many disparate ingredients, many of which would be horrid on their own, and make something both lovely and life-sustaining—it is practically magic!” As she goes on her voice progressively rises in volume; her eyes, previously dim, are positively growing now. Her passion for her craft rings nostalgically familiar…and I realize it’s been quite a long time since I’ve felt so at home with another person.

She continues speaking once more. “How I would love to share what I create with all the world…oh, that reminds me!” Suddenly she reaches over to the small coffee table between us, picking up the book she was writing in when I first arrived. Swiftly she shuffles through the pages, and it appears she finds the one she was last on, and turns it over so that I may see it.

Written on the page are what I believe to be a variety of desserts, although most I have never heard the name of before. Now I can clearly see which ones are circled and crossed out, yet I can’t parse out why…or what this document is even supposed to mean at all. I stare at it blankly for a moment trying to figure it out, to no avail.

“Oh dear…” she whispers with slight concern in her voice, “You do not know how to read, do you?”

“…No, that’s not it,” I reply flatly. “I can read, it is just…what’s the purpose of this? It seems like a bunch of random desserts…”

“Not at all! You see, my neighbors are planning a large soirée in a few weeks’ time. I suggested my chefs make the desserts for the event, since they are excellent—but, it shall actually be me!” she chirps, clearly full of self-satisfaction. “You see, I have been planning what we should have, which tastes would complement each other best…that is what this list is. I cannot exactly just make everything without planning first.”

“I see, but…why did you say your chefs would make it? Why not just say it’s you?”

“Baking is fine as a pastime, but if I bake for others…they would surely look at me askance. That is why we have chefs, they do the hard work. Even so…” her voice drifts off for a moment. “This will be the first time I have ever shared my creations with others, aside from the servants. I am so nervous…”

“Well,” I say, “You seem passionate enough that I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”

Slowly her expression loses all emotion as her eyes drift their gaze towards nowhere in particular. “That is…what troubles me most.”

“If it is horrid,” she says, “Then I can finally lay this dream to rest. It would be much simpler accepting these circumstances knowing I would not succeed otherwise. If I actually do have talent…will I be able to stave off the desire?” Suddenly she lifts up her head, and looks me straight in the eye.

“If you were me, what do you think you would do?”

“I-I don’t know,” I stumble slightly, not expecting her to ask for my advice. “Obviously I’m not a nobleman.”

“That is why I ask you,” she replies. “I know precisely what a nobleman might say…but what shall you say?”

“I ask…what holds you back? Are you worried someone might harm you?”

“What?” She seems taken aback that I would suggest that—although it’s something I’ve had to worry about much, which is why I suggest it. But, I suppose life is at least a bit simpler for her.

“No, no, nothing like that. It is just…being judged so harshly by everyone…”

Does that really matter?

I don’t speak it aloud, as I’m sure it would come off as trivializing…but I suppose that’s something else I’ve become far too used to, myself. Even with all I’ve been through, though, it’s easier to say “don’t care” than it is actually act upon it. Realizing this, I choose my words carefully.

“You must decide for yourself what’s most important to you,” I tell her. She sighs.

“I feel as though I know, and yet…it would be safer to stay here. Who knows, perhaps my husband will be kind, and wonderful…” Now it seems she’s talking to herself, but she soon catches it.

“Well, thank you,” she says with a yawn, “For helping me, I mean…”

“It’s no problem,” I reply, although it doesn’t seem as though I’ve done much. “I suppose I should be on my way now—”

“No! Erm, I mean—it’s still quite late, is it not? At least rest, until the morning.”

“I don’t want to abuse your generosity, or cause any scandal…”

“You are not at all,” she insists, “And as we’ll be in different rooms, it should surely be fine. After your ordeal it would be good for you to get more rest.”

“All right,” I say, slowly standing up. “Then I’ll be going back to rest now.”

“Sleep well,” she mutters.

“Yeah, you too. And…thank you.” Though I try not to show it, I can’t help but smile, and so does she. And with the I stiffly retreat into the hallway, looking for the room I found myself in before. It’s not long before I'm wrapped in the soft confines of the bed once more. As I lay there, my mind begins to wander…

I can’t believe I’m still here…no, I can’t believe I’m here at all.

And it’s definitely strange, having a true conversation with someone like this…but I know it’s because I’m an outsider. Even if we just met, I’m safer to speak with than the others around here. Especially since after tonight, I doubt we’ll ever meet again—that’s how it always goes.

But, even if it’s foolish…I hope we can meet again. You seem far too kind to be so miserable. Even with all the shit I’ve gone through, I’ve still found a semblance of happiness…

So please find your happiness too, Suzette.


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© 2019 by J.H. Rose