~Hikaru ✧ Chapter XI~
Suzette and I continue down an actual path today, much closer to civilization than usual. All around us are large fields, all being dutifully tilled by the farmers and their oxen. It’s hard not to be a little nervous, wondering if any of them will notice us—in particular, notice me—and confront us. But while many do give us strange looks as we go, they all quickly turn their attention elsewhere once they see we’re merely passing by.
However, there is one odd thing—a low, persistent moaning that’s been going on for minutes now.
I look down to her slightly trailing behind me. Her arms are folded over her stomach, and her face looks nauseous…
I stop, and so does she; I can’t help but notice her wincing as she does so.
“Are you all right?”
“I…I am well!” she replies with a strained smile. To say it’s unconvincing is almost an understatement.
“N-Nothing,” she can’t help but stutter, shivering a little.
“Suzette…” I begin, turning to face her directly, “We can’t keep going if you’re like this. You look like you’re about to faint.”
“Why not? I am p-perfectly well…”
Just as she says this, she doubles over, grunting all the while.
I go and lean down on one knee, getting closer to her height. My heart beats wildly—I can help her with small illnesses, like with the cold she had a few days ago; but, I don’t think I have the supplies to deal with an emergency…
“Where does it hurt?”
“It is nothing—”
“Stop,” I say more sternly, and she looks up to me in surprise. “I understand not wanting to be ‘bothersome,’ but—you can’t brush something off like this.”
She frowns, and a faint hint of tears form in her eyes…
“It is sincerely nothing serious, Hikaru…”
“Obviously it is; look at yourself.”
She sighs, and bends over again, still grimacing.
“It is improper to speak of it with you…” she whispers.
“Speak of what?”
She looks me in the eye, pure misery on her face.
“…You do realize what I am, yes?”
I pause, having not the slightest clue what she’s talking about.
“Well, of course, but…” she sighs and darts her eyes away from me. “Y-You were to be a physician, yes? You…do realize how women in particular…function, yes?”
I let out a breath, and put my face to my palm.
“…Yes, I do.”
“Then now do you s-see the issue?”
I look at her again, her face darkly flushing. Pity blooms in my chest—both at her pain, and the clear embarrassment that radiates from her like heat from a flame.
“Did it hurt this much last time?” I ask gently, but she still shrinks away at the question.
“Look,” I sigh, “I know it’s uncomfortable, but—I just want you to be well.
“It seems like you’ve been fine—”
“I have been,” she replies softly, nearly in a whisper, “Because it seldom comes for me; yet when it d-does, it…it is always like this…”
“All right, then…” I sigh again, knowing she likely won’t like my suggestion. But…
“I can take the pain away for but a moment—hopefully long enough for us to find an inn to stay in and let this pass.”
“No, we cannot—have you even the money for such a thing? And b-besides, we need not delay our journey t-too terribly…”
“You can barely walk…and talk, for that matter,” I say, and I notice her hug herself a little more tightly. “And I’m sure I have more than enough; it’s not like we’ve reached Solzédniê, it shouldn’t be that expensive.”
“It shall not be burdensome, then…?”
“Not at all,” I smile, attempting to put her mind at ease. It seems to work, if only a little.
“Then—nng!” she doubles over again, barely standing upright as she does so…
“P-Please,” she continues, “How m-might you ease my pain, then?”
“Your tone is not encouraging…” she mutters.
“This will sound a bit absurd, but…I can heal you with my hands.”
“…Pardon?” She raises her eyebrows, understandably perplexed.
“I can give you some of my spirit to ease the pain—not very much, or it’ll backfire on me, but it should be enough to give you relief for an hour or two.
“But…” I go on, reluctant to share the stipulation, “I’d have to lay my hands on your side, so that I might transfer the energy to you.”
Her eyes grow wide, and somehow her face flushes even harder—and I can tell mine is much the same.
“And clothing should not interfere?”
“No, it’s like heat; as long as we’re making some contact, it should travel through.”
She pauses for a moment, and I notice her delicately bite her lip. I hate putting her in this increasingly awkward situation—but it genuinely is the only way I can give her swift relief…
“A-All right,” she says while relaxing her posture, appearing more casual—but her voice still sounds strained all the same.
I adjust my position so that I can put both knees on the ground, “standing” upright. Like this, we’re nearly the exact same height. Her face and mine would meet…if I could bring myself to look her way. But seeing her so directly—I can't bring myself to do it.
With my eye half open, I gently lay my hands at her sides, pushing in her skirt and petticoats until I reach her body, finding her clothing is not as thick or heavy as it first seemed. She winces a little; although whether out of pain, or the discomfort of the situation, I can’t say. I hear some ringing in my ears, and can’t help but grow angry at myself…
For now, you’re the doctor and she is the patient—what’s the issue? You’ve had to deal closely with others before like this, and you were entirely unphased.
I take a deep breath, focusing my energy on my spirit. Soon I feel it, the distinct tingling that flows through my arms, to my fingertips, finally reaching her and dissipating almost like a painless spark. Suddenly she takes a breath and relaxes her posture—truly relaxes it. Quickly she looks up to me, her glossy green eyes large and full of surprise.
“It…it is gone…” she says breathlessly, “There is still a hint of pressure, yet the pain—it is gone!”
Rapidly, I pull my hands away from her and go to stand up, smiling with relief all the while.
“Mâzjêr vrémond né,” she replies softly, “Admittedly, I was not quite sure it would actually succeed…”
“It’s no problem at all,” I say, “But we should get going, before it wears off.”
She nods with just the faintest hint of a grin on her face, and we continue along the path.
After a half an hour or so, she and I arrive in a quiet town. It's larger than the farming villages we have been walking through for some time now, although it's still rather modest. It seems more like a trading post for the villages around than a proper town: there are few homes, the street instead simply being lined with various businesses, each one appearing well kept, but ultimately practical. Luckily with this, it's not long before she and I come across a small inn.
Nearly forgetting to, I soon hide my necklace within my inner robe. I don't know if they'll let us stay—but, I know in a place like this, they almost certainly wouldn’t if they saw that.
The two of us walk through the entrance, a small bell rings as we do—inside, we find not a single soul there. The inn is luckily clean, but clearly not in the best shape—to one side there is a sofa and a fireplace, small holes worn into the former. On the other side of the room is a long bar and a couple of tables, although no drinks can be found on the wall behind. It’s so barren, I wonder if this place is occupied at all.
But soon a man that looks a little too proper for an establishment like this rushes from a back room. To my relief, he doesn't seem to give a second thought at all to my appearance—he just seems grateful to have customers at all, especially when we reveal how long we'll be staying.
Soon he leads Suzette and I up the stairs of the quiet inn, and we arrive to a very small room. In the middle is a large bed fitted with an old-fashioned quilt. To the side of it is a bedside table with an oil lamp, and in the corner is a living chair. Not a single thing more fills the room except for the sunlight shining through a large window.
Once the innkeeper leaves and we're left alone, Suzette quickly falls onto the bed.
“Did it wear off?" I ask softly, although I know it's a foolish question.
“Y-Yes," she mutters breathlessly, “Yet at least it did hold long enough for us to arrive…"
“Yeah," I sigh, and go to the other side to pull the quilt for her, before returning around to the door.
“Will you be all right if I leave for a moment?"
“What for?" she asks quietly as she makes her way under the covers, looking at me with large, glossy eyes.
“Need to go get some things—I’m not sure there’ll be many places to forage out here."
She gazes up to me bearing a small frown.
“Are you certain you shall be well, after spending so much…?"
“I'll be more than fine," I laugh, attempting to put her at ease. “Just get some rest, everything will be well."
Rather than protest more, she simply nods and turns over, cuddling up a little further in the bed.
For a moment I continue looking at her; the way the sunlight falls on her, the way her face looks laying on the pillow—
Suddenly a pit grows in my stomach, and I can't help but shake my head as I go to leave.
Listlessly I walk through the woods outside the quaint town; luckily, it’s so small that it was quite simple to get what we needed, but not to such a degree that they had little of use. But, for better or worse, I’ve other things to attend to.
It takes a while before I’m sure I’m far enough away from prying eyes and ears, far into the green wood. Then, I kneel. Before I even need to say anything, Maiden Moon appears in front of me, bearing the same dissatisfied look it seems she always wears.
“Ah, so you’ve remembered to come see me again?”
“It’s only been a few days…” I sigh, “You know much has happened.”
“‘Much’ is always happening," she says with a roll of her eyes, lowering herself to the ground to sit at my level.
“Can’t stop that, unfortunately."
Maiden Moon quietly huffs, looking away as she pouts almost like a child. Admittedly, I can't help but be annoyed—yet, simultaneously…it feels cruel to be too mad, considering her circumstances. So I simply sigh and go on; or try to, at least, but she speaks first.
“You should be careful, Hikaru," she says with a feigned concern; but, by now, I can sense the faint scent of poison dripping on her words.
“And why's that?"
“Your compulsive urge to pamper that woman at all costs is going to suck you dry.”
I clench my jaw, already preparing for whatever’s to come—knowing her, and her feelings towards Suzette…I can only imagine the conversation will devolve from here.
“I’d hardly call occasionally buying supplies ‘pampering’ her,” I say. “Surely you know better than anyone else how little I spend.”
She leans back a little with her arms crossed, scowling at me.
“Coming from the man who spent how many years scouring the Earth for that damn recipe book?”
“And I’d hardly call that ‘scouring;’ it was just something in addition to my usual wandering.”
“Oh, just like this is?”
“Yes, exactly like this, actually," I sigh, already growing weary of this conversation. “Although this is more necessary than that—we can’t exactly keep traveling if she’s in too much pain to walk.”
“And all the food and shit you bought?”
“...We need to eat, Moony," I say matter-of-factly.
Maiden Moon leans forward a little, putting her chin in her hand, looking quite annoyed all the while.
“I understand you want to be generous, Hikaru—but I think she'd be fine if she didn't eat for a few weeks."
I furrow my brow and press my mouth hard, feeling the heat in my face swelling like air blown onto a bed of coals.
“Well, whether she would or wouldn't be, I won't do such a thing to her," I say flatly, trying to temper the heat before it blows into a flame.
“You should consider it, though," she says gently, as though she isn't suggesting something terrible. “She's such a bulbous little thing, she can barely keep pace with you; do you really want to hold yourself back with someone like that?"
Are you one to say anything? I almost spit back, but that would be cruel; and besides…I suppose it is true Maiden Moon, though rather larger than most, has a shape others find more pleasing, one they try to achieve with padding and corsets and gods know what else—that she achieves it so fully and naturally would probably be considered an asset, not something worthy of scorn.
Suzette is different, far from what most consider their ideal…her face large and round, limbs stout; and even with her dress, it's clear her middle is her largest feature. She does move slower, differently from many, her body wavering as she goes…but I can’t bring myself to find any fault with her.
At the thought of her, a lightness takes my chest, and I frown further—
But none of it matters, regardless. It’s not my place to judge, nor hers.
“She keeps up perfectly well for my standards; and either way, it's not your business—or mine, for that matter."
Before she even has a chance to respond, I quickly hop up. Regardless of my best efforts, I feel the tingling in my limbs as my heartbeat races forward; I can take much from Maiden Moon, more than many might be able to handle…but it's the shit she says about Suzette I can't take.
“Well, I think it's time for me to be on my way," I sigh.
“Already?" she says as she shoots herself upward, taking her preferred position high overhead.
“I've a lot to attend to."
“Oh, I am certain you do," she says snidely, and I can't help but bite the inside of my mouth in frustration at her petulance.
“Vwârdnie, Maiden Moon."
“...Vwârdnie, Hikaru," she says with an air of sadness, dispersing in an instant.
Guilt slightly gnaws at me as I begin to head back. This meeting has been rather short, and I don't want to simply push her away…but also, it's better to stop now before the coals turn into a large, ravenous fire. Perhaps I am being unfair, but…what did Suzette ever do to her?
For a minute, I can’t help but stand in place as I begin to wander through my thoughts instead of the forest.
You’re more offended when she’s cruel towards Suzette than when she is to you—and Suzette just barely knows she exists, never mind that you know her, or that she knows of her...
I take a deep sigh, letting the fresh, refreshing air fill my lungs before I go on my way. Rather than think of everything, I attempt to simply focus on the world around me. The gentle sunlight that shines through the trees, the fae who stand behind them, watching me with curiosity, easily able to pinpoint the strange aura that clings to me from Maiden Moon.
But once I go on again, walking through the forest, I distressingly find everything merely reminds me of her—in the lively green leaves I see her eyes, in the sunlight above I see her grin—in the tiny, delicate flowers that cluster the ground, easily overlooked but no less beautiful—all I see is her.
Sorrow slightly stabs at me as I think to the conversation; while most are at least kind enough not to be so forthcoming about it, I think, I know many would probably agree with Maiden Moon’s comments. But unless she truly had to, or did it for her own joy and no one else’s—I genuinely think she’s quite lovely as she is…
The pit from before forms once again, growing even deeper, even making me a little nauseous. Once again, I try to escape these horrid thoughts. Yet, every time, it only feels more impossible.
Once I return it’s nearly dusk, and the Sky dyes the room a vivid purplish hue. Suzette sleeps soundly, slightly snoring, the most at peace I’ve seen her all day—although unfortunately, she stirs once I close the door and lock it.
“Ašon bon,” I say with a slight chuckle as she slowly raises herself up, clearly only barely cognizant.
“How long have I slept?” she mutters while wiping her eyes, seeming to think I’m being literal.
“Only a couple of hours, maybe—it’s dusk, not actually dawn.”
“Nn, that is good...” she grimaces slightly.
I go to the bedside and light the oil lamp, its little flame surprisingly doing much to light the small room. Soon, all my previous tension is washed away in pure comfort and peace. Old images flash within my mind, and for but a moment, everything simply feels…right.
And so I go and bring the chair from the corner closer to the bed, and sit myself down.
“I have some things for you,” I say, starting to rummage through my bag.
“I hope you did not burden yourself too terribly...”
“Of course not—although I did get a little bit extra, admittedly.”
She steadily moves herself closer to the end of the bed while I empty my bag of its newest contents. Most of it is genuinely practical—bread covered in seeds, potatoes and better beans than I currently have; but even so, I couldn’t help but grab a few luxuries—a tin of cookies, some condensed milk and coffee. I’ve never been able to stand the stuff, but I know she’s fond of it...
“Hikaru!” she beams, although it’s still tinged with hesitation, “You truly did not have to…
“But…mâzjêr vrémond né,” she thanks gently, her voice as soft as a songbird’s.
“It’s no problem at all,” I smile.
She goes towards the bread, breaking off about a third for herself, before handing the rest to me. Although I ask if she wants more, she insists I take the larger piece.
Silently we eat together, much like we would if we were still in the woods. As I eat, I try to simply look to nowhere…but I can’t help but gaze up and steal glances of her. Even simply sitting there in a slightly disheveled state, she manages to be effortlessly enchanting—
Gods…what is wrong with you today?
Even if she’s well into womanhood, she’s still far too young for me, I know…I can only imagine how she’d shudder and shrivel at these thoughts, particularly coming from me. Even if I were younger, I know I’m far too lowly to be worthy of her regardless.
Once more, nausea starts to overwhelm me. So, at last, I try to aim for a better distraction; with one free hand, I reach into my bag, aiming for a book, none in particular. Soon it brushes over an especially familiar volume, one of the finer ones in my collection, worn with age it may be. Swiftly I take it out, and for a moment I admire the beauty of the book itself: the cover is a deep brown leather; faded gold-leaf embellishments form images of desert flowers and ancient patterns illustrated in an equally antique style. Its title is only on the spine: Floriâlêkh de Êsse de Lâodykéiâ, A Garland of Essa of Laodikeia.
I can’t help but chuckle at the irony of this volume. Though I had heard of them much before, I truly discovered Essa in Solzédniê—how I was able to get such a nice volume at all, a gift from Alex once he noticed my frequent borrowings of this book. Essa is a poet of time immemorial, their poetry largely surviving and remaining popular despite hailing from the Old World, and despite their occupation: a priestess of Maiden Moon…or they were at one point, at least. I never could have imagined, in those days, that one day I’d be exactly the same.
Maiden Moon has never directly commented on Essa, although she seems to have known them, with the way her temper flares whenever she notices me reading this book; but, considering its contents, I can see why. Carefully I open the book to a random page.
I frown a little, staring at the yellowed page bearing one of their most famous poems. However, in this moment, reading it over...
#42, “You Bless Us with a Heart Tender”
Maiden Moon, you bless us with a heart tender,
So that we may love one another like you
Do: with passion, bliss; with eternal fastness,
You hold us closely.
Yet, even still, your cruelty knows no bounds.
For us, your most faithful pilgrims, we suffer:
Our love, suppressed—not meant for other mortals,
But only yourself.
But this is not how we were sculpted, by your
Mother’s gentle hands, with a Star that yearns forth;
We were woven together, tightly bound,
Regardless of your wish.
And so, my faith frays; for him, I cannot cut
That thread which binds us: to deny this is a
Blasphemy even more grave than forsaking
My service to you.
It was once written long ago that our fates
Be one; he and I, be one: Mother demands
It; so, o’ blessed Goddess, I desperately
Plea: please forgive me!
For a moment I stare at the words, lost in feelings I’m not sure how to place. I gaze up again, and see Suzette just now finishing her food, although she had much less than I. I try to look away from her, but—
“What are you reading?”
“Just a book.”
“My, I had no idea!” she replies with a light chuckle. In spite of myself, I subtly smile.
“It has all the poems of Essa of Laodikeia; have you read them before?”
“Ah, well...” she begins, “I was supposed to, when I was young, yet—all the truly ancient poems I was made to read, they were all so dreadfully distant and dry, I could no longer bear to stand any more.”
She rubs her arms and sighs, “I know for one of my—well, former, now—station, it is quite embarrassing to be so poorly read, yet...”
“I don’t think many people at all are interested in such things; I certainly wouldn’t call you ‘poorly read’ for that,” I chuckle. “And you’re right, most poetry this old is pretty terrible.”
“So then, his are different?”
“It’s much more…intimate and human, than much of their contemporaries. If you’d ever like to borrow it, I don’t mind at all.”
“My, Hikaru…” she says softly, with an air of melancholy. But she doesn’t finish any thought.
“Hmm? Is everything all right?”
“Oh no...” she nearly whispers and hides her face in her sleeves. “P-Please forgive me, I am rather…more easily emotional, in this state...”
“...Did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all,” she replies quietly, “Rather...why are you so endlessly kind to me?”
“All I did was offer to let you borrow a book,” I laugh. “It’s nothing—”
“No, rather...everything,” she interrupts me, “Everything you do is always so kind—why? Nothing about myself is notable...”
I’m...not really sure how to answer her.
“You’re my friend,” I answer after some thought. “I’ve not many, you know—I...I want you to be happy.”
She looks up to me again, her bright green eyes glistening in the lamplight. She gives a bright grin, and her cheeks start flushing...
“Mâzjêr vrémond né,” she says tenderly. “It is rather refreshing to spend time with one who sincerely enjoys my company...”
“The same for you; I mean...” I trail off for a moment, gathering my thoughts. “I know you’d do the same for me—you have done the same.”
“I can hardly imagine another noblewoman who would let me into their home out of mere kindness, never mind be my friend.”
“Yet I would scarcely call that doing something for you...”
“You’ve done much more than you know,” I smile; but, inside, my heart stirs.
“That is comforting to know, at least...” she says with a yawn. “Ah, please f-forgive me, it—it is beginning to throb again, and I am quite tired...”
“You’re fine,” I say gently. “Nykhte bon, Suzette.” Good night.
“Tsiâ mo, Hikaru,” she whispers, and lays herself under the cover.
“Oh, Hikaru,” she says, her voice slightly muffled, “Do you wish to sleep here?”
“The chair’s just fine for me.”
“Are you certain...?”
“I’ve slept on the ground long enough; this is still quite a bit nicer.”
“All right...” she whispers and engulfs herself within the covers. It’s not long before I hear her quiet snoring.
Once again I look down to the book, trying to read; but I can’t focus at all. So I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and wander instead.
I hate it, I hate it; I so thoroughly loathe it, I can’t stand it.
The feelings that swell within me—that they are even there at all...
Oh, please forgive me, Maiden Moon.
Oh, please forgive me, Alex...
...Oh, please forgive me, Suzette.
☽O☾Lovingly created by [James Margaret Rose].