Tonight once more I sit in the carriage, the same as every day, and many evenings as well. It is difficult to express how dreadful it is…the terrible monotony, the quietness of traveling all alone. I hear no voices except for the short dealings of carriage drivers and clerks; and somehow, eating meals has grown to be the highlight of my days—that is, when I feel inclined to eat at all. Ah…how does anyone contend with such loneliness? How can one possibly do this for any true period of time?
Luckily, at least I should soon arrive home, to Bydlin, to Florence. A part of me wishes to find a letter awaiting me, yet I am certain it is likely far too soon…
At last this journey is nearly over, with such a bittersweet ending… When this all began, I anticipated being even more alone than before; I certainly did not consider Hikaru joining me as a possibility. And, I do suppose his words may still reach me…even so, where there should be joy, melancholy and exhaustion wash over me instead. Ah, I simply wish to think of it no longer—I have all that I ever wished for originally, so anything extraneous…it would be preferable to focus upon my blessings.
After a few moments pass, the carriage slowly comes to a halt.
“We’ve arrived, Lady,” the driver says, a hint of tiredness in his voice. “With as late as it is, this is the closest I can get and still return home at a decent time—you can handle the walk?”
“Yes, I can,” I reply quietly—although I am unenthusiastic about walking further, I suppose it is my mistake for wishing to ride into the evening.
And thus I exit the carriage and thank the driver before he once more turns away. Although it is quite dark, my eyes have since adjusted; and in the distance, I see the peaceful, quiet town. I go forward, each step feeling heavy and slow. Some excitement does indeed bubble inside of me, yet fatigue still overwhelms it in the end.
Fatigue, and nausea so severe I must cease walking at points simply to aright myself.
“My!” I say aloud to myself after some time of this, just to hear a voice once more, “Why must I be ill as well…”
I sigh, thinking over the possibilities, before at last shaking my head.
It must be nothing, I am certain of it…
I continue onwards into the dark village where only a few lonely lanterns are lit. In spite of my somewhat dark mood, I must admit the warm glow upon the golden autumn leaves creates quite a serene, lovely scene…
Before long, I can soon see the sign wavering steadily in the breeze, even in the black night—Téiyi de Lebrun.
At last, at least for the present moment…I am home.
My heart beating wildly, I knock on the door quite loudly, hoping to soon receive an answer. At first all is silent and I nearly go to knock again, before I see a light bobbing down the stairs through the curtained windows. Scarcely another second passes, before—
“Suzette!” Florence exclaims, his voice croaking from presumably just waking up, but with a beaming smile upon his face nonetheless, “You’re home!”
“I am!” I laugh, joy overwhelming me—I am no longer alone…!
At least, until…
“Where is Hikaru? Did he come back too?”
“He…he is not here,” I whisper, quickly gazing away from him. Yet as I say this, I feel his hand upon my shoulder.
“Let’s get you inside,” he says softly.
I merely nod and follow him through his shop, up the stairs into his home…
Once inside, I unceremoniously fall into his sofa; the smoothness of the plush, the fabric, the warmth of the building itself nearly lulls me to sleep upon contact. I put my arm across my face and sigh, attempting not to show my soft tears.
“What happened?” Florence asks quietly.
“Nothing important…” I mutter.
“All right then,” he sighs, “You can tell me when you’re ready…”
“We were attacked,” I whisper abruptly.
“You were what?!” he says, his voice becoming a bit clearer and louder, “Did you come all the way here injured?!”
“No…Hikaru healed me; yet…yet…”
“Is he…” Florence trails off, attempting to be sensitive. Yet, somehow…it simply makes everything more painful.
“He is alive, and yet…can you believe it?!” I burst, sitting up so swiftly my head grows quite light. “He said he must leave for my safety! I know his life has been harsh, and yet…
“We have agreed to at least correspond through letters, and yet…yet…”
At this, Florence sits beside me, and puts his arm around my shoulder.
“I’m assuming you were attacked because of him, then,” he says, and I simply sigh.
“No, we were not—those men used him as an excuse. I cannot believe…he would actually believe that…” I put my face in my hand, attempting not to sob—from sorrow, from anger…
“That’s unsurprising…” he mutters, and soon I glare at him.
“What do you mean?”
“I had a bad feeling something would happen,” Florence sighs. “For someone like him, with as nervous as he already was—”
“…So you think he is right?” I whisper, a bit hurt.
Florence pauses for a moment.
“Honestly,” Florence says quietly, “He shouldn’t have told you how he felt about you at all…so he did make a mistake there, yes.”
At this, I cannot help but frown deeply.
“Why would you say such a thing?”
“As much as I tried to be optimistic for you two, he is right in that regard. You’re lucky you haven’t gotten in such danger until now.”
“No, that one day was merely unlucky—!”
“Suzette,” Florence sighs, patting my back, “Please don’t take this badly, but…this is the real world. Believe me, I’ve been here longer than you.”
I grow quiet, unsure precisely what to say to this…
“The life we lived growing up,” he continues, “That’s not the real world, not really—which is usually a good thing, but…
“These things seems small to the aristocracy, they only care if you’ve the right blood…but for everyone else, someone like Hikaru is—”
“You have spoken with Oskar too much, I believe,” I say, “Most of the world is not so terrible…”
“Don’t you remember? I learned about all that regarding Oskar the same time you did,” he sighs. “But sometimes the world is this terrible, Suzette.”
“I refuse to believe it! We met kind people along the way, we—”
“Sâ pšyku,” he says. “He shouldn’t have gotten your hopes up like that.”
“You are scarcely better than him!” I huff and quickly stand up, fully intending to go into the bedroom and slam the door with an unladylike bang; that is, before remembering the layout of this home…in which I then simply sit back down, quite dejected.
“Why must you all be so dreadfully defeatist…” I say quietly, feeling as though a dark cloud is forming above me.
“It is no matter,” I mutter, interrupting him, “I wish to speak of it no longer.”
“All right, how about we think about your…bakery,” he says with an odd pause. “Well…did you get what you were searching for? You were getting paintings, right?” he asks with a confused look upon his face.
“Oh, yes! All is in here,” I say, picking up the bag Hikaru had given to me. “It is—ah, I am not quite sure a swift way to explain it, yet you shall see.”
“…All right, then,” he says, still clearly not quite understanding. “Well, if you have the paintings—are they by one artist, do you know? That will affect where we need to go to sell them.”
At this I frown even further, thinking to the faded dreams which no longer visit me. Yet, I soon divert myself from my sad reverie.
“They are by Alexander Boucher; I do not know if perhaps—”
“Him?!” Florence exclaims, quite taken aback, “Are you certain? Can you show one to me?”
“I-I suppose so,” I stutter, not expecting such a reaction.
I open the bag and shuffle my hand through it, bringing out a very small painting, only a few inches in length; it is a still life clearly done as a small bit of practice. Florence takes the painting straight from my hands, and closely inspects it. Even within the dim lamplight, I still see his eyes grow quite large behind his spectacles.
“This really does seem to be real…oh!” he suddenly exclaims, “Yeah, I guess it really must be!”
“I…I think I actually met Hikaru before—or at least encountered him,” Florence says. “Once when I was young, before you were born, our family went to Solzédniê; Elise became a bit enamored with Alex there, and I saw him once or twice…
“Once he had his servant, and to me he looked a bit odd—he seemed fairly young, but he had stark white hair; I think it was even over his face in a similar manner, but maybe—”
“That was indeed him!” I chuckle, finding it quite amusing—although admittedly, slightly upsetting as well.
My, why did I have to recall meeting Elise rather than Florence?
“Wow!” Florence laughs, “I guess what they say about the world being small is true after all.”
“Indeed,” I sigh.
Oh, if only you knew the depth of the truth of this statement…
“Well then,” he says, “We’ve only really one choice. We have to go to Solzédniê for these, unfortunately.”
“You would never get what these are worth anywhere else…and trust me, I’m sure there’s some nobility or bored businessman that would pay quite well for these. Just this one, I imagine, would cost a small fortune all on its own.”
“Perhaps it would be preferable for you to go alone, Florence…” I gaze away, biting my lip. “The last I was in Solzédniê, I, erm, well…”
“What, you think you’ll be arrested or something?” he laughs. I simply shrink further into my seat.
“I…may have thrown Elise upon the ground, and the guards nearly seized us, if Hikaru had not led us out…
“Florence, do not chuckle at that—!”
He quickly looks away, a devious smirk on his face.
“You didn’t hurt her, did you?”
“Then we should be fine!” he looks back to me with a wide smile. “I’m assuming it’s been a while since you were there.”
“It doesn’t sound like you did anything illegal then; and besides, I doubt Elise lives there anyway. If it’d make you more comfortable, we can try to conceal you, but…”
I almost go to ask why he is so hesitant to go alone, before I realize; I suppose that even for someone like him that can be quite private, being alone all the time must be a dreadful thing…
“All right, then,” I gently acquiesce. “I shall go with you.”
“I know you just arrived, but think of it like a vacation,” he laughs, patting my back. “It should be about a week before we leave, though, so you can rest a little.”
“I already have the funds, you need not attempt to save it.”
“It’s not that; you’re not really…fit to be going out right now,” Florence says, poking at the large hole in my dress with his free hand. Ah, I had forgotten it was there at all…
“That should only take a few minutes to patch up, yes?”
“You can’t wear the same clothes forever, Suzette.”
“And I presume you shall not accept payment for those…”
“You’re learning!” he laughs, patting me on the back once more, “Now go to bed, I’m still exhausted—the actual bed.”
“All right,” I laugh at his utter insistence on being so kind; although, it admittedly still makes me feel a tad guilty…regardless, I suppose hopefully I shall soon have my own home. “Somêl amé, Florence.”
“Somêl amé,” he says with a yawn, laying down upon the sofa and rolling over.
Steadily I retreat to the bedroom, once more overcome with nausea…
I awake from a fitful sleep that not even the near-unnaturally comfortable hotel bedding may pacify. Erratically I scramble to the side of the bed, grabbing the pot which it appears I can scarcely stay away from. My body attempts to expel all that is within me—although it is certainly useless, as there is nothing to expel. Ah, how utterly dreadful it is…
Soon I hear footsteps and a deep exhale behind me.
“Still sick?” Florence asks, his voice tinged with concern.
“Yes, yet I shall move beyond this…” I reply while shivering terribly.
“…You should get dressed,” he says after a moment, “There’s something we need to discuss.”
“I shall be there soon…” I mutter as he closes the door.
Steadily I move to the drawer, looking upon the small collection of clothing he has already made for me. It feels like a great luxury; although they are not numerous, and may be plain to others, it has been such a very long time since I have had a true wardrobe…even if I feel dreadful, looking upon the sight does indeed uplift my spirits. I take out a simple green dress adorned with a small pattern of roses to wear, and adjust the lacing to better fit myself, before going to the small parlor of the suite as swiftly as I can. Yet, I still find myself feeling rather slow and lethargic…
As I exit the bedroom into the parlor, Florence gazes upon me with a slight frown upon his face.
“What do you wish to discuss with me?” I ask while carefully sitting upon the gold-hued sofa across from him.
“It’s about your illness…are you sure you don’t know what it is?”
“I do not; yet it does not appear to be serious, merely a tad annoying, is all…”
“Don’t lie to me,” he snips, glaring upon me with stern eyes. “I know I don’t have a wife or children, but I’m not ignorant. I don’t believe you are either.”
Abruptly I gaze away from him and slightly squirm, like a child who has been caught in the middle of wrongdoing…
“I…I do not know for certain what is the matter with me.”
“I don’t believe you,” he sighs. “Please, be entirely honest with me; is there any possibility at all that you may be with child?”
“T-That is a rather personal thing to discuss with my brother, is it not?” I blurt out, my face burning with embarrassment in the process.
“So yes,” he shakes his head.
“I did not say that—!”
“But if the answer was ‘no’ you would say that, wouldn’t you?”
“Florence…” I begin hesitantly, “It…it does not matter. I cannot have a child; my body is too broken and weak…”
His expression suddenly melts, revealing a sorrow which was not there before.
“Why would you say that?”
I pause for a moment, and simply gaze down. All that happened is loathsome to remember, yet…
“I did not discuss everything which had happened the ‘first’ time I was wed,” I whisper. “And I shall not repeat it in detail; yet, please believe me…my body is far too worn to bear a child.”
“Respectfully, I don’t believe you,” he says, crossing his arms and leaning back within the chair he sits in, though still with a dour look upon his face. “I don’t know the full extent of your past, but I can see the present. And I’ve dealt with enough women with child in my work to see you’re experiencing much the same as them.”
“Why are you so certain of this, you do not know!”
“Is it that I don’t know,” he says, “Or that you simply want to run away?”
For a moment I remain silent, stewing in far too many emotions.
“Why would I wish to escape such a thing, when I have always wished for a child?” I nearly whimper.
“…Did you want a child alone?”
I grimace, feeling the slight sting within my eyes—
“You’re not…entirely alone,” Florence adds, “But I’m guessing these aren’t the ideal circumstances, so you would rather pretend it’s not than face reality.”
“My, that is certainly an assumption…”
“Is it incorrect, then?”
I merely put my palms into my lap and gaze down, all the world feeling as though it is rushing around me in a cold, deafening storm.
Why, of all the times in all the world, did you have to leave now, Hikaru…?
“…What am I to do?”
“Well, I suppose that’s up to you, whether you still want to keep them or not.”
“Not keep them…” I repeat near silently under my breath.
“Yeah, there’s plenty of orphanages—it might not even be hard to find a family that wants a child already.”
Yes, I suppose that is always an option; it is quite common for women to bear children they do not quite desire…
With Marc, of course I never wished to bear children, expose them to such an endlessly cruel man as a “father.” Yet with Hikaru—regardless of whether he is here, though the child may simply have myself…
“And if I do decide I wish to raise them?” I whisper.
“Then I’ll do what I can to help,” he replies warmly. “I might not be a replacement for a father, but—an uncle is something, right?”
“Would I not be burdening you?” I gaze up to him.
“Oh, please!” he laughs loudly, mood changing quite swiftly, “I always enjoyed the idea of having children; but unfortunately, my aversion to marriage was stronger. I don’t mind children.”
“Perhaps that is why we got along so well when I was a child,” I muse.
“I guess so,” he chuckles. “I’m assuming you’ve not experienced it, but there is something fulfilling about helping a child gain their footing in the world, see who they grow into…
“I’d be quite proud to help out with that, and I’m sure you’ll meet many others around Bydlin who feel the same. You need not worry about being alone.”
In return I can only give a small smile, and nearly begin tearing up; yes, though Hikaru is not here…ah, it is so comforting to know I am not alone, at least. Yet still, I must consider—
“Do you believe them not having a father would harm them?”
Now he pauses.
“Now that, I don’t know,” he replies, “Although I know us having a father didn’t particularly help much…”
“That is true; and perhaps, being surrounded by ones who love them shall be enough, I hope.”
“I’m assuming that’s your choice, then?”
I nod absentmindedly, swarming in the thoughts I wished not to consider; that, and a terrible lightheadedness.
“May I return to bed? I am still feeling quite unwell…”
“Of course, but one more thing—please just talk to me, all right? Especially something so serious.”
“It’s all right,” he interrupts, “I know you’ve been through a lot recently. Just for future reference.”
“I shall,” I whisper, gently lifting myself and returning to bed. I do not wish to be rude; and yet, of course, my mind is a whirring storm…
Unfortunately, he is quite correct—the thought of having a lovely little son or daughter, alongside my bakery…ah, on its own, it is surely too magical to be true! Yet, of course, it is not, for all is far from perfect…
Of course he would not be here, for then everything would be too wonderful. Such fantasies…are merely such.
If only I had not expressed I was unlikely to ever have a child, if only I did not grow too passionate upon the lake that day—
—Yet, would the end result ever change? Or, like he believed, would fate always decide a certain outcome? I suppose there is no use in considering such things anymore…
I am here in Solzédniê, soon to come into wealth that may perhaps even rival what I possessed as a noblewoman. Although I have yet to receive a letter, perhaps because I am away from home, he is not entirely absent from my life…and so, from now on, I shall merely focus upon this, and go forth regardless.
Once more laying upon the bed, clasping my arms over my stomach, my mind begins to wander, and my chest starts to flutter with excitement.
Ah, my little one, who admittedly is quite likely here…if you truly do live, what kind of person shall you be? What will you enjoy, what will you look like, what shall you bring to the world? For your foolish parents, perhaps our fate is sealed—yet for you, my dear, the possibilities are endless.
So I shall step optimistically towards the future that is admittedly quite bright, even in spite of the pain which lingers in my heart. Though our family is small, for us, I will hold this prayer dear…that someday soon, we shall all become happy.