For some time Suzette and I travel through the meadow, until at last the faint outline of the town can be seen in the distance. Well, it was a town, although even that term seems too quaint for it now—by now, it would be more appropriate to call it a small city. Large clusters of buildings lay huddled where I cannot recall there being any before, and even from this distance you can see clusters of people mingling throughout the streets.
On seeing the crowds, my pulse instantly quickens, and without even thinking, my hand begins twirling my hair… Interacting with others can be tiring enough on its own, although small groups are more pleasant to deal with; large crowds, however…I’d rather have none of it. If I must deal with a crowd, it’d be better if it were of fae, in the woods, far away from civilization… But luckily, here they’re not too loud. More than my preference, but still to a tolerable level…
I glance over towards Suzette, to see if I can parse how she feels about the whole affair. I notice her looking past me, towards the town, with a slight smile upon her face, that I wonder if she even notices is there. It’s slightly amazing how such a small gesture seems to make her so joyful. It’s contagious…even if going amongst the crowds sounds dreadful, it’s much more bearable with her here.
Just as the sun begins dying the horizon with her crimson rays, Suzette and I at last enter the town. To be truthful, it is exactly as unpleasant as it seemed. The people nearly seem to melt into one another as they noisily push through the streets; even at this relatively late hour, apparently half the town still insists on remaining out. I try to pay as little mind to everyone as possible, but even so I still notice many stares directed my way. I’d prefer to shrink away; but, with my height and appearance, it’s useless…so instead, I focus on the signs of rows upon rows of shops and other buildings, hoping to find our destination as soon as possible.
“Hikaru,” Suzette begins, coming nearer to my side, “Do you happen to know where a bakery is here?”
“Not a clue,” I answer. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here, everything is entirely different.”
“If you can look towards the opposite end of the street, I’ll look on this side to see if I can find something; does that work for you?”
“Yes!” she chirps eagerly, before abruptly looking away from me. “I mean, yes, that would be preferable.” It seems like she’s embarrassed over her excitement, but I find it rather endearing…
After a few minutes, I notice a sign quite unlike the others—bright white with the sun and golden lettering; Pâtisserie of Our Celestial Lady. A rather ostentatious name, fitting for Lady Sun’s famed modesty; or lack thereof, rather. But it’s what we’re looking for.
“Suzette,” I say, tugging at her sleeve, “I found one.”
“Oh, where?” She quickly looks forward.
“Well, I don’t think I need to tell you now.”
We soon make it to the entrance to the bakery. As we do so, I reach into my bag and grab the little pouch of money.
“Here,” I say, handing it to her, “I’ll wait out here.”
“What for?” she asks, “Even if we are near one another, I still wonder how wise it is to split up in a town neither of us know well…” I sigh. She’s not wrong…
“Look at me,” I whisper to her, “Someone like me, in a place such as this…”
“Then I do not mind looking further for somewhere else, if you feel so unsafe…I do not feel particularly safe alone either,” she chuckles nervously.
I appreciate the thought, but I know most businesses close at sundown…
“…All right,” I sigh, “I’ll go in.”
“It should not be long, I am sure it shall be worth it,” she says; I merely nod in reply.
We soon make our way inside, little bells twinkling as we do so; however, we’re soon stopped by the long line of customers, waiting to the edge of the door. As we are forced to wait, I am immediately struck by how…interesting this place is.
Nearly everything inside matches the sign, white with gold accents; seemingly trying to mimic the royal palace, this place looks more like it belongs in the Capital than here. On the back wall and in the front display, rows and rows of seemingly every kind of sweet you can imagine is displayed; the only disruption in the display is a door leading to the kitchen, and in the middle, a large painting. It is, of course, of the most beloved goddess—Lady Sun.
“My…” I hear Suzette mumble under her breath, “I am not sure I have ever seen such religious people before; well, aside from you I suppose.” I can’t help but chuckle; I don’t quite think of myself as being “religious,” but then again it’s certainly something of that nature.
“I guess that’s how you know it’s still quite rural here, in spite of everything.”
“The royal family is technically clergy, right? Although who knows if it is genuine…”
“It is—I think, but; ah, well, it seems for the rest of the nobility it isn’t,” I say.
As we continue chatting, the line quickly becomes shorter and shorter. In turn, I slyly shuffle behind her, hoping she can take care of the talking. Things of that nature can already be exhausting enough, but in this setting especially…
Luckily, by the time our turn comes, Suzette cheerfully chats with the cashier, telling what we’d like and making small talk. But after a moment, the cashier disappears back into the kitchen.
“Is everything well?” I whisper to Suzette; admittedly, I wasn’t paying particular attention to their conversation.
“Oh yes, she has to check to see if their last batch of macarons are finished.” Hardly before she can finish talking, the cashier comes out once more.
“A few minutes more, and they’ll be ready for you,” the woman says, and Suzette thanks her. Discreetly I look behind me to see if there are any more customers in line behind us, but there aren’t…only me, Suzette, and the cashier remain in the room. I try to ignore the cashier, but it’s not long before I sense her eyeing me…
“Hey you,” she says, “Are you with her?”
Suddenly I turn towards her, and at last really notice her. She’s an older woman, clearly much older than I…and she glares at me with a stern eye that only age could hone.
“I am,” I reply emotionlessly, hoping she is merely being curious. Although unfortunately, I have a feeling that’s not the case.
“What’s up with the get-up?”
“Oh, these are just my clothes…” I decide to feign ignorance, hoping to get her to leave me alone. Out the corner of my eye I notice Suzette turning away slightly, wisely avoiding getting involved.
“There seems to be an awful lot of…theming there,” she says, “That girly violet dress, long white hair—”
“It’s not exactly as though I chose my own hair color, madame,” I retort snidely, already growing tired of this.
“But you did choose to wear that thing,” she spits, pointing to my necklace. I originally intended on hide it within my robe, but then I got caught up in talking with Suzette…it would have been wiser if I had just done that first. But alas.
“What of it?” I reply blankly.
Now, she damn near explodes.
“‘What of it?’” she mocks, “How can you wear such a cursed symbol into my establishment, when it should be obvious your kind isn’t welcome here? Are you deliberately trying to mock our Lady?”
“I don’t know what you mean, I just happen to find the moon fascinating, is all. I-if you mean the gods and such, I don’t know much about them…” I stumble, desperately trying to continue the façade, in hopes that maybe she’ll buy it. She doesn’t.
But soon, to my rescue—
“He truly does not know what you mean,” Suzette chimes in, “He—he is an astronomer, see? He studies the stars and celestial bodies, but he scarcely concerns himself with religious matters…he truly did not realize how offensive it may seem. He stays in his study often…”
The cashier crosses her arms, and sighs. I’m not sure if she’s really convinced, but at least she’s apparently as tired of this as I am.
“Well,” she huffs, “Since your wife here has been so kind and polite, I’ll let you take your goods and go.”
Suzette instantly turns away from me, shuffling slightly as she does so…
“But as for you,” the cashier says to me, “With that attitude of yours, I think it’d be better for everyone if you not step foot in here again.”
I was only rude once, but okay.
Just then, the baker comes out of the back like a spirit from the heavens, holding a little white box with a red ribbon tied around it.
“Thank you,” Suzette mumbles, keeping her head low as she does so. Then she turns around and quickly leaves without another word, and I follow suit.
As we leave the bakery, night is now almost completely upon us; aside from Suzette and I, few roam the streets now other than the lamplighters. Suzette hurriedly makes her way through the streets, box in hand.
“Would you like me to carry—”
“I am fine,” she replies breathlessly, seemingly wearing herself out at this speed. I’d like to say something to her, but even I struggle a bit to keep up with her…
At this pace, it is not long before we leave the town, then the outskirts, until finally we reach pure countryside. Once we are a decent distance from civilization, Suzette slowly comes to a standstill, panting a bit as she does so.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t realize that trip would be so…”
“It is well,” she whispers. “I…see why you were so worried about entering that shop now.”
“It is what it is, as they say,” I reply. “Would you like to rest for the night?” Hardly before I can finish the question, she’s already plopped her back upon the ground.
“Seems you’re getting more used to this!” I laugh.
“Something of that nature,” she murmurs.
“Are you going to eat, though?” I ask as I sit down beside her.
“I am not terribly hungry right now…but you can have some, if you like. Oh, and here you go…” she says, handing me my coin pouch once more.
I nod my head in thanks, and then merely sit still for a while. Considering I got those for her, it seems rude to start first…so instead I try to regain my energy, sucked away by our time in the town.
“Hikaru,” she asks after a while, “May I ask you a question?”
“Hmm?” Now she lifts herself up, still seeming to be in a bit of a daze.
“Why do you do this to yourself? I know you relate to Maiden Moon and all, but…making yourself even more persecuted… It seems many follow the gods to have their assistance, but if she is trapped, then…I just do not understand at all.”
At first, I merely stay silent, entirely unsure how to answer that question.
“Well…I suppose you could say that’s—”
“Shut up, Hikaru!” a voice screams from within my head, “I know you like her, but remember you can’t tell anyone shit! You know what might hap—”
I loudly sigh, hoping that perhaps she’ll be quiet now. I’d like to say something, but of course now isn’t the time for that.
“…Is everything well, Hikaru?” Suzette asks, bringing me back to reality.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answer, voice tinged with more annoyance than I intended to. “I can’t talk about it. I’m sorry.”
“You can’t talk about it…” I hear her repeat under her breath, surely wondering what that means…but as much as I’d like to tell her…
Slowly, she turns to grab the box of macarons, and delicately unties the ribbon.
“Would you like to share these with me?” she asks with a faint, almost melancholic smile.
For the rest of the night, her and I scarcely move an inch, Even though we haven’t traveled as far as usual, last night’s dreams, along without tonight’s little scene…it has truly turned out to be tiring.
But after we “go to sleep,” unfortunately in spite of my fatigue, I force myself to remain awake. After a while, I hear Suzette faintly snoring. Now knowing she’s fast asleep, I softly get up and walk a short distance, occasionally looking back as I do so. Once I see she is still asleep, I finally begin attending to my business…
Gently I kneel upon my knees, focusing upon the environment around me. The air is still warm from the day, but the season of scorching hasn’t quite reached us yet, even if it is near; especially under the veil of night, everything still feels rather pleasant. The scent of the meadow fills the air, along with the moonlight. Ah…the latter especially seems so soothing, and yet I know the truth.
She’s watching. Waiting. Apparently, it’s only when I’m alone that she respects my peace.
I set my hands upon my lap, and exhale deeply. After a moment, I whisper so softly, I’m sure most wouldn’t be able to tell I was speaking at all.
“I’ve come to speak with you.”
Before my eye she appears, a spirit that seems to form out of the glow of the moonlight. She appears standing straight up, arms crossed, deep violet eyes piercing me like daggers.
“Good evening, Maiden Moon.”
“You don’t have to be so angry with me, I wasn’t going to tell Suzette about you.”
“I’m not angry with you at all—what gave you that idea?”
“Screaming at me to ‘shut up’ and ‘you can’t tell anyone shit’ doesn’t sound particularly neutral to me.” She sighs, posture loosening up ever so slightly.
“Surely you can understand my concern, Hikaru. Especially considering how you are with that woman. If anyone knows about that necklace, they might…”
“I know…nothing is going to happen to it, Moony. I’m not going to leave you alone.” I pause, realizing something. “Do you…always watch me, when we’re not together?”
“I mean—” Abruptly, her gaze shifts away. “Considering how often you’re with her recently…”
“We are traveling together…of course we spend much time together, but this journey won’t last forever. Either way, I’m still your priest.”
“Hmm.” she hums flatly. “We should hope so.”
“I should be going to sleep…so good night.”
“You want to leave me so soon?”
“No need to tell me twice. Good night, Hikaru.” And with that, her body entirely dissipates into a faint light once more. I can’t help but sigh…she can be truly difficult to deal with, sometimes. I look back towards Suzette, who is still sleeping soundly…and now sigh even deeper.
It feels like I am always keeping secrets from her, and this one most of all…I don’t just “like” Maiden Moon; indeed, sometimes I question if I like her at all, to be honest…
But…I am the one who found this necklace. The one artifact that allows one to converse with her, even in her entrapment; enchanted by Mother Earth, because even she found her daughter’s punishment too cruel. But for some reason, it ended up in a faraway land that wasn’t even inhabited by humans back then, not to be found by anyone…until me.
Now I’m the one who must be in service of her—although you can hardly call it service; more than anything we’re company for one another, both more often than not abandoned by the world. Even if we don’t always get along, I’m still grateful to have her.
Yet also…I’m extremely grateful I found Suzette as well. Or she found me, rather.
To think, I was so worried about her when we began this journey. Although in hindsight, it seems a bit foolish that I ever doubted her at all. She’s always mustered so much strength when she’s determined enough, whether that would be dragging me half a mile or spending years with a man she hated merely because she felt that’s what she was supposed to do.
I hope someday she can put that energy towards things which truly make her happy. Seeing the excitement she gets with even little things regarding her passions, I can’t help but find it beautiful. She’s truly—
No, no. This line of thought…I know where this leads…
It’s ridiculous and foolish.
And besides…even after all these years, I can’t let myself betray you again…right?
Or maybe…I don’t know.
I’m sorry, Alex.
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© 2019 by J.H. Rose