“You look beautiful!” Kaede heard Sylviane remark as the Princess placed her palms together beside a beaming grin.
The Samaran girl smiled back a little as she turned towards the large, silvered-glass mirror that stood in the corner of the bedroom. She turned to the left and right as she watched the flowing long skirt and its crinoline sway beneath her narrow waist.
The new dress was classy and stylish in appearance yet simple in its design and wear. It began with a white ‘blouse’ that hugged her thin shoulders and had light ruffles over her small chest. The top had a high, folding collar where she wore a rose-quartz brooch and a simple jabot — the collar-frill that she used to only see in movies. A bright-cerulean bolero jacket with long, tight sleeves that ran down to her wrists covered her arms and shoulders. Two wisteria ribbons beneath its puffed shoulders further signaled that she was a personal representative of Her Highness.
An underbust corset in black-bordered-blue emphasized her thin waist beneath her small breasts. Extending out from below the corset was an A-line skirt propped up by a crinoline. The long skirt reached her lower calf where its wide rim stretched from elbow-to-elbow. The bright-cerulean outer skirt was split along three panels while a tiered, ruffled white underskirt lay exposed between the gaps.
“How’s your flexibility at the waist?” Sylviane asked next, which prompted Kaede to do a few stretches.
The Samaran girl turned her torso left and right. She then tried bending forward and to the sides. There was some resistance each time. But apart from being unable to touch her toes, the overall impairment to her mobility was minimal. It was rather surprising considering that her midriff was being squeezed by a boned corset.
The stiff garment was held closed in the front by thin, criss-crossing cords threaded through silver grommets. Her back had been pulled tight by white laces personally knotted off by the Princess. Sylviane had some rather high standards for lacing and Kaede had complained during the process. Yet, despite the constriction that squeezed her midriff and pressed her ribs from all around, the boned corset rested with unexpected comfort around Kaede’s narrow waist.
“This is… surprising.” Kaede muttered as she felt astonished by how comfortable the evenly distributed pressure was.
It felt completely different from the tight-laced corset she wore back in the Oriflamme Palace at Alis Avern. The Samaran girl might even consider the sensation more pleasant than strange once she grew accustomed. The garment certainly made her more aware of her posture and movements which was a plus for her mindfulness. And the support it provided her back could certainly help if she had to stand and sit straight in meetings all day, as she was likely to in her new role.
“Remember a week ago when I had Queen Katell’s personal tailor come measure you?” Sylviane happily explained. “This corset is built to your exact measurements, with help from a mold to imitate your waist. Furthermore, they tightened this corset around the heated mold the past few days so that the whalebone structure could adjust. One of the advantages of baleen over steel is that the boning adapts to your shape over time. In other words, the corset has already been ‘broken in’.”
Like leather boots after a few weeks of wear. Kaede thought as she flexed her waist once more. The custom tailoring really does make a huge difference.
It reminded Kaede of the complaint she once read regarding modern clothing. Sure, male expectations toward clothing were generally more lax, and Kaede benefitted from that as a young man growing up. However, women — with their pronounced curves and tight-fitting garments — often complained that the ‘factory default’ proportions simply didn’t fit their unique body measurements. As a result, while the average individual could afford more clothing, they were often less comfortable compared to pre-industrial times.
“Well, what do you think of your new ‘uniform’?” Sylviane asked as she beamed with an expectant gaze.
“It’s a lot more comfy than I imagined.” Kaede said as she smiled back through the mirror. “It wasn’t hard to put on either, aside from the laces.”
“You can lace a corset by yourself actually. It just won’t have quite the same results.” The Princess commented as if loose corsets were a sin. “Though that shouldn’t be an issue, as you certainly should travel with a Lady’s Maid as the Grand Squire of Rhin-Lotharingie. It would reflect poorly on your status without one, and she could also serve as your aide and confidante.”
Sylviane turned towards Pascal with a knowing look, while the latter leaned against a pillar of the four poster bed as he watched the two girls. The young lord chuckled as his familiar was already ahead of the Princess in this regard.
“She already took one into her service.” He answered before meeting Kaede’s eyes in the mirror. “Though are you sure you want a former Imperial spy to take the role?”
“Whom better?” Kaede’s smile grew. “Marina is far more astute and observant than most maids could ever be. And I have faith that I can earn and retain her loyalty.”
“Very well.” Pascal responded in a tone that hinted at his lingering misgivings. Nevertheless, the slight smirk he wore expressed his confidence and pride in his familiar’s abilities. “I will work with Majordomo Karsten to make arrangements so that Marina can travel with you in the future then.”
It was a reminder that Marina was an indentured servant bound by a magical curse. And while Kaede could offer Marina a better life as a Lady’s Maid, she couldn’t change the fundamental status of the girl’s lifetime servitude.
Before the familiar could ruminate further about the topic, her familiar-enhanced hearing picked up several sets of footsteps from outside the bedroom. Two men walked up to the door before one of them knocked on the thick, mahogany wood.
“Unfortunately, she’s not with us now, so you won’t be able to bring her for the coming trip.” Sylviane commented as she nodded affirmatively to Elspeth, who stood silently next to the entrance. “Cecylia can more than make up for any Lady’s Maid in function though. And I don’t think I need to tell you to not treat her like a servant.”
The Princess was still speaking as the royal bodyguard opened the door. It revealed Reynaud and Cecylia just outside, while the tall Gerard stood behind them looking a bit nervous.
“No need to worry about that, Your Highness.” The dhampir strode in with a wide smile she spun around in her wide dress. She then pressed her hands to her narrow waist before giving them all a tilt of her head. “Cecylia will be treating Kaede as a servant for most of the trip.”
Instead of her usual black-and-red uniform, the intelligence officer from Weichsel wore an extravagant ‘traveling dress’ that screamed status and wealth. The gown was made entirely from burgundy-red velvet with gold brocade. It ran from a tight bodice that hugged her figure from her shoulders and torso down to a tiered A-line skirt that stretched wide like Kaede’s.
The Princess’s gloved hand immediately rose to hide her laughter. “Cecylia, you look like an eccentric noblewoman.”
“Indeed I am! Countess Maelle d’Rhianwen de Rochemar, at your service, Your Highness.” Cecylia answered before grasping the sides of the skirt and dipping down in a perfect curtsy. “Cecylia’s information says that I’m known to be a bit of a showoff.”
“Would it not be more prudent to travel… inconspicuously?” Pascal asked with a frown.
“Traveling during wartime always raises suspicions.” Cecylia explained. “Better to head it off with misleading information than to leave blanks that invite others to fill. Maelle is a bit frivolous but otherwise isn’t known to harbor any ambitions. She also has a sister in Eastern Garona which creates the perfect context.”
“And what if the real Countess Maelle learns about this?” Kaede’s question followed.
“We would have long made it to our goal by then, hehe.” Cecylia grinned. “The plan is that I shall be Her Ladyship. Kaede will be my Lady’s Maid. Reynaud will be my armiger bodyguard. And Gerard will be another armed guard as well as my chauffeur.”
“Sir Gerard?” Kaede turned to look up at the engineer whom she befriended back at Alisia Academy. “You’re coming too?”
“Yes, in lieu of Perceval.” The tall and muscular yeomen-turned-chevalier whose build towered over everyone else in the room nodded. However, he also looked the most uncomfortable as he stood stiffly facing the Princess with his hands behind his back. His normally chiseled grin a swallow line as he tried to gulp down his nerves.
— It was clear that he wasn’t accustomed to being in the presence of royalty in such a private, informal setting.
“Perceval thought it would be beneficial to Her Highness’ cause if he helped to persuade Duke Hugh de La Tours de Lorraine, who is, after all, the leader of his house.” Gerard hid his nerves behind a tone of formality as he spoke, though it felt more like he was reporting to the Princess than answering a friend’s curiosity. “But he still has his duties as a healer to attend to, not to mention serving as liaison and representative for Duke Mathias. Therefore, he is sending me with a letter instead.”
“Why a letter?” Kaede asked. “You have Farspeak spells.”
“Because a letter would arrive with you, while a spell would come independent of you.” Sylviane responded. “It’s important to make not just a logical, but emotional connection between these two.”
“Besides, sending two of his closest friends would show just how determined Perceval is in siding with Her Highness.” Reynaud added with his typical grin as he referred to not only Gerard but also himself. “Between Perceval being a close advisor and Duke Mathias joining the Weichsen Expedition with his men in Baguette, we’ve already involved the La Tours family in the retaking of the throne. Duke Hugh will be faced with the choice of either accepting the path taken by his own relatives, or creating a fissure within his own family.”
It was a reminder that despite his usual facade of being a hothead and flirt, Reynaud was anything but ignorant in social affairs.
If only it was that simple though. Kaede thought before she voiced her concerns. “Isn’t it also possible for Duke Hugh to be angered that we’re trying to force his hand? After all, he is the patriarch of the La Tours family. And for Perceval to have taken sides without his approval…”
“Unfortunately, Kaede is correct, especially when you consider how petty and shortsighted Duke Hugh can often be.” Sylviane scowled before she met the Samaran girl’s gaze with a troubled frown. “It’s also why I opted to send you, Kaede, as persuading Duke Hugh will primarily be one of pulling. Convince him that his relatives have taken the smart path, and seduce him with offers and future prospects as opportunities arise. But do not push unless you have no other options remaining.”
The Princess then sighed before she sat down next to Pascal on the edge of the bed. “Duke Hugh might cow before my father, but I certainly hold no such leverage. Far better to flatter his ego and appeal to his greed, than to risk his anger by trying to awe or force him.”
It was a clear indication that despite recent victories and outward appearances, Sylviane knew fully well that her position in the ongoing civil war was anything but secure. A single big mistake could still turn the tide against her. And as such, it was imperative that they tread lightly.
“I’ll be careful.” Kaede nodded. “Though what can I offer him? He’s not exactly lacking in wealth or influence, which means that his appetite will not be cheap to satisfy.”
“Of course not, Huge the Rotund will keep swallowing until he turns into a balloon and floats to Midas’ sanctum.” Cecylia joked, which elicited a chuckle from Kaede and others in the room.
“I still have half of the funds I brought.” Pascal interjected to point out.
“Not if we keep spending it at this rate.” Sylviane countered. “You’re already paying for a third of the army’s wages, seeing as Katell is pleading poverty and I cannot afford to be more indebted to King Llywelyn. Not to mention the ‘death gratuity’ that you’re distributing to help the families of those who died at Glywysing.” Sylviane added with a slight tone of disapproval.
Pascal’s previous amusement vanished in an instant as he put his proverbial foot down. “We have already talked about that.”
“Yes.” Sylviane sighed before she nodded in acceptance. “I understand your reasons, as it is tradition for Weichsens. I just want to remind you that money is a valuable commodity to keep spare in a time of war. You never know when you might need to give people an extra incentive. And buying supplies or offering it to the soldiers will give far better value than further stuffing an already fattened pig.”
“Too bad we can’t just roast the fat pig.” Elspeth casually added from the room’s corner. “Gag his hoity-toity mouth and watch him squeal over some real flames.”
“Aww come on! I did NOT need that image!” Reynaud cried in mock anguish as he looked like he was going to be sick.
Kaede smiled as Reynaud’s habit of imagining girls naked clearly backfired on him in this case. Though more importantly, his remark cleared any lingering tension between the Princess and her betrothed. It brought levity back into the conversation as an amused smile returned to both Pascal and Sylviane’s expressions.
“Maybe I can offer him some seasoning.” The familiar added before Pascal and Gerard simultaneously snorted and began to laugh.
“As long as it’s not gold. I don’t want Reynaud to break his teeth.” Sylviane chuckled, which elicited a regurgitation sound from the redhead as though he was about to vomit.
With her face beaming, the Princess straightened her tone before continuing: “I think the best offer I can make him would be to elevate his favored son. Henri is, by all accounts, quite brilliant, which means I can give him real power and not just an honorary rank. If an opportunity presents itself, you may tell Duke Hugh that Henri may have his choice of either being the Grand Master, or take charge of any ministry which he chooses. And should he do well at it, I will even consider him for the position of Grand Chancellor.”
Kaede’s eyes swelled as Sylviane’s offer went far beyond what she had expected. The Grand Master was one of the ‘Six Great Officers’ of the Crown, who would be in charge of the Empress’ household — which meant running the royal court and its finances. Meanwhile, the Grand Chancellor was the highest authority in the realm outside the sovereign herself when it came to civil affairs.
“That will surely tempt even his lofty ambitions.” Cecylia considered aloud. “The La Tours family hasn’t seen someone rise to the rank of ‘Great Officer’ since Marshal Roland. It will be seen as a tremendous honor for Duke Hugh, as Henri is his chosen successor whom he groomed with no expenses spared. I heard he even hired a philosopher from the Imperium to tutor Henri when the young man was still a boy.”
“I’ve heard that also.” Sylviane remarked as she pursed her lips. “Though I’m not sure being tutored by a renowned Skeptic so early in life is necessarily a blessing.”
“A Skeptic?” Kaede asked.
“Skepticism is one of the philosophical schools.” Pascal explained. “Its adherents believe that all knowledge is uncertain and all ‘truths’ are but limited perspectives.”
“I can understand their reasons, but their beliefs stir up way too much trouble.” Sylviane added with a scowl. “Skeptics reject the concept of faith entirely and claim that the true nature of reality is impossible to know or understand. And because of that, they often end up making an enemy of the Church as they challenge even the fundamental tenets of Trinitian faith.”
“They do make fantastic researchers and investigators though.” Cecylia then countered as though speaking from personal experience. “However, their unwillingness to take people’s word can make them… frustratingly difficult to deal with at times.”
The translation spell had it right then. Kaede thought it was essentially the same school of thought as Academic Skepticism, which had been made famous by historical figures such as the great orator Cicero.
It was a reminder to Kaede that diplomacy was more about preparation than raw charisma. To negotiate with Duke Hugh, it was not only important to understand his personality and temperament, but also to grasp his interests, his needs, the people around him, and the desires that tempted him.
I should talk with Major Ostergalen before I leave. The Samaran girl considered Pascal’s intelligence officer who often endorsed the importance of character. Then, as she remembered another shortcut standing before her, she turned towards the dhampir agent with a hopeful, beseeching smile:
“Cecylia, would you be willing to share your dossier on Duke Hugh and his family from the Black Eagles?”
“Ahhh, you remembered!” Cecylia beamed as Kaede recalled their conversation during that ‘girl’s night’ before the war began. The dhampir girl reached into an extradimensional pocket slung over her waist, before she pulled out what looked to be a frilly, black-and-white dress that had an unusual amount of padding over the breasts.
“Of course I’d be happy to share information with my maid.” She said with a grin that ran from ear to ear, which she exchanged with the Princess.
You’re as bad as Elder Sister. Kaede’s smile faltered as she barely stifled a groan.
Their discussion continued in the same playful tone for nearly two hours. However, before the group left Pascal and Kaede’s guest room for lunch in the castle halls, Sylviane redirected her attention towards the one man who had barely spoken the entire time:
“One last thing — Gerard, in addition to accompanying Kaede in her primary mission to meet with Duke Hugh, I also have a secondary task for you.”
“Me, Your Highness?” The tall engineer’s eyes swelled as though he could scarcely believe his ears.
It was to be expected, as Gerard came from a yeomen baker’s family. He only came to know Pascal and other high nobles thanks to Perceval’s patronage. And although the Princess awarded him the rank of Chevalier for his role in escorting Elspeth after the coup, the engineer had never done anything that brought recognition to his own name.
“Yes.” Sylviane nodded. “As an engineer and someone from the Ministry of Land and Resources, I want you to inspect the lands of Southern Rhin-Lotharingie as you travel across them. I’d like to know more about the state of the Empire’s infrastructure in the south, especially its fields, roads, waterworks, and bridges.”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Gerard answered at once as his head dipped down in a slight bow. “Though… surely there must be a better candidate than me? I was just an intern.”
“Pascal told me that you did an outstanding job working with Weichsel’s pioneers to plan out the fortifications prior to the Battle of Gwilen River.” The Princess gave him an encouraging smile, which her fiancé tried to match as he added:
“It was not your fault that the enemy discovered the ruse and destroyed our dam.”
Gerard couldn’t help but break a wry smile as he nodded appreciatively. The muscular young man had thought he failed during the battle, as the trap entrusted to him had been discovered by the enemy before it could be sprung. Injured during the retreat, the engineer had thought that he had lost the one chance in his life to truly earn respect.
Yet, as it turned out, Pascal did not blame him for the debacle at all, as so many other superiors would in such circumstances.
“Wars are not only a contest of military strength, Gerard.” Sylviane continued on to explain. “They are even more a clash between the economic backbone of empires. And if I am to lead this war against the Caliphate and, most likely, the Imperium once they join, then I must have a clear understanding of our own situation. I need to hear an honest appraisal from someone I can trust, and not merely the filtered words of ministers in the capital.”
The young man blinked as he felt taken aback by the Princess’ words. To be included as someone whom she could trust was not merely an honor. It was a sign that Lady Luck had not yet abandoned him, and that he hadn’t already spent all the opportunities of his life to come this far.
“It would be my honor, Your Highness.” Gerard brought his fist before his chest in a knightly salute. “I promise I will bring a thorough report upon my return.”
—– * * * —–
Most of the group had other business to attend to after lunch. And as they split apart, Kaede decided to take a trip out to the city with Pascal for her last day in Roazhon. The young lord had needed some persuading as he was still unsteady on his feet. However, with both Sylviane and his healer Perceval — whom they had met at lunch — backing Kaede, Pascal reluctantly agreed to set aside his military organizational work for one day.
“So, what do you have in mind?” The Landgrave asked as he walked across the royal castle’s drawbridge with a limp. His right arm was still weak, but he nevertheless used it to hold the cane that supported his recovering right leg.
“Honestly? I didn’t have anywhere specific in mind.” Kaede casually replied. “I just wanted to come out to take a walk with you, only the two of us.”
She had offered to help support him earlier. However, Pascal reasoned that since he was coming out for exercise, it would be best for him to practice walking on his own. So instead Kaede walked to his right side in close proximity, ready to assist if he did misstep with his bad leg.
“All right, who are you and what have you done with Kaede?” Pascal jested as he stopped before the main street and looked down at his familiar with a smirk. “It almost sounded like you were courting me.”
Even his old drawl had returned somewhat as his mood seemed to have significantly improved over the previous few days.
“Anyone trying to court you would have to do it in a library and over some maps.” Kaede commented dryly before she raised an eyebrow. “Actually, don’t tell me that’s how the Princess earned your love and respect.”
Facing the main street and the bustling city plaza beyond it, Kaede decided to steer Pascal east in a clockwise direction around the moat of Roazhon Castle. The street ahead should take them towards the bridge crossing the Hafren River. She remembered seeing a row of restaurants by the river from the gardens behind the citadel. Perhaps they could have a more leisurely walk there compared to a journey through the rowdy city center.
“I was definitely the initiator that time. Though what you say is not too far from the truth, considering that Sylv and I spent our first meeting staring at Cross Lake while discussing its strategic value.” Pascal answered with a chuckle.
“Nevertheless, that still leaves the question of just why you wanted to come out with me?” He added just as a train of several wagons, all of them filled with boxes and wares, rolled past them on the cobblestone main street.
“I wanted a change of scenery, and a chance to talk to you, without interruptions, before I left.” Kaede said as she looked up at him with a gentle smile. Meanwhile Pascal wore a curious look as he turned enough to his right so Kaede would not just see his eyepatch, but also his remaining good eye.
“Ever since my coming to Hyperion almost four months ago, we’ve been together almost every day,” Kaede went on. “The only exception was my detour to Lysardh Point when we were in Ceredigion, and that was only for a single day.”
The Samaran girl took a brief pause. Her chest felt slightly squeezed as an odd sense of nostalgia ran through her thoughts. Images drifted across her mind of all the memories she shared with Pascal, from Alisia to Nordkreuz to Avorica and Ceredigion. They had experienced more ups and downs together in these past few months than most people did for entire years if not decades.
“However, that won’t be the case starting tomorrow.” Kaede continued wistfully. “This will be my first extended trip away from you… and I probably won’t see you again for several weeks at least…” The Samaran girl trailed off in her wispy voice.
Kaede never had a chance to say goodbye to her parents and depart for college back on Earth. But she had an inkling that this was what it would have felt like to leave home for the first time. And while she never stayed in one location for more than a month since arriving on Hyperion, she had come to realize that in her mind — ‘home’ had become wherever Pascal was.
Furthermore, she was leaving at a time when Pascal was still recovering from his injuries. And truth be told, part of her felt uneasy and guilty about her departure. Sure, both Perceval and Sylviane had promised that they would look out for Pascal in her absence. But both of them were also busy with their own responsibilities.
…Yet, Kaede herself also now had other duties to attend to. It was part of the deal in accepting her new life in this world. Her journey as the Princess’ emissary to Duke Hugh would also be her first ever job –- and a rather substantial task at that. Therefore, the anxious Samaran not only wanted to avoid any sense of shirking responsibilities, but also to perform her task with utmost effort.
With her gaze still pensive, Kaede turned towards Pascal and gave him an apologetic smile. She was still struggling to think of what to say next when the young man returned an unabashed beam:
“I really will miss you, that is for certain.”
His declaration instantly derailed her previous train of thought. Whatever she was considering saying before was lost as the color of her cheeks deepened to a bright scarlet. The familiar opened and closed her lips twice before turning away to hide her embarrassment. Not even her father had ever been this upfront about displaying his affections.
Her reactions elicited a brief chuckle from the young lord.
“You have been a tremendous help to me, Kaede.” Pascal said next with a peaceful smile. His sincere words could be heard clearly over the background noise that came from across the street. “Not just in my work and duties, but also to me as an individual. You have brought so much into my life, as well as those of my friends and family. You even saved my life on multiple occasions. I really cannot fathom where I would be today without you.”
For a moment Pascal’s earnest expression left Kaede almost stunned. It was all the girl could do to keep walking at his side while she felt not just her face, but even her ears burning.
“N-now who is trying to court whom?” The girl muttered beneath her breath. You sound like you’re about to make a marriage proposal.
She glanced back at Pascal, and caught only a glimpse of his magnificent grin before turning away once more. The young man’s willingness to share his heartfelt adoration toward others had always caught Kaede off guard, especially when one considered how he also bottled up negative emotions to an unhealthy degree. Furthermore, Pascal didn’t even try to make any jokes to lighten the conversation this time, and his complete honesty — which Kaede could sense through the pride that trickled across their familiar bond — only made her embarrassment worse.
A prolonged silence fell between the two as Kaede turned off the main street and onto a quiet road that headed to the bridge. The noise coming from the city’s main plaza, combined with Pascal’s words, left her in an overstimulated state that scattered her focus and scrambled her thoughts. She couldn’t even think with composure for long enough to formulate a response.
The Samaran girl had crossed the road without even realizing it before walking near to the limestone wall of a building. There, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She repeated the box breathing technique twice more before she turned around once more.
“Want a free hug?” Pascal asked from where he stood from an arm’s length away. A caring light shone in his turquoise gaze as he looked upon her with a beaming smile.
Kaede laughed this time.
“I’m surprised you didn’t just give me one.”
“It felt like you needed a moment to yourself.” Pascal commented. “My time in bed has made me notice several things about you that I never paid attention to before. And one of them is that you need frequent ‘breaks’ to calm and collect your thoughts.
“I get overwhelmed easily, yes.” Kaede replied sheepishly. “It’s the main reason I dislike crowds, or being the center of attention, or loud noises, and certainly battles.”
“Yet, you are remarkably good at doing what needs to be done when the moment arrives.” Pascal said with an amused look. “It is a surprising combination.”
Only when the course of action is clear to my conscience. Kaede silently appended. Otherwise she just became flustered and indecisive, as she was showing right now.
“Stop flattering me already.” The familiar retorted shyly as she turned towards the river once more and began to walk.
“It is not flattery if it is true.” Pascal declared as he moved to her side with a proud, shameless grin. “I meant what I said, Kaede. I have the best familiar in this world, who has also become my closest friend. From that perspective, I honestly do not regret summoning you for a single moment, as you are the best thing that has happened to my life in years.”
However, as he finished, the young lord also began to look sheepish and apologetic. The glowing pride that radiated across their familiar bond receded to a growing sense of guilt as he added: “though I do realize how unfair this exchange has been to you.”
Kaede couldn’t help but smile wistfully as she heard those words. It certainly had been an unequal deal, as Kaede had lost everything in her past life, including everyone whom she cherished and everything that she knew. She had a loving family, good friends, and bright prospects for her future, yet all of that ended prematurely as she was summoned into this world to be the familiar of a pompous lordling.
Yet… what if all of that would have been lost anyway?
The familiar walked past one last building before a riverfront street to her left came into view just in front of the bridge. The stone-paved road was too narrow for wagons and carriages. A row of upper class restaurants and inns were lined up on the prime real estate that was by the castle. Though only a few people sat in the outdoors seating as the wind from the river still held a late winter chill.
“That’s actually something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, Pascal.” Kaede said as she walked up to a stone parapet by the water and leaned against it. The same cold breeze that kept diners away also cleared her mind as it blew across her cheeks.
“I don’t blame you for summoning me to Hyperion, Pascal. Not anymore.” The Samaran girl began earnestly as she heard his footsteps come up from behind. “That’s not to say that it wasn’t a thoughtless action on your part. Nor did I enjoy those first few sleepless weeks, when I did not have even the basic rights of citizens in this world. But you had done your utmost to make up for those things. The only loss you couldn’t make up for was the life on Earth that I had lost.”
Kaede then turned around to face a solemn Pascal before with a brave smile. She leaned back comfortably against the parapet while reaching up with one hand to hold back her long loose hair in the wintry breeze.
“Yet in hindsight, Pascal, I don’t think that was your fault. Having spoken to several people on the topic of Samarans since, I’ve come to accept the most likely scenario. The Samarans’ cycle of rebirth is, after all, called ‘reincarnation’ and not ‘resurrection’ or ‘transmogrification’.” She repeated the line despite not remembering whom she had heard it from. “Occam’s Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is also the most probable. And therefore, I think… I’m fairly certain… that I had died back in my old world.”
The familiar felt like her voice was being choked as she uttered those last few words. Yet at the same time, it seemed a relief to finally say it out loud. It would have been better if she could clearly remember the person who had finally convinced her to accept this reality. Her memories of the encounter, where she learned so much about the life and fate of Samarans, always grew fuzzy whenever she tried to bring up this topic with Pascal — only to remember later when she quietly contemplated it herself.
“I don’t know what it was that I had died from, or even when.” Kaede spoke as she took a deep exhale and her shoulders sagged. “All I know is that my old life would have been forfeit anyway, so it wasn’t you who ripped me away.” Her wistful smile then returned with a voice of acceptance. “I wanted to tell you this, both for my own closure, and to ease your conscience. I have forced you to bear the guilt of that for long enough. And I have to stop blaming others if I am to truly find acceptance for my new life.”
A soft smile grew across Pascal’s own expression as he heard Kaede’s words. He limped up to the parapet on her right and, for a long moment, leaned against it to gaze across the river. Then, with a long sigh, he turned to his side and his turquoise left eye met hers once more.
“I am glad that you told me this, Kaede. Though it does not dispel me of my responsibilities,” Pascal replied with conviction. “In hindsight, perhaps only my ego convinced us both that my magic was powerful enough to reach across worlds. Even a part of me has always been skeptical of that particular feat.” He chuckled at himself.
“Nevertheless, it was I who pulled you into this life, away from the peaceful existence that you, as a reborn Samaran, would have likely had, and would have likely preferred,” the young man added. “And to that end, I fully intend to create a warm family for you.”
The young lord paused briefly before he chuckled at himself once more. “Though perhaps that is my ego speaking as well, as you have done far more for my social bonds than I have for you.”
“Real friends and families don’t keep track of who owes whom. We help each other however we can.” Kaede beamed as she responded in the same manner her mother once did to her father.
Yet, her smile quickly faltered as she thought about the loved ones whom she dearly missed — her parents in Japan, her grandparents in Russia, her friends at school…
The Samarans’ recollection truly is both a blessing and a curse. The familiar thought as she wiped the tears from her eyes. But no matter how much she tried to clear her cheeks of their wetness, the tears just kept on coming.
Kaede’s final acceptance to the loss of her old life had neither come easy, nor willingly at first. She had spent the past two weeks trying not to think too much about it. There had been so much to distract her as well, from Pascal’s physical rehabilitation to preparing for her new role. But now, as the floodgates had been pulled open and a tide of nostalgic memories swept in, the Samaran girl couldn’t help but cry once more over everything she had lost.
“I’m sorry…” The short girl spoke in a barely audible voice. “This wasn’t supposed to… be like this…”
Stepping over to his crying familiar, Pascal leaned his cane against the parapet before leaning down and wrapping both of his arms tightly around Kaede’s shoulders.
“The hugs are always free. All you need is to ask.” He spoke in a warm voice.
A quiet giggle came to Kaede’s lips as she appreciated his attempt to lighten the moment. Though his weight upon her shoulders felt the exact opposite as it felt much heavier than any hug she had ever received. A significant portion of the pressure then lifted as Pascal shifted slightly. Nevertheless, it quickly grew apparent just what had happened.
“Yes?” The young man replied casually.
“Did you just lose your balance when you hugged me?”
“Only briefly,” he answered.
Kaede laughed as she turned about and wrapped her own arms around Pascal’s waist.
This was truly her life now, and she would make the best of it.Author's Comment
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