We were sitting on the large branch of the Wisteria tree, which was half the height that it was now. I didn’t know how long we had been in that position. It seemed rather long for my legs had grown numb and my arms had become sore from hanging by my sides. The sun was dimming behind the slippery slopes and I too felt my heart descending along with it. Resting my head on his shoulder, I experienced all the fatigue passing through my veins. His shoulder too proved to be too sharp, too uncomfortable to deposit my burden.
          “In the next life, let me be your brother,” his desolate tone pierced the moist, spring air.
          “Why?” my dried lips murmured.
          “So even if I loved you, it would be worth something.” I could hear his voice cracking. “Even if I were rejected, we would still be family.”
          “Raph, I am sorry.” My eyes refused to blink.
          “Do not apologize. As your brother, I will love you and . . . that would be enough.” His lips pressed on the top of my forehead before leaving me with sorrow. “I wish you the best with him.”
          With him? Who was this man? Ghislaine had fallen in love with him or was she forced to marry him? I was too still though as I continued to watch the sun set by myself now. There were multiple memories rolling in my mind. Raphael sharing his riding secrets with me. Raphael wrapping bandages over my injured knees after an almost fatal riding accident. Raphael brewing a soothing pot of tea to ease my recurring nightmares of my family abandoning me. Raphael pulling at my hair whenever it was braided. Raphael defending whatever I had said regardless of the truth. Raphael listening to my rants and my concerns, allowing me to scream at him when he was innocent. Raphael . . .
          I felt my chest shrivel, my heart pinch and my eyes twinkle. What else could I say but sorry? I was sorry for ignoring his feelings. I was sorry for using him as a consoler. I was sorry for . . . not loving him. I remembered throwing tantrums, and gruelling hurtful words, yet he would never erupt with resentment. Even when I asked why he would never retaliate, he would only reveal a weak smile, which only caused me to feel more guilt. Why couldn’t I just accept him? Why could he not have just despised me?
          And this was how we had decided to end our suffering? We would be sealed by blood and so would his feelings be contained to that of a brother’s. I wondered now if this was the promise Beau had mentioned earlier. It had to be. Fate had structured our relationship this way, following what had been said a long, long time ago. I had to play my role then as his dear sister, yet I could not accept him completely as my brother. I wasn’t even sure now how to describe our relationship. We had met so unexpectedly. We had understood each other so easily. I couldn’t though deem this as love. Love was a foreigner speaking an incomprehensible language while I would be holding a dictionary trying to find the right words for an accurate translation. Eventually, I would ask for a translator, who would, in the end, tell me that it was difficult to find a direct representation for words that were lost in translation.   
          “I have been looking for you everywhere.” I now looked backwards and saw a man approaching me. “I thought I would lose you again,” he said.
          There was familiarity . . . and there was love filling the gaps of my heart. I knew because it was unlike any sensation that I had encountered within Ghislaine. My eyes were dawning on him and I was even forgetting the pain from Raphael. Just as I opened my mouth, there was darkness again.
          I saw grim, grey walls. There were no signs of radiance, no signs of life. I was reminded of before, before when I had departed from my familiar world. Was I leaving again? Lifelessly leaving?
          “A nightmare?”
          I heard Beau’s reassuring voice and then felt his arm secure my body. I was now lying on his bed with my back towards him. I let out a cold breath, grateful to be alive. I hadn’t experienced such lurid feelings for a long time now and to think, I had believed that I had forgotten and that I had moved on. How silly of me. There were always . . . memories.
          Was it a nightmare then? I shook my head before sitting upright. Then, I casted my attention downwards. “You said that . . . there was someone . . . who needed my love . . . more?” I asked.
          “Yes?” He ogled at me.
          “Do you . . . can you . . . tell me his name?” I hugged my body with my arms.
          He instructed, “There is no need. You will know, Chiyu. You will know.”
          I gripped my body tighter while frantically sputtering, “I do not know. I do not know anything, but everyone expects me to know something. No, everyone seems to know something. Beau . . . I am tired. I am so tired . . .”
          My head hurt. My body was sore. I was exhausted and all I knew of was the word, escape. I could be crazy. Yes, I must have been crazy, but I wanted to run away once and for all. I wanted to live in a place where no one knew me, where I didn’t have to care for survival. I would live for myself and only myself.
          “What would you like me to do then?” he pondered.
          Unheeding my arms, I stared at Beau and urged, “Take me away. Take me to a place where I can be free.”
          He answered, “I cannot free you, but I can . . . show you a place of refuge.”
          Despite Beau’s physical condition, he still led me through town, through the market, and then to a cottage, a cottage that I had seen before. It was where I had first followed him. A light was shining from one of the windows and just as we were a few steps shy from the door, a woman was already standing at the entrance with a candle in her hand.
          “You two are finally here.” She warmly grinned, directing us down the hallway and to a small, cozy kitchen. “I have already brewed a pot of tea or rather two.” Then, she pointed to two teapots on a mahogany, wooden table. “Jasmine or Ginger?” she wondered.
          “Ginger.” I accepted a round, clay mug that she was filling from the rose painted pot. 
          “As I suspected.”
          She was still smiling as I took a sip. “How did you—“
          She eyed Beau before asking with what I had now presumed as her signature smile, “My dear Beau, would you please allow us some time for privacy. The woman now crossed her legs as she sat in one of the mismatched chairs. “I am the Oracle, darling, though I prefer to be called by my common name, Zofia,” she stated.
          “The Oracle?”
          I saw her bobbing her head in agreement. I had taken a seat across from her and then pensively look at her, almost studying her. I had always thought the Oracle would be older, covered in wrinkles. Instead, I realized that she was around the same age as Desiderium. I was wrong before, judging her from afar. In fact, she seemed younger now that I saw her braided hazelnut hair. It was like a disparity for her far set, round eyes were just like I had remembered: metallic grey.
           “So you know . . .  Nestor and Desiderium?” I asked.
          “Of course. We have known each other for too long, but I believe we are not here to discuss about them tonight.” She sported another knowing grin. “I believe you would like to know your own fortune.”
          “Who would not?”
          Maintaining an all too steady look, she informed, “You are distressed, clueless as to what to do. I say . . . clear your mind of all these worries and focus.”
          I was shocked to know that she could pinpoint my problem. She was mightier than Nestor, who could only perceive some parts of the future. It was as if she held the key to my brain, unlocking all of my insecurities and my anxieties. She also held the key to what could ease my mind. It seemed that all I needed to do was to ask, and ask I did, “Who am I then?”
          “Who do you believe you are?” she, instead, asked me.
          “I do not know anymore.” I breathed deeply. “I do not know what to believe anymore.”
          “You have never believed, darling.” She poured more tea into my half-empty cup without dripping any of the liquid onto the table. “Did you know that . . . for every gift we receive, we have to return another gift?”
          Her lips arched upwards, making me wonder if she smiled out of compassion or out of haughtiness. “No, I do not . . . understand,” I confessed.
          “I received wisdom, and so I refuted any form of companionship.” Sensing my silence, she continued with her examples. “Nestor? I believe it was family. Morganne, oh, I mean Desiderium? She abandoned love.”
          If she knew what I wanted to know, then why was she making me surmise with hints? “How is that applicable to me?” I huffed with much impatience.
          “Darling, you . . . have to know what to return or you have to choose what to return,” she instructed with an icy stare.
          “Are you saying that that is . . . the purpose of my life?”
          Again, she preferred to interrogate, “What is the purpose of life?”
          I could do nothing, but tell the truth, “I . . . am not sure.”
          “We create our own purposes even though we may be unaware.” Her grey eyes appeared too opaque, close to a whirlpool. “Do you not have a dream?”
          I had only thought of survival. I had never thought about what I wanted. What did I want in this life? “I do not have any dreams so far,” my voice sounded so feeble.
          “We all have dreams,” she sighed and then looked out the window in the direction of the Palace. “I dream to be with my boys.”
          “Your boys?”
          When she smiled with such weakness, I suddenly recognized who she also was. How couldn’t I recognize that smile? How couldn’t I also recognize those piercing eyes and that omnipotent demeanour? An image of two boys passed through my mind, each sharing parts of her qualities.
          “You are . . .” I croaked.
          She nodded, answering, “I am their birth mother.”
          “But how? How?”
          “I was the Queen’s shadow,” she confessed.
          It was as if secrets could be shared now that the Queen had departed. Upon further examination of the Oracle, I could faintly recognize the two women’s resemblance. With the aid of makeup, the Oracle could surely act as the Queen, but it seemed unlikely for those that spent almost every day by the Queen’s side to be blinded by this act.
          “But the King . . . did he—“
          She interrupted me to remark, “He knew. He knew of my presence. In fact . . . we were in love.” Her focus was still at the scenery while explaining, “He was the only one who could differentiate the two of us, but . . . I had to leave. For my own safety and for my boys’ future, I had to leave.” Her wide palms circled the room, marking the boundaries of her home. “And now . . . this is my sanctuary.”
          “And the Queen? She allowed this to occur?”
          I found it hard to believe that the Queen would approve. Although she never loved the King, she didn’t seem like the type to encourage adultery. She had what most regal members possessed: pride. Her pride would not have tolerated the King fawning over a mistress. She had already distanced herself from Raul; it was no wonder that she had detested Cael or Beau.
          The Oracle chuckled too lightly and looked at me again. “She encouraged it. She could not produce a male heir and the King would not accept any of the daughters she had given birth to unless . . . you were the girl.”
          “Me?” I frowned.
          “Yes, you,” she was murmuring now. “You have a very particular soul. I am sure you are familiar with the legend of the wind goddess, Shinatobe?” I warily nodded, unsure of her purposes. She then continued to explain, “You are the bearer of her soul.”
          My head swayed from side to side. What she was suggesting was preposterous and idealistic. “If I am her, then . . . why do I dream of Ghislaine? Why do I also have memories of my other life as Renelle?” I wondered how many times I had asked this sort of question, only to be even more puzzled.
          Seeing my adamant disbelief, she placed her hand on top of mine and urged, “We mend the past to carve the future.”
          I didn’t understand to what she was alluding. I mean, I couldn’t. How was I supposed to solve my issues when I had no idea what they were?
          She ignored my confusion and passed the message. “Remember that every decision you make can determine what is to come. Every decision leads you closer or farther from what you must return and every decision affects your fate and the fate of your relationships.”
          I was suddenly reminded of what Nestor had said about choices. I had to choose what I wanted, but was what I wanted what I needed to return? I was again badgered by the question of what I wanted. To want was very different from to need. I needed to survive. I wanted to . . .
          Desires. I had forgotten all about them. I used to want the latest fashions, the newest gadgets, the sweetest relationship, and the most loving family, but each yearning had been replaced by a necessity. I needed to eat and drink. I needed to protect myself from danger. I needed shelter. I needed to survive. Everything was back to the beginning. Was I regressing then to the age of the primates? My eyes widened, realizing what I had become. I had lost almost all of my senses until I saw her sorrowful face.
          Her eyes were filled with concern and as I opened my mouth to speak, she had, instead, spoken first, “You do not have to dispose your dreams or your wants. You are, no . . . we are humans, after all.” Subsequently, she took another sip of her tea before prompting, “I believe I must open the door for an enraged son of mine.”
          With my bottom still stuck on the seat, I turned my head to see an open front door. “Is Beau hiding himself again?” Cael’s voice strung with much exasperation. “Why are you here?” He had a sterner grimace once we exchanged glances.
          The Oracle was on her knees, already pleading, “Forgive me, Your Highness. Forgive me.”
          He had forcefully passed by her, almost causing her to topple. “You must have been feeding him foolishness again.”
          “Forgive me, my s—“
          He had abruptly exclaimed, “I am not your son and I will never be your son!”
          She had sobbed, and in a desperate tone, she urged, “I never meant to abandon you. I had to.”
          I was too stunned to see such a wise woman behaving this way, and I was even more shocked when Cael unsheathed a long sword and pressed it against her neck. “Silence yourself or I will silence you.”
          I had never seen Cael so enraged, never so boiled with emotion. His face had coloured to velvet red and his eyes oozed the desire to kill.
          “There is no need for carnage, brother,” Beau appeared from the shadows of another room, interrupting, “when what she says is the truth. You and I both understand the circumstances of our lives.” 
          Cael scoffed as he drew his sword back, “I have been very compliant with you, Oracle, for the King had chosen to respect your wishes of solitude, but . . . now it seems he does not want to continue this promise. Here in my other hand, I have a royal decree summoning the presence of the Oracle at court.” He now unravelled a scroll to serve as evidence.
          Her eyes darted back and forth while shaking her head, “No . . . it could not be. No, this must not happen. He had promised before that . . . he would not change. He had promised—“
          “Promises were meant to be hopeful lies,” Cael snickered and tossed the sheet of paper in her face. “You do understand that people change?”
          With tears in her eyes, she sprinted to me, grasping my hands with her trembled ones. “You must remember every part of your dream and you must find the Book of Winds.” Then, she wailed in pain and blood poured from her back, spraying everywhere and tainting the floor. She collapsed on top of me and I could see her mouthing, “F-f-find . . . book. The t-t-truth.”
          I gulped as I watched her eyes turn white and ghastly. Witnessing her blood dripping from Cael’s sword, I gasped once.
          “How could you?” Beau gripped onto Cael’s collars. “How could you . . .”
          Cael pushed Beau away before wiping his sword clean with the clean part of the Oracle’s dress, “She would have died in any way. The King wanted her head.”
          “Impossible,” Beau grumbled until he picked up the drenched letter from the ground. “What would he want for her to be dead?” Beau crumpled the paper in his fist.
          Almost with a sigh, Cael muttered, “What the King wants, he receives.”
          “And you listen to his every command?” Beau clenched his fists even tighter.
          Cael only smirked, a sure sign of defiance. He walked away, but remembered to turn to say, “My dear sister, I apologize for frightening you, but you must understand . . . that this is what the King wishes. I was only granting him his wish.”
          That was what the King wanted? To slay his past lover? I didn’t think so. There had to be some incentive for this murder. All of us battled the idea of scarcity, our inability to satiate our wants. What sort of battle was he playing?
          A game of economics.        
          Thus, I decided that I would rather have my needs met than have to tussle with my wants.
Chapter 32                                                                            Chapter 34