Chapter 12: Savior
The next morning, Beau was nowhere to be seen. He had disappeared, faded away like always, and I was left alone in my room, staring at the white ceiling. Why had I said those words before? Was that why he had come to me one last time so that I would forgive him? One last time? Why did I . . .

            Hopping off the bed too quickly, I almost plummeted onto the hard, wooden floor. Even Calla was rushing to my side, harking, “Is something the matter?”
            I pushed past her and bolted out my chamber in my silk night gown. I ran in the direction of Cael’s bedroom. I knew too well the steps leading to his place, and as I charged past the maids and servants, I could see their judgmental looks. They all thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. What I was about to do was far more important than my image or reputation.
            Now, a guard in front of Cael’s chamber demanded, “Your Highness, you cannot—“    
            Still, I elbowed him in stomach and burst through his clutch. I managed to open the door while panting like a dog. A woman was shrieking as she covered her bare body with nothing but a thin, sheet of white linen. There was Cael, no, Beau, staring at me with a perplexed look. Dressed in a velvet, rouge robe with matching slippers, he approached me until he was merely inches away from me. Grabbing a hold of my arm, Beau whispered coarsely, “What . . . brings you here? And . . . your attire . . .”
            “I thought you disappeared forever,” I muttered, eyeing him intently. “Just like that time.”
            I didn’t even know what I was saying. Just like that time? When had he left indefinitely? Immediately, he wrapped his arms around me, reassuring, “It will never be like that anymore. I was only . . .”
            My eyes had closed too gently, yet I could picture him too clearly. No, I could see Raphael . . . or rather, his ghastly corpse by the river bed. Court officials were trying to explain the cause of his death. They were all hovering around, questioning and investigating the area for evidence. Finally, the most experienced official explained that Raphael had drowned accidentally from consuming too much beer, but I knew that he only loved drinking wine. This could not have been an accidental death. I remembered sobbing until my eyelids were too heavy to open. If I hadn’t . . . then he would still be . . .
            “Who . . . Raph?” I murmured while gazing at him intently now. “Who killed you?”
            In a soft voice, he said, “I do not remember, and I do not wish to remember. It is all in the past now.”
            “What if the person—“
            “Your Majesty, is there something the matter?” Chiyoko, still in bed, had abruptly announced.
            “No,” Beau turned to answer her while releasing me in the process, “my dear sister was simply worried about your well-being. I believe you two would bond fairly well, and I suggest that the two of you have tea together this afternoon. What say you, my dear sister?”
            It took me about a minute to fully react. Beau had become so much like Cael that I almost thought that I was speaking to Cael. Revealing a formal smile, I croaked, “I would be delighted to join the Queen for tea.” Then, I made eye contact with the worrisome Chiyoko and added, “I apologize for the intrusion to a lovely morning. I was simply too excited with the thought of befriending the Queen.”
            Chiyoko’s concerned look instantly changed to an affectionate one. “Oh, you mustn’t be so courteous,” she said as her shoulders relaxed and the wrinkles around her forehead softened. “I am, after all, younger than you.”
            Indeed, she was young and delightfully beautiful. It was no wonder that she was known as the kingdom’s fairest and most cherished. Dressed in a lavish emerald gown embroidered with gold stitching, she was fit for a queen despite her age. Now, sitting across from me, Chiyoko was taking a sip of ginger tea just like how a lady would. Her face scrunched up a bit before forcing a smile.
            “Is something the matter?” I ogled at her, inquiring.
            “Oh, it is . . . just a bit bitter,” she muttered with a gentle grin, “but . . . it brings a sense of nostalgia to my soul.”
            “Nostalgia?”
            “Yes,” she sighed, “my brother has always loved this drink. He practically forced me to consume this every day.”
            I furrowed my eyebrows, asking, “For what purpose?”
            “He says it is to maintain my health, yet . . .” her voice trailed off before continuing, “Yet, I feel that he simply wants us to remember.”
            “Remember?”
            Chiyoko did not answer, and while glancing away from me, she announced, “So, I hear that you shall be wedded soon. Everyone is simply waiting for your coming of age.”
            “I have not heard of that.” I hugged my arms and leaned back in my chair. I let my eyes wander at the flowers in the garden. They still reminded me of her.
            “His Majesty has told me that they have decided upon your husband.”
            “Oh?” I puckered a tense smile. “And who may that be?”
            “Prince Kotone Hachiro, a year older than my brother,” she clarified in a solemn voice.
            From her tone, I knew there was nothing good about this prince. Perhaps, he was just as everyone had said: a puppet. Even then, I still felt obligated to learn more about him. He was, after all, going to be my husband.
“Are you familiar with him?” I asked Chiyoko, who was still trying her best to gulp down the tea. I could not resist a chuckle, and I could begin to understand how she had won over the Emperor’s heart. She had a sense of purity, the sort that did not exist within palace walls anymore. I was even starting to feel that she would slowly win over Beau’s heart with her gentleness.
She almost coughed through the bitterness while answering, “Not exactly. My brother always forbade me from interacting with the Kotone Princes, but from what I know, Hachiro . . . has quite an infamous history of scandals.”
Kotone Princes were born from Consort Kotone, who was one of the Emperor’s favourites in court. She was not the most beautiful for no one could contest with Empress Makoto; however, Consort Kotone was deemed as one of the smartest. Her intelligence could certainly match with the best general and often, the Emperor would play Go with her and consult her about state matters. The Emperor even allowed her to raise her own children, which was highly unusual. Perhaps, she was too brilliant that it was fine for one of her sons to be rebellious and unruly. It was no wonder that Chiyoko’s brother forbade her from interacting with the Kotone family. Wait . . .  
“Your brother? Which one?” I wondered.
“I only have one now,” she murmured quietly as her eyes cast downwards. “Rokuro . . . he . . .”
Rokuro? How come I never heard of Kuro mention about him? The Queen had never told me about his existence as well. I knew, though, that I couldn’t press on for Chiyoko was still wavering, and so, I added, “So, why did Kuro ban you from socializing with the Kotone Princes? I never would have thought Kuro to be an overprotective brother.”
“Oh, he is not overbearing,” Chiyoko giggled. “He will allow me to do anything I please, but he will never permit me to be close with them. He hates them to their guts, and . . . I do not blame him for doing so. I just wished that . . .”
“That?”
Chiyoko smiled at me like how she had been trained to greet out of courtesy. Then, she took another sip of the tea before making a grimace. Only tea could force the truth out of her, thus, I realized that I could ask no further. I slipped my hand into one of my dress’ pockets and placed the small, wooden flute onto the table. Immediately, she leapt from her seat to gasp, “I-I-I-Is that wh-wh-what I think it—“
“Yes,” I responded rather coldly, “this was from your brother, Kuro. He managed to attend your wedding and had asked me to give that to you.”
She was too in awe; her eyes bewildered and her hands shaking. I stood up and handed her the instrument, which she quickly brushed her fingers along its edges. I had not noticed it before, but there was a small symbol shaped like a cursive, tree branch on its body. Chiyoko, with her eyes still mesmerized by the flute, explained, “This was his most prized possession. I always begged that he give this to me, but he would not. He said he would never part with it unless . . .”
“Unless?”
“He . . . did not think he would be able to keep it anymore.” Her eyes widened as she uttered in much desperation. “You must . . . find him,” she urged. “Please. I think . . . something is wrong.”
“Wh-what? Why?” I tried my best to fight off her clawing fingers by placing my arms around her shoulders. “This is only a gift—“
“This is no ordinary gift!” she roared. “This was Rokuro’s flute! He would never give away anything of Rokuro’s unless Kuro was not expecting to live! Please, I beg of you, find him. I have no one to trust, but, you.”
“But . . . how would I even find him?”
Chiyoko pointed to her jade pendant, which was sculpted into a dragon. “You will take this to the Fujimoto Castle and demand to speak to Prince Goro.”
“Where is this castle?” I gulped.
“In the province of Fuji,” she answered and reassured. “Do not worry. I will arrange for Salim to escort you on this trip.”
“Salim?” I frowned, wondering how he could possibly be involved with Chiyoko.
“Salim has been our family’s physician for years,” she clarified, “so he is to be trusted.”
And that was precisely why I was sitting in an old, horse carriage with Salim across from me. He had his leather bag filled with bottles of herbs and medicine. That bag was more like a large purse, which really did not match the long, white gown he always wore.
“You keep staring at my bag,” Salim declared in a weary groan, almost causing me to jump up from my seat. “Tell me what is bothering you.”
“I-i-it just does not suit you,” I stuttered upon seeing his glare.
There was a long moment of silence, the sort that made my stomach quench. Salim had now leaned his elbow against the ledge of the carriage’s window, and placed his cheek against his palm. His eyes were fixated on the view of the valleys blanketed with bits of frost, and the barren trees swayed against the wind.
“The season of death,” he suddenly proclaimed. “It reminds me of that time when a young man rushed to my master’s place, begging that my master saved his younger brother, who had fallen ill with a deadly disease, the fluera.”
The fluera, I had known, was a widespread plague from many years ago. Whoever contracted the disease would suffer from fever, chills, diarrhea, and vomiting. There was almost no cure; the patient would either recover by him or herself, or would ultimately die.
“And then?” I asked.
“My master told him that there was no cure, but the older brother begged and begged even through the rain, so my master decided to teach him how to make an herbal delicacy to boost the body’s ability to fight diseases.”
“What was this delicacy called?”
“ Kusamochi.”
“And the younger brother lived?”
“Yes, he is still alive today,” Salim commented. “In fact, it was he who offered this bag to me. This was made by himself.”
“And what of the older brother?”
Salim never answered, except, sheepishly grinned. His eyes were glued back to the wintery scenery, and I felt that I could tell what he wanted to say. Death. That older brother must have not lived. Those dreary, desolate eyes of Salim’s told me this, and I couldn’t help, but wonder who could have made him so silent. It was just like Chiyoko’s reaction; the two of them were both hushed by an unspoken vow, the sort that no one would speak of or remind anyone of again. Throughout the whole journey, there was that stillness and tension. Even when we were using the fastest horses, it would still take us at least a week or so to reach the state of Fuji. There were simply too many hills that forced us to go around them.
            The carriage halted too rapidly, flinging me forward towards Salim. Luckily, I landed on his lap, and he had gripped onto the ledge with all his might. In a rustic voice, he hollered, “Wh-what is the—“
            The door had flung open, and a tall, muscular man holding a long sword, demanded, “You! Open your bag! Give us everything you have!”
            Salim’s hands were raised in the air as he uttered calmly, “I am only a physician.”
            “I do not care! Give me everything!” he screamed before directing his chilling gaze at me. “You! You too! Strip your gown! Everything you have! Your jewels!”
            Strip? What? I was almost too shocked to argue, and even started to try to unbutton the back of my dress. Salim, though, was still unwavering. I noticed that he was winking at me, and trying to mouth something to me. Thinking that he wanted me to speak, I begged, “You m-m-may have everything you wish from us, but please just give me a bit of time to take off my dress. I would, at least, like to undress without an audience.”
            “F-f-fine!” the man shouted. “I shall give you until I count to sixty.”
            Once he slammed the door, and began counting, Salim immediately whispered, “You must run east until you arrive at a village. Ask for a man named Teru, and he will help you reach Fujimoto Castle.”
            “What of you?” I asked.
            “Do not worry about me,” Salim added before reaching into his bag and lifting a small, black container. I had seen this odd configuration from that man who had helped Morganne and I escape, but how could Salim have access to this? I knew there was no time to question, so I simply nodded.
            As I placed my hand over the door handle, I turned to wonder, “Will you . . . be joining me afterwards?”
            “Yes, perhaps, a while later, but it is safer for you to escape before they determine who you are,” Salim noted while he pointed to my belt. “That is too noticeable.”
            “But, how would Teru agree to help me?” I confirmed one last time.
            Salim found a little bottle filled with yellow dust, and handed it to me quickly. “Tell him that this is Salim’s gift to him, and he will help you.”
            “Sixty!” the man shouted, and the door flung open.
            I hopped off the other side, ran as fast as I could in the direction that Salim had directed. I was sure there were other men chasing after me, but I could care less about them. I could only think about running faster and faster until I tripped and landed on my side. Hearing the voices of men shouting, I immediately forced myself to hide behind a large trunk, yet ahead of me was a carriage. Hide behind a tree or hide in a carriage. Within a few seconds, I had to decide, and with much limping, I headed towards the horses and stopped in front of them.
            The horseman, being forced to hold onto the reigns abruptly, hollered, “What do you want? Our master is sleeping.”
            “I am being chased by men who want my death!” I exclaimed. “Please, I beg you, please let me hide in—“
            “What is the commotion, Keigo?” A young man with long, jet-black hair, slid open the glass window of the carriage, and urged. “We are on a pressing journey! Do you not understand that . . . who are you? Are you the one that is stalling us?”
            “There are scoundrels who would want the death of me,” I gasped. “Please,” I begged on my knees, “please allow me to hide in your carriage. I will be on my way after—“
            “Keigo, ignore this insolent woman,” he shouted in Koseian. “We cannot have any—“
            “Stop, Yuu,” a deep, soothing voice uttered, “I believe the young lady is injured.”
            “Shou, you speak of nonsense! You understand the implications of—“
            “Yuu, enough.” The door of the carriage now opened, and his pale hand beckoned for me to enter. Then, he instructed rather softly while lifting a cushion off of a seat beside him, “You will have to hide in here.”
            “There? Will I—“
            “There is no time,” he interrupted. “Yuu, help her in.”
            “You really—“
            “Stop grumbling and help!”
            “All right, all right,” Yuu rolled his eyes and forcefully pushed me into the hollow space. “You! Stay there and shut your mouth!”
            There was darkness again now that Yuu had placed the cushion on top of me. I could still hear Shou telling Keigo to proceed along, but it wasn’t long until the carriage halted once more. The men had reached us, and like before, they demanded for Shou and Yuu to hand over everything they possessed. Shou was even calmer than Salim had been. I couldn’t exactly hear what he was saying, but he never moved. As for Yuu, his rowdy voice was not to be heard of; it seemed like Shou had taken care of everything.
            No sooner had Shou lifted the device to inform me, “They are gone now, Miss.”
            Embarrassed as beads of sweat rolled down my forehead, I murmured with my head low, “Th-thank you, Mister . .  .”
            “Please, you may call me Shou, and him, Yuu,” Shou completed my sentence effortlessly.
            As I stepped out of the area, I had forgotten about my hurt ankle, and instantly lost balance, landing backwards on none other than Shou’s lap. My face couldn’t have been redder, but when I finally caught a good look of him, a tear flowed down my cheek. Then, like flash flood, there was a downpour of tears. Indeed, there was no reason to cry. I had never met this man before. It was not as if he were showing any sign of sorrow. He was even smiling now. He smiled too innocently and too righteously, making my heart ache just at the right spots.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked. His hand gently rested on my shoulder, afraid to put too much weight on me. Even a minute detail could elicit such feelings of remorse and grief. Gentleness, thus, was a trigger for more tears. 
I was too entrenched in distress to even respond to his simple question. All right? How long had I been answering yes? Why did I always have to lie, to pretend that everything was fine? It wasn’t. It was never alright. I felt them every day: the pain, the nostalgia, the anguish, the lament. Every action was a token of the past, a cue of my present role. This was how I should act. That was how I should speak. This was how I should listen. That was how I should write. This was how I should think. That was how I should . . . But, this and that were all how I remembered of the past and of the present. What of the future? I simply dreamed in my sleep.
“I think this lady is gravely ill,” Yuu unexpectedly blurted.
“I disagree,” I confidently stated and wiped the tears off of my face. “If my crying is a signal of mental instability, then do you suppose that smiling is also an indicator of mental instability? Perhaps, I should smile when I feel sorrow.”
Helping me sit up to the seat beside him, Shou asked, “Ah, miss, what disheartens you?”
            My mouth disobeyed me, and out slipped, “You.”
            “Me?”
“Yes, you,” I said. “You remind me of everything.”
His eyebrows furrowed as he noted, “I do not quite understand.”
“I do not either, but this is how I feel when I see you.”
Yes, that was exactly how I felt about him. He wasn’t dashingly handsome, but there was that tenderness to his large, hazelnut eyes and chiseled nose. His lips were warily thin, yet rosy pink. His navy black hair was parted to the side, and unlike Yuu, it was rather short to his cheeks. Most importantly, though, there was nostalgia infused with his every movement. He . . . reminded me of everything I . . .
            “Ghislaine Hime! You mustn’t run off now! There are duties to—“
            I sprinted as quickly as I could, past the trees, bushes, and flowers. I couldn’t care less about duties for marriage. Rituals could be ignored; he was the one that sought to marry me, and not the other way around. Even the Emperor or the King couldn’t stop me from escaping. I had already agreed to their terms, and I only needed to attend that pathetic ceremony.
            Tying the sides of my kimono into two bows by my thighs, I could hear the maid’s shouting again. I quickened my pace, and even tossed my platform sandals away. It didn’t matter how painful the soil beat against the bottom of my feet; I just headed straight until I reached the edge of a cliff.
            “Oh my goodness,” I murmured, almost slipping forward to my death. Scanning right and left, I knew there were no other paths left for I’d go into hiding or be searched by trained wolves. My eyes lowered down to the waterfall streaming downwards.
            This is it. I’ll die, and that’ll be the end.
            Off I jumped. There was a slight drift swaying against my thighs and untangling my braided hair. Then, there was that rough pull, and down, down, down, I went before there was a loud splash.
            “Ugh,” I gasped for air while waddling my arms around.
            Water was poking at my eyes, and my ornate kimino was only dragging me further to the depths of this icy lake. Coldness was jabbing at my skin. I could barely breathe as I struggled to stay afloat on this current. I had completely forgotten that it was edging winter, the time when the lakes misbehaved.
            Twist.
            There was that pang rushing from my ankle up to my chest. At this rate, I would die from exhaustion. My ankle would give in any time, and I wouldn’t be able to tread on water. There had to be some way out, and so I screamed, “H-h-help! Pl-pl-please! S-s-s-some-some—“
            Slap.
            “Should you not be getting off our carriage now?” My eyes immediately opened to find that man, no, Shou gawking at me curiously. He hadn’t opened his mouth though, and that voice couldn’t have belonged to him. My eyes shifted to the left, and there was Yuu scrunching up his nose and wrinkling his mellow, grey eyes wrinkled together. “Should you not also stop harassing my brother?” he warned with a fiercer glare.
            Instantly, I sat up, and flattened my dress. My cheeks were incessantly burning in fire. I had lain on Shou’s lap again! I didn’t even know him, and there I was, touching him. Even where I was from, this would have been bizarre behaviour. I might have even been sued for sexual harassment.
            “Now, Yuu, you must not be so rude,” Shou adjusted his tone to a deeper one before turning in my direction. “She must have suffered from quite a shock.”
            “Sure,” Yuu scoffed, “from your face. I have known of females flocking to you, but I never knew one would ever faint on you.”
            Frowning, I defended too hastily, “I did not mean to fall on your brother’s lap. I simply suffer from . . . fainting spells.”
            “Sure.” Yuu’s lips curled into a spiteful pout.
            “Yuu, fainting spells are rather dangerous,” Shou corrected. “Miss, I would advise that you consult a physician.”
            “I have.”
            “And what did they say?” Shou continued to ask.
            I couldn’t exactly tell him what Salim said or the deal we had, so I lied, “They are unsure of the cure, but they tell me that in time, I will heal by myself.”
            “What nonsense!” Yuu hollered and even stomped his foot. “Hmph, I knew physicians were of no use! Look at that Salim!”
            “Salim?” I wondered aloud. “Is he not the best—“
            “No, he is the worst,” Yuu interrupted. “In fact, I would murder him if I could.”
His fingers clawed together as if he were about to choke Salim’s neck. His eyes too were filled with anger and hatred; he had the look of a cold-blooded killer. No sense of love. No sense of care. No sense of guilt.
            “Yuu,” Shou reminded, “remember what Father instructed. You must contain your anger within or release it positively.”
            “And you are one to talk.” Yuu chuckled with his head hanging backwards. He couldn’t stop laughing at his own remark that he almost fell off his seat when the carriage passed by a bump in the road. Immediately, he opened the window to demand at the horseman, “Keigo! Watch how you’re handling the horses! I’ll beat you to death if you make one more error!”
            I gulped, and Shou quickly reassured, “Yuu . . . is only a rascal. If he focused, he would make a brilliant commander.”
            “That is hard to believe,” I murmured quietly.
            “Which is why we are heading to the County of Kurasa,” Shou explained. “Yuu will be employed to keep watch on the Kuyaza.”
            “Why?”
            Shou whispered almost too silently, “We believe they are thinking of rebelling against the Emperor.”
            His words marked the start of a terrible monsoon, but first, there were droplets of rain staining the windows.
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