Chapter 4:

A Good Daughter

This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table

-Vell Eden, 13 years old-Bookmark here

“Excuse me, are the custard puddings ready?” I asked, poking my head through the doorway.Bookmark here

“Oh, yes, they’re over there,” replied one of the maids on kitchen duty, pointing at a tray that sat on a counter on the other side of the kitchen. With a skip in my step, I went and picked it up, took some small silver spoons from the drawer, thanked the maids, and left the room. Behind me, I could hear the gossiping of the maids.Bookmark here

“The two young princesses are quite nice, aren’t they? It’s kind of Lady Vell to help us with some of our duties.”Bookmark here

“It’s a shame that the elder sister is sickly - I just know she would make a fine queen.”Bookmark here

Yeah… if only she wasn’t ill…Bookmark here

Rounding the corner into the main hall, I paused and thought for a moment. Father would be working in his study and Filaine couldn’t be anywhere but her room… but where was Mother? I stood there, racking my brain when a butler carrying a teapot came through the doorway leading to the royal gardens.Bookmark here

Ah - that’s right! Mother said Duchess Culham would be visiting for tea! This explains the extra serving on the tray…Bookmark here

Passing through the entrance, a sudden gust of wind nearly knocked the tray out of my hands, if not for a marble column to my left keeping it in check. From where I stood, the neatly trimmed hedges were quite a sight, with its diversely colored flowers forming an exquisite composition. Directly in front of me was the stone path which divided the garden down the middle, leading to the gazebo where tea parties were held if the weather allowed it.Bookmark here

As I strolled down the path, I picked some red rose petals and placed one upon each cup of pudding as a garnish. It looked quite out of place, the fiery bright red against the soft cream white, but I had already reached the gazebo when I made this observation.Bookmark here

“Why, good afternoon, Princess Vell! I didn’t expect to see you today!” said the Duchess, giving me a warm smile as I approached the table. She wore a classy dark magenta dress that matched the color of her hair as well as a necklace made of sky-blue gemstones to match her eyes. Living up to her nickname as the “Butterfly Duchess”, her outfit made my mother’s light-green-colored blouse and lack of jewelry look plain in comparison.Bookmark here

I set down two glass cups of pudding on the table next to their teacups and card game, then curtsied. Intrigued by the addition to the afternoon tea, Duchess Culham took a small taste, causing her face to light up in surprise.Bookmark here

“I suppose this is a recipe that you brought from the Otherworld?” the Duchess asked.Bookmark here

“Yes, it is. They call it ‘pudding’ - it’s made from sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla,” I replied.Bookmark here

“Vanilla! Is that not the spice that recently reached the eastern ports of Temmes?”Bookmark here

“Yes, we were able to receive a large quantity through a purveyor that works with the royal family.”Bookmark here

Apparently delighted with the pudding, she reached into her purse and pulled out a small slip of paper.Bookmark here

“The ladies of the nobility and I have been quite pleased with the fashion designs that you have brought us from the Otherworld - especially that robe you called a ‘yukata’. It was expensive to produce, as the silk trade is being controlled tightly, but they made quite the entrance at the ball two weeks ago at the Wickhams’ mansion,” she explained as I took the paper slip from her hand and unfolded it. “If possible, I’d like for you to bring me some clothing patterns for the ‘yukata’ from the Otherworld; I came into possession of a large quantity of silk last week, as well as some nice vibrant dyes.”Bookmark here

Blotted on the paper slip was a showcase of vibrant purples, rich blues, and bold reds, presumably the dyes the Duchess had mentioned. I gave a polite nod to acknowledge my acceptance of her request, before curtsying again and picking up the tray of puddings. Mother gave me a faint smile and put a small slip of paper on the tray as well. As I left, I could hear the card game resume, followed by a defeated groan from the Duchess.Bookmark here

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With a creak, the heavy wooden door swung open, and I entered Father’s study. He sat at his desk with a book in his hand, a completed stack of paperwork beside him indicating that he was done with work for the day. Looking up to acknowledge my arrival, he set his book down and motioned for me to set down the tray.Bookmark here

“Thank you so much, Vell. I’ve been waiting all day for this treat!” he exclaimed, leaning over the table to kiss my forehead.Bookmark here

“Excuse me, Father, but I’ve been curious - what have you been reading?” I asked. Father usually wasn’t one to read fiction, and the book was quite thin, appearing to be a novel of some sort.Bookmark here

“Ah, you mean this?” - he held up the book - “This is a novel that Filaine wrote. She asked me to read it and give her my impressions of it.”Bookmark here

“What?! She wrote a novel without me knowing, and I wasn’t the first one to read it?” I felt betrayed - we were so close, I had so much trust in her, and yet she kept her writing a novel a secret from me?Bookmark here

“Well, you’ll have to ask her about it - she had one of the maids bring it to me. Now, run along,” he chuckled, waving me away.Bookmark here

Picking up the tray and running into the hall at full speed, almost slipping on the smooth carpet, I could only think of this act of treachery. Filaine’s room was up on the second floor, so I held the tray in one hand and lifted my skirt with the other as I sprinted up the flight of stairs. With all the velocity of a tornado, I arrived at the door to her room, huffing and puffing.Bookmark here

SLAM!Bookmark here

“Oh my, Vell, what has got you so worked up?” Sitting upright in the bed, Filaine looked surprised at my being upset.Bookmark here

“What do you think has me upset?! Father told me you wrote a novel - why did you keep it a secret from me?” I fumed. Setting the tray of puddings down, which had miraculously survived my violent dash up the stairs, I planted both hands onto her bedside table and leaned in.Bookmark here

“Well, you’re so cute and predictable, you know? I haven’t sent it to the printing presses down in the town square, and I just know that if I gave it to you first, you would treasure it to the point that it would never see the light of day again!” she said with a tinkling laugh.Bookmark here

Ugh… There was some truth to that statement. After all, I did keep a separate collection of books that Filaine especially liked; a novel she wrote would be worth making a shrine for.Bookmark here

“But still - if you needed to make a copy of the manuscript to send to the printer’s, I would be perfectly willing to do it by hand, you know?”Bookmark here

“All right, all right, I get it. I’ll let Father know to leave the novel with you when he’s done with it. In the meantime, why don’t you read me one of the books from Japan while we enjoy these puddings?” She shot me a smile that I couldn’t refuse.Bookmark here

“Fine - but don’t do this to me again.”Bookmark here

All four of the walls in Filaine’s room were lined with bookshelves, creating a formidable collection of literature. Of these, one was packed with Japanese literature that I had bought in a bookstore near the festival grounds.Bookmark here

Which ones haven’t I read to her yet… No Longer Human? No, I remember reading that one to her a month ago. Not The Love Suicides at Sonezaki either, I think I’ve read that to her before too…Bookmark here

Finally, I settled on a book simply titled Kanegasaki, which sat at the very bottom corner of the bookshelf. Filaine pushed aside the bedsheets to make space for me to snuggle up to her; she smelled of flowers as usual, despite not having the constitution to go outside to the garden regularly. After having a sip of water from the bedside pitcher to wet my mouth, I began reading.Bookmark here

“‘Azai Nagamasa felt as if he were going to be torn into two pieces, and he despaired. On one hand, his retainers argued that the Azai clan had a long-standing alliance with the Asakura - generations-long, in fact. To turn on them could be seen as dishonorable. On the other hand, Nagamasa was married to Oichi, making Oda Nobunaga his brother-in-law, and he felt conflicted about having to fight a conflict against his brother, who was described as a “demon lord” by many. To make matters worse, the Azai clan’s land sat between Owari and Kyo - if Nagamasa were to make an enemy of Nobunaga, a bloody battle on Azai territory would be inevitable when Nobunaga decided to march to the capital.Bookmark here

He sighed, pondering whether Nobunaga would be so merciful as to let Oichi and Chacha live if Odani Castle were to fall. Even the “Demon Daimyo” would falter at having to lop off the head of his own sister… right?Bookmark here

Please, brother. Send some word, any word… If you wish me to ally with you, I would have no qualms… I would turn against the Asakura if you so asked…’”Bookmark here

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“‘Nagamasa sighed in relief, despite the blaze that surrounded him. Odani Castle had fallen to Nobunaga’s army, despite its reputation for being impenetrable, and this would be the end for the Azai clan.Bookmark here

Despite his impending suicide, he was at peace of mind, for he had sent Oichi to Nobunaga with Chacha, Ohatsu, and Oeyo. Manpukumaru, his infant heir, had been sent into hiding. The Azai clan’s period of political power may have ended, but the Azai bloodline would continue.Bookmark here

Solemnly, Nagamasa picked up the short sword that laid in front of him, and pressed the tip to his belly.’”Bookmark here

By the time I finished reading the book, I was in tears. It was such a tragedy, resulting in the deaths of so many people and the separation of a family - and it all started with the miscommunication between two brothers-in-law.Bookmark here

How could a family bond sour like this? Isn’t the role of family to listen to one another? A simple letter would have sufficed - would that have been too much?Bookmark here

Noticing the tears in the corners of my eyes, Filaine rubbed them away with a handkerchief.Bookmark here

“Let me guess, you’re crying because the story is about a family being torn apart?”Bookmark here

“Yeah…”Bookmark here

She pulled my head close to her chest, calming me with her almost motherly warmth.Bookmark here

“Can you imagine something like that happening to our family?”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to.”Bookmark here

“Just try it.”Bookmark here

“... I don’t think it could happen.”Bookmark here

“See? Our family bonds are tight - as long as we tell each other things and try to understand each other, everything will be fine!” Bookmark here

“As long as we tell each other things, huh? You shouldn’t get to say that, you know!” I said, only half-jokingly.Bookmark here

“Fine, I’ll tell you the next time I write something. Now run along and get prepared for supper - the sun is setting, and if you’re late, the maids will be furious!”Bookmark here

Ah - she’s right! I hadn’t noticed, but a couple of hours had flown by while I was reading that book - I should’ve kept a better track of time…Bookmark here

Hurriedly, I got out of Filaine’s bed, picked up the tray and now-empty cups, and power walked towards the door.Bookmark here

“Oh, that reminds me - when you’re at the festival tomorrow, could you pick up some books for me on their ‘language of the flowers’? There’s some symbolism in the books that I don’t get, and I’d really appreciate it!”Bookmark here

“Okay!”Bookmark here

If you weren’t sick… you would be able to go to Japan with me. You would be able to pick out your own books. You would be able to meet Fior and Alistair. You could see the fireworks with me.Bookmark here

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That night, I laid in bed, unable to sleep out of anticipation for the festival. In my mind, I ran through a mental checklist of the things I had to buy.Bookmark here

A fashion magazine for the Duchess, a book on the language of flowers for Filaine, a book on tea culture for Mother, a cookbook for the head maid. Oh, and the new volumes of that action novel for the Wiltshire brothers - I’ll have to buy new stationery to make translated copies for them. How much money did I have leftover again?Bookmark here

Getting out of my bed, I tip-toed through the room in the dark over to my closet. Behind several dresses that I rarely wore was a box of my keepsakes, as well as an envelope where I kept the Japanese money that Fior had given to me. I counted through the bills - 3,000 yen left. Hopefully, whatever Fior brought to the pawn shop this year was worth a lot; after all, metal was expensive for both Alistair and I, so it was only cost-effective for Fior, who said he could have the jewelry made for cheap.Bookmark here

In the dark, I sat and rummaged through the keepsake box, revisiting the many memories the trinkets held. A pressed flower bookmark - that was from back when Filaine was still healthy enough to play in the gardens with me. A necklace with quartz embedded in it - Mother had bought it for the first ball I had attended.Bookmark here

Ah - this pair of rings, welded together… Filaine and I had the blacksmith do it when we were younger, to represent an unbreakable sisterly bond. I wonder if Filaine remembers this? Maybe I should show it to her sometime…Bookmark here

Out of nowhere, a thought crossed my mind - Filaine had said that the events that happened to the Azai wouldn’t happen to us, because we had a strong family bond.Bookmark here

Just how strong is the bond between Fior, Alistair, and I? Could we get torn apart like the Azai?Bookmark here

Real Aire
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