This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Vell Eden, 16 years old-
Sitting in the midst of a mountain of books, I found myself at a dead end. Nothing in the pharmaceutical and medical books I had bought could come to a conclusive diagnosis for Filaine, and the liquid medicines I had administered did nothing to halt the progression of her disease, though I hoped they at least eased her suffering.
Was it too much to hope that the other world could save her? I turned my gaze down to the thick sheaf of notes I had jotted down over months and months of studying in secret. After all the work I had put in, it now meant nothing to me. It no longer had any use. Perhaps the disease was something unique to my world all along - does that mean all my efforts in studying Japan’s diseases were a fool’s errand?
Out of frustration, I raised my fist and swung, knocking down a tower of books.
“Am I really so powerless?” I asked out loud to no one in particular, tearing up. “What good is being a royal if I can’t use any of this ‘royal authority’ to do what matters to me?”
It was only a matter of time until Filaine’s candle was snuffed out. In the past month, her constitution had become unbearably weak, and she was rarely conscious. When she was awake, her attendants could only feed her soup, as her appetite had disappeared completely. Unable to lift even a quill, the novel she had written three years ago would be the only lasting trace of her love of writing. The only thing that let the doctors know she was still alive as she slept was her slowed but present heartbeat.
The novel… where is it?
All of a sudden, I felt the urge to reread it for the seventy-eighth time. Although I could probably recite it by heart already, the Filaine of now could barely speak, and I was desperate for her words. I knocked over another pile of books as I waded carelessly through stacks and stacks of literature and treatises to the special bookshelf, where I kept copies of the books Filaine held closest to her heart… and the original manuscript of her novel, Lyre and Strum. She had given it to me to keep the year after she had finished it, telling me that it would be a source of strength for me - I supposed, with tears in my eyes, that she already knew that she wouldn’t recover to write another novel.
“Wooooah!” Having paid little attention to the piles below, I had stepped on a loose book, sending me toppling over into the mess. “Ugh… maybe I should have cleaned up my room in the past week… Huh?”
Picking up the book that I had tripped on, I noticed that it wasn’t a book on medicine like all the others. Someone must have placed it in the wrong section of the bookstore, and I picked it up when I was buying books indiscriminately, I thought.
“Dust Bowl: The Worst Agricultural Disaster in American History? Why is this here…?”
My curiosity got the better of me, and I opened it to have a quick skim. It didn’t appear to be that long, and I thought that I could give it a cursory read-through within the afternoon. I needed to take a break, after all.
“‘The 1920s saw an unprecedented economic boom… However, near its end, the economy crashed, and the Great Depression started… Throughout this period of economic misfortune, several factors, including poor farming practices, contributed to the most well-known agricultural disaster in history… The entire region of the Great Plains was enveloped in suffocating dust storms… Vast swaths of farmland became unusable’… Huh?”
That’s strange, I thought. Nothing like that has ever happened in our world, especially Chartreuse… We farm extensively as well, and it’s the backbone of our entire economy… What could they possibly have done wrong? Farming is simple, isn’t it?
However, with every page I turned, my preconceptions began to look more and more naive, and my heart began to sink deeper and deeper. As it had turned out, the cause of this calamity was in part rapid farm expansion, as well as soil-damaging plowing practices. To the extent of my knowledge, the ecology of the western plains of Chartreuse shared many similarities to what was being described in the book.
Oh God, how long have our farms been expanding out in the west? Roughly twelve years, right? And… oh, no… this is bad. Really bad. Our farming practices don’t take into account things like topsoil and root anchoring… If we’re making the same mistake these Americans did…
Clutching the book tightly, I rushed to reach Father to warn him about the impending calamity, only to be interrupted by a puffy-eyed Miss Eunice who stood at my door, about to knock.
“Your Royal Highness, please come with me immediately.”
The light has gone out of my life.
I stared at Filaine’s lifeless body, lying in the bed with a white sheet laid over her face, unable to make sense of the chain of events. She had been standing on the edge of life and death for a while now, but I still found it difficult to accept that she was now gone.
All I could do was wail at her bedside, left alone in her room, lamenting that I was unable to spend more time with her while she was still capable of talking and writing, to read or hear any more of her words, to smile with her as we went through the gallery of our memories.
I had lived the last couple of years for her sake, and now that she was gone, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whose sake to live for anymore. No bond, even that between my parents and myself, would ever be able to replace the one that had just been severed.
What did Filaine do to deserve being snatched up by the cold, gnarly claws of Death? She had done nothing but be a good sister and daughter. If Death had marked her a sinner, I would point him to the long list of those who had sinned even just once. If it was by a stroke of misfortune, I would swear to kill the goddess of fortune myself.
“Send word to the Wiltshire brothers,” I asked Miss Eunice, who was keeping guard outside of Filaine’s room. “A dispatcher on horseback should do.”
She curtsied and turned about, only to freeze in place paces away. “I do not know if it is something that carries any meaning to you, and she was in no condition to enunciate properly, but her last words that could be heard by the attendants were ‘any gawwa’,” she said, without turning to face me, before continuing her march down the hall.
… Any gawwa?
Exhausted and depleted of water from all the tears I had spilled, I retreated to my room to think of what she could have possibly meant by “any gawwa”. As I poured myself a cup of water from the pitcher in my room, I wondered if trying to parse any meaning from it would be too fanciful an idea.
Any gawwa… Well, I suppose, if the first word is “any”, then “gawwa” has to be a noun, right? But there isn’t any noun in our language that has phonetic similarities to “gawwa”...
Assuming that “gawwa” could be mispronounced, were there any book titles starting with “any” in her collection? … No, that can’t be it.
What if it were one word, rather than two? Anygawwa…. Anigawwa… Anygohwa…
No, none of these permutations resemble any word of our language…
Wait, our language?
… What if it’s Japanese?
Any gawwa… gawwa could be “kawa”, the character for “river”, since the language does something strange that makes it able to be read “gawa”...
There weren’t that many Japanese books that she had read through before she was unable to lift a book… No, none of those titles contain “kawa”...
What about “any”? If I were to go off pronunciation…
“Ani”, for “brother”?
No, it has to be “ane”, for “sister”, right?
“Ane kawa”... “Sister river”?
There aren’t any rivers that we played near as children, let alone in Chartreuse, other than the Tibaul River that is used entirely for commerce… None of the minor rivers mean anything significant between her and I, either…
What if it’s a place in Japan? She could have learned the name of a place in one of the books I read her.
“Anegawa”? Where have I heard that…?
Ah. Three years ago, when I had read Filaine Kanegasaki, the book about Azai Nagamasa… the battle he had lost to Oda Nobunaga that sealed his fate was named the Battle of Anegawa.
But why that book?
In a flash, it all came back to me. The evening I had read that book to her, I had cried, because it was about a family being separated by a tragedy. Now, Filaine was being separated from me.
Is she telling me to not cry? No, Filaine would never leave such a simple message in code. What had she said that made me stop crying?
Ah… that’s right… “As long as we tell each other things and try to understand each other, everything will be fine,” she had said.
Tell each other things? Try to understand each other?
How could I do that when you no longer can hear my words?
… Perhaps she isn’t the one I’m supposed to be telling things to…?
Before the notice of her death had arrived, I was going to tell someone something…
Ah! That’s right! The Dust Bowl! I was going to warn Father!
I raced out of my room and down into the hall, this time without the book. Slamming open the door to Father’s office, he wasn’t there. I went up the other flight of stairs to his private quarters, but he wasn’t there either.
Where could he possibly be?
The castle was eerily silent, to the point where I swore I could hear the blood flowing through my ears. Not a single butler or maid could be seen as I roamed the halls briskly, trying to find any clue to the whereabouts of… anyone, really.
Finally, I spotted a maid, who was just as out of breath as I was, speedily walking to the main entrance of the castle with a suitcase in hand.
“Excuse me, but where is the King?” I asked.
“Huh? Oh, it’s Your Royal Highness. You haven’t gotten your things ready for the mourning pilgrimage?”
Reading the confusion on my face, the maid gave an exasperated sigh. “Let’s go and quickly organize the necessities - wait, where are you going?”
Dashing away from her mid-sentence and slamming my full body weight into the doors to open the heavy main entrance, what awaited me outside was a snake of carriages stretching from one end of the castle grounds to the other. Directly at the bottom of the stairs was an especially ornate wagon.
That must be Mother and Father’s. Approaching the carriage, the tapping of my shoes against the marble stairs began to synchronize with my rapid heartbeat. What’s happening?
“Oh, it’s Vell. Have you gotten ready?” asked Mother from within the carriage, wearing a black veil and dress. Beside her was Father, also clad entirely in black clothing.
“What are you two doing?! We need to act quickly, or -”
“Yes, yes, the mourning pilgrimage must be completed as quickly as possible so that we can move past Filaine’s death and continue administering governance on Chartreuse,” said Father.
“No - that’s not it, we need to pass farming reforms, or -”
“Farming reforms? Nonsense, our agricultural economy works just fine. Now hop in the carriage and we shall be on our way.” Father opened the carriage door, beckoning me to enter.
“We don’t have time for a pilgrimage! If we don’t pass these reforms quickly, our people will suffer the wrath of dust storms -”
“And where did you learn these nonsensical things?”
“A book from the other world, it described a disaster that happened because the farmers didn’t practice proper soil-preserving methods-”
“Bah!” Father waved away my concerns nonchalantly. “The technology from the other worlds has proven unfruitful. Even the… “aquaponics”, was it? That was an utter failure. Chartreuse will stick to the methods it has always farmed with. Enter the carriage so we can begin the journey, will you?”
As the maid that I had deserted in the main hall returned with a suitcase of what was presumably my clothing, I felt defeated. I stepped into the carriage, unable to fight Father any more; he simply wouldn’t listen.
All I could hope was that Filaine’s words wouldn’t be prophetic, and everything would be fine, even if family ceased to understand one another.