Chapter 1:

Everyday Life, Sort Of

Hime-sama: Courting the Crown Princess in Another World


********

It was a familiar occurrence, the same dream that kept visiting me night after night.

I found myself as the guest of honor in a strange castle, under even stranger circumstances.

“You must be very disoriented, Mister Sakuta, but her Highness really wanted to thank her savior personally. I hope that you can humor this request.” A maid gently guided me along toward our intended destination. I was about to find out exactly where that was.

The double doors opened wide, revealing a space full to capacity with dozens upon dozens of onlookers. At the sight of me, their excitement hushed to a murmur. At the end of a long aisle were the three most important people in the room. Their faces were a blur, but all three were a picture of elegance. The Queen, seated atop her red and gold throne, and two beautiful princesses beside her.

It was always the same in this dream of mine. The strangest part of it, however, was that they were all there for me. To honor something I had done.

“Now presenting the savior of her Highness, Queen Veranda Aurelia—and our honored guest—Yamada Sakuta!” A pompous-looking man, an elf with golden hair and fancy robes, announced while holding a scroll.

The raucous applause echoed throughout the room, enough to disorient me in more ways than one. You know the kind of dream where you’re in your underwear, and you’re mortified because everyone is staring directly at you? Well, I was having that dream, only… I wasn’t in my underwear. Probably…

I looked down just to make sure.

“For your bravery and quick action, you are hereby honored, and will be granted a reward commensurate with the deeds you have done for this great nation.” The man said. “Simply name your price, and it shall be so.”

I pondered for a moment what it was that I wanted. After all, it’s not every day you save a Queen’s life, and prevent the ruin of a whole kingdom in the process. I could ask for riches beyond my wildest dreams, or my own domain to preside over. The possibilities were truly endless.

However, only one desire truly stood out among the others, my driving force whenever I had this particular dream. It was simple, and yet…

“I want…” I began. “I want to go home.”

And yet, within this dream, it was the very thing I could not have. No matter how many times I asked.

********

1.2

"Rise, and shine! If I have to hear all twenty of your alarms, then you're going to deal with me getting you up instead!" I shook my sister, Yuki, in an attempt to wake her up. She was either still half asleep, or her acting skills had greatly improved.

I had money on the former.

"Didn't I say five more minutes? Big dummy!" I narrowly dodged a kick aimed at my face.

"Haha, you gotta be faster than that to OOOF—!" I fell backward on the carpet, her latest kick hitting me just below the belt.

"What was that, again??" She taunted.

Guess I spoke too soon.

My name is Yamada Sakuta. You could say I was a pretty average guy, or however the old cliché goes.

I wasn’t the tallest, standing at about 170 cm. Nor was I the smartest person among my classmates. I was the guy you couldn’t pick out from the crowd, but that wasn’t at all a bad thing if you asked me.

I've loved routine for as long as I can remember.

All in all, I was perfectly ordinary. Mostly.

My neatly pressed school uniform complimented the matching black slacks I wore, just like every other school day. The only hint of color on me was the golden buttons running down the middle of my jacket.

Yuki, meanwhile, hopped out of bed. She stepped over me as I rolled on the ground. My rectangular eye-frames did little to hide the pained expression from her accurate strike to my manhood.

"Geez... I swear you've been so weird since you started high school. Are you sure you didn't hit your head or something on your first day?" Yuki put her hands on her hips, chastising me for being so overbearing. "That's no way to make a high school debut."

"It’s a little too late for that, and—wait! Did you just call me weird!?” I sighed, exasperated. “At least you're awake now..."

Believe it or not, this was a perfectly average morning in the Yamada household. I had grown so used to these shenanigans that they had become second nature to me, and I had to work extra hard to spice up the witty banter between my sister and me.

Although, I wish she'd show a little initiative to get herself up in the morning for a change.

Yuki still wore her pajamas despite being only minutes away from being late for school. She had the same brown eyes and hair that I did, but hers was tied up in two twin-tails and she lacked my trademark cowlick.

Yuki had just entered middle school and was in the midst of quite the rebellious streak… much to my dismay as her older sibling.

"Last one to the table cleans the dishes!" We said almost simultaneously, sprinting down the stairs towards our breakfast. Our mom left for work early, as she often did, but left plates of food to eat.

The glint from the living room window cast a streak of light on the table. I took down two onigiri, and a glass of orange juice in just a few seconds. Like the fine brother I was, I ended up washing the plates so Yuki could get ready.

Not like we had much choice with the time.

Looking in the bathroom mirror, I tried to smooth out my hair. Trademark or not, my cowlick bothered me to no end at times. I had tried everything from gel to hairspray, but nothing seemed to tame that lone strand. And so, I kind of accepted it as my lone chaotic feature.

"Are you ready to head out?" I asked Yuki as she paced down the stairs. She paused near the doorway as if she were thinking about something.

"Are you gonna walk to school again? You might be late, because of me..." She looked unusually sheepish, but I patted her on the head.

"I'll be fine, I'm always on time. Besides… what else would I do?" I shrugged, smiling.

"You know what I mean... The bike?" She gestured over to the back door. Sitting up against the wall near the backyard was a fully restored cherry-red Schwinn Traveler bicycle.

"I haven't needed it up to now. My legs work perfectly fine, and why switch up a routine that works? And besides..."

I'm not ready to ride it. Not yet.

"He wanted you to have it, you know... That's what he told Mom." Yuki looked wistfully at me. "Do you still think about him? Grandfather, I mean."

Grandfather...

How could I not? A streak of flashing red and blue lights perforated my subconscious. The spoke of my own bicycle spun around in my head, reminding me of that humid summer evening...

I shook my wandering thoughts away and painted a smile on my face. Some things were better off just leaving alone for now.

"C'mon, sis. We'll be late, let's go!" I shuffled her out the door without answering her question. Shockingly, she accepted that fact and exited with me into the spring air.

A breeze swept through my messy hair, and I felt an unusual pep in my step. The sun greeted us with a warm smile, shining brightly upon our small Sapporo neighborhood.

"Hey Yamada-kun, Yuki-chan!" A girl riding on a bicycle passed by, giving us a wave. I recognized her as one of my next-door neighbors, so I returned the gesture with a smile.

"She certainly gets to school early..." I noted.

“Maybe ‘cause she rides her bike, doofus!” Yuki laughed.

“Yeah, yeah…” I swung my school bag over my shoulder.

I walked the same route to school alongside the river every day without fail. My mode of transportation had not changed since I started high school. In fact, neither had my arrival time. Just before the bell as it turned out. Yuki and I reached the fork in the road on our usual route to school.

"I guess this is where we part ways." Her middle school was in a different direction, and much closer than mine. Suddenly I got a little nostalgic. "You know… You’re a pretty good kid. I'm glad you're my sister!"

"Ew, what's this all of a sudden? You sound like an old man, saying such embarrassing things first thing in the morning." Yuki made a face, but then she started laughing.

"I try to be nice for once, and this is what I get!?" I huffed, making a show of my displeasure. “Would you prefer if I was the kind of brother to barricade himself in his room with no contact with his family?”

"Sorry, sorry haha." Yuki smirked. "I prefer you just the way you are, as weird as always. See you after school, big brother!"

She disappeared on the horizon as I shook my head with a smile. Passing under a kilometer's worth of power cables, I issued my standard greetings to those who took the same route. The river running under the bridge gushed loudly beneath my feet as I made my way across.

The water levels seemed unusually high today, but such was the case with the fresh snow melt. I thought back to the previous interaction with my younger sister.

"Yuki sure has changed a lot… But I guess I have too." I said to myself, keeping up the pace.

They say that change is inevitable.

Sometimes people are forced into change by events in their lives, or their environment. On the other hand, I hoped that nothing in the world I had created for myself would ever change. Just the thought of it terrified me.

Though, in retrospect, it would certainly seem that life is never that easy.

1.3

Going through the motions, I collected my indoor footwear from my shoe locker upon entering the school building as the hustle and bustle began to take over the busy halls.

The rush to class was interrupted by a familiar tune, The Westminster Chime played over the loudspeakers just as I swung open the door to my classroom, indicating that I had made it. My homeroom teacher, Takeru-sensei, gave me a quick glance as I walked in.

Just before the bell.

"Yamada-kun, right on time as always." He pushed a couple of sheets of paper at me without looking up from his computer. "Here's your printout. Can you please give the other one to Hanabe-chan as well? I had to print more for the back row."

"Sure thing, Sensei."

My eyes scanned the familiar scene as it played out in front of me. There were pockets of students scattered in desks throughout the classroom, laughing boisterously amongst themselves like there wasn’t a class going on at all. Takeru-sensei was lax as far as instructors went.

My seat? I was in the very back row, next to the window. It gave me the best view of the courtyard below, and the wistful main-character atmosphere that came with the window seat. It allowed me to feel like I was some sort of anime protagonist for even a few precious moments of the day. As my mind trailed off I suddenly remembered the task at hand.

"Oh, right! Uhhhh..." One question I had failed to ask Takeru-sensei was a rather important one.

Who is Hanabe-chan?

It's not as if I went out of my way to forget my desk neighbors, but I didn’t have many girls I could consider myself close friends with in any real way. People outside of my main circle tended to blend together, certainly so in the case of students whom I hadn’t spent many semesters with in the same classroom.

I decided to ask a girl who looked particularly unfamiliar in the back row, closest to the exit.

"Hanabe-chan, was it?" I spoke rather abruptly, giving her a start.

"Yes, that's me! Can I help you?" Hanabe-chan replied with a muted smile.

Whew! Now just gotta give her the printout...

...............................

"Umm, hello?" I sat there short-circuiting as she gave me a puzzled look.

"Aaa—the printout! Your printout. This one that isn't mine, but yours! ...Printout..."

Eh? What am I saying? Am I even speaking Japanese?

"Ah, thanks Yamada-san..."

Ahhhhhhhh, dummy!

I quickly handed her the sheet, and returned to my desk. My cheeks were burning with embarrassment as I sat down. If this were a video game I would have received a large ‘mission failed’ message for my trouble.

"YA... MA..."

"Huh, what was th—"

"DA!"

"ACK!" I was suddenly hit in the middle of the back with enough force to knock the wind clean out of my lungs. "What the hell was that for, Jun!?"

Sporting a wide grin was one of my closest friends and the star of the baseball team, Fujikawa Junichiro. I was happy to have at least one close companion to live out my school days with.

Though, maybe not at this exact moment…

"I saw that you were still hopeless with girls, so I had to knock the embarrassment out of you.” Jun crossed his arms proudly as if he had done me a great service. “Go ahead, feel free to thank me!"

"What do you mean? You almost killed me!" I shook my fist. "And I'm not hopeless... I just haven't had time to pursue romantic interests. Wait, why are you looking at me like that!?"

Jun was quite a bit taller than I was, and his athletic physique put my scrawny self to shame. After a lifetime of playing sports, it hardly surprised me that he was built like an ox. At the request of his baseball coach, he shaved his entire head bald and decided to keep it that way. I still wasn't used to it, however.

"Never mind that, Sakuta..."

I was ignored.

"Do you want to meet up after school later, and go check out the comic book store? I heard the new volume of Angel Fighters just came in, and I've been dying to see what happens." Jun looked at me expectantly, but in his eyes, there was also a sense of reluctance.

"I would, but I’ve got a mountain of homework left to do and I’ve got to stick to my—"

"Yeah, yeah ‘gotta stick to my routine’. That's what you were gonna say, or am I wrong?" Jun was right on the money, and I didn’t have a good response. "Don't you ever do anything spontaneous? You know... Outside the norm? It's not like I'm asking you to jump off a bridge. C'mon, man. It'll be fun to hang out!"

"I don't know..." I wasn’t apprehensive about the comic book store per se, but I couldn't help but feel like changing up my schedule too frequently could lead my peaceful existence off the rails. As ridiculous as it sounded for such a harmless activity like shirking my homework.

However, Jun’s sad smile was enough to make me reconsider. If only just this once.

"Alright, don’t make that face, man. I'll go with you, but I get to borrow the novel once you’ve read it." I stuck out my hand for him to shake. “Deal?”

"Nothing gets by you, my friend.” Jun beamed. “Deal!"

…………………………

The school day accelerated by until the bell once again released us from our educational confinement.

I had to make good time to the comic book store, or else I wouldn't be able to get any homework done later that night. In addition to that, I had to start thinking about entrance exams before long, if I even wanted to attend university. I was already eighteen years old, and a whole host of big decisions loomed over me and my future.

It seems things are about to change…

My school days were only months from completion now. A life of hard work, and a daily commute awaited me from this important juncture. I was actually looking forward to the structure associated with it, somewhat, but even so...

"Don't you ever do anything spontaneous?"

I thought over Jun's words. I lived out my high school days without incident, just as I had wanted to. And yet... I felt like I never really did anything of note that whole time. It was a passably enjoyable, but otherwise dull, blip in the grand scheme of my life. I'd never even had a girlfriend before.

Is it possible that I missed out on something important in the pursuit of living a perfectly normal life?

No, it couldn’t be that. I wasn’t at all unhappy with how things were. I loved my friends, my family, and the world around me. It was simply human nature to demand more than what we have, to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. I threw my school bag over my shoulder and broke for the exit with that thought still lingering in my mind.

I had agreed to meet with Jun an hour after the final bell, but there was one more thing I had to take care of before I went in that direction. Today was that day, after all.

I approached the small cemetery as the scent of freshly cut grass permeated through the evening air. The graves were tucked on a small plot of land in a neighborhood not far away from my house. At last, I reached the headstone I had ventured out there for, casting my eyes upon the characters etched on its surface.

Yamada Taiyou
1950-2018
Age 68
Loving husband, father, and grandfather. ‘We live to change, and so we do. For the better.’

"Hey, Gramps... I know I say pretty much the same thing every time I come down here…" I started my standard greeting, but stopped suddenly at the lump in my throat. I took a deep breath. "The family is doing good. You wouldn't believe how much of a brat Yuki is getting to be these days..."

I spoke to the block of stone as if it were the natural thing to do. I probably looked like a crazy person to anyone passing by, but it was part of my routine. Every year on this day I would find myself in this spot.

"I know what you're thinking, Gramps. But I still haven't ridden the bike yet...” I looked down. “I'm sorry for that, and for what happened back then. You know if I could go back, and change–"

It all happened so fast. I got distracted, and I was too late to do anything.

"No, that’s not it. I don't really know what to say anymore, but... One of these days I'll make it up to you. I’ll protect everything you held dear." I closed my eyes, giving a silent prayer.

I promise.

Having relayed everything I thought to say, I departed in the direction of the comic book store. The route there was the same one I took to get to school on average. I just had to cross the bridge and I was pretty much there. It was already a quarter to five, and so I picked up the pace.

"I can't believe I'm running behind. I wonder if he's already there..."

Coming into focus ahead of me was the Toyohira River, and the bridge extending across it. I kept up my light jog until I was roughly halfway across the bridge. That's when I heard something coming from below... a voice, faint though it was.

"Help me!!"

At first I thought I was hearing things, but then I heard it again over the sound of the rushing water. It was a bit louder this time around.

"HELP ME!" It was a woman's voice coming from the river. “Somebody, please!”

I ran over to the railing overlooking the river. Surely enough, there was a foreign woman struggling to stay afloat in the violent current. The glittery blue gown she wore looked like something out of a fairytale.

A cosplayer?

Attire aside, with the water levels as high as they were after the snow melt, the current was only moments from sweeping her underneath the surface. The human body has a possibility of going into shock the moment it’s submerged in cold water, and it couldn’t get much colder than Japan’s far north region of Hokkaido.

Looking exhausted, the woman stared pleadingly up into my eyes as if begging for me to help her. I knew I had to do something, anything, but I stood frozen in place like a block of ice.

The woman began to sink under the surface. Any help I called for would arrive far too late to save her life, it would be about recovering the body at that stage.

Damn it! What am I going to do? This is no small leap down to the water below…

I wasn’t particularly smart, and certainly not brave, but I had to make a choice. Either that or I was simply going to be the witness of a tragedy that I might regret forever. Just like that one time…

Such an instance when I could make a difference rarely came along, but lightning had struck twice. I was determined not to fail.

"Hold on!"

Clearing the railing, I leaped off the bridge. Back in middle school, I was on the swim team. I was considered among the best in my class, despite being unathletic in most other circumstances. This was something I could do, assuming I still had the technique.

"It's not like I'm asking you to jump off a bridge."

I torpedoed into the surface of the river, feeling the frigid water make contact with the skin under my uniform jacket. All I could hear was the sound of my own heart beating in my ear drums. With each stroke of my arms, with each thump of my heart, I inched closer to the woman descending into the blue depths. Bubbles emerged from her mouth, carrying the last of her oxygen with them...

Just a little more! I have to reach her...

I grabbed onto her ice-cold hand, dainty as it was, and immediately started swimming for the nearest bank. The cold, rushing water sapped me of every bit of energy I possessed. Even so, I pressed onward. It was my only option, having made my choice to act.

Determined to make it to safety, I broke the surface. Air poured into my lungs, but not nearly enough to make a difference, not with the cold crushing my chest like a hydraulic press.

"Just a bit further now. Almost there..."

I held the woman above the water, pushing myself down in the process. The faces of my parents, Yuki, Jun, and my grandfather all flashed before my eyes.

"Damn it!” I clenched my teeth, seeing black spots invade my vision.

I’m sorry…

I made one final lunge at anything I could hold onto in a desperate attempt to preserve our lives. Meanwhile, Jun’s words echoed in my head once more as everything went dark.

"Don't you ever do anything spontaneous?"

Kitsune
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