Go To Part 8
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Cheri - Part 7
Reiki and his council of ministers came up with a plan over the next two months to deal with the rampant counterfeiting. Orders were issued, and several departments had to work together to fix things before word got out to the public. All in all, things were going well, for the moment.
After the meeting, Reiki sat in his private office mulling over Chèri’s report. She made one comment about her mystery friend, and all she had to say on the subject was that a confidential informant had also found about 10 percent of his coins were fake. She concluded that three separate sources reported the same percentage, so it was safe to assume that it would be the same for everyone.
No matter how much he trusted his beloved, they way she looked while walking with her friend made him jealous. She had looked so comfortable and natural with him. They looked like they belonged together, despite their 10 or so year age difference.
He dug his hands into his hair, and stared blankly at the table. There was even more on his mind. No matter which of his Highest Advisors was responsible for trying to push her out of a job, he now had enough to promote her however he liked, and no one could protest. Well, they could protest, but they didn’t have any valid reasons to do so.
His biggest problem was that if he did promote her, or even declare her a permanent member of the Department of Investigations, he would be the one to suffer as she worked longer hours, and saw him less. He sincerely wished that she would just retire voluntarily… and then marry him.
He lightly thunked his forehead into the table, and groaned. Ran and Ko watch him knowingly, but held their tongues. If he wanted their advice, he’d ask for it.
Chèri adjusted her second best houmongi nervously. She was also wearing make-up and her hair was done up intricately. She paced in front of the closed door, and tried to figure out what was going on.
In addition to weekly council meetings with his Advisors, there was also a monthly meeting open to anyone who cared to attend. Theoretically, this was intended for anyone – even the lowest of commoners – to bring their case before the Emperor, but in reality, the only people allowed free access to the meeting were members of the nobility, and Officials – no matter how minor their rank.
Chèri had attended one or two before, but the way almost nothing important was discussed pissed her off, and she stopped attending them. So, why have I been called to attend this one? Not just called in, but commanded to arrive late and wait until they were ready to let her in.
“If I have to wait much longer, I’m going home!” Chèri vowed insincerely.
Suddenly, the doors opened, and she caught her first glimpse of the assembly. Is every man in the Empire inside??? She pushed her nervousness aside, and walked forward.
“The Emperor will see you now,” the herald at the door informed her.
The Emperor? Oh boy! This must be even more serious than she had thought! She had been certain that it was the Minister of Investigations that wanted her here.
She carefully walked along the entire aisle until she reached the raised platform before the dais. The platform was for those who were summoned to speak with the Emperor, and she knew she was supposed to kneel on the platform, sit on her feet, and then bow with the utmost respect. She complied, and waited for him to speak to her.
“Official Ruby,” Emperor Reiki addressed her formally. Knowing him as well as she did, she was honestly surprised every time he managed to speak to her in public as if he had no idea who she was. “It seems I have much to thank you for…”
Chèri unconsciously held her breath as he paused. Where is he going with this? Am I to be commended? Awarded? Promoted? Spit it out already!!!
“I hereby appoint you as the new Director of the Topaz Region. The region has been in desperate need of an official Director for a number of years, and is in a state of chaos. It is my belief that someone with your talent for uncovering problems would be perfect for this position. I wish you luck,” the Emperor ended his announcement with a mildly personal statement. It was delivered as any statement from the Emperor to a citizen should be, but Chèri could feel his sadness.
It took a moment for Chèri to process this information, but finally, she managed to bow and blurt out, “Thank you, Imperial Majesty!”
All of those who had gotten to know Chèri during her time working in the palace began to clap in congratulations. Some of the Officials who had taken the test at the same time she did – along with some that had worked in the palace for various years – resented her. In their opinion, she had risen fairly high much too quickly. None could deny that she had worked hard for it though.
Later on – in private – Chèri thought her new position over carefully. Each region was named after one of the 8 great clans. The clans themselves were named after a different colored jewel in order to differentiate between clan colors. Therefore, there weren’t actually any topazes to be found in the Topaz Region, which was part of the problem.
The Topaz Region was the least prosperous region in the Empire. Most of it was hills, with one or two peaks high enough to be called mountains. Unlike the rest of the Empire, it actually had a long, cold winter. Snow not only fell there, but it stayed around for months. This meant that their growing season was much shorter than any other Region’s.
To make matters even worse, it was a rare patch of land that was flat enough to farm, so agriculture was extremely difficult. All in all, there wasn’t much good about the Topaz Region, which was why it was always in a state of chaos. Too many people struggling to earn the small amount of money that did come into the region.
“I’m going to be positively swimming up to my eyeballs in work!” Chèri groaned, trying to fool herself into thinking that she wasn’t totally thrilled by the prospect.
Originally, the 8 Regions were controlled by the 8 great clans, which was why they bore the same name, but it had been uncovered by a previous Emperor that the Clans often abused their power. As a result, he appointed Regional Directors – Officials who were above even the clans in power, but who hopefully understood that their position depended on their ability to govern with good results.
All this boiled down to one simple fact; the Regional Directors may be more or less temporary positions appointed by the Emperor, but while a person held that office, they were like a King (or Queen) for the region. Their word was law!
She paused in her packing to gape in horror at that thought! I never wanted to be a Queen! …Calm down… I can do this…
“Is something wrong?” Her father asked, entering her room at that moment.
“No,” Chèri murmured, not looking at him. “Just that I have no idea how to be a good Director!”
Reiki laughed. “I have faith in you.”
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“I came to say goodbye, since I didn’t think you’d have time to come to me before you left,” Reiki explained. Sho bowed to him respectfully, and promised to be in the other room. This was his way of giving them privacy while still being close enough to interrupt if anything inappropriate happened.
For once, Chèri wanted to be comforted and held. She buried her face in his wafuku, and trembled. “I don’t know if I have what it takes to be a Regional Director, but I promise that I will do everything I can to help the people of Topaz Region.”
“That’s all anyone can do or expect,” Reiki assured her, stroking her hair.
Chèri cast all her doubts and fears aside, and lifted her head to look at him. “Thank you for this opportunity! I am honored, I… I’m speechless!”
Reiki was amused by her definition of speechless, but decided to take advantage of her good mood. “You’re welcome.” He kissed her, and she clung to him.
I’m not going to see him for… for… Months! This new realization hurt, and she held him tight. I don’t want to let him go!
The situation escalated fairly quickly from there, but she stopped him when he attempted to get a hand inside her houmongi. “No…” she whispered automatically. It was very hard to remember, but she knew there was an important reason that she mustn’t let him do anything more to her.
Reiki was frustrated, but stepped back in acceptance. If she hadn’t stopped him, her father surely would have in a moment anyway. He blushed as he realized that Sho was probably watching them.
“I’m going to miss you,” Reiki confessed.
Chèri brushed a tear from her eye. “I’m going to miss you too… You should think about taking a wife while I’m away. Someone to keep you company when you’re lonely, and start working on all those heirs you’re supposed to have.”
Reiki shook his head. “I don’t want anyone but you.”
“You can’t wait for me forever,” Chèri insisted softly. “We’re going our separate ways now… You should give up on me.”
“I just can’t!” Reiki replied fervently but quietly. “I love you!”
This wasn’t the first time he had told her this, but she had never responded in kind. She felt that if she didn’t maintain a wall between them, there would be nothing to stop her from caving into his repeated demands to be his wife. The prospect was far more tempting than it had ever been before.
“I know,” she murmured, hiding her face in his Wafuku again. “But you shouldn’t love me. I’m all wrong for you.”
Reiki stared at her in bafflement. Wrong? How? He mentally listed all of her good qualities, and those that would make her a good Queen. Add in the fact that she was descended from one of the only 8 families considered highly ranked enough for him to actually take as a bride, and there was nothing wrong about her.
“How so?” He finally asked.
“Because… What I want is so very different than what you want,” Chèri explained. “Sure, I’m scared about leaving my home and facing such a huge challenge all on my own, but… Truthfully… I can’t wait!”
Her excitement finally banished all other emotions to the back of her heart. She stopped supporting herself with his chest, and stepped a few feet away. She clenched both fists as she gazed at the ceiling – towards the sky.
“I’m a Regional Director! I get to make an actual difference in the lives of my people! Me! Shurin Ruby! I get to change things! I get to make them better!” She whooped in joy, and bounced on her feet. Her confidence had returned in full force.
Reiki nodded sadly. This was the basis of all the problems between them. He wanted her, and she wanted so much more.
“Please be careful,” he urged. “And promise me that you won’t fall in love with anyone else while you’re gone.”
Chèri rolled her eyes, and shook her head. “How could I promise that? Love is love! No one can help who they love. Besides… how many people actually get to marry for love? I don’t want to marry at all, so I’m positive that you have nothing to worry about!”
Spoken like a true Official, Reiki thought. Promises nothing, spouts reassuring nonsense, and hopes that I will believe her.
He decided to change the subject. “Topaz Region is… dangerous, to say the least. I’m going to send a bodyguard with you. He’s considered the absolute best, and even Ran and Ko both agree that he’s a man of impeccable honor and integrity.”
“Thank you,” Chèri replied with a heartfelt smile. At least I know there’ll be one person I can count on as I weed through the chaos.
“Director Ruby?” The man asked though his expression clearly stated that he knew who she was.
“Yes,” Chèri confirmed, opening the gate to her residence just a bit wider.
“I’m Ando Jun, and I’ve been assigned to keep you safe.”
Chèri smiled with patience she didn’t really feel. “There will be times when I need to put myself at risk. Rather than keep me safe, I’d prefer if you vowed to help me no matter what the danger may be.”
Ando smirked. “The Emperor said you might say that. I accept, my Lady,” he placed his right fist in his left palm, and gave her a deep bow of respect.
“Good,” she replied, and then gave him a genuine smile. “Come on in. Before we can be on our way, I need to finish up a few things.”
Ando studied the wall surrounding her home for a moment, and wondered why it showed signs of a relatively recent repair followed by neglect. He nodded, and followed his charge through the gate. She led him all the way to the kitchen.
“It will take a couple of weeks to get to Topaz Region, and I want to conserve as much money as possible. Therefore, I am making enough food to last the two of us a couple of days. I’ve mapped out our route, and I think this should be plenty until we get to the main city in the Ruby Region,” Chèri explained.
The Empire was shaped like a huge rectangular oval. The Imperial Capitol was near the center of the Oval, and the Topaz Region was all the way on the left hand side. To get to their destination, they had to leave the Imperial Region, and cross through 3 other Regions before entering Topaz Region.
“I figure that if we stop for a couple of days in the Capitol City of Ruby Region, Jade Region, and Opal Region, I’ll have time to make us some more food, and we won’t have to spend so much while traveling,” Chèri reasoned.
“Won’t the inns we stay in provide us with food as part of our fee?” Ando asked, scratching his head.
“Who said anything about staying in inns?” Chèri wondered.
Ando was even more confused. He slowly asked, “You plan to sleep in our carriage?”
“Carriage? What carriage?” Chèri wondered curiously. “I’m only borrowing two horses from my uncle.”
Sho entered the kitchen just then. “No, you’re not.”
“What?! He won’t even let me borrow horses from him!” Chèri roared in outrage. “When I get my hands on him –”
“Calm down,” Sho laughed, gesturing to his brother entering the kitchen behind him.
“I’m giving them to you,” Minister Ruby finished Sho’s original sentence.
Chèri blushed, and hastily placed her fist in her palm so that she could bow. “I’m sorry, uncle.”
He chuckled. “Would that my sons had half as much ambition as you do. If I hadn’t adopted Ko, I don’t think any of them would be interested in the government.”
Chèri didn’t know what to say, so she held her bow a moment longer.
“Here,” her uncle took one of her hands, and placed a bag in it. “This may come in handy.”
Chèri looked inside the heavy bag, and gaped in astonishment. “This is far too much! I could never accept this!”
“Money can often accomplish things nothing else can. I suspect that you might need all you can get your hands on just to safely arrive in the Topaz Capitol City,” her uncle stated.
Chèri sighed. She knew he was probably right. “Thank you!” She was relieved to see her uncle take his leave a moment later. Trying to entertain him would have delayed my departure!
As he left, he added, “I’ve also given you an official family crest. If you should happen to need more money, simply present the crest to any branch of the Money Guild, and they’ll give you whatever you need.”
Chèri nodded in acceptance, and bit her lip in thought. As a traveler, she had several identifications to choose from now. She could show the wooden token that identified her as simply Shurin – a resident of the Imperial Capitol. She could present the token identifying her as a simple Official working in the Outer Palace. If she wanted, she could show someone the Ruby family crest, and be treated as the Lady she was, or – finally – she could provide the official badge of office proclaiming her as the Regional Director!
So many different parts to play…
After she finished packing up all the food she made, she was ready to go. She smiled with excitement as she realized that she now owned two horses and had yet to meet them! They were both rather plain, but she instantly adored them anyway.
“Oh you beauties!” She gushed, and hugged each of them.
“You do know those are horses, not dogs, right?” Ando asked in amusement.
Chèri didn’t even deign to reply. “I don’t actually know how to ride a horse, so you should pick out one to be the pack horse, and I’ll ride with you.”
Ando shrugged, and began to load her things on the designated pack horse. She wasn’t traveling with much, but there was one thing he was nervous about leaving on the horse where it could potentially be stolen.
“I think we should divide the money your uncle gave us into portions so that it’s not all sitting in one bag just asking to be taken,” he suggested.
Chèri nodded, and handed him a third of the gold coins on the string in the bag. She dumped another third into the bag, and pocketed the string with the remaining coins.
“Wow! You’re uncle literally gave you more money than I have ever seen in my life!” Ando blurted, nervous about carrying his share.
“Tell me about it,” Chèri muttered in agreement. She’d actually seen more money than this just recently, but she had been too young at the time to remember when her family – consisting of her mother and father – actually owned this much. Their finances had gone downhill about the time they left for the foreign Kingdom – which was one of the reasons they had left.
Chèri was wearing a sturdy houmongi – with pants underneath – that was suitable for riding, so Ando helped her onto the other horse before mounting. He sat behind her, and contemplated where to put his hands and arms. Nowhere seemed appropriate.
“Do you mind if I walk to the gate with you?” Sho asked his daughter, assuming that there would be too many people in town for a horse to do more than slowly walk through the crowd.
Chèri smiled and nodded. She had spent a good hour hugging her father last night, but it didn’t seem like enough. As much as she wanted him to come with her, she wasn’t a child anymore, and she needed to learn to stand on her own two feet – so to speak.
The horses carried them through a strangely empty town. Chèri curiously wondered where everybody was. They entered a large square.
“Lady Chèri.” Practically everyone in town was kneeling in the square, and they all placed their fists in their hands and bowed respectfully to her. Chèri felt tears in her eyes.
“Help me down,” she ordered Ando, who reluctantly complied. He was supposed to protect her, and there were far too many people he didn’t know to be comfortable as a bodyguard, but he had also agreed to help her regardless of the danger, so he decided to trust her judgment.
The children were obviously the smallest, so they knelt in front. Chèri pulled a temple boy to his feet, and hugged him.
“Lady Chèri!” he cried, burying his face in her houmongi. “I’m going to miss you!”
“I’m going to miss you all too!” Chèri declared, tears watering her eyes, but not falling. She took turns hugging all of the children in town, and even some of the adults that she considered good friends. The crowd moved out of her way, and settled behind her as she hugged her way through it.
Finally, there were only three people left. Junior looked like he had either cried all night, or as if he was terribly sick with a cold. Chèri couldn’t decide which. She hugged him anyway.
“Please take care of yourself,” he begged.
“I will,” she promised. He really wanted to kiss her, but she stepped aside before he could gather the courage to do so.
Bo held out his arms and she hugged him without a second’s hesitation. “Congratulations!” He cheered as he lifted her in a tight squeeze. “You deserve to be a Regional Director more than anyone I know!”
Chèri giggled, and allowed him to kiss her lightly as he set her back on her feet. The very last person in line looked torn between bursting with happiness, and crying. She smiled at Chèri.
“Kiki,” Chèri murmured. “I’m going to miss you so much!”
“Me too!” Kiki gushed, and then hugged Chèri as tightly as she could. She kissed Chèri in that highly skilled way of hers, and the whole crowd gasped.
It was fairly taboo for anyone to kiss in public, not even married couples. They had cheered when these two had kissed in public before because everyone knew that was just for show. This kiss seemed all too real, and it was both embarrassing and exciting for the crowd to watch. They started to roar with encouragement.
Kiki finally ended the kiss, and Chèri laughed. “You see? You’re always giving people the wrong idea!”
Kiki laughed, and whispered in Chèri’s ear. “Perhaps it’s only you that doesn’t have the right one.”
Chèri rolled her eyes and shook her head. The two women finally let go of one another, and Kiki returned to the crowd. Chèri put her right palm in her left fist, and bowed to the gathering of friends she was leaving behind. They returned her bow, and she gestured for Ando to put her back on her horse.
As they left the others – even Sho – behind, Ando murmured, “I thought true blooded Ladies didn’t bow to others no matter what, not to mention hugging and kissing…”
Chèri laughed. “I guess I’m unique that way.” She quietly mulled over her thoughts as they traveled, staring at her hands.
“Is that… the Emperor?” Ando asked himself quietly. He had been interviewed by the Emperor before being assigned to this job, so he knew what the man looked like, but he couldn’t be certain. No… couldn’t be.
Chèri looked around to find the Emperor in his street garb waiting for her just before the gate leaving the Imperial City. Not too many people used the gate this time of day since most people came and went in the morning and at night. As a result, it was actually deserted except for the guards. And Ran and Ko.
“Reiki!” Chèri exclaimed softly so that she didn’t attract attention from anyone.
Ando inhaled in surprise that she not only confirmed his suspicions, but also addressed the Emperor so informally. She didn’t wait for him to dismount before scrambling off the horse – using him to steady her descent.
“Chèri…” Reiki murmured, also trying not to attract too much attention. “I know I already said goodbye, but I just couldn’t let you go without seeing you once more.”
Chèri was far too happy to see him, and flung herself into his arms. He held her tight, his eyes firmly closed so that he wouldn’t cry.
“Do you have everything you need? Do you need money?” He asked.
“I’m fine!” Chèri insisted.
“I want so badly to tell you not to go,” Reiki began. “But I know I can’t. So please be careful!”
“I will,” Chèri promised. “I want you to take care of yourself too while I’m gone.”
Reiki nodded, not entirely certain that he could keep his promise. He kissed her. Unlike Kiki’s passionate kiss, this one was tender and emotional. Both of them were near tears by the time it ended. Chèri wiped her eyes, and turned to face Ran and Ko.
“I mean it! Don’t you dare let him work himself too much! And make sure he eats properly! If anything happens to him while I’m gone, I’ll murder you both in your sleep!” She vowed fiercely.
“Yes, my Lady!” They both saluted as if to a superior officer.
Chèri nodded in satisfaction, and returned to her horse. Ando had dismounted to wait for her, and watched the scene with interest. I see… When the Emperor said that Shurin Ruby was important and needed protecting no matter the cost, he was not simply referring to her position in the Empire. He really meant that she was important to him…
They carefully got on the horse once more, and he nodded to the Emperor as a promise to keep her safe. The Emperor returned his nod, and stepped out of their way. Chèri held herself as rigidly perfect as she could, and plastered a smile on her face.
Once they were out of sight of the gate, she slumped onto the horse’s neck, and started to cry. She wasn’t just crying, she was sobbing! Ando was baffled!
“What’s wrong, my Lady?”
Chèri shook her head, unable to answer. She gestured for him to continue their journey, and concentrated on calming herself. It took a while, but she was able to turn the sobs into quiet tears streaming down her cheeks.
Ando did his job, and led the horses into a canter. He knew it was up to him to concentrate on their journey until she was ready to take command again. The horses seemed to nearly fly as they sped away from the Imperial City.
“I’m sorry,” Chèri apologize when she could finally speak again. “I just love him so much, and yet we walk such different paths. I don’t think we will ever be together, but he tortures us both by refusing to give up on me. It hurts to leave him, but I can’t stay.”
“Why not?” Ando asked, more confused than ever. Isn’t it every woman’s dream to get married? Especially to the Emperor!
“I’ve finally got the opportunity to do what I want with my life! I can make a real difference. It is my deepest wish to make it so that no one ever need starve. I would like it if everyone could be happy and prosperous…”
Chèri sighed. “I know that I aim too high. My goals are unrealistic, but if I don’t at least try… then I’ll never know what I can do.”
Hmm… Ando mused silently. This must be why all the townsfolk seem to love her. She genuinely cares for the people… Enough to put her own best interests aside.
Come sunset, they entered a small town just as the gates were about to close for the night. Chèri asked for directions to the local temple, and insisted that Ando bring them there. They arrived at a small building positively crowded with people – miserable people.
She and Ando hadn’t eaten all day – she hadn’t wanted to stop at all because she wasn’t hungry – so Chèri grabbed her large basket full of food, and bowed to the Priestess in charge. “I wish to stay the night in your temple. In exchange, I offer food. It’s not much, but hopefully it will be enough to provide everyone with something.”
The Priestess smiled and bowed at her in return. “Ever since the tragedy 3 years ago… well this temple hasn’t had much to offer. We welcome you, honored guests.”
Chèri insisted on going straight to the temple’s kitchen. There, she found a large pot of rice cooking for everyone to eat, and grinned. Thinning my food out with rice will make everything stretch farther! She used the large pans to reheat everything she had cooked that morning, and laughed when she found Ando watching her with fascination. He had seen her cooking that morning, but he hadn’t been near starving then!
Soon, everyone was served an equal portion, and not an ounce of food went to waste. People thanked her profusely, and she could see that their spirits were higher than they had been in a long time. She grinned in satisfaction, and wondered what more she could do for them.
“I know!” She announced suddenly, and ran to where her things were being kept safe for her by the temple staff. She really hadn’t brought much, just two of her best houmongis, a few accessories, and every one of her plain work houmongis that she could fit into the large sack. A second sack carried a few blankets, and some pots in case she needed to cook or camp while they traveled. The only other thing she brought – aside from the money her uncle gave her – was a rectangular box. It was made of wood, and was made to carry her fiddle without letting it be damaged in anyway.
She carried the box into the common room where everyone chattered excitedly. Opening it, she withdrew her fiddle, and tuned it for a few seconds before starting to play. The crowd fell silent in reverent awe.
She played a popular folk song. “I’m just a simple girl in love with a simple boy. We’re soon to be married, and I can’t wait!”
The temple residents joined in until everyone was singing the song… except for Ando. He looked uncomfortable with all the chaos ensuing around him. What is with her?!
After the folk song, she played a lively jig, and danced to encourage others to join her. It soon felt like a party, and though no one knew her name, they would be talking about her for months to come; possibly years. All too soon, it was time to sleep, and Chèri responded by playing a soft, slow tune. It soothed everyone, calming them, and settling them so that they were ready to go to bed.
Everyone slept on mats on the floor in the common room, but there were no spare ones. Chèri agreed to share one with a woman, but Ando preferred to sleep sitting against the wall next to her. He wanted to be ready in case someone decided to cause trouble!
He watched Chèri as he drifted off to sleep, still mulling over the enigma that she exuded. I’ve never met anyone like her! And he doubted that he ever would again.
Chèri woke before Ando, and asked a couple of the other early risers to bring her to the market. She bought as much food as they could carry – mostly vegetables, but including one chicken – and then lugged it back to the temple. She immediately cooked it all with the help of some women. She repacked her basket with as much as it had held yesterday, but shared the rest as breakfast.
Ando mentally berated himself when he realized that she had managed to go shopping and cook up a feast before he woke up. Some bodyguard I make! Why the hell does she insist on feeding everyone anyway?
They prepared to leave, switching which horse was burdened with them. Ando made certain that none of their money was missing, and watched as Chèri handed one golden coin to the temple Priestess. The Priestess had tears in her eyes as she bowed. It would not be near enough to feed everyone for even a week, but it was more than they had, and would help.
Even riding as fast as they could without endangering their horses, they still didn’t make it to the next town in time to cross through the gate before it closed. They weren’t making anywhere near as good of time as Chèri had hoped, but it didn’t really matter. She didn’t have a time limit.
“I guess we’re just going to have to make camp tonight,” Chèri announced cheerfully.
“Now that it’s fall, the nights get chilly,” Ando stated in concern.
“I’ve brought blankets,” Chèri shrugged, and began to unpack them. “If you don’t mind cold food, help yourself to what I brought. I don’t feel like heating it up.”
Ando nodded, frowning. Aside from the hour she cried, she had been nothing but cheerful for as long as he’d known her. So… why is she depressed now?
Chèri set his blanket where he could reach it, and immediately rolled up in hers. She pretended to be asleep, but he could tell by her breathing that it was an act. He smiled faintly, assuming that she just didn’t want to seem like she was leading him on in the slightest.
A half an hour later, he knew something was wrong. She wasn’t just pretending to sleep; she was hiding something from him. He could not figure out what it was, so he had no choice but to ask.
“You may as well tell me what’s going on now, or I’m just going to worry all night,” he insisted.
Chèri held her breath in an attempt to convince him that she really was asleep.
“You are not fooling me, my Lady,” Ando stated.
Chèri exhaled with a sigh. “I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Ando wondered. He was concerned enough that he moved next to her.
“It’s… a female… problem,” Chèri admitted reluctantly.
Ando blushed. “I see… I do have sisters. I know what you refer to.”
“Then you know there’s nothing you can do,” Chèri replied.
“I don’t know…” Ando murmured. “My sisters often made me push on their backs.”
Chèri hid a blush. She had also made her father push on her back, but this man was still more or less a stranger. Sheer desperation made her agree.
She opened her blanket, and lay on her stomach. Ando pressed firmly on Chèri’s lower back until she genuinely fell asleep. He was tired himself, but continued to provide her with pressure until he just couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Chèri woke first in the morning. She was warm, and her cramps were nothing more than a hint of what was to come. She was reluctant to open her eyes, and snuggled closer to the source of the warmth.
She immediately knew something wasn’t right. She was more or less laying on something. Something the exact size and shape as a man. Her eyes flew open in alarm.
Ando was still sleeping – used to an occasional body atop him. It looked like he had fallen asleep on her blanket, and instinctively tugged his blanket over them both. She must have also moved closer to him to keep warm. Thank the Gods that we are both still fully dressed!
Chèri disentangled herself from him and the blankets, and disappeared to take care of certain bodily functions. There was no source of water conveniently nearby, so she had no choice but to use their water bags to rinse her blood-covered cloth after she was done. Good thing I thought to bring some!
Ando watched her quietly. He had woken up when she got off him, and had racked his brains to remember if anything had happened. As far as he could tell, they had only slept. He sighed in relief. The Emperor would have me beheaded if I so much as thought about bedding his woman!
Chèri clutched her abdomen lightly, but forced herself to eat despite the pain.
“Perhaps we should find a place to stay in town for the day,” Ando suggested.
“No. Strangely, the motion of the horse helps,” Chèri informed him.
“Yes, my Lady,” Ando acknowledged.
Today when he settled himself behind her on the horse, he felt his heart skip a beat. Oh no… No! I am not falling for her!
Chèri leaned against him so that she could rub her abdomen, and Ando firmly ignored how his body tingled where she touched him. He held onto her out of necessity to prevent her from falling off the horse, but tried to keep himself stiffly upright so that their bodies were not molded together. He inhaled her unique scent.
This is going to be a long journey!
Go To Part 8
Go To Part 8