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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cheri - Part 11

Part 11

The man pulled out a knife and tried to stab Chèri, but Ando was quick enough to catch him and take away his weapon. People gasped in shock. Why would anyone want to kill the Regional Director?
Several other guards raced up to help Ando subdue the would-be assassin. They quickly dragged him away.
“Stop!” Chèri commanded. “Bring him here.”
They were reluctant, but complied.
“Why did you try to kill me?” She asked.
“You deserve to die!” He insisted vehemently. “You say you care about the people, and promise a better future, but people are dying, and you refuse to help!”
“What?” Chèri inquired, not sure she had heard him correctly. “People are dying?”
“Like you don’t already know!” He cried angrily. “Last year, there was very little food to be had anywhere, but most of the smaller towns had plenty stored up for such an emergency. During the spring and summer, we recovered a little, but it was nowhere near enough! Now there’s nothing, and the people are starving! Yet, when we send messages begging for help, you ignore them.”
Chèri was seriously confused. “What messages? I never received any requests for help.”
Rei – the Assistant Regional Director – cleared his throat. “That’s because you instituted a program to distribute aid as needed. Therefore, all requests for help are routed directly to the Official in charge of that program.”
“So… it’s possible that messages are being sent, but then ignored?” Chèri questioned.
Rei shrugged. “It’s possible.”
Ando was torn. He knew that Chèri considered feeding the people to be the most important duty, but this man had just tried to kill her. Even if he felt he was justified, his actions were punishable by death.
“Bring the Official in charge of distributing aid to me,” Chèri ordered a couple of guards who weren’t busy keeping an eye on the criminal.
A short time later, the Official was brought forward. He knelt on the dais, then sat on his feet, and gave the Regional Director a respectful bow.
Chèri explained the situation. “Tell me, is it true? Are you guilty of withholding aid from those that need it?”
“No my Lady! I most certainly send aid to those in need. It’s just that I do not have enough for everyone. Sometimes, I have to choose between two villages,” he explained.
“That is not part of the program guidelines!” Chèri exclaimed angrily. “You are supposed to send a portion to everyone who needs it!”
“But, my lady… If one village still has a little, and another has nothing at all, shouldn’t they get priority?”
Chèri bit her lip as she thought this over. “Fine, I will look through your records to see if you’ve done your job to the best of your ability.”
He looked reluctant, and obviously suppressed a sigh. “Yes, my Lady.”
“In the meantime,” she gestured at the man that tried to kill her, “bring him to a cell, but do not hurt him. I want to verify his claim before passing judgment.”
“Yes my Lady,” the guards grumbled. It was near unheard of for anyone who attempted to kill a Regional Director to remain alive for more than 10 minutes after they were caught.
It was the day that Chèri listened to complaints from the people, but nearly being assassinated made her tremble with the desire to hide. She wasn’t afraid for her own life; it was that of her unborn child. If someone had managed to kill her, thus ending the baby’s life… she didn’t want to think about it!
“I’m going to rest,” she announced, politely ending the hearing for the day. She beckoned Ando closer, and whispered in his ear. “Have the official confined until I get a chance to look through his records.”
Ando nodded, and issued orders to the guards that had retrieved the Official. They nodded, and led him away.
Chèri really did rest for about a half an hour, taking the opportunity to eat something, but then she located the Official’s office, and started reading through all his records. By midnight, she was ready to have him hung for treason!
“Ando, look at this! He was definitely lying to me!” She exclaimed, thrusting a few scrolls into Ando’s hands. “He said he sent aid to towns with nothing, but in actuality, he sent aid mostly to certain towns, and ignored several others repeatedly. Occasionally, he did send aid to a town that was desperately in need, but most often, the ones that needed it most, he just ignored.”
Ando took a moment to look over the scrolls. “It looks like he favored the bigger towns over the smaller ones. I can see a tiny bit of logic in that, there’re more people in need in the bigger towns. However, according to this, he sent aid to those towns on a schedule, not based on when they actually needed it.”
Chèri read a new scroll, and gasped. “He didn’t send out everything! He only sent out about half of what we have to give! He was letting people starve!”
Ando read the inventory scroll over Chèri’s shoulder. “I see what you mean. What do we do now? No matter how you look at it, there’s not enough to go around.” He pointed to the stack of letters sent by villages in need.
Chèri sighed. “I’ll send a request to the correct Official in the Outer Palace for aid. I know he probably doesn’t have much left to give either, but every little bit will help.”
She stretched and yawned, exhausted by her day. “In the morning, I want everything we have left prepared to leave. We’re going to travel around the Region, and give out aid to those who’ve requested it. It won’t be much, but it’ll be better than nothing.”

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Chèri finished tying the request to the messenger bird’s leg, and sent it off to do its job.
“I should have handled the relief program myself,” she sighed, mentally kicking herself in the butt.
Ando shook his head. “You created the program because you can’t handle everything yourself.”
“Maybe not, but this is the most important thing for me to handle!”
Ando placed a hand on each of her shoulders. “Listen, it makes no sense for you to travel around. You’re needed here. Give this task to someone else.”
Chèri flung his hands aside, and walked a few steps away. “The people blame me, and they’re right. I gave my duty to someone else, and he did not do what he was supposed to. I should have kept a close eye on him at the very least! It’s my responsibility to fix this mess…”
“But how is it a good idea for you to go around doing this personally?” Ando demanded.
“Because! They have to see that I really do care! Otherwise, they’ll just send more desperate men to try to kill me.”
“They’re probably going to do that anyway, but you’ll be a much easier target out in the open,” Ando argued.
Chèri sighed. “I know…”
They heard the clock announce that it was one hour before midday.
“It’s time,” Chèri murmured.
She walked to the courtyard of the Regional Palace to find a large crowd of people waiting for her. Looking around lifted her spirits a little. She found a good place to stand, and then addressed the crowd.
The man who had tried to kill her was standing off to one side, under the careful watch of two guards. Chèri had sentenced him to come with her and help her as she did what was needed. It was a shockingly light sentence for the crime, but she refused to kill someone who was just trying to help his people, albeit by doing the wrong thing.
“I need volunteers,” she began. “It has recently come to my attention that many people throughout the Topaz Region are starving to death. They need so much more than food. They need healers, and… just about everything, I’m sure. If you think you can help, then I beg you to volunteer. Come with me as I seek out those in need and do what I can to help them.”
As much as she wanted to get on the road right this minute, Chèri forced herself to be patient as all the necessary details were seen to. She ordered the Official in charge of feeding the residents of the palace and the soldiers in the militia to supply their group with food, even if it meant that the residents and soldiers had to go on rations so that there was enough to go around. She didn’t think it was fair to bring aid to others, only to eat it up as they went.
She also separated out a couple of smaller portions of the aid to be sent directly to some of the towns it would take her longer to get to. Yes, they needed food the most, but she was bringing so much more, and it would take her time to get to all the towns that needed her.
The residents of Topaz city left her speechless! Those that could volunteer, did. Those that couldn’t dug deep into their personal stores of food, and gave what they could. They also gave herbs, and other supplies such as spare blankets and clothes. It wasn’t much, but it was more than she’d had. Their generosity simply amazed Chèri!
Eventually, everything was ready to go, and Chèri set out on what she felt was her most vital mission yet. Please let me save everyone! Please don’t let anyone starve to death, not if I can help them!
Winter was slowly turning to spring, but the cold lingered the longest in the mountains which was where the majority of the towns they needed to visit were located. The trip was going to be cold and miserable, but she was determined to keep everyone cheerful.

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The first town they came to quietly accepted her help, but they seemed almost ungrateful. The volunteers reported hearing them grumble that they Regional Director was doing too little too late. The majority of them still felt she should die for letting things get to this point.
Each town they went to got progressively worse, which was a good indicator of how little they had left. The first thing Chèri did in each town was cook up a big meal for everyone – with help from her volunteers and some of the soldiers she’d brought with. The soldiers were with to keep their aid supplies safe from the townsfolk who would surely demand that she hand over everything she had.
After everyone ate the meal Chèri cooked, she’d play her fiddle for them and sing to them. Slowly, she won them over, but by then, she’d have to move on. She couldn’t stay in any town too long.
Three months passed, it was now summer, but too many people were too sick to work their land. As a result, they were still in more or less the same situation, and she was running out of everything! Finally, the aid sent from the Imperial Palace arrived. That was the good news, the bad news was that there were fewer and fewer survivors left in each new town they came to. The people’s anger and resentment grew because she simply couldn’t get to everyone in time to prevent people from dying.
It was like a plague had swept across the land, which nearly broke Chèri’s heart. Their only real saving grace was that the herbs for the medicine that the doctors and healers she’d brought with her grew abundantly almost everywhere they went. Without them, there would have been little the healers could have done.
“Hey,” Ando crooned soothingly. He’d caught her crying alone in her tent. “You’re doing everything you can.”
Chèri nodded, but couldn’t speak. She was crying too hard.
Ando pulled her in his arms so that he could rock her, and hopefully calm her down. “Try not to let it get to you. You have to think about your child. This can’t be good for him or her.”
She tried her best to stop crying, and slowly, she went from almost sobbing to silent tears. She rubbed her belly, which was now rounded. She was almost 7 months pregnant, but thankfully, the winter houmongis and fur lined cloaks were enough to hide her stomach.
No one yet knew her secret. Though, they did wonder why she continued to wear winter gear now that it was summer. She explained that she still wasn’t used to the chilliness of the mountain air. Which was half true. What the people of the Topaz Region thought of as hot was actually warm bordering on cool to Chèri.
Two months later, she finally arrived in the last town that had sent for her help. They had already received something from the smaller groups, but it hadn’t been enough. Every single person here was sick and on their death bed, but they’d managed to hang on. Chèri got busy cooking, while the healers did what they could to revive everyone they could.
Chèri gasped suddenly, and dropped a pot of water on the ground. It was about to be set over a fire, but wasn’t hot yet.
“Are you hurt?” Ando asked in concern.
Chèri bit her lip a moment. “Hmm… yes, I think I sprained something. Ando, will you please carry me to my tent?”
“Yes, my lady,” he agreed.
One of the volunteers clucked like a mother hen. “You’re positively soaked, my Lady! Would you like me to come help you change into a new houmongi?” The woman was curious to see if the Lady always wore thick and smothering houmongis despite the summer – now fall – heat because she simply didn’t have anything else to wear, or if there was another reason. She figured that Chèri only had a choice between these rough work houmongis and the rich expensive ones that weren’t suitable for hard work. The woman really wanted to see some of the silk houmongis a lady should wear.
“No, that’s not necessary,” Chèri declined. Ando carried her away, and she whispered in his ear. “It’s time.”
“I guessed as much,” he murmured.
They had a plan to hide the birth from everyone too. About a mile from town, there was an abandoned hut. After changing out of the wet houmongi, Chèri announced that she had a strange urge to search the forest. She ordered everyone to continue what they were doing, and then told Ando to bring her for a ride.
People thought this was unusual, but Lady Chèri was known for doing strange things. They made it to the hut just in time to rest for about one minute before Chèri gave birth.
“A son!” Chèri announced, crying joyfully. “Reiki has an heir!” Her expression darkened. “If anyone found out…”
Ando nodded. “You’re right. There are still too many people who hope to use Reiki. They want him to marry their daughters and have the potential heir to the throne carry their blood. This baby won’t be safe until he’s at the Imperial Palace.”
Chèri smirked. “By the time we get back to the Regional Palace, it’ll be time to head out for the required New Year Meeting.”
Ando shook his head. “It took us five months of frequent stops to get this far into the mountains. Traveling home with no stops – but with a baby – will take us at least two months. We would then have to travel at a grueling pace to get to the Imperial Palace in time. Our best bet is to separate from the group at some point, and travel straight to the Imperial City.”
Chèri thought this over. “You’re right… Damn! This year has gone by so fast, and I didn’t even get to see how my programs were doing!”
“Honto’s got a good head on his shoulders. I’m sure everyone is doing just fine,” Ando stated.
“That’s true,” Chèri replied, absolutely certain that the people she left in charge of implementing her various plans were trust worthy enough to do a good job. “I think I’ll send a soldier on ahead with a message for Rei. I need him to send me a thorough report on the state of things. With any luck, things will not be so dire again this winter.”
“I don’t know, judging by the fact that many of the mountain people died or were too sick and hungry to work this summer. I think the crisis will be just as bad, even with the aid we’ve given them,” Ando reasoned.
Chèri groaned. “You’re probably right… I’ll have to remember to give Rei strict orders to have several smaller groups of people ready to distribute food just as winter begins. Hopefully, that will help.”
Ando snorted. “Only if there’s any food to give!”
“Stop trying to ruin my mood!” Chèri yelled at him.
He smirked. “Yes, my Lady.”
“Oh, and Ando?”
“Yes?”
Chèri smiled at him. “Thank you for helping me give birth to my child, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
He blushed. “Though perhaps it might be best if we don’t tell Reiki that I was the one who ‘caught’ his son as he was born.”
Chèri laughed. “I won’t lie if he asks, but I won’t volunteer the information either.”
“We should probably get back to town before someone decides to come looking for us,” Ando suggested.
Chèri nodded. As they rode into town – Ando carrying the bundle containing the sleeping baby – people swarmed around them.
“Are you alright, my Lady?” They wondered.
“Yes,” she assured them, preparing to act. “I had this strange urge to go look in the forest. We rode for close to an hour, the urge propelling me faster and faster, until I found the remains of a couple in the snow. They’d been eaten by wolves, and there wasn’t much left but blood and bones.”
People shuddered in horror. Wolves were an all too common predator.
“A few feet away, miraculously safe in a thick bundle of blankets, was a baby,” Chèri announced. “I really think that the Gods urged me to find the baby before it was too late!”
Ando held out the bundle, but didn’t open it so that people could see the baby. The story was hard to believe, but stranger things had happened. The people murmured reverently, and praised Chèri for rescuing the poor thing.
Chèri held up a hand for quiet. “I plan to raise this baby that the Gods have given me as my own, but I’m going to need help…”
A woman from the crowd raised her hand and waved it to catch Chèri’s attention. “You’ll need a wet nurse. I’ll volunteer.”
“Thank you,” Chèri smiled gratefully. “I think I shall honor the great man who has given me so many wonderful opportunities. I’ll name this baby Reiki, in the hopes that he will grow up to be just as good a person as the Emperor is.”
Most people still had a rather low opinion of the Emperor, but no one could deny that the changes he’d made were the reason that Lady Chèri was Regional Director. It made sense to them that she would honor him, and so they clapped mildly in approval of the name.
Three days later, Chèri dispatched a messenger with a letter for Rei, and then sent the bulk of her entourage after him. She retained only a small party of people for her trip to the Imperial City; the wet nurse and her young daughter, two soldiers for added protection, and of course Ando and baby Reiki.
During their long trip – just as it was getting terribly cold once again – a messenger arrived with Rei’s report. Chèri read it, and then sighed in relief.
“Good news?” Ando asked.
“It seems like the first results of my programs were better than expected. There should be just enough food to go around, and better yet, the sales were decent enough that we have some money to grow the programs next year,” Chèri summed up the report.
“He also says that everything we have will be distributed as quickly and fairly as possible.” Chèri sincerely hoped that her efforts would be enough. She also prayed that next year would be much better.
They were close to leaving Topaz Region by this point, and decided to stay the night in a large town. It was winter again, and people were afraid that it was going to be worse than before.
This town was not one of the ones that had needed aid as she traveled around. It had received plenty from the Official in charge of the relief program before she had discovered what he was doing. Even so, they looked like they were all overly thin and had probably suffered from the plague-like sickness that had spread across the Region.
A large crowd mobbed them, and dragged Chèri onto a platform despite Ando and the guards’ resistance.
“Death to the Regional Director!” They roared. “It’s because of you that the Gods have turned against us! Only by sacrificing you will They give their favor to us once more!”
“That’s ridiculous!” Chèri cried out. “I’m doing everything I can to help the people of Topaz Region!”
“It’s not enough!”
“Listen!” Chèri held her hand wide. She took a moment to look around the crowd, gently demanding silence so that she could speak.
Meanwhile, Ando and the other two guards were struggling. The men that held them captive were simple townsfolk, and they didn’t want to hurt them, but they would if they had to. If anyone actually threatened to harm Chèri, Ando would slay everyone in his path in order to rescue her. He also knew that Chèri depended on him to let her do her job before he acted.
“I promise this winter will not be as bad as the last one. I have already given orders to distribute food to all the cities, towns, and villages of Topaz Region. If you kill me, everyone in this town will be sentenced to death, and I won’t be here to stop the Emperor’s soldiers from carrying out the sentence! You have a choice to make, will you place your faith in me and trust that I will help you, or will you kill me and suffer the Emperor’s wrath?” Chèri asked, and then got to her knees to make it easier for them to execute her if that was their choice.
They hesitated. It’s true that the consequences for killing a Regional Director were dire, but they truly believed that it was what their Gods wanted. Baby Reiki’s wet nurse stepped forward.
“Stop! Do not harm my Lady! The Gods favor her! She has traveled across the land bringing aid to the people. On her journey, the Gods led her to an orphaned infant, and she took him in. If you kill her, the Gods will turn their backs on you forever!”
Chèri was touched. The wet nurse had walked in on her nursing her son enough times to know that Chèri had lied about finding the baby in the forest, but she had kept Chèri’s secret. It was surprising that the woman would now use the same lie to save Chèri.
The townsfolk grumbled amongst each other, wondering what to do. A man stepped forward from the back of the crowd.
“Don’t lose your nerve now! She is not favored by the Gods! They want her dead, and the proof is how bad things have been ever since she was appointed Regional Director!”
There was a subtle difference about the man that hinted that he didn’t belong here. The people didn’t know who to believe. Ando finally used just enough force to shake off those who held him down. He rushed to Chèri’s side, holding his sword out.
“I am an Imperial Guard assigned to protect the Regional Director by the Emperor himself. I vow to kill all who try to harm my Lady!” He warned.
“Ando…” Chèri murmured. She was confident and at peace. The crowd was almost silent, and had no trouble hearing her. “I do not condone killing, and you know it. Everything I do is to help and save the people. If they wish to take my life, you may not kill anyone trying to save me.”
“My Lady!” Ando protested, then sighed in resignation. “Fine, but know this,” he addressed the people again. “I may not be able to take a life, but the Emperor will. If you decide to kill my Lady, he will send his army to lay waste to this entire city!”
The man inciting the crowd scoffed. “Why would he? He doesn’t care about his people!”
“Maybe you’re right,” Ando suggested. “But the Emperor is the Gods’ will manifest on Earth. HE has personally appointed my Lady as the Director of this Region. If you kill her, he will consider it an act against him and the Gods!”
This was enough to convince most people that it was not wise to harm the Director. The man in charge of the town stepped in front of the one who still murmured to the crowd to take her life.
“I will not be responsible for the death of every man, woman, and child in town. Release her!”
Chèri sighed in relief. She had been bluffing about the Emperor killing everyone. It was within his right, but she had faith that he knew she would not want such a terrible thing. “Thank you! Ando, hand me my fiddle.”
Ando nodded, and then complied. When she was ready, she began to play the music to a ballad about the great famine several years ago. Her voice was clear and pure despite the tears that flowed from her eyes. When she was done, she set her fiddle aside, and looked around the crowd.
“I also suffered during the great famine. I know what it is like to starve. I vow that I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening in the future! Please, have faith in me,” Chèri ended with a near whisper.
People began to nod, and then wandered back to their homes, softly talking about their Regional Director, and how she really must be favored by the Gods.

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Chèri and company entered Nortown 3 days before she was required to meet with the Emperor for the New Year. She nearly sobbed as she hugged her father tight. They refused to let each other go for a good 10 minutes.
As they were holding onto each other, Ando paid the guards a bonus, and told them to go find some entertainment for a few hours.
“Can my Lady trust you?” He asked the wet nurse. She was holding her daughter, and Ando smiled at the toddler, honestly surprised at how well she had behaved during their journey. She also carried baby Reiki in a sling across her chest.
“I believe in Lady Chèri, and would protect her with my very life if need be,” the woman vowed fiercely.
Chèri nodded, and finally pulled out of her father’s arms. They were inside Sho’s house, but Ando still looked around to make sure there was no one who could overhear them.
“I have so much to tell you,” Chèri informed her dad. “But first, meet your grandson.”
The wet nurse thrust the sleeping three month old into Sho’s arms. Sho stared at him in astonishment.
“Grandson?”
Chèri smiled. “Yes… Last year – during my visit to the palace – I…” She blushed as she blurted out the truth. “Inadvertently signed a temporary marriage contract and then got pregnant.”
“I see…” Sho murmured, studying his grandson as if there was nothing in the world more interesting. “Does he know?”
Chèri shook her head. “Not yet.”

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 “Why do I always have to go last?” Chèri asked despite knowing that it was because her Region was the least prosperous. She fiddled with her lavish houmongi, and paced the room. She was alone, waiting her turn.
Finally, the doors opened, and it was her turn to see the Emperor. She took a deep breath to calm her nervousness. This was the first time she was going to be in front of a large audience, and she hadn’t done anything worth talking about.
She smoothly walked to the dais in front of the Emperor, knelt, sat on her feet, placed her right fist in her left palm, and the bowed so that her sleeves covered her face. She remained exactly this way until given permission to look up at the Emperor.
The herald read a list of her accomplishments as Director for the year that’d just ended. It was pitifully short, however… it was still something to be proud of.
“Director Ruby…” Emperor Reiki stated. “Look up, and tell us if this list is accurate and truthful.”
Chèri lowered her arms and raised her eyes. She bestowed the most brilliant smile on her husband, and then briefly looked at his two bodyguards. They all looked weary from their duties.
“Yes, Imperial Majesty. The list accurately describes what I have done during the year,” she confirmed. Apparently, Rei had sent an extremely detailed report to the Emperor as well.
“And, what are your plans for the future?”
Chèri took a deep breath, her smile getting just a bit wider with pride. “I plan to continue on as I have, growing and increasing the prosperity of Topaz Region.”
He took a deep breath to cover his dismay at her words. After he felt he could talk without betraying his emotions, he continued. “And the other matter we discussed? Have you made a decision?”
Chèri let her smile fade, and looked at her hands for a moment. “Yes…”
“What have you decided?” Reiki asked impatiently.
“I’ve decided… that…” Chèri hesitated only because this was hard to say out loud in front of everyone. “I will marry you. As much as I love being Director of the Topaz Region, and fully plan to keep my position… I love you more…”
The assembled Officials forgot to breathe resulting in an astonished silence. Reiki’s expression softened.
“You mean it?” He asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Chèri confirmed, smiling at him again.
He stood abruptly, and pulled her to her feet. Disregarding the fact that everyone was watching, and such displays were not considered appropriate, he hugged her tight, and then kissed her.
“Finally!” General Sapphire exclaimed, smiling at them.
“Took her long enough!” General Ruby agreed.
When Reiki had enough of kissing her – for now – he dismissed the meeting, and waved to the servants waiting to open the partition. The women and others waiting for the ball to begin joined the Officials. The members of the nobility that were here to celebrate also moseyed into the room. Everyone immediately noticed that the Emperor had an arm around Director Ruby’s waist.
Ando, as Chèri’s bodyguard, had been allowed to wait with the nobility and their attendants. He wore a sling style bag on his back, but no one paid him the slightest attention.
Reiki waited for the initial murmuring to die down. “May I have your attention? … After last year’s celebration, Lady Ruby and I signed a temporary marriage contract. It is my greatest joy to announce that she has finally agreed to marry me permanently!”
Chèri’s face was redder than ever as people congratulated them on their happy news. She took a deep breath, and cleared her throat. “A- … Also…”
Reiki stroked her cheek so that she would look him in the eyes. “Yes?”
“I would like to introduce you to…” she paused and took another deep breath. “Your son.”
The blood drained from Reiki’s face, and she had to hold him steady. “My… son?”
Chèri nodded, and gestured for Ando to come forward. Ando got down on one knee next to them, and held up the sling style bag he’d worn. Chèri took it, and revealed her baby. She gently handed him to his father, and Reiki looked absolutely enchanted.
“I didn’t want anyone to know about him until you did, so I kept my pregnancy a secret. When I gave birth, I claimed to have found him in the woods… I didn’t want to risk anyone objecting to his existence…”
“What’s his name?” Reiki asked.
“I named him after you… Reiki,” Chèri admitted.
The baby looked at his father as if fascinated by this new person. Reiki held him up – carefully, afraid he might drop him – and showed him to the assembled crowd that clamored to get a look at him.
“May I introduce my Heir, Prince Reiki!”
Everyone clapped again, only this time, they sounded like they meant it. It was a great relief to everyone that the Emperor had finally seen to the future of the Empire. They weren’t entirely certain whether or not to believe Lady Chèri about the child being the Emperor’s, but ultimately, only the Emperor could accept or deny the child.
Reiki excused himself so that he could spend time with his new son, and escorted Chèri out of the room after him. They walked to the Inner Palace in awkward silence. Reiki was preoccupied with their baby, and Chèri was worried that he would object to her keeping her position as Regional Director once they were officially married.
Even Ran and Ko were silent as they walked behind the couple, which was unusual. The two of them always tried to crack jokes and lighten the mood whenever they could. For the moment, they were also in mild shock over the unexpected existence of baby Reiki.
As for Ando, he was busy wondering if he was going to be reassigned now, or continue on as Chèri’s personal bodyguard. Which option would be better? He wondered.

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A wedding between commoners – or even nobles – was complicated enough, but a wedding to the Emperor, especially when he vowed to only marry once, was downright arduous! Chèri was wearing 12 different layers of houmongi… She couldn’t even move!
So, instead of her walking to her husband to be – as was the way people got married in the foreign Kingdom, Chèri remembered from her youth – she sat on a chair on display for all who were lucky enough to attend the wedding. She sat perfectly still, and forced herself to be patient as the Priest rambled on and on and on about the Gods, the Emperor, and the duties of a wife, especially one about to become the First Queen.
Eventually, Reiki was led through the ceremonial Groom’s dance – after he was lectured on the duties of a good husband. Finally, the Priest tied their hands together, signifying that they were now bound together forever.
Chèri couldn’t stop her hand from shaking nervously. There’s no changing my mind now! She took a few calming breaths, and then smiled at her husband.
Reiki’s hand also shook. He was so excited to have his deepest wish come true that he could barely contain it. It was all he could do to stop himself from lifting her in his arms and carrying her to his bed!
The Priest announced their permanently married status, and the crowd cheered. The wedding took place in the ballroom. Up to this point, the audience had simply stood, and then sat on their feet as they watched the ceremony. Now, they mingled and ate food from the large buffet provided.
A table was brought to Chèri and Reiki. They were served a feast, and ate with their hands still bound – his left hand to her right – which meant that he had to feed her. They laughed as he accidently got a little food on her face, and then kissed.
Much later, Reiki helped Chèri walk to the private hallway that led to the Inner Palace. The moment they were alone – except for Ran and Ko – Chèri stopped and refused to take another step.
“I simply cannot walk in this!” She exclaimed fervently.
Reiki smiled, and kissed her on the nose. “Then let me help you remove a few layers.”
They removed the binding on their hands, and then 10 of the 12 layers, and insisted that Ran and Ko carry them. Both gave fake long suffering sighs.
“What am I? A pack mule?” Ran asked.
“You finally admit that your looks are horrible!” Ko teased.
Ran scoffed. “You’re just jealous…”
Chèri laughed, and resumed walking to the small building that was the Emperor’s room. She and the baby had stayed with him up until the wedding, but they hadn’t made love all that often. Aside from a couple of times the first night they were reunited, she had wanted to wait until they were permanently married. She couldn’t really explain why, it just felt right to her.
Reiki almost felt that waiting for one short month – they both wanted to get married permanently before the temporary contract expired – had been longer than all the years he had waited for her combined! He gestured for Ran and Ko to discard their burden quickly, and then leave them alone. Even the wet nurse – who still couldn’t believe that Lady Chèri married the Emperor! – had taken Baby Reiki elsewhere for the night.
Chèri felt like it was her first time! She was so nervous that her hands started shaking again.
“What’s wrong?” Reiki wondered.
“Nothing’s wrong, I just love you so much that my heart is pounding. I’m afraid that it will break through my chest,” she admitted.
Reiki placed one of her hands over his heart. “It’s the same for me.”
Chèri melted, wrapping her arms around him. Reiki took this as his signal to carry her to bed.

I originally intended part 11 to be the last chapter, but as I was writing it, I realized that there was something left that needed to be done. So, I took what I wrote that happens next, and made it the start of the next chapter. I do intend it to be the last one though :-)

Go To Part 12 

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