Thursday, March 1, 2012
Cheri - Part 12
Two days after Chèri’s wedding, she decided that it was high time she went to visit a few of her friends. She kissed Reiki before he left to do paperwork in his office, and smiled as she realized that he hadn’t yet thought to ask her for her help. She imagined that helping him would be very similar to her duties as Regional Director.
She decided to wear a houmongi that was plain but feminine. It was suited to middle class women who had to be practical with what they wore, but also liked to look pretty. She then chose a cute piece of fabric so that she could carry her son on her back as she walked.
“Come on Ando,” she beckoned him. To both his joy and his dismay, he was still her personal bodyguard.
“Yes my Lady – er… Imperial Majesty…” he murmured awkwardly.
She grabbed hold of the collar of his wafuku, and forced him to look her in the eye. “I prefer Chèri, but if you insist on remaining formal, call me Lady Chèri or my Lady!”
“Yes… my Lady…” he conceded reluctantly.
Chèri suppressed a sigh. I’ll take what I can get! She led him to Nortown.
Ando was dressed as an Imperial Guard should be, and walked with one hand on his sword. He had only been to Nortown twice, and hadn’t ever gotten a chance to look around. He was nervous knowing that he was the only person in charge of the First Queen and Imperial Heir’s safety, but then he remembered how much the residents loved Chèri.
“Lady Chèri!” A boy around ten exclaimed in astonishment. “I thought we’d never see you again!” He referred to the fact that she had left to be a Regional Director. While it was well known that the Emperor had married Shurin Ruby, most of the children did not realize that Lady Chèri is Shurin Ruby.
Chèri hugged the boy tight when he threw his arms around her. “Oh, I missed you too!”
“Are you coming back to teach at the temple?” He asked.
“No. Sadly, I don’t have time,” Chèri answered him, a bit depressed that it was true.
Several people witnessed the touching reunion, but obviously wondered if it was alright to speak to the Lady now that she was married to the Emperor. Chèri released the boy, and then called out greetings to others as she walked along. People got inexplicably excited, and word of her return spread.
She continued walking until she reached a certain destination. It was a bit early for lunch, but luckily, the person she wanted to see was already sitting at his usual table. She approached him, and then gave him a respectful bow.
“Chèri!” Bo exclaimed, twirling her around lightly before kissing her. He set her on her feet, and then turned red. “I mean my Lady! I mean Imperial Majesty!”
“Bo,” Chèri greeted with a warm smile. “I was hoping to talk to you. Do you mind if I join you for lunch?”
“Of course!” Bo answered, gesturing for Chèri to take a seat across from him. She unfastened the carrier, and swung her baby around to sit in her lap. He was always remarkably quiet, and she often assumed he was asleep when he was simply watching everything around him.
“Is that the Prince?” Bo asked reverently, glancing at Ando as he also sat at the table – next to Chèri.
“Yes,” Chèri confirmed.
“He’s adorable,” Bo smiled, wiggling his fingers to amuse the baby.
Chèri waved to the food vendor to signal that she wanted an order of his daily special. He had never known her identity, so he treated her like he always did, like a customer. One that was a guest of his most important customer. He quickly brought her and Ando plates of food.
After they were served, Chèri decided to get down to business. “Have you happened to hear any rumors or whispers about someone wanting to kill me?”
Bo stroked his small well-groomed beard to stall as he thought. “Nothing official… It’s certainly not an approved crime, but… I’ve heard whispers. Someone wants to hire an assassin to sneak into the Inner Palace and take care of a certain problem.”
“Any idea why? I’m no longer a threat; I can’t get any higher in rank!” Chèri stated.
Bo shrugged. “I have no idea why. However, I may have a suspicion.”
Chèri smiled, and took one of his hands in hers. “Tell me.”
“You’ve slowly made things better. In the process, I think you’ve thwarted someone’s plans to ruin the entire Empire. I think whoever is behind this wanted the Emperor to stay insecure and afraid to do his job. I think he or they wanted the Empire to devolve to the point that people would lose all faith in the Emperor until they called for him to be executed. However… he has been a pretty good Emperor, and more importantly, he made it so that you could become an official…”
“And then I became Regional Director, and ousted the bringer of chaos…” Chèri murmured.
“Before even that, you uncovered and reported a couple of serious crimes,” Bo pointed out. “They were never connected, but I think the same someone is behind them.”
“That makes sense…” Chèri mused. She finished eating her food, and handed baby Reiki to Ando. “Thank you! If you happen to hear anything important, will you send a message to me at my father’s?” She stood, and so both Bo and Ando stood as well.
Bo and Chèri held hands. “Certainly, my Lady.” He kissed her on the cheek causing her to giggle softly.
“Ahem,” Ando cleared his throat obviously on purpose in a significant way.
“Oh Ando!” Chèri laughed. “You have nothing to worry about; his boyfriend would kill him if he ever got serious about me!”
Bo sighed as if annoyed by an over-protective father. “Too true… the man is simply far too jealous for my own good!”
Chèri laughed again. “Better jealous than he not care at all!”
Bo pushed her nose lightly. “True, now go on, before I give your bodyguard something to really worry about!”
Chèri nodded, hugged him, and then turned around so that Ando could help her get Reiki in the carrier and onto her back. She waved as they walked away. The moment Ando was certain that Bo could no longer hear them, he blurted out what was on his mind.
“You are married now, my Lady! It’s not right to flirt with and kiss other men!”
Chèri playfully nudged Ando with her shoulder. “I won’t tell my husband if you won’t!” She laughed. “No seriously, Reiki knows of my friendship with Bo, and he also knows that I get a bit flirty with him from time to time.”
“Even so, I must stress that you are the First Queen. You simply cannot hug or kiss anyone other than your husband,” Ando insisted.
“Sorry, but I don’t agree,” Chèri replied with a shrug.
“People will question your fidelity. They will suggest that perhaps the Emperor really isn’t the father of your child. They –”
Chèri cut him off. “Perhaps you are right, but I cannot change who I am just to avoid people who might think badly of me. If they think I am unfaithful to my husband because I kiss a friend, then they are going to think I am unfaithful to him no matter what I do. The only one who needs to believe me is Reiki.”
Ando sighed, but didn’t say anything.
Chèri brought them to Kiki’s. Kiki actually cried when she saw Chèri.
“Oh how I’ve missed you!” It was early enough in the day that all the girls were still asleep, and none of the patrons were around. Kiki took advantage of this by greeting Chèri with a long and thorough kiss. Ando shifted his feet side to side, and suppressed an aggravated sigh.
Chèri blushed when it was over. “No one ever kisses me quite like you do.”
“Of course not!” Kiki laughed. “I am the best! But enough about me; you married the Emperor!” She bounced excitedly on her feet.
Chèri grinned. “I know! It’s still so strange to me!”
“Is this the famous little Prince that utterly surprised his daddy?” Kiki asked, and Chèri allowed her to remove the baby from the carrier. “Oh! Isn’t he just the cutest little thing!”
They took turns playing with him for about 10 minutes, and then he started to fuss. Chèri asked Kiki to bring them to her office so that she could feed him.
“Sure, and when you’re done, I wonder if you would go for a walk with me?” Kiki asked.
“I’d love to,” Chèri answered.
Kiki’s walk turned out to lead Chèri into a surprise party. The residents of Nortown still loved her, and felt as if her marriage to the Emperor was a cause for them to celebrate… again! (They had done so the other day after the wedding. The entire Imperial city had.) She danced, sang, and ate the food they all contributed to the party for hours. She also took frequent breaks to feed her son, doing so in the privacy of a makeshift tent.
“Does anyone know where my wife is?” Reiki asked as the sun got close to setting. Ran shrugged, but Ko smiled.
“She’s probably visiting my uncle.”
Reiki looked at his clothes. They – along with his crown – loudly announced for all to hear that he was the Emperor, but he sighed and decided not to change. He figured that if he took the time to do so, Chèri would make and then eat dinner with her father before he had a chance to get there.
“Let’s go,” Reiki ordered his two bodyguards, and they nodded in agreement. Halfway to Sho’s house, Ran stopped them, and looked around cautiously.
“Something’s wrong… It’s too quiet…” he stated, referring to the fact that no one seemed to be in town. Ko nodded in agreement. Suddenly, there was a roaring cheer from somewhere in the distance.
“You want to check it out?” Ko wondered.
“We probably should,” Reiki murmured.
Five minutes later, they walked up behind a large crowd. They were all singing a lively song accompanied by music, and Chèri was once again on a table dancing lightly as she led them through the chorus. She held her baby as if she was dancing with him. He was sound asleep once more.
When the song ended, the crowd cheered, and chanted her name to encourage her to sing another. A couple of people near the back noticed the Emperor standing behind them, and gasped. They tugged on the sleeves of their neighbors, and pointed this out. Within moments, everyone was sitting on their feet bowing deeply to the Emperor.
This was the first time that he had openly walked in public as the Emperor, so he was a bit taken aback that everyone bowed to him when they were knowingly partying with the First Queen.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping to have dinner with my wife,” he apologized.
“Reiki!” Chèri gasped happily. Ando helped her down off the table, and then she handed him her baby so that she could rush to her beloved and wrap her arms around him. He returned her hug, looking at her as if she were the only woman in the whole world. They promptly forgot they were in public, and kissed.
The crowd gasped softly. They hadn’t really formed a solid opinion of the Emperor yet, but his obvious love for their Lady Chèri softened many a heart in his favor. The romanticness of the situation made most of the women – especially the younger ones – squeal happily. Kissing was generally not done in public, so each public kiss was like a scene from a popular new play.
Chèri remembered she was in front of an audience, and ended the kiss with a blush.
“Thank you for the wonderful party!” She gushed, giving everyone a respectful bow. “But it’s time for me to go now. Have a pleasant evening!”
Everyone was still sitting on their feet, but they grinned at her, clapping and cheering, “Congratulations Lady Chèri!”
Reiki tucked Chèri’s arm through his, and led her home, followed by Ran, Ko, and Ando, who was still carrying the baby. She blushed a little over the implication of her arm tucked into his, but didn’t protest.
“The people love you,” Reiki murmured proudly.
Chèri shrugged. “They are my neighbors and friends. They know that I am always thinking of ways to make their lives better.”
“But why? We’ve only been married a month!” Reiki protested.
“I have to go back,” Chèri insisted. “What good am I as a Regional Director if I don’t personally govern my people? I gave my duties to someone else once already, and that person nearly ruined everything!”
“Then let me assign someone else who will take good care of the region!” Reiki insisted.
“What?! Why would you even suggest such a thing?!” Chèri demanded. “You gave that position to me, and so long as I do a good job and don’t wish to resign, you have no reason to force me to do so!”
“I want you by my side! Is that so wrong?” Reiki asked, panting from the emotions he simply could not contain.
“Reiki please?” Chèri begged. “I promise I won’t be gone nearly so long. I just want to go see that things are proceeding according to my plan, stay long enough to help out, and then I’ll come home.”
“But you’re the First Queen now! Someone’s been after you for a long time, and I’m afraid that they’ll send assassins to follow you if you leave the palace,” Reiki confessed.
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take, and besides…” Chèri paused a moment to choose her words carefully. “If they do, maybe you’ll finally be able to figure out who’s behind it. I honestly believe whoever it is sent someone to incite the people of Topaz Region against me.”
“All the more reason for you to stay!” Reiki nearly shouted.
Chèri sighed in momentary defeat, and walked out of their room. I simply have to prove to him that it’s for the best if I do my job when I have to. Chèri mentally affirmed. She marched straight to the Outer Palace, and decided to take a good look at everything that had happened since she first left for Topaz Region.
She stopped by the Palace kitchen, pulled an apron on over her houmongi – which was again something that would normally be worn by the upper-middle class women, Chèri’s way of compromising – and helped make a large batch of sweet buns. The kitchen staff was now used to the First Queen invading their territory, and managed to do their job without fussing over her.
Chèri chatted and helped out as needed while she waited for her buns to bake. As they were cooling, she made a pot of tea, and placed all the goodies in a basket. A few minutes later, she was bowing respectfully to the Minister of Archives.
“Would you like a sweet bun?” She asked.
“Official Ruby – I mean Imperial Majesty!” The Minister exclaimed in surprise. He was obviously torn between treating her like he always did, and diving to the floor to pay her the proper respect due to the First Queen. “What brings you here?”
“I just want to look through the archives for a while,” Chèri informed him with a smile, handing him a sweet bun, and then filling his cup with some tea.
He looked relieved that she wasn’t offended by his lack of obeisance, took a bite, and then moaned softly in appreciation. “I’ve missed your cooking!”
“Anything in particular you are looking for?” He asked.
“No sir, I just want to read what I can,” Chèri informed him.
“Very well,” he granted, fully aware that he couldn’t really say no to her.
She grinned at him. “Thank you!” She turned to enter the actual archive area, and stopped short. Two girls were sitting on their feet, bowing to her as respectfully as possible.
Chèri smiled as she realized that they both wore the feminized uniform of Officials. “Please, there’s no need for that. Would you like a sweet bun?”
They looked up at her, and she could see that both were probably 18 or 19 years old. Considering that Chèri was only going on 20 in a couple of months, she felt connected to them.
They accepted the sweet buns with a smile. “May we ask for your advice?”
Chèri looked around briefly, confirming her suspicion that the Minister and the 6 other Officials – all male – were watching them curiously. “Ask me anything.”
“You had only been an Official about a year when you were promoted to Regional Director. We were both hired permanently by the Department of Archives during our initial trial period, and there’s no sign that we’ll be promoted anytime soon. We’re not complaining, but…” The slightly older one faltered.
The younger one finished for her. “We were wondering if you could tell us how to…”
Chèri didn’t wait for her to finish her thought. “I didn’t know that there were other female Officials already! Are there others?”
“No, Imperial Majesty.”
Chèri shrugged. “Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you. Someone pretty high up threatened to fire any Minister that hired me into his department, so the fact that you’ve been permanently hired means you’re already doing better than I was. I had to figure out what to do with my time, and just so happened to come across a few mysteries that needed solving.”
Chèri studied the Minister of Archives intently for a moment. He realized that she was doing this, and instantly started sorting through papers on his desk to appear busy.
“It seems to me that the same someone has changed tactics by having you two hired into the relatively unimportant Department of Archives. I suspect that you’ll probably be here for a long time. You have two choices… Either accept that you have a job as an Official and can always look for opportunities to advance, or give up and quit. Personally, I’d continue on,” Chèri encouraged them.
“Of course,” they murmured in agreement. They seemed disappointed that Chèri didn’t impart some big secret to success.
Chèri took a moment to pass out sweet buns, and pour tea for everyone until the pot was empty. She penetrated the two women with impishly sparkling eyes; they returned her gaze curiously. “Oh! And it never hurts to bring some food and a pot of tea!”
After that bit of obscure wisdom, she got busy looking through the archives, lightly reorganizing the files as necessary. She could see how things had improved for the Empire over the last couple of years, but she could also see where things stagnated. Collecting a handful of the most important reports, she returned to the Minister.
She’d been in the archives just long enough that the Minister had almost forgotten she was there. She smiled at him, and handed him another sweet bun.
“May I borrow these?” Chèri asked.
“I suppose,” the Minister grumbled after a moment’s thought.
“It’s too bad that I don’t have any time to help out around here,” Chèri stated with a grin. “The archive is positively dusty again! Has anyone dusted since I last did?”
The look on this Minister’s face plainly stated that he was not entirely sure himself when the last time the place received a thorough cleaning. Chèri waved, then left so that she could visit a few other departments. She made a new pot of tea, and then handed out tea and buns to Ministers and Officials until she ran out.
She made notes as needed, then used the office provided for Officials on reserve status to look through her research material, and come up with a plan. She ended up falling asleep close to midnight.
Meanwhile, Reiki was pacing their room nearly frantically. He had sent Ran, Ko, and Ando out to find her a couple of hours ago. They’d split up – Ran and Ko searching Nortown while Ando searched the Palace. Ando found her about a half an hour after she’d fallen asleep.
“Always so troublesome, my Lady,” he murmured, a smile on his lips as he shook his head. He’d suspected that she hadn’t left the palace since she would have brought him with if she had. He gathered up everything she had spread out on the table, packed it in her now empty basket, and then carried her and the basket to her worried husband.
“Thank the Gods you found her!” Reiki cried out in relief. “I was afraid that she’d run away after our argument this morning.”
Ando set her on the bed, and then handed her basket to the Emperor. “My Lady never runs away,” he replied respectfully, and then excused himself.
Reiki was tempted to look through the basket, but decided that he would rather not risk Chèri getting mad at him for doing so. He would patiently wait until she told him what she was doing.
The next morning, he had to get up early so that he could get dressed to attend his weekly council meeting. He kissed her softly before he left, and then took a moment to check on their son. The wet nurse smiled at him as she rocked the baby back to sleep.
When Chèri woke up, she felt like she was on fire with purpose once more. She kissed her sleeping son, and then called for a couple attendants to come dress her up in full First Queen regalia.
A quick trip to the kitchen allowed her to pick up a basket full of sliced banana bread that she’d made previously accompanied by a full crock of butter. She also made and then carefully nestled into the basket two pots of tea. Finally ready – making doubly sure that she had the plan she’d worked so hard on – she exited the kitchen.
Though she was highly tempted to stride into the meeting room with determine purpose, she forced herself to enter calmly; quietly. No one noticed her at first because they hadn’t expected anyone else to stealthily enter the room via the Emperor’s private entrance. She set the basket down, and stood off to the side listening to the discussion in silence for a few moments. As she suspected, there was more arguing over money than anything else.
She almost walked back out, because honestly, her plan didn’t need their approval… at least not at first.
Ironically, it was her uncle that noticed her first. He stared at her as if he wasn’t quite sure he could believe his eyes. “Chèri…?” he murmured.
Reiki heard him, and looked in the direction of his gaze. He promptly stood, but forced himself not to fawn over her. “Do you need something?”
The rest of the Ministers fell silent. Chèri smiled, and then – placing her right fist in her left – bowed to her husband. “I merely wondered if I may have a few moments to speak.”
Reiki gave this some serious thought. His reply really should depend on what she wanted to talk about, and if it was important enough to discuss during an official council meeting, it was supposed to be placed on the list of things to discuss. If he simply gave in to her request, it might set a bad precedent.
“Imperial Majesty, if I may?” His Grand Advisor politely offered a suggestion. “I think it would be good for us to take a small break anyway, so why not let the First Queen have her say?”
Reiki nodded. “Very well,” he agreed, and then returned his attention to his wife. “What did you want to talk about?”
Chèri grinned brightly, and picked up her basket. Starting with Reiki, she handed out slices of banana bread buttering each as she did so. She also poured tea, and smiled as the ministers all profusely complimented on her excellent cooking. Once she deemed everyone to be in a relatively good mood, she stood before them, next to where her husband was sitting in his throne like chair.
“Thank you for letting me have a few moments of your time,” she began. “I took some time yesterday to research how prepared we are in the event of another food shortage. Thankfully, the Gods have blessed us with an abundance of crops for the last couple of years – for the most part – but history has proven that that could easily change at any time. According to the records. The palace could easily withstand up to two years of near famine conditions, but the rest of the Empire is rather left on its own.
“Each region is responsible for ensuring that there’ll be enough food to go around in the event of an emergency, so I don’t know how much they’ve set aside. However, if they need aid, they request it from the palace. Therefore, I truly believe that we should put more effort into being ready to help.
“Also, there are plenty of temples throughout the Empire that feed those who for whatever reason cannot afford to feed themselves. I think the Empire has a responsibility to provide the temples with food, because they never have enough for all the mouths that need filling.
“Therefore, I propose that we implement a program – much like the one I have created in the Topaz Region – to encourage the people of the Imperial City come harvest time to bring their extras to the temples. Fruit trees and even plants in a garden often produce far more than a family can use, and the extra would otherwise go to waste. But if we can preserve those extras, we can store them for emergencies,” Chèri finished outlining her proposal, handing the much more detailed version to her husband for official review.
The ministers contemplated her suggestion in silence for a moment. Just when Chèri began to fear they would reject her outright, the Minister of Finance spoke up.
“As I understand you, you simply want to ask the residents to bring their extras to the temples for preservation. You are not asking for money?” He questioned.
“That’s correct,” Chèri confirmed. “There will be no need for money, though it might not be a bad idea to come up with some sort of reward for complying. I also plan to save the seeds from the extras so that we can plant trees wherever there’s enough room.”
Her experience from the Topaz Region had taught her that because the vast majority of the Empire was blessed with an overabundance of bountiful crops – and no winter to survive – no one gave much thought to preserving food for times of need. The memories were vague now, but she still recalled watching the people of the foreign country put a lot of time and effort into storing enough food to last the winter.
The Minister of Finance smiled. “If you’re not asking for money, then I have no problems with your plan.”
Her uncle, the Minister of Civil Affairs, nodded in agreement. “I think it’s a brilliant plan.”
Several other Ministers murmured softly in agreement. Chèri kept a close eye on the three Great Advisors and the Grand Advisor. She was positive that one of them was behind the discrimination against her, and was hoping to determine which one it was by the expression on his face. Unfortunately, they all remained calm. Not one of their faces showed the slightest hint of malevolence. She shuddered as she realized that one of them wanted her permanently out of his way, yet was so good at hiding his true nature that she couldn’t sense his intentions.
Rather sooner than she expected, everyone was in agreement, they all turned to the Emperor to make the final decision. He was busy reading her plan. When he realized that the room was silent with expectation, he looked up.
“Yes… I also think this plan has merit. Shall I assign this to an Official?” He inquired. Generally, whenever any new plan was proposed, it was assigned to someone who could devote their full attention to implementing it.
“No,” Chèri answered firmly. She took a deep breath to prepare herself for the dirty trick she was about to perform. “I think I will have more than enough time to spread the word around the Imperial City before I leave to inspect the progress in the Topaz Region. Then, I would naturally return in time to see the project carried out.”
She smiled at Reiki as if she hadn’t just publicly forced his hand to let her leave despite his adamant refusal. She saw anger flash in his eyes for a moment before he pushed it aside.
“Very well. Feel free to recruit any of the reserve Officials or the new ones who have not yet been permanently hired into a department to help you as necessary,” he granted, sounding as if he was being generous, but there really wasn’t more than a handful of Officials that fit the description. Therefore, he was subtly getting back at her.
“Thank you,” she bowed to him gratefully, and then bowed to the Ministers. “Thank you all so much for indulging me in this… Anyone want more banana bread?”
Chèri wisely disappeared into Nortown before her husband finished his meeting. She brought Ando – of course – and her son with her. Thankfully, she’d had enough time to change out of her outrageously expensive outfit before leaving.
Her first stop was the market so that she could buy as much food as possible for a gold coin. The vendors all tossed in just a little bit extra to show their appreciation that the First Queen gifted them with her patronage. She rolled her eyes, but accepted their generosity gracefully.
A few temple children happened to be running around with nothing to do, so she volunteered them to carry her purchases. Soon, they were in the temple’s kitchen, Chèri cooking enough to feed a small army. She had baby Reiki in a carrier on her back at first, but Ando decided that it might be better if he held the baby while she worked. He let people look at and play with the tiny Prince, but did not let go of him for one second.
“What brings you here today, Imperial Majesty?” The High Priest in charge of the temple asked curiously, happy to see her.
“I have some important business to take care of,” Chèri informed him, and then explained her plan. “Oh! And please call me Lady Chèri. Imperial Majesty is much too stuffy.”
The High priest smiled at the irony, but complied. “Of course, Lady Chèri. Let me ask a few of the Priestesses to help you.”
After the food was ready, served, and eaten, Chèri explained her plan to the Priestesses. They all grew excited, and eagerly offered to help her. The first thing they needed to do was spread the word around Nortown. Over the next couple of days, they’d visit the temples in the other parts of the Imperial City, and then talk to as many citizens as they possibly could.
Chèri dismissed Ando before entering the room she shared with Reiki. Their son was already asleep for the night, and honestly, Chèri was exhausted enough that she wished she could go right to bed herself. She handed the baby to his wet nurse, and softly asked her to put him to bed.
Once they were alone, she braced herself for her husband’s anger. Reiki stared at her in silence for a long time unable to decide how to handle the situation.
“I’m sorry…” Chèri murmured. She was being sincere, and yet knew that she would do it again if she had to.
Reiki narrowed his eyes, intuitively hearing what she’d left unsaid. “I have never denied you anything that you want. Time and time again, I have pushed my own desires to the side so that you could do whatever you felt like you had to. I don’t know why I thought things would be different now…”
He started pacing in agitation. “In any case, why did you feel the need to push me like that? Why couldn’t you keep the matter between us until we’d had a chance to talk about it some more?”
“I know I did something I shouldn’t have, but I earned the position of Regional Director. I worked hard to govern the people, and I was very clear that I wanted to keep my job. I honestly felt like you would take it away from me if I didn’t do something drastic. I couldn’t take that chance…” Chèri whispered the last bit of her explanation, looking at the floor in an attempt to hide her guilt.
“Fine. Do whatever you want,” Reiki stated in a way that made it clear that he was still angry, but didn’t want to escalate their argument. No one had ever made him want to shout as much as he wanted to shout at her right now.
He was already undressed except for a plain white wafuku, so he simply went to bed. He faced away from her, and firmly resolved not to speak to her no matter what she said. Chèri understood this, and quietly got undressed. She blew out all the candles until the room was plunged in darkness.
Crawling into bed, she placed one hand on his shoulder so that she could kiss his cheek. “I really am sorry,” she whispered. “I love you.” She settled herself, pulling the covers over her. “Good night.”
Reiki was tempted to gruffly return the phrase, but stuck to his resolve not to speak to her.
All too soon – in Reiki’s opinion – the groundwork for Chèri’s plan was laid, and she was able to leave for the Topaz Region. They still hadn’t quite made up from their argument, and neither really knew what to do. Chèri felt she could only apologize so many times, and Reiki felt that he couldn’t just forgive her because doing so would only encourage her to use the same tactic every time she wanted her way.
In fact, the more he thought about the situation, the angrier he got. How dare she do that to me! She didn’t even give me a chance to see things from her point of view!
On the other hand, it nearly made him physically sick to think that she was about to leave while things were so bad between them. The night before she was supposed to leave, he lay in bed stewing; unable to sleep. Judging by the way she was breathing, Chèri wasn’t asleep yet either.
He rolled over abruptly, and grasped her chin with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m angry, and I can’t forgive you, but I will be angrier at myself if I let you leave tomorrow without making love to you at least once more.”
He kissed her, and she began to sob unexpectedly.
“I’m so glad! I was afraid that I’d pushed you away for good!” She cried, clinging to him.
“I have no role models to emulate, but I’m told that a solid marriage is built on compromise,” Reiki informed her. “It would be stupid of us to let one little argument destroy our marriage for good.”
Chèri nodded, but didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She kissed him, guiding his left hand to her breast. Reiki mentally agreed to temporarily lock away his anger, and just concentrate on the moment. After one more greedy kiss, he moved his mouth to her nipple.
Chèri moaned as he drank from her. It was strange that his mouth felt so good. When her son nursed, it felt natural and definitely not sexual, but now… She shivered from the intensity of the pleasure.
He shifted abruptly, and surprised her by kissing her while his mouth was still full of her milk. She’d never even thought of tasting it before, but now that she was, she loved how sweet and creamy it was.
“If I had my way, this is the only thing I’d ever drink,” Reiki told her as he kissed her neck.
“Mmm,” Chèri murmured, wondering if that was possible. Surely even the most abundantly productive mother dried up eventually.
Chèri sighed and wrapped her arms around Reiki’s neck as he entered her. Times like this made her wish that she could just settle down and be the obedient little wife that he wanted. She honestly loved him, so why wasn’t that enough for her?
They cried out in unison a while later, not caring if the entire Inner Palace heard them. Chèri held her husband tight, and felt him drift off to sleep. He seemed much more relaxed and at peace than he had earlier.
She stroked him lightly with one hand, her mind wandering. She would arrive in Topaz City just in time for the spring planting. It would be thoroughly satisfying to watch and help her citizens plant more apple trees. The merchant guild reported that the apple jam and butter was very popular, and they would welcome the day when the new trees enhanced the current production.
By now, even some of the first aged cheeses from Honto’s ranch would be ready. She couldn’t wait to taste some! She was so incredibly excited.
The only bad thing was the possible threat of assassination. Under such conditions, there was no way she could bring her son with her. Especially not after the extreme lengths she had gone to to get him to the palace safely. She was certain that he would be well protected here… but even so, it hurt to know that she would be leaving him behind.
She would only be gone about 3 to 4 months, but even so, by the time she returned, he would be a different baby! He would definitely know how to crawl and might even know how to walk. He’s 5 months old now… Hopefully they would still recognize each other when returned.
In the morning, she nursed him for probably the last time – her milk would likely dry up long before she returned – and cuddled with him much longer than she’d planned. Reiki watched her, obviously hoping that she’d change her mind.
She looked up at him, and smiled. “Please take good care of him while I’m gone. I can’t help but worry…”
Reiki bit his tongue to stop from blurting out, “Please don’t go!” He knew that she would leave no matter how much he begged, and he didn’t want to appear desperate… even though he was.
Chèri handed him their son, and then hugged him. “Thank you.”
He refused to let her go for several long moments, but then she pushed him away and he didn’t resist because he was afraid of dropping their baby.
Chèri kissed baby Reiki – who was smiling at her happily – and wiggled his hand playfully. “You take care of your daddy, little man. Don’t let him work too much, and make sure to play with him whenever you can.”
Reiki was too emotional to speak, so he watched in silence as his wife left their room – which was actually a small building. A few minutes later, Chèri joined the entourage that was waiting for her so that they could leave.
Ando stood in front of the two guards they’d brought with them from Topaz, along with two new guards assigned to them by Reiki. The Emperor feared that the danger to her would vastly increase now that she was the First Queen, and would have sent an entire company of soldiers with her, but she adamantly refused. More guards would not make her safer than just a few carefully chosen guards. He reluctantly agreed, and sent her two of his best men.
The last person in the entourage was a new official. He was one of the few that just could not fit into any of the departments, and was just about to be placed on reserve status when she came across him. He was one of the older boys she used to teach at the temple, so she knew he was a hard worker even if he was a bit shy and awkward by nature.
“Are we ready?” She asked.
“Yes, my Lady,” Ando replied. She’d packed yesterday, so her things were already on the horse, but she had forgotten something, and handed it to Ando now.
“I was wondering why you weren’t taking this,” Ando replied, tying the box holding her fiddle to the horse.
Chèri took a moment to pet and kiss her two horses, the same ones her uncle had given her that had carried her back and forth several times, not to mention all over Topaz Region. The rest of her party was mounted and waiting for her. The new guards shook their heads and frowned at her undignified behavior.
Ando set her on their horse, and then climbed up behind her. She was about to give the order to leave when she sensed something. She looked around, and found Reiki holding their son about a hundred feet from her. He waved, then used his hand to make the baby wave too.
Smiling as if she had just been granted her dearest wish, she called out, “Goodbye! I’ll miss you and be back as soon as I possibly can. I love you!”
Reiki turned his head slightly to hide a light blush that she shouted that out in public so easily. He waved again, and called out, “Have a safe trip!”
They set out; traveling in silence as they carefully guided their horses through Nortown. Chèri was so absorbed in her thoughts that she almost didn’t hear the new Official murmur, “Madam Kiki?”
Chèri looked up to find 3 people waiting for her at the gate leading out of the city. “Kiki!” She urged Ando to speed their horse up for a moment before coming to a complete stop. She jumped off the horse, and into Kiki’s arms.
Kiki wasted no time in kissing Chèri like only she could. Ando was used to seeing this, though he still grumbled a bit, but the rest of their entourage was gaping at her in shock.
Eventually, the kiss ended, and Kiki couldn’t stop herself from crying as she handed Chèri a gorgeous silk flower. “I know that you seldom have any regard for your appearance, so I’m giving you this flower to wear in your hair as a reminder that you are a woman, and so beautiful.”
Chèri smiled at her friend a bit sadly, honestly touched by her concern. Kiki tucked the flower into Chèri’s functional bun, and made sure that it wouldn’t fall out.
Next, Chèri turned to one of Kiki’s companions. “Bo!” She greeted, giving him a hug. He squeezed her tight, lifting her completely off her feet for a moment before setting her down. He kissed her, but it lasted only a moment.
“I’m so worried that you’ll have a bad trip,” he informed her. “So, I want to send this man with you. He’s trustworthy, and handy to have around.”
Bo then whispered in her ear. “Plus, if you’ll let him, I want him to take over as the boss of all crime in Topaz Region. He’s smart, and knows when not to approve a crime. He’s also strong and cunning, and will be able to take control from whoever is currently the boss.”
Chèri nodded, and turned to the man she’d never met before. She smiled, and gave him a brief bow. “Glad to have you on board.”
“Thank you, my Lady!” He returned the bow, but made it much deeper and more respectful. “Please, call me Gan.”
“Nice to meet you, Gan,” Chèri smiled, relieved to noticed that he had a horse waiting for him. He mounted up, and joined her party.
Chèri squeezed Bo’s hand in thanks. Then, she hugged Kiki again. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back. I promise that after I return, I’ll visit you, and we can eat something delicious while we drink tea.”
Kiki nodded, smiling. “I look forward to it.”
With nothing left to do, Chèri held out her hand to Ando so that he could help her onto their horse. She waved goodbye, and they departed the city.