4. The past days, of you and me.
I was soon turning 17, yet I was not allowed outside very much, like when I was little.
However, the mansion was large and the land surrounding it was nearly endless to walk through. There was a place like a forest with a stream inside the land, so I did not have much complaints.
Because it was only after everything ended that I learned how small and closed my world was.
I hurried. The class ended later than expected, so it was already past the appointment time. I did not have anything scheduled until the dance class later, but since there’s no knowing when he will have to return to work, we do not have much time to spend together.
Without minding my dress hems getting soiled, I ran through the gravel road. Though it was a low one, it was hard to run with heels. I would rather run barefoot, but when I did that before I was scolded harshly by him. Since I promised that I will not do it again, I cannot do that. Back then, he treated my slightly bruised feet.
As he did that, there was no trace of his usual shy smile, but a force that made me unable to make up excuses, that I could only apologise.
There was no one at the birch tree we arranged to meet at. I dropped my shoulders that were rising and falling with heavy panting.
He has work, so he has to go as soon as he is called. It’s my fault for being late.
While brushing my now-dishevelled hair back, I gathered my breath. I wonder if he will return if I wait. Or, will it take all the time until I am forced to return?
I pondered a little. I will wait even if it’s useless. It’s a rare period of time where the two of us can meet. There is no way we will give it up.
To spread open my handkerchief on the usual rock, I turned my back to the birch tree. Behind me, a cracking sound of twigs snapping echoed.
It merely landed on my back gently, but I was extremely startled. Freed from my grasp, the handkerchief fluttered away. He grabbed it easily. He sometimes can be surprisingly agile.
However, I did not have room for surprise. I was already too shocked.
Though my heart always pounds when I am with him, this time I turned around as my heart pounded in a different sense.
While desperately calming my heart that still pounded, I puffed out my cheeks. Helt handed the handkerchief to me and laughed.
“You surprised me!”
“Then it’s a success. It’s revenge for my lady coming late.”
Seeing him smile so happily from his trick working, my mood softened. For his cute smile, I forgave him while smiling wryly.
Because, it was him forgiving me in his own way, by trying to not make me worry about coming late. When he came late, I made him wear a garland of flowers I made in the meanwhile. The way he looked dejected as he said that he was a man was so cute, so the punishment for his tardiness in the season of flowers was for him wear a garland of flowers.
Sitting in the shade, the two of us chatted about nothing. While holding his hand, I gently rubbed my shoulder against his. My heart pounded so much, but I could not lean against his shoulder like they do in novels.
When I glanced at him, his neck was bright red, but I was the same so I could not laugh. We did not laugh, but it was embarrassing, so the both of tried our hardest to keep a straight face or frown.
Since I did not want to show a strange expression, I desperately continued chatting to not show my red face.
“Hey, Helt, tell me about your homeland.”
“It’s boring though?”
“Today, I studied about the northern lands. Since it was your homeland, I got excited even though it was a class that I usually could not help but doze…… The teacher noticed that I was energised, so the class ended up finishing late though.”
He smiled wryly.
Then, he told me once again that it’s a boring story.
“Even though it’s the same Laius fiefdom, it’s an incomparably barren land compared to here. The Darrich fiefdom, our neighbour has been eyeing our lands to expand their lands, but even they do not want that land. Since such a place is at the border, even if there is a conflict with Darrich and Gimii, Laius is not affected much.”
“I heard about that.”
“Well, it’s a frozen land, so there is not much land that can be used for farming, and even the period for sowing is short.”
There was a feeling of yearning and a loveliness as he talked about his homeland and then closed his eyes as he got lost in thought.
The golden eyes that opened again looked at me in a shade that I never saw before.
“Children, adults and even livestock…… hunger is painful. Both for those suffering and for those watching.”
“Well, that is…… if the land is poor, I wonder if it is useless to use fertilisers…… Like people, would it be useless if there is too much? If you ask father, I am sure he can prepare some.”
It would have been nice to learn how to enrich the lands instead of how to dance.
Seeing him get depressed, I felt sad too. However, he grabbed my hands and leaned his forehead against mine. Surprised, I ended up closing my eyes. From his warmth, I could sense the smell of dirt, horses and iron.
“My lady, you don’t have to make such an expression. It’s alright. It’s not as though we are not doing anything. Everyone is trying their best to live well. So it’s alright. So, my lady, can you keep the story of my homeland a secret? I’ll be ridiculed by everyone for coming from the sticks.”
“Is that so, I am sorry…… However, I do not think such a thing will happen. Helt, you are loved by everyone. Where you come from is not important.”
“It’s only you, my lady, who says that. You are a kind person, raised preciously here.”
“I still think it should be alright…… did you just call me sheltered again?”
“Y-You could tell?”
As I shook his hand off from annoyance, he laughed loudly.
The way his tied up hair swayed in the air like a horse’s tail was cute, so I ended up laughing too in spite of myself.
I threw away some grass that I uprooted meaninglessly and reconciled with him.
The wind blew between the trees and lifted up the leaves. Flying past the high fences, the two of us aw off the leaves whose destinations were unknown.
There was some dirt stuck to Helt’s sleeves. When I scraped some off with my fingernails, he panicked and hid them away. He told that he will do it himself, but I think his nails are too short for that.
“Come on, Helt.”
“No, your pretty fingers will be dirtied, my lady.”
“You can easily wash away dirt. And, that’s not it.”
“Erm, well…… I do think that it will be tough, since my father does not like me going out very much, so I do not know when it will be, but……”
I grabbed my index finger and middle finger and closed my mouth, so he looked at me worriedly. Consoled by the golden light that was clearer and warmer than the sun, I lifted my face up.
“I want to visit Helt’s homeland.”
I loved how the golden light danced, so I ended up staring into it.
“……It’s far away.”
“Then I can talk a lot with you on the way there.”
“It’s cold there.”
“Then I have a reason to buy a new coat.”
“There’s only one shop selling goods from vegetables to headdresses. The only scenery is the mountains and the rocks. There’s nothing to be seen there.”
“I want to see the tree that you climbed, and climb it myself. Will you help me?”
I heard that there is a big tree. I heard that he would sneak into the grotto, or sit on the watch the scenery while sitting on one of those thick branches. I heard that the fish swimming in the stream shined like stars.
“I always wished to see the land that you grew up in. Will you take me there sometime?”
Whenever he talked about his homeland, he looked younger and it showed how precious the land was to him. Every time he talked about it, my admiration for the land that raised him grew.
Someday, someday I want to go there.
To the northern land that is precious to him, with him.
When I stared at him silently, he opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it again.
Then, he smiled softly.
“Let’s go sometime.”
“Yes, I can take you there.”
“I’m so happy!”
To my overflowing smile, he gave me a soft, tender touch of a kiss.
Subdued sunbeams peeked through the trees as the soft wind brushed my hair.
I woke up from the soft rustling of clothes. At the bed next to mine, Jasmine was tossing and turning.
For a moment, I couldn’t tell where I was.
When I looked at the place to my side, it seemed that she was moving a little too much as the blanket had fallen down. I walked over barefoot and lifted up the blanket. It did not compare to what I had been using back then, but this too was a clean and nice sheet.
Everyone says that this is a good age. I think so too. There’s leisure in life from work, and everyone was filled with happiness from paying just taxes and protecting their lives.
Jasmine’s hands wandered around for the blanket in her sleep. To not wake her, I gently placed it on her. The hands grabbed the edge and happily fell back to sleep.
After checking that she did not wake, I quietly trod back to my bed and let my weight fall on the small creaking bed.
It was a warm dream, yet cold sweat flowed at my back and the chills did not disappear.
With a deep sigh, I covered my face.
The quiet muttering was not heard by anyone and melted into the silently fading night.