Memory nine: To the sky
I wake up, wash myself, put on my shimou and put up my hair with a nice golden pin.
I smile at myself in the mirror before rushing out of my room and jumping down the stairs two steps at a time.
I catch the butler at the bottom of the stairs making his way to the kitchens “Morning Shayu, do you have any mail for me?”
“Good morning lady Elizabeth, I left your mail next to your breakfast plate.” He then bows politely “And a happy birthday to you.”
“Thank you.” I bow back and then bounce to the breakfast table where I find I’m the first one down.
I sit down pick up the pile of mail and go through the pieces one by one.
Huh, no package? Just cards…
I open each and every envelope and find the same phrase repeated over and over again by people whose names I never heard of.
These cards aren’t ‘for me’, they’re there to smooch up to my father. ‘Look at me I’m so loyal, I even remembered your daughter’s birthday.’
But I guess I don’t have any friends to get cards from so, I guess they’re nice?
The cards themselves are exquisite so at least these people have good taste. Featuring pictures of amazing Cygnian architecture and lots of flowers.
I just wonder where mother’s package could be.
“Good morning birthday girl,” Father tells me as he comes in with Maiwu and the kids in tow.
I get up, and they pass my chair and congratulate me in turn before getting to their seat. Father and Maiwu each give me a gift that I’m only allowed to open after breakfast so now they’re just dangerously tempting as I keep them next to my plate.
The servants all wear little birthday hats as they bring round plates of food. It looks delightful but I hope they don’t mind.
Breakfast is served with a slice of chiffon cake on the side.
Father asks after my cards, I give him the pile to go through as we eat.
“Did you hear anything from your mother?” Maiwu asks and I shake my head.
“Maybe the post is just late.” Father weighs in, face still inside a card. “I’m sure your book will turn up somewhere this week.”
“It’s not just about the book father. There’s also a letter each time.” Or half a novel really. Ten pages condensing the entire back end of the year into one semi-cohesive story. The new Delarouge book is nice, but hearing from mother is the real present.
“Well at least our presents are on time, go on dear.” He tells me signalling at the gifts nose still firmly planted in a birthday card.
Excited I pick up the first gift and unwrap it, it’s a bottle of perfume, it smells sharply sweet and feminine, almost sickeningly so. It’s not my favourite scent, but it’s the thought that count. I thank my father and then pick up another gift with an embroidered bag in it. I take it out and pull open the drawstring, it’s empty but the bag itself is beautiful and on the end of the drawstring there’s a small statuette of a cat carved from wood.
“You can hang the bag from your sash,” Maiwu explains. “Sleeves are nice but they’re not great for larger items.”
Oh! Wow, that’s really clever “Thank you so much.” It’s the perfect size for my revolver, which is slightly suspicious and makes me wonder if she perhaps knows more than she lets on.
On the other hand, as long as she doesn’t tell my father about it I guess all is well.
I look at father, I don’t think he’s too thrilled that his girlfriend took his daughter’s side in the whole ‘do you really need to wear a shimou every day?’ debate.
But I appreciate it, it’s a nice gesture and a nice moment.
And then with the screeching of chair legs on the floor, it’s over.
“I’m going upstairs, Charles will be here in under a half-hour and I still need to prepare some things.”
“All right.” Maiwu nods and gets up as well, two little boys in tow.
And then I’m alone again.
I collect the cards and gifts and go to the lilac room to read.
The next day I rush down the stairs with the same vigour.
Intercepting Shayu every morning asking after mail and lost packages.
But every day the answer is no.
I don’t understand.
And I don’t like it either.
Mail from Cygne has never been this late before.
Did something happen to her?
What if she’s hurt or ill or dead and no one bothered to tell me because I live too far away?
In my head, that sounds ridiculous.
But it doesn’t feel ridiculous.
I have to go and check.
“You want to fly to Cygne now?” Father asks incredulously over dinner.
“Well not right now, but tomorrow, maybe the day after that.”
“Impossible, I’d first have to get the staff together for such an enterprise.”
“Actually, I’m going alone.”
“No, you’re not.”
I grunt “Father, this is exactly why I wanted to learn to be a pilot.”
“And are you one already?” He challenges.
I shrug “I think I can pull it off.”
He huffs “You’re not going alone and that’s final.”
“Well, what if I bring Dana along? Would that be sufficient?”
“If she’s okay with just leaving her shop to go on a trip with you I’d be surprised.” He says dismissively.
Granted yes that would be surprising…“But I can ask?”
He huffs dismissively “Sure.”
I nod, accepting the challenge and trying to think up how I’d phrase the question all the way through dinner.
Unfortunately by the time my next lesson rolls around I still haven’t figured it out.
I don’t know how to bring up the subject of travelling to Cygne much less ask if she’d like to come along.
I mess up my start-up sequence and feel like if I ask now she’ll even doubt I can make the trip.
I can pretty much kick myself throughout the lesson.
It’s a good thing there are no buildings or trees around, because my steering is shoddy at best, and neglectful at worst.
“Are you all right? It seems like your head is somewhere else.”
My ears flush “Uhm, indeed, my apologies. I’ll try to pay more attention from here on out.”
“All right.” Dana doesn’t enquire further and only five minutes later I realise that would have been the perfect segue I was looking for, which throws me off my game all over again, which makes me self-conscious again which makes me mess up more which just makes me want to stop, give up and abandon all hope.
The foghorn blares through the sky and I look at the button flabbergasted.
Did I just press the foghorn when I intended to activate the windshield wiper?
“All right we have to land.” I tell Dana “We have to land and then I have to ask you something and then my brain will cooperate again I promise.”
Dana gives me an appraising look “Very well then, initiating landing protocol.” She starts pushing buttons and gives directions as to how to land the plane. Talking me through it as if I haven’t done this countless times before.
It’s appreciated, however.
And I’m grateful as we touch down on the runway unscathed.
“So what did you want to ask?”
Oh right, I told her I had a question already “Uhm, okay so I want to visit my mother in Cygne, as soon as possible but father doesn’t want me going alone…”
“Right, but he wants to take ages getting some sort of travel team together and that’s just going to take too long. And, well he said that if you wanted to come along with me he’ll allow me to go.” I try to read a response in her face but she just looks…Dana. My heart skips a beat in fear “Of course I get it if you don’t want to, you have a shop and a job, in fact never mind, pretend I said nothing, let’s just resume the lesson.”
“Well, when did you want to depart?”
Wait, is she genuinely considering it!? I try my best to suppress a silly grin “Well…as soon as possible?”
“I’ll have to pull some strings, does tomorrow work for you?”
“What!? Uhm yes, yes I think so?”
“If you need more time then-”
“No no that’s grand,” I tell her trying my best to cover my red ears by pulling my hair in front of them.
“Okay, I’ll come to the palace around midday?”
“All right, now do you want to take to the sky again?”
That night I feel giddy and excited and I can’t wait till tomorrow.
That is until the sun actually rises and I just want to have a bit more sleep before we go.
What time is it anyway?
I look at my watch, propped up on a stand next to my bed. Then see it’s practically midday!
I drag myself out of bed, pull my hair into a bun and get dressed in a Cygnian dress for I think the first time in two years. Long skirts and dress shirts that are covered with lace and ruffles. A ‘true Cygnian’ would then spend another half hour matching jewellery and accessories but I don’t have the time or inclination.
I pull my suitcase from under my bed, just a couple changes of clothes and toiletries that don’t need to be on the ship at all times.
There’s a knock on the door “Lady Elizabeth there is a gues-”
“Yes, I know, thank you Shayu,” I yell back through the door.
“I set her in her lilac room for now.”
“Grand, thank you,” I grunt at my reflection for not getting more sleep when I had the chance. Then decide we need a good strong brew before leaving “Shayu, are you still there?”
“Just barely lady Elizabeth.”
“Could you bring a pot of qjata tea to the lilac room? Two cups.”
“I’ll check the kitchens.”
I pull a neglected scarf from the chair, tie it around my neck, and then wipe a lock of hair back that escaped my notice.
Sometimes I wish I had short hair like Dana’s just slick it back and you’re done. Quick and easy.
But I’m pretty sure father would fire Dana on the spot as a ‘bad influence’ if I tried to pull that.
So long hair it is, for now at least.
I grab my suitcase and make for the lilac room.
“Good morning Elizabeth.” Dana smiles kindly, teacup in her hand.
“Good morning.” I sit down on the opposite seat and pour myself a cup “I hope you don’t mind having tea before we go?”
“Not at all. In fact, I was afraid I might have been too early. I hope you didn’t have to rush too much to meet me?”
“No, not at all.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“Well, a little but I don’t mind.”
“If you need more time to get things sorted feel free to leave me here for a while.”
“Don’t worry, it’s all done.”
“Good. Then let’s enjoy the tea and then get going.” She takes a sip “Oh qjata, it’s been a while since I had this.”
“You know it?”
“My mother is from Xjawa so I had this a lot as a child. But she moved back when the war broke out at my father’s urging. I haven’t seen her since.”
“I see…I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t bring up painful memories.”
Dana’s eyes are focused on the pale green liquid and her voice sounds far away “Not at all, if anything it reminds me of simpler times.”
“Good.” I chuckle, take another sip and as the panic subsides the excitement comes rushing in again.
We’re actually doing this.
“I see you’ve decided to dress for the destination?”
“Oh Uhm, yes, I’m not sure what mother would think if I showed up in a shimou so I decided to just pack Cygnian stuff for the trip.”
“It looks nice.”
“You think?” I can’t help but show a hint of surprise. always thought Cygnian dress looked pretty stuffy. Like the stuff teachers and librarians wear.
Well, teachers who aren’t Dana.
She sips some more tea and nods “I think suits you.”
I’m not quite sure how to feel about that but I thank her nonetheless. I feel like I should give a compliment back, but nothing too sappy just, clothes, yes nice clothes. “I like your trousers.”
It’s her turn to sound surprised “Really?”
“They look comfortable and practical.” Is that an odd compliment? I bet that’s an odd compliment.
“They are, the pockets are handy, especially around the shop since you never have enough hands on you.”
“Speaking off, you’re sure you’re okay leaving your shop?”
“Well it would be a bit late to back out now wouldn’t it?”
“I guess…but you could.”
“Well, I’m not.” She empties her cup and then sets it down on the table “ I’m ready when you are.”
“Right!” I quickly toss back the rest of my tea and set down my cup “Let’s go.”
As we make our way to the door I see father, Maiwu and the kids waiting for me.
I’m not entirely sure why?
“We’re here to say goodbye!” Hato says rocking back on his tippy toes.
“Not goodbye.” Maiwu corrects him “Just ‘have a nice trip’”
“Ah, thank you.” I bow politely.
“Dana I want to thank you for making sure Elizabeth is safe.” He hands Dana a red envelope “And Elizabeth here’s some pocket money for when you’re there.” He gives me a similar packet though mine is naturally slimmer.
“Thanks…well, bye?” I rush out, feeling confused and…odd.
Dana follows patiently. “Are you okay?” she sounds concerned, I guess I did make a fool out of myself back there.
I pull myself together “I didn’t expect the fanfare, but yes, I’m fine.”
We get onto the ship and even though I was in here only yesterday it feels different.
This time we won’t be landing again after an hour of flying. This time we have to keep going until we reach a parking bay or other suitable spot.
Which can take anywhere from six to eight hours. Longer if you’re over the sea.
“Now, I’ll be navigation for now.” Dana announces “So you just have to focus on keeping the ship in the air.”
“Aye aye captain,” I tell her with a smile.
“Oh no I’m not the captain, you are.”
“Oh right, I guess I am.” I swallow hard. “Well…uh” I sit down “Here we go.”