Memory six: Justice
Things are tense inside the house.
I try to stay out as much as possible. Take Henri along on long walks that don’t really do anything but keep me away from my father and the growing worry that I may have broken something that can no longer be repaired.
And being unsure of how to feel about that.
I enter an alleyway that’s supposed to lead to the market but then have to look back realising that’s not the case.
I turn around “Henri I think we went the wrong- Henri?”
But he was with me just a minute ago.
“Well well well, would you look at that, the princess is alone now.”
My shoulders jump at the voice behind me.
The man is in his thirties, black hair tied back into a bushy ponytail and around his arm, I spot a band with a familiar sigil.
I can feel my heart start to race as I step backwards. Memories of dark dealings and porcelain ducks suddenly very vivid in my mind.
Two heavy hands grab onto my shoulders.
I scream, trying to pull myself free.
“Let’s get her to the club, we can talk strategy-”
The one holding me hums in affirmation while I struggle to rip myself free from those iron claws.
“Let go of me you maniacs!” I shout in Jigani at the top of my lungs.
A loud bang rings through the air. Followed by a thud.
The hands slip off my shoulder.
“What the hell!” The man facing me shouts but then I can see the colour in his face drain away.
There’s another bang, and a small hole appears neatly between the man’s eyes.
He unceremoniously drops onto the floor.
I look back to the big man who captured me and find he’s also ‘neatly dispatched off’
I look at the dead body, Henri just killed these people.
Just like that.
“Are you all right lady Elizabeth?” he asks sticking the gun back into his belt and kneeling down.
I nod absentmindedly, eyes still glued to the dead.
“Hey, hey look at me.” He puts a gloved hand on my chin and turns my head to face him. “Those were bad people Elizabeth. They had it coming, okay?”
I’m not sure what to do, the man’s eyes stand intense. They’re filled with a blood lust I’ve never seen before.
I nod, more to keep him from getting more riled up than anything else. I agree that the dragon people are bad people. I just don’t know how I feel about killing bad people, or any people for that matter.
He made it look so easy.
He smiles at my agreement “Good, now come on, I think this was quite enough excitement for one day, let’s go home.” He grabs my hand and I follow his lead.
As we leave I wonder what will happen to the bodies, will someone care for these people and bury them? Will they get burned in place to avoid the hassle?
Or will they just lie there, decomposing and rotting until the animmals, bugs and bacteria have finished with their meal?
There’s a chill in the air, the sky is white with clouds and just as we make it past the threshold snow starts drifting down from the heavens.
Henri fumbles for an umbrella to keep me out of the snow.
I thank him politely then asks once we’re in the garden “Can I take the umbrella for a little walk?”
I bow, he salutes and then marches back into the house.
I think about today and, yes the dragon people are bad people who do bad things but…
What if all they wanted was my money, would he have killed them then?
What if they were just beggars?
To my surprise, I find pink flowers underneath my feet that slowly but surely get consumed by the snow.
I look up, to the peach tree Sehe tends so lovingly. It has started blooming already but it’s only January.
Is that normal?
I doubt the flowers should be falling off.
I look around for Sehe, maybe he knows what to do in this situation.
Normally he’s just…around, I don’t know where he could be if he’s not here.
“Sehe!?” I call out but there’s no one.
I walk to the little house on the edge of the gardens and knock on the door.
“Ah, lady Elizabeth, can I help you?”
I look at the man horrified “You’re not Sehe.”
“My name is Tuyano, I’m the new gardener.”
“What happened to Sehe?”
“I don’t know- oh… okay goodbye!”
My blood is boiling, and my heart racing.
The snow is whirling around me as I stride but I pay it no mind.
I pull my coat off.
Slam the door open.
Hand it to Shayu without a word.
And then start running.
I slam open the office door “Did you fire Sehe!?”
“Elizabeth, I’m working, what did I tell you about-”
“You fired Sehe for the things he said to me didn’t you!?”
Father doesn’t even look up from his paperwork. “He set you up against me, I’m not going to let that slide.”
“All he did was answer the questions I asked him!”
“Elizabeth this isn’t up for discussion, I make the decisions here, not you.”
“But it’s not fair!”
“Elizabeth drop it.” There’s a warning to his voice but I’m done being scared.
“No, these people work themselves to the bone to help us, the least we can do. The least we owe them is to treat them fairly!”
He slams the table “Life isn’t fair. Do you think you would be wearing that dress or live in this palace if life were fair? Just take Henri and go buy some new books, you’ll forget about him in no time.”
“No, I won’t!”
He huffs “You will.”
“How could you even think that?”
“Because you’re a child and didn’t notice he was gone until now. I fired him two months ago.
“What!?” That can’t be right right? I mean I visited the garden less because of the cold but…
I didn’t visit the garden at all. I spent the winter reading and drinking hot cocoa.
I forgot about him for two months.
“Now if you’ll just let me work-”
I swallow harshly “Is he alive?”
“You didn’t have him killed did you?”
“Of course not, what’s gotten into you today?”
“Good, then go and rehire him.”
“Or else?” He asks with a sneer but that makes me feel even more determined.
“I’m never coming home again.” And with those words I run out, to my room, to pack.
I’m going to find Sehe, bring him home.
And father is going to hire him if he ever wants to see me again!
I pull open my wardrobe and vanity table and start throwing things onto the bed.
My hairbrush, my toothbrush, my undergarments, socks, clothes, jewellery, perfumes and books.
I look at the pile.
Then at my bag.
Okay, I can’t bring all of that then…
“Shayu I want my coat back please.”
“Going for a walk again so soon?”
He knows me too well “Lady Elizabeth are you okay?”
“Just get me the coat already!” I snap meanly at him.
“Yes, miss.” I feel awful as I watch Shayu scramble to get me my stuff but I’m certain he’d not be allowed to let me go if I explain where I’m going.
He comes back with the coat.
I take it.
Then I hug him.
“Thank you for everything Shayu.”
I rush out before he can ask any questions.
I run towards the gate but then get painfully reminded the guards won’t let me leave without supervision.
This place, this palace.
It’s a prison.
Plain and simple.
But I’m not planning on staying here.
Not for a second longer.
The walls surrounding the locked city are solid and sturdy and twice my height.
Made from rock polished smooth making it impossible to climb.
To get over it I’d need a ladder or a stepping stool or-or.
A small house standing near the wall with a flat roof.
Determined I avert myself from the gate, and head to the gardener’s house.
I don’t know if Tuyano would appreciate me using his house as a stepping stool but in all fairness, it’s not his house, not really.
And besides, he doesn’t need to know I was even here.
I climb my way up the lattices and standing on top of the roof I try to gauge the distance between me and the wall.
It’s not…that bad?
About a metre.
I can jump that right?
I think I can.
I hope I can.
Then grab hold of the tiles that line the top of the wall.
Pull myself up and over.
I can do that, easy.
I grunt at myself.
Maybe I should just stop this madness.
Climb down again, go back inside.
It’ll be one of those things we don’t talk about.
Like the pretty lady, or even why the king appointed my father governor in the first place.
We can just pretend it’s not there and go back to life like usual and…
And Sehe would just be gone and that’d be my fault and I didn’t even try to do better.
Well, if those are my options…
I sling my body weight forwards, push off with my knees and then frantically swing my arms out trying to snatch at anything to grip.
My fingers cramp the moment they feel the tiles and my feet slip and slide uselessly over the smooth rock.
“Oh no no no no.” I hiss as my heart beats like crazy.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” It’s the new gardener.
If he sees me I’m in so much trouble.
I pull, myself atop the wall not quite sure where I find the strength.
Then fling myself unceremoniously on the other side.
Panting I slide down the wall and sit down on my behind trying to gather myself.
I can hear the gardener still on the other side, shuffling and calling out in confusion but I doubt he’ll try and scale the wall himself.
Then as my breath evens out and my heart calms it dawns on me.
I did it.
And a wave of pride washes over me.
With confidence regained I dust myself off and get ready to face the world as a free lady.
I walk out into the hustle and bustle of the city.
Sehe is somewhere out here.
I just have to find him.
That’s doable, I think to myself.
Until hours have passed and I get the nagging feeling this maybe wasn’t my smartest plan.
Where would I even find Sehe, I can’t even find the way to the bookstore by myself.
Maybe I should have brought Henri along?
Would he have allowed me to leave though?
No! I’m done with getting others in trouble.
I can take care of myself.
All I need is a gun, right?
I’m not sure I could bring myself to fire it at another person but the threat of death should be enough to get ruffians off my back right?
I look around me, reading signs and inspecting shop windows.
Until I come across a shop called Xochu.
Their store window is filled with guns of all sorts and sizes.
This should be it then.
I head inside, then stride straight to the counter and tell the lady on the other end “I want a revolver please.”
The woman looks back at me with a raised eyebrow “What for?”
“To shoot with.” What else?
“And your target?” she asks suspiciously.
I shrug “I don’t know! What’s with all the questions, do you want the business or not!?”
“You’re angry.” She observes.
I roll my eyes. “Yes! I know!”
“Sit down, I’ll make tea.” She gestures to a stepping stool set against one of the cabinets.
I open my mouth for a retort that lies somewhere half-baked in the back of my brain.
I try to make sense of this situation.
Normally when I want something people give it to me.
But none of this is normal I guess.
I give up trying to reason my way out of this.
Just sit down and wait.
The lady comes back with a simple stone cup filled with a familiar scent.
I look down into the liquid and find the leaves still at the bottom.
Normally you strain those out right?
Or is that just a Cygne thing?
Undecided I take a sip and conclude it tastes like tea.
I take another sip, my hands gratefully accepting the warmth radiating off the cup.
The bell above the door rings again and a man with a long scar drawn across his face stumbles in.
He kind of looks like a ruffian.
“How can I help you?”
“I need a weapon?”
“The Kashuya, they want my daughter to marry one of their heads against her will and I have to protect her.” The man explains shaking with rage and desperation.
The lady shakes her head “What do you think will happen if you confront the Kashuya straight on?”
“All I need to do is kill the head in question.”
“Killing one of the Kashuya puts a target on your back for the rest of your short life.”
“Then what am I supposed to do!? Please I’m at the end of my rope.” The man pleads.
The lady stays calm, pulls a card from a drawer in her desk and says “I have a friend who can give your daughter a new identity and allow her to hide from the kashuya in plain sight, but there is a cost to it.”
“You must fake your daughter’s death so they’ll stop looking. It’s not a pretty process, but it will keep her safe.”
The man takes the card gratefully “Thank you Xjaa, thank you, I owe you my life.”
“You owe me no such thing Biwai, good luck.”
The man’s eyes are filled with hope as he leaves.
Another man comes in a hunter who needs to feed his family but has no more ammo to spare.
“I can offer you ammo in return for a cut of your meat.” The woman offers.
The man nods, “Naturally, thank you Xjaa.”
The man leaves with a cardboard box in his hands and a skip in his step.
“How come you charged the second man but not the first one?” I wonder aloud.
The woman closes the drawer again with a smooth motion “Fouxi is a prideful man, offering him the ammo without anything in return would only have insulted him. Besides I didn’t give the first man anything worth the compensation.”
“You gave him hope.”
A smile plays around her lips “Hope should always be free.”
I think about this as I drink the rest of my tea. The woman walks around the shop checking stock and doing some light reordering of the shelves.
And then as I wonder how to drink the last little bit of tea without drinking the leaves I realise I actually feel calm.
“Thank you, madam, I feel a lot better now,” I tell her as I hand her the cup.
The woman smiles “That’s good to hear. And please, call me Xjaa.”
That’s, not a Jigani word, right? Or maybe it’s just a syllable I haven’t come across yet “Xa?”
“Close enough.” She smiles warmly. I see why everyone comes to her for help. It feels safe around her, even though I don’t know her at all. She just has an aura or something.
“I have a question.”
“Then you should probably ask it.”
“Who are the Kashuya? Are they the dragon people?”
“You could call them that.” She nods “The Kashuya are…” She takes a moment to think “They’re a group of people you don’t want to mess with. A collection of robbers, contraband dealers, murderers and extortionists. They run the city in the places the govener doesn’t care to look.”
“Doesn’t care to look?”
“This city is very profitable for Cygne, but only the parts of it that make lots of money. Lower districs, poorer regions at the edges of the city. That’s where the Kashuya like to work and grow.”
“Can’t people fight back?”
“Fighting back is a death sentence, this isn’t a problem one person can solve I’m afraid.”
It sounds to me one person definitely can…but he has no reason to help those ‘kani’ he despises. I bite my lip in thought. Then, mind somehwere else, I look outside, the sky has gone very dark and I realise I’ve never been away from home this late.
I also wonder how long this store is supposed to stay open normally. I look at Xjaa, she doesn’t seem in a hurry to have me leave, but I don’t want to intrude and already feel a bit guilty for keeping her shop open this long.
There’s just one thing I feel I need to ask.
“I should probably go.”
“If you wish.”
“Can I ask something weird first?”
“You do know who I am right?”
“If I’m not mistaken you’re Governor Chattoway’s daughter.”
“And you don’t… hate me?”
“Politics are irrelevenat right now, I see a young girl who looks upset so I offer her tea to calm down.”
“You are most kind.” I open up my bag and start rummaging through it “I would like to pay you for the tea but I’m afraid I have no money on me, I can offer you one of these if you like.” I open up my box of jewels. The woman looks at the riches, smiles contently and gives me a pat on the bead.
“That’s very kind but I don’t need payment, the tea is on the house.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite. Now off we go, the dark hides ruffians and criminals who would love to get their hands on such precious jewels.”
“I could never allow such a young girl to walk home alone in the dark.”
But I don’t want to go home…
Should I tell her I ran away?
“Are you coming?” Xjaa asks by the door.
I’m not sure where I would even begin to explain “Yes.”
We walk back home together Xjaa and I.
In a way, she reminds me of Antoinette Delarouge. She’s clever, sympathetic, powerful, and I can only assume she’s a good marksman because while people stare at us with sneers and grimaces they all fan out away from us when we pass by.
It’s odd to think people like her really exist and aren’t just characters in books.
Maybe one day I can be like her?
She halts at the gates to the locked city “I take it you are safe from here on out?”
“Yes, thank you Xjaa.”
“Hey, you pronounced it correctly.”
I beam with pride then bow humbly so as to not look like a complete fool. “Again, thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome. You know where to find me if you need me.”
And then she turns and walks away again.
Part of me feels the pull to try and run away again.
But I can no longer deny that in the dark the outside world is scary.
Too scary for me right now.
I will run another day.
And that day it will stick.
But right now?
I wish the guards by the gate a good evening and head back home.
The moment I knock on the door there’s an amazing ruckus.
And to my surprise, the one opening the door isn’t Shayu at all.
He wraps his arms around me and picks me up like he used to do when I was little “Elizabeth my darling I was so afraid I’d lost you forever. I’m so sorry I got mad at you. Please don’t ever do that again.” He pleads with me and for one odd moment, father feels like father again. Like he used to before we went all the way out here.
And a very small part of me feels bad for him, but I feel worse for the people he hurt.
As he sets me down again I tell him “Thank you father, but it’s not me you wronged, it’s Sehe.”
I head to my room and start emptying my bed again.
The next day around noon there’s a knock on my door.
I haven’t left my room all day. I think this could be my new way of rebelling. If father wants to ever see me at the dinner or breakfast table again he has to hire Sehe again.
I assume that’s father now to wonder where I’ve been all morning.
“I fixed it.” He tells me “I rehired Sehe now please stop being mad at me.”
Guess it worked.
My heart jumps. I rush past him, fly down the steps and rush to the garden.
“Sehe!” I cry out.
“Lady Elizabeth good- oh?”
I hug him tightly “I’m so sorry I got you fired if I knew that’d be the consequence I’d never asked and I should have noticed you were gone so much sooner but I’m so glad you’re back again.”
The old man smiles and gives me a pat on the head “I’m glad to be back too.”