Memory twelve: The escape
The sound of our footsteps echoes through the massive hangar as we drag bags of books to the ship.
Turns out there’s a lot more going on between Hui and the kashuya than he initially let on.
I don’t mind him not telling me per se.
I just wish I could have helped more.
But we’re fixing this now.
Today is the day.
We’re leaving Jaobai behind and we’re going to fly far far away from here.
Hui will be safe from his terrible family.
And I’m going to leave this palace and see the world.
It’s a win-win really in a twisted sort of way.
Now, all we need to do is grab the ship, pick up Yobu and Himowa and meet the sunset.
“Since when is this here?” Hui asks, eyes big as we walk ship after massive ship.
“As far as I’m aware it was here before we moved here, the hangar obviously…the ships are…”
“I suppose?” I take a deep breath “But mine is this way, come on.”
“You’re telling me that balloon can carry all this?” Hui asks looking at the ship.
“Yup, I call her the Royal Griffin.”
“Thanks.” I walk to the door, pull out the boarding steps look behind me for Dana to give me the key and…
“The key, I need the key.” I grunt “All right, wait here. I’ll be right back.”
“You want me to wait here in plain sight?” my friend asks nervously.
I try to assess how long it would take to move things but all I can think off is ‘no time!’ “Don’t worry, no one ever comes here. I’ll be back quickly I promise.”
“All right…” he set the bags down, then sit down on the steps. “Just be quick.”
I rush up the stairs and back into the house.
All right Elizabeth, think. If you were a key where would you be?
Well normally the key is with Dana, but she gets it from father right? I don’t think Dana keeps the key on her as she leaves after lessons.
So then father’s pocket?
Not weeks before my birthday.
Father’s bed chamber?
It’s worth a shot.
I take a sharp left and rush up a second staircase.
I wonder if I should knock? What if Maiwu or one of the servants is still in there?
But if someone’s in the next room I’d announce myself.
Better try to talk my way out of the first scenario than risk the second.
I shake my hands to get rid of the nerves then put my hand on the door handle and ever so slightly open the door.
Peeking inside I see no one and relieved I jump into the room and close the door behind me.
So…this is what father’s bed chamber looks like.
The Cygnian flag hanging above the bed is the hardest to miss. The framed military uniform hanging on the wall is the next thing that grabs my attention.
I guess I’ve always known somewhere that my father was in the army before I was born but the number of medals pinned upon the chest makes me wonder just what exactly he was doing back then.
Well…enough to get promoted to governor the moment the war was over.
I can’t quite put my finger on why but the room feels both foreign and shockingly hostile to me.
All I know is I don’t want to spend more time than I have to.
I rush to the nightstand and tear open the drawer finding loads and loads of documents with important-looking stamps and seals on them, but no key.
The drawer below does have something interesting in it, a wallet filled with silver sticks.
I covered all my bases. I got the ship, know two languages, and learned how to wield a gun.
But I didn’t even consider money.
Henri pays for everything I need, which he presumably gets from father.
Everything I bought behind father’s back I bartered for with jewels but you can’t buy food that way.
Can’t survive that way.
If I leave now without any funds I’d not only put myself at risk but the others as well.
I know this is not all he has…
It’d give him a good fright as well.
I’ll pay him back later.
It’s for a good cause.
I can sell some of my jewellery to cover the costs but having to cripple myself with having no money for the first stretch of the journey is just unwise.
I pocket the wallet.
I do a final check under the pillows, and in the wardrobe, I even check Maiwu’s side of the bed but there’s no key to be found there.
I’m starting to worry that there’s only one place the key can still be.
Knowing him he’s at work until dinner, but I don’t intend to be around at that time anymore.
I should have thought this through more.
I’m such an idiot.
But Hui is waiting for me in the hangar, I can’t give up now.
Guess I’ll just…have to confront him?
Get the key from him.
This is not going as smoothly as I hoped it would.
My feet halt in front of a large golden door.
It’s now or never.
I take a breath.
Knock on the door.
“One second.” I hear from the other side.
There’s the shuffling of papers and some mild thumping.
“All right, come in.”
I step in, hands behind my back and try my best to act natural. “Maiwu wants to talk to you, she’s requested you go to the parlour.”
Father pulls up a suspicious eyebrow “Why?”
“She didn’t tell. She just said to get you down there before it was ‘too late.’
His eyes pull together suspiciously, but he gets up tentatively. “Did she look angry? Sad?”
“Bit of both.”
“Dammit.” And with that, he rushes to the door.
I can’t guess what he’s thinking now but I follow suit until we’re in the hallway.
He rushes on, his feet rapidly tapping down the stairs.
I stand in the corridor alone, then I turn around again.
I don’t know where Maiwu is, or how long it would take them to get wise to my antics so I rush to the desk and start pulling out drawers.
The first one has stationary with official-looking seals, then there are bunches of letters with seals, names and family crests I’ve never seen before.
And then at the very bottom of all that a bundle of keys.
It jingles and clangs as I pull it out. I try to bunch the keys together to silence them
Then pull the ship key off the ring.
This feels too easy.
But I’m not complaining.
I rush out again.
I take a sharp turn, head to my bedroom, snatch the box of jewels.
Grab whatever else that’s light and valuable. Things we can sell along the way.
I remember the joy I felt receiving each and every one of these precious treasures but in hindsight, that happiness feels so distant, so insignificant.
Vain and pointless.
I dump it all into a bag and sling it around my shoulder.
All right, that should be all.
Time to head back before anyone sees me.
“Elizabeth what are you trying to pull?” my shoulders jump at my father’s voice.
I turn swiftly, “Father, hi…”
“Maiwu didn’t need me at all, I don’t know what’s gotten into you but it’s not funny.”
“I apologise father I must have misunderstood something.”
He grunts, and puts his hands on his temples “Yes, well, I’m going back to the office, just, leave me to work during the day all right?”
“What is it you do every day even?”
He’s as surprised as I am.
Did I really just say that!?
“What did you just say?”
I guess now is my chance? I take a deep breath “It’s not ridding the city from the grasp of the kashuya, I know that much. Seriously, you spend all this time in your office but things only seem to get worse for the populace you’ve been charged to care for.” A smile creeps onto my face.
This is daft, ridiculous, and absolutely out of line.
But it feels so good!
Father scoffs “You think I’ve been charged to take care of the kani? Look sweetie I know you’ve been having a bit of a rebellious phase with the funny dresses and talking jibberish at the servants-”
“It’s Jigani and you know that.”
“But the politics of this place are far more complicated than you know and-”
“Then you should have taught me! Bloody hell you tried my entire life to isolate and shelter me from the world and the shit you pulled just so I’d look up to you and respect you. You tried to keep me in the dark about why we’re here and what we’re doing to the people here and then fired the first person who had the balls to blow your secret.”
“Now I rehired Sehe.”
“You shouldn’t have fired him in the first place!”
“I don’t know who taught you, you can talk to your parent like that but you better watch your tongue little miss-”
The sound of the slap rang in my head far louder than it had any right to be.
My eyes fill with tears, more from shock than anything else.
It doesn’t hurt that much.
But judging from his face, father is just as shocked as I am.
“Elizabeth…?” he asks, his voice suddenly small and wavering. “I’m sorry I-”
“Go to hell.” I turn and run.
“Elizabeth!” he calls after me but doesn’t follow which is just as well because I don’t know what I’d do if he did.
Pull out my gun?
Surely not…I think?
I wipe the tears from my face and try my best to ‘look natural’ as I make my way back to the hangar.
Then I’m shocked to hear the kids’ voices in the hangar.
I rush down the stairs two steps at a time apprehensive of whatever I’d find.
“What are you kids going down here?” I ask trying to put on my strictest ‘big sister’ voice.
“We’re playing catch me if you can.”
“You can’t play down here.”
Uhm…that’s a good question “Your father doesn’t like it, now up, up, before he finds out.”
“You could also just not tell him.”
“We just wanna play.”
“Now come on this isn’t up for debate.”
They grumble and whine but eventually, they go back upstairs, probably to complain to father.
I’m sewing a lot of mayhem today.
Meaning I have to leave now.
I look around for my friend “Hui?”
“Oh thank heavens. I wasn’t sure, did you drag all the books behind the ship by yourself?”
He shrugs as if it’s not a big deal but all I can think of is how much easier and faster it would have been if we had done so together.
“We should have put them behind the ship to start with,” I grumble.
“Don’t worry about it, do you have the key?”
“Uh, yeah, right here.” I open say “Vey zoulier et trevou”
I chuckle “I said ‘be welcome and come in.”
Three hours have passed and things didn’t go according to plan.
All we needed to do was get packed, pick up the others and take off but…
Well, we tried picking up Himowa and Yobu and…
Yobu is dead, Himowa is captured.
Hui is wailing and ranting and I’m just standing here uselessly waiting for him to calm down so I can hug him.
When he seems mostly himself again I whisper his name.
He lunges at me, embraces me.
Startled, I hug back.
We sit there together for a long time.
All the while my mind is racing.
We have to retreat and make a plan.
We’re sitting ducks out here.
But he won’t let go and I don’t want him to, not until he’s ready.
Then Hui opens his mouth and says “I need to find Himowa.” His voice is low, almost threatening.
I shake my head “We need to sleep, gather our thoughts, make a plan. We’ll go back to the ship and-”
“No!” He pushes me away and jumps to his feet “If she’s with them she’s in danger, I have to get her now!”
“Hui you’re not thinking clearly. Hui!” I cry out after him but he rushes out the door before I have the chance to get up myself.
I jump out into the darkness of the street but he vanished.
Everything is a mess.
Way to go Elizabeth.
Maybe I just shouldn’t have bothered, shouldn’t have meddled with these people’s lives.
Or maybe I should have brought Himowa and Yobu to the locked city with me. It would have been hell to explain back home but, well…that didn’t go off without a hitch anyway.
Maybe the old man could have been alive still.
I look at his face, his mouth vaguely smiling but his eyes filled with worry.
I have to leave here.
If the kashuya come back I’m in trouble.
If my father sent people out to look at me I’m in more trouble.
But I don’t want to leave him here, not like this.
I can’t take him with me either.
Where to? The ship?
That would be very unwise and possibly traumatic.
Then I get an idea, it’s not a good idea and I don’t know if it’ll do much but at least it’s something.
I barricade the door to give me more time.
I look around for some incense, then find it in the backroom where two pictures are standing on a low wooden cupboard. I look at the people, I don’t know them but I bow to them. Burn a stick of incense for them and then thank them for letting me borrow the rest.
I go back to the front room. Wedge a stick between the cracks in the floorboards in the absence of a second burner and light it.
I sit down as if meditating, then close my eyes and think.
‘Hi? Uhm, I don’t really know how this works normally so apologies for the awkwardness but this man is very important to my friend and he deserves a really good spot in the afterlife. In fact, he deserves the best spot you have. However, I cannot bury him, I don’t know where and I don’t know how. I hope someone will. But if not, please don’t reject him. Because he’s a good man and I just wanted to vouch for him and if he can hear me, you are missed. And I’m so, so sorry.’
I swallow, trying to keep my tears from leaking out. Then get up, pull the chair from under the doorknob and go back to the only place I feel at home right now.
Unfortunately, the moment I get there I see a familiar face sitting on the steps.
The one time I don’t want to see her.
“Dana let me explain.”
“Okay.” She crosses her arms.
“Oh, uhm. So the kashuya-
The instant I mention the kashuya she holds up her hand “Hold that thought.” she tells me then points to the door ”Inside.”
“Right…” I open the ship to let her in.
We walk to the parlour together and sit down on the sofa.
“All right, go.”
“Hui is my friend and the kashuya is after him for no reason and so I offered to help him and his friends leave the country. But then things went wrong and now Hui is out there by himself, Yobu is dead and Himowa is captured and I don’t know what to do.”
“Do you want my advice?”
“I think you should come home.”
“Your father is sorry about what happened back there and-”
“Have you not been listening?
I don’t care that father’s sorry. My friends are both missing!”
“Well, maybe your father can help?”
I huff “He’s not going to expend resources on ‘kani trash’, he let the kashuya run rampant out here. He doesn’t care about the people.”
“But he cares about you.”
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?”
The sound of the door knocker throws me off my chair and down the hall.
I open the door to a very tired-looking Hui and I call out his name and hug him tightly “I’m so relieved you’re okay.”
“My yaye died and my girlfriend is missing, I’m a lot of things but not okay.”
“Of course, I apologize, please come on in.” I hold the door open while berating myself in my head.
“So he’s the guy that put you up to this?” Dana asks at the top of the stairwell.
Hui looks understandably surprised.
I sigh “Oh right, I forgot to mention, I’m in trouble.”
Okay so after that whole mess of explaining and getting on the same page. We’re sitting in the parlour bent over a stack of papers and wild ideas.
“So the plan is as follows.
Hui goes to his family home, finds out where they keep Himowa and then we go out there and bust her out with firepower and panache.”
“While keeping your own safety in mind.” Dana reminds me.
“I don’t want any heroic sacrifices or anything.”
“So where are you heading then?”
“After all this, after you saved the day, take the ship and go. What is the destination you got in mind?”
“I…I don’t know.” I admit while feeling rather foolish “Just, anywhere that’s away from here.”
“And you’re sure you want to do this?”
“Yes,” I tell her quelling the doubt that nags at the back of my head.
She inspects my face, then says “Very well, if you want to disappear the best place for doing so is Venusia. It’s an island, relatively small but tightly populated with a whole host of different cultures and customs. No one will be surprised to see a Cygnian and two Jigani walking the streets together over there.”
“Really? I mean thank you.” I’m honestly not sure what I’d do without her.
“That’s great now let’s go, there’s not a moment to lose.” Hui jumps up from his chair.
“No, we sleep.”
“What!?” Hui exclaims but Dana holds steadfast.
“You want to go bash on their door…” Dana pulls out a watch “Forty minutes to midnight?”
“What!?” I check my watch “How? It was only eight when we went to pick up the others”
“And a lot has happened since, so sleep now. Plan tomorrow.”
“What about father? Isn’t he looking for us?”
“If he finds us I’ll talk to him, but don’t forget you took the ship, I suspect his strategy is looking at the sky rather than the ground.”
“Good point. Then…yes. Hui, I got a room-”
“I don’t need a room.”
“Hui you have to sleep.”
“You think I can sleep like this?!” His eyes are fire, his breath is ragged.
And I get it.
The death, the worries, everything on his shoulders right now.
I walk up to him, hug him.
His shoulders are stiff, his face averted from mine.
Then he pushes me off, gently this time.
And walks out of the room.
I follow him, worried he may run off the ship but no.
He opens the door to a cabin and gets in.
I guess he’s going to bed then?
My shoulders shock as Dana puts her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t know…I think so. Yobu wasn’t my surrogate dad, Himowa isn’t my girlfriend so…”
“You feel you’re not allowed to be upset because Hui has it worse.”
She squeezes my shoulder softly, gently “You’re allowed to be upset.”
My lips start to tremble. “Ah. Well.” I sniff.
Dana turns me around with a swift motion and hugs me as the tears well up in my eyes.
I’m not even sure why I’m crying.
Is it Yobu, Himowa, father or Hui?
All of them combined maybe.
I just feel so overwhelmed.
Dana just stays with me for as long as I need.
I’ll never understand where she gets the patience from.
But I love her for it.
And for her kindness.
And her strength.
I love her so much.
It’s far past midnight by the time either of us talks again.
“How are you now?”
“You should get some rest then.”
Dana gets up “I can meet the two of you in the morning-”
“No, I mean, stay…please?” All this feels too big for me alone.
Having her around feels grounding.
Makes it feel real.
“All right then. Show me to my room.”