TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 3

Chapter 3

Tenets and edicts

Worrisome developments

Autumn ponderings

 

“Hayaoh’s wanderings took him to the great forest of demons in the east, where few dared tread. He was not afraid; all the warriors of the mortal world had offered him no challenge, so why should he fear demons?

“By then, his legend had spread even to the land of spirits. Ghost, phantom, specter, and wraith alike fled at the sight of him. The very trees gave way, shuddering as they drew in their roots to form a path for him to walk. Hours passed, and as the day turned swiftly into night, Hayaoh grew weary with thirst. Coming across a mighty river, he followed the river to its source, a placid lake in a basin of granite, encircled by ancient oaks. The great samurai came to a halt and knelt at the water’s edge, removing his helmet to drink…”

[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]

 

“I hate this.”

It was a phrase that Sister Camilla Quarta Viviana had already heard many times that day. The jillrabbit sighed as she adjusted the fabric. “I know, Milady. Just a moment, I’m almost finished. If you could raise your arms, please?”

Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus scowled at the arched marble ceiling of her dressing chamber as if daring it to argue. With great reluctance, she did as she was asked, holding her arms out to her sides.

“Thank you,” said Camilla as she fastened each of the straps of Nadeshiko’s ceremonial stola. When finished, she let the pristine white linen drop, and it draped itself around the floris in a pleasing fashion. Pleasing to other people, not to Nadeshiko herself.

“I do not know how my mother tolerates this,” said Nadeshiko, picking at the linen between thumb and forefinger. She ached to be out of the accursed garment as quickly as possible. “For someone of her stature, appearing in public without armor or weapons is horrendously unsafe… any lunatic could attempt to assassinate her.”

“That’s why your knights will be with you, Milady.”

“Fie on my knights.” A less mannered sentient would have spit in disgust for emphasis. “I, at least, do not need protection.”

Camilla bit back a chuckle. “I’m sure you don’t, Milady, but it’s a formality.”

Two weeks before, after her stolen soul was mysteriously returned, a great change came over Camilla. She woke with a start in the Silver Order’s infirmary, her blood like ice and her fur on end… but she was alive again, gloriously alive. It was a miracle, an honest miracle. After a few days of recovery with the assistance of the Order’s staff of Healers, she marched straight to Madam Acacia’s potion shop and turned in her resignation. No more running mindless errands for the ungrateful old nannygoat of a badger, Camilla had a higher purpose in mind.

Her family was outraged. A daughter of the house of Vivix joining the Silver Order? Preposterous. The Vivixes held fast to the rabbits’ faith in the immutable forces rather than in the Gods, a tradition that the family had followed for centuries. Her three senior siblings, even her beloved eldest sister Cora, gaped at her when she made the announcement. Her younger sister Cleo and the baby triplets actually cried from all the commotion. Camilla didn’t care. As she explained to them, over and over, with a display of the prodigious patience she built up serving under Madam Acacia, joining the Order did not necessitate a complete conversion to its beliefs. Contrary to what some of the other rabbit families claimed, it was entirely possible to serve the Goddess while still having faith in the great forces.

Whatever power was responsible for her resurrection from living death, be it fate, the forces, or one or more of the Gods, Camilla decided to repay his, her, its, or their kindness by working for the greater good of society. It was logic that any of their kind’s great thinkers would be proud of: she had a second chance at a better life, so she should use it in turn make a better life for others. Preserve Life, Protect the Weak, Feed the Hungry, and Shelter the Poor… those were the Order’s central tenets, and even the most ruthlessly anti-theist of rabbits could respect those ideals, she thought.

The last thing she expected was to be made the personal attendant of the Vice-Mistress herself. “We lost many in the Soulsnatcher’s attack,” her superior, Sister Rhodonite, explained when she told her in all honesty that as a new recruit, she was in no way suited for such a vaunted position. “Aedis Centralis will be critically short-handed for some months to come, and given our present state, we can’t afford to pick and choose. Lady Nadeshiko can be…” Here, Sister Rhodonite had paused, running her fingers through her greying hair. “… can be difficult, but based upon your work for Madam Acacia, I believe you’ll be up to the task.”

Difficult Nadeshiko was… as well as blunt, stubborn, abrasive, and intolerant of what she called the “useless social preening and posturing” that came with Mistressship of the Order. Still, Camilla thought, she would take working for Lady Nadeshiko over Madam Willow any day. Lady Nadeshiko, at least, was upfront about her many dislikes… she never realized just how much she detested Madam Willow’s carefully crafted veneer of tolerance and understanding, the veil that hid her infuriating sense of smug self-righteousness, until she joined the Order. At least when Lady Nadeshiko hated someone or something, she let it be known in no uncertain terms. It was refreshing.

“Are you almost finished?” Now Nadeshiko began to fidget in place.

“Almost.” Camilla wrapped the silver-embroidered palla around the floris and stepped back. “There, your clothes are done, Milady. All that’s left is your hair.”

Her featured scrunched together as if she were sucking on a lemon. “Please, spare me that much. I am performing Mother’s duties while she is ill, surely I can make a proclamation abolishing the need to—”

“Sorry, Milady. Until you take over officially, Lady Lily makes the rules… I’d be fired or worse if I went against her wishes.” Camilla drew in a breath, took hold of Nadeshiko’s distinctive platinum-blonde braid from which not a single hair escaped, and gently untied the string holding it in place. Once unbound, her hair unwound itself to hang in waves around her shoulders. “I hate this,” said Nadeshiko again. Her eyes smoldered with purest loathing, twin green fires burning in the black fur of her face.

“At least it’s only until Lady Lily recovers. Now, your first meeting is with… Just a moment.” Camilla unwound a scroll tucked in her belt and checked the day’s itinerary. She cringed. “… Lord Asano, Regent of Tachi-cho District 15, regarding unfair property taxation. Again.”

A growl rumbled up from deep in Nadeshiko’s being. “If he mentions his square acreage even once, I swear to Greatmother Rose, I will spray him.”

Most skunks wouldn’t even imply a reference to that particular defense mechanism, let alone state it outright… but Nadeshiko wasn’t most skunks, which was part of why Camilla enjoyed her company so much. “I’m not sure even Lord Asano deserves that…” Camilla laid her hands on her lady’s shoulders and steered her for the door. “Come on, Milady. The sooner we arrive, the sooner it will be over. As I said, at least it’s only until Lady Lily recovers…”

 


 

If one lived in Tasakeru long enough, it was easy to identify visitors by the knocks on one’s door. Rowan Longstripe knew them all well: Zero’s was five rapid knocks in a row, a pause, then two more, the same as he did whenever he visited Naole at her home in Unify. On the rare occasions when Drake visited, the old wolf pounded just four times, then waited for a response. Faun never knocked at all, of course; she would barge straight in and make for her favorite one of Rowan’s beloved overstuffed armchairs. Hanami, by contrast, would only tap at the door with her knuckles, never more than three times. Such a gentle soul.

It was the latter sound that roused Rowan from a pleasant mid-morning nap, so when he threw the heavy walnut door aside, it was with a smile that stretched wide across his striped face. “Lady Hanami, welcome!” he said, bowing low. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

When he rose, the badger felt a twinge of concern. In the months she had lived in Tasakeru, he had never known Hanami to be anything less than meticulous in her personal grooming. One could only do so much in the middle of the forest, of course, but she always made an effort. Today was different: her sun-gold hair was a mess by her standards, with at least a dozen flyaway strands loose from the tie of the white ribbon at her shoulders. Her favorite white tunic bore a frankly alarming number of creases and wrinkles; had she been sleeping in it? Even overlooking her hair and clothes, he could not help but notice her eyes… Rowan knew the signs of exhaustion: pronounced veins in the sclera, redness, and swelling around the lids, all of which he saw, but a half-blind sentient would be hard pressed to ignore the deadening weariness that swam just below the surface of those stunning, robin’s-egg-blue eyes…

Hanami being Hanami, she smiled at him, cheerful as ever. “Good morning, Rowan. I’m sorry to come by without scrolling, but I wondered if you had a copy of Suizei’s Koumon no Ame in your library?”

“The Edicts of the Heavens?” Rowan blinked and searched his mental catalogue. “I believe I do, but… I did not know you were religious, Milady.”

Hanami laughed. Not her usual laugh, this one was heavy with strain and had little mirth to it. “I’m not, really. Not anymore. My parents and I used to read them when I was a kit… I thought I might again, for old time’s sake.”

Stranger and stranger. Rowan knew that Hanami’s past was not something she wished to discuss with anyone in detail. To his knowledge, this was the first time she had ever mentioned her family to another living soul. Unable to suppress his rising alarm, he took a knee and stared right into Hanami’s bloodshot eyes. “Lady Hanami, are you quite well? You seem… disturbed.”

The doe squirmed under his gaze. “I… I haven’t been sleeping.”

“That much is obvious. If you cannot sleep, I know of a few herbal remedies. You could easily concoct the ingredients with your Mage Flower—”

She all but flinched. “No! No, I’ll be fine. It’s just… ever since Stalker…”

“Ah.” Shadows darkened Rowan’s face. “Of course, Milady. He broke into your home with evil intent… I doubt I would sleep well myself if he had darkened my doorstep. Even so, insomnia is a serious problem. If you do not wish to treat it herbally…”

“I’ll be fine in a few days, honestly. Do you have the book?” she said. Despite her tiredness, her eyes shone with something like hope.

“Of course,” said Rowan. With one arm, he indicated the proper shelf. “Right this way, if you please.”

“Th-thank you.” Hanami bowed and bustled right past his outstretched arm without pause.

Rowan noted the frantic twitching of her curled-over bush of a tail as she combed the shelf, how it could not seem to stay in one place for more than a second or two. There was a sound, her customary squeak, when she found the right volume and snatched it from its place. Her eyes darted back and forth as she flipped rapidly through the opening pages, scanning each one with the confident speed of one who has seen the same text many, many times before. One particular passage gave her pause, the pad on her index finger tracing the faded ink… and a change came over her, a calmness that descended upon her like a cloud bank. Now she looked more like the Hanami that Rowan knew, smiling genuinely as she mouthed the passage to herself. “Thank you so much, Rowan,” she said, with relief that could not be anything but genuine. “You don’t know how much I needed this. May I borrow it from you for a while?”

Only then did Rowan allow himself to relax, just a little. “Of course. You are welcome to keep it for as long as you like.”

“I won’t need it for long. Thank you.” Again she bowed to him. “Please pardon me for rushing, I have to go to Faun’s… I just wanted to pick this up first. I’ll drop it off at Haven Grove before I go to her den. Sorry for interrupting—”

And now she sounded like Hanami, as well. Always apologizing. Rowan gave her a comforting grin. “Think nothing of it. You know you are always welcome here.”

Was that a flash of pain across her face, or a trick of the light? Rowan wasn’t sure. “Thank you,” she said once more. She made for the door… then stopped, doubled back, and wrapped her arms around the badger’s huge waist as best she was able.

Rowan’s concern returned with a vengeance. “Lady Hanami…?”

“Thank you for everything,” she repeated. Before he had a chance to reply, she was out the door.

Rowan stared after her for a long time. He thought… he did not know precisely what he thought. For a while, he entertained the thought of going after her, perhaps ensuring that she got the rest she so clearly needed… but if Hanami did not want his help, it would be wrong to force it on her.

Still.

His thoughts jumbled and confused, Rowan wandered back into the stacks of books, tracing a finger over their dusty spines until it stopped on a medical journal. Perhaps by studying the effects of sleep deprivation, he could be better equipped to offer assistance. Until then… he found himself hoping that Faun would be of more help to their friend than he was.

The badger sighed and ran a hand through his charcoal hair. He pulled the journal from its shelf, blew off the dust, and settled into the nearest armchair to read.

For the next few hours, he found it unusually difficult to concentrate.

 

END OF CHAPTER 3

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 2 | Tasakeru
  2. Trackback: BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 32 – Pushed Back | Tasakeru
  3. Trackback: TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 4 | Tasakeru

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