Chapter 17: The afterlife, of you and me
I hear the voice of the wind calling me, turning me around abruptly.
In the middle of the flower garden where flowers in myriad of colors bloom profusely, I saw a big, white sunshade. Surrounding the round table underneath it, everyone was there.
I lift the fabric of my skirt that seems so long that it will entangle with my legs. I wonder why. I wear this kind of dress all the time, but somehow I find it a little annoying now. Tilting my neck, I arrive at the place where my family is.
“– –, you must be hungry, aren’t you?”
“– –, look, it’s your favorite pastry from the capital city.”
“– –, oh, you, come and sit here.”
“– –, it’s cold over there, right? Sit under this sunshade. It’s warm over here.”
Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, and Father are all smiling.
There are five chairs around the round, white table. One of them is pulled out, slanting diagonally.
This is my chair.
On the table, there are beautiful sweets lining up, made from the diligent effort of the capital’s chef. The pastries aren’t even the slightest less pretty than the flowers in the garden. Everyone is eating until their cheeks are full.
As I see them from the side, the sweets which are crumbling down again and again to the flower garden, look delicious.
On good weather days, almost everyday, I had tea with everyone just like this.
But today feels slightly different than usual.
Grandfather, shaking a small, transparent bottle of alcohol, looking through the glass against the light.
Grandmother, while humming a song, making dark blue embroidery using many kinds of purple threads.
Father, who usually puts his cigar out as soon as he started smoking it, now chewing the cigar in his mouth without lighting it up.
Mother, who, doesn’t wear her usual shiny hair accessories, looking at the mirror with such a happy face, styling her hair by hand repeatedly.
Those are undoubtedly the usual scene, but my chest feels so suffocated that it hurts. Painful, so painful, the water starts overflowing.
“– –, what’s wrong?”
“– –, where does it hurt?”
“– –, you have it bad, hurry and sit down.”
“– –, where does it hurt? Come, let your mother take a look at it.”
I turn around to look at everyone whose expression quickly changed into sadness.
When I heard a voice different to that someone, my lips moved.
If I have to give a name to this thing inside my chest, it would be feeling so full of devastation that you can’t breathe. Now matter how many times I inhale, inhale to fill that emptiness right there, it’s already fully packed that the air is forced back out.
This is the usual scene.
The usual, the mundane.
A gentle illusion.
The words I want to let out are hindered by the water overflowing from my eyes.
Grandfather. Grandmother. Father. Mother.
I want to ask all of you about a lot of things.
For my family who is looking at me with worried expression, I form the words soundlessly.
Why did all of you raise and teach the just to me?
Oppressing people, trampling their dignity, neglecting their lives, taking only for your selfishness. Why did all of you, who did all of those things, tell me that those were wrong? Why did you teach me that those things that you did were neither natural nor forgivable, that they were certainly evil and not just?
I was the only daughter, thus if I married Wil at that time, I would enter his household, never getting out of there. And then, until the day I die, until Laius perishes, I would live in that miniature garden. I would only take what I see, I would only ask for those you show to me. That way, I certainly would have lived without even knowing that my family was evil.
That’s why, I became warped without realizing it.
Grandfather. Grandmother. Father. Mother.
The reason why you never let me out, was it because you didn’t want me to know that you were evil? Did you regret teaching me that the evils were evil?
Treat people kindly and gently. Do not ever use offensive words. Do not ever hate people. Do not ever beat someone. Do not do the things I wouldn’t like to receive, to someone else. Even if I have no interest myself in something, there are others who will think of it as something precious, so I must never look down on them with contempt. Do not ever take away someone else’s treasured possession. Do not ever do shady things. Let’s believe in someone who doesn’t have a shrewd mind. Do not ever doubt someone or suspect about their ill will, and let’s always put on a smile. Let’s experience things firsthand, instead of just listening to someone else’s experiences. Let’s think positively. Let’s have fun with everyone. Let’s believe in people’s kindness.
You taught me all of those. Everyone has their set of values, so I must not deny them. Let’s treat people kindly. Let’s be kind. Let’s be a good and kind child. So that people will like me, I have to be a good child.
Yes, you always said those things.
I finally understand now, that warped thing.
Your mouth with which you taught me those things, that palm you used to rub my head, those feet you ran and rushed over with when I fell down. What you actually did with them.
And still, why didn’t you think that you were just? Why didn’t you ever say that oppressing people was allowed for those in our positions?
If only you did, if only I was raised that way, I would just be a soul who knew nothing but grudge. I wouldn’t believe in kindness; I would resent, curse, envy those smiles, the warmth of those people; those things wouldn’t be precious to me.
What exactly was I to all of you?
Were you unable to change? Even by looking at me, were you unable to?
My vision was blurry, I couldn’t see my family. The water flooding from my chest, keeps spilling over from my eyes.
Can I believe that, the moment you preached those virtues to me, it wasn’t like you feel nothing? Can I think that, all of you were human beings, even just in those times? The kindness you showed to me, why, to the others, why, at least, the reason you stopped being inhuman, why couldn’t you do that, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
If there was anything I could have done.
I, at least, surely, could have done something. I could have wondered, then I could have noticed, I could have warned you against it. If only.
If I could, would all of you still exist in this world?
Or, was there nothing I could do to change the outcome?
I don’t know. Now, no one knows.
My family, sleeping under the earth, without any concern to my sins.
His hands had set me free, in the land of Laius where flowers bloom once again.
Worrying faces, gentle voices.
My family calls my name.
Ever since that time, you were the only ones who called me by that name. I did wonder why no one ever called me by name, but if someone did, they surely would not be forgiven. All of you wouldn’t forgive it. You wouldn’t forgive anyone besides our family to be around me. I only realized now that it wasn’t only because I was going to marry Wilfred that I was raised alone as the only daughter.
You were the only ones who called me by my name. All of you were gone now.
That’s why, just take me away like that. Just kill me, like that.
I really loved how pretty, how beautiful the spell and sound of that name.
That’s why, somehow, please don’t let me come to life again, take me away.
The water is flooding until it is deep in my ears.
I don’t know since when, the flower petals have scattered, my chair has disappeared. My family is the only one here, showing your concern. Your gentle hand, gentle voice, gentle words, gentle look. I really loved them.
In the place of the disappeared flower garden, a flower bloomed in solitude. A single flower.
The flower that sways in the water, as if bathed under the sunlight, singing a song to the wind, blooms happily.
Yet, no matter how, I can’t see the color. The bloom opens, I can even count the number of valves in it, but the color is the only thing I can’t grasp.
Thank you for giving birth to me.
Thank you for raising me.
As a grandfather, as a grandmother, as a father, as a mother, thank you for being by my side.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give anything in return. I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t become anything, for anything, something that could have stopped your ruin, I’m really, really sorry.
I’m sorry, I don’t have the capability to hate. I love him. I’m sorry.
Even though I’ve been wishing to come to your side that much in these fifteen years, even though I still cannot see the meaning of this life that much.
I want to live, I want to try to live, I’m, going to live.
I want to know about a lot of things.
I’ve never gone out, from the mansion, at that time, and now, from Kayna, but still, this time, I want to see a lot of things, hear a lot of things, this time I want to think about a lot of things by myself.
“………I wish, you could forgive me.”
Somehow, I wish you could forgive this selfish wish of mine, to live with him.
The breath I inhaled is blocked by the water filling my chest, unable to reach the lungs. My attention is drawn into the intense pain passing through my chest, my stomach vomits the water out with the same force. I flip my body to the side in reflex, violently coughing out water or air, I don’t know which one anymore.
The arms which supports almost my entirely crouching, coughing body are making me tilt downwards so that I can breathe easier. After breathing out for a while, the burning pain in my throat and chest finally appears, I realize that I’ve been coughing out towards Kaid, who has been holding me.
“That kind of thing is not important, so please let it all out!”
“I’ve coughed… everything.”
After vomiting everything, as my coughs turn dry with nothing but air, I feel the burning pain in my repeatedly abused throat. Inside my nose, below my ears, inside my head, they’re all painful as if water runs through them.
The dull throb in my head tells me that there’s a burning feeling in my body. Even breathing hurts.
Kaid, who supports by back even when I don’t know if I’m coughing or breathing, finally lessens his strength after ensuring that I won’t pass out.
His arms show relief to me, so I start calming down as well. When I look around, I realize that we’re in a cavern area. It’s a half-circle nook in a rock cliff. I try to go back to the previous place, but I can’t draw strength from my legs due to the water, which entered me. Meanwhile, drift wood and grasses are washed over here, again and again. Beyond that, in the scenery of a gaping wide half-circle nook, no light or muddy water is passing through.
Usually, shouldn’t this kind of place dry? I stare absentmindedly to the surprisingly growing moss at the surface of the ground. More than constantly dry, though, it’s more like the water usually won’t reach that spot.
“In Kolkia. It’s a place called fortune pocket. There are many things that fall into the stream to get washed up here. There’s an old friend of mine among those who lead the search, they will definitely look up at this place before anywhere else.”
No matter how hard I look around, I can’t find that small figure of his. Kaid silently shakes his head.
“This place is as small as a pocket, but…”
Kaid hides his eyes slightly.
“Did he refuse to be saved….? ………That idiot.”
“……….This stream, where does it lead to?”
“…………whether I save him or not, with that kind of willpower, he’ll come crawling back from the continent soon enough.”
Throwing a complicated look, Kaid scratched his sore nape.
Going so far as being Joblin’s accomplice, Wilfred was obsessed about Laius. If Joblin was honest, he was being pursued by Joblin’s daughter. In Darich, he could probably live like how he used to, but for him, it wasn’t good if it wasn’t Laius.
We led Laius to its ruin. But even so, this place is still our birthplace. Although we were punished by Laius’ citizen, repelled away from Laius…….. no, it’s because we were repelled from Laius, that we can’t go back to anywhere but here.
If he continues now, if there’s a next time for him, he will still aim for this place. Even if he is born in Laius, living as Laius’ citizen, he will still aim for Laius. Even though he has no other, no other place he can go back to, he will live to aim for Laius, and Laius only.
I feel nothing towards him. No mourning nor sorrow, no anger nor compassion. He fits neither of them. I couldn’t decide which kind of emotion should I feel towards him yet.
When my eyes are fixed upon a particularly violent splash of waves, I slowly get up. My eyes noticed the golden color.
My hands are wet. I coughed out all of the water with my strength just now, there’s mud all over me, I feel cold as the temperature goes down.
That’s why, it’s hopeless.
I know that, but my hands can’t stop.
Without any strength, I grit my teeth and desperately lifts my palm, and Kaid doesn’t move to avoid it. My palm arrives at his mud-smeared cheek. The cheek whose temperature feels burning to my freezing palm, I wonder if it feels hot because I’m cold?
His body warmth travels to my palm, my tears are welling up.
“Yes, I’m alive.”
“Yes, it’s me. Isidore was so annoying, telling me to relinquish the name of Wolf Lord, that I must be called Elephant Lord since I won against a bear-killer, but for the time being, I’m alive.”
“I, heard the news of your death.”
The town was covered in black, the lamentation overturned the sky.
Even now, I still couldn’t believe it, but a large hand took the hand I used to touch him. With that hand grasping mine, it slowly takes my hand down.
“It’s true that I died once. They confirmed my death, but………… it was Carolina.”
He clutches his chest, as if recalling something.
“It’s way too soon, if you die like this, my kind lady will probably mind it and won’t be angry, so the lady who has just properly gotten her rest will curse and get mad and no longer at peace, so just try to die now. While crying, she said those things and hit my chest so hard that I was resuscitated. Even though my breath had returned, she didn’t realize it and gave me a harder blow for the second time……. Next time, I’ll leave this resuscitation business to the doctor.”
“……………..The good thing about Caron, is……. her full strength.”
If I have to give it a name, “fierce” would be right, but why do I think that that one word still can’t sum up it all?
Those golden eyes opens wide and gazes down at me, who doesn’t know which kind of face can I show him.
“……My lady, please drink an antidote later.”
“Your heart stopped once.”
“Ah…… No wonder I saw my family again. But…… did I get revived by poison?”
I’ve never heard about that kind of resuscitation, but there are many things in this world that I don’t know yet. Rather, it’s not too much to say that I am composed of the things that I don’t know about.
Kaid awkwardly turns his face.
“…………I judged that waiting for rescue would be too late, so I did the resuscitation. Because there’s a chance that the poison hasn’t completely disappeared from me, please make sure to drink the antidote just in case.”
When the realization dawned on me, I stirred meaninglessly. I feel my cheeks are heating up. It’ll be bad if I blush, so I covered them with both hands. My cheeks are wet. Of course. I was drowning until just now, of course they’re wet.
No matter how long I wait, it doesn’t seem that my face will be dry, so I remove my hands from my face and grasp tightly my chest, which has been throbbing with pain for a while now. I happen to know multiple causes for that pain, but somehow, I begin to think that they’re not the whole reason.
“Kaid, my chest hurts.”
“Forgive me. I did it with the appropriate amount of power, for a while, but there was no response, so I increased the power. There’s a possibility that it was strong enough to create fissures in your rib bones…… The fissure would be my fault, but you’re also too thin, your bones are too weak from malnutrition. Please eat properly.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I’m not saying that you have to eat a lot at once, but please increase the amount of food you eat, little by little. And meat. If you’re not good with meat, then fish is good too.”
“The head chef, he thinks that a young woman will eat if the food is pretty, so he started to carve kittens from carrots, and created goblins instead. If possible, please eat them as they are. His flavor is first class, but his plating sense is nonexistent. He’s a genius, one who regularly challenges himself in food carving which can stun the customers, so please take it into consideration.”
I can only nod at Kaid who suddenly starts to talk in length. I’m not surprised or bewildered. I really can’t do anything besides nodding.
“Ah, that’s right. I want to raise a request to change the name of Liberation Festival. From now on, I want it to call it the Resurrection Festival. I just think that Wolf Liberation Festival is too much, but that’s just me. My lady, is there any kind of name that you wish for?”
I planned to simply nod and say yes.
But when I think that it’s probably not a suitable response, I already can’t speak.
“…..Please don’t cry.”
I should have coughed out all the water, yet I can’t stop this from overflowing. It doesn’t run out no matter how much I spill it, it feels even more natural in this world than breathing.
I’m confining myself in Kaid’s arms which has been touching me, filling me with unwavering strength. Like that, once the warmth of the embrace that holds me tight so that I won’t be wounded spreads to me, it’s already hopeless.
That’s right, I’m crying. I can’t figure out when it started, but I can no longer stop even if I want to.
“I-I thought you were dead.”
“Please forgive me. I don’t have time to wash a lot of things away, so the first news wasn’t corrected. I made my move only with my closest aides. It’s my bad to decide from my inexperience……….. My lady, my lady, my lady!”
I desperately lift my arm, clinging to him. It’s warm. He’s alive. This warmth, the heartbeat I can tell from touching him, they show me the signs of life, and I can’t stop my tears all the more.
I’m gripping his wet clothes and holding him tight by ignoring the pain in my body, but Kaid softly removes himself.
“……My lady, I…… I know that don’t have the qualification to argue with you, nor do I have the rights to pursue you. But, but, my lady…… Can I treat this as the afterlife? Can I have my life now as my next? Will you forgive me if I start it here? Right now, the promise you bestowed to me, can I hang onto it? Kh…”
His posture now, isn’t even that of a knight nor a retainer.
With his dripping wet, worn out body, he’s down on both knees, both of his large hands are trembling, grasping my weak hand…… my fingertips, barely. He’s grasping just a tiny part of my body, a part as large as barely covering one toe, gluing his forehead, his neck drooping low, looming in silence.
“……I love you. I’m in love with you.”
Right now, which light is carried by that golden color?
“I, love you.”
No matter what, I want to see it.
Both of his hands, which have been grasping mine, are slowly remo… …staying there, actually. I wonder if I’m too weak to put the strength to my hand, but no matter how hard I try, it doesn’t move an inch, as if our joints are melding together. It’s not as if I’m that weak, but it seems that I can’t put enough strength to shrug them off, no matter what I do. I’m amazed, it seems that my ribs are really broken.
I give up from trying to retrieve my palm, then sigh.
Startled, his large figure is shaking. With the other hand that he’s not holding, somehow I’m already touching his freezing cheek that he jumps in startle.
“I already planned to seduce you.”
Then the time passes for a full five seconds.
The body that completely stopped moving finally stirs to move again. So that I can reach the completely still figure for a long time, I’m smiling at the head that slowly lifts up.
Disturbed or disturbing, Kaid is finally opening up, I can see the base of his neck and his collarbone. I look at the blue flower swaying on his chest, which naturally makes me smile so wide that I even surprise myself.
“I could see your face at last. Fufu…… You’ve become even more like Helt now, Kaid.”
His expression has become more masculine, the childish roundness is all gone, and his countenance is more haggard now. And yet, it looks like Helt is here. That foolishly mouth gaping look on his face looks impossibly adorable, and to think like that, I’m certainly already hopeless.
Without warning him about his loose spontaneous expression, I touch the swaying flower on his chest.
“My words to Jasmine were really cruel, but…… she delivered it to you.”
“…… Had you said you were throwing it away, she wouldn’t be able to pick it up. Yet, you said that you were going to leave it. That you were leaving it here. That’s why, she said, she picked it up and delivered it to me…… The flower’s meaning makes me unwilling to return it to you, but this is the connection between you and Jasmine, so I’m returning it.”
I’m astonished when he reluctantly removes the new chain. He has fixed it for me.
“Kaid, did you know about flower language?”
“……In the past, my lady asked me to attach the blooming flower in the garden to something…… so I studied it. Although, afterwards, I had no interest further than studying about whether it was poisonous or not, whether it would bear fruit later on or not, and if it would taste bad.”
“I-it’s not like I meant the meaning of all flowers.”
“I knew that, but a man is someone who will cling to what he receives from his first love, pondering if the flower has any meaning to it or not.”
I thought that a woman was not that different, but I’m cornered all of a sudden.
Kaid looks up at my startled face with strange expression.
“That’s right, though?”
“……I didn’t know that.”
“I see. Even I, too, didn’t know that my lady was thinking to seduce me. …………Am I allowed? Right now, truly, treating this as my afterlife.”
It’s agonizing, each of his words, spoken cautiously. It’s so full of longing, so much that it hurts.
“Even if it’s not the afterlife, it’s alright, it’s fine now. I’m sorry, I’m fine with it, it’s alright, Kaid.”
I draw his face with both hands as his golden eyes widely open.
“I love you.”
I yearn for you.
You are my precious.
“I want to live, with you.”
I lost my home, parting with my family, losing sight of myself.
Even so, this love is the only thing I won’t let disappear.
“I want to know about a lot of things. About other towns, other villages, about the town where you can gather that delicious tea. This time, I’m going to see a lot of things, know a lot of things, I want to live. I want to know about everyone…… and about you, too.”
A drop of tear stains his cheek. The tear that falls from his wide-opened golden eyes traces over his cheek, then drops from his jaw. And then, following the same path, my tears also overflow, bouncing off the ground.
I open my mouth, thinking to say something, but I close the trembling lips again.
It’s the first time I ever see a grown-up man crying. Moreover, this is the first time I see someone with overflowing tears without even noticing it.
“Don’t cry, Kaid.”
“……You’re crying too, my lady.”
“That’s true, we’re a match.”
Bumping our foreheads, we chuckle together.
“……My lady, I will, become 30 soon, do you mind it?”
“An older man is good.”
“……Does that mean a younger man isn’t good?”
“……You, have quite the troublesome personality, don’t you?”
I burst in laughter at Kaid’s childish pout. Since I think of this soon-to-be 30 years old man as someone irresistibly cute, love is truly a troublesome thing. And, as I expected, it’s a wonderful thing.
Kaid, whose face grows constrained from being laughed at, is so charming, so lovely, that I want to do something that I couldn’t do in the past due to embarrassment.
His face that overlooks me is already wonderfully close, looking confused, so I’m moving to take his lips.
“Y-you can’t, my lady. There’s poison,”
“What are you saying now, when you’ve already given me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?”
“……That’s, well, true, but…………. You said it while blushing,”
“That’s because you stopped me…… and aren’t you blushing too? Aren’t you, like, what, thirty?”
“Almost, but not yet…… Please, stop. A man’s complicated first love isn’t something to be teased.”
“But I’m a woman who also experienced a complicated first love, so we’re a match.”
Kaid casts his eyes downward, one hand on my lips and his other hand covering his own face. From the gaps of his fingers, I can see him making a—is it a moan or groan—no, I can’t even tell if it’s a voice or sound in the first place.
“……So that’s it, that’s the way.”
After sighing so deep that it seems his lungs become empty from it, Kaid lifts his head up.
“I’m going to say this because you don’t seem to have any self-awareness, but under the basis of a sheltered girl’s purity, innocence, and immaturity, along with an aristocratic magnanimity, natural disposition of sincerity, and gentleness being generously displayed, radiating them to your servants without any discrimination, the servants felt complicated. I was unable to say this, but for the sake of making the end as the end, the servants who was intimate with you, my lady, were all feeling complicated. Just please, know that none of this was any of their faults only.”
I don’t understand the point of what Kaid wants to say, but for the time being, I do understand when he called me a sheltered girl. For now, I think it’s better to wait until he says everything he wants to say to the end. Obediently waiting him to continue, Kaid wraps my cheeks with both of his hands. He’s doing the same thing I did to him just now.
“It was always on my mind, but, if strength was added to those, you would have become an unbelievable witch. Looking at you now, your family was doing the right thing to shelter you.”
“What do you mean……? Is it about me being called as the Witch of Laius? Not as Fruitless-Bearing Flower?”
“Please stop radiating to that scale. Please, show them only to me.”
“……Just to Kaid………… Did you just tell me to become the Wolf’s Witch? To be the demon?”
I wonder if it was because how presumptuous of me to be compared to a flower. As much as I don’t think that I was being so hated to the extent of condemning me a new nickname posthumously, I meant to understand Kaid’s feelings, but as I thought, I don’t get what he’s trying to say, at all.
I told him the gist of it, and Kaid groans again.
“……I’m saying that even if you live in the street, my lady is indeed my lady.”
“………..And that means?”
That golden color is getting closer.
“That means, I wonder if I’ll be feeling complicated throughout my whole life.”
The contact only lasted for a split second, but to be able to make me feel this euphoric, love is really troublesome.
And even that troublesome-ness is precious. Even more than that, he’s precious. This feeling that’s neither yearning or love, emptiness or misery, sorrow or joy gushes forth from my chest, and yet it’s also all of them mixed together. It becomes tears that fall from our eyes, that we see in each other, that neither of us notices in ourselves.
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