The strange lights finally stopped spinning behind Suzume’s eyes. It was something that came and went, just like the weakness and long periods of sleeping. The girl gave a soft yawn and stretched her arms above her head, curling her wings about her in the comfort of her bed.
Maybe today I’ll feel better. Maybe things will start to improve.
No one could figure out the cause of the girl’s sudden illness. Suzume would never breathe a word of the dream-state visit that Zeni had granted her, when, despite the Arweinydd’s warning, she had reached a little too close to Lucci. Something happened during that encounter that left her body weak and ill. Now the only hope she held was that Lucci would return to her.
I know he didn’t mean to hurt me. Maybe, if I see him again, he can help me.
She knew that Lucci left the Inner Realms, though Lady AsaHi didn’t say why. Suzume wanted to believe that maybe he was coming to find her. That he would come to take her away from the Dragon Realms. That she could see her friend again, and they could be together, just like it used to be. So, the message that told her that Lucci was travelling left her torn between fear for Lucci’s safety and hope that one day, she might see him coming through her doorway.
Not that she could get too far on her own. Suzume rarely left her room, and only then with support of an adult or a Dragon that was kindly enough to take her outside for a little while.
I hate being stuck here. I hate being sick. I want to know what is happening. I want to know that Lucci is okay!
All she relied on was the sporadic letters that came, written in Lady AsaHi’s gentle handwriting. The words were cushioned with hope, support and always a kindly voice. Suzume appreciated that someone took the time to remember her and to bring her news. But the letters never fully answered her burning questions, and often left her with more flights of fancy than before.
It was a long time since she’d heard from Zeni, as well. That was how the Arweinydd were. Sometimes she was there for a long period of time, and sometimes she would vanish for a while. Suzume knew that Zeni was very busy, travelling back and forth between Wyndor and Ceiswyr. Still, she looked forward to the visits.
“Good morning, Suzume.”
A voice greeted her through her sleepy haze. It wasn’t the voice of Zeni. Or of Lucci. Instead, the winged girl looked up into the cheerful, welcoming face of Aunt SaRa.
“Good morning,” she replied quickly. It was always nice to see the motherly woman. Something about her reminded Suzume of home. On the Islands. When she had been strong, healthy and happier.
“I brought you some broth. Do you think you can eat some?” the winged woman smiled gently, holding up a small tray.
Suzume nodded. Some days she wasn’t hungry, but some days she was. This happened to be one of them. Quickly, she took the tray and bowl into her lap and with some help from Aunt SaRa, managed to spoon broth into her mouth.
As the girl ate, the winged woman began to tidy the room, only pausing when she reached the side table. Laying there were a number of letters that Suzume received over the course of the time at Wyndor. The girl never liked to put them far away. Reading and re-reading them kept her hopes up.
“You have a lot of letters, I see,” Aunt SaRa commented with arched eyebrows.
“They’re from Lucci. Or Lady AsaHi,” the girl replied, pausing in mid-soupslurp.
“That’s nice. Has Lucci been writing to you then?”
“Yes, he did. Before he got sick. And before he left the Islands,” Suzume answered, lowering the spoon. Her face must have looked troubled because the winged woman reached over and gave her shoulder a quiet squeeze.
“You and Lucci are really good friends, aren’t you?”
Suzume nodded, repeating something she had heard grownups say before, “We’re Promised!”
“Promised?” Aunt SaRa laughed lightly. “Are friendships so serious in young ones now days that they are Promised so soon?”
The winged girl blinked up with a puzzled expression at Aunt Sara’s reaction. Of course, she heard the term “Promised” before, but she didn’t completely understand what it meant. She only knew it was something special between a girl and a boy who were best friends, like Lady AsaHi and Master SoYa.
Then something occurred to her. “Aunt SaRa?”
“Hmmm?” the winged woman was back to straightening up the room. Not that it needed a lot of straightening.
“Has anyone ever Promised you?”
Aunt SaRa paused, in a funny way that made Suzume all the more curious. Sunlight shifted through the windows, falling around the woman’s winged form and tracing the motion of the curtains as they moved. After a long moment, she shook her head very slowly. “No. I’ve never been Promised.”
“Oh,” the girl furrowed her brow. Then she asked, “Did you want to be?”
The response to that was a soft laugh. But it was a forced sort of laugh. The kind that grownups used when thinking of something sad and not wanting to let it show, “Child… child… Suzume-child. Promising is for those who are in love. Deep love. For a very long time. It’s a Promise that says that one day, two people will be Bonded together in that love, until the end of days.”
Suzume’s mouth grew round with awe, pondering the vastness of the idea.
Together until the end of days? That would mean that Lucci would never go away again?
Aunt SaRa shook out the sheets, content in the answer that she gave the girl. Or just reluctant to offer anything more.
That means I have to fall in love with Lucci? And he has to fall in love with me. I wonder how I could make him do that.
The thought prompted her next question, “Did you ever fall in love?”
If Aunt Sara fell in love, maybe she’ll tell me how to do it?
“Well, now, aren’t you a bag of questions today?” the winged woman pushed a stray lock of hair out of her face. Avoiding the answer.
The girl knew that when grownups avoided answering things, it usually meant they were trying to hide something. Or they were afraid of facing the answer. So Suzume tried a different approach, “But, Aunt SaRa, you’re so pretty. Some boy must have liked you?”
I wish I had pretty hair and wings just like Aunt SaRa. Not like the ugly black I have now. Maybe Lucci won’t fall in love with me because I’m not pretty enough…
The woman paused, letting out a half sigh. She folded a stray shirt and put it up on the shelf before speaking again. “Things aren’t always as easy as falling in love and having a nice boy like you back.”
“They’re not?” Suzume’s wings drooped.
“Things sometimes… get in the way,” Aunt SaRa spoke slowly. She looked like she was picking her words carefully, like she didn’t want to say too much. It was obvious that she had a lot of deep experience with this sort of situation. And no matter how hard she tried to keep the warning tone out of her voice, it lingered there, a gentle concern for the dark haired girl and the choices she had ahead of herself.
All of these things Suzume overlooked completely in her curiosity. “But if you love a boy and he loves you, why is there a problem? Why would you let other things get in the way?”
It doesn’t make a lot of sense why grownups have to make things so overly complicated.
“Because his first duty is to serving his people and his Patron,” the winged woman answered, turning to peer out of the window. “Ever since I’ve known him, it’s one thing that has given him a sense of purpose. I’m just not sure that, even if he does care for me, I can compete with that. He’s a warrior. That’s simply who he is.”
He’s a warrior? A warrior… a warrior… who could he be?
Suzume’s mouth opened a bit at the wealth of information, far more than she thought she could get. Her mind spun, trying to piece together everything to learn the identity of Aunt SaRa’s secret crush. But nothing came to her.
I wonder who she likes!
After a moment, Suzume tilted her head and asked, “Have you ever told him that you liked him?”
There was a long pause. All the while, the girl watched expectantly. Silently. She learned that if she sat and looked at someone long enough, usually they would find an answer. Finally, Aunt SaRa decided on her words and spoke again.
“No, I never have,” she said, smoothing out the front of her dress.
“Because I didn’t feel it was fair to him to make him choose between me and his duty,” the winged woman replied, slowly turning around. Then she reached down and took the half-empty, forgotten bowl of broth from the girl’s hands and placed it on the tray on the table.
Suzume frowned and scratched her nose. Then she said, “What if he’s too shy to tell you how he feels and he’s waiting for you to say it to him first?”
“Shy? Kudak–” Aunt SaRa’s face suddenly paled, realizing she had given herself away.
Kudako? Was that what she was going to say?
Suzume started to open her mouth, but the winged woman looked in a bit of a fluster. She waved both of her hands at the girl in a kindly but embarrassed way, “Now see here. You shouldn’t be prying where you don’t belong Suzume-child. I have laundry to fold and supper to tend to. You best behave yourself!”
“Yes, Aunt SaRa,” the girl replied, covering her mouth to hide the smile that crossed her face.
Is Aunt SaRa in love with Master Kudako?
Images of the blue-haired Dragon warrior and the small, demure winged woman danced through her child-mind. Strangely enough, it wasn’t all that hard to make the imaginary Kudako and the imaginary Aunt SaRa reach out and hold hands, much in the way that she and Lucci used to.
With a hitch of her skirts and no further word, the winged woman bustled out of the room. She was so flustered that she forgot to take the tray with her. Once Aunt SaRa was gone, Suzume couldn’t hold in her laughter. Peals of quiet giggles escaped her. And only one thing ran through her head…
Aunt SaRaYa luvs Master KudakoRe!