Through the Night

 

Part Four: Hiroshi and Kasumi

 

I think I had a headache about five seconds after we reached the Orange Islands. If but only for the squabble of retainers. Lady Erika, of them all, was the most quiet and the least annoying. That sounded more insulting than it was supposed to...

There's a fire haired young woman there to greet Lady Erika, and I have to stop myself from staring. She just has the most enthralling gaze, it's something unexplainable. "I pray hope your trip was without trouble, Lady Erika."

Erika nods and smiles, "Oh yes, Lady Kasumi. Hiroshi is a fine dragonrider..." And now I can't help but feel uncomfortable as the attention is shifted to me. Kasumi smiles politely and I do in return.

"Then we must talk later..." I'm not sure why... But I nod.

"That would be a pleasure, Lady Kasumi."

Her smile is barely controlled amusement and then the retinue was ushered off. I sigh. I'd never been here before, so I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go... "Koori, this is going to be a *long* day." He snorted in agreement and I laughed before patting his muzzle. Is it just me, or is it actually brighter here in the islands?

He just seems to glow... I can truly see why we were chosen for this duty, truly I can. "You did well, now we wait, I guess..."

There's the sound of boots on stone and I turn. There's an islander standing there, wide eyed and open mouthed. She blinks and shakes her head and then smiles. "I'll assume you're the dragonrider from Kanto, there's no one else you could be... I can take you to the quarters where visitors are allowed to rest."

"Thank you... and where will Koori be going?"

"Oh..." She seems dazed by his grandeur yet again, and then shakes her head to snap herself out of it. "If he just goes down this way, then he'll find the fields, and..."

"Well, I'll go with him. I have to make sure of everything..." She bobs her head up and down as she nods.

"Oh yes, oh yes!"

That's actually kind of eerie... "Come on, Koori, let's go." He follows after me, and we reach the place she spoke of. Not only is there a wide field, there's stalls and from what I see plenty to eat. I hope he doesn't plan on being picky here... he can be such a picky eater.

He exhales behind me and nearly knocks me over. Sometimes I think he can read my mind. I laugh again and sigh. "Do you think you'll like it here?"

He gives it all a scathing glance and then takes wing and crosses towards the grass. I smile. He likes it just fine.

And speaking of rest... I go back down the long hall, and the girl is waiting for me. "You're back! Is everything to order?" I nod.

"Oh, my name's Hiroshi, I..."

"I know that." She giggles and I blink. "Come with me, I hope you don't... Um, there are visitors from Johto here as well, they've not yet left, so..." I think what she's hinting at is that there will be dragonriders from Johto here. I can deal with that. As long as they don't start anything... I don't want anything to go wrong, this means to much to us.

"Here we go." She smiles. It's a smallish room, and others are here. "Enjoy yourself, you can rest. If you want you can take a walk, and if you need anything just ask." I nod. I want to get out of here as soon as I can. I don't like the way that those dark eyed trainers are looking at me...

I can see there dragons as well, out one of the tall windows. Just as gloomy and bitter as their riders... I swear, that dark haired one, he... He looks familiar, and I can't place it. This uncontrolled bitterness in bare slits of eyes...

I shake my head and end up talking to one of the Orange Island trainers. They're talking about Koori. Gold's very rarely end up this far south, I know, and I can't help but feel proud that he's so very admired. It's going to feed his ego to no end when I end up telling him about it, at that...

Oh well, he deserves it. And speaking of Koori, I can see him through the window. Maybe I am a bit egotistical as well, he's the best dragon out there. I shake my head and go back to talking with the trainer.

But it's not long until the Johto riders have drove me from the room.

Well, that girl said that I could take a walk if I wanted. And I do...

I'm going to have to have something to tell Satoshi when we see one another again, and I don't think he wants to listen to my wonderful stay in a waiting room. There's so much more to see...

As I walk, I let my thoughts wander. Kasumi must be the High Cleric's heir, and the one with whom the talks are being held. I wish that I could have been there... but I'm no diplomat. And I'm not even willing to risk it... I'd make a mess of it, I know I would.

The palace here is different from anything I'd seen up north. But that's for the obvious reason that's it's warmer here... I'm sure this place never even sees snow. That ends up bringing a smile to my face. Satoshi and I can be so immature, even at our age and rank...

I wonder what it's like to live here, to be apart from the war. Even though it's been frozen over for years no. Neither side has made no great move forward, yet the fact that Johto riders are here. They're seeking aid from the Orange Islands just as we are.

I know where I stand... and I know that on both sides there is innocents. So who is really "good" when it comes to war? I know I shouldn't be thinking such things. Not when I am who I am and when I must do what I do...

I end up at a balcony that overlooks where the dragons are at rest and play. I lean at the rail, and sigh as I watch Koori's distant, slumbering form. It really is going to be a long, long day.

~~~~~

"Your Ladyship does, of course, make a strong point." I don't let my gaze waver as I stare at the new ambassador. At the moment, I'm having trouble concentrating, but that doesn't stop me. This is my duty, and I have to do it right. "However, I'm afraid I must refuse your proposals -- for the moment. I'm sure you came here expecting an extended stay; we were prepared to recieve you for a lengthy period of time as well. As the Heir, I cannot accept any terms but those that the High Cleric has approved. My apologies."

We'd spent most of the afternoon going over her terms of alliance, and that was the only answer she'd gotten. Lady Erika could not have been pleased.

If she was irritated at all, however, it did not show on her face. Ambassadors, I think, are masters at controlling outward emotions. "You are most gracious in giving us your time, my Lady. I look forward to meeting with you again. Perhaps, with the High Cleric's decision on our proposals?"

I keep my face guarded. "Perhaps." Does she realize that these are only delaying tactics. We've mastered that art -- it's put to use well in the case of the Johto ambassadors as well. Their case was much easier, in fact, because we had used the ongoing excuse that the Indigo ambassador had not yet arrived, and we wished to hear all sides of this argument before coming to a decision.

I wave a hand to summon a servant. "I'll have someone show you to your rooms, Lady Erika." That is my way of dismissing our guest. Now for the speeches of farewell. Inwardly, I brace myself.

The Indigo ambassador begins hers first. She is thrilled at having met me. My gracious hospitality is beyond kindness. She is breathlessly awaiting our decision on the proposals. And so on. I make mine next. I am enchanted to make her accquaintance. The patience she is exhibiting is amazing. I will be anxiously awaiting our next meeting. Lies, lies, and more lies. I smile politely as Lady Erika is escorted from the room.

*Excellent.* I've been waiting for this moment for about 3 hours -- the whole of the discussion with the new ambassador. If I am impressed with anyone's patience, it's mine. I had spent the entire interview just itching to get away.

The image of sun reflecting off of gold scales is still playing through my mind. I smile, and hurry through the doors. I hope no one spots me like this, running through the halls with the sides of my fancy skirts clutched in both hands. I cannot wait to see that gold dragon again -- dear lords, what an impressive beast. Our whites are nice and all, but really, there is nothing like this shining gold vision that haunts all of my daydreams. Except perhaps the rider.

They made such a striking pair, I could hardly believe it at first. If I weren't so well-trained, I think I might have just stood there with wide eyes and gaped at them. I mean, how often can you find someone who suits his dragon so perfectly? His hair was so strikingly blond that it nearly matched the gold of the dragon's scales... As well, despite the color, those eyes of his looks uncannily alike the great slanted ones of his creature. If it weren't impossible, I would swear that they were created together, made especially to match each other. And the sunny, bright smile on the face of that -- vision -- nearly bowled me over. He was so... perfect was the only word I could think of. Every moment I spent thinking of him increased his perfection a hundred fold in my mind.

*Dear gods, I am infatuated.* However, that didn't need to be a problem, as long as I did not allow it to interfere with the business I had to attend to. In fact, it might work to my advantage -- if I didn't want him to leave, I'd have to try extra hard to keep the position of the Orange Islands a neutral one.

Perhaps, I think, as my thoughts draw back to impending war, the longer we hold out, the more likely it is that there will be no fighting at all. Or perhaps we can just delay the inevitable for a while longer...

I want to see the gold. Honestly, I've spent hours contemplating war and other things relating to the welfare of our realm before, but now, I find that I can hardly dwell on them for more than a minute. I want to see -- Hiroshi, that was his name -- and his dragon as soon as possible.

I gesture to a young servant, who bows. "Can you tell me where the dragonrider with the gold is, please?" I ask her immediately. She pauses.

"Well, perhaps, my Lady. He's staying in the East wing, but I saw him near the training grounds but a few minutes ago. Perhaps he's still there."

I thank her and hurry onward. The training grounds... Of course, that makes sense. I know the way by heart, too. However, when I start in that direction, I don't quite make it all the way there before I find him.

He is leaning over a balcony just above our training field, with his back to me. I have to take in a breath; has anyone else noticed how gorgeous he looks, or is it just me? The sun plays across his soft gold hair, barely tossed by the wind. It's short, of course -- dragonriders are part of the military, after all -- but not too short. Just right, I think. His strong, lean form cuts a striking figure with the sun to highlight it. *Dear gods, does he know how incredibly attractive he is?*

I cut off those daydreams abruptly and move toward him. "Dragonrider Hiroshi?" I say, to announce my presense. He obviously didn't know I was there, because he jumps a little, then turns to smile at me.

"Good afternoon, Lady Kasumi." He is the soul of politeness. The smile looks real, though.

"I did say we'd have to talk later, dragonrider," I smiled.

He looks like he's trying to figure out what to say. "You can call me Hiroshi, my Lady," he answers, at last. As if he's not sure he should ask me to drop that formality.

Well, if he is going to... "Then, please, call me Kasumi, Hiroshi," I respond, still smiling to show that this is no real breach of etiquette. "I'd rather not bore you with formal chatter. Can we just speak as normal people for a while?"

He looks relieved. "Of course, La -- ah, Kasumi. What did you want to talk about?"

"What's it like?" I ask immediately. This is something I've never been able to discuss with our dragonriders; they know me too well as the Heir. "To fly on a dragon, I mean? What does it feel like?"

He smiles. "It's hard to understand if you haven't tried it."

"Try me," I urge him.

"Well, it's like... being a dragon yourself, I guess." The words are hesitant, and there's a thoughtful look on his face, as if he's not quite sure how to describe it. "That's how it feels sometimes. It's like you're free, and the earth can't bind you any more..." Now he smiles apologetically. "Sorry, that was horribly poetic."

"I liked it," I say truthfully. "That sounds wonderful, Hiroshi." I wish I could be up there as well, soaring above the clouds like a streak of sunlight with a gold dragon... Excellent, now I'm the one who's spouting poetic thoughts.

Hiroshi's got the most mischievous smile spreading across his face -- what does he have on his mind now. "Would you like to try it?"

Try it? Me? He doesn't even need to ask twice! "Could I?"

"Sure." He doesn't seem concerned at all. "If you have the time, I can take you up whenever you want. I have plenty of free time."

Whenever I want... If only I could go now, but I know that I won't be able to clean up in time for supper if I do. "Perhaps later this even -- " No, I have to meet with the High Cleric about Lady Erika's proposals. "Tomorrow afternoon," I correct myself. "Is that all right with you?"

"Fine." He grins. "That sounds perfect, Kasumi."

Oh, yes, it does indeed...

~~~~~

"You're going to love it, it's something special..." I murmur, looking away from her sun-struck orange-red hair, towards the green field and Koori. "Come here, I can show you him if you want..."

She seems eager and she smiles and stands close to me. "He's that great big one over there who's taking a nap... Impressive, no?" I have to smile. "He likes the climate here, I think." Knowing him he'll try and make me bring him here, I'm sure... well, it would more *him* bringing *me* here. I'll just have to let him.

She looks very thoughtful. "He's wonderful, Hiroshi. He really is. I wish I could see him up close..." She murmurs softly.

"Well... I could show you him. I'm sure he'd like to meet you. And we'll even have time so you won't have to worry about missing anything." She's sure to be so very busy... And she's so very different from the nobles that *I* know from home. She's... nice and it's... different.

"Are you sure?" She asks, glancing from me out to Koori again.

"I'm sure, Kasumi. Koori's really friendly..."

"Well then... I'd love to, Hiroshi." She exhales softly and runs a hand through her hair. I can't wait for her to meet Koori, and I can't wait even more for the next day to come. It's nice, being able to give her this... it's like being able to touch a dream, and if I can help her...

"Oh gods, I'm being poetic again." I mumble, running a hand through my hair. She grins near impishly and tilts her head to the side.

"What did you say, Hiroshi?" She asks and then I laugh softly.

"It was nothing, Kasumi. Come on, let's go." She smiles and says nothing more, yet follows beside me with a calm air about her.

"Worry not, I'll get it from you in time." She says in a prim and proper tone. I have the feeling she doesn't normally have this sort of talk... this sort of fun.

"Well, I look forward to that day, Kasumi." I grin back at her. Something flashes in her eyes, and she sighs and looks away. "Are you all right?" I ask tentatively.

She looks back at me and the light seems to return to her eyes. She has such beautiful eyes. I wonder if she's ever been told... "I'm fine, Hiroshi. It's kind of you to ask. I... just have heavy thoughts on my heart."

That's true, she has so much going on with the ambassadors... "I understand, Kasumi. Maybe not the same way as you, but..." She nods and shakes her hand gently.

"You don't need to say anything more, Hiroshi. I know what you're trying to say."

I'm glad she does. I don't know how I would explain it to her otherwise. "Come on now, he's right down this hall." She nods and follows after me, and then we walk from the darkness of the hallway into the bright sunlight. I shade my hand over my eyes, and call for Koori. "Koori!"

For being as big as he is, though I know there are larger dragons, that certainly was a surprise. It's like he was waiting. "Oh you..." I pat him affectionately. "Koori, I'd like you to meet Kasumi. And Kasumi, this is Koori..."

She's nearly in awe. "Oh my, he's..." He butt's his head towards her, looking at her through slanted eyes, his head on edge. Her fingers are just a breath away. "Can I?" She asks, as if she's asking me and Koori as well.

He watches her for a long moment and then nods, "He says it's fine, Kasumi..." And then with gentle fingers she touches his scales. "I've never..." She murmurs. "This is... thank you for this, Hiroshi. And you too, Koori."

I smile. He snorts and I chuckle. "He's glad, Kasumi. As am I... Oh! Koori, how would you like to take the Lady flying tomorrow?" His eyes whirl and he agrees with a throaty noise. "You're in luck, Kasumi. He's interested in it as well..." Her fingers are still gentle on his scales and then she pulls away.

"Oh this is nearly too much... I -- Thank you, Hiroshi."

I smile. "Anything for you, Kasumi. It's a small offer at least..."

If I knew her better, I'd think she'd be giddy. "I... it's just... thank you. It's all I can say." I wave a hand dismissively.

"It's all you need to say, Kasumi. I'm glad that I could be of some service..." Koori snorts again and his breath is hot. I laugh softly. "You too, Koori. We're both glad."

She smiles. "I... you're just so horribly amazing, Hiroshi. I'm glad that we met, and had a chance to talk..."

Oh gods, please don't say that I'm blushing. "I... thank you, Kasumi." She smiles sweetly and murmurs a your welcome. I never expected this trip to be so... I can't even explain it. No words could even compare... Wait until I see Satoshi, he'll love this.

~~~~~

It's hard to believe I could fall this hard in such a short time. I mean, he's so exciting and new... I can't get enough of thinking of him suddenly; it's become my addiction, and I don't even want to try *not* thinking of him any more. I feel like I'm floating and I never want to come down... When did I get so horribly romantic? It's positively awful.

Oh well. I don't really care about that, either.

I think he might be noticing me too... I never thought I'd be dwelling on something the way I am this. I had resigned myself to being *very* infatuated with him already -- but I hadn't thought of what might happen if he felt the same way about me... Oh gods, does he? That would be perfect. Just perfect.

I hurry toward my room. I know that I have to get ready for dinner and that there will be plenty more to do tonight, but it hardly seems to matter. I just want it all to be over, so that I can go to bed tonight and dream about him...

*Get ahold of yourself, Kasumi,* I admonish sharply. *You have too many things to worry about without letting your mind dwell on a handsome young stranger. No matter how fascinating he is...* I smile. Still, I have to get back into the proper frame of mind. Tomorrow, I will have time to think of him -- when I'm with him again. Until then, I have to keep my thoughts in line. I will be attending a formal dinner, and the ambassadors will both be there. I can imagine that sparks will fly if we're not *very* careful.

I reach my room and hurry inside, where my gown for tonight has been set out for me. The High Cleric, I know, will have seated the two ambassadors as far from each other as possible, but I must still be careful. He has given me the duty of watching over the Johto ambassador, since we know very little about Lady Erika at the moment, and what we do know about his Grace is that he will take any opportunity to flatter me. I grimace, but I must admit that it is a good strategy. I can handle his Grace; let our noble clerics deal with Lady Erika.

I dress quickly and leave my room to hurry to the dining hall, where our table has been set out. Hiroshi, fortunately for him, is seated at one of the lesser tables; I have to sit at the head table, very far from him -- and that makes me want to sigh. Dinner would be so much more bearable with him on one side of me while I dealt with the Johto ambassador. But, as it is... I catch his gaze, and we both smile warmly.

His Grace is already seated, right beside the chair I will have to take tonight. I brace myself mentally, force a polite smile onto my face, and move into my position.

"My Lady Kasumi," he greets me, eyes unreadable as a smile worms across his face. "I'm honored that you would take this meal at my side." As if I'd agreed to marry him or something; I know that is what he's *trying* to make it sound like.

I make myself smile at him, but distantly. I do *not* want him to think that I am returning his attentions. I *do* want to appear friendly and approachable. It's going to be slightly trickly.

"As always, your Grace, I am flattered that you would wish to spend time with me," I reply, voice not cold but slightly chill. I force myself to turn my head toward him. Another noble cleric takes a seat beside mine, and I turn politely to smile at her as well.

Well, my manners are nothing but fine.

The meal is a trial, which I had anticipated already. His Grace is a horrible flirt, and though I had known it before, it is hard to deal with when sitting for hours without being able to leave or plead that there are duties to attend to. I find myself gazing out into the crowd more than once, occassionally locking eyes with Hiroshi. He's wonderful... if only I could sit down there, and speak with him. I would give half my soul to be a lesser cleric or another dragonrider, so I'd be free to sit where I pleased. But then, of course, I may not even be in the palace at all if I were in a low position. I only want one that would allow me to be closer to Hiroshi.

"Your Ladyship." Oh, the ambassador is speaking again. I tilt my head toward him to show that I'm listening. "Perhaps, after the meal, we could take a stroll around the gardens, or at least talk privately together..."

I resist the urge to sigh and roll my eyes heavenward. "I apologize, your Grace, but I must report to his Majesty immediately following our meal. It's of great importance."

"For not much longer," I think I hear him murmur softly, but I can't be sure.

"Pardon, your Grace?"

"Nothing." The fake smile is back across his face. "Your Ladyship *does* know where to find me, of course. If you ever wish for my company, I would be thrilled to recieve a surprise visit."

"I will remember that, your Grace," I promise. Right, I'll remember it. But I will never act on it.

I bite back a sigh and look out at the crowd once more. Hiroshi is staring at me... I smile, and he blushes, but returns it. He's so handsome, and sweet, and interesting... Everything about him fascinates me; I would love to brush off all the plans I have and spend more time with him.

But that is something that I would *never* do. I am the Heir, and my desires as a woman come second to what I must do as ruler of this country. Though it pierces my heart to think it, I would spend the rest of my life without ever seeing Hiroshi again if it could keep war from coming to the Orange Islands.

Even though the thought of losing him makes my heart cringe. *Don't ever ask me to choose,* I begged silently. *Chiyu, if you care for your faithful servant, please grant me this.*

That being with Hiroshi would fit into my duty. *Please.*

 

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