[size16 |SBI10:06 I Spy|]
[i Dearest Machiko,
Your letters are always a topic of discussion with the other fathers in the village. Many of their sons are looking at colleges and my daughter is out exploring the many cultures of Sudra. Alas, they don’t see the joy and pride I have in you. They don’t understand—I honestly don’t see the appeal either some days—traveling away from home.
Tsukimoto has never stopped being so kind to its people. We don’t need to travel far to visit enchanting towns with waterfalls, mountainside, or the country. If we really wanted to, there’s always the cities but I’ve heard that city slickers are real sneaky con artists. How much more is there to the Blue if we have the capital?
Your arsenal has grown quite a bit. You sure you need a hundred of these darts in each spot? I can put them in the back storage if you need more space. I guess there is more artistic talent outside of Tsukimoto. I’ve never seen so many points to a sword, Machiko. These aren’t your mother’s everyday tools.
Speaking of your mother, the truth might be too painful to disclose to you at this moment. If you recall, maybe it was something I did wrong in life that’s now rearing it’s ugly head. I might have done something that drove your mother off to far off lands. Please forgive me in my time of weakness and I hope that one day I would be able to tell you the truth in full.
Dad of Soga]
Her initial acts of espionage started from the red velvet curtains that lined winding throne hall, but Machiko found her subject quite the lull. Dulon Lansit fumed on his golden throne for six hours a day. He picked his nose, mumbled amidst his snowy beard to no one, and stamped his feet as if he was waiting for bad news.
His guards were just as bored as he was. They tried to stand a proper watch but the heavy armor and draping capes slumped spine and shoulder. So colorful yet none too prepared to protect their reigning prince, Machiko rated their threat level a measly two out of ten.
In fact, the throne room might as well double up as a funeral chamber. The Palm could bust through the stained windows and execute old man Lansit without a worry.
After a while, the ninja stopped slinking behind the curtains because apparently Dulon made no fuss when she tripped into the throne room and skidded across the floor. From there on, she casually chatted up the guards and investigated further into their love lives and aspirations.
One day though, Dulon Lansit caught young Machiko off guard. They would acknowledge each other very briefly before he unhappily went back to brooding, but Machiko had caught him reading at the throne. A new development she thought. How profound. She recorded her observations, but had not left without her eyes catching which novel he was thoroughly invested in.
Perhaps she spoke out of order because the lackluster guards gasped and stood erect, but beautiful Machiko leaned on her stardom to get away with almost everything in Densch.
“The story really picks up in the second act, but you have to wait for the third sequel if you want to see everything fall into place. Richelieu Dyreharte’s one of my favorite authors of Varsylian canon for the sole fact that he plans out his novels with particular detail.”
She missed the days where she would exchange novels and story ideas with Tony who seemed like a distant friend at this point. Romance was his genre of choice as was hers.
Lord Dulon paused in his leisure time to look up from his spectacles at Machiko. It was a rather long and uncomfortable stare, but she was used to crowds and superiors glaring disappointingly at her.
“I wouldn’t have pegged a Tsukimotoan as a fan,” he commented before he licked his finger and flipped to the next page. He seemed uninterested in Machiko’s critique.
The two guards flanking Dulon looked at each other in such disarray. What had just happened? Was this a test? They would stick a spear or two if their master so much willed it but he made no such order. The short stint of civility shattered his godly air.
“Being honest: me either. The Sisters made it a point to embarrass me. No one reads war and romance novels anymore. The manuals they provide us at the schoolhouse are dry and leave no room for imagination. I didn’t do much reading until I got out of the academy.”
Machiko pushed the conversation further along. She knew exactly what she was doing, but Dulon didn’t seem to mind her presence. In fact, this was the first in forever that he was not screaming down the hall.
“Tragedy. Among other reasons, that’s why your cult is such a droll.” He continued focusing on his novel while maintaining conversation with an eased Machiko.
She managed to squeeze in a nervous chuckle. “I’m starting to think the same.”
She stood in the midst of Lord Dulon Lansit, the tycoon of the largest weapons dealing monopoly and they were talking about books written centuries ago. The surprises did not stop there. Machiko and the two guards caught a glimpse of the old man smiling! Beneath his austere facial hair and between plush lips were two rows of gleaming white teeth.
Dulon looked up and out of his furry white brows. “You amuse me.”
She scratched the back of her head. Surely this was a tactic employed by the cunning Lansit family. She once believed Seville’s honied yet malicious prank and ended up in the antlion pit. It was a tough dinner topic once Harvey found out that his pet was missing its pincers entirely. It was safe to say that Harvey vowed vengeance; on whom was another question for another meal.
“Go on now,” he mumbled, “apparently I have to catch up to the expert on Dyreharte.”
Her future moments concerning Dulon were brief and painless. He’d only raise his voice and summon her to the throne if he had not a clue what the author was trying to convey with cherry blossoms and young women or that the Francol remained top in the fashion industry for thousands of years still. She laughed in those moments but treaded carefully around the wintry lord’s humor.
Machiko found the domina of the house in multiple locations throughout the day; it was hard to miss her because a train of her handmaidens tended to every whim. Wives of the other princes of Densch frolicked through the halls and toiled in talks of wifely affairs and pool boys. How exciting, Machiko imagined.
There was one day though where the airy Rozlibet with the infinite kinks and silk curls sat in one of the five personal palace parlors by herself. None of the attendants in fleshy peach lacing bothered her this specific day, a day that was marked with embroidery. A woman of such stature should never work that hard. Her sullen eyes pierced the wall wide windows between bouts with the thick needle. Her dedication to neither hobby had caught the attention of the ninja.
A maid with fine china on a gleaming silver platter cut in front of Machiko and scuttled out of the room as she did in. She warned the petite Tsukimotoan to stay out but she was no concern of Machiko. She’s freely roamed the castle and did as she pleased. She was security. Or so she convinced herself.
Aside from her boss, Lady Rozlibet was the most approachable of the family. Machiko peeked her head into the parlor and flashed a genuine smile towards the matron. Rozlibet had shown no reaction which was quite uncommon. Instead, sighed and looked out the window some more. The needle rested on the outskirts of the embroidery work and remained there until Machiko would dismiss herself that day.
Usually Rozlibet was googly-eyed whenever Machiko entered the room, but today she was the most distant Lansit on the estate. Machiko walked into the parlor and took a seat adjacent to the lady. She poured from the kettle tea laced with a rather spicy aroma.
“Would you like milk?” Machiko asked.
“Oh, sweet Machiko,” she started so sweetly, “Have you seen the color of my skin? I wasn’t born a Varsylian barbarian. Surely these girls would know better than to offer me milk. Which one was she?”
“Oh, that was ole Mead.”
“I’ll be sure to berate her right after I hand her severance.”
She regained her regality and guffawed with her hand out for the teacup. She took a few sips before placing it on a black lacquer side table. People often mistaken her as a malevolent figure. Well, most of the benevolent sounding words were rather malicious in nature, and the most of the malevolent sounding words were rather benign in nature. She was a confusing figure who might have been confused herself.
“Say, you’re a rather quiet teenager who hasn’t shown interest in any of my guards.”
Rozlibet raised an eyebrow as she looked at the lithe framed Machiko. Admiration or jealousy, Machiko wouldn’t figure it out until the end of this conversation. Sitting stiff in the lavish pea green armchair, she carefully thought through her words and wondered if it was some nefarious trap or if it was pure curiosity.
“It’s rather unprofessional if I did, would you not think, mam?”
“Yes, but to not even bat an eye worries me. By any means you’re not repulsive, that you have nothing to worry about. Although, it’s been almost four years since you’ve come to us and you’re still a tad skinny though. Flat even. You must eat more, girl.”
“It’s a result of my training.”
Lady Rozlibet ordered her to stand up. Honing in on every surface of the well tanned Tsukimotoan in vibrant Sudranese fashion, Rozlibet asked her to slowly turn. She desired to see every couture, every possible shape of the young lady. Machiko intrigued her and she had been since the day she arrived.
“Hey, what’s the big deal?”
Machiko snapped her out of trance. Something about her rekindled a lilliputian and fuzzy flame in her stomach. Rozlibet, taken aback by her own actions, sat back into her chair and picked up her teacup in order to compose her rather erratic behavior. Still, lively Machiko captured her attention.
She mused, “Maybe I married for power, money, and security, but love has always been a fleeting idea for me. In my youth, about the same age you were when you first got here, all my relationships had been short, rather curt. Nothing felt as if it belonged past the shallows of my aching heart. Even in my aging golden years, the many people o choose to spend my time with is rather empty.
That’s not to say that I’ve never been in love with sweet Dulon. I have learned to embrace his fiery temper and maybe even use it against him as we age. I could tell you with such honestly that I married him out of fear, but not for I fear him, no, he’s harmless to the touch. He’s been harmless for decades now, even with his monstrous voice.
Maybe I deserved the sparse beatings in my younger years; I never seemed all that interested in his work and found comfort in the arms of my handmaidens more than him. Dulon and his hands have not scared me for some time now.
Maybe it’s the fear that I’d die poor and alone, that maybe my true desires would compromise my own wellbeing well into the endgame of my life. The type of skills I possess are not useful to survive in such a harsh world. My flesh is no longer supple for work if any kind and I fear my bones may break and never mend.
I would have loved to be you when I was young: free-spirited, loving, unafraid of the unknown. Oh the adventures I could have and the trouble to be had. I’d trade everything I had now in order to be in your shoes. Oh to be young, wild, and free.”
She averted her attention back out the window and pressed the palm of her hand into her sunken chest. The melancholia weighed on her broken heart.
“I’m sure you’ve slept with your ‘sisters’, am I wrong?” Rozlibet asked out of the blue.
Machiko took her seat and started to answer.
“Of course, it’s—oh no, not like that, mam.”
The first part had garnered the attention of Rozlibet just enough to pursue further.
“So you’ve never embraced another woman?”
“It’s a thought that hasn’t crossed my mind.”
“I see.” Agitated, perhaps with Machiko or her own self, she waved off Machiko before she could get too comfortable in her seat. “I won’t bother you more with my sick fancies. Begone.”
Machiko made for the exit.
“Be sure you know what you want in life. Someone worth loving is worth fighting for out there. I can see it in your eyes.”
“What was her name?” The young woman asked.
With a somber voice, Rozlibet cracked, “Zafina.”
“Zafina.” Machiko closed her eyes and tried to imagine what a Zafina looked like, what the Zafina looked like. “I like that name, Zafina. For Zafina.”
Machiko returned to her rove.
She’d wonder about her own parents and if they truly loved each other. Machiko’s mom was quiet yet strong and assertive. She’d set out to get what she wanted, how she wanted, when she wanted, but it never occurred to Machiko until her conversation with Rozlibet that maybe her mother married her father out of fear. Dad was talkative yet possessed a passive nature that catered to mom’s will. Were they truly happy?
Machiko wandered around some more with thousands of questions on hand and a million observances. Why did everyone in the Blue speak the same language yet have a variety of strange customs and cultures? Why did the girls of Densch have such bigger breasts than she did? Why did the Lansits decide on a such a unnecessarily gargantuan hedge garden when their own gardeners couldn’t safely navigate it?
Yes, one day Machiko stumbled through the hedge garden out back and found herself distant from the estate. She remembered that she needed to head into a meeting with Harvey within the hour but that was not going to happen. Plus, the meetings usually ended up with Harvey calculating profits. [i Boring.]
Instead, Machiko landed herself in one of the most elaborate gardens she’s ever lain eyes on. Out of the hedge maze and overseeing acres of perfectly maintained and mowed grass was a deck furniture sprawled far apart. Lattice walls covered in vine and waxy leaves set the perimeter. Over in one corner branches of trees formed a kilometer long tunnel to elsewhere. Potted plants rested on short wooden pillars and the deck was cut in specific places for multitudes of flower beds. In an adjacent corner a giant cypress provided ample shading.
She wandered around for the first time in this garden which seemed like more of a secret getaway the more she thought about it. Only the best of the navigating gardeners could experience this paradise away from the stresses of the main estate.
Machiko stopped on the bridge that overlooked a small stream covered in a sticky mist. A couple of cranes flew from under the bridge and into the mysteries of the land.
From the other end of the bridge, an unattended Lady Seville marched towards the likes of the foreigner with mad contempt.
“What are you doing here?” She irked.
Simply, she responded, with, “admiring the garden.”
“Yes, I designed this entire garden by myself twelve years ago. I decided the dimensions, the kind of wood used for the deck, the rate at which this stream flows, even down to how the branches entwine and which branches overtook the kthers. It took me an entire year to plan it all out. All by myself.”
That “all by myself” was delivered with such a sting that made Machiko believe that she was challenging her to a competition. Granted, Seville was a genius, but an awfully conceited one at that.
“It’s rather romantic.” Machiko chose to play it safe. Any conversation with Lady Seville ended up with her lashing out skin busting comments, but Machiko tried easing into them this time.
“Please, romance hasn’t grown in these gardens for seasons, girl. This is a clear reminder that no matter how hard and how much I work, dreams matter not for me. The Maker must have been a man for women not garner the respect we so much deserve.”
She overlooked the scene and took in the scent of musky greens. Seville leaned over the rail in such an unwomanly manner. Of course, Machiko was in the same position but no one in the house paid too much attention to the foreigners mannerisms. Seville’s personal butlers, handmaidens, and teachers vanished throughout the years because she would tire of them trying to direct and correct her stance. She fought against the policing.
“We were born to die. We were bred to take care of boys and cater to their whims no matter how unpleasant and unruly they were to us. Did you not serve an emperor at one point? And here you are serving another false king. It’s a man’s world, but it would be nothing without the woman behind. Mark my words.”
“You’ve done so much for your family, Lady Seville. You’re quite accomplished for a woman, even surpassed many men. Your father thinks highly of you and Harvey is more than thankful that you’ve been there for him.”
“You need not speak for my brother nor speak his name in my presence.”
“As you wish, Lady Seville.”
They stood in silence, both refusing to make eye contact with the other. It’s the process Seville envisioned this garden: silence. The foliage muffled noise and human language could not be heard in these parts. The crooning cranes, the trickling creek, and the talented crickets were her greatest comfort away from the halls of the mansion which rang of cantankerous men’s tirades.
Seville wanted to cry out her rage many times for the four decades that she’s lived through, but she refused to be like the other princesses of Sudra, simple, frail, and beautiful. She could move with such grace for that was an innate trait all Lansit-born were gifted, but she refused to be silenced and dominated.
She simmered and the steam built. Then, she exploded.
“How is it that you, of all of us that reside on this estate, are so free to prance around Densch as if you’re some traveling dancing harlot? What makes you any better than the rest of us that the common people chant your name? What have you done to warrant such treatment, hmm? How does a rogue squinty-eyed weasel get her own parade of balloons and dancing? How is it that the people don’t call out, ‘Princess Seville Lansit!’ with such zeal and excitement?”
Calmly removing her elbows from the rail, Machiko sighed and proudly retorted, “She focuses on the hearts of people she serves. Her name doesn’t crave respect but earns it. She is Machiko of Soga and she is no weasel.”
“You know what? You’re an annoying little shit. I hate you.” Seville reamed. “I hate you so much.”
Machiko had done nothing to this woman who fumed. Rather than fight her with her words, she returned for the hedge maze and allowed the garden to silence the irreparable pain.
It was a week later when news of Lady Seville’s sickness reached the rest of her family members. Rather than feel any sympathy for her, her family members felt relieved of the malady themselves. Machiko was the only one to show any remorse and sent her daffodils she handpicked from the florist.
After the delivery, the young lady entered the chart room only to catch Harvey and a couple of gentlemen at work.
“Please excuse me for the interruption.”
“Stay for our little meeting.”
“Prince Rinas, Prince Emil, this is Machiko of Soga.”
Harvey introduced her with such zeal. For the most part, she had upheld her part of the bargain as protector and so had he with his vast network at her disposal. The web of allies and business partners picked up nothing in care of Anchovi. The merchant continued to run his business from home and remained occupied with logistics and manpower. Seldom did he interact with the hired hand.
“After four years of residency, we finally meet. I’ve heard stories.” A prince of Densch, Prince Rinas was younger, darker, skinnier, and overall more tolerable than Harvey. He acknowledged the lady in the orange dress and blushed.
“And all of them are true, Rinas.” A man older and jollier than Harvey stood from his seat and gave Machiko a wholesome squeeze. Prince Emil kissed the back of her hand. “Good afternoon, my friend.”
“Good afternoon, Prince Emil, Prince Rinas.”
“The Palm plans to strike.” Harvey shook his head. It’s been days now since the latest incident and he had been wanting to pull out his beard. “I’ve anticipated this moment for some time and had ordered the other princes to come right away once I heard the news of Prince Chudriyam’s betrayal.”
Prince Chudriyam was another prince who lived a few platforms over who was fervent in Harvey’s cause. Nonetheless, he was a foolish old man whose glamour caught the best of him. He left a couple weeks ago in his golden airship and publicly renounced the Palm of Heaven’s cause.
“This is certainly false news, Harvey. Prince Chudriyam died a few days ago when he visited Shiivani. They say that the Palm of Heaven was involved. There can be no treachery from him.” Prince Emil cried out.
Prince Rinas concurred.
“The Palm has made it to the capital? This is horrid news.”
“That bastard gave the likes of Mahoraga Genji top secret information in regards to Densch! The Palm can exploit any potential weakness in the air plans. Maybe even launch an aerial attack on the city. He had one job and he sold us out. I must ask for what because I’m sure it was not a public beheading. Yes, The government of Shiivani is covering up Chudriyam’s death in hopes of mitigating the Palm’s influence. They refuse to call it an act of terrorism.”
“The coordination between cities was paramount in keeping out invaders.” Prince Rinas shuffled through his papers in high hopes of finding a solution to the newest problem. “We’ll need to act fast, Prince Harvey. I suggest we maintain an iron defense.”
“We must inform the others at once.” Prince Emil looked for Harvey’s guidance but all he received was a troubled face. He sighed, “Unless that expression says otherwise.”
“There’s no point. If they didn’t think this meeting wasn’t about them, they’ll surely ignore the call to arms. Stupid ignorant cowards.”
“A problem with one prince is a problem with all princes of Densch,” stated Prince Rinas.
“I agree with Prince Rinas. We must band together and stand strong. The houses of Varsyl crumble at this very moment. Prince Chelon is dead, the queen reagent imprisoned, and no heir apparent in sight. We can only assume that the Palm is responsible for the degradation of these other governments.”
“Palm written all over it, my fellow princes.”
“Prince Emil, we must enact curfew.”
“I concur!” Emil pointed up a finger. “Double up on sentries!”
“Agreed!” exclaimed Rinas. “Our palaces will be impenetrable.”
“Kill every monk, every nun, every nut job associated with the Palm. Their bodies are not to soil these grounds for long. Round them up and burn them alive if it makes the sport more enjoyable.” Harvey, with such contempt and bile for the Palm, especially the likes of a vindictive Mahoraga, crafted the worst thoughts.
The three princes amped each other up. Machiko later on that night inventoried every single piece of equipment in her warehouse for the inevitable war ahead.
“This is it boys, this is war, this is what we’ve been fighting for!” they sang as she watched the flames of the furnace roll.
HEAD ES DOODLE PETSUCHOS / Finnigan
/ 1y ago