Chapter 26: Unexpected Bonding

“Hmm…. Hm. This book report is of high quality. It appears you understood the material well,” Ms. Khami said. “I mistook your disdain for the readings for a lack of comprehension. I was wrong. Good work.”

Emi, sitting at the only school desk in her makeshift classroom, fought very hard not to squeal in delight.

It was rare for her to hear a compliment from Ms. Khami. But recently, especially as Emi had devoted more of her time to helping out around the house, her opinion of her seemed to have changed. She actually said nice things sometimes.

“It wasn’t the main reading that disinterested me,” Emi said. “I just didn’t like the contemporary analyses that went along with it. They all seemed so warped. Why did so many people adore the Fathie Empire back then? The Gang of Eight was ruthless, and if the Teal One hadn’t defected…”

“Then none of Balarand would be here today except in ruins, yes,” Ms. Khami said. “But people at the time did not consider what the future might hold. They were captivated by the Gang of Eight’s charismatic campaign and saw their destruction as acts of liberation. It is only in hindsight that we can truly understand what a decade of war did to our continent.”

“So what you’re saying is… Dannark and Doros are going to blow up Tsubasa if they keep fighting?” Emi asked.

“History is but a cycle of heroes and tragedy,” Ms. Khami said. “And with that remark, our lesson is complete.” She picked a book off her desk and shut it loudly to signify the finality of the event. “I hadn’t expected you to advance so quickly through this section, and I must admit: I have no further material to assign you, Emi. You are finished.”


“Finished? For… good?”

“Correct. You have finished the curriculum that I had developed for you when you were a child. You are officially an educated woman.”


Done with Ms. Khami’s lessons… After all these years, Emi never actually thought a day like this would come. She had somehow pictured in her mind getting married, growing older, with Ms. Khami still around still handing her massive, dull tomes on a near-infinite variety of subjects. It felt like just yesterday she was trudging through a near-incomprehensible textbook on economics, and now she was just… done.

“It is unorthodox, your improvement lately,” Ms. Khami said. “I had certainly not planned on you passing my magical incantations exam within a week, either; that was intended to take at least a month.”

“Oh, well I had help from a… friend.”

“Were you truly sneaking out of the house so often to… study? I can hardly fathom.”

“Sometimes. At the library, usually,” Emi said, feeling pangs of self-righteousness flash across her cheeks. “I was a better student than you thought, huh!”

“Well, your essays on interpersonal relationship politics were subpar, to say the least, but you have shown great development, Emi. You truly are the woman your parents have always wanted to be, if I say so myself.”

“Wish THEY’D tell me that,” Emi said.

“They try to, in their own way,” Ms. Khami said. “They are under a lot of pressure with their diplomatic missions. It’s very difficult to raise a successful, professional daughter in these times.”

“They could have sent me to school…” Emi muttered.

“Did you not appreciate my schoolings?”

That was a loaded question. “What I mean is, Reo and Touma both went off to Yates. Almost all my old friends in the neighborhood went to school in some far-away city in the mountains or by the coast. Why did you homeschool me?”

Ms. Khami looked off and laughed wistfully, as if that were also a loaded question. “I realize you are too young to remember, but when you were a very young child, you had many issues that needed special care. You weren’t very comfortable around strangers, and sometimes you would react in… outbursts of sorts. So your parents decided to let me teach you. You got over those troubles as you grew older, but with your apprehensiveness towards large social gatherings even now, we thought it might be best to keep you here in Balarand, with the rest of your family. In case you ever needed us.”

Emi looked down at her lap. She wanted to shrink into nonexistence. “That makes a lot of sense. I’m… sorry for being a bad baby.”

“You were a wonderful baby, and you are a wonderful lady.”

Did she really… mean that?

Speaking of ladies… Emi felt a new confidence inside her and decided to turn the tables on the conversation. “So I may be wonderful, but what if I don’t want to be married? Married to Lady Khara, that is.”

“Ms. L’Hime, you are going to be married at the end of the spring and you are going to love it, because that is what your parents wish of an important girl like yourself.”

“But I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love.”

Ms. Khami, still standing behind Emi, put her hands on her shoulders and began giving Emi a massage. 

Their relationship over the years had always been fairly sour, but Ms. Khami had somehow persisted over all that time, never giving up even when Emi was at her most rebellious. Emi had been sure it was simply for the money, but…

“Your parents love you very, very much,” Ms. Khami said. “They’ve found a woman for you who will support you in whatever you want to do, and with your education you can be anyone. You won’t be shackled to the L’Hime Family any longer, if that is what you wish. You will have almost unlimited freedom in your life to pursue your dreams.”

“Except for love.” Emi sniffled thinking about having to leave Beatrice and never see her again. The exact thing she still hadn’t summoned the courage to mention to the girl. “I’ve never even met Lady Khara and yet I have to spend the rest of my life with her. Can’t you see how that’s unfair?”

“I have met Lady Khara, and I can assure you she is a wonderful woman. She would not be allowed to marry you if she was anything less. It may seem unfair for you now, but in twenty years you will laugh at all of this.”

“Okay, but why does this Lady Khara want to marry a young woman she’s never met?” Emi asked. “I’m a demon in girl’s clothing, in your own words.”

“Your strength of emotion is an asset as much as it is a shortcoming,” she told her, continuing to massage her shoulders. “There may be times when you are too much to handle, but there is a woman who is ready and willing to accept that with openness, honesty, and respect.”

“Yeah… there is,” Emi said, mostly to herself. It wasn’t Lady Khara, that was for sure. “Why can’t I marry someone of my own choosing? Someone I am in love with and want to spend the rest of my life with?”

Ms. Khami let go of Emi’s shoulders. “That is not for me to say. I was born into a poor family and the L’Himes took me in when I was young. I was raised by your grandparents more like your mother’s sister than a lowly servant, and I did not question their decisions for me because they shaped me into the woman I am today. All I can tell you is that your parents’ wisdom is greater than any youthful fling.”

“It’s not a fling. It’s…” A conundrum was what it was. Falling for someone while you were already engaged to another. “I don’t think I will be able to marry her. Not anymore.” Emi got up from her chair and faced Ms. Khami directly

“Your life is your own, in the end,” Ms. Khami told her. “But you are a member of a prominent family, and you were born into responsibility whether or not it is fair. Cheating on your fiancee will not only affect you, but your parents, and your brothers too.”

“I’ve thought about that a lot,” Emi said. “And my answer is… It’s really complicated.”

“That is is.”

Emi headed into the foyer. It was vast and empty as usual. With party cleanup long over, the L’Hime home was once more a large space filled with a bunch of rooms hardly anyone ever used, in enough space to house an orphanage or two.

“So, I’m really finished with all of of my studies?” Emi asked.

“Well…” Ms. Khami began. “I know that you are working on those little devices in your bedroom. I bought a few books on engineering and mechanics, and if you would like to look through them…”

“You mean, exactly the opposite of what my Mother said to do?”

Ms. Khami smiled. “Yes, but I–”

Knock! Knock!

Ms. Khami rushed to the front door and opened it, before her expression flattened. “Oh. You again.”

“Hi, Ms. Khami.”

“Tris!” Emi ran past Ms. Khami and hugged Beatrice around the neck, squeezing as tightly as she could. “You’re here.”

“And so are you,” Beatrice said. “Do you want to…”


Ms. Khami shook her head, but smiled. “You and your deviancies. Be back before supper. Touma is coming over again.”

“I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best,” Emi said.

Emi and Beatrice left the house, hand-in-hand, and Emi took one look back at Ms. Khami before the front door shut. 

“So, where to?” Emi asked.

“Wherever,” Beatrice said.

And so they went.

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Chapter 18: Making the Most of It

Emi’s bedroom was a mess. 

Yes, even more than usual. 

Nearly her entire wardrobe from the past two weeks laid on the floor. Useless, stupid gears were littered around like marbles thrown by a mysterious child. One of her many stacks of books against the wall had toppled over, and she had made not a bit of effort to stack it up.

Instead, she studied quietly at her desk, of course also covered in gears and books. Today, she was learning the military history of Ulric Fathie and the Gang of Eight Campaigns.

She didn’t even bother locking her room today, so Ms. Khami and any number of housekeepers could walk in and out doing whatever they needed. Emi’s parents were at Castle Balarand for a meeting with occupation government officials, so it was just her and the housekeepers, as usual.

Emi was increasingly interested in figuring out whether the Teal One would defect to Elince and fight the Fathie Empire, but she felt distracted. Perhaps, her room was at the point of mess where she could no longer concentrate. Or, maybe, it was something a little easier to explain.

She looked back at the intricate mess she had designed, the art piece made up of mounds of clothes dirty and clean, of springs and cogs, of screw plates and one calliper. Lots of cold metal, easy to stub a toe on, the ultimate source of pain. Well, the second-ultimate source, anyway.

Somehow, she felt like she had ended up creating something that symbolized her own life in all of this. All these gears and clothes strewn about, and all those images of that blue-eyed wonder Beatrice shattering her heart every time she closed her eyes.

Emi couldn’t bring herself to see the girl again.

Just as Emi had decided to purchase an entire set of gear box tools to tinker with, and quickly gave up in a dramatic fit, so too had Emi fallen into a great conundrum with a beautiful girl, and was now leaving her behind as if she never existed. It was eating her up inside, but with the letter she received, she knew there was no better option than to give up now.

And yet…

For some reason, ignoring the story of Ulric Fathie in front of her, Emi’s mind, or rather the cogs and gears inside of it, began to formulate a new elaborate scheme to get her out of the house without anyone noticing. For some reason, those plans had her sitting at the library, waiting for Beatrice with open arms.

And for some reason, she was enacting those plans. 

If the housekeepers had already finished cleaning–and they seemed to have, she noted as she peeked out the bedroom door– she could probably exit through one of the backroom spiral staircases that led to the barn nobody ever used. It had become a storage room ever since the L’Hime Family’s last horse died, but housekeepers often used it in break times, so it was risky. 

This was starting to get exciting, Emi thought as she dressed up in winter clothing and prepared to brave the cold. She hadn’t snuck out in so long that it was starting to get a little boring, just asking permission and leaving through the front door. She took one look back at the useless, unused gears laying all over her bedroom, and wondered if maybe she was overthinking the symbolism for dramatic effect (she was).

But as soon as she closed her door and locked it– she saw Ms. Khami staring up from the foyer. “Miss L’Hime, where do you think you are going?”

So close.


With four other housekeepers helping, Emi was given a mop and bucket of water right in the foyer.  

“You want me to clean ALL of this?” Emi asked Ms. Khami. This house was so wide, so spacious so uselessly big.

“Of course! We will be helping,” Ms. Khami told her. “But you have to learn what a proper lady goes through, and life is not about sneaking out and having fun. It is about being your best self and sometimes that best self has to mop a large room.”

“But it… looks clean…”

“Nothing is ever as clean as it can be,” Ms. Khami said.

“You know, I employ all of you, and this isn’t fair, and–” Emi stopped herself before she said something remarkably stupid. “I understand.”

She’d basically holed herself up in her room for the past two weeks aside from obligatory social events, and she had been making her fair share of messes around the house. It certainly wasn’t becoming of her to yell at housekeepers who had done nothing wrong and always provided valuable help through everything.

It was her fault for not letting Beatrice know what was going on in her life sooner, about the engagement that had hung around her neck for the past five years. It was just that she felt so scared about everything and she didn’t know what to say, and… that was no excuse. No excuse for how she was acting right now, either.

So Emi was going to help out Ms. Khami, because she deserved to be a real part of this household now and again. Ms. Khami was actually smiling for once, and it made Emi smile back, in turn. She was actually going to help.

Now… how did one use a mop…

The maid next to her, a girl her age who must have been a recent hire, noticed Emi’s apprehensive attitude. “Are you having trouble?” she asked.

The girl had jet black hair with eyes to match, and sported a goofy grin. Her hairstyle was nearly identical to Emi’s, but long, going well past the shoulders.

“Yeah, I have no idea how to mop, um… Miss Maid.”

“I’m Pip,” she said. “I really like your house, Miss L’Hime. Let’s get it clean!”

“What do I do, just…” Emi sloshed the mop around in some water and slinged droplets all over the floor.

Pip shook her head, and then wiped a speckle of water off her cheek. “You princesses don’t do much work around the house, do you?”

She wanted to say she was only a diplomat’s daughter, but she decided to refrain from overexplaining things that made her out to be even more of a brat than she really was. “No, I don’t… Can you, uh, help me?”

“You sure? You ready for this?”

“Yeah, what’s so hard about mopping a floor?”

The next two hours were some of the most grueling of Emi’s entire life.

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