Hey Everyone. I planned to make Haru's Wish into a one-shot, so instead I'll write this one as a chaptered story. Thanks so much for reviewing Haru's Wish. Y'all are so much nicer than the other fandoms. Oh and sorry about misspelling Yuki's name. Little Finger is the Vietnamese version of Thumbelina. Enjoy!
If anyone can tell me how to get the tab feature to work, that'll be great.
Little Finger belongs to Lynette Dyer Vuong's The Brocaded Slipper: and other Tales from Vietnam. The Cat Returns belongs to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
Chapter 1: Lost
Haru groaned. She was lost, hopelessly lost. She carefully retraced her steps that she took: left at the bush, right at the bridge, another right at the river making a note on the map that she held. She screamed in frustration and threw the map on the ground. She had been walking for hours. "There was no fork anywhere on the map!" she exclaimed.
Plunking herself on the side of the road she sighed and waited for a traveler to come across the road.
"How did I get myself into this mess?" she questioned herself silently. Oh yeah, it was from being too nosy, she remembered.
For as long as she could remember she felt awkward and unwanted. She recalled living with her mother in their quilt shop about five years ago. It was a happy time of playing with the other children and running the shop with her mother. Haru blinked back tears as she remembered the epidemic that took away most of her friends, and her mother. She could only watch helplessly as her mother wasted away to skin and bones in their small one room home above their shop.
As soon as her mother died, Haru could barely blink before finding out that their shop was to be confiscated by the Royal Government and she was to be turned out of her home. Humiliated, she was prepared to stay at the household of her best friend, Hiromi when an imperial mandarin approached her with an official message from the King.
He revealed that she was really the daughter of the former King, who abdicated the throne to his younger brother when he chose to marry a commoner, her mother. Stunned, Haru barely could recollect her father, just that he had died in a riding accident when she was young.
Haru frowned. She could remember seeing fear reflected in her mother's tear filled eyes when she heard of her father's death. In deep sleep, on the night he died, Haru could hear mumbled words from her mother like, "Why? ... Accomplished rider… not possible," from her grief filled mouth.
She barely had time to grab some of her mother's most cherished possessions when she was whisked away to the royal palace for an audience with the current King, her uncle. She bowed low before him, painfully aware of her shabby clothes amidst his splendor.
"Haru," he said through a strained smile.
Public opinion of him had waned as he inflicted more taxes upon his people in order to build up his hoard of wealth. His advisors told him daily of whisperings among the people to remove him in favor of putting his niece in his place. The populace fondly recalled the days of plenty when Haru's kinder and gentler father had been king. He opened the royal grains and treasuries to feed his people during hard times, and always advocated peace, instead of open warfare like the current king. Their sons and brothers had been taken away from them far too many times on the King's whim to obtain a small pocket of precious gold in some far away land.
"You are to be given new clothes and will live in the palace until you become of age to marry," he instructed her.
Haru was confused. She knew of the King's cruelty towards the people, but offering her clothes and a place in the palace? Perhaps the rumors were exaggerated. She was sadly wrong.
The clothes were the tattered hand-me-downs of another girl, and Haru's place in the palace was that as a common maid. Her room was above the rickety stairs in the tallest tower. When it rained, the roof leaked mercilessly everywhere, and in winter ice formed on her thin blanket. Haru had made the best of things, however. She had found some needle and thread to patch and fix her rags, and the tower displayed a view of the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
But there were days when she wanted to throw herself out the window. She had the worst position of all the servants: serving her cousins, the King's twin daughters: Mitsuki and Ying. Both were as vain as peacocks, wasteful, and completely self-centered. They would order her to light the fire, but then to immediately put it out again. They would demand a four-course meal which took the cook hours to make, only to take a bite, and insist that they throw the rest out.
Fortunately the food did not go to waste. Haru would take the untouched meals and sneak it down to the kitchen alley. There, the orphans and poor of the city waited and she would carefully divide up the food amongst them. At first, the guards were about to stop her, but when they saw their families in the crowd they let her go about her business.
She quickly made friends with the other servants, often asking them to be on the lookout for extra blankets, food, and firewood to give to the others. With new maids, she protected them and made sure each had enough to eat, and were not hassled by some of the more insidious guards. She became an angel to the staff and to the people, but none knew her true identity as a princess.
Haru, Ying, and Mitsuki become of age in the same year. Already great plans were underway for an immense festival for the princesses, excluding Haru of course. She was to work in the kitchen serving food, while the princesses received mountains of clothes, money, and jewelry.
On the day of the festival, while the wealthy class children marveled at the pretty colors of the party, the lower class children worked doggedly to clean the trash up the streets or anything to make the city more "perfect." A great number of the lower class families had been ordered to stay in their homes to make the city more ideal to the visiting nobles.
Her hand shook visible with rage as Haru saw the cruelty of her uncle. Of course, she could never call him that title for fear of being turned out into the streets. She would always remain their servant for the rest of their lives. Standing in the kitchen, she quickly picked up another streaming tray of food to serve to the aristocrats. The King was making a speech.
"As you know today is my daughters' eighteenth birthday," he announced loudly.
Polite clapping continued until he waved his arms for silence. Haru smiled grimly. She had been eighteen for two months now, and instead of a party all she got was dirty pots and dishes to scrub. The servants did, however, pool their money together to purchase her a new dress to replace her tattered one. She placed the fancy meals down by each royal's side and listened attentively to the King.
"They are now of age to marry and whomever they do will become King when I die." The girls mock cried urging their father not to mention such terrible news, but all the while inwardly counting down until the day. He continued on.
"Because we can not determine who the elder is just bear with me on this part, I know it's confusing., I have devised a series of three contests to determine who will rule. I believe they are quite fair, though, and that any princess could complete them. He had meant to say that the contest could be completed easily by his girls, but someone interpreted the meaning differently.
"Any Princess?" Haru shouted out. She quickly covered her mouth. She really didn't mean to say anything, just to think it, but her anger had been too great. "Come on now! A contest to decide our kingdom's fate?" she had been thinking furiously. She couldn't take back what she said though, and waited for the King's reaction.
A deafening silence fell over the ceremonial room and the King gaped at Haru. Several noblemen snickered to each other on what gall a servant girl had to have in order to speak out of turn to the King. The servants tried to motion Haru to be silent, but she would not obey.
"I ask again, any Princess from your kingdom?" she said loudly.
"Yes," the King said nervously, wondering what she was doing calling attention to herself. He was infuriated and planned to have her whipped and beaten so badly after the party that she would never speak out again.
"Then I will also take place in the contest," she announced gravely. The spectators looked at each other in confusion. Rumors of an illegitimate daughter soon escalated around the room.
Haru hissed out, "I am not his daughter!" in complete revulsion at the thought.
"She is the daughter of the former King!" an advisor gasped in surprise. There was a greater escalation of whispers at this comment.
Her Uncle sputtered out at her in rage, "Your father abdicated the throne to me to marry a commoner. You no longer have the right to be called a princess!"
"That commoner was my Mother! Don't you dare speak ill of her. I am still of royal blood!" she retorted back.
Helplessly battling Haru's convictions, the King looked towards his advisors but they could do nothing but shrug at him. Secretly they were glad the Haru had stepped up because they risked their lives every day dealing with the King's mood swings and ire.
In the smallest voice possible he conceded to her taking place in the contest.
Haru grinned and listened to what the first task would be.
Struggling with what to do, the King pondered for a moment. Originally he was going to ask his daughters to bring him a rose or a feather, something simple. Now, he'd have to change the plan in order to provide Haru with the greatest difficulty but still giving one of his daughters a chance.
Grinning on finally realizing the perfect ordeal he proclaimed, "I am getting old in my age and I want to judge the future ruler of this kingdom." "Before we can actually begin the contest I order the princesses," he said with great malevolence, "to find husbands for themselves in a week's time."
Haru's face scrunched up in confusion. A husband? How was she ever going to find one in such short time? The servants were out of the question, and she certainly would not want any from the upper class. She consented however and was dismissed back to her room to prepare for her journey.
The King secretly had ordered the guards to beat Haru so that she may not be able to start her journey, and therefore be disqualified. The guards were her friends though, and had warned Haru to leave immediately, so she did. They returned to the King explaining to him that Haru had already left before they could get a chance to attack her. Wincing, they waited for the King to order their execution, but he was distracted by his daughters and dismissed them. Gratefully they left his presence while uttering a quiet prayer for Haru's success.
She had six days wandering around town looking for a husband. Most she deemed were unfit to even be alive, much less rule a kingdom. So here she was, sitting by the side of the road, completely lost from looking at a map her uncle had given her. She slapped her forehead with her hand for actually believing that her uncle had wanted to aid her on her journey.
She was running out of time! What was she going to do now?