Chapter One: The Baron's Request
King Valorous fought back a yawn, the careful training of his youth several centuries before serving him well. There was only one more courtier after this one, and the monarch was looking forward to what his old friend wanted from him.
"I'm afraid that I can't help with that problem, Count Hashil. Not even the master of Toto and Muta can make them behave for more than an hour, as he can well tell you."
The Baron von Gikkingen chuckled softly as he nodded his confirmation; his yellow-green eyes twinkling.
"If it will help, Majesty, I can start giving them assignments in completely different areas, or just place them far from his grace, since he finds them to be so distressing."
The count balked as the Fairy King laughed.
"Thank you, Baron. See, Count? You could have just asked the good lord himself."
The count laughed a little foolishly as he bowed and stepped aside, allowing the baron to come forward with his request.
The King looked at his old friend with pleasure. His greatest sorcerer had never before requested anything personal for his efforts for the Fairy Kingdom, despite the monarch's urging to name a gift of his own choosing.
He was thrilled that Baron had finally found something to reward him that he wanted but didn't already have.
"And what would the Baron von Gikkingen request of me this fine day?"
"I wish for permission to court a human, and marry her if she accepts me."
Many nobles gasped, some blinking their eyes in disbelief. The King stared at his favorite sorcerer.
"I'm sorry, Baron; I could have sworn that you just asked to court a human."
"I did. You heard correctly, Your Majesty."
One aristocrat came forward, her blue eyes dark and angry.
"I protest! Baron, you are mine! Mine!"
He looked at the woman coolly.
"No. I'm not. You and everyone else have been assuming for centuries that I am, merely because we share a common trait. I never had any intention of marrying you, and I doubt the inclination will ever come to me."
She gasped, tears freely running down her face. But the Baron wasn't falling for the crocodile tears. King Valorous regained his breath.
"Why on earth would you want to court a human?"
The half-cat's eyes softened, and a content smile came on his lips.
"Because I recently discovered that I am in love with one, and if I don't move soon, someone else will probably get her. She's an amazing girl."
The King struggled to maintain his calm composure.
"Have you ever spoken to this girl?"
"No, but she spoke to me, when we met a few years ago, and I've been keeping an eye on her. I doubt she remembers me."
"Please tell us what's so special about the human."
"Oh, where to start… she has a good and caring heart; she's patient, loving, and hard-working. She's clever in her own way, and not too hard on the eyes. But what I found so intriguing was her temper."
The monarch raised one eyebrow.
"Why was it intriguing?" As far as he knew, a woman's temper was something to fear, not admire. Baron laughed.
"A young man tried to make her compromise her morals, and she tore him apart, verbally in any case. She could have done it physically, but the boy got the point she was making, and hasn't come near her since. She has a stubborn streak a mile long, but at least it's over the things that matter." He smiled a little foolishly at the memory, the white half-cat at his side growing angrier by the second.
"Let me guess; she's a princess or something?"
"No, she's a farm girl. Her family grows vegetables and herbs." Or at least it had. The feline woman's jaw dropped in astonishment, her eyes wide and disbelieving.
"A commoner?! You're choosing a commoner over me?!"
"Yes," Baron said flatly, facing his monarch once more. "Majesty, you have asked me many times for something you could give me, and Haru's the only thing I want that I can't have without your permission. I'm fully committed to try courting her, whether I'm a fairy or if I must become a human to do it."
Several gasped again, the idea of giving up one's power was incomprehensible even to the least of them, let alone the fact that the most powerful of them was willing to do it, if necessary. The King stared in amazement, impressed by the level of Baron's commitment.
The orange cat man wasn't one to take such action without several hours of careful consideration. And the King truly couldn't function without his favorite sorcerer.
"You are aware that you'd only get a few years with her? Humans age much faster than we do."
"And there will more than likely be problems with asking a farm girl to exchange her old life for this," the cat lord agreed, gesturing around the great hall with an elegant wave. "But if I don't take the chance, I'll never know what we could have had together. Even if she shoots me down for being a cat, at least I'll know, instead of stewing over it for the next few centuries."
The King thought carefully. It was the only thing his friend had ever asked for, but there were so many complications! And Louise was one enemy he didn't want to make.
"Why don't you show us this special girl?"
Baron bowed, and waved one hand slightly, the twin doors opposite of the King disappeared, and were replaced by a bird's view of a small cottage, the only movement being behind the modest home. The orange cat tightened in the picture until everyone could see the girl's face.
Haru took a short break to wipe at the dirt-ridden sweat on her forehead with one hand, the other holding a shovel. Her hands hurt terribly with blisters and rub burns, but she couldn't stop her labors now. Her long brown locks were tied back in a high ponytail by a thick strip of cloth, obviously being able to be used for other purposes in a pinch.
The slim brunette reached up in order to place her tool aside and lie down in the long pit she had made. She kept her back completely straight, and crossed her arms over her chest, to get a good feel. The soil was cool and soft, deep under the shadows. It took all of her self-control to keep herself from drifting off, and leaving this world's cares behind her.
It was almost perfect. She got up in order to reach the shovel, and made the necessary adjustments. She lied down again, pleased that it now fit perfectly. As an afterthought, she added a little space close to the feet, to give herself a place to be.
The young woman slammed her shovel aside, and managed to climb out of the steep hole. She gripped large handfuls of thick grass to help pull herself out of the pit. Once she was out, she stretched gratefully, and looked at the aged mound next to the grave.
"She'll be just a minute," Haru said softly, bowing to the mound before letting herself inside the shack that had always been her home. It was a simple dwelling, with the only notable thing being the large handfuls of herbs hanging upside down over her head, which was done in order to make them keep longer. The modest home had but one room, and one sleeping area in the corner of it.
Her mother, Naoko Yoshioka, was lying on the straw mat that made their bed. Her daughter lay down next to her, but she didn't move. Frankly, the brunette would have been shocked beyond words if her mother had reacted.
'This will be the hard part.'
She's been telling herself this ever since the sickness came to her community. The hard part was watching her friends get sick. Then she got sick, and her mother soon after. Haru had recovered, but her mother hadn't. She was partially grateful that her father hadn't been around to also get sick and see his wife die. It had been easier to bury him, since she had her mother for help and comfort back then. Now, she was all alone.
The slim girl made sure that her back was towards her mother as she reached over to touch the woman's skin. Not quite as cold as snow, but getting there. The brunette pulled her mother's body partially over her as she stood on her feet again.
Feeling a little disrespectful, she reached down for her mother's legs and leaned forward, so that the body was riding piggy back on her. Even if someone had offered to help her besides the soldiers, who were doing mass graves for the slain, she would have politely turned them down. It was a daughter's duty to ensure the safety of her mother's body.
She staggered over to the grave she had just made, and carefully laid down so that her mother would roll off of her gently onto the cool grass next to the deep hole. The brunette slipped back into the hole, then turned to pull her mother's body into the hole as softly as she could manage. Her mother was the same height and build as the brown-eyed girl, so of course the grave was a perfect fit.
Once the redheaded woman was arranged in a comfortable manner, Haru leaned over her mother's face, touching her face one final time. She leaned down in order to kiss the cold forehead, hating how different it felt in death.
With streaming eyes that rearranged the dirt on her face, she climbed out of the hole and reached for the shovel again. She stopped, and looked at her blistered hands, nearly bleeding. She choked out a sob as she kneeled and started pushing the dirt over her mother's grave, the hard roots harming her hands anyway. Only when there was not enough dirt to push anymore did she reach for the shovel again, only taking one break in order to break open the bag of flower seeds tied to the rope around her waist and sprinkle the tiny offerings over the freshly turned earth, praying to give her mother the final gift of beauty as the seeds stuck to her moist bleeding hands.
She didn't know where the bag had shown up from, but didn't worry about it, or other things like it that happened. It had shown up outside her door last night, when her mother died. It warmed her heart that someone else cared about her pain, even if it was some stranger.
As she patted the last of the soil over her mother's grave, she suddenly got a familiar feeling; one that she had been too distracted to notice before. She sharply looked up and to her left, knowing better than to expect to see someone. Her mother used to call her paranoid, but Haru still knew that someone was watching her. For some reason, the vibes were different this time, like there was someone new with her usual stalker.
"I'm going through a crisis here. Don't you have anything better to do?" she asked, now softly glaring into the void space she was getting the vibes from; the sun setting behind her back. This was a very painful time in her life, and she wanted to be left alone for now. The vibes faltered for a second, like they had heard her.
Despite how many times she told herself that no one cared enough about her life to magically spy on her, the feeling of being watched always returned, although thankfully never when she was relieving herself, dressing herself, or bathing herself, often getting the feeling to suddenly stop when she made to do one of those three things, like her mysterious stalker was a bashful child or something. That reminded her; she'll have to clean herself up tomorrow from the dirt she had covered herself with, since she was too tired to do it now.
The brunette smiled grimly as she turned back to her parents' graves, and bowed to them once more before carrying the shovel back inside the house, crashing on the straw mat her mother had been resting on.
It had been a long day indeed. And tomorrow would be longer.