Disclaimer: Do not own... obviously
A/N: I said to myself that I was going to update this within a month of the last update, and boy did I cut it close! Well, the same goal will apply for the next update. I'm going to ATTEMPT to update this on a monthly schedule.
A/N2: I finished writing that sequel to Torn! And it was posted sometime last week. You should totally check it out because it took me a while to get that finished. And depending on how you see things, the story has finally concluded Torn or just started to be something of it's own. It's called "Torn Again?". Go! R&R!
Final announcement: EVERYONE IN THE STORY, EXCEPT SAEKO, THINKS THAT NATSUKI IS A BOY!
Chapter 8: Squire Days, Part 3
A small sigh escaped Natsuki as she lowered the book she was reading onto her face, allowing its pages to shield her eyes from the sunlight. She relaxed both of her arms by letting them hang limply from at her sides as she shifted lightly, hoping to get into a more comfortable position. As she laid there, she contemplated on the passages that she recently read regarding the way Cardair's government functioned.
It wasn't very different from their own, except for a few small differences in regards to what a certain position is allowed to do and not allowed to do. It seems they are very strict when it comes to tradition. Most of the laws currently in place are laws that were created hundreds of years ago, without alterations or amendments. And some of those laws, Natsuki found, were slightly distasteful.
"Ara," a familiar voice caught her attention. "Why is Natsuki-kun sleeping on a tree branch?"
Jolting from her position, Natsuki caught her book just in time as it fell off of her face. Changing her position to a upright one, Natsuki peered down to find a look of amusement on the princess's face.
"I'm studying, princess," Natsuki replied.
"Lying down with a book on your face a few feet off the ground?"
"I think better when I am not confined to a desk. I've heard complaints from other pages who seem to think I slack but miraculously pass with the best grades, so I'm aware that from another person's point of view, I am relaxing."
"Ara, I see. What is Natsuki studying then?"
"Cardair's government. Mostly just reading up on tradition and laws, it seems," the blunette replied as she pushed herself off of the branch, and landed a few feet away from the princess. "It's actually kind of boring."
"I think it's fascinating," Shizuru replied. "All the different views of life and different codes of conduct that other people abide by. The differences in culture and mindset that allows a certain type of government advantages over some things but disadvantages over others."
Natsuki stared at the princess. She wanted to inject her own opinion on the subject matter, but decided that it was better left unsaid.
"Cardair's culture doesn't particularly appeal to me in a positive way," the squire replied. "What kind of government specifically creates laws that strip rights from women? I mean, look at this," she continued as she opened her book and started reading from it. "A woman shall not seek employment without the consent of her husband. In the case that the husband shall consent, the woman must only seek employment from a list of recommendations from her husband. If a woman so chooses to be employed, her wage shall not exceed the wage of her husband. What kind of law is that?"
"Ara. But Natsuki does realize that it is frowned upon for woman to find employment in Windbloom, does he not?"
"Frowned upon, yes, princess. But there are no laws stating that a woman does not have the right to seek employment without the consent of her husband. And furthermore, there are no laws specifically restricting the wife to have a lower wage than her husband. So while it is culturally strange and unusual, a woman can seek employment without actually breaking a law in Windbloom. Besides, it is frowned upon here because it is the responsibility of the husband to take care of his wife. If his wife seeks employment, it is implied that the husband does not have the ability to take care of her and his family. It is frowned upon not because of the woman, but because of the man's inability to provide. It is a stigma that implies the husband is incompetent."
"What if the wife just wants a few extra coins to buy nicer clothing or fine jewelry? In that case, the husband is able to provide for her adequately. It is only her covetous nature that drives her to seek employment to fulfill her material needs."
"The husband should be able to provide her with whatever she pleases. A man must always be able to provide for the woman whatever she desires. If he cannot provide for her, another man of more wealth shall do so."
"Ara, but you assume this wife is desirable. What if the only man who would marry this woman is the poor man who can only provide food and shelter, while extravagant gifts are something that he will only be able to provide on occasion?"
"I concede to your argument, princess, but we have strayed far from the original topic at hand," the squire said, closing her book.
Shizuru wore a small grin as she cocked her head slightly to the side. "And what might that be, Natsuki-kun?"
"That Cardair has some less than appealing laws, for my taste."
Shizuru hummed her agreement.
"So what were you doing out here, princess?" Natsuki asked, realizing that she didn't know what the princess wanted from her or why she was here in the first place.
"I was just taking a walk. When I noticed you, I decided to come by. I didn't know you were studying, so I do apologize for the interruption."
"No need for apologies, princess. I was about to take a break anyway. I never did like reading about politics and other countries much."
"Ara, I see. Any particular reason why you are reading about Cardair's laws and traditions then?"
"Mm... well, Sir Sayers is there right now, hoping to make peace with them. Before he left, he told me that I should study about our neighboring countries, hence the readings. Which, speaking of, he's been gone for while now, hasn't he?"
"He has," Shizuru nodded.
"Well," Natsuki replied as she placed her book down onto the ground. "I recognize it's a little earlier than our usual sessions, but what do you say we start now?"
"Yes, Natsuki!" the brunette replied excitedly. "I've been practicing my footwork, so you can come at me full speed."
The squire gave a small chuckle at Shizuru's enthusiasm. "Full speed? I'm not so sure you'd want that yet."
"But I want to see how far I've progressed. If I were to enter into a real spar with Natsuki, I want to see how long I would last dodging."
"Well, I guess it might be a good way to grasp that," the blunette replied. "Okay then. But first, we need to do our warm-ups."
The pair started off jogging, building up their heart-rate before slowly letting it decline again as they walked it off. Then came stretches. And then a small warm-up exercise, where Natsuki worked at the same pace she did the day before, allowing Shizuru to re-familiarize herself with the movements of dodging and blocking.
"Okay then, princess. Are you sure you're ready for this?" Natsuki asked again, as she positioned herself for an offense.
"Yes," the brunette replied. "I'm ready."
The squire leapt forward and began unleashing attacks at the speed she normally used when training with Sir Sayers. She moved fast as she threw punches at the other girl and she could tell Shizuru was having trouble keeping up with the speed. The number of times she had to block far outweighed the number of times she was able to successfully dodge. The last punch Natsuki threw would have connected with the princess's left cheek, but she stopped herself just in time before contact was made.
"Ara," the princess breathed as Natsuki slowly moved away from her. "I didn't even see that last punch. Natsuki is indeed very agile."
"For someone who just started training, you didn't do half bad," Natsuki replied.
"How did I do?" the princess asked.
"You lasted 17 strikes."
"Kicks and swipes become harder to do the faster I go, because my balance shifts from two feet to one and back. So it wasn't that I was going easy on you, princess. I just chose the mode of attack based off of what I think would maximize my speed," Natsuki said with a smile. "Sometimes, I feel you are too hard on yourself. I have had years of training, while you have only started a few months ago. The gap in skill isn't because of anything besides experience, so don't worry too much over that."
"Ara, thank you, Natsuki."
"You're welcome. Let's take five and then resume regular training then."
"Welcome back, Sir Sayers," Natsuki greeted her mentor as she watched him dismount from his horse.
"It's good to be back," he replied, swinging a large bag over his shoulder. "Did I miss anything interesting while I was gone?"
Moving to grab the luggage from the knight, Natsuki replied. "Not at all. There doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. At least, I haven't noticed anything."
"And the princess? Is she doing well?"
"Very well, sir. She exercises every day, and I accompany her during those times."
"Mm, good. And how are your studies coming along?"
"Very well, sir. I have been reading about Cardair and Aries as you have instructed. More so about Cardair lately, because I know we are trying to make peace with them."
"Good, Kuga. Continue to concentrate your studies about Cardair. The more you know, the better it will be for you."
"Sir? Is something wrong?" Natsuki asked, noticing that the knight seemed tense.
He let out a long sigh before answering. "Negotiations with Cardair are not going smoothly. They are not very cooperative and want to push for more than we are willing to give. I've returned to pass on some messages to His Majesty from Cardair. When His Majesty and his council make a decision on how they want to handle the situation, then I will go back to Cardair to give them an answer."
"Do you not foresee peace, sir?"
"I foresee complications, boy," Sir Sayers said as he stopped in front of his chamber's door. He turned to Natsuki and held his hand out, motioning for the squire to return his luggage. "We'll resume our normal practices tomorrow. For now, I need rest."
"Yes, sir," Natsuki responded before turning around to head towards to her room.
Sleep didn't come easy that night as she contemplated over what her mentor said about how he foresaw complications with Cardair. The negotiations obviously went awry, if Sir Sayer's tiredness was any indication. Natsuki knew, from her readings, that Cardair probably wouldn't be very easy to deal with. They're a twitchy bunch, but they also think that they're unbeatable because of their many victories. It is likely that if Cardair and Windbloom did not reach a consensus soon, blood will be spilt.
However, Windbloom has large and organized armies while Cardair's have only recently started recuperating from their losses in the past wars they've fought. Even if Cardair wanted to, they probably don't have all the means to start a war with us. So maybe we're safe. After all, if they agree to peace with us, it guarantees them that we will not attempt to invade them, at the very least.
Natsuki woke up the next morning with a book beside her. She slowly closed the book and placed it on the night stand next to her bed before moving to start her morning routines. When she went to the dining mess for breakfast, she found no sign of her mentor. Deciding to continue her day as normal, she consumed some bread and water before making her way towards the princess's chambers.
As per usual, she stood outside with the guards and waited for the princess to wake. As she waited, she found herself staring out a window not too far from her position. She watched as birds flew freely in the sky and briefly thought about how wonderful it was to be a bird. To be able to soar through the sky freely, letting the wind hit your face without a worry in the world.
"The princess calls for you," one of the guards said, breaking her out of her reverie.
"Thank you," Natsuki replied as she walked towards the door. The squire entered the room, but stood relatively close to the closed doors. "Good morning, princess."
"Ara, good morning, Natsuki. I heard Sir Sayers was due to return last night. Did you see him? Do you know if he is doing well?" she asked.
"I did, princess. And he is doing well. Thank you for asking."
"So what is upsetting you?"
Natsuki faltered for a bit, taken aback by the question. "E-Excuse me, princess?"
"What's bothering you?" the brunette repeated as she motioned for the squire to have a seat.
"What makes you think something is bothering me?" Natsuki replied, still rooted to her spot by the doors.
Shizuru smiled before answering. "Women's intuition, I suppose? The air around you is gloomy. So tell me, what is bothering my knight-to-be?"
"It's not really... It's nothing, really..." Natsuki tried.
"Mhm," the princess replied. "That's a good start, but let's try it again with the truth this time."
Natsuki sighed as she advanced into the room, taking the seat which Shizuru motioned to earlier. "Cardair."
"Can you explain?"
"Sir Sayers came back last night from his long trip in Cardair. As you know, Sir Sayers went because of peace negotiations, but last night he told me that the negotiations are not going well. The people of Cardair seem to want to bite off more than they can chew from us. And I can imagine that we wouldn't be too happy about that either."
"You worry about impending war, then?"
"You think there'll be a war?"
"I think the chances of war are greater than chances of peace with Cardair, especially if what you say is true."
"Ara?" Shizuru asked as she looked up. "Is it not obvious?"
"No - yes - I mean. I can see why you think there will be war, but how can you deduce that the chances of war are higher than peace? You can't know that for sure," the squire replied.
"No, I suppose it is true that one can never predict the future. My deduction was based entirely off of history and culture. Generally speaking, Cardair usually wants all or nothing, so I imagined that they might be pushing the bounds quite a bit with the negotiations. Now, Windbloom is a peace country. If we can avoid war, we tend to, but we also do not back down from those who try to take advantage of our lack of bloodthirst. If Cardair does not back down and insist that we give them more power and more freedom to our land than we wish to give, things will get messy. It will be one of two scenarios. One, they decide that negotiations are a waste of their time because we keep saying no to what they want. They will, therefore, take what they want by force. War. Two, we will get tired of their high demands and cease negotiations with them. Seeing that we are no longer attempting peace with them, they will raise their war flags once again to try to take what they could not from negotiations. It might be a few months. It might be a few years. But I think it'll happen eventually."
"How are you sure? What about the scenario where Windbloom cease negotiations but Cardair does not attack because they know that we have full armies, unlike the little tidbits of land they conquered over the years?"
"Natsuki, if i told you that I will give you a new sword if you can do more than fifty push-ups, what would you do? And let's assume that you really want this sword. Will you do the push-ups to try and win the sword, or would you retreat?"
"I guess I would do the push-ups," the squire answered, a little confused. "I don't see where you're going with this."
"Have you noticed that Cardair doesn't care how many soldiers they send to die? They like war and expansion. If they come to conquer us, even if they fail, they don't lose. They still have every bit of land that they used to own, and maybe a little more where our borders connect. But if we fail, we lose everything. Do you see? They have nothing to lose, while we have everything to lose. As with the sword analogy, you have nothing to lose, so you will do the push-ups to see if maybe you can win."
"Your theories are flawed. They're sound, but flawed. You neglected other factors like Cardair's economy. Will Cardair even be able to supply their armies with the equipment needed for war? And population. You pointed out that they do not care how many people they send to die, but there are only so many people that they can send to die."
"Ara, Natsuki does not have to believe me, but he should keep this conversation in mind. A few years from now, when this situation is settled, we can look back to this time and know that one of us was right," Shizuru said with a small twinkle in her eyes.
"If you think we are going to war, how can you be so calm about it? Why don't you try to devise a way so that we don't go to war?"
"Ara, I am not allowed to intervene in political affairs, Natsuki. I was sure you knew this," she replied with a small questioning gaze. "Was I wrong?"
The blue-haired squire realized her blunder and apologised immediately. "I'm sorry, princess. I did know that. It just didn't occur to me at the time as I was so absorbed in the discussion."
"I see," the princess replied.
Guilt ate away at Natsuki as she internally scolded herself. And then a thought occurred to her that she wanted to smack herself for not noticing earlier. "Princess, how did you know all of that information considering that you aren't allowed to intervene with political affairs? I mean, I'm sure you had someone teach you how to read and write, but who taught you politics?"
A fleeting look of surprise crossed Shizuru's face before she answered. "Ara, books. Books taught me about politics. Once I was taught how to read, I would occasionally sneak off to the library and read for a few hours at a time. After all, what's a girl supposed to do when she's bored of the same routine activities offered in the castle."
"Oh," Nasuki replied, speechless.
"Now then," the princess announced as she stood up. "Shall we go on a walk and proceed to some exercise?"
"Of course, princess," the squire replied as she followed suit.
This has only been given a once-over in the proofreading process, so mistakes are imminent. If you see any, please feel free to let me know!
Thanks for reading! Please read and review!
Now, time for that other one. *Jogs off to write "Entangled".*