APOLOGIES! This is a re-post. I forgot to fix a section, which if anyone read the original chapter, was bold-ed. Sorry.
New story. Yay! I know this is going to be kind of strange, and characters are not going to be exactly what you expect. Just give it a shot and let me know what you think. More notes at the bottom.
Kyoko Mogami had been born into a wealthy and noble family, and lived happily for most of her life in spite of the death of her mother at an early age. Her father adored her and doted on her, but never indulged her too much. She grew up with good sense, a kind nature, and an abundance of humility. Her father was a good man, and considered eccentric by his contemporaries. It might have been due to the great distance that he lived from court, but he had very particular ideals about people and equality. He bestowed these generously on his daughter.
"Everyone's a person," he told his little girl, sitting with her after supper one evening. "People are amazing. They can do all kinds of things. They can be whatever they want to. They can always change."
"Why do they treat us so special?" came the inquisitive reply.
"Because we have a special job. We have to make sure that everyone is taken care of. We have to make sure that everything that we watch over is going right. So we have to learn as much as we can, so we can be helpful."
Kyoko learned all kinds of skills that girls of her standing found beneath them, but she did not begrudge this. To her, all skill and craft was magic, and the ability to make things, to perfect them, and to tend them was spectacular. She was well loved by the staff of her father's household and helped them with their tasks in between her own formal education.
When she was thirteen, her father remarried, pressed by his position to produce an actual heir. He left his daughter and traveled to the capital to socialize and find a bride. His wealth made him desirable, but his strange ideals made him less so. He eventually married a widow who had two daughters of her own, who married him for his position and money. She was clever though, and bent to his will enough that he rather pitied her and tried to instill a sense of worth in her. He was passively fond of her children.
Several years after their marriage, when Kyoko was fifteen, he was carried away by a horrible fever, leaving his beloved daughter in the hands of a selfish clench fist.
Lady Saena Mogami had no love for her adopted daughter, or for her own children. She was pressed by social and monetary ambition. She would do her duty by her stepdaughter, but her own daughters ranked first among her concerns. Well second, next to raising her own position in the world. She had high ambitions for her own status, and was extraordinarily self interested. She did not believe in spending money she did not absolutely have to, and spent as much of it as she could on herself.
A very short time after her second husband's death, Saena realized that Kyoko was capable of working around the keep, and began to rid herself of the "excess" staff. Kyoko protected her various friends and teachers as best she could, but could not refuse the demands of her stepmother. She took over what chores she could and helped as best as she was able as the work load grew. But unfortunately, this only caused her stepmother to release even more staff.
Eventually, the disjointed family moved itself completely onto the first floor of the keep and Kyoko became solely responsible for the building's maintenance. Her days were divided between the finishing of a basic maidenly education and keeping the house in order, to the extent that she could.
Saena, in the mean time, was dragging as many young men as you could grasp from the center of society out to its fringes to meet her daughters. It was in this way, at the age of seventeen, that Kyoko met Shotaro Fuwa, a handsome and arrogant young man interested in inheriting her father's fiefdom and expanding his own circumstances.
Kyoko had been to some private formal events and had hosted very small parties for her father, but she had never been the object of a flirtation and could only be flattered by the attention that Shotaro was giving her. He put his best effort into amusing and complimenting her, which was not difficult. He complimented her and brought her petty gifts. Kyoko was convinced that he loved her and began to wait anxiously for his proposal.
Saena was not pleased. Her desire to marry her daughters off came mostly from a desire to form connections higher in society. This would allow her to marry very well a third time. The boys she was dragging in were for the sake of this goal, and Kyoko marrying would set her back. Shotaro's family had decent wealth and connections, so she could throw one of her girls away on him. But if he married Kyoko, not only would the connections not reach her as directly, he would take the estate from Saena. Kyoko's father's will had left the lands only temporarily in Saena's hands. They would be given to Kyoko's husband in event of her marriage in order to keep them in the actual family.
Saena discovered that not having a son was so taxing.
She decided to play off of Shotaro's vanity, and revealed to him Kyoko's servile position in the household. He was immediately offended and refused to acknowledge ever having associated with Kyoko.
"The title might be nice and you might have all that money, but I'd never marry a girl who knew how to sweep a floor."
To say Kyoko was heartbroken would have been an understatement. Years worth of cynicism were obtained in a single moment, and Kyoko swore to herself that she would never be so foolish as to take a man at his word again. She withdrew from all of the social calls her stepmother continued to make, worked only on keeping the house in order, and disappeared from society.
Saena was viciously angry over the turn of events, mostly because Shotaro had not turned his attention to one of her daughters. She allowed Kyoko to disappear in the hope that the other young men Saena engaged on her daughters' behalf would not be distracted by the silly chit who spent most of her days scrubbing floors and polishing metalwork.
Surprisingly, her daughters looked better on their stepsister after her tragic heartbreak.
To call Saena's daughters evil would be extraordinarily unfair. They were people, certainly, and had been given their own weaknesses of character. Vanity was a trait they shared, and had inherited from their mother. But it manifested in a very different way than in their parent. Neither one had a tolerance for fools, and while they could appreciate gratifying attention, they had a severe hatred for flattering leeches. These were the kind of people that Saena intended to surround herself with.
Neither daughter entered into their mother's ambitions. Kanae's interests were unheard of for a woman. She wanted to manage her own property, by herself, with no one to guide her. She was certain she could do it as well as any man, and a husband would only get in her way. She would not marry for money or prestige, and even if she could be forced to, she had no intention of associating with her mother once she left home, which placed the woman firmly against her daughter's plan.
Chiori was more whimsical than her older sister. She wanted to be a traveler, searching the kingdom and the world if she could for those who embodied perfection in humanity. Chiori had what she called a court face, unlike Kanae whose disdain for humanity in general was written clearly on her features, and hoped to find a person whose social mask was so sincere that she would not be able to see through it.
Neither of them had a very high opinion of their mother and they had no real love for their stepsister when they first met her. She seemed for the longest time like an overly indulged fool.
But once her heart had been thrashed by reality, both the girls could accept Kyoko better. She took care of all the chores, which they appreciated, and she sympathized with their ambitions. She was frightfully humble. She was foolishly honest, but that could not be helped. She made their life more comfortable, and they came to think of her in a tolerant way.
They were not encouraged to speak with her once she shunned society. Their mother disliked them forming such a paltry and useless attachment. Their quiet respect for her was unchanged, but they allowed her to be bullied in their place. She was a useful scapegoat and they were only human and had no desire to face Saena's displeasure. Kyoko did not complain and she was distracting enough that they were able to chase their own pleasures for the most part.
And then, as time wandered on in its own placid way, in February of the year that Kyoko was eighteen years old, there came to the holding an invitation from the palace.
"Apparently there is to be royal ball, in honor of his Highness, the Crown Prince."
"Hurrah…" Kanae responded to her mother's declaration with all the satirical enthusiasm she could muster. Chiori smiled mildly and just shook her head as Saena turned a withering gaze on her oldest child.
"I am not asking you to like the invitation, but you must agree that it is very generous."
"Especially given that we haven't been to the palace since our father was alive?" Kanae retorted. "What on earth possessed them to bring us in now? Or is it actually an imperative summons to make sure you haven't actually let the real inheritor of this place die of a broken heart?"
"The Fuwas never mentioned their son's courtship to anyone. There is no reason for anyone to believe that girl has died of any sort of emotional failure," Saena responded, ignoring the insult.
"I was referring to her father's death actually. Most people do when they talk about the fact that she isn't around. They say she couldn't take the loneliness, or you, and wasted away." Saena gave her daughter another acerbic stare.
"Well, that is just something we will have to deal with, won't we? In any event, the invitation is for a ball. All of the girls in the kingdom have been invited to meet the Crown Prince for his twenty-second birthday."
Chiori's mouth dropped open in shock.
"All of them? Every single girl?"
"I would imagine, since that is what the invitation says," Saena stated coolly.
"It says that?" Kanae's voice was full of disbelief.
"The invitation states that the event might be a trifle crowded because all of the 'eligible young females of the realm have been invited and are expected to come barring pressing extenuating circumstances.'"
"Define 'eligible,'" Kanae muttered darkly. Her mother glowered again, but her daughter had gone back to absently poking at her food.
"Can they fit that many people into the palace? It's large, but..." Chiori trailed off, speculative.
"The invitation states that the ball will stretch across a number of days, and guests are invited to attend based on the district they live in. This will give the provincials, like ourselves, more time to travel. We will be attending the last day of the ball."
"So we won't meet anyone from the capital?"
"I imagine there will be a number of guests who are residents of the palace who will attend more than once. Certainly the royal family will be there every night. And if there is to be dancing, and the invitation only specifically invites the females of the realm, I imagine a number of men have been specially invited."
Throughout this conversation, Kyoko had moved about the room, serving dishes and listening silently to the conversation. It was not uncommon for her to be the topic of discussion, and she was used to being treated like she was part of the furniture. The past few years had resigned her to her servile role.
She made no comment on the invitation, but a few moments later, as she removed a plate for Chiori, the other girl looked up at her and blinked.
"Wait, since the invitation is for all eligible girls, that does include Kyoko, right?"
Her mother gave her a harsh glance, but said nothing, turning back to her food. Saena thought for a few moments before she spoke.
"Would you like to go with us?" The question was directed at Kyoko and was the only statement that had been directed at the girl that was not an order for the past year. But Saena did not look up from her supper.
"I believe I am supposed to go, since I don't have any particularly extenuating circumstances," Kyoko responded quietly with a bow.
"Except for not having a dress suitable for the occasion…" Saena suggested quietly.
"I could make one," she replied, hesitating. "It would cost less than having someone else make one. And I could use the material from my old dresses."
Saena tapped her finger against the table, looking at her own offspring, still ignoring the desperate look of the girl beside her.
"But you will have to make new dresses for the three of us, before the end of the month, along with all your other duties."
Kyoko swallowed hard, and her voice was, if possible, even quieter.
"Of course. But I could at least try."
"Very well, I see no harm in that. If you complete all of your work, have the dresses for us completed, have finished your dress, and do not fall asleep in the middle of getting dressed on the night of the ball, we will take you with us."
This announcement was made as Kyoko's stepmother stood up from the table and exited the room without a backwards glance at any of the girls.
Kanae and Chiori exchanged a knowing glance. For whatever reason, their foolish sister had long ago decided to try and make herself pleasing to the ever unsatisfied Saena. The two girls suspected it was because Kyoko was still not used to being unloved by her parent, but they had stopped trying to convince her it was not worth it.
They also made no empty promises to wear an old gown or help with the sewing. Their mother was a jealous woman and would do everything in her power to keep Kyoko from the castle on the slight chance that she would distract from Kanae and Chiori. It was unlikely that either girl would grab the attention of the Prince, but there would be plenty of other young men there, and Saena was not a woman to take chances. She wanted her daughters elevated, and she would not risk her own position on Kyoko falling stupidly in love again.
In any event, preparations for the ball began. Kyoko was swamped with work, not just preparing the dresses, but making sure the jewels the girls would wear were cleaned and neat, making sure the carriage was prepped, hiring a man to drive the family, making sure the keep was prepared for their absence, and running all sorts of other errands. While she worked quickly and efficiently, time was not on her side.
The week of their departure arrived and she had yet to finish her sisters' gowns, much less start her own.
Their Royal Majesties King Kuu Hizuri and Queen Juliena Hizuri were not happy. They had tried, they really had, to raise a good son. Having only been blessed with one child, they had cherished him, doted on him, scolded him a bit, and impressed upon him his duty to the kingdom, all in that order.
How his logic had become so warped they would never know.
They had especially encouraged him to marry where his heart was, not simply for his duty to the kingdom. But they had also told him to take his duty seriously. And they had spoiled him all through his life, they would admit. So when he had come up with his flippant idea for his birthday celebration, they could not help but cave to his whims.
It did not help that his father was such a stupidly loving parent.
His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Kuon Hizuri had suggested that since his parents had barely let him out of their sight, had restricted his movements so much during their travels, and had (rightfully) kept him in the company of the noble and genteel, it was not his fault that he had never developed so much as a slight affection for a woman. He was constantly surrounded by the people who wanted to be noticed and rewarded by the crown, had not been able to travel and get to know the world as he should, and if his parents really desired him to marry for love, they had to acknowledge that his love might not be found amongst the entitled of the realm.
They had very begrudgingly agreed.
Yukihito Yashiro, particular advisor to the royal family, recommended by their close friend His Grace Lory Takarada, nearly had a fit when he heard the news. He was in charge of assembling the guest list, which took every ounce of his ingenuity, and organizing the preparations for so very many people. It also rubbed against his dignity to think he would be writing invitations for girls of every class. It was tasteless, and he hoped that the nobility would not be offended by Kuon's blatant flaunting of the rules of decency. He took to glaring at Kuon whenever they met, but the younger man just smiled and thanked him for all his hard work.
Yukihito hoped he fell down a flight of stairs.
A quiet evening at the palace found the royal family, His Grace, and their advisor all helping to sort the various replies to invitations. The king and queen were quietly working in one corner, while Yukihito grumbled to himself in another. Kuon took the opportunity to speak with Lory.
Duke Lory Takarada was a man of an impressive nature. He was perpetually in full ball dress, taking the shine out of everyone around him. It was not that he was over bedecked with jewels, chains, pendants, or rings. He had decorations to match all of his outfits well, but not overdone. He looked his best at all times. At an actual ball, he outshone his fellow guests with even brighter colors, richer fabrics, and finer details than anyone else could even imagine. And the occasional exotic animal.
No one tried to copy his style. He was one of a kind.
"You seem excited about this," Kuon murmured, shifting in his seat.
Lory looked over at Kuon, who was shifting papers disinterestedly.
"Biggest event here since your parents wedding. Why would I not be excited?"
"I seem to recall you telling me not a week before this idea appeared that you hoped I came by my just desserts for breaking so many gentle hearts. Seems strange that you would have encouraged this."
Lory chuckled. "I thought you understood me," he scolded. "You proposed to your parents a plan where you would meet a girl and fall madly in love with her in one night. Fall in love with her, Kuon. As much as I would still love to watch you come by what you have earned, I don't have any desire to see anyone alone and lonely for their whole life."
"So ideally, I find the girl at the ball?"
Lory snorted, displeased with Kuon's apathetic tone.
"Ideally, you get jilted badly and have to work to prove you're worth marrying. Or even knowing..." Kuon cocked an eyebrow.
"You really expect that to happen?"
Lory did not need to look at Kuon to read the incredulity coming off of the boy. In all honesty, Lory expected no such thing. Kuon was the Crown Prince and it was highly improbable that a girl's family would let her refuse his proposal. If he was refused, Lory did not have a lot of hope in Kuon rising to the challenge of proving his worth. He knew, even more than Kuon's parents, the weight of the responsibility that Kuon carried, and also the frustration and fear he felt.
For all that Kuu was regarded as the most eccentric royal the kingdom had ever been subject to, he was also very well respected. He was hard working, peaceful, and fair. He tried not to step on the toes of the wealthy and entitled, but he also did his best to make his kingdom comfortable for all the little people who kept it running.
His wife was no less loved, but Kuon had long been subject to an unhealthy amount of comparison between him and his father. It was no use telling the boy he would be his own kind of king. Kuu had set a high standard, and Kuon was not sure he could reach it. Especially since he was unsure of where his own talents really lay. To be sure, he had excelled at all his scholarly pursuits, could hold his own in physical activities, and had excellent manners. But he was unsure of his own interests and passions, and did not know his kingdom as well as he should.
This could be partly blamed on Kuu, whose overly doting desires kept him close to his son at all times, and as such made it impossible for Kuon to try and get to know his people. The adults turned to his father. The children were intimidated by his title and his hovering parent.
Worse than any of this, Kuon knew his ignorance and weakness, and felt inadequate because of it. And it was not something that could be easily remedied.
That was a third reason why Lory approved of this event, though he would not admit it to anyone. In spite of the fact that all kinds of people would invade the palace and cause no small riot, it was a chance for Kuon to meet a large number of people he had never seen before and learn how to interact with them all.
It was not being publicized that the event was being hosted in order for Kuon to find a bride, but rumors moved faster than wildfire and it would make for a very interesting evening. Kuon would end up speaking to a large number of girls who, rightly or not, would hold expectations of catching his attention. He would have to judge their sincerity and be judged in return. Some of them would have no expectations and would test him, to see if he trifled with them. He might learn a few things.
However, hanging over everyone's head was the fear that Kuon would take interest in a girl, and that she would not really be suitable queen material.
His parents had no desire to see him in an apathetic relationship based on duty, and Lory abhorred the idea and worked continually under the belief that every human should be enveloped perpetually in a loving relationship. Yukihito knew Kuon well enough to want him to be happy, in spite of wanting him to fall down a flight of stairs. The only thing Kuon had ever wanted his own happiness.
But all of them knew it would be very awkward if he were to fall in love with a girl deemed unworthy by society, particularly the nobility. Technically, there was no power or law that could stop him, but it would be difficult. She would have to have very thick skin and be prepared to be shunned by both the upper and lower class. And it would create bad feelings towards the monarchs, both present and future.
With feelings of trepidation in the hosts, an uncertainty eating at the guests, and a disappointed Kyoko sitting quietly in her room making tiny stitches, the ball looked to be an unfavorable affair.
So there it is. Chapter one. I hope that you liked it, and that you'll stick around for chapter two. If you have any questions, find anything confusing, or have any advice, please please please let me know. I'll try and sort things out and make this incredible. I'm hoping that Will and I will be able to work things out so that this updates in a timely fashion. My poor, poor beta. Hope you all are having a good new year.