The Girl in the Tower Confronts Her Mother
As Kuon and Kyoko stepped out of the forest and into the view of the group beyond, the previously chatty servants all fell silent. Not a word was spoken as the pair approached. It was eerie; like the calm before a storm.
Saena's eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in displeasure as she watched her daughter walk towards her, holding hands with the Crown Prince. She could barely contain herself; she wanted to rip the girl's hand out of his and have her dragged away somewhere, so she wouldn't have to worry about the wretch spilling all her secrets.
She couldn't behave so improperly, however; somehow the girl had managed to worm her way into the prince's favor—How had she even met him?—and Saena could do nothing with him watching. The only thing she could do was wait for the prince to leave—acting pleasant towards him, all the while—before unleashing her rage on her fool of a daughter.
Yukihito was shocked to see Prince Kuon holding hands with a dirty, poor-looking girl as he walked out of the forest. Could this be the girl they had been searching for all afternoon? Yukihito knew the prince was… unconventional, but surely he wasn't eccentric enough to spend all day looking for an ordinary servant girl?
Nevertheless, Yukihito still stepped forward as Prince Kuon approached the group, to take the lantern from him and to quietly ask, "Is this the girl?" If he hoped for the prince to answer in the negative, his hopes were quickly dashed as Prince Kuon nodded, never letting go of the girl's hand. Yukihito sighed, and turned to hand the lantern to a nearby servant. He wondered why the Duke had asked him to tag along; there wasn't anything he could do once the prince had set his mind on something.
Shoutaro watched as Kyoko and the noble walked towards the carriage, still holding hands. He wished he could call out to her, wished that he was the one holding her hand. Sure, she had been somewhat annoying when she was younger, always talking about fairies and true love, and always being so eager to please, even to the point of doing his chores, but he had been fond of her, though he'd rarely showed it. And over the last year, she had only become more beautiful.
Shoutaro shook his head as Kyoko and the noble finally reached the carriage; he couldn't call out to her, much less hold her hand. He was too much of a coward, and he hated himself for it. He was too afraid of that witch; of what she would do to the inn, his family, and him. He had stood up to Saena once, but there was no way he could do it again. Besides, he had made his choice the year before; although he was ashamed to have abandoned Kyoko, he had decided that his family meant more to him than she did. Shoutaro could only watch sadly as the noble opened the door of the carriage for Kyoko, preparing to help her inside.
It was at this point that the eerie calm was broken, and the storm began to descend.
Saena stepped forward hurriedly, realizing what Kuon was about to do, and said, "Your Highness, where is it that you are planning on taking my servant?" There was a polite smile plastered on her face, and her voice was sickly sweet, but underneath the surface, Saena's rage was boiling.
There was no way she was letting that girl leave, especially not with that violent prince. Saena had heard the rumors about the prince's temper, and she knew she absolutely could not let him find out the truth. He obviously cared about the girl, and would probably be outraged at her treatment. If Kyoko told him the truth, Saena would have to worry about much more than her reputation.
"Your servant?" Kuon questioned, obviously displeased. He knew what Saena was up to, and he was not happy about it; he wasn't going to let Saena treat her daughter—his friend—like a servant. "Lady Mogami, I already know the truth." He paused to let her absorb the information, gesturing significantly towards Kyoko.
Saena immediately whipped around to her servants. Gone was her polite smile and sickly sweet words; in their place was a threatening glare and a commanding tone. "All of you, to your quarters!" she demanded. "Anyone who eavesdrops will be severely punished!"
The rest of the group stayed silent as the servants shuffled away, grumbling and casting curious glances back at the strange little group. As soon as the last one had disappeared from sight and hearing, Saena turned back to the prince, a polite smile once again on her face. "Now," she said, "what 'truth' do you think you know, Your Highness?"
Saena's voice was cold, with a subtly threatening undertone, but Kuon was not the least bit intimidated. "I know that Kyoko is your daughter." There were small gasps heard from both Yukihito and the driver of the carriage, the only ones of the group who hadn't known the truth. Yukihito began glancing rapidly back and forth between the dirty girl standing next to the prince and the angry noblewoman standing in front of him. There were similarities, to be sure, but as far as Yukihito knew, Lady Mogami had only one daughter, a young blond girl named Maria.
Saena laughed, even as panic bubbled within her. "My daughter? How could that filthy girl be my daughter?" Kuon glared at the woman, and Yukihito looked on, bewildered. Kyoko only stared at her mother dispassionately, glad that Kuon was there to keep her from crying.
Shoutaro was the one who spoke up next. "It's true." All eyes turned to him. He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable with all the expectant stares, but continued. "She's your daughter. You may have abandoned her, but that doesn't change the fact that you gave birth to her." Shoutaro faltered, seeing Saena's glare, but then returned it with the same amount of force; this was something he had needed to do, to make it up to Kyoko for abandoning her.
Kyoko stared at Shoutaro, confused; had he just stood up for her? Her eyes met his, and she paused. Should she say 'thank you'? Should she smile at him or something? Her thoughts were interrupted by Saena beginning to speak, and Kyoko hurriedly looked away from him. Shoutaro just sighed; another missed opportunity.
"So what if she's my daughter?" Saena scoffed. "That is just more reason for you not to take her away. As her mother, I would prefer that she stay here." She reached out for her daughter, roughly jerking her towards her. "Come here, Kyoko. You are not leaving." Kyoko felt her hand be pulled from Kuon's.
Kuon started to speak, but Kyoko stopped him by looking back at him with an anxious but determined expression; this was something she needed to say. Kuon and Shoutaro had already stood up to her mother; now it was Kyoko's turn. She took a deep breath, then started to speak. "I'm not staying, mother. And you have no right to keep me here," she added, trying to pull herself from her mother's grasp.
"I have every right to keep you here," Saena countered, digging her nails into Kyoko's skin. "You are my daughter, so you must listen to me." She glared at the girl in front of her, still struggling to free herself.
"No," Kyoko replied. "You may have given birth to me, but I am not your daughter, just as you are not my mother. If you were my mother, you would not have called me a mistake or a burden. You would not have abandoned me, or locked me away in a tower." Kuon glowered at Saena as he heard of her acts of cruelty, and Yukihito gaped at what the young girl was saying.
Saena, furious at Kyoko revealing her misdeeds, slapped the girl, yelling, "You impudent brat! How dare you speak about me that way?"
Kuon stepped forward, ready to harm the noblewoman, but Yukihito stopped him with a firm hand on his arm. He shook his head, silently communicating to Kuon that this was Kyoko's battle.
Kyoko continued bravely on, despite her stinging cheek, saying, "If you were my mother, you would have loved me and cared for me… but you didn't, so you are not my mother." With that, she jerked her arm out of Saena's grasp, and walked back to the Kuon's side.
Kuon helped Kyoko into the carriage then turned back to Saena, glaring at her while saying, "It is late now, so we will be taking our leave, but expect a visit from me tomorrow." Saena stared for a moment, wondering if there was anything she could do to erase this nightmare, then finally curtsied, reluctantly wishing Kuon and Yukihito good night. The two men climbed into the carriage and drove off, leaving the storm behind.
Kyoko, Kuon, and Yukihito talked quietly for a while, until Kyoko, exhausted by the long day's events, fell asleep to the soft murmur of voices and the steady clip-clop of horses' hooves.
Author's note: Any requests for Saena's punishment? I'm making this up as I go, so what would you like to see?