It’d been a long day for your princess and honestly I wasn’t even feeling like staying up and reading into the wee hours. Instead I shambled to my bed’s loving expanse and mindlessly shed my cloak, skirt and half of my armor along the way before flopping face-down into my neatly made sheets.
And I just lay there in my sheet’s embrazzzzzzz… zzzzzzz… zzzzz…
I dreamed of endless plenty where noble and commoner wanted for nothing. In my dream Mata Nui was nothing more (or less!) than a viceroyalty to our glorious realm ruled well by my sister.
In my dream there was no Fursic uprisings, no conflicts, no wars. My word was law and the law was good. In my dream people called me “Yumiwa the Great.” In my dream the Kanohi Dragons were our friends again and flew through the skies like the fingers of Zuto Nui, and Zataka was nothing but a forgotten memory of a bygone era.
On a dais held aloft by servants I sat on a throne with my Hana beside me. The two of us waved at the adoring crowds as we were hoisted down the streets of Sado. “Hail to the rora!” they called out lovingly, “Hail to our empress and her bride!” It was the most beautiful wedding I could ever have hoped for us.
But then Kuno jumped up on our dais and struck me on the side of my head three times—Whap-bap-bam! Without missing a beat Hana and I both kicked him in the groin and punched him in the throat (it was oddly enough very soft) like so and so and so!—and still he managed to hit me—
Knock. Knock. Knock.
… oh. oh ######. not kuno; the door.
I stirred, my silk sheets rustling noisily as I clumsily half-fell off my bed and scampered to the door. What time was it, anyway? Like three in the morn—oh, almost midnight. *sigh*
“Princess Yumiwa,” a servant called from beyond my bedroom door, her voice muffled by the thick wood and crystal barrier.
“Yeah!” I replied as I scooped up my skirt and pulled it on hastily as I stumbled to the door.
“Sorry for waking you, madam.”
“No, no, I’ve been up for *yawnnn* hours!”
“Sorry for bothering you, then.”
“I’m coming!” I said even as I laid my hand on the door lever and cranked it to open the door wide. A dashi servant stood there with a pillow held aloft and a small note on it.
“A message from the rora, Your Highness,” she said and offered it to me. She did have a look of surprise seeing me in an odd state of incomplete dress, the complete part seemingly haphazardly on.
“From Mom!?” I almost yelped. Now I was wide-awake. Mom preferred to chat directly with me and rarely ever sent me notes; the last one was decades ago for a purpose I’ve long forgotten, probably to send me on a scan aver hunt for a gift or something. Still, I dutifully took the note, thanked the servant and opened it. It was… blank??? (wtffffff)
“Surprise! ” a familiar voice came from around the corner in the hallway and my wonderful mom strode into my apartment. The servant smiled knowingly, bowed and closed the door after my mother, leaving the two of us alone.
“Mother!” I nearly screamed in both shock and joy, throwing the paper note to the side. My eyes and mouth were wide in happiness as I fell to my knees to share a deep embrace with her. “Aaaah! I’ve missed you!”
“Missed me, my dear?” she said close to my ear. “You know we’re only ever a hop, skip and a jump apart.”
“I know, mom, but what with your schedule and how busy you make sure I am—“
“Nonsense!” she waved dismissively as we disconnected and she surveyed my room’s expanse. “Anything for my daughters, you especially. My, you still don’t keep your rooms tidy, Yumi! ”
“Mooooom, no,” I whined. “I was already sleeping and left my things strewn about for the night. I don’t keep this place a mess—in Zuto Nui name I swear it!”
“Mhm, mhm,” she said and walked around me to prod a part of armor on the floor with her staff. “I’m sure of it. On the other hand I applaud you for going to bed earlier than your usual hour.”
Anything I could say would only dig a hole for myself. Either I admitted to staying up late or denied the truth, neither of which would completely please my mom. She was loving, wonderful, kind and thoughtful, but she had expectations and always reminded me of them. It was all to prepare me for my ascension, she said, to drill in the finer points of attitude of being royalty, but I rarely followed her lessons completely. I still stayed up late to read and ran through the palace halls during lunchtime and ate food straight off the stoves in the kitchen, never out of spite but simply because it made me feel free, and every single time headmistress!Yusanora came around and gave me that look I tried to look anywhere but in her eyes and remained silent. And she would slick her tongue twice, shake her head and remind me how blessed I was, to not take my liberties lightly and that she’d expect better from me in the future, but… not this time?
“Come, Yumi. Sit with me,” she said and gestured for me to join her on my bed. She sat on the side facing the balcony and I loyally got up and sat beside her and we looked out at the vastness of space through the parted curtains.
“You’ve always got something on your mind,” I observed astutely as we stared off into the vastness beyond. I often gazed at the nighttime sky but doing so with my mom brought back lots of fond memories I’d almost forgotten. Still, she was never a woman of simplicity. “You didn’t come here just to say hi, huh?”
“You’re right, my little dragon,” she confirmed, using one of her pet names for me. Ever since I was a little girl I admired the Kanohi Dragons with enthusiasm. I often romped down the hallways as a youth and pretended to be a dragon, roaring and jostling about with a blanket of embroidered Kanohi to emulate the great creature’s hides. Though she would later discourage me from behaving like that in public view she encouraged me to pursue my dreams. With that old antic, combined with my “fiery personality,” she dubbed me her “little dragon” and it stuck. “But for now, let’s forget about my little hidden agenda that roused you from your dreams and just be.”
Despite how busy we both were, despite the politics and scheming and receptions and separate meetings that we each were committed to, it was important for me to be reminded that the woman on the throne wasn’t just the rora, she was my mom and she still loved me so, so much. These moments of intimacy between us were sparse, but I wished they would last forever, and for the brief moment that she took my hand firmly in hers and I leaned my head upon hers it was a period of bliss beyond what my dream offered me. A shooting star flashed across our irises. “I love you, mom,” I said softly.
“Ooh, such a nighttime chill,” she interjected and hastily rubbed her legs for what precious warmth the friction would provide. “Be a dear and fetch your mother a blanket.”
I cracked a grin at that. She rarely said the phrase I often bloomed to her; her love was expressed in amorous actions rather than words. I picked up my cloak from the floor and climbed back into the bed, sliding it over her smaller frame as I clambered back to where I started from at her side.
Once again we held hands and watched the nighttime sky. While we sat thus time seemed to stop
but time still moves on and all scenes, real and imagined alike, must end.
“I’m so very proud of you,” she said, tactically breaking the silence I cherished with a phrase I hankered for even more. “You’ve been the best daughter I could have asked from Zuto Nui.”
“Aw, Mom, you don’t—“
“Shhh! Let me finish, Yumi!” she lightly reprimande d with a tap on my wrist. “You remember why I chose to raise you in the palace walls instead of on Oki like I was?” she asked.
“I think so but tell me again,” I said.
“I wasn’t a chōjo like you because my mother—your grandmother—decided the best way for me to learn how to rule was to start off ruling my clan, so I was the Toroshu of Clan Umbraline while also crown princess, just like she was raised. It wasn’t easy, but I learned hard lessons on what it takes to rule subjects of narcissistic nobility and plebeian simplicity alike. Still, when my mother passed away into the stars and I was crowned rora I found myself only marginally prepared for the realities of the Imperial Court. Sure, the framework and skills were all there but it was a struggle to put them in practice with vastly larger realm. Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to question their mother’s wisdom, but… I felt that maybe I would have been better acquainted with palace life if I grew up here. And so this mother decided her heir would be trained as royalty, not mere nobility.”
I feigned a hurt expression. "I thought it was because you wanted to be near me! ”
She chuckled before adding, “That, too, my dear.
“So! I read your suggestion of another expedition to Mata Nui. The truth is the assembly of toroshu have been pressing to return there ever since Toroshu Nurora came back with fancy fruits, tales of dashi kings and queens and more metals than I can count!” she laughed. “My personal feeling is that we should leave that island be, but…” she sighed, reminded of the political pressure she endured in court, “when the toroshu put their collective minds together their will is unrelenting if not inculpable, so there will be a new expedition. You’ve seen your cousin Ayiwah recently I take it? She received orders yesterday to prepare for the voyage with a new vessel and a crew of her choosing.”
I figured Mom already had it all planned out even as Desde and I theorized on the next steps the empire would take and it pleased me to know I was right about Ayiwah’s command.
“But this is no mere naval mission. No, it will be as much a diplomatic trip as a show of our force, and so a delegate of the Throne is required. I feel it’s time I entrust a part of my authority to you, so I am sending you as my representative to Mata Nui. You may take whomever you wish and are to speak on my behalf for the expeditions duration.”
Her words permeated my ears and echoed in my brain. Was she really appointing me her consul on the trip to Mata Nui? Was she really imparting a fraction of her authority to me!? Was she really going to send me (and Hana and whoever else I wanted) to Mata Nui!??
“Do you understand the weight of what I’m giving you?"
Yes yes yes— “Yes!”
She smiled at my unbridled enthusiasm. “Don’t get so excited or I might begin to think you’re eager to leave the archipelago! ” I knew she wasn’t actually concerned but played along with the vigor I was so famed for possessing.
But really, I was less excited to leave as I was to explore a whole new island and hold an actual position of power after centuries of just being trained for it. “Sorry, Mom,” I apologized. “Yes, I understand my responsibilities.”
"Good. You were my first and only choice! And you deserve it, too! Because heaven knows one day I’ll join my mother and you’ll have to be ready to fill that old chair and I don’t know when that day will be. Best get you started.”
“But, Mom, you’re as fit as a Hogo! I’m sure you have a ways to go,” I chipped in and wrapped my arm firmly around her shoulders reassuringly. I was always surprised at how small my mom was compared to me; at twice her size I could easily and totally envelop her with a single arm.
“I wish I shared your positivity. Honestly, my dear, my old bones feel weaker every day,” she gloomily recounted, a gasp of energy escaping her eyes as she did so. I could almost see her shudder in frightened anticipation under my voluminous cloak; I couldn’t help but do the same in worry (or was it just the cool breeze?). “A month, a decade, a century—it doesn’t matter. What matters is you must be ready when it comes and I’ll see to that!” she said and squeezed my cheek like how my aunt does when she sees me, though much tenderly. “I think that you, as the future of the empire, deserve to see what has been found in the vastness of the sea. Who knows, maybe you may decide to make it yours as well. The future is in your hands, my little dragon.” She accentuated this point by squeezing my hand tightly as if to say “these hands right here, Yumi.”
But there were boundaries beyond which even I, as the chōjo with hands of destiny, could never step beyond, one of which was my mom’s indomitable betrothal of Kuno to me. Like he always did, Kuno’s listless, unlikable face clouded my otherwise grand vision like a great mist, featureless and blank. “Mom, about Kuno—“
“This again!” she flustered. “Well, it does deserve some mention what with your little escapade in the dungeons. Your uncle and I read your report. He’s investigating, too, but unless Kuno is convicted of murder or outright loses his honor there’s no stopping it. He may be a Fursic dingbat but the marriage will be the best for the empire.”
“I’d marry Dastana Jasik over Kuno, and he’s more vain than my dressing table!” I said and pointed emphatically at my massive lowboy. “Besides, any alliance with the Fursics is—“
“That’s enough! The wedding will happen, Yumi, and the empire will benefit from it. Don’t make me question your maturity and reconsider entrusting you with my authority!” she scolded, seriously this time.
My youthful rebellion faded and this little dragon retreated into her cavern. I overreached and hoped for too much from the digging around I did with my sister and Hana the night before. So long as Mom lived there was no getting out of the marriage, it seemed. Zuto Nui has a plan for us all, I suppose…
“It’s for the empire, my dear. Even an empress must make her sacrifices for the good of the realm. Please accept that.”
I sat quietly for a moment and processed the concept. Yes, it was a marriage I loathed with all my heart and felt utterly repulsed by, but my mother meant well for the empire and, as I felt in her latest words, felt sorry to assign me that fate. I understood that she did it out of a love for the people she ruled, a love that surpassed her love for even me. I could appreciate that. It was part of being the rora; when the whole empire is your family even your chosen heir had to take a backseat. "I accept it, Mom," I said sincerely though in my heart I still loathed Kuno's betrothal.
“It’s late, little dragon,” she said and slid off the edge of my bed, “and my body needs rest.”
“Mother,” I said longingly, endearingly, wishing that a day would never come to pass that I couldn’t say that word to her.
“Yes?” she said, her body a regal silhouette standing astutely against the shimmering backdrop beyond my balcony, her staff planted firmly like a tree’s trunk on fertile soil.
I tossed my skirt off for the second time and slipped under my veritable sea of sheets before saying, “Sing me a song.”
“A lullaby?” my mother said and paused. Her jawline bulged infinitesimally as a telltale to a growing smile and I could feel the growing warmth of her affection as she came around to my side of the bed. “Very well.”
Her melodic words swamped me in a soothing pond of tranquility as I faded to sleep.