Today was a special day. Today she was going out of the castle for the first time. Up until this point, Tamao had never left the castle ground. But today she was. Because her parents were taking her somewhere. That somewhere was a slave trade. Tamao was nervous. She knew about slave trades. She knew they were bad things. But, it was a tradition in her family for the heir to the throne to choose a slave to be their knight. As Tamao was the only child her parents had and were going to have, the tradition fell onto her.
Was Tamao excited at all? A little bit. She was only eight years old. She did not understand exactly the full reality of the situation. She knew a few things about it, but not as much as her parents did. Then again, her parents always turned a blind eye to these things because they got money from it. And money ruled even the kings and queens of lands.
"Alright, dear. Go take a look around and find someone you want to be your knight ." Tamao's mother said.
"Okay!" Tamao nodded and excitedly looked around.
Her face fell as she looked upon all of the slaves. They were all beaten and bruised. Some were missing eyes or limbs. Everyone looked miserable. Tamao suddenly did not want to be here. But, she knew she had to pick someone before they could leave.
So, she went looking around. The older slaves spat at her, calling her names. Tamao hated it here. She wanted to go soon. But, she had to pick still. She did not know who to pick. Did anyone here catch her eye? There was no one as far as Tamao could see. Until, she walked a bit farther up.
Off to the side, there was a girl. She had purple hair. She was shaking and curled up into a tight ball. She looked to be around Tamao's age. Tamao felt sorry for the girl. She wanted to help her. So, she went over to the stall.
"Hello, dear. You're Tamao, aren't you?" The man handling the stall asked her with a smile.
Tamao nodded, "Yep! That's me! Who is this?"
"She's from a different country. Have your parents told you about those?" The man said.
Tamao nodded again, "Yeah. One of our maids is from a place called China."
"Oh? That is where this girl is from too. She does not speak Japanese. She only speaks Chinese."
"Hmm... Our maid could teach her Japanese then." Tamao said.
The man raised an eyebrow at her, "You want this girl to be your knight?"
Tamao nodded, "Yes. I think I do."
"Alright. Let me untie her and give you her rope." The man said and then he did just that.
The girl looked fearful as she was untied from the table. Tears were already falling down her face as she looked at Tamao. Tamao was about to say something, but then remembered that she does not understand Japanese. It would be pointless to tell her it was okay. She would not understand it at all.
"Here you go." The man handed Tamao the girl's rope, "You can take her to your parents."
"Thank you!" Tamao bowed in respect.
She held out a hand to the girl. The girl took it. Tamao pulled her to her feet. Once she was sure the girl could walk, she lightly pulled her rope. The girl put her head down and moved closer to Tamao. Tamao led her back to her parents. She got looks from everyone again. Even the other stall owners were giving her disapproving looks.
Tamao kept her head high and walk onward, the girl in tow. She still had her head down. She was also clenching her fists together. Tamao wished she could do something to reassure her that everything would be okay. Once they returned to the castle she could get the maid to translate for her at least. That would be a start.
"Mom! Dad! I picked someone!" Tamao found her parents.
"Oh. Look at the poor thing. What is her name?" Tamao's dad asked.
Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. The man didn't tell me and she doesn't speak Japanese. She only speaks Chinese. I can't ask her."
Both of her parents' eyes widened, "Chinese?"
Tamao nodded, "Yep. But it's okay. Sakura can teach her Japanese and help us communicate with her."
Tamao's mom smiled, "I see. You can change her name if you would like. We did that with Sakura, after all. This girl's name might be hard to pronounce."
Tamao shook her head, "I want to use her name."
"It's your choice, dear. Shall we head home?" Her mom said.
"Yes!" Tamao nodded.
They walked back to their carriage and started the ride home. The girl was still keeping her head down. Tamao reached over and untied the rope from her hands. She wouldn't be able to run even if she tried. The knights would stop her before she even opened the door to the carriage.
The girl looked up at Tamao. Tamao smiled at her. She hugged her as well, trying things that were affectionate to show that she would be safe now. The girl did not return the hug. She was sitting as stiff as could be. Tamao pulled back and frowned. The girl looked down again.
"It will take time for her to trust you." Her father said.
Tamao nodded. She knew that was true. She had hoped that maybe she could get her to feel a little better now, though. But, it did not seem to have worked. Or, had it? Tamao froze momentarily as the girl moved up against her and rested her body on her side. Tamao looked over at her. The girl had her eyes closed. She looked calmer to Tamao. Maybe it had worked?
Tamao smiled and wrapped an arm around the girl. The girl curled up closer, now hugging Tamao. Tamao ran a hand over her back a few times. The girl relaxed and appeared to have drifted off to sleep before long.
"Perhaps you have earned her trust already." Tamao's mother commented.
"Indeed. She seems to trust you." Her father nodded.
It was a long ride back to the castle, but they were finally home. Tamao woke up the girl. The girl looked at her. Tamao pointed out the small window of the carriage to the castle. The girl's eyes widened in awe. The door opened. A knight held out his hand for Tamao. Tamao took it and let him help her out of the carriage. She looked back at the girl.
The knight held out a hand to her as well. The girl took it and stepped out of the carriage as well. She clung back to Tamao's side as she looked around. Her eyes were wide. Tamao smiled at her and guided her inside. Her parents were already inside. They had summoned Sakura already too.
"Sakura, this is Tamao's new knight. She only speaks Chinese, however. You will be teaching her Japanese for us." Tamao's mother said.
Sakura bowed, "Of course, your majesty."
Sakura smiled at the girl and spoke to her. The girl's eyes lit up and she replied. They conversed for a while. Tamao was surprised by how much the girl was talking. Only a short while ago she had been terrified of everyone.
"Her name is Mei Fan. I have explained everything to her about her situation." Sakura said.
"Mei Fan." Tamao repeated, albeit very sloppily.
Mei Fan looked over at her and smiled. She repeated her name. Tamao tried again to pronounce it correctly. This time, she succeeded. Mei Fan smiled more as she nodded. Tamao returned the smile. She had done it. She had pronounced her name right.
"It's getting late. You should head to bed, Tamao." Tamao's mother stated.
"Where will Mei Fan sleep?" Tamao questioned.
"I guess she can stay in your room. That will be her main place once she is trained properly anyway." Her mother replied.
"Okay! Let's go, Mei Fan." Tamao held out a hand to her.
Sakura translated what was going on for her. Mei Fan took Tamao's hand and allowed her to lead her away. They walked down the halls. There were a few knights patrolling around. Tamao greeted them respectfully and continued on her way. They soon arrived at her room.
Tamao opened up her closet and pulled out her nightgown. She looked at Mei Fan. She would need new clothes. The clothing she had on was old and dirty. Tamao looked through her closet and found another nightgown of hers. This was her old one. She handed it to Mei Fan. Mei Fan stared at it for a while, before she set it on the bed and started undressing. Tamao did the same.
She had no issue changing her clothes. However, she felt a tug on her sleeve and turned to look. Mei Fan was struggling a little bit. The gown was too big on her. It had been that way on Tamao as well, hence why she no longer wore it. Tamao chuckled and helped her roll up the sleeves. Once that was done, Tamao sat on her bed. She patted the spot next to her.
Mei Fan looked at her for a while, before she joined Tamao on the bed. Tamao smiled at her and laid down. Mei Fan copied her. Tamao pulled the blankets over top of the two of them. Mei Fan curled up against Tamao. Tamao wrapped her into a hug. Mei Fan hugged her back, moving even closer. She yawned and closed her eyes. Tamao reached and started brushing Mei Fan's hair.
It was a mess. She would need a good bath tomorrow to get all cleaned up again. Tamao was excited to see how Mei Fan would look once she recovered from how she had been treated by that man. As it stood now, she was very thin. When she moved certain ways, you could see her ribs. She was also extremely pale. Her hair looked thin and was coming out in Tamao's hand as she brushed it. To put it simply, Mei Fan looked very sickly.
Tamao made a mental note that she would make sure the doctors would take a look at Mei Fan to make sure she wasn't sick as well. Tamao understood that someone who looked the way Mei Fan did was easy to get sick. And they also could die easier form their sicknesses. Tamao felt fear as that thought came into her head. She couldn't let that happen. She would make sure Mei Fan was taken care of and stayed healthy from now on. She was not going to let her die if she could help it.
Tamao yawned and closed her eyes. It seemed like Mei Fan was already asleep. She should join her. They would have a long day tomorrow. Mei Fan would be the center of attention as they tried to get her better. If she was to be a knight for Tamao, she would need to get strong.
"Good morning, Princess. Time to get up."
Tamao woke up to Sakura's voice. She was normally sent to fetch Tamao in the morning. Tamao yawned and sat up. She looked down at Mei Fan. She was still asleep. Now that there was light, Tamao could see just how rough she truly looked.
"It is time for your bath, Princess." Sakura said.
"Is Mei Fan joining me?" Tamao asked, "She needs one too."
Sakura smiled at her, "Of course. Would you like to wake her up or shall I, Princess?"
"I can do it." Tamao replied.
She gently tapped Mei Fan on the shoulder. She was afraid to be rough at all with her. Tamao was scared even the slightest rough touch could harm Mei Fan again.
Mei Fan stirred from the touch. She stretched and then sat up. She looked around, her eyes locking with Tamao's. Tamao smiled at her. Mei Fan returned the smile.
Sakura spoke to her in Chinese again and then spoke to Tamao, "Shall we go, Princess?"
"Yes. We can go." Tamao nodded and got off of the bed.
Mei Fan followed her. Sakura lead the two of them to the bath. She had already prepared it before they arrived. She helped the two girls undress and enter into the bath. Mei Fan refused to go in. Tamao looked at Sakura for an explanation.
Sakura questioned Mei Fan about it. They spoke for a while. Tamao hated that she couldn't understand them at all. Maybe she could get Sakura to teach her Chinese? No. Her parents would not approve. She just had to wait until Mei Fan learned Japanese.
"I won't say too much, but she has told me that very bad things have happened to her during things like this." Sakura told Tamao.
"Did someone try to drown her?" Tamao asked, giving Mei Fan a worried look.
Sakura nodded, "Yes. She was never wanted by anyone who owned her. They all tried to kill her at some point in her life."
"That won't happen here. I won't let it." Tamao stated firmly.
"I'm sure you won't, Princess." Sakura smiled at her.
Sakura spoke to Mei Fan again. After a little more conversing, Mei Fan got in the bath with Tamao. Tamao gave her a reassuring look. Everything would be alright. She would never let any harm come to Mei Fan when she was defenseless like this. She would protect her.
"The best thing to do for her is for me to leave you two alone. She trusts you more than me since you are only a year older than her." Sakura said, "I will be just outside. Call for me if you need me."
"Okay." Tamao nodded.
Sakura stepped out of the room. Mei Fan stared at the door for a while. Tamao moved closer to her and grabbed her hands. Mei Fan looked at her. Tamao smiled.
"Let's get cleaned up." Tamao said, holding out the soap to Mei Fan.
Mei Fan looked at it in confusion. Tamao frowned. Did she not know what it was? Had she never been anything but a slave? Had she always been treated very cruelly? Tamao had a lot of questions she wanted answers to.
Tamao took the soap back and demonstrated. Once Mei Fan saw what she was doing, she nodded. Tamao handed it back to her. Mei Fan did not take it. She gave Tamao a sort of pleading look. Tamao did not get it at first, but soon understood. She wanted her to use it on her.
Tamao nodded and slowly started washing off Mei Fan. She had to be careful. There were a lot of cuts and bruises she had to avoid. She did not want to hurt Mei Fan if she could help it. Unfortunately, that was inevitable at the moment. Everything needed to be cleaned. She tried to be gentle on the worst areas, but Mei Fan still winced in pain a lot.
Soon enough, it was over with. Next was hair. Tamao pointed to her own hair and washed it. Mei Fan watched her. She seemed fine, until Tamao went under the water to wash out the suds in her hair. As she looked at Mei Fan, she saw the poor girl was frozen in place. She looked terrified. Tamao understood why.
She pondered what she could do then. If Mei Fan couldn't go under the water, how did they wash her hair? Tamao cupped her hands together and picked up some water. She released it. That might work. It would be a slow process, but it would work for now.
Tamao did it to herself to show Mei Fan the plan. Mei Fan nodded along. It seemed she was fine doing it that way. That was good then. Tamao was proud of herself for finding a way to do it despite the obstacles in their path.
She took it slow as she washed Mei Fan's hair. It was very thing and frail. More clumps fell out as Tamao scrubbed her scalp. That wasn't very good. Hopefully her hair would get healthier and look nicer. It might take a while, though. Tamao was not sure how long it would be before Mei Fan started improving. She hoped it would not be too long of a wait.
Tamao stood up and exited the bath. She held out a hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan took it and let Tamao help her out of the bath too. They dried off and put on the clothes Sakura had left for them. Tamao was in a simple dress today. Mei Fan was in a loose shirt and pants.
"We're done, Sakura." Tamao called.
Sakura entered the room, "Alright. Breakfast is ready, Princess."
"What is it today?" Tamao asked.
"Your favorite breakfast."
Tamao smiled, "Is Mei Fan eating with us?"
Sakura shook her head, "You know the rules, Princess. Only royalty at that table. She will be eating with me."
"Is she getting the same food?"
Tamao frowned, "I want her to eat with me. She won't trust anyone else enough yet."
"How thoughtful of you, Princess. However, your parents have already decided on this." Sakura replied, "I will take good care of her."
Tamao nodded, still looking upset, "Okay..."
"Let us go. We don't want to keep your parents waiting." Sakura took the two girls by their hands and lead them to the dinning room.
Tamao joined her parents at the table while Sakura took Mei Fan to the servants' eating area. Tamao stared at the hallway for a while. She did not like being separated from Mei Fan. She felt like she had to keep her close and protect her.
"Tamao, I understand you have gotten very close with your knight, but she has to abide by our rules." Tamao's mother stated.
Tamao frowned, "But it's only her first day here. She's scared."
"I'm sure Sakura will help her." Her father replied.
"But she wants to be with me!" Tamao defended, "And I want to stay with her."
"Tamao." Her mother said sternly, "This is not up for debate. The girl stays where she belongs."
Tamao sighed, "Yes, mother."
She swore to herself that she would make sure Mei Fan got to stay by her side when she was older. When she got her own part of the castle to rule. That would not happen until she was a teenager, though. She still had a while to wait for that to happen. But, Tamao would wait and do everything she wanted to that her parents did not approve of. They would not be able to stop her once she had her own area.
She prayed it would come fast.
After breakfast, Tamao went searching for Mei Fan. She needed to take her to the doctor in the castle. She was worried something might be wrong with her physically too. Since she had suffered through so much.
Tamao found her in the servant's quarters. She was sitting against a wall and watching everyone that was going by. Tamao looked around for Sakura, but did not see her. Perhaps she had to run an errand? She did not want to wait until Sakura returned to take Mei Fan to the doctor, but was unsure if she would manage herself. She could not communicate with Mei Fan. It would be difficult to tell her anything that might be wrong with her.
Tamao walked over to Mei Fan. Mei Fan looked up at her. She looked scared. Tamao assumed she did not like the amount of people around. Especially since she did not know any of them.
Tamao held out her hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan took it and allowed her to pull her to her feet. Tamao lead her out of the room to somewhere empty. Mei Fan looked relieved when they left the room. Tamao guessed that meant she had been right about why Mei Fan looked scared.
Now was the hard part. Did she try and take Mei Fan to the doctor? Did she wait for Sakura to get back? What did they do then if they were to wait for her? It was hard when they could not communicate properly with each other.
Tamao decided she would try her best and take Mei Fan now. Hopefully it would be a quick check and there would be nothing wrong. At least, nothing wrong that required immediate attention. That would be bad.
Tamao lead Mei Fan down the castle halls. They did not run into too many knights. It was empty right now. Which was good for them. They did not need a lot of people seeing them on the move. Tamao wasn't naive. She knew her parents disliked Mei Fan. They may use anything they can to have her removed as Tamao's knight and killed.
Tamao tried not to think about it right now. She would have to do something about it later. For now, her main focus had to be on helping Mei Fan recover. Once she was better, Tamao could devote more time into her parents and their opinions. But that would be much later on.
They arrived at the room where the doctor should be. She was in there. She greeted Tamao warmly.
"What brings you here today, Princess?"
"Akari, um... this is Mei Fan. She's gonna be my knight. I... I wanted you to check her to make sure she's okay." Tamao replied, "That there's nothing serious we have to worry about."
Akari patted Tamao on the head, "Of course, Princess. I'll take a look."
"Um... she doesn't understand Japanese..." Tamao mumbled.
"Oh. That's alright, Princess. I'll manage." Akari smiled at her.
Akari turned to Mei Fan. Mei Fan was hiding behind Tamao. Akari smiled at her and held out a hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan looked at Tamao. Tamao nodded to her. Mei Fan eventually took Akari's hand. Akari let her to the bed in the room. She had Mei Fan sit down on it.
Mei Fan looked around nervously. As her eyes met Tamao's, Tamao gave her a reassuring smile. She walked over to the bed and held Mei Fan's hands in her own. She would do her best to provide her as much comfort as she could. Tamao knew that this could be a scary thing, especially when they could not tell her what was happening.
Akari looked her over, "I am going to need her to undress. At least her shirt for now"
Tamao did not know how to achieve that. Would Mei Fan trust her if she started to take off her clothes? Or would that be too much? Tamao was not sure. She decided she would try it and if Mei Fan started panicking a lot she would stop and try something else.
"I'll try." Tamao said.
She gave Mei Fan another reassuring smile and then slowly started lifting her shirt up. Mei Fan looked at her with wide eyes. Tamao kept eye contact as she continued. Mei Fan did not protest and allowed her to take it off. Tamao hugged her immediately after. She still did not know much about Mei Fan's past, but she could assume it had been bad. This could make her scared again if she thinks they are going to hurt her too. They had to tread very carefully here.
Tamao let go of her, but then went and held her hands again. Akari slowly approached and carefully started to examine Mei Fan. Mei Fan was stiff. She was breathing heavily and looking at Tamao with a begging look. She wanted out of this situation. But, Tamao really needed to know how she was doing physically. They had to just bear with this together.
Tamao reached up and cupped one of Mei Fan's cheeks with her hand. She leaned forward and kissed her on the head. Whenever she was scared, her mother would do that to her. Maybe it would help Mei Fan if she did the same? Tamao watched her reaction to the unexpected kiss. Mei Fan seemed to understand she had to sit through this, but she was not happy about it.
"I don't see anything that needs special care. As long as she gets proper meals and rest, she will recover just fine." Akari said, "There are some bruises and cuts on her, but I can't do much about them. They're mostly scars now."
"Are we done then?" Tamao asked.
Akari nodded, "Yes, she is done, Princess."
Tamao handed Mei Fan her shirt back. Mei Fan quickly put it back on. Tamao held out her hand. Mei Fan took it and stood up.
"So, she should rest a lot?" Tamao asked Akari.
Akari nodded, "Yes. Rest will do her very well, Princess."
"Then I'll take her to my room so she can lay down." Tamao said, "Thank you, Akari."
"No need to thank me. I'm just doing my job, Princess." Akari replied.
Tamao smiled at her and then lead Mei Fan out of the room. She took her back to her bedroom. Mei Fan let out a sigh. Tamao guessed she was getting stressed out from everything going on today. They could relax for a bit now. Tamao had nothing to do until later on. And it was just one lesson. She had most of the day to do as she pleased. And that was going to be used to spend it with Mei Fan and get her used to the castle.
Tamao laid down on her bed and motioned for Mei Fan to join her. Mei Fan nodded and climbed in the bed. Tamao pulled her into a hug. Mei Fan relaxed in her embrace. Tamao smiled and kissed her on the head. Mei Fan looked at her in curiosity. She looked away for a second, before moving and kissing Tamao on the cheek too. Perhaps she was trying to thank her?
Tamao smiled at her warmly. Mei Fan smiled back, before curling up against her. Tamao ran a hand over her back. It did not take long before Mei Fan's breathing evened out as she fell asleep. Tamao pulled her a little bit closer and closed her eyes. Everything was working out. She was doing well to help Mei Fan. She felt proud of herself. This was the most independent she had been so far.
Though, she could not wait until Mei Fan could talk to her. And that they could be in their own little section of the kingdom. Tamao wanted nothing more than to grow up and move out from her parents' harsh rule already. She really hated how they were treating Mei Fan.