A Boy's Proposal
Kei casted a withering look at Saeko. The twelve year old girl paid him no heed as she rummaged into her towering dresser. At her side was her younger maid, Kiyoko, holding onto a few broad brimmed feather hats with tails that almost reached the ground in ruffles of silk.
“Saeko,” he called, pressing his palms on the soft mattress of the four poster bed.
Saeko passed a canary yellow gown to the quiet, bespectacled raven haired girl. The smile that decorated her face was broad and mischievous. That gown had been a present, if Kei remembered correctly. Mother had had it made from Shinzen and had Akiteru give her that dress of a tent last spring.
Didn't matter. Now was not the time to remember useless information. Though, not so useless, Shinzen had the bestest strawberry farm in the empire.
Kei shook his head. Not the time to be distracted.
“Saeko,” he called again.
Saeko ignored him again and passed another gown. This time it was pastel pink accented with cream laces on the edges. No way.
Saeko turned to him, her sunny golden locks whipping to the side from the suddenness of her movement, hitting Kiyoko square on the face. Kiyoko’s expression remained passive. Kei winced for the girl’s sake.
Kei squared his jaw. “Aren’t I too old for this?”
“Whatever are you saying, Glowbug?”
“I’m already seven.”
"Seven in less than two months."
Saeko regarded him for a while, as if appraising the weight of his words and what it meant. Kei silently prayed to God that, even just for this one time, she did. The older girl turned back to her dresser and produced a white dress and held it in front of her, obscuring her view of him.
Saeko quirked a thin brow at him, her lips pouting, “Oh what is it now, Kei?”
“I’m not wearing that to the fair!” he gritted out, more embarrassed than annoyed. “Or the pink one or the yellow one. You can’t make me!”
Saeko thinned her lips and Kei gave a petulant scowl while she approached. Saeko threw the dress on his lap and patted him on the head.
“How about you be a good boy and change now, Kei?”
Kei flung the dress back at her, catching her off guard, and hopped off the bed and sprinted towards the door. A black and white blur shot from his peripheral. Kiyoko was suddenly blocking the exit, arms outstretched. Kei stepped to his left and then to the right and then to the left again. Kiyoko followed without fail. Crap. His sight darted around the room, looking for another way out. His nose caught a whiff of flowery sweetness and his eyes locked to the open glass balcony doors. Saeko’s room in their estate had a long, thick line of honey suckle vine running along the side of her balcony, its concrete trellis starting from the ground up to Mother’s favorite study on the third floor.
Without another thought Kei hopped back and twisted around hastily, making a dash towards freedom. No way was he going to endure another one of Saeko’s kooky hobbies. He was no dress-up doll, darn it!
Kei spurned his feet to go faster. His foot touched the threshold and he toppled down on the hard floor, his face kissing polished stone tiles and his knees scrapping over the soft, felt rug.
“Kiyoko quickly! The ropes!”
A weight landed on the small of his back. Saeko straddled him by his waist, her small hands pressing down on top of his back, effectively pinning him down. A quick second later, Kiyoko was already bounding his ankles together before moving onto his wrists.
What did he ever do to deserve a future sister-in-law like her?
Kei surrendered to his fate and let Saeko do as she pleased. Saeko’s brown eyes twinkled in triumph, chastising him for his futile efforts in a teasing tone. They both knew that he would bend to her wiles one way or the other. It had always been like that ever since he can remember, and that fact stung more than his skinned knees. Getting bullied at almost seven! What kind of man was he?
Saeko hummed happily and had Kiyoko help her lift him up, unaware that she was blowing his man pride to nonexistence, or what little of it was left. They threw him to the bed like an overgrown caterpillar.
Getting him in Saeko’s clothing was done in the least amount of time and of the littlest effort from his tormentors. His shoes were the first to go, and then his clothes, leaving him in his socks and underpants. A sleeveless soft linen inner garment was forced over his head, and his bound wrists were momentarily freed allowing his hands go through the wide arm holes. The bodice was next and Saeko mercifully didn’t tie it too tightly like last time.
The white dress from earlier was then fitted to him, the hem of the skirt passing down a few inches below his knees and slightly fanned out from his hips. Saeko buttoned the dress behind his back, while Kiyoko was busy adjusting the short, puffy sleeves. His future sister-in-law tied the large, blue bow behind his waist and then patted his shoulder, a signal that he had taken as Saeko’s way of saying that the brunt was over.
Kei was tied down on a cushioned, armless chair, and then Saeko brushed his short curly, blond hair, tsk-ing and saying he should had grown it out like she had told him last summer. Kiyoko handed Saeko a pair of ribbons that matched the belt of the dress and she clipped them on either side of his head. Crisp white socks were fitted to both of his feet and his rugged boots was replaced with newly shined leather shoes with a demure ribbon embellishment.
“Hee-hee, aren’t you the cutest little sister-in-law ever?” Saeko cooed, pinching his cheek.
Kei grunted, not bothering to look into the vanity mirror in front of him. What was so cute about a boy in a dress?
He was then left to his own devices while Kiyoko helped Saeko changed into a dress that was more suitable for a stroll outside. Kei heaved a sigh, and then wiggled his fingers, wanting to scratch the skin under his chin, the high collar of the dress tickling it. He grumbled at the annoying itch and Saeko, although only half dressed, ambled towards him and curled her fingers under his chin, scratching it as she would a cat. After that, she and Kiyoko got dressed without further incident.
Saeko picked a wide brimmed straw hat that matched the fiery orange accents and ribbons that decorated the front of her dress, and deemed herself ready.
She led him down their foyer, his arms flat on his sides, holding the end of the rope that bound him. Mother was already waiting by the large oak doors, his older brother at her side, bended over his shoes, fussing over an imaginary smudge or something.
Akiteru lifted his head, wheat colored hair falling perfectly over his forehead. It took a second before he wiped his face to the side, his palm covering his mouth. Their mother hit the top of his head with the flat of her hand, but Kei saw that she was also hard pressed from laughing.
“Find no reason to hold out on my account, Mother,” Kei groused.
Mother finally laughed in that very loud, very unladylike manner that really didn’t suit her station, but surprisingly fitted her personality. She and Saeko were alike in that regard. Mother managed to calm down and commented on how pretty he was, teasing that perhaps she should worry about future suitors instead of a few hillbilly girls claiming him father to their children. Kei tried to ignore her merry making, face warm, while she untied his ropes.
Mother herded them to the waiting coach outside; Mr Washijou was already on the driver’s seat. The short old man gave them a glare and a scowl, lifting his top hat. Kei moved behind Mother. He can never understand why she hired the man. Mr Washijou seemed more likely to crash them to their early demise rather than transport them safely to their destination. He always looked so angry.
Akiteru opened and waited by the door of the coach, helping Saeko first and then their mother. His elder brother gave him a wink and offered him his hand. Kei scowled but begrudgingly accepted the help. Sooner they got going, the sooner he was out of this frilly thing.
The crack of the whip was crisp and the horses neighed, pulling the coach forward. Kei watched the scenery roll by from the window, chin resting on his palm. The manicured garden of greens and white daisies ended and for a long while there was nothing but the rows after rows of lush grapevine to see. Kei wrinkled his nose. The grapes were almost halfway into their cycle. He would need to be a bit more careful when traversing in their fields. The fragrant smell of the budding fruit was enough to put a sway into his feet.
He had to do something about that...
The creak of metal ensued as they approached the imposing wrought iron gates of their estate. Mother mumbled out loud that she should remember to have the servants oil the gates again. It wouldn’t do to have them rusted over.
Mr Washijou made a sharp turn to his left and headed for Amemaru’s town proper. They entered the common road, and golden fields of barley were laid down in a long stretch, meeting the horizon. Kei saw a herd of cattle in a distance at the edge of the field, a farmer leading it to where ever. It won’t be long until the larger part of the flatlands would be converted into a vinery. Their wine was getting a little too popular throughout the empire, making the demand an all time high.
They owned the lands around Amemaru. Ultimately what they do with it was up to them. However, when Mother announced the future change it stirred quite a ruckus with the farmers. That had been a bit trying. Fortunately it was all behind them now as the farmers have reached a common ground with their mother.
Though, if Father was still around there wouldn’t even be a common ground to speak of. He’d just have the wheat and barley fields reduced without any consultations and replace the old, complaining farmers with a new set.
The dirt road ended and a cobbled path replaced it, they went over a short stone bridge and they were officially in town. They passed the residential district, the tall houses of merchants and scholars hiding the dirty, low shingle roofs of the commoners. Fine dressed folks nodded rigidly at them when they pass, the ones from the servant class waving at them enthusiastically. Kei gave them a grin and waved back. Saeko laughed.
“What?” Kei snapped.
“They must be wondering if Lady Mitsuki has another fiancee for Aki."
Kei remembered himself and hid behind the dark, velvet curtains, face heating up. Mother gave a small laugh at Kei's expense and told Saeko that she could be more like Akiteru and call her Mama, they were practically family after all. She gave Kei a knowing look at that, her honeyed eyes that was much as Kei's own twinkling in merriment. Kei stared down at his feet, not sharing her sentiments. No way was he going to be like Akiteru. He was no mama’s boy.
Akiteru humoured their mother and gave her a sound kiss on the cheek, snuggling to her side, saying that he’ll always be her baby boy even if Kei wouldn’t. Their mother went along, and together they made a perfect idiotic pair.
The carriage slowed down into a stop, arriving at the town square, and Kei promptly opened the door and hopped out to freedom. Mother and Akiteru would soon start their infuriating baby talk skit, and Kei didn’t want to be within earshot for it. Hells, he’d put up with Saeko’s hobbies rather than endure his mother’s and Akiteru’s antics.
Kei waited impatiently for the rest of his family to pile out of the carriage, all the while suppressing his urge to fidget. Mr Washijou was pointing his scowl at him again. Kei huffed and turned away from their emaciated driver, focusing on the tents laid out in the square.
Not much was different since last summer. There were sacks of spices being sold in two or three tents that Mother was sure browse before buying out the vendor. Silk and woven cloths were being sold too, as well as cheap pastries, candied fruits and blocks of chocolates that would beckon Akiteru and Saeko like wild bears to honey. The obstacle course was still in the middle of the square, complete with its jungle ropes, revolving swords, pendulum axes and the rotating beam serving as a bridge across boiling tar. Kei grimaced; he couldn’t comprehend why that violent attraction was so popular. Every year some idiot gets themselves burned, slashed, or, worst, lose a limb ...or an eye.
“It’s because no one has ever conquered it yet.”
Kei turned to Saeko with a frown. “That’s stupid. How is fame worth being invalid forever?”
Saeko chuckled very unladylike. “It's something only a man would understand, Kei.”
Kei made a face but let the jab go over him. Saeko would only tease him more if he allowed himself to be baited by her. Turning his attention back to the fair, Kei spotted a vendor selling shaved strawberry ice and remembered where the stall was. That was the only thing that had him coming back to Amemaru’s summer fair.
“Be it as it may, Saeko, my brother's right. A man’s worth is measured on what he can do and what he can accomplish. I doubt one could do so much with half his limbs hacked off,” Akiteru nodded to himself and turned to their mother, “What say you, Mama?”
Their mother gave a kind smile, “I say it's how much he's willing to go for what he wants.”
Saeko pursed her lips in clear disagreement.
“However, the obstacle course does have its certain charm and fair share of entertainment,” their mother conceded, appeasing Saeko.
“I bet you two are just too much of cowards to try it—”
“And there will be no trying from either one of them,” Mother said, half scolding Saeko and half warning him and Akiteru. “Now let's be off, I for one want to have a look at those spices.”
Mother then hooked her hand with Kei’s. "No wondering off, Kei," she reminded.
Kei nodded his consent.
Once Mother got into haggling with a merchant, she’d be too occupied to pay him any attention.
Saeko and Akiteru walked ahead, the subject of the obstacle course already water under the bridge, having moved to what wares they should look next. Mother followed behind them leisurely allowing Kei to match her pace easily.
They passed tent after tent, the merchants displaying their baubles on tables covered in cloth: carved toys, pins, and then fortune telling wares. An item caught Saeko’s attention and she dashed towards the merchant’s tent, pointing at the blue crystal ball. She rightfully demanded that the thing be sold to her.
Sighing and shaking her head, Mother went over to the merchant to talk about prices, leaving Akiteru and Kei alone. Akiteru shrugged and followed their mother. Kei watched their mother and the merchant closely, and by the turn of her mouth, she was haggling.
Staying for a second longer, he took a step back and turned around, blending in the crowd.
Now really left on his own, Kei made his way to the shaved ice vendor, ignoring the calls some merchant or the other for him to look at their wares. As if toys or jewelry or ribbons appeal to him, anyway. A merchant woman pestered him to try out her dresses. Kei managed to shake her off, but with much effort from his part. Annoying woman, one would think she was blind by the way she coo on how much of a pretty little ‘girl’ he was.
Grumbling to himself about pesky foreigner merchants, Kei manoeuvred his way around a large group of older boys around Akiteru and Saeko’s age, overhearing one meaning to participate in the obstacle course. Kei snorted. Idiot. He’d be crying home when he get slashed or burned or chopped.
Kei shook his head from the nonsense and walked faster. He turned around the corner and finally spotted the shaved ice vendor again. Destination clear, Kei weaved through every stranger between him and the treat and then got promptly knocked onto his rear.
Kei massaged his behind, the fall would surely leave a bruise, and glared at whoever had the audacity to knock him over. Sharp, dark oaken eyes blinked at him owlishly and despite himself, Kei blinked back, berate dying down from his throat.
A boy his age was in the same state as he was, albeit having fallen more undignified with his legs strewn about, hands on each side, propping him upright. However, the thing that threw Kei off the loop was the messy, raven haired boy’s obvious star struck expression. The dopey expression then turned to one of excitement. Before Kei knew what was happening, the boy had crawled towards him and his sun kissed face was suddenly too close to his.
Kei drew back as far as he could bend his back without toppling over, feeling overly conscious. “What?”
The boy broke into a bright grin that promised no good. Without preamble the boy grabbed his hand and began leading him down the road, breaking into a run.
“Hey! Stop!” Kei called back, scrambling to keep up with the excited boy.
“What’s your name?”
If the idiot wasn’t dragging him, Kei would have smacked him rightly on the head. “Stop idiot! You’re going too fast!”
The boy slowed down to a stop, his hand still gripping Kei’s wrist. Kei doubled over, panting, his free hand propping himself up on his knee.
“What’s your name?”
Kei swiped his hand back from the annoyance and stood straight. “Shouldn’t you introduce yourself first, idiot?”
“Tetsurou,” the boy smirked. Smirked! “So what’s your name?”
“None of your business,” Kei snapped, face suddenly warm again, and promptly turned to leave only to have this Tetsurou blocking his path again. “Leave me alone!”
“What’s your name? Come on I told you mine, it’s only fair.”
Kei scowled. “No. I don’t give my name to strangers especially to ones with a rooster's behind for hair.”
“I’ll let you meet Kenma,” the boy bargained as though Kei cared who this Kenma was.
Kei sidestepped and walked away with all the intention of ridding himself of the boy, only to have the said boy blocking his path again. He sidestepped again and tried to run, but the boy only blocked him. They continued this cycle until Kei finally had enough.
“Fine!” Kei snapped. “I’m Kei! Happy?”
Tetsurou beamed and Kei finally thought he’d be rid of the menace, but against all expectations Tetsurou grabbed his wrist and, again, he was being led somewhere. He belatedly realized that the idiot was actually dashing straight to the obstacle course.
They squeezed between the watching masses. For a second Kei thought he would lose Tetsurou but they managed to go in front just in time to see a man slashed by the swords. Kei grimaced and thanked God that the man was wearing protective gear and was able to keep his guts in his belly.
A man wearing a jester suit stood in front of the crowd, calling for another challenger. A man beside them puffed up and then walked in front with confident strides. He threw his tunic away and flexed his muscles. Kei made a face while the crowd cheered excitedly. He was probably as thick as the man’s arm. The man turned and walked towards the gear station and had men equip him properly, the stage behind them still roaring with its horrendous contraptions.
A squeeze on his wrist made Kei turn back to his companion. Tetsurou’s cat-like dark eyes burned with fire and determination. Realization dawned him.
“Don’t you dare!”
Tetsurou flashed a grin, his sharp canine making him really look like a cat. “Back in a sec!” he said and pecked him on the cheek.
Kei paused, blindly watching Tetsurou run up to the stage, his cheek tingling and his brain finding it hard to keep up on what that stupid boy just did and then snapped to gather his wits when he saw him at the start of the course. “I-idiot! Come back here!”
Tetsurou laughed. “Be sure to watch, Kei!”
Some of the audience finally spotted Tetsurou, and shortly the whole crowd was infected and tried to call the attention of the men up front. It was rather too late, however, Tetsurou had already passed the jungle of ropes and was making his way around the revolving swords.
Kei peeked between his fingers, his hand covering his face, heart thumping under his chest a mile an hour. A sword almost slashed Tetsurou’s middle, but managed to avoid it. People were shouting to have the contraptions stopped, but that was hardly possible. It would take time before the momentum of each of those deadly things slowed down. Tetsurou passed the swords and moved to the swinging bladed pendulums.
“Get off the stage idiot!” Kei shouted, his voice cracking.
Tetsurou didn’t seem to hear him and run passed one and almost gave Kei a heart attack. Tetsurou bid his time for the second pendulum. Kei ran closer to stage, having enough. “Come back before you get yourself killed! Tetsurou!”
Again he was ignored. Kei turned to the supposedly next challenger. The man was all but stupefied as to what was happening. Kei yelled at the useless dolt. “Do something!”
The man ignored him, and then the crowd gasped and Kei’s attention was back at the stage. Tetsurou was already traversing the log bridge, both arms spread, his balance unsteady. Tetsurou wobbled dangerously and was about to fall on the boiling tar. Kei scrunched his eyes shut, a long second passed and he peeked. Tetsurou was going on a steady pace towards the finish.
Kei watched mutely as Tetsurou hopped onto safety, not hearing the crowds cheer and the master of ceremonies congratulating his idiot.
“So, what does this young champion want as his reward?”
Tetsurou walked towards him slowly, and Kei just stared, too stunned to move and too horrified at what he had just witnessed. Tetsurou grabbed one of his clammy hands, Kei’s eyes stinging and watering. He dropped onto one knee and looked at Kei in earnest, flashing a wide grin that was as bright and as sunny and as definitely up to no good as before:
"In sickness and in health. Till death do as part. Will you marry me, Kei?"
Kei did what any normal almost seven year old man would do and cried and hit him and told him yes.