Waking to the cold, Louise instinctively rubbed her feet, which were wrapped in the sheets, together. The third daughter of a viscount, she continued to lay in bed even as she heard the footsteps of the servants who began working before the skies had lightened. Before long, a young maid came up to her with a blanket in hand and gently draped it over her.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, still half-asleep.
Please sleep a while longer, said the young maid who had only joined their household a year ago. She bowed and left.
Yesterday, it wasn’t this cold all through the night to dawn. Winter will arrive before we know it, Louise thought. Though it couldn’t possibly compare to the northern borders here in her father’s warm southern lands.
There, her fiancé was assigned to border security. They had no armed conflicts with their northern neighbor, but with its terrible public order bandit types often came raiding, or so it was written in the paper her father read. As a sheltered young lady, Louise couldn’t imagine such danger on top of the suffering cold.
Famed for their beauty, her two older sisters fell in love with young men of higher ranks, who had asked for their hands in marriage.
Without a doubt, at least for the young men he had hoped would become his elder daughters’ bridegrooms, the viscount had been all smiles as he blessed their marriages. He decided, however, to find a fiancé for Louise before she entered high society. With all of his daughters married outside, from the elder two to their younger sister separated by several years, his House would have no more children.
Enlisting the help of his two married daughters, her father enthusiastically began searching for a young and promising man who seemed like he would earnestly protect his lands, which were in the sticks far from the capitol. The search for a bridegroom was difficult due to the modest lifestyle the viscounts have led for generations, with the people their top priority. Life in the viscount’s lands were a far cry from the extravagance of high society, but in the end he finally found a young man named Huey who met all of the requirements, and who had in turn agreed to marry into his bride’s family as soon as she became of marriageable age.
Back then, Louise was still only twelve years old. Huey was a soldier, and he received orders to protect the border after the fact. In this fashion, the two parted without having met once, and so the years went by.
What in the world was he like? Did his job keep him busy over there, she wondered. Even though hope and worry intermingled, Louise had never been the assertive type, so up until now she had never once made a move to initiate contact.
If she settled into her norm, she would’ve wrapped herself snug in the blanket until it was time to rise. For today only, however, she let out a puff of white breath in the cold and got up while rubbing her eyes.
Come next spring, she would turn sixteen and therefore of marriageable age, and Huey would also be returning from the border. A fiancé whose face she didn’t even know. Although he was the party chosen by her father, she wanted to learn more about this person who would become her partner for the rest of her life, no matter how little.
Maybe she would try writing a letter one day, was the deeply held plan always in her heart. Louise decided to put it into practice, and without delay she lit up her bedside lamp with a flame, wrapped in her blanket the entire time. She took out parchment and her pen from the drawer, but then she discovered another problem.
What in the world were you supposed to write?
Maybe she should ask him if he was well? If he was hurt?
She could express some concern It’s not cold over there, is it? Might that not be interpreted as the idle speculation of someone far off in a safe place?
Should she ask him what colored flowers he liked? But he was on the battlefield as a soldier. He probably wouldn’t care for such things.
She thought, she agonized. She rewrote it several times. She wondered if it might be better to not send a letter at all. Then her stomach growled, and she realized she was hungry.
A little more collected, she reached a hand under the bed.
Once the sky began to brighten, she secretly slipped out of her room. Oddly shaped and lumpy, the plain letter was addressed to someone she had never met.
It was something her older sister had left behind before she married, a mysterious letter set sold in the capital. From a window on the third floor, she lifted her arm into the air, and the letter fluttered as if it was a flag in the wind.
Was he still living there at the border where the flag of the kingdom was raised? The letter in her hand suddenly stilled and flared into the same blue fire color of Louise’s eyes.
And then, the small bird that appeared in her hand adorably tilted its head to the side before letting out a tiny chirp. It flitted through the air, circling the tower once before flying north.
* * * * *
In the mess hall of the northern base, the captain of a unit was holding a meeting while grabbing lunch after the end of a shift when the voice of his colleague, another who had joined at the same time but was in another unit, called out to him. In his colleague’s hands were sheaves of documents and miscellaneous parcels, and perched neatly on top of it all was a small vividly blue bird.
“Huh?” The end of his night shift had fired Huey up. Meeting interrupted, he frowned questionably at the little bird which hopped over from his smirking colleague. “What is it?”
Extremely popular in the capital for its claims of being able to find those whose whereabouts were not well-known to the sender, these letters were primarily used by nobles for private exchanges with their secret lovers.
Why had something like this come to him? The serious mood of the meeting was blown. Under the inquisitive eyes of his unit the small bird returned to its original shape as an envelope.
No idea which acquaintance would go to the effort of sending a letter to such a godforsaken place like this, he roughly grabbed the letter, broke the seal and discarded it. Many round multicolored things scattered about, and his eyes widened at the sender’s name. He had had several business-like exchanges with the owner of the name’s father, but it had been a long time since he’d actually seen the actual person’s name.
A sweet scent wafted in the air. Voices cried out in joy. There’s more than enough for everyone, they said. Even better, the recipient was well-known for his dislike of sweets. However, when their hands reached for that rare treasure, all were mercilessly struck down and screams bounced off the walls.
“Don’t just eat others’ things.”
Good grief, Huey muttered. He stuffed the letter and remainders of white wrapping paper into his breast pocket.
“Captain, when did you start liking sweets?”
“Heartless. You show off.”
“The captain’s fiancée is twelve years old, if I remember correctly…”
“Sixteen, beginning of Spring. Enough, let’s get back to the meeting.”
“Gahh, I’m so jealous…”
“I hope you’re whipped.”
“You lot are too rowdy.”
“Ahhh, I want a sweet sixteen year old fiancée too…”
“I said, focus!”
Huey somehow concluded the lunch cum meeting. He returned to his room and took a red bonbon from his pocket, tearing off the wrapper and throwing the round, translucent, jewel-like candy into his mouth as his eyes landed on the paper.
I have much I want to write, but for now I’ll say I look forward to meeting you.
That one short line summed up the letter’s entire content.
Huey had spent more than half of his childhood in an orphanage. Without any possession to his name, he crawled his way up, accepted a scholarship, and then he was introduced to the older brother of a military school friend where the topic of marriage came up.
His fiancée had been a child, still a long ways away from adulthood when the engagement was initially confirmed. Due to the fact that she had been raised in seclusion and they had never met, he was sure their relationship would be strictly for form’s sake.
He had thought he wouldn’t particularly mind. However, when he put himself in the shoes of the young girl, who had watched as her older sisters married the ones they love, even he had some misgivings. That must be why she never once tried to make contact, he interpreted.
Receiving this unexpected correspondence, he smiled faintly.
* * * * *
The coldest days of the year were past. Even throughout winter, the gardeners diligently tended and maintained, and little by little their labors were bursting into life.
A shopkeeper had been called for dress fittings for the wedding day, and the young lady returned to her room after having herself measured until sundown. When she opened the door, light like setting sun spilled from her room, which was actually dark as it was supposed to be.
Curled on top of her made bed, it slowly raised its face. Easily an armful, it was a beautiful red bird. When it recognized her, it broke into loud song and changed into an envelope.
Addressed simply to Louise, it was heavier than it looked. The letters of her name were written with steady characters, squared like a those of a textbook. With a shaking hand, she took out a paper knife and carefully broke the seal.
Dear Miss Louise,
I expect it is no smiling matter to the person who writes a letter and receives none in return. I had wanted to avoid that and sincerely apologize for my late reply.
Thank you for the letter and delicious bonbon. When I was in the orphanage, when I joined the academy, and even when I was appointed to my post, sweets made my stomach swell so I have always disliked them. Picture, then, the strange image I presented when I hoarded these to myself.
I have no family. Passed from distant relative to distant relative, I was placed in an orphanage, and I grew up in the dorms of the academy. It is quite mysterious, this feeling. To imagine, once my service is over and I leave, what awaits me is a home. To dream, once I arrive, that even I have a family at last.
As the first to become my family, I wonder what sort of woman you are? It gives me great pleasure to imagine our meeting.
Now then, I think you discovered the color of my eyes when you received this letter. My hair is the same color, so the chances of you mistaking another for me should be low.
Along the same lines, I have enclosed something which I only hope you will humor me by wearing. It is by no means expensive, but I tried to choose something as close to the color of your eyes as possible.
If you wear it, neither will I mistake another for you, and I can embrace you in my arms from the beginning.
I look forward to the day we meet.
She pondered the letter again and again.
He looked forward to meeting, to becoming family. Who could ever describe how sharing these feelings could bring about such happiness?
There was another parcel that had been included with the letter. Wrapped in fancy paper quite different from the envelope and the stationery, it was heavy and when she picked it up it jangled lightly. When she opened it, a necklace with a gold chain and earrings slipped into her palm.
No one could find fault with her unrestrained smile and cry of joy.
* * * * *
Several months passed. Louise and her father left for the capital. Of course, it was to meet her fiancé for the first time, and together they would all return to their territory.
Even though she was exuberant at stepping foot in the capital for the first time in her life, and she was finally reuniting with her sisters after a long time because it took great pains to gather, Louise was absentminded as she constantly searched for the color red. In the capital, the market was often used as a meeting point so it was lined with food stalls and the great number of people overwhelmed the father and daughter.
* * * * *
She heard her name and looked over her shoulder. A young man with red hair was slowly making his way to her. He was taller than she had imagined, and he wore a shirt of good quality. His hair color was the same as that bird’s, brilliant like the setting sun.
“I’m relieved I found you. It’s somewhat overcrowded with the attractions.”
He thought the viscount would find the directions easy to understand so he set the biggest market as the meeting place, but because of the huge crowd they couldn’t enter and were stuck at the food stalls. It was an easy mistake to make for travelers to the capital, and foreseeing this Huey came searching for the pair.
Petite Louise suddenly found herself wrapped in his arms.
“How I’ve longed to meet you.”
She panicked at doing something so improper in public, but the arms around her back were not letting go.
“Where is your father?”
“I was in such a rush to meet you… I lost sight of him. My older sisters are with him, so I think he’ll be fine…”
He held her the entire time she spoke, but she suddenly stopped because his finger was playing with her earrings. Surprised, she raised her head and saw the happy smile on his face, as if he had hit upon a great idea.
“There’s not much time.”
Huey looked at their surroundings and found the familiar figure of her father, who still hadn’t noticed them, a small distance away.
“Forgive me, just a tiny taste…”
He planned to take on the role of the viscount’s heir seriously so he hoped he could be forgiven for this much. For a brief moment Huey’s lips covered hers, and then he took Louise’s hand as he walked toward the viscount.