A few days ago, in King Fidel’s room, Aoi sat next to Fidel while she served him a meal.
“What happened to the flavor? This taste is strange. It’s unpleasant.” Fidel made a face in disgust.
“What does it taste like?” Aoi asked with concern.
“I’m not really sure. It’s metallic, somewhat.” Fidel made another unpleasant face.
“Nothing has changed. You have, dear Fidel,” Aoi said softly. Her face had a sorrowful look. She slowly lowered the dish she had in hand while staring down. Fidel knew what this meant, without her saying anything.
“It’s close now. I knew it was coming.” Fidel smiled half-heartedly.
“Still,” Aoi said with a burst of expression that quickly calmed, “I was just hoping. And you still look well. Too well for this to be happening. Sure, everything is more difficult, but I still see that same smile from time to time. I knew things were painful, but you never forced that smile.”
“Thank you Aoi, you’re wonderfully observant. However, you haven’t noticed then, have you?”
“Noticed? What more could I notice?”
“What about it?” Aoi asked with a puzzled look.
“It’s white,” Fidel said with his usual half-hearted tone.
“Yes,” Aoi replied with a sense of exasperation, “it’s always been white.”
“No. Its color is gone. Its color was white. Now, this precious hair is white due to lack of color. It may seem strange to say my white hair has gone white, but white is a kind of color too. I’ve lost it. Now it is white like the white of an old man. You not noticing is fortunate. You’re the closest person to me, yet you didn’t notice when it changed. It means that I’m the only one who has.” Fidel kept smiling.
Aoi looked closely at the hair on Fidel’s head. The hair itself was thinner, and the slight shine it once had was gone. It was a very small shift in hue that probably no one but the person in question would notice. The hair that was white from birth, marking the true descendants of Rising’s royal throne, had faded.
“Now, Aoi, how long do you think I have?” Fidel asked. Aoi shook her head sideways.
“I only knew how many years. Your condition has reached the stage where medicine won’t help prolong your life. There isn’t an estimate I can give now. There isn’t a definite time at this point. Tomorrow, next month, maybe a bit longer. For all I know, these words could be the last ones you hear. There won’t be any warning. It will be sudden and quick.” Aoi spoke seriously, but in a detached manner. At that moment, she was a doctor giving a diagnosis. It would have pained her too much to be anything more. Being a personal attendant for three years can have that effect on a person.
“Hah! Well if that’s the case, I better tell the chef that he doesn’t have to abide by the diet you planned for me anymore. All the trimmings, I can’t wait!” Fidel rubbed his hands together in childish expectation.
“Fidel!” Aoi reacted as Fidel knew she would. Her momentary trance was broken, and in the flash of anger that Fidel had caused, she felt happiness.
“Save your medicine, Aoi, since it’s past the point of help. At this point, I only wish for three things in life.” At that, Aoi stood up and objected.
“I’m not the one you should be saying this to! I won’t be the person who has to listen to your will!”
“Now now, sit down. I was only going to say that I only wish for three things, and one of them is a good meal. Do you care to help with that? It’s not exactly a will or a dying wish. And put that away.” Fidel pointed to a very small bottle on his bedside table. It was the medicine that Aoi mixed with the dish earlier. She took it and placed it in a pocket.
“Yes. A meal it is. At this point, I, I, will go.” Aoi got up and left the room quickly. She had almost said that she was now useless. There was nothing more she could do, she thought. Leaving Fidel’s room, leaving his side, was the same as saying that though. It was extremely rare that Aoi ever went more than a room’s length away from Fidel; however, she was now going to the kitchen personally.
As she walked through the long hallways, she was reminded of how Fidel would take her from one side of the castle to the other. If it weren’t for his unnecessary trips, she wouldn’t know how to get to the kitchen. There wasn’t a need for Fidel to travel anywhere but from his bedroom to the throne room or meeting room, and Aoi would have been very content with just that. However, Fidel liked to walk around, beg his chefs for exquisite food, tempt the dogs with sausages, admire the view, and do just about everything else that could be done inside the castle walls. Though he couldn’t do half of it without assistance, he didn’t complain. He laughed at his inabilities, cried at emotional plays, and became angry with those who were unjustly angry at others. But he never questioned his eventual fate, and never shed a tear over his plight. Thoughts like that started to well up in Aoi, but before she could fall to the ground and sob, someone turned into the hallway she was walking through.
“Why, hello there, Miss Aoi.” Rillin, the old advisor, had walked into the hallway as he tapped his crooked cane.
“Rillin, sir,” Aoi said with her usual composure.
“Separated from our lord today, are we?” Rillin chuckled as he spoke. He was quite old, by human standards, and was always very friendly to Aoi.
“I’m just relaying a message from Fidel. It’s alright to leave his side once in a while. Today, it’s alright to take a step away.” Though Aoi meant to sound casual, she regretted the mournful way she spoke. She quickly became worried that Rillin would notice something was wrong.
“Oh, yes. Quite interesting. Anyways, I was just coming to see you, so this works out well. Just a moment and I’ll get it.” Rillin didn’t flinch at Aoi’s words, so she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Me? What for?” Aoi asked.
“You received a letter. Ah, here you are.” Rillin reached into his brown robes and brought out an envelope. He handed it to Aoi, and then walked off. He waved as he walked past her. Apparently he had other things to do, and didn’t have another moment to spare.
Aoi carefully opened the normal-looking envelope, and took out the handwritten letter inside. Her eyes widened as she finished reading. She nearly dropped it when she was done. She looked left, then right, and then quickly ran back towards Fidel’s room. She held the letter tightly in hand as she ran, crumpling the paper.
“Fidel! What do I do?” Aoi asked suddenly as she barged into the room unannounced. Fidel, while sitting in an armchair, raised his eyes from the book he was reading.
“Food?” Fidel asked.
“I didn’t have time for that. Look at this!” She rushed over and handed him the letter. Fidel read it over.
“Go,” Fidel said in all seriousness.
“Why not, Aoi?” Fidel asked, his expression still serious.
“Because I can’t. I have to watch you, right? Why me? Why would she ask me? This is strange, too strange.”
“Just go anyways. Besides, I’m fine without you,” Fidel said without blinking.
Aoi frowned, creating several deep wrinkles on her forehead. She was hurt at the comment, but the panic she felt overwhelmed the pain. She was also very annoyed at Fidel’s manner.
“Why do you want me to go?” Aoi asked.
“Well, if you must know, I haven’t had a night alone in a while. What should I do with all that free time, I wonder?” Fidel became whimsical like normal. Aoi couldn’t help but relax.
“Fine, you obnoxious king. I’ll go. It has been a while since I’ve talked with anyone outside the castle. Even if the person isn’t someone I can imagine myself talking to. Ah, I’m so sick of this castle.” Aoi talked as she looked up in the air, smiling softly. Fidel laughed at Aoi’s impersonation of him. Aoi decided that she should just let her worries go, and accept what the letter said. Fidel sent Aoi out of the room to conclude their night together.
“Wait,” Fidel said when he was finally alone, “where is my feast?”