The teacup rattled. The dish clanked when Jane tried putting it down calmly. Finally managing to do it, the dishes remained on the table for only a minute before a servant came to remove them. And when they did, Jane got up and walked away.
“Prepare the carriage,” Jane said to the attendant when she went past. She didn’t glance at his nod of acknowledgement. She headed first to Ruby’s room, and opened the door. A desk, a bed, a bookshelf, tables, and chairs. But no occupant. Jane wandered around for a moment, touching the items in the room. She touched the book with the leather binding that was sitting on the desk. She sighed, and then left the room.
Standing outside the door, waiting patiently, was Shiroi. She didn’t speak, she could only look at Jane with pleading eyes, trying to communicate her concern.
“I’m going out. I’m going to find out more. I won’t abandon my daughter, ever. Don’t tell the others, she has disappeared. Are you, too, going to disappear from my life?” Jane said. Her melancholy breached her normally steel wall, and the first to receive of it was the servant that knew far too much of the matters of the nobles within the walls of this estate. Jane had known that Ruby didn’t run away, but her belief in that was reinforced by her interaction with Kelin.
“Madam, I will serve your daughter. I cannot do that elsewhere. Ever,” Shiroi said, and then humbly bowed. She spoke no further, and clarified her words no further.
“What do you think? Do you think she ran, or was taken?”
“The mistress didn’t run. Sneak out, yes, but not to run. Was she really taken?” Shiroi asked, her normally calm feathers moving with an agitated mind of their own. Her own belief in Ruby was reinforced, but her concern had doubled. A creeping fear in the back of her heart sent cold tingles throughout her. Her eyes locked with Jane’s for a moment, this being the one time in their lives they were of the same mind.
“Tell no one. It may be true. Especially not, wait, no. No one. You wouldn’t. To think this would happen to me. Look at me, I’m conversing with a bird. Truly ridiculous. I need to find out. That blasted regent. Tell no one, my daughter’s trusted servant. Tell no one, trust no one but her,” Jane said. It would be one of the few times Jane would ever speak to Shiroi directly. And in such confusion, Shiroi’s opinion of Jane shifted. Jane had shown trust in Shiroi, and that must have existed before this time, but never revealed until now. Her vulnerability was revealed, and through Jane’s pain Shiroi saw the fragile side of a person who always lived with such heavily selfish motives that they forgot their own faults.
“I want to look for her, as well,” Shiroi said on impulse. Normally she shouldn’t say such a thing. But she was resolved in all her wants and convictions, and was unwavering in her determination.
“No,” Jane said. “But instead, I’m reassigning you. Until she returns, you will by my attendant when I go out or receive guests.”
“But madam! Aren’t I a worthless servant that can easily be sent away without loss? I am worthless, but as such I can go to various places, places that you may not, and search those that are below the visible surface! I can go to far corners and scour deeply the fabric of lower society where she may have ended up!”
“Foolish bird, think about it harder. Lower dregs? That isn’t a problem. Easy even. No, think about this more deeply. At my side while I search. While I investigate. While I speak with those who may have played a more serious part than initially thought. This isn’t a simple thing, when it comes to the privileged. And more than likely, not done by those of simple means. Can you comprehend this meaningful thing? Or are you relegated to the dregs, a disappointment even for a lowly servant? Shall I forget this kindness, and return you to your former place?”
Shiroi opened, and then closed, her mouth. The meaning and true prospects behind Jane’s words had profound meaning, which Shiroi realized. Without another word, she gave a short bow. Jane smiled briefly, made a small grunt of approval, and then walked off. Shiroi tailed behind her. Soon the carriage was readied, and as the night grew, Jane traveled to the castle.
Upon arriving at the castle gates Jane left the carriage and spoke with the guards personally, for they would not open the gates at the directions of the driver. A while passed before she returned. She sat with a huff while Shiroi stared. The gates opened and the driver brought them into the castle’s inner areas.
“Asking their supervisors for approval, for me, their superior? And then for the decision to be deliberated, what a ridiculous endeavor,” Jane said. Shiroi wondered if Jane was talking to herself, which was the likely answer, or to Shiroi. She decided to speak up, since the madam was different from usual.
“They wouldn’t, they dared to not open the gates on madam’s authority alone?” Shiroi asked. Jane stared at Shiroi, her fierce look slowly becoming calmer and transforming to one of thought. She took a few moments to decide whether to acknowledge the servant who had disobeyed their status, or to ignore as usual. This period, this time, there were things far too different surrounding the circumstances of the night, and so breaking protocol by both noble and commoner was an allowed exception. Jane wouldn’t abandon her classic views, but honestly felt like speaking, venting frustration, to a live person instead of the air. She had far too many issues at hand to worry about momentary status differences. She’d return to normal later, that was a fact.
“That fool has enacted a blanket policy of closing the gates for all at night,” Jane said, her words carefully chosen. She wouldn’t concede that her authority and power could have any issues. Shiroi knew to keep silent, as there was no guarantee the madam would allow Shiroi to continue overstepping her bounds. And the madam’s small attempt to deflect the issue of her authority implied embarrassment, and pursing that issue could thus lead to complications for Shiroi later. She understood the madam well enough, realizing there was a person in power who irritated Jane in several ways.
A group of guards greeted them and led them through the halls of the castle, ending up at a room. One opened the door and let the two in, closing it behind them.
“Madam Melonscone, wonderful to see you.”
“And you, Jin,” Jane said. Shiroi stood dutifully, silently by the wall, just to the left of the door, and listened and watched everything that happened. Regent Jin was alone in a large room filled with all the normal items: cabinets, tables, dressers, a bed, a closet, and bookshelves. His private room appeared a cross between a bedroom and a study, which matched what little Shiroi knew of him.
“Good, good,” Jin said slowly. He appeared older than Jane by much, with a long beard, but seemed to be able to move with a spry step when he wanted. When he was seen, which was becoming more often as of late with his duties as regent, he would often carry a cane and had glasses attached to a small chain around his neck. He usually spoke slowly and carefully, choosing his words and tone. “So then, what has prompted this midnight visit?”
“A consultation on various issues,” Jane said.
“Various? Such as?”
“Serious matters,” Jane said, wary of Jin’s tone, trying to feel him out. She didn’t distrust him; she didn’t understand him well enough to trust him. “Would I come here, at this time, for anything less?”
She held back from saying that Jin should already be pledging his help for whatever matter, no matter what it could be. It was self-evident, in Jane’s view. But Jin wasn’t Fidel. She couldn’t make demands so clearly and defiantly with Jin.
“Ah, I understand,” Jin said while turning to look at Shiroi in the distance. “Something important and private. Your servant can reside in the room across the hall.”
“No, she will stay. A statue needn’t leave the room its master placed it in. I mean something different. It concerns the nation itself, even.”
“Ah, that is what you mean. Well, many things concern the nation lately. Have you heard of the issues with the two cities to the west? They have been having a rough time with crops this year. Much a problem. Or is it about the continued wall expansions? That’s a concern for me, lately. So many different things, all of great or little concern. How is it, what is your concern?”
“The queen, the future queen, is missing.”