I threw body down onto bed and let out a sigh. I was tired after doing practice from morning till evening. Being a son of group leader didn't make me special. I had to do training everyday like the others.
I put hands under my head, staring at ceiling. My lips curled up as I recalled our last meeting. She was really pretty despite her tomboyish character. Even now my heart still beat fast. As Jiro said, I had never been like this before. I had sworn to myself long time ago that I wouldn't fall for anyone. Until I met her. I didn't know how it happened. I just felt it when I laid eyes to her. Her brown eyes caught my heart. Her beautiful, passionate and honest eyes.
A heavy sigh escaped from my mouth. I knew I shouldn't. I shouldn't let myself fall for her. I could count the reasons. But for once, just for once I wanted to feel it. I wanted to feel love.
I pushed body up and get off the bed. I went to my trunk. When I found the thing I was looking for, I closed the trunk and walked back to my bed. I trailed fingers over the book. 'I hope she will like it'
"I look like stupid."
"No, you look beautiful," Asahi said.
"Trust us Nami, he will be stunned to see you," Hinata said.
I looked at my best friends in front of me before sighing. "Fine."
We were standing in front of Sarukawa's circus' tent. After that day I felt guilty for punching him. I told Asahi and Hinata, and they dragged me here. I shouldn't come but there was no coming back now.
"How do we find him?" Hinata asked.
"Let's ask someone," Asahi said and turned around. She bumped into someone.
"I'm sorry, are you alright?"
I remembered the thin man. "You're the one with him, right?" I asked. The man blinked before turning to me.
I pressed my lips together to hold a smile. It seemed Asahi had a fan now. I cleared my throat. "Where's him? I mean Ray."
"Oh, Ray? You see that tent,"
I followed his hand and saw a small tent behind the main tent.
"He's behind that tent. Just go there and you'll see him."
I gave a nod at him, turning to Asahi and Hinata. "Let's go."
"Nami, I think we won't come with you," Asahi said.
"He says…he will show us around," Hinata said. She glanced at the man. He nodded swiftly.
"Okay, fine," I said and watched as the three walked toward the opposite direction. I was about to turn around when Hinata shouted.
"Nami, we'll go back first so enjoy your time!"
"What? Don't leave me!" I shouted back. Hinata just raised her thumb, grinning. "I shouldn't come here."
After sighing, I walked toward the tent. As I approached the tent I heard giggles. I saw two men with some girls. I had never seen the taller man before. He was quite handsome. And then my gaze landed to the young man beside him. It was Ray. Girls were laughing and clinging into him. I huffed. 'Of course he isn't different with the others'
I thought to leave but stopped. Ray was pushing the girls away. He was smiling at them but I could tell he tried to put some distance. While the taller man seemed to enjoy the attention, Ray on the other hand didn't look comfortable. I gulped when he turned around and saw me. He then left the girls, trotting toward me. I quickly spun on heel. I thought to run but unfortunately I wore kosode and mono (women's wrapping skirt) today.
"Hey, wait," Ray called.
I stopped and turned around to look at him. He folded arms in front of his chest.
"What are you doing here?"
I licked my lips, looking aside. "I, uh…"
"Want to apologize?"
I looked back at him, dropping my gaze down, and nodding.
"You broke my bone, you know."
"I…I'm so sorry…I didn't mean to…" I stammered. He started to laugh. "What's funny?"
"I'm just kidding. You didn't break my bone. See, it's alright," he said, tapping his nose with finger while grinning.
I pulled corner of lips up in a snarl, raising my fist. He stepped back, hands up.
"Wait, don't punch me, I'm sorry. Don't worry you're forgiven."
I chuckled when he winked. "Okay, oh, and I…bring this too," I said. I showed him the small bundle in my hand. He took the bundle. "That's, uh, rice ball. I…make it," I said, blushing slightly.
"You cook for me?"
"What? I…" I trailed off. He suddenly took my wrist, pulling me with him. "What are you doing?"
"I want to show you something."
I was happy to see her. 'And she cooked for me!' No one had ever done that to me before. I pulled her inside my tent.
"What is this place?"
"My tent," I said. I tightened my grip when she tried to pull off. "Don't worry I am not a bad person."
"Every bad person says that."
I let out a chuckle. "You're funny. Anyway, wait here," I said. I walked to the table beside my bed. I took the book and tools, walking back to her side. "Here, for you."
I handed the book to her. Her eyes widened as she looked inside. "You like painting so I thought you'll like it. It has many beautiful painting from around the world, or it was my friend told me."
"This is beautiful," she said, stunned.
"Oh, and this too," I said, handing the bundle to her.
"What is it?"
She opened the bundle hesitantly and eyes bulged out with surprise. "These…these…"
"Brushes," I said. "I got it from my friend but don't know how to use. I think…" I held my breath when she suddenly hugged me.
"Thanks!" she exclaimed. She then stepped back, blushing. "I mean thank you."
I let out a laugh. "You're very welcome. I'm glad finally it finds its perfect owner," I said. She still looked down, embarrassed. "Now you can paint various painting." She smiled brightly that those spots on her cheeks showed up.
I had never seen this kind of book before. It had many beautiful paintings. I was surprised to see many technics in painting. I fell in love with the book immediately. I stole a glance toward him as he ate the rice ball. My lips curled up a little. 'Maybe he wasn't a bad man like I thought he was'
"Can I ask something?"
"Sure," he said.
"Do you always travel around?" I asked.
He pressed his lips together. "Well, we're travel circus, so we never stay at one place."
"Have you ever been to Heian-kyo*?" (* capital city of Japan from 794 to 1868; now known as Kyoto)
He nodded. "Yup, but I don't really like the place."
"Why? Isn't it capital city? I wonder what kind of place it is," I said.
"You will see many nobles there, but trust me here is better."
"Really?" I asked. He nodded again. "I want to see another place too. Of course I like this village but I want to see outside world."
"Then come with me."
"What?" I turned to him. He chuckled.
"Just kidding. Anyway, you look beautiful with those clothes."
I felt my cheeks warm again. 'What's wrong with me lately?' "Thanks," I said but couldn't lift my gaze for he was staring at me.
"Do you want to know what the nobles look like?"
I looked up at him as he pulled me to sit in front of a table with a mirror. I never had a mirror for my own. He then took cream and powder. "What are you doing?"
"I'll make you look like a noble woman."
He then took the cream, applying it on my face. I tried not to look at his eyes. I looked at his forehead instead. But after a while I couldn't help but trailed gaze down to his brows, nose, cheek bones and finally his lips. I held my breath as I looked at those soft lips. I was reminded of the feeling of those lips against mine. When the lips curled up, I lifted my gaze. He was looking at me. I quickly moved gaze to the mirror behind him. 'This is embarrassing'
"There you go," he said.
He then moved to stand beside me. I was surprised to see myself in mirror. My face was white. Instead of long brows I have thumb size brows, and my lips are thinned-red. It looked weird. "Do they really wear this makeup?"
He nodded. "What do you think?"
"Honestly?" I asked. He nodded, smiling. "Weird." I let out a chuckle as he laughed. I never thought that I would like to hear a man's laugh. I looked up at him. When his laugh died, he looked down at me. I held my breath as those eyes stared at me.
"You are beautiful," he said.
I felt my chest getting warm this time. I wondered why he could make my heart skip a beat; make me blush and now chest warmed.
"Can I kiss you?"
I couldn't breathe. He slowly leaned toward me. Without my permission my eyes shut close. My heartbeat increased. 'What's wrong with my body?' When I heard a soft chuckle, I opened my eyes. He was grinning at me. I rolled my eyes slightly "That wasn't…"
I threw the last vegetables into the basket on my back. "Finally it's done."
After wiping sweats off my forehead, I stood up. The blue sky had turned to light yellow. It seemed I wouldn't have time to paint. I shifted the basket up as I walked down the forest. I took my new brush from my hitatare. It had smaller amount of bristle than my old one. With the brush I could paint fine line. I put the brush inside my kosode, smiling happily. My mind then went back to the other day.
Before I met him, I never had any interest in man. But he was different. I didn't know what made it different. Perhaps that was because he wasn't like any other annoying man. Well he was, at first. 'So what makes it different?' I shook my head and jumped over a big rock. Thinking of him only confused me. 'Why am I thinking about him, anyway?'
I let out a sigh, trying to find something to distract me. But moments later I found myself thinking about him again. I wondered what it was like to travel around and see new places. I hoped could travel around too, but it was impossible.
Suddenly the memory of him kissing my lips flashed inside my head. 'A man had kissed me, four times!' And I didn't push him away- correct I did punch him once. 'Does it mean I like him? No, absolutely no'
I shook my head. Then why I couldn't move, couldn't breathe when he kissed me. Indeed I adored the elegance and beauty of his dance, but him? I didn't know. I shook my head again. 'This man makes me crazy'
I halted when my ears caught noises. Horse gallops. I quickly ran behind trees and lowered my body. I saw a small troop. 'Warrior?' I knitted my brows. There was no war for decades, everyone lived in peace. 'Then what are they doing here?'
I looked back at the troop and recognized the man on the front line. It was the rude man who yelled at me the other day. The one was beaten by Ray. I rose to feet in the lowest sound but gasped when a hand grabbed me. The person took me to hide behind a tree.
I looked up as I heard the voice. "Ray?"
He pulled me against him as the troop came closer. His arms were around me. I could hear his heartbeat as I leaned head against his chest. He tightened the hug when they passed us. I held my breath, didn't dare to let out any sound. But when I felt something bit my leg, I let out a yelp. I covered my mouth quickly but it was late.
My eyes widened with horror and I looked up at Ray. He grabbed my wrist, starting to run. I didn't bother to take my fallen basket and ran with him. I heard shouts and horse gallops behind us. Ray let out a whistle, and then a white horse came out behind trees. He quickly mounted the horse first before helping me on. I grasped his robe when the horse broke into gallop. This was the first time I rode a horse. I glanced over my shoulder and saw them. They were chasing us.
"Where are we going? This wasn't the direction to my village," I said when I realized we were riding toward the opposite direction.
"I saw some on the other side. We'll climb down and take another road."
I was about to reply when something flew fast beside me. An arrow. Soon another arrow flew toward us. I tightened my hold as Ray speeded the horse further into forest. I closed my eyes when the horse galloped between trees. The horse suddenly let out a loud neigh. The next moment I was thrown off. I squeezed eyes tightly as my body rolled over forest ground, falling deeper into forest.
I pushed body up while groaning. 'Nami,' I looked around. "Nami!"
I found her body lying not far from me. I ignored pain on my side and ran to her side.
"Nami," I called while shaking her shoulders. When she opened her eyes, I sighed in relief. "Are you alright? You have any injury?" I helped her to stand and checked for any wound.
"I'm fine. Just some bruises," she said.
"I'm afraid we have to walk from now. Do you know this area?"
She looked around before shaking head. "No, I've never been in this area before."
"What should we do now?"
"I think it's better if we look for a place for the night."
"You mean we stay here? As inside the forest?" I asked.
She lifted an eyebrow. "Why, is Sarukawa's prince afraid being alone in the middle of the forest?"
"What was that supposed to mean?" I asked, confused with the question.
She shrugged. "I'm just saying if you're afraid…"
"I fear nothing," I cut her off. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing wrong. I just get lost in the middle of forest, with a man, have no horse, and have to sleep under the open sky. Nothing wrong at all. Lovely. Perfect."
I looked at her, dumfounded. "Are you blaming me?"
"No, I didn't say that," she said but her eyes told different.
"Yes, you're implying," I said, crossing my arms.
"If you listen to me and go to the other way, we won't get lost."
"Oh really," I said. "And get caught by the other soldier? Very smart of you lady."
She let out a chuckle sarcastically. "Thanks to you smarty pants sir we get lost now."
I let out a groan. "I should let them take this girl away."
"Oh sorry for being a trouble sir," she snapped and spun on heel.
"Where are you going?"
"Don't mind me. I'm just going to have tea time with my friends from this forest."
I grabbed her arm, pulling her around. "We should move together."
"Oh no, we don't," she said. She pulled hand off. "I'll go by myself."
I was about to reply when a howl broke the silent forest. I crossed my arms, turning to the freezing woman beside me. "Fine, go ahead," I said. "I heard a wolf could smell even from long distance, and you know they're very fast." She inhaled, wandering eyes around. I leaned closer to her. "Once they get their target, they won't let it go, but won't kill it immediately. They'll bite…"
"Okay, okay, fine. We move together."
I pressed my lips together to hold back a smile. "No, it's okay, I won't stop you. Don't mind me." She glared at me.
"I say we move together."
"If you say so," I said and shrugged. "Lead the way then." She let out a groan before passing me. "Ouch! That's my foot you're stepping on."
"Sorry, didn't see that," she said without turning around.
I breathed out a sigh, following her. This would be a long journey.
After walking for a while, we decided to make a place for sleep. "We need fire."
"I'll do it," she said.
"You can make fire?" I asked. She turned to me, an eyebrow up.
"I'm not a princess living in a palace."
"Sure you can. I'll look for more branches," I said and left her. After making sure she couldn't see me, I leaned against a tree. I untied my hitatare belt. When my fingers touched liquid on my side, I let out a sigh. "Oh great,"
I was bleeding. Perhaps from sharp rocks when I fell over forest ground. I couldn't see the wound for it was dark. But from the pain I guessed it was slightly deep. If morning came we could return to the village and I would be fine. I took a deep breath before tying my hitatare. Fortunately, I wore black hitatare today so she wouldn't notice the blood. After breathing out a sigh, I leaned off. I returned to my task, gathering dry branches.
I put the branches on the ground beside fire. "You sure can make a fire," I said.
"I thought you get lost somewhere inside the forest."
I let out a small laugh and sat down beside her. "So, you're worrying me," I teased. I laughed when she rolled her eyes. She threw a branch into the flames. For a while we just sit in silence while staring at the dancing flames.
"How far are we from the village?" I broke the silence.
"I'm not quite sure, but if I'm correct we'll find river around here."
"We just need to follow the river," I said. She nodded. After that we fell into silence again. I took a glance at her small figure. She was hugging her knees.
"Try to kiss me again and I'll kick you."
I let out a laugh but winced as I felt pain from my side. When she turned to me, I grinned. "How do you know I want to kiss you now?" I let out a small chuckle as she put some distance between us. "I'm just kidding. Anyways, tell me about yourself."
I let out a hum.
"You know my name, where I live, what I like already."
I threw a twig toward her. "You're boring."
"Sorry for being a boring person," she said but then let out a small chuckle. "How about you? Why don't you tell me about yourself?"
"You know my name…" I stopped as a small rock hit my thigh. "Hey,"
"Nami," I said. I placed a hand before me as twigs flew toward me. I leaned to grab her arm. I greeted my teeth as a pain ran up from my side. I released her arm, leaning back.
"Are you okay?"
I turned to her, offering a smile. "Yeah," I said. I could tell she didn't believe me. "Anyway, why don't you take a sleep? I'll keep watch."
"And let you do something to me while I asleep? No."
I rolled my eyes slightly. "I promise won't touch you or come near you."
"I'll keep watch too," she said stubbornly.
"Look, you need sleep. I have sword, see," I said, pointing at katana on my waist.
"I can protect myself too."
I sighed and turned to the stubborn woman beside me. "I know you can. But I'd be happy if you let me." She kept staring at me. I let out another sigh. "Here, you can have this with you."
I took my katana, handing it to her. She just looked down at it. I ignored the pain from my side and reached for her hand. I put the katana in her hand. "If I do something to you, use it. Don't worry I can protect you and myself without it."
She finally gave in and laid body down. I turned to the fire and threw another branch. I straightened my back and let out an inaudible cry. I hoped I wouldn't pass out before morning came. I glanced at the lying woman beside me. I couldn't faint; I couldn't let something bad happen to her.
I lifted eyelids up as something wet touched my mouth. A pair of black eyes was staring back at me. I jerked body up. It was just a squirrel. "Sorry little friend," I said to the frightened squirrel. It then ran into bushes. I looked round me and remembered that I got lost. I had spent the night in the forest with Ray. 'Where's him?' I stood up, brushing dirt off my clothes.
I turned around. Ray approached me, holding fruits on hands. "Where were you going?"
He lifted his hands. "Looking for something to eat, I'm starving. Aren't you?"
"No," I said but then looked down as my stomach grumbled. "Maybe a little."
He let out a chuckle. "Here, eat this."
I looked at the fruits before taking it. A moan slipped out my lips as I chewed the juicy fruit. "What?" I asked. He shook his head, smiling.
"Have a good sleep?"
"The 'bed' was very comfortable," I said. He chuckled. I picked the katana, handing it back to him. "Thanks." He took the katana and slipped it under his belt. "Let's go then. Sooner we leave is better. I miss my bed."
He put a hand out while bending back. "Ladies' first."
I giggled and gave a light bow. "Thank you sir."
We journeyed on.
"So, you live with your parents and Marilyn."
"Yup. Marilyn is my father's sister, not blood-related actually," I said while pushing leaves away as we walked between scrubs.
"She's not from here, is she?" He turned to me. "Her name."
I nodded. "She's from west kingdom, she said. She followed her father here when she was a child, but when he passed away he left her with his best friend, my grandfather."
"She's very funny," he said while cutting branches with katana.
I heard Ray's small laugh. "Do you…like her?" I asked hesitantly. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at me.
"Yes. But I like you more," he said and winked.
I blushed again. I cleared my throat, avoiding his gaze.
"You're funnier and stubborn."
"Hey," I said and pushed him a little on shoulder. He just laughed. We then continued to walk.
We had been walking all day, following river side. Sometimes we would make stop to rest. I stood on my knees while taking a drink. After quenching thirsty, I washed my face. I wiped the water off with my sleeves and glanced at Ray. I noticed his winch when he stood up. That was when I realized his face was pale. "Are you alright? You don't look well."
"Not used to walk in forest I see," I teased. He just let out a chuckle before turning around.
"Are you hungry?"
"You?" I asked. He nodded. "Maybe we can find something to eat."
We then left the river side, looking for something to eat. When my eyes found trees with small bluish purple fruits attached to them, I took his arm. I pulled him with me.
"What's that?" he asked.
"You have to try this," I said. I took the small fruit and brought it to him. He leaned down to take the fruit with mouth. I giggled when his eyes widened. "Delicious, isn't it?"
"What's this? I never eat this before."
"Yes I can see that."
I let out a giggle, throwing some into my mouth. "I like this small fruit. There are many inside forest. Sometimes when I get hungry during gathering vegetable I would look for it." I turned to him. "You know…"
I gulped and felt the fruit slowly sliding down my throat. It seemed my body completely went numb every time he put his lips over mine. My heart pumped fast inside my chest as he started to move his lips gently. He took my jaw to lift my head. His other hand was holding me. If he didn't hold me I would slump down since my legs couldn't support my body.
I stared at Ray's deep brown eyes and felt as if I fell deeper into them. I couldn't think anything else as his soft lips bruised against my lips. I dared to open my mouth slightly. He immediately took my bottom lip between his. A drop of sweat running down between his brows broke the spell. I watched as his eyelids slid down. The next moment I fell back with his body over me.
I let out a cry of pain, looking back at him. "Ray," I called but he didn't move. I pushed body up to sit, turning his body around. "Ray, it isn't funny." I took his side, shaking it. I was surprised to feel something wet against my palm. My eyes widened as I saw blood. 'He's bleeding'
I brought hand to his pale cheek. "Ray, open your eyes!" I called, panicked. He still didn't move. 'He was bleeding all days? Why didn't he tell me? And he didn't sleep last night'
Fortunately, there was a cave near us. I pulled his body inside. I laid his body down carefully on the ground. I then left the cave, looking for herbs. After finding the herbs I needed, I hurried to the cave. He was still unconscious. I put the herbs on rock and ground it. I took a glance at his pale face and wiped a tear. 'Stupid man, idiot'
I didn't bother to consider my feeling. Why did I cry a tear as I saw him lying unconscious? I went to his side and took his wrist. I let out a breath of relief as I felt the pulse. But it was slow. I laid his hand down. I untied his hitatare. My eyes widened when I saw blood. It covered his white undergarment. I inhaled before taking the belt untying it. My heart sank as I saw the bluish purple wound on his rib. But what surprised me the most was the cloth that bound around his chest. 'He is a…''…a woman?'