Sunday, July 29, 2007

House of Dolls pt 2 END

She watched the life in the manor go on around her from the shadows, not understanding why she was treated as if she did not exist and always longing for just one kind soul to ease her loneliness and see her.
Divided into two parts due to size.

Read House of Dolls pt 2

Disclaimer: Is in part one.

House of Dolls pt 2 of 2
By Carola “Ryûchan” Eriksson

An unknown number of days passed in complete apathy. I lay on the bedding that was now too small and too worn to hold me comfortably, staring out into nothing and trying my best not to think. I ate nothing and I slept only little, too disturbed by my dreams to find refuge in slumber. The house around me felt far too quiet and desolate, feeling more like a tomb than the home it had been for so long.

What finally got me to stand and walk up the stairs to the ground level of the house I do not know, only that as I made my way to exit through the front doors – an audacity I had never attempted before – I discovered that someone had been there to deliver a large box of groceries. On top of the groceries lay an envelope addressed, after a moment of struggle on my part to decipher the writing, to Ukiyo.

I pulled the groceries inside the door but left them there rather than bothering to carry them to the kitchen, instead I opened the letter with hands that shook slightly and sat down to read. There was after all only one person that would write a letter to an Ukiyo at this address.

The letter was indeed from Arisu, and it was lengthy. It took me a long time to read it all, as slow as my reading process was, and sometime during my reading it I found I had without realizing it returned to the box inside the door and begun carrying the groceries into the kitchen, randomly stuffing items into cupboards there. Thinking I might as well finish what I started I allowed myself to continue until the box was empty, while I concentrated on understanding the words Arisu had written to me.

Aside from explaining in more detail about grandfather’s death, his last will and how the mistress prevented Arisu from moving in until she had officially come of age, Arisu wrote that the manor was my home and I should treat it as such and do whatever I wanted, and that she would come to make it her home as well as soon as she could. She informed me that she had arranged for groceries to be delivered for me once a week, and if it was not enough or if I wanted something specific delivered I needed but write it down and leave the letter with the box the next time the grocer came by with a delivery. A maid would also come in once a week, along with two gardeners, to keep the manor moderately in order, and that I no longer needed to hide. Arisu considered the mansion and all it contained as much mine as hers, she wrote, and there was no reason to leave things unused while I lived here.

Last in the letter, after another reassurance of her promise, were a few lines that made me blush in pleased if somewhat bewildered surprise. Arisu wrote that when she had seen me on the balcony she had thought I looked so pretty, like a fairy princess.

The comment, written in a letters slightly blurry as if Arisu had begun to erase them before opting to leave them as they were, stunned me beyond even the compliment itself although I would not have thought it possible that such a thing be directed at me. It got me wondering just what it was that Arisu saw when she looked at me, since my face did not appear to fill her with fear. What had grandfather seen, that he would take pity on me? And why were he and Arisu the only two so different somehow that my appearance did not make them turn away from me?

I sat deep in thought for so long that night fell outside, and for some reason as I let my hands slide over the walls in search for any means of turning on the light, the reality of my situation struck me. I was alone here, in the house and on the grounds that I still loved so much, and even though there would be people occasionally coming in to help keep the place neat, I still would be alone for some time. Arisu would come when she was old enough, but I did not know how much time this would mean, and I had seen in the past what time without use or care would do to this estate.

I could not do the work of all the servants that the estate required, so field work and animals were clearly out of the question, but as for the rest... keeping the house and sheds and what they contained from falling into disrepair, perhaps keeping up a part of the vegetable garden as well for my own use, I could do that. It would take a lot of hard work, but I did not want Arisu to have to return to a house that was not even a shadow of its former pride one day.

It occurred to me that I did not know if the items and furniture inside the manor would wither and crumble without regular use the way I had seen many things do while I still lived in the earth cellar, but considering the somewhat frail and unused furniture that were stored down in my basement I thought it might be possible. I would have to try to use the things in the house occasionally then, just so that they would not be broken or no longer functional when Arisu came here.

All in all it meant that I could no longer remain in the basement.

The thought disturbed me as I still did not feel particularly safe anywhere else, even though I knew I was alone. I told myself there was no use hiding in fear of fear, after all, had I not watched this house for so very long? Did I not love these walls, these stones, this land, so very much?

I walked around on the ground level, going from room to room, reacquainting myself with everything like I had not seen them before. There were many things that made me marvel and wonder over their purpose, and many more that brought thoughts of grandfather or Arisu, or even the mistress, as I walked around noting in my mind what had been left behind and what had been removed when the mistress moved out. I finally fell asleep on a couch in the sitting room, as once I had sat down in it to experience what it felt like the soft comfort of it had lured out the weariness that seemed to lurk inside my bones, and I just could not make myself get up.

I woke up in the early morning to a faint scraping sound, and once I had shaken the confusion I felt at not waking in my usual place I followed the noise to the servant entrance in the back of the manor. As I got closer I heard the whining of a dog, and the sensitivity I had always felt towards animals had me hurrying in response to the distress in his pitiful voice.

He was a very large, shaggy black dog that I remembered having seen around on the estate for a while, probably meant as a watchdog for the manor, but days without food and with little water had taken their toll on him. I hurried him inside to make him comfortable while I located water and meat to feed him. Watching him eat with a heartbreaking desperation the way he was made me remember that I too had not eaten for quite some time, and if I was to do the things I had decided upon the previous night I would need to keep my strength. I located bread and cheese and ate watching my new friend, happy for the company.

Why a dog like him had been abandoned was something I could not begin to fathom, but it made me wonder if there was any other animal out there that had been left behind when the last of the servants moved out. If so they would surely be suffering as well.

I left Boy – for I knew not what name his owners had given him, only that he responded well to boy – to rest after his meal and made my way outside. It was another day where rain weighed heavy in the air, but such things did not bother me as I made my rounds, inspecting everything I could think of to make sure everything was empty and shut tight. In my rounds I found that indeed there had been a few more creatures left behind besides myself and Boy, a number of cats that were already wilded to the point where they ran at the sight of me, but also one particular old she-cat whom I well remembered from before. We were on friendly terms, she and I, as we often frequented the same spots and routes in our hidden paths around the house.

Normally my feline friend would have fended for herself just as well as those of her kin that had run from me, the forest would have provided what she needed if she were to run out of mice in the closed-up barns, but at that particular point she needed my help. I found her in the stables, curled up in a nest of old hay with a small litter of newly-born kittens, and the new mother had clearly not been able to leave her young to go hunting for a while. I found a small crate to scoop both mother and children into and carried them back into the house, to rest next to Boy as I located more water and food for the exhausted mother.

As I tended these little ones I found myself smiling. I was not alone, and more, here were several tiny lives that needed me. It seemed I had plenty of reason for living after all.

My life after that point fell into a kind of routine. I would feed myself and my friends and spend a large part of each day either outside or inside the manor working on whatever needed my attention with Boy as my ever-present shadow, and in the evenings I would cuddle with the kittens or practice my reading and writing in the sitting room while Boy and the cat mother mostly lazed away in front of the fireplace. During the days when the maid and the gardeners came I had at first intended to go out to the fields with Boy, to keep out of sight, but my curiosity and yearning for human company got the better of me, and I remained in the manor, watching the maid from just out of sight.

It was just as well that I did, because the maid in question was a very strange woman and I learned a lot from watching her. She was in fact the very same person who had left the clothes coffer open for me that time, and it became clear that she was not particularly afraid of “Miss Fox” the way she would speak out loud to me every so often. I was sure that she did not see me, so how she could know I was nearby was beyond me, but even though I never answered – in fact she never seemed to require that of me – I did enjoy her little one-sided chats.

The very first thing I learned from her was that food is not stored so haphazardly as I had put it away, and while she reorganized my little store she explained why certain things were stored the way they were. Had I been left to my own devices the food would have spoilt long before it had to, the meat especially since I do not eat meat and would not know what to do with it at all. As it were we managed to put most groceries to good use during the weeks, my four-legged friends and I, they consuming my weekly allotment of meat and fish and I most of everything else. There were some things that went to spoil regardless, although I felt bad about it, simply because I did not know what to make of it. I did not, after all, know how to cook.

That maid was truly a remarkable person. The manor itself was too large for one person to manage to clean in just the daylight hours of one day, but as I did my best to keep things neat during the week she managed fairly well. She often explained things to me as she did them even though she never saw me, and she did many thoughtful things for me that was not required of her. The very first day she appeared and noticed Boy and the cats she located proper bedding for them, which I had seen during my inspections but frankly had not realized what they were, and a few toys and other items that would keep them happy. After a few visits it became clear to her that I did not use the kitchen utensils, and apparently she drew the correct conclusion from this; that I just did not know how to. After that she would cook me a simple meal every so often, explaining in detail how it was done as she did so. I began leaving her the odd little note expressing my gratitude in my unfortunately clumsy writing in return, my only human communication apart from two painstakingly scribbled notes that I sent to Arisu by way of the grocery deliverer.

This all managed to get me ever so slowly to learn how to prepare a few very simple meals for myself, and this thrilled me to no end. To eat a warm meal was such a luxury, and my curiosity spurred me onward until I had located a cookbook in the mansion’s vast library. Most of the things therein were far too difficult and complicated for me, or simply too focused on the type of food I could not make myself eat such as meat, fish and chicken, so my repertoire in the kitchen was not widened terribly much, but there were a few things I learned to make. I was absurdly pleased once I managed to bake my own bread, even though it was a very failed attempt and it would take a long time before I got it moderately right, and I ate every bit of it.

For a long time I continued to sleep on the couch in the sitting room at night, but as my body grew to the point where the couch was no longer as convenient, I began trying to convince myself that I could use one of the bedrooms on the second level.

It took a lot of self-convincing before I had worked myself up to the point where I after careful consideration picked one room that I might be daring enough to use. It was the smallest of the bedrooms on the second level, just large enough to fit the large canopied bed that filled most of the room, a very comfortable armchair in one corner, and a small drawer at the foot of the bed. There was just enough space to walk around the bed comfortably, and on one side there was a door to a walk-in closet that was nearly as large as the storage room I had been sleeping in before, and on the other side a large, oval lead-tinted window completely framed on the outside by the thick green leaves of the plant that grew up the very stones of the mansion.

I loved the dark colours and heavy drapes of that room, but most of all I loved that window. There was something magical about it, and as I had discovered that there were only two such windows in the mansion – the other situated in what grandfather had always referred to as “the facilities” – I knew this was the room I wanted. I brought Arisu’s doll, my cup, my brush and some clothes from the coffer there and tried to make myself at home.

The fact that I had so far in my life at the manor never spent time in front of a mirror might seem strange, but the truth of the matter was that all the mirrors were located in the various dressing-rooms and walk-in closets attached to the bedrooms on the upper floors. As I had never spent time in those before, the existence of mirrors had eluded me.

When I discovered the full-body length mirror under the heavy blue satin drape on the end wall of the closet adjoining my new room it startled me badly, and I ran out the door at once. It did not take me long to peek my head back in to get a closer look at the strange object, as my curiosity as always got the better of me, and I realized its function in fairly short order.

For the first time in my life I finally saw the face that had frightened so many. For the first time in my life I saw myself.

“Demon!” The mistress’ voice echoed in my ears as I removed the dress I wore, determined to have a good look at the repulsiveness that was I without any obstructions to my view. “Fox-child!”

Honestly my body in and of itself seemed no different than other women’s, at least as far as I knew, if perhaps a bit more narrow in width than most. I had the usual number of appendages without any extra attached, and as far as I could tell it was all in the usual shape and size.

My skin surprised me as I had expected the grey of my childhood years but found instead that somewhere along the line my skin had paled without my notice. What had once been the colour of wet clay was now the uniform and unstained colour of fresh cream. I tried to decide for myself whether this was more or less repulsive than grey, but could only come to the conclusion that it did not matter. It was still a far cry from the rosy pink or the golden browns that humans had.

My hair came as no surprise, it was the same inky black as always, straight, smooth and shiny as it formed a neat line to just below my bottom. It occurred to me briefly that it might be time to find a pair of scissors soon, but as always I decided to wait a while longer before shortening my hair, simply because I found the motions of brushing it to be soothing and less hair would mean less time I could allow myself that particular little indulgence. Briefly I pulled it aside and turned my back towards the mirror, peeking over my shoulder as best I could. No, still no tail there. In fact nothing in particular back there that seemed to be out of place.

Having come that far in my self-inspection I could no longer delay the part I truly dreaded; my face.

The shock that travelled through me as I lifted my gaze to look into my own eyes in the mirror made me whimper out loud. No wonder I was hated. No wonder I was feared. The tears stung my eyes and formed clear yet burning paths down my face as with trembling hands I reached up as if I could deny by touch what my eyes were telling me.

My eyes. They were a large solid black, like indeed those of most animals, and slanted ever so slightly under long black lashes. My face could almost be human were it not just slightly too narrow, the high cheekbones sloping down to end in a narrow chin with an equally slender but still defined nose and highly arched narrow eyebrows. My lips were full and red, looking painted against the paleness of my skin, and the tips of sharp teeth peeked out between my lips just barely. I opened my mouth to find rows of brightly white though slightly translucent predator’s teeth, and snapped my mouth shut just as quickly on the sob that wanted to escape.

How truly frightening and horrible I was.

Blinking and straining through the tears I looked at last at my ears, the feature I mistakenly had thought to be the most inhuman about me. They looked in fact more human than I had imagined, merely pulled to long wispy points that split my hair and rose a small ways above my head. They quivered and lowered with my despair, reminding me of Boy’s pointed ears and how they moved, and finally they pointed down towards my shoulders as I could take no more and just fell to my knees, sobbing inconsolably.

I wept myself into a fitful slumber there, naked on the floor of the walk-in closet, and awoke at night with a listlessness of spirit that nearly matched my apathy after grandfather’s death. I drew the drapes back over the mirror without looking into it again as I had no desire to be further reminded of my hideousness, put my gown back on and went downstairs to lay down beside Boy and the cats, drowning all thoughts and emotions tearing at me with their warm, loving presence.

Days came and went, and in time I learned to ignore my self-discovery, only even more mindful that none of the people that regularly came into my solitary domain should see me. Seasons came and went, the kittens grew to cats and our little family grew smaller as two of them left one day never to return, and I continued my existence the way it was. The manor and grounds around the house were well kept though not immaculate, and my little vegetable garden flourished although beyond that line the forest had reclaimed the fields once painstakingly carved by human hands. Although I missed the unbroken gold of the wheat fields of my childhood sometimes, and certainly the people toiling upon them, the land itself had never looked more beautiful.

Almost every day I walked past the table in the sitting room where I had placed the dollhouse and, eventually, also Arisu’s aging doll, brushing away imaginary dust and sending a thought to grandfather or thinking of Arisu. I thought of the child and the young girl, wondering sometimes about the woman she must have become by then, wishing I knew if she was happy and healthy if nothing else.

I never doubted her promise to return, no, never that. I knew that if she could she would come, not for the doll and perhaps not even for the house, just to keep the oath given as a child. But I also knew that a human life is short and wrought with troubles, most of them unforeseen... no matter how true her word there were many things that might keep her from returning.

I found myself wondering if she had married, perhaps borne children of her own into the world outside my home, as I did not know how much time had passed since that rainy day I saw her last. Even the maid whose kindness and cheerful voice had brightened my life had gone by now, replaced by a girl I assumed to be her daughter for the similarities between them. I feared the kind woman had died, but could not bring myself to write such a question down on paper and leave for the new maid to find.

Then one early morning as I sat watching Boy, noting the streaks of grey around his eyes with a sense of sadness knowing that a dog’s life is only so long, the sound of a vehicle entering the path up to the house reached both our ears. It was not the day when I expected groceries, nor was it the day when the maid and gardeners came. Suddenly anxious I raced towards the door with Boy at my side.

By the time I was almost there I could hear someone reaching the door, and turned to instead hurry up the stairs as quietly as I could, to hide where I could have a look at whoever it was that were about to enter my home without being seen.

She was less thin than I and shorter, yet still slender by comparison to other women I had seen, her hair a darkened red that sparkled in the light as if a tiny beam of morning sun had tangled itself in its soft elegant waves. She hung her coat on the empty rack and took a few hesitant steps in towards the house only to stop and smooth her hands over her sleek clothing. I could feel her nervousness even from my vantage point at the top of the stairs.

It was then I noticed the wooden object held in her hands.

“U-Ukiyo?” Her voice had a touch of nervousness to it as well, but it was still compellingly warm. I gasped involuntarily at this confirmation, causing her to look my way. “Ukiyo, are you there? It’s me, Arisu.”

My feet took me down the steps without my permission, ever so slowly. Boy lost patience with me and dashed ahead, greeting the newcomer in his friendly way as I came to a halt a few steps up from them.

Arisu’s eyes never left me, not even as she humoured Boy by patting his head, and I thought the sudden vice that gripped my chest would crush me whole as I saw those grey eyes widen more and more as she got a good look at me. Tears of shame and self-loathing stung my eyes and I wanted to look away, to run away, before they could start falling. It never came to that.

“How beautiful...” Arisu breathed as if unaware that she had spoken out loud. The stinging in my eyes disappeared, leaving me with wide-eyed shock instead. Arisu smiled and reached a hand towards me. “Won’t you come down, Ukiyo?”

After such a long passage of time our hands finally met as I closed the distance between us in a kind of daze. Arisu’s smile grew brighter still, and she, in a move I am sure she had not really intended, drew me in for a warm, joyful hug.


Arisu’s cheeks were dusted with a slight blush when, after an unspeakably wonderful moment, she released me and took a tiny step back. Her smile was still warm and happy though, so I felt reassured that I had not done something wrong in responding to her hug.

“Oh Ukiyo...” Arisu wiped at her eyes briefly while her free hand once again sought out mine. “I can’t believe I am finally here! It took so long, so many years...” She squeezed my hand a little. “Grandmother fought against my moving in, or even visiting, until the day she died...” Arisu interrupted herself to give me a serious look. “Grandmother passed away a little while ago you see. After she was gone there was no-one that could stop me from coming here.”

I listened attentively to every word that spilled from her lips, but in truth I was more spellbound by the warm sweet cadence of her voice than the words themselves as I did not quite follow what she was telling me. It would take me a long time before I finally realized that the person Arisu referred to as grandmother was the mistress.

Arisu reached up to cup my face while she smiled at me fondly, and for some reason this act caused a slight burn to settle on my face as I blinked at her in surprise. Arisu grinned at my reaction.

“You will have to forgive me if my familiarity seems a bit much for the three times we’ve actually met, but grandfather spoke so much of you, and so fondly, that I feel as if I know you quite a bit better than I would have.”

We stood there in the hallway for a long moment, merely looking at one another, before Arisu asked with a somewhat shy expression on her face if she could come in. Then she also remembered the doll she had tucked under her arm, and with a lopsided grin she handed her over to me.

Overcome by emotion I stared at my precious doll before I pulled Arisu with me by the hand to the sitting room where her doll and the dollhouse were placed. I realized only halfway that I was holding her hand in mine and felt at once terribly shy, but she smiled at me and squeezed my hand encouragingly, so I kept my hold until I had steered her to the table where her doll awaited.

Arisu emitted a soft delighted laugh when I gave her the old porcelain doll back, and she seemed somewhat moved just seeing her old toy again. She ran her fingers gingerly across still immaculate curls and cloth made somewhat frail and yellow with age, smiling to herself. “My little Ukiyo...” Arisu murmured fondly and then gave me a strange, sideways look for some reason that made the corners of her mouth quirk even further. “Not so little anymore, I would say.”

That look and the fact that we stood so close, side by side, that her shoulder leaned against my upper arm made my face feel slightly warm again, and I distracted myself by studying the wooden features that grandfather had carved for me all those years ago. Lost in a moment of admiration of his handiwork and just plain fondness for the old man that had meant so much, it did not occur to me that lifting the doll to my face to breathe in its scent – finding, as I had more or less expected, Arisu’s scent attached to it – was not a normal thing to do. At Arisu’s curious look I felt I had to say something, although I did not know what. “She smells of you.”

My comment sparked another grin. “Well, she did sleep with me for quite a few years.” Arisu tried to catch some scent on the porcelain doll, but judging by the tiny sound she emitted found nothing besides the scent of aging fabric. “I guess my sense of smell isn’t anywhere near as sensitive as yours, because I doubt you smell like this.”

I smiled and turned to her after putting the wooden doll down carefully to rest next to the dollhouse, extending one arm, palm first, close to her face. Arisu blushed slightly but seemed to understand my meaning as she gently grasped my hand to put my wrist near her nose. I felt the warmth of her breath across my wrist briefly before she let go and turned to face the table with a faintly stronger pink tint to her cheeks. “I see, so that is what you smell like.” She cleared her throat and blinked for a moment before her attention focused on the dollhouse.

“How lovely!” She breathed, running her fingers across the faintly gleaming stones that covered the roof of the dollhouse before leaning in to have a closer look at the tiny rooms and furniture. “Is this handmade?”

Eagerly I told her the story of how and why the dollhouse was made, and found to my delight that she loved it. Arisu hugged me in thanks and spoke admiringly of grandfather’s woodworking skills, although she also had quite a few choice words to say about the mistress that made me uncomfortable. Even though I had feared and disliked the mistress speaking ill about another was not something that agreed with my nature. Arisu noticed my discomfort and steered our conversation over to my little animal family as the cats entered the room to greet us.

As I sat on the floor next to her, the sound of my own laughter as it joined with hers over the antics of my feline friends sounding strange and unfamiliar to my own ears, I found I could barely make myself look away from her. The sweet child, the adorable little princess, had grown up into something I vaguely wondered if a goddess might look like, but more than that, she was alive, and vibrant, and warm – and she was there! Occasionally as I looked into those sparkling grey eyes and found her looking right back at me I felt curiously breathless, and I knew not why.

Eventually our little carefree moment came to an end, and Arisu asked me to walk with her out to the door. She held my arm as we walked, but she needed have done neither that nor asked me for I would have followed her closely anyway, unwilling to let her out of my sight. Like Boy was to me, from that moment on I, without fully knowing it myself, became Arisu’s shadow, following her as faithfully as night follows day and as inevitably.

When we reached the door Arisu again seemed anxious, she who had laughed and played so freely mere moments ago, and it made me pay even more attention, if such a thing was possible. It took her a moment to gather her words and direct them at me, but in the end she asked me quite seriously, hands holding mine and grey eyes searching, what I thought of her moving in.

I did not understand the question at first, it took Arisu several tries and several ways to ask before I grasped that she wanted to know if it was alright with me that she moved in. She was concerned that she would be imposing on me, apparently not grasping the long years of solitary yearning during which the promise of her future presence had been the only light on my horizon. The words escaped me, yet I managed to put her concerns to rest somehow and she smiled. She would come back the next day with the first delivery of her things, she said and reached for her coat, ready to leave.

It dawned on me that she was going to go away, and in mindless desperation I reacted the only way I could... I reached out and latched my trembling hand onto the sleeve of her blouse.

I felt so lost and afraid, my ears pulling down to brush slightly against my shoulders in slightly confused misery. Arisu nearly dropped her coat and stared at me with wide eyes and a strange expression that I did not understand. She stared at me for a long moment while I felt myself tremble and tears begin to sting at my eyes. Finally she reached up to cup my face in one hand.

“Such a sad face... and what a pouty lip.” Arisu’s voice was soft and affectionate, like her touch. I leaned into the warmth of her hand somewhat unintentionally. “You don’t want me to go?” I shook my head no as emphatically as I could without dislodging her hand on my cheek. Arisu smiled warmly.

“I’d love to stay... I don’t suppose you would happen to have a spare toothbrush and a sleeping shirt to lend to me?” My even more vigorous nods that yes, I did have a spare toothbrush to give her – indeed I never seemed to use them up quite as quickly as I was given new ones – and heaps of clothing should she need it, made Arisu laugh. That wonderful sound made something shiver inside me, but I soon forgot all about that as she hung her coat back up and smiled brightly at me. Arisu would stay with me.

A lot of things made Arisu smile and laugh that our first evening and night together. Boy for instance, who made sure to remind me that I needed to feed us all, as Arisu found the name I had settled on for him quite amusing. The actual food preparation became an awkward affair for both of us, until Arisu with a gentle smile simply directed me to step back and let her cook. I stared unblinkingly, following every move, every gesture as she performed the magic that would never fail to amaze me, torn between mute admiration and the urge to try to absorb as much of the knowledge she unconsciously offered as I could.

Arisu’s face was dusted pink by the time she put a plate down in front of me, and, of course, no words could describe my absolute joy over the meal she had produced for us. I tried to convey my happiness and my gratitude to her, which caused Arisu to blush further but also to smile widely at me.

That evening as dusk crept upon the cloudless skies we walked outside, Arisu and I, through the gardens down to my precious vegetable stands, and into the part of the estate that in other times had housed servants, tools and cattle. For the first time since I had come to be alone in the manor did the walk through that section not seem sad and lonely to me. With Arisu by my side I looked upon the well-kept buildings and neatly trimmed grass, and it was peaceful... as if the buildings, the very land itself, were merely sleeping. Waiting, I imagined, for the day when the wakeup call of worker’s feet would stir it once again.

Through it all Arisu walked by my side, her hand in mine or holding my arm, and there was beauty everywhere I looked. I wanted to show her the fields and the forest, the creaks and the pond, and she wanted to see them... but the last rays of the sun were painting the horizon purple by then, and night was nearly upon us. We agreed to take that walk the next day instead, and merely stood a moment, watching the skies.

As Arisu and I watched the last lingering rays of the sun give way for the dark and star-strewn blanket of night I found myself speaking of the fields and forest of my childhood, of fields of golden wheat in the morning sun and of the playful antics of spring brood on late summer grass.

Arisu leaned against me and held my arm a little more tightly, and I worried that the evening air might be cold to her. When she put her head on my shoulder I thought she was tired, and so we began making our way back to the mansion, although in no hurry, while the moon washed our path in its gentle light.

She stayed me for a moment outside, just before we were to enter the manor, one hand lightly urging me to turn towards her. I obliged and waited for her to tell me what was on her mind, but Arisu merely looked at me for a long moment. When she finally spoke it was in a soft voice, barely above a whisper, and slow as if she had to search for the fleeing words in the way I had found myself doing around her.

“As I thought... you look... magical in any light... don’t you, Ukiyo?”

The breathless feeling I had experienced before returned with her words, but as soon as they were spoken the grey eyes that had searched my face looked away, in fact Arisu turned from me abruptly to hurry to the door and let Boy enter the mansion before us.

Inside the warmth of the mansion the events of the day caught up to me and I felt a weariness settle in my body that made me long for my soft bed. Remembering that Arisu had seemed tired I asked her if we should go upstairs to prepare a bed for her, and she agreed. However as we walked from room to room, opening them to find that though clean and dust free, there was just a faint smell of something old clinging to beds and bedding not used for years. I felt uncomfortable just being in those rooms and thus never ventured there more than needed, and I would not have wanted to sleep in them the way they were. I could tell that Arisu had problems with this as well, though I knew not how to make things better.

We entered a few more rooms with the same results, and then finally came to my door. We stopped to search for that toothbrush and sleeping shirt Arisu had wanted and so I steered her into my little walk-in closet... although I looked away to find her the items I did notice the strange looks she was dividing between myself and my bed. Finally I asked if there was something wrong.

Blushing she asked me if she could sleep with me that night, and before I had really grasped the question I heard my own voice tell her yes. I considered the smile she gave me in thanks worth far more than any awkwardness I might experience in sharing a bed with someone else for the first time in my life, or at least the first time that I could remember.

Arisu’s toiletries were quickly handled, far more so than mine since my teeth takes some time and care to brush, and so a certain situation was avoided that I had no comprehension of at the time. When I returned to my room Arisu had already changed into her shirt and climbed into bed, perfectly covered when I entered. We shared a smile and then I did what I always had done since I had taken to sleeping in that room; I pulled the lacing of my loose-fitting white dress open, let it fall to the floor, and stepped out of it. Naked as the day I was born I walked over and turned off the lamp, then slid into bed and under the covers I shared with Arisu.

Yawning I turned on my side... to face Arisu’s bright-red, wide-eyed and open-mouthed face at far closer a range than I had expected. I yelped in surprise. She yelped as well.

“A-are you... I mean... do you usually sleep in the nude?” Until she voiced the question it had not occurred to me that there might be another reason to why Arisu wore a shirt to bed than that she was cold. It also had not occurred to me before that there might be reasons to be reluctant to bare my body in front of her, but at her question it did. I remembered suddenly my own hideousness and felt terrible, wanting nothing more than to just disappear.

Arisu must have sensed my turmoil then, because she pulled me back out of the tiny ball I had rolled myself into in an instinctive attempt not to be seen, and, assuring me that it was alright, pulled me into her embrace. I sobbed apologies for having bared my repulsiveness in front of her, telling her that I knew I was frightening and abhorrent and it had not been my intention to do that to her, I had just forgotten for a moment.

In response Arisu gasped and pulled me even closer and murmured into my ear that she thought I was beautiful, that I had nothing to be ashamed over and nothing to apologise for. “See? It’s alright.” She whispered and tucked my head under her chin while she stroked my hair soothingly. “You’re not repulsive or ugly or evil, you know... and you’re not a demon.”

She drew her head back a little to peer at me with a lopsided smile on her face. “A fairy perhaps... or an elf...” She tickled the edge of one of my ears, making me giggle a little despite myself. “A forest spirit... something magical, certainly, and very very lovely.”

Blushing I hid my face back into her shoulder and put my arms around her, and it was like that I fell asleep that night, with her still running her fingers through my hair and her warmth surrounding me. I woke up nearly the same way the next morning, our bodies nestled together tightly and her beautiful face so close to mine. Instead of getting up to start my day I found myself reluctant to move at all, and after a moment I fell back into a contented sleep, waking again only once Arisu herself stirred from her slumber.

Busy days followed Arisu’s arrival, as her own furniture and various things were delivered to the mansion. I kept out of sight for the men that came to carry her belongings into the house, and although Arisu told me I did not need to hide she understood my reluctance and did not pressure me. The sleeping arrangements became more than a temporary solution for one night as Arisu revealed to me that she wanted to renovate the rooms on the second level, remove a wall, change colours of walls that remained, and mostly remove old furniture to replace with those she brought with her or anything we might decide on together. She asked me gravely what I thought of her ideas, but although such a thing would not have occurred to me I found no reason in me to object to changing whatever she wanted. Arisu’s suggestions might even make the rooms I had always felt somewhat uncomfortable with into something we could use, not only for the bedroom that we needed for Arisu’s sake.

The men that removed the old furniture and took down the wall Arisu wanted worked an entire day once it was decided, during which Arisu and I mostly spent time in the fields and the forest enjoying ourselves. The rest of the work in altering the rooms Arisu and I would do ourselves at our own pace, and I was grateful for that... I had worried that Arisu’s new bedroom would be finished swiftly, as already after only a handful of days I had grown curiously and immensely fond of sleeping next to her.

I had learned my lesson and found a soft shirt that matched Arisu’s to sleep in, avoiding any unpleasant moments when getting ready for bed, but Arisu still allowed me to sleep curled up against her, our arms wrapped around one another comfortably. I who had always been an early riser found myself more than content to stay in bed and in Arisu’s arms in the early hours, even coaxing her to stay a little while longer on the rare day when Arisu woke before I felt ready to leave our warm nest.

Everywhere Arisu went, I would go to. My eyes were fixed to her and never seemed to sway from her for more than just the briefest moment, as if were I to look away or close my eyes she would not be there when I looked for her again. She noticed of course, but never scolded me or seemed bothered by this. She did blush often, and sometimes closed her eyes with a mysterious smile on her lips, or froze mid-movement, blushing, to turn to me with a tiny squealing sound and hug me as much as she could. These surprise hugs filled me with happiness and for some reason made my heart beat faster, just as watching her sometimes gave me a curious yet rather pleasant aching sensation in my chest. I had no idea what was going on, but it was not important... not important the way it was to be near her at all times if I could.

We were always together. Household chores and work, while never something I was adverse to, became a joy to perform at her side, and my days, my senses, were filled with her gentle presence and the tinkling sound of her laughter. We played like the children we once could have been sometimes, running in the fields, soaking one another in water games, or rolling around tickling one another until one of us admitted defeat. For some reason it seemed that whenever we were in a playful mood, Arisu and I, we always ended up rolling around one way or another... in the grass, on the floor, in bed.

More often than not those games would have a moment when we both grew still, closely entangled in one another, eyes locked and neither saying a word. Those moments always made my heart race, and the way she would look at me made my chest ache so strongly for something I could not name. That feeling became so frequent and so strong that I worried what it might be, and tried to ask Arisu if she knew what it was. My explanation was lacking, unfortunately, so Arisu was at a loss to what I was asking. She did manage to reassure me somewhat with a simple logic; if it did not hurt or feel unpleasant it was probably nothing bad.

The day I believe we both began suspecting something of a deeper meaning behind the way we reacted to one another Arisu and I played around in the couch, and I had the upper hand for once. Squealing and squirming the way she did when I got her most ticklish spots Arisu did something I do not think either of us were expecting; with a playful little growl she shot forward and... bit my ear.

It was not that she bit me hard or that it hurt... my ears are very sensitive but it was another kind of sensitivity about them that was sparked that day. We both froze with the unexpected action, but even more with my unexpected reaction.

My face washed with heat as the long, breathy moan forced itself from my throat without my permission.

Arisu released my ear and snapped her head back almost immediately, but the sound seemed to quiver in the air between us even though there was only silence and laboured breathing from both of us. Her face was so close that I was breathing her air.

Her breath was burning hot and I was dizzy and confused. The intense look in her eyes softened as if she sensed this, and Arisu leaned in to press her lips gently to my forehead, holding me for a moment in a calming embrace.

We did not speak about what had happened, although I struggled to make sense of things inside my own mind. Arisu did not pressure me about it, and when restless dreams stirred me from my sleep that night she held me close, whispering words of comfort and stroking my hair.

Although we took our time with the various things that needed done with the rooms on the second level, eventually our work was finished and the room that was supposed to become Arisu’s bedroom was ready for her to move in. As if by unspoken agreement, neither of us mentioned this fact and Arisu stayed with me, leaving her newly remade room and the new bed she had installed unused and all but forgotten. I of course had no complaints, I wanted her near me always, and sleeping together was such a treasure.

The routine that had developed for going to bed was that I changed into my sleeping shirt before joining Arisu in the facilities while she would change into hers in the bedroom while waiting for me to return. It was nice and safe, and because of this I had never seen Arisu naked. Until that night.

What exactly got our routine out of phase I cannot say... perhaps Arisu was slower than usual that night, or perhaps I had been faster. It does not really matter. What it led to was that I stepped through the door to our cosy little room just as Arisu stepped out of her undergarments. Surprised to hear my gasp she turned towards me, and we both froze.

Oh she was so beautiful.

I had seen human bodies before, in all manner of shapes and sizes, and they all looked much the same to my eyes. But with Arisu... every dip, every curve, every rounded shape was beauty to me, and I stared, exploring, caressing and memorizing everything with my eyes. My heart was beating faster and my breathing turned shallow, and I was overcome with a kind of burning that was new to me. I ached with need, the need to touch her beautiful skin, the need to take off my own clothing and hold her close so that her heat would burn through me, but most of all the need to...

My mind drew a blank there. I needed something very much, but had no name, no image, to give it came to me. I stared at Arisu helplessly, wishing I understood things better.

Arisu had through my long moments of unabashed staring and mounting frustrated confusion stood still, allowing me to stare at her uninterrupted. When finally I shivered visibly with my conflicting emotions she crossed the small distance and drew me into a firm hug.

“Now you know how I felt that night.” Arisu’s voice was husky and somewhat shaky when she spoke. I could not help myself, having her that close I put my arms around her and buried my face in her hair, breathing her in. Although we had hugged a great many times by then, there was definitely something very different about holding her like this.

Her skin was so soft under my hands and I wanted to feel much more of it.

“Ukiyo?” The whisper echoed my neediness but it also sounded... upset. “Forgive me.” A tiny sob escaped her, which made me tighten my hold on her further. “I love you.”

She wept slightly and I stroked her hair, trying to offer comfort. The heat that had suffused me cooled with Arisu’s sadness, nothing should make my precious one so sad but it seemed I had somehow.

“Forgive? Love?” That seemed strange. Arisu had nothing to ask forgiveness for, and why would she need to be forgiven for love? “I love you too, Arisu.” I stated that quite proudly, of course I loved her. I had loved her for a great many years, although of course I loved her ever so much more now that she was with me, now that she was in fact everything to me.

Arisu made a soft amused sound at that. “Sweetie, we mean different things by that, you and I.” She wiped the errant tears away and looked at me.

Then her hands were in my hair and her lips were upon mine.

Her lips were so soft, and the kiss made my toes tingle. I could no longer think anything beyond that as her lips moved against mine, and when, with a small whimper, her tongue pushed past my lips I could think nothing at all.

After long, deliciously sweet moments Arisu released me and drew back slightly, opening her mouth as if to say something. I was faster.

“Don’t stop.”

The hungry way I reclaimed her lips surprised us both I believe, and what exactly happened after that is somewhat of a blur of sensations. Eventually we ended up on the foot of the bed, my knees resting just at the edge of the mattress and Arisu underneath me, legs spread wide as if to embrace me.

I sat up to remove my shirt. “You should have said that this was about mating.” I told her smiling, pleased with my discovery even though the removal of my only clothing brought a stab of insecurity. My body was so ugly after all, why would Arisu want me for her mate? And she was staring at me in a rather odd way.


We were too busy moaning to speak further then, as heated skin met heated skin for the first time this way when I carefully lay down on top of Arisu. She clutched at me and rocked slightly while making such wonderful tiny sounds that I could not help but shiver and let my hands caress her freely. I was completely entranced by the softness of her skin.

When Arisu, with my name turned into a trembling moan upon her lips, grasped one of my hands to guide it to where she needed me most, my last trace of sanity disappeared in the resulting flames. A growl erupted from my chest as I became a creature of instinct, intent upon one thing and one thing only... to claim Arisu as my own.

The day that followed was filled with euphoria for me, the blissfulness of being able to love and to be loved making me giddy and plastering a grin on my face that didn’t want to go away. I revelled in my newfound freedom to touch and hold and kiss Arisu whenever I could, unable to stay away from her for long. It made my Arisu giggle and claim that I was even cuddlier than the cats the way I curled around her whether we were sitting or standing, but she certainly did not seem to mind. Nor did she mind the many exchanges of sweet kisses we indulged in, even when it distracted us from other things, almost leaving us with charcoaled food and nearly no chores done as planned.

As evening fell and Arisu and I sat in a couch in front of one of the fireplaces, I with my head in Arisu’s lap and she with her fingers running through my hair, a question came to me that I needed to ask her.

“Arisu, are you my wife now?”

The way that Arisu sputtered and turned bright red was quite amusing, but I still wanted an answer. I poked at her a little when I thought she had been silent for too long. “Arisu?”

“I, um, why do you ask Ukiyo?”

“Well...” I played with the ends of her beautiful hair. “I know that when a man and a woman mate for life, marry, it is called that they are husband and wife.” I gazed up at her and could not help but smile with all the emotions swirling around in me. “I was just curious if it would be called the same, only wife and wife, since we are both female.”

“The women mates I have seen here in the past among the servants were not for life I think.” I added as an afterthought. “Or they were and I never really noticed.” I tickled Arisu a little with some of her hair. “I noticed couplings around me sometimes when I was small, but I never really paid it much attention. It was not important to me.”

I reached up to touch her face. “Now it is.”

Arisu took my hand and placed a gentle kiss upon my fingers. Her eyes were shiny, as if she was holding back tears. “You... we, we are for life then, to you?”

My answer was simple, surely she knew this? “Yes, of course! I would not mate for less. You are mine. I am yours.” I sat up and bumped her forehead slightly with my own. “Until the day I die.”

There really were tears in Arisu’s grey eyes. “Thank you love... I feel the same way.” She kissed my nose lightly and smiled. “Marriage though, well, that is another matter. There are ceremonies other people, especially appointed people, perform before a couple becomes husband and wife.” Arisu hesitated briefly. “You and I would not be allowed that by those that perform such things, but...”

She ran her fingers through my hair, looking at me with a wistful expression on her face. “If it is important to you, if it is something you want, I think... in time, maybe... we could make up our own? Our own kind of ceremony... even if it was not recognised by anyone else, it would be true to us, wouldn’t it?”

I smiled and nodded, of course it would be. Of course it was. Arisu was mine and I was hers, that was just how things were. What did I care if someone I did not know did not believe me? I knew it was the truth anyway.

We kissed for a while and cuddled some more, Arisu coming to rest with her head on my shoulder.

“Ukiyo?” Arisu fidgeted with the lacings on the front of my dress. “I love you.”

My smile, though unseen by Arisu, was wide and happily content. “I love you too Arisu.”

Arisu fidgeted some more, making a small and somewhat unhappy sound at the back of her throat. “I mean, I am in love with you Ukiyo. Completely. Do you know what I mean? Can you say the same for me?”

There was definitely something worried and unhappy colouring her voice by the time she finished speaking. Unfortunately I could not put her fears at ease right away. “In love? I... It is something other than to love someone?” I was unfamiliar with the phrase.

“Yes... no.” Arisu sighed. “I... would say it means to love someone in a specific way. A specific kind of love.” She faltered slightly. “The kind of love one has for one’s wife, I think.”

“Oh!” I squeezed Arisu tighter, happy to have understood and even happier to know that it was the way she felt about me. “Absolutely. I am in love with you Arisu.”

“How do you know that?” Arisu whispered, not unkindly. “You’ve had so little love in your life... and a moment ago you did not know what it meant.”

I suppose I could have been upset by her words, taken it to mean that she doubted me and my feelings for her, but I could clearly feel Arisu’s desperation as if it was falling from her in waves. Arisu wanted me to convince her, she wanted me to love her like she loved me, with a desperation that frightened her. My sweet Arisu was just scared.

“I don’t think I have had little love in my life... I have loved a lot of things over time, in my own way.” I tried to find the words to explain while stroking her back as comfortingly as I could. “It was just that I waited a long time for love to find me.”

“There are many things in this world that I have little understanding of, and I do not always have the words or the experience to show you what is in my heart. But that does not change what I feel.” I thought about it. “Arisu?”

“Have you been in love with others before me?” That was not a pleasant thought, not in the slightest. I really, truly did not like that idea – Arisu was mine! – and I hoped the answer would be negative.

With a vigorous shake of her head and a gasped “No!”, it was.

“Then... Arisu... how do you know?”

There was a long silence after that, then Arisu laughed softly. “How very true, love. I’m sorry I am so... needy.” She pulled at my laces again, but this time there was no apprehension in her, her body relaxed against mine and her grin evident in her voice. “Thank you for putting up with my spell of insecurity.”

“I do not know how... normal... people might say things, Arisu...” I whispered to her. “...but... you are my sun. I lived in the dark for so long, and it was all I knew. Then there were you. Your light, your warmth.”

“I do not know much but I do know this; you are my sun and I want to stay in your light, forever.”

That earned me a succession of heated kisses that soon had us both naked, the couch rocking to our rhythm and the animals fleeing the room, startled by Arisu’s wanton cries and my unabashed howling.

Several years later I stand in the same room as then, looking at our old dollhouse as I wait for Arisu to call for me. The dolls are seated in their long-lasting embrace in a tiny chair Arisu bought for that purpose, and I smile at them and at old memories. Inside the dollhouse the occupants make me marvel as always I do when I look at them. Arisu turned out to have inherited grandfather’s artistic ability when she one day brought home clay from the creek and from it created tiny dolls in our image that she placed in the dollhouse and then checked to see if I would notice. Which of course I did, and I was suitably impressed by the likeness. Since then a doll grandfather, Boy and several cats have accompanied our tiny doll selves from time to time; in fact the dollhouse has more occupants presently than the manor itself.

I smile at Arisu’s playful side, happy with the knowledge that this never changed in either of us. We still play around like children sometimes.

As if summoned by my thoughts Arisu appears in the doorway, a blanket draped over her arm, a basket in her hand, and a smile gracing her lips. I smile in return as I walk towards her to take the basket from her hand, and as she lifts her free hand to caress my face the light glitter for a moment quite brightly on the golden band on her finger.

I wear the matching ring on my own hand.

We will leave the mansion now, to spend a warm summer day on this blanket, out on the particular field where we once swore our own marital vows beneath the sky, in celebration of that day. The sun was our only witness then as it will be now, but that is fine with us. We do not need the confirmation of others to know what we are to one another.

I need nothing and no-one else, for I have everything right here, her hand warm in my own. We have yet to step outside the door yet I am already awash in sunlight.

My own, beloved sun.

My Arisu.


Anonymous said...

I've been working my way through a few of your stories recently, particularly the original ones (I've only seen Marimite out of the various fanfiction topics) and I just thought I'd drop a note saying how much I've enjoyed it.

This story in particular (House of Dolls) was wonderfully written with really interesting characterisation and pacing. I particularly liked the old Grandfather character, a very well done and sympathic figure.

The story also had a nice feeling of progression without being rushed, which is very important to me (hells, I don't read many novels shorter than "Doorstop" length, so I tend to prefer longer, slow build ups) and your prose seems to accomplish this effortlessly. I must say I'm a little jealous - my own writing never comes out the way I would like :D

Keep up the excellent work, I look forward to reading through more of your archive when I find the time :)


Ryûchan said...

Lamentable One,

Thank you for taking a moment to comment, I appreciate that. I’m glad you liked “House of Dolls”, and thank you for your kind praise. *smiles*

Since I am a short-story writer I am amazed that you felt like checking any of my stories out then, considering the only two lengthier things I’ve written (of which the longest remain unfinished) are still far from “doorstop” length. ^_^

As for my stories coming out the way I intended them to... actually they don’t. *laughs* I have no say whatsoever about what comes out when I write, though I am just generally happy to be writing so that does not bother me so much.

Good luck with your own writing though

Anonymous said...

cool! and wow, this fic got a long comment.. :) err im afraid you just have to accept my simple thanks in sharing this wonderful piece of work^-^ i enjoyed it lots! and a happily ever after too :)

Ryûchan said...

*smiles* Hey I appreciate comments of any length, and... thank you. *bows*

Anonymous said...

I love the story ,this must be the sixth time i reread the story and im sure i will read it again another time someday .I just love your stories and i have read every story you have posted here and i cant wait to see more of these fantastic stories.

Btw i have to ask i cannot find your stories in fanfiction net or oa3 ,why wont you put them there?

Sorry if my grammar its not the best :D