Emi’s bedroom was a mess.
Yes, even more than usual.
Nearly her entire wardrobe from the past two weeks laid on the floor. Useless, stupid gears were littered around like marbles thrown by a mysterious child. One of her many stacks of books against the wall had toppled over, and she had made not a bit of effort to stack it up.
Instead, she studied quietly at her desk, of course also covered in gears and books. Today, she was learning the military history of Ulric Fathie and the Gang of Eight Campaigns.
She didn’t even bother locking her room today, so Ms. Khami and any number of housekeepers could walk in and out doing whatever they needed. Emi’s parents were at Castle Balarand for a meeting with occupation government officials, so it was just her and the housekeepers, as usual.
Emi was increasingly interested in figuring out whether the Teal One would defect to Elince and fight the Fathie Empire, but she felt distracted. Perhaps, her room was at the point of mess where she could no longer concentrate. Or, maybe, it was something a little easier to explain.
She looked back at the intricate mess she had designed, the art piece made up of mounds of clothes dirty and clean, of springs and cogs, of screw plates and one calliper. Lots of cold metal, easy to stub a toe on, the ultimate source of pain. Well, the second-ultimate source, anyway.
Somehow, she felt like she had ended up creating something that symbolized her own life in all of this. All these gears and clothes strewn about, and all those images of that blue-eyed wonder Beatrice shattering her heart every time she closed her eyes.
Emi couldn’t bring herself to see the girl again.
Just as Emi had decided to purchase an entire set of gear box tools to tinker with, and quickly gave up in a dramatic fit, so too had Emi fallen into a great conundrum with a beautiful girl, and was now leaving her behind as if she never existed. It was eating her up inside, but with the letter she received, she knew there was no better option than to give up now.
For some reason, ignoring the story of Ulric Fathie in front of her, Emi’s mind, or rather the cogs and gears inside of it, began to formulate a new elaborate scheme to get her out of the house without anyone noticing. For some reason, those plans had her sitting at the library, waiting for Beatrice with open arms.
And for some reason, she was enacting those plans.
If the housekeepers had already finished cleaning–and they seemed to have, she noted as she peeked out the bedroom door– she could probably exit through one of the backroom spiral staircases that led to the barn nobody ever used. It had become a storage room ever since the L’Hime Family’s last horse died, but housekeepers often used it in break times, so it was risky.
This was starting to get exciting, Emi thought as she dressed up in winter clothing and prepared to brave the cold. She hadn’t snuck out in so long that it was starting to get a little boring, just asking permission and leaving through the front door. She took one look back at the useless, unused gears laying all over her bedroom, and wondered if maybe she was overthinking the symbolism for dramatic effect (she was).
But as soon as she closed her door and locked it– she saw Ms. Khami staring up from the foyer. “Miss L’Hime, where do you think you are going?”
With four other housekeepers helping, Emi was given a mop and bucket of water right in the foyer.
“You want me to clean ALL of this?” Emi asked Ms. Khami. This house was so wide, so spacious so uselessly big.
“Of course! We will be helping,” Ms. Khami told her. “But you have to learn what a proper lady goes through, and life is not about sneaking out and having fun. It is about being your best self and sometimes that best self has to mop a large room.”
“But it… looks clean…”
“Nothing is ever as clean as it can be,” Ms. Khami said.
“You know, I employ all of you, and this isn’t fair, and–” Emi stopped herself before she said something remarkably stupid. “I understand.”
She’d basically holed herself up in her room for the past two weeks aside from obligatory social events, and she had been making her fair share of messes around the house. It certainly wasn’t becoming of her to yell at housekeepers who had done nothing wrong and always provided valuable help through everything.
It was her fault for not letting Beatrice know what was going on in her life sooner, about the engagement that had hung around her neck for the past five years. It was just that she felt so scared about everything and she didn’t know what to say, and… that was no excuse. No excuse for how she was acting right now, either.
So Emi was going to help out Ms. Khami, because she deserved to be a real part of this household now and again. Ms. Khami was actually smiling for once, and it made Emi smile back, in turn. She was actually going to help.
Now… how did one use a mop…
The maid next to her, a girl her age who must have been a recent hire, noticed Emi’s apprehensive attitude. “Are you having trouble?” she asked.
The girl had jet black hair with eyes to match, and sported a goofy grin. Her hairstyle was nearly identical to Emi’s, but long, going well past the shoulders.
“Yeah, I have no idea how to mop, um… Miss Maid.”
“I’m Pip,” she said. “I really like your house, Miss L’Hime. Let’s get it clean!”
“What do I do, just…” Emi sloshed the mop around in some water and slinged droplets all over the floor.
Pip shook her head, and then wiped a speckle of water off her cheek. “You princesses don’t do much work around the house, do you?”
She wanted to say she was only a diplomat’s daughter, but she decided to refrain from overexplaining things that made her out to be even more of a brat than she really was. “No, I don’t… Can you, uh, help me?”
“You sure? You ready for this?”
“Yeah, what’s so hard about mopping a floor?”
The next two hours were some of the most grueling of Emi’s entire life.