“Hmm.... Hm. This book report is of high quality. It appears you understood the material well,” Ms. Khami said. “I mistook your disdain for the readings for a lack of comprehension. I was wrong. Good work.”
Emi, sitting at the only school desk in her makeshift classroom, fought very hard not to squeal in delight.
It was rare for her to hear a compliment from Ms. Khami. But recently, especially as Emi had devoted more of her time to helping out around the house, her opinion of her seemed to have changed. She actually said nice things sometimes.
“It wasn’t the main reading that disinterested me,” Emi said. “I just didn’t like the contemporary analyses that went along with it. They all seemed so warped. Why did so many people adore the Fathie Empire back then? The Gang of Eight was ruthless, and if the Teal One hadn’t defected...”
“Then none of Balarand would be here today except in ruins, yes,” Ms. Khami said. “But people at the time did not consider what the future might hold. They were captivated by the Gang of Eight’s charismatic campaign and saw their destruction as acts of liberation. It is only in hindsight that we can truly understand what a decade of war did to our continent.”
“So what you’re saying is... Dannark and Doros are going to blow up Tsubasa if they keep fighting?” Emi asked.
“History is but a cycle of heroes and tragedy,” Ms. Khami said. “And with that remark, our lesson is complete.” She picked a book off her desk and shut it loudly to signify the finality of the event. “I hadn’t expected you to advance so quickly through this section, and I must admit: I have no further material to assign you, Emi. You are finished.”
“Finished? For... good?”
“Correct. You have finished the curriculum that I had developed for you when you were a child. You are officially an educated woman.”
Done with Ms. Khami’s lessons... After all these years, Emi never actually thought a day like this would come. She had somehow pictured in her mind getting married, growing older, with Ms. Khami still around still handing her massive, dull tomes on a near-infinite variety of subjects. It felt like just yesterday she was trudging through a near-incomprehensible textbook on economics, and now she was just... done.
“It is unorthodox, your improvement lately,” Ms. Khami said. “I had certainly not planned on you passing my magical incantations exam within a week, either; that was intended to take at least a month.”
“Oh, well I had help from a... friend.”
“Were you truly sneaking out of the house so often to... study? I can hardly fathom.”
“Sometimes. At the library, usually,” Emi said, feeling pangs of self-righteousness flash across her cheeks. “I was a better student than you thought, huh!”
“Well, your essays on interpersonal relationship politics were subpar, to say the least, but you have shown great development, Emi. You truly are the woman your parents have always wanted to be, if I say so myself.”
“Wish THEY’D tell me that,” Emi said.
“They try to, in their own way,” Ms. Khami said. “They are under a lot of pressure with their diplomatic missions. It’s very difficult to raise a successful, professional daughter in these times.”
“They could have sent me to school...” Emi muttered.
“Did you not appreciate my schoolings?”
That was a loaded question. “What I mean is, Reo and Touma both went off to Yates. Almost all my old friends in the neighborhood went to school in some far-away city in the mountains or by the coast. Why did you homeschool me?”
Ms. Khami looked off and laughed wistfully, as if that were also a loaded question. “I realize you are too young to remember, but when you were a very young child, you had many issues that needed special care. You weren’t very comfortable around strangers, and sometimes you would react in... outbursts of sorts. So your parents decided to let me teach you. You got over those troubles as you grew older, but with your apprehensiveness towards large social gatherings even now, we thought it might be best to keep you here in Balarand, with the rest of your family. In case you ever needed us.”
Emi looked down at her lap. She wanted to shrink into nonexistence. “That makes a lot of sense. I’m... sorry for being a bad baby.”
“You were a wonderful baby, and you are a wonderful lady.”
Did she really... mean that?
Speaking of ladies... Emi felt a new confidence inside her and decided to turn the tables on the conversation. “So I may be wonderful, but what if I don’t want to be married? Married to Lady Khara, that is.”
“Ms. L’Hime, you are going to be married at the end of the spring and you are going to love it, because that is what your parents wish of an important girl like yourself.”
“But I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love.”
Ms. Khami, still standing behind Emi, put her hands on her shoulders and began giving Emi a massage.
Their relationship over the years had always been fairly sour, but Ms. Khami had somehow persisted over all that time, never giving up even when Emi was at her most rebellious. Emi had been sure it was simply for the money, but...
“Your parents love you very, very much,” Ms. Khami said. “They’ve found a woman for you who will support you in whatever you want to do, and with your education you can be anyone. You won’t be shackled to the L’Hime Family any longer, if that is what you wish. You will have almost unlimited freedom in your life to pursue your dreams.”
“Except for love.” Emi sniffled thinking about having to leave Beatrice and never see her again. The exact thing she still hadn’t summoned the courage to mention to the girl. “I’ve never even met Lady Khara and yet I have to spend the rest of my life with her. Can’t you see how that’s unfair?”
“I have met Lady Khara, and I can assure you she is a wonderful woman. She would not be allowed to marry you if she was anything less. It may seem unfair for you now, but in twenty years you will laugh at all of this.”
“Okay, but why does this Lady Khara want to marry a young woman she’s never met?” Emi asked. “I’m a demon in girl’s clothing, in your own words.”
“Your strength of emotion is an asset as much as it is a shortcoming,” she told her, continuing to massage her shoulders. “There may be times when you are too much to handle, but there is a woman who is ready and willing to accept that with openness, honesty, and respect.”
“Yeah... there is,” Emi said, mostly to herself. It wasn’t Lady Khara, that was for sure. “Why can’t I marry someone of my own choosing? Someone I am in love with and want to spend the rest of my life with?”
Ms. Khami let go of Emi’s shoulders. “That is not for me to say. I was born into a poor family and the L’Himes took me in when I was young. I was raised by your grandparents more like your mother’s sister than a lowly servant, and I did not question their decisions for me because they shaped me into the woman I am today. All I can tell you is that your parents’ wisdom is greater than any youthful fling.”
“It’s not a fling. It’s...” A conundrum was what it was. Falling for someone while you were already engaged to another. “I don’t think I will be able to marry her. Not anymore.” Emi got up from her chair and faced Ms. Khami directly
“Your life is your own, in the end,” Ms. Khami told her. “But you are a member of a prominent family, and you were born into responsibility whether or not it is fair. Cheating on your fiancee will not only affect you, but your parents, and your brothers too.”
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” Emi said. “And my answer is... It’s really complicated.”
“That is is.”
Emi headed into the foyer. It was vast and empty as usual. With party cleanup long over, the L’Hime home was once more a large space filled with a bunch of rooms hardly anyone ever used, in enough space to house an orphanage or two.
“So, I’m really finished with all of of my studies?” Emi asked.
“Well...” Ms. Khami began. “I know that you are working on those little devices in your bedroom. I bought a few books on engineering and mechanics, and if you would like to look through them...”
“You mean, exactly the opposite of what my Mother said to do?”
Ms. Khami smiled. “Yes, but I--”
Ms. Khami rushed to the front door and opened it, before her expression flattened. “Oh. You again.”
“Hi, Ms. Khami.”
“Tris!” Emi ran past Ms. Khami and hugged Beatrice around the neck, squeezing as tightly as she could. “You’re here.”
“And so are you,” Beatrice said. “Do you want to...”
Ms. Khami shook her head, but smiled. “You and your deviancies. Be back before supper. Touma is coming over again.”
“I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best,” Emi said.
Emi and Beatrice left the house, hand-in-hand, and Emi took one look back at Ms. Khami before the front door shut.
“So, where to?” Emi asked.
“Wherever,” Beatrice said.
And so they went.