A Fleeting Moonlit Dream (1)
As the sky darkened, the streets gradually crowded with people rushing home. Lamp light and the smell of burning wax emanated from the buildings that lined the streets. Perhaps, the only thing it the minds of these people now was the desire for a nice, warm meal.
A horse cart-for-rent slowly traveled by. The driver pulled on the reins from time to time, steering the Delemont Striped Horse away from the pedestrians. The horse pulling the cart started to feel a little annoyed and snorted.
"Mister, we've arrived at Phoenix-tail Flower Street in the east sector of the city. Where would you like to be dropped off?" asked the driver respectfully.
Ah, thought Lorist as he looked around him. He pointed at a corner and said, "Just a little bit further. Do you see that four-storey building? Just drop me off at that alley near there."
The horse cart stopped by the alley as instructed.
"How much is it?"
"It's 30 coppers, sir."
Receiving the two small silvers that Lorist handed him, the driver fumbled around for 10 coppers of change.
Lorist only took five and said, "Keep the rest. Take it as a tip for your great service."
Happily removing his hat and bowing his head in gratitude, the driver said, "Thank you very much for your generosity. I wish you a good night."
The people of Morante City predominantly used four types of coins issued by the trade union. The first one was the gold coin, also known as a gold Forde, which had the portrait of Archduke Forde Morante on it. The second type was a large silver coin that depicted a large ship. Officially, it was known as the 'silver sailboat', but most people just call it a large silver. The third coin was also silver, albeit only a third of the size of a large silver, and it depicted a picture of the city walls. Originally referred to as a 'wall silver', most people just call it a small silver due to its relatively smaller size to the silver sailboat coin. The last most circulated coin type was called the 'yellow copper' coin and it had a simple pentagram pattern on it. People simply referred to them as coppers.
A gold Forde was worth twenty large silvers, a large silver was worth five small silvers and each small silvers was equal to twenty coppers. The use of these coins have grown with the expansion of the Forde Trade Union's influence and power. Many areas have already adopted the Forde coins as their de facto currency. Some kingdoms and duchies even stopped producing their own currency in favor of the trade union's and sent their gold and silver reserves to the trade union in exchange for their coins.
The fruit seller by the roadside stared in a daze as Lorist approached and hurriedly greeted, "Hey, Locke. It's been quite some time since I've since you, almost half a year I think. Come, try some strawberries. It's really sweet."
Smiling, Lorist returned the greeting, "Uncle Girald, how's business? I went somewhere overseas on an assignment from the academy a while back and just got back recently."
Taking a bite out of the strawberry, Lorist said, "Wow, this is great. Uncle Girald, give me two kilos of this. Oh, and I'd like a box of honey candy as well."
"Coming right up," said the stall owner as he packed the goods Lorist asked for. Inspecting his surroundings and making sure nobody was within hearing range, he quietly asked, "Locke, what happened between you and Miss Windsor? During the six months you weren't here, I saw her bringing a middle-aged nobleman back to spend the night and leaving together the next morning. Oh, and, last month a group of bodyguards and knights came by and caused quite a ruckus by chasing away a few horse carts. They said that Miss Windsor and Master Birmingham was returning to their homeland to claim their dominions. Do you know about this?"
Half nodding and shaking his head, Lorist said, "I know some of it, but not everything. Uncle Girald, I've already broken up with her before I left. I'm only here today to move my stuff. If you need anything from me in the future, you can find me at the academy as I'm living there now."
"Oh, so that was it... Sigh, it's such a shame it didn't work out for you two. Oh well, I'll give you a discount! Three small silvers will do," said the stall owner as he sighed and packed the strawberries and candy into a paper bag.
Lorist paid the man and said with a smile, "Sometimes people are meant to go their own separate ways and relationships can't be forced. If it doesn't work out, there's no point in getting disappointed over it. See you, Uncle Girald."
Lorist's face darkened as his smile vanished once he turned away. She actually brought a man back to spend a night here and caused rumors to spread... This was done to force their relationship to a close. My, isn't she ruthless...
The alley was quite narrow and only allowed for one horse cart to pass through at any given time. Beyond the ten-meter-long alley was a small lot with three four-storey crimson red buildings in the center with some other wooden houses beside it.
A four-year-old girl wearing a flowery skirt sat alone in a corner of one of the wooden houses with her head down, seemingly playing with something. Seeing Lorist come out from the alley, the girl blinked, stared in a daze, and rubbed her eyes before jumping up and down in joy and rushed towards him.
Her smile was as refreshing as spring water to a thirsty traveler and it warmed Lorist's heart from deep down. Laughing, Lorist knelt down, held the girl up, and spun her around for a few times.
"Hey, little Loney. What are you doing here? Where's your grandma?"
"I'm waiting for dad to come home. Grandma is cooking," replied Loney with a childish tone.
"Hehe, my little Loney's so cute. Come here, let brother Locke give you a kiss."
"I don't wanna..." complained Loney as she laughed and struggled to avoid Lorist's kisses.
But Lorist managed to do it anyway.
"Ew!" Little Loney rubbed her face with her hands and pouted. "Brother Locke's a bad man, you didn't come visit me for so long and now you scrape my face with hair stubs on your face. I'm gonna tell my dad and have him smack your buttocks..."
"Hahaha," laughed Lorist heartily. He took out the box of candies and said, "Look at what I've got here?"
"Ah! Those are Loney's favorite honey candies! Brother Locke is the best!" Loney's attitude changed immediately the moment she set her sights on the box of candies.
Handing the box to Loney, Lorist said, "Don't eat too much of this at night, alright? Otherwise your teeth will start to hurt."
"I know, thanks big brother! I'm going to show it to grandma!" Hugging the box of candies, Loney ran away at full speed.
Loney's father was called Morandel and he was a Silver Swordsman that served in the city garrison. As Loney's mother had passed away at a young age, Loney was brought up mostly by her grandmother. Everyday, Loney waited for her father to come home, but her dad only had three days off his shift every month, which he often used to spend time with Loney.
Seeing Loney's silhouette vanish into the building, Lorist carried his paper bag and turned towards one of the four-storey crimson buildings. This was the place where he had lived for the past three years.
The door opened soon after Lorist used the knocker. The female servant gasped in shock as she was caught off guard by Lorist's sudden appearance.
Showing a warm smile, Lorist asked, "Lina, may I come in?"
"Ah, of course, Master Locke."
Closing the door, Lina the servant girl fidgeted about nervously behind Lorist, not knowing where to place her hands.
Handing her the paper bag, Lorist said, "I got this from the stall at the alley. It's fresh and sweet, please help yourself to some."
"Oh, thank you Master Locke. You're always so generous," thanked Lina hastily as she accepted the paper bag.
It has already been half a year since Lorist had been here. Feeling a pang of nostalgia, Lorist said, "Don't be so nervous, Lina. I'm just here to get my stuff. It's still in the room, right?"
"Ah, yes. After you left, the mistress locked the room up and no longer let us in. I've only seen her go inside it a number of times herself."
"I see the furniture here has decreased quite a bit. Are you guys planning to move as well?" asked Lorist as he looked at the empty hallway.
"That's right. The mistress has sold this place that she inherited from her family and is planning to leave by the end of the month."
"Did she sell the shop at Rotary Street too?"
Shaking her head and shrugging, Lina said, "I'm don't think so. But, I've heard Suzy say that they've already found a buyer and are still conducting negotiations."
Letting out a big sigh, Lorist said, "I guess your mistress is planning to leave this place for good."
Nodding, Lina said, "Master Locke, let me go get you a cup of tea."
"Alright. Since I won't be able to drink the tea you make anymore in the future, might as well savor it now while I still can."
Lina brought the tea over in a short while. Lorist breathed the aroma in deeply and praised, "It still smells great. Lina, your tea making skills are still good as ever."
Lowering her head, Lina whispered, "Master Locke, are you really breaking up with the mistress?"
Looking solemnly at the cup in his hands, Lorist replied after a short pause, "Lina, it wasn't my intention to break up with her. She's the one who's forcing me to do this. I believe you know very well what your mistress has been up to in the past year I've been away. She is willing to cast everything away to reclaim her family's dominion in her homeland. As for me, I can't do anything besides wishing her the best."
Lina hesitated for a bit before adamantly saying, "But... But I think that our mistress was wrong in this. She shouldn't have broken up with you..."
"Lina, not everyone thinks the way you do. Your mistress has her own considerations as well," Lorist replied with a smile.
Standing up, Lorist continued, "Alright, thanks for the tea, Lina. I'm going to go upstairs to arrange my stuff and move it away by tomorrow."
"Ah, Master Locke, let me go get you a candle."
Pushing the door open, Lorist stood outside the room he was so familiar with in deep thought. Lina approached him from behind with a candle in hand and asked, "Master Locke, are you okay?"
Breaking out from his trance, Lorist took the candle and said, "Oh, thanks Lina, Leave me alone for a bit. I need some time to think."
Nodding, Lina replied, "Alright, Master Locke. Please pull on the bell rope should you need anything else. I will be downstairs."
Placing the candle on the table, Lorist slowly sat on the chair by his study table and reminisced the old days: the days when he sat at that very table designing clothes nonstop with her...
The times when the both of them cut and sewed the cloth on the floor themselves to save cost on materials...
The arguments they had over the store decorations...
And on that fleeting moonlit night, when she shed her sleepwear in front of him...
When they lay beside each other with her flirtatiously licking his chest, pleading him to draw more clothing designs for her...
This was a rather old-fashioned love story.
That year, Lorist was only 20 years old and had just been appointed as a swordsmanship instructor for the academy. Charade prepared a feast for him at the Enforcement Division building as a celebration and both of them drank and ate merrily. After that, Lorist, in his sleeplessness, stepped out of the building and wandered around the academy. Gradually, he made his way to the Moon Lake and heard a faint sobbing. Intrigued, Lorist approached the source of the sound and discovered a lone girl bawling by the lake.
At that time, Lorist didn't know what to do as he thought that consoling someone with a broken heart wouldn't do much help. But that changed the moment the girl leapt into the lake.
Carrying the unconscious girl back to the Enforcement Division building, he woke Charade up and they both cared for the girl until she regained consciousness. That girl was rather beautiful, but she did not utter even one word. But that didn't stop the fatty from finding out about her situation the day after.
That girl was the daughter of a viscount of the Jigda Kingdom. Her name was Windsor Prinna and she was 18 years old. For reasons unknown, two grand dukes of the Jigda Kingdom broke into armed conflict. The unfortunate Viscount Windsor had sided with the losing side and had his castle and dominion invaded, effectively becoming the first sacrifice of the conflict. His dominion was split up between several powers and the viscount heeded the war god's call and left the mortal realm for the afterlife. Naturally, Madam Windsor and her seven-year-old son became captives.
In a conflict between nobles, while the losing side would not suffer any direct harm, it wasn't uncommon to hear the women provide entertainment and companionship for guests at drinking parties. While Madam Windsor was middle-aged, she still retained the air and beauty of a lady and was quite popular in the soldier camps. Half a year later, the two grand dukes started peace talks and the conflict in the kingdom subsided. Having lost the influence over their dominion, the Windsor family hostages had been released as they no longer had any value. But Madam Windsor had already become pregnant with a child of someone she didn't know. To spare herself from the shame and humiliation, she left the place and sought out her eldest daughter Prinna who was studying in Morante City for help.
The young Miss Windsor who had lived a life of ease and luxury could not ever imagine for something like this to happen. When her mother came over with her brother, she was like a majestic phoenix who had suddenly turned into a common hen as she had lost her father's support as well as her source of income. The once prideful young mistress humbled herself and asked some of her admirers to lend a hand, hoping that they could reclaim her family's land for her.
However, she was harshly humiliated; the nobles, knowing that the Windsor family had lost their dominion, did not extend any shred of help. The despairing young mistress couldn't take it anymore and decided to end her life and slipped away from the dorms midnight to the Moon Lake nearby.
Charade also discovered that Viscount Windsor had some other properties in the east sector of Morante City, namely, a mansion and two shop lots. They could still live quite a comfortable life even without their power over their dominion.
Lorist noted aloud that the property could be used as capital to rebuild the Windsor family.
Suddenly, the girl who kept quiet the whole time appeared before Lorist, greatly startling him, and said with her charming eyes wide-opened, "Did you just say that the Windsor house could start over...?"