A Little Princess
A closed heart. Myself, sealed within. Rules are exchanged, and friendships crafted.
Every once in a while, Fyra would stare at the mask held in her hands.
It was a weird mask, and she didn’t know what it represented. But she could feel the warmth.
“You’ll have to live with that mask on. You’re not allowed to take it off.”
The man that took her to this town left with these parting words. He didn’t elaborate on the mask’s meaning or explain anything about her future.
Fyra gently touched the right side of her face, her fingers brushing over blotches of reddish tumors, some of them oozing pus. These keloids were a testament to the burns she suffered before she was old enough to understand. The numerous keloids would disgust most by just being seen, much less touched, but to Fyra they were a strange source of comfort. Perhaps she felt that it was part of her that had to be accepted.
Of course, to her parents, her keloids were an abomination. As prosperous wholesale dealers of fabric who were used to ordering people around and doing business, they were prideful people who felt insulted at the very concept of caring for their daughter, so sympathy was out of the question.
“You’re going to be in the way of our business,” her parents claimed and forbid her from going outside. On the night of her 8th birthday, they demanded her to go work in a faraway town – so that they could get rid of an eyesore.
As such, an 8-year-old Fyra was taken by her caretaker through the desert and into this distant town. She probably couldn’t go back to her homeland anymore. She had no one to protect her. Fyra prepared herself – she’s willing to do anything to survive alone.
Fyra put on her mask with vigor. The inside of the mask was cold, silent and dark. The world she saw through the eyeholes was narrow.
From the eyeholes, she saw a same mask close upon her. She unwittingly took a step back, but the figure took her arm and dragged her away, rattling off about something at the same time. Judging from the figure’s strength and voice, it had to be an adult male, but she couldn’t really tell from the mask. Moreover, she couldn’t understand the language she heard.
“Ah. Um, please wait.”
Fyra blurted out, and the man stilled at her words. The next moment, he yelled at her, full of anger. He swung his hands up and down, and stamped his feet in frustration. His figure called to mind the image of her own father, drowning in maddening anger at being “looked down upon” due to his daughter. I’ll be beaten! Fyra hurriedly covered her face, and tensed her body.
At that moment, a dignified voice rang out.
“Rule 32: Those without land identification shall not speak.”
It was a bit rough around the edges, but the language was one that Fyra knew well. Who? Looking around, she spotted a child with his hands around his waist, standing on the top of the maze-like stairs. He hopped down the stairs. He had a mask as well – it seemed like a tradition to live here wearing masks. He seemed about the same age as me. Fyra did not realize that she was staring, and the masked child shook his body in an irritated manner, talking to her.
“You. You’re not born here, right? You don’t have a land identification, right?”
Fyra began talking, but quickly covered her mouth.
“Land identifications are like certificates that record where you’re born in this town. All the residents have them. But outsiders don’t. If they really want to speak or sing, they have to marry someone of this town and get a land identification. This town’s rules are absolute. If you want to live here, then you follow them.”
Outsiders can’t speak? Then how should I live in this town? Fyra’s unease was evident even through the mask. The masked child came near her ear,
“Leave it to me.”
Leaving those whispered words, the boy walked towards the man, and spoke in a language that Fyra could not understand. Both the language itself and their body gestures are too peculiar, and Fyra couldn’t tell what they’re talking about. In the middle of it, the boy lifted up his mask slowly and gave her a glimpse of his face. It was but a moment, but Fyra saw it. His skin was smooth and brown, and his shapely nose simply served to accentuate his good looks. His straight hair wavered in the wind. I didn’t know that such a beautiful boy existed in this world. Fyra was in shock and could not draw her eyes away. The boy eventually turned around and called out to her in a lively voice. “Come!”
The boy brought his arms before him and stuck up his chest, telling something to the man in the native language. Seeing the man nod, he looked to Fyra again and spoke up.
“I heard from him. You came here to work, no? He is your boss. You take fruits from him, and sell in this town. The money, you give to him. Fruit selling. Can you do it?”
Fyra quickly nodded. The boy took a huge basket from the man, and handed it to Fyra, telling her to do her best. She could now live in this town, thanks to the boy conversing with the boss.
Thank you. Though irritated that she could not put her feelings of gratitude in words, Fyra bowed deeply before the boy.
Six months passed by in the blink of an eye. Fyra lived as if in a trance.
In the world of business, where verbal skills are more important than anything, Fyra found her lack of speech due to not possessing a land identification a much bigger handicap than expected. However, she did not give up. To make up for her silence, she spent thrice the time walking around the town, running up and down the various tiny stairs, and walked the town corner to corner. She was almost killed in a conflict between other sellers, but no matter how much she was beaten or kicked, she protected the fruits in her basket. On rainy days, windy days, days where her face felt aflame, days where she could barely walk due to fever, Fyra always carried a basket of fruits into town.
She had no time to become depressed or anxious, and during her days of continuous work, she began to understand pretty much all of the town’s language even though they were meaningless sounds lined up after each other at first. She could remember most of the town’s rules, but certainly not all of them due to the sheer amount of rules, so she carried a rulebook with her at all times to avoid trouble.
There were days where she could barely make any money, but Fyra enjoyed living in this city. She felt much worse in her hometown, being locked in her house at all times due to being “the shame of the family”.
This town is bound by rules. However, there’s nothing but rules restricting it. Though she won’t be protected because “she’s a child” or “she’s a girl”, she wasn’t discriminated against either. Everyone wore masks in the town, so she wasn’t treated extra nicely or badly due to her appearance. There is no measure to how happy this fact had made Fyra. Her heart has suffered much from the insensitive gazes and words due to her keloids, but those wounds now dispersed like the sands flowing in this town’s waterways.
She sometimes met the boy she owed much to. Fyra moved about a rather wide area doing business, but the boy himself comes and goes most unexpectedly. Fyra could only recognize him because he often shifted his mask a little, revealing his face.
“Rule 2: You have to wear masks.”
Despite breaking a rule that constitutes the major premise of the town, he lived rather indifferent to the fact. And he’d sometimes come talk to Fyra, who always held a disproportionately large fruit basket, selling the fruits as she walked around.
“Why are you always walking while looking down? You could stick out your chest more. Even the fruits will look better that way.”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen someone walking around with a rule book. You don’t need to take it that seriously.”
The boy’s words no longer had a rough edge to it. Ever since Fyra learnt the town’s language, he began communicating with her in such. It’s rather fitting for a boy who had no idea that my language being spoken fluently is much worse for me, Fyra thought.
One evening, Fyra handed today’s money over like usual, and got a small portion of that in return. She was about to go back when her boss stopped her with his heavy voice.
“Sell all the fruits in the basket tomorrow. If you can’t do that, then I have no need for you.”
That’s hard. Within these six months, there wasn’t a single day when Fyra managed to sell all the fruits. However, Fyra gritted her teeth at “no need for you”, and nodded. I have to do this. To survive in this town, to be needed, I have to do this. I’m prepared for this.
The next morning, Fyra went into the town before the dawn even broke. Whenever she saw people, she’d latch onto them stubbornly and promote the fruits to the best of her ability with body language and hand swings. She chased after those who rejected the offer, and stood up again even when cruelly tossed aside. However, her efforts backfired, and not a single fruit was sold even when the sun rose.
When the sunlight became too much to bear, there would be fewer people outside. Fyra traversed many sets of labyrinth-like stairs just to find buyers. She arrived at the plaza. She held great expectations for one moment, but no one was found. Fyra sighed and began to retrace her steps, but stumbled on the stone pavement. Her stamina was at its limit from anxiety and fatigue, and Fyra’s tiny body fell down. Even through her limited vision behind the mask, she saw the fruits scattering in all directions. Fyra suddenly knew that this is it for her. She didn’t think so, she knew. She saw her destiny that refused to be altered through willpower alone. She didn’t even have the strength to stand up anymore.
How long was she like that? A lively voice abruptly barged onto her consciousness.
“Rule 227: Actions that obstruct public walkways are forbidden.”
Fyra hurriedly tried to stand up, and saw the boy looking down at her with hands on hips. His mask was shifted today as well.
“…that’s what they say, but nobody’s going to come this way. Sleep if you’re tired, but find a place in the shade at least.”
Fyra shook her head and stood up. She held the basket, and the boy began gathering the fruits with much vigor. Looking at the fruits in the basket, Fyra fell into despair again. All the fruits were dirty and broken from rolling around. They couldn’t possibly be sold.
The boy asked, staring straight at her with clear eyes, and Fyra blushed behind her mask. Her heart fluttered. She thought that he could be told of her predicament at least. She wanted to tell him.
Seeing Fyra explaining by moving her body and hands, the boy immediately understood and said:
“I see! So that’s it!” in an almost whistling tone. He pointed towards the fruits.
“Then I’ll buy them. All of those fruits in the basket!”
Fyra glared at the boy. Don’t joke around at a time like this!
Instead of saying it aloud, she took out her rule book and showed it to the boy.
“Rule 429: It is forbidden to buy all goods in a shop.”
“…as usual, you’re so obedient! Don’t mind the rules. They are made to be broken. You’d rather break a few rules and live instead of obeying them and dying, right?”
Fyra forgot her anger in the face of such a self-centered comment, and was merely confused. The boy was amused and laughed.
“Well, whatever. Just for someone as well-behaved as you, I won’t break the rules this time, I’ll just go around them. I’ll make two lots. If I draw the winning one, I’ll get fruits from you and give you money. It’s not ‘buying’. It’s just trading according to the rules of the game. Are you okay with that?”
Seeing Fyra’s hesitation, the boy stood up straighter.
“It’s okay! I never lose in a match, you see. Believe me.”
The boy was right in the end. He drew the winning lot, and taking all the fruit in his arms, he fished out a huge sum of money from his pocket and showed them into Fyra’s hands without even counting.
“I think this should be enough.”
Fyra hurriedly tried to give him change, but he stopped her and smiled.
“Let’s play again.”
Fyra nodded, and saw the boy walk away. She picked up the lots scattered on the ground – maybe the boy dropped them since his attention is focused on the fruits.
They were both winning lots.
When Fyra returned and lowered the empty basket on the floor, her boss was quite surprised. When Fyra told him the truth, he became even more surprised. He sighed deeply.
“The prince’s whims are always troubling.”
The prince? Fyra leant her head to the side.
“What, you didn’t know?”
The boss looked shocked, and told her that the boy that appeared in front of Fyra occasionally was none other than the prince of Façade.
“When the prince gets bored, he’d run out the palace into the streets. He’s always looking around for some interesting games to play. He breaks the rules, gets involved in games, and always causes trouble for the citizens… still, even though he always causes trouble, we can’t really bring ourselves to hate him.”
The boss spoke of the prince in a gentle tone rarely used, and revealed a game about Fyra that the prince has been playing with him.
“The prince made a bet with me – how good a seller could a tiny outsider like you become in six months. If you could sell all fruits in the basket within one day, then I win. If you can’t, the prince wins, and you’ll be exiled from this town… at least that’s how it was supposed to go.”
Why would the prince, who hates losing, do something that led to his defeat?
The boss’ whisperings did not reach Fyra’s ears, she already threw the basket to the ground and turned around.
“Let’s play again.”
The boy’s – no, prince’s – words resounded in her head. The six months I’ve spent desperately trying to survive was nothing but a game to him. I was merely his pawn.
Wind blew sand into her eyes. Tears flowed one after each other. She was regretful. She was sad. And she could not forgive herself for getting close to him for even one moment.
After arriving in front of the palace, Fyra shouted. She broke the rules with a lonely voice that did not constitute words.
The guards immediately seized her, but a pair of familiar legs appeared in front of her.
“Let her go. She’s my guest.”
His voice has not changed. However, it seemed a bit heavier. I see, so he really is a prince. Fyra’s shoulders were shaking even when pushed against the ground. It was so out of place; it was sad.
The prince seemed confused in the face of Fyra’s strange behavior. “Leave us alone,” he said and chased the guards away, then he pulled Fyra up.
“So you’ve finally found out, huh.”
The prince shrugged, and did not even show a shred of guilt. Fyra stood in front of the prince unflinchingly, and threw away her own mask. She stared straight at the prince. She wanted to make herself clear with her real face, with her real self.
Seeing the tears flowing from Fyra’s eyes, the prince panicked.
“W-what happened?” He asked in a high pitched voice.
Fyra let herself go and told him everything. The first words she spoke in a long time were not her homeland’s words, but those of the town.
“I walk with my eyes downcast because it’s become a habit after trying to hide my ugly face for so long.”
“The rule book is a place for me to belong in this unfamiliar town.”
“Even if it’s just boredom relief for you, it’s life for me. No matter how merciless it may be, it’s my irreplaceable life. If you think that you can play with your people’s lives just because you’re a prince, then you have another thing coming. Please apologize. And please, don’t ever get involved with me again.”
Ah, what did I do? I said such rude things in front of the prince, and broke so many of the rules. I won’t be able to stay in this town anymore. I’m such an idiot. And I even swore to abandon myself if that’s what it takes to survive. Fyra hung her head in preparation of punishment, but a loud voice came from above.
Fyra raised her head bit by bit, and stared at the “prince” lowering his head in front of her with unbelief.
“It’s true that I thought of it as a game first, and I did make a bet with the boss. But I forgot about that right away – because your way of living was just that beautiful. What I did today… I did because I really wanted to help you. I’d be troubled if you were gone from this town… believe me.”
The prince fidgeted and stared at his toes, but eventually rose his head and said,
“I didn’t help you out of playfulness or pity, but out of friendship.”
Friendship! Fyra did not know what to take that word for, and unconsciously reached for her keloids. Seeing her behavior, the prince only asked “You touch that out of habit?” He did not turn away from the keloids. His face showed that he thought nothing of them. He tilted his head and asked, “Hey, will you be my friend?”
Fyra found the prince’s obviously forced attitude so out of place, and held back a laugh. The prince saw this, and instantly brightened considerably.
“You will, right?”
“Rule 12030: Citizens could not end a relationship desired by royalty.”
Fyra opened the rulebook and showed it to the prince, whose shoulders slumped.
“You could… break the rules.”
Fyra found his sulky tone adorable, and laughed again. It’s true that the prince broke a rule for her.
“Rule 89: Royalty cannot apologize to the citizens.”
The prince recognized me as his “friend” even though I’m an outsider, I’ll trust in him once more, Fyra thought. She wanted to trust him, as his subject, as his friend.
The prince realized that Fyra completely forgave him, and immediately lunged forward, asking “What do you want to play?”
“Oh, I know! What about this game? From tomorrow onwards, you’ll bring your fruits to the palace every day. If you bring the fruits that I like, then you win. I’ll pay twice the price. If you bring the ones that I don’t like, you lose. I’ll have you dance to one song.”
Only then did the prince notice that Fyra was staring at him. He looked away awkwardly, and asked her hesitatingly.
“Ah… erm, you don’t want... games?”
Geez, what a prince. Fyra exaggerated her sigh.
I thought that I would always live by myself. I thought I was fine with that. I’ll show them that I can live just fine alone. But having a friend might just add another kind of fun to it. If I had a friend that would look at my real self… surely, I’ll look at each day in a different light.
I accept that challenge!
Fyra stood up straight, and promised to play with the prince.