“You’d better make breakfast if you don’t want me to starve,” Ryoma told Tezuka the next morning. His back was sore from sleeping on the thin pallet. His body protested the change from a featherbed to the floor. He was not in a good mood.
“I will,” said Tezuka with a nod. He was sitting in one of the rickety wooden chairs with a book that was even more tattered than the cloak he was still wearing. “But I can’t make anything without water.”
Ryoma looked around. “There’s no water in here.”
“No,” said Tezuka. “There is a bucket outside, and a stream.”
“Hm.” Ryoma was aware that he was expected to fetch the water. Tezuka hadn’t said it outright, but he’d made no move for the bucket and the stream himself. Ryoma considered waiting there until Tezuka would be forced to do the work. He decided that it wasn’t worth it. In any case, Tezuka could fetch the water and then cook only enough for one person, leaving Ryoma to faint for lack of food.
Ryoma stood. “Fine.” He stalked out the door, banging it on his way without thinking about it. The door, which had never been firmly secured, fell into the house. Ryoma glanced at it, and then snorted and continued on his errand.
The bucket was in plain view against one of the side walls. Ryoma picked it up, needing to use two hands because it was so large and heavy. He had to search for the stream, since he wouldn’t go back into the house to ask Tezuka for directions. It was hidden by a few bushes. Ryoma pushed his way through and filled the bucket to the top.
Now he became aware of a problem. The bucket had been difficult enough to carry without any water in it. There was no way he could lift it now that it was full. So he dragged it instead. The bucket caught on each and every stone and uneven patch in the ground, spilling the water in it on the grass and on Ryoma’s clothing. Once his sleeve snagged on the edge of the bucket and tore all the way up his arm. He gritted his teeth and persevered. The short walk back to the house seemed to take an eternity.
In front of the broken door, Ryoma stopped and had to sit and rest. He eyed the doorway and knew he didn’t want to drag the bucket all the way inside, possibly couldn’t even if he wanted to. But then Tezuka walked out of the cabin and said quietly, “I’ll make breakfast.” He picked up the bucket and carried it into the house.
Ryoma stayed where he was, catching his breath, for a moment longer, before going inside himself. Breakfast was porridge with milk, without even sugar to add any flavor. Regardless, Ryoma devoured it. The porridge filled him up for the first time since his arrival.
He was far from content, but being full helped him to feel just a bit less murderous.
“I’m going out,” said Tezuka that afternoon. “There’s food in the kitchen.” He meant the tiny eating and cooking area on one side of the room, Ryoma supposed.
“Fine. Go and leave me alone.” Ryoma would have liked nothing better, except that Tezuka was his only living companion here. Back in his father’s keep, he never had to be alone if he didn’t want to be. There were servants, and courtiers, and his parents, and there were guests staying there at all times. Here, with Tezuka gone, Ryoma would have no one.
Tezuka’s hooded face turned to him. “I need to make money. Without that, there would be no food,” he said gravely.
“I can’t make anything anyway,” Ryoma muttered rebelliously. “I’ll starve without you here.”
“No one will starve in a day.” So saying, Tezuka left. Ryoma could watch him all the way to the path, since the door still wasn’t attached to its hinges. Tezuka had moved it out of the way, but had not repaired it.
Ryoma was left with his thoughts, most of which were dark and aimed equally at Nanjiroh, Tezuka, and the rest of the world. He thought that he would wait until Tezuka returned to eat something. But dark fell, and Tezuka had not reappeared. Ryoma ignored the hunger as long as he could, and then he gave up. He couldn’t be properly angry if all he could pay attention to was the rumbling in his stomach.
The fire in the tiny hearth wasn’t quite out, and there were a few logs sitting beside it. Ryoma put those on, blowing on the fire until it was crackling and blazing as high as it could go. Then he went out to fetch water in the bucket again. This time he was mindful of how much it weighed, and filled it up only a quarter full. He poured this water into the iron pot that was also by the hearth, and went on a second trip to the stream before he was satisfied.
There was a meat bone in one of the cupboards, but Ryoma knew that meat spoiled easily. He didn’t want to take the chance. So he took some vegetables and the only knife he could find, a blunt one. He hacked away at the turnips and potatoes and celery and dumped them into the pot. Soon the water was bubbling and Ryoma judged that it was done.
The soup was thin and watery, without much flavor. Ryoma didn’t complain, because he had no one but himself to blame, except Tezuka, who had been responsible for dragging him into this. He hacked off and ate a piece of bread from the loaf, too, and found that there were no insects in it, though he’d been dreading just that.
Nor did Tezuka complain when he returned and got himself a bowl of the soup to eat. As well he shouldn’t, Ryoma thought, because he’d been told that Ryoma didn’t know how to cook.
Ryoma was only slightly tired that night, and he tossed and turned on his thin pallet for an hour before finally falling asleep.
He was woken by an unfamiliar sound, a squeaking and a chattering that sounded almost human, but not quite. Ryoma opened his eyes and saw that the sun hadn’t yet risen. It was still dark. But looking at him from across the room was another pair of eyes, these ones small, beady, and glowing in the moonlight that came through the window.
To begin with he wasn’t afraid, just wary. Those eyes weren’t quite like Karupin’s, but they obviously belonged to some small animal. But then the owner of the eyes skittered toward him across the floor.
Ryoma scrambled backwards, banging his head against the wall and tearing the only good shirt that had been left in his pack. Then he lunged to the side as the animal got caught in the fabric of Ryoma’s blanket. The thing chattered at him and scurried back to where the food was kept.
The door to Tezuka’s bedroom opened, and Tezuka came through it. He looked around, assessing the situation. Then he strode over to the hearth, picked up the pot with what remained of the soup, and threw the contents of it over the animal. It screeched and hurtled out the door. Tezuka set the pot down.
“What was that?” Ryoma demanded, trying to calm his racing heart.
“A raccoon. They look for food that’s left unguarded.”
“If you’d fixed the door, it wouldn’t have come in,” said Ryoma accusingly.
“It wasn’t in the room where I sleep,” said Tezuka. “And I wasn’t the one to break the door.”
Ryoma recognized that as another hint. Evidently Tezuka wasn’t going to repair the broken door, so it was going to be up to Ryoma. “I don’t know how to fix doors.”
“I’ll show you,” said Tezuka. “Now go to sleep.”
Ryoma barely slept at all that night, keeping one eye on the open doorway to make sure they didn’t receive any more unwelcome visitors.
In the next weeks, Tezuka did show Ryoma how to fix the door. He also showed Ryoma how to repair leaks in the roof, and how to fix soup that wasn’t so watery, and how to prepare porridge, and how to chop wood when the supply for the fire ran low. He bought Ryoma new clothing that wouldn’t tear so easily, and gave him a needle and thread so that Ryoma could repair the old clothing.
For the most part, he let Ryoma fumble his own way through the tasks. Ryoma didn’t do them very well to begin with, but he was a quick learner. He had a patient teacher, too, who knew exactly when Ryoma became overly frustrated with something. When that happened, a pair of larger hands would help him, going through the motions and showing what had to be done.
He didn’t like doing the chores, but he became accustomed to them. The time came when he always had dinner prepared for Tezuka’s arrival, and he constantly wore the rough brown clothing that Tezuka had brought for him because things were more practical that way. Sometimes Tezuka would play his harp in the evenings, and Ryoma would do his best not to be entranced by the beautiful music.
It was hard to go on resenting someone when he had so many things to occupy him.
As the days passed, Ryoma became more and more curious about the face that was always hidden beneath the dark hood. Tezuka had never lowered it, not even once as far as Ryoma had seen. He wore it while eating, and even when he said he was going out to bathe.
The more Ryoma thought about it, the more it annoyed him. What would need to be hidden all the time that way? Some horrific scar from an old injury? A sword wound, or claw marks from a fight with a bear or a wolf? Burn scars, maybe, or scars from some disfiguring illness. In any case, there was no point to keeping it hidden. Ryoma already knew he had nothing to gain from mocking Tezuka.
So one night, he decided that he would find out for himself what exactly was under that cloak. After the last of the chores were complete, he went to bed, as usual. He stayed there for the better part of an hour, feigning sleep.
Then, when he judged it to have been long enough, he got to his feet and stole across the room. He knew where all the floorboards creaked by now, and he avoided those places.
Ryoma pushed open the door to Tezuka’s room, not making any sound that he could hear. He reasoned that anyone would have to take off the hood and cloak to sleep, or at least to sleep comfortably. He slipped around the corner so that he would be able to see Tezuka’s sleeping pallet. Then he stopped.
Tezuka was awake, hooded, and watching him, or Ryoma guessed that he was anyway. “I’m never careless,” he told Ryoma, and Ryoma could have sworn he heard the hint of a smile in his tone.
“You never sleep, either,” Ryoma muttered, and then sighed. He left the room and closed the door behind him.
The next night, Ryoma sat outside, staring into the distance. He could see the lights of the town below, dozens of little houses and inns and taverns and shops with candles and lanterns to illuminate them. He could see miles and miles worth of fields and woodlands, and the wide expanse of sky that had just begun to twinkle with stars. He cradled his head on his arms, looking away from the view.
Tezuka sat down beside him, and Ryoma didn’t react even enough to acknowledge Tezuka’s presence. “What’s wrong?” Tezuka asked him.
Ryoma turned his head so that his face was buried in his arms. “I miss my cat,” he said, his voice a little muffled.
“What is his name?”
“Karupin.” Ryoma lifted his head to stare out at the stars again. “He would have liked this place.” It was true. As long as there were small creatures for him to chase, people to pet him, a warm bed, and food, Karupin was happy.
“I’m sorry,” Tezuka said quietly. He placed an arm gently around Ryoma’s waist, resting a warm hand on Ryoma’s hip. Even though he told himself he wouldn’t, Ryoma leaned against Tezuka’s side.
They stayed like that for a long time, with no mention of work or bed or anything else practical. The ache within Ryoma didn’t go away, but it faded just a bit.
The first frost of winter came early that year. Ryoma mostly ignored the insidious chill of the wind. He couldn’t quite ignore it completely, of course, when he had to break a hole in the ice with a rock in order to fetch water. But Tezuka never complained or commented on the cold, and so Ryoma determined that he wouldn’t either.
Night fell, making the air even colder. Ryoma was exhausted by then; he’d been chopping extra firewood all evening.
He curled up under his fur blanket and closed his eyes. The cold in his limbs didn’t subside. If anything, it got worse.
Soon he was shivering. The frigid air crept beneath the door of the cottage, making it especially bad to be lying on the floor. He couldn’t sleep, no matter how stubbornly he told himself to.
He nearly didn’t hear the footsteps approaching, because his teeth had started to chatter. He looked up only when they stopped right next to his pallet.
Tezuka was still wearing the hood. “It’s too cold in here,” he told Ryoma.
“I’m fine,” said Ryoma defiantly, sitting up.
“Come with me.” Tezuka knelt down and placed his hand on Ryoma’s. “The cold can be dangerous.”
“I said I’m fine.” The chattering of his teeth gave him away, though. He reluctantly let Tezuka help him to his feet and lead him into the other room.
That room was dark with the door closed and the candles put out, because there were no windows. Fortunately, Ryoma knew where the bed was. He sprawled onto it with a sleepy sigh that he couldn’t repress.
Tezuka slid under the covers beside him. Ryoma didn’t know if he was wearing the cloak or not, and he didn’t care. He wanted to be warm and he wanted to sleep, that was all.
Ryoma didn’t remember snuggling himself into the crook of Tezuka’s arm, where he fit perfectly, and he didn’t remember when Tezuka pulled him close. He only knew that he was there, he was warm, and he could feel each heartbeat and each slow breath Tezuka took.
He was asleep before he could count to ten breaths.
Before Tezuka could close the door to his room the next night, Ryoma slipped inside behind him. He stood holding the door and looking up at Tezuka, though he still couldn’t see Tezuka’s face.
“It’s warmer tonight,” said Tezuka, after a minute.
“I know it is,” said Ryoma. “I’m staying anyway.” He pushed the door shut, which plunged the two of them into total darkness. “Take off your hood?”
He couldn’t see Tezuka doing it, but he could hear the hesitation, and then the rustle of fabric as the hood was pulled back. Ryoma took a cautious step forward in the dark, holding up a hand so that he could feel his way. His hand was clasped in a larger one, and he moved close. He caught the front of Tezuka’s shirt in his other hand and tugged him down.
The kiss was an awkward, fumbling one at first, because neither one of them could see. Ryoma caught the edge of Tezuka’s mouth first, and then turned his head so that it was a real kiss and not just a peck on the cheek. Tezuka released Ryoma’s hand and put his arms instead around Ryoma’s waist, drawing him as near as possible.
Once they had to pause for breath, Ryoma raised his hands to Tezuka’s face, wanting to feel even if he wasn’t allowed to see.
Tezuka caught his wrists. “No,” he said softly.
So Ryoma had to be content with only the feeling of Tezuka’s lips against his and Tezuka’s arms around him, protecting and reassuring.
Somehow, it seemed as though that was enough.
The next day, Tezuka told him, “I will be gone for several days this time.”
“Why?” Ryoma could prepare meals almost as well as Tezuka, and his muscles had firmed enough that he could carry entire buckets of water. He didn’t ask why for such practical reasons. He knew that he could care for himself.
“We’re running low on money,” Tezuka replied. “I will be doing some business in a village farther away.”
“Oh.” Ryoma looked down at the floor. Not only was Tezuka his only company, Tezuka was now his preferred company.
A gentle hand touched his cheek. “I’ll be back soon.” The hand lingered there for a minute or two, and then went away. Ryoma could hear Tezuka’s footsteps on the path, and then there was silence, save for the songs of the birds in the trees.
It was a full three days before Tezuka returned. When he did, he came bearing food; vegetables and grains and even a bit of meat. He also had a cart that was loaded with something Ryoma couldn’t see, because it was covered with a large piece of cloth.
“What’s on the cart?” Ryoma asked, even as he helped to carry the food into the kitchen.
“Pottery,” said Tezuka. “A friend of mine agreed to let me have it in exchange for the money it brings when it’s sold.”
“Who’s going to be selling it?” Ryoma asked suspiciously. He knew that Tezuka couldn’t afford to give up the money brought in by his minstrel’s work, and so there was only one person left.
Tezuka’s voice held that hint of a smile. “You will be.”
“Fine.” Ryoma put some vegetables into the cupboard, which had begun to look alarmingly bare. “I don’t know how to sell pottery, you know.”
“You’ll learn quickly.”
Tezuka was right. He took Ryoma with him when he went down to the village the next day, to set up a stand for the pottery right beside Fuji’s sword stand. Ryoma looked around, and there was no one else selling the same thing. Tezuka had chosen well, or at least he’d been lucky in his choice of friends.
“Be patient, and you will sell these things.” With those parting words, Tezuka headed for one of the taverns, where he would be playing for the patrons there.
“Stand where people can see you,” Fuji advised with a smile, once Tezuka was gone. “Your looks will help. Even if Tezuka won’t say so, he knows.”
Ryoma took that advice, though he gave Fuji a sideways glance because of it. He sold a few pots and vases and cups that day. Tezuka seemed pleased enough when Ryoma handed him the copper coins he’d earned. They took the pottery back up the mountain, a very precarious climb with such breakables, but with both of them they made it.
The next day, word had spread that the pottery at Ryoma’s stand was of a fine quality. Probably word had also spread that the tender of the stand was a very pretty young man. Half of his customers flirted with him, but as long as they bought something Ryoma didn’t really care.
After that day, he became well-known all through the village. His blunt remarks caught his customers off their guard and made them laugh. He made sure not to mock any of them in a way that could be considered offensive, though. It would be bad for business, and just look where such mockery had gotten him the last time; here, selling pots in a tiny village’s marketplace.
Although, he suddenly realized when Tezuka came to pick him up that evening, ‘here’ didn’t seem so bad after all.
On one particular day, Ryoma was doing a brisk trade in all the sorts of pottery he had. He’d collected quite a few copper coins and even a silver one.
“Quite a good day,” Fuji commented, and chuckled. “Your being here helps all of the merchants, I think.”
Ryoma rolled his eyes. Fuji was capable of being both helpful and ridiculous, and it was impossible to tell which he was going to be at any given time.
At that moment, there was a commotion at the other side of the market square. Ryoma looked up quickly just in time to see a great warhorse in full gallop, its hooves clattering on the cobbles, its rider wearing armor and a helm. He barely managed to throw himself out the back of the stand before the horse crashed right through it, heading for the path beyond.
Ryoma stared at the mess the horse and rider had made. Every piece of pottery left was smashed, and the coins were scattered everywhere. He came to a fast decision. “I need to borrow this,” he told Fuji, yanking a sword out of a barrel full of them. He didn’t wait to see if Fuji would agree. He sprinted after the horse.
He never would have had a chance of catching it if the rider hadn’t slowed his mount to a trot almost immediately after departing from the square. As it was, the horse slowed enough that Ryoma could shout, “Stand and fight, if you’re not a coward!”
The rider turned his horse back without saying a word, to see the boy standing and brandishing a broadsword in the middle of the pathway. Then the rider dismounted, drawing his own sword as he did so.
Ryoma held his ground, although this rider was much larger than he was, about Tezuka’s height. Ever since he’d been able to hold a sword, Ryoma had been trained in the fighting arts.
A crowd gathered, all of them whispering uneasily to one another. One woman called, “Leave it! You’re outmatched, he’ll kill you!” It seemed that the majority of the watchers agreed; an assenting murmur spread through the square.
Ryoma ignored them. “You broke my pottery and lost my money,” he said. He held out his sword threateningly, though he was sure that no one thought he had any skill with it.
The armor-clad man stopped advancing, and then charged. Ryoma parried the first blow. It was so strong that it sent a shock wave all the way through his arm. He determinedly held fast to the hilt of his sword. He was driven back, one step and then another, but still he wouldn’t relent. Not one blow actually touched him.
The rider was becoming careless, thinking that he would win with ease. He left openings in his guard, openings that Ryoma’s weapons master would have berated him for allowing. With one hard twist of his arms, Ryoma brought the edge of his sword to the unprotected place where the helmet met the rest of the armor. “Pay for the pottery, or I’ll kill you.”
The man did not immediately lower his sword. After a few moments, when Ryoma did not waver, he finally sheathed his weapon. He pulled a bag of coins from his belt and let it drop to the ground.
“Now get out,” Ryoma commanded. The rider turned away and went back to his horse, which he spurred into a gallop the moment he was aboard.
The chatter around him turned happy and relieved. Men clapped him on the shoulder and women congratulated him for his victory. All Ryoma wanted to do was to return to his stand and recover what he could from the wreckage.
When the crowd dispersed, Ryoma sat beside the broken pottery and opened the money purse he’d been given. He stopped and stared again when he saw what was in it. Coins, yes, at least twenty or thirty of them.
But they were all copper coins, and wouldn’t be nearly enough to repair the damage that had been done. Ryoma did not cry. But he buried his head in his hands, because he didn’t want to look at anything or anyone. Fuji would be sympathetic, of course, but seemed to know that Ryoma wanted no comforting words.
He wanted the pottery to be fixed, he wanted that rider never to have come, he wanted his bed, he wanted his cat.
Most of all, he wanted Tezuka right at that moment, but he had none of those things. He would have to rely on himself.
Ryoma lifted his head, got to his feet, and began cleaning up the broken pieces of wood of the stand and the shards of pottery, seeing what he could salvage.
When Ryoma related the news to Tezuka and handed him the paltry few coins he’d been given for the smashed pottery, Tezuka was silent for a moment. Then he spoke. “There won’t be enough money. I’ll find you a position at the castle.”
“What?” Ryoma asked, startled. It had been so long since he’d been in any building more refined than a villager’s cottage. He could scarcely imagine going back to a castle now.
“You will live there and receive room and board for your work,” said Tezuka.
“No!” Ryoma was vehemently opposed to that idea. He crossed his arms and lifted his chin. “I’m staying with you.”
“The money we have will support one person, not two,” said Tezuka. “They will care for you at the castle.”
And in the end, it was to the castle they went. Tezuka could be just as stubborn as Ryoma when he wanted to be. The walk was a long one, but Ryoma had long since become inured to long walks. Most of the terrain was flat and even, unlike the mountain path he traveled every day.
They waited to gain entry, and were finally admitted through a side door. Tezuka had a word with the woman who apparently ran the kitchen. She didn’t look altogether unkindly, but she seemed doubtful when she looked at Ryoma.
Finally, though, she nodded and said that they could use another server, at least for the time being. There was to be a great feast the next day; a celebration of the king’s marriage.
Ryoma could have been the one to marry that king, and then he would have been living in this palace right now, as a prince instead of a servant. He didn’t care.
“Don’t go,” he said, when Tezuka turned toward the door.
Tezuka looked back at him. “I have to.” He held out his hand, and Ryoma took it, knowing that he couldn’t hold Tezuka there but wanting to anyway. Tezuka tightened his grip slightly in a silent reassurance, and then he pulled away and was gone.
Ryoma felt like the last consistent thing in his life had left him, and he was truly alone.
The kitchen was bustling with activity. Ryoma had forgotten how large the castle kitchens could be, and how many ovens and cooks and servers were at work there. He obeyed whatever commands he was given, whether it was to fetch water, which he was accustomed to, or to fetch some seasoning or a plate or a knife or anything else.
He’d slept in a bed again for the first time in a long while the night before. It had seemed empty, and he’d tossed and turned and stayed awake for hours. He wasn’t sleepy now, though. He was too busy to even think of being tired.
The kitchen staff gossiped about the courtiers, and about the wedding, and about how the king was spending an unseemly sum of money on the wedding celebration. Ryoma didn’t listen, because he didn’t much care.
Late in the afternoon, the feast began. If Ryoma had thought that the kitchen was a whirlwind of activity before, it was twice that now. He, of course, was not allowed to serve the lords and ladies at the table. It would be his job to unobtrusively carry the used dishes back to the kitchen once the dancing began and no one would be paying him any mind.
So he sat in a corner, eating the scraps he’d been given for his meal, until one of the cooks shouted across the room to him that it was time. The same cook pushed Ryoma none-too-gently towards a different door when Ryoma headed for the wrong one.
Ryoma slipped between the guests to fetch the empty dishes. He wasn’t paying attention to the courtiers, and none of them paid attention to him, either. He was only a serving boy, nothing more.
So he didn’t expect it when a hand touched his arm. He looked up quickly, and found that he had been accosted by none other than the stone king he’d mocked so long ago.
“Dance with me,” said the king. Ryoma glanced at the nobles. All of their gazes were resting upon the king and the servant. The king made as if to bring Ryoma onto the floor where couples had stopped dancing to watch what was going on.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ryoma asked, trying to wrest himself away from the king’s grasp. “I’m a kitchen worker, not a noble.”
The courtiers were hiding smiles, but he could hear their laughter. He glared around at them, a glare that could have stopped any such thing back at his father’s palace. Here this only caused them to titter more, whispering to one another.
“You are still a prince,” said the king simply. “And I want you for my dance partner.” He looked at Ryoma with those eyes, and Ryoma forgot to breathe for a moment.
“You,” he said. How could he have failed to recognize that voice immediately? “Tezuka?”
The king…no, the minstrel…no, Tezuka nodded and gave him the slight smile that Ryoma had learned to recognize in his voice. “Yes.”
“So all of this is…” Ryoma looked around the room.
“For you,” said Tezuka. “A true and formal wedding celebration, if you choose to accept me now that you know who I am.”
Ryoma stared up at him, and then narrowed his eyes. “You made me chop wood and sell pottery,” he accused.
“And you made me sleep on the floor in a cottage when you had all of this,” said Ryoma, looking around the enormous hall again. Then, on a suspicion: “And you were the one who broke the pottery.”
“Fine,” said Ryoma. “I’ll stay here with you, if.”
“If?” Tezuka asked, that slight smile returning.
“If I can bring Karupin to live here,” said Ryoma.
Tezuka released Ryoma’s arm and beckoned to one of the pages standing at the entrance to the hall. The boy nodded and hurried away, coming back only a minute later with a furry armload. The cat caught Ryoma’s scent instantly and meowed, struggling to be let down. Karupin then sauntered over to Ryoma as though he could have cared less, only betraying himself by the loud purr that could be heard throughout the room.
“Fine.” Ryoma knelt down to pick Karupin up, scratching behind his ears the way he always liked. Tezuka let the cat sniff his fingers, and then stroked the soft fur. Karupin purred and purred, looking like he was going to fall asleep right then and there. Ryoma looked up into Tezuka’s eyes, not knowing how he’d ever thought that Tezuka’s face was expressionless. “I’ll stay.”
“Good,” said Tezuka. “Then dance with me.” He offered Ryoma his arm and Ryoma set Karupin down so that the cat could investigate the possibility of mice in the hall. Ryoma linked his arm with Tezuka’s and let himself be led out into the middle of the floor, heedless of the fact that he was still dressed in a servant’s clothing. That hardly mattered anymore.
“I’m never chopping wood or selling pottery again,” he whispered to Tezuka, barely suppressing a grin. “Just so you know.”
“We’ll see,” said Tezuka, with an answering glint of humor in the eyes that were most certainly not made of stone.