The bright sunlight passes through the window as the curtain rises. I squirm and cover my head with the blanket. I pretend to fall asleep. “It is time, Dayang,” I hear Nanny's voice say. But I have no idea what she’s talking about. “Time to get ready for the day,” she says, louder this time.
“Dayang! It is time to wake up.” Nanny’s voice has that stern, no-nonsense tone a person uses when speaking to a stubborn elementary school student.
I I try to lift my head, but my neck is stiff and my face is too heavy to turn. I decided to stay under the blanket. “Uggghh,” I moan. “I think I’ll pass. I'm too tired.”
Nanny makes a tsking sound. “I will bring you water to wash up,” she says. I close my eyes and pretend to fall asleep again. But the sudden hiss and woof of my pets rouses me.
I jump up and start shaking my legs, trying to get the blanket off of me. “What? What happened?!”
“They’re telling you to get up,” Nanny nonchalantly lies. She walks around the bed. “Please do not be too stubborn, you’re already this old and you still act the same as Sarimuda.” 
“Fine, fine. I’ll get up. I’m getting up. I’m up,” I say with a huff.
“Good. Your bath is ready.”
“The older you get, the serious-er you are. You’re no longer fun, Nanny,” I tell her as she undresses me. Nanny only chuckles dryly.
I shower and get dressed. The dress, the hair, the makeup—she still does everything perfectly and I don’t know how she does it with her old age. Her hands don't even shake as she does everything; even my arms go numb when I try to do my hair.
“Jenna will bring you your meal,” she says as she walks out of my room, the cat and dog trailing behind her.
It isn’t Jenna who brought the meal though.
“You are dressed,” Ash deadpans.
“Disappointed?” I ask with a smirk and he rolls his eyes. “At the balcony please, Jenna.”
“Of course, My Lady,” Jenna answers, not minding my exchange with Ash. She pushed the trolley on the balcony and set the food on the only table there. I thank Jenna once she is done and dismisses herself.
“Come, join me,” I tell Ash.
We sit down in front of each other and share a meal. “I was thinking,” I start. “Why don’t we let Jenna and Nanny in on this?”
Ash glances up from his plate. “Have you forgotten the fact that they are both designated citizens?”
“They are not your people.”
I stare blankly at him. “Then just Jenna.” He makes a small gesture with his fingers, allowing me to continue. “Come to think of it. Jenna’s been with me for years since I was born—”
“So does the Head Maid and everyone else.”
“— But Jenna is different! Nanny— the Head Maid, fine, let’s not tell her. But Jenna, she’ll do everything for me. She’s my people. I swear. She won’t… I promise… please… Ash…”
Ash leans back in his chair. He takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh. “No. That is not how this works. I understand how you feel though,” he says.
“No you don’t. No, you don’t,” I snarl, glaring at him. “Just think of it. When we fight, Jenna’s there to comfort me and help us reconcile. When my business failed and I woke up in the morning, I got to see Jenna’s smiling face; she comforted me. She’s always been there.”
He chews on his food slowly. “Iris, you fancy Jenna. I am not disagreeing with that. But so did everyone; they were there when you were in a slump. You cannot make an exception just because you favor someone.”
“But…” I bite the insides of my cheek, thinking of ways to convince Ash to let Jenna in on our plan. “You know, when I was down… when I am down and… m-my soul is weary… and when troubles come and my heart burdened be, and when I am still and…”
“And wait here in the silence. Until you come and sit awhile with me,” he recites the lyrics of the song with no faults.
My lips twitch in embarrassment. “Shut up!”
“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,” he continues, hiding a smile.
I clench my fists. “Just let her in, Ash. I like her, she’s nice. I'll vouch for her.”
Ash still says nothing. He shakes his head with conviction.
“Why not test her?”
He sighs. “Fine. But I will be the one to give her orders.”
“Fine.” I accept this, a smile on my face. I know Jenna won't disappoint.
All seriousness fades though once we start eating dessert. “You know too much about my world now, I hate it.”
He chuckles. “You are a talkative one.”
“I know… I know.” I grumble. “Still.”
He hums. He pours tea into both of our cups and drinks from his cup. I did the same. The tea is well-blended. It also has the right temperature, neither too cold nor too hot.
He nods his head in agreement, “Di.”
Another batch of tranquility passes by us. I slump against the chair as we both look afar. The rays of the sun fall upon the trees as the breeze sweeps over them at a distance. I breathe deeply the misty air and listen to the sound of birds singing. I smile; this feeling is so serene I want time to flow slowly so that I can savor this moment.
Ash’s eyes glimmer as a gentle light reflects from the sun to his red eyes. I now only realize that although exhaustion is evident in his eyes, he no longer bears the emptiness I used to see during his first few years of stay in Amari.
“I wish I could snap a picture of this moment,” I comment.
His solemn gaze roves over my face; his eyebrows knit in curiosity. “How?” he asks.
I shrug. “I don’t know. Like this —” I make a rectangle out of my index fingers and thumb, “Click.”
He looks at me quizzically. I smile at him and pose. He puts his fingers together and imitates my action, clicking his tongue with a grin.
“Nice shot!” I shout and also take a couple pictures of him.
We both laugh silently.
There is a long pause before he talks again in between bites. “It’s autumn. Darahan is already in season.”
“Really? I haven’t seen a darahan.” I take another sip of my tea.
“It is sweet; sweeter than this tea. It is mouth-watering, its juice can be drunk solely since it is already sweet as it is. Its peels can be converted to perfume, too.” His tone is hushed, as his eyes search in the distance for something that isn’t there.
“You miss your home,” I say.
“Who wouldn’t?” he whispers. “That’s where I grew up; that’s all of my childhood. My family — Ama, Apay, my brothers, and my sisters.” He looked at me sadly.  
“Why would you say that?”
… “Just because.” Because you're trapped here because of me. Because of Iris who you need to manipulate. Because of Ari who made you into a puppet. Because I made your role into this.
He sighs. “Don’t be.” He squints his eyes and stares directly at the sun. “I like it here,” he confesses. “Di, I miss home, but it doesn’t mean that I want home.”
I nod slightly in understanding. “You know when weird people say that their home is where their loved ones are, I used to think they’re just a bunch of weirdos and craps, but I now understand them,” I tell him. I look down at my tea and trace the cup’s mouth with my fingers. “This isn’t home. This is a battlefield. I’d be taking part in the war. It’s gonna be like Game of Thrones here soon.”
Just the thought of what the future may hold causes the hair on the back of my neck and arms to stand on end. I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to sit here in peace.
Ash looks at me and raises his eyebrow in question, a concerned look in his eyes. The autumn breeze picks up, blowing his long, soft hair behind him. His eyes are welling up, but he’s keeping it at bay.
“Ehem.” He clears his throat. He stands up abruptly, attempting to mask his emotions, his eyes blurred and his mouth in a firm line. “I should go.” He walks past me but he halts after hearing me speak.
“I’m gonna be fine.” I stare into the distance. “I will be.”
I get up and turn to face him expecting to face his back, but he's already looking at me. I sense his uncertainty. I sense his worry. I sense it. I give him a reassuring smile.
“I don’t plan to sit here and wait for Father to give my hand to just anyone. I’m not gonna be someone's pawn.”
 Sarimuda = Damari term for young prince given to the young sons of Amari Kingdom’s monarch.
 Ama = literal Aryelan term for the word mother.
 Apay = literal Aryelan term for the word father.