“You can stand now,” stated Ying, standing next to me.
I finally managed to stand up after persisting for several days, albeit needing to use the wall for support. Being able to look at everything from a different perspective gave me a strange sense of joy. I turned my head to look at Ying. I discovered she wasn’t tall. I probably thought she was tall, since I was always looking up at her. She looked similar to any ordinary girl from this angle.
I slowly moved my feet. There was nothing different to before except my back hurt a bit. It wasn’t an intense pain, though. I touched my chest: “I feel that I’ve recovered, Ying. I can probably go shopping for you tomorrow.”
Ying nodded: “Start by buying the very light stuff, then. Buy some rice from the store in the village. The store will have a lantern with the word ‘rice’ on it. You don’t need to pay money. Just let them know the shrine needs it. Then, go to the store next door to buy vegetables and eggs. Tell them the shrine requires them, too.”
I nodded and smiled: “Remind me again tomorrow. I think I’ll forget.”
“Mm. You need to rest more on the way up. Have a rest as soon as you’re tired. Your back is still very weak. If something happens, you may never be able to stand again.”
I nodded, and then looked to the big tree: “I want to go, and see the tree.”
“That tree?” asked Ying. She nodded: “The tree has been there for a long time. This shrine grew up alongside the tree. I remember the tree hadn’t bloomed at the time; it has finally bloomed. Admiring the tree allows me to feel a state of tranquillity.”
I nodded. Ying reached her hand out to support me. The two of us went over to the tree. The closer I got to it, the more I felt it was sturdy. I could see the entire tree when I was previously lying inside, but I had to raise my head up to see the flowers that had bloomed when I was close to it.
“I was named after this tree. I originally didn’t have a name. The people here call this tree ‘Ying’, so they called me ‘Ying’.”
Ying supported me with her hand, but I couldn’t feel her warmth. The side of her face was next to my ear. Her hair blew along with the flower branches. I looked at her and then the tree. In a soft voice, I asked, “Don’t you have a surname?”
Ying shook her head and calmly replied, “I don’t have parents; how would I have a surname? I grew up here as a kid and found my purpose in life here. I must protect the people of this village. I should protect them, since I have the strength to. The wyrm has killed far too many people. Perhaps I am the strength their hope created; hence, I must protect the people of this village.”
Ying didn’t sound as aloof as she appeared on the surface. She wasn’t cold-hearted. She liked to converse with others and didn’t hate outsiders. She just didn’t express herself with facial expression. Deep down, she was the same as everyone else.
Her background was peculiar and shrouded in mystery. She didn’t have parents as we did. Nevertheless, it sounded as though the village below treated her decently. She protected the village, and the village provided her with free food. Both parties were friendly. Also, she sounded very grateful to the villagers. She must’ve felt lonely residing at the shrine by herself, yet she willingly accepted being restricted there solely so that she could keep everybody safe.
I said, “Ying, you’re very kind.”
Ying shook her head in response: “No, I’m not. Only by doing that which is not one’s duty can one be considered kind. Protecting the villagers is my duty. I’m merely carrying out my duty the same way parents protect their child, and a husband protects his wife. Fulfilling a duty is not an act of kindness.”
“Not everyone can fulfil their duties, though.”
Ying shook her head again: “That still isn’t a reason for me to be vaunted. This village is my responsibility; therefore, I must protect it. It has nothing to do with kindness. I’m merely somebody who fulfilled her responsibility… Actually, I haven’t yet, because the wyrm still exists, and still threatens the village.”
Smiling, I questioned, “What happens if the wyrm is dead, then? If you’re very lucky and manage to kill the wyrm, you’ll have fulfilled your duty. Have you considered life afterwards? What are you going to do after?”
Ying shook her head once again: “I’ve never thought about it. To be honest, I’ve never thought about my future. I’m not willing to think so much about meaningless things. I just need to think about how to ensure this village is still in one piece tomorrow.”
“Do you not want to kill the wyrm?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to, but merely protecting this village requires all of my strength. I can’t find traces of the wyrm. Therefore, all I can do is defend,” answered Ying, turning around after. “You haven’t fully healed yet, so let’s stop here for today. Head back and rest. I’ll brew your medication. You still need to eat porridge tonight. We’re out of rice at the shrine, so if you don’t buy any tomorrow, we’ll have to starve.”
Ying had no plans of continuing to talk to me; consequently, I had to turn around and return to the shrine with her help. The bright-red design of the shrine from the outside looked slightly old. The piled up leaves had a thick layer of flower petals on top. The flowers would gradually wither in cold weather. They’d die, turn to ash and land on the ground with the snow to provide moisture for the old tree, I presumed. I wondered if the same applied to Ying.
Ying would live, fight, age and then passes away before finally being buried here to moisten the shrine and ancient tree. Actually, no, that’s not quite right. She didn’t nurture the tree or shrine but the village at the foot of the mountain, I guess. The village was everything to her. Similarly to the flower petals, her entire life was destined to be offered to the village below.
A life is wonderful, because of the unknown. Life is worth exploring and adventuring through precisely because of the unknown. How sad and lonely was her life where she knew her end already? I guess her feelings were the same as her kimono – beautifully white. She dedicated her entire life to fulfil her duty just as Nier once did.
Nier once forewent her entire life for Her Majesty. Ying gave everything she had for the village at the foot of the mountain. Nier, nevertheless, had the Valkyries as companions while Ying didn’t have anybody.
I figured I’d be able to understand why I felt so sad when I saw her in my dream at night. You’d feel incomparably sad if you were a talented bird that could sing and dance, yet were locked in a cage.
“Son…” I heard Mommy Elizabeth’s call out to me in my head. My mind raced: “Wait! Why…? Why…? Why did I suddenly think of Mommy Elizabeth? Why did her beautiful smile suddenly appear in front of me…? When did I see that smile…? When?! Why don’t I have any recollection?”
*樱（ying）means cherry blossom (a.k.a. sakura)