11 Friendship and Healing

Kimi ga tame

Oshi kara zarishi

Inochi sae

Nagaku mogana to

Omoi keru kana

(Fujiwara no Yoshitaka)

Captain Moeri spent the days of burning the dead and preparing the new shrine in a daze. When not busy on patrol or with the care of his remaining men and their horses he tended to wander about the camp, asking everyone he met if they had seen how wonderful the Prince had been in the battle. When the Twilight Prince greeted him one day, when they chanced to meet in the camp, Moeri found himself thoroughly tongue-tied and could manage only a silent bow. The Prince later inquired anxiously after the young man's welfare, to Senior Commander Yanagi's great amusement: the young Captain's infatuation was clear to her mage-sight.

HorseMaster Aoshiba kept looking around nervously as he worked at caring for the Prince's horses and organizing his Lord's remaining bodyguards. His nerves expected an attack of some sort even though his mind knew it was unlikely. Facing the Enemy again in battle had brought back too many memories of the last time he was involved in cleaning a shrine site, at Nakayama.

On the second night Shirokura Motoharu, who shared the same tent, had to wake the HorseMaster out of a screaming nightmare. The younger man knew better than to touch a sleeping veteran, especially one who was having a nightmare. He called Aoshiba Noboru's name until the HorseMaster's eyes opened and the screaming stopped, then held him until he stopped shaking.

The Twilight Prince came from his nearby tent to make sure that Aoshiba was all right, and Motoharu was embarrassed that the HorseMaster's tears should be seen, for he respected Aoshiba greatly. The young samurai was also a little embarrassed by the physical contact between them: the Prince was carrying so much Power since the battle that his aura added a deeper sensual edge to any touch.

Aoshiba was grateful for the concern of his Lord and his companion, and for the human contact that gave him an anchor to present reality, though he regretted disturbing the Most Noble Eminence. The HorseMaster was a little amused by Motoharu's embarrassment, but said nothing: he was old enough and experienced enough to be unembarrassed by anything, and self-confident enough to be gentle with others' embarrassment. Aoshiba thought that having been tortured by demons gave him a right to have nightmares, and if anyone thought otherwise, that was their problem, not his.


With the funerals completed, the Twilight Prince was able to turn his attention to the task of reconsecrating a shrine for Shimonaga. The site he selected was a short distance from the old shrine, and closer to the Power that welled up along with the heated water of the springs. A small cold-water stream filled by runoff from the upper slopes ran along the southern boundary of the new compound, and would provide water for the purification font.

Because time was short and most of the locally available building materials were marred by demonic contamination, the construction of the new shrine had to be improvised: as much symbolic as real. A small portable shrine, a bit larger than a palanquin, was placed on the spot where the innermost sanctuary of the permanent shrine would stand. The outer sanctuary consisted of nothing but an offering bench within an area that was roped off by the paper-tasseled hemp ropes that denoted sanctity. In place of the fence of bamboo and cypress that would one day surround it, the compound was fenced with the white curtains used around military command posts on the three sides not marked by water. A bucket and dipper set midway between the outer sanctuary's south-facing entrance and the stream served as the font, and a level patch of ground a little higher on the slope had been roughly cleared and roped off to mark the future site of the dancers' pavilion. A bridge of rough-cut logs spanned the small stream, with a torii, whose uprights and crossbeams were nearly as rough, framing its southern end.


Downhill from the torii was tethered a white horse, which was to be dedicated to the shrine as a ceremonial mount for the Power enshrined there. A second enclosure surrounded by white curtains and tasseled ropes was constructed uphill from the torii. It was here that the Twilight Prince retired to meditate and pray in preparation for the reconsecration, after purifying rituals and ablutions whose severity deeply impressed the watching military officers.


The Prince was also fasting again, even more completely than he had during the ritual on the beach. HorseMaster Aoshiba watched him worriedly, and sent Shirokura Motoharu to ask around in the camp for delicacies the men might have that could tempt the Twilight Prince's palate once the formal need for fasting ended.


When Motoharu returned with his gleanings -- several types of dried fruit and some pickles -- he asked, "Do you really think we need to worry, TroopMaster? After all, other priests fast and pray and keep vigils."


"Other priests don't ride all over the country between times ... or fight in battles," Aoshiba replied. "And they certainly don't fast after being tortured by demons ... But I have known of a few very pious priests who've starved themselves to death with too much fasting and prayer. It wasn't deliberate suicide: they just became so thoroughly wrapped up in the Power and so deeply enmeshed in the Otherworlds that they eventually drifted away from ordinary life completely ... "

"I understand," Motoharu said softly, gazing at the white curtains that hid their Lord from their view. "And one like the Most Noble Eminence, who seems more bound by the duties of this world than by its pleasures ... "

The Twilight Prince sat in the enclosure prepared for him, chanting softly as he wove his aura and awareness into the world around him. Eventually, he could sense the whole valley around him as though it was an extension of his own flesh and aura: hills and plain, river and streams, living things and weather, along with the fire and Power that welled up to create Shimonaga. It was not a comfortable experience: there was nothing in reach of his senses, human or otherwise, that had not been marked by the Enemy in one way or another. At last he reached an awareness of what sort of object should be placed in the sanctuary to serve as the focus: the 'body' or 'mount', of the Power Manifest at Shimonaga.


Moving slowly, as though in a dream, the Twilight Prince left the sanctuaries to fetch the required object from the packs he had brought from the capital, carefully protecting it from any profaning glance or touch until it was safely installed in the temporary inner sanctuary. While preparing the formal offerings for the shrine, the Prince drank some water and ate a little rice, to Aoshiba's great relief. He ordered his attendants and Senior Commander Yanagi strictly to keep their distance, and not to approach him or the sanctuary unless summoned, then vanished back into the sacred precincts.


As she walked back to her command post, Senior Commander Yanagi encountered Captain Moeri, who had managed to catch a glimpse of the Twilight Prince during his brief appearance outside the sanctuary curtains and was bubbling over about how impressive the Prince had looked in his spotless white robes. Yanagi sighed, and took the young man back to her headquarters with her. Moeri had been talking about how wonderful the Prince was until people were sick of hearing him talk about it. Some men in his troop had even joked about the possibility of gagging him, and Yanagi was inclined to sympathize.


"I humbly speak by means of the heavenly ritual,

The solemn ritual words

Entrusted at the time the kingdom was entrusted

By the command of the Sovereign Ancestral Powers,

The Gods and Goddesses

Who divinely remain in the High Heavenly Plain ... "

Standing politely before the offering bench within the new shrine, the Twilight Prince began the series of chanted prayers that would entice the enshrined Power into its final, benevolent form. He did not really hear his own words, for his awareness had returned to that deeper level of truth where his own being was woven into and through the inner depths of the world around him.


As the Prince chanted he began to move in a long, slow dance that reshaped both his own Power and the Power around him that was now so much a part of his own as the shapes and positions of his limbs changed. As the dance continued, he became aware of a presence that watched, and then, very gradually, joined him in the dance. The persona of the Power Manifest at Shimonaga had awakened from the shocked slumber in which the Enemy had trapped it.


For those watching from a distance by mage-sight, the Prince's ritual possessed certain eeriness. For a long while, the Prince's Power gradually increased, bringing with it all of the force of Life magic in action -- the injured men and horses in the camp
below the shrine began to recover with noticeable speed, while healthy warriors noticed other effects. At the same time, the flow of Fire Power that surrounded the shrine and the hot springs became clearer and more sharply defined. Finally, after a long, gradual increase in the brightness of both Powers, it seemed to the watchers that there were two Manifestations within the sacred compound: a Life Mage and a Fire Mage, though they knew that the Prince had entered the sanctuary alone, and none had followed after him.


The Twilight Prince continued his dance in a state of increasing ecstasy, delirious with Power and his own movements, partnered by a being of supernal grace and unbearable beauty who matched him perfectly, move for move, in a unity of understanding that needed no words. The Heart of Shimonaga seemed to be of neither sex, or each, or both, with eyes that blazed with joy and love. They continued for the pure joy of the dance and each other, moving together to music that was Power, not mundane sound, long after their dance had passed beyond any merely useful purpose for the shrine. Their auras, which had dimmed a bit as Shimonaga fully Manifested, continued to grow stronger and brighter, and the damage the demons had done to the deep structures of the world around them began to be unmade in a rippling wave that spread slowly outward from the shrine.


At last the dance came, not to an end, but to a stopping place. The Twilight Prince stood once more facing the small shrine that represented the inner sanctuary and the Heart of Shimonaga stood facing him in front of it. A heartbeat of time passed. Then Shimonaga knelt with a sudden movement of such grace that the Prince caught his breath. The Power placed his? her? their? hands on the ground and bowed in the most deeply respectful of the salutes given by vassal to overlord, then stood with another achingly graceful movement. Another heartbeat of time passed, and the Heart of Shimonaga, without moving a muscle, dissolved away from common sight into the 'body' in the inner sanctuary.


With the dance ended, the Prince was suddenly overwhelmingly aware, both of his own body's weariness and of its response to the enormous flood of Life magic that filled him. He managed to walk out of the shrine compound and across the bridge without stumbling -- it would have broken his heart to spoil the perfection of what he had just experienced. He went no farther than the curtained enclosure in which he had performed his earlier meditations, where he collapsed on the mats that had formed his seat.


Aoshiba and Motoharu were waiting a short distance away out of obedience to the Prince's instructions, camped at the same level on the hill beside another small stream. The distance between the two streams was enough that they could cook whatever they wanted for their meals without worrying about ritual prohibitions. The side effects of the flow of the Twilight Prince's Life magic were also less overwhelming than they would have been if the men had camped closer to the sanctuary. They waited worriedly while an hour passed with no sign from the Prince other than a slow, steady increase in the effects that his Power were having on the surrounding area.


"If things get much worse, the rocks will be humping each other," Motoharu commented. "Do you suppose the Most Noble Eminence knows what he's doing to us?"

"No," Aoshiba replied cheerfully. "Our Eminence is the reservoir and distribution channel for the Power, while we're merely being splashed a bit. I doubt he has leisure to concern himself with the splashing."


"With all due respect, I think the Most Noble Eminence needs his sluice-gates repaired."

Aoshiba lifted his head up from where he lay flat on the ground and looked at the younger man. "If you're that uncomfortable, there are ways to find comfort." He smiled at the younger man's expression.

"I've tried!" Motoharu looked away. "It ... uh ... didn't do any good, made things worse, in fact."

"Mmm. Life magic tends to be fussy about people having partners ... doesn't much care what kind of partner though. We could 'comfort' each other ... "


"Stuck out on the side of this hill? With half the army in the valley?" Aoshiba smiled more broadly at Motoharu's intense blush. "Thank you, HorseMaster, but I don't think I'm quite that desperate. Yet."

"Then for the Powers' sake, shut up, will you? Talking about it makes it worse." Aoshiba sighed, lay back down, and went back to watching the (amazingly pornographic) patterns of the clouds. He could see that living in the same estate as the Twilight Prince was likely to have its interesting aspects, and he hoped the Prince would have the sense to take a consort or concubine quickly, for the sake of his own health and the sanity of everyone around him.

Aoshiba had almost forced himself to sleep when the young Shirokura samurai came over and knelt beside him. He opened his eyes, and saw that the young man was pale and trembling, and sweating badly despite the icy edge on the wind. Powers, that was a bad sign. Motoharu must derive his mage-sight from Life magic: unlike Aoshiba, who used Earth Power, and even had a little mage-training, the young man had no defense against the strength of the Prince's Manifestation.

Aoshiba sighed. There were ways to use the Earth Power to defend others as well as himself, but he wasn't that well trained. This would have to be done the old-fashioned way. He just hoped the young man would not feel too betrayed by the situation.

The HorseMaster sat up and propped himself against a saddle, then pulled Motoharu down to sit beside him. The samurai was tense as an over-strained bowstring, ready to snap, but Aoshiba was relieved to see that his grasp on the young man's arm was enough to ease his breathing. Definitely a petty Life Mage.


"Motoharu, could you please open your clothing?" Aoshiba asked gently after letting the younger man rest for a few moments. Motoharu made a jerky attempt to change position, but Aoshiba stopped him. "No. Easy. Just the front: I'm not going to bugger you." Motoharu sighed, and relaxed a little more, and Aoshiba chuckled. "After all, horsemen need good hands, you know."

Motoharu tried to laugh, but it turned into a moan as Aoshiba began to demonstrate the skill he had just boasted of. The young samurai began feeling almost human again after a while, but very embarrassed. Aoshiba's kindness made him feel guilty for wishing that he could be with his girl instead, and even guiltier for his own awkwardness at being with another man. He just hoped that the HorseMaster would not feel used.


They were brewing some tea to have with their lunch, when Captain Moeri rode up from the camp in the valley to see if they needed anything. He had been driving everyone to distraction again, talking about the Prince, until Senior Commander Yanagi finally sent him up the hill.


The horses ridden by the Prince and his two attendants were hobbled near where the two samurai were camped. All of those horses were mares, for obvious reasons, but it quickly became apparent that Moeri's was not: as they approached the camp, the young Captain's horse decided it had much better things to do than let him ride it. He dismounted hastily from the frantic animal, and managed to get the saddle off it before it plunged away. He stood for a moment looking after the horse and shaking his head.


"I'm afraid you've lost the use of your horse for awhile, Captain," Aoshiba commented.

"Less time than he hopes, HorseMaster," Moeri replied cheerfully. "Dust is a gelding." He shook his head again and turned toward the samurai. "Commander Yanagi sent me up here to see if you need anything and find out why you are staying so far from the Eminence. But I think my question has been answered."


The three cavalrymen sat for a while, drinking tea and discussing the general idiocy of horses. Captain Moeri's comments were disjointed, and he kept looking anxiously toward the enclosure where the Prince was sequestered. "I really think someone should see whether the Eminence requires any assistance," he said finally.


Aoshiba looked at him thoughtfully, then asked, "Captain, how old are you?"


"Seventeen," Moeri answered promptly, "Why?" Most of his attention was still on the curtain-fenced sanctuaries such a short distance to their north.

"You look younger," Aoshiba said. Judging just by looks, ignoring voice and mannerisms, the HorseMaster would have guessed thirteen. He asked worriedly, "Captain, are you aware of the kind of assistance the Most Noble Eminence may require of you?"


Moeri looked toward the frustrated horses and looked back.


"Have you ever been with anyone before?" Aoshiba kept his tone quiet and matter of fact, hiding his concern.

Moeri blushed and looked away with a jerky movement that might have been meant as a head shake.

"I'm not sure this is a very good idea ... " Motoharu said worriedly.


Moeri exclaimed heatedly, "Please! You must let me go to him! The Most Noble Eminence could be ill, or ... or ... anything!" He paused for a moment breathing heavily, then said in calmer tones, "Besides, gentlemen, I outrank both of you, and I ... WANT ... TO SEE ... THE ... MOST ... NOBLE ... EMINENCE!"


Aoshiba sighed. "The boy has a point," he said to Motoharu. Moeri glared at the use of the word 'boy', but Aoshiba continued calmly, "Captain, you can't go near the Eminence dressed as you are: that's all hallowed ground over there, and you have blood soaked into the seams and lacings of your clothing and equipment. You strip and do a quick purification ritual in the stream, while I find you something to wear that isn't ritually impure." Aoshiba deliberately pointed to a pool in the stream where the water was edged with ice and the banks were covered with snowdrifts, hoping that Captain Moeri would be deterred by the icy prospect.


"Oh. Of course." Captain Moeri calmly began to remove his armor. Aoshiba watched for a moment, then turned to root through the saddlebags. By the time Moeri had completed the usual five full immersions, Aoshiba had a clean, dry kimono waiting, as well as a cloth to help dry the Captains hair and a pair of dry sandals.


As Aoshiba and Motoharu watched the young Captain walk toward the Prince's enclosure, Motoharu said quietly, "I don't believe it! He wasn't even shivering when he came out of the water!"


"Well, he IS a berserker," Aoshiba replied. "That takes a certain amount of mage talent. And the Most Noble Eminence is certainly spreading around plenty of Power."

"If the young Captain is a mage, Our Eminence might find more than one reason to favor him," Motoharu commented. "Though I'm still not sure this is a good idea."

Aoshiba looked at him for a moment. "You were in desperate shape a little while ago," he pointed out. "But your desire did not drive you to seek our Lord's company."

"Of course not!" Motoharu was shocked at the thought of such presumption.


"Captain Moeri's did," the HorseMaster said simply. "Anyway, it's been clear since the morning we left Nakayama that the Most Noble Eminence was interested in the beautiful Captain. I doubt the Eminence will object to Moeri's presence." He paused. "I found a flask of sake while I was looking through my saddlebags. Care to split it?"


"All right ... but --" Motoharu grinned. "Aoshiba, isn't it more usual to get people drunk before you seduce them, rather than after?"


The HorseMaster aimed a playful swipe at the younger samurai, relieved that Motoharu was willing to joke about their situation.

The Prince had been sitting quietly in his enclosure wondering what to do about all the Power he was holding. Winter in the mountains was not a comfortable environment for Life Mages: there was too little in his surroundings that could easily absorb the Life Power he would release. The damage done by the demons' influence to the landscape around him also complicated matters, though he was agreeably surprised by how much of that damage had been healed by his awakening of the Heart of Shimonaga. Unfortunately, his active role in the battle and the overflowing exaltation that had accompanied the awakening had filled him with far more Power than he could ever remember carrying before, and if he was to release that Power safely he needed some other source of Life as ballast, to help control the Power's flow.


It was possible to release Power using the other elements of course, but the Prince had done so recently enough that he had no desire to repeat the experience. Using the other elements than your own to release Power was like emptying your stomach by sticking a finger down your throat: it got the job done, but the effects were sudden, drastic, all or nothing, and not good for the health if done regularly and repeatedly. Not to mention extremely uncomfortable, as he had learned that time in the Infirmary garden. In any case, he was not at all certain that he could survive the drop to complete emptiness from his present Power levels: there were limits to what human flesh could survive, even for a Manifest Power.

He could send for a horse, but the stallion Kagetsuchi, who was used to working in conditions of heavy Power flow, was back in the city. Ordinary horses, even his wonderful blue-gray mares, tended to panic when the Power flowed through them unless they were distracted by something like a battle. With the Power levels that the Prince would be releasing, a horse that panicked would probably wind up dead.


Which left the option of summoning one of the samurai to his assistance, at once the simply practical choice and an unbearably humiliating and shameful one. A part of the Twilight Prince agreed with Kagemitsu's argument that releasing Power was not sex, even for Life Mages, but he also recognized that the effect of the Power flow on his own flesh and that of the man who assisted him would almost certainly drive them to seek the comfort of each other's embrace.

The voices of his late wife and her cronies echoed in the Twilight Prince's memory: "Life Mages have no place among decent folk", "Life Mages are good for nothing but entertainment -- either as whores or concubines", "After all, what use are Life Mages but for sex and the healing of commoners?" they had mocked, while using the urgings of his Power as excuse for their own excesses and cruelty. The Prince had been thoroughly revolted by the predatory activities of his wife's friends when dealing with the lower classes. He had been unable to fully reject the blame they assigned him, although he knew that as mages they could have shielded against his aura easily enough.


Here and now, the Prince knew that any samurai that answered his summons would not dare to refuse him any service he demanded, despite any revulsion that samurai might feel at those demands ... just as Captain Higuchi had obeyed him so unquestioningly when he sent him to his death. Free of the intense concentration needed for the reconsecration and safe from prying eyes, the Twilight Prince was now able to truly mourn for Higuchi and Ashiya and all the others whose deaths or sufferings had benefited him, but his grief and guilt made it all the more difficult to consider summoning one of the surviving samurai. The Twilight Prince sat weeping quietly in his grief and indecision. His awareness of the warmth and love of Shimonaga's regard, enfolding him from the Power's dwelling beyond the stream, somehow made him feel more lonely, not less.


Captain Moeri walked to the torii that framed the entrance to Shimonaga shrine, knelt, and bowed respectfully toward the newly inhabited sanctuary, praying silently for the enshrined Power's favor and protection. Then he rinsed his hands and mouth in the stream, as he would have rinsed them at the font before approaching the sanctuary, and went to kneel humbly at the entrance of the curtained enclosure that guarded the Twilight Prince from unworthy eyes. "Most Noble Eminence?" the young captain called hesitantly, "Is there any service the Most Noble and Revered Eminence would graciously condescend to accept from this most wretched and unworthy of servants?"


The Twilight Prince sat in silence: enormously relieved to have the solution to his dilemma present itself; guiltily certain he should not take advantage of the offered solution; still repelled by the idea of taking advantage of the beautiful young warrior's devotion. Moeri seemed so very young, despite his courage and strength and skill on the battlefield.

"Is there any service the Most Noble and Revered Eminence would graciously condescend to accept from this most wretched and unworthy of servants?" the young warrior repeated in a wistful tone.

The Twilight Prince sighed softly and said, "Come here, Captain."

Moeri entered the enclosure and knelt in the bow of deepest respect, touching the ground with his hands and forehead. The peasant-born warrior did not presume to gaze upon the Manifest Power before him, and even less to use mage-sight, but at this range the intensity of the Prince's aura was so great that a sense of it was forced upon him like the sun through closed eyelids. He perceived the Twilight Prince in that moment as a fount of pure Power overflowing with sorrow and compassion and loneliness, and resonating throughout with a desire so deep and intense it went beyond mere lust to embody the basic urge for growth and continuation that is the core of Life. Suddenly certain that he had made a terrible mistake by coming here, Moeri asked again, very softly, "If the Most Resplendent and Noble Eminence can find some use for this most abjectly unworthy servant?"


The young man could hardly believe he had heard correctly when the voice of the Manifest Power said again "Come here, Captain." Moeri moved toward the Prince, not daring to stand in that Presence while the Twilight Prince himself remained seated, and bowed
his forehead to the Prince's hands in a gesture he had once seen Noble Lord Miyabe use. The Prince warned gently, "Try not to resist the Power flow ... "


"As the Most Noble Eminence commands," Moeri acknowledged, and did his best to relax as he awaited what would come.

The Twilight Prince released the Power he was carrying with a relief like that which comes from breathing again after holding your breath far too long. He was agreeably surprised by how much Power flow Moeri was able to tolerate with no evidence of distress in his aura: it made his own task of controlling the flow much easier than might otherwise have been the case. At last he reached a comfortable Power level and stopped the flow. The Prince was still carrying much more Power than had been his custom in the past, but the thought of emptying himself any further made him uncomfortable. He assured himself that it would be unwise to drain himself further so far from the safety of the city.


Moeri had abandoned himself to the torrent of Power that poured through him even more forcefully than the wave of the Prince's Power that had engulfed him during the battle. The tide of Power that ripped through him was not comfortable, but not quite painful either: like standing under a strong mountain waterfall. He could feel it purifying and revitalizing him, scouring away his flaws. When the stream ended and the force that had upheld him was removed, he fell briefly into unconsciousness.


The young Captain awakened to find himself sitting across the Most Noble Eminence's lap with his head resting against the tall Prince's chest and one of the Twilight Prince's strong arms curled around his shoulders, supporting him. The tiny warrior felt vibrantly alive, every part of his being filled with a sense of health and vigor that was spiced by the delicious ache of lust that stiffened him. He moved slightly and caught his breath as evidence of the Prince's desire rubbed thrillingly against his hip through both their clothes.


The Twilight Prince sighed gently. "Are you all right, Moeri?" he asked worriedly.


"Oh, yes, Most Resplendent Eminence," the young warrior replied fervently. He did not quite dare to snuggle closer, so sat quietly, breathing the pine and cinnamon that perfumed the Imperial mage's hair and clothes.


The weight of the body he supported felt exquisitely warm and solid to the Prince: a link to the material reality that had begun to seem rather ethereal and distant while he was so thoroughly absorbed in the manifestations of Power. That warmth and solidity, added to the young warrior's beauty and other virtues made the Twilight Prince desperately unwilling to send Moeri away, though he was forlornly certain that the marvelous young warrior's obvious willingness to accept his embrace was an artifact of dutiful submission and Life magic. He shifted Moeri's weight slightly and one of the young warrior's hands touched him in a furtive caress that would have been even more indiscreet if the Prince had been wearing fewer layers of robes.


"Shh. Moeri, wait a moment," the Twilight Prince said gently. "I know it's hard, but try to think clearly. Is this something that will cause trouble for your family or make them unhappy? Will you look back on it tomorrow with joy or sorrow?"


"Oh, joy, Most Noble Eminence ... only joy," Moeri replied hastily, terrified that even now the Prince might find him unworthy and send him away.


The Twilight Prince felt an odd sort of nudge from Shimonaga's Power and discovered that the young warrior's sash had somehow come completely untied. He laughed softly and said, "Very well then ... " not sure if he was answering Moeri or Shimonaga or both.

Though somewhat impeded by his reluctance to leave the Prince's lap, Moeri readily pulled open and discarded his kimono. It proved to be his only garment, somewhat to the Prince's surprise: Nobles generally wore at least two layers of clothing even in high summer.


"I'm very glad you look older naked than you do dressed," the Prince commented emphatically, and the young warrior blushed and smiled with just a touch of smugness. Moeri was solidly built, despite his small size, with a swordsman's muscles in his arms and upper body, and a horseman's strong legs, and no one, seeing him stripped, could have cause for doubt that he was a man, not a boy.


The Twilight Prince did not undress so much as bring Moeri inside the draperies of his own robes. He was acutely self- conscious about his own appearance next to Moeri's beauty, and grateful to have the excuse of the cold weather to avoid exposing his skinny, scarred form in the bright sunlight.


"Do you have any preferences in this?" the Prince asked courteously, as he held the smaller man close.


Moeri blushed again. "I don't know ... I've never done this before."


"Are you trying to convince me that all the men and women you know are blind fools?"

The Prince's tone was teasing, but his hands were wandering distractingly, and it took Moeri a moment to find the breath to answer. "I've had invitations ... some offers from people of high rank that went beyond being invitations. I just never wanted anyone before now." He cuddled closer to the touch of the Prince's hands and aura and found the courage for another furtive caress.

"Ahhh," the Prince sighed. "Well, there are plenty of things we can try. But please, promise you'll tell me if you find you dislike something. Don't think that you have to accept pain or unpleasantness." Moeri's only answer was to moan with desire and press himself closer.


Later, as they lay resting quietly in each other's arms, Moeri began softly, "Most Noble Eminence?"

"My name is Inabikari," the Prince interrupted firmly. "Please don't call me 'Eminence' when we're making love."

"As my Beloved Lord commands," Moeri replied demurely, and the Prince snorted in feigned disgust and attacked one of the young warrior's ticklish spots. The gentle tussle soon progressed to other matters, and they eventually fell asleep on the mats, cradled in each others' arms.



Copyright 1991 Elyse M. Grasso