13 Festivals and Families

Sabishisa ni

Yado wo tachi idete


Izuko mo onaji

Aki no yuugure

(Ryosen Hoshi)


The Festival of First Fruits arrived, when a share of the year's harvests were offered to the Divine Powers, as well as to the Highborn in the form of taxes. The festival day was even more important than usual because this year it almost coincided with the winter solstice.


The Twilight Prince received invitations from several households to visit them after the day's rituals had concluded. He did not send out any invitations of his own for the festival because the reception areas of his house had not yet been refurbished, but he replied to each invitation with an announcement of a formal entertainment to be held on his estate at New Year's, in celebration of the holiday and of the rebirth of the Clan of Kawachi.

Even without entertaining at his estate, the Prince expected to be immensely busy on the day of the Festival, since both of the city's major Twilight shrines and all three of the major shrines to the Bright Powers had invited him to officiate at the rituals in their sanctuaries. The shrines' own priests and priestesses were perfectly competent to perform the rites, of course, but each shrine was anxious for the prestige of having an Imperial Prince lead their prayers, and even more anxious that none of the other establishments should be honored if they were not.

In the end the Prince had agreed to officiate at all of the shrines. To manage this he rose well before dawn to perform the rituals appropriate to his own household shrine, then rode through the dark city to the great shrine of Atsuta, well outside the city walls, the home of the Divine sword that was part of the Imperial Regalia.

The Chancellor's office had been responsible for many arrangements for the rituals, such as making sure that all the correct offerings were available despite the rationing that was in effect. Tajima went out to Atsuta at dawn to witness the Prince's first public ceremony, and was impressed by the number of people who had done likewise: the roads and fields around the shrine were packed with people. Many of them looked half starved, and Tajima was reminded that the largest of the refugee camps was not far away.

Hear me, all of you assembled priests

of Bright and Twilight Powers. Thus I speak.

I humbly speak before the Sovereign Powers

Who hold sway as Heavenly Shrines and Earthly Shrines

By the command of the Sovereign Ancestral

Gods and Goddesses

Who Divinely remain in the High Plains of Heaven:

As might be expected in one trained from infancy to the ritual standards of the Imperial capital, the Twilight Prince used the oldest and most formal of the chant patterns associated with the ritual. And although his ordinary speaking voice was quiet and hesitant, in fulfilling his role as priest he spoke with authority and the full depth and richness of his voice became apparent. He also had the skill, needed for success in any public speaking, of projecting his voice to the back of a crowd without seeming to shout: Chancellor Tajima could hear the Prince clearly even though he himself was well back from the offering tables. Tajima was moved by the dignity and sincerity, even intimacy, that the Twilight Prince brought to the speeches to the Powers: despite the formality of the chanted prayers, the Most Noble Eminence was very clearly a young man bringing gifts to some elder and much-loved relatives.


The Chancellor was even more moved when the Prince paused after mounting his horse and spoke to the crowd as well, expressing his compassion for the land and its people in that marvelous voice and urging them toward virtue and endurance. And hope: the Prince painted a verbal picture of the beauties of a peaceful and prosperous realm, healed of its hurts through the work of all its people, that brought a lump to Tajima's throat.

On impulse, the Chancellor decided to follow the Twilight Prince to the other major shrines, telling himself that there might be unexpected problems for him to deal with if the crowds were this bad everywhere.

Whereas on the day of his Power

in the eleventh month of this year

The Sovereign Grandchild

is to partake of the banquet of the first fruits

As his heavenly food, his eternal food,

his everlasting food,

At each shrine the crowds had gathered. At each shrine, despite the repetition of the rituals, the Twilight Prince showed the same sincerity and authority in his prayers. And at each shrine, the Prince spoke to the crowds afterward. The official prayers he addressed to the Powers at the various shrines were all the same, but the words he addressed to the crowds were different: suited to the makeup of the populace in the different parts of the city.


Because you Sovereign Powers, concurring together,

Deign to bless him as eternal and unmoving

And to prosper him as an abundant reign,

He will partake tranquilly and peacefully

for a thousand autumns,

for five hundred autumns,

And will feast with a ruddy countenance

at the abundant banquet.

At Atsuta, among the refugees, the Prince had spoken of the labor and rewards of rebuilding and renewal. At the eastern shrine of the Twilight Powers, where Healers were trained, he spoke of the sorrows of the plague and war and the joy of healing in words that might have seemed facile if they had not been the heartfelt expression of one who was a Healer himself. At the shrine to the Sea Powers, in a district of craftsmen, merchants, and fishermen, the Prince spoke of the resumption of trade and communication with the world outside and a renewal of old treaties, and it seemed to Tajima that the Prince's odd earring glinted strangely in the midmorning sun. And at the city's western Twilight shrine, where farmers had gathered from the surrounding countryside, the Imperial Life Mage spoke of the rebirth of the land's fertility. But always the Twilight Prince spoke of hope for the future, and each of his speeches moved Tajima almost to tears.

The noble offerings of the Sovereign Grandchild

are furnished:

The colored cloth, radiant cloth,

plain cloth and coarse cloth;

And, as the morning sun rises in effulgent glory,

I fulfill your praises.

Hear me, all of you. Thus I speak.

They arrived at the final shrine, in the heart of the Samurai district near the castle, shortly before noon. Here, after the official rituals were completed, the Twilight Prince spoke of honor, and courage, of the contradictory pain of giving the order that sent a friend to his death but won a battle, and the special sorrow of knowing that friends or kin have not only died, but died violently and in pain. Again, as with the Healers, the Prince's words were given power by his own experiences: he spoke not as one who sympathizes, but as one who knows. And his words of hope for the future carried similar power. When the Prince had finished speaking, the Chancellor found himself weeping and saw tears on the cheeks of many others in the audience as well.

The Warlord, busy preparing to play host to the Twilight Prince once he completed his priestly duties, made only a token appearance at the shrine near the castle. Isanari arrived late, and left immediately when the official prayers were over, so that he missed the Prince's extemporaneous remarks. Tajima thought it a pity: perhaps if the Warlord had heard the speech and seen the people's reaction to it, he would have found better uses for the Imperial priest than to repeatedly send him into dangerous territory.


By the time he reached the Warlord's reception, shortly after noon, the Prince was hoarse from chanting and very hungry and thirsty. He had had nothing to eat or drink since midnight except a few token bites of food and sips of sake that were part of the
First Fruits ritual. He was also suffering from the beginnings of a sick headache. Traveling all around the crowded, noisy city in a single morning was more movement than he could handle comfortably yet, though the Warlord had exempted him from the rules that limited horseback riding in the streets within the city. Reading the auras of the anxious crowds and their connections to the land, in order to find something useful to say to them, had been a drain as well, but those auras had been so full of hope and fear and uncertainty that he could not bear to pass by in silence.


It was such a relief to be able to sit quietly and nibble at the tea and sweets the Warlord supplied, that the Prince only made a polite token argument against sitting in the place of honor. He did insist that Warlord Isanari share the dais with him, however. The Twilight Prince exchanged polite greetings with the other Domain Lords and listened to the conversations around him.


There were two main topics of discussion. Lords whose lands were entirely occupied by the Enemy discussed the day's planned festivities, which were to include dramatic and musical performances during the afternoon and fireworks in the evening. Lords with lands that were accessible and productive discussed the taxes that were now due from their provinces -- half payable to the Domain Lords, half to the Imperial court, with much of the latter portion ultimately destined for shrines and Noble mages and other representatives of the Powers. Members of both groups occasionally mentioned the progress of the war, and a few also complimented the Twilight Prince on the speeches he had made at various shrines.


In response to a polite question from Lord Tominari, who apparently favored the eastern Twilight shrine of the Healers over the shrine in the Samurai district, the Twilight Prince explained that after traveling all over the city in the morning he planned to stay in his own neighborhood during the later part of the day. "From here," he said, "I plan to go home to change these robes for something a bit less formal. Then I intend to stop at Lord Ninori's party, but I probably won't stay long: I'm in the mood for quiet, not noise, and the presence of a High Priest of the Twilight Powers and a Powerful Life Mage tends to make the young people too self-conscious to really enjoy themselves properly ... After Ninori's, I will make an appearance at Chancellor Tajima's reception, but again not to stay very long. After all, for me this day began in the middle of the night."


Minister of Weights and Measures Yoshiatsu approached, and the Twilight Prince nodded to him politely. The Minister began to speak, urgently and very loudly, insisting that Prince should attend to some task that he never quite managed to name openly. The Prince's headache, which had begun to recede, returned in full force, and he was having more trouble than usual understanding the differences between Yoshiatsu's dialect and that of the capital, so the Minister's evasiveness was most unhelpful.


The Prince eventually realized that Yoshiatsu was complaining that his tax assessments were unfair, and managed to cut him off in mid-tirade, saying firmly, "Minister Ninori is honest and his staff are very clever. I am sure that if there has been some miscalculation they will put things right." The Prince turned away to speak to the Warlord, wondering guiltily whether he really should do something more about the Minister's problem. He was relieved to see that Isanari was glaring at Minister Yoshiatsu and not at him.


The Twilight Prince calmly refused to acknowledge the Minister's presence for the remainder of the gathering, which left the Minister seething in helpless frustration. One of the few advantages of really formal receptions, in the Prince's opinion, was that protocol forbade talking to someone higher in rank without an invitation.


The Prince's party clothes were even less suited for horseback riding, if possible, than his priest's robes had been. He had intended to simply walk out the back gate of his own estate and across the avenue to the front gate of the Ninori estate, but his vassals and Kagemitsu managed to convince him that such informality would be inappropriate, possibly even insulting to his hosts. The Nobles left the Garden Estate by the front gate, escorted by the Prince's vassals and bodyguards and riding properly in the ornate palanquins prescribed for their ranks (in the more formal Imperial Capital they would have used ox-drawn carriages) and traveled around the outside of the estate to reach their destination. At least Minister Ninori and his family seemed pleased to have their guests arrive in such magnificent vehicles.


Ninori's party was as noisy as the Twilight Prince had expected, and he was besieged by giggling young ladies peeking at him over their fans. Kagemitsu, who could usually be relied on to divert the attention of many of them, was no help at all. The Prince's handsome companion had come to the party prepared to tomcat in his usual elegant style, until he noticed that Fujikawa Kakemono was also in attendance. The courtier was discreet about courting the girl when they were both under the Prince's roof, in the house that had once belonged to her family and later served as the scene of Kanehide's vulgarities, but he was taking full advantage of this party on neutral ground to spend all his time giving her the compliments and courtesies he thought she deserved.


The Prince was still not feeling well: light and noise were becoming steadily more uncomfortable and nausea had completely killed his appetite. He hoped to escape after a conversation with Finance Minister Ninori, as short as politeness would allow, leaving Kagemitsu to represent their household at the party. He was not pleased to be accosted by Minister Yoshiatsu, once more complaining obliquely, and loudly, about taxes. He kept emphasizing the Prince's authority and generosity without ever quite saying anything specific about what it was that he wanted him to do. All without any mention, even in passing, of his obligations to the Throne, the realm, or the war, which was a little surprising. Most people complaining about high taxes started out by proclaiming their own patriotism.


The Twilight Prince began to wonder whether he was being set up for an accusation of high treason by this invitation to interfere with tax collection. Taxation was the one area in which the Heavenborn Monarch had, quite properly, not granted him any delegated authority. Surely the Minister must know that in the past six hundred years, the only occasions when the Heavenborn Monarchs had used their own Power to execute criminals had been in cases of Warlords or Highborn Nobles who tried to interfere with the Throne's prerogatives regarding taxation.


When Minister Yoshiatsu's painfully loud voice finally stopped. The Prince turned back to Finance Minister Ninori and said carefully, "As Lord of the Domain of Kawachi, I have no complaints about the assessments for taxes that I have received. And given the state of the realm, I have no complaints about the Imperial funds that I have received in my capacities as First Rank Noble, as shrine administrator, and as administrator of the Imperial clan's holdings ... " Lord Yoshiatsu's jaw dropped and young Lord Toshikawa, sitting nearby, gasped. Minister Ninori did not even blink, being well aware of the amount of the nation's wealth that the Prince controlled. The Prince continued just as carefully, "Since Lord Yoshiatsu seems to anticipate such difficulty in the payment of his province's taxes, I would like to suggest, and it is only a suggestion, that your office might find it possible to do a thorough audit of his estates and province, to assist Minister in performing his duties as provincial administrator by putting his financial affairs in better order."


Ninori bowed. "The suggestion of the Most Noble Eminence will be given due consideration," he said, in a tone that promised the most thorough audit possible.

When Yoshiatsu gulped audibly and turned pale, the Prince eyed him thoughtfully. "Minister Ninori ... "

"Most Noble Eminence?"


"Inform Warlord Isanari, on my authority as the representative of the Most Noble and Revered Heavenborn Monarch, that the administrative departments are to be audited thoroughly - - the past five years should be sufficient -- and any evidence of skimming or bribe-taking is to be investigated, and punished harshly if proven. I see no reason the Ministry of Weights and Measures should not be first."

"As the Most Noble Eminence commands." As Yoshiatsu, looking ill, finally went away, Minister Ninori turned the conversation to topics more suitable to a party.


The Prince almost welcomed the short palanquin journey down the block from Ninori's gate to Tajima's: his headache had reached the point where light was beginning to be painful, and at least the inside of the palanquin was dark. He was met at the gate by
both Lord Tajima and the Chancellor's mother, who knelt on the bare ground and bowed formally as he unfolded himself and stepped into his shoes. Dowager Lady Tajima seemed startled but gratified when the Prince insisted on 'finally' being introduced to the Chancellor's grandchildren, and also relieved that none of the three children had managed to tear or stain their good clothes before the Eminence's arrival.


Chancellor Tajima was worried as he conducted the Twilight Prince into the reception hall and led him toward the seat of honor. His guest did not look well: the Prince was even paler than usual and sweating slightly despite the chill of the air. Tajima had also noticed that the Prince had leaned heavily on HorseMaster Aoshiba's arm for a moment after stepping out of the palanquin.


The Chancellor hoped that nothing would happen to distress the Prince, or tire him unduly. At least he knew that he could count on Kikuchiyo, the geisha he had hired along with her subordinate entertainers and attendant musicians, to keep the entertainment quiet and tasteful. Magistrate Suewari had also brought along his friend 'Kitsunebi', a male entertainer famous as a writer and performer of Noh plays -- perhaps the poet might be persuaded to sing or recite something for such a distinguished audience.


As they walked the length of the lower hall, the Twilight Prince paused to greet Senior Commander Tahata with surprised pleasure. Tajima smiled to himself: that invitation, backed with a gift of formal clothing suitable for a Senior Commander, had certainly turned out well. Tahata had arrived with a return gift of his marvelous sake, then cheerfully settled down to talk shop with Senior Commander Uefusa and some other officers. On the whole, the ex-peasant was fitting in very well ... he was much less annoying than some Samurai-born officers Tajima could name.


The Prince paused again as they reached the Magistrate and Kitsunebi, not far from the dais. He eyed the entertainer's brilliant clothing, with its trademark pattern of foxes and lanterns. "The actor Kitsunebi, isn't it?" he asked.


"The Most Noble and Revered Eminence unduly honors this unworthy wretch by his gracious notice. And by condescending to recognize this worthless mountebank, the Most Noble Eminence grants a blessing past hoping for," the entertainer answered, bowing gracefully.


Kitsunebi held his bow, which was very deep and correct, but somehow he still managed the feat of speaking to the Twilight Prince without ever committing the solecism of looking the Imperial Noble full in the face. Tajima had seen Noble Lord Kagemitsu manage the same graceful trick on a few formal occasions, and wondered whether the actor would be willing to teach it to him.


"Indeed," the Prince said, "I plan an entertainment on my estate at New Year's. Would you be willing to organize and perform in a program of Noh plays for it?"

The poet caught his breath, and bowed even deeper, and his patron Magistrate Suewari looked ecstatic. "This most unworthy of performers will endeavor to give satisfaction," he replied fervently. "Will the Most Noble Eminence condescend to lend the use of his most impressive voice to a suitably exalted character in one of the plays?"


"I fear you are too flattering in your judgement of my capabilities," the Prince replied, but he looked pleased. "I would be honored to take part."


"The Most Noble Eminence is graciousness incarnate," Kitsunebi murmured. After a graceful pause, he suggested hesitantly, "There is a new play about the Wizard of Kawachi and the Fox that might possibly be considered as part of the program ... "

Tajima winced. Now that they were no longer formally counted as vassals of Tajima, the Kawachi vassals had made it very clear just how much the province had resented the Wizard's loss of the Domain Lordship. The last thing he needed was one of Kitsunebi's brilliant plays stirring up old animosities. He was very relieved when the Twilight Prince smiled, but shook his head gently, saying "I think not."


"Such impudence!" exclaimed Minister Yoshiatsu, who was seated a short distance away. "The idea of a disreputable entertainer portraying one of the Most Noble Eminence's Honored Kinsmen!" Kitsunebi flushed, and Tajima was thoroughly annoyed: unlike Tahata, Yoshiatsu had not been on the list of invited guests.


The Prince glared at the Minister in irritation. "Well, actually," he pointed out, careful to address the actor rather than Yoshiatsu, "Most Noh plays are about people I'm related to one way or another. But I think a more distant ancestor would be more appropriate to a celebration of the restoration of Kawachi Domain."


"Of course," Kitsunebi agreed, honestly horrified, "In that context the play would seem quite heavy-handed and vulgar. The Most Noble Eminence is most humbly entreated to overlook the thoughtless indelicacy of the suggestion."

"No need," the Twilight Prince assured the poet cheerfully. "There will be other, more appropriate settings for your play. And I would appreciate the favor of a copy of the text, if one is available."

Kitsunebi's bow became as deep and as formal as possible. The entertainer said quietly, "The Most Noble Eminence's gracious attention surpasses anything this most unworthy wretch might aspire to merit," and the Imperial Prince returned a very slight bow and turned to continue toward his seat in the place of honor.

Minister of Weights and Measures Yoshiatsu moved to block the Twilight Prince's path. The Prince glared at the man with obvious annoyance, faced with a choice of acknowledging the man, or stepping on him. Chancellor Tajima was afflicted by a strong desire to kick the kneeling, bowing fool in the teeth. He suspected that the Most Noble Eminence was assailed by a similar temptation, but the Eminence only said in a very cold, quiet voice, "Yes, Minister?"


"If the Most Noble Eminence will graciously permit this humble servant to introduce his undistinguished son?" Yoshiatsu indicated a childish-looking youth who sat stiffly nearby: quite pretty by ordinary standards, though not in the same class as Moeri or Kagemitsu. The boy was ornately dressed in colors that seemed garish when compared to Kitsunebi's bright magnificence, and wore far too much makeup, even by Nobles' standards, which still failed to cover the bruises on his face. Tajima realized that the stiffness of the youth's posture was more likely due to fear and pain than to any natural awkwardness.

Yoshiatsu continued, speaking quickly and anxiously, "It is well known that the Most Noble Eminence's household is understaffed ... Kindly permit this wretched servant to offer his unworthy son to serve as a page in the Most Eminence's household. The Most Noble Eminence will find him a most faithful attendant, anxious to repay the Most Noble Eminence's generosity by obedient ... service ... and lusting to accept the Most Noble Eminence's ... commands."


The Prince stared coldly down at the kneeling Yoshiatsu. Being a giant occasionally had its uses. "Are you in debt, Minister?" he asked curiously.


Yoshiatsu, obviously taken aback by this unexpected tangent, stared up at him. "No ... No, Most Noble Eminence, of course not!" he protested a bit too vehemently.

"Oh? I had heard that the servile classes sometimes sell their children into prostitution due to penury, but I was not aware that they did so at other times ... " the Prince's voice had become distant, and even colder. Tajima remembered that tone and manner of speech from the council meeting where the Prince had collapsed so spectacularly. He hastily moved away from the Prince, knelt, and bowed.


The Prince gazed at the boy for a long moment, in that daunting way he had of 'looking' both out of his remaining eye and the side with the eyepatch. "What is your name, boy?" he asked finally.


"Kuromaru, Most Noble Eminence," the boy replied very nervously.


"Kuromaru ... " the Twilight Prince repeated, considering, "that's usually a boy's name, not a man's. Have you had your coming of age rites yet?"

"No, Most Noble Eminence," the boy's answer was almost a whisper, and he glanced furtively at his father.

The Prince also glanced at Yoshiatsu, very coldly, then said with gentle firmness, "Kuromaru, tell me the truth about these bruises. Did your father beat you?"


The boy looked back and forth between his father and the Prince, and Chancellor Tajima was reminded strongly of a small cornered animal. At last Kuromaru said in a very shaky voice, "Yes, Most Noble Eminence."

"Hmm," the Prince said noncommittally, "hold still while I heal them."

The Chancellor could see the bruises fading under the Prince's gentle touch. He did not understand why, when the healing was done, Kuromaru was breathing hard, and looked more terrified than ever.

The Prince smiled at the boy gently, and lightly touched the center of Kuromaru's forehead. "Don't be afraid, child, I prefer my lovers adult and willing." He looked around vaguely, pointedly ignoring Yoshiatsu. "Does anyone know whether this child is the heir to the Domain?"


Senior Commander Mikawa, Yoshiatsu's brother-in-law, volunteered that the heir, Masamichi, was presently Commander of the Yoshiatsu forces, and was in the city for the holiday. Mikawa seemed stunned by what was going on.


"Send for Commander Yoshiatsu. Now." Mikawa hurried out, clearly grateful for the excuse to be elsewhere, and the Twilight Prince finally went to his place on the dais and sat down.

As they all waited, the geisha Kikuchiyo, who was seated near the Chancellor, commented softly, "Entertainers may not be respectable people, but we're not stupid enough to offer a whore to a newlywed or one newly enamored, who is bound to take offense, even if only for form's sake."


"I wouldn't have thought anyone capable of speech would be so stupid as to offer a child -- an unwilling child -- to a Twilight priest," Tajima agreed, just as softly. "Since the Most Noble Eminence is a Manifest Power it probably counts as sacrilege, not just blasphemy against the Twilight Powers, and whatever other crimes may be involved ... I just wish that the fool had not chosen to destroy himself by insulting an Imperial Prince under my roof."


When Commander Yoshiatsu arrived, he was clearly shocked by the situation. It was equally clear that the boy Kuromaru was reassured by his brother's presence. Questioned by the Prince, the Commander explained that he and Kuromaru were half-brothers: the boy was Yoshiatsu's son by a concubine now dead, but he was much loved by his elder half-brother and stepmother. Yoshiatsu, it seemed, also had several other children in his household by various mothers. The youngest was six years old.


The Twilight Prince considered for a long moment, then addressed the Minister's eldest son as though he were the clan lord, "Very well, Yoshiatsu no Masamichi. Inform your clan elders that your father no longer holds authority. I don't care whether they decide to call it an outright deposition, or a regency for duration of his ... spiritual retreat, but the previous lord is to have no authority where he may harm the innocent, nor contact with his children or consorts, until the youngest child has passed the coming of age rites and is no longer vulnerable ... And as for you," the Prince concluded, turning to the ex-Minister, "Look to the state of your soul in the meantime, my lord. I assume you know the rules that the mountain monks call Lesser Austerity?"

Tajima reflected with some amusement that the Prince remained a priest first, and a warrior, politician, or whatever, a distant second. He was relieved that the Twilight Prince seemed disposed to mercy, and surprised that Yoshiatsu did not seem to share his relief.


"But, Most Noble Eminence," the Minister protested indignantly, "Such austerities are hazardous to the health! Surely a Life Mage understands the absurdity of expecting a real man to remain celibate!"


Chancellor Tajima wondered if the man had gone mad, to say such a thing, considering the much harsher austerities practiced by the Twilight Prince himself before rituals. The Prince had gone even paler, which the Chancellor would not have believed possible. Then he smiled in a way that made Tajima very glad that he was not the target of the Prince's thoughtful gaze.


"Since the ex-Minister considers celibacy so unhealthy, and has shown himself so eager to prostitute his own flesh and blood, I believe I will accommodate him ... " The Prince's eyes were very cold. "Aoshiba. I assume there are establishments in the licensed quarter that cater to lovers of men? Choose one with ... an intermediate price range ... and arrange for the ex- Minister to visit there tonight, and as often as he likes in the future ... as an entertainer. You can use my palanquin to make sure he arrives safely."


The HorseMaster bowed silent acknowledgment of the orders, and somehow managed to keep his face expressionless.


Kitsunebi was less discreet: his expression was full of gleeful malice. However, the poet managed not to laugh outright as he recommended helpfully, "Try the 'Black Willow', near the ronin barracks." The Prince gestured agreement, and Magistrate Suewari made a sound that did not really resemble a cough.


Yoshiatsu turned deathly pale and began to tremble, and Tajima did not blame him a bit: if the ex-Minister had not personally offended every single ronin in the realm, it had not been for lack of trying. The guards had to pick the condemned man up bodily to carry him out to the waiting palanquin. Several of Tajima's guests decided that this was a prudent time for them to leave as well, and followed.

The Twilight Prince swept into the study adjoining the reception room. Tajima signaled desperately to Commander Uefusa and the Magistrate to clear the other guests out, then hastily followed the Prince.


"Most Noble Eminence, I hope you do not think I knowingly ... " he began, then realized that the Prince had gone outside and was kneeling near the edge of the veranda. When he approached him, he discovered that the Prince was retching violently. Tajima quickly knelt and put his arms around the younger man, to keep the Prince from tumbling off the veranda and hold the Noble's long loose hair and sleeves out of danger of being soiled. Tajima was dismayed by how little of the Prince there seemed to be under the padded layers of the robes: it was jarring to find that the wealthiest man in the realm was little more than skin and bones. Not the most comforting omen, either.

As the retching subsided slightly and merged into convulsive, racking sobs, Tajima realized that he was on the Prince's blind side. "Most Noble Eminence, I'm Tajima," he said gently. "Should some of the Most Noble Eminence's own attendants be sent for?"


The Prince shook his head violently.


"As the Most Noble Eminence pleases," Tajima agreed. He eased away from the edge of the veranda, but the Prince clutched desperately at his sleeve and gasped, "Stay."


"The Most Noble Eminence will not be left alone," Tajima assured him gently, "but please come in where there is less wind and more privacy."


Tajima was very relieved when the Twilight Prince obediently moved with him into the privacy of the study. The wind that afternoon had turned raw and biting, and he suspected from the Prince's thinness and emotional outburst that his guest lacked any great reserves of strength. The Chancellor was reminded painfully of his own younger son, who had died slowly of a wasting disease of the blood, and become very weak and fretful as the end approached. Tajima gently held the frail young Prince close, smoothing and untangling the long loose hair, and waited patiently for his weeping to stop.


When the weeping eased a little, Tajima tried gently to pull away from the Prince, who clutched at him again. "Easy, Most Noble Eminence," the Chancellor soothed, "I won't leave you alone. I just want to send a servant for something to drink." The Twilight Prince nodded shakily and released his hold on Tajima's robes. The Chancellor went to the sliding door that separated the study from the outer reception room, and ordered one of the waiting attendants to bring sake, and ricecakes and sweets as well: a man as thin as the Prince could not afford to lose a meal off the edge of someone's veranda. As an afterthought he also sent for a washbasin and cloth.

By the time the sake and snack-tray and washbasin arrived, the Prince's weeping had finally stopped. He sat obediently still while Tajima gently washed the tears and smeared makeup off his face, then accepted a cup of the warm sake and sipped at it listlessly. After a few minutes, the Twilight Prince took a deep breath and sat up straighter. He settled his robes more neatly and pushed at his hair irritably, trying to make it stay back out of the way.


"Has the Most Noble Eminence considered tying his hair back?" asked Tajima. "Or is there some ritual purpose in leaving it loose?"


The Prince looked up and met the Chancellor's gaze. He almost smiled. "Only during actual Twilight rituals. When I was small I used to wear it tied back, but my wife commanded me to leave it loose. After her death I never thought to change my habits. Do you have something I can use to tie it with?"


Tajima summoned a servant and sent a message to his mother in the family quarters, urgently requesting her to provide something suitable for the Prince to use as a hair tie. She sent back an exquisite piece of brocade in the colors of Kawachi and a tartly worded note admonishing her son to take good care of their guest.

Tajima delivered the hair tie and urged the Prince to sample some of the food. When the Prince selected the smallest item on the snack tray and nibbled at it tentatively, Tajima tried to hide his dismay by pouring them both a little more sake.

"I was fourteen years old when they married me to my late wife ... " the Prince said suddenly. "A terrible thing to do to a young boy."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Most Noble Eminence ... " Tajima replied, "I'm thirty-eight now, and if my eldest son had survived the invasion he would be just your age: twenty-three."


The Prince smiled wearily. "Accept my congratulations, my lord. It seems that you were truly grown up enough to marry at fourteen. I was not."

Tajima winced as he realized what the Prince was saying. The Prince had not drunk any great amount of sake, so he must have very little resistance to the effects of the liquor, or a great need to confide in someone, or both. Tajima just hoped, fervently, that the Prince would not regret these confidences too bitterly when he sobered up. He asked quietly, "Your Lady was ... dissatisfied with you?"


The Prince was staring blindly into space. "I was exactly fourteen years old: my coming of age ceremony and the wedding were both on my birthday ... and Tojime was thirty years old at the time of our marriage," he said softly, "sexually experienced, addicted to cruelty, impatient, and possessive. I might have managed, I think, if she had been a little patient, willing to teach me what she wanted of me." He shook his head impatiently. "But then, I suppose she had no real need to teach me what she wanted: to her I was a prize to flaunt and a plaything to torment, and my inexperience just provided more excuses for punishment."


"Ah, Powers," Tajima swore softly. He was beginning to understand why the Prince was so hesitant to assert his authority. "Did she really treat you so harshly?"


"Oh, she had me beaten at times," the Twilight Prince said matter-of-factly, "but I heal too fast for that to be fun. And I soon learned not to show the pain." Tajima swallowed hard: the calm acceptance in the Prince's tone was much more horrifying than renewed weeping would have been.


The Prince continued in the same hideously calm tones, "More often she found humiliating ways to take advantage of my Power as a Life Mage. Or else she would destroy something I loved or valued. Or assign the blame for some act of mine to some poor servant or other bystander and force me to watch as she inflicted some terrible punishment. That was how Kagemitsu came to Manifest his Power: defending his life against her malice."


He laughed shakily, then continued with a hysterical edge to his voice, "Every month when I used the excuse of her period to go home for a while to Evening Shadows, I used to give formal thanks to the Powers and Spirits that she had not yet gotten a child of mine. Powers! a child raised among demons would be safer from harm than one in Tojime's household! After the plague killed her, I observed formal mourning for a year, as is proper after losing a spouse ... then I performed a full thanksgiving rite in the Shrine."

The Twilight Prince was trembling visibly as he spoke, and he had become very pale. The Chancellor topped off the Prince's cup of sake and the Prince automatically sipped from it: the liquor seemed to steady him.

Tajima protested gently, "Most Noble Eminence, you are an Imperial Prince and the woman was your wife. How could she mistreat you so, even though she was so much older? Was prayer truly your only recourse against her?"

"Recourse?" The Prince looked confused for a moment. "Ah. In the Samurai dialect you use 'wife' to refer to a man's senior consort, even when the man is head of the household. Among Nobles the word is used differently: the dominant spouse in a household is the 'husband' or 'wife' and the other spouses are referred to as consorts. Tojime, as Jewel Priestess, slightly outranked the Priest of the Shrine of Evening Shadows, so she was not my consort, I was hers."


"It still doesn't sound proper, that someone of such high rank should be placed in such a subordinate position," Tajima commented.

"It had never been done before, ever, that an Imperial Prince in line for the Throne, or a princely high priest of a shrine as important as Evening Shadows, should be given as a consort in someone else's household," the Twilight Prince agreed bitterly. "But Tojime and the others pointed out that there was nothing written down anywhere forbidding it."


The Prince was weeping again very quietly. The tears dripped slowly down his face as he spoke. "My late grandfather, the Air Emperor, arranged the marriage himself, after my great- grandfather died and could no longer protect me: I lived almost two years knowing the marriage was coming. She was his Jewel Priestess, he surely knew what she was like, better than I could before the wedding, but he gave me to her anyway ... " The Prince bent over and shook his head. "Oh Powers!" he groaned, "It was unjust to punish Yoshiatsu for what they did to me ... "


Tajima hastened to reassure him. "Most Noble Eminence, you did not punish Yoshiatsu for what was done to you. You punished him for trying to do to his own son what was done to you. There is a difference ... "

"Even so," the Prince protested weakly.

The Chancellor continued firmly, "The penalty you first imposed was chosen to protect Yoshiatsu's family from abuse, not for revenge. And the added penalty was asked for, explicitly, by the man himself ... " Tajima privately considered that the Yoshiatsu boy would have benefited by the chance to move from the household of a mean and miserly father to that of the gentle and generous Prince.


The Prince sighed, and his shoulders slumped. "Perhaps you are right, Lord Tajima."


The Chancellor tried again to coax his guest to eat some of the delicacies that had been prepared. The Twilight Prince, gazing at the trays set before him, blushed and apologized gracefully for ruining the party, but at least he finally began to eat, as the conversation turned to the matter of the horses and ornamental fish that Tajima still owed the Prince. By the time Aoshiba and the palanquin returned from their errand and were ready to escort their Lord home, the Prince had eaten a reasonable amount, and his color was much better.


Tajima found the geisha, Kikuchiyo, waiting in his quarters, and paused, startled. "Kiku-san? Is something wrong?"


"No, my Lord. Come, sit and relax ... " The entertainer gracefully poured a cup of sake and offered it to her patron. "My Lord did pay me for the day, after all." She gestured with graceful ambiguity toward where her koto lay, in front of a folding screen that did not entirely hide the bedding already laid out at the far end of the room.

The Chancellor chuckled and sat beside her. "Don't feed me too much more sake," he warned, as she began to play her instrument -- more mellow to his ears than the shrill sound of the newfangled samisen. "I've been honored this evening to share several flasks with the Most Noble Eminence."

"The Eminence did not blame this household for the insult, then?" Kikuchiyo's tone was more statement than question, and filled with relief.

Tajima sighed. "No. Fortunately. To be honest, the Most Noble Eminence seemed ill rather than angry. I suspect that the Eminence has not yet fully healed from the effects of his captivity ... though he seemed more troubled by memories of his marriage."

"That's not surprising," Kikuchiyo commented. The tune she played became a soft lament. "The surprise is that the Most Noble Eminence is sane at all, after six and a half years spent in that woman's household." Tajima opened his eyes to stare at her, and she assured him, "The Entertainers in Amekudare no Miyako made sure they had their wills written and requiems performed when they were summoned to the late Jewel Priestess's house, and those that returned alive were welcomed as returning from the dead ... those that returned intact were welcomed as miracles."


The Chancellor was sickened. He had not doubted that the Prince's grief and horror were real, but had assumed, or perhaps hoped, that the Prince's youth and unhappiness had distorted his view of a woman who had, after all, been a High Priestess of the Realm. Such open criticism of the Highborn felt dangerous, besides. "I hope the Most Noble Eminence will recover his health and strength soon," was all he said.

Kikuchiyo looked at him with sly laughter in her eyes. "Perhaps my Lord might recommend the Healer Ayame to the household of the Most Noble Eminence?" she suggested demurely.

Tajima chuckled. "Perhaps ... " Ayame was a retired geisha and a skilled Healer who had saved his mother and grandchildren from the plague. She also happened to be Kikuchiyo's half- sister. He put his arm around Kikuchiyo, which interrupted her playing, at least upon the koto.



Copyright 1991 Elyse M. Grasso