17 Conclusions and Arrivals

Awaji shima

Kayou chidori

Naku koe ni

Iku yo nezamenu

Suma no sekimori

(Minamoto no Kanemasa)


The Twilight Prince was never able to determine how long he had spent at Power-shaping, but when he returned to full awareness of his body, it was well past noon. By then, the reinforcements had dealt with the few remaining Enemy stragglers, and the priests had taken charge of the sacred precinct and chased everyone else out, except for a handful of warriors who awaited the Prince's recovery. He found that he was still standing where he had begun the Power-shaping, but now he was surrounded by worried friends and respectful followers instead of by foes. The cat was lurking somewhere out of sight, though its aura was bright in the Prince's mage-sight.

The Prince allowed the Power in his naginata to drain into the Mirror and released his own power into the surrounding forest.

"Most Noble Eminence?"

The Prince met General Hanenori's eyes calmly. "I'm all right, General," he said cheerfully, and turned to walk out through the gaps in the fences.

"The Most Noble Eminence does not wish to inspect the main sanctuary?" Chancellor Tajima asked in surprise.

"No," the Prince replied emphatically, "not unless the priests need my aid. I spent more than enough time there three months ago. Right now I'm much more interested in finding something to eat and drink: my body is currently sustaining itself with Power, which isn't healthy or safe ... if someone will tell me whether there really was someone in the shrine protecting the Mirror, that will be sufficient."


There had, in fact, been someone in the sanctuary. The elderly High Priestess had entered it to protect the Mirror when the Enemy surrounded the Shrine complex, and had remained there ever since. She joined the Twilight Prince at his meal: after nearly five months in deep trance nourished only by Power her need for real food was even greater than his.

After her long fast, the High Priestess could not walk: she was carried, very respectfully, by two of the priests. Her body had fallen so far out of the habit of taking nourishment that at first it rejected even water. When the Twilight Prince grasped her hand so that his Power could urge her body to a healthier state, the Priestess shuddered at the sight of his eyepatch. With tears in her eyes she said softly, "Oh, Powers! What those demons did to you ... "


"You ... saw?" the Twilight Prince looked away, blushing fiercely.


"No, not through the armor," the Priestess answered hastily, "But what I could hear ... " She shuddered again, then bowed gracefully. "The Most Noble Eminence is humbly entreated to pardon this incompetent servant for failing to assist him."

"You couldn't open the armor," the Prince assured her, as he gently helped her rise out of the bow. "Not without failing in your duty to the realm and the Most Revered Mirror." As he offered her some sweetened rice, he continued, "Here. Try this ... I think your body will accept it now."

The High Priestess was emaciated after her long ordeal, but thanks to her fine bones she retained a certain ageless beauty despite her frailty. Since her long hair showed no evidence of dye or of graying, she could almost pass for the young woman who should have filled the role of Virgin of the Shrine, though her tenure had begun along with the reign of the Prince's grandfather -- at about the time of Chancellor Tajima's birth. But she looked terribly tired, and Tajima remembered worriedly that there had been no announcement of her successor, despite two recent changes of reign.


The Chancellor was very anxious to be rid of the mirror he had used in the fight. It made him uncomfortable, though he was not quite sure why -- his memory of the details of the battle within the shrine complex was already blurring rapidly. Believing that it was shrine property, he tried to return the mirror to the High Priestess after her meal. She examined the mirror carefully, but surprised him by refusing to touch it.


"That mirror is a Twilight Power, the property of the Most Noble Eminence. You should return it to him, not to me," the High Priestess of the Heavenly Mirror explained quietly.


Tajima decided the mirror must be part of the ritual paraphernalia the Enemy had captured with the Prince at Nakayama, and did as the Priestess had advised. The Prince accepted the mirror without comment, but his expression turned thoughtful as he contemplated the pattern of eight lightning bolts on its back.


Watching from nearby, Tahata said quietly to the General Hanenori, "Interesting, isn't it? A weapon from Heaven, that jewel from the sea, and this mirror from the realms of shadows ... it seems that the Powers have granted the Most Noble Eminence his own set of regalia to match the Imperial Mirror, Sword, and Jewels."


The General nodded thoughtfully. "I just hope the Powers have the patience to let us deal with the invasion before we face ... any other conflicts," he said ruefully.

The Imperial Clan's lodging at the Inner Shrine had large holes in its roof and walls, so the Prince and his attendants returned to the Outer Shrine for the night. That evening the Twilight Prince found a green-eyed black cat with a white crescent on his chest waiting beside his bed. It was wearing a partly melted slave collar, which the Prince removed and tossed aside, saying quietly, "I did not intend to claim you as a Captive, Mayonaka ... you are free to go."


The cat crouched and looked away, flattening his ears as he would before a stronger member of his own species, and the patterns of his aura shifted subtly. When the Prince merely waited politely, Mayonaka swished his tail nervously and shaped himself into a form that was human enough for speech. "Lose fight. Loser Captive or Loser dead, always. Prince want dead cat?"

The Twilight Prince was getting a little tired of people offering to commit ritual suicide -- assuming that was what Mayonaka meant: the cat's mouth was still not fully human in shape, distorting his speech, and he spoke a very odd dialect. It was like hearing Chinese writing, without the particles and verb conjugations of ordinary speech, being read in a northern provincial accent that was even stronger than Tahata's or the General's. The Prince sighed. "No, I don't want a dead cat," he replied, "I suppose my house has room for another live cat, though."


Mayonaka remained able to purr, even in his quasi-human form. He reached a stubby-fingered mitten-hand toward the discarded collar. "Master ... ?"


"Don't call me that," the Prince protested hastily. "The 'Master' is dead ... and I assure you, even if I wanted you to wear formal Captive bonds, I would not ask you to wear anything so vulgar."

The cat tried to pronounce 'Eminence', unsuccessfully, and made a disgusted sound. "Boss?" he suggested, after a moment of soft muttering.

"Boss will be satisfactory," the Prince chuckled.


"Rules?" prompted Mayonaka.


The Twilight Prince frowned slightly. "I don't think spell- bindings will be necessary, any more than the collar."

"Rules, Boss," the cat repeated emphatically. "Captive."

The Prince smiled as the beast's stubborn formality suddenly reminded him of a conversation with the Chancellor several weeks earlier. "Very well: all penalties will be paid, and all the customs will be strictly followed ... " He reached out to reshape the patterns in the cat's aura and being as he said, "While you are my Captive, for the next five years, you will answer my questions truthfully, try not to make trouble in my household, and wear clothes when you are in human form."

"Not much rules," Mayonaka objected.


"You didn't put up much of a fight."


"True ... " the cat agreed, purring, as his shape began to drift toward its proper feline form. "Nice tame kitty." But his ears and whiskers were cocked at an angle that did not make him look at all tame, and his head turned sharply toward the sound of approaching footsteps.


Captain Moeri realized at once what cat this must be, sitting so boldly in his lover's quarters, and his hand went to his sword hilt -- surely there could not be two in the realm with such markings and so much Life magic. In the days since the Prince had described his captivity, the young Captain's longing to avenge the harm his Lord had suffered had grown stronger, not lessened; but chance and the press of the battle had conspired to prevent Moeri from safeguarding the Prince with his own strength during the latest battle. After the day's frustration and fear, the chance to deal with at least one of those who had tormented his love was very welcome.

The Prince caught Moeri's wrist before he could draw the sword. "No. Don't harm him. Mayonaka is my Captive. He's my cat, now. Not an Enemy."

The young Fire Mage was aghast. "You can't ... The Most Noble Eminence cannot intend to make this demon part of the household," he protested.


"He's not a Demon," the Prince said calmly, "he's a Beast."


"Is there a difference?" Moeri snorted.

"Yes, of course," the Prince answered cheerfully, "Beast mages are beasts who can shape Power, as we are men who can shape Power, while Demons are partly made of Power, and can't exist without it. If you were to block Mayonaka from shaping Power, what you'd have is a cat. If you block a demon from shaping Power, what you'd have is a mess."

Moeri nodded an acknowledgement, but his expression and aura remained unhappy, and he was careful not to turn his back on the beast. When the Prince went out to check the gray horses with HorseMaster Aoshiba, as he always did before sleeping when away from home, the young Fire Mage remained behind.


"You! Cat!" Moeri hissed. "You hurt him once! But I promise you: if you ever even think of hurting him again, I'll see to it that you wish he had finished the job of killing you himself ... or else left you to die in the fire."

Mayonaka squinted his eyes, flattened his ears and crouched submissively with his belly pressed to the ground and his tail clutched tight against his haunches. He shook his head vigorously.


"Don't lie to me, demon! You fought him." Moeri raised a hand toward him and began to summon Power.

Mayonaka swelled and flowed into the shape of a human man even smaller than Moeri himself, still folded into the the most humble of bows, naked and shivering in the icy wind. "Mistake, Lord," he protested anxiously. "No hurt Boss. No claws scratch Boss.

"You fought him in that wizard's duel." Moeri snorted and turned away to go after the Prince. "You just remember what I said, Beast."

Mayonaka called after him sadly, "Hard sit wait die, Lord ... hard watch kin die." Moeri gave no sign that he had heard as he stalked away. The cat kept shivering for a long time after he had resumed his fur.

The Prince returned to Hinamachi with his personal staff on the day after the battle. The New Year was only two days away and he had many commitments and responsibilities for the holiday season, including the entertainment he had announced was to take place on his own estate. He spent most of the day's voyage trying to remember the lines of his role in the Noh play and wondering whether enough of the paintings in his reception hall had been finished to make the place presentable.

Chancellor Tajima was strongly tempted to return by the more time-consuming land route, but the duties of his position required his presence in the city during the rituals that marked the close of the old year and the beginning of the new. He reluctantly decided that he could not afford the time for a land journey and regretted the need for that decision as soon as he set foot on deck. Either his seasickness was worse, or he had mercifully forgotten how bad it had been on the previous voyage.

The cat wandered all over the boat, examining it with great curiosity. He poked his nose into everything that was going on until Captain Moeri yelled at him to keep out of people's way. The he lay down beside the suffering Chancellor, curled into a tight ball with his ears swivelling suspiciously to follow Moeri's movements. When Tajima scratched his ears listlessly and began to stroke his fur, Mayonaka purred and relaxed, though he still kept a wary eye on the young Fire Mage. The cat was careful to stay very close to the Prince during the short trip from the harbor to the Garden Estate.


Kagemitsu met them at the gate, eyeing the cat curiously before he bowed with formal precision to the Most Noble Eminence and to the Honorable Captain Moeri. Then he hastily urged them to come and dine after their journey, before the sun set and the prohibitions of the year's end rites took effect.

As Shirokura Haruhisa, the Prince's steward, rose from his deep bow to the Twilight Prince and bowed politely to his grandson Motoharu, the Bannerman, his eyes were already moving beyond, searching the Prince's party for his elder grandson Tadaharu. At last, almost reluctantly, he pleaded, " Motoharu, your brother?"


The Bannerman was grateful for the tears that filled his eyes and blurred his view of the old man's face. He shook his head slowly and spoke so softly that his voice was little more than a whisper. "Dead in the battle."


The old man flinched as though he had been struck, and might have fallen if HorseMaster Aoshiba had not grabbed his elbow to steady him.

At the HorseMaster's suggestion, he and Fujikawa Kakemono and some of the other servants served the meal to the three priests of the household: the Prince, Kagemitsu, and Moeri, allowing the Shirokuras privacy to begin their mourning. The Prince was glad to note that Kakemono, though she still seemed shy in his and Kagemitsu's presence, had finally begun to lose some of her previous nervous stiffness of manner.


When he had dined, bathed, and changed into suitably formal robes, the Prince went to the castle to report formally to Warlord Isanari. He found that Chancellor Tajima had preceded him.

Isanari was very glad of their return. Somewhat to his own surprise, he was almost as relieved to see the Chancellor as he was to have the Most Noble Eminence return intact. Aside from worrying about everything that might happen to the Prince, he had been plagued by morbid thoughts about all the hideous things that might befall a mage-blind man on a battlefield full of demons. His own enforced inactivity had put him into a mood that matched Senior Commander Mikawa's pessimism, and the task of preventing panic among the less sensible members of the council while the Prince was in danger had not improved matters. Isanari was rapidly coming to the conclusion that being left to handle Lord Katafuse's obstinacy without Tajima's aid was a fate almost as bad as anything the Throne could do to him if the Prince was harmed.


By the time he made his report to the council, Chancellor Tajima's memories of the battle had grown very faint and blurry, but he remembered that he owed the Warlord an apology for his harsh words about demons in the past. Warlord Isanari was grateful for the apology, and amused when Tajima concluded it by saying that of course, despite appearances, the strange aspects of the battle had not really been caused by demons. On the whole, Isanari was glad that Tajima and his Captain Nishiyama had redeemed the honor Clan Tajima lost because of Kanehide's disgrace.


** *


The most important rite of the year's end was the O-harai, a great ritual for the purification of shrine, city and realm. Unlike the harvest ritual, it had to occur at a specific time of day, so the Twilight Prince could perform it in only one of the city's major shrines. After much discussion it was decided that because he was a Prince of the Blood, it would be most appropriate for the Twilight Prince to officiate at the sanctuary that enshrined the Sword which, like the Mirror at the Great Shrine, was part of the Imperial regalia. The High Priests of the other shrines were not very pleased with this decision, but there was little they could do about it.

Kagemitsu would perform the purification ritual at the shrine in the Garden Estate, with the assistance of Moeri, who was only beginning to learn the various priestly responsibilities that went with being a mage. The courtier was relieved that the Most Noble Eminence had not decided to deal with the shrines' rivalries by refusing to officiate at any of them, as he had half expected. It would almost certainly be a breach of protocol for the Prince to officiate at the purification of a shrine where he himself was technically the enshrined Power, but that was not a question that could be referred to the Imperial Department of Rituals safely: even retired emperors officiated within their own households, though the reigning Heavenborn Sovereign never did so.


Thus, as the sun set on the last day of the year, the Twilight Prince stood before the sanctuary of Atsuta, just as officiating priests throughout the realm were doing at other shrines, from the Imperial palace to small neighborhood chapels. He began to chant, letting his awareness spread into the land around him.


Hear me, all of you assembled Princes of the Blood,

Princes of Power, Mages and all officials.

Thus I speak.

By the command of the

Sovereign Ancestral Gods and Goddesses ...


The area that the Twilight Prince's Power could affect depended on the range of his mage-sight: it matched the area that his awareness could spread into. That range was becoming frightening: the sea to the northwest beyond Naosa, across the width of the realm, was now within his sight, and so was the great port at Naniwa on the inland sea. All that area had been affected by his Power-shaping at the Great Shrine. As messengers arrived from distant parts of the battle lines and officers returned to Hinamachi for the New Year rites, they brought word that since the Prince had banished the Enemy from the Uchimiya, Enemy forces had become scarce throughout that wide area, and the smaller pockets of demonic contamination were fading rapidly.


... in the lands of the four quarters

under the heavens,

Each and every impurity will be gone.

It was no great surprise that Tahata and the General returned from the southwest to report that the lands around the Great Shrine were clearing. But when Yanagi came south from Tobida, bringing with her a very battered, hardened band of samurai who proved to be the Lord of Tobida and some of his aides, she said that the land was empty as far north as Takayama. Senior Commander Uefusa and Lord Hanemae, patrolling eastward, sent word of clear roads well into Toshikawa province.


Captain Taka, returning east from the provinces beyond the Imperial capital where she had been scouting for Senior Commander Koshinaka, brought rumors of clear lands all the way to the Inland Sea. She also reported that a caravan from the capital was on the roads behind her, though moving slowly due to the poor winter road conditions. It included at least one palanquin, which implied the presence of Nobles in the expedition as well as messengers from the Court.


As the gusty wind

Blows apart the myriad layers of heavenly clouds;

As the morning mist, the evening mist

is blown away by the morning wind,

the evening wind ...

As the chant continued, the Prince once more felt a resonance from other shrines. It was like the resonance he had felt with the land while shaping Power at the Great Shrine, but reached even farther, especially to the east and north, since he himself was
north and east of the Shrine. He wove the effects of the rite into his own aura and being as well as into the land, mindful of the rule that anything a mage can affect, can also affect him.


Hear me, all of you:

Know that all impurities have been exorcised

and made pure again

In the great exorcism

performed in the waning of the evening sun

On the last day of the last month of this year.

Thus I speak.

The Prince concluded the chant as the sun slipped below the horizon. He watched quietly as the loads of small strips of wood, symbols of the past year's iniquities, were carried away to be tossed into the sea, then returned home through the darkening streets.


After the Prince reached the estate and changed out of his ritual vestments, he went to his own small sanctuary, which had been set up on one of the islands in the garden pond. Now that the cleansing rite was over, he wanted to pay his years' end respects to the other Powers and relics enshrined there.

As the Prince sat meditating, the ghost of the late lord of Isashige appeared with his family and bowed humbly before him. "Graciously accept our New Year's greeting, Most Noble and Revered Eminence," the ghost's inhumanly clear voice said, "And grant our humble plea. The Clan of Isashige, lacking a suitable heir of our own blood, most humbly begs leave to adopt Senior Commander Tahata as heir to our Clan and name."

"That seems a sensible solution," the Twilight Prince replied. He considered for a moment, then added, "But please announce your decision at the other Twilight shrines as well as mine. I think things will go more smoothly in council if my voice is not the only one reporting your choice."


"As the Most Noble Eminence suggests," Isashige and his family bowed deeply as they departed.

As the Samurai ghosts vanished, another voice, which managed to sound harsh despite its ghostly purity, exclaimed indignantly, "Would mere warriors presume to question the word of a Prince of the Blood and a Manifest Power?"


This voice was very familiar to the Twilight Prince, and very welcome. "Not to my face, Grandpa Inogori," he assured the ghost, smiling, "but the other lords could be uncooperative if they suspected the adoption was my idea rather than the will of the late lord."


The Prince bowed respectfully toward the voice of this elder of his clan, but Inogori materialized and hugged him warmly. Inogori, who had served briefly as the third Earth emperor before abdicating out of boredom, looked no older than the Twilight Prince, though he had died at an advanced age.


Instead of his customary armor, he was dressed in the festival clothes of his own time, sixteen centuries earlier, and the Prince eyed him with sudden suspicion. "Have you killed someone, Grandpa?" the Prince asked worriedly. "There are messengers on the road from the capital."

"Who, me?" Inogori asked innocently. "Of course not."


The Prince looked at him skeptically, but another voice out of the air assured him cheerfully, "Truly, Inabikari, you have no cause for concern. We have nothing to do with any messenger."

A third ghostly voice added, "The procession left two days ago, and we only decided to visit you when we felt you perform the O-harai. To be honest, I doubt they even know that we are gone ..."


"That fool they put in as High Priest at Evening Shadows certainly won't notice!" the previous voice added in an annoyed tone.


The Late Emperors Hodemi and Takerukawa had lived centuries before Inogori, and like him they had died very old, but they both wore the shapes of handsome teenagers. Hodemi, like Inogori, wore festival clothes of his own time, but Takerukawa dressed in the height of current fashion with a disreputable flamboyance that would have suited an actor or professional gambler -- Hodemi glanced at his father's garb and shook his head ruefully. They were accompanied by Soratsuhime, who had been the twenty-first Monarch, in the shape of a young woman wearing the festival robes of a modern Noble Lady despite the many centuries since her death, and by the Samurai ghost who had trained the Prince and Kagemitsu in current styles of swordplay.

The former Empress hugged the Twilight Prince and gently touched his cheek below the eyepatch. "Ina' love, you should take better care of yourself," she chided gently. "And you're so thin! Haven't these commoners been feeding you?"


"I've been busy, Granny," the Prince protested, "and besides, there's a war on. Food is scarce -- most of it is rationed."


Inogori snorted. "You wouldn't know it from the way those idiots in the City are carrying on."

"True," the samurai ghost, Matsukawa, agreed softly, "With respect, Most Noble Eminence, a court that pays so little attention to something as great as a war is hardly likely to notice the absence of a handful of ghosts."

"And if they do notice, they're more likely to be relieved than upset," Takerukawa added, with a meaningful sideways glance toward Inogori. Inogori glared back at him.

The Prince smiled and settled down to listen to the familiar argument that was about to develop. He had not realized, until now, how much he had missed the friendship and advice of his ghostly kin. It felt very good to have his family and teacher here with him in his new home, even for a visit. He wondered wistfully how long they could remain absent from their guardianship of the Throne and Imperial capital.




Copyright 1991 Elyse M. Grasso