They entered Goukou's apartments. Hisui the majordomo, seeing Goujun at his brother's side, signalled to Golden Bell. Goukou stopped the boy as he went to fetch Goujun's attendant.
"Take a message to Lord Gouen's rooms on your way back. Say I don't expect him to attend on me tomorrow. I'll come see him myself after breakfast. Give Lord Goushou the same message if he's there, or deliver it to his apartments if he is not." Golden Bell hastened off.
"My lord wishes wine?" Hisui asked.
"After the bath," Goukou said. Hisui unfastened the closings of Goukou's highnecked overcote and peeled the tight sleeves down each arm, then handed the garment to his Silver Bell. Goukou sat down so that Hisui could remove his boots, but Goujun forestalled him.
"If you permit,
Hisui-dono," he said, and knelt at Goukou's feet to unfasten the buckles
and draw off the boots and silken stockings. Goukou looked at Goujun's bent
how the light played throughwatching the light play through the
silvery-whiteness of his hair. He stretched out a hand and ran his fingers
through its soft thickness. Goujun looked up. Goukou reached in back and
unfastened the headband from about his brother's temples. Goujun reddened
fractionally at the intimacy, the palest cherry-blossom tinge in his white
cheeks. A little pulse went through Goukou. Of them all, white-skinned Goujun
alone showed the ebb and flow of blood in his body. It made him seem vulnerable
somehow, that and the nakedness of his face. The shadings of his skin hid
nothing, as the darkness of the red and black dragons could hide their
expressions and the sheen of the gold and silver dragons make their faces seem
like masks. Perhaps that was why Goujun schooled his emotions so severely,
since he knew he showed more of what he felt than others.
Goukou undid the blue band he wore himself and let the chamberlain draw off his silk shirt. Stood so that Hisui could put his green-worked chamber robe about him and remove his breeches and underdrawers beneath it. There was a small stir by the door as Goujun's attendant arrived with his nightgear. Goukou sat again to watch as Hisui helped Goujun undress and wrapped him in his white robe with the scarlet embroidery. Goukou eyed the sight with pleasure and a little envy. The two younger brothers were lucky in the olders who had traine them, whose colours had then become their own secondary ones- Goushou's red dramatically highlighting Goujun's white, Goujun's white a stark contrast to Gouen's black. Himself he had to take care that the green details of his clothing harmonized with his own blue, and the red of Goushou's robes needed to be subdued enough not to drown out the blue of their trim.
They proceeded to the bath hall
where Wen'yu was waiting, clad in his
fundoshi, who, who had bathed Goukou from the time
he was a baby. He was a yellow dragon, with a nature as bright and cheerful as
his skin, and his clever fingers were adept at easing the day's tensions from
Goukou's shoulders. Goujun's bath-man walked behind them, a calm-featured black
dragon in his twenties. Goujun had a preference for the rain dragons. Something
about their quietness, perhaps. Goukou wound his braid high on the back of his
head and fastened it with a carved whalebone pin. The two pages took their
robes from them and they went into the pleasant steam.
Followed a brisk and splashy few minutes as Wen'yu poured water over him in a steady torrent of buckets until he was thoroughly sluiced down, and began washing him with a rough cloth and fresh-smelling green soap made from algae. Goukou gasped and shook water from his eyes, then settled with a grunt of contentment to Wen'yu's muscular rubbing. His shoulders were unusually stiff; Wen'yu's kneading was almost painful. He took deep breaths to loosen the tension from them and ease the tightness that cramped his breathing like a form of disquiet. After a space he glanced over to where Goujun was kneeling. Goujun's mane was loose to his waist and dripping wet. The black dragon was wrist deep in suds as he shampooed that river of hair, long and sleek and white as Goujun's own body when he was in dragon form. Goujun's face was empty of expression, thoughts all turned inwards. The red eyes looked faceted as rubies. Goukou's eyes followed the thin arch of his brother's eyebrows, so black against the milk-white skin; the delicate sweep of his nose and the calm bleached mouth. He was beautiful, he was so beautiful- Passion hit Goukou like a tidal wave. His hands rose unthinkingly. Grab and hold, leave the red marks of talon on white skin, bend that pliable body double and thrust inside the shallow buttocks...
"Clouds on clouds gather above, threatening rain. Waters break out below, turning to mist," Wen'yu's calm voice said.
He gathered his scattered wits. "Mist on the hillsides, flying swift away. Spring rain falls like flowers from the sky," he countered.
"Sky lightens over the rainy band of cloud; dark tatters run before the gusting wind."
Wind... "Wind whips the waves to froth, slides grey as glass. Spray rises to the heavens, falls like rain."
"Rain-washed, the empty hills at autumn eve stand blue and cold beneath the rising moon," Wen'yu began the next quartet.
"The moon rides silent through the misty sky; below the treetops dripping with the rain- damn!"
Wen'yu chuckled in satisfaction at winning the round. "The moon shines bright through pines; clear spring flows over the rocks," he suggested.
"I'll remember for next time," Goukou promised. Calmer now, he let Wen'yu wash the rest of him without incident, then went to soak in the deep hot water of the bath. But the leash of lust was still tight about him. Relaxation wasn't possible in this state. He got out before Goujun had finished his washing.
Wen'yu towelled him dry and wrapped
him in his cotton night robe. Back to the bedroom, fragrant now with the
lemon-scented water heating in the chafing stand
near the bed. That
smell was the smell of copulation and tugged hard at his groin. Silver Bell
stood by his chair, ready with comb and brush. He let Goukou's hair out from
its braid and combed it through, then brushed it rhythmically down its length.
Goukou slowed his breathing to the stroke, closed his eyes and tried to still
the pulsing between his legs. How odd to be so near the edge of his control as
early as this. What's happened to my training all of a sudden? And
realized the answer belatedly. Today took its toll of me too. Goujun's too
young to have to deal with this. I'll keep Hisui by me for the night instead.
An older man who'd known him since the days of his own training, one able to
endure the fierceness of his lord's mood. It would be hard to send Goujun away
without hurting his pride, but the simple truth should suffice.
"Just tie it back," he said to Silver Bell. Silver Bell drew his mane together in one thick tail and bound it with a thong. Golden Bell brought him a glass of wine, and he sipped it slowly as Goujun came out from the bath, his hair damp still. He sat on the low stool by Goukou's chair and Silver Bell moved over to attend to him. He began to work on Goujun's mane with a dry towel.
"Braid it," Goujun said. "It will dry by itself." He took the glass of wine from Golden Bell, raised it in salute to Goukou, and drank. When Silver Bell was done, Goukou nodded dismissal to them both. They bowed and left, extinguishing the lights by the door and leaving only the one lamp by the bed. Goukou took a deep breath.
"Goujun. No, wait-" as Goujun rose to come to him. "I intended this night for your consolation, but my spirit works me strangely. I lack the control needed to partner you properly. It would be best for us to postpone this to another time." Goujun's white face regarded him unreadably, beautiful in the dim light, and the most dragonish of Goukou's instincts said Take him, take him *now*, he is yours for the having.
"Ani-ue-" Goujun's fists had clenched. "Ani-ue, your anger I can bear and will bear gladly, but I cannot endure your contempt. Why are you doing this to me?" His voice rose, like one goaded beyond endurance. Goukou stared in astonishment.
"You will not chastise me. You will not copulate with me. I am sixteen, not six. I have begun the upper forms. Why do you treat me like a child? Is this another part of my punishment? Because if it is, I tell you it is too much. I try to be patient under correction. I try to submit to your will. But insult like this- ani-ue, it is not kind. It is not right." His voice cracked.
Goukou got up swiftly and took him in his arms. Goujun threw his own arms tightly about his neck and kissed him fiercely. It was a boy's kiss, intended to be overwhelming but so innocent that it made Goukou's heart melt in tenderness. That feeling blunted the red edge of his desire, giving him enough of himself back that he felt able to face the consequences of continuing.
"You will have to partner me as an equal tonight, Goujun. Are you ready for that?"
"Yes," he said with determination. Goukou had to smile.
"I cannot be tender of you- I may hurt your body, and I may hurt your pride even more. You will have to endure that too."
Goukou kissed him again. "To bed then."
He pulled the cover down to the bed's foot and tossed two of the linen towels onto the mattress, ready for after. Stripped the chamber robe from Goujun, who caught his breath in surprise, and laid him on his back. The white body on the scarlet sheets, naked and exposed; the red blood in Goujun's cheeks and the glimpse of Goujun's red sex peeking from its sheathe, were like a wall of flame moving through him. Goukou brought his head down and played the five tunes on Goujun's sex, which emerged fully, hard and exposed. Goujun arched and cried aloud, seizing Goukou's shoulders with his hands and digging his fingers into Goukou's skin. Goukou registered the blunt touch of the newly shortened nails, not the sharp talons they'd been only a few months earlier when Gouen's hair was still unbound. This my younger's younger has a younger of his own. He is a man now and not a boy. The thought gave him a fierce satisfaction. Raising his head he saw a single clear bead of moisture run from the end of Goujun's root, like a drop of sake from the lip of a flask. Man indeed. We are none of us children any more. My brothers are growing up to meet me.
He pushed Goujun onto his belly and lifted his hips. But not to take
him. This was a game he was
was playinging with himself, using his brother's
body- to see how long he could last, how much tighter he could become, if he
just-- just-- brought his mouth to Goujun's white flanks and performed the
Apple, and the Figs, and as Goujun's voice went hoarse and tear-choked, the
Split Apricot Stone. Goujun's hips bucked against Goukou's face and he cried
aloud in his climax. Triumph filled Goukou's soul, to have undone his brother's
quiet fastidiousness so far and so deeply. Goujun was weeping aloud into his
arms as he often wept after fulfillment and never at any other time I love you, little
brother. Learn how I love you. Goujun's narrow white buttocks were
before him, raised up for the Mountainside Cave. Goukou took hold of himself
and thrust inside the hotness of Goujun's body. And then there was no more
thought for him, only the heat and the tightness and the sweet approach of his
fulfillment, slow and certain.
It seemed a long time later that he swam up through the darkness and nothingness into the dim lamplight of the room. A touch between his legs. Goujun, in his nightrobe again, drying Goukou's thighs where he had washed them clean. The sharp smell of citrus came to him with the warmer smell of Goujun himself. Goujun finished, closed the skirts of Goukou's robe, and put the towel back on the stand.
"Will you have wine, ani-ue?"
"No, but serve yourself."
"Thank you. I will refrain."
Goujun unfolded the coverlet and brought it up over Goukou. Turned his back as he undid his belt and washed himself. Goukou watched him with pleasure. Modest and graceful in his movements; Goushou had trained him well, though the disposition was there from the start. Goujun finished, tidied all away, turned and extinguished the light. The room was full of moonlight now, filtering through the thin curtains to the balcony. Goujun slipped in beside him and Goukou drew him close. His little brother was always withdrawn like this after copulation, as though he had to be doubly reserved for a space after abandoning himself so far. Goukou waited, feeling his soul begin to drift away on a tide of sleep. At last he felt Goujun relax in his arms. He roused himself.
"Well, Goujun? Does my justice pain you less now?"
"No, ani-ue. I still smart from it."
Goujun sighed. "A beating answers for all. It hurts, and everyone knows it hurts. So justice is satisfied, and the anger of the one offended, and the resentment of those who share one's punishment. But this..." He sighed again.
"I can't see that a sore heart satisfies justice less than a sore rump, and your unhappiness satisfies my anger quite enough. As for the other, the only one who shares your punishment is Gouen, and he should rather fear your resentment than the reverse."
"But second brother..."
"I let him off. The only reason to punish him was to punish you, and as you would not have that I had no choice."
There was a silence.
"Are you angry at me for that, ani-ue?"
"No." Goukou yawned. "Some might blame you for following your own notions of right and wrong and not your older brother's, but you follow them thoroughly and to their natural end. That is your nature and too deep for you to amend, so I will not ask you to change. You need only learn when it is proper to put your principles aside and when not, and that will come in time." He kissed Goujun's temple. "Be at ease, little brother, or as easy as you may be. You are still young enough that mistakes will be made."
"Thank you, ani-ue."
Goukou sighed himself at the unhappy tone. No help for it, though. He had chosen this way with Goujun because it would work, and this was the sign it was working. As Gouen would lie uneasily in his body tonight, so Goujun lay uneasily in his soul. There were medications to ease the smart of the rod, but nothing apparently to ease the stroke of conscience.
When he woke next morning Goujun was dressed, waiting by his bed with the unnatural stillness that his brother used to mask impatience. After the formal greetings, Goukou said, "Go see how Gouen does. You may stay with him if you like and breakfast in his apartments." He caught the relief in Goujun's face as he bowed and took his leave.
"I don't recall all this fuss the first time *I* was whipped," he complained to Hisui as he was being dressed. "What it is to be the youngest."
"Your honoured father would not permit family matters or private feelings to disturb the day's routine," Hisui said. "Your majesty may be more indulgent to his brothers than your honoured father was of his sons."
"Indeed," Goukou said. Indulgent, Hisui? or do you mean over-indulgent?
Thus he was pleased and a little surprised to find Goushou waiting for him in the breakfast room. "Did you not get my message?" he said as Goushou knelt to wish him good morning. "You needn't have come."
"I received your message, ani-ue." Goushou put Goukou's hands to his forehead. "I've also had time to come to my senses and wanted to ask your pardon for last night."
"No need." Goukou raised him and kissed his cheek. "A thing may be right but still not pleasant. No wonder you were of two hearts."
"Nonetheless I am vexed at myself. Gouen isn't as young as all that. He had no right to drag Goujun into his scrapes. And Goujun isn't as *old* as all that. How can I blame him for indulging Gouen when I his older brother do the same? I am at fault for believing it was not in Gouen to disobey you and so not watching him more carefully. I deserved the beating I didn't get yesterday."
"I'm glad you didn't. It would have been hard for both of us and cost me some of your love. Goujun's principles have their uses, even if one mustn't tell him that."
Goushou smiled unwillingly. "Still, if you were at leisure later on and could give me some of your time, I would like to make amends."
"That could certainly be arranged." Goukou sat down and motioned permission for Goushou to do the same. "How is Gouen this morning?"
"Well enough, I suppose. Sore and uncomfortable and weepy, but he has no fever and only woke once during the night. I had them bring sweet biscuits and water for his breakfast, and he may be able to keep those down. He's inclined to cry about Goujun, though I told him you'd let him off."
"That's precisely what I didn't do," Goukou said with a spark of irritation. "Goujun's finding his punishment very hard to take. I suppose I should be pleased." Goukou nodded to the equerry, who was serving him with grilled fish and rice, that he had enough. A second man came to fill his tea cup.
"He came by Gouen's as I was going and said he had your leave to stay there."
"Yes. He spent the night with me. Also despondent and in need of consoling. It seems the most consoling thing I could do is whack his behind a few times but-" Goukou grimaced, "I restrain myself out of consideration for his moral development. Let him suffer."
Goushou's face was a study. He sat back to let the servant put breakfast on his plate. "I don't think I'll ever understand Goujun."
"It's simple enough. He has a ferocious conscience. If I punish him I save him from having to listen to its reproaches. You know that one."
"No. I have no conscience at all," Goushou assured him.
"You have your own version. Goujun wants to be punished when he's done something wrong, which is right away, and you want to be punished when you feel sorry that you've done something wrong, which is about twelve hours later. That's the only difference between you."
"Ani-ue, you are laughing at me." Goushou frowned as he drank his tea.
"It's true, though. Don't tell me you've never asked for correction, because you have."
"Not often, and even less often that I meant it. Father was not one to keep me waiting."
"Father never knew you do better to be kept waiting. He was in no position to. I must say I'm not looking forward to being a father. It seems one must always be a stranger to one's sons."
"It's some time away yet, surely?"
"I've had overtures from the forest ruler in the eastern continent. Indirect, and hinting only at an alliance between themselves and the ocean dragons. It could be you as easily as me."
"No thank you. If it was a son-- and at my age--"
"Red dragons mature early. But you're right. Until Goujun's training is complete you can't be away for that long, and I shouldn't be. And there's Gouen now as well. I shall send a polite and friendly answer, hoping for a more propitious time in future."
"Mh. You should make a better alliance to get your heir."
"No, I'm serious. The forest rulers are steady and prosperous. Good blood lines on their side, and nothing to be lost if their rank is low as these things go. Nothing much to be gained by seeking a higher match either, since my son will have all the rank he needs from me."
"Good will? The mountain rulers might be more powerful allies."
"Not so much to my tastes. You
might do well with them though. Besides, it's prudence for the king of the
eastern ocean to
to look unambitious for powerful alliances and
gracious to the lowly. The Emperor of Heaven grows no younger and no better
disposed to our house."
Goushou snorted. He put his chopsticks down, sat back and drank more tea. A fastidious eater, always. Goukou sighed and put his own chopsticks down. Somehow he lacked appetite this morning.
"I'll look in on Gouen now before starting the day's affairs. If I can't get free before the midday meal I will see you afterwards."
"As you will, ani-ue."
Arrived at the youngest's apartments, he motioned to the attendants
Arrived at Gouen's apartments he motioned to
the attendantnot to announce him and walked into Gouen's bedroom.
He was lying on his belly in a thin chamber robe, propped on a pillow, listening
to Goujun who sat on the bed beside him. Goujun stopped as he caught sight of
Goukou and got to his feet, hand to his breast in respect. Gouen got off the
bed more stiffly, but instead of kneeling as was proper he stumbled over to
Goukou and buried his face against his chest. Goukou could feel tears wetting
his front as Gouen clung to him.
"Gouen--" He put surprised arms about Gouen's thin shoulders.
"Ani-ue-" Gouen said brokenly. "Ani-ue. Don't be angry at me. I hate it. Please don't be angry--"
"I'm not angry. Come, Gouen, dry your tears. It's over now--"
Gouen was shaking his head desperately against him. "No it's not. It's not. You're angry at us--"
"Gouen, stop." Gouen took a gulping breath. "Listen to me. I'm not angry. You have been punished and Goujun has been punished and the matter is over." He held Gouen away from him so he could look into his brother's eyes. Tears still trickled down his cheeks and his mouth worked. "This isn't like you, little brother. All this fuss over a beating."
"Yes, but-" Gouen looked at him dolefully. "It h-hurt--"
"That's the idea. To see you never do it again. Now come. Pull yourself together and greet me properly."
Gouen gulped again, wiped his eyes, and knelt to say good morning to him.
"Good-morning, Gouen. Here, lie down. I want to talk to you two." At that Gouen's face crumpled again. Exasperated, Goukou looked at Goujun to see if he could explain, but Goujun only dropped his gaze and refused to meet his eyes. What's this all about? Goukou thought, annoyance growing.
"Gouen," he said. "I told you to stop. Obey me." Gouen made a tremendous effort and got his tears under control. Goukou sat down and motioned the others beside him. "Gouen, you are being childish and willful, and you are making me angry. You were punished for disobeying my orders as anyone would be. Did you think I would let you off because you're my brother?"
Gouen bit his lip and shook his head.
"Good. You're new to manhood and doubtless didn't realize how grievous a man's punishment is. Now you do. The time for indulgence is over, and from now on you must act like a man and bear a man's responsibilities." Gouen's fists were curled tight and he was clenching his mouth so hard his lips had all but vanished. Goukou felt a wave of bewilderment wash over him. His youngest brother was acting like a stranger. "Gouen, listen," he said more gently. "You're not a child any more. Don't behave like one. Your hair is in the man's braid that Father plaited for you--" He stopped, because Gouen had made a noise as if he had been run through. He put both hands over his face and began crying uncontrollably. Goujun touched Goukou's arm. His expression was tight with its own misery. 'It's Father,' he whispered.
Instinctively Goukou reached and gave him a brief hug, all the comfort Goujun could bear. Then he gathered Gouen in his arms and held him sobbing against his chest. Gouen clung to him, his tears soaking through the shoulder of Goukou's cote. His narrow back hiccupped frantically as he tried to speak.
"Sshh," Goukou whispered to him, face in the wild black hair. "It's alright, little brother."
"It's not- it's not-" Gouen's voice strangled on tears. "I want- I want- m-my D-daddy--"
"I know," Goukou said. "We all do." All this has served to bring his grief back again. No wonder; and no wonder he seemed so strange. He smoothed Gouen's hair and rubbed a hand over his shoulders.
"I want him back," Gouen said. "He won't- he won't- he won't--"
"He won't ever come back," Goukou said for him.
"Nooo..." Gouen moaned. There was no way to make it better. Goukou could only go on holding him tightly until the worst was over. Silent Goujun moved over to sit close to them, and Goukou freed a hand to hold his cold white one.
"A-ani-ue," Gouen said.
"I'm here, Gouen. I'm not going anywhere."
"I want-- I want--"
"Mmhh. What do you want?"
Gouen hiccupped. "D-don't be angry at me any more."
"I won't be angry. I didn't realize you were unhappy. I thought you were just being stubborn."
"I'm s-sorry. And ab-about third brother-"
"We all have to learn, Gouen. We must be patient with each other's mistakes. But try to understand this. There are times I have to hurt you, for justice's sake and your own good. That is my duty as your brother. Father would have done the same. More so, in fact."
Gouen rubbed at his eyes. "Father had to. He was the king. But I thought you w-would always be kind to us."
"I am the king now in his place," Goukou reminded him. "It's no kindness to let you do as you please." He held Gouen away from him and dried his tears with a gentle hand. "Yesterday you disobeyed my commands, which was bad enough. But more than that, you put your own desires before any thought of your brothers. You deliberately went into danger. How would we have felt, Goushou and I, if we'd lost you two so soon after losing Father?"
"Oh." Gouen gulped in surprise. He looked up with a stricken expression. "I- I didn't--" Goukou waited. The darkness of Gouen's face deepened. He looked down again. "I didn't think. Third brother told me it was dangerous but..."
"I didn't think it was," Goujun said wearily. "I knew the guards would stop us before we could get close."
So that's why he didn't tell us what Gouen intended, Goukou thought, as things finally became clear.
"But- you mean- you knew we'd- we'd-"
"Be brought home and beaten. Yes. At least, I thought we would." He gave Goukou a bleak look. Gouen's expression was torn between outrage and perplexity.
"You didn't tell me-"
"I told you what would happen if we were caught. You wouldn't listen. So I had to let you find out for yourself."
Gouen stared at him, lost for words. Goukou spoke instead.
"That was well done, Goujun. Very well done. I'm proud of you." Goujun went pink. "Gouen, you owe your brother thanks for his thoughtful care of you. He could have told us what you intended and we would have stopped you, and you would have learned nothing. Instead he risked my anger and incurred my punishment so that you might understand. Thank him fittingly."
Gouen slid off the bed and knelt at Goujun's feet. He put Goujun's hands to his forehead. "Thank you, third brother," he said in a small voice.
"I wish it hadn't been necessary, but I'm glad if you understand now." Goujun still sounded bleak.
Gouen looked up. "Third brother..."
Goujun forced a smile. "It's over now, Gouen. Let's forget it." He helped him to his feet and urged him back onto the bed. Gouen lay down obediently, though his expression was troubled as he looked at Goujun. "Ani-ue, if you have forgiven Little Brother, may I put some winterbloom on his weals? He's young and they still pain him."
"Certainly. You may have to send to your own rooms for it though." Goujun bowed and went to the anteroom to speak to the servants. Goukou sat by Gouen and stroked his hair.
"Better now, Gouen?"
Gouen caught his hand and nuzzled it against his cheek. "Yes, ani-ue."
"This has been a hard lesson, little brother. I'm glad it's over. Be good for Goujun. He's been made very unhappy over you. Do not trouble him further."
Goukou kissed him and got to his feet as Goujun came back. "Goujun, accompany me out."
They went out into the corridor. Goukou waved his escort back to their places by the door and took Goujun several paces down the hall. "You did very well. The only thing I can fault you for is that you didn't tell me afterwards."
"I would have seemed to be trying to excuse my behaviour and shirk my punishment, ani-ue."
"You could have told me last night, when you knew that your punishment was not to be punished."
Goujun looked at him strangely. "I disobeyed the king's orders. My reasons for doing it don't change the fact. I deserved to be punished and do not grudge it. I only wish you had chosen another way."
"As you will, Goujun. You may go. I will see you at noon."
Goujun bowed and went back to Gouen's rooms. I agree with you, Goushou, Goukou thought helplessly as he signalled to his guards. There are times I don't think I'll ever understand Goujun.
He went to his offices where he
attended to the day's dispatches and the report of his treasurer and
chamberlain. Business occupied several hours, and it was close to midday when
he at last stood up to stretch. He recalled Goushou's request and contemplated
leaving it to the siesta when they would have time and to spare. But he was
weary after last night- after this morning- and knew he should sleep
then. Put it
off to tomorrow? It was tempting. But with any luck Goushou's scruples would be
the last of the aftermath from yesterday. Once he'd dealt with that maybe life
could go back to normal. Father's way was easier, but
this way is mine. Put it off to tomorrow? It was tempting.
But with any luck Goushou's scruples would be the last of the aftermath from
yesterday. Once he'd dealt with that maybe life could go back to normal. Father's
way was easier indeed. He sent for his brother to meet him in his rooms,
and returned thither.
Goushou was waiting for him when he arrived, standing gracefully in the attitude of one awaiting a rebuke. Goukou dismissed his servants and sat down. Goushou knelt by his chair.
"So, Goushou? Your conscience troubles you?"
"I have no conscience, ani-ue, remember? It is my heart that reproaches me."
"For what, then? Name me your offences that require you to make amends to me."
"I was foolish and irresponsible in thinking Gouen still a child and too placid to disobey, so that I failed to watch him as I should. Sullen, in being angry that you punished him as he deserved. Arrogant, in blaming you for letting Goujun off more easily, as I saw it, than his younger brother. Rebellious, in opposing my judgment to yours and thinking I knew more than my older brother."
"Those are offences indeed."
"And there are more. Ani-ue, I am sorry. I want to be a good brother to you. I want to support you in all things, bending to your will and bowing to your wisdom. But I was born with a cross-grained nature, rigid and perverse, and it will not let me be as I would. Always I feel as if I were flying into a strong headwind. You were right: it takes me twelve hours to get to where I should have been from the start. You have never blamed me for that or punished me for it as Father did. I will try to be more tractable, to give you the obedience due you instead of stubbornness or grudging consent. But you may be certain of this: even at my worst, my love and gratitude is yours, always and without measure."
Goukou closed his eyes for a
moment. Let me never forget my own fortune. He drew
Goushou to him. Goukou closed his eyes for a moment. Let me never
forget my own fortune. He drew Goushou to him. Goushou laid his head
against Goukou's chest and Goukou smoothed the fire-red hair.
"I said that Goujun's principles had their uses, however inconvenient they may be otherwise. So with your stubbornness. I am in a position that few ever know. I have come into great power while still young, with no father or grandfather to whom I must defer. There is nothing to hinder me from doing exactly as I please-- no-one's will I need consult, no-one's authority to bind me. So it's as well that I have a willful younger brother whose temper I must take into account and whose pride keeps me from rashness. I will not tell you not to amend your nature, Goushou, both for your own happiness and for mine. I will only say I am less dissatisfied with you than you are with yourself."
Goushou kissed his hand. "Thank you, ani-ue. You are gracious to me as always, your undeserving brother. And in return, I will satisfy the anger that you bear from yesterday."
"Anger? I am not angry. Tired, yes, but not angry."
"Then you should be. You have lessoned us as a brother but not dealt with us as a king, and that must be addressed." Goukou felt a twinge of foreboding at the echo of Goujun's words "It was the king who gave that order to his people and the king whom Gouen and Goujun so flatly disobeyed. Gouen suffered the punishment due him and I your nearest brother blamed you for it. You let that challenge to your authority pass instead of telling me to kiss your hand and submit my will to yours."
"Had I done that, you'd have quitted me for the night in anger," Goukou protested.
"I did that anyway," Goushou pointed out. "I'd have gotten over it. You took Goujun to your bed to console him for even the mild correction he had of you. You even excused Gouen from this day's duties, which Father never did for any of us. You our brother have shown us nothing but mercy, but the king's honour must be satisfied as well. I am the oldest and the one who has got off lightest, so it is my duty to see that debt is paid and the balance kept."
Goukou took a deep breath to still his troubled heart. "I understand what you say and I do not dispute it. But if I must choose between being your brother or your king, I will choose the brother." "If you are forced to choose between inclination and duty, choose as you will. But do not always be making the king wait on the brother or the consequences will be terrible when they come. It is the anger of those who are slow to anger that must be feared, and my ani-ue is such a one. You are patient with us, and patient with us, and I begin to tremble wondering what will happen when you reach the end of your patience."
"What makes you think I will?" he asked, and heard the resentment in his own voice.
"Because you are a dragon and not a stone. Even those dragons who *are* stones, like our grandfather, erupt at times, and men are burned to death by their heat and flame." Goukou smiled unwillingly. "Let us avoid the eruption," Goushou went on. "Let me give the king his proper due so that the brother may go on indulging us in safety. Which of us has begged the king's pardon for defying him? Which of us has thanked him for his correction? Those duties a subject owes his king, but you have not had them. If you are not dissatisfied by that, ani-ue, I must be dissatisfied for you. Which is only fair. When I am past controlling myself you take on that burden for me. When you prefer mercy and the ties of brotherhood, it is I who will demand justice of you. And I do so now."
"How can I be the king when every word you say touches your brother's heart so that he cannot be angry at you?" Goukou said helplessly. "You tell me to act the king, but the brother will not step aside for him so easily."
"Well, as to that," Goushou's eyes slid sideways, "our ancestors took care of the problem. I think Stripped Wllow will answer to the purpose."
His heart clamped tight. "Goushou... I thought never to use that form with you in earnest."
"I hope you will never use it in anger, because it would go close to killing me. But to satisfy a king's honour and a brother's feelings both, can you think of better?" Goushou gave him the little grin he saved only for Goukou. "Besides, you have a disobedient lot of younger brothers and I am no exception. I intend to flout your express will tonight. Let me have my punishment now so I may disobey you freely later and not trouble about the consequences."
"Goushou..." He blinked in
in outrage, frowning. "What--"
"Ani-ue," Goushou interrupted cheerfully. "Don't ask. Send for Hisui and let us have this done."
Heart misgiving him, Goukou struck the bell and gave the page who answered his orders. Goushou helped Goukou out of his cote, then stripped down to his shirt while Silver Bell lit the flame in the chafing stand, brought a bowl of cold water, and laid out the towels. Goukou, rolling up his sleeves, insisted Goushou take some wine as they waited for Hisui. "There's no danger of you vomiting it," he said. "Drink."
"Ani-ue--" Goushou looked at him sideways. "You aren't intending--"
"You insist that I act the king," Goukou interrupted. "I do. Stop being obstinate and obey me."
"Yes, ani-ue." Goushou sipped his cup, mouth curling in private satisfaction. Irritation stabbed Goukou. Does he think he can play me like an instrument?
"Are you trying to provoke me?"
"No, ani-ue. I fear what will
come enough not to want to make it worse. Even if you
held your hand, you couldn't make it not hurt.
And now that you have given yourself permission to be angry, no doubt you will
"I'm letting myself in for it,
aren't I?" Goushou mused. The rose of his skin had gone subtly deeper with
the wine. "Well, no matter. The truth must be spoken, and the truth is
that you have been holding back since Father died. Before that you
punishedwhack us with a good enough
will when you had to. But since then you have been mildness itself."
Goukou was silent in surprise.
"I understand a little," Goukou went on. "Goujun and I have never quarrelled once these last three months. It's as if we're afraid to. If Father could die so long before his time, so unexpectedly, what guarantee do I have that my brother will be here tomorrow? What if my last memory of him is that he was angry with me, or hurt, or in tears? I could not bear it. So we hold back. And so do you."
Goukou said. "I do. And I suppose this is the result." He considered
a minute, the unaccustomed thoughts coming slower than usual.
Is that why Gouen did what he did? Goushou was right- such disobedience isn't
usual for him. He was trying to make it as it was before. But it won't be as it
was before and now he realizes it.
Hisui came into the room with Golden Bell behind him carrying a rattan switch. Hisui nodded him to put it on the table and then sent him away. His eyes consulted Goukou's.
"Stripped Willow," Goukou confirmed. Hisui bowed and began undoing the buttons of his cuff.
"Here," Goushou said, standing and helping him with the fastenings of the tight sleeve.
you, Goushou-sama." Hisui undid the front closings, took his cote off
and laid it to one side. Goushou helped him with the shirt buttons as well so
he could roll up his sleeves.
"Your grace and favour, Hisui-dono," Goushou murmured to him.
"With your leave, Goushou-sama," Hisui rejoined. Goushou smiled and kissed him, as was proper. The kiss went on for some time, which was not, but only too likely to happen when one kissed Hisui, whose mouth had a way of distracting one from business.
"You two--" Goukou said when he felt it had gone on long enough.
your pardon, ani-ue," Goushou said, blinking a little. Maybe that wine on
an empty stomach hadn't been such a good idea. However if it
had made Goushou forget what was to
come, it was probably as well.
Goushou picked up the switch and came over to his side. He knelt and proffered it to him, held above his head.
"Ani-ue, we have disobeyed your express command and been stubborn against your will. I am here for my younger brothers as well. Lesson me in my duty, and do not hold your hand."
"I will not. But give that to
Hisui, and do you come here with me." Goushou blinked in surprise, but
obeyed. His expression was
a little tense as he followed Goukou over to
the bed. Goukou turned and looked him in the eye.
"Learn this now, Goushou. I will do things my way, come what
may." His brother swallowed and nodded. Goukou sat
on the edge of the high bed
and motioned Goushou to bend over his lap. He put an arm about his waist to keep him in
place, and felt the deep trembling inside his body. Goushou hates
this. He's always hated it, far more than Goujunto
the mattress placed an arm across his
paina whippingIt seemed only too likely that heself far
twenty eighttwentieThe of his buttocks, the first of the disciplinarys instead and spared my own skinHe stopped abruptly as realization came to him. Between outrage and amusement, he couldn't think whether to ease up on Goushou or hit him harder. The impudence of him. And how perfectly devised.
sound of his brother's pain. Hisui finished the
outer strokes. Goukou held Goushou's buttocks apart for the four inner ones, to
the concealed tender skin within and toTen
more slaps and he could no longer feel his hand. Well, that would do. The worst
was still to come. He to to
give the inner strokes, then pulle. Goushou screamed s eight blow landed on the sensitive inner flesh. Hecrumpled up, y
Goukou wrapped his arms tightly about him and held him as he shook, feeling the nameless thing he always did at the sound of Goushou's painIt didn't really make a difference that he'd let Goushou off lightly, as the form went. The sound of his brother's tears hurt as much as ever. He was going hard with theof Goushou's body laptoo principalPrincipalthe offender S
looked up and towardsgaveDry or wet? if one wished to show mercy at this pointconsidered a minute. he brought over.Goukou caught his eye and said without sound, '.'
came over with a towel, a question in his eyes. "You," Goukou said
without sound. To Hisui's credit his expression He turned away as he undidaway from them his trousers, meaning he was as yet
unmoved, and set about preparing himself. Goukou watched his back and the
minute movements of his arm muscles, knowing that the knowledge he was doing so
would arouse Hisui at least as much as his own hand. Indeed, a moment later
Hisui turned back towards him, totally emerged.
"Goushou. Raise your hips for Hisui." Goushou's breath hiccupped in surprise and dismay, but he obeyed. Goukou slid the towel beneath him. "I will spare you the worst of it. Hisui, once in do not move. Let Goushou bring you to fulfillment."
"Yes, my lord." Hisui took
careful hold of Goushou's hips to pull his cheeks apart, trying not to touch
any of the
weals on the outer surface. He could not
avoid the ones inside, and indeed
was not supposed to. Goushou made a small high-pitched sound as Hisui came
inside him, but then relaxed, breath hissing in his nostrils. Goukou watched
the rhythmic clenching of Goushou's buttocks as he worked at Hisui's sex,
feeling his own arousal growing solid beneath the weight of Goushou's belly. He
reached a hand up to Hisui, brought his old friend's head closer and kissed his
mouth. No doubt he was giving Goushou some unfair and probably unwanted help
thereby, but so what? It was a waste not to use Hisui's mouth when it was so
close. He could feel Hisui nearing his fulfillment, but kept his head pinioned
and their mouths together until it was done, listening in satisfaction to the
little whimpering sounds Hisui made in his nostrils as the spasm took him.
Hisui gave a long last shudder, and Goukou let him go.
Hisui ran a hand across his sweating
face, and turned towards the basin. "Attend to yourself first,"
Goukou told him. "Goushou and I
have business." Goushou sighed at the sound of his name and turned his head on the mattress.
Goukou ran a hand down his brother's cheek, wiping it dry of tears and sweat.
Goushou's took a ragged breath.
"Ani-ue." He sniffed tears
into his nose. "Are you going to
"The form doesn't allow of a
second entry." Goushou's eyelids flickered.
The form doesn't allow for
servants to mount their betters either. And what else
doesn't it allow of, ani-ue? Goukou gave him a look back. I told
you, my way come what may. "We are nearly done here. Thank me for your
punishment, as is fitting."
Goushou slid stiffly to his knees. The towel he'd been lying on was stained with his seed. He folded it and laid it aside, then took Goukou's hands and put them to his forehead. "Thank you, ani-ue, for instructing your foolish brother. I will take your lesson to heart."
"My thanks to you, Goushou. You have had a most careful regard for your duty. You have satisfied your king without grieving your brother unduly."
Goushou glanced up at him from under his eyebrows, his face a
kaleidoscope of feelings. Resentment,
resentment, satisfaction, chagrin. At last the
corners of Goushou's mouth quirked upwards in a grin. "I cannot win
against you, ani-ue. I own myself bested. My thanks."
Goukou kissed his mouth. "Hisui, you may wash my brother. And bring a cold cloth. Two."
"Two, my lord?"
"Mh. This." He held up his hand, gone purple with congested blood.
"What did you do that for?" Goushou asked.
"To see what it was like. I hope it hurt you," he said sourly, "because it certainly hurt me."
"Fit reward for one who would alter our ancestors' sacred forms," Goushou said with pious smugness. "Serve you right."
"You'd have preferred the other?" he asked as Hisui wrapped the cold cloth about his hand. Goushou leaned his torso against the bed as Hisui laid a soothing cloth to his buttocks and knelt, reaching, to wash him in front.
"Mh well, as to that... I won't complain of what you did, ani-ue, but I can't see you ever repeating it."
"You could try it yourself tonight."
Goushou face went suddenly wary.
"You were intending to teach Goujun Glowing Stones, yes?"
"Yes," Goushou said, with a spark of obstinacy in his eyes.
"That headwind of yours, Goushou- it's terribly strong. Never mind. How you train your younger is up to you, and the timing we'll just call... fortuitous. As it turns out he wasn't exactly disobeying me--" He told Goushou what had transpired in Gouen's rooms. Goushou listened, grunting by reflex when Hisui's cloth touched his weals.
"So you have no objection, ani-ue?"
"I have no say in the matter. As you please."
"Nonetheless, I will ask your leave."
"You have it then." And added, quizzically, "Why so mild all of a sudden, Goushou?"
"I'm hoping my ani-ue will excuse me from sitting through the noon meal."
Goukou snorted in amusement. "What if I don't?"
"Then I will endure."
"No need. Hisui, put the willowbark cream on him. No, give it to me and do you send Golden Bell to have lunch delayed."
"Yes, my lord. Your Majesty's brothers--?"
"Can attend my arrival. Today they may adapt to my moods for once."
Goushou gave a little snort of satisfaction. Goukou looked at him severely.
"Goushou, who lessons whom here- you me, or me you?"
"You lesson me, ani-ue," Goushou said meekly.
"Keep that in mind."
He knelt by Goushou, gently pulled one cheek aside and laid the thick numbing cream on the raised welts. It turned out to be a bad idea. Being so close to his half-naked brother was making his arousal unbearable. Goushou gave him a sardonic look over his shoulder, sensing the tension in his body.
"Don't get above yourself, Goushou," he muttered. Spreading the cream across Goushou's buttocks was even worse.
"My poor ani-ue," Goushou said smugly. "And now it's too late to have me, for the willowbark will make you feel nothing."
Oh, you think so? He jerked the laces of his trousers undone, grasped Goushou's hips and pushed himself within, all in the space of a moment and without thought. Goushou made a stifled noise of surprise or pain, but before Goukou could begin to thrust Goushou's body had clenched hard around him. He grabbed Goushou's shoulders, head spinning and sight gone red.
"Do as you please, ani-ue. As hard as you like. I came here to satisfy you, remember?"
He pulled back. Three powerful thrusts- four- and all his insides seemed to fall apart and explode like summer fireworks in the sky. He leaned against Goushou's back, panting and gasping, feeling the wetness of Goushou's red skin under his cheek. He closed his eyes. It wasn't Goushou's skin that was wet. Something seemed to be draining out of him, like stagnant water being carried off by a fresh stream. He put his arms around Goushou's chest and let the image fill his mind. Clean blue water bubbling up from cold springs deep beneath the earth. Stirring the mud, carrying the silt and the unhappiness away to dissolve it at last in the huge waters of the ocean. Goushou's arm covered his.
"Goushou," he breathed at last.
"My thanks. For everything."
"That is what your brother is here for, ani-ue."