The waves of the eastern ocean had a deeper note than those of the southern. It was the sound he'd grown up with, the sound of his youth. Perhaps for that reason it always gave him a sense of disquiet when he was alone. When he was with his brother it was different. The wild roaring joined with the smell and feel of his ani-ue and became the excitement and passion and satisfaction that was copulation with Goukou. But Goukou hadn't wanted his company that night, nor the night before that, nor the one before that, nor the one before that... There was always a good reason, these last of Goujun's forty days. Ritual abstinence, the need to company guests of honour, simple weariness. But he hadn't been with Goukou for nearly a month, and a grey voice in his heart told him that Goukou had no more desire for his company. He sat in his chamber robe, listening to the uneasy note of the ocean, and battled the suffocating fear of that certainty.
Everything had changed with Goujun's death. It was the end of the world as they'd known it and, it seemed now, the end of them as brothers. Not even their father's death had harmed them so terribly. Rather it brought them closer, as they put aside their differences to help the others through the disaster. But this death had parted them one from the other, though he could still scarcely understand how it had happened. The wounds they'd given each other had closed over and healed, but the scars turned out to be deeper than he'd known. And this was the worst of them, that Goukou's love for him had turned to indifference.
He companies our cousin, he told himself again, and that is only right. Gouron has laboured long and hard in Goujun's service and had no reward for it. If indeed he did it for love of my brother then he is to be pitied: he had little enough of Goujun when alive, and has nothing at all now that he is-- gone. He deserves at least some mark of esteem from us. But. But. Gouron has five other brothers and all are here now. He has kin enough to console him. Could not ani-ue have given me this night at least, this night when Goujun has gone under the waves?
Unless Gouron desires the same consolation I do. Oldest of his family, who else is there to give it to him? His mind flinched away from the thought.
His back was cramping, stiff from the day's work, stiff from his misery. He got up and moved about this room in his brother's palace. If only Gouen were here... but Gouen was with Shanten-oh this night. And that at least was proper. Gouen would miss Goujun more than any of them; Gouen was full of confused misery over his brother's fate. It is not in me to give my brother peace, but at least Shanten can console him. He made a small sound of pain. Shanten consoles Gouen; ani-ue consoles Gouron. And who consoles me?
He turned abruptly and left the bedroom. If he stayed here his memories would come to torment him, and he couldn't bear it-- not alone, certainly not on this night of all others. His bodyservants leapt to their feet with a startled 'Goushou-sama!' as Goushou came into the neighbouring room. Goushou waved them back and continued through to the antechamber. The outer servants bowed as he went to the door.
"I go to take the air. I have no need of your attendance."
"Your Majesty, with respect--" the oldest one began.
He cut him short. "Open for me."
"Yes, your Majesty." They opened the doors. He nodded to the night guards.
"I'm going out. You," he nodded to the nearest man, "light me."
"Yes, your Majesty." The man held a spill to the torch in the hallway, lit the iron lantern and waited Goushou's orders.
Without a word Goushou began walking, and the guard followed.
The hallways and corridors of the eastern palace were fitfully lit but not wholly deserted. Guards stood before the doors of the family's apartments and bowed, fist to breast, at his passing. He came to Gouron's rooms- empty of their master, of course; and looked away as he went by them. A little farther down the corridor was the suite occupied by Goujun's sons. His footsteps slowed, then stopped. On an impulse he turned and walked up to their door. The guards opened for him at once, and the night gran'fers inside stood and bowed without surprise. Word of the new state of affairs must have made its way about the palace since the evening meal.
"I thought to enquire how my foster-son fares after his long day," he said to the most senior attendant there. "His duties were over-heavy for one so young. I hope there were no ill-effects?"
"If it please your Majesty, Lord Kaishou was very weary after the evening meal. The princes had a bath and went to bed just after sunset, which is usual for Lord Kaifu but early for Lord Kaishou. We thought he would sleep the night through but he awoke an hour ago and seems disinclined to sleep again. Renku his senior gran'fer is with him now---"
"Ah. Then I shall look in on him. Take me to his room."
The man led him down a corridor, through a dressing room and to the chamber beyond it. Two small night lamps burned, showing the two canopied beds. He could make out Kaishou's figure within the netting of the nearer one, and the low troubled voice of the gran'fer who sat beside him there. Both looked up at his entrance and the gran'fer rose hastily to his feet. Goushou slipped under the netting, waving Kaishou back down as he too made to stand up.
"Do not disturb yourself," he said in a low voice. "I only looked in because I heard you could not sleep. Are you in pain from today's flight?"
"I thank you, uncl-- ahh," he stopped in confusion.
"I am still your uncle," Goushou assured him. "Time enough to change your mode of address when you are inscribed in the family rolls as my son."
Kaishou nodded. "Then- I thank you, uncle, but I am well." Goushou doubted it. Kaishou's eyes were heavy and there was an ill tinge to his yellow skin. Goushou glanced at Renku. The old man said, "Your servant would have given Kaishou-sama a herbal drink but he says he does not require it."
"That is well thought of," Goushou nodded. "Go have it prepared." Renku trotted away. Kaishou was looking down at his hands and would not meet Goushou's eye. Goushou sat, wondering what was best to say. "Your uncle Gouen was two years older than you are now when our father died," he began, "but on the night of the funeral he could not sleep for soreness and weariness. We gave him poppy to drink and I massaged his shoulders until it took effect. This present exhaustion is natural and no weakness in yourself, Kaishou. You have had much to bear these last forty days and borne it like a prince, but your body will still require it of you. A king knows not to overtax his subjects, and you must not overtax this good servant of yours that has seen you safe through troubled times."
Kaishou looked up with an attempt at a smile. "Thank you for your kindness, Uncle. I shall be ruled by your counsel and give you the obedience I owe you as a son."
Goushou drew an unsteady breath and wiped at the wetness that had suddenly filled his eyes. Kaishou looked both astonished and troubled at the sight.
"You are very like your father when he was young," Goushou said, mastering himself. "I seem to hear his voice again in yours. This is a time of sadness when all things are more painful than usual. When you are with me every day your voice will be yours alone."
Kaishou twisted his fingers together. "Yet still I am glad," he said, "if- if I am like my father and remind people of him. He is gone now and it seems there is nothing left for people to remember him by. And Kaifu... Kaifu is so young, and he never saw much of Chichi-ue- I mean, of our father--" his voice faltered.
Goushou was a man flying through thick clouds with nothing to tell him how to go save for some innate sense that one way was right and another wrong. I am not the man to console a boy who has lost his father, he thought. "Goujun is still your chichi-ue," he said aloud, "for you are the son of his body and nothing can alter that fact. You are the heir to my kingdom and my son by courtesy, and I will act as a father to you as well as I may, but you will call me 'honoured father' in token of the fact that we are not father and son in blood." Kaishou looked a little happier at that, and Goushou went on, "As for Kaifu, he is indeed young and has known little of his father. They will have to make each other's acquaintance all over again when Goujun comes back. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, for their relationship has changed from what it was, and Kaifu is now his heir."
Kaishou nodded. "Uncle Gouron told me that Kaifu would probably become the heir to the Western Ocean, if my oji-ue was agreeable, but I was not to tell Kaifu that." He plucked at the bed coverlet a moment in silence and then said in an over-careful voice, "Is my father really coming back?"
"Yes," Goushou said, trusting this was the answer Kaishou wanted to hear. "The Bosatsu said so. Se knows where his soul is now and doubtless knows when and how he will come back to us- but being the Bosatsu will not tell us. He is alive and he is coming back, and that you may depend on, for it is not in the nature of the Bosatsu to lie."
Kaishou said in a flat voice, "Yet it was a kami who killed my father. I find it hard to believe they are to be trusted."
"There are kami and kami. The bosatsu are different from the Jade Emperor and his court. Kanzeon Bosatsu is... unusual, let's say, in hir habits, but se can be relied on." At least, he thought to himself, I know no reason why se cannot.
"I see." Goushou wished he could guess what was in the boy's mind. To distract him he said, "The king of the Western River made a poem for your father," and he quoted Shanten's verse that ended with the lines:
But you, o traveller, on your brave new voyage
Will tell us wondrous tales when you return.
"Ahh," Kaishou said. "That will be nice. Though I will not be at the Western Ocean to hear him." He blinked fiercely, fighting tears. Goushou put a hand on his.
"Of course you will be there to hear him. Or rather, you will be here, for the High King will welcome your father back with much celebration and joy. You will talk over the past, and present your sons to him--"
"Sons?!" Kaishou looked astonished.
"I think so," Goushou said consideringly. "He will be gone for a good while and before that you will be a man and getting your sons."
"But I have not yet bound my hair," Kaishou protested. "And after that- after that there's all my training, and- and-"
"You will bind your hair within these two years, and your training lasts six year after that. In ten years' time you will be a man. That isn't long as time goes."
Kaishou looked flabbergasted. Fortunately Renku came back just then with the posset and Kaishou drank it obediently.
"Let Renku massage you now to take the stiffness from your shoulders. Tomorrow you may lie abed as long as you like, for breakfast will be brought to your apartments and the day is to be passed quietly. I will go now and leave you to sleep. No, stay where you are. Courtesy may wait for the morrow."
Kaishou sat down again. "Thank you, uncle, for your kindness. Have good rest."
"It was no kindness but my pleasure, Kaishou. Have good rest yourself. I will see myself out," he said to forestall Renku, and slipped from the room.
He passed through the door of Kaishou's apartments and into the circle of the guard's lamp. Left would take him through the corridors of the palace to his empty room. Right would take him to the colonnade that looked out over the sea. The deep booming of the waves sounded there, uneasy and threatening still. He hesitated for a moment between returning to the cold safety of his apartments or facing the turbulence outside, then with determination turned towards the outer walk and came at last into the night wind. It caught at robes and hair with invisible fingers, pulling them this way and that. The roar and movement of the ocean was all about him, a confused and unsteady darkness. Dark as the world itself and as unsteady as that.
I have sons now, he said to the darkness. I have children to be raised and cared for. He put the thought of Kaishou and little Kaifu, all yellow and red, into the middle of the darkness, a place of warmth and certainty. They need me. They need me to look after them and raise them against...
...against their father's home-coming.
Kaishou had wept at the thought of being away from Goujun. Kaishou had cheered at the thought of being reunited with him. It was no will of Kaishou's that he had been made the son of the King of the Southern Ocean. He obeyed as he always obeyed, but not with gladness. And how should he be glad, to become a stranger's son?
Chilled to his soul Goushou gazed out at the confused darkness. I have taken responsibility for one who has no love for me, but will obey out of duty only. Why did I think I could be as other men? There is nothing I may have for my own. And the little I have I cannot keep for long.
His heart clenched in the old pain. Konnan. Heart's brother, why did you leave me? I wanted us to be together forever. I thought we could be like Shanten-oh and Rinshu, a pattern for all men to envy and emulate. But everything I love slips from my hands; nothing ever stays. Why is it? Why can I not be as other men are? If I were like my Ani-ue- if I were like Gouen even- I would not be alone this night. There would be men and enough to console both my body and my heart. Why must I be different from everyone else?
Because, a voice said within him. You have more fire in you than your spirit can bear and it consumes your soul. The picture came clear into his head-- the heat and glory that were not of this world, the glad immortal eyes that had looked on him, small and unlovely though he was, and offered him a final brilliant consummation and the end of all his sorrows. 'I had the chance once,' he realized. 'I had the chance to choose the one bright beautiful thing, and I refused it. I chose the smaller part and the safer love. I chose my Ani-ue, and see what has come of it.'
He saw. 'Had I died then our father would still be alive. He would have refused our service to the Emperor, the slayer of his father. So Goujun would be alive as well, a dragon of the dragons, knowing nothing of the kami and caring less; the second brother of who knows how many, ten or more, and our ani-ue's strong right arm. Gouen would be one of the oldest, responsible and steady, training his younger brothers. The world would be a happier place because I was not in it and I would be happy not being in the world. I was promised an end to grief. Why did I not accept? For here I am and my life has brought only sorrow to me and to others.'
The ocean roiled before him, dark and obscure. Far out among the waves and down in their depths Goujun lay alone, severed from his brothers, severed from his sons. Goujun, he thought in pain. You chose as I chose and we both chose wrong. Was it worth this, to be with the kami who tempted you from us? to follow him onto the Wheel of incarnation where he does not even know you, as I chose to stay with the brother who has forgotten my existence? He leaned against the pillar and grief weighed on his heart like lead. It pulled his thoughts down the deep fathoms into the cave where his brother lay, a small white body in the middle of the sea's vast darkness. In his mind's eye he put out a hand and took Goujun's cold stone one in his own. Too late now for any consolation or any kind of regret. Cold as stone himself he stood in the darkness and listened to the roaring of the ocean, huge and obscurely angry as his ani-ue was now angry, and held the white stone hand that no longer felt his touch. Maybe I will turn to stone myself and keep you company here. Would that please you, Goujun? It seems there is nothing above the waves for me now.
Somewhere something disturbed the silence of the place. The guard's voice, speaking to someone else.
"You are in the presence of the Red Dragon, King of the Southern Ocean. Be wary how you disturb his solitude."
"Your pardon. Forgive our intrusion." A soldier's tones, footsteps hastily withdrawing, lost almost at once in the roaring of the ocean that moved to fill Goushou's mind again. And then, "Your Majesty." A golden voice behind him, low and clear, easily heard through the noise of the waters. He turned without thinking.
Hisui glowed even in the small light of the lantern. Golden robes, golden skin, red binding his temples above red eyes.
"My lord Chancellor." Goushou's voice sounded strange in his own ears. Hisui looked over his shoulder. "You may go," he said to the vague presences beyond the lantern's light. "I will remain with his Majesty."
Goushou turned his face away. "I will not keep you. You have laboured hard these forty days and will be more weary than any of us. Go take the rest you have earned, and leave me here to keep vigil over my brother."
There was a small silence. At last Hisui said, "Your servant is weary indeed, Majesty. Forgive me then that I cannot choose my words better. Lord Goujun is not here, nor is he there beneath the waves. His soul sleeps in the egg that grows his new body. And if he knew how it goes in his brother's land, I think he would be sad that your Majesty stands here above his grave and grieves for him."
"Yet still I will not leave him alone with the night and the anger of the waves."
"He is not alone," Hisui said. "He lies next to your honoured father in the quiet waters of the Cave of the Kings. No wind or wave reaches them there, and there is nothing to disturb their sleep."
"You are saying he does not need me," Goushou said. Nothing had ever hurt so much as those words. Tears ran from his eyes and he did not try to stop them, but spoke in spite of them. "No matter. I need him, and I will stay here with the thought of him even if he no longer knows who I am. Now leave me." He turned his back on Hisui and waited for him to be gone.
"I wish it was thirty years ago," Hisui said, and his voice was incongruously ordinary, as a man speaking to any other man- "when your Majesty was still in his training with your honoured brother. For you were unhappy in those days too, almost as unhappy as you are now, but then you took some consolation in your servant. Now I am no longer your Third, and you are the King of the Southern Ocean, and it seems you will not turn to your servant for comfort any more."
"I would not trouble you with care for me. You have done your duty as my brother's Chancellor and I have given you permission- no, I have given you an order- to leave me. You may go now with an easy conscience."
"Yet perhaps I might have wished for your Majesty to console me this time?"
Goushou's heart clenched in rage. "Do not play with me, Hisui. Do you think I am taken in by your acting? I am not a child to be coaxed indoors and to bed by his gran'fer, and I will not be cozened in this fashion, though it is the Chancellor of the Realm who does it."
"I do not play with your Majesty." Hisui did sound tired, deadly tired. "I am sore at heart, for these last days have brought back memories of times now past and men who have left us for good. And so I took the long way back to my quarters, to walk my sadness from me a little, and to remember those times again, a little, and thus I found your Majesty here by himself, who shared those times with me and knew those men as I did. Your servant had some hope we might have eased each other's grief through the memories we have in common; but I see your Majesty's sorrow is too deep for such easy consolation. Forgive your servant his lightness of thought."
The tears spilled hot down his face. "Hisui."
"My name is Goushou. Use it."
"I will tell you a thing," he said doggedly. "You think I weep for my brother, but I do not. I weep for myself. Make no mistake about that."
"You have reason to weep for yourself, Goushou-sama, and none to weep for Lord Goujun. His spirit sleeps in the egg and his body sleeps in the Caves of the Kings, and I think there are few places he would rather be than where he is. For his body is at peace near the father he loved, and his soul has adventures waiting it such as many men might envy." Hisui drew a step closer. Goushou's hand reached out as if of its own accord and Hisui took it in his own fine cool one. There was comfort indeed in the touch. The cord of misery that was tight through Goushou's body began to ease. He sighed, aware of sudden exhaustion.
"You may escort me to my apartments," he said, giving in. "And then go to yours. I will not keep you longer from whoever waits for you there."
"No-one waits for me. I intended this night for sleep only."
He turned back in the direction of his room. Hisui's hand remained about his. Goushou didn't try to loose it. The smoothness of Hisui's skin brought back memories of the time when that golden touch had been one of the few things that made his life bearable. They went in silence, for there was no need to talk. Unthinkingly he had slipped back into the feel of that long-ago past, the numberless afternoons and evenings when Hisui had companied himself and Goukou. Hisui had known his body from his earliest adolescence, better than his own gran'fer did, and seen more than most of his soul. Hisui was perhaps the only man here likely to know what had angered the high king so terribly forty days ago. One need not pretend with Hisui, who had held the secrets of kings for decades. Goushou sighed again, but it was the heaviness of sorrow leaving his body, not sorrow itself. In its place a little flame began to play in his heart in spite of his weariness, as memories from years back stole into his mind.
In his rooms the night servant relieved Hisui of his formal robes, sponged him down with lemon water and wrapped him in a chamber gown. "The Chancellor will see to my needs hereafter," Goushou told the man, who bowed and retired. Hisui brought a fresh cloth wrung out in hot citrus water and washed the dried tears from Goushou's face. Hisui was close to him and the warm Hisui smell, old and familiar, came from the opened robe above his chest. Goushou took himself in hand and went over to the bed. Hisui held the quilt open for him, covered him after, and went to extinguish the lamps. He came back, now only a block of shadow in the moonlight that filtered through the gauze curtains, and slipped into bed beside Goushou.
'I will let him sleep,' Goushou thought. 'He has earned his rest.' And then Hisui leaned above him and put his mouth to Goushou's, and every good intention went flying from Goushou's mind. Hisui's lips were soft as ever, and warm as ever, and most certainly skilled as ever, and Goushou's soul went up in flame. He came emerged at once and pulled Hisui desperately down against the aching part of himself. Hisui's heaviness pressed him into the pillows. Hisui's sweet mouth dissolved against his own, melting his heart and melting his body, so that he could no longer think of anything else. So warm Hisui was, so loving, so smooth and golden and implacable. Goushou gave in to him wholly. At some point Hisui's lips were gone from his own, leaving him desolate; but they had only moved up to his horns. He arched and cried aloud at their touch. Feather flutterings on one tip and then the other--- like flying through thin cirrus, here and gone, here and gone-- He moaned and writhed in the prison of Hisui's embrace, on the verge of losing himself. The little stroking stopped as Hisui shifted his position, and Goushou had just wit enough left to grasp and hold him still. If Hisui began elsewhere that would be the end of it, and he wanted-- he wanted-- he wanted the thing his drunken senses wouldn't let him remember--
"The sun in the East?" Hisui murmured in his ear. For a moment the words meant nothing at all, then understanding came to him in a happy rush.
"This lovely man-" he replied.
This lovely man
Enters my chamber,
Enters my chamber,
And steps through my door.
Hisui slid off him onto his side, and made to lie on his back. Goushou put out a hand, confused. Their eyes met. "Cloud on the Mountain," Hisui said. Cloud on the Mountain? Dimly he remembered- the only position where a man may be entered by an inferior.
"No," he said. There was an odd pause, like a stasis in flight. Hisui neither spoke nor moved and that very lack of response said everything. Goushou turned to his face and raised his hips, giving the Chancellor no choice but to understand. He sensed Hisui getting up and felt Hisui's hands grasping him. His soul soared in relief and satisfaction. And then--- Hisui's wet mouth was on his buttocks, and the sensation of teeth was on his skin, hard and not-quite-hurting. Goushou made an incredible sound into the sheets. Hisui nibbled at him, one buttock, the other, back again and then again, and then Hisui's tongue came playing Between the Hills-- Goushou's back arched and a high shrilling note came out of him. His mind was shivering apart. A hard grasp caught him in front, unbearable pressure on his root, appalling delicate touch of fingers on his sheathe. He tried to writhe free, away from the maddening sensation there, away from the intrusive wetness in back that threatened every minute to find the heart of him and end the pleasure and himself together. But he was held within Hisui's arms, his body had no play, and then Hisui's tongue touched the apricot-stone. There was an explosion in Goushou's mind and he fell down the skies in a ball of flame burning bright as a meteor.
Lay panting and gasping in nowhere for a moment. Came to himself. And was hit by a wave of black rage and misery such as he hadn't known since he was thirteen. He rose in fury and struck Hisui full across the face, once and then again.
"You dare--!" he said in a voice he could barely control. "How dare you--" he drew breath to check the choking in his throat, to stop his voice from shaking- "how dare you offer such insult to me! You grow above yourself, Chancellor. You may be the High King's friend and closest councillor, you may despise me as much as he does-- indeed, you may trust and trust rightly that he will be angry with me on your behalf tomorrow--" he had to draw breath again to quiet his thundering heart- "but I am still the king of the Southern Ocean and you are still a servant. You will not presume to judge me and you will not balk at serving me!"
Hisui made no response but sat looking at him, face dim in the faint moonlight. Something touched Goushou between the shoulder blades. Fear, almost, it felt like. As if Hisui had the power here and he had none-- And is that not so? Ani-ue values him more than me. Ani-ue will not take my part against him, or if he does will hold it against me. I have nothing- he has made me nothing--
"Summon me to the Southern Ocean," Hisui said quietly, "command me to serve your Majesty in your own palace on any day but this, and I will obey gladly. But this is the palace of the king of the Eastern Ocean on the evening when your honoured brother has gone beneath the waves, and I am not free to do what your Majesty would wish."
Goushou dropped his gaze. His mind was split in two- fury at being denied the thing he needed fighting the grey misery of knowing Hisui to be right and himself in the wrong. But why am I never to have what I desire? Why am I always wrong- the difficult one, the problem child, to be humoured and managed by the king's clever servants? In a disconnected fashion he noted that Hisui was still emerged-- patiently putting his needs aside for his royal masters. Perfect Hisui. Goushou rubbed a hand across his weary face. Hisui would have his way, as ever.
"Lie down," he said. Hisui did so. Goushou put a leg over him to straddle his torso and lowered himself onto Hisui's root. He splayed his hands across Hisui's chest for balance, then began posting up and down to the rhythm of 'The king flies to war with his armies behind him.' He kept his eyes fixed on his hands as the song played in his head, governing his inward and outward movement-- looked at nothing but his hands on the pale sheen of Hisui's skin, almost-black against almost-grey in the room's dimness. Hisui's breath grew deeper and he began to buck his hips upwards. Goushou straightened and arched his back to drive Hisui deeper inside him, speeding up the tempo as he did so. Hisui grasped Goushou's hips in desperate hands. The golden body was growing hot under Goushou's own hands and beginning to jerk out of control. Goushou moved faster and harder, a pace one could not maintain for long; but it was rarely necessary to do so, and proved unnecessary now. With a soundless gasp Hisui reached his fulfillment and collapsed, inert, beneath Goushou.
Goushou slid off him and lay down. His mind and soul felt empty of anything but weariness and disgust and the old soul-sickness of his youth- I wish I was dead. I wish I could die. Without noticing it his eyes closed and he had peace from himself for a while.
He woke with a diffuse sense of happiness. His face was nestled against someone's chest-- ani-ue? He opened his eyes a crack and saw golden skin beneath him and smiled in delight-- Hisui-- in the moment before memory came back. His smile died.
Hisui was awake, he could tell by the feel of his body. The feel. His arms were about Hisui and that was why the Chancellor was still abed and not up and waiting his awakening. Goushou's spirit shrank from the morning-after encounter but knew it was not to be avoided. He loosed Hisui and turned onto his back. Hisui slipped out of bed and disappeared somewhere in the room. Goushou turned to his other side and lay watching the light from dry and heavy eyes. It was well past dawn: he had slept later than was his habit.
A step beside him and the smell of lemons.
"Will your Majesty allow his servant to wait upon him?"
Goushou nodded, not looking at him. Hisui laid the covers aside, washed Goushou front and back and dried him. Goushou sat up and Hisui changed his bedrobe for a clean one, deftly so that Goushou remained covered throughout. He went away with the cloths and the robe, and came back with Goushou's morning tea. Kneeling, he laid the small lacquer tray on the bedside table, then bent and put his forehead to the ground as a man who asks pardon. Goushou took a breath.
"Raise your head, my lord Chancellor," he said stonily, to have it over with as quickly as possible. "My thanks for your consideration last night. I should not have taken my anger out on you and I regret doing so. You have leave."
Hisui straightened but kept his head bent still. "Your servant thanks your Majesty for your graciousness, and for teaching your servant his duty. Be certain I shall take the lesson to heart."
Goushou looked at him with dull suspicion. "I do not understand you. Speak plainly, my lord Chancellor. If you mock me let me tell you it were best not to."
Hisui winced. "My lord, your servant is accustomed to believing himself not unskilled in the courtier's arts. I had thought to console your Majesty last night and I succeeded only in making the wound in your heart deeper. I do most earnestly ask your Majesty's pardon."
"There is nothing to ask pardon for," he said. "You may go." Hisui went. Goushou looked at his tea, then lay down again. The waking world held nothing for him. His only comfort lay in the blessed nothingness of sleep. He turned on his side, closed his eyes and sought refuge there.
He was in some other place, on a terrace looking out to the sea. Down below him blue waves curled, and high above the blue sky stretched forever, flecked with white clouds. Konnan was standing before him, face stricken with sadness. Goushou felt tears prick his own eyes. It hurt to know that this was just a dream, that Konnan was far away and would never come back to his waking world.
"Goushou-sama," Konnan said. "Forgive me for not realizing how angry you were with me."
"I was not angry."
"Yet this is the first time in all these years that you have come to me in dream or meditation. I have sought you often but your heart was turned from me, and I thought it was in anger."
Goushou looked away. "I wanted you to have your new life free from the weight of the old. You had the cares of a household and of fatherhood upon you. I would not have taken your attention from those by regrets for myself."
Konnan smiled helplessly. "How should I not regret you, Goushou-sama?"
The tears threatened to spill over. Goushou battled them ferociously. "I do not wish to hear this. I gave you up completely so that you might enjoy the happiness you deserved with an easy mind. Do not tell me that was for nothing."
"You were generosity itself with me, my lord, both in my life with you and my leaving. How should I not regret losing the one who put all thought of himself aside to aid his servant? I have missed you greatly, even in my happiness, and treasured what news I had of you from the world. I heard of Goujun-sama's death and grieved for him and for you. I think it must be near his funeral day?"
"He went under the waves yesterday. Konnan-- No, I will not begin again. If I open my heart to you here I shall be the more desolate when I wake and find you not there, and I have little enough to wake up for as it is. Indeed I wish I need never wake again."
"My poor lord. The loss of Goujun-sama is hard for you after all the other losses you have had."
Goushou shook his head. "No. It's not like that. Goujun-- oh, this is too complicated. You will hear soon enough what has happened to Goujun. He is not gone for good." He sensed Konnan's surprise. "It's the kami -- well, one might have known nothing proper could come from that crew." He paced across the terrasse to a bench and, not thinking, with the old motion signalled Konnan to sit by him. This is a dream, he thought, looking at the unnaturally bright colours of the world about him. I will wake alone. Yet that thought was not as strong as it had been, with Konnan here beside him like remembered sunshine. Briefly he outlined what had happened to Goujun and the changes in his own life.
"It was rash of me," he said, "to take on Goujun's children, especially since he is coming back. But I looked to have my death any day from ani-ue and I wanted above all else for my kingdom to be settled when I went. And now... now I must see this through to the end, though it will make my nephews unhappy to be with me."
"Why should it?" Konnan asked. "They are deprived of their father, which is misfortune indeed. But they have you to act in that role for him now and may be counted lucky."
"They could more happily have stayed in their own home and been under Gouron's fosterage, without all the upheavals and strangeness."
"But would that not put Lord Gouron in a difficult position?" Konnan asked. "He is regent for their father, yes, but his rank is still below theirs. How should he exercise a father's authority over the King's sons and direct them as is necessary?"
That point had not occurred to Goushou, but he said at once, "How should I? If I had known them from infancy it would be another matter, but as it is- I am no fit man to be a father to a boy on the edge of manhood."
"How not?" Konnan said, with the quizzical smile that Goushou knew so well. It made his heart contract to see it again. "You are more able to sympathize with boys at that age than one who knew no difficulties in his youth."
"And maybe I will sympathize overmuch."
"Did you so with Lord Gouen?"
"Yes," Goushou said. "I spoiled him completely and look at him now."
"I do. He is a man of great talent and all the world loves him."
"Konnan--" Goushou looked at him in exasperation.
"My lord?" Konnan smiled back. Goushou started to smile in response, and his eyes brimmed over.
"Konnan--" he said in a totally different tone. This is a dream. Konnan is gone. And this dream will end.
"May I write to you, my lord?" Konnan asked gently. "I have longed to tell you of my children and my family and yearned to hear of yours, but thought you displeased with me."
"Yes," Goushou said. "Write me. I dare not come to you in dream for the waking will be too bitter. But write to me." He blinked, trying to see through the swimming tears, and was awake in his own bed. Alone. He put his face to the pillow and wept like a child. Hands on his shoulder, a low urgent voice- "Goushou!" and there-- was-- Goukou, in a chamber robe, on the bed beside him, pulling him up and into an embrace. Goushou was crying too hard to speak, was too confused to think, but Goukou's arms were about him so he did what was natural-- buried his face against his brother's neck and cried his heart out.
Goukou held him tightly till the worst of it was over and Goushou was gulping for breath again.
"Ani-ue--" he panted, and sniffled, and sniffled again. "How--"
"Sshh, little brother, be at ease. It's well past noon. When you failed to come to the midday meal I sent to ask after you and was told you were still asleep, so I came to join you for the siesta."
"You were weeping as you slept. This has been a hard forty days for all of us. You've borne yourself well through it, but it's no surprise that your body should exact a price from you now that it's over."
"Mnh," he said, and the tears fell from his eyes anew. He pulled away from Goukou and fisted them away. "I have to stop this. I am a man and a father--" He stopped abruptly. "I am, aren't I? Now," he said, feeling it strange. "I've never had the right to call myself that before. But now- I am a man and a father."
"Yes," Goukou said, "you are."
"Ani-ue---" He felt totally exhausted.
"Will you have something to eat? You must be hungry."
"No-- no. I'm not hungry. I'm tired. I would go back to sleep, but--"
"If you fear more evil dreams, I will lie beside you to comfort you."
"I do not fear evil dreams. My dreams were too happy and the waking from them is painful. But I am glad you are here. I missed you--" He took a deep breath, for the old pain grabbed his heart.
"Yes," Goukou kissed his ear. "And I you. You put poor Hisui quite out of countenance, you know." Goushou jumped in surprise and looked at Goukou askance. "Oh come," Goukou said. "You know how the servants talk in my palace. It's common knowledge now that Goushou-sama would have spent the night in vigil above his brother's grave had the Lord Chancellor not entreated him back to his quarters and spent the night with him."
"That is not why I was there," Goushou said, face reddening in mortification.
"And how he denied that it was for his brother he wept, which is what you would expect from so sensitive a gentleman, poor soul, and how fitting that he should be comforted by such a fine and handsome man as the Lord Chancellor--"
"I will not be mocked!!" Goushou said in fury.
"I do not mock you. You should hear what they say about me and Gouron-- dancing Little Moonset on the terrace, what a sight that must have been--"
"And taking to the skies like that, ahh it's like living in the old days, it is, when dragons were dragons--"
"We've really taken him for granted too long. He has unexpected depths in him--" Goukou smiled, a reflex smile he might not even have been aware of.
"You should keep your servants in better order," Goushou said severely.
"Why? This way I know what goes on in my palace."
"Indeed," Goushou muttered.
"I was happy for you, little brother, until I met with Hisui this morning. I have never seen him so taken down. 'I treated Lord Goushou as if he were still a youth in training, and he reminded me most unmistakably that he is a man and a father.'"
"Nonsense," Goushou said, uncomfortable. "He was kindness itself. I took my anger out on him because he was not the Marquis-- Oh." He remembered then the ending of his dream.
"I dreamed- I met the Marquis in my dream last night. A true dream." Goushou began to smile. He will write me. No, I will write him first. I should have done it years ago---
"That's good." Goukou was looking quizzical. He didn't understand, and it was too complicated to explain. I can tell him how my sons fare-- it will be good to hear how he does--
"Ahh. Ani-ue, I think I'm hungry after all."
From the Book of Songs
Heiho, the sun in the East!
This lovely man
Enters my chamber,
Enters my chamber,
And steps through my door.
Heiho, the sun in the East!
This lovely man
Enters my garden,
Enters my garden
And steps over the threshold.