The announcement of Goushou's arrival took Goukou off-balance. Something wrong he thought immediately, and then with a stab of irritation, Why *now*? Kaiei's Final Dance was in two days and his own nerves were strung tight. I've no time for Goushou's crises-- and trust Goushou to have a crisis now.
"Bring him to my chambers and tell him I will be there at noon," he told the chamberlain. "Provide a bath and refreshments while he waits."
"Yes, Majesty. And his servants?"
"The Red Dragon has brought four men with him, two bodyservants and two for the baggage."
Goukou blinked. "His equerry and bathman may attend him in my apartments. Take the others to the southern suite and help them prepare it as usual." What is this, a state visit? He could at least have sent word.
He turned back to his work but his attention was distracted. Eventually he pushed it from him. "Have them draft these letters for my seal," he told Hisui. "I'll go see what's the matter with Goushou."
Hisui nodded obedience. Goukou caught his eye and grimaced his impatience; Hisui raised a discreet and sympathetic eyebrow. With a sigh Goukou set out for his apartments. There was a flurry of muted activity in the inner rooms. Servants had brought a small meal and were laying it out under the eye of Kenson, newly promoted to assistant major-domo. All stopped their movement and bowed as he entered.
"The Red Dragon is in the bath. Will your Majesty join him?"
"No, I am here only for a moment. Fetch him to me."
A minute later Goushou came into the room, wrapped hastily in a chamber-robe. He knelt and put Goukou's hands to his forehead. His skin was still warm and steaming from the bath and his loosened hair was damp.
"Ani-ue, forgive your worthless brother for coming unannounced and intruding upon your day."
"It seems you intend to intrude on more than my day if you bring servants and baggage with you. Why are you here, Goushou? and why have you left your sons to their own devices?"
Goushou smiled unthinkingly. "My sons have settled into their new life and are busy with the lessons I have outlined for them. I've no desire to interrupt them with another journey, however pleasant, after the many upheavals of this last half-year, and certainly not when my ani-ue is preparing for his heir's Final Dance."
"The Dance is the day after tomorrow and I am busy. I repeat, why are you here? Do you think I have time for your troubles?"
Goushou bowed his head.
"No, my lord, nor would I bother you with my own concerns at such a time. But these last ten days I have been disturbed on your account, both waking and asleep; and the uneasiness I feel was so persistent that I determined to risk your anger by coming to see for myself."
There was nothing he could say to that. Red dragons see more than the common run, like it or not; and Goushou had always been the closest to him of his brothers.
"There is no cause for uneasiness," he said at last. "I have been troubled by the usual anxieties of a father facing his son's arrival at manhood, no more." It sounded thin and unconvincing even to his own ears.
"Forgive your worthless brother his foolish concerns then. May I have leave at least to stay the night?"
Goukou frowned down at his brother's bent head. "Goushou, what is this? You sound like Gouen. What's gotten into you?"
Goushou looked up, eyes smiling. "I know when I'm likely to be unwelcome to my brother and I tread softly therefore."
"You can be meek at need, I know. But all is well here. I suppose I am glad to see you. Stay if you like, though I have little time to spend with you."
Goushou put fist to breast and bowed. "Thank you, ani-ue." Goukou felt an obscure bafflement. This was taking meekness unusually far. Goushou must have something up his sleeve, but Goukou hadn't a clue what it might be. Unease walked catlike up his spine, mixing with the suggestions his body was giving him about Goushou, naked and warm and wet under that robe. He pushed both thoughts to the back of his mind
"I will see you at the evening meal then." He turned and left the room.
Goukou came into the dining hall to find Goushou in conversation with his nephews. Kaiei was smiling quietly while Kaisou chattered, in evident high spirits, about some upcoming hunt or other, and little Kaimyou stood listening with a wistful expression to the men's talk. They stopped speaking and bowed at his arrival, palm to fist. Goukou was surprised to feel a sudden relaxation of spirit. The world seemed more normal somehow with Goushou at his table, here with the younger dragons, Kaiei and Kaisou: almost like having Goujun and Gouen back again. As if the last six months hadn't happened, or the last fifty years...
I become fanciful. Our youth is long past. But still...
But still he felt his breath easier in his chest and he smiled at Goushou as he sat. His steward served him, and the others in their turn. His appetite had been small these last days but he ate to keep his strength up and to free the others from the constraint of his example. And though he'd also been indisposed to conversation, something Goushou had said came back to him.
"You spoke of the lessons you set for my nephews. Is their tutor not to your liking, that you supervise their studies yourself?"
"Their tutor is quite able enough. But I must make haste to become acquainted with them, for Kaishou is growing towards manhood and will bind his hair within these two years, and then there will be a distance between us. Study is Kaishou's delight and it is there I may best meet him in easy circumstances. And so I spend a part of my day with him on his lessons, that we may take the measure of each other and learn each other's nature."
"Ahh, indeed. I suppose fatherhood is different when one comes to it with sons half-grown."
"I am sure it is, though I've had little experience of young children. Gouen was close to Kaishou's age when I first took a hand his upbringing. At least I begin in territory that's not completely unfamiliar. But of course Kaishou is quite another matter from Gouen."
"Of course. A son is not a brother. And Gouen was always flexible where Kaishou seems more unbending; but whether that's his nature or Gouron's training, I couldn't say."
"It may just be youth itself," Goushou said. "But his cousins would know more of him than we do. How does he strike you, Kaiei?"
Kaiei's eye met Goukou's, tacitly asking permission even as he spoke. "He seems to me as one 'ever in armour against an unseen foe.'"
"You think he finds the world a dangerous place?" Goushou asked, frowning.
"Not dangerous perhaps, but full of care. He has always had a sense of responsibility beyond his years."
"That is true," Goukou agreed. "It weighs on him now but in time may lie more easily on his shoulders." It was odd and a little diverting to see Goushou so intent in his new role and showing all the worries of a young father. He should have had sons of his own long since. Fatherhood changes much about a man-- it might even have corrected that propensity of his abed. But the reminder of that was uncomfortable just now and he put the thought from him.
He rose at meal's end, signalling with his eyes for Kaiei to wait. He said good-night to his younger sons, and then with a small tension in his back turned to Goushou and extended his hands. Goushou knelt and put them to his forehead.
"Have good rest, ani-ue." Not the slightest suggestion that he expected Goukou's company that night or felt reproachful at being denied it. Fatherhood had matured his brother more thoroughly and more swiftly than he'd thought. A good thing too; and then perversely felt a sting of regret for the Goushou of old, with his moods and his demands for indulgence. But I have no patience for indulgence now. A good thing he has grown up, yes.
"Have good rest, Goushou. I will see you in the morning." He left with Kaiei walking three paces behind him and proceeded to his chambers. He had in fact no special business with his son, merely a strong desire for his company. These days Kaiei's calmness of spirit was like a talisman that Goukou called on for protection against the black anxiety that hovered ever above him, waiting to attack the moment he relaxed his guard.
He threw himself onto the divan and sighed deeply. "Read to me a little," he said. "Ganshin's commentary on the Book of Waves." Green Cricket hastened off to fetch the book from the study. Jourin came in with the tea things. Kaiei intercepted him with a small nod and began making the preparations himself. Goukou watched under his lashes as Kaiei checked the temperature of the water, measured the leaves into the pot and poured the infusion with capable hands. It was not that he was more graceful about it than Jourin, or indeed any of Goukou's servants; it was just that it was different- better- when Kaiei did it.
Green Cricket returned with the book and then brought Goukou his tea. Goukou nodded permission. Kaiei took his seat and looked an inquiry at his father.
"Begin anywhere," Goukou said. Kaiei started reading in his clear flexible voice as Goukou savoured the aroma in his cup.
"'The magnitude of waters pile up.' In this verse is indicated the weight and immensity of the oceans which fill the world, but equally the weight of experience, of thought and deed, which a man accumulates through the centuries. For children and youths are like shallow streams, ever moving with noisy babble, and clear through to the bottom. One may see at a glance everything within them: they have no secrets, nor can have any, for all is open to the casual eye.'
'Thus in the course of time the youth becomes a man, and his stream deepens and widens to a river. As he reaches the duties of manhood and goes to war; as he enacts the rites of generation, completing the Moonset Dance and nourishing the egg within the female; as he carries out the role of fatherhood, instructing and chastising his sons, so does the magnitude of experience pile up as the waters of the ocean. Now there are depths within his soul and heart, wherein his thoughts swim unseen to others as do the creatures of the deep sea..."
Goukou listened without listening, relaxing in the pleasure of this private moment with his son. If only he could have Kaiei always about him, what happiness that would be. There was no-one whose company was so easy; no-one whose thoughts followed his own so smoothly; no-one whose simple presence gave him such joy. In two days' time- in two days' time Kaiei would be a man, ready for a man's duties. I can place him at my right hand, have his attendance all through my days...
And my nights? He caught his breath. No, *not* that- I don't-- But the air of the skies was blowing through his head again, the great open skies where the small distinctions of earth fall away to nothing. The smell of freedom filled his nostrils and its voice whispered in his ear: Father? Son? What does that mean? He is my flesh. His spirit follows mine in all things. He will be happy to become one with me. His soul soared upwards as his manroot hardened between his legs.
"Enough," he said abruptly. "You may go."
"Hai, chichi-ue." There was the rustle of silk as Kaiei rose and took a step towards him. Goukou's heart lurched. He looked up in a kind of terror and found Kaiei's face before him as his son knelt at his feet. Their eyes met for a brief instant.
There was nothing there at all. No consciousness, no awareness of the tie between them. Of earth, wholly of earth, and at this moment a stranger to him. Cold as ice Goukou saw his hands taken in those familiar and utterly alien black ones, felt the touch of the young man's forehead on their backs.
"Have good rest, chichi-ue."
"You too," he said, and his voice barely held. He sat watching while Kaiei rose, backed the proper three steps, and turned to leave the room.
The voice of the sky roared in the winds above his head: The wish of my heart is all that matters. But the wish of his heart was nothing to that untouchable other. An iron wall was before him, unpassable and unbreakable, and his stunned senses dashed themselves against it.
He is my son, he thought numbly. My own flesh, closer to me than any of my kin and farther away than the stars. He came from my body and my blood beats in his: our minds work as one and our souls are in harmony; and there can never be that between us that I share with my brothers and my friends and indeed, if I wished it, with the least servant in my palace.
With a moan he put his head in his hands. His soul hung bewildered between earth and sky, with no familiar landmark to guide his way, feeling only the world gone all wrong about him. He was alone in his confused darkness-- And that was wrong too. There should be someone here with him because-- because there was always someone with him-- but who was that someone and where was he now? The calm presences he could recall: Shantsu-- gone with his boyhood. Hisui-- the servant who dared not read his master's heart too clearly. Goujun. Goujun dead beneath the sea. He grunted in pain. His blind hands found the bell. "Call my brother," he said to the servant that appeared in answer. That was all that was left to him and it might not be enough.
Goukou breathed deeply, reaching for his mantra, but the words would not come. He could only breathe in and out and concentrate on that, air in, air out, air in, as his mind whirled amid muddy clouds and the weight of his body's desires pulled him towards the earth. He heard a voice, a hesitant 'Majesty?' Shenzen. He held out his arm mechanically. Fingers undid the fastenings, hands removed his robes, and he breathed in and out and endured, knowing only that he must wait much longer than this. But the voice came almost the next moment, just as his boots were drawn from him and the stockings removed from his feet.
He stood abruptly, and even as he came up there was warmth against his chest and arms about his body and the smell of Goushou all about him. The Goushou smell- like a spell that undoes the binding of centuries. His spirit roared in his ears, freed at last to do what it would. Goushou's mouth was against his and Goushou's loosened hair covered his hands where they gripped Goushou's shoulders in turn.
They fell to the divan together, himself uppermost with solid welcoming heat below him. His trousers came open and were pulled apart, and he was free at last, free free free to be inside Inside though there was never inside enough for him now-- could not be, must not be--
He thrust himself up on his arms, away from the body beneath him and the temptation of its raised legs. He could have wept to be denied the freedom of the skies once more, and only because of this small earth-bound detail. But the skies were not his, must not be--
"Ani-ue... will you have the Mountain Cave--?"
He fell to his side, turned to his back. "Spiral Staircase," he said and his voice groaned. An odd pause, and then Goushou's hands were about him in the weaving motions of the form. Not enough of course, never enough--
"I'm going to get the oil." Goukou caught a desolate breath as the pressure left him, but Goushou was back in a moment and holding Goukou in a thick viscous grip. That was better: not right, but better: smooth slickness and pulsing flesh about his manroot that came fully emerged into that not-quite-right enclosure. Pressure near the sensitive opening, Goushou's thumb stroking the flesh so that he cried out from desire and from desire's frustration.
"Ani-ue, this isn't what you want. Come above me--"
"It's not enough--"
"No!" Not just to the danger in his brother's words, but to his body's reflexes, to what the smell of Goushou's skin and flesh had always meant to him. Pent lust and fury lashed his soul like an ocean storm. What he needed was within his claws' grasp and he must not close them on it--
Goushou threw himself full length on top of him, arms about his torso, mouth to his own, his buttocks pressing unbearably against the upper side of his root. Goukou yelled. And heard the words at last.
"The skies. To the skies. Come, Dragon King: let us go where we belong."
After that all was a blur. Handfast with his red brother, running together to the night outside, and finally into his proper shape. Finally: room enough for the largeness that was him and space enough for that greatness to spread its wings in; and so he beat swift and huge up towards the upper air where the stars winked cold and white. The limitations of earth were far below him and the thoughts of earth fell from him as he flew: I must not hurt him, gone in an instant as the voice of the sky boomed The fool thinks himself a match for me? I will split him in two for his presumption. But then somehow he had flown beyond that voice as well. Now there was only silence and swiftness and the other body winging up in his wake, its heat fanning towards him on some subtle current of the air. He braked on an upcurving turn and the other came to meet him, skimming through the dark as if blown by the winds, and then it turned also in the last ten metres of its flight to present its back to him. Blood-dark wings spread low and wide across the sky, blocking the horizon stars; the long feathery tail rose up for him; and beneath that, sensed if not seen, was the thing he desired.
He flew forward, one beat, two, then put his wings up high. His taloned feet gripped the other's haunches and held them apart. His head curved down on its long neck to kiss the horns beneath it. And finally, finally, the great trunk of his male part slid heavy and solid into the other's body- in and in and more in to where there was, at such long last, space enough to harbour it.
The supple tail wound about him as if to lash their bodies together in a second binding. Each time he pulled himself away it drew him back, and so he flew through the blackness, rocking in blind ecstasy and relief. The night wind boomed as his wings rose and fell to the beat of his thudding heart and the throbbing of his root. He had lost almost all sense of himself when at last the tidal wave of release came on him, but instinct made him loose the horn in his mouth and grip the back of the neck below it in iron velvet jaws. His teeth sank into scaled skin, its taste and smell known to him in some other life, and so they remained joined even when his huge delight shook their bodies asunder and sent them plummeting towards the earth.
Again in manform, again in the busy emptiness of his room and the cold order of his bed, he clasped the hotness of his brother to him. The stars still wheeled in his head, and his four-limbed body echoed in its smaller fashion the greater lust of his dragon one. He licked at the hard edges of Goushou's ear and groaned Goushou's name into it, and Goushou's arms tightened about him.
"Ani-ue-- come within--" Goushou's legs came up to grip his sides.
"Goushou, dearest brother-- I must hurt you now-- your manform is not proof against me as your dragon one is..." A painful memory flashed into his mind, Jourin walking stiffly from his bed, face averted, and the sickening realization-- Kenson, Saikoku-- always absent from duty the day after they companied with him... Goushou's voice cut across it.
"What kind of talk is this? Your body was known to mine before ever my memory begins: my body sings the same song as yours. There is always room in me for you. And anyway--" Goushou's eyes gleamed-- "do you think you're the only one still in the skies, Dragon King? My spirit dances in the upper air and the stars' music rings in my blood. Come, let us finish what we have begun." He turned over and Goukou let him do it. Raised his hips with the two hard swellings, too inviting to be refused. Goukou grasped them, the familiar feel of them, and slid himself home between them into the familiar welcome, and indeed there was no tightness there, no shrinking, only the familiar heat and pressure of their countless years and countless couplings together. Goushou, my brother.
Happiness bloomed inside him, as at a homecoming after a long journey, and the fierceness of his lust eased as it grew. And so when he moved it was to a gentler song than usual- My love is like the waters, the waters, the waters/ My love is like the sea foam that blows upon the waves- a long loving stroke in and out, slowly and steadily building speed but never losing the sense of where he was and with whom. Goushou's flesh pulsed about him, Goushou's voice cried out in sharp pleasure beneath him and then grew ragged; Goushou's body lost the tempo of the music as it shuddered to a climax. Love and triumph carried Goukou to the end of his own delight, a great wave rolling forever before it dashed him on the shore.
He lay in the satiation of utter emptiness. Goushou's red hair covered his shoulders, Goushou's heat and wetness was pressed to his chest, and the Goushou taste and smell was all through his mouth and his nostrils and on every scale of his body.
"Do not leave me," Goukou said to him. "Stay with me, stay beside me for at least the next while. Only thus may I remain Goukou of the Eastern Ocean and not the lord of the skies."
Goushou stirred and reached to give him a kiss. "I will stay, and gladly. Do not fear, ani-ue. You shall never be in want while I am with you. I will lift my robe behind and walk before you when you go out, and crouch in front of you when you are in audience, and sit astride you when you are at table--"
"Goushou, be serious!"
"Ahh, I am too content to be serious. Your trouble has been my trouble, darkening my days and nights, and now I feel it gone. I should have come before but my duties held me at home, and I regret that for more than one reason. For whether you are Goukou of the Eastern Ocean or the lord of the skies, these days I find you wonderfully kind."
Goukou shifted uncomfortably. "You are the only one likely to think so. I did harm to half my servants before I had wit enough to realize they were too much of earth to take me."
"And so you refrained from lying above them after? That was generous, but I would say ill-advised, given the consequences."
"What other choice did I have?"
"To let them suffer in your service as is their privilege and their duty. If they are not happy to endure for your sake, they are no fit servants for a king."
"It is not that they were unwilling but that I would not lay it on them. You do not know, who have never fought in the skies, how the spirit of the ancient dragons changes a man when once he sees through their eyes. It seems no great matter to take a step away from the right path, and then to go farther, and then before you know it-- the greatest atrocities seem to be wholly natural." He shuddered inwardly at the thoughts he had had only this evening, and heard Goushou's snort of impatience.
"I must have a word with Hisui. He should have spoken sense to you before this. That you fear to become our ancestors is proof enough that you stand in no danger of doing so. But still you insist on harrowing up your soul with these fancies."
"I am not a child scaring myself with shadows! I saw the danger and the temptation and I know them to be real. Whereas you wandered from the path without thought and without fear, and so became as they in your own fashion."
"Did I so?" Goushou said, eyebrow raised.
"Did you not? The first time you lay below a man other than myself, did it not seem a small thing to you? And then came the next one, and the next after him--" He stopped in surprise, because Goushou was laughing.
"The first after you was the Marshal, and the next after him was Gouen, and that, dear brother, is pretty much the sum of the men I have lain beneath. I am sorry to destroy your imaginings if you find them agreeable--" he grinned at Goukou-- "but truly I do not lie on my face for every man."
In fact, no more men than I. Goukou felt strangely at a loss. Goushou- the Goushou he knew- should be outraged and resentful at his words, lashing back with his own taunts or sulking in silent fury. But his brother seemed only amused. "You've changed," he said, and heard the note of unhappiness in his voice.
"I think not," Goushou said, turning back on his side to nestle against him. "Nor have you, ani-ue, whatever you may fear. Do we not still copulate in the most loving fashion and then quarrel right after, and then love again, just as if we were not yet fathers?"
That was too much for him. He took Goushou in his arms and kissed him once more, and felt desire's return. "Indeed I would love you again, but I would not have you suffer from it either. Be honest, Goushou-- can you partner me a third time without pain?"
"Of course. That's what the oil was for."
"The oil--?" Goukou feared he was goggling, for Goushou's eyes danced at sight of his face.
"A precaution, though not necessary in the event. But one you might use in future if you fear to harm your servants."
Goukou collected himself. "I think I need not fear much longer. You have drawn me back to earth as you did before, and when--" he hesitated, "--when Kaiei's Final Dance is over I shall hope to put the dragons of old behind me once and for all."
Goushou gave him a look. "Still you fear our ancestors in you. Ah well. Maybe only time will cure that one. For now you may be as fierce as you please with me, for I have not had such loving in many a long day."
Goukou grabbed him and flipped him to his belly before Goushou knew what he was about. He ran his finger down the shallow buttock-cleft and nudged the apricot-stone with his knuckle. He gave his finger a glance: it glistened stickily but there was no red to be seen.
Goushou's appalled voice reached him: "Ani-ue, let me wash at least..."
"Be quiet." Goukou put his mouth where his hand had been. Goushou indeed said no more thereafter, though he was far from quiet. Goukou, tongue working busily, listened to his sobbing groans and thought Wait until you feel our ancestors' breath on your own neck, Goushou, and then tell me it is nothing to fear. Goushou's cries were making the stiffness in his root unbearable. In a minute- in a minute- he would plunge again into Goushou's body; that moment came and he did, in ecstasy and relief. I am myself again. With him I am only myself.
Two nights later Shenzen finished dressing him in his formal black clothes, lightened only by the green trim at collar and closing and across the silken headband. Kenson stepped forward from his place by the doorway, hands clasped before his brow.
"The lord Chancellor is waiting in the outer chamber and your Majesty's escort is assembled in the hallway."
Goukou took a last look in the standing bronze mirror, then turned about and gave Goushou a rueful smile.
"For once I must regret having Hisui for my Chancellor. Who will have eyes for me when he appears in his Dance attire?"
"You're the only one who thinks that, ani-ue," Goushou said, and there was an odd tone to his voice. Goukou's smile changed as the little feather of lust stroked down his back.
"I will see you after." He nodded to Kenson, who signalled for the doors to be opened. Goukou proceeded through his apartments into the outer chamber where the Chancellor waited with the two oldest of Goukou's pages. Hisui was even more splendid than he'd expected, all gold and black with touches of red; but equally, far too beautiful for any real repining. He made his reverence to Goukou, palm to fist. As he straightened Goukou met his eyes. Something solid and satisfying and obscurely surprising filled his heart at the changed look in them.
My son is a man tonight. I am no longer just the father of children; I am the father of a full-grown man. How strange that I never realized this would happen. No, not strange; it was different when I took the Father role for Goujun and Gouen. But this time-- this time marks a change in myself as well.
Hisui bowed again.
"The Ocean Lord's servant begs leave to inform him that all is ready for the First Prince's Dance of Completion. And his servant further presumes on the Ocean King's favour to add, that if the Former Lord of the Oceans was here to see the Ocean Lord on his way this night, his heart would surely be as full as that of the Ocean King's humble servant."
Goukou blinked the sudden tears that came to his eyes. "We thank our servant for his good-will and his care of us, both on this occasion and ever."
Hisui bent his head a moment, then turned to proceed Goukou out of his apartments. In the hallway the twenty men of his honour guard clashed their spears against the ground and his four chief ministers put fist to palm. Ten men went first, followed by the first general of the armies and the chief of protocol, with Hisui behind them; then Goukou with his pages at his heels, followed by the head of the exchequer and the steward of his household, and the last ten guards bringing up the rear.
Through the palace corridors and so to the great court under the open sky, ringed with torches that mimicked the colours of the setting sun. The perimeter was black with the household of his palace. I would there were some of my kin here, he thought, a small sadness touching his heart. But it was not the ocean custom to have kin present at the Final Dance: had not been since his own turn, when Gouerh had declared that since the Black Dragon was not alive to watch his son and grandson dance, all blood relatives must stay away. And indeed, he reflected, it would have been too sad now, with Gouerh long dead and Goujun newly gone, to have seen the depleted ranks of his family here.
The guards and his escort fanned out, Hisui stepped to his rear, and Goukou was alone on the eastern side of the court, looking across to where Kaiei stood like a slender pillar beneath the scarlet and blue and gold of the sky. His formal black and yellow was little different from ordinary, and gave the impression that he at least was not changed at all. In fact I rather doubt he is: and Goukou smiled at the thought.
Kaiei made a deep formal reverence to him, bending the knee and inclining his head. He stood again. Goukou counted silently to five, and then came the first shrill notes of flutes and conch shells. He moved into the introductory figure of the Dance. Step, step, turn; step step, turn. Right arm up and arched, right arm down; left arm up and arched, left arm down. His body moved unthinking in the steps he had practised daily for the last month, and his mind relaxed into the nothingness of movement. For a long while after that all he knew was the dance itself: his eyes watched the world that came to them as his body turned and swayed, but his mind was silent.
At some point he came back to awareness to find full night overhead. He and Kaiei had covered three-fourths of the space between them in their indirect course towards each other. But in the interval his thoughts had gone back to the night of Kaiei's getting, to Goukou's first time for the Great Dance, partnering the Heir of Taishan. That time was like this in many ways: the tension and expectation beforehand, the sunset changing to night, the shrilling music, and above all the slow unwinding of the Dance.
During this last month's practice Goukou had felt an obscure unease at how close the Father role was to the male role he now knew so well. But here in the middle of the real thing, partnering a son of his body, he could see how different the two were. Dancing with Kaiei, who turned in delicate response to his father's movements like a cloud blown by the wind, was nothing like dancing with the Heir. Tall as Goukou was for a man the First Princess still topped him by half a head; the majestic and deliberate circling of her dance seemed to embody the great rooted mountain they danced upon, a different world entirely from the ever-changing oceans.
Then he had approached his partner as a male does the female, a suitor for her favour: his steps showed the beauty of his body and the grace of his actions, the purity of his spirit and the perseverance of his will, that would call up desire for him and so allow the final consummation in the sky. But here- here he was a Father indeed: the acting principle that the Son modelled himself upon and the exemplar that dictated his actions. The closer he came to Kaiei, the more Kaiei's steps altered to resembled his. This time his partner was subordinate to him: in this Dance the Son becomes the Father, and so becomes a man who can take a man's role in life.
Joy and satisfaction grew in Goukou's heart. He watched Kaiei's dance mirroring his and gloried in the beauty and balance of it. Together the lines of their two courses described a wandering geometric pattern, like the wooden fretting of a screen or a chest. Then he saw that the design was incomplete: it was only the right-hand portion, and all the left side was untouched. The left-hand side--- light seemed to burst in his head: the left-hand side was the movements of the Great Dance. Yes, exactly: here moving always to his right, there moving always to his left, when put together the two dances made a great interlocking design bounded by the circle of the surrounding courtiers. The Great Dance was the beginning, that which had brought this boy and this night to be; the Final Dance... was the end indeed, the termination of the pattern that began on that first night, now that the boy was fully a man with childhood all behind him.
But though tonight was the end of this pattern for Goukou, for Kaiei it was a beginning: the start of another arc that led to his own Great Dance and so, in time, to his own Final Dance with the son gotten then. And so the design of life went its variegated ways, coiling and overlapping: next for Goukou came the arc called Kaisou, and the one called Kaimyou, and the one called Kaishin, and other Great Dances to get the unnamed sons after them. Long before Goukou came to the Final Dance with baby Kaishin, Kaiei would be getting his own sons in the Great Dance; before Goukou came to the Final Dance with the last of his unborn children, Kaiei would be dancing it with the first of his own. The pattern of future generations filled Goukou's head, turning and re-turning and crisscrossing, as he turned and re-turned in the final steps of the Dance, and Kaiei, turning and re-turning, came up to meet him.
And then they were face to face. Each took a half-step forward. Goukou's raised right hand met Kaiei's raised left hand. Another half-step and they were standing breast to breast. Kaiei's eyes were just below his own, and the heat of Kaiei's body came to him even through the thickness of his robes. Kaiei smiled up at him, such a smile as Goukou had never seen in his quiet son: exultant and amazed. Goukou knew that his own face wore the same look. My son. This is my son. Blood of my blood. For all the differences between us, one with me.
The final theme started and the two of them moved together, matching steps and timing as if they shared one mind. Moving ever to Goukou's right, moving ever forward for him and backwards for Kaiei, half-turning to change course, and so touching each of the four great directions, east, south, west and north, and then again to the middle of the circle. Easy and effortless, one will and one body, flesh of my flesh, myself in two as my father was two in me and my grandfather was two in him and so back beyond the memory of dragonkind to the earliest days, the endless linking of father and son that will continue on after this night.
Silence. He stood smiling at Kaiei, joined by hand and breath and heart. Kaiei's eyes were joyful and dazed as they looked back into his. Goukou opened his hand and Kaiei, trance-like, let go his clasp: took a step backwards and sank into the deep bow that ended the dance. Goukou drew a breath that filled his lungs and let it out again as Kaiei came to his feet.
Goukou kissed him on the right cheek and then the left, not touching him otherwise.
"Farewell, my boy, and greetings, my son. You have danced long and well and now the moon is high. Go you to your rest and I will go to mine, and tomorrow we shall meet as men.
"Farewell, my father, and greetings, my father. Have good rest after your many cares for me, your worthless son."
Goukou turned as the instruments sounded the King's Retirement. His guard reformed in front of him, Hisui stepped into place, and his ministers escorted him back to his apartments.
Goukou lay easy and at rest amid the pillows of his bed. He'd felt in good fettle while being disrobed but once in the bath his body had suddenly decided that he was very tired indeed. After that he'd moved in a pleasant trance, like one drunk, until he found himself stretched out under the light coverlet with Goushou beside him. He gave a snort of laughter.
"I was just thinking what a change this was from my own Final Dance. I could barely walk by the time I got to my rooms. The Father role is different, after all; or perhaps I just grow old."
"Or perhaps you've spent the last two days copulating with me whenever you had leisure. I thought you ready for it again before the Dance began."
"Ahh, do I disappoint you? I'm sorry. In a little while I think-- yes, I think I may desire you again. Your body speaks to mine always, whatever my head may be saying."
"I am ready whenever you wish, ani-ue."
"Come closer." Goushou shifted over, into Goukou's arms. Contentment filled Goukou's heart: lying with Goushou had the feel of an old happiness.
"I must thank you," he said, low in Goushou's ear. "For coming when I was in need and for consoling me in my anxiety. I had more fears than I can tell you; I should have known that you would bring me back to myself."
"Were you truly so far from yourself as that, or were your fears only fears indeed?"
"Can you ask that, who knew my anger when I first returned from the skies?"
"Yes. That was six months ago, and even in the month that followed I never saw that man again."
"There were Goujun's funeral rites to be seen to; I had no time for other thoughts. But after that... after that I was torn by strange desires. No harm came of them, luckily, but it might have done."
"Ani-ue..." He sighed. "I can guess your desires, but there's no use my saying there's nothing strange in them if you think there is."
Goushou's guess was somewhat wide of the mark, but Goukou had no intention of telling him that. "It is not my nature to desire such things, and when I do I am from my natural state. Maybe in times of perturbation it may seem tempting..." He blinked as understanding came to him. "Surely it's the same for you? Wasn't it unhappiness that led you to-- to take the role you did with the Marshal? for certainly your early manhood was hard for you and Heaven an unpleasant place for all of us."
"There you are mistaken. I lay below because I preferred to. With a good partner the pleasure is great indeed."
Goukou did not answer that. He'd put the memory of Shanten-oh's skill behind him: the extremity of his situation had excused the activity of that time, but it was not something the king of the oceans might ever repeat. "But how could you know you preferred it, who had only lain below me?"
Goushou laughed silently. "Even with you, who were not trying to make it pleasant for me, I could tell."
Goukou had to laugh as well. "A fault in my technique then."
"No, just my own nature. Were you disposed to lie below you would have found it pleasant from the first Forms onwards, as I did. It is your nature to find pleasure in lying above, and that is all."
"But then... where do you get your pleasure these days? For Gouen is busy in his Kingdom and the Marquis is long gone-- Goushou?"
Goushou had turned away from him. "Goushou?"
"The Marquis is gone indeed," Goushou said in an odd tone. "I put all thought of him from me when he went, or I could not have let him go. But the night of Goujun's funeral he came to me in dream and after that we began writing to each other. It is good to be able to talk about my sons with one who knows me so well. But..."
"Mhh?" Goukou prompted when Goushou fell silent.
"He has changed. Fatherhood- having a family- I suppose, living in a female household as well. He is not as he was and it makes me grieve again for what I have lost." He sighed. "You ask where I get my pleasure these days, and the answer is that I don't."
"You should find yourself a new favourite--" Goukou began in concern, but Goushou shook his head.
"I am not one to enjoy having favourites: the body's companions who come and go and are all much of a piece. My nature wants someone I can trust, a man who knows my heart as I his, but such honesty is rarely found in a king's court. I wanted to be as Shanten-oh with his Rinshuu, but in the end the King of the Western River was no more able to keep his love by him than I was. So I have decided to stop looking for that which I may not keep even if I find it."
"And you clucked your tongue at me for foregoing my pleasure. Goushou, it is not well for you to deprive yourself either."
"The minor pleasures of the bed cannot satisfy if the major ones are lacking. It is no hardship to do without when there are other things to fill my days. I have my sons to keep me busy, and that is more than I ever thought to have."
The calm resignation in Goushou's voice was worse somehow than any self-pity. "I had thought you happy in your new role," Goukou said, stricken. "You've seemed so grown-up these last few days--"
"Only these last few days?" Goushou said, ironic.
"You know what I mean."
"I know. And I *am* happy. To know that I can be of use to you when you need me has made my cup full; to remember that when I go home my sons will be there to greet me makes it overflow."
"And to think that when you go to your bed you will be alone does not trouble you?"
There was a small pause. "I am used to doing without. I have done so for many long years, and valued my pleasure all the more when it came. These last two days will hold me for a long time to come. When I am lonely I will remember your love, and be comforted."
"Whenever you are lonely, come to me and I will comfort you," Goukou said, moved. "That is the least return I can make for the service you have done me this time."
"Ahh. Then you may comfort me now, for I think I am lonely for you again," and Goushou came back into his willing embrace.
Feb- April '05