Goukou was at work with his secretary over foreign correspondence when one of the under-secretaries entered and murmured in Kongyo's ear.
"Majesty, Kaisou-sama and his tutor are without. Shuma-dono begs a word with you."
Goukou's heart sank. Shuma was a conscientious tutor but not an inspired one, and Kaisou had a way of shirking his studies in favour of play with his young attendants. Goukou couldn't blame him exactly- the Three Books were numbingly dull to memorize at the start, but every dragon needed to know them if not to seem a total illiterate.
"Show them in."
Shuma came in shepherding the unwilling Kaisou before him. He bowed with hands in his sleeves, and Kaisou put fist to breast and bowed too, eyes fixed on the ground as Shuma launched into his speech. This was scarcely the first time it had happened.
"Majesty, this unworthy person begs your pardon. He has no excuses to make. He has utterly failed to instill in Kaisou-sama a proper love of the classics. The prince neglects his books to follow after the heedless ways of youth and his unworthy tutor has not been able to correct that fault in him. This morning Kaisou-sama did not appear at his lessons, and only now, two hours later, have his attendants found him sporting in the sea with his pages and diving for--- clams." Shuma said the word with distaste. "I must proffer my humblest apologies. It is clear I am unfit for the position your Majesty has deigned to grant me--" As ever. Goukou cut him short.
"Not at all, Shuma. Your training succeeded remarkably with Kaiei. The fault rests with our graceless son. We will attempt again to amend his ways. Thank you for drawing this to our attention. You may go now. And you-" he nodded to the undersecretary, "send Kaiei to me." He heard Kaisou draw a troubled breath but kept his head turned from him until Shuma and the secretary were gone.
"Well, Kaisou?" he said grimly.
"Chichi-ue." Kaisou's hands fidgeted desperately and he bit his lips in distress. "Chichi-ue, I am sorry. Please don't punish ani-ue this time. I know it's my fault--"
"Stop." Kaisou fell silent, gulping. "First, stand up straight and mind what your hands are about. A common felon come before his judge has more grace than you do."
"Your pardon," Kaisou managed. He straightened his shoulders and put a hand to his breast, bending a little from the waist in an attitude of penitence.
"Better. Now, address me like a prince and not a child."
Kaiei swallowed hard. His eyes gleamed with a suspicious wetness. Goukou ignored it. Thirteen was still an age of transition from the freedom of childhood to the duties of manhood, and no time for indulgence.
"Chichi-ue," Kaisou said carefully. "I own my fault-"
"Your pardon." Kaisou took a deep breath. "Your unworthy son owns his fault and owns too that it- it is a frequent one with him. He will strive to amend it--"
"You've said that before," Goukou cut in. "You never do."
"Your unworthy son-- begs your indulgence-- one more time. Let your rod teach him his duty and this time I- he will endeavour to take the lesson to heart. My ani-ue- uhh-" he looked confused.
"'My ani-ue' will do. Go on."
"My ani-ue has reasoned with me himself on this point. He does not neglect his responsibilities to me. I- your unworthy son would not add to his brother's grief by bringing our father's anger on him as well." He stopped, panting slightly.
"Kaiei is responsible for your misdeeds as you will be responsible for Kaimyou's in a few years' time. You need to learn by example of the bitterness that goes with that responsibility." Kaisou looked at him in misery, tears beginning to run down his face. "You will wait without. Send Kaiei in to me when he arrives."
"Hai, chichi-ue," Kaisou said in a quivering voice. He remembered his salutation properly, but wiped his eyes as he turned to go. Goukou let the faux pas pass.
He turned back to his desk but not to work. Instead he tapped the wooden surface with his fingers, a gesture that might look impatient but was not. He was aware of tension in the back of his head, of the vague diffuse anxiety that had been hovering there for two months now... This time I cannot act as a father should with him, he thought. I dare not. Reasoning with himself made no difference. I saw what I saw and it still has power to terrify me.
The door opened and Kaiei came in. He bowed to his father with hands clasped at forehead level, as one who acknowledges a fault.
"Kaiei." Kaiei straightened up and stood gracefully, hand to breast. Their eyes met, Kaiei's calm in his black face, in spite of what he thought was coming. Goukou felt himself relax inside, as he always did with his oldest son.
"Kaisou has been neglecting his studies again," he began, and paused, not certain what to say next.
"That is my fault," Kaiei said at once. "I have not kept my eye on him as I should have. Your worthless son will make amends for his neglect-"
"No." It came out heavier than he'd intended, as his mind winced away from the thought that automatically occurred to him. Kaiei was rising eighteen and must be near the end of his training- must indeed be learning the disciplinary forms. No wonder if his attention was distracted. But Goukou couldn't mention any of that. He didn't even want to think of it. Instead he said, oddly for him, "I wish... I wish you were through your training that I might speak openly to you, as one man to another. But that may not be. So I will say only this." He drew a deep breath and avoided Kaiei's eye. "Two months ago I took to the skies to battle your uncle Gouen. The customs of our ancestors are not ours. They were more lawless and more ferocious than we. When we repeat their actions we become for a space like them and unlike ourselves. Remember that for when you are older." He looked up finally, and Kaiei nodded gravely. "My soul has not yet wholly recovered from that battle," Goukou went on. "And until it has I will not lay hands on either of you by way of discipline. I do not trust myself." And that is true, and still I am lying to my oldest son.
"I see," Kaiei said, nodding. "Then what is my father's will?"
"I shall leave Kaisou's correction entirely to you. It is you who must exercise a father's duties towards him, or an older brother's, since I cannot. I care not what means you use to bring him to diligence. My punishments have only a few days' effect before he starts to backslide again. I may hope you have better success."
"I see," Kaiei said again. "I shall exercise my best efforts and try to justify your confidence in me." The calmness of spirit Kaiei had had since childhood was soothing as cool rain on Goukou's face. "And I hope my father will soon recover from the fears which now disturb him."
Goukou raised an eyebrow. "They are more than fears, Kaiei. I do not start at shadows. I am truly not the man I was before."
"Your foolish son had no thought of questioning your word, chichi-ue. But however my father may feel now, I would still trust myself to his justice before that of any man alive." Kaiei's voice was soft and modest as ever, and there was no arguing with the bedrock certainty of it.
"Thank you, Kaiei," he said. "I think it will not be necessary that you ever should. You may go. And good luck with Kaisou." He smiled at last, a small smile, and saw it reflected in Kaiei's eyes as his son bowed to take his leave.
He got up and went over to the window. Great washes of blue sea and swathes of blue sky and a freshening wind blowing them both. 'My son's belief in me may well be the thing that brings me back to myself,' he thought, 'for how could I dare be other with him than what he believes me? Yet still- yet still...' The words Goushou had dropped so casually two months ago still haunted him. He could hear them as clearly now as if his brother stood at his elbow. In the far past we may well have copulated with our fathers. Wormwood, the little poisonous words that ate into his soul, recalling the night of his Final Dance, recalling the strange excitement and distraction he'd felt at the end of it, recalling worst of all the moment two months ago when he'd seen Kaisou's form laid over that of the boy who had roused his lust. 'I will not touch him or see him naked. I cannot trust myself. I have countenanced unnaturalness not once but twice, and involved all my brothers in it. It must be that I have a demon of perversity in me or I would never have allowed them to do as they did. But I will not let my own corruption harm my sons.' And with a heavy heart he turned back to his desk.
Next morning at breakfast Kaisou seemed out of sorts. He ate well, so if Kaiei had whipped him he had not laid it on heavily. The mood seemed to have lifted by dinnertime and Goukou concluded that all was back to normal. But the day after Kaisou seemed even more upset. Though he spoke courteously to his father, there was anger written in his body, and he frowned when he thought himself unobserved. Something was clearly exercising his spirit. Intrigued, Goukou could barely wait for dinner to see how Kaisou conducted himself. At dinner Kaisou's face was set in sullen determination. Kaiei by contrast was exactly as he ever was. Goukou chewed the matter over in his head. He longed to ask what ailed the boy, but the possibility that he might be interfering in Kaiei's plans made him keep a still tongue. And the morning after that Kaisou was too upset to eat anything, but sat with a face of furious blankness, mouth a flat line, glowering at Kaiei in a way that demanded that someone notice his distress. Goukou remained blandly indifferent, and by meal's end Kaisou seemed to be close to tears. The only person who was troubled by all this was little Kaimyou, standing at the table's foot and watching while his father and older brothers ate. At meal's end Goukou dismissed his older sons but called the child to him.
"Something seems to be bothering your second brother," he said. "Do you know what the matter is?"
"No, chichi-ue," Kaimyou said. "Second brother is angry but he won't tell me why." He was trying to keep his expression properly neutral, but he was only six and his unhappiness showed through.
"Kaisou is in trouble over his lessons and I told Kaiei to look after it," Goukou told him. "I think it's only that Kaisou hates being made to study. Don't let it disturb you."
"I like to study," Kaimyou said, too quickly. "I can read a hundred characters already." Goukou regarded him in surprise before realizing what the matter was.
"I know. Your tutors give me good reports of you. You will never be in trouble for neglecting your books. You are like your ani-ue and soon you will be able to read as he does. I look forward to the day when you can read to me in my leisure hours."
"Really?" Kaimyou smiled, all sunshine. "I would like that too, chichi-ue. Decide what book you want me to read to you and I'll do it. Well, soon," he added, honest.
"Soon," Goukou agreed. "I'll think about the matter and tell you when I have decided." He rubbed Kaimyou's head and sent him back to his gran'fer.
He proceeded to his office in good spirits, only to find Kaisou standing in the waiting room with a face almost comical in its resolution.
"Kaisou? What is this?"
"Chichi-ue," Kaisou said with extreme deliberateness, "your unworthy son would be grateful if you would spare him a moment."
Kaisou followed him into his office. Goukou sat. Kaisou stood in a posture of studied grace- a little rough at the edges still, but to be expected at his age- and looked with meaning at Goukou's secretaries from the corner of his eyes.
"You have leave, gentlemen," Goukou told them, diverted. When they were gone he said, "Well, Kaisou? Let's hear it."
"Chichi-ue, please instruct your foolish son. What are the duties of an older brother to his younger ones?"
"Many and varied, but mostly to provide an example to guide their conduct and correct their offences when they fall short of it."
"Should he not provide more direct instruction?" Kaisou pressed. "Should he not, for instance, teach his brothers how to wield their swords, not merely manage his own well and punish his brothers for being clumsy with theirs?"
"Yes, that too, when he has leisure. But in most things an older brother's instruction will only supplement that of the youngers' tutors." Goukou kept to a manner of unblinking gravity, banishing all hint of amusement and interest from his eyes.
"But is there not one area in which only the older brother may provide instruction?" Kaisou said, with a note of triumph in his voice. "Who else but he may train his brothers in the Forms?"
"That is indeed an older brother's responsibility," Goukou agreed, wondering what kind of opening he was providing.
"Then, chichi-ue, your worthless son would earnestly desire you to ask my older brother to carry out his responsibilities, for these three days he has refused."
"Refused?" Goukou asked, though he had a premonition of what was coming.
"My older brother has laid down conditions to continue my training. Unless I memorize a page a day of the Three Books he will not proceed with- with any of the Forms."
Well well well. How... innovative. Goukou wasn't sure if he was impressed or flabbergasted, or both.
"That is well thought of in him," he said carefully. "For look you, Kaisou. The forms are enacted between gentlemen to express and deepen the good feeling between them, but a man is not permitted into the company of gentlemen to start with if he lacks the basic qualifications to be there. And those are, first and foremost, an acquaintance with the classics, without which you cannot so much as converse with men of sense on a courteous level. The physical forms, and the grace and pleasure of them, are only an expression of the forms of words, and the grace and pleasure of expression, that we find in the Three Books." Kaisou looked flummoxed. Too young to understand this concept, perhaps. Alright, be blunt and damn the proprieties. "You will not find yourself in any man's bed if you can't speak to him in the language he expects to hear, and that is true for anyone, King or general or prince of the seas. Your rank will not help you here."
Kaisou's white skin went pink at Goukou's frankness. Off-balance he burst out, "But my brother demands that I be word perfect! Why can't I just know what's in there without memorizing it word for word?"
"Because only memorization makes words truly yours. When introduced to a man it's no use to say 'There was a nice expression that the Master used on meeting the Eastern King for the first time but the exact words are from my mind. Kindly take them as said.' Thus your brother requires you to learn them as others do, by heart, and rightly withholds reward from you when you do not."
"But- but--" Kaisou's expression was the oddest mix of outrage and desperation. "But chichi-ue-- is it right of my older brother to tie my hands to my bedpost at night so I may not even practise what I have learned so far?"
The seas roar deep and the seas roar hollow and below the waves the seas descend past the measuring of man, Goukou thought automatically. Fish pass under the waves, waves pass over the fish, and all is passing and never still, the words of his mantra to keep his face blank and his manner grave until he was master of himself again.
"Your brother has a devoted sense of his duty," he said seriously. "He does what is necessary for your good, and I your father have no fault to find in him." Kaisou looked on the edge of tears. Thirteen years old and denied the release of the early forms. Desperate indeed. "Look, Kaisou, you'll have to learn the Books anyway," Goukou said, practical. "You might as well just do it and be done. A page a day in return for an evening's pleasure is a fair trade, and more pleasant than a page for fifteen stripes, you must admit."
"Hai, chichi-ue," Kaisou said, mouth curling downwards in defeat.
"I have spoken more openly than a father should and doubtless embarrassed you," Goukou said. "But try to understand that all your study is a whole, not separate parts that have nothing to do with each other. Your study of arms and dance will influence your study of the Forms and the Books. That which you learn abed ties in with that which you learn in the dojo, and that which you study at your desk affects that which you do abed. If you do not believe me, devote yourself to your books for a few weeks and see if it does not make a difference when you are with your ani-ue. And that is all I will say on the matter. You have leave."
"Hai, chichi-ue." Kaisou bowed with fist to breast and backed away the proper three steps. But even before he turned to go his expression had changed to one of thoughtfulness and wary speculation. Goukou watched him out of the room, and only then went to the window, leaned his face in his hands, and gave himself over to silent mirth. Eventually he was aware of Kongyo standing behind him, a loud question mark filling his silence. Goukou straightened, still smiling, and came back to his desk.
"Kongyo," he said. "I am blessed beyond other men in my heir. I just thought I would mention that fact. And now let us get to work."