Goukou was playing at draughts with his favourite when the chamberlain approached. The king raised an eyebrow. From the too-composed expression of the man's face, something untoward was afoot.
"Your Majesty, the First Prince has arrived and waits now upon the battlements--"
"What, Kaiei is here?!"
"Yes, lord. He sends the following message: Your unworthy son begs the King's forgiveness for returning home without leave. He prays the King will put aside his anger for the moment to grant him the favour of an interview.'"
"Of course. Bring him here at once." Something is wrong- Kaishou? Shinran?- and badly wrong, if Kaiei must speak of it to me in person. He gave his favourite a nod. "Have them bring wine and some refreshment for the Prince. Then you may go."
Shortly thereafter Kaiei appeared. He looked as he ever did, but as he knelt and put Goukou's hands to his forehead Goukou felt a premonition. There was something amiss about that normal greeting- Kaiei clasped his hands a shade too tightly, held on to them a moment too long. Goukou was suddenly certain that the trouble, whatever it was, lay with Kaiei himself. He schooled his voice to cover the uneasiness in his heart.
"Whatever it is that brings you here, it is good to see you again. So what's the matter?" He gestured for Kaiei to stand but the young man bent his head and stayed kneeling.
"I bear a letter from my uncle which... I think, will explain." He took it from his breast and held it out to his father in both hands, not meeting his eye.
So it's Goushou, is it? Does he dare complain of my son when Kaiei has devoted himself to putting Goushou's house in order for him, that he was too childish to do himself? He broke the seal with a jerk and cast his eye down the elegant writing:
"Goushou of the Southern Ocean to his older brother Goukou the High King, greeting. I kiss my ani-ue's hand and trust you and yours are in health.
Your worthless brother has not thanks enough for your graciousness in sending your heir to my poor ocean. Lord Kaiei has been kindness itself to my unfortunate son in the suffering occasioned by the many changes in his life. He has succeeded beyond my hope in returning him to that calmness and steadiness of soul he possessed in earlier times. The relief this has afforded your poor brother is no less great, and I shall always be deeply in your son's debt as well as your own.
That being so, I grieve all the more that your son has taken hurt within my house. I will be frank with you, ani-ue: he has fallen in love."
found he'd been holding his breath, and let it go of a sudden. Well, well, well. He was about to smile, when he read the next words:
you smile at this, consider that one such as
Lord Kaiei may have
little experience of the state. What is worse, I would guess from the extreme
degree of his perturbation that the feeling goes beyond love and reaches to the
degree of a violent passion: and of such an emotion, I will say with
confidence, he has no experience at all. It must seem like a form of insanity
to him. I have reason to think, from certain actions of his, that he doubts his
ability to control his desire. I can only imagine the pain and confusion this
must cause one who possesses your son's steady and tranquil temperament.
You have perhaps divined that there is more to the matter than an overwhelming attraction. I did not ask him who it was had caught his heart, nor even whether love was in fact the trouble. Both are plain enough to one with eyes to see, and I think he would not willingly have answered even had I questioned him. For the one he is enamoured of is entirely out of consideration as a companion for him, and I believe the knowledge of that has brought him near to breaking point.
When he asked for a few days' leave to return to his home I was glad to say yes. Your poor brother knows too well the need to run to your side when his soul is in turmoil, and to take comfort from your wise presence. It is not wonderful that your son should feel the same. Be kind to him, ani-ue. He suffers deeply from his ill fortune, who for his virtue and kindness, to me alone, deserves to be happier than other men."
Goukou looked from the letter to his kneeling son.
"Kaiei, stand up. There is no fault in you, and neither I nor my brother have any to find."
Kaiei got up. Now Goukou knew to look for it, he could see the strain in his son's face, as if his soul was held on a leash.
"Come sit next to me and take some wine." Mutely Kaiei obeyed, but sat looking at his wine cup without attempting to drink.
"Goushou is most grateful for the way you've helped your cousin," Goukou said, to come at the matter roundabout.
Kaiei only bent his head in acknowledgement. Roundabout be damned, then.
"Kaiei, this hangdog silence is not like you, and it does you no credit. I will be plain, then. Your uncle thinks you are in love. Is he right?"
"Yes--- No. No, he is mistaken. This is not love. It is something unnatural- a fever, a disease."
"I am- I am like a man with the falling sickness. My will has no say over what my body does. I am afraid of what I may do, for I am no longer master of myself." He looked at the wine again. "Your pardon, chichi-ue- please excuse me from drinking."
"As you will. Tell me what you fear."
Kaiei put the goblet on the table, face averted.
"It is not a proper thing to speak of to one's father."
"You are a man, and I am a man, and when there is need you may speak to me as freely as you please. And there is need now, so I command you, both as your father and your king, to tell me what is in your heart."
took a deep breath, then said in a low voice, "I think of nothing but him.
I *can* think of nothing but him. The image of him is always in my head, the
desire for him is always in my body, and I ache unceasingly from both. Ten
times an hour I turn to go to where he is, never remembering the reason why I
must not, and when I do remember it seems a trifle- nothing- compared to the
need I feel. In the end I had to order the guards not to let me leave my rooms
unless it was to answer my uncle's summons or to see my cousin, and to be sure
I went nowhere else in my... distraction of spirit."
He put his face in his hands.
"I have been too lucky up to now, indulged and favoured by fortune. If I
had ever known pain in my life I might have learned to be strong against it.
But as it is I find myself like a child who can only cry for someone to make my
"That is not true. You have known pain enough from me in your life. I was never tender of you, either for your own misdeeds or those of your brother, and you've always borne it with a steadiness beyond your years."
"That's different. If I fail in my obedience or my responsibilities, that is something I myself have done, and the pain that follows is reasonable and just. But this time I have done nothing wrong, or so it seems, and I suffer day and night. I think--" he dropped his voice- "I think I am out of my mind."
Goukou put his hand on Kaiei's. Kaiei's other hand gripped it with desperate strength.
"Father- chichi-ue- What am I to do? I feel that I've gone mad. The dictates of virtue- the duty of a guest- the feelings of my family- even, the wishes of the one I love himself- they weigh as nothing with me. All that matters now is my desire, and I fear I will do terrible things if no one stops me." He looked up with such banked terror and misery in his face that Goukou was shaken to his core. Unthinkingly he put his arm about Kaiei's shoulders and only then realized how strange it was to do it. Even in Kaiei's childhood Goukou had rarely caressed him, for Kaiei had never sought that kind of comfort. He half-expected Kaiei to withdraw, but instead he moved closer. The pang that caused him, of surprise and pain alike, gave him the words he needed.
"It's a madness others have known before you. It only seems terrible to you because your soul was never given to caprice ere now. You've always been master of yourself, and you are master still. You came here, not to the bed of the one you desire."
Kaiei groaned. "That was the action of a weakling and a coward. A man would have settled the matter alone, but all I could do was run to your side and beg you to protect me from myself."
Goukou stroked his back awkwardly. It felt like comforting the rock on which his castle stood. "Do not say that, or you will be calling your father a weakling and coward as well." Kaiei looked up, momentarily shocked out of his misery. Good.
night they brought your uncle Goujun's body home, as you must well remember, I
went away suddenly and didn't return for ten days. The reason was much the same
that brought you here. I knew that I was not master of my feelings, that in my
anger I might do something
terrible past mending, and so I fled
to the company of the one man who would bring me back to myself."
"Surely that was different, chichi-ue. Anger, even to madness, is not the same as lust--"
"It is no different. I speak as one who has experienced both in the way our ancestors did. They are different weavings of the same wool, and both are part of our heritage. You ask me what to do in your turmoil of soul. The best thing would be what I did in the house of my Older: enact the Forms, from beginning to end in order, to bring your body and soul under discipline and so into harmony."
"I will follow your counsel, chichi-ue, but if that exercise takes ten days, I may not have the time."
"My cousin's situation still balances on a knife edge. His spirit has not wholly recovered from the circumstances that afflicted him, and I have made it worse by leaving him so suddenly, though I tried to explain that the fault was mine..."
"Speak to me of that. What was the trouble with Kaishou?"
Kaiei explained and Goukou's face grew dark.
"I see. But you're right: Kaishou has come to rely on you and you must not abandon him. Too many people have done that already, and one more will be too much to bear. Look you, Kaiei. You are here in your own home and any man you wish will be your partner. Can you not work some of the fever from your blood in the next day or so?"
Kaiei looked down. "I had my favourite companion with me at the Southern Ocean, but I could not even look at him when that other was in my mind."
"So it often is when desire takes us. Then there's no help for it. We must fight fire with fire. Kazan your second still supervises your brother's training. You will take his company for tonight and direct him to perform Split Apricot and Stripped Willowbark upon you; and for his assistant you may choose whoever it will hurt you least to have beside you."
Kaiei's voice was thin. "Yes, father."
"I approved your choice of Kazan as second, for he is my chancellor's son and his family has long known the secrets of ours. If it wounds your pride to lie below him, so much the better. Let the suffering of your body and spirit be the weapon that overwhelms the suffering of your heart, and maybe make you master of it."
"You have leave."
Kaiei slipped to his knees and put Goukou's hands to his forehead.
"Thank you, chichi-ue. You have comforted your worthless son more than he could have hoped."
"I wish I might believe that, Kaiei."
His son looked up, and it was true there was a certain peace in his eyes. "My soul was in darkness when I came here. I knew I deserved your anger but the child in me wanted consolation for his pain. I couldn't say which I was more afraid of receiving, your correction or your indulgence. But you have consoled me with your justice, and for the first time in days I feel as if I were myself again." Kaiei smiled almost in the old way and Goukou was taken by a wash of tenderness. He stroked his son's sleek black hair.
"Who is it? Who has taken you so far from yourself?" Kaiei looked away. "And come to that, why is he so out of consideration as a companion? Can his rank be greater than the First Prince's of the eastern Ocean? And if he is so mean of birth, how came he to be in my brother's palace? Come, Kaiei, tell me what keeps you from him."
"He is not of my generation."
"Not of-" Goukou was frozen. Anyone not of Kaiei's generation could not yet be a man. "A boy?"
"No!" Kaiei stared at him in shock.
"Then- what?" What alternative was there?
"He is of my uncle's generation."
"Oh." He went weak in relief, and suddenly found himself smiling helplessly at the absurdity of his thoughts. Kaiei caught his expression and began to smile too, if a little shakily.
"Well, but that is not necessarily an insurmountable problem. Rank can often make up for lack of years, even between generations. Is there no other difficulty than that?"
Kaiei's smile disappeared. "There is. Chichi-ue, it is impossible- indecent. You would understand if you knew who it was--"
"Then tell me who it is."
Kaiei swallowed hard. "My uncle's favourite."
"Which one?" Goukou asked automatically before remembering what Kaiei at once reminded him.
"He has only the one; he is not a man for change.
"This Pipang of Tsaomei'kang, then. The pale red dragon."
"Is he as beautiful as that?"
Kaiei's voice was rough. "Yes. I have never seen-- any man so beautiful. I understand now why he keeps to his hill, and hides himself when he visits my uncle's court, for no man could look on him and not desire him."
"Men have looked on him and not desired him before this," Goukou reminded him.
"But not men such as I." And there was no answer for that.