(From the Chronicles of Japan)
A group of men
loitering on the public highway chanced upon Prince Umayado, the oldest son of
the late Emperor Youmei, as he was returning to the Ikebe Palace. Being
excessively in liquor, they offered the Prince insult and violence. The
Prince's retainer, a man of Kudara, fought valiantly to drive the ruffians away
but would have been overwhelmed by their numbers had not Amabe no Hajima
happened to pass
close by with his retinue. His men succeeded in
delivering the prince from danger and accompanied him to his apartments in the
Namitsuki no Miya. Soga no Emishi, eldest son of the chief minister Oh-omi Soga
no Umako, came in haste to assure himself of the prince's safety. Prince
Umayado received Amabe no Hajima and Soga no Emishi and thanked them for their
concern. The former then took his leave, with many expressions of good wishes
for the Prince's well-being. Soga no Emishi stayed to interrogate the Prince's
man and satisfy himself that all was well, then at length returned to the Great
Choushimaro took the travelling robe the Prince had
worn and hung it to air on the side verandah. He stopped by the kitchen to
ascertain that dinner would be ready at the usual time. The cooks were buzzing
with questions about the afternoon's events, but a few flat phrases succeeded
in dampening their excitement. The servants then became ostentatiously busy
with their preparations, avoiding his eye. The young man returned to his
apartments beside the prince's.
He came through the door and stopped abruptly. A man was standing there waiting
for him, arms folded across his chest.
Wordlessly Choushimaro walked into the room, not looking at the other. He felt the black gaze following him, and the cold black anger underneath it. Sweat started on his neck but he refused to look around. The other man waited still. Choushimaro's hands clenched involuntarily. He made them relax.
"I have no country now," he said to the air in front of him. "I have no family. I am nothing to you nor you to me. You no longer have the right to judge me."
"I judge you anyway," the man said, "and you will accept both my judgment and my correction." There was a grim smile in his voice, that hateful and assured voice. Choushimaro drew breath, fighting the instincts that paralyzed him in the man's presence. Reverence, respect, the obedience one owes to a master or an older brother. "You failed to protect the one you must protect," the man was saying. "I will teach you not to do that twice."
"I did my utmost to protect him. No-one can ask more of me than that."
"Then why does your own heart reproach you?"
Choushimaro closed his eyes and bit his lip. Enemies within him and without. I should have taken another route. I should have seen that crowd ahead and urged the Prince another way.
"He's your master. I call him no more than that, since that's as much as your ox brain can understand. You have value only so far as you keep him safe and do his will. You serve him first, last and always. And not at the risk of your life. You're no good to him dead."
He hung his head. "Hai."
"Good that you understand. Get ready."
Defeat heavy as a stone in his heart. He undid the fastenings of his trousers, undid the ties of the thin linen drawers beneath and let both fall to the level of his thighs.
He knelt, both knees, and put his palms to the floor. A hand on the back of his neck pushed his head down as well. No mercy. Humiliation added to humiliation and insult. He crossed his arms and put his face against them. A moment, and then the hard red tearing thing was coming into him. He bit his arm. Tears leaked scalding from his eyes, not so much from pain, not so much from humiliation, as from defeat and despair. He could never win. He would never be something complete and good in himself. He was a traitor and a traitor's son, who'd sold his country unknowingly and unwittingly because he'd trusted the man who was rending him now. Because that man could befriend him and betray him as easily as he could do this. Could do abominable and indecent things would destroy an ordinary man, and give them no more thought than if he were spitting.
And he himself, witless and gullible, had never realized what sort of man this was. For that alone he deserved the punishment he'd known. Exile. Disgrace. A servant's rank and a slave's treatment. He wept because the world was full of terrible things and terrible people. Betrayal and pain. This man. The Prince. Hard eyes upon him and no mercy at all for such as himself.
Emishi-dono would never use me like this. The thought came to him. He said it to himself again, and then again, until it was over. Emishi-dono would never use me like this.
There was one last thrust, one last stab of pain where he was cut and bleeding below, and then the motion stopped. That other- that other's thing- inside him, unmoving, in his most shameful place. He waited, controlling his breathing, emptying his mind.
"I will never be gone from you," the voice
said above him. Short of breath, but in command of itself, and with a dark grin
under the words. "I leave something of me
within you so you may
"I understand," he said stonily. "I understand only too well."
"No. You only think you do. Come and talk to me when you understand properly." The man moved out of him, hurting, but not from malice this time. Choushimaro straightened at last. Made himself decent again, not looking while the older man did the same. "I'm doing this for a reason, you know," the man said. The half-exasperated note took him by surprise. It sounded so incongruously ordinary after what had happened.
"I know your reasons."
"The hell you do. In another ten years, maybe." The man gave him a clout on the side of the head, not hard, an older brother faced with a loved but thick-headed younger one. Choushimaro's heart clenched. It hurt more than anything before. He kept his face rigid so nothing would show.
"Hnph," the other man said. "Behave yourself." His footsteps crossed the room. Choushimaro didn't look to see him go. The footsteps were gone. He put his face in his hands for a moment. Took a deep breath, let it out, and went to see to the Prince's supper.
Kneeling on one knee, he laid the tray on the low dining table. The Prince had his back turned to him, poring over a scroll on the desk in his usual fashion.
"Highness, your dinner."
"Nh." The clear young
voice, too high for a man, too low for a woman, with that cold abstracted note
Choushimaro had never heard anywhere else, in woman or man. The Prince got to
his feet, came over, and knelt by the table. Looked at the food without
interest, but picked up his chopsticks and took a slice of lotus root.
Choushimaro waited for dismissal. It didn't come. Not unusual. The Prince often
forgot he was there. Choushimaro lowered his eyes to the floor, making himself
properly invisible. The pain of what had been done to him burned still, red and
unforgettable, but he withdrew his mind from it as he had been taught to do. It
became simply there, a sensation noted
requiring no further
"What were you and Tansui doing just now?"
His heart gave a sudden terrible jerk, like a fish on a line. His face flamed hot and hideous, scalding as a real burn. I thought I'd made no noise-- I was *sure*...
"He was punishing me." He swallowed dryly, wishing for more moisture in his throat. "For failing in my duty this afternoon."
"You did?" A small lift of surprise in the Prince's voice, amidst the general indifference. Choushimaro's face burned again, but differently. That wasn't kindness from the Prince. The Prince wasn't kind. He could feel a small snick inside him, as of something sliding solidly and satisfyingly into place. The Prince saw no fault in him for what had happened this afternoon. The Prince cared nothing that Tansui did. Indifference was the Prince's mercy, and Choushimaro felt oddly vindicated by it.
Sound of wood on lacquer. Choushimaro glanced over. The Prince had laid down his chopsticks and was frowning at the dishes on his tray. "Take these away."
"Highness, you've eaten almost noth-" The Prince gave him a look from his unsettling eyes. Choushimaro bowed apology and took the tray away. He ought to eat. He never eats. I should tell Emishi-dono. Emishi-dono has some influence with him...
He returned from the kitchen. The Prince had not yet gone back to his studies. He was still sitting in the centre of the room, left leg up, elbow on that knee and chin propped in hand, looking off into space. Choushimaro knelt outside the door for his orders. The Prince beckoned him in with two fingers. Graceful, the little gesture, as of the fingers of a Buddha drawn in blessing. But once Choushimaro was kneeling before him, the Prince said nothing. He sat, chin on hand still, and looked at him.
"Does Tansui do that to you often?"
It was like the arrow he'd taken in the side once, in Kudara. His body, his lungs, ceasing their functions; his mind batting in panic saying Hurt You're hurt badly You're hurt but his body terrifyingly telling him nothing at all, which meant that it was true. He was hurt, he was hurt badly.
"Sometimes." It was someone else's voice talking. "When I make him very angry." He saw, he was watching us, he saw me like *that*...
"How odd." The Prince turned his head sideways, as if looking at his own thoughts. "I thought..." He didn't finish the sentence. A small crease appeared between his beautifully drawn eyebrows. When does it start hurting? Choushimaro wondered. When it started to hurt he would die. And meanwhile everything was happening so slowly, and he had been kneeling here watching the Prince's delicate profile and the puzzled quirk of his mouth for years- for millennia maybe- and his legs were stone and his back was stone and his chest was stone and maybe he could stay stone forever and it would never start hurting at all. He saw me. He saw me like *that*. The Prince's head was turning back to look at him, slowly, so very slowly, his face young as a young boy's and his eyes older even than the Great Minister's....
"Do it to me."
The stone that was Choushimaro heard his voice but couldn't make sense of the words.
"Choushimaro!" Clear voice cracking like a whip. "Did you hear me?"
"I hear you, Highness, but-- forgive me-- I do not understand. What am I to do?"
Eyebrows lifted, and those unnerving black eyes on him. "What Tansui does to you."
What he does to me? He holds my heart though I never wanted to give it to him. I do what he wants because it's he who wants it, whether I will it or no. How can one like myself be such as that to the Prince?
"Highness... I cannot. I... I cannot."
The Prince's face went expressionless. The Prince sat and looked at him, smooth and closed as a porcelain cup. Suddenly he smiled. It was a lovely smile, sweet and confiding. Choushimaro stared. Who was the Prince looking at, to smile like that? Heart bounding in fear, he glanced sharply over his shoulder -- I failed again, someone came in behind me and I all unaware-- saw only the empty room, the empty door to the verandah... And jumped again at the touch on his knee. The Prince- the Prince had moved over, the Prince was sitting right next to him, the Prince had moved-- Choushimaro's head swam in confusion. Everything was wrong. He couldn't understand how any of this was happening.
The Prince leaned towards him, smiling from his lovely red mouth. He put thin cold fingers to Choushimaro's cheek. They burned. The Prince was scarcely a hand's span away from him, and Choushimaro was cold and frozen as if a viper were twining about his neck the way the Prince's arm was doing now.
"Choushimaro," the Prince said, sweetly and happily into his eyes. Sweat ran down Choushimaro's back. He was afraid. He was afraid because the world suddenly made no sense. He was mad, or- god forbid- the Prince was mad, or maybe the world itself had gone insane.
"Highness," he said with what voice he could manage. "Highness, what- what would you have of your servant?" If only the Prince would stop smiling. If he'd curse at him or lose patience with him or tell him to take himself off as he always did. But not be- not be-- this stranger, this terrible stranger whose thin body pressed against his own for some terrible purpose.
"I told you," the Prince said. "And since you said you couldn't, I thought I'd help you out. Never let it be said I am not considerate of my retainers His hand stroked down between Choushimaro's legs.
"Highness!!" His own hand moved by instinct to grab and stop the other one, but he checked the movement. His master was doing this to him. The Prince was doing this to him. The Prince had seen what Tansui had done and the Prince had gone mad with it. The Prince was touching him through his breeches, and there were no words for the horror of it. He closed his eyes and bit the inside of his mouth and endured.
The Prince's hand stilled. It rested, heavy and unmoving, there, on his secret part, pressed against the reaction that made him burn with shame.
"You wanted this," the Prince told him. "I gave you an order, clean and straightforward, and nothing to do with you. You my servant obeying me your master, and nothing to do with Choushimaro the man at all. But you would not have it."
"Forgive me," Choushimaro whispered. He understood nothing of what the Prince was saying, only that he had hurt the Prince somehow, and the Prince was angry. It was terrifyingly easy to hurt the Prince, and you bore the consequences when you did so.
"Obey me then."
"I will obey you."
"Good." The Prince took his hand away. Choushimaro loosed a ragged breath and opened his eyes. The Prince's face was tight with anger and satisfaction.
"Forgive me," Choushimaro said again. "But what am I to do?"
"What Tansui does to you!" Exasperation blazed in the Prince's eyes. Choushimaro gazed helplessly. What Tansui does to me? What does Tansui do to me? He- he--
The answer shocked through him like lightning striking. His eyes started from his head. His mouth opened and wouldn't shut. He scuttled back, unthinking, two paces away from the Prince, and braced both his hands on the floor to keep himself from collapsing.
The Prince stared at him as if he were mad. But it was the Prince who was mad- unless he was mad himself, and he must be, because the Prince couldn't be asking him to--
The Prince's shoulders began to shake. The thin body in its delicate robe shook. The Prince put his face into his slender hands and made small soft noises like weeping. Choushimaro hastened back to his side in sudden anxiety.
The Prince looked up, his face twisted with laughter. He put one hand to his mouth and bit the back of it, trying to repress his hilarity.
"Oh," he said. "Oh. Oh. Oh."
"Highness." Something almost like annoyance filled Choushimaro's chest.
"Ohh," the Prince said, wiping his eyes. "It's true what Emishi says of you. You're so exqui- exquihisitely--" He looked at Choushimaro's face and dissolved in laughter again.
"Ooonnhhh," the Prince said at last. He wiped his eyes once more and sat back on his heels. "Well. Now do you understand, thickhead?"
"I understand, your Highness." The giddiness of the shock had left him. What remained was simple fact. His master had given him an order, as it might be 'Travel to the moon and bring me back a flower from that place.' He had to obey, and it was impossible to obey.
He put his hands to the ground and bowed above them. "Prince. Emishi-dono gave me the honour of serving your Highness. If I obey you in this and subject you to the-- the insult you ask me to, I betray his trust in me. It will grieve him, and that I am sorry to do." He felt the Prince displeased, like a cold breeze blowing on him. He went on. "If I anger Your Highness by not obeying, I betray the duty he gave me, and that also I am sorry to do."
"Indeed." The word dropped into the silence. After a moment he said, "You are in an unfortunate position, Choushimaro." The little worm of malice moved in his voice. "What will you do?"
"I must do what your Highness commands," he said. He was begging for mercy. And sensed, with a sinking heart, that the Prince would show him none. "Even though it will grieve my benefactor."
"Grieve him," the Prince said, in a strange tone. "I doubt it will grieve him as much as I wish it might." Choushimaro looked up, startled.
"Highness, if he learns of this, he will..." He stopped. "He will be most unhappy."
"Indeed," the Prince said, with an odd tightening of his mouth. "Let him be unhappy then. Your service is to me, not him." He looked at Choushimaro, and his face hardened. "I'm waiting, Choushimaro."
"Yes, Highness." His trump card had failed. He sat up "Allow me at least to put out the lights."
The Prince gave him a malicious smile. "Why?"
"I would not see myself doing what I must do."
The Prince shrugged. "As you please."
In the gloom he returned to the Prince's side. He unfastened the ribbons at the Prince's ankles, unfastened the ties of the waistband as he did every night when undressing him, and reluctantly drew them off beneath the Prince's long robe. He swallowed hard. Now to turn the Prince on his face- the Prince, the son of the Emperor, who carried the divine blood of the Sun Goddess in his veins. Every nerve in his body shrank from the deed. And as for what came after...
"Oh, never mind," the Prince said, turning away petulantly. Choushimaro caught his breath, scarcely able to believe he had been reprieved. "You touch me as if I were a spider or a corpse-worm."
"Highness, I'm sorry..."
"Get out." The Prince was angry. He'd bungled again, as he always did. He bowed in apology, though the Prince wasn't looking at him, and got up with a heavy heart.
"Go fetch Tansui," the Prince said when he was almost at the door.
"Yes, High--" he began, before understanding struck him. He didn't mean- surely the Prince didn't intend-- surely the Prince didn't intend-- But he hadn't asked him to light the lamps again, hadn't told him to dress him again. Choushimaro's stomach shrank in on itself sickeningly.
"What are you waiting for?"
He was standing at the edge of an abyss. He would teeter and fall. And whether he did or no- whatever he did now- it would be the wrong thing to do.
He came back into the room and knelt by the Prince's side. Even in the twilight he could see the whites of the Prince's eyes, outraged and angry. He prostrated himself, forehead next to the Prince's bare foot.
"I will do as your Highness commands," he said. "But I will not let that man touch you. Ever." He swallowed hard. "Ever. Even if that is what your Highness himself wishes."
The Prince snorted. "Jealous?"
"I will not let him touch you," Choushimaro said doggedly. He straightened. "Sooner than that..." His eyes met the Prince's.
"Aannh," the Prince said after a moment. Mocking and amused, but satisfied. "Very well. Proceed."
Choushimaro reached to open the
Prince's robes and in the same moment a memory slid into his mind. Small and
opportune, like the Buddha's mercy, there when needed. There was one thing he
could do that might, if experience was any guide, make this less painful for
the Prince. He put his arm behind the Prince's shoulders
and urged him backwards with his other hand, since it was impossible to tell
his master to lie down. He sensed the Prince's slight surprise, his curiosity
at this innovation.
He laid the front panel of the robe to one side and lowered his head. The Prince started when Choushimaro's mouth touched the fork of his body, and his leg bent involuntarily. His slender fingers sank into Choushimaro's hair, thin fingers but so strong. Painfully strong, like nails driven into his scalp, pulling at his hair. But that was good, the pain kept the front part of his mind busy so his tongue could concentrate on what it was doing, finding the places that would bring the Prince most pleasure. The Prince grew larger and firmer as Choushimaro's mouth wrapped about him. He heard the gasps and half-cries the Prince was making, the little moaning under his breath. They took him out of himself, good, away from any thought of what he was doing to a place where his duty was clear. 'You serve him first, last and always.' I do indeed. And I will do even this before I'll let you put your hands, your dirty blood-stained traitor's hands, on Emishi-dono's Prince.
He straightened up. "Your
pardon," he said, and
urged the Prince over onto his belly. He
lifted the silken robe gently, just enough to show him the place, leaving the
Prince no more naked than he need be. Since the Prince could no longer see him,
he undid his trousers and put a mouthful of spit about his organ. Now for the
hardest part. Please Buddha, let him not fail in his duty this time. An arm
under the Prince's waist, raising his narrow hips. The Prince braced himself on
elbows and knees and Choushimaro slipped his hand between the flat curves of
the Prince's buttocks. Held him open, while his heart pounded in terror and his
spirit shuddered away from this work. How could he, after all, how could he do
a thing like this? He closed his eyes for a second, and into his head came the
impression of a small soft body trembling against his, large dark eyes looking
shyly and nervously into his own. Yes of course, impossible as that was too,
and wrong as that was too, that was the way. And gently as he would have done
with her, slowly slowly and as achingly careful, he pushed himself into the
tightness of the flesh before him. Carefully, carefully, try not to hurt- don't
hurt... Forgive me, Choushimaro thought desperately, to the Prince and
to that other presence in his mind and to Emishi-dono and the
universe in general, and came fully inside.
Drew deep breaths, fought the sudden urge of his body to thrust back and forth, fought to stay himself. Like a knife, it hurts like a knife, remember how it hurts, would you put a knife into him like that? His hand reached beneath the Prince's body and found the stiffness, fingered it there and there, that's where it feels best. The Prince bucked a little against him, whimpering in a high strangled voice. Choushimaro battled to keep his head clear. And down here that's where it feels good, hand moving about the Prince as if about himself, feeling in himself the memory of what his hand was doing now to the Prince. Let that be enough, let that end it for both of them, the Prince quivering in his hand...
"Choushi. Maro. Stop."
He stopped. Had no voice to ask the Prince's will.
The Prince's voice, through his teeth by the sound of it. "Do what- Tansui did."
Found his voice, if barely. "It will hurt."
Do it, his body was saying. He
did, trying for slowness, trying to be gentle. Moved back and then forth again,
back and forth. It felt so good to him, his body told him it was good while his
head showed him himself crouching and weeping as Tansui took him, redly and
rawly, back in the forests of Kudara, here in Yamato, burning always from what
Tansui did and never saying no to him. Always it hurt, always love hurt so
much. Where there were two people together there could only be pain. His mother
and his father- himself and that other- He heard strangled breath
nearby, heard the
voiceless cries, Forgive me, forgive me I never wanted--- heard the
small soft body beneath his crying as he thrust the knife of his own body into
it. His heart stabbed him. His eyes flew open and he saw the two coiled plaits of the
Prince's hair swinging before him as the Prince's thin neck arched backwards. The
Prince, he thought, but the word had no meaning any more. ...no, not for
me not for anybody at least She will never... And then he dissolved
on a sudden and blinked out of existence for a moment.
Came to, the Prince soft in his hand, his hand sticky and closed. He slid it away, slid himself backwards. The Prince never stirred. Swiftly he went to the wash place, rinsed his hands, rinsed himself briefly, and came back with water and a towel. The Prince lay on his side, gone elsewhere in his head. He made no move when Choushimaro cleaned his thighs, and turned obligingly over to let Choushimaro wash him behind.
heat the bath for your Highness?"
"Yes. Do." The Prince
rolled onto his back
then, arms beneath his head. His face
looked... not unsatisfied. The little knot of apprehension in Choushimaro's
chest loosened and he found he could breathe again. The Prince's eyes flicked
over, met his briefly, and moved away. In that moment Choushimaro had the
strangest feeling that the Prince's eyes had smiled at him.
"Well done," the Prince said, indifferent, absent. It was dismissal. Choushimaro bowed and left the room.