The Ghost Lover


           When Kou Josei was magistrate in the province of Toshui, Many Waters, Marquis Hibaku Eika passed through the region with his troops and paused for the day at that town. Kou Josei had a feast prepared for his old friend, to which were invited the ranking officials and local men of letters. After the banquet was over and the guests departed, the two sat up late together, drinking wine and gazing at the night view from the terrace. They spoke little, silenced by the white beauty of the autumn moon.

           Kou Josei's servants prepared their master's bed for himself and his guest. A gentleman in waiting helped the Marquis into a nightrobe. They covered Hibaku and Kou Josei  with the brocade quilt, extinguished the light, and took their leave. From outside the window came the shrilling of a single cricket, last of the summer. Under the covers Kou Josei  drew the hem of his nightrobe up to his waist and turned his back to Hibaku.

           "Dear friend," Hibaku said, "this may not be. It is not my wish to do you hurt."

           "Your excellency is a soldier," Kou Josei replied. "What honor does a soldier gain who returns unhurt from the field? Does a warrior complain of the pain of his wounds, or does he bear their smart proudly as a sign of his courage and devotion?"

           "But we are friends," said Hibaku, "not enemies in battle."

           Kou Josei  said:


           "Drink lightly, see the banquet guests on their way,

            Companions of an evening scattering like blossoms.

            Drink deep as you bid farewell to your old comrade

            Who takes your heart's root with him when he goes.


           Sincere friendship such as ours is a heavy thing. It brings us joy in the same measure as it grieves us. I am hurt already, and I think your Excellency is too."

           "Ahh," Hibaku sighed. "Your eyes see too clearly."

           "Then what can we do but apply cauterizing herbs to our wounds? Pain added to pain leads to healing."

           Hibaku had no answer to make to that, and so he consented to take his pleasure of Kou Josei's body. Kou Josei hid his face in the pillow and bit the linen covering, that the Marquis might not hear his groans of pain.

           "The Emperor has given you the name Starbright for the brilliance of your eyes," Hibaku said at last. "I am easy in my mind now, knowing he has never felt this part of you, or he would have called you Tender Rose instead."


           In the black night, the rose remains unseen

           Feel only the softness of its tender bloom

           Red at its heart, red dew upon its petals

           Pricked by the stalk it rests on, sharp as thorn


Kou Josei made no answer, but hid his blushing face against Hibaku's chest, and so at last the two friends slept.

           When they rose up in the light of dawn, Hibaku saw that red dew had indeed pearled within the petals of his Tender Rose, and his heart smote him. Kou Josei was unconcerned. He washed himself and dressed in his magistrate's robes, partook of breakfast and accompanied his guest to the gate to bid him farewell. Hands in his sleeves he bowed as Hibaku mounted his horse, but never once looked him in the eyes. Hibaku rode away with a sad face.

           Kou Josei went to the council chamber and there presided over the morning session of the court. He returned to his private office for the midday meal, and spent the afternoon in consultation with his assistants over the affairs of the region. As he came out of the government buildings late in the day, he found the Marquis waiting for him in the forecourt.

           "I am here," Hibaku said, "because I could not bear to go away and leave you angry with me still."

           "How could I be angry at your Excellency," Kou Josei asked in surprise, "when you have given me no reason to be?"

           "I gave you cause enough," Hibaku replied. "Kind though you were to me last night, this morning you would not even look at me."

           "I am only a lowly official, one of many in this province, and your Excellency is from the first family of the realm. It does not become one such as I to forget his rank."

           "You will not forgive me?" Hibaku said sadly.

           At that Kou Josei looked up at him with a tranquil smile. "We Chinese tell stories of men who have had the misfortune to fall in love with a ghost. Your Excellency is one of that number. He is in love with a ghost called Tender Rose. But spirits cannot appear during the day. Your Tender Rose exists only at night beneath the moon, and that which stands before you now in the light of the sun is Li Kou Josei, the magistrate of Bailiu."

           The Marquis was silent a long moment. "Then," he said, "I will delay here another night, that I may perhaps see my ghostly lover one more time."


           A shadow on the moon, a face seen only in darkness

           A noiseless footfall steps within my chamber

           Here, you are not here. I hold a phantom.

           The morning's dew will fall and find you gone.  



Jan 2003