has never concerned himself with the affairs of Down There (nor with those Up
Here much, either.) Thus Konzen has never heard Oscar Wilde's dictum that each man
kills the thing he loves. He wouldn't agree with it anyway. As Konzen has known
instinctively from the start, it's the thing he loves that kills each man. The
person Konzen Douji was for centuries died without a whisper under the monkey's
cheerful onslaught. Konzen has never mourned him for a minute. So why would he
flinch now when the monkey attacks his body? Death wasn't so bad the last time.
knows permanence as the kami do, and alteration in a way they cannot. How else,
when he has the potential to be a two-legged man or a two-winged dragon or a
delicate white horse or a sturdy metal carriage? The laws of his universe allow
for change, but that change always follows a set and predictable pattern. Loose
the limiter and the little creature becomes Destruction incarnate, an
earthquake, a raging forest fire. That makes sense. Put a hand to the
earthquake's cheek and it becomes a little creature again. That makes none, and
he still can't understand it.
To Goujun the kami look like toddlers: big heads, blobby features, large bellies, short legs. He keeps that thought out of his expression: he's grown used to giving orders to children. What he doesn't know is that he, centuries older than they are, looks to them like an adolescent: barely seventeen, with a stripling's slender body and a face unmarked by experience. His men don't mind: they've grown used to taking orders from a teenager. The courtiers are another matter. The Boy, they call him behind his back, with indulgence and dismissal and, in more than one case, calculation.
'God, Heaven's so muggy. I'm
sweating like a pig.'
'If you *will* wear your uniform all the time--'
'I'm a general. I have a position to maintain.'
'How punctilious of you. There are two ways of being cool, Kenren, and you choose the one that gets you company in bed.'
'Yeah, and you know how hot that gets too? The other kind of hot, I mean.'
'No, actually. I don't.'
'Oh.' Kenren goes red. 'Sorry. Didn't mean-- Sorry.'
Tenpou lets him flail and doesn't inform him that having a scaled cold-blooded bed partner keeps a man very cool indeed.
Tenpou is an outstanding officer- resourceful, courageous, responsible. Quick-witted as well: Goujun never has to tell him anything twice. His private life is equally exemplary, blamelessly devoted to books and tobacco. Tenpou's only failings are, possibly, taking too much personal initiative in the field and, perhaps, attending too little to personal hygiene at home. Compared to what the other officers do, that's mere eccentricity. Goujun knows himself blessed in having so gifted and gallant a soldier for his marshal. Which is why he ignores the little voice in his head that says 'If it looks too good to be true...'
Hakkai hates rainy nights, yes. The sound of rain brings
with it a crawling anxiety, the first hint of the enormous black thing that
looms in its wake: horror and despair reaching to smother his soul. He takes
deep breaths to steady his thundering heart and warm his frozen hands. Jiip
flutters over from the bed and lands on his shoulder: heavy, soft, alive.
Hakkai looses a little shiver of breath, not exactly laughter, not entirely hysteria. "My watch-dragon," he says.
Jiip's long neck loops about Hakkai's and his breath puffs in Hakkai's ear. 'Kyuu,' he cheeps: believe it, Marshal.
"Grief fills the room up of
my absent child"
(two drabbles and a double)
Father of four sons, Older to many youths, Gouen is at last learning to lie below. It's an... educational experience. Not what it was like before for him, not what he thought it was like for others. He sweats and grunts as the solid thing moves inside him, not painful but not-- not-- 'Why am I doing this?' though of course he knows. The King wishes it. This isn't for his own purposes and pleasure. How could it be?
Goukou kisses him. "Endure, little brother. Some day you'll be doing this with Goujun, after he comes back."
was never close to his Younger. Goujun followed his instruction obediently
enough but whatever there was of warmth and eagerness in him, like a banked
fire, he saved for when Goukou was with them. Which was natural. Not all
Youngers are in sympathy with their Olders; not all fathers love their
children, and not all Dances result in sons. So Goushou doesn't mind if Goujun
disappears for a while. But now, annoyingly, he finds himself misplacing
things- a book, a glove, his seal ring- for the unaccountable pleasure of
finding them again, and he just can't stop doing it.
Goukou walked the ramparts of his palace, and the susurrus of the waves was a tapestry of sound backgrounding his thoughts. This invitation from the Third Princess of the Southern Continent- yes, he'd accept. She'd given him little Kaimyou, his silver son. He owed her some return. Both policy and personal feeling agreed on that.
And if the child was again a boy, well, so much the better. There was good blood in the South. And the Southern Ruler's old Strategist was a warrior of experience and penetrating intelligence: it would be entertaining- and good training- to partner her again in games of go.
He turned his steps back to his chambers. The waves roared behind him, low and soothing; the salt smell of them was in his nostrils; and a sudden pang struck his heart so that he stopped still, amid the discreet consternation of his attendants.
Goujun-- this I owe to you. That I may live at last like a dragon of the dragons and not the lackey of Heaven is because of your death. He took a deep breath. And so I will live like a dragon indeed, as thanks for the gift you've given to me, brother.
Older brother, younger brother
His younger brother surpasses him in ability. Not just in poetry- Goujun has no pretensions to any talent there- but in diplomacy, in statescraft, maybe even in strategy and warfare as well. Gouen is quite unaware of this fact; or if he does know, keeps that knowledge so far from his manner that it looks exactly as if he doesn't. That's one reason among many that Goujun loves him so well.
His older brother is high-strung and moody: lashing out in anger, plunging into despair, plagued by sensitivity to things Goujun can't even see. Any complaints Goujun may have made in his childhood about Goushou's unfairness were checked at once, and severely, by the oldest of them. Goujun bowed his head and waited to see if he would in time understand his ani-ue's wisdom. In time he did. And, now that there will never be more brothers than the four of them, is grateful that there's one brother weaker than himself, one who depends on his strength and wisdom to supply the deficiencies of his own. Goushou is quite unaware that's what he does, which lets Goujun go on doing it without awkwardness. That's the other reason Goujun loves Goushou.
Many common phrases refer to the happy state of childhood,
that sunny period of indulgence before adult cares begin. "Did you sleep
well?" a host will ask. "Like a child by his gran'fer," the
guest answers. "He carried me on his back" means someone gave you aid
in a time of difficulty; "he has carried me in his arms" means he
upheld you through grief and sorrow. In battle, the tactic whereby two
battalions approach from opposite directions and surround the enemy in the
centre is called 'gran'fer's arms,' and so on.
Adulthood brings duties and responsibility, but also freedom of action. It is a strange man who would wish again for the dependence and weakness of childhood. So Goukou is at a loss when his nearest brother asks him, in petulant annoyance, just what it is he find so satisfying about companying the Rulers for the two hundred days.
"The exercise of my skill in the service of my kingdom and family," he says unanswerably. "What else indeed is our training for?" And doesn't admit, even to himself, that what he really likes about it is the sensation of once again sleeping next to someone bigger than he is.