It was not entirely accidental, Goujun
thought in annoyance, that the Bodhisattva Kanzeon's assistant should happen to
cross his path as he was leaving the daily audience. Jiroushin had that eager
look in his eye that Goujun, alas, had come to know so well. After the whole
stupid business of the army's uniforms he'd avoided going near the
administrative side of the palace, hoping to be spared any more civilian
interference. Jiroushin could hardly summon a general to the Bodhisattva's
offices on his own initiative, and he wouldn't lower himself by coming to
Goujun's quarters. But now, damn it, here he was, clearly with some new
Buddhist bee in his bonnet.
"Jiroushin-dono," he greeted him, asserting precedence in the faint hope of dampening Jiroushin's fervour.
"Goujun-sama, how lucky to have caught you. I ahh see your men are no longer wearing animal skins--" He peered closely at Goujun's marshal, who favoured him with a look of owlish disapproval. Tenpou, displaying a useful familiarity with Down There, had been invaluable in finding a replacement material-- pleather, he called it-- but had no more use for the stuff than he had for any kind of uniform. Goujun himself of course always wore cotton and silk, partly for coolness and comfort but mostly from dragonish disdain for the beasts of Down There.
"No, they don't. Was that all
you wanted to know? If so-"
"Wait, Goujun-sama," Jiroushin interposed quickly. "You do understand that non-violence is a cardinal principle of Heaven, don't you?"
It is now, Goujun thought. It wasn't always, which you'd do well to remember.
"It's the very foundation of his Majesty's brilliant reign and the source of the celestial peace we citizens of Heaven enjoy---" Jiroushin prattled on. Goujun took a deep breath and commanded his soul to patience. There was an outward side to things and an inner one, and a sensible man knew that what he wore next to his skin was not what he showed to the world. He had occasion to wonder though if the general run of kami were aware of that fact, or if they truly believed that the outer appearance of things was all there was. How else could Jiroushin go mouthing the Buddhist party line to an ocean king in happy expectation of his agreement? Even Tenpou was twitching a little.
"--and so it is necessary that all the officers and servants of Heaven demonstrate the principles of our faith in action," Jiroushin was concluding, and looked at Goujun in expectation.
"Certainly," Goujun agreed. "What is your point?"
"Well--- these." He pointed to Goujun's shoulder.
"These?" Goujun blinked.
"To wear the claws of a beast over your uniform- as a trophy, I suppose, of the animal you- you-" his mouth worked at the word.
"Killed," Tenpou supplied.
"Dispatched," Jiroushin insisted, looking askance at the Marshal, "--I really don't know how you can," he went on to Goujun. Goujun merely stared at him. Jiroushin's face was faintly red and his eyes looked moist. "Doesn't it bother you?" the kami demanded. "To take another's life- to cause pain to a sentient being---"
"Jiroushin-dono," Goujun said. "What do you know of dragon physiology?"
"You know we are hatched from eggs, and emerge in our dragon form? That we are not mammals and do not suckle as mammals do?"
Jiroushin blinked in confusion. "I don't see what--"
Goujun rode over him. "That we have all our teeth at birth, and can assume manform a few hours after, and that our human forms can walk after half a year?"
"And that just before puberty certain changes occur--"
"We cast the skins of our dragon forms for the first time. Those skins we use to make the boots we will wear as men. We shed the down of our wings and grow a sturdier covering. That down is used to line the cloaks we will wear as men. And we lose our first dragonteeth and grow the fangs of an adult." He leaned closer to Jiroushin. "And those teeth, Jiroushin-dono, we use to guard our shoulders when we are men."
Jiroushin seemed to wilt. "Oh. I see..."
Goujun gave him a last hooded look. "Claws," he said with precise disdain. "Good day to you, Jiroushin-dono." He turned on his heel and walked away-- and counted in his head as he did so. Exactly at fifteen he heard the expected voice behind him.
"Don't ask," he said, not turning around.
"Yes sir," and they walked on together in silence.