A Few Scenes
The koto whined and hummed as its strings were plucked. Yukio sat and smiled, listening to the music. The skies outside were bright with stars and a sliver of moon that swung higher and higher accross the expanse. He was content.
Keiko played on, glancing up at him on the occassion, but only for an instant. He was the ruler of this court, of this domain. Land and power was his and he had the competance to understand how to control. It was said that he had been borne a son by one of the others, but the mother had died in the childbirth. He had gone for some time rather alone and avoiding the women of his entourage...
This Takeda warrior was not what she had been expecting. Though laiden with high responsibilities and powers, he seemed to have no arrogance or impatience whatsoever. It was true that he was still recovering from illness caused by injury in the battles, but he was definitely alert, and oddly tranquil. He did not speak authoritatively or harshly to her, as she had feared. Though he still maintained his air of dignity, he seemed unconcerned with anything except the music.
"What is it that they call you?" Yukio asked suddenly.
She continued playing and answered: "Keiko."
He grinned. Then he smiled genuinely. "Keiko is quite an ideal name for a lady such as yourself."
"Thank you, sir."
He turned to her, looked upon her with thoughtful a gaze and continued: "Of all the seasons and times of earth, which do you love most?"
Keiko was taken a bit by surprise. She paused in her playing. "Season?"
"Yes," he said, smiling again.
She sat silent for a moment, refusing him eye contact. Finally, she mustered:"I would have to say the time when the sakura start to litter the ground and the rains wash them into the rivers. I look forward to spring every year."
He turned back to the garden. "The blossoms are indeed glorious. Many of the spring Teas are the most wondorous. Have you ever been to a ceremony?"
"Um-," she started."
"Ah! Yes, I supposed that was a thoughtless thing to ask. Women aren't invited to lord's tea, I suppose," Yukio mumbled half to himself.
Keiko played softly to ease the odd tension of the moment.
Yukio sat up, seemed troubled in thought. "One day you will have to come to my Tearoom. I know it isn't proper, but I know that you would enjoy it," he said, still looking outside. "And maybe even more so than my own friends." He thought bitterly to himself: They say that they do, but I can tell that really, inside, they feel nothing of what I do, of what I devote my soul to."
Keiko said nothing. It was not her place to speak unless called upon. But questions about this person raced in her mind. Why was he telling her this? Maybe the illness was still in his head?
"Well, I am thinking of what tea-theme I should do next. It is deep midsummer and my mind seems to be weary from heat and war, both. What do you think?" he asked, facing her and the koto.
Keiko's face paled. "But, sir, I am of no place to advise you in such matters." She felt her lowliness and wanted to be free of the moment.
"Oh, I know, I know. It's ok. I am just so very sick of all of these rich lords showing off their pride in cluttered tea utensils and expecting me to do the same. I know your father and brother and can tell that they raised you with a very sensative appreciation for real beauty. I can sense it in that music. A lot of lords around here could learn from you!"
Yukio sighed and turned away. Ah well. What is this I am doing? Weakminded complaints that do nothing but weary myself out. "Well, anyway, I think it is about time I let you go for today. I think your older brother is waiting."
"Are you sure there isn't any more I can do for now?"
"You have done more than enough, for sure. You've spun my thoughts back into order!" and he smiled. A smile of gratitude, a smile of one gentle amusement.
Keiko left feeling confused, but vaugly hoping she could come see this artistic-warrior again.
With that, Yukio fell upon his bed and rested. The summer winds blew in through the open door. Crickets and fireflies joined in the chorus of koto strings.
Keiko touched the leaves, melted snow dripped from them and splattered on the ground.
She paused, mind spinning. Invisible thoughts groped for light. Memories denied and dreams long since forgotten. She refused them all time, but in place of their glow, she was filled with cloud, with doubt, with melancholy restlessness.
Yukio was going to be blind forevermore. Though nearly the entire winter season had passed, she hadn't faced that unchangeable fact: he would not gain sight ever again. That which he most treasured among senses was dimmed. No more the colored skies. No more the white of winter, green of spring, blue of summer, or red of autumn. That language of creation was muted for him now. All he appreciated and all he gave to it was ended.
She felt guilt for being able to perceive the beauty of life. Guilt because she did not see it as clearly or as thankfully as he had.
When he asked her to describe the weather and the feilds, she discovered that no living language among men can define it and convey it. It was too powerful to be held within the boundaries of words or syllables. That's why the poet was a master of his craft - in being able to put those wonders into word. And the tea masters who created a ceremony even more so: for they not only isolated and defined the moment - they created a moment all of their own. The ceremony seemed to breathe with its message and grow to form new questions and themes. As did life.
And now, her tea master, was blind.
What was there left?
The icy dew dripped down her arm, sank and hid within the weave of her sleeve.
Yukio stood at the sliding door of the room. He was still as pale skinned as the bandages over his scarred eyes.
"Is it raining or are you sprinkling water upon the roji?" he asked, his head cocked to the side.
"Oh uh it's just the melted snow-" Keiko managed.
"Ah," he replied.
And he smiled.
The smile was as terrifying as anything Keiko could have imagined.
"It sounded so beautiful, Keiko. The snowy dew. Ahh the air is full of it, still and chill, but dripping moisture. I love these mornings."
Keiko's mind battled within her. How could he possibly be happy? How could he think that was beautiful when he couldn't even see it? Her mind demanded answers, but she spoke nothing. No words could express such a thing.
"Don't you, Keiko?"
And it was Keiko who felt mute and blind.
Yukio and Akitsugu walked slowly nearer and nearer to the shrine which was their destination. Neither was speaking. the rain bounced off Yukio's hat but they sank into his son's hair and yukata. It was a warm rain, though and it was therefore not unplesant.
Suddenly, Yukio turned to his son and asked: "Akitsugu, what do you see?"
Akitsugu peered up into his father's shadowed face and responded:"Where, father, sir?"
"Oh, everywhere. Just describe it to me."
Akitsugu scanned the landscape around him. They were on a path through small undergrowth and trees, but mainly his gaze was drawn to the puddles on the road...he had been watching them the whole walk, as he was careful not to sink into a large one.
"Well, there are some small bushes and things here off the side of the road, and some trees also. There is a lot of water...a lot of puddles. I have seen a few birds but-"
"What color is the world right now?"
"Color? But it is many colors..?" Akitsugu responded, confused.
"If you had to delegate a color to this place, to this moment, to the feeling inside you right now - what would it be?" his father asked.
Akitsugu pondered this. Yukio waited patiently for a response, in no need to rush him. In fact, that was his point.
"Grey..." he finally managed.
"The sky is grey and it is falling on the world with its grey mist. Then, I feel calm and well, I feel like thinking and it reminds me of the greyness of the outside."
"I color this moment as white," the father said in return.
"The rain washes the world and cleanses it and purifies it to be pure, to be new, and, so, to be white."
"Oh," Akitsugu replied, feeling slightly at a loss.
"But-" Yukio said quickly. "You are just as right as I am."
"But your answer was smarter than mine," Akitsugu protested.
"No, you described the color you see. I described what I see. We all see differently. Just as we are all different. There is no right or wrong answer to a question like that."
"That's right. Now, we must get moving again before night falls," Yukio said with an encouraging smile.
"Akitsugu, I am sorry."
"No. I understand."
Yukio sat on his ankles in his white kimono and Akitsugu, still only a teen, faced him with a level expression. Outside, the enemies were buzzing like a locust swarm, all bent on the honor of the kill. All soon to be dissapointed of it.
"Speak nothing of your family name to anyone; they only want me, but don't let them take the rest of you - somehow you must...you must ride free of this storm," Yukio ordered.
"Yes, sir," Akitsugu bowed, though his placid voice hid his thirst for revenge.
"Then,..." Yukio faltered. "Then, farewell, Akitsugu."
The doors gave into the sword wielding men, but it was already too late. Inside they faced the fallen figure of their hunt - but blocking them was a young man with flaming eyes and his father's blade. He cut the attackers down as the house burned away, taking all memory of the night with it.
It was over before long. The hidden teahouse had fallen, Yukio had died, along with the 4 men sent after him, and Akitsugu sat on the cold, frozen earth cradling an arm which was broken and maimed.
The bowl of vanities had poured its draughts yet again, even as it had from the beginning. And it had been taken up, and consumed in a long, slow swallow.
[Priest. Akitsugu. Masato. Umeko.]
The old priest looked over at the children milling about the temple court after their mother retired to a back room. Well, one of the 'children' was already full grown, but his younger brother and sister were not yet of schooling age. They were so adorable. Umeko, the youngest, had her hair cut just above the shoulders and it bounced about her face as she pranced. Those big violet eyes were just like her mother's. She had the same simple charm of her mother, and all who met her found her to be a treasure. Everyone fell in love with cute little Umeko.
Presently, Umeko was teasing Masato about getting more sweets and he was defiantly trying to tell her that he didn't have any more. Masato had his father's bright smile, but his hair was darker than either his mother or father's. Even though he was young, he often tried to act older and take on the parental role over his little sister. On the whole, he was bright and happy with a healthy appetite and a great desire to work. He would grow up to be a very respectable adult someday.
A few feet away from them, their older half-brother Akitsugu gazed at the rock garden, silent, fiery eyes reflected the deep wheeling thoughts within him. Ever since his father had died, he'd become solemn with the realization and acceptance of his place as temporal family head. This did not require anything of him while he and the younger children were in the care of the friends from the temple, but he had not forgotten this duty. He could he be a very amazing person when he was together with the scholars - he always had something to ask questions about and never tired of his studies. Sometimes, he could laugh and his smile was like the warmth after a cold rainy day. The tutors often spoke to the priest and said how they wished they could see that smile more.
As if Akitsugu could hear his thoughts, he turned, flashed those golden eyes and turned back with a sigh.
He had once told the priest that he would be perfectly happy to remain hiding in the mountain temples and studying scriptures. He was also the one who practiced swordsmanship while the monks weren't looking.
And now he gazed tranquilly at the rock garden. And no one could get inside his head to see what he was thinking about...
"Big brother Masato! Let's go walk on the sand! It's so white and shiny!"
"Umeko, I don't think we should do that. Let's go look at the fish in the pond instead!"
"Ok! I like the little one!"
"I like the all red one! He's better than the small one!"
"No way! He's scary!"
"Scary? You're just scared cause you're a girl!"
"Hey-don't be mean!"
Their reflections danced on the waters of the pond as the fish scattered, leaving nothing but a blur of smiling faces and high clouds above them.