History paves the way to the future.
That Which Destroyeth Kings:
A Tiny Moment of Truth
by Cerise Tennyo
The voice did not match the eyes, the eyes did not follow the language of the body. When all one had to measure time against was a single lifetime blurred and thinned by centuries, what import did these fleeting shadows of modern incarnations have?
Uesugi Kagetora was a wild card now, one Kousaka needed in his hand. Order made for no true defense against chaos. A brittle, rigid thing, it shattered like thin wood before floodwater. But the right object, set in the right path could turn armies, turn rivers, even if that river was time itself.
Yes. The Universe had indeed offered him a gift in the form of Kagetora's latest incarnation. Now, if he could display it in a way without insult to the giver or the gift...
Kousaka met those eyes that never changed, and spoke.
"I offered for you, once."
Ougi blinked at him, the significance of the words passing straight over his head with an almost audible swoosh. What are they teaching them in schools these days? Kousaka checked a sigh.
"Offered what?" Ougi asked blankly. For a moment, that iron guard wavered, threatening to fall away.
A feint, to draw attention away from his true goal... He let his smile turn secretive, his gaze lazy, lingering just a bit too long. "My patronage and protection, of course. And my body."
Ougi jolted away from the tree as if spooked by lightning. "You--that's-- Stop jerking me around! We're enemies. You'd never-- I'd never-- !"
"We weren't always enemies," he corrected. "Once, you stood as my lord's own son, raised to manhood in the Takeda clan... Saburo-dono."
He saw something flicker in Ougi's eyes. Historical fact, one the boy had surely already confirmed for himself. Ougi Takaya might not know one side of Yami Sengoku from the other, but such a wary young man would have attempted to verify what he'd been told about himself. Not every past fact had been recorded, however...
Even Kasuga Gensuke walked with care around the lord of the Takeda these past days. Something, some news or absence of news, had sent the lord in a lethal, quiet rage. Yet he took no overt action, sent for no-one. When the Lady herself had been turned away, Kasuga decided to try his own luck. Some of the men were whispering--some a little too loudly-- of ill-luck spirits plaguing the lord.Seeds of mutiny flourished in such ground.
He felt reasonably confident of his own ability to survive the lord's ill-temper should that storm break over his own head. If not... wasn't dying by one's lord's own hand not a kind of honor? Though if I have any good fortune, may I find a better way to honor him!
He waited for permission to enter, then knelt. Oyakata-sama stood with his back to the door, a pose which made Gensuke's protective instincts twitch. Moving with extreme care and quiet, he edged over so that his body blocked entrance into the room. He cast a brief, surreptitious glance around the room, seeking some clue to the master's dark mood. He saw only the careful arrangement of ornaments any cultured man displayed. Except for the size of the room and quality of the few furnishings, the space could belong to a lowly bannerman.
He settled himself to wait. Depending on his mood, the lord might not acknowledge him for some time. If he chose, Shingen-sama could leave him waiting all night, and Gensuke could not dare protest. He risked his lord's displeasure enough, to approach without having been sent for and with no urgent business to report. Shingen-sama would be well within his rights to view such behavior as insolent presumption...
The quiet of evening began to settle on their surroundings. In the relative peace, he felt some of the raw tension ease. Whatever storm brewed on the horizon, it seemed unlikely to break over his head. At last, his lord stirred.
"Send one of the women for sake, Kasuga."
He did not pause to wonder how the lord knew who shared the room with him, but eased the shoji back and gave the order to a pale-faced young maid kneeling outside.
By the time the maid returned, the lord had settled himself on a cushion and beckoned Gensuke closer. The young woman, clinging to grace through her anxiety, poured sake for them both, then withdrew at the lord's gesture.
The silence continued. Gensuke began to wonder if the lord wished only a silent companion, a living presence who asked for nothing and required nothing. It might explain why the Lady had been turned away...
Shingen-sama set down his half-empty cup with a precise, tiny click. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and looked squarely at Gensuke.
"What think you of young Saburo?"
The Houjou hostage? Was he the root of this black mood? Gensuke tensed. "My lord, has he--?"
Shingen-sama waved his words away. "No, no. I ask your opinion--how you see him, his place here."
Ah. The lord would have no patience for the idle gossip Genske could not help but overhear --gossip that cursed Yashichirou made certain he heard. The lord wished Kasuga's opinion, the observations and knowledge of a trusted retainer.
"He bears his true status with dignity," he said at last. "I have seen nothing that is not a credit to you, or to the Takeda--nor any sign he follows any last directives of Ujiyasa-sama."
Shingen-sama gave a faint smile. "He has caused a stir among the men."
Rather like how floodwater got one's toes wet. "I do not believe it is with intent," Gensuke said carefully. He dared not look his lord full in the face. He would have to rely on voice alone. "Saburo-dono keeps to solitary pursuits and appears... unaware... of how his presence affects others."
Which made him foolish, innocent, or both. Anyone with eyes could see Saburo was that rare beautiful boy who would grow into an even more beautiful man--provided some pox did not ruin him. He quelled a shudder. Such beauty garnered jealousy from men and women alike, and from mischievous spirits who never tired of seeking new playthings. The beautiful made for dangerous company.
"And you, Gensuke? Would you consider attaching yourself to the boy?"
He jerked his head up with affront. "My lord!" he protested. "I've made my vow to you!"
The lord retrieved his cup. "Nor do I accuse you, Gensuke. I ask you this for a reason."
Gensuke fought to present a seemly face to the mild rebuke. By custom, it was unseemly for one to make such remarks to one's sworn /otoutobun/, but this man was foremost his lord. He must remember his place. He was twenty, a man by any measure. He must not show his disquiet like an unschooled boy.
"I serve my lord's will in all things," he said at last.
Shingen-sama contemplated the arrangement of flowers displayed on a low cabinet. "Houjou sent his youngest son to seal our alliance--no great wonder. No man sends his heir unless there is no choice, or he is utterly crushed. Two other sons have wives and children. Of the remaining four... he sends the youngest and the fairest. How shall I read that, Gensuke?"
With an effort, he kept his calm. An appreciation of beauty did not indicate a desire to possess it, else every moon-viewing party would be populated by bandits seeking to rob the sky. He had his lord's sworn promise--and a question to answer.
"In cold terms, the youngest is the most expendable," he said. "Houjou-sama risks less through sending one so young than he would if he sent one better trained and learned."
"Mn. Houjou thinks himself quite cunning, and perhaps in this he has some success, if the disturbances caused by Saburo's mere presence play out as you say."
"That would imply that the boy does so at Houjou's direction--and the boy cannot keep from blushing at the teasing of the women," Kasuga pointed out. "Either he is an actor beyond peer, or he is clear as water. I believe he means only to comport himself in a way to honor his names."
"And yet Houjou asks for nothing but my 'good will' and acceptance of his youngest." The lord's eyes narrowed. "I cannot have it said that Takeda Shingen's favor can be bought with a pretty boy--even if Houjou sees no shame in whoring out his own son."
Chagrined, Gensuke looked down at his hands. So caught up in his own jealousies, he had not given a single thought to how it might be viewed that his lord took in such a boy. "I... understand, Oyakata-sama..."
"I hold our contract binding still, Gensuke," his lord said, putting all his fears at rest with those words. "I will take no other for my anibun/, and by my vow, I will do no hurt to you. Yet nothing in what we have sworn to each other prevents you from offering to stand as /otoutobun to another. Such actions are rare, but not unheard of. And if the one you take to is my son-by-choice, how could I be other than pleased?"
And how could their enemies then claim even that victory, if their pretty bait was snapped up by another? Put like that... what answer could he give? Gensuke drank from his own sake, and for the first time, gave serious thought to the person of young Saburo.
A fair face, with the sharper lines of adulthood beginning to show through the boyish softness. Dark, thick hair that made women pale with envy and drew the eye of more than one man. He moved with a quick, sure grace, without the awkwardness that plagued so many his age. He sat a horse well, handled bow and sword in a way that did not shame his lineage. He could read and write a clear hand. He even, it was rumored, played the flute as well as a Heian gentleman. An art of war, an art of grace... well on his way to becoming an accomplished man.
If he had any flaw, it lay in his innocence and his determination to please. A dangerous combination, and one Shingen-sama was right to wish under his direct control. Yet...
"He... is young, just thirteen, is he not?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"Old enough for most," Shingen-sama replied.
His lord's cup stood empty, and Gensuke hastened to refill it.
"You are not so old he may claim Muranosuke's complaint," Shingen-sama continued.
"Not half so many years as Muransosuke and his incense-maker, it is true," Gensuke admitted. He had been fifteen when he'd begun actively courting Shingen-sama, sixteen when they'd sworn out their contract. And far fewer years lay between them than between Saburo and himself. "He is... perhaps too young."
"A long courtship would draw no question," Shingen-sama said placidly. "Would another year better age him to your favor?"
"I--" I do not want another lover! Yet his lord's will was clear. As vassal to Takeda Shingen, he could not allow a slight to his lord's honor. And if to protect that honor he must do with his body rather than with sword or bow... He is neither ill-favored, stupid, petty, or cruel, /Gensuke reminded himself. /He is perhaps a bit aloof, but a year of wooing might warm him. Women of bushi households were expected to endure far worse without complaint--should a man flinch where a woman made brave stand?
"Oyakata-sama..." he breathed, but spoke no more.
The wide silk sleeve of Shingen-sama's kimono made a pleasing whisper as he moved. The lord touched the back of his clenched hand.
"Kasuga Gensuke, I would keep you at my side always--beyond even this life, if the gods accept such prayers. To share you with another is not a welcome thought--but Saburo bears my name, now. To whom else might I entrust both the honor of the Takeda and his safety?"
Gensuke bowed his head. "You praise me beyond my due. I can only strive to serve your will. If it please you, grant me one year, to woo him and win him. I will stand beside this chosen son of yours--by intent of promise, not by formal contract."
For all else, Saburo was still a hostage. If Houjou broke with them, Takeda Saburo would be no more--and if bound by a formal contract, Gensuke would then be forced to avenge the slight to his 'brother,' against Houjou, possibly against even his own lord.
Shingen-sama said nothing, but the quality of his silence grew soft and warm. He brushed a hand over Gensuke's hair, lingering with his fingertips against his cheek. His breath quickened, but he held himself still, unsure if his lord's business was finished.
"You will have your year, Gensuke."
The broad, strong hand came to rest at the back of his neck. Gensuke let out his breath, and raised his eyes.
Historical notes and definitions:
For those disturbed by the planned seduction of a (to us) underage boy... truth is, at that time, Saburo was indeed old enough to be courted by older men. The typical age for a wakashu (translated in my sources as 'young man') was between thirteen and eighteen. IIRC, there's a twelve year difference between Naoe-as-Tachibana and Kagetora-as-Takaya. Saburo was thirteen or fourteen, Kousaka would've been around twenty-four, less than the modern 'couple'! For my own comfort, I "aged-down" Kousaka for that particular part of the story.
The historical Takeda Shingen and Kousaka Danjou did indeed swear out a "brotherhood contract." It's available in one of the archives at Tokyo University. Portions of it have been translated into English, which is the reference I have used. The name Kousaka uses in the 'past' is the name given on the contract, and so the name used for those scenes.
I haven't been able to pinpoint just when 'Kasuga' became 'Kousaka'.
/otoutobun/: 'Younger brother', one of the words used to indicate the younger sexual partner of a male/male pair.
Anibun indicated the older partner. (Interestingly, there was no stigma attached to 'role', and rank had little to do with who could legitimately pay court to another. Fidelity, in most cases, was expected, even if the relationship was casual. I've probably stretched things a bit here... but again, I plead artistic license.)
Definitions of these terms come from the book, /Male Colors, a History of Male Homosexuality in Tokugawa Era Japan/, by Gary P. Luell, (There's a
chapter on pre-Tokugawa perceptions of homosexuality in society, as well.) my main source for this material. A list of kanji is provided in the
book. The characters given are indeed as I've expressed them in romanji.
These appear to be archaic terms, so I can't verify the accuracy of the translation with any dictionary in my possession, instead relying on the text from /Colors/. If I've erred, corrections are gratefully accepted.
/Muransosuke/: a character in Ihara Saikaku's /Love Vowed to the Dead/. At the request of his dying lover, Muranosuke sought out and became the lover of his dead beloved's first love, though several years (at least a decade) separated them in age.