Author: Tafkak PM
"Isn't it strange, Hansuke? They're always the most beautiful right before they die." A story of a broken man, a strange world, and the outsider who stumbled across it one night in the bloody snow. COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 17 - Words: 95,341 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 07-05-12 - Published: 12-26-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2982743
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Greetings to all! This is my first story to be published in awhile, though I used to write fanfiction a few years ago. This piece is the first in a series if it receives a response, and was previewed on ffnet under my old pen name, Khazia. The setting will be explained more as the story goes on, but suffice it to say that it is a sort of crossover between modern times and an ancient Japanese setting. As such, there will be references to Shinobi, Samurai, daimyo, etc. I would be happy to offer explanations if anyone has any questions. This story moves a bit slower and focuses on the complex relationship within an arranged marriage, though there will be some action later on.
The title, "Kishi Kaisei", is taken from a Japanese proverb literally meaning "Wake from death and return to life".
Chapter titles are either song titles or portions of the lyrics to a particular song that I found inspirational in writing this story.
One last thing: I'm having some trouble with the document editing process for some reason, so please excuse any formatting glitches. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!
The man beside her was stern and stoic, and after her first glance at his hardened expression, she kept her eyes forward. She knew him very well, but this day was nothing like the lazy days inside his clan's compound, and she could not stand the sight of his eyes when they were so distant. The carriage rocked beneath them and occasionally, the jolt was enough to make her bump into him. She wished he wouldn't have sat so close, but perhaps he thought he needed to keep an eye on her. After all, she had made it very clear that this trip was taking place against her will.
"I trust you are aware of your duties," he said quite suddenly, and she realized that he would only speak to her if they were very close to their destination. She turned to him and he was looking back at her, the weight of worry pushing its way to the surface of his expression.
"We are counting on you, child."
His voice had softened to the gentle tone he used when no one else was around to listen, when he addressed her as a daughter. She knew the importance of this journey, that everything he had worked for, his entire people, depended on her now. Once he walked away, there was nothing more he could do, and the helplessness must have been nearly overwhelming.
"Yes, my lord," she answered softly, and he reached over to rest his hand atop hers where they lay folded in her lap.
"He will treat you well. You will be happy."
It sounded like a reassurance for himself and an order for her. As if he could force her to be happy with a stranger.
The carriage stopped and she gathered the skirts of her kimono, preparing to step outside. Her companion got out first and held out one hand to help her down. There were gas lamps lit outside the gates of the Kiyomi complex, but the small flames barely broke the dense darkness. The complex was close to a mile outside the city and the lights did not reach here. The cover of night was necessary so that neither clan leader would be missed by his people during the exchange.
A chamber had been set aside for her preparation, and two servant girls were waiting. What was perhaps the most beautiful kimono she had ever seen was carefully laid out. That's for me, she realized suddenly, and her steps faltered in the doorway.
His hand was warm and firm on her shoulder as he walked by. "I must speak with Lord Kiyomi. Go on, I will see you to the ceremony when I return."
It was aftermidnightand she was tired, so she did not protest as the servants began tugging at her hair and applying traditional makeup. The process was long and painful, and she let her mind go blank, her eyes half-lidded and staring at the wall before her. When it was finally time to don the kimono, she stood and held her arms to her sides, used to being dressed by now.
Finished with their task, the servant girls were obviously relieved, and bowed to her before they quickly fled the room. No doubt they were ready to be finished with an unusually long day and fall into bed. A full-length mirror was standing against one of the walls, obviously brought in especially for her, and she turned to look.
A strangely ethereal creature stood in her reflection, with her long hair elaborately twisted and pinned atop her head and that stunning white kimono. Its obi and trim were crimson, a small pattern of matching flowers dancing across the silk. The skirts brushed the floor and became a short train in the back, a kimono made especially for her. Black eyeliner had been carefully applied, her lips painted red. Quite suddenly, it occurred to her that this was not some stranger, but her, decorated so carefully and prepared for her husband to be.
That was when it struck her that there was no turning back.
A soft knock came at the door and it opened slowly when she did not respond. He smiled one of his rare smiles to see her, and the lines in his face looked somehow deeper, strained by the stress of their current situation. Akahana Makoto was a tired man, she knew, and all his life, his entire clan and the people who depended on him, was tied up in her now. His trust was a heavy burden.
"Remember your lessons," he counseled, his hands tucked into his sleeves, and she nodded. "Mind your manners and do not argue. I know you have a tendency toward stubbornness but you must silence it. Our envoy will arrive in a month's time to check on you, so he has every reason to seek your contentment."
"Yes, my lord."
"I am not your lord anymore."
He walked with her to one of the smaller rooms, where two other men were already waiting. One would perform the ceremony; the other would become her husband.
She had been told that his name was Kiyomi Hansuke, but aside from the fact that he was the leader of the prestigious Kiyomi clan, she knew nothing of him. The moment they stepped through the doorway, she dropped her eyes so that she would not have to see him. The very idea was terrifying to her, and as they drew closer, she kept her gaze straight forward and did not dare look up at his face. Once they were facing each other, that meant that she was staring at his chest, and she assessed what she could see. His robes were crimson and white like hers, beautifully detailed with hand-stitched embroidery. The ends of dark hair fell just past his shoulders, and his skin was several shades darker than hers. She wondered what his eyes were like, but she still couldn't make herself look.
Throughout the entirety of the brief ceremony, she just stared, blank, at that beautiful haori he wore. She was waiting for the part when she was supposed to rest her hands on his upturned palms, the last part of the ceremony. Her mind seemed to blur and she could not decipher the officiator's words, but when Hansuke raised his hands, she moved slowly and carefully to return the gesture despite the rapid pounding of her heart in her chest. His skin was warm and calloused. Now she could hear the words, and she heard "man and wife."
Hansuke lowered his hands.
"Goodbye, my child," Makoto said, taking her face in his hands and pressing his lips to the top of her head, a gesture that truly meant his last goodbye. He had so rarely touched her that she knew he was cherishing the feeling of her skin, her hair, to hold in his memory for the rest of his life. He walked out and so did the other man, and she was left alone with her husband.
"Come with me, it is not far," he said, and his voice was not so dark as she'd imagined it. Instead, it was deep with the slightest hint of gravel in its tone, perfectly calm and devoid of emotion. He turned without waiting for a response, and she followed him out of the room, into a back corridor, and out into the night air.
'Not far' was a relative term when he was in pants and she was in a voluminous formal kimono with wooden platform shoes. The clan center faded into the distance behind them, the light of the half-moon their only guide, and still they kept walking. His pace was quick and she struggled to keep up. A few times, she stumbled, but he did not reach to help her, only paused and waited for her to recover.
She did not know how long they walked. It was long enough for blisters to form on her feet, long enough to match the walks she used to take along the ocean shore back at the Akahana clan leader's mansion in the countryside. Finally, she saw porch lights burning, and she felt a rush of relief now that the end was in sight. Hansuke did not appear winded in the least by the trip, trotting easily up the front steps. She reminded herself that his country had been torn by war for his entire life, and he would not have survived this long if he couldn't take care of himself. Maybe it was just her exhaustion that made it feel so far.
Another stumble as she tried to climb the steps, and he didn't reach out to catch her.
They came through the front door and the lights had been left on for them. She assumed that he, like the Akahana leader, would have servants to care for the household, but she didn't see any of them waiting. It seemed odd that they would not be waiting to welcome their master home.
"It is very late, so I hope you don't mind waiting for the tour. I will show you what I can on the way to my chambers. I had some things brought in for you, but if you would rather stay in one of the guest chambers, it would be no trouble to move them."
Despite the tiny skip of her heart when she thought of following him to his chambers, she was terrified of spending her first night in a new country alone. "I think I would like to stay with you," she said quietly, and he nodded, though she wasn't looking at him and she didn't see.
"Fine. This is the main entrance, and through there is the back door. The estate wraps around the central courtyard. Most of the east wing has been closed up because I do not use it. This way."
The main western corridor was long and straight, and he pointed out a kitchen, dining room, library, small den, and a guest chamber. After the hall's bend, there was a single door, and she imagined that the master chamber must be grand and expansive.
But once inside, the room was simple, with some elegant furniture and another door leading to the bathroom. The bed was more than a mattress on the floor like some of the locals preferred, slightly elevated on a wooden frame instead, and she felt her heart skip another beat when she glanced at it. She noticed that there was an extra pillow, and in the open closet, she could see a long night dress and a hakama that was much too small to be his.
"There are more things for you in the bathroom," he said, shrugging off the outer layer of his robe. "I am aware that the clothes may not fit you properly, but they will have to do for the moment. I will take you to the market tomorrow to find some things of your own. I assumed Lord Akahana would have sent your things with you."
"None of those things belonged to me."
He looked at her strangely for a moment, but her eyes were on the floor.
"Go ahead and get changed, I will wait."
Dutifully, she gathered the night dress and stepped into the bathroom. Careful with the layers of the kimono as she peeled them off, she was very aware of how long it was taking her. Hansuke did not strike her as a particularly patient man. The night dress was long, past her knees, and made of thickly woven cotton. It was warm and comfortable, and she was glad that she felt covered enough. Gathering up the layers of clothing she had removed, she took a deep breath and stepped back into the bedroom.
Hansuke was already out of his formal kimono and into a sturdy and plain hakama, cinching a katana at his hip. "Are you leaving?" she asked, unable to keep the fear out of her voice, and he looked up to offer her a reassuring smile. Again, she didn't see because she refused to look.
"I have work to attend to," he answered. "The arrangement between our clans will not be taken well by our enemy nations, and I have to prepare for the backlash. You'll be alright here. If you like, you may lock the doors when I leave."
"That's alright," she murmured. "If you say it's safe, I believe you."
Finished with his katana, he crossed the floor until he was standing directly in front of her, and he saw her visibly tense. "Look at me," he said, trying not to sound like he was ordering her to comply. She swallowed hard, her chest rising as she drew in a deep breath, clearly struggling to hold onto her composure.
Impatiently, Hansuke stepped forward again and took her chin in his hand, tilting her head back and raising her eyes to meet his. She emitted a quiet gasp when she saw him, truly saw him, for the first time. His eyes were dark but not brown, as she had expected. They were shadowy gray, the color of smoke as it rose from a fire, deep set, narrow and intense. He was attractive in a strictly masculine sense, with a strong jaw and angular lines in his face. His hair was pulled halfway up, she realized now, and an ornament that appeared to be made of bone was holding it back.
"Do not be afraid," he said, "to look me in the eye."
He released her and she nodded, looking down again. "I apologize, my lord, I was taught not to." She was surprised he didn't know that. In the Akahana house, eye contact with a servant or commoner was considered beneath her, while meeting the gaze of one of the clan elders was disrespectful.
"Things are different among the Kiyomi," he informed her. "I expect you to look at me, as my equal. It will take both of us some time to adjust to this arrangement, but I will try to make you comfortable here."
She nodded again, glancing up at him with a tiny smile. He returned the expression, his eyes softening for the briefest of moments.
"They didn't tell me your name."
"Setsuna. Kiyomi Setsuna now, I suppose."
He smiled a bit wider for a moment to hear the name. "Setsuna, then. I will be back by morning to take you to the market, so try to get some rest. Help yourself to something to eat if you like. Good evening."
With this dismissal and a polite bow, he left her alone. She heard the front door close softly behind him.
Alone now, she carefully hung the layers of her wedding kimono in the closet, then returned to the bathroom to finish taking down her hair. The makeup was difficult to scrub away, but she somehow managed to clear her face and rinse it all out of the washcloth she'd used. Now her reflection was familiar, and she stared at it for a few long moments, searching for the reasons why she'd been sent here.
She did not look like these people. She had pale skin, so pale that they did not feel they had to paint her face white for her wedding. Her eyes were blue, eyes that used to be bright and alive a long time ago. Her hair was the darkest part of her and it was barely dark enough to be considered light brown. She knew she stood out in stark contrast to almost every person in this country by her appearance alone.
But it was not her appearance that brought her here and the mirror did not have the answers. She realized that she was exhausted and made her way back into the bedroom, turning off the bathroom lights before she clicked off the lamp over the bed. It was comfortable beneath the warm covers and she curled onto her side, pulling them tight around her.
As much time as she had spent alone, she would still never get used to it. At least in the Akahana house, there had been a sense of presence, a knowledge that others were nearby. Here, there was nothing but emptiness. The big house was silent, nothing but the wind in the trees outside to keep her company.
Without knowing why, she wished Hansuke was here. Somehow, in the brief time they'd spent together, his presence had always felt safe. She wondered if he would be in the habit of disappearing throughout the night.
Her thoughts ran her in circles until she could not think anymore, and exhaustion won out. She didn't know how long she slept but she knew it was not long enough. There was a soft rustle of movement nearby, the sound that woke her, and she blinked away the blurriness from her vision and saw him standing by the wardrobe. He had just finished pulling on a fresh hakama, and he turned to face her, not appearing surprised that she was awake.
"If you'll get ready, I will take you to the market now."
Pulling herself reluctantly from beneath the covers, she dragged herself into the bathroom and splashed some cool water on her face. The house had running water and electricity, commodities that most of the wealthier clans accepted in this region, though they still kept gaslights in the towns. She was grateful for the convenience. It was what she was used to.
A shower would've been greatly appreciated, but she still did not foresee much patience in Hansuke. She doubted he would want to wait that long. Instead of a shower, she brushed her hair back and secured it at the nape of her neck, washing her face and patting it dry. She supposed that one benefit to this climate was that it was excellent for her skin; she hadn't worn makeup in over a year save for what had been painted on her the night before.
He had left the room by the time she emerged, and she pulled on the hakama from the closet. It was a few sizes too big, obviously made for someone taller, and the shoes barely stayed on her feet. When she stepped out of the bedroom, Hansuke was waiting, giving a nod of approval to her appearance before turning and leading the way out the front door.
The market was closer than the clan center, on the other end of the city. It was perhaps a ten minute walk, and she shuffled along behind him as best she could in her oversized shoes. Once they reached the market, she forgot all about them, her eyes growing wide as they walked through the bustling booths. Other customers milled around, vendors hawking their goods, and the whole thing was loud and raucous and fascinating. The only times she had left the Akahana mansion were for her walks along the beach. She had never seen a market like this before.
Hansuke knew exactly where he was going, and stopped at a large booth with a wide variety of silks laid out on display. A few pre-made kimonos graced the mannequins that stood at the back of the booth.
"Setsuna," Hansuke said to get her attention, and she turned and looked with wonder at the beautifully patterned silks, glancing up at her husband with questions in her eyes. For a moment, she thought she saw a tiny smile.
"Go ahead, choose the ones you like."
Such a choice was nearly impossible to make, each fabric more beautiful than the next. While she was searching, he was picking out a few sturdy materials to be made into everyday wear for her around the house. Finally, she managed to settle on a black silk with white apple blossoms and a jade colored fabric with red flowers and trim, and the vendor took her measurements and wrote down a few notes.
"And this one," Hansuke added, tapping a pink silk with cherry blossoms that was laid out in front of him. "In a tsukesagi. To my estate, please. When will they be ready?"
"We will have the kimonos by week's end, my lord. The hakamas by tomorrow evening. Here are the shoes."
He handed a pair of geta and tabi in her size over the counter. "Thank you," Hansuke said, handing them over to his wife. "We will need several pairs, of course."
"I have to go now," he said, turning to face her while she used one of the vendor's chairs to pull on her new shoes. "You should buy whatever else you need here in the market. They have seen you with me now, just ask them to charge it to my estate. Can you find your way back?"
"Yes," she answered softly, her heart sinking when she realized that he was not going to stay with her. "Where are you going?"
"I have work to do. I will be home this evening. Late. You will be safe here because the people know me, but please be careful."
She watched until he faded into the crowd. Did he find her presence so unsettling that he could not stand it for more than a few minutes at a time, or did his position really require that he spend nearly every waking moment working for his people?
She hoped for the latter. Maybe he just didn't like the idea of accompanying her to pick out her feminine necessities.
"Anything else, my lady?" the vendor asked politely, and she blinked at him a few times, her concentration suddenly broken. She had seen the surprise on his face when she first walked up to the booth. She wondered if it was just her eyes that started him, or if he was surprised to see Hansuke, who he was clearly familiar with, accompanied by a woman.
Or perhaps it was no surprise at all. It occurred to her that this arrangement was very likely not his idea but a suggestion of the clan elder body; being the clan leader of the Kiyomi meant only that he was in charge of its army. Decisions affecting all the people were made by a group of the oldest men in the clan, while one of their usually younger counterparts took the lead in planning attacks and defense in their ever-raging wars. If the elder body was unanimous upon a decision, there was little he could do to protest.
Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps she had interrupted his entire lifestyle, much like hers had been altered just over a year ago. She was still resentful toward the person she held responsible for turning her life upside down; why shouldn't he feel the same way toward her?
With this explanation in her mind, she resolved herself to stay out of his way. Finishing her shopping, she took what things were ready immediately and headed back toward the estate. The walk was pleasant enough, the weather mild and the skies blue overhead. It was hard to believe that just a few miles away, at the borders, there was a constant war raging. She wondered if the Kiyomi had suffered as the Akahana had.
Alone in the house, she familiarized herself with the layout, exploring the rooms that he had briefly shown her the night before. The kitchen was well equipped but there were few groceries inside. She wished she would've known that sooner so that she could've brought back some food from the market. Inside the library were hundreds of books, most of them about war strategy or the region's extensive history. The guest room and dining area were simple and straightforward. She did not go into the east wing of the house.
She wandered the courtyard for awhile, discovering a few fruit trees that were soon to bloom. Most of the courtyard was paved with bricks, with gardens around the edges of the house and surrounded with stones. The gardens were bare, the plants dug up and just dirt-filled plots left behind. She wondered where the flowers had gone. There was little else for her to do, so she retrieved one of the history books from the library, curled up in the window seat in the den, and read for the rest of the afternoon.
Hansuke did not come back until after she had eaten dinner, cleaned up the dishes, and gone to bed. Quietly, he entered the bedroom, easing the door shut and stepping lightly to avoid waking her, but she had never fallen asleep. She sat up and he must have heard the covers rustle, because he glanced briefly at her before he turned back to the closet, removing his katana and beginning the delicate process of cleaning it.
"I didn't mean to wake you."
"I was awake," she responded, and her voice sounded more tired than she had expected it to. "Is everything alright?"
"Of course it is, you have nothing to worry about. I trust you found everything you needed at the market?"
Based on his dismissal, she assumed that he didn't want to discuss his nation's affairs with her. Nodding her answer, she pushed back her hair with one hand, holding the blankets to her chest. "Yes, I did. I'll get some food tomorrow."
"Ah yes, I forgot to mention that there was very little to eat in the kitchen. I do not spend much time here and I am not one much for cooking."
"I can cook," she told him eagerly, pleased that she finally had something to offer. "I was taught all sorts of things in the Akahana house. It would be an honor to serve you your meals, my lord."
"That won't be necessary," he replied with that same dismissive tone. "I doubt I will be here for many meals. All you need to be concerned with is occupying your time. You are welcome to the library, though the books may not interest you."
"Perhaps if I knew what needed to be done around the house," she suggested. "Where are the servants, my lord?"
"I do not keep any servants."
Taken aback, she blinked. "…oh."
"They are unnecessary," he explained. "I have lived here alone for some time now and the house does not require much work. I do not expect you to clean up after me, only yourself."
"I don't mind," she offered. "It's something to do. What about the gardens in the courtyard? Do you think that maybe I could…"
He smiled softly when she paused, feeling as though she had overstepped her boundaries. "You may plant flowers if you like," he said. "It might be nice to see them growing again. You should go to sleep now, Setsuna. It is very late."
"Are you going to stay?"
"Yes, I am staying home tonight. I have a few more things to do, but I will be finished soon. Go to sleep, I will be back in a moment."
She laid back down, pulling the covers over her chilled shoulders, and Hansuke slipped back out the door. There was no way she could sleep while she waited for his return, and at last, he came back in. She could hear the rustle of his clothes as he changed but she kept her back turned and her eyes closed, trying to force her breathing to remain slow and calm despite her racing heartbeat. They had barely spoken or seen each other and she wondered what he would expect from her, but her fears were quickly silenced when he climbed beneath the covers.
He stayed very carefully on his side and did not touch her.