We, the servants and I, arrived at Fiji Castle which stood a couple miles out of Kyoto. I had felt sick through the whole trip. It was mostly from thinking of the marriage that was to take place and riding in the palanquin made it worse. Snow fell occasionally, making a bit more difficult to travel, but I enjoyed watching it fall and the children of the villages playing in it.
The castle seemed even whiter than the snow. The site gave me a feeling of enchantment. It made me think of peace of the new era, Meiji.
The guards greeted us at the main gate.
“Lord Hakatsu is not well. I’m afraid no one is to see him today. Lady Takashe, Naome will serve you,” said one of the guards.
I was lead inside the castle. A woman, who looked a bit older than I, bowed reverently and then led me to the room at which I was to rest in.
“My lady, shall I prepare a bath for you?” asked Naome “The servants will soon be ready with some tea and food.”
“That would be nice. Thank you.” I smiled at her.
“My lady.” She had the most astonished look on her face. The reaction made me laugh a little. It was strange for a master to be kind to their servants but I never saw anyone any different from myself, for I was only a pawn in this huge dynasty. My marriage was nothing more than an alliance between the lords.
After I bathed and ate, out of curiosity, I went to look around. The castle was large and every room had a unique theme that was full of wondrous colors. All the art was astounding. It was almost as if you were in a long peaceful dream; a dream of unreality.
I approached a room that was unlike the others. I walked in and saw pink sakura trees everywhere that were in bloom. At first I thought it was just an art piece but as I approached it I noticed that they were real. This was strange. Sakuras don’t usually bloom this time of year. Moonlight came in from every direction and it seemed to be nourishing the flowers. I stood there looking at them in awe. It gave the idea that it was a place of magic and wonders.
“My Lady, you seem to enjoy the inner gardens.” I turned around and saw a young man sitting on one of the branches. He gave me a kind and gentle smile. He had long dark hair that was tied back in a warrior stile. He wore a dark kimono. I couldn’t tell the man’s position. At first, I would have guessed that he was a monk but he had the warrior look to him.
“I’m sorry…I…I was-,” I said realizing where I was.
“Don’t apologize. I created this garden. Only few have the experience of seeing its beauty.” He still held his gentle smile.
“It’s amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it! The sakuras… Oh! That’s my name, Sakura!”
“Sakura… hmm... call me Kyo.” He picked up a sakura flower and pressed it against his lips. “You may have noticed that the sakuras are in bloom at this time. Not only now, but, all year around.” He paused. “The rest is a secret.”
Kyo was a mysterious person but his presence was strangely soothing. Everything amazed me. Everything about this room was unusual; magical almost. The room was like an everlasting spring where winter could not take hold. It seemed to be touched by the heavens and Kyo’s smile kept the darkness away. How could a human create such a thing?
“Kyo-san, I would like to help with the gardens or.. anything..! I would like to help in anyway I can!”
“Then come with me to the Shinto Shrine beyond the back gardens. Meet me there at the hour of the horse.”
“Lady Takashe!” Naome stood at the entrance of the room panting. “My lady, these rooms are forbidden. You shouldn’t wander about.”
“Ky-” I turned around only to see no one there.
Naome took me to my room. Other servants brought in tea. I sat looking out the window. The snow fluttered down. From where I was, I could see the back gardens and beyond it the Shinto Shrine of which Kyo had spoken of. Everything looked beautiful and I wanted to drown within it but the thought of marriage kept tugging at me.
No matter what happened to me I had to obey. I could not disgrace my father’s name. He died for the new era and for me, as a warrior. I wasn’t going to disgrace my father for what he had done.
I awoke later than I had expected to. It was around the hour of the snake. I got dressed and ate very little. Naome told me I was to see Lord Hakatsu in the evening. It gave me more time to think of how I would approach him but at the same time it made my stomach give way to sickness. I didn’t show it or at least I tried not to.
I walked down the road which leads to the shrine. The back gardens where bare unlike the inside garden. A stream ran threw the garden all the way past the shrine. Parts of it were frozen. I approached a small bridge which took me across. It started to snow and at that moment I heard a flute. I followed its sound. I was bewitched by it.
I walked into the shrine and saw Kyo there just as he said I would. He was the one playing the flute. He seemed to be doing some sort of ritual for the gods but stopped when he saw me standing at the door.
Kyo gave me a bright smile. “Come in and join me.” The room was a work of art. The walls had wondrous pictures of the nature spirits in their glory. The candles burned incense and there were flowers all over, which were given to the gods for thanks for a bountiful year. I gave a prayer to the gods and then went to go sit with Kyo.
“What brings such a woman to this place? To the Fiji Castle? I’m curious. Why are you a servant?” We sat in a moment of silence. “I apologize. I’m getting into your personal matters.”
I didn’t know why but I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted him to know. I felt comfortable around him. He seemed different from other men.
“My father went to war and fought with the Shogunate. He died in battle leaving many debts. My mother fell to sickness and died shortly after. I was an only child, so I went to serve the lords to pay off my father’s debts. Arrangements were made so that I could just pay the rest by working for Lord Fudishi. I had finished paying off everything with my services but I was left with no money and so a marriage was to be held, not only for my needs but also for an alliance among the lords.”
Kyo looked at me with concern. It may have been pity or compassion. I couldn’t tell.
“I will obey the lords. I won’t allow myself to disgrace my father’s name. That’s why I’m not running and that’s why I’m here.” I snuck in a smile.
“Your father… Hakusou… Tsuka.. Sakura.”
I turned to look at him. “You knew my father!?”
“Sakura Tsuka..! Was that your name?” Kyo’s eyes held mine.
“It is.” How could he know my father?!
Kyo placed something in my hand. I turned it over and over. It was a small doll of a traditional Japanese girl. Tears started to form in my eyes.
“I gave this to my father before he left. I told him that if he held it close to him, he would never be alone. I was young then.”
Kyo placed his hand on my shoulder. “He gave it to me before he died. I had fought in war alongside him. He taught me many things for I was only fifteen. He’d always talk of his family and many times I longed for a family of my own for he had a reason to protect and fight. I truly admired him.”
I managed a smile. “So you are a warrior!” Kyo gave me an awkward look. “I’m sorry.. It’s just that I didn’t know if you were one. You have the look you know.” He laughed. “Thank you. This means so much to me.”
Kyo took out his flute and started to play. It was so soothing. This time I let the music take me adrift and I fell into a deep sleep.
“My lady.” I awoke from Naome’s voice. She was trying to shake me into reality. I sat up. I’m in my room! How did I get here? Wasn’t I just with Kyo?
“My lady, you must get ready. There has been a slight change. You are to eat among the lords. There you will meet Lord Hakatsu. We have prepared a bath for you but we must hurry. There is so much to be done.”
I bathed and dressed. The servants brought in a kimono of many colors. There were sakura petals on it that looked as if they were drifting in the wind. It was so beautiful that I didn’t want to take it. Naome did my makeup.
When it was all finished I took a look in the looking glass. I stared in awe. I couldn’t believe that the reflection on the other side was me. I was fascinated and pleased.
The servants guided me to the room where the lords were. Father, Give me courage. I stepped onto the wooden floor.
“A woman has come to join us?” I heard one of the lords say.
“Lord Hakatsu, I am amazed. I’d say you have the most beautiful woman in all Japan,” said another.
“Sit up,” said Lord Hakatsu.
I sat up and looked upon the face of the one I was to marry and found myself gazing into his eyes. My pulse quickened, drops of sweat started to form all over my body, my heart skipped a beat, and I couldn’t breathe.
The man I am to marry is… Kyo?!