Kumori - Journal Entry 11
Kumori had spent a decade of his life within the Impossible Palace, and thought himself an experienced explorer of the place’s halls, gardens and sometimes-shifting layout. He knew, for example, that when the solarium in the Air Wing had four doors out, they led to the Hall of Stars, the Grand Music Room, the Bridge of Three Arches, and the Plaza of the Sun. If, however, there was a fifth door, it always led to the Sapphire Tower, surmounted by an observatory that looked up into the weird, constellationless night sky within the Lamp.
He knew how to find the palace baths from nearly anywhere, could navigate to the feast hall by smell and intuition, and had an instinctive grasp of most of the changes that occurred to the palace’s floorplan. It was a rare change that caught him off guard.
Nevertheless, it seemed that he still had a great deal to learn.
He pondered this as he stood beneath the vermillion-painted torii gate that marked the entrance to a Kaidanese shrine. It stood in the midst of a grove of mountain pines, like those of his home province, with ash-grey bark and dark green needles. Beyond the arch, alongside the gravel footpath on the left hand side stood a statue of Hachimantaro, eyes blazing with righteous anger against any who threatened the sacred precincts within. The god clutched a no-dachi in an overhead guard, ready to strike down demons and malefactors. On the right stood Kwannon, her face set in a sad smile and her hand raised in benediction. Beyond stood a rustic yashiki, the eaves of its thatched roof decked with prayer streamers and its doors open to reveal a bronze statue of Amerasu, goddess of the sun and the skies, and divine ancestor of the Kaidanese imperial line. Reflexively, Kumori’s left hand fell to the teak rosary beads hanging from Satori’s hilt. With a bow from the waist to each of the tutelary kami of the shrine, he stepped onto the footpath and up the low steps into the shrine.
The memory of incense still lingered in the air there, mingling with the sharp scent of the pine trees all around. Kumori knelt before the statue, removed his swords from his sash, and kowtowed to the bosatsu. He took up the prayer beads, clapped twice loudly to invoke the gods, and began reciting the Rising Sun Sutra. Though the prayer was appropriate to the goddess, he found himself almost surprised at his ability to recite it with the level of clarity he did; the Star and Iron Lotus sutras had always been his preferred devotions. His wife had been the devotee of Amerasu, and her memory brought a momentary pang to his chest before he forcefully shoved it down.
“I wondered when you would find the place.” A woman’s voice spoke almost right at his shoulder. His concentration shattered, propelling him to his feet in a single smooth motion. Satori seemed to materialize in his hand, but he did not draw. It was only after he had flown to his feet that he realized the voice had spoken in Kaidanese.
He realized because the woman before him was nearly as gaijin as gaijin could be, with hair of spun gold and almost luminous blue eyes. She wore a long cerulean tunic belted as the waist with a white sash, and a gold medallion hung from her neck bearing the icon of the barbarian deity of the sky. She held her hands up to signal she meant no harm, and Kumori bowed to her, grimacing in embarrassment. “I am sorry; I allowed myself to become startled.” He motioned to the floor beside him. “You are welcome to join me, if you like.” He spoke in Kaidanese, in part to test her.
She replied in flawless Kaidanese right back, with the merest hint of a Hyankyo accent. “You do me honor, good sir.” She bowed to the Bosatsu, and knelt as smoothly as she spoke. Slightly bothered and intensely intrigued, but working not to show it, Kumori knelt again.
“I am Sonoda Kumori, of Minamoto Province.”
“I know who you are, samurai. I have noticed you. I am Soleil.”
Kumori wasn’t sure he liked the knowing tone in the woman’s voice. She looked to be twenty at the oldest, but carried herself with a natural poise that usually came with age. Though birth and role could be a part of it, he realized. “You are a priestess?”
“Yes,” she replied, “of a sort.” She still spoke in his native tongue.
“You speak excellent Kaidanese.” She bowed in thanks for the compliment. “Where did you learn it?”
She actually laughed then, softly and bell like, and turned to him with a smile. “A lady has to keep her secrets, samurai. For now I cannot explain- there isn’t time, and… I will leave it at that, for now.
“I am glad you found this place, Kumori of Minamoto Province. It is peaceful, and from what is said of you amongst the Palace-dwellers, I think peace is something you could use.” More swiftly than Kumori could react, she leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead, then stood. He started to rise, again slightly embarrassed, but she placed a hand on his shoulder with gentleness but surprising strength.
“A blessing, warrior. When you leave the Palace next, remember that the gods have an interest in your quest. And know that your fumbling toward Truth, faltering though it may be, still brings you closer to understanding.” Somewhere behind the shrine, a bell tolled deeply. The sound pulled Kumori’s gaze back to the Bosatsu. When he turned again to ask Soleil what she meant, she was gone.
He frowned then, thoughtfully. His eyes narrowed, and he looked up into the not-sky of the Lamp, then shook his head. What had occurred to him was… troubling.
He sought solace in the Rising Sun Sutra, and allowed himself to remember his wife’s smile.