“Hitei, wait for me!” I shouted out after her brother. I hadn’t seen him in the longest time. Actually it had only been two weeks since I had seen him last, but Hitei and I were the closest to each other and I had missed her favorite brother.
“Daine, how many times must I remind you that you must not call me that anymore?” Hitei was saying not unkindly “I am the emperor now, and a suzaku seishi and you must call me Hotohori.”
“You are my brother; you will always be my brother Hitei. But if you want me to I will call you Hotohori.”
“Good, that’s the way it should be. Did you want something from me?” He asked
“I only wanted to come see if you could come play with me out by the water pagoda. We could play your favorite pretend” I suggested hopefully. Hitei/Hotohori looked at me carefully.
“Does mother know that you’re here?” He asked me.
“No, she told me not to come bother you, but I missed you and wanted to see you.”
“You should listen to your mother, Dee-chan.”
“Are you mad that I came to here to see you?”
“No, I’m glad that you came but you must not come anymore. I have many duties now and cannot be bothered. I know that I have not been the emperor long, but there are still many things that I have to attend to.
“I wish that you had never become Emperor!” I cried out.
“Dee-chan, you must not wish such things. It is a great honor to be Emperor. You must not be sad that I was chosen.” He said proudly. “Dee-chan, I miss you too, but there is nothing to be done. I am emperor now and I have my people to take care of. Now go home and play with your sisters.”
“I don’t want to play with them. All they want to play is dress-up pretend where I have to be the little child just because I am the youngest. You always let me be whatever I want to be.” I left as I said these words over my shoulders. As I walked home, I thought about how much Hitei (for he would always be Hitei to me) had changed over the past four months. He had always been an extremely kind brother, spoiling me all the time. But his time with the advisors had changed him. They told him things to make him happy, but not necessarily true. I worried about him.
As I was walking through the gates I saw a young girl being brought into the palace. I had never seen her before as one of the palace nobles so She guessed that her family must be moving here to the palace. She was very beautiful for one so young. She had purple hair and very attractive features. She could not see more because she was far away and was being taken away by other people. I made a note to ask my mother what was going on. Perhaps the girl would be my friend.
At dinner that night I remembered the girl when the servants brought some eggplant to the table.
“Oh, Kasa” Daine exclaimed.
“I saw a young new girl arriving at the palace today. She was very beautiful and had long purple hair.
“Oh, I’m sure that would have to be the maiden Kourin. She is one of the first maidens that we have for Hotohori (I inserted Hitei in my mind) to chose from for a wife.”
“What!? Why does Hitei I mean Hotohori need a wife for? He’s only fourteen.”
“The emperor needs his wife to be trained to be a good empress. She needs to be trained while she is still fairly young.”
“So there will be more maidens coming?” I asked.
“Where will they all stay?”
“There is a special place in the palace for the possible future wives of the Emperor. Now be quiet and eat your dinner.”
I decided that tomorrow I would go and visit the girl with the purple hair. One thing that I had been able to see was the loneliness on the girl’s face.
prepared herself to look around the palace grounds for the place her mother had talked about the night before. It was quite easy to get around without being noticed. All I had to do was leave off the head garb that noted me as an Imperial Princess of Konan. There were so many noble maidens staying at the palace I could be taken for any of them. As I walked past the first pair of guards I made small idle chatter with them.
“Hello” I said bowing politely.
“Hello” they responded.
“I am dreadfully bored and I was wondering if maybe you would like to play with me?”
“We are sorry lady, but we cannot do so. We are on duty.” I nodded knowingly.
“Then do you know where there are any young girls I could play with? I asked. I had calculated my other statement to do this hoping that they would tell me how to find that place in the palace.
“Well there are some young ladies down at near the green water pagoda.”
“Are there? Thank you” I asked with just the right amount of interest. I had to wait until I was out of sight before running to the green water pagoda which was, incidentally, Hitei’s and my favorite place.
When I got there the young lady with the purple hair was already there with a small bunch of other young ladies. She was in the middle of the group and obviously the center of attention. She didn’t look lonely at all now. I should have known that someone as beautiful as her would have many friends. But maybe one of the other maidens would be my friend. As I approached the group one of the servants noticed me and said “are you here to be one of the Emperor’s wives?” I shook my head. “Good the lady Kourin is very jealous of anyone who offers her competition.
“Is that the girl with the purple hair?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s lovely isn’t she? I don’t know why she gets jealous.”
“Yes” I agreed anyway I couldn’t see why anyone would want to marry my brother. Kourin had noticed me and called out
“You there who are you?” She came closer until she could see me clearly and a strange look came over her face.
“I am Daine, my lady, a daughter of one of the palace nobles”
“Are you here to become a bride of the Emperor?”
“Good then we can be friends” she held out her hand. When I grasped it a funny feeling came over me. I let go quickly.
“Do you want to play with me?” I asked eagerly hoping she would really be my friend.
“Play?” Kourin scoffed “ I do not play. I must practice being a good wife for my emperor so that he will see that I am the best choice.” Her words made me feel insignificant and I was about to leave when she winked at me. Intrigued, confused and puzzled I stayed and wondered if the girl would say anything more to me. She didn’t say anything more to me until all the girls left so I had time to watch and see how she acted. I got the feeling that she was playing a roll, that how she was acting wasn’t the real her. I hoped she would have some secret to tell me when we were alone. If she wanted to talk to me and that wink wasn’t imagined.
Kourin walked up to me. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you back then. I just couldn’t let the other girls think that I wasn’t serious about becoming the emperor’s bride.”
“It’s okay. Why did you wink at me?”
“Because I wanted you to know that I didn’t really mean it and if you still want to play, I’d be happy to play with you.”
“Really?” I smiled a huge smile.
“Follow me then, I know somewhere where nobody can find us.” I led Kourin to a place Hitei and I had discover one day when I fell down a hill when we were playing near one of the pagoda’s. It was a little cave that only tiny people could squeeze into.
“Do you come here often?” Kourin asked.
“Yes my brother and me used to come here all the time.”
“Will he mind us playing here?”
“No, he never plays with me anymore. He’s too busy to play.”
“Do you like playing with boys?”
“Yes they’re more fun then girls. All girls do is play boring dress-up games. I like to play adventure games. My brother and I did everything we could think of.”
“You sound like my younger sister and me”
“Did you play games like ours or dress-up?”
“Games like yours”
“Want to play one with me?”
“Of course, if you really want me to”
We played almost every afternoon after that first one. Kourin would sneak away every afternoon she could and we would go down to the secret cave. She never wanted to play anywhere else. She said she didn’t want anyone to see her playing instead of working on being a good wife for the Emperor. Then one day everything changed.
We were playing one of the pretends we had made up in which I was a princess who liked to go off adventuring, and Kourin was my prince who followed me and rescued me out of troubles. I had gone farther back into the cave then I usually do and had fallen into a rather large and deep hole.
“Kourin help me” I shouted.
“What’s wrong? Where are you?”
“I fell into a hole and I can’t get out.” I was close to hysterical. I had started to imagine all the monsters that were lurking there with me just waiting for Kourin to leave so they could eat me up.
“How deep is it?” She asked
“I think around 7 feet.”
“Okay, don’t worry I’m going to get you out”
“I’m going to use my clothes as a rope”
“But you’ll be indecent” I protested
“Don’t worry about it” She said strangely as she threw down the rope of clothes she had made. “Can you reach it?”
“Yes” I said as I grabbed on tight. She pulled me up in about two seconds. Then I noticed that there was something wrong with Kourin. She had always been kind of flat but now...
“Kourin” I said slowly staring at her chest “Um, why...why” Icouldn’t think of a way to phrase the question.
“Sit down” she said. I sat.
“I’m not really a girl” Kourin said. “When I was ten years old my sister, Kourin was killed right before my eyes. I was powerless to stop it and I couldn’t get over my grief. Then I decided that I would live my life for my sister, as my sister. I put on my sister’s clothes. We were so alike people thought we were twins. Anyway, I have lived my life as a girl since then.” He finished. I digested this information.
“What’s your name?”
“My real name is Chou Ryuuen. But you can call me Nuriko because I’m a suzaku seishi”
“Not you too!”
“What do you mean?”
“My brother is a suzaku seishi”
“Really? I’d like to meet him”
“You already have”
“What do you mean?”
“My brother is the Emperor Hotohori”
“Hotohori’s a suzaku seishi? He’s your brother!? Why didn‘t you tell me?”
“You didn’t tell me you were really a guy. Hey, why do you want to marry my brother if you’re a guy?”
Nuriko blushed “Well if my sister was alive she would be part of the harlem, and she would want to marry Hotohori so I’m just trying to do what she would do.”
“Yeah, but I mean what about my brother? Why would he want to marry a guy disguised as a girl? Wouldn’t that be kind of gross?”
“Um, yeah well I guess so. I only want to live for my sister.”
“I understand that but there are some things you just can’t do, Nuriko” I said using his name for the first time. It felt right to say it.
He smiled at me. “Maybe you’re right” he conceded.
“I know I’m right.”
“Oh yeah, how could you know? You’re only eleven”
“I still know more then you do” I stuck my tongue out at him. “C’mon lets finish playing. I’m still the prisoner of the Dragon King of the Swampi Deserts.”
“We ran back to the Swampi Deserts and resumed playing. Nuriko had put his dress back on. Our game was still fun but it was different now that Nuriko was a guy. I felt strange about him being my prince.
When it was time to go, Nuriko whispered to me. “Promise me that you won’t tell anyone my secret.”
“I promise. I would never betray you... if you answer all my questions” I grinned.
“Don’t you miss being a boy sometimes?”
Nuriko looked at me before answering. “Yes”
“Okay I was just wondering. Will you come tomorrow?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”
I didn’t answer him instead I just left I had too many mixed emotions that I had to sort out.
That night as I lay in bed I thought about what had happened with Nuriko. In some ways I was worried about what this would do to our friendship. Even though Hitei was a guy he was my brother. I felt strange playing with Nuriko. For some reason things were different with him. His way of dealing with his sister’s death was wrong. It was incredibly sweet but he needs to live his own life. Wherever his sister was, I’m sure that she wouldn’t want him to live his life this way. I decided to make it my mission to help Nuriko and make him become himself again.
The next day I began my mission. During a pause in our game, I decided to talk.
“You know, Nuriko, I think you make a much better guy then girl.”
“Well I should, I am a guy” he pointed out. I frowned.
“Then why don’t you be one?”
“I already told you”
“Because your sister died and you couldn’t do anything about it?”
“Yes” he sat down.
“Would your sister want you to live this way?” I asked sitting down next to him.
“I don’t know, why don’t you go ask her?”
“Nuriko don’t be mean. We all have to deal with loss in our lives. I lost my brother Hitei when he became the Emperor Hotohori”
“But he’s still alive; it’s not the same”
“I know it’s not. Sometimes I almost think it would be better if he was dead. Do you know how much it hurts to see him and see how much he’s changed? To know that he will never be my brother again? That he now belongs to people other then me?”
“But at least you get to see him”
“But that’s the thing. I’m not seeing my brother Hitei. I’m seeing The Emperor Hotohori. Your sister will always be your sister in you memories, but when I think about Hitei, he will now be Hotohori. Hitei is lost to me forever even as he goes on living, but you don’t see me dressing up as a guy do you?”
“That would be pretty funny.”
“Wouldn’t it?” I agreed. “Although I would never be able to get away with it. I would be locked up in the dungeons for impersonating the Emperor.”
“I would come and rescue you”
“As a guy?”
“Do you want me to be a guy?”
“I think your sister would want you to be a guy”
“But do you want me to be a guy?”
“Because you are one. And I like you better as I guy.
“Is that the only thing you can say? Anyway I don’t know. Promise me you’ll think about being a guy”
“If it makes you happy”
“Very happy” I grinned up at him and he grinned back.
Over the next few weeks I would talk to Nuriko about being a guy. I started bringing him guy’s clothes to where in secret at the cave.
“Here” I said handing him the clothes.
“Clothes. Guy’s clothes. There Hitei’s old clothes. I want you to where them.”
“I don’t think so”
I pouted “why not? Especially when I brought them just for you.”
“Good, go back into the cave and change”
Nuriko left and went back into the cave until I could no longer see him. I heard muffled sounds as Nuriko changed into the clothes I had brought for him. When he finally came out I was shocked.
“Wow, Nuriko, you look really good. There’s just one thing wrong with this picture.”
“What do you want me to change, Daine-chan?”
“Your hair. You’re still wearing it like a girl’s”
“I’m not cutting it”
“Of course not. Why would you do that? It would blow your cover. Why don’t you just put it back in a braid?”
I watched him do that. It was amazing how a change of clothes and a new hairstyle could change him so much. For the first time I realized how handsome he was and my breath quickened.
“What’s wrong?” Nuriko asked me.
“N...Nothing, nothing at all”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“What do you mean? I’m not looking at you in any special way. And if I am it’s only because I’ve never seen you as a guy before.”
“How do I look as a guy? It’s been a long time since I saw myself as one”
“Very nice. You look better as a guy then as a girl. Are you sure you don’t want to wear those clothes back to the harlem?” I teased.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try them on? Maybe you should impersonate your brother”
I giggled. “I already told you, I’d be put in jail” I stuck out my tongue “so I can’t”
“You could in here”
“I like being a girl thank you very much. Don’t you like being a guy, Nuriko?”
“You ask too many questions.”
“You promised you would answer them. If you don’t then I’ll tell everybody you’re a guy”
“You wouldn’t dare”
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” I ran out of the cave and started shouting at a group of people nearby “Guess what everybody! Inside this cave is a guy who---” A hand clamped over my mouth and Nuriko pulled me back inside.
“Okay, you win” he said not letting go of me.
“You know I wouldn’t have really told them right?” I asked concerned. “I would have made something up”
“I know, It’s just well, I kind of want to tell you”
“Well because...because, well um I don’t know how to say this”
“Say what?” I asked just now realizing how close we were. Nuriko didn’t answer. Instead he leaned his head closer to mine and gently brushed his lips against mine. As soon as he had started he stopped.
“I’m sorry” he apologized
“It’s okay, I don’t mind. And Nuriko”
“I like you too” I smiled at him and he smiled back.