The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part One

Seien works, sometimes reluctantly, at fitting himself back into the courts. So do some other people. Drama, I-3

Being heir seemed to Seien to be one trouble after another, but there were occasional good points.

He looked down at the familiar black sheathe in his hands and smiled crookedly. “Not making a presentation of it this time?” he prodded Shou-taishi.

“Why should we?” the man shot back, “it’s already yours, after all.”

Seien slid Kanshou through his sash without answering; they both knew he’d been stripped of it pretty formally when he was exiled. If Shou didn’t want to remind the Court of that, though, Seien had no real argument. He had turned to go when another thought pulled him up short. “What about Bakuya?”

“What about it?” Shou blinked innocently at Seien’s narrow look. “Your father bestowed it on you and you bestowed it on your brother. Unless he’s dropped it in one of the fish ponds, he still has it.”

Seien barely dignified that with a nod and left to find his brother.

He was accosted on the way, of course; he was seriously considering taking to the roofs to make his way across the palace grounds, lately, except that it would be a lot of trouble in court robes. “Secretary,” he greeted the man, shortly.

Sai trotted along beside him, matching his strides with surprising determination for someone who clearly didn’t see much exercise. “Seien-koushi. I’m so glad I found you, I wanted to tell you: I was dining with some of the undersecretaries just the other night and much talk turned on everyone’s fears that you have no wife or consort.”

What fears? Seien wondered with a bit of exasperation. He’d barely been confirmed as heir, and if he’d had a wife any earlier, they’d all have been afraid about that, too, wouldn’t they? And what made any of them think he could stomach any such thing?

“Now, it would be the easiest thing in the world for me to call my daughter to court, lovely girl…”

“I’m afraid I’m not interested,” he cut the man off briskly. “Good afternoon, Sai-dono.” He took the next turning of the walk, even though it meant a detour. At the next corner he snuck a peek back, hoping Sai wouldn’t be following still. Some of the marriage-minded officials could be very persistent.

Instead he surprised a tight, dark look on Sai’s face that was horribly familiar. It wiped away almost instantly into a smile, but Seien had to swallow in a dry throat.

Sai had looked exactly the way Seien’s brothers had, when he was presented with his swords. He thought about that all the way to the Archives.

Reluctant as he was to give Shou-taishi any more chances for sly amusement at his expense, perhaps he needed advice on this.

When he arrived in the library, though, he had to stop brooding and laugh. Ryuuki and Shuurei had taken over sorting and shelving scrolls, leaving Shouka-sama with, apparently, nothing to do but sit at his ease in the sun and watch them.

Of course, Ryuuki immediately abandoned his task to come catch Seien’s hand and beam up at him. “Aniue, we’re helping out!”

“I see you are.” Seien cast a quick eye over the scrolls, brows lifting just a bit. Those looked like monthly department reports; he’d found quite a few of them on his own desk, recently. Had Shouka taught the children enough to understand how to file these? “Well, I hate to take you away from your job,” he told his brother, “but I wondered if you wanted to come and train with me?” he set one hand on Kanshou’s hilt, and Ryuuki nearly glowed.

“Yes!”

Shuurei looked up at that. “Ryuuki,” she scolded, “you didn’t finish your last scroll, or re-wrap it.” She frowned at Seien. “You shouldn’t encourage him to be careless, Seiran—” She broke off, small teeth catching her lip. “I mean…”

Seien came to lay a hand on her head. “It’s all right. You can still call me Seiran, if you want.”

“And Ryuuki can finish his scroll while I get his sword,” Shouka-sama put in, standing.

“Shouka-sama, we can send one of the pages for it,” Seien protested as his foster-father moved toward the door. It was a rather long way back to the imperial pavilions from here.

Shouka-sama laughed. “Oh, it’s just in the next room.” He smiled at Seien’s expression. “This is the place to keep treasures, after all, and Ryuuki wanted it to stay safe.”

Seien wondered if it was natural to feel so warm, so happy.


He was not in as good a mood, two days later, when Shou-taishi strolled into his office, waving a letter. “So, you want to speak with someone who can tell you about Sai, do you?”

Seien looked up from the pile of past reports from provincial governors that he’d been making his way through on Shouka-sama’s recommendation, and sighed a bit wearily. He felt like he was drowning in politics. “If they can do so clearly and directly, yes.”

Shou had the gall to laugh. “I think Ro can do that.” He waved another older man in. Seien eyed him warily, but this one looked reassuringly solid and no-nonsense. Unlike Shou. Good. “Ro-dono is an undersecretary of Protocol.”

Seien sat back, arrested. Sai’s own assistant was supposed to give him a straightforward story on the man? “Please have a seat, Ro-kanri,” he murmured.

“What was it your Highness wished to know about Protocol?” Ro asked, settling himself as Shou-taishi left again and closed the door behind him.

Seien was too tired to waste the proper time on indirection. “I believe I may have made an enemy, in Sai,” he said, frankly. “I hoped you could tell me just how bad the results are likely to be.”

Ro’s eyes sharpened; in direct contrast his tone was casual. “Would you happen to know the occasion of the Secretary’s animosity?”

Seien snorted. “Well, I assume it was when I told him I had no interest in meeting his daughter.”

Ro looked at him levelly for a long moment. “Refusing out of hand was not, perhaps, the best decision,” he rumbled at last.

Seien blinked. “But no one can honestly think I’m enough of an idiot to duplicate the Emperor’s mistakes with his concubines.” If anything could put a man off women for good, it was watching all of that going on while growing up.

Ro, taking a sip of tea, sputtered into his cup. “You are… very straightforward, Highness.”

Seien leaned back with a sigh. “And I suppose that won’t do. No one in this place can be straightforward, can they?” He looked away, trying not to slump; he would give so much to be able to talk to someone about work and politics without all this interminable dancing around.

“Not often,” Ro answered. Seien looked back, surprising what might have been a hint of sympathy before the man’s expression turned severe again. “So think well, when it comes time to choose your own advisors. They will be the only ones.”

After a moment, Seien nodded; however much he hadn’t wanted to deal with it again, he did know the rules here. “I understand.”

“Very well then. As for the Secretary, what you may expect is efforts behind your back to discredit any work you accomplish; he’s a coward…”

Seien listened and made notes to himself and smiled faintly as Ro-kanri thoroughly violated his own dictum that only personal advisors would speak straightly to the prince.

Seien made a note of that, too.

TBC