As usual, like every day, the child was waiting sitting on the cold step of the palace. Neither the cold breeze rushing through his beautifully made but undone clothes, nor the man who now stood before him, a scowl on his face, could move him from his position.
The child was not a mere peasant if one were to judge by the good quality of the simple red kimono he was wearing. Of course, he was wearing it wrongly and his obi belt was poorly tied, but it was often the case when children were disorderly. So it was normal for his age considering he shouldn't be older then ten or twelve years old. He had a rather beautiful face, slightly round with big hazel and very expressive eyes, although now they weren't expressing anything but disregard. His long hair were a bit dirty too, but not unkempt as the ponytail resting on his small shoulder seemed silky and free of knots. The locks on his head, on the other hand, were untamable.
After a few minutes of what might be termed as a glancing contest, the man finally asked the question that had tugged him since he had seen this little figure situated on the steps.
"What are you doing here kid? Don't you know that it is dangerous to hang out in a deserted place; there might be robbers or thieves." he said, forgetting to mention that it was with this very idea that he came to visit the remains of the palace.
But the gruff air around the man, meaning his square jaw
featuring a two-day-old beard, his mid-long hair, thick and unruly which had
been loosely tied at the man's nape, his tattered second-hand kimono
couldn't actually hide his true intentions.
This man, the little boy thought, either had come to ask for work, because he still had an old sword hanging from his belt, or was a thief. Yet he had that air of profound kindness rooted in his brown eyes, an air that prevented the boy from being afraid of him.
The child didn't move nor change expression when he deigned to speak in front of the stranger who came to disrupt his patient waiting.
"And what about you? What is your reason for coming here? If you came to steal something, you should know that the servants took everything that was of value with them when they left. If you came looking for work, Father can't see you because he and my brother are not yet back from the battlefield." In front of the accusing voice, the man flinched and let out a sort of grunt, displeased to have been caught red-handed by a mere child, and also by the fact that there was nothing of value left. Before he could add anything to his defence, the boy replied, "They have gone to war alongside our lord Takeda Shingen." he clarified with a hint of pride in his voice.
Arching a sceptical eyebrow because he didn't really grasp the whole situation, the amateur thief leaned up to the boy, scratching his chin with soiled nails.
"Errh, I thought this was the Sanada residence, wasn't it ?" The man asked, taking several minutes of latency for the boy to tilt his head to the side after hearing the thief question before he eventually noticed the six-coin necklace the boy wore around his neck. This necklace was the pride and symbol of the proud Sanada clan. "Oh, right, I didn't realize you were a member of the clan." the man couldn't help but give him a smile, feeling foolish for himself.
The boy seemed to brighten up. "I am Sanada Genjiro Yukimura, second son of Sanada Masayuki!" he introduced himself after rising to bow politely, raising his voice to be heard more clearly.
The man's bushy eyebrows stood up. This kid wasn't just a member of the clan, he was the son and heir, the son of the clan head... but then what to think about the rumors of complete abandonment of this place that had led him to come to see if he couldn't pick up a few items left behind? Was he fooled? In no way an important child could be left behind, right? And yet everyone in town said that was what remained of the Sanada's clan, having survived the last battle that had gone to the lord Takeda Shingen of Kai. It was impossible that the whole town had been fooling him...
He was abruptly brought out from his thoughts by an insistent taping sound on the stone steps. The boy was pouting now, arms crossed over his chest. He tapped his foot impatiently to bring backthe wanderer attention to him. Seeing that the man just stared stupidly at him not understanding why he was angry, Yukimura was forced to tell him of his annoyance.
"I told you my name. Common courtesy would be that now you tell me yours."
aback by this situation and absolutely not having expected to find such
an obstacle on his trip, the man was a little perplexed about what to
do. Well, it couldn't hurt to show that he indeed had some education.
"Oh, you can call me Genkai..." he said, scratching his
hair. He was reluctant to leave without looking back, something in this situation felt really wrong.
Yukimura settled back on the steps. "So Genkai-dono, are you a samurai or a thief?" he asked, pointing to the sword at the man belt with a nod of his chin, glad to finally have some kind of conversation.
Genkai didn't answer because his brain, which was slightly disturbed until then, finally processed the boy's question and had finally registered the first words that he had told him. "You're all alone here? They're all gone?"
Yukimura appeared to be slightly annoyed again. "You weren't listening? I said that my father and older brother are at war, the servants left after some time... Father will probably punish them for having forgotten me." he added, eyes shifting to his feet. "And you still haven't answered my question!" he ended, quickly finding a new smile.
Now that was a shame. What a story! This little boy had simply been left behind and no one seemed bothered by how he would end up; no one had even bothered to tell him that the last battle that occurred had been a real slaughter...
Genkai could understand that though, it's just that he didn't want to be the one to tell this adorable looking boy that his entire family was decimated serving a Lord that he may have never met before... But what could he do about it? He couldn't leave this kid alone here, right? He may be a thief, but he this would equal to murder ! And who knows, the one who would come after him may not be as nice or the boy could die of hunger before someone passed by.
While he was pondering all this, Yukimura's belly started to growl in hunger in a terribly embarrassing way.
The little brown haired covered his belly in shame, his cheeks burning while he tried to justify himself. Genkai stopped him, holding out his hand and speaking before thinking.
"You must be really hungry. Come on, let's get you something to eat." Poor boy, how long had it been since he was left on his own in this big and empty place?
Yukimura visibly hesitated, first advancing his hand to take Genkai's before he ended up holding it back protectively against his chest. "I can't... Father will return soon and-" No, he promised he would behave and so far he had waited the return of his family members without flinching, even when it was cold or when it rained.
"Look, it was him who sent me to seek you. We need to go to him, okay?" and that was all he could invent to make the boy move before nightfall.
Yukimura eyes lit up – so gullible – as he took the adult hand's in his. "Really? What are we waiting for then?" Finally, at last, Yukimura had just begun to believe that something had happened to his father. He was more than happy; he missed them all so much!
Well, yes, one thing at a time. For now, Genkai was thinking only of way to ensure that the child had a decent meal.
he saw Yukimura swallow greedily yet trying to keep some semblance of manners – which fell to his rank – while he devoured all the yakitori he
could pay for, Genkai noticed the fullness of his own stupidity.
It was a fact that no one was looking for the boy; he feared being punished for kidnapping, but that wasn't the issue any more. Seeing his almost empty purse after the buy only reminded him too well of the true problem. Genkai was poor.
He couldn't care for himself, let alone a little boy.
He was one of those low-ranking samurai who had lost his master during the war and now roamed the roads in search of a new one. But who could hire a samurai unable to prevent the death of his own master? If there was someone, he was far from having found him. He needed money to live and his meager theft and scams were barely enough to feed himself.
He could never keep a young nobleman, nor could provide a decent life for his own son.
"Genkai-dono, where is Father waiting for me? Is it far from here?" asked the boy.
It was the first time that Yukimura ate that kind of skewer, he was delighted. Starting a conversation might help him to know more about the man his father had designed to find him while also hiding the embarrassment he felt towards his own attitude that he thought was unsightly. Earlier, he had been convinced that the man was a thief and didn't care. Now that he had confirmation that this one was a swordsman, he had to remain dignified in front of him.
The thief winced; he had completely forgotten this
Pinching the bridge of his nose, he began to think as hard as he could. No way he could just give Yukimura to any lord because he had no real evidence that the young man was indeed a Sanada's heir. With his past as a rogue nobody would take his word. No way that he would simply abandon the boy again either, he couldn't live with himself after doing such a thing—granted it wasn't very glorious already...
"You are very strange." Yukimura chuckled. "You always look lost in your thoughts. Father always said that is the characteristic of the poets." Yukimura had never understood anything about poetry.
The smile and the look that Yukimura showed finished to crumble Genkai resolution. This kid... it was rare to see one this cute and well mannered, plus he most definitely had the charisma coming from a noble family; his mother had to be a real beauty too. And it gave Genkai a certain idea. He knew the perfect place where such beauty would be more than appreciated, and if his idea worked out, Yukimura wouldn't have to worry about having a roof over his head and be well fed. And to be fair Genkai wouldn't have to worry about money and would finally be able to nurse his own child back to health.
A bitter smile appeared on Genkai face when his
decision finalized in his mind. "A poet, you say? I am far from
deserving the honor of such a title." He went to the abandoned palace in
hope of earning a few coins after finding something to sell; he never
could have anticipated that he would find a boy... "Your father isn't
very far away. He waits for you in the next town. We need to find a
place to sleep for the night and then we'll go there first thing tomorrow morning ."
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed the only practical
Yet, it made him feel like he didn't deserve the smiles that the boy granted him.
That night, sleep eluded him because of a stupid yet economical idea that pushed him to spend the night in the abandoned Sanada palace. The place was gloomy and empty; he could have sworn that Yukimura's ancestors who had lived in this palace knew what he was going to do and had come biting at his remaining self-esteem.
two-day trip that followed, Yukimura asked no further questions nor
complained once, not even when he was hungry or when his feet were
suffering from walking for too long. He preferred not to seek Genkai's
attention, as he seemed more and more anxious as the hours of travel
accumulated. The boy often wondered how he could help the man feel
better, however he didn't even know about what could cause him such anxiety
Yukimura had tried to start a conversation several times. He talked with pleasure about his big brother and the military exploits of his father. At first, Genkai smiled a little, seemingly appeased, and had sometimes answered to the boy's incessant chatter with an anecdote or story that he had heard during his travels. This was finally something pleasant.
the man, every step was hurting him, every word out of Yukimura's mouth reminded
him that he was a selfish and cold hearted person. Every moment reminded
him that it was his own mistake from the moment he had taken Yukimura
out of the Sanada's castle remains. It was too late now; he couldn't go back.
That why he finally snapped when Yukimura talked about his dreams for the future, about his desire to become a war hero like his father and brother, of entering the service of a great lord, for he was already practising hard.
Genkai had yelled at him then, to keep him quiet and had almost hit Yukimura. The boy, more shocked than scared, didn't speak to him unless it was necessary after that. Even after Genkai apologized profusely and had offered to carry the boy on his back for a part of the trip.
Yukimura had refused and continued his silent treatment, accelerating his formally creeping pace. If this barbarian didn't want his help, he wouldn't insist: Father had always told him to answer idiots with silence.
The city's fortified walls appeared on the horizon of the second afternoon walk. Yukimura didn't really notice when Genkai took his hand in order to keep him close. He was too amazed to care. It was the first time he saw a big city: so many people, so many different houses, so many smells of spices, food and sounds, so many things he didn't know existed until then. All of this was a completely new world. A world he had dreamed of discovering for years, a world that called to the very heart of his young soul!
Yukimura couldn't restrain an exclamation of
admiration when he saw, standing tall over all the thatched and tiled roofs, the
imposing tower of the castle owned by the local lord. How many clans,
soldiers, men and women could stay in that castle? He silently wondered . His own home seemed
modest beside it.
Genkai let him lag behind a few moments before gently pulling him by the arm, showing his first smile since their argument, albeit it was very faint.
"Come on, let's not waste time. We're almost there." he said. Don't let me give you hope any longer, echoed in his mind.
The liveliness invigorated Yukimura. He trotted willingly beside Genkai, keeping his small hand in his big one. Ignoring the looks passers by threw at them, they headed straight to a big, long and endless street. The street extended behind a large wooden door, left open for now. Through it, Yukimura could see brightly painted buildings, the colors more flashy than the rest of the town. A high wall separated the whole neighbourhood from the rest of the city surrounding it. Was this where his father was waiting for him? Yukimura found the place very foreign.
men stood at the door, guards without a doubt judging by their attire. They both were dressed
in the same faded blue kimono and were busy laughing and joking with a
woman. She was more beautiful than any woman Yukimura had ever seen.
He was certain she'd be no competition against his mother trough, because everyone liked to tell him of how she was beyond beautiful. However, it saddened him that he had no real memory of her.
The woman wore a large multi-layered kimono, its fabrics having patterns of dragons and ibis. Her lips had been painted a pure red and her face had so much makeup that Yukimura couldn't really distinguish the color of her eyes. Her black hair were tied in a large bun adorned with many sparkling jewellery and gold. She was grabbing the arm of one of the men as they passed through the door.
"Ah, Genkai, it's been a long time since we've seen you here!" one of the guard suddenly exclaimed, pulling Yukimura out of his contemplation.
The boy glanced up at Genkai while he didn't even bother to stop to answer the guard, merely letting out a "hmpf" without even a glance back. He tightened his hand on Yukimura's to keep him moving. The boy knew the man was rude, but this... this was a new level of rudeness even from Genkai.
The guard seemed to want to speak back, but the woman whispered something in his ear which made him laugh and giggle. Yukimura soon forgot about this and focused on his discovery of the strange street.
The gaudy coloured walls had brands and names more exotic than the ones outside. The names were more than often preceded by the words 'teahouse'. Most had their curtains closed and he wondered who would feel welcome in tea house sporting large barred and covered windows. Sometimes, large red paper lanterns were hanging from one side of the street to the other. It may have been a long time since he knew what day it was, but Yukimura was certain that there was no festival this time of year. This time he wasn't as amazed by the scene in front of him, his face displayed his lack of wonder. In fact, he didn't like this place at all and he started to feel uneasy as questionable-looking men crossed, only reinforcing his negative opinion.
Genkai stopped his hasty walk in front of a small tea house. A more discreet one than the rest, sandwiched between two larger and extravagant ones. The purple cloth on the front fluttered slightly in the wind as Genkai stood there, hesitating to enter. He squeezed Yukimura's hand in his. This time he indeed had reached the point of no return. He lifted the cloth and stepped inside with Yukimura close behind him.
At first, the boy couldn't clearly distinguish the lobby. All Yukimura could see was a wooden desk right next to the door at the left, a vase and an inkpot and a record resting on top. A record of what, Yukimura was too small to see. Genkai then pushed him inside; the lobby was in fact huge with a staircase leading to the first floor. On the wall opposite there was a door probably leading to the receptions rooms. the room had few piece of furniture, maily wooden benches and a basic décor. But what caught Yukimura's attention the most was at the back of the room. The large double door had been left open, leaving a great Japanese garden for all to see. It basked the room in a eerie light and Yukimura could hear water flowing and birds singing.
"It will not be long." Genkai told him
He made him sit on a bench as Yukimura was busy contemplating what he could see of the garden, restraining his urgent need to go running in it. Genkai went to the counter and pulled a string that rang a bell. Very soon after, an old man no taller than Yukimura came out from behind a door hidden by a curtain behind the counter. First, he frowned at Yukimura sight, but then smiled behind his white moustache after seeing Genkai.
"Genkai my friend, it's been a long time. What brings you here? How are your wife and son?"
Hearing this, Yukimura turned his attention back to the two individuals. He didn't know that Genkai was married. This was new information. His astonishment showed in his eyes while he waited for the adults to finish speaking. Genkai looked at Yukimura for some time as if he was struggling internally, so that the old man eventually followed his gaze and watched child too.
He surely needed a bath after two days of travel and it took a very keen eye to see what was laying underneath the filth. Yet the old man understood what kind of treasure Genkai had bought into his establishment; he knew a good deal when he saw one and there was no way he would let this one go.
"What a cute and well-behaved child. Wanna talk about it in the back room?" he said to Genkai.
"Yes, it would be more appropriate. Yukimura, stay here, alright?" Genkai said, going behind the counter to fallow the man.
The little one nodded. The old man commented in a voice damaged by years: "Yukimura…what an adorable name." before disappearing behind the counter as well.
Yukimura waited patiently, he started to get used to waiting after all. It could take some time for those two to go fetch is father and inform him of his arrival after all. He lost himself in the peaceful sound coming from the garden, tired by the journey. His head started to nod of as he was about to fall asleep.
This was why he almost jumped from his seat in fright when the rustle of fabric Genkai made after coming out of the back romm awoke him. He hadn't expected the man to go straight toward the door, leaving him there without even sparing him a glance at him, a heavy looking bag in hand. It was only to shake hands with the old man that he stopped.
"Thanks again, and see you soon. You'll see he'll make more than one man blush when he grows up."
"Oh, I believe it. He might already entertain some of the customers even without training, I'm certain."
Genkai slightly scowled at that, but turned to leave nonetheless. Yukimura couldn't understand anything of their conversation.
"Genkai-dono! Father, when will he come?" Yukimura shouted, troubled by the situation.
Genkai froze and his shoulders stiffened. He could very well continue without turning back, leaving the old man to deal with the rest, but he knew he owed at least that to Yukimura. He should stop there with his lies and selfishness; the boy should know the truth. And then, if he hated him for that... it was better for him.
With a heavy step, Genkai came back to crouch down at the child height. "Listen to me Yukimura. I lied, and your father will not – nor anyone else – will come and get you." Yukimura took a step back in disbelief and Genkai grabbed his shoulder to make him look in his eyes "They all died and left you behind. Your servants were idiotic enough to do nothing about you. I found you a purpose, a new home, you'll be safe here."
"You're lying!" Yukimura suddenly shouted trying to escape from the man grasp.
Genkai shook him slightly to return his attention to him. "For the first time since I found you, I'm saying the truth. You see that ?" He pointed to the bag in his hand, making a metallic noise when he shook it. "You may not be aware where we are, but you must understand that I sold you. You'll do whatever the old man says now. You belong to him." he straightened up and released the little boy who was too stunned to respond. "If you don't, the punishment could be worse…"
Yukimura shook his head in disapproval. That wasn't true, it couldn't be happening. After all the way they had travelled together, sharing meals, camps, a few laughs... it hadn't been for long but he had trusted him ... how could this man have lied to him all this time?
"You... you..." shaking with sobs Yukimura didn't even have the strength to shed real tears. And when Genkai was about to once again cross the door, he shouted on top of his lungs : "I hate you, you're a monster! I'll kill you! I hate you! I hate you! How could you do this..." He ran after him as best he could, hammering over the man back with his small fists and repeating. "I hate you...!"
"Fair enough. Maybe with that attitude, you'll have a chance to came out of here faster. If you do then, come and kill me. Don't I deserve it ? Don't give up hope. Hell, no one know what the future is made of, maybe if a make enough money... I could consider bringing you out myself." His only consolation was that he now could afford to save his own son from disease now with this money, and he will give him everything he could never offer to Yukimura ... and he promised himself he would do anything for his last words to not be lies too.
And when Genkai disappeared behind the front door, Yukimura
fell to his knees. He was exhausted and allowed himself to weep openly. He didn't cry when
his relatives had gone to war, he didn't cry when the last servant left
without a word ...but now. he just couldn't hold any-more.
The old man put his hands on each of his shoulders. "Come on, come on, samurai do not cry. You will scare the customers away, smile I'll take good care of you." Yukimura turned toward him, glare full of murder and hate for the old man. The old man didn't even blink, holding the stare with a blind left eye: the man who bought innocent children from lousy men. "We will make you the most requested and famous Oiran that this city has ever known, you'll see."
At night, the area completely changed face. For those who wanted to see the starlight, the bright lights coming from the lanterns were too strong to allow them. The licentious laughters, the women of little virtue, the drunk and noisy men, he could watch and hear them from his window; he had been there long enough to be accustomed to them. He too had become part of the night world.
But as long as he could, through the window of his room, see that crescent moon smiling back at him, as long as his dreams of freedom weren't extinguished, as long his soul wasn't extinguished, Yukimura wouldn't let go of his hope. One day he'll smile at this star while being away from this walls. One day he'll restore the glory of the name of the Sanada clan.
The door of his room slid open, even so he didn't turned to greet the newcomer, knowing full well what was coming next.
"Yuki, your next customer is waiting." said Yukimura's follower in an accustomed voice.
Then with a sigh, the handsome young man that Yukimura had became rose after a final goodbye to his friend, the moon. He opened the edges of his scarlet kimono a little, revealing his finely muscled torso. Every evening was like the precedent since he had been sold.
"Let's not keep him waiting."