1Chapter 65

The Murmur in The Wind

The morning of the day we plan on departing for the mountain, I decide to make an excursion into the city to bid farewell to Asako and Mayonaka. Koi accompanies me, and although Tasuki and Koji are hesitant to let us leave the palace alone, we manage to persuade them, telling them to come looking if we aren't back by noon. We feel their eyes on us as we walk through the southern gates of the palace and enter the depths of the city, and although we both want to giggle at their paranoia, we understand their concern.

Ever since Koji learned the details of mine and Koi's past, he has become extremely protective of the both of us, almost as if he's afraid that Shingen will dare to come looking for us, looking for his vengeance. The handsome blue-haired young man quickly earned even more respect from me when the disclosure of Koi's days in the brothel unfazed him. I'm sure that Tasuki informed him of our old lives somewhat while they were away at war, but I know that the details of the years before we entered the seraglio weren't disclosed by Koi herself until recently. He had been sympathetic and understanding. He had consoled her in much the same way Tasuki had me. There had been no judgment, just as there had been none with His Highness or Chichiri or the Lady Priestess or anyone else whom I had had the honor to meet since I fell in love with Tasuki. And this is why Koji now has my deepest respect and will have it for as long as I live.

Koi and I walk arm in arm through the markets, glancing to our right and left every so often to inspect trays of jewelry or baskets of pungent, sweet-smelling fruit. The sounds of this place fill our ears, and the noise brings back memories -- both happy and sorrowful. The shouting and arguing of the merchants and buyers float in the air like insects, mingling with the barking and clucking and braying of the animals tied at the stalls or enclosed in wooden cages that are scattered among the streets. Koi purchases a pair of peaches at a fruit stall, and we nibble at the soft fruit as we continue strolling towards Mayonaka's home. By the time we reach her door, nothing but the brown pits of the peaches and their sweet juices remain in our hands.

We only have to knock once at her open door before her pale hair streams through and her softly wrinkled face appears. She grins happily and catches up both in a warm hug before any sort of greeting can be spoken.

"My girls!" she coos, kissing our cheeks and squeezing our hands, "My dear girls, how happy I am to see you both!"

"The same to you, Mother," Koi replies, embracing the old midwife again.

"Come in, come in," Mayonaka demands, pulling us gently over her welcoming threshold.

The interior of Mayonaka's house makes it obvious to any visitors what her profession is. The small alcove serves as a sort of waiting room for her many patients, with several small wooden benches set against the walls to give the expecting mothers a place to sit and relax as they wait for their turn with the midwife. There are only three other rooms in her house: the kitchen, the bedroom, and her working area, in which she receives patients and continuously mixes herbs and other ingredients for the array of teas, lotions, ointments, poultices, and other medications used in midwifery. It is this collection of her medications that Koi and I first encounter upon entering Mayonaka's working area. Glass, ceramic, and wooden bottles and pots are lined up along three large tables, which Mayonaka has arranged in the middle of the room in the shape of a horseshoe in order for her to stand in their center and be able to reach for what she needs without walking far. Situated in the center of the tables is another large table, this one littered with numerous plates and bowls of herbs, spices, and other ingredients that the elderly midwife was clearly working with before answering her door.

In the far corner, I spot the long, padded bench that Mayonaka has the expectant mothers sit or lie on while she is examining them. Several years ago, she had the bench especially made for her by a master carpenter. She gave him specific instructions as to how it would be constructed – extremely long and wide so that a woman can lie completely stretched out upon it comfortably, without her arms or legs in danger of dangling from the sides; a surface upholstered with the finest satin and generously padded with cotton to ensure the comfort of the expecting patients, along with a pillow sewn directly into the head of the bench; and, finally, a device resembling the hinges of a door built into the middle of the bench that allowed it to be pulled and locked into a sitting position. The midwife had nowhere near the amount of money needed to make something of this design, but she and the carpenter worked out a way of payment that suited them both fine. Mayonaka has since delivered all seven of the carpenter's children free of charge, as well as five of his grandchildren; and she has vowed to serve the women of his family free of charge for as long as she lives.

"Give me a hand, my girls," she says, waving us over to the padded bench, "I need to get this thing set up for Ichiyu; she'll be here around noontime."

Koi and I help Mayonaka pull the heavy wooden bench out of the corner and near the horseshoe of tables in the center of the room. She then instructs us in how to lift the head of the bench into a sitting position, being picky as to exactly how it's angled.

"It's quite uncomfortable if the head's too far up – it puts strain on the back and pushes on the belly," she explains as she leads us into the kitchen, where we have already guessed Asako to be.

A broad smile crosses our friend's face when she spots us at the kitchen's open doorway. Asako's smile has become more beautiful since she came to live here in the midwife's house; the black spaces in her mouth where her missing teeth once were no longer make sadness course through me at the sight of them. Instead, I see them simply as a part of her, just as I see the gray of her hair as a part of her and no longer just an obvious sign of her premature aging due to the hard years spent in the brothel. Asako has grown younger since she's been here, more vibrant, more beautiful, so much more alive.

"I was hoping you'd pay a last visit before you two leave us!" she announces, her voice a mixture of happiness and hidden sadness. In one hand she brandishes a knife, while the other presses a fresh cabbage onto the wooden chopping table.

I walk to her side and press a kiss on her cheek as she continues to slice through the cabbage. "We would never dream of leaving before saying goodbye to the both of you," I say in a soothing tone of voice.

"So, when are you planning to depart the capital?" Mayonaka inquires.

"Later this afternoon," Koi answers reluctantly, giving the elderly midwife a look mixed with both excitement and dread.

"Goodness," she remarks, "So soon..."

"Yes," I answer, "It is so strange to me – how much I long to go home to the mountain, and how much I long to remain here in the capital. But I can sense that my life is shifting away from this place; I can sense my soul drifting towards that mountain. I know I must go, and I know that I will be happy there."

Mayonaka seems to agree with this explanation. She slowly and silently nods her head for a moment before replying. "This is very true, Tansho. People do not bind themselves to one place for the duration of their lives. We are meant to move, to change, to walk, to breathe different air and drink different water." She is silent again for a moment before turning to Koi. "And you, my girl?" she asks, her deep eyes wondering, "Are you at peace with yourself? Are you sure of yourself?"

We can't help but to all look towards Koi and wait for her answer. It is true that she made her decision rather quickly, and although there is no doubt in my mind that she loves Koji as much as I love Tasuki, I have in fact wondered many times if she is making the right decision in accompanying us to the mountain. She has never left the city. She knows no other life. Can she live happily on a far-away mountain, with me as the only other female companion?

"I have wondered many times if my answer to Koji was too hasty," she finally replies, "But every now and then I will hear or see or feel something that tells me I have made the right decision. I never thought I could love a man like I love Koji. I never thought I would have the chance or the ability. And I know I will never again know a woman like you, Tansho. I knew that I cannot let the both of you leave my life, and so I made the decision to leave the city and go with you to the mountain."

I smile, Asako sighs, and Mayonaka nods once again. "You will leave this city today," she says solemnly, "And you will leave with my blessings, my girls." She looks both of us in the eyes, her wrinkled, beautiful face a mesmerizing beacon of wisdom and love. "May your lives upon the mountain be safe and happy and long. May you both know no more sorrow and regret. May you forever remember where you rose up from, and forever honor that place."

We are all very silent for a long while. Asako's knife has paused, and only the sounds of our breath can be heard above the racket of the city outside the kitchen windows. It is a timid knock at the door that breaks us from the silence. Mayonaka grins. "That will be Ichiyu," she announces. "Asako, my girl, could you please attend to her?"

"Of course," Asako replies as she lays down the knife and kisses Koi and I on the cheek before stepping into the work area to welcome the young woman. Mayonaka smiles after her apprentice, pure pride shining on her aged but lovely face.

"That woman was born to do this," she remarks to us, "It is rare to find a woman like her. Her common sense has taught her more than I ever will." She then turns her eyes to Koi and I, as if to say she isn't yet finished with us.

"I gave you my blessings, my girls, but not my true thoughts," she begins, "I discovered long ago that all things that happen in this world happen for a reason. The gods do not simply place us on this earth just to be amused by our downfalls and mistakes and occasional stupidity. For every decision we make, every word we speak, every action we make, and every breath we take, there is a profound reason behind it. Remember this always."

Mayonaka's eyes burn hard into mine, and I can sense the fierceness of her words. She speaks true and hard from her soul, and I know that I must listen. "You met that man for a reason, Tansho. I've told you this before. He was brought to you by the gods. You were brought to him by the gods. And the same goes for you, too, my dear Koi. The men that you both love have a purpose in your world."

We cannot speak, so we simply nod. And Mayonaka nods in return, her linen-white hair bouncing in its buns. A smile spreads across her face like a ripple across the surface of a lake. And then suddenly she is laughing, her mouth opened wide to reveal stained teeth worn down by age, but lovely just the same. And we are laughing with her as if there is nothing wrong in the world, as if our happiness were perfect and undisturbed, as if we knew all be well. Then I realize that it is true – all is well, all is as it should be in our world. And I laugh harder, reaching out my arms in ecstasy to pull Mayonaka and Koi into an embrace. I am a free woman; I am a happy woman; I am a loved woman; and I am a woman who loves. Yes. Yes, all is as it should be.

When we prepare to depart Mayonaka's home later that afternoon, I feel perfectly at peace with myself. I feel as if my shoulders have been freed from a harness, and I feel as if my heart were floating happily above my head, peering far away into the distant future where even more happiness awaits for us.

"I will tell Empress Hoki that she must call upon you and Asako when her time comes to deliver. I will tell her that only you could bring her child into this world with perfect peace and gentleness," I say to Mayonaka as I stand on her threshold, holding her hands in mine. A few feet away Koi and Asako are sharing their last farewells as well.

"It would be an honor to assist the Lady in bringing the heir of Konan into the world," she answers. Her bright eyes shimmer in the afternoon sunlight, showing both tears of joy and sadness. "You will be missed, my beloved girl," she tells me, "But you will never be forgotten. And you must swear to return for a visit whenever you are able!"

"I promise with all my heart, Mayonaka!" I reply happily, clenching her soft hands even harder, "I will always remember you. You have saved my life many times, and you must know that you now have a part of it forever with you." She nods slowly, closing her eyes. Then she opens them and leans forward into my embrace, pressing her lips to my forehead and whispering her final blessing in my ear.

As Koi and Mayonaka say their last goodbyes, I say mine to Asako. I will miss her the most of them all, I realize. Once, long ago, I both hated and loved her just as a daughter often does to her mother; but now I can hold only love for this magnificent woman with hair the color of the moon.

"I used to not like him at all, you know," she says to me with a playful wink, obviously referring to the time when she forbade me to see Tasuki again. "I could think of no reason whatsoever that you should continue to be with him, but that night when you left, I could feel it. I could feel how much you loved that man; to just run into the night like that, not knowing anything, just knowing that you must get to him – that is what made me realize it. And so you have nothing but my blessings, my Little One. I hope that you know nothing but happiness and contentment for the rest of your years, for the gods know that you deserve it."

I hold Asako in my arms for a long, long time, making sure that I learn the feel of her before I leave her. I do plan to see her again some day, but only the gods know when that will be. And so I take my time in telling her goodbye, for she was my mother when I had none.

The sensation of having Mayonaka and Asako's house behind us is an odd feeling to Koi and I as we walk back towards the palace gates, but we both know it will not stay at our backs for long. We both know that we can never stay away from them for long, and this gives us strength to return to the palace to say the remainder of our bittersweet goodbyes.

Koi and I return to the seraglio both at peace and hurting inside. We kiss each other's cheeks in farewell as we go on to our separate rooms to pack the last of our belongings and change into our traveling clothes. As I'm slipping the cropped over-robe over my shoulders, Naho comes in, her face hidden by her long hair. Her sadness is obvious, and I am more than willing to take her slight frame into my arms and hold her in a last goodbye.

"I will miss you dearly, my little Naho," I say to her, kissing the top of her soft head. "You served me well. And you also gave me friendship, for which I will always love you." I lean away from her to look into her innocent eyes.

"I will never forget you, my lady," she whispers to me, sorrow beginning to take the form of tears in the corners of her soft eyes.

"See that you don't," I answer playfully, smiling. "Now, will you accompany me to the main courtyard? I need your assistance one last time in carrying these bags of mine."

"Of course, my lady."

As we walk down the veranda and through the gates of the seraglio, I do not glance behind me. Yes, I will miss this place terribly, for it was a haven and temporary home for me. But I will not cling to it. I know that my home is beyond the roads of Konan, many days away; and I know that when I reach that place I will be happier than ever before in my life. But the seraglio will stay in my heart, locked away along with the many memories I made here. This is the place where I met Naho, Lady Junko, and all the other courtesans who took me into their arms as if I were one of them. This is the place where Lady Tsuya once lived, loved by an emperor and forever remembered. And this is the place where I became Tasuki's wife, and he became my husband. I do allow myself one glance over my shoulder to look at the gazebo in the center of the great courtyard, the beautiful place where I took Tasuki's hands in mine as the sun set behind us. With a deep sigh and a soft smile, I turn away again.

The main courtyard is filled with the people who have gathered to bid us farewell. The courtesans whom I befriended are all huddled together, their faces full of sadness. Lady Junko stands with them, her lips smiling but her eyes wet with tears. Empress Hoki, her little hands folded over her rounded belly, stands with Misa and Okichi, who both appear ready to burst into tears at any moment. Tokizo stands close to Okichi, gently holding her hand in his. Tasuki and Koji are busy with the horses, Chichiri assisting them as they load the satchels onto the mares' dark hides. They stop when they see me approaching. My arrival means that it is time for us to depart. Koi stands near her horse, having already said her goodbyes and eager to begin the journey to her new life. As Naho and I silently hand off my belongings to my husband to be loaded onto my mare, I suddenly feel the full weight of my grief.

Tears rolling unabashedly down my face, I embrace my friends one by one, beginning with the courtesans. They each wrap me in their arms, whispering their good wishes for a safe journey. I thank them for their friendship, for accepting me into the seraglio. Lady Junko bows slightly to me, and I bow to her in return. She then curls her long, graceful arms around me and kisses the top of my head as a mother would do.

"Blessings on you, Tansho," she says to me, her azure eyes gleaming. "Blessings on you and on your children and on your children's children. May your name live forever."

I look at her, wishing I could I have known her long ago, wishing I could stay and know her better; but I simply smile and bow my head to her in thanks.

The Empress presses her palms to my face and kisses my forehead. She then pulls me into her arms so that I am gently pressing on her ripe belly.

"You will be missed, Tansho," she replies, her soft, melodious voice drifting into my ears for the last time, "I wish so much for you. I wish you happiness and love, and I wish you peace and contentment. You will never be forgotten here."

"I thank you, my lady, for all that you and His Highness did for me and my friends. Without you, we would have been lost."

"You are welcome, my dear friend. It has been such an honor to know you. Such an honor." A breeze catches her purple hair, making it wisp around her face momentarily. I take her hands in mine and smile happily at her.

"When your time comes, my lady, call upon the midwife Mayonaka and her apprentice Asako," I tell her, "Their hands are like no others."

"I will," she answers, "I will."

Tokizo bends down to kiss my cheek, his lips pressing softly against my skin. Sadly, I smile up at him. "You protected me," I reply, "I will never forget that." And that is all that is said between us, for our eyes speak more than our words ever could. I can see his wishes for me. I can see his hope and love for me. And I can see his love for Okichi etched everywhere on his handsome face, which puts me at peace with them both, for I know they will always protect each other.

I take Okichi in my arms, then Misa. They both weep openly and fiercely into my hair, and I let them. Memories of them wash through my mind, making it difficult to release them from my embraces. But we manage to break apart, and after several more long moments of whispering and laughing and sniffling, I know it is time to go.

"I love you both with all my soul," I tell them, my eyes looking softly into theirs. "We are bound together for the remainder of our lives; I know this. So we will never be truly separated. Remember this always, my beloved friends."

After a final embrace, they release me. As I pass Naho, I bend over and graze her soft cheek with my lips and whisper my thanks into her ear. She smiles into my face, and I can see her happiness for me there, gazing straight at me. And it gives me strength to finally join my husband, Koji, and Koi, all of whom have been looking on with pained expressions. But when I take Tasuki's hand, and he looks down into my eyes, I feel no fear or sadness or regret. I feel only joy.

"Farewell, Tansho," Chichiri replies cheerfully as he helps me mount my horse.

"Farewell, Chichiri," I answer, gazing down at him. "I am happy to have known you, my friend."

"As am I, ya know," he says, his masked face smiling.

He then approaches Tasuki, and I watch with tears in my eyes as they embrace, laying their heads on each other's shoulders, both obviously trying not to show the true extent of their sadness.

"See ya later, Chichiri," Tasuki says, his voice cheerful although all who are present know how his soul is suffering.

"Have a safe journey, my friend," Chichiri answers. He waves at Koji and Koi, who smile and wave in return. He then turns to me and nods his head as if something has been spoken between us that only we know of. This man is a good man. He is like no other I've ever known, and everyday that I awake in my new life to come, he will be one of the many faces I will see in my mind's eye, smiling at me, assuring me that I am free and safe. I smile sorrowful at home, and nod my head in return.

And so, that is how it ended. As easily as turning our horses in the direction of the main gates, we left it behind us, mournfully but purposefully. And there is no more heartache. With the voices of our friends rising into the air at our backs, bidding us farewell, we urge our mares into a slow pace as we make our way through the courtyard and out the main gates of the palace. And there is no more heartache. I do not turn my head over my shoulder to look back. I place my eyes on a faraway field to the north of the city, a field I know we will be passing by in a few hours; and there my eyes remain. And there is no more heartache.

I feel the warm, safe presence of my husband to my right; behind me I feel the presence of Koji and my beloved Koi. And in front of me I see my future, my beginning, my end. I reach out to it with my heart, knowing that I shall be there soon, knowing that it is no longer beyond my reach. I have such great hopes for my life. I have so many wishes, so many desires. And the realization that they are no longer separated from me as they were in the Black Dove is a powerful feeling.

It is not long before we have reached the boundaries of the capital and find ourselves on the road that will lead us towards our home. We turn to look at each other, smiling, laughing, and we are suddenly filled with a sensation of bliss and contentment. All of us. We feel nothing but freedom and happiness; and when I turn my face towards Tasuki, my beloved husband, my friend, my dearest love, my heart, I part my lips to speak. I whisper soft, unheard words into the air; and I wait patiently as they are lifted up and carried to my husband's ears on the gentleness of the wind. My lips smile. My eyes shine. And my soul begins to sing as the wind carries us away, murmuring my tender words until they are echoing across the earth.

"Thank you, my beloved."

The End

Author's Note: I want to thank every single person who ever read and/or reviewed this story. The simple fact that you sat down for a few minutes one day to read a chapter of "Tansho" means a great deal to me. I want to thank you all for supporting me, encouraging me, inspiring me, and critiquing me. I'm both overjoyed and immensely sad that this story has ended, but I know that everything is meant to end, and I think I ended this the way it deserved. I feel such pride when I look at this story of mine, because I remember all the days and nights and imagining and planning and writing. And when I read your reviews, I can tell that my story has moved you in some way; and I am so thankful that I had people like you to read and critique this for me. Because of you, I believe I have become a better writer.

Alright, here goes the personal answers and "thank you's" to certain reviewers. They're gonna be long, so bear with me!

Nako-chan: I want to thank you for all the reviews you've left me! All of them helped me in some way or another. And, yes, I would love to get this story published someday (though it would definitely take some re-writing and revising in order to respect Fushigi Yuugi copyrights). And if I ever do, I promise to let you know! I'm honored that I have inspired you in your own writing. And thank you for the compliment on my own writing style! It's alright that you may not write well now, but keep doing it & I promise that you will improve (keep reading, also!). To improve on anything, you must practice. Most of all, thanks for understanding the length of this story. Part of me did not want to end it abruptly mainly because of my immense love for my characters, but I believe that I ended it in the right way & in the way in which it deserved. And I can promise you that my imagination is still going strong! Thanks again & good luck!

Claudia: Thanks so much for all the wonderful compliments. I especially liked that you noticed the emphasis put on Tasuki & Miaka's relationship. It was a very important relation in both FY and my story, and I felt I needed to incorporate in somewhere in my writing. And as for your question about Tamahome – yes, he did die. But he is reincarnated and we see him at the very end of FY, though the others in the Universe of the Four Gods won't discover this until the OAVs. Thank you again & I'm so glad that you've enjoyed reading my story.

Railynn: Well, I'm glad that I helped you see the potential of fanfictions (some, at least). And I'm sorry to say it, but yes, this is definitely the last chapter. Believe me, I could keep on writing this until I'm an old woman, but I think I've ended it where it needs to end. I hope all of your questions concerning the plot of "Tansho" have been answered, but if they're not, please e-mail me & I'll help however I can! Thank you again for reading and reviewing "Tansho", and I'm so happy that you've enjoyed it. And I wish you a happy marriage with all my heart! Good luck!!! (P.S. Thanks for backing me up concerning SL. I appreciate that greatly).

Chaotic Demon: Thank you so much for reading and reviewing "Tansho". I'm glad that you've enjoyed it & I hope that you enjoyed the final chapter, as well!

Otaku-no-miko: Did my penname really used to be "Tansho"? Hmm, I don't remember that. My first one was "Inez", and then "Iseult", then my present one. But, who knows, I might have used that name after all! Anyways, I'm so happy that you've loved reading my story. And I'm honored that you've put me on such a high pedestal – though I truly don't deserve it! Oh yeah, as for the "no da" – I used the approximate English translation in order to be consistent with the rest of the story (I don't really like to mix Japanese terms into my fanfics). I like the idea of keeping it all in one language (keeps it kinda stream-lined, you know?) And thank you so much for your numerous reviews! I'm glad to know you've loved reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it! Thank you again!

Shining Angel: Thank you so much & I will always remember you and the other fans of "Tansho"!

Keeraina: So sorry, dear, but all things have an ending! About your own writing, just keep doing it & imagining, and I promise that you will improve over time! Just write on your free time & it'll take the place of reading "Tansho"! Thanks you again and good luck with all you do!

Other thanks to MysticKitty17, Zerianyu, Lee Larrabee, Shadowkeyu, frenchiecangal, Cacat-angel, shadow priestess, Chibi Kaz, Lady Viola, tensai-yuki, KittyLynne, and everyone else who I haven't mentioned here who ever read or reviewed "Tansho". You all mean a great deal to me!

I hope all of you, my readers, have enjoyed reading "Tansho", and I want you to know that I plan on keeping it posted on for as long as possible in case you ever wanted to print chapters out or re-read certain parts.

Thank you again. I'll always remember you, and I hope that you'll always remember "Tansho".

Aama