The White Peony Court
Chapter One: The Princess
As far as Kagura was concerned she was of imperial blood.
Their father, Umibozu, had died two years ago in a battle against other Amantos and through his death, a clear-cut border was also drawn between the scattered tribes and their kingdom.
The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide. (1)
Those words had never been truer in their era, for their country had reunified once again and all enemies brought to submission. Umibozu shall be remembered as a legendary emperor who died for the greater good, and her brother Kamui seen as a young war hero who not only led his troupe well but also announced a new era of peace.
The people needed such calm after a terrible war of five years against all kind of tribes living at their borders, each one greedier than the other. The endless conflicts led to a general coalition against the greater nation, the tribes pooled all of their strength in one force and it wasn't easily that Kouan defended its territory. The mountains, especially, proved to be a major difficulty to protect and Kamui exceeded the expectations with his own army— the Harusame— by defeating every single opponent who dared to take cross their path.
Kamui became the Emperor at the death of their father and as for herself, Kagura stayed as a princess for she decided not to marry yet. With the rise of her brother, suitors multiplied and huddled the palace. They were sons of generals, of powerful officials, of rich merchants. Like every princess in Kouan, Kagura's quarter was built far from the politics and thus from the emperor's quarter as well as the officials' buildings yet they managed to catch glimpses of her, trying to court her.
Gifts, poems, meaningful glances... She was the most wanted daughter-in-law of the land, and further. Musicians sang her beauty across kingdoms, her beautiful eyes coloured by the Heaven (2) itself, her striking red hair and white skin like jade. Kagura breathed of the imperial family's characteristic elegance and charisma, men threw themselves at her feet. They all had an interest in a way: the conquest of a famous beauty, of political power or both for the most ambitious whereas she had none for them.
At nineteen, the prized princess was still unmarried and while it wasn't unheard of, one could wonder why didn't she seize the opportunity of her youth and fame to catch a good husband before she could be rivalled if not surpassed. The answer to her reluctance to marry could be found in her education; unlike her ancestors, Kagura made her way in men studies. She had no taste in sitting for hours to stare at parchments but she loved dearly her brother Kamui and refused to be separated from him when he was of age to learn about history, languages and everything an imperial heir had to be knowledgeable of. She followed him, exasperating and amusing at the same time Kamui's teachers.
During the war they couldn't have been prouder, she proved her use by attending the countless meetings and planned schemes for Kouan. Even if she didn't participate in the battlefield, Kagura gained the praises of historians and her people.
When the palace held banquets every day for a whole week, celebrating the end of the war and the victory, Kagura was only joking when said those words:
"Kamui, we may be from different genders but both of us were helped by the Heaven as heirs to our Father. Since you got a harem (3)," she looked at all the beauties gathered around her brother, "Shouldn't I get one too?"
Her brother had always been someone she was close with, and also knew her bore of all those men throwing empty words at her, accepted. A princess having a harem— it was unheard of. Many contested, a princess was to be virtuous so how could they grant her wish for a harem? What would be the use of a harem anyway, for a woman who could only become pregnant with one man at a time?
Kamui silenced them all. He was the emperor, the Greatest thus his words indisputable. He decided to scurry portraits and rumours, brought the thirty most handsome men in the kingdom for his sister. All of them not only possessed beauty but were as talented as any of his consorts would be expected to, his sister had a mind greater than most men and naturally, those who entertain her should be as great as her.
In two years, Kagura's harem built its stability and operation. At its top, stood three men out of the thirty who managed to catch her deepest affections in a way or another.
The first, Imai Nobuhito was a human who had been captured during the war and offered to Kagura. He was a silent but a strong man and could rival a Yato with technical expertise in swordsmanship and despite his background, Nobuhito became very loyal to Kagura to the point of becoming her current favourite.
The second was Shimura Shinpachi, a Yato considered as defective for he was born without any strength. To prove his worth, the young man had worked harder than anyone else and was a genius adviser with an interest in human swords. Nonetheless, his relationship with princess Kagura was known to be purely one of a friendship, though a very strong one. He was both her adviser and confidant.
The third man was once known as the first, he was named Hisashi Hongo. His youthful look, brightness and amiable personality immediately echoed with Kagura's. He was once a great warrior like all men from his family; however, following a severe injury Hisashi's body had become weak and instead he pushed his passion into music and poems. Kagura cherished him dearly and didn't dare to endanger his health further with physical activities thus their relationship became platonic and disregarded by the other men.
Soon, the men serving in Kagura's harem were called "Mianshou (4)".
Nobuhito accompanied Kagura in the front line before the others Mianshou, clad in deep blue silk with scarlet birds embroidered on his dress. He was dashing as always, his long hair tied in a ponytail as he confidently walked beside the princess with a sword at his hips.
The emperor's edict was announced just yesterday, Kagura was to attend the selection of the new officials at the palace with the help of Shimura Shinpachi and Nobuhito as her personal guard. While only the two of them were invited, the other Mianshou, of course, decided to demonstrate their loyalty by accompanying the princess, vying for her attention.
Today again, her presentation was irreproachable. Her favourite maids, Tsukkuyo and Tae Shimura had done a magnificent job at applying her makeup. The powder they set was sheer, Kagura's skin was still peerless, and her lips tinted with a shade of jujube (5) that complimented the light pink dress she wore.
"I want to walk in the garden afterwards," Kagura voiced her desire to Nobuhito. "It's a beautiful day, tell Sen to prepare my favourite tea and cakes, Nobu."
"As you wish," Nobuhito bowed slightly. The Mianshou behind cursed him, their eyes full of envy as the princess leant to his ears, whispering her commands. In their world, the closest to the princess was not only blessed with her favour but their family would be gifted with money and power. Everyone knew how keen the emperor's ears was to her words. A few whispers and their family could become one of the most honoured in the country and them, bathed in luxuries.
They walked past the White Peony Courtyard, Kagura's residence, admiring the palace. The buildings were all richly ornated, painted with red and imperial purple flags were scattered like the cherry blossoms, as they were in the wake of Spring. The Mianshous rarely wandered out of their court and left it only for important events if they were deemed to be interesting enough by the princess. As they eased closer to the main building, officials in blue and green dresses huddled with parchments while the younger, clad in black, were waiting in line to be called by the emperor for their examination. The emperor Kamui had to build his own rule, every year he would throw officials out and select new ones who suited him better. He refused to be the shadow of his father, nor did he want to be manipulated by his oldest acquaintances.
"Is that Princess Kagura?" The men asked each other, surprised by the appearance of a woman at this time of the year, in the emperor's court nonetheless. If there was to be one female able to do this, it would be the famous princess.
"Obviously, look at her hair."
"She's even more beautiful in reality than in paintings."
"Look at that, her Mianshous... I wonder if it's a good thing for this kind of woman to advise the Emperor."
Shinpachi was immediately irritated at their words, but Kagura only steeled her smile.
"Don't embarrass me in front of my brother," she said to him. The way she would pull her purple fan from her sleeve, deploying it to hide half of her face was full of poise. Kagura's eyes smiled in her stead at the young officials, startling them all.
As she bypassed them, the other Mianshous left— with the words of Nobuhito— while the trio continued their way. The room of the emperor was as expected: grandiose. Golden tapestry, expensive wood, famous paintings and sculptures created the regal atmosphere. At its centre was a large carpet with a Phoenix, and higher, beyond the steps, was a large painting of a dragon behind the emperor.
Kagura, Nobuhito and Shinpachi walked to the centre of the room. While both Mianshou had to kneel in front of the emperor, their forehead touching the carpet, Kagura only had another kind of greeting. Her legs bowed slightly, she kept her back straight and overlaid her palms so they'd touch each other— her elbows at a straight angle. Her face gently moved towards the floor, showing the respect due to the emperor.
"The princess greets the emperor," she said.
"These mianshou greet the great emperor," Nobuhito and Shinpachi followed.
At the top of the room, superelevated was Kamui on his throne, made of a lavish pillow and a dark wood table in front of him. However, the gigantic purple dragons that danced and laced themselves painted behind him imposed a strong aura. He himself was clad in his official outfit, all in purple (6) and gold with a heavy crown on his head, his red locks falling out from it.
He greeted Kagura with a delighted smile, "The princess and her Mianshou can rise."
They did so, guided by Kagura who trotted to a sit just below her brother. Of course, as only men of a harem, Shinpachi and Nobuhito were sat even further down.
"The selection can start," Kamui announced in a loud voice as a man in the room nodded and rang the gong.
First, ten men entered the room and kneeled. After the formal greeting was done, they introduced themselves but strangely Kagura didn't pay any attention. Usually, she'd remember their family names, where they came from or if their faces or names were familiar to her. Instead, she was introduced to a pair of red eyes.
An official rose up, bowed and announced: "Official Abuto presents to the great emperor the ten men with the highest score on the Imperial Exam."
Okita Sougo— she buried the name deep in her mind. He was ranked third in the Imperial Exam, and while the first two were from an old and important family, his sounded completely unknown. And her suspicions were confirmed when he announced being from the countryside.
For a poor country boy to rank so high in the exam, Kagura was undoubtedly surprised. He looked just four or three years younger than her, and his eyes had a kind of magnetism she couldn't deny nor explain.
But one thing; however, she was sure of was that she wanted him in her harem.
(1): Quote from the start of The Romance of Three Kingdoms, one of the four legendary books in China. It's a romanced story of the three kingdoms era, and their wars— for that reason, it's also a very strategical book that is recommended to read.
(2): The Heaven was situated in the sky, which is why astrology is taken very seriously in China or Asia in general, as stars and such are "signs from the Heaven" and thus, of the Gods'.
(3): An emperor, in China, possessed a rather spectacular harem that could be amounted to a thousand or way more. Of course, most were low-ranked and were only servants to the high-ranked one, the hierarchy was very strict. The emperor had a harem to show his power, but also to give him as many heirs as possible and there existed a schedule based on the Moon's cycle (believed to influence fertility) depending on each women's ranks.
(4): Mianshou 面首, literally means "prime faces".
(5):A red fruit, called the chinese date. It's sweet, and often used in chinese deserts!
(6): Purple clothes were very expensive, their dye being rare thus became an imperial color along with gold.
Perhaps I should stop making new AU instead of updating what I already have but..eh... My mind cannot be stopped. I hope that you, readers, appreciated it despite everything.
This fic is inspired by a real historical figure: Princess Liu Chuyi also known as Princess Shanyi.