A Prince of Tennis AU. Set in Kyoto, Japan, during Tokugawa (Edo) period, in the first half of 1800s.
A/N: This fanfiction has numerous errors in political, cultural, historical, and social contexts, but for the sake of storytelling, I left them as is. If you're Chinese/Japanese culture-savvy, er, forgive this author's liberal (?) abuse of both. XD
The Arabic numerals in parentheses denote footnote number for that term, found at the bottom of this page. Originally this fic was posted on LiveJournal, annotated with numerous hyperlinks, which sucks for Fanfiction-net's format. Please check my profile page for link to the original footnote page. You will need Chinese/Korean/Japanese script to view some of the characters.
(March 5, 2007 - March 20, 2007)
一. 藤棚の君 (등나무시렁의 만남) (1)
Faint sound stirred in the breeze.
At first he dismissed it, running light fingertips over the silk strings. The heavy curtains of purple swayed in the perfumed air, and he thought he heard another faint strain of flute over the whisper of the wisteria blossoms. The strings vibrated, and he tilted his head, listening intently for the fading sound of the flute, hand lightly resting on the silk and wood. The strings were nearly vibrating with anticipation, and he almost smiled.
With his left hand tightly pressing down the strings, he paused for a brief moment, then let his right hand descend.
The first tremulous sound of the koto (2) was not loud or overpowering, but coaxing, chasing the fading melody of the flute until at last the flute responded. They led each other on, challenging and enticing in turn, at once turning playful, and at another turn driving. Then suddenly, a high-pitched twang ripped through the tapestry of music they had woven.
He stared down at his hands in surprise, unwilling to believe the discordant interruption had been from his instrument. The two broken strings caught his eyes, and he fingered the broken ends for a moment, before gathering up the fallen bridges. Gracefully, he took up the instrument in his hand and stood. The flute had also stopped seconds after the koto did, as if shocked into silence at the sudden interruption.
He heard quiet footfalls behind him, but did not turn, carefully wrapping the koto. The footsteps stopped, and he lifted the koto and retired, pausing only to briefly incline his head to the stranger, never raising his eyes. He saw a glimpse of a flute in the other's hand, but passed by without acknowledging it.
Tezuka did not lift his flute again, watching the retreating figure. His eyes lingered on the gentle fall of the light brown hair over the dark blue silk, and the splash of lavender twining about the skirt of the kimono - wisteria flowers blossoming on the azure.
Fragrant purple blossoms stirred in the breeze and Tezuka inhaled, eyes closed, imagining leftover strains of the koto linger in the air, trapped between the tendrils of whispering wisteria.
Soft tittering laughter greeted him even before he opened the door, and Tezuka sighed. Judging from the volume of laughter, there were at least three or four women behind the shoji (3). Briefly he entertained the notion of excusing himself without announcing his presence, but the door slid open, destroying his chance. Dark head bowed, glossy hair meticulously arranged in an artful coiffeur with tinkling pins and silk flowers, and he had no choice but to enter. The door slid closed behind him with a barely audible click, and the woman bowed again, exposing the delicately painted nape nestled in stiff white collar (4) and embroidered silk.
"Ah, Tezuka. Come in."
"I thought we were going to discuss business?"
"We are." The geisha's hand, pouring sake for Atobe, was as pale as the white porcelain bottle she held.
"In private?" His voice was still calm, but just a bit sharper. He declined the proffered cup, and another woman, whom Tezuka thought he recognized from Atobe's endless parties, immediately fetched him tea instead.
"Please," she murmured, placing the teacup before him with practiced grace, and he thanked her. He liked this one, who did not titter or flirt with him every other turn. The geisha Atobe called for his parties were exceptionally beautiful - nothing but the best for the Atobe heir - but often bold, self-assured, and flirtatious. And they always tried to engage him in polite conversations even after he made it clear he did not wish to converse.
The woman who had handed him the tea discreetly placed the sweets within his reach, all the while keeping an eye on the flow of conversation, the amount of tea and sake, the food, and whatever else that might require her attention.
"I should have asked Kiyosato to prepare tea ceremony," Atobe commented after watching them for a few minutes. "Kiyosato makes exceptional tea."
"You honor me, Atobe-han, more than I deserve," Kiyosato replied modestly with a hint of smile and a bow. She refilled Tezuka's cup without being asked, then put down the teapot.
Atobe downed another cup of sake, and Tezuka glanced at the empty bottles under the table, faint crease between his brows. "You haven't heard about last night, I take it," Atobe said, staring at him over the rim of the cup.
"That's what happens when you don't bother attending when the lord invites you," Atobe said, and put down his cup. "Hiyoshi got into an argument in the presence of the lord."
It was unusual for the young Hiyoshi, who was always calm and controlled (if arrogant), to lose his composure. "With whom?"
"One of Sanada's underlings." Ah, that explained Atobe's mood. Their lord had expressed growing displeasure regarding the rivalry between Atobe and Sanada's factions. It had gotten worse after Sengoku arrived in Kyoto, who, upon his arrival, had almost immediately fallen in with Atobe rather than Sanada. Unfortunately, the strange mix of loyalties had put Sanada on guard.
"Yanagi knows when to push their advantage." Atobe sounded almost admiring of Sanada's strategist, though his expression quickly soured. "In summary, Sanada will be leading the next campaign."
Atobe gave him a sidelong look. "The lord may still call on you to lead the second detachment, if only you would show up at his place every once in a while. As for me, likely I'll be sitting this one out."
"The lord knows I'm still in mourning for my father," Tezuka pointed out. Atobe snorted.
"If you weren't, he would have had you to live in his own house." He held up his cup, which was immediately filled. "Just as well. I'd been meaning to visit Shimabara for a few days. I've heard an interesting rumor recently."
"Aren't you still on duty?" Tezuka asked, half-amazed and half-amused. Atobe had had countless affairs with various geisha and tayuu (5), but never let his numerous affairs get in the way of duty. It was something that Tezuka admired privately.
"Not until next week. Why don't you come with me?"
"Surely you jest."
"Oh for..." Atobe waved a hand. "Your mourning period ends this week. It wouldn't be improper."
"I'll pass." Tezuka was actually a bit amused, but did not let it show. He did, however, recognize the gesture of friendship and support for what it was, even if Atobe had a strange way of showing them. "What is this rumor you've heard?"
Atobe actually looked vaguely evasive at that. "A geisha at White Plum Teahouse."
"Is she an exceptional beauty?"
"It's a male."
Tezuka raised an eyebrow. Male geisha were rare; artisans and entertainers had low status in the society, and few men took up such professions willingly. And the ones who did were more often prostitutes than performers. Kabuki (6) theaters and teahouses alike, males in Flower Town (7) almost invariably meant prostitutes. And everyone knew Atobe never took male lovers.
Atobe shifted. "Apparently he is an excellent koto and shamisen (8) player. Oshitari managed to see him once and couldn't shut up about him." He chuckled. "Believe or not, it's damn difficult to see him. But the Tang poetry he sent back at my invitation..." Atobe looked thoughtful. "The hand was excellent. He seems to have some classical Chinese training. Heaven knows from where."
"Tang poetry?" Tezuka echoed, mildly surprised. Then again, nothing short of the highly stylized and elegant poetry from Tang dynasty would have impressed Atobe. Atobe's love for finer (and largely foreign) things in life was well-known, and quite often criticized; he had an abounding fondness for Tang poetry, which had become an obsolete - and in some cases even scorned as outdated and anti-nationalistic - part of literature. That a courtesan would have studied it was strange, and it was small wonder that he caught Atobe's interest.
"It should be interesting, if Oshitari still hasn't abandoned his habit of romanticizing. You're sure you don't want to come?" This time Atobe's invitation was more of a courtesy than a serious suggestion, and Tezuka shook his head.
"Thank you for the invitation," he added for politeness' sake, and Atobe nodded.
"Do bring your flute next time, Tezuka. None of the women does justice to Li Wu (9). I trust that much wouldn't injure your overgrown sense of decorum."
Tezuka snorted. "Perhaps," he said noncommittally, but made a mental note. Despite the way Atobe put it, he knew Atobe genuinely loved fine arts, and greatly respected his talent with the flute.
"Try not to get in trouble while I'm gone," Atobe drawled, and Tezuka arched an eyebrow at him.
"I'm sure I'll manage. So will, I trust, Sanada."
The last part was equal parts a jibe and a warning. Atobe did not answer, and lifted his cup instead, and the geisha with delicately embroidered tomesode (10) bent forward, pouring the sake with meticulous attentiveness. Tezuka put his teacup down, and did not refuse this time when Kiyosato offered him a sake cup in its place.
Instead of tossing it down, Tezuka took a long sip, letting the liquid curl in his mouth, savoring. His thoughts turned to the koto player under wisteria tree from a few days ago, and Tezuka closed his eyes, half-imagining the scent of wisteria wrap around him, spreading through him like the warm sake.
END OF PART I
A/N: Most of these notes are pasted directly from the original LiveJournal annotation pages I linked to on my profile page. Check the original LiveJournal entries for Wikipedia links.
 一. 藤棚の君 [등나무시렁의 만남] 「ふじだなのきみ」, or "Fujidana no Kimi". Loosely following the format of Genji Monogatari appellations, I meant it to be read as "Lady of Wisteria Trellis". The original "girl of wisteria trellis" is actually from (don't laugh) Clamp Campus Detectives, when Suoh met Nagisa. ^^; And Bleach fans will recognize the numbers in Chinese characters! :D
Having no convenient Korean equivalent, the Korean title is "The Meeting at the Wisteria Trellis".
Er, ignore how there really isn't a trellis there...
 koto. Thirteen-stringed Japanese zither. Actually, when I first wrote this, I really had gayageum - the traditional Korean version of zither - in mind. They sound similar, but koto has a stand whereas gayageum doesn't, and gayageum traditionally doesn't require any finger picks, unlike koto.
The flute Tezuka plays is Japanese flute. It's supposed to be harder to play than Western flute, but since I've never played the Eastern (Chinese/Korean/Japanese) flutes, I wouldn't be able to compare...
 shoji. Sliding doors or windows (or even room dividers) made of wooden frame and paper (white and translucent to let light through), used in traditional Japanese buildings.
 red collar vs. white collar. I'm not sure how strict geisha/maiko system would have been in early 1800s, but current tradition is to have maiko dress with red collar, and geisha (geiko) with white collar. The maiko switched to white collar at the conclusion of coming-of-the-age ceremony (mizuage).
 tayuu. Basically, the highest-class among the courtesans (also called oiran, espeically in Edo (Tokyo) area). Tayuu/Oiran opted for much more elaborate costumes (with obi tied to the front) and hairdoes, bare feet, (really) high-platform geta, and multitude of jewelries (all of which geisha did not go for), and were known as "castle topplers" because of their expenses that patrons had to scramble for. Their roles were a bit complicated; they also practiced music and art (and even gambling, sometimes) to entertain their patrons, but sexual element was undeniable part of it, too. The geisha used to entertain along with tayuu/oiran, but later became even more popular than tayuu/oiran, taking more of the artistic side of the business. Geisha weren't prostitutes - that is to say, that wasn't their "day job". (If they did grant sexual favors to their customers, they were compensated for their time.) One of the ways to distinguish the geisha from prostitutes (yujou, "pleasure women") was their obi: prostitutes tied their obi at the front, and geisha/maiko at the back. Sign of accessibility, if you would.
 kabuki. One of traditional Japanese theater. Originally, there were female kabuki performers in theaters, but problems arose because many of the actresses took on extra earnings via prostitution. Eventually women were banned from theater (1652, according to Wikipedia), but all that did was to substitute young boys for women. Both on the stage, and off it. XD
 Flower Town, or "Hana Machi" [花街] was the euphemism for pleasure quarters, Shimabara and Gion being the leading regions within Kyoto. Both teahouses (where many geisha worked) and brothels existed in these.
 shamisen. Three-stringed, banjo-like instrument, which was almost a trademark instrument for geisha. Wikipedia article here.
 Li Wu. 李煜 [이욱] | (937 ~ 978). Also known as Li Honzhu (李後主). Last prince/emperor of Southern Tang [南唐], which fell to Song [宋], and often blamed for the fall of Southern Tang. A famous poet of his own right, despite his less savory reputation of being a failure as a ruler. One of his poems will be quoted later on, though that one isn't his most famous work. One of his best-known work is actually Concubine Yu, immortalized as a Cantonese opera, and a central theme in the movie Farewell My Concubine (1993).
 tomesode. Married women's kimono, with shorter sleeves. In comparison, the furisode, the maiden's kimono, has long sleeves that reach to the ankles. Naturally, maiko wore furisode, and geisha tomesode. Geisha's kimono, however, generally had longer sleeves on both versions (called hikizuri), and came padded at the hem, so it would pan out gracefully when they danced and spun. I'll put up some pictures later.