Disclaimer: Naruto clearly does not belong to me. I write fanfiction only for personal enjoyment and would not make monetary profit from it even if I tried, and that would be illegal anyway.

xxxxx

Tales of the Wind Country

By cc iconoclastic

xxxxx

Precious Child

xxxxx

From the moment of my birth, I am loved and cherished like all the other beloved children of his Imperial Majesty Asahito Kikuyama, the supreme lord of the Wind Country. I am told by veritable army of maids and wet nurses and tutors surrounding us that he loves me well, and that he always has. He himself named me, they say, an honor not conferred on all of his children by his wives first through fifth. As soon as he was able after hearing the news, he rushed to her side even as she drew her last breath not an hour after I drew my first. It was at that moment he named me Tsuyu after the spring rains of her homeland in the north of his realm. In a country as arid and dry as our own, I am often teased that my name is proof of how I have always been treasured by all the people around me.

Yet all the daimyo's considerable power and wealth is never able to win him or buy him the opportunity to marry my mother, and this is why I cannot be his daughter anywhere outside the heavily guarded walls of the Inner Palace. I am raised there, in the sanctum which allows his legal wives and his children to remain protected from the outside world until duty that is theirs by right compels them to leave. I am therefore only Tsuyu, a child without a claim to membership in any clan or house, with no legal right to anything outside of my given name.

For most of my early life this does not matter in the least. I scream with laughter and skin my knees as I careen about on the verandas and in the gardens playing childish games with the true-born princes and princesses of the Wind Country. I am dressed in the same richly embroidered silks, attended to by the same nurses and serving-girls, and I have my knuckles rapped by the same tutors for not paying attention to the same lessons as they are. I learn to read the classics and to write poetry. I learn to dance as elegantly as any of the other princesses though like many of them I prefer to play games with the other children and would rather not have so much of my time absorbed by lessons.

In many ways, there is no child in the Inner Palace as universally loved as I am. Whenever any of the Imperial Majesty's five regal and elegant wives would return from the important business they conduct throughout the realm, they would always send for me along with their own children and shower me with the same small gifts and sweets and stories as we all listen wide-eyed to stories about magnificent cities and endless desert sands. These are all foreign concepts to us, as we know little of the world outside the verdant and still courtyards and gardens of the Inner Palace. I can never be a threat to any of their daughters, could never snatch away an uniquely suitable arranged match with some powerful lord's son however much my father favors me so all of them have always treated me with nothing but the greatest kindness.

If and when any of them hear from the maids that one of their children have called me a "bastard" or in any other way referred to me as anything less than they are in the heat of childish anger, they never fail to scold the offender thoroughly. Throughout my childhood, very little of suck talk ever makes it to my ears as a result, and it remains easy for me to dismiss as unimportant.

Eventually though, as the years passed, the difference between the children who are my sisters and brothers in the Inner Palace and I grows more vast and obvious. Around the age of eight or nine, the children of House Kikuyama are presented to the Outer Court and to the world with a coming of age ceremony of sorts before they are, without fail, fostered out to another great House in my father's realm. They are sent to the most powerful, the most wealthy, and the most loyal of the noble families. This is so they can learn how to be the bravest and wisest of princes or the most cultured and dignified of princesses from the most powerful noble lords and ladies throughout the land, far away from the idyllic shelter provided by the Inner Court.

When they are fostered away for these four to five years at a time, they also begin to form their own connections amongst the children of the other great Houses, and so they establish the ways they too will one day be great and powerful. My brothers learn what it is to govern and what it is to fight alongside other youths of their station, becoming comrades and brothers to the lords that will one day be loyal to them. My sisters learn what it is to run a household and what it is to mingle with great men, one of whom they will eventually marry.

My lot at that age is to remain in the Inner Palace. It would cause considerable offense for his Imperial Majesty to request that any noble lady take me into her care. A great many Wind Country daimyos of the past have fathered many base-born children of their own, but none of them have cared to take the responsibility of caring for them. I wonder sometimes whether my father's decision to provide for my childhood and education as if I truly were his own was a curse or a blessing. My childhood was blissful and happy, but by the time I am ten I am lonely as the last of the playmates I grew up with leaves for a far-away court, dressed in clothes that are very grown-up and adorned with the Kikuyama crest. I begin to feel the truth of the way I am, in some ways, alone in the world.

After that point life only becomes increasingly more complicated, as the age and height difference between myself and the other children of the Inner Court continues to grow. I begin to grow out of the lessons that the tutors can provide given their primary duties and obligations to the much younger children. Most are fond of me, as I have been among their more obedient and brighter students, and do what they can in spare moments to continue to advance my studies. Yet, their first priority must always be to the younger children, and so I am increasingly left to pursue my studies with no outside direction or assistance. I read voraciously, and they bring me books that would be educational or of interest, but otherwise I feel that I am an outsider, with no place in the sheltered world I grew up in.

It is now early in my fourteenth year, and I have just met briefly with his Imperial Majesty, who assures me yet again that if he can find any sort of place for me in another court, he will send me there. He mentions the possibility that some nobleman's wife might agree to take me as a lady in waiting though my being fostered out remains as ever, completely out of the question. I ask yet again if I could be permitted to go to school in the city with the children of merchants and others who are well off though they are not of the noble houses. He tells me yet again, not unkindly, that such a thing would simply not be permitted, it is not done when I retain some connection, however tenuous, to the royal House.

As I leave, I hear the sound of tiny feet running towards me and a weight suddenly crashes into my knees, though it is so small that it does not even really shake me. Small arms wrap around my legs and I look down to see which of the young princes or princesses it is.

"Hinako-chan, why are you crying?" I ask, kneeling down so that I may be at eye level with her.

Princess Hinako is the third daughter and sixth child of his Imperial Majesty's fifth wife. She is six now and it will not be long before she is fostered out. Among the children currently in residence in the Inner Court, she is one of my favorites. If I remember correctly she is supposed to be in music lessons right now with the other girls around her age.

"Narumi-sensei hit me." She wails. "I've been trying so hard, but I still can't play the song right."

Such are the concerns of my young half-brothers and half-sisters, concerns that I once shared though they have been replaced by worries that are far more distant and amorphous. I am very fond of them, but it has been a very long time since I have grown out of the sort of life they lead. Still, I cannot help but feel for her, and have in the distant past been the target of much scolding and many smacks on the hands by exacting, demanding tutors.

I smile at her as reassuringly as I can. "But Hinako-chan, if you practice more, won't you soon master this new song like you have all the others?" I ask.

She looks at me and there are still tear tracks running of her face, though she is wiping them away on her sleeves. She nods solemnly. "But why does Narumi-sensei have to yell at me so much?"

"It is only because she wants to help you learn." I tell her as I take her by the hand, "Now you still have another half hour of your lesson to go, am I right? I will walk back with you."

After we arrive, I watch the lesson for a time through the half-open screen door. Satisfied that Hinako is no longer upset as she purses her lips in concentration and continues the lesson, I eventually leave to wander around the gardens on my own, with only my own thoughts for company. I think back to the conversation with his Imperial Majesty. Though I am told that he presents himself to the outside world as a fierce and ruthless man, that is not the side of him I or any of my half-brothers and half-sisters know. He has always been very kind to me, though he does not often have the time to play the role of a father. I do see, however, that he is stern and unyielding when he has made a decision, and he continues to refuse me the chance to leave the Inner Palace on my own terms, even if would not cost him much.

Would it be so bad, I wonder, to give me a false name and send me to a boarding school in one of the cities with others my own age? I am not picky when it comes to which one. I would not have to bother anyone, and I could eventually graduate and have a way of making my own place in the world. I love my family dearly, but I know as well as they do that I will never really belong in the world of the great Houses, bound as they are to ancient traditions that prohibit me from joining that world as one of their own.

I have been told, however, that the world outside the inner and outer palace walls is vastly different. There, your house name can continue to be important, but it is possible to make one's own way without the backing of a clan or a house. It is a world that is completely foreign to me, but I feel that it is better than the alternative of always waiting for a place in this one, which is likely to never come my way. Perhaps I am being foolish and naïve to think that I will be able to forge my own way and support myself independent of the extended family that has always surrounded me, but I wish only to be given the chance to try.

xxxxx

Author's Notes: This is a completely experimental piece that I'm working on whenever I need a slight break from my main fanfiction in the Gundam Seed fandom. It will be Gaara/OC and arranged marriage to boot, and I'm mainly trying to give myself practice writing in a very different voice from my own. I'm probably playing fairly fast and loose with canon, but when it comes to Naruto fandom I find that doing that is quite fun. I've always had a weakness for writing about court intrigue, arranged marriages, and so on, and I'm also playing around with that in this fic. To be honest, I'm not yet sure what direction I'm going to take this in.

Any reviews of any sort would be very welcome, and like any writer I'll admit it gives me a slight incentive to write faster.