Kou Shouka entered the kitchen with three parcels in his hands where his daughter, Shuurei was currently busy preparing their morning breakfast. He smiled at his hard working daughter. She was the industrious type who would not be seen without doing anything. She was unlike him or his wife. She was capable of almost everything yet she was also vulnerable to almost everything. That in itself was cause for him to worry especially now that she was back for good from the Sa Province. There were those in the royal council who did not think of her as a worthy official.
They even conspired against her and made her stint there as co-governor with Tou Eigetsu into a life threatening one. That was one of the reasons why she was back, she was demoted and until further notice from the emperor she would be extricated from all government duties. It was as if she were under house arrest or something. Shouka knew how she felt even though she did not show it to him or Seiran or to anyone else. When she was alone in her room and thought nobody heard her in the dead of the night she would let the unshed tears fall.
But those who knew her understood her feelings. They too were feeling the same. They were frustrated with the unfairness. All she wanted for the people of Sa Province was for them to have a comfortable life. She didn't want them to suffer. She'd experienced suffering before. She'd even overstepped her boundary as official to see that help for the sick for a treatable epidemic that many thought could not be treated came immediately to the people of Sa Province. Because of this those jealous of her decided to draw 'first blood.' And so, here she was in confinement.
She was scooping soup and poured the soup onto the noodles in three bowls. "Ohaiyo gozaimasu, Otousan. We'll be having breakfast soon. Please tell Seiran to stop whatever he's doing outside and come eat."
"Alright," Shouka said, "but there're gifts for you."
"Gifts," Shuurei looked at her father, "for me?" She looked at the three parcels in his hands then looked at her father as he left the parcels on the table and left her to get Seiran.
She quickly brought the food in a tray to the dining table. Then she poured the tea into the small tea cups when the two men came into the dining room. She went back into the kitchen to put the tray on the table. Her eyes shifted to the parcels on the table. She took the small one and began to unwrap it, opening the small box and her eyes lit up. It was a dark pink handkerchief. It was wonderfully embroidered with a flying sparrow. It came with a letter which she immediately opened to read the contents. It was from Kourin.
She put the letter into the box and brought the gifts to the dining table. She showed them Kourin's gift. "It's from Kourin. Isn't it beautiful?" She settled in next to Seiran who was smiling gently at her being happy. "She says in her letter that she saw a flying sparrow and it made her think of me. She also said that Eigetsu-kun was being driven to the wall by the current Brown Province's Governor, who was once the Black Province's Governor. But looks could be deceiving. Eigetsu-kun seemed to enjoy his job as the assistant to the said governor."
Then she looked doleful but blinked it away and smiled at the two men making light of things. They glanced at each other and looked at her. She quickly picked her chopsticks and began eating with forced zest. They continued eating in silence. Seiran put his chopstick down and glanced her way.
"Don't keep everything inside." He said softly at her whom he considered as a dearest sister. "Share your sorrows with us."
"It can't change anything if I did." She replied just as softly.
"Well," Shouka intervened, "It might be good to see the rest of your gifts then." He smiled at them, "I for one would like to see the other two parcels especially the last big one." He indicated the ochre coloured box with his chopsticks.
She grinned slightly, "Alright. Good idea." She picked up the last big parcel, unwrapped and opened the box. She gasped at the contents inside. The two men peeked and their eyes grew large. It was a beautifully embroidered red robe with gold threads from her evasive uncle, Reishiin. "This is…" she felt her face hot, "a wedding dress…!"
Seiran spluttered in shock, "Reishiin-sama gave you that!"
"It would seem so." Shouka smiled amusedly, "Knowing him, he'd think nothing suits you better than extravagance."
"This is too much… I mean expensive for me not that I'm not appreciative, well… you know what I mean and he hardly ever shows himself," Shuurei looked perturbed, "I don't even know how he looks like."
"He's fond of disappearing," Shouka nodded in agreement, "but he loves you very much and has kept tabs on you."
"H-he has?" Shuurei's eyes were wide with surprise, "Then I must pay him a visit."
"Yes," Shouka nodded again, "give him a surprise." He smiled wider thinking how his weird brother would react to find his beloved niece in front of him. "He's currently collaborating with the Treasury Department. So you may find him there."
She stood up with a determined look about her. "He can't always be the elusive family member." She left them looking after her in a happy smile. At least it had lightened her mood from the sadness of her situation.
"Do you want me to accompany her?" Seiran asked Shouka in a side glance.
Shouka shook his head slowly, "No, it'll do her some good to take off her mind from the sadness." He then smiled a slight too wicked, "It'll be interesting to see him cringe in panic when he sees her in front of him."
Seiran smiled wider as he imagined the picture of the head of Civil Affairs department's impending predicament. "It'll be quite a spectacular sight." He looked at the empty bowls, "I'd better clean these up."
Shuurei had Kourin's gift with her as she took the shortest route to the royal offices. She felt it was time for her to get to know her elusive uncle up close and personal. She stopped for a moment to look at Kourin's gift thoroughly. Such splendid work, she held it close to her chest. Kourin's such a good friend, and she held it up for a picturesque take of Kourin's creative handy work. Then a sudden gush of wind blew Kourin's wonderful gift from her fingers. She gasped in dread as it flew out of her grasp and she momentarily forgot about her uncle.
She ran after it with arms flailing trying to catch it yet her efforts were futile. It fell into a river and got swept away in that river which led to a single mild waterfall. It fell and went with the flow which ended up right smack next to a half naked man resting at the river bank. He glanced at his torso and his hand picked up a sodden darkened pink hanky. He lifted an elegant eyebrow wondering whose it was. He peered at it and noted that it was exquisitely embroidered with a flying sparrow. It was so detailed and flawless. He looked up to see the cherished princess from the Kou clan running towards him.
Shuurei had a look of dread and was shocked at the sight of the man in front of her. He was familiar. He looked too familiar. She gazed closer then she gasped and gaped. It was him! The angel who was watching the cherry blossoms with her from that night when she was working late for the Treasury Department and that was months ago. Goodness! She looked left and right, mortified, she tried to hide but was too late he'd already looked her way. He held the sodden hanky for her to see as if indicating, 'this is yours, I presume?' She sighed and walked limply towards the river bank.
She averted her eyes from his being, "Thank you." She held out her hand for him to place the wet hanky on her palm. But she felt nothing on her palm so she stretched out her hand a little bit more, her palm touched the hard plane of something. She turned her head and her eyes grew large in alarm. She was touching his cool bare chest. She made a horrible mistake that night for thinking he was an angel. He wasn't an angel although he looked extremely like one. He was a gorgeous man. Flesh and blood! She felt her face hot and her heart was somersaulting.
She withdrew her hand from his chest. Oh, blast! It didn't look good for her to be standing there staring and gaping like a half-wit at the man. Still she held her hand in front of him and she blinked hard, "Please place my hanky in my hand, kind sir. It has sentimental value to me." Looking briefly at his attractive face didn't help matters, her breath hitched when he smiled slightly. Darn! Why couldn't she breathe properly? She frowned to herself. This wasn't good. She was made of sterner stuff than this. Why were her knees wobbly all of a sudden?
"Indeed, it must be." His deep velvety voice seemed to brush on her skin like silk. But he didn't give her back Kourin's gift.
Her frown deepened and she thought he wasn't an angel after all. He was a demon come to cause problems for her. "I don't see the significance of holding something that isn't yours." She paled, that wasn't tactful. It was more like an angry child rather than an official or a sensible adult. She sighed as she looked at the irritating man basking in all of his glory half amerced in the river bank. "I really don't have much time. I've to meet a dear uncle, whom I know nothing of. Please tell me what's so fascinating about my hanky?"
"It's the owner that I find interesting." His alluring eyes glittered in elusive seductiveness.
This was turning into a merry-go-round. She got so fed up that she braced herself, which was so unlike her but because she was vexed with this maddening man she went down on all fours, her face was inches from his, "Well, in that case, keep the hanky." Then she stood up and stomped off, mumbling to herself that she needed to bathe with ice water to cool down and wash away the ill luck from her body. He smiled at her incessant ramblings of a demonic creature stealing her good friend's gift.
Not only that she was now an unemployed government official. Was it wrong to do something good for people? She ended up being in the dumps. Why? Simple, she followed her heart and what was right. How she hated the whole thing. It was unforgivable, he heard her mutter aloud. He looked at the sodden hanky and placed it on the big uneven stone near the river bank as he stood up and got out of it. He got to only wear the loose cotton pants. His eyes narrowed at the slightest movement and with the flash of lightning he grabbed the slender wrist of a wide eyed Shuurei.
"Ahh," She gasped as the man pulled her hand as she grabbed the hanky and she bumped into a well-toned body. He didn't even flinch when she kicked his shin just as Seiran had taught her nor did he groan when she kneed his groin. He just narrowed his eyes at her. She frowned, "What are you made of, stone?"
"You only needed to ask me nicely and I would've given it to you." He wasn't angry just a hint of disappointment in his voice.
"I did," Shuurei glowered at him.
"Being demanding and masterful isn't asking nicely." He replied somberly.
Shuurei instantly felt guilty. Yes, she had been that forceful. "You're right. I'm truly sorry for what I did. Please let me go. There were things that happened to me that made me sad and angry. But I really had no right to take it out on you." She was acutely aware of the close proximity between them. He let her go. She felt very insecure all of a sudden in his presence.
She turned around quickly and ran off before he could give her the quarter dried hanky. She ran with all her might. She couldn't discern the feeling she was experiencing. It was new to her. It frightened her. It made her feel totally out of balance. She would have to meet her uncle some other day. Today was just not her day. She'd probably just take a long, long walk to cool her anger, and to ease her sadness. Also, she'd a mind to sort out this weird, new feeling that mysterious man had stirred in her. Who was he? She was feeling out of sorts… big time!
The man by the river bank looked at the running young woman with concern in his eyes until she was out of his sight. He quietly dressed himself up and slipped on his mask which was hidden from prying eyes. He eyed the three quarter dried hanky and took it. He folded it and slipped it into his waist band. He was aware of her emotions and they were at best at their lowest. He was also made aware of her involuntary responses which he'd realised made her uncomfortable. But he was pleased that she still had spirit despite her current morose self. That was what made her attractive to him.
"Are you happy now?" A familiar voice spoke above him.
"Are you?" He asked back at the hidden figure seated on the thick branch with his back against the tree.
"Yes, because you got whacked," The figured jumped down revealing himself to Ko Houjo. "And no because she's lost her confidence."
"She was going to visit you today." Houjo looked at Reishiin. "Perhaps it was because of the expensive dress you bought fit for a maiden on her wedding day."
"If ever she were to get married," Looking at Houjo skeptically up and down, but he neither agreed nor disagreed at his friend's deep interest in his niece. Then his eyes went misty and starry, "Only the best for her. She wants to meet me personally. She wants to call me dear uncle. She's such a beautiful child. An angel."
"A beautiful angel," Houjo smiled then he grimaced a little at the sudden pain on his shin and groin, "A troublesome one at that too."
Reishiin chuckled wickedly, "Don't blame me. You wanted a Kou. Deal with it."