Tales of the Otori
009 - Soul Meets Body

I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what it's like to be new

Cause in my head there's a greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
So they may have a chance of finding a place
where they're far more suited than here

I cannot guess what we'll discover
Between the dirt with our palms cut like shovels
But I know our filthy hand can wash one another's
And not one speck will remain

I do believe it's true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you're the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Where soul meets body

I do believe it's true
That there are holes left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you're the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere


I look out, now, at the garden at Terayama. I can see the forest where the Houou used to nest, the soft blanket of mist over the grass and hovering in the trees. I can almost believe I am not Otori Takeo, no longer the ruler of the three countries, no longer loved by my wife, no longer nimble and powerful but crippled and vulnerable. Instead, I am here with Shigeru and Kenji – both living, both bright and real, almost the total of my world. And I copy the painting of the bird, and I listen to the words of war between Matsuda and Shigeru. It is such a long time ago, that youth that I experienced so strongly then – the passion, the longing, the loyalty and fierce desire for revenge – is lost to me now. I find myself resigned, as I never thought I would be, to my fate. I will die by the hands of my only son and then it will be over. The words of the wise woman have led me down this path since the day that Jo-An brought me to her.

When all the world is ending, who do you turn to? My first love for Kaede had been born of a desperate certainty that I was going to die, that we were all going to die, of a deep need not to leave this world without the feeling of skin against skin, lips against lips, of bodies mingled and become one. This could be one of my primary faults, my fear and anger turning to desire, leading me astray. It has happened so many times that I feel perhaps if that part of me had been eradicated then even my soft heartedness would have been acceptable. Then maybe my life would have led me on a smoother road. But my thoughts turn to what might have been so often sometimes I find myself in some dream world.

I think of Muto Yuki, my strange detached desire for her and her loyalty to me. Her death and my part in it will remain with me always, as will her son now twisted beyond recognition by Akio's wickedness. I think of Kaede, who loved me and who I love so deeply and so passionately that it led to the destruction of both of us, of the beautiful house at Hagi, of Chiyo, of the world that I had so carefully laid together. I think of Makoto. He is in the room beside me; I can hear his soft and meditative breathing even through the fog of age that has dulled my sensitive hearing. Makoto, the only one to love me and escape it. They said Kaede was death to all who desired her, but who has loved me and not suffered? Only Makoto, because he escaped me, because he threw himself away from me and into Terayama, into peace and a life free of killing. He has served me well across all these years, when I have done only one foolish thing after another and ignored all his warnings.

He did not say 'I told you this would end in disaster' when I arrived here and the tales of Kaede's betrayal reached his ears, but he fed me and made me tea and comforted me as he had done before in this place a long time ago. I think he hopes I will stay here with him, become one of the followers of the Way of the Houou, but I know I cannot. I know I will leave him, and begin the journey into the next life. I will follow those who have gone before – Shigeru, Kenji, Taku, Jo-an. I think even of the priest in Mino, who gave his life in agony rather than give up his faith. In comparison to him, my departure from this world will be honourable and peaceful.

I hear Makoto stand, slide the door across and enter the room. He kneels beside me, assumes perhaps that I am praying because he does not speak, only sits close and lowers his head silently.
"Makoto," I say, "you have been such a good and loyal friend to me. I am afraid there is nothing I can give you to repay you."
He laughs, softly, a wiser man than I moving close beside me and putting a hand onto my shoulder.
"Takeo, you know you owe me nothing. I have done what my heart told me to do, nothing more."
"You have been done everything I could have asked for, and more," I say, and it is not enough to convey my gratitude, my love for him that is deep and needy and suddenly overwhelming. Now that I am alone with him, in this place so subdued and filled with memory and sadness, I need someone to cling to. Makoto is as comforting and familiar as the sound of the garden in Hagi, as the sight of the heron perched on the rocks. We sit together, silent for a moment, there are no words to say that can fulfil the deepness of our feeling. We seem to communicate through the air, and his hand on my shoulder is around my waist and holding me close. I feel like a child trapped in the body of an old man, I want nothing more than to be comforted and held by him, to allow him to take my life in his hands and mould it into something good. I let my head fall upon his shoulder and he sighs very softly.
"Makoto..." I murmur, unsure of how to tell him that I cannot stay here, that I cannot live any longer.
"I know," he says quietly, "I want to apologise Takeo. When you came here so full of sorrow, I was almost happy because I had you back. But now I know... I am sorry, I am supremely selfish."
I am humbled by how well he understands himself. "The prophecy," I say, "Has all come true but for one detail."
"Yes." He is sad; I can feel it in the air around him although his voice does not falter. He is mourning me already. I am mourning myself. I turn to him, catch his eye and hold his eyes for what seems like the first time. The kikuta sleep drifts into him but he resists it, unblinking, and I turn away before he wavers.


Takeo's brilliant eyes turned away from me, I felt as though I could not breathe ever again if he left me then. I tried to control that part of me, the compulsive love that I have held for him all of these years must not hurt him when he was already so damaged. His words were like burns branded into my skin, the prophecy foreseeing his death, his sadness so uncharacteristic and lonely. I knew there is nothing I could do but hold him, but comfort him and let him go where he was led by fate. I wrapped my arms around him, hiding my face in his shoulder so that he could not see my pain. I did not want to let him go, I did not want to see him gone away from me. I knew if I could convince him to stay here with me, to take up the Way and forsake the life of the warrior that was never really his anyway, I could save him. And equally, I knew that it would not be.

His hands were strong around my back, although I could sense his uncertainty still lingering there. I could have melted into his body right then, I would have given my life for him a thousand times, left my path as a monk and run away with him if he let me. I remember the feelings of desolation that led me to the run down cottage in the mountains, the snow and the cold and the hunger drifting on the music of my flutes into the frigid air. I remember his warmth and his ferocity, his gentle understanding of my feelings and my relief that I would not have to die despite how much I had wanted it.

I whispered his name and he shushed me with a movement of his hand upon my face. We drifted together; two lonely and grieving people became one bright and hot creature, thinking nothing of the world or the hardship before and behind us. This is what I have lived for all of these years, for his affection and friendship, for his love and his passion. I would have died for him, and I have stayed alive for him instead. The air was mild and his calloused hands were tactile against my skin. I could hear nothing, see nothing, think nothing, only feel his need for me and my closeness to him. Here, in Terayama, we met and we were one and we parted. Here it began, here it ended. His breath against my ear was precious, every exhalation made my heart skip and jump. I could feel his death hanging over me, although he was still alive, as I can feel it now deep and running through my bones after he has gone.

The world is colder without him, my life is stranger and darker. Grief and longing drift about me like a mist, clinging to my hair and obscuring my vision. For so many years of my life he was my reason and my everything, and now I have nothing but his memory stamped deep onto my mind and his spirit wrapping its arms around me at night that makes me want to sob with longing. I do not know what I will do, but for now I remain for Takeo's children left in my care, and for the temple because I do not know anything else. I can see nothing in the future, nothing but an endless stretch of days plagued by grief. Maybe it will fade, I do not know how, but maybe it will. The ghost of my love for him haunts me, I do not know if I will ever escape it. The sound of his breath in my ear is the wind; the feel of his body beside me is the warmth from the fire. When I sleep it is because his eyes have bewitched me. When I wake it is because his voice calls me. His presence flows around me always. While he was alive, I lived for him, and now he is dead I live for his ghost, for his memory.