A/N: It has been quite a while since I wrote any stories for Kijin/Shuurei. I remembered that Shuurei's dad, Shouka brought in three presents for her. Two of which had been revealed in BEAUTIFUL ANGEL. The third will be revealed in this story. Hopefully, this story will give you hope for all the things that you hoped for, love for life and happiness in believing that there'd be a better tomorrow for those who're patient but industrious in their pursuit for something wonderful.
Shuurei Kou, the beloved daughter of the Red clan stared out from her window. Both hands on the window sill looking at the growing single cherry blossom tree, the one Ryuuki had given her. The older ones were still there living but sprouting no leaves or flowers. The trees had one thing in common. They had the will to survive. No matter in what condition they were in, they would one day reveal their splendor and give prosperity to their owner.
Cherry blossoms were trees of hope, love and happiness. Cherry blossoms were trees that gave hope to the spirit. Cherry blossoms were trees that calmed a restless mind. Cherry blossoms were trees that rekindled a dying love or lost love and absorbing some of the pain in the heart. Cherry blossoms were trees that uplifted the spirit to embrace life and made those in their midst happy. It was said that cherry blossom trees were home to wood spirits.
She believed this saying because looking at the old cherry blossom trees barren of buds or sprouts living gallantly just to tell the world to stay strong in the face adversity was an indication that something wonderful was living in these trees. Shuurei sighed as she closed the windows. She was tired. She was sick. She was sick and tired of her current stagnant predicament. She didn't know how long her suspension would be for.
She knew that there were conspirators in the royal courts to oust her from holding any governmental positions or to continue her dreams to make the country a prosperous nation. She had seen devastation and misery and hunger but she'd also seen hope and believe that things would be better in future. It was hope and belief for a better tomorrow that she'd seen in the people's eyes that had led to her determination to succeed no matter the odds.
What she had seen in the people's eyes echoed what was in her heart. She was as Seiran would so lovingly address as the 'people's princess'. Although, she was petite in stature, she possessed a heart as huge as a mountain. She walked slowly toward her bed, as she passed her study table she saw an unopened present. She remembered that she hadn't opened the last present. The first and second she had opened them.
One was a vibrant red dress fit for a bride which was a gift from her peculiarly 'shy' Uncle Reishiin. The other was from her friend from the Brown province, Kourin. Kourin's gift was a beautiful embroidered hanky which she had lost it. She frowned suddenly, she didn't lose it. It was taken from her by the man she thought was an angel because he looked like one. She was naïve to think he was an angel. She just glanced away from the last unopened gift.
She hadn't the strength to open it. She might be up for it tomorrow. Tonight she'd need to sleep her sorrows away. Closing her eyes she saw him. The man who'd taken Kourin's gift and her breath hitched as she remembered how very near she was to him. He was soaking himself by the creek when she saw he had the hanky in his hand. He was a magnificent looking creature. All she could do was gawk at his beauty.
Nooo… her mind screamed and she rubbed her eyes. Even in her sleep, he'd intrude. Thinking of him wouldn't help her situation get better. It had only contributed to her losing her sanity bit by bit. She sat up to blink. The windows were open and she could see the moon from her bed. Hmm? She tilted her head, wondering to herself. She was sure she'd closed the windows before turning in. Then again with her feeling down, she might not have closed the windows properly.
She slid off from bed and waded sleepily to the window. She looked at the cherry blossom trees under the pale moonlight giving of a magical glow to the trees. It was a beautiful ethereal scene and it made her think of him again. It was a night just like this with the cherry blossom flowers swaying gently by the breeze that she saw him. The magnificent looking man she thought was an angel. They didn't speak only stood watching in silent appreciation of the beauty of the cherry blossoms in each other's company.
She sighed and was about to close the windows when her eye caught three children playing in her garden. What? Children playing in the garden? At this time of night? They'd broken the national curfew hours for children wandering in the streets. These were dangerous times. There were kidnappings for ransom and slavery, even flesh trade. It was worrisome that not only had they broken the curfew hours they had also broken into someone's house to play in their garden.
Not that it was against the law to play in someone else's garden unless they had naughty intentions such as peeing or leaving poo or stealing chicks or eggs. Looking at them, they didn't look like extremely naughty children. It looked like they just wanted to have fun playing in the dead of the night. They were giggling and running happily around the old cherry blossom trees. One was squatting while clapping her hands in delight at the growing tree from Ryuuki as if cheering it on to grow faster and bigger.
The little girl happened to glance her way and smiled widely at her. She was waving her pudgy hands at Shuurei, gesturing her to come over and join them. Shuurei found herself waving back and she had one thought to bring them into the house and sheltering them for the night. Tomorrow morning, she and Seiran would send them home. The children would guide them of course. She was sure their parents would be anxious finding them missing and would have sleepless night worrying for their safety.
She climbed out of the window as she didn't want to wake anyone up just yet and walked briskly towards the children. They stopped playing when she approached them. Then to her amazement, they surrounded her and the smallest of the three hugged her. The elder of the three smiled at her and the middle child held her hand in his. The smallest wanted Shuurei to carry her and she complied. The little one placed her face on Shuurei's and smiled contentedly.
"Pretty," The smallest one told the others, "I like."
The eldest shook his head looking sternly at his younger sibling, "Don't bother Onee-chan. Come down, now."
"No," Shuurei protested, "It's alright."
The little girl held tightly onto Shuurei and stuck her tongue out at her brother. He just sighed at his sister's childish antics.
"Your parents must be worried to find you missing." Shuurei looked at them with concern in her eyes.
The second child smiled at her reassuringly. "They know where we are."
Shuurei stared at them, disbelieving that their parents allowed them to roam in the streets at night. What sort of parents had these poor children had? Looking at the children, she didn't see a bruise or a cut or anything that might suggest they were abused or abandoned. Whatever it was she'd see that they were properly cared for the time they were with her.
"Come into the house. You'll stay here for the night. Tomorrow I'll send you home. Where is your house?" Shuurei began to walk but she felt a tug on her hem. She turned to see the hand on the second child.
The second child smiled, "It's nearby. We're only here for the trees."
The eldest bowed his head, "We're sorry to bother you." He looked at the old yet barren cherry blossom trees. "But we needed to come to this place."
Shuurei looked bewildered. "Why?"
"They're sick," The little one she was carrying told her while pointing at the old trees. "That's why."
"Yes, I know they are," Shuurei agreed, her eyes were sad and it pained her that she hadn't given her time to find a remedy for these beloved trees which were planted by her mother.
The second child nodded, "We had to come because they're sick."
"They are sick when they are sad," The eldest told her. "They can't produce buds and sprouts when their favourite person is sick."
Shuurei was taken aback at their proclamation. "I don't understand."
"Hmm," the little one tapped lightly on Shuurei's chest, "sick."
Shuurei blinked then she gazed at the children in surprise, "How do you know?"
"We can see," The eldest replied, "that you're." He eyed the trees when he said this.
"We can feel too," The second replied, "your pain." He too eyed the trees when he said this.
The little girl tapped Shuurei's cheek lightly, "Gift, gift, gift..." She nodded happily.
"What?" Shuurei was shocked and slightly puzzled.
The eldest pointed at the only two buds on Ryuuki's small tree, "Pluck them and soak them in a cup of water."
"No," Shuurei protested, "If I plucked the buds then that'd surely stunt the sprouting of buds."
The second child shook his head, smiling in a carefree way, "No, there'll be more. Don't worry."
"Onee-chan, please pluck the buds from that small tree. Soak them in a cup of water and leave it for the night. In the morning, eat the one that's afloat and drink the water. It'll help clear your mind and calm your heart. The other bud that's at the bottom of the cup will help you meet the one destined for you. But you have to open the last gift on the table. Wear it come the morning." The eldest told her.
The eldest continued, "The other bud will change twice. First, when the colour of this bud turns red it means your luck has changed for the better. Second, when it changes to a pearl you'll come face to face with the destined one that's in your heart. Red of the pearl means happiness shall be attained. This is what they want for you."
The other two kids nodded their heads in agreement and enthusiasm.
"Wha-what're you children talking about?"
The children hugged her. The eldest kissed her left cheek. The second child kissed her forehead. The smallest kissed her right eye. Then they disappeared right before her eyes.
Shuurei woke with a start. She had a peculiar dream. She turned her head to the window. The window to her room was slightly ajar. She slid off the bed and opened the window. The moon was looking down at her with the same elusive stare it usually had for as long as she could remember. The beam from the moon shone on Ryuuki's small cherry blossom tree beckoning her to come to it. It was a crazy dream but somehow her heart was telling her to do as the children in the dream had told her to do.
She did what her heart and instinct told her to do.
Very early in the morning…
Shuurei woke up two hours before the cockerel did. She looked at the present on the study table and got out of bed. She walked quickly to the table. She grabbed the present and tore the wrapping. She opened the box. In it was beautiful silk dress in several shades of shimmering green and resplendent blue. She gasped at the sheer vibrancy of the dress. There weren't any cards to indicate the sender of the present. Suddenly she remembered the present might be from her father's elusive brother.
The dress was too rich for the likes of her. But she didn't want to offend him. She would instead make some homemade yam cake for her father's youngest brother. She remembered her father telling her that brother of his loved yam cakes. She placed the exquisite dress into the box and plopped her elbows on the table. Her eyes roved at the porcelain cup next to the ink pot. She took the cup in her hands and looked at the buds soaking in water.
One was afloat, while the other was at the bottom of the cup. It was just like the eldest child had told her in her dream. Should she eat the floating bud? She wasn't a person who'd believed of dreams. It was just a dream, wasn't it? A dream conjured by a tired mind and a sick heart. But it was real enough for her to actually follow the dream. Her heart wouldn't allow her to abandon the message. Her instincts were gnawing her innards to do as the kids in the dream told her to do.
If it was meant to change anything, as she gazed at the floating bud, let it change for the good of those around her and those unfortunate than her. She took the floating bud out of the cup, plopped it into her mouth. She chewed the bud. It had a mild flowery texture and tasted sweet. She didn't know sakura buds tasted like that. It gave you a sense of belonging and renewal of hope and reconciliation of defeat. It erased the feelings of frustration and replaced helplessness with the will to move forward.
It neutralised the thoughts of haplessness. It rekindled the love to embrace life and to live life happily. She smiled at the cup. She was feeling much better. She sipped the water from the cup. It tasted of the mild freshness of sakura leaves and mild flowery sweetness. It was calming to the mind. It soothed the heart. It stirred the spirit to capture the joy you'd get out of life. It eased the nerves. She felt rejuvenated, and renewed. She felt something wonderful was about to begin.
She quickly made breakfast and laid them on the table for her father and Seiran. She had a feeling that she had to appear at the imperial governmental building. She had the remaining bud with her. It gave her hope even without her looking at it. She left a note on the dining table for either Seiran or her father to read so they wouldn't be worried sick if they called and she didn't answer. She hurriedly exited the dining room to her room and locked the door.
She took off her clothes and from the bowl on the dressing table she poured the water from the jar into the bowl. She soaked a cotton cloth and wiped herself from the soot and sweat. Then she immediately wore the inner white under garment, the resplendent blue silk garment she wore beneath the shimmery green light robe tied with a silver sash. She slipped her tiny size four feet into the silver shoes which came together in the big box.
She wore her hair long and clipped the sides of her hair with butterfly shaped silver hair clips also came with the big box. The eyes on the butterfly hair clip were embedded with green stones. She had prepared the yam cake to be given to her mysterious Uncle Reishiin the one who had given her two beautiful and expensive garments. This time she would really surprise him. She smiled at the thought of surprising this mysterious uncle while dabbing her face carefully with powder.
She applied soft rouge on her cheeks and wore a tinge of pink gloss on her lips. She was not one for wearing two or three coats of makeup. One very light coat was more than enough for her. She gave herself a look at the hand mirror then sighed she had one more thing to apply. It was kohl. She looked again in the mirror and nodded.
It was all thanks to her lady boss, the proprietress of the night life where she worked as a bookkeeper who had presented her with the makeup kit. The kit came with an advice that makeup was a woman's mask for confidence and weapon for success. She opened the door and poked her head looking left and right surveying the surrounding. It was silent, she was relieved but she knew she could not use the front or back doors. She'd have to get out using the window in her room, which she did.
She didn't want to alert her father or Seiran. Her body was half way out of the window sill while slowly releasing the small straw basket containing the yam cake. It landed softly on the ground. Next, she climbed out of the window and landed softly on the ground and was seen hunched as she hurried out of the gate.
"Will she be alright?" Seiran asked Shouka. "Do you want me to tail her, just in case?"
Shouka just looked at the disappearing figure of his daughter. He couldn't help but worry. What was his daughter up to? His eyes narrowed, he was just as shocked as Seiran. They jumped off the roof and landed on the hard ground with a thud. Shuurei looked different. She looked a little like her mother.
Shouka nodded, "Just in case."
Meanwhile, at first light Shuurei was seen walking very fast, her beautiful garment swishing about her. The blending of blue and green changed to yellow and it went back to the respective colours as she moved. The assistants for a few shops who were there to open the shops gaped at a beautiful woman passing by in a flurry of blue, green, and silver. Who was she? Was she a fairy fleeing at first light to the heavens? Her hair was long, and a few strands flew from her face.
One of the shop assistants saw a glimpse of her face and swore he saw the face of an angel. Shuurei ignored the stares from the people. She smiled and greeted them. They waved dazedly at her. The imperial governmental building was about thirty paces. She stopped to take a view of the building walls. She smiled again. She began to walk towards it. This time she slowed her pace. She stopped in front of the second entrance. It was guarded by two guards.
There were three entrances, each entrance were guarded by two guards. However, she couldn't enter into the imperial governmental grounds. She was barred from entering the imperial governmental grounds for her brazen actions of disregarding official rules during her tenure as co-governor of the Brown province. Yet it was her very actions that had saved the entire province from total destruction caused by an epidemic.
She was stripped of her government identity token as an imperial government officer by those who saw her as a threat to their livelihood. The guards on duty couldn't believe their eyes that this was the Brown province's ex-co-governor. She was always plain looking. She usually wore cotton white, pink silk garment and red silk robe tied with a silk yellow sash. The silk was of mediocre quality. But the one she was currently dressed in was the finest.
Could this beautiful woman be the infamous Shuurei Kou? One of the guards rubbed his eyes, blinked hard and opened his eyes wide. He wasn't mistaken. She was Shuurei Kou, the princess of the Red clan. She asked the same guard whether he could deliver the yam cake to her uncle Reishiin Kou, the Secretary for Civil Affairs and guard was hesitant. Everyone was scared of Secretary Kou's sudden bursts of temper if he was angry about something as mundane and trivial.
In one incident an intern to his assistant didn't underline a draft properly with a ruler. He set the draft on fire and stuck the burning draft into the garment of the intern. The poor intern had to be hospitalized for both light burns endured and mental trauma. The guard shuddered and told her that she could visit Secretary Kou and deliver it herself. Shuurei hid her smile under the guise of a cough. He immediately issued a visitor's pass class III.
Class III pass meant that the visitor was family. Class I was for diplomats and other government officials. Class II was for financiers, business merchants and trading associates. Shuurei smiled happily at the guard whose ears were red. She took out a piece of the yam cake and wrapped it in a light blue napkin and handed it to him in gratitude. He took it in appreciation. He was smiling inside and thought an angel had given him the ambrosia of life.
"Thank you so much." She nodded and walked into the imperial governmental grounds.
"Thank you for this," He replied as he made way for her to enter the imperial grounds.
It was so good to be here, walking again on this ground. There were new interns and old and new departmental assistants. They were all surprised to see a woman walking freely in the imperial governmental grounds. Was this a new concubine who had lost her way? Concubines were to be escorted by the assigned eunuchs. This concubine might have pulled tricks on the poor eunuch to break away from the stringent environment.
However good an eye-candy she might be, it was highly inappropriate for a woman to be here unless she was the infamous in the dumps, Shuurei Kou. She was stopped by a new assistant and by the border colour which was red this assistant was from the Department of Civil Affairs and Administration. What luck! He was suspicious and curious at the same time he was swept away by her innocent beauty. He eyed the small straw basket she was carrying.
He pointed at the basket, "What's in there?" He looked at her, "Who're you? Why are you here? Who are you looking for?"
Shuurei held up her visiting pass, "I'm here to meet Secretary Kou of the Civil Affairs and Administration department." Then she held up the basket, "I'm here to deliver to my uncle this yam cake that he so love to eat." She edged closer, "If I'm a bother, then could you deliver this to him in my stead?"
Upon hearing Secretary Kou was her uncle he backed away from her. He looked apprehensive but not nearly enough and still barred her from advancing further, "Who're you?"
"Didn't you hear her the first time, assistant Lee?" a cultured voice yet filled with undeniably underlying threat of tormenting promise belonging to the dreaded Secretary Kou, assailed the ears of the assistant of his department. "She is my family, my beloved niece, Shuurei."
He smiled at a surprised Shuurei. He hadn't a choice but to make his presence known. If he hadn't she might have to leave the grounds immediately since it was known that she was barred from entering the governmental grounds and premises until her suspension was lifted. He couldn't bear to see his niece being bullied by mere assistants who didn't know their places. That too for bringing the yam cake he loved made by his beloved niece who was unfairly judged by royal official imbeciles.
The assistant gaped, looking from Reishiin to Shuurei.
He turned giving the assistant a death glare, "Well, stop gawking or your eyes'll pop out of their sockets." Motioning with his fan, "Do you have gold in your mouth? Have you no shame for putting a lady in distress? What do you say? I'm saying this not because she's a Kou and my niece, but it's common decency to express regret."
"Yes, sir," The assistant blanched, "My humble apologies."
"Not to me, you silly goose," He smacked the assistant's left shoulder with his fan.
Both Shuurei and the assistant jumped of fright. The assistant nodded profusely and looked at Shuurei, his face pale with mortification. Shuurei glanced at her uncle while putting her hand to indicate that it didn't matter to her. As it was her uncle would be made accountable for her being there. It wouldn't be good for his pristine record. But to her uncle Reishiin, it mattered.
"I'm truly sorry, ma'am." Then he quickly walked into the premise which housed the officers of civil affairs and administration.
The rest of the interns and assistants from same and other departments could only stare with fear and awe at Secretary Kou and were amazed that the infamous Shuurei was his beloved niece. They immediately did they work and didn't cast moony eyes on his suddenly gorgeous and glamourous looking niece. Shuurei gazed at her uncle Reishiin. So this was her mysterious uncle who had given her two beautiful presents.
He was quite good looking and better looking than her father or her other uncle who was according to her father as stiff as a rod and severe as an old school master. She remembered that he was the same person who had helped her carry some of the dusty books to the department of Treasury and Finance during her days disguising as a boy there before she made the resolution to sit for the imperial civil servants examination.
"Uncle…?" She addressed him. She held the straw basket at him. "I made this yam cake for you," She gazed at him with the gentlest eyes, "Father said it's your favourite."
He was so touched. She made his favourite with her own two hands. He'd eat it very slowly. There was a saying that good food goes to the heart especially if it was done with love and care. There were tears in his eyes which he quickly blinked away. He took the basket from her. He would not be seen as a weakling. Yet he was. She was his weak link. He looked at her like a doting father would. She was very pretty… no, she looked like a beautiful flawless angel to him.
"Thank you." It was all he could manage to say.
She shook her head, "I should be thanking you. You've given me two beautiful gifts. This one," She placed her hand on her chest and, "the red one at home. I love them. Thank you."
"I… did?" Reishiin gazed at the fine silk material of the highest quality in mesmeric shades of blue and green, which as she moved there would be a glimmer of yellow. He raised an eyebrow. The red silk garment was second best compared to this one she was wearing. Then he smiled at her, "Hmm, suits you, my dear."
She was silent as they walked into the inner yard. He looked at her looking at the governmental building with longing in her eyes.
He nodded in understanding. "You miss the hustle and bustle of being an imperial civil officer."
"Yes," she waved her hands, "No. I was…" She paused then sighed, "I wanted…" She paused again.
He patted her shoulder. He couldn't say more. There was nothing he wouldn't do but he couldn't do anything about the suspension. He was just as frustrated as she was. He frowned suddenly at the ruckus ahead. His eyes roved to that of his foster son who was apparently frantic because he had missed the corner to the Civil Affairs department. Then his son saw him and tapped the arm of General Shuuei Ran pointed at Reishiin. They quickly approached him. They didn't notice her at first.
Vice Chamberlain Koryuu glanced at his father, "Secretary Kou, we can't find your niece, Shuurei. She's not at home. Her father has no idea where she went. Seiran isn't around either."
Reishiin looked at Koryuu, "Why are you searching for her?"
"The ban on her has been lifted." General Ran informed from behind Koryuu. "It's important for her to be present at the royal council in two hours from now."
"Really..?!" Petite Shuurei appeared from behind Reishiin. Her whole face lit up, "How?"
Koryuu gasped and Shuuei's eyes widened in surprise. They had to look at her twice. They still gawked at her. They were so stunned at her transformation. They were speechless. She never looked this fantastic. She always looked like the girl next door. But now she looked like an angel descended from the heavens. Then again her late mother was from that mysterious yet dangerous clan whose beauty was almost comparable to that of angels.
"Shuu…," Koryuu sputtered, "Shuu… Shuurei… ?"
He immediately composed himself when Reishiin gave him a withering look. His cheeks tinged pink.
General Shuuei Ran swallowed his mirth and looked at Shuurei. "We'll know about it when we're in the council chamber."
Two hours later… Royal Council Chamber…
The council members, heads of departments, ministers, and other royal officials had the same reactions as Koryuu and Shuuei. Ryuuki Shi, the emperor felt irritated at the long stares his Shuurei had received. He wasn't pleased at them. Although it was cold outside he felt hot inside and all because of Shuurei's mesmerizing appearance.
Yuushun Tei, who was aiding Ensei Rou to manage Sa province was now a respected council member cleared his throat while he slowly stood up due to his bad leg "Your Majesty and to my fellow council members we're gathered here today to grant Ex-governor Shuurei Kou with a new position after her grueling ordeal in the Sa Province. The reports received from the current Sa Governor were concise and concrete. Ex-governor Kou had the people's interest at heart and had no choice but to execute drastic actions yet rational measures to resolve the worrisome epidemic from worsening and spreading to other provinces."
"The people of Sa Province will not sit quietly by to see a selfless and hardworking officer be suspended for putting her life on the line troubleshooting something hazardous to the nation. They are now making it hard for the imperial tax collectors by giving only half of the tax and telling them that they will only get the other half after her suspension is lifted. Otherwise the half will be dumped into the province's coffers for the development of the province as the nation's education centre since it was her idea and Tou Eigetsu's."
There were murmurs of dissatisfaction among the members in the chamber.
"She has broken the rules by engaging the help from merchant associations to pressure the physicians' association that if they don't assist her their extra funding for research would be retracted, void or canceled," Bellowed one council member who was the Deputy Head of the Health division.
"That's because it's one of the clauses in their agreement." A bored voice belonging to the Treasury and Finance Minister, Houjo Ko. "I have a copy of all agreements. I believe you have copies of the agreements too."
"But still it's against the law…" the fellow persisted but was cut short by a firm voice.
"It was because she couldn't get your help that she had to approach the chief of the merchant association. She knew of the risk of breaking a few rules. Why I ask you would you not lend a hand to an official request? Don't tell me you have to get approval from the Head of your department. What's the use of being a deputy head if you can't handle an emergency case such as the epidemic case in Sa Province?" countered a firm voice from a dark corner.
Heads turned at the man whose firm voice belonged to. He was the current governor of Sa province. The deputy head of the health division gulped and hung his head in humiliation. Ryuuki held his hand up to calm the stifling atmosphere in the chamber.
"There are many in favour of Kou Shuurei's suspension to be lifted." He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly then looked at the members in the chamber. "The people come first. Ex-governor Kou's convictions were based on that concept. It's that concept that made the people vouch for her defense and honour." He nodded slowly, "Senior Councilor Tei and Senior Governor Zhou both representing the Sa province and its people proposed that Kou Shuurei be appointed as the next deputy head of the education, arts and culture ministry. She has established herself as the co-propagator of Sa province being the education hub of the nation with high credibility. I, therefore sanction the proposal. Your appointment will commence a week from today."
Shuurei blinked twice. Did she hear Ryuuki correctly? She pinched her arm so hard that she winced in pain. It wasn't a dream. Her suspension had been lifted. Above all, she was appointed as the deputy head of the education, arts and culture ministry. She sat there still in a daze. Then all of a sudden she slipped her hand into her robe. She opened her palm and was amazed that the pale sakura bud had turned to a fiery red.
At another corner, Kou Reishiin was smiling broadly behind his opened expensive silk fan. Next to him was his best friend, Ko Houjo. No one knew what his facial expression was behind that mask that depicts an abstract expression. Unless if you peered closer, you could see his dark intense eyes shining with untold secrets.
TO BE CONTINUED…