Koko stepped out into the palace garden and started along a small mossy path where small birds played among the pastel pink cherry blossoms and bright red maples. He glanced once over his shoulder at the huge elaborate palace with it's upturned eves and scarlet shingles. He couldn't believe it belonged to him now! Well…to him and Katisha. Okay, mostly to Katisha. But since he was now her husband he had the privilege to live in it. He could scarcely grasp the size of the building; it was many times the size of his small palace back in Titipu. And scarcely a few weeks ago he had considered that grandiose.
But it seemed that everything here in Tokyo was on a scale of giants and dragons. Some of the buildings reached six stories high! An unimaginable feat of engineering. Katisha had been somewhat annoyed at his amazement, especially when he was so enraptured with his new surroundings that he forgot to watch where he was going. She had given him quite a scolding when he ran into that fish vendor. After all, she had told him, he was an Executioner and should carry himself as such. But he had only had been the bearer of the exalted rank for just over two months and hardly knew what to do with it.
Seemingly to punctuate that very thought the long Samuri sword that hung at his waist managed to tangle itself in his feet and sent him sprawling face first into the pebbles of the footpath. In one movement he sprang up and whirled around, glancing back toward the palace and hoping that his wife hadn't seen that embarrassing little spill. The woman was practiced in the art of lurking. There had been several times in their short marriage that she had called him on things he had done when he had thought he was completely alone. But no, he was certain that, now at least, he was alone and unobserved. He let out a small sigh of relief, dusted himself off and readjusted the sword. Despite the intricately embroidered scabbard and the solid gold dragons that wrapped around the hilt he really disliked the weapon. He rather disliked weapons in general but this one particularly so. It was a full six feet long, several inches taller than himself, and was forever tripping him. One of these days he would fall over it and he would either break it or slice his leg off. He wished fervently that he didn't have to wear it but it was a symbol of rank and Katisha insisted that it never leave his side.
His wandering brought him to a small red bridge that stood over a trickling stream. Rank. He thought as he leaned against the rail and stared down into the clear water. He was a nobleman now. He never would have thought it possible two months ago. How quickly he had gone from a simple tailor to a prisoner, from a prisoner to the town's illustrious Lord High Executioner with his own palace, and to top it all off he was now a married man. And married to a woman in the grand Mikado's court! He could scarcely think of it without his head spinning.
Now, Koko was quite fond of talking to himself, as it helped him work out his thoughts with someone he could trust, and this pretty little bridge surrounded by flowers seemed the perfect place for a soliloquy.
"It's truly awe inspiring how high a humble tailor can rise in barely eight weeks!" He said dramatically. "Ah, destiny! Your hand—"
"Soliloquizing again?" Came a voice from behind him.
Koko started a bit then let out a small huff of frustration. "Is one never permitted to have a private conversation with one's self?" He turned around and was quite startled to see who had joined him. "Nanki-Poo! I mean…um…Your Highness." He bent forward in a bow that nearly touched his nose to his knees.
The young prince smiled in a way that was annoyingly handsome. Now, being good-looking is certainly not wrong in itself. But Nanki-Poo was cocky about it. However, he was of royal blood, and anyone with such a pedigree as the son of the Mikado has a right by birth to be somewhat full of himself. So we'll let it pass. Besides, he was quite an amiable young man otherwise. He bowed in return. "You can despense with the formalities if you like." He said as both of them straightened up. "'Your highness' is such a pretentious title. Nanki Poo will do nicely."
Koko wasn't quite sure of this offer. He had spoken to the lad on equal terms before but that was when he thought him nothing more than a wandering minstrel. "I don't think so. As Lord High Executioner I've been reading up on official punishments. Katisha bought me the authoritative handbook…illustrated. And the penalty for addressing the Heir Apparent incorrectly is…well…" He winced at the very thought of it. "…rather unpleasant."
Nanki Poo nodded thoughtfully. "Very true. Something to do with hot coals wasn't it?"
Koko turned a light shade of green. "If you don't mind I'd rather not discuss the details. It makes me ill."
"I would wager you faint at the sight of blood as well."
Koko's mouth dropped open indignantly. "I never—!"
Koko looked away, and mumbled reluctantly, almost inaudibly. "Well…hardly ever."
Nanki Poo stifled a grin, acting as if he hadn't heard. "So, perform any executions lately?"
He blinked in surprise. That wasn't the answer he had been expecting.
Koko shrugged nonchalantly. "The Mikado wants an execution once a month, so be it. I give it to him."
Nanki-Poo raised a skeptical eyebrow. He didn't believe a word of it. Not after he had seen the ex-tailor break down into tears at the very thought of using the executioner's axe. "You haven't killed anyone." He stated flatly.
"There's a signed affidavit on the Mikado's desk every month declaring that I have." He tapped the railing insistently with an index finger.
"You couldn't kill an insect in a shoe shop."
"You know that and I know that. But your illustrious father does not. And as long as he receives written proof he is satisfied."
"I'm surprised that he still finds your written word trustworthy considering certain previous embellishments."
He thought about mentioning how those 'certain embellishments' had saved the Heir Apparent's hide, but he thought better of it. Instead he said: "Well, I'm sure to have the death certificate signed by the coroner, The Lord Mayor, the Archbishop of Titipu, the Chief of Police, and several other high-ranking witnesses."
"You mean Pooh-Bah, of course." Nanki Poo knew that when Koko had been appointed as Titipu's Lord High Executioner all of the High Officers of State resigned in a body, finding it far too beneath them to serve under an ex-tailor. Pooh Bah (as haughty a noble as one has ever seen) unhesitatingly took up all their offices, and, as it happens, the weighty salaries attached to them.
"Pooh-Bah will sign anything if you insult him with a large enough bribe." Koko said with a dismissive wave.
Nanki Poo shook his head. "If my father knew the exact workings of Titipu's judicial system I don't believe he would approve."
"You…you don't mean to tell him?" Koko pleaded in sudden panic. Nanki Poo knew everything. If the Mikado ever discovered that Titipu's Lord High Judge and Executioner was nothing but a figurehead Koko was sure to lose his life and his position. In which order he was not completely certain but either way his prospects were not very bright. He wasn't sure what all was included in the punishment for deliberately deceiving the Emperor of Japan (that was in chapter 5 of the handbook and his stomach had only allowed him to read through chapter 2)but pain and death were undoubtedly involved. And in any case he seriously doubted a little fast talking could get him out of it if his honesty came into question again.
Nanki Poo looked very serious and took his time about replying. One might think he was honestly considering his answer but in truth he was simply enjoying the panic he had caused. There was just a bit of his father in him. After several moments that felt like an eternity to Koko Nanki Poo broke into a large smile. "No I shan't tell him."
Koko let out a long breath and ran a relieved hand over his black hair. He was certain Nanki Poo had just added another bit of silver to that growing streak just above his left ear. He was just over thirty, far too young to be going gray. But this Lord High Executioner post had been so stressful he was sure that he would be completely white by the end of the year. Of course, it wasn't that he actually had to do anything. But all too frequently the nagging thought that sooner or later he would be caught ate through his optimistic demeanor and made him shudder.
"He needn't know everything, you know." Nanki Poo went on. "The general public is under the impression that their Mikado is one-fifth god. But confidentially I can tell you there's a lot less god in him than he would wish people to believe. Why, if he were fully aware of every serious felony committed in the country, such as leaving one's chopsticks erect in the bowl, Japan's population would fall into the single digits."
"Are you saying you disapprove of the Mikado's decrees?" Koko asked very cautiously. He certainly didn't agree with them, especially after the mess he had to go through. But to say so out loud was…well he didn't want to think about the punishment for that either.
"Oh, no. As a good citizen of Japan I must agree." There was just a hint of sarcasm in his voice that said otherwise. "I will say that once I am Mikado there will be quite an alteration in the severity of certain penalties. In fact I may do away with capital punishment altogether."
"Abolish capital punishment?" Koko straightened in surprise.
"After all death isn't exactly a punishment one can learn from. Although you must admit," He added with a twinkle in his eye. "One's not likely to commit the same crime again."
(Tune of 'There Lived a King')
When I reign from my father's throne
I will never make my subjects moan
Or fall upon their faces prone,
I'll change not the legality
But only the lethality
I'd rather lighten penalty
Than lose most all the nation.
For if Mikado does decree
Death for every crime, you see,
The obvious result will be:
Down goes the population.
The population. Down goes the population.
This kind of ruler I would be
On this you sure can bet your tea.
Even the stiffest penalty
Will be free of amputation.
Now, that Mikado I can see.
On that I'll surely bet my tea.
Even the stiffest penalty
Will be free of amputation!
First to go will be molten lead,
And every other death you'd dread.
No one will ever lose his head
For a wink or charming smile.
The jaywalker will keep his life.
The billiard sharp and nagging wife
Shan't be faced with the headsman's knife
When they are called to trial.
Why condemn to fatality
Or permanent mortality
Over a triviality
or little crimes so men'al?
So men'al. Or little crimes so me'nal.
Don't misconstrue, I pray, this rhyme
The criminal will do his time.
The punishment will fit the crime,
And ever be nonlethal.
Now that sounds like a rule sublime!
The criminal will do his time.
The punishment will fit the crime
And ever be nonlethal.
"Why, that would render the post of Lord High Executioner obsolete!" Koko exclaimed.
"You don't seem terribly disturbed by that." Nanki-Poo said, surprised. After all Lord high Executioner was the highest rank one could attain save that of the royal family.
"I'm not." The look the young prince gave him moved Koko to continue. "I'm not complaining, mind you. The salary is quite handsome and the privileges great. But I know how to be a tailor. And an executioners axe is a far cry from a thread and a needle."
"I thought you were going to take lessons."
"I did. The first lesson was an unqualified success. I was doing quite well with the melons." He said proudly. But his smile quickly faded and with a sigh he looked heavenward. "Then…they brought in the guinea pig. To make a long, dreary and somewhat embarrassing story short the creature lived through the experience and Katisha's Pekingese now has a playmate. Needless to say I didn't exactly ace the class."
Nanki-Poo suppressed a laugh. The tailor really was an amusing little man. He recalled when he had first seen Koko on the top of those stairs, grinning like an idiot as all those noblemen bowed to him. Even then it had been clear that he had no idea what his newly appointed post required of him. "You seemed pretty pleased with your position at the start of it."
"I had been until I was forced to realize that the duties of Lord High Executioner were not as nominal as certain individuals had led me to believe. I'd just as soon go back to tailoring and quit while I'm ahead." He rolled his eyes and added: "Pardon the pun."
"It's not a bad profession. Despite a nobleman's benefits I'd much rather be a tailor than an executioner."
"A cheap tailor." Nanki-Poo added. "You'd be going from the highest rank right back down to the lowest."
Koko frowned. The young prince seemed to enjoy needling him. "It may be a lowly position but it's far from unimportant. After all, my dear boy, a man can live without an executioner."
"But the question is can one live without a tailor?"
Well, that's a silly question, Nanki Poo thought. "I don't see why not."
"Well, think of this: Where would everyone, even those of royal blood, be without tailors?"
Nanki Poo's face twisted in amusement. "Walking about with no clothes I imagine."
"Exactly! And going out of doors kimonoless is, as I'm sure you're aware, a capital offense. I don't recall the method of death presently but I'm certain it was something exceedingly embarrassing."
"Mm. I believe I see your point." Nanki Poo conceded.
"Without tailors to make clothes the entire country would be executed for indecent exposure."
"Perhaps it's unkind to say so but you would still be a tailor if you hadn't been flirting." At Koko's surprised look Nanki Poo grinned knowingly. "Pish Tush enlightened me on the details of your rise in status."
Koko frowned down at the stream and leaned against the red railing. "Yes, well…I would hardly call it flirting."
"What do you mean?"
"As you may well know a tailor must measure the customer before anything else."
Nanki Poo nodded. "Yes."
"Well, it happened like this."
(Tune of 'A Magnet hung in a Hardware Shop')
It all began in a tailor's shop
When in the big front door there walked
A woman that I must confide
Was terribly tall as well as wide.
She wanted kimono fair and bright.
I measured her shoulders, neck and height
It must have looked like a fond embrace
But I had to gauge: her ample waist.
Her ample waist?
Her ample waist.
Though lack of beauty
It was my duty
'Spite of my distaste
That's worth his scaler
Measures around the waist.
Just as I got my arms about
From the door there came a shout
As angry a cry as ever was heard
I wouldn't repeat a single word.
Her husband boiled with rage and said
That I was soon to lose my head.
To shorten a long and dreary tail
I found myself in the County Jail.
The County Jail?
The County Jail.
These very much untrue
-sations made me quail-
Sent me to the County Jail.
"So you see it was all perfectly innocent. But still there I was sitting in a dull dark dock accused of making improper advances. Had it not been for my timely bail and promotion my head would have been next on the big black block." He gave a theatrical shrug. "And that's the long and the short of it."
"A set of curious chances indeed."
"Indeed." Koko said. "I don't believe I have ever seen the wind change so quickly."
"And I suppose that favoring gale would have continued if a certain wandering minstrel hadn't arrived." Nanki Poo knew very well that his arrival in Titipu two months ago had thrown a pretty pair of chopsticks in Koko's plans. Not that the young prince was at all broken up about it. "Touch of bad karma wasn't it?" He said with just a hint of a smug smile.
"Not at all!" Koko said. "If it were not for you I never would have met Katisha."
"Yes. Sorry about that, old fellow. You have my heartfelt sympathy." Nanki-Poo said, sounding anything but apologetic. "You did rather get the short end of the wishbone in that arrangement."
"I must beg to disagree." Koko was very pleased with the look of surprise on the Heir Apparent's face.
"How do you figure?"
"Once I overcame my initial revulsion and stayed natural instinct, which told me to flee for my life, I came to love her greatly and appreciate her unique beauty."
"Beauty?" Nanki-Poo snorted.
"You've only had the misfortune to behold her face, which she herself admits is rather…" Koko paused for a moment, groping for a word that was accurately descriptive but not excessively insulting. "…plain." He finally decided on. "Ah! But the rest of her!" He gave the sigh of a lovesick teenager. "Her left shoulder-blade is a miracle of loveliness. And I can behold it any day of the week without a presentation card."
"Oh, rapture." Nanki Poo muttered dryly with a little twirl of his index finger.
"And her elbow, my goodness, I've never seen such a fascinating appendage! Every silver hair on her head is placed so perfectly, as if by an artist. And best of all…" Both hands went dramatically to his chest. "My heart is firmly pinned to the lady's right heel!"
The young prince stared at Koko as if he had sprouted another head. "That's the most revolting fount of sentiment I've had the misfortune to endure today."
Koko's dark brows came together as the dig brought him back to earth. "You oughtn't judge a scroll by the ribbon it's tied with."
(Tune of 'Things Are Seldom What They Seem')
Things are seldom what they seem.
Butter comes from simple cream.
In rotted trees honey is found
Rice comes up from soggy ground.
'Deed they are. Right so far.
To this case I reaffirm.
Softest silk is made by worm.
Diamonds come from mud and rough
Maids last longer when they're tough.
As it were, I concur.
Don't read a book by its cover
For within you might discover
The closest friend or a lover
Could be one thing or the other.
So it goes, I suppose
"One would not believe it to look at her…" Koko went on. "But she also has a kind place in her for small defenseless animals."
"Like ex-tailors you mean?"
Koko frowned at the jab but shrugged it off and continued. "Katisha has a very large heart."
"And a temper to mach. I cannot conceive how one can deal with a creature so explosive."
The smaller man grinned. "Simple. Don't light the fuse. Katisha is quite amiable, even pleasant, once you learn not to pull her sleeves."
"Mm. One little tug and we lose Hiroshima. At least I never have to step around Yum Yum like a sleeping dragon."
He was growing quite weary of the relentless Katisha bashing so Koko decided to turn the tables a bit. "Everyone has some fault of temper or social defect."
"Not Yum Yum." The young man said with a twitterpated grin. "She's everything she ought to be and nothing that she oughtn't."
"Yes, about Yum Yum. I wish to utter an unqualified apology about that."
Nanki Poo blinked. "About what?"
"Yum Yum. I sent her to the finest schools a tailor, and then a Lord High Executioner could afford but I'm afraid nothing much stuck. As attractive as her pretty little head is it's quite empty."
Nank Poo's mouth dropped open indignantly and for a moment Koko was ready to take it back, sure the young prince would say something like 'you oughtn't talk like that about your future empress'. But he didn't. Instead he shot back: "Well, at least Yum Yum doesn't hurl objects across the room when she's dissatisfied."
"Katisha would never stoop to violence to make a point!"
Well, hardly ever. Koko thought. Besides, ducking is a good skill to learn anyway. He absently touched his temple, remembering the time he had taken a vase upside the head. At least it had only been a cheap souvenir from the Ming Dynasty. What had that tiff been about again? He couldn't remember. But as he had said before everyone had some fault of temper. And with Katisha her temper was that fault. And he was her husband and he wasn't about to stand by and let her be insulted. "At least Katisha has a head on her shoulders and doesn't squeak in confusion at every word over two syllables like some young ladies I've acquainted."
"Yum Yum is a very intelligent girl! Why she would never—"
Well, hardly ever. Nanki Poo thought, remembering that his wife didn't know a trombone from a plate of sushi. And her grammer skills had much to be desired. He still wasn't quite sure what 'it's never you' meant. But a girl doesn't have to be Confucius to be the girl for me. He said to himself determinedly. To Koko he said: "At least Yum Yum doesn't have the habit of interrupting one right in the middle of a sentence."
"Katisha doesn't interrupt." Koko insisted. "She is just very adept at working her way into a conversation." This was an extreme understatement and he well knew it. He had been shocked when Katisha had thought nothing of speaking over the Mikado himself. He was constantly amazed by the woman's bravery. The longer he knew her the more he believed that she feared nobody.
"Oh, she works her way in alright." Nanki Poo said with a bit of a shudder. "And then takes the reins. I'm speaking of conversation and everything else. She'll lead you around by the nose if you let her."
Koko visibly bristled. "Why, Katisha's as complaisant a woman as you could find. She would never even think of making demands."
"Koko!" A shrill voice echoed from the direction of the palace.
The tailor cringed.
"Come in. It's time for tea!"
"I'll be in soon, My Love." He called meekly over his shoulder.
"Now! It's getting cold."
Nanki Poo let out a big snorting laugh as he shook a scolding finger. "It's not nice to lie to the Heir Apparent. Remember, I've known her longer than you have."
Koko raised an eyebrow. "And I suppose Yum Yum would never be so bold as to tell you what to do."
"Yum Yum? Of course not. She's the most demure little thing a man could want."
"Nanki Pooooo." A melodious voice lilted from somewhere in the distance.
The young man straightened. "Yes, Dear?" He called back a bit sheepishly.
"Come home, My Own. We're going to town." Came the reply.
"I'll be there shortly, Pet."
"Sooner would be better."
The Mikado-to-be rolled his eyes heavenward and heaved a weary breath.
Koko simply stood there, looking thoroughly amused.
Nanki Poo smiled and gave a shrug that said 'okay, so I lied'.
Two female voices chorused insistently.
Both men started slightly, but it was Nanki Poo who stared back the way he had come with a look of astonishment on his young face.
Koko gave the prince a knowing smirk. "Didn't know she had lungs like that did you?"
Nanki Poo blinked in genuine surprise. "No I didn't."
"Mustn't miss tea, you know." Koko said, with a deep bow to Japan's heir. "Good fortune to you." Koko said by way of goodbye.
"As to you." Nanki Poo bent in return. "You're going to need it."
They started off in opposite directions, leaving the little bridge and heading into the lush, green garden. Once out of sight of one another both men broke into a run.
Author's Note: For now this story's complete. But I may add a second chapter in the future. Got to know how Katisha and the little maids fare too!