“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” ~ Lao Tzu ~
Miyoshi hurried down the watadono corridor to the wing of the emperor’s palace which housed her
father’s rooms. It had been three days with no word from Shino. The fast-paced trip from their home had taken over an hour, but she’d used the time to ascertain the reason behind their fast exit. Today, her father finally called her to have tea with him and she hoped to learn the details of what had transpired. His tone had been solemn and she worried there might be bad news about the battle or Shino.
Sliding the fusuma screen closed behind her, she bowed before her father and sat on the cushion across the tea table from him.
He smiled. “How’s your painting coming? This morning, I caught a glimpse of the new one you started on the urn in the palace garden. It’s lovely.”
“Father, you’re too kind.” She moved her sleeve to the side, picked up the teapot, and poured the tea into their cups. “I saw a first morning bird the other day and marveled at its coloring. I decided to capture it on that fine urn one of the princesses wanted decorated. I’m so glad you’re pleased. I hope the princess will be also.”
He shifted in apparent discomfort, his eyes straying from her face. “Daughter, I have something serious to tell you.”
Miyoshi bit her lip as she handed him the cup.
“It’s something I’ve made my decision on, and there will be no discussion about it this time. You are to marry one of the young princes.”
Although she knew this day would come, her heart sank. She’d expected news about Shino. She lowered her head and sipped her tea, waiting for her father to continue, hoping for good news of Shino while she ignored the aching disappointment of this announcement.
“Emperor En’yu and I have agreed that a well-suited match would be with young prince, Naichi, son of the emperor’s brother. We believe it’s time you joined the royal house. It’s also necessary you secure our Fujiwara clan’s continued prosperity and influence by this match.”
By his harsh sigh, Miyoshi knew he was relieved to have finally faced her on this matter. She lifted the teapot and poured another cup, carefully turning it and setting it in front of her, her eyes remaining focused upon it. “I have no say in this matter? You wish me to be unhappy the rest of my life married to someone unknown to me?”
“Miyoshi, you know him. You played as children when we first arrived off the mountain. Do you not remember him?”
She did, but she had not seen him for many years.
“You’ll be happy, I promise you.”
“How can you know that?” Frowning, she met his hooded gaze. “Would you force a son to marry a woman he did not choose? I thought you understood I’d rather die than live in the cage of royalty without any hope of the freedom you allow me.”
“Daughter, there are mounting dangers I’ve not told you about. I must know you’re in the royal house, safe from harm should anything happen to me.” He leveled his eyes. “This is my wish and my command. Now have your tea and let us talk of other things.”
Reeling from his decree, she found it impossible to swallow without gagging and gently placed her cup back on the table. She’d thought she’d have more time. But like a fragile twig falling into the roiling waters of the Kuma, she’d been swept away.
She raised the arm of her kimono to shield her face while her other hand dried her silent tears. Once confident in her poise, she straightened and took a long, slow breath as her hand tightened into a fist hidden in the sleeve of her robe.
Time for stronger measures.
“All right, Father, if that is what I must do, then you must grant me one request. I want to make a trip back to our home on Mount Takao so I can visit my mother’s grave and seek her blessing. Then I will do as you wish.”
He sighed. “Miyoshi, you test my patience. That will take months of travel.”
“What about this imminent threat by the Minamotos? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I were far away right now?
His narrowed gaze held hers as if to read her true intentions. “Since you never had time to mourn your mother properly when she died, I will grant you this one last request before you are to marry. And I do mean last. But only on the condition Shino and his best warriors accompany you once the current situation with the threatening clans is dealt with properly.
Eyes lowered, she nodded, her smile unseen behind her sleeve. “Thank you, Father.”