This is Onna Bugeisha, set in 17th century Japan, a twisted quadrangle of love and revenge. Mai sets her sights on the stoic samurai, Kenshin. Kenshin desires his new apprentice, his master's son Hiroshi. Hiroshi longs for his lover, the cross-dressing actor Jun. And Jun, well he just wants revenge. Duty, honor, love and bloodshed collide in this tale of homoerotic love.
Izanagi was tired. Creating the islands of Japan took more energy than he had anticipated. He looked down on them and tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. What would become of the men born on these most beautiful islands? Three tears escaped, one falling from his left eye, one from his right, while the last slid down his nose before dropping to earth. As the tears landed they transformed into powerful kami, his sons and daughter, Tsukuyomi, Susanoo and Amaterasu.
“Look at the beauty before you, my children,” he entreated. “Guard these islands and their inhabitants. Keep them safe and bless them with your gifts.”
Amaterasu was quick to agree. “Of course, Father. I will bless them with light and warmth.” She ascended to the heavens and took her place as the sun goddess.
“I, too, wish to help,” Tsukuyomi declared. “Even at night they will need light to keep evil at bay.” He took his place next to his sister as the moon.
Susanoo, however, was more reckless and less well mannered. “You make it too easy for these puny humans, Father. They need conflict to grow and reach their potential. I will give them the gift of unpredictability.” He descended into the ocean and whipped up fierce storms and raging seas.
Step, slide, twist, swing. Stray beams of light flickered across the blade of the naginata, a counterpoint to the soft shush of bare feet on tatami. Mai shut her eyes and concentrated. The sound of the blade reminded her of wings in flight. She envied the freedom of birds, she couldn't even train openly. Nothing in her life was more hateful than the sneaking around and hiding she had to do. All across Japan, samurai women trained, and even fought, side by side with men. Surely she deserved the same privilege.
Muffled voices resolved
as they grew closer. Mai doused the single candle and slipped behind
an elaborately carved jade screen. Hiding like a dog, again.
Resentment bubbled up inside her, and she forced herself to bottle
the urge to strike out at the source, settling instead for
eavesdropping. She held her breath, recognizing her brother's airy
tones. His patience with her had been growing thin of late, and
getting caught listening in on his private discussions would not help
Mai shifted cautiously,
trying to get a better angle on the room through the perforations of
the screen, and watched her sibling pace back and forth. Concealment
was well worth the discomfort of being wedged into such a confined
space. Son of Heaven, indeed, she thought with a sniff. If
he was a god he would know I was here.
She didn't bother trying
to see the speaker. It didn't really matter which one of her
brother's so-called councilors it was, they were uniform in their
desire to get her safely married and miles away. Mai shivered
when the emperor's eyes seemed to meet hers, wondering if his anger
would be as much for her state of dress as for her eavesdropping. Of
course, subterfuge was to be expected in the palace. A princess
dressed like a man, on the other hand, was a serious breach of
Of course, she
immediately regretted her harsh thoughts. She loved her brother and
hated the thought of disappointing him. Perhaps I should start
giving some thought to who I would be open to marrying. If I
choose wisely it might not be so bad.
Mai immediately crossed
the Shogun off her list. True, he wielded real power, but he was also
an old man, one who preferred his women docilely locked up at home
awaiting his return. That wasn't the future she wanted. After a
lifetime cooped up in the palace under lock and key she longed for
the freedom to come and go as she pleased. Of course, that same
reasoning also excluded all of the daimyo from her consideration.
She scooted back from the
screen, curling into the corner while the discussion droned on and
concentrating on the issue at hand. One by one she considered, and
rejected, the prime candidates. Surely there must be one man in the
entire country she wouldn't despise as a husband. And then it came to
her and Mai smiled.
appreciate this.” The low grumble went unnoticed by the hangers-on
he passed in the corridor. They might be dressed alike, but it was
very clear these so-called advisers would not pose a challenge,
should he find reason to oppose them, so they faded to the side to
allow him to pass.
“You summoned me?” He
straightened from his bow to look his liege in the eye.
“I need a favor from you, my friend.” The daimyo paced restlessly, eyes fixed on the floor as he concentrated on how to explain what he wanted. “It's my son.”
“Hiroshi-kun?” Kenshin was more than a little surprised. The boy was obviously his father's pride and joy. He couldn't imagine what sort of problem he could have caused. “What did he do, get some pillow girl pregnant?”
“Not exactly.” The daimyo hesitated to reveal the reason behind his request. In truth he was more than worried about his son, he was furious. “He’s eighteen now, it's time he left home and lived life away from his mother's influence. As a friend I ask for this favor. Take Hiroshi under your wing. Teach him what it means to be samurai. Protect him from my enemies and his own foolishness. There is no one else I trust to do this for me.”
Kenshin bit his cheek to keep it from twitching. This was exactly the sort of entanglement he'd worked hard to avoid. He'd neatly avoided marriage, claiming his duty to the man now attempting to foist an even deeper involvement upon him. “My lord, I do not think I am the right person for this task. I am but a simple soldier, I know nothing of the demands of court or the burden of leadership.”
“I know exactly what you are. Besides, it is high time you found a suitable bed partner. You can’t keep denying yourself, it is unhealthy. I need you at your best, and I need a son worthy of assuming my position. You have the strength needed to mold him, and sufficient gentleness not to break him. My mind is set.”
“You would bargain your child as a bed toy?” Kenshin spat the words out without thinking. He bowed low, murmuring his apology. “My lord, forgive my insult. I did not mean to question your decision. I will gladly commit seppuku to atone.”
“Do not be ridiculous.” The daimyo reached down and tilted the samurai’s face so he could meet his eyes. “Hiroshi has been spending his nights with an actor, an out-caste. As his father I want him to be happy, but I cannot allow such an affair to continue. You are much more suitable. Love between a master and apprentice is acceptable, even encouraged. You have never married and you do not have a pillow girl. I felt it safe to assume women do not appeal to you. Surely you do not wish to spend the rest of your life alone?”
Kenshin’s mind whirled. He thought he had been discrete in his desires, looking, yet never acting upon them. True, there was no shame in taking a male lover. His teacher had introduced him to the pleasures of such a relationship. But as the older, more experienced party he would be expected to take the dominant role, and the thought filled him with trepidation. He also feared this was the start of a slippery slope that would force him into taking a wife as well. Up to this point his life had been nearly perfect. Change was something he avoided, especially a change of this magnitude. “I live to serve, my lord,” he replied. “If this is your will I shall abide by it.”
“Good, it is settled then. I will send my son to your house this afternoon.”