"Fushigi Yuugi" is copyright Watase Yuu, Flower
Comics, Studio Perriot, Viz Communications and Pioneer Entertainment. All
rights remain theirs. I'm not making a penny off this - if I did, Tamahome
would undoubtedly snaffel it all.
Those who are familiar with the Chinese folktale 'The Blue Rose' will recognise the extreme liberties I have taken with the original tale. I make no apologies for them, either.
Once, as long ago as forever, in the land of Konan, there lived a beautiful young maiden named Miaka. Now, Miaka was no ordinary maiden; in fact, she was the High Priestess of the God Suzaku.
Stories of the beautiful priestess spread far and wide, and many men journeyed far to visit the Temple of Suzaku in the capital city of Eiyou to lay their eyes on the famous beauty. And, while many declared her to be merely fair, many others swore her to be the most lovely maiden in the land, each imploring her to lay aside the filet of the Priesthood and take him to be her husband.
So it came to pass that the Lady Miaka reached the age of eighteen, and prepared to pass the position of High Priestess on to one of the trainee-Priestesses, a young girl named Houki.
Now, when a High Priestess stepped down from her position, it was tradition that she should wed. The Lady Miaka, however, had no wish to be married for her beauty, which she would lose with age, or her fame, which would undoubtedly fade. No, the Lady Miaka wished to marry for love.
Putting much thought into the matter, she eventually came up with a plan which, she felt sure, would bring about her wish....
It never became easier, no matter how many times she appeared in public. Miaka clenched her hands together in her lap, waiting for the appointed hour.
"You're so tense," Shouka chided gently from her own seat across the room. "Relax, Miaka!"
Miaka glared at her. Easy words for Shouka to say; she'd found her love years ago, and now only waited for her Myojuan to finish his internship and set up a medical practice somewhere before she laid aside her filet and married him.
Yuiren, the youngest trainee-Priestess, came slowly into the small audience chamber where the Priestesses waited away the minutes, carrying a tray loaded with tea. She carefully set it down on the low-set table in the middle of the room, managing not to spill or break anything.
"Please pour me a cup, Yuiren," Miaka requested. "I'm so nervous...."
"You shouldn't be, Elder Sister," Yuiren commented, as she poured the fragrant tea into slender porcelain cups. "You'll find someone. Even my eldest brother adores you; you'll find someone to love."
"Your eldest brother?" Houki asked as she accepted the cup Yuiren presented to her. "Isn't he that handsome man with the long ponytail who comes and speaks with you and your sister every week?"
"Yes, that's him."
"It's nice of him to come visit you," Shouka commented. "So many families don't."
"Oh, after our parents died when I was a baby, he raised us younger ones. He's very fond of Gyoukouran and me," Yuiren returned, sitting down with her own cup at Miaka's feet.
Miaka was very glad that drinking her tea hid her face, and even more relieved when the conversation turned away from Yuiren's very handsome older brother.
The crowd outside the Temple was absolutely impossible. Tamahome could barely squeeze into the square.
"What's going on?" he demanded, of the man standing next to him.
"Oh, you haven't heard? The High Priestess Miaka's retiring in a week, and she's announcing what she's going to be doing. All the men here are probably suitors for her hand."
Tamahome felt his heart deflate. He'd fallen for the beautiful Priestess the first time he'd seen her, the first time he'd been allowed to visit Gyoukouran and Yuiren after the Priests of Suzaku had taken them away.
But what could a mere farmer, however prosperous his farm, offer the most famous beauty in all of Konan? She didn't even know he was alive. He'd never dared to even ask his sisters for an introduction.
Still, he couldn't leave the square. He would hear her... hear who the lucky lord who won those smiles and that gentle heart was.
She stepped out onto the verandah of the Temple, and Tamahome caught his breath. How very beautiful she was! How her green eyes sparkled, and her auburn-brown curls caught the light!
"People of Konan," she began, "You and I are both aware that in a short time, I will no longer be serving you as your High Priestess." She bowed her head, and continued her speech. "Today, I bid you, greet the maiden who will be serving you and our Lord Suzaku in my place - the Lady Houki."
A girl stepped forward and Tamahome felt the redheaded young man beside him, pressed there by the crowd, stiffen. "Holy Suzaku's tailfeathers!" he swore. "She's even prettier'n Lady Miaka!"
Indeed, the Lady Houki was lovely, with long purple-black hair and huge brown eyes, but to Tamahome's eyes, the Lady Miaka was much the prettier of the two.
But the Lady Miaka was speaking again. "I will lay aside the filet of the priesthood, and take up the veil of marriage - but," and here she paused, "I do not wish to discriminate against a worthy suitor, nor to be wed to an unworthy one. So, people of Konan, I will wed the man who presents to me, here, in seven days' time, a blue rose."
"A blue rose?" Tamahome's profane neighbour demanded. "There ain't no such thing! How the hell can any man bring her a blue rose?" Similar sentiments were being echoed across the square. "A blue rose? Is the woman crazy?" "She wants an excuse to refuse all men!"
The Lady Miaka waited a few moments more, and then withdrew, unnoticed by the crowd.
"Phew! they're all in a mess!" Shouka commented, as the doors shut behind them.
"I wonder what they will present to you, calling it a blue rose," Houki mused softly. "It seems odd, that with so many suitors, they didn't expect you to set a quest or a contest."
"Who knows what goes on in the minds of men?" Miaka returned.
"Indeed," Shouka added. "We love them, but understanding them... it's impossible!"
All five maidens laughed.
Tamahome returned to his farm that night, deep in thought.
A blue rose? Was there ever such a thing? Yet all legends must start somewhere... maybe there was such a thing as a blue rose.
But where might one be found?
"Hey, big brother!" Chuei called. "You look worried!"
"Eh, it's nothing," Tamahome replied. Then a thought struck him. "Chuei, just say you wanted a blue rose... where would you go to find one?"
"Oh, that's easy!" laughed his brother. "I'd go to the holy mountain, Mount Taikyouku!"
But instead of laughing with him, Tamahome just frowned, and said "Hmmm," in a considering tone of voice.
After evensong that night, Miaka stole back into the main Temple, and knelt before the main Fires.
"I'm pretty sure I'm doing the right thing... aren't I?" she asked quietly. "I mean, everybody knows there's no such thing as a blue rose. So what they present to me is going to be what they imagine a blue rose to be."
The flames flickered. Taking heart, Miaka continued. "I'm nobody special. I've never worked out why you chose me to be your Priestess, and not somebody else, Lord Suzaku. But, they all think I'm somebody I'm not."
The Fires danced before her eyes, and for a second she thought she saw an image in them. She blinked, and the illusion was gone.
"I don't know... please, Lord Suzaku. Please guide me. And, please, if there's anybody You think is right for me, please help him."
Getting up off her knees, Miaka went to bed - but she lay awake for a very long time, wondering why she'd seen, just for a second, the face of Gyoukouran and Yuiren's older brother in the flames.
The next morning, after the cows had been milked, the eggs gathered and the market garden inspected, to see how soon harvesting should begin, Tamahome pulled Chuei and Shunkei aside.
"Do you need me for the next week or so?" he asked them seriously.
"Don't think so," Shunkei replied.
"I don't either," added Chuei. "Why?"
Tamahome glanced sidelong at them. "I'm thinking of going on a journey," he replied cautiously. "For about a week."
Chuei's face lit up in comprehension. "Ah! You're going looking for a blue rose, to win the Lady Miaka with!"
"How do you know that?!" demanded his older brother, scandalized.
"'Win the Lady Miaka'? Is she a prize or something? Why d'you want to win a girl anyway? Bet she can't even milk a cow," Shunkei demanded, without pausing for breath. Chuei and Tamahome exchanged glances.
"It's the latest news, that the High Priestess set a quest to test her suitors with," Chuei replied. "I'm glad you're going to try, she's always seemed really nice every time we've visited Gyoukouran and Yuiren. I can't believe the Priests said both of them had to be Priestesses."
"Nor did I," his older brother said gloomily. "Well, I'm off. See you in about a week."
"No, I'll see you and our new older sister in about a week," Chuei returned.
"Older sister? I don't want an older sister! Gyoukouran and Yuiren were enough, thanks! How can we get one, anyway?" demanded Shunkei, the oblivious nine-year-old.
"I think we need to explain a few things before I leave," Tamahome said with a sigh, steering his younger brothers indoors.
A few hours later, Tamahome was walking down the road to the south.
Shunkei had been startled as a few things were explained to him. The idea that when you grew up, you would want to get married was currently being denied, and the notion that Tamahome would one day bring a girl home to stay was not even being allowed to cross his mind.
The young man smiled and walked on.
Four days later, the walk had become a trudge.
Today, he would have to turn back, if he didn't find the sacred mountain. He'd dodged the bandits of Mount Leikouku, been rained on and had gotten into three fights with obstreperous locals who had decided that a foreigner was fair game.
"It's supposed to be around here somewhere," he muttered.
Tamahome whirled to find himself facing a young man, who was sitting on the ground beside the road. His purple hair was tied in a thick braid, and so long that, even tied like that, a length of it lay on the ground beside him. He looked startlingly like that other Priestess that had been standing beside Lady Miaka.
"The holy mountain," Tamahome replied. "Do you know where it is, sir?"
"Possibly, possibly," the stranger replied. "Why do you wish to journey there?"
Tamahome frowned. "That, sir, is my own business."
"Actually, no, it isn't," the stranger returned. "The holy mountain cannot be found unless it wishes to be found, so the intentions of those wishing to find it are very important, and very much the business of those asking them."
This statement gave Tamahome much to think about. Was this strange person, apparently feminine but somehow definitely male, one of the legendary guardians of Mount Taikyouku?
"Lady Miaka, the High Priestess of Suzaku, is stepping down from her position, and she says that she wishes to marry. But she will only marry the man who can bring her a blue rose. And where else would you find a blue rose, but on the slopes of the holy mountain?"
The stranger looked thoughtful. "Marriage is a serious business, you know. A lot of men marry a pretty face and find that the woman beneath it is not what they wanted or needed at all."
"That's true," Tamahome conceded, "but my younger sisters are Priestesses-in-training at the Temple. They've told me a lot about Lady Miaka - about how she enjoys her food but isn't a very good cook, about how she's often forgetful and rather shatterbrained, and how she's always cheerful and kind. I know she's not perfect. I think she's wonderful."
The purple-haired stranger smiled ruefully, closing his eyes and dropping his head. "Your intentions are true." He lifted his eyes to Tamahome and stepped aside with a dramatic gesture. The landscape shifted and swirled with colour, solidifying into a mountainous landscape. Tamahome gasped as he saw a cliff face not a metre in front of him.
Where the stranger had stood, there was now a path leading up the mountain. The man himself stood, clad in rich raiment that constantly shifted in colour, as if someone had found a way to spin crystal. "I am Nuriko, First Guardian of Taikyouku," he said, "and you have passed my test."
"I am Tamahome, a simple farmer," Tamahome replied, his mouth dry.
Nuriko shook his head. "No, not simple," he replied quietly. "But, let me warn you. What you think of as a blue rose is not what you will find." And with that final comment, he turned and walked into the swirling mists that had suddenly sprung up, disappearing from view.
Tamahome shook his head and headed up the path.
Miaka watched as Gyoukouran and Yuiren sat on a bench in the Temple's courtyard with one of their brothers - the middle one. Chuei, she thought his name was. She felt oddly disappointed.
Everyone in the Temple looked forward to the weekly visits the So brothers paid to their sisters. The Priestesses liked it because the two girls were so happy and their bright spirits were infectious. The Priests liked it because the So family had a large and prosperous farm on the outskirts of Eiyou, and they brought choice produce from their fields to the Temple. The sisters liked it because Tamahome and Chuei always brought them news of their old friends and often little trinkets. (Shunkei brought them reminders - in the form of teasing - of exactly why they were glad they weren't living at home anymore.)
She often lurked in the shadows and watched these family meetings. She told herself that it was because she was envious. Her own family had not accepted the decree of the Priests with anything like the So's equanimity, and she had not seen them once from the time she had left her home as a seven-year-old to enter the Temple.
But somehow today, something was different - the pang was somehow different, and far sharper than the usual dull ache. Somehow it resolved her to action.
Miaka stepped out into the courtyard, as if crossing it on her way to somewhere else. "Oh - good morning!" she called out, as if she had only just seen them. "How are you today?"
"Good morning, my Lady," the boy returned, his large grey eyes - so like his older brother's, Miaka noted absently - sparkling at her, as if in amusement. "We're all well at the moment, though my younger brother Shunkei did catch a summer cold earlier this week."
"Oh, I hope he's feeling better!" Miaka responded, feeling relieved that it had been the youngest brother, not the eldest, and guilty at the relief. "Um... I don't see your older brother either," she mentioned cautiously. "Is he in the marketplace?"
"No - my older brother Tamahome went out of town - on personal business. He'll be back next week," Chuei replied, biting the inside of his lip to keep himself from grinning.
"Ah," Miaka replied, disappointed. Though why she felt that way was something she couldn't work out. "I - I hope it all works out for him."
This time Chuei did grin. "So do I. I want an older sister," he said innocently, piling on the naivety, watching the High Priestess blanch.
"Oh," she said faintly.
"He's - OW! Chuei!" Gyoukouran began, rubbing her ankle.
"Oh, sorry, I wasn't watching where I put my foot," her brother replied, swinging the aforementioned organ from side to side.
Miaka used the minor altercation between the two siblings to make good her escape. What were you hoping for? she scolded herself. You don't have any claim on him - you've never even asked to be introduced to him! He doesn't even know you exist!
She had been walking briskly along the corridor of the Temple, but now she stopped and leaned against the wall. He doesn't know... he doesn't know I.... Oh, was this what Lord Suzaku was trying to tell me?
She sank down into a foetal crouch, pulling her knees to her chest, heedless of rumpled robes. Now I realize whom I love... now... when it's all too late.... Miaka, you're an idiot....
The mountain path belled out into a beautiful meadow. It was alive with colour from millions of beautiful blossoms. Tamahome gasped, and began to look around him, only to find that there were no roses there.
"I'm sorry, there aren't any blue roses here, no da," a chirpy voice said behind him.
Tamahome turned around, to see himself facing a grinning, cute man - not an adjective that would normally spring to mind, but the only one that fitted. And rather creepily too. His thick blue hair was cropped close to his scalp, resulting in a thick-skull-cap. The only relief was his fringe, which in defiance of all gravity stood straight up, and a thin, beaded tail at the nape of his neck. His frame was tall but slight, making him look far more fragile than Tamahome knew he had to be; nobody could be a Guardian of Mount Taikyouku if a stiff breeze would blow them away.
"How did you know I was looking for a blue rose?" Tamahome asked the man cautiously.
"Oh, my friend Nuriko told me, no da," he said calmly. "What I want to know is, what do you wish to do with the blue rose, when you find it, na no da?"
Tamahome blinked. "I will present it to the lady I wish to marry. I told Nuriko this. Did he not tell you that?"
"And what will she do with it, no da?" the man demanded.
Tamahome blinked in bewilderment. "I don't know. Put it in a vase, or dry it, or something, I suppose...."
The man frowned. "A blue rose," he said, in a long-suffering tone of voice, "is an item of great power, na no da. It can cross deserts and oceans. It can wrest treasure from the depths of the earth, no da, and great wonders from the heavens. It can save a dying child's life, and it can cause the deaths of millions of people, no da. It is not," he added severely, "something to be 'put in a vase' somewhere."
"Oh," Tamahome said blankly.
"I see," The man said calmly. "You seek the rose only for your lady, no da."
"I'm a farmer," Tamahome said plaintively. "Cows, chickens and vegetables I understand. Magic I leave to the Gods and wizards...."
At that, the man smiled. "An honest man and true, no da," he said obscurely. "You may leave magic to itself, but will magic pay you the same courtesy?" He shook his head. "I am called Chichiri, no da," he added. "Please continue up the mountain by this path," and he gestured behind him. "All the others are dead ends, no da." And with this pronouncement, he stepped into the flowering bushes, which seemed to close up behind him.
Tamahome stared after him for quite five minutes, before shaking his head and continuing up the path Chichiri had indicated.
Meanwhile, Gyoukouran was glaring at her brother, hissing imprecations.
"Do you realize how upset she's been, worrying about this?" she demanded. "Lady Miaka's really in love with Elder Brother! I've been trying to get her to admit it for ages!"
"Well, then, you weren't doing too well, were you?" Chuei replied. "She doesn't need to know Elder Brother's gone on her quest. It'll be a nice surprise."
"It'll be a nice heart attack, you mean."
"You are terrible, Older Brother," Yuiren stated flatly. "You let Lady Miaka think Elder Brother is going on a courting trip to some other girl, and we're going to have to cope with the tears."
Chuei glared back at them. "Hey, what about me? I've had to cope with Eldest Brother staring off into the sunset when he's supposed to be doing the farming chores, and with all the girls he's casually insulted by ignoring them-"
"Oh, what a chore! Any of them pretty, Older Brother?!"
"You're being nasty, Little Gyoukouran," Chuei replied, visibly assuming a pose of nobility. "Whether they're pretty or not doesn't matter. Elder Brother has hurt their feelings. It's up to me, as his brother, to soothe their hearts, and salvage the sales that we make to them."
Both girls blinked. "And they say Elder Brother is mercenary," Yuiren commented.
"I'm hurt," Chuei mourned, holding his hand to his chest.
Gyoukouran shook her head. "I'm not going to feed you the line," she informed him. Ignoring her brother's pout and her sister's giggle, she gamely continued, "I want to tell her! Lady Miaka deserves to know that the one she wants is interested in her too!"
Chuei sighed, rolling his eyes. You couldn't get Gyoukouran off a topic with a sledgehammer. "Gyoukouran," he told her, in a very long-suffering tone of voice, "take it from me, all right? Not as your brother, but as somebody who's a bit older than you - people like to find out that sort of thing on their own. Or at least to get told by the person doing the liking. Not by other people, no matter how much it would relieve them to know."
Yuiren blinked. "Why not?" she asked.
"I don't know," Chuei shrugged. "People just do. Lady Miaka will be happy when Elder Brother comes back with the blue rose, but she won't be happy if we tell her he's getting it for her. Take it from me, all right?"
Both girls sighed and nodded.
The mountain was much steeper as he climbed this second path. It twisted and turned so much, he half-believed it was made by goats and not people. Finally, he came to a small pocket in the side of the mountain. It was flat, so he could rest his feet; one of the small gurgling streams that ran down the side of the mountain ran alongside it, over a waist-high boulder and then down, forming a natural drinking spot; and there was even some rocks scattered about, forming some natural seats. Tamahome drank long and deep of the water of the stream, revelling in the sharp coolness of the water.
"It's very good, isn't it?" a high, sweet voice enquired behind him.
Tamahome choked. A small fist thumped him helpfully between his shoulderblades, until, still coughing, he turned around to see the Third Guardian of Mount Taikyokou.
A boy, about Gyoukouran's age, smiled up at him. His bright, leaf-green eyes sparkled as merrily as the water, while his long pink hair was tied in a high ponytail that stood straight up, in defiance of weight or gravity.
"Y-yes," he stuttered.
The boy's face, sombre till that moment, was momentarily illuminated by a smile. "I'm sorry about startling you like that. Sir Chichiri and Sir Nuriko had told me about you, and I could not wait any longer, not when you were here and I had waited so long! Was the trail so very hard?"
"Er... no. I just was a bit tired. I was going to rest here...."
The boy practically pushed him over to a boulder. "Then sit! Sit and rest and we can talk a little. I'm Chiriko, by the way."
Tamahome sat down. "Aren't you going to ask me a question?" he asked doubtfully.
"Oh, of course. But I thought you would have some too."
"I do," Tamahome conceded, "but it's not my mountain, and I'm not the one doing you the favour."
"You might be surprised," Chiriko commented, with an inscrutable smile.
Tamahome clenched his fist, and then released it. "That, however, is one thing that's really annoying me! You and your friends keep making those kind of statements, as if I'm more than what I am!"
"And what if you are?"
Tamahome stopped dead.
"The lady you wish to marry is the Priestess of Suzaku, is she not? Do you think Suzaku shall release His hold on her, in its entirety? Nor that your quest to win her hand is not being watched by Him closely? Nor even that if you succeed, that it will be because He chooses that you shall?"
Tamahome's mouth went dry. "That's not possible...." he croaked.
Chiriko gave him a very old-fashioned look. "It's true that you are on this quest because you want to be. Suzaku did not send you here against your will."
"I don't like the sound of that," Tamahome said after a moment.
"Truth is truth," Chiriko said with a shrug. "You asked, and I gave it to you. Would you rather I had lied?"
"No~o," Tamahome conceded, "but it's making me question a lot of things I didn't need to. When I started out, it was just a journey for a girl. Now it's... well, I don't know what it is, but it's different."
"We who live in all the worlds can forget how simply those in but one world live," Chirko said reflectively.
"And that's another thing I didn't need to know!"
"I'm sorry," Chiriko said quickly, flashing another apologetic smile. "I forgot. Well, to the business at hand, then... Mister Tamahome, what is a blue rose?"
"A blue rose is a rose that's blue," Tamahome replied, mystified. "Sir Chichiri said it was a magical item of great power, but it's a blue flower, when all's said."
"A magical item? Are you sure he said so?"
"Well, he said it was an item of great power," Tamahome replied. "What else could it be but magic?"
"Any number of things," Chiriko said thoughtfully. "But I see why you have come so far... yet I must tell you: you are completely wrong."
"What?" Tamahome demanded.
Chiriko shrugged. "There is little else I can say. A blue rose is neither blue, nor a rose, nor even a flower."
"So what is it?"
"That, you must tell me. Mister Tamahome, what do you think a blue rose is?"
"I...." But he couldn't answer. "I don't know."
"An excellent start."
Tamahome looked up. "Huh?"
Chiriko smiled calmly. "The first step to wisdom is always admitting your ignorance... so few can, you know. Go on up the mountain. Lady Taiitsukun is waiting for you." And Chiriko, without another word, headed down the way Tamahome had come, disappearing around a bend in the trail.
Tamahome was feeling ever-so-slightly out of his depth when he rounded a corner on the trail and found himself standing on the terrace of a beautiful marble castle.
More to the point, though, as far as he was concerned, was the fact that the terrace was surrounded by flowering rosebushes.
"So, you're the boy who wants a blue rose for his lady?"
At the sound of the gravelly voice, Tamahome turned around, shrieked, and fell backwards off the terrace into the rosebushes. The old woman had been the ugliest woman he'd ever seen - and she'd been floating in midair!
"Fix, fix! Heal, heal!" he heard a set of voices chanting, and several pairs of chubby hands pulled him up, out of the bushes. He hissed as the exploring hands - which belonged to four small, blue haired girls with far-too-knowing pink eyes - found the break in his upper arm ("Broken! Broken!" cried the little girl who found it, and "Heal! Heal!" her sisters replied) and set it, and as they laved the rosethorn scratches with something he didn't recognise. But the injuries felt better almost immediately.
At length, he was released, and he staggered forward. Lady Taiitsukun glanced at him, and then at one of the little girls, who shrugged.
"So, boy," the woman began, "you want a blue rose to take to your lady."
Tamahome swallowed and remembered his manners. "Yes, my Lady, I do."
She frowned. "I can't give you one."
Tamahome felt his heart sink. "You... can't? Can you tell me where to find one?"
"No - but you can make one."
Tamahome blinked. "Make a rose? That's not possible. Not for it to be a true rose."
The old woman sighed. "What are they teaching children these days?" she muttered to herself. "Tamahome," she spoke, more loudly, "what is a blue rose?"
Tamahome sighed. "I thought it was a rose that happened to be blue." He grimaced. "However, I have been told that it isn't."
Taiitsukun nodded. "The mistake," she said, "is in your understanding of roses. What is a rose, young Tamahome?"
"It's... a flower?" he asked uncertainly.
"True enough, as far as it goes," Taiitsukun agreed. "But what is it the flower of?"
"The flower of love... Love!" Tamahome blinked, and drew in a deep breath. "The white rose is the flower of innocent love... the red rose is the flower of true love... but which love is shown by the blue rose?"
"Eternal love," Taiitsukun said softly, almost as if it was not a reply. "The love that binds two souls, through life, death and reincarnation. When two souls will find each other, no matter what form they are, no matter what stands in the way, no matter how many times they've reincarnated and no matter how many lifetimes they have lived with each other before. That is eternal love, the blue rose."
"The blue rose - is love itself?" Tamahome asked, feeling as if he were about to tumble headlong into a well. He didn't understand a word of this....
"As any gardener who has tried to grow them will tell you, roses will survive on water and fertilizer, but they thrive on love. The blue rose, especially - to the point where it cannot survive on anything else. The blue rose is no longer in this world, because it can only exist in the presence of a couple bound by the eternal love it symbolizes and has become. And such couples are rare indeed...."
Tamahome dropped his head in defeated exhaustion. "Then, there's no way I can give her one," he whispered. "I love her, but it's not this 'eternal love' you speak of. And the rose doesn't even grow, anyway...."
THWACK!! The old woman hit him with her cane. "You don't know that!" she reprimanded him. "Eternal love is subtle as well as strong. It grows, like any other kind of love. And, if what you have is eternal love, you can create a blue rose from it."
"Yes, you can! Do you love the girl?"
"Yes," Tamahome whispered. "By all the Gods, yes."
"Then concentrate on that. Close your eyes.... Good, think about all your feelings.... ESPECIALLY the carnal ones, Gods, kids these days, you want to marry the girl, don't you?... Relax, now... and you can look."
Tamahome opened his eyes, to see a glorious, perfect rose floating in the air before him. He reached out to touch it, and it floated down to his hands. He stared it in commingled awe and disappointment.
It was white.
"Well, now, this is a surprise," the old woman's gravelly voice echoed in his ear.
"Did you expect it to be blue?" Tamahome asked bitterly.
"I didn't expect it to be this blue," she said seriously. When he stared at her in incredulity, she slammed her stick on the ground. "Look at the petals, boy! Look at the rims of them!"
He frowned, looked and.... "They're blue?" he whispered in incredulity.
Just a tiny sliver of blue - no wider than a baby's fingernail - but it was there, a true royal blue streak on each and every petal. "Eternal love grows, as every kind of love grows! Sure and it's not eternal love you have - yet. But the potential is there, and it's growing!" Taiitsukun crowed.
"Thank you," Tamahome whispered, cradling the rose gently against his hands. "Thank you so much...."
"Now let's see," Taiitsukun decreed, "about getting you home."
He felt the wind swirl around him, and set him gently on the cobbled pavement of the road that led into the square before the Temple.
"Here you are - oh, and, it's the seventh day since Miaka made her announcement. The roses are being presented as we speak." A hoarse chuckle echoed near his ear. "Why wait, after all?"
Tamahome bit back a curse and began a limping run into the square.
This is the last time, Miaka told herself as she braced herself for the crowd outside. Today, I retire, and I choose a husband.
Once such a joyful thought, now so hopeless! But she had not spoken her heart when she had been free to do so, and now some other girl was receiving Tamahome's glowing smiles, would accept the little trinkets he brought to his lady, would hold him close and... and she, Miaka, would not. Because she had never spoken.
"Are you ready, Lady Miaka?" asked Gyoukouran, smiling at her so sunnily, preparing to open the doors.
Never. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Open the doors, please, Gyoukouran," Houki said from beside her. Miaka caught her breath. She hadn't heard the other girl come up behind her.
"Take courage, Miaka," Houki murmured, "and believe me when I say: there is no reason to fear the end of this day. Believe me."
The past High Priestess looked at the present Priestess in shock. "You're the High Priestess? Already?" she whispered, as the doors swung open.
"One burden at a time," Houki told her calmly. "For each of us. And your would-be fiances await."
Miaka stepped out onto the verandah, flanked by Gyoukouran and Houki on either side. The square was alive with cheering. The three Priestesses waited until the chhers died down, and then Miaka stepped forward.
"My people, as you know, today I will lay aside my filet, and take a husband - if he presents to me here, before you all, a blue rose. I ask now - if any man here has brought to me a blue rose, let him step forward and present it to me now."
There was a predictable surge in the crowd, and the Prince Hotohori stepped up to the verandah. The eldest and best-loved son of the Emperor, the Prince was a handsome young man. Many women loved him, and if his manner was autocratic and his sense of distinction based on birth, these were not uncommon traits among those as elevated as he.
He waved his hand, and a servant came forward, reverentially bearing a beautiful ivory casket. Opening the lid, the Prince lifted out and presented to the Priestess a rose, with petals of the deepest blue and deep, dark-green leaves.
The Lady Miaka glanced at the Prince's hands. Long-fingered and slender, they were smooth and pale. She reached out and, without taking the rose from his fingers, stroked one of the petals. Then she stepped back.
"My Lord Prince, you are to be congratulated on the skill of your artisans. The petals look so real, and one cannot tell by sight alone that the leaves and stem are enamelled gold. Yet sapphires are found within the earth, not growing on trees. This sculpture is a beautiful treasure - but it is not a blue rose."
Instantly the Prince's face grew darker than a thundercloud. "And that is your word, Madam?"
The Priestess remained still. "It is."
"Then I bid you good day!" he snapped, and stalked away, leaving his servants behind him to follow.
"I guess it's too bad," Houki murmured beside her. "He was cute."
Miaka gave her a frosty look.
"Didn't you think so?"
"No." Miaka's tone was completely flat.
"Well, I did," Houki muttered, sotto voce. Miaka ignored her.
A blonde young man stepped up, out of the crowd, carrying in his hands a small chest made of moulded leather.
"My Lady Miaka," he announced, "I am Amiboshi, of the far East, and I pray you accept the blue rose I have brought you!"
Miaka stepped forward, breathed in, turned a rather odd shade of green, and then stepped back very quickly. She picked up the object that lay within the chest, very carefully holding it at arms' length, and flung it into the incense brazier that stood at the side of the staircase that led up to the verandah. It exploded.
Many people were in hysterics; several others were burnt by the flying coals, and a group of healers came running out to tend to the injured. The chaos did not die down for many minutes.
Finally, when a semblance of order had been established, Miaka spoke. "Lord Amiboshi," she said dryly, "the effort you went to to present me with a blue rose is commendable. But, as you saw, the dyes you used were poisonous. I could not even breathe the air your rose rested in." She smiled sadly. "The next lady you court will doubtless be less exacting - and I wish you every success with her."
The Lord Amiboshi, his face a study of disappointment, withdrew into the crowd.
"Is there no-one else?" Miaka asked, keeping her voice even. Nobody could know how she'd hoped....
The crowd parted to reveal a young man. His long teal hair was messy, looking as if he had simply pulled it back without more than a cursory comb. His clothes were disheveled, and there were huge bags under his eyes. Beside Miaka, Gyoukouran, who had begun to slump, just a little, stood up straight again. "Elder Brother made it!" she whispered triumphantly.
Miaka glanced down at Gyoukouran, feeling her heart leap at this sudden explanation for why Gyoukouran and Yuiren had been so irrepressibly cheerful all week, especially when she had been morose. "Yes?" she asked, unable to repress a genuine smile, rather than the artificial one she'd been wearing all week.
"My Lady," and her heart went out to him as he stepped forward, revealing a limp, "I have gone far to the south and climbed Mount Taikyokou, meeting and facing down its guardians, to bring to you this blue rose." And he held out a pure white rose to her.
She glanced over him. His left arm was in a sling, and his hands were covered in scratches. His clothes were torn, and he had clearly come straight to the square from the road.
"My Lady -" Tamahome began again, but Miaka quickly stepped down from the temple verandah and laid her finger on his lips. Then, gently, she replaced the finger with her own lips.
"I accept your rose," she said, "and I accept you, to be my husband. Come now. You have journeyed for so long, and I want you to be well on our wedding day." And so saying, she took his good hand and led him into the Temple.
The crowd, puzzled, surged forward, about five people reaching out to pick up the rose that Miaka had dropped and both she and Tamahome had forgotten.
"It's not blue! It's white!" one yelled, and the crowd became alive with speculation.
"Is she blind?" "Nah - look, it's a very pale blue, see?" "Being a priestess has driven the girl crazy!" "Nah - it was that boy's face that drove her crazy! I bet they planned it all between them!" "A boy-crazy girl will do anything!"
As for Tamahome and Miaka, they were married, and lived together very happily for several long and happy years, until they both died of old age; and for all of their lives neither would ever say a word about the blue rose.
1. A filet is an embroided
ribbon, tied around the head across the forehead and often woven into the
wearer's hair. Filets were worn only by priestesses, but a priestess wore
her filet at all times. It was the mark of her position - no matter what
else she did, said or wore, a woman wearing a filet was a priestess and
by law had to be treated accordingly.
Filets are a Western concept. To the best of my knowledge, priestesses in the Eastern religions wear much what the priests do, only differing in colour. However, the heroine of the original folktale is a princess, not a priestess, and I needed something along the lines of a crown!
2. The blue rose has several meanings throughout the world. The meaning I have used here is the one I was taught when I was young, but there are several others.
3. I make no apologies for the comments about roses featured here. I grow roses, and Taiitsukun's observations are my own. Nor are they unique; ask any rose fancier of your acquaintance!