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[r. axhubs] Ukiyo-e {m[x]m} |18+|

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Offline matinsandvespers

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LAST TIME ON UKIYO-E
http://archive.visionary-tales.com/r-axhubs-ukiyo-e-m-x-m-18-t22051.html

"Hmm..." Madoka contemplated to himself before he responded to Hideshi's statement, "no wonder you're not married."

The interior of the tea house was a separated from the chilly outdoors by a heavy door of solid imported oak overlaid with gold leaf which illuminated portraits that did not savor of the the tradition Eikonese aesthetic. The depictions of playful and half-nude apsaras in flight had more of the rusticity of Onda, a nation to the west, the eastern portion whereof having become a vassal state of Eikon after the Shogunate Expansion. Though the Goren Bakufu, in order to maintain the purity of Eikonese culture, put heavy tariffs on foreign wares entering the nation, this did not hinder the ministers of the Kouba prefecture making acquisition of foreign crafts. If one took a moment to appreciate the doors leaved with gold, he would see the apsaras -- tennyo in the Eikonese language -- swaddled in floating garments; bare-chested with their taut breasts weightlessly defying gravity as their persons playfully pranced through the sky, which was indicated by clouds made with polished bone.

Madoka, however, would be the center of attention here, not the door. Here was the moment. Madoka and Yukiko were hoping to conceal the object of Hideshi's desires in plain sight. Surely the three of them, two actors and one artist should be able to thwart the designs of a self-absorbed samurai; and once Hideshi was out of Madoka's hair, the taikomochi could get back to his life. The two men stood at the golden entrance into the exclusive teahouse and the door -- young boys with eyes and smiles and blank and empty as the white snow -- opened the heavy doors with a creak, letting the warm air from within surge outside. The balmy rush of air was thick with the aroma of searing meats, and potent tonics; expensive perfumes and burning wood.

The women -- Yukiko and "Chie" -- were in the places, seated and under the spotlight and flickering paper lamps. "Chie" was far different in temperament than either of her companions. Whereas Madoka was a tall, peacock of a man whose allure was his coyness, quick wit and biting tongue; and Yukiko, an older, outspoken and bold woman, "Chie"-sama had always been very shy, demure and reserved. As far as it were possible for a geisha, she was modest, far more suited to be cloistered away in a nunnery, kept warm by sacred devotion from the bitter-frost of human depravity, but there she sat a paperwhite blooming in late winter. There she sat, petite hands tucked gracefully in her lap. Chie had a slender frame, a long neck. She was more than than the average geisha and thus had to powder her face in order to complete her doll-like appearance. The wild cherry-coloured rouge of her lips contrasted distinctively with her pale face, and her hair -- black as sackcloth -- balanced weightless atop her head to expose the length of her neck, which she had always been encouraged to show off. Unlike Yukiko, whose breasts had swollen over the course of time to a greater maturation of size than hers, Chie's chest was something she was interested in emphasizing. Instead, the design of her kimono covered her chest up to her neck and opened in the back to reveal the length of her back and to accentuate her swan-like neck, which had been in Eikon for centuries a mark of immense beauty. Her black hair also had woven into it white jasmine flowers -- a small act of defiance and a symbol of mourning for her though she was forbidden to mourn the death of the man whose company she could have enjoyed forever.

"Mrs. Yukiko, Ms. Chie." The man attending Madoka and Hideshi by leading them to the table announced the arrival of the guests, "Mr. Madoka, and Mr. Hideshi."

Both the women stood to greet the men with the customary genuflection. "My Lord, Mr. Hideshi, I am most pleased to make your acquaintance." The young lady had a voice the size of a mouse and she kept her eye servilely downcast. "When Yukiko described you to me she had not informed me of how handsome you are. Your rugged features are most pleasing to behold, my Lord."

Madoka almost wanted to roll his eyes at the Chie's standard sweetness, which the genuineness of which one could never decipher. The taikomochi could not recollect a moment when he had heard Chie ever employ sarcasm.


Offline axhubs

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Did people not go to mountain towns for the starkness of nature? Did they not go to forget their busy lives for a while, and take solace in the silence, appreciate the simple things, a warm hearth, a hot bath, a comfortable place to rest?

Instead, An had erected temples to vanity. Its visitors had not been able to stand removal, Hideshi trusted, from their false gods for long. This teahouse matched his company. Cheap, beaten gold. Vulgar artwork. Foreign, to boot. He looked away from the cavorting naked forms in nervous disgust.

Hideshi wanted to spit. Ensconced in his master’s rigorous household, he had been shielded from Eikon’s decay. The scales had not fallen from his eyes, they had been ripped away. Hideshi wanted to weep.

Two attendants walked them down a hall of lavish pronography - they might as well have been back in Hakana. So trained to fade into the background, so devoid of life were these men that they did not twitch as much as an eyebrow at Hideshi’s appearance. Dressed in a yukata in the dead of winter, his hot, swollen face purpling already around the eye and the jaw. He looked as much of a prisoner as he felt. The brisk mountain air had been a balm to him. The steamy, perfumed interior, like a sour cup of jasmine tea, was yet another punishment.

But his animal nature betrayed him. The smell of food set his mouth watering. He glared sidelong at the waif of a courtesan. He was sure he never ate - he was sure he subsisted on fine vapors and the cum of his lovers alone. When had Hideshi last had a solid meal? Before he had met Madoka, and damned himself at all?

They were lead to a room at the back, for the important guests, very expensive, Hideshi was sure. The door opened with a formidable shove from the two attendants, revealing a wide expanse of table, at the head of which two figures sat.

One of them was known to Hideshi. The flickering lamplight rendered her ghoulish - or, in so far as she could be made any more so. He raised his chin in a defiant grimace. He had been humiliated before her, by her, already. He was lowered no more by his current display. Let her see that, if he was to be a dog, cornered and beaten and starved, he would still bite.

The other figure, upon whom his eye alighted next, he did not know. As it did, he knew that he did not want hers to alight on him. Not in this state. His defiance was snuffed as quickly as he’d kindled it. Hideshi stepped back into Madoka’s shadow and lowered his head.

But her neck - her neck in the lamplight. The unorthodox cut of her vestment pulled his gaze like a moth to the flame. Even the flowers in her hair, frivolous, a-seasonal, lead the eye unfailingly down to that expanse of fine, naked skin.

Chie. Hideshi had only his master. He was not tempted by any show of femininity, for he was stronger than his urges. But her neck - her bare neck - he was not bewitched, but Hideshi understood for the first the madness that had taken his master’s brother.

Beneath the cosmetics that caked her, applied, he was sure, at the behest of that detestable grandame, her features were so fine. Her eyes were properly downturned, her lashes stark black against her skin, as she bowed before him, and a shiver went down his spine. His cheeks burned as she looked upon his cartoonish clothing. His ravaged face.

If any woman had said those words to him - handsome, rugged, in his current state. He would have slapped her down for her insolence. But she was not any woman. Her voice was not so enchanting as her appearance. Hideshi bowed to her, and said nothing.


He looked like a performing animal. Madoka might as well have dragged him in on a leash. Yukiko would have sneered, but her make-up was too good. Her face remained perfectly unmoved as she made her greetings.

Even as she went up to Madoka, the corners of her lips quirked up in only the tiniest of smiles. ‘Don’t you look splendid,’ she determined.

Yukiko was a master of the brush. She could become her own canvas with ease; artistry was artistry. But Madoka was a master of presentation. His art was arriving, and being, and drawing every eye.

She did not want to draw him like this; she had nothing to add. No, to the contrary, she thought, casting an eye at the uncouth little man Madoka had dragged in with him. There was something she wanted to subtract. ‘But could you not have thrown something becoming over him? Or knocked him out completely? What a farce - like seating a dog at the table.’ She said this so politely that the meaning of her words was nearly lost.

Not that the dog in question was listening, so entranced was he by the sight of Chie. Yukiko rolled her eyes. She supposed it was to their benefit. ‘Shall we sit?’ She suggested to all, and they did. The attendants swept in with hot towels, and vanished as quickly as they’d come.

At least he knew his manners well enough not to wipe his beaten face. He braced his hands against his knees and stared pointedly down at his setting, inscrutable, or just empty of sensate thought.

‘Hideshi-san,’ she said, and watched his shoulders tense beneath his ridiculous costume. She smiled. ‘Correct me if I am mistaken, but you have not been formally introduced to our Chie, is that right? This,’ she reached out and caught the prim angle of Chie's jaw in her hand. ‘Is Chiharu. Chie-chan, this is Nouda Hideshi.’

Through Madoka and through Chie, Yukiko had put the pieces of the puzzle together. The next game started now. Nouda’s retainer knew who Chie was, and what had happened between her and Nouda’s brother, so that was over and done with. He was here now. All that remained was to obfuscate him completely. Send him running in some direction - preferably off of one of the many majestic summits they were surrounded by - perhaps get a sample of his writing first, so that she could continue the subterfuge in many an ardent letter to his cherished master.

Only one who knew Yukiko would know that she was smiling. Now Chiharu only had to perform.


Offline matinsandvespers

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It would appear that Yukiko had gone a step further than Madoka had planned. Madoka's plan was to hide Chiharu in plain sight so as to lead the samurai off of her trail, but Yukiko had shown not only the hand but the whole deck. When Yukiko announced their esteemed colleague by her real name,  Madoka held back a wince from cracking his composed face, but it did come as a surprise to him. Yet he knew that Yukiko was one he could trust. There were not many people anywhere whom any could trust in these days of intense government oversight, but Madoka was most certain that of all the wretches in the world, these two he could trust. Now all the three had to do was wind the "merchant" round in circles like three skilled sophist circumlocuting about an idiot'; making him to think in due time that black was white; water, fire. Madoka had spun the thread. Yukiko had allotted it. Now, it was Chiharu's to cut.

But, why go through all this trouble? Would it not have been far easier to have on the outset introduced Hideshi to Chiharu, for her to have told him about the nature of her relationship with Hiei, and then to have Hideshi continue on with his investigation? One would think so, but things of this nature are not so easy as that. Firstly, the geisha in Kouba province in private matters preferred to keep to themselves as a matter of principle. For anyone, especially an outsider, to come an ask a geisha about her private interactions with a customer was a gross infringement of her privacy, which right under the law she did not possess. Such subterfuges as these were the only means wherewith a geisha could secure his or her privacy without having the government to peer too curiously into it.

Secondly, there was seldom an investigation which called for minimal correspondence. If Hideshi called upon Chiharu to comply once, he would do so again. Such compliance would do nothing less than incur onto Chiharu the danger which befell her lover, and as fervently as Hideshi sought justice for his lord's brother, something told Madoka that he would not be as fervently invested in solving the riddle of a murdered geisha. For geishas when they are killed no one cared. It would be Chiharu that would be splayed out on the floor in the warmth of her own blood, not Hideshi, and Madoka would be damned if he would endanger his colleague's life in service of a dog of the feudal state.

When Chie-chan was properly introduced, she bowed her head toward Hideshi before she began to speak. "I have heard tell that my lord has come through divers perils to have an audience with his handmaid. I am most humbled that you would seek me out in particular among all the wonderful geisha and courtesans who abide here in the Kouba province. Though, I will say that my skill as a geisha does not at attain to the level of my colleague, Madoka."

"Come now, Chie-chan." Madoka responded in a tone of pride mingled with embarrassment. "You are a rather skilled geisha. One of our very best." The young woman covered her face with her sleeve to conceal and modest smile.

"Now, I understand you have questions for me, but it is customary, my lord, that all such business is conducted after the last course has passed. I beg you, please enjoy this meal." At those words, male attendants pulled back the silk screen doors, and a parade of courtesans bearing rectangular trays filled with little colourful dishes entered the space. The young men sat down next to each guest, and with a bowing posture presented the morsels, the sakizuke. "We heard that our esteemed guest had more rustic tastes, and so the chef has prepared our meal with the sensibility of your palette in mind." As quickly and gracefully as the women had entered, they had left, leaving before each four a platter of bite sized morsels reminiscent of the food consumed in the world below. There tiny yakiimo, roasted and glazed and topped with a single layer of shallot. The dun colour of the sweet potato enhanced by the bright white of the plate and its deep blue motifs. There was in another small dish, a bright orangish one, a single cube of yudofu sitting in a small amount of dashi broth and severed with a dollop of black caviar. To these there were several other trappings.

"I wonder if my Lord Hideshi," Madoka ruminated aloud, mocking Chiharu’s politeness, "has ever been entertained with so high a caliber of refinement." Madoka had not been to the lower world since he was very young, but something told him that a cha-kaiseki meal was not something which happened commonly in the world beneath.


Offline axhubs

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False modesty heaped upon false modesty, so they might as well have stripped and castigated themselves with those same big smiles on their faces.

Hideshi knew he was a low creature when compared with the splendor of his master, but as useless as their skills were compared to his own, these courtesans still possessed them. What falsehood for this treasure to claim she was anything less. And Hideshi knew, first-hand, what Madoka, for one, really thought of himself. Every word he said was a direct contradiction to every bit of what the man thought he was. He castigated himself and caught his counterpart on the backlash for being stupid enough to listen.

But Hideshi could not summon the same loathing for Chiharu. Perhaps she really believed that she was lesser than. Perhaps something she had witnessed in her time with his lord’s brother had shaken what should have been inveterate self-assurance. Hideshi could not keep his eyes off of her, even as the servants swarmed, and the courtesan simpered, and the wrinkled kubi-kajiri at the head of the table looked on.


It was an unkind thing to do, really. There were many of the warrior class who put on terrible airs, and cavorted freely with Madoka and Chie’s class, who would know exactly with which hand to raise their chopsticks, or with which hand to hold the bowl, which dishes to take in what order. Not Nouda Hideshi.

And in many ways, Yukiko preferred these men. They could be manipulated. Money, sex, frivolity. None for Nouda Hideshi. The fervency of his bond to his master flickered behind his flat, dead eyes. He was like a puppet animated by the noble house of Nagase. He stank of death.

Those eyes on Chiharu made Yukiko’s skin crawl. It was nearly enough to put her off her food. But what kind of a hostess would set such an example? For the duration of the meal she put him out of her mind. The good food befitted their surroundings - rustic, rendered expensive. The company, with due exclusions, was better. Madoka was ever so captivating. He had a skill, too, of unveiling the most captivating aspects of others. He and Chie seemed to feed off one another. Yukiko kept attentive. She felt compelled, later on, to capture the scene.

With due exclusions. With a flash, she realized that it would have served them better to make Chiharu duller.


Did it please them, he wondered, to adopt peasant fare and dollop senseless luxury upon it? Caviar on tofu? This was no refinement - this was another insult. Hideshi ate as a starving man. He gave no sign of enjoyment. He was not so false.

The courses kept coming. One dish, somewhere around the third or fourth course, was a thin cut of meat in a marinade so nauseatingly sweet that he set it aside after a mouthful. As an attendant whispered up from behind to take it away, Hideshi met him with a thunderous backhand. The man crumpled to the ground as silently as he had approached.

Hideshi gave no exposition. He finished the vile mouthful of meat and set the dish on the tray for the next attendant to spirit away. His fallen compatriot removed himself. The artist breathed conversation back into the graveyard silence as Hideshi chewed, and watched Chiharu, and waited for the farce to end.


The dessert plates and cups were cleared away. The last attendant touched his forehead to the ground as he left and pulled the curtain shut behind him. Yukiko bowed to her company.

‘I hope that this humble meal has suited your tastes,’ she said, ‘and I hope that it has strengthened you, for the serious exchange that must follow. The time has come, I am afraid, to speak of loss, of tribulations, even,’ Yukiko’s eyes alighted archly on Hideshi, ‘of death.’

‘I have no interest in any more theatrics,’ Hideshi said. ‘I have sat here and endured enough. Chiharu-sama.’ He lifted and resettled his seiza to face Chie. He had a crick in his neck, Yukiko thought, with pursed lips, from having stared at her from an angle so long. ‘I ask you to tell me what you know of my lord’s brother. Tell me what has become of Nagase Hiei.’


Offline matinsandvespers

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Indelicate. Such was the word which continued to repeat through Madoka's mind. Unrestrained indelicacy.

Once upon a time, there was a Madoka much younger and less calloused than the one with whom now the world was acquainted, and this Madoka had a fantasy about samurai. This fantasy bordered on romantic and erotic depending on the day. One of the ways that the courtesanry of Kouba could get a glimpse of the lower world was through literature from thence, and samurai were painted as being a sublime union between dutiful might and valor accompanied with charm, artfulness and grace. Samurai, in Madoka's young mind, could slay an offender and then sit down with a chaste maiden for a most refined tea; could run a man through with a sword then with deep and scholarly contemplation write a haiku on a sprawling fan and send it to his beloved.

Since that time, Madoka had met many a samurai and all had shattered his fantasy like a cavalcade trampling over a brazen mirror. As Madoka watched the barbaric behavior of his temporary consort, he could not help but to recoil in horror, comparing the sweet incense of his jejune fantasia to the effluvium of barbarity that billowed from what seemed to Madoka to be boar dressed in fine silks.

By the end of the meal, Madoka was clearly exhausted and exasperated, his hand resting on a furrowed brow, mostly in order to conceal Hideshi from his sight.



If the marked feature of the evening was Hideshi's unbridled staring, its foil would be that Chiharu markedly did not for the duration of the meal look up to meet Hideshi's gaze. Certainly she could feel those empty eyes seeking to swallow her, but the geisha held her ground. Her eyes were continually down cast, covered over with long black lashes which served as shields to guard her from the onslaught of Hideshi's silent advance. The only time the woman would ever look up is when she addressed either Madoka or Yukiko, but her eyes were ever downcast when she turned to "Lord" Hideshi. She was the tranquil in and he, the intense yo


Indelicate. As was well-suited to his character, Hideshi crashed through the pleasantness of the meal by interrogating Chiharu in so direct and dutiful a manner. Once again, Madoka recoiled, but Chiharu seemed herself unmoved. There was a dew of silence that fell over the table, almost as if a spotlight had fallen on the courtesan. All eyes were on her now. Now began her soliloquy.

"Lord Hideshi, firstly, I would like to apologize again for the behaviour of my esteemed colleague, Lord Madoka. He was looking only to my best interest in misleading you. If you have any aught against him, please, my Lord. Hold it to my account. You see, I am of a weak and delicate constitution of late, and Lord Madoka -- well," the maiden looked across the table at Madoka with tender eyes, "Lord Madoka did not wish to see me hurt, but be that as it may, my Lord, I am adult woman and I am well able to stand on my own and to recite those things -- though most painful -- that may be helpful to a full discovery of the truth concerning the death of Lord Nagase."

"Lord Nagase -- Hiei - was a faithful and generous patron of mine. He had frequented Kouba for many years before we had met, but when I had first crossed paths with my Lord, Hiei, he forthwith broke off all his previous engagements and with all the other geisha, taikomochi and courtesans with whom he had appointments and for the span of four years came to see exclusively me. He disclosed to me much about your Lord, Nagase Hatano, and the great filial affection that they shared for one another. He spoke to me, from time time about even you, my lord, and to see you in person is as though I am seeing someone that I have long known, and to see you in person pierces me with some... sadness."

"I... loved Hiei. He was the only man whom I have ever truly loved, and though I resisted it, I could not not love him. And even until this very moment, though I resist it, I cannot cease to love him, and I cannot extricate him from my thoughts. The day when Lord Nagase died, I was the first to find him. He had been at my house in the night. We feel asleep together and in the morning he was gone. I put on my robes to look for him, and when I opened the door, there his body lay... a bloody mass of unrecognizable flesh flooding my doorstep. That was Hiei. He was a mangled, monstrous sight beyond dead, but with his heart still beating! I beat so loudly! Now,  I can still hear it, drumming in my ears."

For the first time in the evening, Chiharu looked directly into Hideshi's eyes. Her hands had made their way to his, touching. Her voice was not loud, neither were her words erratic. Her words were low and calm though tears did continue to stream from her eyes. Her lips formed into  something between a smile and a frown. "I am to blame. Certainly, his dead was retribution for all the years that I had brought disrepute on such an honorable family as his. I am unworthy to live, my Lord, kill me and avenge the blood of my Lord."

Was this still an act? Was the purpose this meeting still to get Hideshi out of their hair? Even Madoka was bewildered. This seemed strangely off improvised away from the script.

"Chiharu-sama!" Madoka interjected. "That is enough!" This madness had to be reined in before things went out of hand.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2020, 11:32:12 AM by matinsandvespers »