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Gyumaoh 17

~*~*~

There are rooms in Hotou Castle that have not been opened since the resurrection. There are entire floors, in truth, that have fallen into disuse. That these were the floors formerly most heavily used and occupied by the human scientist who engineered the revival is a fact not well known among the castle's current occupants. Most of the staff and servants are new; the previous cadre having been deemed disposable to their lord's fresh hunger. Gyokumen-Kousho would not tolerate the presence of any who might have held some hidden sympathy for Kougaiji.

Except for one, but that one is held out of amusement, and perhaps some small fascination. Or perhaps only by Gyumaoh's request, though nothing so formal is ever said, of course.

Regardless, that one has nothing to do with the abandoned spaces within the castle.

In one of these rooms, on one of those floors, is a stone statue. Gyokumen-Kousho has taken great pains to ensure her beloved remains unaware of its existence. And yet she is incapable of destroying it, though she had long taunted the false prince with that very threat.

In another, ashes mingle with the dust on the floor, and ruined scaffolding is strewn like so many broken metal bones. This room is not sealed, nor off-limits; it is merely neglected for having outlived its usefulness and requiring too much effort to reclaim.

And on another floor, there are rooms that seem to take up more space on the inside than the outer dimensions of the castle allow for. These rooms are sealed, not by the Queen's order, nor even by the King's, but by some force of will or magic that is unfamiliar to the youkai.

A human of a certain caste might have recognized it, but of course there are no humans remaining in the castle.

The level of its power was as a gnat to the great elephant that was Gyumaoh's power, and like a gnat, it troubled the minds of youkai who dared venture too close. A thick stone wall was erected where the door had been, but still the buzzing remained. No one paused on that landing of the staircase, but hurried past, shivering.

The fact that there had been another staircase, built specifically for a certain doctor's use, was forgotten as easily as he was.

Whether the buzzing of the gnat ever troubled the Great King, no one could say. He was often away on campaign and, when home, his aura overwhelmed the castle to the point that the entire building seemed to almost emanate a glow of power. Even his first wife and queen would not dare to ask him about such a trivial detail, especially one that always seemed to slip the mind at first opportunity.

And his son and heir?

Prince Rajesh preferred to consider such things in silence and come to his own conclusions.

~*~*~

On rainy days, the prince's tutors found he became nigh on intolerable. His ability to outstrip their teachings astounded them all, often forcing them to cut short the lessons for fear of boring the prince by teaching what he somehow already knew. But on rainy days, there was no fear of contradiction or debate from the prince. The focus of his thoughts turned inward, even while his outward behaviour became more fractious, until they found it best to concede defeat and allow him to do as he would for the day. Even holding the lessons in an inner room with no windows would not stay the prince's temper.

The only thing that had ever calmed the prince's mood was the gift of a slender, leather-bound tome of human lore. Such books had been outlawed, of course, and entire libraries had been torched with complete disregard for their contents. The youkai had never had a written history of their own, had relied instead on ancestral memory and oral tradition to pass on any teachings or history deemed important enough to remember. They had no great aversion to writing per se, using it for decrees and letter writing and the like, but they'd never committed their history or mythology to paper. Books were a thing the humans, with their small minds and short memories, relied on to transmit and perpetrate their lies about the youkai and their own supremacy.

Such a gift, then, was a dangerous thing, and not given lightly.

The youkai who had offered it had been a traveller, a younger son of some youkai lord of mild disrepute. Certainly not the kind of visitor who should have been entertained in the Great King's hall. The gift itself had, by necessity, passed through several hands before reaching the prince and had only arrived intact due to being locked in a strong wooden box. The key to which arrived separately, delivered by other hands.

The prince devoured the book with a hunger he hadn't known he possessed until that moment. It seemed to him, suddenly, as if his tutors, his entire education, had been deeply and impossibly wrong simply for the lack of such tangible knowledge. It was not laziness, nor stubbornness, that had kept him from absorbing his tutors' lessons -- it was their approach.

His tutors were baffled, astonished, and not a little apprehensive when he approached them, demanding they provide more books. It would not meet with his Lady mother's approval, they demurred. It was not seemly for the prince to express an interest in such perverted knowledge as might be found in human tomes.

Prince Rajesh opened his book to a familiar page, but quoted from it without glancing down. "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."1 His gaze, dark and deep and lit from within by an unmistakable fire, held them pinned. "I would know my enemy," he said.

It was decided that the wisest course of action would be to secretly attempt the acquisition of more books for the Prince.

~*~*~

It was some six months later before the forbidden books began to trickle in. On the first occasion, it was not a whole book, but merely a collection of pages, frayed and ragged along the edges, rolled and secreted into the edging of a woven silk blanket. On the second, it was an entire scroll, hidden in the throat of a stuffed and mounted deer's head. But as the months went on and nothing was noticed and no one was punished, the gifts came more openly; still hidden from plain view, but not at such lengths as the first.

The Prince's lessons took a turn after that. Rather than accepting his tutors' instruction, he would question them on the details of whatever volume he was reading at the time. They found themselves hard-pressed, as the weeks wore on, to keep up with the prince's new-found curiosity. By the end of his fifteenth year, he had dismissed all but one of them, preferring to seek his own paths to knowledge.

The one who remained was an elderly youkai by the name of Yosh. His origins were obscure, but there was rumour that he had served in the Great King's household at the time of the binding, and had slept the dreamless sleep with the Great King and his son Kougaiji. When Rajesh asked if this were true, Yosh merely folded his hands in his sleeves and smiled.

"This humble servant's origins are of no consequence," he insisted politely, bowing low before the prince.

Yosh's politeness was formidable indeed. Rajesh accepted this and put the question from his mind.


~*~*~

1 Sun Tzu - The Art of War
Section III: 18 - http://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html
(Lionel Giles, trans. 1910)
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brokenworld01

August 2011

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