Spring was in Kyoto, if not yet in the mountains. The road into the city was lined with peasants preparing rice fields. The blossoming plum orchards hummed with bees.
The round moon-gate to the Spring Palace was flanked by pots of dwarfed cherry trees dripping in pink tinged flowers. Okurimono peered into the courtyard, thinking she had never seen anything so beautiful. Its pavilions looked to be as much of a playground for the gods as the formidable donjon of the shōgun’s castle.
The guards at the gate stepped forward, jabbing the air with iron tipped bamboo spears.
“Scram!” cried one.
“Come back in a few years. You’re too young for a tart,” laughed his friend.
Okurimono did not flinch. After the dangers she faced on the mountain road, these men seemed foolish.
“I come from the Lady Fujiko-san for Okaa-san, the Lady Yarite of the Spring Palace.”
She reached into the bento bag and presented the piece of jade.
“Step inside.” said one as the other shouted a curt order at an old servant woman.
Ignoring the soldiers, but bowing low to Okurimono, the old servant gestured her to follow.
Inside the compound, Okurimono was surprised to see many finely dressed and immaculately painted women kneeling patiently inside a cage.
“Who are they?” she asked in awe of their beauty and clothing.
“Do not look at them,” hissed the old servant woman. “They are yūjo, available to anyone with the price, no matter samurai or peasant.” With many impatient gestures she waved Okurimono past the women.
Outside a grand house, with a majestic cedar shingled roof, the servant signalled Okurimono to wait as she hurried up the veranda steps with much bowing to the servants at the door. A few moments later a magnificently dressed old woman came out.
Remembering her manners, Okurimono, got down on her knees and bowed her forehead to the floor. ‘Okaa-san.’
“No,” snapped the old woman harshly. “Who are you?”
‘Tengoku no Okurimono,’ she answered. Kow-towing with supreme politeness Okurimono presented the jade and letter stating her business.
“Wait,” said the magnificently dressed old woman and hurried inside.
She reappeared moments later. “Come.”
Okurimono took off her shoes on the veranda. A maid hastened out to take her benyo bag, hat and kosode. Another appeared with towels and a bowl of jasmine scented water to wash her hands and face. A third and fourth opened and readjusted the folds of her kimonos. When the magnificently dressed old woman considered her presentable, she impatiently gestured for the inner screens to be slid open.
Okurimono followed her to a room where a large handsome old woman knelt on a cushion. She wore an ornate black wig with many combs and was dressed in the most exquisite embroidered black kimono Okurimono had ever seen, extravagantly tied with bright obi sash.
In her hand was her mother’s letter.
Knowing this must be the Lady Yarite, Okurimono dropped to the floor touching her forehead to fine woven tatami matting. ‘Okaa-san.’
“Stand up child.”
“So Tengoku no Okurimono, you are my Fujikochan’s daughter.”
The old woman smiled revealing the black lacquered teeth of the Emperor’s court. It left Okurimono in doubt of her importance. She bowed trembling, barely daring to speak.
“Fujikochan was my greatest achievement and most bitter disappointment. Now she sends you. Come, tell me everything from the beginning. I am greedy for gossip of your mother and that rascal Uco.”
Bearing in mind Ucosan’s advice, Okurimono knew everything depended on her story. This had to be the best performance she had ever given. To win over such an august person as Okaa-san, she must use all her skills.
As she told her story, Okurimono was pleased to see Okaa-san smile. Once or twice she burst out laughing, without covering her mouth. She sounded as hearty and common as Ucosan. When the old woman laughed Okurimono paused, so she would not miss the next part of her tale. During these lulls she snatched sly glances at the maids giggling breathlessly behind their hands, sounding no louder than mice.
At times Okaa-san slightly declined her head, causing two maids to rush forward with dazzling white handkerchiefs to dab beneath her eyes, so no tears would mar her perfect make-up. As Okurimono paused, she noticed the maids slyly take handkerchiefs from their sleeves to dab under their own eyes.
She bowed when finished, as much to conceal a smile of triumph, as respect for her honoured patron.
“Tengoku no Okurimono: Heavenly Gift. Indeed, your mother sent me a rare gift in you. How like your mother you are. In your wild tale of yokai and kami I hear my dear Ucochan. She was always a liar,” she added with affection.
“What is it child, out with it.”
‘Respectfully, my mother is ill, Okaa-san. I beg of you, arrange an interview with the shōgun’s mother, my grandmother.’
The old woman laughed aloud. Snatching a handkerchief from a maid to wipe her own eyes, she ruined her make-up. Catching her breath she asked, “Your mother told you this?”
‘Ucosan.’ the girl replied.
“No doubt she did.”
Okurimono looked puzzled.
“Child, the shōgun’s mother died long ago and his brother ordered to kill himself before you were conceived. A rich Nagasaki merchant bought your mother’s contract. I told her not to accept; she had a place with me. Your mother did not listen.
“A few years after you were born, the shōgun expelled the Portuguese black priests infesting Nagasaki like a plague and banned all foreigners from the land. He ordered all Nippon to recant the filthy superstition of their shamefully crucified god.”
“Many in Nagasaki, rich on foreign trade, rebelled against our rightful lord. Your father was crucified, along with his family. His wealth confiscated. Your mother, as his concubine, was to be sold. I helped her escape over the mountains with what wealth she could carry.”
‘Respectfully, my mother is dying.’
“She said she was dying in her letter. What do you want, child?”
‘Respectfully Okaa-San, I came for the imperial chrysanthemum to heal my mother.’
“Only the Emperor has the imperial chrysanthemum. It is rare and expensive. Fortunately I have a taste for rare and expensive things.”
“Shall we make a deal, you and I? The flower in payment for a contract binding you to me. I shall train you as I trained your mother. Make you the greatest tayū in Kyoto. What are your skills? Do you know the tea ceremony?”
“Can you write poetry?”
‘I can write my name, but I can sing and dance. I can show you.’
“Are you not exhausted, child?”
‘Woman is made to serve and please. Pain and weariness are her lot,’ said Okurimono formally. ‘Everything worthwhile has a price, Okaa-San.’
“Art demands the greatest price of all. It is what I taught your mother.”
A maid brought Okurimono a long necked shamisen and a plectrum. Okurimono deftly tuned the lute’s three strings and began a lament from the ancient tale of Genji.
When the song ended, Okaa-San asked. “How old are you child?”
‘In a few moons I reach my twelfth year.’
“The same age as your mother when she came to me. Normally, I do not begin training until girls are a few years older.”
She clapped her hands. A maid hurried carrying a potted plant. The imperial chrysanthemum had one large bloom, a golden daisy surrounded by sixteen broad petals. “Do we have a bargain?”
Okurimono could have wept with joy. ‘Oh yes, Okaa-San.’
* * *
With all the excitement, sleep eluded Okurimono. Okaa-San had promised to send a litter to collect her mother. By tomorrow evening, Okurimono would see her mother and Ucosan, and know if things had transpired as the nine tailed fox, Lady Mae, promised.
Drifting off to sleep, a premonition made Okurimono open her eyes and sit up. Her mother stood in her room. Wan as moonlight, she flickered to and fro like the flame of an oil lamp guttering in a draft. At times she almost faded away until Okurimono could see the panels of the shoji screen through her. This was her spirit image, her ikiryō, a living person’s soul most often seen near death, when the chains of life are weakest.
She cried out in anguish.
A maid rushed in, bowing as if to an honoured guest. “Okurimono-San?”
Okurimono knew what she had to do. ‘Bring scissors. Quickly.’
Ucosan told a story of how a girl cleverly saved her mother’s life with a chrysanthemum. A young girl, with an ill mother, met a kindly kami who said her dying mother would live a month for each petal on the chrysanthemum in her room. Cleverly the girl took her scissors and cut each petal into many strips, ensuring her mother a long, long life.
Alone in her bedchamber, Okurimono did the same, using the scissors to shred the chrysanthemum’s petals into ribbons. She worked feverishly. When she finished, Okurimono inspected her handiwork with horror. Each damaged petal was wilting.
Had she saved her mother, like the girl in the story, or merely hastened her death?
Exhausted Okurimono flung herself on the mattress and cried herself to sleep.
Next morning Okurimono saw the chrysanthemum flower was a vibrant golden globe of a thousand slender petals. Tamamo no Mae, the nine tailed fox, had sent a miracle, just as she promised.
Sunset found Okurimono expectantly waiting at the Moon-gate for her mother’s palanquin. As it grew dark, her maid came to take her to her room. She explained it was not appropriate for the patrons to see one so young and assured the girl her mother would arrive tomorrow.
Yet, it was the same story the following day. As the maid collected her once again,
Okurimono respectfully asked her if Okaa-San would allow her to return home to see what the matter was. The maid frowned at the request, but promised to ask.
In the afternoon on the third day, the maid interrupted Okurimono’s lessons with many apologies. A runner had arrived. The mother’s litter was expected.
Eagerly Okurimono snatched up the golden chrysanthemum and followed the maid to the moon-gate. Her heart pounded with excitement when she saw the closed litter carried by four strong bearers. Rushing outside the compound she waited impatiently by the potted cherry trees as they put down the brightly painted yellow kago with its sumptuous curved roof and gauze curtained windows.
One of Okaa-San’s guards opened the door.
Okurimono’s heart leapt at the sight of a delicate bright kimono.
Ucosan stepped out.
‘Where is Mama?’ Okurimono cried, afraid she knew the answer.
Ucosan’s eyes filled with tears. Spotting the globe chrysanthemum, she quickly composed herself.
“Okurimonochan, my news is both great and terrible. Two days ago, I was happy to see your mother whole and well, her colour and appetite returned. We congratulated each other on our good fortune, as I heard a rapping at the door and my heart sunk like a stone.”
“Outside was Lady Tamamo no Mae, the nine-tailed fox, in her finest kimono. Oh my child, you had cut this beautiful flower into so many petals her life was now too long. The divine Emperor and the shōgun would demand the same lifespan from the gods. There would be no peace between earth and heaven. As she was as long lived as a divine sage, the Lady Mae had come to take your mother to dwell for evermore among the immortals.”
As Ucosan spoke a breeze snatched the blossom from the potted cherry trees. A shower of petals drifted like snow. One touched Ucosan upon the lips.
Okurimono burst into tears.
“No tears here,” said Ucosan. “It is not fitting.”
* * *
Under the tutelage of Okaa-San, Okurimono became Kyoto’s most famous tayū. Men paid five years rice in gold to spend a single night in her company. Many nobles offered to buy her contract. She refused each offer.
Of course you will not have heard of Okurimono, you only know of Kogane no Hana, the Golden Flower. The name she took on the day she became orian.
And that is her story, or at least the story she told when she was old and mistress of the Spring Garden Pleasure House, to young girls sold by their parents to train as orian, and missing their homes very much.
At the end she would add reflectively …
“That is why the word for Floating World sounds the same as Sorrowful World. For everything in this world has a price and art demands the greatest price of all.”
Please join us again tomorrow for a special post on the writing of The Legend of the Golden Flower.
©Paul Andruss 2018
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
When Fairy Queen Sylvie snatches his brother, schoolboy Jack is plunged into a sinister fantasy world of illusion and deception – the realm of telepathic fairies ruled by spoilt, arrogant fairy queens.
Haunted by nightmares about his brother and pursued by a mysterious tramp (only seen by Jack and his friends) Jack fears he too will be stolen away.
The tramp is Thomas the Rhymer, who only speaks in rhyme. Lost and frightened Thomas needs Jack’s help to find his way home.
The race is on for Jack and his friends to save Thomas from the wicked Agnes Day (who wants to treat Thomas like a lab rat). And save Jack’s brother from Sylvie.
To do this they need the help of Bess – the most ancient powerful fairy queen in the land.
But there is a problem…
No one knows where Bess is… or even if she is still lives.
And even if they find her… will she let them go?
The latest review for the book
I stumbled across this book one day while reading a historical piece written by the author. He had included an image of this book cover at the bottom of his article which immediately drew my attention. This author often writes long historical dissertations so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took a chance and purchased the Kindle edition. What a delightful surprise! I couldn’t put the book down!
What I found was a fantastic story about one of my favorite subjects, faeries! Not only was it geared to the YA genre, but it also included a fair amount of historical fact to make the story shine.
When Jack’s older brother Dan is abducted before his very eyes, he is stunned by the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance. The fact that Jack witnessed the strange abduction and doesn’t tell his parents only adds to his troubles. Jack’s mother is suffering from a chronic illness and his greatest hope is that the situation will rectify itself, and Dan will come home on his own.
One night, Jack starts receiving cell phone calls from Dan, and when he answers, there’s no one on the line. He tries to tell his parents and the police the truth about what happened, but every time he opens his mouth to speak, his throat closes up and he is unable to utter a single word. Faery glamours? Could be!
In the meantime, Jack starts seeing a dirty tramp hanging around his house who only speaks in rhyme. It becomes apparent that no one can see the tramp but Jack, so he enlists the help of his friends to help him solve the mystery behind his brother’s disappearance.
Jack and his friends are thrust into the magical world of the fey where the kids experience the light and the dark, of a failing faery kingdom. They learn about ley lines and how the fey evolved beside mankind. The story progresses with plenty of magic and suspense until you reach the satisfying end.
Let me just say, that this is one of the most creative books I have ever read about the fey. Jack’s friends are reminiscent of the characters in the Harry Potter series and I had no problem connecting with their personalities. The plot is brilliant, although I had a hard time separating fact from fiction. That’s what I call good writing!
I enjoyed this novel and will read it more than once. I feel children and adults of all ages will enjoy this book. Do you love magic and all things faery? Then, have a read because this book is reasonably priced and will keep you entertained for hours.
MY RATING: Character Believability: 5 Flow and Pace: 5 Reader Engagement: 5
Reader Enrichment: 5 Reader Enjoyment: 5 Overall Rate: 5 out of 5 Stars
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC
Connect to Paul on social media.
It would be wonderful to have your thoughts about the story. Thanks Sally
A special post tomorrow that goes into the background and research for this beautiful story.