Chapter 01: On the Run
The city’s marketplace was huge and lined with rows and rows of shops on both sides of the street, filling up every nook and cranny. Though not nearly as large as the one in the capital, it was still quite impressive, and the twisting and winding roads leading everywhere could easily result in one who was unfamiliar with the place to get lost in the maze of streets.
Mikazuki gazed at the town around him and sighed in contentment. It had been a very long time since he had a chance to be out like this, alone and unhindered. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so light and carefree, able to let his guard down long enough to truly be himself.
It gave him great pleasure to be able to explore someplace by himself, without a plethora of guards following him around and shadowing his every move. That was annoying to say the least and now that he was rid of them, he had every intention of enjoying this newfound freedom.
First stop would be the Jade Tea House, then the Orchid Pavillion, and when the sun has set, he would head over to the Celestial Garden with their beautiful and talented courtesans…
“Your Highness!” A shout from behind him derailed Mikazuki’s train of thoughts.
That had to be Yasusada. Mikazuki ignored the voice and quickened his pace, hoping to lose its owner amidst the crowd.
“Y-Your Highness! Wait up!”
There it was again. That was definitely Yasusada. Mikazuki sighed and contemplated making a break for it but there was nowhere to hide. All around him were wide open streets. Yasusada would catch up to him in a heartbeat.
“Highness please! W-Wait – ”
Giving up on escape, Mikazuki whirled around to catch sight of Yasusada stumbling through the crowd after him.
“Keep your voice down!” he hissed. “Or do you want us to be caught?!”
“S-Sorry,” Yasusada whispered, automatically lowering his voice. “B-But! It has already been three days Your Highness! You said you were only going to leave for a little bit to stretch and look around and that you would return soon. That was the only reason why I agreed to let you sneak out!” There was an expression of disapproval clearly plastered across his face.
“Oh hush,” Mikazuki replied. “You didn’t really believe that did you? Did you honestly think that I would expend so much effort slipping out merely for a few stolen moments?”
So saying, Mikazuki turned around and continued his leisurely walk down the street.
Stunned by such an offhand remark, Yasusada remained frozen for a few seconds before recovering enough to hurry after Mikazuki.
“Y-You tricked me!” Yasusada sputtered indignantly when he caught up to him, his face beginning to redden. He sucked in a deep breath, about to launch into a tirade when Mikazuki cut in.
“Just so you know, I’m not going back!” he announced.
Yasusada stiffened in shock, his jaw dropping open. “What?! Highness you can’t-!”
“I can and I will.” Mikazuki said firmly, emphasising on the will for good measure.
He knew that Yasusada was only concerned about him, after all they had both grown up together. Back when they were young, Yasusada had been hired by the Royal family to be his personal attendant. But as they had grown older, he had morphed into something more – he was a good friend and served Mikazuki faithfully.
Which was why Mikazuki had tricked Yasusada and convinced him into tagging along; he wanted him to be by his side as he ventured out on his own for the first time.
He had been on his way to a hired tutor’s estate where he would be residing for the next few months. The journey from the palace to the estate would have taken them several days to complete. Once there, Mikazuki was sure he would be cloistered once more behind locked doors and the multitude of guards stationed there would have made eluding them much more difficult.
Hence on the fourth day of their journey, he had pleaded weariness and insisted on staying at an inn for the night. He had then talked Yasusada into sneaking out with him and they had slipped out through the windows when the guards that had escorted them weren’t watching. From then on, it had been a piece of cake. By daybreak, they had already made their way into a different town many miles away, and Mikazuki had freedom within his reach.
“But what about your tutor? Lord Seryou is expecting you. And more importantly, your studies! His Majesty said it was imperative that you prepare yourself well for f-for w-w-well…“ Yasusada stuttered and trailed off when he saw the incredulous look Mikazuki was giving him.
“Studies?” Mikazuki snorted in disbelief. “They are merely lessons in decorum to mould me into the perfect offering for the Sanjous. As if I don’t already have them all drilled into my head.”
“Don’t say that,” Yasusada chided. “It’s a good match for you. He belongs to a powerful and influential family. And Lord Sanjou has many achievements as well. At such a young age, he has already made his way through the ranks and is now a captain in the Touken Danshi. Many people dream of…”
As Yasusada continued to blabber on, Mikazuki tuned his voice out and began to let his mind wander.
Sanjou Kogitsune. Heir to the powerful Sanjou clan. Captain of one of the regiments of elite guards… and Mikazuki’s betrothed.
Not for the first time, a feeling of frustration and resentment began to well up inside Mikazuki. As the youngest prince of Hinomoto, his life had always been dictated for him. From his studies to his companions and even his day-to-day activities, they were all chosen and planned out for him.
It didn’t matter if he preferred things like Music or Astronomy. Or if he preferred to spend his time writing poetry in the library or practicing sword moves in the backyard. Connections and ties were more important to the Royal family and he was dragged from one event to another, without any consideration for his opinions.
Even as he had matured from a child into a young man, he had felt trapped in the palace as he began to wade into the treacherous pool that was the Imperial Court. The courtiers all flattered and cajoled him, all the while hiding their true intentions behind their masks. It was a viper’s pit. And yet, Mikazuki had to be mindful of his princely status and maintain a friendly demeanour with them.
It was exhausting.
But he could still understand that this was his responsibility as a prince of the country, a burden that he had to shoulder, and part of his destiny as one of the Imperial family. Despite it being a bitter pill, it was one he could accept and swallow.
Then, there came the day when he was informed of the matter of his betrothal to the Sanjous. That last conversation he had with his father was still clearly etched in his mind.
“I have already accepted an offer of marriage for you. You are to marry Sanjou Kogitsune, the heir to the Sanjou Clan, come summer next year. You will journey to Seryou’s estate in three days to prepare for your betrothal.”
His face was set and his voice brooked no argument. Mikazuki had known from that moment on that he could never have freedom even in love. Despite how perfect Sanjou Kogitsune seemed, Mikazuki could not see their betrothal as anything but another pair of shackles to tie him down.
“…and then we could…” Yasusada was saying before he drifted off. Mikazuki was obviously not paying any attention to him. As usual. He sighed heavily to himself before reaching out to snap his fingers in front of Mikazuki’s face. “Are you even listening to me? Your Highness!”
Mikazuki snapped out of his daze and a pair of piercing blue eyes flickered towards Yasusada’s direction. ‘Hmmm I’m sorry. You were saying?”
“As I was saying,” Yasusada reiterated “We should start heading back. We could still make it in time – “
Before he could even finish his sentence, Mikazuki had already cut him off. “No. I’ve already told you. I won’t go back and that’s final. If you are so desperate to leave, you could always head back by yourself.” His expression was determined; it was the look Mikazuki invariably wore when he refused to budge, and nothing could be said that would change his mind.
Yasusada’s face fell, recognising defeat. “You know I can’t do that,” he snapped, apparently giving up on all pretence of pleasantries and niceties. “How could I leave you unprotected and alone?! If anything were to happen to you, your father would kill me!”
As he uttered this, Mikazuki’s face broke into a relieved smile. Now that he had convinced Yasusada to stay, it felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
So caught up in their conversation were they that neither Mikazuki nor Yasusada noticed the intense stares that were directed towards them.
“From now on, you will stop addressing me as ‘Highness’ even in public and instead call me by name. We’re too conspicuous that way.” Mikazuki glanced up as he said this, running his gaze distractedly across the street. A flash of red in his peripheral vision caught his eye, and it took a few moments for his preoccupied mind to process what he just saw.
There to the side of the street a quarter of a mile away, stood a few of the guards who had accompanied Mikazuki from the palace. They had apparently been searching for him and it looked like he had just been spotted.
“Shit! I hate it when I’m right.” Mikazuki muttered.
Hearing the panic in his voice, Yasusada jerked his head up and followed Mikazuki’s line of vision. His eyes widened as they landed on the company of guards. Their gazes locked and time seemed to slow to a crawl.
It could have been a few seconds or a few minutes, Mikazuki did not know exactly how long they remained that way. However, in the next instant, the standstill was broken. The guards seemed to regain themselves and started scrambling over.
“Run!” Mikazuki shouted. So saying, he grabbed Yasusada’s hand and they took off in a flurry.
And there began a merry chase about town.
Hello here’s a quick guide to the places mentioned in the story:
Jade Tea House – A renowned traditional Tea House which serves snacks and tea to distinguished guests
Orchid Pavillion – An Orchid garden where guests can enjoy viewing flowers along with music accompaniment
Celestial Garden – A famous brothel in the red light district, known for having the best courtesans (besides those in the Capital)