Fandom: The Twelve Kingdoms
Theme: 01 - Never To Leave Your Side
Word Count: 1259
Summary: "Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach." -Tom Robbins
Author's Notes: None
Komatsu Naotaka had seen plenty of battlefields. The sight of dead bodies laid out for miles, birds circling above, the scent of decay and death was something he could see without so much as batting an eye. Then again, Naotaka had never been a particularly sensitive man and battle had never bothered him. The loss of life, the loss of his people, was another story. Wandering through this particular battlefield, Naotaka surveyed the amount of death spread out here. He couldn’t help but think as he observed that sooner rather than later this fate might befall his own people. He watched some of his men wandering around ahead, checking for anything that could be taken from the corpses. He knew they should surrender. Struggling against the Murakami was futile.
“My Lord! Over here!”
Breaking from his thoughts, Naotaka glanced to the side. One of the men was waving at him while two others were crouched down over something. Frowning, Naotaka wandered over and paused. To his surprise the men had found someone who didn’t look like he belonged on the battlefield at all. He was a young boy, maybe no older than thirteen, wearing rags. He lay on his stomach and although at first glance he seemed just as dead as everyone else, Naotaka strangely knew he was not.
“What’s a child doing in the middle of a battlefield?” One of the men asked.
“I don’t think he was part of the battle,” Naotaka said and crouched down. He touched the boy’s face and found it was quite warm, maybe a little too much. “He’s definitely alive.”
“Not for much longer, I’m sure,” Another man scoffed from behind. “We should just leave him.”
“We can’t do that!” the first man who had spoken exclaimed. “We should at least take him back. Even if he just ends up dying we could at least say we tried.”
As the men continued to bicker, Naotaka studied the boy closer. He looked like an ordinary child. His hair was long, falling around his shoulders and wet from the tide. Yet despite his average appearance something about him struck the young lord as odd. He couldn’t place his finger on it but it immediately perked his curiosity.
“We’ll take him back,” Naotaka said, causing all the men to abruptly fall silent. “It’s not like it’ll be a problem for us to do so.”
The men muttered among themselves, but said nothing. Even if they had protests they would not argue with a lord’s son. Gently Naotaka rolled the boy over on his back but paused. Something flickered faintly, a motion he caught out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head slightly, peering at the ground. He had the strangest sensation something else was with this boy, lurking near by. After a moment he scooped the unconscious boy up and stood.
“You can take him back to my home,” the first man said. “It isn’t far.”
“Very well. Right down the beach, yes?”
“Yes, My Lord.”
Naotaka followed the man; an older fisherman who had once been a solider in his youth but was now no longer fit enough to charge into battle. It was several days later when the boy awoke and a bit longer after that that Naotaka learned his name. Although prodded by most of the men for information about where he came from and what had happened on that battlefield, Rokuta remained tight lipped and had no answers for their questions. He did seem quite fascinated by Naotaka and before the lord knew it he was being followed. When asked about it by the various townspeople or his men, Naotaka merely laughed and told them their guess was as good as his. Truthfully he didn’t care one way or another what Rokuta chose to do but when a war loomed on the horizon he knew the boy had to leave.
“The sight of blood bothers you, doesn’t it? That’s why you passed out on the battlefield before,” Naotaka had asked him.
Rokuta hesitated and then nodded. Naotaka laughed. “I guess you’d make a poor solider.”
At that Rokuta’s face went sour. “Is that all you think about? War?”
“No, but right now it’s hard not to.”
There was silence and Rokuta looked away. Naotaka couldn’t help but note how frustrated the boy seemed to look nowadays. He followed Naotaka around yet he did so with great reluctance.
“You should leave, Rokuta,” Naotaka said. “If you don’t care for war, that is.”
Naotaka arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
But Rokuta never answered. Instead he stood from where they both sat on the shoreline and ran off. It was later that Naotaka sent a foot solider to give Rokuta some money and send him off. But Rokuta didn’t leave and as the Murakami trapped his village and began to kill everyone off one by one, Naotaka was sure Rokuta would be killed along with them. Oddly this struck him with a feeling a deep regret, somehow different than the regret he was feeling at the loss of his people. He wasn’t able to explain it at the time. Later when the escape had failed and he lay in that small boat, drifting and waiting to die, he had been giving the chance to live again. This boy Rokuta, whom he had found half dead on the beach so long ago, bowed before him and pressed his forehead against Naotaka’s foot. The words he spoke then Naotaka would never forget.
“By the Will of Heavens I grant this kingdom unto you. Henceforth I pledge to ever stand loyal by your side. Will you swear your devotion to your people? Say you swear. If you will bear the hopes of the people, I will bear the weight of the country.”
Five hundred years later, Naotaka was now Shouryuu and the kingdom Rokuta had given him, the Kingdom of En, was still going strong. On the five hundredth anniversary of their rule, after the celebrating and the ceremonial formalities, Shouryuu asked his kirin why he had never left when Shouryuu had told him to all those centuries ago.
“That isn’t obvious to you yet?” Rokuta asked incredulously. “You were the king. A kirin can’t just ignore their king or abandon them. Even if they are an idiot.”
“I wonder,” Shouryuu mused, lifting his cup of saké towards the night sky. “Maybe it’s the other way around.”
“A ruler is the world to his or her kirin, correct? But it isn’t supposed to work vice versa. Yet I think rulers who don’t believe that don’t last as long.”
Rokuta leaned back on his arms, also looking heavenward from where he sat beside his king. “What are you babbling about? I think you’ve had too much to drink.”
“In simplistic terms, then: You are my world just as I am yours. The promise to never leave my side always means I don’t leave yours or else the kingdom isn’t as strong.”
Shouryuu continued to gaze at the sky. He did not bother to look at Rokuta but he already knew the type of mortified expression that was likely on his face. It made him smirk slightly. After a long period of silence he heard Rokuta speak again, voice heavy with embarrassment.
“You’ve definitely had too much to drink.”
Shouryuu laughed long and hard, ruffling Rokuta’s hair with his free hand. In response Rokuta stole the bottle of saké Shouryuu had been steadily draining and Shouryuu felt that everything was how it should be.