Character Name: Sakai Sakura
They say it was his big nose that made me do it. That’s what he tells everyone. It makes him look good, sympathetic. The poor, jilted man, abandoned by a spoiled little girl because his facial features were imperfect. And why shouldn’t everyone believe it? He is ugly. I am spoiled. I don’t deny it. I have wanted for nothing my whole life. My skin has touched only the smoothest silk robes. My lips have tasted only the finest aged oolong teas and the most impeccably-cooked gourmet meals. I have never slept on the hard ground, or beneath the open sky. I have never felt cold or hunger. I am a spoiled little girl, and I know nothing of the world.
But that doesn’t make him the victim. He’s a liar. I didn’t abandon my betrothed because he had a big nose. I would have grown to accept his nose eventually. The rest of him is not so badly-formed. He’s tall and strong and carries himself well. He was not impossibly ugly. Even if he were, I would have done my duty, as I was trained to do, as honor demanded. No, if he were merely ugly, I would be living in his palace now, drinking my fine teas, wrapped in silk robes, resting in the shade of the pagoda, watching the koi flit beneath the surface of his garden pond.
It was not ugliness that led me to dishonor. It was evil. He came from a fine home, and where I come from that means a wealthy one, with a lineage stretching back untold generations. I come from such a home myself. My lineage is pure, untainted by commoners or foreigners. It stretches all the way back to the first emperor. I can recite my lineage from memory, and I know with absolute certainty that I am our emperor’s fifth cousin thrice removed. Of course, what noblewoman of any worth could not say the same?
His family is richer than ours, through its connection to Clan Kuroda, but their blood is less pure, and the real nobles look down on them because of it. But they are wealthy, and wealth counts for a great deal anywhere, but especially at home. And so we were the perfect match. Through me, our children would gain pure blood, unspoiled by the taint of commoners. Through him, they would gain vast wealth, huge tracts of farmland, rich in rice. If only he could have contented himself with that much, I would not be here today.
But he wanted more. He wanted my family’s lands. He wanted our position in society. I was to be his means of attaining those goals. As his wife, should my parents and my brother die, he would inherit everything through me. And so that was precisely what he arranged to do. He planned to murder my entire family on the day of our wedding. I was not meant to overhear, but I did.
Of course I told my father. He even believed me, but it didn’t matter. The marriage contract had been signed between my husband and my father. There was no escaping it, not without loss of face, not without loss of honor. My father knew that assassins would seek to murder him if the wedding went forward, but for the sake of honor, he did not flinch. I wish I were my father’s daughter. I wish I had such fortitude, such courage. But whether through fate or through my own personal failings, I do not have his strength of spirit. I could not bear to see my family destroyed. So, I ran away. I stole a soldier’s uniform, and I ran as fast and as far as I could.
I ruined everything. My father’s business contacts have suffered enormously. He has lost face. The other nobles scorn him now, for raising a willful, disobedient daughter. For no two words are so carefully calculated to bring dishonor on a girl than those. A proper young lady is obedient, pliant, respectful. She does not get ideas into her own head. She does not run off without permission. She does not humiliate her father by breaking a sacred marriage contract. And so, in spite of years of training in flower arrangement, calligraphy, tea ceremony, the keeping of hawks, and the use of the naginata, I am forced to conclude that I am not a proper young lady after all.
What does that make me? An exile? An outcast? Those things to be sure, but what else? What skills do I possess to make my way in the world? Though I stole the uniform and the armor of a soldier, I am not a warrior, not in truth. Nor am I a performer – no one will pay hard-earned silver to hear me play the flute. I am not an innkeeper, though I brew a very fine dragon’s breath oolong.
The reality is that I was raised for one task and one task alone – to be a proper noblewoman. I was trained from an early age to manage a household, to command servants and bodyguards, to fight if necessary, to dictate the dispositions of armies if it came to it, but mostly to serve. I was trained to serve tea to important men with a smile. I was trained to sit quietly and listen attentively, to act as the deferential hostess, a welcoming presence to every important visitor. What use is there for such a creature in this terrible place so far from my beloved island?
In truth, I am not even sure which terrible place this is. I know only that I am surrounded by foreigners, and by demons – demons with pointy ears and demons with pointy teeth. Their dialect which is difficult to follow and I miss as many words as I comprehend. The pointy- toothed demons are usually content to growl in my direction, which sends me scurrying away from them quickly enough. I am well-trained in fighting with the naginata, but what hope do I have in a duel against a battle-scarred demon? Every instinct I have has been cultivated to bow to them and serve them tea, not growl and fight back.
If I could run home, I would. I would give anything to kowtow before my father and beg his forgiveness. But I can’t. If I return home, I will be forced to marry my betrothed, and in marrying him, I will sign my family’s death warrants. It may yet come to that. He is honor-bound to find me. So far as the law is concerned, I am a piece of wayward property and it is his duty to retrieve me. I live in constant fear that he will come for me. He will not come alone, not to a place such as this. If he comes – when he comes, it will be with stout soldiers at his side, with the finest weapons in his hands, and with the force of the law and tradition at his back.
And so I must keep running. I must hide myself in this wilderness, hide myself amongst foreigners and demons. I must never, ever let him find me. For my father’s sake, for my mother’s sake, for my brother’s sake, I will never go home again.
Character Name: Sakai Sakura