Of Heat and Death
Heian-Kyo, 1011 AD.
He sat just outside the sliding door, the hem of his kariginu just touching the pool of bright afternoon sunlight that fell upon the wooden porch of the Fujiwara residence of the imperial palace. A servant sat not far away, his brow wet with sweat that was only partly due to the sweltering heat of the hot summer's day. No, his quandary was whether he should disturb the young prince with a warning that his royal highness' hand was going to be exposed to sunshine if he did not move it soon, or whether to leave the grieving prince to his quiet contemplation.
In the end the servant acted and drew Fujiwara no Sai's attention away from his newly dead brother. After all, this Fujiwara was only a 17th prince, even now that he had moved up from 18th because of his older brother's death. It really wasn't enough to give up one's care of one's appearance over; the man had plenty other brothers left, both older and younger.
Like all attendees to the funeral, Sai wore twelve layers of white silk with a sash in yet more white. Unlike the other attendees, he sat in quiet remembrance of his brother's life, his sickbed and his death. No none here had been as close to the deceased as SAi had been, especially where Tsuyo's last few weeks was concerned, when only Sai had kept him company, doing his best to distract his brother from what they both knew would be the outcome of his sickness.
Decorum dictated that any emotion expressed must either be stylized and dignified, or if it could not be either of those, it had to remain hidden behind elegant white fans. Sai covered his face for the entirety of the ceremony, so as to hide the tears he could not contain.
It was fortunate that the funeral was on another humid and hot summer day, because it made sure that each person attending there was too preoccupied with trying not to sweat through their twelve layers of silk to notice that at least half of the moisture that could be spied around the edges of Fujiwara no Sai's fan was in fact tears and not sweat at all.
Edo 1862 AD.
Once Torajiro had told Sai in no uncertain terms that he was not leaving the Honinbou school now that its students were afflicted with disease, Sai quit trying to make him go. Instead he did what he did best when not playing Go; he stayed out of the way and kept quiet.
There was dread in his heart as he saw new students being brought into the sickroom. He recognized the pallor of their countenance, their jaundiced faces; it was the disease that had carried off his own brother so many centuries ago.
He'd had a hunch it might be bad, when he had first urged Torajiro to leave, but now that he saw how many were taken down with sickness, he was shocked. In his own time he'd been lucky, only Tsuyo had died of the disease that summer and only because his brother had been weakened by pneumonia the winter before. Even though that summer had been particularly hot, no-one else in Sai's family had died.
Lucky, yes, but not lucky enough as the absence of his brother had distracted Sai from realizing the trap his rival had set him in the form of the terms of that fateful game. Ah, Tsuyo had always been the one with a nose for intrigue; Sai, without his brother there, had been too easily trapped.
But this summer, this hot summer, Sai knew there was no courtly intrigue, no tricky games. Only the summer heat he could not feel and the stench of death he could not smell.
And then that night Sai saw it on Torajiro's face; the beginning of the end.
Tokyo 2010 AD.
Hikaru sat, without due deference, on the head stone that was one row down from Shusaku's, with his face turned towards the lettering.
'Sai, I've won my game against Djozo but lost again from Akira,' he stated in a clear voice that indicated that he was used to talking to gravestones.
'Arg, that guy! And he had to be such a pompous ass about it too!' he continued his tirade, but then he slowed down and said, 'a bit like you sometimes, I guess.
He locked his hands together and looked down at them, not quite embarrassed and sat like that for a moment in the bright sun of a lazy summer's day. Then he exclaimed 'oh,' sat up, grabbed his rucksack from beside him, opened it and produced a some pages stapled together at a corner. He hopped off his inopportune seat and deposited the bundle on top of a small pile of stapled- together sheets that had rumpled in the sun and rain.
'Here are this month's kifu, I hope they are better than last month's,' he said cheerfully, now standing before the headstone properly. He stood still for a long moment, drew in a breath and then he bowed deeply.
As Hikaru made his way out of the cemetery, on his way to meet Waya and Isumi for dinner, the dry summer heat evaporated the few tears that were running down his face.