Listen to it now on YouTube!
The old man sat in the tiny wooden chair before him, sipping from his tea cup. He set the cup down and clasped his hands over his knees, inspecting the area before him. Not bad, a little poor for his tastes perhaps, but he had seen much worse in these parts. A servant girl ran by him, stopping suddenly when she realised he was sitting there.
“Oh! Uh… my lord, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you were home already!” She bowed low, parallel to the ground. The old man smiled, running a hand up over his elongated forehead. ‘My lord.’ Yes, this place was not bad indeed.
“That’s okay, sweet child,” he replied. He gestured to the chair opposite him, a tiny table with a tea pot situated in the middle. “Come, join me for a tea, won’t you?”
The servant girl looked around nervously.
“I am your lord, am I not?”
She hesitated a moment, confusion fleeting across her face. It faded just as quickly as it had appeared however, and she smiled and began nodding furiously.
“Yes, yes, of course, I’m terribly sorry.” She continued to bow in apology as she took the chair before him, head kept low.
“Tell me, how long have you lived here?” The old man poured the girl a cup of tea and placed it before her. She took it without raising her head, continuing to look down at the table. Perhaps she was not accustomed to being the one being served tea. He smiled once more.
“For as long as I can remember, my lord,” she replied. The cup shook in her hands.
“I see. Go, drink, don’t let me stop you.”
She lifted the cup very slowly to her lips and took a small sip. Steam rose around her face. It was not the prettiest face he had ever seen. Rather average, really. She never expanded on her answer.
“And do you like it here?”
She nodded, still refusing to meet his eyes. It was beginning to feel more and more unlikely that this girl would be the one to engage him with some thrilling conversation this frostbitten evening. She wouldn’t even look at him.
“Okay. Well, do you by any chance play Go?” he asked in a louder, more cheerful tone. Perhaps a change of conversation. She shook her head. No, of course not. The old man frowned. He took another sip from his own cup, a fine piece of crockery. The lord of the manor had spared no expense there. A cultured man. Very important. He approved.
“Okay, let’s try something else. Do tell me, my dear, what do I usually do for fun around here?”
Finally the servant girl looked up at him and tilted her head slightly.
“I’m sorry, I don’t-”
The old man smiled. “I’m sorry, that’s a strange question, I know. I’m feeling a little ill, would you mind helping me to my study?”
The girl rushed over to lend the old man a hand. He pushed himself up slowly, leaning on the girl’s proffered shoulder. He was perfectly capable of walking under his own power, but if she was going to offer, who was he to refuse?
She lead him into the next room, helping him to the heated pit in the middle.
“Thank you so much, you are too kind.”
He smiled up at the girl as she bowed deeply and shuffled backwards to the door. She disappeared, closing the sliding doors behind her with an audible ‘thud,’ and the old man let out a sigh. He moved towards the doors leading to the inner garden and slid them open, letting in a cold breeze. Snow drifted softly in the air before him, landing on the bushes and slowly dissipating in the pond. The ‘thunk, thunk’ of the wooden fountain nearby was calming, even to his old heart. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled.
This world was boring. This place had proved particularly boring. Not even the servants would engage him this far north of his usual playing grounds. Perhaps it was some northern cultural thing, he couldn’t remember the serving girls being quite this shy in the more populated cities down south. He could usually get at least some interesting conversation out of them, if not the secrets of the household. Servants always knew more than their masters thought they did. Some of these secrets had lead to many a night of fun and games. Yet up here towards the most northern tip of Yashima, an area renowned both for cold winters and cold people, nothing.
He stepped down into the garden, leaving tiny footprints in the snow as he proceeded to the wooden fountain. Thunk, thunk. Over and over, the only sound in an otherwise silent world. This was one of his favourite human creations. They had truly exceeded themselves with this simple, yet elegant piece of technology. If only he could have met the human who first thought to cut a piece of bamboo in half and fill it with water. He would shake that man’s hand.
Savouring the atmosphere a moment longer, he finally opened his eyes and continued towards the opposite doors leading towards the entrance of the manor. He slid them open, climbed up, dusted the snow off his yukata and continued past a few more servants cleaning nearby. He bowed his head in a marked, precise manner at each one, smiling, and walked into the dark streets outside, brushing past a much larger body.
“Wait, who are-” the man looked down at him, his brow furrowed. Then his eyes changed and he bowed low. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see you there. Please forgive me.”
Ah, so this was the actual lord of the house. He wore a casual, plain yukata, covered in a light dusting of snow, a sword hanging from his waist. The yukata was a simple, earthy brown colour. Not even patterned. Were all northerners really this dull?
“Not at all, my mistake.”
The old man lowered his head slightly in reply, then continued on his way. The lord of the manor appeared to be the only person on the cold, dark streets at this time of night, and he continued to bow as the old man strolled lazily down the street.
“My lord, you’ve returned! Wait, but if you were out, then who…” The conversation faded into the background behind him. The old man smiled, reaching up to dust some of the snow off the top of his head. He paced the dark streets, taking the village in. Nothing but dreary blackness, snow and never-ending cold. How did these people live? What did they do for fun?
In the distance he spotted a dark figure silhouetted against the moonlight. A grin spread from ear to ear. Finally, some fun. He picked up the pace, snow kicking up around his sandals and coating the bottom of his yukata.
“Well well, aren’t you just a sight for sore eyes.” The smile continued to paint his oblong face. “Please tell me you have some good news for me, if I hang around here any longer I’m going to bury my own eyes in ash.”
A much taller, slender woman was leaning against a nearby tree. She was like a beautiful, elegant statue carved out of the snow itself. Truly breathtaking. She was one of his favourites.
“I don’t think he’s the one.”
The old man’s face fell.
“I see. Well, that is most unfortunate. We’ll just have to proceed without him then.”
She never was one for long, deep and meaningful conversations, but that was okay. She got the job done, that was what mattered.
“Not at all, my dear. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Not even I can argue with that.”
“What would you like me to do?”
Her gaze never faltered. He felt that, under different circumstances, her gaze alone would rip his still beating heart out and feed it to the dogs. Or perhaps the foxes.
“Stay. Keep watching. Wait. He may not be the one, but he’s out there. We’ll find him.” He paused, looking up at the woman as a smile spread slowly across his face. “Or her. But for now, stay. Keep your cover. Look for the one who can help us. Such a pity, though, I really thought he would be the one.”
He stopped in the middle of the road. She was already walking away.
“Wait, where are you going?!”
“I need to get back. My message to the lord has been delivered, now I’ll be expected back. If you want me to keep my cover…”
The old man pouted. “But you just got here, and this town is no fun.”
She stopped in the middle of the snowy road and turned around. She truly was a breathtaking creature. He could almost see her tails, swishing in the snow. It was a shame she had to hide them. This world needed more beauty in it.
“The Parade is in a few weeks, I’m sure you can last until then.”
His smile grew once more. Yes indeed. Just a few short weeks away. He’d been looking forward to this night for quite some time. Only under a total blood moon were they all allowed to gather in the one place, selected carefully by Nurarihyon himself. He had chosen up north this year, but he was starting to feel a slight tinge of regret about that now.
“Will my presence be required?” She was still standing there, waiting. He waved a hand at her.
“Go, keep your cover. Find him. That’s more important right now.”
She nodded and turned, disappearing into the snowy night like a wisp. Anticipation began to rise once more. Just a few short weeks until the Night Parade would be unleashed once more. Then, finally, he could have some fun.