III. The Wildflowers

As Asuka approached the road on the river, she tried to recall all the divinities in the immediate area—stone spirits, river spirit, moss… She sensed their presence, like a shimmer in the rain. But something else was coming. 

She felt two presences. The first one was furious, casting off bolts of sensation that made goose-pimples ripple across her skin. The second presence coming from the trees could have been anything. It simmered, then vanished. Then simmered again, echoing on the fringes of her mind and her hands. 

She did not have time to focus on that second presence as the Wildflower God emerged from the trees. The Wildflower God, like a lion, wore a mane of purple flowers and when he opened his mouth revealing his bluebell teeth, he howled in a high pitched whisper that seemed to swim through the trees as he too, wound through the underbrush.     

Asuka strode to the huddle of local shamans, men wearing the orange and white of their profession, hoping that one of them had served at the Wildflower God’s old shrine. 

“I just came from the forest,” gasped an old shaman with a tangled beard. He wiped the yellow pollen from his face and  bowed to Asuka before continuing. “He cannot be reasoned with. He’s determined to attack the crops.”     

Asuka watched as peasants fled the riverbank, and saw others peering through their shutters. The other two shamans, both young men, watched her warily as Asuka reached into her sleeve for tools.  

The Wildflower God approached the bridge, gazing at the fields. He stomped and shook. His claws ripped up the ground, and seeds sprouted as he put down his paw. Bright yellow bumblebees followed him in procession, humming and buzzing, and Asuka spotted spirits like silver baubles hovering in the treetops, watching. Everyone watching. 

She tried to glimpse another being in the trees. 

But that was not the other presence I felt

 Instead of another spirit appearing, riots of flowers bloomed, spilling from between the trees, and blankets of starry flowers unrolled over the sands of the riverbank as pollen filled the air with a golden dust. Asuka turned away, forcing herself to focus on the threat at hand.  “We need to start purifying,” she said, “set up a barrier immediately and find the god’s shaman.”

“He was killed!” 

She listened to her own heartbeat, imagining its pulse through the raindrops in the air. The golden pollen. Calm, she thought. Be calm.     

One of the young shamans crossed his arms, disgruntled. “Where is High Shaman Shinrusu?”    

“We should try and subjugate. High Shaman Shinrusu would subjugate it.”

Asuka shook her head, already distant. “I know my father better than you.” Asuka watched the edge of the trees, where that other presence beyond waited. She saw yellow behind the clover bushes, lurking. “I will go out and speak with him.”

“Yeah!” snapped Funako, still holding the umbrella over her sister. She flicked her hair. “She does know our father better than you!”    

“Funako, please.”

Funako lifted her dainty nose at them and stepped back, letting the rain fall on Asuka. Asuka turned to the crowd. “Someone needs to tell the hiwau immediately!”

The hiwau, the shaman-king of the Capital and descendent of the Sun Goddess, ruled with supreme authority. Asuka knew they had sent for her father because they thought he would quietly resolve the crisis.  She was not, however, about to risk the crops for the reputations of a few local shamans. 

“No,” cried the young man, white as a sheet. “Please, don’t tell the hiwau—    

“Silence! Know your place," snapped the old shaman. "We will erect a barrier along the Capital, just in case. Princess Asuka, thank you.”

Asuka nodded. She shook her sleeves and stepped onto the bridge. “Great God of Wildflowers,” she called out. "Thank you for coming to visit us. It is a rare and lucky time that you visit the city. Please, come and talk with me.” She clapped twice in respect, sending raindrops scattering from her sleeves.     

The god ignored her and stomped on the bridge with his lion paws, making the boards tremble and frame groan under the weight. Asuka feet the board of the bridge sink beneath her feet.

She stood her ground on her side of the bridge, between the wilderness and the city. "I am not a normal shaman," she told him, a warning. Not a normal girl. She planted her feet between the god and the rice paddies beyond. She bowed. As Asuka raised her head, she watched to see what he would do, her hands posed at her sides. 

The lion riot of wildflowers roared in a spray of seeds and pollen, and he looked over his shoulder as a man emerged from the forest.