There was one shrine library left in the city and Asuka was going to read it. Asuka opened and re-opened chests and boxes.
She had run out of scrolls to trade.
As her big scroll chest snapped shut, Asuka pressed her hands against her eyes. Short of stealing from the family collection, she was out of options. Someone knocked on her door.
“Go away, Shiho.”
Funako slid open the door leading into the hallway, grinning. She closed the door. “Do we need to talk?”
Asuka, normally so composed, flushed and busied herself with her empty chest. “No.”
Funako shrugged and flopped on the floor. “Okay, I was wondering...”
“Not now, Funako.”
“Have you run out of scrolls? You’ve been visiting other libraries for some time now. I’ve been counting how many leave the house with you.”
“How terribly observant.”
Funako gave a self-deprecating smile. “Well, at least I ended up with one of Dad’s skills. I know you’ve run out. I don’t really have any scrolls about magic or anything, but I’ve been working on this for some time...”
Opening the door, Funako reached into the hall and retrieved a flat, cedar wood case. She handed it to Asuka. “You’re going to Nichiwa Shrine today, right? Tell Lady Nichiwa I finally finished and this is my gift to her. She will let you use the library for as long as you need.”
Flecks of gold in the paper glittered as Asuka unrolled one of the scrolls, revealing her sister’s careful handwriting.
“It’s my novel,” clarified Funako. “You know, that love story I’m working on.”
Asuka had never been much interested in her sister’s projects, although they made her a favorite at the hiwau’s court. But these scrolls felt infinitely more precious than her dispassionate treatises on spell craft. “I can’t take this.”
“I think it’s about time someone besides me read it.”
Asuka bowed her head, her long hair covering her face. “Thank you.”
“This is all about Dad, right?”
After a moment, Asuka nodded. Funako closed the box containing her novel and wrapped it in patterned silk, tying it with a pink cord. Mockingbirds cackled on the roof, snickering at the stray cat on the veranda.
Funako pushed the box back across the floor to Asuka. “Is he treating you all right?”
“We just talk.”
Her sister nodded. “I trust the both of you. But I want you to be careful. I’ve seen Lady Muishō’s palanquin across the street every other morning. I don’t like it.” Funako rose. “I have to go to the palace for a poetry contest. I will see you there this evening for the hiwau’s incense party. He specifically asked for you. I think he’s fond of you.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Asuka said as Funako left. “We’ve spoken all of three times.”
For Asuka, each shrine had a personality. The Capital of the hiwau’s kingdom was an unusual place because it contained shrines from other countries. The Tribes of the Star Gods lived in the mountains to the north, their flatland territory long since conquered by the hiwau’s peoples: a confederacy of kingdoms that controlled by the lords and ladies in the Capital. Beyond the mountains lived the descendants of the Moon God, their empire. Across the sea, Asuka’s people aligned themselves with the Ocean Goddess and her kingdom. The shrines of the Capital were embassies of kingdoms as well as the divine.
The hiwau ruled over a messy confederation of “former” nations that had submitted the superiority of the Sun Goddess eight hundred years ago. The clan leaders, once kings, became lords, and they traveled back and forth between their lands and the hiwau’s Capital.
Lady Nichiwa happily accepted Funako’s novel and called for her brother, the shaman of Nichiwa Shrine, to personally conduct Asuka to the library. Shaman Nichiwa waited, bored, for Lady Nichiwa to cease squealing in delight.
When his sister quieted, he bowed in confusion. “Princess Asuka, was Lord Shinrusu not satisfied with his prior visit?”
“My father visited this shrine recently?”
“Our very library.” Shaman Nichiwa led her to the storehouse and began searching the shelves. “He wished to view the “Tale of Tōshin Nichiwa.” We have the only copy because he was my ancestor...”
Shaman Nichiwa handed Asuka a scroll. “Please be careful with it. I recommend using the table and padded weights over on the table to keep it open.”