Hideyoshi prowled through the halls and everyone he passed bowed low. He ignored them. Every ounce of his body language read controlled rage. The men standing guard at his wife’s chambers barely had time to push open the double doors before he strode through. He only stopped when he stood at the inner door to her bedroom. Three priestesses were there, heads bowed, praying. As he entered, one settled her hood over her shaved head and stepped out of the room. It would not do to have four in the space. Such a number was bad luck.
Hideyoshi grumbled under his breath at the closed door. He had never hesitated before. It was his right to be in there. He always gave her the respect of knocking, but he did not wait for a response. It was his house and his domain and his property.
He winced. No. Akane was not property and his mind would not accept the word, no matter how irritated. Still, it was his right and so he grasped the handle and tugged. The well oiled mechanism gracefully gave way to his frustration.
The scene on the other side was nothing like he had pictured. The mysteries of childbirth never interested him. He had never seen past the veils and barriers women built around the ritual. In his imagination, the process was spiritual and calm, full of chanting and flowers.
His wife squatted, feet braced on raised wooden blocks. A priestess crouched on either side of her, holding her by the elbows and offering balance. Their fingers were tangled with hers, every knuckle bone white from effort. Akane’s red gown was bunched up over her belly. The bulge shifted and roiled. Sweat poured down her beautiful cheeks. Her long silken black hair was plastered to her head and sticking up at all angles, as if someone had been repeatedly shoving it out of her way. Two priestesses stood behind her, one with a damp cloth, the other with a bowl of ice chips. Another knelt between Akane’s parted knees, ready to catch the babe.
In all, it was Hideyoshi’s worst nightmare. There was no chanting or the slightest hint of a flower to be seen. It was primal and feminine and messy.
His worry and dismay took hold of his tongue, “Beloved, please! The med unit is better prepared for this than these acolytes. They can make you comfortable. They have… monitors!”
Akane lifted her head, slowly and with what looked like a great deal of effort. She was weary. She was in agony. She was not happy to see him. Hideyoshi had yet to meet the man who could withstand his wife’s steady gaze. Such a creature may exist, but it was not him. He had a foolish moment and opened his mouth, then snapped it closed and turned away. Only an idiot crossed the Seer. Marital status held no sway over that universal rule.
As he pulled the door shut behind him, Akane broke her silence. It was the smallest of whimpers, barely audible. It pierced his heart. Rage stirred afresh and he reached for his sword. Of course, he wasn’t wearing a sword. He wasn’t armed at all. And even if he were, no weapon in his arsenal would defeat this foe. He couldn’t help her. He couldn’t take her pain or share her burden.
It was no wonder men weren’t allowed in the birthing room.
Hideyoshi was pacing the open garden when a priestess carefully approached him. He tried to summon her name, but he couldn’t tell one from another. They were all bald, all wearing rich blue robes. He supposed there must be some difference between them, but they could have been clones as far as he was concerned.
She stopped closer than most dared, “My lord. You have a daughter.”
Shame struck his soul. This was his first child and he had assumed the gods would smile upon him. No Kanto had ever failed to produce a male heir. It was tradition that the first born would inherit the family legacy. That first born had always been a son. Always. Generation after generation. How had he angered the gods? Was he so weak?
His mind raced with possible solutions. He could send the child away. Tell Akane she had died. Tell the world the first child was a stillborn boy. His reputation, his family’s reputation, would be salvaged. Akane would grieve and hate him for a while, but she was a sensible woman. She would come around.
Yes. That was it. He would send the girl away. He wouldn’t kill her, like so many of his ancestors would have. He would see that she was well taken care of. Somewhere else.
The priestess handed him a bundle of cloth. Without thought, he accepted her offering and found himself staring into impossibly golden eyes. His daughter was nearly weightless in his arms. He had held newborns before, granting blessings to the parents. Those babes had squirmed and cried and blinked, unable to see past their own nose. His daughter was still. Silent. There was no doubt that she was watching him, seeing him with perfect clarity. He pulled the swaddling cloth to the side, unable to help himself. He needed to see her just as clearly if he was going to send her away.
Without making a sound, she clutched his finger. He tugged, startled by the pressure. She gripped tighter and met his gaze, as if daring him to throw her away.
Hideyoshi Kanto stared at the delicate features and felt centuries of tradition dissolve into nothing. His wife was the one who bore the weight of prophecy, but Hideyoshi knew his child was born with a great destiny. He could set her aside and cling to his family duties, or he could trust the gods and raise her to be magnificent.
“Is my wife well?”
The priestess bowed deep, “She is resting, my Lord. The birth was not easy and she will need some time and attention, but she will rise to bear again. Perhaps a son next time.”
He waved a hand, brushing off the concern painting her words. She was half-heartedly holding out her hands, as if waiting for him to dash the girl to the stone path.
“A son. I need no son when I hold a golden-eyed warrior.” With great reluctance, he handed the babe over and tucked his hands in his pockets, “Her name is Amari.”
That evening, surrounded by friends and business partners and armed with sake, Hideyoshi watched the news play on the wall-sized vid screen. He raised a hand for silence as his logo flashed, then spun behind the anchorman.
“Kanto Weapons Systems and InterGlobal Conglomerate sent out a press release today announcing the birth of founder and CEO’s first child.”
The screen switched to Hideyoshi standing in the KWS IGC press room, “With the glorious arrival of an heir, the Kanto Empire is secure. There will be a public celebration and naming ceremony in seven days, as is appropriate. We ask you to join us in welcoming our daughter. Let none gainsay her inheritance and live.”
The anchorman’s smile was neutral as the camera cut back to him, “We are told mother and child are both healthy and resting well. We here at Stellar News Nine offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Kanto family.”