when the gales of November come early (kishmet) wrote,
when the gales of November come early
kishmet

Fic: Chasing the Sun

Chasing the Sun, by kishmet. AU, Tezuka/Ryoma, PG. I set out writing this with the intent of writing in a folktale-type style, and I think I'm pleased with how it turned out. Originally inspired by this Chinese folktale, although my story became something almost entirely different. Unedited and written all last night.



One day, when the world was young and the people still believed that such things could happen, the sun came down from the sky to speak with Tezuka Kunimitsu. The earth grew dark long before day had ended, and the people were very much afraid. They fell to their knees in their homes and on the streets, and wept, and prayed that the sun would return; that it had not departed from their skies forever.

Tezuka’s home was not dark. It was bright, brighter than midday when the sun was high in the sky. In the courtyard, Tezuka set aside his calligraphy as the sun stepped through the front gates. Tezuka was not afraid. “Why have you come here?” he asked the sun.

“To speak with you,” the sun replied. The sun was brighter than the lights of a thousand fires, but Tezuka did not look away. The sun had the appearance of a boy, a golden boy with golden eyes and very dark hair. The sun wore no shirt, only a simple pair of leggings the fell halfway past his knees. “You are Tezuka Kunimitsu.”

“I am,” said Tezuka. “And you are the sun.” He knew that it must be so, for the sky was dark and the courtyard was bright, and there could be no other explanation.

“I am, but there are many suns, and not many as good as I am,” said the sun. He was arrogant, but Tezuka was not surprised. This was the sun, after all, the one who brought warmth and light and good things to the world and its people. “My name is Ryoma.”

“Ryoma,” Tezuka said, and the name felt right, though he had never heard it before. “The people of the earth are afraid.” He knew it was so, for he could hear them beyond the gates, mourning and despairing for the lost light.

“So?” Ryoma asked him. “What has that to do with me?”

“They expect to see you in the sky now, and they do not,” said Tezuka. “You must return to the sky so they will cease to be afraid.”

“Why? They can fear if they want to. It is none of my business,” said Ryoma, lifting his chin haughtily. “I am the sun, and I can do as I please.”

Though the glow that Ryoma radiated became even fiercer than before, Tezuka still was not afraid. “Go,” he said. “Or I will not speak with you. If you come again tomorrow, I will have had the chance to speak to the people, and to tell them that you have not deserted them forever.”

“You cannot order me,” said Ryoma, folding his arms like a petulant child. “If I do not wish it, I will not return to the sky.”

“But you are here to speak with me,” said Tezuka quietly. “If I will not speak, then you have no purpose in remaining here.”

“There is an eternity of space that I could go to, if you will not let me stay here.” Ryoma’s golden eyes flickered with sun-flame. Tezuka’s earthly hazel eyes met them calmly. “I will go,” said Ryoma finally, turning away. “I will be here again tomorrow.” He left the courtyard and, in a flash of light, ascended to his place in the sky. The people shouted, cheered, and prepared feasts in the sun’s honor, so that it should never take offense and leave them again.

Only Tezuka knew the truth of what had passed.

***

“What happened, my son?” asked Tezuka’s mother, Ayana, as Tezuka walked into their home, his calligraphy and brushes in hand. “The sky was dark, but our courtyard was so bright that I could not look out of the window without shading my eyes.”

“The sun wished to speak with me,” Tezuka told her. “I told him to return to the sky, and he did so.”

“Then you have saved us all,” said Ayana. “For without the sun to grow the crops and light the world and warm us, we would all be lost.”

But Tezuka shook his head gravely. “No, mother. The sun has gone back to his place for today, but tomorrow he will come again to our courtyard.”

Ayana knew immediately what must be done. “You must go to the city council and tell them of this, that they may warn the people of the sun’s departure. Otherwise they will be afraid again, and the sun should bring joy, not fear.”

“Yes, mother,” said Tezuka, for he had already had the same thought. “I will go now to tell them what has happened, and what will happen tomorrow.” His mother gave to him some food for the journey, and then gave him his cloak to wear. Then he bid her farewell, knowing that she would explain what had transpired to his father and grandfather when they returned home.

The eyes of the sun were upon him as he walked. Though a chill breeze blew and touched the others who walked the same streets, Tezuka found that he did not feel the cold. He removed his cloak and glanced up into the sky. “The sun should warm everyone equally.” The sun could not reply from its place in the heavens, but when the wind came again, Tezuka felt it and replaced the cloak around his shoulders.

When he reached the great domed building at the center of the city, he was hailed by a friend who ran errands for the council. “Tezuka!” said Oishi. “You saw the sun disappear? What could have made such a thing happen? Is the sun displeased with us?” Tezuka was known to be the most knowledgeable young man in the city, perhaps even in the country, and so it was natural that he would be thought to know the answers to many questions.

“No,” said Tezuka, and told Oishi that the sun had come to his courtyard to speak with him, and then had returned to the sky. He also told Oishi that the sun meant to come back the next day.

“Oh,” said Oishi, relieved. “Then you have come to tell the council. They are sure that the sun is angry, and that today was but a warning. They believe that next time, it will be gone for good. You must speak with them.” Oishi led Tezuka to the inner chamber of the council building, where the council already sat discussing the sun’s departure.

“I do not mean to interrupt,” said Oishi, bowing low to the wise men and women of the council. “Tezuka knows what happened to the sun earlier this day.”

“Oh?” asked Sumire, a senior member of the council. “What explanation has he to offer?”

For the third time, Tezuka told his tale. All of the council members knew him well, and knew that he would tell no falsehood or exaggerate. They believed what he told them, and began murmuring about what must be done.

“If I speak with him tomorrow, he will return to the sky once more,” said Tezuka. “He does not wish to harm the people.” He did not mention the sun’s arrogance, or the sun’s willingness to leave the people in fear. Their sun was not a bad one, but a young one indeed. He would grow to be a fine sun, given time, if only he was guided in the proper direction.

“Then it is decided,” said Sumire. “Tezuka, you will be a hero of the city. We will announce what you have told us to the people so that they will not fear tomorrow, and you will talk the sun into remaining in the sky.”

Tezuka bowed. “Yes.” He did not wish to be called a hero, but he knew that the earth needed the sun, and that he was the only one who could accomplish this task. And so he walked home, ever mindful of the watching sun.

***

The next day when the sun stepped through the courtyard gates, Tezuka was waiting there. “Ryoma,” he said, by way of greeting, inclining his head. He had warned his mother, his father, and his grandfather not to set foot into the courtyard or even to look out the windows, for not every person could see the full splendor of the sun and live. He knew that they would not risk their lives. His parents were sensible, and his grandfather even more so, and they would not be foolish. He locked the gates as well, for he did not want people less sensible to catch a fatal glimpse of the sun.

“Teach me to do what you were doing yesterday,” said Ryoma. “I have never learned how to do it, and it is not right for you on earth to know more than the sun.”

“There will always be someone who knows more than you,” said Tezuka.

“There will not be if you teach me everything,” Ryoma replied.

“I do not know everything, and so cannot teach it to you,” said Tezuka. “But I will teach you what I know.” He picked up his calligraphy brushes and paper, and showed Ryoma how each letter was shaped, and which brush strokes to use in which order, and how best not to smear the ink.

But when he handed the brush to Ryoma, the wooden handle burned to ash the moment the sun’s fingers touched it. The fine horsehair at the end scattered in the wind, along with the ashes from the wood. “I cannot hold it,” said Ryoma. “You must make for me a brush that I can hold.”

“I will,” said Tezuka. “But for now you must return to the sky again, for it will be at least a day before such a thing can be made.”

“Then I will go back, but I will be here again tomorrow,” said Ryoma, and again he departed for the skies.

“You have coaxed the sun back into the sky once more,” said Ayana, when Tezuka went into the house. His grandfather and his father both nodded and congratulated their son on his good fortune.

“I have,” said Tezuka. “But he will be back again tomorrow.” He explained to them what had happened, and what the sun had said, and what he now had to do. They were not dismayed, but understood that Tezuka had chosen the wisest course.

When he left the house, he found that the people had left many flowers and other offerings outside of the gates. He stepped over them and went to the city’s smith, who could forge anything out of metal.

“Tezuka.” The smith, Kaidoh, bowed with respect for Tezuka, the man who had spoken with the sun.

“I have need of your services,” said Tezuka. “Make for me a calligraphy brush of the strongest metal, and I will pay you anything you ask.”

“I will ask nothing,” said Kaidoh. “What you have done is worth more than a thousand such brushes. Be back in two hours, and I will have it for you.” And he set to work immediately forging the thing that Tezuka had asked for.

While he was waiting for the brush to be finished, Tezuka went again to the council building. “Tezuka,” said Sumire. “You have succeeded in your quest, and the sun has returned to the sky. Yet your face tells me that something else has occurred, and that you must tell us of what passed between you and the sun this afternoon.”

“You are right. I must,” said Tezuka. “The sun wishes to know everything of the earth, and so I must teach him. Such teaching cannot be completed in a single day.”

The council saw that the sun would not learn everything he wished to know in a day, and they agreed that they would be willing to lose a few hours of sunlight each day, in return for the sun’s presence in the sky at other times. They told this to the people, and the people were glad, and placed more flowers before the gates of Tezuka’s home. They would keep their sun, and the price would be only several hours of daylight.

Tezuka brought home the brush from the smith, and it was a fine brush made of gleaming metal and horsehair. When Ryoma came the next day, he held the brush, and though it glowed hot and red in his hands, it did not lose its shape, and Ryoma was satisfied. He painted each of the letters with ease, for he was the sun, and he did not take so long to learn things as the people of earth did. “There,” said Ryoma. “I have finished learning calligraphy.”

“No,” said Tezuka. “You have begun learning.” So saying, he picked up his own brush and showed Ryoma a different lettering style. Then he showed him a piece of poetry, and when Ryoma began to copy it, Tezuka stopped him. “You must not copy that. You must write your own.”

“Why should I do that?” asked Ryoma.

“It is a part of learning everything,” said Tezuka.

Ryoma read the poem several times. He drew idle brush strokes on his blank paper, and then he began to write. He wrote of the dark emptiness of space, and of the dance of the suns, and of the beginning of the universe. Then he looked at Tezuka. “There. I have written my own.”

“Good,” said Tezuka. “Then you have come closer to learning everything.”

“But I have not learned everything yet?” asked Ryoma.

“No,” said Tezuka. “That will take longer than a single afternoon.”

“Then I will stay until I have learned everything,” Ryoma told him.

“No,” said Tezuka again. “You cannot, for the earth needs the light of the sun in the sky.”

“Tch,” said Ryoma.

“You may come again tomorrow,” said Tezuka sternly, for although Ryoma was the sun, it would not do to allow him to do as he pleased. “And then I will teach you more.”

Ryoma assented to this, and returned to the sky. Tezuka found that all of the flowers left by the people had been reduced to ashes outside of the gates, and that there were glowing footprints in the ashes, proof that the sun had been there. Tezuka studied the footprints for a moment, and then brought a whisk and swept up the ashes until there was nothing left.

***

Over the next days, and weeks, and months, Tezuka taught the sun many things. Some things that he taught appealed to Ryoma, things such as calligraphy and mathematics and learning to use a sword. Others Ryoma did not like, for they were dull and repetitive and he could not truly understand them, as he did not live on the earth. He did not like learning how to grow the crops so that they would feed the most people. He did not like learning how to cook, for he did not eat and saw no use in learning it.

“You wish to learn everything,” Tezuka told him then. “And this is part of everything.”

“I did not know that some parts of everything would be so useless,” said Ryoma, but he listened when Tezuka spoke and learned what Tezuka had to teach him. Tezuka knew many things, although he did not know everything, and he learned also what Ryoma had to teach him. Ryoma spoke of distant stars and of the movements of the earth and other worlds like it. Tezuka wished to hear of these things, but Ryoma thought them as dull as planting and cooking.

“You are more interesting than the sky,” said Ryoma, sitting cross-legged on the stones of the courtyard. He was learning to arrange flowers, though he could not touch the flowers himself, for they would be reduced to ash immediately if he did. He watched Tezuka, though, and learned.

“But you were born in the sky, and are meant to be there,” said Tezuka.

Ryoma said nothing to this, but each day he wished to stay for longer, and each day Tezuka had to tell him to return to the sky, where he belonged.

At first the people were only thankful that the sun returned to them at all. But soon enough, though they missed only a few hours of sunlight each day, the people began to complain. What right had Tezuka to keep the sun for himself, if only for so short a time? He was only one man, and they were many. They did not say these things to Tezuka himself, for they liked him even now, but they discussed this in whispers and behind closed doors.

One man, bold enough or fool enough, decided to climb the gate into the courtyard with the thought of reclaiming the sun for the entire world. He was certain that his crops’ failure was due to the missing hours of sunlight, although the crops of his neighbors grew as well as they ever had. The gate was high, but jealousy and frustration gave him the strength he needed to climb it.

He gave a cry of triumph when he reached the top. Tezuka and Ryoma had been involved in a game of chess, using special metal pieces forged again by Kaidoh, and Ryoma glanced up, distracted from his next move. He met the man’s eyes with his own fiery ones. The man had no time even to gasp. He was incinerated by the heat of that stare and was reduced, like the flowers, to ashes in the wind.

“They want you to return,” said Tezuka. “If they are willing to die for it, then you must go.”

“He was not important,” said Ryoma scornfully. “What does one man matter?”

“Where one man goes, many will follow, whether soon or late,” said Tezuka, and then, when he saw that Ryoma would not be swayed, he said, “I am one man.”

“He was not you,” said Ryoma, but he made his move and then stood, fixing his burning gaze on Tezuka. “They could blame you if people die.”

“They could,” said Tezuka.

“Then I will go.” Ryoma did not leave that moment, however. He came close to Tezuka, so close that Tezuka could feel the heat on his skin, hotter than a day in summer, hotter than a cooking fire, hotter than anything he had felt before. Ryoma had never touched him before, but now Ryoma’s lips brushed his, and Ryoma spoke two words: “Catch me.”

And then he was gone, back into the sky, unreachable and untouchable, never to return to Tezuka’s courtyard. Tezuka had never been so cold in his life.

***

The people were filled with joy to see that the sun was back, and to see that it did not leave the sky the next day. There was a festival held in the sun’s honor and in Tezuka’s honor. The people were not overly concerned with the death of the jealous man who had climbed Tezuka’s gate, for they all agreed that he had been selfish, and he had not had a family to support, and so he was no great loss to them. The people danced in the streets, shouting and laughing and feasting on the many foods that had been prepared. They stood outside of Tezuka’s home and called for him to join them, but he would not.

Ever since Ryoma’s final departure, Tezuka had not been the same. The people did not see it, for they were overcome by their happiness. Ayana saw, and she worried for her son. “My son, you will not speak more than two words together,” she said. “And you spend all your time lost in your work.” He had been a quiet child before, but not so withdrawn as he was now. “You will not join the people in celebration. This must have something to do with the sun.”

“Yes, mother,” said Tezuka, looking up from his reading. “But I can do nothing about it, and so I will stay here and be a dutiful son to you.”

“But if you are not happy, then I will not be happy,” said Ayana. “And surely causing your mother unhappiness is not part of your duty as my son.” He had told her what the sun had told him in those final moments, and she said now, “If you must seek the sun to be happy, then I will let you go to do so. Your father and I have spoken together, and we will not hold you here.”

Tezuka did not wish to be an undutiful son, but with Ayana’s soft words he was persuaded. He put all the worldly things that he would need into a pack, and let his mother drape his cloak around his shoulders. She gave him an extra cloak as well, her own, and he looked at her, asking a silent question.

“You are shivering, my son,” Ayana told him, her smile sad and a little wistful.

He found that she was right, that he was indeed shivering. He who had once been kissed by the warmth of the sun could never now be warm away from it, not even when the sun was high in the sky, for that warmth was only a pale echo of what he had once felt. “Thank you, mother,” he said, though even her cloak did not stop him from feeling the chill that dwelt within him. He left that very day after bidding her farewell, and headed west out of the city. He did not know how to find the sun, but each day the sun passed beyond the western horizon. Surely if Ryoma was to be found anywhere, it would be there.

When Tezuka reached the western border of the city, he heard his name called, and turned to look. There was Oishi, who worked for the council, and Kaidoh, the blacksmith, and Kawamura, the baker, and Momoshiro, who ran messages through the city. All were friends of Tezuka, and none of them had ever stopped believing that he was the hero who had talked the sun back into the sky for them. “We have come to join you in your quest,” said Oishi.

“My quest may be filled with peril, and fruitless in the end,” said Tezuka. “You should not have come.”

“But you will need friends with you, on such a dangerous journey,” said Momoshiro. “You will be thankful that we are with you, you will.”

So Tezuka accepted their company, for he could not turn them down. That night Kawamura built a fire for them and cooked their food, and they had a fine time, talking and laughing and eating supper together. Tezuka was quiet, his thoughts occupied with the sun and warmth. Kaidoh came from his place to say, in his customary gruff manner, “You seem cold. You should move nearer to the fire.”

Silently Tezuka did so, but no fire could warm him. He shivered still, though all of his friends expressed concern, and Momoshiro and Kaidoh found more wood to make the fire roar, and Kawamura gave him hot food and drink, and Oishi gave Tezuka his cloak, that Tezuka would have three. All through the night Tezuka shivered, but he did not complain, for it was not in his nature. When the sun rose he was warmed a little, but not enough. He watched the sun for a very long time, until his friends woke and began breaking camp.

“You will find him again,” said Oishi, laying a comforting hand on Tezuka’s shoulder. “If any man can catch the sun, it will be you.”

“Thank you, Oishi,” said Tezuka.

“Perhaps we should go to see the sage who lives nearby,” said Kawamura, as they started down the road. “He is said to know all answers, or that is what my father has told me.”

“Perhaps this sage will know where the sun may be found,” said Momoshiro, excited at this news.

“And perhaps that is beyond even a sage’s knowledge,” said Kaidoh.

“Just because it is beyond yours does not mean it is beyond everyone’s,” Momoshiro told him, for they had always been at odds while in the city, and things were to be no different while they traveled. Their petty arguments served to distract Tezuka’s mind from his thoughts of the sun at times, and sometimes the voices of his friends even served to let Tezuka forget the cold that pierced through him.

***

They made for the mountain northwest of the city, for that was where this sage was said to live. There they found him with not much difficulty, given directions to his home by the farmers in their fields, who worked outside of the city growing their crops, and by fellow travelers returning from seeking the sage’s advice. All of these people said the same, that the sage knew the answer to every question, and his answers were cryptic but seemed to satisfy the askers.

As they approached the sage’s home, a small but well-appointed house, a young man came out to meet them. He was bright-eyed, with hair as red as the late evening sun.

“Surely you are not the sage,” said Oishi, surprised by the youth of this man.

“No, I am not,” said the young man, and laughed, and slung his arms about the shoulders of Oishi and Momoshiro in a very friendly fashion. “I am his friend, for a sage cannot go to market for himself, you see? The people would not think so much of him if they saw that the sage needed bread and meat and fruit as they did.” He told them that his name was Eiji, and that he would take them in to see the sage.

The sage was also a young man, or so it seemed at first. He sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of his home. He was fair, with hair the color of honey and pale skin, and he was small, almost like a child. When they walked inside, he opened his eyes and smiled at them, and Tezuka saw that he was much older than he seemed. Those blue eyes contained much knowledge and wisdom, far more than could be acquired by a man of so few years. “You are Tezuka, are you not?” asked the sage, and Tezuka nodded. “I am Fuji, the sage to whom you have come seeking advice. What do you wish to know?”

Though Tezuka felt that the sage knew already what advice he had come for, he said, “I must know where I may find the sun.”

“Ah yes,” said Fuji. “But that is what you must know. What is it you wish to know?”

“The same,” said Tezuka, after a moment’s consideration. “What I wish to know and what I must know are one and the same.”

“Then you are lucky,” Fuji replied with a smile. “For many men know one and not the other, and often they are two very different answers. Very well. I will tell you what you need and wish to know. The sun may be found only at the edge of the world, where mortals cannot ordinarily tread. Perhaps you will be different, Tezuka Kunimitsu. Come back and tell me when you succeed in your quest… if you can.”

“I will,” said Tezuka.

“And remember,” said Fuji. “Just because a man can look at the sun does not mean that he can embrace it without risking death.”

“I know,” Tezuka replied, and then the sage’s eyes closed, a clear sign that he had given all the advice that he meant to give.

“Come,” said Tezuka to his friends. “We must go.” They followed him, though they had been much caught up in exchanging words with Fuji’s friend Eiji, and parted from him with reluctance.

As they walked down the road to the west, however, Eiji called to them, and approached them once more. “Fuji has told me that I should come with you,” said Eiji. “He is not worried that the people will think less of him for doing his own marketing, and he is probably right.”

Oishi, Momoshiro, Kawamura, and even Kaidoh welcomed Eiji with great enthusiasm, for they had already struck up a friendship with him. Tezuka did not speak much with him, but he did not mind Eiji’s company, for he kept up all of their spirits. Night had become even worse for Tezuka, and now Eiji’s jokes continued until the fire died away to ashes, and his friends’ laughter made Tezuka forget for a time that he was so cold without the sun.

***

His friends went with him to the end of the land, where the earth met the sea and great ships waited at the docks for their chances to challenge the waves once more. Here Tezuka turned to his companions and said, “You must leave me now, and return to the city. The rest of the journey is mine and mine alone. I thank you for accompanying me this far.”

Upon hearing this, his friends protested and said that they would go with him to the edge of the earth and beyond. “You cannot leave us,” said Oishi. “For you will be lonely without friends by your side.”

“You cannot leave us,” said Kawamura. “For who then will build you a fire at the end of each day, and prepare meals for you?”

“You cannot leave us,” said Momoshiro. “You cannot, for who then will eat those meals with you?”

Tezuka said nothing to this, but brought them with him as he spoke with the ships’ captains to find one who would take them for a reasonable price. In the end, no ship could take so many passengers, and Tezuka’s friends agreed reluctantly to part ways with him. Eiji would accompany them back to the city, for they were now great friends with him, and they would tell Tezuka’s mother what had become of him. Tezuka’s friends bid him farewell, each of them leaving their cloak with him so that he would remember them always during the cold nights, and they stood at the shore waving and calling to him as his ship pulled away from them.

***

The captain of the ship was named Yamato, and he was a good man who asked little by way of payment for the journey. Nor did he seem to think that Tezuka’s quest was a useless one. “Perhaps we are all trying to catch the sun, in one way or another,” he said, when he heard that Tezuka was going to the edge of earth to find the sun.

The sailors were not so philosophical on the matter. “He is crazy,” one of the men whispered to another. “A man can never catch the sun.” They whispered that way often, but Tezuka was always there to aid them with the moorings, or with the sails, or by taking his turn standing lookout, and so they accepted him as one of them.

For leagues and leagues they sailed, by day and by night. The sea winds were cold for all those who sailed. For Tezuka, who had known the kiss of the sun, they were worse. The chill breezes that filled the sails and sped them on their way bit into him, icier than the coldest winter snows. He was not warm, even with all of his friends’ cloaks and with those of the sailors, who offered them when they saw him shiver in his bunk at night. He felt always as though ice ran through his veins in place of blood. He looked always toward the sun, whether it was rising in the east or setting in the west.

Once he dreamed that he stood at the bow of the ship watching the sun, and Ryoma came down to him. He felt the blessed, familiar heat and longed to take Ryoma in his arms, never again to let go of the warmth he had gone without for so long. He did not do so, for he knew that it was only a dream, and he had not reached his destination.

“You have not caught me yet,” said Ryoma.

“I know,” said Tezuka.

“You should catch me soon,” Ryoma told him. “I am very cold without you, and the sun should not be cold.”

“I will catch you when I can,” said Tezuka, and Ryoma brushed another kiss to his lips, sending heat all through him.

When Tezuka woke, he was shivering and could not stop, even in the light of day.

When they reached their next port of call, Yamato asked him to stay on as a member of the crew. Tezuka politely declined, for the ship was to sail back eastward, and Tezuka meant to continue on into the west. Yamato smiled, a sad and knowing smile. “May you fare well in your search, then.” He clapped Tezuka on the shoulder and paid Tezuka for the work he had done while on board. Tezuka accepted the coins, for he knew that he might yet have need for money to pay his way.

***

At this port, Tezuka found for himself another ship on which he could travel further westward. This one was part of a fleet belonging to a wealthy merchant, one who traded in the gems and spices that could only be found on the far side of the world. This merchant was also the captain of this ship, a ship far finer and more expensive than Yamato’s, a full-rigged ship with three masts and a large crew.

The merchant captain took immediate notice of Tezuka and spoke with him, finding that they were both learned men. He scoffed at Tezuka’s quest to find the sun. “Surely you must know that the earth is not flat, but round,” said Atobe. “There can be no edge of the world.”

“I know this,” said Tezuka. “But I will seek it despite this.”

Atobe was scornful, but brought out his intricately detailed maps of the winds and of the currents so that Tezuka could look them over. They discussed many things, though Tezuka could stay in Atobe’s cabin only so long, in that place where sunlight did not reach. Without the light of the sun during the day, the cold became almost unbearable for him.

They sailed south, ever south, for they had to round an entire mass of land in order to reach the far western seas. The weather around them grew warm, and then hot, until the sailors stripped their shirts and spent every moment they could below the deck, where the shade was at least a little cooler than the harsh sunlight.

Tezuka continued to wear two cloaks, his own and his mother’s, although even he could not help but feel the sun’s warmth here. Even more than before, he could not take his eyes away from the sun. Any other man might have been blinded, and the men of the ship, like those on Yamato’s ship, thought him mad. As on Yamato’s ship, however, Tezuka lent a pair of able hands to the sailors when he could, and they much appreciated his aid.

When they turned west, around the coastline, they encountered fierce and vicious storms. For days on end there was not even a sign of sunlight as the winds pitched them from one side to the other. Tezuka could pay no heed to the chill in his bones as he worked among the shouting, cursing men, right beside Atobe, who worked along with his sailors when the storms were so wild.

Finally, after days and night uncountable, the skies cleared. The men were tired but joyful, and they celebrated the return of the sun. Tezuka did as well, and one of the men told him kindly to sit at the front of the ship and rest, for they had enough hands to care for everything that needed to be done. He did not like sitting idle, but the bright glow of the sun, after so many days of its absence, made it worthwhile for the moment. Tezuka did not know if he dreamed again, or if it was true, but in those hours sitting at the bow of the ship, Ryoma came down to him once more. “You still have not caught me,” Ryoma said.

“I have not,” said Tezuka. “I am not yet strong enough.”

“You are close,” said Ryoma.

“I know,” Tezuka replied, and reached out a hand to caress Ryoma’s face. His fingers felt as though they had reached into an open flame, but he did not wince away.

After that time, the trade winds carried the ship on its way, rounding the coast and moving west again. They reached a foreign port the like of which Tezuka had read about, but never witnessed with his own eyes. Every dock and street bustled with activity, with strange kinds of birds and cattle, with barefooted children brown from the sun, with men hawking silks and jewels and even monkeys.

When Tezuka was making ready to leave the ship, Atobe approached him. “Stay with me, Tezuka,” said Atobe. “I will make of you a rich man, and we will conquer the seas together.”

Tezuka shook his head. “All the wealth in the world cannot equal the warmth of the sun, and nothing but the warmth of the sun can dispel this cold in me.”

“The sun has done you a disservice by giving to you its warmth, if only to abandon you,” said Atobe.

Tezuka could not explain to him that the cold was as much in his mind and his thoughts as in his body, for if it had only been in his body, it would have been tolerable. He thanked Atobe for letting him travel on his ship, and Atobe paid him for the work he had done while on board, more than Tezuka felt was truly deserved. But Atobe stood firm, and Tezuka accepted his decision, and then went searching for another ship that would carry him beyond this port.

On his way, he saw on the ground a shining talisman shaped like the sun. Here the sun was worshipped as a god even more than had been so in Tezuka’s home city, and many of the people wore such tokens on braided leather strings about their necks, or wrists, or ankles. Tezuka picked up the amulet, and wore it around his neck. He knew that this had not been an accident or some stroke of coincidence that had brought the talisman to him, for he could see in it Ryoma’s golden eyes, and hear in it the sound of Ryoma’s voice, and above all, could feel the heat of the miniature sun warming him.

***

He found yet a third ship that would bear him even farther to the west, beyond the warm waters of this strange land, and perhaps even back to the place from which he had come. So Atobe’s maps and charts had told him, though he felt that he was nearing the edge of the world, even if such a thing did not exist on any map.

This ship was not so grand as Atobe’s, but the men were disciplined and would heed any order that came from their captain or from his first mate. The captain had their complete trust, and Tezuka understood the reason for this as soon as he had an audience with the man.

“So you are seeking the sun,” said Yukimura, with a smile reminiscent of that belonging to Fuji, the sage Tezuka had consulted. “We can carry you around this continent and back to the one where you began, if you so choose.”

“Never before on our journeys have we seen this edge of the world you speak of,” said Sanada, the first mate who stayed, ever watchful, by his captain’s side. “Yours is not a sensible destination.”

“Sensible or not, it is his,” said Yukimura. “And we will take him as far as we are able.”

The men on this ship did not whisper among themselves, not the way the men on Yamato’s and Atobe’s ships had done. They knew that if their captain had consented to taking Tezuka on as a passenger, they could not say he was mad without questioning their captain’s judgement. Tezuka found, however, that there was a fellow passenger aboard who was more than willing to express his opinion on the subject.

“You see, there are writings of the edge of the world,” said Inui, showing Tezuka a passage in his book. “But they are the superstitious writings of those who do not study the science of such things.” Inui was a scholar from a place not so far from Tezuka’s home city. He traveled often, and was well known among the sailors on this ship.

“There are several accounts that tell of it from a distinctly scientific perspective,” said Renji, the second mate of the ship, who had also been a scholar in his earlier days. Renji was amused by Inui’s constant efforts to persuade Tezuka from his fruitless endeavor, and for every arcane text or passage Inui produced, Renji had another that disproved him.

“Yes,” said Inui, and frowned. “But it is simply impossible, on a world that is round like this one, for there to be an edge to it.”

“Perhaps not, if you approach the problem from another direction,” said Renji. “You must not always approach such a thing in the usual way.”

“In any case, no man can look at the sun, much less catch it,” said Inui. “Any man who tried would surely burn to death. The sun possesses the heat of ten thousand fires, more than any man could bear.” He went on to explain many ancient myths of the sun, and reasons why they were not true.

Tezuka listened as they spoke, and then he glanced up at the sun. Suddenly he knew that Renji’s words could not have been truer. For months now, Tezuka had sailed around the world, and never had he caught up to the sun. It rose behind him in the east, and soared overhead, and then sank below the horizon, and he could not touch it.

He went to the captain of the ship and asked when next they would see dry land. Yukimura replied that it would be but a day before they reached an island port, the last before the place from which Tezuka had come. Tezuka felt the amulet about his throat warm him more than it had done ever before, and he knew that he was right in what he must do.

Before they reached the island port, however, they were set upon by another ship, a ship that flew the colors of an honest merchant but belonged to thieves. They boarded Yukimura’s ship, howling and waving their scimitars, faces painted in a most fearsome way. But Yukimura was not afraid, and so his crew did not fear either. Inui sheltered in his cabin, protecting his priceless texts from the pirates, but Tezuka did not heed the warning to stay below. He took up a sword lost by one of Yukimura’s crew and fought beside the men, for, like the captain, he was not afraid. When the pirates saw him, they saw the light of the sun in his eyes and cowered away from him, and he did not have any trouble dispatching each of them.

There were many pirates, but the men fought fiercely to defend their captain and their ship. At the end the crew was victorious, and they tied the remaining pirates and put them in the hold, to deliver them for trial at the next port. Tezuka aided them in this, and they reached the island city just as the sun slipped beneath the horizon.

Yukimura held him back when Tezuka would have left the ship. “You fought well against the thieves that would have taken the ship,” said Yukimura. “Will you not stay and fight for us again? If you continue to serve as well, you will be greatly honored.”

“No,” said Tezuka, shaking his head. “Though you are a worthy captain, I do not seek honor. I seek the edge of the world, and the warmth of the sun.” Now that he could feel his destination so close at hand, the heat of the talisman was not enough. He would see his quest through to the end.

“Very well,” said Yukimura, and paid him for what he had done. Tezuka accepted the money, for he knew that the time had come when he would need it.

He found himself a small craft that could be crewed by one man, and he paid for it with the money he had been given by the three captains. Tezuka had gained much experience in sailing, and he steered his ship from the harbor, sailing east into the dark of the night. The night passed, and Tezuka did not sleep. The sea air seemed colder than it had ever been before, and all his cloaks and blankets could not warm him. The sea itself was calm and quiet, as though it too was waiting for the day to break.

Tezuka thought of his mother, and of his father, and of his grandfather. He thought also of his friends, and wondered how Eiji had fared when he had gone to the city. He thought of Yamato and his men, of Atobe and his men, of Yukimura and his men, and he thought of Inui, who thought that Tezuka was on a fool’s errand. Most of all, he thought of Ryoma, and of Ryoma’s poetry, and of Ryoma’s calligraphy, and Ryoma’s baking and planting and swordplay, and of the fire-bright gold of Ryoma’s eyes, and of the touch of Ryoma’s lips to his.

And finally the sky above became light, and the sun rose above the horizon, its light glittering on the waves. The chill night breezes were chased to the other side of the earth by the sun’s appearance. Before him, Tezuka saw the sea fall away into the nothingness in which the stars danced. He had come at last to the edge of the world, to meet the sun there as it rose in the east.

Ryoma stood beyond the boundary between sea and eternity, even more brilliant and shining than when Tezuka had last seen him. “You caught me,” said Ryoma. “I knew that you would.”

“I have,” said Tezuka. “And I will not let you go again.” He stood on the very bow of his ship, just on the sea side of the border that stood between them. The amulet around his neck blazed as though it was the true sun, although it could never equal Ryoma in his splendor.

“You could die,” said Ryoma.

“I am not afraid,” said Tezuka, and reached out his hand.

This made Ryoma smile slightly. “You never were.” He took Tezuka’s hand, and Tezuka pulled him close, embracing Ryoma as he had never done before. Ryoma’s kiss was liquid fire, warming him, burning him, healing him, completing him.

He was never cold again.
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