Yuya: Warm water
The Fujiwara clan might not have been supporters of Buddhism—because it was not the true religion of their ancestors—but not even they could deny it came with some benefits. One of those was the large, warm water bathhouses spreading in Buddhist temples around the country, where aristocrat and commoner alike could cleanse their bodies of impurities.
The Fujiwara family did not rub shoulders with commoners and would rather die than walk into a Buddhist temple of their own volition. Therefore, they built their own personal bathhouse in the Heijo-kyo sanctuary. The wooden structure had spacious windowless rooms and a low entryway to prevent steam from escaping, and servants filled the huge bathtub with hot water lugged in with buckets.
In the temples, low-ranking male priests assisted the bathers with their clothing, washed their hair and backs, carried the water, and cleaned the rooms. In the Fujiwara bathhouse, the attendants were young servant women.
Baths were considered a cleansing ceremony in the Shinto religion. They represented Izanagi washing the impurities from his divine body after leaving the Land of the Dead. The Yamato men called such baths Misori, and they took them in the cold waters of the sea on the eleventh day of each month. Those who couldn’t reach the sea made pilgrimages to the sacred waterfalls, lakes, and rivers in their vicinity.
Only aristocrats and the Imperial Family could afford to bathe in a yuya. It took half a day to fill the bathtub in the sanctuary, and six servants worked constantly to make sure the water was refreshed when its temperature dropped.
A couple days after Ryū’s arrival was the eleventh day of the month, so Hiro prepared for his bath. His father had been called to the Imperial Palace and would take his bath there.
Hiro had woken up agitated that morning. He’d been bathed by someone else since birth, so he had no problems with his nudity, nor with being attended by a servant to clean him. However, this time it would be Ryū, and that gave him pause.
Ryū had performed his duties without fault. He’d combed Hiro’s hair before bed and helped him change his clothes. He’d brought him dinner, cleaned his room, swept the floor, washed the bed linens, and stayed completely at Hiro’s beck and call. Hiro tried fiercely to avoid any abuse of that power. He asked for as little as possible, feeling uncomfortable treating Ryū as a servant. But none of the other tasks had bothered Hiro more than the idea of Ryū bathing his naked body.
Well, not entirely naked. Hiro would still wear a fundoshi, the undergarment of choice for Yamato men, both rich and poor. A fundoshi was a strip of cloth that wound around the hips and secured at the small of the back by twisting, with the excess brought forward between the legs and tucked through the cloth belt in front.
In the bath, Ryū removed Hiro’s hitatare and offered him a seat on the stool. He neatly arranged the robes on a shelf on the other side of the bathhouse, away from the steam that could ruin the silk. He returned with a bucket of hot water and an oshibori presented on a small bamboo stand.
Ryū removed the towel from the stand, dampened it, and wrung it out. Then he hesitated, unsure where to start.
Hiro cleared his throat. “My back,” he said. “They usually start with the back.”
Ryū bowed and went to work. Hiro tensed under the touch, his spine tingling whenever Ryū’s hand followed the towel along his skin. He raised his arms so that Ryū could proceed.
Hiro glanced down, facing a dilemma. Ryū would soon need to clean both his feet and under the fundoshi.
No. It was too intimate, too demeaning for Ryū. When the boy moved to sponge his chest and belly, Hiro stopped him when he reached his navel.
“That will do,” he said. “I want to get in the tub. You can wash yourself too and then…” He’d almost suggested that Ryū join him in the tub. A servant bathing in a lord’s tub would be a significant breach of etiquette. Hiro had no issue with it, but if his father or uncles found out, they’d be outraged. “…and then you can leave. I would like to be by myself with my thoughts.”
“As you wish, Master.”
Hiro lowered himself into the tub and soaked with his eyes closed, focusing on the sounds the wet towel made on Ryū’s skin as he wiped the dust of the day away.
“Thank you, Master. The bath felt good. I’ll be outside if you need me.”
Hiro made an indistinct sound and waved him away. He leaned his head on the edge of the tub, imagining what it would have been like if they were the same rank and could take a bath together. He imagined Ryū up to his waist in the warm water, wading toward him and taking a seat by his side.
Hiro frowned at his swelling member. This had never been an issue with the female attendants.He sighed. He was in so much trouble.