Shinigami Chapter 35

Yōkai no Yomeiri

Yōkai no Yomeiri: The Yōkai Wedding

“I believe you, but… Hiro, it’s hard to imagine all of these incredible things,” Ryū said, after Hiro finished telling him the story of how he met Inari, how he helped create Biko, and the struggle with the ayakashi on the vine bridge. He didn’t say anything about the shinigami standing by Ryū’s feet. That might be one piece of information too many.

“Before you got sick, I asked if you would marry me, and you agreed as long as a god would bless the ceremony.” 

Ryū frowned. “Mhmm.”

“I will ask Inari-sama to marry us.”

That would certainly take him by surprise,” Biko said, munching on a mushroom from the stew. “If he accepts, then I want to be your guardian spirit.”

 “We would love for you to be our guardian spirit.”

“Just a moment, I have too many questions and I’m not caught up to you yet.” Ryū pointed to Biko. “So, you were an uguisu that Hiro helped turn into a yōkai?”

Biko turned his masked face to Hiro. “He’s so smart. I think he’s a keeper.”

Hiro ignored him. “Yes, that’s correct,” he answered Ryū.

“And you think the god Inari, who is a seven-tailed kitsune, will not only talk to us, but also marry us?”

Hiro nodded.

“Fujiwara no Hirotsugu, I love you with all my heart. But this is crazy.”

“You don’t believe me? Not even after you’ve met Biko-chan?”

The yōkai crossed his arms. “What would convince you, beansprout boy?”

“It’s just a lot to absorb.”

“Fine,” the little yōkai jumped out of Hiro’s hand and made his way to the door. “Tomorrow, by the lake, in the twilight of a dying day, you will be married by the god of this mountain. I will make sure of it.”

They stared after Biko until he vanished in thin air.

“I think you offended him,” Hiro said.

“Oh really?” Ryū asked dryly. “Can we please remember that today I found out yōkai, gods, and ayakashi are actually real? Of course I knew about them, but I never thought I would see them. Or talk to them.”

“Well, since we’re alone again,” Hiro began. Paw barked. “Sorry. Alone with Paw. And her unborn brood. I want to ask you one more time. Takahashi Ryū, would you be my husband?”

Ryū’s face softened into a warm smile. “Fujiwara no Hirotsugu, I would love to.”

∆∆∆

“Wake up, sleepy head,” Ryū roused him in the middle of the night.

“What?” Hiro moaned, not opening his eyes. “It’s not morning yet.”

“Paw has gone into labor.”

“Oh no!”

“Oh yes!”

“But this is our wedding day,” Hiro said as he sat up on the mat, glaring at the fox lounging by the fire. Ryū hovered around her like a mother hen. “Couldn’t you wait one more day, you ungrateful little beast?” Hiro asked.

Paw growled and barked.

“How many do you think she will have?”

“Biko-chan said six.”

“Six? But she’s so tiny. Where is she hiding six?” Ryū asked, rubbing her belly. “This fox must be magical.”

Hiro squatted next to Ryū. “Magical, yes. Magically attention-stealing.”

“Do you think she will be all right? We have no idea what we need to do.”

“We will manage. We have so far,” Hiro said, covering Ryū’s hand on Paw’s belly.

In the end, nature followed its course, and Hiro and Ryū were mere spectators to the birth of the new lives. Ryū busied himself by making a straw nest and a small kudzu vine blanket to keep them warm. He appeared to be fully refreshed. He was bustling around the hut, looking healthy and rosy-cheeked, despite being near death the day before.

By dawn, six dark bundles of fur nuzzled Paw’s belly, crying for their first share of milk.

“They are adorable! They are so tiny and cute and fluffy.”

“And stinky,” Hiro added as he started to fill the pot with snow.

“Don’t be mean. It’s part of their charm. What are you doing?”

“Boiling water.”

“What for?” Ryū asked.

“You might not remember, but I’m getting married today. And I’m not doing it stinking like a fox.”

“Oh.” Ryū pulled the string that held his robe closed. He presented his naked body in front of Hiro. “Care to wash me too?”

Hiro dropped some snow that was intended for the pot. “I think I can do that. Come here.” He reached for Ryū’s wrist to pull him closer. Their kiss started slowly but soon heated up. “I can’t wait to have you completely,” Hiro said. His hands skimmed down his lover’s sides and then behind, cupping him possessively.

“What have you been waiting for?” Ryū asked, lips on Hiro’s neck and hand groping for the hardness hidden under Hiro’s robe. 

“Courage,” Hiro breathed, arching his back.

“Dear gods,” a voice said from the door. “My eyes! Why did I have to see this?”

“Biko-chan!” Ryū grabbed his robe off the floor.

Biko looked pointedly toward Paw and her cubs. “Really? In front of the children? Have you no shame?”

“When did you get here?” Hiro asked, flustered.

“Just now. Came to tell you Inari-sama has agreed to bless your marriage. He also sent gifts.”

Biko-chan clapped his hands, and two yōkai entered the hut, stopped near the door, and bowed. Hiro and Ryū stared, never having seen creatures quite like this before. They were dressed like the miko, the Shinto shrine maidens, with vermilion trousers, pure white hirosode robes, and white socks and clogs on their feet.

Hiro recalled the beautiful purity of the shrine maidens he’d seen in Heijo-kyo. They tied their black hair back with red and white ribbons, and they walked elegantly with their heads held high. They were never parted from the kagura suzu bells they used in the sacred Shinto dance ceremonies. These yōkai didn’t have hair to tie ribbons in, because they didn’t have heads. Instead, on top of each of their necks sat a large bell. 

“Hiro, Ryū, I would like to introduce their Divine Royal Highnesses, the Suzuhiko princesses. They are the maidens of Ame no Uzume, Goddess of Dawn and Revelry and the first kitsune goddess.”

Ryū raised a questioning eyebrow to Hiro. 

“She was the goddess who danced in front of Amaterasu’s cave after she had a fight with Susanoo and hid from the world,” Hiro said. “Ame no Uzume’s dancing started a party and made Amaterasu curious about what was happening. When she went out to see, she brought the sun back. Ame no Uzume is also the goddess who gave Amaterasu the jewel and the mirror that are now part of the Imperial Regalia. The reason I am in exile.”

The Suzuhiko princesses nodded, satisfied with Hiro’s explanation. Their heads rang as they moved.

Eyes wide, Ryū whispered, “Why do they have a bell for a head?”

“What a rude question,” Biko sputtered. “Apologize at once!”

“I’m very sorry, no offense was meant.” He bowed toward them.

The princesses clapped their hands, and the tiny bells decking their priestly robes resounded.

“They accept your apology,” Biko said. “The Suzuhiko princesses are tsukumogami yōkai. That means they were born out of old tools that were no longer of service and animated themselves from the desire to be useful once again. They used to be Ame no Uzume’s kagura suzu bells. Inari-sama asked them to be the miko maidens at your wedding. Your wedding is truly blessed by the gods.”

From behind the veil, I huffed my disagreement. A happy event blessed by the gods. There was no such thing.

“Right, off I go now. I’ll leave you in the care of the princesses. I have some decorating to do, more things to plan. I’m terribly busy.” He stopped to regard the fox family. “Perhaps I’ll take them with me. You two might traumatize them.”

“You’re not taking my foxes away,” Ryū bristled.

“Calm down, boy. It’s only temporary. You may want some privacy later.” Biko cleared his throat, causing Hiro to groan and Ryū to blush. “The yōkai of the mountain will take care of them. Consider it a wedding gift. Oh, and one more thing.”

“You have already given us so much, Biko-chan,” Hiro said.

“Under no circumstances will your guardian spirit let you wear those drab smelly rags on your wedding day. Princesses, my gift for the boys?”

 The Suzuhiko princesses twirled, the folds of their long trousers swirling elegantly. After two full rotations, they came to a stop and held out the smoothest and richest white silk robes. A silver fox pattern had been sewn on one and a silver Fujiwara Sagarifuji on the other.

“Wow…” Ryū turned to Hiro and added, “I hope you realize the fox one is mine.” 

Hiro snorted and nodded.

“Do you like them?” Biko beamed.

“It’s the most beautiful silk I’ve ever received,” Hiro said.

“Thank you,” Ryū said. “You’re amazing, Biko-chan.”

“It was my pleasure,” Biko said. “I will see you later.” The door closed behind him. Paw and her cubs had vanished too, Biko magically relocating them with his incomprehensible yōkai powers. The hut was left in silence, disturbed only by the bells on the Suzuhiko princesses’ ceremonial robes.

“I have no idea what we do now,” Hiro said.

Ryū tilted his head at the bell heads. “If this confuses you, imagine me. You’re used to this strange spirit world.”

The princesses stepped closer and invited the boys to sit on two stools that appeared out of nowhere. They helped them undress—despite Ryū giving them a bit of a struggle, embarrassed to be naked in front of them, yōkai or not—and magically filled the pot with snow, since Hiro had failed to finish that task earlier. They washed the boys with soft cloths, and untangled their long hair with bronze combs. They rubbed oil into their foreheads and chests. Finally, they scrubbed their feet and dried them with the folds of their long-sleeved hirosode.

When the yōkai considered Hiro and Ryū clean enough, they helped them dress. They tied their trousers with exquisite silver cords and arranged their hair with combs made of ice crystals. 

Hiro had never seen such combs before. Ryū’s were shaped like the kudzu vines he liked, twisted around flowers of unohana. Sakura flowers on silver chains hung from the sides. Hiro’s were more plain but equally elegant—twining cypress branches with frosted leaves and hanging icicles.

Hiro had always thought his lover was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, but bedecked in silver and white, he was divine. Hiro felt his eyes dampen. He almost couldn’t believe he was about to marry this beautiful soul whom he’d loved for so long.

They heard a quiet knock at the door. One of the princesses opened it, allowing a stream of light to illuminate the dark hut.

“Is that… a kitsunebi?” Ryū asked.

“I think so, although I’ve never seen one before.” 

Kitsune yōkai used foxfire orbs to light their way at night. Inari had once told Hiro to be wary of kitsunebi, because younger kitsune, especially the ones with just one or two tails, were moody creatures. When they got bored, they would play tricks on humans to amuse themselves, hiding behind the orbs and scaring them.

“It’s time,” Biko said from the doorway. He was tiny but glorious in his green and orange robe, riding a blue-green foxfire. 

Outside, the last rays of sun touched the icy trees and painted them in muted shades of gold and red. The boys peered all around in wonder. A path had been stomped in the snow, and a long cordon of red, orange, light blue, green, silver, and yellow kitsunebi guarded each side.

“Is anything hiding behind these foxfires?” Hiro asked Biko.

“No, these were all formed by Inari-sama just for you. Let’s go. He’s waiting by the lake.”

The Suzuhiko princesses led the way. Red umbrellas appeared in their hands, and bells vibrated which each step they took.

Hiro and Ryū wanted to hold hands, but the yōkai shook their heads and separated them. They were to walk the path to the lake as two and return as one. It was an unbreakable ancient tradition among the gods and spirits, Biko explained, so the boys complied, although Hiro did grumble a bit. Ryū might have protested too, but they had arrived at the line of cedars, and a magnificent giant fox was standing on his hind legs, awaiting their appearance.

Ryū stopped in his tracks and gaped at Inari. He cut off any unintentional noises with a palm over his mouth, but he couldn’t stop the tears that were brimming.

“Hiro, I have to confess,” he whispered after the initial shock had passed. “I love you, and you are the most gorgeous and kind man I’ve ever met. But Inari-sama is beyond anything I have imagined. I fear I am too poor and wretched to be in the presence of something so majestic.”

“You’re so wrong, Takahashi Ryū,” Hiro said. To him, Ryū was even purer and more divine than a god.

A yellow mat had been placed on the snow in front of Inari. The princesses stepped onto it and began performing the kagura dance, the ritual cleansing required before meeting gods.

The twin yōkai each held a little tree of suzu bells which they clinked with each movement. Their dance was ethereal, but Hiro barely registered it. He was too busy watching Ryū and memorizing his look of awe and happiness. Ryū was not paying attention to the yōkai either, because he was captivated by the kitsunebi dancing on the surface of the frozen lake. They both wanted to suspend the moment for as long as possible.

When the dance finished and they were purified, Hiro and Ryū could approach the god. The humans and yōkai bowed to him reverently. The maidens gave the boys a gold coin to give Inari as a symbolic offering to thank him for blessing their marriage, and then they placed it in a small wooden box sitting between his paws.

One of the princesses opened a scroll and held it in front of Biko. The little yōkai read from it, announcing that Hiro and Ryū would be married and their happiness would last a lifetime. 

“You are so handsome. Those robes, the way your hair is arranged,” Ryū whispered while Biko read. “How can I concentrate on these rituals?”

Hiro’s breath caught, but he joked, “Are you truly overwhelmed by my beauty, or is it because a giant white fox god is standing before you?”

Ryū touched his shoulder and smiled softly at him. “It will always be because of you,” he said. “You’ve overwhelmed me from the moment we met.”

Hiro reached out and entwined his fingers with Ryū’s. He hoped his joy was evident, because any words were insufficient.

“Do you think your family will approve?” Ryū asked with a tinge of sadness.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. I am yours and you are mine, and I’m not returning to them.”

“You mean it?”

“I’m staying here on Mount Kurama with you. Everything else can rot.”

Ryū dropped his eyes to the ground, and Hiro watched his shoulders tremble. He longed to take Ryū in his arms and convince him thoroughly, but that would have to wait a little bit longer.

Sacred sake was poured into a bamboo cup and handed to Ryū to drink first and then to Hiro. The oaths came next. Hiro turned to Ryū and squeezed his hand, speaking the words that came from his soul.

“On this lucky day, before the god Inari, I vow to share your joys and sorrows until the end of our lives. I vow to bring you peace and happiness and protect you with my life. I love you.”

 “On this lucky day,” Ryū responded, “before the god Inari, I vow to worship you more than the gods, to respect you, to love you, and to stay by your side at all costs.”

Together they turned to Inari. “This we vow to each other,” they said in tandem. “Kami-sama, please protect our love forever.”

“Be blessed, children,” Inari spoke. “May you live in happiness and health and know no sorrows.”

Hiro and Ryū bowed twice, clapped their hands twice, and bowed once again to express their gratitude to the god. 

And then it was over, and they were officially married. It had all happened in a blink.

Hiro came closer to Ryū and cupped his face in his hands. “I love you, husband.” Ryū opened his mouth to reply, but Hiro kissed him and sealed the words of love within. As the maidens clapped, the bells on their robes were slightly muffled by Inari’s divine presence that seemed to dampen all sound.

Biko cried.

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