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The Nightingale

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            Mukashi, mukashi, there was once an ancient empire known as Konan. It was the most beautiful and prosperous of all the four empires of the world. It was full of lush, green fields and tall proud forests. Also it had the best weather as well, since it was in the southern part of the world and it was always early summer in Konan; not too cool and neither too hot.

            And the imperial city was the most beloved of all Konan for it was the home and birthplace of their emperor, Hotohori. Its buildings were the finest in the land. Not a stone, brick, or piece of wood was out of place nor were any of them allowed to fall into disrepair for it would reflect badly on Hotohori-sama. The city shone like the finest pearl amongst a vast collection of rare and beautiful gems.

            The emperor himself was just as pleasing to look at with his long chocolate brown hair and ever so gentle brown eyes. Many times the servants commented on their lord's beauty while they gossiped and most of them mentioned how he resembled a woman when his majesty wore his hair down. Hotohori never minded such comments because he knew them to be true and was rather fond of looking at his reflection in mirrors or whatever reflective surface happened to be available.

            He ruled Konan with a firm and just hand, but he was also gentle with his people as well. He made sure that the poor always had a roof over their heads, beds to sleep in and food to eat. When they failed pay their taxes, he would pay them for them out of his own pocket money until they were able to do so. If someone broke a law, instead of immediately punishing him as most emperors at that time did, he would listen to both sides before deciding what to do. So beloved by the people was Hotohori, that everywhere one went, they could not find an unkind word spoken about him.

            But the most beloved of all four empires was the song of the nightingale of the imperial woods just outside the palace walls. For when anyone heard it, they would stop to listen enthralled, weeping at the beautiful sound. Travelers from all over the world would come just to hear this song and many of them wrote of its beauty in their countless accounts of their journeys.

            One day some of these books had been delivered to Hotohori-sama's palace. The emperor was extremely pleased to get these new books since in spite of being surrounded by advisors, servants, and concubines, he was a rather lonely man. Books were his only way of escaping from the tedious and lonely life of an emperor. He was also very pleased at the accuracy of the authors' descriptions of his homeland for he himself had also seen some of the things described in the books on several visits to some of his shogun. He was also pleased when they called his the most beautiful empire of all four, but he was perplexed when the authors again and again mentioned the song of the nightingale being the most beautiful thing of  all Konan.

            Normally he would have been jealous, but since he knew not what this nightingale was he was rather curious as to what it could be. "What is this nightingale they write of in these books? I have never heard of it before," he said to the court librarian, Chiriko.

            The pink haired boy, thought in silence for a few moments then said, "Gomen nasai, your highness, but I don't think I've ever read anything about a nightingale before in any of my books. Perhaps it is a stranger who has come to live in Konan-koku."

            "Hmm, you may be right, Chiriko." Hotohori then called for his royal messengers. "Go find this nightingale and tell him we wish to sing before us," he told them. The messengers then bowed and swiftly left the throne room.

            Days later they returned saying that the nightingale was nowhere to be found. No one knew where it lived though many have heard its song. However, a purple haired woman came forth from the shadows and timidly bowed before Hotohori-sama. "Forgive me, your highness, but I may be able to help you find the nightingale," she said meekly. She knew she was going to be in trouble for leaving her duties as a chambermaid, but she had heard of the emperor's search and wanted to help. For you see, she did indeed know where the nightingale lived and had visited him many times.

            "Who are you and how is it that you can help?" the emperor asked.

            "I-I am only a poor servant, heika-sama, but if you'll allow me too, I could show  your men where the nightingale lives," she said playing with the end of her purple braid.

            "We would greatly appreciate that, miss. Please bring the nightingale here and we shall greatly award you," he replied smiling.

            The woman just stood there for a moment, her eyes wide and shining. 'If I bring him here, then Hotohori-sama would just have to make me his empress,' she thought to herself, hearts beginning to pop up around her. A blue haired monk with a smiley face mask cleared his throat and startled the servant out of her daydreaming.

            "Shall we go, no da?" he asked gently taking her arm. Nodding the woman left with the monk and several of the emperors concubines who were also curious. Along the out of the palace, the monk turned to the chambermaid and said, "How is it you know where this nightingale lives, no da?" He had a very peculiar habit of ending every sentence or question with no da, though no one knew why.

            "I have a sickly grandmother who lives near the stream in the woods just outside the palace," began the violet haired woman, "Each night the cook gives me the leftovers and I bring them to her. I often hear the nightingale singing along the way."

            Suddenly a horse neighed and one of the concubines, who had her hair up in two buns on each side of her head, lit up and said, "Oh my what a musical sound! That must surely be the nightingale."

            "Baka!" said the chambermaid. This particular concubine wasn't too bright and the others loved teasing her so the head concubine had given her chambermaid permission to tease her as well since she could see that she like the other concubines considered her to be a younger sister. "It's only a horse. I said he lives in the woods."

            "Oh right!" she said. "How silly of me! Horses don't live in woods."

            Next a cicada chirped as they entered the trees and another concubine piped up, "There he is now! Just listen to the wonderful pitch!"

            The chambermaid only shook her head and said, "That's a cicada. The nightingale is much further up by the stream."

            They continued to walk along the path for a space of fifteen minutes then as they stopped to rest, the melodious sound of a flute could be heard. The monk and concubines sat enthralled listening to the mysterious melody. Smiling the chambermaid ran ahead calling, "That's him! It's the nightingale!"

            Snapping back to reality, the concubines and monk ran to catch up with the woman and in a nearby clearing sat a young boy with sandy hair playing a flute. He was dressed in the clothes of a peasant and his eyes were closed not realizing he had an larger audience this time. Not too far off in the distance stood a tiny cottage and a the thin silver line of a stream could be seen running by it.

            "That's the nightingale? The nightingale's a boy?" said the not so bright concubine with odango hair.

            "Who would've thought, no da," the monk said.

            "But he's so plain surely you must be mistaken. The nightingale must be a more splendid looking creature than that," said a concubine with long blonde hair and a black headband.

            "No, that's him," said the violet haired woman.

            "He's rather cute," said a concubine with curly chestnut hair.

            As the girls began to gossip and bicker over who was going to be the one to sit next to the boy, the chambermaid came up to the boy and placed a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he immediately stopped playing and dropped his flute, which the monk caught for him. "Ami-kun, I have a favor to ask," said the chambermaid.

            "Nuriko-san, I'd really wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that," the boy said, recovering. "Oh hello," he said noticing the blue haired monk before him. "Are you lost? Is there anything I can do?"

            "Actually you can, no da," replied the monk.

            "Ami-kun, the emperor wishes for you to play for him tonight," the chambermaid, whose name happened to be Nuriko, said.

            "Oh forgive me, your highness. I didn't know who you were," he said bowing deeply.

            "But I'm not..." the monk began to say, but the boy was no longer paying attention and was once again playing his flute. Meanwhile, Nuriko was snickering at the boy's innocence and the concubines giggled as they sat to listen not noticing the chambermaid as she went toward the cottage to visit her 'ba-chan (Granny).

 

            Once Nuriko returned from her visit, and everything was explained, the nightingale, who the chambermaid had called Amiboshi, agreed to go to the palace with them and was now bowing before Hotohori's throne.

            "So this is the famous nightingale," the emperor said. "I am very pleased you could come so quickly."

            "I am very honored you wish to hear me play, your majesty," Amiboshi replied as politely as he could. With a nod from the emperor, the 'nightingale' brought out his flute and began to play. He played for hours into the long night and when he was through, there was not a single dry eye in the palace for the flute's music could be heard all over the palace.

            "Yours is truly the most beautiful song in all the lands, little nightingale," Hotohori said, making the boy blush from head to toe. "You shall have your own room here in the palace and servants to tend to your needs. And you shall play your beautiful songs for me every night." Amiboshi was about to protest, that he needed to be allowed to live as he pleased, but Nuriko shushed him fearing she'd lose out on her chance. Then the emperor turned to her and she quickly cast her eyes down, shyly.

            'Hear it comes! I'm going to be Hotohori-sama's empress!' she said to herself.

            "As I have promised, you shall be rewarded, miss. As of now, your only duty is to see to the nightingale's needs. You are to be the head valet to Amiboshi-san."

            Nuriko's head dropped and tears began to fall from her eyes. Disappointed, she tried her best to sound pleased. 'At least he didn't forbid me to see my friend anymore,' she thought. "Arigatou, sire. I shall do my best."

 

            From that day on Amiboshi was allowed only to leave the palace if the emperor was visiting one of his shogun. And it was with a whole fleet of servants headed by Nuriko. Both the woman and Amiboshi knew he was unhappy being kept like a bird in a gilded cage, but neither wished to anger Hotohori so they kept quiet and hoped the emperor would grow tired of him.

            Just when Amiboshi had finally given up hope of ever leaving the palace for good, a package from the emperor of Sairou arrived. When Hotohori opened it, he was amazed to see a golden music box encrusted with gems. On the top of the music box stood a tiny boy holding a flute to his lips. Chips of sapphires were set into his eyes and the flute was made of the purest silver. Along side of the box was a handle made of mother of pearl so one could wind it up.

            "It looks just like Amiboshi-san," said Chiriko, admiring the beautiful gift.

            "It does indeed, but can it play as well he?" Hotohori said, rather proud that he should have the real thing at his court.

            One of his courtiers suggested the music box be wound up and that it just what they did. They could not believe their ears. The tiny golden figure played just as beautifully as the flesh and bone Amiboshi ever did.  To everyone's amazement, the tiny flute player moved and swayed as it played on his flute. It didn't matter to them that this Amiboshi could only play one tune, they just kept on praising it and the emperor of Sairou for sending such a wonderful gift.

            "This is truly a gift fit for an emperor," Hotohori said, gently placing the music box on a pillow some servant had the foresight to fetch. "From now on, this golden Amiboshi shall sit beside us at all times so we can hear his lovely music," he proclaimed.

            During all the commotion and praise, no one had noticed that the real Amiboshi had slipped away and left the palace. Nuriko smiled for she knew that now the emperor had that fake Amiboshi to listen too, her friend wouldn't have to be kept a prisoner anymore. "Nuriko, come here," Hotohori called from his throne.

            She trembled a little as she pushed her way through the room. Did he notice Amiboshi had left? "You may tell Amiboshi that he may go back to his home if he so wishes. We wish it that you remain as our royal winder of this golden nightingale."

            Nuriko blushed. She could see such an honor meant that she'd be by his side almost constantly. She was almost at her goal of becoming Hotohori's wife. "I am unworthy of such an honor, heika-sama," she said bowing, "but I am very honored that you should remember me at all."

            The young emperor smiled and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It was you who brought the nightingale of Konan to me. It is only fitting you should be the one to wind this beautiful copy yourself."

 

            And she did. For two years Nuriko sat at the emperor's side as if she were indeed his wife. She was given fine clothes and jewelry and had the royal hair styler fix her hair in the most aesthetically pleasing styles. Many of the concubines she once served, had become extremely jealous, but they were much too frightened of losing their status to do anything against the sudden elevation of their former chambermaid. Nuriko was having the time of her life. She needn't do a thing except to wind up the emperor's music box each night.

            At the end of the two years, the golden Amiboshi had suddenly stopped playing in the middle of his song. This was not unusual, since it often did that when it finished unwinding itself. What was unusual was that there was a funny grinding sound as it stopped. Nuriko did her duty of winding it again as she had so often done before, but this time nothing happened. The golden figure had simply refused to play any longer.

            This of course distressed his majesty and he ordered the royal healer be brought forth. The gentle giant of a man who for some reason always had his pet cat, Tama riding his shoulders took one look at the music box and said, "Forgive me, your majesty but I am not the person you should be asking. What you must do is take this to a clock maker." Having said his piece, the royal healer left.

            It so happened that the blue haired monk, that was staying once more at the palace, knew of a local clock maker who lived in the city. So he was immediately fetched and brought to the royal throne room. He took one look at the music box and let out a low whistle. "Whoever had this made sure was loaded," he said.

            "We are pleased you like our gift from the emperor of Sairou," Hotohori said proudly, "but can you fix it? You are a clock maker are you not?"

            The clock maker scratched his head and said, "Well actually I do what I can to make money, but I do know something about clocks." After examining the gears in the box, he let out another whistle. "Well, everything will have to be replaced, but I think it should work again."

            "You shall have everything you need at your disposal. We will be eternally grateful if you are able to repair our treasure," said Hotohori.

            "It'll be expensive," warned the clock maker, "Work like mine doesn't come cheap."

            "Just do what you can," pleaded the emperor, "We would gladly give up our royal fortune to hear the nightingale play once more."

            Moved, by Hotohori's words, the clock maker agreed to fix the music box, for a moderate fee of course. Every gear and screw was replaced and the golden Amiboshi was back in performing condition again, but since the mechanism that held the tune was so worn down, the clock maker had ordered the emperor to only play it once in a while otherwise it would only break down again. Hotohori-sama agreed to the instructions and ordered that the nightingale only be allowed to be played on festival days and, of course, his birthday. Nuriko was still the royal winder, but she was giving the duty of helping Chiriko in the royal library so she now had less time to be with Hotohori.

           

            A year later, the emperor fell deathly ill and was confined to his chambers. The royal healer did what he could for Hotohori, but no amount of medicine or seishi power could rid the emperor of his ailment. Rumors started to spread and soon all of Konan-koku began to grieve as if their beloved emperor was already dead. Black became the latest fashion craze and the people put black ribbons on the trees and plants near their homes to show their sorrow at Hotohori's sudden illness.

            As the emperor lay there suffering, a black hole opened up on the ceiling above the bed. Hotohori was too far gone with fever to notice it at first. Suddenly a figure fell from the hole and landed on Hotohori-sama's chest. "Ooph!" it said. "That is the last time I let Hiro talk me into eating Catherine's soup. This is one freaky dream."

            The figure turned out to be a boy with a rather long chestnut braid and black clothing. In one hand was a scythe. The kind one sees in pictures of Death carrying around. This of course really frightened the emperor and he screamed. At least he tried to, but the figure on his chest made it impossible for any air to leave or enter his body.

            Looking around, Shinigami's eyes widened. "Wow! Wouldja look at this place. I bet whoever owns this place is one loaded dude!" He still hadn't noticed he was sitting on someone. Catching sight of the emperor's crown, he picked it up and looked at it. "I wonder what this is. It's too small to be a hat. Maybe it's a box or something."

 

            Meanwhile, Nuriko had sensed that this may be the day her beloved emperor would die and ran into the woods to fetch Amiboshi since she had seen the healing power of his flute over her grandmother.

            After convincing him to come back with her, Amiboshi grabbed his flute and ran to the emperor's chambers. No one stopped him, since they were too far gone in grief. As he burst into the bedroom, he saw a boy sitting on Hotohori's chest, holding a scythe in one hand and the royal crown perched precariously on his head. Thinking he was looking at Death itself, Amiboshi paled but calmly approached the boy.

            "Hiya! You don't happen to be the guy who lives here are you?" asked Shinigami.

            "No," Amiboshi replied, "You're, um, sitting on him."

            "Huh?" Looking down the boy saw a rather pale and rather frightened man with hair almost as long as his. "Oops sorry about that," he apologized and immediately jumped off the emperor and put down the crown. "Um, you wouldn't know where I am would you?"

            "In Konan-koku," replied Amiboshi. He was about to ask more questions, but a girl with lavender hair and wearing jedi robes appeared in the room and glomped onto the longhaired boy.

            "Duo-chan!! There you are! Hiro 'n' I were so worried when you fell through that hole.

            "Eep! Sakura-chan watch the braid!" he yelled as the girl pulled the Gundam pilot through a black hole in the wall by his braid. "Not the hair! Not the hair!" he cried as he vanished after her.

            Sweatdrops appeared over the emperor's and Amiboshi's heads. They looked at each other and then at the wall where the two people had vanished. "You came back," Hotohori said weakly.

            "Nuriko said you were dying. I came to see if I could ease your suffering a little," Amiboshi replied choosing to forget the weirdness that just happened.

            "Thank you, Amiboshi-kun. I would dearly love to hear your song once more, nightingale." He gestured for the boy to sit on the bed and he did as gently as he could as so he wouldn't disturb his emperor.

            As Amiboshi played, Hotohori felt as if a cool breeze had come and blown away the fever which had constantly burned through his body. Color slowly began to return the emperor's face and the glassiness left his eyes. Shortly the emperor fell asleep peacefully, crystal tears falling from his eyes.

            The boy stopped and silently stood up. "Rest well, heika-sama," he whispered before going to tell everyone the good news. He smiled, knowing Hotohori's suffering was over.

 

            The next day, the emperor had returned to the throne room to everyone's surprise and proclaimed that Amiboshi should be allowed to come and go as he pleased, which made the boy very happy. And every once in a while, the most melodious flute sounds could be heard throughout the palace late at night.

            As for Nuriko, she was given the great honor of becoming Hotohori's wife as a reward for her quick thinking. Hotohori had fallen in love with her during the two years she had sat beside him as the royal music box winder so it was the best way to make his feelings known. The former chambermaid, of course accepted and lived happily ever after as the empress of Konan.

 

~Owari~