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Chestnuts out of Season

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It's not Shion's place to go fetch groceries, but since he is not master of the house, and there are few house servants, sometimes he goes out anyway to buy the things he wants. When he can. When he's not away on his lord Yakumo's business, which is less and less often, now.

In the garden of one of the houses between the manor and the market, there are three children: a girl, about seven years old, with a baby on her back, and a four-year-old boy, running and playing in the garden as the girl tries to follow after and stop him from being too rambunctious.

The baby is fat and healthy, half-dozing happily in its cradle on the girl's back; the boy is chubby with youth, his clothing disarrayed with activity, smears of dirt on his hands from his play. The girl's clothing is ragged and threadbare, her limbs slender and her face hollow.

Shion stands at the fence, watching them.

"I'm going to do what you do!" the boy says, joyous and cruel in his freedom, and begins to tear the vegetables from the garden; the girl cries out and tries to pull him away, but he hits her, and she falls. The baby on her back, disarranged, begins to cry, and does not fall silent despite the girl's efforts.

Out storms the mistress of the house, who takes up the baby and kicks the girl, calls her a fool, calls her a waste of food, scolds her for harming the boy, harming the baby.

Shion trembles, magic rising in his hands. His ribs ache, broken once and never set. He could show that woman, that mother, what it is to be small and helpless and at another's will – not at another's mercy, never that, not when you are an object and a child and without defense.

He breathes out, as his lord Yakumo once taught him, and the power flows downward to the earth, joining the river of life in the land, deep and knowing.

There is no justice for the weak, only further pain, and the pain of the strong becomes further pain for the weak.

As he turns and walks away, Jam, warm weight on his shoulder, licks his ear. All rough tongue and sharp teeth and violence, hidden away.


At the market he looks around, looks at the goods on display. Vegetables and meat and rice, and fresh dumplings and desserts to buy. Fruit, tea leaves, cloth, shoes, thread to make cloth. Dried fish and squid and seaweed.

Once he's reached the end of the street and has made up his mind what he wants, he takes a couple of nuts out of his pocket, from where he put them after he grabbed them out of the stall. Seeing the girl in the garden brought back his old habits.

He buys, with money, some dried fish to put over his rice in the mornings, and a few blocks of tofu for soup. His lord enjoys it when he eats tofu at meals: Shion, once a child-slave, given only leavings all his life until he entered the house of a rich man, prefers fish and tofu to meat.

He buys, too, some dried squid to snack on in his travels, and soba tea, a flavor that his lord disdains. A block of yōkan, as well, because Yakumo enjoys it, and Shion knows that he has lost his favor.

He is not as young, nor as beautiful, as he once was. It is not a surprise that with age and experience in the magical arts, his lord's interest in him has faded. After all, Shion can no longer be taught, and he is fully and unquestionably Yakumo's. Yakumo enjoys challenges. Where there is no challenge, he grows bored.

He was interested in Shion because he wanted to see how this broken, cold child would age, but Shion is a man now, grown sharp with all his shatterings, and still cold. Chipped into a blade by hunger and pain and raw magic, instead of honed into a cutting thing that could serve some use to his lord.

And he is desperate as well. There is no forgetting desperate. To never return to being the child in the garden wearing only single layers in the winter, eating the remains of even the servants' table scraps, sleeping in the barn like an animal.

At least the girl had crow-dark hair and skin the shade of polished wood. Shion, moon-pale with hair the color of unhulled rice, is closer to a ghost than a man. Occasionally he has nearly been exorcised, before explaining, flatly, his invented explanation: a barbarian shipwrecked, his mother the whore, and his bad luck to be born alive.


He carries his bags of food back from the market towards the mansion, stopping occasionally to let Jam lick fragments of dried fish from his fingertips. He'll hide the yōkan in the corner of his bedroom, behind his books of spells. The dried fish for his rice he will stuff behind a pouch of cicada shells on his shelf.

Sayuri will hunt out his hoards, of course, and put them in the kitchen, as though they were not his alone, bought with the money he earns between assignments for Yakumo. She has neither pity nor patience for the habits he learned from being hungry and cold and hurting before Jam came to him and began to find them both food.

Back at the house with the child-servant, the girl is carefully planting the unripe vegetables back in the ground, the baby sleeping on her back. Nothing is ripe enough to steal and eat, not quite yet, and the wind blows chilly even to Shion in his fine jacket.
His fingers, in his pocket, curl around the nuts he stole.

He pulls one out, cracks open its shell with a flick of his will. Drops the shell onto the ground on the girl's side of the fence, and then eats the nutmeat inside. Watches the girl.

After he pulls out the second one she turns, and when she realizes what he's holding, that he's eating, right in front of her, her face goes pinched and bitter, and he swallows the second one. Licks the pieces out from his teeth and walks away.


Inside the manor, Sayuri floats into thegenkan as Shion is taking off his shoes.

"I will take the packages to the kitchen," she says, in her dead-flat voice.

"And I'm taking them where I want," Shion replies.

"Do not be stubborn. You know that my reverend elder brother does not approve of your hoarding."

Shion bites his lip. "Some of it's for Jam. I'll keep that."

Sayuri stays, unmoved, and holds out her hand to take the packages.

He hands her a nut in its shell from his pocket, and brushes past her.

Inside his room, Jam leaps down from his shoulder, a streak of darkness, and then pads around the floor. Sniffs at his purchases and noses at the dried fish.

Shion opens the bag and takes a piece, sticking it between his teeth to hold it, then gives another to Jam. Closes the bag, and sets it behind a jar of lizard skins in his cupboard, ready to take out when he or Jam need it, not subject to the whims of even the master of his choosing.