It was the day of the Coronation. The afternoon sun blazed down upon the streets and the marketplace. It was stifling, to say the least, even where he stood, on the high balcony of the tower which overlooked the city. Maki smoothed down his stiff, starched collar as he scanned the crowd, his hands hanging guardedly by his sides.
As the day wore on however, the humidity grew too sluggish to bear. Finally, when the central bell chimed the mid-afternoon in the heart of the palace, in turn ringing the other smaller, connected bells that wound around the palace, the noise died down, as all eyes turned towards the tower. And as the slim, erect figure moved into view, hushed murmurs spread through the crowd like wildfire.
"Thatís the crown prince!"
"He looks too young to rule!"
"Would be hard to try and live up to the kingís legacy, that one."
Yet, despite all misgivings, a mighty cheer rose from the people as the High Priest held the jeweled crown high in the air, letting the sunís rays sparkle on the gems that the gold gleamed and shone in its splendor. And when he placed it on the crown princeís head, the yells rose to rapturous shouts of fealty. For he was their king now.
From the shade of a small, sheltered store, two figures, one clothed in the brightly-spotted scarves of the peasant women and the other in a simple black tunic, turned and began walking away. They walked to the end of that street, and then turned a sharp corner, walking casually to any who might choose to observe them, and finally stopping by a sparsely frequented tavern, stepping over the threshold and entering into the cool shadows.
"You look beautiful this way."
He saw his partnerís eyes crinkle up in a quick flash of a smile, before the expression rearranged itself to the unsmiling mask that was normally worn, barely visible under the cotton scarf wrapped about the head to conceal the identity of the one whom sought it. "Thank you, Kiminobu. Donít get interested already."
Kogure laughed and shook his head. They sat there chatting and drinking tea like old friends, as indeed they were. Outside, the sun crawled to rest, her orange rays darkening the sky like drops of crimson paint on the cloudless canvas of the sky.
It was a surprisingly cool evening. The palace gates were open, and the imperial garden was lighted with candles and scented with fresh flowers. The peasants came and sang as they went, while the more important merchants and traders took their right and entered the outer court of the palace. It was a night of celebration after mourning, a night of cheer and laughter and music.
In the inner courts however, the captain of the Princeís Guard, despite the new monarchís silent commands to go and enjoy himself this festival night, couldnít quite bring himself to relax. Yet surely if the Haka Assassins had wanted to make their move, they would have made it already? Surely they would not have waited for Prince Rukawa to be crowned.
Glaring at him in mild frustration, the prince stalked out of his line of vision, weaving in between his new fellowship with his wine goblet held high and a polite smile on his face. Maki made to follow, when a tall figure turned to face him, blocking his way.