Hikaru spent most of the day drifting in and out of sleep. When he woke up in the evening, he realized he had an urging need to find a toilet, and so he stumbled up. He felt a little disoriented, but as he again touched his forehead and found it cool, at least to his hand, he figured it was probably because of sleeping too much, and not so much of a sickness. A servant guided him to a toilet, and, after ascertaining he didn't need any help went to inform Sai that the boy was up. Once Hikaru returned to his bed he found Sai waiting there.
"It is almost time for the evening meal," Sai said. "Do you think you're strong enough to join us?"
Hikaru hesitated. He was a little dizzy, and not really that hungry, but… "I guess," he said and swallowed. "If it's okay." No point to put this off.
Sai had some new clothes brought for him – a servant's clothes, but of finer quality than what Hikaru had ever worn. Then he led the nervous boy to the dining room.
Sai's father was already there, waiting for them. Hikaru had been trying to imagine what the man would look like (an older version of Sai? Did he too have long hair?), but the truth wasn't anywhere close to his imagination. The boy stopped, uncertain, wondering if he should kneel or not. He had already decided not to – Sai never cared about such things, after all – but this man was so different from his son that it was hard to believe them related. He wasn't stocky, but robustly build, especially compared to Sai's slender frame, his face was harder, impassive, and the eyes had a piercing look that Sai's held only during a game. His hair, gathered up in the usual way, was graying, and there was something stony in his very being.
Hikaru licked his lips and hovered there, at verge of kneeling down, but still not knowing whether he should or not. Completely oblivious to his discomfort Sai bowed his head to his father.
"This is Hikaru," he said with a wave of his hand. "Hikaru, this is my father, the governor of Kawachi, Fujiwara no Kouyou."
The man said nothing, just nodded his head slightly, fixing his eyes at the boy. Hikaru was quiet as well. He had been thinking of different things to say when he would meet Sai's father, but somehow now he didn't get anything out, and in the end he just bowed, though very deep. He and Sai settled down as well behind their own little dining tables, and the meal started.
It was a very quiet meal. Sai was the one most often to say something, chatting about this and that, seemingly random things, or at least Hikaru couldn't quite follow the course of his thoughts. Sai didn't seem to be bothered at all by the silence, and Hikaru figured that most likely it was a normal way for them to spend their meals.
He watched Sai carefully as he ate, copying his movements. He did his best to eat slowly and carefully, not wanting to spill anything. The meal in itself was quite good, though not very different by its ingredients from what he was used to: rice (polished rice, though, which he had had first time at Sai's place, and the point of which he still didn't quite understand), some grilled fish, and a soup of smashed vegetables. There was a metal spoon for the soup, something he had not seen before. He licked his fingers clean as he watched how Sai ate his soup, half drinking, half eating it with the spoon, and then realized he hadn't seen either Sai or his father lick their fingers. He tried to eat even more cleanly from then on, though didn't quite succeed.
It was a rather trying meal, and he gave a little sigh of relief when it was over. But then Sai's father finally turned to him.
"So," he said in a low, rumbling voice. "Explain to me why you are here, boy."
"I…" Hikaru took a deep breath, fidgeting a little where he sat, and froze then, telling himself to calm down. "I want to work for Sai…sama." Honorifics, he kicked himself mentally. Don't forget the damn honorifics. "And I want to learn more go."
"And what of your parents?"
He couldn't read the man's face at all. He glanced at Sai, who gave him a small encouraging nod. "Well, they… I told them I'm leaving here…" Which wasn't quite true, of course, but at least Akari most likely had told them by now. "They, um, I guess they don't quite like it, but… but… I'm fourteen already!" He fixed a desperate gaze at the man. He couldn't just return home! How Akari would laugh at him, and he didn't even want to think what his father would say. "I'm of age, and I…I can do what I want to!"
"No matter how old a man is, he should still respect his parents' wishes," the man rumbled, and Hikaru flinched.
"Well, yes, but… they just don't want me to be working for Sai cause they think he's weird, and I'm sure you know that's not really true, or maybe it is, but not in a bad way, you know…" His voice trailed off, and he wondered what on earth he was in fact saying.
Fujiwara no Kouyou glanced at his son. "One can but wonder what you have been up to, if even the commoners find you weird," he stated a little dryly, and Sai sighed.
"It's not me, it's them," he muttered his old defense. "But… I think you should play a game with him before you decide anything, father."
"Hmm." The man turned to look at Hikaru again, a thoughtful look on his face, and nodded then. "Fine. Let us play, boy."
The boy gave a great start. "N…now? I… I mean, I…"
"You do look a little pale, Hikaru." Sai leaned forward, watching him worriedly. "Maybe you should rest until tomorrow before the game." He glanced at his father. "He has been sick," he pointed out.
The man nodded. "Fine. We shall play tomorrow, if you feel better then."
He rose and went his way, and the boy was left staring after him in shock. Then he turned his stunned gaze to Sai. "Play with him?"
"Of course!" Sai exclaimed, and only then seemed to realize the boy's horror. "Come now, Hikaru, he's just my father, not some monster from the tales! It will be great, you'll see."
Hikaru wasn't quite convinced. He returned to his bed, surprisingly tired given how much he had slept lately. Even so he lay there long awake, staring at the ceiling. At some point he drifted to sleep, and after a restless night full of strange games played against even stranger goblin-like opponents he woke up into a bright day.
He scrambled up, and immediately there was a servant by his side offering light breakfast and a bowl with water to wash his face; they must have been keeping an eye on him. He ate just some fruits, after which the servant led him to Sai. He was relieved to see that his teacher was alone, sitting in a room with a view to the garden, a book in his lap.
"Morning, Hikaru," Sai greeted him cheerfully. "Or maybe I should say good day, at this time. Did you sleep well?"
Hikaru muttered something unclear in response. He glanced around. "Is your father here?"
"No, he's out on his rounds, but he should be returning soon, though."
Hikaru sighed inwardly. He had hoped the man would be away whole day. "What about others, then?" He came suddenly to think he didn't really know anything about Sai's family. "Your mother? Do you have siblings?"
Sai shook his head. "My mother is dead," he said softly. "And she was my father's only wife, and I their only child."
"Oh." Hikaru sat down as well. Sai's sad smile made him uncomfortable, and he wanted to change the subject. "What are you reading?" he asked, looking at the book on Sai's lap.
"The history of the later Han Dynasty. It is quite interesting, really. Would you like to hear…"
"Nah, don't bother," Hikaru cut him off. "I'll probably just fall asleep again."
Sai pursed his lips and gave him a thoughtful and a little reproving look. "Hikaru, I have been thinking," he declared. "If you are so determined to 'work for me', I certainly have nothing against it. But I'm not going to have you only as a simple servant who'll run errands and help fix garden bridges. No, I'll get you a proper place in my household so that no one is going to have a reason to laugh when they hear I'm teaching you go. And this means," he raised a finger, demanding silence from the boy who was about to say something, "that you will have to learn also other things than go. Now, my father's library has many basic volumes of…"
"You know, I can't read," Hikaru put in, his excitement dampened.
Sai paused and blinked at him. "Well. Then we know where to start," he said then. "And another thing… your appearance. Come here, Hikaru."
A suspicious look on his face the boy went to him and knelt down on the floor next to him. Sai produced a piece of string from somewhere and proceeded to tie Hikaru's hair in his neck. "You need to learn how to do a topknot," he said. "And I'll give you a hat, maybe a nae-eboshi for now. You're too old to be running around bareheaded, anyway."
Hikaru sighed. "I'd like to see you making a topknot of your hair," he muttered.
"Hush now." Sai sat back and watched his handiwork approvingly. "I wonder if father has any…"
Right then they heard steps and, turning to look, saw Fujiwara no Kouyou coming.
"If I have any what?" he asked, entering the room.
"Any materials that would help me teaching Hikaru to read," Sai answered.
His father turned to look at Hikaru, and though his face was as expressionless as ever, the boy got a feeling he hadn't yet made any big impression.
"So, you are not only teaching him go anymore," the man said, still watching Hikaru. "I think it is time for me to play that game with this protégée of yours."
"Absolutely!" Sai looked happily at Hikaru. "You look much better today," he remarked. "Just do your best and don't worry about it!"
"That's a bit much to ask," Hikaru muttered, but the other two were already leaving the room and didn't listen to him. So he too scrambled up and shuffled after them.
Sitting down by a go board had never felt quite as terrifying. He had been nervous before his first game with the old merchant, and before the game with Sai when they had met, but that had been different – in truth he had been more excited than afraid. Now… maybe the difference was that this time he knew his skill, and he knew Sai's skill, and from everything Sai had told him he had concluded that his father was even better.
He looked hesitantly up at the stone-faced man on the other side of the go board and dropped then his gaze down to its lines.
"Let us play, then," the man said. "Let us see how good you are…"
Hikaru glanced at him, swallowed, and raised the cover of his stone bowl. It dropped from his fingers and hit the floor with a clank that sounded much too loud in his ears, and blushing he grasped it quickly and placed it properly next to the bowl. Neither Sai nor his father said anything, but the former shot a look at the latter, genuinely wishing he could at least try to be a little less intimidating. Not that Sai found him so frightening, but he could understand how his father would look like to a boy like Hikaru.
The game started, and he was happy to see Hikaru's anxiety didn't have a big effect on his play. The boy started solidly enough, perhaps a little timidly, but at least he did not make any big mistakes. Certainly his reading of the game wasn't yet deep enough to see all that was happening on the board – Sai spotted the trap his father was building right on, and almost squirmed on his place when Hikaru went on playing, obviously oblivious to it.
Hikaru maybe didn't see the trap from right on, but he knew enough of the game to be certain that there was one, he could almost feel it closing around him, and not being able to see it made his spine tickle. He went on playing carefully, attempting to solidify his defense instead of attacking, but he knew that wouldn't be enough.
Sai's father snapped one more stone to the board, and once again Hikaru found himself – not thinking about his own next move, but caught up wondering about his opponent's style, the way he captured the stone between his fingers, raised it into the air, and brought it – snap! – down to the board. It had taken him a while to learn how to hold the stones properly, and even so he hadn't really paid that much attention to how he placed them on the board, although he had always thought Sai had a nice style of play. But where Sai's moves were graceful, this man's were about strength, and every snap! made Hikaru give a little inward start.
He tried to force himself to concentrate on the game. He picked up yet another stone, but instead of playing it on the board he placed his hands on his lap and thought. There were dozens of different ways the game could proceed from there, and he attempted to figure out them all. Most likely many of those ways led to his destruction, but there had to be something he could do to avoid it – or if not avoid, at least put it off. But first he had to figure out what was going on.
This man was Sai's father, and as such, Sai's teacher. They had to have at least some common characteristics in their play. And he knew Sai's play, Sai's strength very well – at times he had grown almost sick of having to witness it game after game. If this was Sai he was playing against, what would he be up to? He thought back to all the games they had played, tried to remember all the traps he'd fallen into and all the ones he had barely avoided, every lesson he had ever had, and now, looking at the formation of the stones on the board, there was something familiar about it, something that made him wonder if he wasn't concentrating on a completely wrong part of the board.
He let his gaze sweep across the board, and his eyes stopped on a seemingly harmless group of three white stones standing alone in a corner. But if the other white stones were to connect with those… He placed a black stone down, his opponent played his move, trying to get around it, but with his next move he separated that little group from the others.
Sai gave an audible sigh of relief, and couldn't hide his smile as the game went on. Hikaru would still lose, clearly so, but at least he would not be completely crushed. The game lasted a long while, with Hikaru pausing to think his moves for longer than he ever had when he had played with Sai. Finally the game came to its end.
Hikaru watched the board, feeling sweat tickle on his brows. He felt quite drained; he had never before used so much energy for one single game. He was a little astonished at how tired one could get, just sitting and thinking. Now he just sat there and stared at the board, mind blank. He couldn't even count with how many moku he had lost.
"You have been teaching him for a year now, right?" The sudden question made him start and he looked up. His opponent was as well staring down at the board, a slight frown on his face.
"Approximately, yes," Sai answered. "He did know the basics when I started teaching him, but that's all." Did Hikaru just imagine, or did he actually sound proud?
"Either he does have real talent, or then he has an extremely good teacher," the man said thoughtfully.
Sai grinned. "I think he has both."
"Well." Finally looking up from the board the man met Hikaru's gaze, and the boy's back straightened automatically. "It is going to be interesting to see how your go will develop," he said. "You have still a long way to go, though."
"Ah… th… thanks," Hikaru managed to stammer. "I… I mean, that is… thank you."
Fujiwara no Kouyou nodded at him and looked then at his son. "Do you want to discuss the game with him? I am afraid I can't stay any longer for now."
"I'd love to!" Sai cried out. "Right Hikaru? There are so many things in this game about which I want to speak with you."
"Ye… yeah, sure." Hikaru was still feeling a little lightheaded. He did have enough composureleft to bow when his opponent got up. "Thank you very much for the game," he muttered, his head almost touching the board in front of him.
"Thank you for the game," the man said, and left.
"Hikaru!" Sai exclaimed when they were left alone, reaching out to hug the boy. "That was wonderful! Well, for the most part. You could have done better in the upper left, and at the center too, and this move," he pointed at a stone with his fan, "was enough to make me cringe, but other than that, it was great!" He squeezed the boy again, and Hikaru tried to squirm away from him.
"Take it easy there! It was just one game!"
"One beautiful game! But… now, look here…" Sai moved to sit by the board's opposite side. "This move… could you explain to me what you were thinking?"
By the time they were done discussing the game, Hikaru was beginning to wonder exactly what in it had been enough to make Sai so happy. He certainly did have a long way to go…
"What did your parents say when you told them you're coming here?" Sai asked him when they were putting away the go stones.
Hikaru paused and blushed a little. "Actually, I… I didn't quite… I mean, I told Akari, and she told them. Once I'd left."
Sai as well stopped cleaning the board and gave him a long look. "I really should just send you back," he said flatly. "You left Akari to tell them? So irresponsible! Surely you should at least take care of such things by yourself." He sighed. "We need to send them a message, at the very least, and tell them you arrived here safely. More or less."
"How will we do that? I mean… I know mom can read, a bit at least, she tried to teach me too, once, but…"
Sai thought a moment. "I'll send a message to Nobunori. He can arrange it." Hikaru must have looked a little skeptical, for he went on, "He will do it, I'll make sure he will. Don't worry about it. And when I go back to the capital, you will come with me and we go together to meet your parents."
"You're coming to…" Hikaru shook his head. "You're always doing these things upside down. If you're going to meet my parents, shouldn't they be coming to you?"
Sai thought a moment and shrugged then. "Well, whatever. We'll meet them, anyway. But I'll write that message right now." He took the last stones from the board, put them into the bowls, and rose. "Would you bring my writing utensils," he called to a servant. "No need for any special paper."
He wrote two messages, one for Nobunori and another for Hikaru's parents. "I'll add here that he'll send someone who can read to take the message, just in case," he said to Hikaru who was watching over his shoulder.
"Mmm." The boy wasn't so interested in how the messages would be delivered. He stared instead at the strange forms appearing on the paper, and wondered how anyone could find meaning in them. "You're going to teach this to me?" he muttered aloud. "That looks hard. Much harder than go…"
"Don't be stupid, Hikaru. Any silly courtier can write, even if they have no idea how to play a descent game of go."
"If you say so…" He didn't appear to be completely convinced, but watched in silence as Sai finished the letters
The rest of the day Sai spent showing Hikaru around in the mansion; next day they started his writing lessons. It soon became evident that though Hikaru was a very dedicated student where go was concerned, the same wasn't true for other studies. And very soon the boy realized it was rather simple to distract his teacher to discuss go problems instead. It didn't take Sai long to see that things would not proceed quite as smoothly as he had imagined. Then he had a brilliant idea: he started using go books as the learning material. It helped, at least for a while. If nothing else, Hikaru learned very quickly how to read game records. The downside was that after that it was hard to get him to read anything else.
Sai had his own studies, too, and as he would not spend a single day without playing at least one game with his father and some with Hikaru, he didn't have that much time left to dedicate for an uneager student. As days went by Hikaru's studies were left in the background. Sai thought about it sometimes, feeling vaguely guilty, but then he decided that for one thing, Hikaru was the one losing if he didn't want to learn, and also, there was no hurry – some day when he would have more time, they would try again. For now, he decided to stop worrying about it, and just concentrate on his own studies.
Hikaru did not complain about this decision. While Sai studied, or was out with his father on some official business, he spent his time going through the game records or trying to solve life and death problems presented in the books. Sai had praised his father's library, and Hikaru had to admit that at least where go was concerned it was impressive. There were times when he did think that learning to read might really be quite useful, as then he would be able to read also other parts of the books than just the records and the problems, but as long as he wasn't about to run out of those, it was just a passing thought.
A/N: So… yes. In this story, Touya Meijin is Sai's father. As it is, there's this PS Hikaru no go game that takes place in the Heian age and in which he's Sai's father, so… it's almost canon, right? Right? xD
And… I must have been a bit tired when I originally wrote this chapter. Rereading it now, I came across this: "For now, he decided to stop worrying about it, and just concentrate on go. I mean on his own studies. But most likely he mainly did concentrate on go, now that I came to think of it. …am I breaking the fourth wall here or what?"
I was tempted to leave it like that, but edited it in the end. (And then there was that little tongue twister "obviously oblivious" which I also considered changing, but it amused me and I left it as it is.)
A little bit of trivia: chopsticks existed in the Heian age, but they were mainly used just in banquets. Otherwise people of all classes ate with hands.