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Historical Fiction Romance Transgender

Toshiro galloped across the battlefield, his stallion’s hooves thundering in the quiet reverence that had descended when the last swords were sheathed. The rhythm was soothing, assuring him he would soon see his lord. The generals’ reports he had gathered were not the only reason he stood in the stirrups and kept urging his mount forward. They were not even the most important reason. 

Trusting his horse to pick the best way back to the camp, he loosened the reins and looked around. The last rays of the setting sun painted the grass scarlet as if paying tribute to all the blood that had been shed. Cherry trees in full bloom shrouded the hills on both sides, their delicate beauty seeming to defy the violence they had been forced to witness. 

A storm of pale pink petals swirled in a gust of wind, clinging to blood-stained armour and blades as if seeking to conceal the bodies of those who perished. 

The battle was far from over, but rules of engagement dictated there would be no fighting from sunset to dawn, so both sides had a chance to take care of the wounded and get a night’s rest before facing each other again. 

Lord Uematsu Kagetora, the Dragon of the West, was the fiercest leader in the Empire. The third decade of his life had barely begun but he was already a legend. Toshiro had served at his side since before the young warlord took over their clan ten years ago. Nobody dared to oppose his father’s decision to choose him as heir. 

Because the new daimyo was born trapped in a female body, he always pushed himself to extremes to prove his worth. That gained him fearful respect all over the Empire and fanatic devotion from his own men. 

Toshiro’s attachment to his lord went beyond what was appropriate for a retainer, to a more personal territory. Although he suspected the Dragon of the West was aware of that, it had never been acknowledged, so he had not dared to act on his feelings, not wanting to betray his lord and ruin their relationship. 

Uematsu Kagetora took monastic vows right after he restored peace in his province in his first successful campaign. He was always alone. Toshiro had never seen him with a man or a woman. Did he think affection would destroy the fierce image he worked so hard to maintain? Or… maybe… he wasn’t comfortable enough in his body to pursue intimacy? The children he had adopted over the years guaranteed the future of the clan, so nobody questioned his choices.   

Toshiro slid from the saddle and patted his horse’s neck as he handed the reins to one of the soldiers guarding the large tent. He took a deep breath, calling forth his usual restraint, and went down on one knee in front of the fabric-covered entrance.

“My lord, I gathered the reports.” 

“Come in, Toshi.” His lord sounded content but exhausted.

The inside of the tent was lit by a single lantern, warm yellow light fighting to chase away descending darkness. Lord Kagetora knelt in front of the ancestral altar, cleaning his sword. His armour was displayed on the stand against the wall, but he still wore the same kimono, the cherry branches blooming on the sleeves and back now stained with blood, giving them a ghastly appearance. 

Whose blood was it? Was his Lord wounded?

A wave of worry rippled through Toshiro, but he remained silent. Asking such questions would be too disrespectful. For a while, only the rhythmical sounds of the blade being polished broke the silence. 

Finally, Lord Kagetora sheathed his sword, placed it on the stand in front of the altar, and bowed with reverence. His movements were unusually slow and stiff. 

Toshiro’s jaw tightened at the realization. 

Where? Shoulder? Arm? Side? There was no cut in the silk… An arrow? 

He cast his eyes down, trying to repress the questions and the need to take care of his lord. He did not want to offend his pride. 

“I already know the reports, Toshi,” Lord Kagetora said, still with his back to Toshiro. “More than that. I already sent a messenger to the Takemori, offering a way out without more crippling losses.” The young lord paused, steadying his breath. 

Was he in pain? Or did he just hesitate to reveal his plan? 

Toshiro struggled to keep his calm, as a tide of fear crashed over the receding worry. His fists clenched in anticipation of the words about to come.

“They agreed. Tomorrow at dawn, I shall ride with fifty men.” His lord spoke lightly as if talking about going to dinner, but his stiff, perfectly still posture betrayed his real feelings. “And it will be over, one way or another.” 

Toshiro exhaled sharply, his composure shattering. “But, my Lord… If you ride, you will be the main target…. You are wounded… Please, you can’t…” 

“Toshi, stop.” Lord Kagetora’s voice was still calm and tired, but there was a note of steel lurking underneath that everyone in the Uematsu clan had come to know so well. Their lord was willing to listen to his generals’ advice unless it concerned the ways he pushed past his own limits.

“My father accepted me as his son when I was only five years old. He trusted that I knew who I was. When I was seventeen, he deemed me worthy to succeed him, and my clan accepted me as their future leader without question. They have loyally followed my command since my father’s heroic death. I won’t be able to face my ancestors if I send my men to battle without my sword leading them.” 

Lord Kagetora paused, seemingly lost in thought, his fingers stroking the sleeve of his kimono. 

“We admire cherry blossoms precisely because they scatter in the wind before their beauty fades.”  

Toshiro had no answer to that. His heart screamed in despair, but he understood. There was more to it as well. If Lord Kagetora went with the fifty, their morale and courage would be unmatched. Every one of them would prove his worth tenfold because they would be protecting their beloved commander, fighting at his side. 

The Takemori might waver too, seeing the legendary warlord himself riding into battle. 

Lord Kagetora had already announced his will regarding succession, so the clan was safe no matter the outcome. But a part of Toshiro refused to accept the possibility that…

“My Lord… may I be one of the fifty?” His voice carried the weight of his determination to serve and die together with his daimyo.

Please, let me fight by your side!

“You are much more than that, Toshi. You are… the one.” The young lord finally turned to face Toshiro. “Tonight… stay with me… please.” 

Toshiro had never seen such vulnerability in his lord’s eyes or heard so much emotion in his voice. Those few words… They were like drops of water that announced the ocean behind the line of trees. A depth he never suspected was there. He barely held back tears. 

So his lord did know. Not only that. He felt the same. 

For a brief moment, the upcoming battle lost all meaning. He took off his swords and approached Lord Kagetora, wrapping his arms around him. “I would never leave you, my lord.” All his repressed love and devotion poured into each word. 

Lord Kagetora rested his head on Toshiro’s shoulder, his body relaxing in the gentle but firm embrace. For a moment, the only sounds were their intertwined rhythmical breaths and Toshiro’s racing heart. 

“I know, Toshi. I know.” The Dragon of the West raised his head to look at him, their lips almost touching. “But I never…” 

Toshiro silenced him with a finger, barely containing the tsunami of emotions–his love mixed with desire, while respect and loyalty fused with the need to protect his lord from the world. 

How was he supposed to express all that? 

“I’d give my life for you, my lord,” he whispered, his words followed by a tender kiss. “You are safe with me,”

***

Toshiro woke up in the cold darkness. The lantern must have burned out sometime during the night. Faint light peeked in through gaps between the walls and the loose fabric of the entrance. His eyes adjusted to the dark, allowing him to take in the details of his surroundings. His lord’s armour and swords were gone. So was the source of warmth that still lingered on his naked skin. 

He wanted to chase after his daimyo, but a small cherry branch placed over a single sheet of rice paper stopped him as effectively as if it had been an actual tree barring the exit. 

Inhaling deeply, he steeled himself before picking up the paper, resolved to accept his lord's choice. 

Loving the Dragon of the West meant showing enough respect to let him go.

“A life of conquest is but one cup of sake. 

A life of thirty years passed in a dream, 

Not knowing what life is, nor death. 

Until you woke me up. 

The cherries will bloom again next year. 

Forty-nine is rebirth.” 

Tears fell on the paper one by one, washing away his lord’s elegant handwriting, but the words would be forever carved in Toshiro’s heart. 

The Dragon of the West gave him a gift beyond anything he ever expected.  

And this was not just a death poem. 

It was a lover’s farewell.

June 24, 2022 11:09

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6 comments

Erika Seshadri
00:57 Jul 03, 2022

A lovely piece of writing. Cheers!

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Andy Wirsz
18:04 Jun 28, 2022

This was great. I love the poetic writing. Very contained story. Excuse me if prejudiced, but is Toshiro a reference to Toshiro Mifune? I'm just a big fan of his 😂

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Neko Ikemoto
22:03 Jun 28, 2022

Thank you so much! I actually haven’t thought of Mifune when naming the character (I tried to change the names of the historical figures I was inspired by here not to make it too obvious), but I am a fan of his too. Actually the fact I watched a movie he starred in when I was around 9 years old is the reason I am in Japan now - although of course many other things happened later. Thar first movie I saw as a kid made me completely fall in love with Japanese warrior ethos and dream of becoming a samurai when I grow up. But considering tha...

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Andy Wirsz
14:07 Jul 02, 2022

Well, thank you for all the background context! I have a particular interest in this as well, but I'm not as educated in it as you.

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Chris Morris
13:38 Jun 27, 2022

"We admire cherry blossoms precisely because they scatter in the wind before their beauty fades." Beautiful. Loved that line. And the rest of the story was great too. You detailed a historical period I know little about without it sounding like a history lesson and wove an engaging story through it. I also loved how this was a transgender story in which the focus of Toshiro's character is so much more than his transgenderom (That's probably not a word but it sounded good to me!). I thought this was excellent, well done.

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Neko Ikemoto
14:34 Jun 27, 2022

Thank you very much for your kind comment. I only published one story before and that was for a friend and happened quite a while ago. My anxiety has been going through the roof since I hit "submit" on this one. Being a transgender person, it's a dream of mine that someday we might be treated simply like people. So I am trying to show in my writing that members of LGBT community are so much more than the labels describing their gender or orientation.

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