Having passed into his fourteenth year, Edo, the comely, perfectly formed young son of the house of Arata of the village of Gaiyto at the foot of the mountain commanded by the castle of Lord Sumitora on the island of Honshu, entered a new phase of his life. He put aside the tunic of his schooling days and went into the rice fields at the foot of the mountain clad only in a loincloth to help harvest the rice that would see his family through the winter. Many were the villagers who stopped to admit the beautiful physique of village son, Edo.
As Edo worked in the rice paddy next to the road that wound up to Lord Sumitora’s castle on the mountaintop, the lord himself, accompanied by his retinue of young warriors personally selected by him as fourteen-year-old boys from the cream of Gaiyto youths, rode by on his way up the mountain to his castle. He stopped briefly to watch those in the fields and his gaze too settled on the beautiful form of the fourteen-year-old Edo.
When harvest times were good on Honshu, the villagers of Gaiyto expressed their thanks to the gods and to Lord Sumitora by giving him his pick of fourteen-year-old village boys to go into his service as members of his closely held, totally devoted retinue. In return, when the harvest was bad on Honshu, Lord Sumitora opened up his granaries to the villagers of Gaiyto to feed them through the winter.
The year the comely Edo turned fourteen and gave up his tunic in the school yard for a loincloth in the rice paddies, the harvest was very good.
The villagers were mixed on their regard for the tradition of giving one of their sons to the Lord Sumitora’s service in good harvest years. The younger villagers held that the lord and the gods deserved his dues and felt it a privilege if one of their sons was picked. Some of the families, like Edo’s own, were fanatic in their service to the lord at the top of the mountain. The older generation and some of the other village families, though, thought more deeply about the issue and about the blessed sons they lost to the lord’s personal service who no longer would be working the rice paddies.
The generations living under one roof in Edo’s house were no less conflicted, especially when other villagers came to them to say that the Lord Sumitora and his retinue, while returning from hawking, had passed by the paddy field in which Edo was working that day and the Lord Sumitora had held up to watch Edo working--and had commanded that he know the name of the comely boy working in the paddy before he rode up, up the mountain, to his castle.
It was proving to be a very, very good harvest year in Gaiyto that season.
“My, look how big and strong you’ve grown, my son,” Edo’s mamasan said with pride as she folded his kimono just so over his powerful, straight body. “The time is near for you to enter Lord Sumitora’s service. I am sure he will select you; he stopped and watched you in the paddy and asked for your name. Everyone in the village is saying that it will be you.”
Both mother and son turned at the sound of the wheezing and hacking cough of the old one. Something they were saying had awakened her and set her off.
“Beware,” she cackled, shuffling up to mother and son. “Don’t listen to this woman, my grandson. And beware of the tea of the full moon.”
“This ‘woman’ is your daughter, old one,” Papasan exploded in anger from across the tatami mat. “You will speak of her with respect. She has the family interests ever before her.”
“Family interests?” the old one spat out in derision. “What are Arata family interests to me and my blood? You were ever the climbers. You would do anything to be in Lord Sumitora’s good graces. Do you give no thought to what goes with being chosen for the lord’s service?”
“And perhaps the disgrace of your family has its origins in not pleasing our daimyo,” Papasan spat back. “Now be gone, you old crone. Your advice is not needed here.”
The old woman shuffled across the mat and disappeared behind a bamboo screen, but not before turning and pointing to her grandson and declaring once again, “Remember what I said of the tea of the full moon. Beware.”
When she was gone, Papasan looked over his handsome, strapping son. “Yes, I think your mother is quite right, Edo. I think it is time. Go to the family chest, Susumu, and help Edo pick out the finest of the family kimonos. And thank your mother, Edo, for thinking of and planning for your future and ours. I will climb the mountain to the castle, pass on the information that I am the papasan of the boy he admired in the paddy field, and offer your services to our lord. Then we sit and wait to see if he invites you to the tea ceremony.”
“Arigato, Mamasan,” Edo murmured, not fully understanding why, only knowing that the Aratas had always served the daimyo of the Sumitoras on the island of Honshu--and always would.
A few short weeks later, Edo was called for by message from the castle on the mountain. He went around to his family members, saying his good-byes and gathering their best wishes. His mamasan’s eyes were watery with the momentousness of the occasion, and his papasan’s demeanor showed him that this was a time for steely resolve.
There was no old woman to see him off, though.
“Where is she?” Edo asked with concern. “Is she not well? I cannot believe she would not be here to wish me good journey.”
“She has gone to visit her family,” Papasan said with a set mouth. “There was no need for her to be here.”
The fine silks of Edo’s many-layered kimono rustled in harmony with the sighing of the swaying pines as he mounted the stone steps to the castle. He was a fine, well-muscled boy, and he moved quickly and with grace. He required no light, as the moon was full, beckoning him to the top of the mountain, to the lord’s castle in the rustling pine forest.
Soon he was standing at the lowered drawbridge over a dry moat surrounding a high stone wall. The large wooden gates closed with a sense of finality after he had passed through them and was searched for weapons in a small courtyard just beyond. The grinding of the gates shut seemed to mark the separation of early life working in the paddies, teasing the difficult land to yield succulent rice, and a life of privilege and opulence inside these walls. The plans and maneuverings of his clan, the Aratas, to have him accepted into the service of the lord had been intricate and delicate. Only the best-formed sons of the most worthy families were accorded this honor to mark the favorable harvest years.
Edo was brimming with pride and curiosity and anticipation as he was led down the courtyard and entered yet another heavily gated entrance set at a right angle to the first at the outer end of the courtyard and entered into a wondrous world of delicate wooden pavilions interlocked and rambling across and melding with a fairytale landscape of gardens and groves of trees and rippling brooks and moonlit ponds.
He was guided through a progression of pavilions along a wooden walkway and into the center of a small grove in which old-growth bamboo shoots grew close together around a wooden platform jutting over a small, exquisitely designed pond. This obviously was a very private place, a sacred place. A tiered roof on slim wooden posts provided a covering for the platform, although there was an opening in the middle of the roof through which moonlight streamed down and concentrated on a single squat table between two billowy silken pillows. The hint of another pavilion nearby was the source of quiet, lilting music from a lute, which harmonized well with the sound of water passing into and out of the pond at some unseen source.
Seated on one of the cushions in a billowing pile if rich silk was the daimyo himself, Lord Sumitora. Edo recognized him from seeing the lord’s lavish parades up and down the mountain whenever he traveled to the faraway court in Kyoto.
Lord Sumitora was a magnificent sight. Towering head and shoulders over anyone else in his retinue, he had a strong, stern face and was reputed to be perfectly formed. He certainly was battle tested; a warrior among warriors.
Now, however, he was alone on the tatami mat laid over the richly polished wood of the platform and seemed to be lost deep in contemplation. No one else was there, and when the escort had motioned Edo to the other cushion at the table, the two seemly were entirely alone, although Edo could sense lurking eyes of those ready to respond to the daimyo’s every wish.
Edo had just arrived to take up service with his lord and he already was alone with the great daimyo. He was almost overcome with the honor of the occasion and the privilege that was being bestowed on him by a private audience.
The table was bare except for an exquisite tea set. Two squat tea pots and two cups, matched and intricately carved.
The daimyo said nothing. He just poured tea from one pot in a cup for himself and tea from the other pot into a cup set in front of his young visitor. A beam from the strong full moon poured through the opening in the pavilion roof and spotlighted the tea set.
Edo felt overwhelmed. His lord was offering him tea by his own hand. There was little in life more significant, more intimate than this. This was nothing less than a marriage contract. Through this ceremony, Lord Sumitora was accepting the Aratas offering of their fairest son to the service of their lord.
Lord Sumitora motioned for Edo to take up the tea cup and to drink, and Edo did so with trembling hands. In turn Lord Sumitora took up his own cup and drank deeply from it. He was watching Edo carefully, though, as he drank his tea. And when the boy had finished, Lord Sumitora immediately poured him another cup and bade, with hand signals, for the boy to drink up, which he did.
The tea was sweet and intoxicating on Edo’s tongue. He wondered where such a wonderful drink came from. It was putting him into a dreamy state, and he felt his senses sharpening. He felt almost as if he could rise and float over the fairyland set inside the daimyo’s far-flung castle. What was it the old woman had said to him? Something about bewaring the tea of the full moon? He wondered what this tea of the full moon was and when it might happen for him to be wary of it. He looked up in the sky and watched the wisp of a cloud flit across the full moon. And still he did not understand.
Lord Sumitora was smiling at him now, and Edo began to hear a slow, dull drum beat mixed in with the lute music from across the pond--or was that just the pounding in his ears or of his heart?
The tea in the pot set aside for Edo was drained into the cup, and Edo drank the last of it, hungrily. Servants rushed in and swept away the table and tea set, but Edo hardly noticed their coming and going. His mind was dissembling, and his thoughts were fleeting. He was floating above all this and briefly hoped that his altered state of mind wasn’t being noticed by his lord. He was slightly embarrassed, not being able to be unaffected by his tea. He had grown up on much stronger drink than this. He had no idea that tea could be so intoxicating.
Lord Sumitora had moved his cushion quite closely in front of Edo now, so that it was positioned where the tea table had been.
From the folds in his heavily layered kimono, the daimyo produced brush paintings on rice paper and turned them for Edo to examine. Edo blushed at what was being depicted in these paintings, but he was involuntarily aroused as well. That tea and its effect on his senses had dulled his natural aversion to what he had seen and, at the same time heightened an arousal he knew he should suppress. He had seen such drawings before, but they had been very crude, not beautifully brushed as these were. Although the artwork was skillful, he seemed a bit confused why the couples were composed of only men--in groups of two or three. Did the artists not have the skill to draw women too? Still, the scenes were erotic and added to the arousal he felt, even while knowing he should not in this setting.
His eyes drank in the exotic couplings being presented on the rice paper, and he felt his body stirring as it did when he watched the young women of his village bathe themselves from the secret observation posts that he and the other young men had developed over generations of village life.
He heard more than felt at first the rustling of the silks. The silken material was that of the daimyo’s robe as his hands drew out of the folds of his kimono and then, as the daimyo reached over to Edo, the rustling of the silk of Edo’s own kimono as the daimyo pulled away the folds--just enough for his hands to slip inside.