THE FIRST TIME I SAW YOUR FACE
The wolf and his lady look back and remember the first time they ever saw each other. Saitou/Tokio
A/N: Standard disclaimers apply. This is a fictional account and not based on any historical facts. It is merely my imagination of what could have happened. My thanks to the time line for Saitou Hajime that appears on the Hajimenokizu website. That timeline is the source of the dates that are used in the text.
I was born into a samurai family. My father was a retainer to the Daimyo of Aizu. I received the best education afforded to the daughter of someone of my father's standing. I studied in the classical Chinese tradition. I was also trained in the arts that women of my station were expected to know, the naginata and bow. I became proficient in the use of both.
Eventually, I became secretary to Matsudaira Katamori's sister, Teruhime. I was also a member of the Jōshitai, and part of her bodyguard unit. In addition to protecting her, we protected the wives of several court officials. Part of my service was done in Edo, but after the battle of Toba Fushimi we located to Aizu. Looking back now, I can see how things would not go well for us, even though we were leaving Edo.
Shinsengumi were sent to Aizu to protect the han. They would eventually fight outside the castle walls. I remember the day I met him. It was in the spring of 1868, the day his unit arrived from Kyoto. He was the captain of their third unit, but he was one of the commanders of all Shinsengumi, who were posted to Aizu.
I was helping her highness draft some replies to letters she received, when her brother, Matsudaira Katamori, interrupted us. He told us that someone important would be at court today and he wanted us there to demonstrate that the population of Aizu was grateful for his presence. Of course, this was before the siege on the castle began.
I remember watching as Teruhime just rolled her eyes, telling her brother that we would be there. Then she sighed and said to me, "I guess we had better spend a little time making ourselves presentable, in case this visitor is really as important as Katamori thinks him to be."
I did dress in a formal kimono. Nothing that would stand out in a crowd, but something that was very understated and acceptable. Of course our hair and make-up had to be perfect. Fortunately, we had the girls help us with all of that.
When the time came for us to receive the guest, she and I made our way to the reception hall. She took her place on the tatami to the side of where Katamori was to sit, while I sat behind her. Her brother entered last, taking his place in front of the room on a platform that was raised a foot off the floor.
When all was ready inside the hall and all of the audience seated, one of Matsudaira's assistants showed the man into the room, announcing him to the court. I followed Teruhime's lead, when she bowed, nose to the floor and neatly inside the triangle made by her hands as they rested on the mat. It was then that I knew how much respect this man commanded. To see her, with her rank above his, give him such a respectful bow, let me know that there had to be something special about him.
When we settled back into a sitting position, I tried my best to take a look at the man without appearing obvious. He was tall for someone born and raised in our country. He had silky black hair, tied in a manner that was customary for a man of his profession, but also with four wispy bangs that made a curtain for his face. His jaw line and cheekbones were angular, making him quite attractive looking in a rugged sort of way. It was funny that a thought like that even crossed my mind that day. Perhaps it was a premonition of the future that was yet to come.
But his eyes were what caught my attention and stilled my breath. They were the most intense shade of amber. They looked as though they could pierce a man and extract the truth from him at will. How could anyone resist those eyes? Certainly not me. I had to cast my gaze to the floor. I did not want him to know that I was looking at him. Somehow I knew, even then, that little escaped those eyes of his.
He told me many years later that he knew I was looking at him from behind my lashes.
I think that it amused him. Perhaps not at the time, but the memory of it certainly did when he finally shared it with me.
That audience at court seemed to drone on and on. Katamori expounding on the virtues of the Shinsengumi and of this man in particular, almost put me to sleep. It finally ended by the Daimyo telling the man kneeling in front of us how thankful everyone in the han was that he and his men were here to help us. I had to stifle an inner chuckle and keep myself from shaking my head at that. Yes, we were all thankful that they had come, but we did give them the financial support they needed to even exist, so it wasn't likely that they would refuse our call for help.
Many things would happen before we would eventually marry. Aizuwakamatsu castle would be attacked and fall. He fought outside the castle walls where many of his troops were killed and the rest scattered. About a year later, in September 1869, he and the others, who fought in the Boshin War, would be pardoned by the Meiji government. Now he even works for them. Who could have ever imagined that?
By 1870 all of us would be exiled to Tonami, and face the extreme hardship of living in that place. I would have an opportunity to get to know him better when he lived in the house of Kurasawa, the family who adopted me. He lived with us for a about a year. I would relocate to Tokyo by the spring of 1872.
Arrangements were very complicated back then, and he would even have a first wife, Yaso, whom he married in August 1871, the same month and year that the Kurasawa's adopted me. That is something that I choose not think about. The important thing is that we were finally allowed to be together, and have been ever since.