Story Excerpt
Eastern Embrace

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Isei Hironaka rubbed the back of his neck as he stared out the window into the black night beyond. The clouds had gathered, obscuring the moon and blanketing the entire world in shadows.

The ominous darkness reminded him of the hole he could feel himself sinking further into with each passing moment. It didn’t just come from the lack of sleep he had experienced the night before as he tossed and turned, unable to catch a wink of sleep, but from the nightmare his life had become.

He had been sick to his stomach ever since receiving the order from his older brother—and the leader of his clan—to pose as him for the coronation of the new king. Isei just knew someone was going to see him and know he wasn’t the Daimyo. When he had tried to explain this to his brother, his ardent protests had fallen on deaf ears, or ears that simply didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

Since he arrived for the royal coronation, and for every social event he had been required to attend, Isei tried to hide in the shadows as he anxiously waited for someone to recognize him, to out him in front of the whole party of guests gathered to celebrate the crowning of a new king. He was going to be a basket case by the time the actual coronation arrived.

Luckily, Isei was saved from any embarrassed when he was finally able to excuse himself. He had rushed to the rooms he had been assigned as fast as was humanly possible and locked the doors behind him. He had to stay a few more days, attend a few more functions, but then he hoped to hurry home just as fast as he had hurried to his guest quarters.

Isei leaned his head against the cooling glass, staring out the window in the direction of his homeland. His heart panged with longing. He wanted to go home. Life might not be perfect back home but it was a life he was used to. He knew how to behave to insure he stayed out from under his brother’s iron fist and watchful eye. On most days, sometimes even weeks on end, his brother didn’t even acknowledge he existed.

And then there were days like last week when he had been summoned to his brother’s chambers and informed of Yoshisada’s grand scheme to send Isei to the capitol city instead of going himself. Yoshisada, apparently, had better things to do than attend the royal coronation of their new king.

Isei wanted to tell Yoshisada that his plan was a very bad idea, but after being warned of the consequences, he knew he wouldn’t breathe a single word to his clan leader. Daimyo Yoshisada Hironaka was not a forgiving man, even with his younger brother—especially with his younger brother. If Isei defied Yoshisada, he would be punished, most likely publicly whipped so others would know not to defy the powerful Daimyo.

Still, Isei knew deep in the depths of his soul that lying to the king—even if he was a newly crowned king—was a very bad idea. If anyone ever found out, there would be hell to pay that not even Yoshisada could conceive of.

A loud knock at the door sent Isei’s already nervous body into a full-fledged tremble. Forcing himself to stand, Isei smoothed a hand down his colorful robes and walked toward the door. His tongue felt too thick for his mouth as he tried to lick his dry lips.

Opening the door, Isei stared at two extremely large royal guards. Oh no! They figured it out.

 “Can I help you?” he asked, his voice a tiny squeak. Isei knew instantly that he had made a mistake when one of the guards raised a questioning brow. Standing straight, he squared his shoulders and cleared his throat, taking on his older brother’s regal air. “What can I do for you, gentlemen?”

“Daimyo Hironaka, the king has requested your presence in the throne room.” 

Isei swallowed down his panic and kept his facial features carefully blank. Maybe they didn’t know exactly who he was after all. “Now?”

“Yes, we’re here to escort you.”

“Of course.” Isei waved a dismissive hand in the air, mimicking an action he’d seen his brother perform many times over the years. “Lead the way.”

Isei wasn’t sure why the king wanted an audience with him, but he assumed, since the guards referred to him as Daimyo Hironaka, it was a good sign.

As he closed the door behind him, the guards took up positions on either side of him, and they started walking down the long stone corridor.  He felt small compared to the giant dragon guards, but tried not to appear intimidated. He wasn’t Isei Hironaka at this moment. Instead, he was the leader of his people and he needed to remember that fact while in the presence of the king. It was important that he didn’t bring shame to his family. If anyone found out the truth, he could be banished, or worse.

With each step he took toward the throne room, Isei became increasingly paranoid and anxious. His stomach was one big knot. His eyes darted around the palace, looking at each face and hoping no one recognized him. His palms were moist, and sweat trickled down his neck and his heart beating a rapidly, making him slightly dizzy.

When the large double doors that led into the throne room came into view, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to proceed. Should he turn on his heel and run? Was it possible to escape the royal guards?

Isei tried to keep his outward appearance calm as he fell apart on the inside. The doors opened and he was ushered inside. There were two men inside the room – the king was sitting in his large golden throne atop a long dais. A man in long flowing purple robes—Isei recognized him as the king’s advisor—stood to one side of the throne. Two heavily armed guards on either side of the dais.

Another man stood on the floor before the dais, his back to Isei.

Squaring his shoulders and drawing in a deep breath to stop his stuttering heart, Isei walked down the white marble tiled floor toward the king. He kept his eyes focused on the floor, even though he felt the man’s eyes on him. A strange sensation passed over him, and Isei wondered if the hoax was up. Would the king punish him? Was this his end?

“Your majesty,” Isei said as politely as possible when he reached the bottom of the steps leading up to the dais where the king sat. He started to bow, but quickly realized he had no idea what the proper protocol was. Glancing up, he made eye contact with the king and quickly looked away.




Finally, after a few moments of silence, Isei bowed even though he knew it wasn’t proper. Neither of the men commented as he stood there, staring at the pattern in the marble on the floor.

He was gonna die!