The household became even more protective towards us than before. None of my brothers were allowed anymore to go to the forest, which annoyed me. We had a guard at all times following our every step. I would have complained, but I had bigger problems.
Soon after our strange escape, my brother Yoshitsugu fell ill with high fever. Father called in the imperial doctors, the same treating our prince cousin who was soon to be emperor. Their diagnostic was shock and gave some powdered medicine to Mother and Aneko-san, my father's second wife, telling them to make tea from the powder and make Yoshi drink it twice a day. In four days he was going to be as good as new. Then they left.
Five days later my brother's condition took a turn for the worst. I had not been allowed to enter his room, my mother fearing I would be infected with whatever he had but when I saw the Shinto priests coming in through the entrance I rebelled and they allowed me to join his side as they performed their harai, the cleansing rituals.
I lay at his side on the futon, holding his clammy hand, listening to the priests chant. His pulse was faint in my palm and his breathing was shallow. His fever had not gone down in days. I stayed with him long after the priests left and fell asleep by his side. When I woke up, we were alone in dark room. The house was quiet. Night had fallen.
It was the clink of bells that made me jump out of my skin and the tingle in my palms that heralded the supernatural. I scrambled to my feet, prepared for the intruder, but he had been there all along, standing by our feet, staring at us with golden fiery eyes.
"Who are you?" I asked. But I knew.
He was hooded and dark, a shade blacker than the night. He moved a staff towards my brother to which tiny bells had been tied with red string. The bells sang as he moved. I saw that the staff was made of polished bone and I shivered.
He spoke to me. "When a patient has been bedridden, a shinigami will be with them, either by their head or their feet. If they're by the feet, the patient has life left in them. If they're by the head, their life is all but over."
"Are you a shinigami?"
"And you stand by my brother's feet. It means today is not his day."
He nodded. "He had been touched by a demon's hand and he was not strong enough to fight it. You suffered the same fate, but you are different. The healing that he needs rests in your palms. Touch his brow and suck the filth away, and he will wake up by tomorrow."
I gazed at my brother. "Thank you," I said, but when I raised my head I saw I had spoken to the empty room for the shinigami had left.
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