Umo was near to frothing at the mouth when Sakura had arrived backstage of the palace theater.
“We’re almost finished,” Kaiya said, “you rushing us won’t make it go any faster.”
Kaiya was applying Sakura’s final makeup touches. A bit of purple eye shadow and her red lip gloss. She was already wearing her white kimono. It was embroidered with blue fans and gold ribbons.
Umo was glittering with impatience. Had he been short and fat, it would have been funny, but he was neither. Like a reed, he moved quickly, jerkily.
“If anything goes wrong, Sakura,” he said, “I’m taking it out of your hide!”
Sakura didn’t say anything. She knew that she was late, had forgotten all about the performance. But Sakura had had more important things to think about, and so she had been late. But being late and in a rush wasn’t the end of the world. Proper time management when the schedule wasn’t going according to plan was almost a regular occurrence. It was just that… well, they were performing for their esteemed emperor Kurosawa. But the troupe was professional. This was their trade. They would deliver a stunning performance—and on time.
“That’s it,” Kaiya said. “She’s ready.” She stepped back and scurried to the dressing table and took up her fans.
She might be annoying Sakura thought, but she’s reliable. And a good friend.
The whole troupe was there, ready to patter out onto the stage in their slippers and kimonos while the curtain was drawn. Right now there was a small pre-performance happening, designed to distract the audience.
The taiko drums were already set up. The performance would open with a thrilling concussion of three drummers that would eventually rise into a crescendo to introduce the performance proper—the dancers Sakura, Kaiya and Yumiko.
It’s time, Sakura thought, not feeling any apprehension or giddiness whatsoever. She had done this hundreds of times, often in the presence of powerful individuals such as daimyōs, foreign rulers, and of course, even the Emperor.
“Go, go go!” Umo hissed, herding the performers out onto the stage. “Ike!” The curtain was drawn and the duo of shamisen lute performers and the shakuhachi flute players were nearing the end of their performance.
The drummers took their positions, their sticks raised and ready to beat out a performance that would make anyone want to move about with their rhythm.
The small performance out front ended and there was complete silence from the Ikaima Dancing Fans as the lute and flute performers scurried off the stage, their slippers pattering softly as the audience murmured in quiet conversation.
The emperor would be out in front of course, along with the Shinju family. The rulers had met to celebrate the engagement of Prince Shusuke Shinju and Princess Noriko Kurosawa, an alliance of marriage.
This performance was in honor of their visit, and the engagement of the prince and princess.
Umo peaked in on the curtained stage. “It’s time!” he whispered, practically hissing out the words. He did a silent count down and the drummers began, at first slow, the rhythm soon to rise into an exciting opening performance!