Moriko, daughter of Kaito the miller, was famously beautiful and wise throughout her province. Everyone, from the daimyō’s son to the lowly woodcutters who worked Kaito’s lands, sought her hand in marriage. Kaito, who had no other child and whose wife was long-dead, was very sentimentally fond of Moriko, and would suffer no suitor that his daughter, his light, did not fully approve. Nor would he, like so many in that era and even today, call on her filial piety to force a match.

Eventually, the daimyō grew tired of his son’s preoccupation with the girl. A member of the Fujiwara clan, he called upon his great-uncle, the imperial regent for the young Shāngmǐn Emperor, to force the issue. A retainer was duly dispatched to Kaito’s mill with an imperial decree that Moriko would marry her daimyō’s son unless she chose a worthier match in the intervening year. The daimyō had hoped that the girl might choose an honorable death or a suitor closer to her station (and thus more “worthy”); she might even be useful as a bargaining chip over a wayward and dissolute son.

But fate was to have other plans.

Moriko was a great lover of nature and the natural world, and she enjoyed nothing more than long walks in the Shizukesa Forest near her home to commune with the spirits of her ancestors and of the natural world. The forest had a consciousness, a gestalt of all its component parts, just as every other part of the world does. And, like every other entity that encountered her, it found itself enchanted by Moriko’s poise, intelligence, and beauty.

Her long walks soon became the equivalent of a courtship, with the Shizukesa Forest penning love poems in the shape of autumn leaves and songs in the form of clear running waters. She responded in kind with songs and poems of her own as she wandered beneath the forest’s sheltering boughs. The Shizukesa presented Moriko with a ring of woven sakura buds as a token of their bond.

The daimyō, alarmed, claimed that the use of a chrysanthemum token was a usurpation of the Shāngmǐn Emperor’s imperial prerogatives.

His response would lead to tragedy.

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