The problem was that Yum Yum was fresh from a ladies' seminary. Free from its genius tutelary, she was eager to cast aside all manner of stuffy rules (without, of course, transgressing against the strict propriety into which she had been brought up) and make herself a perfect pattern of a partner to Nanki-Poo (and, of course, a dutiful daughter-in-law to his father the august Mikado.) Yet eagerness, however heartfelt, is a poor substitute for knowledge, and Yum Yum was as innocent and artless as a cherry blossom.
The other problem was that Nanki-Poo, well-versed though he was in all the customary politenesses due from a prince to his courtiers, and well able to tune his supple song to his audience's changing humours and play upon them as on that delicate instrument, the Marine Parade; had never been entirely clear on what to do with Woman Won.
Both had lost their mothers at an early age, and Nanki-Poo would have sooner died the death than asked his imperial father for an explanation; and Yum Yum could certainly not have gone to her guardian Ko-Ko.
They set out to solve the problem together. Had they been born into a different era, silk screens and delicate fans, and long and elegant scrolls would have shown them the way. But the present, illustrious Mikado, being most particularly proper, and having a considerable genius for reform, had decreed in his wisdom that all such instructional aids must be kept in locked libraries and barred from the young and unmarried, to protect them, and from the married and old, who shouldn't need them.
In a luxurious chamber piled with pretty, printed pillows, his Highness the Emperor's only son and his Highness's blushing bride tried to sort it out.
"I think it goes something like this," he said.
"Oh no, it couldn't be!" she replied. "Suppose you were to try..."
"That's not the thing for *me*."
"Now if we just..."
"Unless of course..."
But that didn't work either. "We're not sure what to do," they told each other. "It doesn't seem quite right. What should be night is day, what should be day is night. This sport is new to us, we've never seen it played, And we don't know how, but this we vow: we'll learn it, man and maid."
Their shadows on the screen behind them were angular and awkward.
They would start moving: "If you could just lean forward, and..."
And then freeze abruptly: "Stop that, you clumsy lout!"
Each in turn might venture a suggestion: "If you could take my hand?"
And be in turn rebuked, "You don't know what you're about!"
* * * * *
The candles burned low, and the maple leaves outside rustled in the chilly spring breeze. "I say, do you suppose...?" she said.
"It's certainly worth a try."
"And then if we, perhaps..."
"Then maybe, by and by..."
So, by hazard, argument and error (the economical Mikado having declared trials a terribly inefficient form of justice) and all the while repeating to each other the vows and promises that had led them thus far, the two practiced their married duty.
And the next year, when summer was at its height, Yum Yum was delivered of a child: the fruitful Mikado's first grandson. Gifts and tributes poured in like rain, including some brief torrents from the town of Titipu, including those from Yum Yum's sisters: Pitti-Sing, Lady High Everything Else (whose well-born husband was almost overcome with anticipation of the consequent insult) and Peep-Bo, now grown very tall, and recently affianced to Go-To.
But Titipu's Lord High Executioner, who'd had both a better bargain and a narrower escape than he'd had liked to think, sent no gift at all. The little tailor contented himself with the thought that this slight snub could not possibly provoke the merciful Mikado to ignore due process of law and execute for impoliteness a man already under sentence of death for flirting; and that even if he did, his dear wife must surely share his death.
Endnotes: I didn't go into the sexual, racial, class, or nationalistic politics. This wasn't the fic for it, even if it bloody well is the fandom for it. Maybe next time. In the meantime, feel free to understand that Katisha's trampling serfs all over Titipu, and not insulting but *offending* Pooh-Bah; that they're all about as Asian as a Japanese Barbie doll, and if this is Japan then what's that nation over to the east of them whose culture they're appropriating and not even *seeing* except as a mirror for their own? and that Pooh-Bah has only to say "How-de-do, little girl?" to his wife to crack her up every time.