In the mirror, an entirely unfamiliar woman stared back at Mira. Wide, blue-grey eyes with painted lashes blinked slowly, taking in the delicate features. Her skin shone with the beauty of youth and grace, and she hadn’t known her hair could be so silken. The hairdresser had tried several styles, twisting and yanking the locks into various loops and buns until finally giving up, deciding for simplicity. Glossy waves rippled down over her shoulders from behind her ears, framing the smooth expanse of skin below her neck. The bangs were left to fall in a soft wave over the right half of her face, giving an alluring air of mystery in the way it partially covered one eye. Two long sections had been drawn to the back of her head and braided together, holding the ensemble in subtle elegance. A silver comb inlaid with seashell and delicate dangling beads was the only adornment. It jingled slightly with every movement, making her ears feel ticklish.
Plush, rosy lips were painted in clear gloss, and her eyelids had a delicate sweep of black kohl. The woman’s neck and collarbone were fully exposed, artfully framed by both her hair and the wide V-neck of the dress that hung off her shoulders. The sleeves wrapped snugly around her upper arm with a thick band of ribbon, before exploding outwards into a voluminous gathered sleeve that ended at the elbows. Pleated fabric belled out over the rest of her arm, and spilled down to almost brush the floor.
At the center of the V-neck was a silk ribbon that held the top shut with a simple bow. She felt at once indecently vulnerable while still being entirely clothed; the rest of her body was hidden from view in the draped fabric that fanned out over her hips. The front of the top was decorated with a simple ruffle of fabric in an upsidedown V, and from underneath the skirt began in a similar fashion, a simple wrap-around deal with a matching ruffled edge. Beneath that was one more layer, a red silk petticoat that was visible only when she walked, and the overlaying skirt split. The rest of the dress was a slinky, shimmering black that matched well against her dark brown hair.
“What do you think, Mira-chan?” the elderly woman asked, looking her up and down with pride. “I can’t say I favor the color, but it does look stunning on you. I don’t think the other girls could pull it off with quite the same elegance. You have such a regal bearing to your posture,” she continued on, clucking her tongue as she tapped Mira’s chin to force her to lift it up.
Mira blinked away the water that had suddenly begun to collect in her eyes, and looked away from her reflection.
“I think I’m more at ease in my comfortable rags,” she said quietly. The old woman sighed, and gently lifted her chin up again with a single gnarled finger. Honey-gold eyes looked into hers, warm and soothing.
“Child, in time, you will come to adore such luxuries. There’s not a woman on the planet who wouldn’t wish for what has been given to you. You’ll have no want for comfort.”
“Then you must have met only very shallow or desperate women,” Mira replied quietly, forcibly turning her gaze away. “I desire only freedom and enough means to get by.”
The old woman’s hand gently patted the top of her head, before she turned away and pulled out a drawer from the massive vanity they stood before. Inside was a delicately inlaid wooden grid, filled with all manner of stoppered crystal vials which she rummaged about.
“Something floral wouldn’t suit you, nothing sweet, tsk, tsk. Ah - here we are. A darker scent, to match your mood and garb.” There was a hint of humor in the words Mira couldn’t help but smile at, but didn’t find the strength to laugh. She politely inclined her head when the woman uncapped the little vial and held it up to her, and carefully sniffed it. The aroma was distinct without being overwhelming, curling against her senses with the unique tang of spiced incense. She found it to be an unexpectedly pleasing scent, reminding her of late nights spent camped out in the woodlands, fire crackling. Mira gave a small nod, obediently holding out her wrists for the woman to dab it on. Small dabs were applied to her ankles and neck, and one drop was dripped between her breasts despite belated protest.
“The young master prefers more feminine perfumes on his ladies, but I don’t think he will begrudge you this,” the woman said quietly as she stowed the oil away. “Dragon’s Blood is more oft worn by men, it tends to have a more musky smell on a man’s skin, but on you it is very delicate, like a summer rose.”
“I thought the prince was the one who wished to flatter me?” Mira replied warily, uncomfortably smoothing out her skirts. Her attendant reached out a hand expectantly, and the young woman reluctantly grasped it. She stepped down off the small pedestal, and let herself be led out the ornately carved room through a splendid hall generously gilded in gold. Outside, a collection of ladies dressed in all manners of clothing from velvet and silk dresses to transparent gauze robes. Mira’s cheeks flushed as she kept her eyes subtly averted from the harem women, and stood silent as they gushed over her transformation.
“Oh, you look just darling! I always love seeing what Obasan does. She left your hair down?” A woman in a low-cut, clingy green dress asked. Mira cleanly side-stepped the reaching hand that made to touch her hair, fixing the violet-tressed offender with a steely gaze. The woman retracted her hand, arching a brow.
“Black though, really? Wouldn’t something more…. colorful be better?”
“Oh, but look at how it matches her hair!”
“I don’t think Ukyo-sama will like it.”
“I think he will, I’m jealous. The top really makes up for your small breasts, god you have huge hips Mira-chan!”
“Lookit her butt!” someone squeaked, giggling when Mira swatted her hand away from trying to smack it. “You’re so cute and curvy!”
Mira’s lips pressed together in a thin line, frozen in place and entirely uncertain how to respond to the gushing females around her. There were at least six currently crowding her, but she had to guess at least sixteen women had filled the comfortable lounge room. The old woman had told her there were sixty-four harem girls in total, not including Mira. Mira had felt no small amount of relief when she had been told she’d not be counted in the harem until she was first bedded.
And that would only happen willingly. Despite his entire lack of reserve or shame in kidnapping, prince Ukyo was determined to woo his ladies into submitting to his charms. Mira was dead set determined to either escape or become a shriveled old lady before she developed stockholm syndrome.
“You’re so spirited, I admire that spark,” Ukyo crooned as she was escorted by the two samurai and the prince into the harem’s side dressing rooms. “Oh, I do love a long courtship, tell me, Mira-chan, what’s your favorite color?”
“The same as your heart; black.” Was her dignified reply. Ukyo only smiled, and called the old woman over to give his instructions for her dressing. Before he departed with his two guards, Ukyo flippantly explained his intentions of wooing her with luxury and the finest of gifts., declaring it would take no longer than a year before she fell for his charm.
Now, she stood silent in a gaggle of females whose world revolved around pleasing themselves and that of their benefactor, the young prince. When it was clear Mira was not going to break out of her hermit shell under the bombardment of questions and chatter, it was the violet haired woman who suggested she be given a tour of their rooms, and more importantly - space.
“Don’t forget what it was like when you first came,” she reminded quietly. “Mira-chan still has to adjust before she’s comfortable.”
Mira was rather surprised by the heated argument that broke out over who would accompany her on the tour, and in the end broke up the fight herself by selecting three girls that seemed…. Well, less airheaded than others. The violet haired woman, whose name she learned to be Yuki, was her first pick. The next was a pixie-like woman even shorter than Mira, who had spiky red hair and an abundance of makeup to match. She was dolled up in a risky orange ensemble of a tiny skirted dress with a red sash. Her name was Tina.
The third, Amaya, was a very tall, very slender woman with heavy breasts and modest hips. She seemed older than the other two, and moved with confident grace in a long violet gown. Mira did her best to pretend that the gown wasn’t transparent in the bright lighting outside the lounge. They led her through the main entrance first, a room full of all manner of ridiculous decor from ginormous pillows to a swinging couch. Large arched doors at the end of the room she was told led to the prince’s personal wing of the palace. Connected to that was a large room full of an abundance of various silks, velvets, and other fine weaves of fabrics in every color imaginable. A few women were cozied up in the middle, calmly stitching together patterns for clothes.
“We make all our own garments, if you want the best clothes, ask Ninnet. She’s always giddy to dress up a new girl, she’ll happily make you something to the prince’s tastes.” Mira kept her mouth shut and simply nodded to show she heard, for the only words she could think to say would likely invoke hostility. “Down this way is the feasting hall, you can eat any time you want. If you start gaining weight, they’ll cut you back.”
Mira listened quietly to Amaya’s gentle voice, trying to ignore the discomfort and miserable mood that clouded her expression. The rest of the tour passed in a hazy blur, hallways and colorful rooms noted idly in her mind in a mental map for future reference. She had little motivation to do more than that. It was during the last part of the tour in the living quarters that Mira finally spoke.
“Do we ever get to go outside?” She thought her voice sounded more miserable than she’d meant it. The three women accompanying her shared a glance.
“Well… Not really, no, unless Ukyo-sama treats you to it. If there was direct access to the outdoors, it’d be very dangerous for us if someone tried to get inside.”
‘Or if someone wanted to get outside,” Mira amended in her mind.
“This will be your room, Mira-chan. We’ll come visit later to see how you’ve settled in. If any of the girls give you trouble, let us know. There’s… Ah, w-well--” Tina stammered, shifting her weight from foot to foot.
“There’s an established hierarchy and they would wish to put me in my place,” Mira said stiffly. “They’re welcome to try,” she added, then stepped into her room and quietly closed the door after murmuring a half-hearted thank you.
She had examined every inch of the space allotted to her. A plush, comfortable bed too soft for her taste, draped in fine gauzy material. Breathtaking murals decorated the wall in a fantastical view of mountains and wildlife, which only made her feel more bitter for the indoors confinement they so cruelly reminded of. She had a full wardrobe, fitted with a selection of dark colored silks and fine cotton weaves. Most of the dresses were knee length or shorter, and a selection of skirts were neatly hung beside matching tops. Various shoes were placed, none of which caught her interest. Too flimsy, too awkward looking for functional walking purposes, let alone running or kicking.
The floorboards had been tested and proved to be entirely solid. The walls were questionable but seemed sound. The ceiling was far too high above her head to matter. The only remaining furniture was an elaborate vanity with a dainty chair, and a small nightstand table. It was three hours of restless pacing and mental plotting before there came a knock at her door, and she quietly sidled over to listen. She could hear women giggling outside.
“Yes?” she inquired.
“Ahhh, you are awake!” came an unpleasantly familiar voice. However, it was just who she needed to see. Mira’s hand lingered on the sliding door’s frame as she prepared herself, straightening her posture and tipping up her chin. Regal bearing, was what the old woman had said.
“Ukyo-sama, hello,” Mira greeted as she slid the door opened. She was surprised to see another man standing nearby, a fat fellow in oranges and beige. He cast a glance her way, looking her over once before pointedly averting his eyes, chewing anxiously on a pipe that wasn’t lit. The prince brought a guard with, how disappointing.
He stepped into the room without invitation, waving to the women outside.
“I’ll see you again soon, my darlings,” he crooned, smiling charmingly at their giggles and disappointed whines as he slid the door shut. The triumphant and appreciative smile he wore made Mira’s blood boil. She retreated subtly, walking calmly over to the vanity and pulling out the chair. She sat, took up a silver comb, and began combing out her hair. Her eyes met his in the mirror.
“Do I exceed expectations?” she inquired, and suppressed a shudder as he strode confidently up to the chair, placing his hands on the backboard as he watched her in the mirror.
“I wonder, do you, if I expected you to exceed them?” He reached for her hair, and Mira calmly laid the back of the brush along his hand, and swept it aside.
“That was indecent,” she admonished. “I thought you intended to flatter me with your manners?” She enjoyed the brief shock that flashed across his eyes, before swallowing nervously at the competitive gleam that replaced it. Her heart hammered, and she felt uneasy. The thought of trying to outright kill him while they were alone came to mind, but she had a feeling he wouldn’t be so easily subdued as appearances suggested. If she failed, she’d likely face immediate death by the guard standing outside.
So long as he kept his promise not to touch her intimately without consent, Mira thought she had better chances of seducing her way out rather than a life or death roll of dice.
“Ah, forgive my manners sweet flower, I lose composure when faced by your beauty.” The tone was sickenly sweet, and his smile too innocent. Mira scoffed.
“I suppose I should be pleased with a pet name used on all the women?” The shock on his face was immediate and gratifying, lasting a breath longer than the last glimpse. He leaned down, intimate as a friend might be but otherwise polite in distance kept from her.
“And what do you wish to be called?” he purred. Mira fixed him with a flat gaze, easily affected due to her own distaste in the whole conversation and his very presence. It was an effort, however, to keep malice from her tone.
“And I should see as well you lack imagination? How very poor a prospect in a lover.” She felt, rather than saw, his hands tighten on the chair. It made her nervous to ponder if he was angry, or delighted, by the challenge.
“Then I shall call you Vixen, for you’re more beauteous than the most fanciful images of kitsune, and just as clever.”
“Mm, acceptable,” Mira replied off-handedly, quietly worrying she was too stiff in her acting of indifference as she smoothed her hair. “And what will you woo this Kitsune with, my young lord?” Mental vomiting and cursing was her filter that kept her spoken words honey sweet, with just enough bite to remind him she was displeased to be here.
“Anything I might provide, you have but to ask,” he said with an easy grin. “My precious treasures shall want for nothing.”
“Then you might bring me brush, ink, and parchment, so that I might write a letter to mine family, and you will have it delivered. Then, I might see how well you provide for mine total care.”
‘Smoothly done,’ Mira praised. She enjoyed with giddy satisfaction the cornered look he affected, before her confidence faltered at the easy grin he fixed her with as he leaned over the back of the chair to look at her face directly. There was, without a doubt, a firm challenge in those repulsive violet eyes. She caught herself before she could flinch away, and hid the shaking of her hands with the hair combing.
“And is that all my clever Vixen desires?”
“The most prized of pets require frequent outings to keep them from becoming bored and restless. Take me on walks, and I might come to enjoy your company on them.”
“Then lend me your arm, little Vixen.”
And there it was; his first step at gaining permission over her body, piece by piece. A necessary surrender, but one she loathed. Mira gingerly placed the comb down, ignoring the drumbeat sounding away in her ribcage as she rose from the chair, and pivoted neatly on the balls of her feet to offer her arm to him, chin lifted. There was small satisfaction by the look he wore; she was keeping on par with him. Now she just needed to surpass his games.
“Have you ever seen a royal garden?” Was only the start of his endless list of boastful scenery as he led her out of the room, delighting in his hold on her proffered arm. Her skin shuddered and crawled at every gentle caress and tickling tease his fingers played against it, and she carefully avoided having to hold his hand by turning her palm towards her stomach and hiding it under the ruffles of fabric.
The samurai bodyguard Ukyo had brought with seemed surprised when the door had first opened, but made no comment and only silently fell into step behind them. Mira kept her gaze straight ahead, ignoring the oos and aas of the women out and about in the main entrance of the harem wing. She did, however, take note of whom was fixing her with a smouldering glare of envious contempt. They would no doubt aim to cause trouble later.
For the most part, she tuned Ukyo’s voice out, waiting for information relevant to her interests to bumble it’s way out of his painted face. He turned out to be a surprisingly thorough guide, taking her on a generous tour of his study and hobby rooms, and Mira had to wonder if he was dumb, over confident, or just clueless as to her particular talents. She had growing confidence in perhaps all three, and wondered if the red clad samurai had kept the information from him.
On the other hand, Ukyo’s guard was never more than two steps away.
The royal garden ended up being only a brief part of their tour. She wondered if he was trying to limit her chance of hoping for an escape route, until they left his private chambers and entered a different section of the palace; the guards quarters.
He just wanted to show her off.
It was good that she felt so paralyzed, because Mira was certain it was the only thing keeping her from visibly shaking at the countless suggestive expressions and lustful gazes openly turned over her dolled up figure. The man at her arm spent gradually less time talking to her and more time talking of her, easily jesting and conversing with the men he pulled into conversation. The only gaze that garnered much visible reaction from her was that of a pair of deep crimson eyes. Quietly appraising her as he stood with arms folded, back leaning against the wall, before the blond samurai turned and vanished down a hall. The expression she wore was brief confusion, because Mira couldn’t tell if he had been silently complimenting her composure, or her appearance.