Shadow of The Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1)

By: Julie Kagawa

“L-Lady Satomi, my lord,” Suki stammered, truly stunned by his kindness. She knew she should bow, but she was terrified she would spill the tea. “Please forgive me, I have come to the palace only today, and everything is very confusing.”

A slight frown crossed the noble’s face, making Suki’s heart nearly stop in her chest, thinking she had offended him. “I see,” he murmured, mostly to himself. “Yet another maid, Satomi-san? How many does the emperor’s concubine need?”

Before Suki could wonder what that meant, he shook himself and smiled once more. “Well, fortune favors you, Suki-san. Lady Satomi’s residence isn’t far.” He raised a billowy sleeve, pointing an elegant finger down the walkway. “Go left around this building, then walk straight to the very end. It will be the last doorway on the right.”

“Daisuke-san!” A woman’s voice echoed down the veranda before Suki could even whisper her thanks, and the man turned his beautiful face away. Moments later, a trio of noblewomen in elegant green-and-gold robes sashayed around the building and gave him mock frowns as they hurried forward.

“There you are, Daisuke-san,” one of them huffed. “Where have you been? We are going to be late for Hanoe-san’s poetry recital. Oh,” she said, catching sight of Suki. “What is this? Daisuke-san, don’t tell me you were here all this time, talking to a maid.”

“And why not?” Daisuke’s tone was wry. “A maid’s conversation can be as interesting as any noblewoman’s.”

The three women giggled as if that were the funniest thing they had ever heard. Suki didn’t see what was so amusing. “Oh, Taiyo Daisuke, you say the most wicked things,” one of them chided from behind a white fan painted with cherry blossoms. “Come, now. We really must go. You,” she said, directing her gaze to Suki, “get back to your duties. Why are you just standing there gaping? Shoo!”

As quickly as she could without spilling the tea, Suki hurried away. But her heart still pounded, and for some reason she couldn’t catch her breath. Taiyo. Taiyo was the name of the imperial family. Daisuke-sama was of the Sun Clan, one of the most powerful families in Iwagoto, the blood of the emperor himself. The funny feeling in her stomach intensified, and her thoughts became a swarm of moths, fluttering around the dazzling memory of his smile and the melody from her father’s flute.

Somehow, she found her way to the correct door, at the very end of the veranda, looking over the magnificent gardens of the palace. The shoji panel was open, and Suki could smell the smoky hint of burning incense wafting from the darkened interior. Creeping inside the room, she peered around for her new mistress but saw no one. Despite the nobles’ unified preference for simplicity, this apartment was lavishly cluttered. Ornamental screens turned the room into a small maze, and tatami mats lined the entire floor, thick and soft beneath her feet. Paper was everywhere; origami sheets of every style and texture lay in piles around the apartment. Folded paper birds peered at her from atop every flat surface, dominating the room. Suki brushed a flock of origami cranes from the table so that she could set the tea down.

“Mai-chan?” A gossamer voice drifted out of the adjoining room, and the sound of silk rustled over the floor. “Is that you? Where have you been? I was getting worried that you—oh.”

A woman appeared in the doorway, and for a moment, they stared at one another, Suki’s mouth hanging open in amazement.

If Taiyo Daisuke was the most handsome man she had ever met, this was the most elegantly beautiful woman in the whole palace. Her billowing robes were red with silver, gold and green butterflies swarming the front. Shimmering black hair was beautifully styled atop her head, pierced with red-and-gold chopsticks and ivory combs. Dark eyes in a flawless porcelain face regarded Suki curiously.

“Hello,” the woman said, and Suki quickly closed her mouth. “May I inquire as to who you are?”

“I... I’m Suki,” the girl stammered. “I’m your new maid.”

“I see.” The woman’s lips curved in a faint smile. Suki was sure that if her teeth showed, they would light up the room. “Come here, if you would, little Suki-chan. Please don’t step on anything.”