CHAPTER 11 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 11 : Part 1 – Shogun

Yoshi Naga, officer of the watch, was a mean-tempered, dangerous youth of seventeen. “Good morning, Sire. Welcome back.”

  “Thank you. Lord Toranaga’s expecting me.”

  “Yes.” Even if Hiro-matsu had not been expected, Naga would still have admitted him. Toda Hiro-matsu was one of only three persons in the world who were to be allowed into Toranaga’s presence by day or by night, without appointment.

  “Search the barbarian,” Naga said. He was Toranaga’s fifth son by one of his consorts, and he worshiped his father.

  Blackthorne submitted quietly, realizing what they were doing. The two samurai were very expert. Nothing would have escaped them.

  Naga motioned to the rest of his men. They moved aside. He opened the thick door himself.

  Hiro-matsu entered the immense audience room. Just beyond the doorway he knelt, put his swords on the floor in front of him, placed his hands flat on the floor beside them and bowed his head low, waiting in that abject position.

  Naga, ever watchful, indicated to Blackthorne to do the same.

  Blackthorne walked in. The room was forty paces square and ten high, the tatami mats the best quality, four fingers thick and impeccable. There were two doors in the far wall. Near the dais, in a niche, was a small earthenware vase with a single spray of cherry blossom and this filled the room with color and fragrance.

  Both doors were guarded. Ten paces from the dais, circling it, were twenty more samurai, seated cross-legged and facing outward.

  Toranaga sat on a single cushion on the dais. He was repairing a broken wing feather of a hooded falcon as delicately as any ivory carver.

  Neither he nor anyone in the room had acknowledged Hiro-matsu or paid any attention to Blackthorne as he walked in and stopped beside the old man. But unlike Hiro-matsu, Blackthorne bowed as Rodrigues had shown him, then, taking a deep breath, he sat cross-legged and stared at Toranaga.

  All eyes flashed to Blackthorne.

  In the doorway Naga’s hand was on his sword. Hiro-matsu had already grasped his, though his head was still bent.

  Blackthorne felt naked but he had committed himself and now he could only wait. Rodrigues had said, ‘With Japmen you’ve got to act like a king,’ and though this wasn’t acting like a king, it was more than enough.

  Toranaga looked up slowly.

  A bead of sweat started at Blackthorne’s temple as everything Rodrigues had told him about samurai seemed to crystalize in this one man. He felt the sweat trickle down his cheek to his chin. He willed his blue eyes firm and unblinking, his face calm.

  Toranaga’s gaze was equally steady.

  Blackthorne felt the almost overwhelming power of the man reach out to him. He forced himself to count slowly to six, and then he inclined his head and bowed slightly again and formed a small, calm smile.

  Toranaga watched him briefly, his face impassive, then looked down and concentrated on his work again. Tension subsided in the room.

  The falcon was a peregrine and she was in her prime. The handler, a gnarled old samurai, knelt in front of Toranaga and held her as though she were spun glass. Toranaga cut the broken quill, dipped the tiny bamboo imping needle into the glue and inserted it into the haft of the feather, then delicately slipped the new cut feather over the other end. He adjusted the angle until it was perfect and bound it with a silken thread. The tiny bells on her feet jingled, and he gentled the fear out of her.

  Yoshi Toranaga, Lord of the Kwanto—the Eight Provinces—head of the clan Yoshi, Chief General of the Armies of the East, President of the Council of Regents, was a short man with a big belly and large nose. His eyebrows were thick and dark and his mustache and beard gray-flecked and sparse. Eyes dominated his face. He was fifty-eight and strong for his age. His kimono was simple, an ordinary Brown uniform, his sash belt cotton. But his swords were the best in the world.

  “There, my beauty,” he said with a lover’s tenderness. “Now you are whole again.” He caressed the bird with a feather as she sat hooded on the handler’s gauntleted fist. She shivered and preened herself contentedly. “We’ll fly her within the week.”

  The handler bowed and left.

  Toranaga turned his eyes on the two men at the door. “Welcome, Iron Fist, I’m pleased to see you,” he said. “So this is your famous barbarian?”

  “Yes, Lord.” Hiro-matsu came closer, leaving his swords at the doorway as was custom, but Toranaga insisted he bring them with him.

  “I would feel uncomfortable if you didn’t have them in your hands,” he said.

  Hiro-matsu thanked him. Even so, he sat five paces away. By custom, no one armed could safely come closer to Toranaga. In the front rank of the guards was Usagi, Hiro-matsu’s favorite grandson-in-law, and he nodded to him briefly. The youth bowed deeply, honored and pleased to be noticed. Perhaps I should adopt him formally, Hiro-matsu told himself happily, warmed by the thought of his favorite granddaughter and his first great-grandson that they had presented him with last year.

  “How is your back?” Toranaga asked solicitously.

  “All right, thank you, Lord. But I must tell you I’m glad to be off that ship and on land again.”

  “I hear you’ve a new toy here to idle away the hours with, neh?”

  The old man guffawed. “I can only tell you, Lord, the hours weren’t idle. I haven’t been so hard in years.”

  Toranaga laughed with him. “Then we should reward her. Your health is important to me. May I send her a token of my thanks?”

  “Ah, Toranaga-sama, you’re so kind.” Hiro-matsu became serious. “You could reward all of us, Sire, by leaving this hornet’s nest at once, and going back to your castle at Yedo where your vassals can protect you. Here we’re naked. Any moment Ishido could—”

  “I will. As soon as the Council of Regents meeting is concluded.” Toranaga turned and beckoned the lean-faced Portuguese who was sitting patiently in his shadow. “Will you interpret for me now, my friend?”

  “Certainly, Sire.” The tonsured priest came forward, with practiced grace kneeled in Japanese style close to the dais, his body as spare as his face, his eyes dark and liquid, an air of serene concentration about him. He wore tabi socks and a flowing kimono that seemed, on him, to belong. A rosary and a carved golden cross hung at his belt. He greeted Hiro-matsu as an equal, then glanced pleasantly at Blackthorne.

  “My name is Martin Alvito of the Society of Jesus, Captain-Pilot. Lord Toranaga has asked me to interpret for him.”

  “First tell him that we’re enemies and that—”

  “All in good time,” Father Alvito interrupted smoothly. Then he added, “We can speak Portuguese, Spanish, or, of course, Latin—whichever you prefer.”

  Blackthorne had not seen the priest until the man came forward. The dais had hidden him, and the other samurai. But he had been expecting him, forewarned by Rodrigues, and loathed what he saw: the easy elegance, the aura of strength and natural power of the Jesuits. He had assumed the priest would be much older, considering his influential position and the way Rodrigues had talked about him. But they were practically of an age, he and the Jesuit. Perhaps the priest was a few years older.

  “Portuguese,” he said, grimly hoping that this might give him a slight advantage. “You’re Portuguese?”

  “I have that privilege.”

  “You’re younger than I expected.”

  “Senhor Rodrigues is very kind. He gives me more credit than I deserve. He described you perfectly. Also your bravery.”

  Blackthorne saw him turn and talk fluently and affably to Toranaga for a while, and this further perturbed him. Hiro-matsu alone, of all the men in the room, listened and watched attentively. The rest stared stonily into space.

  “Now, Captain-Pilot, we will begin. You will please listen to everything that Lord Toranaga says, without interruption,” Father Alvito began. “Then you will answer. From now on I will be translating what you say almost simultaneously, so please answer with great care.”

  “What’s the point? I don’t trust you!”

  Immediately Father Alvito was translating what he had said to Toranaga, who darkened perceptibly.

  Be careful, thought Blackthorne,
he’s playing you like a fish! Three golden guineas to a chewed farthing he can land you whenever he wants. Whether or not he translates accurately, you’ve got to create the correct impression on Toranaga. This may be the only chance you’ll ever have.

  “You can trust me to translate exactly what you say as best I can.” The priest’s voice was gentle, in complete command. “This is the court of Lord Toranaga. I am the official interpreter to the Council of Regents, to General Lord Toranaga and to General Lord Ishido. Lord Toranaga has favored me with his confidence for many years. I suggest you answer truthfully because I can assure you he is a most discerning man. Also I should point out that I am not Father Sebastio, who is, perhaps, overzealous and does not, unfortunately, speak Japanese very well, or, unfortunately, have much experience in Japan. Your sudden presence took away God’s grace from him and, regrettably, he allowed his personal past to overwhelm him—his parents and brothers and sisters were massacred in the most horrible way in the Netherlands by your—by forces of the Prince of Orange. I ask your indulgence for him and your compassion.” He smiled benignly. “The Japanese word for ‘enemy’ is ‘teki.’ You may use it if you wish. If you point at me and use the word, Lord Toranaga will understand clearly what you mean. Yes, I am your enemy, Captain-Pilot John Blackthorne. Completely. But not your assassin. That you will do yourself.”

  Blackthorne saw him explain to Toranaga what he had said and heard the word “teki” used several times and he wondered if it truly meant “enemy.” Of course it does, he told himself. This man’s not like the other one.

  “Please, for a moment, forget that I exist,” Father Alvito said. “I’m merely an instrument for making your answers known to Lord Toranaga, exactly as I will put his questions to you.” Father Alvito settled himself, turned to Toranaga, bowed politely.

  Toranaga spoke curtly. The priest began translating simultaneously, a few words or so later, his voice an uncanny mirror of inflection and inner meaning.

  “Why are you an enemy of Tsukku-san, my friend and interpreter, who’s an enemy of no one?” Father Alvito added by way of explanation, “Tsukku-san’s my nickname as Japanese cannot pronounce my name either. They have no ‘l’ or ‘th’ sounds in their language. Tsukku’s a pun on the Japanese word ‘tsuyaku’—to interpret. Please answer the question.”

  “We’re enemies because our countries are at war.”

  “Oh? What is your country?”


  “Where’s that?”

  “It’s an island kingdom, a thousand miles north of Portugal. Portugal’s part of a peninsula in Europe.”

  “How long have you been at war with Portugal?”

  “Ever since Portugal became a vassal state of Spain. That was in 1580, twenty years ago. Spain conquered Portugal. We’re really at war with Spain. We’ve been at war with Spain for almost thirty years.”

  Blackthorne noticed Toranaga’s surprise and his searching glance at Father Alvito, who stared serenely into the distance.

  “You say Portugal’s part of Spain?”

  “Yes, Lord Toranaga. A vassal state. Spain conquered Portugal and now they’re in effect the same country with the same king. But the Portuguese are subservient to Spain in most parts of the world and their leaders treated as unimportant in the Spanish Empire.”

  There was a long silence. Then Toranaga spoke directly to the Jesuit, who smiled and answered at length.

  “What did he say?” Blackthorne asked sharply.

  Father Alvito did not answer but translated as before, almost simultaneously, aping his inflection, continuing a virtuoso performance of interpreting.

  Toranaga answered Blackthorne directly, his voice flinty and cruel. “What I said is no concern of yours. When I wish you to know something I will tell you.”

  “I’m sorry, Lord Toranaga, I did not mean to be rude. May I tell you that we come in peace—”

  “You may not tell me anything at the moment. You will hold your tongue until I require an answer. Do you understand?”


  Mistake number one. Watch yourself. You can’t make mistakes, he told himself.

  “Why are you at war with Spain? And Portugal?”

  “Partially because Spain is bent on conquering the world and we English, and our allies the Netherlands, refuse to be conquered. And partially because of our religions.”

  “Ah! A religious war? What is your religion?”

  “I’m a Christian. Our Church—”

  “The Portuguese and Spanish are Christians! You said your religion was different. What is your religion?”

  “It’s Christian. It’s difficult to explain simply and quickly, Lord Toranaga. They’re both—”

  “There’s no need to be quick, Mr. Pilot, just accurate. I have plenty of time. I’m very patient. You’re a cultured man—obviously no peasant—so you can be simple or complicated as you wish, just so long as you’re clear. If you stray from the point I will bring you back. You were saying?”

  “My religion is Christian. There are two main Christian religions, Protestant and Catholic. Most English are Protestant.”

  “You worship the same God, the Madonna and Child?”

  “No, Sire. Not the way the Catholics do.” What does he want to know? Blackthorne was asking himself. Is he a Catholic? Should you answer what you think he wants to know, or what you think is the truth? Is he anti-Christian? Didn’t he call the Jesuit “my friend”? Is Toranaga a Catholic sympathizer, or is he going to become a Catholic?

  “Do you believe the Jesus is God?”

  “I believe in God,” he said carefully.

  “Do not evade a direct question! Do you believe the Jesus is God? Yes or no?”

  Blackthorne knew that in any Catholic court in the world he would have been damned long since for heresy. And in most, if not all, Protestant courts. Even to hesitate before answering such a question was an admission of doubt. Doubt was heresy. “You can’t answer questions about God with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There have to be shades of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You don’t know for certain about God until you’re dead. Yes, I believe Jesus was God, but no, I don’t know for certain until I’m dead.”

  “Why did you smash the priest’s cross when you first arrived in Japan?”

  Blackthorne had not been expecting this question. Does Toranaga know everything that’s happened since I arrived? “I—I wanted to show the daimyo Yabu that the Jesuit, Father Sebastio—the only interpreter there—that he was my enemy, that he wasn’t to be trusted, at least, in my opinion. Because I was sure he wouldn’t necessarily translate accurately, not as Father Alvito is doing now. He accused us of being pirates, for instance. We’re not pirates, we come in peace.”

  “Ah yes! Pirates. I’ll come back to piracy in a moment. You say both your sects are Christian, both venerate Jesus the Christ? Isn’t the essence of his teaching ‘to love one another’?”


  “Then how can you be enemies?”

  “Their faith—their version of Christianity is a false interpretation of the Scriptures.”

  “Ah! At last we’re getting somewhere. So you’re at war through a difference of opinion about what is God or not God?”


  “That’s a very stupid reason to go to war.”

  Blackthorne said, “I agree.” He looked at the priest. “I agree with all my heart.”

  “How many ships are in your fleet?”


  “And you were the senior pilot?”


  “Where are the others?”

  “Out to sea,” Blackthorne said carefully, continuing his lie, presuming that Toranaga had been primed to ask certain questions by Alvito. “We were split up in a storm and scattered. Where exactly I don’t know, Sire.”

  “Your ships were English?”

  “No, Sire. Dutch. From Holland.”

  “Why is an Englishman in charge of Dutch ships?”

  “That’s not unusual, Sire. We’re allies—Portuguese pilots some times lead Spanish ships and fleets. I understand Portuguese pilots con some of your ocean-going ships by law.”

  “There are no Dutch pilots?”

  “Many, Sire. But for such a long voyage English are more experienced.”

  “But why you? Why did they want you to lead their ships?”

  “Probably because my mother was Dutch and I speak the language fluently and I’m experienced. I was glad of the opportunity.”


  “This was my first opportunity to sail into these waters. No English ships were planning to come so far. This was a chance to circumnavigate.”

  “You yourself, Pilot, you joined the fleet because of your religion and to war against your enemies Spain and Portugal?”

  “I’m a pilot, Sire, first and foremost. No one English or Dutch has been in these seas before. We’re primarily a trading fleet, though we’ve letters of marque to attack the enemy in the New World. We came to Japan to trade.”

  “What are letters of marque?”

  “Legal licenses issued by the Crown—or government—giving authority to war on the enemy.”

  “Ah, and your enemies are here. Do you plan to war on them here?”

  “We did not know what to expect when we got here, Sire. We came here only to trade. Your country’s almost unknown—it’s legend. The Portuguese and Spanish are very closemouthed about this area.”

  “Answer the question: Your enemies are here. Do you plan to war on them here?”

  “If they war on me. Yes.”

  Toranaga shifted irritably. “What you do at sea or in your own countries is your own affair. But here there is one law for all and foreigners are in our land by permission only. Any public mischief or quarrel is dealt with immediately by death. Our laws are clear and will be obeyed. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, Sire. But we come in peace. We came here to trade. Could we discuss trade. Sire? I need to careen my ship and make repairs—we can pay for everything. Then there’s the ques—”

  “When I wish to discuss trade or anything else I will tell you. Meanwhile please confine yourself to answering the questions. So you joined the expedition to trade, for profit, not because of duty or loyalty? For money?”

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