CHAPTER 14 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 14 : Part 1 – Shogun

For Blackthorne it was a hellish dawn. He was locked in a death battle with a fellow convict. The prize was a cup of gruel. Both men were naked. Whenever a convict was put into this vast, single-storied, wooden cell-block, his clothes were taken away. A clothed man occupied more space and clothes could hide weapons.

  The murky and suffocating room was fifty paces long and ten wide and packed with naked, sweating Japanese. Scarcely any light filtered through the boards and beams that made up the walls and low ceiling.

  Blackthorne could barely stand erect. His skin was blotched and scratched from the man’s broken nails and the wood burns from the walls. Finally, he butted his head into the man’s face, grabbed his throat and hammered the man’s head against the beams until he was senseless. Then he threw the body aside and charged through the sweating mass to the place he had claimed in the corner, and he readied himself for another attack.

  At dawn it had been feeding time and the guards began passing the cups of gruel and water through the small opening. This was the first food and water that had been given them since he was put inside at dusk the previous day. The lining up for food and water had been unusually calm. Without discipline no one would eat. Then this apelike man—unshaven, filthy, lice-ridden—had chopped him over the kidneys and taken his ration while the others waited to see what would happen. But Blackthorne had been in too many seafaring brawls to be beaten with one treacherous blow, so he feigned helplessness, then kicked out viciously and the fight had been joined. Now, in the corner, Blackthorne saw to his amazement that one of the men was offering the cup of gruel and the water that he had presumed lost. He took it and thanked the man.

  The corners were the choicest areas. A beam ran lengthwise, along the earthern floor, partitioning the room into two sections. In each section were three rows of men, two rows facing each other, their backs to the wall or beam, the other row between them. Only the weak and the sick took the center row. When the stronger men in the outer rows wanted to stretch their legs they had to do so over those in the middle.

  Blackthorne saw two corpses, swollen and flyblown, in one of the middle rows. But the feeble and dying men nearby seemed to ignore them.

  He could not see far in the heating gloom. Sun was baking the wood already. There were latrine buckets but the stench was terrible because the sick had befouled themselves and the places in which they hunched.

  From time to time guards opened the iron door and names were called out. The men bowed to their comrades and left, but others were soon brought in and the space occupied again. All the prisoners seemed to have accepted their lot and tried, as best they could, to live unselfishly in peace with their immediate neighbors.

  One man against the wall began to vomit. He was quickly shoved into the middle row and collapsed, half suffocated, under the weight of legs.

  Blackthorne had to close his eyes and fight to control his terror and claustrophobia. Bastard Toranaga! I pray I get the opportunity of putting you inside here one day.

  Bastard guards! Last night when they had ordered him to strip he had fought them with a bitter hopelessness, knowing he was beaten, fighting only because he refused to surrender passively. And then he had been forced through the door.

  There were four such cell blocks. They were on the edge of the city, in a paved compound within high stone walls. Outside the walls was a roped-off area of beaten earth beside the river. Five crosses were erected there. Naked men and one woman had been bound straddled to the crosspieces by their wrists and ankles, and while Blackthorne had walked on the perimeter following his samurai guards, he saw executioners with long lances thrust the lances crisscross into the victims’ chests while the crowd jeered. Then the five were cut down and five more put up and samurai came forward and hacked the corpses into pieces with their long swords, laughing all the while.


  Unnoticed, the man Blackthorne had fought was coming to his senses. He lay in the middle row. Blood had congealed on one side of his face and his nose was smashed. Suddenly he leapt at Blackthorne, oblivious of the men in his way.

  Blackthorne saw him coming at the last moment, frantically parried the onslaught and knocked him in a heap. The prisoners that the man fell on cursed him and one of them, heavyset and built like a bulldog, chopped him viciously on the neck with the side of his hand. There was a dry snap and the man’s head sagged.

  The bulldog man lifted the half-shaven head by its scraggy, lice-infected top-knot and let it fall. He looked up at Blackthorne, said something gutturally, smiled with bare, toothless gums, and shrugged.

  “Thanks,” Blackthorne said, struggling for breath, thankful that his assailant had not had Mura’s skill at unarmed combat. “My namu Anjin-san,” he said, pointing at himself. “You?”

  “Ah, so desu! Anjin-san!” Bulldog pointed at himself and sucked in his breath. “Minikui.”


  “Hai,” and he added a spate of Japanese.

  Blackthorne shrugged tiredly. “Wakarimasen.” I don’t understand.

  “Ah, so desu!” Bulldog chattered briefly with his neighbors. Then he shrugged again and Blackthorne shrugged and together they lifted the dead man and put him with the other corpses. When they came back to the corner no one had taken their places.

  Most of the inmates were asleep or fitfully trying to sleep.

  Blackthorne felt filthy and horrible and near death. Don’t worry, he told himself, you’ve a long way to go before you die…. No, I can’t live long in this hell hole. There’re too many men. Oh, God, let me out! Why is the room swimming up and down, and is that Rodrigues floating up from the depths with moving pincers for eyes? I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. I’ve got to get out of here, please, please, don’t put more wood in the fire and what are you doing here, Croocq lad, I thought they let you go. I thought you were back in the village but now we’re here in the village and how did I get here—it’s so cool and there’s that girl, so pretty, down by the docks but why are they dragging her away to the shore, the naked samurai, Omi there laughing? Why down across the sand, blood marks in the sand, all naked, me naked, hags and villagers and children, and there’s the cauldron and we’re in the cauldron and no, no more wood no more wood, I’m drowning in liquid filth, Oh God Oh God oh God I’m dying dying dying “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” That’s the Last Sacrament and you’re Catholic we’re all Catholic and you’ll burn or drown in piss and burn with fire the fire the fire….

  He dragged himself out of the nightmare, his ears exploding with the peaceful, earth-shattering finality of the Last Sacrament. For a moment he did not know if he was awake or asleep because his disbelieving ears heard the Latin benediction again and his incredulous eyes were seeing a wrinkled old scarecrow of a European stooped over the middle row, fifteen paces away. The toothless old man had long filthy hair and a matted beard and broken nails and wore a foul, threadbare smock. He raised a hand like a vulture’s claw and held up the wooden cross over the half-hidden body. A shaft of
sun caught it momentarily. Then he closed the dead man’s eyes, and mumbled a prayer and glanced up. He saw Blackthorne staring at him.

  “Mother of God, art thou real?” the man croaked in coarse, peasant Spanish, crossing himself.

  “Yes,” Blackthorne said in Spanish. “Who are you?”

  The old man groped his way over, mumbling to himself. The other inmates let him pass or step on them or over them without saying a word. He stared down at Blackthorne through rheumy eyes, his face waited. “Oh, Blessed Virgin, the señor is real. Who art thou? I’m … I’m Friar … Friar Domingo … Domingo … Domingo of the Sacred … the Sacred Order of St. Francis … the Order …” and then for a while his words became a jumble of Japanese and Latin and Spanish. His head twitched and he wiped away the ever present spittle that dribbled to his chin. “The señor is real?”

  “Yes, I’m real.” Blackthorne eased himself up.

  The priest muttered another Hail Mary, the tears coursing his cheeks. He kissed the cross repeatedly and would have got down on his knees if there had been space. Bulldog shook his neighbor awake. Both squatted and made just enough room for the priest to sit.

  “By the Blessed St. Francis, my prayers have been answered. Thou, thou, thou, I thought that I was seeing another apparition, señor, a ghost. Yes, an evil spirit. I’ve seen so many—so many—how long is the señor here? It’s hard for a body to see in the gloom and my eyes, they’re not good…. How long?”

  “Yesterday. And you?”

  “I don’t know, señor. A long time. I’m put here in September—it was in the year of our Lord fifteen hundred ninety-eight.”

  “It’s May now. Sixteen hundred.”

  “Sixteen hundred?”

  A moaning cry distracted the monk. He got up and picked his way over the bodies like a spider, encouraging a man here, touching another there, his Japanese fluent. He could not find the dying man so he droned the last rites to that part of the cell and blessed everyone and no one minded.

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