CHAPTER 15 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 15 : Part 1 – Shogun

  In the utter silence, Blackthorne got to his feet.

  “Thy confession, my son, say it quickly.”

  “I—I don’t think—I—” Blackthorne realized through his dulled mind that he was speaking English, so he pressed his lips together and began to walk away. The monk scrambled up, presuming his words to be Dutch or German, and grabbed his wrist and hobbled with him.

  “Quickly, señor. I will give the absolution. Be quick, for thine immortal soul. Say it quickly, just that the señor confesses before God all things past and present—”

  They were nearing the iron gate now, the monk holding on to Blackthorne with surprising strength.

  “Say it now! The Blessed Virgin will watch over you!”

  Blackthorne tore his arm away, and said hoarsely in Spanish, “Go with God, Father.”

  The door slammed behind him.

  The day was incredibly cool and sweet, the clouds meandering before a fine southeasterly wind.

  He inhaled deep draughts of the clean, glorious air and blood surged through his veins. The joy of life possessed him.

  Several naked prisoners were in the courtyard along with an official, jailers with spears, eta, and a group of samurai. The official was dressed in a somber kimono and an overmantle with starched, winglike shoulders and he wore a small dark hat. This man stood in front of the first prisoner and read from a delicate scroll and as he finished, each man began to plod after his party of jailers toward the great doors of the courtyard. Blackthorne was last. Unlike the others he was given a loin cloth, cotton kimono, and thonged clogs for his feet. And his guards were samurai.

  He had decided to run for it the moment he had passed the gate, but as he approached the threshold, the samurai surrounded him more closely and locked him in. They reached the gateway together. A large crowd looked on, clean and spruce, with crimson and yellow and golden sunshades. One man was already roped to his cross and the cross was lifted into the sky. And beside each cross two eta waited, their long lances sparkling in the sun.

  Blackthorne’s pace slowed. The samurai jostled closer, hurrying him. He thought numbly that it would be the better to die now, quickly, so he steadied his hand to lunge for the nearest sword. But he never took the opportunity because the samurai turned away from the arena and walked toward the perimeter, heading for the streets that led to the city and toward the castle.

  Blackthorne waited, scarcely breathing, wanting to be sure. They walked through the crowd, who backed away and bowed, and then they were in a street and now there was no mistake.

  Blackthorne felt reborn.

  When he could speak, he said, “Where are we going?” not caring that the words would not be understood or that they were in English. Blackthorne was quite light-headed. His step hardly touched the ground, the thongs of his clogs were not uncomfortable, the untoward touch of the kimono was not unpleasing. Actually, it feels quite good, he thought. A little draughty perhaps, but on a fine day like this—just the sort of thing to wear on the quarterdeck!

  “By God, it’s wonderful to speak English again,” he said to the samurai. “Christ Jesus, I thought I was a dead man. That’s my eighth life gone. Do you know that, old friends? Now I’ve only one to go. Well, never mind! Pilots have ten lives, at least, that’s what Alban Caradoc used to say.” The samurai seemed to be growing irritated by his incomprehensible talk.

  Get hold of yourself, he told himself. Don’t make them touchier than they are.

  He noticed now that the samurai were all Grays. Ishido’s men. He had asked Father Alvito the name of the man who opposed Toranaga. Alvito had said “Ishido.” That was just before he had been ordered to stand up and had been taken away. Are all Grays Ishido’s men? As all Browns ar
e Toranaga’s?

  “Where are we going? There?” He pointed at the castle which brooded above the town. “There, hai?”

  “Hai.” The leader nodded a cannonball head, his beard grizzled.

  What does Ishido want with me? Blackthorne asked himself.

  The leader turned into another street, always going away from the harbor. Then he saw her—a small Portuguese brig, her blue and white flag waving in the breeze. Ten cannon on the main deck, with bow and stern twenty-pounders. Erasmus could take her easily, Blackthorne told himself. What about my crew? What are they doing back there at the village? By the Blood of Christ, I’d like to see them. I was so glad to leave them that day and go back to my own house where Onna—Haku—was, the house of … what was his name? Ah yes, Mura-san. And what about that girl, the one in my floor-bed, and the other one, the angel beauty who talked that day to Omi-san? The one in the dream who was in the cauldron too.

  But why remember that nonsense? It weakens the mind. ‘You’ve got to be very strong in the head to live with the sea,’ Alban Caradoc had said. Poor Alban.

  Alban Caradoc had always appeared so huge and godlike, all seeing, all knowing, for so many years. But he had died in terror. It had been on the seventh day of the Armada. Blackthorne was commanding a hundred-ton gaff-rigged ketch out of Portsmouth, running arms and powder and shot and food to Drake’s war galleons off Dover as they harried and tore into the enemy fleet which was beating up the Channel toward Dunkirk where the Spanish legions lay, waiting to transship to conquer England.

  The great Spanish fleet had been ripped by storms and by the more vicious, more sleek, more maneuverable warships that Drake and Howard had built.

  Blackthorne had been in a swirling attack near Admiral Howard’s flagship Renown when the wind had changed, freshened to gale force, the squalls monstrous, and he had had to decide whether to try to beat to windward to escape the broadside that would burst from the great galleon Santa Cruz just ahead, or to run before the wind alone, through the enemy squadron, the rest of Howard’s ships having already turned about, hacking more northerly.

  “Go north to windward!” Alban Caradoc had shouted. He had shipped as second in command. Blackthorne was Captain-Pilot and responsible, and this his first command. Alban Caradoc had insisted on coming to the fight, even though he had no right to be aboard except that he was an Englishman and all Englishmen had the right to be aboard in this darkest time in history.

  “Belay there!” Blackthorne had ordered and had swung the tiller southward, heading into the maw of the enemy fleet, knowing the other way would leave them doomed by the guns of the galleon that now towered above them.

  So they had gone southerly, racing before the wind, through the galleons. The three-deck cannonade of the Santa Cruz passed safely overhead and he got off two broadsides into her, flea bites to so huge a vessel, and then they were scudding through the center of the enemy. The galleons on either side did not wish to fire at this lone ship, for their broadsides might have damaged each other, so the guns stayed silent. Then his ship was through and escaping when a three-deck cannonade from the Madre de Dios straddled them. Both their masts careened away like arrows, men enmeshed in the rigging. Half the starboard main deck had vanished, the dead and the dying everywhere.

  He had seen Alban Caradoc lying against a shattered gun carriage, so incredibly tiny without legs. He cradled the old seaman whose eyes were almost starting out of his head, his screams hideous. “Oh Christ I don’t want to die don’t want to die, help help me, help me help me, oh Jesus Christ it’s the pain, helllp!” Blackthorne knew there was only one thing he could do for Alban Caradoc. He picked up a belaying pin and smashed down with all his force.

  Then, weeks later, he had to tell Felicity that her father was dead. He told her no more than that Alban Caradoc had been killed instantly. He did not tell her he had blood on his hands that would never come off….

  Blackthorne and the samurai were walking through a wide winding street now. There were no shops, only houses side by side, each within its own land and high fences, the houses and fences and the road itself all staggeringly clean.

  This cleanliness was incredible to Blackthorne because in London and the cities and towns of England—and Europe—offal and night soil and urine were cast into the streets, to be scavenged or allowed to pile up until pedestrians and carts and horses could not pass. Only then would most townships perhaps cleanse themselves. The scavengers of London were great herds of swine that were driven through the main thoroughfares nightly. Mostly the rats and the packs of wild dogs and cats and fires did the cleansing of London. And the flies.

  But Osaka was so different. How do they do it? he asked himself. No pot holes, no piles of horse dung, no wheel ruts, no filth or refuse of any sort. Just hard-packed earth, swept and clean. Walls of wood and houses of wood, sparkling and neat. And where are the packs of beggars and cripples that fester every township in Christendom? And the gangs of footpads and wild youths that would inevitably be skulking in the shadows?

  The people they passed bowed politely, some knelt. Kaga-men hurried along with palanquins or the one-passenger kagas. Parties of samurai—Grays, never Browns—walked the streets carelessly.

  They were walking a shop-lined street when his legs gave out. He toppled heavily and landed on his hands and knees.

  The samurai helped him up but, for the moment, his strength had gone and he could walk no further.

  “Gomen nasai, dozo ga matsu”—I’m sorry, please wait—he said, his legs cramped. He rubbed his knotted calf muscles and blessed Friar Domingo for the priceless things that the man had taught him.

  The samurai leader looked down at him and spoke at length.

  “Gomen nasai, nihon go ga hanase-masen”—I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, Blackthorne replied, slowly but clearly. “Dozo, ga matsu.”

  “Ah! So desu, Anjin-san. Wakarimasu,” the man said, understanding him. He gave a short sharp command and one of the samurai hurried away. After a while Blackthorne got up, tried to hobble along, but the leader of the samurai said “Iyé” and motioned him to wait.

  Soon the samurai came back with four semi-naked kaga-men and their kaga. Samurai showed Blackthorne how to recline in it and to hold on to the strap that hung from the central pole.

  The party set off again. Soon Blackthorne recovered his strength and preferred walking again, but he knew he was still weak. I’ve got to get some rest, he thought. I’ve no reserve. I must get a bath and some food. Real food.

  Now they were climbing wide steps that joined one street to another and entered a new residential section that skirted a substantial wood with tall trees and paths through it. Blackthorne found it vastly enjoyable to be out of the streets, the well-tended sward soft underfoot, the track wandering through the trees.

  When they were deep in the wood, another party of thirty-odd Grays approached from around a curve ahead. As they came alongside, they stopped, and after the usual ceremonial of their captains greeting each other, all their eyes turned on Blackthorne. There was a volley of questions and answers and then, as these men began to reassemble to leave, their leader calmly pulled out his sword and impaled the leader of Blackthorne’s samurai. Simultaneously the new group fell on the rest of Blackthorne’s samurai. The ambush was so sudden and so well planned that all ten Grays were dead almost at the same instant. Not one had even had time to draw his sword.

  The kaga-men were on their knees, horrified, their foreheads pressed into the grass. Blackthorne stood beside them. The captain-samurai, a heavyset man with a large paunch, sent sentries to either end of the track. Others were collecting the swords of the dead men. During all of this, the men paid Blackthorne no attention at all, until he began to back away. Immediately there was a hissing command from the captain which clearly meant to stay where he was.

  At another command all these new Grays stripped off their uniform kimonos. Underneath they wore a motley collection of rags and ancient kimonos. All pul
led on masks that were already tied around their necks. One man collected the gray uniforms and vanished with them into the woods.

  They must be bandits, Blackthorne thought. Why else the masks? What do they want with me?

  The bandits chattered quietly among themselves, watching him as they cleaned their swords on the clothes of the dead samurai.

  “Anjin-san? Hai?” The captain’s eyes above the cloth mask were round and jet and piercing.

  “Hai.” Blackthorne replied, his skin crawling.

  The man pointed at the ground, clearly telling him not to move. “Wakarimasu ka?”


  They looked him up and down. Then one of their outpost sentries—no longer gray-uniformed but masked, like all of them—came out of the bushes for an instant, a hundred paces away. He waved and vanished again.

  Immediately the men surrounded Blackthorne, preparing to leave. The bandit captain put his eyes on the kaga-men, who shivered like dogs of a cruel master and put their heads deeper into the grass.

  Then the bandit leader barked an order. The four slowly raised their heads with disbelief. Again the same command and they bowed and groveled and backed away; then as one, they took to their heels and vanished into the undergrowth.

  The bandit smiled contemptuously and motioned Blackthorne to begin walking back toward the city.

  He went with them, helplessly. There was no running away.

  They were almost to the edge of the wood when they stopped. There were noises ahead and another party of thirty samurai rounded the bend. Browns and Grays, the Browns the vanguard, their leader in a palanquin, a few pack horses following. They stopped immediately. Both groups moved into skirmish positions, eyeing each other hostilely, seventy paces between them. The bandit leader walked into the space between, his movements jerky, and shouted angrily at the other samurai, pointing at Blackthorne and then farther back to where the ambush had taken place. He tore out his sword, held it threateningly on high, obviously telling the other party to get out of the way.

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