CHAPTER 16 : Part 2 – Shogun

CHAPTER 16 : Part 2 – Shogun

  “I’ll visit Lord Kiyama the day after tomorrow,” he said, naming a deadline.

  “But the contagion? I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to you while you’re here in Osaka, my Lord. You are our guest, in my care. I must insist you do not.”

  “You may rest comfortably, my Lord Ishido, the contagion that will topple me has not yet been born, neh? You forget the soothsayer’s prediction.” When the Chinese embassy had come to the Taikō six years ago to try to settle the Japanese-Korean-Chinese war, a famous astrologer had been among them. This Chinese had forecast many things that had since come true. At one of the Taikō’s incredibly lavish ceremonial dinners, the Taikō had asked the soothsayer to predict the deaths of certain of his counselors. The astrologer had said that Toranaga would die by the sword when he was middle-aged. Ishido, the famous conqueror of Korea—or Chosen as Chinese called that land—would die undiseased, an old man, his feet firm in the earth, the most famous man of his day. But the Taikō himself would die in his bed, respected, revered, of old age, leaving a healthy son to follow him. This had so pleased the Taikō, who was still childless, that he had decided to let the embassy return to China and not kill them as he had planned for their previous insolences. Instead of negotiating for peace as he had expected, the Chinese Emperor, through this embassy, had merely offered to “invest him as King of the Country of Wa,” as the Chinese called Japan. So he had sent them home alive and not in the very small boxes that had already been prepared for them, and renewed the war against Korea and China.

  “No, Lord Toranaga, I haven’t forgotten,” Ishido said, remembering very well. “But contagion can be uncomfortable. Why be uncomfortable? You could catch the pox like your son Noboru, so sorry—or become a leper like Lord Onoshi. He’s still young, but he suffers. Oh, yes, he suffers.”

  Momentarily Toranaga was thrown off balance. He knew the ravages of both diseases too well. Noboru, his eldest living son, had caught the Chinese pox when he was seventeen—ten years ago—and all the cures of the doctors, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Christian, had not managed to allay the disease which had already defaced him but would not kill him. If I become all powerful, Toranaga promised himself, perhaps I can stamp out that disease. Does it really come from women? How do women get it? How can it be cured? Poor Noboru, Toranaga thought. Except for the pox you’d be my heir, because you’re a brilliant soldier, a better administrator than Sudara, and very cunning. You must have done many bad things in a previous life to have had to carry so many burdens in this one.

  “By the Lord Buddha, I’d not wish either of those on anyone,” he said.

  “I agree,” Ishido sard, believing Toranaga would wish them both on him if he could. He bowed again and left.

  Toranaga broke the silence. “Well?”

  Hiro-matsu said, “If you stay or leave now, it’s the same—disaster, because now you’ve been betrayed and you are isolated, Sire. If you stay for the meeting—you won’t get a meeting for a week—Ishido will have mobilized his legions around Osaka and you’ll never escape, whatever happens to the Lady Ochiba in Yedo, and clearly Ishido’s decided to risk her to get you. It’s obvious you’re betrayed and the four Regents will make a decision against you. A four against one vote in Council impeaches you. If you leave, they’ll still issue whatever orders Ishido wishes. You’re bound to uphold a four-to-one decision. You swore to do it. You cannot go against your solemn word as a Regent.”

  “I agree.”

  The silence held.

  Hiro-matsu waited, with growing anxiety. “What are you going to do?”

  “First I’m going to have my swim,” Toranaga said with surprising joviality. “Then I’ll see the barbarian.”

  * * *

  The woman walked quietly through Toranaga’s private garden in the castle toward the little thatched hut that was set so prettily in a glade of maples. Her silk kimono and obi were the most simple yet the most elegant that the most famous craftsmen in China could make. She wore her hair in the latest Kyoto fashion, piled high and held in place with long silver pins. A colorful sunshade protected her very fair skin. She was tiny, just five feet, but perfectly proportioned. Around her neck was a thin golden chain, and hanging from it, a small golden crucifix.

  Kiri was waiting on the veranda of the hut. She sat heavily in the shade, her buttocks overflowing her cushion, and she watched the woman approach along the steppingstones which had been set so carefully into the moss that they seemed to have grown there.

  “You’re more beautiful than ever, younger than ever, Toda Marikosan,” Kiri said without jealousy, returning her bow.

  “I wish that were true, Kiritsubo-san,” Mariko replied, smiling. She knelt on a cushion, unconsciously arranging her skirts into a delicate pattern.

  “It’s true. When did we last meet? Two—three years ago? You haven’t changed a hair’s breadth in twenty years. It must be almost twenty years since we first met. Do you remember? It was at a feast Lord Goroda gave. You were fourteen, just married and rare.”

  “And frightened.”

  “No, not you. Not frightened.”

  “It was sixteen years ago, Kiritsubo-san, not twenty. Yes, I remember it very well.” Too well, she thought, heartsick. That was the day my brother whispered that he believed our revered father was going to be revenged on his liege Lord, the Dictator Goroda, that he was going to assassinate him. His liege Lord!

  Oh, yes, Kiri-san, I remember that day and that year and that hour. It was the beginning of all the horror. I’ve never admitted to anyone that I knew what was going to happen before it happened. I never warned my husband, or Hiro-matsu, his father—both faithful vassals of the Dictator—that treachery was planned by one of his greatest generals. Worse, I never warned Goroda my liege Lord. So I failed in my duty to my liege Lord, to my husband, to his family, which because of my marriage is my only family. Oh, Madonna, forgive me my sin, help me to cleanse myself. I kept silent to protect my beloved father, who desecrated the honor of a thousand years. O my God, O Lord Jesus of Nazareth, save this sinner from eternal damnation….

  “It was sixteen years ago,” Mariko said serenely.

  “I was carrying Lord Toranaga’s child that year,” Kiri said, and she thought, if Lord Goroda had not been foully betrayed and murdered by your father, my Lord Toranaga would never have had to fight the battle of Nagakudé, I would never have caught a chill there and my child would never have miscarried. Perhaps, she told herself. And perhaps not. It was just karma, my karma, whatever happened, neh? “Ah, Mariko-san,” she said, no malice in her, “that’s so long ago, it almost seems like another lifetime. But you’re ageless. Why can’t I have your figure and beautiful hair, and walk so daintily?” Kiri laughed. “The answer’s simple: Because I eat too much!”

  “What does it matter? You bask in Lord Toranaga’s favor, neh? So you’re fulfilled. You’re wise and warm and whole-and happy in yourself.”

  “I’d rather be thin and still able to eat and be in favor,” Kiri said. “But you? You’re not happy in yourself?”

  “I’m only an instrument for my Lord Buntaro to play upon. If the Lord, my husband, is happy, then of course I’m happy. His pleasure’s my pleasure. It’s the same with you,” Mariko said.

  “Yes. But not the same.” Kiri moved her fan, the golden silk catching the afternoon sun. I’m so glad I’m not you, Mariko, with all your beauty and brilliance and courage and learning. No! I couldn’t bear being married to that hateful, ugly, arrogant, violent man for a day, let alone seventeen years. He’s so opposite to his father, Lord Hiro-matsu. Now, there’s a wonderful man. But Buntaro? How do fathers have such terrible sons? I wish I had a son, oh, how I wish! But you, Mariko how have you borne such ill treatment all these years? How have you endured your tragedies? It seems impossible that there’s no shadow of them on your face or in your soul. “You’re an amazing woman, Toda Buntaro Mariko-san.”

  “Thank you, Kiritsubo Toshiko-san. Oh Kiri-san, it’s so good to
see you.”

  “And you. How is your son?”

  “Beautiful—beautiful—beautiful. Saruji’s fifteen now, can you imagine it? Tall and strong and just like his father, and Lord Hiro-matsu has given Saruji his own fief and he’s—did you know that he’s going to be married?”

  “No, to whom?”

  “She’s a granddaughter of Lord Kiyama’s. Lord Toranaga’s arranged it so well. A very fine match for our family. I only wish the girl herself was—was more attentive to my son, more worthy. Do you know she …” Mariko laughed, a little shyly. “There, I sound like every mother-in-law that’s ever been. But I think you’d agree, she isn’t really trained yet.”

  “You’ll have time to do that.”

  “Oh, I hope so. Yes. I’m lucky I don’t have a mother-in-law. I don’t know what I’d do.”

  “You’d enchant her and train her as you train all your household, neh?”

  “Eeeee, I wish that was also true.” Mariko’s hands were motionless in her lap. She watched a dragonfly settle, then dart away. “My husband ordered me here. Lord Toranaga wishes to see me?”

  “Yes. He wants you to interpret for him.”

  Mariko was startled. “With whom?”

  “The new barbarian.”

  “Oh! But what about Father Tsukku-san? Is he sick?”

  “No.” Kiri played with her fan. “I suppose it’s left to us to wonder why Lord Toranaga wants you here and not the priest, as in the first interview. Why is it, Mariko-san, that we have to guard all the monies, pay all the bills, train all the servants, buy all the food and household goods—even most times the clothes of our Lords—but they don’t really tell us anything, do they?”

  “Perhaps that’s what our intuition’s for.”

  “Probably.” Kiri’s gaze was level and friendly. “But I’d imagine that this would all be a very private matter. So you would swear by your Christian God not to divulge anything about this meeting. To anyone.”

  The day seemed to lose its warmth.

  “Of course,” Mariko said uneasily. She understood very clearly that Kiri meant she was to say nothing to her husband or to his father or to her confessor. As her husband had ordered her here, obviously at Lord Toranaga’s request, her duty to her liege Lord Toranaga overcame her duty to her husband, so she could withhold information freely from him. But to her confessor? Could she say nothing to him? And why was she the interpreter and not Father Tsukku-san? She knew that once more, against her will, she was involved in the kind of political intrigue that had bedeviled her life, and wished again that her family was not ancient and Fujimoto, that she had never been born with the gift of tongues that had allowed her to learn the almost incomprehensible Portuguese and Latin languages, and that she had never been born at all. But then, she thought, I would never have seen my son, nor learned about the Christ Child or His Truth, or about the Life Everlasting.

  It is your karma, Mariko, she told herself sadly, just karma. “Very well, Kiri-san.” Then she added with foreboding, “I swear by the Lord my God, that I will not divulge anything said here today, or at any time I am interpreting for my liege Lord.”

  “I would also imagine that you might have to exclude part of your own feelings to translate exactly what is said. This new barbarian is strange and says peculiar things. I’m sure my Lord picked you above all possibilities for special reasons.”

  “I am Lord Toranaga’s to do with as he wishes. He need never have any fear for my loyalty.”

  “That was never in question, Lady. I meant no harm.”

  A spring rain came and speckled the petals and the mosses and the leaves, and disappeared leaving ever more beauty in its wake.

  “I would ask a favor, Mariko-san. Would you please put your crucifix under your kimono?”

  Mariko’s fingers darted for it defensively. “Why? Lord Toranaga has never objected to my conversion, nor has Lord Hiro-matsu, the head of my clan! My husband has—my husband allows me to keep it and wear it.”

  “Yes. But crucifixes send this barbarian mad and my Lord Toranaga doesn’t want him mad, he wants him soothed.”

  Blackthorne had never seen anyone so petite. “Konnichi wa,” he said. “Konnichi, Toranaga-sama.” He bowed as a courtier, nodded to the boy who knelt, wide-eyed, beside Toranaga, and to the fat woman who was behind him. They were all on the veranda that encircled the small hut. The hut contained a single small room with rustic screens and hewn beams and thatched roof, and a kitchen area behind. It was set on pilings of wood and raised a foot or so above a carpet of pure white sand. This was a ceremonial Tea House for the cha-no-yu ceremony and built at vast expense with rare materials for that purpose alone, though sometimes, because these houses were isolated, in glades, they were used for trysts and private conversations.

  Blackthorne gathered his kimono around him and sat on the cushion that had been placed on the sand below and in front of them. “Gomen nasai, Toranaga-sama, nihon go ga hanase-masen. Tsuyaku go imasu ka?”

  “I am your interpreter, senhor,” Mariko said at once, in almost flawless Portuguese. “But you speak Japanese?”

  “No, senhorita, just a few words or phrases,” Blackthorne replied, taken aback. He had been expecting Father Alvito to be the interpreter, and Toranaga to be accompanied by samurai and perhaps the daimyo Yabu. But no samurai were near, though many ringed the garden.

  “My Lord Toranaga asks where—First, perhaps I should ask if you prefer to speak Latin?”

  “Whichever you wish, senhorita.” Like any educated man, Blackthorne could read, write, and speak Latin, because Latin was the only language of learning throughout the civilized world.

  Who is this woman? Where did she learn such perfect Portuguese? And Latin? Where else but from the Jesuits, he thought. In one of their schools. Oh, they’re so clever! The first thing they do is build a school.

  It was only seventy years ago that Ignatius Loyola had formed the Society of Jesus and now their schools, the finest in Christendom, were spread across the world and their influence bolstered or destroyed kings. They had the ear of the Pope. They had halted the tide of the Reformation and were now winning back huge territories for their Church.

  “We will speak Portuguese then,” she was saying. “My Master wishes to know where you learned your ‘few words and phrases’?”

  “There was a monk in the prison, senhorita, a Franciscan monk, and he taught me. Things like, ‘food, friend, bath, go, come, true, false, here, there, I, you, please, thank you, want, don’t want, prisoner, yes, no,’ and so on. It’s only a beginning, unfortunately. Would you please tell Lord Toranaga that I’m better prepared now to answer his questions, to help, and more than a little pleased to be out of prison. For which I thank him.”

  Blackthorne watched as she turned and spoke to Toranaga. He knew that he would have to speak simply, preferably in short sentences, and be careful because, unlike the priest who interpreted simultaneously, this woman waited till he had finished, then gave a synopsis, or a version of what was said—the usual problem of all except the finest interpreters, though even they, as with the Jesuit, allowed their own personalities to influence what was said, voluntarily or involuntarily. The bath and massage and food and two hours of sleep had immeasurably refreshed him. The bath attendants, all women of girth and strength, had pummeled him and shampooed his hair, braiding it in a neat queue, and the barber had trimmed his beard. He had been given a clean loincloth and kimono and sash, and tabi and thongs for his feet. The futons on which he had slept had been so clean, like the room. It had all seemed dreamlike and, waking from dreamlessness, he had wondered momentarily which was the dream, this or the prison.

  He had waited impatiently, hoping that he would be guided again to Toranaga, planning what to say and what to reveal, how to outwit Father Alvito and how to gain ascendance over him. And over Toranaga. For he knew, beyond all doubt, because of what Friar Domingo had told him about the Portuguese, and Japanese politics and trade, that he could now help Toranaga, who, in return, could easily give him the riches he desired.

  And now, with no priest to fight, he felt even more confident. I need just a little luck and patience.

  Toranaga was listening intently to the doll-like interpreter.

  Blackthorne thought, I could pick her up with one hand and if I put both hands around her waist, my fingers would touch. How old would she be? Perfect! Married? No wedding ring. Ah, that’s interesting. She’s wearing no jewelry of any kind. Except the silver pins in her hair. Neither is the other woman, the fat one.

  He searched his memory. The other two women in the village had worn no jewelry either, and he had not seen any on any of Mura’s household. Why?

  And who’s the fat woman? Toranaga’s wife? Or the boy’s nursemaid? Would the lad be Toranaga’s son? Or grandson, perhaps? Friar Domingo had said that Japanese had only one wife at one time but as many consorts—legal mistresses—as they wished.

  Was the interpreter Toranaga’s consort?

  What would it be like to have such a woman in bed? I’d be afraid of crushing her. No, she wouldn’t break. There are women in England almost as small. But not like her.

  The boy was small and straight and round-eyed, his full black hair tied into a short queue, his pate unshaven. His curiosity seemed enormous.

  Without thinking, Blackthorne winked. The boy jumped, then laughed and interrupted Mariko and pointed and spoke out, and they listened indulgently and no one hushed him. When he had finished, Toranaga spoke briefly to Blackthorne.

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