CHAPTER 2 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 2 : Part 1 – Shogun

   “The daimyo, Kasigi Yabu, Lord of Izu, wants to know who you are, where you come from, how you got here, and what acts of piracy you have committed,” Father Sebastio said.

  “I keep telling you we’re not pirates.” The morning was clear and warm and Blackthorne was kneeling in front of the platform in the village square, his head still aching from the blow. Keep calm and get your brain working, he told himself. You’re on trial for your lives. You’re the spokesman and that’s all there is to it. The Jesuit’s hostile and the only interpreter available and you’ll have no way of knowing what he’s saying except you can be sure he’ll not help you…. ‘Get your wits about you boy,’ he could almost hear old Alban Caradoc saying. ‘When the storm’s the worst and the sea the most dreadful, that’s when you need your special wits. That’s what keeps you alive and your ship alive—if you’re the pilot. Get your wits about you and take the juice out of every day, however bad…’.

  The juice of today is bile, Blackthorne thought grimly. Why do I hear Alban’s voice so clearly?

  “First tell the daimyo that we’re at war, that we’re enemies,” he said. “Tell him England and the Netherlands are at war with Spain and Portugal.”

  “I caution you again to speak simply and not to twist the facts. The Netherlands—or Holland, Zeeland, the United Provinces, whatever you filthy Dutch rebels call it—is a small, rebellious province of the Spanish Empire. You’re leader of traitors who are in a state of insurrection against their lawful king.”

  “England’s at war and the Netherlands have been sepa—” Blackthorne did not continue because the priest was no longer listening but interpreting.

  The daimyo was on the platform, short, squat, and dominating. He knelt comfortably, his heels tucked neatly under him, flanked by four lieutenants, one of whom was Kasigi Omi, his nephew and vassal. They all wore silk kimonos and, over them, ornate surcoats with wide belts nipping them in at the waist and huge, starched shoulders. And the inevitable swords.
  Mura knelt in the dirt of the square. He was the only villager present and the only other onlookers were the fifty samurai who came with the daimyo. They sat in disciplined, silent rows. The rabble of the ship’s crew were behind Blackthorne and, like him, were on their knees, guards nearby. They had had to carry the Captain-General with them when they were sent for, even though he was ailing badly. He had been allowed to lie down in the dirt, still in semicoma. Blackthorne had bowed with all of them when they had come in front of the daimyo, but this was not enough. Samurai had slammed all of them on their knees and pushed their heads into the dust in the manner of peasants. He had tried to resist and shouted to the priest to explain that it was not their custom, that he was the leader and an emissary of their country and should be treated as such. But the haft of a spear had sent him reeling. His men gathered themselves for an impulsive charge, but he shouted at them to stop and to kneel. Fortunately they obeyed. The daimyo had uttered something guttural and the priest interpreted this as a caution to him to tell the truth and tell it quickly. Blackthorne had asked for a chair but the priest said the Japanese did not use chairs and there were none in Japan.

  Blackthorne was concentrating on the priest as he spoke to the daimyo, seeking a clue, a way through this reef.

  There’s arrogance and cruelty in the daimyo’s face, he thought. I’ll bet he’s a real bastard. The priest’s Japanese isn’t fluent. Ah, see that? Irritation and impatience. Did the daimyo ask for another word, a clearer word? I think so. Why’s the Jesuit wearing orange robes? Is the daimyo a Catholic? Look, the Jesuit’s very deferential and sweating a lot. I’ll bet the daimyo’s not a Catholic. Be accurate! Perhaps he’s not a Catholic. Either way you’ll get no quarter from him. How can you use the evil bastard? How do you talk direct to him? How’re you going to work the priest? How discredit him? What’s the bait? Come on, think! You know enough about Jesuits—

  “The daimyo says hurry up and answer his questions.”

  “Yes. Of course, I’m sorry. My name’s John Blackthorne. I’m English, Pilot-Major of a Netherlands fleet. Our home port’s Amsterdam.”

  “Fleet? What fleet? You’re lying. There’s no fleet. Why is an Englishman pilot of a Dutch ship?”

  “All in good time. First please translate what I said.”

  “Why are you the pilot of a Dutch privateer? Hurry up!”

  Blackthorne decided to gamble. His voice abruptly hardened and it cut through the morning warmth. “Que va! First translate what I said, Spaniard! Now!”

  The priest flushed. “I’m Portuguese. I’ve told you before. Answer the question.”

  “I’m here to talk to the daimyo, not to you. Translate what I said, you motherless offal!” Blackthorne saw the priest redden even more and felt that this had not gone unnoticed by the daimyo. Be cautions, he warned himself. That yellow bastard will carve you into pieces quicker than a school of sharks if you overreach yourself. “Tell the lord daimyo!” Blackthorne deliberately bowed low to the platform and felt the chill sweat beginning to pearl as he committed himself irrevocably to his course of action.

  Father Sebastio knew that his training should make him impervious to the pirate’s insults and the obvious plan to discredit him in front of the daimyo. But, for the first time, it did not and he felt lost. When Mura’s messenger had brought news of the ship to his mission in the neighboring province, he had been rocked by the implications. It can’t be Dutch or English! he had thought. There had never been a heretic ship in the Pacific except those of the archdevil corsair Drake, and never one here in Asia. The routes were secret and guarded. At once he had prepared to leave and had sent an urgent carrier pigeon message to his superior in Osaka, wishing that he could first have consulted with him, knowing that he was young, almost untried and new to Japan, barely two years here, not yet ordained, and not competent to deal with this emergency. He had rushed to Anjiro, hoping and praying that the news was untrue. But the ship was Dutch and the pilot English, and all of his loathing for the satanic heresies of Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, and the archfiend Elizabeth, his bastard daughter, had overwhelmed him. And still swamped his judgment.

  “Priest, translate what the pirate said,” he heard the daimyo say.

  O Blessed Mother of God, help me to do thy will. Help me to be strong in front of the daimyo and give me the gift of tongues, and let me convert him to the True Faith.

  Father Sebastio gathered his wits and began to speak more confidently.

  Blackthorne listened carefully, trying to pick out the words and meanings. The Father used “England” and “Blackthorne” and pointed at the ship, which lay nicely at anchor in the harbor.

  “How did you get here?” Father Sebastio said.

  “By Magellan’s Pass. This is the one hundred and thirty-sixth day from there. Tell the daimyo—”

  “You’re lying. Magellan’s Pass is secret. You came via Africa and India. You’ll have to tell the truth eventually. They use torture here.”

  “The Pass was secret. A Portuguese sold us a rutter. One of your own people sold you out for a little Judas gold. You’re all manure! Now all English warships—and Dutch warships—know the way through to the Pacific. There’s a fleet—twenty English ships-of-the-line, sixty-cannon warships—attacking Manila right now. Your empire’s finished.”

  “You’re lying!”

  Yes, Blackthorne thought, knowing there was no way to prove the lie except to go to Manila. “That fleet will harry your sea-lanes and stamp out your colonies. There’s another Dutch fleet due here any week now. The Spanish-Portuguese pig is back in his pigsty and your Jesuit General’s penis is in his anus—where it belongs!” He turned away and bowed low to the daimyo.

  “God curse you and your filthy mouth!”

  “Ano mono wa nani o moshité oru?” the daimyo snapped impatiently.

  The priest spoke more quickly, harder, and said “Magellan” and “Manila” but Blackthorne thought that the daimyo and his lieutenants did not seem to understand too clearly.

  Yabu was wearying of this trial. He looked out into the harbor, to the ship that had obsessed him ever since he had received Omi’s secret message, and he wondered again if it was the gift from the gods that he hoped.

  “Have you inspected the cargo yet, Omi-san?” he had asked this morning as soon as he had arrived, mud-spattered and very weary.

  “No, Lord. I thought it best to seal up the ship until you came personally, but the holds are filled with crates and bales. I hope I did it correctly. Here are all their keys. I confiscated them.”

  “Good.” Yabu had come from Yedo, Toranaga’s capital city, more than a hundred miles away, post haste, furtively and at great personal risk, and it was vital that he return as quickly. The journey had taken almost two days over foul roads and spring-filled streams, partly on horseback and partly by palanquin. “I’ll go to the ship at once.”

  “You should see the strangers, Lord,” Omi had said with a laugh. “They’re incredible. Most of them have blue eyes—like Siamese cats—and golden hair. But the best news of all is that they’re pirates ….”

  Omi had told him about the priest and what the priest had related about these corsairs and what the pirate had said and what had happened, and his excitement had tripled. Yabu had conquered his impatience to go aboard the ship and break the seals. Instead he had bathed and changed and ordered the barbarians brought in front of him.

  “You, priest,” he said, his voice sharp, hardly able to understand the priest’s bad Japanese. “Why is he so angry with you?”

  “He’s evil. Pirate. He worship devil.”

  Yabu leaned over to Omi, the man on his left. “Can you understand what he’s saying, nephew? Is he lying? What do you think?”

  “I don’t know, Lord. Who knows what barbarians really believe? I imagine the priest thinks the pirate is a devil worshiper. Of course, that’s all nonsense.”

  Yabu turned back to the priest, detesting him. He wished that he could crucify him tod
ay and obliterate Christianity from his domain once and for all. But he could not. Though he and all other daimyos had total power in their own domains, they were still subject to the overriding authority of the Council of Regents, the military ruling junta to whom the Taikō had legally willed his power during his son’s minority, and subject, too, to edicts the Taikō had issued in his lifetime, which were all still legally in force. One of these, promulgated years ago, dealt with the Portuguese barbarians and ordered that they were all protected persons and, within reason, their religion was to be tolerated and their priests allowed, within reason, to proselytize and convert. “You, priest! What else did the pirate say? What was he saying to you? Hurry up! Have you lost your tongue?”

  “Pirate says bad things. Bad. About more pirate war boatings—many.”

  “What do you mean, ‘war boatings’?”

  “Sorry, Lord, I don’t understand.”

  “‘War boatings’ doesn’t make sense, neh?”

  “Ah! Pirate says other ships war are in Manila, in Philippines.”

  “Omi-san, do you understand what he’s talking about?”

  “No, Lord. His accent’s appalling, it’s almost gibberish. Is he saying that more pirate ships are east of Japan?”

  “You, priest! Are these pirate ships off our coast? East? Eh?”

  “Yes, Lord. But I think he’s lying. He says at Manila.”

  “I don’t understand you. Where’s Manila?”

  “East. Many days’ journey.”

  “If any pirate ships come here, we’ll give them a pleasant welcome, wherever Manila is.”

  “Please excuse me, I don’t understand.”

  “Never mind,” Yabu said, his patience at an end. He had already decided the strangers were to die and he relished the prospect. Obviously these men did not come within the Taikō’s edict that specified “Portuguese barbarians,” and anyway they were pirates. As long as he could remember he had hated barbarians, their stench and filthiness and disgusting meat-eating habits, their stupid religion and arrogance and detestable manners. More than that, he was shamed, as was every daimyo, by their stranglehold over this Land of the Gods. A state of war had existed between China and Japan for centuries. China would allow no trade. Chinese silk cloth was vital to make the long, hot, humid Japanese summer bearable. For generations only a minuscule amount of contraband cloth had slipped through the net and was available, at huge cost, in Japan. Then, sixty-odd years ago, the barbarians had first arrived. The Chinese Emperor in Peking gave them a tiny permanent base at Macao in southern China and agreed to trade silks for silver. Japan had silver in abundance. Soon trade was flourishing. Both countries prospered. The middlemen, the Portuguese, grew rich, and their priests—Jesuits mostly—soon became vital to the trade. Only the priests managed to learn to speak Chinese and Japanese and therefore could act as negotiators and interpreters. As trade blossomed, the priests became more essential. Now the yearly trade was huge and touched the life of every samurai. So the priests had to be tolerated and the spread of their religion tolerated or the barbarians would sail away and trade would cease.

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