CHAPTER 4 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 4 : Part 1 – Shogun

Vinck tried to make his legs move but he could not. He had faced death many times in his life but never like this, meekly. It had been decreed by the straws. Why me? his brain screamed. I’m no worse than the others and better than most. Dear God in Heaven, why me?

  A ladder had been lowered. Omi motioned for the one man to come up, and quickly. “Isogi!” Hurry up!

  Van Nekk and Jan Roper were praying silently, their eyes closed. Pieterzoon could not watch. Blackthorne was staring up at Omi and his men.

  “Isogi!” Omi barked out again.

  Once more Vinck tried to stand. “Help me, someone. Help me to get up!”

  Pieterzoon, who was nearest, bent down and put his hand under Vinck’s arm and helped him to his feet, then Blackthorne was at the foot of the ladder, both feet planted firmly in the slime.

  “Kinjiru!” he shouted, using the word from the ship. A gasp rushed through the cellar. Omi’s hand tightened on his sword and he moved to the ladder. Immediately Blackthorne twisted it, daring Omi to put a foot there.

  “Kinjiru!” he said again.

  Omi stopped.

  “What’s going on?” Spillbergen asked, frightened, as were all of them.

  “I told him it’s forbidden! None of my crew is walking to death without a fight.”

  “But—but we agreed!”

  “I didn’t.”

  “Have you gone mad!”

  “It’s all right, Pilot,” Vinck whispered. “I—we did agree and it was fair. It’s God’s will. I’m going—it’s …” He groped to the foot of the ladder but Blackthorne stood implacably in the way, facing Omi.

  “You’re not going without a fight. No one is.”

  “Get away from the ladder, Pilot! You’re ordered away!” Spillbergen shakily kept to his corner, as far from the opening as possible. His voice shrilled, “Pilot!”

  But Blackthorne was not listening. “Get ready!”

  Omi stepped back a pace and snarled orders to his men. At once a samurai, closely followed by two others, started down the steps, swords unsheathed. Blackthorne twisted the ladder and grappled with the lead man, swerving from his violent sword blow, trying to choke the man to death.

  “Help me! Come on! For your lives!”

  Blackthorne changed his grip to pull the man off the rungs, braced sickeningly as the second man stabbed downward. Vinck came out of his cataleptic state and threw himself at the samurai, berserk. He intercepted the blow that would have sliced Blackthorne’s wrist off, held the shuddering sword arm at bay, and smashed his other fist into the man’s groin. The samurai gasped and kicked viciously. Vinck hardly seemed to notice the blow. He climbed the rungs and tore at the man for possession of the sword, his nails ripping at the man’s eyes. The other two samurai were hampered by the confined space and Blackthorne, but a kick from one of them caught Vinck in the face and he reeled away. The samurai on the ladder hacked at Blackthorne, missed, then the entire crew hurled themselves at the ladder.

  Croocq hammered his fist onto the samurai’s instep and felt a small bone give. The man managed to throw his sword out of the pit—not wishing the enemy armed—and tumbled heavily to the mud. Vinck and Pieterzoon fell on him. He fought back ferociously as others rushed for the encroaching samurai. Blackthorne picked up the cornered Japanese’s dagger and started up the ladder, Croocq, Jan Roper, and Salamon following. Both samurai retreated and stood at the entrance, their killing swords viciously ready. Blackthorne knew his dagger was useless against the swords. Even so he charged, the others in close support. The moment his head was above ground one of the swords swung at him, missing him by a fraction of an inch. A violent kick from an unseen samurai drove him underground again.

  He turned and jumped back, avoiding the writhing mass of fighting men who tried to subdue the samurai in the stinking ooze. Vinck kicked the man in the back of the neck and he went limp. Vinck pounded him again and again until Blackthorne pulled him off.

  “Don’t kill him—we can use him as a hostage!” he shouted and wrenched desperately at the ladder, trying to pull it down into the cellar. But it was too long. Above, Omi’s other samurai waited impassively at the trapdoor’s entrance.

  “For God’s sake, Pilot, stop it!” Spillbergen wheezed. “They’ll kill us all—you’ll kill us all! Stop him, someone!”

  Omi was shouting more orders and strong hands aloft prevented Blackthorne from jamming the entrance with the ladder.

  “Look out!” he shouted.

  Three more samurai, carrying knives and wearing only loincloths, leapt nimbly into the cellar. The first two crashed deliberately onto Blackthorne, carrying him helpless to the floor, oblivious of their own danger, then attacked ferociously.

  Blackthorne was crushed beneath the strength of the men. He could not use the knife and felt his will to fight subsiding and he wished he had Mura the headman’s skill at unarmed combat. He knew, helplessly, that he could not survive much longer but he made a final effort and jerked one arm free. A cruel blow from a rock-hard hand rattled his head and another exploded colors in his brain but still he fought back.

  Vinck was gouging at one of the samurai when the third dropped on him from the sky door, and Maetsukker screamed as a dagger slashed his arm. Van Nekk was blindly striking out and Pieterzoon was saying, “For Christ’s sake, hit them not me,” but the merchant did not hear for he was consumed with terror.

  Blackthorne caught one of the samurai by the throat, his grip slipping from the sweat and slime, and he was almost on his feet like a mad bull, trying to shake them off when there was a last blow and he fell into blankness. The three samurai hacked their way up and the crew, now leaderless, retreated from the circling slash of their three daggers, the samurai dominating the cellar now with their whirling daggers, not trying to kill or to maim, but only to force the panting, frightened men to the walls, away from the ladder where Blackthorne and the first samurai lay inert.

  Omi came down arrogantly into the pit and grabbed the nearest man, who was Pieterzoon. He jerked him toward the ladder.

  Pieterzoon screamed and tried to struggle out of Omi’s grasp, but a knife sliced his wrist and another opened his arm. Relentlessly the shrieking seaman was backed against the ladder.

  “Christ help me, it’s not me that’s to go, it’s not me it’s not me—” Pieterzoon had both feet on the rung and he was retreating up and away from the agony of the knives and then, “Help me, for God’s sake,” he screamed a last time, turned and fled raving into the air.

  Omi followed without hurrying.

  A samurai retreated. Then another. The third picked up the knife that Blackthorne had used. He turned his back contemptuously, stepped over the prostrate body of his unconscious comrade, and climbed away.

  The ladder was jerked aloft. Air and sky and light vanished. Bolts crashed into place. Now there was only gloom, and in it heaving chests and rending heartbeats and running sweat and the stench. The flies returned.

  For a moment no one moved. Jan Roper had a small cut on his cheek, Maetsukker was bleeding badly, the others were mostly in shock. Except Salamon. He groped his way over to Blackthorne, pulled him off the unconscious samurai. He mouthed gutturally and pointed at the water. Croocq fetched some in a gourd, helped him to prop Blackthorne, still lifeless, against the wall. Together they began to clean the muck off his face.

  “When those bastards—when they dropped on him I thought I heard his neck or shoulder go,” the boy said, his chest heaving. “He looks like a corpse, Lord Jesus!”

  Sonk forced himself to his feet and picked his way over to them. Carefully he moved Blackthorne’s head from side to side, felt his shoulders. “Seems all right. Have to wait till he comes round to tell.”

  “Oh, Jesus God,” Vinck began whimpering. “Poor Pieterzoon—I’m damned—I’m damned …”

  “You were going. The Pilot stopped you. You were going like you promised, I saw you, by God.” Sonk shook Vinck but he paid no attention. “I saw you, Vinck.” He turned to Spillbergen, waving the flies away. “Wasn’t that right?”

  “Yes, he was going. Vinck, stop moaning! It was the Pilot’s fault. Give me some water.”

  Jan Roper dipped some water with the gourd and drank and daubed the cut on his cheek. “Vinck should have gone. He was the lamb of God. He was ordained. And now his soul’s forfeit. Oh, Lord God have mercy on him, he’ll burn for all eternity.”

  “Give me some water,” the Captain-General whimpered.

  Van Nekk took the gourd from Jan Roper and passed it to Spillbergen. “It wasn’t Vinck’s fault,” van Nekk said tiredly. “He couldn’t get up, don’t you remember? He asked someone to help him up. I was so frightened I couldn’t move either, and I didn’t have to go.”

  “It wasn’t Vinck’s fault,” Spillbergen said. “No. It was him.” They all looked at Blackthorne. “He’s mad.”

  “All the English are mad,” Sonk said. “Have you ever known one that wasn’t? Scratch one of ’em and you find a maniac—and a pirate.”

  “Bastards, all of them!” Ginsel said.

  “No, not all of them,” van Nekk said. “The pilot was only doing what he felt was right. He’s protected us and brought us ten thousand leagues.”

  “Protected us, piss! We were five hundred when we started and five ships. Now there’s nine of us!”

  “Wasn’t his fault the fleet split up. Wasn’t his fault that the storms blew us all—”

  “Weren’t for him we’d have stayed in the New World, by God. It was him who said we could get to the Japans. And for Jesus Christ’s sweet sake, look where we are now.”

  “We agreed to try for the Japans. We all agreed,” van Nekk said wearily. “We all voted.”

  “Yes. But it was him that persuaded us.”

  “Look out!” Ginsel pointed at the samurai, who was stirring and moaning. Sonk quickly
slid over to him, crashed his fist into his jaw. The man went out again.

  “Christ’s death! What’d the bastards leave him here for? They could’ve carried him out with them, easy. Nothing we could’ve done.”

  “You think they thought he was dead?”

  “Don’t know! They must’ve seen him. By the Lord Jesus, I could use a cold beer,” Sonk said.

  “Don’t hit him again, Sonk, don’t kill him. He’s a hostage.” Croocq looked at Vinck, who sat huddled against a wall, locked into his whimpering self-hatred. “God help us all. What’ll they do to Pieterzoon? What’ll they do to us?”

  “It’s the Pilot’s fault,” Jan Roper said. “Only him.”

  Van Nekk peered compassionately at Blackthorne. “It doesn’t matter now. Does it? Whose fault it is or was.”

  Maetsukker reeled to his feet, the blood still flowing down his forearm. “I’m hurt, help me someone.”

  Salamon made a tourniquet from a piece of shirt and staunched the blood. The slice in Maetsukker’s biceps was deep but no vein or artery had been cut. The flies began to worry the wound.

  “God-cursed flies! And God curse the Pilot to hell,” Maetsukker said. “It was agreed. But, oh no! He had to save Vinck! Now Pieterzoon’s blood’s on his hands and we’ll all suffer because of him.”

  “Shut your face! He said none of his crew—”

  There were footsteps above. The trapdoor opened. Villagers began pouring barrels of fish offal and seawater into the cellar. When the floor was six inches awash, they stopped.

  The screams began when the moon was high.

  Yabu was kneeling in the inner garden of Omi’s house. Motionless. He watched the moonlight in the blossom tree, the branches jet against the lighter sky, the clustered blooms now barely tinted. A petal spiraled and he thought,


  Is not less

  For falling

  In the breeze.

  Another petal settled. The wind sighed and took another. The tree was scarcely as tall as a man, kneaded between moss rocks that seemed to have grown from the earth, so cleverly had they been placed.

  It took all of Yabu’s will to concentrate on the tree and blossoms and sky and night, to feel the gentle touch of the wind, to smell its sea-sweetness, to think of poems, and yet to keep his ears reaching for the agony. His spine felt limp. Only his will made him graven as the rocks. This awareness gave him a level of sensuality beyond articulation. And tonight it was stronger and more violent than it had ever been.

  “Omi-san, how long will our Master stay there?” Omi’s mother asked in a frightened whisper from inside the house.

  “I don’t know.”

  “The screams are terrible. When will they stop?”

  “I don’t know,” Omi said.

  They were sitting behind a screen in the second best room. The best room, his mother’s, had been given to Yabu, and both these rooms faced onto the garden that he had constructed with so much effort. They could see Yabu through the lattice, the tree casting stark patterns on his face, moonlight sparking on the handles of his swords. He wore a dark haori, or outer jacket, over his somber kimono.

  “I want to go to sleep,” the woman said, trembling. “But I can’t sleep with all this noise. When will it stop?”

  “I don’t know. Be patient, Mother,” Omi said softly. “The noise will stop soon. Tomorrow Lord Yabu will go back to Yedo. Please be patient.” But Omi knew that the torture would continue to the dawn. It had been planned that way.

  He tried to concentrate. Because his feudal lord meditated within the screams, he tried again to follow his example. But the next shriek brought him back and he thought, I can’t. I can’t, not yet. I don’t have his control or power.

  Or is it power? he asked himself.

  He could see Yabu’s face clearly. He tried to read the strange expression on his daimyo’s face: the slight twisting of the slack full lips, a fleck of saliva at the corners, eyes set into dark slits that moved only with the petals. It’s almost as though he’s just climaxed—was almost climaxing—without touching himself. Is that possible?

  This was the first time that Omi had been in close contact with his uncle, for he was a very minor link in the clan chain, and his fief of Anjiro and the surrounding area poor and unimportant. Omi was the youngest of three sons and his father, Mizuno, had six brothers. Yabu was the eldest brother and leader of the Kasigi clan, his father second eldest. Omi was twenty-one and had an infant son of his own.

  “Where’s your miserable wife,” the old woman whimpered querulously. “I want her to rub my back and shoulders.”

  “She had to go to visit her father, don’t you remember? He’s very sick, Mother. Let me do it for you.”

  “No. You can send for a maid in a moment. Your wife’s most inconsiderate. She could have waited a few days. I come all the way from Yedo to visit you. It took two weeks of terrible journeying and what happens? I’ve only been here a week and she leaves. She should have waited! Good for nothing, that’s her. Your father made a very bad mistake arranging your marriage to her. You should tell her to stay away permanently—divorce the good-for-nothing once and for all. She can’t even massage my back properly. At the very least you should give her a good beating. Those dreadful screams! Why won’t they stop?”

  “They will. Very soon.”

  “You should give her a good beating.”

  “Yes.” Omi thought about his wife Midori and his heart leapt. She was so beautiful and fine and gentle and clever, her voice so clear, and her music as good as that of any courtesan in Izu.

  “Midori-san, you must go at once,” he had said to her privately.

  “Omi-san, my father is not so sick and my place is here, serving your mother, neh?” she had responded. “If our lord daimyo arrives, this house has to be prepared. Oh, Omi-san, this is so important, the most important time of your whole service, neh? If the Lord Yabu is impressed, perhaps he’ll give you a better fief, you deserve so much better! If anything happened while I was away, I’d never forgive myself and this is the first time you’ve had an opportunity to excel and it must succeed. He must come. Please, there’s so much to do.”

  “Yes, but I would like you to go at once, Midori-san. Stay just two days, then hurry home again.”

  She had pleaded but he had insisted and she had gone. He had wanted her away from Anjiro before Yabu arrived and while the man was a guest in his house. Not that the daimyo would dare to touch her without permission—that was unthinkable because he, Omi, would then have the right, the honor, and the duty by law, to obliterate the daimyo. But he had noticed Yabu watching her just after they had been married in Yedo and he had wanted to remove a possible source of irritation, anything that could upset or embarrass his lord while he was here. It was so important that he impress Yabu-sama with his filial loyalty, his foresight, and with his counsel. And so far everything had succeeded beyond possibility. The ship had been a treasure trove, the crew another. Everything was perfect.

  “I’ve asked our house kami to watch over you,” Midori had said just before she left, referring to the particular Shinto spirit that had their house in his care, “and I’ve sent an offering to the Buddhist temple for prayers. I’ve told Suwo to be his most perfect, and sent a message to Kiku-san. Oh, Omi-san, please let me stay.”

  He had smiled and sent her on her way, the tears spoiling her makeup.

  Omi was sad to be without her, but glad that she had gone. The screams would have pained her very much.

  His mother winced under the torment on the wind, moved slightly to ease the ache in her shoulders, her joints bad tonight. It’s the west sea breeze, she thought. Still, it’s better here than in Yedo. Too marshy there and too many mosquitoes.

  She could just see the soft outline of Yabu in the garden. Secretly she hated him and wanted him dead. Once Yabu was dead, Mizuno, her husband, would be daimyo of Izu and would lead the clan. That would be very nice, she thought. Then all the rest of the brothers and t
heir wives and children would be subservient to her and, of course, Mizuno-san would make Omi heir when Yabu was dead and gone.

  Another pain in her neck made her move slightly.

  “I’ll call Kiku-san,” Omi said, referring to the courtesan who waited patiently for Yabu in the next room, with the boy. “She’s very, very deft.”

  “I’m all right, just tired, neh? Oh, very well. She can massage me.”

  Omi went into the next room. The bed was ready. It consisted of over- and under-coverlets called futons that were placed on the floor matting. Kiku bowed and tried to smile and murmured she would be honored to try to use her modest skill on the most honorable mother of the household. She was even paler than usual and Omi could see the screams were taking their toll on her too. The boy was trying not to show his fear.

  When the screams had begun Omi had had to use all his skill to persuade her to stay. “Oh, Omi-san, I cannot bear it—it’s terrible. So sorry, please let me go—I want to close my ears but the sound comes through my hands. Poor man—it’s terrible,” she had said.

  “Please, Kiku-san, please be patient. Yabu-sama has ordered this, neh? There is nothing to be done. It will stop soon.”

  “It’s too much, Omi-san. I can’t bear it.”

  By inviolate custom, money of itself could not buy a girl if she, or her employer, wished to refuse the client, whoever he was. Kiku was a courtesan of the First Class, the most famous in Izu, and though Omi was convinced she would not compare even to a courtesan of the Second Class of Yedo, Osaka, or Kyoto, here she was at the pinnacle and correctly prideful and exclusive. And even though he had agreed with her employer, the Mama-san Gyoko, to pay five times the usual price, he was still not sure that Kiku would stay.

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