CHAPTER 4 : Part 2 – Shogun

CHAPTER 4 : Part 2 – Shogun

 Now he was watching her nimble fingers on his mother’s neck. She was beautiful, tiny, her skin almost translucent and so soft. Usually she would bubble with zest for life. But how could such a plaything be happy under the weight of the screams, he asked himself. He enjoyed watching her, enjoyed the knowledge of her body and her warmth—

Abruptly the screams stopped.

  Omi listened, his mouth half-open, straining to catch the slightest noise, waiting. He noticed Kiku’s fingers had stopped, his mother uncomplaining, listening as intently. He looked through the lattice at Yabu. The daimyo remained statuelike.

  “Omi-san!” Yabu called at last.

  Omi got up and went onto the polished veranda and bowed. “Yes, Lord.”

  “Go and see what has happened.”

  Omi bowed again and went through the garden, out onto the tidily pebbled roadway that led down the hill to the village and onto the shore. Far below he could see the fire near one of the wharfs and the men beside it. And, in the square that fronted the sea, the trapdoor to the pit and the four guards.

  As he walked toward the village he saw that the barbarian ship was safe at anchor, oil lamps on the decks and on the nestling boats. Villagers—men and women and children—were still unloading the cargo, and fishing boats and dinghies were going back and forth like so many fireflies. Neat mounds of bales and crates were piling up on the beach. Seven cannon were already there and another was being hauled by ropes from a boat onto a ramp, thence onto the sand.

  He shuddered though there was no chill on the wind. Normally the villagers would be singing at their labors, as much from happiness as to help them pull in unison. But tonight the village was unusually quiet though every house was awake and every hand employed, even the sickest. People hurried back and forth, bowed and hurried on again. Silent. Even the dogs were hushed.

  It’s never been like this before, he thought, his hand unnecessarily tight on his sword. It’s almost as though our village kami have deserted us.

  Mura came up from the shore to intercept him, forewarned the moment Omi had opened the garden door. He bowed. “Good evening, Omi-sama. The ship will be unloaded by midday.”

  “Is the barbarian dead?”

  “I don’t know, Omi-sama. I’ll go and find out at once.”

  “You can come with me.”

  Obediently Mura followed, half a pace behind. Omi was curiously glad of his company.

  “By midday, you said?” Omi asked, not liking the quiet.

  “Yes. Everything is going well.”

  “What about the camouflage?”

  Mura pointed to groups of old women and children near one of the net houses who were platting rough mats, Suwo with them.

  “We can dismantle the cannon from their carriages and wrap them up. We’ll need at least ten men to carry one. Igurashi-san has sent for more porters from the next village.”


  “I’m concerned that secrecy should be maintained, Sire.”

  “Igurashi-san will impress on them the need, neh?”

  “Omi-sama, we’ll have to expend all our rice sacks, all our twine, all our nets, all our matting straw.”


  “How then can we catch fish or bale our harvest?”

  “You will find a way.” Omi’s voice sharpened. “Your tax is increased by half again this season. Yabu-san has tonight ordered it.”

  “We have already paid this year’s tax and next.”

  “That’s a peasant’s privilege, Mura. To fish and to till and to harvest and to pay tax. Isn’t it?”

  Mura said calmly, “Yes, Omi-sama.”

  “A headman who cannot control his village is a useless object, neh?”

  “Yes, Omi-sama.”

  “That villager, he was a fool as well as insulting. Are there others like him?”

  “None, Omi-sama.”

  “I hope so. Bad manners are unforgivable. His family is fined the value of one koku of rice—in fish, rice, grain, or whatever. To be paid within three moons.”

  “Yes, Omi-sama.”

  Both Mura and Omi the samurai knew that this sum was totally beyond the family’s means. There was only the fishing boat and the single half-hectare rice paddy which the three Tamazaki brothers—now two—shared with their wives, four sons and three daughters, and Tamazaki’s widow and three children. A koku of rice was a measure that approximated the amount of rice it took to keep one family alive for one year. About five bushels. Perhaps three hundred and fifty pounds of rice. All income in the realm was measured by koku. And all taxes.

  “Where would this Land of the Gods be if we forgot manners?” Omi asked. “Both to those beneath us and to those above us?”

  “Yes, Omi-sama.” Mura was estimating where to gain that one koku of value, because the village would have to pay if the family could not. And where to obtain more rice sacks, twine, and nets. Some could be salvaged from the journey. Money would have to be borrowed. The headman of the next village owed him a favor. Ah! Isn’t Tamazaki’s eldest daughter a beauty at six, and isn’t six the perfect age for a girl to be sold? And isn’t the best child broker in all Izu my mother’s sister’s third cousin?—the money-hungry, hair-rending, detestable old hag. Mura sighed, knowing that he now had a series of furious bargaining sessions ahead. Never mind, he thought. Perhaps the child’ll bring even two koku. She’s certainly worth much more.

  “I apologize for Tamazaki’s misconduct and ask your pardon,” he said.

  “It was his misconduct—not yours,” Omi replied as politely.

  But both knew that it was Mura’s responsibility and there had better be no more Tamazakis. Yet both were satisfied. An apology had been offered and it had been accepted but refused. Thus the honor of both men was satisfied.

  They turned the corner of the wharf and stopped. Omi hesitated, then motioned Mura away. The headman bowed, left thankfully.

  “Is he dead, Zukimoto?”

  “No, Omi-san. He’s just fainted again.”

  Omi went to the great iron cauldron that the village used for rendering blubber from the whales they sometimes caught far out to sea in the winter months, or for the rendering of glue from fish, a village industry.

  The barbarian was immersed to his shoulders in the steaming water. His face was purple, his lips torn back from his mildewed teeth.

  At sunset Omi watched Zukimoto, puffed with vanity, supervising while the barbarian was trussed like a chicken, his arms around his knees, his hands loosely to his feet, and put into cold water. All the time, the little red-headed barbarian that Yabu had wanted to begin with had babbled and laughed and wept, the Christian priest there at first droning his cursed prayers.

  Then the stoking of the fire had begun. Yabu had not been at the shore, but his orders had been specific and had been followed diligently. The barbarian had begun shouting and raving, then tried to beat his head to pulp on the iron lip until he was restrained. Then came more praying, weeping, fainting, waking, shrieking in panic before the pain truly began. Omi had tried to watch as you would watch the immolation of a fly, trying not to see the man. But he could not and had gone away as soon as possible. He had discovered that he did not relish torture. There was no dignity in it, he had decided, glad for the opportunity to know the truth, never having seen it before. There was no dignity for either the sufferer or the torturer. It removed the dignity from death, and without that dignity, what was the ultimate point of life? he asked himself.

  Zukimoto calmly poked the parboiled flesh of the man’s legs with a stick as one would a simmered fish to see if it was ready. “He’ll come to life again soon. Extraordinary how long he’s lasted. I don’t think they’re made like us. Very interesting, eh?” Zukimoto said.

  “No,” Omi said, detesting him.

  Zukimoto was instantly on his guard and his unctuousness returned. “I mean nothing, Omi-san,” he said with a deep bow. “Nothing at all.”

  “Of course. Lord Yabu is pleased that you have done so well. It must require great skill not to give too much fire, yet to give enough.”

  “You’re too kind, Omi-san.”

  “You’ve done it before?”

  “Not like this. But Lord Yabu honors me with his favors. I just try to please him.”

  “He wants to know how long the man wi
ll live.” “Until dawn. With care.”

  Omi studied the cauldron thoughtfully. Then he walked up the beach into the square. All the samurai got up and bowed.

  “Everything’s quiet down there, Omi-san,” one of them said with a laugh, jerking a thumb at the trapdoor. “At first there was some talk—it sounded angry—and some blows. Later, two of them, perhaps more, were whimpering like frightened children. But there’s been quiet for a long time.”

  Omi listened. He could hear water sloshing and distant muttering. An occasional moan. “And Masijiro?” he asked, naming the samurai who, on his orders, had been left below.

  “We don’t know, Omi-san. Certainly he hasn’t called out. He’s probably dead.”

  How dare Masijiro be so useless, Omi thought. To be overpowered by defenseless men, most of whom are sick! Disgusting! Better he is dead. “No food or water tomorrow. At midday remove any bodies, neh? And I want the leader brought up then. Alone.”

  “Yes, Omi-san.”

  Omi went back to the fire and waited until the barbarian opened his eyes. Then he returned to the garden and reported what Zukimoto had said, the torment once more keening on the wind.

  “You looked into the barbarian’s eyes?”

  “Yes, Yabu-sama.”

  Omi was kneeling now behind the daimyo, ten paces away. Yabu had remained immobile. Moonlight shadowed his kimono and made a phallus of his sword handle.

  “What—what did you see?”

  “Madness. The essence of madness. I’ve never seen eyes like that. And limitless terror.”

  Three petals fell gently.

  “Make up a poem about him.”

  Omi tried to force his brain to work. Then, wishing he were more adequate, he said:

  “His eyes

  Were just the end

  Of Hell—

  All pain,


  Shrieks came wafting up, fainter now, the distance seeming to make their cut more cruel.

  Yabu said, after a moment:

  “If you allow

  Their chill to reach

  Into the great, great deep.

  You become one with them.


  Omi thought about that a long time in the beauty of the night.

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