CHAPTER 7 : Part 4 – Shogun

CHAPTER 7 : Part 4 – Shogun

  “Forty-nine degrees fifty-six minutes North—and watch out for the reefs that bear sou’ by sou’west.”

  “You’re the pilot, by God!” Rodrigues shook Blackthorne’s hand warmly. “Come aboard. There’s food and brandy and wine and grog and all pilots should love all pilots, who’re the sperm of the earth. Amen! Right?”

  “Yes,” Blackthorne said weakly.

  “When I heard we were carrying a pilot back with us, good says I. It’s years since I had the pleasure of talking to a real pilot. Come aboard. How did you sneak past Malacca? How did you avoid our Indian Ocean patrols, eh? Whose rutter did you steal?”

  “Where are you taking me?”

  “Osaka. The Great Lord High Executioner himself wants to see you.”

  Blackthorne felt his panic returning. “Who?”

  “Toranaga! Lord of the Eight Provinces, wherever the hell they are! The chief daimyo of Japan—a daimyo’s like a king or feudal lord but better. They’re all despots.”

  “What’s he want with me?”

  “I don’t know but that’s why we’re here, and if Toranaga wants to see you, Pilot, he’ll see you. They say he’s got a million of these slant-eyed fanatics who’ll die for the honor of wiping his arse if that’s his pleasure! ‘Toranaga wants you to bring back the pilot, Vasco,’ his interpreter said. ‘Bring back the pilot and the ship’s cargo. Take old Toda Hiro-matsu there to examine the ship and—’ Oh yes, Pilot, it’s all confiscated, so I hear, your ship, and everything in it!”


  “It may be a rumor. Jappers sometimes confiscate things with one hand, give ’em back with the other—or pretend they’ve never given the order. It’s hard to understand the poxy little bastards!”

  Blackthorne felt the cold eyes of the Japanese boring into him and he tried to hide his fear. Rodrigues followed his glance. “Yes, they’re getting restless. Time enough to talk. Come aboard.” He turned but Blackthorne stopped him.

  “What about my friends, my crew?”


  Blackthorne told him briefly about the pit. Rodrigues questioned Omi in pidgin Japanese. “He says they’ll be all right. Listen, there’s nothing you or me can do now. You’ll have to wait—you can never tell with a Jappo. They’re six-faced and three-hearted.” Rodrigues bowed like a European courtier to Hiro-matsu. “This is the way we do it in Japan. Like we’re at the court of Fornicating Philip II, God take that Spaniard to an early grave.” He led the way on deck. To Blackthorne’s astonishment there were no chains and no slaves.

  “What’s the matter? You sick?” Rodrigues asked.

  “No. I thought this was a slaver.”

  “They don’t have ’em in Japan. Not even in their mines. Lunatic, but there you are. You’ve never seen such lunatics and I’ve traveled the world three times. We’ve samurai rowers. They’re soldiers, the old bugger’s personal soldiers—and you’ve never seen slaves row better, or men fight better.” Rodrigues laughed. “They put their arses into the oars and I push ’em just to watch the buggers bleed. They never quit. We came all the way from Osaka—three-hundred-odd sea miles in forty hours. Come below. We’ll cast off shortly. You sure you’re all right?”

  “Yes. Yes, I think so.” Blackthorne was looking at Erasmus. She was moored a hundred yards away. “Pilot, there’s no chance of going aboard, is there? They haven’t let me back aboard, I’ve no clothes and they sealed her up the moment we arrived. Please?”

  Rodrigues scrutinized the ship.

  “When did you lose the foremast?”

  “Just before we made landfall here.”

  “There a spare still aboard?”


  “Where’s her home port?”


  “She was built there?”


  “I’ve been there. Bad shoals but a piss-cutter of a harbor. She’s got good lines, your ship. New—haven’t seen one of her class before. Madonna, she’d be fast, very fast. Very rough to deal with.” Rodrigues looked at him. “Can you get your gear quickly?” He turned over the half-hour glass sand timer that was beside the hourglass, both attached to the binnacle.

  “Yes.” Blackthorne tried to keep his growing hope off his face.

  “There’d be a condition, Pilot. No weapons, up your sleeve or anywhere. Your word as a pilot. I’ve told the monkeys I’d be responsible for you.”

  “I agree.” Blackthorne watched the sand falling silently through the neck of the timer.

  “I’ll blow your head off, pilot or no, if there’s the merest whiff of trickery, or cut your throat. If I agree.”

  “I give you my word, pilot to pilot, by God. And the pox on the Spanish!”

  Rodrigues smiled and banged him warmly on the back. “I’m beginning to like you, Ingeles.”

  “How’d you know I’m English?” Blackthorne asked, knowing his Portuguese was perfect and that nothing he had said could have differentiated him from a Dutchman.

  “I’m a soothsayer. Aren’t all pilots?” Rodrigues laughed.

  “You talked to the priest? Father Sebastio told you?”

  “I don’t talk to priests if I can help it. Once a week’s more than enough for any man.” Rodrigues spat deftly into the scuppers and went to the port gangway that overlooked the jetty. “Toady-sama! Ikimasho ka?”

  “Ikimasho, Rodrigu-san. Ima!”

  “Ima it is.” Rodrigues looked at Blackthorne thoughtfully. “‘Ima’ means ‘now,’ ‘at once.’ We’re to leave at once, Ingeles.”

  The sand had already made a small, neat mound in the bottom of the glass.

  “Will you ask him, please? If I can go aboard my ship?”

  “No, Ingeles. I won’t ask him a poxy thing.”

  Blackthorne suddenly felt empty. And very old. He watched Rodrigues go to the railing of the quarterdeck and bellow to a small, distinguished seaman who stood on the raised fore-poop deck at the bow. “Hey, Captain-san. Ikimasho? Get samurai aboard-u, ima! Ima, wakarimasu ka?”

  “Hai, Anjin-san.”

  Immediately Rodrigues rang the ship’s bell loudly six times and the Captain-san began shouting orders to the seamen and samurai ashore and aboard. Seamen hurried up on deck from below to prepare for departure and, in the disciplined, controlled confusion, Rodrigues quietly took Blackthorne’s arm and shoved him toward the starboard gangway, away from the shore.

  “There’s a dinghy below, Ingeles. Don’t move fast, don’t look around, and don’t pay attention to anyone but me. If I tell you to come back, do it quickly.”

  Blackthorne walked across the deck, down the gangway, toward the small Japanese skiff. He heard angry voices behind him and he felt the hairs on his neck rising for there were many samurai all over the ship, some armed with bows and arrows, a few with muskets.

  “You don’t have to worry about him, Captain-san, I’m responsible. Me, Rodrigu-san, ichi ban Anjin-san, by the Virgin! Wakarimasu ka?” was dominating the other voices, but they were getting angrier every moment.

  Blackthorne was almost in the dinghy now and he saw that there were no rowlocks. I can’t scull like they do, he told himself. I can’t use the boat! It’s too far to swim. Or is it?

  He hesitated, checking the distance. If he had had his full strength he would not have waited a moment. But now?

  Feet clattered down the gangway behind him and he fought the impulse to turn.

  “Sit in the stern,” he heard Rodrigues say urgently. “Hurry up!”

  He did as he was told and Rodrigues jumped in nimbly, grabbed the oars and, still standing, shoved off with great skill.

  A samurai was at the head of the gangway, very perturbed, and two other samurai were beside him, bows ready. The captain samurai called out, unmistakably beckoning them to come back.

  A few yards from the vessel Rodrigues turned. “Just go there,” he shouted up at him, pointing at Erasmus. “Get samurai aboard!” He set his back firmly to his ship and continued sculling, pus
hing against the oars in Japanese fashion, standing amidships. “Tell me if they put arrows in their bows, Ingeles! Watch ’em carefully! What’re they doing now?”

  “The captain’s very angry. You won’t get into trouble, will you?”

  “If we don’t sail at the turn, Old Toady might have cause for complaint. What’re those bowmen doing?”

  “Nothing. They’re listening to him. He seems undecided. No. Now one of them’s drawing out an arrow.”

  Rodrigues prepared to stop. “Madonna, they’re too God-cursed accurate to risk anything. Is it in the bow yet?”

  “Yes—but wait a moment! The captain’s—someone’s come up to him, a seaman I think. Looks like he’s asking him something about the ship. The captain’s looking at us. He said something to the man with the arrow. Now the man’s putting it away. The seaman’s pointing at something on deck.”

  Rodrigues sneaked a quick look to make sure and breathed easier. “That’s one of the mates. It’ll take him all of the half hour to get his oarsmen settled.”

  Blackthorne waited, the distance increased. “The captain’s looking at us again. No, we’re all right. He’s gone away. But one of the samurai’s watching us.”

  “Let him.” Rodrigues relaxed but he did not slacken the pace of his sculling or look back. “Don’t like my back to samurai, not when they’ve weapons in their hands. Not that I’ve ever seen one of the bastards unarmed. They’re all bastards!”


  “They love to kill, Ingeles. It’s their custom even to sleep with their swords. This is a great country, but samurai’re dangerous as vipers and a sight more mean.”


  “I don’t know why, Ingeles, but they are,” Rodrigues replied, glad to talk to one of his own kind. “Of course, all Jappos are different from us—they don’t feel pain or cold like us—but samurai are even worse. They fear nothing, least of all death. Why? Only God knows, but it’s the truth. If their superiors say ‘kill,’ they kill, ‘die’ and they’ll fall on their swords or slit their own bellies open. They kill and die as easily as we piss. Women’re samurai too, Ingeles. They’ll kill to protect their masters, that’s what they call their husbands here, or they’ll kill themselves if they’re ordered to. They do it by slitting their throats. Here a samurai can order his wife to kill herself and that’s what she’s got to do, by law. Jesu Madonna, the women are something else though, a different species, Ingeles, nothing on earth like them, but the men…. Samurai’re reptiles and the safest thing to do is treat them like poisonous snakes. You all right now?”

  “Yes, thank you. A bit weak but all right.”

  “How was your voyage?”

  “Rough. About them—the samurai—how do they get to be one? Do they just pick up the two swords and get that haircut?”

  “You’ve got to be born one. Of course, there are all ranks of samurai from daimyos at the top of the muckheap to what we’d call a foot soldier at the bottom. It’s hereditary mostly, like with us. In the olden days, so I was told, it was the same as in Europe today—peasants could be soldiers and soldiers peasants, with hereditary knights and nobles up to kings. Some peasant soldiers rose to the highest rank. The Taikō was one.”

  “Who’s he?”

  “The Great Despot, the ruler of all Japan, the Great Murderer of all times—I’ll tell you about him one day. He died a year ago and now he’s burning in hell.” Rodrigues spat overboard. “Nowadays you’ve got to be born samurai to be one. It’s all hereditary, Ingeles. Madonna, you’ve no idea how much store they put on heritage, on family, rank, and the like—you saw how Omi bows to that devil Yabu and they both grovel to old Toady-sama. ‘Samurai’ comes from a Jappo word meaning ‘to serve.’ But while they’ll all bow and scrape to the man above, they’re all samurai equally, with a samurai’s special privileges. What’s happening aboard?”

  “The captain’s jabbering away at another samurai and pointing at us. What’s special about them?”

  “Here samurai rule everything, own everything. They’ve their own code of honor and sets of rules. Arrogant? Madonna, you’ve no idea! The lowest of them can legally kill any non-samurai, any man, woman, or child, for any reason or for no reason. They can kill, legally, just to test the edge of their piss-cutting swords—I’ve seen ’em do it—and they have the best swords in the world. Better’n Damascus steel. What’s that fornicator doing now?”

  “Just watching us. His bow’s on his back now.” Blackthorne shuddered. “I hate those bastards more than Spaniards.”

  Again Rodrigues laughed as he sculled. “If the truth’s known, they curdle my piss too! But if you want to get rich quick you’ve got to work with them because they own everything. You sure you’re all right?”

  “Yes. Thanks. You were saying? Samurai own everything?”

  “Yes. Whole country’s split up into castes, like in India. Samurai at the top, peasants next important.” Rodrigues spat overboard. “Only peasants can own land. Understand? But samurai own all the produce. They own all the rice and that’s the only important crop, and they give back part to the peasants. Only samurai’re allowed to carry arms. For anyone except a samurai to attack a samurai is rebellion, punishable by instant death. And anyone who sees such an attack and doesn’t report it at once is equally liable, and so are their wives, and even their kids. The whole family’s put to death if one doesn’t report it. By the Madonna, they’re Satan’s whelps, samurai! I’ve seen kids chopped into mincemeat.” Rodrigues hawked and spat. “Even so, if you know a thing or two this place is heaven on earth.” He glanced back at the galley to reassure himself, then he grinned. “Well, Ingeles, nothing like a boat ride around the harbor, eh?”

  Blackthorne laughed. The years dropped off him as he reveled in the familiar dip of the waves, the smell of the sea salt, gulls calling and playing overhead, the sense of freedom, the sense of arriving after so very long. “I thought you weren’t going to help me get to Erasmus!”

  “That’s the trouble with all Ingeles. No patience. Listen, here you don’t ask Japmen anything—samurai or others, they’re all the same. If you do, they’ll hesitate, then ask the man above for the decision. Here you have to act. Of course”—his hearty laugh ran across the waves—“sometimes you get killed if you act wrong.”

  “You scull very well. I was wondering how to use the oars when you came.”

  “You don’t think I’d let you go alone, do you? What’s your name?”

  “Blackthorne. John Blackthorne.”

  “Have you ever been north, Ingeles? Into the far north?”

  “I was with Kees Veerman in Der Lifle. Eight years ago. It was his second voyage to find the Northeast Passage. Why?”

  “I’d like to hear about that—and all the places you’ve been. Do you think they’ll ever find the way? The northern way to Asia, east or west?”

  “Yes. You and the Spanish block both southern routes, so we’ll have to. Yes, we will. Or the Dutch. Why?”

  “And you’ve piloted the Barbary Coast, eh?”

  “Yes. Why?”

  “And you know Tripoli?”

  “Most pilots have been there. Why?”

  “I thought I’d seen you once. Yes, it was Tripoli. You were pointed out to me. The famous Ingeles pilot. Who went with the Dutch explorer, Kees Veerman, into the Ice Seas—and was once a captain with Drake, eh? At the Armada? How old were you then?”

  “Twenty-four. What were you doing in Tripoli?”

  “I was piloting an Ingeles privateer. My ship’d got taken in the Indies by this pirate, Morrow—Henry Morrow was his name. He burned my ship to the waterline after he’d sacked her and offered me the pilot’s job—his man was useless, so he said—you know how it is. He wanted to go from there—we were watering off Hispaniola when he caught us—south along the Main, then back across the Atlantic to try to intercept the annual Spanish gold ship near the Canaries, then on through the Straits to Tripoli if we missed her to try for other prizes, then north again t
o England. He made the usual offer to free my comrades, give them food and boats in return if I joined them. I said, ‘Sure, why not? Providing we don’t take any Portuguese shipping and you put me ashore near Lisbon and don’t steal my rutters.’ We argued back and forth as usual—you know how it is. Then I swore by the Madonna and we both swore on the Cross and that was that. We had a good voyage and some fat Spanish merchantmen fell into our wake. When we were off Lisbon he asked me to stay aboard, gave me the usual message from Good Queen Bess, how she’d pay a princely bounty to any Portuguese pilot who’d join her and teach others the skill at Trinity House, and give five thousand guineas for the rutter of Magellan’s Pass, or the Cape of Good Hope.” His smile was broad, his teeth white and strong, and his dark mustache and beard well groomed: “I didn’t have them. At least that’s what I told him. Morrow kept his word, like all pirates should. He put me ashore with my rutters—of course he’d had them copied though he himself couldn’t read or write, and he even gave me my share of the prize money. You ever sail with him, Ingeles?”

  “No. The Queen knighted him a few years ago. I’ve never served on one of his ships. I’m glad he was fair with you.”

  They were nearing Erasmus. Samurai were peering down at them quizzically.

  “That was the second time I’d piloted for heretics. The first time I wasn’t so lucky.”


  Rodrigues shipped his oars and the boat swerved neatly to the side and he hung onto the boarding ropes. “Go aloft but leave the talking to me.”

  Blackthorne began to climb while the other pilot tied the boat safely. Rodrigues was the first on deck. He bowed like a courtier. “Konnichi wa to all sod-eating samas!”

  There were four samurai on deck. Blackthorne recognized one of them as a guard of the trapdoor. Nonplussed, they bowed stiffly to the Portuguese. Blackthorne aped him, feeling awkward, and would have preferred to bow correctly.

  Rodrigues walked straight for the companionway. The seals were neatly in place. One of the samurai intercepted him.

  “Kinjiru, gomen nasai.” It’s forbidden, so sorry.

  “Kinjiru, eh?” the Portuguese said, openly unimpressed. “I’m Rodrigu-san, anjin for Toda Hiro-matsu-sama. This seal,” he said, pointing to the red stamp with the odd writing on it, “Toda Hiro-matsu-sama, ka?”

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