CHAPTER 9 : Part 1 – Shogun

CHAPTER 9 : Part 1 – Shogun

 They were quickly on land. Blackthorne intended to lead but Yabu usurped that position and set a strong pace, which he was hard put to keep up with. The other six samurai were watching him carefully. I’ve nowhere to run, you fools, he thought, misunderstanding their concern, as his eyes automatically quartered the bay, looking for shoals or hidden reefs, measuring bearings, his mind docketing the important things for future transcription.

  Their way led first along the pebbled shore, then a short climb over sea-smoothed rocks up onto a path that skirted the cliff and crept precariously around the headland southward. The rain had stopped but the gale had not. The closer they came to the exposed tongue of land, the higher the surf—hurled against the rocks below—sprayed into the air. Soon they were soaked.

  Although Blackthorne felt chilled, Yabu and the others, who had their light kimonos carelessly tucked into their belts, did not seem to be affected by the wet or the cold. It must be as Rodrigues had said, he thought, his fear returning. Japmen just aren’t built like us. They don’t feel cold or hunger or privations or wounds as we do. They are more like animals, their nerves dulled, compared to us.

  Above them the cliff soared two hundred feet. The shore was fifty feet below. Beyond and all around were mountains and not a house or hut in the whole bay area. This was not surprising for there was no room for fields, the shore pebbles quickly becoming foreshore rocks and then granite mountain with trees on the upper slopes.

  The path dipped and rose along the cliff face, very unsafe, the surface loose. Blackthorne plodded along, leaning against the wind, and noticed that Yabu’s legs were strong and muscular. Slip, you whore-bastard, he thought. Slip—splatter yourself on the rocks below. Would that make you scream? What would make you scream?

  With an effort he took his eyes off Yabu and went back to searching the foreshore. Each crevice and cleft and gulley. The spume wind was gusting and tore the tears from him. Sea spilled back and forth, swirled and eddied. He knew there was a minimal hope of finding Rodrigues, there would be too many caves and hidden places that could never be investigated. But he had had to come ashore to try. He owed Rodrigues the try. All pilots prayed helplessly for death ashore and burial ashore. All had seen too many sea-bloated corpses and half-eaten corpses and crab-mutilated corpses.

  They rounded the headland and stopped gratefully in the lee. There was no need to go further. If the body wasn’t to windward then it was hidden or swallowed up or already carried out to sea, into the deep. Half a mile away a small fishing village nestled on the white-frothed shore. Yabu motioned to two of the samurai. Immediately they bowed and loped off toward it. A last look, then Yabu wiped the rain out of his face, glanced up at Blackthorne, motioning their return. Blackthorne nodded and they set off again, Yabu leading, the other samurai still watching him so carefully, and again he thought how stupid they were.

  Then, when they were halfway back, they saw Rodrigues.

  The body was caught in a cleft between two great rocks, above the surf but washed by part of it. One arm was sprawled in front. The other was still locked to the broken oar which moved slightly with the ebb and flow. It was this movement that had attracted Blackthorne’s attention as he bent into the wind, trudging in Yabu’s wake.

  The only way down was over the short cliff. The climb would only be fifty or sixty feet but it was a sheer drop and there were almost no footholds.

  What about the tide? Blackthorne asked himself. It’s flowing, not ebbing. That’ll take him out to sea again. Jesus, it looks foul down there. What’s it to be?

  He went closer to the edge and immediately Yabu moved in his way, shaking his head, and the other samurai surrounded him.

  “I’m only trying to get a better look, for the love of Christ,” he said. “I’m not trying to escape! Where the hell can I run to?”

  He backed off a little and peered down. They followed his look and chatted among themselves, Yabu doing most of the talking.

  There’s no chance, he decided. It’s too dangerous. We’ll come back at dawn with ropes. If he’s here, he’s here, and I’ll bury him ashore. Reluctantly he turned and, as he did, the edge of the cliff crumbled and he began to slip. Immediately Yabu and the others grabbed him and pulled him back, and all at once he realized that they were concerned only for his safety. They’re only trying to protect me!

  Why should they want me safe? Because of Tora—What was his name? Toranaga? Because of him? Yes, but also perhaps because there’s no one else aboard to pilot us. Is that why they let me come ashore, gave me my way? Yes, it must be. So now I have power over the ship, over the old daimyo, and over this bastard. How can I use it?

  He relaxed and thanked them and let his eyes roam below. “We’ve got to get him, Yabu-san. Hai! The only way’s that way. Over the cliff. I’ll bring him up, me, Anjin-san!” Again he moved forward as though he was going to climb down and again they restrained him and he said with feigned anxiety, “We’ve got to get Rodrigu-san. Look! There’s not much time, light’s going.”

  “Iyé, Anjin-san,” Yabu said.

  He stood towering over Yabu. “If you won’t let me go, Yabu-san, then send one of your men. Or go yourself. You!”

  The wind tore around them, whining off the cliff face. He saw Yabu look down, weighing the climb and the falling light, and he knew Yabu was hooked. You’re trapped, bastard, your vanity’s trapped you. If you start down there you’ll get hurt. But don’t kill yourself, please, just shatter your legs or ankles. Then drown.

  A samurai began to climb down but Yabu ordered him back.

  “Return to the ship. Fetch some ropes immediately,” Yabu said. The man ran off.

  Yabu kicked off his thong slippers. He took his swords out of his belt and put them safely under cover. “Watch them and watch the barbarian. If anything happens to either, I’ll sit you on your own swords.”

  “Please let me go down there, Yabu-sama,” Takatashi said. “If you’re hurt or lost I’ll—”

  “You think that you can succeed where I will fail?”

  “No, Sire, of course not.”


  “Please wait for the ropes then. I’ll never forgive myself if anything happens to you.” Takatashi was short and stocky with a heavy beard.

  Why not wait for the ropes? Yabu asked himself. It would be sensible, yes. But not clever. He glanced up at the barbarian and nodded briefly. He knew that he had been challenged. He had expected it. And hoped for it. That’s why I volunteered for this mission, Anjin-san, he said to himself, silently amused. You’re really very simple. Omi was right.

  Yabu took off his soaking kimono and, clad only in his loincloth, went to the cliff edge and tested it through the soles of his cotton tabi—his sock-shoes. Better to keep them on, he thought, his will and his body, forged by a lifetime of training all samurai had to undergo, dominating the cold that cut into him. The tabi will give you a firmer grip—for a time. You’ll need all your strength and skill to get down there alive. Is it worth it?

  During the storm and the stab for the bay he had come on deck and, unnoticed by Blackthorne, had taken a place at the oars. Gladly he had used his strength with the rowers, detesting the miasma below and the sickness he had felt. He had decided that it was better to die in the air than suffocate below.

  As he worked with the others in the driving cold, he began watching the pilots. He saw very clearly that, at sea, the ship and all aboard were in the power of these two men. The pilots were in their element, riding the pitching decks as carelessly as he himself rode a galloping horse. No Japanese aboard could match them. For skill or courage or knowledge. And gradually this awareness had spawned a majestic concept: modern barbarian ships filled with samurai, piloted by samurai, captained by samurai, sailed by samurai. His samurai.

  If I had three barbarian ships initially, I could easily control the sea lanes between Yedo and Osaka. Based in Izu, I could strangle all shipping or let it pass. So nearly all the rice and all the silk. Wouldn’t I then be arbiter between Toranaga and Ishido? At the very least, a balance between them?

  No daimyo has ever yet taken to the sea.

  No daimyo has ships or pilots.

  Except me.

  I have a ship—had a ship—and now I might have my ship back—if I’m clever. I have a pilot and therefore a trainer of pilots, if I can get him away from Toranaga. If I can dominate him.

  Once he is my vassal of his own accord, he will train my men. And build ships.

  But how to make him a true vassal? The pit did not break his spirit.

  First get him alone and keep him alone—isn’t that what Omi said? Then this pilot could be persuaded to manners and taught to speak Japanese. Yes. Omi’s very clever. Too clever perhaps—I’ll think about Omi later. Concentrate on the pilot. How to dominate a barbarian—a Christian filth eater?

  What was it Omi said? ‘They value life. Their chief deity, Jesus the Christ, teaches them to love one another and to value life.’ Could I give him back his life? Save it, yes, that would be very good. How to bend him?

  Yabu had been so swept by his excitement he had hardly noticed the motion of the ship or the seas. A wave cascaded over him. He saw it envelop the pilot. But there was no fear in the man at all. Yabu was astounded. How could someone who had meekly allowed an enemy to piss on his back to save the life of an insignificant vassal, how could this man have the strength to forget such eternal dishonor and stand there on the quarterdeck calling the gods of the sea to battle like any legendary hero—to save the same enemies? And then, when the great wave had taken the Portuguese away and they were floundering, the Anjin-san had miraculously laughed at death and given them the strength to pull away from the rocks.

  I’ll never understand them, he thought.

  On the cliff edge, Yabu looked back a last time. Ah, Anjin-san, I know you think I go to my death, that you’ve trapped me. I know you wouldn’t go down there yourself. I was watching you closely. But I grew up in the mountains and here in Japan we climb for pride and for pleasure. So I pit myself now on my terms, not on yours. I will try, and if I die it is nothing. But if I succeed then you, as a man, you’ll know I’m better than you, on your terms. You’ll be in my debt, too, if I bring the body back.

Series Navigation<< CHAPTER 8 : Part 3 – ShogunCHAPTER 9 : Part 2 – Shogun >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!