madshutterbug (madshutterbug) wrote,

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Sakura Ban'nin

Being samurai is much like being a surgeon. If either is good, he learns his skills quickly. If either is lucky, his sensei infuse in him a sense of responsibility for the power in those skills. Both serve the community by cutting away cancers, putrefaction and ulcers. But where one wields his scalpel on an infected individual, the other wields his sword on an individual who is infecting the community. And there are few things in this world more frightening than a surgeon, or samurai, who cuts irresponsibly.

The second month of the 3rd year of Keicho
(Being March, 1599 in the Western Reckoning)

Seated in the lee of the Middle Gate of Sakurajo, I gathered my soul and dusted it off in preparation to end another stand as night watchman.

I watched the sunrise.

The new year had started well enough. The bravest of the cherry trees sent forth their first scouting buds almost a week ago. So far the Frost Kami hadn't cut their heads off and I wished them good karma. Thus having cleaned up, I turned over the watch and retired, directly, to the refectory. Breakfast, after all, is a priority. One can't politely reply "The day is well, thank you" until one has had asagohan. Even if it is weak soybean soup and last night's leftover rice, now fried. Some of the younger men complained. I'd had much worse fare for too many years in Korea.

So it wasn't unusual that I tuned out the conversation and saw Sakura Kimineko-sama arrive to collect her husband's breakfast. We exchanged our usual polite bows. An entire room separated us so I continued eating, the psychic walls every Japanese learns to erect in shoji houses restricted to a window. Thus I did not at first see that she came with someone.

It was the kimono that penetrated my walls. A piece of Sakurajo Middle Garden wafted through the refectory. A brook, twisting thus and so, dancing down a valley. In one gentle sweep nestled a cherry tree, well along in bloom as if spring danced forward a few weeks or so. Outside in the real garden hundreds of water smoothed stones the size of a man's foot form this dry brook. Whoever made that kimono had duplicated all the stones.

Staring at anyone, anywhere is usually rude; and in Nihon it could get one killed. Sakura Kimineko is unusually perceptive of such things. Worse, she is particularly aware of my interest in fine kimono. It could already be too late. She walked in my direction on her way out.

"Good morning, Tsuji-san. I see you are breaking your fast."

"Just so, Sakura-sama, and good morning to you."

"Could we still hold our Tea practice today?" she said.

Permit me to explain a lady studying Tea. Sakura Tetsuo-sama, her husband and my friend, is a student of the Way of Tea. He, Jutte-san and I were having a discussion one evening over sake out of which we resolved that anyone could learn Tea. Someone however said no, only men were skilled enough, and not all of them. We decided Kimineko-sama (who was serving the sake) was going to learn Tea. That much we remembered clearly. Who said what to whom that which would be done by when, or who, we weren't clear on.

Kimineko-sama (because she was serving the sake) insisted that I was to show her at least the basics by New Years next. She wouldn't say what was to happen if I failed.

I do trust Tetsuo-sama's sense of humor, though, so I allow Kimineko-sama to take part in my practice. We set a time for the lesson later that day and she departed. In the confusion I didn't see Lady Kimineko's companion, but I did see that kimono closely in the breath it took them to walk away. Each of the stones in that fabric dry brook – was a turtle. Curious.

That kimono was going to keep me awake.

The Garden of the Teahouse of the August Bloom glistened under fresh watering, which meant Kimineko-sama wished to host. I placed my swords in the rack under the eaves, crouched and entered. A single sprig of cherry climbed out of the vase, its leaf buds a fierce green against the grey of the tokonoma wall. Above hung a scroll, the calligraphy a poem which read:

Brook sings; stream bellows
mountain snows Spring dirge echoing
down the waterfall

Throughout the valley
river mirrors the hare's flight.

An excellent choice of renga, the haiku and couplet suited the season. Waxing full, the Hare in the Moon was easily visible pounding his mortar and pestle across the night sky. I wondered when I had shared it with my friends, for I'd written it eleven years ago with someone else.

I turned to greet the kettle. As I did so Kimineko-sama sat before the tokonoma, each movement a feminine mirror of my humble own. Curious that she came into the tearoom as second guest. Was Tetsuo-sama then hosting? The kettle sat snugly in the sunken hearth, Pine Winds whistling briskly. The thought of hot tea warmed me in the early evening chill. I wondered if the sakura buds would meet the Frost Kami tonight after all. Rising to take my seat as guest, Kimineko filled the void where I had admired the kettle, bowing, listening. Directly as we were all seated the host's entrance slid open gently.

And there was that kimono on a memory from my youth, the lady with whom I had written the poem. We bowed. I seized a breath to weather a vertigo wind burning coldly from out the past.

"Excuse me, Tsuji-sama. Allow me to introduce my friend, Kamegawa Reiko-san. She has asked to serve us tea today. Would you be so kind to let her?"

"Of course, Sakura-sama."

Reiko carried in the tea service, remembered grace of years past become a mature, deeper stillness. The brook on her kimono flowed with her movements; within my psychic walls another brook flowed. The poem on the wall took me to an inn, leaving home forever. Winter's bite firm in my soul, barely a man. Spring only a faint grayness on the horizon before dawn, my Elder Brother dead. There a young man tumbled into a woman's arms for his first time, ever.

"Chodai itashimasu," I said, and drank the frothy green liquid. Its warmth thawed the icy spike of my memories. The pleasantly bitter taste brought back my center. I was able now to look at her as she made a second bowl, for Kimineko. Then a third, for herself.

"Thank you Tsuji-sama, for allowing me to host," she said. "Thank you, Sakura-sama, for acting as go-between. Tsuji-sama and I have already met once before on pilgrimage."

"How fascinating! Reiko san is Kamegawa Gek'waisha's wife, Tsuji-sama. He is transferring here from Hana," said Kimineko.

Ah, so desu. Sakura Osama had brought in a second physician. What a nice bit of news, indicating a troop buildup. Toyotomi Hideyoshi's death had unsettled the political climate. "You serve Tea very gracefully, Kamegawa-san. Did you learn in Osaka, after pilgrimage, as you said you would?"

"Hai, Tsuji-sama. There I met the patron of my courtesan's contract. The late Taiko once rewarded Sen Rikyu-sensei with a month of my company. I studied Tea with him. There also, I met my husband. He bought me from the Taiko."

"You have done well in your life, as in your practice."

"Nonsense, sir, forgive me. I am but a poor wife, for we have no sons. I don't know why he keeps me."

"Now that's nonsense, Reiko-san. He loves you very much. Why he had this kimono made, special, because they were coming here, Tsuji-sama."

"I admired your kimono this morning. It amazed me so much I failed to see you in it."

"Do you like it? It is a pun on our name, so I wasn't sure I should wear it. My husband insisted and I must admit, a river of turtle's is a humorous sight. You also have improved your station in life, Tsuji-sama."

"Well, I have steady employment, anyway. You say you have no sons. Have you daughters?"

"Yes, Misao is seven years and Koma, five. I tell my husband we should use one to buy a son, but he refuses." That was understandable. Though often done to preserve the family name, adopting a son by marrying a daughter to him put one into an enormous debt to the other family. There was still time for them to change their plans. Her daughters were young.

We visited a short time, saying nothing, saying everything. Kimineko expressed admiration for the poem. We shared the writing of it with her. Time came to leave. The low edge of the sun touched the top of the wall as we exited. Clouds scudded across the sky from the east. The three-quarter moon hung a quarter across tonight's arc. Soon my watch would start.

I rearmed myself and set out for my quarters to pick up a jimbaori and my bow. Arquebus are all the desire now, but a gun needs a slowmatch and the smell of it burning carries on the breeze. Arrows are odorless and quiet. My blue and gold jimbaori jacket kept out the chill as long as I kept moving. The western sky faded through rose to purple by the time I arrived at the guardhouse. The moon danced with clouds. It was time to go to work.

If you ever come to Azeitoshima, should you ever visit Sakurajo, do not expect a grand fortress such as those at Osaka or Matsumoto cities, nor like the one currently building at Hiroshima. Really more of a fortified mansion it nevertheless houses some hundred samurai with their families. There are three compounds, named from the outside in sannomaru, ninomaru and honmaru. Each has its gate, or mon. Several towers guard strategic corners, serving as barracks and firing platforms. The walls of each compound make maze-like passages. Sakura Osama lives in the tenshu, the main tower. It covers a steep hill overlooking the village of Azeitoshima.

Sakura Osama requires his retainers all to stand night duty, and they rotate the watch on a regular schedule. There is a guard at each gate; with a sergeant as Watch officer that made a watch of four...not a good number in Japan. When Sakura Osama heard of my nocturnal habits, he liked the idea of having someone awake every night, thus learning the normal night sounds and happenings in the castle. Besides it brought the watch up to five.

I came by my habit during the years Jutte-san and I spent in Korea. Most of the year the nights there were so cold it was not unusual for men to freeze in their sleep. I avoided this fate by staying awake at night then sleeping during the day, hopefully in the sun somewhere in the lee of the wind. Though not always possible it worked often enough that I didn't freeze to death. Now the habit persists a year after returning home.

The year had been a quiet one. I spent each night walking about the grounds, moving from one compound to the next. I never used the same route from one watch to another, nor passed the same point at the same time. I'd followed Sakura Osama's orders and come to know Sakurajo, enjoying the peaceful journey of the stars and moon. Tonight as I moved through the Ninomaru, they danced behind and through the clouds.

A woman screamed.

I was running toward the sound before it cut short. They weren't far, about fifty walking paces around a corner where three passages met. I covered the ground in a few breaths, rounded the corner and stopped. Moonlight touched three bodies, one large, two small before hiding behind a cloud. In the darkness the sound of running feet echoed up and down the other two paths. Realizing there was no way to catch up with either one, I backtracked to the corner. Making sure I wasn't silhouetted against the sky I could cover the exit of the lower passage. I nocked an arrow, looked down slope and waited.

I heard rapidly echoing steps on the paved stairs before I saw him. A dark-clad figure, looking carefully both ways stepped out, walking toward the wall, away from me and the gate. Gathering a deep centered breath I pulled the bow, slowly exhaled and let the arrow fly.

He staggered, looking down at the arrowhead that had grown out of his left knee. Stopped when the second appeared in his right. My bowmanship was better that I'd hoped. Now we might take him alive. Turning, he looked up. Wrapped in useless darkness I felt his mind move into mine and ishin-denshin flow. Pain blossomed like the sakura in my knee, damn that horse in Korea.

The joining of minds known as ishin-denshin flows both ways. Memories of Korean winters froze the pain. Hypnotized by the grip of an ice cold mind I watched him leaning against the wall, reaching down, breaking off both arrowheads. He silently pulled the shafts out from behind; sank slowly till he was sitting on his heels. Eyes locked to mine his spirit's strength held me silent. Taking something from his kimono, he drew his wakizashi and wrapped the blade. Bowing to me, gripping the blade he pulled open his kimono. The point plunging into his abdomen struck like lightning across the link between us. His steel grip survived even that.

I struggled to breath, to center myself; watched helpless as he cut across, up, no sound passing his lips. When he collapsed our link shattered. I thanked Buddha I hadn't faced that warrior at crossed swords. In the face of that strength of spirit I would surely have died.

"Sergeant of the Guard! Intruder by the wall, Middle compound!" I yelled. Yamamura ran up to the body. "Watch him," I called down. "No one touches him until I get down there." Turning I went back to the three bodies at hand. The moon peaked out from behind a cloud and an oak not yet awakened from winter slumber. Branches cast a shadow web over a kimono decorated by a river of turtles. Reiko's face stared sightless in two directions, cleaved partly in two. Someone would need to tell Kamegawa-san.

I crouched and looked at the cut. The two girls bore identical cuts as their mother, all done by the same unskilled hand. After feeling the willpower of the man who had committed seppuku I doubted that hand was his. Looking away from the carnage, my mind thrashed the stone walls demanding an explanation of what had happened here. Dark pools silently spreading around pale skin islands mocked my efforts. Turning back, I watched shadows from bare branches dancing in the wind as the tree tried to hide the sight from the Hare in the Moon.

"Sayonara, Reiko-chan. Moonshadow lacework traces the ways we loved before you died."

"He used his orders to wrap his blade for the cuts. The
blood on them made the writing largely illegible, however we were able to decipher them in part. He was to meet someone who would disclose troop strengths and dispositions. I surmise that he obtained entry to meet with this individual, that they were doing so, and that Kamegawa-san's wife and children surprised them. There was no identification on him anywhere.

"I apologize for not capturing either of them. The error is all mine."

Sakura Osama sat in the Honmaru garden listening to my report. In a country where houses have paper walls and all walls have ears one avoids eavesdroppers by going well into the open. His oldest son Buichi sat guarding the entrance to the garden. His second son, Tetsuo, sat by his right side. Yamamura had been dismissed. Sakura Osama stroked his beard thoughtfully. "He had nothing else with him?" he asked.

"No, sir. The clothes and hat he wore, two swords, his orders, that was all." Sakura Osama picked up a sketch of the dead intruders face by Yamamura-san. In the sheltered garden the early morning sun felt quite warm. Last night's clouds held off the frost another night. The peacefulness of the scene belied the tension I felt.

"Have you his swords here?" I passed them over, katana first. He set down the long sword, drew the wakizashi from its scabbard.

"Excuse me sir, I took the liberty to clean and oil that blade last night. It seemed the thing to do to honor such a strong spirited samurai." Sakura Osama said nothing as he viewed the blade. This was my first chance to see it properly also. A candle illuminated my efforts last night. It was a beautiful blade with a double temper line like clouds over mountains on the horizon. The grain showed a subtle shading of textures, now like wood, now stone as he turned the blade. He slid it carefully back into the saya without comment. Taking the katana in hand, he removed the peg from the hilt and slid it off the tang. Turning it over, he read the inscriptions chiseled into both sides. Then he replaced the tsuka and peg.

"His name was Yoshihara Gun'ichi, and he is the son of Yoshihara Isamu. Yoshihara-sama was once in the service of Matsuura-sama," he said, naming the daimyo of neighboring Hakata as he set down the sword. "I gave this sword to his son to celebrate his Gembuku. Even then he was a fiercesome fencer. I do not consider your performance last night a failure. Frankly it surprises me you managed to injure him at all, Tsuji-san." He turned and looked at the garden. "Was his katana blooded?"

"No sir."

"Then I agree with you that he did not kill Kamegawa's wife and children. He would have cut them all cleanly in half." He continued to view the garden silently for several breaths. "Obviously the spy is the murderer also. Tetsuo-san, you will coordinate the investigation. Speak to no one but me about your discoveries. Takafuji-san and Tsuji-san will help you, but first, Tsuji-san, you will take these swords to Osaka. There you will return them and deliver a letter to Yoshihara-sama."

Six days later I watched the crew of Hikarumaru as they moored the ship at Osaka. We would have been here sooner by half, except for stops at Hiroshima, Takamatsu and Kobe. The winds were fair and the weather fine on our journey up the Inland Sea, past an outstanding view of the huge red torii shrine at Itsukushima. Despite the smooth sailing it had not been a pleasant trip. The events of my last two days at Sakurajo filled my thoughts and dreams.

Kamegawa Reiko's ghost waited for me at Triple Junction when I walked my rounds the night before I left. Face gaping wide, her beautiful eyes staring two ways at once, she led me along the path down which I had run to answer her scream. When we reached her husband's quarters she disappeared. In my dreams each night aboard the ship, she had done the same.

I owed Reiko a debt.

Debts fall into two categories in Nippon, giri and on. Giri can be repaid. The value of the payment may increase as time passes between receiving and relieving the favor. On is another matter. We can begin to repay on we owe our parents by becoming parents ourselves; but the debt can never be fully repaid.

Winter had settled upon the land when I killed my Elder Brother in self defense. Travelling had been difficult but necessary; my father had been less than understanding about the circumstances. I was existing on little more that willpower, and running low on that, when Reiko found me. She hired me as yojimbo. Insisting to her entourage that I was indeed her bodyguard she gave me face. My giri had already been difficult to repay when we met again at Sakurajo. With her death it become an on, impossible to repay. Her silent ghost cried to me for recompense.

Osaka is a busy, growing port dominated by the Taiko's huge castle. It loomed over us as we walked through the city, Yamamura-san carrying the tansu chest holding the swords. I presented our credentials at the Main Gate, and again seven times as we passed checkpoints while being escorted to Yoshihara-sama's tower. Yamamura gawked at everything we saw. He gasped when I pointed out our destination. "Tsuji-sama, it's five times the size of the tenshu back home!" I nodded, embarrassed for this country samurai on his first trip to the big city.

We approached the large tower door. I presented our credentials one more time. Yoshihara would receive us on the morrow. The guards invited us to rest, bathe, eat, and showed us to quarters for the night. There, Reiko walked her path with me once more.

Yoshihara received us in a fourteen-mat room near the top of the tower. He sat on a six mat dias before a tokonoma that filled half the wall behind him. Two staggered shelves with no visible means of support filled the other half. The sliding doors to the veranda and a bell-shaped window opened on a view overlooking the outer walls of the castle.

Opposite the window were chodaigana doors, painted with a rendition of Hakata Bay and the Divine Wind that destroyed the Mongol invaders three centuries ago. Two bodyguards sat like living statues between us and Yoshihara-sama; I felt the presence of two more behind the chodaigana. A boy wearing a younger face of the samurai I'd come to see sat at the edge of the platform. We bowed formally.

We spent some time in polite conversation about our trip, the weather here in Osaka, the progress of the cherry blossoms. This far north, they were not quite as advanced as at home.

"Tsuji-san, I understand you are in the service of my friend, Sakura-sama," Yoshihara finally said.

"Just so, Honorable sir. He has sent me with a letter and some items he believes belong to your family. Additionally, he bids me to express his deep concern that they came into his care in such a regrettable manner. Could anything have been done to avoid this misfortune, it would have been." While I spoke Yamamura set the swords before us, still wrapped in their silk brocaded bags. The boy passed them to his elder. Then I handed him Sakura Osama's letter for the same treatment.

Yoshihara-sama read the letter slowly. Carefully unwrapping the katana he looked at the braided wrappings and fuchi-koshira mountings of the hilt. Gently he rewrapped the sword. The wakizashi received the same respectful regard. When he looked up the hint of sadness in his eyes surprised me. Ordinarily we keep grief very private within the confines of our psychic walls.

"My son left us two years ago, saying he needed to sharpen his skills upon the road." I nodded at the explanation that Yoshihara Gun'ichi became a masterless ronin, to test himself against other swordsmen about the country. "We have not heard from him since. Sakura-sama says in his letter that he preferred seppuku to capture?"

"Just so, Honorable sir."

"You have the look, Tsuji-san, of one who has seen my son's soul." Impressed with the old mans perceptive abilities I paused before answering. Had he meant his son's spirit, or was he punning of the proverb, 'The sword is the soul of the samurai'?

"I had the honor to witness your son's seppuku, Honorable sir. Additionally it was I who cleaned the blade afterward."

"Ah, so desu. Then you should know," he said, pointing tothe wakizashi, "that my family calls this sword Kokyu-no-tora."

"Breath of the Tiger, a fitting name for the sword of such a strong-willed warrior, Honorable sir."

"Strong willed, yes, but not necessarily wise. Might I ask the name of your sword, Tsuji-san?" His request, ordinarily made only of friends, did not surprise me. I felt that Yoshihara recognized me as the man closest to Gun'ichi when he died. Together we were laying to rest a son he had lost some time past.

"I confess I have no name yet for my katana, which has come into my care from Sakura Osama. My wakizashi comes to me from my father, who told me it is Yin Der."

"Is your father still alive?" he asked, a slight smile gracing his face.

"He is Gone West, Honorable sir, some eight years past."

"In respect to your father, I shall not ask for the honor of viewing it. For then it would no longer be a Hidden Virtue," he said, bowing to me. Returning the bow I pulled a breath deep into my hara and touched all the soul's in the room. Deliberately giving the guards no cause for alarm, slow as melting snow I drew my wakizashi from its saya. Extending my arm fully to my side I held it in the light. It is not so beautiful a blade as Kokyu-no-tora. Just as slowly I returned the blade to its scabbard. Yoshihara nodded to me.

"An honor I shall long remember, Tsuji-san. Your sword glows with its own light rather than reflect the sun. It tells me you like poetry."

"Of course, Honorable sir, though my skills are paltry."

"Not to fear, I shan't challenge them. Part of Sakura-sama's letter was a haiku he wrote long ago when we celebrated Midsummer together. I should like to add a verse to make a renga, in apology for my son's actions." he said. Shifting his hips and rising to his toes, he stepped suwari-waza to the tsukeshoin under the window. Taking paper, brush, and ink from a finely lacquered writing box, he quickly prepared for calligraphy. Lifting brush in hand he dipped it into the ink. Like a deep, still pond, the serenity of his wa filled the room. Characters appeared on blank void of paper. Finished, he set the brush aside and took up the poem.

"On the Eastern Bridge two friends pause and piss ...too much sake.

"At the riverbank a virtuous pilgrim buys a turtle." He looked up at me. "Do you like it?"

"It is an interesting linkage, Honorable sir. I am sure Sakura Osama will enjoy it also. If I might be permitted?" He nodded. "So many pilgrims! The smiling vendor slaps a biting mosquito." Yoshihara's eyes smiled as he bowed.

Then he dismissed us, presenting us our pass to leave the castle. I reflected on the irony of seven days travel for one hour's audience while we walked back to the port.

It took longer to return to Azeitoshima from Osaka. There were more stops, and we were tacking upwind. I had plenty of time to meditate. I might have left well enough alone, but I did have orders to aid in the investigation. The morning I left Sakura Osama told me to expect the poem. Like many Japanese, Yoshihara-sama enjoyed puns. He alluded to the Buddhist custom while on pilgrimage to set an animal free, thus improving one's karma. I suspected my daimyo sent me not only to return the swords but to collect on an old debt. My thoughts flew around a circle of giri and on, pilgrims and turtles, Virtuous Rivers and puns.

By the time we arrived the second month had become the third. The sadly sweet transient purity of cherry blossoms in the second day of bloom reflected my spirit. I knew who had killed Reiko.

Sakura Osama agreed with me when I reported in the Honmaru garden. Buichi once more guarded the edge of the clearing. Sakura Osama, Tetsuo, Takafuji Jutte and I sat together, making plans through an early afternoon haze of cherry perfume.

Crimson tinged clouds found me sitting on the moon-viewing veranda watching Kamegawa Gek'waisha walk up the path. A small, plain man carrying a wakizashi, he walked through quickening twilight with his gaze to the ground.

"Good evening, Kamegawa-san," I said. He looked up surprised to see me.

"Good evening," he replied.

"Please tell me your business here," I said.

"I received an invitation to a chanoyu from Sakura Osama."

"Then you may wait here."

"You are invited also?" he said.

"Yes." He slipped off his zori sandals and sat on the veranda. I kept my silence, staring at him. Soon he began to fidget under my gaze.

"Who are you," he asked, finally returning my regard.

"I am Tsuji, Sakurajo Bannin," I replied.

"May I be so bold as to inquire why you are staring at me?"

"I just wondered what sort of man Reiko married." He looked at me closer then, eyeing my katana resting on the veranda at my left side.

"How is it you use my wife's given name?"

"We met several years ago. She was very kind to me, and I may still owe her for that kindness." He turned his gaze back to the garden. I continued staring at him, riding his growing tension on a faint stirring of ishin-denshin. Something different from any other perception of minds flowed here, a murky, turbulent river tumbling out of a swamp through rapids. He felt much too anxious for a man about to meet his daimyo for Tea. I tried not to think about it since conscious thought disrupts ishin-denshin.

"Why do you stare at me so, Tsuji-san?"

"Have you seen Reiko's ghost since her death?" I asked in reply. He started. Shaking his head he turned away toward the garden.

"She has appeared to me every night since," I said, and told him of my nightly walks with his dead wife. His agitation grew with each word.

"Stop! Why are you telling me this?"

"I told you. I owed your wife a debt. She is calling for payment from her grave."

"What can I do about that? Your debts are your concern, not mine."

"You could tell me why you killed her." Black ice cracked in eyes glazed with fear.

"What makes you think I did it?"

"The orders we found on Yoshihara-san."

"If you had recovered written orders on that intruder, and if those orders implicated me, you would have acted already." I felt ice grinding over shoals.

"You were to divulge information to him. I think you have been for some time already, but since you recently arrived here at Sakurajo, I hadn't previously found you out. To spy is dishonorable enough, Kamegawa. What reason had you for killing Reiko?"

Silent gaze focused on a rock in the yard, his mind tumbled. Slowly he turned to face me, madness in his eyes, and I knew the truth he could not forget.

"He is iteki. He's not even Japanese, what can he know of honor. Yet he orders me about as if I were a merchant!" With its abrupt change of thought the insanity in his soul slammed into my center like a tsunami. The flood of emotion unsettling my harmony, I couldn't follow his words.

"Who isn't Japanese?"

"Sakura! His father was a foreign barbarian, but he becomes daimyo, not I. I whose family has been samurai for generations!"

"Sakura Osama's father was Portuguese?"

"Not namban, but not Chinese, either. Somewhere else. He was huge, with white hair like precious metal. Washed up out of the sea, a nobody, from nowhere and he becomes daimyo. Tokugawa promised me. Give him information and he would make me daimyo." I fought the raging tide of his insane ravings to keep my center my own. It was all as I had told Sakura Osama the morning after the killing. Reiko's karma set her path that night through the middle of his meeting with a courier from the Tokugawa clan. Happy to see their father, her daughters ran to him and met Death.

The shoji slid open revealing Sakura Osama with Tetsuo and Jutte at his sides. "We have heard enough, muhon-nin," he said. The traitor stopped his tirade. He looked from me to Sakura Osama and back. Then he laughed loud and shrill. Hidden Virtue filling my grip, I thought that I had never cut anything with my short sword as I tried to block the traitor's hand with the flat of the blade. A hand which suddenly held a throwing knife. He must have moved too fast because I felt nothing as his wrist blurred past my face toward my daimyo. Reversing my arm I brought the spine of the blade against the back of his neck. Cracking bone silenced his laughing. He fell. The traitor's head lay at an unnatural angle; his eyes stared into mine.

Looking up I saw the shuriken had missed Sakura Osama. A growing crimson pool stained the veranda. A right hand lay halfway across the space between the body and Tetsuo. My sword cut his arm at the wrist. I'd never felt it.

His name was stricken from the clan rolls because of his treachery. Sakura Osama rewarded my services with the right of instant access, making me hatamoto. More important to me Reiko-chan ceased her nightly sojourns at my side. I had repaid my giri by avenging her's and her daughters' deaths. The castle nights became fragrant with the myriad blossoms of spring. The cherry petals became dust in the wind that night the traitor died.

For a score of men has Buddha seen fit to use my soul as the instrument of transition from this plane of existence to the next. My brother's ghost visits me during winter's chill, as do several others. Most of the rest appear through summer and autumn. One alone comes in spring, and he says nothing. Cherry blossoms scattering before the breeze, Mad Kamegawa sits, and grins, and awaits the number of my days.
Tags: writing

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