Read Shogun_ A Novel of Japan Part 66

Shogun_ A Novel of Japan is a web novel made by James Clavell.
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Read WebNovel Shogun_ A Novel of Japan Part 66

“This is the season of squalls. Mostly it’s overcast and rain-filled. When the rains stop it becomes very humid. Then begin the tai-funs.” tai-funs.”

I wish I were at sea again, he was thinking. Was I ever at sea? Was the ship real? What’s reality? Mariko or the maid?

“You don’t laugh very much, do you, Anjin-san?”

“I’ve been seafaring too long. Seamen’re always serious. We’ve learned to watch the sea. We’re always watching and waiting for disaster. Take your eyes off the sea for a second and she’ll grasp your ship and make her matchwood.”

“I’m afraid of the sea,” she said.

“So am I. An old fisherman told me once, ‘The man who’s not afraid of the sea’ll soon be drownded for he’ll go out on a day he shouldn’t. But we be afraid of the sea so we be only drownded now and again.'” He looked at her. “Mariko-San …”

“Yes?”

“A few minutes ago you’d convinced me that-well, let’s say I was convinced. Now I’m not. What’s the truth? The honto honto. I must know.”

“Ears are to hear with. Of course it was the maid.”

“This maid. Can I ask for her whenever I want?”

“Of course. A wise man would not.”

“Because I might be disappointed? Next time?”

“Possibly.”

“I find it difficult to possess a maid and lose a maid, difficult to say nothing….”

“Pillowing is a pleasure. Of the body. Nothing has to be said.”

“But how do I tell a maid that she is beautiful? That I love her? That she filled me with ecstasy?”

“It isn’t seemly to ‘love’ a maid this way. Not here, Anjin-san. That pa.s.sion’s not even for a wife or a consort.” Her eyes crinkled suddenly. “But only toward someone like Kiku-san, the courtesan, who is so beautiful and merits this.”

“Where can I find this girl?”

“In the village. It would be my honor to act as your go-between.”

“By Christ, I think you mean it.”

“Of course. A man needs pa.s.sions of all kinds. This Lady is worthy of romance-if you can afford her.”

“What does that mean?”

“She would be very expensive.”

“You don’t buy love. That type’s worth nothing. ‘Love’ is without price.”

She smiled. “Pillowing always has its price. Always. Not necessarily money, Anjin-san. But a man pays, always, for pillowing in one way, or in another. True love, we call it duty, is of soul to soul and needs no such expression-no physical expression, except perhaps the gift of death.”

“You’re wrong. I wish I could show you the world as it is.”

“I know the world as it is, and as it will be forever. You want this contemptible maid again?”

“Yes. You know I want …”

Mariko laughed gaily. “Then she will be sent to you. At sunset. We will escort her, Fujiko and I!”

“G.o.dd.a.m.n it-I think you would too!” He laughed with her.

“Ah, Anjin-san, it is good to see you laugh. Since you came back to Anjiro you have gone through a great change. A very great change.”

“No. Not so much. But last night I dreamed a dream. That dream was perfection.”

“G.o.d is perfection. And sometimes so is a sunset or moonrise or the first crocus of the year.”

“I don’t understand you at all.”

She turned back the veil on her hat and looked directly at him.

“Once another man said to me, ‘I don’t understand you at all,’ and my husband said, ‘Your pardon, Lord, but no man can understand her. Her father doesn’t understand her, neither do the G.o.ds, nor her barbarian G.o.d, not even her mother understands her.'”

“That was Toranaga? Lord Toranaga?”

“Oh, no, Anjin-san. That was the Taik. Lord Toranaga understands me. He understands everything.”

“Even me?”

“Very much you.”

“You’re sure of that, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Oh, very yes.”

“Will he win the war?”

“Yes.”

“I’m his favored va.s.sal?”

“Yes.”

“Will he take my navy?”

“Yes.”

“When will I get my ship back?”

“You won’t.”

“Why?”

Her gravity vanished. “Because you’ll have your ‘maid’ in Anjiro and you’ll be pillowing so much you’ll have no energy to leave, even on your hands and knees, when she begs you to go aboard your ship, and when Lord Toranaga asks you to go aboard and to leave us all!”

“There you go again! One moment so serious, the next not!”

“That’s only to answer you, Anjin-san, and to put certain things in a correct place. Ah, but before you leave us you should see the Lady Kiku. She’s worthy of a great pa.s.sion. She’s so beautiful and talented. For her you would have to be extraordinary!”

“I’m tempted to accept that challenge.”

“I challenge no one. But if you’re prepared to be samurai and not-not foreigner-if you’re prepared to treat pillowing for what it is, then I would be honored to act as go-between.”

“What does that mean?”

“When you’re in good humor, when you’re ready for very special amus.e.m.e.nt, ask your consort to ask me.”

“Why Fujiko-san?”

“Because it’s your consort’s duty to see that you are pleasured. It is our custom to make life simple. We admire simplicity, so men men and and women women can take pillowing for what it is: an important part of life, certainly, but between a man and a woman there are more vital things. Humility, for one. Respect. Duty. Even this ‘love’ of yours. Fujiko ‘loves’ you.” can take pillowing for what it is: an important part of life, certainly, but between a man and a woman there are more vital things. Humility, for one. Respect. Duty. Even this ‘love’ of yours. Fujiko ‘loves’ you.”

“No she doesn’t!”

“She will give you her life. What more is there to give?”

At length he took his eyes off her and looked at the sea. The waves were cresting the sh.o.r.e as the wind freshened. He turned back to her. “Then nothing is to be said?” he asked. “Between us?”

“Nothing. That is wise.”

“And if I don’t agree?”

“You must agree. You are here. This is your home.”

The attacking five hundred galloped over the lip of the hill in a haphazard pack, down onto the rock-strewn valley floor where the two thousand “defenders” were drawn up in a battle array. Each rider wore a musket slung on his back and a belt with pouches for bullets, flints, and a powder horn. Like most samurai, their clothes were a motley collection of kimonos and rags, but their weapons always the best that each could afford. Only Toranaga and Ishido, copying him, insisted that their troops be uniformed and punctilious in their dress. All other daimyos daimyos considered such outward extravagance a foolish squandering of money, an unnecessary innovation. Even Blackthorne had agreed. The armies of Europe were never uniformed-what king could afford that, except for a personal guard? considered such outward extravagance a foolish squandering of money, an unnecessary innovation. Even Blackthorne had agreed. The armies of Europe were never uniformed-what king could afford that, except for a personal guard?

He was standing on a rise with Yabu and his aides, Jozen and all his men, and Mariko. This was the first full-scale rehearsal of an attack. He waited uneasily. Yabu was uncommonly tense, and Omi and Naga both had been touchy almost to the point of belligerence. Particularly Naga.

“What’s the matter with everyone?” he had asked Mariko.

“Perhaps they wish to do well in front of their lord and his guest.”

“Is he a daimyo daimyo too?” too?”

“No. But important, one of Lord Ishido’s generals. It would be good if everything were perfect today.”

“I wish I’d been told there was to be a rehearsal.”

“What would that have accomplished? Everything you could do, you have done.”

Yes, Blackthorne thought, as he watched the five hundred. But they’re nowhere near ready yet. Surely Yabu knows that too, everyone does. So if there is a disaster, well, that’s karma karma, he told himself with more confidence, and found consolation in that thought.

The attackers gathered speed and the defenders stood waiting under the banners of their captains, jeering at the “enemy” as they would normally do, strung out in loose formation, three or four men deep. Soon the attackers would dismount out of arrow range. Then the most valiant warriors on both sides would truculently strut to the fore to throw down the gauntlet, proclaiming their own lineage and superiority with the most obvious of insults. Single armed conflicts would begin, gradually increasing in numbers, until one commander would order a general attack and then it was every man for himself. Usually the greater number defeated the smaller, then the reserves would be brought up and committed, and again the melee until the morale of one side broke, and the few cowards that retreated would soon be joined by the many and a rout would ensue. Treachery was not unusual. Sometimes whole regiments, following their master’s orders, would switch sides, to be welcomed as allies-always welcomed but never trusted. Sometimes the defeated commanders would flee to regroup to fight again. Sometimes they would stay and fight to the death, sometimes they would commit seppuku with ceremony. Rarely were they captured. Some offered their services to the victors. Sometimes this was accepted but most times refused. Death was the lot of the vanquished, quick for the brave and shame-filled for the cowardly. And this was the historic pattern of all skirmishes in this land, even at great battles, soldiers here the same as everywhere, except that here they were more ferocious and many, many more were prepared to die for their masters than anywhere else on earth.

The thunder of the hoofs echoed in the valley.

“Where’s the attack commander? Where’s Omi-san?” Jozen asked.

“Among the men, be patient,” Yabu replied.

“But where’s his standard? And why isn’t he wearing battle armor and plumes? Where’s the commander’s standard? They’re just like a bunch of filthy no-good bandits!”

“Be patient! All officers are ordered to remain nondescript. I told you. And please don’t forget we’re pretending a battle is raging, that this is part of a big battle, with reserves and arm-“

Jozen burst out, “Where are their swords? None of them are wearing swords! Samurai without swords? They’d be ma.s.sacred!”

“Be patient!”

Now the attackers were dismounting. The first warriors strode out from the defending ranks to show their valor. An equal number began to measure up against them. Then, suddenly, the ungainly ma.s.s of attackers rushed into five tight-disciplined phalanxes, each with four ranks of twenty-five men, three phalanxes ahead and two in reserve, forty paces back. As one, they charged the enemy. In range they shuddered to a stop on command and the front ranks fired an ear-shattering salvo in unison. Screams and men dying. Jozen and his men ducked reflexively, then watched appalled as the front ranks knelt and began to reload and the second ranks fired over them, with the third and fourth ranks following the same pattern. At each salvo more defenders fell, and the valley was filled with shouts and screams and confusion.

“You’re killing your own men!” Jozen shouted above the uproar.

“It’s blank ammunition, not real. They’re all acting, but imagine it’s a real attack with real bullets! Watch!”

Now the defenders “recovered” from the initial shock. They regrouped and whirled back to a frontal attack. But by this time the front ranks had reloaded and, on command, fired another salvo from a kneeling position, then the second rank fired standing, immediately kneeling to reload, then the third and the fourth, as before, and though many musketeers were slow and the ranks ragged, it was easy to imagine the awful decimation trained men would cause. The counterattack faltered, then broke apart, and the defenders retreated in pretended confusion, back up the rise to stop just below the observers. Many “dead” littered the ground.

Jozen and his men were shaken. “Those guns would break any line!”

“Wait. The battle’s not over!”

Again the defenders re-formed and now their commanders exhorted them to victory, committed the reserves, and ordered the final general attack. The samurai rushed down the hill, emitting their terrible battle cries, to fall on the enemy.

“Now they’ll be stamped into the ground,” Jozen said, caught up like all of them in the realism of this mock battle.

And he was right. The phalanxes did not hold their ground. They broke and fled before the battle cries of the true samurai with their swords and spears, and Jozen and his men added their shouts of scorn as the regiments hurtled to the kill. The musketeers were fleeing like the Garlic Eaters, a hundred paces, two hundred paces, three hundred, then suddenly, on command, the phalanxes regrouped, this time in a V formation. Again the shattering salvos began. The attack faltered. Then stopped. But the guns continued. Then they, too, stopped. The game ceased. But all on the rise knew that under actual conditions the two thousand would have been slaughtered.

Now, in the silence, defenders and attackers began to sort themselves out. The “bodies” got up, weapons were collected. There was laughter and groaning. Many men limped and a few were badly hurt.

“I congratulate you, Yabu-sama,” Jozen said with great sincerity. “Now I understand what all of you meant.”

“The firing was ragged,” Yabu said, inwardly delighted. “It will take months to train them.”

Jozen shook his head. “I wouldn’t like to attack them now. Not if they had real ammunition. No army could withstand that punch-no line. The ranks could never stay closed. And then you’d pour ordinary troops and cavalry through the gap and roll up the sides like an old scroll.” He thanked all kami kami that he’d had the sense to see one attack. “It was terrible to watch. For a moment I thought the battle was real.” that he’d had the sense to see one attack. “It was terrible to watch. For a moment I thought the battle was real.”

“They were ordered to make it look real. And now you may review my musketeers, if you wish.”

“Thank you. That would be an honor.”

The defenders were streaming off to their camps that sat on the far hillside. The five hundred musketeers waited below, near the path that went over the rise and slid down to the village. They were forming into their companies, Omi and Naga in front of them, both wearing swords again.

“Yabu-sama?”

———-

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