rowan tree blossom

Here's a taste of those Japanese Mediaeval short stories.

LOST AND FOUND


She heard nothing, for her thoughts turned inward, lost within herself, seeking control. Seated on the hard wooden floor - no tatami matting here - head bent, eyes closed, she banished fear and listened for hope.


Inside her head she saw a shadow in the doorway, heard a whisper of straw sandal, with the smell, oh, the smell of rice straw, of the armour oil. Was it true? She daren’t look up. Had they found her? She prayed to see them again.


She knew them. They were the best of samurai, who would never give up. They’d come well armed and would prostrate themselves on the floor, bent forward, touching their heads to the cold wood.


“My lady,” they would say, ready to help her escape
She heard a footstep and wanted to cry out for joy. Surely this time it would be true. Raising her head, she opened her eyes and saw…


the round toes of thick leather shoes, dark water stains round the edges where the dew had wet them. The ugly man’s shoes. The man with a fat red face, strange yellow hair and a loud voice stuffed full of stones. The man who paid the ronin, those rebel samurai turned pirates, the man who owned this place and the pirate ships. He leaned down to jeer, in a waft of alcohol, onion breath and stale clothing.


“Where’s your ransom? Your father has three days left.” He spoke Japanese badly.
“He’d better hurry. I have bidders waiting for a high born Japanese whore.”


She regarded him with disdain, turned her head away, remembering who she was and
what he was. He spat on the floor in front of her and stomped out through the open doorway, bellowing orders to his ronin guard.


Their duty would bring them, her father’s samurai, but oh, the waiting. She remembered, refusing to allow panic to rise. Those four samurai teasing her ladies, her samurai trained women, her guard from birth, as they watched the fireflies weave their dances over the shallows of the river. It should have been safe, four samurai to guard, four samurai ladies-in-waiting, watching the rise and fall of the flashing fireflies in their mating dance. But they missed the ronin sneaking up from the beach.


Her ladies, Saki, Rusu, Oshi and Mume laughed, catching fireflies. Then a lantern smashed on the rocks. Mume screamed a warning as dark shapes leapt and slashed. Her ladies, short daggers out, ran to protect her. The ronin swarmed out of the river bed, sword blades flashing, catching the starlight. Several engaged the samurai, others came for her, killing Mume, wounding Saki. They struck down and captured Rusu and Oshi, and snatched her away.


The ship had been a dark stinking misery, for the pirates went out to sea for two days rather than risk pursuit by hugging the coast, but Rusu and Oshi still guarded her. They refused the barbarians’ disgusting food, disdained all drinks except the badly made tea in the morning. Then the arrival, vile foreigners dragging off Rusu and Oshi, herself penned in this room.


Evening came, the guards changed, but she heard nothing. Seated on the floor, never moving, she sat, head bent, eyes closed, waiting. She waited for….


a whisper of straw sandal, with the smell, oh, the smell of rice straw, of the armour oil. Was it true? She daren’t look up. Had they found her? She prayed to see them again.
She knew them. They were the best of samurai, who would never give up. They’d come well armed and would prostrate themselves on the floor, bent forward, touching their heads to the cold wood.


“My lady,” they would say, ready to help her escape

Raising her head she opened her eyes and saw….
a night sky full of different stars, the lanterns all lit. The ronin who stole her, battle ready, marching away with their new weapons, muskets. Muskets paid for by her capture, and the ransom the fat fool thought he would receive. Muskets and her father had none. It would be a terrible battle.


The man brought two others like him that night. One leaned over to touch her hair and she struck, fast as a viper, chopped at his hand so that he started back. Ugly Yellow Hair laughed, said something lewd by the way the three of them leered, looking her over as though she were a common street walker for sale in the prostitutes’ market. They left her facing despair.


She searched for hope, breathed in, shut out the sounds of the men until she heard nothing, as her thoughts turned inward, lost within herself. She needed to bathe, she needed clean clothes, a comb, she needed hope and so she waited for….


a shadow in the doorway, a whisper of straw sandal, the smell oh, the smell of rice straw, of the armour oil. This time she knew, she could smell the rice straw. Raising her head, she opened her eyes and saw….


another sunrise, another morning mist, and her father’s samurai. The four slid like shadows into the room, bent to touch their heads to the bare wood. “Come, my lady,” they whispered, and outstretched hands raised her, steadied her.


She stood, catching her balance. Two slipped round the doorposts, melted into the mist. Two urged her forward. She took a step, trying to follow, but they stepped in front to protect her as foreigner guards ran up the steps yelling and waving swords. Yellow Hair followed, with a small gun in either hand. Slash, stab and his guards went down in pools of blood, but Yellow Hair waved his little guns and shot both her samurai.


“Hah!” he bellowed, “You can’t escape.” He tucked his pistols into his waist, leered.
Behind him her samurai slipped in, struck, slicing into his fat body.

Freedom.

“Come, my lady, we must warn our lord, take the message ‘prepare for battle’ home.”

p.d.r lindsay

 

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