rowan tree blossom


They arrived as waves of sudden death. First came pirates in the early morning. Akasuki, the outsider, abandoned to the lord by her ninja family, newest archer in their lord’s disreputable, 'give-them-the-unwanted-tasks' squad, saw them as she stood, facing the sea, practising her stance under mentor Hideaki’s critical eyes. From the brow of the low cliff, out of the summer’s dawn haze, she noticed misty shapes meld into landing boats shooting towards the shore.

“Invaders,” she called. The old archer looked, swore, and strode off to warn their group commander.

“Ronin scum,” the kumigashira, their duty group commander, muttered, “rebel warriors.” You lowest of all my lord’s archers,” he snarled at them, “prove yourselves fit to be my lord’s soldiers. Ready your bows. Defend the honour of our lord’s house.” He blew the alarum on his conch trumpet as the group formed a defensive block on the cliff top.

Akasuki, in the second rank, checked her arrows, waiting for a clear target. Hadn’t the ronin learnt this summer that their lord, the great daimyo, Miyoshi Nishiki, was never unprepared? Summer palace it might be, but it was fully protected. By order of the shogun all coastal estates must be battle ready and they were. She’d grown accustomed to pirate attacks. They were quickly settled.

But behind the first landing boats came more until the small cove was filled with bobbing boats and dark shapes scrabbling for shelter under the cliff. The first wave fell to their arrows but some of the second and more of the third wave made the base of the cliff. Still more poured from larger ships, ghostly shapes beyond the landing craft.

“Too many,” their kumigashira said. “We need lance support. Where’s that lance squad?” He blew the conch again.

Akasuki hefted her naginata, the woman’s lance. Hideaki rapped her leg with his lance butt. “Concentrate.” With a nod she raised the weapon into thrust position.

It was a noisy bloody mess. Too many indeed, she thought, whirling, slicing, and still more came, as relentless as the waves rolling on the beach below. Akasuki’s squad fought on, and retreating finally reached the garden wall where a second wave of death fought inside. A frontal attack had burst through the garden gates as they’d been coping in the rear.