Thursday, November 14, 2013
Thursday's Opening Scene from All Our Yesterdays - Japan
The early days of summer heated the air, but Hoshi felt cold and alone. Her father was dead. He had been betrayed by the man who stood on the other side of the bier. Saburo, who had forsworn the ways of the samurai and sought power in the emperor's court. No one would accuse him but she knew.
Why hadn't her father broken the betrothal made just before her younger brother's birth? In those days, Saburo had been a warrior-in-training and a perfect match for the daughter of a samurai. That was no longer true.
She lowered her gaze and fought to keep from smiling. The step she was about to take would end that hated union. If her father's death had come a lunar later, she would have been wed. She glanced at Saburo. His smug expression and the lust in his dark eyes made her ill.
Hoshi fingered the netsuke warrior, once her father's and now hers in trust for her younger brother. Keyoshi stood tall and proud at her side. In four years, he would be of age and stand as the head of the family. She would choose the best warriors and scholars as his teachers. He would be a great leader.
She blinked tears from her eyes. This was no time to display weakness. Her grief would remain buried beneath the determination and anger she felt. Until her brother stood as the head of the house, she would put aside her woman's life and stand as samurai. A rare choice, but one permitted when the heir was too young.
With measured steps, she approached the bier. She lifted her father's sword and held it aloft. "Those who are born must die. Those who meet must part. Samurai, here stands your heir, Keyoshi, not yet of age. Thus I stand in his place until he is ready to hold this sword."
Gasps followed her words. Saburo glared and stepped toward her. He reached for the sword he'd thought to gain through treachery. Two of her father's guards blocked his path.
"My bow will bend with strength," Hoshi said. "My arrows will fly in straight paths into the hearts of our enemies. I will hold this sword until Keyoshi takes it from my hands. Today I wear women's clothes for the last time until my service ends. Now, my father, you can depart in peace. Your grave is prepared."
She signaled the men. Holding the sword point up, she walked to the grave. Keyoshi matched her pace. Once the body was lowered, they returned to the house.
Chika, nurse to Hoshi and Keyoshi wept. "This is the saddest day."
Hoshi nodded. "Dry your tears, foster mother. Send Ishi with food and tea."
Keyoshi touched her hand. "Will you really stand for Father? Saburo will not like that. He is very angry."
"What he wants does not matter. I will do my duty. Before your birth, I was the heir. Once we knew you thrived, I stepped aside as I will again."
"I will be as great a warrior as Father."
She nodded. "You will be greater for you will learn all the ways of leadership and the ways to find treachery so no one can betray you as they did Father. Let us eat and remember him."
"I have so much to learn."
A commotion startled her. Saburo burst into the room. Two guards followed. "What foolishness are you about, girl?"
"Foolishness?" Hoshi rose. She wouldn't remain in an inferior position before him. "I do what my father trained me to do."
He snorted. "He was a fool. You are a woman and no warrior. You are my betrothed."
"No longer. Would you care to test my skills with the sword? As I recall, I defeated you twice. Will you make it thrice?"
"We were children and I knew not to harm a girl." His eyes narrowed. "This house is weak. I would have brought safety. The emperor would have cast his shade over the house and no one would dare touch anyone who serves him."
Hoshi sucked in a breath. "This is a house of mourning. I am the one to decide what course we will take. You have no status here. Return to the emperor. Leave us to our remembrances."
Saburo caught her hands. "You would have been my love. You would have shared my position in the court. Should matters change, I will not wed you, but take you as my concubine for I would have you in my bed, not in men's armor."
"Never. Leave and don't return. The guards will not admit you." She waited until he was gone before sinking onto the mat. Tomorrow she would cut her hair and put her women's clothes away.
* * * *
Hoshi spent the next day organizing the household. She put Chika in charge of the servants with Ishi as her assistant. She spoke with the guards and named the oldest as the leader. She found padded armor and had it adjusted to her size. Once her brother was settled for the night, she went to the garden.
What would Keyoshi do if she died before he came of age? She must select strong men with ties to the house as his teachers and name them as guardians if she fell. Who had the knowledge, skills and honor? She considered a number of distant cousins and selected two. In the morning, she would send for them.
The scent of summer flowers sweetened the air. She knelt before the massive black stone set on a sea of sand. Silently, she pledged herself to the heart of the house. She thought of what she must do tonight. The hilt of her knife dug into her palms.
In this time of trouble, fathers turned against sons and brothers against brothers. The cloistered emperor sought to walk in the world. What did he know of warrior ways? Yet, his ambitions had set her on the path she had to take.
A rustling noise startled her. She gripped the knife and listened carefully. Had Saburo sent an assassin? Her aging nurse appeared. "What is it?" Hoshi asked.
"A man seeks the head of this family."
Who would dare intrude on a house in mourning? Surely word of her father's death had spread through the city. "Did he ask for me by name?"
"No. For your father. Should I send him away?
Hoshi wanted to say yes. The hour was late for a caller and she feared some plot of Saburo's. Yet, as her brother's guardian, she had to face all challenges. "Send him in and have the guards remain nearby. Pray he doesn't come with a challenge. I'm not ready to face one."
"They must let you grieve in peace," Chika said.
Moments later, the elderly woman led a stranger into the garden. His richly embroidered silk robe spoke of wealth and ease. She frowned. Why had a courtier other than Saburo been sent? Did this man stand with or against her former betrothed?
He strode toward her. Hoshi stared. He was tall, broad-shouldered and lean. His face surely brought sighs to every woman he encountered.
Their gazes meshed. She felt a jolt of recognition. Though she'd never seen him before, she knew him and her body responded to his presence with yearning. She tore her gaze away. How could she know he was the man she'd always wanted to find? While she maintained the honor of the house, there could be no man in her life. "Why have you come?"
"To speak to the head of the house. Where is he?"
He frowned. "But you're a woman."
Hoshi drew a deep breath. "My father was buried yesterday. Until my young brother stands here, I head the family."
"Then I greet you and am sorry for intruding on your sorrow. I have been away from the city and didn't hear the news." He bowed low. "Yemon, servant of the emperor."
Hoshi gestured to Chika. "Have tea brought." She needed time to compose her thoughts. Why was she drawn to this man? She didn't understand her response to his presence. Did he bring danger to her and to the house?