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2005 Samurai Fiction Entry

Shimabara

By W. Murray

When I was twelve years old I had seen everything get taken away from me as I could only stand aside and see the Tokugawa Bakufu murder my father. Before the soldiers seized our home he asked me to run to the edge of the nearest plateau and take my life. My father's eyes were filled with fear as he explained how they would take me and torture me until my body was lifeless. He hurried me out of the back door telling me to run and then slammed the door behind him. I made my way quickly to a thicket of bamboo clustered together at the edge of the plateau where I could still see what was happening at my home. They had placed my father in clothing that looked to be made of straw. His feet were tied at the ankles and his eyes were left uncovered so that onlookers would see his pain, and know that their beliefs would not be accepted by the Tokugawa Shogun. That night I watched my father dance in flames until he fell from the pain.

I understood that this is not the way it should be, and I would refuse to take my life. I swore an oath to myself and to my father who had been taken, that I would make the great Tokugawa Shogunate understand their aggressive and unjust laws. Our people are starving and being tortured to death on the mere thought or suspicion that we are Christian. I spent the next years under the care of a friend of my fathers. He too, was a farmer who struggled with years of bad crops and could no longer make his harsh payments set by Amakusa Island's ruler. The man who took me in was a ronin who lost his status of samurai because his master, the former daimyo of Amakusa was killed. He taught me all about how things became this way. His anger toward Tokugawa order seemed much deeper than mine and he always promised what he told was the truth. I learned that this island and the nearby peninsula of Shimabara were once controlled by Christian daimyo and were persecuted for their beliefs after Ieyasu banned Christianity in 1614.

By the time I had turned fifteen I was proficient with a sword and an excellent archer. Makoto, as the ronin had asked to be called, had brought me to a beach just a short walk from the harbor. Dutch boats were sailing in as the full moon lit the sky. He carried a pack over his left shoulders, and in his right hand he held a gift. He laid a large cloth on the sand spreading it out nicely and asked for me to sit. He placed the gift before me and I knew before I unraveled the burlap cloth that the contents would be of greatness. Makoto stopped me before I could even say a word as he explained why he had chosen to offer me my own samurai sword. He had me close my eyes as he told a story about his parents finding a book that the people would come to believe its words were that of prophecy. He claimed that a tyrant would die and a child prodigy would appear to relieve the world. The excitement in his voice grew as he told how the sky would be dyed red and the trees that were once dead would again be filled with blossoms. I began to cut Makoto off due to my inner urge to ask what this had to do with me but he noticed my puzzled expression and continued on not allowing me to get out a word. He made me understand that the reason I chose not to kill myself as my father was being tortured to death was because God had a plan. He explained that I would be an important part of that plan and my destiny had yet to be fulfilled. As the night became an early morn a soft wind began to blow, we gathered up our things. Suddenly a gust blew over the hills carrying petals in perfect flight along side of pigeons and other birds. Makoto turned to me and smiled as the sun would rise sure enough sending a beam of light blazing to the ground and the sky filled with a blood chilling red as if bloodshed had fallen on the land during a long night's battle.

The next few days, word had spread throughout Amakusa Island and the nearby Shimabara region claiming that the cherry trees had been replenished with blossoms and many had even produced dumplings. Autumn would hail the winds of change and many were excited after famine in the last year, leaving many to believe that perhaps the prophecy would be fulfilled. It was said that a voice was heard in the villages that whispered in their ears saying, "Whoever believes in Christianity will be relieved by the God's judgment." Makoto was visited by many of the farmers and villagers of Amakusa in the days that followed and they told of a holy man that had approached a sparrow on the edge of a village. The young man had broken off the branch, stared divinely into the birds eyes as he did so and yet still the bird never raised a wing to move. Afterward he made his way to Kotsu-ura and inside of the church he presented them with the fact that what he had whispered to them in their ears was true. An older farmer continued to tell the story to Makoto and said that the man looked to the sky and prayed with his eyes closed and suddenly a pigeon flew down from the sky. The bird perched on his arm and laid an egg in the hand of the young man, and he began to pick off pieces of the shell as the bird flew away. He then pulled out a portrait of Jesus and several pages of holy writings and began preaching God's word. They all claimed that the sparrow he had taken cooed the word "Zuiso" three times before flying away.

Much time would pass and the man would become known all over our region. Farmers and other ronin along with Makoto would ban together and fight the cruel leadership that had fallen upon their land. In December as the months grew cold we armed any and all who were willing to fight the Bakufu, and claim back our home land.
Many of the people were starving and like I, had only eaten barley in the past months considering everyone was now giving up eighty percent of their crops to the current lords. My time had come to serve my purpose and I knew that God would stand along side of me and protect us all during this battle.

The holy man that had been seen became known as Prince Shiro. Still, he was called by many different names, and more prophecies had been told claiming that those who failed to adhere to his teachings and thoughts would find themselves in the deepest of regrets. It was during this time. The rebels needed a leader, and so Makoto and the other ronin met with Shiro and plead their case. Shiro was around the same age as myself, and was very handsome. He sat hunched over with a cross in his hands, and his head gazing into the shiny metal. He listened as some ronin explained how they had served Konishi Yukinaga, the feudal lord of Uto in Higo. They had been defeated in "Sekigahara no eki" and that they were harshly dealt with by the Tokugawa Bakufu based on their belief in Christianity. As another began to speak Shiro's eyes began to water yet still he didn't cry. He placed his cross in his pocket and gathered the ronin together outstretching his arms huddling them into a circle. He grieved over the way the men had been treated and how the high taxation on the farmers seemed unreasonable simply because of the way they had chosen to live their life. He then accepted his role as the leader of our army that would drive the Tokugawa Bakufu from our region. Shiro approached me as the ronin departed. I was somewhat doubtful of his miracles, but he glowed with such an aura I couldn't step away nor turn my head. He looked me over and begins to speak with a soft tone telling me that I will have three major tasks ahead of me. He explained that in the first I am to accept God's protection and that I will overcome a mighty army. In the second, he tells me that I will ask for God's help, and in the third, I will question God's love.

A few months had past and we had proven our cause to be of a worthy nature. We had claimed back Amakusa and moved into the Shimabara peninsula. One of the ronin would offer his castle to Shiro so that the rebel army would have a place of defense and a chance to rest. The enemy had been seen by our spies going to nearby regions to ask for help in fighting us. This proved and reassured our men and women that we were winning the battle. It was also known to us that the Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, believed that we were of no harm and that he had sent the daimyo of Kyushuu, Itakura Shigemasa to a region very near Shimabara. I was the only woman to lead a group of soldiers during our fight, and by far the best archer. Time would pass and we continued to gain the upper hand as many of the Bakufu fled. Nearly half a year or more had gone by and I led a troop of rebels to a field that had been prepared with straw and oil. Word had been sent that Itakura had planned to attack and we were to cut him off at the pass.

We lay hidden in bamboo thickets that ran along the edge of the clearing that we had prepared for the battle. The morning's fog would prove to keep things difficult to see along with the fire that we would set. A mass of horses were heard galloping from the southern pass and we knew Itakura had come with a larger force than we had expected. We watched as they rode into the field and gathered into formation as they came to a halt. Many of the samurai gathered to the rear of the flank after stopping thus giving us the notion that we would find Itakura there. Suddenly the flank split in the middle and formed a large circle walking the grounds of the field. I knew they now realized they had walked into a trap. It looked as if 50 or more had remained gathered in the middle as the rest of the army had soon spread across the field in a large circle. I quietly sat up and ordered the archers to fire center of the circle in order to get them to spread out. We simultaneously lit flame to the tips of our arrows and fired. In seconds flames jumped to the sky and chased Itakura's army into the forests beyond the field. We watched quietly as many of those gathered in the center burned to death. I could remember seeing my father dance around in flames just before he died, however I felt no pity for the fallen samurai that waved a banner for the Tokugawa Bakufu.

Killing Itakura Shigemasa became a turning point for our rebellion. However, we failed to realize we had now reached the peek of our fight. Makoto and nine other ronin gathered their armies inside of Hara Castle in January of 1638. It was believed that Iemitsu and the Tokugawa Shogunate would show their aggression and send a more able army to fight the rebellion. The army he would send would not be held up burning in a field of fire. Instead they were to march straight to Hara Castle and face the rebellion head on.

Shiro ordered the men to begin melting bullets for the cannons down. He told the men to take several of the bullets and melt them down into crosses. In the next weeks the people rested still with very little on their stomachs but with faith in their hearts. Shiro preached to us daily and teach us much about the Christian faith. On the last day of January a boy in his teens hurried his way up to the gates of Hara Castle. He told that he seen a massive army headed in our direction. The boy warned that death was coming with swift wings and he turned to stare into Shiro's eyes. Shiro gazed into the eyes of the teen and asked the boy, "and what color flag will death be flying, my child?" The boy told Shiro nothing about colors as he stood in silence staring up at him. One of the ronin made his way to Shiro's side to protect him from the teen. Many of us wondered had the boy been sent as a trick. Shiro asked the boy again about who was coming to kill them and the boy claimed he seen the eyes of Kumamoto Hosokawa in a dream. Shiro turned to the ronin of Hara Castle and told him to alert the others that an army was on the way. He again ordered others to begin melting down more bullets for crosses. He took the boy and sat him at a table and had food brought out to him. Shiro then asked for me to send my archers to the northern wall to stand guard, but he asked that I return to stand by his side.

In the coming days we had made over 23 crosses using up a third of our artillery. Many of our horses were lost in a battle by a naval fleet when we made our way from Amakusa Island to Shimabara. When our rebellion started we were nearly thirty seven thousand strong but in what would prove to be our last days we were a dwindling twelve thousand. We fought hard against the Tokugawa Bakufu backed army that had come to kill one man alone. They came crashing down on our gates of Hara Castle in February 1638 and Shiro would become wounded by a samurai loyal to Hosokawa and I would take him into the castles deep and nurse him to health. During this time our walls were falling and our ammunition for the cannons had been depleted. I stayed with Shiro while he prayed knelt down before one of the crosses that had been made from the castle's munitions. I too began to pray. I asked God to help Shiro survive this attack so that he could continue to teach others about Christianity. He had become known as a descendent from the heavens and it would only be just if God allowed Shiro to continue to teach others. I had begun to notice a certain peace fill the barely lit room we had been praying in. I stood up and began hearing a quickening pace of footsteps making their way down the stairwell. Shiro pushed me into the dark and stepped into the light where the approaching soldiers could see him. The samurai swarmed around Shiro beating him with their unsheathed swords until he couldn't move. I remained in silence praying to God and begging him to help us in such a time of need.

I began to question God's love for us as I watched a samurai loyal to Hosokawa slowly and painfully remove Shiro's head from his body. The man walked around Shiro as he was kneeling and drew a line of blood around his neck with his sword. The second time around the cut was just deep enough to allow his head to dangle by nothing but the man's spinal cord. I remember his eyes flickering about as the samurai grasped a handful of Shiro's silky black hair, picked up his head and made one swift cut leaving his body to fall lifeless to the floor.

That night, February 28, 1638, our entire rebel army was wiped out. Those that didn't lose their heads were burned by the hundreds in rows. I remained in the castles cool deep while mostly the entire above portion had fallen to the ground. Three days later I managed to find a way out through the smoldering rubble. Perhaps God helped me out, and just maybe my purpose in life hadn't been fulfilled. I made my way to Nagasaki and after finding water I could hear the voices of others as they walked about talking. I would learn that a vassal of Hosokawa named Jinsa Saemon had killed the rebel leader Amakusa Shiro, and Shiro's head was now being displayed for all to see in Nagasaki. Tokugawa Iemitsu and the Tokugawa Shogunate claim a time of peace and unity when they offered us nothing but death all because of what we believe in. Many of those that died were not Christian at all, but merely poor farmers that had suffered bad crops and the high taxes set by the Bakufu based only on an assumption. I traveled back to Amakusa Island and met with a Dutch trader. He offered me a place on his ship and after making my way to England, I spent the remainder of my life as a nun.