| Home | Recent Updates| Links | Store | Recommended Reading | Sign Guestbook | View Guestbook |

Samurai Fiction 2005 - Honorable Mention

 

Sakuradamongai no Hen

By Joseph Nagaeyari Ryan

March 23, 1860

Edo was beautiful. From a distance, the large town was gorgeously blanketed with fresh, falling snow-snow that looked warm, pleasant even-anything but cold. In reality, the heavy drizzle sloshed in the streets, bit faces, fingers, and toes, and blinded travelers. Danno Osamu braced against the wind through the almost empty streets, his sandals mud-soaked, lace-broken, and constantly sinking into the gathering snow.

Osamu had given up his umbrella miles before-or rather, it had been taken from him. The rough wind had inverted the umbrella canopy and whisked it away. The only protection he now employed, as he neared the busy Inaba-ya, was a thick cloth that wrapped around his face and neck multiple times. His cheeks burned and his ears tingled as he pushed the nori aside and felt the heat of gathered bodies within the teahouse pleasurably assault him.

"Welcome. Cold isn't it?" A young waitress nodded her head and giggled. "Please come in."

"Ah…thanks, but…" he looked around. "I'm supposed to meet someone. Err…a group." He dipped his head and swayed, looking around the buzzing building, while he unraveled the thick cloth that protected his face.

"One minute please, sir, I will look around for you." She nodded her small head with each word she spoke, smiling radiantly.

"That would be good. I think I'm late. Oh! By the way, my name is Danno Osamu." He smiled and rubbed his hands together quickly. He pressed them gently against his ears, first softly, then harder, as the pain slowly left his burning appendages. "Ahhhhh…." He rolled his neck back and forth.

"Move." A haughty man in hakama and dark blue kimono said, looking down the bridge of his nose at Osamu's straw raincoat, dirty hakama, and muddy, snowy sandals.

"Oh, sorry." He stepped aside quickly.

The samurai passed under the nori without further words and into the teahouse. Unbelievable… Osamu thought looking down the bridge of his own nose at the now-gone samurai. He had ascended the steps and turned a corner.

"Sir."

"Ah?" Osamu's head was still cocked in the upward direction of the samurai.

"Sir…?"

"Ah! Sorry! Yes?" He fumbled, snapping from his daze.

"There is a group that claims you." The little waitress had returned.

"Ah, good." He said, glancing once again in the old direction of the samurai.

"Come this way, please."

She led Osamu to the staircase in the center of the building. He passed between sitting men-samurai and townsmen alike, joined together only in occasional, raucous drunkenness. Class distinctions were too hard to break, however, for anything to develop further-or at least that was the general consensus. Osamu had laughed at the general consensus more than once in his life. He laughed at it when he had make good friends with the man who cleaned up after the horses behind his house; he laughed at it when he had ran away crying from Goemon, his enraged father, after breaking a glass; he laughed at it when he had turned his back and ran from Enji, a man wanting a fight-all "dishonorable, social taboos."

The waitress slid open the shoji screen delicately. Sound burst forth from the open door, and Osamu smiled, seeing friends. In minutes, he was drinking next to Mori Gorokurou.

A man at the far end of the room stood up, holding onto his fellow men's shoulders for stability. This man was Seki Tetsunosuke, the leader of the group. He slurred:

"Osamu! When did you get here?" He tilted his head back and squinted his eyes to look at the man. "Yaichirou said you would be here earlier. Get lost?" The large group laughed.

Osamu smiled at Tetsunosuke, shaking his head. He really had gotten lost.

"Now that you are here, we can begin. Inada Juzou, Okabe Sanjuro, and Mashiko Kimpachi are getting us rooms at the Dozou-sagami, down the road, but we can talk here…it's more comfortable, isn't it Tatsunosuke?"

Yamaguchi Tatsunosuke nodded and drank again, smiling and laughing with his comrades.

Osamu did not know the other men as well as they knew each other. He had only been among their ranks for about five months. In October the previous year, his friend, Mori Gorokurou had introduced him to Arimura Jizaemon at a drinking party in Mito. In turn, Jizaemon's superiors, Saito Kenmotsu and Tetsunosuke, were instantly taken with Osamu's humor and resolve.

"Now that you are here, Osamu…wait…I already said that didn't I? Ha-ha!" He stumbled but regained his footing. "Nineteen men…together…" He breathed deeply. "Now we can prepare for the-" he looked around, bent down closer and whispered, his head cocked, "the assass-" he hiccupped silently. "-the assassination of the Red Devil Ii."

----------------------------------------

By the time Inada Juzou, Okabe Sanjuro, and Mashiko Kimpachi returned, the men had been drinking for some time.

The three men slid the door open and entered. The joviality increased. Soon, the tatami was wet with sake, men's voices permeating the teahouse.
The door slid open quickly again.

"Silence!" A man yelled.

Saitou Kenmotsu stood up. "What is the meaning of this?" He growled, outraged.
Osamu recognized the angry samurai. He had seen him only hours before at the entrance of the teahouse.

"What is your name, sir?" He asked calmly, standing.

"Kada Kurouta." He declared proudly, his demeanor gaining strength. "Ii samurai."
The room became silent. Smiles abounded. Men stifled their laughter.

"Please…keep your voices down…" He finished, closing the door, confused by their apparent obedience. The room erupted with laughter.

"Keep yourselves together men!" Kenmotsu counseled, laughing. "You can wait until tomorrow!" He held his gut, painfully.

Osamu now sat at the opposite side end of the room talking to a man named Oozeki Washichirou.

"Takahashi Taichirou is a genius." Washichirou was awed.

"Did he contact Tetsunosuke and Kenmotsu, or did they approach him?" Osamu asked. Washichirou explained drunkenly, Osamu straining his ears in the noisy room.

Seki Tetsunosuke and Takahashi Taichirou were long-time friends. They were both Mito retainers. Tetsunosuke was only a few years younger than Taichirou. Taichirou and Tetsunosuke had both shared their hatred for the Tairou with each other on more than one occasion. In fact, the only thing they could actually agree upon was contained within their criticism of the waning Bakufu. Taichirou, a known strategist, finally exposed his long-withheld plan to Tetsunosuke, who in-turn informed Kenmotsu. They were to gather men and attack Ii Naosuke in the eleventh month of 1859.

Weeks after the divulgence, Kenmotsu and Tetsunosuke had approached him. They told him that they believed that he should not take part in the future assassination attempt. His mind was too vital to the anti-Bakufu cause to be wasted on one encounter. Taichirou, already scheming another plot, was moved to background mastermind.

Osamu had never even seen Takahashi Taichirou, but stories of the man had piqued his interest in doing so. He planned to, one day, meet this great man. He deeply hoped his chance would come soon.

--------------------------------------------

Later, at the Dozou-sagami, the men had opened the doors of three adjacent rooms to create a large meeting area. Seki Tetsunosuke and Saitou Kenmotsu sat at the head of the long room. The rest of the men sat facing then, in rows. Kenmotsu cleared his throat, beginning roll call, with the men bowing successively. He wrote down their names.

Inada Juzou
Arimura Jizaemon
Hiroka Nenojirou
Yamaguchi Tatsunosuke
Koibuchi Kaname
Sano Takenosuke
Kurosawa Chuuzaburou
Hasuda Ichigorou
Oozeki Washichirou
Mori Gorokurou
Sugiyama Yaichirou
Danno Osamu
Okabe Sanjuro
Kaigo Sakinosuke
Hiroki Matsunosuke
Mashiko Kimpachi
Moriyama Shigenosuke

"Good. We are all gathered. I believe that nineteen men can sufficiently challenge Ii Naosuke's entourage. We have painstakingly gathered the following information about the men that will accompany him tomorrow. There will be approximately sixty men total." Tetsunosuke was interrupted:

"Sixty bodyguards?" Sugiyama Yaichirou asked incredulously.

"No." Kenmotsu accepted the question. "We believe that there will be twenty-six bodyguards. There will be many servants, palanquin bearers, and foot soldiers."

"But…the bodyguards and foot soldiers together will be quite a challenge." Kaigo Sakinosuke commented.

"True, but some are ceremonial. There will be a few at the front carrying spears uprightly, and some at the back. They are not concerning to me." Kenmotsu said.

"Indeed." Tetsunosuke agreed. "Try to make your way through the surrounding bodyguards and strike the Red Devil directly. Remember…" He looked at all the men. "…you are not trying to annihilate the Ii entourage. Your goal is Ii Naosuke's head."

The group smiled and looked at their comrades. Pride swelled within their chests. Kenmotsu directed the conversation to the next point:

"We have a great opportunity tomorrow to strike Ii Naosuke, as the Daimyo are reporting to Edo Castle. We shall attack him outside Sakurada Gate."

"Remember to prepare your letters of intent tonight." Tetsunosuke said. "Once the Ii entourage comes, we will attack in several teams. The first team will attack the front of the line, the second the back. The third team shall, after a short while, directly attack Ii Naosuke's palanquin. I believe that this will unfold smoothly."

-------------------------------

Osamu was awake. It was almost midnight. Half of the men were sleeping, dreaming of the encounter to come. He sat up with a few other men who were too excited to lie down. Osamu was overjoyed to be a part of this. Ii Naosuke's actions against Date Munenari in the famous Ansei Purge struck the first note of hatred in Osamu's heart. Every day since his first taste of anti-Bakufu sentiment, in his home province of Uwajima, his feelings had grown. He could not believe the action he was about to do.

They anxiously talked, many rocking. Kenmotsu and Tetsunosuke were talking downstairs, as they had been for some time.

"Once we kill the Red Devil, I've heard that Takahashi Taichirou will follow it up with the assassination of another Bakufu official." Ichigorou commented.

"Of course, seeing as Ii is ruling, the impact won't be as strong." Chuuzaburou retorted ecstatic and prideful.

"Does it matter which will be more important? All I care about is the destruction of the Bakufu." Nenojiro jumped in.

"I think that full destruction is quite radical. Revamping is more important." Sakinosuke replied.

"Revamping?" Osamu asked.

"Yes, with the removal of high-ranking men, the Bakufu must immediately begin to change." Sakinosuke answered. "If the Bakufu is destroyed hastily, however, the country will be in chaos. I believe that this gradual change is best."

"I doubt that the Bakufu has the brains to change" Chuuzaburou retorted.

"Well, the Bakufu has remained fairly strong for two hundred and fifty years." Osamu said. "I am not saying that I like the Bakufu, but it is quite a steady institution."

"Yeah…steady in its backwardness. It has been weak all along. Its failure to resist the West proved it all." Ichigorou responded.

The political image that Washichirou had tried to paint that night slowly began to take shape.

"Who is Taichirou planning on killing next?" He asked.

"I do not think anyone but he knows, yet. Just like he did with this plan, he will probably keep it to himself for a few more months. Then, he will connect the important pieces." Matsunosuke explained.

"Definitely. Taichirou knows the right target to choose. Whoever he does attack, it will be one of the greatest blows to the Bakufu our movement has ever had." Ichigorou said.

"Next to this…" Chuuzaburou said, laughing with the group.

"It will be one of the greatest assets to our cause in history." Nenojiro solemnly declared. The group believed that with the Ii Naosuke assassination as a stepping-stone, the Bakufu would experience, in growing effect, more and more terrible blows.

--------------------------------

"Danno Osamu?" A panting man asked.

"Yes. What is it?" Osamu answered, having been called down from his room at the Dozou-sagami.

"I've come from Miyabe-ya."

Those words alone spoke multitudes. Osamu's parents owned that inn-they had since he was a child. His father, Danno Goemon, was a ronin whose only source of income was that of his patrons. Because of their obvious money troubles, the inn was in need of repair. The greatest trouble that faced them, however, was not a tired, old inn.

In the preceding few years, a powerful young group, the Kurokawa Gang, had taken over the area where Miyabe-ya was located, pressuring businesses to pay to operate on their turf. Many families had difficulty paying. The Danno family was no exception. For a messenger to come this late, Osamu knew something had happened.

"Did my father finally agree to pay the Kurokawa Gang?" Osamu asked.

"No. He continues to resist. Goronosuke, the Kurokawa boss threatened to take your sister to his brothel if your father doesn't pay! Who knows what he will do after that?"
Osamu was shocked. A direct threat to his family struck a chord deep within his heart. "Has she been taken?" His voice was deep, his eyes wide.

"I left once I heard the threat. I do not know what has progressed."

"I am leaving immediately." Righteous indignation filled his chest and worry wrinkled his forehead.

"I have a kago waiting outside, sir." The messenger concluded.

Osamu planned to quickly settle the issue at Miyabe-ya and return to the Dozou-sagami that night to rest and prepare for the next day. He ran upstairs to announce his short departure.

--------------------------------------

Osamu rode through the snowy streets, the kago-bearers wrapped warmly; he did not absorb the red lights, the music, or the laughter of the passing districts. He was too worried. His face contorted, his mouth open, his forehead creased heavily. His stomach ached, fear and stress controlling him. His mind jumped to the worst conclusions-his family's inn destroyed, his family's money gone, his sister stolen into prostitution.

Osamu neared the inn. His tension rose as the kago stopped outside. Suddenly, the falling snow barely moved, the kago bearer's idle chatter slowed to a deep drawl, and his breathing labored.

Osamu's eyes scanned the front of the building. The nori was cut down. The lanterns were burning. The large, brown side, "Miyabe-ya," lay dirtied on the ground. He slowly exited the kago. His cheeks shook as he breathed out heavily, the back of his neck tightened. The inn was a catastrophe. It was ruined. He could hear nothing but the kago bearer's thumping feet, leaving, and the crackle of the burning lanterns, all drumming heavily in his ears. The world resumed its pace as he pushed the hanging nori aside and entered the inn.

He looked around the first floor. There was no sign of his family. He feared that the Kurokawa gang had taken them as punishment. He neared the stairs. His heart fluttered. His chest burned and his throat constricted. He had to hurry…

He ran up the stairs as fast as he could. As he turned the corner, he stopped. His jaw dropped. He gasped.

His father lay gruesomely contorted-dead. His mother moaned in pain, her hand outstretched in agony. She tightened her fist and struggled. She let go. Her hand dropped as she faded away. Osamu had seen her last breath. They were dead-both of them. Osamu began to shake. A lone tear raced down his cheek. The dam had been broken…

Osamu screamed. He did not stop. Tears welled up in his eyes and overflowed down his cheeks and into his mouth. His nose reddened and swelled, running. Mucus and saliva ran down his chin as he threw his head back, his hands touching their bodies, his chest convulsing. He could not stop his deep, heavy crying. The shock overwhelmed him. He suddenly breathed in heavily, sharply. He realized his sister was gone. His sister had been taken. He could not let her reside with the demons of the world. He could not let his parent's murder go unreconciled.

He looked at their faces and cried anew. He sat crunched over, his hands outstretched to them, his drool coating his chin.

"Father! Mother!" He cried out, his hands now reaching out to the sky. He heaved, sobbing, choking. He cried himself sore. He vomited.

Osamu struggled within.

He had to find his sister-he had to take revenge. That was all that he could do. But then…Ii Naosuke entered his mind. His hatred welled anew. The assassination attempt was the next day. He wrestled with whether to save his family, or to save his nation. He knew that the greater good of the nation should reign supreme, but his love for his sister emotionally overshadowed that.

Osamu growled and screamed, holding his hair tight in his hand, attempting to decide. He screamed, spat, sputtered, and threw books, paper, vases, and anything he could find. He yelled and groaned unintelligibly, his face deep red. He could not make the decision that would change his life-and others. He pounded the wall. He wanted fame, fame from the death of Ii Naosuke. He wanted the welfare of his country. On the other hand, he wanted a virtuous life of comfort for his sister. He loved her.

Fame.

Love.

Family.

Comradery.

Japan.

His thoughts raced. He pounded the wall even harder. He could only do one or the other. The images of him beheading the Tairou flooded his mind. He was almost won over. He knew that the sacrifice he was making would be hard-but it was for the good of the nation. His shoulders relaxed. Suddenly, he hit the wall again, screaming. He ran down the stairs as fast as he could, and out of the inn.

The thought that his sister would be violated by his parent's murderers had made the final decision.
His parents lay dead-contorted gruesomely. The inn was destroyed. Osamu left on a mission. He would rescue his sister. He would save her.

------------------------------------

Osamu wore only his kimono as he stood within a small soba shop, shivering. His eyes were intense-filled with rage.

"Kurokawa Gang? Where?" He managed to asked, seething, his shoulders heaving.

"They…they…I think that…I think that they stay at the Katsu-ya down the road." The shop's owner shook in fear, pointing out the door, his head back.

Osamu left, slowly at first, then running. He repeatedly tripped, his loose sandals dangling. He kicked his feet hard, sending them flying. The cold snow bit into his feet, but they soon numbed. His lungs ached as the cold air constricted them. The snow covered his dark hair.
His eyes focused into the dark of night. All else was gone. There was no Ii Naosuke. There was no snow. There was nothing.

Danno Osamu stood, his shoulders rising and falling, his chest heaving, his neck bent forward, his face downward, his pupils looking upward with revenge. His hair was unraveling from his topknot and blowing in the wind. His legs were spread wide, his kimono pulled tight across his knees.

He drew his sword in a wide arch. His arms rested to his side, away from his body, the sword's curvature laced with snow. The time had come. He walked forward into the building, the world passed by slowly. Noises deepened and people's actions froze as time stood still. All that remained was his heaving chest, his partly undone hair, his now-glinting sword.

Osamu's senses exploded back into speed as he ducked down low, clipping the first man he saw, cutting him off at the shins. Blood sprayed wildly, his white kimono stained, as he screamed, shaking his head wildly. Strokes from heaven to earth, east to west, strokes that pulled back then thrust forward, strokes that parried drawn swords then slid into necks filled the rooms. Wave after wave of men attacked Osamu in the inn's entrance, the public dining area, the hallways, and the bath. They must be upstairs, Osamu thought, trying to push his way through all the resistant men.

Heads tumbled as Osamu wildly swung, his fear of death overtaken by responsibility. Osamu ran up the center stairs as fast as he could, ducking and dodging enemy swords. There were many running, screaming guests. Osamu pitied them.

Blood sprayed against the walls and pooled on the floor. Carnage laced the night. Osamu, cut on the arm, broke through various shoji screens, killing the room's sleeping men and women. Their delicate kimono signaled their high position within the group, Osamu gathered.

More men tumbled to the ground amidst spinning arterial sprays of blood that soaked Osamu's skin and clothing. His faced stood out among the red intensely. At last, Osamu reached the end of the upper hallway. The room of honor lay before him. It was the largest room in the inn. He raised his leg high, stomping, bringing his sword horizontally through the screens. The wood and paper splintered drastically. He broke through.

A finely clothed man lay sleeping peacefully. A pair of swords lay next to his figure. Osamu ran forward, stabbing him repeatedly. His rage boiled over. He would not let the man who killed his family have an easy death. His sword ripped through the man's gold-colored sleeping garments smoothly. The man perished, covered in blood. His eyes were fixed on Osamu, his voice gone.

Osamu turned around quickly, taking out another man at the waist. A group of women ran by, screaming. He ran after them searching for his sister.

---------------------------------------

March 24 1860

Danno Osamu lay in a dark prison, his mind reeling with agony, his neck throbbing. The assassination had taken place without him. At least it happened, he thought. He had heard that morning that Ii Naosuke had perished at the hands of 18 ronin: 17 from Mito, 1 from Satsuma. Osamu grieved that "one man from Uwajima" had not been among the list of assassins.

The night before, he had not found his sister. He was afraid that she had already left; he had run out of the building in search. Police were scattered about, many on horses, numerous doshin running about with swords and ladders. Shortly, Osamu laid unconscious in the streets, struck in the neck by two simultaneous blows from ladders to the neck, one on either side. The police had caught him. The jail cell was quite full, Osamu lying sprawled in the darkest corner.

"Danno Osamu!" A guard called.

Osamu rose, slowly, his body aching, his emotions scattered. Surely, he felt the relief of revenge, but he was distraught that he had not found his sister, Ii Naosuke had not been taken by his hand, and that he was to be executed in three weeks. He neared the bars.

"You have a message."

"What is it?" He asked, his voice quivering from internal confusion and turmoil. He now battled with whether the previous night was worth his impending death. The guard handed him a folded piece of dirty paper. It was from the son of Sakuragaoka Masakata, the man who had financed the assassination attempt. He had obviously bribed the guard to hand Osamu the message unmolested.

Osamu read it. His eyes grew wider as he neared the bottom of the short note. He dropped the paper and fell over, hitting his head on the floor, loudly. The guard quickly opened the cell door, threatened the prisoners that they would die by his sword immediately if they moved, and dragged Osamu out of the cell. He checked Osamu's nostrils for air. His chest was still, the back of his head bleeding. The guard's forehead wrinkled as he told a fellow guard that the prisoner was dead. The officers read the note slowly, confused:

"The object has been taken care of. I am sorry that you were not there. Japan has been done a great service. On a sad note, Takahashi Taichirou was found dead last night at an inn called Katsu-ya. He was brutally murdered. He was found this morning wearing his favorite gold sleeping-garment, a true testament to his everlasting class."

The guards finished, confused.
"Doesn't Kurokawa Goronosuke stay at Katsu-ya?" One guard asked.
"No, no, no! He stays at the Kashi-ya."