August 27, 2007
There once was a man. he lived in a little town on the seaside near Tokyo. He was a fierce man that history forgot but he will will always be remembered in that little town, Imo. His was a face that kings recognized, only for a moment in time. Shishio was his name.
Shishio was one of the chief lieutenant in the emperor's army right at the beginning of the Meiji era. The embodiment of valour and all things predatory.
Now he sat under a maple tree with a leaf in his hand. He turned it a couple of times to and fro. He thought hard. Shishio dropped the leaf , sprang up and stood thee in the autumn breeze. The wind blew his clothes and his hair danced in front of his face.
Shishio drew his sword in a quick flash and raised it at his side. He turned his head and looked at the approaching band of men.
They were childhood friends. Shishio and Yiko. They shared everything and played together in the fields all day. They would run along the emperor's soldiers as they marched along the road every seven day. They went everywhere together.
Shishio was slightly bigger but stronger than Yiko and he was very protective of Yiko. One time they had followed the marching army all the way to the port. Shishio had run off to buy some buns but as he returned he saw Yiko being bullied by some local boys.
There were three of them. Shishio rushed to them and challenged them. They obviously thought he was a push over and proceeded to shove him around. Shishio kept insisting the leave Yiko alone but the challenged what he, Shishio, would do if they didn't. One of the boys pushed Yiko and he fell into the muddy water. When he was getting up the second boy tripped Yiko and he fell hard on the ground scrapping his knee.
This threw Shishio into a frenzy. He lunged at the boy standing before him in wild choke hold. The other boys tried to pry him off. The kicked and hit but Shishio would not let go. The third boys eyes were now bulging and his face was turning blue. The other boys now stood in shock as the enraged Shishio strangling the life out of the boy.
Then Yiko shouted that he stop and immediately Shishio let go and crept back lik a wounded animal. The boy retreated to the welcoming hand of his friends and they quickly disappeared into the next street.
It was almost dusk and they walked home in silence. Shishio walked ahead. He stopped every so often so that Yiko could catch up but each time Yiko also stopped.
That day has always been engraved into Shishio's mind.
But theirs was a special bond. Yiko was a person who easily forgave but for three days he put up a wall until finally he could not. Shishio was doing a mad man dance, it was so funny seeing him limp on one foot and talk in a strange voice . Yiko could not resist to laugh. And that was the end of that episode. By sunset they were racing down te village path and the local farmers watched in wonder at the rascals their faces bright with bliss.
On the next day the boys went to the market with their Yiko's elder sister. She was to buy some vegetables for the family. She was busy haggling with the merchant when the boys trotted off to the dork side.
Shishio was looking down into the silvery water. Yiko was leaning on his back looking over his shoulder when suddenly Shishio turned to look back. He had seen an image reflect on the water. Behind hims stood a man. His was in his middle ages and he bore a katana on his hip. A samurai. Shishio's eyes were captivated by this samurai.
The man singled him out and said he wanted to pas on his sword style to someone and that Shishio was just the right student. Shishio could not believe this. He thanked the man many times over. The man agreed to meet Shishio by the oak tree on the rise of the moon.
With that the boys raced off to meet their sister who had b now began to look for them. The boys walked on opposite sides of Tauri, Yiko's elder sister. Yiko looked over from the other side and met Shishio's eyes. Shishio was happy and that made him happy too.
Shishio could never have imagined the reaction of his parents about him wanting to be a samurai. His mother cried, that her son wanted to be a murderer for a living. His father wanted him to inherit the pot shop. Shishio did not sleep a all that night.
The next day they met in the fields. Yiko walked up to Shishio and placed his hand over Shishio's neck, Shishio drew him closer by the waist with his right arm and they embraced. Yiko had seen it in Shishio's eyes.
"My parents won't let me go"
Yiko muttered that he knew as his cheek rested on Shishio's and his breathe rushed past his ear.
At Yiko's home his mother was going about the house looking for him. She asked Tauri where her brother was. Tauri said she did not know but she had stuttered and her mother was onto her her.
"He is with that wretched boy isn't he, I knew it" She began to cry, " my only son..."
She then lept to her feet and called Yiko's father and demanded he go find his son. Cornered he agreed and walked off towards the fields. Tauri looked on from the door of the house with a look of alarm on her face. He mother told he not to dare leave the house.
Before long Yiko's father came across a goat shepherd and asked him if he had seen Yiko. The shepherd said he had seen him go up the hill. Quickly Yiko's father rushed up the hill and when he got to the top he froze and went to his knees. Yiko's mother was hot behind him
"What is it.."
She got to the top and clasped on her husbands shirt
'My son...my only son...." She let out a shrieking cry
Yiko turned sharply only to see his parents staggering down the hill and the shepherd at the top. The world seemed to crush on him.
From then on everything went through the motions. Yiko's parents convened a council meeting with Shishio's family and demanded something be done to save their innocent boy. The room was heated with debate and shouting. Yiko's mother swore to have Shishio's family driven out of the village.
The village elder ended the meeting with no resolution and everyone dispersed with a wagging tongue.
It ws close to midnight when a figure dashed along the village road towards the Shishio's home. The figure darted from building to building until he reached the main house. A low knock and the door opened.
Shishio's mother opened the door, she was startled and was slamming the door shut when the figure pressed the door
"No, I'm not here to cause trouble. I came to talk sense with your husband"
"Let him in" Shishio's father uttered from behind where he now stood.
Yiko's father entered and and was shown to a table.
The two men began talking. Yiko's father explained that his wife would send for the shogun to have Shishio's family expelled or even executed but he was a reasonable man. A third of the wares he sells as a merchant came from Shishio's father and it would mean a fall in business of they left and the nearest potter was miles away who made inferior pottery and more expensive, also Shishio's mother was the only midwife in the village. He leaving would mean paying money to hire an outsider each time there is birth. It was undesirable.
Yiko's father said he learnt from Yiko that Shishio had been chosen by a samurai. He proposed if Shishio's father let him go then that would quell his wife and all concerned and since the boys wold not see each other anymore.
So on the night of the rising moon Shishio left the village. To the village folk he was just another boy going to be a samurai, to make the village proud, they cheered him on in their hearts.
The samurai was smiling, his sword style will not die with him after all.
Shishio's mother did not know what deal her husband struck but she was happy that no disgrace had come of it, she smiled wishing he son well.
Yiko's mother was smiling, good ridden she thought. Yiko's father and Shishio's father were smiling, they had avoided a public family disgrace and saved their businesses.
Tauri was smiling, because Yiko was smiling, he was he brother and she loved him, no matter what. Yiko was smiling with a tear running down his red cheek. he was alone now but Shishio will do what he wanted to do, become a samurai.
Everyone smiled on that rising moon night.
Five years pass and Yiko looked over the at the oak tree everytime before he went to sleep, Hoping he would see Shishio, be he knew he would be there, but he hoped.
One night there was someone there. Yiko strained his eyes to see. His heart beat faster than it ever before and sure enough it was shishio waving from the top of the hill by the oak tree.
The words Shishio had said before he left resonated in his very being.
"watch or my by the oak tree, I will come"
In a instant Yiko was out the window and racing down the valley and up the hill. He embraced Shishio, not wanting the moment to end. When he finally let go he stepped back to look at Shishio.
" My Shishio"
What he saw was different , it was Shishio but he was changed. He was now bulkier and his face had become like that of a wolf with deep hounding gaze but he could see in those eyes that it was still his Shishio.
He took hold of his hand and felt the roughness, he turned slightly and say the katana at Shishio's hip, Yiko paused then continued as if he had noticed nothing. They sat and talked . Yiko asked about how Shishio liked becoming a samurai and if he had come to stay.
"You know I cant stay' Shishio explained that he had to go now and that. Yiko should too before his mother noticed something. Shishio thrush his cloak over his head and was about to sprint way into the darkness when Yiko grabbed his fringe.
Yiko asked when he will see him again.
"Maybe in two years". Shishio then turned and disappeared into the night.
Yiko returned to his room and slept soundly that night.
His mother was leaning closely to the door as he entered, she walked away as he got into bed cursing in her heart.
She entered her bedroom and woke her husband.
"we should get Yiko a wife now"
He husband asked why.
"Are you still worried about that boy Shishio?
"Don't you say tat wretched boy's name in this house" She then explained that yiko ha ben out of his room that night and had come back really happy.
Her husband suggested maybe he had met a girl, which was good but his wife said
"You know that is not true."
Her husband then said that Yiko was too young to get married, people in the town would get suspicious if they tried that. And that silenced her.
The next year came news that the emperor's son had been found. Everyone knew what this meant. Alarm traveled like veld fire as fears of war gripped the countryside. The shogun sent his men to monitor the roads and the emperor loyalists traveled by night to garner up support.
The shogan's regiments went from village to village demanding grain stored to feed the sgogans army in the coming war.
On a cold autumn dask, as the orange sky merged with the pitch three riders came up to the village. They were the emperor loyalist, the Ishin Shishi, and they asked for young men to recruit and defend his majesty. Fourteen young men volunteered and amoung them was Yiko.
The third rider made one pass round the young men then told them to go bid farewell to their families as they were leaving that very night. The other riders looked puzzled but just shrugged.
Yiko went to his home and was wrapping his sleeping mat. His mother ws just stunned. She stood speechless. This was his rebellion she thought, she went outside and begged his father to make him stay. Then a figure appeared at Yiko's window. It was the third rider,Yiko drew back and only elxed when the rider took off his mask, it was Shishio.
Shishio told him Yiko that he could not go to war. He would be killed and he, Shishio, would not be able to bear it. Yiko was resolved.
"You leave me no choice" , Shishio said and he dew is katana and struck Yiko on his right hand with the hilt. Yiko gave a load cry and his mother stormed into the room, she saw her son on the floor clasping his right arm, Shishio making his way to the window.
She cursed at him and threw a vase which shattered on his shoulder, before she culd throw another Shishio was gone.
Yiko's father burst into the room with a spear and his wife told him that the wretched boy had come back and did this to their son.
Yiko was confused. Why was Shishio violent to him. At that moment Yiko had a turning feeling, a mixture of love and hatred which hurt more that the pain from his arm.
Yiko's father examined his son's arm. It was broken.
"He is no longer going to any war, atleast you get something that you wanted."
Everyone knew that it was not going to be a long war, so everything in the beginning counted. The war raged on for months. Rumours and myths grew log and tall vines. Especially the rumour bout a hitokiri called Shishio who was creating havoc amoungst the shogun rank with merciless cold blooded assassinations.
Yiko always felt a slight tingling when ever he head those stories and his moher looked with great disapproval at his face. In the coming moths she tried to woe his a wife but he refused all of them.
In the seven month, the war was won. The emperor loyalist had carried the day and the shogun had led to the continent.
The samurai and the soldiers began to come back home. Of the fourteen soldiers who left only six returned to the village of Imo and in their midst was Shishio. He was ghastly looking, as if some hound out of hell. All of the village folk moved out of his way and non dared speak to him, they could not reconcile the Shishio, a boy, who left seven years ago was this half demon walking before them.
Shishio went to his parents house and they greeted him with weariness.
Yiko's mother stood at he balcony of her home as the celebrations for the recrowning of the emperor was going on. He husband walked by and told her to get own since they had to be there before the commander of the eastern province was in town
Imo was the part of the most prosperous town in the eastern province and the commander had chosen the own for the celebration.
The general was a self absorbed man and frequently had his escort speak for him but when he saw Yiko's mother enter he waved the escort back with the palm of his hand and proceeded to greet her himself, he barely noticed Yiko's father and he only greeted him as he was one of the town elders.
As the night went by the general had become very familiar with Yiko's mother and now knew her first name, Yuri. Yiko's father sat uncomfortably across the other end of the table as the general had invited Yuri to his side of the table. The general boasted of his bravery in battle. Thn one of the women said
"Are as brave as the great Shishio Batoussai?"
There was an uneasy silence at the table then Yuri said.
"How many did you slay general"
"That is so many"
The whole table just nodded in agreement although they knew that Shishio the Battousai had slain over 200 men.
The general offered to take Yuri on a show around his camp just outside the town. She agreed and went with him. Yiko's father was about to stand up and protest but his closest friend held his shoulder, Yiko's father turned to him and then sank back into the chair.
Yiko entered the generals tent and there were a myraid of things inside. Immedielety a large golden dragon staff caught her eyes.
"Do you like it?" The general teased. That is the emperors staff, it hs to be delivered to him by the end of the moon. Yuri was amused by it and the jewels on it. She wanted to touch it but the general told her it was forbidden. She asked if anyone had never tried to steal it. They have all been caught and beheaded.
She was thoroughly amused and she giggled as she went the embrace of the general
Yuri returned home late that night and she did this many nights form then on, there was nothing her husband could do against suck a powerful man.
On one occasion she did not come home at all, she only came home the next night. Yiko's father could not contain himself and an argument broke out about her affair with the general. Yuri stormed out of the bedroom onto the balcony and looked out.
"there goes Yiko to see that wretched devil" she said with a snear. This is what you son is up to she accused him
Yiko's father reminded her that she was the one to blame. She was the one who wanted a baby girl so much she dressed Yiko in Tauri baby clothes until he could talk,. She was the one who objected to Yiko working hard labour but do soft work instead. She was the one who rejected his friends and that is why Yiko had to make friends in secret which led to this disgrace.
"It is also your fault."
"Well, I will put an end to it!" she shouted back and banged the door behind her.
They came. They came from beyond the fields. They bore large spears. They searched high and low. They yelled and ran through the town. They came to Shishio's home and rammed the door, an entered the courtyard, they went for Shishio's cottage and they emerged with the heard of the golden dragon
"We've found it they yelled!"
"it can't be. Shishio Battaousai, first lieutenant in his emperor's army?"
"The very same."
"He could no have done it, he is one of the founders of the Ishin Shishi"
"But look we found this in his cottage did we not"
Immediately they began demanding Shishio. Shishio's mother broke down crying and his father insisted that it must be a mistake. Shishio fought bravely for the emperor, why would he do this.
The soldiers pushed him aside and went out to the fields.
Yiko ran, he ran until his lungs burned but he dared not stop.
Shishio! he whispered in his heart
His heart pounded as he waded across the drying rice to the clay hill. Shishio turned to the sound of panting and saw Yiko climbing up the hill.
Yiko told him what had hapened up the town that morning. Shishio calmly cast down his hoe and washed his hands of the clay. He put on his shirt and grabbed his katana.
Yiko asked where he would go, Shishio just said somewhere far away. Yiko said he wanted to go with him. Shishio told him it was safer for him to stay and Shishio broke away and carried like the wind.
Shishio arrived at the port and found the emperor's soldiers were already there, looking through every boat. It was strange how the news had traveled so fast.
Shishio then went and sat under a maple tree and took a leaf into his hand.
The search party eventually came up to where he was. Shishio dropped the leaf and rose to his feet. The general walked to the head of the party and demanded that Shishio give himself up.
Shishio wanted to know why, when the charge was read he said he could not have done it as he was some place else and had witnesses.The general demanded to know the witnesses, Shishio was about to talk then he stopped. The general mockingly laughed
Yiko struggled to get to the front and defend Shishio but a group of soldiers seized him just as he started to yell
"He was with me last night, He was with me!"
The carried him off and they passed Yuri who had a strong look of disapproval on her face.
Yiko 's vice grew even louder until one of the soldiers struck him across the face with button and he collapsed onto his knees.
The general then tore into a rant and demanded his surrender and absolute surrender and nothing else would do. Shishio was unwavering. The general then declared he would be brought in dead or alive.
He ordered his men to charge the fugitive. Shishio closed his eyes and drifted in his mind, He thought of Yiko.
"you fool, you were always too rush"
Just then he heard the vibration of footstep towards him. He unclipped his katana and in one clean battoujitsu the soldier lay motionless in front of him. The second soldier
Yiko watched with a light head as Shishio, like a demon, cut down the emperor's soldiers. That was his Shishio.
The men came in waves and they all fell before Shishio's katana.
The general inquired to his second in command how many soldiers had gone up the hill. He told him near twenty. The general signaled that his archers be called in furious how one man could kill twenty soldiers in one evening.
The archers came in within minutes and knelt before the hill and stretched their bows.
Shishio looked up and down the hill. He was bleeding from spear wounds and he was tired, he saw the archers.
The general signaled the archers to let fly and a stream of burning arrows went flying towards Shishio.
The general stood with amazement as Shishio rose from the volley. The general then waved the archers away and sent 6 soldiers charging up the hill to finish him off.
Shishio grimaced and tightly gripped his katana, he drew out the kadachi with his left hand. Within moment the six men lay in lifeless piles before him. The general then rolled in the gatlin and ordered to open fire.
The bullets hit Shishio all over his body and he fell on his knees to the ground
Shishio, gulped to breathe and he could see Yiko pinned down by two soldiers. Shishio raised his arm and the katana fell from his hands. Suddenly everything was brilliantly bright and he could no longer feel the pain.
This must be death he thought to himself.
His body tumbled down the hill and cam crushing before the general who grinned.
"The fall of Shishio, what a great pun." He tuned to leave and kicked the lifeless body,"He isn't so great now."
That very night Shishio's family left Imo. They knew what would happen in the morning as the excitable townsfolk got wind of the events.
Yiko's father went down to the ship were Yiko was being held by the soldiers.
Inside the ship the general was throwing a tantrum. Arguing that he did what Yuri now she should marry him. But he was now mad because he had found out about Yiko. He would not have Yiko for a son. he would rather call off the engagement. She begged him not to leave her because of Yiko. She would disown him since he had chosen to dishonor her.
The next morning she stood on the deck of the ship. Her beautiful hair dancing before her petit face. she turned and them waited for a moment then she waved her hand. Four soldiers rushed down below and carried off Yiko to a nearby ship. He did not look up to her, his head swung low and he barely limped on. A broken boy. She never saw him again
Just then the general got out of his cabin and walked over to her and embraced her from behind. He told her that now she could become he generals wife and enjoy all the love and pleasures that came with the title.
On the dock way Yiko's father was still waiting for his son. When he saw Yiko being carried off he tried to stop the soldiers but he was pushed aside.
An old man torn down. He returned home and looked at the divorce paper he had signed the previous day. He had no choice, he felt utter frustration that he could not do anything about it. Tauri cared for her father but he died within a few days. It was from the exposure of standing in the sea air all night and mainly because of the heartache.
That day there was a celebration of Yuri's engagement to the general. Tauri passed in tears as she made her way on the dock way inquiring about the foreign ship.