Brilliance of the Moon (3 page)

BOOK: Brilliance of the Moon
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I called his name and his eyes opened. I saw relief shine in
them. He tried to scrabble into a kneeling position and fell forward, unable to
save himself with his hands. His face hit the dirt.

“Untie him,” I said.

One of the monks said, “He is an outcast. We should not touch
him.”

“Who tied him up?”

“We did not realize then,” the other said.

“You can cleanse yourselves later. This man saved my life. Untie
him.”

Reluctantly they went to Jo-An, lifted him up, and loosened the
cords that bound him. He crawled forward and prostrated himself at my feet.

“Sit up, Jo-An,” I said. “Why are you here? I said you were to
come when I sent for you. You were lucky not to be killed, turning up here
without warning, without permission.”

The last time I’d seen him I’d been almost as shabbily dressed as
he was, a fugitive, exhausted and starving. Now I was aware of the robe I wore,
my hair dressed in the warrior style, the sword in my belt. I knew the sight of
me talking to the outcast would shock the monks profoundly. Part of me was
tempted to have him thrown out, to deny that there was any relationship between
us, and to throw him from my life at the same time. If I so ordered the guards,
they would kill him immediately with no second thought. Yet, I could not do it.
He had saved my life; moreover, for the sake of the bond between us, both born
into the Hidden, I had to treat him not as an outcast but as a man.

“No one will kill me until the Secret One calls me home,” he
muttered, raising his eyes and looking at me. “Until that time, my life is
yours.“ There was little light where we stood, just the lamp the monk had
brought from the guardhouse and placed on the ground near us, but I could see
Jo-An’s eyes burning. I wondered, as I often had before, if he were not alive
at all but a visitant from another world.

“What do you want?” I said.

“I have something to tell you. Very important. You’ll be glad I
came.”

The monks had stepped back out of pollution’s way but were still
close enough to hear us.

“I need to talk to this man,” I said. “Where should we go?”

They threw an anguished look at each other and the older man
suggested, “Maybe the pavilion, in the garden?”

“You don’t need to come with me.”

“We should guard Lord Otori,” the younger said.

“I’m in no danger from this man. Leave us alone. But tell Manami
to bring water, some food, and tea.”

They bowed and left. As they crossed the courtyard they started
whispering to each other. I could hear every word. I sighed.

“Come with me,” I said to Jo-An. He limped after me to the pavilion,
which stood in the garden not far from the large pool. Its surface glittered in
the starlight, and every now and then a fish leaped from the water, flopping
back with a loud splash. Beyond the pool the grayish white stones of the graves
loomed out of the darkness. The owl hooted again, closer this time.

“God told me to come to you,” he said when we were settled on the
wooden floor of the pavilion.

“You should not talk so openly of God,” I chided him. “You are in
a temple. The monks have no more love for the Hidden than the warriors.”

“You are here,” he muttered. “You are our hope and our
protection.”

“No,” he agreed docilely, “I have to fetch the others.”

“What others, Jo-An?”

“The rest of us. The ones who came with me. You saw some of
them.”

I had seen these men at the tannery by the river where Jo-An
worked, and I would never forget the way they had stared after me with burning
eyes. I knew they looked to me for Justice and protection. I remembered the
feather: Justice was what Shigeru had desired. I also had to pursue it for the
sake of his memory and for these living men.

Jo-An put his hands together again and gave thanks for the food.

A fish leaped in the silence.

“How many are there?” I asked.

“About thirty. They’re hiding in the mountains. They’ve been
crossing the border in ones and twos for the last weeks.”

“Isn’t the border guarded?”

“There’ve been skirmishes between the Otori and Arai’s men. At
the moment there’s a standoff. The borders are all open. The Otori have made it
clear they’re not challenging Arai or hoping to retake Yamagata. They only want
to eliminate you.”

It seemed to be everyone’s mission.

“Do the people support them?” I asked.

“Of course not!” he said almost impatiently. “You know who they
support: the Angel of Yamagata. So do we all. Why else are we here?”

I was not sure I wanted their support, but I could not help but
be impressed by their courage.

“Thank you,” I said.

He grinned then, showing his missing teeth, reminding me of the
torture he had already suffered because of me. “We’ll meet you on the other
side of the mountain. You’ll need us then, you’ll see.”

I had the guards open the gates and said good-bye to him. I
watched his slight, twisted shape as he scuttled away into the darkness. From
the forest a vixen screamed, a sound like a ghost in torment. I shivered. Jo-An
seemed guided and sustained by some great supernatural power. Though I no
longer believed in it, I feared its force like a superstitious child.

I went back to the guest house, my skin crawling. I removed my clothes
and, despite the lateness of the hour, told Manami to take them away, wash and
purify them, and then come to the bathhouse. She scrubbed me all over and I
soaked in the hot water for ten or fifteen minutes. Putting on fresh clothes, I
sent the servant to fetch Ka-hei and then to ask the abbot if we might speak
with him. It was the first half of the Hour of the Ox.

I met Kahei in the passageway, told him briefly what had
transpired, and went with him to the abbot’s room, sending the servant to fetch
Makoto from the temple, where he was keeping the night vigil. We came to the
decision that we would move the entire army as soon as possible, apart from a
small band of horsemen who would remain at Terayama for a day to fight as a
rear guard.

Kahei and Makoto went immediately to the village beyond the gates
to rouse Amano and the other men and start packing up food and equipment. The
abbot ordered servants to inform the monks, reluctant to sound the temple bell
at this hour of night in case we sent a warning to spies. I went to Kaede.

She was waiting for me, already in her sleeping robe, her hair
loose down her back like a second robe, intensely black against the ivory
material and her white skm. The sight of her, as always, took my breath away.
Whatever happened to us, I would never forget this springtime we had had
together. My life seemed full of undeserved blessings, but this was the
greatest of them.

“Manami said an outcast came and you let him in and spoke with
him.” Her voice was as shocked as her woman’s had been.

“Yes, he’s called Jo-An. I met him in Yamagata.” I undressed, put
on my robe, and sat opposite her, knee to knee.

Her eyes searched my face. “You look exhausted. Come and lie
down.”

“I will; we must try and sleep for a few hours. We march at first
light. The Otori have surrounded the temple; we are going over the mountain.”

“The outcast brought you this news?”

“He risked his life to do so.”

“Why? How do you know him?”

“Do you remember the day we rode here with Lord Shigeru?” I said.

Kaede smiled. “I can never forget it.”

“The night before, I climbed into the castle and put an end to
the suffering of the prisoners hanging on the walls. They were Hidden: Have you
heard of them?”

Kaede nodded. “Shizuka told me a little about them. They were tortured
in the same way by the Noguchi.”

“One of the men I killed was Jo-An’s brother. Jo-An saw me as I
came out of the moat and thought I was an angel.”

“The Angel of Yamagata,” Kaede said, slowly. “When we came back
that night, the whole town was talking about it.”

“Since then we have met again; our fates seem to be entwined in
some way. Last year he helped me get here. I would have perished in the snow
but for him. On the way he took me to see a holy woman, and she said certain
things about my life.”

I had told no one, not even Makoto, not even Matsuda, of the
words of the prophetess, but now I wanted to share them with Kaede. I whispered
some of them to her: that in me three bloods mingled, I was born into the
Hidden but my life was no longer my own, that I was destined to rule in peace
from sea to sea, when earth delivered what heaven desired. I had repeated these
words over and over to myself, and as I’ve said before, sometimes I believed
them and sometimes I did not. I told her that five battles would bring us
peace, four to win and one to lose, but I did not tell her what the saint had
predicted about my own son: that I would die at his hands. I told myself it was
too terrible a burden to lay on her, but the truth was that I did not want to
talk about another secret I had kept from her: that a girl from the Tribe, Muto
Kenji’s daughter, Yuki, was carrying my child.

“You were born into the Hidden?” she said carefully. “But the
Tribe claimed you because of your father’s blood. Shizuka tried to explain it to
me.”

“Muto Kenji revealed that my father was Kikuta, from the Tribe,
when he first came to Shigeru’s house. He did not know, though Shigeru did,
that my father was also half Otori.” I had already shown Kaede the records that
confirmed this. Shigeru’s father, Otori Shige-mori, was my grandfather.

“And your mother?” she asked quietly. “If you feel able to tell
me…”

“My mother was one of the Hidden. I was raised among them. My
family were massacred in our village, Mino, by Iida’s men, and they would have
killed me then if Shigeru had not rescued me.” I paused and then spoke of what
I had hardly allowed myself to think about. “I had two sisters, little girls. I
imagine they were also murdered. They were nine and seven years old.”

“How terrible,” Kaede said. “I am always afraid for my sisters. I
hope we can send for them when we arrive at Maruyama. I hope they are safe
now.”

I was silent, thinking of Mino, where we had all felt so safe.

“How strange your life has been,” Kaede went on. “When I first
met you, I felt you hid everything. I watched you go away as if into a dark and
secret place. I wanted to follow you there. I wanted to know everything about
you.”

“I will tell you everything. But let’s lie down and rest.”

Kaede pulled back the quilt and we lay down on the mattress. I
took her in my arms, loosening both our robes so I could feel her skin against
mine. She called to Manami to put out the lamps. The smell of smoke and oil
lingered in the room after the woman’s footsteps had died away.

I knew all the sounds of the temple at night by now: the periods
of complete stillness, broken at regular intervals by the soft padding of feet
as the monks rose in the darkness and went to pray, the low chanting, the
sudden note of a bell. But tonight that regular and harmonious rhythm was
disturbed, with sounds of people coming and going all night. I was restless,
feeling I should be part of the preparations, yet reluctant to leave Kaede.

She whispered, “What does it mean, to be one of the Hidden?”

“I was raised with certain beliefs; most I don’t hold anymore.”
As I said this I felt my neck tingle, as if a cold breath had passed over me.
Was it really true that I had abandoned the beliefs of my childhood—ones that
my family had died for rather than give up?

“It was said that when Iida punished Lord Shigeru, it was because
he was one of the Hidden—and my kinswoman Lady Maruyama too,” Kaede murmured.

“Shigeru never spoke of it to me. He knew their prayers and said
them before he died, but his last word was the name of the Enlightened One.”
Until today, I had hardly thought of this moment. It had been obliterated by
the horror of what had followed, and by my overwhelming grief. Today I had
thought of it twice, and suddenly for the first time I put together the
prophetess’s words and Shigeru’s. “It is all one,” she had said. So Shigeru had
believed this too. I heard again her wondering laughter and thought I saw him
smile at me. I felt that something profound had suddenly been revealed to me,
something I could never put into words. My heart seemed to miss a beat in
astonishment. Into my silenced mind several images rushed at once: Shigeru’s
composure when he was about to die, the prophetess’s compassion, my own sense
of wonder and anticipation the first day I had come to Terayama, the red-tipped
feather of the
houou
on my palm. I saw the
truth that lay behind the teaching and the beliefs, saw how human striving
muddied the clarity of life, saw with pity how we are all subject to desire and
to death, the warrior as much as the outcast, the priest, the farmer, even the
emperor himself. What name could I give to that clarity? Heaven? God? Fate? Or
a myriad of names like the countless old spirits that men believed dwelled in
this land? They were all faces of the faceless, expressions of that which
cannot be expressed, parts of a truth but never the whole truth.

BOOK: Brilliance of the Moon
7.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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