“Hurry up Keisuke, if we’re to make it on time. She’ll be gone by the time we arrive if you don’t learn to dress yourself faster.”
Just another, beleive it or not, quick jot down of this story I've been thinking of. Let me know what you think. There is a Preface in a previous post. Bare (?) with the slow starting. It's all for the greater good of the story
Act 1- Keisuke Inafune
20 years ago- 1200 A.D.
Act 1- Keisuke Inafune
20 years ago- 1200 A.D.
Keisuke was preparing himself for the walk to the Shiro in the next town over. Dressing for winter weather was, as he found over the short five years of his life, very exhausting. He donned his winter kimono and geta, pulled back his hair, and met his father at the entranceway.
“Come, we have a slightly long walk ahead of us. It’s not every day we get to see the Empress outside of the Castle.”
Keisuke smiled and nodded his head in agreement. His father was a large man compared to him. His very presence demanded the utmost respect when he entered a room. Keisuke had watched his father for as long as he could remember practice his swordsmanship in the courtyard of their home. He would spar for hours with fellow samurai and give the occasional teachings to the Ronin passing through. He had earned the highest respects from his daimyo. Keisuke had hoped that one day; he could be as fine a swordsman as his father.
“Did you tell your mother goodbye and that we would be back by dinner time?”
“No, father, I didn’t.” Keisuke replied.
Keisuke ran to the kitchen and tugged on his mother’s kimono as she washed their dishes.
“Father and I are going to see the Empress today and he told me to tell you that we would be back for dinner” as he wiped his snotty nose.
“Oh, Keisuke. Come here and let me wipe you up. When you’re in the presence of someone such as the Empress, it’s important to clean yourself up” she said giggling to herself.
“Keisuke” Yelled his father from across the room.
He walked back to his father and waved goodbye to his mother. She looked to them both and smiled. His father slightly nodded his head and Keisuke could tell his action had silently and without words said “I Love you and will be home soon.”
The air was cold outside and there were small flakes of snow drifting peacefully to the dirt. Keisuke and his father walked in silence for what felt like hours, but surely to a boy of five years, was only a span of minutes. They lived atop a hill and the path to the main road was just up ahead. Keisuke rarely left the home except on special trips such as this one. Any opportunity to go beyond the tree brush was an adventure in his eyes.
When they reached the main road, Keisuke could see people from all different facets of life. There were couriers and merchant stands lining the snowy dirt road. Men and women were yelling loudly trying to sell what goods they had. A man came to his father begging for change. A woman was selling sweets and asking if Keisuke favored some. His father was iron in his will to deter them away. He gave off the aura of money and wealth. His kimono was made of fine red and black silk, a material only reserved for the noble. His Katana and Wakizashi were some of the finest in the country. People could smell the Ryo in his pockets he had earned through the spoils of war.
“Please Sir, might I have a moment of your time? Please?” a man asked as he stepped in front of his father.
“What are you trying to sell? Candy, perfumes, snacks, trinkets? Please, I have no use for these things” he replied.
“You are to see the Empress today, are you not?”
“How is it you know where we are going?”
“Your kimono is exquisitely hand crafted. One such as yours is surely only worn on very special occasions, and everyone knows of the Empress returning to the Shiro today.” He said grinning.
“Today and today only, I have handmade Noh masks priced very reasonably. The boy might find them entertaining.” he said massaging his hands for warmth.
“Please father? Can I have one?” begged Keisuke.
Keisuke didn’t hesitate a minute to try them on until he found one he couldn’t go without. It was of a white cat face elegantly painted to reflect happiness.
“Please father?” he begged more.
“How much for this one then?” replied his father.
“Only 50 mon for you Sir.” Replied the merchant.
“Only? Seems very expensive.”
“Yes, but to the commoner, they go for one hundred mon. So that’s half off, and the boy just loves it, as you can see.
Keisuke was wearing the mask as if it had been his for years.
“Fifty mon then.” His father said as he tossed a purse of coins to the merchant.
“Thank you sir, thank you deeply. My family will eat tonight and I will toast in your honor.” The merchant returned to his stand and began counting the coins with a smile that stretched ear to ear.
“Thank you father.” Said Keisuke looking up through the eye slits of the mask.
“When we return home, you will do all the yard work for one month to earn that mask of yours. Am I understood?”
“Yes sir” as he hung his head low and adjusted the straps on the side.
They crossed a small bridge that spanned a lifetime to Keisuke. The water below was almost frozen and the Koi fish could be seen swimming through the translucent ice that shimmered on the surface. They passed through the Sekisho to the next prefecture and continued into the city. There were restaurants and taverns and brothels as far as Keisuke could see. The streets were decorated with banners and paintings in anticipation of the Empress’s return. On the horizon, the Shiro rested on the backdrop of the city. It was magnificent. The towers and trees within its walls towered over the other structures. There were dozens of samurai protecting the gate as Keisuke and his father took to a bench just outside the draw bridge.
“Is she almost here father?” asked Keisuke.
“I should hope so. We have to be back by dinner time or your mother will be very upset with us.” He said slightly smiling.
Keisuke couldn’t remember the time when his father last smiled. He was always very serious and stone faced. This moment, as they sat on the bench waiting patiently for the Empress, was the only moment Keisuke would ever remember of his father. He would remember the subtle revealing of his teeth, the wrinkling of his cheeks and the sun just barely shining in his eyes. His father might not have admitted it, but he enjoyed the time alone with Keisuke as they sat wordless until a roar of applause could be heard in the distance.
Just near the bridge they crossed earlier, a crowd of people could be seen. They were coming from the alleyways and flooding the streets in hopes the Empress would see them. There were men in front of her Kago beating on drums and samurai to the sides for protection. They looked fierce and angry, Keisuke thought to himself. The Kago was decorated with gem stones and gold lining on the edges. Fine silks and fabrics covered the opening so the Empress couldn’t be seen. Archers on horseback trailed closely behind for security in the rear. The drumming was growing closer and Keisuke was on his feet, staring at the crowd through his Noh mask. His father remained seated while slightly smirking as Keisuke danced and waved his arms in the air.
The carriage was just feet away when Keisuke ran up to the side and ripped open the fabric cover. The parade stopped as the samurai unsheathed their swords in what was thought to be an attack. He was pulled quickly away by his father.
“What is the meaning of this?” yelled one of the guards.
“Forgive my son. He was only curious. He still hasn’t quite learned his manners.” Replied his father.
“Then allow me to teach him some!” the guard screamed as he raised his sword.
“Stop!” yelled someone from inside the carriage.
The fabric was pulled aside as the face of an older woman was revealed. She calmly placed her feet over the side and was soon standing between the guard and Keisuke’s father, who half unsheathed his sword.
“Empress, you should be in the carriage. I can handle this matter” spat the guard.
“You dare to order me around, samurai?” she questioned.
“No, Empress. Forgive me. I was out of line. It’s just that these commoners should know better than to charge the Royal carriage.”
“These are no commoners, samurai. Open your eyes. This is the esteemed and very well respected Samurai Ito Inafune before you. It should be you who ought to know better. Lower your sword.” She ordered.
The guard sheathed his sword and gave Ito an angry scowl. It soon dissipated as the Empress spoke.
“How fares your day, Inafune Sama?” the Empress asked.
“The day has been well to me, your highness. This is my son Keisuke. He has been excited all week at your returning to the castle. I couldn’t get him to stop asking me to see you.” Ito said with his head bowed.
“No need for formalities. You are a friend to the throne and you have no need to bow.” She said with a smile.
The curtain of the carriage was pulled open again and Keisuke saw a little girl inside.
“Mother, is everything ok?” asked the girl.
“Ah, I didn’t know the princess was with you, your majesty.” Said Ito.
She came from the carriage and walked to Keisuke.
“I like your mask. It looks happy.” The princess said.
“My father got it for me when we were walking here. He said I have to clean the yard for one whole month to pay for it.”
Keisuke took the mask off and handed it to the Princess.
“You can try it if you want.” She put the mask on her face and giggled as she looked to the Empress.
“Look mother. I’m a cat now. And I’m smiling.”
Soon Keisuke and the princess were running around the carriage playing a game of tag like kids often do.
“It seems our children have become friends, Ito. You should have him over sometime. You and your wife are welcome of course.” Said the Empress.
“I couldn’t accept your offer, your majesty. I’m but a samurai. It wouldn’t be fitting to be in your presence, so, commonly.” Replied Ito.
“Your family will accompany us for dinner and I won’t take no for an answer. The night after the next is suitable for me, and for you?” she asked.
“You’re very kind, your majesty. I will bring the news to my wife. We will see you in two days time.”
“Ayo dear, it’s time for us to leave, your father is expecting us.” Said the Empress as she turned and saw her in the mask.
“Ok, I guess we have to go now. Here is your mask.” Ayo said to Keisuke.
“No, it’s ok. I want you to have it. We can play with it later.”
Ito looked to Keisuke and the expression of irritation spread across his face.
“Until we see each other again, Inafune Sama.” Said the Empress over her shoulder.
The Empress and Princess loaded into the carriage and sealed themselves within. The drums began to play again and soon the parade was moving across the draw bridge until it was pulled up and closed off. Keisuke stood by his father’s side wiping his snotty nose. Ito looked down and scolded him.
“You gave the mask to the Princess? That was a very expensive mask, Keisuke. I hope you’re prepared to work the yard for it.” He said.
“Yes, father.” Keisuke replied as he kicked a rock.
Ito took a deep breath and exhaled. The hot air turned to mist in the cold draft that passed over them.
“Come. We have to get home before dinner is ready or your mother will be angry that I let you catch a cold. The night is coming and we should get inside before it snows.”
Keisuke and his father came through the door of the dining room. they removed their jackets and clogs before going to sit at the dinner table. His mother was preparing the table for dinner.
“Just in time. I finished cooking a minute ago.” Said his mother.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“Just the cold air slowing these old bones down. Im not as spry as I used to be.” Replied Ito.
“Mother, we met the Empress today.” Yelled Keisuke.
“Oh really? I imagine you must have been very excited. Was she nice to you?” she asked.
“Yes. She was very nice and so was the Princess. We played while father talked to the Empress.” He said before going to the sink to wash his face.
“Oh? Care to elaborate Ito?”
“The Empress has invited us to the castle. She intends to have us for dinner two nights from now.” he replied.
“Dinner? With the Empress? In two days?” she said while she finished setting the table.
“Yes. I couldn’t say no. She wouldn’t have it. I know it’s your birthday but she was so persistent. Forgive me.”
“We can celebrate my birthday another time Ito. Besides, I’ve had countless ones before it. It’s not like we were expecting anything different from the usual.” She was hinting at something that made Ito blush.
“Can we eat now Mother?” asked Keisuke.
“Yes. But Father gets the first pick. You know the rules.” She answered.
They ate dinner quietly. The candles danced sending devilish silhouettes across the walls. Keisuke would watch them in bed on most nights before his mother blew them out before bedtime. Tonight was no different. She came to his bed and pulled open the curtain before giving him a kiss on the forehead and blowing the candle.
“Good night my child. Get your rest. Your father said you have a busy day ahead of you. Something about a mask?” she smiled.
“Yeah, father got me a mask today but I gave it to the Princess.”
“I see. She must have been very thankful.”
“She was very nice. I can’t wait to play with her again. She was fun.”
“Well get your rest. I will see you in the morning. Good night my child.”
She kissed him once more on the forehead and left the room.
The snow that fell from the sky was relentless in the night. Keisuke couldn’t sleep. He had been laying there for hours listening to the breeze and thinking of the Princess. He was too excited to sleep. The shadows of the trees in the courtyard whipped about in the icy draft outside his window. He might have slept, if it weren’t for the cold and thoughts of the Princess running through his mind.
There was a noise outside Keisuke wasn’t used to hearing. It was faint and distant at first but growing louder and louder. It was the sound of horse hooves on the snow just outside the property. He lay there listening and pondering what was out there. Someone had come to the house? He wasn’t sure, until he heard someone dismounting. He heard a number of people dismounting. And just then, his mother came into the room.
“Keisuke, come to me.” He could feel that she was worried about something.
“What is it mother? Why are you scared?” he asked.
She hushed him into silence and held him close. Someone was yelling from the courtyard now. Ito came into the room with his swords in hand and looked to Keisuke and his mother.
“I will see what they want. Don’t move from this room.” he ordered.
“ITO INAFUNE!” someone yelled.
The voice was familiar to Keisuke but he couldn’t place it. Ito stepped into the courtyard and it seemed that when he did, the cold icy breeze of snow ceased. There were only small flurries falling from the tree branches now.
“I am Ito Inafune. Why have you entered my home? What can I help you with at this hour?” asked Ito.
“Don’t pretend with me Ito. You know who I am and why I’ve come here. It was only hours ago that you embarrassed me in front of the Empress. You’ve made me lose face and the guards mock me behind my back.” Yelled the man.
“I apologize for the events that transpired but I don’t know what to say. You acted out of anger towards my son and I. You have only yourself to blame for the embarrassment. A samurai does not act out of anger. It is the way of Bushido. You should know this.” Ito explained.
“I will not listen to your rabble any longer. Draw your sword Ito Inafune and face me. Face me, or I will find that little snot nose of yours and teach him the manners he deserves.” The man spat angrily.
“I must urge you to stand down and return to the castle. I don’t wish this and if you had any sense, then neither would you or your men. Please, leave, and I will forget this ever happened.” Ito ordered.
The men were slowly beginning to circle Ito in the courtyard. Keisuke could hear the crunching of snow under their geta but he couldn’t see anything but the shadows dancing on the rice paper walls.
“This is your last opportunity. I don’t wish to fight with you.” Ito warned.
“But a fight you will get, nonetheless.” Sneered the guard.
Keisuke watched as the battle unfolded through the shadows dancing and bouncing to each other in a black blur on the paper wall. The clashing of blades could be heard and the screams of men that without a doubt fell at his father’s sword. Ito fought off one of the attackers easily taking only two steps to cut him down. The man’s head rolled across the snow sending beautiful red spats of blood across the cold gusts of air. It didn’t just end with him. Another attacker thrust his blade towards Ito’s stomach only to ultimately witness Ito’s blade come slicing to the back of his neck.
Ito was calm with each blow and gave the impression that he was effortlessly shredding through the men. Only Ito and the embarrassed guard were standing now.
“It would seem you are a fine swordsman, but not fine enough.” Said the guard.
Ito looked to his side and saw that he had been slashed at some point during the scuffle. Blood was spilling through his kimono and dripping down his side. He was growing weak from the blood loss but kept his composure as the guard came attacking full force. His blade crossed Ito’s and sent sparks flying into the air. The sound of clanging blades bounced from the walls of the courtyard and Ito was growing weaker by the blow. The guard ferociously swung until finally landing his blade into Ito’s sword arm, forcing him to drop his blade.
“What you do here will not go unnoticed by the Empress. You are a fool to think you can get away with this.” Said Ito through the blood filling his mouth.
“I don’t think that’s something you should be worrying about. You should think about what I’m going to do to your wife and son once I’m done with you.” The guard whispered through his scowl.
The guard raised his sword for the final blow to Ito when he stopped suddenly. He grimaced in pain for a moment before turning to see Keisuke’s mother, standing there, breathing heavily as she removed her fingers from the wakizashi she placed in the guards back. Ito saw the trickling of blood spreading across his back. The wakizashi was buried deep into his shoulder.
“You bitch. You should have stayed out of this.” He yelled.
Time seemed to slow. It seemed to freeze. It seemed to stand still in the instant that it took for Ito to look into his wife’s eyes one last time. One last time he gave her the silent wordless gaze that only expressed the words “I Love you, and I am sorry.”
The guard swiped his blade at Keisuke’s mother and turned to Ito, smirking. The time seemed to speed up slowly until, in an instant, she grabbed at her throat to stop the spurting blood that spattered onto the snow. The life in her eyes disappeared as she fell to her knees. She tried with all the strength she still possessed to crawl into Ito’s arms. She stopped short as she laid her head into snow, and blood had begun to puddle underneath her.
Before Ito could feel any anger, any sadness, or any feeling of any kind, the guard slashed his blade at Ito, and the world faded into blackness.
Keisuke had waited for the guard to leave before he crawled from his bed. The air was silent. There wasn’t a gust of wind, there wasn’t the dancing shadows of the tree branches, there was only stillness. He slid the shoji door until he could see into the courtyard. Before him, in the snow, lay the cold lifeless bodies of his father and mother. He ran quickly to them and began shaking them vigorously.
“Mother, Father. Wake up. Please. Please wake up!” He was crying uncontrollably now.
The warm tears raced down his cheek and froze before they could reach his chin. His enraged screams rang through the courtyard until he could scream no longer. He lay there, holding their deceased bodies in his tiny arms, watching as the guard rode down the hill, fleeing from the massacre that he so heinously enacted.