Charlotte Samurai Shodown
Fan Fiction
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Thunder and Redness
by Irene Trent
Homepage: Save the Sugar

Chapter 17

       The loud tapping of a sword scabbard on the iron dungeon bars jolted me from an exhausted sleep. I'd rested quite well despite the chilly nights and the stone cold floor. When I peered out that tiny window I saw that the sky was still dark, but it was the light blue of early morning. Birds chirped outside and the droning sound of the crickets faded with each pulsing chirp. Silhouetted against the royal sky were the towering pagodas of Amakusa Jo. Black clouds loomed over the fortress and spit forth tiny lightning bolts. Every time I looked at that place there were black clouds. 
       The rest of us quickly arose to the clanging of metal, which resonated throughout the whole dungeon. I turned my head to notice General Watanabe standing outside the bars. He didn't stand tall and commanding as usual; he didn't wear his majestic gold lined, silk kimonos and his hair-usually tied in a neat queue-was astray. Instead he wore a dark grey kimono-much like what Kei used to wear. Dark lines surrounded his eyes and his skin appeared pale and ghostlike, especially the way his torch cast heavy shadows from his concave cheekbones.. 
       Suddenly, the room took on a silent air. My heart jumped for a moment; the thought of our execution could be the cause of his solemnity. Slowly, he unlocked the door and it swung open; the scraping metal made us cringe. All of us waited in silence for what he would say. 
       He took a few moments and began speaking. His voice was very quiet-a bit shaky-and he lost his commanding air. 
       "Something has happened during the night. . ." he began, folding his hands in front of him. "I had sent my troops in order to arrest that man-the man supposedly responsible for the Christian uprisings. His fortress is quite close-right on one of those islands, in fact. You can see it clearly. Yet it was the strangest thing. There was not one guard or watchman, and the main gate to the fortress was unlocked. The door was cracked open-practically inviting an invasion. I led my troops across the drawbridge and infiltrated the castle, pouring through every room until we found the man. 
       "Two of my honorary soldiers and myself located him at the top, where I believe he resides. It was a large room with high arched ceilings and a large stained glass window with a dark red cape draped over it. He was all alone-no guards, no one to protect him. The man even stood with his back to us, until he slowly turned his head to eye us, with this smug look on his face. We guessed that he was the one, for he wore Amakusa's old clothing and his pendant, but he was a younger man-probably near his mid years. He had high cheek bones and slicked black hair, and these strange eyes. One was brown, but the other-it was some sort of bright gold color. 
       "The air began to take on a cold feeling and all of a sudden the man began to ascend, without being pulled by a rope and that golden eye gleamed even brighter. We could not help but watch him. He floated above the ground, about a knee's length high. I broke the cold silence and informed the man that we were going to have him arrested and informed my men to have their arms ready. 
       "I told the man that he was disturbing the peace of the country and had to be put away, but he gave me a look of defiance. He asked me what 'peace' was; I told him it was harmonious unity and he was breaking it. And he said, 'If that is your definition, than you are all hypocrites. For if you allowed the practice of certain religions than there would be no dissent.' And I: 'You Christians are pests, invading our land and taking over all we have and enforcing your perverted views on the minds of our children.' And he: 'I am not a Christian, so please let me alone to attend to my business.' And I: 'My Lord thinks that you are responsible for the war on this island.' And he: 'Your lord 'thinks'-therefore he assumes. I have nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, I loathe Christianity almost as much as your heathen faiths.' And I: 'Even so we will still arrest you, barbarian, because you are fueling the rebellion. What my Lord says is the law of the land.' And he: 'I refuse to submit myself to you Samurai. You are all slaves, yet the more of a slave you are, the more honor you think you have. What is the honor in slavery?' And I: 'We are not here to discuss Bushido.' 
       "I commanded my men to arrest the man. They approached him, their swords waving in the hair. His eyes were blazing so bright I thought I saw them glow red. He didn't even attack or flee-he just stood there, waiting for us to strike. One of my Samurai shot him with a rifle and hit him right in the heart. He staggered a bit, but regained his posture. I expected blood to rush forth from the wound, but there was not one drop on the floor. The hole in his chest somehow magically recovered, as if he'd never been shot. The other Samurai sliced at his shoulder with his sword, but there was no blood and the cut healed itself! 
       "He slowly walked over to my troops, who stood frozen in awe and placed his hands on their shoulders. All of a sudden they began to shudder and their faces were contorted. They shook as if some arthritic pain had spread throughout their bodies. The man let go and my men fell to the ground; their movement was no more. I had no choice but to run. 
       "My Lord found out later tonight when I ran back and told him. He was not only angry about the power of this man and the deaths of two of his finest soldiers, but that I had fled. It was an act of a coward. Tonight I am to commit seppuku for what I did, but beforehand my lord asked for me to tell you that he would like to speak with all of you right away-and not just one. I-I believe that he is interested in what you have to say." 
       General Watanabe solemnly walked from the door and beckoned for us to follow him. The room was so silent that our foot-steps on the stone floor seemed loud and cold. One by one, we filed from the prison and followed his dimming torch-just like a funeral procession.

       Above the prison was a mighty castle, where the Lord's court and servants bustled about, not concerned about the surrounding wars and looming dangers. They seemed intent on their jobs, whether it was cooking or cleaning or delivering messages. I watched as General Watanabe walked slowly and dragged his feet. Each person lower than his rank bowed deeply to him and honored his presence, but he merely nodded his head. It seemed like that had no importance once he knew he would have to die. 
       All of us looked around at the large court and the never-ending tapestries that graced the walls. It was well-lit from both the sun and the blue lanterns which hung from the ceiling. I entertained myself by observing the murals, which displayed scenes of both war and peace. On one side I saw a Samurai warrior, dressed a lot like General Watanabe, standing victoriously over his dead enemy. On another one I saw three women dressed in pink kimonos playing a game under a gingko tree. The place was what I has always imagined a great palace should look like, and I wondered what it would be like to live in this castle as a daimyo-to have all these people serve me, bring me hot tea, draw my bath; and these Samurai ready and willing to die for me. Just like Watanabe. 
       I tried not to think about Watanabe's fear or the death that he would have to face. My father said A great Samurai never fears death. But I knew that Watanabe did. I'd always thought that a great Samurai who knew that he was going to die would stand upright and not let the others see his fear. 
       After walking down a large corridor, Watanabe halted us at a shoji screen. Two Samurai stood tall and erect on each side of the screen, their faces serious and threatening. 
       "I need to take them into see the Lord." 
       "Hai," they answered and bowed, slowly sliding open the door. 
       We entered a large room with a floor that was covered by soft tatami mats. There were more tapestries on the walls and lanterns that hung from the ceiling. It all looked so nice and beautiful, and I felt a bit shameful in my dirty, ragged clothes. 
       I noticed Lord Tsunemoto sat on his knees with his hands folded. He was at the far center at the room, with two Samurai and some consorts by his side; the room was surrounded with Samurai. They sat in a semicircle around the daimyo and more stood with their backs to the walls. Those who were sitting all sat on their knees with their hands in their lap-just like their Lord. 
       Lord Tsunemoto was an aging man-probably in his early fifties. His hair had already begun to gray and he had a belly that protruded a bit. He wore a golden kimono embossed with white cranes and wide black pants. The air of the room felt defensive; all these Samurai watched us and waited for an attack. But Lord Tsunemoto's face seemed blank, not scrutinizing. His eyes were overcast and cloudy-looking and he did not even bow to greet us. 
       "Bow to the Lord," Watanabe commanded, but his voice lacked much force. 
       We got on our knees and bowed deeply. He merely bowed back, just as Watanabe had greeted his court and servants. 
       "My Lord wishes to speak with all of you about this man, for he believes that you may have some valuable information. He also wishes to give you his utmost apologies for imprisonment and will compensate for that. Remember, do not speak unless he speaks first." 
       With that, Watanabe turned and slowly left the room, dragging his feet. The two Samurai at the shoji screen slid the door shut behind him. We were alone in the room with Lord Tsunemoto. 
       There was a moment of silence as he eyed all of us. He did not seem critical or hostile towards us yet there was no joy in his face. He had these droopy eyelids and saggy cheeks like a street-dog and wrinkles already forming around his mouth. The man appeared bored and lazy; he'd lived a decadent life, hand-fed like a bird. The only sound in the room was his ragged breathing, which was slow and heavy. 
       "There has been a tragic death of two of my best Samurai by the hands of a very dangerous man," he sighed. "I feel not pity for these men, yet I feel fear-bone-biting fear. Anxiety has loomed all over my province and all of Kyushu ever since these wars started. Petty at first-but they began to grow and grow. And they have found a leader-one they can lay upon all their vengeful feelings as he feeds on their support. They called him 'Amakusa', just like their old leader. At first we assumed that he was some crazy fool just riling the people to cause trouble, but last night's event-of which I you've been informed-has led me the believe that we are dealing with a much more dangerous force-and the anxiety has heightened significantly. . . 
       "I realize that we have taken lightly your beliefs, and that you were trying to warn General Watanabe of him. But he-both of us-had valuable words locked away in a dungeon. We feel absolutely terrible for our wrongdoing and wish to listen with all ears open, and to hear what we should have heard earlier. Please tell me all that you know." 
       Nakoruru began speaking of Ukyo and how he brought back Amakusa's spirit, and that the spirit in turn possessed his body. She told him about Kei and how her life was ruined by it all. By then it had all sounded the same-just mere, expressionless words describing a horrific and powerful situation-with a hinted tone of plea for the listener to believe such a strange tale. Lord Tsunemoto merely nodded as she rambled on, as if he had expected her words beforehand. 
       After hearing her account, he turned his cloudy eyes to me. I knew that it was disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of a man of his status, but his weary gaze stunned me and I couldn't help but return my own. 
       "And you must be Tomura Haohmaru, son of Tomura Akira, I presume?" 
       I bowed. "Hai, Lord." 
       "Ahh, I most certainly see a resemblance. Your father was a fine man. I met him once-so tall and noble, even into his mid-years. Of course he never lived any longer. It seems so odd that my general had found the son of such a noble man lying parched next to a stream in ratty clothes. Why is it that you hid yourself from the people, when you could have become your father's dream?" 
       I continued to eye him, my heart pounding in my chest. Even though his questions were piercing, his countenance still remained distant. It embarrassed me that I would have to answer his question-to tell a daimyo that my own bitterness and anger had kept me from fulfilling my destiny. I had this sensation of my bowels dropping as soon as he asked the question. I knew that it would be dishonorable to not answer a lord-honestly-so I sucked in my breath and began to tell him my woeful life in the woods. 
       ". . .and I couldn't bear to live, much less pursue my father's dream. And each day I see him standing over me with a scolding look on his face. . ." 
       I tried unbearably to restrain my tears, which were flooding my eyes and causing my bottom lip to tremble. Charlotte inched closer to me and placed an arm around my shoulder. 
       ". . .so I hid in the woods, avoiding all human contact, for I knew that humans meant nothing but trouble and loss-they were two-faced and cruel-all appeared the same to me. I had, however, practiced some of the swordsmanship that my father taught me, but I know that I can never take his place or resume his honor." 
       Lord Tsunemoto nodded dispassionately. "I see. . .but what brings you here?" 
       "Amakusa," I huffed that name I loathed so. "After Nakoruru told me that he was back I had set my goals to not becoming what my father envisioned, but to kill Amakusa once and for all and send him back to the hell he came from. Nakoruru joined me and then-then the rest came-for the same reason I did." 
       He nodded, still eyeing me while rubbing the peppery stubble on his chin. "I see. . ." he sighed. "Oh, I remember Amakusa as well. A fiendish man, he was! And that Shogun who anointed him as a daimyo to reform the Christians-what a mistake that was. You know, Haohmaru, there was a Council which met to try and change that, but there is no questioning the Shogun. And not to mention the man had picked his friends well. . ." 
       Lord Tsunemoto continued to gabber on about Amakusa. We appeared to listen intently-sitting on our knees with our hands folded in our laps. I felt myself begin to topple over and I tried to support myself. My head felt as heavy and leaden. I tried not to allow my eyes to wander, for the Lord could see that; I did see that Galford's chin was pressed against his chest and he was snoring rather loudly. It seemed strange that this man would talk so long about Amakusa. Was he trying to inform us? Or was there something else behind his motives. . . 
       With one clap of his hand Lord Tsunemoto jarred us awake and restored us to attentive positions. He sighed again. "I see that I have been boring you with my idle talk. I try not to ramble I really do. It just shows how it's all falling apart-falling apart. . ." 
       He cupped his head in his hands. For a moment I thought that he was going to cry and weep in front of us, but he merely breathed another long-winded sigh and lifted his head again. I felt his eyes on me-directly on me, yet there was more than blankness in his eyes. They seemed sharp and keen, boring into my head to find every detail about me-my thoughts, my life-everything. 
       Then he slowly stood up from the small pillow he was sitting on and moved closer to me; he sat himself down again even closer-an arm's span from me-and I could meet his eyes. He placed a hand on my shoulder. The others stood silent-suspending their breaths as to hear Lord Tsunemoto as clearly as possible. My head was bowed, for I was too afraid to look him in the eyes; even so, I could feel that the eyes of the others were open and watchful. 
       "Haohmaru-san, when I touch your shoulder I feel your blood boil-so hot and youthful-and intent. And I feel your intention so strongly-to put Amakusa in his place. You will stop at nothing. I am wondering why the kami had not brought you to me sooner. You are perfect-perfect to lead the troops and stop these wars and bring peace to Japan again. I need a man with the ambition and bravery to do this for me-who will not scurry from the first attack. Haohmaru-san, if you cannot take Watanabe's place as a general somehow I know this country is doomed to unsettlement." 
       As he was talking his words seemed to sound farther and farther away, as if the wind had carried them-or was it that my own thoughts were becoming closer and closer. I could not help but sit in silence-in this dreamlike stance. A daimyo had asked me to serve him-and that he would be honored. All I knew of Samurai generals and battle was from my father-and perhaps from where my memory cannot recall but I knew from my ancestors and Father, as their experience was passed on to me through blood. 
       There was no other answer I could give except a bow and, "Hai." 
       Even if I were to fail-in my lifetime-to die in the hands of Amakusa-I would have achieved the greatness of my father and died with his honor. 
       And my father once told me that A man who was born a great Samurai has no more honor than a man who had to strive to become one
       Lord Tsuenomoto-my new lord-sighed again, yet this time it was a sigh of relief. His voice sounded less sullen and hollow and more elated, "I knew that I had chosen the right man. You are a gifted man, Haohmaru-General Tomura Haohmaru-san-and I beg of you to not fail me. I order that tommorow you begin on your quest to annihilate these Christians. . ." 
       I heard a shrill scream near me. To my side was Charlotte, whose eyes were wide and her mouth covered. My heart leapt in my throat. She had not only spoken before being spoken to, but she interrupted. I quickly prayed to the kami to not let her be executed. 
       The Samurai which had surrounded the room quickly moved in on us and withdrew their swords from their scabbards. They were going to attack her! I saw no sign from Lord Tsunemoto to halt their attack, and they continued to approach. The guard nearest to her already had his sword in the air, and just as he was about to slice her into, I grabbed her in order to protect her. I tried to thrust my body in front of the attacker he could not kill me General Tomura Haohmaru I had higher rank than he and I wouldn't let him kill her. . . 
       "Stop!" I cried. 
       The guard had his sword suspended in mid-air. He bowed and apologized and scurried back to his post, probably praying that I didn't order him to commit seppuku. She was trembling in my arms. 
       "Haohmaru, you cannot do this," she said, her voice shaken yet firm at the same time. She was next to a whisper to not let the guards or the daimyo hear her. "They are innocent people who have nothing to do with Amakusa." 
       I loosened my grip on her as she ceased her trembling. "You must keep quiet." I whispered. "I can't let them kill you. I won't let them." 
       Lord Tsunemoto eyed the two of us entangled in each other's arms. I noticed his soft, doughy face begin to wrinkle for a short moment before it returned to its dull, glazed-over shape. 
       "Is the woman a Christian?" he asked me. 
       "I am a Christian and I can speak for myself," she spoke defiantly. I could hear the rest of the room suck in their breaths. 
       "Woman, where is your protocol?" he inquired. 
       "And where is your compassion?" she hissed back. 
       She began to rise, preparing for a heated debate with this man of power. I gently took hold of her wrist, trying to pull her back. She resisted. 
       "Hold your tongue. This is not your even in your country-and even if it was your motherland you would have no say-so, woman." 
       "I have a name and you shall call me by it." 
       "Perhaps in your foreign land you may, but here you will be called gaijin." 
       She continued to glare at him with her icy eyes. 
       "I don't think that she understands the customs here, Lord," I bowed, trying to apologize for her. "I am sorry for her being outspoken. She has strong feelings about her religion. . ." 
       "Strong feelings, you say." 
       "Then she must be put to death at once," he said coldly. 
       I saw the guards begin to approach her again, their swords sliding from their scabbards, ready to slice at her. 
       "You can't do that!" I retorted, then covered my mouth for speaking against my lord. 
       "Oh, Haohmaru, she has spoiled your mind! But I cannot kill you-you must not listen to her-please-for your country-and your father. . ." 
       How could he be so cold to her-to give her a death sentence with no feeling or regret in his voice? How could he spit those words as if her merely having a conversation-throwing the words from his mouth as if they were garbage she doesn't deserve to die I can't let you do it no you can't put your weapons up Samurai I order you she is a good lady who didn't come here to die- 

       I opened my eyes again and saw many people standing over me-Lord Tsunemoto, my companions, and the guards, who restrained her arms so she couldn't move them. I even saw a little, elfish-looking old man peer over me. 
       "Something has definitely plagued him," the old man said. His voice was high and squeaky. "My Lord, I must take a look at him. My, he sure seems disoriented. . ." 
       Everything suddenly faded again. . .

       "Perhaps he must rest awhile before he takes your troops into battle. . ." I heard the little old man speak. 
       When I woke up I saw him hovering over me and probing my skin. I figured that he was the court doctor and he thought that I had some illness. It only took a short while before his poking and prodding began to irk me, so I sat up immediately. I startled the little man and he dropped his tools, which scattered on the ground. 
       "Oh, my, you are awake for good now, Haohmaru-san. . ." 
       I noticed that I was in a small room with a bed and table with many bottled liquids atop it. The doctor, and Lord Tsunemoto were in the room with me. The Lord kneeled on a pillow in one corner of the room, his fat fingers tapping on his knees. He did not take his eye off of me and watched the little doctor with scrutinizing eyes. 
       "You see he is fine." He inched his pillow to the futon that I was laying on and motioned to the doctor to leave. The dwarfish man seemed hesitant at first, but then he scurried out like a frightened rabbit after my Lord's constant demanding that he depart. 
       The small room seemed to expand before my eyes; I felt somewhat isolated, even though Lord Tsunemoto was in the room with me. Yet he seemed so far away, as if we were sitting on opposite corners-even though he sat rather close to me. These feelings vexed me somehow-in some way I knew that it wasn't right. I wanted to know where the others went-especially Charlotte-and I hoped that they didn't execute her. 
       "Where is she?" I demanded, my breath stopping short. 
       "Oh. The Christian woman. She is in another part of the palace right now. Under close watch. . ." he voice began to lower. 
       He smiled at me and nodded after what he had said. His face chilled me, and those soggy-shaped eyes of his had begun to take on a more keen appearance-and it was a keenness that was plotting something cruel. It made me shiver in a way. I grabbed for my sword, which I instinctively did when something threatened me, but I noticed that it wasn't there. 
       "My sword." 
       "You seem very worried, Haohmaru. I have it. You will receive it when you go to battle tomorrow-unfortunately-as much as I despise that little doctor's order." 
       "What is happening? Where are all the others? And what have you done with Charlotte??" 
       "She is fine. The others are fine, enjoying the luxuries of this palace." 
       "Is she with them?" 
       "No. But I assure you she is well, yet orders are orders and she broke them." 
       His grin seemed wider and wider with each word that he spoke. His answers were very incomplete, and I knew that there was more to what he was saying. Lord Tsunemoto-Lord Tsunemoto-he was my Lord, and I was not to question him. I served him-I was to drop dead if he asked me to. But I couldn't let him do anything to her, and I knew that he had some scheme. It would be dishonorable to defy his words. I wanted to tell him that she was a good woman and she meant no harm, but he seemed convinced that she was feeding horrible thoughts into my head. 
       He placed his thumb and forefinger on his chin. "I wonder-why does a man such as yourself associate with these foreigners? You seem to have a strong bond with her." 
       "She's-she's a friend that I have had for a long time." 
       "Long time, neh?" 
       "Since childhood. She's a nice lady who doesn't mean any harm, and I don't know why you have to imprison her." 
       "She broke the rules." He spoke emphatically. I withdrew myself. 
       "Now, why don't you get some rest. Tomorrow-your battles begin." 
       He slowly stood up and turned around, holding his head high. From where I lay, I watched his immense robe trail behind him and slither out the door. 

Chapter 18

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