Authors: William Meikle
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult, #Short Stories
SAMURAI AND OTHER STORIES
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
Dawn broke as Duncan MacKenzie stood watching the remains of the
break up on the reef offshore.
They’d only just got into the longboat in time. In truth Duncan had little recollection of what had just happened. He’d been woken from a drunken sleep to the sound of splintering wood and raging wind. Big Bill had half-dragged half-carried him up onto deck, and the next thing he knew they were in the longboat and sculling for shore in the teeth of a gale with all the strength they could muster. The surf threw them onto a long shingle beach. They lost Dave the Bosun’s Mate to the waves before they managed to drag the boat far enough up the shore to be safe. They turned just in time to see the
dashed into pieces on the rocks.
Only five men made it ashore.
Five out of fifty-five. ‘Tis a pity the Captain had to be one of them.
Duncan had made the Japan run three times now, but this last journey had been made almost unbearable by the pompous little man who called himself the Captain. In reality Moorhouse was little more than a lawyer with good connections, and Sailing Master Douglas had done all the actual sea-faring that was required, while Moorhouse strutted and preened like a well-fed peacock. Douglas had gone down with his ship, but Moorhouse had ensured that he was first to the longboat, and first ashore. Now he started to bark orders. So far none of the other four had bothered to comply, and Moorhouse’s face turned beetroot-red with anger and frustration.
“You need to get back out there, and salvage what you can. There are tens of thousands of pounds worth of silks and porcelain on that boat. And they are mine.”
“You go and get them then,” he said. “I have no desire to get myself killed for some fancy plates and a frock.”
“I demand that you launch this longboat,” Moorhouse shouted. “I am your Captain.” He drew his sword and waved it in Duncan’s direction. “You have a clear duty, to my ship, and to me. You signed up for this.”
“I signed up for service on the
. That duty is now done. And if you dare point that thing at me again I will shove it up your arse,” Duncan said.
Moorhouse went even redder.
“I will see you flogged for that remark.”
Big Bill walked up to the blustering little man. He was nearly a foot higher and twice as broad. He reached out and took the sword even as it was drawn back for a strike. Moorhouse immediately made a grab for it. Big Bill smacked him on the side of the head with the flat of the blade and the little man went down in a heap.
Big Bill tossed the sword to Duncan.
“Here you go, Duncan. A keep-sake for you. Now come on, lads. Let us see if we can find some shelter.”
Duncan joined the other three as they walked off the shore leaving Moorehouse senseless on the gravel.
I am a man of honor. My duty, as it has always been, is as clear before me as the day I was called to it.
Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
I will serve, and I will protect.
There is nothing more.
John McLeod took the lead as they entered the forest that stretched right up close to the shore. Duncan was last to enter the woods. He walked behind Geordie McCann and used the man’s bulk to try to get some shelter... to no avail. Even here under the trees the wind howled and whistled. Water dripped in near continuous streams from dank gray lichens that hung in tangles from every branch. Underfoot the going was sodden, their boots sucking moistly on the mud with every step. Duncan tried swatting some of the lichen aside with the sword, but that just set it swinging and dripping even more water. In the end he put the sword through his belt, lowered his head, concentrated on watching Geordie’s back and took it one step at a time.
He almost walked into the man when they came to an abrupt halt.
“What is it?” he asked.
“See for yourself,” Geordie said and stepped aside.
They had arrived at a ravine where an inland river reached the shore. A wooden structure sat high above them up a steep stone staircase carved directly into the cliff face. Even from his position far below Duncan could see that the woodwork was highly lacquered and covered in intricate carvings.
“Aye,” Big Bill said. “One of them heathen temples. But it is shelter, and that is what we need. Come lads. Let us see what kind of hospitality awaits us.”
Big Bill took the lead up the staircase. The steps were treacherous—steep, green with slime and slippery underfoot. They were forced to go on all fours for long stretches, and Geordie McCann had his eyes screwed tight shut most of the way to avoid looking at the vertiginous drop. All four of them were exhausted and filthy by the time they dragged themselves over a last lip and lay panting on the ground.
Duncan’s heart fell when he got his breath back and looked up at the temple. The wood was festooned with more of the gray lichen, and now that they were close, they could see places where the weather had won over the lacquer and eaten holes into the frame of the building. The whole place had a general air of aged decrepitude.
We will find no hospitality here.
“Chins up, lads,” Big Bill said, getting the men to their feet. “At least it is shelter. And who knows what awaits us inside? We may yet be surprised.”
And surprised they were. Although the outside of the temple seemed worn and decrepit, several of the inner chambers were still watertight. They walked through three echoing rooms, thankful of the shelter, and were beginning to think that the whole place was empty when John McLeod let out a shout.
“There’s something here.”
They had arrived at the dead centre of the building. In the middle of a polished lacquer floor sat a cauldron placed over a circular hearth of stone. Beside it was all they would need to make themselves welcome. There were three large stone jars respectively containing dried rice, beans, and water. At the foot of one of the jars there was a small wooden box containing tea-leaves, so strong that their scent filled the room as soon as the lid was opened. On the far side of the hearth they found cups, bowls and spoons, enough fuel to last for several days and a tinderbox to get everything going.
“Them heathen gods sure know how to treat their worshippers,” McLeod said as he got a fire going in the hearth. Big Bill muttered to himself but said nothing.
Duncan was just glad to get some heat into his bones. It took a good twenty minutes, but soon the fire had warmed the room and the aroma of rice and beans cooking on the cauldron had them salivating. It was only after he felt warm and dry that Duncan looked around. Besides the doorway they had entered there was only one other exit from the room, a large ornate door on the other side of the chamber.
Once again intruders have come.
They will be fed and watered, as the old ways command.
Time will tell if they are true or false. But whatever the outcome, I will serve, and I will protect.
If you understand, things are just as they are.
If you do not understand, things are just as they are.
There is nothing more.
Moorhouse turned up just as the food was ready to be served. Green slime coated him from head to toe. He had lost his powdered wig at some point on the ascent, and his bald head shone with a mixture of rain and perspiration. His face was redder than ever and he almost fell in the door, his legs seemingly incapable to taking him a step further.
No one moved to his aid.
“I will have you
flogged,” he said as he approached the fire.
“Be careful, wee man,” he said. “We have no meat, and yon cauldron is just about the right size for you.”
Moorhouse looked around for help but he was ignored, the others being too intent on getting some hot food inside them. The little man took a bowl of rice and beans and took himself off to one side away from the others, eating in silence.
If truth be told, Duncan
feel a twinge of guilt. After so long on the ship taking and obeying orders it felt like mutiny to be so cavalier with the
But we are shipwrecked. The old order will not hold here.
Once the men had their fill of rice and beans they stewed some tea
The chamber had got warm and the air lay thick with smoke, but none of the men moved, all content to stay close to the fire. Above the crack of burning wood they could hear the drumming of rain on the roof, and none of them was keen to face the elements just yet.
Eventually talk turned to their predicament.
“We are not far off the shipping lanes,” Big Bill said. “Once this rain dies down we can make a pyre. We are high enough here that it should be spotted soon enough. And we have food and water a’ plenty to keep us until then.”
The others agreed. All apart from Moorhouse. He’d been muttering into his food since he arrived, and now that he was dry and warm some of his old bluster had returned.
“As soon as the weather abates you will row out to the
and see what can be salvaged of the cargo.”
Once more Duncan laughed.
“No. We will not. Mayhap
a rescue is forthcoming... mayhap then will we salvage
cargo for you, but until then, we stay here in safety.”
Moorhouse looked ready to debate the matter, but a single glance from Big Bill put a stop to that.
The day dragged on. McLeod and Big Bill got into an argument about the best way to make tea, Geordie McCann cried like a baby, and Moorhouse sat in a corner muttering to himself about
rack and ruin.
At some point Duncan curled up near the hearth and fell into a deep sleep.
Now we draw near to it. I will bide my time, and let them decide.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
I will serve, and I will protect.
There is nothing more.
Duncan woke with a start. It was full dark outside, and only the fire illuminated the chamber. Geordie McCann was snuggled up close to him and snoring fit to raise the roof. Big Bill and McLeod were on the other side of the fire.
There was no sign of Moorhouse.
Now what is he doing?
Duncan grabbed for the sword and was reassured to find it still by his side. He rose, slowly, being careful not to wake the others. It was only when he stood that he saw the open doorway on the far side of the chamber. Moorhouse had gone to check out the other rooms.
Looking for a way to make a profit no doubt.
A dim light flickered in the room on the other side of the door. Duncan took the sword from his belt and crept forwards.
Two tall pillars on either side framed the doorway. The smiling faces of wooden foxes watched him as he passed through, their features flickering slyly in the firelight, their eyes dark and hooded. Duncan looked back at the hearth. The fire suddenly seemed even more inviting.