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Authors: Jessica Amanda Salmonson

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BOOK: The Golden Naginata
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As the “lesser” warriors who were neither martial clergy nor of samurai blood packed their gear to leave, they were pitiful to see. Tomoe Gozen had trouble being Yoshinake's second voice in this matter. Therefore she became more silent still, passing through the tent-camp, pretending hardly to notice the mild but real unrest.

At the edge of the camp she was overtaken by the shoki devil. He wore the long, black robe of a priest, which surprised Tomoe. A white smile broke his flushed complexion. “Good morning, General Kono,” said Tomoe. They bowed to one another. She had allowed him the unofficial title of General, which everyone would honor for so long as the shoki refrained from drinking saké. It was a terrible concession for him, but worth it for the title. Tomoe asked, “Why are you so gleeful? Everyone in camp looks sad.”

“Clever shoki that I am,” said General Kono, “I have converted to Buddhism so that I cannot be purged from the army by Lord Kiso's decree. I am a yamabushi!” The red-haired Kono Kasa thumped his chest with a big fist.

“I am glad,” said Tomoe. “Please help the troops clean up the city. There is yet much to be done since war has ended.”

General Kono agreed wholeheartedly and scurried off to useful labor, strong fellow that he was. Tomoe went her way.

It was yet early morning when she found herself off the main highway, wandering lonely trails upon the hillside. Once, she passed along a clearing, and lingered to peer upon the Imperial City in the low valley. How peaceful it looked; how attractive in every configuration.

Illusion: a wondrous possession.

How easily lost.

Before long she came upon a stream and followed it to a lake. She sat upon a fallen log and gazed over crystal waters. Though burdened with emotion, none of it was visible in her even gaze.

Pines dominated the high forest, surrounding the lake closely, their tops bowed in obeisance or to see their own images. The seemingly omnipresent rosy streak in heaven—a piece of dawn persisting day and night—reflected on the silver lake, a bolt of sheerest silk unrolled across infinitesimal waves. It was an unusual shade, that streak, unlike anything quite earthly; yet Tomoe Gozen had seen the color once before, and had these many days tried to convince herself it was mere coincidence. She did not like to admit some connection between the rosy light above Kyoto and the mist she had seen over Mount Kiji, coalescing into a holy beast.

“Kirin,” Tomoe whispered, and her voice carried across the lake weirdly. “Your blood will not protect against Inazuma-hime's glare beyond today. Will you come to claim the weapon then? If so, I will not pierce you anew. I will not attempt to keep your treasure for another spell. It has already been used for its purpose in the Lands of Roots and Gloom; I should have returned it to you before now. I am sorry.”

She stood from the log and moved to the edge of the lake, peering not at the rosy streak in heaven, but the one upon the lake. She bowed her head courteously, made several more apologies, held the Golden Naginata in front of her, horizontally in both hands, and cried out: “Oh mighty kirin of Kiji-san! Take your treasure from me now!”

A wind played over the surface of the lake, making the reflected streak appear to move nearer. Then it went back. Tomoe shattered the serenity of the setting once more, shouting, “I have come to understand your love of Inazuma-hime! If I keep her one more day, to lose her will be as though I lose my own heart!”

She stood there a long while, unmoving, expecting the fierce kirin to coalesce upon the water, come toward her like a mist, take away the treasure which was the beast's true love. But the kirin did not appear. The rosy band across the sky did not alter. Tomoe Gozen lowered her arms after some while. She removed the carved wooden sheath of the weapon, doing so slowly, for she was not certain what hour would find Inazuma-hime repossessed of blinding light. It was still rose-gold, shining, but not damaging of eye, rather, it was pleasing, although “pleasing” did injustice to the feelings it invested in its viewer. The beauty of that lightning glaze and temper gifted Tomoe Gozen with a tranquility lost of suspense, a restful peace. Her heart was almost bursting with a sense of ease; and Tomoe Gozen converted this excessive amity into a burst of inspired battle-postures as had never before been tried. Inazuma-hime thrust imagined opponents on the right, then left, and then the fighter twirled about, slashing a full circle, ending in a downward sweep which
stopped,
suddenly, all of this between one breath and the next. The movements had been more poetic than aggressive and, for the narrowest slot of time, she felt
in touch
with some harmony of spiritual and material wholeness, sensing Inazuma-hime to be a link, a circuit, connecting Universe to human selfhood. Tomoe then spoke quietly to the weapon. She said:

“I never thought to care for any blade as much as my retired Sword of Okio. My present sword is jealous! But it, not you, must still possess my soul; the soul of another rests in you: the soul of the kirin. Why will the monster not claim you? Must I keep you near myself until I suffer greatly to be parted from your presence? Is that my punishment for taking you away?” She sighed, but not unhappily, for Inazuma-hime eased her feelings. “Last night,” she said, “I dreamed. I was asleep upon my knees, leaning on some sad old frightened priest in a debauched temple; and the dream was just a voice which said, ‘Mount Kiji is a temple also, the altar of which has been robbed, defiled, even as this old man's temple is.' The voice was sweet and feminine and courteous to me, but also very stern. I awoke knowing the monster kirin was near, would not rest or be happy until its altar was restored. I am very sorry for your true master, Inazuma-hime! I am very disappointed in myself!”

Then she sheathed the Golden Naginata and began to walk back to the city. She was surprised to be returning with Inazuma-hime still in her possession, convinced as she had been that it would be taken from her hands. Desire made her happy it was still hers to hold. Guilt, and knowledge that it would soon become a dangerous light, made her uneasy that the kirin ignored the call.

Yoshinake's entourage waited by the back gate of the military palace, preparing themselves emotionally for the parade to the other palace, the one at the far end of the long lane. They were never so nervous in preparation for war! They stood in awkward-looking bundles, posturing absurdly, trying to be comfortable in their heavy, gaudy robes. They each wore an eboshi: tall, narrow black hats with ties that went under the chin. They wore excessively high clogs or
geta
which went “clatter-clatter” as they milled about. They wore stiff, colorful, excessively flared hakama over several layers of equally uncomfortable garments. Atop everything they wore big overcoats of elaborately brocaded silk, long enough to drag the ground.

The shi-tenno tried to retain their dignity, and did not do too badly, but were less impressed with themselves than when sporting armor. Lord Kiso himself strutted about as though he felt perfectly at home in such finery, unaware that he appeared more the buffoon than any. Tomoe Gozen looked as though she was suffering most bravely. Two dozen other men, some with their martial wives, were fidgeting and worrying that something was on crooked (they were right). Everyone was overheated, as the afternoon was unexpectedly humid.

“Don't we look handsome!” exclaimed Lord Kiso. He was serious. Higuchi Mitsu laughed, but went quickly silent, realizing no one else thought the remark funny. Tomoe Gozen, standing at her husband's side, bowed to him with a reasonable degree of grace, then answered: “We certainly do look dressed up.”

Lord Kiso turned, stumbling on the hem of his costume. An ox-cart was coming down the lane to fetch the one most honored among the guests. The others were to walk behind the cart in a stately procession. Such was the plan. A servant from the Imperial palace had previously instructed them in the etiquette of the situation; but he had done so tersely and not remained to see if it went well. Nobody looked as though they quite remembered anything, each looking to someone else and hoping to follow their lead.

The ox lowed on seeing this group. It looked at them in a startled way, and they looked back. The ox-keeper was having trouble convincing the beast to turn around, for it seemed intent on staring at these dressed-up warriors. It had spent its life giving rides to similar persons and had never stared like this before. Honored Ryowa warriors were always learned in manners of court, and were quite unastounding in their costumes which were worn with ease and grace. But in the present case, even a dumb animal could see something was amiss; it was apparently planning to stand there until it figured out more precisely what the problem was.

The ox's groom was an older fellow. He smote the animal's rump until it decided to pay attention. It turned about, revealing the rear end of the cart which had fold-down steps. Servants unfolded the steps and helped Lord Kiso enter the cart. It bounced and, as he had again stepped on the hem of his costume, he tumbled onto the floor of the transport in a clumsy heap. Everyone pretended not to notice while Lord Kiso struggled to discover some means of sitting on his knees within the cart's confines. There was room for no one but himself. The rest began to line up behind the ox-cart. Tomoe Gozen was supposed to be the first in line, but something happened which caused her to be last. That thing was this:

One lick of the ox-keeper's whip and the ox took off running as though chased by boars. The ox-keeper looked stunned. He began running alongside the cart, trying to get the ox to slow down or stop. It was very swift, convinced, no doubt, that uncouth plebians pursued. Imai Kanchira shouted, “Our lord is in danger!” Off he went, along with the other shi-tenno, running behind the cart and crying out, “Oh! Oh! Stop there! Oh!” They kept stumbling in their clothing and on their too-high geta, trying valiantly to keep their eboshi hats straight, and were not much help stopping the cart.

When the other vassals, their wives, and few privileged servants saw the shi-tenno run off like that, they thought it best to keep up, to show their concern was equal to that of the Four Great Men; or, if not to prove their concern, then at least to keep the parade coming in a manner somewhat in the fashion explained to them earlier (though faster than explained). The shi-tenno were making a terrible racket, and the wooden geta on everybody's feet went clickety-clackety, and the wheels of the cart rumbled; with all this, who could stop an ox? If it knew about oni devils and badger-spirits and such things, no doubt it believed its pursuers were such as those: impostors, not true Ryowa. Who could say the ox was wrong?

As for Yoshinake, he simply could not keep his balance in the bouncing, speeding cart. He kept falling on his back and floundering. The excessively long sleeves of his robe wrapped around his face and he could see nothing. He was, furthermore, blaspheming in a superb way, so that the ox-keeper, unused to such sounds, clapped hands to ears and gave up trying to stop the ox. Lord Kiso shouted, “Kill that man! Kill that ox's groom!” which quotation excludes many elaborations on how the killing should be done and under what unhealthy circumstances. The ox-keeper may have understood, about that time, that Lord Kiso meant revenge for this indignity, and so began to placate the thrashing occupant of the cart, saying, “Hold onto the rails, Honqrable Sir! Hold onto the rails!” Lord Kiso caught the rails in his fists and thereby ceased to flap about like some wounded hawk. In fact he found his balance quite nicely and this caused him to smile. He shouted over the din of the swift parade, “Is this the way to do it?” He stuck his chin out proudly. The ox-keeper, long beyond his youth, could not keep up with the cart any longer; but he did manage to say, before dropping out, “Yes, that is exactly the way!” Then he left off running altogether, fanning himself with a scarf in one hand, patting his forehead with it, watching the whole entourage dash past noisily in clogs and crisply crinkling costumes.

Tomoe Gozen was last to arrive at the gate because she walked, much as had been instructed at the start.

Sweaty and stinking in their cumbersome clothes, the whole group gave over their longswords to servants at the door, and were given folded iron fans instead. They were permitted only their shortswords within the Imperial palace, and even these must not be drawn under any circumstance whatsoever. The iron fans were token replacements for the longswords, to be worn in the obi where the longsword ordinarily belonged. This custom was ages old and nobody questioned it; if they had been of a mind to question it, their-fears would no doubt be alleviated to note that not even the castle residents responsible for protecting the premises carried longswords. The only exceptions ever made were, upon occasion, dancers, whose swords were mere decorations permanently adhering to their sheaths.

The iron fans were called
tessen
and were commonly cast in one piece so that they did not really open. Only one of these fans was not of the artificial sort: Kiso Yoshinake was given a special example, more carefully made with several parts, opening the way a wood and paper fan would do. He realized this difference immediately, and felt immeasurably honored, justifiably privileged. He opened the fan and followed after the servant, fanning himself expansively. It might have gone without saying that Yoshinake was in a fine mood. He was beaming! He looked this way and that way and was most impressed with everything he saw, though truth be told, there was not much to be seen in the hallways. But the atmosphere impressed him anyway; indeed, he was wholeheartedly overawed by the wonders he imagined were behind every door. This was the house of Amaterasu's godchild after all. Where gods or godlings lived, that was heaven. Kiso Yoshinake thought himself strolling through the corridors of paradise. The entourage behind him was perhaps less inclined to swoon, observing that their own headquarters, taken from the ousted Ryowa, was in fact the finer dwelling.

BOOK: The Golden Naginata
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