Thursday, July 21, 2016

This, is not doing it right.

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A Solitary Crow - Shoju - 1

1
The Monk and the Woodcutter


Rain.

Not droplets, nor steady drizzle. Nor even the tumult that washes out the day, and makes women decide to do the cleaning – and men to find something to repair. But that or three times in a year, when it decides to unleash a barrage on all the land below. What is more, this was the previous capital – and therefore, dying. The new capital was only 100 leagues distant – but it might be on far away, since a ring of mountains separated the two. In the new capital, the warriors were different, and the ladies held themselves high – as they looked out from the veranda and down on to the street, since viewing should be above.

But this was not the way of the old capital in those days – before even the days of a strong military leader was truly established. Where stone and bricks predominated the older houses, and more importantly, of the entire city structure. Because – according to Jodo – the entire place should be harmonized to its purpose. The new capital was expensive, imperialistic – and showed this from every angle. But this was the old capital – and it replaced wood with stone, and was claustrophobic. In the days of the old capital, all of Shoju was contained, and people did not go off the islands. There were two exceptions to this, both were trading cities. The new capital – however – was a port for trading, conquering, and piracy. People would raid the mainland and their was a monopoly of languages spoken. And their were cries from the newly enslaved. The bustling of the new capital was exciting, but it had many detractors on all sides – only to the east was there no land, but everywhere else there was land and people in it who cursed the name of the Empire. The Shoju Empire – which is on a set of islands, apart from the empires of the mainland, but who traffic with them frequently. Thus, they pay close attention, especially to the great empire of Diramoa. Which sees itself as the father of all of the states – even those who do not recognize its status and prestige.

Which was exact what this Empire of the islands was. It did not recognize the great empire. But it also was transitioning from an old capital to a new one. The new Empire was an expansive one, dedicated to territory, from the mainland empires. The old Empire was one of controlling the shipping lanes, and thwarting any would dare to claim them. Since expansion is better than holding, the new Empire gathered in together great clans, and proclaimed its mission. Since a new empire needs a new capital, it removed all of the administration to a new home.

So now the old capital fell in to a decadent kind of ruin. The ruin of a dream. A dream that was dying. A dream where the people would live in peacefulness, and surrounded by the storms of the sea. 

Which would rage on to protect them from the past mainland empires. That way they could copy what they liked – but remain there own place. Filled with forms of honor that were different.

The buildings for administrators and representatives from each of the major – and indeed much of the minor – families were gone. Travel to the new capital, and all of its sites and sounds had drawn most of the inhabitants. What was left was temples and brothels. To wash away sin, only to prepare to immerse oneself in it again. There were four gates, but instead of being ornate and majestic, they were becoming pieces of firewood, which anyone could partake of. And laborer took rather much.

And in this rain, you could watch this happen very quickly.

In under the kasagi, where the rain accumulated more strongly, and dumped down – almost like a garden – there were two men, one a monk covered from head to foot in gamboge - though it was a dirty mustered orange by now - the other a simple woodcutter, clad in brown. They both stared in to the rain, endlessly falling in to sheets. The monk spoke first:

“I do not understand.” It had the wail of a deep pronouncement. It the weight of age, even though he was young. Perhaps he was doing it as an homage to his master. “Even now I do not understand. How is this even possible?” And he shook his head. If you look closely you would see him weep. He sat droop shoulder and dejected while the shower doors down around them.

“If you do not understand, how can I? I just labor for my wife and brood of children.” And then they were quite, and squatting down in the cold wet floor. Above them, all above them, the gate poured down the rain, but said nothing at all. It was cracking, creaking – as if it were going to collapse that minute. One could hear these patterns from the top, accumulating as they did so – until they are were streams. But at least they could avoid those. Unlike his companion, he was more stoic.

In out of the downpour, came another man – dressed as a day laborer. Once upon a time he had plenty of business – but now not so. He waited for an instant to see what the two were talking about.

Instead he heard a variation on their conundrum – at which point he raised his hand and shook it. “What are you two talking about? And please do not give me a sermon, monk. I have had too many of those.” So he sat down. He was going to find out if there was a tale.

“We were talking about a dead man.”

“So what of it? With all of the wars, and plagues, there are plenty of them.”

The woodman piped up: “Dead on this very gate. But it was horrible what happened to him.” And then a silence fell upon him. They nodded of course, because there were at least half dozen of them on the roof of the gate – or more, they had all seen this. None of them were claimed, and, probably, none of them were going to be claimed. Which meant that the city would have to do something – but there were few enough silver pieces to do so, at least for a long time.

“Yes, there are wars aplenty, and executions, and the plague. Though that is not what the Masters teach us. It should be contemplative, not combative.”

“Was it a nobleman – or just a commoner like ourselves? If it is the first, perhaps I will agree with you. For us though, we die all the time.” At this they all sigh – because it was the truth.

“Do you want to tell them or should I?” Asked the monk to the woodman.

“You do it so much better than I.” Replied the woodman, taking his long axe out, and sharpening it.
“Well you should make up your minds, and then tell me.” Then got up to find loose firewood, and found some not too far at hand.

They waited for him to assemble a small tinder, which the labor hauled out flint and steel – and in a few minutes had a fire, though it rocked back and forth from the wind. But for all of that it was at least steady.

Then the labor looked at the two of them. “Well, begin.If it is a good story.”

“We should tell you that it was only three days ago.”

“And what happened three days ago? If your going to tell me a story, you should tell me a story – and not drag it out.” In the distance there was a crackle of thunder – first the flash, and after a while there was the noise associated with it. It then got quiet. After you moments the monk began:

“There was a warrior, and his lady – in fine colors, woven with taste. They were going on the road out of town – and I saw them in the glades where the rice patties were thinning, and up ahead there were signs of a great forest.”

-

It was a glorious morning, where even a monk might enjoy the hazy sunshine. It seemed that there would be nothing to worry about – not a care in the world. Everywhere there were small teams to plant the autumn harvest of rice, and even they look happy. The rice was shaking just a little bit, though I knew that it was nothing – in my minds eye, the long bushels seemed to be calling for rain – of that gentle style. Of in the distance there were terraces to harvest even more rice, but they were a bit ragged. It was a bucolic landscape, with the with rice - along the valley - in abundance, but the hills much less so.

There were few people on the road – and most of them were going to the field that they were planting – but there was one pair that stood out. Rather, a pair and a donkey. On foot, taking the nose of the donkey, was a warrior – though easily across the line of middle age. And he was thin, showing the where of a man who has his best years behind him. But with all of that, his mustache was erect, and every detail of his fine face told one that he was born and bred to this life, and no other. Though he could be said that his clothes were a bit ragged – they still bespoke of the time when he had been in command – waiting for his targets from his master. And it would be a shugo daimyo who would have commanded him in his old days. But not now, now he was alone. And not brought us to the figure on the donkey, which was his lady.

And such a lady she was! With her friend hat that was long, and draped to disguise her loveliness - and her dress covered over everything, except the shoes. I could not tell you if they were as rich as I love them to be, that is not my place. But I glanced upwards and caught a look on her face. She, like all of her kind, was layered with many roads – though of course not all the junitoe rank, with its 12 layer style. I of course had only seen drawings of this, because I would never belong in the rarefied atmosphere of its beauty. There were the accoutrements – especially a wide fan, and a dagger – because even the ladies have two defend themselves from brigands. But the wrappings from the chapeau obscured her except for a moment. She was obviously then and beautiful, much younger than her lord – though it seemed to me she was also reticent and reluctant. It was clear that they were only married for a short time.

I, of course, bowed exactly the right amount and tipped my hat – as a form of reverence. But it still struck me how beautiful she was, at least in my imagination. I hurried on, but I remember not hearing a word between them. It must have been in silence that they walked through the rice paddies, away from the old city – to the north to whichever daimyo held him in obeisance. Because there is a war between factions, and he probably was trying to find out what he could. And that meant that his lady was the dragged along for show.

And that is all I can remember, said the monk.

-

This had the desired effect on the laborer – though it was slow, he gained his attention in the telling – this sort of opening is common, where the characters are underlined in their particular roles. That he was a warrior, though not all the most highly skilled, was the point of his being. And she was a reward for his labors for the clan.

Once again the rain came down, and then begin the woodsman's view of the matter. He waited for the rain to die down, which did, and rubbed his hands together near the firewood and then started to tell his heart of the story.

-


Was two days ago, and I needed to get firewood – with which to sell. It support enough living, but I still know a few places where hard wood trees grow – where most people will take pine trees, and live on the meager coins that they get from them. Because right now the only people who need firewood have some use for it – or they live down by the sea. I knew it is the dry season for firewood, and anything else I can find.

The sun was already towards noon, I had been walking for two hours, because of course the secrets of the old Forest were hidden from even the woodman who trod carelessly. Yes, my father was the same as I am, and also new it has secrets. I will say the sun would beat down if one straight away from the tree line, especially if one burrowed through the underbrush. Though my face was grim, inside I was happy for knowing the ways that had been gone before me. It was a ritual, and my skin swelled up with pride at the way which maneuvered it.

Over the knocked down trees, through the underbrush, carefully avoiding the poisoned berries. I was coming to the place where the pines look impenetrable, for in a glenn came an area where the elms and oaks grew, if one knew the way. So what is it to be beaten on by the sun, when there is good wood for the cutting down? The birds were merrily calling out there songs, and the insects were buzzing in droves. But what is that to me? Yes, I will admit that I slapped a few away. But it was nothing, insects are part of the life I lead.

But then over a fallen log I chanced to see something which I would never see in the forest – because it was indeed a forest, and not a wood at this point. It was a broad brim ladies hat. The kind of hat worn not in a forest or wood, but on a roadside or within the reaches of a daimyo's castle. Even I knew that.

That stopped me. In my tracks, how could a ladies hat be there? What was it doing tangled up in the vines? No, I did not touch it – because it was too out of place. I mean, that hat would have been worth everything I carried, but with good is it? I would be found out almost instantaneously when searched – because it was not something easy to hide. So I went along, but this time, eye every inch for more clues as to why a woman's hat would be there. It was suspicious, and I was now on guard.

And sure enough, I found a pair of gloves – of a woman, and about the same size. I was near the clearing where I intended to harvest firewood, and I thought whatever might have happened to her probably was going to end up there. Because the saplings and underbrush were cleared away, though no one knows by who. Most believe it is not by anything human at all, and I believe that, truly, as well.

Then I was doubly on my guard, and was not surprised when a woman's dagger came in to view. It was not just a dagger, mind you, but one that was carved in detail. And it was inside of a tree which was partially knocked over, but not completely.

So, I stepped in to the clearing, where everything was quiet. But a figure stood out of the shadow – but it was not a woman, but a man. Wearing clothes as befits a warrior, with embroidery and patterns which said something about his rank, though I do not know exactly what. Such things do not interest me at all. For a warrior, he was slender, though he had a mustache which was unusual. He was gaunt in the face, but held a sword as befits his rank. It was curved, and I assumed it was made for him.

He was laid out on the floor of the forest, and it was obvious he had been in a fight. Their was a great struggle, and it was open to questioning what had happened. I could see at least two sets of tracks – both men. Of course I ran away, and when I got back to the road I finally calmed down enough. I went to the constable, and reported everything which I had seen. At which point they took me to the courthouse garden. There I would wait to tell the story.

I talked to the monk of course, and he told me that they were going to bring in a bandit, who had been slinking around the area and doing deadly deeds. They were sure that this would be the same one, because he had a straight sword of the kind used in my description. Clearly they had also questioned the monk, and we then sat, and watched the wind blow and eventually a storm pickup. Fortunately in the courthouse there was a bench which was covered.

There we met a marshal, who was jovial. And if I may say so rather stout. He recounted how he captured the bandit, apparently he had become sick and so was easily captured. But I am getting ahead of myself.

At this point the labor looked out on to the old capital, and just barely saw the court house. He had never been inside it himself, and from the outside it cowled as if it was a kind, more than just jail, a prison. He assumed that the administration was more pleasant – but that it hid several rather nasty surprises in the rooms where men were taken to rot – or be executed. It was only three stories, and nothing like it could be found anywhere on the mainland. There was a foreboding about the place with innumerable steps upwards and pine trees strewn about it.

-

“What rank and title did the warrior have?”

“They did not tell us. Because it was a secret that they were not willing to discuss.”

The laborer nodded, he knew something about the ways which the people in charge would not discuss things, because, in their minds, they were secret. But this is another tale.

“But you two were not to be blamed?” The monk looked at him with an air of true distaste, so far from his thoughts was it. The woodman looked blankly at him.

“Were there other people on the road?”

“None that they found, the old capital is largely deserted. Only be martial was summoned.”

“Did they know that the brigand actually do the deed?”

“When they brought him in, they did. But as he told his story, questions begin to raise themselves.”  The woodcutter bowed his head down, but he almost had something to say.

So began the story of a marshal and a notorious brigand, and the part which he said he was involved in this story. Though no one actually believed it, it was a good story nonetheless.



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