The Moonlit Corridor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 18 (v.1) - the gift

Submitted: August 24, 2019

Reads: 18

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Submitted: August 24, 2019

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The afternoon sun shone brightly above the tall sakura (cherry blossom) trees that lined both sides of the roadway leading from Tsukimi to the mountain forest. The lofty limbs stretched over the road as if reaching for one another, creating a colorful canopy that almost entirely blocked one’s view of the blue sky. White and pink-hued petals fell like snowflakes, carried on the languid breeze that gently stirred the leaves and branches. The lone horseman marveled at the beauty around him. In the azure haze of distance, rising high above the verdant treetops, he could just make out the ancient, awe inspiring peaks that had for centuries sheltered the peaceful valley from the intrusion of outsiders.

It had been three years since the samurai traveled this road. At that time his mind was not focused on the beauty of his surroundings. It was a somber time of bloodshed and tragedy. There were those in Tsukimi who still spoke of crimson, blood red cherry blossoms that year, following the deaths of Asako and her father. But it was not tragic memories that brought him back today, nor the sense of guilt and regret that plagued him the last three years. It was respect. He came to honor the dead. Too, this was a journey of reflection. As he rode he thought about his recent experiences in China, and the many things he learned from Kwai regarding Destiny, life and death.

“Destiny,” said the shaman, “is something that happens while we’re busy making plans. ‘Life’ is like a flowing stream, carrying each of us along on its currents toward our individual destinies. In a sense, it is Destiny and Fate in action, and neither offer apologies. Like life itself, which is no more than a collection of amazing coincidences. What we call ‘life’, and what we call ‘death’,” determined Kwai, “are but opposite ends of a single thread. To deal with life effectively, one must develop patience while diligently performing duty and responsibilities. To deal with death effectively, one must develop a quiet acceptance of the inevitable, facing it boldly without regret.”

Because of Asako chan, the samurai was now certain that life did not end with one’s last breath. There was more. It extended beyond the grave, and was a profound mystery not meant for the living to understand. It reminded him of something he heard long ago, perhaps from his mother; “What the caterpillar calls the end, the butterfly calls awakening.”

 

Lost in thought, he suddenly realized he had reached the foot of the mountain. Although he had not been paying attention, oddly enough his black Arabian horse seemed to remember the way without prodding or guidance. A couple of hundred feet ahead was the steep trail that led to the forest above where Toshima built his home, near the great twin tree which now kept an eternal vigil over the resting place of Asako and her parents. Before beginning the climb he pulled back on the reins, halting the horse, and paused to admire his surroundings. It was no mystery why Toshima decided to settle here. The grandeur and natural beauty of the area were beyond the samurai’s ability to describe with mere words. As he gazed about, the multitude of emotions evoked by the seven kilometer, sakura tree lined roadway, the mountain, falls and pool, the river and forest were awe inspiring. It was difficult for him to imagine that Asako had lost her life here at the base of the escarpment; a regrettable tragedy in such a beautiful place.

 

Momentarily he prompted the horse to move and began the arduous climb upward. When he reached the top he was pleased to find that the forest had not become a barren landscape. The saplings and young trees Chiang Tien’s workers left behind had grown, and many of the larger trees were left intact. Chiang had promised Asako’s aunt Ryoko that he would not destroy the forest, and had apparently kept his word. The areas of bamboo were untouched, and various kinds of foliage flourished in the spaces between the trees. Nature has a way of enduring and always manages to overcome man made devastation.

Of all the trees in the forest, the one that stood out predominantly over all the others was the ancient twin tree. It towered above the rest, and Sung Ji could not help but wonder how many generations had come and gone while that majestic tree matured. Another feature he found most outstanding was the fact that it was in fact two trees that had intertwined at the base and grew as one. He could understand why Asako and her family loved it so much.

When he reached the tree he dismounted and secured the horse’s reins to the gate of the iron fence that encircled and protected it. He bowed, then placed flowers before the gravesite of Asako and her parents, and noticed that jasmine was growing beneath the tree. The sweet aroma reminded him of the girl, and although he knew it was a trick of the wind, for just a moment imagined he heard the sound of her flute…‘echoing softly through the corridors of time’. That random thought surprised him… “I’m beginning to think like a poet,” he said, “and talking to myself…” he continued with a smile.

Stretching, he spread his arms wide as he took in a deep breath of fresh mountain air, sighed, and then, dropping to his knees, slowly removed the stones that sealed Asako’s remains. He handled them carefully one at a time until, having removed them all, he retrieved the urn containing her ashes. After removing the seal, he took a leather pouch from his shirt, and then the girl’s silver locket from the pouch. He wrapped the locket in a rare rose red silk fabric before placing it in the urn. He resealed the urn and respectfully returned it to its place, followed by the stones, once more securing her remains in the safety of the grave. Kneeling there quietly, he closed his eyes and allowed his mind to lapse into silence. He tuned out the droning of the cicadas, singing of the birds and the subdued, distant roar of the waterfall. Following a silent prayer he opened his eyes and was startled to see atop Asako’s grave the flute, hand-made by Toshima, resting on a folded piece of rice paper.

Neither items were there before he closed his eyes, and just minutes ago he saw the flute inside Asako’s urn. A cold chill ran up his spine as he reached for the items. Unfolding the rice paper, he discovered a message addressed to him, written in Japanese Kanji characters that read… “Please accept this humble gift. If I had lived in this world long enough to meet my destined love, I would have hoped to find someone like you. For all you’ve done, ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ (thank you).” It was simply signed… “Asako”.

After reading those words, he was shocked to see them slowly fade away, until finally he was staring at a blank paper. A sudden gust of wind tore it from his hands and carried it skyward. He watched helplessly until it disappeared from sight. A few minutes later he began to wonder if it had indeed happened, or if it was his imagination. If not for the flute he now held in his hand, he may still have had his doubts.

He took in another deep breath of mountain air, closed and secured the gate, untied the reins and mounted his horse. There were others, he imagined, who may require his sword of Justice. He turned the horse to leave and suddenly something compelled him to look back. Doing so, for just an instant, he thought he saw Asako’s mother, bathed in sun light, her white dress moving hypnotically in the wind. She was smiling as she gazed at him, perhaps to express gratitude. He blinked and the vision was gone, leaving him to once again wonder if it was just his imagination. But then, something told him it was exactly what it appeared to be: an apparition meant for him alone. Turning his attention once more to the path ahead, he urged the horse to move. As it did so, Sung Ji placed the flute to his lips and began to play Asako’s mother’s favorite melody, the melancholy notes languidly floating away on the late afternoon breeze.

 


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