The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 24 (v.1) - song of love

Submitted: August 26, 2019

Reads: 20

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Submitted: August 26, 2019

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Kenji Tanaka awoke to the melodious sound of a flute wafting in through the open window. Looking at the empty pallet beside his own, he reasoned it was Sung Ji. He recognized the tune, having heard the samurai playing it earlier that evening on the sakura tree lined road that stretched between the mountain forest and Tsukimi.

The hour was late, sometime between midnight and sunrise. Tanaka noted two things of interest once he had gone to the window, Sung ji seated on the front landing of the inn, while across the street at the Jade Teahouse two girls were at their second story bedroom window, bathed in candlelight. ‘The landlord’s daughters,’ thought Kenji. Two of them at least, one of which was the youngest, whom he knew admired the samurai. The three of them, Kenji, Asuka, Mariko and a fourth, the girl with the rose colored scarf, listened in silence as Sung ji played, the melancholy melody awakening a multitude of memories tucked away in their hearts.

The samurai was unaware of his audience and they were oblivious of the tears in his eyes. He sincerely hoped that no matter where she was at that moment Asako could hear his song, which he played to remember and honor her, even though it reminded him of the unfairness of life. He mourned because she left this world too soon, all her hopes, dreams, potential and future promises ending in a single moment. The last emotional sensations she experienced being fright and helplessness… It saddened him.

“Do you know that tune?”

The sound of her sister’s voice brought her back to the moment… “It’s an old love song. The song from the forest. I recall hearing it while on the mountain for moon viewing one year. It frightened father and the other adults.” 

“Hai,” said Mariko. “An old song of love. Is it not the song the woodsman, Toshima san, taught his daughter? The song her mother favored?”

Asuka nodded… “Hai…” she replied.

They both knew it was the same song villagers claimed they heard in the mountain forest after Asako’s death, at times coming from the house Toshima built there. But no one dwelt in the house or the forest since that time.

She imagined the villagers spoke either out of ignorance or fear. If they could not explain something they always spoke of spirits, ‘yu lai’ (ghosts), ‘oni’ (demons) or ‘kage’ (shadows). She was only sixteen when Toshima and his daughter perished, and recalled the rumors began shortly after. Aside from the ghostly flute, there were sightings of a spectral form in blue near the waterfall or in the woods. The man who discovered Asako’s body claimed to have seen her standing on the rocks beneath the falls, staring at the sky. When he turned to signal others who were searching and then back again, she was gone. When they investigated the place he had seen her they discovered her lifeless body. She had been dead for hours, so his was the first sighting of her disembodied spirit.

Some called her death suicide, but Asuka never believed that. She remembered her as being carefree and having an exuberant zest for life. Although she was young at the time, Asuka felt pity for Asako, who lived a quiet, unassuming life, only to become famous after leaving this world prematurely, without ever wanting such attention. People murmured and gossiped about the girl’s restless soul being unable to find peace beyond the grave. It seemed curious to Asuka as a young girl, that if it was rumored a ghost walked here or there, adults would fearfully avoid those places. She believed that perhaps Asako couldn’t rest because of the wagging tongues and superstitious babbling of the ignorant villagers who spread rumors and feared to approach the mountain after the tragedy.

But even before then, only a few townspeople visited the mountain, with the exception of the autumn ‘Tsuki Matsuri’ (Moon Festival), which drew many outsiders and visitors. It was held on a green field adjacent to the foothills of the mountain forest and culminated with a lantern ceremony and procession that led from the festival grounds to the steep path near the falls, then up the mountain and through the forest to the corridor of trees that ended at cliff edge. It was the best place to view the unusually large autumn moon. The passage through the trees was called ‘Tsukaikari no Kairou’ (The Moonlight Corridor). Asuka recalled one year they arrived just as the moon was rising above the cliff. She watched spellbound as its light, ever so slowly, began to shine down the corridor of trees, creating what to her at that time was a truly  magical sight. So it was Matsuri Tsuki, and ‘tsukidango’ (moon watching sweets), for which Tsukimi was famous, that brought visitors to the forest. Otherwise the locals seldom ventured there after Asako’s body was found at the base of the cliff.

Now, as then, Asuka knew precious little of spirits or phantoms, but she had made a place in her heart for Sung Ji, and enjoyed hearing him play his flute. Mariko, leaning beside her on the windowsill, evidently enjoyed listening as well, surmised Asuka, as a contented sigh escaped her older sibling’s lips. It was a pleasant night, beneath a clear, star-filled sky. A good night for lovers, thought Asuka chan as she allowed her imagination to carry her to magical places, far from the work-a-day world of the Jade Teahouse. Places where she walked hand in hand with a handsome samurai along cherry tree avenues or gently flowing, crystal clear streams beneath an azure sky.

“The song is sad,” said Mariko.

“Hai, it seems so,” mused Asuka. “I wonder if he is ‘sha-mis-chi-to’ (lonely)?”

“Perhaps,” replied Mariko. “I’m certain the life of a swordsman is lonely. Is that why you think of him?”

“I don’t know,” Asuka responded. “I only know I do. Even when my mind tells me ‘no’, my heart keeps running to him.”

“Hmm…” Mariko intoned, not quite knowing what to say.

“I worry about him…” Asuka revealed.

“You worry?”

“Hai. Because of something old blind Sayaka told me. She sensed an imbalance in his destiny, causing his negative and positive forces to flow in the same direction, resulting in an instability in the direction of his life path…and…”

“And what?” Mariko asked.

“She said he didn’t walk alone…that a ghost followed him.”

“A ghost?” asked Mariko. “Did she mean that elder, Tanaka san?”

“I’m not certain,” said Asuka. “But I don’t think so…perhaps that girl I saw…”

A chill ran up Mariko’s back. She didn’t like talk of ghosts or spirits. “I saw no girl,” she said fearfully. “Only Tanaka san.”

Asuka, at that moment turning her gaze toward the night sky, was distracted by and excited to see a shooting star, its trail of light chasing behind as it sped across the heavens.  “Look sister!” she exclaimed.

Mariko looked in the direction of her pointing finger.

“When she was alive mother said that when a star falls, a soul ascends to ‘Ten’ (Heaven),” Asuka said excitedly. “Do you think mother is there? In ‘Ten goku’ (Heaven country)?”

“Hai!” said Mariko. “From there she can see us clearly. Father said she is always watching over us.”

Asuka placed her elbows on the windowsill and, resting her chin on her two closed hands, looked toward the sky. ‘The stars in her eyes almost out shine the ones above’, thought Mariko as she smiled at her sister, before turning her own eyes to the celestial beauty overhead. Both girls became lost in their dreams and as they whiled away the time Asuka began to hum along with the flute.

 

Three days journey from Tsukimi, by horse or wagon, in Sanada’s fortress, Silence sat before the immense, ornately framed mirror in the room allotted to her by the chief housekeeper. The room, like the mirror, was much larger than was necessary. ‘Wealth’, she reflected, ‘seems to breed over indulgence as well as decadence’. As she sat staring at her reflection, she wondered how she ended up here to begin with. She knew why she was shinobi (ninja); she was taken in and raised by her master after he rescued her from outlaws who killed her parents. She was only age four at the time, but the memory was burned deep into her subconscious, occasionally resurfacing from time to time.

She shook her head in frustration, bringing herself back to the present and to unpleasant thoughts of Sanada. Of one thing she was certain; she disliked him, and wished it were he whom she had been sent to eliminate. The thought of killing Kenji Tanaka was distasteful. He was a helpless old ‘oji san’ (grandfather), with a granddaughter who had lost her parents. That made Kasumi an orphan like her, but with a grandfather, which was more than Silence had after losing her family.

Also she disliked the thought of eliminating Ahn Sung Ji. Even in her isolated mountain retreat she had heard stories about the Left Hand of God, a Korean by birth, who had risen high in the ranks of samurai, always faithful to duty and the former emperor. When the samurai were no longer needed he earned the reputation of a champion of justice who aided the weak and oppressed. He was a selfless, upright man of honor, a hero and quite the opposite of the crude, self-indulgent Sanada.

Watching her reflection in the mirror, she began to question her ‘michi’ (journey) and Sensei Hawk’s directives. Her ‘giri’ (duty) as ninja was something she began to regard as blind loyalty, taught to her not because it was proper, but because it served the needs of Sensei Hawk or the rich, disreputable men and women who could afford to pay him for her skills. She knew people thought of ninja as silent assassins and death dealers. ‘Nin-jit-su’ (Ninja Art) was considered the art of stealth, for the purpose of destruction, while throughout history martial arts, especially those that originated in monasteries and temples, were meant to preserve life rather than take it.

That thought brought to mind something she learned from an elder classmate during her training. She was twelve at the time and her classmate, Water, was nineteen. The older girl found her one day crouched in a darkened room, crying over the death of her parents; ‘Why did they have to die like that?’ she asked.

Water replied that they didn’t have to die like that. They did so because killers chose at that time and place to take their lives. They were victims of evil men who had no respect for life.

“Why do men choose to do such evil?” she asked.

Water explained that those who would not do such things could never comprehend why others chose to do so. “There are not always answers,” she confided. “Questions? Yes. There will always be questions. That is one thing of which you can always be certain.”

Silence sighed. Her mind and spirit were tired. All this thinking and wondering was exhausting. She needed rest and ‘wa’ (harmony), but she was too unsettled. Suddenly, like lightning flashing on the horizon, a thought occurred to her. There was something about the giant guardsman at the gate…something familiar, as if she had seen him somewhere or sometime in the past. She recalled now, that she sensed something when she first saw him leaning on the wall that encircled Sanada’s estate. She wondered, but the more she strained her memory, the more mentally exhausted she became.

Finally deciding to sleep, she rose from the bench before the mirror, turning to one side as she proceeded toward the bed. It took a moment for the thought to register, and when it did she wondered if it was just her imagination. She had risen, but the image in the mirror, her image, had remained seated. She caught it with her peripheral vision. Turning her head quickly to look, the mirror appeared normal, only reflecting what was before it. ‘I must be over tired’, she told herself as she stared at the glass.

She stood there completely still for a few seconds. Then, as she removed her outer silk blouse while staring intently at her reflection, she was pleased to see it moved with her, mimicking every action. ‘Quite normal,’ she told herself. At that moment her mirror image abruptly turned its’ head to the side, looking in the direction of the door. She heard a sound at that instant, as if someone was attempting to open it. Forgetting the mirror she darted quickly to the bed, beside which she had earlier laid her sword. Springing forward she landed on the bed, slid across its surface, grabbing her weapon on the opposite side and leaped back over the bed. With the speed and the agility of a cat she was at the door just as it began to open outward.

It opened, and an alarmed Ichiban stopped dead in his tracks, startled to find Silence standing at the portal, sword in hands. Before his eyes completely distended the tip of her blade was pressed against his throat. Momentarily his gaze shifted from the sharp weapon to the girl’s bare shoulders. Lust flared within him, which didn’t go unnoticed. Silence glared at him, then hissed…  “Doushite’ (Why)?”

Ichiban began to stammer…”I wondered… I wondered if you need anything…”

“You wondered if I need anything…” she repeated as she applied a little pressure with the sword.

His spine straightened and he leaned his head back.

“Don’t move!” she yelled.

He obliged.

“Is it customary here to enter a guest’s room unannounced?”

“No…” he stammered. “Sanada san would punish…”

“How could he punish a dead man?” she interrupted.

He was silent, as beads of sweat formed on his brow.

“How did you know where to find me?” she asked, exerting a little more pressure with the sword.

“The chief housekeeper’s husband,” he spoke as a trickle of blood ran down his neck. “He works in the kitchen…” His words trailed off as he gazed at her eyes. What he saw there convinced him she was no fool, no mere woman and definitely not one to be underestimated or trifled with.

“Get out!” she demanded.

“I only…” he began to stutter as he backed away.

“Out!” she screamed.

He backed up and carefully closed the door. Silence lowered her sword and secured the bolt that secured the heavy cedar barrier… “That should prevent any other uninvited nocturnal monkeys or apes from disturbing me…” she said aloud.

She returned the sword to its place by the bed, then went to the mirror. She saw only her normal reflection…nothing out of the ordinary, and began to think she may have imagined what she saw before Ichiban attempted to enter, but she knew otherwise. Her image in the mirror warned her he was there. She recalled that Sensei Hawk told her Sanada had in his employ a wizard and his daughter. Perhaps the mirror may have something to do with them.

Momentarily she returned to the bed, removed her day clothes and climbed beneath the covers. As she drifted into slumber her thoughts once again drifted to the giant. There was something about him…something dark and sinister…but what?  It was beginning to give her a headache. ‘Like the mirror’, she pondered…‘Magic and mysteries abound in this world...’

In the darkest recess of the room, like a shade among the shadows and unbeknownst to Silence, stood a silent sentinel. Ordinarily, Silence would have sensed her presence, but the watcher had powers of her own, and didn’t want her presence to be sensed or known. She had been observing the ninja, and was intrigued and impressed by her determination and resolve. She felt a kinship toward Silence, and knowing her history felt empathy and sorrow as well, in spite of what brought Silence to this place. The watcher was inclined to protect one of the ninja’s targets, but only time would reveal to what extent that would be necessary. The present moment demanded no action.

As she observed Silence sleeping she was compelled to approach, to reach out to touch and comfort her, but doing so would disturb her slumber, and the watcher did not wish to be seen. She knew that most people feared her presence, and Silence needed sleep; it would refresh her mind and body.  ‘Let her rest’, thought the watcher, as she allowed herself to be absorbed by the shadows within which she stood, slowly fading away like an ethereal, insubstantial dream.


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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