The Summer had been especially hot this year in Nagasaki. With the news of raids in nearby coastal villages, the Lord of the powerful city had retained a part of the Japanese fleet in his port. He feared an impending attack from the pirates and since supplies were low within the city, he could not endure a siege for more than a week. At the palace grounds, the Lord took his breakfast accompanied by his wife and his two sons. Within a small wooden cabin surrounded by two lush gardens which were divided by a thin stream of water, the small noble family ate their first meal of the day.
There were four bowls of rice, a plate of grilled fish and another with vegetables. Each of the family members had a plate of their own where they would eat the main course accompanied by a bowl of rice. As for beverages, they each had a cup of hot green tea to help digest their breakfast. They would soon finish their meal so that the activities of the day could take place.
“You must eat the vegetables too, Satoshi.” Said the woman elegantly dressed in a white kimono with a red sash on her waist. “But I don’t’ like them mum… they taste bad.” Retorted the youngest child while pretending to do a huge effort to eat the vegetables.
“We can’t waste any food Satoshi. These are unpredictable times. Eat everything as your brother does.” The oldest one glanced at his brother while he dutifully finished his meal.
His father nodded. “Yes, just like that.” The youngest then proceeded to finish what was left of his meal in order to please his father as well.
Although the gardens were within the palace’s walls, it was still heavily guarded. Six guards stood around the wooden cabinet while other six patrolled the gardens in pairs.
After checking in with one of the patrols, a man got clearance to reach the cabinet. He ran there as fast as he could in his already tiresome state. Once he reached the guards, they stopped him. “Halt!” One of the guards said. All of them immediately placed hands on their swords’ hilts. “What subject do you bring to the Lord of Nagasaki?” The guest was tired, but he did not let it bother him when he spoke. “A letter from the government and a message as well! It is important that it reaches the lord as soon as possible!” Replied the messenger while panting, barely managing to catch his breath. “Please show me the seal.” Said one of the guards after approaching the messenger, now in a less authoritarian voice. The messenger showed the letter and was searched by the same guard. No weapons were found. “He’s good to go.” The guards were now at ease. The messenger walked up to the entrance of the cabin. “Excuse me, my Lord! I bring an important letter from the govern.” The Lord cleaned his mouth and gestured his children to do the same. “You may enter.”
The messenger left his wooden sandals outside and entered the cabin. He approached his lord without the fast pace that he had used before and respectfully delivered the letter to the Lord of Nagasaki. He broke the seal and opened the letter. His expression changed immediately after. Brows were raised high and he had to cover his mouth with a hand to show that he was not struck by surprise. He finished reading the letter without any more alterations and then glanced at his family with a smile. “Akame, please take the children to their tutors. We should pride ourselves on arriving in time and the children should learn that as well.” Curious as to what the letter contained, the Lord’s wife refrained from asking so. “Come, Satoshi, Takeshi. Let’s get you ready for your classes.” She gathered her children, holding each of them with each hand and promptly left the building. The Lord now looked the messenger in the eye after being certain that his family was out of audible reach. “Is this everything you bring?” The tired messenger shook his head, certain that the Lord would not enjoy this last bit of information as well. “No, my Lord. Minister Matsumoto said to me in private.” The Lord nodded and the messenger proceeded. “Your odds are grim my friend. Your insubordination is causing a lot of murmuring within the government. Watch your back.” The lord retained his eyes on the messenger for a moment longer. “That is all my Lord.” He looked away, but not because he was bothered for staring at the man in front of him. “I thank you for your commitment and loyalty to the people of Nagasaki.” The Lord stood from his seat and walked up to the messenger. “Give this man a proper meal and a place to rest. You’ll find the payment in your chambers.” The messenger nodded and two guards entered the room. “My guards will escort you there.” The messenger bowed as much as he could. “Thank you, my Lord. With your permission then…” He turned around and left the wooden cabin escorted by the two guards who had entered it just a moment before. “Watch my back uh?” As he glanced over the gardens that surrounded the cabin, the Lord pondered what he should do. “After everything that I’ve done… After everything that I’m doing to protect my people!” He went over to the table and threw every piece of porcelain that he could reach off of it. “Bring me the captain of the guard! We have important matters to discuss!” “Yes my Lord!” A guard from the outside promptly said. “And call a servant to clean up this mess!” The day passed swiftly while the guards’ captain discussed patrol plans and points of vigil with his lord. Certain that an attempt on his life would be made, the Lord Shirafune’s paranoia for safety grew by the hour.
Night fell and with appropriate plans made throughout the whole day, the captain of the guard finally left the chamber where he organized patrols and points of vigil with his Lord. Now about to instruct his underlings, the captain left his Lord with ten of his guards, while two of them escorted him through the halls until he reached the command center on the ground floor of the castle. “This hunger is killing me…” Complained the captain. “Why the sudden reinforcement of security though… I wonder why is Lord Shirafune so worried…” The guards escorting the captain remained silent. Although their behavior had not changed, the seasoned veteran knew the guards all too well to understand that even if they knew something he didn’t, they wouldn’t tell him no matter what. Whatever their senses capture while on duty will die with them and with them alone. The Japanese took their duty seriously as it was a great honor to guard a Lord. To fail with their duties is to bring shame upon their families and such dishonor is often followed by seppuku. The captain stopped and the guards took an extra step to halt as well. “You have not eaten since midday. I don’t know what is going on inside Lord Shirafune’s head, but his guards must be well fed and well rested if they’re to protect him from whatever harm he thinks it’s coming.” The guards stood still while the captain glanced back at them. “Come with me to the kitchen and we will get you something for you all to eat.” The guards nodded and the captain proceeded on his way to the kitchen before instructing his underlings of the new orders.
In the meanwhile, Lord Shirafune moved to the upper quarters of the castle where he thought to be the safest place since it was a single room with no side windows and only one entrance or exit which was through a set of narrow stairs. There was a hole in the ceiling, however, but the passage was blocked by glass and a cross of wood right after it, thus preventing any grown human to pass through it. The room did not have much. There was a table beneath the window with a lot of parchments, porcelain with ink and various brushes. On the walls, there were several paintings of Nagasaki, its sea, its ships, its places and its past Lords. Shirafune would someday have his portrait there as well. At the opposite side of the entrance, there was a small shrine with incense still alit and a set of two katanas, one longer than the other, on a piece of black wood. Four guards entered the room, each at a time and each holding a candle within a sphere of paper. They placed them at each of the room’s corners. After looking around for a second, all of them pronounced: “Clear!” Lord Shirafune waltzed into the room and soon kneeled by the table. The other guards came in as well, one at each corner, two by Shirafune’s side, another two at the entrance and the remaining pair stood by the shrine, paying close attention to the window above.
“I still can’t believe that the government would send an assassin after everything that I’ve done for them!” Shirafune’s fist was closed tightly. “How can they not understand that the pirates are simply waiting for the navy to leave so that they can lay siege to our glorious city?!” The Lord hammered the table with his fist, startling his guards and causing some blank parchments to fall over. The guard at his right promptly gathered what fell on the surface and began to place it on the table. “What could be more important than the well being of the Japanese people? There is something missing here…” Shirafune glanced over to his guards and despite the resolute look on their faces, he knew that it had been long since they had a proper meal, as he also had not. He sighed. “Dinner will be here soon. I’m sure our Captain won’t let our hunger unattended for much longer.” And without anything else to say, he picked up a piece of parchment and began to write on it.
The night was not accompanied by a full moon, but the light it radiated was incredibly intense that one could misjudge it for one. The guards at the gardens of the Palace had a clear sight of the area they were in charge of protecting. There were more than ten guards stationed throughout the verdant area and four patrols of two walking close to its wall. More than half a dozen trees stood tall close to said walls, thus creating a good entry point for someone skilled enough to do so. After attaching a rope on one of those trees’ branches, a shadowy figure climbed up and analyzed the area below, while the foliage provided cover. Tight black robes covered the entirety of this one’s body, leaving only small gaps on the orifices of the head so that this person’s senses would not be hindered. Whoever this person was, it carried a belt with varied equipment and a small wooden box attached to it.
The intruder spent more than ten minutes studying the area and the soldiers guarding it. Now aware of their positions and movements, the outsider began to move. It hopped onto the branches of the trees with exceptional agility and barely without a noise. The smooth breeze that shook the foliage came in handy to mask the movements of the intruder. It made its way to the inside’s entrance while hidden by the closest tree. A distraction had to be placed in order for the assassin to slip past the guards.
Beneath the tree, were various flowers and a couple of trimmed bushes that had some resemblance to human figures. No doubt a taste implanted into Shirafune’s mind by some important foreigner. The intruder picked the small wooden box and detached it from the belt. Upon opening the box and picking what was inside, the assassin dropped it into the bushes below, thus alarming the guards at the entrance. The two of them looked at each other and nodded. One of them slowly approached the bush while the other stood on his colleague’s back, a bare two meters away. “I’ll meet you inside Kuroi”. The intruder whispered and then dropped its companion over the bushes, therefore alarming the guards even more. While they approached with the help of a torch to light the way, the assassin jumped from the tree branch where it was and ran to the wall until it reached the entrance, now only partially illuminated by one single torch. Still, the assassin managed to slip through the entrance undetected while the guards responsible for the entrance were busy checking the origin of the noise while the others were patrolling the gardens.
The bushes continued to shake and the guards grew nervous by the moment while they unraveled them. Then, a hissing sound came through one of the bushes as a cat black as the lightless night itself leaped onto the guard’s face, scratching him out of fear before disappearing into the garden once more. Shocked for a moment without realizing what it could be, the guards laughed uncontrollably by the scare that the two of them were a victim of. The one who had merely observed turned to a coming patrol and said in between chuckles, “Sakamoto! Hahaha! Come here! You won’t believe what just happened…”
In the meanwhile, the captain had already arranged something for Shirafune’s honor guard to eat, and the two guards were already on their way to their Lord, accompanied with several bowls, chopsticks and two large plates. Both of them carried two small pieces of wood with the items described above on them. The guards took the shortest path, a narrow corridor that would lead them from the garrison directly to the only stairs in the castle that allowed them to go to the floors above. Although it was illuminated, the torches were placed in between spaces of ten meters each. This corridor also connected many others and it was mainly used by the castle’s servants to better ease their movement within the huge building. From one of the intersections, the intruder approached carefully as it already knew that there was someone coming from the faint chatter. Although the floor was carved in stone, the straw sandals that the guards had still announced their movements from a considerable distance to someone with sharpened senses such as the intruder’s. The black-clothed assassin crouched by the corner of the intersection and pulled a kunai from its belt. The guards continued to advance without a care, commenting about the current situation at the palace. Now holding its breath, the assassin prepared to stealthily dispatch both of the guards, but when the time came, the guards passed by the intruder without even noticing it. The assassin let out a brief sigh from within the robes that covered its face. After placing its kunai back, the intruder pulled a map from a small pouch and after taking a quick look, the assassin advanced forth.
It was common for assassins to harm the family of their targets. A strategy employed to break the target’s spirit and with a high chance of success at that. As such, Lord Shirafune ordered his family relocated to a room next to the common chambers, where his wife and two sons would sleep near the castle’s servants. Two guards were posted outside of the room but without their uniforms. They attended to other matters within the room to better camouflage themselves should an assassin appear. As for the servants, themselves, they slept in small chambers on the walls. Each chamber had three rows and each row could be closed individually.
Most of the servants were already asleep, besides the ones who had shifts to attend to. The majority of them woke up at sunrise and went to sleep a couple of hours after sunset. Akame, Shirafune’s wife, was only now putting her sons to sleep. The sudden displacement of her resting place had postponed her schedule considerably. “It is so cold here mom… Why can’t we sleep in our rooms?” Akame placed another blanket on her children. “Because your father said so. You know he only wants the best for all of us.” The child nodded and turned to his younger brother. “Will we sleep here every night mom?” While she tucked her children, Akame drew a smile on her face, although any adult could point the uncertainty in her expression. “Of course not. This is just temporary. Now go to sleep. You need to be well rested for the classes of tomorrow.” Even before Akame could finish her words, the dreamlands had already claimed her children to rest. Unsettled because of the uncertainty of this situation, Akame made her way to a wooden closet so that she could undress her robes and put on a more convenient outfit to sleep. Before she could open the closet, however, she heard two knocks. The young woman was startled at first, but rationalized what it was soon after and faced the two doors. “This is kind of late now, I hope it is important… Come on in.” A couple of seconds after and no reply. “I swear these people are way too polite.” Akame walked to the doors and slid one of them. “What is –” A powder was sprayed towards her face, the look of surprise quickly vanished as she went unconscious. Whoever did this to her, prevented her from falling hard on the floor and caught her midway. On the next chamber, past the black-clothed intruder, the guards sent to watch over Akame and the children were lying on the floor. The slim figure entered Akame’s temporary chambers and closed the door.
In the highest room of the castle, Lord Shirafune and his personal guard were finishing their late meal. Shirafune was a man of principle and honor. A man that would not dare to change old traditions. But even a man with old beliefs would not force his guards to eat on the floor. When the meals arrived, he ordered the guards to clear the table of its contents and invited four at a time to eat with him. While everyone thanked him, even one with tears in his eyes, the guards made no ceremony when eating their meal, a bowl of rice filled with some grilled meat. As for Shirafune himself, he would not forget his manners even if he hadn’t eaten in seven days. The second round of guards was barely done with their portions and Shirafune wasn’t even past half of his meal. Contrary to the calmness outside, Shirafune’s mind was harboring a storm of thoughts, considering what would happen to Nagasaki if he was somehow removed from his position of power. Surely the navy would leave its harbor right after, and according to his scouts’ information, with such a heavy number of pirates roaming the nearby sea, an attack on the city would surely happen. Without the power to bring down their ships, the pirates would certainly see Nagasaki as a piece of juicy fruit ready to be eaten.
Shirafune brought a hand within his robes, checking for the parchment that he had written on previously. In the day that would soon follow, he would send this piece of paper and spread the news to other lords, mainly of the adjacent cities like Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Once this situation was known by more Lords, Shirafune would gain another weight in the eyes of the government but also before the eyes of his people. Resting assured that the piece of paper would do its job, Shirafune brought his hand out of his robes and continued to eat. “Gochisousama.” Two of the guards said, having thanked for their meal and leaving their seats right away, finally giving their place to the last remaining pair to eat their fill, for what would be a long night of vigil. As the guards left their seats at the table and the other pair moved from the shrine so that they could finally eat their so desired meal, one of the glasses in the ceiling broke without any previous notice.
Several pieces fell on the six guards and their Lord. The guards on active duty came forward right away, surrounding Shirafune to prevent any harm from ever being inflicted. Not all pieces had even touched the floor and two heavy spheres were tossed inside, leaving a trail of smoke behind them. Instinctively, the guards brought a hand to cover their mouths and noses, but they would barely protect them. A shadow then dropped by and landed on its feet right on the face of one of the guards protecting Shirafune, knocking him out right away. It then leaped right away as one of the others swung at it rapidly. Normally they would all be shouting but the smoke prevented them from doing so if they were to save oxygen and not actually pass out when their Lord needed them the most. The intruder ran around the room, evading a couple of blade swings from Shirafune’s guards and even outmaneuvering another who attempted to grab it. As they began their pursuit, however, the guards tripped against something that seemed non-existent, and yet they fell to the floor. The guards at the entrance waited for the intruder to pass but when it reached them, the intruder evaded their coordinated attacks with a display of pure gymnastics. By placing its hands on the floor the supposed assassin not only avoided the guards’ blades but also kicked them off their fists. In the midst of the smoke, she circled them quickly and restrained them with the help of a wire, thus rendering them useless for the rest of the encounter. The smoke was so thick now, that it was barely possible to see from one room’s side to the other. Shirafune’s guards tried to escort their Lord out of the room, but besides their waning strength, they found the exit blocked by two of their comrades, who were not only bound together by some sort of metallic string, but they were also mysteriously attached to the other pieces of furniture within the room, thus disabling any kind of movement from their part.
With the remaining guards completely intoxicated and their Lord as well, the intruder was able to knock down the other guards who were spread around the room, now leaving the remaining three guards to fend for themselves in the inhospitable environment that the assassin created. One of them felt his consciousness slipping away, and as such, charged through the smoke swinging at what he thought to be the assassin’s shadow but it was the table where the guards had ate some minutes before, set in its vertical orientation. She appeared from the guard’s right side and knocked him out with a precise punch in the lower jaw. The guard simply fell, completely unaware of the fall his body would withstand.
“Lord Shirafune…” the intruder vanished within the smoke. One of the guards who was protecting Shirafune was suddenly pushed to the middle of the room. A slam against the hard wooden floor was all Shirafune and his remaining guard had heard. Then, a shadow closed in and slowly took shape. “You have been relieved of your duties, Lord Shirafune.” The feminine voice caused the Lord’s mind to deduct that a kunoichi had been responsible for the attack and that within Japan, there were only a few clans that trained them. It was, however, Shirafune’s last thought as he and his other guard had finally given in to the smoke that infested the room.
The alarm followed barely a couple of minutes after the encounter had ended, but when the rest of the guards came to check the room, they found it in a total chaos. Metallic wires bound some of the guards to themselves and even to some pieces of furniture within the room. They were all unconscious, but only some of them were wounded. There was no trace of their Lord, neither the letter that he had written before dinner. Once the alert had been given, a couple of guards were sent to fetch Akame and her children, but to the guards’ surprise, they too had been taken.
Dawn soon came, and Shirafune found himself on a small boat. The sea was calm and there was barely any wave capable of agitating the vessel in the slightest manner. He woke up, and suddenly realized what had happened before his forced sleep. He glanced around to see his family in common clothes as the peasantry used at the time. His children and wife had different haircuts and he too, as he soon found out by the drops of water that caressed his now bald head. Each one of them was carefully tied with rope, preventing any of them to even stand on their feet. He glanced back, and saw the hooded, black-clothed figure, rowing at a steady rate. They were going towards the shore, and for what Shirafune could tell, they weren’t very far from Nagasaki.
Although their eyes had met, Shirafune opted not to say a word. He was considering why he was still alive, and why would the assassin bother to kidnap his family as well. More and more questions began to pop in his mind, but no answer could be found. His head ached because of the smoke, and it cost him even more to process his situation. “Araraki.” The kunoichi spoke. Shirafune struggled to glance back and when he did. “Araraki” The kunoichi repeated the name. “That is your name from now on. You come from a family of fishermen in Nagasaki in your way to a new beginning.” She continued to row, leaving a small gap of time for Shirafune to understand his current situation. Then, the kunoichi continued. “Unfortunately, your boat came under attack from the pirates when you were traveling and you managed to get your family and yourself into this rowboat and escape.” The former lord of Nagasaki did not say a word, but the tears on his face spoke for him. In his stubbornness, Shirafune lost everything he had earned over the years besides his family. Luckily for him, because of the kunoichi’s kindness, he still had a life and a family to raise for the coming years. He did not say a word, and let himself drown in snot and tears instead. Once at the shore, the kunoichi landed the small rowboat and untied Shirafune and his family, who were still asleep. “They won’t be asleep for much longer. The scent I used will fade away soon.” Having finished her mission, the kunoichi began to walk towards the nearest road. Shirafune was still in the middle of removing his bonds when he left the rowboat in a hurry. Upon seeing the kunoichi diminishing in the distance, he dropped to his knees and bowed in respect, thankful for the chance that his captor had given him and his family instead of finishing their lives as she had probably been told to do.
In the next day, the Japanese fleet finally had the authorization to leave Nagasaki’s port. The men in Shirafune’s personal guard had one last ceremony before committing seppuku. Having failed their mission, the only honorable path could only be found in death by taking their own life. On the day after that, Nagasaki was set to the flame as the numerous pirate ships besieged it before laying waste to their defenses thus allowing them to loot the city with relevant ease.
(PS: As always, the images found within Orient in Turmoil are just to give you an idea of the scenarios and characters that take part within the story. They do not belong to me and they aren’t precise representations of the characters and scenarios that you read about here.)