The Young Samurai BOOK 1

The Way of the Warrior CHRIS BRADFORD

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CONTENTS Map: The Japans – 17th Century Prologue – Masamoto Tenno 1 Fireball 2 Rigging Monkey 3 Devil and the Deep Blue Sea 4 Land of the Rising Sun 5 Shadows in the Night 6 Fever 7 Samurai 8 Ofuro

9 Kimonos and Chopsticks 10 Abunai! 11 Sencha 12 The Duel 13 Father Lucius 14 The Summons 15 Yamato 16 The Bokken 17 Gaijin 18 Best Out of Three 19 Masamato’s Return 20 Akiko 21 Niten Ichi Ryū 22 The Tokaido Road 23 Butokuden 24 Sensei 25 The Shining One 26 Defeating the Sword 27 A Reason to Train 28 The Daruma Doll 29 Sensei Kyuzo 30 Target Practice 31 Kazuki’s War 32 Hanami Party 33 The Taryu-Jiai 34 Yamada’s Secret 35 The Switch 36 The Demon and the Butterfly 37 The Jade Sword 38 The Sound of Feathers Waterfall 39 The Apology 40 Staying the Path 41 Gion Matsuri 42 Dokugan Ryu 43 Kendo – The Way of the Sword

Notes on the Sources Acknowledgements Notes on the Japanese Language ooo000ooo PROLOGUE

MASAMOTO TENNO Kyoto, Japan, August 1609 The boy snapped awake. He seized his sword. Tenno hardly dared to breathe. He sensed someone else was in the room. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he searched for signs of movement. But he could see nothing, only shadows within shadows, the moonlight seeping ghostlike through the lucent paper walls. Perhaps he had been wrong… His samurai training, though, warned him otherwise. Tenno listened intently for the slightest sound, any indication there might be an intruder. But he heard nothing unusual. The cherry blossom trees in the garden made a faint rustle like the sound of silk as a light breeze passed through. There was the familiar trickle of water as it flowed from the small fountain into the fishpond, and nearby a cricket made its persistent nightly chirp. The rest of the house lay silent. He was overreacting… It was just some bad kami spirit disturbing his dreams, he reasoned.

This past month the whole Masamoto household had been on edge with the rumour of war. There was talk of a rebellion and Tenno’s father had been called into service to help quell any potential uprising. The peace Japan had enjoyed for the past twelve years was suddenly under threat and the people were afraid they would be plunged back into war. No wonder he was so on edge. Tenno lowered his guard and settled back to sleep on his futon. As he did so, the night cricket chirped a little louder and the boy’s hand tightened round the hilt of his sword. His father had once said, ‘A samurai should always obey his instincts’, and his instincts told him something was wrong. He rose from his bed to investigate. Suddenly a silver star spun out of the darkness. Tenno threw himself out of the way but was a second too late. The shuriken sliced through his cheek before burying itself deep into the futon where his head had just been. As he continued to roll, he felt a rush of hot blood stream down his face. Then he heard a second shuriken thud into the tatami-matted floor, and in one fluid movement he sprang to his feet, bringing his sword up to protect himself. Dressed head-to-toe in black, a figure drifted ghost-like out of the shadows. Ninja! The Japanese assassin of the night.

With a measured slowness, the ninja unsheathed a viciouslooking blade from his saya. Unlike Tenno’s large curved katana sword, the tantō was short, straight and ideal for stabbing. The ninja took a silent step closer and raised the tantō, a human cobra preparing to strike. Tenno, anticipating the attack, cut down with his sword, slicing across the body of the approaching assassin. But the ninja deftly evaded the boy’s sword, spinning round to kick him squarely in the chest. Thrown backwards, Tenno crashed through the paper-thin shoji door of his room and out into the night. He landed heavily in the middle of the inner garden, disorientated and fighting for breath. The ninja leapt through the torn opening and landed cat-like in front of him. Tenno attempted to stand and defend himself, but his legs gave way. They had become numb and useless. In a panic, he tried to scream – to call for help – but his throat had swollen shut. It burned like fire and his cries became suffocating stabs for breath. The ninja shifted in and out of focus before vanishing in a swirl of black smoke. The boy’s vision folded in on itself and he realized the ninja’s shuriken had been dipped in poison, paralysing him limb by limb. His body quickly succumbed to its lethal powers and he lay there at the mercy of his assassin.

Blinded, Tenno listened for the ninja’s approach, but could only hear the chirp-chirp of the cricket. He recalled his father once telling him that ninja used the insect’s calls to mask the noise of their own movements. That was how his assassin had slipped by the guards undetected! Briefly his eyesight returned and under the pale light of a waning moon, a shrouded face floated towards him. The ninja drew so close that Tenno could smell the assassin’s hot breath on his face, sour and stale like cheap saké. Through the slit in the hood of its shinobi shozoko, the boy could see a single emerald-green eye blazing with hatred. ‘This is a message for your father,’ hissed the ninja. Tenno felt the deadly cold tip of the tantō on the flesh above his heart. A single sharp thrust and his whole body flared white-hot with pain… Then nothing… Masamoto Tenno had passed into the Great Void. ooo000ooo 1 FIREBALL Pacific Ocean, August 1611 The boy snapped awake.

‘All hands on deck!’ bellowed the Bosun. ‘That means you too, Jack!’ The Bosun’s weather-beaten face loomed out of the darkness at the boy, who hastily dropped from his swaying hammock to the wooden floor of the ship’s middle deck. Jack Fletcher, only twelve, was nonetheless tall for his age, slim and muscular from two years at sea. Hidden behind the straggly mess of straw-blond hair he had inherited from his mother, his eyes were an azure blue and glinted with a determination and fire far beyond his years. Men, weary from the long voyage on board the Alexandria, slumped from their bunks and pushed past Jack, heading urgently for the upper deck. Jack threw the Bosun a hopeful smile of apology. ‘Get going, boy!’ snarled the Bosun. Suddenly there was an almighty crash, followed by a shrieking of the timbers and Jack was thrown to the floor. The small oil lantern suspended from the central beam of the dinghy hold swung wildly, its flame spluttering. Jack landed heavily among a pile of empty casks, sending them spinning across the bucking floorboards. He struggled to find his footing as several other grime-ridden, half-starved crewmen stumbled past in the flickering darkness. A hand grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him to his feet. It was Ginsel.

The short stocky Dutchman grinned at Jack, revealing a set of broken jagged teeth that made him look like a great white shark. Despite his severe appearance, the sailor had always treated Jack with kindness. ‘Another storm’s hitting us hard, Jack. It sounds as if Hell itself has opened up its gates!’ growled Ginsel. ‘Best get yourself up on the foredeck before the Bosun has your hide.’ Jack hastily followed Ginsel and the rest of the crew as they scrambled up the companionway and emerged into the heart of the storm. Menacing black clouds thundered across the heavens and the complaints of the sailors were immediately drowned out by the relentless wind ripping through the ship’s rigging. The smell of sea salt was sharp in Jack’s nostrils and ice-cold rain slashed at his face, stinging him like a thousand tiny needles. But before he could take it all in, the ship was rolled by a mountainous wave. The deck flooded and foamed with seawater and Jack was instantly drenched to the skin. The water cascaded away through the scuppers, and as he gasped for air, another tumultuous wave roared across the deck. This one, stronger than the first, swept Jack off his feet and he barely managed to grab hold of the ship’s rail to stop himself being washed overboard. Jack recovered his footing as a jagged line of lightning scorched its way across the night sky and struck the main mast. For a brief moment, the entire ship was illuminated by a ghostly light. The three-masted ocean trader was in turmoil. Her crew were scattered across the decks like pieces of driftwood. High up on the yardarm, a

group of sailors battled against the wind, attempting to furl the mainsail before the storm ripped it away, or worse, capsized the ship entirely. On the quarterdeck, the Third Mate, a seven-foot giant of a man with a beard of fiery red hair, was wrestling with the wheel. Beside him was Captain Wallace, a stern figure who shouted commands at his crew, but all in vain; the wind whipped his words away before anyone could hear them. The only other man on the quarterdeck was a tall and powerful sailor with dark brown hair tied back with a thin piece of cord. This man was Jack’s father, John Fletcher, the Pilot of the Alexandria, and his eyes were fixed on the horizon as if hoping to pierce the storm and seek out the safety of land beyond. ‘You lot!’ ordered the Bosun, pointing at Jack, Ginsel and two other crewmembers. ‘Get yourselves aloft and unfurl that topsail. Now!’ They immediately headed for the bow of the ship, but as they crossed the main deck to the foremast, a fireball plummeted out of nowhere – straight towards Jack. ‘Watch out!’ cried one of the sailors. Jack, having already experienced several full-on attacks from enemy Portuguese warships during the voyage, instinctively ducked. He felt the rush of hot air and heard the deep howl as the fireball flew past and plunged into the deck. However, the impact was unlike the sound of a cannonball. It didn’t have the same fearsome crack of iron against wood. This was dull and lifeless as if it were a

bale of broadcloth. With sickening horror, Jack’s eyes fell upon the object now at his feet. It was no fireball. It was the burning body of one of the crew, struck dead by the lightning. Jack stood transfixed, sickness rising from the pit of his stomach. The dead man’s face was etched in agony and so disfigured by fire that Jack could not even recognize him. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God,’ exclaimed Ginsel, ‘even the Heavens are against us!’ But before he could utter another word, a wave crested the rail and swept the body out to sea. ‘Jack, stay with me!’ said Ginsel, seeing the shock rise in the boy’s face. He grabbed hold of Jack’s arm and tried to pull him towards the foremast. But Jack remained rooted to the spot. He could still smell the charred flesh of the dead sailor like an overcooked pig on a spit. This was by no means the first death he had witnessed on the voyage and he knew it would not be the last. His father had warned him that crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific would be fraught with danger. Jack had seen men die from frostbite, scurvy, tropical fever, knife wounds and cannon shot. Still, such familiarity with death did not make Jack numb to its horror. ‘Come on, Jack…’ urged Ginsel.

‘I’m just saying a prayer for him,’ Jack finally replied. He knew he should follow Ginsel and the rest of the crew, but the need to be with his father at this very moment outweighed any duty to the ship. ‘Where’re you going?’ yelled Ginsel, as Jack ran for the quarterdeck. ‘We need you aloft!’ Jack, though, was lost to the storm, struggling towards his father in a chaotic battle against the elements as the ship pitched and rolled. He had barely managed to reach the mizzenmast when another colossal wave ploughed into the Alexandria. This one was so powerful that Jack was whipped off his feet and washed across the deck, all the way to the larboard rail. The ship lurched again and he was tossed over the side, swallowed whole by the dark seething ocean… ooo000ooo 2 RIGGING MONKEY Jack braced himself for the final impact into the sea, but his body was unexpectedly jerked upright and he found himself hanging over the edge of the ship, the ocean rushing violently beneath him. Jack looked up to see a tattooed arm clamped firmly round his wrist.

‘Don’t worry, boy, I’ve got you!’ grunted his saviour, as a wave rose to meet Jack and tried to drag him under again. The anchor tattooed on the man’s forearm appeared to buckle under the strain and Jack felt his own arm almost pop out of its socket as the Bosun hoisted him back on board. Jack collapsed in a pile at the man’s feet, heaving up mouthfuls of seawater. ‘You’ll live. Natural sailor like your father you are, though a little more drowned,’ the Bosun smirked. ‘Now answer me, boy! What do you think you were doing?’ ‘I was… running a message to my father, Bosun.’ ‘That ain’t what I ordered. I told you to stay on deck,’ shouted the Bosun in his face. ‘You may be the Pilot’s son, but that’s not going to stop you getting a whipping for disobedience! Now get yourself up the foremast and unsnag the top gallant sail or else I’ll be giving you a taste of the cat!’ ‘God bless you, Bosun,’ muttered Jack and quickly made his way back to the foredeck, aware that a lashing from the cat-o’-nine-tails was no empty threat. The Bosun had lashed other sailors for misdemeanours far less severe than disobeying an order. Still, when he reached the bow, Jack hesitated. The foremast was taller than a church steeple, and pitching wildly in the storm. Jack’s fingers, already numb with cold, couldn’t even feel the rigging and his sodden clothes had become cumbersome and heavy. The problem was that the longer he stalled, the colder he would get and soon his limbs would be too stiff to save himself.

Come on, he willed himself. You’re braver than this. Deep down, though, he knew he wasn’t. In fact, he was truly terrified. During the lengthy voyage from England to the Spice Islands, he had acquired a reputation for being one of the best rigging monkeys. But his ability to climb the mast, repair the sails and untangle ‘fouled’ ropes at great height hadn’t come from confidence or skill – it was born out of pure fear. Jack looked up into the storm. The sky had been whipped into a frenzy and dark thunderous clouds streaked across a colourless moon. In the gloom, he could just make out Ginsel and the rest of the crew in the shrouds. The mast swayed so violently, the men swung like apples being shaken from a tree. ‘Don’t be afraid of storms in life,’ he recalled his father saying, on the day Jack had been tasked with climbing to the crow’s-nest for the first time. ‘We must all learn how to sail our own ship, in any weather.’ Jack remembered how he had watched all the new recruits attempt the terrifying ascent. Every one of them, bar none, had either frozen with fear, or else puked their guts out on to the sailors below. By the time it was Jack’s turn, the wind had got up so much the rigging was rattling almost as fretfully as his own legs. Jack looked to his father, who squeezed his shoulders with loving reassurance. ‘I believe in you, son. You can do this.’ Convinced by his father’s faith in him, Jack launched himself at the rigging and didn’t look down until he had hauled himself over the lip and into the safety of the crow’s-nest. Exhausted but elated, Jack had let out a yell of delight to his father, tiny as an ant, on the

distant deck below. Fear had driven Jack all the way to the top. Getting down had proved another matter… Jack grabbed hold of the rigging and pulled himself aloft. He quickly fell into his usual rhythm, the comfort of habit providing some reassurance. Hand over hand, he rapidly gained height, until he could see the white crests of the waves as they charged at the ship. But they were no longer the threat. It was the relentless wind. Fearsome gusts did their utmost to drag Jack off into the night, but instinctively bracing himself he continued upward. Before long he was standing next to Ginsel on the yardarm. ‘Jack!’ yelled Ginsel, who looked worn out, his eyes bloodshot and sunken. ‘One of the halyards got fouled up. The sail won’t drop. You’re going to have to go out there and unsnag it.’ Jack looked up and saw a thick sail rope tangled in the rigging of the gallant, its block and tackle flailing dangerously. ‘You’ve got to be kidding! Why me? What about the others?’ exclaimed Jack, nodding towards the two petrified sailors hanging on for grim life on the other side of the yardarm. ‘I would’ve asked your friend Christiaan,’ replied Ginsel, glancing over at a small Dutch lad, the same age as Jack, with mouse-like eyes that were full of fear, ‘but he’s no Jack Fletcher. You’re the best rigging monkey we’ve got.’ ‘But that’s suicidal…’ protested Jack. ‘So’s sailing round the world, yet we’ve gone and done it!’ replied Ginsel, attempting a reassuring smile, but his shark-like teeth only made him appear maniacal. ‘Without that topsail, there’s

no way the Captain can save this ship. It’s got to be done and you’re the monkey for it.’ ‘All right,’ said Jack, realizing he had little choice. ‘But you’d better be ready to catch me!’ ‘Trust me, little brother, I wouldn’t want to lose you now. Tie this rope round your waist. I’ll keep hold of the other end. Best take my knife too. You’ll need to cut the halyard free.’ Jack secured the tie-rope and clamped the roughly honed blade between his teeth. He then clambered up the mast to the topgallant. Using the little rigging available, Jack edged along the spar towards the tangled halyard. The going was treacherously slow, the wind pulling at him with a thousand unseen hands. Glancing down, Jack could barely make out his father far below on the quarterdeck. For a moment he swore he saw his father wave at him. ‘Look ouuuutttt!’ warned Ginsel. Jack turned to see the loose block and tackle come flying out of the storm straight towards his head. He threw himself to one side, dodging it, but in the process lost his grip and slipped from the spar. Jack snatched for the rigging, grabbing hold of a loose halyard as he fell. His hands ripped down the rope, the rough hemp cutting deep into his palms. Despite the searing pain, he somehow kept his grip. He hung there, flying in the wind.

The sea. The ship. The sail. The sky. All of them swirled around him. ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got you!’ shouted Ginsel above the storm. He pulled on the tie-rope strung over the topgallant and hauled Jack towards it. Jack reached up and flipped his legs over the spar, swinging himself upright. It took several moments for Jack to regain his breath, sucking in air between teeth still clamped round Ginsel’s knife. Once the burning pain in his hands had subsided, Jack resumed his painstaking crawl along the spar. Eventually the tangled halyard was only inches from his face. Jack took the knife from his mouth and began to hack away at the sodden rope. But the knife proved too blunt and it took him several attempts before the threads started to cleave apart. Jack’s fingers were icy to the core and his bloodied palms made his grip slippery and awkward. A blast of wind shunted him sideways and in attempting to steady himself, the blade spun away with the storm. ‘Noooo!’ cried Jack, futilely reaching after it. Shattered from his efforts, he turned towards Ginsel. ‘I’ve only cut half the rope! What now?’ Ginsel, lifeline in hand, gestured for him to come back, but another gust slammed into Jack so hard he could have sworn the ship had run aground. The entire mast shuddered in its bed and the topsail yanked hard at the halyard. Weakened by Jack’s cutting, the rope snapped as if it were a breaking bone, the canvas unfurled and, with an almighty crack, caught the wind.

The ship surged forward. Ginsel and the other sailors gave a cheer as the Alexandria turned in the wind and the breaking waves stopped battering her decks. Jack’s spirits were lifted by their unexpected turn of fortune. But his joy was short-lived. The sail, in dropping, had jerked the block and tackle tight against the mast, where it had promptly snapped away and now plummeted like a stone towards Jack, but this time he had nowhere to go. ‘JUMP!’ shouted Ginsel. ooo000ooo 3 DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA Jack let go of the spar and dived out of the block-and-tackle’s path. He arced across the sky, Ginsel straining to hold him on the other end of the tie-rope. Jack crashed into the rigging on the far side of the foremast and looped his arm through the ropes, holding on for all his life was worth. The block and tackle now dropped straight towards Ginsel. Barely missing him, it struck Sam who was standing right behind him. The unfortunate sailor was sent spinning into the sea.

‘Sam…!’ Jack cried out, hurriedly clambering down the rigging after him. Back on deck, he ran to the rail but could only watch helplessly as Sam struggled against the mountainous waves, disappearing and reappearing until, with a pitiful scream, he was dragged under for a final time. Jack turned despondently to the Bosun, who had joined him at the rail. ‘There ain’t nothing you can do, boy. Grieve for him in the morning, if we make it,’ said the Bosun. Noting the look of despair in Jack’s face, the Bosun softened slightly. ‘You did well up there, boy. Now go and see your father – he’s in his cabin with the Captain.’ Jack bolted for the companionway, thankful to escape the raging tempest. Within the belly of the ship, the storm felt less of a threat, its unrestrained fury above becoming a muffled howl below. Jack weaved his way through the bunks to his father’s berth in the stern and quietly entered the small, low-beamed room. His father was bent over a desk, studying a set of sea charts with the Captain. ‘Pilot, it’s in your hands to get us out of this!’ barked the Captain, pounding the desk with his fist. ‘You said you knew these waters! You said we’d make landfall two weeks ago! Two weeks ago! By the hand of God, I can sail this ship in any storm but I’ve got

to know where to damn well go! Perhaps there are no Japans, eh? It could all be legend. A cursed Portuguese deception designed to ruin us.’ Jack, like every other sailor on board, knew about the fabled islands of Japan. Full of unfathomable riches and exotic spices, a trading mission to the Japans would make wealthy men of them all, but so far only the Portuguese had ever set foot on the islands and they were determined to keep the route secret. ‘The Japans exist, Captain,’ said John Fletcher, calmly opening a large leatherbound notebook. ‘My rutter says they exist between latitudes thirty and forty north. By my calculations, we’re only a few leagues off the coast. Look here.’ John pointed to a crudely drawn map on a page within the rutter. ‘We’re in striking distance of the Japanese port of Toba – here. That’s several hundred leagues off our trading destination, Nagasaki. So you can see, Captain, the storm has blown us way off course. But that’s not our only problem – I’m told this whole coastline’s rife with pirates. Toba’s not a friendly port so they’ll probably think we’re pirates too. And worse, another pilot in Bantam informed me that Portuguese Jesuits have set up a Catholic church there. They’ll have poisoned the minds of the locals. Even if we made it ashore, we’d be slaughtered as Protestant heretics!’ There was a deep boom from within the bowels of the ship, followed by the groaning of timbers as a vast wave peeled along the side of the Alexandria.

‘In a storm such as this, Pilot, we’ve little choice but to make for land, whatever the cost. It may be a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, John, but I’d prefer to take our chances with a Jesuit devil!’ ‘Captain, I’ve another suggestion. According to my rutter, there are some sheltered bays two miles south of Toba. They’ll be safer, more secluded, though their access is made treacherous by these reefs.’ Jack watched as his father pointed to a small series of jagged lines etched on to the map. The Captain’s fierce eyes bored into John’s. ‘You think you can get us through?’ John put his hand on the rutter. ‘If God be on our side, yes.’ As the Captain turned to leave, he caught sight of Jack. ‘You’d better hope your father’s right, boy, the life of this ship and its crew are in his hands.’ He swept past, leaving Jack and his father alone. John carefully wrapped a protective oilskin round his rutter and walked over to a small bunk in the corner of the cabin. He lifted the thin mattress and slid back a hidden compartment into which he placed the rutter and clicked it shut. ‘Remember, Jack, it’s our little secret.’ He gave Jack a conspiratorial wink as he patted the mattress back flat. ‘This rutter’s far too valuable to leave lying around. As soon as anyone hears we’ve reached the Japans, they will know there’s one on-board.’

When Jack didn’t reply, he studied his son with concern. ‘How are you holding up?’ ‘We’re not going to make it, are we?’ said Jack bluntly. ‘Of course, we are, son,’ he replied, drawing Jack to him. ‘You got the foresail down. With sailors like you, we cannot fail.’ Jack tried to return his father’s smile, but he was genuinely scared. The Alexandria had met storm after storm, and even though his father claimed they were close to their destination, it seemed like they’d never feel land under their feet again. This was a darker fear than that which he had felt in the rigging, and at any other point on the gruelling journey so far. His father bent down to look him in the eye. ‘Don’t despair, Jack. The sea is a tempestuous mistress, but I’ve been through storms far worse than this and survived. And we will survive this one.’ Making their way back on to the quarterdeck, Jack kept close to his father. Somehow he felt protected from the worst of the storm by his presence, his father’s unwavering confidence giving him hope where there appeared to be none. ‘Nothing like a good storm to swab the decks, eh?’ jested his father to the Third Mate, who was still valiantly wrestling with the wheel, the exertion sending his face as red as his beard. ‘Set a course for north by north-west. But let it be known there are reefs ahead. Warn the lookouts to stay sharp.’ Despite his father’s faith in the direction they were heading, the ocean stretched on and on, wave after wave pounding the

Alexandria. Jack’s own confidence began to ebb away with the sand in the binnacle hourglass. It was not until the sand had run dry a second time that the cry of ‘Land, ho!’ come forth. A wave of elation and relief ran through the entire crew. They had been battling the tempest for close on half the night. Now there was a glimmer of hope, a slim chance they could ride out the storm, tucked behind a headland or within the shelter of some bay. But almost as quickly as their hopes had been raised, they were dashed by a second cry from the lookout. ‘Reefs to starboard bow!’ Then shortly after… ‘Reefs to larboard bow!’ Jack’s father began to shout bearings at the Third Mate. ‘Hard to starboard!… Now hold your course. Hold… Hold… Hold…’ The Alexandria rose and fell over the churning waves, skirting reefs as it ran headlong for the dark mass of land in the distance. ‘HARD-O’-LARBOARD!’ screamed his father, throwing his own weight behind the wheel. The rudder bit into the churning sea. The deck heeled sickeningly. The ship swung the other way… but too late. The Alexandria collided with the reef. A halyard snapped and the weakened foremast cracked, crumpled and fell away.

‘CUT THE RIGGING!’ ordered the Captain, the ship lurching dangerously under the drag of the foremast. The men on deck fell upon the ropes with axes. They hacked away, freeing the mast, but the ship still failed to respond. It was apparent her hull had been breached. The Alexandria was sinking! ooo000ooo 4 LAND OF THE RISING SUN The whole crew had battled all night to keep the ship afloat, though it had seemed a futile attempt. Seawater had flooded the bilge and Jack had worked alongside the men frantically attempting to pump it out, but the waters rapidly rose past the level of his chest. He had desperately fought to control his panic. Drowning was a sailor’s worst nightmare, a watery grave where crabs crawled over your bloated body and picked at your cold, lifeless eyes. Jack retched over the Alexandria’s side for the fourth time that morning, remembering the way the dark brackish water had lapped at his chin. Holding his breath, he had still kept pumping. But what other choice had there been? Save the ship or drown trying? Then fortune was on their side. They reached the safety of a cove. The ocean had suddenly calmed, the Alexandria eased down and the water level quickly fell away. Jack recalled sucking in the rancid air of the bilge like it was the sweetest mountain breeze as

his head cleared the surface and he heard the heavy whomp of the anchor being dropped. Recovering now on the quarterdeck, the pure sea air cleared his head and his stomach began to settle. Jack stared out to sea, her waves now gently lapping around the hull, the roar of the tempest replaced by the early morning call of seabirds and the occasional creak of the rigging. He let his mind drift with the peace of it all. Within minutes a glorious crimson sun peaked above the ocean to reveal a spectacular sight. The Alexandria lay in the centre of a picturesque cove with a towering headland that jutted out into the ocean. The bluff was swathed in lush green cedar trees and red pines, and a glorious golden beach rimmed its inner bay. The cove’s emerald-green waters were alive with an ever-shifting rainbow of coloured fish. Jack’s attention was drawn by something catching the morning light on the peninsula. He lifted his father’s spyglass to his eye to get a better look. Among the trees stood an exquisite building that appeared to have grown out of the rock itself. Jack had never seen anything quite like it. Perched upon a massive stone pedestal were a series of pillars made of deep-red wood. Each pillar had been painstakingly gilded in gold leaf with images of what appeared to be dragons and exotic swirling symbols. Resting upon these pillars were intricately tiled roofs that curled up towards the heavens. At the very peak of the highest roof was a tall thin spire of concentric golden circles that pierced the forest canopy. In front of the building, and dominating

the bay, a huge standing stone thrust up from the ground. This too was engraved with the same ornate symbols. Jack was trying to figure out what the symbols were, when he glimpsed movement. Next to the standing stone a glorious white stallion was tethered, and in its shadow, barely reaching the height of the saddle, was a slim dark-haired girl. She appeared as ephemeral as a spirit. Her skin was as white as snow, while her hair, black and mysterious as jet, cascaded down past her waist. She wore a blood-red dress that shimmered in the haze of the early morning light. Jack was transfixed. Even at this distance, he could feel her gaze. He raised his hand hesitantly in greeting. The girl remained motionless. Jack waved again. This time the girl bowed ever so slightly. ‘Oh, glorious day!’ exclaimed a voice from behind. ‘One so much sweeter for the passing of the storm.’ Jack turned round to see his father admiring the ruby-red disc of the sun as it rose over the ocean. ‘Father, look!’ cried Jack, pointing to the girl on the peninsula. His father glanced up and searched the headland. ‘I told you, son! This land is gilded with gold,’ he said jubilantly, pulling Jack to him. ‘They even build their temples with the very stuff…’

‘No, not the building, father, the girl and…’ But the girl and the horse had disappeared. Only the standing stone remained. It was as if she had been carried away on a breeze. ‘What girl? You’ve been too long at sea!’ teased his father, a knowing smile on his lips, which quickly faded as if stolen by a forgotten memory. ‘Far too long…’ He trailed off, gazing mournfully at the headland. ‘I should never have brought you, Jack. It was foolhardy of me.’ ‘But I wanted to come,’ insisted Jack. ‘Like you said, to be the first Englishman to set foot in Japan.’ ‘Your mother – God rest her soul – would never have allowed it. She would have wanted you to stay home with Jess.’ ‘Yes, but my mother didn’t even allow me to cross the docks without holding her hand!’ ‘And for good reason, Jack!’ he replied, the smile returning to his lips. ‘You were always one to seek out adventure. You’d have probably jumped aboard some ship bound for Africa and we wouldn’t have seen you again!’ Jack suddenly found himself enveloped within one of his father’s massive bear hugs. ‘Now here you are in the Japans. And, by my life, son, you proved your mettle last night. You’ll be a fine pilot one day.’ Jack felt his father’s pride in him seep into his very bones. He buried his head into his father’s chest, wanting never to be let go.

‘Jack, if you did spy someone upon the headland, then we had best remain on our guard,’ continued his father, taking the spyglass from Jack. ‘Wako ply these waters and one can never be too vigilant.’ ‘What are wako?’ asked Jack, pulling his head away. ‘They’re pirates, son. But no ordinary pirates. They’re Japanese pirates, disciplined and ruthless,’ explained his father, scanning the horizon. ‘They’re feared in all places and have no qualms about killing Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and English men alike. They’re the very devil of these seas.’ ‘And they are the reason, young man,’ interrupted the Captain from behind, ‘why we must make haste and repair the Alexandria. Now, Pilot, did you get the damage report from the First Mate?’ ‘Yes, Captain,’ replied Jack’s father as he and the Captain made their way to the helm. ‘It’s as bad as we feared.’ Jack remained close by, catching snatches of their conversation while he continued to search the headland for signs of the mysterious girl. ‘The Alexandria’s taken quite a beating…’ said his father. ‘At least two weeks to get her into proper shipshape…’ ‘… I want the Alexandria seaworthy by the turn of the new moon.’ ‘… that’s barely a week away…’ protested his father.

‘Double shifts, Pilot, if we are to be spared the fate of the Clove…’ ‘… dead to the last man. Beheaded – each and every one.’ The news of double shifts did not go down well with the men, but they were too afraid of the Bosun and his cat-o’-nine-tails to complain. For the next seven days, Jack, along with the rest of the crew, laboured like galley slaves, the sweat pouring off them in rivulets under the hot Japanese sun. While repairing the foresail, Jack found himself often gazing up at the temple. Shimmering in the heat haze, it appeared to be floating above the headland. Every day he had been on the lookout for the girl – but he was beginning to think he’d imagined her. Perhaps his father was right. Maybe he had been too long at sea. ‘I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all,’ complained Ginsel, rousing Jack from his daydream. ‘We’re a trader ship with no sail. We’ve got a cargo of cloth, sappanwood and guns. Any pirate worth his salt is going to know we’re a prize for the taking!’ ‘But there’s over a hundred of us, sir, and we have cannon,’ pointed out Christiaan. ‘How could they possibly beat us?’ ‘Don’t you know nothing, you little sea urchin?’ spat Piper, a thin, bony man with skin that hung off his scrawny frame like dry parchment paper. ‘This here is the Japans. The Japanese ain’t no defenceless, bare-breasted natives. They’re fighters. Killers! You ever heard of the samurai?’ Christiaan shook his head in mute reply.

‘The samurai are said to be the most deadly, evil warriors to walk this earth. They’ll kill you as soon as look at you!’ Christiaan’s eyes widened in horror. Even Jack was taken aback by the terrifying description, though he was well aware of Piper’s reputation as a teller of tall tales. Piper paused to light his small clay pipe and sucked lazily on it. The sailors all huddled closer. ‘Samurai work for the Devil himself. I’ve heard they’ll chop your head off if you don’t bow to them like serfs!’ Christian gasped… a few men laughed. ‘So if you ever meet a samurai, lads, bow low. Bow very, very low!’ ‘That’s quite enough, Piper! Less of your scaremongering!’ interjected the Bosun, who had been watching them from the quarterdeck. ‘Now get this boat shipshape – we must be ready to sail by sunrise tomorrow!’ ‘Aye, aye, Bosun,’ the men all chanted, hastily returning to their duties. During the night, there was a growing uneasiness among the crew. Rumours about samurai and wako had spread like wildfire, and the watch had sighted black shadows moving through the forest. The next day, all eyes were fixed on the shore and, despite the coastline remaining completely deserted, there was a feverish anxiety to the way the men worked.

It was close to dusk by the time the Alexandria was fit to sail. The Bosun called all hands on deck and Jack waited with the rest of the crew to hear the Captain’s orders. ‘Gentlemen, you have done a fine job,’ announced Captain Wallace. ‘If the wind is fair, we sail in the morning to Nagasaki and our fortune. You’ve all earned yourselves an extra ration of beer!’ The whole crew let out an enthusiastic cheer. It was rare for the Captain to demonstrate such generosity. As the cheering died down, though, the watchman from the crow’s-nest could be heard shouting. ‘Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!’ They all turned as one and looked out to sea. There, in the distance, was the ominous outline of a ship… bearing the red flag of the wako. ooo000ooo 5 SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT The old moon had waned, leaving the night as black as pitch, and the wako ship was soon swallowed up by the darkness. Up on deck, the Captain had doubled the watch in case of an attack, while below those off duty whispered their fears to one another. Exhausted, Jack lay silent in his bunk, staring blankly at the spluttering oil lamp, which made the men’s faces appear gaunt and ghostly as they talked.

Jack must have drifted off because when he opened his eyes again the oil lamp had gone out. What had woken him? The night was soundless, apart from the heavy snoring of his fellow crewmembers. Yet he still felt an intense disquiet. Jack dropped from his bunk and padded up the companionway. It was no lighter up on deck. Not a single star could be seen and Jack found the absolute darkness disturbing. He made his way across the deck, feeling his way as he went. The fact that there appeared to be no one around only served to increase his sense of unease. Then, without warning, he collided straight into a watchman. ‘Bleeding idiot!’ snarled the sailor. ‘You scared the living daylights out of me.’ ‘Sorry, Piper,’ said Jack, glimpsing the little white clay pipe in between the man’s lips, ‘but why are all the lamps out?’ ‘So the wako can’t see us, stupid,’ whispered Piper harshly, sucking on his unlit pipe. ‘What are you doing up on deck anyway? I’ve the mind to clip you one.’ ‘Er… I couldn’t sleep.’ ‘Right. Well, this ain’t the place for a midnight stroll. We’ve been issued with guns and swords in case the wako attack, so you get below. Wouldn’t want to spoil that pretty little face of yours now, would I?’ Piper gave Jack a wide toothless grin and raised a rusty looking blade in front of Jack’s face. Jack wasn’t sure whether Piper was

being completely serious or not, but he wasn’t going to wait to find out. Jack retreated to the companionway. He was about to go below, when he took a final backward glance at Piper. He was now over by the rail, lighting his pipe. The tobacco glowed red, a single ember in the darkness. The tiny fire suddenly disappeared as though a shadow had engulfed it. Jack heard a soft exhalation of air, the clatter of the pipe landing upon the deck and then he saw Piper’s body slump noiselessly to the floor. The shadow flew through the air and into the rigging. Jack was too shocked to cry out. What had he just seen? His eyes had become more accustomed to the dark and he could just make out shadows crawling all over the ship. Two other watchmen on the foredeck were swallowed up by these shadows and collapsed. The unnatural thing about it all was the absolute silence of the attack. And that, Jack realized, was what it was – an attack! Jack flew down the stairs and dashed straight to his father’s cabin. ‘Father!’ he cried. ‘We’re under attack!’ John Fletcher bolted from his bunk and snatched the sword, knife and two pistols that were lying on his desk. He was fully dressed, as if he had been anticipating trouble, and hurriedly buckled the sword round his waist, ramming the pistols and knife into his belt.

‘Why wasn’t there a call from the watch?’ his father demanded. ‘There is no watch, Father. They’re all dead!’ John was briefly halted in his tracks. He spun round in disbelief, but one look at Jack’s ashen face convinced him otherwise. He removed the knife from his belt and handed it to Jack along with the key to the room. ‘You are not to leave this cabin. Do you hear? Whatever happens, do not leave,’ commanded his father. Jack nodded obediently, too stunned by the unfolding of events to argue. He had never seen his father so serious. Together they had survived full-on enemy attacks from Portuguese warships while navigating South America and its infamous Magellan’s Pass. But never had Jack been told to stay in the cabin. He had always fought side-by-side with his father, helping to reload his pistols. ‘Lock it – and wait for my return,’ ordered his father, closing the door behind him. Jack heard him disappear down the corridor, gathering the men. ‘ALL HANDS ON DECK! MAN THE GUNS! PREPARE TO REPEL BOARDERS!’ Jack locked the cabin door. Not knowing what else to do, he sat on the bunk, still holding his father’s knife. He could hear the pounding of feet as the men rallied to his father’s call. There were shouts and cries as they flooded up the companionway and on to the deck.

Then there was silence. Jack listened intently. All he could hear was the creak of the boards as the men cautiously moved about. There appeared to be some confusion. ‘Where’s the enemy?’ called one of the crew. ‘There ain’t any attack…’ said another. ‘Quiet, men!’ ordered his father and the men were hushed. The utter silence was unnerving. ‘Over here.’ It was Ginsel’s voice. ‘Piper’s dead.’ Suddenly it sounded as if all hell had broken loose. There was the crack of a pistol, followed by more shots. Men screamed. ‘THEY’RE IN THE RIGGING!’ came a cry. ‘My arm! My arm! My –’ screamed someone until his anguished cries were ominously cut short. Swords clashed. Feet thundered across the decks. Jack could hear the grunts and oaths of hand-to-hand fighting. He didn’t know what to do. He was caught between two fears – fighting or hiding. The sounds of battle were joined by the groans of the dying, but Jack could still hear his father rallying the men to the quarterdeck. At least his father was alive! Then something crashed against the cabin door. Jack jumped up from the bed, startled. The handle was frantically jerked back and forth, but the lock held.

‘Help me! Please help! Let me in!’ came a thin desperate voice from the other side. It was Christiaan, his hands hammering on the locked door. ‘No! No! I beg you –’ There was a frantic scrabbling. A soft fleshy thump followed by a pitiful moan. Jack ran to the door. Fumbling with the key, he dropped it before he could get it in the lock. Panicking, he picked it up again, turned it and flung open the door, his father’s knife in his hand, ready to defend himself. Christiaan fell into the room, a small throwing knife sticking out of his stomach. Blood gushed on to the floorboards and Jack felt it run warm and sticky beneath his feet. Christiaan’s eyes stared right up at him, terrified and pleading. Jack dragged his friend into the cabin, ripping bedsheets from his father’s bunk to stem the bleeding. He then heard his father cry out in pain. Forced to leave Christiaan where he lay, Jack stepped out to confront the shadows in the darkness. ooo000ooo 6 FEVER Jack screamed in agony. It was still night, but a glaring white light broke the darkness. Strange voices encircled him, alien and confusing.

Jack could make out a man’s face hovering over him. One side was pitted and horribly scarred as though melted away. Curiously, the man’s eyes showed great concern. The man reached out to him. Jack’s whole arm suddenly flared white-hot and beads of sweat broke from his fevered brow. Gasping and writhing, he tried to pull away from the excruciating pain, but felt himself slipping away, weightless as if floating on a bed of soft straw… He drifted in and out of consciousness… and dark memories took hold… Jack was on the quarterdeck. He could hear his father shouting. Men lay dead or dying, their bodies piled one upon the other. His father, still standing but covered in blood, was surrounded by five shadows. John Fletcher spun the ship’s grappling hook in circles round his head, fighting with the ferocity of a lion. The shadows, clad head-to-toe in black, a single slit for the eyes, couldn’t get near. One lunged at him. His father brought the hook sharply down, catching his assailant in the side of the head with a sickening crunch… the shadow crumpled to the deck. ‘Come on!’ his father roared. ‘You may be phantoms, but you still die like men!’ Two of the shadow warriors attacked. One was armed with a vicious-looking blade attached to a chain, while the other rapidly

twirled two small scythes, but neither could get close. The group circled Jack’s father, waiting for him to tire. Jack couldn’t bring himself to move; his feet were nailed to the deck with fear. He’d never used a knife in battle before. He raised his father’s blade with a shaking hand, steeling himself to attack. Then one of the shadows threw a glimmering star… Everything was dazzlingly bright. Jack squinted into the daylight. His body was on fire and his head pounded. A dull ache pulsed in his left arm. He lay there, unable to move, staring at a ceiling of polished cedar. This wasn’t the ship… His father didn’t see it coming, but Jack did. The shuriken struck his father on the bicep. John Fletcher grunted with pain, then ripped the metal star out with disgust. A thin stream of blood seeped from the wound. His father laughed at the pathetic little weapon. But the shuriken was not meant to kill; it had merely been a distraction. A shadow dropped silently out of the rigging immediately behind his father, a spider pouncing on its prey. Jack yelled a warning, but his voice was choked with panic. The shadow slipped a garrotte round his father’s throat and yanked back hard. Jack felt utterly helpless. There were too many. He was just a boy. How could he possibly save his father? In utter despair, Jack screamed and made a courageous charge with his father’s knife…

Disorientated, he turned his head, the muscles in his neck stiff and sore. There, kneeling quietly beside him, appeared a tiny woman. She looked familiar but he couldn’t be sure; everything was out of focus. ‘Mother?’ asked Jack. The woman edged closer. It must be his mother. She had always nursed him when he was sick, but how could she possibly be here? ‘Yasunde, gaijinsan,’ came the gentle reply, as soft as the trickle of a stream. The woman was wrapped entirely in white. Her long black hair brushed his cheek as she pressed a cool cloth against his forehead. Its feathery touch reminded Jack of his little sister… Jess’s hair was just as soft… but Jess was in England… this woman… no, she was a girl… looked like… an angel all in white… was this Heaven?… A veil of darkness enveloped him once again… The shadow warrior stared directly at Jack. A single emerald-green eye baited him with vindictive pleasure. The shadow had Jack by the throat and was slowly squeezing the life out of him. Jack dropped the knife and it went clattering to the deck. ‘Rutter?’ hissed the green-eyed shadow, turning to Jack’s father. John Fletcher, now restrained by one of the other shadows, stopped struggling against his garrotte, the unexpected demand momentarily bewildering him.

‘Rutter?’ repeated the green-eyed shadow, unsheathing the sword strapped to his back and aiming its sharpened tip at Jack’s heart. ‘Leave him… he’s just a boy!’ spluttered his father, rising to attack. John Fletcher’s eyes flared with anger. He writhed against the garrotte, reaching out to his son, but it was futile. The shadow yanked back hard. John gagged and gradually all the fight in him ebbed away. Defeated, he went as limp as a rag doll. ‘Cabin… in my desk…’ he wheezed, pulling out a small key from his pocket and throwing it upon the deck. The green-eyed shadow didn’t appear to understand. ‘My cabin. In my desk,’ repeated John Fletcher, pointing first to the key and then in the direction of his cabin. The shadow warrior nodded to one of his men, who picked up the key and disappeared below. ‘Now let my son go,’ pleaded Jack’s father. The green-eyed shadow gave a throaty laugh, drawing back on his sword to deliver the killing strike… Screaming as his eyes snapped open, Jack’s heart pounded. He looked frantically around the room. A single candle flickered in the corner. A door slid open and the girl came and knelt beside him.

‘Aku rei. Yasunde, gaijinsan,’ said the girl with that same gentle voice he had heard previously. She once again placed the cool cloth to his forehead and settled him back down. ‘What? I… I… I don’t understand,’ stuttered Jack. ‘Who are you? Where’s my father…?’ The laughter echoed on. Jack’s father exploded with rage as he realized the shadow was intent upon killing Jack. John Fletcher flung back his head, striking his captor in the face and breaking his nose. The garrotte loosened and fell away. John threw himself at his knife lying on the deck and, in one last desperate attempt to save his son, seized the blade and slammed it into the green-eyed shadow’s leg. The shadow grunted with pain before he could deliver the killing blow and Jack, released from his choking grip, collapsed in a barely conscious pile. Whipping his sword round, the shadow flew at his attacker. With a battle cry of ‘KIAI’, the green-eyed shadow drove his weapon down into John’s chest… ooo000ooo 7 SAMURAI

Spotlessly clean, the floor of the small, unadorned room was covered in a geometric pattern of soft straw mats. The walls were squares of translucent paper that softened the daylight, lending the air an unearthly glow. Jack lay on a thick futon, covered by a quilt made of silk. He’d never slept under silk before and its touch on his skin felt like a thousand butterfly wings. After so long at sea, the nauseating motionlessness of the floor made his head spin as he tried to sit up. He moved to steady himself, but a sharp jolt of pain shot through his arm. On examination, he discovered his left arm was swollen and discoloured and appeared to be broken, but someone had set it, securing it with a wooden splint. With an effort he tried to recall what had happened. Now his fever had broken, the disjointed images that had flashed through his mind became lucid and painfully real. Christiaan dying in the doorway. Shadows in the darkness. The crew of the Alexandria slaughtered. His father fighting, a garrotte around his throat. The shadow warrior thrusting his sword into his father… Jack could remember lying on the bloodied deck for what seemed an age. The shadows, thinking he was dead, had left the quarterdeck to ransack the ship. Then, as if surfacing from a deep dive, he had heard his father. ‘Jack… Jack… my son…’ he cried feebly.

Jack dragged himself out of his paralysis and crawled over to his dying father. ‘Jack… you’re alive…’ he said, a thin smile appearing on his bloodied lips. ‘The rutter… get it… home… it’ll get you home…’ Then the light faded from his father’s eyes and he exhaled his final breath. Jack buried his head into his father’s chest, trying to stifle the sobbing. He clung on to his father as if he were a drowning sailor seizing a lifeline. When his crying finally subsided, Jack realized he was utterly alone, stranded in a foreign land. His only hope now for getting home was the rutter. He ran for the lower decks. The wako, occupied with loading the guns, gold and sappanwood into their own ship, failed to notice him. Below deck, Jack stepped over body after dead body until he entered his father’s cabin, where he found the now lifeless corpse of Christiaan. The room had been ransacked, his father’s desk turned over, charts scattered everywhere. Jack flew to his father’s bunk, pulling away the bedding. He pressed on the concealed catch beneath and, to his relief, there was the rutter, safe in its oilskin. He shoved the book inside his shirt and ran out of the cabin. He had almost reached the companionway when a hand shot out of the darkness, grabbing him by his shirt. A blackened face loomed into sight.

It grinned maniacally, revealing a set of shark-like teeth. ‘A plague on ’em! They ain’t beaten us yet,’ whispered a wildeyed Ginsel. ‘I’ve set fire to the magazine. BOOM!’ Ginsel’s arms exploded outwards in a gesture of destruction. He laughed briefly, then grunted, a look of surprise registering on his face. He collapsed to the deck, a large knife attached to a chain sticking out of his back. Jack looked up to see a sinister figure emerge from the shadows. A single green eye glared at him and then at the rutter stuffed inside his shirt. The shadow jerked on the chain, whipping the knife back into his grasp. Jack spun on his heels and fled up the companionway, praying he could reach the ship’s rail in time… Jack was flung as high as the yardarm by the massive explosion before dropping with the rest of the wreckage into the ocean… Then… then… a blank… Flaring pain. Darkness. Blinding light. A man’s scarred face. Strange unfamiliar voices… Jack was suddenly aware he could hear those same voices now, talking outside the room. For a moment Jack didn’t breathe. Were they wako? Why then was he alive?

Jack spotted his shirt and breeches, neatly folded in the corner of the room, though there was no sign of the rutter. He staggered to his feet and hastily pulled on his clothes. Crossing the room he searched for the door, but was met with an unbroken grid of panels. He was at a loss. There was not even a door handle. Then Jack remembered one of his fevered dreams – the girl had entered the room through a sliding door. Jack grabbed hold of the wooden slats to pull but, still unsure on his feet, he reeled slightly and his hand shot straight through the wafer-thin paper wall. The conversation on the other side of the shoji door abruptly ceased. The panel slid sharply open and Jack stumbled back, embarrassed by his clumsiness. A middle-aged woman with a round face and a stocky young man with dark almond-shaped eyes glared at him. The man’s expression was fierce. Two swords – one daggerlike, the other long and slightly curved – were thrust into his blood-red waistband. He stepped forward, his hand firmly gripping the hilt of the larger blade. ‘Naniwoshiteru, gaijin?’ challenged the man. ‘Sorry. I… I don’t understand,’ said Jack, retreating in fear. The woman spoke firmly to the man, but his hand didn’t leave his sword. Jack was afraid he was about to use it on him. Terrified, he scanned the room for a means of escape. But the man barred his way, partly withdrawing his sword. Jack’s eyes fell upon the gleaming blade, its razor-sharp edge primed to cut off his head.

Then he remembered Piper’s words. ‘If you ever meet a samurai, lads, bow low. Bow very, very low!’ Although Jack had never seen, let alone met one, the fearsome man looked like he should be a samurai. He wore a T-shaped robe in crisp white silk over wide black leggings spotted with golden dots. He had shaved the crown of his head, pulling the back and sides of his remaining black hair into a tight knot on the top. His face was severe and impenetrable – a warrior’s face. The man had the look of someone who could kill Jack as easily as stepping on an ant. Jack’s body was battered and bruised, and every muscle ached, but he forced himself through the pain to bow. As he did so, the man stepped back in amazement. The samurai then began to laugh, an amused chuckle that grew into a deep roar. ooo000ooo 8 OFURO Jack must have cried himself to sleep after they had put him back to bed, for when he rolled over, the round-faced woman was kneeling by his side. Like the samurai the day before, she wore a silk robe, but hers was a deep blue decorated with images of white and pink flowers. She smiled sweetly and offered him some water. Jack took the small bowl and gulped the liquid down. It was cool and fresh. ‘Thank you. May I beg you for a little more?’

She frowned. ‘Can I have some more water?’ said Jack, pointing to the small bowl in his hand and making slurping noises. Understanding, she smiled and bowed. Disappearing through the sliding door, which Jack noticed had already been repaired, she returned with a scarlet lacquered tray bearing three small bowls. One contained water, one a thin steaming fish soup and the third a small pile of white rice with a serving of pickles. Jack drained the water and, although he didn’t like the peppery taste, the soup warmed him. He then greedily shovelled the rice into his mouth, eating with his fingers. Jack had seen rice once before, when his father had brought some back after a trading trip for his mother to cook. To Jack it was a bit tasteless, but as he hadn’t eaten for days he didn’t care. Licking his fingers clean, he gave the woman a broad smile to show that he appreciated the food. The woman looked utterly shocked. ‘Err… thank you. Thank you very much.’ Jack didn’t know what else to say. Obviously upset, the woman collected the empty dishes and scurried out of the room. What had he done? Perhaps he should have offered her some too? A few moments later, the wall panel slid open again and she entered with a white robe and laid it by his bed.

‘Kimono wo kite choudai,’ she said, gesturing for him to put it on. Jack, aware he was naked under the quilt, refused. The woman appeared perplexed. She pointed to the robe once again. Frustrated at their inability to communicate, Jack signed for her to go through the sliding panel. Clearly bewildered by the request, she nevertheless bowed and left the room. Jack stood up as quickly as his aching body would allow and, taking care with his splinted arm, put on the silk robe. Moving over to the door, he slid it open, being careful not to damage it this time. The woman was waiting outside on a wooden veranda that circled the house. A set of small steps led to a large garden surrounded by a high wall. The garden was unlike anything he had ever seen. A little bridge spanned a pond filled with pink water lilies. Pebbled paths weaved their way through colourful flowers, green shrubs and large ornate stones. A tiny waterfall ran into a stream that wound around a glorious cherry blossom tree then flowed back into the pond. Everything about the garden was so perfect, so peaceful, thought Jack. How his mother would have adored all the flowers. It was another world to the muddy patches of herbs, vegetables and hedges that were strewn across England. ‘It’s like the Garden of Eden,’ murmured Jack.

The woman indicated for Jack to put on some wooden sandals, then shuffled along the path in tiny steps, beckoning him to follow. On the other side of the pond a bony old man, evidently the gardener, tended an already perfect plot with a rake. As they passed by, he bowed low. The woman gave a slight bow in return and Jack followed suit. It appeared bowing was the thing to do, at all times. They entered a small wooden building on the other side of the garden. The room was pleasantly warm and inside there was a long stone bench and a large square wooden tub filled with steaming water. To Jack’s horror, the woman signed for him to get in. ‘What? You don’t expect me to get in there, do you?’ exclaimed Jack, backing away from the bath. Smiling, she held her nose, pointed at Jack, then at the bath. ‘Ofuro.’ ‘I don’t stink!’ said Jack. ‘I washed barely a month ago.’ Didn’t they know that baths were disease pits? His mother had warned him that he could catch the flux or worse! ‘Ofuro haitte!’ she said again, slapping her hand on the bath. ‘Anata ni nomiga tsuite iru wa yo!’ Jack didn’t understand and didn’t care. There was no way he was going to get in that bath. ‘Uekiya! Chiro! Kocchi ni kite!’ shouted the woman, making a grab for Jack. He ran round the bath and headed for the door, but the gardener had appeared and blocked his path. A young maid then

dashed in and caught hold of him. The woman pulled off his robe and began to sluice him down with cold water. ‘Stop that! It’s freezing!’ cried Jack. ‘Leave me alone!’ ‘Dame, ofuro no jikan yo, ohkina akachan ne,’ the woman said, and the maid laughed. Jack struggled and kicked so much that the gardener had to help hold him down too, though the old man took great care to avoid Jack’s broken arm. Jack felt like a baby as they scrubbed him down and then lowered him, still protesting, into the steaming bath. The heat was almost unbearable, but every time he tried to get out the woman gently pushed him back in. Eventually they let him out, but only to wash him down again, this time with warm soapy water. By now, though, he was too tired to resist and resigned himself to the indignity of it all. The worst thing was that the water was scented. He smelt like a girl! They dunked him back in the bathtub, his skin turning bright pink from the heat. After a while, they let him out, only to subject him to a final dousing of cold water before drying him and dressing him in a new robe. Exhausted, he was led back to his room where he collapsed on his quilt and immediately fell into a deep sleep. ooo000ooo 9

KIMONOS AND CHOPSTICKS ‘Ofuro,’ said the woman. ‘I had one yesterday…’ complained Jack. ‘Ofuro!’ she scolded. Jack, realizing it was futile to resist, put on the fresh gown and wound his way through the garden to the bathhouse. This time, he almost enjoyed the experience. Apart from the throbbing pain in his arm and a dull ache in his head, he had to admit that the bath had done him some good. He felt rested and his scalp didn’t itch with lice or sea salt any more. When Jack returned to his room, garments similar to those that the samurai had worn were laid out upon his bed. What did these people want with him? They fed and bathed him and now clothed him, but otherwise kept their distance. The round-faced woman entered. ‘Chiro!’ she called and the maid came hurrying in after. The maid was petite, maybe eighteen years old, but it was difficult for Jack to judge, her skin was so smooth and unblemished. She had small dark eyes and a short bob of black hair and, though pretty, she didn’t compare to the girl who had nursed him through his fever. So where was she? And, for that matter, the man with the scarred face? He had only seen two other men in the house so far – the old gardener, whom the woman called Uekiya, and the fierce

looking samurai – and neither of them bore scars. Perhaps the girl and the scarred man were both figments of his imagination, like the girl he’d seen on the headland. ‘Goshujin kimono,’ said the woman, pointing at the clothes. Jack realized the woman meant him to put the garments on but, looking at the puzzling array of items, he wondered where on earth to start. He picked up a pair of funny-looking socks with split toes. At least it was obvious where these went, but his feet were too big to fit into them. The maid saw his predicament and giggled softly behind her hand. ‘Well, how should I know how to put these on!’ said Jack, not liking being ridiculed. The maid ceased laughing, dropped to her knees and bowed apologetically. The woman stepped forward. Jack put the socks down and submitted to the woman and young maid helping him dress. First, they pulled on the white tabi socks, which thankfully stretched a little. Then, they gave him some undergarments, a white cotton top and skirt they called juban. Next a silk robe was wrapped round him, the women carefully ensuring that the left side of the robe overlapped with the right side. All of this was tied off from behind with a wide red belt called an obi. Stepping out on to the veranda, Jack felt awkward in his new clothes. He was used to trousers and shirts, not ‘dresses’ and ‘skirts’. As he moved, the kimono proved disconcertingly drafty, but he had to admit the smooth silk was far more pleasant than stiff breeches and the rough hemp of his sailor’s shirt.

The maid disappeared into another room while the woman led him along the veranda to another shoji. They entered a small room similar to his own, except this had a low oblong table and four flat cushions arranged on either side. On the far wall cradled upon a stand were two magnificent swords, with dark-red woven handles and gleaming black scabbards inlaid with mother of pearl. Beneath these weapons was a small shrine inset into the wall, in which two candles and a stick of incense burnt, the light scent of jasmine filling the air. A little Japanese boy sat cross-legged upon one of the cushions, staring in wide-eyed amazement at the foreigner with his golden hair and blue eyes. The woman gestured for Jack to sit next to the boy, while she made herself comfortable on the opposite side. There was an awkward silence. Jack noted that the fourth cushion remained unoccupied and presumed they were waiting for someone. The little boy continued to stare at Jack. ‘I’m Jack Fletcher,’ he said to the little boy, attempting to break the silence. ‘What’s your name?’ The little boy convulsed in giggles at hearing Jack speak. The woman spoke sharply to him and he went quiet. Jack looked at the woman.

‘I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are, or where I am, but I’m much obliged to you for looking after me. Please may I ask your name?’ She returned his gaze blankly. Then smiled without the faintest sign of comprehension having registered in her eyes. ‘I’m Jack Fletcher,’ he said, pointing at his chest and then pointing at the woman. ‘You are?’ Jack repeated the gesture several times. She still didn’t appear to understand, maintaining the same infuriating enigmatic smile. He was just about to give up trying to make himself understood when the little boy piped up. ‘Jaku Furecha,’ then pointing at his nose. ‘Jiro.’ ‘Jiro. Yes, yes, my name is Jack.’ ‘Jaku! Jiro! Jaku! Jiro!’ cried the boy in delight, alternately pointing at Jack and then at himself. With a flood of understanding, the woman bowed. ‘Watashi wa Dāte Hiroko. Hi-ro-ko.’ ‘Hi-ro-ko,’ repeated Jack slowly, returning the bow. At least, he now knew their names. A side shoji slid open and Chiro the maid entered, bearing six small lacquered bowls on a tray. As she laid each one upon the table, Jack was suddenly aware how hungry he was. There was fish soup, rice, strips of uncooked strange vegetables, what appeared to be a thick wheat porridge and small pieces of raw fish. The maid bowed and left.

Jack wondered where the rest of the meal was. The small table was dotted with the little bowls of food, but surely there wasn’t enough for all of them? Where was the meat? The gravy? Even a bit of buttered bread? He noticed the fish wasn’t even cooked! Fearful of offending his host again, Jack waited to be served. There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence, then Hiroko picked up two little sticks by her bowl. Jiro did the same. Then, holding them in one hand, they began to pick up small amounts of food, delicately putting the morsels into their mouths. All the time, they warily eyed Jack. Jack hadn’t even seen the sticks by his bowl. He examined the pencil thin bits of wood. How on earth was he supposed to eat with these? Jiro smiled at Jack through a mouthful of food. ‘Hashi,’ said the little boy, pointing to them. Jiro opened his own hand to show Jack how to hold the hashi correctly. But even though he managed to mimic Jiro’s scissor-like action, he couldn’t keep a grip on the fish or the vegetables long enough to lift them from their bowls. The more he dropped the food, the more frustrated he got. Never one to admit defeat, Jack decided to attempt some rice. This had to be easier, since there was more of it. But half the rice immediately slid straight back into the bowl, the other half dropping all over the table. By the time it reached Jack’s mouth, all that remained was one small grain.

Nonetheless pleased by his accomplishment, Jack chewed on the solitary grain. He pretended to rub his belly in satisfaction. Jiro laughed. The little boy may have enjoyed the joke, thought Jack, but if he didn’t learn how to use these hashi soon, he was going to starve – and that would be no laughing matter! ooo000ooo 10 ABUNAI ! Jack fell into a routine of bathing, eating and sleeping. His body gradually recovered from the fever, his arm began to mend and he was able to take regular walks around the garden. Most days he sat beneath the cherry blossom tree and watched Uekiya the gardener weed the flower bed or prune back some shrub with infinite care. Uekiya would acknowledge Jack’s presence with a brief bow of the head, but little passed between them since Jack couldn’t make head or tail of their strange language. Jack soon got restless, his world now confined to a monotony of indistinguishable rooms, daily bathing and flawless gardening. He felt trapped, like a canary in a gilded cage. What did they want from him? He was constantly watched, but they didn’t try to speak with him. He was allowed to wander the garden and house, but was always stopped from exploring further. Were they deciding his fate? Or were they waiting for someone who would?

Jack was desperate to know what lay beyond the garden walls. Surely there had to be someone out there who could understand English and help get him home, or maybe he would find a ship bound for a foreign port. He could then smuggle aboard with the hope their next port of call would have passage back to England, back to his sister, his last fragment of family. Whatever, it had to be better than sitting under a tree doing nothing. Jack resolved to escape. Each day he had seen the young samurai, Taka-san, who appeared to be Hiroko’s house guard, enter and leave through a small gate in the garden wall. That was his way out. It was pointless asking if he could leave – he was a prisoner both of language and circumstance. They simply bowed and responded ‘Gomennasai, wakarimasen’ to everything he said, which by their expression and tone he presumed meant ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’. After the now familiar breakfast of rice, a few pickled vegetables and wheat gruel, he went for his daily walk round the garden. When Uekiya bent over to tend some already immaculately pruned bush, Jack made for the gate. He checked Jiro and Hiroko were inside the house before pulling on the latch, and silently slipped through. The gate closed with the tiniest of clicks, but Uekiya heard it and shouted after him. ‘Iye! Abunai! Abunai!’ Jack ran. Not caring about the cries of alarm or where he was headed, he darted down a dirt road and weaved in between buildings until he was out of sight of the house.

Quickly taking his bearings, Jack saw that the village sat in the bowl of a large natural harbour with mountains rising up in the distance. Surrounding the village were countless terraced fields dotted with farmers tending rice beds. Despite the pain in his arm, he dashed past the stunned villagers and headed downhill towards the sea. Jack turned a corner and unexpectedly found himself in the middle of the village square. Ahead was a large cobblestone jetty where men and women were gutting fish and repairing nets. In the harbour beyond, myriad fishing boats dotted the waters. Women dressed in thin white slips dived from the boats, disappearing and reappearing with bags full of seaweed and shellfish and oysters. A small sandy island lay in the centre of the bay, a red wooden gateway dominating its beach. A hushed silence descended upon the square and Jack became aware of hundreds of eyes studying him. The whole village appeared frozen in time. Women in vibrantly coloured kimonos knelt motionless by sellers in mid-purchase; fish, half-gutted in the hands of fishermen, glinted in the bright sunshine; and a samurai warrior, statue-like, glared stonily at him. After a moment’s hesitation, Jack tentatively bowed. The samurai barely acknowledged his greeting, but moved on, ignoring him. A few women returned Jack’s bow, bemusement shining in their eyes, and the villagers resumed their daily activities. Only too aware that all were still eyeing him with suspicion, Jack crossed the square to the jetty and made his way down to a small beach. He scanned the boats, seeking a foreign ship. But to no avail; every vessel was Japanese and crewed by Japanese. Despairing, Jack

huddled down next to a small fishing boat and stared blankly out to sea. England was two years and four thousand leagues away. The only home he knew and Jess, the only family he had left, were on the other side of the world. What hope did he have of ever reaching her? What had been the point in running? He had nowhere to go. No money. No rutter. Not even his own clothes! With his blond hair, he stood out like a sore thumb among the black-haired Japanese. Jack watched the little boats in the harbour bob up and down, at a loss what to do next. Then the girl appeared, rising up out of the water like a mermaid. She had the same snowy white skin and jetblack hair as the girl he had seen at the temple with the white stallion. Jack watched her slip into one of the boats closest to shore. A fisherman pulled in a bag loaded with oysters and, while she stood and dried herself, he prised the oysters open to search for pearls. She ran her hands through her hair, the seawater cascading off and reflecting the morning sunlight like a thousand tiny stars. Even as the fisherman rowed across the harbour, the girl remained completely at ease with the swaying motion of the boat, her slender body moving with the grace of a willow tree. It was almost as if she was floating across the water. As the girl neared a little wooden jetty, Jack could clearly see her features. She wasn’t much older than he was. Blessed with soft, unblemished skin, her half-moon eyes were the colour of ebony, and beneath a small rounded nose was the blossom of a mouth, with lips like the petals of a red rose. If Jack had ever imagined a fairy-tale princess, she would have looked like this.

‘GAIJIN!’ Jack, snapping out of his daydream, looked up. Blinking into the bright sunlight, he saw two Japanese men standing over him, dressed in plain kimonos and thong sandals. One was squat with a round bulbous head and a flattened nose, while the other had tightly slit eyes and was as skinny as a rake. ‘Nani wo shiteru, gaijin?’ challenged Flat-Nose. The thin man peered over his friend’s shoulder and prodded Jack sharply in the chest with a wooden staff. ‘Eh, gaijin?’ he chimed, in a thin reedy voice. Jack tried to back away, but he had nowhere to go. ‘Onushi ittai doko kara kitanoda, gaijin?’ demanded Flat-Nose, who then tugged in cruel amazement at Jack’s blond hair. ‘Eh, gaijin?’ the thin man taunted, purposefully planting his staff on Jack’s fingers. Jack snatched his hand away. ‘I… I don’t understand…’ he stammered and began desperately to search for a means of escape. Flat-Nose grabbed Jack by the scruff of his kimono and jerked him up to eye level. ‘Nani?’ he spat into Jack’s face. ‘YAME!’

Jack barely registered the booming command, before Flat-Nose’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets, a hand knifing into the back of the man’s neck. Flat-Nose collapsed face first into the sand. He lay there motionless, even as the waves washed over him. Taka-san, the young samurai from Jack’s house, having appeared from nowhere, now spun on Jack’s other assailant, withdrawing his sword in one fluid motion. The thin man threw himself to the ground, apologizing feverishly. The sword cut through the air and arced down towards the prostrate man. ‘Iye! Taka-san. Dōzo,’ instructed another voice, and Taka-san stopped the sword barely an inch from the man’s exposed neck. Jack immediately recognized the gentle voice. ‘Konnichiwa,’ she said, walking up to Jack and bowing gently to him. ‘Watashi wa Dāte Akiko.’ The girl on the headland, the same girl from his fevered dreams, was Akiko. ooo000ooo 11 SENCHA That evening, when Jack was summoned to dinner, Hiroko and her son Jiro sat in their usual places, but the fourth cushion was now occupied by Akiko. Above her hung the two gleaming samurai swords.

Akiko’s presence made Jack feel both elated and awkward at the same time. She had the finesse of a lady of class, yet possessed an aura of authority that Jack had never encountered in a girl before. The samurai Taka-san obeyed her every word and the household bowed very low when in her company. Jack had been somewhat surprised that he was not punished for his escape. In fact, the household appeared more concerned than angry, Uekiya the gardener especially, and Jack felt a twinge of guilt for worrying the old man. After dinner, Akiko led Jack out on to the veranda, where they sat on plump cushions in the fading evening sunlight. A silence had settled over the village like a soft blanket and Jack could hear the tentative chirps of crickets and the trickle of the stream as it wound itself through Ueyika’s immaculate garden. Akiko sat absorbing the peace and, for the first time in days, Jack allowed his guard to drop. Then he noticed Taka-san standing silently in the shadows, his hand resting upon his sword. Jack instantly tensed. They were taking no chances; he was being watched now. A shoji slid open and Chiro brought out a lacquered tray with a beautifully embellished pot and two small cups. She laid the tray on the floor and carefully measured out some hot green-coloured water. The liquid reminded Jack of ‘tea’, the fashionable new drink Dutch traders had begun importing into Holland from China. With both hands, she passed a cup to Akiko, who then offered it to Jack.

Jack took the cup and waited for Akiko to pick up hers, but she signed for him to drink first. He hesitantly sipped at the steaming brew. It tasted like boiled grass and he had to force back a grimace at its bitterness. Akiko then drank from her own cup. A look of quiet contentment spread across her face. After several moments of silence, Jack plucked up the courage to speak. Pointing to the green tea she evidently enjoyed so much, he said, ‘What is this drink called?’ There was a brief pause as Akiko attempted to understand his question before replying ‘Sencha.’ ‘Sen-cha,’ repeated Jack, feeling the word in his mouth and working it into his memory. He realized he would have to acquire a taste for sencha in the future. ‘And this?’ he said, indicating the cup. ‘Chawan,’ she replied. ‘Chawan,’ copied Jack. Akiko quietly applauded and then began pointing at other objects, giving Jack their Japanese names. She seemed pleased to teach him her language and Jack was relieved, since this was the first time that anyone had attempted to properly communicate with him. Jack continued to press for new words until his head was overflowing with them and it was time to go to bed. Taka-san led him back to his room, closing the shoji door behind Jack.

Jack settled down on his futon, but he couldn’t sleep. His head whirled with Japanese words and turbulent emotions. As he lay there in the darkness, looking at the soft glow of the night lanterns through the walls, he allowed a sliver of hope to enter his heart. If he could learn the language, then perhaps he could survive in this strange land. Maybe gain work with a Japanese crew, get to a port where his fellow countrymen were and, from there, work his way back to England. Perhaps Akiko was the key. Maybe she could help him get home! A shadow shifted on the other side of the paper wall and Jack realized Taka-san still stood outside, guarding him. Jack was completing his early morning walk in the garden the following day, when Jiro came flying round the corner of the veranda. ‘Kinasai!’ he shouted, dragging Jack to the front entrance of the house. Jack could barely keep up. Outside, Akiko and Taka-san were waiting. Akiko wore a shimmering ivory kimono, embroidered with the image of a crane in flight. She held a crimson-coloured parasol over her head to keep off the sun. ‘Ohayō gozaimasu, Jack,’ she said, bowing. ‘Ohayō gozaimasu, Akiko,’ echoed Jack, wishing her a good morning.

She seemed pleased at his response and they set off down the dirt track towards the harbour. At the jetty, they climbed into the boat of Akiko’s pearl fisherman, who rowed them across to the island in the middle of the harbour. As they drew closer, Jack was astonished to see a huge crowd had gathered along a wide stretch of the beach in front of the red wooden gateway. ‘Ise Jingu Torii,’ Akiko said, pointing at the structure. Jack nodded his understanding. The torii was the colour of evening fire and the height of a double-storey house. It was constructed from two upright pillars cut across by two large horizontal beams, the uppermost of which had a narrow roof of jade-green tiles. Their small craft landed on the southern tip of the island and they joined the thronging mass of villagers, women in brightly coloured kimonos and sword-bearing samurai. The crowd had formed an ordered semi-circle, but the villagers all bowed and gave way as Akiko and her entourage moved towards the front, joining a large group of samurai. The warriors immediately acknowledged Akiko’s arrival with a low bow. Returning their greeting, Akiko then began to converse with a young samurai boy, who appeared to be of Jack’s age, with chestnut-brown eyes and black spiky hair. The boy threw Jack a disdainful look, before ignoring him completely. The villagers, however, were astonished by Jack’s presence. They gave him a wide berth, whispering to one another behind their

hands, but Jack didn’t mind since this allowed him a clear view of the makeshift arena. A lone samurai stood, like an ancient god, under the torii. The warrior was dressed in a black-and-gold kimono decorated on the chest, sleeves and back with a circular symbol of four crossed bolts of lightning. His hairstyle was fashioned in the traditional samurai manner with a topknot of black hair pulled forward over a shaved pate. This samurai, though, had tied a thick band of white cloth round his head. Stocky and powerful, with menacing eyes, the samurai warrior reminded Jack of a large bulldog, bred for fighting. In his hands, the warrior held the largest sword Jack had ever seen. The blade itself stretched over four feet in length, and together with the hilt was as long as Jack was tall. The warrior, his eyes fixed on the distant shoreline of the harbour, shifted impatiently and his sword caught the bright sunlight. For a brief moment it flashed like a bolt of lightning. Seeing the amazement in Jack’s eyes, Akiko whispered its name: ‘Nodachi.’ The warrior stood alone in the arena and Jack wondered where the man’s opponent could be. No one else appeared to be preparing for combat. As Jack looked around the crowd, he noticed that a group of samurai on the opposite side to him were emblazoned with the same lightning emblem as the warrior, while those samurai surrounding him bore the round crest of a phoenix. So where was their champion? Jack gauged that an hour must have passed, for the sun had traversed some fifteen degrees further across the cloudless sky. The heat had intensified and the villagers were now growing restless.

The samurai under the torii had become even more agitated and paced the beach like a caged tiger. Another hour went by. The mutterings of the crowd grew louder as the heat became unbearable. Jack dreaded what he would have felt like in his old shirt and breeches, instead of the silken kimono he now wore. Then, just as the sun reached its zenith, a small boat cast off from the jetty. The listless crowd instantly became animated. Jack could see a little fisherman rowing unhurriedly across the harbour, while a larger man sat Buddha-like at its prow. The boat drew closer. The crowd let out a huge cheer and began to chant ‘Masamoto! Masamoto! Masamoto!’ Akiko, Taka-san and Jiro joined in the thundering refrain of the samurai’s name. The group of samurai bearing the lightning crest challenged the call with a rallying cry of their own champion ‘Godai! Godai! Godai!’ and the warrior stepped forward thrusting his nodachi high in the air. His followers roared even louder. The boat came to rest on the shoreline. The little fisherman shipped his oars and waited patiently for his occupant to disembark. Another huge cheer went up from the crowd as the man stood up and stepped barefoot on to the beach. Jack let out an involuntary gasp of surprise. Their champion, Masamoto, was the man with the scarred face.

ooo000ooo 12 THE DUEL The mass of dried skin and reddened welts fanned out like molten lava from above Masamoto’s left eye, across his cheek and down the line of his jaw. His remaining features were otherwise even and well-defined. He had the solid and muscular build of an ox and his eyes were the colour of honeyed amber. He wore a darkbrown and cream kimono which bore the circular emblem of a phoenix and, like Godai, he had a headband, but his was crimson red. Unlike Godai, Masamoto had a completely shaved head, though he maintained a small trimmed beard that encircled his mouth. To Jack, Masamoto appeared more monk than warrior. Masamoto surveyed the scene before turning to retrieve his swords from the boat. He slipped them, along with their protective sayas, into the obi of his kimono. First the shorter wakizashi sword, followed by the longer katana. Taking his time, he walked up the beach towards the torii. Furious at his opponent’s late and disrespectful arrival, Godai screamed insults as he approached. Unperturbed, Masamoto maintained his stoic pace, even pausing to acknowledge his samurai. At last he came face to face with Godai and bowed ceremoniously. This infuriated Godai even more. Blinded with rage, he charged at Masamoto in an attempt to take him off-guard before the contest officially commenced.

Masamoto, however, was prepared for just such an offensive. He sidestepped Godai, the massive nodachi narrowly missing him. In a single motion, Masamoto unsheathed both his swords from their sayas, his right hand raising the katana to the sky and his left drawing the wakizashi across his chest to protect himself from any counter-attack. Godai brought his nodachi round for a second assault, the sword arcing at lightning speed towards Masamoto’s head. Masamoto shifted his weight, angling his katana to deflect the strike off to the left. Their swords clashed and the nodachi scraped along the back of Masamoto’s blade. Masamoto pressed forward under the crushing blow, cutting his wakizashi across the midriff of Godai. The sword sliced through Godai’s kimono, but failed to meet flesh. Godai spun away to prevent Masamoto extending his strike and drawing blood. Masamoto pursued the retreating Godai into the sea, his two swords a furious blur, but he was immediately cut short by the returning nodachi and barely had time to leap beyond its reach. Jack was astounded at the skill and agility of these two warriors. They fought with the grace of dancers, pirouetting in an exquisite yet deadly ritual. Each strike was executed with the utmost accuracy and commitment. Masamoto wielded his two swords as if they were natural extensions of his own arms. It was no wonder that his fellow crewmen had been slaughtered so effortlessly by the Japanese wako. They stood little chance against an enemy so proficient in such fighting arts.

Godai drove Masamoto back up the beach, his samurai cheering him on. Despite its massive size, Godai was devastatingly adept with the nodachi, wielding it with ease as if it were no more than a shaft of bamboo. Godai continued to force Masamato backwards and into the throng of spectators, right where Jack was standing. Godai bluffed a strike to the right then switched his attack and sliced at Masamoto’s exposed arm. Masamoto managed to avoid the strike, but Godai’s immense effort to connect drove his weighty sword onward into the crowd. In panic, the villagers scattered, but Jack remained rooted to the spot, paralysed with fear at the man’s unwavering determination to kill. At the very last second, Taka-san wrenched Jack out of the way, but the villager behind Jack was not so fortunate. The little man tried to protect himself, but the sword sliced straight through his outstretched fingers. Godai, ignoring the screaming villager, flicked the blood from his blade and began yet another onslaught on the retreating Masamoto. This was no practice match, Jack realized with astonishment. This was a fight to the death. Two of Masamoto’s samurai dragged the wounded villager away as the crowd surged forward, anxious not to miss the action, the amputated fingers trampled under a sea of feet.

Concerned at the sight of Jack’s ashen face, Akiko signed to Jack if he was all right. ‘I’m fine,’ replied Jack, forcing a smile, though in truth he was sickened to the pit of his stomach. He swallowed down the bitter shock of what he had just witnessed. How could a people who invested their time in cultivating idyllic gardens and decorating kimonos with images of butterflies be so barbaric? It made no sense to Jack. Jack turned his attention back to the combat in order to avoid Akiko’s anxious gaze. The two samurai had broken apart, breathing heavily from their exertions. They circled one another, waiting for the next move. Godai feigned an advance and the crowd surged backwards, desperate to avoid being caught up in the attack. Masamoto, now familiar with Godai’s tactics, slipped to his blindside, parrying the nodachi with his short sword and countering with his katana. The katana scythed towards Godai’s head. Godai ducked and the katana sliced over the top of his head. The two warriors spun round on one another and froze. The crowd held their breath. Then Godai’s topknot slipped from his head and fell limp on to the beach. Masamoto smirked at Godai’s public disgrace, and his phoenix samurai began chanting ‘Masamoto! Masamoto! Masamoto!’ Incensed at the humiliation of losing his topknot, Godai screamed a kiai and attacked. His nodachi struck downward and then, like an eagle climbing after swooping down on its prey, flicked upward at an angle that defeated Masamoto’s katana.

Masamoto, bending backwards to avoid the blow, brought his sword up to deflect the blade from his neck, but his katana was knocked out of his hand and the tip of the nodachi cut deep into his right shoulder. Masamoto grunted in pain, dropping backwards and rolling away in an attempt to distance himself from Godai. After several controlled rolls, he flipped himself back on to his feet. It was now the turn of Godai’s samurai to cheer. Godai was certain to win now Masamoto had forfeited his katana. The shorter wakizashi was no match for a mighty nodachi. Masamoto’s samurai realized their champion had little chance of overcoming such an advantage. For the first time in his life, Masamoto’s legendary handling of two swords had not withstood the onslaught of a nodachi. Masamoto retreated down the beach, edging towards the fishing boat he had arrived in. Godai gloated, sensing victory was close at hand. He quickly manoeuvred himself between Masamoto and the wooden vessel, preventing his escape. Masamoto appeared defeated. Blood seeped from the gash on his shoulder. He weakly lowered his wakizashi. The crowd gave a despondent groan. Godai grinned from ear to ear as he slowly raised his weapon for the final blow. That was the moment of over-confidence Masamoto had been waiting for. With a sharp flick of his wrist, he sent his wakizashi spinning through the air. Taken by surprise, Godai stumbled backwards to avoid the flying blade and lost his footing in the sand.

Little more than a blur, Masamoto shot past Godai and headed for the boat. Godai, getting back to his feet, screamed at his fleeing opponent. But Masamoto was not intent on escaping. Instead he grabbed the long wooden oar from the boat and spun round to face Godai. Now Masamoto possessed a weapon of equal length to the nodachi. Immediately Godai charged at Masamoto, who parried his blows with the oar. Chunks of wood flew through the air. Godai then struck low attempting to chop off Masamoto’s legs. Masamoto jumped high over the blade and brought his oar straight down on to Godai’s exposed head. The oar connected and Godai’s legs crumpled under the force of the blow. He collapsed backwards like a felled tree. Masamoto’s samurai cheered and the crowd took up a chant urging him to kill Godai. But Masamoto stepped away from the prone body of Godai. His victory clear and decisive, he had no reason to kill. As he approached the crowd, they fell silent and all dropped to their knees, bowing their heads to the sand. Even Akiko, Jiro and Taka-san followed suit. Jack alone remained standing, unsure what to do. He was not one of them, but the man emanated such absolute authority and power that Jack found himself instinctively bowing anyway. As he eyed the sand, Jack sensed Masamoto approaching him. The bare feet of the scarred man planted themselves directly in front of him.

ooo000ooo 13 FATHER LUCIUS ‘Você fala o português?’ the priest asked Jack. The priest knelt on the floor in front of Masamoto, who now sat on a raised platform in the main room of the house. ‘Parlez-vous français?’ The priest, with hard glassy eyes and greasy thinning hair, wore the distinctive buttonless cassock and cape of a Portuguese Jesuit. He had been summoned to translate for Masamoto and studied Jack distrustfully. ‘Habla español? Do you speak English?’ he asked in frustration. ‘Falo um pouco. Oui, un petit peu. Sí, un poco,’ Jack replied fluently. ‘But I prefer my own tongue, English. My mother was a teacher, always getting me to learn different languages. Even yours…’ ‘Cursed child! You’d be wise not to make more of an enemy of me than you already are. You’re clearly the offspring of a heretic and not welcome on these shores –’ He gave a sharp rasping cough and wiped dark-yellow spittle from his lips with a handkerchief. And you’re clearly sick, thought Jack.

‘The only reason you’re still alive,’ he continued, ‘is that you’re a child.’ Jack had already thought he was as good as dead when Masamoto had stood over him on the beach. But the samurai had merely ordered him to accompany him and his samurai back to the mainland where Hiroko was waiting to escort them up to the house. ‘Doushita? Kare wa doko kara kitanoda?’ asked Masamoto. His shoulder wound having been dressed, the samurai had changed into a crisp sky-blue kimono patterned with white maple leaves. He sipped placidly from a cup of sencha. Jack could not believe this was the same man who barely hours before had been fighting for his life. He was now flanked by two armed samurai. To his left knelt Akiko and next to her was the boy she had been talking with prior to Masamoto’s duel. From the moment Jack had entered the room, the boy had glowered at him with a look that was both detached and threatening as a thundercloud. ‘Sumimasen, Masamoto-sama,’ apologized the priest, tucking his handkerchief away. The priest, who knelt on the floor close to Jack, bowed with considerable deference to Masamoto, the dark wooden cross that hung from his neck gracing the tatami-covered floor as he did so. ‘His lordship Masamoto Takeshi wants to know who you are, where you are from and how you come to be here,’ he said, turning to Jack.

Jack felt he was on trial. He had been summoned into the room only to be confronted by this mean-spirited Jesuit priest. His father had cautioned him against such men. The Portuguese, like the Spanish, had been at war with England for nearly twenty years, and while the conflict was now officially over, the two nations still harboured great animosity towards one another. And the Jesuit Catholics remained the worst of England’s enemies. Jack, being an English Protestant, was in serious trouble. ‘My name is Jack Fletcher. I’m from England. I arrived on-board a trader ship –’ ‘Inconceivable, there are no Englanders in these waters. You’re a pirate, so don’t waste my time, or his Lordship’s, with lies. I’ve not been brought here to translate your deceit.’ ‘Douka shimashita ka?’ interjected Masamoto. ‘Nani no nai, Masamoto-sama…’ replied the priest, but Masamoto immediately cut him off with what sounded to Jack like an order. ‘Moushiwake arimasen, Masamoto-sama,’ apologized the priest more emphatically and bowed, coughing harshly into his handkerchief again. He turned back to Jack and continued. ‘Boy, I ask you again, how did you come to be here? And by the Blood of Christ, you had better speak true!’ ‘I’ve just told you. I arrived here on the Alexandria, part of a trading fleet for the Dutch East India Company. My father was the Pilot. We’d been sailing for nearly two years to get to the Japans…’

The priest translated as Jack spoke, before interjecting ‘By what route did you sail?’ ‘South, through Magellan’s Pass –’ ‘Impossible. Magellan’s Pass is secret.’ ‘My father knew.’ ‘Only we, the Portuguese, the Righteous, possess safe passage,’ countered the priest indignantly. ‘It’s well-protected against Protestant heretics like your father.’ ‘Your warships were no match for my father. He outran them in a day,’ said Jack, a fiery sense of pride filling him as the priest begrudgingly informed Masamoto of this Portuguese humiliation. Jack studied the priest distrustfully. ‘Who are you anyway?’ ‘I am Father Lucius, a brother of the Society of Jesus, the protectorate of the Catholic Church and their sole missionary here in the port of Toba,’ replied the priest fervently, making the sign of the cross upon his chest then kissing the wooden talisman that hung from his neck. ‘I report to God and my superior, Father Diego Bobadilla, in Osaka. I am his eyes and ears here.’ ‘So what position does this samurai hold?’ asked Jack, nodding his head towards Masamoto, ‘And if you’re so important why do you bow to him?’ ‘Boy, I’d be more prudent with your words in future – if you want to live. The samurai demand respect.’

Bowing low again, the priest continued. ‘This is Masamoto Takeshi, Lord of Shima and right-hand man to Takatomi Hideaki, daimyo of Kyoto province –’ ‘What’s a daimyo?’ interrupted Jack. ‘A feudal lord. He rules this whole province on behalf of the Emperor. The samurai, including Masamoto here, are his vassals.’ ‘Vassals?… Do you mean slaves?’ ‘No, the peasants, the villagers you’ve seen, are more akin to slaves. The samurai are members of the warrior caste, much like your knights of old, but considerably more skilled. Masamoto here is an expert swordmaster, undefeated. He is also the man responsible for plucking you, half-drowned, from the ocean and fixing your broken arm, so show him due deference!’ Jack was astonished. He knew such medical skill was unheard of in England. A broken limb at sea meant a slow agonizing death from gangrene or else a painful and risky amputation. He was indeed extremely fortunate to have met Masamoto. ‘Please can you thank him for saving my life?’ ‘You can do it yourself. Arigatō means “thank you” in Japanese.’ ‘Arigatō,’ repeated Jack, pointing at his broken arm, then bowing as low as his arm would allow. This appeared to please Masamoto, who acknowledged the respect shown with a curt nod of his head. ‘So is this Masamoto’s house?’

‘No, this is his sister’s, Hiroko. She lives here with her daughter Akiko.’ The priest started coughing violently once more and it took a moment for him to recover. ‘Enough of your questions, boy! Where’s the rest of your crew?’ ‘Dead.’ ‘Dead? All of them? I don’t believe you!’ ‘A storm drove us off-course. We were forced to shelter in a cove, but a reef hulled the Alexandria. We had to make repairs, but were attacked by… I’m not sure… shadows.’ As the priest translated Jack’s story, Masamoto’s interest piqued. ‘Describe these shadows,’ asked Father Lucius for Masamoto. ‘They were men, I think… dressed in black. I could only see their eyes. They had swords, chains, throwing knives… my father thought they were wako.’ ‘Ninja,’ breathed Masamoto. ‘Whatever they were, one of them killed my father,’ said Jack, his voice taut with emotion, the memory of the night rising up like fire in his chest. ‘It was a ninja with a green eye!’ Masamoto leant forward, tense and clearly disturbed by Father Lucius’s translation of Jack’s outburst. ‘Repeat exactly what you just said,’ demanded Father Lucius on behalf of Masamoto.

The image of the ninja’s hooded face and his father’s death replayed in Jack’s head. He swallowed hard before continuing, ‘The ninja who murdered my father had one eye. Green like snakeskin. I’ll never forget it.’ ‘Dokugan Ryu,’ spat Masamoto, as if he had swallowed poison. The samurai guards visibly stiffened at his words. The blackhaired boy’s face flashed with fear and Akiko turned to Jack, her eyes full of pity. ‘Doku-what?’ asked Jack, not understanding what Masamoto had said. ‘Dokugan Ryu. It means “Dragon Eye”,’ explained Father Lucius. ‘Dokugan Ryu was the ninja responsible for murdering Masamoto’s first son, Tenno, two years ago. Masamoto-sama had foiled an assassination attempt on his daimyo and was hunting down those responsible. Dokugan Ryu was sent to kill his son as a warning to stop his search. The ninja has not been sighted since.’ Masamoto spoke gravely to Father Lucius. ‘Masamoto wants to know the whereabouts of the rest of your family. What of your mother? Was she on board?’ ‘No, she died when I was ten. Pneumonia.’ Jack looked meaningfully at Father Lucius, recognizing the priest’s symptoms for what they were. ‘My father left my little sister, Jess, in the care of a neighbour, Mrs Winters, but she was too old and didn’t have enough room to look after both of us. That’s why I was on the ship. I was old enough to work, so my father got me a job on board the Alexandria as a rigging monkey.’

‘You have suffered greatly. I am truly sorry for the death of your mother. And of your father,’ said Father Lucius, with apparent sincerity. He then recounted Jack’s history to Masamoto, who listened solemnly. Masamoto poured himself some more sencha. He studied the cup before sipping slowly at its contents. No one broke the silence. Masamoto put down the cup and addressed the room. As he spoke, the colour drained from the priest’s face and Akiko’s eyes visibly widened in astonishment. Jack saw that the black-haired boy had turned rigid as stone, his thunderous expression darkening with barely contained malice. With a slight tremor to his voice, Father Lucius translated. ‘Masamoto-sama has deemed that you, Jack Fletcher, are to be taken under his care until you are “of age”. This being the second anniversary of his son’s death, he believes you to be a “gift from the gods”. You have suffered under the same hand of Dokugan Ryu. You are therefore to take Tenno’s place by Masamoto’s side and shall henceforth be treated as one of his own.’ Jack was stunned. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the idea of being adopted by a samurai lord. But before he had a chance to respond, Masamoto had summoned Taka-san into the room. Taka-san was carrying a package bound in a hessian cloth, which he laid at Jack’s feet. Masamoto addressed Jack, Father Lucius translating as he spoke.

‘Masamoto-sama found you clutching this to your person when he pulled you from the sea. Now you are recovered, he is returning your rightful possessions.’ Masamoto signed for Jack to unwrap the rectangular object. Jack tugged at the binding and the cloth fell away to reveal a dark oilskinned parcel. The entire room watched with mounting interest. Father Lucius edged closer. Jack knew exactly what it was without removing the oilskin. It was his father’s rutter. The room swirled around him and out of nowhere Jack could see his father’s face. He lay dying on the deck, blood bubbling from his lips. His head lolled to one side, his eyes meeting his. ‘Jack… the rutter… get it… home… it will get you home…’ Then his final breath… ‘Jack? Are you all right?’ asked Father Lucius, bringing Jack back to his senses. ‘Yes,’ said Jack, quickly gathering his wits. ‘I’m just upset. This was my father’s.’ ‘I understand. These are your father’s charts perhaps?’ said Father Lucius nonchalantly, but all the while his glassy eyes coveted the oilskin-covered object. ‘No… no… It’s my father’s diary,’ lied Jack, snatching up the rutter. Father Lucius appeared unconvinced, but let it pass.

With the presentation of the book done, Masamoto had clearly decided the meeting was over and stood. Everyone bowed as he spoke. ‘Masamoto-sama has ordered that you rest,’ translated the priest. ‘He will meet with you again tomorrow.’ Everyone bowed again and Masamoto swept from the room, swiftly followed by his two guards and the moody black-haired boy. Father Lucius got up to leave too, but broke into a coughing fit that rattled his lungs. As the fit subsided, he wiped the sweat from his brow. He turned on Jack. ‘A pox on you and your heretic ship! It’s brought an ill wind – I’ve been struck down ever since you landed upon these shores,’ he croaked, holding on to the shoji for support. He looked Jack in the eye. ‘A word of warning, Jack Fletcher. Never forget your saviour is a samurai. The samurai are a gifted but utterly ruthless people. Step out of line and he’ll cut you into eight pieces.’ ooo000ooo 14 THE SUMMONS Jack spent that afternoon in the garden.

He still couldn’t get his head round the fact he had been adopted by a samurai! He supposed he should be grateful. He had food and shelter, and the household no longer treated him like some stray dog. Jack felt more like an honoured guest. Taka-san had even bowed to him! Yet he did not belong here. He was a stranger in a land of warriors, kimonos and sencha. The question, though, was where did he belong? With his father and mother both dead, he had no home to speak of. His sister was living with Mrs Winters, but what would happen when the money his father gave the woman to look after her ran out? Or if the old woman died? Jack needed to find a way home and be there for her. But with England on the far side of the world, there was no conceivable way a boy of twelve could sail across two oceans, even with his father’s rutter. Despite the heat of the day, Jack shuddered with the helplessness of his situation. He was stuck in Japan until he discovered a ship bound for England, or else was old enough to strike out on his own. Staying was a matter of survival, not choice. He sat down under the cherry blossom tree, shaded from the sun, and contemplated the fragile hope the rutter held for him Jack could distinctly recall the intense excitement he had felt when his father had first handed him the leatherbound book. The rutter had seemed heavy with knowledge and secrets. When he had opened it, Jack swore he could smell the ocean in its pages.

Inside were intricate hand-drawn maps; compass bearings between ports and headlands; observations of the depth and nature of the seabed; there were detailed reports of his father’s voyages; places where there were friends, and the ports where there were foes; reefs were pinpointed; tides marked; havens circled; and on every page secret ciphers that protected the knowledge of safe passage from enemy eyes. ‘A rutter for a pilot,’ his father had told him, ‘is the equivalent of a Bible for a priest.’ Jack had listened, rapt, while his father had explained how it was easy enough to work out latitude by the position of the stars, but it was still impossible to fix longitude to any degree of certainty. This meant that once a ship was out of sight of land, it was, for all intents and purposes, lost. Any sea voyage was consequently fraught with danger. Unless… ‘Unless,’ his father had said, ‘you have a rutter. This book, my son, contains all the knowledge you will ever need to guide a ship safely across the seas. These notes were obtained at great cost to life and limb. Now, every time I complete a sailing, I add my own observations. This rutter is invaluable! There are only a few truly accurate ones in existence. Possess this book and you rule the seas! And that is why our enemies, the Portuguese, would dearly love to get their hands on a rutter such as this… at any cost…’ Now it was his. The rutter was his sole link to his previous life. To his father. Indeed it contained his only real hope of getting home, a tenuous thread of directions that circumnavigated the world.

As Jack flicked through its pages, a loose piece of parchment fell to the ground. Jack picked it up. Opening it out, the parchment, brittle with sea salt, its edges tattered and worn from repeated handling, revealed a childish drawing of four figures in a little garden with a square house. Jack immediately recognized the figures. There was his father, tall with a black scribble of windswept hair, himself with an unfeasibly large head and a mop of chalky hair, his little sister in a smock, one hand waving, the other holding Jack’s hand, and above them all in the centre of the picture was his mother, complete with angel wings. Jess had drawn the picture and given it to his father the day they had left England for the Japans. Jack choked back tears, trying not to cry. How would Jess cope when she knew her father was dead too? Jack looked up from the hand-drawn picture of his family, suddenly aware he was being watched. The black-haired boy was staring at him from the house. How long had he been there? Jack wiped his eyes, then acknowledged him with a brief bow. That was the polite thing to do. The boy ignored Jack’s bow. What’s his problem? thought Jack. The boy was clearly of some standing having arrived with Masamoto, but he had not yet introduced himself, and he had been hostile towards Jack from the start. Then Akiko rounded the house with Jiro, who was excitedly brandishing a slip of paper, and the black-haired boy slid shut the shoji. Jack folded up his sister’s picture and placed it carefully back inside the rutter.

Akiko bowed to Jack before taking the paper from Jiro and respectfully handing it to Jack with both hands. ‘Arigatō,’ said Jack, thanking her. ‘Dōmo,’ she replied. Jack was frustrated that he could not communicate with her any further. He now had so much he wanted to say, questions he needed answering. He was surrounded by gracious strangers, yet utterly isolated by language. His impromptu lesson with Akiko the previous evening had been the closest to a proper conversation since his fever had broken some two weeks ago. Jack opened the note, reading the message inside. Your presence is requested. Please come directly following breakfast tomorrow to my quarters. I reside at the fourth house to the left of the jetty. Father Lucius Jack leant back against the tree. What could Father Lucius possibly want with him? ooo000ooo 15 YAMATO Father Lucius’s house was a small affair, set back from the main road. Taka-san, the samurai from Jack’s house, rang the bell hanging by the gate and waited for a response.

Jack heard shuffling footsteps and the gate swung back. Father Lucius appeared, bleary-eyed and wheezing. ‘Welcome to my humble home, heretic. Do enter.’ Jack stepped through the gateway and into a small garden that bore little resemblance to Uekiya’s paradise. This was a muddy patch of root vegetables and herbs. There were no ornamental features or pretty little streams, just a solitary apple tree bearing the beginnings of a few fruit. The garden was for growing, not contemplation. Taka-san, having delivered Jack, bowed to them and left. Father Lucius led Jack into a small room, simply furnished with a table, two chairs and a makeshift altar. A large wooden crucifix adorned the back wall. ‘Take a seat,’ instructed Father Lucius, who settled himself into the chair on the opposite side of the table. He coughed sporadically into his handkerchief. ‘So how is the young samurai today?’ mocked Father Lucius. ‘Why have you summoned me?’ said Jack, ignoring the priest’s scorn. ‘I am to teach you Japanese.’ ‘Why?’ asked Jack, incredulous. ‘You didn’t seem too willing to help me yesterday.’

‘It is wise to do what Masamoto asks of you.’ He looked Jack in the eye. ‘We shall begin at this time every morning. You will do as I say, when I say. Perhaps you can even be saved.’ ‘I don’t need “saving”. Teach me Japanese, but don’t give me any of your sermons –’ ‘Enough of your insolence!’ Father Lucius slammed the flat of his hand on the table. ‘God protect you from your ignorance. We shall start. The sooner you know their language, the sooner you can hang yourself with your own tongue!’ He wiped his mouth of spittle, then continued. ‘The key to the Japanese is their language. It has a vocabulary and sentence structure all of its own. In a word, it is unique. It reflects their whole way of thinking. Understand Japanese, and you understand them. Do you follow so far?’ ‘Yes. I have to think like a Japanese person to speak it.’ ‘Excellent. I see your mother’s taught you to listen at least.’ Father Lucius reached behind him and slid back a small panel in the wall to reveal a cupboard, from which he removed a thick book and some paper, a quill and ink. He laid them upon the desk and so the lesson began. ‘Compared with other languages, Japanese is relatively simple to speak. On the surface, it is less complex than English. There are no articles preceding nouns, no “a”, “an” or “the”. The word hon may mean book, the book, a book, books or the books.’

Jack was already beginning to think that a Jesuit sermon would have been less painful than learning Japanese! ‘There are no conjugations or infinitives of verbs…’ Father Lucius stopped abruptly. ‘Why aren’t you writing any of this down? I thought you were educated.’ Jack grudgingly picked up the quill as instructed, dipped it in the inkpot and began to write. By the time Taka-san returned to collect him, Jack’s head had become a jumble of verbs and Japanese idiosyncrasies. But he refused to appear fazed by Father Lucius’s teaching and made a show of greeting Taka-san in halting Japanese. Taka-san gave a brief puzzled look, blinked, then smiled as he recognized Jack’s heavily accented Japanese greeting. They returned to Hiroko’s house, and immediately after lunch Jack was ushered into Masamoto’s room. Masamoto sat on the raised platform, dominating the room like a temple god on a sacred shrine, the inevitable armed samurai on ceremonial guard. The black-haired boy was there too, silent and brooding by his side. To Jack’s dismay, Father Lucius entered through the other shoji and knelt opposite Jack, but he had only been summoned to interpret again. ‘How was your lesson with Father Lucius?’ asked Masamoto, through the priest.

‘Ii desu yo, arigatō gozaimasu,’ replied Jack, hoping he had pronounced the words correctly to say ‘Very good, thank you very much’. Masamoto nodded appreciatively. ‘Jack, you are a quick learner. That is good,’ continued Masamoto through a malcontented Father Lucius. ‘I have to return to Kyoto. I have my school to attend to. You will remain here in Toba until your arm has healed. My sister, Hiroko, will look after you well. Father Lucius is to continue his teaching and I hope that when I return you will be fluent in Japanese.’ ‘Hai, Masamoto-sama,’ replied Jack, once Father Lucius had finished translating. ‘It is my intention to be back in Toba before the winter sets in. Now I introduce to you my second son, Yamato. He’s to stay here with you. Every boy needs a friend – and he will be your friend. For in truth, you are now brothers.’ Yamato bowed curtly, his eyes trained on Jack’s. Hard and challenging, they delivered a clear message: Jack would never be worthy enough to replace his brother Tenno and he had no intention of being Jack’s friend… ever. ooo000ooo 16 THE BOKKEN The cherry blossom tree in the centre of the garden marked Jack’s time in Japan. When he had arrived, it had been lush and

green. A cool haven where he had sheltered from the hot summer sun. Now, three months later, his arm completely healed, the cherry blossom tree’s leaves had turned a golden brown and were starting to fall to the ground. The tree was Jack’s place of sanctuary. He had sat there for hours studying his father’s rutter, examining the meticulously drawn constellations, tracing the outlines of coastal maps, and on every page trying to unlock the secret ciphers that protected the mysteries of the seas from enemy eyes. One day, his father had promised, he would be given the solutions to all these codes. But now his father was dead, Jack had only his wits to work the rest of them out and, with each one he managed to solve, the closer he felt he was to his father. Yet the tree was also a symbolic bridge, a link through which he had slowly come to understand the Japanese culture. For it was here that he met with Akiko most afternoons to practise speaking her language. Three days after Masamoto had left for Kyoto, she had heard Jack struggling to pronounce a Japanese phrase that Father Lucius had given him to memorize and had offered to help him. ‘Arigatō, Akiko,’ he had replied and then repeated the corrected phrase several times to etch it into his memory. So their afternoons had begun and, combined with Father Lucius’s lessons, his Japanese improved rapidly. Akiko had been a lifeline to him. With each passing week, Jack had been able to converse more and more fluently.

Yamato, on the other hand, in spite of his father’s edict to be his friend, had maintained an icy distance. Jack could have been invisible for all the boy cared. ‘Why does Yamato not speak to me?’ he had asked Akiko one day. ‘Did I do something wrong?’ ‘No, Jack,’ she replied with deliberate courtesy. ‘He is your friend.’ ‘Everyone is my friend but only because Masamoto orders them,’ Jack shot back. ‘He has not ordered me,’ she said, a flicker of hurt showing in her eyes. Jack, realizing he had been rude, tried desperately to think of the appropriate Japanese words to apologize. Apologizing, Father Lucius had explained to Jack, was considered a virtue in Japan. Unlike Europeans, who view an apology to be an admission of one’s own guilt or failure, the Japanese see it as taking responsibility for one’s actions and avoiding blaming others. When one apologizes and shows remorse, the Japanese are willing to forgive and not hold a grudge. ‘I’m very sorry, Akiko,’ Jack had eventually said. ‘You have been very kind to me.’ She bowed, accepting his apology, and they had continued with their conversation, his prickly remark forgotten. Today, as he approached the spot to begin his studies, Jack noticed the cherry blossom tree had shed many more of its leaves,

leaving a golden carpet beneath its branches. Uekiya the gardener was sweeping them away, stuffing the dead leaves into an old sack. Jack went to pick up the rake and help the old man in his task. ‘This is not work for samurai,’ stated the gardener gently, taking the rake out of Jack’s hands. At that moment, Akiko crossed the bridge and made her way over to them. Jack noticed she wore a lilac kimono dotted with ivory flowers and tied with a yellow-gold obi. He could never quite get used to how immaculate the Japanese women always were. Jack and Akiko settled beneath the tree and Uekiya, bowing, moved away to tend one of his already perfectly pruned bushes. They began their afternoon lesson. But before they had progressed very far, Jack asked her about the gardener’s strange comment to him. ‘How can I be samurai? I don’t even have a sword.’ ‘Being samurai is not only about wielding a sword. True, samurai are warriors, for we are bushi, the warrior class. As Masamoto’s adopted son, you are now also samurai.’ Akiko paused to allow her words to sink in. ‘And samurai means “to serve”. A samurai’s loyalty is to the Emperor first and then to his daimyo. It is about duty. And your duty is to Masamoto. Not to the garden.’ ‘I still don’t understand.’ What other duties would Masamoto require of him? Was he tied to this samurai for life? ‘You will. Being samurai is an attitude of mind. Masamoto will teach you this.’

As Jack tried to grasp Akiko’s meaning, Yamato strode out of the house carrying a shaft of dark wood. It was about the length of his arm, one-third of it rounded into a sturdy handle, the other twothirds hewn into a long blade that curved slightly towards its tip. ‘What’s that he’s carrying?’ asked Jack. ‘A bokken. It’s a wooden sword.’ Yamato saw them, bowed stiffly then marched over to a clear patch of garden. ‘What? A toy sword!’ laughed Jack, seeing Yamato whirl the bokken above his head and execute a vicious strike on an imaginary opponent. ‘Toy? No, a bokken is no toy,’ said Akiko suddenly becoming serious. ‘It can kill a man. Masamoto-sama himself has defeated more than thirty samurai using a bokken against their swords.’ ‘So what is Yamato doing now? It looks like playing to me.’ Yamato had repeated the strike, then followed through with a series of cuts and blocks. ‘Kata. They are set patterns of movements that help a samurai to perfect his martial skills. Yamato is learning the art of sword fighting.’ ‘Well, if I am a samurai, I had better learn how to fight too,’ said Jack, adjusting his kimono and standing. Ignoring Akiko’s protests, Jack strode over to where Yamato was practising. He watched with interest, studying his moves and

technique. All the while, Yamato ignored him and continued to parry and thrust at his imaginary opponent. ‘May I try?’ asked Jack, when Yamato had apparently decapitated his attacker with a powerful cross-cut. Yamato slid the bokken into his obi and inspected Jack as if he were a fresh recruit. For a moment, Jack thought the boy would refuse in order to prove his authority over him. ‘Why not, gaijin,’ said Yamato with a look of haughty amusement. ‘It would be good to have a target to practise on. Jiro,’ he called, ‘fetch me a bokken for the gaijin!’ The little boy came scampering out of the house with a second wooden sword in his arms. Struggling to carry an object that was taller than he was, Jiro gave the weapon to Yamato who, bowing with his two hands outstretched, offered the bokken to Jack. Jack stepped forward to take it. ‘NO! You must bow when given the honour of using another’s sword.’ Jack riled at Yamato’s command, but did as he was told. He dearly wanted to handle the weapon, to know how to use it like he had seen Masamoto wield his two swords on the beach. ‘And take it with two hands,’ instructed Yamato as if Jack were a little boy. Grasping it with both hands, Jack found the wooden sword to be surprisingly heavy. He could now appreciate how such a weapon could inflict damage devastating enough to kill.

‘NO! Blade down,’ corrected Yamato, when Jack held the bokken out in front of him as he had seen Yamato do. He turned the bokken the right way up in Jack’s hands. ‘Don’t let the kissaki drop!’ Yamato rolled his eyes in disbelief at Jack’s ignorance. ‘Kissaki?’ questioned Jack. ‘The tip of the bokken. Keep it in line with the your opponent’s throat. One foot forward. One foot back. Wider. You must stand strong.’ Warming to his role as teacher, Yamato paced round Jack, fastidiously adjusting Jack’s stance and form until he was satisfied. ‘That’ll have to do. First, we will practise kihon – the basics. A simple parry and strike.’ Yamato stood opposite Jack and lined his kissaki up with Jack’s. An instant later, he struck Jack’s bokken. The weapon shuddered in Jack’s hands, sending a shock wave of pain up his arms and forcing him to drop it. Yamato’s blade struck forward and stopped a hair’s breadth from Jack’s throat. Yamato stared Jack contemptuously in the face, daring him to move. ‘Don’t they teach you how to fight where you come from? You hold it like a girl,’ admonished Yamato. ‘Pick it up. Don’t grip with your thumb and forefinger next time. That is weak, your hold can be broken easily. Look at mine. Place the little finger of your left hand round the base of the handle. Then wrap the rest of your fingers round the remainder of the hilt. The bottom two fingers should be

tight. Your right hand should be just below the guard, and grip it in the same manner as your left. This is correct tenouchi.’ Yamato was enjoying the spectacle he was making of Jack in front of Akiko and Jiro. He obviously relished the feeling of superiority it gave him, so much so that he failed to notice Akiko’s mortified reaction to his behaviour. No matter, thought Jack. He would soon learn how to use the bokken and then he could teach Yamato a lesson or two. Once Jack had mastered the grip, Yamato repeated the attack. This time Jack kept hold of the bokken. ‘Good. Now you try.’ Jack found the movement of the strike awkward at first. It was difficult to get enough force behind the parry, but Yamato made him repeat the movement again and again until the technique began to flow. They practised through the afternoon, Yamato teaching Jack three other kihon moves: a basic cut, an evasive manoeuvre and a simple defensive block. The kata training was surprisingly hard work and after a while Jack began to tire. Having done little physical exercise since his time on-board ship, the bokken was beginning to feel like lead in his hands. Yamato was clearly pleased to see Jack flagging. ‘Want to try some randori now?’ challenged Yamato. ‘What’s that?’ said Jack, out of breath. ‘Free-sparring. Best out of three?’

‘Excuse me, Yamato,’ interrupted Akiko, hoping to avert the trouble she foresaw coming. ‘May I suggest that you both join me for sencha? You have practised much and should rest.’ ‘No, thank you, Akiko. I’m not thirsty. But Jack looks like he could do with a rest.’ Jack knew Yamato was trying to break him. Jack recognized this moment from his time on-board the Alexandria. The men who had not stood up for themselves the first week were the ones last in line for food, the ones shoved to the hammocks nearest the bilge, the ones lumbered with the worst duties, like scrubbing the scuppers where the crew relieved themselves. Jack had to prove he was not someone who could easily be beaten. If he backed down now, he would forever be trying to regain his ground ‘No, thank you, Akiko. I’m not tired.’ ‘But your arm?’ she insisted. ‘It is not wise to –’ ‘I’ll be fine,’ said Jack, politely cutting her off before turning back to Yamato. ‘Randori, eh? Best out of three. Why not?’ They faced off, kissaki touching. Jack’s hands were slippery with sweat. He tried to remember the moves: the footwork, the parry, the block, the strike. He readied himself, but Yamato struck first. He knocked Jack’s bokken aside and slammed his own down on to Jack’s exposed fingers. Jack cried out in shock and pain, dropping his bokken. ‘Too slow,’ said Yamato, a sadistic smile spreading across his face. ‘I could see you thinking the move before you made it.’

Jack bent to pick up his weapon. His fingers throbbed and he had difficulty closing his hand round the bokken. He gritted his teeth and lined up his kissaki again. This time, he saw Yamato’s bokken twitch and instinctively stepped backwards to evade the first cut. Yamato brought his bokken round for a second time and Jack, more by luck than design, blocked his strike. This infuriated Yamato who piled in with a vicious thrust, which Jack only managed to avoid by twisting away. Yamato hit Jack hard across the back. The blow sent Jack to his knees, his kidneys flaring up in pain and his lungs feeling like they had collapsed. ‘Two–nothing,’ gloated Yamato as Jack writhed on the ground in agony. ‘A bit of advice. Never turn your back on your opponent.’ ‘Enough, Yamato,’ broke in Akiko. ‘He doesn’t know how to fight with a bokken yet. He cannot defend himself!’ Winded and stiff with pain, Jack dragged himself to his feet, using the bokken as a crutch. He refused to give in. This was the actual moment he had to prove himself. He’d always known he wouldn’t win, but he had to draw the line for when they stopped, not Yamato. With an effort, he raised his sword. Yamato looked dumbfounded. ‘Don’t be stupid. Best out of three. I won.’ ‘What? Scared I might beat you?’ The direct challenge spurred Yamato into action and he instantly fell into guard.

Knowing Yamato was watching for telltale signs of his first move, Jack feigned a strike to the left like he had seen the warrior Godai do with the nodachi on the beach. Yamato went to block it and Jack switched offensive, bringing his bokken round hard to the right. Yamato was thrown off-guard and had to block awkwardly, so much so that Jack’s sword cut across his right hand. Inflamed by the unexpected contact, Yamato retaliated with a flurry of blows. They rained down on Jack, who managed to avoid the first two and miraculously block the third, but the fourth cracked Jack across the face. It was as if someone had cut the connection between his brain and the rest of his body. His legs crumpled and he collapsed to the floor. His head rang in agony and little flashes of light sparked across his eyes. Akiko was immediately by his side, calling for Chiro to bring water and towels to stem the blood dripping from his nose. Jiro was pulling on Jack’s sleeve, upset by the unexpected violence. Even Taka-san had appeared and was bending over Jack with concern. Jack could see Yamato standing alone, a thunderous look on his face as everyone disregarded his victory. Jack may have been beaten, but it was he who had ultimately won. ooo000ooo 17 GAIJIN ‘What happened to you?’ wheezed Father Lucius from his bed.

‘I had a fight,’ said Jack defensively, unable to hide the bruises ringing his eyes. ‘Looks to me like you lost. I warned you that the samurai could be ruthless.’ Father Lucius sat up, hacking into his handkerchief. The coughing and yellow sputum were recently accompanied by a fever and shaking chills. Conscious of Masamoto’s order, Father Lucius still insisted that Jack have his lessons, despite fatigue often overwhelming him. But after only a few sentences, they had to stop. ‘Jack, I’m afraid this sickness is defeating me in spite of all the teas, herbs and ointments the local doctor can administer. Even their medicines are no match for this…’ The priest broke into a coughing fit, pain wracked his face and he clenched his chest. Slowly, the coughing subsided to be replaced by the laboured wheezing. ‘I’m sorry, Father,’ said Jack, not knowing what else he could say. The hostility that had characterized their earlier meetings had faded during the course of their lessons into a wary friendship, and Jack did honestly feel concern for the sick priest. ‘No need for pity, Jack. I have done my duty on this earth and will soon be rightfully rewarded in Heaven.’ He made the sign of the cross on his chest. ‘I’ll be better tomorrow, but today you must teach yourself. Please hand me my book.’

Jack reached over to the table and passed over the priest’s thick notebook. ‘This is my life’s work,’ he said, gently caressing its soft leather binding. ‘A Japanese–Portuguese dictionary. I have been compiling this book ever since I came to the Japans over ten years ago. It is the key to unlocking their language and their way of thinking. Using it, the Brotherhood can bring the Word of the Lord to every island of Japan.’ Religious fervour shone in Father Lucius’s rheumy eyes. ‘It’s the only one in existence, Jack,’ he said, and fixed Jack with a grave look. He studied him for several moments before, with a shaky hand, offering the book to Jack. ‘Would you take care of it for me, and if I am to pass from this world, will you ensure that it is placed in the hands of his Eminence, Father Diego Bobadilla, in Osaka?’ ‘Yes, Father,’ promised Jack, unable to refuse the man’s dying wish. ‘It would be an honour.’ ‘No, it would be mine. You have been a good pupil, in spite of your beliefs. Your mother must have been a fine teacher. With Akiko’s continued assistance, you’ll be speaking as fluently as a natural-born Japanese boy before the turn of the year.’ He smiled graciously at Jack, then continued in an unusually honeyed tone. ‘Perhaps you would be so kind as to let me look at your father’s diary in return? I fear my days are shortening on this earth and it

would give me great pleasure to read of another’s worldly adventures.’ Jack immediately stiffened. Had the offer of the dictionary been a ploy to get the rutter? Jack remembered the way the Jesuit’s eyes had gleamed with desire when it had first been presented by Masamoto. Since that day Father Lucius had often mentioned his father’s diary during their lessons. Was it safe? Where did he keep it? Would he care to regale one of his father’s stories? Would he show him a page from the diary? The priest clearly wanted the rutter, if not for himself, then most certainly for the Brotherhood. Jack felt a small spike of anger at Father Lucius’s request and wondered whether the priest’s change of heart had been genuine at all, or merely a ruse to obtain his precious rutter. ‘I am sorry, Father Lucius,’ replied Jack, ‘but as you know, it is private and the only remaining possession of my beloved father.’ ‘I know, I know. No matter.’ The priest seemed too weary to pursue the issue any further. ‘I will see you again tomorrow?’ ‘Yes, Father. Of course.’


That afternoon under the cherry blossom tree, Jack leafed through the pages of the dictionary. Father Lucius had been right to

speak so proudly of his work. It contained reams of Japanese words together with their Portuguese equivalents, detailed notes on grammar, directions for correct pronunciation, and guidance on proper Japanese etiquette. It was truly his magnum opus. ‘Excuse me, Jack,’ said Akiko, approaching Jack from across the little bridge. ‘I hope I’m not disturbing you.’ ‘No, not at all,’ said Jack, putting the dictionary down. ‘You’re welcome to join me, but I thought you were going pearl diving today?’ ‘No, not today,’ said Akiko, with soft disappointment. ‘Why not? You usually do, don’t you?’ ‘Yes…’ She hesitated, clearly considering whether it was appropriate or not to confide in Jack. Then, apparently making her mind up, she knelt down beside him. ‘Mother says that I’m too old to be associating with such people now. She says being an ama is not fitting for a lady of the samurai class and she forbids it.’ ‘Not fitting? Why would she say that?’ ‘Pearl diving can be very dangerous, Jack. Ama sometimes get caught up in rip tides or are attacked by sharks. That is why only lower-caste villagers are given such work.’ ‘So why do you do it?’ asked Jack, somewhat amazed by her revelation.

‘I like it,’ said Akiko emphatically, a keen fire lighting up in her eyes. ‘Down there you get to see shellfish, octopus, sea urchins and sometimes even sharks. Under the water, I can go where I want. Do what I want. I’m free… and that’s such a glorious feeling.’ ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ agreed Jack. ‘I had that same sensation, when the Alexandria was under full sail and I was allowed to stand on its prow. I felt like I was riding the crests of the waves and could conquer the world!’ They both dropped into silent mutual reverie, gazing up at the autumn brown leaves of the cherry blossom tree, sunlight dappling their upturned faces. ‘Are you feeling better today?’ asked Akiko after a while. ‘I’m fine, thank you. Yamato didn’t hit me that hard anyway,’ he replied with obvious bravado. Akiko gave him a doubtful look. ‘Well, my nose hurts like hell,’ Jack finally admitted, ‘and I still have a headache, but I’m much better today.’ ‘I am responsible. I shouldn’t have let you get involved,’ said Akiko, bowing. ‘I apologize for Yamato’s behaviour. He should not have acted like he did.’ ‘Why are you apologizing? It wasn’t your fault.’ ‘Because it happened in my house. I am certain Yamato did not mean to harm you. He merely got carried away in the heat of the moment.’

‘Well, I’d hate to see Yamato when he did mean it,’ said Jack vehemently. ‘I’m so sorry. You must understand, Jack, Yamato is under great pressure from his father. Ever since Tenno was killed, Masamoto expects Yamato to be as skilled a samurai as his brother was, despite being younger. But that does not excuse his actions or him calling you gaijin. I am so sorry.’ ‘Will you stop apologizing for him!’ said Jack, somewhat exasperated. ‘And why does it matter that he calls me gaijin?’ ‘Gaijin means barbarian. It is the name we give to uncivilized foreigners. It’s not very nice and now that you are a member of his family, Yamato is wrong to use such a disrespectful term. It is an insult to you.’ At that moment, Yamato strode out of the house, bokken tucked inside his obi. He gave a purposeful bow in Akiko’s direction, but disregarded Jack’s presence entirely. Jack watched Yamato begin his kata routine, then decided his own course of action. He packed away Father Lucius’s dictionary and stood up. ‘Where are you going?’ asked Akiko, concerned. ‘To get some more practice in,’ said Jack and walked over to where Yamato had commenced his second kata. ‘Back for more?’ asked Yamato incredulously, not breaking off from his training. ‘Why not? I can’t do any worse than yesterday.’

‘You certainly have spirit for a gaijin,’ said Yamato with mild amusement. Jack bit back on his retort. He didn’t wish to ruin his chances of learning more from his rival. Yamato called to Jiro to retrieve a bokken from the house again. ‘Follow what I do. Exactly,’ said Yamato to Jack, their weapons in hand. Yamato stood, his feet together, heels touching. He had slipped his bokken through his obi on his left-hand side. His left hand, grasping it just below the hilt, kept it firmly in place by his hip. ‘Other way up,’ he said, nodding at Jack’s bokken. ‘The blade edge should face towards the sky, so that when you withdraw the sword you are immediately able to make your cut.’ Jack turned the blade over so that the curved edge of the wooden blade was pointing upwards. ‘Good. Now watch me.’ Yamato moved his right hand across his waist and gripped the handle. His right leg slid forwards, dropping into a wide stance. Simultaneously he whipped out his bokken, grasping it with both hands, and sliced downwards. He drove forwards another step, lifting the kissaki up to his imaginary victim’s throat. The attack completed, he then twisted the bokken with a sharp one-handed flick to the right before stepping up carefully and re-sheathing his weapon. ‘Now your turn.’

Jack went to mimic Yamato’s movements, but had not even grabbed the hilt before he was interrupted. ‘No! Your hand must stay close to your body. If you have it out there, your enemy will just chop it off.’ Jack began again. At every stage Yamato stopped him and corrected his movements. Jack quickly grew frustrated. There was so much to think about and Yamato was unflinching in his criticism. ‘What’s the final flick for?’ asked Jack irritably. ‘That move is called chiburi,’ replied Yamato, giving a sadistic smile. ‘It shakes your enemy’s blood from the blade.’


The whole afternoon was spent repeating that single kata over and over again. Little by little Jack progressed through each step of the sequence until he was able to execute it in one complete move. He was by no means fluid, but he had learnt the core techniques. The sun was beginning to set by the time Yamato brought the session to an end. ‘Arigatō, Yamato,’ said Jack, bowing courteously. ‘Dōmo, gaijin.’ ‘My name is Jack.’ And he held Yamato’s imperious look, challenging him to show appropriate respect.

‘Your name is gaijin until you prove otherwise,’ he said, resheathing his bokken. Yamato then spun on his heels and, without returning Jack’s bow, disappeared into the house. ooo000ooo 18 BEST OUT OF THREE The next day, Jack arrived early in the garden to make sure he was practising the kata before Yamato turned up. Yamato made no comment, but Jack’s point had been made. He would not be put off bokken practice, however disrespectfully Yamato acted. Yamato fell in beside Jack and began to synchronize his training with Jack’s. Yamato was by no means a skilled martial artist. He had only been training properly for a year. But he had clearly inherited some of his father’s ability with a weapon and knew enough to teach Jack the basics of kenjutsu – the art of the sword. As autumn gave way to winter, Jack steadily improved. At first the various kata moves were awkward and stilted, but gradually they began to flow and the bokken became a natural extension of his arms. Even Yamato could not deny Jack’s progress. Their randori became more evenly matched and each time Yamato needed greater skill to defeat Jack. Akiko, however, did not approve of Jack’s decision to train with Yamato. She thought Jack should wait until Masamoto returned.

Masamoto could train him properly in the art of the bokken, and without Jack constantly getting injured. However, Akiko soon realized Jack would not be dissuaded and resigned herself to administering herbal ointments for the numerous cuts and bruises he sustained during randori. As a compromise, Akiko had insisted that if Jack was to train in the martial arts of the samurai then he should also acquaint himself with the finer and more refined aspects of what it meant to be a samurai, in particular formal Japanese etiquette. She reminded Jack that Masamoto would expect him, as his adopted son, to be well versed in their ways, and that Jack should not disappoint him. Akiko demonstrated the accepted ways of bowing, sitting and rising in the presence of a samurai and master of the household. She showed him the correct manner in which to offer and receive gifts, using both hands. She helped Jack perfect his Japanese language skills, detailing the correct forms of address when meeting people of differing status and relationship. Jack thought his head would explode during each and every one of Akiko’s etiquette lessons. There were so many customs and codes of behaviour that he was almost paralysed for fear of offending someone. Perhaps this was the reason why he enjoyed randori with Yamato so much. It allowed him to be free, to control, in some small way, his own actions and destiny. ‘Best out of three?’ challenged Jack one day as the first dusting of snow settled over the garden. ‘Why not, gaijin?’ said Yamato, taking up his fighting stance.

Akiko, who was teaching Jiro to trace kanji, the Japanese form of writing, in the snow, gave her usual disapproving look before returning to Jiro’s studies. Jack checked his posture, adjusted his grip and raised his kissaki. Yamato immediately struck, parrying Jack’s bokken clear and thrusting forward. Jack swept his body sideways, evading the blade, and brought his own weapon round on Yamato. Yamato effortlessly blocked it and countered with a rising cut. Jack jumped backwards, the kissaki barely missing his chin. He heard Akiko let out a worried gasp. Yamato drove forwards and caught Jack on the shoulder with a downward strike. Jack winced under the blow. ‘One to me,’ said Yamato, relishing his victory. They faced off. Jack did not make the same mistake this time and came in straight for the kill. He knocked Yamato’s bokken aside, thrusting the kissaki into Yamato’s face. Yamato stumbled backwards, desperately seeking to avoid being stabbed. He slashed wildly with his bokken in retaliation and Jack had to retreat to avoid getting caught by the flurry of blows. Jack baited him by lowering his kissaki. Yamato spotted the opening and, raising his bokken high, sliced downward at Jack’s exposed head. Jack slipped to Yamato’s outside and cut across his stomach. Yamato crumpled, defeated by the unexpected manoeuvre.

Jiro, who had lost interest in Akiko’s kanji lesson as soon as the randori had commenced, let out a loud whoop, shouting ‘Jack won! First time! Jack won!’ ‘One all, I believe,’ said Jack as he helped the winded Yamato back to his feet. ‘Lucky strike, gaijin,’ wheezed Yamato, shrugging off Jack’s helping hand. Incensed at his lapse of judgement, Yamato broke with fighting etiquette and attacked Jack without waiting to match guards. He swiftly struck at Jack’s bokken and cut downwards at Jack’s neck. Jack just managed to spin out of harm’s reach, stepping back to create distance between himself and Yamato. Yamato cut across at Jack’s feet, forcing Jack to jump the blade. Jack lost his balance but somehow blocked Yamato’s returning strike to his stomach. ‘Yamato!’ reprimanded Akiko, but he resolutely ignored her. Yamato slammed his bokken up under Jack’s, knocking it skyward out of Jack’s grip. He then kicked Jack hard in the chest, throwing him back against the cherry blossom tree. Pressing forward his attack, Yamato swung his weapon directly at Jack’s head. At the last second, more out of instinct than design, Jack ducked and felt the tree shudder as the bokken collided with the trunk, a shower of snow dropping from its branches. This had turned serious, realized Jack, and he charged forward with all his might, driving his shoulder into Yamato’s gut. Yamato flew backwards and they landed in a heap.

‘Enough! Enough!’ pleaded Akiko, while Jiro jumped up and down with excitement at the apparent wrestling match. Jack rolled off, desperately searching for his own bokken. He saw it at the foot of the bridge and scrambled for it. Yamato immediately pursued Jack, screaming at the top of his lungs, his bokken held high primed to strike. Jack snatched up his weapon and, ignoring Akiko’s cries for calm, ran past her on to the bridge. Hearing Yamato close on his heels, Jack turned on the spot bringing his own bokken slicing through the air at Yamato’s approaching head. Also aiming for Jack’s head, Yamato collided with Jack’s bokken, and the blades juddered to a halt inches from one another’s throats. ‘Draw!’ shouted Jiro in delight. At that very moment, Taka-san appeared and the two fighters lowered their bokken. ‘Jack-kun!’ he called, approaching the three of them. ‘Father Lucius requests your attendance. Urgently.’ Jack knew that it could only mean one thing. He bowed to Yamato and Akiko then hurried after Taka-san. Entering Father Lucius’s room, Jack was struck by an overpowering stench of vomit, stale sweat and urine. It reeked of mortality. A guttering candle feebly lit the gloom. From the far corner, he could hear the priest’s laboured breathing.

‘Father Lucius?’ Jack edged closer to the shadowy figure lying supine on the futon. His foot came into contact with something in the darkness and looking down he saw a small bucket, brimming with vomit. Jack retched but forced himself forward, bending over the bed. The candlelight spluttered then flared and Jack was confronted with the hollow, shrivelled face of Father Lucius. The priest’s skin was a pallid blue and moist with oily sweat. His hair, thin and streaked with grey, was plastered in limp strands over his sunken cheeks. Specks of blood mottled his cracked lips and there were now permanent black shadows under his eyes. ‘Father Lucius?’ said Jack, almost hoping the priest was already dead and no longer suffering such torment. ‘Jack?’ croaked Father Lucius, his pale tongue running the length of his cracked lips. ‘Yes, Father?’ ‘I must ask for your forgiveness…’ ‘For what?’ ‘I’m sorry, Jack… son of a heretic though you are… you have spirit…’ He spoke in short bursts, taking harsh wheezing breaths in between each utterance. Jack listened, saddened by the pitiful state of the priest. He was Jack’s last link to the far side of the world and, despite the constant preaching, he had come to respect the man.

The priest too had seemingly warmed to him, even if he still refused to be converted. ‘I misjudged you… I enjoyed our lessons… I wish I could have saved you…’ ‘Don’t worry about me, Father,’ consoled Jack, ‘my own God will look after me. Just as yours will.’ Father Lucius let out a small sobbing moan. ‘I’m sorry… I had to tell them… it was my duty…’ he cried feebly. ‘Tell who what?’ asked Jack. ‘Please understand… I didn’t know they’d kill for it… May God have mercy…’ ‘What did you say?’ urged Jack. The priest continued to move his lips, trying to say something else, but his words weren’t audible. With the faintest of coughs, Father Lucius exhaled his last breath and died. ooo000ooo 19 MASAMATO’S RETURN The cherry blossom tree had shed all its leaves now; a skeleton against the sky, its bare branches burdened with snow. Jack walked through the garden, passing beneath its shadow. Death seemed to

hang all around. What had Father Lucius meant, ‘I didn’t know they’d kill for it’? Was he talking about the rutter? If so, that must mean he was in danger. But from whom? His thoughts were interrupted by a soft voice from behind. ‘I’m so sorry for the passing of Father Lucius. You must be very sad.’ Akiko, who was wearing a plain white kimono, appeared like a snowflake in a world of white. ‘Thank you,’ he said, bowing, ‘but I don’t think he was any friend of mine.’ ‘What makes you say that?’ gasped Akiko, shocked at his cold sentiment. Jack took a breath before answering. Could he trust her? Could he trust anyone here? Yet Akiko was the closest he had to a friend. He had no one else to turn to. ‘When Father Lucius died,’ Jack explained, ‘he said something very strange. He implied someone wanted to kill me, then died weeping and asking for God’s forgiveness.’ ‘Why would anyone want to kill you, Jack?’ asked Akiko, her nose wrinkling in bewilderment. Jack considered her. Could his trust extend to revealing his father’s rutter? No, he decided, he couldn’t reveal the whole truth. Not yet, anyway. His father’s rutter was the only possession he had of any worth. He could only assume they wanted it, but since he

didn’t know who they were, the fewer who knew of its true purpose the better. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps they don’t like gaijin?’ lied Jack. ‘Who are they?’ ‘I don’t know. Father Lucius died before he could say any more.’ ‘We should tell someone.’ ‘No! Who’d believe me? They’d say it was the ravings of a dying man.’ ‘But you seem to believe it,’ said Akiko, eyeing him closely. She knew he wasn’t revealing everything. She was no fool, but Jack also knew that Japanese courtesy prevented her from pressing for the answer. Jack shrugged. ‘Perhaps I misheard him. I’m not certain what he said.’ ‘Clearly,’ she said, letting the matter go. ‘But just in case you did hear right, you should be careful. Keep your bokken with you at night. I will ask my mother to leave a lamp burning. I’ll tell her I’m troubled by nightmares. That way any intruder will believe someone is always up.’ ‘Thank you, Akiko. But I’m sure it’ll turn out to be nothing,’ said Jack, sceptical of his own words even as he spoke them. But Jack was right. Nothing happened.

Father Lucius was buried according to his customs, and Jack returned to his routine of Japanese study with Akiko and kenjutsu with Yamato. A few days later a mounted samurai arrived with a letter announcing Masamoto’s return to Toba. He would be here within the week. The household became a flurry of activity. Hiroko personally visited the market, ensuring Masamoto’s specialities would be in the house, and hired additional help for the cook to prepare a celebratory meal. Chiro scrubbed all the floors, washed bedding and kimonos, and prepared Masamoto’s room. Uekiya swept the paths and somehow made the garden appear beautiful, even in its stark winter state. The night before Masamoto was due to arrive, the whole household went to bed early, eager to be fresh and alert for the following day. Jiro was almost bouncing off the paper walls with excitement and it took Hiroko several attempts to settle him. Yamato’s mood, on the other hand, had darkened with his father’s imminent arrival and he practised his kata late into the night, aware that he would have to impress his father greatly to gain favour. Jack’s mind whirled as he lay down on his futon, staring at the muted glow of the night lamp through the shoji. He had no idea what was expected of him during his audience with Masamoto. Would he have to prove himself like Yamato? Did he have to fight? Was it to be a test of his Japanese language ability? Or was it all

three? Worst of all, what if he caused serious offence through a simple lapse in etiquette? Masamoto was clearly a man who did not expect to be questioned and had a killing streak that ran deep in his veins. He was austere and brusque, and his severe scarring put Jack on edge. He wondered what had happened in the man’s life to disfigure the samurai so badly. Yet all those around Masamoto honoured him and Akiko thought him to be ‘one of the greatest samurai to have lived’. He had re-set Jack’s broken arm, a skill beyond that of even the most experienced English surgeons. Jack realized there was so much more to Masamoto than a scarred face and a swift sword. A shadow passed across the night lamp, briefly blacking out Jack’s room. Jack instinctively tensed, but there appeared to be no one there. Not even the sound of a footstep. Possibly it had been Yamato returning to his quarters or else a breeze dipping the flame, surmised Jack. He turned over to settle down to sleep. He closed his eyes and imagined himself, as he often did at night, standing on the prow of the Alexandria, returning home to England, triumphant, with his father piloting the ship, the hold crammed with gold, silk and exotic eastern spices, Jess waving to them from the harbour… Another shadow passed across the room. Jack opened his eyes, having sensed the room darken. Behind him, he heard the shoji slide softly back.

No one ever entered his bedroom during the night. Ever so quietly, Jack reached for his bokken, lying by the edge of his futon. He held his breath, listening intently. There was the unmistakable creak of the wooden veranda and the slightest pad of a foot coming to rest on the tatami as someone stepped into his room. Jack spun off his futon, rolling to one knee, simultaneously bringing the bokken up to defend himself. A flash of silver flew past his face and a shuriken thwacked into a wooden beam behind him. Jack froze. Crouched in front of him was the shadow warrior, his single green eye fixed upon Jack. ‘Dokugan Ryu!’ uttered Jack in disbelief. ooo000ooo 20 AKIKO Dragon Eye momentarily faltered at the mention of his name. Jack seized the initiative. There was no way he could defeat the ninja, but there was still a chance he could escape. Jack flung himself with all his might at the outside wall of his bedroom. The thin wooden crossbeams splintered and the fragile paper tiles disintegrated as his body ripped through the wall.

Semi-stunned by the collision, Jack staggered to his feet, snatched up his bokken and, without a backward glance in Dragon Eye’s direction, sprinted away down the veranda. Jack caught a glimpse of two shadows flitting through the garden and another one entering a room further ahead. Akiko! He had to warn her. The noise of the breaking shoji had roused the household and the cook stepped out on to the veranda to see what was happening. Bleary-eyed and bemused at the young gaijin running straight towards him, they almost collided but Jack jumped aside at the last second. As he did so, a second shuriken flew over his shoulder and plunged itself into the neck of the cook. The cook registered a look of mild surprise, shock blocking out the pain of the weapon now embedded in his throat. He gurgled something indecipherable at Jack, then flopped to floor. Jack kept running, Dragon Eye in deadly pursuit. Jack switched direction and dived through an open shoji just as Taka-san emerged brandishing both his swords. Dragon Eye was caught off-guard by Taka-san’s sudden appearance. Taka-san, battle-hardened and courageous, gauged the situation in a single glance. With calculated precision he cut at the ninja’s head. Dragon Eye evaded the strike, bending effortlessly like a blade of grass in a breeze, and Taka-san’s katana sliced through thin air, passing just above the ninja’s upturned face.

Then Dragon Eye twisted and let loose a lightning kick into Takasan’s midriff which sent the samurai careering into a nearby pillar. Dragon Eye drew his own sword from the saya strapped to his back and advanced on Taka-san. The ninjatō with its distinctive square tsuba, hand guard, had a straighter, shorter blade than the katana of the samurai, but was no less deadly. Dragon Eye attacked without remorse. Taka-san blitzed Dragon Eye with his own barrage of lethal blows and drove the ninja back along the veranda. Meanwhile, Jack escaped into another room, only to be confronted by a second ninja. Fortunately for Jack, this ninja had his back turned, focused on fighting someone else who was frantically fending him off. But the ninja’s victim suddenly lost their footing and dropped to the floor. Jack glimpsed Yamato’s face, drained white with fear, staring up at his assailant. The ninja raised his ninjatō to deliver the killing strike on Yamato. ‘Nooooo!’ screamed Jack. All the confusion, fear, pain and anger he had suffered since his father had been murdered welled up like a volcano. The ninja were responsible for the death of his father, his friends, his crew, and now were attacking the only other family he knew. Jack’s muscles exploded with burning aggression and, without thinking, he charged the ninja. Startled, the ninja spun round, his ninjatō at the ready, but Jack drove his bokken down with every ounce of strength he possessed

on to the ninja’s sword arm. Jack heard a sickening crack as the ninja’s wrist snapped and the man let loose a howl of pain. Jack brought his weapon round for a second attack, trying to recall everything Yamato had taught him. He aimed for the ninja’s head. The ninja miraculously ducked, then flung himself out of the way, picking up the dropped sword with his undamaged left hand as he rolled. The ninja snarled at Jack, his broken wrist hanging useless by his side. Jack backed away, suddenly aware of the danger he was now in. He was trying to fight a ninja! The ninja shifted his grip on the sword and Jack noted his opponent was not so comfortable using his left arm. Realizing he would only get one shot at this, Jack prayed that this small advantage would give him the opening he needed. But where should he strike? Every time he moved, the ninja instantly made to counter. Then Masamoto’s duel flashed before his eyes – the bluff that had made Godai over-confident and permitted Masamoto to win. Jack let his kissaki drop, feigning defeat exactly as Masamoto had done. The ninja, sensing an easy kill, hissed and slid forward. He drew his weapon back to cut at Jack’s head with a backhanded slice. At the last second, Jack side-slipped the sword and brought his own bokken straight across the man’s gut. The ninja buckled to the floor, heaving like a felled boar. Jack spun round on his heels and brought

his bokken down hard on to the back of the man’s head. With a thunk, the ninja dropped unconscious to the tatami. Jack stood over the prone body, astounded at his own strength, his bokken trembling uncontrollably in his hands, the adrenaline pumping through his veins. ‘Where did you learn that move?’ asked Yamato, hurriedly getting to his feet. ‘From your father,’ said Jack, his mouth thick and dry with shock. ‘Arigatō, gaij–… Jack,’ said Yamato, deliberately correcting himself and giving a brief but respectful bow. Their eyes locked and, for a second, an unspoken bond of comradeship passed between them. ‘We need to find Akiko,’ said Jack urgently, breaking the moment. ‘Hai!’ agreed Yamato, running out on to the veranda and along to Akiko’s room, Jack following close behind. Taka-san could be heard still battling with Dragon Eye, and Jack glanced over his shoulder to see Taka-san driving the ninja back towards the little bridge. ‘Listen,’ breathed Yamato, but from the outside Akiko’s room was ominously silent. Yamato pulled back the shoji to reveal the inert body of a girl, her blood spreading in a large red pool on the tatami.

‘NO! Akiko!’ shouted Jack. She lay face down on the floor, her arms outspread as if still vainly trying to escape death. Jack knelt beside the body, his eyes welling up with hot angry tears. He reached over and pulled back the hair from her face, to reveal the porcelain features of Chiro, her maid. Jack anxiously glanced up at Yamato. Where was Akiko? Then they heard the sound of movement in the adjoining room. They flung open the inner shoji to discover Akiko facing not one but two armed ninja. She held a short staff in one hand and her unwrapped obi in the other. One of the ninja wielded a short tantō, the other a ninjatō. They attacked simultaneously. Akiko did not hesitate. She flicked the long band of her obi into the eyes of the ninja with the sword. Like a whip, it cracked across his face, momentarily blinding him. The ninja with the tantō, surged forward and slashed at her face. In one flowing motion, Akiko blocked it with her short staff, stepped between the two ninja, and chopped her obi hand down on to the neck of her assailant. The ninja, stunned by the blow, dropped his tantō and staggered backwards against the far wall. The other ninja let out a venomous hiss and ran at her with his sword. Akiko spun on her attacker and, rapidly twirling her obi, wound it round the ninja’s outstretched sword arm. She tugged hard on her obi, but in so doing drew the weapon straight towards her.

Jack shouted a warning. But she deftly evaded the blade and purposefully guided it in the direction of the other ninja. The ninja was now so off balance that he couldn’t stop his forward momentum and his sword sunk deep into his comrade’s chest. Akiko had been so quick that Jack and Yamato had barely stepped into the room before it was all over. The ninja swiftly withdrew his sword, but was too late. His comrade, choking with blood, slumped dead on the tatami. Turning, he faced the three children – a girl, a boy and a gaijin! They stood their ground, raising their weapons as one. Unnerved by their daring, he shot one glance at his fallen comrade and fled. ‘How… did you do that?’ stammered Jack, astounded at Akiko’s lightning skills. ‘Japanese women don’t just wear kimonos, Jack,’ she replied, indignant at his incredulity. Outside, they heard Taka-san shouting. ‘Quick! Taka-san needs our help,’ she said, hurrying to the door ahead of the two boys. They raced out into the garden just in time to see Dragon Eye run Taka-san through with his sword. All three of them screamed at the top of their lungs and charged Dragon Eye as one. Dragon Eye stepped away from Taka-san’s body, pulling his sword out, and turned to confront them. Taka-san crumpled to the ground, clutching his bleeding stomach and hacking up blood. Jack,

Akiko and Yamato formed a protective ring round their wounded friend. ‘Young samurai! How novel!’ laughed Dragon Eye, amused at the absurd sight of three children wielding weapons. ‘Not too young to die, though,’ he added with sinister malevolence. The two other ninja emerged out of the darkness, weapons at the ready. Jack noted that one of them cradled a broken wrist to his chest. Clearly didn’t hit him hard enough, thought Jack bitterly. ‘Rutter,’ hissed Dragon Eye, his solitary green eye flaring at Jack. ‘Where is it?’ ooo000ooo 21 NITEN ICHI RYŪ ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Jack, thinking on his feet. Akiko and Yamato exchanged puzzled glances. Was Jack the reason for the attack? ‘Liar!’ countered Dragon Eye. ‘We wouldn’t be here unless they knew you had it.’ Suddenly there was a high whistling in the air and the soft sound of a fleshy impact. The ninja with the broken wrist fell face down on the snowy ground, an arrow quivering in his back.

‘Masamoto!’ spat Dragon Eye. Masamoto, swords drawn, charged into the garden flanked by four samurai. Three more samurai thundered across the veranda, stringing fresh arrows on to their bows. ‘Another time, gaijin,’ promised Dragon Eye, before fleeing with the remaining ninja over the bridge. Yamato dragged Akiko and Jack to the ground as arrows shot overhead. The first arrow caught the trailing ninja in the leg. The second pierced his throat. The third was targeted on Dragon Eye, who leapt cat-like into the cherry blossom tree, the arrow flying beneath him and embedding itself in the trunk. Dragon Eye swung from the lower branch, dislodging a thick curtain of snow, and deftly flipped himself over the wall, before escaping into the night. ‘By Akuma! Who was that?’ demanded Masamoto as he levelled with them. ‘Dragon Eye,’ said Jack, getting back to his feet. ‘Dokugan Ryu?’ echoed Masamoto, incredulous, then shouted at the nearest samurai. ‘Captain! Fan out. Secure the house. Raise all our samurai from the village. By the memory of my son, Tenno, find this so-called Dragon and destroy him!’ The captain barked orders at his retinue of samurai and they disappeared into the night. Masamoto, beckoning a heavyset samurai and a distraught Hiroko over from the house, turned back to Jack, Yamato and Akiko, who still knelt upon the ground cradling the wounded Taka-san in her arms.

‘Kuma-san here will look after you all. He is one of my most loyal samurai. Don’t worry about Taka-san, Akiko,’ he said, noting the pleading look in her eyes. ‘I will have him tended to. Now go!’ The next day, Jack, Akiko and Yamato were summoned to see Masamoto in his chamber. ‘Be seated,’ he ordered curtly. Masamoto, sitting in his usual place on the raised platform, appeared to Jack to be less composed than on previous occasions. His scarring was more inflamed and his voice tight and hoarse. Hiroko poured him sencha. ‘Dokugan Ryu has not been found,’ he said bluntly, clearly displeased at his samurais’ failure. ‘My scouts had word of a sighting of ninja from Matsuzaka village, ten ri from here. We came as fast as we could. However, our horses were not swift enough to save Chiro.’ Hiroko stifled a sob and Masamoto signed for her to make a discreet exit. They all knew she was grief-stricken by the loss of her faithful maid. ‘Masamoto-sama, may I ask how Taka-san is?’ enquired Akiko. ‘He is comfortable, Akiko-chan. His wound is deep, but I have been told he will recover with time. Dokugan Ryu is a formidable enemy and he fought with valour.’ Masamoto scrutinized all of them.

‘He was fortunate, though, to have you three by his side. You acted with true bushido. Do you know what that is, Jack-kun?’ ‘No, Masamoto-sama,’ replied Jack and bowed as he had been taught by Akiko. ‘Bushido means “Way of the Warrior”, Jack-kun. It is our samurai code of conduct. It is unwritten and unsaid. It is our way of life. Bushido is only known through action.’ Masamoto took a deep draught of his sencha before continuing. ‘The seven virtues of bushido are rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honour and loyalty. Last night, each of you demonstrated these virtues through your actions.’ He let the weight of his words hang in the air. All three bowed low in appreciation. ‘I have one question, though. For I’m mystified as to why Dokugan Ryu should rear his head again. I cannot believe he’s still under the employ of my daimyo’s enemies. That threat has passed. The men responsible for that assassination attempt are now all dead, by my own hand. I can only assume he has a new mission, but how that involves my family again I do not know. So, did Dokugan Ryu give you any indication as to why he dares attack the sanctity of this house?’ Jack remained silent, suddenly feeling hot and uncomfortable under his kimono. He could sense Masamoto’s eyes on him. Should he reveal the truth about the rutter? Chiro had died because of it, yet his father had strictly commanded that he keep it secret. The rutter was his lifeline home and until Jack knew who wanted the

rutter, he could not reveal the book’s true purpose to anyone, not even to Masamoto. ‘Jack…’ began Yamato. But Akiko glared at Yamato, her eyes clearly stating that it was Jack’s duty to tell Masamoto if he knew anything. Not Yamato’s. ‘Yes, Yamato?’ ‘Jack…’ Yamato waivered, ‘saved my life. He defeated a ninja with his bokken.’ ‘Jack-kun, you have skill in weaponry? My, my, you have surpassed my expectations,’ said Masamoto with a surprised expression, his question about Dokugan Ryu momentarily forgotten. ‘I sensed from the first time I laid eyes upon you that you possessed strength of character. Indeed the essence of bushido spirit.’ ‘It was Yamato’s training that made it possible, Masamotosama,’ replied Jack, keen to give Yamato the credit in order to impress his father. He also hoped it would lead the conversation away from the rutter. ‘Excellent. But he is no teacher,’ stated Masamoto with no malice or intent, but his blunt comment cut deep at Yamato’s pride. Jack felt sorry for Yamato. Nothing he did ever seemed good enough to gain Masamoto’s respect. His own father, on the other hand, had always been quick to recognize his achievements. A bitter pang of grief swept through Jack as he thought how proud his father would have been. He had defeated a ninja!

‘Jack-kun. You have proven yourself worthy to follow the Way of the Warrior. I decree therefore that you are to train at the Niten Ichi Ryū, my “One School Of Two Heavens”. Whatever Dokugan Ryu’s intentions are, you’ll be safer under my direct supervision. Tomorrow we shall leave for Kyoto.’ ooo000ooo 22 THE TOKAIDO ROAD Dawn had barely broken when Jack was roused from his bed by the noise of horses’ hooves and the curt shout of a commanding samurai bringing their troop to a halt outside the house. Jack gathered together what few possessions he had: his spare kimono and obi, extra tabi, a pair of sandals, his bokken and, most important of all, his father’s rutter. He picked up the priest’s dictionary, not forgetting his promise to deliver it to Father Bobadilla in Osaka when the chance arose, and stuffed it along with the other items in a shoulder bag. With a final check to ensure the rutter was safely stored at the bottom, away from prying eyes, he stepped out on to the veranda. A thin orange haze lit the winter sky, and Jack could make out the tracery of the cherry blossom tree, its branches silhouetted against the crisp, white landscape. The samurai’s arrow was still buried in its trunk, a deadly reminder that Dragon Eye was out there, somewhere, bent upon stealing the rutter. Jack shuddered and hugged himself against the chill of morning. ‘Good morning, Jack-kun.’

Uekiya the gardener had shuffled up and was bowing low by Jack’s side. ‘Good morning, Uekiya-san, what are you doing up so early?’ ‘Jack-kun, please accept this humble gift.’ The old man handed him a small wooden carrying case, opening up the lid to reveal a tiny potted plant within. ‘What is it?’ asked Jack. ‘It is bonsai,’ explained Uekiya, ‘a miniature sakura tree, just like the one you sit under in this garden.’ Jack examined the little plant. It was a perfect cherry blossom tree, yet not much larger than the span of his hand. ‘Sakura bloom in April,’ explained Uekiya with tenderness. ‘The blossom is brief, but beautiful. Like life.’ ‘Arigatō, Uekiya-san. But I don’t have anything to give you in return.’ ‘That is not necessary. You have given me great pleasure every day you have enjoyed my garden. That is all an old gardener could wish for.’ ‘Jack-kun! Jack-kun!’ beckoned Hiroko, scurrying out of the house. ‘You must hurry. It is time to go.’ ‘In Kyoto, look upon this bonsai and remember old Uekiya and his garden?’

‘I will,’ said Jack, bowing his gratitude. He realized that he would miss everything in this garden, the wooden bridge spanning the stream, the trickle of the waterfall, and most of all the shade and shelter of the cherry blossom tree itself. Hiroko ushered him towards the front of the house. Jack glanced back over his shoulder one last time and saw the old man bow low, holding it to mark respect. He was so still it was as if he grew out of the very earth itself. ‘How do I look after bonsai?’ called Jack. Uekiya looked up. ‘Prune it and water a little every day, but not too much…’ he began, but the rest of his words were lost as Jack turned the corner. Hiroko led him through the front gate, where a troop of samurai and their horses was gathered. Final preparations were being made for the journey and Jack could see Yamato mounting a horse at the head of the column, next to Masamoto. ‘Just a moment, Jack-kun,’ said Hiroko, disappearing back into the house. She returned almost immediately with a neatly wrapped kimono made of a deep burgundy-coloured silk. ‘You will need this for ceremonies and festivals. It bears the phoenix kamon, the family crest of Masamoto,’ she said, small tears welling in her eyes at his departure. ‘You will be safer under Masamoto-sama’s watchful eye in Kyoto than you can be here.’

‘Arigatō, Hiroko-san,’ said Jack, taking the gift with both hands and admiring it. ‘It is truly magnificent.’ A heavyset samurai, with dark, bushy eyebrows and a large moustache that appeared to grow directly out of his nostrils, approached on a horse. He was dressed in a dark-brown kimono and riding coat. As he drew closer, Jack recognized him. It was Masamoto’s trusted samurai. Kuma-san. ‘Jack-kun! You are to ride with me,’ he commanded, patting the back of his saddle. Jack placed the new kimono in his shoulder bag, together with the bonsai tree, and secured them in an empty saddlebag. Kumasan offered his hand and Jack mounted the horse. He passed Jack a thick cloak to ward off the cold. ‘And remember to bathe!’ admonished Hiroko, giving the departing Jack a rueful smile. As they trotted to the front, Jack’s eyes suddenly burned and he had to blink back tears. He would be sad to leave Toba. This had been his home since arriving in the summer. He had no idea when or if he would ever return. He waved goodbye to Hiroko, who bowed back. Then he realized he had not seen Akiko. Where was she? He had to say farewell. Jack desperately looked around, unable to get down from the horse. Eventually he spied her behind a group of mounted samurai. She was riding her own white stallion, the same one Jack had seen her with that first morning in Japan.

‘Akiko!’ called Jack, ‘I was worried I wouldn’t see you to say goodbye.’ ‘Goodbye?’ She gave Jack a perplexed look and trotted over. ‘But Jack, I am coming to Kyoto.’ ‘What? But we’re going to train to be samurai warriors.’ ‘Women are samurai too, Jack,’ said Akiko, giving Jack an affronted look, and spurred her horse onwards before he could reply. There was a cry of ‘Ikinasai!’ and the column of horses set off. Jack became aware of someone sprinting up alongside his horse. ‘Bye bye, Jack Fwesher!’ shouted Jiro enthusiastically. ‘Goodbye, Jiro,’ replied Jack, waving back. Then the samurai took off up the hill, leaving the little boy lost in a flurry of snow. Climbing out of the harbour, the troop of samurai wound their way through the terraced paddy fields to join a narrow dirt road. At the lip of the hill, Jack looked back on the port of Toba. It appeared so small now, the boats like petals on a pond. The torii in the harbour glowed fire-red in the early morning light. Then it was gone, lost behind the rise of the hill. Kyoto was forty ri, some ninety miles, from Toba, Kuma-san told Jack. They would ride until midday, rest, then push on to the village of Hisai. From there, they would head to Kameyama and join the main Tokaido Road, striking inland to approach Kyoto from the

southern end of Lake Biwa. The whole journey would take three days. The route itself was empty of traffic, though little pockets of life came in and out of view along the way. Coastal villages with boats tied to stakes at the shoreline, and fishermen repairing their nets. Paddy fields dotted with farmers tending the frozen rice terraces. A local vegetable market. A roadside inn opening up for business for the day. Half-wild dogs that barked and chased the horses. A lone merchant making for the Tokaido Road, his back laden with goods. Jack noticed that as Masamoto and his entourage passed each in turn, every villager bowed in deep respect, keeping their heads low until the whole train had gone by. When they halted for lunch at a roadside inn, Jack sought out Akiko and found her tending her horse. ‘That’s a fine horse,’ said Jack, not knowing quite what else to say, still embarrassed by his tactless remark earlier that morning. ‘Yes, Jack. It was my father’s,’ she replied, not looking at him. ‘Your father’s? What happened to him?’ ‘My father was Dāte Kenshin. He was a great warrior, but he died at the hands of his enemies. He was not allowed to commit seppuku and was therefore shamed in death.’ ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…’ stumbled Jack. ‘What’s seppuku?’ ‘Ritual suicide. It would have been an honourable death for my father. But don’t be sorry. It happened many years ago. This horse and the swords in my mother’s house are all that’s left of him.’

Jack recalled the red and black swords on the stand in Hiroko’s dining room. It made him think about the only evidence he possessed of his father’s existence – the rutter. He recognized in Akiko’s eyes the same bitter sense of loss that he experienced each day. ‘Well, I am still sorry,’ he said, wishing he could comfort her more. ‘I also apologize for this morning. I upset you. I had no idea a woman could be a samurai. In England, it is only the men who do the fighting.’ ‘I accept your apology, Jack,’ she said, bowing, and her face brightened. ‘Sometimes I forget you are not Japanese.’ ‘How can you? Who else here has blond hair and a big nose!’ he said, pointing at the throng of samurai all with dark hair and small features. They both laughed out loud. A samurai came over, a bemused look on his face, and handed them each a bowl of rice and smoked fish. Sitting down to eat, Akiko said, ‘There have always been female samurai, Jack. Six hundred years ago, at the time of the great Gempei War, lived Tomoe Gozen whose courageous deeds are honoured with a verse in the Heike Monogatari.’ ‘The Heike what?’ asked Jack, through a mouthful of rice. ‘The Heike Mono-ga-tari is the epic tale of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for the control of Japan. Tomoe Gozen was a female general for the almighty daimyo Minamoto Yoshinaka. She rode into battle and fought as skilfully and valiantly as any male samurai.’

‘Go on,’ encouraged Jack, taking another portion of smoked fish with his chopsticks. ‘What was she like?’ ‘The Heike describes Tomoe as exceptionally beautiful, with white skin and long dark hair. She was an outstanding archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand men, ready to confront god or demon, mounted or on foot.’ ‘She sounds invincible.’ ‘To many samurai she was. Some thought her so powerful that they believed she was the reincarnation of a river goddess.’ Akiko put down her bowl and looked directly at Jack. ‘She could break wild horses with unparalleled skill and could ride down perilous descents unscathed. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his advance guard. She wielded a katana and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valour than any of his other warriors.’ Jack was stunned into silence. There was more to Akiko’s fervour than a simple respect for Tomoe Gozen’s achievements. Akiko clearly had something to prove – as a female samurai herself. ‘What did Dragon Eye mean by a… rutter?’ asked Akiko suddenly, keeping her voice low so that the samurai eating nearby wouldn’t overhear. ‘Err… I don’t know,’ mumbled Jack, taken off-guard by her directness. He knew this was a poor answer. He had been struggling with his conscience ever since he’d decided to keep quiet about the rutter.

‘But Dragon Eye demanded it from you. What is it?’ ‘It’s nothing…’ Jack made a move to leave. He was not used to such forthright questioning from Akiko. ‘Jack, it is a mighty nothing for Dragon Eye to risk his life for… and for Chiro to lose hers!’ Her voice had risen in frustration and several of the samurai nearby glanced up from their bowls. Akiko forced a serene smile, bowing her head slightly by way of an apology for her outburst, and they returned to their meals. Jack considered Akiko for a moment. Could he really trust her? He had to. She was his only friend. ‘It’s my father’s diary,’ he finally admitted. ‘A diary?’ ‘Well, not exactly. The rutter is a guide to the oceans of the world. My father said the person who possesses it has dominion over the seas,’ explained Jack. ‘Its knowledge is priceless, and it’s the only hope I have of ever getting home.’ ‘So why didn’t you tell Masamoto?’ ‘Because my father swore me to secrecy,’ explained Jack. ‘The more people who know of its survival, the more dangerous it is for all of us. I don’t know who I can trust.’ ‘Well, you can trust me. I remained silent on your behalf – and so did Yamato – and you can trust me to stay silent.’

‘But what about Yamato? Can I really trust him?’ enquired Jack. A cry from the head of the column interrupted them. The samurai rapidly re-grouped in preparation for departure. ‘We must go,’ said Akiko, leaving the question unanswered. Akiko mounted her stallion, and Kuma-san rode up before Jack could press Akiko further. Then in a long disciplined file, two abreast, they set off down the road. By nightfall, they had reached the coastal village of Hisai. The main street boasted two resthouses, and Kuma-san secured lodgings in the better of the two for the night.


The next day, they rose early and made rapid progress to Kameyama, a bustling stopgap of a town on the main route between Edo and Kyoto. This was the station at which they joined the Tokaido Road. The main Tokaido Road was little more than a wide track but it was busy with foot traffic. Merchants. Samurai. Travellers. Exhausted porters warming themselves by fires. Some wore rounddomed straw hats and carried large, square backpacks. Others had slung cloth bags over their shoulders and wrapped their heads with large patterned bandanas. The few that were on horseback were all samurai. The scene struck Jack as a little odd for there were no carts

or horse-drawn vehicles of any kind, unlike the roads back in England. As they journeyed along the thoroughfare, Jack noticed that they frequently passed small mounds with two trees planted on either side. ‘What are those, Kuma-san?’ asked Jack, pointing at one. ‘Distance markers. We are now seventeen ri from Kyoto,’ explained Kuma-san. Near these markers was the occasional merchant plying his wares or else there was a small inn offering refreshment and lodgings. As they passed one very old merchant, who had a teapot hanging from a tree and was selling freshly brewed sencha, the pedestrian traffic in the distance began to scatter. Jack heard a far cry of ‘Down! Down!’ and the road ahead became lined with Japanese prostrating themselves on the ground. ‘Jack-kun, off the horse and bow. Now!’ commanded Kuma-san urgently. Jack did as he was told and Kuma-san joined him by his side. Clearly deaf, the old tea merchant had not heard the warning and was so involved in preparing another brew that he didn’t notice the approaching convoy. Everyone was bowing except him. He was completely unaware of his disrespect. Jack raised himself up and tried to get the attention of the old man, but Kuma-san yanked Jack’s head back down just as the

leading samurai swept past on his horse, his sword passing within a hair’s breadth of Jack’s head. The mounted samurai glared at Jack; then, without breaking pace, raised his sword again and chopped the old merchant’s head off. The contingent of mounted samurai powered past, heralding a procession of ceremonial samurai, uniformed marching men and attendants holding colourful blue, yellow and gold banners aloft. In the midst of this convoy was a brilliantly lacquered palanquin, borne by four sweating men in loincloths. As it passed by, Jack caught a glimpse of a man ensconced inside, his haughty face ignoring the old tea merchant’s body flopped in the dirt. ‘Who was that?’ whispered Jack, breathless with shock. ‘The daimyo Lord Kamakura Katsuro returning to Edo,’ said Kuma-san, with venom in his voice. ‘He insists on utmost respect.’ The procession ploughed on down the Tokaido Road, scattering pedestrians like human autumn leaves. ooo000ooo 23 BUTOKUDEN ‘Jack-kun! Kyoto!’ said Kuma-san the following afternoon, nudging Jack from the doze that the gentle rocking of the horse had

lulled him into. ‘The Heart of Japan, where the great Emperor himself resides!’ Jack opened his eyes. The Tokaido Road had ended in a magnificent wooden bridge that spanned a wide, lazily flowing river. The bridge streamed with people coming and going, an exotic flood of colour and noise. But as soon as they saw Masamoto and his samurai approaching, the crowd parted like a wave breaking upon a rock and a uniform bow rippled along as the troop passed through. Beyond the bridge, Jack could see the broad expanse of Kyoto. A vast city of villas, temples, houses, gardens, shops and inns filled the valley floor. Bound by mountains on three sides, the rising slopes were swathed in cedar trees and dotted with shrines. Soaring up to the north-east of the city was the most magnificent of these peaks, upon which the desecrated remains of a massive temple complex perched. ‘Mount Hiei,’ said Akiko, as she and Yamato joined him on the bridge. ‘It was the site of Enryakuji, the most powerful Buddhist monastery in Japan.’ ‘What happened to it?’ asked Jack, surprised at the hundreds of burnt-out buildings, temples and structures littering its slopes. ‘The Great General Nobunaga invaded the monastery forty years ago,’ said Kuma-san. ‘Burnt every temple to the ground. Executed every monk.’ ‘But why?’

‘When Kyoto was first built,’ replied Akiko, ‘Emperor Kammu established a monastery on Mount Hiei to protect the city from evil spirits. It was the monks’ responsibility to guard Kyoto.’ ‘They even had their own army of sohei,’ added Yamato. ‘Sohei?’ ‘Fierce warrior-monks trained in martial arts,’ explained Kumasan. ‘Nobunaga challenged their control of Kyoto. His forces stormed up the mountain and conquered the sohei.’ ‘But if they were the guardians of Kyoto, why did Nobunaga destroy them?’ asked Jack. ‘Nobunaga was not the destroyer of this monastery,’ said Kumasan vehemently. ‘The monks had become too rich, too powerful, too greedy. The destroyer of the monastery was the monastery itself!’ ‘So who protects Kyoto from evil spirits now?’ ‘There are many other monasteries, Jack,’ explained Akiko. ‘Kyoto is a city of temples. See there on that steep slope, peeking just above the trees, that is Kiyomizudera Temple, the Temple of Clear Water. It protects the source of the Kizu river, the Otowa-notaki.’ ‘What’s Otowa-no-taki?’ ‘The “Sound of Feathers” waterfall. It is said that to drink from its waters will help cure any illness.’

Jack gazed at the towering pagoda temple until it disappeared from view. Wending their way through the narrow streets and byways of Kyoto, Akiko pointed out the various shrines and temples. Every street appeared to have its own shrine. Finally, the road opened out on to a large paved thoroughfare dominated by a magnificent wooden gateway, with a large curving roof and decorated in gold leaf. Pale earthen walls, topped with jade-green tiles, stretched out either side for over half a mile, completely encircling the buildings hidden within. ‘Kyoto Gosho,’ breathed Akiko with utter reverence. ‘The Imperial Palace,’ explained Yamato, seeing Jack’s bafflement. ‘We are passing by the home of the Emperor of Japan, the Living God.’ Masamoto bowed briefly in its direction, then bore left along the palace’s walls. They followed him down the wide boulevard and back into the narrowing streets of the city. It was not long before they emerged in front of another fortified enclosure. Thick white walls upon great stone foundations surrounded a three-tiered castle with a large curving roof. The fortifications sloped into a wide moat and at each corner large defensive turrets guarded the main gate and thoroughfares. The castle exuded an air of impregnability. ‘We are here,’ stated Kuma-san. ‘We are staying in the castle?’ said Jack in astonishment.

‘No! That is Nijo Castle. Home to daimyo Takatomi,’ said Kumasan, and then with immense pride in his voice: ‘We are going to the Butokuden.’ They dismounted and Jack, unloading his saddlebag, turned to Akiko. ‘What is the Butokuden?’ he whispered, not wishing to offend Kuma-san. ‘It is the “Hall of the Virtues of War”. The Butokuden is Masamoto’s dojo, training hall,’ Akiko explained quietly and nodded in its direction. ‘It is the home of the Niten Ichi Ryū, the greatest sword school in Kyoto and the only one sponsored by the daimyo Takatomi himself. It is the place where we will be trained in Bushido, the Way of the Warrior.’ On the opposite side of the street was a large rectangular building constructed out of dark cypress wood and white earthen walls, crowned with two tiers of pale-russet tiles. Jutting out from its centre was an intricately carved entranceway bearing a large phoenix kamon. Masamoto stood beneath its flaming wings, waiting for Akiko, Yamato and Jack to join him. ‘Welcome to my school, the Niten Ichi Ryū,’ said Masamoto magnanimously. Akiko, Yamato and Jack all bowed, and Masamoto led the way into his ‘One School Of Two Heavens’. Even before Jack had set foot inside the Butokuden, he could hear the shouts of ‘Kiai’ emanating from the dojo.

There was a sharp cry of ‘Rei’ as Masamoto entered the great hall and the entire group of trainee warriors instantaneously ceased their practice. The room became so quiet that all Jack could hear was the sound of their breathing. As one, the entire class bowed and held their bow as a mark of utmost respect. ‘Continue your training,’ commanded Masamoto. ‘ARIGATŌ GOZAIMASHITA, MASAMOTO-SAMA!’ they thundered, their salutation rolling and rebounding around the dojo. The forty or so students returned to their various activities of kihon, kata and randori. The late afternoon sun filtering through the narrow papered windows gave an almost mystical quality to their movements. As the warriors sparred, their shadows fought in unison across the honey-coloured wood-block floor that defined their training area. Jack was overawed. From its rounded pillars of cypress wood to the elevated panelled ceiling, and the ceremonial throne set back in a curving alcove, the Butokuden radiated an aura of supreme power. Even the students kneeling in orderly lines round the edge of the dojo exhibited complete focus and determination. This was truly a hall of warriors in the making. Slowly, like the sound of a receding storm, the dojo fell silent again. Jack wondered who had entered this time, but with increasing alarm he realized that every student had stopped their training and was now staring at him. They met his gaze with a mixture of amazement, disbelief and open contempt at the blondhaired gaijin who had intruded upon their dojo.

Masamoto, his back turned, was conversing with a stern-looking samurai with a sharp spike of a beard. Jack could feel the hard stares of the students impaling him like arrows. ‘Why have you stopped?’ demanded Masamoto as if unaware of Jack’s presence. ‘Continue your training.’ The students resumed their activities, though they continued to steal furtive glances in Jack’s direction. Masamoto addressed Jack, Akiko and Yamato. ‘Come. Sensei Hosokawa will show you to your quarters. I have business to attend to, so I won’t see you again until the reception dinner tonight in the Chō-no-ma.’ They bowed to Masamoto and left the dojo through a door in the rear of the Butokuden. Sensei Hosokawa led them across an open courtyard to the Shishi-no-ma, the Hall of Lions, a long building housing a series of small rooms. They entered through a side shoji and, leaving their sandals at the door, walked down a narrow corridor. ‘These are your sleeping quarters,’ said Sensei Hosokawa, indicating a number of small unadorned rooms barely big enough for three tatami mats. ‘The bathhouses are at the rear. I will collect you for dinner once you have washed and changed.’ Jack stepped inside his room and closed the inner shoji behind him.

He put down his shoulder bag and placed the bonsai tree on a narrow shelf beneath a tiny lattice window. Looking around, he searched for a safe place to hide his father’s rutter, but with no furnishings to speak of, his only option was to slip it beneath the futon spread out on the floor. Patting back the mattress, he then collapsed on top of it. As he lay there, exhausted from three days of hard travel, a sense of dread shuddered through his body and he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. What was he doing here? He was no samurai. He was Jack Fletcher, an English boy who had dreamed of being a pilot like his father, exploring the wonders of the New World. Not a trainee samurai warrior stranded in an alien world, the prey of a one-eyed ninja. Jack felt like a lamb going to the slaughter. Every single one of those students had looked like they wanted to tear him limb from limb. ooo000ooo 24 SENSEI ‘YOUNG SAMURAI!’ boomed Masamoto down the Chō-no-ma, the Hall of Butterflies, a long chamber resplendent with panels of exquisitely painted butterflies and sakura trees. Masamoto sat cross-legged at the head table, a black lacquered slab of cedar which dominated the end of the room. Raised upon a

dais, he was flanked on either side by four samurai in ceremonial kimonos. ‘Bushido is not a journey to be taken lightly!’ Jack, Yamato and Akiko listened along with a hundred other trainee warriors, all of whom had requested to study under Masamoto Takeshi. ‘To train to be a samurai warrior, one must conquer the self, endure the pain of gruelling practice, and cultivate a level mind in the face of danger,’ declared Masamoto. ‘The way of the warrior is lifelong. Yet mastery is often simply staying the path.1 You will need commitment, discipline and a fearless mind.’ He took a measured sip from a cup of sencha, letting his words settle in the minds of the students who knelt in neat, disciplined rows along the length of the chamber. ‘You will also need guidance. For without it, you will perish! You are all blinded by ignorance! Deafened by inexperience! Voiceless with incompetence!’ Masamoto paused again and took in the whole room, ensuring his speech had had the intended effect. Jack could feel the gravity of his stare upon him, even though he was at the very back of the chamber. ‘From every tiny bud springs a tree of many branches,’ he continued, his austere tone thawing slightly. ‘Every castle commences with the laying of the first stone. Every journey begins with just one step.2 To assist you in making that first step and the many others you will take, I present your sensei. REI!’

All the students bowed, their heads touching the tatami mat as a mark of their complete respect for their teachers. ‘First, Sensei Hosokawa, master of kenjutsu and the bokken.’ Masamoto acknowledged the samurai to his immediate right, the one who had directed Jack to his room earlier that day. A fiercelooking warrior with jet-black hair swept up into the customary topknot, Hosokawa possessed dark piercing eyes and tugged thoughtfully at his sharp stub of a beard. ‘Together with myself, he will train you in the Art of the Sword and, should you demonstrate excellence, we will impart to you the technique of “Two Heavens”.’ Sensei Hosokawa stared at them, as if assessing each student in turn for their right to be there. He then bowed his head, apparently satisfied. Jack wondered what the ‘Two Heavens’ technique was and looked across to Akiko to ask, but she like everyone else was staring resolutely in the direction of the sensei. ‘To Sensei Hosokawa’s right is Sensei Yamada, your sage in Zen and meditation.’ A bald-headed man with a long, wispy grey beard and a crinkled old face dozed at the far end of the table. He was thin and reedy, as if grown from a bamboo shoot, and Jack guessed he had to be at least seventy years old, for even his eyebrows had gone grey. ‘Sensei Yamada?’ asked Masamoto gently.

‘Hai! Dōzo, Masamoto-sama. It’s good to have an end to journey toward,’ said the old man with considered care, ‘but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.’3 ‘Wise words, Sensei,’ responded Masamoto. Sensei Yamada then nodded forward and appeared to drift back to sleep. Jack wished he could fall to sleep so easily in such a position. His knees were already stiffening up and his feet ached. ‘You must stop fidgeting,’ whispered Akiko, seeing Jack shift his weight around. ‘It is disrespectful.’ No sympathy from her, thought Jack, perhaps the Japanese were born kneeling! Masamoto turned to a young woman on his left. ‘Now I present Sensei Yosa, mistress of kyujutsu and horsemanship.’ The sensei wore a shimmering blood-red and ivory kimono adorned with a kamon of a moon and two stars. Her black hair glistened in the light of the numerous lanterns hanging from the walls of the Chō-no-ma, giving it the appearance of a cascading waterfall. Jack quickly forgot his kneeling misery as, like the rest of the students, he was immediately captivated by this female warrior. ‘She is undoubtedly one of the most prodigious talents in the Art of the Bow,’ explained Masamoto. ‘I would go so far as to say she is the finest archer in all the land. I truly envy those who benefit from her tutelage.’ As she bowed, her chestnut-coloured eyes never left her students. They darted to each as if calculating distance and

trajectory. She reminded Jack of a hunting hawk, elegant and graceful, yet sharp and deadly. Then, as she sat back up, she drew her hair behind her ears and revealed an ugly ruby-red scar that cut the entire length of her right cheekbone. ‘Finally, but by no means least, may I introduce Sensei Kyuzo, master of taijutsu.’ A small man perched at the end of the table to Sensei Yosa’s left. He had black specks for eyes and a tuft of a moustache beneath a flattened pudgy nose. ‘He is your authority on all matters of hand-to-hand combat: kicking, punching, grappling, striking, blocking and throwing. The skills you will learn from Sensei Kyuzo will feed into everything you do here.’ Jack was amazed. The sensei could not have been much bigger than a child and seemed an extremely odd choice for a tutor of hand-to-hand combat. Jack noticed that many of the other new students wore similar looks of disbelief. The small man gave an irritable bow. Then Jack noticed he was crushing nuts with his bare hands. Methodically and without haste, Sensei Kyuzo would pick up a large unhulled nut from a red lacquered bowl and squeeze it between his fingers until it split. He would then pick at the pieces before moving on to the next nut. With the introductions over, Masamoto indicated for all the students to bow once more in honour of their new sensei. ‘But the Way of the Warrior means not only martial arts and meditation,’ continued Masamoto. ‘It means living by the samurai

code of honour – bushido – at all times. I demand courage and rectitude in all your endeavours. I expect honesty, benevolence and loyalty to be demonstrated daily. You must honour and respect one another. Every student of the Niten Ichi Ryū is personally chosen by me and thus every student is worthy of your respect.’ Jack felt the last comment had been said directly for his benefit and a number of the students turned their heads in his direction. One of them, an imperious-looking lad with a shaved head, high cheekbones and dark hooded eyes, shot him a look of pure malevolence. He wore a jet-black kimono with a red sun kamon emblazoned on the back. ‘Tomorrow you will begin your formal training. Those of you who have been students a season or more, you too will need to refresh the skills acquired to date. Do not think for one moment that you know it all. You have only taken your first step!’ proclaimed Masamoto, slamming his fist down on to the table to emphasize the point. ‘Given enough time, anyone may master the physical. Given enough knowledge, anyone may become wise. It is only the most dedicated warrior who can master both and achieve true bushido.4 The Niten Ichi Ryū is your path to excellence. Learn today so that you may live tomorrow!’ Masamoto bowed his respect to his students and everyone let loose a resounding chorus. ‘MASAMOTO! MASAMOTO! MASAMOTO!’ As the salutation died away, the large entrance shoji slid back and servants entered bearing several long lacquered tables. All the

students rose to allow the tables to be placed in two rows down the length of the Chō-no-ma. An unspoken but rigid system of hierarchy dictated the seating arrangement. The most advanced and elder students assembled nearest the head table, while the newest recruits sat closest to the entrance. Jack, Yamato and Akiko, who wore a jade-green ceremonial kimono with her father’s family kamon of a sakura flower, went to seat themselves with seventeen other new recruits at the very end. Jack had dressed in the burgundy kimono Hiroko had presented him before leaving Toba. Somehow wearing Masamoto’s family kamon had given him the strength to subdue his fears. The phoenix kamon had acted like an invisible armour and discouraged the other students from approaching or physically challenging his presence. They had merely observed him with guarded suspicion. As Jack went to seat himself, though, the student with the red sun kamon strode over. ‘That’s my seat, gaijin,’ he challenged. All the students turned to see what the blond-haired gaijin’s reaction would be. Jack squared up to the boy. They held one another’s stares, the seconds seeming to stretch into infinity. Then he felt Akiko’s hand lightly touch his elbow and gently pull him away.

‘It’s all yours,’ said Jack to the boy. ‘I didn’t like the smell over here anyway.’ The boy’s nostrils flared at the implied insult on his cleanliness and he shot a scathing look at two trainees who had smirked at Jack’s retort. ‘You shouldn’t offend people like that, Jack,’ whispered Akiko, hurriedly leading him over to the table where Yamato had seated himself. ‘You do not want to be making enemies – certainly not within the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ ooo000ooo 25 THE SHINING ONE ‘I wasn’t the one who confronted him,’ said Jack, sitting crosslegged in between Akiko and Yamato. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ stressed Akiko. ‘It’s all about face.’ ‘Face?’ queried Jack, but before Akiko could reply they were interrupted by several servants laden with trays of food. The servants arranged the dishes precisely on the tables. Bowls of miso soup, fried noodles, pickled vegetables, different varieties of raw fish, some soft white cubes that were called tofu, little dishes filled with a dark salty liquid – soy sauce for dipping, informed Akiko helpfully – and a number of heaped servings of steaming boiled rice. Jack had never seen so many different types of food to choose from. The sheer variety of dishes implied that this was a highly prestigious event.

‘Itadakimasu!’ cried Masamoto, now that the banquet had been served. ‘Itadakimasu!’ responded all the students and they began to tuck in. With so much on offer, it was difficult for Jack to know where to start. He picked up the hashi and carefully adjusted his grip. Although he was getting used to the little chopsticks, he still found small morsels tricky to eat. ‘You were saying it’s all about face,’ prompted Jack, selecting a good-sized piece of sushi. ‘Yes. It’s very important for a Japanese person never to “lose face”,’ replied Akiko. ‘How can you lose a face?’ asked Jack incredulously. ‘It’s not a physical thing, Jack,’ explained Yamato. ‘Face is our perception of another person’s status. It’s crucial to maintain face. Face translates into power and influence. If you “lose face”, you lose authority and respect.’ ‘You made him “lose face” in front of his fellow students,’ agreed Akiko. ‘So, he “lost face”,’ said Jack, shrugging and pointing his hashi at the boy with the red sun kamon. ‘Who is he anyway?’ The boy stared directly at Jack, his eyes narrowing aggressively. ‘Don’t do that!’ scolded Akiko.

‘Do what?’ ‘Point your hashi at him. Don’t you remember what I taught you? It is considered very rude,’ said Akiko, exasperated at Jack’s continual uncivilized behaviour. ‘And don’t leave them sticking up in your bowl of rice either!’ ‘For heaven’s sake, why not?’ exclaimed Jack, immediately retrieving his offending hashi from the rice bowl. He would never get this Japanese etiquette right, he thought. There was just so much to think about for each and every action and occasion, however insignificant or senseless. Suddenly he realized everyone on his table was staring at him. He dropped his eyes to the dish in front of him and started picking at its contents. ‘Because it means someone has died,’ said Akiko, in a hushed tone, bowing. ‘Only at a funeral service are hashi stuck into the rice. The bowl is then placed at the head of the deceased so that they won’t starve in the next world.’ ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?’ fumed Jack under his breath. ‘Everything I do is thought of as rude by you people. Come to England and your habits would be thought of as very odd. I’m sure even you could offend somebody!’ ‘I’m sorry, Jack,’ said Akiko timorously, bowing her head. ‘I apologize. It’s my fault for not teaching you properly.’ ‘And will you stop apologizing!’ shouted Jack, holding his head in his hands with sheer frustration.

Akiko went very quiet. Jack glanced up. The students on his table were pretending hard to ignore them, but it was clear that his tone with Akiko had been entirely inappropriate. Yamato glared at him but said nothing. ‘I’m sorry, Akiko,’ Jack mumbled. ‘You’re only trying to help me. It’s just so difficult speaking, thinking and living like a Japanese all the time.’ ‘I understand, Jack. Now please enjoy the meal,’ she replied flatly. Jack continued to work his way through the various bowls, in rotation, but they had somewhat lost their flavour. He hated the fact he had upset Akiko, and even worse he had shouted at her in front of other people. He was sure she had ‘lost face’ by his actions. When Jack looked up again, the boy with the sun kamon was still staring at him, a belligerent scowl on his face. ‘Akiko,’ he said, bowing his head and speaking loud enough for those around them to hear. ‘Please accept my humblest apologies for my behaviour. I’m still tired from our journey.’ ‘Thank you for your apology, Jack,’ she said, and with the apology formally accepted, the atmosphere round the table immediately lightened and everyone resumed their polite conversations. ‘Please, would you tell me who that boy is?’ asked Jack, relieved that he had managed to restore some degree of accord. Maybe he was beginning to appreciate the intricacies of Japanese etiquette after all, he thought.

‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘I do,’ offered an enthusiastic lad opposite Jack on the table. ‘He’s in the same year as us. His name is Oda Kazuki, son of daimyo Oda Satoshi, second cousin to the Imperial Line. That is why he bears the kamon of the Imperial Sun. Some would consider the Oda family to be rather high and mighty. Perhaps that’s the reason his father named him, Kazuki. It means “Shining One”.’ They all stared at the boy with growing amazement as he continued to talk unabated. He was a rather plain-looking lad with a chubby face whose only outstanding feature were his eyebrows, thick black caterpillars fixed in a permanent expression of surprise. ‘I apologize,’ he said, bowing. ‘I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Saburo, I am the third son of Shimazu Hideo. Our kamon displays two hawk’s feathers – it symbolizes the swiftness, grace and dignity of the hawk. My brother is Taro. You can see him near the top table. He is one of the best students of kenjutsu in the school, this year he will be learning the “Two Heavens” technique –’ ‘It’s an honour to meet you,’ interrupted Yamato politely. ‘I am Yamato, son of Masamoto Takeshi. This is my cousin, Akiko. And this is Jack. He is from the other side of the world.’ They each bowed in turn as Yamato introduced them ‘Ahh! The gaijin Masamoto saved,’ said Saburo, warily acknowledging Jack, then ignoring him in favour of Yamato. ‘It is truly an honour to meet you too, Yamato. I cannot wait to inform my mother that I dined opposite Masamoto’s surviving son. It was tragic what happened to Tenno. My brother knew him. They sparred together many times –’

‘And who is your friend?’ asked Akiko quickly, seeing Yamato’s mood darken at the mention of his brother’s death. A small girl with shoulder-length black hair and mousey-brown eyes sat to Saburo’s left. But before the girl could reply, Saburo answered for her. ‘This here is Kiku, second daughter of Imagawa Hiromi, a famous Zen priest.’ They all bowed as Saburo continued. ‘So who do you think will be teaching us first? Do you think it will be Sensei Yosa? I hope so. Surely she has to be reincarnated from a goddess. Our very own Tomoe Gozen, neh?’ Jack could see that Akiko was affronted by Saburo’s offhand comments of her idol and hurriedly thought of a question to move the conversation on. ‘Saburo, what are the “Two Heavens”?’ asked Jack, honestly intrigued to find out. ‘Ahh, the “Two Heavens” is Masamoto’s secret –’ But before Saburo could elucidate any further, Masamoto brought a formal end to the dinner with a cry of ‘Go-chisosamakohaita!’ There was a shout of ‘REI, SENSEI!’ and the whole room stood and bowed as one. Masamoto and his sensei rose and made their way down the centre of the Chō-no-ma and out into night. The students filed out silently in order of seniority behind them. Jack emerged into the cold clear night air, relieved to get away from the constant eyeballing he had had to endure in the Hall of Butterflies. Any time Jack had looked up from his bowl, Kazuki had

shot him a contemptuous look while the students around him laughed at something or other he had said regarding the ‘gaijin’. Jack ambled behind Akiko, Yamato and Kiku, who were being closely pursued by the talkative Saburo, as they made their way to the Hall of Lions. He gazed up at the star-filled sky, trying to recognize the constellations his father had taught him. Orion’s Belt, the Plough, Bellatrix… Suddenly Kazuki materialized in front of him, blocking his path. ‘Where do you think you’re going, gaijin?’ ‘To bed, Kazuki. Like everyone else,’ replied Jack, attempting to step round him. ‘Who gave you permission to use my name, gaijin?’ said Kazuki, forcibly pushing Jack backwards. Jack stumbled and fell against another boy, who had sidled up behind him. Jack rebounded off the boy’s impressively large belly. ‘Now you have insulted Nobu too. You owe us both an apology.’ ‘Apologize for what?’ exclaimed Jack, trying again to get past, but Nobu’s sumo-like bulk refused to budge. ‘How rude! Not willing to apologize. You should be punished,’ threatened Kazuki. Jack heard Nobu cracking his fingers, as if limbering up to hit him, but stood his ground. ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ Jack shouted defiantly.

He glanced over Kazuki’s shoulder. Akiko and Yamato, along with everyone else, had already disappeared into the Hall of Lions. He felt his bravado rapidly slipping. ‘There’s no one here, gaijin,’ sneered Kazuki. ‘See? You’re not always under Masamoto’s protection. Who’d believe a gaijin anyway?’ Kazuki’s hand shot out and grabbed Jack’s left wrist, twisting it. The pain was instant. His whole arm contorted and Jack dropped to his knees, desperately trying to relieve the agony. ‘First, you need to apologize for taking my seat. Second, you insulted me in front of my friends. Third, you offended me greatly by pointing your hashi at me. Apologize!’ said Kazuki, rotating Jack’s wrist further with each demand and sending bolts of burning pain shooting through his arm. ‘Apologize, gaijin!’ ‘Go to Hell!’ spat Jack in English. ‘What did you say?’ said Kazuki, baffled by the strange-sounding words. ‘You’d better be careful, gaijin. You wouldn’t want to injure yourself before starting your training now. Would you?’ Kazuki applied even more pressure. The pain seared white-hot through Jack’s arm and Kazuki drove him face first into the ground. Jack was unable to move. Kazuki forced Jack’s arm up and behind his back, and purposefully rubbed Jack’s face in the dirt.

‘Enjoying the worms, gaijin? It’s all your kind deserve to eat!’ taunted Kazuki. ‘Gaijin aren’t worthy to be taught our secrets. Our martial arts. You don’t belong. Go home, gaijin!’ He twisted Jack’s arm one notch further and Jack could feel his arm about to break again. ‘Sensei!’ warned Nobu. Kazuki jumped to his feet, releasing his grip on Jack. ‘Another time, gaijin!’ Then both Kazuki and Nobu were gone, fleeing round the corner of the Chō-no-ma. Jack lay there, clutching his arm to his chest. He trembled as he thought of Kazuki’s final words – ‘Another time, gaijin!’ – ominously echoing Dragon Eye’s own threat. The pain subsided and he tested his arm cautiously. It wasn’t broken, but it still hurt a great deal when he moved it. As Jack lay there, nursing his aching arm, Sensei Yamada shuffled up. The sensei leaned upon a bamboo walking stick and looked down at Jack like he was inspecting an insect with a broken wing. ‘In order to be walked on, you have to be lying down,’5 he said matter-of-factly, before resuming his unhurried journey across the courtyard towards the sleeping quarters. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Jack called after him, but the old sensei gave no reply. The only response was the diminishing click of the walking stick as it echoed around the stone courtyard. ooo000ooo

26 DEFEATING THE SWORD ‘Owwww!’ Jack rubbed his shins and hobbled into the Butokuden. He laid his bokken along the edge of the hall with the other students’ weapons, then gingerly knelt in line beside Yamato. Akiko entered with Kiku and bowed. Saburo hurried in behind them. ‘Owwww!’ cried Saburo. He too came hopping across the floor and eased himself into line, biting his lip against the pain. Sensei Hosokawa stood by the main entrance brandishing a shinai, bamboo sword. He scrutinized the remainder of the new students making their way across the courtyard to the dojo for their first period of the day – a morning session of kenjutsu. Three more got struck across the shins upon entering. ‘Martial arts does not begin and end at the gate of the dojo!’ thundered Sensei Hosokawa as the last student joined the nervous rank of kneeling boys and girls. ‘Always bow with your sword raised high when you enter the dojo. Anyone caught dragging their feet, slouching or being inattentive will feel the edge of my shinai!’ The whole line immediately stiffened to avoid any possibility of slouching. Sensei Hosokawa paced the hall, inspecting each prospective samurai. As he levelled with Jack, he stopped.

Jack glanced up. Hosokawa appeared to be sizing Jack up. ‘I hear from Sensei Masamoto,’ he began, ‘that you fought a ninja and defeated him with a bokken. Is this true?’ ‘Umm… Hai… sort of…’ ‘Hai, SENSEI!’ he thundered at Jack. Jack quickly apologized and bowed lower. Idiot! He had forgotten the proper etiquette when addressing a person of higher status. ‘Hai, Sensei. I was helping Yamato –’ ‘Excellent,’ he said, cutting Jack off. ‘Were you afraid?’ Jack didn’t know what answer Hosokawa was expecting. He glanced down the line of students who were all gawping at him. Should he admit that he was terrified? That he thought the ninja was going to run him through with his sword? Or else throttle him just like his father had been? Jack could see Kazuki sneering at him, eager to hear the gaijin admit his weakness to everyone. Then he caught Akiko’s eye and she was quietly nodding to him, speak true. ‘Hai, Sensei,’ said Jack cautiously. ‘Absolutely,’ agreed Hosokawa. ‘One should be afraid when facing a ninja.’ Jack breathed a sigh of relief as the sensei retraced his steps along the line.

‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.6 Jack here valued his loyalty to Yamato above fear. An ideal worthy of a samurai.’ Jack swelled with pride at the unexpected compliment and caught Kazuki looking thoroughly annoyed at the sensei’s praise. Sensei Hosokawa continued, ‘Jack showed courage, conquered fear and so defeated his opponent. A fine lesson to start your training in the way of…’ He stopped mid-sentence. Nobu was hurrying across the courtyard, late for the lesson. He was tucking in his kimono as he went, his bokken shoved awkwardly under his armpit. The sensei strode across to the door and waited. Every student knew exactly what was coming. Nobu kept running, oblivious to his inevitable punishment. ‘Owwww!’ Sensei Hosokawa’s shinai rapped Nobu so sharply across both shins that his feet went from under him and the boy fell flat on his face, his bokken clattering across the wooden floor. There was the sound of stifled laughter from the other students before Sensei Hosokawa cut them short with a stern look. ‘Get up! Never be late for my class again,’ Hosokawa ordered, kicking Nobu firmly in the rear. ‘And never present yourself like that in my dojo!’

Nobu scrambled to his feet, looking like he was going to explode with shame, and scurried over to the rest of them, bowing and scraping all the way. ‘Right, now that we’re all here, we can begin your training. Pick up your bokken, then line up in three rows down the dojo. Give yourselves enough space to swing your weapon.’ They all bowed and got to their feet, haphazardly forming themselves into three ragged lines. ‘What is this?’ screamed Hosokawa. ‘Everyone ten press-ups! Kazuki, count off!’ The whole class dropped to the floor and commenced their punishment. ‘One! Two! Three! Four! Five!…’ ‘Next time, I say “Line up”, I expect you to run! And form ordered lines!’ Jack’s arms shook a little with the effort, but despite last night’s torture, two years of climbing the rigging had strengthened him enough to cope without breaking a sweat. Some of the students, though, began to miss out counts and several gave up completely. Kazuki continued unabated, not even out of breath. ‘… Eight! Nine! Ten!’ ‘Now line up!’ Everyone got to their feet and sprinted into position.

‘Better. First, I want you to simply hold your bokken in your hands.’ Jack adjusted his wooden sword until it was positioned exactly as Yamato had shown him back in Toba. ‘Where’s your bokken?’ Hosokawa suddenly demanded of a small, mouse-like boy, who stood quietly at the back. ‘Sensei, I left it in the Shishi-no-ma,’ he said, cringing. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Yori, Sensei.’ ‘Well, Yori-kun, what sort of samurai will you make?’ said Hosokawa in disgust. ‘I don’t know, Sensei.’ ‘I’ll tell you – you’ll be a dead one. Now get a spare from the Weapons Wall.’ Yori scampered over and retrieved one from the back wall where the wooden panels were loaded with weapons – swords, knives, spears, staffs and half a dozen weapons Jack had no name for. ‘To begin with, class, I want you simply to get a feel for the bokken. Hold it. Get an idea of its weight, its shape, its point of balance. Swing it round – without hitting the walls, the floor or anyone else!’ Jack shifted his bokken between his hands, juggling it between his left and right. He tried some basic cuts, then spun himself round.

He held it over his head and swung it round in a great arc. Saburo was doing the same but, failing to pay enough attention, struck another student on the back of the head. ‘I said without hitting anyone else!’ shouted Hosokawa and rapped his shinai across Saburo’s shins again. ‘The sword is an extension of your arm. You should instinctively know where its kissaki is, the reach of its blade and where it is in relation to your own body at all times.’ Without warning, Hosokawa brought his shinai up and struck with lightning speed at Yamato’s head, stopping within a hair’s breadth of his nose. Yamato flinched at the unforeseen attack, swallowing down hard on his panic. ‘What is the use of power, if there is no control?’ Hosokawa said, letting his weapon drop. ‘Now hold your bokken out in front of you. Both arms out straight, your weapon resting horizontally upon the edges of your hands.’ Jack stood there, the weight of the bokken gently pushing down on his outstretched hands. Not too hard, thought Jack. ‘And keep holding it there until I tell you to stop.’ Sensei Hosokawa began to pace the room thoughtfully. Like an army turned to stone, every student held their arms out, bokken on top, and waited for his command to stop. One by one, the arms started to quiver. Two up from Jack, Kiku began to drop her arms.

‘Did I say you could lower your arms?’ barked Hosokawa and Kiku instantly straightened, her face straining at the effort. A few minutes later, a girl in the far corner dropped her bokken, unable to continue. ‘Given up?’ asked Hosokawa. ‘Go sit at the side. Who’s going to be next?’ Several students immediately gave up, including Kiku and Yori. Akiko was beginning to strain. Jack, however, was still feeling quite fresh. Five others lowered their arms, breathless with the effort, and left the training area. ‘Beaten so easily?’ Hosokawa said with obvious derision, as Saburo gave up at the same time as Nobu. ‘Excuse me, Sensei?’ asked Saburo with appropriate deference, while massaging the aches out of his arms. ‘Yes?’ ‘What is the purpose of this exercise?’ ‘The purpose?’ Hosokawa said, incredulous. ‘I would have thought that was obvious. If your own sword can defeat you in your own hands, what hope do you have of ever defeating your enemy?’ The revelation of the point of the exercise renewed the efforts of all still standing. Everyone was keen to impress the sensei in their first lesson and they pushed on through the pain.

A few minutes later, though, two others dropped out, leaving only five students standing – Jack, Kazuki, Yamato, Akiko and Emi, an elegant but haughty girl, whom Jack had been told was the first daughter of the daimyo Takatomi, the sponsor of the school. Akiko’s arms were beginning to shake badly, but she appeared determined to beat the remaining girl. Emi, however, was the more stable of the two. She looked over at Akiko and gave her a strained but victorious grin. She clearly didn’t wish to lose face either. Akiko began to take shallow breaths, willing herself to keep going. Out of the corner of Jack’s eye, he could see Emi’s arms beginning to drop. But then Akiko reached her physical limit and she dropped her bokken. Barely a second later, Emi’s arms collapsed too. ‘Excellent,’ commented Hosokawa. ‘Emi-chan, you demonstrated strong fighting spirit. You earn my respect.’ They both went to sit down. On the way, Emi brushed into Akiko, a triumphant look on her face. Jack saw Akiko throw her a prickly look, evidently wanting the chance to wipe the supercilious expression off the girl’s face. Akiko, however, restrained herself and instead bowed politely. ‘We still have three valiant warriors left,’ announced Hosokawa. ‘Kohai, this is no longer about strength or stamina. This is about willpower. Mind over matter. It’s about testing the very limits of your endurance.’ Yamato was shaking like a tree in a storm. Jack knew he would not last much longer, but that didn’t matter. He was intent on outdoing Kazuki.

Kazuki, though, appeared as steady as a rock. A few moment’s later, Yamato’s arms failed him and he had to join the others at the edge of the dojo. Jack and Kazuki continued to battle it out – the fight as much in their own minds as with one another. Kazuki’s arms suddenly shuddered under the weight of the bokken. ‘Kazuki!’ shouted Nobu in support and several other students immediately joined in. ‘Kazuki! Kazuki! Kazuki!’ Kazuki, revived by the support, straightened his arms out again. He grinned at Jack, confident of his victory over the gaijin. Then Saburo blurted ‘Come on, Jack!’ and Akiko, Yamato and Kiku added to the chorus ‘Jack! Jack! Jack!’ The two boys stood in the centre of the Butokuden, warriors fighting an invisible war, their armies chanting from the wings. Jack thanked the Lord for all the hours he had spent as a rigging monkey on-board the Alexandria. He was used to hanging on with his arms for hours at a time in wind, rain or snow. Yet he also knew his limits and recognized the signs that he was approaching the end of his endurance. He had perhaps another minute or so before his arms gave up entirely. Kazuki, however, was once more as steady as a rock. ooo000ooo

27 A REASON TO TRAIN A single bead of sweat rolled down Kazuki’s face and his arms began to tremble. That was all the incentive Jack needed. Kazuki was fading fast. ‘Jack! Jack! Jack!’ The shouts kept coming. ‘Kazuki! Kazuki! Kazuki!’ No, he wasn’t going to be beaten by Kazuki! He would not be defeated by the sword. He could see Akiko willing him on from the sidelines and he fought the bokken in his hands. Gritting his teeth, he closed his eyes and called upon every last drop of strength he had. Suddenly, like the breaking of a wave, his body flooded with a curious energy. He experienced an infinite nothing, his arms seeming to stretch on forever, weightless, almost numb. There was a loud wooden clatter as a bokken fell to the floor of the dojo; then an explosion of clapping and cheering and only the sound of his name. ‘Jack! Jack! Jack!’ ‘Well done, Jack-kun. You defeated the sword,’ said Sensei Hosokawa.

Jack opened his eyes to see Kazuki fuming, his arms limp by his side, his bokken lying on the floor. With utter relief, Jack lowered his aching arms. They felt heavy as lead, but he had won. He had beaten Kazuki – in front of everyone. Relishing his very public triumph, he bowed to Kazuki. Kazuki, imprisoned by etiquette, was forced to acknowledge Jack’s victory with a lower bow. At lunch that day, Akiko, Yamato, Kiku and Saburo crowded round Jack at the table at the far end of the Chō-no-ma. Kazuki sat rigid at the opposite table, fixing Jack with a thunderous expression and ignoring the attempts of Nobu and Emi to lighten his mood. ‘How did you manage it, Jack?’ pestered Saburo. ‘Your arms were dropping. You were defeated. Then BANG! They went straight as an arrow.’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Jack, who was still trying to massage the remaining tension from his shoulder muscles. ‘I just had a rush of energy from nowhere and my arms felt weightless.’ ‘Ki!’ said Kiku. Jack looked at her, baffled. ‘Ki means “life force”. My father explained it to me once. It is your spiritual energy. With training, samurai can channel it into their fighting,’ explained Kiku. ‘Of course!’ interrupted Saburo enthusiastically. ‘The sohei monks of Mount Hiei were legendary for being able to harness their

ki. Supposedly, they could defeat their enemies without even drawing their swords.’ They all gave Saburo a collective look of disbelief. ‘No, really! Sensei Yamada could probably teach us all how to use our ki. We have his Zen class this afternoon. We could all then defeat our swords.’ ‘It’s unlikely he’ll be any help,’ mumbled Jack, more to himself than anyone else, but Akiko overheard him. ‘What makes you say that?’ she asked. ‘Well, last night Kazuki decided he wanted me to apologize and tried to break my arm.’ ‘Why didn’t you report him?’ said Akiko, her eyes inspecting his arm with genuine concern. ‘What’s the point? Kazuki stopped before anything happened. But only because Sensei Yamada showed up. He wasn’t much help. He did nothing but spout some meaningless saying at me.’ ‘What was it?’ asked Yamato. ‘“In order to be walked on, you have to be lying down.” Some sage he is! What help is that?’ ‘Excuse me.’ A tiny voice piped up and Yori, the boy who had forgotten his bokken, peeped round from behind Saburo. ‘Sensei Yamada may be suggesting you learn to defend yourself.’

It took a moment for the meaning to sink in before Jack realized Yori was right. It was suddenly so obvious. If he could master the sword and taijutsu, and be stronger, faster and better than Kazuki, then it would be Kazuki lying down, not him. With the right skills, he could defend himself against anyone, maybe even Dokugan Ryu! Now that was a reason worth training for. ‘Are you all right, Jack?’ asked Akiko, curious at the look of determination fixed upon Jack’s face. ‘Absolutely. I was just thinking about Yamada’s words. They make sense now. Complete sense.’ There and then, after just one lesson at the Niten Ichi Ryū, Jack vowed to devote himself to the Way of the Warrior. ooo000ooo 28 THE DARUMA DOLL ‘Come. Come. Seiza!’ encouraged Sensei Yamada as they hovered at the entrance to the Butsuden, the Buddha Hall, located on the east side of the courtyard. Sensei Yamada beckoned them in. He was perched on a raised dais at the rear of the hall, sitting upon a small round zafu cushion, which in turn was set upon a larger square zabuton. He wore a simple robe of charcoal blue and sea-green and sat cross-legged, one leg resting upon the other, his hands gently laid in his lap, the

tips of his fingers touching. He reminded Jack of a genial toad on a lily pad. The afternoon light fingered its way into the hall through slatted windows, catching smoky trails of incense and giving Sensei Yamada’s grey wispy beard the appearance of a finely woven spider’s web. The air was heady with the scent of jasmine and sandalwood and Jack soon felt calmed by the aroma. The class settled themselves upon cushions set out in semicircular rows. Jack found a zabuton near the front with Akiko, Yori and Kiku. As Jack made himself comfortable, he saw Kazuki and Nobu enter last and sit at the back of the class. Kazuki caught Jack’s eye and shot him a venomous look. ‘Please. Sit as I do,’ gestured Yamada. There was much shuffling as all the students rearranged themselves to mirror Sensei Yamada’s pose. ‘This is a half-lotus position. Good for meditation. Encourages the circulation of your ki. Everyone comfortable?’ he enquired and then took a long measured breath. ‘Now in front of each you is a gift to welcome you to my Zen class.’ Jack looked at the small wooden object at his feet. It appeared to be a small egg-shaped doll but with no arms or legs. Painted in a vivid red, it had a bright surprised face with a black moustache and beard, though its white eyes had been left blank. ‘Can anyone tell me what it is?’ asked Yamada. Kiku raised her hand.

‘It’s a Daruma Doll. It’s modelled on Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. You write your name on its chin and fill in one of its eyes with black ink while making a wish. Should the wish come true, you colour in the second eye.’ ‘Yes, that is what it is, but it is much more than that,’ said Yamada, lightly pushing the Daruma Doll that sat in front of him. The doll lolled to one side, slowed, then rolled the opposite way and slowed, before continuing the motion in smaller and smaller sways. The class waited patiently for Sensei Yamada to continue, but the old man appeared to have fallen into a trance. Only when the doll had completely stopped moving did Sensei Yamada look up, blinking as if surprised they were all still there. ‘So who can tell me what the “Nine Views” are?’ he continued, apparently unaware he had not explained his last statement. Nobody raised a hand. Sensei Yamada waited. Still no one offered an answer. Still Yamada waited, as if the answer was simply needing to settle in the minds of his students, like dust on an old book. Finally Kiku tentatively raised her hand. ‘Yes, Kiku-chan?’ ‘Is it the nine rules to achieve enlightenment?’

‘Not exactly, Kiku-chan, but a worthy summation,’ said Yamada, obviously pleased with her effort. ‘It is an ascending sequence of nine stages, or views, that a samurai needs to pass through during meditation. Proper understanding of the Nine Views leads ultimately to satori, enlightenment.’ An enigmatic smile appeared on his lips and his eyes sparkled like sunlight on a stream. Jack felt himself being drawn in to the old man’s gaze, as if he were a leaf floating upon that same stream. ‘This meditation process is called zazen. The aim of zazen is sitting and opening the hand of thought. Once your mind is unhindered by its many layers, you will then be able to realize the true nature of things and thereby gain enlightenment.’ Sensei Yamada’s voice was the sound of a babbling brook, the hum of bees in summer and the soft tenderness of a mother all rolled into one. So while Jack did not really understand what the sensei was talking about, he drifted effortlessly along with the hypnotic ebb and flow of the old man’s speech. ‘Today we will practise zazen on the Daruma Doll. We will meditate for a stick of time,’ he said, lighting a short length of incense that would measure their progress. ‘The first “View” is to adopt the proper meditative posture, as you are all doing now – seated, legs folded, back straight but relaxed, hands on top of one another, eyes half-closed.’ Everyone re-settled themselves into position.

‘The second “View” is to breathe from the hara. Aim just above your navel. This is your centre. Breathing should be slow, rhythmic and calm. Mokuso,’ he said, beginning the breathing meditation. Jack concentrated on his breathing, but he found it difficult to shift his breath from his chest down to his stomach. ‘From the hara, Jack-kun. Not the chest,’ said Yamada softly. How on earth could he tell? thought Jack, astounded. He refocused on his breathing, trying to push out his stomach rather than raising his chest. Sensei Yamada let the whole class slow their breathing for several minutes. ‘The third “View” is to soothe the spirit. Let go of any trivial thoughts, distracting emotions or mental irritations. Imagine they are snow in your mind. Let them all gradually melt away.’ Jack became aware that his mind was crammed with thoughts. They buzzed in his head like wasps – Kazuki, the rutter, Dragon Eye, Akiko, home, Masamoto, his father, Jess… He tried to calm his mind but as he pushed one thought away, another instantly took its place. ‘The fourth “View” is fulfilment. As your worldly thoughts dissipate, begin to fill your body with ki. Envisage yourself as an empty vessel. Pour in your spiritual energy as if it were honey. Let it fill you from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head.’

Still struggling to clear his head, it was impossible for Jack to concentrate on this next stage. He found his mind constantly being dragged away by random thoughts. ‘The fifth “View” is natural wisdom. When one is calm, undisturbed and at peace, things can be seen in their true light. This naturally leads to the development of wisdom.’ Sensei Yamada’s mellifluous voice continued to lull everyone into a dreamlike state. He let them float for a while longer before continuing. Jack was still trying to clear his mind so that he could fill himself with ki and once again experience the energy he had stumbled upon during the bokken test. ‘For today, we will remain at this fifth “View” and begin with a basic koan, a question for you to answer for yourselves. Focus your attention on your Daruma Doll and start it rocking. We all know what it is, but what is it?’ It was clear Sensei Yamada didn’t want to hear an answer to his koan, but only for them to ponder on an answer. Unfortunately for Jack, he was still unable to focus properly and no solutions were forthcoming. The Daruma Doll still looked like a Daruma Doll, its sightless eyes as blank as Jack’s answer. Jack’s mind wandered from the doll, thoughts flickering like shadows until the incense stick had burnt through and Sensei Yamada chimed, ‘Mokuso yame!’ Everyone ceased their attempts at meditation and there was an audible sigh of relief now that the task was over.

‘Well done, everyone. You have just learnt an important ideal of bushido,’ said Sensei Yamada, a smile of contentment spreading across his face as if the answer to the koan was as clear as daylight. Jack still didn’t understand what the sensei was talking about. He glanced around and saw that many of the other students also had confused expressions on their faces. Enlightenment had clearly not graced them either. Kiku and Yori, however, appeared quite satisfied with their experiences. ‘Tonight I want you all to continue your meditation upon the doll. See what else you can learn from it.’ Sensei Yamada nodded sagely, suggesting there were many more truths to be discovered from the wooden toy. ‘The key to the art of Zen is daily regularity, so discipline yourself to meditate every morning and night for half a stick of time. Soon you will see life for what it is.’ He bowed, signifying the lesson was over. The students got to their feet and, bowing, departed with their Daruma Dolls in hand. Jack shook the blood back into his legs and went to join Akiko, Kiku and Yamato. ‘Remember to paint in the first eye and make a wish!’ Sensei Yamada cheerily called after them, remaining perched upon the dais of cushions, still the genial toad on a lily pad. Emerging from the dim Butsuden into the main courtyard, Jack had to shade his eyes against the winter sun, which had dipped low in the evening sky. ‘So, what was that all about?’ asked Saburo, who came shuffling down the Butsuden steps behind them.

‘I don’t know,’ replied Yamato. ‘Why not ask Kiku? She seems to know everything.’ ‘You are supposed to work it out yourself,’ said Kiku, over her shoulder. ‘I still don’t get it,’ said Saburo. ‘It’s just a wish doll.’ ‘No, it’s not. It’s more than that,’ responded Kiku. ‘That’s exactly what Sensei Yamada said. You’re just repeating his words. I reckon you don’t have a clue either,’ challenged Saburo. ‘Yes, I do,’ she replied primly and refused to say any more. ‘Will someone tell me what he meant?’ pleaded Saburo. ‘Akiko? Yamato?’ They both shrugged. ‘I would ask you, Jack, but you probably don’t even know what Zen is.’ He was right. Jack didn’t know. He had hoped someone would tell him, but hadn’t dared ask for fear of appearing even more stupid. ‘Seven times down, eight times up,’ said a tiny flute-like voice. They all turned to see Yori coming down the steps towards them. ‘What?’ ‘Seven times down, eight times up. No matter how often you are knocked down, get up and try again. Like the Daruma Doll.’

They all stared at Yori in bewilderment. ‘Sensei Yamada taught us a vital lesson in budo. Never give up.’ ‘Why didn’t he just tell us that?’ said Saburo. ‘That’s not the way Zen works,’ said Kiku, clearly annoyed at Yori for revealing the answer. She turned to Jack as if offering the explanation for his benefit. ‘Zen emphasizes the idea that ultimate truth in life must be experienced first-hand, rather than pursued through study.’ ‘Sorry?’ said Jack, desperately trying to grasp the concept. ‘Sensei Yamada is meant to guide us, not instruct us. You are meant to discover the answer for yourself. If Sensei Yamada had just told you the answer, you wouldn’t have understood its true meaning.’ ‘I would have!’ interrupted Saburo. ‘It’d have saved me a lot of brain-ache too!’ That night, Jack lit a short stick of incense and sat cross-legged in the half-lotus position in his room, contemplating the red doll. He pushed it over and watched it wobble. Then he waited patiently for enlightenment. A stick later, an answer wasn’t forthcoming, so he lit another and poked the Daruma Doll again. Its gentle movement started to lull him. He pushed it once more and, without anyone there to distract him, Jack felt himself drift. The doll continued to sway. Jack’s posture relaxed… His eyes half-closed… His breathing slowed… His mind calmed… His thoughts became less chaotic… His

body gradually filled with a soft warm glow… ki… Then a single thought burnt bright in his mind. He knew what to wish for. Jack painted in the first eye. ooo000ooo 29 SENSEI KYUZO Jack was flying through the air. The floor rushed up to meet him. With a sickening crunch, he landed on his back, the wind completely knocked out of him. He lay there, gasping for breath. A second later, Yamato crumpled in a pile next to him, followed by Saburo who dropped on top of them both, pinning them to the floor. ‘Idiot!’ they both barked at Saburo. ‘Sorry. His claims just seemed a little… unbelievable,’ replied Saburo, rolling off them and rubbing his chest. ‘Well, now you know they weren’t!’ said Yamato, kicking him away. Jack shot Saburo a resentful look. It was his fault that they were in such trouble. Sensei Kyuzo had been introducing himself and listing his victories over various renowned warriors, when Saburo

inadvertently snorted his disbelief and Sensei Kyuzo had stormed over. ‘What was that? Think I’d lie for the benefit of a snivelling kohai? Think someone my size cannot defeat a six-foot Korean warrior? Get up! You, Yamato-kun and the gaijin there,’ he said, stabbing a gnarled finger at Jack. ‘Attack me. All of you at once.’ They had stood awkwardly in the middle of the Butokuden, looking like startled rabbits. The old man was smaller than all of them, but appeared as dangerous as a rattlesnake. ‘Come on. I thought you were samurai!’ he taunted. ‘I’ll even it up a little. I promise only to use my right arm.’ The class had sniggered at this outlandish gesture. ‘Attack me now!’ he screamed. They had stared at one another, then, as one, charged at Sensei Kyuzo. Jack had not even touched the sensei before he was flung through the air, crash-landing on the dojo floor moments before Yamato and Saburo joined him in humiliating defeat. As Jack knelt back in line, he noticed Kazuki smirking at him. ‘I am grateful to my parents for giving me a small body. Warriors underestimate me. You underestimate me,’ said Sensei Kyuzo defiantly. ‘Have I knocked belief into you yet, Saburo-kun?’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ said Saburo, bowing so quickly that his forehead struck the floor.

Sensei Kyuzo continued to lecture them, while forcibly punching and stabbing his fingers at a wooden post. His fingers, hard as iron, made the post shudder each time he struck it. ‘In order to overcome bigger opponents, I have had to hone my techniques to perfection and train twice as hard.’ His voice pummelled their ears in short bursts, keeping time with his punching. ‘If my enemy trains one hour, I train two. If they train two hours, I train four. The key to taijutsu is hard work, constant training and discipline. Hai?’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ said each student. ‘I asked if you understood. The Gods in Heaven need to hear your answer. Hai?’ demanded Sensei Kyuzo again. ‘HAI, SENSEI!’ They yelled in unison, their shout resounding off the walls. ‘Every time you step out of that door, you face ten thousand foes. Hai?’ ‘HAI, SENSEI!’ ‘Regard your hands and feet as weapons against them. Hai?’ ‘HAI, SENSEI!’ ‘Tomorrow’s victory is today’s practice. Hai?’ ‘HAI, SENSEI!’

‘Your first year of taijutsu will be devoted to basic techniques.’ Sensei Kyuzo continued to verbally punch the air with his words while slamming the wooden post with his fist. ‘Master the basics. They are all that matter. Get your stances right. Make your moves precise. Then you can fight. Fancy techniques are for travelling fairs and impressing the ladies. The basics are for battle.’ Suddenly he stopped his pounding of the post. ‘You, gaijin! Come over here,’ ordered Sensei Kyuzo. ‘My name is Jack, Sensei,’ replied Jack stiffly, taken aback at the sensei’s insulting use of the term. ‘Fine. Gaijin Jack, come here,’ he said, beckoning him with one sharp flick of his hand. Kazuki let out a snort of laughter, whispering ‘Gaijin Jack’ under his breath to Nobu. ‘Kazuki-kun!’ said Sensei Kyuzo, without taking his eyes off Jack. ‘I trust that you will live up to your father’s reputation as a samurai. Pay attention!’ Jack got up and stood opposite Sensei Kyuzo. He didn’t know what to expect; the sensei was clearly ruthless. Jack certainly wasn’t going to underestimate him again. ‘Before we deal with kicking, punching or throwing, you must be able to control your enemy. We are going to start with grabs and

locks, since it is easier for you to feel the energy lines in a hold than a strike.’ He squared up to Jack, eyeing him meanly. ‘Grab my wrist as if you were trying to prevent me from drawing my sword. Attack me!’ he ordered Jack. Jack stepped up and warily took hold of the sensei’s arm. His own wrist instantly flared with pain and he involuntarily dropped to his knees to relieve the agony. Sensei Kyuzo had merely wrapped his hand over Jack’s arm and twisted it towards him, but the effect was overpowering. ‘This is nikkyō. It applies painful nerve pressure to the wrist and forearm,’ explained Sensei Kyuzo. ‘Tap your hand on your thigh or the floor when it gets too unbearable, gaijin.’ Sensei Kyuzo then rolled Jack’s wrist a notch further and Jack was blinded with agony. Jack slapped his thigh manically and the technique came off. Through eyes watery with pain, Jack could see Kazuki thoroughly delighting in his public suffering. ‘Get up and attack me as hard and fast as you can,’ he ordered. Jack did, but was immediately driven to the ground again by the excruciating agony of the same simple move. Jack’s hand thrashed wildly on his thigh and the pressure was released. ‘You see the soft controls the hard. The harder Gaijin Jack tried to attack, the easier it was for me to defeat him,’ he said, a callous smile on his lips as he demonstrated the technique several more times for the benefit of the class.

Sensei Kyuzo then performed further techniques on Jack, flinging him around like a puppet, using him as a punching bag, pushing him over for having a poor stance. By the end, Jack was exhausted, battered, bruised and aching. ‘Now I want all of you to practise nikkyō. Partner up – decide who is the tori, executing the technique, and who is the uke, receiving the technique. Kazuki, why not train with my uke? He should be nicely warmed up for you.’ Jack groaned inwardly at the unfairness of it all, but was determined not to let his frustration get the better of him in front of Kazuki. ‘Since you are my uke, Gaijin Jack, I go first,’ said Kazuki, offering his arm for Jack to grab. ‘Remember, everyone,’ warned Sensei Kyuzo. ‘If the technique is applied too severely, tap the floor or your thigh to let your partner know. They must release you.’ Jack clamped his hand over Kazuki’s wrist, confident that Kazuki’s inexperience would mean he would not be able to apply the technique. But Kazuki had clearly practised nikkyō before. Jack dropped to his knees, his body instinctively reacting to avoid the pain. Jack tapped his thigh. Kazuki applied more pressure. Jack tapped harder.

Kazuki twisted Jack’s wrist as far as it would go. So acute was his agony that tears streamed down his face. Kazuki looked on, a vindictive glee in his eyes. ‘Change partners,’ commanded Sensei Kyuzo. ‘Good training with you, Gaijin Jack,’ spat Kazuki, discarding Jack’s wrist then striding off to find his next victim. Jack fumed. He hadn’t even been given the chance to retaliate. When class came to an end, Jack was the first out. Akiko came hurrying out and chased after him. ‘Are you all right, Jack?’ she asked. ‘Of course not! Why didn’t Sensei Kyuzo pick someone else to demonstrate on?’ he said, exploding with pent-up rage. ‘He has it in for me. He’s just like Kazuki. He hates gaijin.’ ‘No, he doesn’t. Sensei Kyuzo will probably use someone else next time,’ she said, trying to placate him. ‘Anyway, it is good to be uke. Masamoto told me that it’s the best way to learn. You will then know how the technique should feel when applied properly.’ Jack could hear the taunts of ‘Gaijin Jack’ and their accompanying giggles from the passing students as they left the Butokuden and headed to the Chō-no-ma for lunch. ‘And what is it with the Gaijin Jack? I don’t go around insulting them!’ ‘Ignore them, Jack,’ said Akiko. ‘They don’t know any better.’

But they should, thought Jack. They’re all supposed to be samurai. ooo000ooo 30 TARGET PRACTICE A speck of white, no bigger than an eye, flared brightly in the midday sun. A temple gong chimed, its sound shimmering over the school’s rooftops. A streak of feathers, with the speed of a hawk swooping down on its prey, shot through the air accompanied by a high shrill whistling; then a resounding thump, like the single beat of a heart, as the arrow penetrated the very centre of the white target. A second arrow struck a moment later, parallel to the first, its feathered flights quivering. The students applauded. Sensei Yosa maintained her stance a moment longer, the intensity of her concentration palpable. She then lowered her bow and approached her students. ‘Kyujutsu demands a unique combination of talents in a samurai,’ she began. ‘The determination of a warrior, the grace of a dancer and the spiritual peace of a monk.’ The students listened intently, all gathered at one end of the Nanzen-niwa, the ‘Southern Zen garden’ behind the Butsuden. It was a garden of beautiful simplicity, designed around a long rectangular stretch of raked white sand and decorated with monolithic stones and carefully cultivated plants. An ancient pine

tree, twisted and bent by the elements, stood in the opposite corner. Like a frail old man, its trunk was propped up by a wooden crutch. The target was under this tree and, being at the other end of the garden, it appeared no larger than Jack’s own head, its central white bullseye almost undetectable within the two concentric rings of black. ‘The bow is the weapon of choice for long-range fighting. It can be fired by both man and woman, girl and boy, with equally devastating results.’ Jack knelt between Yamato and Akiko, in awe both at the lithe beauty and the supreme skill of Sensei Yosa. He was being taught by a lethal angel, he thought. ‘All the daimyo have been trained in kyujutsu, from Takatomi Hideaki to Kamakura Katsuro, to Masamoto Takeshi himself. And, of course, it was the weapon that made Tomoe Gozen a legend.’ Akiko was transfixed by Sensei Yosa’s words. The mention of Tomoe Gozen had delighted Akiko so much that Jack thought she might burst into open applause at any second. ‘Unlike the sword, the fist or the foot, the bow resists you. At full draw the bow is nine-tenths towards actually snapping in half!’ The students gasped in astonishment. Kazuki, though, gazed around, appearing a little bored with it all. Perhaps there wasn’t enough violence for him, mused Jack. ‘Mastering the Way of the Bow is akin to a pyramid, where the finer skills sit atop a very broad and firm base. You must take the requisite amount of time to build up a strong foundation. We will

develop each stage in turn over the coming months,’ she said, tenderly caressing the feathered flight of an arrow between thumb and forefinger. ‘Today, though, I simply want everyone to get a feel for the bow. If you’re able, maybe even shoot an arrow.’ There was a murmur of excitement at the possibility of actually shooting at a target. Akiko knelt even more erect, a wound-up spring ready to jump to her feet at the first opportunity. ‘To begin with, please watch closely, so that you can copy my movements,’ said Sensei Yosa, stepping up to the mark. ‘The first principle in kyujutsu is that the spirit, bow and body are as one.’ Sensei Yosa lined herself up, side on to the target, and settled herself into a wide stance, so that she formed an A-shape with her body. ‘The second principle is balance. Balance is the foundation stone to kyujutsu. Picture yourself as a tree. Your lower half is the trunk and roots, stable and solid. Your upper body forms the branches, flexible yet retaining their form and function. This balance is what will make you a great kyudoka!’ Sensei Yosa held her bowstring with her right hand, then positioned her left carefully on the bow’s grip. She raised the bow, which was taller than she was, above her head and prepared to draw. ‘There is a constant struggle between the mind and body to control the flow of the draw. To strike a target with any degree of precision, absolute focus is required. This is the third principle. The slightest imbalance, a wrong breath, any loss of concentration will result in a miss.’

Sensei Yosa brought the bow down, drawing the string past her cheekbone and the arrow in line with her eye, so that her ruby-red scar was framed between them. ‘When your spirit and balance are correct, the arrow will strike its target. To give yourself completely to the Way of the Bow is your spiritual goal.’ Sensei Yosa completed the draw in a single fluid movement, the arrow soared through the air and once again struck the centre of the target. ‘Who would like to have a go first?’ asked Sensei Yosa. Akiko’s hand shot straight up. Emi, seeing an opportunity to outshine Akiko again, raised her hand too. ‘Well, let us begin with you two. Please use these two bows. They should be of a suitable size and draw strength,’ said Sensei Yosa, indicating the lower part of a rack behind her. ‘Good luck,’ said Kiku genially to Emi as the girl rose to take up her position. ‘Luck is for the inept,’ she said, dismissing Kiku as if she were some minion, and strode up to the mark. ‘Ladies, I would like you to draw the bow as I demonstrated, but do not release until I say so.’ They both raised their weapons and drew back, framing themselves within the curve of their bows. Standing beside Akiko, Emi was noticeably taller, her slender figure accentuated by unusually long, arrow-straight hair. Her face had a sharp beauty,

highlighted by a pinprick of a mouth. In all, Jack thought, she mirrored her family kamon, the crane – tall, slim and elegant. ‘Good. You both show acceptable form. You may shoot in your own time; aim at the nearest target,’ she said, pointing to one only ten or so paces away. Emi released, but the bowstring caught on her arm and her arrow fluttered weakly through the air before landing short of the target. Akiko’s shot was more impressive, flying straight but wide of the target. ‘That was a fair first attempt,’ said Sensei Yosa. ‘You have both done this before?’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ admitted Emi with a sour look on her face. ‘Not me, Sensei,’ said Akiko, much to Emi’s displeasure. ‘I am most impressed, Akiko-chan,’ said Sensei Yosa. ‘You demonstrate natural aptitude for the bow.’ ‘I want to try again with my second arrow,’ demanded Emi petulantly. Sensei Yosa, slightly taken aback at the girl’s haughty tone, appraised both the girls before replying. ‘I’m not against a bit of a competition. It encourages talent. Please, both of you step up to the mark. Let’s see if you can hit the target this time.’

Emi lined up again, drew her bow and shot cleanly. The arrow struck the outer black ring of the target. She looked down her nose at Akiko, assured of her victory. ‘Very good, Emi-chan. Let’s see if Akiko-chan can improve on that,’ said Sensei Yosa, setting the challenge. Akiko stepped up to the mark. Jack held his breath as she positioned herself and took hold of the bowstring. He could see her hands shaking slightly as she reached for the bow grip and tried to calm her breathing. Her face then became fixed with a steely determination. She steadied herself, raised the bow above her head and, lowering it slowly, drew back on the string. Jack could see Emi willing Akiko to miss. And with the bullseye appearing so small, how was Akiko ever going to hit it? Pulling the bowstring past her cheek, she released the arrow. It cut through the air, and struck the target a thumb’s width closer to the centre than Emi’s shot. Jack let out a celebratory yell and immediately the other students joined in. Akiko beamed with a mixture of delight and astonishment. ‘Excellent, Akiko-chan. You may both sit down,’ said Sensei Yosa. ‘Who would like to be next?’ Several other students immediately threw up their hands, while a disgruntled Emi and a jubilant Akiko knelt back in line. Jack watched as each student took their turn. When Kazuki and Nobu stepped up, they both selected the biggest bows they could find from the rack, despite Sensei Yosa’s

warning that they would be too powerful for them. Nobu immediately proved her right. He lost his grip on the bow, the string snapped back into place and caught him hard across the cheek. Nobu howled in pain, much to everyone’s delight. Even Kazuki laughed at his friend’s misfortune. Then it was Jack’s turn. He stepped up to the mark, nocked an arrow and drew back his bow. Out of nowhere, something struck him on the cheek. Distracted, he lost his grip and the arrow flew off out of control. It hit a large standing stone and ricocheted towards Sensei Yosa, who was standing to one side. The arrow landed at Sensei Yosa’s feet, snagging the edge of her tabi. ‘STOP!’ she shouted. No one moved. A deathly silence fell upon the garden. Jack could clearly hear the scrape of the arrow tip as Sensei Yosa tugged it out of the ground, then the crunch of the gravel as she approached. ‘Jack-kun,’ she breathed into his ear, ‘did I say you could release your arrow?’ ‘So sorry, Sensei, but it wasn’t my fault.’ ‘Take responsibility for yourself! You are the bow. You had control. See me after class, when I will prescribe you your punishment.’ ‘Excuse me, Sensei Yosa,’ said Yori timorously. ‘What is it, Yori-kun?’

‘It was not Jack, Sensei Yosa. Someone threw a stone at him.’ ‘Is this true?’ she demanded of Jack. ‘Who did it then?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied, although he was certain he could guess. ‘Yori? Who was responsible?’ The little boy bowed and nervously whispered Kazuki’s name. ‘What was that, Yori-kun?’ asked Sensei Yosa, not hearing his first attempt. ‘Kazuki, Sensei…’ And Yori’s voice trailed off. Kazuki’s eyes flared with anger at this open betrayal and he made to move on Yori, but shrank back as Sensei Yosa thundered, ‘KAZUKI-KUN! You will see me after class when we will discuss your punishment. Now fetch my arrows from the target!’ Kazuki swiftly bowed and dashed to the target. He was so terrified of her wrath that he struggled to pull the arrows out. He had just managed to retrieve the first one, when an arrow shot by his ear and impaled the sleeve of his kimono to the target. He spun round, eyes bulging, mouth open in silent horror. ‘Arouse a bee, Kazuki-kun, and it will come at you with the force of a dragon!’ she called down the garden as she nocked another arrow. ‘Kyujutsu is highly dangerous for a student. Do not fool around. Do you understand, Kazuki-kun?’ She let fly the second arrow. Kazuki didn’t even have time to blink. The arrow clipped him just above the head, parting his hair

before striking the target. Kazuki, writhing to escape like a worm impaled on a hook, was desperate to end his humiliation. ‘Hai, Sensei Yosa! Moushiwake arimasen deshita!’ he blurted, expressing the highest form of apology possible. Jack relished his enemy’s comeuppance. Perhaps, next time, Kazuki would not be so eager to harass him. Jack turned to Yori to bow his appreciation, but the little boy didn’t acknowledge him. He merely knelt there, with blank eyes, biting his lower lip anxiously. ooo000ooo 31 KAZUKI’S WAR Kazuki was not present at dinner that evening. Jack, for the first time since his arrival in Kyoto, relaxed. Clearly Kazuki was still carrying out Sensei Yosa’s punishment. Jack’s only concern was that Yori had not turned up for dinner either. Akiko said she had seen him heading over to the Buddha Hall and thought he may have gone there to see Sensei Yamada. However, when dinner started, Sensei Yamada shuffled in alone. There was still no sign of Yori when the meal drew to a close and Jack was certain something had happened to him. He grew even more anxious when he saw Nobu waddle out of the door in a hurry. ‘Akiko, I’m worried about Yori. He’s not turned up for dinner.’

‘I’m sure he’s fine, Jack. He’s probably meditating somewhere. I’ve often seen him in his room meditating morning, noon and night. He has some lovely sandalwood incense. He even let me try some …’ ‘I’m serious, Akiko. After kyujutsu today, surely he has made an enemy of Kazuki.’ ‘Jack. Kazuki lost face, but he wouldn’t dare do anything to Yori. It would be against his honour.’ ‘Honour? What honour? He attacks me without any problem.’ ‘That is true, but you’re…’ Akiko appeared suddenly uncomfortable. ‘… gaijin… a foreigner. He does not see you as an equal. Yori, however, is Japanese, from a samurai family with a long and honourable history.’ ‘But Masamoto has adopted me, surely I deserve the same respect…’ said Jack, but he trailed off. Jack could see it in her eyes. He was not equal. He never would be. Not in hers or Kazuki’s eyes. He looked round the table. Saburo and Kiku politely avoided his gaze. Yamato stared coolly back. It was apparent to Jack that Yamato still only tolerated him because his father had commanded him to, despite Jack having saved his life. ‘So honour is only reserved for the Japanese, is it?’ Jack said, challenging them. Akiko’s face crumpled like a snowdrift and she bowed to avoid his furious glare. ‘Fine. Well, at least maintain your honour for Yori and help me find him.’

‘Yes, good idea,’ said Saburo, attempting to diffuse the situation. ‘Perhaps Yamato and I can go and look for him in the Niwa? Akiko and Kiku can try and find him in the Shishi-no-ma. Jack, you can check out the Butsuden. Akiko’s right, he’s probably just meditating somewhere.’ Saburo quickly got to his feet, urging everyone to begin searching, and they all hurried out of the Chō-no-ma. It was another cold starry night and a half-moon hung in the heavens, illuminating the courtyard in a ghostly pale light as the lone figure of Jack climbed the stone steps to the Butsuden’s entrance. Jack wanted to scream at the moon. His frustration at being in Japan simmered like hot oil beneath his skin. He could handle most of it, even Kazuki, but the thing that had hurt him most was Akiko’s reaction, and the realization that she also saw him as different, beneath her. Jack thought they had become friends. But friends don’t divide by difference. They unite because of it. Jack gave a humourless smile. Now he was starting to sound like Sensei Yamada spouting some Zen proverb. He swallowed down his bitterness. At least Yori had stood up for him. Jack just hoped the boy was not in trouble. Reaching the top step, he peered into the Butsuden’s gloomy darkness. Shafts of moonlight cut across the hall like the bars on a cell. He was about to call out Yori’s name, when he heard subdued voices, tense and angry. ‘I had to spread the night soil from the toilets on to the garden,’ said the voice. ‘I’ve missed my dinner and I stink!’

‘So sorry, Kazuki. But it was wrong to…’ Jack peered round the door and saw Kazuki standing over the trembling form of Yori. Nobu was looming behind him, his shadow spread fat and bulbous across the floor. Jack pressed himself flat against the wall and, hidden by the darkness, edged closer. ‘Wrong? What do you care? He is gaijin! He is not worthy to be one of us,’ spat Kazuki. ‘I dare not believe that you, Yori, first son of the Takedas whose ancestors fought and defeated the Mongols, stood up for a mere gaijin!’ ‘But he is really no different from us, Kazuki…’ pleaded Yori. ‘What? You have much to learn. We are the descendants of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. The samurai are the chosen ones, the warriors of the gods. Gaijin are nothing. Gaijin are to be ruled over.’ Jack was astounded at Kazuki’s self-importance. His blood boiled at the boy’s ignorance. No one person was better than another. Only different. Kazuki, however, clearly saw difference as a weakness, a flaw, a mistake. Jack steeled himself to intervene. Just as he was about to make his move, Kazuki changed tack. ‘But I can be reasonable, Yori,’ continued Kazuki in an almost appeasing tone. ‘In recognition of your family’s ancestors, I will give you a chance to escape your punishment.’ Jack checked himself. Maybe Akiko is right, thought Jack, perhaps he will honour Yori as a samurai. Yori blinked up at Kazuki in the darkness, confused and anxious.

‘You appear to know a lot about Zen. I want you to answer this koan. It’s a riddle I’m sure you can easily solve. But if you don’t, then you will accept your punishment gratefully, although you may find eating a little hard tomorrow.’ Nobu chuckled at the threat, cracking his knuckles, the sound reverberating throughout the hall. Yori whimpered. ‘Here is your koan. Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Yori said nothing for a moment, nervously wringing his hands on his kimono, his forehead creased in panicked concentration. ‘What is the sound of one hand, Yori?’ demanded Kazuki. ‘Please. Please. I need silence to think.’ ‘Sorry, but I’m hungry and have little patience. Answer me!’ ‘It refers to… the koan itself. When the two hands clapping are… seen as the seeking of the answer… so that the hands themselves become the koan… it then follows that you… as the meditator… become the koan that you are trying to understand… That is the sound of one hand clapping.’ ‘Excellent. Sensei Yamada would approve of such a philosophical muddle of an answer. But wrong! This is the sound of one hand clapping,’ said Kazuki, and he raised his own hand and slapped Yori hard across the face. Yori fell to the floor, whimpering in distress. ‘No!’ shouted Jack who, without a second’s thought, flew from the shadows and slammed into Kazuki.

He drove his shoulder into Kazuki’s gut and they both rolled into the middle of the hall. Kazuki was severely winded and couldn’t move. Jack punched him in the mouth. ‘That one’s for Yori,’ said Jack. ‘And this is for me!’ Akiko and Kiku came flying into the Butsuden just as Jack raised his fist for the second time. ‘Jack!’ cried Akiko. Jack glanced up. It was the split second Kazuki needed. He drove his own fist up into Jack’s chin, sending Jack backwards. Kazuki scrambled to his feet as Jack lay sprawled across the stone floor. Kazuki stood over him, his burst lip trickling blood. ‘Bad move, gaijin,’ he spat, lifting his leg to strike. ‘No!’ warned Akiko, launching herself at Kazuki in an attempt to stop him. But Nobu grabbed her by the hair and sharply pulled her back. Jack, fired up by Nobu’s assault on Akiko, rolled into Kazuki and drove hard into his standing leg. Pushed off-balance, Kazuki crashed to the floor. The two boys wrestled, each trying to get the upper hand. Kazuki managed to roll on top and trap Jack’s left arm. Jack felt pressure being applied and was immediately paralysed with pain. He tried to move, but each time he did, Kazuki pressed down harder.

Yamato ran in with Saburo. ‘Yamato, help Jack!’ cried Akiko, who struggled against Nobu’s grip. Nobu, scared that Yamato might attack him, immediately released Akiko. Kiku ran to her aid, but Akiko didn’t need any help. She elbowed Nobu hard in the stomach, causing him to double over in agony. ‘Why would you want to help a gaijin, Yamato?’ shouted Kazuki, breathless from the fight. ‘Especially one who has usurped your brother’s place. I am right, he is Masamoto’s adopted son, isn’t he?’ Yamato faltered, stalling his approach, and stared at Jack who lay pinned down under Kazuki. ‘How could you let that happen, Yamato? A gaijin, part of your family. The disgrace!’ Kazuki’s words rebounded off the walls of the Butsuden, echoing ‘Disgrace! Disgrace! Disgrace!’ in Yamato’s ears. ‘I can end this dishonour. I can break his arm such that even Masamoto could never fix it. I don’t know many one-armed samurai, do you, Yamato?’ Jack could see Yamato weighing up his options. On the one hand, how much better it would be for Yamato if he was gone, and on the other, there was the debt of honour he owed Jack for saving his life. But that was not the real issue here; the wrath of his father would be the deciding factor.

‘Masamoto will not punish us,’ egged on Kazuki, as if reading Yamato’s thoughts. ‘Nobu is my witness. He saw the gaijin strike me first. I have every right to defend myself.’ Yamato stepped back a pace. ‘That’s right, Yamato, let me rid you of this gaijin. You and I both know he has been a thorn in your side.’ Kazuki twisted Jack’s wrist a notch further to emphasize the point. Jack cried out, the pain searing through his arm like a hot iron rod. Then suddenly the pressure disappeared. Akiko had slammed her foot into Kazuki’s back, using a mae-geri, the simple but effective front kick they had been taught that day in taijutsu. Kazuki was sent sprawling across the floor. He flipped over and started towards Akiko. Instinctively she threw up her guard to counter his attack, but Kazuki checked his strike at the last moment. ‘This is foolish,’ he said, stepping away and raising his hands in a sign of peace. ‘We’re fighting over a gaijin. Masamoto decreed that we should be loyal to the samurai of this school. I will not fight you.’ ‘Yet you will fight Jack and he is samurai too,’ retorted Akiko. ‘No, he isn’t. He never will be and he knows it. Just look at him.’ Jack lay on the floor, cradling his arm, his face bruised and swelling where Kazuki had struck him. Akiko looked down at Jack, her eyes filled with pity.

Jack didn’t want pity. He was hurt and ashamed, but not beaten. What he wanted was acceptance, but perhaps that was too much to ask. He turned away from her. Kazuki bowed and calmly walked over to the door, Nobu faithfully following him, still clutching his stomach. Kazuki wiped the blood from his lip with the back of his hand, then turned and faced them all. ‘I don’t want any of you telling the sensei about tonight.’ ‘I’ll tell Masamoto, if you ever touch Jack again,’ threatened Akiko. ‘No, you won’t. If you do, we’ll all be thrown out of the school. Fighting is forbidden within the Buddha Hall.’ ‘Jack is my friend and I’ll defend him, whatever the cost.’ Jack couldn’t believe his ears. Akiko had declared her loyalty publicly. The significance of her pronouncement was not lost on any of the others present either. She helped Jack to his feet. ‘Don’t be a gaijin lover, Akiko! I cannot promise to hold back next time you stand in my way,’ warned Kazuki. ‘Harm him and I will tell – the choice is yours.’ Kazuki faltered. Jack guessed that he couldn’t afford to gamble on Akiko’s threat. Being thrown out of the Niten Ichi Ryū would be a permanent loss of face, a highly inappropriate circumstance for a boy of imperial blood.

‘I do not wish to see you disgraced, Akiko, so I will make you a promise in return for forgetting this night. I’ll not fight the gaijin again within the walls of the Niten Ichi Ryū. Agreed?’ Akiko looked at Jack before nodding her acceptance. ‘Gaijin!’ snarled Kazuki. ‘You and I are not finished. Our war has barely begun.’ ooo000ooo 32 HANAMI PARTY A glorious butterfly with iridescent blue wings rested on the pink blossom of a cherry tree. It sipped on the sweet nectar of the flower, gaining nourishment and growing strong. Its antennae twitched as the breeze shifted. Out of nowhere a heavy iron bar came crashing into the blossom. The butterfly flitted away, escaping death only by a fraction of a second. A giant red demon came thundering out of the undergrowth, maniacally swinging the bar, intent on catching the butterfly as it settled upon each blossom. The butterfly effortlessly avoided the blows time and time again. Sweat rolled down the face of the red demon, frustration etched on its brow. The demon, boiling with rage, thrashed again and again at the butterfly, until it collapsed on the barren earth, defeated by its own efforts. The butterfly, with its iridescent blue wings still intact, fluttered away… Jack’s eyes fluttered open.

A languid trail of incense smoke curled its way to the ceiling of his tiny bedroom. The red Daruma Doll sat perched upon the narrow window sill next to the bonsai tree. The doll’s solitary eye fixed Jack with an innocuous stare. Jack breathed heavily, reeling from the clarity of the vision. Jack could regularly attain the third ‘View’, a pure mind, during his morning meditations. It allowed him to think clearly for the rest of the day, but he had never experienced a vision like this before. What had made him see a demon and a butterfly? What did it mean, if anything at all? This was far beyond anything he had been taught. He would have to speak to Sensei Yamada. Jack got to his feet and stretched. Taking a small jug from beneath the window, he poured a little water on to his bonsai tree. He had done this every morning as Uekiya had instructed. The old gardener would be pleased, he thought. He hadn’t managed to kill it yet. As Jack tended to the bonsai, he spotted tiny pink flower buds emerging. The same as those in his vision. Sakura blossom. The blossom meant it was already spring. Jack couldn’t believe it. He had been training at the Niten Ichi Ryū for over three months. He had been in Japan almost nine months. He had not set foot on English soil in nearly three years! His life was so different from what it once had been. He was no longer a child dreaming of being a pilot like his father. He was a boy training to be a samurai warrior!

Every morning he rose before dawn to meditate for half a stick of time. Then he joined the others for the same bland breakfast of rice and a few pickled vegetables. What he would give for some English bacon and fried eggs! Then they embarked upon their lessons for the day. Two long sessions, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Some days it was kenjutsu and Zen; others it was kyujutsu and taijutsu. Following training, he would gather with the students in the Chō-noma for dinner, the sensei all seated at the head table, like a row of esoteric warrior gods looking over their charges. After dinner, they would be expected to practise by themselves, perfecting the skills they had learnt. Learn today so that you may live tomorrow was the mantra that was constantly drilled into them. Yet, despite the regimented routine and rigorous discipline of this life, Jack had to admit that he was more at peace with himself than he had been for a long while. The routine was a comfort in itself. He was not a free wheel spinning without purpose or direction. He was learning how to defend himself, to live by the code of bushido, and to become a true samurai. He could now wield a bokken with power and accuracy and had mastered the first three attacks – the only ones you will ever need, Sensei Hosokawa had said. He could shoot an arrow, although he had only hit the target a couple of times, unlike Akiko who had taken to kyujutsu like she had been born with a bow in her hand. He could now kick, punch, block and throw. Admittedly, he only knew the very basic techniques, but he was no longer powerless.

The next time he met with Dragon Eye, he would not be the helpless little boy who failed to save his father. He would be a samurai warrior! Since the fight with Kazuki in the Buddha Hall, many things had changed. Akiko, having declared her friendship, was Jack’s closest ally. Yori had become a constant companion, but he was so reserved that Jack still didn’t really know him. Kiku was pleasant enough towards him, though Jack thought that was more for Akiko’s benefit than out of any real friendship. Saburo sat on the fence. He was everyone’s friend. He would talk to anyone who listened. Yamato, however, had distanced himself completely. He now sat on the other table with Kazuki, Emi and Nobu. He still spoke to Akiko and the others, but would blatantly ignore Jack. That suited Jack just fine. On the upside, Kazuki had kept to his word. He had left Jack alone. He still threw intimidating looks and would taunt him, calling him ‘Gaijin Jack’ along with the rest of his cronies, but he did not lay a finger on him. Except when training in taijutsu! This was no-man’s-land. During the kihon and randori sessions in these classes, Sensei Kyuzo would often turn a blind eye to Kazuki’s excessive use of force. One time, they had been practising ude-uke, inside forearm blocks, and the power behind each block had escalated until they were both hammering at each other’s forearms. The bruises didn’t fade for over a week. Jack had tried to complain about Kazuki’s behaviour, but Sensei Kyuzo shot him down, saying, ‘It’s good

conditioning for you. If you can’t take a little pain, you are clearly too much gaijin to be a samurai.’ Akiko’s voice interrupted his thoughts. ‘Jack, are you coming?’ She had appeared at his door in a sky-blue kimono decorated with butterflies. Jack blinked. She was like the butterfly from his vision! Then Kiku sidled up to her, wearing a light-green spring kimono and carrying a small bag. ‘Coming where?’ asked Jack. ‘Hanami!’ she sang, and hurried off with Kiku in tow. ‘What’s hanami?’ Jack called after her down the hallway. ‘A flower-viewing party,’ said Saburo, who had popped his head round the corner. Jack could see Yori waiting silently in the background. ‘A flower-viewing party? Sounds absolutely thrilling,’ said Jack with forced enthusiasm, but he put down his watering jug and followed after them nonetheless. At least it would make a change from training, he thought. ‘This certainly does make a change,’ said Jack, letting out a long contented sigh as he lounged on the grassy banks of the Kamogawa River, shaded from the sun by sakura trees that literally drooped under the weight of their blossom. Akiko, Kiku, Yori and Saburo were sitting beside him, equally enjoying the bliss of the moment. This was the first time the

students had been allowed out of the school complex, and they were all relishing the freedom. ‘So how do you like our hanami party?’ asked Akiko. ‘Well, if all it involves is eating, drinking and relaxing under cherry blossom trees, Akiko, then this is the best hanami party I have ever been to!’ replied Jack. ‘It’s much more than that, Jack!’ admonished Akiko, with a good-natured smile. ‘You’re starting to sound like Sensei Yamada with one of his koan!’ replied Jack light-heartedly, and they all laughed. ‘Seriously, though, hanami is very important to us,’ said Akiko. ‘The cherry blossom marks the start of the riceplanting season and we use the flowering to divine the success of the harvest. Judging by the fullness of the blossom already, this year will be a good year.’ ‘The blossom also signals a beginning, a new stage in life,’ added Kiku, ‘so we make offerings to the gods who live inside the trees. See those samurai over there?’ ‘Yes,’ said Jack, peering over at three samurai who were sprawled around the base of a cherry blossom tree. They were passing an extremely large ceramic bottle between them and appeared heavily intoxicated from drinking its contents. ‘They have made the traditional offering of saké to the sakura and are now partaking of the offering.’ ‘What’s saké?’ asked Jack.

‘Rice wine!’ said Saburo buoyantly. ‘Want to try some?’ ‘All right,’ said Jack, though he was hesitant after noticing Akiko’s disapproving look. Saburo ran over to the drunken samurai and quickly returned with a wooden box-shaped cup brimming with a clear liquid. He offered some to Jack. Jack took a swig. The saké tasted sweet and watery, but as he swallowed it became sharper and more potent. He hacked as the saké burnt the back of his throat. ‘What do you think?’ said Saburo eagerly. ‘Well, it’s not as rough as the drink on-board ship, but I’ll stick to water if you don’t mind.’ Saburo shrugged indifferently, finishing off the rest of the cup in one gulp. He went to return the cup to the samurai, only to come back with another full one. He offered it to the girls this time. ‘Saburo, you know we’re not allowed saké,’ scolded Kiku. Saburo ignored her and merrily sipped the entire contents on his own. They spent the rest of the day relaxing under their tree, occasionally dipping their toes into the cool waters of the Kamogawa, Saburo getting the occasional refill of saké. As the sun began to set, paper lanterns were lit and hung from the branches of the sakura trees, floating like glowing fruit above

the walkways. With dusk settling in, it was time for them to return to the Niten Ichi Ryū. ‘So, Jack,’ asked Akiko, ‘what do you think of the blossom now?’ ‘Beautiful but brief like life,’ said Jack, echoing Uekiya’s words. ‘No! Fleeting like a woman’s beauty!’ blurted Saburo, the excess of saké having gone to his head. His legs collapsed beneath him as he tried to stand. Kiku and Yori helped him back up. ‘Yes, Jack. Like life,’ agreed Akiko, ignoring Saburo’s drunkenness. ‘You really are beginning to think like a Japanese.’ They walked back along the river path, the branches of the sakura forming an enchanted bower of blossom and lamplight. Jack and Akiko wandered ahead, while Kiku and Yori juggled the intoxicated Saburo between them. Under the soft glow of the lanterns, Akiko was even lovelier than usual. He remembered the moment he’d first seen her by the headland temple, her white stallion tethered to the standing stone. And she had been the one reliable constant ever since he’d arrived in Japan – nursing him through his fever, helping him to learn the language, teaching him their customs, then defending him from Kazuki. How could he ever repay her for all that she’d done? He turned and began to speak, but the words got jumbled up in his throat and all he could do was look at her. She stopped, returning his gaze, her ebony eyes glimmering in the half-light.

‘Eh, Gaijin Jack!’ snarled a voice. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Jack felt his blood run cold. ooo000ooo 33 THE TARYU JIAI Kazuki’s face leered at him. ‘Didn’t you hear me, gaijin? I said, what are you doing outside school?’ ‘Leave him alone, Kazuki. You promised!’ said Akiko. ‘Oh, it’s the gaijin lover! Still can’t defend himself, is that it?’ taunted Kazuki. ‘Need a girl to fight for you, gaijin? Did you hear that, boys, the gaijin has to have a girl bodyguard!’ Snorting with amusement, Kazuki glanced over his shoulder at the four lads who were with him. Nobu rolled with laughter, his large belly heaving. Two boys, whom Jack didn’t recognize, jeered approvingly, but the fourth member of Kazuki’s gang looked decidedly uncomfortable, suddenly finding his tabi of great interest. It was Yamato. ‘Well, Akiko beat you, didn’t she?’ said Jack, and one of the lads chortled.

‘Only because I had my back to her,’ snapped Kazuki. ‘Anyway, I’d be far more concerned about your welfare than mine, gaijin. We’ve got a score to settle.’ ‘No!’ exclaimed Akiko. ‘I warned you, I’ll tell Masamoto.’ ‘Tell him what? That a few moons ago we had a little argument in the Buddha Hall. I don’t think so. Bit late for that.’ He took a step closer to Jack, goading him to make a move. ‘You forget, Akiko. My promise only extended to the school walls. Outside, he’s fair game. We’re not governed by Masamoto here.’ ‘Come on then,’ dared Jack. ‘Let’s get it over with.’ Jack was fed up with the taunts, the whisperings behind his back, the bullying in the taijutsu classes, and the constant intimidation and threats. It was like living under a permanent shadow. He couldn’t be free of it until the matter between him and Kazuki was settled, once and for all. ‘I’d think carefully, gaijin, before starting a fight you can’t win,’ said Kazuki. ‘I don’t believe you’ve ever met my cousins? This here is Raiden. His name means “Thunder God”.’ One of the lads stepped forward and bowed. When he righted himself, Jack was astounded at the boy’s size. Raiden was a good head taller than Jack. His arms were thick and meaty, and he had tree trunks for legs. He was also unusually hairy for a Japanese person. His eyebrows, dark and bushy, hung off a pronounced

forehead and a profusion of chest hair was trying to escape from inside his kimono. Jack would have been completely intimidated by the lad’s thunderous appearance, if Raiden’s eyes hadn’t been slightly too close together. They made him look like an overgrown ape, but a bit more stupid. ‘And this is his twin brother, Toru. You don’t want to know what his name means, I assure you.’ He was identical. Only even more stupid-looking, thought Jack. ‘They’re from Hokkaido, but you wouldn’t know where that is, would you, gaijin?’ said Kazuki, baiting Jack again. ‘Let me enlighten you. It’s the north island of Japan and these boys are from the Seto clan, the toughest and most ruthless samurai you’ll ever come across. That’s why they’re enrolled at the Yagyu School here in Kyoto. It’s renowned for producing some of the most fearsome warriors in Japan. Sponsored by the great daimyo Kamakura Katsuro himself, no less!’ ‘This is just between you and me, Kazuki,’ interrupted Jack, fed up with Kazuki’s attempts to terrorize him. ‘Send your apes home!’ Raiden and Toru snarled at the insult, lumbering forward with the clear intention of pulling Jack limb from limb. ‘Eh? Whass’ going on ’ere?’ slurred Saburo, stumbling from Kiku and Yori’s grasp and planting himself in between Jack and the two approaching giants. ‘Leave my friend alone… We at a ha-ha-hanami party and you ’aven’t been invited.’

Saburo wobbled slightly, like a Daruma Doll, then fell forward, his head thumping against the chest of Raiden. Raiden slapped him away as if he were swatting a fly. ‘Oww!’ said Saburo, reeling from the blow, blood dripping from his nose. ‘You fat oaf! That hurt!’ Kiku and Yori ran to his aid, but Saburo shrugged them off and wound himself up to take a swing at his assailant. Raiden simply raised his great slab of a fist and drove it at Saburo’s face. ‘Oi! Pick on someone your own size!’ said Jack and let loose a yoko-geri, side-kick, his heel striking directly into Raiden’s ribs. Raiden grunted, staggered sideways, his fist sailing past Saburo’s startled face and straight into the trunk of a nearby sakura tree. Raiden howled in pain. Furious, he then attacked Jack with a series of wild swinging punches. Jack retreated to avoid getting caught in the head. ‘Watch out!’ cried Akiko. But it was too late. Toru had come up from behind and grabbed Jack in a bear hug, pinioning Jack’s arms to his side. ‘What are you going to do now, Gaijin Jack?’ taunted Kazuki, who was watching with unrestrained glee. Behind him, Yamato backed away into the shadows in an attempt to distance himself from the escalating fight. Toru’s grip tightened and Jack’s breath was crushed from his body. Jack felt himself passing out, but Toru’s grip eased as the great brute let out a wounded groan.

Akiko had kicked him with ushiro-geri, a spinning back kick, the most powerful kick in taijutsu. It had struck Toru straight in the side. Any normal person would have crumpled under such a direct hit, but Toru only loosened his grip slightly and glared at Akiko. So she followed it up with a mawashi-geri, roundhouse kick. Ready for the attack this time, Toru spun round and put Jack directly in its path. Akiko, desperately attempting to avoid Jack, lost her balance. Toru trapped Akiko’s flailing leg with one arm, while keeping hold of Jack with his other. Once he had them both under his control, he slipped his left arm up Jack’s chest and encircled his throat. Toru then began to throttle Jack. ‘Stop it!’ cried a distraught Kiku, Yori frozen in wide-eyed alarm next to her. ‘Yamato, help them!’ But Yamato, ignoring her pleas, retreated further away from the brawl. Meanwhile, Kazuki and Nobu were delighting in the spectacle, urging the cousins on and taunting Jack. ‘Haven’t you learnt anything, gaijin? Any real samurai would be able to fight their way out of that,’ Kazuki sneered. ‘Come on, Toru, snap him in half!’ shouted Nobu. Toru tightened his grip round Jack’s throat and Jack choked. But Toru’s throttling was the least of Jack’s worries. Raiden, with both fists raised, was heading straight for him. Jack, still pinioned by the iron grip of Toru, and realizing he only had his legs to defend himself, clamped his hands on to Toru’s arm,

pulling it down just enough to snatch a breath. Then, using Toru’s arm for support, he lifted himself off the ground, simultaneously firing off a double mae-geri, front kick, from each leg. The move was totally unexpected and Raiden, being a fraction too slow to react, was pummelled in the face. He stumbled backwards, bringing his hands up to his flattened, bloodied face. Saburo spotted his chance and shot out a foot, catching the back of Raiden’s legs, who tripped over and bounced off a sakura tree. The tree shuddered. The force of the impact dislodged a paper lantern that dropped straight on to Toru’s head. Its flimsy frame split apart on impact and the little candle inside fell on to the boy’s greasy hair, which instantly caught light. Toru immediately released Akiko and Jack and began to leap around like a dancing bear. He flapped frenetically with his hands at his flaming crown, trying to extinguish the fire. Saburo, Kiku and Yori broke into peals of laughter at the dancing Toru, but their joy was short-lived. In the chaos, Raiden had regained his feet and now grabbed Saburo by his hair, winding up to punch him out. The incensed Toru, his head smoking like a chimney, now bore down on Akiko and Jack. Their playtime over, the two Seto twins were determined to end the fight with the next strike. ‘YAME!’ boomed a voice with such unquestionable authority that even a passing group of drunken samurai halted in their tracks. ‘What in the name of Buddha is going on?’ demanded the voice.

Out of the darkness stepped Masamoto, his scarred face glowering. The retreating Yamato immediately went pale and bowed his head shamefully, while Kazuki and Nobu dropped to their knees in supplication. ‘Leave my students alone!’ Masamoto ordered and his hand shot out a nukite-uchi with lightning speed at Raiden’s neck. Masamoto’s ‘spear hand thrust’ struck a hidden pressure point at the back of the neck and caused Raiden’s knees to buckle instantly. He collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Saburo, rubbing his head where a big clump of hair was missing, scurried over to Kiku and Yori. They then all bowed in deference to Masamoto. ‘Masamoto! Leave my students alone,’ commanded a second voice from behind Masamoto. A samurai in a blue, yellow and gold kimono strode down the path. As he got closer, the lanterns illuminated his face. Jack immediately recognized him. It was the daimyo from the lacquered palanquin on the Tokaido Road, Kamakura Katsuro. The man was a little shorter than Masamoto, but still he attempted to look down his nose at him. Kamakura had a cruel pointed face with a stringy moustache that flicked up from a tight mouth. He surveyed the scene with an air of arrogance, his eyes examining each of Masamoto’s students in a pitiless manner, as if they were vermin to be exterminated. Kamakura gave off an air of pomposity and self-righteousness. Jack thought of the old tea merchant who had been beheaded simply because he hadn’t bowed in time.

‘Maintain better control of your students or I will,’ replied Masamoto firmly. ‘It appears to me that you have a discipline problem in your school.’ ‘We have no problem with discipline,’ said Kamakura haughtily, ‘but it seems your school has a problem with training. I have never seen such poor technique.’ ‘There was nothing wrong with their technique! Akiko executed an outstanding ushiro-geri and I’d like to see any of your students deliver a mae-geri while being strangled!’ ‘Masamoto, please. We are old comrades-in-arms,’ said Kamakura in a conciliatory yet devious tone. ‘This is not a matter to be settled in a public park. Let us do this in the proper tradition. I propose a Taryu-Jiai between our two schools.’ ‘A Taryu-Jiai?’ repeated Masamoto, taken off-guard. ‘Those three,’ said Kamakura, indicating Jack, Akiko and Saburo with a dismissive wave of his hand, ‘against Raiden, Toru and one of my girl samurai, any of whom could outperform against the ushirogeri girl!’ ‘What disciplines do you propose?’ queried Masamoto, disregarding the insult directed at Akiko, but warming to the idea. ‘Kenjutsu, kyujutsu and taijutsu.’ ‘Agreed,’ said Masamoto without the slightest hint of concern. Jack had no idea what it was, but from the fact that Akiko’s face had gone pale and Saburo had instantly sobered up at the mere mention of it, a Taryu-Jiai did not sound a promising prospect.

‘Any preference as to the timing of this little contest?’ asked Kamakura. ‘How about the day before the Gion Festival?’ replied Masamoto nonchalantly. ‘But that’s three moons away!’ said Kamakura, incredulous. ‘By the look of their performance tonight, your students will need the extra training. We want this to be a real competition, don’t we?’ replied Masamoto, giving a broad smile as he bowed. ‘Besides, I always like to celebrate my victories with a good festival.’ ooo000ooo 34 YAMADA’S SECRET ‘Why weren’t you defending their honour?’ thundered Masamoto. The reply was muffled and couldn’t be heard. ‘I saw you retreat! Tenno would never have done such a thing,’ continued Masamoto, spitting anger like fire. ‘Why didn’t you help Jack-kun? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you owe Jack-kun a life. He saved you. He’s proving to be more samurai than you’ve ever been.’ There was the sound of sobbing and a mumbled apology. ‘Where is your courage, your valour, your honour? It is you who should be fighting at the Taryu-Jiai, defending the name of my school. Not Jack-kun!’

Masamoto’s voice cracked, and it was accompanied by a crash and the sound of a teacup tumbling off a table. ‘You have brought dishonour on this family and on yourself! Think about what it means to be a Masamoto, then come back when you have an answer! Now get out!’ The shoji slid open and Yamato emerged, his face reddened and wet with shameful tears. He avoided the startled stares of Jack, Akiko and Saburo who knelt outside the Hō-oh-no-ma, the Hall of the Phoenix. This was Masamoto’s personal training hall where only students good enough to be taught the ‘Two Heavens’ technique were ever summoned. ‘Yamato, I’m sorry…’ began Jack, wanting to help him in some way. But Yamato cut him off with a ferocious glare and hurried off without looking back. ‘It’s not your fault, Jack,’ said Akiko quietly. ‘Yes, it is. If I’d never come here, he wouldn’t be in this –’ ‘ENTER!’ boomed Masamoto’s voice. They all looked at one another, terrified. After the hanami fight, Masamoto had marched them back to the school and ordered them straight to bed. They had hardly slept all night, for Masamoto had demanded to see all of them at first light, though Kiku and Yori had been been excused as innocent bystanders. Akiko had explained to Jack that a summons to the Hall of the Phoenix before breakfast

meant only one thing – they were to be punished. They just didn’t know how badly. ‘Seiza!’ he said as they entered, all bowing as low as possible. Masamoto was sitting upon a dais, a small black lacquered table at his side. A maid was clearing up the spilt tea, while another set up a fresh pot of sencha for him. Behind him, painted in vivid colours upon a silk screen, was the image of a flaming phoenix, its wings dripping fire and its beak thrusting up towards heaven. Masamoto fumed like a live volcano, his scar crimson and waxen like molten lava. He waited until the maids had departed before speaking. Jack, Akiko and Saburo trembled as they kept their heads low to the ground. ‘Sit up!’ Masamoto examined each of them carefully, as if he were measuring the suitability of the punishment with their capacity to withstand it. Masamoto breathed deeply and Jack’s mouth went dry with dread. ‘Excellent!’ he said, a faint smile breaking through his fiery demeanour. ‘I was most impressed with the way you handled yourselves last night.’ They all stared at one another in confusion. Were they not going to be punished? ‘Saburo-kun, you are forgiven for your less than sober state. But only for the reason that you showed loyalty to your fellow samurai and your quick-witted sweep of that Raiden character proved to me

that even in your drunken condition, you could function as a warrior.’ Saburo bowed profusely, unable to contain his relief at his pardon. ‘Akiko-chan, you are truly a lady of the Niten Ichi Ryū. It is only the bravest of warriors who stand tall in the face of danger,’ he said, glowing with an immense pride. ‘Jack-kun’s assailant must have been twice your size, but you didn’t hesitate. It was unfortunate that he was so bullish that he wasn’t felled by your mawashi-geri, but don’t worry, he’ll be waking up very sore this morning.’ Akiko bowed, letting out a quiet sigh as she too was let off the hook. ‘Now to you, Jack-kun,’ he said, and sipped upon his cup of sencha. Jack knew that since he was the cause of the quarrel, he would not get away so lightly. He would undoubtedly suffer the full consequences of Masamoto’s wrath. The moment of judgement drew on, as Masamoto took his time appreciating his tea. Jack’s stomach tightened into a knot of iron. ‘You surpass my expectations every time,’ he finally said. ‘You have developed your martial skills considerably. You are loyal to your friends. And you have the spirit of a lion. Are you sure you weren’t born samurai?’ ‘No, Masamoto-sama,’ said Jack, a wave of relief rushing through him at the reprieve.

Bowing, Akiko asked, ‘Excuse me, Masamoto-sama?’ ‘Yes, Akiko-chan?’ ‘Are you telling us that you saw the whole thing?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why did you not prevent the fight happening?’ interrupted Jack, astonished at this revelation. ‘You appeared to be handling yourselves well enough,’ he said, taking a sip of sencha. ‘Besides, I was interested to see how you would perform under pressure. The ultimate measure of a samurai is not where he stands in the comfort of his dojo, but where he stands at times of challenge and threat. I must say, while untidy, your mae-geri was inventive and proved effective.’ Jack, Akiko and Saburo looked at one another aghast. Masamoto had viewed the whole episode as a martial arts test, while for them it had been a matter of life and death. ‘Now, on to the Taryu-Jiai. I am sure Akiko-chan has told you what a Taryu-Jiai is?’ On the march back to the school Akiko, highly alarmed by the whole idea, had explained it to Jack in a tremulous voice: ‘A TaryuJiai is a competition between different martial arts schools. Participants fight in selected disciplines to establish which school is the best, but there is much more at stake than a simple match. A Taryu-Jiai is a matter of honour. The winning school will be crowned the best in Kyoto and the founder of that school has the rare

privilege of an audience with the Emperor. It is unthinkable to Masamoto that we should lose.’ Jack nodded his understanding to Masamoto. ‘Good,’ said Masamoto, putting his teacup down. ‘You therefore understand the importance of such an event and why we must win.’ ‘But how could we ever win?’ blurted out Saburo. ‘As you say, they are twice our size and would have killed us if you hadn’t –’ ‘Enough!’ said Masamoto, cutting dead Saburo’s outburst. ‘Defeat is not an option! Wipe out all thoughts of losing. I do not wish to hear the word uttered again. Besides, the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.’7 ‘Hai, Masamoto-sama,’ they agreed doubtfully. ‘We are fortunate that I managed to negotiate enough time for you to perfect your skills. True, they are bigger than you. But the bigger they are, the harder your enemy falls and, with the appropriate techniques, they will fall.’ Akiko had been right, thought Jack. Defeat was an alien concept to Masamoto’s mind. He expected nothing less from them. ‘I have arranged with your sensei for extra classes every night until the contest. You will be required to train twice as hard and twice as long as anyone else.’ ‘But –’ protested Saburo. ‘Enough! You will act like samurai and you will be victorious.’

Masamoto dismissed them and, bowing, they left the hall. Outside, Kazuki and Nobu were waiting on their knees. Nobu looked pale with anguish and for once Kazuki didn’t have the nerve to taunt Jack. He was far too concerned with his own predicament to care about Jack. Jack, Akiko and Saburo made their way in silence to the Chō-noma for breakfast, too stunned at the task ahead of them to utter a single word. Throughout the day, Jack, Akiko and Saburo were swamped by the other students, demanding to know if it was true that they would be fighting in a Taryu-Jiai for the honour of the school. The rumour had spread rapidly and now that it was confirmed, everyone wanted to be their friend, hoping to increase their status by association. Jack was suddenly accepted as a fellow samurai. No longer did they call him Gaijin Jack or whisper behind his back as they passed. They had all heard how he had fought bravely against the Seto twins from Hokkaido and they wanted to be part of such a courageous deed. By dinner that night, the hanami fight had become legend. The Seto twins were giants, twice the height of anyone, and carrying staffs. Akiko had flown through the air, executing scissor kicks, crescent kicks and axe kicks in every direction. Jack was now the samurai who could fight without needing to draw breath. And Saburo had become the drunken warrior, who had defeated Raiden the Thunder God with his eyes closed.

Jack suspected that many of these exaggerations were originating from the garrulous Saburo himself. Saburo never tired of recounting the story, the attention he received swelling his ego. He was clearly allowing his bravado to get the better of him. Akiko and Jack, however, were more subdued on the matter, anxious for what the ensuing months had in store. After dinner, they made their way up to the Buddha Hall for their first Taryu-Jiai lesson with Sensei Yamada. As they entered the courtyard, Kazuki and Nobu were seen heading their way. They crossed paths, yet Kazuki and Nobu resolutely ignored them. ‘Where are they going?’ asked Jack, surprised Kazuki hadn’t spat his usual taunt of ‘Gaijin Jack’. ‘ To the Butokuden,’ replied Akiko. ‘What? Are they training too?’ ‘No!’ laughed Saburo. ‘Didn’t you hear? Masamoto has punished them for dishonouring the school. He has ordered them to polish the entire hall, floor to ceiling.’ ‘Really? That’s going to take days!’ said Jack, unable to refrain from a gleeful smile. ‘Not as long as it will take them to clean every brick of this courtyard,’ said Saburo with equal glee. ‘And then they have to rake the gravel in the Southern Zen garden, but they can only use their hashi! It will take them weeks!’ That would keep Kazuki out of his way, thought Jack with relief. He didn’t need Kazuki harassing him with everything else going on.

They reached the top of the stairs and entered the Buddha Hall. Sensei Yamada was already perched upon his cushioned dais, incense burning, surrounded by candles. ‘Come. Come. Seiza!’ welcomed Yamada, his voice resonating in the vast expanse of the hall. Jack, Akiko and Saburo sat on the three cushions laid out at Sensei Yamada’s feet. ‘So you are the three mighty warriors?’ said Yamada rhetorically, his eyes sparkling with mischief. ‘And it is my honour to prepare your minds for the great battle?’ Sensei Yamada lit another incense stick, a mix of cedar and a red resin he called ‘Dragon’s Blood’. Extracted from rattan palm trees, it had a heavy, woody aroma and Jack felt quite light-headed with its potency. Sensei Yamada then half-closed his eyes and hummed lightly to himself, drifting off on another one of his trances. They were all familiar with these by now and Jack, Akiko and Saburo each settled into their own meditations. ‘What are you afraid of, Jack-kun?’ asked Sensei Yamada after several minutes, without breaking his trance. ‘Umm,’ said Jack, the unexpected question interrupting his own meditation as he slipped into the fifth ‘View’ – natural wisdom – the stage when things can be seen in their true light. ‘Come. Come. Tell me exactly what you see. What are you afraid of?’

Sensei Yamada’s voice thrummed in Jack’s head, the incense amplifying his senses, and out of the swirling murkiness of his mind, images materialized, faces floated and nightmares appeared. ‘Drowning… I was always… afraid of drowning… being dragged… to the bottom of the ocean,’ said Jack, faltering as if he was expelling his words like a bad dream. ‘Good. Good. What else do you see?’ ‘My mother… I’m scared… She’s leaving me… dying… alone.’ Jack moaned, then twitched a little in his trance. ‘Ginsel… I see Ginsel… there’s a knife in his back…’ Then in the darkness of Jack’s mind, a green mist condensed into a single eye. ‘A green eye… Now I see a green eye… like a dragon’s. Dokugan Ryu’s eye… floating over my father… I can’t help him… he’s dying,’ stammered Jack, his eyes bursting open to escape the haunting image. ‘Death… I’m afraid of… death!’ ‘Jack-kun, there’s no need to be afraid of death,’ said Yamada calmly, opening his own eyes and drawing Jack so deeply into them, he thought he would drown. ‘Death is more universal than life,’ continued Yamada, his voice a warm hum in Jack’s ears. ‘Everyone dies, but not everyone lives. Your mother. Ginsel. Your father. Let them go, Jack-kun.’ ‘I… I don’t understand,’ stammered Jack, overwhelmed with the magnitude of Sensei Yamada’s words. He tried to stifle sobs of anguish, fearful the others would think him weak.

‘Death is not the biggest fear you should have. Your biggest fear is taking the risk to be truly alive. It is about how you live, Jack-kun, even in death,’ explained Yamada, his eyes brimming with wisdom. ‘That is what’s most important. Masamoto-sama told me your father lived and died protecting you. There is not a more worthy cause. You need not fear for him, for he lived and he still lives in you.’ As Sensei Yamada’s words reverberated in Jack’s head, tears started to course down his cheeks. Months of loneliness, pain, suffering and sadness flowed out of him like a river. He no longer cared if Akiko or Saburo heard him. Gradually the sobs subsided. Jack wiped his eyes and discovered that he felt lighter, calmer and more at ease, as if some unseen weight had been lifted from his shoulders and he had been wrapped in a great blanket of peace. Akiko and Saburo, brought out of their own meditations by Jack’s suffering, observed him with quiet compassion. Sensei Yamada leant forward, an expression of serene triumph upon his face, and addressed them all. ‘I know not how to defeat others, I only know how to win over myself,’ he whispered, drawing them closer with his words. ‘The real and most dangerous opponents we face in life are fear, anger, confusion, doubt and despair. If we overcome those enemies that attack us from within, we can attain a true victory over any attack from without.’ Sensei Yamada gazed at each in turn, ensuring they had understood his meaning.

‘Conquer your inner fears and you can conquer the world. That is your lesson for today.’ Sensei Yamada gave a small bow and dismissed them. Akiko and Saburo bowed back then started for the door, but Jack remained sitting. ‘I need to ask Sensei Yamada something,’ said Jack, in reply to their concerned looks. ‘I’ll join you in a minute.’ ‘We’ll wait for you on the steps,’ said Akiko and led Saburo away. ‘Yes, Jack-kun,’ acknowledged Sensei Yamada. ‘Something troubling you?’ ‘Well… yesterday morning, I had a…’ ‘Vision?’ finished Sensei Yamada. ‘Yes. How did you know?’ ‘Often happens around this time. The mind, once freed, is more powerful than you can ever imagine. What did you see?’ Jack described his dream of the red demon furiously attacking the butterfly. ‘There are many ways to interpret such revelations,’ said Sensei Yamada, after some contemplation. ‘Its true meaning will be hidden under the many layers of your mind, and only you will be able to unwrap them all. You need to find the key that unlocks the secret.’

Jack was profoundly disappointed. He had hoped the old monk would have been able to tell him the answer, but Sensei Yamada was being as obscure as ever. ‘Perhaps the key is chō-geri…’ murmured Yamada, more to himself than to Jack. ‘Chō-geri?’ prompted Jack, suddenly hopeful. ‘Yes, Chō-geri. Sometimes the way through to understanding the mind is through the body. Your vision contained a butterfly. Its movements evaded the demon. Perhaps Chō-geri will enlighten you further.’ ‘So where do I find the Chō-geri?’ ‘It is not a matter of “where”, Jack-kun. It is a matter of “how” to find it. Chō-geri is an ancient Chinese martial arts technique lost in time. It is named the “Butterfly Kick” because it is a flying kick in which all the limbs are extended in a position similar to that of a butterfly’s wings in flight. It’s a highly advanced manoeuvre that will cut a swath through any attack. Chō-geri is rumoured to be indefensible.’ ‘So why tell me about the key if no one knows it?’ said Jack, getting frustrated with Yamada’s continual enigmas. ‘I didn’t say no one,’ he replied, then studied Jack for a long time. Jack felt distinctly uncomfortable, as if the sensei was somehow peering into his soul. ‘I could teach you it,’ he said eventually, ‘but it may be far beyond your abilities.’

‘B-but…’ stuttered Jack in disbelief. ‘Pardon my disrespect, Sensei, but aren’t you too old for martial arts?’ ‘Oh, the blindness of youth,’ said Yamada, getting to his feet with the help of his walking stick. Jack was about to apologize profusely when, without warning, Sensei Yamada let go of the stick and sprang into the air. The old man’s torso twisted, his arms swung in an arc and both his legs shot out, striking high over Jack’s head. Sensei Yamada rotated all the way round before landing lightly back upon his dais. Jack sat open-mouthed as Sensei Yamada nonchalantly readjusted his kimono, picked up his walking stick and prepared to depart. ‘How on earth did you do that? How could you?’ stammered Jack, flabbergasted at the old man’s incomprehensible agility. ‘Never judge a sword by its saya. I am a monk, Jack-kun. But what am I?’ he said cryptically, before blowing out the candles and shuffling off into the darkness. The remaining trails of incense smoke spiralled like ghosts into the air and he was gone. Jack left the Buddha Hall in a daze, astounded and perplexed by the old monk who had flown through the air with the grace of a butterfly, then left on a riddle. Jack found Akiko and Saburo sitting on the steps. He slumped down next to them.

‘Are you all right?’ asked Akiko, clearly concerned that the lesson had taken a great toll on Jack. ‘Fine. But you won’t believe what I just saw…’ replied Jack and he told them about Sensei Yamada’s startling abilities. ‘In the name of Buddha, Jack! Even I can work that one out,’ said Saburo dumbfounded. ‘He is sohei!’ ‘Sohei? But I thought all the warrior monks were killed by Nobunaga?’ ‘Clearly, not all of them,’ said Saburo, gazing in awe at the Buddha Hall. ‘I bet you Sensei Yamada can strike a man dead just using his ki!’ ‘Here comes Kiku,’ said Jack, seeing the little girl emerge from the Hall of Lions and run across the courtyard towards them. Kiku raced up the stone steps. ‘What is it?’ asked Akiko, worried by Kiku’s obvious urgency. ‘Yamato has run away!’ ooo000ooo 35 THE SWITCH ‘Jack-kun! Jack-kun! Jack-kun!’ Jack blinked into the bright summer sunlight. It was going to be another scorching day, he thought, as he was drawn out of the cool

shade of the Hall of Lions and into the baking courtyard by the cheers of the gathered students. The past three months had been a gruelling schedule of relentless training for Jack, Akiko and Saburo. Yamato, whose absence had been keenly felt by all of them at first, had been almost forgotten in the face of such an onslaught of instruction. Jack had lost count of the number of ‘cuts’ they had practised with the bokken to improve their kenjutsu, the quantity of arrows they had shot, lost or broken in kyujutsu, and there was not a single part of their bodies that hadn’t been bruised during taijutsu. On top of that, Jack had needed to fit in clandestine training sessions with Sensei Yamada in his attempt to learn Chō-geri with the hope of revealing the meaning to his vision. But the intricacies of the complex technique still eluded him. He had done everything Sensei Yamada instructed, but he simply was not good enough. At the rate he was going, it would take him years to master Chō-geri. ‘I won’t ever be able to do this,’ Jack had said in despair as he’d landed upon his back for the fifth time, barely a week before the Taryu-Jiai. ‘Whatever you believe, will be, Jack-kun,’ replied Sensei Yamada matter-of-factly. ‘It’s not the technique you need to master, it is yourself.’ That was all he had proffered as encouragement. This had left Jack more frustrated than ever at the sensei’s garbled teachings. Could the old monk not see that the technique was beyond his abilities? Yet still Sensei Yamada demanded he practise Chō-geri every night until his body ached with the effort.

Standing in the boiling courtyard surrounded by a throng of wellwishers, Jack just hoped all the pain and effort would be worthwhile. But it was too late to worry about such things now. The day of the Taryu-Jiai had arrived. ‘Jack-kun! Jack-kun! Jack-kun!’ The chants filled his ears and he was funnelled across the courtyard and into the Nanzen-niwa, the Southern Zen garden. Akiko and Saburo were already there, waiting for him by one of the large standing stones. Masamoto and Kamakura sat upon a shaded dais at the north end of the garden. They were flanked on either side by the sensei of their schools, all wearing full ceremonial kimono. Students lined both sides of the garden in neat, disciplined rows, the Niten Ichi Ryū on the east side, and the Yagyu Ryū on the west. Jack’s heart pounded in his chest. ‘Samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū. We salute you!’ shouted a baldheaded official in a stark white kimono. There was thunderous applause from the crowd and Jack, Akiko and Saburo instinctively drew closer together in a protective huddle. As the applause faded, Masamoto and Kamakura conversed politely, but their outward civility did little to hide the underlying animosity between the two samurai. Masamoto was especially grim. The absconding of his son had aged the samurai more than any battle scar could have. He bore the shame of his son’s desertion like a wound that would never heal.

‘Samurai of the Yagyu Ryū. We salute you!’ shouted the official. The students on the west side of the garden applauded and let out a battle cry of ‘Yagyu! Yagyu! Yagyu!’ The monstrous form of Raiden strode into the garden and took his place by the standing stone opposite them. Jack had forgotten just how big the boy was. Raiden may have appeared the oversized ape at the hanami in spring, but today he looked a bull, brutal and terrible. The Taryu-Jiai wasn’t going to be a contest. It would be a slaughter. Behind him emerged the lean figure of a girl with raven-black hair. She moved in a quick, calculated manner, as if every step was part of a kata. Her eyes were sharp black diamonds and her thinlipped mouth a red slash across her powdered white face. She was enticing in a deadly way, thought Jack, a viper poised to strike. Then the girl gave a crack of a smile, exposing her teeth. They were painted entirely black. Jack had barely got over the shock, when the final Yagyu warrior entered. The whole of the Niten Ichi Ryū school erupted in astonishment. It was not Toru. It was Yamato. Jack couldn’t believe that it was actually Yamato standing with the Yagyu School. He had not seen him since spring. There had been rumours amongst the students that he had joined the Yagyu Ryū, but for him to compete against his father’s own school was beyond comprehension.

When Masamoto recognized who the final participant was, he sprang to his feet, his eyes bulging with outrage. He spun on Kamakura, but was stymied by anger. Kamakura sat, unflinching, relishing the moment. The great Masamoto had been unhinged. ‘This was not what was agreed. Where is the other samurai?’ said Masamoto with scarcely controlled restraint. ‘Did I forget to tell you? I’m so sorry. He was unfortunately called away by his father and we had to replace him with one of my other students,’ replied Kamakura, deliberately lingering over his final words. ‘Your student? This is unacceptable.’ ‘I’m afraid the rules of the Taryu-Jiai clearly state that the competition is between the two schools, not individual students. I am perfectly at liberty to switch my warriors any time prior to the contest. Isn’t that right, Takeda-san?’ said Kamakura to the official. ‘Hai, Kamakura-sama, that is correct,’ replied the official, deliberately avoiding Masamoto’s glare. ‘So, unless you wish to forfeit the Taryu-Jiai…’ ‘No! We will continue.’ Masamoto sat down, fuming like a boiling pot. The official held up his hand for silence. The murmurings of the crowd ceased. ‘I am Takeda Masato,’ said the bald-headed man. ‘I am the independent adjudicator for this Taryu-Jiai appointed by the Imperial Court. I will referee all matches. My decision is final and

irrefutable. The first round is kyujutsu. Samurai, prepare yourselves!’ The crowd gave a round of applause as the archery targets were set out down the length of the garden. ‘What is Yamato doing on their side?’ demanded Jack as they huddled round their standing stone. ‘How can he fight against us?’ ‘You heard Masamoto’s words just as we did,’ said Akiko. ‘Masamoto disowned him after the hanami. He ran away because he’d lost too much face. He couldn’t deal with the shame.’ ‘But why join the Yagyu School?’ ‘Surely that is obvious, Jack,’ said Akiko. ‘He wants his father to lose face too.’ ‘Enough!’ interrupted Sensei Yosa, who had come over to break up their discussion. ‘You must concentrate on the competition at hand. Don’t allow yourselves to be distracted by such underhand tactics. Remember what I taught you – you need absolute focus for kyujutsu. Balance is your foundation stone. The spirit, bow and body are as one.’ Sensei Yosa had drilled those three principles into them every day for the past three months. They had literally spent the first month just learning to stand and hold a bow correctly. Only then had she progressed on to teaching them how to shoot an arrow. Akiko was the first to manage the technique properly, but Saburo and Jack still had difficulty striking the target with any degree of consistency.

In the final weeks, Sensei Yosa had made them shoot until their fingers had bled from the blisters. One time, she had even come up to Akiko and tickled her ear with the feathered flight of an arrow. Akiko had been so shocked that she had missed the target entirely and almost struck a bird nesting in the old pine tree. All Sensei Yosa had said was, ‘You cannot allow yourself to be so easily distracted. Absolute focus, remember?’ The next lesson she had shouted in Saburo’s ear, sending his arrow skyward. ‘Focus!’ Sensei Yosa repeated. ‘Let us begin. First round. Targets set at one hundred shaku,’ called the official. ‘One hundred shaku!’ exclaimed Saburo as he gathered his bow and arrows. ‘I can barely hit one at fifty!’ ‘The school to score the most points from six arrows will be deemed the winner of this match,’ continued the official. ‘One point for striking the target. Two points for the centre. Yagyu to go first.’ The girl with the black teeth stepped up to the mark. Silence descended upon the crowd. She nocked her first arrow and in a cool detached manner, she let it fly. It struck the centre of the target and the Yagyu School cheered. Without a moment’s pause, the girl shot her second arrow and it sank into the inner white ring, missing the centre by a finger’s width. She grimaced in frustration. ‘Three points. Yagyu.’

Saburo went to position himself on the line. Even from where Jack was standing, he could see Saburo’s hands shaking. He could hardly even nock his arrow. Saburo’s first shot went so wide that it almost hit a student standing in the crowd. A ripple of laughter rolled through the Yagyu School. Saburo’s second shot was no better, landing short. ‘Zero. Niten Ichi Ryū.’ ‘Don’t worry, Saburo,’ said Jack, as he saw the mortified look on his friend’s face. ‘I’m sure the ape boy won’t do much better.’ Thankfully, Jack was right. Raiden couldn’t even grip the bow properly. Both shots sailed past without even worrying the target. ‘Zero. Yagyu.’ Jack was up next. He double-checked his posture, calmed his breathing and meticulously moved through each motion. He let loose his first arrow and it just caught the target on its outer ring. There was a great cheer. Jack tried to keep his focus, waiting for the noise of the crowd to settle into respectful silence. He took aim and fired. It missed. There was a groan from the Niten Ichi Ryū side and the sounds of celebration coming from the other school. The official put his hands up requesting silence.

‘One point. Niten Ichi Ryū.’ ‘Sorry,’ said Jack, returning to their standing stone. ‘No. It was good. We still have a chance,’ said Akiko, a slight tremble in her voice. She was the chance! Yamato stepped up to the mark. His basic technique was good, and his first arrow struck the target but was wide of the bull. The Yagyu School sensed victory and began to shout. However, Yamato was too bold with his second. He drew back with such force that the arrow shot past the target and embedded itself in the old pine tree at the far end of the garden, much to the relief of Jack, Saburo and Akiko. The match was not over. ‘One point. Yagyu.’ Yamato blatantly ignored Jack and the others as he sat down, clearly displeased with his performance. Akiko now advanced to the firing line. ‘She’s got to hit two bullseyes to win!’ whispered Saburo in despair. ‘When has she ever done that?’ ‘Today?’ said Jack hopefully, seeing Akiko draw a long slow breath to calm her nerves. Jack had witnessed Akiko hit the centre once before at this distance, but that had been the only time during their entire period of training. Could she now score twice in a row when it mattered most?

As Akiko prepared for the shot, the noise of the crowd faded to a low murmur like the sound of a receding wave. In one fluid movement, she loosed her first arrow. It flew true and straight, striking the target dead centre. A cheer erupted from the Niten Ichi Ryū. ‘Come on, Akiko!’ shouted Jack, unable to restrain himself. The official called for silence and the applause rippled away. Akiko set herself up for her second and final shot of the match. If she got this, the Niten Ichi Ryū had the first round. The eyes of the entire crowd were upon her and her hands began to tremble uncontrollably under the pressure. Jack could see her battling to control her nerves. Gradually, she slowed her breathing and her hands steadied. Raising the bow above her head, she drew back to make her shot. ‘GAIJIN LOVER!’ came a cry from the Yagyu side. The shout shattered the silence. For the briefest of moments, Akiko appeared stunned, struggling to control the delicate balance between her mind and body as the insult rebounded within her head. Jack fumed, knowing Akiko had to maintain the flow of her draw otherwise she would miss. She loosed the arrow an instant too soon. The arrow spun awkwardly. Yet it still struck the target. But had it hit the centre?

The whole crowd drew in its breath as one. The official ran over to examine the arrow’s placement, its tip embedded at the very edge of the centre. ‘Centre strike! Four points Niten Ichi Ryū,’ announced the official, satisfied with the arrow’s mark. Jack and Saburo both punched the air with their fists. Akiko had done it! Akiko bowed triumphantly as the official cried, ‘First round to Niten Ichi Ryū.’ ooo000ooo 36 THE DEMON AND THE BUTTERFLY It was not even midday, but the Butokuden was already stiflingly hot. The students of both schools lined the edges of the hall, fanning themselves like a cloud of butterflies, while countless others were peering in through the slatted windows. Masamoto came and found Jack, Akiko and Saburo getting ready for the next round. He congratulated Akiko on her outstanding kyujutsu performance and offered each of them words of encouragement for the forthcoming taijutsu match. ‘Remember the second virtue of bushido,’ he said with gusto as he left to take his place in the Butokuden. ‘Courage!’ ‘Those are fine words,’ said Saburo to Jack when Masamoto had gone, ‘but it’s not courage we need, it’s a miracle!’

Jack gave Saburo a despairing look and shrugged despondently as he got changed into a fresh set of clothes, firmly tying an obi round his blue fighting gi. When they were all ready, Jack, Akiko and Saburo entered the Butokuden and formed a line in front of the ceremonial dais. Masamoto and Kamakura sat within the curving alcove of the Hall, two emperors waiting for their gladiators to fight. Kamakura was less buoyant than before, while Masamato exuded an air of quiet confidence following his school’s first victory. ‘Round two, taijutsu!’ announced the Imperial Court official, then giving a glance in Raiden’s direction said, ‘This is not a death match. A win will be awarded either by points, submission or knockout only.’ Raiden gave a dismissive shrug that clearly implied he had no intention of following the rules. ‘During each match, points will be awarded for execution of technique. Ippon is a full and winning point given for a demonstration of perfect technique. Waza-ari is half a point for a near-perfect technique – two waza-ari equals a winning ippon. Yoku and Koka are given for lesser techniques and will only count if, at the end of a stick of time, there is no outright winner. The school with the most matches earns this round.’ Like the roar of a pack of lions the crowd cheered, their shouts reverberating around the Butokuden. ‘First match. Akiko versus Moriko. Line up!’ Akiko’s face lost much of its colour at the mention of her name.

‘You’ll be fine,’ encouraged Jack. ‘Remember what Sensei Kyuzo always says: “Tomorrow’s victory is today’s practice.” Well, we’ve practised more than enough to win.’ And it was true. The diminutive Sensei Kyuzo had been the most demanding of all the sensei. It was almost as if the man had resented having to teach them and so had punished them with extra tough training. They had rigorously gone over technique after technique. He had drilled the basics and nothing else. ‘What about other techniques like ren-geri, multiple kicks?’ Saburo had complained one day and then had to do fifty press-ups for insolence, while Sensei Kyuzo explained, ‘Kihon waza is all you need. Multiple kicks are too open for countering. A good solid block or punch is far more effective. I told you, the basics are for battle.’ And it would be a battle. The Yagyu girl, Moriko, hissed and bared her black teeth as she faced Akiko for their bout. ‘Rei!’ said the official, and the girls bowed to Masamoto and Kamakura and then to one another. A stick of incense in a brass bowl was lit to mark time and the official cried, ‘Hajime!’ At once, Moriko launched herself at Akiko, firing off a front kick, then a roundhouse kick and then a back kick. Akiko retreated defensively, attempting to counter the blitz of attacks. She managed to deflect the front kick, just dodged the roundhouse, but was caught on the hip by the back kick. She went spinning to the floor. Moriko jumped forward to finish her off with a fumikomi, stomping kick. ‘YAME!’ cried the official, halting Moriko’s vicious attack. ‘Wazaari to Moriko!’

The Yagyu School cheered its approval. Jack was livid. He hated watching Akiko in a fight. He wanted to rush out there and defend her, just as she had once done for him. ‘Rei!’ said the official, and the girls bowed. ‘Hajime!’ Moriko blitzed Akiko again, but this time Akiko was ready. She side-stepped, trapped Moriko’s roundhouse with one arm and did a straight palm-heel strike to the chest, sweeping Moriko’s standing leg at the same time. A simple yet highly effective block and counter, but Moriko grabbed Akiko as she went down and made her perfect technique appear messy. ‘YAME!’ cried the official, halting the bout. ‘Waza-ari to Akiko!’ The Niten Ichi Ryū went wild. The two girls were even. ‘Rei!’ said the official, and the girls bowed. ‘Hajime!’ This time Moriko kept her distance. They circled one another, Moriko hissing like a black cat. They each feigned attacks, before Moriko made a sudden grab for Akiko’s lead arm. Akiko countered, but then they were grappling, each trying to get the upper hand for a throw. Akiko was first and rolled her body in for an o-goshi, hip throw. Moriko dropped her hips, lowering her centre of gravity and preventing Akiko’s throw. From behind she yanked viciously on Akiko’s hair. Jack was one of the few to see it. Hair grabbing was prohibited, and Moriko kept close, hiding the illegal move with her body. Akiko was trapped. Moriko then foot-sweeped Akiko from behind, dragging her down with her hair.

‘YAME! Waza-ari to Moriko!’ said the official, oblivious to Moriko’s cheating. ‘First match goes to Yagyu Ryū!’ ‘I can’t believe it!’ said Jack, incensed, as Akiko knelt down next to him. ‘How could the referee not see that?’ ‘Don’t worry about my fight. It’s over,’ said Akiko, her face hot and flushed with the exertion. ‘Focus on yours. You have to win.’ ‘Second match. Raiden versus Jack. Line up!’ Jack’s heart stopped for a beat. He was up against Raiden. ‘Good luck, Jack,’ whispered Yori, who was kneeling behind them with the rest of their class. ‘Yes, good luck, Jack,’ said Emi warmly. Her flirtatious tone was not lost on Akiko who stared at Emi in mute astonishment. ‘Thank you,’ said Jack, somehow managing to smile back. Now there’s a first, he thought, Emi noticing him. Then Kazuki caught his eye and Jack’s amiable feelings evaporated. Kazuki slid a finger across his throat. His old enemy had been sulking ever since the hanami, for Jack was no longer the gaijin of the school, but the hero. And Kazuki had been sidelined. Now he was relishing the prospect of Jack’s forthcoming bout. There was no way on earth he could win and Kazuki knew no one liked a loser.

Jack walked out into the centre of the Butokuden. The heat instantly sapped his strength. There was not a breath of fresh air and bars of hot sunlight scorched the wooden floor. The hall appeared larger than ever to Jack, who felt tiny as an ant opposite the giant that was Raiden. Raiden grinned and tilted his head from side to side, loosening the joints in his neck with a sickening crack. Jack was about to be torn into pieces. He glanced over to his friends. Their faces reflected his fears like a mirror. Then he saw Sensei Yamada, Sensei Kyuzo and Sensei Hosokawa, standing in the wings. Sensei Yamada bowed slightly, then indicated with an open hand the size difference between Sensei Kyuzo and Sensei Hosokawa. Jack immediately understood; size had never been an issue for Sensei Kyuzo when fighting. It should not be for him either. ‘Rei!’ said the official. Jack and Raiden bowed to Masamoto and Kamakura, then curtly to one another. The official waited for another short stick of incense to be lit before shouting, ‘Hajime!’ Jack had decided on an all-or-nothing approach and, as Raiden lumbered forward, Jack hit him with a front kick, then a roundhouse. But Raiden merely batted his kicks away before throwing a single forearm blow. Jack went flying and ended up sprawled on the floor.

‘YAME!’ cried the official. ‘Koka to Raiden!’ Jack staggered to his feet, dazed but unhurt. Akiko and Saburo gave him encouraging looks, but their support was undermined by Kazuki’s gloating face behind and Nobu miming himself getting hung by a noose. ‘Hajime!’ Jack was barely ready when Raiden stomped on his front foot. Jack let out a yelp and tried to get away, but his foot was trapped. Raiden swung a large left hook. Jack ducked, feeling it pass over his head. But as he rose, Raiden launched his right fist into Jack’s face. Jack blocked it with a solid age-uke, rising block, but he knew his time was short if he didn’t free himself quickly. Jack dropped to his knees and, with all his weight, struck the inside of Raiden’s thigh, aiming directly at the nerve point Sensei Kyuzo had shown them during training. Raiden howled in pain, releasing Jack’s foot, but as he staggered backwards, he managed to catch Jack with a messy but brutal backhanded slap across the cheek. Jack went flying for a second time. ‘YAME!’ called the official. ‘Koka to Raiden!’ ‘Come on, Jack. You can beat him,’ encouraged Akiko, but the groans from the rest of Niten Ichi Ryū were a far more honest reflection of his chances. On the third attack Jack lasted a fraction longer, before being struck by Raiden’s forearm across the neck.

Jack crumpled to the floor. ‘YAME!’ called the official. ‘Koka to Raiden!’ This time Jack stayed down and the official’s count began. ‘One… two…’ Raiden’s ‘clothesline’ strike had knocked him senseless and Jack lay there wishing it was all over. His head rung with pain, the cheering was a wash of sound in his ears and the idea of giving up now was more inviting than ever. He had no chance in this contest. His only hope was to finish the bout alive and in one piece. ‘three…’ Then he heard a voice above the murmur of the crowd. ‘Seven times down, eight times up!’ Jack shook his head, trying to clear it. The hall came back into focus and the voice gained clarity. ‘four…’ ‘Seven times down, eight times up!’ It was Yori. He was shouting at Jack. ‘Seven times down, eight times up!’ ‘five…’ Yori was telling him not to give up. All Jack’s lessons suddenly came together as one. He could not accept defeat.

‘six…’ He had to conquer his own doubt and fear. Sensei Yamada’s words rang in his head. ‘In order to be walked upon, you have to be lying down.’ ‘seven…’ ‘Seven times down, eight times up!’ He could now hear Saburo and Akiko joining in Yori’s chant, along with several of the other students. ‘eight…’ He would not be defeated without a fight. ‘nine…’ Jack forced himself to his feet. The crowd roared, eager to see the gaijin fly again. The count stopped and Jack staggered into line. ‘Hajime!’ said the official without giving Jack any further chance to recover. Raiden thundered forward. Jack blocked his first attack. Raiden lumbered past, turned and charged again. Jack managed to get a strike into Raiden’s side, but Raiden hammer-fisted Jack in the chest and he was projected backwards, landing heavily near Akiko. ‘YAME!’ called the official. ‘Koka to Raiden!’

Akiko looked distraught, but Jack got up and tried again. ‘YAME!’ called the official, as once again Jack was driven to the ground like a rag doll. ‘Koka to Raiden!’ Raiden took advantage of Jack’s weakened state and executed ura mawashi-geri, a hook kick, badly bruising Jack’s ribs. ‘YAME!’ called the official, with a growing concern in his voice. ‘Yoku to Raiden!’ Jack was glad the floor was sprung, although the impact on landing still hurt. He forced himself up again, wobbling slightly, just like the Daruma Doll. Jack was now beginning to appreciate all the times Sensei Kyuzo had made him uke. The experience had toughened him up against such constant battering, exactly as Akiko had said it would. ‘Half a stick of time remaining,’ announced the official. ‘Hajime!’ Raiden was now breathing heavily from the extended fight. He was obviously used to his opponents giving up after one round. His face had gone bright red and he was sweating like a pig. He was slowing up too, noticed Jack, as he easily blocked Raiden’s mawashi-zuki, roundhouse punch. Then the realization struck him in a blinding flash. Raiden sweating, reddened and tiring was not a pig. He was a demon, the demon from Jack’s vision! Too tired to even attempt a proper technique, Raiden grabbed Jack and with pure brute strength threw him across the dojo. Jack went skidding across the floor on his back, coming to a halt at Sensei Yamada’s feet.

‘YAME!’ called the official. ‘Koka to Raiden!’ The Yagyu School went wild. In less than half a stick of time, the match would be theirs. There was simply no way on earth Jack could win. Jack stared up at Sensei Yamada, who leant expectantly over him as if in prayer. ‘Sensei! Raiden’s the demon from my vision!’ spluttered Jack. ‘What does that mean?’ Sensei Yamada simply opened and closed his hands like the wings of a butterfly. The message was clear – Jack had to be the butterfly. Jack picked himself up and tidied his blue fighting gi. Blue! Jack laughed at how blatant his vision had been. He couldn’t defeat Raiden through strength, but he could win with skill, speed and stamina. Jack changed tactics. Raiden clearly had poor technique, simply relying on his size and weight to do the work for him. If Jack was quick and agile like the butterfly, he could avoid the blows. Eventually Raiden would exhaust himself, just like the demon in his vision. Jack only hoped he had enough time remaining to tire the ‘demon’ out. ‘Hajime!’ announced the official. The fight resumed. However, keeping out of harm’s way was easier said than done. Jack couldn’t simply run around the dojo. He had to remain close

enough to make Raiden attack him, force him to exert himself, but without landing a strike. Jack drew the fight on, flitting from one spot to another. He ducked, weaved and dived, all the while the heat of the approaching midday sun cooking the Butokuden and turning it into a furnace. Raiden lashed out in frustration, his movements becoming more sluggish as Jack dodged blow after blow. Sweat rolled down the boy’s brow and into his eyes. Wiping the sweat away, he dropped his guard slightly. This was the chance Jack had been waiting for. Jack knew there was no way a simple kick or punch could floor Raiden. He would need to get past the boy’s ape-like arms before even being able to land an effective strike. There was only one option open to him, Chō-geri, the butterfly kick. ‘Whatever you believe, will be,’ Sensei Yamada had said, and at this moment Jack believed he could do it. Without hesitation, Jack launched himself into the air. A season of training converged into a single moment. As Jack twisted in the air, his arms circling in the form of a butterfly for control, he brought his right leg spinning round to catch Raiden’s weakened guard, knocking it clear, then his left leg shot past and slammed into Raiden’s jaw. Chō-geri connected and Raiden buckled under its force. The whole Butokuden went eerily silent.

Jack landed neatly over the groaning body of his opponent just as the incense burnt out and its last piece of ash fell into the dish. ‘YAME!’ called the astounded official. ‘Ippon to Jack!’ Against all the odds, Jack had succeeded in performing chō-geri. He could not believe it! The Niten Ichi Ryū erupted in applause and Jack staggered to his corner, leaving Raiden lying prone on the floor. ‘That was amazing!’ enthused Saburo who had rushed over to support him. ‘Where did you learn to kick like that?’ called a voice from the crowd. ‘What’s it called?’ demanded another. ‘The flying gaijin?’ Jack was swamped by his fellow students, all wanting to be taught his flying gaijin kick. Saburo pushed everyone back, reminding them to retain a respectful distance. Still in a daze from his victory, he knelt down while all the students jostled to be as close to their newfound hero as possible. The official was desperately calling for silence and gradually the crowd settled down into an excited murmuring. As everyone re-took their places, Jack could see Sensei Yamada, an enigmatic smile on his lips, politely deferring to Sensei Kyuzo who was apparently demanding an explanation for Jack’s hidden talent for kicks.

‘Final match. Saburo versus Yamato. Line up!’ announced the official and all eyes fell upon the two remaining competitors. The match now level, this final bout was crucial. If Saburo defeated Yamato, the Niten Ichi Ryū would be the victors of the second round. Saburo was a competent fighter and there was a strong possibility he could win. Yamato, however, had become an unknown factor. Yamato squared up to Saburo. Saburo gave a gracious smile but Yamato remained impervious, a barren look in his eyes, as if he failed to recognize his former friend. ‘Rei!’ said the official, the two of them bowed and the incense was lit. ‘Hajime!’ Yamato didn’t move. Saburo hesitated slightly, then struck with a clean front kick followed by a solid reverse punch. Yamato coolly evaded the kick, blocking Saburo’s punch with his forearm. Then in one lightning movement, he spun into Saburo and threw him with a devastating seoinage, shoulder throw. Saburo sailed through the air and landed hard on the wooden floor of the Butokuden. ‘Ippon!’ shouted the official over the exultant cheers. ‘Round two goes to Yagyu Ryu!’ The incense had barely begun to smoulder and the match was over.

ooo000ooo 37 THE JADE SWORD Jack stared deep into Yamato’s eyes, hunting for his first move. ‘Most battles are won before the sword is drawn,’ Sensei Hosokawa had told Jack during one of their kenjutsu sessions. ‘Defeat your enemy’s mind, you defeat their sword.’ Akiko had won her bokken match against Moriko, exacting a sweet revenge with a three-nothing victory. Moriko’s sneaky tactics in taijutsu had incensed Akiko and she had fought without mercy. Saburo, on the other hand, having lost so much confidence following his fight with Yamato, was beaten by Raiden two–one. The Taryu-Jiai now hung in the balance; either school could win. Everything came down to Jack and Yamato. Jack still couldn’t believe Yamato was fighting against his father’s own school, but the dark thunderous look in Yamato’s eyes made it clear that his fight was with Jack. And Jack alone. ‘Best out of three?’ teased Jack, throwing down their old gauntlet. Jack knew how Yamato thought and fought. He had been taught by him, practised with him, been beaten by him. This time, Jack vowed it would be Yamato’s turn to lose.

Yamato snorted his disdain and without replying brought his kissaki in line with Jack’s. ‘Hajime!’ announced the official. Yamato struck with the speed of a cobra. His bokken glanced off Jack’s own weapon and hurtled towards Jack’s head. Jack ducked under the blow, sweeping round to bring his own bokken across Yamato’s gut. Yamato quickly countered and blocked his strike. Jack immediately pressed forward with another attack, but Yamato predicted it and neatly side-stepped, bringing his own weapon down on to Jack’s leading sword arm. ‘YAME!’ called the official as the crowd applauded. ‘Point to Yagyu!’ ‘I could see you thinking the move before you made it,’ laughed Yamato. ‘You haven’t changed, Jack.’ ‘But you have,’ replied Jack. ‘You’ve lost face.’ Yamato fumed at the insult and even before the official had started the next round, he launched his attack. It was exactly the reaction Jack had hoped for. Yamato still couldn’t control his temper, and when unsettled by his emotions, Jack knew he would make fundamental errors of judgement. Yamato’s blows reigned down on Jack and there it was – Yamato’s mistake. He had stepped too close while winding up for a reverse cut and Jack side-slipped and struck him forcefully across the belly.

‘YAME!’ called the official as Yamato crumpled to the floor, the crowd emitting a loud mix of applause and jeering. ‘Point to Niten Ichi Ryū!’ It was now match point. The next encounter would decide the Taryu-Jiai. No one dared breathe. The Butokuden became quieter than a temple. Masamoto and Kamakura had both frozen in anticipation, like stone gods upon their thrones. For a brief moment, time seemed to stretch and Jack and Yamato became locked in an unseen battle, each seeking for the other’s first move in their minds. They moved in slow synchronized steps, mirroring each other’s stances, raising their bokken as one and levelling their kissaki. ‘Hajime!’ announced the official. Their bokken clashed. Almost as if they were dancing, their feet swept past one another, parries met strikes, strikes met parries, then as one they spun on their heels and brought their weapons round for the kill. Their arms collided, bokken striking simultaneously at one another’s necks. ‘Draw!’ shouted the official in astonishment. Their eyes continued the fight. They were still the same boys who had fought on the little bridge at Hiroko’s house in Toba, but neither could deny that they were now equally matched in skill.

Confusion reigned amongst the students. Could there be a draw in a Taryu-Jiai? Of course not! How would the ultimate winner be decided then? The official called for calm. Jack and Yamato only stood down when the official stepped in between them. The official then hurried over to Masamoto and Kamakura and began to converse in hushed grave tones. The whole crowd craned their necks, hopeful of catching a word of what was being said. After several minutes’ intense discussion, the official scurried back to the centre of the dojo. ‘Samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū! Samurai of the Yagyu-Ryū!’ he announced with great pomp and ceremony. ‘By the power invested in me by the Imperial Court, the Rite of the Jade Sword has been invoked.’ The crowd exploded in an uproar and the official was almost hoarse from shouting by the time he managed to regain control. ‘As deemed by Emperor Kammu, the father of Kyoto, the Rite of the Jade Sword can be invoked upon the occasion of a draw in a Taryu-Jiai. It has been agreed that the samurai who retrieves the Jade Sword from the Sound of Feathers waterfall and presents the sword to the founder of their school will be deemed the champion. We will commence the rite in four sticks of time outside the Buddha Hall.’ The crowd broke up in feverish excitement.

The Rite of the Jade Sword had not been invoked for over a hundred years. There had not been any need. In living memory, no schools had ever drawn. ooo000ooo 38 THE SOUND OF FEATHERS WATERFALL The incense gave a last puff of smoke then died. ‘Hajime!’ cried the Imperial Palace official. Jack sprinted for the door, Yamato hard at his side. The cheers swelled as they broke free from the Buddha Hall and flew down the stone steps two at a time. The crowd, which had amassed in the courtyard, parted like one immense human wave as Jack and Yamato hurtled towards the main gate. Outside the Niten Ichi Ryū, Jack and Yamato veered left up the street and the crowd surged out behind, willing them on. A few students tried to keep up but Jack and Yamato soon broke away. At the end of the road, Yamato edged ahead and suddenly took a short cut down an alleyway. Jack kept close on his tail, the noise of the crowd fading behind them. He didn’t want to lose Yamato. Not that he was worried about getting lost. Akiko had told him how to get to the Sound of Feathers waterfall. Jack just didn’t want to get too far behind so early on in the race.

In the run-up to the start of the Rite of the Jade Sword, Akiko and Saburo had bustled Jack into the Hall of Lions in a frantic attempt to prepare him. While Jack changed into a fresh kimono and feverishly gulped down food and water, Akiko explained the history of the Jade Sword. ‘The Jade Sword belonged to Emperor Kammu himself, the founding father of Kyoto. It is said that the samurai who wields the Jade Sword can never be defeated. Emperor Kammu therefore commanded that it never leave Kyoto so that his city would always be protected. He presented the Jade Sword to the Buddhist priest Enchin for safekeeping, who placed it at the very top of the Sound of Feathers waterfall in order that it could overlook Kyoto and guard the source of the Kizu River.’ ‘So where is this waterfall?’ asked Jack between rushed mouthfuls of rice. ‘It is behind the Kiyomizudera Temple in the mountains. You reach it by the steep path that leads off from the main bridge.’ ‘You mean the bridge we entered Kyoto over?’ ‘Yes. The path will be on your left. It winds up the mountain and will take you directly to the Nio-mon, the Gate of the Deva Kings. This is the main entrance to the temple. You cannot get lost,’ she said emphatically as she tied Jack’s obi round him. ‘It’s a pilgrim path and is clearly marked. Once inside the complex, head directly for the Sanju-no-to, it’s a three-storeyed pagoda, the same colour as the torii in Toba. Then cut through the Dragon Temple and the middle gateway to the Hondo. This is the Main Hall. On the other side is where you will find the Butai, the

monk’s dancing stage, and to your left the Sound of Feathers waterfall and the Jade Sword shrine.’ ‘That doesn’t sound too difficult.’ ‘Don’t be fooled, Jack. Enchin placed the sword there for a reason. The waterfall is extremely dangerous. The rocks are slippery and wet and the climb is impossibly steep. Many samurai have fallen in their quest to touch the sword, but only a few have ever laid their hands upon it.’ Then before Jack could ask any more questions, he was hurried into the Buddha Hall to begin, the weight of the Niten Ichi Ryū’s honour resting entirely upon his shoulders. ‘Watch where you’re going!’ shouted an irate merchant as Yamato and Jack careered past the man’s market stall, knocking fruit to the floor. They dodged and weaved through the throng of startled shoppers, soon reaching the outskirts of the city. Jack was relieved to escape its stifling heat. Yamato got to the bridge first and clattered over it before bearing left up the pilgrim path. In the distance, Jack could see the Sanju-no-to, the three-storeyed pagoda poking above the trees. Akiko had been right; there was no way Jack could have got lost. A steady flow of pilgrims were making their way up to the temple. Hawkers lined the dusty path, proffering talismans, incense and little paper fortunes, while more reputable merchants sold water, sencha and noodles to the multitude of exhausted and famished travellers. Jack weaved his way in between them, trying to gain on Yamato.

‘More haste, less speed!’ cried one of the hawkers, waving a paper fortune in Jack’s face as he shot by. Jack kept going, increasing his speed. Yamato had already entered the forest that marked the lower reaches of the mountain. The path wound its way up the slope, disappearing and reappearing among the swath of trees. Jack welcomed the cool shade as he too reached the forest. His heart hammered in his chest but he continued to pump his legs, working hard to catch up with Yamato. The route became steadily steeper and as Jack rounded a bend he saw Yamato beginning to slow up. Jack reckoned he could pass Yamato when the path straightened out again, so gave an extra burst of speed, but as he took the corner he collided full force with a large soft belly. He bounced off and landed unceremoniously in a heap on the stony ground. ‘Whoa! Slow down, young samurai,’ said a rotund monk in saffron robes, rubbing his generous stomach tenderly. ‘Sorry,’ said Jack, hurriedly scrambling to his feet and dusting himself off, ‘but need to catch up… matter of honour.’ Jack bowed quickly, then sprinted after Yamato. ‘Oh, the youth of today, so eager for enlightenment… Buddha will wait, you know!’ called the monk amiably after the rapidly receding figure of Jack. Jack couldn’t see Yamato as he dashed round the final bend and passed under the Nio-mon, the Gate of the Deva Kings. Barely glancing at the two huge lion-dogs that guarded the entrance

against evil, he ran up the flight of stone steps, past startled pilgrims and through a second gateway to the Sanju-no-to. The threestoreyed pagoda was painted a deep red and clearly stood out against the dull brown of the other buildings. Yamato was still nowhere in sight as Jack hurried towards the Hondo, the Main Hall, an immense building that dominated the temple complex. He passed through a small shrine, bearing a vivid painting of a coiled jade-green dragon on the ceiling, under another gateway guarded by lion-dogs, and entered the outer sanctuary of the Hondo. Weaving his way through the pilgrims prostrating themselves in prayer, he headed straight for the inner sanctum. Inside, there were only a few bemused-looking monks, who observed the hot, sweaty and out-of-breath gaijin with serene interest. The inner sanctum was dark and cool and, unlike the other temples, was decorated with ornate gold-leaf images of the Buddha, but Jack only had time for a fleeting glance as he hunted for an exit. ‘Sound of Feathers waterfall?’ asked Jack in desperation. A lithe tanned monk, in a half-lotus position, pointed to a doorway on his right. Jack briefly bowed his appreciation, ran through and emerged once again into the bright sunlight. He found himself standing upon a large wooden platform, the butai, that jutted out over a deep gorge, thick with lush vegetation and trees. The sound of water thundered in his ears and through a fine watery mist, Jack could see the entirety of Kyoto spread out across the distant valley floor. The city shimmered in all its glory like

a mirage and a faint rainbow fell upon the Imperial Palace at its centre. To Jack’s immediate left, the Sound of Feathers waterfall cascaded over a sheer cliff and into a large rock basin, some five storeys below. The water churned into a frothy confusion of eddies and whirlpools before easing and then flowing down the gorge into the Kyoto Valley. Jack looked up and saw that Yamato was already clambering up the rock face, heading towards the tiny stone shrine perched at the lip of the fall. Jack judged that the waterfall was about the height of the crow’s-nest on-board the Alexandria. Yamato was a short way above the butai and clearly struggling. Even from where Jack stood, he could see Yamato’s legs shaking, his hands blindly feeling for the next hold. Clambering over the rail of the butai, Jack spotted a narrow ledge from which to begin his own ascent. He would have to jump from the safety of the butai to the cliff. Way below him, the raging pool of water provided his only safety net. Jack took a deep breath, steeling himself for the jump, and leapt for the rock face. He landed cleanly upon the ledge but immediately lost his footing on its slippery surface. He slithered out of control down the cliff face. His hands grabbed for a rocky outcrop, his days as a rigging monkey paying off a hundredfold as they instinctively found handholds and halted his descent. Jack caught his breath and calmed himself. He would need to be far more careful if he were going to survive this challenge.

Looking up, he could see Yamato had made little progress, and Jack began his climb with renewed vigour. It might still be possible for him to reach the Jade Sword first. Once Jack got used to the slippery surface of the cliff, he began to increase his pace. Rock climbing, Jack discovered, was little different from climbing the rigging on-board the Alexandria and, suffering no fear of heights, he soon levelled with Yamato. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Jack, concerned by the quivering form of Yamato. Yamato said nothing. He merely glared at Jack, his face drained of colour, and his eyes stony with fear. ‘Do you need my help?’ said Jack, remembering how terrified he had been the first time he’d climbed to the crow’s-nest. ‘Not from you, gaijin! Once was more than enough,’ he hissed, but his voice cracked with fear as he grimly hung on to the slippery rock, his knuckles white with the effort. ‘Fine. Then fall,’ replied Jack and carried on past. He reached the lip of the waterfall with no further difficulty. He gave a cursory glance at Yamato, who remained fixed to the rock face like a limpet, then crossed several large rounded steppingstones to the little shrine erected in the middle. He slipped inside and found the Jade Sword within a shady recess. It rested upon a ruby-red lacquered stand, glistening in the watery light. The Jade Sword was a ceremonial katana, its saya a

scabbard of black lacquered wood into which a golden dragon had been carved. A large jade stone was set into the wood as the eye of the dragon. Jack’s blood ran cold. Dokugan Ryu. Dragon Eye. Jack tried to steady his hands as he lifted the heavy sword from its rack. He gripped the leather hilt, feeling the bubbled texture of the white rayfish skin beneath, and withdrew a gleaming blade of polished steel so sharp that it cut the eye just to look at it. The faint shadow of a second dragon had been etched on to the metal’s surface and Jack quickly re-sheathed the shining blade. He slipped the Jade Sword into his obi, carefully tying the saya to him, and left the shrine. Looking down, Jack saw that Yamato still hadn’t moved. He quickly descended and came level with him once more. Yamato didn’t even look at him this time. He merely clung to the cliff wall, his whole body shuddering like a leaf in a storm. ‘Listen, you’ve frozen up,’ said Jack, trying to get his attention. He had seen this many a time with sailors on-board the Alexandria. The mind seized up with fear and the body refused to move. A swimming sense of vertigo took hold and eventually the sailor lost his grip and fell into the ocean, or worse, on to the deck. Realizing Yamato had little strength remaining, Jack had to get him down fast. ‘Let me help you. Take your right foot off…’ ‘I can’t…’ said Yamato in a feeble voice.

‘Yes, you can. Just drop your foot and place it on the little ridge below you.’ ‘No, I can’t… it’s too far…’ ‘No, it’s not. Trust me, you can do this.’ ‘What do you care anyway? You stole my father!’ said Yamato viciously, the swiftness of his anger breaking his paralysis. ‘Stole your father?’ said Jack, bewildered. ‘Yes, you! Before you came, everything was all right. Father was finally beginning to accept me. I was no longer in Tenno’s shadow. Then you stole him –’ ‘I didn’t steal your father. He adopted me! It wasn’t as if I had a choice.’ ‘Yes, you did. You could have died with the rest of your crew!’ said Yamato with unbridled hatred. ‘Well, you would have been killed by that ninja if it wasn’t for me!’ retaliated Jack. ‘That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I could have died a honourable death like my brother. But you went and saved me! I lost face because of you!’ ‘You Japanese and your sense of pride!’ shouted Jack in frustration. ‘What is it with your “face”? I saved your life. We were… friends. If I’d wanted Masamoto for a father, I could have let you die then. I don’t want your father. I want my father, but he’s dead!’

‘Well, maybe I should be dead too!’ said Yamato grimly, looking to the submerged rocks below him. ‘You have the sword. The glory is all yours. My father will never recognize me now. I’ve betrayed him. Whether you want Masamoto to be your father or not, he is yours!’ With that, Yamato jumped. ooo000ooo 39 THE APOLOGY ‘No!’ screamed Jack, snatching for him, but Yamato disappeared into the white swirling curtain of the waterfall. Jack scrambled down the rock face and leapt back on to the butai. He pushed past several pilgrims who had gathered on the wooden deck and were intrigued by what was happening. ‘Can anyone see him?’ demanded Jack, peering over the rail and into the churning waters below. ‘No. He went under the waterfall. He hasn’t come up yet,’ said one of the pilgrims, eyeing Jack suspiciously. ‘He’s probably hit the rocks,’ said another. Several more people emerged from the Hondo and ran over to look. ‘Hold on, there he is!’ shouted a pilgrim, pointing to the rocky pool.

Yamato briefly surfaced, gasping for air, then was immediately caught in the current and sucked back under. ‘Hey, that boy has our Jade Sword!’ cried one of the monks emerging from the Hondo’s inner sanctum. ‘Seize him!’ Jack glanced over the edge. He judged the butai was at least as high as the yardarm on the Alexandra, but he had seen sailors fall from greater heights into the ocean and survive. Could he make it? ‘Stop him! He has the sword!’ urged the monk. Without deliberating any further, Jack leapt from the butai. The air rushed past and, for a brief moment, Jack felt weightless, almost at peace. He caught a glimpse of Kyoto through the mist before plunging into the freezing waters. The impact knocked the breath clean out of him and he swallowed large mouthfuls of water. Kicking hard against the weight of the sword, he broke the surface and retched several times before regaining his composure. Jack looked around for Yamato, but he was nowhere to be seen. Taking several lungfuls of air, Jack dived under the swirling waters. He swam towards the waterfall but still couldn’t see any sign of Yamato. Rocks loomed out of the murky waters and eddies pulled at Jack, threatening to hold him under forever. His lungs reached bursting point and he was about to head back to the surface when something smooth brushed against his hand. Blindly, he grabbed for it, dragging the object towards him. He got

an arm round the dead weight and kicked with both his legs, driving them both upwards. Jack and Yamato broke the surface as one, only to be carried over the lip of the rock basin and down the gorge with the raging river. Jack could hear people shouting as he tried to keep himself, Yamato and the sword afloat in the rapids. The water poured through the gorge, relentlessly bearing Jack and Yamato with it, Jack’s energy ebbing away as he desperately swam for the shore. They were now far beyond the Hondo, the temple disappearing out of sight as they rounded a bend in the river, but fortunately the waters calmed and Jack somehow managed to reach the riverbank. With the last of his strength, he dragged the limp form of Yamato ashore. Collapsing beside him, Jack lay there for a while, gulping air like a stranded fish in the heat of the sun. As he recovered, he vaguely wondered if he had been too late to save Yamato, but then he heard him splutter loudly, retch and come to. ‘Let me die,’ he groaned, pulling his wet hair out of his eyes. ‘Not when I can save you,’ panted Jack. ‘Why? I’ve never shown you kindness.’ ‘We’re supposed to be brothers. At least that’s what your father commanded, isn’t it?’ said Jack, giving a sardonic smile. ‘Besides, you taught me how to use the bokken.’ ‘So what?’

‘You made me realize that I wasn’t a helpless gaijin,’ said Jack, letting the offensive word hang in the air between them. Yamato gave Jack a bewildered look. ‘When have you ever been helpless?’ ‘When my father was killed, I couldn’t save him. I was defenceless against such skill,’ admitted Jack. ‘Dragon Eye laughed in my face when I tried to attack him. You showed me the Way of the Warrior. You gave me a reason to live and for that I’m grateful.’ ‘I don’t understand you, gai-… Jack,’ began Yamato, sitting up and holding his head in his hands. ‘I ignored and despised you, yet when that ninja went to kill me, you attacked without hesitation. With honour and courage. I couldn’t have done that. You acted like a brother. A samurai.’ ‘You would have done the same.’ ‘No… I wouldn’t,’ said Yamato, swallowing hard as if his words had become stones in his throat. ‘The night I saw Kazuki beating you up, I was too afraid to do anything. I knew he was a better fighter than me. He knew it too. I didn’t have the guts to take him on…’ Yamato turned away, but Jack could see him wiping the back of his hand across his eyes, shuddering with each tearful breath. ‘The Seto twins… again I was too scared to help you. I didn’t want to be known as a gaijin lover. And after that night, I was too ashamed to be your friend. You didn’t deserve me. That is the real reason. I’m so sorry…’

Jack leant forward, a confused expression on his face. ‘I don’t understand. What are you apologizing for?’ ‘You showed me my true self, Jack, and I didn’t like what I saw. My father was right. I’m not worthy to be a samurai, let alone a Masamoto. You’re more his son than I can ever be. You didn’t steal my father. I lost him by myself.’ ‘Don’t be an idiot, Yamato. You haven’t lost him. He’s not dead, like mine,’ said Jack pointedly. ‘Masamoto may be angry, but he can have no reason to be ashamed of you. Not with the way you fought today. And if it is a matter of pride between you and me, forget it. Kazuki’s not worth getting upset over. He’s a righteous pompous pig with the face of a lion-dog’s arse!’ Jack grinned at Yamato and Yamato smiled weakly in return. ‘Besides, you’ve now apologized to me. Doesn’t that mean you’ve regained face?’ ‘I suppose so, but –’ ‘No buts, Yamato. Every day I have to apologize to Akiko for some blunder or other! She’s taught me everything there is to know about Japanese forgiveness. She forgives me each time, and I now forgive you. Friends?’ said Jack, offering his hand. ‘Thank you, Jack,’ said Yamato, uneasy in shaking Jack’s hand in the English custom. ‘But I still don’t understand why you would forgive me.’ ‘Yamato, you’ve every right not to like me. I hated it when Jess was born and got all my father’s attention. And she’s my little sister!

I dread to think what it would have been like if my father had adopted some French boy!’ exclaimed Jack, grimacing at the idea. ‘I don’t blame you for being angry. But it’s not me you should be angry with. It’s Dokugan Ryu. If he hadn’t killed Tenno and my father, we wouldn’t be sitting here now, half-drowned, a stolen jade sword in our hands!’ The absurdity of the situation suddenly struck home and both the boys began to laugh. The tension between them evaporated as if it had somehow been washed away by the Sound of Feathers waterfall itself. After their laughter had died down, they sat there in silence, throwing pebbles into the river, unsure as what to say or do next. ‘We had better get back,’ said Yamato eventually. ‘The sun will be setting soon and the Niten Ichi Ryū need to know they have won.’ ‘You should carry it,’ said Jack, untying the Jade Sword from his obi and handing it to Yamato. ‘Why me? You were the one to get it.’ ‘Yes, but your father doesn’t need to know that, does he?’ ooo000ooo 40 STAYING THE PATH Jack and Yamato ran into the Buddha Hall together.

The Yagyu School went wild when they saw their champion carrying the Jade Sword. Kamakura swelled with pride, adjusting his finery in preparation for accepting the sword and victory. Masamoto sat next to him, cross-legged upon the raised dais. His expression, detached and serious, was fixed, for when Yamato had entered the Buddha Hall bearing the sword, it was as if Masamoto had been replaced with a papier-mâché model of himself, a husk that had had all the life sucked out of it. The cheering died down to a hushed murmur of respect as Jack and Yamato approached the dais and bowed. Akiko and Saburo knelt to the right-hand side, Raiden and Moriko to the other. Akiko gave a forlorn smile, clearly glad to see Jack in one piece but dismayed at their defeat. Yamato stepped forward, the Jade Sword in hand. Kamakura prepared himself to accept the offering. It had taken Jack a great deal of persuasion to convince Yamato to carry the sword, but eventually he had agreed, accepting it to be the best way to reconcile him with his father. Jack didn’t care about the honour of winning the Taryu-Jiai. Masamoto had shown him great kindness by taking him in to his family. Jack didn’t want to be the reason for the family breaking apart. Yamato bowed once more and went down on one knee raising the Jade Sword above his head with both hands. Kamakura reached out to formally accept the offering and seal his triumph of the Taryu-Jiai, but before he could lay his hands upon it, Yamato turned and presented the sword to his father.

‘Father, I ask for your forgiveness and bestow to you what is rightfully the victory of the Niten Ichi Ryū. I was not the one to retrieve the sword. It was Jack.’ A moment of perplexed silence fell upon the hall. Jack’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. This is not what they had agreed. Yes, he was to give the sword to Masamoto, but he was not to say Jack had retrieved it. That was to be Yamato’s glory. The proof Masamoto was looking for that Yamato was good enough to be a samurai warrior, worthy to be a Masamoto. Akiko looked in wide-eyed wonder at the bowing Yamato and then at Jack, who was shaking his head in silent dispute. Masamoto gave Yamato a dubious look. ‘Is this the truth?’ ‘Yes, Father. But Jack insisted that I was the one to hand it to you.’ Ignoring Jack’s protests, Masamoto nodded once, the issue decided. He stood up and took the sword from Yamato’s outstretched hands. ‘The Niten Ichi Ryū are deemed the champions of the Taryu-Jiai!’ announced the equally baffled Imperial Court official. The whole of the Buddha Hall erupted into a cacophony of cheers from the Niten Ichi Ryū. Raucous heckling exploded from the Yagyu Ryū side and Raiden stamped the ground in frustration, while Moriko bared her black teeth, hissing her disgust at Akiko. Kamakura’s face flushed red with fury and his throat quivered as if he was choking on an oversized frog.

‘This is an outrage!’ Kamakura eventually cried, shoving the official to the floor. ‘An outrage!’ Kamakura threw a curt nod in Masamoto’s direction then stormed out of the hall, his samurai hastening close behind. The official picked himself up and called for silence. Once the noise had finally died down, he deferred to Masamoto. ‘Students of the Niten Ichi Ryū!’ began Masamoto, ceremoniously brandishing the Jade Sword and raising it in a heroic salute. ‘Today we have witnessed what it means to be a samurai of this school!’ There was an explosion of applause. Masamoto held his other hand up for silence, stepped off the dais and walked over to Jack. ‘At the start of your year, I said every young samurai had to conquer the self, endure punishing practice, and foster a fearless mind. This boy, Jack-kun, is proof of that. Today, he fought with valour and courage. He defeated the enemy and won honour for this school!’ There was another explosion of applause even louder than before. ‘But bushido is not just about courage and honour. Nor is its purpose fighting and warfare. Though they may be necessary stops on your journey, they are not your destination. The true essence of bushido is rectitude, benevolence and loyalty.’ Masamoto turned to Yamato and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.

‘Yamato-kun has demonstrated this very essence. Admitting such truth in the presence of so many takes extraordinary courage. Perhaps greater courage than retrieving the Jade Sword itself.’ Masamoto held the gleaming sword aloft and the school cheered once more. ‘Yamato-kun, you have answered my question,’ he continued, looking down at his son with a warmth Jack had never witnessed before. ‘I asked you to tell me what it means to be a Masamoto. What you have just demonstrated is exactly what Masamoto spirit is all about. You have honoured and respected Jack-kun, your fellow samurai. You have shown integrity. You are truly a Masamoto. I accept your apology a hundredfold and implore you to return to the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ Masamoto bent down on one knee to be level with Yamato. Jack couldn’t believe it, and by the shocked look on Akiko’s face neither could she. Despite everything that had happened, Masamoto was formally and publicly accepting Yamato. The moment was not lost on the rest of the students and a respectful silence descended upon the hall as they all bowed their respects to Masamoto and Yamato. Father and son bowed to one another. ‘Bushido is not a journey to be taken lightly,’ he declared, getting to his feet. ‘I told you that the path of the warrior is lifelong and mastery is simply staying the path. Students of the Niten Ichi Ryū – stay the path!’ The Buddha Hall thundered with fervent applause.

ooo000ooo 41 GION MATSURI The little boy in the stark white robes and black hat of a Shinto priest raised the short wakizashi sword above his head and brought it down as hard as he could. In a single stroke, he cut the rope and the Gion Matsuri festival began. ‘This is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it,’ enthused Jack. Immense wooden floats, adorned with tapestries and columns of bulbous white lanterns that looked like sails soaring into the sky, passed by in a never-ending procession. Some of the floats were carried upon people’s shoulders, while the largest ones, as big as riverboats and bearing finely dressed, white-faced geisha, were set upon wooden wheels and pulled through the streets. As the first of these floats approached a street corner, all the men pulling began to chant loudly, ‘Yoi! Yoi! Yoi to sei!’, their rhythm pounded out on large taiko drums on the float’s upper floor. The whole structure began to turn and gradually disappeared round the corner like some huge bejewelled dragon. ‘What’s this festival for?’ shouted Jack over the noise of the celebrations. ‘It’s a purification ritual,’ replied Akiko, who stood close by in a sea-green kimono decorated with brightly coloured

chrysanthemums. ‘A plague swept through Kyoto seven hundred years ago and the Matsuri prevents its return.’ ‘We had a plague in England too,’ said Jack. ‘They called it the Black Death.’ The crowd around them surged forward as people jostled for the best position to see all the different passing floats. Emi with two of her friends joined Jack, Akiko and Yamato in the throng. ‘How is our victorious samurai today?’ greeted Emi, fluttering a red paper fan against the heat while manoeuvring herself between Jack and Akiko. Akiko frowned at Emi’s unexpected intrusion. ‘Great, thanks!’ said Jack. ‘This is a wonderful festival –’ ‘Come on!’ urged Yamato, seeing Akiko’s prickly reaction. He grabbed Jack’s arm. ‘I know a better place to stand.’ ‘Sorry, I have to go. Perhaps see you later?’ said Jack, waving at the disappointed Emi as he was dragged by Yamato and Akiko to the back of the crowd, where they found Saburo, Yori and Kiku waiting for them. ‘Here, try this!’ greeted Saburo, and shoved a small fish-shaped cake in his hand. ‘What is it?’ asked Jack, eyeing the pastry suspiciously. ‘It’s taiyaki…’ replied Saburo through a mouthful of the cake. ‘Later. We’ve got all afternoon to eat,’ interrupted Yamato. ‘We need to get ahead of the procession to see it all. Follow me!’

Yamato led them off down a back street and they wound their way through a maze of narrow deserted alleyways before coming out on to the main thoroughfare in front of the Imperial Palace. Hundreds of people were already gathered and the street was lined with stalls selling strange sweets, skewers of barbequed chicken, sencha and a vast array of festival delights, from brightly coloured paper fans to gruesome papier-mâché masks, all in readiness for the evening celebrations. ‘There! What did I tell you, Jack? We can see the whole procession from here,’ said Yamato eagerly, making his way to the front. From the moment of their Taryu-Jiai victory the previous day and his reconciliation with his father, Yamato had been a changed person. No longer was he so serious, or so cold towards Jack. In fact, he took his newfound friendship with Jack so far that Yamato was almost a bodyguard, challenging anyone who referred to Jack as the gaijin. Not that many people did. Along with Akiko and Saburo, Jack and Yamato were the heroes of the school. Only Kazuki and his friends remained hostile towards Jack, but they were keeping a low profile while everyone was celebrating the school’s victory over the Yagyu Ryū. ‘Look!’ said Kiku. ‘There’s Masamoto!’ ‘Where’s he going?’ asked Jack. ‘To meet the Emperor, of course!’ said Kiku in reverential awe. ‘Our Living God.’

‘You may have won the Taryu-Jiai,’ explained Akiko, ‘but as the founder of the Niten Ichi Ryū, Masamoto gets the honour of meeting the Emperor himself.’ Masamoto, bearing the Jade Green sword and flanked by Sensei Yamada, Sensei Kyuzo, Sensei Hosokawa and Sensei Yosa, all in full ceremonial regalia, entered through the immense gateway of the Imperial Palace and disappeared behind the tall earthen walls. Jack wondered what it would be like to meet a ‘Living God’. The rest of that afternoon was spent watching the passing parade of floats, geisha and musicians, while Jack was introduced to a bizarre variety of Japanese foods. Saburo appeared to greatly enjoy experimenting with Jack’s taste buds, force-feeding him with varying levels of success. Jack enjoyed the takoyaki, a dumpling made of batter, ginger and fried octopus, but he found the obanyaki, a thick round pastry filled with custard, sickly sweet. As they wandered the streets, Saburo kept giving Jack various fried pancakes. ‘They’re called okonomiyaki. It means “cook what you like, when you like”,’ explained Akiko, a disgusted look on her face as Jack tucked into his fourth one, ‘but I wouldn’t trust it. You never know what they might have put in it!’ ‘Quick, over here,’ shouted Yamato, waving them to a stand on the corner of a side street. ‘This stall’s selling some of the best masks I’ve seen yet!’ ‘Here, Jack, this one will suit you,’ said Saburo, handing him an ugly red demon mask with four eyes and metallic gold teeth. ‘It should improve the way you look!’

‘Well, you had better have this one, considering you fight like one!’ retorted Jack, passing him the wrinkled, half-sunken face of an old woman. ‘Ha, ha!’ replied Saburo humourlessly, but took it anyway. ‘What about this one for you, Yamato?’ ‘Yes, why not? It’s got spirit,’ said Yamato, examining the gold mask of a madman with spikes of black hair. ‘Which one are you going to get, Akiko?’ asked Jack. ‘I was thinking of that one,’ she said, pointing to a red and gold butterfly mask. ‘Yes, you would look quite lovely in that…’ began Jack, but he stopped when he saw the surprise on Saburo and Kiku’s faces at his unexpectedly affectionate compliment. ‘Well… it would be better than that… lion-dog mask over there,’ he finished awkwardly and gave a dismissive wave of the hand. ‘Thank you, Jack,’ she said, smiling graciously, and turned to the merchant. Jack was relieved Akiko had her back to him, for she missed seeing him blush. But Yamato saw it and meaningfully raised his eyebrows at him. Not long after sunset, all the lanterns on the procession floats were lit, transforming Kyoto into a magical nighttime paradise. The lanterns floated through the streets like vast cloud formations lit from within by tiny suns. Everyone donned their masks and the streets came alive with music and merriment.

Many of the floats ground to a halt as the men began to drink from large bottles of saké, and it was not long before the sounds of revelry could be heard coming from every street corner. As Jack, Akiko, Yamato and the others made their way back to the main thoroughfare for the evening fireworks, a group of drunken samurai staggered past, forcing Jack to jump out of their way. He collided with a man in black who was wearing an ebony devil mask with two sharp red horns and a small white skull carved in the centre of its forehead. ‘Out of my way!’ hissed the black devil. Jack stared through his own demon mask at the man and froze. The man irritably shoved Jack out of his way and hurried down the street before disappearing into a narrow side alley. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Akiko, rushing over to Jack. ‘I think… I just saw Dragon Eye!’ ooo000ooo 42 DOKUGAN RYU ‘You must be mistaken. Dokugan Ryu would never dare show himself at a festival,’ said Akiko as they all ran down the alleyway after the black devil.

‘I definitely saw him,’ said Jack. ‘He only had one eye and it was green! How many Japanese do you know who have one green eye?’ ‘One,’ admitted Yamato. ‘Exactly. I just pray he didn’t recognize me.’ Jack pulled off his mask as he ran. ‘So where does this alley lead?’ But before Yamato could answer, they rounded a corner and found themselves opposite Nijo Castle. They had emerged at one of its side entrances, a small gateway accessed via a narrow bridge across the moat. ‘Do you think this ninja of yours went inside the castle?’ said Saburo uneasily. ‘Must have,’ said Jack, looking up and down the deserted thoroughfare. ‘Where is everyone?’ ‘They’ll all be watching the fireworks by the Imperial Palace,’ said Kiku. Jack searched the darkness for any sign of Dragon Eye. Nothing moved. That was the problem. ‘Where are the guards?’ asked Jack. ‘I thought this is where Emi’s father lives. Isn’t Takatomi the daimyo of Kyoto? Surely he would have guards on all his entrances?’ ‘Yes, but it’s Gion Matsuri,’ said Yori. ‘He’ll be at the festival and so will most of his guards.’ ‘Of course! What better time for a ninja to enter a castle?’ said Jack.

‘But why would he want to?’ questioned Kiku. ‘Who knows,’ said Jack, shrugging, ‘but you can bet it’s not to see the fireworks. Come on! Let’s find out what he’s up to and stop him.’ ‘But he’s a ninja!’ exclaimed Saburo. ‘And we’re samurai!’ Jack sprinted across the thoroughfare to the gangway. After a moment’s hesitation, the rest of them joined him, with Saburo trailing reluctantly behind. ‘Saburo, you’d better stand guard with Yori,’ suggested Jack, to Saburo’s evident relief. The remaining four then cautiously made their way across the narrow wooden bridge to the gate. ‘Do you think it’ll be open?’ queried Akiko. ‘What if he went over the wall?’ ‘Only one way to find out,’ said Jack, and he pushed on the heavy wooden door. It swung open without resistance. Jack peered into the inky blackness. He couldn’t see a thing. Taking a deep breath, steeling himself for an ambush, he swiftly slipped inside. Before he had gone two paces, he tripped and fell face down on a hard stone floor.

‘Jack, are you all right?’ asked Akiko, alarmed at his muffled grunt of pain. ‘Yes, fine,’ he whispered back. ‘You can come in. I fell over the guard, that’s all. He’s dead.’ The others found him kneeling over the dead body of a samurai. ‘There’s another one behind the door,’ said Jack. Kiku let out a stifled yelp as she caught sight of the body of the second samurai, headless. ‘It looks like he was killed with his own sword,’ said Yamato, as Akiko drew Kiku to her. ‘Kiku, go back to the others,’ ordered Akiko in a sharp whisper. ‘Raise the alarm with Masamoto and tell him what is happening,’ She nodded mutely before skirting the decapitated samurai to slip out of the door, then ran off towards the Imperial Palace. ‘What now?’ asked Yamato. ‘We find him and we stop him!’ said Jack with ominous finality. He began to scan the open courtyard for movement. ‘Or we find a guard that’s still alive who can raise the alarm,’ added Akiko, concerned at Jack’s intentions. ‘Too late for that,’ said Jack, pointing to a black shadow barely visible by the battlements. ‘There he is! Next to that wall, on the far side of the courtyard.’

Looking around, Jack spotted the katana of the headless samurai on the floor. Snatching up the bloodied sword, he ran off in the direction of Dragon Eye, leaving Yamato and Akiko staring after him. ‘This is insane!’ said Akiko, ‘He’s going to get himself killed.’ ‘Not if I can help it,’ said Yamato, hunting the darkness for the other samurai’s katana. ‘But neither of you have ever used a real sword before!’ ‘It doesn’t matter. Once you’ve mastered the bokken, I’m sure it can’t be too hard to wield a katana. Ah, found it,’ said Yamato, discovering the second sword discarded behind the guardhouse. ‘Come on! Jack’s already on the other side.’ ‘Perfect! Leave me with the short sword, why don’t you?’ muttered Akiko, unsheathing a wakizashi from the nearest dead samurai, before hurrying after the receding figure of Yamato. By now, Jack was under the lee of the castle wall and could see Dragon Eye ahead, hiding in the shadows. He was making for the five buildings that formed the central complex of the castle. Jack presumed by their highly decorative design that this was Takatomi’s Palace. Dragon Eye had not seen Jack yet for he was too occupied with scouting ahead. This was Jack’s chance. Jack shifted the katana in his hands, adjusting his grip. The sword felt far weightier than his bokken and he knew he’d have to be careful not to let the kissaki drop and leave himself exposed.

Jack edged closer, Dragon Eye still oblivious to his approach. As he crept to within ten paces of the ninja, all the pent-up anger and pain Jack felt at his father’s death welled up like molten rock and exploded within him. Now was the time! Dokugan Ryu would finally pay for his father’s death! But Jack hesitated. He couldn’t do it. ‘Never hesitate,’ hissed Dokugan Ryu, his back still turned. Dragon Eye spun on the spot and a silver shuriken glinted in the darkness. ‘Watch out!’ screamed Yamato, throwing himself in front of Jack. The shuriken hit Yamato, embedding itself in his chest. He fell to the floor, blood gushing over the stone courtyard. Jack saw red, his fury boiling over. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he charged Dragon Eye, his sword held high, and brought it down with all his might at his sworn enemy. Dragon Eye pulled his ninjatō from the saya strapped to his back, smoothly deflecting Jack’s blade at the same time. He then countered, slicing across Jack’s midriff. Jack predicted the move and blocked it. Immediately, he pressed forward with his own attack, cutting up at Dragon Eye’s face. But

the ninja flipped backwards to avoid the rising blade. As he flew through the air, Dragon Eye kicked out and his foot caught Jack’s hands, dislodging the katana. Dragon Eye landed on his feet just as Jack’s sword clattered to the ground, leaving him unarmed and defenceless. ‘You’ve improved, young samurai, for a gaijin!’ he said with genuine respect. ‘One day, you might actually be worth fighting. But you’re not my mission today, so go home like a good boy!’ ‘I don’t have a home. You killed my father. Remember?’ said Jack, outraged. ‘Was my father a mission too?’ ‘Your father was nothing. The rutter was my mission!’ Jack stared in disbelief at the ninja. ‘Who’s ordering these missions?’ ‘You won’t give up, will you?’ hissed Dragon Eye in irritation. ‘Let’s hope you still live without your sword arm!’ Dragon Eye raised his ninjatō and brought it down to sever Jack’s right arm. Out of the night like a shooting star, Akiko’s wakizashi spun through the air towards Dokugan Ryu. At the last second, the ninja twisted on instinct, the arc of his sword shifting and missing Jack’s shoulder by a hair’s breadth. The wakizashi pierced Dragon Eye’s side and, though the blade cut deep, he barely made a sound. Staggering slightly, the ninja glanced absently at the weapon protruding from him.

‘Who did you learn that from? Masamoto?’ he spat in disgust at Akiko as she appeared by Jack’s side. The ninja carefully removed the bloody blade, glaring at them in defiance. He then flipped the short sword over in his hand and was about to throw it back at the now defenceless Akiko, when the main gate burst open and Masamoto and his samurai dashed into the courtyard bearing flaming torches. ‘Spread out!’ ordered Masamoto. ‘Find them, and kill the ninja!’ ‘Another time, gaijin!’ hissed Dragon Eye. ‘The rutter is not forgotten.’ The ninja dropped the wakizashi, and scaled the castle wall like a malevolent four-legged spider, disappearing into the night. In the distance, fireworks exploded and brightly coloured sparks reigned down like a meteor shower in the night sky. ooo000ooo 43 KENDO – THE WAY OF THE SWORD ‘We believe Dokugan Ryu was sent to poison daimyo Takatomi,’ explained Masamoto the following night in the Hō-oh-no-ma, the Hall of the Phoenix. He sat upon his dais, framed by the magnificent flaming phoenix. Sensei Kyuzo and Sensei Yosa on his left, Sensei Hosokawa and Sensei Yamada to his right.

Jack knelt between Akiko and the bandaged Yamato on the lower floor. Yamato had been extremely fortunate. The shuriken had not been poisoned and, while he had suffered a deep chest wound, he would recover. ‘But who sent him?’ asked Jack. Masamoto sipped from a cup of sencha then gazed pensively at it. ‘That we don’t know. It may be a sign of things to come,’ he replied gravely. ‘So daimyo Takatomi has increased his personal guard and has ordered new security measures to be installed in his castle. He sends his apologies for not being here tonight. He has been called away to Edo. But he is most appreciative of all your efforts in stopping the ninja. He wanted me to give you these as a token of his esteem.’ A maid entered bearing three boxes and placed one in front of each of the young samurai. Jack examined his. It was a small rectangular box made of thickly lacquered wood. The surface was exquisitely decorated in gold and silver leaf, and he could make out a finely engraved sakura tree within the design, its blossom picked out in ivory. Attached to the top of the box by a hemp cord was a small ivory toggle carved into the shape of a lion’s head. He looked enquiringly over at the others. They too had received similar gifts, but the boxes bore different designs and Yamato’s had a monkey-shaped toggle, while Akiko’s was carved into a miniature eagle. ‘They are called inro, Jack-kun,’ explained Masamoto, seeing Jack’s puzzled expression. ‘They’re used for carrying things, such as

medicines, money, pens and ink. That small ivory lion’s head is called a netsuke. You slip it through your obi and it will secure the inro to you.’ Jack picked up the beautifully crafted inro and ivory netsuke. He had always wondered what the Japanese had done without pockets in their kimono. The inro consisted of a stack of tiny boxes that fitted snugly one on top of the other. He passed the lion’s head netsuke through his obi and secured the inro to his belt. ‘Takatomi-sama has also extended his funding of the Niten Ichi Ryū indefinitely,’ continued Masamoto, ‘and has bestowed upon the school a new training hall. It is to be called Taka-no-ma, the Hall of the Hawk. For that, I myself am indebted to you. You have once again brought great honour upon this school. In recognition of your service, I wish to present you with these gifts.’ Three servants entered, each carrying a large, lacquered box, which they placed upon the dais. ‘Yamato-kun, you have proven yourself to be a true Masamoto. This time with your own blood. I am proud to call you my son. As a mark of my respect for you, please come forward and accept this daishō.’ Bowing stiffly, Yamato knelt before Masamoto, his injury preventing him from the full respectful bow expected. Masamoto opened the first box and withdrew its contents. ‘You may recognize this daishō, Yamato-kun. They were Tenno’s. It is time you wore them, for you have proven yourself worthy beyond a doubt.’

With his two hands outstretched, grimacing against the pain, Yamato accepted the katana and the shorter wakizashi sword. The two weapons together made up the daishō, and were a symbol of the social power and personal honour of a samurai. To be bestowed a daishō was an immense privilege. For a moment, Yamato could only gaze at them, their black lacquered sayas hinting at the gleaming blades within. Yamato then resumed his place alongside Jack and Akiko. Jack couldn’t help but notice that Yamato’s eyes shone with immense pride. ‘Akiko-chan, please kneel before Sensei Yosa. For it is she who wishes to present your gift.’ Akiko got up and bowed deeply before Sensei Yosa. ‘Akiko-chan, you have the eye of a hawk and the grace of an eagle,’ said Sensei Yosa, drawing her box nearer and tenderly removing several items. ‘You deserve to carry my bow and arrows. Please accept these as a recognition of your fine skills as a kyudoka.’ Akiko was almost too astounded to show her respect. She took Sensei Yosa’s tall bamboo bow and quiver of hawk feather arrows with trembling hands. ‘My bow has much to impart to you, Akiko-chan. As you know, a bow holds within it part of the spirit of the person who made it. My bow is now yours and I hope it will protect you as it has protected me.’ ‘Arigatō gozaimashita, Sensei,’ breathed Akiko, holding the bow and arrows with utmost reverence, and returned to her place.

‘Lastly, we come to you, Jack-kun,’ said Masamoto magnanimously. ‘Who would have thought that the drowned wreck of a gaijin boy would amount to so much? Your father, if he had survived, would surely be proud of you this day.’ Jack’s eyes suddenly felt hot with tears. The unexpected reference to his father was almost too much and he had to bite down hard on his lip to stop himself from crying. ‘You have saved Yamato-kun’s life,’ continued Masamoto. ‘Twice, if I am not mistaken. You have learnt our language and honoured our customs. And you have defeated Dokugan Ryu’s murderous intent, not once, but three times. If my daimyo had an army of boys like you, he could conquer any land in a heartbeat. Come forward.’ Jack knelt and bowed respectfully in front of Masamoto. All the sensei returned Jack’s bow, Sensei Hosokawa and Sensei Yosa both giving him serious yet approving nods of the head. Sensei Kyuzo offered his typically curt acknowledgement, but Sensei Yamada beamed warmly at Jack. ‘You still have a great deal to learn, Jack-kun,’ continued Masamoto, suddenly serious. ‘You are but a tiny bud. You have only laid the foundation stone. Taken your first step. You still have a long road to travel on the Way of the Warrior, but as I said in the beginning, we are here to help you make that journey. I therefore present to you my first swords.’ By the stunned reactions of the sensei and the inward drawing of breath from both Akiko and Yamato, Jack judged that this was a considerable and unprecedented honour. Masamoto opened the

last lacquered box that lay before him and lifted out two formidable swords. Unlike the Jade Sword, Masamoto’s daishō were not overly decorated. The sayas were pure shafts of black lacquer, the only embellishment an inlay of a small golden phoenix emblazoned near the hilt. This was not a piece of art or a sword for show. It was the weapon of a warrior. ‘Jack-kun, the sword is the soul of the samurai,’ said Masamoto with great import, and presented the daishō to him, his amber eyes fixing Jack with a stern stare. ‘With the possession of such a weapon comes great responsibility,’ instructed Masamoto, not letting go of the swords so that now both he and Jack held them. ‘It must never fall into the hands of your enemy. And you must always uphold the samurai principles of bushido. Rectitude. Courage. Benevolence. Respect. Honesty. Honour. Loyalty. Do you understand?’ ‘Hai, Masamoto-sama. Arigatō gozaimashita,’ replied Jack with complete sincerity. Jack took the swords from Masamoto and immediately felt his hands sink under the weight of their responsibility. He bowed low and returned to his place between Akiko and Yamato, the daishō by his side. ‘Now that we have finished here, I ask you all to kindly leave, except for Yamato-kun. I wish to spend some time with my son. We have much to discuss,’ said Masamoto, a smile brightening the unscarred side of his face.

Everyone bowed and respectfully departed from the Hall of the Phoenix. Jack and Akiko wandered into the Southern Zen garden to wait for Yamato. They stood between the two standing stones and stared in silence at the night sky together. The moon was bright and gibbous, two days from becoming a full moon, and the stars shone keenly in the heavens. ‘See that star, the brightest one in the sky. That’s Spica,’ said Jack after several moments had passed. ‘Which one?’ enquired Akiko. ‘They all look the same to me.’ ‘Start from the handle of the Plough, the constellation above us, then follow the arc to Arcturus and speed on to Spica,’ said Jack, guiding Akiko’s eyes with the tip of his finger. ‘Then the one over to its left we call Regulus and the one next to that, Bellatrix. The twinkling one over here is Jupiter, but that’s not a star, that’s a planet.’ ‘How do you know all this?’ asked Akiko, turning to Jack. ‘My father taught me. He said if I was to ever be a pilot like him, I would need to know how to navigate by the stars.’ ‘And can you?’ ‘Yes. Enough to guide a ship back to port,’ said Jack, then with a sad longing. ‘Possibly even enough to get home.’ ‘You still want to go home?’

Jack returned Akiko’s gaze. The moonlight reflected in her jetblack eyes, sending small shivers down his spine like shooting stars. Yes, he did still want to go home. He missed England’s green fields in spring, and the cosy warmth of his parents’ fireplace in winter where his father would regale him with tales of daring sea voyages. He longed for the rowdy chaos of London and the noise of street criers, cattle and hammering blacksmiths. His stomach ached for beef, pies and bread thick with butter, as much as his brain cried out to speak English to someone. But most of all he missed his family. Jess was all he had left now. He needed to find her. Make sure she was all right. Yet, for the very first time, standing next to Akiko under the stars, Jack felt like he could belong in Japan. ‘Wherever it is you may be, it is your friends who make your world,’ his mother had told him when they had moved yet again between Rotterdam and Limehouse due to his father’s work. He was only seven at the time and resented having to move, but now he understood what she meant. Here in Japan, Jack had found friends. True friends. Saburo, Yori, Kiku, Yamato and, most important of all, Akiko. ‘Akiko-chan!’ called a voice. It was Sensei Yosa. ‘May I have a moment of your time? I need to explain the particular characteristics of your bow.’

‘Hai, Sensei,’ said Akiko, but before going she turned back to Jack. ‘I know you miss your home in England, Jack, but Japan can be your home too.’ Then, with a warm gentle smile, she bowed and walked away down the garden and was gone. Jack stared up at the night sky, continuing to name each of the stars in his head in an effort to quell his turbulent emotions and stop himself from crying. His hand rested absently upon his new swords and he fingered the hilt. On an impulse, he withdrew his katana and held it up to the moonlight. Admiring the deep graceful curve of its blade, he turned it in the air, gauging its weight, judging its point of balance. It was too soon for it to become an extension of his arm, like his lighter wooden bokken, but nonetheless he felt confident enough to attempt a few cuts. He sliced the moon in half, speared Bellatrix and cut off a shooting star. Whirling round, he brought his kissaki up ready for another assault and there was Dokugan Ryu. Standing in the darkness. Motionless. Waiting to attack. ‘Never hesitate.’ This time Jack wouldn’t. He lifted the sword above his head and ran at Dragon Eye to deliver the killing blow. ‘Jack-kun!’ cried Sensei Yamada from behind. Dokugan Ryu turned to stone and Jack spun round.

‘What are you doing?’ asked the Zen teacher, leaning upon his walking stick in the darkness, a quizzical look in his eyes. ‘I was…’ began Jack, glancing back at the standing stone, ‘practising my kata.’ ‘On a stone?’ ‘No, not really,’ replied Jack, deflated. ‘I was imagining it was Dokugan Ryu. I was about to kill him. Get my revenge.’ ‘Revenge is self-defeating. It will eat away at you until there is nothing left,’ observed Sensei Yamada, speaking the truth as if it were as obvious as the moon in the night sky. ‘But he killed my father!’ ‘Yes. And he will undoubtedly pay for that sin, if not in this life then in his next. But do not believe for one moment that possession of that sword makes you all powerful. You must never forget your bushido. Rectitude, your ability to judge what is wrong and what is right, is the keystone to being samurai.’ He took Jack by the arm and led him slowly along the path towards the old pine tree in the corner of the garden, its bough weighing heavily upon its wooden crutch. ‘Benevolence, your compassion for others, underpins all of them. There is no place for anger or rage in the Way. In real budo, there are no enemies. Real budo is a function of love. The Way of a Warrior is not to destroy and kill, but to foster life.8 To protect it.’ He stopped by the old pine and faced Jack.

‘Jack-kun, as Masamoto-sama said, you’ve only just begun to learn the Way of the Warrior, but you must also learn the Way of the Sword. Kendo.’ Sensei Yamada smiled enigmatically, his sharp eyes twinkling like miniature stars, then he disappeared into the veil of darkness beyond the tree, leaving Jack all alone under a Japanese sky. As Jack glanced up, a shooting star trailed across the heavens. The little meteorite flared brightly then died, the path it had burnt in the sky fading like the embers of a fire. In that instant Jack was struck by a moment of satori, enlightenment as bright as the star itself. He too was on a journey whose destination was unknown and whose fate was uncertain. But he had set his course and there was no going back. He had chosen… the Way of the Warrior. ooo000ooo NOTES ON THE SOURCES The following quotes are referenced within Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior (with the page numbers in square brackets below) and their sources are acknowledged here: 1 ‘The path of the warrior is lifelong. Yet mastery is often simply staying the path.’ [Page 154] Richard Strozzi Heckler ( (By permission of the author) 2 ‘From every tiny bud springs a tree of many branches. Every castle commences with the laying of the first stone. Every journey

begins with just one step.’ [Page 155] Lao Tzu, philosopher and founder of Taoism. (Material in the public domain) 3 ‘It’s good to have an end to journey toward but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.’ [Page 156] Excerpt from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, copyright © 1969, 1997 by Ursula K. Le Guin, published by Ace Books. (By permission of the author’s agent) 4 ‘Given enough time, anyone may master the physical. Given enough knowledge, anyone may become wise. It is the true warrior who can master both and surpass the result.’ [Pages 158–159] T’ien T’ai, Buddhist sect. (Material in the public domain) 5 ‘In order to be walked on, you have to be lying down.’ [Page 168] Brian Weir. (Original source unknown; no evidence of publication) 6 ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.’ [Page 172] Excerpt from ‘No Peaceful Warriors!’, Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, copyright © 1991 by Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon (born James Neil Hollingworth). 7 ‘The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.’ [Page 237] Molière, French playwright and actor. (Material in the public domain) 8 ‘In real budo, there are no enemies. Real budo is a function of love. The way of a Warrior is not to destroy and kill but to foster life, to continually create.’ [Page 315] Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. (From Budo Secrets, by John Stevens, copyright © 2001 by

John Stevens. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., ooo000ooo JAPANESE GLOSSARY Bushido Bushido, meaning the ‘Way of the Warrior’, is a Japanese code of conduct similar to the concept of chivalry. Samurai warriors were meant to adhere to the seven moral principles in their martial arts training and in their day-to-day lives.

Virtue 1: Gi – Rectitude Gi is the ability to make the right decision with moral confidence and to be fair and equal towards all people no matter what colour, race, gender or age.

Virtue 2: Yu – Courage Yu is the ability to handle any situation with valour and confidence.

Virtue 3: Jin – Benevolence Jin is a combination of compassion and generosity. This virtue works together with Gi and discourages samurai from using their skills arrogantly or for domination.

Virtue 4: Rei – Respect Rei is a matter of courtesy and proper behaviour towards others. This virtue means to have respect for all.

Virtue 5: Makoto – Honesty Makota is about being honest to oneself as much as to others. It means acting in ways that are morally right and always doing things to the best of your ability.

Virtue 6: Meiyo – Honour Meiyo is sought with a positive attitude in mind, but will only follow with correct behaviour. Success is an honourable goal to strive for.

Virtue 7: Chungi – LoyaltyChungi is the foundation of all the virtues; without dedication and loyalty to the task at hand and to one another, one cannot hope to achieve the desired outcome. ooo000ooo NOTES ON THE JAPANESE LANGUAGE abunai danger

arigatō (gozaimasu) thank you bokken wooden sword

bushido Butokuden Butsuden Chō-no-ma daimyo futon

the Way of the Warrior Hall of the Virtues of War the Buddha Hall Hall of Butterflies feudal lord Japanese bed: flat mattress placed directly on tatami flooring, and folded away during the day foreigner, barbarian (derogatory term) sorry yes begin chopsticks Hall of the Phoenix let’s go no spirit a prescribed series of moves in martial arts long sword the Art of the Sword

gaijin gomennasai hai hajime hashi Hō-oh-no-ma ikinasai iye kami kata katana kenjutsu

ki kiai

life force literally ‘concentrated spirit’ – used in martial arts as a shout for focusing energy when executing a technique basic techniques tip of sword good day the Art of the Bow festival ninja sword garden bath good morning free-sparring call to bow rice wine enlightenment scabbard sit/kneel green tea

kihon waza kissaki konnichiwa kyujutsu matsuri ninjatō niwa ofuro ohayō gozaimasu randori rei saké satori saya seiza sencha

sensei shinobi shozoko Shishi-no-ma shoji shuriken sohei sumimasen tabi taijutsu Taka-no-ma tantō tatami torii tsuba uchi wakarimasen wakizashi wako yame

teacher the clothing of a ninja Hall of Lions Japanese sliding door metal throwing stars warrior monks excuse me; my apologies Japanese split-toe socks the Art of the Body (hand-to-hand combat) Hall of the Hawk knife floor matting gateway hand guard strike I don’t understand side-arm short sword Japanese pirates stop!

zabuton zazen

cushion meditation

Japanese names usually consist of a family name (surname) followed by a given name, unlike in the Western world where the given name comes before the surname. In feudal Japan, names reflected a person’s social status and spiritual beliefs. Also, when addressing someone, san is added to that person’s surname (or given names in less formal situations) as a sign of courtesy, similar to Mr or Mrs in English, and for higher status people sama is used. In Japan, sensei is usually added after a person’s name if they are a teacher, although in the Young Samurai books a traditional English order has been retained. Boys and girls are usually addressed using kun and chan respectively. ooo000ooo


THE WAY OF THE SWORD CHRIS BRADFORD CONTENTS Prologue – Dokujutsu 1 Knucklebones 2 The Rutter 3 The Daruma Wish 4 A Grain of Rice 5 Circle of Three 6 The Invitation 7 Randori 8 Submission 9 Fudoshin 10 The Nightingale Floor 11 The Golden Tea Room 12 Tamashiwari 13 Origami

14 Intruder 15 Sensei Kano 16 Mugan Ryū 17 Planting Seeds 18 Irezumi 19 Fighting Blind 20 The Scorpion Gang 21 Temple of the Peaceful Dragon 22 Maple Leaf Viewing 23 Breaking Boards 24 Trial by Wood and Fire 25 More than a Piece of Paper 26 The Gauntlet 27 The Selection 28 Break-in 29 The Decoy 30 Sticky Hands 31 Yuki Gassen 32 Scorpions vs Phoenix 33 Mushin 34 Ganjitsu 35 Hatsuhinode 36 The Net Widens 37 Body Challenge 38 Running On Empty 39 Yori 40 The Eyes of Buddha 41 Mind Over Matter 42 First Blood 43 Escape 44 Interrogation 45 Dim Mak 46 Mountain Monk 47 Spirit Combat 48 The Challenge

49 The Duelling Ground 50 No Sword 51 Kunoichi 52 Sasori 53 The Way of the Dragon Notes on Sources Acknowledgments Japanese Glossary Origami : How to Fold a Paper Crane Sneak preview: The Way of the Dragon ooo000ooo PROLOGUE

DOKUJUTSU Japan, August 1612 ‘The Deathstalker is the most poisonous scorpion known to man,’ explained the ninja, taking a large black specimen from a wooden box and placing it into his student’s trembling hand. ‘Armed, silent and deadly, it’s the ultimate assassin.’ The student tried in vain to control her shaking as the eightlegged creature crawled over her skin, its stinger glistening in the half-light. She knelt before the ninja in a small candlelit room crammed full of ceramic jars, wooden boxes and little cages. Inside these containers were an array of poisonous potions, powders, plants and creatures. The ninja had already shown her blood-red berries,

bulbous blowfish, brightly coloured frogs, long-legged spiders and coils of black-hooded snakes – each specimen lethal to humans. ‘One sting from a Deathstalker and the victim suffers unbearable pain,’ the ninja went on, observing the fear flare in his student’s eyes. ‘Convulsions are followed by paralysis, loss of consciousness and finally death.’ At this, the student became still as stone, her eyes fixed on the scorpion crawling up her arm and towards her neck. Paying no attention to the imminent danger his student was in, the ninja continued with his instruction. ‘As part of your ninjutsu training, you must learn dokujutsu, the Art of Poison. When you’re sent on missions, you’ll discover that stabbing your victim with a knife is messy and there’s a high chance of failure. But poisoning is silent, hard to detect and, when administered properly, guaranteed to work.’ The scorpion had now reached her neck, having crept into the inviting dark of her long black hair. She turned her head away, trying to distance herself from the creature’s approach, her breathing shallow and rapid with panic. The ninja ignored her plight. ‘I will teach you how to extract the poison from different plants and animals, and which ones you should apply to your weapons, mix in food and lace your victim’s drink with,’ the ninja said, running his fingers over a cage and making the snake inside strike at the bars. ‘You must also build a tolerance to these poisons, since there’s nothing to be gained from dying by your own hand.’ He turned to see his student raising her arm to brush away the scorpion nestled in the crook of her neck. He gently shook his head.

‘Many toxins have an antidote. I will show you how to mix these. Others can be overcome by taking small amounts of the poison over time until your body has built a natural defence against it. There are others, though, for which no antidote exists.’ He pointed to a tiny blue-ringed octopus, no bigger than a baby’s fist, in a trough of water. ‘Beautiful as it is, this animal’s venom is so powerful it will kill a man in minutes. I recommend using this one in drinks like saké and sencha, since it is tasteless.’ The student could no longer bear the scorpion on her. She swiped at the creature, dislodging it from her hair, and screamed as it sank its barb deep into her hand. The flesh round the wound immediately began to swell. ‘Help me…’ she moaned as searing pain exploded up her arm. The ninja gazed unsympathetically at his convulsing student. ‘You’ll live,’ he replied, picking up the scorpion by its tail and dropping it back into its box. ‘He’s old and large. It’s the small female ones you have to watch out for.’ The student collapsed unconscious to the floor. ooo000ooo 1 KNUCKLEBONES ‘You’re cheating!’ said the little girl. ‘No, I’m not!’ protested Jack, who knelt opposite his little sister in the back garden of their parents’ cottage.

‘Yes, you are! You’re supposed to clap before picking up the bones.’ Jack stopped protesting; his look of mock innocence didn’t fool Jess one bit. As much as he loved his sister, a slight girl of seven with light-blue eyes and mousey-blonde hair, he knew she was a stickler for the rules. Most days Jess was as harmless as a buttercup, but when they played Knucklebones, she became as strict and severe as their mother was about the household chores. Jack picked up the five sheep’s knucklebones from the ground and started again. They were the size of small pebbles, their edges rubbed smooth from all the play he and Jess had subjected them to during the summer. Despite the oppressive heat, the white bones felt oddly cold in his hands. ‘Bet you can’t beat my twosies!’ dared Jess. Taking up the challenge, Jack cast four bones on to the ground. He then threw the fifth bone high into the air, clapped and seized a knuckle out of the grass before catching the falling bone. He repeated the process with practised ease until he had all five back in his hand. ‘Onesies,’ said Jack. Unimpressed, Jess plucked a daisy out of the grass in pretend boredom. Jack recast the bones, completing the second round in a couple of easy swipes.

‘Twosies!’ he announced, before tossing the knuckles back on to the grass. Then, throwing one up in the air and clapping, he grabbed three before capturing the falling bone. ‘Threesies!’ exclaimed Jess, unable to contain her astonishment. Grinning, Jack recast the knucklebones a final time. In the distance, the sound of thunder rolled heavily across the darkening sky. The air was becoming thick and muggy with an encroaching summer storm, but Jack ignored the change in weather. Instead he concentrated on the challenge of picking up all four bones at once. Jack tossed the single knuckle high into the air and clapped just as there was an almighty crack! A shaft of jagged white lightning scorched the sky, striking a distant hilltop and setting a tree ablaze. It burned blood red against the blackening sky. But Jack was too focused on the game to be distracted. He snatched up the four knucklebones before catching the fifth only a hand’s breadth from the earth. ‘I did it! I did it! Four in one go!’ enthused Jack. He looked up triumphantly and saw that Jess had disappeared. So too had the sun. Thunderous clouds as black as pitch now raced across a boiling sky. Jack stared in bewilderment at the sudden ferocity of the weather. Then he became vaguely aware of something crawling inside his clasped hand. The knucklebones felt like they were moving.

Tentatively, he opened his hand. He gasped. Scurrying across his palm were four tiny black scorpions. They surrounded the remaining white knuckle, their deadly tails striking at the bone, each of their venomous barbs dripping lethal poison. One of the scorpions turned and scuttled up his forearm. In a wild panic, Jack shook it off, dropping all the scorpions into the grass, and ran headlong for the house. ‘Mother! Mother!’ he screamed, then immediately thought of Jess. Where was she? Large drops of rain began to fall and the garden was cast into shadow. He could just make out the five knuckle-bones lying discarded in the grass, but there was no sign of the scorpions or of Jess. ‘Jess? Mother?’ he cried at the top of his lungs. No one answered. Then he heard the soft singing of his mother coming from the kitchen: ‘A man of words and not of deeds Is like a garden full of weeds And when the weeds begin to grow It’s like a garden full of snow…’

Jack darted along the narrow corridor towards the kitchen. The cottage was all shadows, as murky and dank as a catacomb. A glimmer of light seeped through a small crack in the kitchen door. From within, his mother’s voice faded and rose like the sighing of the wind: ‘And when the snow begins to fall It’s like a bird upon the wall And when the bird away does fly It’s like a hawk up in the sky…’ Jack put his eye to the crack and could see his mother sitting in her apron with her back to the door, peeling potatoes with a large curved knife. A single candle lit the room, making the knife’s shadow upon the wall appear as monstrous as a samurai sword. ‘And when the sky begins to roar It’s like a lion at the door…’ Jack pushed at the kitchen door. It grated over the stone-clad flooring, but still his mother did not look round. ‘Mother?’ he asked. ‘Did you hear me…?’ ‘And when the door begins to crack It’s like a stick across your back…’ ‘Mother! Why won’t you answer me?’

The rain was now falling so hard outside it sounded like fish frying in a pan. Jack stepped across the threshold and approached his mother. She kept her back towards him, her fingers working feverishly with the knife, stripping the skin off potato after potato. ‘And when your back begins to smart It’s like a penknife in your heart…’ Jack tugged on her apron. ‘Mother? Are you all right?’ From the other room, Jack heard a stifled scream, and in that moment his mother turned on him, her voice suddenly harsh and grating: ‘And when your heart begins to bleed You’re dead, and dead, and dead indeed.’ Jack found himself staring directly into the sunken eye sockets of an old hag, her oily grey hair crawling with lice. The figure, whom he had believed to be his mother, now raised the knife to Jack’s throat, a sliver of potato hanging from the blade like freshly peeled skin. ‘You’re dead indeed, gaijin!’ rasped the shrivelled witch, her rotten breath making Jack gag. She gave a callous laugh as Jack ran screaming for the door. Jack could hear Jess’s anguished cries deep within the cottage. He burst into the front room.

The large armchair, where his father always sat, faced the fire in the grate. The flickering flames silhouetted a shrouded figure seated in it. ‘Father?’ enquired Jack tentatively. ‘No, gaijin. Your father’s dead.’ A gnarly finger protruded from a black-gloved hand and pointed to the prone body of Jack’s father, who lay broken and bleeding on the wooden floorboards in the far corner of the room. Jack recoiled at the gruesome fate of his father, and the floor began to heave like the deck of a ship. With a single leap, the shrouded figure flew from the chair to the latticed casement window. The intruder clutched Jess in his arms. Jack’s heart stopped. He recognized the single jade-green eye glowering at him through the slit in the hood. The figure, dressed head-to-toe in the black shinobi shozoku of a ninja, was Dokugan Ryu. Dragon Eye. The ninja who had killed his father and hunted Jack ruthlessly and was now kidnapping his little sister. ‘No!’ screamed Jack as he flung himself across the room to save her. But other ninja, like black widow spiders, materialized from the walls to stop him. Jack fought them off with all his might, but every faceless ninja he defeated was immediately replaced by the next.

‘Another time, gaijin!’ hissed Dragon Eye as he turned and disappeared into the raging storm. ‘The rutter is not forgotten.’ ooo000ooo

2 THE RUTTER The pale light of dawn filtered through the tiny window and rain continued to drip sluggishly from the lintel to the sill. A single eye stared through the gloom at Jack. But it was not Dokugan Ryu’s. It belonged to the Daruma Doll that Sensei Yamada, his Zen teacher, had given him during his first week of samurai training at the Niten Ichi Ryū, the ‘One School of Two Heavens’ in Kyoto. More than a year had passed since Jack’s fateful arrival in Japan when a ninja attack upon the trading ship his father piloted had left him stranded and fighting for his life. The sole survivor, Jack had been rescued by the legendary warrior Masamoto Takeshi, the founder of this particular samurai school. Injured, unable to speak the language and without friends or family to look after him, Jack had had little choice but to do as he was told. Besides, Masamoto was not the sort of man to have his authority questioned – a fact proven when he adopted Jack, a foreigner, as his son. Of course, Jack dreamed of going home and being with his sister, Jess, the only family he had left, but these dreams often became nightmares infiltrated by his nemesis, Dragon Eye. The ninja wanted the rutter, his father’s navigational logbook, at any cost, even if that meant killing a boy Jack’s age.

The little wooden Daruma Doll with its round painted face continued to stare at him in the darkness, its lone eye mocking his predicament. Jack recalled the day Sensei Yamada had instructed him to paint in the right eye of the doll and make a wish – the other to be added only when the wish came true. Jack realized to his dismay that his wish was no closer to fulfilment than when he had first filled in the eye at the beginning of the year. He rolled over in despair, burying his head in the futon. The other trainee warriors were bound to have heard his cries through the paper-thin walls of his tiny room in the Shishi-no-ma, the Hall of Lions. ‘Jack, are you all right?’ came a whisper in Japanese from the other side of the shoji door. He heard the door slide open and recognized the dim outlines of his best friend Akiko and her cousin Yamato, the second-born son of Masamoto. They slipped inside quietly. Dressed in a cream silk night kimono, her long dark hair tied back, Akiko came and knelt by Jack’s bed. ‘We heard a shout,’ continued Akiko, her half-moon eyes studying his pale face with concern. ‘We thought you might be in trouble,’ said Yamato, a wiry boy the same age as Jack with chestnut-brown eyes and spiky black hair. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’ Jack wiped his brow with a trembling hand and tried to calm his nerves. The dream, so vivid and real, had left him shaken and the image of Jess being snatched lingered in his mind.

‘I dreamt of Dragon Eye… He’d broken into my parents’ house… He kidnapped my little sister…’ Jack swallowed hard, trying to calm himself. Akiko looked like she might reach out to comfort him, but Jack knew Japanese formality prevented any such outward displays of affection. She offered him a sad smile instead. ‘Jack, it’s just a dream,’ said Akiko. Yamato nodded in agreement, adding, ‘It’s impossible for Dragon Eye to be in England.’ ‘I know,’ Jack conceded, taking a deep breath, ‘but I’m not in England either. If the Alexandria hadn’t been attacked, I’d be halfway home by now. Instead, I’m stranded on the other side of the world. There’s no telling what’s happened to Jess. I may be under the protection of your father here, but she has no one.’ Jack’s vision blurred with tears. ‘But isn’t your sister being looked after by a neighbour?’ asked Akiko. ‘Mrs Winters is old,’ said Jack, shaking his head dismissively. ‘She can’t work and soon she’ll have run out of the money my father gave her. Besides, she could have become sick and died… just like my mother! Jess will be sent to a workhouse if there’s no one to care for her.’ ‘What’s a workhouse?’ Yamato asked. ‘They’re like prisons, but for beggars and orphans. She’ll have to break stones for roads, pick apart old ropes, maybe even crush

bones for fertilizer. There’s little food, so they end up fighting over the rotting pieces just to eat. How could she ever survive that?’ Jack buried his head in his hands. He was powerless to save what remained of his family. Just as he had been when his father had needed his help fighting the ninja who had boarded their ship. Jack punched his pillow, frustrated at his inability to do anything about it. Akiko and Yamato watched silently as their friend vented his anger. ‘Why did the Alexandria have to sail into that storm? If her hull had held, we wouldn’t have been shipwrecked. We wouldn’t have been attacked. And my father would still be alive!’ Even now Jack could see the wire garrotte, slick with his father’s blood, Dragon Eye wrenching back on it harder as John Fletcher struggled to get free. Jack remembered how he had simply stood there, his body paralysed with fear, the knife hanging limp in his hand. His father, gasping for breath, the veins in his neck fit to burst, desperately reaching out to him… Angry with himself for his failure to act, Jack threw his pillow across the room. ‘Jack. Calm down. You’re with us now, it’ll be all right,’ soothed Akiko. She exchanged a worried glance with Yamato. They had never seen him like this. ‘No, it’s not all right,’ replied Jack, slowly shaking his head and rubbing his eyes in an attempt to clear his mind of the nightmarish vision.

‘Jack, it’s no wonder you’re sleeping so badly. There’s a book under your futon!’ exclaimed Yamato, picking up the leatherbound tome he’d spotted. Jack snatched it out of his hands. It was his father’s rutter. He’d kept it hidden under his futon since there was no other place he could conceal it in his tiny featureless room. The rutter was his sole link to his father and Jack cherished every page, every note and every word his father had written. The information it contained was highly valuable and Jack had sworn to his father to keep it secret. ‘Easy, Jack. It’s only a dictionary,’ said Yamato, taken aback at Jack’s unexpected aggressiveness. Jack stared wide-eyed at Yamato, realizing his friend had mistaken the rutter for the Portuguese–Japanese dictionary the late Father Lucius had given him the previous year. The one he was supposed to deliver to the priest’s superior, Father Bobadillo, in Osaka when he got the chance. But it wasn’t the dictionary. Though they both had similar leather bindings, this was his father’s rutter. Jack had never told Yamato the truth about the rutter, even denying its existence to him. And for good reason. Until their victory and reconciliation at the inter-school Taryu-Jiai contest that summer, he’d had no reason to trust Yamato. When Masamoto had first adopted Jack, Yamato had taken an instant dislike to him. His older brother, Tenno, had been killed and he saw Jack as his father’s attempt to replace his eldest son. To Yamato, Jack was stealing his father from him. It took a near

drowning experience for Jack to convince Yamato otherwise and to bind them as allies. Jack knew it was a risk to tell Yamato about something as precious as his father’s rutter. And Jack had no idea how he would react. But perhaps now was the time to trust his new friend with the secret. ‘It’s not Father Lucius’s dictionary,’ confessed Jack. ‘What is it then?’ asked Yamato, a perplexed look on his face. ‘It’s my father’s rutter.’ ooo000ooo 3 THE DARUMA WISH ‘Your father’s rutter!’ exclaimed Yamato, confusion turning to disbelief. ‘But when Dragon Eye attacked Akiko’s house, you denied all knowledge of it!’ ‘I lied. I had no choice at the time.’ Jack couldn’t bring himself to meet Yamato’s eyes. He knew his friend felt betrayed. Yamato turned to Akiko. ‘Did you know about this?’ Akiko nodded, her face flushing with shame. Yamato fumed. ‘I don’t believe it. Is this why Dragon Eye keeps coming back? For a stupid book?’

‘Yamato, I would have told you,’ said Akiko, trying to calm him, ‘but I promised Jack I’d keep it secret.’ ‘How can a book be worth Chiro’s life?’ he said, rising to his feet. ‘She may only have been a maid, but she was loyal to our family. Jack’s put all of us in danger because of this so-called rutter.’ Yamato stared in silent rage at Jack, the old hatred flaring in his eyes. To Jack’s horror, Yamato turned to leave. ‘I’m going to tell my father about this.’ ‘Please don’t,’ Jack pleaded, grabbing Yamato’s kimono sleeve. ‘It’s not just any book. It must be kept secret.’ ‘Why?’ Yamato demanded, looking down at Jack’s hand in disgust. Jack let go, but Yamato didn’t leave. Jack wordlessly passed him the book and Yamato flicked through its pages, glancing at but not comprehending the various ocean maps, constellations and their accompanying sea reports. Jack explained the significance of its contents in hushed tones. ‘The rutter is a navigational logbook that describes the safe routes across the oceans of the world. The information is so valuable that men have died trying to get their hands on this book. I promised my father I would keep it secret.’ ‘But why’s it so important? Isn’t it just a book of directions?’ ‘No. It’s much more than that. It’s not only a map of the oceans. My father said it’s a powerful political tool. Whoever owns it can

control the trade routes between all nations. This means that any country with a rutter as accurate as this one rules the seas. That’s why England, Spain and Portugal all want it.’ ‘What does that have to do with Japan?’ Yamato said, handing the book back. ‘Japan’s not like England. I don’t think we even have a fleet.’ ‘I don’t know. I don’t care about politics. I just want to get back to England one day and find Jess. I’m worried about her,’ explained Jack, caressing the leather binding of the logbook. ‘My father taught me how to use this rutter so I could be a pilot like him. That’s why, when I do leave Japan, the rutter is my ticket home. My future. Without it, I have no trade. Much as I love training in the Way of the Warrior, there’s little call for samurai in England.’ ‘But what’s stopping you leaving now?’ challenged Yamato, his eyes narrowing. ‘Jack can’t just go,’ interjected Akiko on his behalf. ‘Your father’s adopted him until he’s sixteen and of age. He would need Masamoto-sama’s permission. Besides, where would he go to?’ Yamato shrugged. ‘Nagasaki,’ answered Jack. They both stared at him. ‘That’s the port my father was piloting us to before the storm blew us off course. The port might have a ship bound for Europe, or even England.’ ‘But do you even know where Nagasaki is, Jack?’ asked Akiko.

‘Sort of… there’s a rough map in here.’ Jack began to flick through the rutter’s pages. ‘It’s in the far south of Japan in Kyūshū,’ said Yamato impatiently. Akiko rested her hand on the logbook, stopping Jack’s search for the map. ‘With no food or money, how would you get there? It would take you more than a month to walk from Kyoto.’ ‘You had better start walking now then, hadn’t you?’ Yamato said sarcastically. ‘Stop it, Yamato! You two are supposed to be friends, remember?’ said Akiko. ‘Jack can’t simply walk to Nagasaki. Dragon Eye’s out there. At school, he’s under your father’s protection and Masamoto-sama seems to be the only person the ninja fears. If Jack left here alone, he could be captured… or even killed!’ They all fell silent. Jack put away the rutter, padding the futon back over the top. It was such a poor hiding place for something so precious and he realized he needed to find a more secure location for it before Dragon Eye returned. Yamato slid open the door of the room to leave. Glancing back over his shoulder at Jack, he asked, ‘So are you going to tell my father about it?’ They held each other’s stare, the tension between them growing.

Jack shook his head. ‘My father went to great lengths to keep it hidden. On-board ship he had a secret compartment for it. Not even the Captain knew where my father held his logbook. As his son, it’s my duty to protect the rutter,’ explained Jack, knowing he had to get through to Yamato somehow. ‘You understand duty. You’re samurai. My father made me promise to keep it secret. I’m bound to that promise.’ Yamato nodded ever so slightly and slid the door shut again, before turning back to him. ‘I now understand why you haven’t told anyone,’ Yamato said, unclenching his fists as his anger finally died down. ‘I was annoyed that you hadn’t told me. That you didn’t trust me. You can, you know.’ ‘Thank you, Yamato,’ replied Jack, breathing a sigh of relief. Yamato sat back down next to Jack. ‘I just don’t understand why you can’t tell my father. He could protect it.’ ‘No, we mustn’t,’ insisted Jack. ‘When Father Lucius died, he confessed that someone he knew was after the rutter and would kill me for it.’ ‘Dokugan Ryu, of course’ said Yamato. ‘Yes, Dragon Eye wants the rutter,’ agreed Jack, ‘but you told me ninja were employed for their skills. Somebody’s hiring him to steal the rutter. It could be someone Masamoto-sama knows. Father Lucius was part of his entourage, so I can’t afford to trust anyone. That’s why I believe the fewer people who know about it, the better.’

‘You mean to say that you don’t trust my father? That you think he may want it?’ Yamato demanded, offended at the implication. ‘No!’ replied Jack quickly. ‘I’m saying if Masamoto-sama had the rutter, he might be murdered for it like my father was. And that’s a risk I can’t take. I’m trying to protect him, Yamato. At least, if Dragon Eye believes I have it, he’s only after me. That’s why we must keep it secret.’ Jack could see his friend weighing the options and for one horrible moment he thought Yamato was still going to tell his father. ‘Fine. I promise I won’t say anything,’ Yamato agreed. ‘But what makes you think Dragon Eye will come after it again? We haven’t seen him since he tried to assassinate daimyo Takatomi during the Gion Festival. Maybe he’s dead. Akiko wounded him pretty badly.’ Jack recalled how Akiko had saved his life that night. They’d spotted the ninja entering Nijo Castle, the home of Lord Takatomi, and followed him. However, Dragon Eye overcame Jack and was about to sever his arm when Akiko had flung a wakizashi sword to stop him. The short blade pierced Dragon Eye’s side, but the ninja had barely flinched. Only the timely arrival of Masamoto and his samurai had prevented the assassin from retaliating. Dragon Eye escaped over the castle walls, but not without promising he’d be back for the rutter. The ninja’s threat still haunted him, and Jack didn’t doubt that Dragon Eye would return. The ninja was out there, waiting for him. Akiko was right. While he was at the Niten Ichi Ryū, he was under Masamoto’s protection. He was safe. But he was dangerously

exposed outside the school walls. Travelling alone, he would be lucky to make it beyond the city outskirts. Jack had no option but to remain in Kyoto, training at the Niten Ichi Ryū. He had to learn the Way of the Sword if he was ever going to survive the journey home. While the choice wasn’t his, the idea of perfecting his skills as a samurai gave Jack a sharp thrill. He was drawn to the discipline and virtues of bushido and the thought of wielding a real sword was exhilarating. ‘He’s out there,’ Jack said. ‘Dragon Eye will come.’ Reaching across the room, Jack picked up the Daruma Doll. He looked it squarely in the eye and solemnly remade his wish. ‘But next time I’ll be ready for him.’ ooo000ooo 4 A GRAIN OF RICE ‘Why have you brought your sword?’ barked Sensei Hosokawa, a severe-looking samurai with an intimidating stare and a sharp stub of a beard. Jack looked down at his katana. The polished black saya gleamed in the morning light, hinting at the razor-sharp blade within. Thrown by his sword teacher’s unexpected hostility, he thumbed the golden phoenix kamon embossed near the hilt.

‘Because… this is a kenjutsu class, Sensei,’ Jack replied, shrugging his shoulders for lack of a better answer. ‘Do any other students carry a katana?’ Jack glanced at the rest of the class lined down one side of the Butokuden, the dojo where they trained in the Way of the Sword, kenjutsu, and taijutsu, unarmed combat. The hall was cavernous, its elevated panel ceiling and immense pillars of dark cypress wood towering over the row of young trainee samurai. Jack was once again reminded of how utterly different he was from the rest of his class. Not yet fourteen, unlike many of the other students, he was nonetheless the tallest, possessing sky-blue eyes and a mop of hair so blond it stood out like a gold coin among the black-haired uniformity of his classmates. To the olive-skinned, almond-eyed Japanese, Jack may have been training as a samurai warrior, but he would always be a foreigner – a gaijin as his enemies liked to call him. Looking around, Jack realized that not a single student held a katana. They all carried bokken, their wooden training swords. ‘No, Sensei,’ said Jack, abashed. At the far end of the line, a regal, darkly handsome boy with a shaved head and hooded eyes smirked at Jack’s error. Jack ignored Kazuki, knowing his rival would be delighting in his loss of face in front of the class. Despite coming to grips with many of the Japanese customs, like wearing a kimono instead of shirt and breeches, bowing every time he met someone and the etiquette of apologizing for nearly

everything, Jack still struggled with the strict ritualized discipline of Japanese life. He had been late for breakfast that morning, following his nightmare-filled sleep, and had already had to apologize to two of the sensei. It looked like Sensei Hosokawa would be the third. Jack knew his sensei was a fair but firm teacher who demanded high standards. He expected his students to turn up on time, be dressed smartly and be committed to training hard. Sensei Hosokawa made no allowance for mistakes. He stood at the centre of the dojo’s training area, a broad honeycoloured rectangle of varnished woodblock, glaring at Jack. ‘So what makes you think you should bear a katana while the others don’t?’ Jack knew whatever answer he gave Sensei Hosokawa would be the wrong one. There was a Japanese saying that went ‘The stake that sticks out gets hammered down’, and Jack was starting to appreciate that living in Japan was a matter of conforming to the rules. No one else in the class carried a sword. Jack, therefore, stuck out and was about to be hammered down. Yamato, who stood close by, looked as if he was going to speak on his behalf, but Sensei Hosokawa gave him a cautionary glance and he immediately thought better of it. The silence that had descended upon the dojo was almost deafening. Jack could hear the blood rushing through his ears, his mind turning itself over and over for an appropriate response. The only answer Jack could think of was the truth. Masamoto himself had presented his own daishō, the two swords that

symbolized the power of the samurai, to Jack in recognition of the school’s victory at the Taryu-Jiai contest and for his courage in preventing Dragon Eye from assassinating the daimyo Takatomi. ‘Having won the Taryu-Jiai,’ ventured Jack, ‘I thought I’d earned the right to use them.’ ‘The right? Kenjutsu is not a game, Jack-kun. Winning one little competition doesn’t make you a competent kendoka.’ Jack fell silent under Sensei Hosokawa’s glare. ‘I will tell you when you can bring your katana to class. Until then, you will only use bokken. Understand, Jack-kun?’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ submitted Jack. ‘I just hoped I could use a real sword for once.’ ‘A real one?’ snorted the sensei. ‘Do you really think you’re ready?’ Jack shrugged uncertainly. ‘I suppose so. Masamotosama gave me his swords, so he must think I am.’ ‘You’re not in Masamoto-sama’s class yet,’ said Sensei Hosokawa, tightening his grip on the hilt of his own sword so that his knuckles turned white. ‘Jack-kun, you hold the power of life and death in your hands. Can you handle the consequences of your actions?’ Before Jack could answer, the sensei beckoned him over. ‘Come here! You too, Yamato-kun.’

Jack and a startled Yamato stepped out of line and approached Sensei Hosokawa. ‘Seiza,’ he ordered and the two of them knelt down. ‘Not you, Jack-kun. I need you to understand what it means to carry a katana. Withdraw your sword.’ Jack unsheathed his katana. The blade gleamed, its edge so sharp that it appeared to cut the very air itself. Uncertain as to what Sensei Hosokawa expected of him, he fell into stance. His sword was stretched out in front of him and he gripped the hilt with both hands. His feet were set wide apart, the kissaki level with the throat of his imaginary enemy. Masamoto’s sword felt unusually heavy in his hands. Over the course of a year of kenjutsu training, his own bokken had become an extension of his arm. He knew its weight, its feel and how it cut through the air. But this sword was different. Weightier and more visceral. It had killed people. Sliced them in half. And Jack suddenly sensed its bloody history in his hands. He was starting to regret his rashness in bringing the sword. The sensei, noting the visible trembling of Jack’s katana with grim satisfaction, proceeded to remove a single grain of rice from his inro, the small wooden carrying case attached to his obi. He then placed the grain on top of Yamato’s head. ‘Cut it in half,’ he ordered Jack. ‘What?’ blurted Yamato, his eyes wide with shock.

‘But it’s on his head –’ protested Jack. ‘Do it!’ commanded Hosokawa, pointing at the tiny grain of rice. ‘But… but… I can’t…’ ‘If you think you’re ready for such responsibility, now is your chance to prove it.’ ‘But I could kill Yamato!’ exclaimed Jack. ‘This is what it means to carry a sword. People get killed. Now cut the grain.’ ‘I can’t,’ said Jack, lowering his katana. ‘Can’t?’ exclaimed Hosokawa. ‘I command you, as your sensei, to strike at his head and slice that grain in half.’ Sensei Hosokawa grabbed Jack’s hands and brought the sword into direct line with Yamato’s exposed head. The miniscule grain of rice perched there, a white speck among the mass of black hair. Jack knew that the blade would slice through Yamato’s head as if it were little more than a watermelon. Jack’s arms quivered uncontrollably and Yamato gave him a despairing look, his face completely drained of blood. ‘DO IT NOW!’ commanded Hosokawa, lifting Jack’s arms to force him to strike. The rest of the students watched with dread fascination. Akiko looked on fearfully. Beside her, her best friend Kiku, a petite girl with dark shoulder-length hair and hazelnut-coloured

eyes, was almost on the point of tears. Kazuki, though, was apparently relishing the moment. He nudged his ally Nobu, a large boy with the build of a mini-Sumo wrestler, and whispered in his ear, loud enough for Jack to hear. ‘I bet you the gaijin chops off Yamato’s ear!’ ‘Or maybe his nose!’ chortled Nobu, a fat grin spreading across his podgy face. The sword wavered in the air. Jack felt all control over the weapon drain from his body. ‘I… I… can’t,’ Jack stammered. ‘I’ll kill him.’ Defeated, he lowered the katana to the floor. ‘Then I’ll do it for you,’ said Sensei Hosokawa. Yamato, who had let out a sigh of relief, instantly froze. In the blink of an eye, the sensei withdrew his own sword and cut down on to Yamato’s head. Kiku screamed as the blade buried itself in his hair. Her cry reverberated throughout the Butokuden. Yamato fell forward, his head dropping to the ground. Jack saw the tiny grain of rice peel apart and fall in two separate pieces on to the dojo floor. Yamato remained bowed, trembling like a leaf, trying to regain control of his breathing. Otherwise, he was completely unscathed. The blade had not even grazed his scalp.

Jack stood motionless, overwhelmed at Sensei Hosokawa’s skill. What a fool he had been to question his sensei’s judgement. Now he understood the responsibility that came with a sword. The choice of life over death was truly in his hands. This was no game. ‘Until you have complete control,’ said Sensei Hosokawa, fixing Jack with a stern look as he resheathed his katana, ‘you don’t have the skill to warrant carrying a real blade. You’re not ready for the Way of the Sword.’ ooo000ooo 5 CIRCLE OF THREE ‘YOUNG SAMURAI!’ thundered Masamoto down the length of the Chō-no-ma, the ceremonial dining hall that earned its name from the lavishly decorated panelled walls of painted butterflies. The students, who were kneeling in regimented rows, stiffened and prepared for Masamoto’s opening address. Jack, his legs already becoming numb from being in the seiza posture, shifted himself in order to get a better view of the proceedings. Masamoto sat in his usual place, raised upon a dais behind a low table of blacklacquered cedar. The table was laid with cups of steaming sencha, the bitter green tea the samurai enjoyed. Masamoto took a measured sip from his cup, letting the silence sink in. Dressed in a flame-red kimono emblazoned with his golden phoenix kamon, Masamoto was a man who commanded total

authority and deep respect from both his students and fellow samurai. His strength of presence was such that Jack no longer registered the crimson scarring that disfigured the entire left-hand side of the man’s face like a mask of melted candlewax. All Jack saw was an invincible warrior. Flanking him on either side were the sensei of the Niten Ichi Ryū and two other samurai Jack didn’t recognize. ‘This dinner is in honour of our daimyo, Lord of Kyoto Province, Takatomi Hideaki,’ announced Masamoto, bowing humbly to the man on his immediate left. Every student and sensei did likewise. This was the first time Jack had laid eyes upon the daimyo whose life he’d saved. A genial man with large dewy eyes, a brushstroke of a moustache and a generous rounded belly, he wore a flamboyant ceremonial kimono decorated with five kamon of a white crane, two on the sleeves, two on the chest and one on the back. He gave a short respectful nod of his head in acknowledgement of Masamoto’s respect. Masamoto sat back up. Then the sensei and students straightened in rank order, the new students being the last to raise their heads. ‘Takatomi-sama has graced us with his presence in recognition of our victory at the Taryu-Jiai against the Yagyu Ryū.’ The school let loose a great cheer.

‘And following our prevention of the attempt on his life he has generously extended his sponsorship of the Niten Ichi Ryū, securing the future of this school indefinitely.’ The students chanted and clapped in unison three times. ‘TAKATOMI!’ CLAP! ‘TAKATOMI!’ CLAP! ‘TAKATOMI!’ CLAP! The daimyo gave a cordial smile and the briefest of bows in response. ‘Furthermore, he has bestowed upon the school a new training hall: the Taka-no-ma, the Hall of The Hawk!’ The students erupted into applause and fevered discussion broke out. A new hall meant the possibility of another martial art being taught. Masamoto held his hand up for silence. Immediately, the students checked their enthusiasm and he continued his address. ‘Before we commence the meal, allow me to introduce our second guest.’ Masamoto directed his attention to a large barrel of a man whose round head was covered in a fuzz of short black hair and a similarly fuzzy beard. ‘Sensei Kano is a bōjutsu master visiting us from the Mugan Ryū, our sister school in Osaka. Under his tutelage, you will learn how to defend and attack with the bō staff. Sensei Kano is a man of great heart and greater skill. You could not ask for a better teacher in the Art of the Bō.’ Despite the new teacher’s presence dominating the dais, the immense samurai appeared to shrink under Masamoto’s praise. He

gave a humble bow to the room, his smoky-grey eyes staring blankly down the hall as if he was trying to avoid everyone’s gaze. The students bowed respectfully in return. ‘Finally, as some of you are aware, it has been three years since the last Circle of Three…’ The atmosphere in the Chō-no-ma instantly became tense with excitement, every student kneeling ramrod straight in anticipation. Jack, though, was at a complete loss, having no idea what Masamoto was talking about. He looked over to Akiko for an explanation, but like the rest of the school her eyes remained fixed upon Masamoto. ‘For those students who have the courage and the ability, the time has come to prove you are worthy to be called samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū. And those who do will progress on to the Two Heavens without the need for further training.’ Jack had an inkling of what the Two Heavens was. He’d heard it was Masamoto’s secret martial art technique and that only the very best students were given the privilege of learning from the great man himself. But beyond that the Two Heavens remained a mystery. ‘The Circle of Three, as tradition dictates, will commence when the winds blow the cherry blossom from the branches,’ continued Masamoto. ‘Those of you who believe you are ready to meet the Circle’s three challenges of Mind, Body and Spirit should log their names with Sensei Kyuzo at the end of this evening. A series of four selection trials will then be held at first snowfall to test your

strength, skill, intellect and courage. The five students deemed the best in these trials will go through to the Circle.’ Masamoto spread his arms wide so that the sleeves of his flamered kimono appeared to transform him into the fiery phoenix of his kamon. ‘Be warned! The Circle of Three is not to be entered into lightly. It demands you understand the seven virtues of bushido if you are to have any hope of surviving.’ The great warrior paused, his gaze taking in all his students. ‘So tell me what is bushido?’ ‘Rectitude! Courage! Benevolence! Respect! Honesty! Honour! Loyalty!’ boomed the students down the Chō-no-ma. Masamoto nodded with satisfaction. ‘And it is the virtue of courage that you will need most,’ he cautioned. ‘So during these coming months of training, remember this: learn today so that you may live tomorrow!’ With the declaration of the school’s maxim, Masamoto brought the address to an end and the students thundered their response. ‘MASAMOTO! MASAMOTO! MASAMOTO!’ The refrain died away and servants entered, carrying several long lacquered tables. These were laid in two rows that stretched the entire length of the Chō-no-ma. Jack seated himself between Akiko and Yamato, feeling a small thrill that they weren’t positioned right next to the entrance. They were no longer the new students and this meant that they had moved several symbolic places nearer the head table.

Jack always enjoyed ceremonial dinners. The formality of such events demanded that a vast array of dishes be provided in honour of the guest. On this occasion, sushi was high on the menu, alongside tofu, noodles, tempura, bowls of miso soup, pickled yellow daikon and purple eggplant. Steaming pots of sencha were accompanied by vast quantities of rice piled high in bowls across their table. The centrepiece was an overflowing plate of sliced eel, grilled and smothered in a sticky red sauce. ‘Itadakimasu!’ proclaimed Masamoto. ‘Itadakimasu!’ responded the students, picking up their hashi and tucking into the banquet. Despite the delicious spread, Jack was distracted from the meal by his desperate desire to know more about the Circle of Three. Everybody else, though, was focused upon devouring the feast before them. ‘Jack, you should try the unagi,’ suggested Saburo, a slightly rotund, plain-looking boy with a chubby face made even chubbier by a mouthful of food. Jack looked doubtfully across the table at his friend, whose thick black eyebrows bounced up and down in unison with his enthusiastic chewing of a grey stringy lump of eel’s liver. It didn’t look particularly appetizing, thought Jack, but he could remember the first time he’d been faced with sushi. The thought of uncooked fish had almost turned his stomach over, whereas now he relished the soft, succulent flesh of tuna, mackerel and salmon. Eel’s liver, though, was another matter.

‘It’s good for your health,’ Akiko reassured him, spooning some rice into her bowl, but avoiding the eel herself. Jack tentatively picked up a grey lump and lowered it into his mouth. When he bit into the liver, he almost gagged at the intensity of the flavour. It was as if a thousand wriggling eels had exploded on his tongue. He forced a grimace of a smile for Akiko’s benefit and kept chewing. The eel’s liver had better be good for his health, he thought. ‘So who’s going to enter for the Circle of Three?’ Saburo blurted between mouthfuls, expressing what was clearly on everyone’s minds. ‘Not me!’ replied Kiku. ‘I heard a student died last time.’ Beside her, Yori, a small mouse-like boy, gave a wide-eyed look of dread and shook his head vigorously in response to Saburo’s question. ‘That’s just a rumour spread by the sensei to scare us,’ reassured Akiko, giving Yori an encouraging smile. ‘No, it’s not. My father’s expressly forbidden me from entering,’ said Kiku. ‘He told me it’s needlessly dangerous.’ ‘But what exactly is the Circle?’ asked Jack. ‘The Circle of Three,’ explained Akiko, putting down her hashi, ‘are the three highest peaks in the Iga mountain range where trainee samurai face the three challenges of Mind, Body and Spirit.’

‘So what are the challenges?’ Akiko shook her head apologetically. ‘I don’t know. They’re kept a secret.’ ‘Whatever they are,’ said Yamato, ‘my father will be expecting me to enter, so I guess I’ll find out first hand. What about you, Saburo? Are you going to enter?’ ‘I’m considering it,’ replied Saburo, swallowing down another piece of unagi. ‘That means no. Obviously, you’re too scared! How about you, Jack?’ Jack thought for a moment as Saburo sat open-mouthed, uncertain whether to protest or not. ‘I don’t know. Is it worth the risk? I know it leads to the Two Heavens, but I’m still not sure what the Two Heavens actually is.’ ‘Jack, you’ve seen the Two Heavens,’ stated Akiko. Jack gave her a perplexed look. ‘When?’ ‘On the beach in Toba. Remember how Masamoto-sama fought against the samurai Godai? He used both the katana and the wakizashi, rather than just his katana sword. That is the Two Heavens. The technique is extremely difficult to master, but when you do, you are virtually invincible.’ ‘My father fought over sixty duels while on his warrior pilgrimage,’ announced Yamato proudly. ‘Not once was he defeated.’

Jack’s mind began to race. He’d been made aware that he needed to become a better swordsman. By succeeding in the Circle of Three, he would be given the opportunity to be taught by both Sensei Hosokawa and Masamoto. Not only that, he would learn how to use two swords. The idea filled him with hope. For if he could master the Two Heavens, then he would be invincible like Masamoto. No longer would he need to fear the return of Dragon Eye. ‘Are all students who conquer the Circle taught the technique of Two Heavens?’ asked Jack. ‘Yes, of course,’ replied Akiko. Jack smiled. Surely the Circle of Three was the solution to his predicament. ‘Then I will enter.’ ooo000ooo 6 THE INVITATION ‘REI, SENSEI!’ came the cry. Dinner had drawn to a close and all the students stood to bow as the sensei filed out of the hall. Masamoto, accompanied by daimyo Takatomi, led the entourage. As they passed Jack, the daimyo paused.

‘Jack-kun? I am presuming it’s you, considering you are the only blond-haired samurai present,’ said Takatomi, broadening his genial smile. ‘Hai, Sensei,’ responded Jack, bowing even lower. ‘No, I’m not your sensei,’ laughed Takatomi. ‘However, I would like you, Akiko-chan and Yamato-kun to join me for cha-no-yu in Nijo Castle tomorrow evening.’ A murmur of astonishment spread among the bowing students. Even Masamoto’s typically stoic expression registered surprise at this unprecedented invitation. A tea ceremony was regarded as the purest art form, one that took years, if not a lifetime, to perfect. For a student, let alone a foreigner, to be invited to a cha-no-yu hosted by the daimyo himself was a momentous event. ‘I have not had the chance to express my gratitude to you personally for what you accomplished in stopping Dokugan Ryu,’ continued Takatomi. ‘My beautiful daughter will be joining us. I believe you’re already acquainted with Emi, for she has spoken of you on a number of occasions.’ Jack glanced over to a tall, slender girl with long straight hair and a rose-petal mouth. She smiled sweetly at him, exuding such warmth that Jack had to bow again to hide his reddening face. Not that it went unnoticed by Akiko, who had looked up and spotted the exchange. ‘Takatomi-sama, they would be honoured to attend,’ answered Masamoto on Jack’s behalf, before leading the daimyo out of the Chō-no-ma and into the night.

There was a great buzz of excitement in the air when the sensei left. Groups of students clustered together, everyone discussing the Circle of Three and watching to see who would enter first. Sensei Kyuzo, their master in taijutsu, a dwarf-sized man whose ability at hand-to-hand combat was legendary, sat at the head table, a roll of parchment before him. He waited impatiently for the first entrant. As was typical of the sensei, he picked at nuts from a small bowl and crushed them with his bare hands, just as he was inclined to do with Jack’s spirit at each and every opportunity. The man despised Jack, and made no effort to disguise the fact that he resented a foreigner being taught the secrets of their martial arts. After a moment’s hesitation, a strong boy with broad shoulders and a bronzed face walked over to the dais. He picked up the ink scribe and wrote his name upon the parchment. Soon afterwards three other students approached, encouraging a steady stream of hopefuls to queue up too. ‘Come on,’ said Yamato, striding over to the growing line. Jack looked to Akiko for final reassurance, but she was already in line. Jack should have known. Akiko was no ordinary girl. She was samurai and, being the niece of Masamoto, courage was in her blood. He joined her in the queue. When they reached the head table, Jack watched Akiko as she wrote her name on the parchment with a series of brushstrokes that formed a beautiful but mysterious pattern of Japanese kanji characters. The symbols made little sense to Jack.

Sensei Kyuzo glared over Akiko’s shoulder at Jack. ‘You are entering the Circle?’ said Sensei Kyuzo, giving a short incredulous snort at Jack’s appearance. ‘Hai, Sensei,’ responded Jack, ignoring his teacher’s contempt. He had waited with the others in the queue to sign his name and was not going to be put off by Sensei Kyuzo’s antagonism now. ‘A gaijin has never partaken in the Circle,’ stated Kyuzo, with deliberate emphasis placed on his use of the derogatory term for a foreigner. ‘Then this will be the first time, Sensei,’ said Akiko, pretending not to notice his blatant disrespect towards Jack. ‘Sign here,’ ordered Sensei Kyuzo. ‘In kanji.’ Jack paused as he looked at the paper. The names of the participants were all carefully inked in the Japanese characters. A cruel smile cut across Sensei Kyuzo’s lips. ‘Or maybe you can’t? Entry must be in kanji. It’s the rules.’ To Jack’s frustration, the sensei was right. He didn’t know kanji. Jack could write easily enough. His mother had been a fine teacher. But only in Roman characters. While Akiko’s guidance, together with the formal lessons provided by Father Lucius, had enabled him to speak in Japanese, he had only limited experience of kanji. In Japan, the way of writing, shodo, was as much an art form as hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship. The skill took years to perfect. Sensei Kyuzo savoured Jack’s discomfort.

‘That’s a shame,’ he said. ‘Maybe you can enter in another three years’ time, when you’ve learnt to write. Next!’ Jack was elbowed out of the way by a student from behind and he could have guessed it would be Kazuki. The boy had been on his back ever since his arrival at samurai school. Now that Jack had gained the respect of the other students by beating their rival school, the Yagyu Ryū, in the Taryu-Jiai competition, Kazuki was on the lookout for any excuse to bully or belittle him. ‘I wouldn’t worry, gaijin,’ smirked Kazuki, signing his own name in the place where Jack’s should have been. ‘You won’t be around to participate anyway.’ Jack rounded on Kazuki even as he felt Akiko guiding him away. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Surely even you’ve heard the news?’ said Kazuki with vindictive pleasure. ‘The daimyo Kamakura Katsuro is expelling Christians from Japan.’ Nobu peered over Kazuki’s shoulder. He gave Jack a farewell wave of the hand and laughed, ‘Sayonara, gaijin!’ ‘He’s going to kill any gaijin he finds in Japan,’ added Kazuki spitefully, before turning to Nobu with triumph in his eyes at being the first to tell Jack the bad news. ‘Ignore them, Jack,’ said Akiko, shaking her head in disgust. ‘They’re making it up.’ But Jack couldn’t help thinking that there might be a grain of truth in Kazuki’s story. Kamakura was the daimyo of Edo Province

and the head of the Yagyu Ryū, the rival school to the Niten Ichi Ryū. He was a cruel, vindictive man with too much power. Jack’s overriding image of the daimyo was his gleeful face as he watched one of his samurai behead an elderly tea merchant, merely because the old man hadn’t heard the command to bow. Despite Akiko’s assurance, Jack realized Kamakura was more than capable of ordering the exile and death of foreigners. If it were true, then it wouldn’t matter whether he was in the Circle of Three. His life would be in greater danger than ever before, not only from Dragon Eye and his ninja clan, but also from Kamakura and his samurai. Perhaps he should start planning how to get to Nagasaki before it was too late, thought Jack. But first, he needed to find out whether Kazuki was lying or not. ‘Where are you going?’ asked Akiko as Jack headed purposefully out of the Chō-no-ma. Glancing over his shoulder at Kazuki and Nobu, who were still sniggering to one another, he replied, ‘Somewhere far away from those two!’ ooo000ooo 7 RANDORI Jack lay there, unable to move. The impact upon the dojo floor had knocked the wind clean out of him.

‘I’m so sorry,’ said Akiko, looking down at him with concern. ‘I didn’t mean to throw you so hard.’ ‘Don’t… apologize,’ replied Jack, gasping for air and trying not to throw up his breakfast from earlier that morning. ‘It was… my fault… for not break-falling… properly.’ Akiko had tossed Jack over her shoulder like a sack of rice in a move called seoi nage. Not that her remarkable fighting abilities were anything unexpected. He’d learnt early on never to underestimate Akiko, having witnessed her single-handedly despatch two ninja with only the knotted obi of her kimono. He was also more than capable of break-falling and should have landed safely. However, Akiko had told him something that completely broke his concentration. ‘What did you just say?’ asked Jack, sitting up carefully. ‘You’re in the trials for the Circle of Three.’ ‘I don’t understand. How can that be?’ ‘Kiku’s entered for you,’ she explained, a mischievous grin on her face. ‘I asked her to write down your name instead of hers.’ Jack stared at Akiko in disbelief. She’d got round the entry rules for him. He smiled. The Two Heavens was suddenly a possibility again. His training now had real purpose. And with only five places available in the Circle of Three, he knew he would have to work hard to get selected.

‘Why have you stopped?’ demanded Sensei Kyuzo, standing over Jack, his mean black-pebble eyes boring into him. ‘I’m just catching my breath, Sensei,’ replied Jack, grinning up at him, unable to hide the glee he felt at Akiko’s news. Sensei Kyuzo eyed Jack with suspicion. ‘Get up! Are any of the other students resting? Is Kazuki-kun over there tired?’ The sensei nodded his head towards his favoured student, who was driving Saburo into the ground with a devastating seoi nage of his own. ‘No, Sensei,’ replied Jack through pursed lips. ‘Some samurai you’ll be!’ spat Sensei Kyuzo. He spun on his heel and crossed to the centre of the Butokuden. ‘Yame!’ he ordered. Every student ceased their training, kneeling down on one knee to listen to their sensei. ‘Taijutsu is like boiling water: if you do not keep the flame high, it turns tepid!’ bellowed Sensei Kyuzo. ‘HAI, SENSEI!’ shouted the students in unison. ‘Don’t be like Jack-kun and stop merely because you’re tired!’ Jack felt all the eyes in the dojo turn towards him and he fumed with rage. Why did the sensei always have to make an example of him? There were numerous other students who weren’t half as

competent as he was and several had stopped training long before Jack. ‘If any of you have put your name down for the trials for the Circle of Three, you’ll need greater stamina and strength than this. Do you want to give up?’ Sensei Kyuzo challenged. ‘NO, SENSEI!’ responded the exhausted students, their breathing rapid, their gi soaked in sweat. ‘Good. Then it’s time for randori!’ he announced. ‘Line up!’ Hurriedly the students knelt down one side of the Butokuden in preparation for free-sparring. ‘During this session, I want you to practise your nage waza and katame waza only,’ said Sensei Kyuzo, referring to the various throwing and grappling techniques they had been concentrating on during the past few lessons. ‘Kazuki-kun, you’re up first. You can show them how it’s done.’ Kazuki snapped to his feet and took up position on his teacher’s right-hand side. ‘Now your opponent will be…’ considered Sensei Kyuzo, pulling wistfully at the tuft of moustache beneath his pudgy nose, ‘Jackkun.’ Jack knew it. He wasn’t going to be given any time to recover. Usually he enjoyed randori since it was exciting and challenging. But Kazuki was vindictive. In free-sparring, punches were supposed to be ‘pulled’, kicks held back, throws executed with due care, and locks released immediately an opponent tapped for submission. But

given the slightest chance, Kazuki would apply his techniques with full force and ignore any calls for submission. With little choice in the matter, Jack got up and stood on Sensei Kyuzo’s left-hand side. ‘Rei!’ said Sensei Kyuzo and they both bowed to him. ‘Rei!’ repeated Sensei Kyuzo, and Jack and Kazuki bowed to one another as was required etiquette. ‘Hajime!’ announced the sensei, and the randori began. They each darted in to get their grip, grabbing at the lapels and sleeves of each other’s gi in an attempt to gain the upper hand. Like a dazzling but violent dance, they tussled for domination. They pulled and pushed, whirled and zigzagged, trying to unbalance one another, looking for an opportunity for a throw or a leg reap. The other students watched eagerly, Yamato and Saburo clenching their fists in silent support, Akiko tugging anxiously at the folds of her gi. Jack, spotting his chance, twisted his body in towards Kazuki for seoi nage, but Kazuki was quick to counter, shifting his hips out of the way and throwing his leg behind Jack’s for a valley drop throw. The move would have been successful if Jack had been offbalance, but he was still grounded so drove his weight into Kazuki, countering with an inner leg reap.

Kazuki almost fell, but somehow managed to untangle his leg from behind Jack’s. Kazuki stumbled backwards and Jack pressed forward with his attack. Too late… Jack realized he’d been tricked. Kazuki’s loss of balance had been a ploy to get Jack to overcommit to his own attack. He was now the target of a sacrifice throw. Kazuki rolled backwards, pulling Jack on top of him. At the same time, he thrust his foot into Jack’s stomach, flipping Jack in a large arc over his head. Jack had no chance of avoiding Kazuki’s tomoe nage stomach throw. Landing hard upon his back on the dojo floor, he had the wind knocked out of him for the second time that day. Before he could even snatch a breath, Kazuki had rolled on top and locked down on him in a neck hold. ‘Very impressive, Kazuki!’ commended Sensei Kyuzo from the sidelines. ‘See if you can hold him down for a count of ten.’ Kazuki clamped on to Jack, his right forearm wrapping tightly round the back of Jack’s neck, while restraining Jack’s right arm under his armpit. He spread his legs out to the side and now dropped all his weight on to Jack’s ribcage, digging his head in tight beside Jack’s. Jack was pinned to the ground. ‘ONE!’ called the sensei.

Jack rolled into Kazuki, trying to dislodge him, his free hand scrabbling to find purchase on Kazuki’s gi. ‘Forget it, gaijin,’ rasped Kazuki into Jack’s ear, ‘there’s no way on earth I’m letting you up!’ ‘TWO!’ Jack flung himself the other way to turn Kazuki over. He used every ounce of strength he possessed, but Kazuki’s legs were spread too wide and his weight prevented Jack rolling him. ‘THREE!’ Jack lay helpless, his energy spent. ‘Pathetic!’ taunted Kazuki. ‘FOUR!’ Incensed, Jack renewed his efforts. He shuffled his feet round towards Kazuki’s outstretched legs, drawing his body close to his rival. He tried to trap his rear leg and turn him over. Feeling the movement, Kazuki shifted his legs out of the way. ‘You’ll have to try harder than that!’ ‘FIVE!’ Jack arched his back, pushing with the balls of his feet to form a bridge with his body. He managed to create a gap between his back and the floor and began to twist into Kazuki, turning his head out of the hold.

Kazuki forced himself back on to Jack’s ribcage, driving Jack’s body to the floor. ‘Squirm all you like. You’ve lost!’ ‘SIX!’ Frantic, Jack struggled even harder, but Kazuki’s tightened his iron grip. ‘While I’ve got your attention,’ whispered Kazuki into Jack’s ear. ‘I’ve got fresh news for you. A gaijin, just like you, has been burnt alive by the daimyo Kamakura.’ ooo000ooo 8 SUBMISSION The words slammed into Jack’s brain like a fist and he stopped struggling. Was this another of Kazuki’s false taunts? Jack hadn’t yet been able to speak with Masamoto or any of the sensei to discover whether the rumours were true, though he had taken some comfort from the fact that none of the students in the school, aside from Kazuki and his cohorts, appeared to know anything about daimyo Kamakura’s declaration against Christians. ‘SEVEN!’ ‘They said his flesh fell off in lumps before he died, like a barbecued pig. Imagine that, gaijin!’

Kazuki’s mocking cruelty was what spurred Jack to retaliate. For a brief moment, he had a flashback of the storm that had shipwrecked the Alexandria and the sailor who had been set on fire by lightning. Jack could remember the agony etched on to the dead man’s face and the gut-wrenching smell of charred flesh. His anger boiled over at the thought and a surge of adrenalin flooded through him. ‘EIGHT!’ In one simultaneous movement, Jack arched his body, flung his legs round Kazuki’s back leg and grabbed his opponent’s head with his free hand. His fingers found Kazuki’s nostrils and he wrenched back hard. ‘NINE!’ Kazuki grunted in pain and was spun over. Jack rolled on top. He trapped Kazuki with a chest hold, lying across Kazuki’s shoulders and driving his elbow and knee into either side of Kazuki’s head to lock it in place. Now it was Kazuki’s turn to be counted out. Through the matting of hair that plastered his face, Jack caught a glimpse of Yamato and Saburo willing him on. Despite his exhaustion, he allowed himself the smallest of victory smiles. ‘One,’ said the sensei half-heartedly. Kazuki was pinned and going nowhere. ‘Two.’

But away from anyone’s line of sight, Kazuki managed to free an arm and began to hammer Jack in the kidneys. ‘Three.’ Only Sensei Kyuzo could see it, but he turned a blind eye as Kazuki landed another unofficial blow. The sensei deliberately slowed his count. ‘Four…’ Kazuki struck again. Jack’s side flared with pain and he was forced to relinquish his grip. Throwing Jack off, Kazuki countered hard, putting him into a choking hold. ‘That’s not very nice – going for the face!’ spat Kazuki, who now lay on top of Jack, one forearm behind Jack’s neck, the other across his throat. Kazuki wrenched his forearms together, closing them like a vice. Jack spluttered in shock. His windpipe was instantly cut off and he couldn’t breathe. ‘Excellent, Kazuki,’ praised Sensei Kyuzo, pleased to see his protégé back in control. Blatantly ignoring the escalating violence of the randori, Sensei Kyuzo turned to instruct the class. ‘Notice the switch from the pin to the choke. This is an extremely effective manoeuvre and will guarantee submission from any enemy.’

Encouraged, Kazuki bore down even harder with his stranglehold, a sadistic glint in his eyes. Jack felt his throat being crushed. His head pounded under the pressure. His lungs starved of oxygen, darkness seeped into the corners of Jack’s vision and he tapped wildly on the floor for submission. Kazuki merely looked on, savouring Jack’s agony. Jack teetered on the edge of consciousness. But Kazuki kept the choke on. Stars exploded in front of Jack’s eyes and, for a terrifying moment, Kazuki’s grinning face metamorphosed into Dragon Eye’s. The mask of a blackened skull with a single green eye flashed before him. Jack’s submissive tapping became weaker, his hand flapping like a dying fish. Then, as if from the depths of a murky pool, he heard Akiko shout, ‘Sensei! He’s killing him!’ Sensei Kyuzo observed the blue tinge to Jack’s lips with mild interest, saying, ‘That’s enough, Kazuki. It’s clear you’ve beaten him…’ Kazuki released the choke and air flooded back into Jack’s lungs. Jack gulped it down like water. The instant the oxygen hit his brain, Jack’s fury exploded with a vengeance. On survival instinct alone, he drove his fist squarely into Kazuki’s face. The punch connected and sent his enemy flying backwards.

‘YAME!’ bellowed Sensei Kyuzo, dragging Jack to his feet by the scruff of his gi. His thumb sought out a pressure point in Jack’s neck and the sensei pressed down hard. Jack’s body was instantly paralysed with pain. He hung there like a rag doll. To the students, Jack merely appeared exhausted from the randori. For Jack, it was as if Sensei Kyuzo had inserted a molten iron rod into his spine. ‘What did I say?’ breathed Sensei Kyuzo into Jack’s face with hardened contempt. ‘Nage waza and katame waza only. Since when was punching part of grappling technique?’ ‘Since when… was murder… encouraged during randori?’ replied Jack through clenched teeth as he fought against the spasms of pain. Kazuki lay in the centre of the dojo, nursing a split lip, his gi stained in bright red patches with his own blood. ‘You have much to learn,’ said Sensei Kyuzo, ‘the first principle being fudoshin. You’re clearly too unbalanced to be samurai!’ Jack was dumbfounded, not only by the agony Sensei Kyuzo was inflicting upon him, but by the injustice of it all. ‘As punishment for your lack of self-control,’ announced Sensei Kyuzo so that the whole class could hear, ‘you will return here at dinner and polish every single woodblock in this dojo. And you will not go to bed until you have finished. Do you understand?’ ‘But, Sensei, I have to go to tea with daimyo Takatomi tonight.’

Sensei Kyuzo fumed at Jack, knowing he couldn’t force him to miss such an important appointment. ‘Tomorrow night then!’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ replied Jack grimly. The sensei leant forward, screwing his thumb further into Jack’s pressure point and sending another excruciating wave of pain through him. He bent down to whisper in his ear, ‘I don’t know how you got your name on the submission for the Circle of Three, but, mark my words, I will personally ensure that you’re not selected during the trials.’ ooo000ooo

9 FUDOSHIN ‘What’s fudoshin anyway?’ groaned Jack, rubbing his tender neck as he and his small group of friends wound their way through the streets of Kyoto after lunch. ‘I’m not sure,’ admitted Yamato. Jack looked to the others for an answer, but Akiko mutely shook her head, appearing to be equally baffled. Saburo stroked his chin in contemplation, but he clearly hadn’t a clue either, for he quickly went back to munching on his yakatori, the stick of grilled chicken he’d just bought from a passing street vendor. ‘It means “immovable spirit”,’ said Kiku. Yori, who was trailing beside her, nodded in agreement as if that explained everything. ‘But what does it mean to have an “immovable spirit”?’ asked Jack. ‘My father said fudoshin is about taking control of your emotions,’ replied Kiku. ‘A samurai must remain calm at all times – even in the face of danger.’ ‘So how do you get fudoshin?’ ‘I don’t know… My father’s good at explaining things, but not at teaching them.’

Kiku gave Jack an apologetic smile, then Yori piped up, ‘I think fudoshin is a bit like being a willow tree.’ ‘A willow tree?’ Jack repeated, his eyebrows wrinkling in puzzlement. ‘Yes, like a willow tree you must grow deep roots into the ground to weather the storm, but also be soft and yielding against the winds that blow through.’ ‘That’s easier said than done!’ laughed Jack. ‘You try keeping calm when you’re being strangled and getting told that foreigners are being burnt alive – and that you’re next!’ ‘You shouldn’t listen to Kazuki, Jack,’ said Akiko, sighing with concern. ‘He’s just making up stories to scare you.’ ‘Sorry,’ interrupted Saburo, a sheepish look on his face as he swallowed his last bit of chicken, ‘but Kazuki’s right.’ All eyes fell upon Saburo. ‘I didn’t want to tell you, Jack, but the daimyo Kamakura supposedly did kill a Christian priest. There was a sign about it in the street…’ Saburo trailed off as he saw the blood drain from Jack’s face. Listening to his friend’s revelation, Jack felt the warmth of the midday sun disappear, a chill running down his spine like a sliver of ice. So Kazuki had been telling the truth. Jack had to know more and was about to ask Saburo when, turning a corner into a large square, he was suddenly confronted by the gleaming blade of a samurai sword.

Held high in the air by a warrior in a dark-blue kimono with the kamon of a bamboo shoot, the arc of lethal metal was poised to strike. All thoughts of Kamakura and the dead priest were wiped from Jack’s mind. But the blade wasn’t directed at Jack – rather at a battlehardened warrior, dressed in a plain brown kimono with the kamon of a crescent moon and star, standing motionless three sword lengths from his opponent. ‘A duel!’ exclaimed Saburo with a yelp of delight, dragging Jack out of the way. ‘Quick, over here!’ A crowd had gathered in the duelling ground. Some of them eyed Jack’s arrival with suspicion, whispering to one another behind their hands. Even the warrior in blue glanced over, distracted from the impending duel by the strange spectacle of a blond-haired foreigner dressed in a kimono. Jack ignored them. He was used to the curiosity he generated wherever he went. ‘Hello, Jack. I didn’t expect to see you here.’ Jack turned to see Emi, dressed in an elegant sea-green kimono, accompanied by her two friends, Cho and Kai, along with an elderly samurai chaperone. The two groups of students bowed to one another. ‘Why are they fighting?’ Jack asked Emi as she took up position by his side. ‘The samurai in blue is on his musha shugyo,’ replied Emi.

The warrior who had been distracted by Jack’s appearance was several years younger than his opponent, who looked about thirty. His kimono was dusty and faded in patches and his face weathered by the elements. ‘What’s a musha shugyo?’ asked Jack. ‘It’s a warrior pilgrimage. When samurai finish their training, they go on a quest throughout Japan to test their strength and refine their fighting skills. Warriors challenge one another to prove who is the best.’ ‘The loser can be knocked out or disabled, and sometimes even killed!’ interrupted Saburo, a little too enthusiastically for Jack’s liking. ‘Killed? That seems a rather idiotic way to test yourself.’ ‘Well, how else are they going to know if they’re any good or not?’ replied Emi matter-of-factly. Jack turned his attention to the two contesting samurai. They stared at one another. Neither seemed willing to make the first move. In the heat of the midday sun, a bead of sweat ran down the side of the blue-clothed warrior’s face, but he disregarded it. ‘Why isn’t he attacking?’ asked Jack. ‘They’re trying to hide any weaknesses they may have,’ Yamato answered. ‘My father told me that even the smallest movement can reveal a flaw in your fighting technique, which your opponent can then take advantage of.’

The crowd, sensing the growing tension, was now motionless too. Even the children gathered round the edges were quiet. The only sound that could be heard was the chime of temple bells marking the beginning of midday prayers. The samurai in blue shifted uneasily and dust swirled in little eddies across the ground. His opponent, however, remained perfectly calm, his sword still sheathed inside its saya. Then as the last ring of temple bells died away, the older samurai withdrew his katana in one fluid movement. The crowd shuffled backwards. The duel had begun. The two samurai circled one another warily. Suddenly the warrior in blue screamed, ‘KIAI!’ Brandishing his sword, he advanced on the older samurai. Ignoring this display of bravado, the older man merely dropped back into a wide stance, side-on to his enemy. At the same time, he raised his own sword over his head then dropped it down behind his body, so that his opponent could no longer see his blade. The older samurai waited. ‘KIAAAIIIIIII!’ The samurai in blue screamed again, summoning all his fighting spirit, and launched an attack. He cut down with his sword on to the exposed neck of the warrior, victory assured.

Still the older samurai didn’t move and Jack was sure he was as good as dead. Then at the last second, the older samurai shifted off-line, avoiding the lethal arc of the blade, and with a short cry of ‘Kiai!’ cut his own sword across the unguarded side of his attacker. For what seemed an eternity, the two samurai froze, face-toface. Neither broke eye contact. One sword dripped blood. There was a disturbing absence of sound, as if death itself had muffled the ears of the world. Not even a temple bell chimed. Then, with a low groan, the younger samurai leant to one side and crumpled to the ground, dead. His body threw up clouds of dust that billowed away as if they were the warrior’s fleeing spirit. The older samurai maintained his focus a moment longer, ensuring the duel was over. Then he straightened up and flicked the blood from his blade in a move Jack recognized as chiburi. Resheathing his sword, the samurai walked away without looking back. ‘I suppose that’s what Sensei Kyuzo means by fudoshin,’ breathed Saburo in awe. ‘That samurai didn’t even blink when the sword was going for his head.’ But Jack wasn’t listening. He was transfixed by the blood seeping into the dusty ground. The duel had reminded him of how brutal and unforgiving Japan could be. The news that the priest’s death

was true meant that daimyo Kamakura’s plan to wipe out Christians had to be too. The question was how long did Jack have left in this violent land? ooo000ooo

10 THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR ‘Run!’ whispered Akiko urgently later that night. ‘They’re coming!’ Jack bolted from their hiding place underneath the staircase. He hurried down the corridor and into a room with a large silk-screen painting of two ferocious tigers. He heard a cry from behind and realized the guards had already caught Akiko. They would be after him now. Opening the shoji door on the other side of the Tiger Room, he glanced down the hallway, saw it was deserted and ran. He switched left at the end, then took the first right. He had no idea where he was going, since the daimyo’s castle was a complete labyrinth of rooms, corridors and passageways. Running on tiptoe so that he made as little sound as possible upon the wooden floorboards, he followed the corridor round past two closed shoji doors and then bore left. But it was a dead end. He heard a guard’s voice and spun round. But the corridor was empty. Jack retraced his steps, stopping where the corridor switched right. He then listened for the sound of approaching feet. Dead silence. Warily, he peeked round the corner.

The corridor was windowless and only one of the paper lanterns that hung from the beams had been lit. In the flickering gloom, he could see a single shoji at the far end of the passageway. With no sight or sound of anyone, he stepped out. And his foot disappeared through the floor. He cried out as he plummeted downwards. In sheer desperation, he flung himself to one side, grabbing at the wall. His fingers found purchase on a wooden crosspiece and Jack clung on for all his life was worth. To his alarm, he hung over a gaping hole in the woodblock floor. A sliding trapdoor had been opened to catch unsuspecting intruders. Jack peered into the depths. A small set of steps led down into unfathomable darkness. Jack cursed himself for his hastiness. He could easily have broken his leg, or even his neck. Here was all the proof he needed that escape was futile. Regaining his composure, he edged backwards until his feet found solid ground again. ‘Come on! This way!’ A guard had heard his cry and they were now in pursuit. Skirting the hole, Jack made his way down the corridor, but he could hear footsteps rapidly approaching. ‘He’s not in here.’

Jack quickened his pace, keeping one eye on the floor and one eye on where he was headed. His pursuers would soon turn the corner and discover him. He reached the end of the corridor, slid the shoji open and stepped through, swiftly closing the door behind him. The rectangular room he had entered was large enough for twenty tatami straw mats. Jack guessed it was a reception room of some kind. At the rear was a polished cedar dais, adorned with a single zabuton cushion, behind which was a large silk wall hanging of a white crane in flight. Otherwise, the fawn-coloured walls were completely bare. No windows. No other doors. No escape. Jack could hear his pursuers running down the corridor. He was trapped. Then Jack noticed the crane shifting slightly as if caught in a breeze. But with no windows or doors, something had to be causing it to move. Jack hurried over to inspect the hanging more closely. There, concealed behind the silk screen, was a secret bolt-hole. Without a second thought, Jack scrambled through, pulling the wall hanging back to hide the entrance just as the shoji was jerked open. ‘So where is he?’ demanded a voice. ‘He can’t have vanished,’ replied another, this one female.

Jack held his breath. He could hear the two of them pacing the room. ‘Well, he’s not here,’ said the first voice. ‘Maybe he doubled back?’ ‘I told you we should have checked that first room. Come on!’ The shoji slid shut with a soft whoosh and the voices receded down the hallway. Jack let out a relieved sigh. That had been too close. If he’d got caught, it would have been all over for him. In the gloom of the bolt-hole, Jack noticed a narrow passage leading off to his left. With no other choice open to him, he turned and slipped along the walkway. He had no idea where he was headed, but after a couple of turns the passage lightened, a dim glow filtering through the translucent walls. ‘Where can he have gone?’ said a voice, close by his ear. Jack froze, then realized his hidden walkway ran parallel to one of the main corridors. He could see his pursuers’ silhouettes through the paper-thin wall. Yet, as he was in shadow, they were completely oblivious to his presence, barely a knife thrust away. ‘Let’s try down here. He can’t have got far.’ Jack heard their bare feet pad away down the corridor before continuing along the passageway until, to his surprise, he hit another dead end. Convinced the passage must lead somewhere, Jack felt around for a door. He tried to slide the wall panels back, but nothing shifted. He gave one a firm push to see if it opened that way. All of a

sudden, the lower section gave way and he was catapulted into the main corridor. ‘There he is!’ came a shout. Jack jumped to his feet as the false wall sprang back into place. He ran as fast as he could, dodging left and right down the warren of corridors. Spotting a narrow staircase, he was up the stairs in three quick bounds. As he landed on the top step, the entire staircase retracted upwards, Jack’s weight triggering the hidden fulcrum. From the corridor below, the staircase had completely disappeared into the ceiling. Astounded as he was by the remarkable staircase, Jack had the wits to remain silent and still. Oblivious to his presence above their heads, his pursuers shot by beneath. Walking carefully back along the steps, the staircase descended to its original position and Jack backtracked down the now deserted corridor until he found a door he hadn’t yet tried. On the other side was a long corridor with a highly polished wooden floor. It ended in a wooden gateway that had to be the way out. With barely the length of a ship’s quarterdeck to cross, he knew he could escape the daimyo’s castle. Jack started for the exit, but as his foot went down, the floorboard warbled like a bird. He tried to lighten his movements, but however softly he trod the floor sang out with every step he took, mocking his attempted flight. He could hear the pounding of feet coming his way. Jack ran as the floor sang even louder.

‘Got you!’ said the guard, grabbing hold of Jack. ‘The game’s up.’ ooo000ooo

11 THE GOLDEN TEA ROOM Jack let himself be led back down the corridor and towards the reception room with the wall hanging of the white crane. Upon entering, Jack immediately knelt down and bowed low until his head touched the tatami in deference to the daimyo. ‘So you were caught out by my Nightingale Floor?’ Daimyo Takatomi sat cross-legged upon the cedar dais, guarded by six samurai who lined the walls like stone statues. ‘Yes,’ Jack admitted. ‘Excellent!’ he cried, a satisfied grin on his face. ‘The Nightingale Floor is the new security feature in my palace that I’m most proud of. The bird sound is produced by metal hinges under the floorboards that are triggered with the pressure of a single foot. This makes it impossible to cross without being detected. I think our little game of “Escape” has proved its effectiveness.’ ‘What I would like to know, Father,’ asked Emi, who knelt between Yamato and Akiko, ‘is how Jack got out of this room.’ Jack smiled to himself. While he hadn’t managed to avoid all the traps during the daimyo’s challenge to each of them to escape his castle undetected, he had evaded the guards longer than anyone else.

‘Emi-chan,’ said her father reproachfully, ‘I cannot believe my own daughter didn’t spot the other door. Jack glanced over to see the daimyo indicating the blank wall to their right. They all studied it, bemused. Takatomi, with a wave of his hand, prompted one of his samurai guards to push at the central wall panel. It gave a soft click, then pivoted on a central axis. The samurai disappeared in the blink of an eye. A moment later, the wall revolved again and the guard was back in the room. Jack, Akiko, Yamato and Emi looked at one another, dumbfounded by the hidden door. For even now, though they knew it was there, the wall appeared solid and unbroken. ‘As I said before, children, Nijo Castle is now ninja-proof, but you can never be too careful. I have a guard behind that door every time I receive guests in this room.’ ‘So that’s how you escaped,’ said Emi, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘I can’t believe you spotted it and we didn’t.’ Jack was going to correct her, but decided against it. Clearly, the daimyo thought no one had discovered his bolt-hole behind the wall hanging of the crane. It was daimyo Takatomi’s secret. Now it was Jack’s too. ‘But enough of the games for this evening,’ announced the daimyo. ‘It is time for cha-no-yu.’ ** *

‘The host will sometimes spend days going over every detail to ensure that the ceremony is perfect,’ explained Emi in hushed tones. They were entering the roji, a tiny cultivated garden, devoid of flowers but sprinkled with water so that all the mossy rocks, ferns and stepping-stones glistened like morning dew. Emi led the way and seated herself on a bench, indicating for Jack, Akiko and Yamato to join her. ‘Here we wait,’ informed Emi softly, ‘in order that we may rid ourselves of the dust of the world.’ Jack’s anticipation grew. He didn’t particularly like green tea, but he knew the tea ceremony was of the greatest significance. Emi had tried to explain the ritual, but there was so much symbolism attached to every action, movement and moment that Jack understood very little of what she said. ‘There are four guiding principles to the tea ceremony,’ she had explained. ‘Harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity. At its deepest level, you should experience the same qualities in your own heart and mind.’ As they sat there, silently absorbing the peace of the roji, Jack began to understand some of Emi’s meaning. The soft trickle of flowing water sounded like distant bells and the simplicity of the garden somehow eased his mind. The setting was almost magical and he felt his spirits begin to lift. ‘Now remember, Jack,’ whispered Emi after a moment of silence, ‘when we go in, do not step on the joins between mats. Do not walk on or touch the central tatami where the hearth is. You

must remain in the kneeling seiza position throughout the ceremony, and don’t forget to admire the hanging scroll, study the kettle and hearth and comment favourably on the scoop and tea container when they’re offered to you for inspection.’ ‘Is that all?’ exclaimed Jack, his brain bursting with so much etiquette. ‘Don’t worry. Simply follow what I do,’ said Akiko softly, seeing Jack’s growing alarm. She gave him a tender look and Jack felt reassured. With Akiko by his side, he should be able to avoid the most embarrassing of mistakes. ‘You have to be quiet now,’ ordered Emi under her breath, straightening out her kimono as her father appeared. Daimyo Takatomi, dressed in a stark-white kimono, approached along a black-pebbled path. He paused by a large stone basin set among rocks and filled it with fresh water from the stream. Jack watched as the daimyo took a small wooden ladle from beside the basin, scooped up some of the water and washed both his hands and mouth. Once he had completed the purification ritual, he made his way through the chumon gate, and silently welcomed his guests with a courteous bow. They responded likewise before following the daimyo back through the chumon, which Emi had informed Jack was a symbolic doorway between the physical world and the spiritual world of the cha-no-yu. They each took up the wooden ladle in turn and purified their hands and mouth, before continuing along the path to the tea house. Here, the entrance was only a few feet high, so they had to

crouch to enter. Emi had explained that the doorway was constructed like this so that everyone had to bow their heads, stressing that all were equal in chano-yu, irrespective of status or social position. It also meant a samurai could not carry a sword inside. Jack was the last to enter. He slipped off his sandals and ducked through the entrance. As he stood up, he gasped in astonishment. The small square room was decorated entirely in gold leaf. To Jack, it was like standing inside a bar of solid gold. Even the ceiling was gilded. The only adornment in the room was a single scroll hanging in the alcove. The tatami, while not gold, were lined with rich red gossamer, so that the tea room’s magnificence totally overwhelmed the senses. Jack had been under the impression from Akiko that tea rooms were modest, simple buildings made of wood and decorated in subdued colours, but this tea house was grand beyond imagination. Akiko and Yamato looked equally dumbstruck and the daimyo Takatomi was clearly pleased with their reactions. He gestured for them to kneel and join him. Emi stepped towards the alcove, taking her time to admire the scroll painting before seating herself in front of the hearth and examining the kettle appreciatively. Akiko and Yamato performed the same ritual, then Jack tried to copy their actions. He approached the alcove and studied the scroll, a simple yet exquisite painting of a kingfisher upon a bare branch, with kanji scripture traced in ink down its right-hand side.

‘The kanji says Ichi-go, Ichi-e: one time, one meeting,’ explained Takatomi. ‘The scroll reminds me that each tea ceremony is unique and must be savoured for what it gives.’ The others nodded appreciatively at Takatomi’s wisdom. ‘The script may also be interpreted as “One chance in a lifetime”. This reminds me that in any conflict of life and death, there is no chance to try again. You must seize life with both hands.’ Ichi-go, Ichi-e, repeated Jack quietly. The daimyo’s words rang true. Having lost so much, Jack understood the fragility of life. Takatomi indicated for Jack to join the others, then the daimyo lit a small charcoal fire in the hearth and fed the flames with incense. The heady aroma of sandalwood soon filled the air. Retiring to a preparation room through a discreet door to his right, Takatomi collected a black tea bowl containing a bamboo whisk, a white linen cloth and a slender ivory scoop. On his return, he meticulously arranged these by a large oval water jar placed on the central tatami. Next Takatomi brought in a second water bowl, a bamboo water ladle and a green bamboo rest for the kettle lid. Closing the shoji door behind him, he then arranged himself in seiza. With due ceremony, he removed a fine silk cloth of bright purple from his obi and began a ritual cleansing of the scoop and tea container. The level of concentration the daimyo applied to the process was quite remarkable. Every movement was painstakingly precise and heavy with a symbolism that remained a mystery to Jack.

As the daimyo ladled hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl, he spoke once again. ‘When tea is made with water drawn from the depths of the mind, whose bottom is beyond measure, we really have what is called cha-no-yu.’ And so the Way of Tea began. ooo000ooo 12 TAMASHIWARI ‘Four hours for a cup of tea!’ exclaimed Jack as they made their way back to the Shishi-no-ma under a star-filled night. ‘Yes, how wonderful!’ enthused Akiko, misinterpreting Jack’s incredulity for awe. ‘The ceremony was perfect. The daimyo certainly has a flair for cha-no-yu, a rare master of sado. You should feel greatly honoured.’ ‘I feel greatly sore!’ mumbled Jack in English, still suffering from his knees having locked up after the first hour. ‘God forbid tea ever arrives on our shores!’ ‘Sorry, what was that?’ asked Akiko. ‘I said, we have yet to have tea in England,’ Jack mistranslated in Japanese. ‘Your countrymen can sail so far, but you don’t have tea! How sad to miss out on such perfection.’

‘We have other drinks,’ countered Jack, though he had to admit the drink on-board ship was an acquired taste too. ‘Oh, I’m sure they’re nice… but what about the Golden Tea Room?’ she continued. ‘To think that the daimyo once moved the entire tea room to the Imperial Palace to entertain the Emperor himself ! We are truly honoured guests.’ Jack let Akiko talk uninterrupted. The Japanese were usually very reserved in expressing their emotions and he was happy to see her so buoyant. While Akiko continued discussing the ceremony with Yamato, Jack thought about Nijo Castle and its inner palace. He was astounded at the lengths the daimyo had gone to protect himself. Takatomi was clearly proud of the new security features he had installed since Dragon Eye’s assassination attempt. Hence the escape challenge the daimyo had arranged to demonstrate its effectiveness. ‘Ninja-proof,’ the daimyo had said. If that were so, reasoned Jack, then the bolt-hole behind the hanging of the crane was the most secure location to hide the rutter from Dragon Eye. Certainly far better than under a flimsy futon or in the grounds of the Niten Ichi Ryū. Besides, the school was the first place the ninja would look. Jack realized he had no choice but to somehow arrange a return visit to the castle and hide the logbook. ‘KIAI!’ screamed Akiko. Her fist slammed into the solid block of wood. And rebounded…

The strike looked exceedingly painful and Jack winced for her. Akiko cradled her hand, tears welling up in her eyes, her joy of the previous night completely extinguished by their first class of the day, taijutsu. ‘Next!’ shouted Sensei Kyuzo, without a hint of sympathy. Akiko knelt back in line to allow Jack to take up position in front of the short rectangular plank. The cedar was as thick as his thumb and appeared indestructible with bare hands. Still Sensei Kyuzo had placed it upon two stable blocks in the middle of the Butokuden and instructed every student to break the board with their fists. So far no one had even dented it. Jack clenched his right hand in preparation to strike. With all his might, he drove his arm down on to the cedar plank. His fist collided with the block, sending a shuddering jolt up his arm. The wood didn’t even splinter, but Jack felt as if every bone in his hand had shattered. ‘Pathetic,’ snarled Sensei Kyuzo, waving him dismissively back into line. Jack rejoined the rest of class, who were all nursing bruised hands and aching arms. ‘Iron is full of impurities that weaken it,’ lectured Sensei Kyuzo, ignoring the suffering of his students. ‘Through forging, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Samurai develop in the same fashion. Those wishing to prove they’re strong enough to be chosen for the Circle of Three will be required to break through three such blocks, at the same time.’

Sensei Kyuzo suddenly attacked the cedar block, dropping his tiny body downwards and driving his fist through the wood with a shout of ‘KIAI!’ CRACK! The cedar split in two as if it were no more than a chopstick. ‘You’re all merely iron waiting to be forged into mighty warriors,’ continued Sensei Kyuzo without skipping a beat, ‘and your forge is tamashiwari, Trial by Wood.’ He looked pointedly in Jack’s direction. ‘It’s just that some of you have more impurities than others,’ he added as he strode over to one of the Butokuden’s mighty wooden pillars. Jack bit down on his lip, determined not to rise to the sensei’s bait. ‘Like iron, you must beat out these weaknesses,’ Sensei Kyuzo explained, indicating a pad of rice straw bound by cord at chest height to the pillar. He punched it with his fist. The wooden column boomed deeply under the force of the blow. ‘This is a makiwara. I’ve set up these striking posts on each pillar of the training hall. You’re to hit these repeatedly to strengthen the bones in your hands. It’s good conditioning for all samurai. Twenty punches each. Begin!’ Jack lined himself up behind Saburo, who was already preparing to make his first strike.

‘One!’ shouted Saburo, working himself up for the punch. Saburo’s fist collided with the straw pad. There was a crunch followed by a feeble groan as his hand crumpled against the rigid pillar. Saburo, his eyes screwed up in pain, stepped aside for Jack. ‘Your turn,’ he moaned through gritted teeth. ‘Three blocks!’ exclaimed Saburo, who was having trouble holding his hashi during dinner that evening. He wiggled his fingers trying to get movement back into his bruised hand. ‘I’m glad it’s you and not me going for the Circle of Three. One’s hard enough. How on earth are you supposed to break three blocks?’ ‘You think Trial by Wood’s hard? This is only the beginning. We’re being judged on three other trials too,’ said Yamato, putting down his rice bowl. He nodded towards the head table, where their kyujutsu teacher sat. Sensei Yosa, the only female samurai among the teachers and their instructor in the Art of the Bow, was looking as radiant as ever, the ruby-red scar that cut across her right cheek discreetly hidden behind her beautiful mane of black hair. ‘I’ve heard Sensei Yosa’s Trial by Fire is to snuff out a candle.’ ‘That doesn’t sound so bad,’ said Jack, his hand also stiff as he struggled to pick up a piece of sashimi from the centre plate. ‘No, but in order to prove your skill for the Circle you have to do it with an arrow, fired at long distance.’ Jack dropped his sashimi in disbelief.

‘At this rate, none of you will be entering the Circle,’ observed Kiku. Jack glumly retrieved his piece of fish from the table. Kiku was probably right. His own archery skills were passable, but he knew he had little hope of achieving such a feat as Trial by Fire. ‘Do you know what the other two trials are? Are they any easier?’ asked Jack hopefully. ‘Sensei Yamada is setting a Trial by Koan,’ revealed Akiko. ‘Our answer to the question will be used to assess our intellect.’ ‘Yori, you’d better be careful,’ said Saburo, arching his eyebrows into a look of serious concern. ‘As the king of solving koans, you might be entered for the Circle whether you like it or not!’ Yori looked up from his bowl of miso soup, a startled expression on his face. ‘Stop teasing him!’ scolded Kiku. Saburo shrugged an apology before slurping appreciatively on his noodles. ‘So what’s the final trial?’ asked Jack. ‘That’s Sensei Hosokawa’s Trial by Sword,’ answered Akiko. ‘To test our courage.’ ‘I’ve heard the older students call it the Gauntlet,’ added Saburo. ‘Why’s that?’ asked Jack.

‘I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll find out.’ ooo000ooo 13 ORIGAMI ‘Can anyone tell me what this is?’ asked Sensei Yamada, indicating a bright white square of paper at his feet. The ancient monk sat, cross-legged, in his usual position on the raised dais at the rear of the Buddha Hall, his hands gently folded in his lap. Trails of incense weaved a curtain of smoke around him and mingled with his grey spiderweb of a beard, making him appear ghost-like, as if the slightest breeze could blow him away. The students, also sitting in the half-lotus position, studied the squares of paper laid out before them like large snowflakes. ‘Paper, Sensei,’ scoffed Nobu from the back of the class, grinning at Kazuki for approval. But Kazuki just shook his head in disbelief at his friend’s idiocy. ‘Never assume the obvious is true, Nobu-kun,’ said Sensei Yamada. ‘That’s what it is, but it’s much more than that. What else is it?’ Nobu fell silent under Sensei Yamada’s glare. The sensei may have been an old man, but Jack knew he’d been sohei, one of the notoriously fearsome warrior monks of Enryakuji, once the most powerful Buddhist monastery in Japan. It was rumoured the fighting spirit of these monks had been so strong, they could kill a man without even touching him.

Sensei Yamada clapped his hands and called, ‘Mokuso!’ signalling the start of the class’s meditation. The koan had been set: ‘It is paper, but what else is it?’ Jack settled himself on his zabuton cushion in preparation for his zazen meditation. Half closing his eyes, he slowed his breathing and let his mind empty. As a Christian, Jack had never encountered meditation, or even Buddhism, prior to his arrival in Japan. At first he had found the process and concepts difficult to grasp. He questioned whether, as a Christian, he should be accepting them so readily, but three things had helped him change his mind. First, when he had raised the conflict of faith with Sensei Yamada, the monk had explained to him that Buddhism was a philosophy open to all religions. This was why the Japanese had no issues with following Shintoism – their native religion – practising Buddhism, and even converting to Christianity, at the same time. ‘They’re all strands of the same rug,’ Sensei Yamada had said, ‘only different colours.’ Second, Jack had discovered that meditation was quite similar to the act of praying. Both required focus, peaceful surroundings and, usually, reflections upon life and how it should be led. So Jack decided he would think of meditation as simply another form of praying to God. Third, during a particularly deep meditation, he had experienced the vision of a butterfly overcoming a demon and this vision had helped him win his taijutsu fight in the Taryu-Jiai contest.

This had been the proof that encouraged Jack to open his mind to the possibilities and benefits of Buddhism, even if he remained a Christian at heart. Through daily practice he had become adept at meditation, and in no time at all his mind was focused on the piece of paper before him, trying to unravel the mystery of the koan. Even though no answer was immediately forthcoming, he wasn’t worried. He knew enlightenment, satori as Sensei Yamada called it, took patience and intense concentration. Yet, whichever way he looked at the paper, it was still merely a sheet of paper. A whole stick of incense had burnt through by the time Sensei Yamada called a halt to the meditation, and Jack was no closer to experiencing satori. ‘Mokuso yame!’ said the sensei, clapping his hands once more. ‘So, do you have an answer for me, Nobu-kun?’ ‘No, Sensei,’ mumbled Nobu, bowing his head in shame. ‘Anyone else?’ invited the sensei. Kiku raised her hand tentatively. ‘Is it kozo, Sensei?’ ‘What makes you say that?’ ‘The paper is made from the fibres of the kozo tree,’ explained Kiku. ‘A fair suggestion, but you are still thinking too literally. How about if I do this?’

Sensei Yamada picked up his paper and folded it several times. Initially shaping it into a smaller square, he then bent the sheet in increasingly intricate folds. Within moments, the flat piece of paper had been transformed into a small bird. He placed the paper model on the floor for all to see. ‘So what is it?’ ‘A crane!’ said Emi excitedly. ‘Our symbol of peace.’ ‘Excellent, Emi. And folding a paper crane is like making peace – some of the steps are awkward. At first, it may even seem impossible. But, with patience, the result is always a thing of beauty. This is the art of origami.’ Sensei Yamada took a fresh piece of paper from a small pile behind him. ‘So let me rephrase my opening question for you to meditate on. The koan is now: what is it that origami teaches us? But first watch me closely, so that you can all make your own cranes.’ Sensei Yamada repeated the complex combination of folds that would create the little bird. There were more than twenty individual steps. When the sensei made his last move, pulling at the corners of the model to form the wings, he was left with a perfect miniature crane in his palm. In Jack’s hand, though, was a crumpled piece of paper. Jack realized that origami was far more difficult than it appeared. He looked around at the others. The attempts by Yamato and Saburo were equally flawed, and even Akiko’s model appeared

rather lopsided with one wing vastly larger than the other. The only student to have folded a crane perfectly was Yori, who was pulling at its tail and making the little bird’s wings flap. ‘It seems some of you need more practice,’ observed Sensei Yamada, who selected a second piece of paper and laid it in front of him. ‘So who can tell me what this is?’ ‘A crane!’ chimed the class in unison. ‘Certainly not!’ admonished Sensei Yamada, much to the confusion of his students. ‘Use the eyes of your mind, not the eyes in your head.’ Picking up the paper, he folded and bent the sheet, his fingers dexterously manipulating it into ever more complex shapes. The students gasped in astonishment at the finished model. ‘This is quite clearly a butterfly,’ said the sensei with a wry smile, and in his hand was a lifelike replica of a butterfly, complete with antennae. ‘Tonight, I want you all to practise making a paper crane like I showed you. And while you do this, meditate on what origami is teaching you.’ The class collected up their pieces of paper and filed out of the Buddha Hall. ‘Remember the answer is in the paper!’ Sensei Yamada called after his departing students. Jack, however, remained behind. He waited until everyone had gone, then approached his sensei.

‘You appear troubled, Jack-kun. What’s on your mind?’ asked Sensei Yamada, arranging his butterfly and crane models on the altar at the foot of the shrine’s great Buddha statue. Jack summoned up the courage to speak about his personal fears. ‘I’ve been told that a Christian priest has been killed by daimyo Kamakura. Is this true?’ Sensei Yamada nodded sadly. ‘I’ve heard this news too. It’s an unfortunate case.’ ‘So the daimyo does intend to kill all Christians in Japan?’ exclaimed Jack, alarmed to hear that the rumours were right. ‘Who told you that?’ said Sensei Yamada, raising his eyebrows in surprise. ‘As I understand, the death was not religiously motivated. The priest bribed a court official and so was punished for his crime. Granted, such a thing has never happened before and daimyo Kamakura does seem to be taking a hard line with foreigners, but this doesn’t automatically mean all Christians are under threat.’ ‘But I’d heard that the daimyo was going to expel all foreigners by force,’ Jack insisted. ‘And that would include me!’ ‘You needn’t worry,’ replied Sensei Yamada, smiling warmly at Jack. ‘If Masamoto-sama thought you were in danger, he would make moves to ensure your safety.’ Jack realized that Sensei Yamada was right and his idea of escaping to Nagasaki on his own had been idiotic, as well as completely unnecessary with Masamoto as his protector. But he was also aware of the strict hierarchy of Japanese rule. Kamakura, as the daimyo of Edo, was an influential man, and Jack wondered

whether Masamoto wielded enough power to guard him from the higher authority of a lord. ‘But isn’t a daimyo more powerful than a samurai?’ he asked. ‘Can Masamoto-sama really protect me from him?’ ‘We’re talking about Masamoto-sama here. Possibly the greatest swordsman to have lived,’ said Sensei Yamada, chuckling at the idea. ‘Besides, even if daimyo Kamakura was contemplating such a foolish notion, he would have little support for such ideas. Foreigners are needed in Japan since they bring in good trade.’ Sensei Yamada got up and walked Jack to the Buddha Hall’s entrance. From the top of the stone steps, he pointed across the rooftops to Nijo Castle. ‘As you’re well aware, the ruling lord here in Kyoto is daimyo Takatomi. But daimyo Takatomi is not just responsible for this province. He governs Japan as one of the appointed regents and he’s popular among the samurai lords. He likes Christians and foreigners. In fact, he likes them so much, I’ve heard that he’s converting to Christianity himself. So he wouldn’t allow anything like that to happen here.’ Sensei Yamada smiled and placed a reassuring hand on Jack’s shoulder. ‘Jack, you are perfectly safe.’ ooo000ooo

14 INTRUDER Following Sensei Yamada’s reassurance that his fears were unfounded, Jack would have been in good spirits that evening had Yamato not reminded him of Sensei Kyuzo’s punishment. So, while everyone folded cranes and sought a solution to Sensei Yamada’s koan, Jack was hard at work polishing block after block of the Butokuden’s training area. The wooden floor seemed as vast as an ocean to Jack as he rocked back and forth with the polishing oil, his shadow ebbing and flowing like a tiny wave across its surface. ‘Put your back into it!’ snarled Sensei Kyuzo, who was eating his dinner in the ceremonial alcove of the large hall. The tantalizing aroma of grilled mackerel wafted past and Jack’s stomach rumbled with hunger. ‘I’ll return in the morning,’ the sensei suddenly announced, having finished his meal, ‘and I expect the Butokuden to be gleaming. Or else you will miss breakfast too.’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ Jack mumbled, bowing his head all the way to the floor. However much he despised this samurai, he had to show the appropriate respect.

When Sensei Kyuzo had left, Jack resumed his punishment. He had no intention of being here in the morning and intended to work until his fingers were raw and his knees felt like granite, if need be. Despite the injustice of the punishment, Jack found solace in the chore. He was reminded of all the times he’d had to holystone the decks of the Alexandria. Though it had meant toiling under the blistering heat of a Pacific sun with the rest of the crew, the task had been necessary work to maintain the ship, not a punishment. Scouring the decks became a time of songs and merry tales, when friendships were made and worries forgotten. He was reminded of Ginsel, his shark-toothed friend, who now lay dead at the bottom of the ocean. He missed their camaraderie. In fact, he missed all the crew, even the Bosun, who had kept the men in check with the threat of the cat-o’-nine-tails! But most of all, he missed his father. His murder had left a gaping hole in Jack’s life. His father had been the one he’d always turned to, the one who had guided and protected him, the one who had believed in him. Jack wiped an unexpected tear from his eye and turned back to the task in hand. The moon had nearly completed its arc across the heavens by the time Jack had polished every block of the wooden floor. The inky black sky was showing the first signs of dawn on the horizon as he emerged from the Butokuden, exhausted and light-headed with hunger. At least breakfast would soon be served, thought Jack. Not that he was particularly looking forward to it. Miso soup, cold fish and

rice were hard to stomach early in the morning. How he longed for a normal English breakfast of crusty buttered bread, fried eggs and ham. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a movement on the opposite side of the courtyard. At first he thought his eyes were deceiving him, for who else would be up at this time? He looked harder. A shadow flitted along the edge of the Hall of Lions. Whoever it was, they didn’t want to be seen. Dressed all in black, the figure kept close to the wall and barely made a sound as it crept towards the entrance of the Hall of Lions, where the students slept. Jack’s senses went on alert. The intruder looked like a ninja. Retreating behind the Butokuden’s doorway, Jack watched the ninja’s progress. So Dragon Eye had finally returned. ‘Another time, gaijin! The rutter is not forgotten.’ The ninja’s words resounded in Jack’s head. He cursed himself for not having spoken with Emi yet to arrange going back to Nijo Castle to hide the logbook. But Jack had foolishly begun to think that Yamato had been right and that Dragon Eye had died from his wounds, for there had been no sight or sound of his sworn enemy for months. But it appeared that Dragon Eye wasn’t dead. Akiko had suggested that the ninja, as an assassin for hire, had simply been employed by someone else on another mission. Clearly

that assignment was over and he’d returned to finish his original job. The figure in black reached the doorway and, as it turned to enter the Shishi-no-ma, the moonlight caught the intruder’s face. Jack drew back in surprise. It was a fleeting glimpse, but he could have sworn it was Akiko. ooo000ooo

15 SENSEI KANO Jack sprinted across the courtyard. Reaching the doorway, he slid back the shoji and peered in. All of the lamps had burnt out so it was hard to see anything, but the corridor seemed empty. He silently made his way down the girls’ corridor towards Akiko’s room. When he got there, he found that her door was slightly ajar. He peeked in through the gap. Akiko was fast asleep under the covers of her futon – and looked like she had been there for some time. Seeing her asleep, Jack became aware of just how exhausted he was. Suffering from hunger and lack of sleep, could he have imagined the intruder? He decided he would speak with Akiko in the morning, but now the pull of his own bed was too much to resist and he stumbled back to his room. Collapsing on to his futon, Jack’s mind whirled. He stared at his Daruma Doll, willing himself to sleep, and after a while he felt his eyelids grow heavy. He could have sworn he’d closed his eyes for only a moment before Yamato was at his door, the bright morning sunshine flooding his room.

‘Come on, Jack!’ said Yamato, rousing him out of bed. ‘You’ve missed breakfast and Sensei Kano’s said we’re to meet at the Butokuden right now. We’ve got our first lesson in the Art of the Bō.’ Leaving the bustle of Kyoto city behind, the students crossed the wide wooden bridge that spanned the Kamogawa River and headed north-east in the direction of Mount Hiei. Despite being the tail end of summer, the weather was warm and dry, the sky cloudless, and in the sharp light of morning the burnt-out temples, that could be seen scattered over the mountain’s forested slopes, glinted like broken teeth. The enormous bulk of Sensei Kano, a mountain in himself, strode out in front, his great white bō staff striking the ground with each step. Like sheep following their shepherd, his students trailed behind in two regimented rows, their pace dictated by the rhythmic thunk-thunk of the sensei’s staff. As instructed, the class had gathered outside the Butokuden to await their new teacher. Jack and the others had been watching the early morning workers digging the foundations for the new Hall of the Hawk when Sensei Kano appeared. He acknowledged his students with a brief bow before instructing them to collect a wooden bō staff from a pile stacked against the weapons wall inside the Butokuden. They had then left the school at a brisk march. Their teacher hadn’t spoken a word since. By the time they reached the foot of the mountain, the morning sun had risen high in the sky. The forced march, combined with the dust of the road, soon left the students hot and thirsty, so the cool

shade of the cedar trees was a welcome relief when they entered the forest and began their ascent of Mount Hiei. As they weaved their way up its slope, the students spread out a little and Jack finally spotted an opportunity to speak with Akiko. ‘So where do you think Sensei Kano’s taking us?’ he asked nonchalantly. ‘Enryakuji, I presume.’ ‘Why there? Didn’t you tell me a samurai general destroyed it?’ ‘Yes, General Nobunaga.’ ‘So what’s there left to see?’ asked Jack. ‘Nothing. Apart from the remains of several hundred deserted temples. Enryakuji has been a tomb for over forty years.’ ‘It seems a rather odd place to take us to train.’ Jack drew closer, checking no one was listening before he whispered, ‘By the way, what were you doing last night?’ Akiko momentarily faltered at the question. Then, keeping her gaze fixed on the path, replied, ‘I was folding cranes.’ ‘No, I mean just before dawn,’ pressed Jack. ‘I’m sure I saw you outside the Shishi-no-ma. You were dressed all in black like a ninja!’ Akiko’s face was an odd mixture of disbelief and alarm. ‘You must be mistaken, Jack. I was asleep. Like everyone else.’

‘Well, I saw someone – and I swear it looked like you. But when I got inside, there was no one around.’ ‘Are you sure you didn’t imagine it?’ She studied his face with concern. ‘You look dead on your feet. Did you get any sleep last night?’ Jack shook his head wearily and was about to question her further, when the students behind caught them up. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack continued to study Akiko, but her face gave nothing away. Perhaps he had been mistaken. Akiko had no reason to lie to him. But if it wasn’t Akiko, then who else could it have been? THUNK! Jack’s thoughts were interrupted by the final beat of Sensei Kano’s bō staff upon the ground. The students all came to an abrupt halt. ‘We cross here,’ announced Sensei Kano. His voice was deep and booming, as if a temple gong had been rung inside his chest. The students gathered round. Jack edged his way forward with Yamato and Akiko by his side. In front of them was a ravine splitting the forest in two, with a fast-flowing river far below. Shimmering in the watery mist, the remains of a footbridge jutted out over the abyss. ‘Where shall we cross, Sensei?’ asked Yamato. ‘Is there not a bridge?’ enquired Sensei Kano.

‘Hai Sensei,’ Yamato replied, bemused at the question, ‘but it’s been destroyed.’ Sensei Kano raised his eyes to heaven, as if listening to some distant sound, then said, ‘What about the log?’ A little way down from the bridge, spanning the gorge, was a small felled cedar tree, its branches pruned, the trunk stripped bare of its bark. ‘But, Sensei,’ objected Yamato, a tremor in his voice, ‘the log is barely wide enough for one foot… it’s covered in moss… and it’s wet… someone could easily slip and fall.’ ‘Nonsense. You’ll all cross here. Indeed you, Yamatokun, will go first. You are Masamoto’s son, aren’t you?’ Yamato’s mouth fell open, his face going a touch pale. ‘Hai, Sensei,’ he replied weakly. ‘Good, then lead the way!’ The sensei gave Yamato an encouraging prod with his staff and Yamato shuffled to the edge of the ravine. He stopped at its lip. ‘Why haven’t you crossed yet?’ asked Sensei Kano. ‘S-s-sorry… Sensei,’ stammered Yamato, ‘I… can’t do it.’ Jack knew his friend was scared of heights. He had discovered Yamato’s phobia when they had climbed the Sound of Feathers waterfall at the culmination of the Taryu-Jiai contest. The same vertigo was defeating him again.

‘Nonsense. If it’s the height that scaring you, simply don’t look,’ instructed Sensei Kano. ‘What? Close my eyes!’ exclaimed Yamato, backing away from the chasm. ‘Yes. Become blind to your fear.’ Everyone stared at the sensei, aghast. The thought of crossing the log was unnerving enough, but to cross it with one’s eyes closed. That was sheer lunacy! ‘It’s perfectly safe. I’ll even go first,’ said Sensei Kano, slipping off his sandals and threading them on his staff. ‘It would be helpful, though, if someone could show me where the log is.’ The students exchanged bewildered looks. The log was in plain sight. After a brief pause, several of the students pointed to the makeshift crossing. ‘No use pointing,’ said Sensei Kano. ‘I’m blind.’ Jack, along with the rest of the class, was stunned. Sensei Kano had led them all the way to the gorge without a guide or even a single request for directions. How could he be blind? Jack studied his new sensei properly for the first time. Sensei Kano’s sheer size dominated his appearance, being a head taller than most Japanese. Upon closer inspection, though, Jack realized that Sensei Kano’s eyes were not grey by nature, but clouded as if a sea mist had seeped into them.

‘Excuse me, Sensei,’ said Akiko, recovering first. ‘The log’s almost in front of you, no more than eight shaku ahead and twelve shaku to your left.’ ‘Thank you,’ replied Sensei Kano, striding confidently up to the lip of the ravine. His bō found the edge and he followed it to his left until it struck the fallen tree. Without a moment’s hesitation, he stepped on to the narrow log. Holding his staff out in front of him for balance, he crossed in several easy strides. ‘You have just witnessed your first lesson,’ announced Sensei Kano from the opposite side. ‘If one sees with the eyes of the heart, rather than the eyes of the head, there is nothing to fear.’ As if in response to his words of wisdom, a shaft of sunlight broke through the forest canopy, suspending a tiny rainbow within the veil of mist that swirled above the void. ‘Now it’s your turn.’ ooo000ooo 16 MUGAN RYŪ The roar of the river filled Jack’s ears as he stepped out over the abyss and a sliver of fear took hold. He couldn’t see the gorge he knew gaped beneath him like the open mouth of a shark. Yet with each step into the unknown, his confidence grew. Having been a rigging monkey on-board the

Alexandria, the soles of his feet gripped the slippery surface of the log as if he were back upon the yardarm. He was also aware that without his sight he would have to rely upon his other senses, and tried to judge his progress across the log by the changing echoes of the river below. Eventually, his feet found the grassy bank on the opposite side and he opened his eyes, amazed he had crossed without looking once. Akiko now approached the log. She closed her eyes and nimbly negotiated the gorge in several quick steps, her balance as perfect as a dancer’s, making everyone else’s attempts so far appear awkward and ungainly. They waited for Yamato. But he put off his crossing by politely inviting Emi to go first. She was across in no time, so he stepped aside for others in the class. Saburo shuffled along in fits and bursts, then Yori scampered over, followed by Kiku. Nobu ended up groping his way along astride the trunk, while Kazuki strolled across not even bothering to close his eyes. Eventually there were no more left for Yamato to invite. ‘Don’t worry,’ called Jack. ‘Just keep your eyes closed, walk straight and you’ll be fine.’ ‘I know!’ said Yamato irritably, but he remained at the end of the log all the same, his staff trembling in his hands.

‘Use the eyes of your heart and believe in yourself, then you have nothing to fear,’ advised Sensei Kano, who waited for him at the opposite end. Yamato screwed his eyes tight shut, took a deep breath and stepped out on to the log. In painstakingly tiny steps, he edged himself along. Halfway across, he wobbled wildly. The class drew in breath expecting him to fall. But Yamato regained his balance and resumed his snail-like progress. ‘You’re nearly there,’ encouraged Saburo when Yamato was little more than four steps from the end. Unfortunately that was the wrong thing to say. Yamato opened his eyes, looked down and saw the dizzying drop beneath him. Panic seized his senses. Rushing the last few steps, his feet slipped from under him. Yamato screamed and plunged head first into the chasm. But, just as Yamato lost his footing, Sensei Kano shot out his bō staff, catching him across the chest and flinging him up and over to safety. Yamato landed in a quivering heap upon the grass. ‘You opened your eyes and let fear in, didn’t you?’ said Sensei Kano. ‘You’ll learn soon enough not to be so swayed by what you see.’ Without waiting for a response, the sensei turned and led the students deeper into the forest.

Jack, Akiko and Saburo ran to help Yamato back to his feet, but he shrugged them off moodily, furious with himself for having lost face in front of the class. ‘How on earth did Sensei Kano do that?’ exclaimed Jack to the others, astounded at the bō master’s lightning reactions. ‘He’s blind!’ ‘All will become clear when we reach the monastery, Jack-kun,’ shouted Sensei Kano from afar. They stared at one another in amazement. Sensei Kano was already out of sight, yet he had still heard them. ‘This temple is where Sensei Sorimachi, the founder of the Mugan Ryū, the School of No Eyes, began his training,’ explained Sensei Kano. ‘The school is based upon the insight that “To see with eyes alone is not to see at all”.’ The class listened obediently, standing in two rows, their staffs held tightly by their sides. Sensei Kano had brought them to a large open courtyard that faced the ruined remains of the Kompon Chudo, the largest temple of the once great and powerful Enryakuji monastery. The temple’s long curved roof had collapsed in several places, and red and green tiles lay scattered on the floor like discarded dragon scales. The broken bones of wooden pillars rested at odd angles and battered gap-toothed walls revealed ransacked shrines and cracked stone idols. To all intents and purposes, the monastery was dead.

Yet deep inside, a single light glimmered. This, Sensei Kano explained, was the ‘Eternal Light’. A lantern lit by the temple’s founding priest, Saicho, over eight hundred years ago, it was still burning, tended by a solitary monk. ‘Belief never burns out,’ observed Sensei Kano before starting the lesson. ‘As a samurai warrior, you must not become blinded by what you see. You must use all your senses to conquer your enemy – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. You must be at one with your body at all times, maintaining perfect balance and complete awareness of where each limb is in relation to the others.’ The sensei turned to face Jack, his misty grey eyes staring directly at him. The effect was unsettling, as if the sensei was somehow looking into Jack’s very soul. ‘You asked me, Jack-kun, how I managed to save your friend without being able to see. Simple. I sensed his panic. My staff was moving before he fell. I heard his foot slip on the log and then his scream, so I knew exactly where he was. The hard part was ensuring he didn’t land on any of you!’ A ripple of laughter spread among the students. ‘But how can such skills be used to fight an enemy you can’t see?’ asked Kazuki with scepticism. ‘I will demonstrate,’ replied Sensei Kano, turning his clouded gaze towards Kazuki. ‘Your name?’ ‘Oda Kazuki, Sensei.’

‘Well, Kazuki-kun, try to steal my inro without me knowing and it’s yours to keep.’ Kazuki grinned at the challenge. The little carrying box hung freely from the obi of the sensei’s kimono, easy pickings for even the most inept thief. Kazuki crept out of line and advanced silently towards the sensei. As he passed Nobu, he indicated to him and another lad, a thin, wiry stick insect of a boy called Hiroto, to follow him. Kazuki then resumed his approach, with Nobu moving off to his right and Hiroto to the left. Each converged on Sensei Kano from a different direction. They were four paces away when Sensei Kano whipped his bō staff round, catching Hiroto by the ankle and sweeping him off his feet. Spinning round, the sensei thrust his staff in between Nobu’s legs, knocking them apart. A single jab to the stomach sent the startled Nobu toppling to the floor. Finally, without pausing, he attacked Kazuki, driving his bō directly at the boy’s throat. Kazuki froze, an audible swallow of panic coming from him as the end of the staff stopped a hair’s breadth from his Adam’s apple. ‘Very clever, Kazuki-kun, employing decoys, but your friend over there smells of three-day-old sushi,’ he explained, nodding towards the fallen figure of Hiroto. ‘You breathe as loud as a baby dragon, and that boy treads like an elephant!’ he said, indicating Nobu, who lay on the floor rubbing his bruised belly. The class broke into uncontrollable sniggering.

‘Enough!’ interrupted Sensei Kano, bringing an abrupt end to the laughter. ‘It’s time to start your training or you’ll never learn how to fight blind. Space yourselves out so that you have enough room to swing your bō.’ The class obediently spread out across the stone courtyard. ‘First you need be at one with the weight and feel of the bō. I want you all to spin your staffs as I do.’ Sensei Kano held out his staff in his right hand, gripping it halfway along the shaft. He began to spin the bō, swapping hands in the process. He started slowly, then built up speed until the staff was a blur either side of his body. ‘Once you’re confident enough spinning the bō between your hands, close your eyes. Learn to sense its movement, rather than relying on your sight to follow it.’ The class began to twirl their staffs. Several students immediately fumbled their weapons and dropped them. ‘Start off slowly. Get the hand movements right first,’ advised Sensei Kano. To begin with, Jack found it difficult to swap the staff over. Shattered from lack of sleep, his reactions were sluggish and his movements clumsy. Yamato, on the other hand, took to the weapon like he had been born with it in his hands. His friend already had his eyes closed. ‘Good work, Yamato-kun,’ Sensei Kano commended as he listened to Yamato’s bō whistle through the air. Yamato smiled, his

loss of face at crossing the gorge regained as he became the first student to master the technique. Yet it was not long before Jack had his own staff spinning, albeit at a more sedate pace. With continued practice, his confidence grew until he braved closing his eyes. He tried to feel the weapon, hear it, sense it, rather than having to see it. He increased his speed. The bō was flying, each spin sending a blast of air past his ears. He had mastered it! ‘Owwww!’ Jack cried out as pain leapt up his leg. The bō had struck his shin and shot out of his hands, clattering across the stone courtyard. Jack hobbled after the fallen weapon. The bō rolled to a stop… at Kazuki’s feet. Jack stooped to retrieve it, but before he could get to it, he was struck across the back of the head. Jack glared up at Kazuki. ‘Careful, gaijin,’ said Kazuki, giving him a look of mock innocence. The hatred between them flared and Jack tensed himself in readiness for a fight. ‘Don’t even think about it,’ whispered Kazuki, checking to see Sensei Kano was nowhere nearby. ‘You wouldn’t even get close.’ Kazuki stopped his bō directly in line with Jack’s nose, forcing Jack’s head back. Jack stepped away, then feigned to his left before

ducking and snatching up his staff with the other hand. But Kazuki was ready for it and brought the tip of his own staff down on to Jack’s fingers, knocking the bō back to the floor with a clatter. ‘The student who keeps dropping their bō would be best advised to keep their eyes open until they’re more competent,’ said Sensei Kano from the other side of the courtyard. Jack and Kazuki silently opposed one another, each waiting for the other to make the next move. ‘Eyes open or closed, you’re a worthless excuse for a samurai,’ goaded Kazuki under his breath. ‘Even you must realize that no one at the school likes you. Your so-called friends are only polite to you, because Masamoto-sama commands it.’ Jack was riled by the accusation and fought to control his anger. ‘And the student who keeps talking would be advised to channel his energies into more positive practice,’ added Sensei Kano pointedly. But the damage had been done. Kazuki had hit a raw nerve. Jack couldn’t deny that there was a grain of truth in his taunt. When he had first arrived in Japan, Yamato had only tolerated his presence due to a direct order from his father. It had taken their victory in the Taryu-Jiai to bring them together as friends. Then there was Akiko. Despite being his closest friend, she hid her feelings so well that Jack wouldn’t be able to tell if she was faking their friendship or not. Maybe Kazuki was right.

Despite her denial of last night’s mysterious appearance, Jack had the feeling she was hiding something from him. Seeing the internal battle played out on Jack’s face, Kazuki grinned. ‘Go home, gaijin,’ he mouthed silently. ooo000ooo 17 PLANTING SEEDS ‘Go home, gaijin! Go home, gaijin! Go home, gaijin!’ Jack sat immobilized by fear in his father’s high-backed armchair as he watched Dragon Eye slash with his sword, scoring the phrase over and over again on to every wall of his parents’ cottage. Like open wounds, the red letters seeped in crimson streaks, and Jack realized Dragon Eye was using his father’s blood as ink. Hearing a scuttling sound approach, Jack clasped the rutter closer to his chest. Glancing down, he was confronted by four black scorpions, each the size of a fist, crawling their way over the floorboards and up his bare legs, their poisoned barbs crackling in the darkness… ‘Are you coming?’ Jack was jolted awake by Akiko’s voice. He sat up and rubbed his eyes against the bright morning light that poured in through the tiny window of his room.

‘I’m not… quite ready… you go ahead,’ replied Jack, his voice shaky as he pulled back the covers of his futon. ‘Are you all right?’ she asked from the other side of his shoji door. ‘I’m fine… just sleepy.’ But Jack was far from fine. Akiko had woken him from another nightmare. ‘I’ll meet you in the Chō-no-ma for breakfast,’ he added hurriedly. ‘Try not to be late this time,’ Akiko cautioned, and Jack heard her soft footsteps pad along the passageway. He got up, groggy from his dream of Dragon Eye and the four scorpions. He wondered whether it could be a premonition like the butterfly and demon vision. But that vision had been induced by meditation. This was a nightmare, something darker, more primitive. If it happened again, he promised himself he would consult Sensei Yamada. Jack packed away his futon, tucking the rutter carefully inside the folds of the mattress. It was too obvious a hiding place. He urgently needed to speak with Emi to arrange a return visit to the castle. The problem was that he could never get her alone. Her two friends, Cho and Kai, followed her around like handmaidens. Besides, Jack hadn’t yet thought of how to broach the subject with her without revealing his true purpose.

Hurriedly he put on his training gi, wrapping the upper section round his body, ensuring the lapel went left over right. He didn’t want to dress like a corpse by having them the other way. He then tied the jacket off with a white obi round his waist. Before leaving for breakfast and his first lesson of the day, Jack tended to his bonsai perched on the narrow window sill. He treasured the tiny cherry-blossom tree, a parting gift from Uekiya, the gardener in Toba. It was a constant reminder of the kindness the old man had shown him that first summer. He watered it religiously, pruned its branches and removed any dead leaves. The ritual always calmed him, and soon the cruel taunts of his nightmare faded until they were little more than a whisper in his head. That morning, several of the bonsai’s miniature green leaves showed tints of golden brown and fiery red, announcing the arrival of autumn. With only a season left to go before snow heralded the selection trials for the Circle of Three, the sensei had intensified their training, increasing the complexity of the techniques and pushing the students to their limits. Jack was really starting to struggle with the regime. Securing his bokken in his obi, he summoned up the energy he would need to get through the day. ‘Again, kata four!’ ordered Sensei Hosokawa. The students sliced the air with their bokken, repeating the prescribed series of moves. They had performed hundreds of cuts already that morning, but Sensei Hosokawa’s lesson was relentless. Jack’s arms were burning with the exertion, sweat poured down him and his bokken felt as heavy as lead.

‘No, Jack-kun!’ corrected Sensei Hosokawa. ‘The kissaki stops at chudan. You are slicing through the belly of your enemy – not trying to chop off their feet.’ Jack, who usually excelled during the sword class, was having great difficulty keeping up. His aching limbs just wouldn’t respond and the bokken kept dropping way past its target. ‘Concentrate!’ commanded Sensei Hosokawa, rounding on Jack. ‘Don’t make me remind you again.’ He grabbed Jack’s sword arm, sternly lifting the bokken to the appropriate height. Jack’s arms trembled with the effort. ‘These kata are the basics of kenjutsu,’ reinforced Sensei Hosokawa, addressing the entire class now. ‘You cannot run before you’ve learnt to walk. It is imperative you assimilate these moves so that they become instinctive, so that the bokken becomes part of you. When the sword becomes “no sword” in your hands, then you are ready. Only then will you truly comprehend the Way of the Sword!’ ‘HAI, SENSEI!’ yelled the class. Sensei Hosokawa fixed Jack with a stern gaze, ‘Don’t forget your training, Jack-kun. You should have mastered the basics by now.’ The arrow soared clear of the target, disappearing among the branches of the ancient pine tree. A pair of doves, nestling in the foliage, cooed indignantly and fluttered off towards the safety of the Butsuden’s temple roof.

‘This is impossible!’ complained Jack, his frustration getting the better of him. Unlike Akiko, who struck the furthest target with apparent ease, archery didn’t come so naturally to Jack. And now that Sensei Yosa had doubled the length of the range, setting the targets at the far end of the Nanzen-niwa, not one of Jack’s shots had even come close. If he couldn’t hit a target at this distance, how on earth was he supposed to snuff out a candle? To make matters worse, Kazuki and his friends had been trying to put him off, commenting loudly on each of his failed attempts. Noticing that Jack was struggling, his kyujutsu teacher approached, her hawk-like eyes studying his form and noting his problem. ‘Relax, Jack-kun,’ Sensei Yosa instructed as Jack returned his bow to the rack and knelt back into line. ‘Hitting the target is unimportant.’ ‘But it is to me,’ Jack insisted. ‘I want to be able to pass your trial.’ ‘You misunderstand,’ said Sensei Yosa, smiling warmly at his keenness. ‘You must abandon the idea of having to hit the target. When the archer does not think about the target, then they may unfold the Way of the Bow.’ Jack’s brow creased in confusion. ‘But won’t I be more likely to miss if I don’t think about it?’ he asked.

‘There are no mysteries in kyujutsu, Jack-kun,’ continued Sensei Yosa, shaking her head in response. ‘Like any art, the secret is revealed through dedication, hard work and constant practice.’ But I am practising hard, Jack wanted to say, and I don’t seem to be getting any better. Later that day, Jack’s fifth attempt at origami lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. The rest of the students were deep in studied concentration, cross-legged on their zabuton cushions within the Buddha Hall. Today their meditation model was a frog, and all that could be heard was the delicate crimping of countless pieces of paper. Sensei Yamada had once again set his class a zazen mediation on origami, repeating the koan, ‘What does origami teach us?’ No one as yet had provided him with a satisfactory answer. ‘Watch how I do it, Jack,’ Yori offered, turning so that Jack could see his moves. Jack tried again, but only succeeded in tearing a hole in the fragile paper. He cursed out loud in English and Yori gave him a puzzled look. Jack smiled apologetically. ‘How am I going to be able to answer Sensei Yamada’s Koan trial if I can’t even fold a paper frog?’ said Jack, taking another sheet from the pile. ‘I don’t think it matters if you can or can’t,’ replied Yori kindly. ‘The frog is not the focus. Remember what Sensei Yamada said? The answer is in the paper.’

Yori admired his own perfect frog before setting it on the floor next to the perfect origami crane, butterfly and goldfish he had already made. ‘But surely the process must help,’ maintained Jack, waving his flat square of paper despondently in the air. ‘Otherwise why would he be getting us all to do origami? I seem to be making such slow progress.’ Jack was now very concerned about his chances in the forthcoming trials. There were only five places and if he didn’t pass any of the trials, he wouldn’t earn his place in the Circle of Three, let alone be taught the Two Heavens technique. ‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap,’ said a calm voice in his ear. Sensei Yamada had appeared at Jack’s shoulder and leant over to take the paper from his hands. He scored, folded and bent the sheet in front of Jack’s eyes, transforming it into a beautiful flowering rose. ‘Judge it by the seeds you plant.’ ‘You’re having a bad week, that’s all,’ said Akiko, trying to console Jack during dinner that evening. ‘But I haven’t hit the archery targets for nearly a month now,’ Jack replied, half-heartedly spearing a piece of sushi with his hashi before reminding himself that it was bad etiquette.

‘It’s just a matter of getting used to the distance,’ encouraged Yamato. ‘Don’t you remember how you scored in kyujutsu during the Taryu-Jiai? It’s not as if you can’t do it.’ ‘I suppose you’re right,’ conceded Jack, putting down his hashi. ‘But it feels like I’ve hit a brick wall with my training. Even in kenjutsu Sensei Hosokawa’s constantly on my back, correcting every little mistake. However hard I try, I don’t seem to be getting any better.’ ‘But you heard what Sensei Yamada said,’ reminded Yori. ‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap…’ ‘Yes, but what seeds am I actually planting?’ sighed Jack, burying his head in his hands. ‘Perhaps Kazuki’s right. I’m not meant to be samurai.’ ‘You’re not listening to Kazuki again, are you?’ exclaimed Akiko in exasperation. ‘He’s poisoning your mind! Of course you’re worthy to be samurai. Masamoto-sama would not have adopted you, or invited you to his school if he thought you were anything less. Becoming a true samurai takes time.’ Jack gazed despondently out of the tiny window of his room in the Shishi-no-ma. The night sky was a blanket of stars. A waning moon shone its ghostly light and washed out all colour from the buildings of the Niten Ichi Ryū. On the horizon, Jack could see storm clouds brewing. They were blotting out the stars one by one. The prayer flags at the entrance to the Butsuden started to flutter like a ship’s sails as a chill wind cut through the open courtyard.

Jack began to imagine he was back on-board the Alexandria with his father, learning to navigate by the heavens. That was something he was good at. Being a pilot came naturally. He could name the stars and planets and use them to calculate the ship’s position and course, even in rough seas. He had been destined to be a ship’s pilot by blood and birth. Not a samurai. Suddenly Jack felt the pressure of life in Japan like a coiled spring in the pit of his stomach, getting wound tighter and tighter until he thought he was going to explode. The headache of speaking Japanese every day. The rigid etiquette of Japanese life as if he was walking on eggshells all the time. The painstaking progress he was making with his training. The constant threat of Dragon Eye and whether he would be ready to face him in time. The gaping absence of his parents. The thought of Jess alone, with the threat of a workhouse hanging over her… Lost in his despair, Jack almost missed the movement of several shrouded figures crossing the school’s courtyard. Hugging the shadows, they skirted under the lee of the Butokuden before disappearing inside. Determined to discover who the intruders were this time, Jack grabbed his katana and sprinted out of the room. ooo000ooo 18 IREZUMI

‘Akiko? Are you there?’ whispered Jack through the paper-thin door of her room. There was no reply. He drew back the shoji and peeked inside. Akiko was nowhere to be seen. Her futon was untouched even though she should have been in bed by now. Perhaps she had gone to the bathhouse, thought Jack, or else… He shut the door and hurried on. A lantern was still burning within Yori’s room. ‘Yori?’ he called. The little boy slid open his shoji. ‘Have you seen Akiko?’ ‘Not since supper,’ replied Yori, shaking his head. ‘Isn’t she in her room?’ ‘No, I think she’s…’ Jack trailed off, distracted by the sight of countless paper cranes littering Yori’s floor. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m folding cranes.’ ‘I can see that, but origami in bed! You take Sensei Yamada’s lessons far too seriously,’ accused Jack. ‘Listen, if you hear Akiko come back, can you let her know that I’ve gone over to the Butokuden.’ ‘The training hall? And you accuse me of studying too hard!’ Yori glanced dubiously at Jack’s katana. ‘Isn’t it rather late to be practising your sword kata?’

‘I don’t have time to explain. Just tell Akiko.’ Jack sped off, not bothering to wait for Yori’s response. As he reached the main door, he briefly considered alerting Yamato and Saburo, but they would be asleep and he had wasted too much time already. The intruders might have gone by the time they all reached the Butokuden. Jack rushed across the courtyard. The storm was approaching fast and icy blasts of wind stabbed through his thin night kimono like a tantō blade. Pressing himself flat against the Butokuden’s wall, he edged towards its main entrance. Poking his head round the wooden door frame, he searched for the intruders. In the gloom of the great hall, he could distinguish a number of hunched figures sitting in a tight circle within the ceremonial alcove. But from this distance, he was unable to make out their faces or hear what they were saying. Jack hurried to the back of the Butokuden, where the slatted windows behind the dais were within easy reach. As quietly as he could, he eased open a wooden shutter. Peering through, he discovered he had a direct line of sight to the alcove. Jack counted four intruders in total. They each wore a heavy cowl so their faces remained cast in shadow. Pressing his ear close to the slatted opening, he listened. ‘…the daimyo Kamakura Katsura is going to wage war against the Christians,’ whispered a youthful yet commanding male voice in the darkness.

A husky female voice took over. ‘The gaijin are a threat to our traditions and the orderly society of Japan.’ ‘But there are so few. How can they be a threat?’ queried a third voice, high and thin like a bamboo flute. ‘Their priests are spreading an evil belief, converting honourable Japanese daimyo and their samurai with their lies,’ explained the male voice. ‘They’re trying to overthrow our society from within. They want to destroy our culture, control Japan and its people.’ ‘They must be stopped!’ interjected the female voice. ‘The daimyo is drawing loyal samurai to his cause in preparation for an all-out assault on every Christian,’ explained the first voice. ‘My father, Oda Satoshi, has joined his ranks and sworn allegiance to this righteous cause.’ ‘Gaijin are the germ of a great disaster and must be crushed,’ hissed the female voice with venom. ‘But what can we do about it?’ asked the fourth shadow. ‘We can prepare for war!’ stated the male and female voice in unison. Jack could hardly believe his ears. He had been right all along. Sensei Yamada was mistaken. The killing of the Christian priest was not an isolated case. It had been just the beginning. The daimyo Kamakura was intent on slaughtering every Christian in Japan. Yet what chilled Jack’s blood most was the fact that he knew who the ringleader of this mysterious group was. He recognized his

voice. It was Kazuki, following in his father’s footsteps and calling for war. Outside, the first drops of rain began to fall. The shower quickly became a torrent and within moments Jack was soaked to the skin and numb with cold. But he was determined to stay and learn all he could. Ignoring his discomfort, he strained to hear the ongoing conversation above the rain, which was now beating an insistent rhythm upon the Butokuden’s roof. ‘…all Christians will be forced to leave on pain of death,’ continued Kazuki. ‘Some may try to hide, but it will be our duty to hunt them down.’ ‘What about Jack?’ asked the thin reedy voice. ‘Surely he’s protected by Masamoto-sama.’ ‘The great Masamoto-sama’s got more important things to worry about than some gaijin. I mean, have you seen Masamotosama at school recently? No. His duty is to daimyo Takatomi. He couldn’t care less about Jack.’ ‘And without his samurai guardian around,’ mocked the female voice, ‘there’ll be no rock the gaijin can crawl under where we won’t find him!’ All of sudden, Jack felt very vulnerable. He’d been so busy with training for the trials, he hadn’t noticed the continued absence of Masamoto. It only now occurred to him that his guardian’s seat at the head table during dinner had been empty for almost a month. The last time Jack had seen Masamoto was when the samurai had overseen the start of the construction of the Hall of the Hawk. Where had he gone? If the situation suddenly turned serious, Jack

had no one in authority at the school with a personal interest in protecting him. ‘We must be ready for the call to arms from our daimyo,’ continued Kazuki. ‘That is the purpose of the Sasori Gang. We must now all swear our allegiance to this righteous cause.’ ‘I’ll need some light for the initiation ritual,’ demanded the husky female voice. Jack heard the sound of a flint being struck and a couple of sparks flared in the gloom. A moment later, a small oil lamp burned like a solitary firefly in the cavernous hall. Jack gasped in astonishment. The flickering flame illuminated a girl’s bleached-white face. Her oval eyes were like coals in a fire and a pair of blood-red lips parted to reveal teeth painted black as tar. Jack instantly recognized her as Moriko, the female samurai who had competed against Akiko in the Taryu-Jiai. A cruel, vicious fighter, she trained at the rival Yagyu School in Kyoto. Jack couldn’t believe she was inside the walls of the Niten Ichi Ryū. ‘That’s better,’ she rasped, taking an inkpot and several bamboo needles from her inro and laying them beside the lamp. She then uncorked a small bottle of saké and poured a measure of the clear liquid into a cup. This was placed in the centre of the group. ‘So who will be first for irezumi?’ ‘I will,’ said Kazuki, opening his overcoat and kimono to expose his chest. Moriko inspected one of the needles, turning it slowly over the flame. Satisfied, she then dipped its sharpened point into the pot of

black ink. With her other hand, she held Kazuki’s skin taut above his heart. ‘This will hurt,’ she said, puncturing Kazuki’s skin with the tip and inserting a drop of ink beneath. Kazuki grimaced, but made no sound. Moriko recharged her needle before piercing his chest again. She continued slowly and methodically, adding more dots of ink to the design. Jack had seen such work performed before, on the sailors of the Alexandria when they had had their arms tattooed. To Jack it had always seemed like a great deal of pain for what amounted to a poor image of an anchor or the name of some sweetheart the sailor soon forgot once they docked at another port. ‘Done,’ said Moriko, a black slit of a smile spreading across her face. ‘This is your mark,’ announced Kazuki with pride, turning so that the others could see. ‘The sasori!’ Jack was too stunned to breathe. Tattooed above Kazuki’s heart was a small black scorpion – the creature of Jack’s nightmares. However hard his Christian beliefs tried to deny it, the coincidence of this tattoo and his dream was too great to ignore. Kazuki raised the cup of saké. ‘Once you have your sasori and have shared saké from this cup, you’re forever a brother of the Scorpion Gang. Death to all gaijin!’ toasted Kazuki, drinking from the cup.

‘Death to all gaijin!’ echoed the others, pledging their allegiance and eagerly opening up their kimonos for Moriko to begin the irezumi. Outside the Butokuden, the storm thundered its approval. Jack shook uncontrollably. He hugged himself for warmth, pressing his body against the wall in an attempt to shelter from the relentless downpour. His mind, like the elements, was a whirlwind of confusion. What should he do? He’d heard all the testimony he needed. Japan was being turned against foreigners. If someone didn’t stop Kamakura, Jack would become an outcast. The enemy. He needed to tell Masamoto, but how could his guardian protect him against such forces? Crack! A blast of wind caught the wooden shutter, slamming it against the window frame. Startled, Jack dropped his katana and it went clattering across the stone-clad courtyard, disappearing into the darkness. ‘Someone’s there!’ cried Moriko from within. Panic rose up in Jack’s chest. He quickly searched for his weapon, but he could hear the Scorpion Gang fast approaching. Leaving his katana behind, he ran for his life. ooo000ooo 19

FIGHTING BLIND Jack sprinted round the corner of the Butokuden, but he knew he wouldn’t make it across the courtyard without being spotted by Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang. Glancing around, the only cover within reach was the building works of the Hall of the Hawk. Jack ran and dived into a waterlogged hole in the newly dug foundations just as several figures burst out of the Butokuden. Peering over the muddy lip, he watched as they hunted for him. The first two went round the far side of the training hall, while the other two headed in Jack’s direction. Jack slipped further into the murky depths of the hole. As they drew closer, he could hear the squelch of their feet in the mud. They stopped at the edge of the flooded foundations. ‘There’s no way I’m going in there,’ protested a voice. ‘Go on!’ ordered Kazuki. ‘You need an excuse for a bath.’ Jack heard three more squelching footsteps and looked up. Above him towered the bulk of Nobu. ‘I can’t go any further. I’m sinking!’ complained Nobu, oblivious to Jack’s presence right at his feet. ‘You’re useless! Come back then.’ Turning round, Nobu slipped and wobbled on the edge. For a moment it looked like he might fall into the hole, but to Jack’s relief the oaf regained his balance.

‘Do you think it was one of the sensei?’ asked Nobu as he slowly made his way back to Kazuki. ‘No,’ replied Kazuki. ‘A sensei wouldn’t run away! But whoever it was, we need to convince them to join the gang. Or else silence them. Come on. Let’s go find the others.’ Jack, shivering with a combination of cold, fear and anger, waited until he was sure Kazuki and Nobu were gone, then crawled out of the hole. As much as he wanted to go back to his room, he first had to find his sword. Masamoto had instructed him that ‘it must never fall into the hands of your enemy’. He couldn’t risk Kazuki finding it. Jack hurried to the back of the Butokuden, but in the darkness and downpour it was impossible to see anything. He scrabbled around on his hands and knees, praying his fingers would come across it. Suddenly he was aware of footsteps running up behind him. Loath to leave his sword, he realized he had no choice but to escape while he could. Jack sensed the blow a fraction before he was caught hard across the gut. He reeled, gasping for breath. Struggling to keep his feet, he heard movement to his left and turned to face his enemy. The problem was that Jack couldn’t see. The darkness completely enveloped him. But he could hear Kazuki snorting with laughter in the background and the sound of shuffling feet. Apart from that, he had no other way of knowing where the next attack might come from.

Out of nowhere the swoosh of a weapon came rocketing towards his head. More by luck than skill, Jack lurched sideways and avoided the blow. In blind retaliation, he swung wildly at his assailant. Missing his target, he flailed through empty air. Before Jack could follow through, he was struck across the shins. His legs went from under him and he fell to the ground face first. He tried to roll out of the fall, but was too disorientated. Jack grunted in pain as his shoulder ploughed into the stony earth. ‘Yame!’ boomed the voice of Sensei Kano, bringing the fight to a halt. Jack pulled off his blindfold, squinting into the bright light of the midday sun. Kazuki was kneeling in line with the other students, delighting in Jack’s defeat. ‘Sorry, Jack,’ apologized Yamato, taking off his own blindfold and offering his hand to help him up. ‘I didn’t mean to hit you so hard. It’s just I couldn’t see where you were…’ ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine,’ grimaced Jack, pulling himself to his feet. ‘Good work, both of you,’ commended Sensei Kano, who sat upon the worn steps of the Kompon Chu-do Temple. Once again, Sensei Kano had led his students at dawn up Mount Hiei for their lesson in the Art of the Bō. He considered the long walk good conditioning for them and the mountain air beneficial to training. ‘I heard three attacks avoided. And you, Yamato-kun, were highly aware of your surroundings. Two strikes on target are

praiseworthy for a first attempt at blind kumite, but please control your strength next time. It sounds like Jack-kun took quite a tumble. Let’s have the next two students.’ Relieved the free-fighting session was over, Jack handed over his blindfold to another student and knelt back in line between Yori and Akiko. He massaged his aching shoulder, groaning as his fingers found the bruise. ‘Are you hurt badly?’ asked Akiko, noting Jack’s pained expression. ‘No, I’m fine… but I’m still not sure why we’re learning to fight blindfolded,’ replied Jack under his breath, ‘when all of us can see.’ ‘As I explained before, Jack-kun,’ interrupted Sensei Kano, whose acute sense of hearing had picked up the comment from the opposite side of the courtyard, ‘to see with eyes alone is not to see at all. In my lessons, you’re learning not to rely upon your eyes to defend yourself. As soon as you open your eyes, you begin to make mistakes.’ ‘But wouldn’t I make fewer mistakes if I could see what my enemy was doing?’ asked Jack. ‘No, young samurai. You must remember the eyes are the windows to your mind,’ explained Sensei Kano. ‘Come stand on this step before me and I will show what I mean.’ Sensei Kano beckoned him over. Jack got to his feet and joined him on the steps. ‘Look at my feet,’ instructed the sensei.

Jack studied his teacher’s open-toed sandals and was instantly struck on top of the head by the sensei’s bō staff. ‘My apologies, I’m blind and sometimes clumsy,’ said Sensei Kano. ‘Please keep an eye on my staff for me.’ Jack followed the tip of the white staff, ensuring he was not caught out again. Sensei Kano kicked him sharply in the shin. ‘Oww!’ Jack exclaimed, hobbling backwards. The students all sniggered behind their hands. ‘Lesson over,’ stated Sensei Kano. ‘Now do you understand?’ ‘Not really, Sensei…’ said Jack, rubbing his sore shin. ‘Think about it! If you look at an opponent’s feet your attention will be directed to his feet, and if you look to his weapon your attention will be drawn to his weapon. So it follows, when you look to the left you forget the right, and when you look to the right you forget the left.’ Sensei Kano let the message sink in. He pointed to his own sightless eyes. ‘Whatever is being contemplated within never fails to be revealed through the eyes. Your enemy will take advantage of this. In order to fight without giving yourself away, you must learn to fight without relying on your eyes.’

Jack put down his writing brush. After his humiliation in front of Sensei Kyuzo over not being able to write kanji, Akiko had offered to teach him the basics of calligraphy. Whenever they had free time before dinner, they would meet in her room and she would show him a new kanji character and the correct order of brushstrokes needed to form it. Akiko looked up at Jack, wondering why he had stopped halfway through her explanation of the character for ‘temple’. Jack took a breath. Since his discovery of the Scorpion Gang and losing his sword, this was the first opportunity he’d had to speak with Akiko alone and he was uncertain how to tackle the mystery of her absence the previous evening. ‘Where were you last night?’ Jack eventually asked. ‘You weren’t in your room.’ She blinked once, her mouth visibly tightening at Jack’s inappropriate directness. ‘I don’t know what it’s like in England, but that’s not the sort of question you ask a lady in Japan,’ she replied coolly and started to pack away her writing tools. ‘Perhaps the question that should be asked is, where were you?’ ‘Me? I was at the Butokuden…’ ‘That will explain why I found this,’ she snapped, sliding open the door of her wall closet and taking out Jack’s katana. Jack was completely thrown, both by Akiko’s harshness and his sword’s unexpected appearance.

The previous night when he’d heard footsteps approaching, he’d run back to the Hall of Lions empty-handed, afraid it was Kazuki and his gang. On returning to the training hall at first light, his sword was nowhere to be seen. He assumed Kazuki had taken it and had been worrying ever since, for to confront him about it would mean revealing he knew about the Scorpion Gang. Miraculously, though, Akiko had it. He stared at her in curious amazement. ‘Thank you, Akiko. I’ve been looking for it everywhere,’ he eventually said, bowing to receive his sword. ‘Jack, this sword is your soul,’ she continued gravely, ignoring Jack’s outstretched hands. ‘It’s unforgivable to lose such a possession. The shame is even greater considering this was a gift from Masamoto-sama and his first sword. Why didn’t you tell anyone you’d lost it?’ ‘I only lost it last night. I was hoping I’d be able to find it. Akiko, please don’t tell Masamoto-sama,’ pleaded Jack, mortified at his mistake. Akiko stared impassively at him and Jack couldn’t tell whether she was disappointed or pitying him for his carelessness. Then the hardness in her expression softened and she handed over the weapon. ‘I won’t. But what was it doing at the back of the Butokuden?’ This was not how Jack had envisaged the conversation going. He had wanted to find out where Akiko had been and whether she knew about Kazuki’s plans. He hadn’t expected to have to account for his own actions.

‘I spotted intruders in the courtyard again. I thought they could be ninja breaking into the school,’ confided Jack, hoping that if he was straight with her, she would be with him. ‘But it wasn’t.’ ‘Who was it?’ ‘It was Kazuki, Nobu, someone else and, you won’t believe this, Moriko from the Yagyu Ryū.’ ‘Moriko? In our school?’ she replied, alarmed at the idea. ‘Have you told Masamoto-sama?’ ‘Not yet. He’s still not returned, but we must tell him. Not just about Moriko, but about Kazuki’s Scorpion Gang.’ Akiko listened intently while Jack described what he had overheard about daimyo Kamakura and the Scorpion Gang. After some thought, Akiko replied, ‘Jack, there are always rumours of war. Of daimyo threatening daimyo. We’re in a time of peace now and there’s no reason why this won’t continue. You’ve met daimyo Kamakura. He’s hot-headed and power hungry. Masamoto-sama often complains about how he’s always stirring up trouble. But it never comes to anything. He never has the support.’ ‘That’s what Sensei Yamada said. But what if he is getting the support?’ insisted Jack. ‘What if –?’ ‘Jack! There you are!’ Jack looked up as Yamato burst into the room with Saburo.

‘You two look like you’ve been busy,’ he said, picking up a piece of paper with one of Jack’s attempts at kanji. ‘It’ll be dinner soon and we all need to get a bath. What’s keeping you?’ ‘Jack saw Kazuki in the Butokuden last night,’ explained Akiko in hushed tones, indicating for Saburo to close the shoji behind him. ‘He and some others were getting a tattoo from that Moriko girl from the Yagyu School.’ ‘Moriko?’ said Yamato, alarmed. ‘What was she doing here?’ ‘Supposedly, Kazuki’s formed an anti-gaijin gang.’ ‘But tattoos? They’re the mark of a prisoner!’ exclaimed Saburo. ‘They used to be,’ corrected Akiko. ‘But now merchants, and even some samurai, are getting them as marks of bravery or declarations of love.’ Saburo laughed and gave Jack a reassuring grin. ‘Jack, whatever it is you’re worried about, you certainly don’t need to be afraid of a gang of convicts and lovers.’ ‘It’s no laughing matter, Saburo,’ retorted Jack. ‘Kazuki’s serious. He has it in for me.’ Yamato nodded thoughtfully. ‘It sounds like Kazuki thinks he’s a warlord or something. I know what we should do – me and Saburo will become your official bodyguards.’ ‘And we’ll arrange to see Masamoto-sama as soon as he returns,’ added Akiko.

‘Anyway, Jack, you should be less concerned about Kazuki and more worried about how much you smell!’ Yamato teased, throwing Jack a towel. ‘Come on, let’s get to the bathhouse before they serve dinner. I’m hungry.’ Sighing with bliss, Jack eased himself into the steaming hot water of the ofuro. There had been a time when he would have run scared of a bath. In England, it was considered dangerous for your health, a surefire way to catch the flux. But his time in Japan had soon changed that opinion and now the ofuro was one of the highlights of his day. Having first scrubbed and sluiced himself down in cold water, he then slipped into a large square wooden tub of hot water. Jack began to relax. Sensei Yamada and Akiko had both dismissed his fears about daimyo Kamakura. Perhaps the combination of the night and the raging storm had distorted his perception of the whole situation. Maybe Kazuki’s war amounted to little more than a figment of his rival’s imagination. Anyway, with Yamato and Saburo looking out for him, he should be safe. Jack allowed the steaming water to loosen his muscles, easing the tension in his bruised shoulder. His worries began to disappear too, seeming to dissolve in the heat of the bath. After a while, he got out and towelled himself down before joining the others for dinner. ‘How’s your shoulder, Jack?’ asked Yamato as they headed over to the Chō-no-ma with Saburo.

‘It’s much better thanks to the bath, but don’t worry about it. I’ll get you back in kenjutsu tomorrow!’ promised Jack, punching Yamato on the arm. Yamato gave an expression of mock pain and they all laughed. ‘That’s a devastating right hook,’ commented a voice from behind. ‘I’d better watch out.’ Their amusement ceased as Kazuki, flanked by Nobu and Hiroto, strode towards them. Jack clenched his fists, preparing for a fight. Perhaps the Scorpion Gang was more than just a game. Perhaps Kazuki really believed he was a warlord. ooo000ooo

20 THE SCORPION GANG ‘What do you want?’ demanded Yamato, stepping between Jack and the approaching gang. The two groups of boys confronted one another. It was getting dark in the school courtyard, the only light coming from the entrance to the Hall of Butterflies. Other students passed by, oblivious to the impending conflict, and there were no sensei in sight to witness a fight. The tension grew as Yamato waited for an answer, his eyes daring Kazuki to make a move. ‘Dinner,’ said Kazuki cheerfully in response, before walking on past with his friends, laughing. For the next month, Yamato and Saburo stuck close by, but there appeared little need. Kazuki and his gang ignored Jack as if he no longer existed. Kazuki in particular seemed more intent on training for the Circle of Three selection. Jack had spotted him several times in the Butokuden receiving extra tuition from Sensei Kyuzo. Although neither of his friends said anything, Jack sensed they were beginning to doubt his story. Even though Masamoto had returned to the school, Jack hadn’t managed to meet with him before he was called away on yet another assignment for daimyo Takatomi. But with the apparent

threat coming to nothing, and Moriko not having been seen in the grounds since, there seemed little point in meeting with him anyway. ‘I’m going for a walk,’ said Jack, passing by Yamato’s room on the way out of the Hall of Lions. ‘I need some air before bed.’ ‘At this time of night?’ observed Yamato, frowning. ‘Do you need me to come with you?’ Despite the offer, Yamato looked far from willing. He had already settled down on his futon, it was cold outside and the Shishi-no-ma was warm. ‘No, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.’ Besides, Jack needed time alone to think. Stepping outside, he wandered round the courtyard before perching upon one of the beams that would eventually support the floor of the Hall of the Hawk. The new building was rapidly taking shape. The foundations had been completed and the main wooden pillars were now in place. When finished, the hall, although half the size of the Butokuden, would nonetheless be an impressive addition to the school. Like all the other students, Jack wondered what martial art he would learn within it. That was if he was still around. Although his fears of an anti-gaijin campaign were supposedly unfounded, he couldn’t help noticing that certain students seemed less friendly towards him. He had always been isolated by the fact that he was different. During his first year at the school, Akiko had

been his only true ally, but after his victory at the Taryu-Jiai most of the students accepted him. Now, many had started to ignore him again, looking through him like glass. Of course, he could be imagining it. He was struggling with his training and had lost confidence in making it into the top five in the forthcoming Circle of Three selection trials. It had been getting him down and this could be distorting his perception. But did he really have any hope of entering the Circle and going on to learn the Two Heavens? Jack looked up at the night sky for an answer, but this time the familiar constellations his father had taught him offered cold comfort. The nights were drawing in and autumn would soon give way to winter, signalling the start of the trials. ‘Eh, gaijin! Where are your bodyguards?’ demanded a voice that made Jack’s heart sink. He turned to face Kazuki. This was the last thing he needed. ‘Leave me alone, Kazuki,’ replied Jack, slipping off the crossbeam and walking away. But other students emerged from the darkness to surround him. Jack looked towards the Shishi-no-ma for help, but there was no one around. Akiko, Yamato and Saburo would be in bed, if not asleep, by now. ‘Leave you alone?’ ridiculed Kazuki. ‘Why can’t your kind leave us alone? I mean, what do you think you’re doing in our land, pretending to be samurai? You should give up and go home.’

‘Yeah, go home, gaijin!’ echoed Nobu and Hiroto. The circle of boys took up the chant. ‘Go home, gaijin! Go home, gaijin! Go home, gaijin!’ Despite himself, Jack felt his face flush with humiliation at the taunts. He desperately wanted to go home, to be with his sister, Jess, but he was stranded in a foreign land that now didn’t want him. ‘Just leave… me… alone!’ Jack tried to escape the circle, but Nobu stepped forward and pushed him back. Jack collided with one of the other boys who shoved him the opposite way. He stumbled into the cross-beam and, as he fell to the ground, Jack caught hold of a boy’s kimono, ripping it open. ‘Now look what you’ve done!’ exclaimed the boy, kicking Jack in the leg. Jack was curled up with pain. Still he couldn’t help staring at the boy’s exposed chest. ‘What? You want another?’ asked the boy, drawing back his leg for another kick. ‘Goro, I think he’s admiring your tattoo,’ said Hiroto in the same thin, reedy voice Jack now recognized as belonging to the fourth person at the irezumi ceremony. ‘Look great, don’t they? We’ve all got one, you know.’ Hiroto pulled back his own kimono, revealing a small black scorpion. Then he gave Jack a cruel kick in the ribs.

He kicked him again for good measure and the Scorpion Gang laughed as each of the boys revealed their tattoos and lined up to kick Jack too. ‘Leave him!’ Kazuki ordered. ‘A sensei’s coming.’ The boys scattered. As Jack lay there, shaking with a combination of pain, rage and shame, he heard the familiar click of a walking stick upon the stone courtyard and Sensei Yamada shuffled up. Leaning upon his bamboo stick, he looked down at Jack just as he had done almost a year previously when Kazuki had first threatened him. ‘You shouldn’t play on building sites. They can be dangerous.’ ‘Thanks for the warning, Sensei,’ said Jack bitterly, trying to hide his humiliation. ‘Someone giving you trouble again?’ Jack nodded and sat up, inspecting his bruised ribs. ‘Some of my class want me to give up and go home. The thing is I just wish I could go home…’ ‘Anyone can give up, Jack-kun, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do,’ Sensei Yamada cautioned as he helped Jack back to his feet. ‘But to keep it together when everyone else would expect you to fall apart, now that’s true strength.’ Jack glanced uncertainly at his teacher, but met only a look of complete belief in him.

‘I would ask you who it was,’ continued Sensei Yamada, ‘but it would be of little consequence. You must fight your own battles, if you’re to stand on your own feet. And I know you can.’ Sensei Yamada accompanied Jack back to the Shishi-noma. Before departing for his own quarters, he offered Jack one final piece of counsel: ‘Remember, there is no failure except in no longer trying.’ Once he had gone, Jack considered the sensei’s advice. Maybe the old monk was right. He had to keep trying. The alternative was giving up, but that would be exactly what Kazuki wanted him to do and he had no intention of letting his rival beat him like that. Gazing at the cold crescent moon that hung low in the sky, Jack vowed to renew his training efforts. He would get up early in the morning and practise his sword work. He would also ask Akiko for help with his archery. He had to do whatever it took to be among the top five in the trials. He had to learn the Two Heavens – if not to protect himself from Dragon Eye, then to defend himself from the Scorpion Gang. As he turned to enter the Hall of Lions and go to bed, Jack spotted Akiko, dressed all in black, rounding the far corner of the Butokuden. She was hurrying towards the side gate of the school. Stunned, Jack now knew he hadn’t been mistaken about the identity of that first intruder. He had seen Akiko that night. Jack ran across the courtyard in an effort to catch up with her, but she’d disappeared by the time he reached the gate.

Luckily, the streets were deserted at this time of night and, glancing left, he spotted a lone figure turn down an alleyway at the far end of the road. This had to be her, but where was she going and why the secrecy of night? This time Jack wanted answers and hurried after her. ooo000ooo 21 TEMPLE OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON The alleyway swung left, then right, and Jack emerged into a small courtyard. But Akiko was nowhere to be seen. He heard footsteps receding down a passageway off to his right. He followed the sound until the passage opened out into a large tree-lined courtyard. Before him was a temple with an arched roof of compact green tiles overlapping like the scales of a snake. A set of stone steps led up to a pair of solid wooden doors. Jack cautiously approached the entrance. Above the door was a wooden sign upon which the name of the temple had been carved. He immediately recognized the last symbol as ‘temple’ and tried to remember the other kanji characters Akiko had taught him. He thought the first might be ‘dragon’, the second ‘peace’. The sign spelt Ryōanji. The Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. He tried the door, but it was locked.

Jack sat down on the steps to consider what to do next. It was then that he noticed a tiny gap in the outer wall of the temple, on one side of the doorway. The wall was constructed of an alternating pattern of dark cedar panelling and white-washed stone. One of the wooden panels was not quite flush to the wall. Jack put an eye to the gap and was rewarded with a glimpse of an inner garden. A series of small stepping stones led across a mossy manicured lawn to a wooden veranda on the opposite side. Jack pushed his fingers into the gap and the panel slid smoothly aside. Through the concealed entrance, Jack slipped into the temple garden. Perhaps this was where Akiko had disappeared to. He crossed over to the veranda and followed it round to where it bordered a long rectangular Zen garden of raked grey pebbles, in which fifteen large black stones had been placed in a pattern of five irregular groups. Under the pale moonlight, the garden looked like a ridge of mountain tops thrusting through a sea of clouds. The garden was deserted. Through an archway on the far side, Jack spied a smaller plot of raked pebbles, decorated with one or two shrubs but little else. At the end of a stone pathway that bisected the garden was a simple wooden shrine. Its shoji doors were drawn shut, but the warm halo of a candle could be seen through the washi paper and Jack thought he heard voices coming from within. He stepped off the wooden walkway towards the shrine, the pebbles crunching underfoot.

The voices stopped suddenly and the candle was extinguished. Jack jumped back on to the walkway, silently cursing his haste to cross the stone garden. He hurried round the edge, keeping close to the shadows. He hid in an alcove near the entrance to the shrine and waited. No one emerged. After what seemed an age, Jack decided to risk a peek inside. Ever so slowly, he approached the shoji and slid it back a touch. There was a waft of freshly burnt incense. A statue of a Buddha sat upon a small stone pedestal surrounded by offerings of fruit, rice and saké, but otherwise the shrine was empty. ‘Can I help you?’ asked an authoritative voice. Jack spun round, his heart in his mouth. A monk in black and grey robes stood over him. The middle-aged man was muscular and compact, with a shaved head and dark glinting eyes. Jack thought about running, but there was something in this man’s demeanour that suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea. The monk exuded a lethal stillness. The tips of his fingers were held together as if in prayer, but his hands looked as deadly as two tantō blades. ‘I… was looking for a friend,’ stammered Jack. ‘In the middle of the night?’ ‘Yes… I was worried for her.’ ‘Is she in trouble?’

‘No, but I didn’t know where she was going –’ ‘So you were following her?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Jack, the guilt striking him like a slap across the face. ‘You should respect people’s privacy, boy. If your friend needed you, she would have asked for your company. She is clearly not here, so I think it’s time you left.’ ‘Yes. I’m sorry. It was a mistake…’ said Jack, bowing low. ‘It is only a mistake if you do it twice,’ interrupted the monk, though his expression remained unforgiving. ‘Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. I trust you will learn from this one.’ Without another word, the monk escorted Jack back to the main gate and indicated for him to leave. ‘I do not expect to see you here again.’ He then closed the double doors and Jack was left alone on the stone steps. Jack walked slowly back to school, contemplating his actions. The monk was right. What business did he have spying on Akiko? She had only ever shown him trust. When he’d asked her to keep his father’s rutter secret, she had. He, on the other hand, had not respected her privacy and was breaking her trust by following her around. Jack hated himself for it.

Still, doubt plagued his mind. Akiko had denied going out at night, so what was she doing that was so secret she had to lie about it? When he returned to the Hall of Lions, he passed Akiko’s room and couldn’t help peeking inside. He realized then that he must have followed someone else to the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. For there Akiko was, fast asleep in her bed. ooo000ooo 22 MAPLE LEAF VIEWING ‘And I thought the cherry blossom in spring was beautiful,’ said Jack, looking around in awe at the maple trees as they wandered through the gardens of the Eikan-Do Temple. Akiko had taken Jack and the others to the temple to view momiji gari, an event similar to the spring hanami party, but held in autumn when the leaves of the maple trees turned into a magical kaleidoscope of colour. Jack was astounded by the display. The hillside was ablaze with red, gold, yellow and orange leaves as far as the eye could see. ‘Let’s go up to the Tahoto,’ proposed Akiko, pointing to the three-tiered pagoda that poked through the flaming canopy like a spear. ‘There’s a wonderful view from there.’ With Akiko leading the way, Jack, Yamato, Saburo, Yori and Kiku climbed to the top tier, where they could look down on to the trees

below. Each leaf was as beautiful and delicate as a golden snowflake. ‘Glorious, isn’t it?’ commented a deep barrelled voice from behind. They all turned to see Sensei Kano, their bōjutsu master. Despite being blind, it seemed he was admiring the view as well. ‘Yes… but surely you can’t see it. Can you?’ asked Jack, not wishing to offend. ‘No, Jack-kun, but life isn’t bound by what you can or can’t see,’ replied Sensei Kano. ‘I may not be able to see the trees, but I can still appreciate momiji gari. I can taste the colours, smell the maple’s life and feel the canopy’s decay. I can hear the individual leaves fall like a million fluttering butterflies. Close your eyes and you’ll hear what I mean.’ They all did so. At first, Jack heard only an indistinct wash of sound, but it soon separated out into a rain-like pitter-patter of dry leaves. Then, just as he was starting to enjoy the experience, he heard giggling. ‘Stop it!’ cried Kiku. Jack opened his eyes to see Saburo tickling Kiku’s ear with a twig. She grabbed a handful of dead leaves and threw them in his face, but also got Yamato. In a matter of moments, they were all involved in a riotous battle of leaves.

‘I suppose time spent laughing is time spent with the gods,’ observed Sensei Kano ruefully, and walked off, leaving the young samurai convulsed with laughter as they played among the leaves. They spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the expansive temple gardens. They crossed over wooden bridges and circled a large pond on which people rowed in little boats, playing koto harps and admiring the autumnal views. Jack spotted Kazuki and his friends in one of the boats on the far shore. They hadn’t seen him but seemed to be having too much fun splashing one another to care about Jack. Then Jack saw Emi walking across one of the bridges. At last this was his chance to speak with her alone. ‘I’ll catch up with you,’ said Jack to the rest of the group, who were heading towards a small shrine on the other side of the pond. ‘I just need to ask Emi something.’ Yamato and Akiko both stopped. Akiko raised her eyebrows in curiosity but said nothing. ‘Come on, you three,’ Saburo called impatiently. ‘Once we’ve seen this last shrine, we can hire a boat and go paddling.’ Yamato hesitated a moment longer. Jack knew his friend still felt guilty for not being there when Kazuki and his gang had jumped him at the Hall of the Hawk. He hadn’t left his side since. ‘Let’s go,’ said Akiko, walking off. ‘We’ll see him on the way back.’

‘We’ll be just over there if you need us,’ Yamato said, following Akiko with reluctance. Jack watched as the two of them headed off to join the others. In her honey-coloured kimono, Akiko appeared to float away like a leaf on a stream. Jack hurried over to Emi. She was standing on the bridge, admiring a maple tree that hung over the water like a tongue of flame. Emi bowed as he approached. ‘Enjoying momiji gari?’ she asked, smiling. ‘Yes. And you?’ replied Jack, returning the bow. ‘Very much. It’s my favourite time of year.’ Jack glanced over at the nearby maple tree, trying to think of what to say next. ‘Is it ever like this in your country?’ Emi asked. ‘Sometimes,’ replied Jack, watching a leaf fall through the air and land on the surface of the pond. ‘But most of the time it rains…’ An awkward silence fell between them as he summoned up the courage to speak. ‘May I ask you a favour?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘Can I visit your father’s palace again?’ She looked at him, her eyes registering surprise. ‘Any particular reason?’ ‘Yes… When we were there for the tea ceremony, I noticed some screen paintings of tigers. I’d like to see them again.’

Jack had thought carefully about this answer, but when he said it now the excuse sounded weak, and he cringed. ‘I didn’t know you were interested in art,’ she said, the corners of her mouth crinkling into a mischievous smile. Jack nodded. ‘I’m sure it can be arranged. I would have to speak with my father, of course, when he gets back.’ ‘Of course,’ Jack agreed. Then he heard laughter and turned to see that Cho and Kai had caught up with Emi and were giggling behind their hands. ‘I have to go,’ Emi said, bowing before joining her friends and their elderly chaperone. Jack watched them leave, whispering to one another and glancing over their shoulders at him before bursting into fits of giggles again. Had they overheard him speaking with Emi? Or were they laughing simply because they had discovered him and Emi alone together? He needed to keep the visit to the castle private so the rutter would remain safe, and it wouldn’t help if those two started spreading rumours about them. The sun was now beginning to set; its golden rays glinted upon the water and shone through the leaves of the maple trees like a patchwork of paper lanterns. Jack absently opened up his inro, the wooden carrying case that had been a gift from daimyo Takatomo, and took out the picture Jess had drawn and given to their father some three years ago, when they had set sail from Limehouse Docks

for the Japans. He now kept the picture with him as a constant reminder of his little sister. He opened the parchment, ragged and worn from repeated handling. In the dappled sunlight, he traced the outlines of his family. His little sister’s summer smock, his father’s black scribble of a ponytail, his own head drawn three times too big on a stick-thin body, and lastly the angel wings of his mother. One day he would return home, he promised himself. Jack closed his eyes. Listening to the breeze in the trees and the ripples on the water, he could almost imagine he was on a boat heading back to England. He was so entranced by the idea that he hardly noticed the group returning. They quietly surrounded him. ‘Enjoying your last days of momiji gari, are you?’ Startled, Jack spun round to find himself confronted, not by Akiko or his friends, but by Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang. ‘Have you heard another foreign priest has died?’ revealed Kazuki, as if he was merely discussing the weather. ‘He was preaching to his followers to obey the Church over their daimyo. Loyal samurai punished him for his treachery by setting fire to his house, with him inside. It won’t be long before we get rid of all your kind.’ ‘Gaijin Jack should go back!’ said Nobu, his belly bobbing up and down with laughter, clearly delighted with his taunt. Jack backed away, but was stopped by the handrail of the bridge.

‘All on your own?’ smirked Hiroto. ‘No bodyguards? I thought you would have learnt from last time – or do you need another kick in the ribs to remind you?’ Jack said nothing, knowing Hiroto was looking for any excuse to strike him. ‘Cat got your tongue?’ asked Moriko, hissing in delight. ‘Or are you just too brainless to understand?’ Jack tried to keep calm. He was outnumbered, but determined not to be intimidated this time. ‘No one likes gaijin,’ rasped Moriko, baring her black teeth at him. ‘They’re filthy, stupid and ugly.’ Jack stared back at her. He was above this. Moriko, frustrated at his lack of reaction, spat at Jack’s feet. ‘What have we got here?’ Kazuki demanded, snatching Jess’s picture out of Jack’s hand before he could react. Jack flew at Kazuki. ‘Give it back!’ Nobu and Hiroto caught hold of his arms and put him in a lock. ‘Look at this, gang. Hasn’t Jack been a clever boy? He’s learnt to draw,’ teased Kazuki, holding the piece of paper in the air for all of them to see. ‘Give it back NOW, Kazuki!’ Jack demanded, struggling to escape.

‘Why could you possibly want to keep this? It’s terrible. It’s like a little girl’s drawn it!’ Jack shook with rage as Kazuki dangled the picture in front of his nose. ‘Say goodbye to your masterpiece, gaijin.’ Kazuki threw the picture into the air. Jack watched in anguish as the drawing fluttered away on the breeze. ‘Look! The gaijin is about to cry like a baby,’ squealed Moriko and the Scorpion Gang laughed. Jack hardly heard the taunts. His entire focus was on the fragile piece of paper flying away. He thrashed wildly in Nobu and Hiroto’s grip as his only bond with Jess disappeared into the sky. It lifted high above the pond before getting caught in the upper branches of a maple tree. ‘Leave him alone!’ ordered Yamato, running on to the bridge with Akiko and his friends. Jack felt a small wave of relief. At least he was not alone in this fight. ‘Let Jack go,’ demanded Akiko, pulling at Hiroto’s arms. ‘Look who it is; the gaijin lover!’ announced Kazuki, looking her up and down scornfully. ‘Do as she says. It’s only fair to give them a fighting chance. Scorpions!’

At Kazuki’s command, the Scorpion Gang dropped into fighting guard, facing off against each of Jack’s friends. Yamato and Saburo stood their ground, but Yori trembled as a boy twice his size loomed over him. Ignoring Kiku with a sneer, Moriko squared up to Akiko and hissed into her face like a wildcat. ‘Come on! Make the first move,’ Moriko dared, baring her blackened teeth and fingernails that had been sharpened into claws. ‘Give me the excuse I need to scar you!’ ooo000ooo

23 BREAKING BOARDS Akiko slipped into stance, preparing to defend herself. She knew from experience that Moriko fought viciously. But just as the fight was about to kick off, a bō struck the wooden bridge with tremendous force and everyone froze. ‘Do we have a problem?’ enquired Sensei Kano. ‘In a setting such as this, there should be no need for raised voices.’ Nobu and Hiroto immediately released Jack. ‘No, Sensei,’ replied Kazuki in a friendly voice. ‘Jack’s lost his picture and is a bit upset. There was a misunderstanding, but it’s all sorted now. Isn’t it, Jack?’ Jack glared at Kazuki, but there was little else he could do. He had no proof of what had happened. Sensei Kano would never be able to see the truth. ‘Yes,’ he replied flatly, not taking his eyes off his enemy. ‘I understand the situation perfectly,’ stated Sensei Kano. ‘I think it is time that you all went back to the school.’ Kazuki signed to his Scorpion Gang to follow him and they left without another word. Jack looked up in despair at his sister’s drawing caught high in the topmost branches of the maple tree. Even with his skills as a

rigging monkey, there was no way he could get to it. The upper branches would snap under his weight. ‘Don’t worry, Jack,’ said Akiko, seeing the sorrow well up in Jack’s eyes, ‘I’ll get it for you.’ With astounding grace, Akiko launched herself from the bridge, kicking off from the handrail and catching hold of the nearest branch of the maple tree. She swung herself up to the next level, then flew up the tree swift as a sparrow. Fearlessly walking out on to an upper branch, she caught hold of the fluttering paper. With the same unparalleled skill, Akiko dropped down the tree and back on to the bridge. She handed Jack his sister’s drawing and bowed. Jack was speechless, only managing a nod of the head to show his appreciation. The others appeared equally impressed. ‘I’ve always enjoyed climbing trees,’ she said by way of an excuse, heading towards the school without a backward glance. Where had Akiko’s remarkable ability come from? None of them had been taught those skills at the Niten Ichi Ryū. Her agility reminded Jack of the ninja who had flown like bats through the rigging of the Alexandria, and of the one person he’d seen scale a castle wall as if he was a spider – Dragon Eye. Is this what Akiko had been up to on her nightly outings? Learning ninja skills? But that was absurd. The samurai hated the ninja and all they stood for, and surely ninja felt the same way about samurai. What

sort of ninja would want to teach a samurai their tricks? The whole idea was ludicrous. Besides, only men became ninja. Jack immediately dismissed the idea. CRACK! Kazuki’s fist drove through the cedar board, smashing it into two pieces. The class applauded loudly as Kazuki became the first student to break wood in the run-up to the trials. But he was not the only one to succeed at tamashiwari that morning. The constant training inflicted by Sensei Kyuzo on the makiwara over the past month was paying off as Hiroto, Goro, Yamato and then Emi and Akiko all snapped their single pieces of board. With more time, the students realized that one board would become two, and eventually the three required in the Trial by Wood. Jack was preparing for his attempt when Sensei Kyuzo suddenly shouted, ‘REI!’ The whole class bowed as Masamoto strode into the Butokuden. Jack was taken aback at his guardian’s unexpected appearance. ‘Please, Sensei Kyuzo,’ said Masamoto, with a wave of his hand, ‘continue as if I wasn’t here. I just wish to check on progress for the trials.’ Sensei Kyuzo bowed and returned to his class. ‘Jack-kun, step up!’ he ordered.

Jack hurried to the centre of the Butokuden and waited as Sensei Kyuzo positioned a single cedar board between the two stable blocks. He then placed a second board on top of the first. ‘But –’ Jack protested. Sensei Kyuzo cut him off with a withering look. Jack groaned inwardly. Sensei Kyuzo had promised he would do everything in his power to ruin Jack’s chances of entering the Circle of Three. Now the sensei was setting him up to fail in front of Masamoto. Jack could see that Yamato and Akiko were equally appalled by the unfairness, but they were in no position to say anything. Jack’s only choice was to prove Sensei Kyuzo wrong. During their training, Jack had come to understand that the tamashiwari technique required more than brute strength. It demanded total commitment, concentration and focus. He had to strike through the wood, not at it. The power came from his body, not the arm itself. He needed to condense his ki, his spiritual energy, and transfer it through his fist into the object he was striking. And most crucial of all, he had to truly believe that he was capable of breaking the block. Jack took all the anger, frustration and hate he had suffered at the hands of Sensei Kyuzo, Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang and channelled it into the wooden blocks. With an explosive force that

even surprised Jack, he slammed his fist through the wood, screaming ‘KIAIIIII!’ With the sound of a gunshot, the two blocks shattered apart, the splinters flying through the air. There was a moment of awed silence then the class erupted into applause. Jack was euphoric. A rush of adrenaline pulsed through him as he experienced a sudden release of all his frustrations. For that brief moment, he was all-powerful. As the clapping died down, one pair of hands kept applauding. ‘Very impressive,’ commended Masamoto, stepping forward. ‘You have been training your students well, Sensei Kyuzo. May I borrow Jack-kun for a moment?’ Sensei Kyuzo bowed in acknowledgement, but Jack noticed the burning frustration in the samurai’s eyes. Masamoto beckoned Jack over and led him outside. ‘I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with you for a while,’ he began as they walked past the construction works of the Hall of the Hawk, where several carpenters were busy hammering down floorboards and putting up roof beams. Masamoto and Jack entered the sanctuary of the Southern Zen Garden to escape the noise. ‘How are you coping as a young samurai?’ enquired Masamoto. Jack, still buzzing from the tamashiwari, replied, ‘Great, but the training’s been harder than I expected.’

Masamoto laughed. ‘The training is easy. It’s your expectations that are making it hard,’ he observed. ‘I must apologize for not being around much this year to guide you, but affairs of state have taken priority. I’m sure you understand.’ Jack nodded. He assumed Masamoto was referring to Kamakura’s anti-Christian campaign. There had been more reports of persecution in Edo, Kazuki ensuring Jack was made fully aware of each one. Jack now wondered how widespread the problem had become to require so much of his guardian’s time in serving daimyo Takatomi. ‘The good news is that we have dealt with the situation and you’ll be seeing far more of me for the rest of the year,’ Masamoto said, a smile spreading across the unscarred side of his face. ‘Has daimyo Kamakura been stopped?’ Jack blurted, unable to hide the relief in his voice. ‘Kamakura?’ queried Masamoto, the smile disappearing. ‘So you are aware of the issue?’ He looked hard at Jack, his stare as penetrating as steel blade. For a moment Jack wondered if he had spoken out of turn. ‘There’s no reason to concern yourself with such matters,’ continued his guardian, indicating for Jack to sit down next to him on the veranda that overlooked the Zen garden and a small stone water feature. ‘Still, to allay your fears I can tell you in strictest confidence that daimyo Takatomi has required my services to deal with… how should I say, “disagreements” over the running of our country and who should be welcome upon our shores. I’ve been carrying out assignments to establish the positions of other

provincial lords on this matter. The vast majority are on our side. You have nothing to worry about.’ ‘But what about all the priests who’ve died, and daimyo Kamakura’s order to kill all Christians and foreigners who don’t leave?’ ‘I can assure you that’s purely the prejudice of one daimyo.’ ‘But might it not spread among the other lords?’ insisted Jack. ‘I mean, if it did, surely I’d be in danger and could get killed before I return home.’ ‘Return home?’ said Masamoto, raising his eyebrows in surprise. ‘But this is your home.’ Jack didn’t know what to say in reply. Though he couldn’t deny that Japan was now in his blood, England was where his heart truly lay and always would. ‘You’re my son,’ affirmed Masamoto proudly. ‘No one would dare harm you. Besides, you’re samurai now, and with a few years’ more training you won’t need me to protect you.’ Masamoto clapped Jack firmly on the back and laughed. Jack forced a smile. Masamoto had never asked for anything in return for his kindness and Jack knew that contradicting his guardian now would be the most disrespectful thing he could do. He would be throwing all that generosity back into the samurai’s face. However much he wanted to go home and find Jess, Jack owed Masamoto his life and, as a samurai, his service too.

Jack decided he would bide his time and dedicate himself to mastering the Two Heavens. Then, once he’d proved he could look after himself, he would ask for Masamoto’s permission to leave. ‘I understand, Masamoto-sama,’ said Jack, bowing his head in deference. ‘I was just worried that the situation was getting out of control. But I’m determined to enter the Circle of Three and learn the Two Heavens.’ ‘That’s the samurai spirit I’m looking for. I can appreciate how you must yearn for your homeland,’ conceded Masamoto. ‘But I made a promise to the memory of your father, and the honour of my dear departed son, Tenno, that I would take care of you. You are my responsibility. And you are perfectly safe.’ Despite Jack’s fears that Kamakura’s campaign would become bigger than even the great Masamoto could handle, he knew deep down that his guardian would fight to his last breath protecting him. Masamoto turned to Jack, concern now etched in his brow. ‘I’ve been made aware that you’re experiencing some difficulties with other students in the school. Is this right?’ Jack nodded once. ‘But it’s nothing that I can’t handle,’ he added quickly. ‘I’m sure it isn’t,’ replied Masamoto, noting Jack’s bravado with pride. ‘Nonetheless, now that I am back, I will be making it very clear that I won’t tolerate bullying or prejudice in my school. At the same time, I wish to give you some advice that stood me well in my youth.’

Jack had never witnessed Masamoto like this before. Severe, austere and commanding, yes. But paternal – this was something very different. Jack felt a pang of grief for his true father. ‘I realize it’s hard being different. The truth is that they’re envious of your skills as a swordsman and samurai, but, if you ignore their taunts, they will ignore you.’ ‘How can I?’ said Jack. ‘It’s not as if I blend in.’ ‘Do I?’ Masamoto asked, turning so that the reddened mass of scars down the left-hand side of his face was fully visible to Jack. Jack said nothing. ‘Apply fudoshin,’ instructed Masamoto, reaching forward and dipping his finger into the large stone bowl in the water feature. He traced a circular pattern upon its surface and watched the ripples ebb away. ‘Instead of allowing yourself to be led and trapped by your feelings, let them disappear as they form like letters drawn upon water with a finger. They cannot hurt you, unless you let them.’ ooo000ooo

24 TRIAL BY WOOD AND FIRE A wintery smudge of sun rose in the sky to reveal a world bleached white with snow. The curved eaves of the Butsuden hung heavy with powder drifts and the school was oddly peaceful, all sound muffled by the abrupt change in season from autumn to winter. Jack’s breath billowed out in front of him like smoke as he sliced through the frozen air with his katana. Every morning since Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang had attacked him in the Hall of the Hawk, Jack had risen early to practise his kenjutsu in the Southern Zen Garden, performing a ritual of one hundred cuts of every kata before breakfast – just as he had vowed he would. Sensei Hosokawa may have forbidden him to use his sword in class, but that wasn’t going to stop Jack practising with it in his own time. He was determined to succeed in the Gauntlet, whatever the Trial by Sword entailed. Jack would then head over to Butokuden and strike the makiwara fifty times with each fist, conditioning his bones for the Trial by Wood. He would hit the padded post so hard that his hands would still be trembling during breakfast and he’d struggle to hold his hashi. In the afternoons following classes, he joined Akiko in the garden as she perfected her kyujutsu skills in preparation for the Trial by Fire. Between arrows, she would correct his stance, guide his aim

and help him ‘forget’ the target. Occasionally Jack would even hit it. Afterwards, when they had time, she would test him on his kanji and teach him a new character. Once during these unofficial lessons, Jack had brought up the matter of her extraordinary tree-climbing skill, but she just dismissed it as natural ability, laughing at his suggestion of ninja training and ending the discussion by exclaiming, ‘I’m no more a ninja than you are Japanese.’ Jack even joined Yori in his nightly ritual of folding cranes, hoping to increase his chances in Sensei Yamada’s Trial by Koan. He had now mastered the various folds and was finding the process of origami to be somewhat soothing, though why Yori needed so many of the paper models was beyond Jack’s comprehension. His friend’s tiny room was overflowing with hundreds of the little white birds. Through this daily routine, Jack’s life in Japan acquired a steady rhythm and day by day, brick by brick, the invisible wall that stood in the way of his samurai training was crumbling. He knew he’d improved, but would it be enough to secure him a place in the Circle? If it had not been for Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang, he would have been almost content with his life at the school. Following Masamoto’s decree, Jack was no longer physically threatened by any of the gang members, but it didn’t stop them from taunting him, spitting insults or whispering ‘Go home, gaijin!’ whenever the opportunity presented itself. These were the attacks Masamoto couldn’t protect him from. The ones he needed to apply fudoshin against.

Initially Jack was able to let the empty threats wash over him, but it became harder as more students began to sympathize with Kazuki’s point of view. It was as if a split was forming in the school between those who accepted foreigners and those who didn’t. He was beginning to wonder if Masamoto had been entirely truthful with him regarding Kamakura’s influence over Japan. Despite his promise, the samurai had been summoned away twice in the past three weeks by daimyo Takatomi, and Jack would occasionally bump into students discussing the news of another Christian who had been persecuted or banished by daimyo Kamakura and his samurai. Any time this happened, the students would appear embarrassed by Jack’s presence, the conversation grinding to a halt, before they made their excuses and walked away. Jack got a real sense that, though some of them still liked him, they could no longer afford to be associated with him. He was quickly learning who his true friends were. Jack, raising his sword to make the final cut of his practice session, heard the crisp crunch of snow behind him. He spun round, half expecting to see Kazuki or one of his cohorts. ‘I thought I’d find you out here,’ said Akiko. She was wrapped in several layers of kimono against the cold, but her warm smile thawed the winter chill in the air. Jack dropped his guard and sheathed his sword. Akiko glanced around at the thick blanket of snow that had fallen overnight. ‘You do know what this means, don’t you?’ Jack nodded.

‘The trials for the Circle of Three.’ Later that morning, stepping up to the three wooden blocks carefully stacked in the centre of the Butokuden, Jack prayed all his efforts would carry him through the trials. He needed to be among the top five, but it was just his luck the selection began with the toughest of these trials – tamashiwari. No one so far had broken through three blocks and Jack knew he had only one chance to get this trial right. The entire school lined the length of the Butokuden to watch. They fell silent as Jack positioned himself to strike. Jack rubbed his hands for warmth, even though the morning sunlight was filtering through the slatted windows. Making his final preparations, he tried to summon the explosive energy he’d tapped into when he had demolished the two blocks in front of Masamoto. Sensei Kyuzo, who was the official adjudicator of this trial, stood to one side, his arms crossed. ‘When you are ready,’ he said, staring irritably at Jack. ‘Not that you’ll ever be,’ he added under his breath as Jack raised his fist. Jack tried to ignore the comment, but his concentration had been thrown by the sensei’s deliberate distraction. Implanted in the back of his mind was now the thought that he wasn’t ready, that the combination of three blocks was too thick. THUNK!

Jack’s fist collided with the wood. The first two boards broke, but the third layer of cedar held and Jack’s hand was brought to an abrupt halt, sending a sickening wave of pain up his arm. A murmur of disappointment washed through the dojo. Jack massaged his throbbing hand, infuriated at himself for allowing Sensei Kyuzo’s comment to break his concentration. It had been that sliver of doubt that had prevented the break. He hastily bowed his respects to Masamoto, who was watching the proceedings from the ceremonial alcove with the other sensei. His guardian had returned to the school that morning for the selection trials and the journey appeared to have left him tired and irritable. His scarring was inflamed and he slowly shook his head, clearly as disappointed with Jack’s performance as Jack was with himself. As he knelt back into line with the thirty students who’d entered the trials, Jack caught Sensei Kyuzo grinning smugly. ‘Don’t worry, Jack,’ said Akiko, who had also been defeated by tamashiwari. ‘We still have three more trials to prove ourselves.’ Jack was reassured by her words until Kazuki stepped up to the challenge accompanied by shouts of encouragement. Sensei Kyuzo replaced the cracked blocks with new ones, while whispering in his protégé’s ear. Kazuki nodded once, then focused his attention on the blocks of wood. With an unwavering look of determination, he smashed his

fist through all three blocks, splintered pieces of wood flying through the air. The school erupted in a huge cheer while Masamoto and his sensei applauded respectfully. Even Jack had to admit that the feat was impressive. Kazuki bowed smartly to Masamoto, his reputation affirmed as the first student to pass a trial. The dojo was cleared and reset for Sensei Yosa’s Trial by Fire. An archery target was positioned at the far end, a tall wooden candleholder placed before it and a slim white candle fitted on top so that the wick was in line with the bullseye. The trial participants prepared themselves at the other end of the Butokuden, choosing bows from the weapons rack and checking that their arrows were in good order. Jack went to select his, but Kazuki, Hiroto and Goro pushed in front to seize the best ones. The only bow left was well-used and past its prime. Jack tested the draw strength and knew straight away that it had lost much of its power. ‘The first trial by Sensei Kyuzo tested strength,’ proclaimed Masamoto to the assembled students. ‘Strength of body and strength of mind. The next trial will be led by Sensei Yosa and will assess your skill and technical ability.’ Sensei Yosa stood and made her way to the target, her long black hair shimmering in waves down the back of her blood-red kimono. She held a burning taper in her hand, which she used to light the wick. The candle flickered into life, its flame a tiny petal of light before the bullseye.

‘Your challenge is to snuff out the candle,’ explained Sensei Yosa. ‘You will be allowed two attempts.’ ‘Good luck,’ Yamato whispered to Jack. ‘I think I’ll need more than luck,’ replied Jack, glancing down at his bow. The firing distance was equal to the length of the Southern Zen Garden, making it a difficult shot even without the additional factor of the flame. The first to step up was Goro. Jack’s earlier annoyance over the selection of the bows was tempered by the boy’s appalling performance. A ripple of laughter broke out as one of his arrows missed the target completely and glanced off one of the pillars, narrowly missing Sensei Yosa. Then it was Akiko’s turn. She finished tending to the bamboo bow and hawk feather arrows that Sensei Yosa had presented to her earlier that summer. Being the only student to have her own weapon, she hadn’t needed to fight over the school’s. She lined herself up with the target, nocked an arrow on to her bowstring, then raised the weapon above her head. She did all this with an ease and elegance that was reminiscent of Sensei Yosa herself. Akiko’s first arrow pierced the bullseye with a resounding thump like a heartbeat. There was a moment of awed silence.

Akiko didn’t need to fire a second. Her arrow had flown so true that it had actually sliced the flame in half as the feathered flights snuffed out the candle. The Butokuden was drowned in ecstatic applause. Akiko’s performance put everyone else to shame. Each entrant filed through, firing to the best of their ability, but no one could match Akiko’s skill. Yamato struck the target both times, but missed the candle. Kazuki’s performance was more impressive, his second arrow slicing the edge of the candle and almost cutting it in half. To Jack’s relief, though, the flame stayed lit. Even Emi, who was usually on a par with Akiko, didn’t extinguish the flame, though she did get two bullseyes. Hiroto was the only one to prove the exception. His second arrow clipped the wick of the candle, snuffing the flame out. Then it was Jack’s turn. With Kazuki, Akiko and Hiroto having succeeded in a trial and therefore standing a good chance of being chosen to enter the Circle of Three, he was starting to feel the pressure. He had to be chosen. He had to prove himself. He had to learn the Two Heavens. Drawing upon all his reserves of concentration, Jack took up position at the mark. He focused on the tiny flame at the far end of the hall, no larger than a rosebud. He drew back on his bow, moving fluidly between each movement as Akiko had instructed, and let loose his first arrow.

Jack grimaced in disappointment. It was a good hand’s width below the bullseye. The bow’s limited draw strength had thrown his aim off. He adjusted his stance to compensate. Focusing hard on the flickering light, he was about to fire his second arrow when he remembered Sensei Yosa’s words: ‘When the archer does not think about the target, then they may unfold the Way of the Bow.’ Jack finally understood what she meant. He was so focused on the flickering candle that he hadn’t noticed his body tensing up. He stopped thinking about the target, let his mind go and relaxed with the bow. Starting again, he gave each moment of the draw his full attention. As he breathed out, he released the arrow. It whistled down the length of the dojo, straight towards the centre of the flame. It struck the bullseye. The whole dojo stared at the candle, the arrow quivering slightly above it. The flame guttered briefly and some of the students began to clap, but their premature applause died as soon as the candle flared back into life. The next moment, the arrow’s feathered flights burst into flames like a terrible omen. Jack had failed the second trial. ooo000ooo 25 MORE THAN A PIECE OF PAPER

Perched upon a zabuton at the front of the Butokuden’s ceremonial alcove, Sensei Yamada leant forward to listen to a petite girl with a short sweep of dark-brown hair. The girl whispering in his ear was Harumi, who, despite her size and to everyone’s astonishment, had demolished the three blocks during the Trial by Wood. Having given her answer to the Trial by Koan, she bowed and waited for Sensei Yamada’s verdict, her pale round face delicate as a porcelain doll’s. After a few moments contemplation, Sensei Yamada gave a resigned shake of the head and dismissed Harumi back into line. ‘Can no one provide Sensei Yamada with a satisfactory answer?’ demanded Masamoto, glowering at the trial participants who knelt before him. His indignation at everyone’s failure to solve this third trial was marked, a fact conveyed by the reddening of his scars. ‘Are you telling me that there is not one student in my dojo who can demonstrate intellect and insight worthy of a samurai?’ He was greeted by shamed silence, the entrants’ disgrace growing with each empty second. Jack joined the others in bowing his head. Despite the fact that, thanks to Yori, he could fold a paper crane, frog or goldfish with practised ease, the solution to the riddle remained elusive. When his turn had come, Jack’s suggestion was that origami taught patience, but Sensei Yamada had reluctantly shaken his head in response. ‘Very well. I now open this trial to all trainee samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū,’ Masamoto announced, ‘not just those vying for entry into the Circle of Three. So, what does origami teach us?’

The rest of the school suddenly stiffened to attention as his eyes raked the students for a solution. No one dared move in case the irate Masamoto thought they had the answer. The tension grew unbearable, dishonour now tainting everyone who failed to respond. Just as Masamoto appeared ready to explode, a small hand raised itself among the sea of shamefaced samurai. ‘Yes, Yori-kun? You have an answer?’ Yori meekly nodded his head. ‘Then step forward and take part in the trial.’ Yori approached in quick hesitant steps like a dormouse seeking a bolt-hole. ‘Please, Yori-kun,’ invited Sensei Yamada, his wrinkly face warm and welcoming in contrast to the fearsome expression of Masamoto, ‘reveal your answer to me.’ The hall fell silent as the entire school strained to hear Yori’s words. Yori finished his explanation, every word a secret in his sensei’s ear, then stepped back and bowed. Sensei Yamada studied him a moment, twisting his grey beard through his fingers. Ever so slowly, he turned his head towards Masamoto and nodded once, allowing a wide, gap-toothed smile to spread across his face. ‘Excellent,’ said Masamoto, his thunderous mood dissipating at once. ‘At least one trainee warrior here has the aptitude to think

like a true samurai. Yori-kun, enlighten your peers with an answer worthy of the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ Yori looked startled. Quiet at the best of times, he quaked under the pressure of addressing the whole school. ‘Have courage, young samurai. Speak!’ Yori’s voice came out in a petrified squeak, ‘Nothing… is as it appears.’ He swallowed hard to regain control of his voice. ‘Just like a piece of paper can be more than a piece of paper in origami, becoming a crane, a fish or a flower; so… so…’ ‘A samurai should never underestimate their own potential to bend and fold to life,’ continued Sensei Yamada, taking over before Yori completely stuttered to a halt. ‘To strive to become more than they first appear, to go beyond their obvious limits.’ Yori nodded gratefully, finishing in a small voice, ‘This is what origami teaches us.’ ‘The Gauntlet is your last trial,’ announced Sensei Hosokawa, pacing the dojo floor in front of the entrants who knelt respectfully in a line. ‘It is a test of courage, your final chance to prove yourselves worthy for the Circle of Three. Judging by the previous trial, you all have a great deal to prove.’ The Butokuden’s training area was empty, giving no clue as to what was involved in the Gauntlet.

‘Your goal is to walk from one end of the Butokuden to the other,’ he continued, indicating a route that ran straight down the centre of the dojo. That didn’t seem too hard, thought Jack, glancing at Yamato who appeared to be thinking the exact same thing. But Akiko gave them both a dubious shake of the head, indicating that there was definitely more to this challenge than a mere walk. ‘The Gauntlet is your Trial by Sword, so you should carry your bokken. If you can run the Gauntlet and reach the other end, you will pass the test. I now ask all participants to leave the dojo.’ Jack and the others hesitated. What was so different about this trial that they were required to leave? ‘NOW!’ commanded Sensei Hosokawa. A moment later, they were on their feet and marching from the Butokuden. ‘Wait in the courtyard until you are called for,’ ordered Sensei Hosokawa before re-entering the dojo and closing the large wooden doors behind him. ‘What do you think he’s got planned?’ asked Yamato as they stood shivering, ankle deep in the snow. They could hear the sound of movement and the shuffling of a multitude of feet. ‘Perhaps he’s setting up an obstacle course,’ Jack suggested.

‘Or releasing a gaijin-eating tiger!’ snarled Hiroto, laughing with Kazuki. Jack turned to confront them, his nerves already on edge with the forthcoming trial. The Trial by Sword was Jack’s last opportunity to prove himself. His only chance. ‘Save your energy for the Gauntlet,’ advised Akiko, ensuring her bokken was secure on her hip. ‘Sensei Hosokawa hasn’t been drilling us hard without good reason.’ Jack backed down and tended to his own bokken. ‘HIROTO-KUN!’ summoned Sensei Hosokawa from within the Butokuden. Hiroto’s laughter died at the mention of his name, his narrow lips suddenly drawing tight with tension. He strode valiantly across the courtyard, but couldn’t disguise a shudder of nerves as he approached the entrance. As soon as Hiroto was inside, the Butokuden’s doors slammed shut with an ominous thud. Outside, the rest of the participants waited and listened. For a while, they heard nothing but the light patter of snow falling around them from the cold grey sky. Then a thundering ‘KIAI!’ broke from the dojo, followed by the sound of fighting and a loud scream. A moment later there was deathly silence. The entrants looked at one another in shock. They waited, expecting to hear more, but no further sound came from Hiroto.

‘YAMATO-KUN!’ Sensei Hosokawa beckoned, opening the doors and breaking the silence. Yamato took three deep breaths, then made his way across the courtyard to the hall. Jack gave him an encouraging look, but he barely acknowledged it. Yamato was already in the moment, utterly focused on the unknown trial that awaited him. Once again, the doors closed. The hush from within the dojo was unsettling and Jack was reminded of the calm that preceded the most violent of storms. All of a sudden the air was punctuated with screams of kiai, shouts of combat and the soft dull thud of bokken against flesh. This time, the battle seemed to stretch on and on before a great guttural cheer exploded from the hall. Then Sensei Hosokawa’s voice issued forth. ‘EMI-CHAN!’ ‘Good luck,’ said Jack. Emi smiled warmly at him, but her eyes belied the fear she really felt. ‘Remember what the painting in the Tiger Room said,’ Jack added, hoping to reassure her. ‘If you don’t enter the tiger’s cave, you won’t catch its cub.’ Emi disappeared inside the Butokuden.

‘When were you in the Tiger Room at Nijo Castle?’ enquired Akiko, her voice slightly strained. ‘We didn’t visit it during the tea ceremony.’ ‘No. I went back.’ ‘What? Just the two of you?’ ‘Well… yes,’ mumbled Jack. ‘I wanted to see more of the castle.’ Pursing her lips, Akiko nodded curtly and glanced up into the sky, concentrating on the snowflakes as they fell and settled upon the ground. A single kiai from Emi was heard within the hall and it was not long before the next participant was summoned. Several more entered before Sensei Hosokawa cried, ‘AKIKO-CHAN!’ Jack offered her a reassuring smile, but she was staring straight ahead as she strode over to the entrance. He hoped she wasn’t upset that he hadn’t told her about his second visit with Emi. But why should she be? He knew there were things that Akiko didn’t tell him. In the courtyard, the snow continued to fall, settling upon everyone’s heads and shoulders. Jack heard Akiko kiai several times above the cries of battle, but just as he was wondering how far she had got, an ominous silence descended upon the Butokuden. The dwindling group of entrants tensed to hear whose name would be called out next. Eventually only Jack and Kazuki remained. They ignored one another, the tension of the Gauntlet getting to both of them.

‘KAZUKI-KUN!’ Kazuki straightened his gi and headed confidently towards the entrance. ‘Good luck,’ said Jack on the spur of the moment. Kazuki glanced back over his shoulder, a grim smile on his face. ‘You too,’ he replied with uncharacteristic camaraderie. ‘We’ll need it.’ Then he stepped inside and closed the doors behind him. From the shouts that ensued, Kazuki seemed to be doing well, but Jack’s body was too stiff with cold for him to care whether Kazuki succeeded or not. ‘JACK-KUN!’ Summoned at last, he tried to rub some warmth back into his bones. He didn’t know if he was shaking more from cold or trepidation. He gripped the hilt of his bokken in an attempt to steady himself. Stepping through the doors of the dojo, he entered the Gauntlet. ooo000ooo 26 THE GAUNTLET Jack dared not move.

Down either side of the dojo were lined the students of the Niten Ichi Ryū, appearing at first glance to be a ceremonial welcoming party. They formed a narrow corridor of samurai, stretching from the entrance to Hosokawa himself at the opposite end. At various points behind these two rows, Jack noticed the other Circle of Three entrants. All of them looked thoroughly beaten, some nursing bruised limbs, others bloody faces. Jack spotted Akiko halfway down the hall. She didn’t look too injured, though she clutched her side, wincing in pain as she shifted to get a better view of Jack. ‘Welcome to the Gauntlet,’ greeted Sensei Hosokawa from the far end of the hall. ‘Please join me so we can begin.’ Jack took a wary step forward. Nothing happened. He glanced to one side, eyeing a burly student from the year above. The boy ignored him. Jack made another move, but the two rows remained stock-still. Perhaps they were just a welcoming party, with the Gauntlet starting only once he reached Sensei Hosokawa. Jack began to walk towards the sensei, but the moment he did, a shout of ‘KIAI!’ erupted from behind him. Jack heard the swoosh of a bokken. Instinctively he ducked, the wooden sword barely missing his shoulder. Jack spun round, unsheathing his own bokken to protect

himself against any follow-up attack. The student from the year above had been the culprit and was now bringing his sword back down on to Jack’s head. Jack countered, blocking the strike and swinging his own sword across his attacker’s gut. The blow winded the boy, bending him double. Jack kicked him hard in the side and the boy fell to the ground. But no sooner had Jack dispatched his first assailant than a girl broke from the ranks and thrust a wooden tantō at his stomach. Jack leapt to the side, parrying the girl’s assault with his hand and knocking the knife from her grip. Slipping to her off-guard side, he brought his own weapon round in a low arc. The girl jumped to avoid it, but Jack raised the blade at the last second and caught her ankle. The girl was swept off her feet and landed in a crumpled heap upon the floor. A faint rustle alerted Jack to an attack from behind. Two students were bearing down on him. They struck simultaneously, one sword at his head, the other at his stomach. With no time to think, Jack dived beneath the two bokken, rolling between his assailants. As he passed through, he struck the knee of the boy to his left, hobbling him. Flipping back to his feet, Jack followed through with a back kick that caught the other in the kidneys, dropping the boy like a stone. As more assailants stepped from the ranks, Jack continued to fight his way down the centre of the Gauntlet, fending off attack after attack. All his extra training was now paying off. Each sword movement flowed into the next, the bokken gliding through the air

in a series of controlled arcs and executing strikes with devastating accuracy. But with each new wave of attack, Jack became a little slower, a touch weaker. A sense of dread consumed him as he realized that he wasn’t meant to complete the Gauntlet unscathed. The Gauntlet wasn’t about testing his skill with a sword. It was about his courage and spirit to survive against all the odds. Jack was now three-quarters of the way down the hall and had levelled with Kazuki, who bore a nasty gash on his left cheek. His rival watched Jack’s progress through hooded eyes, one of which was swollen half-shut. The only other entrant who had got as far as him was Yamato, but it seemed no one had reached Sensei Hosokawa. With the end in sight, Jack rushed forwards, but was confronted by a girl wielding a bō. The girl twirled her staff like a whirling dervish and prevented him from passing. By the way she moved, Jack could tell she was as quick as a cobra, and the reach of her weapon gave her a distinct advantage over Jack’s bokken. Jack couldn’t even get close. He dodged and weaved, but was unable to land a single strike. She thrust her bō at Jack with lightning speed, catching him directly in the stomach. Jack felt his insides turn over. She whipped her staff up, knocking him under the chin. He saw stars and almost blacked out. But Jack instinctively swung his bokken up, somehow managing to deflect what would have been her finishing blow to his neck.

He staggered backwards, continuing to fend off her attacks, but then her staff hit his sword hand, breaking his grip, and the bokken went skittering across the dojo floor. Defenceless, Jack could only jump from side to side as she drove her staff at him. He went to slip past her, but was pinioned from behind by another student in line. The bō girl grinned and drove forward to deliver her conquering strike. At the last second, Jack stamped on the foot of his captor, twisting sideways so that the bō connected with the boy’s stomach instead. The boy yelled in surprise, relinquishing Jack from his grip. In one fluid movement, Jack seized the boy’s bokken and brought it down hard on to the girl’s lead hand. Her bō clattered to the ground. Jack shoulder-barged her out of the way and charged for the end of the Gauntlet. He had made it! He had run the Gauntlet. He had managed to complete a trial. Bruised and battered as he was, he proudly faced Sensei Hosokawa, who returned his gaze with a satisfied nod of the head. Jack could only hope that he had done enough to be selected for the Circle of Three. He bowed his respects to Sensei Hosokawa.

Strangely, there was no applause from the students. The antigaijin sentiment surely hadn’t gone so far in the school that they wouldn’t recognize his achievement. Jack was about to look up, when out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the sensei shift his body weight. Something whistled through the air. The next thing Jack heard was, ‘How many times have I told you…’ ooo000ooo 27 THE SELECTION ‘…never let your guard down!’ The words rang in Jack’s head as painfully as the bokken that struck him across the back of his neck, knocking him senseless to the floor. The Gauntlet didn’t finish at Sensei Hosokawa. Sensei Hosokawa was the final trial. Nursing a stiff neck, Jack now stood with the Circle of Three entrants in three lines at the centre of the Butokuden. They all looked like they’d been through a war, not one of them having escaped without injury. While the rest of the school waited patiently in seiza around the edges of the dojo, Masamoto and Sensei Hosokawa, Yosa, Kyuzo and Yamada sat in a circle within the ceremonial alcove, quietly discussing the fate of the students.

Sensei Kano knelt to one side, his white bō leaning against a nearby pillar. As a visiting teacher to the Niten Ichi Ryū, he was not involved in the selection process, but Jack could tell the man was listening intently to the ongoing debate. The selection process appeared to progress smoothly, until all of a sudden the discussion became heated and voices were raised. ‘I object!’ protested Sensei Kyuzo, slamming a rock-like fist on to the wooden floor. ‘He didn’t complete the trial.’ Every eye and ear in the dojo focused upon the quarrelling sensei and, despite Masamoto’s attempts to subdue the dispute, snatches of the argument were still clearly audible. ‘…your opinion is somewhat biased,’ accused Sensei Kyuzo of Masamoto, his annoyance getting the better of his discretion. ‘Can you honestly say you’re impartial?’ interjected Sensei Yosa. ‘That’s beside the point. The boy failed the trial. You cannot bend the rules for one individual!’ Masamoto held his hand up for calm. ‘Enough. If my vote is contentious, I withdraw it…’ The row nonetheless rumbled on, but in tense whispered exchanges so that the students were no longer able to overhear. Jack’s heart sank. Sensei Kyuzo had promised he would do everything in his power to stop him entering the Circle. ‘What is your opinion, Sensei Kano?’ Masamoto asked of the bō master a moment later. ‘We are in a stalemate situation and require your vote.’

The great man leant forward to give his opinion. A few moments later, the issue was apparently resolved as the teachers returned to a more amicable discussion, though Sensei Kyuzo still looked sour as vinegar. ** * Like a cannon shot, a single handclap resounded in the Butokuden and Masamoto announced, ‘The time has come!’ The entire school stiffened to attention as the selection panel turned to face the students, their expressions stony. Behind them, the school’s carved gilded phoenix kamon hung proudly above the sensei’s heads. ‘Young samurai! To all those who participated in the trials, we bow to you.’ With a single sweeping glance, Masamoto took in the three lines of students, the power of his gaze making it appear as if he had looked at each of them in turn. ‘We’ve carefully considered your performances today. The five students selected for entry to the Circle of Three are those who completed at least one trial and acted like a samurai in all by showing true bushido spirit,’ explained Masamoto. ‘When your name is called, step forward to receive our judgement.’ Jack let go of any remaining hope, biting back on the bitter disappointment he now felt. Having not completed a trial, he realized the Circle of Three would remain a distant dream, the Two Heavens technique a mystery to him for many more years to come.

‘Emi-chan,’ summoned Masamoto. Emi limped out of line to take her place in front of the judging panel, the Gauntlet clearly having taken its toll upon her. ‘You performed well. You’re a fine kyudoka and although you were frightened by the Gauntlet we were most impressed with the way you regained your composure in the face of such danger. That took courage. However, your overall result was not quite good enough to warrant you entering the Circle. I’m sure your father would agree in this instance. Three to two against.’ Emi-chan bowed to the panel. As Jack watched her hobble over to the sidelines, it dawned on him just how challenging the Circle of Three must be, if even the daughter of the school’s benefactor was rejected. A sense of disappointment descended over the school as the next six entrants also failed to make the grade. Jack, however, felt a little better knowing that the bar had been set so high. ‘Tadashi-kun,’ summoned Masamoto. A strong boy with broad shoulders and dark half-moon eyebrows stepped forward. Jack recognized him as the boy who had first entered his name for the Circle. Masamoto nodded once. ‘Formidable spirit throughout, especially in the tamashiwari. It was a shame you were knocked down towards the end of the Gauntlet, but no matter. Four to one in agreement. You are through to the Circle.’

The school gave a great cheer. At last one of the entrants was deemed good enough. Tadashi, a broad grin on his face, bowed his respects before taking up position in the middle of the dojo. The celebrations were short-lived, though, as the following seven contenders were all dismissed in quick succession. Then Masamoto summoned Akiko. She approached the panel and Jack crossed his fingers behind his back, silently wishing her luck. ‘What can I say? The only one to kill the candle with their first arrow,’ Masamoto said. Jack could see Sensei Yosa beaming at her protégé. ‘But you only made it halfway down the Gauntlet. You appeared somewhat distracted during the fight. We had really expected more from you.’ Akiko bit her lower lip, and Jack felt his own mouth go dry. Had his offhand comment about his visit to the castle with Emi put her concentration off? ‘Still, you have shown such bushido spirit and inner strength in all your other trials,’ continued Masamoto, ‘that it would be unjust for us to deny you this opportunity. Three to two in favour. Please join Tadashi.’ The Butokuden filled with applause again. Akiko remained where she was, astonished by the decision, and it took a few moments before she regained her composure, bowed and joined Tadashi. The next ten competitors, including to Jack’s satisfaction Goro, added to the growing number of failed students gathering on the sidelines. Only one of them was passed: Harumi, the petite girl with

the doll-like face who had amazingly succeeded in the Trial by Wood. Two places now remained. Kazuki was summoned. Jack watched as his rival stepped up, the gash on his cheek now even more swollen and his eye completely closed. ‘An outstanding performance in every aspect. All in favour. You are through to the Circle.’ Kazuki was the first entrant to be awarded a unanimous decision. He had triumphed in the eyes of all the sensei and, by the cheers that erupted from the hall, it was apparent that the school saw him as the favourite to conquer the Circle. Despite the hostility between them, Jack was forced to admit Kazuki had performed brilliantly and deserved his place. This left only one place and three entrants: Yamato, Hiroto and himself. Jack, assured of his own failure, silently prayed Yamato would triumph over Hiroto. ‘Yamato-kun,’ called Masamoto. Yamato stepped forward, clutching his side and breathing between his teeth in short pained gasps. He glanced apprehensively at his father. ‘I’m proud to say you fought like a true Masamoto in the Gauntlet, so this was a tough decision to make. However, without a clear victory in any of the trials, the committee voted three to two against. I’m sorry, but you are not one of the five.’

Yamato’s eyes widened in dismay. He looked as if he wanted the dojo floor to swallow him up. Jack couldn’t believe it. It must have been Yamato the sensei had been arguing over, not Jack. That was why Masamoto had deferred his vote to Sensei Kano. The decision must have been a great disappointment for the samurai. Yamato hung his head and crossed the dojo to the sidelines, his frustration at his performance apparent in every weary step. Masamoto then called out Jack’s name. Jack readied himself for the inevitable. ‘Jack-kun, yours was a very controversial decision. I was of the mind that you had shown true bushido spirit throughout the trials and therefore proved your worth to enter the Circle of Three. Still, I had to be impartial in all decisions, especially as you are my adopted son, and you did not actually complete a single trial.’ Jack now knew for certain that Hiroto had beaten him. Now he just wanted to get the formality over with so he could join Yamato on the sidelines, but his guardian continued, ‘You didn’t finish the Gauntlet. Then again, no one has ever reached the end of the Gauntlet as you did. Sensei Hosokawa was most impressed with your performance. He passed you, despite your error at the last stage. But there were opposing opinions. We therefore agreed to defer the final decision to Sensei Kano.’ So it hadn’t been Yamato the sensei had argued over. It had been him all along. Jack felt the great grey eyes of the bō master upon him, and although he knew the man could not see, Jack knew the sensei was observing him with all his other senses.

‘I need not remind you that the Circle of Three is not only difficult but dangerous. It can even be fatal. Therefore we do not make such decisions lightly. On balance, while Sensei Kano feels you are worthy, this is only on his proviso that you undertake extra training sessions with him, in addition to any Circle preparation required.’ For a moment Jack was unsure that he had heard correctly. Did this mean he had gained entry to the Circle or not? Then the students began clapping, though not with the enthusiasm afforded Kazuki and the other successful entrants. But Jack didn’t care. He was in the Circle and Hiroto wasn’t! Karma for the kick in the ribs, thought Jack as Hiroto slunk off to the sidelines, glaring at Jack all the way. ‘Now I want to remind all the entrants who didn’t succeed that simply by participating you’ve proved you have the courage to become a samurai warrior,’ reaffirmed Masamoto, and he personally acknowledged the group on the sidelines by bowing his head to indicate the sincerity of his respect. Then he faced the five successful students in the centre of the hall: Tadashi, Akiko, Harumi, Kazuki and Jack. ‘For the five who journey onwards, I have this advice. In a fight between a strong body and a strong technique, technique will prevail. In a fight between a strong technique and a strong mind, mind will prevail because it will find the weak point in your opponent. While many of you are approaching this understanding, only one student has embraced the knowledge necessary to achieve this.’

Kazuki allowed himself a self-satisfied smile at the forthcoming praise which he believed was his due. But the smile twisted into a grimace of disbelief as Masamoto announced, ‘Yori, step forward. You will join them in the Circle.’ A gasp of astonishment arose from the school and everyone looked around for the little boy. A reluctant Yori was pushed forward by the students closest to him and he shuffled into the centre, as startled and helpless as a newborn lamb. ooo000ooo 28 BREAK-IN ‘I still can’t believe he hit you while you were bowing, Jack,’ said Saburo the following day as they relaxed in the Southern Zen Garden between lessons. They had gathered on the wooden veranda overlooking the water feature and standing stones. The garden was now cloaked in so much snow that it looked like a miniature landscape of white clouds and snow-capped mountain peaks. Jack gave Saburo a pained smile and massaged his neck where the bokken had struck. ‘Sensei Hosokawa was the final part of the Gauntlet,’ Akiko reminded them as she played ohajiki with Kiku, flicking one coinshaped pebble across the ground at another, then claiming it as it was struck out of play. ‘Would you bow in the middle of a fight?’ ‘No, but you have to admit it was rather sneaky of him.’

‘Well, I still don’t see why Jack got in and I didn’t,’ muttered Yamato, moodily poking at the snow with his bokken. ‘It’s favouritism if you ask me, just because he’s gai–’ ‘Yamato!’ exclaimed Akiko, glaring at her cousin. ‘Jack got further than any student in the history of the Gauntlet. He deserves to be entered.’ ‘Sorry,’ said Yamato, offering Jack an apologetic smile. ‘I’m still a little sore about it all.’ Yamato pulled aside the jacket of his training gi to inspect the purple mass of bruises spread across his right side. Jack realized he must have been hit extremely hard during the Gauntlet. He also recognized his friend was hurting badly from the shame of failing in the trials. Jack let the insult go and hoped that their friendship wouldn’t be ruined by the turn of events. ‘I bet that hurts,’ Saburo said, giving Yamato’s side an explorative prod with his finger. ‘Oww!’ exclaimed Yamato, shoving Saburo’s hand away. ‘You big baby,’ teased Saburo. ‘Well, see how you like it!’ Yamato began to pummel Saburo with his fists. The others laughed as Saburo cartwheeled backwards off the veranda and into the snow. ‘You forget, Saburo, I went through all that pain and training for nothing!’ yelled Yamato, jumping down and grabbing a handful of snow before shoving it in Saburo’s face.

‘Leave him alone, Yamato,’ chided Akiko, worried that Yamato’s anger at himself was turning nasty. ‘That’s easy for you to say. You and Jack are in the Circle. I’m not!’ ‘Don’t forget… Yori,’ spluttered Saburo under the continuing barrage of blows and snow. ‘That’s a point. Where is Yori?’ asked Kiku quickly, trying to divert Yamato from the escalating fight. Yamato stopped his assault. ‘The ungrateful little genius is over there.’ He indicated the gnarled pine tree at the far end of the garden, its trunk propped up by the wooden crutch. Yori was squatting under one of its snow-shrouded branches, listlessly pulling at the tail of an origami crane, making its wings flap. Despite their best efforts to console him, Yori hadn’t uttered a single word since the shock announcement in the Butokuden the day before. ‘Don’t be such a sore loser,’ said Akiko to Yamato. ‘Yori hadn’t entered and didn’t want to.’ ‘So why should he get to go? The sensei had said only five students would be entered in the Circle. There are plenty of other students who would give their sword arms for that extra place. And I’m one of them,’ said Yamato, releasing Saburo and dusting the snow from his kimono in angry swipes. ‘But he did pass a trial, Yamato. And I’m sorry, but you didn’t.’

‘I know,’ admitted Yamato, slumping back down on the veranda. ‘But Yori wasn’t even tested in the physical trials. How do they know he’s ready?’ ‘Are any of us?’ said Jack. ‘Well, you aren’t. You were only just accepted,’ Yamato was quick to point out. ‘Yes. That’s why I have to take extra tuition from Sensei Kano,’ added Jack by way of an excuse. ‘You’ll need it.’ ‘You’re right. I will. And I’ll need your help too, if you’re up for it.’ ‘What do you mean?’ demanded Yamato, turning to face Jack. ‘Sensei Kano said I needed a training partner. I was hoping it would be you.’ Yamato deliberated before answering and Jack thought he would refuse as a matter of pride. ‘Come on. It would be like our old sparring days in Toba,’ urged Jack. Recognizing the gesture for what it was, his friend managed to muster up a half-hearted smile. ‘Thanks, Jack. Of course I will. You know I’d never miss an opportunity to beat you up!’ Later that evening, Jack heard Yori sobbing in his room. Deciding that his friend needed company, he knocked on his door.

‘Come in,’ sniffled Yori. Jack slid back the shoji and stepped inside. There was barely enough space for him to stand, let alone sit down, not just because the bedroom was so small, but due to the fact that Yori’s room was littered with origami cranes. Despite this, Yori was still making more, and there was a feverish anxiety to his labours. Jack cleared a space and sat down beside his friend. Yori barely acknowledged him, so Jack decided to help him in his task. After folding his fifth crane, though, he could no longer contain his curiosity. ‘Yori, why are you folding so many paper cranes? You’ve solved the koan.’ ‘Senbazuru Orikata,’ replied Yori sullenly. ‘What’s that?’ Jack asked, his brow wrinkling in puzzlement. ‘According to legend,’ Yori continued, tetchy at being distracted from his task, ‘anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted their wish by a crane.’ ‘Really? So what’s your wish going to be?’ ‘Can’t you guess…?’ Jack thought he could, but, since Yori was in no mood to talk, he let the matter rest. As all conversation died, Jack stood to stretch his legs and stepped over to the little window. He stared out over the courtyard and gazed at the snowflakes floating through the night. If he had the patience to fold one thousand cranes, Jack knew what he

would wish for. It would be the same wish he had asked of the Daruma Doll. His thoughts wandered to Jess. What would his little sister be doing now? He hoped she was getting up to have breakfast with Mrs Winters. He didn’t want to think of the alternative. Not wanting to worsen the mood in the room with his own melancholic thoughts, Jack returned to the task at hand. He picked up a sheet of paper to fold yet another crane. The pile of origami paper was soon used up, and Yori quietly thanked him for his help and said he would get more the next day. While he couldn’t quite muster a smile, he did seem less despondent about his situation and he had stopped crying, so Jack left and headed to bed. Sliding open the shoji to his own room, he stopped dead in his tracks. His bedroom had been ransacked. The futon was unrolled and ripped open; his ceremonial kimono, training gi and bokken lay discarded upon the floor; and the Daruma Doll and bonsai had been knocked off the window sill, the little tree now lying on its side, its roots exposed and earth spilt everywhere. Jack’s first thought was Kazuki. It was exactly the sort of thing he or one of his Scorpion Gang would do. He scanned the room to see if anything had been taken. To his relief, he found Masamoto’s swords under the ceremonial kimono and spotted his sister’s drawing crumpled but intact beneath the bonsai’s pot, his inro carrying case discarded to one side. He then looked under the futon and realized what was missing.

Jack stormed up the now deserted corridor to Kazuki’s room and flung open his shoji. ‘Where is it?’ accused Jack. ‘Where’s what?’ replied an indignant Kazuki, who was in the process of polishing a gleaming samurai sword of black and gold that his father had presented to him upon the news of his acceptance into the Circle. ‘You know exactly what I mean. Now give it back!’ Kazuki glared at Jack, his left eye still swollen and discoloured by the bruising he had sustained during the Gauntlet. ‘Get out of my room!’ he demanded. ‘What sort of samurai do you think I am to steal from you? That might be something a gaijin would do, but never a Japanese.’ Then a malicious smile spread across his face as he saw Jack’s distress. ‘But if you do find out who did it, remind me to thank them.’ Jack cursed. Despite Kazuki’s arrogance, he seemingly had nothing to do with the break-in. Perhaps it had been Hiroto, getting his own back for Jack beating him in the trials. Jack glanced down the empty corridor and froze. Creeping out of his room was a figure dressed head-to-toe in white. It held the leatherbound book in its grasp. ‘Stop!’ cried Jack.

The dark pebble eyes of the ghostly figure locked with his. It fled down the corridor as silent as the falling snow and out of the Shishino-ma. Jack flew after it. He raced past startled students, who had emerged to see what the disturbance was, and out into the cold night air. He spotted the figure sprinting across the courtyard and followed. ‘Give it back!’ Jack shouted, gaining on the intruder. The figure reached the edge of the courtyard and launched itself at the school walls. Jack clambered up after the thief, his hands grabbing hold of the bottom of a white jacket. He wrenched back as hard as he could, but was kicked in the chest for his efforts and sent sprawling into the snow. Momentarily stunned, Jack could only watch as the intruder continued to scale the wall with cat-like grace. Then, without looking back, the white-clad figure disappeared into the snowy night. ooo000ooo 29 THE DECOY ‘Do you really think it was Dragon Eye?’ asked Yamato as he helped Jack tidy his room. ‘It’s been a long time since he showed himself.’

Jack was smoothing out his sister’s picture and wiping off the earth that had fallen on to it from the bonsai. Since Jack usually kept the drawing hidden in his inro, the intruder had clearly been carrying out a thorough search of his room. ‘It had to be, but he sent someone else this time. Unless he’s managed to grow another eye!’ replied Jack sarcastically, remembering the two dark eyes that had peered at him through the slit of the ninja’s hood. ‘But who’s ever heard of a white ninja? It must have been a disguise. Are you sure it wasn’t one of Kazuki’s Scorpion Gang playing a trick on you? I mean, ninja always wear black.’ ‘At night, yes,’ interrupted Akiko, who suddenly appeared at the doorway, dressed in a pink petal sleeping kimono. ‘But with the snow, they would stand out as if it was the middle of the day. Their shinobi shozoku is for camouflage and concealment, so they wear black at night, white in the winter and green in the forests.’ ‘Where have you been all this time?’ demanded Jack, irritable she’d not been around to help. It was now very late and, apart from Yamato and Akiko, the other students had got bored and gone to bed. No one else but Jack had seen the white ninja. That was fine with Jack. He didn’t want people asking questions. He had even told Saburo that Hiroto had wrecked his room, so that he didn’t have to reveal the existence of the rutter to another of his friends. ‘I was having a bath,’ replied Akiko, looking round the overturned room in shock. ‘What happened here? Has anything been stolen?’

‘Dragon Eye returned,’ replied Jack, gathering up his swords, ‘and yes, something was taken.’ ‘Not the rutter!’ she exclaimed. Jack shook his head. ‘No. Father Lucius’s Japanese dictionary. The one he gave me in Toba. The one that I was supposed to deliver to Father Bobadilla in Osaka when I got the chance. Looks like I’ll have to break that promise.’ ‘Why would anyone want to take a dictionary?’ asked Yamato, his brow wrinkling in puzzlement. ‘I don’t think they were looking for the dictionary, do you?’ Jack replied, picking up the Daruma Doll and putting it back on the window sill next to the bonsai. ‘At a glance, Father Lucius’s book could be mistaken for the rutter. I left the dictionary under my futon as a decoy. Whoever took it wouldn’t have known the difference unless they looked inside. I must have disturbed them in the middle of their search.’ ‘What? The ninja was in here with you?’ asked an incredulous Yamato. ‘Why didn’t you see him?’ ‘He must have been hanging over my head,’ explained Jack, shuddering. ‘See those damp patches on the wall above the door. That’s where snow’s melted. The ninja must have wedged himself between the cross-beam and the ceiling.’

‘It’s possible,’ agreed Akiko. ‘Ninja learn from an early age how to climb and perform acrobatics. Supposedly, they’re taught how to hang on to tree branches with just one finger.’ ‘How do you know all this?’ asked Yamato, amazed. ‘So where’s the rutter now if Dragon Eye hasn’t got it?’ Akiko continued, ignoring her cousin. Jack hesitated. He couldn’t afford to take any more risks with his father’s logbook and was reluctant to tell them. When he had visited Nijo Castle with Emi, he’d managed to excuse himself from her company under pretext of needing to relieve himself. He’d been on his own long enough to hide it behind the wall hanging of the white crane. The rutter was safe for the time being. It was the perfect hiding place, but only as long as no one else knew about it. ‘Jack, you can trust us,’ insisted Akiko. ‘Besides we can help protect it, if we know where it is. Dragon Eye will realize soon enough that he has stolen a decoy and will come seeking the real rutter.’ Jack considered them both a moment longer. They were his friends. His closest friends. He had to trust them and Akiko was right. They might be able to help him. But he wouldn’t tell them everything – not yet. ‘You know I mentioned that I’d returned to Nijo Castle with Emi…?’ ‘Yes,’ said Akiko rather coolly.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you at the time, but I’m sure there are things you don’t tell me too,’ added Jack tetchily, allowing the accusation to hang in the air for the briefest of moments. ‘Anyway, I went alone with Emi for a reason. I’ve hidden the rutter inside the castle.’ ‘In the castle? But why there?’ Yamato asked. ‘Daimyo Takatomi has made the castle ninja-proof. Where better to hide the rutter from a ninja as devious as Dragon Eye?’ ‘Jack, I can’t believe you’ve done this,’ Akiko snapped, glaring at him as if he’d just committed a terrible crime. ‘What do you mean?’ said Jack. ‘It’s the safest place for it. Why are you acting as if I’ve killed someone?’ ‘You haven’t yet, but you have put the daimyo Takatomi’s life in danger!’ she said, shaking her head in disbelief at Jack’s stupidity. ‘Dragon Eye will now break into the castle to get it.’ ‘How can that possibly happen? Even if Dragon Eye did try, he’d be caught out by the Nightingale Floor and captured by the guards before he got anywhere near the daimyo,’ argued Jack. ‘Besides, how can the daimyo be in danger when only the three of us know the rutter’s location? Dragon Eye would never think of looking there, and we’re certainly not going to tell him.’ ooo000ooo 30 STICKY HANDS

‘Shall I let you into a secret? I’m not really blind…’ Jack knew it. The bō master had been faking all the time. That would explain why he could guide his students into the mountains, trick Kazuki and wield the bō so skilfully. He simply fooled people into believing he was blind. ‘I just can’t see,’ finished Sensei Kano in his deep sonorous voice. ‘I don’t understand,’ said Jack and Yamato in unison, the icy winter air making their breath puff out in large clouds of mist. They had returned to the gardens of the Eikan-Do Temple. The glorious reds and oranges of autumn were all gone now, replaced with bare skeletons of trees frosted in winter snow. The three of them sat on a stone bench next to a slender wooden footbridge. The wide stream passing beneath it was iced over, though further up the slope a small waterfall still trickled and ran beneath the surface to the frozen pond in the middle of the gardens. ‘People think that seeing is the perception of the world through the eyes. But is it?’ questioned Sensei Kano, waving the tip of his staff at the scene before them. He picked up some pebbles from the path and passed one to each of his two trainees. ‘When you see a stone, you are also feeling it with your mind’s hand. Seeing is as much touching as it is sight, but because the sense of vision is so overwhelming, you are unaware of the importance of touch.’

‘But without being able to see, how did you ever learn to fight in the first place?’ Yamato asked. ‘Disability doesn’t mean inability,’ the sensei replied, throwing his own pebble into the air and striking it with his staff. The pebble landed on the pond and skittered across the ice. ‘It just means adaptability. I’ve had to use my other senses. I’ve learnt to feel my way through life. I’ve become adept at sniffing out danger and tasting fear in the air. And I’ve taught myself to listen to the world around me.’ Sensei Kano stood up and walked towards the stream. ‘Close your eyes and I will show you what I mean.’ He continued to talk to them while moving around, emphasizing each step with the thud of his bō striking the ground. ‘In these sessions, I’m going to train you in sensitivity techniques. You’re going to learn to use everything but your sight. Can you both point to where I am standing?’ Jack and Yamato raised their hands to indicate his position. ‘Open your eyes. Were you correct in your assumption?’ ‘Hai, Sensei,’ they replied in unison, pointing to their teacher on the bridge. ‘I would hope so. If you can hear me, then you know where I am. Close your eyes again. Aside from the sounds that your opponent may make, don’t forget the background noise that will also indicate where they are. The human body creates a sound shadow, just like a light shadow cast by the sun. If you listen out for the hole in the background noise, you can determine the position of your attacker

even if they remain silent. So listen to the sounds around you, then tell me where I’ve moved to.’ Jack tried to follow the bō master’s movements with his ears, but, with Sensei Kano now maintaining silence, it was impossible to judge his progress. Instead Jack had to focus on the noises he could hear. Yamato’s breathing. The trickle of the waterfall. The distant bustle of the city. A lone bird calling among the treetops. Then… he swore he heard the waterfall fade ever so slightly. ‘You’re in front of the waterfall,’ deduced Jack. ‘Excellent. Very perceptive, Jack-kun,’ praised Sensei Kano as Yamato and Jack reopened their eyes. ‘We will begin with that exercise every day until you can recognize a sound shadow in most environments. Now let’s progress on to the touch techniques of chi sao.’ ‘Chi sao?’ queried Yamato. ‘What does that mean? It’s not Japanese.’ ‘No, it’s Chinese. Chi sao means “sticky hands”,’ explained Sensei Kano. ‘It’s a technique I learnt from a blind Chinese warrior in Beijing.’

Jack nudged Yamato and whispered, ‘The blind leading the blind, eh?’ They both laughed. Yamato, apparently over his disappointment at not being selected for the Circle of Three, had apologized for his behaviour the day before and their friendship was back on solid ground. ‘You could say that, Jack-kun,’ Sensei Kano continued, giving them both a sharp rap on the head with his staff for their impudence, ‘but chi sao is your gateway to understanding the internal aspects of martial arts – sensitivity, reflex, timing, coordination and positioning. It will teach you to undo your body’s natural instinct to resist force with force and you will learn to yield to an attack and redirect it. Most importantly, you will learn to see with your hands. Come here, Jack-kun, and stand opposite me in fighting stance.’ When Jack was in position, Sensei Kano knelt on one knee so they were more or less of equal height. He then rested each of his hands on the outside of Jack’s guard, so that he mirrored his stance. ‘I want you to attack me. Any kick or punch will do. You’re at zero range so you should be able to land something on an old blind man.’ Jack wasn’t so sure, but he gave it a go anyway. He went for a basic jab to the face, direct and quick. Instantly he found himself off-balance, his lead hand trapped and Sensei Kano’s own fist in his face, the knuckles pressing against the tip of his nose.

‘Try again.’ This time Jack kicked, a roundhouse to the ribs, but before he had even moved Sensei Kano had pushed against his shoulder. Jack had to step backwards to regain his balance. At the same time, Sensei Kano had thrust a spearhand strike directly at a pressure point in his throat, stopping just short. Jack swallowed in astonishment. He had lost before he had even started. It was as though Sensei Kano could read his mind. ‘How do you do that?’ asked Jack, amazed. ‘I’m hearing you with my hands. I use my fingers to feel where your power is and as soon as you start to move, I counter by redirecting your energies then striking in retaliation,’ he explained. ‘You will learn this technique too. With time, you’ll be able to intercept an attack before your opponent has completed a single move.’ Sensei Kano stood up and indicated for Yamato to take his place. ‘To begin with, I want you to simply maintain contact with one another. Push and roll your forearms in a circle,’ tutored Sensei Kano, guiding them in their initial circular movements. ‘Stay relaxed. You’re trying to feel the movements of your opponent and find gaps in their defence. The main principle in chi sao is to greet what arrives, escort what leaves and rush in upon any loss of contact.’ Jack and Yamato were clumsy at first and had to restart several times before they managed to achieve any kind of fluidity.

‘No, don’t lean into it, Jack-kun,’ Sensei Kano instructed, his hands resting upon their shoulders so that he could judge their progress. ‘The key to chi sao is to keep your centre and stay relaxed. Think of yourselves as bamboo shoots in the wind. Be rooted yet remain flexible. Then you will grow to be strong.’ The winter sun was low in the sky by the time Sensei Kano called an end to their training. Jack and Yamato had continued with the same drill all afternoon until Jack thought his arms were about to drop off, but gradually the two of them had found their rhythm and the circular motions had become faster and more fluid. ‘Excellent work, boys,’ commended the bō master as they wended their way through the snow-laden gardens and icy waterways in the direction of the Niten Ichi Ryū. ‘In a few more sessions, I’ll teach you how to trap one another’s arms and spot the gaps you can attack into. It won’t be long before you’re doing chi sao blindfolded.’ ‘We’ll never be able to do that,’ snorted Yamato. ‘It’s hard enough now and we can see what we’re doing.’ Without breaking his stride, Sensei Kano turned and walked straight across the frozen pond. ‘Watch out!’ cried Jack. There was a splintering crack at the edges as the surface took Sensei Kano’s weight, but incredibly the ice held. ‘You would be amazed what things you can accomplish,’ shouted Sensei Kano over his shoulder to his two astonished

students, ‘if only you have the courage to believe in yourself and trust your senses.’ ooo000ooo 31 YUKI GASSEN ‘How’s your training going?’ enquired Tadashi. He sat down next to Jack and the others on the stone steps of the Butsuden. Tadashi had been the first student to be chosen for the Circle of Three and, following the selection, had politely introduced himself to the other entrants. Tadashi and Jack then found themselves paired together in sword training, striking up an easy friendship. ‘Good, I think,’ replied Jack. ‘Sensei Kano’s tough, though. I just hope I’ll be ready in time.’ Spring was now only two moons away and with it the flowering of the cherry-blossom trees that would herald the Circle of Three. Consequently, the sensei had begun to push their charges harder and harder. Jack and the five other entrants had been preparing for the Circle of Three for over a month and, like Jack, each of the participants had acquired a mentor. Yori’s was Sensei Yamada. Akiko and Harumi had been taken on by Sensei Yosa, while Kazuki was on an intense training schedule set by Sensei Kyuzo. In addition to his own lessons with Sensei Kano, Jack was being coached along with Tadashi under the watchful eye of Sensei Hosokawa.

‘And how about you, little warrior?’ Tadashi asked, turning to Yori. Yori didn’t respond, but continued to gaze out at the thick blanket of snow covering the school’s courtyard. Tadashi gave Jack a nudge and mouthed to ask if Yori was all right. Jack nodded, pointing to the side of his head to indicate Yori was a deep thinker. ‘Sensei Yamada told me not to eat an elephant for lunch,’ Yori eventually replied. Everyone stared at Yori, bewildered by his statement. Jack began to wonder exactly what sort of lessons Sensei Yamada was teaching his little friend. ‘How’s that going to help you in the Circle of Three?’ asked Saburo, looking baffled. ‘It’s impossible to eat an entire elephant.’ ‘Precisely,’ said Kiku, shaking her head in exasperation. ‘Don’t you understand anything Sensei Yamada teaches us?’ ‘I would if he didn’t always speak in riddles.’ ‘He’s telling Yori not to get worried about the entire Circle of Three. Instead he should concentrate on one challenge at a time,’ Kiku explained. Then, seeing Saburo’s blank face, she continued, ‘In other words, if you broke a large meal down into smaller pieces, you’d be able to eat it all without choking like a pig!’ ‘Got it!’ exclaimed Saburo. ‘Why didn’t you just say that before?’ ‘That’s good advice,’ agreed Tadashi, ‘but has anyone discovered what the three Circle challenges actually are?’

They all shook their heads. Beyond knowing that the Circle referred to the three highest peaks in the Iga mountain range, the actual three challenges of Mind, Body and Spirit remained a mystery. ‘It seems bizarre to me that you’re training for something you know nothing about,’ commented Yamato, kicking the snow off the step below. Despite his best efforts to remain cheerful, he was clearly still upset at not being selected for the Circle of Three. ‘Sensei Yamada told me that’s the point. Only the unknown terrifies man,’ Yori revealed, his tiny hands trembling at the thought. ‘We’re preparing for the unknown.’ A snowball slammed into the side of Jack’s face. Jack cried out in shock, his cheek smarting with the cold. ‘Bullseye!’ shouted a familiar voice. Jack wiped the icy remains away and glared at Kazuki, who had entered the courtyard with his friends. They all carried snowballs and were playfully tossing them them at one another. Kazuki ducked as Moriko, the black-toothed wildcat from the rival Yagyu Ryū, threw one back at him. She squealed as Kazuki plastered her with two in quick succession. Jack now wasn’t certain if Kazuki had purposely aimed at him or had simply missed Moriko. Kazuki and his friends continued to bombard one another. To Jack’s surprise, he noticed Kazuki’s two hulking cousins among the group. Raiden and Toru were the twin brothers who had attacked Jack at the hanami party the previous year. Not only did it

appear that Kazuki was recruiting Scorpion Gang members from the rival school, but he was bold enough to invite such students into the grounds of the Niten Ichi Ryū in broad daylight. ‘Kazuki, you’ve dropped your inro,’ said Tadashi casually, while reaching behind to scrape off a layer of snow from a higher step and compacting it into a ball behind his back. Without thinking, Kazuki glanced down to look for his wooden carrying case. On looking up, he realized too late that he’d been tricked. Tadashi’s snowball struck him square in the face. He yowled in surprise as half of it disappeared into his mouth. Tadashi gave Jack a sly grin and they both burst into laughter. Everyone else joined in, even Kazuki’s friends. ‘Attack! Attack!’ spluttered Kazuki, spitting out snow. Spurred into action, the Scorpion Gang hurled their snowballs as hard as they could. Jack and Tadashi attempted to evade the barrage, but it was useless. They were completely exposed and several hit home. Other students from the Niten Ichi Ryū, seeing the snowball fight start, began to congregate in the courtyard. ‘Look, we’ve got spectators!’ said Kazuki, a genuine smile spreading across his face. ‘Let’s have a game of Yuki Gassen?’ ‘You’re on!’ shouted Tadashi, gathering more snow. There was a murmur of excitement from the gathering crowd, whose numbers swelled as word of a snowball contest spread. Even the men working on the Hall of the Hawk downed tools to watch.

‘How do you play Yuki Gassen?’ Jack asked, seeing several groups of students start to build waist-high walls of snow across the courtyard. ‘The aim is to capture the other team’s bokken,’ explained Yamato as Tadashi began to kick snow into a large pile a couple of paces in front of the Butsuden’s steps. ‘Each team is allowed ninety balls. You can hide behind the snow walls, but if you get hit by a snowball, you’re out.’ Tadashi removed his bokken and thrust it vertically into their mound like a flagless standard at the start of a battle. At the other end of the courtyard Kazuki did the same, then selected five of his friends to form his team. They huddled under the snow-laden eaves of the Hall of the Hawk’s nearly completed roof. ‘So who’s going to be in our team?’ asked Tadashi. ‘You can count me out,’ said Kiku immediately, hurrying over to the sidelines. ‘Well, that leaves six,’ he said, looking at Akiko, Yori, Saburo, Jack and Yamato. ‘We have our team.’ They all began to build up their arsenal of snowballs. Soon they had six equal stacks around their bokken. ‘Ready?’ shouted Tadashi to Kazuki. ‘Hang on,’ replied Kazuki, poking his head up from his team huddle. ‘We’re discussing team tactics.’ ‘What are our tactics?’ asked Yori, in a timorous voice.

Tadashi studied the layout of the battle area. At the centre of the rectangular courtyard was a waist-high wall of snow. Set back on either side were two shorter snow-wall shelters, then a couple of sloping mounds and finally a waist-high semi-circular wall around each team’s bokken. Tadashi frowned. ‘Kazuki’s clever, he’s pitched his bokken right next to the Hall of the Hawk and the building work stops us approaching from behind.’ The team glanced at their own bokken, which was dangerously exposed to attack from the rear. ‘OK, here’s the plan. Yori and Yamato, you stay back to defend the bokken.’ Yamato was about to protest, but Tadashi continued. ‘We need strength at the back and Yamato, you look to be the best thrower among us. Saburo and Akiko, you take the middle ground to cover Jack and me, while we launch the attack.’ They all nodded in agreement and took up their positions to start. Kazuki and his team gave a great shout, then split apart and positioned themselves strategically across the courtyard. Nobu and Raiden stayed at the back, while Goro and Moriko took midfield, leaving Kazuki and Hiroto up front. ‘Who’s going to referee?’ shouted Tadashi. ‘I will,’ offered Emi, emerging from the crowd. She beckoned the team leaders over. Kazuki and Tadashi faced off.

‘Remember, this is a friendly game and my decisions are final,’ said Emi, making eye contact with both of them to ensure their understanding. Jack immediately recognized her father’s natural authority in her. ‘What are your team names?’ she asked. ‘The Scorpions,’ stated Kazuki with pride, raising his arms skyward. A loyal cheer erupted from the sidelines. ‘And your team, Tadashi?’ Tadashi looked back over his shoulder at Yamato. ‘The Phoenix Team,’ he replied, a round of applause immediately breaking from the crowd. Jack saw Yamato nod at Tadashi and grin. It was a good choice, the phoenix being Yamato’s family kamon. ‘Take up your positions,’ announced Emi, and the excited spectators roared their approval. ‘Yuki Gassen will begin in five… four… three… two… one!’ ooo000ooo 32 SCORPIONS VS PHOENIX

A volley of snowballs flew through the air and Jack dived behind the nearest snow wall. ‘OUT!’ cried Emi. There was a great cheer from the crowd and for a moment Jack thought he’d already been caught. Then he saw Saburo wiping the remains of two snowballs from the front of his kimono. His friend gave a half-hearted bow before slouching off to the sidelines. ‘Jack! To your right!’ warned Akiko. Taking advantage of Saburo’s departure, Hiroto was sneaking forward and now had Jack directly in his line of fire. Jack ducked as a snowball whizzed past his head. He threw two balls back in retaliation but they missed, striking the spectators instead. A mixture of catcalls and boos broke from the crowd. Jack retreated to behind a snow mound on his left, randomly throwing balls as he ran. ‘They’re going to overrun us if we don’t attack!’ shouted Tadashi over the growing chants of the Scorpion Team’s supporters. With that he launched several snowballs at Moriko, who was advancing down the right. ‘OUT!’ cried Emi. Pretending she hadn’t heard, Moriko kept lobbing snowballs. ‘OUT! Or forfeit the game!’

Moriko kicked the nearest snow wall in frustration and hissed at Emi. The Phoenix supporters booed Moriko’s dishonourable behaviour. ‘Cover me!’ shouted Jack as he sprinted forward to join Tadashi behind the central wall. Akiko and Yori let loose a round of snowballs. Three of them struck the lumbering figure of Raiden as he stepped out from behind his defence to target Jack. ‘OUT!’ announced Emi. The Scorpion Team retaliated with a barrage of snowballs. A moment later, there was a squeal of pain from behind. ‘OUT!’ ‘They’re using ice balls!’ cried Yori, a large bump already swelling on his forehead as he staggered to the sidelines. Tadashi gave Jack an uneasy look. ‘And I thought this was supposed to be a friendly game.’ Tadashi stood up and quickly blasted Kazuki’s team with several balls. The rest of the Phoenix Team joined in, but despite a courageous offensive, a long shot from Kazuki took out Akiko. Fortunately the ice ball struck her arm and not her face. Only Jack, Tadashi and Yamato were now left against four Scorpions.

Tadashi spotted Nobu trying to ferry ice balls to Kazuki. Launching a lightning attack, he managed to smack Nobu twice in the rear. ‘OUT!’ ‘Shame we’re not using ice balls,’ commented Tadashi, giving Jack a mischievous grin. ‘Or snowballs for that matter,’ replied Jack. ‘I’ve run out.’ With the fight now three on three, their main problem was the dwindling supply of ammunition. Tadashi indicated he only had five left, but he nonetheless passed three to Jack. Tadashi then spotted Saburo’s original stockpile by the bokken and signed his intention to get them. Jack threw a covering shot at Kazuki while Tadashi zigzagged towards them. Tadashi dived the last few paces but was plastered by two ice balls from Hiroto and Goro. ‘OUT!’ Tadashi thumped the snow in annoyance, then got up and and walked off the court. As he did so, he secretly signed to Jack where one of the Scorpion Team was hiding. Jack nodded his understanding. ‘Scorpions! Scorpions! Scorpions!’ chanted the supporters of Kazuki’s team. Jack and Yamato now stood alone in defence of the Phoenix bokken and the small group keeping up a chorus of ‘Phoenix!’ were in danger of being drowned out.

Yamato indicated to Jack he was out of snowballs. Jack pointed to Saburo’s pile. Yamato took a deep breath and darted over to them, sliding behind the semi-circular snow wall as an ice ball skimmed overhead. As Yamato attempted to pass Jack some snowballs, Goro had a clear view of him. He emerged from behind his defence but Jack, having been tipped off by Tadashi, was ready for him and flung a snowball at the Scorpion. It struck him cleanly, but too late. Goro had already launched his ice ball at Yamato. ‘OUT! OUT!’ declared Emi in quick succession, dismissing both Goro and Yamato. Now it was two against one. Jack peered from behind the protection of his shelter, trying to locate Kazuki and Hiroto. They had retreated to their bokken and were huddled safely behind the semicircular rear wall plotting their strategy to get the Phoenix’s bokken without being hit by Jack. Jack had one snowball left. How on earth was he going to defeat them both? Jack ran for Saburo’s remaining stockpile, but a barrage of ice balls sent him diving for cover behind the nearest mound. It was then that Jack’s eyes fell upon the shattered remains of one of the ice balls. Hidden inside was a shard of rock. Not only had the Scorpions compacted their snowballs into ice, they had now made them doubly dangerous. Jack didn’t know what to do. He had a single snowball. He could attempt to reach the remaining stockpile, but he would surely get hit and seriously injured. He could surrender, but he was certain Kazuki would throw his lethal iceballs anyway. Or…

Carefully peering round the edge of his snow mound, he spotted the perfect target. Ducking back down as an ice ball sailed past, he grabbed a couple of handfuls of extra snow and squeezed them together with his remaining snowball until he’d compacted it into a large ice ball of his own. Then, with all his strength, he lobbed it high and hard over the heads of Kazuki and Hiroto. The Scorpions’ supporters heckled loudly at Jack’s wild pitch. Jack ignored them. Instead he watched the ice ball sail up on to the peak of the Hall of the Hawk’s roof. He smiled in satisfaction as it slowly began to roll down the steep angled roof. ‘Pathetic!’ cried Kazuki with glee. But, unbeknown to Kazuki, the ice ball had picked up speed gathering powder snow as it went. As it reached the heavily laden eaves, its momentum caused the amassed snow to cascade like an avalanche. Kazuki and Hiroto glanced up just in time to see a wave of powder snow come crashing down on them. Within seconds, they were buried up to their necks. As more and more snow slid off the roof, they rapidly disappeared from view, much to the amusement of the crowd. Jack emerged from behind his shelter, strolled over to the Scorpion Team’s bokken and lifted it high above his head in a victory salute. ‘I pronounce the Phoenix Team the winners!’ Emi announced, smiling broadly at Jack. The rest of the Phoenix Team rushed over, lifting Jack high into the air to cheers from all the spectators.

‘Brilliant!’ shouted Yamato. ‘Inspired!’ agreed Tadashi, slapping Jack hard on the back. However, their celebrations were cut short by the jeering from the Scorpion Team. ‘The gaijin cheated!’ ‘He played without honour!’ ‘Nothing in the rules require snowballs to be aimed directly at an opponent,’ declared Tadashi above the shouting. ‘No question about it, we won.’ Jack couldn’t help but smile as he watched Kazuki and Hiroto being dug out of the snow. He had beaten the Scorpion Team. But his smile faded as an irate and shamed Kazuki shouted for all to hear, ‘Gaijin, you’re going to pay for that with your life!’ ooo000ooo

33 MUSHIN ‘I’m going to kill you!’ roared the samurai. Jack didn’t know what to do. The sudden attack had taken him off-guard. Sensei Hosokawa had gone crazy, his dark eyes merciless and intent on murder. He was charging directly at him with a razor-sharp katana and Jack realized that in the blink of an eye he’d be sliced open like a pig, his guts spilled out across the dojo floor. Only a few moments before Jack had been training with Tadashi in the Butokuden in preparation for the Circle, barely a month away. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jack had caught a gleam of steel and had spun round to see Sensei Hosokawa bearing down on him, his sword drawn. Sensei Hosokawa struck with lightning speed, the katana emitting a high whistling sound as it carved across Jack’s chest and down past his stomach. Jack shakily looked down, afraid of what he might see. But his entrails weren’t spread all over the floor. His belly remained intact. He was completely unharmed. The only thing cleaved apart had been his obi. The belt, sliced in two, fell to the floor in a defeated heap. ‘You’re dead,’ stated Sensei Hosokawa.

Jack swallowed back his shock, unable to respond. Gradually it dawned on him that this attack had been a ruthless lesson in martial arts. ‘You were thinking too much,’ Sensei Hosokawa continued, resheathing his sword. ‘You allowed yourself to be scared and it caused you to hesitate. If you hesitate in battle, you die.’ Sensei Hosokawa looked at both his students, ensuring they understood the warning. ‘B-but I thought you’d gone crazy,’ stammered Jack, suddenly regaining his voice. He trembled with a combination of shock and shame at being the victim of a sword stunt in front of his new friend Tadashi. He felt belittled. ‘I really thought you were going to kill me!’ ‘No, but next time the attack could be for real,’ replied Sensei Hosokawa gravely. ‘The three evils for a samurai are fear, doubt and confusion. You just displayed all of them.’ ‘So I’m not good enough? Is that what you’re telling me?’ snapped Jack, his frustration at his progress boiling to the surface. ‘Am I ever going to be? It seems there’s always something wrong with my technique. Why aren’t I getting any better?’ ‘Mastering the Way of the Sword is a long road,’ explained Sensei Hosokawa kindly. ‘Rushing it only hastens your death. Ichigo, Ichi-e. Have you heard that phrase before?’ Jack nodded, remembering the calligraphy on the scroll in daimyo Takatomi’s golden tea room.

‘One chance in a lifetime. That is all you ever get in a sword fight.’ Sensei Hosokawa looked Jack in the eye. ‘I want to give you that chance.’ Jack studied his feet, embarrassed by his outburst when his teacher was only trying to help. ‘The Gauntlet was all about fudoshin,’ Sensei Hosokawa continued. ‘You were being tested on whether you were able to control your body and mind under the pressure of an impossible battle. You proved yourself capable of fudoshin then, but fear and confusion during my attack now made you hesitate. You must learn to stare death in the face and react without hesitation. No fear. No confusion. No hesitation. No doubt.’ ‘But how could I have known that you would attack me? I was concentrating on sparring with Tadashi.’ ‘Mushin,’ stated Sensei Hosokawa. ‘Mushin?’ ‘Mushin means possessing a state of “no mind”.’ Sensei Hosokawa began to pace the floor as he always did when he lectured a class. ‘When a samurai is faced by an opponent, he must not mind the opponent; he must not mind himself; he must not mind the movement of his enemy’s sword. A samurai possessing mushin doesn’t rely on what move they think should be next. They act intuitively. Mushin is a spontaneous knowledge of every situation as it occurs.’

‘But how should I know what’s going to happen in a fight? Do you mean samurai have to see into the future?’ Sensei Hosokawa chuckled, amused at Jack’s suggestion. ‘No, Jack-kun, though it may appear that they do. You have to train your mind to be like water, openly flowing towards any possibility. This is the ideal mental state of a warrior in combat, one where you expect nothing, but are ready for anything.’ ‘So how do I get mushin?’ ‘First you must practise your cuts many thousands of times, until you can perform them instinctively, without conscious thought or hesitation. Until your sword becomes “no sword”.’ Jack glanced at Tadashi, who quietly stood by absorbing everything that was said. He wondered if Tadashi understood this concept of ‘no sword’. ‘I don’t understand,’ Jack admitted, hoping he wouldn’t appear stupid. ‘How can my katana become “no sword”? How can it no longer exist?’ ‘Your aim is to achieve unity between yourself and the sword.’ Sensei Hosokawa swiftly unsheathed his katana and held it aloft. ‘Once the sword exists only in your heart and mind,’ said Sensei Hosokawa, pressing the tip of his blade against Jack’s chest exactly where his heart lay, ‘then it becomes “no sword”. For when you strike, it isn’t you but the sword in the hand of your mind that strikes.’

Jack understood only a little of what his sensei was saying. He realized the sword master was teaching him great things, vital skills that he needed, but at the same time the sensei seemed to be tying one arm behind his back. If he was worthy of the Circle of Three and this concept of ‘no sword’ was so important, why wouldn’t Sensei Hosokawa allow him to train with a real blade? ‘But, with all respect, if you won’t let me use my katana, how can I make my sword become “no sword”?’ Sensei Hosokawa’s face suddenly became hard as stone. ‘When you begin to grasp mushin, then I will permit you to train with a sword.’ Jack grasped at this new glimmer of hope. Eager to pursue ‘no mind’ training, he asked, ‘How long will it take me to master mushin?’ ‘Five years,’ replied Sensei Hosokawa. ‘That long! I can’t wait five years,’ despaired Jack. ‘What if I work really hard at it?’ ‘Then you will need ten years.’ Mystified by this illogical answer, Jack asked, ‘Well, how about if I devote all my time to mushin?’ ‘Then you will need twenty years.’ ooo000ooo 34

GANJITSU The immense temple bell, the size of a mountain boulder, rang out for the one hundred and eighth time, its deep sonorous dong resonating into the night. Spirals of incense smoke swirled through the air and candles fluttered in all corners of the Buddha Hall like a heavenly constellation of stars. Jack stood in silence with the entire school as they waited for the slow swing of the long wooden pendulum hammer to come to a rest. ‘GOOD FORTUNE FOR THE NEW YEAR!’ announced Masamoto. Dressed in his ceremonial flame-red phoenix robes, he stood before a large bronze statue of the Buddha. The Niten Ichi Ryū was celebrating Ganjitsu, a festival that marked the beginning of the New Year. Jack had discovered that the Japanese celebrated New Year, not on the first of January like most Western countries, but according to the Chinese calendar several weeks later in anticipation of the arrival of spring. It had been Sensei Yamada’s honour to strike the temple bell for the final time to mark midnight, and he now knelt before the Buddha shrine in order to bestow blessings upon the school. Robed in their finest kimono, the students formed a line that coiled round the hall like a bejewelled dragon. Jack wore the burgundy silk kimono that Akiko’s mother, Hiroko, had given him on leaving Toba. It bore Masamoto’s phoenix kamon, picked out in fine golden thread so that it caught the light every time he moved. That though was nothing compared to Akiko’s attire. She had a purple

orchid in her hair and was dressed in a glorious yellow, green and blue sparkling kimono that appeared to be woven out of hundreds of butterfly wings. ‘So why was the bell tolled exactly one hundred and eight times?’ Jack asked as they waited in line to receive their first blessing of the year. The rituals of Buddhism were still bizarre to his Christian way of thinking. Akiko didn’t respond. When Jack looked, her attention was elsewhere, her eyes far away, and her face appeared paler than usual. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked. Akiko blinked and her eyes came back into focus. ‘Yes, I’m fine.’ Jack studied her a moment longer. She smiled back in response to his concern, but her eyes looked rheumy. Beside her, Yori was fumbling with the sleeves of his kimono, which hung too long for his tiny frame. He answered Jack’s question instead. ‘Buddhists believe that man suffers from one hundred and eight desires or sins. With each ring of the bell, one of these sins is driven out and the evils of the previous year forgiven.’ What a curious way to be pardoned, thought Jack, having been brought up believing only God and Christ alone had the power to forgive sins. Despite his scepticism, Jack thought he could still hear the bell ringing inside his head. Then he realized Sensei Yamada was gently striking a large brass bowl while hammering out a hypnotic rhythm upon a wooden block

and chanting softly to each student in turn. The bowl sounded as if it was singing, the note going round and round in an undying circle. When it became their turn to be blessed, Akiko whispered, ‘Follow what I do.’ Jack had considered not participating in the Buddhist ceremony, but he realized that with the growing animosity towards Christians and foreigners he needed to blend in as much as possible. Showing his willingness to accept Japanese beliefs might help him to win favour. Besides, as Sensei Yamada had once said, their religions were ‘all strands of the same rug, only different colours’. Jack carefully watched Akiko step up to a large urn full of sand, take a stick of incense from a nearby box and light it with a candle. She stuck the incense among the forest of burning sticks, the urn now resembling a huge smoking pincushion. Akiko then bowed twice in the direction of the bronze Buddha, following this with two hand claps and a final bow. Sensei Yamada beckoned Akiko over. She knelt down before him, bowed once more, then offered the monk her orchid as a gift. Jack suddenly realized he hadn’t brought a gift to offer the Buddha. But before he could do anything about it, it was his turn. Without any other alternative, Jack stepped up to the urn, a large waft of woody incense filling his nostrils, and repeated the ritual that he had seen Akiko perform. He then knelt and bowed awkwardly before Sensei Yamada. ‘I’m sorry, Sensei,’ began Jack, bowing again by way of an apology, ‘but I don’t have anything to give.’

‘Don’t worry, Jack-kun. You’re not yet familiar with all our customs,’ said the old monk, smiling serenely back at him. ‘The most perfect gift to offer is an honest and sincere heart. It is clear to me that is exactly what you’ve just brought to the altar and in return I will bestow my blessings upon you for the year.’ Sensei Yamada began a Buddhist chant that rolled from his lips and flowed warm and hypnotic into Jack’s ears… ‘Just as the soft rains fill the streams, pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans…’ …the silken words weaved in and out of the chimes of the singing bowl and Jack felt his eyes begin to close… ‘So may the power of every moment of your goodness flow forth to awaken and heal all beings…’ …Jack’s ears thrummed with each beat of the wooden block and he began to drift, his whole being gently vibrating… ‘Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.’ He opened his eyes, his mind calmed and his heart filled with an expansive joy. His Zen master bowed to indicate the blessing was over. Jack thanked him and got up to depart, when on an impulse he said, ‘Sensei, may I ask you something?’ The old monk nodded. Recalling Sensei Hosokawa’s riddle of the years, Jack continued, ‘I have to master mushin quickly, but I don’t understand how the harder I work at it, the longer it will take.’

‘The answer is to slow down,’ replied Sensei Yamada. Jack stared at his teacher, mystified by yet another contradiction. ‘But won’t that take even longer?’ Sensei Yamada shook his head. ‘Impatience is a hindrance. As with all things, if you attempt to take short cuts, the final destination will rarely be as good and may even be unattainable.’ Jack thought he understood and Sensei Yamada smiled, recognizing the glimmer of enlightenment in Jack’s eyes. ‘More haste, less speed, young samurai.’ Outside, the courtyard was empty of snow and the early signs of spring could be seen in the budding flowers of the surrounding cherry-blossom trees. Jack, Akiko and the others made their way over to the Hall of Butterflies where the Ganjitsu celebrations were to continue until dawn. Inside the Chō-no-ma, tables had been laid with bowls of ozoni soup and plates piled high with sticky white rice cakes called mochi. Several groups of students were already tucking into the feast. A small crowd was gathered around two girls in the middle of the hall who were giggling loudly as they batted a feathered shuttlecock between them with wooden paddles. Jack noticed that the face of one of the girls was covered in large black spots. ‘What’s going on?’ asked Jack, sitting down at a free table. ‘Hanetsuki,’ Akiko replied, pouring each of them a cup of steaming sencha. ‘If you fail to hit the shuttlecock, your face is marked with ink.’

A cheer and more laughter erupted as the girl missed the shuttlecock again and had to suffer another blotch of ink. ‘May I join you?’ asked Tadashi, bearing a plate of rice cakes. Yamato and Saburo shuffled along to make room for him beside Jack. ‘Here, try this,’ suggested Tadashi, offering Jack a mochi. Jack bit into the rice cake. While it was tasty, it was also very glutinous and he found it difficult to swallow. Tadashi laughed and slapped him on the back to stop him choking. Jack took several swigs of sencha to wash the rice cake down. Tadashi offered the rice cakes to the rest of the table. Everyone tucked in, though Jack noticed Akiko didn’t touch her food. Then he spotted Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang sit down at the table opposite. Kazuki glanced over at Jack but ignored him. His friends began to clear the table of plates, while Kazuki dealt out a deck of cards across its surface. They huddled close as he selected a card from another pile and read its contents to the group. Immediately, there began a frenzy of card-snatching and boisterous shouting at one another. ‘What’s that they’re playing?’ asked Jack. ‘Obake Karuta,’ replied Tadashi, putting down his soup. ‘One person reads out clues and the others have to match it to a legendary character or monster featured on one of the upturned

cards. The player who accumulates the most cards by the end of the game wins.’ ‘Jack, I’ll show you a game you should try,’ Yamato announced, finishing his sencha. ‘Fukuwarai.’ ‘Fuku-what?’ repeated Jack. But Yamato merely beckoned him over to where a group of students was huddled round a picture of a face hung upon the wall. They were all laughing at a blindfolded girl who was trying to pin a mouth on to the face. Judging by the fact that the eyes and nose were located on its chin, she wasn’t doing very well. ‘Go on, Jack,’ encouraged Yamato after the girl had pinned the mouth to the face’s forehead, ‘you have a go.’ Yamato grabbed Jack, blindfolded him and handed him the mouth. He then positioned him three paces in front of the blank face before spinning him round several times. Completely disorientated and unable to see, Jack wondered how on earth he would even find the face, let alone pin the mouth in the correct place. ‘He’s got no chance,’ he heard Tadashi say. ‘He’s not even looking the right way!’ It was then that Jack recalled Sensei Kano’s words: ‘To see with eyes alone is not to see at all.’ Using the sensitivity skills he’d been taught during the past couple of months, Jack listened to the crowd’s whispers, judging where the paper face was in relation to the changes in background noise. Turning until he found the blank

spot among the chatter, he figured he was now facing the wall. He then visualized the face in his mind’s eye, took three confident paces forward and stuck the mouth on. ‘Good work, Jack. Now the eyes and nose.’ Yamato spun him again, then handed him the other features. Once more Jack ‘listened’ for the face, using all his other senses to judge where to go. Once he finished, a stunned silence filled the air. Then everyone applauded. ‘How did he do that?’ exclaimed Tadashi to Yamato. ‘He must have cheated. Jack, you couldn’t see, could you?’ Shaking his head, Jack lifted the blindfold. In front of him was the picture of a perfectly proportioned face. Sensei Kano’s chi sao training was clearly working. ‘Beginner’s luck,’ explained Yamato, giving Jack a conspiratorial nudge with his elbow. They went back to the table to rejoin the others. Akiko was no longer among them. ‘Where’s Akiko?’ Jack asked. ‘She said she wasn’t feeling very well and went to bed,’ replied Kiku. ‘She thinks it’s something she drank.’ ‘Has anyone gone and checked on her?’ said Jack, recalling how pale she had looked during the ceremony and her lack of appetite. They all shook their heads. Worried, Jack excused himself and made his way over to the Hall of Lions.

Akiko wasn’t in her room. He checked the bathhouse and toilets. She wasn’t there either. He wondered if she had gone back to the party. Jack was about to return to the Hall of Butterflies, when he spotted a lone figure leaving the school via the side gate. Jack ran out of the school gate and into the midst of a carnival. ooo000ooo 35 HATSUHINODE Kyoto’s streets were full of revellers and each temple brimmed with worshippers. The entrances to every house were decorated with pine boughs, bamboo stalks and plum-tree sprigs as an invitation to the protecting spirit toshigami to bless the home; while the doors had been hung with plaited ropes festooned with strips of white paper to keep away evil spirits. Jack spotted Akiko stumbling down the street. Although conscious of the monk’s warning to respect his friend’s privacy, he was more concerned at this moment about where she was going in such a sickly state. Pushing through the crowds, Jack tried to catch up with Akiko, following her down a side alley, across a market square and into a large tree-lined courtyard thronged with people. A group of drunken samurai bumped into Jack and he lost sight of Akiko among the mass of worshippers. ‘Get out my way!’ slurred one of the samurai, grabbing Jack by the lapel of his kimono. The samurai lent close, his breath reeking sharply of saké.

‘A gaijin,’ he spat into Jack’s face. ‘What you doing here? This isn’t your country.’ ‘You’d best leave him be,’ advised another in the group, who pointed an unsteady finger at the phoenix kamon on Jack’s kimono. ‘He’s Masamoto’s. You know, the young gaijin samurai.’ The drunken man let go as if Jack’s clothing were on fire. ‘I’ll be glad when daimyo Kamakura cleanses Kyoto, like he’s doing in Edo,’ snarled the samurai before staggering off into the crowd with his friends. Jack was shaken by the encounter. Until now, he hadn’t truly realized the danger he’d put himself in, wandering alone through Kyoto’s backstreets. He was comparatively safe within the school grounds. Outside it was only Masamoto’s reputation that protected him and he couldn’t rely on everyone recognizing his guardian’s family crest. He needed to find Akiko before he got himself into even more trouble. Jack looked around nervously, but the majority of revellers were too wrapped up in their celebrations to give him more than a cursory glance. Then he recognized where he was. In front of him were the stone steps and arched green roof of the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. ‘Why are you following me?’ Jack spun round. Akiko’s ashen face stared at him out of the crowd. ‘Kiku said you were sick…’ replied Jack.

‘Jack, I can look after myself. I’ve just drunk something that didn’t agree with me, that’s all.’ She studied him severely. ‘Anyway, you’ve followed me here before, haven’t you?’ Jack nodded, feeling like a criminal caught red-handed. ‘I appreciate your concern,’ continued Akiko, though there was no warmth in her voice, ‘but if I had wanted you to know where I was going, I would have told you.’ Jack realized that he’d lost Akiko’s trust in him. ‘I’m… so sorry, Akiko,’ he stammered. ‘I didn’t mean to. It’s just…’ Words failed him and he found himself staring at his own feet to avoid her gaze. ‘It’s just what?’ she persisted. ‘I… care for you and was worried.’ The words blurted out of him without warning, then his feelings for her spilled over. ‘Ever since I’ve been stranded here, all you’ve ever done is look after me. You’ve been my only true friend. But what have I ever done for you in return? I’m sorry for following you, but you were sick and I thought you might need my help. Can’t I watch out for you too sometimes?’ The coldness in Akiko’s eyes thawed and the icy distance that had come between them melted. ‘Do you really want to know where I was going?’ asked Akiko softly. ‘Not if you don’t want to tell me,’ replied Jack, and he turned to leave.

‘But I should tell you. You need to know,’ insisted Akiko, laying a hand upon his arm to stop him going. ‘It’s my baby brother’s birthday today.’ ‘You mean Jiro?’ said Jack, surprised, remembering the cheerful little boy he had befriended in Toba over a year ago. ‘No, I have another brother. His name is Kiyoshi.’ Her eyes misted at the mention of his name. ‘Sadly he’s no longer with us, so I was going to the shrine to pray for him. He would be eight today.’ The same age as Jess, thought Jack, and he felt a pang of anguish in his heart for his sister. ‘I’ve missed him greatly this past year,’ Akiko went on, ‘so I’ve been seeking spiritual comfort from a priest, one of the monks at the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon.’ Jack now felt doubly guilty. This was the real reason behind her mysterious disappearances. She was mourning her baby brother. ‘I’m sorry… I didn’t know –’ ‘Don’t be, Jack,’ she interrupted, motioning with a nod of her head for him to follow her up the entrance steps of the temple. ‘Why not come with me now to the shrine and make a blessing for my brother? Then we can climb Mount Hiei together in time for hatsuhinode.’ Akiko huddled closer to Jack for warmth. They sat alone, in the shelter of a ruined temple wall at the edge of Enryakuji, overlooking Kyoto, which was hidden by early morning

mist in the valley below. The frigid mountain air made them both shiver, but inside Jack was feeling a warm glow. They had visited the little shrine within the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. Akiko had briefly spoken with the monk in private and then together they had made their peace offerings and prayers to Kiyoshi. This shared experience was the first time Jack had felt included in Akiko’s personal life. It was as if a screen had been pulled back to reveal a delicate tapestry that once seen would never be forgotten. With Akiko’s night excursions now explained, Jack felt at ease with her again. The monk with the knife-like hands seemed an unusual choice for a comforting priest, but who was he to question her choice. Jack still wondered at Akiko’s inexplicable tree-scaling skills, but perhaps she had been telling the truth and had always been good at climbing. Whatever the explanation, Jack was just content to be feeling close to Akiko again. Having wound their way up the steep mountain slopes of Mount Hiei, they now waited for hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year. ‘New Year’s Day is the key to unlocking the year,’ Akiko explained dreamily, her breath fogging in the chilly air. ‘It’s a time of new beginnings. We think about the past year, bury the bad and remember the good, then make our resolutions for the New Year. We always pay special attention to the first time something is done, whether it’s the first visit to a temple, the first sunrise or the first dream.’ ‘What’s so important about your first dream?’ Jack asked. ‘It foretells your luck for the forthcoming year.’

Akiko looked up at Jack, her eyes sleepy, and yawned, the tiredness from staying up all night finally taking hold. Her face, though still pale, had lost its deathly pallor since visiting the monk, and her health appeared to be returning with the onset of a brandnew day. ‘Dream well tonight,’ she whispered. Akiko drew closer to him and soon fell asleep on his shoulder. Jack sat in silence, listening to the dawn chorus, as the first rays of the New Year sun began to warm them both. ooo000ooo 36 THE NET WIDENS Akiko lay motionless at the foot of the mountain. But it was not a mountain Jack recognized. A great black volcanic cone thrusting out of the ground, its peak capped in ice and snow, the mountain dominated the landscape. Jack stood upon a stony path that wound its way tortuously across broken ground towards the prone body of Akiko, who held a large lobed leaf in her left hand. Between the two of them scurried four black scorpions, their barbed tails twitching, their black beady eyes shiny with malice. A lone hawk soared across an empty sky, emitting a mournful rasping screech. Then suddenly one of the scorpions scuttled over to Akiko and arched its back to strike its stinger into her chest.

‘AKIKO!’ he screamed… ‘Jack, I’m here,’ came her reply, soft and gentle by his ear. Jack’s eyes snapped open. Branches hung over him in a bower so thick with pink-white cherry blossom that they blotted out the bright blue sky and shaded him from the hot spring sunshine. Jack sat up. Akiko was beside him. Yamato and Kiku were there too, leaning against the trunk of the tree and observing him with concern. Now he remembered where he was. It was the middle of spring and they had gone to one of Kyoto’s many gardens for hanami, a flowerviewing party. A southerly wind blew through and the blossom fell like teardrops on to the ground, some of the petals catching in Akiko’s hair. ‘It’s all right. You were dreaming,’ she soothed, brushing the blossom away. ‘Was it the same one?’ Jack nodded, his mouth dry with dread. Yes, it was the same dream as his first of the year. He had told Akiko about it the day after New Year, though he still couldn’t bring himself to reveal her part in the vision. At the time, he had sought Sensei Yamada’s advice and the Zen master had divined, ‘The mountain you see is Mount Fuji. Being our highest mountain and the home of many great spirits, its appearance in your dream signifies good luck. The hawk represents strength and quick-wittedness; while the leaf you

describe sounds like that of an eggplant. Its name, nasu, can mean the achievement of something great. This bodes well for the future.’ Not a believer of dream divination until his experiences in Japan, Jack had breathed a sigh of relief at the sensei’s positive reading. But then the old monk had continued, ‘On the other hand, the presence of scorpions often symbolizes an act of treachery preventing such greatness. Moreover, the number shi is considered very bad luck. The word for “four” can also mean death.’ ‘You have to see this!’ Saburo shouted, disrupting Jack’s thoughts. Saburo hurried breathlessly over to the cherry-blossom tree with Yori in tow. He was pointing to a large wooden sign being erected in the street. They all got up and left the garden to get a closer look. ‘It’s a declaration,’ Yamato explained for Jack’s benefit. ‘It says, “Whoever wants to challenge me shall be accepted. Leave your name and place of abode upon this sign. Sasaki Bishamon.”’ ‘Nice,’ said Kiku in a sarcastic tone. ‘A samurai on his warrior pilgrimage and he’s named after the God of War!’ ‘Do you think we’ll get to see a duel?’ enthused Saburo, acting out a fight against an imaginary opponent. ‘We won’t be here,’ Akiko reminded them as another gust of wind blew blossom from the trees, carpeting the ground in white. The fall of the blossom meant that the time for the Circle of Three had finally arrived.

Jack could not wait to go. He was desperate to discover what the three challenges were. Having trained so hard since his selection, he felt like a rope stretched taut and ready to snap. ‘But the sign’s just gone up,’ persisted Saburo. ‘We’ll only be in the Iga mountains for a few days. Surely we’ll get back in time to see at least one of the fights.’ Kiku gave Saburo a grave look. ‘That’s if he survives the first one.’ Jack sensed the lunge punch without seeing it. He deflected it neatly past his ear, while countering with a back fist to the head. Yamato gauged the move, pulling back out of reach and sweeping his hand across in a combined block and knife-hand strike. Jack caught it, trapped the arm and drove his fist forward. Yamato disengaged, slipping the punch and retaliating with a hammer fist to the bridge of the nose. All the time they maintained contact with one another. All the time they sought gaps in each other’s defence. Throughout they were blindfolded. ‘Excellent, boys,’ praised Sensei Kano, who leant nonchalantly on his white staff in a side garden of the Eikan-Do Temple where the chi sao lesson was taking place. ‘But I sense you’re playing with one another. Go for the kill!’ Sensei Kano had been training them rigorously in the run-up to the Circle of Three and both boys had become adept at the Sticky Hands technique as well as the use of their other senses. Jack could

now pick out sound shadows whether in a forest or a Kyoto side street, though he still found the task impossible in a silent room. This was Jack’s final session to prove to Sensei Kano he was ready for the Circle of Three. He concentrated hard on following Yamato’s movements with his hands. He and Yamato were evenly matched so their attacks got faster and faster, becoming a blur as they tried to outdo one another. Strike. Block. Punch. Evade. Jack sensed Yamato shift his body weight, but was a second too late in retracting his foot. Yamato swept his front leg from under him and Jack lost his balance. The moment’s distraction was all Yamato needed. He open-palmed Jack in the head and Jack toppled sideways. With nothing to grab on to, Jack fell and plunged into the water below. Sensei Kano had instructed them to fight on a narrow footbridge that straddled the stream running into the pond of the temple. This had been their last training session and this, their final test. Yamato had won. Jack had lost. He came up gasping. The stream was icy cold in contrast to the heat of the day and he climbed out on to the bank, shivering like a leaf. ‘Your balance is still off, Jack-kun, but you’re ready nonetheless,’ said Sensei Kano. ‘We’ll have to focus on that when you get back from the Circle of Three. I’ll get you fighting with bō blindfolded on

a log. That should sharpen your senses, or else you’ll grow gills from being in the water all the time!’ Sensei Kano chuckled deeply at his little joke before wandering off into the gardens. Yamato grinned too and Jack knew why. Not only had Yamato outperformed him in chi sao, but he was the best student in their class with the bō. He could beat Jack in sparring every time, even if he was blindfolded and Jack wasn’t. With the final test over, Jack hurried back to the Niten Ichi Ryū, Yamato in tow, to pack for the next day’s arduous trek into the Iga mountain range. As they entered the school gates, Jack noticed Hiroto and Goro hovering over a small boy from the year below. He was looking up at them and shaking his head vigorously. Goro pushed the boy hard in the chest and the boy stumbled backwards, striking his head against the wall. He began to cry. Jack and Yamato rushed over. ‘Leave him alone,’ Jack ordered, grabbing Goro’s arm. ‘Stay out of it, gaijin!’ warned Hiroto, advancing on Jack. ‘No, we won’t,’ answered Yamato, stepping between Hiroto and Jack, ‘and don’t call Jack gaijin, unless you want to deal with me too.’ A stalemate occurred and the little boy glanced nervously between them, waiting to see who would make the next move.

‘You’ll be sorry for sticking your big nose into our business,’ threatened Hiroto, stabbing a stick-thin finger into Jack’s chest. Hiroto gestured to Goro and they left. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Jack, once the two Scorpion Gang members had gone. The boy snuffled, choking back his sobs and rubbing his bruised head. He looked up at Jack, his eyes red with tears, then blurted, ‘They said I was a traitor, that I was no longer Japanese, that I was unworthy to be called a samurai and that I would be punished if I didn’t renounce my faith.’ ‘But why should they object to you being a Buddhist?’ asked Jack. ‘I’m not just a Buddhist. Last year, my family converted to Christianity.’ Jack was taken aback by the boy’s revelation. Although he’d been hearing increasing rumours of Christian persecution and the expulsion of gaijin around the country, he’d always assumed that the prejudice was directed at foreign Christians. He didn’t realize it extended to Japanese Christians as well. If such harassment was happening within the Niten Ichi Ryū, Jack could only imagine how bad things were in the rest of the country. The idea of travelling on foot to the Iga mountains for the Circle of Three was no longer an inviting prospect – it was a risk to his life. ooo000ooo 37

BODY CHALLENGE The rain fell as hard as nails. The single-track road, churned up by the horses’ hooves and pedestrian traffic, had become a quagmire of mud slowing their progress to that of a snail’s. The tall trees on either side rose up into a sky pregnant with black clouds and blocked out much of the evening’s fading light. There was a growing unease among the travellers as they wound their way through the wooded mountain pass to the town of Iga Ueno, for the dark recesses of the forest concealed any number of dangers, from wild boars to pillaging bandits. The column of students trudged on wearily, headed by Masamoto and Sensei Hosokawa on horseback. Although only six entrants had been accepted into the Circle of Three, there had been an open invitation for supporters to attend. Around half the school had decided to join the expedition. Many were now regretting that decision. Suddenly something broke from the undergrowth and flew at Sensei Hosokawa. The sensei’s sword flashed in the twilight. But it stopped short as a black-feathered grouse flew overhead. The bird would never know how close it had just come to death. Masamoto laughed. ‘Scared of an old bird, my friend? Or were you thinking of killing it for your supper?’

Jack noticed that Sensei Yosa had also gone for her weapon and was cautiously releasing the tension on her bow and returning the arrow to her quiver. In fact, out of all the sensei, only Sensei Kano had remained at ease, seemingly aware from the very start that the threat was harmless. ‘Why are the sensei so jumpy?’ asked Jack, quickening his pace to walk beside Akiko. Not that he was any less nervous. Despite being under the direct protection of Masamoto, Jack was concerned that some unwitting samurai loyal to daimyo Kamakura might try to expel him from Japan, either respectfully or by the sword. ‘We’re passing through ninja territory,’ whispered Akiko. In Jack’s mind, every shadow in the forest suddenly grew eyes. He caught a movement on the edge of his vision, but it turned out to be nothing more than the swaying of a branch. Behind him, Yamato, Saburo, Yori and Kiku, who had overheard their conversation, glanced around nervously, little Yori turning white as a sheet. ‘This region is the stronghold of the Iga clans,’ continued Akiko under her breath. ‘In fact, these mountains provided refuge against General Nobunaga’s attempted destruction of the ninja thirty years ago. He brought in over forty thousand troops against some four thousand ninja. The ninja still survived and somewhere in those mountains is Dokugan Ryu’s hiding place.’ ‘But how do you know all this?’ asked Jack. ‘From stories, hearsay, the sensei…’ She trailed off and pointed up ahead. ‘Look, we’re nearly there. Hakuhojo, the Castle of the White Phoenix.’

Through the rain and mist, Jack saw that the track had opened out into a small valley basin ringed by mountains. In the distance a three-tiered castle of white wood and grey tiled roofs materialized. However, the mist quickly descended and the castle disappeared as if it were a ghost in a storm. Night had fallen by the time they reached the outskirts of Iga Ueno and the castle was now only discernible by the lanterns that burned within. Jack was relieved to enter the safety of the town. The journey from Kyoto had been tough and, like everyone else, he was soaked through, cold and tired. His back was stiff from carrying his pack and his muscles were aching and sore from dragging his feet through the mud. He would be glad to reach their temple lodgings, get a warm bath, food and a good night’s sleep. ‘Get up!’ ordered Sensei Kyuzo, kicking the sleeping form of Jack with his foot. ‘The Circle of Three begins now.’ Jack struggled to his feet, bleary-eyed. He’d not been asleep more than an hour when the sensei had begun rounding up the entrants. Jack followed his taijutsu master along the corridor and entered the main temple, a dark wood-panelled room lit by softly glowing lanterns. The room was dominated by a large wooden Buddha, which emanated such spiritual energy it seemed to have a life all of its own. As Jack lined up with the others facing the shrine, he was greeted by several rows of shaven-headed monks in brilliant white robes chanting a mantra that sounded as if it had been sung since the beginning of time.

‘…om amogha vairocana mahamudra manipadma jvala pravarttaya hum…’ ‘It’s the Mantra of Light,’ whispered Yori reverentially. He stood next to Jack, nervously tugging at a paper crane concealed in his hand. ‘The phrase contains the Buddha’s wisdom which helps guide these monks to satori.’ Jack nodded and gave his friend what he hoped was a confident smile. In reality, he was a bundle of nerves and excitement. After four trials and several months of training, the Circle of Three and its three challenges of Mind, Body and Spirit would be revealed to them. A sudden stab of doubt struck his heart. Had his impatience to learn the Two Heavens clouded his judgement? Was he ready for such a test? He was so tired from the journey and he now realized their sleep had been disrupted as a trick to unsettle the entrants at the first stage. The challenge of the Circle of Three had already begun. He glanced down the line in Akiko’s direction. Despite the determined look in her eyes, the dark shadows that ringed them showed she too was exhausted from the long journey. Next to her was Harumi, the other girl contender, who appeared equally tired. At the end stood Tadashi. He nodded to Jack and held up a clenched fist as a sign of encouragement. Kazuki then filed in and stood next to Jack, but ignored him completely. Led by Masamoto, the teachers entered and seated themselves to one side. Then the student supporters filed in and knelt behind them in four neat rows. The monks’ chant rolled to an end, receding

like the sound of a wave, and the High Priest stood to greet the congregation. The priest’s face was old and wrinkled, but his body appeared as resilient as stone and, like the Buddha statue, radiated a powerful inner energy. ‘Welcome, Masamoto-sama, to the Tendai Temple,’ he said in the serene voice of a man at peace with himself. ‘Thank you for allowing us to stay as your humble guests,’ Masamoto replied, bowing low to the priest. ‘May I present to you our entrants for the Circle of Three? May they prove worthy in Mind, Body and Spirit.’ He gestured towards Jack and the others with a wide sweep of his hand. The priest surveyed the six young samurai, his eyes falling upon Jack last. Jack was hypnotized by the intensity of the old monk’s gaze. As deep as a well and as infinite as the sky, it was as if the monk was aware of everything. Jack felt he was staring into the eyes of a living god. ‘We shall begin with the Body challenge,’ announced the priest. Stepping forward, he blessed each of the entrants with words that Jack didn’t understand, but sensed had great power. Once the priest had finished, six novice monks stepped forward with a cup of water, a bowl of thin miso soup and a small ball of rice. They handed each in turn to the entrants. Realizing how hungry he was, Jack drained his soup and water and devoured the rice ball in a matter of moments. Next they were presented with three pairs of straw sandals, a white vestment, a sheathed knife, a rope, a book, a paper lantern and a long straw hat shaped like the upturned hull of a boat. The

monks helped the entrants into the white robe, tied the hat to their heads and slipped a pair of the sandals on to their bare feet. Throughout all this, no explanation was given. ‘What’s all this for?’ whispered Jack to the monk who was helping him to dress in the strange assortment of clothing and equipment. The monk, busy with wrapping the rope round Jack’s waist, looked up. ‘You’re wearing a robe of white, the Buddhist colour of death, to remind you of how close you will come to the limits of life itself,’ he whispered. ‘The rope is known as “the cord of death”. This, together with the knife, serves to remind all novice monks of their duty to take their life if they do not complete their pilgrimage, either by hanging or self-disembowelment.’ Not being a monk, Jack was glad this rule didn’t apply to him. The preparations complete, their lanterns were lit and the six entrants were led outside into the darkened temple courtyard. The rain had eased, but there was a chill wind blowing and Jack gave an involuntary shudder. The priest, sheltering beneath an umbrella held by one of his monks, beckoned them into the centre of the courtyard. The six of them gathered round, each shivering in their own pool of lantern light, their faces drawn and anxious. ‘You are to complete just one day of the Thousand Day Pilgrimage my Tendai monks have to accomplish as part of their

spiritual training,’ he announced. ‘Our temple believes challenge is a mountain with enlightenment at its peak. Climb the mountain and satori is yours.’ The priest pointed into the darkness. Against the thunderous sky, Jack could just make out the shadowy outline of a mountain backlit by sheet lightning. ‘You will go to the top of the first Circle of Three and back, praying at each of the twenty shrines marked in your books,’ explained the priest. ‘You will undertake this challenge alone. You cannot stop to sleep. You are not allowed to eat. And you must return to this temple before the first light of dawn strikes the eyes of the wooden Buddha.’ The priest looked at each of them in turn, his gaze seeming to penetrate their very souls. ‘If you hear my monks complete the Mantra of Light, then you are too late.’ ooo000ooo 38 RUNNING ON EMPTY Jack had hit his limit. He couldn’t go on. His body was rebelling and a lonesome desperation descended upon him as he listened to the sound of his straw sandals squelching in the mud.

The rain, which had slackened at the start of the challenge, was now cascading in a torrential downpour and Jack was soaked to the skin. His feet were aching blocks of ice, his second pair of straw sandals were already disintegrating, and his muscles burned with a sickening pain. But he couldn’t stop. He wasn’t allowed to. ‘To reach the top, you have to climb a mountain step by step,’ the High Priest had told the six Circle entrants prior to commencing the Body challenge. ‘You will experience pain on this journey, but remember the pain is only a symptom of the effort you’re putting into the task. You must break through this barrier.’ But Jack was finding the pain too great to overcome. He’d been running for over half the night. He was hungry and weak from exhaustion; the energy from the pitiful last meal was already burnt up and he had visited only fourteen of the twenty shrines he had to reach before dawn. Jack stumbled on. But the fifteenth shrine was still nowhere in sight. Surely he must have passed it by now. He began to question whether the Two Heavens could be worth such physical punishment and all the momentum from his body ebbed away as his mind took hold, coaxing him to stop. ‘Climb the mountain and satori is yours,’ the priest had told them.

Jack no longer cared for enlightenment. All he wanted was a bed and to be warm and dry. He felt his pace almost grinding to a halt. This challenge was impossible. How was he supposed to find his way along mountain trails, made treacherous by the rain, in complete darkness? Somehow he was meant to cover a distance equivalent to crossing the Channel from England to France, with only a paper lantern to light the way and a tiny book of directions to guide him to each of the twenty shrines. There was no chance of taking a short cut, since the shrines had to be visited in a set order and his book stamped with an ink woodblock to prove he’d been there. Jack wished he had someone else to follow and encourage him on, but each entrant had been separated by a short period of time measured by the burning of a stick of incense. He was alone in his suffering. Without food or sleep, he wondered whether anyone would get to the temple’s main shrine before the first light of dawn struck the eyes of the wooden Buddha. Despair had Jack in its grip and it weakened the last threads of his determination. His foot struck something solid and he went tumbling forward. Jack fell to his knees, defeated. His lantern, miraculously still burning in the downpour, illuminated an old moss-covered gravestone. The whole trail, Jack had discovered, was littered with such burial sites, each one marking the mortal fate of a monk who had failed in his pilgrimage.

He looked down at the rope round his waist and the knife in his belt. That would not be his fate, however desperate things became. Jack attempted to stand, but the effort was too great and he slumped to his hands and knees in the mud. His body had given up. The Circle of Three had broken him at the first hurdle. Jack had no idea how long he stayed there on all fours in the pouring rain, but deep in the recesses of his mind he heard Sensei Yamada’s voice, ‘Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would expect you to fall apart, now that’s true strength.’ Jack hung on to these words like a lifeline. His sensei was right. He must continue. This was his path to becoming a true samurai warrior. His fast track to learning the unbeatable Two Heavens technique. Jack crawled through the mud. He willed himself to rise above the pain in his legs and knees. He had to complete the Body challenge. He reminded himself that this single night’s task represented only one day of the Thousand Day Pilgrimage the Tendai monks had to complete as part of their spiritual training. The High Priest had told them that over a period of seven years, his disciples would run the equivalent of the circumference of the world. Only forty-six monks had ever completed this extraordinary ritual in the past four centuries, but the old priest was living proof that it could be done.

He was the forty-sixth. If that old man could complete one thousand days, then surely Jack could manage one. He lifted his head, letting the cool rain wash the grime from his face. In the darkness, a glint of light from his lantern reflected off the fifteenth shrine only a little farther up the path. Don’t try to eat an elephant for lunch. The phrase popped out of nowhere and Jack laughed at the absurd saying Sensei Yamada had given Yori. But now he understood. By breaking down the course into smaller sections and tackling it piece by piece, perhaps he could finish the challenge. Jack focused on the fifteenth shrine as his first achievable goal. A trickle of energy seeped into his body and he got back to his feet. He took one unsteady step forward, then another, each step bringing him closer to his goal of the fifteenth shrine. Reaching the shrine, Jack rejoiced and said a little prayer. The words filled him with optimism. With a renewed determination that masked his aches and pains, he stamped his book and set off down the path to his next goal, the sixteenth shrine. He was running. He had broken through the pain barrier the High Priest had spoken of. But Jack hadn’t gone twenty paces when he spotted two red eyes glaring at him out of the darkness. A strangled scream erupted from this devilish apparition and it charged straight at him. ooo000ooo

39 YORI Jack barely had time to avoid the bloody tusks as he dived for cover. The wild boar thundered towards him, its head down to attack. The tusks slashed upwards, missing Jack’s left leg by a hair’s breadth. The animal careered past before disappearing into the undergrowth. Jack lay there in the bushes, panting for breath. He listened to the hellish squeal recede until eventually it was drowned out by the storm. In his desperation to evade the wild boar, Jack had dropped his lantern and it now lay crushed and useless in the mud, its flame extinguished. What was he to do now? It was the middle of the night and the dense forest meant he could barely see more than a few feet in front of him. He would surely get lost on the mountainside if he tried to find his way down in the darkness. And, he reminded himself, he was deep in ninja territory. His chances of finishing the challenge, let alone getting off the mountain alive, were minimal. Having been the last to start, there was also little point in waiting to be discovered. If he stayed put, there was a danger of dying from the extreme cold. His predicament couldn’t be much worse. Too tired to cry, he got angry instead. Getting to his feet, Jack stumbled onwards down the path.

He would not be defeated by this mountain. He would survive. He walked straight into a tree. Jack cursed, but kept going. He remembered the lesson the Daruma Doll had taught him the previous year in Taryu-Jiai. Seven times down, eight times up. Taking a moment to calm himself, Jack realized he should be using the techniques Sensei Kano had taught him in sensitivity training. With hands outstretched, he cautiously felt and listened his way through the forest. For the first time ever, Jack began to appreciate what Sensei Kano faced on a daily basis, and his admiration for the blind teacher grew ten thousandfold. For the bō master, life was a constant struggle through a pitch-black forest, yet he took it all in his stride. Having got his own troubles into perspective, Jack battled on. Rounding a corner and heading down the trail, he noticed a flickering light in the darkness. As he got closer, Jack could hear a low moaning. He quickened his pace. He saw a figure lying in the mud and recognized Yori. ‘What happened? Are you all right?’ asked Jack, stumbling up to him. ‘A boar attacked me,’ Yori groaned, his face pale with shock in the glow of his paper lantern.

Jack redirected the light and inspected his friend for injuries. He discovered Yori had a large gash on his right thigh. It was bleeding badly and Jack knew he would have to get his friend off the mountain as soon as possible, if he was to have any chance of surviving. Jack ripped off the sleeve of his robe and tied it tightly round Yori’s leg to stem the bleeding. ‘Do you think you can stand?’ ‘I’ve tried… It’s no use,’ gasped Yori, his eyes screwed up in agony. ‘Go and get help.’ ‘I can’t leave you here. You’re already shivering. We have to get you off the mountain now.’ ‘But I can’t walk…’ ‘Yes, you can,’ said Jack, slipping an arm round Yori’s waist. ‘Put your arm over my shoulder.’ With great effort, Jack got Yori back to his feet. ‘But I’ll slow you down,’ protested Yori, ‘and you won’t complete the challenge.’ ‘I can’t see where I’m going anyway. I lost my lantern to that stupid boar. So we need each other. Don’t you see, together we have a chance of finishing,’ persuaded Jack, smiling his encouragement. ‘Look, I’ll support you, if you hold the lantern to light our way.’ They took a few faltering steps and stumbled. Yori cried out in pain as they fell against a tree.

‘This is stupid,’ wheezed Yori. ‘We’ll never make it at this rate.’ ‘We’ll make it. We just need to find our rhythm.’ Jack looked away before Yori could see the doubt in his eyes. The lame leading the blind, thought Jack. What hope did they honestly have? Jack and Yori were lost. Having agreed that the safest and quickest way down was to follow the route that had been given to them, they’d been making good progress and had been encouraged by the fact that they’d found the next four shrines with little problem. But the twentieth shrine was proving elusive. ‘The book definitely says turn right at the stone lantern to reach the stream,’ said Jack. Exhausted and frustrated, he was tempted to throw the guide away. They had reached a junction of four paths in the forest. Yet there was no mention of a crossroads in the directions they had been given. ‘So where’s the stone lantern?’ ‘Perhaps we missed it?’ offered Yori weakly. ‘Wait here,’ instructed Jack, lowering Yori on to a nearby rock. ‘I’ll have another look. There were some smaller paths further back.’ Jack retraced their steps and eventually found the stone lantern concealed behind a pile of foliage. The branches were freshly

broken so Jack knew it wasn’t an accident of nature that had hidden the marker. ‘Kazuki!’ he spat in disgust. Just the sort of dishonest tactic his rival would play to ensure his own success and Jack’s failure. Fuelled by anger, Jack ran back to collect Yori. ** * By the time they reached the stream where the twentieth shrine stood, Jack’s last pair of straw sandals were mush around his feet. With every step he now suffered from a sharp pain in his left foot, but tried to hide the discomfort from Yori. ‘Take mine,’ said Yori, slipping off his own sandals. ‘What about you?’ ‘I can’t go on any more, Jack.’ Yori’s face was now a pallid sheen of sweat and Jack could see his friend had lost a lot of blood. ‘Yes, you can,’ replied Jack, shouldering more of Yori’s weight despite his own overwhelming exhaustion. ‘Sensei Yamada once told me “there’s no failure except in no longer trying”. We must keep trying.’ ‘But it’s nearly dawn.’ Jack looked at the sky. The rain had petered out and the horizon was beginning to lighten. In the valley below, the grey-white silhouette of the Castle of the White Phoenix was now visible.

‘But I can see the castle. We’ve visited all the shrines and just need to get to the temple. We can make it. It’s not that far.’ Jack felt Yori collapse in his arms, limp as a rag doll. ‘There’s no point in us both failing,’ wheezed Yori, his breathing rapid and shallow. ‘You go on. Complete the Circle.’ In his exhaustion, Jack was almost persuaded by his friend’s fevered logic. The Circle was his path to the Two Heavens. The Circle was the key. He had strived for it the whole year, worked too hard to let it slip through his fingers now. On his own, he could still make it. Jack studied the pale face of his friend and smiled sadly. With the last of his remaining strength, he lifted Yori on to his shoulders. ‘The Circle can wait.’ ooo000ooo 40 THE EYES OF BUDDHA Jack collapsed into Akiko’s arms. A crowd of students rapidly gathered round the temple’s main entrance trying to get a glimpse of Jack, covered in mud and carrying his injured friend upon his back. Two monks hurried over and rushed the unconscious Yori away.

By now, the early morning sun was clipping the temple’s rooftops, but it hadn’t yet entered the courtyard. Jack shivered uncontrollably from the cold. ‘What happened? Where have you been?’ Akiko demanded, worry etched in her face as Jack fell to his knees, too tired to stand on his bruised and bloodied feet. ‘We were back hours ago.’ Jack didn’t answer. Instead he stared at Kazuki, who had come up behind Akiko. His rival had washed and was dressed in a clean robe. He looked fresh and almost unaffected by the night’s exertions. Arms crossed, Kazuki observed Jack’s shattered form with amused curiosity. Jack’s whole body shook, no longer with cold, but with fury. ‘Your cheating almost killed Yori!’ he managed to gasp. ‘You’re delirious, gaijin. I didn’t cheat. I finished first because I was the best,’ Kazuki replied, giving him a contemptuous sneer. ‘It’s you who’s failed. Don’t blame me, you pathetic gaijin.’ ‘He hasn’t failed yet!’ snapped Akiko, glaring up at Kazuki. ‘The sun’s rays haven’t reached Buddha’s eyes. He still has time. Come on, Jack.’ Akiko, not caring about the mud getting on her fresh robe, began to half carry, half drag Jack towards the steps of the main temple. ‘NO! LEAVE HIM!’ came a cry. Akiko stopped in her tracks. Jack lifted his head to the see the white-robed High Priest standing at the top of the steps, his hand outstretched, ordering them to stop. Behind him through the open

shoji doors of the shrine, hidden in shadow, Jack glimpsed the wooden Buddha. ‘You cannot help him. If he wants to continue in the Circle, then he must complete the journey by himself.’ ‘But he’ll never make it,’ pleaded Akiko. ‘That’s for him to decide, not you. Put the boy down,’ instructed the priest. Akiko gently lowered Jack to the ground and stepped away, her eyes brimming with tears. Jack knelt where he was. A numbing exhaustion pinned him down as if the weight of the entire sky had dropped upon his shoulders. The Buddha statue was no more than fifty paces away, but it could have been the other side of the world for all he cared. He had expended his last ounce of energy in his desperate marathon to save Yori’s life. Inside, the monks began to chant the Mantra of Light and Jack could see the rest of the school, the sensei and Masamoto waiting to see what he would do. The High Priest beckoned Jack on with a single wave of his hand, then turned and entered the shrine as if expecting him to follow. Jack didn’t. He couldn’t. He simply had nothing left. This time Jack knew it was not a pain barrier he could break through. This felt like a canyon, a vast vacuum of energy, a void impossible to leap across.

Kazuki knelt down next to him, an arrogant smile upon his face, and whispered gleefully in Jack’s ear, ‘You’ll never make it.’ The sun was halfway down the temple roof and Jack could see it inching its way over each tile. Kazuki was right. It would require a superhuman effort to reach the Buddha in time. Jack stared dejectedly at the ground in front of him. In his exhausted daze, he watched an ant crossing his path, dragging a leaf five times its size. The little creature struggled, pulled, pushed and prodded, but despite the enormity of the task it didn’t give up. There’s no failure except in no longer trying. Sensei Yamada’s words resounded in his head. Jack glanced up and saw the old Zen master staring at him from the doorway of the temple, his eyes radiating belief in him. ‘Come on, Jack! You can do it!’ cried Yamato, running down the steps towards him, Saburo at his side. ‘Come on, Jack!’ echoed Saburo. ‘It’s not that far,’ Akiko encouraged, her hands outstretched, desperately willing him on. With a Herculean effort and the supporting cheers of his friends, Jack managed to get to his feet. He staggered forward, repeating the mantra with each step, ‘There’s no failure except in no longer trying. There’s no failure except in no longer trying. There’s no failure…’

Jack dragged one foot in front of the other, his legs as heavy as if a ball and chain had been attached to them. He was falling forward more than walking, but each step carried him closer and closer. He was at the temple steps now, crawling up them. His friends continued to shout their encouragement, but their words were a distant wash in his ears. The only sound that he was conscious of was the ever-cycling chant of the white-robed monks. The nearer he got, the stronger their mantra became, seeping into his muscles like an elixir. Now he was inside the shrine. But so too was the sun. It had risen above the line of the mountains and now shone brightly on the back wall of the temple, its beam catching motes of dust in the air as it descended towards the Buddha’s eyes. The school, in awe of Jack’s supreme effort, were utterly silent as they watched him lurch towards the shrine. Jack reached out as the sun illuminated the Buddha’s eyes. At the same time, the monks ceased their chant. Jack felt the cool sensation of the wood and the smoothness of the Buddha’s belly. He smiled briefly before collapsing at the statue’s feet. ‘You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself,’ began the High Priest, once the congregation had settled back into the temple following lunch. ‘The first challenge of the Circle of Three tested the physical body, taking it to its very limit. Five of you succeeded in reaching the temple before the first light of

dawn struck the eyes of Buddha, thus demonstrating your dominion over the body.’ Jack swayed on his feet, dizzy with exhaustion. He’d been given food and water and allowed to rest, but it hadn’t been long before they’d woken him again and brought him back to the main temple with the other Circle entrants. ‘The Body challenge should have proved to each of you that the mind rules the body. The body can keep going as long as the mind is strong.’ The priest studied each of them with his fathomless eyes, checking they had comprehended this life lesson. ‘Once you realize this, there are no limits to what you can achieve. The impossible becomes possible, if only your mind believes it. This truth forms the basis of the second Circle challenge. But first Masamoto-sama wishes to speak.’ Masamoto stood and approached his students, his stance proud and mighty as he appraised Jack and the others. ‘I’m honoured to have such strong samurai in my school. The Niten Ichi Ryū spirit burns bright in all of you.’ He clasped Jack’s shoulder with his sword hand and Jack felt the immense strength of the great warrior. ‘But today that spirit burnt brightest in Jack-kun.’ Everyone’s eyes fell upon Jack. Jack didn’t know where to look, except directly into the scarred face of Masamoto, who returned his gaze with paternal pride.

‘Jack-kun demonstrated true bushido. When he sacrificed his chances for a fellow samurai in need, he displayed the virtue of loyalty. In bringing that same samurai down off the mountain, he showed courage. He not only conquered himself, but I am of the mind that he conquered the mountain by denying it Yori-kun’s life.’ The school bowed as one, honouring Jack’s achievement. Jack glanced around, uncomfortable at being the centre of such attention. Akiko smiled warmly at him, while Tadashi, clearly exhausted from the first challenge, only managed a brief nod of the head in acknowledgement of Jack’s achievement. Yori wasn’t in the line. He was still recovering from his injury, being tended to by a monk whose medical knowledge was renowned. Jack had been told that Yori would need time to recuperate, but the signs were good and he was responding well to the monk’s herbal remedies. ‘No allowance, though, can be made for the boy’s fatigue,’ interjected the High Priest, bowing respectfully to Masamoto. ‘The path of a Tendai monk is never-ending, so the challenge of the Mind must begin forthwith.’ ooo000ooo 41 MIND OVER MATTER The waterfall thundered down from the second highest peak in the Iga mountain range, cascading in one long roaring curtain of white. Over the centuries, it had gouged a narrow high-sided ravine into the mountain, as if some god had driven a mighty axe into the rock and cleaved it apart.

The monks, students and sensei stood in a large semicircle round the churning rock pool at the base of the fall. They held their hands together, praying in honour of the mountain spirits and the ancient kami of the waterfall, while the High Priest recited a Buddhist blessing and scattered salt as part of the purification ritual. Jack, dressed in a fresh white robe, looked on with the other entrants, each of them petrified at the prospect of this second challenge. They were to stand upon a large flat rock under the waterfall for the time it took a stick of incense to burn through, using only the power of the mind to defeat the physical. In doing so, they risked the very real danger of death due to freezing in the icy waters. With the rites over, the priest beckoned the five remaining young samurai to line up along the ledge that ran behind the fall. First to enter, Jack kept his back close to the rock face, being careful not to slip on the slimy stone. The spray billowed everywhere and his thin monk’s robe was soon plastered to his body. The cold damp air revived him, but he wasn’t looking forward to stepping under the freezing falls. On the other side he could just make out the semi-circle of spectators, their forms and faces distorted and twisted by the turbulent veil of water. It was as if he was peering into an asylum of Hell. The others followed close behind, each of them staring in terrified awe at the torrent. Then, with a wave of his arm, the High Priest signalled for the challenge to commence. Bowing as one, the five entrants stepped from the ledge and entered the waterfall’s thunderous power.

Jack almost blacked out, instantly overwhelmed by the numbing cold. He had to fight the urge to escape the furious cascade as the water smashed on to his head as hard as hailstones. He tried to resist the flow, but his muscles were being pummelled into heavy knots of tension. There was no way on earth he could last a stick of time. Frantically, he mumbled the mantra he’d been taught to ward off the cold, but it was no use. He was simply too weakened from the Body challenge. His mind had gone blank, he was hyperventilating and his whole being was racked with convulsing shivers. He was vaguely aware that Harumi had exited the waterfall, its power too great for her to bear. Jack felt himself caving in too. He desperately clung on to the challenge, determined to outlast Kazuki at the very least. But it was no use. His body couldn’t take much more of this punishment. He would have to leave. His feet, though, refused to move. Something deep within him defied the waterfall. Defied his own will. The impossible becomes possible if only your mind believes it. Jack gave one final mental push, trying to detach his mind from the bone-chilling pain. He summoned up the mantra again, but was doubtful whether a Buddhist chant would help a Christian heart. Nevertheless, he repeated the mantra faster and faster until it became a continuous circle of words:

My mind is limitless, a horizon never ending, a sun never setting, a sky forever stretching… Amazingly, by focusing his mind on the mantra, he felt his body transform. With each turn of the phrase, his muscles became softer and more supple so that the waterfall no longer hurt. For a brief moment, the pounding water felt as gentle as a mountain spring. Then he lost all feeling. The strange thing about this numbness was that he also lost all care. He didn’t mind any more. He realized that the mantra had transported him into one of the curious Buddhist states of meditation. Regardless of his own beliefs, he was experiencing the strangest sensation of his consciousness opening up to the universe around him. He lost all sense of time. Had a stick of incense burnt down yet? A moment later he lost his concentration as Tadashi, escaping the waterfall, bumped into him. The collision disrupted his trance and his body turned instantly ice cold. Despite his best efforts to regain his previous meditative state, Jack was forced to give up. ‘Di-di-did I make it?’ stammered Jack, stepping out of the falls.

‘Of course you did, you frozen idiot!’ replied Yamato, laughing incredulously and handing him a dry robe. ‘You’ve been under for ages. The monk has already lit a second incense stick.’ ‘A-A-Akiko?’ shuddered Jack. ‘She’s still in there, along with Kazuki.’ Akiko and Kazuki shimmered within the cascade of water like ghosts. Jack resigned himself to the fact that Kazuki had defeated him once again, but that didn’t mean his rival had to win. Come on, Akiko, willed Jack. Outdo Kazuki! Akiko was struggling to keep her footing on the slimy rocks and Jack’s heart leapt for her as she slipped. Miraculously, despite the pounding of the water, she regained her balance. Then, without warning, Kazuki crumpled and fell. Two monks rushed to retrieve him, carrying him out of the falls and rubbing him vigorously with a thick robe. As Kazuki came round and shakily got to his feet, the school applauded his valiant effort. Jack joined in the clapping, but more in support of Akiko. She still stood under the torrent, at one with the waterfall, her hands clasped in front of her, her lips constantly moving with the mantra. How much longer could she keep going? wondered Jack. By all rights, the waterfall should have claimed Akiko’s life by now. The incense stick had burnt through a second time and a third one was now lit. Akiko had survived twice the required duration.

‘Take her out now!’ ordered the High Priest, looking alarmed as the third stick reached its end. Akiko emerged to triumphant cheering. She walked across to Kiku, who quickly wrapped her in a robe. Jack hurried over and, ignoring Japanese formality, began to rub her hands for warmth. The strange thing was, although Akiko shivered slightly, her body was hot to the touch as if she’d stepped out of a volcanic hot spring instead of a freezing waterfall. Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise, but she just smiled serenely back at him. Leaving Kiku to assist Akiko with getting into dry clothes, Jack and Yamato rejoined the rest of the students on the far side of the pool. Passing the High Priest and Masamoto on their way, Jack couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. ‘Truly remarkable,’ said the priest. ‘That girl stayed beneath the waterfall longer than any person I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. She’s clearly been taught mind control by a great master.’ ‘I would agree with you,’ said Masamoto. ‘Sensei Yamada, you have done a remarkable job in training our students.’ Sensei Yamada shook his head gently, his shrewd eyes glancing over at Akiko in curiosity. ‘This is not a skill I’ve taught my class.’ ‘In that case, she is a samurai of rare talent,’ commended the High Priest.

The priest turned to address the school, casting a considered eye over the remaining Circle entrants. Harumi was now standing to one side with her friends, who were trying to console her. ‘In life sometimes you must do the things you think you cannot do,’ said the High Priest. ‘But always remember, the only limits are those of the mind. By pushing the limits of what you believe, you can accomplish the impossible.’ The High Priest beckoned to Akiko, and Jack felt his heart swell with pride at her achievement. ‘This girl is proof that you can expand your mind beyond anything you think it’s capable of. And the mind, once expanded, never returns to its former dimensions. Learn from this challenge to be the master of your mind, rather than being mastered by your mind. This knowledge will aid you greatly in tomorrow’s Spirit challenge.’ ooo000ooo 42 FIRST BLOOD ‘I got your message,’ stated Jack, tossing the paper note at Kazuki’s feet. ‘So what do you want?’ Kazuki merely smiled, looking like a cat whose prey had just dropped into its lap. He was leaning nonchalantly against the town well. Built of stone, with an aged wooden bucket attached to a rope, it was the only feature of the Iga Ueno’s town square, a place enclosed on all sides by shops and two-storey wooden houses.

The shops were now closed for the day, their windows shuttered and doors barred, offering little incentive for people to hang around. Apart from a single villager hurrying home down a side street ahead of the encroaching storm, the place was deserted. ‘I don’t believe you’re here alone,’ said Jack, glancing around the darkened alleyways. ‘Where’s your Scorpion Gang?’ The note Jack had found slipped under the door of his bedroom after dinner that evening had demanded a oneto-one meeting between himself and Kazuki. Akiko had tried to dissuade him from going, but Jack, despite having no idea what Kazuki wanted, felt honour bound to attend. If he didn’t appear, he would be considered gutless. He would be branded a coward. Besides, he wanted to confront Kazuki about Yori. Kazuki took a step closer to Jack so that they were eyeball-toeyeball with one another. ‘I dislike you, gaijin,’ Kazuki hissed, his hooded eyes shadowy in the twilight, ‘and I don’t like accusations of being a cheat. I can easily beat you in the Circle without having to resort to cheating.’ ‘You barefaced liar! We both know for a fact that you cheated,’ exclaimed Jack, his blood boiling at the thought of Yori lying fevered in bed, his leg swollen to twice its usual size. ‘I don’t lie,’ retorted Kazuki, his voice taut with indignation, ‘I don’t cheat and, for the record, I don’t steal things either! Don’t judge me by your gaijin standards. I come from an honourable family. I am samurai born and bred. Unlike you.’

He spat the last two words into Jack’s face. ‘Your accusation in front of the school caused me to lose face. I summoned you here to defend my honour. I challenge you to a fight. Submission or first blood wins.’ Jack didn’t reply immediately. As large drops of rain began to fall out of the thundering sky, he continued to stare at Kazuki, considering his options. Jack was confident of his ability to fight hand-to-hand, especially since Sensei Kano’s chi sao training. In fact, the onset of dusk could only increase his chances of victory. On the other hand, Jack knew Kazuki had worked just as hard during his own private training sessions with Sensei Kyuzo and his strength and advanced skill in taijutsu meant he might still have the upper hand. Accepting Kazuki’s challenge could prove fatal, particularly in Jack’s current exhausted condition. To back down, however, would be seen as shameful and he was under no illusion that Kazuki wouldn’t hesitate to revel in spreading the word of such a spineless surrender. When it came down to it, did he actually have a choice? One look into Kazuki’s eyes told Jack his enemy intended to fight him regardless of his answer. Lightning flared across the sky. The Castle of the White Phoenix was momentarily illuminated, a ghostly apparition against the horizon. As the storm rumbled angrily overhead, the rain became a downpour that drummed loudly on the nearby roofs and a chill wind blasted the cloth signs that hung from the shop awnings.

Seemingly oblivious to the storm, Kazuki waited for Jack’s answer. Jack nodded his head once in assent. Kazuki grinned. ‘Stop!’ cried Akiko, running through the rain towards them. Close behind her were Yamato and Saburo. Although Jack had insisted he should go alone, he was relieved to see his loyal friends. ‘Didn’t trust me, did you, gaijin?’ spat Kazuki. ‘No matter, it’ll be good to have an audience for this. Scorpions!’ He signed to a darkened alleyway and the Scorpion Gang materialized out of the shadows. With a sinking heart, Jack realized this was going to be a fight, not to first blood but his last. They closed in upon Jack and his friends. There was a tense stand-off, then Kazuki laughed and indicated for his gang to back off and join him. ‘This is a matter of honour, between me and the gaijin. No need for anyone else to get involved,’ he said, passing Nobu his bokken. ‘On my family’s name, I’ll follow the samurai code. No weapons. We stop at first blood.’ Akiko turned urgently to Jack and whispered, ‘Don’t do this, Jack. You know he breaks the rules during randori. You think he’ll be satisfied with first blood? Kazuki will want to finish you off, once and for all.’

‘He just swore on the honour of his family,’ Jack countered as he gave Saburo his raincoat. ‘He considers himself pure samurai. He won’t break bushido.’ ‘Jack, you don’t get it, do you? Don’t you remember the rocks in the snowballs? The rules don’t apply to you. You’re gaijin.’ Jack was stung by Akiko’s use of the insult. Although he realized she hadn’t said it out of cruelty, it still cut deeply to hear her call him gaijin. He was reminded yet again that however accomplished he became at their language, however well he knew Japan and its customs, however perfectly he followed their etiquette and mastered their martial arts, for the simple reason that he was not born Japanese, he would always be perceived as an outsider – even by Akiko. Unwittingly, Akiko’s comment spurred Jack on and strengthened his determination to fight. He would prove that he was more samurai than any of them. Jack gave Yamato his bokken and stepped forward. ‘Destroy him, Kazuki!’ yelled Hiroto as Kazuki and Jack faced off in the pouring rain. Keeping within the tradition of a formal fight, Kazuki bowed to Jack. Jack returned the bow. But Kazuki had tricked him. He didn’t wait for Jack to finish, kicking straight for his face. Jack barely had time to react. He blocked the kick, but the force of the blow sent him staggering backwards.

Kazuki drove into him, trying to blast his way through Jack’s desperate guard. Jack ducked, evading Kazuki’s hook punch, and countered with two body blows to his stomach. Jack got kneed in the thigh for his efforts and immediately backed off. ‘Come on, Jack! You can take him!’ urged Saburo in response. Jack faked a front kick as Kazuki advanced on him. The ruse worked and Kazuki dropped his guard to block it. Jack went on the offensive with a blistering combination of a front jab, reverse punch and spinning back fist. The back fist caught Kazuki hard across the jaw. Stunned, Kazuki staggered backwards, slipping on the muddy ground and falling unceremoniously on his backside. Yamato and Saburo let out a cheer. ‘I win,’ declared Jack in between ragged drawing of breaths. ‘It isn’t over yet…’ ‘You’re bleeding.’ Kazuki wiped his hand across his mouth, a thin stream of blood running over it before quickly dispersing in the rain. ‘I bit my own tongue,’ spat Kazuki. ‘That doesn’t qualify as first blood.’ He then flung a handful of mud into Jack’s eyes, blinding him. In that moment of distraction, Kazuki scrambled to his feet and punched Jack in the face. Jack’s head rang and he tasted blood as his own lip split open.

‘That qualifies as first blood,’ announced Kazuki with vindictive glee. But Kazuki didn’t halt his assault there. He began to pummel Jack as hard as he could. Instinctively, Jack’s chi sao training kicked in and he threw up his guard, locking himself against his opponent’s arms. Jack sensed Kazuki’s attacks as each technique was thrown. He successfully slipped a series of jabs and attempted a counter. He heard Kazuki cursing in frustration at Jack’s unexpected ability to fight without sight. Jack’s skill even amazed himself for a while, but then he was struck on the jaw by an unforeseen roundhouse punch. His flow broken, Jack began to panic. The pressure of a real blind fight overwhelmed him as another strike from Kazuki caught him in the gut. This was not the same as sparring with Yamato. Kazuki fought differently and Jack was now finding it harder to predict his moves. Jack lost all contact with Kazuki’s guard. An instant later, he found himself flying through the air and splashing down into a large puddle. Kazuki dropped on top of him. Before Jack could catch his breath, Kazuki had him in a neck choke and was thrusting him under the water. Jack gagged as his mouth filled with slimy mud. Struggling wildly, he managed to lift his head out of the puddle to snatch a lungful of air. The murky water had washed the remnants of mud from his eyes and he caught a

glimpse of Akiko and his friends being restrained by the Scorpion Gang. ‘You’re going to drown him!’ Akiko was screaming as she clawed at Hiroto to free herself. ‘Excellent suggestion,’ agreed Kazuki, shoving Jack’s head back under. Jack could no longer hear anything but the swirl of muddy water in his ears. He remembered the last time he’d been strangled by Kazuki. If Sensei Kyuzo hadn’t stopped the randori then, Kazuki would have continued the choke until Jack passed out. This time, however, there was no teacher in charge. Kazuki might actually kill him. Fudoshin. The word flashed in his mind like lightning as he surfaced again. Kazuki was laughing in delight at his victory and, clamping down harder, he thrust Jack back under for one final time. A samurai must remain calm at all times – even in the face of danger. Sensei Hosokawa’s teachings swam through Jack’s head. You must learn to stare death in the face… Wrestling with his fear, Jack regained control of himself and, against all natural instinct, he let his body go limp.

He heard Akiko crying, ‘You’ve killed him! You’ve killed him!’ Kazuki immediately let go, suddenly aware he’d taken the fight too far. Jack lay still a second longer. Then he exploded out of the puddle. Taking Kazuki completely by surprise, Jack elbowed his rival in the face and rolled on top. Back in control, he locked Kazuki in a head-hold, then drove Kazuki’s own face under the surface of the muddy pool. ‘SUBMIT!’ demanded Jack. ‘SUBMIT, YOU CHEAT!’ Jack lifted Kazuki’s head up to allow him a mouthful of air before thrusting him back under. ‘Admit you cheated, Kazuki. Admit that you hid the lantern!’ Jack held him up for longer this time but didn’t release the choking hold. ‘Did what?’ gasped Kazuki, struggling to control his growing panic. ‘Don’t play me for an idiot, Kazuki. Tell everyone here how you put branches in front of the stone lantern. Expose yourself to be the dishonourable samurai that you are!’ demanded Jack, bobbing Kazuki’s head beneath surface in between sentences. ‘I didn’t…’ spluttered Kazuki, his voice harsh and grating under the pressure of the choke. ‘I didn’t cheat… I got ahead of Tadashi

and Akiko during that challenge. There’s no way it could’ve been me!’ ‘Liar!’ said Jack, dunking him once again. ‘JACK, STOP IT!’ cried Akiko, breaking free of Hiroto and rushing over to pull Jack off. ‘He’s telling the truth.’ Jack faltered in his attack. ‘I could see the stone lantern when I passed it,’ she explained. Jack looked at her and knew she was telling the truth. All of a sudden, his entire assumption had been undermined. He let go and allowed himself to be dragged off Kazuki by Akiko. He sat staring dumbfounded at the shuddering form of his rival. Kazuki rolled on to one side, coughing up muddy water. ‘Tadashi was in front of you, not Kazuki,’ Akiko continued. ‘It must have been him that cheated. That would explain why, during the Mind challenge, Tadashi fell against me in the waterfall. At the time, I assumed it wasn’t intentional, but now I’m not so sure.’ ‘Tadashi… knocked into me too,’ confessed Jack, a twisted truth emerging in his head, ‘but I thought it was an accident as well.’ ‘Clearly not,’ spat Kazuki, giving Jack a venomous look. Jack felt ashamed and betrayed. He’d accused Kazuki of cheating with no real proof. He’d jumped to conclusions based solely on his low opinion of his rival, while all along it had been Tadashi, whom he’d thought of as a friend. His own behaviour was no better than Kazuki’s, discriminating against him for being a gaijin.

‘I’m… sorry,’ admitted Jack, the apology sticking in his throat, each word as heavy and bitter as lead. ‘You didn’t cheat. It was my mistake.’ Kazuki got unsteadily to his feet with the help of Nobu and Hiroto. He looked down at Jack, pure loathing in his eyes. ‘That’s right, gaijin. You were mistaken. But make no mistake – I will get my own back.’ Jack felt an ice-cold shiver creep down his spine, but oddly it was not in response to Kazuki’s threat. It came from the distinct feeling that he was being watched. ‘Did you see that?’ Nobu whispered, pointing over Kazuki’s shoulder to a nearby rooftop. Everyone turned and peered into the rainsoaked night. Nothing was visible in the darkness, not even the Castle of the White Phoenix. A second later, lightning blazed across the heavens and for one terrifying moment a figure in black could be seen silhouetted against the boiling sky. The thunder roared as Nobu, his chubby face stretched taut with fear, screamed, ‘NINJA!’ ooo000ooo 43 ESCAPE

They fled in different directions. Jack, Akiko, Yamato and Saburo sprinted across the mud-slicked square towards a side alley that would lead back to the temple. Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang went the opposite way, heading for the castle. As they ran, Jack glanced up and spotted several shadows flitting across the rooftops towards them. ‘Hurry!’ Jack urged. ‘There’s a whole gang of them.’ They put on another burst of speed and had almost reached the cover of the alley when Saburo lost his footing, flying face first into the mud. ‘Keep going!’ Yamato shouted to the rest of them, running back to help their fallen friend. Jack and Akiko rushed on, entering the alley just as a ninja dropped from the eaves. Glancing over his shoulder, Jack expected to see the assassin bearing down on them. Instead, the ninja let them run away and turned to bar Yamato and Saburo from making their escape. ‘We’ll meet you at the temple!’ cried Yamato, dragging Saburo towards a different alley. Akiko drove Jack onwards. ‘Come on! We’ll lose the ninja in the backstreets.’ They switched left, then right, then right again, before entering an enclosed courtyard with only a single unlit passage leading off from it.

‘I think we’re in the clear,’ whispered Akiko, checking over her shoulder for signs of pursuit. Jack’s eyes hunted the dark recesses of the yard, but there was only a large wooden water butt and a small shrub in a clay pot in one corner. He peered into the black hole of the passage where the rain ran in rivulets off the eaves and disappeared, but no enemy threatened to emerge. They were out of danger and he breathed a quiet sigh of relief. ‘Do you think it’s Dragon Eye?’ he whispered to Akiko. Akiko put a finger to her lips, her eyes scanning the courtyard. All of a sudden, two ninja materialized out of the night sky, cartwheeling in mid-air to land right between them. ‘RUN!’ screamed Akiko, snap-kicking her foot into the closest ninja. She caught him right between the legs and he crumpled to the floor with a feeble groan. Spinning round at lightning speed, she then sent a hook kick directly at the other ninja’s head. But this ninja, quicker than his companion, caught Akiko’s foot in mid-air. He raised his other arm to break her leg with a crushing forearm strike. Akiko didn’t falter. She jumped, cartwheeling backwards, and brought her other foot up to connect with her attacker’s jaw. The ninja’s head was jerked backwards by the blow and he released her leg. Akiko continued to fly through the air before landing deftly on the eaves above.

Jack stood rooted to the spot, astounded at her agility. ‘I said RUN!’ ordered Akiko above the storm. Two more ninja suddenly appeared on the rooftops and began to battle with Akiko. Jack’s first instinct was to clamber up the water butt and help her, but the ninja who’d been kicked first was back on his feet and rushing bow-leggedly in his direction. Without hesitating, Jack grabbed the clay pot and flung it towards him. The pot smashed into his head and the ninja crumpled to the floor, where he lay unconscious among the shards of pottery. Jack made for the water butt, but this time found his way blocked by the other assassin. His only option was to escape down the passage. He plunged into its enveloping darkness, faltering only for a moment to look back at Akiko. She had knocked one ninja off the roof, but now another forced her to leap from building to building in an effort to escape. Jack prayed she would survive. Then he fled. Jack held his breath, trying to remain absolutely still. The ninja raced past, oblivious to his quarry hidden in the darkness of a blind alley, barely noticeable as a narrow gap between two houses. Jack waited a few moments longer. Then, when the ninja did not come back, he allowed himself to relax. He’d managed to escape from his pursuer for the time being, but what should he do now?

He was safe concealed by the darkness, but at the same time he was trapped in a dead end. If a ninja appeared, he would have nowhere to run. Jack shivered with both cold and fear. Above him, the night sky was just a narrow strip of thundering cloud caught between two rickety buildings. The rain cascaded down the roofs and into the narrow alley, the sound echoing off the walls as if he’d entered a small subterranean cave. He shivered again, this time with the same uneasy feeling of being watched that he had experienced in the square. He spun round. But only the black emptiness of the dead end greeted him. Still he couldn’t shake the sinister sensation. He checked the main passageway. It was deserted. Retreating into the security of his blind alley, Jack convinced himself that he was imagining things, his nerves merely on edge. He hugged himself for warmth, hoping Akiko had also escaped the ninja. It would be remarkable if both of them managed to survive the night. Although he knew Akiko could handle herself, he also knew the ninja were merciless in their pursuit. The rain softened and Jack glanced up, hopeful that the storm was abating. The rain hadn’t slackened at all.

Only the noise it made. As if there was a sound shadow behind him. His finely tuned senses blared out a warning. His mouth went dry, his breath caught in his throat. Ever so slowly, he turned his head and stared once more into the dead-end darkness. There was nothing there. Then the darkness seemed to rise and Jack found himself faceto-face with the featureless hood of a ninja… eye-to-eye with the formidable Dragon Eye. ooo000ooo 44 INTERROGATION A silent scream erupted inside his head, ordering his body to move. RUN! RUN! RUN! shrieked Jack’s mind. But it was already too late. As Jack turned to face his foe, Dragon Eye had struck with the swiftness of a scorpion. His fingers, like barbs, had pinpointed nerve centres on Jack’s body, paralysing him in five quick successive stabs. Jack was rendered defenceless and completely immobile. ‘What… have… you done to me?’ stuttered Jack, hyperventilating as a burning sensation spread through his body and down his arms and legs.

‘Be quiet or I’ll paralyse your mouth too,’ ordered the ninja in a harsh whisper. Dragon Eye bunched his fingers into the shape of a snakehead and pressed the tips against the skin above Jack’s heart. ‘One final strike to your heart will kill you.’ He dropped the words into Jack’s ear with sadistic pleasure while allowing his fingers to linger over their intended target. ‘The samurai know and fear this as the Death Touch.’ Jack closed his eyes, half mumbling the Lord’s Prayer as Dragon Eye drew back his hand to strike. ‘But it can be a far more subtle technique than mere death,’ continued Dragon Eye who, instead of killing him, sought out a pressure point beneath Jack’s collarbone with his thumb. ‘It can also be used to inflict intolerable pain.’ Jack’s eyes flew open and he shrieked into the night as the ninja applied pressure with the tip of his thumb. The agony was so intense, Jack felt as if a swarm of wasps had been released inside his chest. He almost passed out, but then Dragon Eye stopped and the pain receded until it was no more than a tingling sensation, like stinging nettles under his skin. Dragon Eye studied him a moment, watching the pain fade from his victim’s eyes. Jack swore that behind that black hood his nemesis was smiling at his suffering. ‘Where’s the rutter?’ hissed Dragon Eye.

‘It’s been stolen,’ wheezed Jack, dizzy from the aftershock of the torture. ‘That was a decoy! Don’t dice with your own death.’ The ninja took hold of Jack’s right arm this time and pressed into the middle of his bicep. An unbelievable pressure immediately built up in Jack’s right hand, his fingernails became sharp splinters under his skin and he thought his fingers were about to pop. A wave of nausea hit him. But once again Dragon Eye stopped at the threshold of his consciousness. ‘I’ve tortured people before. I can make you suffer beyond anything imaginable – and yet never kill you.’ He took Jack’s lolling head in one hand and stared at him with his one eye. Jack couldn’t see a single shred of mercy in the ninja’s soul. ‘It’s in Nijo Castle, isn’t it?’ said Dragon Eye dispassionately. Jack’s eyes flared in alarm. How could he have known that? Had one of his friends betrayed him? ‘No need to answer, gaijin. Your eyes tell me all I need to know. But where exactly?’ Gripping Jack’s head tighter, Dragon Eye placed one finger just below Jack’s eye and another on his jawline. The ninja drew closer, his malevolent green eye raking over Jack’s face. ‘You are going to tell me,’ he said with ominous finality. An instant later, Jack thought a molten iron spike had been driven through his eye and out of the back of his skull. The pain was

greater than a thousand fires burning, too great for him to even emit a scream. The torture sapped all strength out of him and only a low moan escaped his lips. Then the pain was gone. ‘That is nothing compared to the days of unthinkable agony you will suffer if I let you live. Can you feel that burning sensation in your body?’ Jack nodded weakly, tortured tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘That’s the pain that I’ve inflicted upon you so far. It will continue to grow like a furnace until you go mad with suffering. Only I can end it. I ask you one last time. Where is the rutter?’ The ninja repositioned his fingers on Jack’s face. ‘No, please…’ begged Jack. Jack felt his resistance break like a tree in a storm. His only remaining hope was that daimyo Takatomi’s castle was ninja-proof. Even if he died tonight, there was a chance that his tormentor would be caught in the act and ultimately punished for his crimes. ‘Behind… the wall hanging of the white crane… in Takatomi’s reception room,’ said Jack, gathering what little strength he had left. ‘Good. Now tell me what the rutter is?’ Jack blinked, unsure if he had heard correctly. ‘My father’s navigational logbook,’ he replied, too stunned to question why Dragon Eye didn’t know what he was actually stealing.

‘I know that much. My employer insists this rutter is more effective than an assassination in gaining power. Tell me why.’ Jack didn’t reply. Dragon Eye gave a sharp stab with his fingers to remind Jack of the pain he could inflict. Jack winced and felt his resistance crumble once more. ‘It’s the key to the oceans of the known world. The country that possesses this rutter can command the trade routes and rule the seas. The fortune of the world is in their hands.’ As Jack explained, he began to understand Dragon Eye’s increasing interest in the power of the rutter. The ninja may be a hired hand, but he was no fool. Now aware of the importance of such an object, Dragon Eye was perhaps considering the rutter’s value for his own purposes. ‘You’ve been more than helpful,’ said Dragon Eye. ‘But you’re now worthless to me. I keep my promises, though, so will release you from your torment. The Death Touch is excruciating but swift. You may not even feel your heart explode.’ Jack’s pulse thumped through his body, his heart clamouring to escape, as Dragon Eye formed a snakehead out of his hand and aimed it at Jack’s chest. This was it, Jack realized. This was the face of Death, a featureless black mask with a single green eye. He was staring into it and all he felt was fear. Then, in the last dying moments, a thin smile broke across his bloodless lips.

‘What have you got to smile about, gaijin?’ asked the ninja, astounded at his victim’s bravado. But Jack’s smile only broadened as he realized Dragon Eye’s efforts were ultimately futile. The key information in the rutter was protected by the cipher his father had devised. Only Jack could decode it. Without the key to unlock it, the rutter was virtually useless. A jigsaw with a vital piece missing. Like a lifeline for a drowning sailor, Jack realized the rutter could save him. ‘Kill me and the rutter’s knowledge dies with me,’ stated Jack, emboldened by his belief. ‘Encrypted, is it?’ replied Dragon Eye, unfazed. ‘It’s of no consequence. I know a Chinese cryptologist who can decode anything.’ With that, Dragon Eye struck and Jack’s last hope died in his chest. ooo000ooo 46 DIM MAK Jack’s heart thumped against his ribcage as if it was trying to punch its way out through flesh and bone. His lungs became tight and constricted, as if a snake had coiled its way round his chest and was squeezing the breath from him. He collapsed against the alley wall and slid down into the thick mud, where he lay juddering and gasping.

Dragon Eye crouched down to admire his handiwork. ‘You have as long as a fish out of water before your heart gives out,’ he stated, wiping a strand of Jack’s blond hair out of his eyes in a gesture that was almost affectionate. ‘You would have made a great samurai, gaijin, but I can’t risk allowing you to fulfil such a destiny. Maybe in another life, eh?’ Jack was no longer listening. His breath whistled in his ears like wind in a cave and he could feel his blood pulsing through his body, pooling around his dying heart. Thud… thud… THUD. Dragon Eye spun round. A huge figure, large as a mountain bear, confronted him at the mouth of the dead end. ‘Move on, blind man,’ warned Dragon Eye, spotting the tall white staff in the man’s hand. ‘There’s nothing here for you to see.’ He laughed coldly at his own dark humour. ‘I smell blood,’ said the figure with distaste. Despite his disorientation, Jack recognized the deep thrumming voice of Sensei Kano. ‘Not just your blood, but the blood of your many victims. Ninja. How I despise your kind.’ ‘You’re too late to save the boy,’ hissed Dragon Eye, silently slipping a shuriken from his belt as the samurai approached. The ninja threw the deadly silver star at Sensei Kano. ‘Or yourself, for that matter!’

The shuriken spun through the air with a faint whistle. The sensei had no time to avoid it. Instead he shifted his staff in front of him and the silver star lodged itself in the wood, striking at a point directly in line with his throat. ‘Predictable,’ scoffed Sensei Kano. He then thrust the end of his staff at Dragon Eye, targeting his stomach. Stuck in the narrow passage, the ninja’s only choice was to throw himself flat against the wall. He barely avoided the attack. With lightning speed, Sensei Kano struck again. Dragon Eye tried to deflect it, but the tip of the bō caught him in the ribs. He grunted with pain and staggered backwards. Jack’s eyes weakly followed Sensei Kano as he stepped over him and drove Dragon Eye further and further back into the dead end. The ninja was trapped. The staff was too long and Sensei Kano too swift for Dragon Eye to retaliate. Jack realized that the ninja would soon have nowhere to retreat to and then Sensei Kano could deliver the killing strikes that would finish his enemy’s life. For Jack, though, his life was also fast approaching its end. The crushing pain in his chest was intensifying and his breathing only came in fits and starts. His head felt as though it would crack open like an egg. Blackness crept in at the edges of his consciousness and fingered its way across his vision. He just hoped he would live long enough to see Sensei Kano defeat his father’s murderer, the seemingly invincible Dokugan Ryu.

Sensei Kano shot his staff at the ninja’s groin. This time Dragon Eye leapt into the air, spreading his legs wide so that he straddled the gap between the two buildings. The bō passed harmlessly underneath. Impossibly, Dragon Eye then ran above Sensei Kano using the upper walls as leverage. Sensei Kano thrust his staff skyward, but missed. Dragon Eye scuttled overhead like a cockroach and Jack, in his delirious state, felt raindrops falling on him like iron pins. He watched them shower down from the heavens and heard them tinkle on to the ground before realizing that they were real. The area around Jack had been carpeted by the ninja with sharp triangular metal spikes, designed so that one point always faced up. Dragon Eye reached the end of the alley and dropped back down to the ground. ‘Come on, blind man. Let’s see how you fight in the open,’ he dared. Sensei Kano charged down the alleyway at Dragon Eye. Jack tried to warn him of the danger, but all he could manage was a feeble croak. At the last second, Sensei Kano planted the end of his staff in the mud and vaulted over Jack. He landed neatly at the entrance to the alleyway, safely clearing all the deadly spikes. ‘Tetsu-bishi, how uninspired,’ commented Sensei Kano. Jack desperately wanted to laugh at Dragon Eye’s failure, but the pain proved too great.

Infuriated, the ninja thrust a spear-hand strike at Sensei Kano’s throat. The samurai deflected it with his bō, then swung the staff round into Dragon Eye’s midriff. Surprisingly, the ninja didn’t try to evade it. Instead he absorbed the blow, trapping the staff between his arm and body. Taking Sensei Kano by surprise, he then pulled the huge samurai offbalance before driving him backwards into the alleyway. Sensei Kano remained on his feet, but took one step too many to regain his centre and his rear foot landed on a metal spike. The tetsu-bishi went straight through his thin-soled sandal, spearing his flesh. Sensei Kano dropped to the ground, crying out in shock. Dragon Eye was on him in an instant. He stamped on the staff, snapping it in two. Then he front-kicked Sensei Kano full force in the face. Jack heard the sensei’s nose break and blood gushed out. ‘Did you honestly believe you could defeat me?’ said Dokugan Ryu, grabbing hold of Sensei Kano’s head to expose his throat for the killing blow. ‘Don’t you know that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?’ With the speed of a cobra, the ninja chopped the knifeedge of his hand at Sensei Kano’s windpipe with the intention of snapping it. Despite his disorientation and pain, Sensei Kano instinctively blocked the attack. Taking hold of Dragon Eye’s wrist, he locked the ninja’s lead arm and thrust a spear-hand into his face. The ninja barely avoided the counterstrike, but managed to retaliate with a vertical fist punch at the samurai’s barrel-sized chest. Sensei Kano’s greater strength allowed him to absorb the blow and fight his way back into a standing position.

Through a haze of excruciating pain, Jack watched as the two warriors battled at close range in lethal chi sao. The first to make a mistake, Jack knew, would be the one to die. The speed of their attacks and counters was so fast that Jack only saw their arms as a blur. Their skills were evenly matched and each strike was met with a block, each trap with a counter. Neither gave any ground. ‘NINJA!’ came a cry. Dragon Eye glanced up the main passageway and saw a vanguard of castle samurai approaching. Disengaging from Sensei Kano, he vaulted the alley wall with a single mighty leap on to the roof. Taking one last look at Jack, he spat, ‘There won’t be a next time, gaijin. For you, at least!’ A moment later he was gone, a shadow in the night. Sensei Kano hobbled over to where Jack lay slumped against the wall. ‘What’s that ninja done to you?’ Jack could hardly breathe now. The world was dim and distant, Sensei Kano’s face seemed to be at the opposite end of a long dark tunnel. His heart still thudded hard, but had slowed as the pressure had built. He thought his whole chest was about to explode. ‘Death… Touch,’ Jack somehow managed to gasp. ‘Dim Mak!’ breathed a horrified Sensei Kano. Immediately, the great sensei ran his hands over Jack’s body. Having found what he was feeling for, he pulled Jack forward and, in

five rapid strikes with the tips of his fingers, hit Jack at key points on his back and chest. Like a new spring dawn, Jack’s body jerked into life. He drew in a great breath as his lungs expanded wide. The pressure in his chest vanished as if the gates of a mighty dam had been opened, and his blood flowed through his body in one lifegiving flood. His eyesight rushed back and he could now see the bloodstained, bearded face of Sensei Kano, his fingers searching for Jack’s pulse in his neck. ‘I’m all right, you can stop now,’ said Jack wearily as his sensei began to massage his chest. ‘I can’t. I must ensure your ki is flowing freely.’ ‘But how do you know what to do?’ ‘I learnt the black art called Dim Mak from the same blind Chinese warrior who taught me chi sao,’ explained Sensei Kano quietly. He began to work on Jack’s limbs. ‘Dim Mak is the source of the ninja’s Death Touch technique. Think of it as the opposite side of the coin to acupuncture. While acupuncture heals using pressure points and nerve centres, Dim Mak destroys. You’re extremely fortunate to have survived, young samurai.’ He carefully picked up the weakened Jack like a bear cub in his huge arms.

Before heading back to the temple, the great samurai took a moment to pull out the bloody metal spike that had speared his foot. ‘Probably poisoned,’ he mumbled, inspecting the tetsubishi. ‘I’ll need to keep this for the antidote.’ ooo000ooo 46 MOUNTAIN MONK Tadashi ran over to Jack. Pale-faced and sweating, his eyes as wide as saucers, he garbled something incomprehensible then passed out at Jack’s feet. Jack looked down at the comatose traitor. He had little sympathy for his old training partner and false friend who had cheated twice during the Circle of Three. He deserved his fate. Two monks rushed over and dragged Tadashi to his feet. One threw water over him to try to revive him. The boy spluttered, opened his eyes, screamed at something unseen, then fainted again. Feverish whispering broke out among the school as they pondered what could have caused such shock and terror in Tadashi during his Spirit challenge. ‘What on earth’s up there?’ asked Kazuki of the High Priest, pointing to the craggy peak of the highest mountain in the Iga range.

This third peak loomed over the small grassy plateau where the final Circle of Three entrants now stood, guarded by a ring of troops from the Castle of the White Phoenix in case of another ninja attack. ‘Don’t ask yourself what’s at the top of the mountain, ask what’s on the other side,’ the priest replied cryptically. Then he pointed at Jack. ‘You’re next.’ Jack stepped forward but was held back by Akiko, who had placed her hand on his arm. ‘Are you sure you should be doing this?’ ‘I’ve come too far to turn back now,’ he replied. But Jack’s physical and mental fatigue were obvious in the heavy roughness of his voice and the watery glaze to his eyes. ‘But you almost died last night,’ she pleaded, squeezing his arm gently. Jack, comforted by Akiko’s concern, replied, ‘Sensei Kano says I’ll be fine. Besides I can rest all I want after this final challenge.’ ‘That’s if you make it. You saw the state of Tadashi. Whatever’s up there is not for the faint-hearted. You’re not invincible, Jack, however much you may wish you were.’ ‘I can do this,’ Jack asserted, as much for his own reassurance as Akiko’s. She let go of his arm and bowed to hide her fears. ‘Be careful, Jack. Don’t lose your life in a rush to live.’ Jack had been given nothing but a fresh white robe to climb to the top of the mountain. He had asked if he could take his swords or

at least some water for the Spirit challenge, but the High Priest had replied, ‘All you need, you already carry with you.’ As Jack set off up the path that wound its way to the peak, he was cheered by his fellow students, all wishing him luck for this final challenge of challenges. He spotted Yamato, Kiku and Saburo shouting their encouragement and, behind them, Emi and her friends waving enthusiastically. He then passed the line of sensei and bowed his respects to each of them in turn. Sensei Kano was not among the teachers. He was recovering in the temple under the supervision of the medicine monk. The bō master had been correct in his assumption that the iron spike was poisoned. Once his wound had been cleaned and bound, he had drunk an evil-smelling antidote concocted by the monk. He had been sick all night as a result. Laughing as he threw up for a fourth time into a nearby bucket, the bō master had assured Jack that this was all part of the purging process. Last in line was Sensei Yamada. The Zen master stepped forward and handed Jack a small origami crane. ‘From Yori,’ he explained with a cheerful smile. ‘He wanted you to carry it for luck. He also wanted you to know that he is feeling much better and will be returning to Kyoto with us tomorrow.’ ‘That’s great news,’ replied Jack, taking the paper bird. ‘Any final words of advice, Sensei?’ ‘Follow the path and you won’t get lost.’ ‘Is that it?’ said Jack, surprised by the plain nature of the Zen master’s answer.

‘Sometimes that is all that’s required.’ ** * The path was stony and difficult, wending a steep zigzag up the mountainside. A rock gave way under Jack’s foot and a small avalanche of dust and stone clattered down the slope. He paused to take a much-needed rest and sat down at the edge of the path. The storm of the previous night had passed and a hot spring sun now warmed his aching bones. Above him, a hawk soared in the clear blue sky and Jack recalled Sensei Yamada’s reading of his dream. The bird represented strength and quick-wittedness. Surely, this was a good sign. Looking over the wide valley basin, Jack could see the school watching him from the grassy plateau below. Up here everything was so calm and peaceful, the air fresh and pure. Life gained a new perspective at this height, he thought. The big became small, his worries disappeared into the distance and the horizon promised new beginnings. When Sensei Kano had returned with him to the temple after the ninja attack, Jack had been relieved to see that Akiko was already there, safe and sound, along with Yamato, Saburo and everyone else, even Kazuki. Both Jack and Sensei Kano had been rushed to the temple’s medicine monk to be checked out. While Sensei Kano was busy throwing up as a result of the purging potion, Jack was given a sedative to reduce his pain and help him sleep. As he drifted off, Jack overheard Masamoto discussing the raid with the commanding

officer of the Castle of the White Phoenix. The Commander believed it to be a raid by a local ninja clan. Jack had groggily mumbled Dragon Eye’s name and the Commander had nodded as if he already knew. He confirmed to Masamoto that such attacks by Dokugan Ryu’s clan often occurred when there were visiting dignitaries like Masamoto himself. In the morning Jack had discovered that there had been a unanimous decision to continue with the Circle of Three. Masamoto had announced that no ninja clan would prevent the Niten Ichi Ryū completing an ancient samurai tradition. Under armed guard, Jack and the three remaining competitors were led up to the start point of the third and final challenge. Jack glanced up at the craggy peak that thrust like an arrowhead into the sky. Somewhere up there was the Spirit challenge. What had terrified Tadashi so badly that he had returned a quivering wreck? Jack couldn’t believe that the challenge was any worse than having his heart nearly explode inside his chest with the Death Touch. Miraculously, he had survived. Just. He still had a pounding headache and his body felt as if it had been beaten black and blue with iron rods. His heart throbbed, but he realized he should be thankful that it was still beating at all. Gazing in the direction of Kyoto, Jack wondered if Dragon Eye was already on his way to Nijo Castle to steal the rutter. Jack realized now he must tell Masamoto about it, but then he

remembered that the ninja thought he was dead. There would be no urgency for Dragon Eye to retrieve what would always be there. It slowly dawned on Jack that if he could get back to Kyoto before Dragon Eye decided to make his move, he could still save the rutter. Invigorated by this prospect, Jack began scaling the peak anew, fresh hope in his heart. Jack hesitated outside the entrance to a cave. A few prayer flags fluttered in the high mountain breeze, but otherwise the peak was desolate and bleak. There was no question that the path led anywhere other than into the dark recesses of the mountain, but Jack was still reluctant to enter. The black hole in the rock face was as inviting as the mouth of a serpent. Yet he had come this far. There was no point in turning back now. Jack took a step inside. As soon as he had crossed the line from light to shadow, the warmth of the sun disappeared and was replaced by a damp chill. He allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness and saw that the cave was a rough tunnel cut deep into the heart of the mountain. The passageway curved away into pitch-blackness. Taking one last look behind him at the small circle of sunlight that marked his way out, he turned the corner and entered the unknown. For several moments he saw absolutely nothing. Not even his hand in front of his face. Fighting the urge to flee, he edged deeper into the darkness.

He had no idea how far he had gone when the wall he had been using to guide him suddenly disappeared. Through the large crack in the rock, Jack caught sight of a fiery red glow. With trepidation, he entered a small cavern. He gave a startled cry at what he saw. A huge distorted shadow of an ogre towered over him, a massive club in its hand. ‘Welcome, young samurai,’ spoke a quiet voice. Jack spun round to where a saffron-robed monk with a bald round head, a skinny neck and a childlike smile was feeding an open fire with a twig. A pot rested in the flames, happily boiling away. ‘I’m just brewing some tea. Would you like some?’ Jack didn’t answer. He was still shaken by the appearance of this tiny man whose shadow seemed to have a grotesque life of its own. ‘It’s the finest sencha Japan has to offer,’ insisted the monk, indicating with a wave of his hand for Jack to sit. ‘Who are you?’ asked Jack, warily taking his place on the opposite side of the crackling fire. ‘Who am I? A very good question and one that takes a lifetime to answer,’ he replied, sprinkling tea leaves into the boiling pot. ‘I can tell you what I am. I am Yamabushi.’ Jack looked blankly at the old man.

‘Literally, it means “one who hides in the mountains”,’ he explained, tending the fire, ‘but the villagers call me the Mountain Monk. They occasionally come to me for spiritual healing and divination.’ He lifted the pot from the fire and poured a watery green brew into a plain brown teacup. He handed Jack the steaming sencha. ‘You cannot know who you are, unless you know how you are that person.’ Though he didn’t like green tea, Jack accepted the drink out of courtesy. He took a sip. It tasted bitter. Certainly not the finest sencha Jack had ever tried. Nonetheless, he smiled politely and took another gulp to finish it quickly. Glancing round the cavern, he noticed it was empty apart from a small shrine set into the rock, circled by flickering candles and incense. ‘Are you the Spirit challenge?’ enquired Jack. ‘Me? Of course not,’ the monk chuckled, his laughter rebounding off the cavern walls in eerie mocking echoes. ‘You are.’ ooo000ooo 47 SPIRIT COMBAT The cup in Jack’s hand drooped and slowly melted like hot tar to the floor. Jack stared at the gooey mess, then looked up at the Mountain Monk for an explanation.

The skinny monk smiled serenely as if nothing unusual was happening, his saffron robes now an intense orange and his head like a round citrus fruit ripened under the Mediterranean sun. His eyes sparkled as if sprinkled with stardust and his grin was as wide as a crescent moon. ‘What’s happening?’ exclaimed Jack in panic. ‘What’s happening?’ repeated the monk, his words slow and slurred like they were molasses in Jack’s ears. ‘A very good question and one you must ask when you meet your maker.’ Jack’s head swirled. At some point during their conversation, the cavern had expanded to the size of a cathedral and its rock walls now breathed in and out in steady contractions. The circle of candles around the shrine had become a multicoloured rainbow that left tracer lines of light like fireworks exploding inside his eyeballs. The fire between Jack and the monk suddenly roared, flaring into a white-hot furnace too bright to look at. Jack rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the crazy visions. When he dared open them again, the fire had died down to glowing embers and the monk had disappeared. Only the teapot remained, lying on its side. What had just happened? Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was it an after-effect of Dragon Eye’s Death Touch? Jack looked around for the monk, but the cavern was deserted.

Akiko had been right. He had pushed himself too far by taking on this final challenge. He was too drained to cope and now he was seeing things. Jack picked up the teapot. It squealed at him and Jack dropped it in shock. The pot suddenly grew hundreds of little black legs like a millipede and scuttled away in a mad panic. Before he could comprehend what he had just seen, he was distracted by a harsh cracking sound behind him. Jack forced himself to turn his head. His scream caught in his throat, unable to escape alongside the rush of terror and panic that tried to claw its way out at the same time. A giant black scorpion, big enough to devour a horse, skittered over the cavern floor towards him. Jack couldn’t move for fear. The creature scuttled closer and examined its prey. ‘It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real…’ Jack feverishly repeated to himself. Then the scorpion raised one of its powerful pincers and swiped at Jack. It struck him in the chest and Jack went flying against the cavern wall. ‘It’s real, it’s real, it’s real…’ stammered Jack, struggling to his feet. The scorpion attacked, its stinger swishing through the air straight at Jack’s heart.

Jack dived to the right and the barb ricocheted off the rock face behind. It struck again as he rolled across the floor, just managing to avoid its poisoned tip. Scrambling to his feet, he ran for the gap in the wall, but the scorpion was too quick and blocked his path. The creature, aware it had him trapped, slowly advanced, its pincers crackling and its stinger flicking like a poisoned spear. Backed up against the rear wall, Jack had nowhere left to hide. He bent down to pick up a rock to defend himself with and there, lying discarded on the floor, was the little paper crane Yori had made for him. Origami. Nothing is as it appears. All of a sudden, he understood that he was in the midst of the Spirit challenge. The High Priest had instructed them to ‘be the master of your mind, rather than being mastered by your mind’. Whether the scorpion was real or not didn’t matter. His mind believed it was. And… Just like a piece of paper can be more than a piece of paper in origami, becoming a crane, a fish or a flower; so a samurai should never underestimate their own potential to bend and fold to life. Yori’s answer to the origami koan flashed bright and clear like a beacon in Jack’s head. He had to strive to become more than he appeared, to go beyond his natural limits.

Jack roared at the scorpion in defiance. The creature hesitated a moment. Then it went for the kill. Jack roared louder as if he was a lion and struck out with his fist. But it was a fist now armed with the claws of a lion. It batted the scorpion’s tail away and Jack pounced cat-like on to the creature’s back. The scorpion bucked and reared, but Jack rode it out, driving his claws deep into the creature’s exoskeleton. The scorpion struck wildly with its stinger, Jack dodging from side to side to avoid its poisoned tip. As it struck yet again, he flung himself on to the creature’s head. At the last possible moment he leapt away. It was too late, though, for the creature to pull back its strike. Its barbed tail sunk deep into its own solitary eye, a single green lidless orb that glowed in the dark. Blinded, the scorpion whirled in frenzied agony, emitting an unholy high-pitched screech that echoed around the cavern. The scream was then drowned out by the sound of a thunderclap and the fire flared again, as bright as the sun. The scorpion was gone and Jack was sitting opposite the Mountain Monk, who was throwing incense powder on to his fire, each handful turning the flames a bright purple and sending out heady waves of lavender-scented smoke.

‘Would you like some?’ he asked, handing Jack a cup of lemony liquid. Jack refused to take it, afraid of what horrors it might unleash. ‘I would advise drinking it,’ the monk insisted. ‘Together with the incense, it counters the effects of the tea.’ Jack did as he was told and within moments he felt his world returning to its normal dimensions. ‘Well?’ asked Jack as the monk began to prepare another pot of water for a brew. ‘Well, what?’ replied the Mountain Monk, bemused. Jack was becoming irritated with the man’s obtuse attitude. ‘Have I passed?’ ‘I don’t know. Did you?’ ‘But you set the Spirit challenge, surely you decide.’ ‘No. You decided your opponent. To know your fears is to know yourself.’ He put the teapot down and looked Jack in the eye. ‘The key to being a great samurai in peace and war is freedom from fear. If you defeat your nemesis, then you become the master of your fears.’ With a wave of his hand, the monk indicated the way out to Jack. ‘Please, I have to prepare for the next guest.’ Jack gave the monk a bewildered bow then headed for the crack in the wall.

‘Jack-kun,’ called the Mountain Monk just as he reached the hole. Jack stopped in his tracks, trying to recall when he had told the monk his name. ‘Understand that those who successfully complete the Spirit challenge are not free of fear, but are simply no longer afraid to fear.’ ** * Jack stood in the centre of the grassy plateau alongside Akiko and Kazuki. The sun beat down with a glorious warmth and the three highest peaks of the Iga mountain range towered majestically over them in the bright blue sky. The students, sensei and temple monks formed three concentric circles around the three of them. On the command of the High Priest, the three circles clapped three times then cheered at the tops of their voices three times, their shouts echoing across the valley. Jack’s heart swelled with pride. He had done it. Against all the odds, he had conquered the Circle. He had survived. Turning to face Akiko, he saw that she was trying to hold back her own tears, a mixture of relief and delight sparkling in her eyes. When she had come down off the mountain after him, Jack had rejoiced as she recounted how she’d defeated her inner demon, a host of vampire bats, with the aid of her protecting spirit, a pure white falcon. Jack had thought how appropriate that a bird of swift

beauty and sharp instinct was her guardian. Akiko had been equally delighted to hear that his spirit had taken the form of a lion. Then there had been a tense wait, while Kazuki scaled the peak and entered the Spirit cave himself. For a long while, he failed to emerge and Jack, going against the spirit of bushido, secretly hoped that Kazuki had failed in his final challenge. But no sooner had this thought occurred than his arch-rival had returned triumphant. Jack didn’t discover what Kazuki’s protective spirit was, though he assumed it was a snake or something equally venomous. ‘Young samurai, the Circle is complete,’ announced the High Priest, stepping up to join them in the centre of the Circle of Three. ‘Your mind, body and spirit will forever form a never-ending circle.’ He indicated for the three of them to link hands to form a fourth and final inner circle. Jack and Kazuki reluctantly grasped one another’s hand and Akiko couldn’t help but laugh at their discomfort. ‘But while your body and mind have been strengthened by these challenges,’ continued the High Priest, ‘always remember that the most important thing for a samurai is not the sword you hold in your hand or the knowledge between your ears; it is what is in your heart. Your spirit is your true shield. If your spirit is strong, you can accomplish anything.’ ooo000ooo 48 THE CHALLENGE

Akiko stared aghast at Yamato’s proposal. They were back at the Niten Ichi Ryū, gathered in Jack’s room within the Hall of Lions. The return journey that morning from the Iga mountains had been a relaxed one, made all the more enjoyable by their triumph in the Circle of Three and the splendid spring sunshine that had graced their ride home. Jack was still tired and all the muscles in his body ached, but following the best nightmare-free sleep he’d had in a long while, he felt rejuvenated. Indeed, in a few days he thought he would be raring to train again. However, the debate they were having at that moment chilled him to the bone. He had told Yamato and Akiko about his encounter with Dragon Eye and they were now discussing what to do with the rutter. With every mention of the ninja’s name, his heart burnt as he recalled the assassin’s sinister powers. ‘I’m serious,’ Yamato persisted. ‘Dokugan Ryu thinks Jack is dead. We can take him by surprise.’ ‘No,’ countered Akiko. ‘You can never surprise a ninja. They’re trained in laying traps. Dragon Eye would instinctively sense that something’s wrong.’ ‘Why would he?’ said Yamato. ‘Besides if we don’t get him now, he’ll just go after Jack again.’ ‘We should move the rutter first,’ Jack suggested, warming to Yamato’s plan. ‘We have the Circle of Three celebration tonight at daimyo Takatomi’s castle. We can slip out during the proceedings and hide it elsewhere before Dragon Eye gets his hands on it.’

‘That’s if he hasn’t already got it,’ said Akiko, shaking her head in despair. ‘This isn’t a training game. This is real. The Circle hasn’t suddenly made you invincible, Jack. Though Dragon Eye seems to be. He keeps escaping every time and no one’s ever defeated him. What makes you think you can now?’ ‘That’s my point: until we kill him, he’ll always be a threat,’ argued Yamato fervently. ‘Why are you so fixed on this foolish idea of a trap? It’s plain suicide,’ said Akiko. ‘It’s like you’ve got something to prove.’ ‘I have!’ said Yamato, clenching his fists, his blood boiling as he got more worked up. ‘Jack’s not the only one who wants revenge. Dokugan Ryu killed my brother, Tenno. Remember? Upholding the Masamoto family honour requires that the ninja dies. This is my best chance to prove myself.’ Yamato’s thunderous mood, the one Jack knew so well from when he was on the receiving end, appeared to be consuming his friend. ‘Calm down, Yamato,’ interjected Jack, placing a reassuring hand on his arm. ‘Calm down?’ exploded Yamato, snatching his arm away. ‘Of all the samurai, I thought you’d understand. He murdered your father as he did my brother. Dragon Eye’s not all about you and your precious rutter, Jack. I feel pain too. Every day. It’s just that I don’t have anything that ninja still wants. He’s already taken the only brother I had from me!’ A tense silence fell between the three of them.

Jack felt ashamed. He hadn’t ever considered Yamato’s situation that way before. He’d always been concerned with his own predicament, working out ways he could safely get home without the need for Masamoto’s protection, worrying about what had become of his little sister, mourning his father’s death and wondering how he could defend himself against Dragon Eye. Yamato would be suffering as much as he was. He’d lost his own flesh and blood too. ‘I didn’t think…’ began Jack. ‘I’m sorry…’ said Akiko, bowing. Yamato held up his hand in peace, drawing in a deep breath to calm himself. ‘Forget it. I’m sorry I let my temper get the better of me.’ He bowed his apologies to both Jack and Akiko. ‘We shouldn’t be fighting with one another like this. We should be fighting Dragon Eye. He’s the cause of it all. Always has been.’ ‘Don’t you think it’s time,’ suggested Akiko, ‘that we told Masamoto about the rutter?’ ** * Jack knelt before Masamoto, Sensei Hosokawa and Sensei Yamada in the Hall of the Phoenix, the silk-screen painting of the flaming bird rising up behind them like an avenging angel. ‘I was delighted with your performance in the Circle of Three, Jack-kun,’ said Masamoto, putting down his cup of sencha and

gazing at Jack with admiration. ‘As my adopted son, I am as proud of you as your father would have been.’ Jack had to blink back tears at the mention of his father and the unexpected affection displayed by his guardian. Throughout his time at the samurai school, Jack had missed the encouragement and support his father would have given him. Whether it was a sly wink of approval, or a piece of advice, or just his father enveloping him in arms as strong as the ocean. Those were the precious moments that had been absent in his life over the past two years. ‘You completed the Circle challenges with the true bushido virtues of loyalty, rectitude and courage,’ continued Masamato, ‘so I look forward to personally instructing you in the technique of the Two Heavens.’ Jack’s heart leapt. Finally, he would get to use Masamoto’s swords. At last, he was to be taught this unbeatable skill. ‘But now to the heart of this meeting,’ said Masamoto, his tone turning serious. ‘Is there something you wish to tell me?’ Jack was taken aback by the question. How could he know? Akiko, Yamato and himself had been discussing whether to raise the issue of the rutter with Masamoto, when Jack had received the summons to go to the Hall of the Phoenix to see Masamoto. Before Jack left for this unexpected appointment, the three of them had agreed that they should tell Masamoto about the existence of the rutter. Jack realized the consequences of this could be severe and had insisted that Akiko and Yamato remain behind. There was no reason for them to be punished too. He would deny his friends’ involvement, maintaining they had no knowledge of the logbook.

Following such praise and assertions of fatherly pride from Masamoto, a wave of guilt now replaced the elation Jack had been feeling. He was ashamed to have to admit to his guardian that he’d lied to him. ‘Thank you, Masamoto-sama, for your kind words,’ began Jack, bowing low, ‘but I don’t deserve them.’ Masamoto leant forward, one eyebrow raised in curiosity. ‘Why ever not?’ ‘I know why the ninja attacked us in the Iga mountains. It was Dragon Eye. He was after me. Or, to tell the truth, after my father’s rutter.’ ‘What’s a rutter?’ asked Sensei Hosokawa. Jack told the three of them about the logbook, describing how pilots used it to navigate their ships, and explaining the rutter’s importance to trade and politics among the countries of Europe. ‘I’m sorry, Masamoto-sama, but I lied to you,’ Jack confessed. ‘The reason why Dragon Eye attacked Hiroko’s house in Toba was because of the rutter. I should have told you at the time, but I’d made a promise to my father to keep it secret. I didn’t know who to trust and then I was worried if you had the rutter, you’d become the target for Dragon Eye, rather than me.’ Masamoto stared at Jack. His stony expression gave little away, but Jack noticed the scars on his face had begun to redden. Sensei Hosokawa’s expression was equally severe. Sensei Yamada was the only one who looked kindly upon Jack, his eyes crinkling in sympathy at Jack’s predicament.

‘We will have to deal with this matter tomorrow,’ declared Masamoto tersely. ‘Unfortunately there’s a more pressing issue to be discussed first.’ Jack wondered what could be worse than breaking the fifth virtue of bushido by lying to his guardian. Masamoto nodded to Sensei Hosokawa. The swordmaster picked up a large scroll of paper and passed it to Jack. ‘Explain this!’ demanded Masamoto. Jack stared at the paper. It was the size of a poster with kanji scrawled across it. Having been taught the basics of Japanese handwriting by Akiko, Jack recognized his name among the characters. ‘What is it?’ Jack asked. The three samurai exchanged confused looks. ‘It’s a challenge declaration,’ replied Masamoto, as if that explained everything. Jack continued to stare in bewilderment at the scroll. ‘You may have succeeded in the Circle of Three, but your confidence in your abilities may be somewhat misguided,’ observed Sensei Hosokawa grimly. ‘What on earth made you think of entering into a sword duel with an unknown samurai on his musha shugyo?’ Jack looked up in shock at the sensei. Surely they were playing a joke on him. The grave expression on their faces, however, told him otherwise.

‘I… didn’t enter any duel,’ stammered Jack. ‘Your name’s down here, claiming to be the Great Blond Samurai,’ replied Sensei Hosokawa, pointing at the kanji. ‘Sasaki Bishamon, the samurai in question, has accepted your challenge. You are expected in the duelling ground before sunset tonight.’ Jack was stunned into silence. This couldn’t be happening. He hadn’t written his name down for any challenge. He had no wish to risk his life duelling with a samurai just to prove whose martial arts were the best. And certainly not against a warrior named after the God of War. His only intention was to retrieve the rutter. That was if Masamoto still allowed him to go to Nijo Castle tonight for the Circle of Three celebration. His guardian may have suspended judgement on the issue of the rutter until the following day, but the threat of it hung over Jack like a guillotine. Now Jack had the prospect of a duel to contend with too. ‘I didn’t write this,’ insisted Jack, his eyes pleading. ‘I can’t fight this samurai.’ Jack’s mind whirled in panic. Such a duel could end in him losing a limb, or even in death. Who could have done such a thing? Kazuki. The boy had vowed he would get his revenge. This was it. Jack had to admire his rival’s genius, though. It was so neat, so Kazuki. ‘If not you, then who?’ asked Masamoto.

Jack was about to blurt out Kazuki’s name, when he remembered how he had falsely accused his rival of cheating in the Circle. How wrong he had been then. He could be as mistaken in his judgement this time, jumping to conclusions based solely on his own prejudices. Jack looked to the floor and slowly shook his head. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘In that case, we are presented with a difficult dilemma,’ said Masamoto, taking a thoughtful sip of his sencha. ‘Your name and the name of this school have been seen on this challenge declaration around Kyoto. If you pull out of the duel now, you will bring shame not only on yourself, but on the Masamoto name and on the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ ‘Can’t you explain that it was a mistake?’ pleaded Jack. ‘It would make no difference. Your challenge has been accepted.’ ‘But surely I’m too young to fight a duel?’ ‘How old are you?’ asked Sensei Hosokawa. ‘Fourteen this month,’ replied Jack with hope. ‘I fought my first duel at thirteen,’ reminisced Masamoto with a hint of pride. ‘Against one Arima Kibei, a famous swordsman back then. He too put up a sign appealing for challengers. I was an impetuous boy at the time, so naturally put my name down. In fact, I see a great deal of myself in you, Jack-kun. At least, sometimes. That’s why, I must admit, I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t

actually issue the challenge; and even more disappointed that I find out you’ve been lying to me.’ Jack felt his cheeks flush with shame and could no longer meet his guardian’s eyes. ‘But no matter,’ continued Masamoto. ‘At sundown you will honour this school and prove yourself a mighty young samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ Jack’s jaw dropped in disbelief. ‘But I haven’t sparred with a real sword yet!’ ‘Neither had I,’ retorted Masamoto, with a dismissive wave of the hand. ‘I defeated Arima with my bokken.’ It was then that Jack realized he was to be given no option. He would have to fight the samurai. ‘Looks like you’ve finally got what you wished for. Your impatience to use your swords in class has caught up with you,’ commented Sensei Hosokawa with a wry smile. ‘I wouldn’t concern yourself too much, though. I’ve seen you practising with your katana in the Southern Zen Garden. Your form’s good. You could survive.’ Could? thought Jack, alarmed by his sensei’s relaxed attitude. He hoped his chances were better than that. ooo000ooo 49

THE DUELLING GROUND The young samurai lay twitching in the dust, blood spurting from his severed neck across the duelling ground in miniature rivers of red. The crowd bayed and whistled, hankering for more bloodshed. Distraught at the young man’s fate, Jack stood at the edge of the makeshift arena of spectators, gripping the hilt of his sword so tightly his knuckles went white and the inlaid metal menuki dug painfully into his palm. Staring down into the samurai’s eyes, Jack witnessed the life drain from them like the flame of a guttering candle. ‘Next!’ bellowed the formidable warrior, who stood victorious in the centre of the duelling ground. The samurai on his musha shugyo was dressed in a dark red-and-white hakama. He held his katana aloft then brought it down sharply, flicking his opponent’s blood from the blade – chiburi. Yamato nudged his friend forward. ‘He’s calling for you, Jack.’ ‘This is just brilliant, isn’t it?’ said Saburo, as he stuffed an obanyaki into his mouth, the custard filling of the pastry spilling down over his chin. ‘How can you say that?’ exclaimed Akiko. ‘We’ve got to see a duel! I didn’t think we’d get back in time from the Circle of Three.’

‘Saburo,’ said Jack, mortified at his friend’s insensitivity. ‘I’m about to die.’ ‘No, you aren’t,’ said Saburo, dismissing the idea with a jovial grin. ‘Masamoto has agreed with your opponent that your match will be to first blood only. You might get a battle scar, but he won’t kill you.’ ‘But that last duel was supposed to be to first blood too!’ Saburo opened his mouth to reply, but obviously couldn’t think of anything to say, so he took another bite of his obanyaki instead. ‘That challenger was just unlucky, Jack,’ said Yamato, trying to calm him. ‘He pressed forward at the wrong time and got caught in the neck. An accident, that’s all. It won’t happen to you.’ Despite his friend’s attempt at reassurance, Jack was still doubtful. ‘Jack!’ came a familiar cry, and the crowd opened up to let a small boy through. Yori hobbled over, helped by Kiku. ‘You should be in bed,’ chided Jack. ‘Your leg –’ ‘Don’t worry about me,’ interrupted Yori, leaning on his crutch. ‘You were there for me when I needed you. Besides, I had to bring you this.’ Yori handed him an origami crane. It was tiny, smaller than a cherry-blossom petal, but perfectly formed.

‘Thanks,’ said Jack, ‘but I’ve still got the one you gave me.’ ‘Yes, but this one’s special. I finally finished Senbazuru Orikata. This is the thousandth crane. The one that holds the wish.’ For a brief moment, the little bird in Jack’s hand seemed to flutter with hope. ‘I’m praying my wish can protect you, just as you saved my life,’ explained Yori with a hopeful look in his eyes. Overwhelmed by his friend’s compassion, Jack bowed, then tenderly slipped the little bird into the folds of his obi. Masamoto strode over. ‘Are you ready?’ Jack gave an unconvincing nod of his head. ‘You needn’t fear. You have my first swords,’ Masamoto reassured him. ‘They will serve you well. Just remember to carefully judge the distance between yourself and your adversary. Bring him into your sphere of attack. Draw him out. Whatever you do, don’t let him draw you in.’ Jack bowed his appreciation for the advice. ‘If you fight with courage,’ said Masamoto, speaking low so no one else would overhear, ‘you may yet regain your honour and my respect.’ Masamoto returned to his commanding position in the crowd. Jack now felt even more pressure to succeed. He had been given a chance to redeem himself in his guardian’s eyes.

Sensei Kano now approached. ‘How’s your foot?’ asked Jack. Sensei Kano laughed. ‘That’s what I like about you, Jack-kun. Always thinking of others before yourself. But what about your predicament? It’ll soon be sunset, won’t it? So try to attack your enemy at a point where the dying sun shines into his eyes.’ He gripped Jack’s shoulders, then let go reluctantly to step aside for Sensei Yosa. ‘Maintain your centre and stay balanced. I have faith that you will survive,’ she said. Then she tenderly touched Jack’s cheek with the back of her hand. ‘But if that samurai harms more than a hair on your head, I’ll make a pincushion of him with my arrows.’ Everyone seemed to want to offer Jack advice, even Sensei Kyuzo who, on his way to join the other sensei, said abruptly, ‘Ichi-go, ichie. You’ll only get one chance. Don’t make it your last.’ The little knot of a man threw Jack a twisted grin, as if it hurt him to smile, then strolled off. Jack didn’t feel any better for the taijutsu master’s counsel, and his mood plummeted further when he saw Kazuki and his Scorpion Gang swagger over, Moriko close by his side, her black teeth accentuated by her chalk-white face. Then Kazuki stepped forward and bowed. ‘Good luck, Jack,’ he said, apparently in earnest.

‘Err… thank you,’ mumbled Jack, caught unawares by Kazuki’s sincerity. Perhaps Kazuki wasn’t responsible for entering his name after all. Then, with a straight face, Kazuki asked, ‘Can I have your swords after he’s finished with you?’ The Scorpion Gang sniggered uncontrollably, revelling in their little joke, then they all strode away, laughing. Akiko unexpectedly took Jack’s hand in hers to comfort him. ‘Ignore them, Jack. Don’t forget what the High Priest said: your spirit is your true shield.’ ‘Fudoshin!’ suggested Kiku helpfully. ‘You’ll need that for the fight too.’ ‘And remember what Sensei Kano taught us,’ Yamato added. ‘The eyes are the windows to your mind, so make sure you fight without eyes.’ ‘Have you eaten?’ asked Saburo, offering Jack a skewer of chicken. ‘A samurai should never fight on an empty stomach, you know.’ Jack shook his head, thoroughly bewildered by the onslaught of advice. At that moment, Emi pushed through the crowd and presented Jack with a posy of yellow and red camellia. ‘For luck,’ she breathed into his ear. ‘Don’t be late for the celebrations tonight.’

Akiko reached between the two of them, graciously offering to hold the flowers for Jack. Emi gave her a civil smile and handed them over, though her eyes revealed annoyance. ‘It’s time, Jack-kun,’ said Sensei Hosokawa, summoning him over to where the musha shugyo samurai waited, sword in hand. ‘Mushin,’ Sensei Hosokawa whispered into Jack’s ear, having formally introduced Jack to his opponent, Sasaki Bishamon. ‘But you said it would take me years to master mushin,’ protested Jack as Sensei Hosokawa performed a final check on his sword for him. ‘You no longer have the grace of time,’ he replied, looking Jack in the eye. ‘You have trained hard and you have completed the Circle. As long as you expect nothing and are ready for anything in this fight, mushin is within your grasp. Let your sword become no sword.’ With that last piece of counsel, he handed back the katana and left Jack alone to face his opponent in the centre of the bloodstained duelling ground. Up close, Sasaki Bishamon appeared exactly like the God of War his name proclaimed him to be. Scars were visible on both his arms like long, dead snakes and his eyes were as hard and heartless as if they had been chiselled from granite. It was clear even in the way he stood that this samurai was no novice fighter. He had duelled his way across Japan.

What alarmed Jack the most, though, was the kamon emblazoned on the jacket of the man’s gi and his white headband. A circle of four black scorpions. Jack’s first dream of the year flashed before his eyes and he recalled Sensei Yamada’s reading. Scorpions symbolized treachery. Four meant death. He had encountered Kazuki’s Scorpion Gang, the scorpion in the Spirit challenge and now this warrior’s family crest. Was the samurai himself the fourth scorpion? ‘I see you’ve already dressed for your funeral. How appropriate, gaijin,’ laughed the samurai, pointing at Jack’s chest. Confused, Jack looked down at his own gi. In his haste to get ready for the duel, he had folded the right lapel over the left, like a corpse prepared for burial! Why hadn’t anyone noticed this before? ‘Soon there’ll be one less gaijin in the world!’ shouted someone in the crowd. ‘Make his first blood his last!’ cried another spectator. These heckles were followed by a cacophony of cheering and jeering, the spectators seemingly split between gaijin supporters and haters. The shouts grew louder and Jack became disorientated with the noise, heat and confusion of the duelling ground. His head whirled like a storm from all the advice he’d been given. He started to hyperventilate and Sensei Yamada, noticing his panic, shuffled to his side. ‘Take a deep breath. You need to focus on the fight.’

‘Sensei, I can’t. He’s going to kill me. Tell me what to do.’ ‘Nobody can give you wiser counsel than yourself,’ replied Sensei Yamada, laying a reassuring hand on Jack’s trembling sword arm to steady it. ‘Act on the advice you would give to others. Consider what that would be.’ ‘Come on, you little urchin! No more time-wasting!’ shouted the samurai, kicking at the dust. ‘Don’t be afraid of fear itself,’ replied Jack without thinking. Sensei Yamada nodded. ‘Exactly. Remember – this samurai’s flesh and blood. He’s no Mountain Monk.’ The air was dreadfully dry. Jack’s tongue felt like it was caked in dust. He tried to lick his lips, but fear seemed to have drained his mouth of all moisture. The tips of their opposing kissaki glinted golden red in the dying light of the day. Jack made a final adjustment to his grip on the sword. Masamoto’s katana, although heavier than his bokken, was well balanced, the steel sharp and the blade true. Over the past months of practice, Jack had performed so many cuts with the weapon, he swore he could hear the sword whispering to him. A calm gradually descended over him. He was no longer scared but tense. Like the rope of a hangman’s noose, he might snap at any moment, but he had already faced down and conquered his fear during the Spirit challenge. Jack recalled Sensei Hosokawa’s words: ‘The three evils for a samurai are fear, doubt and confusion.’

He had defeated his fear. He had overcome his confusion. Now there was only doubt. Jack studied the callous face of his opponent. The man’s grey eyes gave nothing away. Not for the first time, Jack found himself staring into the face of death. This time, though, he wouldn’t hesitate. Jack noticed the samurai held his kissaki slightly too low, exposing a way in straight to the neck. To every spectator watching, the attack was so quick that it was like the blur of a startled bird. Jack knocked the samurai’s sword to one side and struck at his target. The blade whistled through the air. And missed. For the samurai, it had all been part of his plan. Enticing Jack in with an opportunity and countering with a driving thrust to the stomach that began at Jack’s bottom rib and finished its cut at the base of his belly. A great cry of anguish broke from Akiko, Emi and the others, as Jack was skewered on the samurai’s sword. ooo000ooo

50 NO SWORD It was only by the greatest good fortune that Jack had managed to avoid being impaled. The blade had pierced the loose side of his gi, slicing straight through his jacket but to one side, almost grazing his flesh. The sword was so close Jack could feel the hard cool steel against his skin. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Jack cursed himself, driving past his opponent, his gi ripping asunder in an effort to escape. He hastily created distance between himself and the samurai. What had Masamoto said? ‘Whatever you do, don’t let him draw you in.’ That’s exactly what he had just done. The samurai glanced at Jack’s exposed midriff, disappointed. ‘Don’t gaijin bleed?’ There was a ripple of laughter from the crowd. ‘Of course not!’ shouted a spectator. ‘Gaijin are like worms!’ The crowd erupted, some baying for Jack’s blood, others defending his honour. Jack felt his own anger swell at the bigotry of the spectators. The majority seemed to have no concept of bushido. Where was the

respect? The honour? The benevolence? The moral integrity of rectitude? Drawing on his courage, Jack would show them exactly what it meant to be samurai. Like Masamoto had told him to, Jack tossed his anger on to the water of his mind, letting it disappear in ripples. He calmed his breathing and considered his strategy. The first encounter had been too close. He knew he wouldn’t get a second chance. This time he would wait for the samurai, willing the warrior to enter his sphere of attack. Though Jack was now completely calm inside, he gave an outward impression of being distraught. He let his sword shake. He appeared to attempt an escape, circling around until his back was to the sun and the samurai had to squint at him. He even began to blubber. ‘Please… don’t kill me…’ pleaded Jack. Sasaki Bishamon shook his head, disgusted. There were boos from the crowd and Jack caught Masamoto hanging his head at Jack’s shameful surrender. ‘You’re pathetic. So much for the Great Gaijin Samurai,’ spat the warrior, flicking his sword at Jack. ‘It’s time I put you out of your misery.’

The samurai approached in slow deliberate steps, lifting the katana high to slice down through Jack, with the clear intent of not only drawing first blood, but making it the last blood Jack ever shed. Jack willed his mind to flow like water. Mushin. No mind. He let the baying of the crowd fade into the background. No sound. He let the samurai’s advance become still. No distraction. He let the sword in his hand become one with his heart. No sword. The samurai struck without mercy. Time appeared to have slowed as a spontaneous knowledge of the warrior’s attack blossomed in Jack’s mind. He knew exactly where the samurai was directing his sword. He knew when to step within its arc so he could evade it. He knew where to strike and when. Jack knew the hand of his mind now wielded the sword. He acted intuitively. In three quick swipes, the duel was over.

With the same accuracy that Sensei Hosokawa had cleaved the grain of rice in two, Jack had cut the samurai, slicing through his obi, hakama trousers and headband. First the man’s obi hit the ground. Then his hakama fell in a heap. Finally the samurai’s headband floated down through the air, the scorpion kamon cut exactly in half. The warrior turned on Jack and roared, bringing his sword up to retaliate. ‘First blood!” announced Masamoto, quickly stepping between the two of them to halt the fight. The samurai blinked in disbelief. He had the tiniest trickle of blood running down his forehead from where Jack had nicked him with his kissaki. ‘My apologies,’ said Jack, bowing to stifle a grin. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you.’ One of the spectators began to laugh. Then another joined in. And another. Soon the whole crowd was in fits of laughter, many of the women waving their little fingers at the defeated warrior. Slowly it dawned on the samurai that he was totally naked, his hakama around his ankles. The warrior glanced around, mortified at his loss of face. Pulling up the remains of his clothing round him, he fled from the duelling ground.

Jack was swamped by his friends and a whole host of other students from the Niten Ichi Ryū, all clamouring to congratulate him. Jack took in little of what was being said. His mind was lost in the moment of the duel. Mushin. He had mastered mushin. Or, at the very least, experienced it. More importantly, for a brief moment, his sword had existed in his heart. It had become part of him. The sword was truly the soul of a samurai. The crowd opened out to allow Masamoto and Sensei Hosokawa through. ‘A masterful ruse, Jack-kun. You had me fooled,’ commended Masamoto. ‘If you cannot defeat your opponent physically, then you have to trick his mind. You have earned my respect.’ ‘I understand, Masamoto-sama,’ replied Jack, bowing, and thanking God that he’d been forgiven for his lie over the rutter. When he looked up again, Sensei Hosokawa stood before him. His sharp eyes studied Jack as he pulled pensively at the sharp stub of his beard. Then his sword master grinned, broad and proud. ‘Jack-kun, you are ready. You’ve proved to me you truly comprehend the Way of the Sword.’ ooo000ooo 51 KUNOICHI

The night was unduly warm and the room airless, making Jack sweat uncomfortably as his hand fumbled in the darkness for his father’s rutter. The high floating sound of a bamboo flute entwined with the vibrating plucking of a shamisen could be heard from the distant Grand Chamber of daimyo Takatomo’s palace, where everyone was gathered to celebrate the completion of the Circle of Three. ‘It’s not here!’ said Jack, a note of panic entering his voice. ‘Are you sure?’ queried Yamato. ‘Yes. I left it on the upper ledge,’ Jack insisted, as he emerged from behind the silk white crane that hung upon the wall of the reception room, ‘but it’s gone.’ ‘Let me look,’ offered Akiko. She stepped on to the cedar dais and peered into the bolt-hole. The three of them had slipped out of the celebrations, having left Saburo and Kiku to look after Yori. Their intention had been to retrieve the rutter and return before anyone noticed their absence. Masamoto, now aware of the logbook, had asked to see it for himself, requesting that Jack bring it to him the following morning. Jack had agreed, though he hadn’t revealed its location in case he further angered the samurai. But it appeared they were too late. Dragon Eye had already stolen it. ‘How could he have got into a ninja-proof castle?’ despaired Jack, slumping to the floor.

‘Jack!’ Jack was vaguely aware that Akiko was waving something in front of his face. ‘Is this what you were looking for?’ She smiled, brandishing the oilskin-covered rutter in her hand, and placed it in his lap. ‘It had just fallen on the floor.’ ‘You are…’ began Jack, but he didn’t quite know how to express his relief and joy to Akiko. The music in the Great Chamber came to an end and in the lull a bird could be heard singing. A nightingale. The grin on Jack’s face faded as he remembered daimyo Takatomi’s unique alarm system built into the floorboards. His growing look of horror was mirrored by both Akiko and Yamato. Someone was coming. ‘Quick! Hide the rutter,’ instructed Akiko. The Nightingale Floor sang with each approaching footstep. Jack had no choice. He replaced the logbook on the upper ledge and let the wall hanging fall back into place. Outside the noise of the floorboards ceased. The stranger was at the shoji door.

They looked at one another. What should they do? If it was a guard, they could they pretend they were lost; but if it wasn’t, shouldn’t they be getting ready to fight? The shoji slid open. A figure knelt before them, silhouetted in the corridor, the face veiled in shadow. No one moved. Jack noticed the wall hanging was still swinging slightly and desperately willed it to stop. The figure bowed and stood. A beautiful woman in a jade-green kimono, her long hair twirled high upon her head and fastened with an ornate hairpin, glided into the room. ‘The daimyo thought you might like some refreshments for your private party,’ the woman said softly, putting a small tray with a teapot and four china cups down on the tatami. She indicated for them to sit. Bewildered, yet somewhat relieved, the three of them did as they were told. Jack watched the serving woman pour out three cups of sencha. She smiled kindly, offering Jack the first drink; her eyes, shiny as black pearls, never leaving his face. Jack waited for the others to be served before drinking. The Nightingale Floor sang again and everyone froze.

The woman slipped a fan from her obi, flicking open its black metal spine to reveal an exquisite handpainted design of a green dragon entwined in misty mountains. ‘It is rather warm,’ she commented, fluttering the fan in front of her face. ‘You must be thirsty.’ Jack, his mouth dry with dread at the approach of a second visitor, raised the cup to his lips. The shoji slid open a second time and Emi entered. ‘My father was wondering where you all were,’ she said, her expression rather indignant at not having been invited to their private gathering. ‘He wants to… Who are you?’ Emi stared at the serving woman. ‘You don’t work here.’ Before anyone could react, the woman flung her tray at Emi, spilling the tea across the floor. The tray went spinning through the air like a large square shuriken and struck Emi in the neck. She collapsed to the ground, knocked unconscious. ‘Kunoichi!’ screamed Akiko, rolling away from the imposter. ‘Don’t drink it, Jack!’ Yamato cried as he slapped the cup from his hands. ‘Poison!’ Momentarily stunned, Jack could only stare at the tatami, which gave off tiny wafts of acrid smoke where the tea had been spilt. ‘Ninja?’ said Jack in disbelief, looking up at the beautiful woman before him. He’d thought only men were ninja.

The female ninja snapped her dragon fan shut and brought its hardened metal spine down on to Jack’s head like a hammer. Yamato threw himself in front of Jack, shoving his friend out of harm’s way, but the iron tip of the fan caught Yamato on the temple. He went down and stayed down. Flipping to her feet, the kunoichi leapt over the prone body of Yamato and advanced on Jack. As she raised her hand to strike a second time, Akiko crescent-kicked the iron fan from the woman’s grasp. The ninja immediately retaliated with a devastating sidekick to Akiko’s stomach, sending her flying across the room. In that brief moment of distraction, Jack managed to scramble to his feet. Seeing his friends lying injured around him, his fury fuelled his strength as he went on the attack. The female ninja retreated before Jack’s spinning-hook kick. She ducked while putting a hand to her head. Her hair cascaded down her back in a billowing black cloud and a bolt of lightning flashed out, straight towards Jack’s right eye. Jack staggered backwards to avoid the sharpened hairpin, its glinting point flying past his eyeball. She stabbed at his face a second time, but was way off target. Jack watched as the steel pin passed to his left and suddenly Sensei Kano’s lesson ‘learn to fight without eyes’ came to mind. His eyes had instinctively followed the gleaming weapon, but the wild slash of the ninja had been a distraction tactic.

When he turned back to face her, she held an open palm to her mouth and blew a cloud of glittering black dust into his eyes. Stung with a combination of sand, sawdust and pepper, tears streamed down Jack’s face. His whole world went dark. Jack had been blinded. ooo000ooo 52 SASORI ‘Akiko! I can’t see!’ She dived across to protect him, and Jack heard the swish of the hairpin and the dull thud of arms colliding as Akiko blocked another of the kunoichi’s attacks. Jack thought he recognized the noise of Akiko retaliating with a front kick, for he heard the woman stumble away, groaning as if winded. His eyes watered like acrid geysers and he had to screw them up against the pain. Without his sight, he could only follow the sounds of Akiko battling the kunoichi in the far corner of the room. ‘Watch out!’ cried Akiko. Jack threw up his guard, blindly trying to make contact and use his chi sao skills, but the kunoichi evaded him. Focusing on the sound of her ragged breathing, Jack pinpointed where she’d moved to, but Akiko jumped between them to intercept an unseen strike

from the ninja. Now Jack couldn’t attack in case he hit Akiko instead. Behind him, he thought he caught the sound of a soft rustle from the silk wall hanging and the soft pad of a foot. Then Jack sensed the cedar dais upon which he stood give ever so slightly under someone else’s weight. Jack spun round, keeping his guard up to protect his face. His arms collided with a fist that had been aimed directly at the back of his head. Allowing his chi sao training to take over, Jack followed the curvature of his attacker’s arm and speared his fingers at the throat. His thrust was brushed aside with a countering block and strike. Instantaneously, Jack felt the trajectory of the counter and deflected it with an inner block, rolling his arm over his attacker’s and back-fisting his opponent in the face. He caught his assailant hard on the jaw. The contact was solid and jarring, but his opponent only laughed, a cold jagged cackle like a rusty broken saw catching in wood. Jack lost contact, his attacker retreating out of reach. ‘Impressive, gaijin,’ hissed Dokugan Ryu, ‘but even more impressive that you’re still alive. You should be a ninja, not a samurai!’ Jack’s heart gave an aching throb. The proximity of Dragon Eye made his whole body contract, his lungs tighten. ‘I’m not scared of you,’ said Jack, with as much bravado as he could muster.

‘Of course you are,’ countered Dragon Eye, circling him slowly. ‘I’m the pain that seeps into your bones at night. The scalding fire that burns in your blood. Your worst nightmare. Your father’s murderer!’ Dragon Eye struck with such swiftness that Jack was caught offguard. The ninja hit a point at the base of his shoulder and a sickening flare of pain rocketed down his right arm. Jack reeled backwards, gasping for breath, feeling as if his arm had been thrust into a white-hot fire. ‘But I’m wasting my time here,’ spat the ninja, as if bored with torturing his victim. ‘I have what I came for.’ Through the agony, Jack was vaguely aware he could see shapes, dark shadows against a grey mist. The pain focused his mind and his vision was clearing. ‘Sasori, stop teasing the girl!’ ordered Dragon Eye. ‘Kill her, then kill the gaijin.’ Jack blinked away his tears, catching the vague outline to his left of the hooded ninja against a misty-looking wall. ‘Don’t disappoint me again, gaijin. Stay dead this time.’ Hearing exactly where the ninja was, Jack launched a hook kick at his enemy’s head. His foot passed clean through thin air. Dragon Eye had disappeared.

A soft exhalation escaped from someone’s lips and the next thing Jack heard was a body crumple to the floor. ‘Akiko!’ exclaimed Jack. No answer. ‘Akiko?’ repeated Jack, now afraid for her. ‘Your pretty little girlfriend’s dead, gaijin,’ smirked the kunoichi. ‘I sank my poisoned pin into her pretty little neck.’ A coldness crept into Jack’s heart, more agonizing than any torture Dragon Eye could inflict upon him. Jack flew at Akiko’s murderer. He didn’t care any more; he no longer thought about what he was doing. He just struck. The kunoichi struggled against his impassioned onslaught. Blow after blow rained down upon the ninja. Jack’s forearm slammed into her guard and the kunoichi lost her grip on the deadly hairpin, sending it flying across the room. He drove in harder. The ninja began to buckle under the pressure. Jack then sidekicked her with all his might, catching the kunoichi full force in the chest. The ninja fell backwards, landing hard on the dais, and screamed. ‘Come on!’ Jack roared, his eyes wet with stinging tears, no longer caused by the blinding powder, but by the grief in his heart. But there was no response.

Jack wiped at his eyes. His vision was blurry, but he could just about see again. The kunoichi lay unmoving in a heap on the dais. He couldn’t have kicked her that hard, thought Jack, not enough to kill her. He took a cautious step closer and tapped her leg with his foot. There was no reaction. The woman’s black eyes were dull and lifeless, their pearl-like shine gone. Jack rolled her over. The ninja’s ornate steel hairpin protruded out of her back like the barb of a scorpion. Killed by her own poison. Sasori, thought Jack numbly, Dragon Eye had called her Sasori. Scorpion. As much as he tried to deny it, his dream had come to be. Four scorpions. Kazuki’s gang. The Spirit challenge. The warrior. The kunoichi. Four meant death. But it had not been his own that the dream had foretold. It had been Akiko’s. Jack sank to his knees, barely taking in the devastation of the reception room. Yamato was slowly coming to among the broken shards of teacups. Emi still hadn’t moved, her neck bruised and swollen, though Jack could see that she was breathing.

The hanging of the white crane had been ripped from the wall and the bolt-hole gaped open, black and empty like the socket of a skull. Dragon Eye had the rutter. Jack crawled over to Akiko. She lay utterly still upon the tatami, a small prick of blood on her neck where the hairpin had entered. Jack, sobbing in great breaths of anguish, cradled her lifeless body in his arms. ooo000ooo 53 THE WAY OF THE DRAGON ‘CALL YOURSELF A SAMURAI!’ Masamoto could no longer contain his wrath. He had kept a cool head when they discovered Jack and the others in the reception room. He had calmly organized a search party for Dokugan Ryu as well as extra protection for the daimyo. He had held back while arranging the students’ safe return to the Niten Ichi Ryū. He had even maintained his composure while Jack had explained the reason for hiding the rutter in the daimyo’s castle. But now he bellowed at Jack, who lay prostrate on the floor of the Hall of the Phoenix. Jack quivered with every forceful word Masamoto uttered, each one cutting as sharp as a katana blade.

‘You sacrificed your friends, violated my trust and above all endangered the daimyo’s life, all for the sake of your father’s rutter!’ Masamoto glared at Jack, fuming with pent-up anger, seemingly unable to express the fury he felt. With each passing moment of raging silence, the scars on Masamoto’s face grew redder and redder. ‘I could forgive you for the lie, but how can I overlook this? You made the daimyo’s castle a target for ninja!’ he said, almost in a whisper, as if he was scared the violence in his voice would lead to violence in his hands. ‘I thought you understood what it meant to be samurai. Your duty is to me and your daimyo. You’ve broken the code of bushido! Where was your loyalty? Where was your respect? Had I not proven by my guardianship that you could trust me?’ Masamoto had tears in his eyes. The idea that Jack couldn’t trust him, and might not respect him, seemed to disappoint the great samurai the most. ‘OUT OF MY SIGHT!’ Jack sat upon the bough of the old pine tree in the corner of the Nanzen-niwa. Hidden in darkness, he kicked despondently at the tree’s wooden crutch, lashing out harder and harder until the branches shook. He looked up at the night sky, wishing it would swallow him up, but the stars gave him no comfort either. They just reminded him of how lonely and lost he was. The tide was turning in Japan and foreigners like him were no longer welcome. Not only was he being

alienated by the country he lived in, but he had estranged himself from his only protector. He had turned Masamoto against him. He had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Dragon Eye had finally got his hands on his father’s rutter. Jack cursed his stupidity. His failure. He had failed his father’s memory, for the rutter was no longer his. He had failed his little Jess, for he had lost their only heirloom, the one thing that could help him return home and secure their future. He had failed his friends, for he’d proved incapable of protecting them. Jack had lost everything most precious to him. With his head in his hands, sobs wracking his whole body, Jack wondered whether he should leave the school now, or wait until the morning. ‘All is not lost, young samurai. Don’t despair.’ Jack glanced up, still weeping. He hadn’t even heard the old man approach. Sensei Yamada leant upon his walking stick, gazing at Jack with concerned affection while pensively twirling the tip of his long wispy beard around one bony finger.

‘A storm in the night, that’s all,’ he said, the gentle kindness in his voice seeking to allay some of Jack’s grief. ‘In time, his anger will pass and he will see you for the samurai you are. All will be forgiven.’ ‘How can that be? I’ve betrayed him,’ lamented Jack, the words cutting so deep into his heart he swore they drew blood. ‘I’ve disrespected him. Broken his trust. Gone against the very bushido spirit he lives by.’ ‘Jack-kun, you breathe bushido.’ The old Zen master laid a hand upon Jack’s arm and patted it lightly. ‘Come with me,’ he said, guiding Jack out from the darkness of the pine tree and into the pale light of the waxing moon. ‘A walk will clear your mind.’ Jack followed blindly by his side as if he were a ghost, not really there, but listening nonetheless to the counsel of his sensei. ‘I cannot condone your lying to Masamoto-sama about the rutter, but you’ve proved your honesty by confessing of your own free will,’ began the Zen master, flicking a stone from the path with his stick. ‘It was unfortunate that you chose the castle in which to hide your precious logbook. You hadn’t thought through the consequences of that decision properly.’ Jack solemnly shook his head. ‘However, I’m perfectly aware that your decision to put it in the castle was not done out of malice or with the intention of harming the daimyo. Your loyalty to your guardian and your respect for his life led you to believe that the lie was safer than the truth, and the

castle more secure than the school. However misguided your intentions, you were trying to protect him, to do your duty. This is what Masamoto-sama will undoubtedly come to realize.’ As they reached one of the larger standing stones in the garden, Sensei Yamada rubbed its smooth surface. ‘You are headstrong like this rock, Jack-kun. Your boldness in your plans and belief in your ability to deal with problems by yourself is reminiscent of Masamoto-sama’s own youth. He too was a fiercely independent spirit.’ Sensei Yamada gave Jack a hard look, which Jack found difficult to meet. ‘This is why his emotions are so strong. Masamoto-sama sees himself in you. He’s not angry. He’s afraid. Afraid that he will lose another son to that demon Dokugan Ryu.’ Sensei Yamada led Jack out of the garden and across the deserted courtyard of the Niten Ichi Ryū. Each pebble reflected the moonlight, transforming the square into a great ocean that appeared to ripple as they drifted across its surface towards the Buddha Hall. ‘You believe you broke the code of bushido?’ Jack nodded his head, too upset to speak. ‘Well, you are wrong. What you accomplished tonight, and in every previous encounter with that ninja, proves you are a samurai beyond all doubt. Your courage in the face of such danger can only be applauded. The benevolence you show to others, alongside the

compassion you have for your friends, is what binds you together, protects you. It is what keeps you fighting against all the odds. This is a truly honourable principle. The very essence of bushido.’ They began to ascend the stone steps of the Buddha Hall, and Jack felt heartened by his sensei’s wisdom, each step he took seeming to atone for another of his failings. ‘You have always done what you thought was right. This is the first virtue of bushido, rectitude. The goodness in your heart is the one thing Dokugan Ryu can never take from you. As long as you possess this, he can never win.’ ‘But I’ve made an unforgivable mistake,’ protested Jack, ‘and I can’t take it back.’ ‘There’s no such thing as a mistake, young samurai.’ Sensei Yamada ushered Jack inside the Butsuden. The great bronze Buddha sat silent in prayer, surrounded by a ring of flickering candles and the tiny red glowing tips of burning incense sticks. The temple bell hung motionless above the Buddha’s head like an ethereal crown, and Jack wondered whether one hundred and eight chimes would ever be enough to absolve him of his sins in the Buddha’s eyes. First, though, he had to answer to his own God. ‘Mistakes are our teachers,’ explained Sensei Yamada, bowing before the Buddha. ‘As long as you recognize them for what they are, they can help you learn about life. Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts.’

Jack bowed and, in his despair, prayed for both Buddha’s and God’s blessing. Sensei Yamada motioned for Jack to enter a side room of the Butsuden. ‘You may see her now.’ The small room was aglow with candles. Jack bowed his head and entered alone, the richly aromatic smell of white sage and frankincense wafting in the air around him. Akiko lay upon a thick futon, dressed in a fine silk kimono of cream and gold, delicately embroidered with pale-green bamboo shoots. Jack approached quietly and knelt by her side. She looked to be asleep. He took her hand gently in his. It felt cool to the touch. ‘So your first dream did foretell our fortunes,’ she whispered, her voice hoarse but resilient. ‘You’re lucky to be alive,’ Jack replied, squeezing her hand affectionately. ‘Mount Fuji, a hawk and the leaf of a nasu,’ she laughed weakly. ‘Sensei Yamada was right, they brought us all the luck in the world. What more could we have asked for?’ An explanation, thought Jack, but he let it pass. Now wasn’t the time to ask about her miraculous survival.

Jack had overheard Sensei Yamada and Sensei Kano, as they laid her in the Buddha Hall to recover in peace, discussing dokujutsu, the ninja Art of Poison. The two sensei had both agreed that someone had helped her to build a tolerance against ninja poisons. Jack suspected the monk from the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon was responsible. He recalled how Akiko had appeared ill at New Year. She had told Kiku that it was something she’d drunk and then had gone straight to the monk for help. Had her condition been caused by trying to build up a resistance to such poisons? Akiko had a lot to explain, but for now Jack was just glad she was alive. ‘I’m so sorry, Akiko. I should’ve listened to you. Whatever Sensei Yamada says, I made a stupid mistake in not –’ ‘Jack, it wasn’t your fault,’ she interrupted, softly putting a finger to his lips. ‘The only mistake was Dragon Eye’s – he let you live.’ Akiko beckoned Jack closer, drawing his face towards hers. Their cheeks touched and Jack felt her warm breath grace his skin. For that brief moment he experienced total peace, safe within her arms. Whispering in his ear, Akiko said, ‘You have to get back the rutter. You must follow the Way of the Dragon.’ ooo000ooo


The following quotes and facts are referenced within Young Samurai: The Way of the Sword (with the page numbers in square brackets below) and their sources are acknowledged here: 1. [Pages 6 to 8] This old nursery rhyme, ‘A man of words and not of deeds’, is considered to originate from a play by John Fletcher (playwright, 1579–1625, a contemporary of Shakespeare) called Lover’s Progress (‘Deeds, not words’, Sc. 6, Act III). 2. [Page 70] ‘When tea is made with water drawn from the depths of mind, whose bottom is beyond measure, we really have what is called cha-no-yu’ – Toyotomi Hideyoshi (samurai daimyo, 1537–98). 3. [Page 71] Tea was first introduced on English shores around 1652 by Dutch traders, who had only begun shipping it back to Europe in 1610. England was a latecomer to the tea scene. 4. [Page 185] ‘In a fight between a strong technique and a strong body, technique will prevail. In a fight between a strong mind and a strong technique, mind will prevail, because it will find the weak point’ – Taisen Deshimaru ( Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist teacher, 1914–82). 5. [Page 224] ‘Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come’ – based on a traditional Buddhist blessing and healing chant (anonymous). ooo000ooo NOTES ON THE JAPANESE LANGUAGE bō wooden fighting staff

bōjutsu cha-no-yu chi sao chiburi

the Art of the Bō literally ‘tea meeting’ sticky hands (or ‘sticking hands’) to flick blood from the blade

Chō-no-ma Hall of Butterflies chudan daishō middle the pair of swords, wakizashi and katana, that are the traditional weapons of the samurai Death Touch training hall the Art of Poison literally ‘immovable heart’, a spirit of unshakable calm children’s game like ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ New Year festival training uniform traditional Japanese clothing the Castle of the White Phoenix cherry-blossom viewing party a traditional Japanese game similar to badminton

Dim Mak dojo dokujutsu fudoshin

fukuwarai Ganjitsu gi hakama Hakuhojo hanami hanetsuki

hatsuhinode the ‘firsts’ of the year: for example, the first visit to a temple in the New Year inro irezumi a little case for holding small objects a form of tattooing

itadakimasu let’s eat kamon kanji family crest the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system

katame waza grappling techniques kendoka kissaki koan kozo kumite kunoichi kyudoka makiwara menuki mochi mokuso sword practitioner tip of sword a Buddhist question designed to stimulate intuition the paper mulberry tree sparring female ninja practitioner of archery padded striking post decorative grip ornament rice dumpling meditation

momiji gari maple-leaf viewing Mugan Ryū the ‘School of “No Eyes”’ musha shugyo mushin nage waza nasu ninjutsu warrior pilgrimage

a warrior’s state of ‘no mind’ throwing techniques eggplant, aubergine the Art of Stealth the ‘One School of Two Heavens’ Japanese card game (monster cards)

Niten Ichi Ryū obake karuta obanyaki obi ohajiki origami ozoni roji Ryōanji sado sakura sashimi

sweet bean-filled pastry belt a game using small coin-shaped playing pieces the art of folding paper traditional soup served on New Year’s Day Japanese garden the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon the Way of Tea cherry-blossom tree raw fish

sasori sayonara

scorpion goodbye

Senbazuru Orikata One Thousand Crane origami seoi nage shaku shoulder throw unit of length, approximately equal to one foot or thirty centimetres three-stringed musical instrument the number four, or death shinobi shozokuthe clothing of a ninja Hall of Lions

shamisen shi

Shishi-no-ma Shodo sushi

the Way of Writing, Japanese calligraphy raw fish on rice

tamashiwari Trial by Wood; woodbreaking Taryu-Jiai tempura inter-school martial arts competition deep fried seafood or vegetables

tetsu-bishi small sharp iron spike tofu soya bean curd

tomoe nage stomach throw toshigami washi spirits of the New Year Japanese paper


grilled chicken on a stick

yuki gassen snow battle yame stop!

Yamabushi mountain monk, literally ‘one who hides in the mountains’


THE WAY OF THE DRAGON CHRIS BRADFORD CONTENTS Map: The Japans – 17th Century Prologue – The Assassin 1 The Crutch 2 Blow Dart 3 The Third Ninja 4 The Demon Blade 5 Mother Love 6 Uekiya’s Garden 7 The Pearl 8 Bushido 9 The Hall of the Hawk 10 The Match 11 Haiku 12 Two Heavens

13 Knockdown 14 Yabusame 15 Bō Race 16 Snatch and Grab 17 Punishment 18 A Call To Arms 19 The Announcement 20 Kiaijutsu 21 Weapons Wall 22 Love Poetry 23 Autumn Leaf Strike 24 The Spy 25 Last Samurai Standing 26 Zanshin 27 Kukai 28 The Gracious Loser 29 The Friar 30 Kyosha 31 Fallen Rider 32 Fire of the Hawk 33 Moriko 34 Hanging 35 Yoshioka Ryū 36 Aftermath 37 Osaka Castle 38 Father Bobadillo 39 The Enemy 40 Siege 41 Moon-Viewing Party 42 Night Attack 43 Assassination 44 Never Hesitate 45 Double Life 46 The Blessing 47 Battle of Tenno-ji

48 The Red Devils 49 Sacrifice 50 Paper Crane 51 The Keep 52 Divine Justice 53 Shadow Warrior 54 Revenge 55 An Impossible Choice 56 Life of a Samurai 57 Sensei Kyuzo 58 The Last Stand 59 The Well 60 Mountain to Sea 61 Shogun 62 The Way of the Warrior Notes on the Sources Japanese Glossary Acknowledgements ooo000ooo


THE ASSASSIN Japan, June 1613 Silent as a shadow, the assassin flitted from roof to roof. Hidden by the darkness of night, the ninja crossed the moat, scaled the inner bailey wall and infiltrated deep into the castle grounds. His objective, the main tower, was a formidable keep of eight floors that sat at the heart of the supposedly impregnable castle. Evading the samurai guards on the outer walls had been a simple matter. Lethargic due to the hot, airless night, they were more concerned about their own discomfort than the safety of their daimyo lord within the tower. Besides, their very belief that the castle was impenetrable meant the guards were lax in their duty – who would even attempt to break into such a fortress? For the assassin, the hardest part would be getting inside the keep. The daimyo’s personal bodyguard wouldn’t be so negligent and the ninja had come as close as he could by traversing the roofs of the outer buildings. He now had to cross open ground to the solid stone base of the tower.

The ninja dropped from the roof and skirted the edge of a courtyard, using the plum and sakura cherry trees for cover. Passing silently through a tea garden with an oval pond, he made his way to the central well house. The assassin ducked inside as he heard a samurai patrol approach. When the way was clear, the ninja darted across to the keep and like a black-skinned gecko effortlessly scaled the steep slope of its immense base. Swiftly reaching the fourth floor, he slipped in through an open window. Once inside, the assassin knew exactly where he was going. Padding down the darkened corridor, he passed several shoji doors then bore right, making for a wooden staircase. He was about to ascend when a guard suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. Like smoke, the ninja sank back into the shadows, his all-black shinobi shozoku clothing rendering him virtually invisible. Quietly, he drew a tantō knife in readiness to slit the man’s throat. Oblivious to his proximity to death, the guard came down the stairs and walked straight past. The assassin allowed the man to live, having no wish to draw attention to his presence within the keep. As soon as the guard rounded the corner, the ninja resheathed his blade and climbed the stairs to the upper corridor. Through the thin paper shoji before him, he could see the halos of two candles glowing in the gloom. Sliding open the door a notch, he put a single eye to the crack. A man knelt before an altar deep in prayer. There were no samurai present. The assassin crept inside.

When he was within striking distance, the ninja reached into a pouch on his belt and removed a rectangular object wrapped in black oilskin. He placed it on the floor beside the worshipping man and gave a brief bow. ‘About time,’ growled the man. Without turning round, the man picked up the package and unwrapped it to reveal a worn leatherbound book. ‘The rutter!’ he breathed, caressing its cover, then opening its pages to examine the sea charts, ocean reports and meticulous logging of tides, compass bearings and star constellations. ‘Now we possess what is rightfully ours. To think, the fortune of the world is in my hands. The secrets of the oceans laid bare for our nation to command the trade routes. It’s our divine right to rule the seas.’ The man placed the logbook on the altar. ‘And what of the boy?’ he asked, his back to the ninja still. ‘Is he dead?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not? My instructions were explicit.’ ‘As you know, the samurai Masamoto has been training the boy in the Way of the Warrior,’ explained the ninja. ‘The boy is now highly skilled and has proven somewhat… resilient.’ ‘Resilient? Are you telling me a mere boy has defeated the great Dokugan Ryu?’ Dragon Eye’s single emerald-green eye flared in annoyance at the man’s mockery. He contemplated snapping the man’s neck

there and then, but he had yet to receive payment for retrieving the rutter. Such pleasures would have to wait. ‘I employed you because you were the best. The most ruthless,’ continued the man. ‘Am I mistaken in my judgement, Dragon Eye? Why haven’t you killed him?’ ‘Because you may still need him.’ The man turned round, his face cast in shadow. ‘What could I possibly want with Jack Fletcher?’ ‘The rutter is encrypted. Only the boy knows the code.’ ‘How do you know that?’ demanded the man, a note of alarm registering in his voice. ‘Have you been trying to break the cipher yourself?’ ‘Of course,’ revealed the ninja. ‘After the mistake of acquiring the Portuguese dictionary, I thought it wise to check the contents before delivery.’ ‘Did you have any success?’ asked the man. ‘Not entirely. The unfamiliar combination of Portuguese and English made the task somewhat more complex than anticipated.’ ‘No matter. It’s of little consequence,’ said the man, evidently pleased that the knowledge remained secret from the ninja. ‘There’s a Franciscan monk in the dungeons, a mathematician and fluent in both the languages. The mere promise of freedom should secure his decoding services.’

‘And what about the gaijin boy?’ asked Dragon Eye. ‘Once the code’s broken, complete your mission,’ ordered the man, turning to kneel before the altar once more. ‘Kill him.’ ooo000ooo 1 THE CRUTCH Jack’s blood pounded in his ears. His heart raced. His lungs burnt for oxygen. But he couldn’t stop now. He tore headlong through the bamboo forest, ducking and weaving between the maze of thick stems that stretched like bony fingers into a vast canopy of olive-green leaves. ‘Where’s he gone?’ came a shout from behind. Jack didn’t stop running, despite his protesting muscles. He would not give up the pursuit. Ever since Jack’s fateful arrival in Japan, when his boat, the Alexandria, had been shipwrecked then attacked by ninja, the assassin Dragon Eye had been the bane of his life. The ninja had murdered his father then followed Jack across Japan, hunting him down until finally stealing his father’s rutter. Jack was now intent on finding the ninja and getting the logbook back. ‘We’ve lost him!’ declared a second voice in disbelief.

Jack slowed his pace and frantically looked around. His friends were right. The man they were chasing had vanished into the thicket. Yamato and Akiko caught up with Jack. Akiko was forced to sit down and rest. She still wasn’t fully recovered from her recent poisoning and the chase had taken its toll on her. The usual white glow of her complexion had dulled and dark shadows ringed her half-moon eyes. Jack felt a pang of guilt. Even though Akiko didn’t blame him, he was the reason for her condition. In an attempt to protect the rutter, Jack had hidden it in the castle of daimyo Takatomi, the lord of Kyoto Province. It had seemed the safest place. He now knew different. Dragon Eye had broken in, Akiko had almost died trying to defend Jack, and daimyo Takatomi’s life had been put in danger. ‘How could he have got away?’ demanded Yamato, leaning upon his bō staff and catching his breath. ‘He was crippled!’ ‘He must have tricked us,’ said Jack, turning on the spot, his eyes scouring the forest for any sign of disturbance. ‘Or else he’s doubled back.’ Jack knew his friend was as determined in his pursuit as he was. Four years ago, Dragon Eye had assassinated Yamato’s older brother, Tenno. ‘I can’t believe he stole Akiko’s pearl!’ exclaimed Yamato, kicking out in fury at a nearby bamboo. He yowled in pain as his foot collided with its rock-hard stem.

Akiko sighed and rolled her eyes at her cousin’s characteristic hotheadedness. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, tying her hair back, several long black strands having come loose during the pursuit, ‘there are plenty more where that came from.’ ‘That’s not the point. He took the pearl, but didn’t give us any information in return.’ Jack agreed with Yamato. This had been the whole purpose of their mission into the foothills of the Iga mountains. Shamefully dismissed from samurai school for jeopardizing daimyo Takatomi’s safety, they’d been sent to Akiko’s mother in Toba until a final decision was made as to their fate. On the way, though, their samurai guide, Kumasan, had dislocated his shoulder in a fall from his horse. They’d been forced to stop over in Kameyama while he recovered. It was during this time they’d learnt from a passing merchant that a crippled man called Orochi had been bragging about knowing the infamous Dragon Eye. The village of Kabuto, where Orochi supposedly lived, was not that far, so the three of them had set off to find him. Jack hoped that by finding Orochi they might discover where Dragon Eye’s lair was. They could then inform Yamato’s father, Masamoto Takeshi, of the murdering ninja’s location, and maybe retrieve his father’s rutter too. This, he prayed, would redeem him and his friends in the eyes of the legendary swordsman and they would be allowed back to the Niten Ichi Ryū to continue their training as samurai. Kabuto turned out to be little more than a scattering of farmhouses built on a crossroads, with a decrepit roadside inn that

served the few travellers who made their way from the main Tokaido Road to the castle town of Ueno. It was in the bar that they found Orochi. As Jack and the others entered, the bar went quiet. Jack’s appearance often caused quite a stir, especially outside Kyoto where foreigners were rarely seen. His thick straw-blond hair and sky-blue eyes fascinated the black-haired, dark-eyed Japanese. The problem was, despite being only fourteen years old, Jack’s height and strength now exceeded many of the smaller Japanese men and they tended to react with suspicion or fear, especially since Jack dressed and acted like a samurai warrior. Jack glanced around. The bar appeared to be more gambling den than rest stop. Low tables, sticky with spilt saké, were the subject of several dice and card games. A mix of merchants, wandering samurai and farmers eyed the newcomers warily. When Akiko entered, there was a low murmur of manly approval and Jack noticed that, aside from a small nervous serving girl in one corner, there were no women. The three of them made their way over to the counter, the eyes of every customer following them. ‘Excuse me?’ asked Yamato of the proprietor, a compact barrel of a man with meat slabs for hands. ‘Do you know where we can find Orochi-san?’ The man grunted and gave a single nod of his head towards the far corner of the bar. In a darkened recess lit by a single candle sat a hunched man, a wooden crutch propped up behind him.

‘May we talk with you a moment?’ asked Yamato as they approached. ‘Depends on who’s buying,’ wheezed the man, looking them up and down and clearly wondering what a spiky-haired boy of samurai status was doing with a pretty girl and a foreigner in such a disreputable bar. ‘I guess we are,’ replied Yamato, bowing in acknowledgement. ‘Then you’re welcome to join me. Even the gaijin.’ Jack ignored the insulting term for a foreigner. This man was their only lead and they needed him on their side. Besides, it could only work to their advantage if Orochi wasn’t aware that Jack spoke fluent Japanese. The man raised a deformed-looking left hand at the proprietor and asked for saké. With the drink ordered and Orochi having apparently accepted his three guests, conversation and gaming resumed throughout the bar. Jack, Akiko and Yamato sat cross-legged on the opposite side of the low table, while the serving girl delivered a large flask of saké and a single small cup. She took payment from Yamato, then left. ‘I must apologize for my terrible table manners,’ Orochi wheezed genially to Akiko, indicating his dirty right leg resting upon a cushion, the sole of his foot in full view. ‘I don’t mean to insult you, but I’ve been crippled from birth, you see.’ ‘It’s not a problem,’ she replied, pouring Orochi his drink, as was the custom if a woman was present.

Picking up the cup with his good hand, Orochi knocked it back in one go. Akiko refilled it. ‘We’d like some information,’ began Akiko, keeping her voice low as Orochi reached for his saké again, ‘about Dokugan Ryu’s whereabouts.’ Orochi’s hand faltered at the mention of Dragon Eye’s name, but then he took the cup and downed its contents. ‘This saké’s horrible!’ he complained, coughing loudly and thumping his chest. ‘To get the stuff you’re after, though, costs a lot more.’ He gave Yamato a meaningful look, while Akiko poured him another cup. Yamato understood the implication and nodded to Akiko. She removed a large milky-white pearl from the sleeve of her kimono and placed it on the table before Orochi. ‘That should more than cover your costs,’ Yamato stated. The man’s dark eyes gleamed at the sight of the pearl, then darted around the room to check no one was paying them attention. Satisfied, Orochi’s mouth broke into a smile as crooked as his hand. He reached for the pearl. Yamato grabbed hold of the man’s wrist. ‘I usually pay on delivery of an order,’ observed Yamato. ‘Of course,’ agreed Orochi, withdrawing his hand. Then, in a low voice, he whispered, ‘If I were you, I’d visit the village of –’

A bell tinkled as the entrance shoji slid open and two new customers came in. Orochi stopped speaking and waited for them to be seated at the counter. Jack noticed one of the men had a little finger missing as he beckoned to the proprietor to place his order. ‘You were saying?’ prompted Yamato. For a moment Orochi appeared distracted, but his attention quickly returned to the pearl. ‘Yes… would you excuse me? The call of nature,’ he said, reaching for his crutch. ‘Takes me a little while to get there, so when I feel the need I have to go. I’m sure you understand.’ As Orochi rose to his feet, he fell against the table, knocking over the saké flask and spilling its contents across the surface. ‘This weakness in my leg is insufferable,’ he mumbled, by way of an apology. ‘I’ll be back in a moment. Girl, clear this up!’ Bent double, Orochi hobbled over to the back door. The serving girl hurried to their table and began to clear up the mess. As she did so, Jack noticed something was missing. ‘Where’s the pearl?’ They looked on the floor and then, with a dread realization, stared at one another. Orochi had stolen it! The three of them ran out of the back door. Orochi was nowhere to be seen. Then Akiko caught a glimpse of a figure entering the bamboo forest, which backed on to the inn. Surprisingly nimble, Orochi had disappeared into its depths before

any of them managed to reach the forest edge. They plunged in after him and gave chase… until the thief vanished into the thicket. ‘Did you hear that?’ said Akiko, interrupting Jack’s search for Orochi. ‘Hear what?’ asked Jack. ‘Shhh, listen!’ They all fell silent. There was the gentle wash of noise, like a wave upon the shore, as the leaves rustled high in the canopy. This peaceful sound was punctuated by the occasional creak of bamboo stems rubbing against one another, but there was nothing out of the ordinary to Jack’s ears. ‘Can’t you hear it?’ she insisted, before whispering, ‘Hold your breath.’ Mouths closed, they all looked at one another. Someone could still be heard breathing. The sensitivity training Sensei Kano, their blind bōjutsu master at samurai school, had taught them paid off once again. Jack immediately pinpointed the source of the sound and crept towards it. Suddenly Orochi exploded from the thicket, barely five paces ahead of Jack. He’d been hiding beside them all along.

‘Come back!’ shouted Jack, his cry disturbing a bird high up in the canopy. ‘Go on!’ Akiko urged, too weary to give chase. ‘I’ll look after the bags.’ Yamato threw down his knapsack and hurried after Jack, who was already racing after Orochi. Then the man ducked down again into the thicket. Jack kept going. He wouldn’t be fooled this time. As he hit the spot where Orochi disappeared, his feet went from under him and he tumbled head over heels down a steep slope. Rolling back on to his feet at the bottom, he found himself on a forest track. A few moments later, Yamato joined him. Forewarned of the danger by Jack’s cry, he’d managed to avoid falling down the slope himself. ‘Which way did he go?’ asked Yamato. ‘I don’t know. I was too busy working out which way was up!’ Jack replied irritably, brushing dead leaves from his hair. ‘Right, you head that way and I’ll go in the opposite direction,’ Yamato commanded. ‘Shout if you find him.’ Yamato sprinted off. Jack was about to do the same, when he heard the sound of snapping bamboo. He spun round. ‘I know you’re there,’ said Jack.

Orochi got unsteadily to his feet with the help of his crutch and emerged from the undergrowth. ‘Ah! You understand Japanese. That’s good.’ He gave Jack a pitiful bow and hobbled towards him. ‘You wouldn’t hurt a cripple, would you?’ he pleaded, his misshapen right hand outstretched in surrender. ‘You’re not lame!’ exclaimed Jack, studying the man carefully. ‘Wasn’t it your left hand that was deformed before?’ Orochi smiled his crooked smile. ‘True. But I had you all fooled, didn’t I?’ he replied as he straightened his leg, stood to his full height and unclasped his twisted hand. With lightning speed, he pulled apart the shaft of his wooden crutch, revealing a jagged steel spike. Orochi drove the deadly weapon at Jack’s chest. ooo000ooo 2 BLOW DART Only Jack’s samurai training prevented him getting skewered. He twisted his body sideways, the spike passing within a hair’s breadth of his heart. Without hesitating, Jack whipped the knifeedge of his right hand straight into his attacker’s neck.

Choking on the blow to his windpipe, Orochi staggered backwards against the bamboo. As he fought for breath, Jack went to finish him. But Orochi lashed out again with the spike and forced Jack into a tightly knit grove of bamboo stems. Confident of victory, Orochi launched the sharp end of the spike directly between Jack’s eyes. Hemmed in on either side by bamboo, Jack had nowhere to go but down. He dropped to his knees. There was a sickening crunch as the metal spike pierced the bamboo stem where his head had just been. Orochi swore in frustration, his weapon now stuck. Jack punched him hard in the stomach. Orochi grunted but refused to let go. Jack then grabbed the back of Orochi’s ankle in one hand and rammed his shoulder into the man’s gut, sweeping him off his feet. Orochi crashed to the ground, winded and dazed. Jack seized the opportunity to put the man into an arm-lock, but he hadn’t counted on Orochi still holding on to his weapon. Jerked free of the stem, the man was now swinging it towards Jack’s ribs. Jack blocked the strike but was knocked aside. In an instant Orochi was on top of him. ‘No escape this time, gaijin!’ spat Orochi, raising his weapon for the fatal blow. As the spike plunged towards his head, Jack scrabbled at the earth to get away. His fingers came across a loose piece of bamboo and he snatched it up to protect his face.

The point pierced the stem, stopping just short of his right eyeball. Orochi yelled in fury and pushed down on the spike. Jack’s arms shook as he kept the deadly tip away. Orochi leant his full weight to the task but Jack was stronger, and when Orochi had fully committed Jack twisted sideways, wrenching the spike out of Orochi’s hand and causing him to fall forward face first into the earth. Throwing the spike deep into the thicket, Jack then pounced on Orochi before he could recover. He dropped his knee on to the man’s shoulder, twisting Orochi’s left arm into a lock. Orochi was pinned. He fought to get free, but Jack applied pressure to the man’s elbow joint. Orochi screamed in pain and immediately ceased moving. ‘Stop! Please! You’ll break my arm!’ he pleaded, spitting earth from his mouth. ‘Don’t struggle then,’ replied Jack, before calling for Yamato, his shout disturbing a large unseen bird in the canopy. Orochi attempted to escape, but Jack put on the lock again. Hard. Orochi whimpered and lay still. ‘Are you going to kill me?’ he moaned. ‘No, I’m not going to kill you,’ replied Jack. ‘I just want to know where Dragon Eye is. Then I’ll let you go.’

‘Telling you that is more than my life’s worth,’ the man spat. His eyes glanced nervously around as if he expected the ninja to appear at the very mention of his name. ‘Your life’s not worth much so far as I can tell,’ Jack retorted. ‘Besides, the pearl you stole should more than make up for it. In fact, I think you should return it until you tell me what I need to know.’ Jack leant harder into the lock. Orochi cried out and, to Jack’s surprise, the small white pearl fell from his mouth. ‘You can have this back once you tell me where Dragon Eye is,’ said Jack, tucking the gem into his obi. ‘What if I don’t tell you?’ ‘We’ll kill you.’ ‘But you said –’ ‘No, what I said was, I’m not going to kill you. But I can’t promise the same for my Japanese friends. As true-born samurai, they’d see it as their duty to rid the world of your sort.’ Orochi swallowed, understanding the truth behind Jack’s words. They both knew that the samurai dealt out justice and, as a convicted thief and liar, Orochi would receive little mercy. ‘Let me go and I’ll tell you. I give you my word,’ promised Orochi reluctantly. ‘But you’re walking into your own grave.’

Jack released him, glad that his ruse had worked. He knew full well that neither Yamato nor Akiko had the authority to kill a man for such a petty crime. ‘So, tell me, where can I find Dragon Eye? Orochi sat up and massaged his arm. ‘Where did you learn to fight like that?’ ‘The Niten Ichi Ryū in Kyoto.’ ‘You’re one of Masamoto Takeshi’s students!’ he exclaimed in wide-eyed wonder. ‘I’d heard rumours he’d adopted a gaijin boy, but I never dreamt the great Masamoto would train him to become a samurai –’ ‘Stop wasting my time. Where’s Dragon Eye?’ ‘You must have a death wish, young samurai, to go seeking that devil!’ breathed Orochi, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘Last I heard, his ninja clan had settled on the west side of the Iga mountain range, close to the village of Shindo. Visit the Dragon Temple there and ask for –’ Orochi stopped speaking. His mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water, but no sound emerged. His eyes went glassy, his gaze unfocused. Then he slumped to one side, twitching twice before lying dead still. ‘I warned you, Orochi!’ said Jack, taking a cautious step towards the prone figure. ‘No more tricks.’ Wary of the man, Jack picked up a piece of bamboo and prodded Orochi with the tip. He got no reaction. Then he noticed a tiny dart sticking out of the man’s neck.

A blow dart, poisoned to kill. Such a weapon could only mean… Jack spun round, bringing the bamboo stem up to defend himself. But he couldn’t see any ninja. That didn’t necessarily mean there was none. Ninja were trained in the art of stealth. There could be one, or a hundred assassins, hiding among the thicket. Jack tightened his grip on the bamboo. How he wished Masamoto hadn’t confiscated his samurai swords as part of his suspension from school. If there was ever a time Jack needed a blade, this was it. Jack listened hard for the slightest indication of an approaching assassin, but he could only hear the swish of leaves high up in the canopy and the creaking of bamboo. He retreated back into the tightly knit grove of stems for cover. As he did, there was a tiny phut sound and a thin dart struck the bamboo directly in front of his face. Jack hunched down lower. Peering between the stems, he desperately searched for the source of the poisoned darts. But the attacker was too well hidden. Hearing the sound of another bird taking flight, he glanced up and this time saw two dark-green shapes. Dressed in green shinobi shozoku, the ninja blended perfectly with their surroundings as they leapt cat-like between the uppermost stems of the forest to get a better fix on Jack.

Gripping the bamboo with their legs, the two ninja raised their blowpipes and fired. ooo000ooo 3 THE THIRD NINJA Jack bolted from his hiding place as the darts struck the bamboo grove on either side of him. Keeping his head low, he weaved in between the stems. He heard several more darts pierce the bamboo as he fled. But he didn’t look back. He hit the forest track and ran for his life. Eventually he slowed down, checking the canopy above and behind him. It was difficult to tell but it appeared he’d given the two ninja the slip. Jack hurried back in the direction of the village, worried that Akiko might also be in danger. Out of nowhere, a ninja dropped like a panther in front of him. Jack held up his improvised bamboo sword and prepared to defend himself. The ninja calmly raised his hands. But not in surrender. Both palms were armed with metal claws. The ninja’s shuko were used to aid climbing, but also proved lethal weapons, their four curved spikes capable of ripping through flesh and lacerating any enemy.

Jack didn’t wait. He struck first. The ninja didn’t even flinch as the stem cut down towards his head. Then inexplicably Jack’s arms came to an abrupt halt. Glancing up, Jack saw that his improvised sword had collided with an overhanging bamboo stem. A long weapon was useless in such confined surroundings. The ninja hissed and, in the blink of an eye, he swiped with his claws, catching both of Jack’s outstretched arms. Jack grimaced as eight bloody lines were scored into his skin, forcing him to drop the piece of bamboo. Ignoring the pain, Jack front-kicked the assassin in the chest. The ninja, not expecting such a powerful and rapid kick from a mere boy, was thrown backwards into a clump of bamboo. Jack followed up with a jumping side-kick, but the ninja leapt above it and shot up the bamboo stem like a monkey. Jack, recalling his own days as a rigging monkey on-board the Alexandria, grabbed hold of the bamboo as if it were a mast and clambered after the ninja. He pursued the assassin high into the canopy, astounding the ninja with his unexpected agility and confidence at climbing. The ninja fled. Jack jumped from stem to stem after him. At this height, the bamboo was green and flexible and Jack swayed towards his enemy. He caught him hard in the gut with a

front kick. The ninja lost his grip under the force of the blow, crying out as he tumbled through the leaves to the ground far below. The ninja lay motionless, sprawled in the thicket, one leg twisted at an impossible angle, and Jack breathed a sigh of relief. He began to drop back down, when the second ninja suddenly emerged out of the foliage below him, brandishing a sword. Jack heard a sharp crack as the ninja sliced through the stem he was holding on to. Jack plummeted towards the earth, the wind whistling past his ears. His hands grabbed blindly for anything to break his fall. Somehow he caught hold of another stem, but this bamboo was young and bent under his weight. He continued to fall. The bamboo finally gave way and snapped. Gravity took hold and Jack dropped like a stone for the last five metres. The impact knocked all the breath out of him. As he lay there dazed, he heard something land close by. Glancing behind, he saw the green ninja stalking him, his shuko claws primed to strike and rip the skin from his back. Jack crawled on all fours, desperate to get away. The ninja crouched winding up to strike. Jack pulled himself to his feet and stumbled into the thicket, but he knew he had little chance of survival. His fate was sealed as a third ninja dropped down in front of him and blocked his escape. This ninja wore a black shinobi shozoku. For a moment, no one moved.

Then the black ninja kicked Jack in the chest, throwing him backwards. At the same time a shuriken knife plunged into a bamboo stem right where Jack had just been standing. Before Jack could register what had happened, the black ninja attacked him again. This time sweeping him off his feet. He landed hard upon the ground only to see the green ninja above him, in midstrike, his shuko claws swiping through thin air instead of gouging deep into Jack’s back. The green ninja hissed in frustration, then glared in furious amazement at the black ninja. He struck with his claws, but the black ninja blocked and countered with a lightning spear-hand thrust to the throat. The green ninja gagged and staggered backwards. He went on the attack again, swiping with his shuko, but the black ninja stood his ground, calmly drew a tantō and sliced a cruel line across the green ninja’s chest. Staring down in shock as blood soaked his chest, the green ninja backed away, then fled in panic into the thicket. The black ninja turned on Jack, blade in hand. Jack stared up in terror. ‘Jack!’ came a cry. The black ninja didn’t hesitate. Flicking the blood from the blade, the ninja leapt up a bamboo stem, disappeared into the canopy and was gone.

Moments later, Yamato burst through the thicket to find Jack lying on the ground, his arms bloodied and his face a curious combination of fear and disbelief. ‘Are you all right?’ demanded Yamato, his bō staff raised to fight. ‘I found Orochi dead. What happened?’ ‘We were attacked by ninja and they killed him,’ replied Jack, grimacing as he inspected his wounds. Though the score marks weren’t deep, they were painful. ‘Then they came after me, but… but I was saved by another ninja.’ ‘Saved? Are you sure you haven’t fallen on your head?’ said Yamato, helping him to his feet. ‘The ninja are our sworn enemy.’ ‘I’m sure of it. Twice this ninja stopped the other one killing me.’ ‘Well, I’ve never heard of a guardian ninja!’ laughed Yamato. ‘Whatever the reason, you should be grateful.’ ‘Yes. But what is the reason?’ ‘Who knows, but we’d better get back to Akiko if ninja are around.’ ‘First, let’s search this ninja,’ replied Jack, going over to the prone body of the fallen assassin. ‘But what about Akiko?’ ‘It won’t take long. Besides, she can handle herself.’ They both knew this to be true, though Jack didn’t want to admit that she was still weak from her poisoning and therefore vulnerable. He would have to work quickly.

‘What are you looking for?’ asked Yamato. ‘I don’t know,’ answered Jack, rifling through the man’s garments. ‘A clue of some sort.’ Yamato looked around uneasily, worried the other ninja would come back. Jack beckoned him over. ‘Look at this.’ Jack held up the man’s hand. ‘A finger’s missing.’ He pulled off the cowl to reveal the ninja’s face. A thin stream of blood ran out of the corner of the man’s mouth. ‘So what?’ said Yamato. ‘Don’t you recognize him? He was one of the customers who entered the bar after us. No wonder Orochi ran. He must have known they were after him.’ Jack continued to search the ninja. He found a length of hooked climbing rope attached to the back of his belt, five shuriken stars, some tetsu bishi spikes in a pouch and an inro case containing several pills and some unidentifiable powder. On the man’s hip was a tantō. Jack unsheathed the knife, cursing as the blade cut into his thumb. ‘Careful, Jack!’ said Yamato. ‘It could be poisoned.’ ‘Thanks for the warning,’ replied Jack grimly, sucking the blood from his wound. The blade gleamed maliciously in the forest light. A series of kanji characters could be seen etched into the steel.

‘What does that say?’ asked Jack, whose knowledge of kanji was still limited despite Akiko’s daily tuition. ‘Kunitome!’ growled the ninja who had come to. He seized Jack by the throat. ‘It’s the name of the maker of the blade.’ Jack gasped for air, the fierce grip of the ninja crushing his windpipe. Too shocked by the man’s unexpected revival, Jack forgot all his training and futilely tugged at the man’s hand. Yamato rushed forward and kicked the ninja in the ribs, but the assassin refused to let go. Jack’s face turned bright red, his eyes bulging. Yamato lifted his bō staff and struck the ninja’s broken leg. Writhing in agony, the ninja released Jack and Yamato quickly dragged his friend beyond the assassin’s reach. ‘A samurai stealing,’ the ninja spat, in between pained gasps. ‘How dishonourable!’ ‘We weren’t stealing. We were looking for clues,’ croaked Jack, getting unsteadily to his feet. ‘I needed to know who you were and where Dragon Eye is.’ The ninja gave a throaty laugh and more blood bubbled from his lips. ‘We should turn him in, Jack. Take him to Ueno Castle,’ suggested Yamato, uneasy with interrogating a ninja. It was as dangerous as taunting a wounded lion. ‘They’ll get the truth from him.’ ‘No,’ Jack countered. ‘But maybe he’d be willing to tell us about Dragon Eye in exchange for his life?’

‘No samurai can command my life,’ replied the ninja, removing a dark round bead from the inro on his belt. Popping it into his mouth, he bit down hard on the poison pill and his lips started to foam. ‘You’ll never find Dokugan Ryu, young samurai,’ he croaked with his last breath. ‘But he’ll find you…’ ooo000ooo 4 THE DEMON BLADE ‘THAT was a stupid idea!’ exclaimed Yamato, ignoring the sencha offered to him by Akiko. ‘Once again you almost got yourself killed!’ ‘But now we know where Dragon Eye’s camp is,’ Jack protested. ‘It’s near Shindo. That’s less than half a day’s journey from here. We can’t give up now.’ Jack looked to Akiko for support. She finished sipping her tea and was about to speak, but Yamato broke in. ‘All you have is the name of a village and a temple. Do you think we’ll simply drop in and find Dokugan Ryu and his ninja clan enjoying afternoon tea? Anyway, Orochi was a thief and probably lying. It’s a miracle we got Akiko’s pearl back.’ ‘But this lead’s got to be worth chasing,’ insisted Jack. ‘It was fate when we bumped into that tea merchant. We were meant to

find Orochi. The fact that ninja attacked us and Orochi got killed is proof we’re on the right path.’ ‘No! We’re already in enough trouble with my father as it is. I can’t risk it again. He would never forgive me. And then we’ll never return to the Niten Ichi Ryū!’ Yamato ended the conversation by turning his back on Jack. He stared out across the ravine from their tea house to the rocky heights opposite. Located on a ridge beside the Tokaido Road, the Kameyama tea house commanded a spectacular view and attracted numerous visitors from Kyoto. Following the glorious summer day, the tea house was packed with travellers watching the sun set over the rugged beauty of the mountains. Jack moodily toyed with the dead ninja’s tantō, its gleaming steel marked only by a patch of dry blood where Jack had cut his thumb the day before. After the ninja had committed suicide with the poison pill, Jack had decided to keep the blade. Besides, it was the only weapon he now possessed since their suspension from the Niten Ichi Ryū. He didn’t blame Masamoto for his decision. He realized now that he’d been foolish to try and hide the existence of his father’s rutter from the one man who could truly protect him from Dragon Eye. But Jack had thought he’d been protecting his guardian Masamoto by keeping it secret. Jack’s father had made him swear not to tell anyone of the logbook’s existence; had entrusted him with the code that kept its information safe from prying eyes. It had been his responsibility to ensure the rutter never fell into the wrong hands. At the time Jack hadn’t known whom to trust with such a valuable

and sought-after possession, so he hadn’t told anyone. And that was why he’d hidden it in daimyo Takatomi’s castle. The rutter was also his last link to his father and his only chance of a secure future. He’d had to do all he could to protect it. If one day he ever did reach the port of Nagasaki, his experience as a rigging monkey and his ability as a navigator would hopefully gain him passage on-board a ship bound for England where Jess, his little sister, was still waiting for his return. Or at least he hoped she was. Without a family in England, her future was as uncertain as his. But with the rutter he could look after both of them as the respected pilot of a ship, just like his father had been before Dragon Eye murdered him in cold blood. The deadly steel of the tantō seemed to throb in Jack’s hand at the very thought of Dragon Eye garrotting his father. Revenge flashed through his mind. Everything Jack held dear to him had been taken by that ninja – his father, the rutter and almost Akiko’s life too. When Jack and his father had set out with the Dutch crew of the Alexandria from England four years ago, they had dreamt of discovering new lands, making their fortune and returning home heroes. Not for one moment had Jack thought he would end up alone, in a dangerous foreign land, training to be a samurai warrior. But now he wouldn’t even be doing that. ‘Where did you get that knife?’ demanded the owner of the tea house, breaking Jack’s thoughts as the old man cleared away their cups of sencha.

‘We found it… in a forest,’ Jack replied, the question taking him by surprise. The proprietor’s beady eyes studied him with an unsettling intensity. He clearly didn’t believe Jack. ‘Do you know what that is?’ the old man enquired, his gaze not leaving Jack’s face, almost as if he was unwilling to look back down at the knife. ‘It’s a tantō…’ ‘Yes, but not just any tantō…’ The proprietor drew closer and spoke under his breath, not with reverence, but with fear. ‘That knife was forged by the swordsmith Kunitome-san.’ ‘We know,’ interjected Yamato, annoyed by the owner’s prying. ‘It says so on the blade.’ ‘You know! Yet you still keep it?’ ‘Why not?’ asked Jack, baffled by the owner’s strange behaviour. ‘Surely you’ve heard that Kunitome-san’s swords are evil. They’re not the weapons of a virtuous samurai,’ he explained, looking at Yamato. ‘Kunitome-san’s work is infamous round these parts. He resides but ten ri west of here in the village of Shindo.’ At the mention of the village’s name, Jack glanced over at Akiko and Yamato. Both their faces registered the same astonishment he felt. This was too much of a coincidence.

‘Kunitome-san is a violent man and possesses an ill-balanced mind, some say verging on madness,’ confided the proprietor. ‘These traits are said to pass into his blades. Such a weapon as yours hungers for blood, impels their owner to commit murder!’ Jack gazed down at the tantō. It looked like any other knife, but then he recalled the throb of revenge it triggered in him when he thought of his father’s death. ‘We appreciate your concern,’ said Akiko, a wry smile on her lips, ‘but we’re too old to believe in such superstitions. You can’t scare us.’ ‘I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to warn you.’ The proprietor put down his tray. ‘If you would allow me to tell you a story, then you might understand.’ Akiko politely acknowledged his request with a nod of her head and the old man knelt beside them. ‘Kunitome-san is a student of the greatest swordsmith to have ever lived, Shizu-san of the Soshu School of Sword-making. Several years ago, Kunitome-san challenged his master to see who could make the finer sword. They both worked at their forges day and night. Eventually Kunitomesan produced a magnificent weapon he called Juuchi Yosamu, Ten Thousand Cold Nights. Shizu-san also completed his, which he named Yawaraka-Te, Tender Hands. With both swords finished, they agreed to test the results.

‘The contest was for each to suspend their blades in a small creek with the cutting edge facing the current. A local monk was asked to preside over the competition. Kunitome-san went first. His sword sliced through everything that flowed its way – dead leaves, a lotus flower, several fish, the very air that blew upon it. Impressed with his protégé’s work, Shizu-san then lowered his sword into the stream and waited patiently. ‘It didn’t cut a thing. Not a single leaf was parted; flowers kissed the steel and floated by; fish swam right up to it; the air sang as it gently blew by the blade.’ ‘So Kunitome-san’s was the better blade,’ interrupted Yamato. ‘No! The monk declared Shizu-san the winner. Kunitomesan contested the decision, for his master’s sword had failed to cut anything. The monk then explained. The first sword was by all accounts a fine weapon. However, it was blood-thirsty and evil for it didn’t discriminate as to who or what it cut. “It may just as well be cutting butterflies as severing heads,” the monk had said. Shizusan’s sword, on the other hand, was by far the finer of the two for it didn’t needlessly cut that which was innocent and undeserving of death. The spirit in his sword demonstrated a benevolent power worthy of a true samurai. ‘Because of this, it’s believed that a Kunitome blade, once drawn, must draw blood before it can be returned to its saya, even to the point of forcing its wielder to wound himself or commit suicide.’

Jack glanced down at his healing thumb, then at the tantō with his blood still stained upon the steel. Perhaps there was some truth in the old man’s warning. ‘Mark my words, that tantō is a demon blade. It’s cursed and will breed bloodlust in those who carry it.’ ‘Old man, are you serving or gossiping?’ demanded a samurai who sat impatiently at a table on the other side of the tea house. ‘My apologies,’ replied the proprietor, bowing. ‘I will be with you right now.’ He got up and retrieved his tray. ‘My advice is to lose that tantō in the forest you found it in.’ The proprietor then bowed and left the three of them to ponder his words. They all gazed at the blade, its awakened spirit seeming to draw them in as if they were caught in a whirlpool. ‘What did I tell you?’ said Jack excitedly, breaking the spell. ‘It’s fate. We have to go to Shindo. The tantō comes from the same village that Orochi mentioned. This must mean the ninja came from around there too.’ ‘Didn’t you hear anything the man just said?’ asked Yamato, his dark brown eyes wide in disbelief at Jack’s jubilant reaction to the news. ‘That knife is cursed.’ ‘Surely you don’t believe that?’ dismissed Jack, though he wasn’t quite as certain as his bravado made out. ‘Yet you believe in fate; that we should go to Shindo.’

‘Yes, but this is different,’ Jack argued, cautiously sheathing the tantō and slipping it into the obi around his waist. ‘The knife’s superstition. This is a clear sign we must follow our destiny. We must follow the Way of the Dragon – find where the ninja hides. Isn’t that right, Akiko?’ Akiko was flattening the folds of her ivory-coloured silk kimono and appeared to be thinking very carefully before answering. Jack had used the very words she’d whispered to him after she’d awoken from her poisoning. Jack just hoped Akiko would still be on his side, despite the obvious danger of such a venture. ‘I think we should go,’ agreed Akiko. ‘Masamoto-sama made clear to us that we have to tell him any information we know about Dokugan Ryu. That includes anything we find out about him too. Imagine if we could give Masamoto-sama the location of the ninja’s headquarters. We may even get back Jack’s rutter.’ ‘Why are you suddenly so keen on pursuing this ninja, Akiko?’ Yamato demanded, turning on his cousin. ‘You almost died the last time we agreed to help Jack.’ ‘More reason for me to want to find the ninja. Besides, weren’t you the one who suggested we should try and trap him in the first place? It was your golden opportunity to get revenge on Dragon Eye for your brother’s murder, a chance to restore the family honour.’ ‘Yes…’ spluttered Yamato, ‘but… that was before my father found out and dismissed us. He would never forgive me if we tried to capture Dragon Eye ourselves.’ ‘We’re not attempting to capture him,’ appeased Akiko. ‘We simply need to locate his camp and tell your father.’

‘I still think it’s a bad idea. What about the mysterious black ninja who saved Jack? That makes no sense.’ Yamato stared gravely at the two of them. ‘Have either of you thought that the reason we’re discovering these clues is that Dragon Eye wants us to find him? That he’s leading us into a trap?’ There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as the possible truth sank in. Then Akiko dismissed the idea. ‘Ninja don’t just fight samurai. They fight one another too. The black ninja was probably from a rival clan and the green ninja out of their territory. Yamato, you probably turned up just in time to save Jack’s life.’ Yamato looked unconvinced. ‘If we don’t go, what else are we going to do?’ implored Jack. ‘With his dislocated shoulder, Kuma-san said he won’t be fit to travel to Toba for at least another day or so.’ ‘He’s right,’ agreed Akiko. ‘If we take the horses, we could get to Shindo and back in a day. Jack can ride with me. Kumasan wouldn’t question us about visiting a nearby temple.’ Yamato remained tight-lipped, turning his attention to the glorious sunset instead. A stillness settled over the tea house as the sun clipped the top of a mountain peak. Golden rays of light fingered into an indigo-blue sky that hung like a silken kimono above the hazy range of mountain ridges and darkening valleys. As the light began to fade, Jack made one last plea.

‘This is our one and only opportunity to find Dragon Eye before he finds us again.’ ‘But he has no reason to return. He’s got your rutter,’ countered Yamato. ‘The logbook is encrypted. Only I know how to decipher it,’ Jack revealed. ‘Once Dragon Eye realizes this, he will be back.’ Jack knew the ninja was enlisting the help of a Chinese cryptologist, but he doubted the man could easily break a code written in such an unfamiliar language. It would take time. The question was: how long? Dragon Eye might lose patience and decide to break Jack instead. ooo000ooo 5 MOTHER LOVE ‘I’ve a very bad feeling about this place,’ muttered Yamato, his right hand anxiously clasping the shaft of his bō staff. Shindo’s only road was deserted. Dust swirled in lonely eddies and disappeared between a row of rundown shacks that appeared as if they’d been dumped from the sky then forgotten. Though the day was warm and sunny, heat and light seemed to shun the village and the interiors of every abode remained dark and uninviting. ‘It’s a ghost town,’ said Jack, a chill running down his spine as they tethered their two horses and entered the lifeless village.

‘Not quite,’ whispered Akiko. ‘We’re being watched.’ Jack and Yamato exchanged nervous glances. ‘By whom?’ Yamato asked. ‘That little girl for one,’ replied Akiko, nodding towards a thatched hut on their right. Hidden in darkness, a small dirty face with wide fearful eyes peeked out at them, then disappeared. Akiko headed over to the shack, looking back over her shoulder when Jack and Yamato failed to follow. ‘Come on, you two. I think you can handle a little girl, can’t you?’ Shamed by their lack of nerve, they both hurried after her. Akiko peered into the darkness beyond the doorway, then called, ‘Hello? Excuse me?’ Inside, they could hear a rattling wheeze of breath like a dying dog’s. Suddenly a man’s hollow-cheeked face appeared at the door. ‘Leave us be,’ he snapped. ‘We’ve nothing to give you.’ The little girl they’d seen earlier was now hiding behind the man’s legs, her eyes fixated on Jack’s blond hair. Jack smiled at her. ‘We’re sorry to disturb you, but we don’t want anything,’ explained Akiko. ‘Where is everyone?’ Yamato asked. ‘They left. You should too.’

The man began to push the flimsy door of his hut closed. ‘But we’ve come to find Kunitome-san,’ Jack insisted. The man stared at Jack as if noticing his presence for the first time. His face remained blank, the strange sight of a foreigner clearly nothing compared to the horrors he’d already witnessed. The man snorted. ‘That devil! He’s dead!’ ‘What? When did that happen?’ Jack asked. ‘Who killed him?’ The man sighed, the burden of conversation seeming to drain him. ‘He committed suicide. By his own sword,’ spat the man. ‘He’s the reason this village is dead. That swordmaker was a blessing and a curse for Shindo. His skill drew people here from far and wide and we villagers welcomed the money they brought. But his art in devilry, forging evil blades, attracted the worst sort. Now he’s gone, no one comes. But his spirit remains. It casts a dark shadow over Shindo. You should leave. This place is bad karma.’ ‘So why haven’t you left?’ Yamato enquired, putting his hand against the door as the man tried to close it. ‘We would, but do you hear that?’ said the man, referring to the rattling wheeze. ‘That’s my sick mother. She refuses to die. And until she passes away, we’re stuck in this death trap. Now goodbye.’ With that, he shut the door in their faces.

They looked at one another, astounded at the man’s story. ‘Seems we’ve come to the end of the trail,’ said Yamato, the relief in his voice apparent. ‘No point in hanging around, we’d better head back before Kuma-san notices we’re gone.’ ‘No,’ said Jack, walking in the opposite direction to Yamato. ‘We’ve still got to find the Dragon Temple that Orochi talked about. Look, that must be it.’ The village road ended in a large, eerie temple that sat upon an earthen mound, its red and green paint faded and peeling. Tiles were missing from the roof and two carved dragon finials had fallen from its corners to lie rotting on the ground. The main door to the temple was open and about as tempting as a tomb. ‘You’re not going in there, are you?’ said Yamato, appealing to Akiko for support. ‘It looks as if it’s going to fall down at any moment!’ Akiko smiled apologetically, then followed Jack up the worn stone steps. Inside, as if all light had been sucked out, the temple appeared an ominous cave of darkness and shadows. Where the smell of incense should have been, only the stink of decay hung in the air. Jack stepped across the threshold and peered into the gloom. He almost cried out at the sight of two gargantuan warriors on either side of him, their muscles rippling, their faces contorted. One, who was baring his teeth, wielded a huge thunderbolt club. The other, his mouth tightly shut, swung an immense sword.

Jack stumbled into Akiko. ‘They’re just Niō,’ she laughed. ‘Temple guardians.’ ‘They’re terrifying!’ exclaimed Jack, gathering his wits at the sight of the gigantic wooden statues. He followed Akiko warily inside and over to the central altar where a number of smaller effigies encircled a dust-ridden Buddha. ‘What are the warrior statues guarding?’ ‘The Buddha, of course. The right statue is Agyō. He symbolizes violence. The statue on the left with the sword is Ungyō. He depicts strength,’ Akiko explained, then pointed to their faces. ‘Do you see the first one has his mouth open and the other has his closed? They form the sounds “ah” and “un”, the first and last characters of the Buddhist language. Together they encompass all knowledge.’ ‘History lesson over,’ Yamato butted in. ‘There’s no one here. This is a complete waste of time. Now that Kunitomesan’s committed suicide, we’ve hit a dead end. We’ll never find Dragon Eye, so let’s go.’ As Yamato turned to leave, there was a shuffling noise behind the Buddha. ‘The swordmaker didn’t commit suicide!’ rasped a figure in the darkness. They all spun round to defend themselves. An old hunched woman, dressed in a ragged cowl and robe, hobbled towards them through the shadows.

‘Our apologies,’ said Akiko, startled. ‘We didn’t mean to disturb your prayers.’ ‘Prayers!’ she croaked. ‘I long since abandoned my faith in Buddha. I was sleeping until you rats scurried in.’ ‘We were just going,’ explained Yamato, taking a step away from the foul-looking woman, her face veiled by the lice-ridden cowl. But Jack remained where he was. ‘What did you just say about Kunitome-san?’ ‘You’re not from here, are you, boy?’ the hag spat. She sniffed the air, then seemed to gag on the smell. ‘You’re gaijin!’ Jack ignored the insult. ‘Did you say the swordmaker did not commit suicide?’ ‘No. He didn’t.’ ‘Then what happened?’ The old woman stretched forth a bony hand, its skin dead as a corpse. She remained silent, but the message was clear. Akiko reached inside the folds of her kimono, pulled out a small string of coins, removed one and dropped it into the woman’s waiting palm. The hag snatched her prizeaway. ‘He didn’t commit suicide, but he was killed by his own sword.’ ‘What do you mean?’ asked Jack. ‘Kunitome-san had been commissioned to make a special sword for a very special client,’ she explained, letting her fingers run down

the splintered edge of an effigy’s carved wooden blade. ‘The sword was called Kuro Kumo, Black Cloud, on account that it was finished on the night of a great storm. It was his finest sword yet, sharper and deadlier than any blade in existence. It turned out to be the last sword he ever made.’ The hag shuffled closer to Jack. ‘That night the client came and demanded a cutting test to prove the quality of the blade. Kunitome-san arranged for four criminals to be bound over a sand mound. Black Cloud went through all four bodies like a ripe plum cleft in two. You should have heard their screams.’ She extended a talon of a finger and ran it across Jack’s neck. He shuddered at her touch. ‘The client was so impressed he beheaded Kunitome-san there and then with his own creation.’ ‘Why did he do that?’ asked Jack, swallowing back his revulsion. ‘He wanted to ensure Kunitome-san never made another blade that could defeat Black Cloud. But when Kunitomesan was murdered, a fragment of his maddened soul entered the sword. As if possessed, the storm then raged all night long, ripping the heart out of the village, ravaging all the crops, destroying the temple. Little was left standing by the morning.’ ‘Who was the client?’ asked Akiko. The old woman looked up, and though Jack couldn’t see her face within the cowl, he swore she was smiling.

‘Dokugan Ryu, of course. The one you seek.’ The hag leant forward and whispered into Jack’s ear, ‘You wish to know where he is?’ ‘Yes,’ breathed Jack. The old woman put out her skeletal hand again. Akiko dropped another coin into the grimy palm. ‘Where is he?’ demanded Jack, impatient for the answer. She beckoned Jack closer, then croaked, ‘Behind you!’ All three of them spun round to be confronted by a huge green eye. The old woman cackled at their gasps of shock. But the eye only belonged to a large dragon carving hanging over the doorway, its head turned to one side, its forked tongue flicking out of its redpainted mouth. ‘Very funny,’ snarled Yamato, lowering his guard. ‘There’s no one there.’ ‘Oh… but there is,’ corrected the woman. ‘Dokugan Ryu will always be behind you, sneaking up on you like a poisonous shadow.’ ‘Let’s go,’ Yamato insisted. ‘This witch is mad.’ Jack had to agree and turned to leave. ‘But it would help if you knew who Dokugan Ryu really is, wouldn’t it?’ whispered the old hag.

Jack stopped in his tracks. ‘Don’t you want to know?’ she taunted, her palm already outstretched, fingers beckoning like an upturned crab. Jack looked to Akiko. Yamato shook his head in dismay as Akiko begrudgingly handed over another coin. ‘You’re very eager for knowledge, young ones. And I won’t disappoint,’ the hag cackled, slipping the coin into her filthy robes. ‘Dokugan Ryu is the exiled samurai lord, Hattori Tatsuo.’ ‘That’s ridiculous!’ scoffed Yamato. ‘That warlord was killed in the Great Battle of Nakasendo.’ ‘Listen, you little rat!’ she hissed, cutting him off. ‘You paid for a story and I will tell it. Hattori Tatsuo was born in Yamagata Castle in the summer of the Year of the Snake. As a child his eye became infected with the smallpox. He pulled the diseased organ out of his skull himself!’ Akiko recoiled at the thought. ‘Because of his missing eye, his own mother considered him unfit to be the future head of the Hattori family, so began favouring his younger brother as heir. She even poisoned Tatsuo during dinner once, but miraculously he survived, though somewhat maddened and his eye now green as jade.’ Yamato was shaking his head in disbelief and signing to Jack that the woman was crazy. ‘Tatsuo then killed his own brother in order to ensure his rise to power. When he was barely sixteen, he went on his first raid with

his father. His father was killed during a skirmish, some say by Tatsuo himself. Tatsuo was now head of the family. But not satisfied with this, he set his eye upon becoming the daimyo of northern Japan. First, though, he sought revenge for his mother’s betrayal.’ ‘How?’ breathed Akiko, but not really wanting to know the answer. ‘How else? By gouging out both her eyes!’ screeched the hag. ‘That’s enough!’ ordered Yamato, seeing Akiko wince at the horrific image the woman had conjured. ‘None of this nonsense explains how Tatsuo supposedly ended up a ninja.’ The old hag, tutting, wagged a bony finger at Yamato. ‘Such impatience! There is more. Much more. On the battlefield, Tatsuo gained a fearsome reputation as a ruthless warrior. Soon he became daimyo of all northern Honshu. During his campaigns, he’d borne a son. So he now desired all of Japan for his heir. Tatsuo’s army crushed all those before him –’ ‘Until they were defeated at Nakasendo,’ interjected Yamato. ‘Yes, you’re quite right. The battle raged many days and nights. But only the combined forces of the southern and central lords, daimyo Hasegawa, Takatomi and Kamakura, defeated the great Tatsuo.’ She spat on the floor. ‘Kamakura, that traitorous samurai, had switched sides and sealed Tatsuo’s fate. His army was slaughtered, his son cut down defending him before his very eye, by one of daimyo Takatomi’s bodyguards. Yet, despite all this, Tatsuo fought to the bitter end.’

‘But I’ve already told you, Hattori Tatsuo was killed in battle,’ Yamato stated. ‘It’s impossible for him to be Dragon Eye.’ ‘No, Tatsuo survived. He escaped into the Iga mountains. Hunted down, he was forced into hiding. But fortune was on his side at last. A ninja clan took him in, where he studied their secret arts and became the man he is today. Dokugan Ryu, the most feared ninja to have ever lived.’ The old woman sounded almost proud at the idea. ‘But how do you know all this?’ demanded Jack. ‘No one else seems to know his identity.’ ‘No one’s ever asked me before,’ replied the old woman, pulling back her hood to reveal a gruesomely scarred face… with two empty eye sockets. ooo000ooo 6 UEKIYA’S GARDEN Jack touched the arrow buried in the sakura tree. His fingers lightly brushed the weathered flights and the sensation sent a chill through his body despite the sticky summer heat. He couldn’t quite believe it was still there, piercing the bark of the cherry blossom tree like a needle in the eye. Its target had been Dragon Eye, but he had escaped, as always. ‘Masamoto-sama commanded me not to remove it.’

Jack spun round in surprise to find Uekiya, the old gardener, tending an immaculate rose bush. The withered man blended in like an ancient tree. He was as much a part of the garden as he was of Jack’s fond memories of Toba, the little port where he’d first arrived in Japan. Although the reason for Jack’s return was dishonourable, the welcome by Hiroko, Akiko’s mother, had been warm and reflected the care she’d given Jack during his first six months in Japan. After their disturbing encounter with the blind hag, Jack, Akiko and Yamato had hurriedly left Shindo and the next day departed on the final leg of their journey to Toba. The going had been slow due to Kuma-san’s injury and was made even more arduous by the stifling heat. Upon their arrival, Hiroko had provided much needed refreshments and organized for the bath to be filled so they could wash away the dirt of the trip. While Yamato took the first ofuro and Akiko caught up with her mother’s news, Jack had sought the cool shade of the garden to recover. The old man smiled a toothy grin, obviously pleased to see Jack once more in his garden. ‘Did Masamoto-sama give a reason for leaving it?’ Jack asked, letting go of the arrow. ‘It’s to remind us never to lower our guard.’ Uekiya’s smile faded as he gently cut a blood-red flower from the bush and presented it to Jack. ‘And this rose bush I planted to remind me of Chiro.’

Jack could no longer meet the gardener’s gaze. He recalled the night when Dragon Eye had initially attempted to steal the rutter from him. It had been the first time Jack had witnessed Akiko’s fighting skills, which after two years of training at the Niten Ichi Ryū had now been honed to a fine art. Chiro, however, wasn’t a warrior. She was Hiroko’s maid and had been killed in the attack, while the samurai guard, Taka-san, had been seriously injured defending the home. It had been a great relief for Jack upon returning to Toba to find Taka-san fully recovered, the only indication of his injury a vicious scar across his belly, which he bore with some pride. But the guilt of Chiro’s death still remained. ‘Welcome home, Jack-kun,’ Uekiya added, forcing a smile back on his face as he continued to prune the rose bush. ‘Thank you,’ Jack replied, settling down beneath the cool shade of the sakura tree. ‘After such a long time in Kyoto, it is almost like returning home. I’d forgotten how beautiful your garden was.’ ‘How can that be?’ said the old man, his brow furrowing in puzzlement. ‘You’ve been carrying a piece of it with you ever since you left.’ ‘You mean my bonsai?’ asked Jack, referring to the miniature cherry blossom tree he’d been given by the gardener the day he’d departed for samurai school. ‘Of course, it’s grown from the very tree you sit beneath. It’s not dead, is it?’

‘No,’ said Jack quickly, ‘but it does need some attention after the long journey.’ As he had no idea how long he would be staying in Toba, he’d brought the tree back with him in its original carrying case, along with all his other possessions. ‘Let me do it,’ said Uekiya, putting down his pruning knife. ‘Though if the truth be known, I never expected to see it alive again. Bonsai are very difficult to grow. Perhaps you do have a little Japanese in you, after all.’ With a wry smile upon his wrinkled face, the old gardener bowed and walked across the little wooden bridge that spanned a pond dotted with pink water lilies. He weaved his way along the pebbled path towards the house, leaving Jack alone to his thoughts. Jack had spent many happy hours beneath this sakura tree. At first recovering from the broken arm he’d sustained escaping the ninja attack on the Alexandria; then studying his father’s rutter; and, most enjoyable of all, being instructed by Akiko in her language and customs. Sitting there now, it was like finding sanctuary again. But it wasn’t like returning home. England was his home. Though after nearly four years, two of which had been at sea, it had become a distant memory. The only things tying him to his native land were his heart, his little sister Jess, his father’s rutter – now stolen – and a scrap of paper he’d found tucked within it. Jack opened the inro carrying case attached to his obi and carefully took out the fragile paper. It was a drawing given to his

father by Jess before they’d left for the Japans. As had become habit, his fingers traced the outlines of his dead father, his sister in her summer smock holding hands with his own stick-thin body, and lastly his mother with her angel wings. Wiping a tear from his eye, Jack said a little prayer for Jess. Having only an old, ailing neighbour to rely on for his sister’s welfare, he feared for her future without a family. Jack had to find his way back to England. Yet he was trapped by circumstance. Adopted by Masamoto, his guardian considered himself responsible for Jack’s care until he was sixteen and deemed ‘of age’. Besides, any journey to the southern port of Nagasaki, where foreign trading ships docked, was fraught with danger now that daimyo Kamakura, the lord of Edo Province, had begun to rouse the population against Christians and foreigners. Not only that, Jack had to contend with the constant threat to his life posed by Dragon Eye. He couldn’t leave Japan without his father’s rutter. It was rightfully his and the key to his future. He had to retrieve the logbook before the code was broken. The hunter had now become the hunted. He had to find Dragon Eye. Dokugan Ryu’s eyeless mother had laughed at the suggestion of seeking out her ninja son. Dragon Eye was like the wind, she said, and moved with the seasons, never settling in the same place twice. Despite the offer of another coin, she refused to reveal his location. Yamato very much doubted she knew it anyway. He believed she was making the whole story up and they’d wasted their money on worthless lies.

‘Nice picture,’ Yamato commented, rounding the trunk of the sakura, fresh from his bath. ‘That the one Akiko rescued from the tree?’ ‘Yes, it is,’ mumbled Jack, startled by his friend’s sudden appearance. He’d been so deep in thought that he hadn’t noticed Yamato’s approach. Jack carefully folded the parchment and slipped it back inside his inro. He was far more guarded with it ever since Kazuki, his arch-rival at school, had snatched the picture from his hands and thrown it into the topmost branches of a maple tree. Thankfully, Akiko had retrieved it for him, with an astounding display of agility. ‘I’ve been thinking we should keep our training up, just in case my father decides to allow us back to school,’ suggested Yamato. Jack looked up in surprise. Clearly, the bath had not only cleansed his friend’s body but his mind too. It was the most positive thing Yamato had uttered in ages. He knew his friend feared his father. Masamoto was a hard man to please since the death of his firstborn son, Tenno, and Yamato was desperate for his approval. Perhaps there was some hope for Yamato and Akiko of going back to the Niten Ichi Ryū, but Jack doubted he would ever be allowed to return. ‘It’ll be like old times. Remember when we used to spar with our bokken over there?’ said Yamato merrily, indicating a bare patch of training ground at the back of the house. Jack nodded.

‘And he used to thrash you!’ cried a small voice. Jack turned round to see a young boy thundering full pelt across the wooden bridge towards them. ‘Jiro!’ exclaimed Jack as the boy ran into his arms. Apart from Akiko, Jiro – her brother – had been Jack’s only companion in those early months following his arrival. Back then, he and Yamato hadn’t been friends. Jiro was quite right. Their sparring sessions had been more an excuse for Yamato to beat him up. Yamato’s harsh instruction, though, had helped Jack learn the basics of sword fighting and this had led him to be invited by Masamoto to train at the Niten Ichi Ryū, the One School of Two Heavens. ‘You’ve grown,’ observed Jack, measuring up the grinning brown-eyed boy. ‘Big enough to carry a sword now!’ Jiro replied in a defiant tone. ‘Is that right?’ said Jack, raising his eyebrows at Yamato. ‘Think you’re big enough to challenge me, do you?’ ‘No problem,’ said Jiro, resting his fists upon his hips. ‘A duel!’ exclaimed Yamato in mock horror. ‘There’s no escape for you, Jack. I’ll be the judge. Jiro, get your bokken.’ Thrilled at the prospect, Jiro sprinted off to get his wooden sword. It reminded Jack of his own excitement when he’d first trained in the Way of the Warrior. But the opportunity to become a samurai had given Jack more than just a thrill. It had given him hope. For with such fighting skills at his disposal, Jack had a chance of survival. Maybe even of defeating Dragon Eye.

‘Yamato,’ he asked, while they waited for Jiro to return, ‘why were you so convinced the old woman in the Dragon Temple was lying? Isn’t there a chance Hattori Tatsuo could have survived to become Dokugan Ryu?’ Yamato rolled his eyes, clearly exasperated that Jack was still pursuing the idea after three days. ‘That hag was crazy. She was playing a sick joke on you. Tatsuo died in the Nakasendo War ten years ago.’ ‘How do you know that for sure?’ ‘I know because my father was daimyo Takatomi’s personal bodyguard at the time. My father saw Tatsuo’s beheading with his own eyes.’ Jack was momentarily stunned into silence. Before he could ask more, though, Jiro came charging out of the house, wielding his bokken. He fought his way in mock combat across the garden. Jack couldn’t believe the old woman had made everything up. There had to be a grain of truth in her story. But maybe she was as convinced in her tale as Jiro was in battling his imaginary ninja. ooo000ooo 7 THE PEARL ‘Hurry up, Jack!’ urged Akiko. ‘The sun’s about to rise.’ Akiko trotted ahead on her white stallion, the same one Jack had seen her with the morning after the Alexandria had been shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. It had been dawn and she’d

been praying at a temple overlooking the cove where their ship lay. Jack had spotted the horse before being transfixed by the sight of a dark-haired girl, her skin white as snow. Akiko had been his first impression of Japan. ‘The darned thing won’t obey me,’ complained Jack, struggling to stay mounted on his smaller brown mare. ‘Give me a ship any time!’ He bounced along the coastal path behind her, gripping tighter to the mane and desperately trying to match the horse’s rhythm. Having been a sailor, Jack had never learnt to ride. The closest experience he’d had was riding the bucking yardarm of the Alexandria in a storm. ‘You managed to ride all the way from Kyoto to Toba,’ noted Akiko. ‘Yes, but I rode with Kuma-san on his horse. And look what happened! We got thrown, he dislocated his shoulder and I bruised my backside!’ Akiko laughed at Jack’s pained expression as he continued to jolt along. ‘Don’t worry, we’re nearly there.’ They rounded a small headland and Akiko dismounted. She hurried over to Jack and helped him down. They’d been in Toba over a month now and, thanks to a good dose of motherly care and attention, Akiko had fully recovered from her poisoning. Though their return hadn’t been a matter of choice, she clearly relished being back at home and spending time with her

mother and brother. In the half-light, Jack could see her face was aglow, her jet-black eyes sparkling with a newfound energy. Jack couldn’t quite say the same for himself. It was still far too early in the day. Somehow Akiko had managed to persuade him to rise before dawn and join her to watch the sunrise at Meoto Iwa, a headland a little round the coast from Toba. Yamato had sensibly decided to have a lie-in and said he would join them later for sword practice. Jack followed Akiko down to the rocky shoreline. She seated herself upon a flat rock, crossing her legs in the lotus position in readiness for the sunrise. Jack breathed in the salty air, the smell instantly evoking memories of his ocean-going days. He itched to be out at sea again, to feel the roll of the deck beneath his feet, to hear the snap of the sails as the wind took hold and to steer a course for home. He looked up into the lightening sky and spotted the northern star still burning in the heavens. ‘What are you doing?’ asked Akiko, as Jack began to turn on the spot and scan the horizon. Jack pointed into the distance. ‘That way lies England.’ Seeing the longing in his blue eyes, she smiled sadly at him. ‘You’ll get there one day,’ she said, indicating for him to sit beside her, ‘but, until then, you should enjoy the moments you have here.’

Jack looked down at Akiko. Perhaps she was right. He was so intent on returning home, he often overlooked the good things about Japan. From the calm order of samurai life to the thrill of wielding a sword, from the exquisite taste of sushi to the beauty of the cherry blossom, Japan offered so much more than England could ever give him. And if he did leave for home, he’d miss all his friends greatly – Yamato, Yori, Saburo and, of course, Akiko. Returning her smile, he sat down next to her and waited for the sun. ‘Here it comes,’ Akiko whispered, taking a deep breath as golden rays of light fanned out across the horizon. Out at sea, the morning sun rose between two rocky outcrops. Pitch-black against the crimson sky, their peaks were joined by a huge knotted rope, and upon the larger of the two stacks perched a miniature torii gateway. ‘What are those?’ asked Jack, awestruck at the sight. ‘They’re the Meoto Iwa,’ replied Akiko. ‘The sacred Wedded Rocks. Beautiful, aren’t they? And over there is Mount Fuji.’ Jack looked to his left and could just see a conical snow-capped peak in the haze on the horizon. He could only imagine how big the mountain was for it to be visible at such a great distance. From here, though, he could cover it with his entire hand. After the sun had risen and they had completed their meditation, Akiko paid her respects at the nearby Shinto shrine. When Jack had first attended the Niten Ichi Ryū, he hadn’t been able to understand the dual religious practices of the Japanese. They followed

Buddhism and, at the same time, Shinto, the worship of kami, the spirits they believed were contained within everything living and non-living. Back in England, Jack had been brought up as a Christian, following the Protestant not the Catholic belief system. His father had explained this was the reason Europe was involved in so many conflicts. The division in faith had set Catholic Spain and Portugal against Protestant England. Since the battle for dominance was also being fought at sea and in the New World, this meant the rutter had immense significance. The possession of such an accurate navigational logbook, like his father’s, could tip the balance of power in favour of one country and its religion over the other. Yet, in Japan, two religions coexisted in perfect harmony. It was Buddhism’s respectful acceptance of other faiths that had allowed Jack to come to terms with practising Buddhist rituals in samurai school, while remaining at heart a Christian. His decision was also a matter of survival. With the growing animosity towards foreigners in Japan, Jack needed to blend in as much as possible and show his willingness to accept Japanese beliefs. He needed to prove he was samurai not only in mind and body, but in spirit too. Jack bowed his head before the Shinto shrine and said a prayer for his father and mother in heaven and for his little sister Jess on the other side of the world, his words carried away by the gentle lapping of the waves. * * *

Walking along the coastal path, Akiko and Jack guided their horses back in the direction of Toba. ‘Thank you,’ said Jack, feeling at peace and happy to have shared the moment alone with Akiko. ‘I thought you’d like to see the ocean again,’ she replied, smiling warmly. Jack nodded. The new dawn had given him fresh perspective and time to think. He would always be a sailor. It was in his blood. But he was now samurai too. As they climbed a small rise overlooking a crystal-clear cove, Akiko stopped, her hand going to her forehead. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Jack. ‘I’m fine, just a little light-headed,’ she replied. ‘It must be the sea air.’ ‘Perhaps you’re not fully recovered. You should sit down,’ suggested Jack, tying the horses to a nearby tree, then settling beside her at the edge of the cliff. ‘It’s amazing you survived the poisoning in the first place,’ Jack commented, recalling how Akiko had almost been killed by the ninja that Dragon Eye had sent to assassinate him, while he stole the rutter. The ninja had favoured a poisoned hairpin as a weapon. Akiko had been struck in the neck and she’d collapsed unconscious. By all accounts, she should have died. This was just one of a number of unexplained skills and mysteries about Akiko. Like how she’d climbed the maple tree with such grace

and agility to retrieve Jack’s drawing, or how she’d survived for so long beneath the waterfall during the Circle of Three. Perhaps now was the time to ask such questions. ‘When you were sick, I overheard Sensei Yamada and Sensei Kano mentioning dokujutsu, the ninja art of poison. They thought someone might have trained you to resist such poisons and that’s why you survived?’ Akiko picked up a small pebble and threw it over the edge, watching it tumble through the air and into the sea. ‘It wasn’t anything as mysterious as that,’ she dismissed. ‘I’ve always been lucky that way. Do you remember when you first met me I used to dive with the ama people searching for pearls? Well, I’ve been stung by jellyfish so many times I lost count. Once I was even bitten by a blowfish, and they’re deadly. I was ill for a number of days after, but I recovered. I’ve just got a high tolerance to things like that.’ That seemed logical to Jack, but it didn’t explain her other mysteries. ‘So what about…’ But Akiko rose to her feet and began to undo her obi. Jack gawped in astonishment. A Japanese lady would never remove her obi in public. Then again, Akiko was not a typical Japanese girl. Being of samurai class, she shouldn’t have associated with the ama divers in the first place. It was considered beneath her status. But, as Akiko had once explained to Jack, she loved the freedom of the ocean. It was the only place she could escape the rigid confines of Japanese life. ‘Talking of the ama, I really need a swim,’ announced Akiko.

She noticed Jack staring. ‘No peeking,’ she laughed, indicating for Jack to turn round, before handing him the outer layer of her kimono. Securing her undergarments tightly round her, she dived off the cliff and into the cove. Jack rushed to the edge, but could only see the white ripples of water where she’d entered the ocean. He caught sight of a shadow swimming deep within the bay and, if Jack hadn’t known better, he would have sworn it was a mermaid. After a while, though, Akiko hadn’t surfaced and he began to worry, fearing that something had happened to her. Then, just like a seal pup, her head popped up on the other side of the cove. She swam over to the inlet beach and beckoned Jack to join her. Jack untied the horses and led them down the path towards her. By the time he got to the beach, she was almost dry and Jack passed her the kimono. Back turned, he waited patiently for her to get changed. ‘You may look now.’ Jack found Akiko holding out her hand. In her palm was a large, closed oval-shaped shell. ‘It’s an oyster. I spotted it under a rock at the bottom of the cove,’ she explained, placing it in his hand. ‘Go on, see if there’s a pearl inside!’ Jack took the gnarled shell and, using the ninja’s tantō he carried, prised the shell apart. The knife slipped as it broke the seal

and he pricked his finger on the blade again. Jack quickly sheathed the weapon before the cursed tantō did any more damage. Akiko gave a small gasp as Jack opened up the oyster. Inside was a black shiny pearl, the colour of Akiko’s eyes. ‘That’s a rare find,’ she breathed. ‘It must be one of the most perfect black pearls I’ve ever seen.’ Jack passed it back to Akiko. ‘No,’ she said, closing his palm round the precious pearl. ‘It’s my gift to you.’ Jack wanted to thank her, but for a moment words failed him. ‘There you are!’ cried the samurai guard Taka-san, riding down the beach on his horse. ‘You’re summoned back home immediately. Masamoto-sama’s on his way.’ ooo000ooo 8 BUSHIDO ‘A disgraced samurai must commit seppuku!’ Masamoto thundered, delivering his judgement upon Jack. He sat upon a raised dais in the reception room of Hiroko’s house, his face fuming like a volcano. Even after two months, his anger at his adopted son still raged, the scarring that ran down the left-hand side of his face was inflamed and his amber eyes burnt fiercely.

Jack looked fearfully at his guardian. He’d once been told by Akiko what seppuku was, but his terror at Masamoto’s anger had wiped it clean from his mind. All he knew was that it wasn’t good. Jack glanced over to Akiko for an explanation, but she remained bowing, face down to the floor, just as Yamato was. ‘Seppuku is ritualized suicide,’ stated Masamoto, noting Jack’s bewilderment. ‘In the Way of the Warrior, it’s considered an act of bravery for a samurai who knows he’s defeated, or disgraced, to take his own life. The deed wipes away all transgressions and the samurai’s reputation remains intact.’ Jack now understood. He had disgraced himself in the worst possible way for a samurai. By not telling Masamoto about his father’s rutter, he had broken the code of bushido, the seven virtues a samurai strove to adhere to: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honour and Loyalty. His dishonesty had cost him his guardian’s trust and a lot more besides. He’d also failed in his fundamental duty as a samurai to serve his lord. By hiding the rutter in daimyo Takatomi’s castle, which Dragon Eye then infiltrated, he had endangered the daimyo himself, the very man Masamoto was employed to protect. Without warning, Masamoto drew his wakizashi sword. The blade glinted in the light, hinting at its intent. ‘Seppuku is an extremely painful and unpleasant way to die. First, you slit open your own belly…’ Jack trembled at the thought. He recalled the warning of Father Lucius, the Jesuit priest, now deceased, who’d once taught him Japanese: ‘Step out of line and he’ll cut you into eight pieces.’

Jack had stepped out of line and he was to pay the price. All the training he’d struggled through and everything he’d strived for was to come to nothing. He would never see his sister again. He would die in Japan. ‘… then at the moment of agony, your head is chopped off!’ ‘It wasn’t their fault!’ blurted Jack as the fate of his friends suddenly came to mind. Would they be forced to commit seppuku too? ‘Please don’t punish them for my mistake. I swore them to secrecy and forced them to help me. I hid the rutter on my own. Akiko and Yamato are blameless!’ ‘I admire your loyalty to your friends, Jack-kun, but I’ve made my decision.’ ‘I’ll leave,’ begged Jack, bowing until he was prostrate on the floor. ‘I won’t burden you any more.’ ‘You can’t leave,’ stated Masamoto coolly. ‘You’re well aware that it’s not safe for you to travel alone. We both now know that Dokugan Ryu wants you dead – and for good reason. But, more importantly, I’m your guardian and you are my responsibility until you are of age. You can’t leave, since you need to return to school.’ ‘W-what?’ stuttered Jack, raising his head to glance at Masamoto. The samurai was actually grinning at him, the smile crinkling the scarred left-hand side of his face. ‘My idea of a little joke, Jack-kun,’ said Masamoto, letting out a short grunt of laughter as he resheathed his sword. ‘You don’t need

to commit seppuku and I won’t chop your head off. You haven’t disgraced yourself enough for that.’ ‘But I thought I’d broken the code of bushido,’ exclaimed Jack, not appreciating his guardian’s macabre sense of humour. ‘No, you did many things, but you always maintained bushido.’ Jack allowed himself to breathe again as Masamoto settled back on the dais. Picking up a cup of sencha from a nearby table, his guardian savoured the brew. ‘Sensei Yamada petitioned me on your behalf and I am inclined to agree with him that your decisions, however misguided, were made with the greatest consideration and respect to me. The three of you demonstrated immense loyalty to one another in your actions and you maintained your honour in fighting a formidable foe.’ ‘So do you mean we’re all going back to school?’ asked Yamato timidly, bowing his head to the tatami mat. ‘Of course you’re going back!’ snorted Masamoto, glancing at his son with annoyance. ‘But it was important that I showed the rest of the school you’d been disciplined appropriately. What you had done cannot be condoned. You jeopardized daimyo Takatomi’s safety so deserved to be suspended – in fact you warranted a far greater punishment.’ He stared gravely at each of them in turn to ensure their complete understanding of the severity of the matter.

‘However, you also deserve recognition for what you attempted and the bravery you displayed. You were bold, daring and courageous – qualities I wish to foster in all samurai of the Niten Ichi Ryū. And in light of your previous service to the daimyo Takatomi, his lordship has graciously pardoned you all.’ He clapped loudly once and the shoji doors of the reception room slid open. Three of his samurai guards entered carrying weapons. They placed a tall bamboo bow and quiver of hawkfeather arrows before Akiko. Then they presented Jack and Yamato with their confiscated daishō, the matched pair of samurai swords that represented the social power and personal honour of a samurai. ‘I reinstate your right as samurai to bear arms,’ announced Masamoto, indicating for them to pick up their weapons. Grateful for their reprieve, they all bowed. Jack reached for his swords. He relished the cool touch of the lacquered sayas, the jet-black scabbards decorated only with a small golden phoenix near the hilt. The firebird was Masamoto’s family kamon and the two swords, the katana and the shorter wakizashi, had been Masamoto’s first daishō. Jack had been given them for winning the inter-school Taryu-Jiai contest and he was glad to have them back in his possession. He drew the katana, enough to check the blade. Etched into the gleaming steel was a single name. Shizu.

Jack smiled. Masamoto’s daishō had been forged by the greatest swordsmith, Shizu-san. Jack now knew the blades were true and that they harboured the benevolent spirit of their maker – unlike the ninja’s cursed tantō he also possessed. ‘Thank you for your forgiveness, Masamoto-sama,’ said Jack, bowing once more. Masamoto nodded his head in acknowledgement and indicated with a wave of his hand that they were to leave. Standing, Jack slipped the two swords into his obi, where they rested comfortably against his hip. He couldn’t quite believe he was returning to the Niten Ichi Ryū. He would be allowed to complete his training. And he would need every ounce of skill for when he faced Dragon Eye next. At the doorway, Jack hesitated before turning back to Masamoto. ‘What is it, Jack-kun?’ enquired his guardian. Jack glanced apprehensively at Yamato. Even though his friend had insisted Hattori Tatsuo was dead, there was still a remote chance he had survived as the old woman had said. And Masamoto had commanded them to tell him everything they knew or discovered about Dokugan Ryu. If his guardian knew who the ninja really was, he may have an idea where he was located. ‘On our journey to Toba, we met an old woman who said she knew who Dragon Eye was.’

Masamoto put down his teacup and looked at Jack with sudden interest. Yamato started to shake his head, willing Jack to stop talking. ‘And? Who is he?’ demanded Masamoto. ‘Hattori Tatsuo. The woman swore he didn’t die in the Nakasendo War.’ Masamoto stared at Jack a moment longer, then began to laugh. ‘That is a tale told to scare children, Jack-kun. The Old Warlord of the North coming back from the dead. I’m afraid she was teasing you. I won’t deny that there were rumours Hattori Tatsuo had been sighted after the war, but I found them a little difficult to believe.’ ‘Why?’ asked Jack. ‘Because I chopped the man’s head off.’ Jack nodded slowly, finally accepting the truth. The only lead he had turned out to be a dead end. Literally. He realized now all he could do was wait for Dragon Eye to come to him. ‘Dokugan Ryu is no ghost,’ said Masamoto, the utterance of the ninja’s name making him scowl. ‘Evil, despicable and ruthless, yes, but he’s an assassin for hire. No more, no less. Talking of which, I’ve made some careful enquiries as to this rutter of yours.’ Jack looked up hopefully. ‘I’m afraid no one has come across it, or even heard of it. The ninja himself has gone to ground. Probably in preparation for a new

assignment. But considering the value of the rutter, I’m sure it will turn up sooner rather than later. I’ll let you know if I hear any more.’ ‘Thank you,’ said Jack, bowing to hide his disappointment. ‘In the meantime, you should stay alert. If Dragon Eye does fail to decipher it, he will undoubtedly be back. And you need to be ready. That is why, when we return to Kyoto next month for the opening of the Hall of the Hawk, you will have a new sensei. And I understand he is a tyrant.’ ‘Who is he?’ asked Jack, worried the teacher might be as vindictive and bigoted as his taijutsu master, Sensei Kyuzo. ‘Me!’ Masamoto laughed. ‘It’s time I taught you the Two Heavens.’ ooo000ooo 9 THE HALL OF THE HAWK ‘YOUNG SAMURAI!’ roared Masamoto across the expanse of the Niten Ichi Ryū’s pebbled courtyard. The entire school fell silent, having gathered excitedly for the opening ceremony of the Taka-no-ma. Masamoto stood upon the veranda of a magnificent wooden building, accompanied by his sensei, the daimyo Takatomi and a Shinto priest.

Though about half the size of the Butokuden, the Hall of the Hawk complemented its larger brother like the two swords in a daishō. Constructed entirely of dark cypress wood, the hall was eight columns across and six deep with a large curved roof of palerusset tiles. The borders of the roof were decorated with rows of ceramic roundels, each bearing the kamon of a crane. ‘We are greatly honoured by the presence of daimyo Takatomi,’ began Masamoto, bowing deep in respect to his lord, ‘for it is he who has graciously bestowed this new training hall upon the Niten Ichi Ryū.’ The students clapped loudly and their daimyo stepped forward. Takatomi was dressed in his finest ceremonial kimono, the family crest of a crane picked out in white and silver thread. His right hand stroked his pencil-thin moustache, while his left rested nonchalantly upon his sword and generous round belly. Jack had met with the daimyo before the opening ceremony to offer his formal apology for hiding the rutter in his castle. It had been accepted, but the warmth of friendship the daimyo had once extended to him was now gone. Jack knew he’d burnt that bridge and would not be invited back to Nijo Castle ever again. ‘In recognition of the great service Masamoto-sama and his school have rendered me over the years, I am proud to be opening the Taka-no-ma. It is my hope that this hall will be a beacon of light in dark times.’ A genial man of typically good humour, the daimyo’s expression was uncharacteristically solemn as he nodded to the Shinto priest to begin the ceremony.

The priest, in his traditional white robe and black conical hat, made his way over to the main entrance where a temporary altar had been erected – a small square marked out by a thin-knotted rope and four green stems of bamboo. In the centre a tiered wooden shrine held a green-leafed branch from a sakaki tree, festooned with white paper streamers. Jack watched with interest as the Shinto priest intoned an incantation and lit an offering of incense. ‘Has the ritual begun yet?’ whispered a small voice to Jack’s right. Jack looked down at his friend Yori, a boy large of heart but slight of stature. He couldn’t see the proceedings from behind the taller students. ‘I think so,’ replied Jack. ‘The priest’s now scattering salt and waving a flat wooden stick at the shrine.’ ‘That’s his shaku,’ explained Yori eagerly. ‘He’s purifying the new building. He’ll then make an offering to the gods and invite the kami spirits in.’ ‘What for?’ asked Jack. ‘We hope the kami will bless the hall’s shrine with their energy and bring prosperity and good fortune to the new building.’ Jack watched as the priest summoned daimyo Takatomi over and presented him with a small evergreen sprig. The daimyo turned to the shrine and placed the sacred sprig on the lowest shelf of the

wooden altar. Then, as was the custom, he bowed deeply two times, clapped his hands twice and bowed once more. With the formal offering made, the Shinto priest invited the kami to leave the ritual site, scattering water at the entrance. There was a brief moment of silence, then the doors to the Hall of the Hawk opened. ‘What did our daimyo mean by a beacon of light in dark times?’ asked Kiku, Akiko’s good friend, a petite girl with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. ‘I’m not sure, but it was a very strange thing to say,’ Akiko agreed, as they all slipped off their sandals and entered the Takano-ma to view its grand interior. Once inside, they gathered at the edge of the training area, a beautifully polished wooden floor empty save for a stack of small tables in one corner. Upon the rear wall was a raised shrine, which the students would bow to before commencing their training. Apart from that, there appeared to be little decoration. Until they looked up. The ceiling had been painted with a mural of a huge hawk in mid-swoop, its wings spread wide, its talons splayed. The strength and swiftness of the bird was apparent in every brushstroke. Standing beneath it, Jack realized the students were meant to be the hawk. Otherwise they would be its prey. ‘Maybe the daimyo thinks there’s going to be a war,’ suggested Jack. The previous year, Jack had overheard his school rival, Kazuki, talking about Kamakura, the daimyo of Edo Province, planning to

wage all-out war against Christians in Japan. Since then, there had been increasing cases of persecution and a growing prejudice against foreigners, but the campaign itself had yet to amount to a full-blown crusade. ‘Jack could be right,’ said Yamato. ‘We all know what daimyo are like. They’re always fighting over one another’s territorities.’ ‘But the Council of Regents have held the peace for almost ten years now,’ Kiku replied. ‘There’s not been a war since the Battle of Nakasendo. Why should there be one now?’ ‘Maybe daimyo Takatomi was referring to the martial art we’ll be taught here?’ proposed Yori, his eyes wide and fearful at the talk of war. ‘But what exactly are we going to be learning?’ butted in Saburo, a round-faced, jovial boy with thick bushy eyebrows. ‘I can’t see any weapons in this dojo. And who’s going to teach us?’ ‘I believe that’s our new sensei,’ said Akiko, indicating a tall, thin lady talking to Masamoto. Dressed in a black kimono with a stark white obi, the woman had ashen skin and colourless lips. Her eyes were the deepest brown and, despite their warmth, spoke of a great sadness. Yet the most striking aspect of her appearance was the waist-length mane of snow-white hair. ‘Who is she?’ asked Saburo. ‘Nakamura Oiko,’ breathed Kiku in awe. ‘My father once talked of her. She’s a great female warrior who became famous when her

husband was killed during the Nakasendo War. Her hair turned white with grief overnight, but she still took over his battalion and led them to victory. She’s legendary for her skill with the naginata.’ ‘Naginata?’ queried Jack. ‘It’s a long wooden shaft with a curved blade on the end,’ Yamato explained. ‘It’s a woman’s weapon,’ dismissed Saburo. ‘Not if you’re on the wrong end of it,’ snapped Akiko, irritated by Saburo’s remark. ‘The naginata’s only favoured by women because it has a greater reach than a sword, allowing us to overcome a much bigger opponent.’ She stared meaningfully at Saburo’s well-fed stomach. Saburo instinctively placed a protective hand over his belly, his mouth falling open as he tried to think of a suitable reply. ‘Who’s the boy next to Sensei Nakamura?’ Yori asked quickly, aware the conversation was in danger of becoming an argument. They glanced over to a good-looking boy with dark hair tied into a topknot. He appeared to be a couple of years older, but his physique was slight and he possessed the soft cultured features of a nobleman. He stood quietly beside Sensei Nakamura, seemingly at ease in his new surroundings. ‘That’s Takuan, her son,’ said a voice from behind. Jack turned round to see Emi, daimyo Takatomi’s elegant daughter, a slender girl with long straight hair and a rose-petal

mouth. Either side of her were her two friends, Cho and Kai, both of whom seemed transfixed by the new boy. ‘Emi, how are you feeling now?’ asked Jack, bowing. The last time Jack had seen Emi she’d been unconscious after the female ninja Sasori had struck her in the neck and knocked her out. ‘Fine,’ she replied coolly, ‘though it took over a week for the bruising to go down.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ mumbled Jack. ‘Not as sorry as my father was for having invited you into his castle.’ Jack didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t expected such a prickly reaction from Emi. He thought they’d become friends. Emi gave Jack an icy stare before turning on her heel and gliding away in the direction of Takuan. ‘I don’t think you’re her favourite samurai any more,’ commented Saburo in Jack’s ear. ‘Thanks for pointing that out,’ replied Jack, irritably digging Saburo in the stomach with his elbow. ‘I’m not the one who almost got the daimyo’s daughter killed!’ Saburo complained, rubbing his injured belly. ‘That’s enough! Jack’s already made his formal apology to the daimyo,’ interrupted Yamato, seeing the shame in Jack’s eyes. ‘The new boy does seem to be making rather an impression, though.’

Jack looked round and saw that the girls in the hall had their attention turned towards Takuan, many whispering and giggling behind their hands. Takuan, who was engaged in conversation with Emi, glanced over in their direction and spotted Akiko beside Jack. He gave her a broad smile and inclined his head, inviting Akiko to join them. Akiko returned the greeting, her face blushing at the attention. Still smarting from Emi’s harsh reception, Jack was surprised to find himself irritated by this exchange. ‘He looks more poet than warrior,’ commented Jack. ‘What’s he doing in a samurai school?’ Akiko frowned at Jack. ‘I expect that he’s going to train with us.’ ‘Us?’ said Jack. ‘Yes, he probably knows a lot more than just poetry considering his mother’s reputation. We should go and welcome him.’ Jack lingered behind as Akiko, Kiku and Yori went over to greet Takuan. ‘Hey, the gaijin’s back!’ mocked a familiar voice. Jack groaned. Of all the people he didn’t want to see the first day back at the Niten Ichi Ryū, it was Kazuki. His sworn enemy strode over, arrogant as ever. His head recently shaved, and wearing his jet-black kimono with its red sun kamon emblazoned on the back, he looked every bit the son of a man supposedly related to the Imperial Line. His dark hooded eyes glared at Jack as if offended by his very presence.

Kazuki was flanked by the core members of his so-called Scorpion Gang: Nobu, who by his huge girth appeared to harbour hopes of becoming a sumo wrestler; Goro, a tough-looking boy with deep-set eyes; and Hiroto, thin and wiry as a stick insect, with a cruel, high-pitched voice. The only one missing was Moriko, the black-toothed samurai girl, who studied at their rival school, the Yagyu Ryū. The gang, formed in preparation for daimyo Kamakura’s supposed crusade, were firmly against the idea of gaijin settling in Japan. Since Jack was the only foreigner in the Niten Ichi Ryū, he was their primary target for harassment. ‘We were trying to decide whether you’d been roasted, boiled or burnt alive!’ said Kazuki. Jack stared impassively back. He was determined not to give Kazuki or his gang the reaction they wanted. ‘Go away, Kazuki,’ said Jack. ‘That’s old news.’ ‘Is it?’ Kazuki taunted. ‘The last I heard, daimyo Kamakura was offering rewards to those who brought Christians to justice. You do realize, Yamato, that these gaijin are spreading an evil religion. They’re trying to convert samurai to their alien beliefs in order to overthrow all the daimyo and rule Japan for themselves.’ ‘If that was the case, why would daimyo Takatomi convert to Christianity?’ challenged Yamato, stepping between Jack and the approaching gang. ‘He serves the Emperor and is no fool.’ ‘He doesn’t realize the true extent of their plans,’ replied Kazuki, lowering his voice, ‘Unlike daimyo Kamakura who’s passing a law that will banish all Christians from Japan. And good riddance to them!’

‘That may be daimyo Kamakura’s will in Edo Province, but it’s not here in Kyoto,’ retorted Yamato. ‘Now back off!’ Kazuki took a step closer. ‘I’ve no quarrel with you, Yamato. My issue is with the gaijin only. There’s no need for you to be involved.’ Yamato stood his ground, eyeballing Kazuki. ‘You pick a fight with Jack, you pick a fight with me too.’ ooo000ooo 10 THE MATCH Kazuki and his gang closed ranks against Jack, Yamato and Saburo. The Hall of the Hawk was busy with students and the confrontation passed unnoticed amid the crowd. ‘Why do you always insist on protecting the gaijin?’ demanded Kazuki. ‘Because he’s family,’ replied Yamato. Kazuki stared at him dumbfounded. Even Jack was taken aback by his friend’s statement. Yamato had never before declared their relationship in such a binding and familiar manner. ‘I remember a time when you hated him,’ Kazuki spat. ‘You despised your father’s decision to adopt a gaijin. He’s taking your

brother’s place! Can’t you see he’s even replaced you in your father’s affections?’ ‘What do you mean?’ retorted Yamato. ‘Unless I’m mistaken, it’s Jack, and not you, who’s being taught the Two Heavens. He’s not even samurai! How can you stand by and let a gaijin be taught your father’s secret sword technique?’ Yamato’s face went taut as he fought with his emotions. Jack knew Kazuki had hit a raw nerve. Yamato was always struggling to gain his father’s respect. His failure to enter the Circle of Three and warrant learning the Two Heavens was still a sore point for him. ‘Doesn’t it bother you that you’re not considered good enough for the Two Heavens? And he is!’ Jack immediately rose to his f