The Velvet Samurai

Nobu Go Den rested quietly on his knees under the branches of an ancient tree, his eyelids closed, his mind on the verge of sensing. It was approaching evening, the sixth hour past midday by his reckoning, and the sun had slid behind the western walls of the Golden Torii Shrine, casting a hint of blue-grey over the garden within. A cricket sounded somewhere amidst the sparse stones and shrubs beside the wall to his left, the anticipation of the coming of eventide. Silence. Peace. Nobu Go Den did not know how long he had been meditating, when he felt a stirring in the tranquillity of the Shrine. With his eyes still closed, he focused his attention on the gate in the Western Wall behind him. On Noruburu stood on the threshold of the narrow doorway, his hand resting on the ancient iron latch. "It is time, my Lord," said the aide softly in precise and ancient Japanese. Nobu Go Den rose from his kneeling, and nodding to the elder, approached the doorway and passed through into the shadows beyond.

On Noruburu held a paper lantern above his head as the two moved through a darkened passageway, then out into the early evening under low hanging willows in the inner courtyard of the Shrine. The expanse of small pebbles had been raked in swirling patterns around two large granite stones set in precise locations. Each had significance couched in ancient times; each represented an elemental source; each touched the realms of the spirit world where resided ancestors of Nobu Go Den's line. The two bowed low as they approached the pathway leading between the two granite stones. On Noruburu paused, knowing he must wait for Nobu Go Den to lead the way along the path. Nobu Go Den bowed a second time, deeper still, and lifted his eyes to the far corner of the stone garden. He moved past the larger of the granite rocks, and walking slowly and deep in thought, kept his steel-grey eyes fixed on a large memorial stone standing beside a miniature cypress tree near the stone wall. This was the shrine of Higashii Sagawa, Samurai Warrior and High Lord of Hiroshima Prefecture, and father of Nobu Go Den. On Noruburu followed along the pathway behind Nobu Go Den, listening to the familiar crunch of hemp sandals on polished stones. Nobu Go Den stopped before the memorial stone, and knelt in the presence of his ancestors.

Darkness fell completely over the city as Nobu Go Den left the Golden Torii Shrine, exiting through a hidden doorway in the massive stone wall along the river's edge. He moved quickly through the darkened streets, eluding the eyes of those intent on his capture, returning safely to his sanctuary in the hills not far distant from the heart of the city of his ancestors.

On Noruburu accepted the wooden message holder from a young man in rags, and nodded as the messenger exited the Royal Castle. On Noruburu, scribe and confidante to the Emperor, carried the message into the Royal sitting room, and at the doorway, bowed deeply. He held his bow until Jeiichi Geirurord, Emperor of all Japan, acknowledged his presence from his place on a low dais. He motioned for On Noruburu to bring him the message. On Noruburu bowed and held the message container for the Emperor, and as his royal highness received it, On Noruburu turned and moved to the side of the room. Kneeling on a tatami with black velvet trim, he awaited the Emperor's word. Emperor Geirurord opened the light wooden message holder, and his eyes quickly scanned the brief communication. He frowned. Then, he mumbled under his breath. All of a sudden, he exploded in a violent rage, slamming the message holder and rice paper contents to the floor. He stood up, and stormed around the low dais, expelling an angry tirade directed at no one in particular, but feared by all in his immediate presence. Tomo Neru-San, Rogue Warlord of Nagasaki Prefecture, although as fearful as the others, because of his position moved swiftly to Emperor Geirurord's side.

Tomo Neru-San was a small man, wiry and angular, with dark eyes that blazed from under heavy brows. His voice, however, was high-pitched, with a whining quality that grated on one's nerves, very much at odds with his fierce demeanor. His reputation was violent and dark, his temper always worn on his sleeve. His lashing tongue was known personally by many within the Prefecture, and feared by all others by word of mouth. His position as Rogue War Lord of Nagasaki Prefecture was hereditary, and one built upon stealth and cunning, both of his ancestors as well as his own. His stature within the Empire was second only to Emperor Jeiichi Geirurord because of his family's heritage, and but a hair's breadth above Jimmu Burutan, the Emperor's Keeper of the Imperial Treasury. In matter of fact, the three constituted an unholy alliance for the governing of the Island Empire, ruling with a collective iron fist, patience all but a lost art amongst the three.

"This Nobu Go Den is making a mockery of me and my authority!" hissed the Emperor. "He is but a shadow that comes and goes at will, and neither the Imperial Armies nor those of every Prefecture in all Japan can capture him!" Emperor Geirurord paced back and forth on the low dais, his hands clenched behind him, his visage tight and grim, the vessels at his temples pulsing fiercely. "The people laugh at the Emperor! Why cannot he be stopped, this devil?" Rage filled the eyes of the distressed Emperor, as he put his fist through the rice paper wall.

Tomo Neru-San whispered to Emperor Geirurord, "Nobu Go Den is close at hand, and very near to being captured, Emperor Geirurord." He swallowed noticeably, and continued: "He was observed exiting the Golden Torii Shrine near the Nakayama Bridge last evening. He was followed by my men…" - a pause - "but unfortunately, he…ah…eluded them in the darkness of the night." Tomo Neru-San looked at the tatami mat beneath his knees, perspiration forming at his temples, a clearly pained expression on his face. He winced at the sucking in of the Emperor's breath. "A thousand pearls for the hand that delivers this bandit's head," whispered Emperor Geirurord not looking up. "And your head will sit beside it, if it is not your hand that delivers it," finished the enraged Emperor. "As is your pleasure, Emperor Geirurord," whispered Tomo Neru-San weakly. He rose, and bowing low, turned and left the Royal sitting room.

Stopping in the entryway of the Royal sitting room, Tomo Neru-San grasped his second by the throat: "See that those who lost Nobu Go Den last night are dealt with properly! And then, see to it that someone finds this rogue, or your life is forfeit!" He hesitated for a moment, and then added, "Let it be known beyond the walls of the Imperial Castle, that the Golden Torii Shrine has been struck by vandals, and a horrible desecration has occurred to the memorial gardens and burial sanctuaries. That should flush out our wily Nobu Go Den! Then, see to it that the Imperial Guard is at the ready in the rear courtyard, prepared to take him. Do it, now - and do not fail!" And with that, he thrust his aide roughly aside, and went to his room in the western tower.

As Tomo Neru-San left the Royal sitting room, Jimmu Burutan followed On Noruburu down the cold corridors into the lower chambers. He had heard reports that the Royal Scribe was observed entering the Imperial Castle late the previous night, and found this to be a curious circumstance. At the bottom of the stone stairs, On Noruburu turned and caught a glimpse of Jimmu Burutan in the shadows following him, and in a quiet voice greeted his old nemesis: "So, Jimmu Burutan! How is it you are so deep in the bowels of the Royal Castle, and at this late hour of the night?" His eyes closed ever so slightly, and held the shifting eyes of the Royal Keeper of the Imperial Treasury. Jimmu Burutan looked awkward and upset, and stammered, "I…I was…umm…I…there…there are rumors…um…of you coming in late last night…" - his voice trailed off. He couldn't keep eye contact with On Noruburu, and fumbled with his sash nervously. On Noruburu smiled, and approached Jimmu Burutan, and placed his hand on the shaking man's shoulder. "And, what do you think is the meaning of this?" asked the high scribe in a low whisper. "Of what importance is this in your mind?" Jimmu Burutan sniveled, and drooled onto his Royal sandals. He turned to leave, and ran into the corner of the wall, bumping his head and drawing blood from a tiny cut. "It…It was nothing, Noruburu-San," Jimmu Burutan mumbled, and then he was gone.

On Noruburu stood in the corridor for a moment, considering this brief encounter. Just then, he heard the shuffling of hemp sandals on the stone corridor, and ducked into a doorway just as Yukio Shibata rounded the corner. Shibata-San was the elderly and faithful aide to Tomo Neru-San. He had served him exceedingly well for the past 20 years, in spite of the abusive treatment he received at the hands of his master. He was blind from birth, an affliction the result of severe fevers, and in spite of his devotion was mistreated and taken quite for granted by Tomo Neru-San. As he passed, Shibata-San whispered under his breath, "You are most careless, Noruburu-San..."

On Noruburu was startled that his presence in the darkness was known, and standing a mere arm's length from Shibata-San, asked, "You knew I was present, Shibata-San?" "Of course, Noruburu-San," replied the blind one. "What do you mean, that I am careless?" asked On Noruburu. "Your comings and goings are not as clandestine as you believe," replied Shibata-San, "and devilish minds are set to wondering." Shibata-San relayed his concern to Norubu-san that through carelessness he would give indication of the whereabouts of Nobu Go Den, and that would be such a blow to the rebellion. On Noruburu winced at the thought, and apologized to his elder friend. "What must I do?" he asked. "Trust no one," whispered the elder, his sightless eyes holding those of his younger friend. "And, know always the whereabouts of your superiors - know their every move, the times of their activities by the light of day and in the shadows of night." Shibata-San was silent for a while. Then, he added, "Tomo Neru-San and Jimmu Burutan are quite the predictable ones," and he smiled, and his sightless eyes twinkled. "You already know their nature and their habits. You must act accordingly, On Noruburu." And with that Shibata-San turned and silently padded off down the corridor, and pausing at the corner near the stone stairs, slipped around the stone column and disappeared up the stairway.

The new crescent moon rose above the hills to the east of the city. On Noruburu slipped out the wooden doorway, and onto the pathway at the river's edge. In the folds of his clothing he carried a message container with information about the Emperor's troop strengths throughout the Realm, and of the covert plan to trap Nobu Go Den at the Golden Torii Shrine. As he walked along the banks of the river, he sensed a change in the prevailing winds that blew over the city, and wondered at their whispered powers. Yukio Shibata stood in the shadows of an ancient willow near the pathway, and as On Noruburu approached, whispered, "You have done well, Noruburu-San. It is now time." The two men moved quickly along the paths and alleyways winding through the sleeping city, and tread their way outside the watchful eyes of the Emperor's imperial guards. The night grew colder as clouds moved in off the seas to the south, and the winds picked up and whipped the branches of the trees as they passed beneath. Before long they were apprehended by silent warriors, who materialized out of the darkness and covered their eyes and bound their arms. They continued in the escort of their captors in the darkness made even darker by the blindfolds. The two men could feel the ground beneath their feet rising more steeply, and they knew they had left any semblance of a pathway as they stumbled over the uneven ground and waded through bushes and low-lying shrubs that tore at their clothing. Yukio Shibata was stoic in his demeanor, and On Noruburu marveled at his patience and will-power, for the thorn bushes ripped at their clothing and tore at their skin underneath.

On Noruburu's mind struggled to grasp where they were going, but the group suddenly stopped, and he stumbled into the leader who had stopped just in front of him. "Gomen-nasai," he whispered. "It is nothing," came the whispered reply. Then, a familiar voice instructed the men to unbind the two, and remove the bands covering their eyes. On Noruburu rubbed his eyes, and blinked in the darkness. Before him stood his long-time friend and leader of the rebellion, Nobu Go Den, his steel-grey eyes flashing, his smile gleaming in the semidarkness of torchlight. "Come, my friends," the leader of the rebellion bellowed, his voice shattering the silence of the night. The three walked along a rocky outcropping, and came to the crest of a cliff overlooking the mountain ranges between them and the sea. Nobu Go Den remarked in a voice at once sad and triumphant, "The Kamikaze are blowing tonight, dear friends." On Noruburu nodded his head in concurrence. "They shall visit upon the Emperor and his mighty armies such a death blow!" Nobu Go Den smiled, and held the eyes of his guests. As they looked out toward the sea, they could feel the icy winds against their faces, the heavy moisture in the air, and the unheard thunder in the heavens.

The rains came in torrents, unrelenting and unmerciful. The winds blew as none had ever experienced in all their lives, wrenching up trees, crushing wooden structures, and destroying wholesale the landscape. A tidal wave 40 meters high slammed into the harbor, crushing the Imperial Navy, and by sheer chance, the Emperor himself. War Lord Tomo Neru-San and many of the men of the army of the Nagasaki Prefecture were buried in devastating mudslides near the Golden Torii Shrine, the result of the torrential rains and swollen rivers. Jimmu Burutan survived the ravages of the forces of nature, but under the incredible stress of all the events occurring, his mind slipped over the precipice of madness, and he was reduced to a shattered figure of a man. In spite of the destruction caused by the storm, the City survived, and on a sunny day several days hence the people welcomed into their hearts and into their lives the leader of the rebellion, Nobu Go Den...