My latest story, The Wooden Samurai, will be available this Saturday, June 24 from JMS Books!
In 1708 Japan, Hirata, a samurai serving Lord Takarada, is enjoying his elevated status in the daimyo’s army when he finds a gift, a wooden carving of a samurai on a horse. Hirata realizes he has a secret admirer but who is it? He discovers it is Matsuda, a young archer in Takarada’s retinue, who has taken a liking to Hirata.
But Hirata is not ready for a relationship with a man and refuses Matsuda. After his rejection, Hirata realizes that he does love Matsuda, but now the archer is far away with Lord Takarada in Edo Castle and he does not know when they will return.
Hirata decides on a plan to convince Matsuda that he is ready, but before he can put it into action, an earthquake and a tsunami destroy the daimyo’s manor.
Hirata becomes frantic, since he has no idea if Matsuda is alive and if he will ever see him again.
Hirata entered the barracks, walking to the room he shared with eleven other samurai officers to shed his traveling cloak before the mid-day meal. Because of his rank, he did not have to bunk with dozens of men to a room, like the unranked warriors. It gave him a little more room and enough space to keep a small chest for personal belongings, like his cloak. He took it off as he approached the threshold to his room, since he would not need it again until he rode out with the next patrol that afternoon.
Hirata came to a stop in the doorway. Something wrapped in a rough cloth sat in the middle of his cot.
What is that? Is it dangerous? His samurai instincts warned him to be cautious and wary of anything out of place.
His first inclination was to throw the thing as far away into the ocean as he could, but he couldn't think of anyone who would want to do him harm. But if someone was trying to destroy the daimyo, an inside job would be most effective. Ruin the lord by decimating his loyal subjects and making it look like inner turmoil, rather than an outside influence.
I had better see what it is before I try to destroy it.
Hirata strode to his bed and snatched up the package. He tore off the wrapping and his breath caught in his throat. The cloth fell away to reveal an elaborate wooden carving of a samurai on a horse.
Hirata gaped at it, admiring its beauty and detail. He turned it over and over in his hands.
Who could have crafted something so exquisite? Or who could afford to buy something so expensive?
A samurai’s pay did not allow for such extravagant purchases so whoever bought it must have sacrificed at least three month’s salary.
Noises outside indicated men approaching. Hirata re-wrapped the figure in the cloth and put it in his small chest with his other precious items. He had just slid the chest under his bed when three of his friends appeared in the doorway.
"It is time for the mid-day meal, Hirata-san," Kenji said, a burly samurai with thick beard and hair pulled into a knot on the top of his head. "We must hurry or else it will all be eaten by the time we get there."
"You could certainly do without a meal or two," Hirata said with a laugh.
"Do not be fooled," Kenji said with the gap-toothed grin, rubbing his belly. "It is all muscle."
All of them laughed as they left the barracks. Despite his outward appearance of good humor, Hirata still wondered who had given him such an expensive gift. As he walked toward the great hall for the mid-day meal, he glanced at the faces of the servants, retainers, samurai and the rest of the daimyo’s subjects.
Could it be one of them? None of them could afford such an item. And certainly not one of Lord Takarada’s daughters, who were older than Hirata or granddaughters who were too young, but they were only ones who had that kind of wealth.
As they approached the hall, movement on the roof covering the border fence caught Hirata’s eye. The sentries and archers stationed in lookout towers were changing shifts, replacing the men who had been up there since midnight. One of the archers glanced in his direction as he approached the ladder, and their eyes met for an instant. Even with a broad hat shading the man’s face, Hirata caught his gaze for a second. An unspoken message passed between them. The archer turned to descend.