Lord Sojobo, King of the Tengus
I started writing “Kimono” 7 years ago, and life got in the way. Other books, too. But it’s a long novel, transposing from the 21st century to the early 18th. Mari is a 21st century woman flung backward (by a magic kimono) into feudal Japan.
Lord Yoki is a former samurai, but more importantly, he is a Tengu. Mischief making creatures who adopt the appearance of whatever species fits their needs. This Lord Yoki is able to travel between centuries.
The Kimono, Chapter 25
The women were gathered apart from the men, under the trees. The glow from lanterns fell prettily on their faces; at least the faces Mari could see, veiled in the shadows of evening. The men were at a distance, sprawled under the trees, surrounding a brazier where brown sake bottles warmed in an endless kettle.
Mari had eaten dried bonito, roasted seaweed, and rice dumplings enough for a month. A screen had been set up between the two parties, and Mari realized the advantages of this device. They could eat, instead of picking at a small piece of fish, a teaspoon of rice. It would have been unseemly for women to eat with any gusto in front of men. Soft laughter sounded in the dusk, as women and even the two servants of Lady Nyo joined in the finger and guessing games of the girls from the inn.
Lady Nyo is called upon by Lord Ekei to play the samisen.
Though there was soft laughter from behind their screen, it was much different amongst the men. The clink of sake bottles, the laughter, and the general noise the men made as they related their stories, boastings and lies made this cherry blossom viewing more of a loud disturbance than a quiet, reflective contemplation of the beautiful blossoms. Mari wondered how long this would go on.
The blossoms only lasted three days before they fell. Surely the men could not last so long!
A servant came to the screen, knelt down and relayed a message to Lady Nyo. She was respectfully requested to entertain the men with her samisen. Lady Nyo rolled her eyes at Mari and Mari burst into laughter. But duty was duty, and Lady Nyo approached the men, bowed low and settled herself on a cushion with the instrument.
Lord Mori patted a cushion next to him and Mari could see by his face he was already drunk.
Lady Nyo quickly tuned the samisen and started a sad song.
Mari heard the strange tinny sounds of the instrument and the voice of Lady Nyo. How surprising was her voice, a low contralto, rich and not at all what Mari expected. Though Mari couldn’t understand the words, the tune apparently was well known to the men, as they fell quiet and seemed to contemplate other things than their drinking and merriment. Another song was requested by Lord Ekei after the first, and this was more upbeat than the first. Or perhaps it was just in a different key? It seemed to be less sad and her playing was faster.
Mari already knew poetry would be her part of the entertainment. She wracked her memory for some of the poems of Saigyo and Ono no Komachi. These she studied from a small book Lady Nyo had given her. She cobbled verse from words she could identify. It wasn’t easy, and it wouldn’t be the poetry of these fine poets, but it was all she had. Since there was to be a full moon tonight, Mari thought she would recite some of Saigyo’s moon poems. She didn’t trust her memory completely but thought the sake the men had already drunk would dull their own memories. She was betting on this.
Mari had to pee, excused herself and walked with a serving girl apart from the gathering. There was a narrow path leading upwards from the cherry trees and into a bamboo stand. When she came out and was making her way back, a man standing on the path bowed to her. He was dressed very elegantly, a handsome man, but there was something a bit familiar about him. Mari bowed to him, out of politeness, and supposed he was one of the many people out to admire the cherry blossoms and the rising of the moon.
She was about to pass when he spoke.
“Ho! You do not recognize me? Perhaps my robes are too fine for a mere tengu.” He smiled broadly at her and chuckled.
Mari recognized Lord Yoki, but what a difference from the first viewing! Tall, with shiny black hair arranged on his head, his robes were embroidered with silver thread on a dark plum background. Only his feet in his sandals with the claws of a bird, gave him away. Mari started to laugh when she saw his feet, but realized she would offend and threw her hand over her mouth.
“Send your girl ahead and we will stroll back and talk.”
Mari gestured to the servant and she disappeared down the path.
“So, my dear lady. Have you found why you are on pilgrimage with our Lord Mori?”
Mari considered her answer. No, she hadn’t, not really. But perhaps giving any information to Lord Yoki would be disloyal to Lord Mori.
The tengu watched her out of the side of his eye. She was playing her cards close to her bosom. Perhaps she really didn’t have a clue why she was accompanying her lord.
“What I do know, is this, my lord. Women are not allowed on Gassan, so I, with Lady Nyo and the servants, will remain in a temple at the foot of the mountain. More than that, I haven’t been told.”
This was only part right. Lord Mori had informed her, though only in a few terse words, that he was seeking counsel from someone on the mountain, that he was pushed between the actions of Lord Kiyama and the lord Tokugawa. Who this man he was to seek counsel was unknown, at least to Mari.
“Ah. I see. You are informed correctly. Women are not allowed on the mountain. The kami up there are particular about whom they choose to entertain. They are not known for their friendliness either. They are a tricky bunch of demons up there, so Lord Mori’s plans are in consideration for your safety.”
Lord Yoki didn’t reveal that Gassan was a historic home of tengu, and they classed women in the order of arrogant priests: something to bedevil and dismay upon crossing. He also did not say that the ‘man’ Lord Mori and company would be meeting with was the all-powerful Lord Sojobo. He would be the most dangerous tengu of all. He held a fan made of feathers and when he was displeased, not uncommon for him, he would casually wave the fan and all sorts of mischief could happen. One might be swept from the mountain and find themselves in a ravine somewhat bruised for the journey. Lord Yoki knew this from personal experience. He seemed to get on the nerves of his Lord Sojobo easily.
“Well, there is a journey of at least two days between here and Gassan, so you might find out more what you seek. Then again, you might not. It is hard to determine fate.”
Mari figured he knew more than he was telling, but she also knew that men of this century, even men- appearing tengu, could not be forced to give up much information. It was something about their nature.
They returned to their site, and Mari bowed to Lord Yoki, noticing that his robes had seemed to lengthen, covering his feet. If, by his appearance he surprised or confused the men assembled under the trees drinking sake, they gave no sign of it. Mori, Ekei, and Nyo bowed from their cushions and Lord Yoki was made room for amongst them. Mari returned behind the screen, accompanied by Lady Nyo.
In a low voice, Lady Nyo began to speak.
“My lady, we were concerned for your safety. When I saw you approach with a gentleman, I was most worried. But I see that it was Lord Yoki, and my mind settled. Please consider your safety when you venture out without at least a few servants. There are robbers on these trails, and Lord Mori would hold us all accountable if anything were to happen to you.”
Mari looked at her in surprise. How did she know it was Lord Yoki that stood beside her? Perhaps he appeared differently to her than to the others? Perhaps Lord Yoki threw glamour over him to befuddle her eyes? Or perhaps Lady Nyo was used to his tricks? There was more than Mari had answers, but then again, there was much more to these woods and this century than she could fathom.