“The Kimono”, Chapter 6 with a Strong Warning to Readers…..

 

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If you have qualms reading about public executions, or extreme violence, don’t read this chapter. 

Yabusame was a practice in Medieval Japan to train samurai in archery and horseback.  It was instituted by an early Shogun because he thought his samurai warriors were short in their ability with the long bow. A rider gallops towards three targets and from his horse, hits a target.  However, at certain times in history, Japanese criminals were the targets.  I don’t know how long this practice of public execution was used, but an arrow to the heart was certainly less brutal than boiling, burning, etc…all standard forms of execution.  Also used in Europe.

Yabusame is a cultivated and honored demonstration today in many parts of Japan.  Just wooden targets, no criminals.

The practice of shibari was first used on criminals.  Depending upon the rank of the criminal, the knots were either many or none at all. This novel is a work of fiction, time travel, (from the 21st century Japan to the 17th)  but I have tried to include many practices as I have researched them. Mari is tied with many knots as she is delivered by this magic kimono to Lord Mori, hence she must be a ‘dangerous criminal’ in his eyes.  He knows she isn’t, and it’s all a joke to him.

Lady Nyo

THE KIMONO

Chapter 6:

Mari woke the next morning to the smell of coffee.  Steven was bringing in a cup and smiled at her when she sat up, blinking her eyes and yawning.

“Sleepyhead is finally awake.  You must have been tired last night.  I tried to wake you earlier this morning, but you were sleeping like the dead.”  Steven smiled down at her, the coffee’s steam floating like a ghost above in front of her.

Mari yawned again, as Steven set the mug on the bedside table.  She was naked under the sheet and glancing over the side of the bed, saw the kimono rumpled on the floor.

Sipping her coffee she wondered if there was any evidence of the lovemaking by Lord Mori on her body.  Perhaps some bruising, or some mark that would be noticed by him.  She knew now that these weren’t dreams, they were something far beyond that.  They were magic but a peculiar kind of magic.

“I think the change in season is making me sleep soundly, Steven.”  Mari buried her head in her mug and swallowed her coffee, her black hair hiding her face.  Her excuse sounded a lie even to her ears.

Steven’s voice floated back to her from the bathroom.  “Mari, you still taking your pills?”

Mari grimaced and said, “You are referring to my birth control?  Yes, Steven, still taking them.”

“Good, just checking.  We don’t want a mistake to happen.”

Something of Lord Mori’s words came back to Mari as she drank her coffee. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she would feel more bonded to Steven with a child.

“Steven, what if I got pregnant?  Pills aren’t 100%.  What if I conceived a child?”  Mari could hear him turning the water on and off as he shaved.  There was silence from the bathroom and Mari watched what she could see of him from her bed.

His voice came back to her with the tapping of his razor against the sink as he finished his shaving.  “Mari, you know how I feel about this.  A child would not fit in my plans for my career.  I have to remain mobile.  The company demands that we fly where they want me. You knew this when we married, and nothing has changed since.”

No, nothing has changed since, thought Mari.  Our marriage limps along and we have no future except your work, Steven.

Steven’s voice continued to sound from the bathroom.  “If you’re bored, Mari, then for Christ’s sake, go take some courses at a local college. Find something to occupy yourself if being married isn’t enough.”

Mari sank back into the covers and thought.  She didn’t have the energy to fight him this morning, besides she was rarely aggressive.  Steven won at most arguments because he knew this.  She wouldn’t fight openly with him.  It wasn’t in her nature.

“Steven”, she called out quietly as he came in the room, adjusting his tie and cuffs. “It’s not that I’m bored, it’s that I want something more.”

Steven stood at the end of the bed and looked at her with a mixture of confusion and anger.

“Mari, what is this ‘more’?  You have money, right?  You can buy anything you want within reason.  You can spend the entire day shopping and sightseeing.  We have a maid every place we go so you have no housework. You knew the nature of my career when you married me, so what’s the beef now?  What has changed? Look, someday we can talk about children, but right now is not the time.  You knew this when we married.”

Steven came to the side of the bed and kissed her quickly on the forehead.  He was annoyed again, Mari could tell.  He left their little company-rented house, closing the front door quietly. To Mari it was the same old argument.  The sameness of sentiment between them was wearing on her and wearing her down.

That night she knew she wanted ‘more’ and the more was clearly defined.  She knew she could escape, even if it was risking all she had.  She was dying slowly and though it would be fantastical in the telling, she made a choice for this ‘more’.

The moon was again full, and streamed into their bedroom. Steven insisted on heavy drapes, but when he was asleep, Mari opened them and knelt on the bed, the moonlight illuminating her skin.  Her breasts felt full, like the moon, and her nipples were hardened like two cherry pits.  She went and retrieved the black kimono from the closet and draped it around her, tying it loosely with a small piece of silk rope she had picked up in a shop.  It was not the elegant obi sash but just a piece of faded red rope. For some reason, it seemed to be right for the kimono.

Though the room was dark the moonlight was strong enough to illuminate the black kimono.  Mari looked down at where it was folded across her breasts, the soft mounds of them disappearing into the darkness below, caressed by the heavy crepe of the kimono. She looked up at the moon, stark in the black, velvety night, and even the lights of Kyoto could not diminish its power.  She wondered if the kimono flew her past the moon, washing her in the white beams of its light as it carried her to Lord Mori.  She wondered what the process was and what happened to her body, her atoms, her molecules enfolded in the crepe of the gown.

She pulled it tight around her hips, already feeling the knots of the embroidery cut into her skin.  She secured it with the red rope around her waist.  Quickly braiding her hair behind her head, she lay down next to Stephen, pulling the quilt up over her shoulders and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep.

*****

Mari lay on the stone floor, her arms tied behind her back by the silk rope formerly around her waist.  The kimono now open, her naked body hugging the cold wooden floor of Lord Mori’s chamber.  She looked up, startled, only able to raise her body just so far.  Lord Mori was standing at the open window, the wooden shutter thrown back against the wall.  His back was to her and she managed a throttled cry to get his attention.

“Lord Mori!”, she cried.   “Lord Mori!” She called out again.  He didn’t seem in too much a hurry to notice her on the floor.

“Do I hear a mouse calling my name?  What kami has allowed a small rodent such a gift?”

“Ah! It is Lady Mari, come to visit me so early in my room.  Does your husband know you are trussed up and lying on my floor, Lady Mari?”

“Lord Mori, please, for the love of God, untie me.  I can barely breathe on this cold floor.”

Lord Mori walked slowly, obviously in no hurry, to her side and stood looking down at Mari with a grin on his face.

“It seems the kimono has used some complex knots this time, Lady Mari.  I will have to study the pattern before I can release you. Ah! It seems that you are a dangerous criminal, for there are many knots in your binding!”

“Please, Lord Mori, I am cold here, my kimono is open and my body flat on the floor.”

“Yes, I see, Lady Mari, a good place and position for such a criminal.  Perhaps it is best that you remain where you are for a while?  Perhaps you are too dangerous to be allowed your freedom.”

He stood above her and she could hear him laughing softly.

“Please!”  I am cold and I have to pee!”

“What?  Again?  Very well then, I don’t want my floor to be soiled by your water.”

Lord Mori pulled Mari up to her feet, his eyes boldly looking at her body, now exposed by the open kimono, her nipples erect from the contact with the cold floor.  He then quickly untied the silk rope that kept her arms tightly bound behind her back.  Mari rubbed them, now free and closed her kimono, aware of his eyes upon her.

“Thank you, Lord Mori”, she said, looking up into his eyes.  “I was starting to shiver on your floor.”

“Well, come near the brazier, Lady Mari, and warm yourself.  The morning is cold yet, but it seems we are to have a fair day.  Already the clouds are dispersing and the morning birds are singing of the day.  Lord Tokugawa is still present in the castle and you have come on an auspicious day.  We are to have a ceremony in honor of my Lord this morning.  Perhaps you are familiar with the Yabusame ritual?”

Mari shook her head, now standing near the brazier, her hands out to its steady warmth.

“I thought not.  Well, we keep the gods entertained and all the other demi-gods, like our Lord Tokugawa happy with this ritual.  We ride our horses past targets and shoot our bows from horseback.  Today, we have a surplus of prisoners to substitute as targets. They are mostly common criminals, thieves, robbers and a few more dangerous.”

Lord Mori stood there looking at Mari, watching for her reaction.  It was not slow in coming.

Mari gasped, her eyes widening.  “Lord Mori, that is uncivilized! Surely you are not serious.”

“Oh yes, I am very serious.  How do you dispatch criminals in your world?”

Mari thought of her society’s methods of execution: hanging, the electric chair, and poisonous injections.  There was little to recommend in her world that was not as barbarous.

“Well, we don’t string them up and shoot arrows at them,” she said in disgust.

“But your methods are more humane?  Then tell me what they are and perhaps I should adopt them.”

Mari did and Lord Mori’s eyes became mere slits as he listened to her.

“I believe we have the many-fold advantage over your methods, girl.  We attempt to dispatch the criminals quickly with an arrow to the heart, we develop our skill with our bows and we exercise our horses at the same time.  Clearly, we have a superior method of execution than yours.  Of course, we have many more methods, but the morning grows late.”

Lord Mori removed the haunted kimono, folding it carefully and placed it on a wooden chest with reverence.  He then held out an opened kimono for Mari to wear.  Mari turned her back to him and felt the quilted kimono slip over her arms and settle on her back.  At the same time, Lord Mori pulled her firmly to him with one arm, the other freeing her long, black hair from beneath the kimono. Mari could feel his breath on the back of her head.  Lord Mori slipped a hand into her kimono, cupping a breast and squeezing her nipple.

Then, suddenly breaking off, he said, “I will send you to Lady Idu to be prepared.  You certainly cannot sit in the stands with the other women naked.”

Mari was sent to Lady Idu who received her with thinly disguised distaste.

Once again she supervised the bath and the dressing of Mari.  The cosmetics were applied and the false eyebrows were applied high on Mari’s forehead.  She was handed a small mirror and she barely suppressed a giggle at the surprise the mirror gave her. She did look fully Japanese with the makeup and robed in layers of thin silk kimonos.

Lady Nyo was again in attendance and together the two women sat and talked softly until

Lady Idu clapped her hands together and summoned all the women to her. These were the wives and daughters, and some of the older women of the castle. All would be expected to attend the ceremonies planned to honor the visit of Lord Tokugawa. With the swishing sound of silken clothes and a fluid gliding of many feet, the women walked two abreast behind the Lady Idu out of the castle to the park where they were to sit beside the raised platform for the Lords Tokugawa and Mori.

Kneeling on low, hard cushions with the other women, Mari followed Lady Ngo’s example of spreading her layers of different colored kimono so the hems radiated out in pleasing colors.  Lady Nyo tittered and whispered into Mari’s ear until a look from Lady Idu shut her up.

Mari saw Lord Tokugawa sitting on the platform, dressed in clothes of ceremony, plus caplets, swords shoved through his sashes and a rather silly headpiece. She looked for Lord Mori, but did not see him next to Lord Tokugawa.  There were other men around the lord, but not Lord Mori.

A large crowd gathered to view the parade of samurai and horses.  Mari thought it amazing so many people were assembled this early in the morning. But of course the presence of Lord Tokugawa would have drawn all the officials from around the countryside and their appearance before the lord would have been necessary to their future favor with the great Lord Tokugawa.

Suddenly a low toned horn blew in the distance, and Mari with the other women craned their necks to see where the sound originated.  Soon the horn’s plaintive notes sounded nearer. A long horn came into view, carried on the shoulders of two men with a third blowing fiercely, his cheeks puffed out like apples with each tone he made. Behind him, numerous drummers.  As they came up the long winding street in front of the platform, they were followed by many men walking two abreast, dressed in ceremonial robes. Then followed the mounted samurai.  At the head of these samurai was Lord Mori.  He was astride a white horse, this beast decorated with red ropes and tassels. Lord Mori himself was bulky with many robes and sashes, and a white shawl thrown over the left shoulder.  He carried a long bow in his left hand, and a quiver of long arrows was fixed to the back of his saddle on the left side.  Lord Mori led at least twenty mounted samurai, all similarly garbed in colorful robes and all with broad brimmed hats.  More men walked behind the mounted horses and then the prisoners.

Mari’s heart beat hard in her breast and her stomach clenched in knots.  He was serious! She had hoped he was just hounding her with a particular brand of cruelty, but he was serious.  Mari’s face must have betrayed her horror, for Lady Ngo looked at her with a quizzical expression and tapped her on the hand with her closed fan.

“Lady Mari, you look like you have seen a ghost!  What is wrong, why are you so distressed? Are you ill?”

Mari could barely focus on the words of Lady Nyo.

“Those are prisoners, those men in the parade?”

“Oh yes, Lady Mari, those are prisoners.  They are greatly honored to be executed before the Lord Tokugawa.  I have heard they are very dangerous men.  Some were taken in battle, but some have done great offenses, and they deserve to be killed.  May the Gods show their families mercy.”

Mari stared at her, disbelief overcoming her reason like a huge wave. Was she to be an observer of the suffering of these men?  And at the hands of Lord Mori?  What beasts and monsters were these people around her?

The horn blew again and the drummers started their ponderous rhythm.  An official on the platform was reading a proclamation.  Mari could only understand a few of his words, but it seemed to be a greeting from the Lord Tokugawa to the people in attendance.  She looked for Lord Mori, and saw him still mounted on his horse, with men in attendance surrounding him.

Three prisoners were led by two men each to an erect stake.  Mari saw them tied with their hands behind the stake, their bodies further bound with rope. They were also bound by the throat.  They were about 70 feet apart, enough to draw an arrow, fit it to the bow and swiftly release it at a gallop.  Mari tried to read their expressions, the ones she could see, but the men kept their eyes to the ground.

The mounted Samurai had moved down the road past Lord Tokugawa, along with their attendants. Again the horn sounded, and the first rider thundered into view.  Standing up in his stirrups, he fitted his arrow to the bow and holding it high he came at a fast gallop,

letting the arrow fly at the human target.  Mari could not see the man clearly, just his form tied to the stake, but she heard the crowd around her break into shouts of approval as the man was hit directly in the chest.  The rider continued at a gallop and again raising his bow, he shot his arrow at the man, but missed killing him, hitting him instead in the left arm as he passed.  Sighs of disappointment floated around her. Mari’s placement was almost directly across from this prisoner.  She saw him yell with shock and pain and twist his body to the side, straining his ropes.  She missed watching the next prisoner, but heard the crowd around her yell with approval, so the next one must have been cleanly dispatched.

A short wait while the dead and living were removed and replaced with fresh men and

Another rider came into view.

“Lady Nyo, what happens to the men that aren’t killed as targets, but just maimed?”

“Oh! They are beheaded, killed quickly.”

Mari felt sick.  She could barely breathe and squeezed her silken robes in her hands until she thought she would tear the cloth. Taking deep breaths, she finally calmed herself and

shook her head to clear it.  More prisoners were tied to the stakes.

New riders galloped by, letting their arrows fly at the prisoners.  Mari listened to the horse’s hooves and kept her eyes in her lap, her thoughts frozen by the horror before her. She didn’t want to see more.

Lady Nyo tried to comfort her, but Mari could only clutch at her hand.

“Lady Mari, your hand is so cold and it is such a pleasant day.  Perhaps you have fallen sick this morning?”  Lady Nyo looked carefully into the eyes of Mari and chuckled.  Then she fell quiet, patting Mari’s hand softly.

Mari squeezed shut her eyes, no longer wanting to watch the proceedings. She concentrated on her breathing, attempting to calm herself and mentally disappear from what was around her. She wondered why she was so distraught over what she had seen when this was a public execution and in her country these things happened but were discreetly done behind prison walls.  Only a few generations before there were public hangings, and that form of execution was much worse than a clean shot through the heart to Mari’s thinking.  It was only because she was on the field of execution and a human witness to the killing, she thought that this was horrific. Then again, this was execution turned into sport, and thirty human lives were the beating hearts of that entertainment.  She tried to remove herself by stopping all conscious thought and just breathe.  She listened to the sounds of her inhaling and exhaling and tried to blot out the sounds around her.

It worked until she heard Lady Nyo’s words in an excited whisper.

“Look, Lady Mari!  Lord Mori is riding now!”

Her words made Mari’s eyes fly open and out of curiosity, look to where the rider came. Standing high in the stirrups, she saw him smoothly draw back the bow and loosen the arrow at the prisoner.  A great cry erupted from those around her as Lord Mori swept down the road at a relaxed gallop. Three times he pulled back his longbow, holding it high above the horse. Three times Mari heard the crowd sound its approval.  Three times a man sagged against his bonds, pierced with Lord Mori’s well-placed arrow.

These were clean shots and obviously showed the expertise of Lord Mori’s abilities with the bow.  Mari wondered how many men Lord Mori had killed in just such rituals, besides the ‘legitimate’ slaughter on a battlefield.  Of course, these were different times in the history of the world, and she wished she had more knowledge of this country before she had appeared in his century. Perhaps some understanding would have prepared

her better for what she had just witnessed, though she didn’t think any amount of reading could soften the horror of a public execution.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

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