Rider in the sport of Yabusame
Where the daimyo Lord Mori mentions criminals and the amount of rope and knots, he is talking about a judicial practice in Medieval Japan. How much rope and how tight and how many knots depended upon the social/class position of the ‘criminal’. If it was a man from the gentry, or someone with connections, he wouldn’t suffer tying. If it was a common criminal or a peasant, he would be tied and with many knots if he was considered dangerous. Even today in Tokyo, police carry a short piece of rope inside their sleeve. It is now just a bow towards tradition.
Mari woke to the smell of coffee. Steven brought her a cup and smiled 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 nightstand. She was naked under the sheet. Glancing over the side of the bed, she 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 could be noticed. She knew now these weren’t dreams, they were something far beyond. They were of 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 referring to birth control? Yes, Steven, still taking them.”
“Good, just checking. We don’t want a mistake to happen.”
She remembered Lord Mori’s words 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 him from her bed.
He spoke with the tapping of his razor against the sink as he finished his shaving.
“Mari, you know how I feel. A child would not fit in the 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 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. 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 of her nature. It was something she had learned from her mother, when faced with her overbearing father.
“Steven”, she said 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.
“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, this 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 risked 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, streamng 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 naked 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. It was not an 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 white beams of light as it flew. What was the process 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, pulled 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 was now open, her naked body hugging the cold stone 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! Lord Mori!” She called out. He didn’t seem in too much a hurry to notice her.
“Did I hear a mouse call my name? What kami has allowed a small rodent such a gift?” He turned and saw her.
“Ah! It is Lady Mari, come to visit me so early in my chamber. Does your husband know you are trussed up 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 her 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 laugh softly.
“Please!” I am cold. And I have to pee!”
“What? Again? Very well then, I don’t want my floor to be washed 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 stone. 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, humbly.
“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 disapearing and the morning birds are singing. Lord Tokugawa is still here and you have come at an auspicious time. 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, standing over the brazier, her hands out to its paltry warmth.
“I thought not. Well, we keep the gods entertained and all the other demi-gods, like our Lord Tokugawa. We ride our horses past targets and shoot our bows from horseback. Today, we have a surplus of prisoners to be targets. They are mostly common criminals, thieves, robbers and a few more dangerous.”
Lord Mori tilted his head to the side, 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, Mari, 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, poisonous injections. In her world there was little to recommend 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.
Suddenly breaking off, he said, “I will send you to Lady Igo to be dressed. You certainly can not sit in the stands with the other women naked.”
Mari was sent to Lady Igo who received her with thinly disguised distaste.
Once again she supervised the bath and dressing of the Lady 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 her surprise. 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 Igo clapped her hands together and summoned all the women. 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 cloth and a fluid gliding of many slippered feet, the women walked two abreast behind the Lady Igo 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 Nyo’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 Igo made her go silent.
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 Tokugawa, all dressed in splendor and with colorful robes of state.
A large crowd gathered to view the parade of samurai and horses. Mari thought it surprising 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 for future favor with the great Lord.
Suddenly a low toned horn blew in the distance, and all the women craned their necks to see where the sound came from. 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 did not wear his robes of state, but a white shawl was 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 right side. Lord Mori led at least twenty mounted samurai, all garbed in colorful robes and all with broad brimmed hats. More men walked behind the mounted horses and then came the column of 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 Nyo 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 Tokugama. 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 friend, disbelief overcoming her like a huge wave. Was she to be an observer of the suffering of these men? And, at the hands of Lord Mori? What kind of 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 Tokugama 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.
END of PART 1 of Chapter Six.