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samurai champloo fanfiction: kitsune in koshu chapter 39-(ii)

 

Continued from Chapter 39...


In the months leading into winter, Fuu accompanied Jin on his trips to the city quite often, and he felt a growing confidence in her affections for him. Of course, he was nothing more than a friend to her, but the way she reacted when he was at the doorstep of the Kasumi household to pick her up, gave him hope. She would run out of the house in a great hurry, her cheeks flushed and eyes dancing, and then hold on to his arm, or the sleeve of his kimono, as she yelled an exuberant 'kaerimasu – I will be back' to her mother as they prepared to leave. She was friendly by nature, so he couldn't assume he was getting any special treatment. But among all her friends, he was the only one who had the privilege of escorting her to the city, and for the time being, that was enough.


He had made inroads in his relationship with her parents too. They invited him often at mealtimes and on social occasions such as the Harvest Festival, or at family gatherings when Ayako and Hideo came to visit. Umeko certainly seemed to like him; from the significant looks she gave him from time to time he concluded that she had perceived his feelings for her daughter, and that she approved of him on some level. Seizo liked him too, but was a little more reserved. It may have had something to do with the fact that Fuu was a little more attached to her father than to Umeko, and her father particularly didn't like the idea of his child 'leaving the nest', so to speak. He would quiz Jin from time to time about his past, and a look of wariness would creep into his eyes when Jin pleaded memory loss regarding some details.


The idea that he had suffered a memory loss including three and a half to four years of his life had, in fact, begun to appeal to Jin's rational mind. He had to admit the possibility that the memories he had of those three and a half years were not memories at all, but were part of a dream, albeit a very odd sort of dream. Several 'facts' seemed to corroborate this idea. The scars on his abdomen – the ones he'd acquired in that fight with Kariya – weren't there, nor were the scars on his leg that had resulted from his fight with the blind assassin Sara. Everything in this world, all his daily or nightly activities – whether they involved walking, eating, sleeping, dreaming while sleeping, or answering the calls of nature – had a feeling of normalcy about them, and occurred in real time. That dream had felt like it occurred in real time too, but there was no rational reason to accept that this 'dream' was any more of a dream than that one. And if he were to be metaphysical about it, didn't Buddhist philosophy stress that all experience was a dream?


There were also some aspects of this experience that appealed to him on various levels. In his present circle of acquaintances, for example, he didn't have the reputation of being a highly skilled swordsman. No one knew about his past, and didn't question him too much about it on account of his memory loss. It was as though they had assumed that his memory loss had handicapped him in certain ways, and that his skills with the sword would be average at best. He wasn't invited to take part in any of Kasumi Seizo's martial arts classes, and he didn't volunteer or request participation. For the time being, at least, he didn't want to change things. He enjoyed the sense of peace that came with his reputation of being a 'sweet and gentle samurai who couldn't hurt a fly'. People were more comfortable around him, and that made it easier to be comfortable around them. It pleased him to see that no one from his present society would describe him as silent or taciturn in nature; in fact a few might even describe him as friendly and approachable.


All this, however, was to change, in some respects at least. For in the eleventh month (December) of the year, he ran into Yukimaru.


-xxx-


Edo's first snowfall of the year covered the trees, the gabled roofs of buildings, and the grounds of the Zozoji temple in a pristine white blanket, making the crimson walls of the lecture hall stand out in contrast with its surroundings. Jin wasn't particularly interested in entering it; to him public lectures delivered by Confucian scholars were nothing more than propaganda for the bakufu. He didn't mind Confucian studies per se, but their prevalent use in providing ideological justification for bakufu policies was rather distasteful to him. Needless to say, the only scholars who received any support from the bakufu were the ones who emphasised elements of Confucian teachings that were politically expedient.


But the hum of the crowd coming from inside the lecture hall gave him a whiff of nostalgia; it was on a similar, wintry day of the eleventh month (December) that he'd attended a public lecture here many years ago. It had been in the company of Mariya Enshiro and a few other students from Kisarazu dojo, on a 'field trip' of sorts to famous Edo temples. He wasn't therefore able to resist looking in, for old times' sake.


He had spotted the profile of Yukimaru, and hadn't been able to believe his eyes. Hadn't he killed and buried Yukimaru with his own hands? But it was unmistakeably Yukimaru. His facial bone-structure had changed a little, as was to be expected, given that he would be around twenty one now. But the sharp features, wide cheekbones, deep-set dark eyes under arched eyebrows, were only too familiar to him.


Of course!
He hadn't killed Yukimaru – that too, had been part of the dream. Something changed upon this realization; that heavy feeling of pain and guilt he had carried because of that memory had suddenly been lifted, replaced with the lightness of relief and joy.


The lecture had already ended when he had looked in, so he now attempted to make his way through the crowds that had gathered inside the hall, towards Yukimaru. Yukimaru, though, was moving in the direction of the podium, presumably with a view to talk to the speaker. But Jin managed to cover the distance between them before he reached the podium, tapping him from behind on his shoulder.


"Yukimaru."


The young man spun around to face Jin; his large, expressive eyes had widened in shock. "Jin! I don't believe this! I had been looking for you for so many years."


Jin was reminded of the way Yukimaru had sought him out in the dream. Did Yukimaru want to fight him? Or had his impetuous, misguided desire to emulate Jin cooled over the years? Certainly, his choice of words suggested that it had – he'd spoken in the past tense. And if he wasn't mistaken, Yukimaru had also been cured of that crush he had on him, along with the resentment he'd felt upon being rejected by Jin. There had been no rancour or bitterness in tone of Yukimaru's voice; it might have even been regarded as friendly.


It gave him another hope. Could it be possible, then, that his memory loss extended to a longer period of time, say, about five years or more, rather than three and a half? Was the killing of Mariya Enshiro also a dream? It would make sense if it was. Part of the reason Yukimaru had wanted to kill him was due to the reputation Jin had acquired on account of killing Mariya Enshiro, who was considered a swordsman of legendary skill. But if Jin hadn't killed Mariya Enshiro, then he wouldn't have acquired the reputation of being a legendary swordsman himself, so Yukimaru wouldn't have considered him worthy of killing.[4]


He would have to find out whether Shishou was alive, and he decided to do so by asking a set of leading questions.


"You look well, Yukimaru. How have you been all these years?"


"I have been well...I have made progress with my studies, and also in kenjutsu. Shishou recently gave me a gomokuroku license."


"How is..."


Yukimaru looked at Jin gravely. "Things haven't been the same since you left. I believe he misses you a lot...I know that you find it hard to believe, but it is true."


Jin took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself, not daring to believe the obvious implication of Yukimaru's words. He had to make sure that it was Mariya Enshiro Yukimaru was referring to. But exactly how was he to proceed? Should he tell Yukimaru about his memory loss? Perhaps that was the best way to find out things.


"Yukimaru, I -"


"Oh, I know many bitter words were exchanged between the two of you that time. Shishou had made the decision to affiliate the school to Kariya-dono, and you couldn't accept it. And I know that he didn't show it, but he was quite devastated when you left."


A sentence kept repeating itself in Jin's mind: I didn't kill Shishou, it was only a dream. He had felt sense of regret upon finding that Kariya wasn't dead, but it was overpowered by the euphoria induced by the news that Mariya Enshiro was alive.


"Is he in good health?" I didn't kill Shishou, it was only a dream.


"He is reasonably well, yes. His personality has changed, though. He was always a little serious, but now he is even more so. I guess working for Kariya-dono isn't easy. He is called away on missions for the bakufu quite often." Here, Yukimaru lowered his voice and added: "Actually, I don't like to say this, but I wish things were like in the days of the old, when the school was independent. As you had predicted, we are now called upon to do tasks that are, well, unpleasant. But duty is duty."


"Are you here on some mission, then, Yukimaru?"


"Oh, no, I just came to attend some lectures. I have taken to Confucian studies lately. It is quite the fad these days, you know. I thought...well, actually, I'm sure, that it will help with getting jobs in the future, especially if Tokugawa Tsunayoshi becomes shogun, which is very likely. He's quite the Confucian scholar himself, and it rumoured that when he becomes shogun, he'll make it compulsory for bakufu officials."[5]


"Ah."


The crowds around the speaker had thickened, making it difficult for them to converse comfortably. Yukimaru said, "Look, why don't we go to a teahouse or something. I haven't had lunch yet, and it would be good to talk about old times, catch up on things, you know. Are you too busy, or do you have some time on your hands?"


I didn't kill Shishou, it was only a dream
. "Hmm? No, I am not particularly busy. We'll do as you suggest."


-xxx-


"So this friend of yours, he's from Kisarazu, is he? The two of you trained together? In Mujushin Kenjutsu?"


There was an interrogative tone in Fuu's voice as she questioned Jin, sitting across him as he cleaned an iaito at Kasumi Seizo's dojo. Her eyes intently followed the movement of his right hand as he ran an oiled piece of cloth across the blade, but they had a distressed, faraway look about them.


He had mixed feelings about her reactions. She had been very upset when he told her of his plans to travel to Kisarazu, and he saw that as a sign of her growing attachment to him. But she had also been angry and resentful towards him, and this unsettled him a little.


He put the sword back in its scabbard, placing it carefully beside him on the floor. "Yes, we were both students of Mariya Enshiro. I was uchi-deshi (resident disciple) at the dojo, and Shishou brought me up after the death of my parents."


The expression in her eyes softened a little, but she still looked upset. "So he's like a father to you...But why must you go now? Is it something to do with your memory loss? You had forgotten about him, and now you have remembered?"


Jin said, gently, "No, not quite. We had a disagreement...I left the dojo, so we haven't been in touch for many years. But my friend – Yukimaru – persuaded me that I should visit him. And..."


A strong winter wind was blowing outside, and it beat against the shoji sliding screens making a papery, wailing sound like an out-of-tune wind instrument. The six tatami mat room was quite warm, with an okigotatsu (an earthen charcoal brazier covered with a blanket) at the centre of it, yet Fuu appeared to be trembling. But when Jin took her hand to make her move closer to the okigotatsu, he found it to be quite warm.


"Fuu-chan," he said, using the 'chan' honorific for the first time, and in cajoling tones that made it the Japanese equivalent of 'my darling', "It will only be for a few months."


A tear trickled down her cheek, and she defiantly rubbed her face with the back of her hand. Her voice shook as she said, "No. You won't come back. I know that...Why would you? He's your adopted father and teacher. Disagreements happen all the time. He's bound to have regretted it. If he asks you to stay, you won't be able to say no."


This moment was a very critical one, thought Jin. They had never exchanged any words about their feelings for each other, so until now they had only been friends. What unfolded today had, however, changed things, and in a very emphatic way. There had been a greater intimacy in their conversation than would have been appropriate for two individuals classified as "just friends". While they were no explicit declarations of what they felt, it was only too evident from the undercurrents of emotion that could be read from their eyes and voices. Furthermore, somehow, both of them knew this, and knew that the other knew this.


And if that was the case, Jin knew that he would have to tell her a few more things about himself, particularly in light of the doubts she had just expressed, about his returning to Renkoji. Otherwise, he knew, there would always be a feeling of guilt in the back of his mind, as though he had betrayed her trust. Of course, telling her amounted to risking her friendship, but it was a risk he had to take.


"Fuu-chan," he began, "I am right in assuming that we are close friends, am I not?"


She nodded, but didn't speak. He adjusted his glasses and continued, "Then there's something I need to tell you – about the nature of my memory loss. But you are the only person I can trust with this information."


Fuu looked up, a little startled. "Hm? Of course...please go on."


"When I am done, you may end up thinking I am insane."


"Try me."


"Well, by now you have realized that my memory loss is of a strange kind. There are quite a few things I seem to know – in relation to what happened in the last four years or so, and yet I don't remember everything."


"Um-Hm. You seem to know about things that have happened on a national scale – political developments, earthquakes, and famines – stuff like that. It is also obvious that you are highly educated, and that your memory loss hadn't affected any of your intellectual skills or abilities. Yet you seem a little unsure about personal details – or perhaps you are hesitant to talk about them."


They had moved closer to okigotatsu, warming their hands and feet under its blanket. Jin extended it further in the direction where Fuu was, making sure she was adequately covered. "This might sound strange. But the reason I am unsure about things is because I have a vivid memory of an experience covering those years – but that experience may not have been a real one. In fact, there is a large amount of evidence suggesting that it was a dream. And yet the knowledge you just spoke of – the political and social happenings, the natural disasters etc – come from that dream."


It took a long time for Jin to tell his story; he told it haltingly, pausing occasionally to gauge her reactions, especially as he mentioned her part in it. There was a strange expression in her eyes, part astonishment, part confusion, and part something unfathomable, as she listened to Jin's summary of his 'dream' and what happened afterwards, when he 'woke up' and met Kasumi Seizo.


There was also a long pause before she spoke. "So you are saying...you met someone called Fuu, who looked exactly like me, and who was looking for her father, who was also called Kasumi Seizo? And you have a memory of killing your Shishou?"


Jin's heart sank. Obviously, she didn't believe him. But she didn't seem angry, so at least she must believe that he was telling her the truth as he saw it.


He sighed, preparing to get up. "It is just as I thought. You think I need treatment for some sort of mental illness. In fact, there's a part of me that believes I am insane."


She caught hold of his arm. "No! You mustn't think that way. There are a lot of things we don't understand about this world – your experience is just one of those things."


"Besides, there are some uncanny things...Otosan did live in Kyushu, although it was a very long time ago, when he lived with Ojiisan, my grandfather, who was a retainer of the Nabeshima clan. But I believe there was a quarrel between them, and my father left Kyushu and decided to travel to Edo. It was in Meireki 3, the same year the famous Furisode Fire occurred."[6]


"Strangely enough, people did refer to him as the Sunflower Samurai those days, probably because of his fondness for taking walks around sunflower fields. But now, being so busy with work...he doesn't get the time to those sorts of things."


"Anyway, many years later, there was a time he went back to Kyushu, when we received news of my grandfather's death. Okasan was sick, and I was very young, so we stayed back in Edo...The odd thing is, at that time I had this very irrational feeling that Otosan was leaving us for good. I now know that it was absurd to think that way – Otosan would never abandon us, like he did in your dream. But I suppose, in our society, particularly among the bushi there is such an emphasis on filial piety, and on loyalty to your lord...a child picks up on those things, I guess, even without understanding them. I must have feared that maybe my grandfather's last wish was for my father to serve as retainer to the Nabeshimas, just as he had. And maybe, some part of me believed that my grandfather did not approve of us – my mother and me."


"Sorry, I am rambling...I must also tell you there are a few other things about your dream that are uncanny. I used to have a pink kimono when I was around 15...and also a pet momonga...So perhaps, at best, your dream was like some sort of psychic vision, with a symbolic meaning to it that isn't clear yet. At worst, it was a very unusual dream. That's all."


Jin spirits lifted a little as he noted that Fuu hadn't let go of his arm and was looking at him with sincerity, as though she meant every word she had said, her eyes like large, deep pools of compassion. And yet, he felt a nagging insecurity about her feelings. When she had time to think things over, would she still think along those lines? He said, a little wearily, "Fuu, the dream didn't feel like a dream. I experienced all those things in real time – or rather, that's how it felt."


"Uhm-Hmm. It was like the Dream of Akinosuke."


"Hmm?"


"The Dream of Akinosuke. You know, that folktale, about a farmer called Akinosuke? He's chatting with his friends under a cedar tree, falls asleep because he's tired, and has a dream? And in that dream he 'wakes up' under the same tree, and thinks that he's really woken up, but he's actually dreaming?"


Jin smiled. "Ah, yes...And in the dream he is summoned to the court of an Emperor, marries his daughter, and has seven children by her. I am not sure if I remember the details...but his dream ends when his wife falls ill and dies. He wakes up to find that he is still under the cedar tree and his friends are engrossed in conversation, as though nothing happened. They tell him that he has been sleeping for half an hour or so...Hmm. So you think I fell asleep, like Akinosuke, and had a dream that covered many years?"


Fuu smiled back at him, and shook her head. "It felt to Akinosuke that he'd experienced a lifetime while only half an hour had gone by...Otosan once told me that folk tales are usually 'made up' stories, but many of them have a kernel of truth in them. So perhaps, someone else had an experience similar to yours...I know, in your case there is also a memory loss involved. But don't worry, Jin. I am sure that over time, things will fall into place and you will understand exactly what happened."


She had been looking at him earnestly as she spoke, maintaining eye contact all the while, but she suddenly looked away and blushed, as though she wanted to add something further and yet found it difficult to do so. There was a pause before she summoned up the courage to say: "And then...I think that your dream has some sort of spiritual message in it...In a way, you knew me before you met me. Perhaps you and I, uhm, are spiritually connected somehow."


He touched her cheek lightly, and then placed his hand gently on her shoulder. "I believe so too...You understand, then, I will come back from Kisarazu, don't you?"


The expression in her eyes changed instantly to one of sadness, puzzling him a little. "Jin...I hope you will come back. But come back only if you want to. I will always be your friend, whatever you choose to do."


"I have a request, though. Could you please stay until my birthday? It is at the beginning of the next month. But it will be a little too cold to travel immediately afterwards...so you'd have to wait until the New Year."


"I'll leave after the New Year celebrations."


-xxx-


The garden was even more beautiful than Jin remembered it. He visited it often in his dreams, in which he recreated his morning and evening walks inside and around the garden, walks that had sandwiched between them a hard and long day of studies and martial arts training. Mariya Enshiro had on occasion accompanied him, with a view to educating him on the wabi-sabi aesthetic, so that he would 'learn to appreciate its beauty'. The wabi-sabi aesthetic, Mariya Enshiro had said, had the acceptance of impermanence at the centre of it. It was akin to appreciating the beauty of nature – a beauty that was untamed, had cycles of creation and destruction, didn't rely on perfection or symmetry, a beauty that was imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.


Whether Jin had been able to cultivate a wabi-sabi view or not was moot, but he had certainly learned to appreciate the garden's beauty. It might even be said that his appreciation amounted to an inversion of the wabi-sabi view. He loved the somewhat formless shape of the flower beds as they had always been that way. He loved the rustic simplicity and understated elegance of the tea-house in the corner because of its unchanging familiarity, and the permanently asymmetric aspects of its construction. He admired the moss-covered stone lantern near the entrance, the untamed hedges enclosing the garden, and the abundance of plants in it, because the lantern had forever been covered in moss, the hedges forever untamed, and the plants forever abundant. He appreciated the awkward shape of the stepping stones leading to the miniature island of the garden's pond, as he had traversed them thousands of times during his years at Mariya Enshiro's dojo.


But then again, perhaps he had acquired a wabi-sabi view. The garden had changed, and, as mentioned before, was even more beautiful than he remembered it. It had the feeling of being aged, chipped, irregularly shaped like the earthen pottery one used for the venerated wabi-cha tea ceremonies, and it had faded somehow, as if it was in the autumn of its life.


And at the centre of the garden was Mariya Enshiro's dojo, also faded, worn out, slightly asymmetric in its design, and frighteningly beautiful.


He knew Shishou would be inside, alone. Yukimaru had told him so. In earlier days, when Jin was a student here, this time of the evening was reserved for a one-on-one training and practise session for Jin and Mariya Enshiro. Now, Yukimaru had said, Shishou preferred to train alone.


Anxiety mingled with anticipation churned in Jin's stomach. He knew that he would be happy to see Shishou, but would Shishou be happy to see him? And while he had a memory of the argument about Kariya from the dream, he didn't remember what had transpired to motivate his decision to leave the dojo. Of course, in that dream...But there was no point reliving that memory any more – it hadn't happened. It didn't matter what 'bitter words had been exchanged,' he was, after all, Mariya Enshiro's adopted son. He had never addressed him as 'Otosan', but in his mind 'Shishou' and 'Otosan' had meant the same thing.


The rack of stairs leading to the entrance made a creaking sound as Jin stepped on them, and must have alerted Mariya Enshiro to his presence, but there was no sound of movement from inside the dojo. And yet, when Jin stood at the entrance, a welcoming voice spoke from within.


"Ah Jin. I knew it was you. I recognized the sound of your footsteps."


Jin knelt in seza, and facing Mariya Enshiro, performed a deep bow at the entrance. "Shishou."


"Come in, come in, and don't stand on formality."


Shishou's voice had been a little more gravelly than he remembered it, noted Jin, as he entered the hall. His appearance too had changed; he was thinner and iron gray had replaced the jet black in his hair. But it was still worn in the same style, with the centre of the crown shaved, and the remaining hair gathered into a neat top-knot.


As Jin knelt facing him, Mariya Enshiro remarked, "You have grown into a very handsome young man...And those glasses – has your eyesight deteriorated?"


Jin, without thinking, responded, "I wear them as a disguise." And then he wondered: Why do I need to be in disguise? I don't have the reputation of 'teacher killer', as in that dream.


"A wise precaution," said Mariya Enshiro. "I'd suspected that Kariya-dono's men would have been looking for you after you'd left."


"Hmm?"


"Ah, I'd better explain. Well, Jin, that day we had that terrible argument, I was deliberately nasty and insulting in my behaviour towards you. I had wanted you to leave. You see, I had a strong suspicion that Kariya-dono would order me to kill you. And since I had already pledged to become his retainer, I would have had to obey. It was then imperative that you left, and kept a low profile as long as possible. Fortunately, you have had the sense to do that. And now...I suspect he has forgotten about you. And even if he hasn't, he's likely to be rather busy, what with the rumours of the shogun's ill health and the politics surrounding it. Even so, it would be wise to take precautions. I am glad you came to see me at this time, rather than earlier during the day, when other students are attending."


"Of course, you must stay for a while. I have many things to say to you, and also a few things to teach you. But it must be done in secret. You mustn't be seen by any of the other students. I know that Yukimaru knows – in fact he told me to expect you – but he can be trusted. You must leave before sunrise every morning, and then return in the evening, when other students have left."


As he listened to Mariya Enshiro, Jin was surprised to note how easy it had been to fall back into the role of uchi-deshi – the disciple/apprentice who stays with the master. He was now listening respectfully, eyes lowered to the floor as he sat facing Mariya Enshiro, and he knew that Shishou's conversation with him today would initially be a monologue of sorts, with a very few, brief interruptions in which he would ask questions, to unravel what Shishou had in mind when he'd said, 'I have many things to say to you, and also a few things to teach you.'


Then there would be comfortable silences, interspersed with gentle, reflective conversations to catch up on the past. The time for more insistent questions, discussions and debates would come, and he would instinctively know when it arrived. But for now, he was content to let the low gravelly tones of Shishou's voice wash over him as he re-absorbed the scents and sounds of this place, and reawakened pleasant memories of days long past.

--------------------------

[4] This refers to Episode 16 of SC, in which Yukimaru tells Jin that he wants to fight him not because he wants to avenge Mariya Enshiro's death, but because Jin killed Mariya Enshiro and became famous as a result of it.

[5] Practically every samurai in that period would have read Analects of Confucius – it was part of the curriculum for boys growing up in samurai families. But taking up Confucian Studies amounted to a deeper study of it, and this was encouraged in the time of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. (Prior to Tsunayoshi, though, the bakufu seems to have had mixed feelings on Confucian scholars; some of them were supported by the bakufu, but some were persecuted.)

[6] I am not sure readers will remember chapter 26 of this novel, but that is where we get a 'back-story' with Kasumi Seizo in it. In this 'dream' part of the back-story is true – i.e. he was the son of a retainer of the Nabeshima clan.


Author's note: In the Star Trek episode mentioned in the author's note above, Captain Picard of the Enterprise is hit by a beam from an alien probe, and he is unconscious for a duration of 25 minutes. In that time he experiences the 'life' of a man called Kamin who lives on a planet suffering a worldwide drought. For details of the plot see the Wikipedia article on it. The idea here is that Jin will experience a long period of time in real time within the dream, but at the Furin Kazan Inn he will, hopefully, wake up in a relatively short period of time. The 'story' within the dream, however, will not have much in common with the stories within the 'dreams' shown in either 'The Inner Light' or 'The Dream of Akinosuke'. (See Wikipedia articles for detailed versions of these stories).

 

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