|A Tale of Sanosuke 4: Shinshu
Author: Aaerdan PM
Cutting short his time in Tokyo, Sagara Sanosuke returns to Shinshu to find out just how much things have changed ... and meets with an old enemy.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sanosuke - Chapters: 3 - Words: 14,595 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 1 - Published: 10-25-04 - id: 2108567
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The key characters belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki. This tale follows A Tale of Sanosuke: Niigata, A Tale of Sanosuke - 2: Aizu, and A Tale of Sanosuke - 3: Tokyo. This also concludes the Tale of Sanosuke series.
The tale is broken into three sections (chapters) ... "Epilogue and Parts One to Three", "Parts Four to Six", and "Parts Seven to Ten and the Epilogue".
Many thanks for all the constructive feedback ... they have all been noted!
This tale is dedicated to Aredhel.
By Daniel Lam
IT WAS raining heavily, the sound of raindrops striking the roof, lulling those who lay under it into a slumber.
Two people were very much awake, however - a middle-aged man and a young woman - and they sat on the floor on the edge of a futon, on which lay a young man who seemed to be asleep and whose breathing was almost imperceptible.
The man was deep in thought, worry creasing his wrinkled face even more as he held the sleeping man's wrist. He had held the wrist for a long time.
"Dr Hanzo?" the woman asked after he had finally placed the hand gently down.
"I fear, my dear," the man said, "-that he does not have much more time."
The woman nodded. What the doctor had just told her was not news to her. "How much time, doctor?"
The man sighed. "He will die before sunset," he stated, then added: "I am sorry."
The woman's eyes were already somewhat swollen, evidence of crying merely a few hours before. Now the tears flowed once more.
The doctor took his leave then, saying that he had to attend to the other patients.
She bowed and expressed her thanks as he departed. After the door had slid shut, she turned to the man whose life force was ebbing.
She was trembling as a myriad of thoughts ran through her head. It was only yesterday that he had returned to her, and now he was about to leave her again.
Her composure gave out just then, and she held the man tightly as she whispered his name.
"THEY found him flat out by the river, my twin sons Genzo and Kenzo," the man in the farmer's garb said for the third time as he led the two other people down the track.
"Yes, Mr Sato ... is he alive?" the woman in the group asked.
The man adjusted his hat and nodded. "Alive, yes, when they found him, my twin sons Genzo and Kenzo," he confirmed.
The two strapping young men were already there, crouching perhaps three strides away from the still form, watching. By the man's side was a duffel bag that looked like it could use some stitching, for there were a number of tears here and there.
"My twin sons, Genzo and Kenzo!" the man called out. "Is he alive?"
Both youths rose to their feet - one first, then the other - and nodded.
"Miss Uki," their father muttered, and the woman nodded as she walked past him.
Higashidani Uki slowed down as she approached the man, then turned and called out: "Doctor Hanzo! He lives, still!" Then, to the youths, she instructed: "Genzo, Kenzo, help me turn him over!"
That they did quickly, eliciting a sharp "Gently!" from her. The man moved suddenly, and before the two youths could react, they found themselves flying through the air and crashing into the river.
"Help!" one of the twins yelped somewhat belatedly, even though the part of the river where they fell into was not very deep.
The man got up, and nearly collapsed, but managed to regain his balance.
He was very tall, taller than any of the men, and when he advanced, the farmer and the doctor instinctively took several steps back.
Uki stood her ground, however, arms on either side. Evidently she was used to dealing with men who were considerably bigger than she was.
"You! Why did you do that for?" she demanded. "We are only trying to help!"
That took the man by surprise, for he stopped his advance and rubbed his eyes. Then he blinked several times.
"Uki?" he asked finally.
The woman frowned. "Yes, that's me. And those two you threw into the river are the twins Kenzo and Genzo-"
"Genzo and Kenzo," the farmer Sato corrected.
"-while this man here is their father, Mr Shizuka Sato. This is Dr Hanzo," Uki introduced, pointing each of them out in turn. "You are?"
The man stretched his limbs. "You don't remember me?"
Uki shook her head. "These days there are too many strangers ... how am I supposed to remember-" she hesitated, "-you?"
With both hands the man patted his face a little cleaner of dust and mud.
"Remember me now, half-head?"
"Yeah, that's right!" Sagara Sanosuke said with a grin. That was a nickname he gave her when he last saw her, years ago. Then, as it was now, her hair bangs covered exactly half of her forehead.
He bent forward to look at her closely. "My, you look more like a lady now!" he remarked an instant before Uki went all red and stormed off.
Sanosuke turned to the men. "That's Uki, alright!"
He turned to the twins and bowed. "My apologies, boys! I thought you were trying to rob me!" He stepped towards them to offer them a hand, but his feet gave way instead.
The twins got themselves out of the river as the others approached Sanosuke somewhat cautiously.
"You're not going to attack us?" Sato asked.
Sanosuke shook his head as he sat up. "Look, I was just tired out from all that running, that's all. Got here this morning and decided to get myself some water."
Dr Hanzo knelt then and touched Sanosuke's forehead, then told him to open his mouth.
"You will be fine ... but you need rest, food and plenty of water, young man," the doctor said after a while. "Come with me."
"Where were you running from?" one of the twins - either Kenzo or Genzo - asked as they helped Sanosuke to his feet.
"Tokyo, late last night," Sanosuke replied.
Sato and sons whistled at that.
"And you ran all the way here overnight?" Sato asked.
Sanosuke nodded. "A national record, I was told," he said with a grin.
"No wonder you are in such a bad shape, young man," Dr Hanzo stated. "Why were you in such a hurry to come here?"
There was a definite silence as everyone waited for Sanosuke's response.
"I heard there was trouble," he said finally. "Trouble over the waystation."
Sato and his sons seemed relieved.
"Mr Sanosuke, wasn't it?" Sato said. "Might you be Mr Higashidani Kamishimoemon's son?"
Sanosuke nodded. "I'm now known as Sagara Sanosuke."
"You're Miss Uki's brother?" one of the twins asked, his eyes wide in admiration.
"The man who took out two thousand men bare-handed?" the other twin asked.
"Two thousand?" Sanosuke repeated.
"And a half-demon, too," the first twin added.
Sanosuke turned to Dr Hanzo. "Is this what they're saying about me here?"
The doctor laughed. The others did not find it so funny, however, and grumbled under their breaths.
Sanosuke took up his bag, signalling that he was ready to go.
"I haven't been here for a while ... now that Uki has run off," he paused, "-can any of you tell me where I can find her?"
"There's no need to," Dr Hanzo said. "Miss Uki helps out at my clinic during the day. That-"
"When my twin sons, Genzo and Kenzo, found you," Sato interrupted, "-they went straight to me."
"Father told us to wait here while he went to fetch Dr Hanzo!" one of the twins added.
Sato gave them an irritated glare and continued: "Well, Miss Uki was at the clinic, and come along too."
The doctor sighed at this point. "Miss Uki worries that I work myself too hard."
Sanosuke nodded. That's Uki, all right! he thought, remembering how she turned out after he left the family, many years ago.
"Let's go see her, then," Sanosuke declared. "And after that, some food and drink."
SANOSUKE walked slowly behind Dr Hanzo, occasionally hurrying his pace in the hope that the doctor would move a little faster. But the older man either did not take the hint or simply refused to.
Sato and his twin sons took their leave at the fork on the road, bidding Sanosuke and the doctor good day. From their expressions the twins wanted to follow Sanosuke into town, but a look from their father put paid to any such ideas.
If Sanosuke had thought that Dr Hanzo would walk a little faster now, he was immediately disabused. His attempts at engaging the doctor in conversation were met with long silences and short replies.
Something, Sanosuke thought, was troubling the doctor. And the slow pace was not really helping matters.
By the time they were within sight of the town, the younger man was exhausted, and not from physical exertion.
"Where is your clinic, doctor?" Sanosuke asked, his eyes taking in the scale of change that had come over the town in the five years he had been away. Save for a few more buildings, everything looked pretty much the same.
That's why I left to join the Sekihoutai, all those years ago, he thought as the doctor took his time to answer. Everyone here is too content to let things change them, rather than initiating change themselves.
The Sekihoutai was an army of peasant-folk formed immediately after the battle of Toba Fushimi, fighting for the revolution. The peasants were recruited into this army on the understanding that taxes would be halved by the Ishin Shishi government.
However, when it became evident that the government could not afford to keep its promise, the Sekihoutai was made a scapegoat; it was declared a dissident army that lied about the tax reforms, and many of its officers hunted down and slain.
"There," Dr Hanzo said, pointing at one of the older buildings. Sanosuke remembered that it once housed a shop selling kitchenware.
Sanosuke was tempted to overtake the doctor and head for the clinic right away, but remembered his manners in time to hold his impulses in check.
In any case, I'd like to think things through a bit, he thought. Gotta think of nice things to say to the half-head. He shook his head. No, not half-head ... she's a big girl now ... argghh! A young woman!
Whether Dr Hanzo realised the younger man was mentally tripping over himself or not was not known. But he stopped and turned to regard Sanosuke.
"Sanosuke, wasn't it?" he began. Before Sanosuke could answer, the doctor continued: "I think you should apologise to Miss Uki for your behaviour by the river. She worries to much, I agree, but you should not have embarrassed her like that."
Sanosuke smiled. "You read minds too, doctor?"
The doctor did not seem to have heard him. "Perhaps you should buy her a present ... one thing has not changed, even in these modern times, and that is young women like presents," Dr Hanzo advised. "Do you have anything in mind?"
The younger man nodded. "I do have something from my travels ... I had planned on giving it to her anyway. I think she'd like it."
Dr Hanzo nodded. "That would be good. Come, we are here!"
The doctor announced his arrival with a loud, exaggerated cough. Uki came out.
"Dr Hanzo! Mr Ling is here!" she exclaimed. "Are you having a cough?"
It was not hard to notice the tall man next to the doctor, of course, and her eyes were on Sanosuke even as she directed her question to Dr Hanzo.
"I am quite well, actually..." the doctor's voice trailed as he walked into the waiting room and saw that there were no one else there except for a young man who was obviously a foreigner from the way he was dressed.
"Good day, today," Dr Hanzo mumbled to himself.
"Good morning to you, Dr Hanzo!" the foreigner greeted.
Sanosuke guessed immediately where the man had come from, for his head was half-shaven bald, with the hair in the other half bound in a single plait.
His dressing was in the manner of the mainlanders: a robe with splits at the upper thighs, buttons at the chest, a simple belt made of cloth and a straight collar.
"Good morning to you, Mr Ling!" the doctor responded. He turned to Sanosuke.
"Mr Ling is a trader from China, Sanosuke." To Ling he said: "Sagara Sanosuke is Miss Uki's long-lost brother."
"Ling Thien-ren, at your service," the Chinese man said, bowing. "I have heard much about you."
"All the good things, I hope," Sanosuke laughed. "Your Japanese is very good, Mr Ling."
"You are being overly kind, I think, Mr Sagara," Ling said. "I know enough to sustain a conversation, but not much more."
Sanosuke asked Uki: "What have you been telling him about me?"
Uki glared at him. To Dr Hanzo she said: "Mr Ling brought the ginseng you ordered last week."
"Oh, that was unexpected!" the doctor said, but he took the box Ling offered. "I was not expecting it so fast."
"I know some people based in Yokohama who had fresh supplies from the mainland," Ling explained.
"I see, I see," the doctor muttered. "Wait here, I'll get you the payment."
Ling shook his head. "There is no hurry, Dr Hanzo. I have to go now, in any case. I'll come by tomorrow morning." He made to go.
Sanosuke watched the way the Chinese man moved, and noted that each movement was made with care. There is a hidden strength in him, Sanosuke observed. He is more than just a trader.
"Alright, then," Dr Hanzo said. "Tomorrow." The box in hand, he went to the back of the waiting room, where there was an open door leading to another room.
Ling smiled and made his way to the door. He stopped by Uki and bowed.
"Later?" he asked, and she nodded. Her face went slightly red for she saw that Sanosuke had seen this.
"Good day to you, Mr Sagara!" Ling said with yet another bow, which Sanosuke acknowledged with a nod.
As soon as he was out the door, Ling procured a wide-rimmed hat that Sanosuke had not noticed earlier and put it on. With a final bow, a slight inclination of the head and a tip of the hat, Ling turned to go.
"Uki," Sanosuke asked after the Chinese man had turned the corner. "Who is this Ling?"
She was seated with her back against the wall. Her lips pursed as if contemplating what to say to him. Sanosuke could see the brows furrow from some inner struggle.
Something is definitely going on between them! he concluded.
"He's-" she began, but was interrupted by a cry from the elsewhere in the building.
She got up quickly. "Coming, Mrs Kojiro!" Uki said aloud and strode towards the other room.
"Uki," Sanosuke called out. Now's the time! he thought. "About what happened by the river..."
She stopped for a moment and turned. "Welcome back, elder brother," Uki said formally. It seemed to Sanosuke to be a rehearsed statement. "You should go and see father."
This is not going too well, Sanosuke thought. "Uki ... I'm glad to see you again." The apology was at the tip of his tongue.
She managed a smile, but Sanosuke could see that it was forced. She made her way to the back door again, then stopped and faced her brother once more.
"Things have changed somewhat, elder brother," she said. "You might not be able to find your way to the family house, so here are the directions..."
Sanosuke listened intently, noting the formal way in which she spoke to him.
"Miss Uki!" Mrs Kojiro called out again.
"Go see father, elder brother," Uki said hurriedly, then slid the door shut after her.
Sanosuke felt like he had been dismissed. He allowed himself a few moments to feel like a lost little boy, then turned to go. The apology remained unspoken on his lips.
UKI was right. If not for her detailed directions, Sanosuke would have taken longer to find the Higashidani home.
In the space of five years there have been new families settling in the area, building new homes, and some who have been around since before he was born had left, probably for the city.
He munched on a dumpling as he made his way past the houses old and new, occupied and abandoned, and he wondered about what he might find at the Higashidani residence.
The daikon field was in better shape than the last time he saw it. At least it looked like someone was actually doing something about tending it.
Sanosuke rapped at the door and called out: "Hey, anybody home?"
There was no answer. He tried the door, but it was locked. This he found odd, since there had never been a need for the Higashidanis to lock up.
Sanosuke sensed someone approach and turned to face the newcomer.
It was one of the Shizuka twins.
"Hello-?" Sanosuke greeted, unsure of whether it was Genzo or Kenzo.
"Shizuka Kenzo," the lad stated. "Mr Higashidani's not home."
Sanosuke nodded. "Yeah, I gathered that. Any idea where he is?"
The other twin walked up just then.
"Mr Sagara!" Genzo called out.
"Hello to you, too," the tall man greeted. "You two come here often?"
Genzo nodded, while Kenzo shook his head. They looked at each other, then smiled.
"We used to come here often," Kenzo said finally. "Up until a few months ago-"
"Last year," Genzo corrected.
"-Yes, last year," his twin agreed. "Mr Higashidani taught us how to fight."
"Nothing fancy," Genzo said. "Just some moves like this-" he held his brother in a head lock.
"-and this," came Kenzo's muffled response just before he threw his brother over his shoulder.
"I get the idea," Sanosuke said with a smile. He had sampled both those moves before. He tried the door again and gave up. He sat down, leaning against the doorframe.
"Then one day, Mr Higashidani said he had nothing more to teach us," one of the twins said - Sanosuke had lost track whether it was Genzo or Kenzo.
"And said he was tired," the other lad added. "But we kept coming anyway, because we liked to hear Mr Higashidani talk about his youth-"
"-and about you, Mr Sagara-"
"-and how you took on the half-demon's legions-"
"-all by yourself!" one of the twins finished.
Sanosuke regarded both young men. They really looked like they believed in all that.
"What happened to him?" he asked finally.
The tall man nodded. "Yes."
Both looked down. "We were hoping things would change, now that you're here."
"Where is he?"
One of the twins pointed at a hill not far away. "Mr Higashidani spends his time at the shrine on that hill. He-"
"-drinks, a lot-"
"-even though we have heard Miss Uki-"
"-shouting at him, telling him to stop-"
"-being an 'idiot', she calls him."
Sanosuke frowned at that, for he did not remember his father ever being one to seek solace in drink. Like me, he finds peace in brawling, he thought.
"But most times, around this time-"
"-he's here, at home," the twins tell him.
Sanosuke got up.
"You're going to see him, Mr Sagara?" the twins ask.
"Yeah," was all he said in response. Then he realised that the twins were expecting something a little more than that. "I'll get him to come home."
"Thank you, Mr Sagara!" the twins chorus somewhat belatedly, for Sanosuke was already on his way to the shrine.
Continued next chapter (parts four to six)