Haiku for Shakiko

"I've had three wives. The last was Shakiko, a Japanese princess. Her father... Masamune was a genius. He made this for me... It's the only one of its kind... like his daughter... When Shakiko died, I was shattered..."

~Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, Highlander

Japan, 593 b.c.e.

The immortal currently using the name Takito sat cross-legged on the mats, his eyes closed. Around him, he knew, were arrayed the shattered remnants of the tea ceremony. He had allowed none of the servants to clear the mess. The tea had soaked into the mats and stained them where Shakiko had dropped the implements and he had cast away his cup in his effort to catch her as she fell.

"You are too ill, my love, to offer me this," he'd tried to tell her earlier. But Shakiko had merely smiled as she arranged her hair and silken komono about her.

Softly, her voice always sounding to Takito as though whispered in the temples of this ancient land came to him. "My lord Takito-san, it is my final gift. Do not rob me of this honor." She had lowered her eyes and bowed to him. He could deny her nothing.

When he had first arrived in Japan, nearly sixty years ago, it was Shakiko's father he had been most interested in meeting. In China, he'd heard tales of a master swordsmith... on the offshore islands... who could make sharp blades of incomparable beauty. Coming to the islands, the immortal had sought this master craftsman. After all... as an immortal... Takito had known that a master weapon might be all that would stand between his life... and the life of his immortal opponents. If in the end... only one immortal would be left alive... then Takito wished to be that immortal.

He'd traveled and learned from many swordsmiths in his four hundred years...but Takito was always searching for new techniques. The immortal Nakano had shown him the method of folding metal... he carried one of Nakano's marvelous blocks of metal with him... Now all Takito needed was a master craftsman to create the ultimate sword... one so strong... it could never be shattered.

Masamune had regarded the stranger curiously... but when gifted of the block of metal and challenged to create a sword... his interest had been greatly piqued. While Takito had spent time watching and learning... his eyes had fallen upon the delicate flower that was Masamune's only child... his daughter Shakiko.

When he had been a mortal man, Takito's first wife had preceded him in death... and he had been already years without her when he'd learned of his immortality. Later, after having learned of his gifts and the great game... he had begun his travels to the east and had married a second time. Leila's husband had died in battle, a child growing within her. Takito, knowing he'd never have a chance for his own children... had taken her to his heart and then watched in anguish as she'd died in childbirth a few months later. Greatly saddened... for he had loved her... but such things were the whims of the gods... he had traveled on, finally arriving at the eastern islands off-shore... the end of the world... the first of the lands to greet the rising sun with each new day. it was here he had once more lost his heart.

Takito had first seen Shakiko in the gardens surrounding Masamune's forge. As delicate and as lovely as the cherry blossoms waftng about her in the breeze, she had bowed to the immortal shyly as he'd regarded her. So delicate was she... Takito had thought at first she was a porcelain doll such as he'd seen in the hands of children.

"That is my daughter," Masamune had said.

"A rare and beautiful creature," Takito had replied humbly and with admiration. He bowed to Masamune and returned to the interior of the forge to help the master with his work. He was here for a sword... not to dally with the master's daughter.

But Shakiko came often to the forge to serve her father tea... or wandered near it... whenever she thought she might catch the attention of the oddly-eyed stranger... and in shy looks that betrayed her feelings for him and his for her... their love had grown.

The spring passed into summer. Mosquitoes buzzed about the lily ponds where the koi swam. Takito walked among them with Shakiko... saying nothing. Autumn rains fell... and they stood beneath the eaves of the forge speaking quietly as their fingers dared to touch and their eyes met in longing. Winter snows covered the land... and he had dared to hold her... surrounding her in his embrace and wishing with all his heart that he could keep her forever warm. By spring... Masamune had completed the katana.

Takito had marveled at the masterpiece. Longer than a man's arm, curved and balanced as only the best swords were, it felt alive and perfect in his hands, its intricately carved handle itself a thing of beauty. Masamune had watched the immortal with the blade and grunted his approval.

"You are a samurai of great ability. For you I have made a sword that will last through the ages. It will pass to your descendants and be an honor to your household." Masamune had bowed to Takito.

"Alas Masamune-san," Takito had bowed. "I am far too old to marry again. And I will have no children."

"All samurai must marry. And as for children... that is for the gods to decide. Hai?"

Takito understood what Masamune was offering... not just this sword... but Shakiko as well. Takito bowed, humbled by this gift.

They'd had sixty years together. Shakiko had come to understand that he was not like other men... that he would not age beyond what he was... that he would never father children. But it had been of little consequence to her. It was the man from western lands she loved... and to whom she would be forever faithful.

As she aged, Takito discovered it did not matter. It was not her hair, raven-black at first that he so loved... nor was it her smooth, un-lined face. Nor did his love for her rest solely in the perfection of her slim body. It rested in her eyes and in her soul... and in her heart. Even as an aged grandmother, she was still the precious young woman he had so loved. He saw not the white hair, nor the wrinkles, nor the sagging breasts, nor the gnarled hands. Takito saw only his love reflected in the perfection of all Shakiko did.

Then she had fallen... whispering her final words of love for only his ears to hear.

Takito had held her stiffened and cold body for hours... refusing to let her go... wailing over it. Finally the servants had forced him to release her... that they might prepare her body for the funeral pyre... and had left him alone in this room... with his sorrow.

Before him lay the katana... He considered ending his life so that he might join her on the pyre. Surely there was a way that he could achieve the final death... Surely this sword could take his head and allow him to pass beyond. He had been out of the game on this island world where time did not seem to pass except in his knowledge that Shakiko had aged and left him. But if he died... who would remember her?

Slowly Takito stood, grasping the hilt of the katana and with measured movement, began the kata, the stylized warm-up with the graceful blade. Again and again he went through the motions... ever more quickly until sweat poured from him as he moved... until his strokes required no thought... his body automatic in the movements that one day might save his life in the game. In her honor... in her memory... he would live the remaining days of his life.

A small scratch on the rice-paper screen alerted him that a servant requested entry.

"We are ready, Takito-san," the old retainer said bowing his head so that his forehead touched the mats. He had come... and in this move offered his head to his lord if he should so require it.

"Hai!" the immortal said, replacing the katana in his sash, and strode from the room without a backward glance.

Outside, all was in readiness. Wrapped in white... the color of death... Shakiko's body was enshrined on the carefully constructed bier of wood. Yellow and white chrysanthemums were displayed about her body. Takito knew that fragrant oils had been poured onto the wood to mask the odor of her burning. The oils would also assist in causing the fire to burn hot and bright so that all that had been Shakiko would be reduced to ash.

Takito took the burning torch from a servant and approached the bier. For a moment he stared at her still form. Gently he removed the wrappings from her face and, with tear-filled eyes, kissed her cold unmoving lips. "You are my heart... my soul... and always will be. I cannot join you on your journey... but wherever I go... you will always be with me."

He recovered her face and thrust the torch into the bier. Flames leapt into the clear summer sky. The flower petals about her charred... some falling free of the flames as the sparks rose to the heavens. Tomorrow, when the ashes had cooled... he would take a handful with him in a small bag as he left these shores. He would re-enter the game... but Shakiko would always be with him... until the day of his death.

***

Charred chrysanthemum

Petals fall like bitter tears~

Sparks rise heavenward.

Author's Notes:

I know little of Japanese culture at the time this story is actually set. I do know that samurai, the concept of seppuku, the tea ceremony, and the writing of haiku came much, much later. However, in the absence of knowing the society of Japan in 593 b.c.e., I have visualized simply an earlier form of the Japan most westerners are familiar with when they consider this ancient land. My apologies for these liberties I have taken with historical evidence.

The name I gave Ramirez for this time-frame, as obviously he would not have been called Ramirez, was a Japanese sounding form of the name many Highlander fans accept as his original Egyptian name... Tak Ne.

The haiku after the story is mine. This form of poetry flowered in Japan in the late nineteenth century. It is a seventeen syllable verse form written in three lines with five, seven, and then five syllables and describes a single image. My first line, however, has six syllables... because I wanted to use the word chrysanthemum. The making of a katana could take as much as a year. I have used the traditional haiku words that represent the seasons in the descriptions of the passing year. Cherry blossoms represent spring, chrysanthemums or mosquitoes summer, rain autumn, and snow winter. A seasonal word or symbol should always be included in a traditional haiku.