Title: Mibu no Monogatari A Mibu Story - Encounter The Three Longest Days Chapter 6
Series: Peacemaker Kurogane/Shinsengumi Imon Peacemaker
Although it is listed as a PMK fic, it's a historical fan fiction with a combination of elements from PMK, Shinsengumi, and other literature with an interpretation leaning towards that seen in PMK. Also, this is FICTION, which means that it's not necessarily true.
Rating: PG-13 Mild-language and implied sexual situations
Disclaimer: The characters by no means belong to me--they are who they are, but if they must be credited, they would most resemble Nanae Kurono's creations.
Summary: Nine-year old Okita Soujirou is working as a page in the Shieikan dojo, and Kondou Shusuke sends him on an errand in central Edo to accompany a senior student. However, Edo is not a very safe place for children.
Wet bangs plastered to Soujirou's forehead; he quickly pulled off the
sweaty face-protector and wiped off a bead of sweat that tickled the
nape of his neck. He struggled to catch his breath, and finally fell
back upon the grass, simply feeling the mid-morning sun beat down on
his flushed face. The humming of cicadas filled his ears as the hills
thrummed with the life that flourished in mid-summer.
Shieikan -- late June, 1850
Beside him, Isami put away his training sword and sat down next to the exhausted boy. Kondou Isami had only began to break out in a light sweat from the work-out, and he quickly wiped off the thin layer of moisture with his sleeve. They had been training near the hills outside the dojo since dawn, and Isami had spent a good half of the morning drilling the basics of kendo and positioning.
"You learn quickly, Soujirou," the older teen remarked, "It hasn't even been a week, and you already have a good understanding of the basics. You're just as talented as Tosh--Hijikata said."
Soujirou laughed. "Isami-san! I would rather train under you. Hijikata-san only scolds me and tells me how bad my position is." Even as he spoke those words, Kondou Isami noticed the way the boy's eyes softened and how he carefully handled the rough wooden sword that Hijikata had given him. Even now, the boy had wrapped it up with care, and he hugged it against his chest.
Isami smiled and gave the child's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Well, he's always been like that. Why don't you go on inside and get changed? I'll stay behind to clean up."
Soujirou nodded, and stood up to leave. Just in time too--a set of sliding doors pulled open suddenly and Fude poked her head outside, fixing them with a no-nonsense look upon her face.
"Soujirou!" Fude's acerbic voice rang out into the courtyard. "Come back to the kitchen now and help out with lunch."
"You'd better hurry." Isami advised in a half-whisper, and Soujirou obediently heeded the master's wife's summons and went back inside.
When Isami finished putting away the training equipment, he turned to his father, Kondou Shusuke, who was leaning against a pillar and had been observing the training session from the porch.
"Father," Isami bowed quickly as Kondou looked up. "So, what do you think? Will you accept Soujirou as a pupil?"
"No. Isami, I am not accepting him."
"But why?" Kondou Isami pleaded; he slowly approached his adopted father. "You saw how talented he was. He grasped the fundamentals readily, and he reacts quickly and appropriately."
The master of Shieikan puffed serenely upon his pipe.
"It doesn't matter." Kondou Shusuke shifted his weight from one foot to the other in a way that signified that he was unwilling to change his mind. "Soujirou is still a child."
"So am I!" Isami challenged fervently, unable to keep from gesticulating. "You didn't mind when I came over to train at the dojo when I was twelve."
"You are acting like a child right now." Shusuke rebuked him gently but firmly. The fire in Isami's eyes cooled, but still smoldered with a trace of defiance. "I haven't seen you like this before."
"I don't understand," Isami admitted. "The child is bright and talented. How can you let such talent go to waste? If he starts training right now, imagine what he might become in just a few more years."
"That's exactly why I refuse to take him. Besides, I didn't accept you until you were sixteen." The older man crossed his arms. "By then, you have travelled all over Tama and even witnessed death. Soujirou is only nine. He has been living behind his sister's sleeve until now. Starting today, I will let the boy open his eyes."
Isami bowed his head. There was no changing his father's mind when Kondou Shusuke had decided. Both his mother and father were stubborn people. Kondou Shusuke paused just before leaving the porch.
"Isami," Kondou added before his adopted son headed back into the house, taking another puff on his pipe. "Tennen Rishin Ryuu is not a martial art of skill--it's a martial art that's used for war. Talent and skill by themselves do not make a warrior. A child cannot understand the way of the sword--only a man does."
Fude had taught the boy how to approach quietly so that his footsteps would not echo upon the wooden boards that covered the hallways. She also taught him to quietly make a rustling noise just before entering a room--a polite way of announcing his arrival to the occupants inside the room so as not to be mistaken for a spy. A pale slender hand slid open the door to the study cautiously before Soujirou quietly stepped inside.
The boy knelt down gracefully near Kondou Shusuke with a tea caddy perched in one hand. He gently stirred the green tea with forward and backward strokes until it was frothy. Soujirou placed the cup lightly on the table in front of the master of the Shieikan dojo, bowed once, and slowly retreated to a corner of the room where he sat attentively in seiza.
Fude sat silently behind her husband, watching the entire process with an intensity in her shrewd eyes. Her hands were folded primly over her lap, and she wore several layers beneath a silk kimono with a yellow floral pattern despite the heat of midsummer. Kondou Shuusuke slowly took a sip of the tea, savored the flavor, then wiped the mouth of the tea cup before placing it down again. He suddenly broke into a smile and nodded at the young boy.
"Soujirou, come sit here." He beckoned to an empty spot across from him in front of the table. The boy complied, and sat down, folding his knees carefully. "The tea you serve and your technique is much better now. I am impressed by how much you've improved in the last two weeks. Serving tea is an art that takes years to master. You really are a very talented child."
Soujirou kept his head bowed and replied, "It is because of Fude-sensei's instructions."
The edge of Fude's mouth twitched--the only sign that she had registered the boy's comment but otherwise she remained still and silent. Kondou Shusuke glanced at his wife, then laughed at the boy's modest reply.
"Well, it looks like Fude has taught you well." Kondou cleared his throat and continued, "The reason why I summoned you today is to have you run an errand for me. A page's duty includes running errands, and for the last two weeks you've been here, you have not yet experienced any sights or sounds outside of the dojo. I will have one of my senior students accompany you to Edo."
He pulled out a thin sheet of paper with writing on it and slid it in onto the table in front of Soujirou.
"There are several herbs listed here that are imported from Nagisaki by a merchant in Edo who is an old acquaintance. Don't worry. It's okay if you don't know these herbs by name. The store-keeper will know."
Soujirou nodded, and took the paper that was offered. "I will do my best, Kondou-sensei."
"Good. I will have somebody who knows the way to escort you there." Kondou turned his head toward the inner shogi doors and called out to a passing student wearing a hakama that had not yet changed out of his practice gi. "Ah! Inoue Genzaburou, just in time. I have a request for you."
The student paused and peered into the room, then upon noticing Fude, Soujirou and Kondou seated around a table, he quickly bowed to Kondou. He was a young man who appeared to be slightly older than Isami; his forelocks were shaved off and he wore the rest of his hair tied back. "Ah! I didn't realize Kondou-sensei had a guest. Please forgive my rudeness."
"Inoue, if you are finished with practice, accompany my page to Edo to pick up the herbs from Chuugoku that your brother discussed with us last time."
"Yes, of course." Inoue bowed again.
As soon as Kondou dismissed them, Soujirou entered the kitchen to pack supplies. Although it would take no more than two hours to go there and two hours back, the weather was hot and muggy and water was essential for the journey. The boy prepared a bag with two canteens while Inoue tied a pouch of coins that Kondou had entrusted to him to his obi at his waist. Soujirou then slipped on his sandals and followed Inoue to the front gate, struggling to keep pace with the senior student's longer strides.
He was both excited and frightened; it was the first time Soujirou had ever gone outside Shieikan's gates in the past two weeks. Even back home in Hino, Mitsu and Rintarou had hardly let him outside the house, except on days with festivals and public celebrations.
Soujirou stared at Inoue's profile. The young man was quite tall, but still shorter than Hijikata, and Kondou-sensei had introduced him as one of the senior students. He wore a hakama over his dark blue kimono and his hair was cut like like a samurai's--which made him appear intimidating to the eyes of the young boy. Suddenly, the young man turned around, and broke into a wide grin when he noticed Soujirou gaping at him. He spoke in a friendly manner, unable to hide the wonder in his voice.
"So, you're the new page?"
Soujirou nodded meekly.
"The first time I saw you, I didn't realize you were the pageboy. I almost thought you were somebody's kid sister because of how cute you are. What is your name?"
"Soujirou. Okita Soujirou." The boy mumbled nervously.
"Ah! Now I remember--Isami-kun was telling me about you. He said a lot of good things about you, like how smart you are, how quickly you learn, but he never told me you were very pretty!"
Soujirou quickly turned away, pretending to ignore Inoue.
"Hey! What's wrong?" Inoue stopped to grasp the boy by the shoulders. "Why won't you look at me? Am I scary?"
"Yes, um...no," Soujirou stuttered, and tried to shake off the hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Yes? No?" Inoue repeated innocently, not loosening his hold on the younger boy. Then in a more gentle voice he continued, "It's okay, Soujirou. I'm older than the other students, and this is the first time you're all alone with a strange person you never spoke to. Isami-kun said that you were parted from your family not long ago, and you're only nine years old. Even Isami was sixteen when he left his family. It must be lonely here for you."
"Well," Soujirou began uncertainly, "I still miss my sister. I wish I could see her again."
"I can understand that." Inoue replied soothingly. "You must be very close to her right? Don't worry. Kondou-sensei may be harsh to his students, but outside of class, he's a very kind and generous man. Say, did you make any friends here yet?"
"Let me be your friend, Soujirou." Without warning, Inoue hugged the boy compulsively, and Soujirou yelped, suddenly forgetting his fear. "You can call me Gen-san!"
"I-Inoue-san, don't be silly!"
Sprawled across the Musashino plain, the "city of the green" and the "city of water" merged into a thriving cultural and political center known as Edo. About 250 years ago, the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, conceived of the capital city when it was little more than a fishing village and flatlands flanking the Tokyo Bay. Now, the city was one of the world's major metropoles, home to little over a million people.
Edo castle lay in the heart of the city, surrounded by a moat. Aqueducts and irrigation ditches formed tightly-regulated circular rings expanding out from the center of the city. Countless streets and alleyways intersecting the aqueducts radiated outward, giving the overall city a spiral shape when viewed from above. The flatlands consisted of Shitamachi, where the common citizens dwelled while the daimyos, their vassals, and high-ranking officials lived along the hillside in Yamanote.
Inoue and Soujirou entered the city through a low mountain pass. Many travellors also accompanied them as they entered; most of them were merchants. Some had covered wagons full of goods to bring into the city. Others were peddlers with woven baskets and rolled up blankets tied to their backs.
The shuffling of thousands of feet kicked up dust and made Soujirou's eyes water. Somewhere in the crowd, an infant cried, and its mother's comforting coo was lost among the many voices colored with unfamiliar country accents--most which Soujirou had never heard before.
As the crowd slowly permeated through the checkpoint, the boy was barely able to make out the guards that manned the guard station ahead. He and Inoue waited patiently in line for the guards to approach them for clearance. Suddenly, he felt the older man clutch his hand tightly.
"Inoue-san?" Soujirou inquired, slightly puzzled at the gesture.
"Soujirou, stick close to me. Edo is large, and it's easy to get lost. There are many side streets and even though we will be visiting a reputable part of town, there are dangers even grown men cannot handle."
Soujirou nodded in reply, and his eyes flickered down to Inoue's waist; just beneath the man's dark haori, Inoue's other hand remained hidden, tightly gripping his katana. He had not realized until now that Inoue had brought along real swords.
One of the guards finally approached them, and Inoue handed them a scroll of documents for clearance. The guard nodded his approval and waved them past the checkpoint. Soujirou and Inoue blended into the crowd as the traffic slowly oozed its way into the city.
The street they entered was wide but cluttered. Like a patchwork quilt with each square of cloth distinctively different from the other, it was as if the buildings were randomly sewn together, forming a picturesque skyline. Shops layered and stacked upon each other, each one fighting its neighbors for a window to display its wares to the street.
The fashions of Edo paraded the streets, decorating its inhabitants. Although dress for commoners had toned down ever since the Bakufu enforced strict dress codes for each social class, the Edoites still found ways to artistically express themselves. Young women delicately clad in brightly colored furisode and wide elaborate obis glimpsed into shops advertising face powder. A group of men wearing the tea-colored kosode of government officials stood just outside a clinic, self-absorbed in a casual discussion that had nothing to do with politics. A closer glimpse at the men revealed that despite their plainer clothing, they sported elaborately carved netsuke and inro upon their obis.
(Note: Inro are tiny containers used to contain pills or medicine, especially popular among the upper classes and samurai as status symbols. Netsuke are usually carved decorations that accompany the inro and often contain family crests.)
The occassional samurai dressed conservatively in a dark kimono and hakama passed by, wearing his two swords. Kiosks displayed a variety of beautifully crafted ukiyoe depicting the most popular kabuki actors and beautiful courtesans. In one corner of a store front with barred windows, a small group of children laughed and played ball.
Inoue led Soujirou into one of the small shops that shared an overhang with a neighboring antique shop. As they ducked inside, the distinct odor of ginseng and other mountain herbs pervaded their senses. Soujirou quickly drew out the list that Kondou had given them at Inoue's request, and the young man presented it to the store-clerk, a corpulent man who had an easy smile and whose breath smelled strongly of chrysanthemum tea. He immediately rose and beckened them to sit down.
"Genzaburo, long time no see."Soujirou blinked at the casual intimacy in the manner the other man addressed Inoue.
"Ani-ue, I came here to see about the herbs you recommended the last time." Inoue noticed Soujirou looking at them, and turned to explain. "Ah! Soujirou, this is my second brother. He is the owner of an herb shop. Ani-ue, this is Soujirou, a page that arrived just two weeks ago to serve Kondou-sensei."
The older Inoue acknowledged the boy, and Soujirou bowed and handed him Kondou's list. The older man's cheeks dimpled into a grin.
"He's very polite, and quite bright from the looks of it. That's important in a page."
He quickly skimmed the list and stood up from behind the counter.
"Come with me. Most of these are in the storehouse in the back. You'll have to tell me how much you need."
Inoue glanced back at Soujirou.
"Is it okay to leave him in the waiting room?" Inoue tentatively asked his brother.
"It'll be fine. We won't be long. There isn't room enough for more in the back, and I'm in a hurry to close up the shop."
"I'll be fine," Soujirou assured Inoue. He slipped off his sandals and sat down upon the tatami in the waiting room.
Involuntarily, Soujirou's eyes began to scan his environment. On the outside, the shop was not very eye-catching. There was a very old wooden sign mostly-obscured by the overhang. It was hand-carved and painted crudely in black ink that read: "Inoue Herbal Shop".
The interior of the shop was much more lively--several scrolls of Chinese calligraphy and lush landscape paintings decorated the walls. Just above the counter, a beautifully crafted ukiyoe depicting an oiran attended by her girls hung upon the wall. In the rear of the shop near the entrance to the store room, a set of racks held a pair of katana and wakazashi--they were very likely the older Inoue's swords. The only anamolous object in the room was a small bound black book with strange gold inscription upon it in a writing that Soujirou did not comprehend. It sat quite unnoticed upon a low end table, and the dust collecting upon it had turned the cover gray.
As the seconds turned to long minutes, the air smoldered with the scent of Chinese herbs. It was not an unpleasant odor, but Soujirou was not accustomed to such a thick smell. He finally decided it was harmless to step outside briefly for fresh air. Soujirou stood up, pulled on his sandals, slid open the door, and peered out from beneath the overhang.
A strange begger that Soujirou had not seen before, covered in a straw mat and fast-asleep, lay partially reclined against the door step. Soujirou carefully stepped aside so as not to disturb the beggar. As the boy walked out into the middle of the street, he did not notice the beggar's eyes fly open and stare at him. Soujirou let out a quick breath of relief. He considered heading back into the shop, but the thought of muggy air and the smell of medicine made his mind reel, so he stood outside and watched the children playing ball.
Suddenly, a strangely familiar scent pierced the air and flooded his senses. It was a sweet and exquisite fragrance--one that brought tears of nostalgia to his eyes and memories of his home in Hino. Soujirou blinked away the tears. He realized what the smell was--it was the smell of the plum blossom perfume his sister always wore. His chest constricted painfully; he could almost feel the cloth of his sister's silk kimono brushing his cheek when he embraced her one last time. Soujirou quickly turned and stared down the street for the source of the smell. If only he could find out where it was coming from...
A small draft of warm wind blew more of the scent in Soujirou's face, and the boy glanced back once at the medicine shop, then began to carefully follow the breeze upstream. He maundered past the children playing ball--past the talking men leisurely sitting oustide the restaurant, and past small groups of women with parasols and short sleeved kimono that signified their married status.
Suddenly, the breeze died down and the scent faded. Where did it go? It seemed to be coming from a narrow alley. He turned the corner into the dark alleyway and noticed a brightly decorated restaurant. The scent emenated strongly from the restaurant, and an elaborate palanquin had been parked in front. If curiousity had not entranced the boy, Soujirou would have sensed that a restaurant with its front door in a back alley was slightly strange.
He was able to make out a couple figures standing just inside the entrance of the restaurant. He quietly tip-toed as stealthily as he could towards the entrance, laying low to the ground and making sure that the people inside did not spot him. All he wanted was a quick glimpse inside, then he would leave.
As he came closer, he noticed that one of the persons inside was a young woman with her hair elaborately dressed in a more flashy variant of the yoko-Hyogo style with numerous hairpins and ribbons tying her hair in place. She was the source of the plum blossom scent. Her face was pure white with rouge touching the edges of her eyelids and accentuating her lower lip. She wore a very brightly colored furisode whose sleeves trailed down to the floor. The other figure was a man wearing a merchant's haori--most likely the restaurant manager--and looked to be giving the woman specific directions to the interior of the restaurant.
Soujirou quickly turned back after catching a glimpse of the figures, and started to slip back as quietly and inobtrusively as he could. The man and the woman did not seem to notice him. He could not hide his disappointment though--the woman that stood in the doorway somehow looked familiar. He was certain he saw her face before somewhere, despite the fact she was a stranger.
Suddenly, without warning, a quick movement flashed along the periphery of his vision, and he quickly turned his head back toward the restaurant, only to have a hard fast blow catch the side of his head, knocking his forehead against the wall. His vision blurred, and he fell unsteadily upon his hands and knees. The boy brought up his right hand and wiped some fresh blood off of a split lip. About two steps away from his left hand, he noticed some unfamiliar feet clad in straw sandals. Before he could lift his head to see his attacker, another blow came, and this time his mind dimmed and the world slowly faded into oblivion.
End of Chapter 6
Notes: Okay, I'll admit...it took me a very long time to release this chapter. looks around guiltily I was almost finished with it but then found some info on Inoue Genzaburou, which I painstakingly translated from a Japanese site (see for more info), and I had to sit down and rewrite portions of his personality to fit the description. I am too lazy to put up any footnotes right now, so maybe at a later date, I'll release them for the story arc. And, please don't be mad at the cliff-hanger. ; The title of the next chapter should give a clue as to what you can expect next: Ukiyo The Three Longest Days - Chapter 7.
Replies to comments -
I'm sorry the update did not come very soon. ; I had most of the
chapter planned out, then in the middle of writing it, I nearly trashed
a lot of the original ideas. Even so, I hope you enjoyed it. There are
fictions with Okita in it, but few that dwell and develop him deeply as
a character. I've always thought of the PMK fandom to be relatively
young and colonial.
Night-Owl123: Once again, I'm sorry I didn't update so quickly, but I will try to the best of my abilities to do so. bows
ofudamaster: Thank you for the advice! I agree that some of the character descriptions are not necessary. I have tried to omit them unless needed. When I write a story, I pretend I'm in the mind of each character. I see them, but at the same time, I write with the intent to portray what they may also be feeling. I'm very honored by your compliment.
kiristel: Okita Souji is also my favorite character, though Hijikata closely ties for second that sometimes I can't tell who I like more. P I'm glad you enjoy the story, and hope you will continue to follow it. I try to put my best into each chapter I write.
Shadow Mystic: Thank you for the offer to edit my stories! D I wanted to get back to you sooner, but I have no contact info from you. Please send me an e-mail, and I can either mail you the documents for editing, or you can download them from the site.