A/N I am breaking with all my own custom here in posting when i haven't even got any other chapters prepared. This story will NOT be updated daily, so sorry; but as and when, just because I feel there should be more relevant content on the Shogun site. It is intended to be a long story. The plot outline is in my head but not yet developed. Dozo, be patient. Arigato Goziemas'. I do not own Shogun or any of the characters. Thanks to James Clavell for an excellent fictionalisation of the rise of Tokugawa Iyeasu.
Her mother had died in a fall from a mountain pass they had told her, and she was brought into the world from her mother's womb too soon; yet despite the odds she had survived.
The Anjin-san was a noble father to have and evidently blessed with good fortune to have a daughter with such spirit to live.
The spirit, said her father, went with her strangely coloured hair; the colour of a fox. And some whispered that the girl child was a fox spirit; a mixed blessing in any household. Akiko had seen the servants trying surreptitiously to see whether she had one or more tails. She did not believe that she was a fox spirit, kitsune; because had not her honoured father also got hair that was strange in colour? It was a far better explanation. Moreover her hair was between the colour his was and that of a more normal black; and it was different.
Akiko liked to be different. The proverb 'if you see a nail sticking up, hit it down' was one she had heard often enough; and though she conformed on the surface she rebelled within; she wanted to stick up.
She was fascinated by what made her and her father different; and what too made her the same. In what way she was like her father, whose English name she could manage to pronounce, John Blackthorne, hard though it was; and in what way she was like her mother, his consort Fujiko of whom he spoke little.
One of the things that made her different was the fascination she felt for the five arrows embedded in the gate post of their house.
Her honourable father had told her the story of how Toda Buntaro-sama had sat quite relaxed within the main room and had fired his great bow through the shoji without even being able to see the gateposts having asked the Anjin-san which post he should aim for.
It was an impressive feat; as impressive as the famed and almost fabled survival of Buntaro-sama from a fight against traitors that he had been believed to have fallen in, though he had slain them all; but he had been washed ashore still living further down the coast. Akiko felt a great deal of superstitious awe for Buntaro-sama.
That was why she had asked her father to speak with him respectfully about teaching her the way of the bow.
Her father had never refused any reasonable request of hers before; and certainly never with a flash of fire in his foreign blue eyes or a snap in his voice.
Akiko went away to think.
Her honoured father had said that he would not speak to Buntaro-sama.
He had never said that the idea of learning kyujutsu, the way of the bow should be unthinkable.
She was now eight years old and it would be too late to start if she did not begin soon; it was late already.
But her honoured father had never said that SHE might not ask.
Akiko smiled; wrote a careful letter in the hiragana script that was easier to express thoughts in; and set out.
The child was the brat of that accursed Anjin. Abased on her knees as was only proper – at least she was duly respectful – she was begging him to be her sensei.
"Out of the question" growled Buntaro.
"Honoured Lord Toda, why is it out of the question?" asked the pestilential brat. "I have will and determination."
"THAT I doubt" said Buntaro. "I will not teach a female, and especially not a half gaijin female. You will not have the fortitude."
"Then I will prove I have the fortitude Sama, and I will sit outside your dwelling until you accept me" said the child.
"HAH!" he turned on his heel and went away. She would soon tire of THAT.
It was some hours later that he noticed that the small figure was still there.
She was still there in the morning; and that brought a visit from the Anjin-san; who railed at her in his uncouth barbarian tongue. He had made the brat learn it then.
She answered in a civilised tongue, kneeling to her father but defying him.
"I cannot come, most honoured father; I have made a vow. You will not force me to break that of course?"
The Anjin was staring at her with that outrageous display of his emotions on his face.
Buntaro strode out; and bowed as little as he might politely do.
"Anjin-san" he growled "Your whelp is insolent."
"She has an idea in her head that she would learn the bow from you" said the Anjin-san whose bow was also scarcely adequate. "I told her I would not speak to you. I – I apologise that she has caused a disruption to your household"
He hated to say it as much as Buntaro had hated having to apologise for disturbing the wa of the Anjin's house by losing control over Mariko's defiance so long ago. Buntaro permitted himself a thin smile. The brat at least had provoked an apology from his rival.
"She appears to think she can speak for herself" said Buntaro dryly. "I will have my servants see that there is fresh water for her; she will tire of this."
"That's what you think" Blackthorne muttered to himself in English and added as the heavy set samurai scowled "She is stubborn."
"Ah? She takes after her father then" said Buntaro.
Blackthorne glared at him. He had no wish to see his daughter associate with Mariko's husband; but how to tell her that without betraying the memory of Mariko! He switched to English.
"The Lord you would learn from is violent of temper, Akiko" he said "He may beat you if you displease him."
"Then I should probably deserve it" said Akiko "And for a few beatings to learn from the best, surely that is a fair exchange, honoured father? His skill is legendary."
"Come away" said Blackthorne roughly.
She touched her forehead to the ground.
"If it is your will honoured father that I should lose face before a man you seem to dislike then I will obey" she said "But it will lose you face also. I did not know before I came that you disliked him; I am very sorry."
"I would not have you lose face" Blackthorne muttered. "I do not like this; but I will not stop you."
She touched her forehead to the floor again.
"Domo arigato chichi-san" she said.
Buntaro watched with some contemptuous amusement as the Anjin spoke in his uncouth tongue and the whelp answered in an even tone but plainly defiantly. Then the Anjin bowed.
"My daughter knows her will and her mind, Buntaro-san" he said "I will not make her lose face by ordering her home. I will ask that you send for me if I am required to collect her."
"You have learned much Anjin-san" he admitted grudgingly. "Your daughter has the spirit of a samurai."
She was swaying with tiredness. He grunted.
Why was she so determined? Was it just that she was as stubborn as her father?
Or was she driven by a need? She was related to him through her mother. If there was a hereditary aptitude…
There was only one way to find out.
He went out.
"I will teach you for a month" he said gruffly "If you do not show aptitude you will not bother me further. If you show aptitude I will teach you everything that I know so that I may have one to pass it on to."
Shakily she leaned forward to place her palms to the ground and touch her head to the floor.
"Domo arigato, Toda Buntaro-sensei!" she said.
He picked her up.
"You shall bathe and sleep and eat" he said "You are in no fit state to learn anything now. I shall send word to your father that you will serve in my household for a month to learn. After that you will either return to his house or an arrangement of your lessons must be made. As you grow it would not be seemly for you be a part of my household. A maid will come to assist you" and he deposited her unceremoniously in the bathhouse.
Akiko was delighted – but she was too sleepy and stiff to do more than enjoy the hot bath and roll herself onto a sleeping mat to fall into deep slumber.
"There is no arrow; there is no target; there is only the firing" said Buntaro "If you are one with the bow the arrow will hit the target. Your muscles are deficient however and will need to be built up."
"Hai, sensei" said Akiko. "I will hold a sword at arms' length as boys do to learn the strength for swordmanship."
"It will help" he grunted.
She showed an early aptitude. She also listened. She worked hard and willingly.
She also asked too many questions.
She started again, begging to know how else she might strengthen herself.
"You talk too much chibi" he said "You chatter like the woodpecker, the takubobu!"
"So sorry, Sensei!" she said "But how will I learn if I do not ask?"
"I will tell you what you need to know, you Takubobu, you!" he said.
It stuck as a nickname; one might even say a pet name.
Buntaro preferred not to admit to himself that the admiration of a child and the thrill of passing on his talent to one with true promise actually pleased him; only he knew how bitterly he resented the disability that meant his son would never be an archer. He acknowledged only in hard words and driving her harder; and in a pet name. When she was overly pert, he beat her; though not perhaps as hard as he might have done. And she accepted the punishment.
And when she saw she had offended she would usually apologise.
Then he had no need to beat her.
When she asked why he and her father did not like each other he told her not to ask.
"I would only wish to effect a reconciliation" she said.
"I said you were not to ask" he said. "I am displeased."
"I cannot apologise. I am not sorry, Sensei" she said.
He laid his sandal across her backside and she bowed to him when he had finished; but she was still not sorry.
Arrangements were made that Akiko – Takubobu – would continue to visit and receive instruction; though Blackthorne was not happy about it.
"Lord Toda says I have an aptitude honoured father" said Akiko. "It is a shame not to train me. One day I will be able to fire seated and with precision and grace."
"Maybe" said Blackthorne dubiously "If he does not lose his temper and kill you first."
Akiko smiled. He would not. She had reached a point where her sensei treated her like his own blood; which technically she was.
And so the training continued; and the months became years; and even her father acknowledged the nickname Takubobu as appropriate for his eternally curious and stubborn daughter. And if there were some subjects that were taboo, it did not stop Akiko from asking from time to time and taking the consequences with philosophy and stoic acceptance.