The Death and Birth of Shimazu Ichiro

  • The Halfling Defence League

    Character Name: Shimazu Ichiro
    NWN Login: Hitodama
    Narfell Account: Fadia

    “Goro! Come quick!” Ryo’s voice was hushed and hurried as the younger boy waved him on. Ryo was 17, two years younger than Goro, but the two had always been close.

    “What is it?”, Goro asked, following without thinking. The two moved from the back of the tannery, following the sounds of raised voices out in the front, where Goro’s father worked. As they passed through the curtains and into the front of the shop, his eyes grew wide and his mouth filled with the copper taste of fear.

    A samurai stood in the shop, holding his father by his roughspun kosode while another man, a servant, perhaps, stood by the door holding a saddle. The contrast was striking - the samurai’s dark armor was resplendent, and the silk clothing beneath garishly decorated in patterns of hibiscus flowers and whorling centipedes, with the latter also painted delicately onto the black-lacquered iron plates that covered his chest. He hadn’t even bothered to take off his shoes. His father, meanwhile, wore a dusty brown sweat-stained kosode. Well worn and patched, each of its blemishes told the story of another day’s hard work, and of his own inability to scrape together the funds needed to own more than an outfit or two. It would’ve been almost comical if not for the terrible lightness in Goro’s chest, and the fact that his heart was pounding so fast that he was sure the strangers could probably hear it from across the room.

    “You thought you could sell this shit? That it was fit for anything but the likes of you?”, the samurai roared, his face a fraction of an inch from his father’s. Goro could see the man’s spittle landing gracelessly on his father’s cheek. He pointed back at the man by the door. No, not the man. The saddle. He could see now that the belts beneath it, the ones that held it fast to the body of the horse, had snapped.

    Goro’s father stammered, but could only manage to weakly whimper, “M..My lord, I didn’t m-make the s-s-saddle…”, before the samurai roughly pushed him back, and into a rack displaying several tanned hides. The samurai grunted, spitting on the floor as he turned momentarily away.

    As if sensing some unspoken cue, the samurai’s servant spoke up. The eerie calmness of his voice cut through the tense atmosphere of the tanner’s shop. “Lord Shimazu Ichiro was hunting with lord Aramasu Keitaro and young lord Yorifusa Yoshihide when the straps of his saddle broke, causing him to fall from his horse and suffer great personal humiliation in front of the other lords. We first called on the saddler, though he indicated that it was a problem with the leather. Upon showing us that the break was not along any of the areas where he had sewn or riveted, but instead across the leather itself, lord Shimazu found his explanation satisfactory. When asked where he had sourced the leather from, he referred us here. It is lord Ichiro’s opinion that you knowingly sold substandard leather to the saddler, which was then used in the construction of this saddle.”

    At first, it almost seemed like this Shimazu Ichiro was too angry even to look at Goro’s father. The man took a deep breath and steeled himself, before turning to glare at the cowering tanner. “Don’t sugarcoat it, Majima. They fucking laughed at me! At me! Because of you!”, he bellowed, grabbing one of his father’s lapels in each thick hand.

    Goro’s father glanced, terrified, between the servant and the samurai. “M-my lord, the…the straps are dry rotted, if you don’t take care to rub the leather down with dubbin i-it-”

    “Oh, so it’s my fault? How very convenient for you!”, Shimazu said with a sneer.

    Goro looked back at the saddle. His father was right, the straps had dry rotted, he could see the leather in crumbles at each side of the break. The servant, for all his calmness, wouldn’t look directly at his father.

    Probably the bastard who was supposed to do that, Goro thought.

    “What are we going to do?”, Goro asked hushedly to Ryo as they hid behind the shop’s counter. If there was one upside to the samurai continuing to bellow loudly at his father, it’s that it meant he wouldn’t hear them.

    “Do? He’s a samurai! We’re eta, you idiot! Nobody’d bat an eye if he killed us just for breathing the same air as him.”, Ryo hissed back.

    The two boys’ attention snapped back to the altercation at the sound of shelving clattering to the floor. Lord Shimazu Ichiro had Goro well in hand, the weaker man unable to offer any resistance as the samurai manhandled him through the fixtures in his shop, towards the door. The force of being pushed through his furniture left him with half a dozen scrapes and cuts, over which small beads of blood were already beginning to well up. The rickety building shook as the Samurai slammed his father into one of the wooden pillars holding up its roof.

    “You know something? I could kill you for this without even thinking. I’d even be justified in doing so. But I’m a merciful guy, even to a thing like you.”, he sneered.

    A thing like you. The words made Goro’s blood boil, beginning to replace fear with something far more like anger.

    Chantea, we aren’t even fucking people to them.

    “So here’s what we’re going to do.”, the samurai continued. “We’re going to go outside where everyone around can see, and you’re going to get down on your knees, and apologize for selling this shit. You’re going to promise me that in the future, your shop will only sell quality leather, and that these kinds of standards won’t be ignored again.”

    Goro’s father looked up, lip quivering. He was clearly dazed, though he had enough of his wits about him to still have some sense of self preservation. He nodded eagerly at the opportunity to get out of this with his life.

    “Majima. Leave that shit here where it belongs.”, he spat, before roughly pushing Goro’s father out, breaking through the fragile wood and rice paper of the shop’s front door.

    Majima unceremoniously dropped the saddle on the floor of the shop, then stepped calmly out through the hole in the door after the other two. Goro and Ryo followed, peeking out past the door’s broken edges, as the samurai drew his sword and threw Goro’s father to the ground.

    The street outside was narrow and lined with shops, inns, and teahouses packed so closely together that they may as well have all been one single large building. The packed earth of the street was clogged with the masses of Hotomori’s gathered citizenry - people of all classes mingling together who had been simply going through their day before the commotion of an untouchable being physically forced through the door of his own shop stole their attention. As if to punctuate the spectacle, Shimazu Ichiro held his katana high over his head in one hand. Sunlight glinted off of the graceful curve of steel. The sight was so arresting that Goro and Ryo hadn’t even noticed Majima reaching to his belt for a pair of wooden blocks each joined at one end with a small length of rope. He clattered them together, calling for the attention of what few eyes weren’t already on them.

    “Your local gutter trash has something to say!”, shouted the samurai. There was something about his words that struck Goro. Something that seemed less like a powerful and confident samurai, and more like a man simply trying to seem more tough and commanding than he actually was.

    People crowded around, forming a packed-in semicircle centered on the samurai and the untouchable. Majima stayed at its fringes. Neighbors and customers Goro had seen dozens if not hundreds of times before. All people who, like the samurai, had treated his family with contempt. All people whose custom his family relied upon to survive. If his mother was still alive, she’d probably have ushered him away long before now, not wanting him to see his father laid even lower than usual.

    We aren't even fucking people to them.

    “Go on. Say it.”, spat Ichiro as he lightly kicked at Goro’s father.

    Every second the samurai’s display went on, Goro’s fear shrank further back, replaced by a sort of nervous, quaking euphoria. He supposed that must be what rage felt like.

    He bit nervously at the inside of his cheek.

    “I-I-I’m s-sorry, for s-s-selling b-b-bad l-leather…”, his father managed to say. His voice was barely louder than it would be in a normal conversation, but the crowd was so hushed that he was still easily heard. “I p-promise that m-m-my shop will…will only s-sell the finest l-leather in the f-f-future.”

    “Apology accepted.”, said Shimazu Ichiro, before his blade swung down through Goro’s father’s neck.

    Goro screamed as his father’s head tumbled from his shoulders, landing in the dirt looking back at his shop. The man’s lips quivered, and his eyes fixed on Goro for what few seconds of consciousness he still had, before his expression went blank and lifeless.

    Ichiro and Majima - hell, the whole crowd too, for that matter, turned and fixed eyes on him at the sudden sound. The samurai pointed his sword at him, striding threateningly toward him, his hand trembling, almost but not quite imperceptibly.

    “Get the fuck back into your shop, trash, unless you want to lose your head too.”, the samurai said, his voice cracking just a bit.

    Goro’s fists clenched as he took a step towards him, blinded by his grief and fury. He wanted to speak. He tried to speak. Words failed him.

    Something tugged at his arm. He looked down at the thin, dirty fingers hooked into his elbow. Ryo had grabbed him, pulling him back into the shop, out of view.

    “That’s what I thought.”, Ichiro’s voice said, sounding reassured that Goro had backed down from the challenge before barking orders for the crowd to disperse.

    Ryo sighed. “I thought you were about to try and have a go at him, there.”, he said, relieved.

    Goro simply pulled away, wordlessly. Too angry to speak, or even look at anyone else. He looked back to the doorway, and saw the backsides of Majima and Shimazu as they strode away. Ryo held him in place, not letting him go until he was sure the two had well and truly cleared out.

    After several long minutes, they returned to the broken doorway. Goro’s father still laid out in the street, his head a few feet from the rest of his body. Both boys looked each way down the street, then walked out to collect the remains. Peasants and merchants passed them by like nothing had even happened, unperturbed by the sight of a headless untouchable being dragged back inside by a pair of untouchable children. Their callousness to it all only added fuel to the fire burning in Goro’s gut. They laid his father gently down, hands laid one on top of the other over his stomach, just above the belt which still held his tanning knife. Ryo went back outside, gingerly collecting the head. He placed it back against the neck, where it should’ve been. It wouldn’t sit upright, and rolled onto its side again, leaving the man’s blank, unseeing eyes staring at Goro once again.

    Hours passed. Ryo left to go home and, Goro assumed, think long and hard about where else an untouchable could find employment. If he was a little smart, and a little lucky, he might manage to find work with the yakuza. He’d seen some from the Konoha family down in Saijo, but he wasn’t even sure how one got involved with that world. He was pretty sure you couldn’t just go and ask if they were hiring.

    The sun fell in the sky, casting long shadows over the street that still was stained with his father’s blood. Goro couldn’t bear to be in the same room as the body, and so he sat beneath the overhanging thatched roof in front of his father’s shop, curled up against a wooden post supporting a corner of the roof. Not father’s shop any more, he thought. Mine now. For what it’s worth. Something about the thought of that turned his stomach. The trade that supported their family. The trade that marked them as untouchable. Class had a way of limiting your prospects in Wa. Most simply accepted things as they were, content to live out lives determined by what their parents and grandparents had been. Ichi couldn’t bear to think of tanning one more hide, after this.

    We aren’t even people to them.

    He looked back at the shop, his resentment of his entire lot in life growing. He could just see his father’s feet through the hole in the door. The father he loved. The father whose trade had cursed him. The father who’d been cursed by his father’s trade. And his father’s trade. And his father’s trade. Back as far as anyone in Wa could remember, he supposed.

    A door at the end of the street clattered open and then closed again, and the sound of footsteps tamping into the hard earth followed..

    “But the lost business, my lord. I’ve lost a whole day’s business because of him!” It was Ota, the innkeeper.

    “Lord Shimazu is in a delicate state, Ota. He may be a samurai, but he’s never killed a man before. They say the first one is always…challenging.” Majima. Shimazu’s servant. Now that was interesting. Goro flinched and listened, but dared not turn his head back to look at them.

    “I understand that, but I can’t make ends meet if he takes over my-”

    “Lord Shimazu’s estate”, Majima cut in, “will see to it that you are more than adequately compensated for any financial losses his use of your inn may have caused you. Trading in money is, of course, beneath him, however I am sure that you will find one quarter koku sufficient compensation for the lost business.”

    Ota huffed, then stopped. “Fine. Should I send for you to collect him when he’s had his fill, then?”

    “No need to wound my lord’s pride any further than it already has been. Wouldn’t want to end up like that eta, after all.” He could hear the smile in Majima’s words. It turned his blood to ice.

    Ota grunted, turning back to his inn, while Majima continued on down the road. He passed Goro without even looking at him.

    He’s there. He’s right there. Drinking. Celebrating his kill. The thought threw Goro into a fresh rage. His eyes flicked back to his father’s feet. His father’s body. Without even realizing what he was doing, Goro was walking back into the shop. Willed by some primal force, both himself and not himself, to crouch next to his father’s lifeless body. Skinny fingers wrapped around the handle of his father’s tanning knife. He took it, clutching it to his chest, and went back to the front of the building, curling up into a ball to hide it from any who might look at him.

    By sundown, the street had cleared. And it was a few hours more until Goro finally heard the door to the inn slide open once again. Whoever was leaving didn’t bother to close it. The steps were ragged, uneven, and the person walking was mumbling incoherently to themselves as they walked.

    It was his voice.

    Shimazu Ichiro, proud samurai of the Shimazu clan, staggered drunkenly past the tanner’s shop and through the coagulating pool of his father’s blood. Like his servant before him, he paid no mind to the boy curled up on the ground. Probably too drunk to even know someone was there., Goro thought.

    After the samurai had gone a few yards ahead, Goro stood up, silently. He followed, as Shimazu Ichiro wound his way through the labyrinthine streets of Hotomori. Through the city’s gates. Into the fields which separated the Shimazu estate from the city proper. The sight of the staggering, drunken fool only made Goro’s rage grow. This man, the man who killed his father, the man who was so certain that he was made of nobler stuff than Goro could ever hope to be, was a filthy, staggering wreck. Even from a few yards back, Goro was sure that the man smelled like he’d pissed himself somewhere on his trek.

    The full moon sat high in the sky, casting a faint light over the crossroads that would lead to the Shimazu estate, or further on to Saijo. A signpost stood in its center, directing travelers to the nearby settlements. Ichiro stopped, and leaned against it.

    The samurai began to look around cautiously.

    Shit, did he hear me?, Goro thought, his heart pounding again and his mind racing as he quickly glanced around for somewhere to hide. The road was empty, and the fields around them clear of any obstructions.

    Ichiro jerked awkwardly, then doubled over and began to retch onto the base of the sign.

    A thought forced its way into Goro’s mind. Now or never. His search for a hiding place revealed nothing - not even any witnesses. His target was preoccupied.

    His fingers reached for the knife. His father’s knife.

    His body felt light as a feather, the rush of adrenaline carrying him with what felt like superhuman speed towards the hunched figure of the retching samurai. Before either of them knew what Goro was doing, he’d roughly grabbed hold of a handful of the samurai’s hair, his father’s knife opening up a wide, bloody gash in the man’s neck. He felt the man’s body tense, and a sound like a weak, tired wheeze managed to eke out, before the blood loss took him. The samurai’s body crumpled to the ground, lifeless.

    Goro looked down at the body, his hand suddenly too weak to hold his father’s knife. It fell, the tip of its blade planting firmly in the ground as Goro himself began to vomit where, just moments before, Shimazu Ichiro had as well. His knees went weak, and he collapsed next to the body.

    For what seemed like hours, but was probably more like five minutes, he simply sat there, stunned by the ruins of the man who’d taken his father’s life. The first thought that crept back into his head was that he’d just killed a man who, in society’s eyes, was worth infinitely more than he could ever be.

    The second, was of his dead father, and the magnitude of the injustice wrought by that society on generations of his ancestors. Here laid a dead man, whose bloodstained clothes and armor would still mark him as much more than a simple eta.

    It was difficult work, stripping the man. Samurai armor was, it turned out, a far more complex beast to disassemble than he’d have ever expected. When the man was finally stripped down to his smallclothes, Goro was struck by the fact that without all the trappings of nobility, lord Shimazu Ichiro looked no greater or lesser than he did. Than his father did.

    Getting into the man’s clothes was its own trial. They were too big, and that much would be obvious to any who saw him. He was pretty sure any real samurai would see that the armor was tied on wrong in several places, although it was a good enough job that it would at least hold together and mostly stay in place.

    Shimazu Ichiro’s body was left propped up against the post, sitting in a puddle of sick that was both his own and those of a man infinitely his lesser. He was dressed in the clothes of an eta, though they were too small for him and ripped in places as they were stretched over his more muscular, well fed frame.

    It was a few hours still before Goro’s walk took him to the village of Saijo. Saijo was a small port town next to the river, and at this hour the only business still open was the Konoha family’s gambling den.

    He strode up to it, hand resting against his new katana in a way that he thought looked casual, but which he’d think in hindsight was painfully, obviously awkward. Ill-fitting clothes and clumsily-assembled armor, both stained with blood, colored the first impression of the two Konoha men standing by the door as Goro strode up.

    “Whoa there.”, the one on the left said. “Jin, check this guy out.”

    Jin lofted his brows as a smirk crossed his face. He stood at attention, then bowed deeply to Goro. “We’re honored by your presence, my lord.”, he said in a voice that could only be making a mockery of the honor due a real samurai.

    “I’m looking for work.”, Goro said, letting Jin’s tone roll off him like water off of a duck’s back. “Doesn’t matter what kind.”

    The first man’s eyes flicked down to the blood on Goro’s clothes and armor, then back up to his eyes. “You know, I'm pretty sure I'd figured that. What’s your name, kid?”

    “Shimazu Ichiro”, Goro lied.

    “Yeah, I’ll bet it is.”, the first man said, before sliding open the door and nodding for Ichi to follow.

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