The blood red sun topped the high wall, rising above the points of a hundred spears as they raised in salute to the daimyo, lord of the castle. Crimson rays glistened on his lacquered, flexible bamboo armour. The daimyo halted his heavily lathered war horse in front of the small and simple raised platform in the middle of the courtyard. The ceremonial platform was clear of all things except a man and the cushion he kneeled on. The man wore an unadorned robe of black silk, open at the stomach, his hands resting on his bare knees. At the sound of clattering hooves he lifted his bowed head, fighting back tears of fear.
He faced the mighty lord as that great one clapped his hands, causing a scribe to scurry up and hand over a black, lacquered beautifully worked scroll case. With pomp and ceremony the daimyo pronounced his prepared declaration. "Takagawa Yoshio, you have been found guilty of high treason against our shogun. I, Noburunga Kurosaw, daimyo of the Akira clan, have spent time in deliberation." He paused, looking into the haunted eyes of one whom he had once counted as a friend and ally. Many in the courtyard leaned forward at the pause, waiting to hear the sentence of their one-time comrade. "Let all men know that the Takagawa family bears shame for this crime. However, in grace and mercy to one who was once my friend, I will allow the son of the Takagawa to expiate his shame and regain his family's ancient honor. I will allow him death by the sword. I will allow him the grace of seppuku."
A great sigh of relief swept the courtyard, though not all were pleased at this sentence. Yoshio lifted his head higher, bringing his eyes to bear on heaven, whispering heartfelt thanks to Katori, Shinto deity of the sword, for watching over his faithful servant, giving the daimyo the compassion to grant him honorable death. He asked for the strength to execute the ancient ritual suicide with honor. Yoshio lowered his gaze again, as the square emptied. He closed his eyes and began the long trek to find his reserves of strength and courage. In an age-old exercise, he began to breathe, the breathing of the gut that enhanced the flow of chi, the stuff of life.
The day wore on.
The bright sun of day began to fade away into a fiery sky in the land of the midnight sun. A gong sounded, signalling the entrance of Noburunga daimyo and his hundreds of soldiers, samurai, and servants. As the globe of fire kissed the earth of the horizon, Noburunga dismounted his proud sable stallion, turning to face Yoshio, gesturing for a gong to ring out in its shimmering sound. Three times the gong sounded.
Yoshio looked into his liege lord's eyes, proudly, calmly. "Is it time?" he asked, without preamble, without ceremony. The daimyo answered with one curt nod. Noburunga clapped, and his lieutenant placed in his hands two swords. The sword was a symbol of life, not of death. It was the artifact of a samurai's honor. The ancient legends said that a god dipped his golden sword into the ocean, and where the drops fell, the islands of Japan were formed. The sword was the single most powerful thing in all of Japan. Yoshio recognized the blades instantly: they were his own, taken away when impounded for treason by the castle guards, the guards he had once commanded, who loved him as a father and as a leader.
He took the shorter of the two blades, the kodachi, the short sword of his twin set. Noburunga daimyo held the long katana. The lord himself was acting as Yoshio's second, ready to cut off Yoshio's head should he faint before slitting his own throat. Yoshio watched the setting sun glare off his blade, reflecting an angry sky, colored bloody, like the chaos of Japan. He raised his kodachi to the ready, preparing it for the first thrust. He steeled himself, reconciling his mind to the Bushido code, the Way of the Warrior, of honor, of self-sacrifice, of righting wrongs.
With one explosive breath, Yoshio thrust. He felt the cold steel, finely tempered, penetrate his skin. For a moment he wondered when he would feel the pain. The next moment he doubled over as a volcano erupted in his side. Blood trickled from his side, his face went pale, and his former allies prayed for him to complete the gory ritual with his honor intact. Breathing in short, struggling gasps, Yoshio twisted the blade in his abdomen, refusing to give in to the severe pain that wracked him. He was sweating now from every pore in his body, a fire raging in his stomach, but with the pain came the sensation of being burned clean, the fire of pain cleansing his soul, his spirit. His honor had been bought only once, yet it had been irrevocably lost. Until now.
He executed a cross cut, the most painful way to complete the ritual, thus also the way requiring the most courage and the most honor. Drawing a long, ragged breath, he cried out once as he drew the razor-keen edge across his own throat. The triumphant cry suddenly dropped to a gurgle, crimson pulsing violently, then gently, onto the platform where Yoshio had spent the last day of his life. Noburunga daimyo announced, relieved, "Thus the son of the Takagawa paid his debt of honor. He died well."
High above an eagle flew across the evening sky, watching the affairs of men below. He smelled the aroma of the kill, and swooped down towards a man-building, a castle. From his overhead view he saw a man lying in his own rapidly cooling blood. He watched other men along the walls cheer Yoshio's bravery and honor. Losing interest, the eagle flew home.n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.