Flower Spelling - Chapter 17
Chapter 17 – Conversion of Clan Opinion
Bunkyu 2nd year July 6th.
At the residence of the Choshu domain in Kyo. Kusaka remained impassive, awaiting certain news. At the present time, a conference regarding the policy of the clan was underway in the hall.
――Open country or expulsion of the barbarians?
Sweat beaded on his clenched fists.
How much time had elapsed?
It was roughly simultaneous that Kusaka lifted his head and a silhouette formed on the shoji.
Before Kusaka, who kept his bated breath as he anticipated his words, Katsura succinctly said.
――Imperial Decree of expulsion of the barbarians
With the drastic change in clan opinion also brought about a major restructuring of government appointments, resulting in Katsura’s appointment to the key position of right-hand man.
In Kyo, he struggled to reconcile the views of the imperial court with those of the clans, and upon his return to Edo in August, accompanied by Seishi, he devoted himself tirelessly to persuading the shogunate to approve the expulsion of the foreigners.
The members of the Yubikan, bitterly frustrated after being let down by the Teradaya incident in April, had been diligently tending their swords, aware that the expulsion of the foreigners was now imminent.
For Mr. Katsura and the others who aim to expel the foreigners, this is the first step towards accomplishing their goal…
From afar, Sogetsu observed the boisterous cheering of the crowd.
I wouldn’t be so happy. I don’t desire war with foreign countries. I wish for a more harmonious and amicable relationship between the countries.
Even so, Sogetsu realized that this is impossible.
Foreign countries do not consider Japan to be on par with them. Even now, the price of commodities has grown due to commerce with other nations and enormous amounts of gold and silver have flowed out of Japan. Foreign ships are surveying our coastline and the Shogunate is too scared to drive them away. Even though I know this… and yet.
She bit her lip in exasperation.
Just because I don’t agree with war, this way of thinking, it’s merely a child’s selfishness. Everyone has a clear vision of what they wish for their country, and everybody is striving to achieve it. Only me, nothing has changed since I arrived here. What should I do――
“There is nothing to doubt! Slay the foreigners to death!”
With a jerk, she glanced back down the corridor to where the voice had originated. Together with the rest of the students who had assembled in the hallway, she gingerly peeked out through the shoji screen only to discover Katsura physically restraining a rampaging old samurai.
“Mr. Kuruhara, please calm down. What good does it do to kill a foreigner or two? What’s vital is to press the shogunate to expel the barbarians from the country and to unite all the clans in opposition! Right now, all you have to do is help Master Seishi, not by killing foreigners.”
“You’ve got a lot to say now, Katsura.”
The samurai, called Kuruhara, fixed Katsura with piercing pupils capable of destroying even a demon.
“Out of my way! Now that Lord Choshu has determined to follow the wisdom of the expulsion of the foreigners, it is up to Choshu to seize the initiative. Shame on us that Satsuma has beaten us to it! If we continue to rely on others, we will never be able to succeed!”
The exchange continued unabated, and the two men disappeared into the corridor.
“… Wow… That was intense.”
One of the students murmured a few words. His words defused the tension, and one by one the students opened their mouths.
“Mr. Kuruhara. I have heard of him, but he is more than I imagined.”
“I wonder how Mr. Katsura can handle being stared down under those eyes. If it were me, I’d piss my pants.”
“But Mr. Kuruhara was an open-minded man, wasn’t he? He and Nagai were close friends. But once Nagai fell out of power and the clan adopted the principle of expulsion of barbarians, he flipped the tables and started talking about expulsion of barbarians.”
“I agree. It’s like he’s trying to save his own skin…”
“――Don’t you dare speak ill of Mr. Kuruhara!”
At the sharp sound of the voice, all of them including Sogetsu instantly spun around to confront the owner of the voice.
He――Ito, had an expression of mingled sadness and anger on his face as he focused intently on his fist.
“That person is…” He swallowed the words he was about to say.
He subsequently drew his lips in a straight line and exited the room without uttering anything.
“… Uhー… no, you know…” The man who was yelled at by Ito scratched his head in an awkward manner.
“Who’s Mr. Kuruhara?”
“Oh, you don’t know, Sogetsu?” The man breathed a sigh of comfort and continued, “This is Kuruhara Ryozo, Shunsuke’s mentor who taught him when he was a child. He’s also Mr. Katsura’s brother-in-law”.
The next time Sogetsu heard the name of “Kuruhara Ryozo”, it was through an obituary announcing his demise.
He committed suicide, bequeathing his last will and testament: ‘I have advocated the opening of the country but I cannot escape the guilt of my disloyalty and I am obliged to commit seppuku’.
The Choshu clan’s abrupt shift in policy drove Kuruhara over the edge. It was as if the clan had murdered him.
No one can conceal their shock at the tragic death of their loyal retainer. The clan treated Kuruhara exceptionally well, burying him with great care and offering condolence money to his bereaved family.
Learning that Ito intended to deliver Kuruhara’s remains to Kunimoto, Sogetsu, after much deliberation, voluntarily visited Ito at his tenement.
Saying a word and the door was opened.
A moonless night. An unlit room, seemingly never-ending pitch darkness.
“I am very sorry for your loss… I heard that tomorrow you will leave for Choshu, so I have made onigiri. Here’s the lunch box for tomorrow. I made a lot of rice balls, so you can eat them later if you like. You haven’t eaten dinner, have you?”
Her words were being swept away from the edge into the darkness. Even so, Sogetsu strove to convey her message to Ito.
“Mr. Ito, I… I can only listen, but if you have anything you want to talk about, please let me know. I am not an open-minded person or an expulsionist. If you feel sad, painful or anything else that you can’t talk about in front of others, please feel free to tell me… Anytime, I will be available.”
No response. Only profound darkness.
“… I’ll be going then. I’ll leave the onigiri by the door.”
That’s when she turned on her heel.
A voice emerged from the depths of the darkness.
Sogetsu halted and directed her attention to the voice. Her eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, dimly registered the image of Ito crouching with his back to her.
“We’ve talked about this before. When I was a brat, there was a man who taught me how to study. It was only… Mr. Kuruhara. I had given up on the possibility of doing much as ashigaru anyway, but he scolded me and encouraged me to forge ahead. I didn’t even believe in myself, but he was the only one who believed in my future.”
“Don’t be a coward, Risuke. You will become a great man when you mix with people and learn.”
“He was the one who taught me, advised me, and encouraged me. Yet I did something to push him away. Mr. Kuruhara was a man of loyalty. I should have known better than anyone how he must have felt when the clan was leaning towards the expulsion of the barbarians. It’s my fault!… But still. There was no other way! Did you have no choice but to die! Why, Mr. Kuruhara! Why…!”
His sobbing voice was overlapped by the pounding of his fists against the floor.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it…!”
Sogetsu listened to Ito’s blood-curdling cries as if his heart were being gouged out of his chest. For the samurai of this era, death is a natural part of their lives. Whether it is death by taking responsibility or death by fulfilling one’s ambition, it is a matter of course. They are always ready for it.
How could one possibly be unable to grieve the loss of a close companion? To not feel agony is impossible.
What can one tell himself?
Living in peace where life and death are immaterial, never have her being exposed to the death of someone close.
Impulsively, she raised her voice, desirous of something to express her feelings.
“I don’t know anything about this Mr. Kuruhara. But I have no doubt that Mr. Ito held him in great regard. You were glowing with joy when you told me about him previously. If Mr. Ito is the kind of person who talks like that, I believe he wouldn’t wish you to blame yourself like that now. Mr. Kuruhara stood up for himself. So I’m sure he would want you to pursue your own path as well… I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about this, but I said it as if I did. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. I’m heading back right now.”
On the brink of shutting the door, a faint “thank you” was certainly audible.
Seishi – 世子, the name/title given to the feudal lord of the clan during the Edo era
Imperial Decree of expulsion of the barbarians – 攘夷奉勅, A political movement to eliminate foreigners based on the edict
Risuke – Ito Shunsuke’s birth name
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