Flower Spelling - Chapter 22
Chapter 22 – Two Palanquins
It was right at the beginning of the year when Sogetsu and Takasugi were reunited with an unexpected person.
On that day, they visited Yamatoya in Nihonbashi. The purpose of their visit was to deliver a congratulatory gift for the pregnancy of Hatsune, now reverted to her real name, Ohatsu.
“What is the best gift to give? I’ve never been familiar with anything like this before… Well, is giving baby clothes alright? Oh, but I think it’s better to hold off until the baby is born.”
“A guardian sword… is a samurai’s tradition, right?”
After much deliberation, they decided to send an amulet for childbirth, which was reputed to be beneficial, and incense, which supposedly would soothe her mood.
Ohatsu and Shotaro greeted them together and expressed their appreciation in a truly amicable and joyous manner.
“It’s good to see you both doing well.”
Sogetsu stepped out into the street, with a sense of happiness in her heart, and directed her relaxed cheeks at Takasugi by her side.
“The shop seems to be thriving.”
A steady stream of young girls and errand boys frequented the shop.
“You’ll find a good selection here at reasonable prices.”
Takasugi himself bought and sent antiquities and sashes to Kunimoto’s wife on several occasions.
Even now, a customer was entering the shop from a palanquin parked in front of the shop. Watching casually, Sogetsu became conscious that one of the palanquin drivers was eyeing her intently.
“Yes, it’s really him, Brother Kinzo, it’s the master of that time!”
“Oh!? We’ve met at the right place.”
Two men, one called Kinzo and the other, came running up with big smiles on their faces.
His head was cleanly shaved and he wore a twisted headband. Even in the middle of winter, he was soaked to the hilt and tanned to the bone. Searching her memory, she was unable to recall anyone she knew who looked like this.
Confused, she cast a glance at Takasugi, who was equally perplexed.
The first to call out to him, scratched his head and said, “Don’t you remember me?”
“Early last autumn, in Yoshiwara, you know…”
“――Ah, the counterfeiter of that day.”
“Ah…!” Sogetsu’s mouth dropped open.
Takasugi’s words finally jogged her memory. They were the pair who had picked up Fusai’s painting and fled when they went to Yoshiwara to have fun. At the time, they were unshaven and unkempt, and wore dirty kimonos, giving them the appearance of a broken-down house…
“What’s has happened? You look so different, I couldn’t recognize you.”
“Well, actually, ever since then I have been thoroughly out of the bad business.” Kinzo rubbed his nose in embarrassment.
“Ginji and I were thinking about what work we could do, and we came up with the idea of lifting palanquins. We were uneducated, but we were confident in our physical strength.”
“Oh, and if you’d like, you could ride in our palanquin. Right, big brother?”
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m not a cheapskate, so please don’t pay me. It was the words of the master that resolved me to live an upright life. At the very least, please accept our ride as thanks.”
Overcame by his enthusiasm, Sogetsu decided to have a ride to the clan residence. Leaving behind Takasugi, who told her that he would stop at a bookshop before going home, the palanquin set off at a brisk pace.
The ride was comfortable and not too bumpy, thanks to the good feeling between the pair. Above all.
“Did Mr. Kinzo and your brother draw these pictures?”
The interior of the palanquin was adorned with exquisite, detailed paintings of flowers.
“Oh, yeah. I was hoping to entertain the customers a bit. Fortunately, it got a bit of a reputation, and now we have more and more customers who prefer us as a painter’s palanquin company.”
“I know. It’s stunningly beautiful. I could ride for ages on it and never get bored.”
Skirting the madding crowd of Nihonbashi, the palanquin descended to the south and headed into a narrow alleyway along the moat, which was said to be a shortcut.
It appears that I will arrive much earlier than expected. This will give me time to go over the dance patterns again before the rehearsal.
And that’s the moment when she was thinking.
The palanquin came to a sudden halt and Sogetsu was tossed out into the open. On the spur of the moment, she couldn’t catch herself and her shoulder slammed into the ground.
“――Ouch… What happened!?”
“Master, please escape!” Kinzo’s voice sounded impatient.
Rising hastily, she spotted Kinzo and Ginji on the other side of the overturned palanquin, each engaging in a fight with two ronin-looking men.
“Mr. Kinzo…” She attempted to raise her voice, but it was blocked by an arm extending from behind her.
“Be quiet! That way nothing bad will happen to you… Agh!” The man screamed and backed away.
Sogetsu, on the spot, elbowed him hard. While she was breaking free, the man, who had recovered relatively swiftly, seized her arm and dragged her to the ground.
The impact combined with the weight of the man on her back prevented her from breathing.
“Master! Damn it, get off the master!”
Kinzo’s bellowing arm was tightened forcibly against his back by another ronin.
“Hey, don’t be too rough. If his arms were no longer functional, there would be no reward for us.”
Ginji’s opponent, a ronin, punctured him. Ginji fainted and fell to the ground without stirring a muscle.
In no time at all, Sogetsu and Kinzo’s hands were bound and they were taken to a small boat that had apparently been arranged beforehand. Finally, as they were about to put Ginji on board, the sound of people talking approached.
“… Tsk.” Clicking his tongue in annoyance, the man urged his two companions to hurry to the boat, abandoning the fallen Ginji.
What to do, what’s the deal with these people?
Where on earth are they taking them? Even if she wanted to ask Kinzo, the atmosphere was not conducive to such a question.
With great anxiety and uncertainty, the boat proceeded quietly.
――Sogetsu did not turn up for dance practice.
Slightly after eight o’clock, the maid showed signs of concern at Yubikan. At that time, Kusaka and Shido were absorbed in devising their next expulsion plan.
“I’m sure she merely forgot. Today she went out with Takasugi, so she must have taken a detour somewhere.”
And he didn’t pay much attention to it.
However, once Takasugi returned a short time later and told him that Sogetsu should have gone back by now, he lost all color and rose to his feet.
“I’m sorry, I assumed she was with you… I don’t suppose the palanquin drivers have done anything to do with this, has he?”
“It didn’t seem that way to me.”
That was precisely why he entrusted Sogetsu to them. Yet, now that the situation has unfolded, the possibility cannot be dismissed. At any rate, the search must be conducted urgently.
It was nearly dark when the trio found Ginji sheltering in a guardhouse in a town close to Nihonbashi.
“Sogetsu and Kinzo are caught in a crossfire!?”
Upon waking up, Ginji bowed his head, almost brushing his forehead against the floor.
“I was really going to send him all the way home, but things got a bit out of hand.”
“Don’t worry. Now we have to find Sogetsu. Do you have any idea who attacked you?”
“He didn’t look familiar. But recently there was a guy who kept asking us to make forgeries for him…”
“That’s suspicious. What’s he like?”
“He seems to be the retired owner of a major shop. He said he wanted to sell forgeries to his fellow antique dealers to humiliate him for making fun of his connoisseurship.”
“That’s the guy.” Kusaka placed his crossed hands on his chin and murmured lowly. “Most likely, he got fed up with your reluctance and resorted to forceful measures. Sogetsu was caught up in it. But what a mess. If we don’t know who he is, we can’t find him.”
“Is there anything that can help us? Even the richest man in the world can’t find a forger so easily.”
“Speaking of it.” At Shido’s words, Ginji’s eyes widened. “When we first met, he mentioned that he had heard about us in Yoshiwara. Not surprising, considering that he had always done business with the rich who came to Yoshiwara.”
“Then!” Takasugi shouted out suddenly. “Fusai knows Yoshiwara and antiques. He might know something.”
Sogetsu and Kinzo were brought to a large house in the suburbs. All around them were fields and no other houses in sight, apart from the sound of the river flowing by. It was probably the villa of a wealthy merchant.
I doubt I could get any help escaping from this… In any case, under the circumstances, it’s impossible to run away.
She was tied up with her hands behind her back and laid out on the floor with Kinzo.
Looking down at the two of them, an elderly man who resembled a merchant wore a stern look across his face. He turned to the ronin next to him, whose back was leaning against the wall, and complained profusely.
“What is the meaning of this, I told you to bring the forger. Why are you bringing an unrelated customer?”
“He resisted, so I had to do it. But nothing too bad, eh, Senshuya? It seems the forger is indebted to him. If you threaten to cut off one of his arms, he will not refuse.”
“Hey, you’ve got to be kidding me! If you do anything to Master, you won’t get away with it!”
Before Sogetsu could say anything, Kinzo snapped into action.
The old man was unconcerned by the glare in his eyes and offered a cunning smile. “I don’t like things to get messy, either. If you could add a little bit of old color to this hanging scroll to have it look authentic, that would be great. It’s easy, isn’t it? You’ll do it, won’t you?”
Kinzo had no option but to nod.
Until the painting was finished, Sogetsu was detained as a hostage in a small room of approximately four tatami mats, gagged and separated from the storehouse. Daylight had already set in and the room was dimly lit.
Nothing provided warmth, therefore the freezing chills transmitted from the floor deprived the shackled body of sensation. From the dialogue between Kinzo and the men, she was generally able to grasp the circumstances that had led to this, but staying put was not an option.
I have to get away somehow…
One entrance to the room.
In the doorway, the same ronin who delivered the elbow strike to Sogetsu was standing guard, laughing at Sogetsu as she frantically sought a means of escape.
“Don’t waste your time. Fear not, for when the man has done his work, you will be free.”
I don’t believe a word of it!
No sooner had she yelled in her heart than she heard a crash somewhere in the mansion. This was followed by footsteps and shouting.
Is that Mr. Takasugi’s voice――? You’ve come!
“They are here…”
The ronin, unruffled, stood up slowly and approached Sogetsu. “I suppose it’s time. No offense to Senshuya, but any more than this is beyond the scope of my remuneration… But first things first.”
The man’s hand reached for the collar of Sogetsu’s kimono.
Seemingly hearing a faint scream, Ginji paused and listened carefully.
“Ginji, what’s wrong?”
“Just now the voice of Master Sogetsu―― Over here!”
Takasugi too followed Ginji’s back as he swiftly ran off.
Fusai’s description of Denemon, the retired owner of Senshuya, led him to his villa in Negishi.
“Master Sogetsu! Answer me if you hear me!”
There was only one room where the door was thinly open, and when he burst in, he found the person he was looking for.
“Master! Are you hurt?”
Once he had quickly untied the rope and gag, Sogetsu thanked him with a gurgle.
“I-I am fine… Thanks for… your help.”
Her mouth was dry.
Now that she is free, she could feel the blood trickling down her arm.
Takasugi took off his own haori and handed it to the trembling Sogetsu.
“Isn’t Brother Kinzo with you?”
“They’ve taken him to another room to have a forgery made. Quick, we have to go and help…!”
“I see. Ginji, you take care of Kinzo. With Kusaka and Monta there, things ought to work out fine, I’m sure. I’ll go with Sogetsu later.”
“I understand! Take care of yourselves, Master.” Ginji ran off like a Skanda.
“… Are Mr. Kusaka and the others here too?”
“Yes, when they found out that you had not returned to your residence, they were the first to dash out.”
“I’m sorry to trouble you… Ah, yes, we have to look for him quickly, too.”
Wobbling out into the corridor, Sogetsu turned to look back at Takasugi with an exclamation. “Who was guarding the door? He was here just a minute ago.”
“Nobody was here when I came in.”
… This is bad.
“What’s the problem?”
“To tell the truth, he went through my clothes to check if I had anything of value, and he took a drawstring with a mobile device in it.”
The battery had long died, but she couldn’t bear to part with it, so she carried it around with her as a good luck charm.
“That thing I saw before, the one with the demon fire?”
“Yes. If it’s taken to a pawn shop, people will think it’s suspicious, of course. If they reported it to the authorities and tried to find out where it came from, it would be…!”
“That’s a tricky one. Alright, let’s pursue it at once.”
They dashed out the door, kicking it open, and rushed for the riverbank. They figured that if they were to escape, they would do so by boat rather than on foot. As they made their way through the thick vegetation, their vision rapidly became clear.
“――At there, there he is!”
However, they were one step too late, the man’s boat had set off from the shore a good distance away.
Takasugi withdrew both swords, pressed them into Sogetsu’s hands, and literally leaped onto the man. The two guys plunged into the pitch-black river with a thunderous splash.
There was a chill in the air and then Takasugi emerged from the water.
In his hands, he firmly clutched a drawstring bag. Dragging up his body, weighed down by the water he had soaked up, he hastily donned the haori he had lent her.
“Are you fine!? Jumping into the river in the middle of winter is crazy! You must quickly change into dry clothes…”
“Not a problem. What about the drawstring bag? Is it still intact?”
Before she knew it, she picked up what was laid on her hips and checked the inside.
“Don’t worry, it’s there. I’m sorry, this is why I’m such a…”
But Takasugi dressed himself quickly and said to Sougetsu, “Let’s go.”
“I wonder what’s going on the other side.”
Despite the presence of a man crawling into the boat in the background, Sogetsu did not bother to glance back.
By the time they returned to the mansion, the commotion appeared to be over, and Denemon, the mastermind behind the whole affair, lingered in the middle of the mess, with his paintings, calligraphies, and teacups in disarray, feeling resentful under the wrathful gaze of the men.
“All the ronin you asked for have fled. What are you going to do, do you want to have a go again?”
Takasugi, who was dripping water all over his body, thrust his sword at the old man’s nose causing the old man to turn red and scream like a spoiled child.
“Whoa, it’s not my fault! I just wanted to humiliate those who made fun of me. They’re the same scoundrels who used to make and sell forgeries! What’s wrong with making use of them?”
“Of course it’s bad!” It was Sogetsu who spoke back.
Kinzo and Ginji, who had been nodding off, stared at Sogetsu as though they had been knocked off their feet.
“It’s true, they may have done some bad things before. But now they’ve changed their ways and are working diligently. And to force them to be part of the wrongdoing, you’re even more of a scoundrel by comparison!”
On the way she was riding in the palanquin, they told her various stories.
At first, it was difficult to find customers.
Even so, the number of visitors gradually increased, through research into methods of carrying the palanquin that did not cause it to sway, and through creative ways of drawing pictures on the palanquin.
“But some of the people who knew us in the past still don’t trust us… So I was happy. When Master said he would take the ride.”
That voice, full of sorrow, was unforgettable.
“You have no right to speak ill of them!”
“… Ugh, shut up, shut up! Look at this, it’s a real Shino tea bowl. The vase, the scrolls, they’re all real! I’m certain of it!”
“No, I’m afraid it’s a forgery.”
A quiet voice answered the doorway.
“Eh, Mr. Fusai!?”
As the others stared in dumbstruck amazement, Fusai approached with a relaxed gait and gingerly knelt down in front of Denemon.
“Shino is much richer in form. Presumably, that’s merely a stain on a more recent work, intended to create an older appearance.”
“N-No way…” Denemon’s shoulders slumped as if he had aged ten years. Fusai took his hand gently in his own and said, “Denemon, enough of this. Even the most discerning person can make a mistake. We love what we think is good, whether it’s real or fake. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
His tone was soft and admonishing.
Denemon’s face contorted and tears trickled down his cheeks. As if to console him, Fusai gently stroked his back.
After repeatedly bowing their heads, Kinzo and Ginji departed.
“I’m sure we’ll become the best palanquin drivers in Edo!”
These were their final resounding words before leaving.
As for Fusai, he offered to remain here with Denemon.
“Alright… Still, I was shocked to see you pop up out of nowhere.”
“Ho ho ho. Master Takasugi told me not to come, but I kept on worrying. Please forgive me if this is cold water of the elderly.”
Once outside and the four of them were together, Sogetsu lowered her head again.
“Well, thank you again for saving me. I am sorry for repeatedly inconveniencing everyone.”
“Exactly. How many times have you been frightened before you’ve had enough?”
Takasugi was amused by Shido’s venomous remark.
“You seem to have a knack for trouble.”
Sogetsu heaved a deep sigh. “… I think so myself. I would seriously consider an exorcism.”
“But really, I’m glad to know you are safe.”
Kusaka patted Sogetsu on the back and said, “Come on, let’s go home and have a hot bath. You’ve gone cold, haven’t you?”
“I’m fine. More importantly, Mr. Takasugi is…”
Already drenched, he had taken off his kimono and borrowed one from Kusaka and Shido. He appeared unconcerned, but surely he must felt rather cold.
“Speaking of it. I’m a bit cold too. Let’s have a hot drink after the bath.”
“Oh, well, I’d like to thank you for your hospitality!”
“Well, I’m looking forward to it. I’ll invite the geisha and we’ll go all out.”
“Eh, Mr. Takasugi, I don’t have that much on me…”
“Unlimited sake? I’m looking forward to it.”
“Even Mr. Shido! Mr. Kusaka, please say something!”
“Don’t worry, they are just kidding around.”
“I’m being serious. Ain’t I, Takasugi?”
“Of course. Sogetsu, a man never says two words.”
“Who’s a man!”
In the quiet countryside, the sound of laughter reverberated.
The boat, with the four of them joking with each other, moved quietly down the river.
Guardian sword – It is said that guardian sword protects the newborn from evil spirits
Driver – I have no idea what’s the exact/proper name of the job of someone who transport people using palanquin so I came up with driver for convenience
Cold water of the elderly – Proverb used during Edo, meaning people who imitate the youngsters
A man never says two words – Used by samurai meaning a man not breaking promise
Sogetsu’s gender is not disclosed in Japanese text and from now on, in the following chapters, I will use male pronouns under the circumstances that her gender is not known to the characters and vice versa
Support Fan’s Translations
Note: Individual translators usually have their own ko-fi buttons.