Flower Spelling - Chapter 41
Chapter 41 – Naito Shinzaemon
In the second year of the Bunkyu era, the shogunate, concerned by the worsening security situation in Kyo, established a new post of Kyo provincial constable to maintain order in the city and to guard the imperial palace. The Aizu clan was chosen to assume this post.
Initially, the Aizu clan repeatedly declined the request, citing tight finances and other reasons, but the clan was unable to resist and eventually decided to accept the order. In December of the same year, the feudal Lord Matsudaira Katamori, at the age of twenty-six, led a force of one thousand soldiers to the capital.
One of those soldiers was a samurai by the name of Naito Shinzaemon.
Sogetsu first met Naito in the middle of June, when the Gion Matsuri had finished its Yamaboko Junko (float procession) and the town of Kyo was regaining its composure after the excitement of the festival.
On that day, Sogetsu was heading to Yoshidaya for practice under the blazing sun with the cicadas chirping incessantly, feeling not simply hot but as if all parts of her body were being burnt. Along the way, spotting a crowd of people gathered on the riverbank below the Sanjo Bridge, her curiosity got the better of her and she approached. As she was extending her head from behind to catch a glimpse of them, the man in front of her turned his head to the side and her vision opened up neatly.
――It was a severed head.
It lasted less than a second. However, the sight was instantly imprinted in Sogetsu’s mind.
Eyes widened in regret. The disheveled topknot. A tongue peeking out from distorted lips.
Feeling nauseous, she retreated and crouched down on the spot.
“――Are you fine?”
A hesitant, caring voice addressed her.
And that was Naito.
He was slightly over forty years old. He was an impressive samurai with thick, bushy eyebrows and a large acorn eyebrow.
Naito brought Sogetsu to the shade of a nearby tree from where he rubbed her back until she settled down.
Seeing Sogetsu at Yoshidaya, supported by Naito, Ikumatsu rushed to her in a rare state of panic.
“What’s the matter, Sogetsu?”
“Excuse me… I saw a decapitated head on the riverbank and felt sick.”
“Decapitated head!? I was worried about you thinking you met another Tsujigiri. Nowadays danger is everywhere, so don’t step near anything that seems threatening.” Ikumatsu’s eyebrows furrowed in concern as she rebuked her.
Usually, her verbal skills are immediately dealt with, but on this occasion, nothing was mentioned. Instead, she bowed respectfully to Naito.
“I apologize for the inconvenience caused by our Sogetsu. I am a geisha here, called Ikumatsu. If you don’t mind, why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea? You must be thirsty after all that walking in the heat.”
“I cannot stay long, for I have to stop somewhere shortly. But I would be grateful for a glass of water.”
Ikumatsu immediately prepared the water, which Naito drank in one gulp with relish.
“Thank you. Do excuse me.”
Naito was about to depart when Sogetsu hurriedly chased after him. Perhaps it was the relief of seeing Ikumatsu’s face that lifted her mood significantly.
“Really a big thanks to you. Thank you very much for your kindness. Um, if there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”
“No need to thank me… But I will bear that in mind.”
With a faint twinkle in his eye, Naito disappeared into the crowd.
Even now in July, the heat in Kyo remained as unrelenting as if one were in a steam bath day after day.
Sogetsu, who had gone to Higashiyama on an errand for Katsura, stopped on her return, unable to bear the heat. Sweat poured from her face, no matter how many times she attempted to wipe it off.
(I might collapse before I get to the residence… Now that the errand is over, I think I will go somewhere to cool off and eat some tokoroten)
Whilst she was wandering the streets in search of a sweet shop, a little further on she spotted a familiar figure in a kimono wholesaler’s shop.
When she approached him, Naito briefly glanced at her quizzically, then quickly understood, and greeted her.
“Are you shopping?”
“Hmm. Just in time, Lord Sogetsu. Can you advise me a bit?”
He wanted to pick up a souvenir for his wife and daughter, who he had left behind in the territory of the lord.
Sogetsu had recently learned her Kyo dialect, “This kind of kimono is good but costly… If you’re looking for something affordable, combs or ornaments will probably be appreciated. For little girls, temari and otedama would be good… So, I know a good shop if you want me to show you around.”
Naito had a difficult look on his face, saying that it was against the spirit of a samurai to walk with a woman――It seemed that in Aizu, there was a “Teaching” (!) which stipulated that one should not talk with women outside the house――But perhaps he felt that there was no substitute for the smiles on the faces of his family, therefore he bowed his head respectfully as he asked for a favor.
The two parted, promising to meet up again at a later date. When Sogetsu left the room to head out, Shinagawa, seeing her appearance, approached her with a smirk on his face.
“Hello Sogetsu, a secret date? Not bad at all.”
“Wrong. You’re so quick to assume the wrong things. He simply asked me to lend a hand in choosing gifts for his family.”
“I don’t know, man～? All men, to a greater or lesser extent, have ulterior motives. He might be using the pretext of family to get to know you better.”
“Don’t be disrespectful. He is not such a person. Besides, Mr. Naito is the person who helped me before.”
“Hmm. Anyway, when are you going to show us the Sogetsu dance? It’s been a long time since you were officially invited to the tatami room, hasn’t it? Even we want to see you perform, but you insist on not inviting us.”
“Isn’t it embarrassing? To dance and drink in front of people whom you know.”
“But you performed in Mr. Katsura’s Ozashiki though.”
“Well, that’s true.”
Sogetsu was bitter to be reminded of it. Although Katsura told her that she had handled it well, her nerves and embarrassment caused her to lose track of what exactly he had said.
Even now, dancing in front of people makes her nervous, but the joy of the audience keeps her going and she can honestly say that she is determined to improve.
After telling Shinagawa, who was still amused by what he saw, that she was to head off, she met up with Naito at the teahouse where they were to meet and proceeded to Miyoshiya.
“I befriended the landlady, Ms. Okinu, through a mutual acquaintance. She has a good reputation for having a wide range of good quality food at reasonable prices.”
The sun was still beating down on them, even after midday, so they chose to walk in the shade.
“She accompanied me on the Yamaboko Junko at the Gion Matsuri the other day too. Did you participate as well, Mr. Naito?”
“No, I was there for some business to attend to.”
“Ehh, such a shame. But if you are in Kyo, you ought to see it at least once. There were so many magnificent floats being carried through the streets of Kyo, it was breathtaking.”
After putting a lot of effort into her words, Sogetsu added shyly. “… Well, in spite of all the talk, I have only arrived in Kyo this spring, so it’s the first time I have actually seen it.”
“Lord Sogetsu, were you not born in Kyo?” Naito’s eyes fluttered in mild wonder. “I thought you were from Kyo because of your accent.”
“I used to live in Edo. I started to learn Kyo dialect when I was apprenticed to Ms. Ikumatsu’s elder sister. But I am constantly being corrected, so it’s not so easy to learn.”
“Well, I understand the difficulty of words. The Aizu dialect of my native land is not understood by anyone but those from the same place.”
Apparently, that’s why he employed the stiff samurai language. Sogetsu, accustomed to Choshu’s open-mindedness, had assumed that Naito would be somewhat stiff, but his bashful smile revealed his simple, unaffected nature, and she quickly grew to know him.
As they were chatting about their accents, they were only a couple of streets away from Miyoshiya when they spotted Okinu at a street corner a while ahead.
She glanced impatiently at the street as if searching for someone.
After informing Naito that she was the landlady of the shop she was leading him to, Sogetsu rushed over to Okinu.
“Ms. Okinu? What’s the matter?”
“Ah, Ms. Sogetsu!”
Okinu looked quite blue despite the heat.
“Have you seen my son… Tasuke, anywhere?”
“Your son? No, I have not seen him…”
Perplexed by Okinu’s fierce demeanor, she asked whether something had happened.
“I sent him on an errand half an hour ago, and he hasn’t come back. I checked with the other party, and they said he had already left.”
The errand was to be sent to a flower arrangement master’s house on the embankment of the Gojo Bridge, and it was about a quarter of an hour round trip from Miyoshiya to the master’s house. Since she had sent him on errands several times before, she felt it unlikely that he would stray.
“I asked the old man, and he said that Tasuke had already left. Right now, I’ve asked the young men of my store to look for him, but I’m worried that he might have fallen into the river or been kidnapped…”
Watching Okinu’s stifled voice, Sogetsu immediately offered to search for him as well. Together with Naito, who had also agreed to lend his assistance, they searched the streets along the way to the Gojo Bridge.
Dumpling shops and street performances at Tsuji, where children seem to graze. They asked some children playing in the temple precincts, but all answered that they didn’t know or hadn’t seen it.
In the blink of an eye, they had reached Gojo Bridge and were at their wit end.
“I don’t see anything on… A child’s legs shouldn’t be able to move very far.”
Sweat beaded on her forehead and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.
Could it be that he really fell into the river?
The Kamo River below them was packed with boats coming and going, and the boat wholesalers along the river were busy loading and unloading. In this crowd, if one child fell in, hardly a soul would notice. As she clasped her hands against her chest in frustration, Naito, who had been staring at the wholesaler, approached the man unloading the boat.
“Pardon me. I have some questions.”
“Oh, what is it?”
“About half an hour ago, was something big put on a boat from here?”
“Yes.” The man blinked his eyes. “Indeed, a long handle was put on it, with a piece of cloth in it.”
After a few more questions, Naito urged Sogetsu to walk away.
Naito kept his feet on the ground.
“I know, myself, that when a child is absorbed in one thing, he loses sight of his surroundings. If the boat’s cargo attracted your interest and you went in and the boat went straight out…”
“I see! The boy is in the boat.”
So he asked for details of the boat’s features and where it was going.
“He said he would transfer us to a ship bound for Osaka at Fushimi, so if we hurry we can still make it.”
“But wait a minute. Are you intending to walk to Fushimi?”
Sogetsu quickly unfolded the map in her mind.
“There is a boatman I know just ahead. I’ll ask him to give us a boat.”
As ordered, the boat with Sogetsu and Naito on board slipped through the other boats and arrived at Fushimi in a flash. When they told the wholesaler what had happened and asked him to check the cargo, they found Tasuke sleeping peacefully among his long kimonos.
Unaware that he had nearly made it to Osaka, he was embraced tightly by Okinu, who awaited him at the Miyoshiya shop on his return.
“Really, thank you. You both saved Tasuke’s life.” Okinu bowed again and again.
“No, thank goodness we found him… Tasuke, don’t play hide-and-seek again.”
She squatted down and made eye contact with Tasuke, who puffed out his cheeks in a slightly sulky manner.
“… I mean, there was a scary dog.”
“In the middle of the street, he kept staring at me.”
“That’s why you hid!”
“Seriously, this child…” Okinu hugged Tasuke’s shoulders as if deflated.
“By the way, Tasuke. Actually, I am looking for combs and ornaments to present to my wife and daughter. Will you help me to choose?”
Taisuke’s face immediately lit up. “Yeah, I’ll take care of it.”
Pulling Naito along, he entered the shop. On the way, he turned around and said, “Hurry up, Mother and Sister Sogetsu!”
Even without forgetting to prompt them.
“Oh, I see he’s grown quite attached.”
Okinu and her exchanged a look, laughing.
“Yes, I am coming.”
Sogetsu following them went through the curtain of Miyoshiya.
Support Fan’s Translations
Note: Individual translators usually have their own ko-fi buttons.