|The Satomi Chronicle
Hitomi Y and R. Paul Sardanas
"Shades of light and darkness that plunge deep into the spirit, destroying and remaking
the beautiful and frightening landscape of the human soul."
- from the Introduction by R. Paul Sardanas
An excerpt from "The Satomi Chronicle"
Chapter One – First Battle
Like two gigantic metallic caterpillars, the lines of fighting men ground against one
another in the blinding rain. The downpour drowned out the thunderous sound made by
the clash of spears of the ashigaru, the common foot soldiers. It also reduced the
despairing cries of the mortally wounded, whimpering as they collapsed into the black,
soggy mud. The depleted lines were fed with replacements from the reserve until no
more were available. Softened by gaps left unplugged, the caterpillars finally dissolved,
their movements becoming a melee: the world narrowing to a harsh landscape of
grappling and shouting bodies battering against each other, seeking life for another
moment—seeking to deal death rather than to die. Clutching at an abstract hallucinatory
thing called victory.
Hitomi tried to brush the cold rain from her eyes. What a useless gesture. Her own
hand was stained with blood and mud intermingled, stinging her eyes even as she wiped
them with her drenched sleeves. Nothing was clear. She had a momentary twinge of fear
that she might reach a state where she could not tell friend from foe, that the colors of
the House of Satomi and the House of Chiba would meld into a horrible anonymity.
Would there come a moment when the voices of the retainers and warriors surrounding
her might become no more than the sounds of beasts, and she, slipping into insanity,
would strike at anything that moved near her? She fought down a frantic, gasping terror
that the madness of battle might overwhelm her.
No, she was better than that. She clung to her pride, making it a foundation surer than
the treacherous ground under her feet. She held on to the longing for life and strength
and dignity, refusing to abandon it even in the nightmare of this killing field.
A dark figure thrust a pike at her. Her view of the attacker was little more than the
sight of an armored form looming up out of the rain, shouting something unintelligible.
She used her own spear, her yari, to block the blow. The attacker’s lunge went wild, his
momentum causing him to stumble past her. She felt a wild desire to hurl her yari at his
back; visions of piercing his armor and watching him writhe on the ground at her feet
raced through her. But he had staggered forward into the snare of her own warriors. She
saw him cut down, to collapse heavily into the mud.
Hitomi breathed in deeply. Once again she wiped at her eyes. For a moment the rain
slackened, and the figures around her took on a brief clarity. With surprise, she found she
could clearly see the line of her own warriors and the shifting boundary that marked the
place in the field held by her enemies.
Then she saw the onnamusha. A female warrior struggling with her own spear,
thrashing with it to fend off the warriors of Satomi force. The rain swept back down in a
rushing curtain, but Hitomi pushed forward, even as the onnamusha half-disappeared in
the storm’s renewed vigor.
“Let me through!” She shouted into the ear of one of her own guards. The man turned
to look at her in a daze, recognizing a command from his mistress, but unsure if it was
wise to allow their lord’s daughter to move into the teeth of the enemy. “She is mine, let
me through!” Hitomi shouted again, and the warrior yielded, letting her slip past him to
scramble toward the storm-racked figure of the onnamusha.
The woman did not see her at first. Hitomi stood shaking in the cold rain, wanting to
strike, but wanting to meet the woman’s eyes first. Her hands on the shaft of her spear
shook. She wondered if she would have strength for more than a single thrust. The
onnamusha finally saw her, hesitated just for the blink of an eyelid as if looking into a
strange mirror, then lowered her spear and lunged toward Hitomi. At last, death was
coming in a form that she could see, could taste, could understand. Hitomi side-stepped
just as the young woman’s spear was to sink into her hip, and felt it glide past her a hair-
breadth away. She sank to a half kneeling pose, aimed the point of her yari at the woman’
s midsection, and pushed with all her might.
Hitomi felt a sickening lurch as the spear sank into the woman’s abdomen just beneath
the protective plates of her armor. A look of surprise swept over the
onnamusha’s face. She fell to her knees.
So this is death.
The woman’s eyes were sad. Her hands closed around the shaft of Hitomi’s yari. With
an effort, the onnamusha mastered her own expression, gritting her teeth in defiance,
her gaze resolute. Relentless rain, not tears, ran down her face. But there was nothing
that she could do. Hitomi’s warriors had followed her and had broken the line of the
enemy; there was no one to come to her opponent’s aid.
She’s young, as young as I am. How easily it could be me kneeling there in the mud.
“Namae?” Hitomi thought she would need to shout the question to be heard, but she
found her voice clearly audible.
She wanted the onnamusha’s name, to weave into her memory this encounter on the
brink of life and death, a symbolic act of conquest over a respectable foe.
The woman still held the spear-shaft between her hands. Dark blood had begun to
trickle down the corner of her mouth. She was in obvious pain and she knew she was
going to die. After taking in quick gasps of air, she answered.
“Kaori. Of the House of Chiba.” There was pride in her voice, echo of the defiance in
her eyes. But then she blinked, as if her will faltered. She blinked over and over, trying to
clear vision gone suddenly awry.
“I am Hitomi, daughter of the Lord Satomi.”
Somehow that seemed to comfort Kaori. She stopped her uncontrolled blinking and
looked up at her opponent.
Hitomi once again felt the rise of deep emotions. The ecstasy of victory and the desire to
wield the power of slaying was intoxicating.
I am proud too, and I am the one who will walk from this field alive.
The woman’s face contorted with a new wave of pain from her wound. It would not be
long. Hitomi realized she could end her enemy’s agony by simply withdrawing her yari.
The spear which had struck the woman down was the only thing keeping her blood from
rushing out in a deluge. Perhaps to end her life quickly would be merciful. But it would be
an unfitting end for a sister-warrior.
“Kaori-sama, say your last prayer.” This time Hitomi did not shout. A softness had
come to her voice, which surprised her.
There was no more edge or threat in Kaori’s voice. Hitomi looked her hard in the eyes,
then nodded. Releasing her grip on the shaft, she let the weapon’s weight rest in the
woman’s weakening hands.
Hitomi moved behind Kaori and pulled out her short sword. The tanto was razor-sharp;
with it, she cut the straps that held Kaori’s heavy black breast armor in place. The dying
girl did not put up any struggle or even protest. Hitomi bent forward and pulled away the
blood-soaked blouse that had been under the armor. Kaori, with a groan, let go her
hands from the shaft for a brief moment to make Hitomi’s task easier. Only Kaori’s thin
white undershirt remained; the heavy rain immediately soaked it, spreading the stain of
blood across the fabric. . Hitomi knew that beneath that blouse would be a wrapping
piece of cloth, white as dove, going round and round the maturing bosom which would
remain untouched by a lover’s hand in life.
She is beautiful. She should have been a prized bride to some samurai, or even
concubine to the lord of a clan.
Slowly, Hitomi unsheathed her katana from its scabbard. The blade was light as a
feather, like a polished wing of a metallic bird. The sword master who made it gave it the
name Tsebame. “Swallow”, a name most apt.
“Are you ready, Kaori-sama?”
Kaori seemed to freeze for a brief second, then she leaned slightly forward and shook
her head so that her neatly tied ponytail flipped to one side of her head, exposing her
slender neck. As Hitomi watched, her hands gripping the shaft of the yari pushed at it in
a small horizontal movement, a symbolic seppuku.
“Kaori...komen!” Hitomi felt her pride at being the victor transformed into admiration
toward this woman’s embrace of an honorable death. The ritual apology was given.
I do not kill you. With this blade, I release your soul from your body and we are now one…
She brought her blade down on the nape of Kaori’s neck. The head took flight; pulling a
jet of blood like a comet’s tail from the stump. The body of the beheaded onnamusha
toppled forward and fell on the side, the ground beneath dyed crimson red. Hitomi felt
no exhilaration, only relief. She gave Kaori’s body a small push with her right foot to turn
it over, then she knelt, transferred her katana to her other hand, and pulled out the spear
still lodged in the corpse. The rain had begun to ease again. It passed over the body in
softer wind-driven waves. Hitomi was vaguely aware that even though the line of battle
had pushed beyond her, she should not be standing in such distraction, lingering over the
body of the onnamusha lying headless and spread-eagled in the mud.
“Rest and be reborn into Nirvana,” she muttered as she closed her hands in prayer after
Will I fare equally well when my time comes?
With the above passage, The Satomi Chronicle, an unforgettable journey into a time of warring
states in ancient Japan, opens. By the time the tale is complete, and the life of Hitomi Satomi,
warrior princess of an ancient but decadent family comes to an end, the raw and graceful
essences of living and dying will have been laid bare.
The Satomi Chronicle
by Hitomi Y and R. Paul Sardanas
Prestige Hardcover Format
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