Poseidon of the East

Chapter 13

2-5 The soldiers lining the plaza bid them a silent goodbye as they descended the rocky slope. The path threaded through the forest before them, wide enough for a single horse-drawn wagon. Following the valley stream down from the Kongou Mountains, the path had been cleared and trampled down by all those journeying on the Shouzan over these past many years.

Even though they were all headed to the Five Mountains, this wasn’t a particularly well-organized or coordinated pilgrimage. But going off alone was dangerous, so everybody stuck close to everybody else. Everybody sticking close to everybody else welded them into a single group, albeit for no other reason than simple common sense.

They left the rocky area behind and entered the forest. It was just past noon when they entered a meadow that served as a rest stop. Leaving the fort in the morning would bring them to similar places at the same approximate times.

The young trees and saplings had been hewn down, the process repeated over the centuries to form and preserve clearings like this. No sooner had they arrived but far to their rear came the sound of the bell and drums.

They all started and looked back. Although obstructed by the sea of trees, behind them was the Reiken Gate. And now it was closing, and closing off any thought of retreat.

p. 129

At that point, this person or that might have stopped in his tracks, as if overwhelmed by a sense of despondency, taken a breather, shaken it off, and gamely pressed on. They continued to descend though the rolling forested foothills.

During this time, the girl of barely twelve going on the Shouzan had already become a known item. No one held back from praising her pluck and courage in traveling all the way to the Yellow Sea.

“Kyou can’t be all bad if there are still subjects like Shushou left in it.”

“Adults could learn a thing or two from bravery like that. If every child and adult was like Shushou, there’s no way the kingdom would go to ruin.”

Some of the compliments were directed at Gankyuu and Rikou as well.

“Just the two of you guarding her all the way to Mt. Hou! Such chivalry is a rare thing to see these days.”

Less bravery than pure recklessness, Gankyuu thought, and less chivalry than financial necessity. But he accepted the praise with thanks.

During the month and a half it would take crossing the Yellow Sea, the ad hoc groups they’d presently formed would, by necessity, organize themselves. Even the corpse hunters, normally a standoffish bunch, did the same when they entered the Yellow Sea.

Sooner or later a leader would emerge, so rubbing people the wrong way right from the start was not a good idea.

p. 130

When the sun set, the youma grew more restless. About the time the sun touched the ridgelines of the Kongou Mountains, somebody chimed up that they should stop and make camp. That was when they came across a tamped-down clearing in a grassy meadow.

The line of travelers slowly came to a halt. With nobody in charge giving orders, they wouldn’t stop until they collectively felt the need to stop. And so by the time the caravan broke for camp, the twilight was well upon them. While some hastily erected tents, those without immediately went searching for firewood.

Observing this activity out of the corner of his eyes, Gankyuu surveyed the forest and quickly settled on the best campsite. Venturing a little ways into the woods, he selected a tree and tied his haku to it.

“Gankyuu, there’s nothing wrong with the field.”

“There’s plenty wrong. Shushou, pile rocks up here. Rikou, tie your suugu to the tree there.”

His brusque tone made Shushou look at Rikou, but Rikou only calmly did as he was told and tied Seisai to the indicated tree. Having no other choice at the moment, Shushou followed suit, searched for stones in the surrounding area and arranged them the way Gankyuu said.

“No sooner do we enter the Yellow Sea but he gets all high and mighty,” she grumbled aloud.

p. 131

Gankyuu ignored her. He enclosed the makeshift stone hearth on three sides with a screen fashioned from twigs and shoots pruned off the trees and lit a fire. On the way to the clearing, Gankyuu had instructed Shushou and Rikou to gather any dried branches they saw.

Once they’d collected enough, he had her mount up and bundle them with twines of tall grass. This would become regular practice. Waiting until the sun set gave them too little time. Wandering around in the dark and staring at her feet searching for firewood was a good way to invite an attack from a youma.

It proved an effective strategy, and they soon had dinner done with. By the time the rest of the company had pitched their tents and then, grumbling and complaining, got around to making dinner, Gankyuu, Shushou and Rikou had packed away the utensils, doused the fire, and bedded down between the two kijuu.

Shushou asked, “Is it really a good idea to put out the fire?”

Gankyuu nodded. “Yes. Once dinner’s done, time for bed.”

Rikou said, “And should we going to bed so soon?”

“Not a problem. If our lucks holds, we’ve got three days before any risk of attack.”

“Why’s that?”

“The proximity of the fort.”

p. 132

“But the soldiers there can’t possible shoot at anything here.

“It doesn’t matter if their arrows can reach us or not. The smell of blood can.”


“Youma flock to the smell of blood. In the attack last night, youma and people died. The territory within a three day’s march of a place where blood has been spilled should be safe. Any youma in the area will be drawn away by the blood in the air.”

Gankyuu had the haku lay down and stretched out on the ground next to it. “Rikou, you use the suugu as your pillow. I’ve got the haku, and Shushou is in-between.”

“The suugu would be fine by me.”

“Do as you’re told. If youma show up, they’ll go for the kijuu first. The person sleeping next to them must awaken at the first sign of movement.”

“I’d wake up.”

“I’m not so sure,” Gankyuu said with a kidding grin.

Shushou glared at him and drew the padded kimono around her shoulders. The Yellow Sea was warmer than Ken County. She didn’t need the jacket during the day but felt a sharp chill in the air at night.

“You don’t have to be rude about it,” Shushou sulked. “I would wake up right away. I’m not a baby.”

She lay down and pulled the padded kimono over her head. People still bustled about in the clearing. Those gathered around the bonfire chatted in loud and lively tones, full of boastful bravado and giddiness from having ventured into the wilds of the Yellow Sea.

The bumpy earth beneath the grass made for an uncomfortable bed. Her legs ached. She’d rather have bedded down next to Seisai. The area was cramped. And Gankyuu was a nag. Sleep was pretty much out of the question.

But once she closed her eyes, when she opened them again, it was morning.

previous Copyright by Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved. next