Monday, May 29, 2000, 11 am

Kinuko rode silently in the car, watching Kogawa Castle draw near. It squatted on the cliffs like a window to Japanese History. Even its architecture was of the old style. Here was the seat of Sohei clan in Canada. Westerners believed that the Japanese had given up their ways and embraced theirs. Not in full, of course, but enough to give up their feudal society.

But underneath the corporate Japan the old ways still continued in many areas; of bushido and the clan. Her own upbringing had been in such a society. The one she had dishonored.

The Sohei were one of the largest and the strongest of these old clans. Except their strength in Nippon was nowhere near their strength in other parts of the world. Here in New London for instance, the Sohei presence was strong, making the Yakuza walk softly. Here, Hiriuki Fugikaki ruled as a true daimyo of the old world. And as such, the Japanese corporations sought audience with him and permission to work in his domain.

Twice out of the year, Kogawa opened her gates to the tourist trade. Thousands flocked to the two one month periods, and watched and were allowed to be part of Japanese history. Mock battles, and noh plays, parts of history acted out and parts made up for the tourists.

Its brochures and pictures seen in various magazines, by Sam Carr, made sure that those periods sustained the castle; that and the tax for working in the Sohei domain.

Mendo-san's driver pulled into an empty stall close to the large gates, even though he had the whole parking lot, more or less. Only two vehicles sat dormant on the grounds. Mendo-san opened the trunk and changed into his House kimono. He carried his two swords, knowing that he would have to give them up soon.

He strode to the doors and waited with apparent ease as the driver raised the mallet to the gong. A low, sonorous note rang clearly through the morning air. And the wait began.

The sun had peaked and begun its slow stately fall toward the sea. Mendo-san had begun to fidget, any moment now and he would begin to pace. Already, without being seen, Hiriuki Fugikaki-sama had taken control of the meeting and Mendo-san.

The door opened slowly and two samurai bowed. The older one motioned for them to follow him, the younger one falling in behind. Kinuko could feel the driver's tension, as well as Mendo's. The silence was not well. Mendo-san should have at least been greeted with words of welcome and inquires to his trip.

The layout was as the one at Kyoto, except where Kyoto Castle was in disrepair, this one was as new. Gardeners went about their business, bowing low to the samurai as they passed. The samurai took no notice of the peasants. It was as if the castle gates were a portal into another time.

Being of lower status than the samurai, Kinuko incorporated into her walk the slight bow appropriate to the peasants, and on the rare occassion that one of them happened to meet her glance smiled slightly at him.

Past three buildings to the main hall, the quiet procession walked. Here they were bade politely to take their rest, Mendo-san was asked politely to leave his swords with another samurai. They were offered no refreshments.

At this point, Kinuko began to worry, mentally reviewing her inventory. She prayed it would not be needed - but better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.

An eternity later, another samurai approached and politely asked Mendo-san if he and one other would accompany him. Mendo-san politely accepted and bade Kinuko-san to come with him. Kinuko could see his left eye twitching.

The grand hall was large and could easily have fit close to 200 warriors. The rugs were fine and the sparse furniture authentic antiques from an age long past. A dozen samurai formed a corridor, looking straight ahead, hands on knees. As still as statues.

Mendo-san and Kinuko walked on alone towards the dais. The silence was oppressive. Mendo-san's walk became more stiff and arrogant. At the proper distance he knelt and gave the proper bow of a samurai who did not owe allegiance to this daimyo, but in accordance with his station.

Kinuko bowed low, head to floor and waited. A slight slow raise of her eye took in what she needed to see and was instinctive. For she had been trained to present the perfect servant and yet know all that went around her.

On the top of the dais lounged an older gentleman, of indeterminate age. He was small of stature but the power that radiated from him was immense. In his hands a fan waved. Kinuko was surprised to see it. Very few knew the language of the fans anymore. She watched more carefully. His pose, posture and air all said that he was relaxed and unconcerned. The fan said he was angry, insulted.

To his right stood a tall Japanese man, almost 6 feet tall. His katana lay sheathed but loose in his left hand. His face was impassive and he seemed to be aware of everything while adopting a completely relaxed stance. A stance that was deceptive, the man could leap into action on a heartbeat if not before.

Kinuko knew she was looking at the legendary Kaishakunan–officer of death–that served the leadership of the Sohei clan. Legend had it that his family had always served so and that their loyalty to the clan was unshakable. And always it was said that Kaishakunan was a swordsman without equal.

To the daimyo's left and a little down, occupying the place of honor and heir, knelt a white woman, wearing the robes of the clan, her dirty blonde hair standing out in this place of black hair. At her side were the two swords. She stared at Kinuko and Mendo-san, face impassive, almost as impassive as Kaishakunan-san.

Very strange, she thought. Very, very strange. Why would a white woman be in the place of honour? Kinuko was very, very worried now - not for herself, but for her lord. If it came to battle, she could too easily do him irreparable harm from ignorance. Who and what was this woman? Why was she in that place? The questions chased themselves around her mind before she could bring herself back to calm with mushin discipline.

Minutes ticked by as Mendo-san and herself where forced to hold their bow. Kinuko could see a tick beginning in Mendo-san's cheek. Finally a voice spoke, the Japanese cultured and smooth, with an authority behind it that Kinuko had never heard before.

"So, Mendo-san, tell me why you bring one who has dishonored her blade and her clan into my presence," the fan slowed and Kinuko read anger and readiness. She did not have to look at either of the other two to know they had become ready to strike on their master's cue.

Whatever prestige or bargaining ground Mendo-san had brought with him was gone. He had insulted a powerful daimyo. Kinuko wondered if he would be able to salvage anything. In fact he may have destroyed what little their lord had with the powerful Sohei.

When he spoke next, she felt shocked enough to turn her head slightly and look at him, wondering if her lord had gone mad and Mendo-san with him.

"Great lord, my liege bids me to offer you this one of his own home as a gift of good faith," sweat beaded his upper brow. He had done as his lord had bid. He had given the girl to Hiriuki Fugikaki-sama in such a way that she was his as surely as the castle or the clothes he wore. If he did not die here on the blades of the Sohei he would on his own sword at home. For he had not given the full message, 'a gift of good faith and regard.' Who knew that the daimyo would have known who Kinuko-san was? How had he known? Mendo-san himself had not until two days before when his lord had laid out his wishes.

"The Yakuza are on the rise, Mendo-san," his lord's voice and spoken, "I need you to offer an alliance with the Sohei, or surely we must leave…"

Mendo-san sweated now, and tried to keep his face impassive. The silence lengthened.

Kinuko could feel herself tense and made an effort to relax. Her lord had made his decision, and she would abide it. Would it mean her death? Or worse, a death to whatever plans her lord had?

Time passed, the fan slowed and then sped up to a normal pace. The daimyo had made his decision.


"Yes, Great Lord?"

"It would seem that I have acquired a new piece of property. I place it in your care."

The white woman, the samurai, the hatomoto, blinked and then bowed her acceptance. Kinuko relaxed inwardly, it was not a complete failure for her lord.

Mendo-san also relaxed. "Great Lord, my lord also bids me…"

The daimyo spoke over him. "I will deal now only with Mendo Shutaro." The fan snapped shut. He glanced at the white samurai. She bowed and walked towards the doors, she didn't look back to see if Kinuko was following. Mendo-san she ignored completely.

Kinuko rose smoothly, following her new mistress. Now she was starting to understand - Mendo Shutaro knew what she was, and that she would defend him to the last, even at the cost of her own life, or her honour. Such traits, she knew, were rare among ninja. So she would do as she was asked, keeping her mouth closed and senses opened. And at the very first opportunity, her inventory was going to vanish - her special powers were her greatest secret, and she would not risk revealing their existence. The "normal" concealed weapons she would admit to, of course - but the special materials, especially the diamonds and her sapphire mail, had to go.

Her new mistress paused and spoke a few words to one of the gardeners. The man straightened from his bow. "Yes, Lady Fugikaki." He dashed off, and the samurai continued to a room. She opened a chest and brought out a laptop.

She seemed an oddity with her blonde hair, fair skin, traditional kimono and swords, working away on a computer. A few minutes later the shola doors slid open and the gardener bowed his way in. He handed the samurai a cell phone then bowed, taking his leave.

For an hour or so the woman worked on computer. She then picked up the cell phone and dialed a number.

While acting the proper servant, discreet, demure, and unobtrusive to the point of invisibility, Kinuko tried to observe as much as she could of what Lady Samantha was doing on her laptop.