The Yellow Lotus Clan
Brothers In Arms
1857 October 8th
Me and the last of the Yellow Lotus clan stood perched at the ready atop the village guard wall. I unsheathed my sacred steel, crouched in my fighting stance and waited for the inevitable confrontation and bloodshed to follow. Battles should be glorious: an opportunity to live in everlasting preeminence, a right of passage, a sign of a true warrior. But my elation was nowhere to be seen. Ever since the Emperor collected the clan's samurai from his and other neighboring factions, a sense of ache resided in my body, the hurt now resounded as the horses clamored their way towards my position. Pain in the physical sense I know, the slice of a sword, the bruises from blunt stricken armor. But this sting I knew, as I watched from the trees my brother leading the charge, was one of sadness, trembling through my bleeding heart.
“Hey Amane, that's not fair!” My brother stammered, striking holes in the soft earth below like it was touched by flames. I couldn't help but chuckle as I watched him vigorously rub his head where my kendo stick landed.
Pouting and full of anger he shouted, “ I wasn't on guard Amane! You can't strike me unless I am on guard!”
His persistent whining only increased my delight. My soft-shaded grin turned into a rolling guffaw. Our roving sensei clearly sensed a hint of joy because he shifted over to our position. Anytime sensei took a special interest in his students it never ended well. It was either for the sake of discipline, or to tell us to take to the great hall for bushido lessons, a training in the discipline of the moral code of the samurai. And considering the sun hadn't hit the mountains I believed it was the latter. Hands crossed behind his back, his gray tattered robe and white streaked hair and beard swayed in the wind. He planted himself next to my brother and began to speak.
“What is this foolish bickering I hear Kanda?” Kanda knew better than to respond. You never spoke out of turn lest you be willing to pay for it. You may speak only when granted permission.
“You weren't ready, you say? On the day of battle, you think your opposition will wait till you're on guard?” Still respectful silence as my brother's pouting turned into whimpers.
“Always expect the unexpected, Kanda, and expect your opponent will never show mercy and neither should you. We live for battle and we die for glory.” Just as he finished he swiftly kicked my brother at the ankles. At full velocity his face slammed into the mud. Shaking, he brought himself to his knees, his face caked in brown sludge, he looked like an unagi eel. I couldn't help but give a full belly laugh.
“You never learn Kanda,” Sensei said with a look of disgust. Kanda, ashamed and humbled, took off in a mad dash crying.
Of course, I wasn't out of the woods either. As a samurai you are to relieve yourself of all desires. My laughter was a blemish on that philosophy, therefore, I was met with a swift kick of my own and was directed to remain in a horse stance the rest of the day and most of the night, being whipped every time I spilled the bowl full of water placed on my wrists and head.
Later that night I trotted back to my quarters grimacing with every step. My muscles ached, and my robe was all but soaked from sweat. Marveling at the shimmering night sky sparkling through the open windows along the hall towards my bed seemed to ease my pain. After all, on the other side of suffering is success. Opening the sliding door revealed Kanda crouched in the corner, knees hugged tight. The moon splashed through the open window illuminating his puffy features, surely from crying. I didn't feel amused anymore, in fact just the opposite. This wasn't on par with teachings, or fear of sensei punishing me for another outburst of merriment but because another feeling took its place. I was sad. While I undoubtedly had my moment of fun at my brother's expense I had no desire to see him hurt. He was all I had after all. He and I both knew it. I decided to make amends. I rifled through my trunk on the far side of the room tossing my kimonos aside and unearthing my miniature Takio, a gift I had planned on giving him once he became an honorary foot soldier, but now was as good a time as any.
I sat next to Kanda and held up the Takio. “For you brother. I got it in the village because it looks so small.”
Still nothing, just a dead-end gaze tracking to the stars. I took the Takio, placed it in between my legs, and started to lightly patter my fingers on the drum, singing softly.
“If your heart is sore and longs for love, look no further than the stars above. Rest your eyes, wipe your tears. Raise your hope, and quell your fears.”
A thin-lipped grin appeared on his face and he looked at me with mild intrigue. Our eyes met and we giggled despite our strict rules. Returning back to gazing out the window, Kanda asked, “Do you think mom and dad are really spirits among us?”
“I do, yes. Our ancestors are spirits all around us Kanda, that includes mom and dad.”
Still peering out the window he asked, “Then why can't I see them? I want to see them. I miss them.”
Before Kanda relinquished himself to his sorrow once more, I reassured him.
“I can't say for sure why or where they are, nor why we can't see or be with them. I just know you have me. And you always will, little brother.”
Finally, Kanda broke free from his inner torment and grabbed his gift, inspecting it thoroughly. Sliding his hand over the taught hide he began to sing.
“If you miss me and your heart longs for love, look no further than the stars above”
The summers were absolutely stunning. The landscape was laden with a hefty brush and tall Japanese cedar. A controlled frenzy of organized greenery neatly taken care of; like a bonsai by the wind god Fujin. The craggy mountainside, ending in peaks of snow caps high enough to kiss the sky and close enough to hear the heavens.
Cherry blossoms in full bloom lined up carefully on either side of the stone paths all across the village. This type of majesty you can only get here in the heart of Japan, beating its lifeblood through the Tohoku Region. Kanda and I would spend most of our time here in the depths of the forest, we’re most of our warfare training would take place. Another step closer to battle, another step closer to glory. While one reason for training in the woodland was to sharpen our skills, it was more so to become in touch with our ancestral bloodline, drawing near to the translucent veil that is the spirit world. Our lineage was said to be traced back to the very first daimyo, powerful Japanese warlords that were a direct descendant to the sun god Amaterasu Ōmikami.
As the seasons crept on, our people strayed further from the realm of spirits. With the introduction of Western customs and the feuding over land and resources, it seemed the focus turned an eye toward power and riches.
Not me though. I felt the power of the gods course through me. Amaterasu ran through my veins. Because of my divine connection, the elders guided me to this forest hoping to show me the world beyond on our own. They held strong to the ways of old, clutching tightly to the teachings of Bushido.
My days were spent tired and weary listening to the voices on the other side as they carried through the air. Seeing visions of old spirits disguised as old ladies or animals, from the world of the flesh. I was one with them, and they with me. I cannot say the same for my brother; his ancestral compass did not point as true north as mine. For this the sensei and the shogun employed him to take his rightful place alongside the mounted warriors and execute his rightful duties. Taking his first man in battle at the young age of thirteen, he continued ever since. His jealousy boiled as he spent the days doing bloody work, and I spoke with essential beings I insisted on reassuring him.
“All roads lead to the end, Kanda, all roads lead to honor. We can only hope to die at the hands of a worthy opponent and live forever in glory.” He did not take kindly to my words. Begrudgingly he slung arrows of venom from his tongue citing I was the lucky one, the one who was closest to mother and father. Two people despite their departure years ago he still yearns for.
As years went by the inclusions of Western society threatened the era of feudalism and with it our sovereign and enlightened ways. Fields of blood turned to fields of gold, ripe to be bought by the next bureaucrat or visitor from over the expanse. Our deeply integrated philosophies and ways of bushido were threatened as well. It truly did seem I was the last connection to our Shinto deities. The crystalline curtain into the spirit world was slowly becoming an iron wall.
I hadn't seen Kanda in some time. Or so it seemed. Time moves oddly in the belly of the forest. I feared our separation would only cause more anguish. I've come to realize his angry soul was armor to protect his sensitive one. I washed my blade under the warm spring waterfall. I asked my reflection wading in the pool, “have I failed? have I failed you, Kanda?”
One fateful day he came to visit and my prayers were answered. Stringing along his steed, still wearing his Karuta armor, aside from his head dress and mempo mask, fully exposing his dirty and exhausted face.
“Brother it's good to see you, it's been far too long.'' I sprinted towards him only to stop short; it seemed he didn't share the sentiment.
Head down, voice low he said: ''It's over Amane. The dynamo is gone, we are now masterless. We are now Ronin.” I heard the sadness in his voice, the conflict of losing his shogun only stoked the flames inside him.
“How did this come to be, how did this happen?”
“We were overcome, brother.The west brought with it a force unlike any we've seen. Arrows of hellfire, warfare and injustice.”
His voice shifted from sadness to one of irritation. “Of course you would know that wouldn't you, if you haven't been busy playing childish games in the woods.”
I evaded his words; they came from a place of mixed emotion.
“Kanda please understand, my time spent here is for the good of us all. What are we if we lose connection to what holds us together.”
He wasn't amused and began to shout. “And what good of it, Aname? We are to lose everything we hold sacred including your so-called revered connection. I've battled, I've fought, I've spilled blood, enemies and my own, for what? To come back to nothing, open your privileged eyes Aname we are lost, glory is severed.”
I couldn't respond, my heart and mind were filled with turmoil. I attempted to keep the peace and quell the rage within my brother. “So be it Kanda, we are Ronin then you and I, and the remaining members of the clan.”
Kanda responded with a wry chuckle. “There is no clan, most committed seppuku, the rest joined the enemy's growing forces. It is truly over Aname.”
As a desperate attempt to bring my brother back to me I shouted back. “And what of you Kanda? Where do you stand? Mother and father held true to the beliefs that there is more, there is more than this world. I know it to be true, I've seen it. Beyond suffering, and sadness is our earthly desire for prestige on the battlefield and beyond that still is immeasurable peace. Hold strong with me Kanda this isn't the end.'' We took a brief pause allowing the wind to settle the storm. Kanda did not reply. His anger once again gave way to darkness. He clasped his reins and straddled his horse. He looked at me and said,
“Goodbye brother, hopefully, we meet again.”
Despite the grip of change a number of us stayed strong holding tight to our tradition. Our ethics remained steadfast in those who came before us and those to follow. Residing in the forest that enriched my life for so long, I was able to teach the newly formed clan the ways of Buddhism and bushido. From here on till our end of days we would be known as the Yellow Lotus Clan.
“Oh oh, Aname, Aname is it true spirits would join in battle.”
“Yes, little one, a long time ago before me even. The deities of the other world would walk alongside us, and resonate through us, showing up to aid in battle.”
Another youngling from the back piped up. “Then why did they leave us?”
I had to pause for a moment as I didn't know the answer myself. Admiring all the children I gave them the best answer I could.
“Perhaps it is because we don't believe anymore. Maybe their power comes from our willingness to accept their presents, they serve no purpose if we have none ourselves.”
Before any more offspring could holler out an inquiry, Dachi, my appointed general and very dear friend summoned me.
“Word please, Aname, if you will.”
Back in his quarters, he brought me to a map illuminated by a few strategically placed candles. I could sense his worry. His low breathing became labored as he flattened the map before us. He frantically grabbed the surrounding candles and placed them close to our position, a very carelessly sketched mountain surrounded by thick brush.
“Our lookouts have been keeping a close eye on the marching armies. It would seem they are gathering closer to our village.” He pointed to the candles grouped together on the table.
“Amane, I'm afraid they mean to expand, and our settlement is the last of a very few to be claimed…
“I fear they mean to take it.”
I assured him calmly that our way lends its hand to either scenario.
“We will prepare regardless, Dachi, arm the men, prepare the defense for in a few days, it seems, our fate is sealed. To celebrate in the throngs of victory or die in battle and perish gloriously.”
1857 October 8th
I had no time to ponder the extraordinary pain in my soul for my brother and my blood brothers of long ago would be upon us at any moment.
I jumped swiftly from the edge of the guard wall feeling an eerie sense of ethereal presence as I descended. The breeze brought winds of change. Landing on the cold dirt I felt the heavenly static beneath my feet churning my ancestral blood. The thin shroud between us ripped open and with it the awakening of the spirit world. They sensed the ultimate power of the forces at hand.
This was to be a battle like the days of old, the battle for everlasting eternity.
The mounted soldiers drew ever nearer, close enough to see the whites of their eyes behind their demon mask. I took my Jōdan-no-kamae stance raising my sword high above my head preparing for a powerful downward strike. Time stood still as I charged my katana with an internal blaze. The horse's hooves echoing like a slow drum. I felt the heat radiate from the center of my being, through my arms and into my hands. The sun god she is with me. The metal of my blade was white-hot, mirroring the sun above.
My strike was swift and true, bashing the earth below me. A flash of blinding light dispersed around me like a wall of fire knocking the men from their horses rendering them dead before landing.
The battlefield was extraordinary, both sides pulled from heavenly deities.
Shadow foxes sprinted across the battlegrounds, obeying their timely appointed masters.
The dragon Raijū swirled and cascaded amongst the open sky. It's stormy presence full of lighting and thunder.
Fire flew from the heavens while the soldier's below weilded its essence.
There must have been hundreds of warriors that day completely encompassed with these otherworldly occurrences paying no mind as if they were there all along.
A clash of steel rang through the forest and reverberated over the mountain range.
I watched as days went by and my men and enemy alike fell to the blade. Slowly my eyes scanned across the beautiful carnage hoping to gain sight of my long-lost brother. My prayers were answered once more for just beyond the fire-stained tree he emerged not a spear's length from me.
Breathing heavily his face looked like that of a shadow demon but I knew it was Kanda, his armor broken and shattered. Deep gashes painted his body. Bruises filled in the empty patches. I looked up at him just beneath the brim of my straw hat matching his breath for my body was ragged just as his.
“What say you Amane? The battle is all but over. Am I the one to give you your much-anticipated send-off?” I said nothing. Instead I stared into his eyes through his hardened exterior into his delicate soul.
“This ends now, Kanda. You are right our ways are ending.This is perhaps our last divine encounter. But even you can't deny its mystical presence. Witness what you've seen here today and know that it will live on least of all in the memories to follow.”
My brother took his offensive stance, his blade glowing red with the power of the sun. I took my own blade and sunk it deep in the earth. I had no intention of fighting. My brother remained on the offensive; he knew the tricks all too well, thinking I'd likely pull out my Kanto knife and catch him off guard.
Instead, to his surprise, I pulled out a little Takio much like the one I had gifted him years ago. Placing it in the center of us I began to sing.
“If your heart is sore and longs for love, look no further than the stars above.”
His red hot sword began to smolder, smoke rising to the sky as tears streamed down his face. He collapsed and kneeled on the opposite side of the drum and his voice trembled as he said,
“That's not fair Amane, I wasn't on guard.''
I closed my eyes and continued to sing.
“Amane, I am sorry jealousy and anger overcame me, I wanted what you had. And rage filled that void. but I realize now, brother, all you wanted was the best. The best for me, the best for us. For as you said you are all I have.”
Kanda began to sing in time with me. Only to pause for a brief moment in utter shock as he peered just behind my shoulder.
“They're here Amane, they’re here!”
Mother and father smiling, shining their radiance upon us from the other side. No more blood was to be spilled that day. The soil on these sacred grounds had been drenched enough.
The sight of the brothers resonated throughout as the last remaining soldiers on either side took to their knees and sang, fit to see the end of the bloodshed. From here on they decided the being of who they really were would live on forever, championed by the love for your brother.
“We are here grandson, the forest of the yellow lotus”
The young boy gazed around in complete awe of its natural beauty. “Are the stories true grandpa? Was this the last battle of the Yellow Lotus clan? The last battle of spirits and men?”
The old man looked down at his grandson with a loving grin and said, “No one can say for sure Eichi, but I do know this forest stands as a symbol of peace. Whoever resides here should know no animosity towards his brother.”
He looked out at the thick stalks of bamboo. "And what happened to the brothers in the story?"
"Another great mystery. Some say they committed seppuku, following honor. Some say they lived out in peace here in the forest. Nobody really knows, but I do know this. Here is where we remember who we are, and why we are one and the same. A family of the world.”
As the two pressed onward they passed by the most sacred of places, a single yellow lotus, emerging centuries ago, still alive and thriving for now and years to come.
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