Monday, October 5, 2009
When I was little, my grandfather was a great man. Everyone would tell me so, and would tell me how proud I should be to be the only grandson of such a man. I never knew what he had done to deserve such praise. As a boy I only knew him as a small man, who would sit on the porch in summer with his robes of periwinkle blue, a cup of tea in one hand, fan in the other, listening to the tinkle of chimes in the wind.
Now though, now I will never know what made him a great man. Now I will never know his name. His name has been dashed from scrolls, from history. His name will no longer pass beyond peoples lips. Now I will never know what sort of man he was, and this is my fault.
It happened one day in late summer. A particularly hot and muggy day, just after the rains. I, and I believe I was only in my sixth year, wandered through the rooms of our country house, looking for something to entertain me. I had already tired of my ball, and the beetles I had caught the day before were already boring me. So I walked, touching the objects in each room with my tiny curious fingers, liking the textures of some things and disliking others, when I heard a strange noise. It came from my grandfather’s room, in the next room over. A noise like wood scraping together. So I knelt at the door, and slid it open just a crack to peer inside.
My grandfather was there, kneeling down, his back towards me. He had moved one of the woven grass mats to one side, and had reached down into the floor to pick something up. I couldn’t see it from where I was, but I could tell my grandfather held it with reverence and care. He slipped another object from the floor, a long wooden stick with white hairs stretched across it’s length. It was mysterious to me, as real as a magic wand. In my over active imagination I began to think my grandfather a wizard. Perhaps that is why he is so great, I thought.
He moved to the other door, the one leading out back to the forests that surround our estate. He slid the door open with one hand, holding his precious objects in the other, and moved out onto the porch. He left the door open, and I thought myself fortunate. I waited a few minutes, to make sure he had gone, before following him through the room and outside.
He was already near the forest’s edge, and I crawled through the grass after him, happy that the green robes my mother had dressed me in that day would provide excellent camouflage. I tried to move through the high grass slowly, as to not make too much sound and attract attention to myself. But my grandfather moved quickly, and I had to rush to keep up with him. He didn’t seem to notice me or the symphony of snapping sticks and rustling leaves that I was making as I moved through the grass. His eyes and his steps were intent on what was before him.
He didn’t stop until he was deep into the woods. I was already tired, breathing hard. My grandfather seemed to hardly have noticed the walk at all. I hid behind the thick trunk of an old pine tree, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I had followed him. He looked around him, looking at all the trees surrounding the small glade that he had stopped in, and then he looked up at pure blue summer afternoon sky. Then he breathed, a long slow sigh, and held the long wooden stick before him. I thought for sure that I would now see magic. He rubbed something along the stick, in some magical preparation, tucking the object back into his sash when he was finished. Then he took the object, the one I hadn’t seen before, and tucked it under his chin. It was long, and curved, and made of shiny red wood. It glistened in the sunlight, like a jewel or a laquered box. I thought it was beautiful. And then my grandfather put long wooden stick to it, and I knew what the real beauty of it was.
It was magic. It was music. Music like I had never heard before. I had heard haunting flutes, drums like the beating of hearts, the voices of women and men singing of love lost. But never had I heard this melody, that made me want to laugh and dance and sing and cry. How long he played, I don’t know. I was in a trance, caught by my grandfather’s music. I watched him, his eyes closed, body swaying in time to the music, the slight evening wind blowing his long grey top-knot back in the wind. And then he stopped. The music, the magic stopped. And I felt forlorn, as though I had lost a friend. Then I cried. I was only six years old, and it was late and I was tired. And I felt the adventure was over. Of course my grandfather heard my cries, and knelt beside me while stroking my hair.
“Kiyomaru, Kiyomaru.” He said. A mantra to calm me down. I stopped, hiccuping slightly.
“Kiyomaru, did you see me play?” He asked. I knew that he had already seen me, since I peeked through the door in his room he had known I was there. But I nodded, ashamed. He nodded, and showed me his instrument.
“Do you know what this is? Do you know what it’s called?” I shook my head, and he smiled.
“This is called a violin. It comes from far across the ocean, from lands that you’ve never heard of.” I had never seen the ocean. I couldn’t imagine there being something beyond what I had never seen. He tilted my head up, and wiped away my tears with his sleeve.
“Did you like it? The violin?” I nodded, smiling.
“Would you like me to teach you how to play it?” I nodded again, excited. I would learn to make magic, I thought. I would become a magician. He smiled and stood up, grabbing my hand. We walked back to the house together.
Later that evening, at dinner, my family ate together with a few guests that had come in from the city. My grandfather was not there, as he usually took all of his meals alone in his room. My father and his guests were already slightly drunk, they were laughing and telling jokes about people I had never met that I probably wouldn’t have understood anyway. Mother sat quietly, eating her meal in silence.
“Father,” I said, trying to get his attention. He didn’t hear me, so I said it again a little louder. “Father,” this time he looked at me, smiling at me fondly.
“Kiyomaru, what is it? Did something exciting happen to you today?” His cheeks were red, and he seemed to be in a particularly jolly mood.
“Well, I saw the most wonderful thing. Grandfather was playing this thing called a violin. It made the most beautiful music.” The smile dropped from my father’s face, and I wondered what I had said to upset him. Soon the house was in an uproar. My mother rushed me to bed, my meal unfinished, and left my nurse to watch over me. I went to sleep, feeling sorry for myself that I had done something to make my father angry with me.
The next morning my grandfather was gone. From that moment on I never heard him mentioned again. Every trace of him was scrubbed away. When I was older, and could read, I looked at our family scroll. His name had been scraped away, leaving an empty void. Later I realized what had happened. No one ever told me, but I growing up I knew. I tell myself that it was not my fault that he had been taken away. I tell myself that he had broken the law, and it was all he deserved for it. And some days, I even manage to make myself believe it.
On this blog I will be posting my novella (at least, planned as a novella) The Pure Law Scrolls as I write it.
The Pure Law Scrolls is a prequel to the world of an in-progress comic of mine called (working title) The Trillium Scrolls: New Tales of Edo.
Trillium Scrolls is set in an alternate history Japan, where the Meiji Restoration never happened, and Japan mostly remained isolated from the rest of the world. At least, until some events happened that has slowly and reluctantly opened them to some kinds of Western influence. Still, in this new Edo not all Western concepts and technology are legal. Although all products made in Japan can be exported, Western imports are still limited, and any technology produced in Japan can only be made of 30% Western technology or the makers risk arrest. People from other countries can even live in Japan for up to two years to learn about Japanese culture, but they are limited in what things about their own culture they can talk about to Japanese people. The comic's story revolves around three young musicians, who play illegal Western music in hidden underground clubs. But how the rest of the story goes will have to wait until later...
Pure Law is set 30 years previous. All Western technology is illegal (except of course by special dispensation acquired by "large monetary donations".) There is a special police force in Edo to help inforce the ban, generally made up of lower class samurai. Our story follows Date Kiyonobu, a man whose family runs in the higher circle of samurai, but who joined the force against his father's wishes. What will happen to our hero? You'll have to read on to find out...