Reqieum:The Saga of Priest and Rosemary
The year is 1348 B.C.
The place, Egypt 18th Dynasty.
A hot wind blew silently across the desert sands blinding all those who dared venture out. In his hidden room deep inside the temple, the young man prayed to his Gods. A single candle dimly illuminated the space around him, throwing dark and strange shadows on the stone walls. He was the High Priest at Carnack and had served the great Pharoh Amenhotep III for many years now. There was very little that he feared but, there was one thing that caused his heart to grow icy cold. That was the fear of death. For years he had sought the answer to immortality searching the ancient writings of his people for a way to beat death. Now, having come across an old yellowing parchment containing the arcane secrets to immortality, he had set out to cast the spell that would allow him to beat death once and for all, a spell that would allow him to live forever. He sat there in the darkened room whispering the words from the parchment, beseeching the Gods. He took a sharp knife made from the blackest obsidian and made a quick cut across the palm of his hand. He winced as the blood began to freely rise from the wound. Holding his hand over the candle he said the words, uttering them just under his breath. The blood fell onto the candle flame turning it to a bright almost blinding orange-red. The room was suddenly cast into bright light. "I pray, give your servant the gift of immortality" he spoke out loud. As he spoke these words a hot gust of wind blew thru the room blowing the candle out. The room fell into complete darkness. The Priest could hear the sounds of many hushed voices around him but, he could not make out what they were saying. He felt a cold chill course thru his body and then everything grew darker as he passed out.
It was done.
Priest awoke, the sun now shining brightly down on the land of Egypt. He heard the voices of the people outside the temple going to and fro in their daily toils. He rose from the chair in which he was sitting and looked around the room. Everything looked to be in its place, no different than when he first began his dark proceedings of the night before. He felt no different. Nothing seemed to have changed. He felt certain that he would have been transformed in some drastic visible way but, he felt nothing. "It didn't work", he screamed in despair. Priest wept and feel into a blackness that he believed he would never escape. No immortality, he would surely die like all men were destined to die. He wiped his eyes and took a deep breath. There were duties to attend to, duties he could not neglect. His Pharoh was an impatient and fickle man-god, one who would not tolerate his High Priest neglecting his duties to him. Priest slowly ventured outside into the temple. The sun was bright in the sky. He cast his eyes downward as its rays bit into his eyes causing him intense pain. There was a slight burning sensation of his skin where the light from the sun beat down on it. "What is this", he thought quickly seeking the darkness of the shadows. His mind and heart raced trying to comprehend what was happening. Looking down at his arms he noticed that the once dark brown flesh tanned by the same sun was now somehow paler. His fingernails were somewhat longer than before as well. His eyes darted around the temple, his mind looking for an answer to this puzzle. Something was happening to him and he knew it was because of the dark magic he had performed earlier.
He was changing but, into what?
Priest quickly ran back to his room and the comfort of the dark. No sun shined into this place. He sat down on his small bed and put his head into his hands. He knew that his time in the land of the Pharoh's, the land of his birth was over. He knew he had to leave and before the Pharoh began looking for him. Priest was safe in his darkened room for now.
He would wait until the sun had set and then steal away unseen. He gathered a few things important to him and then sat....waiting.
The Island of Japan
Approximately 4000 years ago
Long ago, at the dawn of time, the dragon gods descended from the heavens to the earth coming to the ancient island of Japan. There, they created the mountains, the trees, and animals. They also created the first humans to serve them and populate the mighty island. These humans lived in a village at the base of the sacred mountain, a place they came to name Dragon Mountain. The humans became many and the village grew great over time. They rarely ventured onto the snow-covered mountain unless summoned by the great Dragon Mother and feared it.
Years passed and the humans spread out far and wide across Japan and, as they moved farther away from Dragon Mountain, they eventually lost interest in their gods. The humans in the village at the base of the mountain, the offspring of the original humans, continued to believe and serve the dragon gods as they had always done and many legends were born, passed on from one generation to the next. This is one of those legends.
The Island of Japan
Approximately 1,500 years ago
It is told by the old ones that there was a handsome man who lived in the village. He was a maker of great swords and was well known among the people for his craftsmanship. This was at the same time the humans had begun to move to other parts of Japan, leaving the village. This man had caught the attention of the dragon mother who found him appealing. In time, and though having the heart of a dragon, she fell in love with the man and wanted to be with him but, she was still a dragon and knew that she could not be with him in her true form. Since she was a god, she had the power to change herself into a beautiful woman, one that she knew the man would find appealing.
She left the cold of her home on the mountain and traveled to the village. Once there, she searched for the man finally finding him at his humble home on the outskirts of the once mighty village. He was outside tending his beautiful garden, one in which the man took great pride. The sun was high in the blue cloudless sky shining down on the man's brown skin. Dragon Mother could see that the man was very strong, the muscles in his arms and back flexing as he pruned one of the many beautiful plants dotting the garden. Her steely dragon heart was softened watching this man treat nature with such gentleness, a man who's hands made such incredibly destructive weapons for the purpose of taking life.
"Hello", she called to the man.
He turned his head to see who was calling to him and stood motionless, gazing into the woman's large brown almond shaped eyes. Her hair was long and black as the darkest night. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Dragon mother smiled and again said hello. The man regained his senses and walked towards her, stopping to bow deeply at the waist. Dragon Mother bowed in return.
In a short time, the man fell deeply in love with Dragon Mother, falling helplessly into her eyes. She stayed with him from that day forward as his wife, her love for the man growing with each passing day. Over time she grew accustomed to her human form and slowly began to forget that she was a dragon, never venturing back to her home high in the cold mountains.
There came a time, after many years, when the man asked her for child. He was growing older and wanted an heir to pass his legacy to. Dragon Mother was reluctant because she knew that, to bear a child meant she would have to leave the man and return to her true form. The man persisted not knowing the truth. Finally, because of her deep love for him, she agreed to bear him a child. It wasn't long before Dragon Mother grew heavy with child and her husband was pleased. "What shall we call her", Dragon Mother asked one day.
Her husband smiled and said, "Oh, so you know we are having a girl eh?"
"Yes I know my love", she replied, eyes turned towards the ground.
Peering out the window at the many beautiful butterflies dotting his garden, he said, "Hummm. I think Rosemary is a nice name. Rosemary Butterfly'.
Dragon Mother looked up at her husband and smiled, a tear beginning to well up in the corner of her eye. She knew that she would have to leave him very soon. She knew that she would have to break his heart and, in turn, break her own.
Time went on and Dragon Mother tried to act as though everything was fine, spending as much time as she could with the man she had grown to love so much. One night, she felt Rosemary kicking so hard, it felt as though she would burst from her body. She knew it was time to go, Rosemary would be coming soon. That night, after the man lay down and Dragon Mother felt confident that he was in a deep sleep, she quietly got up and grabbed her few belongings. Before she left, she leaned down to give him one final kiss, tears welling in her eyes.
"I'm sorry my love but, I must go. You won't understand but, I can only hope you will forgive me one day", she said quietly.
Dragon Mother slid open the door without a sound and stole into the night. Winter had come to the village and there was a soft snow on the ground. It crunched under her feet as she walked away from her home and the man she loved with all her heart. Quickly, she was swallowed by the darkness and gone.
By morning, Dragon Mother was back at her home high on Dragon Mountain. It had snowed considerably more here and the ground was white, shining in the sun. Everything was as she left it that day so long ago. She missed her home and life with the human but, she knew that there had been no other choice. She already felt the change coming on her. Soon she would once again be in her true form. Several days passed as she slowly transformed, becoming the Dragon Mother that the people of old feared. Within a week she was completely a dragon once again. She could still feel Rosemary kicking and thrashing about inside her, wanting out.
"This is a strong one", she thought to herself.
It wasn't long before Dragon Mother went into labor. After many hours she finally gave birth to Rosemary . . . Rosemary Butterfly. Rosemary was born in human form as Dragon Mother knew she would be. She had her fathers face and her mothers big almond eyes. She saw in those eyes the depth her father had seen in her own eyes so many years ago. Rosemary also had the power and strength of Dragon Mother, of the old gods. As she grew, she would be able to do many things mortal men could not do. She would also be feared by the people, like herself, and many stories and legends would be told about her. She was Rosemary Butterfly, daughter of the Dragon Mother.
Priest wandered thru the ages after leaving Egypt. He had become more than a man, he had become a creature of the night, an immortal.
In time, those like him would be called vampires. Many legends and stories would be created about him and grow into great tales but, he was no vampire. Unlike a vampire, he didn't need blood to sustain him. Garlic, nor crosses affected him. He did not sleep in a coffin. In almost every way, he acted like any other man. He ate, he slept, he even felt pain on occasion. Unlike other men, he could not go out into the light of the sun so, he slept during the day. His was the world of the night, darkness his friend and companion.
Unlike other men, he was immortal, eternal and would never die. The spell he cast so many millennia before ensured he would never taste the sting of death. As the centuries came and went, Priest's heart grew harder, his soul darker. His had become an existence with no love or happiness. This was the curse of his folly.
He spent the majority of his time atoning for what he had done, always seeking out a religious order to belong too. He had prayed to the many gods that man had created in hope that one of them would take pity on him. When to many years had passed and those around him began to notice that, though they aged Priest did not, he would move on always finding another order to join. He knew he would spend eternity seeking redemption for his sin, never receiving it.
Priest had traveled the world over, seeking that which he could he had come to believe he'd never find... absolution. His travels finally took him to the Far East, across the Pacific ocean to the ancient land of Japan.
The year was 1866. Priest made the long journey across this wide waters of the Pacific on the Divine Comedy, a clipper ship sailing from London, England. Most of the trip was spent in his small windowless cabin deep inside the bowels of the ship, where it remained dark twenty-four hours a day. He rarely stepped outside of his cabin except to receive meals which he had paid handsomely to be brought to him, and only then long enough to open the door and pick up the tray left on the ground in front of the door. As he drew closer to Japan, the crew and some of the passengers had begun to talk. Rumors spread quietly throughout the ship that this man, who called himself Priest, was strange, different.
"Have ya ever seen the man set foot outside of his room", one asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Doesn't like the sun much I hear", another said.
"He's some sort of a vampire I tell ya", others whispered amongst themselves.
Priest knew they were talking and didn't care. He had heard all of it before many times. Soon he'd set port in Japan and they would all forget about the man named Priest.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. It didn't matter to Priest, he had already lived close to three thousand years. What were a few months? The great Pacific ocean had remained calm most all the trip and the wind consistent. Finally, Priest heard the yelling of the crew topside preparing to make port. There was a knock at his door.
"We'll be making port in an hour Mr. Priest", a voice from the other side of the door said.
As the man began to move on, Priest asked, "What time of day is it, good sir? Is it day or night?"
There were a few moments of silence as if the man were considering the question.
"I reckon it to be about six thirty sir", the man responded, not understanding the nature of the question.
"Would it be day or night", Priest asked again.
"It's getting on about dusk sir, nighttime", the man replied.
"Very well, thank you. I'll be ready to disembark then", Priest said.
Priest knew that, by the time they finally reached port and began letting passengers off, it would be fully dark. He quickly packed up the few belongings he had brought with him then, sat on his bed waiting. When he felt the ship slip into its berth at Edo, which would later be renamed Tokyo in 1868, he stood, grabbed his things and left the room that had been his home for two months. Although he was accustomed to spending large amounts of time in small quarters, he was relieved to get off the ship and onto land none the less.
Once on the dock, he looked up at the star-filled sky and took in a deep breath. The air was clean with a hint of various foods being cooked here and there. He made his way into town and found a small two-story hotel where he was able to rent a room for a week at a time. He had no problem communicating with the young woman at the front desk. Living for thousands of years had given him a lot of time to learn many languages, Japanese being one of them. He signed in and paid the woman ten yen for the week. He was able to get a room on the second story at the end of the hall which allowed him some seclusion.
The room was rather small but comfortable, decorated in the Asian way. It had dark hardwood floors, a small neat bed, a hard-backed chair with a round wood table sitting beside it, a long but rather short dresser and a toilet with basin and tub in an adjoining room that was no bigger than a closet.
"This will do", he thought.
Priest unpacked his few items and put them away then, he sat down in the chair to think. Although it must have been around midnight, he was not sleepy. Nighttime was his day, daytime his night. When most slept, dreaming in their beds, Priest was alive. He walked among the shadows. He lived in the darkness.
Life had been long and lonely for Rosemary Butterfly. Even though part Dragon God, she aged, only much slower than humans. The Dragon Gods aged as well but, at such a slow rate that, a thousand years was like one hour in human time. Rosemary did not know her exact age but, she knew she was born in the cold of winter sometime around two thousand or more years ago. In human years, she figured she was about 22 or thereabouts but, she mostly guessed. From the few times she had snuck down the mountain to look at the humans, she knew she looked very young.
Dragon Mother had died a long time before. Although she was a God and could not get sick, Rosemary always believed she simply died of a broken heart because of the love she had left. She couldn't live without the man she had given herself to and she knew they would never be reunited. Since that day so long ago, Rosemary had been alone on the cold mountain using her powers to survive but, still alone. She had ventured to the village at the base of the mountain from time to time but, never revealed herself to the humans that still lived there. Her mother had taught her to stay away from the humans because they would never understand her and would come to fear her.
She learned this lesson the hard way when, one day, several humans had climbed the mountain to see Dragon Mother for themselves. They had always been told the stories but, after several thousand years, the people no longer believed in the Dragon God's. They had become a fairy tale told to scare little children and keep them off the mountain.
These people became lost in the dense forest on the mountain and could not find their way back to the village. Night had fallen and the cold had become almost unbearable. The people thought they would die there on the mountain. As they continued to wander, looking for a way back, they stumbled upon the home of Dragon Mother. She, along with Rosemary, lived in a deep giant cave that was carved into the mountain when the Dragon God's first came to Japan. All the Dragon God's had left in time to return to their celestial homes, only Dragon Mother stayed behind to keep an eye on their creation. Now, only she and Rosemary lived in the cave. Dragon Mother heard voices outside the cave and went to investigate who had dared to approach their home. Rosemary followed.
"Go back little one, it is not safe for you", Dragon Mother told Rosemary but, she did not listen and stayed in the shadows following behind Dragon Mother.
Once at the entrance to the cave, Rosemary could see several humans, five in all, walking towards the mouth of the cave. They were very animated and seemed to be scared.
"Let's go into that cave for the night", one said.
"Are you crazy", said another, "We don't know what's in there and it's dark".
"We will die here if we don't take shelter", a female said.
It was agreed they would take shelter in the cave. As they got just to the entrance, they heard a loud voice come from the dark.
"What do you think you are doing humans", the voice roared, "You have invaded the home of Dragon Mother".
All five stood like stone afraid to speak or utter a sound. Then, they saw a massive figure step out from the shadows of the cave.
"Leave at once", Dragon Mother roared.
The humans suddenly turned and ran screaming down the mountain but, not before the female saw Rosemary who had stepped out into the light of the moon beside her mother. Rosemary's eyes shone silver in the moonlight and her long black hair blowing in the wind glistened. She knew she must look terrifying.
She would learn many ages later that, only one of those humans had finally found their way back to the village, the female. She would tell her story of how she and her companions survived an encounter with the Dragon Mother and the frightening silver eyed demon that stood beside her. So began Rosemary's legend.
The Cherry Trees were in full bloom and the summer months would soon be coming to Japan. Priest had spent many weeks in the ancient land walking among its people, searching for someone that could guide him in the right direction. He found that many were reluctant to speak with him, finding him frightening.
Standing over six feet tall, muscled with deep black eyes and pale skin, he was indeed a frightening image. Priest had remained as he was on that night centuries before when he first cast his evil spell. He had not changed and would never change. He kept his fingernails, which grew incredibly fast, cut as short as possible but, they were still sharp as razors and had been used many times as a lethal weapon. Dressed in a black cassock, his was an intimidating visage. Priest had also found that, as a result of his change, he had the strength of ten men.
One night, upon returning to his room at the hotel, he found a folded piece of paper slid under his door. He reached down, picked it up and carefully unfolded the thick rice paper reading the short note written in kanji.
"Meet me at the tavern tomorrow when it grows dark', the paper read.
It was signed Kenji Yamaguchi.
Priest went downstairs to the lobby and asked the young woman at the desk is she knew who Kenji Yamaguchi was. Her eyes grew large and her face taunt. She stared at Priest, mouth open.
"Please miss, can you tell me who the man on this note is", Priest asked politely, "It is very important that I know".
Finally, the woman remembered how to speak.
"Kenji Yamaguchi is the Shogun of this Province", she said quietly, her eyes looking down, "He is very powerful".
Priest thanked the woman who seemed to be visibly shaken and returned to his room. The sun would soon be rising and time for him to sleep. Priest found sleep eluded him as his mind was full of thoughts and questions. Why would a powerful Shogun want to see him?
Priest rose just as the sun was setting. Darkness filled his small room. He stood and walked to the toilet, turning on the small light above his head on the ceiling. The hotel in which he was staying was one of the few places that had installed a new Western invention called gas lighting. Even though he had first experienced gaslighting while in London, he was still amazed at how he only had to turn the lamp on and there was light. But, he had seen much in three thousand years that amazed him. He splashed cold water onto his face and on his bald head. His head had been shaved as was the custom in Egypt at the time when he experienced the change and no hair ever grew again on his head. He preferred it that way. Priest quickly clipped his nails then, donned his black cassock and made his way downstairs.
There was now another woman at the lobby desk, older and not as attractive. She looked up at Priest but, did not speak. He said hello and quickly headed out the entrance door into the night not waiting for a response. There was a cool breeze blowing, rustling the Cherry Blossom trees that lined the street. If Priest did feel anything, he would have thought them beautiful but, his heart had no room for beauty or happiness. He made his way to the only tavern in the town and entered.
It was not a big place. There was a small wooden bar in the center of the room built in a U shape, several stools sitting alone with no customers and a few round wooden tables with chairs lined up on either side. This place did not have electric lights like the hotel but, was lit by kerosene lamps and candles. The light cast shadows on the walls and into the dark crevices of the room.
There were only two people in the tavern, one behind the bar whom Priest assumed were the owner and another man sitting at one of the tables facing Priest. Because he had keen eyesight, especially in the dark, Priest could clearly make out the man's features even though the man sat in the shadows.
"You must be the one they call Priest", the man said in a thick husky voice, "Won't you please join me? I am Kenji Yamaguchi".
Priest was surprised that a Shogun as powerful as this one was said to be would meet him alone with no bodyguards. As he drew nearer to the table, he sensed that he knew why. This man had an aura of power about him in a physical sense. Kenji Yamaguchi could handle himself with or without protection no doubt.
Priest sat down but, did not extend his hand. Yamaguchi did not extend his hand nor did he bow in respect as was proper when first meeting a stranger. This was a Shogun and he demanded the respect, not the other way around. Priest gazed in the man's intense dark eyes. He had a strong sculpted face, his hair long and black. He had it pulled back on the top to form a ponytail. Yamaguchi looked more a soldier than a Shogun. His clothes were not extraordinary considering his position. He wore a simple black top with extended shoulders and a long black skirt or hakama. Priest noticed that he had a katana slid in the belt tied tightly at his waist.
"Your message did not say much Mr. Yamaguchi so, I'm not sure what you want with me", Priest said, his eyes locked with that of the Shogun.
There was a long moment of silence as Yamaguchi seemed to be contemplating what he would say.
"I have heard stories about you man called Priest. They have traveled across the great ocean to my ears", the man finally replied.
"And what stories have you heard mighty Shogun", Priest said somewhat surprised.
"I have heard that you are more than just a man and that you are very very old. I have heard that you somehow found the secrets to immortality but, have been sentenced to living as a creature of the night because of this transgression. Am I correct", the man said slowly for effect.
Priest sat looking at the man. He knew that the stories and legends had grown about him over the centuries but, how could this man know so much of the truth. Priest considered his response. Did he tell Yamaguchi the stories he had heard were just that, stories? Or did he tell him the truth?
"Before you give me your answer, let me also tell you that I know why you are here in my country and I believe I can help you in your quest", he said.
Priest, taken aback said, "And just how can you help me, Mr. Yamaguchi".
For the first time the man smiled showing straight white teeth, "I know of someone that might be able to help you. Someone who is cut from the same dark bolt of cloth so to say. Someone like you".
For the first time in his long life, Priest felt a twinge of hope. Could this be true? Could there truly be someone else in this world like him? In that brief moment, Priest made a decision that would change the course of his life forever.
"My dear Yamaguchi, in fact, all the stories you have heard are true. For better or for worse, I am whom you say I am", Priest told him.
Yamaguchi sat back in his chair and let out a low grunt. He now looked more like a soldier than before. His smile had widened and he seemed pleased with himself. Suddenly, and much to Priest's surprise, the man bowed his head in respect.
Many centuries had passed since Dragon Mother's death. Rosemary had learned how to harness her powers and was able to survive in her cave home on the cold mountain comfortably. Over time, the loneliness had caused her heart to blacken. She felt no love or happiness. She had grown accustomed to being alone and had grown close to the many animals that lived alongside her on the mountain. Rosemary had found she could, not only communicate with the animals but, also that she could control them as well. In time she discovered that she had power over the winds and weather too.
Rosemary thought many times about doing what her mother did and go down to the village to meet a human man. Maybe she could fall in love. Maybe she could find a man who could love her. She wouldn't have to be alone. But, she knew that the stories and legends about her were too great and widespread. Unlike her mother who was able to transform herself from a dragon into a woman, Rosemary was already in human form and could not change herself into someone else. She knew that the humans would see her. Her long black hair and the silver of her eyes and they would know who she was. They would know that she was the demon that the female told about so many years before. They would be frightened of her and no man would love her. So, she stayed on the mountain never to be seen.
Priest had packed away his few belongings and set out to the home of Kenji Yamaguchi. They talked for many hours that night at the tavern, Priest telling him everything, telling him three thousand years worth of stories. Yamaguchi never interrupted him as he told his tales but, instead listened like a child being told a favorite bedtime story. Once he had finished and had told him everything, Yamaguchi invited him to stay at his home. There was much more to be discussed and the tavern was not the place for it.
Priest followed the directions given by Yamaguchi and, after walking only a few hours, reached his destination. The night air was cool on his face as he looked up at the massive castle that stood before him now. It sat on a high hill looking down over Edo, the Shogun's Province.
"So, this is home", thought Priest somewhat dazzled by the giant structure.
He began the journey up the hill, his strong legs propelling him with ease. He stopped at two huge wooden doors with large black iron hinges that were the main entrance to the castle. The entire structure was surrounded by thick stone walls that stood fifteen feet high. It was indeed impressive. There were no guards or anyone else around and Priest wondered what he should do.
Knocking on one of the massive doors, he yelled, "Hello. Hello, is there anyone there".
For a moment he was greeted by only the sound of the wind whistling past his ears. Then he heard movement just on the other side of the doors. There was an unlatching of a lock and the doors swung open. Two men dressed in armor with swords at their sides stood at either side of the doors staring at him but, not speaking a word. They both looked menacing and powerful.
"Hello. I'm Priest. I believe Mr. Yamaguchi is expecting me", he said looking first at one then the other man.
Neither made any move to allow him inside and Priest was beginning to feel as though maybe he had misunderstood the Shogun. As he turned to leave, he heard a loud thundering voice come from behind.
"Priest, you came", exclaimed Yamaguchi.
He was walking briskly towards the entrance to the castle and waved the two warriors away. He bowed quickly then invited him in.
"Please, come in. Don't mind them", he said looking over the two men, "They are only doing they're job. Had you tried to come in uninvited, they would have cut you down", he laughed waving his hand.
Priest and Yamaguchi walked past the gate which the two warriors promptly closed and locked behind them.
"I didn't think you would come", Yamaguchi said as they strode towards the castle, "But, you are here and I am glad for it".
The two men strode quietly past a large immaculate rock garden and onto the wooden porch running the length of the castle front. Yamaguchi slid the door open and motioned for Priest to remove his shoes before entering. After taking his shoes off and setting them down just outside the door, he stepped inside. The room was massive with wooden planked floors that squeaked as he walked across it. There was very little in the way of furniture in the room which was the Japanese way.
"Tell me, why do the floors squeak so? I'm sure you can afford the finest carpenters in Japan", Priest asked his host.
The Shogun let out a loud laugh, "Yes, you are correct, I can afford the very best carpenters money and power can buy. But, you see Priest, they are purposely made this way and by only the best and most talented carpenters in this prefecture".
Priest took another few steps and listened to the floorboards under him tweet. Why in the world would such skilled carpenters build such noisy floors?
Seeing the question in Priest's eyes, Yamaguchi said, "You see, as a powerful Shogun and ruler of this prefecture, I have many enemies. Enemies that would like to see me dead. The floors are made in a very special way so they make this sound you hear every few feet. Should an assassin somehow manage to get past the many warriors stationed outside and sneak inside the castle, the floors will make this sound and warn me that there is an intruder. They are called Nightingale floors. Only the most talented and skilled carpenter can make these kinds of floors".
Priest gave the Shogun a grunt. He had never heard of such a thing in all the millennia he had been on this earth but, he was impressed.
They walked together down a long hallway, the floors chirping as they went. They stopped in front of another set of sliding doors.
"This is your room. It is late Priest and I know you must be tired from your journey. Sleep now and we will talk in the morning", Yamaguchi said sliding the door open.
Yamaguchi did not yet realize that Priest did not sleep at night but, rather during the day. He would have to mention this to him when the sun rose. The Shogun bowed and slid the door close, leaving Priest alone. He was still not sure exactly what it was Yamaguchi wanted from him or why he wanted to help him in his quest but, he didn't really care all that much. Whatever it was he wanted, it would be worth it if he could guide him to someone that could give him peace.
Priest went about unpacking his few belongings. Much like the other rooms he had seen, this one was sparsely furnished as well. There was a futon that sat only a few inches off the floor and was surrounded by hanging curtains at one end of the room. Near the bed was a long heavy wooden dowel set on a stand with a wooden tray at its foot. Finally, there were two large lanterns in either corner of the room both of which were lit. He put his only other black cassock over the wooden dowel and placed two shirts and a pair of socks on the tray. Although he would not sleep, he lay on the bed and lost himself in thought.
Priest heard the floorboards just outside of his room make that odd chirping sound and he knew someone was approaching.
"It works", he thought rising from the bed. He heard a light tap on the door.
"Are you awake Priest san", a female voice asked.
He was somewhat surprised since he had seen no woman at the castle the night before upon his arrival.
"Yes, I am", he responded.
The door slowly slid open. A woman dressed in a simple but beautiful kimono stood there in the doorway. Her long black hair was put up in a bun at the top of her head, a gold hairpiece keeping it in place. She bowed. He appreciated her beauty but, had never had the time or want of female companionship. He could never allow himself that luxury. He had only once grown close to a woman and it ended badly. She grew old and eventually died while he lived on.
"His lord will see you now", she said standing straight, "If you will please follow me".
Without another word, she turned and began walking down the hall. Priest cautiously followed, making sure to stay in the shadows out of direct sunlight. She led him to a massively large room where Yamaguchi was seated at a table.
"Ah, Priest. Come sit with me. We have much to discuss you and I", he said motioning to a cushion.
Priest found it difficult to squat on his knees at the low table but, he finally managed. He tried to get comfortable in this awkward position.
"Are you hungry? I can have food served if you like", he asked, his intense eyes boring into Priest's.
Priest shook his head, "No. I'm fine for now thank you".
The Shogun waved the woman away, watching her as she left.
"She is beautiful no?", he asked turning back to Priest.
"Very", Priest quickly responded not wanting to discuss it one way or the other.
The two men sat there for several moments, neither knowing exactly what to say next. Finally, Yamaguchi broke the silence.
"So why are you called Priest", he asked, "Do you have a proper name".
He thought on this for a moment, then replied.
"I did have a, as you call it, a proper name long ago. I doubt that you could pronounce it though and honestly I don't remember it. It was a very long time ago you understand.
The two men turned their discussion to other things. Yamaguchi told Priest the history of the Samurai and how his world was changing with the coming of the Western culture. Japan was no longer as he knew it. The age of the Shogun was coming to an end and with it, his way of life.
"I admire the Samurai" Priest said when Yamaguchi was finished, "The loyalty, the courage, the strength... it is to be admired".
Yamaguchi bowed his head, "Yes, it is my Priest. Samurai are the heartbeat of this ancient land. I can only hope that their ways will never be forgotten even if they are no longer".
With that, the Shogun stood and, with a deep bow, turned and walked away without another word.
Priest watched the man as he left the room and stood as well. He found his way back to his room and lay down on the bed. His mind was crowded with thoughts and images. He began to doubt why he had traveled so far and wondered if he had made a mistake coming here at all. Soon the sun would set and he needed to sleep while it was still daylight. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to be silent. Darkness swallowed him as he drifted off.
Priest eyes opened. The sun had set and the room was fully engulfed in darkness. He sat up at the edge of the bed breathing in the night. He had to make some decisions he knew. If Yamaguchi would not tell him the purpose for his being there outright then, he would have to be forward and ask. The Shogun had said he could help him but, as of yet, had given him no clue as to how. Either Yamaguchi would tell him this night or he would be on a ship back to Europe.
He rose and walked to the door, sliding it open halfway. Sticking his head out, he looked up and down the hallway. He saw no one and the castle was quiet. He stepped out into the hallway and slid the door shut behind him. Priest decided to go back to the room he had met with Yamaguchi in the previous day. All the way along his path the floorboards sang. He knew that it would be impossible to approach unannounced so, he made no effort to walk quietly, his boots clamping with each step.
He was almost to the room when the woman from the day before suddenly stepped out in front of him.
"Where are you going Priest chan", she asked bowing.
Even with his abnormally keen hearing, Priest was taken back by the woman's appearance in the hallway. How is it the floorboards don't sing when she steps on them he thought.
"I was going to look for your master. I thought I might find him in the same room we met in yesterday", Priest responded.
The woman smiled, "No Priest, he is not there. He is in the courtyard practicing".
"Practicing", Priest said questioningly.
"Yes, practicing", she said.
"It is very important that I speak with him now. Can you take me to him", Priest asked stepping forward a few inches.
The woman bowed and, without a word, turned. Priest understood that he was to follow. He tried to walk more quietly but, found it simply impossible. Yet, the woman's steps made no sound. I'll have to remember to ask her about that, Priest said to himself. After a short walk, they exited thru a large doorway and into a massive courtyard. It was completely enclosed on all sides by the walls of the castle. There at its center was Yamaguchi dressed in a white top and black, what Priest referred to as, a skirt. His long hair was tied back in a ponytail and his body glistened with sweat. In his hands was a beautifully made Katana, the silver of the blade catching the moonlight, the handle a deep burgundy red.
"Ah, my dear Priest, I see you are awake", the Shogun said sliding the Katana back into its sheath with military precision, "I am aware that you find your rest during the day. I apologize for keeping you up earlier today. It won't happen again I can assure you".
Priest pondered that for a moment realizing that Yamaguchi already knew of his sleeping habits. Why did he insist on meeting with him during the day if he already knew? Could it have been some sort of test? Priest cleared his mind, there were more important things to discuss.
"I've traveled far and I'll not mince words, Yamaguchi. What was your purpose in meeting me and inviting me to this castle", Priest said without responding to the Shogun.
"Priest, I had to ensure that you were the man that I thought you were. The information that I possess is known to only a very few. I could not risk turning this information over to the wrong individual", Yamaguchi said with a bowed head.
Priest stared hard at the man. So today's meeting was some sort of a test. All the questions a test. He understood and it only made him respect the Shogun that much more. He would have done the same thing had the roles been reversed.
"Then you are satisfied that I am whom you believe me to be", Priest asked.
"Yes", Yamaguchi replied, "Come with me and I will tell you all you need to know in hopes that it will assist you on your quest".
Yamaguchi turned and walked towards the castle. Priest followed in silence.
Priest walked behind Yamaguchi as they traveled down a long narrow hallway leading deep into the castle. The Shogun stopped in front of a large wooden door then turned to face Priest.
"We are about to enter a sacred space, my friend. This is the proper place for me to tell what I know, away from any prying ears", Yamaguchi said again facing the door.
He pulled the door open and Priest followed him inside. The room was the largest one he had yet seen, the wooden floor buffed to a high gloss. Like most of the rooms Priest had seen, this one was sparsely furnished. The centerpiece was made up of a massive statue of Buddha and dozens of candles. It smelled of sweet incense that Priest presumed burned at all times. In the center of the room near the shrine was a small table. Yamaguchi sat first then motioned for Priest to sit.
Once the men were seated, Yamaguchi began his story.
"When I was a young man, I had heard the stories of the Dragon Gods that descended to earth, to Japan, thousands of years ago. They created the mountains and all living things including man. One day, as it is told, Dragon Mother went down to the village at the base of the mountain and there, fell in love with a human man. She took the form of a beautiful maiden. At the urgency of the man, she became pregnant with child. The man did not know that, for his beloved to give birth meant that she had to leave him forever and transform back into the Dragon God that she was. As the time neared for her child to be born, she left the man and returned to the mountain, once again the Dragon Mother in her true form. Not long after, she gave birth to a daughter. She named this girl Rosemary Butterfly in honor of her husband. It is said that Rosemary has all the power of her mother but, is in human form. As the tales go, she is ageless and, like her mother may be eternal".
Priest sat silently as the man told his story but, he was entranced. Although the story seemed impossible and nothing but a fable, he knew it to be true in his heart. Many would find his own tale to be hard to swallow.
Yamaguchi continued, " Of course, I believed these stories to be nothing but that, stories told to young children to keep them away from the dangers of the mountain. Somewhat like your boogyman. When I was older, I believe it was my early twenties, I decided to venture to the mountain. I was young and full of myself and allowed my ego to control me. It was the summer months in Japan and there was no snow on the mountain. I gathered a pack of food, my sword and headed out. I didn't tell anyone I was going knowing that they would try to persuade me to reconsider my actions. After a long days journey, I reached the mountain just before dark. As the sun set, the mountain took on a far more sinister appearance than in the daylight but, I had come a long way and my ego would not let me turn back. I began my climb to the top of the mountain. As night set in, I could hear the sounds of the animals and the rush of the wind. All seemed at peace. As I neared the top I noticed that there was a dead silence, no animals sounds, no wind. I was almost ready to turn around and begin my climb back down the mountain when I saw an opening to a large cave. My interest was far stronger than my common sense and I approached the opening. As I got within a few feet from the cave I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, in the shadows of the opening. I stopped and listened. Suddenly, a voice called out to me and I saw two silver eyes staring back at me. "What are you doing here human", I heard the figure say. Well, you can understand I was terribly frightened but, I was soon to be Samurai and could show no fear. "I have come to see for myself if the stories I have been told are true or just lies made to scare small children", I replied. The figure then stepped out from the entrance to the cave and into the moonlight. I was taken back Priest for, there in front of me stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her hair was long and black as a moonless night and her large almond-shaped eyes were burning silver. Those eyes bore into me, into my very soul. My voice feel useless and my throat dried. "The stories you were told were true human. I am Rosemary Butterfly, daughter of the Dragon Mother", she said.
Priest sat there hanging on every word. Could this be possible, he thought, another like me. He wanted Yamaguchi to continue, he needed to hear the whole story.
"I am hungry and thirsty Priest. Let us eat and drink then I will continue", the Shogun said.
Priest found it hard to contain his disappointment. How could he think of food when he so desperately needed to hear the rest of Yamaguchi's story.
He knew it would do no good to complain. The Shogun did as he wished. He would finish the tale in his own good time and time was something Priest had plenty of.
The two men ate their meal of rice and boiled pork in silence. Priest found he had little appetite but, out of respect, ate his food. Yamaguchi didn't seem one bit fazed as he heartily ate his bowl of rice picking the last grain of rice out of the bowl with his chopsticks. He sat back and rubbed his full belly.
"Now that my stomach is full and I am satisfied, I will tell you the rest of the sordid story my friend. I know that you grow impatient with me", the Shogun said as the table was cleared.
Once the table was once again empty and the maid was gone, Yamaguchi continued.
"Well, I must tell you Priest, I was never more frightened than I was staring down the child of Dragon Mother. I must also admit that I was ashamed of myself. I was a budding Samurai, a warrior in the making yet, here I was trembling like a little child before this young girl. I could feel the power of the God's coming from her like the rays of the sun. I knew that I or my sword was a match against such a being".
Yamaguchi grew silent for a moment lost in thought, lost in the past.
"Please Shogun, continue", Priest said a bit too demanding.
"Ah yes, where was I? Well, I thought with certainty that she was going to kill me there on the spot. I had invaded her home but, worse of all, I had not believed in her. So, I feel to my knees and bowed as deeply as I could possibly bow, breathing in the dirt as my lips tasted the dirt. "I humbly apologize my Lord. I did not mean any offense" I said. I waited for what seemed an eternity, waited for my death. But Priest, it did not come. "Stand", she said. I stood and saw that she was only a few inches away from me. I had not heard her move the distance from the entrance to the cave. "My Mother once loved a mortal man long ago and that love created me. Because of that love, she had for a human I will spare you your life foolish warrior. Leave this place and never speak a word of what you saw here today for, if you do, I will know and I will take your life". I thanked her and ran down that mountain as fast as my feet would take me, never looking back. I have kept my word all these years and not told a soul about what I saw on that mountain . . . until now".
It was in that moment that Priest fully realized the great risk this man was taking for him, a risk that could cost him his life. But why?
Yamaguchi stood and turned his back to Priest. "I know what your thinking Priest", he said, "Why, at the risk of losing my life, would I tell you all this, a man I have only known for such a short time".
"I really don't understand Great Shogun. A man with your power and status, you have no need to risk it all because of me", Priest responded watching as the man now paced the room.
"My dear Priest, I am not blind. The time of the Shogunate and Samurai are quickly coming to a close. A new Japan is coming, one that cannot tolerate our kind. I fear with that end, so to will the Samurai way be lost to history forever"
The Shogun now carefully thought about what he would say. He turned and looked Priest full in the face.
"I will take you to the mountain home of Rosemary Butterfly. I believe you are both cut from the same bolt of cloth as it were. I also believe she is able to give you what is you seek, what you have sought for so very long",
Yamaguchi whispered, "This is why I asked to meet you".
Priest couldn't believe his ears. Was it possible that he would finally find the absolution that he so badly needed? Still, there was something more to all of this than Yamaguchi had yet to tell.
"I'm still confused. Why would you do this for me? Why would you take such an incredible risk", he asked.
Yamaguchi sat down at the table facing Priest. With his dark eyes fixed firmly on Priest's he began.
"You are an eternal creature, correct? You have lived for thousands of years and will, no doubt, live for thousands more. Yes, I will take you to the mountain at great cost to myself but, in repayment, you must first agree to learn the way of the Samurai. You will train with the Samurai for five years until you yourself are a Samurai. With you, the Samurai way will not die and will continue forever. I can leave this world in peace knowing that our ways will live on in you Priest".
Priest did not say a word in response. His eyes certainly expressed his shock and dismay. He had expected the Shogun would want something in return for his great risk but, this was beyond comprehension.
"I can see you're somewhat surprised by my request Priest but really, what is five years to someone such as yourself? It is but a blink of an eye", Yamaguchi said breaking the uncomfortable silence, "Never the less, this is my bargain".
Priest rose and stood above the Shogun. Yamaguchi sensed his anger and disappointment.
"I must give what you have said thought before I answer. What you ask cannot be answered so quickly. I will give you your answer tomorrow", Priest said.
He turned and walked from the room not waiting for Yamaguchi to stand. He knew the way back to his room.
Chapter Twenty One
Priest sat on his bed and stared blankly at the wall. He thought over what Yamaguchi had said, trying to grasp the enormity of it. On one hand, what the Shogun asked was too much and part of him thought he should pack and leave Japan with the next available ship. He could continue looking for solace elsewhere in the world. But, on the other hand, what the Shogun offered was more than he could have ever imagined, the possibility of finding absolution in another of his kind. He desperately wanted to meet this Rosemary Butterfly, the daughter of a true God, not a fake God like the Pharoh he served so very long ago. What Yamaguchi said about five years being but a blink of an eye to someone like himself was true as well. It was his impatience that nagged him.
After many hours of thought, Priest had finally come to a decision and would tell the Shogun that night. For now, he feels back onto the bed and lost himself in the peaceful darkness of sleep.
Chapter Twenty Two
He awoke, the room dark and comforting. He rose and trimmed his nails which grew so incredibly fast. Putting on boots and a fresh cossack, he ventured out into the narrow hallway.
"This way Priest", the woman said motioning him to follow.
How was it she was always there and without me hearing her approach, Priest thought. Priest followed the woman at a respectful distance until they reached the room he and Yamaguchi had first talked only a few days before, although it seemed like he had already been at the castle much longer.
"Come in Priest", Yamaguchi said bowing, "Are you hungry".
Priest entered the room and said, "No Shogun, thank you. As you may have notice hunger is another thing that does not affect me like mortal men".
Although Yamaguchi was curious as to what exactly someone like Priest ate, he kept it to himself thinking it may better not to know.
Priest sat at the small table across from Yamaguchi. Both men were silent waiting for the other to speak.
"So, have you made your decision my dear Priest", the Shogun asked first breaking the silence, "I'm anxious to hear it".
"Yes Shogun, I have made my decision and, although I do not necessarily wish to throw away five years of my rather long life, the reward is far greater than the time spent. And, as you put it, it is but a blink of an eye to someone like myself", Priest told the man, "My answer is yes, I will train in the way of your Samurai".
Yamaguchi stood and, with a smile, bowed, "Thank you Priest. You have made the right decision and after all, you may find the training worth your while".
"When do I begin", Priest asked.
Yamaguchi put his chin in his hand and appeared to be contemplating the question, "Tomorrow night".
Chapter Twenty Three
The following night, Priest met with Yamaguchi again in the same courtyard he had seen him practicing several nights before. As he stepped into the large space he saw that the Shogun was not alone. Standing beside him in the center of the courtyard stood another man dressed in traditional Kendo attire. He was not quite as old as the Shogun but, had a face that bore the wisdom and experience of a much older man. The eyes were dark and emotionless.
"This is your teacher for the next five years, Tamora Yamoto. He is my best Samurai and has served me well for many years. Listen and learn my dear Priest", Yamaguchi said.
Priest turned to the Samurai who gave a short bow. "Let us begin", the man said tossing Priest a wooden Katana. Because of his nature, Priest's reflexes were incredibly fast and he caught the Katana in one fluid motion, falling back into a fighting stance.
"Excellent. I can see that you will make for a good student", Yamoto smiled, stepping back while drawing his own wooden Katana.
The man immediately attacked his Katana slicing fluidly thru the air. Priest countered while moving backward, blocking each blow easily. Yamoto was unrelenting, his strikes both targeted and powerful. Priest could feel the vibrations of each strike as the wood of their Katana's met. Suddenly, Yamoto swirled around, crouching low as he did so. The movement was blindingly fast and Priest was unable to counter in time. The edge side of the man's Katana caught Priest squarely in the side driving him back. He knew that, had they been using steel, the strike would have sliced deeply into his flesh opening a would that would certainly kill a mortal man. Of course, Priest was not a mortal man and, although the wound would have slowed him down, it would not have killed him.
"You are the skilled man called Priest, there is no doubt but, you have much to learn before you may call yourself Samurai", Yamoto said standing, sliding the wooden Katana inside the belt at his waist.
He watched as the man bowed then turned to walk away leaving Priest alone with Yamaguchi. He then realized that he was only being tested by the Samurai and, though he fared well against the man, he also knew that, had Yamoto wanted, he could have ended the battle long before he did. Priest also understood that the man was not to be underestimated or trifled with.
Yamaguchi put his hand on Priest's shoulder, "I must admit, you did well against Yamoto for a novice. Most men would have collapsed upon the first strike of his Katana but, you are not like most men are you Priest? That is all for tonight, your real training begins tomorrow".
The Shogun smiled and Priest felt the fondness the man was growing for him. He knew that, in time, they would become close friends.
More to come . . .