ALSO BY LAURA JOH ROWLAND ?
The Fire Kimono
??The Snow Empress
??????The Assassin’s Touch
????????The Perfumed Sleeve
??????????The Dragon King’s Palace
????????????The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria
????????????????The Samurai’s Wife
?????????????????The Concubine’s Tattoo
???????????????????The Way of the Traitor
??????????????????????? Shinj ?
The Secret Adventures of?????????????????????????????????Charlotte Brontë Laura Joh Rowland
MINOTAUR BOOKSNEW YORK
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in thisnovel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE CLOUD PAVILION. Copyright ? 2009 by Laura Joh Rowland. All rights reserved. Printed in theUnited States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New
York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rowland, Laura Joh.
The cloud pavilion / Laura Joh Rowland.—1st ed.
1. Sano, Ichir
(Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Samurai—Fiction.3. Japan—History—Genroku period,
1688–1704—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3568.O934 C58 2009
First Edition: November 2009
To my fellow longtime members of the George Alec Effinger writers’ workshop: Andy Fox, Mark
McCandless, Marian Moore, and Fritz Ziegler. My deepest thanks for your advice, support, and
friendship through these many years.
And in memory of our mentor, George Alec Effinger (1947–2002). I owe you more than you ever
knew, and I never thanked you enough. May we meet again someday.
Genroku Year 14, Month 5(Tokyo, June 1701)
The pain pierced like knives into her breast and jarred her out of black unconsciousness. Agray blur swirled across her vision, as if she were looking up at a sky filled with windblownmist and clouds. Through dizzying nausea flashed pure, visceral terror.
Where was she? How had she come to be here?
A touch grazed her thigh. She gasped as fingers caressed her. The clouds had hands! Hands thatwere warm, and damp with the mist. As they stroked her hips and groin, she became aware ofmovement around her, of human flesh pressing on hers. The clouds inhaled and exhaled quick,hoarse gasps. There was a man with her. He and she floated together, suspended in the clouds,somewhere far above the earth. Her terror worsened.
Who was he?
She couldn’t see him through the clouds, but she smelled the foul stench of his sweat; shesensed his lust. She knew what his caresses on the most intimate parts of her body portended.
She called for help, but the clouds absorbed and dissipated the sound. She tried to push theman away, but her arms, her legs, her muscles and bones, seemed disconnected from her will. Shecouldn’t feel them, or any part of herself, except where the man’s hands touched. Her heartwas a disembodied pulse that thudded with panic.
Black waves of sleep welled up around her. Although she craved merciful oblivion, instinctcompelled her to fight for her life. The blackness permeated the clouds, drawing her into itsdepths. She struggled to retain consciousness.
A new stab of pain, in her other breast, revived her again. The shape of the man, clothed inmist, spread above her eyes. He lowered his weight upon her. The clouds swayed under them,buoyed them while he gasped louder and faster. She felt an awful, tearing thrust between herlegs. Thunder reverberated.
His face suddenly protruded through the swirling clouds. They stretched like a tight, opaqueskin across his features. Two holes that appeared cut in the mist revealed his eyes, whichglittered with desire and cruelty. Beneath them opened another hole, his mouth. The lips werered and swollen and moist; sharp teeth glistened with saliva. She smelled the hot, noxious rushof his breath.
For only an instant did she glimpse him. The clouds veiled her eyes as he took her. His everymove within her was agony, flesh sawing flesh. The waves of sleep rose up and drenched her in ablack fountain, obliterating his shape from view, the sensations from her awareness. Thethunder crashed, distant and faint now. She heard the clatter of rain falling.
Then she plunged into a dark, silent void.
Conch trumpets blared a battle cry. War drums boomed. On the opposite banks of a small lakestood two generals clad in leather armor and metal helmets. They waved their war fans andshouted the command.
Two armies of mounted troops plunged into the lake and charged. Chamberlain Sano Ichir rode atthe forefront of his yelling, whooping comrades. Water splashed his armor as his horse gallopedtoward the onrushing enemy legion. He and his army drew their swords while their mounts swaminto the deep middle of the lake. The opposition met them, swords waving, lances aimed. Onshore the generals barked orders to stay in ranks, but in the lake it was utter chaos.
Soldiers hacked wildly at one another with their swords and lances. The noise of wooden weaponsbattering armor and metal deafened Sano. As he fought, he sat in his saddle waist-deep in waterthat was filthy with mud and manure. His army’s mounts buffeted his horse, rammed his legs.Sano thanked the gods for iron shin guards. He swatted his opponent, knocking the man off hismount. A rider armed with a lance charged at Sano. Sano whacked the lance with his sword.Unbalanced, the rider toppled into the lake. Cheers and applause resounded.
The audience was crowded in stands alongside the artificial lake and leaning out of windows inthe covered corridors that topped the walls which enclosed the Edo Castle martial arts practicegrounds. Spectators laughed as they egged on the armies, enjoying the tournament.
But Sano and everyone else who competed in them knew that these tournaments were almost asdangerous as real battles. Somebody always got hurt. Sometimes players were killed. Audiencesenjoyed that the best. It was the most exciting part of the game.
The lake grew crowded with men who’d fallen in. They frantically swam, trying to avoid beingkicked or crushed by the horses. Fighters howled in genuine pain from the blows dealt by theblunt yet heavy wooden weapons. Sano took a whack on his shoulder and knew he’d have a bigbruise tomorrow. As he parried his opponent’s strikes, he thought that perhaps, at his age offorty-three years, he was too old for tournaments. But it was his duty to participate for aslong as he could.
“Stop!” cried a shrill, reedy voice.
The battle suddenly halted. Men reined in their horses and froze as if turned to stone. Sanosat with his sword crossed against his opponent’s. In the lake, men treaded water. Bladeshovered, suspended in the act of striking.
“Hold that pose!” the shogun called from inside a pavilion that stood on a rise near one endof the lake.
Thunder grumbled, and a drizzly rain began to fall from the misty gray summer sky, but nobodydared move.
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the supreme dictator of Japan, knelt at a table spread with paper, ink-stones, and jars that held brushes and water. He wore a smock over his silk robes, and thecylindrical black cap of his rank. He squinted at the battle scene, then sketched rapidly with
his brush. An admirer of all forms of art, he dabbled in painting, and equestrian scenes wereamong his favorite subjects. Sano had seen his work and thought it not bad, certainly betterthan his leadership over Japan.
“That’s enough,” the shogun called. “Continue!”
The battle resumed with increased gusto. Soldiers swung, blades whacked, more riders fell. Sanofought with less care for martial arts technique than determination to avoid a ludicrousaccidental death. He had to admit that tournaments were rather fun, in addition to servingpurposes even more important than entertaining his lord.
Edo, the capital of the Tokugawa regime, was a city populated by more than a million people,some hundred thousand of them samurai. That equaled too many armed men with not enough to doduring a peacetime that had lasted almost a century with only minor interruptions. Therehadn’t been a battle since Lord Matsudaira had defeated his rival, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, sevenyears ago. A conflict had then flared up between Lord Matsudaira and Sano, but had ended withLord Matsudaira’s ritual suicide last spring. Now the troops were restless.
Tournaments not only occupied the samurai class and offered it a chance to improve martial artsskills that had declined. They burned off energy that would otherwise be applied to brawling,starting insurrections, and generally causing trouble.
A bell clanged, signaling the battle’s end, not a moment too soon for Sano. He and his armyrode, swam, and trudged to one side of the lake while the enemy forces retreated to the other.The judge counted the men who hadn’t fallen in the water, then announced, “Team Number One isthe winner.”
The men on Sano’s side cheered, as did the audience. The opposition looked disgruntled. Sanourged his horse up the bank, then jumped out of the saddle. He slipped on the mud and wouldhave fallen, but a strong hand gripped his arm. He turned to see who’d caught him. It was atall samurai in a black armor tunic with red lacings. The samurai took off his helmet. Sanobeheld the handsome face of Yanagisawa, his onetime foe.
“Many thanks,” Sano said.
“It was my pleasure,” Yanagisawa said.
He and Sano had a long, bitter history. Yanagisawa had been chamberlain when Sano had enteredthe shogun’s service twelve years ago. Yanagisawa had once viewed Sano as a rival, had schemedto destroy him. A murder investigation on which they’d been forced to collaborate had resultedin a truce, and later his conflict with Lord Matsudaira had taken Yanagisawa’s attention offSano. Lord Matsudaira had capped his victory by exiling Yanagisawa to Hachijo Island. ButYanagisawa had escaped and sneaked back to Edo, where he’d operated behind the scenes,stealing allies from Sano and Lord Matsudaira, pitting them against each other, and engineeringLord Matsudaira’s downfall. Last spring Sano had forced Yanagisawa out of hiding. Yanagisawahad made a triumphant comeback that coincided with Lord Matsudaira’s suicide.
With Lord Matsudaira dead, the game was once again between Sano and Yanagisawa. They’d doneunforgivable things to each other, and Sano had expected Yanagisawa to renew his attacks with avengeance. Sano had braced himself for the fight of his life.
It hadn’t come.
Now Yanagisawa smiled in the same friendly fashion with which he’d treated Sano since a fewdays after he’d made his reappearance on the political scene. He smoothed his hair, which hadgrown back since he’d shaved his head to disguise himself as a priest while in hiding. It wastoo short to tie in the customary samurai topknot, but thick and glossy and black even thoughhe and Sano were the same age and Sano’s hair had begun turning gray.
“You fought a good battle,” Yanagisawa said.
Sano listened for nuances of hostility in Yanagisawa’s tone but heard none. “So did you.”
Yanagisawa laughed. “We slaughtered those poor bastards.”
Not once had he lifted a hand to harm Sano. For over a year he and Sano had coexisted in apeace that Sano hadn’t thought possible. Not that Sano minded a reprieve from feuding andassassination attempts, but their pleasant camaraderie felt all wrong, like the sun shining atmidnight.
He and Yanagisawa took their places at the head of their rowdy, cheering army. The judge saidto them, “Your team wins the top prize for equestrian combat in water—a barrel of the bestsake for each man. I commend your excellent coaching.”
“Isn’t it a good thing we’re on the same side now?” Yanagisawa said to Sano.
“Indeed,” Sano said with feigned enthusiasm.
Yanagisawa was up to something. Sano knew.
So did everybody else. Sano had overheard their colleagues in the government speculating aboutwhat Yanagisawa had in store for him and taking bets as to when Yanagisawa would make his firstmove.
The shogun came hurrying up to them. He was thin, frail, and looked a decade older than hisfifty-five years. A servant held an umbrella over his head, protecting him from the drizzle.
Yanagisawa-!” he exclaimed. Delight animated his weak, aristocratic“Ahh, Sano-san,san
features. “Congratulations on your, ahh, victory!”
Sano and Yanagisawa bowed and made modest disclaimers. Yanagisawa didn’t try to hog the creditor make Sano look bad, as he would have in the past. Sano didn’t trust this radical change inbehavior.
“You make such a good team,” the shogun said. “I think I, ahh, made the right decision whenI appointed both of you as my chamberlains.”
They shared the post of chamberlain and second-in-command to the shogun. That honor, which hadfirst belonged solely to Yanagisawa, had passed to Sano when Yanagisawa had been exiled. WhenYanagisawa returned, he’d expected to regain the post, and Sano had been ready to fight tokeep it. But the shogun, always loath to exercise his judgment, had been unable to choose whichone of them he preferred and made the unprecedented move of splitting the job between two men.
Two men whose antagonism could wreak havoc in the government and tear Japan apart.
Some said it was the most foolish decision ever made by this dictator not known for wisdom.Nobody thought the partnership between Sano and Yanagisawa would last a day without a blowup.But it had defied the odds.
Sano had expected Yanagisawa to oppose everything he did, to undermine his standing with theshogun, to try to turn every powerful man inside and outside the regime against him and run himout of office. But Yanagisawa had cooperated fully and, to all appearances, gladly with Sano.Together they’d overseen the huge, complicated machine of the bakufu—Japan’s military
government—with smooth, startling efficiency.
Yanagisawa lifted his eyebrow at Sano. “Imagine all the good we could have accomplished yearsago if we’d been working together.”
Instead of you trying to kill me and me trying to fend you off, Sano thought. “Two heads are
better than one,” he said out loud.
“Yes, yes,” the shogun agreed happily.
Because he hated and feared conflict, he was glad to see his two dearest friends getting alongso well. He didn’t know they’d ever been enemies or had once vied for control of his regime,which was tantamount to treason. He was astoundingly oblivious to what went on around him, andSano and Yanagisawa enforced a conspiracy of silence to keep the shogun ignorant.
Often Sano suspected the shogun knew the truth perfectly well, but acknowledging it wouldrequire him to take action for which he hadn’t the stomach.
“Well, the fun’s over,” Yanagisawa said. “It’s back to business for us, HonorableChamberlain Sano.”
“Yes, Honorable Chamberlain Yanagisawa,” Sano said.
Although his former enemy’s words were spoken with no trace of a threat, Sano searched themfor hidden meanings. He knew the game between him and Yanagisawa was still on, and he was at aserious disadvantage.
Sano’s spies hadn’t managed to dig up a single clue as to what Yanagisawa was plotting. Toall appearances, Yanagisawa had decided that it was better to join forces with Sano instead ofrisking his neck again. Yanagisawa had reportedly told his allies among the top officials and
daimyo—feudal lords who governed Japan’s provinces—that he wasn’t interested inthe
fighting Sano anymore. And he’d not tried to recruit Sano’s allies to his side.
Yanagisawa had changed the rules of the game, but Sano didn’t know what they were. He feltlike a blind samurai heading into battle. He could only wait, a sitting target.
The audience departed; the armies dispersed. Waterlogged troops trudged off to drink,celebrate, commiserate, or bathe. Grooms took charge of the horses. The shogun climbed into hispalanquin, and his bearers carried him toward the palace. Yanagisawa looked past Sano and said,“I believe there’s someone who would like your attention.”
Sano turned. He saw, some thirty paces away, an elderly samurai waiting alone beside thestands, watching him. Recognition jolted Sano. Into his heart crept a cold sensation of dread.
Sano stood perfectly still as the samurai walked across the martial arts ground toward him.Everyone else receded to the edges of his awareness. Sano felt as if he and the samurai werealone on the muddy, trampled field. He suppressed an irrational urge to draw his sword. Itsblade was wooden, and this encounter wasn’t a duel.
Then again, perhaps it was.
The samurai stopped a few paces from Sano. He was in his sixties, his physique lean but strong,his shoulders held squarely rigid. He wore a metal helmet, and a leather armor tunic with theTokugawa triple-hollyhock-leaf crest embossed on its breastplate over a silk robe and trousersstriped in dark gray and black. An insignia on his helmet showed that he held the rank of majorin the army. His forehead was severely creased, as if from too much frowning. Harsh linesbracketed his tight mouth.
“Good day,” he said, bowing. “Please permit me to introduce myself.” His deep voice had afaint quaver of old age and an oddly familiar ring. “I am Kumazawa Hiroyuki.”
“I know,” Sano said.
He’d never met Major Kumazawa face-to-face; they’d never spoken. But he’d observed the manfrom a distance and knew everything about him that the official government records, and Sano’sown spies, could tell. In Sano’s desk was a dossier on the entire Kumazawa clan. Sano hadcompiled it after a murder investigation that had revealed secret facts about his ownbackground.
His parents had led him to believe that his mother came from humble peasant stock. Not untillast spring, when she’d been accused of a crime hidden in her past, had Sano learned thetruth: Her kin were high-ranking Tokugawa vassals. They’d disowned her because of a mistakeshe’d made when she was a girl, and she’d never seen them again.
Now Sano felt a flame of anger heat his blood. Major Kumazawa was the head of the clan that hadtreated Sano’s mother so cruelly. Sano said, “Do you know who I am?”
Major Kumazawa didn’t pretend to misunderstand, didn’t give the obvious answer that everybodyknew the famous Chamberlain Sano. “Yes. You are the son of my younger sister Etsuko.” Hespoke as if the words tasted bad. “That makes you my nephew.”
It was just as Sano had suspected: Although he had long been ignorant of his connection withthe Kumazawa, they had been aware that their blood ran in his veins. They must have kept trackof his mother and her son through the years; they must have followed his career.
The flame of Sano’s anger grew. The Kumazawa had spied on him and never deigned to seek hisacquaintance. That casting off his mother and refusing to recognize her offspring was what anyhigh-society family would have done under the circumstances did not appease Sano. He wasinsulted that his uncle should treat him with such disdain. He also experienced other emotionshe hadn’t expected.
Since learning about his new relatives, he had intended to get in touch with them, but keptputting it off. He was busy running the government and advising the shogun; he didn’t havetime. Or so he’d told himself. But he’d entertained secret fantasies about summoning hisuncle to his mansion and impressing him with how well he had done without any help from theirclan. The fantasies shamed Sano; he knew they were childish. Now, here he was, face-to-facewith his uncle, soaked with water polluted by horse dung. He felt less like the shogun’ssecond-in-command than an outcast.
“I don’t suppose you approached me in order to inquire about my mother,” he said in hiscoldest, most formal tone.
“No,” Major Kumazawa said, equally cold. “But I will ask. How is she?”
No thanks to you, Sano thought. “She was widowed eleven years ago, when my“Quite well.”
father died.” My father was the rnin—the lowly masterless samurai—that your family forced
“But she remarried last fall.” To the man with whomher to marry, to get her off your hands.
“She and hershe had an illicit affair, the results of which caused your clan to disown her.new husband are living in Yamato.”
The murder investigation had re united Sano’s mother with the onetime monk she’d fallen inlove with as a girl. Loving him still, she’d happily given up her home and her old life in Edoto join him in the village where he’d settled.
“So I’ve heard,” said Major Kumazawa. “Of course, I’m not responsible for what became ofyour mother.”
Sano was glad she’d found happiness after years of disgrace and misery inflicted by herrelatives, but she’d left him with unfinished business. “Not directly responsible, perhaps.”
Major Kumazawa frowned, deepening the wrinkles in his forehead, at Sano’s bitter tone. “Myfather disowned Etsuko. When he died and I became head of the clan, I merely honored hiswishes. Were you in my position, you’d have no choice but to do the same.”
Sano didn’t think he’d have been so unyielding for the sake of mere convention. He knew itwas unreasonable for him to be disturbed about something that had happened so long ago, whichhis mother had forgiven. Yet he felt that a personal injury had been done to him by MajorKumazawa. He had the strange sensation that they’d met before, although he knew they had not.
“So you upheld your family’s ban on contact with my mother, which extended to me,” Sanosaid. “Why break it now?”
Major Kumazawa spoke reluctantly, as if fighting an internal struggle against tradition andduty. “Because I need a favor.”
“Ah,” Sano said. “I should have guessed.” Since he’d become chamberlain, thousands ofpeople had lined up outside his door to ask for favors. Sano regarded his uncle with disgust.