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Massacre at Shirakawa by I. J. Parker


On the eve of the Tanabata Festival, a warrior rides into a family gathering to slaughter the members of a high-ranking family and their guests. Akitada, whose best friend is among the victims, searches for a shadowy killer who may be part of a secret conspiracy against the emperor himself. In his determination, he defies orders, involves his friends and his sister, and puts his family in danger. Meanwhile, his faithful retainer Tora risks life and limb in a world of thugs and prostitutes to solve the bloody murder of a schoolmaster's wife. Both will suffer the consequences of pursuing ruthless adversaries who are determined to ruin or kill them.


Massacre at Shirakawa I. J. Parker Book Chapter One


The Betrothal
T he killer approached cautiously.  He knew he might have to wait till dark. The sun already slanted through the tall cryptomerias, but the open meadow below the rustic buildings was still in bright sunlight. A colorful group had assembled there, their clothes glowing in the setting sun like exotic flowers growing in a green field.

The killer stopped his horse and watched for a long time. The celebrants sat here and there on new tatami mats, their edges bound in white and black silk. They had not bothered with curtain screens for the women. It was, after all, a family affair.

A young woman in peony pink silk sat bent over a koto, deftly touching the strings to produce a familiar tune. Nearby sat a handsome young man in a blue silk gown over white silk trousers. He held the second young woman’s hand and leaned toward her, gazing into her face. She turned her head shyly, to look out over the river at the forests and hills to where the great city lay below. Her elaborate costume was of pale green silk shading to gold. She wore a richly embroidered Chinese jacket of a deep rose color over it. A sprig of flowers was pinned to her long glossy hair.

Two middle-aged ladies watched them, smiling, whispering to each other. Their robes in deeper jewel colors were no less festive. With them knelt a maid in a short blue overdress and white trousers.

Behind, some distance away and close to the house, five or six male servants in undyed cotton with blue sashes busied themselves hanging colorful paper lanterns on the veranda and readying torches to light the scene after sunset.

The killer ignored their presence. The time was now, not later. His eyes fixed longest on another group of five males. They sat in a circle around a large earthenware bowl. Two of the men wore recognizable rank colors, marking them as belonging to the kuge , the highest court rank. The other three were younger. One wore the brilliant red uniform of the imperial guard. They talked and occasionally filled their wine cups from the large bowl and toasted each other. One of the older males, a jolly, plump man, laughed aloud now and then and waved his hands about as he talked. The other sat more stiffly reserved but smiled frequently. The young men chatted with each other familiarly and were obviously friends.

The killer knew that the occasion of this gathering was the signing of a marriage contract between two great noble houses. He had paused some fifty yards from the group to prepare himself for what he had to do.

He was fully armed as if for battle. Blood-red silk laced his armor. His battle robe was of black silk with a design of white cranes. He wore both a helmet and a black-lacquered iron face mask One arm and one hand were bare.

After a moment, he sighed deeply and took up the great bow bound with red-lacquered rattan. He reached over his shoulder for the first of the black and white feathered arrows, then gave his big horse the signal. The animal obeyed and he rode slowly into the clearing, the sounds of his approach muffled by the thick grass, the koto, and male voices and laughter.

He covered half the distance before they noticed him and pointed. They seemed pleasantly startled. One of the men cried, “Another surprise!” and clapped his hands.

The warrior raised his bow and placed the long arrow.

The girl stopped playing the koto and stared.

The young man in blue prepared to rise to his feet.

The killer released the arrow. It pierced the neck of one of the older men. Blood spurted briefly and he toppled on his side without a sound.

The killer reached for another arrow and urged his horse to canter around the group. The second arrow was meant for the young man in blue who had started for the armed man. It missed its target and struck the young woman behind him in the chest. Her gown turned red and she sagged to the ground. One of the older women was next.

Finally someone screamed. The servants shouted and scrambled about. The young man turned back to his stricken companion.

And the killer moved on.

His next arrow struck the second older man and was followed instantly by another that hit a young man in the waist. The young man in blue was again trying to catch up with the killer.

The mounted warrior ignored him and urged his horse into a gallop as he circled and aimed at his victims one by one, loosing arrows, wheeling, and aiming again.

In such a manner young warriors practiced their battle skills, circling around a dog tied to a post in the center.

He was skillful. His arrows found the koto player, who collapsed over her instrument, then the other older woman who screamed briefly. Those who remained started to run for the house. Most fell to his arrows before they reached it.

The killer then turned his attention to the young man in blue, who still attempted to stop him, even though he was bare-handed and hampered by his full silk trousers. The killer reached for another arrow and found his quiver empty. With a muttered curse, he wheeled away and galloped off into the forest.

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