You must not run away from me, but stay to hear and to remember who we were and what we’ve shared, for though it seems we’ve only met today, we’ve known each other for six thousand years. Within yourself, within your ageless soul, you must think back, remember please the many times we’ve met before, the bitter and the wondrous lives we spent in love and in discovery. Just close your eyes and listen to my voice.
Why surely you remember that first time, for it was when the world was new, and we were something other than the creatures presently we are, yet more than brutish animals. O how I can recall your scent! With passion and delirium evoke your odor in my memory, so musty, irresistibly compelling and voluptuous. A victim of a baser nature then, I followed you for days through shaded forest and through barren wilderness, across torrential streams and under violent, plunging waterfalls.
Through winding vales and over sunlit hills, I was compelled to trace your steps, to linger in localities where you had stopped to lay or to relieve yourself. How like a passion-driven moth I was, and you were as a flick’ring flame that beckoned ardor in the darkest night. I could not help myself but followed as within me nature grew more dominant. At last I came upon a thicket placed within the woods and watched intently as you bathed yourself within a quiet flowing stream.
As if you sensed that you were being watched, you found me with your eyes and turned toward me. Seductively you splashed and tempted me– a water nymph with powers over blood and body temperature— you danced the rites of spring, awakening within the world a rich supply of slowly yielding flowers on the trees and in the fields, with blossoms soft and delicate and deep, with irresistible parfums and sticky nectar, honey-sweet, that dripped and tempted all who passed. And you awoke the quickly-growing shoots which sprung from branches full of sap and life defying gravity, and yet before you tender shoots reached from the earth, some even long and thick which lured you from the water’s edge.
You took a place upon a grassy knoll and beckoned I reveal myself. I was at odds within, for something strangely told me to attack and to devour you, yet deeper I was drawn by other needs. As I approached, you caught my scent and languished as you rubbed your nose into my neck. Your smell was equally compelling as I nipped your ear and bit your nape and back. You whined and groaned and yielded as my nose was led by nature to explore a dripping flower never touched by male before.
The fragrance of the tender blossom made me wild, and yet I forced myself to take my time, to savor and enjoy a special moment in an ageless universe. And then I tasted of the splendid flower in my face. At first I licked the sticky dew from quiv’ring petals all around and slowly worked my way inside. O how you sighed aloud as I, so like a gentle butterfly, extended long and skillfully my tongue to taste the flavor of the nectar deep within! We both grew anxious for a more profound expression of our passions so inflamed. You turned toward me, and I, as if on cue, raised up and mounted you.
Our bodies danced so agonizing slow at first, enjoying every movement unexpected or deliberate. Our sighs and moans found synchronicity as deep I touched your heart and mind, as heated forms did rise and fall in unison. Your spirit clung to me,the tempo of the music hastening until we knew the end was imminent.
You broke the rhythm to enjoy a pleasure you had never felt before, and I responded with controlled aggression meant to deepen that sensation till at last I lost myself, I lost my universe within your form, and for that instant, we were one. Together we remained for seven days, yet then we went our separate ways, and never did I see your face or form again.
* * * * *
When next we met I was a soldier of Ecbatana in Media, originally a neighbor to a people called Cossaean and the captain of a levied garrison within the field adjoining your Cossaea, small and rich with happiness. One day while in the marketplace I saw you with an older man, buying animals for sacrifice. I asked the merchant who you were, and he replied that you were daughter of a very wealthy man, refined and schooled in math and Greek philosophy, yet promised to the son of he who ruled the place.
For many days I ventured there and watched you as you came and left so that I knew your manner and your preferences. At night I’d close my eyes, imagining your smile which put my guilty, blood-stained soul at peace. When you were sick, and could not go to buy, I too was sick in sympathy.
How I remember you! One day you left a scarf upon an altar for a family god. With shame I must admit I stole it from your god and took it back to camp. It held your essence and your scent so that at night I’d sleep with it upon my face. A child told me your name: Olympia, who had the beauty of the gods, with olive skin and tresses long and midnight black, with lips inviting fantasy.
I loved your noble character, for I was rough and unrefined. And yet, O how you hurt me in the marketplace that day when first I spoke to you! How with contempt you looked upon me and proclaimed me traitor to the land, a vassal to the Greeks who’d kill his father and good mother, this according to the whims of Alexander or the lesser masters in his ranks. I disagreed and swore to you my love and loyalty, but you denounced my honest words and left me standing there.
When next we met, you looked away, ignoring me. For many months I suffered with a heavy heart, and yet, in irony, that pain was small compared to what would come.
In Media a great one fell, Hephaestion, a tender friend of Alexander, King of Macedonia, and so transported from himself was Alexander that he raged in madness, causing tremors through the world. He ordered horses shaved and he forbade all music in his camp, he crucified a man and ordered the destruction of all Cossaeans, a sacrifice to his departed friend. Immediately I thought of you and rode at once to rescue you, but all around the marketplace were carcasses of butchered men, all put to sword, and from the doors of dwellings were the sounds of women being raped.
I rode my horse through smoke and flames to find your home and found your father, sword in hand, dispatched, and you were screaming from within. I quick burst through the door and saw you cringing in a corner while a drunken soldier raped your younger brother whom he’d put to sword while raping him.
With blade withdrawn, I stabbed the soldier in the back and hacked halfway into his neck so that he fell upon your brother, dying in great pain. I took your wrist and dragged you crying from the room and set about securing all the entrances into the chamber where we were. Through tears you recognized my face, but still, you feared that I would do you harm. I tried to comfort you, but you rejected me.
When night had come, I tried again to talk to you, but you attacked me, clawing at my face and arms, inflicting blows with fists and knees in tender areas. At last I pinned your arms behind your back and looked upon your face, into your wondrous eyes, and you were beautiful. I squeezed you tight as I began to kiss your lips though you resisted and you spat into my face.
My hands ran wildly over your behind and on your breasts and in between your legs till finally I forced you to your knee to pleasure me. Then next I pinned you to the bed and ravished you completely with great energy and strength. Yet as I bit into your parfumed neck I instantly remembered what we had before, and by this time you certainly remembered and were biting into me.
We spent a night in awe at understanding how profoundly we had touched, across so many thousand years! And we confessed great joy and yet still more regret that only then, as time ran out, we’d found our love again. Ignoring our cruel destiny, we made love through the night.
When morning came, the order had gone out: all Cossaeans must definitely be put to sword. I told you I would die defending you, but you would not allow my sacrifice. No need that both should die, you said, and then you thanked me for a life of happiness contained in one brief night and fell upon my sword.
O how I cried out, much as if the wound had come to me. I begged for mercy from the skies. I called to all my gods to find they had no ears for thieves. Then finally I kissed your dying lips and covered all myself with blood. How empty was my heart and soul! A cursed man I had become, and one who ran undauntedly toward death, chased death to the ends of Earth.
In battles I fought gloriously, as one who had no fear, distinguishing myself in brave campaigns meant only for the stout of heart and gaining riches of a king. At last, I built an alter in your name and consecrated it with gifts of silver, gold, with spices and with wines.
Upon your grave I offered up the greatest sacrifice
that I could give: I drove my golden blade into my dedicated heart and fell
into an earthen chamber next to you. My servants covered me and, at my orders,
did erect a monument to our eternal love which stands there to this day.
* * * * *
Of all the lives I lived, it was the French I loved the best, for every time that we returned, we’d know each other sooner than we had within the life before. For I was born in Thirteen Thirty-One within a village on the river Seine.
My father was a merchant who would buy the produce of the fields and works of artists, travelling to nearby Paris where he’d sell for profit to the wealthy and to merchants from across the seas. From these he’d buy imported goods and fineries which he would sell along the river in the countryside.
Our life was pleasant though my father nor I had no noble lineage. You, on the other hand, were daughter of Le Duc Henri de Garonée. Why I remember well: you and your mother came to visit from the South. The year was Thirteen Thirty-Five and you were four, my father’s niece, the daughter of his only sister still alive. My father’s sister married very well as she was duchess of a large estate though presently Le Duc Henri was fighting in a war against another vassal to the king.
Your handsome mother introduced us in the garden on a sunny day in spring. While all around you splendid and divinely-painted flowers blossomed with great passion and with vibrant life, their beauty and their color paled to yours: your face was alabaster sculpted with unrivaled grace, your eyes two emeralds, clear and sparkling as you smiled with reddened blushing lips so delicate it seemed an artist drew them on your face.
Because your silky auburn hair was pinned in a sophisticated fashion on your head, your dainty neck and tender shoulders were exposed. The dress you wore was elegant, of purple silk with pearls sewn in and wonderful designs of deft embroidery in royal Japanese motif.
You moved like a gazelle, with gentle charm and certainty. I bowed to you and kissed your tiny hand.
Mais non, mon beau cousin, you said, and indicating you remembered me from life before, you kissed me on the cheek. Yet as I naturally responded with a kiss in kind, I nearly lost myself. Your skin was soft and fragrant as the petal of a flower in its morning bloom.
Chère Mademoiselle, I said, Permittez-moi a vous montrer nos jardins pleins des rosieres.
Thus holding hands, we walked through gardens lush and manicured, plucked spicy-scented roses, took lunch while sitting on a tiny bench, dared many times to look into the skies and ponder on the shapes of clouds and still upon the gods who lived beyond. I cannot help but smile as I remember you that day, when it was time to say goodbye, you cried aloud and tenderly declared,
Je t’aime, Monsieur. And, kissing once for every tear upon your face,
Chère Mademoiselle Mignon, I said, Mon coeur pour vous chantera melodie toujours!
All that when you were only four and I was five. We loved each other right away. Well now, your father proved victorious in politics and battles of the South and soon your mother quit our home, thus taking you away from me.
That time was what they later called a Darker Age, when nearly all the world was trapped in fear and ignorance, but we were fortunate. Five years went by. I learned to read and write because I hoped that someday I could send to you, to tell you how in many springtime days the gentle wind would whisper soft your name into my ear. Mignon… Mignon.
And how when savoring the luscious flavor of a newly-opened rose, I’d feel you close to me, almost as if you’d never left— I’d close my eyes and feel your sweet and heated breath upon my face.
The cloud-touched skies and starry nights would even lend assurances that gracious gods were watching over you. Then finally I sent to you a composition carefully composed and purposed to reveal how wonderfully profound my love had grown.
Within a little time, you sent a letter back, inviting me to visit you there in the South. Yet only after myriad and seemingly implacable entreaties to my father, I was finally allowed to visit you in the dominion of Le Duc Henri de Garonée.
I wept for joy when first I saw your face again and tasted of your tears. We felt complete in our embrace while shivering in utter happiness. Somehow your mother knew, she knew we loved each other in no ordinary way, yet she let us alone. In privacy I kissed your lips and held you close, but not for long. Through studying it seemed that you had changed.
In Latin you had read the words of the Almighty God, which called for temperance, restraint and purity. With great rejoicing and with energy you shared your new acquired truths, entreating me to join you in a vow of chastity.
Well then, I loved you very much and quickly made your faith in God my own. Thus in the language of the Romans we pursued with constancy the Christ, and yet we also read the works of ancient world historians, the lives of Cæsar, Alexander, Antony, Themistocles and Plato on Philosophy. And yet to our dismay a certain churlish priest condemned us that we loved each other so, maintained that cousins could not marry “in the Lord.”
Now this distressed us very much. We wondered how Almighty God of wisdom infinite forbade expression of such honest, natural love, and yet our faith in God was strong. We vowed to never consummate our love though neither you nor I could think to marry any person else. Thus so resolved, you joined the nunnery and I returned to my own village, Beaulieu sur-la-Seine and dedicated all my time to study of The Word in Latin and in Greek.
Two years I lived with nearby monks who sometimes found it difficult to understand how I, a handsome youth of tender years, could cast away the present use of flesh, how I had thought to dwell within their midst to shame them with my zeal for seeking higher uses of the soul.
One time, when I was weak, I told them who you were and what we had and how I feared I loved you more than anything. I was afraid I loved you even more than I loved God. I had expected they would scold me with severity that I, a seeming righteous youth, could not forget the love I bore for you.
To my surprise, however, they were very kind. They told me never to forget the love I held for you, that it was not for me to interfere with destiny, that love so powerful was rare and was for God alone to judge. “For Issac took a wife,” they said, “who was his uncle’s daughter given by the will of God.” They further added, “Jacob had two wives!” Well then, all while they spoke I felt relieved, and yet I could not help but wonder if I loved you more than I loved God.
And once again, the monks did not condemn, but told me I was faced with a dilemma Adam knew, that I must pray for strength and persevere. Well now, I bowed and prayed to love you less, that I might seek you out and test your heart, but in the end it seemed I loved you even more. I sadly told the monks that for such error I could not remain and I returned downhearted to my father’s house.
The year was Thirteen Forty-Five and war seemed imminent. King Phillip was preparing for attack from Edward, Britain’s King. The shipwright and the weapon-maker were engaged from dawn to dusk in ready-ment and seeming endless regiments of soldiers marched across the fearful land. The spies of France reported that the spring would bring invasion from the northern coast. Our King, at once apprised, sought reinforcements from the South and finally he called Le Duc Henri de Garonée.
If I had known that I’d be forced to march for France, I might have fled, but many soldiers were required at Calais, and so against the wishes of my father I was sent up North. What irony! For I was first assigned to the command and charge of Duc Henri who was your father and my cousin favored by the King.
Your father was a prince, and skilled in politic, he drew me through the ranks, promoting me until I had a place near him. He loved you very much and sought to understand the nature of the love I felt for you, but feeling guilty, I denied it openly and claimed I loved you only as cousin would.
In all the time I knew him, never did I tell how much I longed to kiss your lips, to feel your breath upon my face, to hold you close, to whisper soft your name while peering deeply, tenderly into your eyes. I think he knew. He never said it, but he knew, and he became my second father, teaching me by virtue of mistakes he’d made and subsequent reflection that the lives of mortal men were short, that love and happiness were the important things. Le Duc Henri conducted me from my romantic youth to the reality of what it truly meant to be a man.
The messenger did not live long, but told me that my parents and my family were dead, that all along the river Seine were fallen bodies, rotting, festering with maggots and with flies. La Peste had come that summer, Thirteen Forty-Eight; it ravaged all of France.
The stories of the plague had come into our camp from many miles away. How frightening it was! And yet, in England it was much the same, with villages completely desolated by this judgment of our God.
Your father worried much for you and your sweet mother in the South, but you sent word that all was fine. And then, as winter came, Le Duc Henri grew ill. I wrote you at the nunnery and you came right away. You were too late. His body, with the others, had been burned.
I saw you kneeling praying at the altar in the Church and I approached in silence, tears upon my face. You seemed transformed by time into a creature meant for something more than ordinary man. You had become a woman of exquisite loveliness, and even as you shivered and you cried, I wished to take you up and hold you close, but I would not, for I remembered then the vow you’d sworn in youth.
I watched in awe a moment standing in the shadow of a wall. And thinking more, I sought to leave, for fear that I’d confess how much I’d grown to love you through the years. O painful circumstance! To speak with you would be more agonizing than it was to run away. Yet even as I turned, you called my name. Afraid of what was in my heart, I fled and disappeared into the night.
You sought me out and found me in a tavern, drunk with sadness and with brandywine. Then with angelic gentleness, you took my hand and prayed for me, that I might find myself and God again. You did not, could not understand my circumstance, for I could not escape my ruined heart. I wanted very much to love God more than any other thing, and still I was afraid I loved you more.
How could I tell you that? What would it do to you? For even if you loved me with an equal love we’d be condemned for it. I wanted you. I even thought to tempt you, thought to test your heart, and yet what little good remained in me would not allow such sacrilege.
You were so virtuous and pure, but I was wretched in my selfishness, and feeling thus unworthy I put forth a lie: I told you I had found a wife and loved her very much. You laughed and you would not believe at first, but with elaborate contriving I convinced you to accept untruth.
To my surprise, your countenance was changed and anger showed itself on your fair face. This was because you said you felt betrayed and you invoked me to remember promises we made not long ago. You said that you’d been true to me and never had you faltered in your love.
O how I cried aloud to see your anger then dissolve as pain contorted your exquisite face. I wanted to rescind the lie to spare you pain, but by this time you were hysterical. You would not listen to a thing I said. With tears and wails you fled into the cold December night. Dismayed, I followed you until you reached the Church again.
God punishes all those who lie and hurt, so I was not surprised when I grew sick, and right away, I knew it was the plague. So many dead around me, I endured with one great hope to see your face again, but I was not prepared for what I saw.
Was God incapable of error and injustice toward the righteous in the Earth? For how else was it that his dedicated servant was afflicted with the plague? You coughed and wheezed and cried in fear while lying in on a death-stained cot.
Je t’aime, Mignon. Je t’aime. I said.
We sat and talked all through that holy night, December twenty-fourth, and there my heart betrayed me as it always did. I told you I had lied, that I could never love another after you, and I confessed my fear that I had loved you more than what was proper for a pious man. I begged forgiveness for deceiving you, and always gracious, you forgave.
When morning came, the soldiers carried off the dead and burned them in a nearby yard. The stench was sickening.
Je mourrai certainement, you said, mais pas ici.
I understood and helped you to your feet.
Un jardin plein de rosieres!
We walked for hours till we came upon a tiny garden near a hill. We sat ourselves and watched the silent peaceful falling of the first December snow. The scene was beautiful. I took your shiv’ring hand, and with my teary eyes said more to you than words or poetry could ever say, and your response, that longing smile with trembling lips you gave just then has haunted me until this day.
Although we felt our bodies dying from the plague, we wept for joy, for never had two lovers known the happiness we had right then.
“For God is good!” you said, “He’s blessed the love we have and did not let us die alone. For now we are together for all time!”
And searching all the woody, thorny trees and vines contained within that garden of serenity, I found at last a single rose that had alone the piety to bloom that Christmas day. I brought it to the place you sat and with you silently admired all its beauty and its art, for it was scarlet red with perfect heart-shaped petals, velvety and trimmed in black.
La rose est toi. I said, because it bloomed in wintry clime with vigor and with grace.
Mais non, Chère Cœur, you did return, La rose est nous, as we were flowers plucked from life so early in our youthful splendor. Life was glorious and yet ephemeral.
I was but seventeen and you lived sixteen years. Then in that moment, smiling, you grew weak and you collapsed into my straining trembling arms.
Je t’aime, Monsieur! you said and you expired.
Assured at last that God did not disdain the love I held for you, I said a little prayer to him and lifted you and, stumbling, carried your angelic lifeless body to a well-secluded place and laid you on a crisp white sheet against a hill and then I lay with you. I took you in my arms and held you close and watched the snowflakes falling all around.
As all the
world grew dark and silent, I relaxed, and finally I fell asleep.
* * * * *
When I awoke, a savage, violent battle raged around my head as I lay wounded on a patch of blood-soaked ground. Both men and sweat-soaked hamstrung horses fell with snorts and grunts and groans and thuds upon the unforgiving rocky earth. The clash and clang of metal blades in mortal combat could be heard amid staccato orders shouted from the Shogun chief. The Ashikaga clan was fierce and quick to take advantage of our love of education, which we had considered more important than the art of making war.
My Sensei— dead. My father and my brothers— strewn about and hacked apart within my sight, as I lay hidden in an earthen pit. The vicious, bloody raid did not last long, but plays forever in my mind: I hear my brothers crying out with twisted, pain-contorted mouths, my mother’s pleas as she was raped repeatedly and killed, my virgin sisters being herded with the other virgin girls and led away as slaves. When finally the Ashikaga clan was gone and when the smoke had cleared, I ventured out to view the carnal scene.
The bodies had been piled and superficially burned, but still the stench was unbelievably appalling, causing heaving in my stomach and a burning in my lungs. And all around, the winged beasts, the flies and crows converged on the remains— flies sucking blood and crows were plucking frozen, terror-stricken eyeballs from the heads. In rage, I called to all my family gods and cursed them that we’d been instructed we should learn philosophy.
What good was all our education in the midst of arms! Our gods were foolish, yet the Ashikaga had the better gods, so wise and powerful in proof. At once I stripped off all my tribal clothes and family-fashioned gold and jewels, and I renounced my gods and family, thus setting out at once to find the Ashikaga clan. Revenge was never on my mind, but I, if gods allowed, would beg to be a slave to that great family, to serve so powerful a Shogun chief. For after all, I was but seventeen, with all my life ahead of me.
Along a river near a plain, I met an Oni of nature curious and feminine, with long white flowing hair and skin of silken goldish hue.
Kaerimasu Ikuo-san!” the Oni said in my Obaachan’s voice, but I, determined by great destiny, ignored her voice and crossed the stream.
At edge of woods, I met a second Oni of a nature like my fallen mother, pity in her eyes.
Kaerimasu Ikuo-san! the Oni said, but I, determined by great destiny, ignored her voice and left the woods.
And then, upon the edge of camp belonging to the Ashikaga clan, I met still yet another Oni of a nature beautiful and ageless in the universe, a silver sword and scepter in her hand.
Irasshaimase Ikuo-san! the Oni said, as I, determined by great destiny, went naked through the camp to bow before the tent of Shogun chief, the ageless Oni standing over me.
Yet when the private guard belonging to the Shogun chief, yet when they saw the splendid Oni standing there, at once they fell upon the ground and bowed to me. And then the Oni led me unimpeded deep into the Shogun’s tent. I scarcely wondered why, but when we reached the place he slept, I understood her purpose then.
Take up his sword, she said, And then your destiny!
In fear I could not even breathe while looking on the mighty fright’ning man. His hairy countenance was hard and mean; his heavy-muscled body evidenced his greatness and adroitness in the art of war. A scar ran crookedly across his nose that snorted like a horse.
Take up at once his sword, Ikuo-san! she said, Your time is come!
And thus I gripped the heavy blood-stained sword and lifted it above my head. Then with my downward stroke I lopped quick off the Shogun’s head. His hands at once reached up and groped to touch a face that simply was not there; it seemed he tried to stand, and then he fell, blood spurting from his wounded neck. For years he’d labored to secure his place in history, yet with one blow I cut him off.
As if I had rehearsed, I then took up his military robe and put it on. I took his rings and gold. Then driving his own spear through that grotesque, decapitated, dripping head, I held it high and went into the camp, the Oni bowing at my feet. And everywhere I went, the soldiers bowed to me and offered shows of service to their new-found lord.
At last the Oni led me to another tent that sounded with sweet music, smelled of delicate parfum. She led me in and showed to me the most exquisite women I had ever seen, for some had skin in black, some golden brown, and there were some whose skin was deathly white, yet all were skilled at music and could discourse in the most profound religions and philosophies. I thoroughly believe that through all time they were the most appealing women I have ever met.
Before you take his place, Ikuo-san— the Oni said, You must defile his virgin concubines and order then their deaths.
Yet never asking, “why?” I took each woman savagely, made each submit to gross perversion never known to me before, and then I called the soldiers in and, at my orders, watched the butchery. For that is how I came to be the absolute and sovereign ruler of the civil world, but not without a painful price.
At night the Oni came to me, would lay with me, still pleasured me with seeming intercourse, but I was young and restless, wanting something more. So once I called a pretty virgin to my tent, and gently took her many times within the night. How I enjoyed the warmth and juicy softness of her flesh!
For many times I rose and groaned, collapsing out of breath and throbbing where my body quivered well between her opened legs. She sighed aloud, encouraging my flesh with maddening cervical embrace. When morning came I tried to wake her with a tender kiss but found her strangled in my bed.
At once I wondered if I’d taken her too violently, had in the throes of passion injured mortally the comely girl. I lied in bed disturbed for many nights, and yet the Oni always came to comfort me with seeming warmth and seeming intercourse— her passion was divine, and yet I was unsatisfied. In time I found another lovely virgin girl I liked and took her as a concubine, but she, just like the first, was strangled in the night.
Was I a murderer? A fiend who for perversion strangled helpless girls? Suspicious of such circumstance, I quickly took another luscious bride, and after plowing deep into her flesh in nuptial allowance on the wedding night, I kissed her cheek and feigned I lay unconscious there. I waited for some time but fell asleep so that I did not feel the Oni come.
Instead, I heard my concubine, who struggled in her sleep and gasped for air. The Oni was upon her breast and I could mark the unseen hands that strangled her.
In vanity, I tried to save her life but finally was forced to watch her desperate weeping eyes as all her face contorted to assume a final facial cast in death. Yet then the Oni turned to me and seemed to want for intercourse, but I, appalled, rejected her and fled into the night.
In profound darkness did I walk about the tents and I remembered how I’d come to be the Ashikaga Shogun lord, I recollected how I had without a thought embraced my awesome destiny. I fancied I had run away, abandoning my mighty place that night, but then, upon the edge of camp, I saw you being led by soldiers to the virgins’ tent. Then for an instant, as you walked along, your eyes met mine, and we remembered everything.
Forgetting time and place and circumstance, you called me by a foreign name I recognized. I rushed to you and we embraced, and then, remembering the gruesome scene within my tent, I backed away in fear. Then cautiously, I looked beyond the physical and saw the Oni watching me in sheer malevolence, and so I scoffed at you, pretending I was disinclined toward you, and thus in anger ordered you away.
When I returned to my own tent, the strangled girl was gone. At first I could not feel the Oni’s presence there, and so I thought of you and all the lives we lived before. My mind and body burned, as if on fire. I wished I could have talked to you, explained my grim predicament, but loving you would cause your certain death. I somehow knew within my present destiny the Oni would destroy all objects of my love.
It was the price exacted for the place and privileges bestowed on me. Before I came to rule the Ashikaga clan, I was a student of philosophy and history. Through careful reasoning and heartfelt prayer I hoped to ascertain a remedy for my predicament. I was prepared to pay whatever price to free myself of her and go to you, and yet until and if I had escaped, I could not let her know I held for you eternal love.
While I was thinking, all at once she came upon me, forcing me in seeming intercourse, and then she settled down and spoke to me as such,
This is the law, Ikuo-san: You may not love a fleshly woman in the world, for on the day you do, you’ll surely see that fleshly woman dead.
I thought of you, and so I asked, “And why such law?” to which she answered me,
You are my husband there, Ikuo-san!
Yet, “Who are you?” I asked. And so she slowly said,
I am the Shogun’s wife, have been the Shogun’s wife two thousand earthly years. Such is my place. As you are Shogun, I am bound to you until that day you die. As Shogun, you are likewise bound to me.
“And is there no escape?” I asked, to which she straight away replied,
When you are no more good to me, I’ll choose another man to take your place, and when he takes your head you’ll have it— your escape.
I sat in thought-filled silence pondering my sad predicament. There I was trapped! How had life come to that? Thus feeling sorry for myself I asked the Oni why she took advantage my youth and innocence.
Yet you were hardly innocent, she said, for you had come to find your destiny. And when I offered you the world, you quick accepted never asking of the price. It’s late for questions now. Your truest character has been revealed in deeds: The Shogun murdered on the night you came, my husband— was he also innocent? And yet you took his life.
His virgin concubines that you abused and ordered to their deaths— Were they too young and innocent? Yet it was you alone who used your place to end their lives. Remember how you left the place you were before: abandoning your faith in family gods who called two times for you to stay and then you eager, willing, came to me.
“But it was at your bidding that I took your husband’s head!” I said, “You led me in his tent and showed me sword and said ‘Embrace your destiny!’ It was your will, not mine!”
On hearing what I said, her spirit face grew stern and ominous, and so she spoke again.
I tire of your mortal reasoning. Of course it was my will, for being spirit, I cannot act within the fleshly world, and this is why I need a wise and foolish slave to do my will. But does my foolish slave grow wise?
If you were truly wise before, you would have questioned all I asked of you and offered you, considering the price against the prize. If you were foolish now you’d question uselessly what’s past, considering what might have been against reality. By virtue of the guiltless blood you spilled in sacrifice to me your destiny is sealed and thus you are my husband till you die.
And saying that, she left me to my listless thoughts of ever being free. I fell upon my knees and wept and prayed aloud throughout the night to my forgotten family gods, but knew at last that they were powerless on foreign ground. When morning came I had resolved to leave the camp but was by my own guards confined within the place. I was the Shogun lord, and yet the Oni ruled that world.
As further proof of her complete authority, she forced me in campaigns against Yoshino in the South and still Kioto in the North where I with great resolve exposed myself to dangers meant to end my life, but she protected me, and twice she came between and showed herself to warriors posed to take my life. Then as the soldiers bowed, she had declared my life was hers alone to grant or end.
Through years of labor on the battlefield, I grew into a mighty man: large muscles bulged beneath my armor plate; with sword alone I’d cast myself into an awesome crowd of rival men and slay them all with expert mastery; the blood I spilled would turn the waters at Hikone black; my name and countenance was loved and feared by friend and enemy. Yet still, the Oni came to me at night and lay with me so that in time it truly seemed she was my wife.
Although I tried since that first night, I never could forget that you were in the camp, were in the virgins’ tent— for I had ordered that no man should take you for his nightly exercise. Yet with the virgins you had learned the teachings of a certain man Xavier of distant Portugal, who taught about his foreign Christian universal god. Thus jealous knowing this, the Oni did incline me to forbid the teachings of Xavier at cost of life.
And that is why I was surprised when you appeared within my tent that night and asked me to remember who we were. I feigned confusion till at last my heart betrayed my head. I took you in my arms and wept for joy, admitting I remembered everything, and yet, I wept for fear that once again I’d lose you tragically.
But you were bold and sure your Christian god protected over you. And so you told me that my Oni was a lesser god, and powerless against this so-called Portuguese Almighty, Universal God.
I laughed and said you did not understand the power of my woman god and told how she had strangled women in their sleep, and last I said that she had given me the world to rule.
“You cannot rule the world until you learn to rule yourself, Ikuo-san—” you said, “Until you learn to rule yourself within the proper order of the greater universe.”
How I remember now! Before the night was past you told me how you loved me still, and you agreed to be my wife despite the dangers that our union posed. Then awkwardly and carefully, I breached the sheath that held the pleasures of your womanhood, enjoying all at once your flowing warmth and rigid sculpted softness not just once, but many times throughout the night.
When morning came, I thought that you’d lay strangled in my bed, but you awoke and kissed my face with gentle velvet lips. Surprised you were alive, I looked around and sensed the Oni was not there— my jealous spirit wife was gone! But when you went away to tell the virgins of our match, the Oni swept within with rage profound.
She slapped my face and lashed my back and arms with stinging, unseen whips, and finally, she forced me on my back so that she strangled me. As all my vision blurred within my heavy, throbbing head, I thought of you and then the words you said, that I should rule myself within the proper order of the universe. Then I remembered how you’d said your Christian god protected you, and how you boldly said the Ashikaga Oni had no power over you.
So thinking of your words, I wrestled her and threw her off. And yet, in spite of my resistance to her will, she came again and pinned me to the wall, expostulating loud with words like these,
Now you have disobeyed my law, Ikuo-san! And you must pay! But first I want to see the fleshly woman dead!
Her fiery anger was profound, but for an only time, I felt from her a certain sense of fear, and so I would exploit this seeming rare deficiency by my return,
“You want her dead, my so-called Oni wife?—” I said. “Then strangle her just as you did the other girls.”
I paid a painful price for words so seeming arrogant. She shook me like some helpless, lifeless prey in jaws of fearsome predator and threw me thirty feet across the room. At once she climbed upon my breast and caused such dreadful pain that glowed within my ears before she spoke again.
Not I, but you will kill this courtesan who has no fear for proper order in the Ashikaga camp, this recreant who offers prayers to other foreign god.
As streams of sweat ran in my bulging eyes, I found some comfort knowing you were safe from pains like mine. I knew the Oni feared your god and knew that she had, like a wounded mongrel, shrank away that night you came into my tent.
And still I knew she’d seek some wise and foolish slave to do her will. If you remained within the camp, she’d see you dead, but not while I was Shogun lord. Inviting death, I challenged her with painful-spoken words:
“Now I have ceased to be your wise and foolish slave. Until you take my head, my fleshly wife will live within the camp. And still, if you do not relent from beating me, I’ll seek protection from her Christian god.”
At once the torture ceased, but she remained and spoke these final words:
Not once, but twice, you’ve acted as a fleshly man with no regard for what I’ve done in your behalf. I gave to you the powers of a god on Earth, and you repay my generosity with lies and treachery. But all I asked was that you’d take no fleshly wife— no more than that— and yet you disobeyed. And then you vowed to me you would destroy the followers of this Xavier of Portugal. For me you did forbid the teachings of the man at cost of life, and now you threaten me, you say you’ll seek protection from his foreign god.
Thus see how you have hurt your spirit wife, Ikuo-san! How you have struck me with two painful blows! Has honor left your heart? Has love of truth in vows forsaken you? Come back to me, my gentle husband! Do not be so cruel and prodigal. For understand, together we can live as equal sovereigns of the world: you’ll rule all flesh, and I will dominate the spirit realm.
Out in the field, I’ll give you victory in every battle underneath the sun, your enemies will suffer as you trample them to offal in the dust. I’ll give you wealth in gold and silver and in precious stones. I’ll give you life to ripe old age in comfort and security.
I’ll bring you pleasure inconceivable to earthly man, delectable indulgences meant only for the gods. In turn you’ll show me loyalty in every thought and act. You’ll take no fleshly wife. You’ll find and will destroy the followers of Portuguese Xavier beginning with that fleshly woman you have thought to call your wife and then her virgin complement. You’ll wipe out every trace of Christianity with all its growing cults and thus restore me to my rightful place.
You must remember that first night you came, Ikuo-san, when I encouraged you to quick embrace your destiny— for only now you’ll know the purpose of your coming here, you’ll know why you a trifling naked boy were chosen as the Shogun lord. The skyward signs and voices of the priests predicted it in harmony: the former naked boy whom men would worship as a demigod would bring about a mortal blow to Christianity within the land.
This is your truest destiny, Ikuo-san. Take up your sword once more, and rule the world. With no delay, you must destroy your fleshly so-called wife.
I never gave it mind, but careful, still refrained from answering in any way. In spite of what was in my head, I gripped the sword, and for a moment thought to run it through my heaving chest, but I was loath to leave you unprotected from those wise and foolish men who’d gladly do the Oni’s will. I sat in silence for some time till finally the Oni left me contemplating what I’d do.
I later learned in truth she fled because you came, the Christian Oni with you making her inferior. When you returned, I took you in my arms and held you close, remembering through time, and then I pleasured you with fleshly artifice till you were wholly satisfied. Yet then I gave to you a potion drugged with herbs and myrrh which made you reel and finally collapse into my arms. While you were sound asleep I worked throughout the night— I made arrangements so you’d be transported from the camp, you with your virgin complement.
Thus I gave with my orders sums of gold and silver so they’d take you far across the seas to distant Portugal, a place where I was certain that the Ashikaga Oni could not do you any harm. In sleep you smiled as last I kissed your lips and gazed through my own tears upon your wondrous face a final time.
For that is how within one night I did unwittingly fulfill the prophecy: In sending you away I saved your life and yet I brought about an end to Christianity within the land, for with you gladly went the fearful missionaries home to Portugal. For after all, you were too good for me.
As days went by, I realized how I had sacrificed my very life and happiness that you might live, and in great sadness did I lurk within my gloomy tent. I could not eat, nor drink, nor entertain my ministers who warned me of the growing threat of deadly enemies within the camp. And still, against my will the Oni came upon me every night and forced me to delirium unknown to common man, for every night she drained my groin in constant intercourse.
While I grew weaker with each day, I found within the strength and scheme to re-assume my role as Shogun lord with power more profound than e’er before: I called my second-in-command and, after testing his integrity, I ordered him to spread a rumor I was almost dead. Thus when the traitors sought to win the camp, thus even as they showed their devious designs in full assembly, I appeared in warrior’s gear and slew them all, reclaiming all I’d lost in misery.
When next I went to war upon the rocky plains, I used my guile and my experience to rout the enemy, but as I had surmised, the Ashikaga Oni did not walk before the camp. As time went by, with every skirmish was my very metal tested to extreme.
I was without my spirit wife; I was without my warrior god and vulnerable to enemies, but still a valiant man I was: in instances when fortune was not kind to me, I would not yield but fought beyond my spirit and my capabilities. Yet through it all I knew that at some time I’d fall upon some bloody field, but such a death would be unworthy of the husband to the Ashikaga Oni in the land.
At war with Ota Nobunaga near Kioto in the North, I was at last engaged with fifty soldiers on a hill, but they were very young and inexperienced and so I butchered five or six with every pass till none but three remained.
Assured I would dispatch the three, I held my sword above my head and, crying out in courage, charged, decapitating two. The third, however, with his sword had caught me in the face. I turned at once, and with one blow, I sliced his shivering childish form in two.
I touched my bloody face and felt the pulsing wound which ran so painfully and crookedly across my nose. In time the wound became a scar which interfered with how I breathed, for ever after that I snorted like a horse!
As graying hair does utterly reveal, true wisdom is a quality that traces carefully and follows in the spoors of time. So as the days went by, I realized how all my life would end, and I remembered back in time: the Shogun lord with crooked scar across his nose— the same who snorted like a horse— the very man whose head I separated on the night I came into the Ashikaga camp— was me.
In my decision to take up the sword that night I sealed my fate. In foolishness I had that night destroyed myself and any hope for happiness. The Ashikaga Lord I had destroyed was me! Yet when at last I understood the ridiculing irony of mortal life while lying on my cot, I squinted through my fading eyes and glimpsed upon a wise and foolish naked boy with my own sword ineptly poised above his head.
Within the gleam of that sharp falling blade I saw the grimly aspect of the Shogun I had killed, which was in truth my own, and as I thought to rise in anger so to mock the gods, they silenced me and cast me in a sea of darkness, which consumed my very consciousness.