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47 Roninby Joan D. Vinge
A novelization by Joan D. Vinge
Kai, an outcast who joins Oishi, the leader of the 47 Ronin, starts the pair on a quest over a shared loss. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials… See more details below
A novelization by Joan D. Vinge
Kai, an outcast who joins Oishi, the leader of the 47 Ronin, starts the pair on a quest over a shared loss. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials that would destroy ordinary warriors.
- Tom Doherty Associates
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- 4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
Based on the Screenplay by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini
By Joan D. Vinge
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP
All rights reserved.
Kai crouched down, searching the forest floor in the maze of new growth that marked another spring's arrival. His calloused hands, years past sunburn, so tan now that they were indistinguishable from any peasant's, scooped up a clump of loose earth that some creature's passage had dislodged from among moss-covered stones and last winter's dead leaves.
He breathed in the scent of the soil and frowned. Wrong. He stared at the enormous indentation in the ground a few strides further on; it was a kind of imprint he had seen only once before, long before they had begun this hunt ... far too long ago.
The faint crack of a twig made him look over his shoulder, searching the woods behind him. He exhaled, a sigh of relief. Not a monster ... only a fox.
A snow-white fox. The vixen stared back at him from where she stood, one paw raised, with a gaze that met his own as if they were equals, taking each other's measure. And then abruptly she turned and darted away, vanishing into the dim green light of the forest as if he had shouted.
A white fox ...
But then he heard the sound of hoofbeats approaching from downslope, and knew the others had caught up to him. Perhaps the fox had simply heard them coming.
He looked back down the long hill as Lord Asano and his hunting party of samurai materialized out of the morning fog: The mounted warriors in full armor were like a vision from the past, emerging from some crack in time out of the centuries of warfare when a man had become a samurai by proving his courage in battle, not by inheritance at birth.
Now, that era was already fading into legend after a century of the "Tokugawa Peace," in which the endless bloodshed had been replaced by endless laws and regulations. A rigid caste system existed under the new rule of law, which defined the nobility of the warrior class strictly by the blood of its ancestors, and established its permanent place at the top of society. Laws defining what the other classes were, were not, and could never hope to be had been enacted as well, to keep them in their places ... invisible walls, as unbreachable as the stone walls of Edo castle, home to the Tokugawa Shogun.
Most of the men riding up the hill toward him rarely put on full armor — and then only to practice skills they might never need. But this was no ordinary hunt; when they finally caught up to their prey they would need that armor, and all the weapons they carried with them as well.
As they spotted him, the riders pulled their horses to a halt a short distance down the hill. It was only then that Kai realized he had been holding his breath; he exhaled and sat back on his heels, waiting for Lord Asano to acknowledge him.
He could spot Lord Asano easily enough, by the crest on his ornate helmet; knew the others more by instinct than by spotting any recognizable features, from this distance. It was difficult to believe that he had lived for nearly twenty years among these men and yet, just for a moment, when he saw the hunters and they saw him, he had still been thrown back into the mind of the terrified boy he'd been the first time they had come upon him, so long ago.
Now he was Lord Asano's head tracker, not a hinin cleaner of dog kennels. But in reality little else had changed in any meaningful way, so little that it was still possible for him to forget for a moment that his life had actually changed at all.
His brown hair had darkened until it could pass for a pureblood's, and he used the same spearmint oil to keep its stubborn waves straight that the samurai used to keep their topknots looking orderly. They all reeked — pleasantly enough — of spearmint, to the point where they had never noticed that he did too.
And yet no matter what he did to make himself fit in, at least as a commoner, in their eyes he would always be a halfbreed first. His presence — his very existence — was still as repugnant to the samurai of Ako Castle as if he actually were a demon.
But there were a few exceptions, who made the rest bearable — and one of them was the lord he served. A rare feeling of warmth and concern filled him as he focused on Lord Asano's face, seeing the combination of fatigue and resolve in the daimyo's expression as he looked expectantly at Kai.
Kai raised his arm, a signal that he had found something more than just tracks — something significant, something else to repay the debt he owed to the man who had saved his life and gone on believing in him when no one else would.
The group of samurai started forward again as the porters, and the farmers who were there to beat the bushes, came scrambling up on foot.
Kai saw Oishi Yoshio riding beside Lord Asano as he always did — Oishi had become chief retainer when his father retired some years ago. He was a married man now, with a load of bureaucratic duties and a son who had recently come of age — a son barely younger than he himself had been when Kai first met him and they had tried to kill each other. But wearing full battle armor, Oishi still looked as formidable to Kai as a wall of spears.
Another samurai — the unfailingly arrogant Yasuno — rode up alongside Oishi and bowed his head to Lord Asano. He was close to Oishi's age, but so far life had taught him nothing, at least nothing that Kai found admirable. He pointed on up the rising slope, as usual ignoring Kai's signal. "My lord, I think the beast has moved to higher ground."
The wind carried their conversation easily to where Kai waited; his mouth thinned when he heard the words. But Lord Asano only looked further up the mountainside, where the trees and undergrowth became even more impenetrable, and shook his head. "Ask Kai." Yasuno stiffened visibly, but he only bowed again in acknowledgement, before he started his horse toward Kai. "Go with him, Oishi," Lord Asano added.
Oishi nodded and followed Yasuno; he was always swift to obey his lord, but still nearly as reluctant as Yasuno to approach Kai. Kai gazed at the ground as he waited for them, centering his emotions until he was sure his face was perfectly composed.
He rose from his knees to his feet to face them as they stopped their horses in front of him. It was still difficult having to look up at them, when they looked down on him from horseback like two disdainful gods, armed with spears, bows, and swords. Nonetheless, he held their stares for another long moment before he obediently lowered his gaze.
He held out the clump of bloody animal fur, so tangled with an unnatural growth of plant matter and fungi that even when he had brushed the dirt from it, he had thought at first that he had made a mistake.
The two men looked at it, and then at him again. Their expressions suggested they weren't sure where his arm ended and the evidence he'd found began.
"There is something wrong with the creature," he said finally, nodding from what he held toward the wooded slope above them, where not even his eyes could see clearly enough to penetrate the wall of green. "It's up there on the rise — but it will come down again to hunt. It would be safer to set a trap and wait for it here."
Yasuno dismissed Kai's words, his years of experience, his unfaltering instincts, and his very existence, with a disdainful grunt. "If we wait, it will get away!" He shook his head like an impatient horse. "We have chased this beast for days —" he said, as though Kai had not been leading them the entire time, on foot. "We must kill it now, before it does any more damage!"
Kai glanced at Oishi. He found Oishi regarding him with the same dubious expression that had been on his face all those years ago, when they had first laid eyes on each other. After this much time, Kai decided that any hope the two of them might have had for coming to an understanding was long gone, if it had ever existed at all.
But Oishi studied the bloody clump of hair and unnatural plant growth again for a long moment, frowning but at least seeming to consider it seriously. He glanced up, and Kai shook his head in warning. Oishi turned his horse without a word, and rode away with Yasuno, back toward the spot where Lord Asano waited.
Kai watched in resignation as Oishi and Yasano reported to their lord, deliberately keeping their voices low, trying to keep him from hearing their words. But he already knew what Yasuno would say.
And Oishi — despite his tactical skills and dutiful weaponry practice, despite his hunting experience or even his responsibility for his lord's safety — was siding with Yasuno. He had ignored Kai's warning out of pure spite ... or worse yet, the hunger of an unblooded warrior for a taste of the blade's edge. "It's up there, my lord. We should go after it while we have the chance."
Fool —! Kai tightened his jaw against the urge to shout the protest he was forbidden to make. He had lived on the blade's edge for so long. ... But if he tried to warn those fools what they were truly asking for — what they were leading their lord into — Yasuno would only draw his untried katana and kill him on the spot for daring to criticize their judgment.
A samurai had the right, under law, to cut down any commoner who offended him for any reason, or for no reason at all. Kai knew that if he hadn't been under the protection of Lord Asano, one of his lord's own samurai would have long ago tried out an untested blade's edge on the halfbreed kennel boy — cutting off his limbs, or his head.
There was no point in trying, no point in dying for no reason. Lord Asano would never hear a word he had really said ... even if it cost all of them their lives.
Lord Asano nodded and urged his horse forward, leading the way on up the hill. As the men rode past, Lord Asano glanced up at him with a grateful smile. Kai bowed in return, keeping his grim expression to himself. He looked up again as the other riders passed. Not one of them so much as glanced his way.
When they were gone, Kai threw down the clump of animal hair in disgust. He forced himself to recite a prayer for their safety, if only for Lord Asano's sake, and not the curse he would have called down on the retainers whose eagerness for slaughter might just lead their daimyo to a crippling accident, or even his death.
Because it was no ordinary beast — not even something as formidable as a bear, or wolves in winter — that they had been trailing for days. It was a kirin. Kai had never even seen a kirin, and he had seen more strange things than anyone at Ako Castle could imagine.
He had seen drawings made by people who claimed to have seen kirin, but clearly never had. The images were as absurd as they were grotesque. But he had also been told the truth about kirin, by ones who had seen them. ... Their accounts were both awe-inspiring and terrifying, all the more so because they were true.
Kirin were rarely seen by humans or any other creature, even in the high valleys of the most remote mountains — their usual home, and sanctuary — even though their size was enormous. They were shy solitary creatures who ate only vegetation. Moving with infinite patience, they wandered the mountain slopes, meditating on the profound and unknowable, he had been told; often they moved so slowly that their fur became draped in trailing vines and branches, until they were all but invisible to human eyes. ...
But there was more to the kirin's seeming ability to vanish from sight than natural camouflage. Men were not the only creatures in this world who kept a wary eye out for the malice of other men. And like many creatures of the primeval forests and cloud-peaked mountains, kirin led a strange, shimmering existence, manifested partly in this world and partly on the spirit plane. The beings that humans called yokai — demons — were simply more powerful manipulators of chi, the fundamental energy that filled all existence and moved through all things, animate and inanimate.
Why did stones possess chi ...? He suddenly remembered the question that had been put to him as a boy. He still had the scars from failing to guess the answer. But over and over through the years, patience and endurance had kept him alive ... and stones needed more patient endurance than most things. He could see now how all things used ITLχITL in their own way — how humans used it to animate their bodies, whether they realized it or not, in the same way stones employed it to remain still.
There were days in his own life — especially the days when he caught a rare glimpse of Mika, and she looked back at him — still with longing in her eyes — when he felt as if bit by bit he was becoming more of a stone than a man.
But while he had become acutely aware of his own shortcomings as a human being, he had become ever more aware of how far short most human senses fell, compared to the abilities of the yokai, whose awareness of ITLχITL let them draw on it consciously to perform acts humans called impossible, unnatural, demonic.
Humans considered all yokai "evil" — a term that covered many things that might truly be evil, and far more that were simply incomprehensible.
It was a rare human who could detect the presence of chi. Very few could even accept the possibility that such an ability might exist. The vast majority would always remain ignorant, and fear all yokai, because they could never truly understand them.
But kirin were normally among the most peaceful of living things. Only if something violently disturbed the fragile balance of their existence would they be anything else. ... If something occurred that did, they were among the most powerful manipulators of ITLχITL in the world, and their destructive fury could be unimaginable —
Kai had never heard of one that had come this far down from the mountains before, to invade the lands humans had claimed for their own ... let alone gone rampaging through villages and fields the way the one they were tracking now had, crushing buildings and destroying crops, eating the flesh of slaughtered animals ... and even human beings.
And why in the name of all the gods had it sought out the lands of Lord Asano — who, to Kai's knowledge, was far from the worst of men, and in his personal experience, one of the best?
Left behind with the porters and the peasants, Kai crouched silently with his eyes closed, listening, testing the feel and scent of wind, trying to force his other senses to tell him what it was impossible to see from where he had been abandoned.
Not permitted to touch a real weapon, not permitted to ride a horse, he was as helpless as anyone around him to keep a disaster from occurring up on the mountainside. None of the peasants waiting near him had ever taken part in a hunt like this one before ... any more than the samurai had. But they'd rarely had a personal stake in the capture of the prey, either. Even so, like him, they had been inescapably assigned to their place here, just as they had in their lives, and for now they seemed content to stay in it.
* * *
The hunters neared the uneven top of the rise, entering a thick pocket of morning mist that still lingered among the dense forest growth and outcroppings of gray stone. They were forced to keep their restless horses under tight rein, holding them back to the careful walk their mounts would normally have chosen for themselves as they picked their way through the twisting, blind terrain.
A knot of tension caught in Oishi's throat, as Kai's unspoken warning replayed itself in his memory. Suddenly he was unsure whether he had done the right thing in ignoring it: The horses were more nervous and difficult to handle than the dangerous footing, or even their rider's tense alertness should account for. "If the horses are restless, there are attackers there." Was it Sun Tzu who had said that? Not all enemies were human. If he had let himself lead Lord Asano into danger because of his pride ...
He could make out nothing among the moss-covered boulders, the thickets of overgrown shrubbery, and the overhanging branches of trees. All the world seeming to become an emerald blur in the shifting reality of the fog. His horse stopped suddenly, without his signal, its head high and its ears pricked forward.
Excerpted from 47 Ronin by Joan D. Vinge. Copyright © 2013 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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