The Flagmaker's Son

The Flagmaker's Son

by John Speeking

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Young Elisha Ambrose’s life is mired in the mundane until he meets a dealer in rare books, who shows him his greatest prize, a rare medieval Japanese book. Elisha befriends the old bookseller so he can read from the book and imbibe the beauty of its images. He quickly he becomes fixated on it.

His fixation hurls him into a maelstrom of obsession and delusion. He risks everything he thinks he holds dear in this world as he becomes possessed with irresistible and unexplainable impulses. Two parallel stories, the one of the young man’s personal history, and the one told in the book seem to intertwine. Some of the extraordinary events and personages in the book -- which is a tale of Kanaye, a vain ambitious young man and aspirant samurai who dreams of war, glory, and perfect love -- converge with those of the young man’s existence.

Elisha’s life had been unexciting until he came across that precious book. Now it has becomes an agonizing ordeal, a terrifying over-excitement of all his senses, peopled with characters he is convinced are out to frustrate his aspirations. Elisha yields to the outlandish delusions that possess him as he seems bent on acting out passages from the book. He will go to any lengths to covet the book, because it has become a compulsion not only to read it but to posses it entirely.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781554046065
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Publication date: 09/18/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 263 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Flagmaker's Son

"Do me this one last kindness, Dr. Pefferlaw," he pleaded.

"Last kindness?" replied the old antiquarian. "What do you mean?"

"Take this, Doctor," he answered, as he presented the old man with a small coffer.

The antiquarian became alarmed by the young man's ashen face, his haggard, vacant eyes, sunken cheeks, and cruel grin. He accepted the coffer tentatively, grasping it only by the corners, because he had observed, just before laying hold of it, drops of congealed blood on the lid.

"I have to hurry," said the young man, "before the potion wears off and I lose my courage! Please. It's not locked, Doctor, because I want you to read it. Because, though you don't realize it, you are partly and unknowingly answerable for my downfall."

"Downfall? Are you a madman? It's the laudanum talking because you've taken too much of it. Let me fetch a physician. Why is there blood on this? Are you cut?"

"Not my blood, old man,"

"By God, whose is it then?"

"Go to the Gamesbridge mansion--your old bosom friend, Lord Gamesbridge. You'll find his library decorated in blood--his own, mixed with his poor daughter's, because I've slaughtered them both, God help me. And it's all to be blamed on the book. Read what is inside this coffer, old friend, after I am departed, and save a prayer for a ruined soul."

"I don't believe it," said Pefferlaw. "I can't believe it. You're making up stories, you little miscreant."

"Run to his lordship's mansion and see if you wish," said the young man, "If you have the stomach. Now I must use your study for the ritual. I'll go there and await my second."


"Yes, my most favouredcaptain, and most adroit samurai, to take off my head, just at the propitious moment."

"Samurai!" shouted Pefferlaw. "Now I see. That book you cajoled me into me letting you read."

"The book that opened my eyes."

"And closed others."

"You see, now. You do acknowledge its influence then."

"On weaker minds, but I thought you strong enough to bear its effects. But I was wrong. You should not have read it. I should have heeded the sanction from the one who gave it to me."

"I've more than read it, old man," replied the young student, after which he let out a devilish laugh. "I've partaken of its body. I have become it, and it has become me. Art can kill, old man, remember that." Here his gaze became distant, and the devilish smirk softened to a warm, abstracted smile, as if he were contemplating some wonder in the distance. "It's not laudanum, dear Doctor," he went on, pulling out a small snuffbox from the breast pocket of his waistcoat, and opening it up under the antiquarian's nose. "You see the grey powder; smell its mustiness and decay. Oh how you've underestimated the worth of that invaluable book, you, who've had it under your droopy, creaking nose without out knowing its worth. These are the scrapings of it, which I secreted out from here, flake by flake, because you'd never let me take it away from this rotting old library, where it wasted away."

Having pronounced these words, the young man turned away from the antiquarian with a look of supreme tranquillity and walked towards the study. The old man, too taken aback to follow him straightaway, could only watch in dumb silence as the student opened the study door, threw a cunning look over his shoulder towards him, and then closed the door; only the clatter of the bolt being drawn drew him from his stupor. He rushed to the library door and pulled at the lever, which did not yield.

"Open," he screamed. "Open right now, or by God, I'll call for a constable!" When that threat failed to get a response, Pefferlaw quieted immediately. "Open, dear boy," he murmured, placing an ear on the door to eavesdrop. "I can help you with your delusions, son."

But no reply came from the other side of the bolted door.

* * * *

When the constable broke open the door, he found the young man sprawled in the middle of the room, and his blood had already overspread the entire floor. He was doubled over on a small mat, with his face lying on the floor, turned to the side, mouth agape, and eyes staring fixedly. Pefferlaw and the constable laid him down flat on his back and stretched him out, discovering that his belly was opened up from one side to the other, and that his entrails were slowly oozing out of the gash. The old man wept at what he saw. He fell to his knees, unmindful of the blood he was kneeling into, reaching out to touch the young man's corpse, but then drawing his quaking hand away limply just short of the boy's cadaver.

The constable reached down and picked up an object from the floor, lying amidst wads of blood-soaked cotton. It was a short sword, set in a plain wooden handle, inscribed at the bottom of the blade with either a symbol of some sort, or some form of script. "The weapon," he said, looking at Pefferlaw with the requisite amount of solemnity.

"A tanto," said Pefferlaw, who had finally gathered enough breath and vigour to speak.

"A tango?" said constable.

"A tanto," repeated Pefferlaw, "for ritual disembowelment."

"Ritual disenwhatment?" cried the constable. "Nasty stuff. Such bloody barbarity," he opined. "And on the same day."

"The same day as what?" inquired the old antiquarian, with noticeable trepidation.

"Why the butchery at the Gamesbridge estate, dear sir. Father and daughter gutted like animals. Such a fine man is--was Lord Gamesbridge. Not a single known adversary. And poor Miss Gamesbridge, winsome in her own way, and set to be married to a fine young student at Oxford."

"The corpse you see here--," said Dr. Pefferlaw, as he drew back from the horrendous scene, sweeping his hand over the corpse of the young man from afar, "--is that fine young student. See him here, the young Oxfordian, and promising orientalist, Elisha Emmett Ambrose, betrothed to Lady Miss Jessamine Gamesbridge, and soon to be son-in-law of the illustrious Lord Gamesbridge. Right before you, dear sir, he lies. Rent apart in life, they are united in death. Now all three are joined in a bloody trinity."

* * * *

He wandered the booksellers' lane, the libraries, the antiquarian shops, the archivists, looking for more books to rescue, like a rich man slums through the direst quarters seeking to cast his charity upon the poor. Most of his finds were minor ones, though every find elated him. Now and again a gem would appear, and that he kept in his special vault, where no one was permitted ingress, save for a few close friends, like Lord Gamesbridge, fellow archivists and antiquarians he respected, and other rare individuals who shared his passion, such as the young orientalist Elisha Ambrose, from Oxford, who had become entranced by the subject when the old man had given his class a presentation on book restoration and had showed off his greatest prizes.

The young man had become enamoured of a particular book, one which stoked his natural passion for Japanese culture. It dated from the early Jedai-Geki period, a period of great interest to him, one of his specialties in fact, which had won him some renown in certain circles. It numbered less than a hundred pages; half of those were adorned with the most exquisite Japanese bamboo-brush watercolours, and the other half told a very sad story, written in the most delicately wrought Japanese script on diaphanous rice paper, so richly loaded with black ink that the glyphs rose up from the pages, like a relief, and felt so very smooth to the touch, caressing to the fingers. Young Ambrose swore to the old antiquarian that a blind man could tell what the story told, just by feeling the page, and he did it himself, blindly stroking every page under the eye of the old man, with the most euphoric smile gracing his youthful face. Pefferlaw could not help but laugh and be intoxicated by the young student's ardour.

Young Ambrose would come most evenings to entertain the old man by reading from the book, because he was fluent in Japanese. He even taught the old man the rudiments of the language, so he could enjoy it for himself, though he could never feel the writing's full meaning and portent.

This book not only brought an old man and a young student together, it bound others to them, through their common love of it. When Lord Gamesbridge came on a visit, he came upon the two poring over the book, and he became enamoured of it too. He was also very impressed by the young Ambrose's erudition and grace, his gentility and good humour. A good match for my Jessamine, he would think to himself, smiling.

He sat many hours, smoking his pipe, listening to the young man reading in Japanese, which, to him, because he did not speak the language and could only be touched by its acoustic qualities, devoid of sense, evoked an unambiguous and specific image in his psyche. Yes, he thought, this strange, alien tongue evokes the many moods and noises of water, sometimes flowing softly along a serene rivulet, sometimes breaking with surprising clangour over rocks, sometimes trickling musically round shallow eddies, sometimes growling with low, guttural ferocity over a steaming cataract.

"These Japanese fellows," his lordship commented aloud, "must be very watery people," with the perfect assurance that his appraisal was the authoritative one. "They must live by and rely solely on the beneficence of waterways."

"Oh no, my Lord," said young Ambrose, with excessive respect and leniency. He knew his lordship to be a pragmatic man of business, who simplified things to the extreme to make sense of the world. This unerring belief in the intrinsic advantages of directness and simplicity had made him a rich man, but a narrow one. "No, Lord Gamesbridge," continued Ambrose, after a reverential pause, "they live by water, that's true, but they live by as many means as we do. And they take pride in their toils and their lives and their loves. They are an innately proud people. But their pride is real and not feigned, as it is in the Englishman, who uses it as showpiece. I mean no disrespect, Lord..."

"None taken, dear lad," said Lord Gamesbridge.

"His lordship is not a proud man," interrupted the antiquarian, looking at his lordship with an ironic smile.

"Ah," replied Lord Gamesbridge, after blowing another smoke ring into the blue air. "Pride is the folly of the idle wealthy. I'm a working man. I was born poor and without title. I won my title. And I hate the rich--especially the royal rich."

"That's why he wallows with poor antiquarians..." interjected the old man.

"And lowly students," added young Ambrose.

"I like who I like," quipped his lordship, "and that's that."

All three men laughed.

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