Artist Eric M. Bahle August 10, 2008
Takezo smiled up at the bird. The little thrush had not flown away as the warriors formed up at dawn. It watched from its branch, calm and unconcerned. When the grey dawn began to lighten, the thrush began to sing, unbothered by the armored men in the clearing. As the Lord Katsu addressed the assembly in his ringing voice, the thrush increased his own volume. The bird finally fell silent and Takezo realized that the assembly had also become quiet. There was a flash of barely seen motion as the bird flew away. Takezo looked toward the generals and they were all looking at him. All except Yamamoto.
“You,” Lord Katsu pointed with his fan. He was pointing at Takezo. Nonplussed, Takezo took a step forward and bowed a little. Katsu waved his fan indicating Takezo should approach. Takezo ran to the front of the assembly and dropped to one knee in a battlefield salute.
“You are to act as kaishaku for General Yamamoto,” Katsu said.
Takezo was shocked but tried not to show it. He wanted look at Yamamoto but stopped himself from turning more than an inch or so. Instead he bowed lower. “Yes, lord.”
Katsu noticed the shock. “You hesitate?”
“Not to obey, lord,” Takezo said. “Just to step before others closer to Lord Yamamoto’s rank.”
“General Yamamoto chose you himself,” Katsu put the barest emphasis on the word general. Takezo turned and bowed to Yamamoto, who knelt in the grass.
“Lord, you honor me.”
Yamamoto bowed his head and smiled. “Two years ago in Gozen you beheaded three samurai. I was there.” Yamamoto was trying to answer the question Takezo could not ask.
“Yes, lord, but those were just executions.” Yamamoto smiled again and moved his head indicating the back of the assembly.
“Back there when everyone was watching me, you were looking up. At what?”
“A bird, lord,” said Takezo. “A thrush.”
“Ha,” Yamamoto chuckled, low and warm, “While the shrike gets his wings clipped you were watching a thrush?” The shrike appeared on Yamamoto’s personal banner.
“He was singing, lord. It was beautiful.”
“You composed a poem?”
Takezo nodded and Yamamoto indicated he should hear it.
“Thrush sings, sun glints on
Bright wings and the once still branch
Now quivers, empty.”
Yamamoto nodded and smiled and Takezo smiled back, nodding as well. He stood and drew his sword. Yamamoto took a few moments to compose his own poem and wrote it with sure strokes. Takezo longed to read it but it would have been impolite. Yamamoto laid the brush next to the gleaming blade of the aikuchi and paused to regard them both.
It’s a shame we lost such a man, thought Takezo. The assembly was utterly silent as Yamamoto grasped the hilt of his dirk. In the forest Takezo heard a thrush singing.