ANNIE VANDERMEER : Designer / Writer / Narrative
It was known to many in the land that the son of the clan daimyo was, to put it mildly, a disagreeable
young man. It was uncouth to speak of it at length and the household did all they could to quash
any discussion of it, but yet tales of the lad’s cruelty escaped like wisps of steam from a covered basket.
It had galled the daimyo all their life that their clan was not respected for their duty, and rumors of this
nature wounded the honor of their house. Finally they hired a monk into their service, meant to teach their
son wisdom and perhaps some compassion. The monk arrived without fanfare one rainy morning, and
began lessons before noon.
One guard was set outside each entrance to the room of lessons. Any servants who happened to come
near were given stares so acute and full of threat that it seemed the very air was full of wasps. Satisfied,
the daimyo returned to their duties. Intrigued, the servants did what was best done in the highest levels of
power in the land.
They waited, and listened.
“Two minor clans were at war,” the monk droned.
The son of the daimyo scratched his ear idly. “So? They’re always at war.”
His yawn was cut off with a yelp as the monk switched his hand expertly with a bamboo stalk. That had indeed been a surprising advancement, the switch. The glares of the guards had grown in strength ten times when a servant had first heard their master’s son cry out in shock. The daimyo had seen it acceptable that a monk should discipline their son as he was removed from the social order, and thus no true offense was brooked. In their youth, they been lashed by a monk who was quite quick with a yew branch, and carried the humility of the experiences close to their heart.
“Pay attention,” said the monk to the young man, voice unmoved. “Two minor clans were at war, and many warriors were dispatched from either side. Nature, as if sensing their great animosity, responded with a fury of its own.
“Two honorable samurai, one from each clan, were carrying messages of great importance when a great storm broke above them. They were forced into a cave for shelter, and as they lit fires, and at once, they beheld each other truly.”
“Did they fight?” said the son of the daimyo excitedly. The potential for bloodshed had finally drawn his attention.
“They did not. They were honorable warriors, and the cave was narrow and dark. Instead they sat together and weathered the storm. One shared rice, the other miso. When they slept, they each guarded the other.”
The snort from the son of the daimyo was rich with derision. “How foolish!” he barked. “They knew who each other were, why didn’t they kill the other in their sleep!” This was followed by another yelp of pain, and the son of the daimyo reflected with furious incredulity how impossible it seemed that the old monk could move so fast.
“That is Rei, the way of Courtesy,” the monk said. “It is for bandits to kill whom they will, when they will. They do not possess the burden and importance of Bushido. It is what sets the great apart from the small.”
The son of the daimyo frowned. “But lives were at stake! Jin would demand that a foe be killed to protect his people, rather than sit with one they know is an enemy!”
“Do not mistake a fear of death for compassion, or loyalty to one’s house. Rei demands courtesy to even your greatest enemy.”
The son of the daimyo frowned but allowed the monk to continue.
“In the morning, the storm had abated” – the son of the daimyo, despite himself, sat up eagerly at the promise of violence – “and they arose, and prepared themselves. They fought, and one fell. Their opponent gave them a proper marker in death, for they had been an honorable foe. Then they rode on, to their master.” The monk paused a moment, and took a sip of tea. “That is the lesson.”
“…But who won?”
“It does not matter. It matters only that they followed the code of Bushido.”
“I think it’s – aah!”
“What we think matters not,” the monk said evenly, without heat. “The world is larger than our own desires.” He breathed in the tea vapor. “You may go now.”
The monk sat beneath the peach tree many nights later, meditating on the final one that sat within its branches. The tree seemed strong but the leaves curled in a way that themonk knew meant weakness. All the other peaches had fallen or been eaten, but one remained, and he studied it calmly.
The blade in his gut was a sudden surprise. He blinked, coughed, looked down in a haze at the spreading red, and up to see the son of the daimyo removing his dark mask. “You counsel the compassion and courtesy of Bushido from hands soft with Jin and Rei. But mine is a house no less honorable, who has lived and died on duty and sincerity. To turn from that is not the way, but dishonor.”
“However,” said lazily, removing a piece of paper from his kimono, “there were two lessons of yours had had value. Your speed, for one, and that of the true meaning of Meyo: no judgement matters but my own.
“Now practice stillness, and be quiet forever.”
They found the monk in the morning, cold hands grasped around a knife in his stomach, nearby a note from him saying he sought higher mysteries. The daimyo was upset, but took the monk at his word. The servants cremated the body, and nothing else was said.
A stray wind shook the last peach fell from the tree, and it split as it hit the ground. The perfect skin peeled to reveal flesh soft and rotting.