Read The Scarlet Kimono (Choc Lit) Online

Authors: Christina Courtenay

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction

The Scarlet Kimono (Choc Lit)

The Scarlet Kimono

Christina Courtenay

Copyright © 2011 Christina Courtenay

 

First published 2011 by Choc Lit Limited

Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB

www.choclitpublishing.co.uk

 

The right of Christina Courtenay to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

 

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE

 

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

 

ISBN 978-1-906931-49-0

 

For Richard, Josceline and Jessamy

With all my love

Acknowledgements

 

As a teenager, I had the great good fortune to live in Japan for a few years. I knew nothing about the country when I arrived, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with everything about it. While there, I met some wonderful people and although I can’t name them all, I would like to thank all my friends and teachers at ASIJ (The American School in Japan), who made my time there special –
domo arigato mina-san!

As always, thanks to the Choc Lit team for everything they do, to my family and my critique partners who keep me sane, and all my friends in the Romantic Novelists’ Association who make being an author such fun!

A special thank you to Neil Lloyd for help with writing a
haiku
poem – I wish I was as good at it as he is!

Author’s Note

 

This story is a work of fiction and as far as I know, nothing like this ever happened in reality. The historical truth is that foreign women were not allowed in Japan under any circumstances and therefore Hannah’s visit and subsequent stay there is probably a very unlikely scenario. However, since women through the ages have often successfully pretended to be men, I decided that it
could
have happened. And as this is fiction, not fact, I allowed my imagination free rein.

I was inspired by the real life adventures of the Englishman William Adams (
Anjin-san
), who really did end up in Japan and who became the protégé of the
Shogun
, Tokugawa Ieyasu. What intrigued me the most about him was that when he was finally given the opportunity to go back to England (where he had a wife and child), he chose not to. Instead, he stayed in Japan until his death. This was probably for many different reasons, among them the fact that most of his wealth was tied up in his Japanese estate. But he had also married a Japanese woman and it does seem as though he chose her for love, so perhaps this influenced his decision too.

Although I have tried to stick to as many true facts as possible, I have had to take some liberties in order to make them fit the narrative and make the story more exciting. The English East India Company’s ship, the
Clove
, didn’t actually reach Japan until 10th June 1613. This means that my fictional Mr Marston was right in supposing his ships could beat them to Japan if they sailed the other way, via the Straits of Magellan. However, since the historical fact is that Captain Saris of the
Clove
was the first Englishman to reach Japan and be given trading rights by the
Shogun
, I changed their date of arrival slightly to make them the first to arrive in my story too.

With regard to Japanese facts, the law called
sankin kotai
which I mention didn’t actually come into force until some years later, but I decided to use it here as it fit in with my story. It was an ingenious way of controlling the
daimyo
of the country and making sure they couldn’t conspire behind the
Shogun
’s back and it worked the way I describe it in this novel.

For anyone wishing to learn more about Will Adams, I can recommend
Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan
by Giles Milton (ISBN 0 340 82634 7). And if you’d like to learn more about Japan, I’d urge you to go there if possible – it’s a wonderful country!

Prologue

 

Northern Japan, May 1611

 

The old man sat cross-legged on the small verandah outside his house, contemplating the tranquillity of his rock garden. The last lingering rays of the dying sun burnished his leathery face. They cast the innumerable wrinkles into relief and made his high cheekbones appear more prominent than usual. A breeze stirred his long white goatee beard and rippled the sleeves of his silk robe. Closing his eyes, he tilted his head back to catch the sun’s warmth and then he let the peace flow over him and through him. His breathing became deep and even.

In the distance, he could hear the voices of the other inhabitants of the castle compound, but they were far away, unreal in the stillness of his haven. The only other sound was the gurgle of a small waterfall, which gushed its way across moss- and lichen-clad stones down into a pool filled with tiny goldfish. Occasionally one of the fish would make a small splash by flipping its tail fin too hard near the surface of the water, but the noise didn’t disturb the old man. His mind drifted off into another realm and he let his thoughts roam as they wished.

He never actively sought the visions, but simply gave them the opportunity to come. Sometimes they did, sometimes not. This time, however, when an image did appear, he was almost startled out of his trance by the unfamiliarity of the scene he beheld. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. A woman stood by the railing of a ship; a strange ship, large and clumsy, with many masts. The wind caressed her hair and sent it flying out behind her like a flapping sail. And such hair – the colour of a fiery sunset and strangely curved as if it were composed of a nest of writhing snakes. He shivered, imagining himself entangled in that coppery mass, burning from the heat of it, strangled by its tentacles.

She was approaching, although where she came from or how far she had travelled, he had no idea. As she looked towards him, his heart stuttered, sending a shock wave through his body. Her eyes were the colour of the sky and as clear as the water in his pond. To someone who had never encountered anything but dark eyes, they seemed empty and cold and he felt as if he could see right through her. The old man shuddered and lost the vision abruptly out of sheer fright. His heart beat became a frantic tattoo and it took him a while to realise that he wasn’t alone any longer.

‘Yanagihara-
san
, what’s the matter?’ Taro Kumashiro, the young lord of the castle, was bending towards him with a solicitous look in his amber eyes. ‘Have you had a bad prophecy?’

‘I, I … perhaps, Kumashiro-
sama
.’ The old man blinked, but the image of the red-haired woman lingered in his memory. ‘I saw a woman, coming towards me.’

The younger man’s handsome face broke into a smile. This transformed his normally stern features, making him look happy and carefree. He nodded. ‘Ah, my prospective bride. She should be on her way here very soon.’ He sat down next to his old retainer, suddenly serious again. ‘But why did you look as if you had seen a ghost? Was she that bad? I was assured by her father that she has a pleasant countenance and much grace.’

‘No, no, I didn’t see your bride, my lord, but a
gai-jin
, a foreigner.’ The old man clutched his master’s sleeve in agitation. The fear churning inside him made him forget to whom he was speaking, but Lord Kumashiro was always more indulgent with his old mentor than with others. He gently tugged the delicate black silk away without making any comment.

‘A female
gai-jin
you say? I saw foreigners last time I went to Nagasaki, but only men. You’re sure it was a woman? I didn’t think they were allowed.’

‘Oh, yes. She was dressed strangely, but I couldn’t be mistaken. And she had long, shining red hair.’

‘Red?’ The young man laughed. ‘No wonder you were so scared, you probably took her for an evil spirit.
Kami
usually have red hair, don’t they?’

Yanagihara shuddered once more. ‘Perhaps I thought so at first, but she was no spirit. She was real, and I believe she represents a threat to us. There were none of the usual indications, but why else would I see her? The foreigners have been coming in greater numbers recently. This must be a bad omen. The
Shogun
should never have let them stay.’

‘Come now, how could a foreign woman possibly be a threat to me? I’m a
daimyo
, a lord with thousands of men at my command.’ Lord Kumashiro drew himself up to his full height and crossed well-muscled arms over his chest. Even excluding his gleaming, black top-knot, he was taller than most of the men in the castle. He was also a formidable fighter. Yanagihara knew no one would challenge his lordship lightly, least of all a woman, but that was beside the point here.

‘I didn’t mean to you personally, my lord, but perhaps our entire nation. What if she is their empress?’ The old man added after a moment, ‘She had very strange eyes. Horrible, in fact.’

His young master raised his eyebrows, still looking sceptical. ‘Oh? In what way?’

‘They were blue, like pale sapphires, and clear. That was what frightened me. I could see right through them into her very soul and I’m not sure I liked what I saw.’

‘This is most intriguing.’ Lord Kumashiro smiled again. ‘I shall have to see her for myself. You’re sure she is coming here? To our shores?’

‘Well, I believe so, but be careful, my lord. Don’t do anything rash.’

‘Don’t worry, Yanagihara-
san
, I only want to look at her. Besides, if she is a threat she’ll have to be dealt with. If I am the one to thwart her evil plans it would surely enhance my status. Perhaps I’ll even earn the personal gratitude of the
Shogun
.’

‘No, I really don’t think it wise to …’

‘I shall send some men to keep a lookout for her. If she exists, she’ll have to come to the trading station at Hirado, won’t she? The foreigners aren’t allowed to enter any other port so it should be easy to spot her. Thank you for telling me.’

‘She might not arrive for some time, perhaps even years.’

‘No matter, my men are patient.’

‘Yes, but …’

Yanagihara had seen many things in his life, received warnings and advice both from the gods and spirits, and naturally it was gratifying when someone believed in his prophecies. More often than not, the people who were told of these visions didn’t listen and so they were for nothing. Usually it didn’t bother him. It was his opinion that each person had to make up their own mind and he could do no more than relay the message he had been given. Today, however, when his lordship had trusted every word, Yanagihara would rather have been ignored. He had a very bad feeling about all this.

Lord Kumashiro was already halfway through the garden though when the old man called after him, ‘Please, my lord, have a care. Who knows what calamities this woman brings? She might be very powerful.’

‘You worry too much.’ Lord Kumashiro laughed. ‘After all, you and my father taught me well. I’ll be on my guard.’

Before the old man could protest further, his lordship strode off and Yanagihara was left to wonder what he had set in motion. Still, it was too late for regrets. Only fate knew what lay before them.