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The Way of the Warrior
by Andrew Matthews
Jimmu is haunted by the death of his father, and his destiny is clear - he must train as a samurai, so that one day he can take revenge against his father’s rival, and restore his family name. But just as blood is about to about to be spilled, Jimmu discovers something that cast’s doubt on his life’s mission. Now Jimmu must change his fate, before his own life is placed in jeopardy...
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Shimomura family home
SURUGU PROVINCE, SPRING 1565
Jimmu was dreaming. In the dream, a white cloud in the sky was calling him by name. Then the cloud vanished as he woke up. It was late at night. One of the screen doors in his room had been left open, and an oblong of moonlight lay across the floor. From the garden outside came the sound of water splashing on stones, and the whirr and chirrup of insects.
“Jimmu!” said a voice. “You must get up.”
Jimmu turned and saw Nichiren standing over him. Araki Nichiren was his father’s most trusted samurai bodyguard, but Jimmu did not like him. Nichiren was short and stocky. His head was shaved down to white stubble, except for a tightly tied pigtail. He always spoke gruffly and never seemed to be in a good mood.
Jimmu yawned and pulled a face.
“I was dreaming,” he said. “I dreamed that—”
“This is no time for nonsense,” said Nichiren. “On your feet, and hurry! Lord Kensu has asked for you.”
The mention of his father’s name brought Jimmu fully awake. Lord Kensu was not a man it paid to keep waiting.
Jimmu followed Nichiren through the house, to the main room of his father’s apartment. All the lanterns had been lit and moths were circling them. Lord Kensu was seated on a raised platform at the far end of the room. His suit of armour rested on a stand beside him. The helmet was topped by a strip of metal, shaped like a crescent moon. On the wall beside Lord Kensu hung the banner of the Shimomura family, showing a golden crab with raised claws. The same design was embroidered on the lapels of Lord Kensu’s black silk kimono. On the floor, directly in front of him, was a dagger in a red scabbard.
Jimmu bowed to his father.
“Sit close to me, Jimmu,” said Lord Kensu. “I want to see your face.”
Jimmu crossed the room and sat two arms’ lengths from his father.
Lord Kensu looked at his son for longer than he had ever looked at him before. Jimmu looked back, and saw sorrow in his father’s eyes.
At last, Lord Kensu said, “How old are you, Jimmu?”
“Ten,” said Jimmu.
Lord Kensu sighed.
“You are too young to understand, but listen to me carefully and do as I tell you,” he said. “You will leave this house tonight, and you will never return. You will not see me or your mother again in this life.”
Jimmu could not take in his father’s words. How could Jimmu possibly leave and never see his parents again? The house was where they all lived.
Lord Kensu looked down at the dagger, and when he spoke again his voice was thick with shame.
“I have brought disgrace on our family,” he said. “So much disgrace that the Emperor has decreed that the name Shimomura no longer exists, and all my property must be forfeited. I cannot bear such humiliation, and I have no choice but to commit seppuku.”
An expression of pride crossed Lord Kensu’s face.
“My wife, your mother, Lady Izanami has gone on before me to prepare my place,” he said. “I am looking forward to joining her.”
“Where will you join her, Father, and what is seppuku?” he asked.
Lord Kensu loosened the belt of his kimono, opened the robe and pressed his hand against his stomach.
“This is the centre of my body, where my spirit lives,” he said. “Only by cutting myself open can I show others that my spirit remains courageous and pure in the face of dishonour. When Nichiren judges that my agony is too great for me to stand, he will put an end to my suffering.”
Jimmu’s head whirled. What was his father saying? How could he talk so calmly about agony?
“When it is over, you must go with Nichiren,” Lord Kensu said. “He will take care of you.”
“Caring for your son will be a privilege, My Lord,” said Nichiren.
“What will you tell him about me, Nichiren?” Lord Kensu enquired softly.
Jimmu noticed the two men exchange a look that he could not fathom.
“I will tell him as much as he needs to know, My Lord,” said Nichiren.
Lord Kensu nodded, then picked up the dagger and unsheathed it.
This can’t be real! Jimmu told himself. This is another dream.
He saw the dagger flash, saw dark blood spurt in the lantern light. He heard the hoarse, strangled noise of his father holding back a scream.
Nichiren stepped forwards, drew his sword with both hands and swept the blade up towards Lord Kensu’s neck.
Jimmu shut his eyes.
Something thudded onto the floorboards.
Jimmu tried to believe that, if he kept his eyes closed for long enough, he could unmake what had happened, but it was too true to be unmade.
Nichiren led Jimmu into the garden. Jimmu no longer recognized his surroundings or himself. Something inside him had frozen. He was not even aware that he was crying, until Nichiren barked, “Stop snivelling!”
The harshness of his tone made Jimmu start; a sob turned to a hiccup.
“Listen to me, boy!” Nichiren growled. “Your father has committed seppuku. Your mother drank poison and died an hour ago. You have no parents and no home. All you have is me. I’m your father now.”
“Yes, Nichiren,” said Jimmu.
Nichiren glowered. “What was that?”
“That’s better,” said Nichiren. “Always call me Father from now on, and never tell anyone your family name. The soft life is over for you, boy. We’re going to pick out two horses from the stables, and then we’ll ride away from here.”
Jimmu was struggling to grasp what it was that had caused his world to change so completely, but when he tried to put together the words to ask Nichiren, all he could manage was, “Why?”
“Lord Choju Ankan is why, boy,” Nichiren told him. “He is a greedy, cruel demon of a man, who cares for nobody but himself. Your father offended him a long time ago, and Lord Ankan never forgot. He accused your father of plotting to murder the Emperor, and produced false papers to prove it. The Emperor has proclaimed your father a traitor.”
Nichiren trembled with rage. Flecks of foam formed in the corners of his mouth.
“Lord Ankan caused the death of your parents, and took away your home,” he continued. “Whenever you’re cold, or tired, or hungry, remember that it’s Lord Ankan’s fault. You must learn to hate him. One day you will avenge your father by killing Lord Ankan. I will teach you how. Until then, your father’s unquiet spirit will be forced to wander the earth. Only you can bring him rest. You understand?”
Jimmu’s head was whirling. “No,” he said. “I don’t understand.”
“Your understanding isn’t necessary,” he said. “For the moment, all you have to do is obey.”
Nichiren turned, and marched into the night.
Jimmu stumbled after him.
Andrew Matthews has been writing for fun since he was seven, but was a teacher for twenty-three years before becoming a full-time author. He has written over sixty books for children and teenagers, including Cat Song, which was nominated for the Smarties Book Prize in 1994, and the critically acclaimed Love Street. He is a hugely versatile writer, and has retold many myths, legends and classic stories, as well as creating his own original picture books and novels.Andrew lives in Reading with his wife and their cat.
Shortlisted - Hillingdon Secondary School Book of the Year 2009
Shortlisted - Leicester Book of the Year Award 2008
Do you agree or disagree with the reviews below? Why not write your own?
The Way of the Warrior
The story is about a boy called Jimmu and his lust for revenge against his Father's death. His revenge is aimed at Lord Ankan who Jimmu believes is responsible for his Father's death. It is a great book. It is one of the most exciting books I have ever read. It has a great story line, I hope there will be a follow up as I will certainly be reading it.
adam farrow, 22nd November 2008
The story is fast-paced with exciting battle scenes and betrayals. Boys particularly will enjoy this novel.
School Librarian Journal Spring 2008
I enjoyed this, the author uses deceptively simple writing to get across a very different culture. On the surface, the important qualities in a samurai warrior are obedience, emotional detachment and avoidance of shame but underneath lie other, deeper, qualities. The understanding which Lord Ankan brings to Jimmu's dilemma shows him to be a man of mercy and integrity as well as justice. The book is obviously aimed at boys, who should enjoy the fighting, though there is a nod towards romance with Jimmu's growing relationship with Lady Takeko, perhaps to appeal to girls as well.
Historical Novels Review - Issue 46, November 2008
I enjoyed reading this thrilling and exciting adventure because of the way the writer makes you feel like you are the main character and living every moment that he does in the book. Also I enjoyed the exciting storyline and the author’s vast knowledge of ancient Japan.
Teen Titles - Scott Livingstone
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