Of Saints and Shoguns

The old devil would not let him be.

Despite everything, he had tried to rid himself of the spirit; and yet Tokugawa Ietsuna could not be quit of the hoary old bastard. Countless times now had Tokugawa listened to the old man’s fervent murmurs, his cries of declamation and accusation and stories of his redemption of even the filthiest of hinin and he wanted no part of it.

The fourth of the great and noble Tokugawa shoguns had, like his forebears, little time for Christians, European or otherwise. To endure a dead one haunting his private chambers was more than he could stand.

The old man had introduced himself as Vitalis and claimed that his presence was due to the significance of the feast day named after him in the Gregorian calendar and the timing of Tokugawa’s recently established Kagami Biraki.

Tokugawa had remained sanguine and replied to the old man that Western traditions held interest for him and that, even had he wanted to, he could not now change what he himself had established without losing both favour and respect in the eyes of his court. At this, the old man had flown into a rage, cursing in a flourish of words of which Tokugawa could only guess the meaning.

Yet as time went by the spirit had become more and more melancholic. Tokugawa would often find himself away from his chambers for long hours and when he returned, the old saint would still be sitting morosely within, propping his chin up with his spectral palms and sighing in a deep and affected manner.

It was then that, despite himself, Tokugawa had considered for the first time that he might have perhaps grown attached to the presence of the foreigner.

Shortly after this subtle understanding, they began a tradition of playing games together, when Tokugawa found the occasion permitted.

At first, the games were simple matters of strategy, something that the saint proclaimed he had no aptitude for but, under Tokugawa’s tutelage, he rapidly gained confidence in.

Tokugawa had remarked that this was perhaps something the espousers of the old saying about old dogs and new tricks should take into account in future and Vitalis had given him a withering look, reminding him that his central piece was in dire catastrophe or ‘check’ as he liked to call it. At this point Tokugawa had good-naturedly agreed to return to his losing game.

Despite his enmity with the Christians and the added haunting of Vitalis, life continued much as before behind the palace gates.

In the morning Tokugawa would take tea with various generals, envoys, nobles and officials, in the afternoon he would walk amongst the rarest and most exotic of flowers and in the evening he would play go and traditional word games with Vitalis.

Despite the saint’s lack of living flesh, he had taken his first steps towards mastering calligraphy, his spectral hands guiding the brush over parchment with all the concentration one would expect of a saint. He remained cautious when attempting kanji but his mastery of kana did him credit. Likewise, his ability to speak Japanese had already greatly improved, a fact that Tokugawa became increasingly proud of as the seasons turned from the withering of winter to the gentle warmth of spring.

During the following months, Vitalis became the talk of the nation, often fondly referred to as the emperor’s pet saint by the commoner classes.

The two became the most extraordinary pair in the history of the country and, as Vitalis’ reputation spread so the Christians were allowed the mild liberty of disappearing into the woodwork again, a blind eye turned to the extravagancies of belief and theology.

As the months turned to years and the seasons changed from spring to summer and from summer to autumn and winter again, a change, as heavy as any December snow, settled over the nation.

It was imperceptible at first, a ripple in the great ocean of everyday life, but slowly, as time passed the ripple became a wave and the wave threatened to become a tsunami and from there, a flood.

Every day more and more dead saints reappeared, their hallowed feet walking amongst the peasants on paths of beaten soil.

Isidore the husbandman was first reported in Hokkaido, going from village to village and helping the farmers and hunters redefine both the tools and talents of their trade.

Soon after, both Christina the Astonishing and Joan of Arc were reported passing through the Ryukyu-o-koku islands and Julian the Hospitaller was sighted only a scarce distance from Edo itself.

Tokugawa’s advisors and generals warned that these sudden appearances could mean only one thing. Tokugawa had protested but his advisors had insisted regardless and eventually he had capitulated. With a heavy heart, he had confronted Vitalis in regards to the issue.

The hoary old man had smiled a toothy smile and confirmed Tokugawa’s fears. At first, the younger man had been enraged, accusing Vitalis of all manner of betrayals and claimed that if he hadn’t all ready been deceased, he would have had him executed. Yet slowly as the old man had remained calm and patient, Tokugawa’s rage had waned and he had asked the old devil to explain himself.

The saint had continued to smile as he elaborated on the revelation that had been bestowed on him.

At first, he remarked, he had truly believed his reappearance on Earth to be a matter of timing and calendars and, whilst he still believed that the initial events had been accidental, he was now inclined to see the workings of a greater will in the development of these events.

Being a Christian, he had of course first assumed it to be the work of his God. There were many mysteries coded within the Christian dogma and, as Tokugawa understood it, their God had something of a reputation for acting in a vague and sometimes seemingly nonsensical manner. It was only fair that this would be Vitalis’ first assumption.

However, it was not his belief now.

With an ever-growing smile, the saint had continued, elaborating on his speculations in such a curious mix of Japanese, Latin and English that at several points Tokugawa had to stop him in order to seek clarification of the ideas the old man was trying to express.

The world, Vitalis had said, was changing. The veil between the corporeal world and what many thought of as ‘the afterlife’ had somehow become undone, its fabric pulled and unwound by someone with either the skill of a metaphysical tailor or the vision of a madman.

As to whom this someone was, the saint could not be drawn into speculation, but he did mention his belief that there was a power at work neither quite divine nor exactly human.

“An ogre?” Tokugawa had found himself asking in anxious disbelief.

Vitalis had shook his head sadly.

“Would that it were an ogre.” He had murmured softly. “But this scheme is too big for the tawdry workings of ogres and devils. This,” he whispered, his voice trembling. “Is the work of the dead as a nation!”

Tokugawa had fallen silent at that. The notion of the dead moving as a unified nation was too much for even an emperor to take lightly. Incredulous and brooding he had finally asked what could be done about the matter to which Vitalis had replied with a shrug.

“I am, as yet, uncertain.” The saint remarked. “I’m already dead so it goes without saying that I am, even as we speak, benefiting from this odd exchange of events.”

His eyes twinkled with mischief for a moment as he looked up at Tokugawa.

“Perhaps you too are benefiting from it as you are now blessed with my company.”

Tokugawa ignored his friend’s playful jibe.

“But how will the world be shaped if dead and living intermingle? What emperor of the living can enforce his will on those already perished and what dead overlord can truly understand the needs of those who still require food and like sustenance?”

Vitalis chided him then for thinking of the future in terms of empire, again voicing his belief that the only empire man should confess loyalty to was the Empire of Christos himself.

Tokugawa had sidestepped the matter of Vitalis’ faith, choosing not to engage the old saint in an argument about religion for fear of losing his only truly worthwhile ally in this seemingly changing world.

There was a sudden burst of sound and the echo calls of heavy footfalls in the corridor outside.

The doors of Tokugawa’s sumptuous, private quarters were drawn back and two startled and heavily armed soldiers spilt into the room.

“How dare you come before me armed thus! Is this an insurrection? Is this treachery I see before me?” Tokugawa bellowed.

“My lord!” Gasped the first of the soldiers, his eyes wide and tearful as he shook his head in denial. “There is no conspiracy against you from these quarters. Rather we have hastened to warn you of an intruder!”

“An intruder?” Tokugawa bellowed. “A single intruder?”

The palace trembled, its walls shaking and the guards fell to their knees, crying and wailing. Tokugawa and Vitalis exchanged worried glances and, at the far end of the winding path that led to Tokugawa’s chambers appeared a single man.

His hair was matted and his travelling cloak stained by the soil of many nations. His complexion was dark and his eyes were bloodshot. Yet despite the distinctive differences in appearances, the likeness being contained in none of the paintings of engravings either man had encountered, the countenance was unmistakable.

“Christos…” Tokugawa murmured.

“Oh Lord, have mercy on your servants.” Vitalis added.

Christos strode forwards, his dark skin radiating a soft glow the like no revenant or spirit possessed.

Yet whilst he was as unlike the dead as Tokugawa himself, the formerly crucified martyr of Golgotha was not at all like any living man.

Vitalis felt his knees buckle and he capitulated, head bowed and eyes turned away from the glory of the dark stranger.

“Lord, is now truly the hour of your return?” He gasped.

Tokugawa looked from the prostrate saint to his disquieting master with wild eyes, his mind working feverishly.

Vitalis had been wrong, it had not been the nation but rather the baron to whom all Christian souls had sworn fealty. It was, after all, an ogre by any other name.

“I demand you explain this intrusion!” Tokugawa bellowed.

“Forgive him, Lord, he knows not what he does!” Vitalis cried, clutching at the hem of his friend’s robes.

Christos looked from one to the other.

“I take it my venture has failed to amuse the company of this room.” He said, his voice rich and accusing.

“No, Lord, that’s not at all what is meant…” Vitalis proclaimed fearfully.

“Silence!” Tokugawa snapped. “I will speak my part, Vitalis, I will speak my part!”

Christos performed a mock bow.

“Pray hold not your silence, brave Ietsuna. Speak the matter that rests in your heart.”

Tokugawa fumed darkly.

“This is not your kingdom. You have no place here!” He raged.

“Au contraire, dear Ietsuna, where ever there are the hearts of men is truly my kingdom.” Christos remarked with a smug smile.

“Don’t presume to use my first name!” Tokugawa bellowed, clearly at his wits’ end.

Christos’ lips remained in a smile but his eyes darkened.

“I’ll presume as I see fit.” He answered firmly.

Tokugawa glanced down at Vitalis, desperately seeking support. The old saint remained bowed, tears seeping from his dead eyes.

“Lord, whilst I must beg your forgiveness for my questioning and sinful nature, I must ask of you why you have presented yourself to us in this manner and what…”

Christos took another step forwards and, despite himself, Tokugawa stepped back.

“I gave the dead their freedom.” The dark man announced. “I sundered the veil of the temple and brought them into the presence of my Father…and then I expelled them…”

His eyes flared with seemingly manic intent.

“All have been judged and found unworthy in my Father’s eyes…” he paused, the smile widening. “And so we gave them back to you. Forever now will the gates of not only Heaven but also Purgatory and even Hell be locked to mankind!”

“My Lord…” Vitalis protested. “My Lord, this is too cruel.”

“Don’t talk to me about cruel!” Christos roared suddenly, thrusting his punctured palms out to show them. “I’ll tell you about cruel, child!”

The room fell silent save for the stranger’s ragged breathing.

Slowly Tokugawa Ietsuna shook his head.

“We don’t need you.” He said softly. “Some of us have never known you. We don’t need you.”

“More fool you!” Spat Christos emphatically.

“We’ll build a better world for both the living and the dead.” He continued.

Christos shook his head in disbelief.

“Listen to what you’re saying!”

Tokugawa lifted his head and their eyes met.

“Get out. You’re not needed here. Go back to Heaven, lock yourself away in your Father’s presence and never come back.”

Vitalis’ eyes went wide but inside his chest, he felt his dead heart surge with admiration and trembling hope.

Christos’ eyes remained upon them for a moment longer and then he disappeared, lost forever to the pale green and dark soil of the world, the warm spring rivers and the frozen winter oceans.

Tokugawa and Vitalis again exchanged glances and then, with a smile of triumph, Tokugawa extended his hand and hauled the saint to his feet.

Together, living and dead embraced, and in that instance, there was born a world of future promise, free from the designs and machinations of a foreboding godhead.

Over Edo, the sun continued to shine on every soul, alive and not, that walked the soil-strewn paths within its walls.

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