NHỮNG TÁC PHẨM CHƯA ĐƯỢC BIẾT ĐẾN
Vẫn lòng hiếu bạn và trọng đãi như thuở nào, nhưng vẫn không giấu được nét u buồn trên gương mặt của con người này.
Thì ra tôi hiểu: tôi chỉ đến có một mình, không có Sơn Nam. Nhà văn của chúng ta đã ra đi nhưng tác phẩm của ông còn ở lại. Không những chỉ số tác phẩm mà nhà xuất bản Trẻ đã mua bản quyền mà còn những tác phẩm khác. Đó là nhờ có nhà giáo Đinh Công Tâm với hơn 50 năm trời yêu văn mến người đã sưu tầm và gìn giữ nhiều truyện ngắn và sách cũ của Sơn Nam qua nhiều thời kỳ.
Nay đến thăm, tôi được nhà giáo Đinh Công Tâm gửi gắm một vài kỷ vật quí giá của Sơn Nam ông đã gìn giữ bấy nay để bổ sung cho danh mục các kỷ vật tại nhà lưu niệm Sơn Nam tại Mỹ Tho – Tiền giang do gia đình ông thành lập.
Đinh Công Tâm là người đã cùng đệ tử của mình là Lê Hữu Thành, hiện là hiệu phó trường trung học cơ sở Văn Thân quận 6 TPHCM, soạn thảo một bản chúc thọ văn có nhan đề là “Phong sương mấy độ” nhân dịp lễ thượng thọ bát tuần nhà văn Sơn Nam.
Toàn văn như sau:
Chúc thọ văn: PHONG SƯƠNG MẤY ĐỘ
Kính tặng nhà văn Sơn Nam
Chúc mừng BÁT TUẦN ĐẠI KHÁNH
Năm Bính Dần 1926,
Rạch THỨ SÁU vùng U Minh Hạ, ven biển vịnh Xiêm La,
Ấp Giữa, xã Đông Thái, huyện An Biên, thuộc tỉnh Rạch Giá.
Lau sậy mừng tiếng khóc chào đời,
Muỗi ong đón lời ca nhập thể.
Mẹ ốm đau thiếu sữa nuôi con.
bú mớm chịu ơn nặng mẹ Khơmer hàng xóm.
Cha nhọc nhằn nắng mưa khai khẩn,
chăm nom con cậy công sức bậc hiền thê.
Học vỡ lòng ở xóm Cù Là,
luôn chăm chỉ được xếp vào hạng giỏi.
Tiếp Tiểu học nơi chợ Rạch Giá,
thi đậu cao, học bổng mỗi tháng trao.
Mười một tuổi, biết niềm đau mất nước,
nỗi xót xa “kèn lạ mặt trời chiều”.
Bảy mươi năm, nghe ông Nguyễn đánh Tây,
buồn man mác “bần gie đom đóm đậu”.
Đến bậc Trung học, đậu vào công lập,
từ nhiều năm, đất Kiên Giang là duy nhất.
Lên đất Cần Thơ, có học thức cao,
tính xưa nay, dân U Minh chỉ một người.
Mẹ gọi bán heo nuôi chưa đến tháng,
lo cho con quần áo buổi tựu trường.
Cha đi cầm bộ lư đồng hương hỏa,
sắm cho trẻ nón giày ngày khai giảng.
Đưa con đi, mẹ dặn dò ráng học,
làm vẽ vang cho tổ phụ tông đường.
Trước khi về, mẹ khuyên nhủ nhịn nhường,
để yên thân bởi ốm o yếu đuối.
Giỏi Việt Văn, linh hồn tiếng Mẹ,
thương thầy Phan Quốc Quang nêu rạng gương ái quốc.
Yêu Lịch sử, cội nguồn dân tộc,
kính thầy Nguyễn Thượng Tư đau xót bậc hiền tài.
Nước non chìm khói lửa,
Dân chúng đắm bể dâu.
Nam Kỳ khởi nghĩa bị dập tắt,
có lúc buồn học không ra học.
Chí sĩ Phan Bội Châu đã mất,
“Thiên hạ thùy nhân bất thức quân?” (1)
Mười bốn tuổi quên làm sao được,
Học mấy năm nhớ mãi niềm đau!
Xe nhà binh Pháp cán nát người khởi nghĩa,
Súng xâm lăng bắn thầy Hiển ở Hòn Khoai.
Sách vở đành xếp lại,
Thầy bạn phải chia tay.
Lăn lóc kiếm việc làm,
Dãi dầu tìm sinh kế.
Đất Hà Tiên mải mê nhìn thập cảnh,
Xóm Ba Hòn tìm việc mấy lò vôi.
Mòn mỏi bước ngược xuôi,
Tay không về Rạch Giá,
Làm thơ ký tòa bố tỉnh lỵ.
Bằng công tâm tận tụy việc sớm chiều,
Lòng nhân ái giúp đỡ dân nghèo khó.
Cách mạng Tháng Tám thành công năm mười chín tuổi,
Có mặt trong Ban Đại diện Mặt trận Việt Minh.
Đến gặp viên chủ tỉnh,
Tiếp quản tòa hành chánh.
Tham dự buổi mít tinh,
Sóng người tràn sân bóng.
Gió biển về lồng lộng,
Mừng chính quyền đã thuộc về dân.
Nhớ Bác Hồ lòng bỗng thấy bâng khuâng,
Đình Trung Trực đỏ rực nhang và nến.
Và từ đấy như sông về gặp biển,
Gác tình nhà, việc cách mạng là trên.
Bước tang bồng hồ thỉ, sức thanh niên.
“Thượng phải chí, hạ phải đáo”.
Chiến khu 9, đâu cũng là nơi nương náu,
Nóp trên vai theo ngày rộng tháng dài.
Học khắp cùng vũ trụ trần ai,
Nào chính trị, nào thiên nhiên, nào cuộc sống,
Tròn đạo trời, vuông đạo đất, sáng đạo người.
Bằng trí tuệ với tình thương đằm thắm,
Bằng con tim với ơn nước nghĩa dân.
Khắp chiến khu đều in gót phong trần,
Làm cán bộ huấn luyện chánh trị thường thức.
Thân ốn yếu quản gì bao khổ cực,
Chí lớn lao, mừng gặp bạn thơ văn.
Nguyễn Bính Kiên Giang, Bình Nguyên Lộc, Dương Tử Giang.
Cùng gắn bó trong mối duyên văn nghệ.
Để tôi luyện cho tài năng nở rộ.
Để hình thành ngòi bút của tâm linh,
Để trọn đời nhân cách mãi giữ gìn.
Để xứng đang với tình người Nam Bộ.
Rồi Hiệp định Genève được ký kết,
Đất nước tạm chia hai miền,
Hòa bình tạm thời được lập.
Cùng đồng đội chuẩn bị tập kết ra Bắc,
Nhưng được phân công, phải ở lại miền nam.
Lên sài Gòn hoạt động giữa làng văn,
Với nhiệm vụ đòi thực thi Hiệp định.
Một bộ quần áo cũ,
Một trăm đồng tiền xanh,
“Người U Minh lên bến Nghé,
Mang theo sự vinh hạng trong lòng.” (2)
Kể từ đây, cuộc sống long đong,
Xa cha mẹ, xa họ hàng thân thích,
“Phong sương mấy độ qua đường phố,
Hạt bụi nghiêng mình nhớ đất quê…” (3)
Tù ngục hai lần thân mỏng mãnh,
Chiếc lá chao mình chịu gió dông…
Vẫn vẹn lòng son trung với nước,
Vẫn tròn tâm sáng hiếu cùng dân.
Đi đầu trong đoàn “Ký giả ăn mày”,
Đòi quyền sống, quyền tự do báo chí.
Một tháng sau, thân lâm vòng lao lý,
Chịu khổ hình tra tấn giữa nhà giam,
Cho đến ngày giải phóng miền Nam.
Cùng tù nhân phá cửa khám,
Thoát khỏi chốn tối tăm.
Trở về cùng ánh sáng,
Cùng khung trời độc lập tự do.
Dẫu cuộc đời chưa áo ấm cơm no,
Nhưng thanh thản, chẳng ưu tư, lo lắng.
Cứ thả bộ giữa đất trời đẹp nắng,
Cứ thảnh thơi cạnh bè bạn tâm giao,
Cứ tung hoành, thong thả hoặc nghêu ngao,
Cứ trải rộng tấm lòng trên trang giấy.
Khắp non nước vui bước chân hồ hải,
Tình Bắc Nam như nước chảy chung dòng.
Từ sông Hồng cho đến Cửu Long,
Nền văn hoá bốn ngàn năm văn hiến
Con thuyền chở đạo ung dung tiến,
Ngọn bút nặng tình tha thiết ghi.
Say nghiệp văn chưa trọn nghĩa thê nhi,
Ray rứt nghĩ, buồn len vào tâm khảm!
Bước tha hương đã sáu chục năm dư.
Nhớ về miền cố thổ trĩu tâm tư,
Biết sao được, là người con Nam Bộ!
Xem bút mực là việc làm trả nợ,
Nợ sinh thành, nợ cơm áo mênh mông…
Hơn năm chục năm ròng,
Sự nghiệp văn đồ sộ.
Hướng về cùng Nam Bộ,
Những năm tháng khai hoang.
Bút pháp đôn hậu, linh hoạt, hồn nhiên,
Cũng có lúc trữ tình đẫm lệ.
Chiếm cảm tình độc giả bao thế hệ,
Thế hệ già, thế hệ trẻ, thế hệ mai sau.
Nhớ nhà văn Sơn Nam, nhớ HƯƠNG RỪNG CÀ MAU. (4)
NGUYỄN TRUNG TRỰC, ANH HÙNG DÂN CHÀI bất khuất.
ĐÌNH MIỄU VÀ LỄ HỘI DÂN GIAN,
Với THUẦN PHONG MỸ TỤC VIỆT NAM.
TRỜI NƯỚC BAO LA vẫn in HÌNH BÓNG CŨ.
NGÔI NHÀ MẶT TIỀN có NGƯỜI BẠN TRIỆU PHÚ.
VẠCH MỘT CHÂN TRỜI tìm HAI CỎI U MINH.
MỘT MẢNH TÌNH RIÊNG gởi THEO CHÂN NGƯỜI TÌNH,
Vẫn thuỷ chung dầu ÂM DƯƠNG CÁCH TRỞ.
LỊCH SỬ KHẨN HOANG MIỀN NAM ghi sâu một thuở.
VĂN MINH MIỆT VƯỜN đẹp mãi đến ngày nay.
Xanh mượt tận chân trời BIỂN CỎ MIỀN TÂY.
DANH THẮNG MIỀN NAM với CHUYỆN XƯA TÍCH CŨ,
Ru tuổi thơ êm đềm vào giấc ngủ.
VỌC NƯỚC GIỠN TRĂNG, CÁ TÍNH CỦA MIỀN NAM.
ĐẤT GIA ĐỊNH XƯA, LỊCH SỬ AN GIANG,
TÌM HIỂU ĐẤT HẬU GIANG, những công trình biên khảo.
BẾN NGHÉ XƯA, vùng đất lành chim đậu,
ẤN TƯỢNG 300 NĂM, chiều mưa bão hôm nào.
Thương GỐC CÂY, CỤC ĐÁ VÀ NGÔI SAO,
Đã mang lại cho đời bao sự sống.
CHUYỆN TÌNH CỦA MỘT NGƯỜI THƯỜNG DÂN.
Phải đâu là giấc mộng.
NÓI VỀ MIỀN NAM, phong phú những trang văn.
Dẫu tám mươi,TUỔI GIÀ chẳng chồn chân,
Vẫn thư thả DẠO CHƠI cùng tri kỷ.
“Văn phi sơn thuỷvô kỳ khí,
Nhân bất phong sươngvị lão tài.” (5)
Những vui buồn đúc kết tuổi “thượng lai”,
Bộ HỒI KÝchứa đầy chân thiện mỹ.
Chuyện Nam Bộ khẩn hoang ba thế kỷ,
Chuyện ngày xưa và cả chuyện bây giờ.
TỪ U MINH ĐẾN CẦN THƠ,
Học hành cần mẫn, tuổi thơ dạng dày.
Ở CHIẾN KHU 9, sức trai,
Như cá ngập nước, đức tài dồi trau.
20 NĂM GIỮA LÒNG ĐÔ THỊ,
Đấu tranh bằng ngòi bút giữ hồn quê.
Cuối đời rạng rở, BÌNH AN,
Vui cùng độc giả, xóm làng, núi sông.
ĐẤT PHƯƠNG NAM (6) bài ca mở đất,
MÙA LEN TRÂU (7) khúc hát giữ nghề.
Hiểu biết sâu về vùng đất phươn NAM,
Được công chúng tôn vinh là “NHÀ Nam Bộ Học”.
Am tường kỹ về bước đi dân tộc,
Được bạn đọc xem là “Người chép sử khai hoang”.
Ghi ơn ông, con cháu Miền Nam,
Tạc tượng để ngàn năm tưởng nhớ. (8)
Hôm nay đây,
Giữa lòng thành phố.
Độc giả hân hạnh,
Bạn bè sum vầy.
Mừng Bát tuần đại khánh,
Cây đại thụ làng văn.
Thay mặt các độc giả,
Hằng yêu quí Sơn Nam,
Gìn giữ từng trang văn,
Đẫm mồ hôi lao động,
Đầy núi cao sông rộng,
Đầy ý đẹp tình sâu,
Với ngòi bút nhiệm màu,
Với tài năng cao trổi,
Lòng yêu nước cao vợi,
Cống hiến cả cho đời,
Mừng thượng thọ tám mươi,
Thay lời bao độc giả,
Dưới cây cao bóng cả,
Kính tỏ lòng biết ơn,
Nhà văn lớn Sơn Nam,
Đã góp nhiều công sức,
Đắp xây nền nghệ thuật,
Nền văn hoá nước nhà.
Tươi đẹp những mùa hoa,
Ngát hương và thắm sắc.
Vài dòng nôm na,
Tình nhiều lời ít.
Kính chúc một câu mạnh khoẻ,
Cầu xin hai chữ bình an.
Đất trời còn mãi Sơn Nam,
“ Ông già Nam Bộ” còn vang bóng người.
(1) Thơ Phan Bội Châu.
(2)(3) Thơ Sơn Nam.
(4) Những chữ viết in hoa là tên tác phẩm của Sơn Nam
(5) Thơ Trần Bích San.
(6) Tên bộ phim do Sơn Nam cố vấn, có một phần nội dung được xây dựng từ các truyện ngắn của ông.
(7) Tên phim được xây dựng theo truyện ngắn cùng tên của nhà văn Sơn Nam.
(8) Ngày 7-3-2004, Tổng Công ty Du Lịch Sài Gòn khánh thành tượng chân dung nhà văn Sơn Nam tại làng du lịch Bình Quơi 1(Thanh Đa), để ghi nhận đóng góp của ông đối với nền văn hoá phương nam.
Nguồn: PHỤ NỮ CHỦ NHẬT số 10 Ngày 14-3-2004, trang 28
CHÚ THÍCH ẢNH 01: Nhà giáo Đinh Công Tâm và Sơn Nam
CHÚ THÍCH ẢNH 02: Thủ bút “Phong Sương Mấy Độ” của tác giả Lê Hữu Thành (kèm bút tích của nhà văn Sơn Nam)
CHÚ THÍCH ẢNH 03: Tác giả Lê Hữu Thành (bên phải) và nhà giáo Đinh Công Tâm
5: The moon never beams without bringing dreams
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token.
Heian Jidai (Heian Period), 1179, mid-winter, Near Heian-Kyo
It was an undeniable fact that the woman before his eyes was beautiful. In fact, this was the first time since his eyes beheld a beauty like this – a beauty rarest of all – that reminded him of the Ethiope’s Jewel, so fine and elegant, and breathtaking.
She could bewitch any man with that beauty of hers, and they would do anything to draw a smile up on her cold, expressionless face – even if it was waging wars against others. Possessing something as powerful as that, Eriol wondered if he should be fearful of it, or succumb to it like any man would.
Then, he briefly recollected what happened to Troy when Helen entered it, and what happened in the Shang Dynasty when Da Ji was brought to the imperial court by her Father.
He didn’t remember how long he had stared at her, watching her every movement as if trying to memorize them forever, as if trying to imprint them in his mind, as if she would disappear into thin air at any time.
Like a butterfly alighting on a leaf, her stay was ephemeral, a voice in the back of his mind had told him so, and he didn’t know why. At that very instance, she didn’t look earthly to him, but rather, a goddess escaped from heaven that came to the earthly bound to play. And when she loses her interest, she would vanish, leaving no traces behind as if she was never there in the first place.
Suddenly, an abruptly sharp pain shot up from his wound, and brought his mind back to reality. He refrained himself from wincing in pain, and let his eyes wander back to his wounded arm. There, he saw a neatly bandaged arm with a white ribbon wrapped around it for further security.
The atmosphere that hung between them was almost soothing, filled with an understanding from two people of alike-minds. Eriol could catch the wisps of her scent lingering in the cold air his lungs sought for, and he greedily inhaled it – almost unconscious of his own actions.
His tongue tangled in his mouth as he tried to find the right words to say, “You shouldn’t have came here.” The words slipped from his lips almost instantly, when he parted his lips.
Wendy paused for the briefest moment, before giving a heave silence and turned back to her previous task. The strands of purple locks that were tossed messily into the air, brushed against Eriol’s frozen skin.
It was hard to determine whether or not the actions were intentional or accidental. But the short contact left tingling feelings behind, and Eriol almost flinched at it due to intuitive reflexes.
Clearing his throat, he said in a firm, authoritarian tone, which left little room for discussion. “Once the search team finds us, I’ll send ten men with you to send you back to Heian-kyo.” He paused for a moment there, to scrutinize the strong-headed woman before him – a woman who seemed to be fearless of the world.
“My lord, allow me to pose a question.” Wendy let go of his arm, and tilted her chin upward, proudly gazing into his eyes – those endless amber pools with their depth so excellently hidden.
There was a hint of mockery glinting in her eyes, and Eriol barely caught it, as she continued on. “Do you think women are unfit for battlefields?”
“I do not think women are inferior to men, when it comes to wisdom, but there are certain things in this world that were meant for men to triumph singularly. If a woman were to take a man’s job, the world would enter a state of anarchy.” Answered Eriol smoothly, as he cleverly avoided the normal standards for women, which proved to be much offensive.
He didn’t do it to please Wendy, but rather, he was never a firm believer of those definitions of women in the first place. Yuri was the first one to shake believes drilled into his head by society on women, and now, his supposed wife was the one to shake his believes completely.
“Then provide her with a chance to prove herself of her worth.” There was underlying traces of confidence and defiance, something Eriol had grown accustomed to since their first face-to-face meeting in that odd Chinese tavern.
With a silent sigh of exasperation, Eriol decided to put a hiatus on this discussion. He was tired of it all, the chase, the fall, the slaughtering of his most loyal companion for the sole purpose of survival. Worries of what would happen later on should be the last things occupying his mind at this particular moment.
“When we get back, I will inform you of my answer. Get yourself some rest, a long day lies ahead tomorrow, and you shall need all the energy you can gather of to survive.”
She nodded in reply and found a slightly more comfortable position. She laid down, with her back facing Eriol, her air, like the locks of golden threads, spread across the ground Wendy slept on, and formed a sheet of purple coloured silk.
From the angle of Eriol’s view, she looked almost fragile in a sense – her frame small and delicate. He couldn’t understand her reasons of defiance. Yuri was a strong-headed woman, and Eriol had always admired that trait of hers. But even she had her limits.
And the woman before his eyes, was limitless. Even if the world decides to tumble down and shatter into pieces, she would remain still, as she always had. This mere fact astonished him.
The secrets she held, hidden underneath that frail and harmless cover, intrigued him immensely. The life and death situation they had just experienced a few hours ago was no matter of coincidence.
The man he killed definitely knew his wife, and by her other identity as Nikki Ryuichi, which was why he seemed so shocked when Eriol revealed Wendy’s true identity to him.
Why would his enemy, Minamoto no Andy want to capture her? Or rather, how did they meet? Questions bombarded his mind as he pondered on. None of this made any sense. Eriol knew the kind of person Andy was, and it was simply impossible for him to expose himself like this, and let alone attack the Taira army so carelessly just so he could capture “Nikki Ryuichi”?
Shaking his head slightly to brush aside the thoughts, Eriol turned away to stare absent-mindedly at the sky, his warm breaths made small puffs of mist. Flakes of snow drifted pass the two of them, in their descent towards the ground, sparkling so beautifully in the late night darkness.
He fell backwards into the gentle yet icy embrace of Mother Nature, and let the magic of Faerie Queen take a hold of him. And in his dreams, he saw the Taira Clan fall. Everything around him was burned into ashes. The world he knew was no more. He was the only one standing there, amidst of all the chaos and fire.
He felt a strong burning sensation, yet his skin felt cold and sweaty. Suffocating, yes, he was suffocating.
His ears picked up a distant, almost indiscernible sound that made out to be a soft sigh, and following that sigh, he felt a cold hand touching his forehead, brushing aside his sweaty hair.
Those tapered fingers felt like cold satin sliding across his forehead, taking away all of his nightmares. He contemplated upon the right words to describe those touches – touches of an angel, he suddenly drew up a conclusion, yes, it just had to be that.
With those gentle caresses accompanying him, the burning sensations started to fade away. The disturbing sceneries of the flames and chaos slowly vanished, became so distant away from him. And the cries, the screams of despair became faint and indistinctive, and he was finally able to sleep again.
He tugged his face against a soft warm spot he had just found, and inhaled deeply (the scent was familiar, but he couldn’t recall what or who it belonged to), and drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber that felt so refreshing and peaceful. It was the best sleep he had in almost sixteen years, and he greedily enjoyed the sleep while it lasted.
Wendy watched him sleep on her lap silently. His eyes were tightly shut, wearing a slight smile on his lips while he slept. It gave him an almost childish look, which was nice for a change from his usual stern expressions.
She noticed the way the moonlight would stream down to his face, and light it in soft pale silver hues, giving his skin the look of the finest porcelain.
His face was no longer as red as before, there was only a faint tinge of scarlet smudge painted on his skin. She knew exactly where this fever came from, and the thought of it made her purse her lips together into a thin line.
He received the wound for protecting her, and if something had happened to him, she would never forgive herself. It wasn’t out of kindness or sympathy she just didn’t want to owe him anything. She didn’t want to depend on him, directly or indirectly.
The snow outside continued to drift lazily in the cold air. The flakes fell in such a peaceful and serene motion, showing its total obliviousness to a certain purple-haired woman’s inner struggles.
The sky cried for no one, but for itself.
The rescue team arrived the next morning, under Julian’s lead. Wendy silently gave the other a brief look, slightly surprised at his efficiency and talents to track them down so fast.
There, she saw a solemn man in his mid twenties, his hair was as white as the snow covering the earth, and his skin – was the color of ice crystals, so transparent and pale.
His eyes were so enigmatic that they reminded her of the moon, so faint and serene, beautiful in his dark and haunting ways. It was then their visions aligned, so unexpectedly and it caused Wendy’s breath to hitch.
Those eyes held no emotions. They were cold and ruthless, like the eyes of the riders of the shadow realm – like the eyes of a dangerous predator lurking in the darkness, waiting for the perfect moment to strike on its prey.
She had never seen anyone like that before, although she deeply admired his ability to conceal away all his sentiments and thoughts, rendering him unreadable to many, if not, everyone.
But the overwhelming oppressive aura of his, sent shivers down her spine, as if his eyes had pierced through her covers – as if he knew something about her, while she knew nothing of him.
It was then he turned away, and Wendy suddenly felt easier to breath again. She always thought Eriol had an oppressive aura when he was serious, but his aura was differently different from this white-haired man’s aura.
The feeling he gave, could freeze the ocean to its deepest depths if he really wanted to, and Wendy wondered if his soul was as empty and hollow as his eyes. After all, one’s eyes are the windows to their soul – or so most people thought.
“That’s Julian.” A somewhat coarse boyish voice, caught in the phase of a boy transforming into a man. It was also an awkward age, where the boy’s voice is broken and coarse. Wendy turned to her right side to see who it was, and the bright hazel orbs of Atsumori came into view.
“He’s brother’s best friend since childhood.” After receiving a somewhat perplexed look from Wendy, Atsumori smiled and continued on. “Julian is very talented, and people say when it comes to leading an army, he’s the Emperor’s left hand while Brother is the right hand.”
“I see.” Replied Wendy softly as her eyes fell back upon the distant figure of Julian again.
For the next several days, the Taira army were finally able to reach the destined training camp. Wendy was given the position as the military doctor after she displayed her shocking amount of knowledge of medicine.
Her work load at first was rather heavy, since the surprise attack from a few days ago wounded one fourth of the soldiers, some just had a few scratches, while others had more serious injuries.
It was the first time she saw the cruel side of war – the disturbing images of severely wounded men, and the despair in her eyes were forever imprinted in her mind.
Unlike the other women of her era, who would much rather turn away and avoid seeing those images, hoping in vain that denial could take reality away from them, Wendy kept her eyes wide open, remembering every single detail her eyes could capture.
She told herself, on a battlefield, right and wrongs were decided by armouries and fists and blades. There was no room for hesitation or act of kindness, it was either the enemy die, or you die. Simple as that.
Fast-approaching footsteps were picked up by Wendy’s sharp ears, and before she had the time to look over her shoulder, a frantic exclaim nearly deafened her.
“Sir Nikki! The men in my division are in deep pain, they were all alright yesterday. I don’t know what happened, when I went into their tent to call them up for training, I saw them lying on the ground struggling…
There-there were white foams coming out of their mouths – please help them!” The horrified man explained breathlessly and as fast as he could, the words were spewing out of his mouth and Wendy fought hard to understand what he was saying.
“Take me to their tent.” Wendy ordered as she grabbed her medicine kit, and the soldier nodded firmly, hastily dashed out of Wendy’s tent and led her to the men waiting for her arrival.
From the description of their conditions provided by this soldier, Wendy knew the situation was serious and they were running out of time. And with the passing of each second, their lives slip away a little more.
When they arrived at the large tent built especially for soldiers of each small division, Wendy pushed aside the heavy drapes and rushed in, only to find Eriol and Julian standing there, frowning deeply with lips pursed into a thin line.
She felt their eyes trained on her, but she minded none of it, for saving those lives was of more importance. She bent down and placed her tapered fingers on the main artery in one of the dying soldiers’ wrist, and carefully felt his pulses.
The entire tent was occupied by a deafening silence, heavy of anxiety. Even Eriol was more solemn than usual, as he patiently waited for Wendy’s verdict. From the way she treated those wounded soldiers from a few days ago, he already saw her intensive knowledge and skill as an excellent doctor, and he knew she would not disappointment.
It was then Wendy diverted her attention away from listening to the pulses, she parted her dried lips slightly and murmured softly. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine soon.” Her words of comfort reached the soldier’s ears and he gave her a small nod in reply. “Now, open your mouth and let me see your tongue.” And he did as she said, opening her mouth to show her his purple, almost bluish hued tongue.
After closely scrutinizing her patient, Wendy patted him on the shoulder to let him know the examination was over before getting up and walking toward Eriol. “The reaction came from the ingestion of a rare poison, and if I am not wrong, the poison is a special one that’s passed down the Minamoto family.” She shared the results of her examination with him, and stole a glance at Eriol’s expression from the corner of her eyes.
“The Minamoto family has a long history of experimentation with poisons.” Eriol finally asserted, his eyes narrowing and flashing with hints of dangers and of promises worse than death.
“And there’s nothing I can do to save them. There is no cure for such poison. I hope you can understand.” Commented Wendy in an almost nonchalant way, and clasped her hands together. “The only thing we can do right now is prevent the poison from spreading and save as many as we can.”
“What do you suggest is the source of this poison?” Eriol questioned, as his eyes surveyed the people in this tent. It was the only tent reported to show such symptoms, and he asked his confidants to check the food provided to the soldiers before the dishes were carried out.
So where did the poison come from, or rather, how did it manage to slip in and harm his men right under his nose?
“My Lord, I just remembered something. A brother of mine told me yesterday that they found a clean stream of water which is just nearby. The water is much better tasting than the ones we drink every single day.”
The leader of the small division reported, gazing hopefully upon the three powerful men before him. His comrades were dying, and the least he could do now was let them know what happened to them.
“Well… it might be the water then. The Minamotos probably ordered their men to drop the poison into the small stream, so it could eventually be carried to the river that we obtain most of our water supplies from.” Wendy offered, and everything became manifest.
What a cleaver plan. If they discovered this any later, the entire army would be doomed. And the Minamotos would win the war before even fighting it. Clever and dirty, she must say… but clever indeed. It’s just they’ve miscalculated one part, and that was her.
While normal military doctors only knew how to help wounded soldiers, she knew much more. After all, spending nearly thirteen years studying medicine and politics wasn’t for nothing.
She knew the knowledge she gained in those sleepless nights would reveal their usefulness in the future, but she didn’t know it would be this soon.
“If this is the way they want to play this game, then be it.” Eriol drawled lazily as a smirk made its way across his lips.
The moon never beams without bringing dreams
Nothing here is motionless—
Nothing saves the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude
Heian Jidai (Heian Period), 1179, mid-winter, Near Heian-Kyo, Taira Military Training camp
“Urgent report, General!” Lilia forced her way through the somewhat crowded tent, and kneeled down. But before she did so, she gave Wendy a lingering look and then kept her eyes fixed on the ground with her head lowered. A scroll was held into the air, on Lilia’s palms as she waited for Eriol’s approval.
Eriol furrowed his eyebrows at the sight of the scroll. He strode towards it and grabbed it from Lilia’s palms. He unrolled it in a swift motion, and skimmed through the words. As he read on, people standing in the room literally held onto the breaths, except two of course. Wendy kept her expression straight, while Julian remained as cold and stoic as ever.
“It’s a letter from the Minamoto Clan.” He finally averted his attention from the bamboo scroll presented before, and announced emotionlessly. The aloof look on his face rendered his expression unreadable, except to his best friend Julian.
Julian knew it was Eriol’s way of expressing his angers. The colder his expression was, and the calmer his presence was, the more intimidated and furious he became.
It was like a deep plunge before a perishing storm. After all, he had been the best friend of this man, leading the three armies of Japan. Eriol was as talented as he was powerful, and being the closest friend of such a man could have its downsides as well.
Silver eyes then slid upon the young man next to his best friend. Nikki Ryuichi was his name. Julian had ordered a secret search of his identity, but found none. He seemed to appear out of thin air, leaving no traces behind, just like his personality and his way of handling things – quick and clean, as if the problem had never occurred in the first place.
And his beauty, if one could describe a man by such a word, caused an alarming ripple affect in the army and to worsen the situation, the effect extended from mere soldiers to their ultimate leader. It was in his friend’s nature to trust someone so easily like that, and let alone risking his life to protect.
There were underlying secrets shared between this Mr. Nikki and his friend, something he wasn’t informed of, and he was determined to find out what it is exactly.
While Julian was lost in his own contemplation, Lilia was also facing inner struggles of the thought herself. She didn’t know the reason behind Lord Eriol’s order of placing her into the guards. Perhaps it was a wrong judgement she made by revealing her martial arts abilities, but she couldn’t help it.
Lady Nataly was taken away by the enemies, how could she keep still, sit there and watch? It wasn’t in her nature to do such a thing, not after her pledge of full loyalty to her ladyship.
While the other reason, and the important one too – the one that she had to hide away because it was so wrong and sinful to think of her ladyship that way – was that Lilia had fallen for the amethyst-eyed young man at their tavern, and the fact that her ladyship was the man of her dreams probably was the biggest irony of her life.
A sadistic joke of life was it, and while life enjoyed its sick sense of humour, she loathed it whole-heartedly.
She then decided to lock away her feelings, as if they never existed in the first place, and followed Lady Nataly to the battlefieled – where the line dividing life and death was so blurred to a point that she thought she could, might as well be, wandering on the verge of it right now.
Yet, a part of her was content about it, all she wanted to do was stay by Lady Nataly’s side, and to provide her with protection. It was all she wished for. Sometimes, even that could be a little too much to ask for.
Nothing in life ever go the way we want it to go, she was once again reminded of life’s sadistic natures. On the contrary, it would probably take down an entirely different path that you, in your wildest dreams, would never think of.
Expect the unexpected, the words of Shang Guan Yun’s never left her mind, despite how much Lilia hated to think of them. She had to admit, he was right. It was then she left the fringe of her vision shift slightly so she could see Lady Nataly, and her eyes narrowed almost unnoticeably if one wasn’t keen enough, as her eyes caught a fleeting glimpse at general Julian.
After receiving the so-called Lord Eriol’s order, she later discovered that it was all General Julian’s idea. He didn’t trust her, just like how he didn’t trust Lady Nataly, she could see it in his demeanour, and his hollow eyes. That was why he separated them, and Lord Eriol was more than happy to grant the order, since it was one-stone for two birds for him anyway.
After all, by separating them, it would render the both of them powerless, and he would be the first one to be notified if they had tried to pull off anything under his nose. Brilliant, simply brilliant, Lilia snorted silently in her head.
To the others, it appeared that they were being granted with great honour, gaining such high positions on their first arrival date, while she knew, deep down inside that it was Lord Eriol and General Julian’s way of keeping an eye on their, without making it so obvious.
She almost let out a bitter laughter when she remembered how naïve she was, thinking that Lord Eriol would risk his life to rescue Lady Nataly, and that perhaps Lady Nataly was someone special to him. However, reality proved otherwise.
The blow came almost too harsh, it lifted her off her feet and crushed her into the dirt, as if trying to make her remember the pains it would bring upon her if her mind ever harbours unrealistically wishful thoughts again. Indeed, it left a great impact on her, taught her a lesson of the darkness lurking in the most secret corners of the human heart, and she shall remember this forever and ever.
“My Lord, what do the Minamotos want?” Wendy inquired, her voice was as soft as ever, but there was an evident difference in the pitches of her tone. It sounded deeper, yet retaining its original softness. Soothing was it, and gave a rather deceiving image of a kind, well-mannered gentleman.
Eriol remained silent at first as his eyes scrutinized her face, as if searching for her intentions – as if reading the secret thoughts her mind bore. Finding none of which he was looking for, he shifted his gaze almost carelessly down to the bamboo scroll in his hand and sneered.
“He wants what he cannot have, as he always did.” The lone statement hung vaguely in the air, heavy of unspoken secrets and cruelty. The ones standing in the tent only listened attentively, and none wanted to be the first one to break the silence, for the fear of intruding upon a forbidden territory.
Sometimes, it was better to be silent, then to be eagerly expressive. Words would betray your thoughts, while silence will protect you.
“Now, return to your posts and remain as you are, while I’d like to acquire a private audience for the conversation that I shall have with Mr. Nikki.” Eriol announced with finality, there was a gentleman-like smile on his face, intending to be soft and polite, but when she stared into his eyes, she found no sincerity of any sort.
The rest of the party nodded slightly with understanding, some with a faint amount of disappointment and while others were somewhat unsatisfied and jealous of Wendy of gaining Eriol’s trust while they were left in speculation of the contents presented in the letter from the Minamoto Clan.
Lilia was the only one biting her lips, gnawing at the corner of her mouth anxiously. But they had no choice but to obey the order.
Lilia gave one last lingering look at Wendy, and passed down the message of her sincerity wordlessly. Be careful, my lady. And Wendy simply smiled assuringly in return.
Her smile was unwavering, and gentle, despite the fact that Lilia knew at heart it was only a disguise Lady Nataly worn, yet for some reason, it still managed to tug at her heart every time she saw it. Dipping her chin lower to hide away the secrets her eyes were desperately trying to reveal, Lilia bowed to Eriol, and exited behind everyone else, with Julian taking the lead.
The tent was now still and soundless once again, with the occasional painful moans from the dying soldiers that gradually grew fainter and more distant as time passes by so ruthlessly.
It was only a matter of time before they reach the end of the road, and Wendy could only watch death slowly creep upon them, and the shinigami’s attempts to procure their souls. (Shinigami is the Japanese Death God, equivalent to Reapers in the English language)
They both remained silent, the game of mind and tactics never grows old, and they, conceivably, were the best players of this game. A soft, humourless chuckle disturbed tranquility, “It has always been a puzzle to me of how Minamoto no Yoshitsune (Andy) want you as a part of his army, care to explain, Lady Nataly?” He murmured her so-called name ever so lightly, yet it seemed to her as silk sliding over a sharp blade.
“There is nothing to explain, my lord, I know nothing of this Minamoto no Yoshitsune, and let alone be useful to him.” Wendy replied nonchalantly, as if she was responding to a question such as ‘how’s the weather’ or something along those lines.
Even if the enemy has seen through your disguise, you still have to remain calm and admit to nothing. Otherwise it would be victory to the enemy, of a battle that hasn’t even begun yet.
Amber eyes glinted with a hint of danger, but only for a brief moment. “Well, you don’t know him, yet he is able to provide such a vivid description of your appearance and attitude. It makes me curious, very curious.”
“Forgive me for speaking these conceived words, but with the looks I have obtained since birth, it is rather hard to miss for the eye.” A degage grin crept upon Wendy’s lips and the corners of her lips were lifted slightly, producing a smile that could shame the beauty of the sun.
Eriol’s vision was temporarily blurred by such invasive beauty, and he could almost see such beauty beguiling Minamoto no Yoshitsune. It was hard to stay collective and clear-minded around a woman like Wendy, and Eriol mused, it probably was only a matter of time before he was bewitched by this woman who supposedly was his wife.
Witty, beautiful, fearless and talented in almost everything, was God being too unfair when he made men and women. She was flawless, or so he thought. Perfection, regardless of its nature, whether it is apparent or actual, was only a disguise. Once a hidden flaw is discovered, it shatters instantly upon the discovery.
”Minamoto no Yoshitsune is proposing a trade. It would bring temporary peace to both armies. The time produced this way is very beneficial to us, we have too many wounded and poisoned soldiers that need time to recover before they can go on the battlefield again. But if we do not agree to the conditions they proposed, we would have to meet tomorrow morning – on the battlefield that is.”
Wendy pursed her lips into a thin line and contemplated upon the pros and cons. Eriol already hinted that Andy wanted to claim her. He already tried that last time, by force, and this time, it was an agreement of temporary peace. Judging from the current situation, they were in a slightly disadvantaged position, almost half of the soldiers wounded and sick, they would be outnumbered.
And most of these men never had experience with fighting before, while the Minamoto men had been well-trained since the beginning of the rebellion. Eriol carefully planned out two attacks on them, using her as an excuse, but in actuality, he aimed to perish the newly formed Taira army from inside and out, so they would not be able to aide the main Taira army that was currently in war with the Minamoto rebels.
This was a stone for three birds plan, and perhaps even more. Eriol probably already discovered the fact that she was someone close to Andy, and the only way to destroy one’s enemy is to start with the ones around him. Andy was placing his money on the bet that Eriol would not give Wendy out, after all, it was a direct blow to a man’s pride by claiming his wife.
But then again, the supposed “Lady Nataly” was in Heian-Kyo at the moment, disguised by Rita, so technically, it would not hurt Eriol’s pride. If Eriol wanted to save his pride and claim that the real Lady Nataly was in Heian-Kyo, and denying the fact that the woman being captured was actually his real wife.
Then, the world would think Eriol had captured a random woman to use her as a bluff. Her existence would be meaningless and futile. Everything she fought so hard to gain would be lost, vanished into thin air – wiped out of history, of the whole existence of human beings.
Wendy clenched her hands into tight fists, her nails digging into the flesh of her palms. The pain was a relief, it cleared up her thoughts and allowed her to see again. If she were to die, it would be with great honours, and she would make sure her name was written down on the pages of recorded history.
“I’ve come to offer my service to your lordship, and if it is beneficial to the Taira army, I do not mind making this sacrifice.” Wendy offered. If her life were to end, it had least needed to end in her own hands.
She controlled her own life, and no one could take that away from her, not Eriol, not Andy, not even fate itself. She has defied fate up to this point, and she was not wiling to back down without a fight.
Amber eyes flashed wide open so ephemerally, in an instance too short to be recognized, the surprised look was gone as soon as they surfaced. “Offering your service?” Eriol echoed, pausing.
“Do you understand what you’re saying? Once you step out of this military camp and follow the Minamotos, there is no coming back. Even if you managed to come back alive, you would not be able to come back to the Taira family, nor your own family. You would be an outcast.” He narrated, keeping his voice low and soft, but Wendy could hear the hints of anger in his words.
Stretching her smile into something almost wistful, something that Eriol had never seen before or imaged ever seeing, Wendy gazed into his eyes, pools of amethyst mixing with amber, locking their eyes together.
“I have nothing to lose. This is the path I’ve chosen for myself. Rita is the new Lady Nataly now, she is loyal to me, you don’t have to worry about her slipping out the word. And I am just Nikki Ryuiichi, Taira no Eriol’s acquaintance. That is all.”
She had thoroughly thought through her predicaments, of her fates if he agreed to Eriol’s proposal.
He didn’t know what he was feeling at this particular moment. Anger? Sadness? Indifference? No, none of that, it was something else that he couldn’t quite identify.
In truth, he could have let the Minamotos capture her the first time they pulled a sneak attack on him and his army. But he chased after her, and experienced life and death with her. He didn’t know what got into him at that time, perhaps it was his pride, so defiant and proud, refusing to let his enemies capture his people under his nose, or was it something else…
The next day, the Minamotos came, with Andy taking the lead, and by his sides, stood a thousand armed riders. It was the first time Wendy had seen him since that fateful night of their departure under the serene moonlights. He looked much different now, handsome, proud and lofty.
Sitting on his ink-black horse, he had his chin tilted upward, as if looking down upon the Taira army in a ruling king. Wendy stood by Eriol’s side, and witnessed the spectacular form of neatly aligned riders circling the entire Taira camp. She inhaled deeply and grabbed his hand, he flinched at the touch but was soon froze in place as she passed a pendant to him.
Before he could question the reason behind her actions, she already stepped forward. Her white kimono’s sleeves fluttering in the air as she gradually sundered towards the solemn riders, she looked like a white butterfly escaping into the air, while the entire Taira army watched her svelte frame moving forward elegantly yet fearlessly.
It looked like a watercolour painting, a shockingly beautiful young woman in white and sleeves that flapped like wings. The sky was a sad shade of blue. By no wind were those closed driven, rustling through the unquiet heaven, and those trees stirred and palpitated like the chill seas.
Over the hills the lilies laid, so restlessly, weeping a nameless sorrow. They waved, back and forth, and at their fragrant tops, eternal dews came down in drops; they wept, and wept, and from their delicate stems, perennial tears descended in gems.
Andy’s eyes were fixed upon the approaching delicate figure, she was finally his. He went against the wishes of his brother to get her out of the Taira clan, it was the first time he disobeyed his brother, shocking masses of people. However, it was all for her, the woman of his dreams.
She had been on his mind since their departure and he vowed he would come back for her. To accomplish that, he sent two of his most trusted soldiers to keep an eye on her and had discovered a shocking truth that she was a member of the Taira household.
There were rumours that Taira no Eriol’s wife was a gravely-ill woman and that his Father wanted an heir to be produced from him, thus, beautiful women were sent to the Taira household to seduce Eriol.
He had speculated that she had to be one of them, and the one that captured Eriol’s attention with her beauty and wit, otherwise, Eriol would never indulge her to wander the streets of Heian-kyo so freely.
When his men reported to him that they had spotted her trailing after the marching Taira army shocked him even more, it was then he made the firm decision of capturing her and at the same time perish the Taira army led by Eriol as a way of making it up to his brother.
But he didn’t expect Eriol to risk his life for her. A brilliant idea then came to him, which led to the proposal brought to the Taira army, an exchange for temporary peace for both armies.
Once the defiant woman arrived at his feet, he widened his grin. His lieutenant colonel ordered her to bow to him, but she just sneered, “The Taira Clan has kept their part of bargain and now it is your time to keep your words.”
“Are you sure the Taira Clan has signed the treaty?” The familiar voice hardly trembled, smooth, strong and low, it was different from the voice Wendy remembered, yet, it still managed to betray overtones of overbearing iciness.
Before Wendy could frown, Andy flashed open the wooden scroll sent out yesterday by Eriol. It was empty. ‘It was empty…’ the words resonated loudly in her mind, producing endless echoes tauntingly. How could it be empty…
She whipped her head around to question Eriol, but only saw his eyes narrowing with fury. Why? Why would he do that? Doesn’t he know what this would bring upon the Taira army? “Prepare arrows.” The command escaped Andy’s mouth so ruthlessly, intruding upon Wendy’s perplexed mind.
“Stop!!” She yelled, her voice hovering over the clings of metals. This immediately captured Andy’s attention. She pulled out a rueful yet almost cruel smile, “before I left the Taira military camp, I have swallowed a poison given by Lord Eriol. The antidote is in the pendant he’s holding right now. The poison will kill me in two hours, but if you keep your side of the bargain, I will come with you and Lord Eriol will send out a soldier to bring the antidote.”
Andy tightened his grapple on the rein of his horse and glared hard at Wendy. She couldn’t fool him with her little tactic. There was no way Eriol would do such a thing to her. He was willing to wage a war over her, at the risk of being completely triumphed over.
She probably poisoned herself, so she could use the love he has for her against him. He should’ve seen his coming. She was nothing like the women he knew of, rather, she was everything they weren’t, cruel, cold-blooded, yet smart and collective. As if nothing in the world could bring her down.
“Retreat!” Andy shout out the order and whipped his horse hard, before lifting Wendy onto his horse and dashing away. With one last lingering look at Eriol, she mouthed the words ‘stay there, don’t come after me’ before mists of floating dust blinded her views of him.