Bond’s first dive was a clumsy affair. He went down too slowly and barely had time to survey the grassy plain, scattered with black rocks and clumps of Posidonia, the common seaweed of all the oceans, when he felt himself being hauled up. He had to admit to himself that his lungs were in terrible shape, but he had spied one promising rock thick with weed and on his next dive he got straight to it and clung, searching among the roots with his right hand. He felt the smooth oval of a shell, but before he could get the pick to it he was being pulled up again. But he got the shell on his third try, and Kissy laughed with pleasure as he dropped it into the tub. He managed to keep the diving up for about half an hour, but then his lungs began to ache and his body to feel the cold of the October sea and he came up for the last time simultaneously with David, who shot past him like a beautiful gleaming black fish with green highlights and, as a mark of approval, pecked gently at his hair as Bond deposited his fifth shell in the tub.
Kissy was pleased with him. She had a rough brown kimono in the boat and she rubbed him down with it as he sat with bowed head and heaving chest. Then, while he rested, she hauled the wooden tub inboard and emptied its contents into the bottom of the boat. She produced a knife and cut one of the fish down the middle and fed the two halves to David who was riding expectantly beside the boat. He swallowed the pieces in two great gulps and set to preening his feathers contentedly.
Later they stopped for a lunch of rice with a few small bits of fish in it and dried seaweed which tasted of salty spinach. And then, after a short rest in the bottom of the boat, the work went on until four o’clock, when a small chill breeze came from nowhere and got between them and the warmth of the sun and it was time to make the long row home. Kissy climbed for the last time into the boat and gave several soft tugs at David’s line. He surfaced some distance from the boat and, as if this was a well-worn routine, rose into the air and circled round them again and again before making a low dive and skiing in to the side of the boat on his webbed feet. He flapped his way over the side and went to his perch, where he stood with wings magnificently outstretched to dry and waited in this lordly stance for his boatman to take him back home to his cove.
Kissy changed with extreme propriety into her brown kimono and dried herself inside it. She announced that their haul was sixty-five awabi, which was quite wonderful. Of these Bond was responsible for ten, which was a very honourable first catch. Ridiculously pleased with himself, Bond took a vague bearing on the island which, because of the drifting of the boat, was now only a speck on the horizon, and gradually worked himself into the slow unlaboured sweep of a Scottish gillie.
His hands were sore, his back ached as if he had been thrashed with a wooden truncheon, and his shoulders were beginning to sting with sunburn, but he comforted himself with the reflection that he was only doing what he would have had to do anyway – get into training for the swim and the climb and what would come afterwards, and he rewarded himself from time to time with a smile into Kissy’s eyes. They never left him and the low sun shone into them and turned the soft brown to gold. And the speck became a lump, and the lump an island and at last they were home.
THE SIX GUARDIANS
THE next day was as golden as the first and the haul of awabi went up to sixty-eight, largely thanks to Bond’s improved diving.
The evening before, Kissy had come back from selling her shells at the market and had found Bond writhing on the floor of his room with cramps in his stomach muscles and her mother clucking helplessly over him. She had shooed her mother away, spread the soft futon on the floor beside him and had pulled off his bathing pants and rolled him on to the futon face downwards. Then she had stood upright on his back and had walked softly up and down his spine from his buttocks to his neck, and the ache had slowly gone. She told him to lie still and brought him warm milk. Then she led him into the tiny bathhouse and poured hot and then tepid water over him from an awabi tub until all the salt was out of his skin and hair. She dried him softly, rubbed warm milk into his sunburn and his chafed hands, and led him back to his room, telling him with gentle sternness to go to sleep and to call her if he awoke in the night and needed anything. She blew out his candle and left him, and he went out, to the night-song of the cricket in its cage, like a light.
In the morning, nothing remained of his aches except the soreness of the hands, and Kissy gave him the rare treat of an egg beaten up in his rice and bean curd and he apologized for his bad manners of the night before. She said, ‘Todoroki-san, you have the spirit of ten samurai, but you have the body of only one. I should have known that I had asked too much of that single body. It was the pleasure of the day. It made me forget everything else. So it is I who apologize, and today we will not go so far. Instead, we will keep close to the cliffs of the island and see what we can find. I will do the rowing, for it is a small distance, but you will be able to do more diving because the place that I know of, which I haven’t visited for many weeks, is inshore and the water is, at the most, twenty feet deep.’
And so it had been, and Bond had worn a shirt to protect him from the sun and his tally of shells had gone up to twenty-one, and the solitary shadow of the day had been the clear view he had had of the black fortress across the straits and the chunky yellow-and-black warning balloon that flew the column of black ideograms above it.
During one of their rests, Bond casually asked Kissy what she knew of the castle, and he was surprised by the way her face darkened. ‘Todoroki-san, we do not usually talk about that place. It is almost a forbidden subject on Kuro. It is as if hell had suddenly opened its mouth half a mile away across the sea from our home. And my people, the Ama, are like what I have read about your gipsies. We are very superstitious. And we believe the devil himself has come to live over there.’ She didn’t look at the fortress, but gestured with her head. ‘Even the kanushi-san does not deny our fears, and our elders say that the gatjins have always been bad for Japan and that this one is the incarnation of all the evil in the West. And there is already a legend that has grown up on the island. It is that our six Jizo Guardians will send a man from across the sea to slay this “King of Death”, as we call him.’ ‘Who are these Guardians?’
‘Jizo is the god who protects children. He is, I think, a Buddhist god. On the other side of the island, on the foreshore, there are five statues. The sixth has been mostly washed away. They are rather frightening to see. They squat there in a line. They have rough bodies of stone and round stones for heads and they wear white shirts that are changed by the people every month. They were put there centuries ago by our ancestors. They sit on the line of low tide, and as the tide comes up it covers them completely and they keep watch under the surface of the sea and protect us, the Ama, because we are known as “The Children of the Sea”. At the beginning of every June, when the sea is warm after the winter and the diving begins, every person on the island forms into a procession and we go to the Six Guardians and sing to them to make them happy and favourable towards us.’
‘And this story of the man from Kuro. Where did it come from?’
‘Who knows? It could have come from the sea or the air and thus into the minds of the people. Where do stories like that come from? It is widely believed.’
‘Ah, so desu ka!’ said Bond, and they both laughed and got on with the work.
On the third day, when Bond was as usual eating his breakfast on the doorstep, Kissy came to the doorway and said softly, ‘Come inside, Todoroki-san.’ Mystified, he went in and she shut the door behind him.
She said in a low voice, ‘I have just heard from a messenger from the kannushi-san that there were people here yesterday in a boat from the mainland. They brought presentos – cigarettes and sweets. They were asking about the visit of the police boat. They said it came with three visitors and left with only two. They wanted to know what had happened to the third visitor. They said they were guards from the castle and it was their duty to prevent trespassers. The elders accepted the presentos, but they showed shiran-kao, which is “the face of him who knows nothing”, and referred the men to the kannushi-san who said that the third visitor was in charge of fishing licences. He had felt sick on the way to the island and had perhaps lain down in the boat on the way back. Then he dismissed the men and sent a boy to the top of the High Place to see where the boat went, and the boy reported that it went to the bay beside the castle and was put back into the boathouse that is there. The kannusbi-san thought that you should know these things.’ She looked at him piteously. ‘Todoroki-san, I have a feeling of much friendship for you. I feel that there are secret things between you and the kannushi-san, and that they concern the castle. I think you should tell me enough to put me out of my unhappiness.’
Bond smiled. He went up to her and took her face in both his hands and kissed her on the lips. He said, ‘You are very beautiful and kind, Kissy. Today we will not take the boat out because I must have some rest. Lead me up to the High Place from which I can take a good look at this castle and I will tell you what I can. I was going to anyway, for I shall need your help. Afterwards, I would like to visit the Six Guardians. They interest me – as an anthropologist.’
Kissy collected their usual lunch in a small basket, put on her brown kimono and rope-soled shoes and they set off along a small footpath that zigzagged up the peak behind the crouching grey cluster of the village. The time of the camellia was almost past, but here there were occasional bushes of wild camellias in red and white, and there was a profusion of these round a small grove of dwarf maples, some of which already wore their flaming autumn colours. The grove was directly above Kissy’s house. She led him in and showed him the little Shinto shrine behind a rough stone torü. She said, ‘Behind the shrine there is a fine cave, but the people of Kuro are afraid of it as it is full of ghosts. But I explored it once and if there are ghosts there they are friendly ones,’ She clapped her hands before the shrine, bent her head for a moment, and clapped them again. Then they went on up the path to the top of the thousand-foot peak. A brace of gorgeous copper pheasants with golden tails fled squawking over the brow and down to a patch of bushes on the southern cliff as they approached. Bond told Kissy to stay out of sight while he went and stood behind the tall cairn of stones on the summit and gazed circumspectly round it and across the straits.
He could see over the high fortress wall and across the park to the towering black-and-gold donjon of the castle. It was ten o’clock. There were figures in blue peasant dress with high boots and long staves moving busily about the grounds. They occasionally seemed to prod into the bushes with their staves. They wore black maskos over their mouths. It crossed Bond’s mind that they might be doing the morning rounds looking for overnight prey. What did they do when they found some half-blinded creature, or a pile of clothes beside one of the fumaroles whose little clouds of steam rose here and there in the park? Take them to the Doctor? And, in the case of the living, what happened then? And when he, Bond, got up that wall tonight, where was he going to hide from the guards? Well, sufficient unto the day! At least the straits were calm and it was cloudless weather. It looked as if he would get there all right. Bond turned away and went back to Kissy and sat with her on the sparse turf. He gazed across the harbour to where the Ama fleet lay sprawled across the middle distance.