Black Rose - Part Two
Updated: Feb 26
Kuroi Barra and Danuja rode through the town directly to the harbor, ignoring the shouts of the constables. Kuroi felt some relief when she saw her modest dhow bobbing against the dock. She pulled the reins of her mount, halting it before the wooden planks; Danuja did the same. Kuroi helped the girl off her horse, grabbed her hand the led her to the dhow.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Drop the gangplank!”
A bald brown head rose over the bulwark, revealing the face of a grey-bearded man rubbing his eyes.
“Kesi? Is that you?”
“Yes, baba, it’s me,” Kuroi replied. “Drop the gangplank and wake up the baharia. We need to set sail tonight.”
The gangplank slid over the side of the dhow then crashed on the dock. As they climbed aboard, a dog barked in the distance. They were coming.
Kesi/Kuroi hurried to the dhow’s warning bell then banged it hard. The baharia sleeping on deck struggled to their feet while those below hurried from the hold. Baba come to her side, his face scrunched with annoyance.
“What is going on, Kesi?” he said in Swahili. He pointed at Danuja. “And who is this?”
“I’ll explain everything as soon as we are under way,” Kuroi said.
Kesi turned her attentions to the others.
“Get the sail up! You two get down there and push us off. Now!”
The baharia scrambled about and the dhow was underway in minutes. Kesi went to the bow of the ship. Their timing could not have been better. The dock was filled with samurai, some loosing their arrows which fell harmlessly into the dark waters. Kesi let out a sigh.
“We’re safe for now,” she said.
Her baba joined her.
“Now tell me what’s going on?” he said.
Kesi gestured to Danuja.
“Yuuma Tanaka is dead,” Kesi said. “He was killed by the other shoguns. This is his daughter, Danuja. He asked me to deliver her to a colleague in Hangzhou.”
“This is terrible news!” her baba said. “This will ruin us!”
“Not quite,” Kesi said. She took the pouch Tanaka had sent to her then handed it to baba. He took the pouch then opened it. His eyes popped wide.
“There enough in there to pay for this entire safari,” Kesi said. “Tanaka was generous.”
“I’d say,” baba replied.
Baba squatted before Kuroi then patted her on the head.
“I am sorry for your tragedy,” he said in her language. “We will make sure we get you safely to your people in Hangzhou.”
“They are not my people,” Danuja said. “I’ve never met them before. I don’t know why my father sent me to them.”
“He must have had good reason,” baba said. He looked at Kesi.
“I’ll take her below,” Kesi said.
They went to Kesi’s cabin. Danuja sat on the chair by Kesi’s bed.
“Who was that man, Kuroi?” she asked. “And what is that language you two spoke?”
Kesi sat hard on her bed before answering.
“My name is Kesi,” she said to Danuja, “and that man is my father, Zahoor. We own this dhow. The language we spoke is Kiswahili.”
“I thought your name was Kuroi Bara,” Danuja said.
“That was the name your father chose for me,” she said. “He thought it appropriated for dealing with him and the other shoguns.
Danuja’s stoic façade finally caved in. She covered her face and sobbed.
“Why is this happening? What did I do?”
Kesi sat beside her, placing her arm on Danuja’s shoulders.
“Terrible things happen sometimes that we cannot control. All we can do is live through them. Your father gave you the chance to do so.”
“But I don’t want to go to Li Wei in Hangzhou!”
“I’m sure it will only be temporary,” Danuja said. “Once things settle you will be able to return to Nihon.
Kesi stood and Danuja laid down on her bed.
“Get some rest,” Kesi said. “I must help the others on deck.”
“Can you stay with me?” Danuja said. “At least until I fall asleep.”
Kesi lay down in the bed beside Danuja.
“Only until you fall asleep,” she said.
Kesi and Danuja closed their eyes. The stress of the night overcame them, and they slept.
* * *
Hangzhou, The Paradise on Earth as its inhabitants call it, greeted Kesi and her crew with its magnificence. Baba and Danuja stood with her at the bow, taking in the amazing city. The city awed Kesi no matter how many times she sailed into its harbor, just from the sheer size alone. The knowledge that its harbor was the terminus of a man-made canal that stretched all the way to Beijing added to its wonder. But she was not here to gawk; she had come to fulfill her promise to Shogun Tanaka.
“Have you ever been here before?” she asked Danuja.
“No,” the princess replied. Kesi heard the fear in the girl’s voice, but there was nothing she could do about it.
“I have never been anywhere but Nihon,” she continued.
“I’m sure the Li Wei will provide well for you,” Baba said. “I assume he and your father were good friends?”
“I don’t know,” Danuja said. “Father never talked to me about such things.”
Kesi glanced and her baba and they both walked away.
“I don’t feel good about this,” Kesi said.
“It’s what you were paid to do,” Baba replied. “Deliver the girl to Li Wei and we’re done with the situation. If we’re lucky we can trade the ivory we brought for Tanaka here. I’d love to pick up some silk and porcelain to take back to Pemba. Your mama would be very pleased. Imagine how much she could sell it for at the markets!”
Baba’s mind was already on other things. The girl meant nothing to him and shouldn’t have meant any more to Kesi, but she couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.”
“I’ll set out for Li Wei’s home as soon as we land,” she finally said. “I’ll take Amri and Tukufu with me.”
The dhow was allowed to dock. Kesi, Danuja, Amri and Tukufu disembarked then set out for Li Wei’s home. The found the grounds not far from the docks, a huge home that reminded Kesi of the compounds of the more successful Swahili merchants. It was her family’s dream to own such a compound one day.
Li Wei’s servants met them at the entrance. Kesi handed them the note Shogun Tanaka had given her; the servants asked them to wait outside the gate as they took the note to Li Wei. An half an hour later the servants returned, taking them to an open veranda and serving them tea and cakes while they waited on Li Wei. Another half an hour passed before Li Wei appeared, a small, stout man dressed in expensive silks. He nodded at Kesi, but his eyes fixed on Danuja.
“It this Tanaka’s daughter?” he asked.
“Yes,” Kesi replied. “I am Kuroi Barra. Shogun Tanaka asked me to bring her to you. He said you would keep her safe.”
“Yes,” Li Wei replied. “Tanaka and I are old friends. His family is my family.”
“Will you?” Kesi asked.
“Will I what?” Li Wei replied.
“Keep her safe?”
Li Wei noted Kesi’s expression.
“Danuja has nothing to fear,” he said. “I’m one of the most powerful merchants in Hangzhou. I consider the Emperor a personal friend. No harm will come to Danuja. That I assure you.”
Two women servants approached Danuja. They shared reassuring smiles with the girl. Danuja eyes found Kesi’s.
“Go with them,” Kesi said. “My task is done.”
Danuja hugged Kesi, catching her by surprise.
“Thank you,” the girl said. “My family will be forever in your debt.”
Danuja took the women’s hands the walked away with them. Kesi and Li Wei watched them enter his home. The merchant turned to Kesi.
“You are my guest as long as you are in Hangzhou,” he said.
He handed Kesi a golden coin with the image of a dragon.
“Show this to anyone in the market and they will charge your expenses to my account.”
Kesi took the coin then put it in her pouch.
“Thank you,” she said.
Li Wei’s servants led them back to the compound gate. As they made there way back to the dhow, Kesi glanced behind from time to time. She’d done her duty; her obligation to Tanaka was complete. It was best to get her mind back on the situation at hand.
Baba waited for them at the dhow with a huge grin on his face.
“You can’t believe what I’m getting for ivory here!” he said. “I’ll never go to Nihon again.”
Kesi shrugged. “We won’t have to, now that Tanaka’s dead and his daughter is in good hands.”
“So I assume all went well?” baba asked.
“Yes,” Kesi replied. She took the coin from her pouch. “He gave me this. He said he will pay all our expenses.”
“A gift from Allah!” baba shouted. “We’ll use to resupply the dhow. This will be the most profitable safari ever!”
They spent the next few days trading and taking advantage of Li Wei’s generosity. After a week there was nothing left to trade. It was time to return to Pemba.
Kesi stood on the docks, watching as the baharia loaded supplied for their long journey home. As she paced, she noticed a merchant junk docking a few strides away. Although the junk was Chinese, the markings on it revealed its Nihon origins. A shiver ran down Kesi’s spin as she saw a group of samurai disembark.
“Tukufu! Amri!” she shouted.
The men peeked over the bulwark with curious faces.
“Come with me,” she said. “Bring your swords.”
The men armed themselves then hurried to meet her. Baba was with them.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Get the dhow ready to launch,” Kesi said. “We’ll be back.”
Baba’s eyes widened then he ran back onto the dhow shouting ordered. Kesi walked fast to the junk, studied it briefly, then set off in the direction of the samurai. They were almost to the market when she saw the samurai coming toward them. In middle of the group was Danuja.
Kesi drew her sword and attacked. The samurai were caught by surprise; three of them had fallen before they gathered themselves. Amri and Tukufu arrived and a vicious melee took place. When it was done the samurai lay dead. Amri’s arm bled and Tukufu tied a scarf around his head to keep the blood from his head wound from dripping into his right eye. Kesi approached Danuja, the girl curled into a ball surrounded by dead samurai.
“Danuja,” Kesi said softly. “It’s me, Kuroi Barra.”
Danuja looked up into Kesi’s eyes. She cried out then jumped into Kesi’s waiting arms.
“I knew you would save me,” Danuja said. “I prayed that you would.”
Amri and Tukufu looked skeptical, waiting for Kesi’s orders.
“Let’s go,” she said.
They hurried back to the dhow. Everything had been loaded and the sail lowered. Baba was smiling until he saw their wounds. His expression turned to a scowl when he saw he Kesi carried. He began to protest but Kesi held up her hand.
“Li Wei betrayed Tanaka,” she said. “He was sending the girl back to Nihon.”
“That doesn’t matter,” baba said. “This is not our fight.”
“You’re right baba, it’s not,” Kesi said. “It’s my promise.”
“What are you going to do with her?” baba asked.
“Take her with us to Pemba.”