heiko rudolph

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song of the flute

A long time ago in the village of Umemura, on the island of Shikoku, there lived a fisherman to whom was born only one child, Kari, a son who was clever and strong. He loved music above all things and succeeded in all he turned his mind to. His mother sold her weavings in the market and was consulted by all around for her wisdom. His parents put their hope and their life in his hands and he worked to prove himself worthy of their love.

Many girls of the villages smiled at him yet he loved just one, Rie, the only child of the great Lord Tanemura. This Lord brought up his daughter in the art of seamanship and battle as he would have a son. Often did Kari observe Rie commanding her father's ships. Though he did not speak of her, yet still many knew of his secret love for her. In the evenings he could be seen on the grassy cliffs playing his flute, watching the ships returning to port.

It came about that Tanemura needed a messenger he could trust to carry out some private business in the capital, Kyoto. The mission was dangerous in those times, not only because the country was in turmoil and the highways were harassed by desperate men, but also on account of the nature of the business itself. The Lord needed someone clever whom he could trust yet also someone who would not be too closely associated with himself should his mission fail.

In his search for a suitable messenger Tanemura heard about Kari and the rumors concerning his daughter Rie. Saying nothing yet seeking to investigate the matter further he asked Kari to come and play his Shakuhatchi for him.

Kari was overjoyed at his good fortune, being summoned to play at the residence of the Lord, for he thought to be able to see 'her' again. However things were arranged in such a way that their paths did not cross at the first summons. Rie heard the music in the great hall but was unable to see the musician himself. Lord Tanemura called Kari to play for him frequently after this and gradually confided his designs to him. One evening his advisor, old Tanaka, a man many thought to have died years before, arranged for Kari to meet Rie in the house during one of his later visits. The two people did not show any outward affection yet old Tanaka knew the small signs well and advised his Lord that he had indeed found the right person for his messages.


Kari was given to understand that he was favoured and esteemed by his Lord and was forthwith sent on his way, well provisioned and fitted out as a travelling Shakuhatchi player. Fortune smiled on Kari's journey to Kyoto, yet not on the plans of the Lord. Kari fled the capital in danger of his life and realized he had been tricked by Tanemura.

Knowing that his life was in danger if he ever returned he decided to secretly see his parents one last time and thereafter start a new life far away. Travelling quickly, hiding his instrument and having become skilled in the ways of illusion he reached the house of his birth on the eve of the O-Bon festival.

His parents were not at home. Determining to wait he unrolled his futon. He found the old worn book he had learnt reading and writing from. He remembered his father slowly, haltingly teaching him from this old torn volume, until one day he found himself teaching his father. The old man had smiled at him then, closed the book and pronounced himself a happy man. Kari slowly and gently replaced the book and waited, playing his flute.

His eyes fell on a figure standing in the doorway, Rie. She smiled at him and for a long time - they both waited one for the other. She said nothing but came in and stood next to him on the Tatami quietly looking at him. Without a word, he commenced to play for her with all his heart, the music telling her what words never could. Then heart met heart in the way of a woman with a man for one last time. It was midnight when she hastened to leave the small house.

Kari's father and mother returned.
The son told them of his journey and of the trickery of the Lord Tanemura. This would be the last time they would see his face. If he stayed with them, surely the Lord would not let him live after this.
Then the father turned to his son and said: "There is now little to fear from the Lord, have you not heard the news ? Rie, his daughter was drowned but 3 days ago. Now he will not speak to anyone and looks set to die of grief."

Upon hearing this news Kari related all his experience of the night and then in that late hour set out for the house of the Lord.
The house was shrouded in mourning yet in the big hall there was still a fire burning. Kari was brought before the great man, gaunt with lack of sleep, hollow eyes staring at him. Quietly Kari told of his journey to Kyoto, how the plans of Tanemura were thwarted by the court and how he barely escaped with his life. Kari held his breath for an answer.
The Lord only nodded, and slowly waved his hands at him, with the words:
" This is no longer a concern of mine, - go ! ".

Then Kari spoke loudly: "Before I go I wouldst tell thee of one more thing that is certain to be of concern to thee".
At these bold words Tanemura looked up slowly, glaring.
Thereupon Kari related the events of that night, leaving out nothing.
Then slowly taking his flute once more he played that which he had played earlier for 'Her'. His heart called to her and she answered them both one last time.
Never had he seen such pain on the face of any man.

Kari left the great house forever.

written: 1 November 2001, 21:00-23:00, Ban Wat Chan, Vientiane, Laos
Inspired by Lafcadio Hearn's; "Kwaidan - stories and studies of strange things" ; Charles E. Tuttle 1971 Tokyo

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for 'her' who is with me always

2003 heiko rudolph

'dance me to the children that are asking to be born....'    Leonard Cohen