The Fires of the Gods

(Japanese family names precede first names)

I.J. Parker



Sugawara Akitada nobleman, senior secretary in the Ministry of Justice

Tamako his wife

Tora his retainer and sidekick

Genba another retainer

Seimei his secretary; a faithful family servant

Hanae amp; Yuki

Tora’s wife and baby son

Kobe superintendent of the Capital Police


Tojiro amp; Takeo homeless boys

Koichi, Shinichi amp; Seiji three deaf mutes; ‘collectors’ for a protection gang


Koichi’s daughter

Jirokichi burglar, aka ‘the Rat’

Hoshina his girlfriend; owner of a wine shop

Kaneharu a small merchant

Watanabe a rich merchant

Abbot Shokan abbot of the Seikan-ji temple


Kiyowara Kane the Junior Controller of the Right

Lady Kiyowara his wife

Katsumi his son and heir

Lady Aoi

Lady Kiyowara’s cousin; a shrine virgin

Ono Takamura a court poet

Prince Atsunori the Minister of Central Affairs


Lord Kiyowara’s major-domo



Akitada’s subordinate in the Ministry of Justice

Nakatoshi a former subordinate

Fujiwara Kaneie the Minister of Justice


Tora stepped into the dense summer night and looked up at the roiling black sky above the jagged lines of roofs. Trees tossed their branches in the hot wind, and the dust swirled under his feet. Then thunder crackled and a flash of lightning momentarily lit up the empty street. Ducking his head, Tora clutched the batch of loose gold and silver coins inside his jacket and hurried towards home.

The streets were dimly lit here and there by garish paper lanterns marking wine shops or houses of assignation. They swung and danced in gusts of wind, throwing weird shadows across the street and on the walls of houses. A nasty night!

Tora did not care. He had been lucky. Playing at dice most of the night and buying a lot of wine, he had won magnificently. It meant that he could make the final payment on the small farm outside the capital. Sucking in a breath of warm air, he flexed his muscles, and felt blessed. Being a son of farmers, he had longed for many years to own his own bit of land.

His glee faded a little at the thought of telling his wife the good news – he was bound to get another lecture. Hanae disapproved of gambling.

He was preoccupied with this problem when, somewhere in the Sixth Ward, someone rushed from an alley and collided with him. They both went sprawling in the dirt, scattering Tora’s dubious fortune across the rutted street.

Tora scrambled to his feet and saw in a flash of lightning that the stranger was scooping up his coins with amazing speed and dexterity. ‘Hey!’ Tora shouted and lunged for the thief. They fell together, rolling around in the dirt, punching and kicking. The thief was slight and wore silk. A woman? Tora relaxed his grip. The next moment, his attacker had slipped out of his grasp.

‘Drop my money, you little tart!’ Tora lunged for her wrist. She sank her teeth into Tora’s hand and put a fist in his eye. He howled and let go.

The eye hurt badly, and Tora felt it to make sure it was still there, then he groped around for the thieving little whore.

She was gone. He got to his feet. Lightning lit up the street again and he saw her blue and white robe disappear around the far corner. Some of his gold pieces lay scattered a few steps away. He went to pick them up, but more people had erupted from the dark mouth of the alley. He was dimly aware of young faces and hissing breaths. Something struck his head, and he fell to his knees, retching. They laughed, then a clap of thunder drowned out all sounds. The darkness was filled with swirling, multicolored stars, and Tora stayed down until the stars dimmed and he was sure that the sour taste in his mouth was not followed by the wine in his stomach.

By then, his attackers were gone. People came from a wine shop to help him to his feet. They commiserated, but one of them bent and palmed a coin before they left. He stayed, cursing and unsteady on his feet. His small fortune was gone, and with it any hope of convincing Hanae that he had gambled for their welfare. Glumly, he brushed himself off and looked around for coins the thieves might have missed. There was nothing but a small blue silk bag with a broken string, the kind people used for an amulet. He picked it up and was about to leave when his nose caught a hint of smoke.

There is smoke, and then there is smoke. The nights in the capital were redolent with the scent of burning pitch pine from the torches used to light the streets and gates. This smelled serious. He turned his head to sniff the air, then hurried into the dark mouth of the alley.

It was short and led to another street of shops. There, in the distance, Tora saw a reddish light flickering. People shouted. A thin, high wail rose above the noise.

It was another fire.

This street passed between rows of adjoining small shops with homes attached in the back. In such streets a fire could jump from roof to roof and race across the quarter in an incredibly short time. Already the front of one of the shops was filled with flames, and thick smoke spread over the area. As he ran towards it, Tora saw a small figure that seemed to be dancing about in front of the conflagration. The creature was shouting and waving its arms

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