Today is the second to last section of our read of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. Takeo, everyone’s one chance of killing Iida before he slaughters the heroes of this story, has been captured by the Tribe. Time is running out to save Shigeru, Lady Maruyama and her unborn child, Kaede, and the whole of the Middle Kingdom from the cruelty and tyranny of Iida.
To catch up or review previous part os this read, click here.
Takeo resists the Tribe talking him, even to the point of fighting Kenji while bound. Then Yuki, one of the women guarding him offers to take a message to Shigeru, and Takeo realizes he might have one sympathizer. He assures Shigeru through Yuki that he did not leave voluntarily, and Shigeru assures him that he knows Takeo never betrayed him. Shigeru also sends Jato, his sword, to Takeo, and Yuki helps him hide it. The next day, Yuki brings Takeo news that Lady Maruyama drowned while trying to escape the Tohan and Iida, and Shigeru was captured and crucified on the wall outside Iida’s residence. So Takeo makes a deal with the Tribe. He offers them his loyalty and promises to give up the Otori name in exchange for them allowing him to go that night and take Shigeru down from the wall. If they refuse, he’ll take his own life. They agree.
Reader Comments: Poor Shigeru and Lady Maruyama. Poor Takeo. At least, he has one person willing to help him, and I hope something awful happens to Kenji for betraying Takeo and Shigeru.
Writer Comments: This is the black moment, the time when everything falls apart of the hero and their appears no hope. This moment in some form is necessary to wind the tension to its greatest hight and to make the final triumph all the more satisfying. If victory comes too easy, its taste becomes bland and unsatisfying.
Takeo, Kenji, and Yuki sneak into the castle and take Shigeru from the wall and away. He still lives but is gravely weakened. He insists Takeo kill him, take his head and bury it beside his brother, then take Iida’s head and bring it to his grave. Takeo obeys and ends the life of his adopted father. He gives Yuki Shigeru’s head to bury and sinks his body to the bottom of the river. Then he returns to kill Iida despite Kenji’s objections.
Reader Comments: Yuki is okay. She can live in my opinion. Also, I love how Hearn include a different cultural mindset that what is often found in most fantasy. It helps validate the setting and give the book a more Eastern feel.
Writer Comments: And here begins the true climax of the story, the moment to which the whole book has built, the thing to which the title alludes. Takeo must cross the Nightingale Floor and kill Iida. Though he has done neither yet, the tension is high because Hearn has been building to this moment for so long. Authors and editors often talk about story structure. This is the sign of a sound story structure because everything has come together for this single, climactic moment.
Kaede determines that, after everything that has happened, the only honorable thing left for her to do is kill herself. But her maid informs her that Takeo will likely come that night to take Shigeru. Kaede decides to at least wait long enough to see Takeo one last time. But Iida comes and tries to rape her. While alone in the room with him, she kills him with the needle her maid taught her to use and the knife she’d hidden to take her own life.
Reader Comments: So glad Iida is dead. I wondered if Kaede would be the one to kill him. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I like her being the one to kill him. On the other, if Takeo doesn’t do it, I wonder if I’ll feel satisfied later.
Writer Comments: Subtlety is a key element of this story. The death of the villain comes as unobtrusively as anything else in this story. He moans with pain once, a sound indistinguishable from a the noise of pleasure his guards expect to hear. He underestimates the threat a woman can pose, and dies swiftly and unceremoniously, unnoticed and by the weakest hand.