Enchanted Spark

Writing Inspirations
Congratulations to the End of the Year Winner Holly Jennings!

The Virtues of Cherry Blossoms

by Holly Jennings

They lost many good men that day, and only Nami knew why.

She stood atop the stone stairs of the temple, looking down on the town. Though the attack on their village had ceased, remnants of the chaos swirled through the streets, snowing feathers and cherry blossoms over the dirt roads. Soldiers dragged the dead away, each one pulling at the strings of Nami’s heart. Children gathered up feathers, some as long as their arms, and dumped them into fire basins. Flames exploded in massive amber claws that reached up toward the sky as if growing out of the very bowels of Hell. Thick smoke burned in Nami’s eyes, creating an excuse for her tears.

As the soldier Juro passed her on the stairs, he spat on a feather and crushed it beneath his foot. His brother Kin followed close behind, sharing the burden of a moaning man on a stretcher. He eyed Nami on his way into the temple. They would need her to tend to the survivors.

She looked out across the village and then up to the piercing blue sky. The Tengu soared in the distance, white hawks the size of dragons, now mere blurs in the air. They retreated to the mountains, seeking refuge in the serrated rock that no man could climb. The demons had slept for centuries, a peace now ruptured by the broken karmic ribbon surrounding the tiny town.

Before she turned to the temple, a cherry blossom petal whispered across Nami’s lips and left behind the taste of candied apple skin. The snapped twigs and twisted trunks of the trees mimicked her misshapen heart. Every day she had watched them, growing like the bastard child in her belly.

She had brought shame on her people, and the Tengu retaliated.


After tending to the wounded the soldiers sat within the temple in perfect lines, creating a facade of discipline, even as the room coursed with tension and sharp whispers. Why had the demons attacked? Why now?

A priest hobbled into the room, his walking stick beating along the floor. As he stood before the men, instead of leading them into prayer for the fallen he announced, "The healer is with child."

A few of the men exchanged glances at the declaration, but none stood or spoke out to claim paternity.

Kin peered at his brother out of the corner of his eye, but Juro stared unblinking at the head of the room. After an uncomfortable quiet had pressed down on the room for several minutes, the priest dismissed them to training. A silent mantra rippled through the minds of the men as they filtered out. They all knew, though none dared to give voice to their thoughts, as dark and treacherous as a storm at sea: the demons would return in the morning.


The night Nami gave birth Kin wished the Tengu would attack at midnight instead of the usual daybreak. Maybe then Juro would have fought them instead of everything inside the temple’s training room.

“It’ll be fine,” Kin assured him, ignoring the growing lump of concern in his own throat.

Juro pummeled a padded wooden post, though his words came out as sharp and clear as if he were merely standing still. “The last three women who gave birth died from complications.”

“Nami is a healer. There won’t be any complications.”

“She was with those other women.” Clack-clack-clack. “She couldn’t save them.” Clack-clack-clack. “What makes this any different?”

Juro’s pounding ceased as movement caught his eye. A look of shock softened his creased brow. Kin followed his brother’s gaze to the midwife behind them. She stood just inside the door’s archway, weaving her blood covered hands through her apron. Kin gasped, heart pounding. The lump in his throat grew so large it threatened to cut off his airway.

“It’s a boy,” the midwife revealed as she backed out the door.

Kin followed her through the streets, dodging the broken wood and debris yet to be repaired from the latest Tengu attack. At Nami’s home, a trio of whores peered through the window, standing on tiptoe, gushing and giggling with each other. They felt Kin’s stare and looked his way. He averted his eyes as he followed the midwife inside. Just as he stepped through the doorway, he glanced behind him. His brother hadn’t followed.

Inside Nami’s one-room home, two townswomen folded sheets as the midwife washed her hands in a water basin. Nami lay in bed, her raven hair plastered against her forehead. The newborn lay nestled against her breast. Soft, whispered breaths escaped from his puckered mouth as he slept against his mother. Kin noted how much the boy’s nose and mouth resembled that of his brother, confirming what he’d long suspected.

Nami’s eyes opened and peered up at him.

“How are you feeling?” he managed to ask.

She smiled. “Wonderful.” Her expression faltered as she surveyed the open door behind him. “Is anyone else coming?”

Kin took her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. “I’m here.” He paused, studying the boy. “What’s his name?”


Kin nodded. “That’s a strong name.”

Nami smiled again, though her head fell back against the pillow and her eyelids fluttered as she fought back sleep.

“I’ll let you rest,” Kin said, and he left the healer’s home.

Kin dragged his feet through the streets, kicking bits of wood as he walked. Puddles dotted the dirt road from a recent rain. A sliver of the lunar crescent curled through the reflection of the black sky above. A new moon. A new life. One that would become full with passing days, if the fates allowed. What then? What life would the boy grow into? One of shame and dishonor? One of endless battles and the torture of his people, bound to the mercy of the mountain beasts?

The wind picked up, bringing with it the smell of beech trees and amber. The cherry blossoms had long since died. The breeze swayed the paper lanterns that hung from the windows and overhanging roofs of the town’s homes and businesses. They squeaked on their hinges as they rocked. The cool wind brushed against Kin’s heated cheeks, though it did little to calm his nerves. When he arrived back at the temple, Juro met him at the entrance.

Is Nami alright?”

Kin studied his brother’s guiltless expression as the taste in his mouth turned to bile and bitter malice.

Why didn’t you just go for a whore?” he spat.

Juro didn’t answer and Kin left him standing alone in the doorway, looking out on the quiet streets--a silence soon to be broken.


At dawn, the assault began.

The Tengu pummeled the streets. The giant hawks soared through the village, their talons ripping through rooftops and pillars. Caws thundered through the village. Buildings trembled and glass shattered under the sheer volume. The soldiers fought them off with their spears and shields, and even roof tiles and other rubble created by the Tengu themselves.

Inside the temple Nami tended to the men, her belly still soft from the recent birth. Wounds evaporated under her healing hands, the sole reason they’d sustained the attacks as long as they had. Broken limbs and six-inch-long gashes, were mended in a night instead of a month. So the soldiers fought every day the Tengu chose to attack, and prayed for mercy on the ones they didn’t.


The morning they brought Juro back to the temple on a stretcher with the flesh of his legs shredded down to the bone, Kin’s chest clenched so tightly, his heart nearly ceased to beat.

“Someone get Nami.”

“No,” Juro snapped, gritting his teeth through the pain. “Just bind my legs.”

Kin ignored his words and turned to retrieve the healer, but Juro’s hand formed a viselike grip around his brother’s arm. “Don’t get Nami.”

Kin shook him off but stayed at his side and began tending to his wounds.

During the organized chaos in the temple, the midwife stood in the corner cradling Nami’s child. Somehow the infant slept through it all, through the moans and screams of the men, unaware of the future that surrounded him.


At the age of five, Riku stood at the front of the prayer room with the priest and the other young boys yet to be assigned to a guardian. All had fathers, some too old or frail to be soldiers, others deceased from the Tengu attacks. All but Riku.

As the priest spoke, Riku tried his best to remain still like the other boys, but his fingers disobeyed him and tapped a silent melody against his stomach as if it were an instrument. His anxiety mirrored the growing tension outside as the murmurs and whispers of anxious parents permeated the temple’s walls. None were allowed in the sacred room. Though, as Kin sat with the other soldiers on the temple floor, he noted Nami’s absence. Surely she was permitted at the ceremony. Was she concerned of Juro’s reaction once they assigned the boy to him?

“Kin,” the priest called. “Riku will be your student.”

Kin froze at the announcement. Why hadn’t the boy gone to Juro? Didn’t the priest realize it was his child?

Kin stood, took the boy’s hand, and led him to the rear of the room. When the meeting ended, Juro confronted his brother. No child had been assigned to him.

“You shouldn’t train the boy,” he said. He cast a fleeting glance at Riku. 

“People will think you’re his father.”

Kin met his eye. “Someone should be.”

His brother offered no reply, so Kin led the child away and left Juro standing alone. He seemed to prefer it anyhow.


After a day of training Kin led Riku into the empty prayer room. A sliver of the white crescent moon reflected against the black water of the basins, reminding Kin of the night Riku came into the world nearly a decade earlier.

“The other boys say the demons attack the village because of me,” Riku admitted, scuffing his feet against the floor in shame. “They say I shouldn’t have been born.”

Kin peered down at the boy, feeling his heart pinch with sorrow. “If you were never born, who would be my student?”

Riku thought for a moment and nodded. “That’s a good point.”

Kin suppressed a chuckle at the child’s mature demeanor. He stood with the boy as they admired the engravings in the wood-paneled wall of the temple. The scene depicted soldiers defending the village from the Tengu.

“It’s been ten years,” Riku said, nodding at the feathered beasts on the wall. “If they don’t attack the village because of me, then why attack us at all?”

“The Tengu represent an imbalance of spirit.”

“An imbalance of spirit,” Riku repeated as he thought to himself. “How do you fix that?”

Kin took Riku’s hands in each of his palms. “For most people, there is a gap between who they are and what they do.” Kin brought the boy’s hands together. “You need to make them as one.”



Screams from the townswomen rang out from every corner of the village, a chorus that rose with the sun to announce the Tengu’s pending wrath. The fevered cries no longer enveloped Kin with fear, as they were now merely a rooster’s crow, declaring the break of day. One of work and of war. One that meant the weight of armor on shoulders and of wood and steel weapons in hand. A day to look death in its eyes, black endless holes surrounded by sleek, white feathers. But when Nami’s piercing shriek resonated through the temple that morning, jolting Kin from slumber, his heart hammered in his chest. Beads of sweat formed instantly on his brow. The healer had always been the calm in the storm. An unwavering rock within the waves of chaos. What had possibly caused her to panic?

Kin’s feet carried him through the temple, moving as quickly as if on air, until he reached the top of the stone stairs. At the bottom of the steps, Nami screamed again as she struggled against the midwife. The midwife held her back by the waist, away from the dirt roads and within the early-morning shadow of the temple. The Tengu circled overhead, as they always did. Why was Nami so frantic? Kin’s eyes trailed forward to a scene that brought his stomach up to his throat.

Riku stood in the middle of the street, arms outstretched, face towards the sun, as if offering himself to the gods. He bore no armor or shield. No weapon graced his hands. Kin’s heart clenched as he realized the child’s intention, to sacrifice himself, to fix the karmic break that was never his own.

“Riku,” Nami cried, still struggling against the midwife as she clawed at the air.

“This is the way, mom,” Riku replied, “They’ll stop now. You’ll see.”

The Tengu dove.

Kin bolted.

Juro reached Riku first and threw himself over the boy, creating a human shield against the Tengu’s beaks and talons. Kin skidded to a stop and watched in horror as the demons plunged down around his brother.

The Tengu landed, smashing to the ground with such force that it shook beneath Kin’s feet. They studied the huddled duo, their heads cocked sideways, curious. Beaks remained shut, talons retracted. One even chirped. Then they launched back into the sky as if ripped from the village by an invisible hand. A heavy silence accompanied their departure, louder than anything the village had ever heard before.

Juro opened his eyes and peered down at the boy in his arms. Kin saw an expression on his brother’s face he never thought he’d see.


Nami joined Juro in the road. Together, they walked up the steps of the temple and disappeared inside with the boy.

Kin sank to his knees on the dirt path, along with the other soldiers, as white feathers rained down around them. Together they watched as the white cloud of the Tengu became a mere wisp against the horizon, and then became nothing at all, where the mountains towered silently in the background.


The next day at dawn, a cherry blossom sapling pushed its way through the soil and greeted the sun.

BIO: Holly Jennings writes speculative fiction from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and elsewhere. For more, visit her site www.hnjennings.com or follow her as she attempts to understand Twitter @HollyN_Jennings

1 comment | Add a New Comment
1. Shari | January 02, 2014 at 02:21 PM EST

Beautifully written, Holly. Congratulations.

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