Award-winning, #1 international bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson has published nearly 150 books, which have appeared in 30 languages worldwide, in genres ranging from science fiction, epic fantasy, humorous horror, gritty suspense, steampunk, and mystery. He has published over half a million words of short fiction, the best of which are gathered in this multi-volume series.
This volume features Anderson's wide-ranging imagination in the fantasy genre. You will read of obsessed sea captains, shape shifters, enchanted loincloths, bumbling knights in shining armor, ghosts haunting Shakespeare's Globe Theater, a homeless mother and a troll under a bridge, Captain Nemo and his Nautilus, H.G. Wells's Martians, and a very strange Wisconsin small town.
These tales showcase the breadth of Anderson's talent with a variety of works, written solo or with collaborators including Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Sarah A. Hoyt, Neil Peart from legendary rock band Rush, and his wife Rebecca Moesta.
"Kevin J. Anderson has become the literary equivalent of Quentin Tarantino."– The Daily Rotation
"Kevin J. Anderson is the hottest writer on (or off) the planet."– Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"The scope and breadth of Kevin J. Anderson's work is simply astonishing."– Terry Goodkind
"Kevin J. Anderson is one of the best plotters in the business."– Brandon Sanderson
The Old Man and the Cherry Tree
He had lived almost his entire life within the walls of the Buddhist monastery. The priests there told him the Shogun would cut off his head if he ventured outside ever again.
Many years before, his father had been a powerful lord, a daimyo. But the Shogun had gone to war with the daimyo, ordering that all the lord's family be executed. On the final night, while the father sat bemoaning his imminent loss of his life, the boy's mother had managed to steal away to the nearby monastery with her dearest son. She begged the head priest to save him, to secretly give her some other boy to be executed in her son's stead. The man told her it would be improper for a priest to undertake such a task; but after she offered large sums of money, the priest admitted that the monastery was sorely in need of a second golden image of Amida for the altar. Besides, the boy he had in mind for the exchange was a mere foundling anyway, given over to the care of the monastery however the priests saw fit.
They struck the bargain. The mother kissed her son, then gave him to the priest as he emerged from the monastery with a second boy who somewhat resembled the daimyo's son.
Before the priest could take her son into the monastery walls forever, she reached into her robes and carefully withdrew a package wrapped in fine silk. Upon seeing the silk, the priest's eyes opened eagerly. "This is for my son," she said, handing it to the child. "Your father's blade—the sword of a great daimyo" She unwrapped the silk to reveal a lovely jewel-encrusted short sword. Gold covered the grip, and fine characters danced on the blade. "You must keep it always by you because it will bring you good luck. When all else has been forgotten, still it will tell you the name of your father—see, it is engraved on the blade. You will learn to read it after the good priest has taught you the characters." The priest's eyes reflected the gold of the sword, and he fervently promised to care for the boy. The mother bowed and disappeared with her false son into the night shadows from which she had come.
The boy grew up in the monastery. The priests soon stopped trying to take his father's sword from him when they realized they would never be able to sell it, not with the name of the rebellious daimyo engraved on the blade. And they never made the effort to teach him to read, considering themselves safer if the boy was not constantly reminded of his true identity.
The boy took his pleasure in gardening, caring for the plants and trees in the monastery's beautiful garden. He was especially captivated by a single cherry tree which had been planted by three novices the very morning the Shogun had cut the heads off the rest of the boy's family. The small cherry tree had stood so frail and frightened in the garden, reminding the boy of how he must appear to the other monks.
As the boy grew older, he never shaved his head, or took the vows, nor studied the sutras as did the other novices. He planted and tended his flowers and trees and shrubs in the garden, until the monastery became known for the beauty harbored within its walls. But above all, the boy—now a young man, actually—tended the single cherry tree with all the love he possessed, until it became the glory of the entire garden. In spring the cherry tree would explode with pure white flowers, as if a sweet-scented winter had dropped gently into the monastery garden. At the time, it was said that the blossoms lingered longer on this cherry tree than on any other in all of Japan, and people traveled great distances to gather up some of the fallen petals, which they used for curing the sick and for making love potions.
Sometimes, in secret, the daimyo's son would climb up into the tree and look out over the monastery walls which kept him imprisoned. None of the priests had bothered to tell him that the old Shogun had died, nor that the new one did not care about the young man's family name. Instead, he sat up in the boughs under the silver moonlight and looked out to see the wide world he would never be able to explore, listening to the wind in the leaves of his tree and the faint sounds of snoring from the monks' sleeping quarters.
In time, he came to consider the cherry tree his closest and dearest friend. He talked to it as he tended the rest of his garden, and the other novices began to snicker and laugh among themselves about the strange gardener who talked to trees.
So the years passed. The tree continued to grow, and the gardener continued to grow older. Year after year the white blossoms came, and the daimyo's son—now an old man—took no greater joy than in watching the petals drift in the wind. He wept for those that caught like kites on an updraft and escaped, floating down on the other side of the monastery wall.
Each spring many people came to see the blossoms, some even making grand processions all the way from Kyoto. The pilgrims talked among themselves about the exquisite beauty of the delicate white flowers, and of the glowing, honest satisfaction in the face of the old gardener who stood so proudly beside his tree.
And then one year the tree did not blossom.
The other plants in the old man's garden launched forth their leaves and flowers as always, but day after day the cherry tree remained barren, as motionless as a stillborn babe. The people who came to see the tree departed in disappointment—it had once been magnificent, they said sadly, but the old cherry tree had died, and they would have to go elsewhere from now on.
The monks began to talk that they would soon cut down the marvelous tree, and burn its wood in the fire.
The old man could not bear to hear this and, recalling the days of his youth, he somehow managed to climb into the tree, searching the branches for buds, any small flickering of life. But the branches were as dry and as barren as the paper on which the monks copied their sutras. The old man saw other cherry trees in the distance, gleaming with their white flowers and scattering petals into the wind. Then his heart knew for certain that the old cherry tree had died, and he threw his arms around the lifeless bole of his only friend, weeping until the curious monks came out and called for him to come down. His legs were weak, but he managed to descent the tree and stood shaking. The monks left him, whispering among themselves, and went back to their work.
As he looked long and hard at the lifeless branches of the cherry tree, the old man decided what he must do. That night, when all the monks slept, he crept out into the darkness of the garden and lifted up one of the flat rocks he had long ago placed around the cherry tree. Under the rock rested his father's jeweled sword, glinting in the light of the dying moon—the colorful silk wrappings had rotted, but the sword was untarnished and as sharp as ever. The old man looked grimly at the blade.
There was one way to show one's utmost devotion, to remove grief and end this life of confinement and pain. Brave warriors followed their lords to death, committing seppuku to show their absolute loyalty no matter how their lord had died. And if the warriors could slit their bellies in an ecstasy of pain and honor, couldn't the old man do the same at the death of his dearest companion, his cherry tree? His father's sword was a special sword, the sword of a great daimyo, perhaps even containing a little magic. This act would be his final gift to the tree he had loved for so many years.
The old man loosened his robe and squatted down as near as he could to the dead cherry tree. He held the sharp point of the daimyo's sword against his stomach, looking down at the engraved characters signifying his father's name—but he still could not read them. The night was cold and crisp, probably the last such night in spring. The noise of the rustling barren branches above sounded to him like a death rattle.
Done properly, seppuku would have been a grand occasion—with many priests and faithful companions. But the old man did not have even so much as a white cloth to sit upon. Tradition required that once he had slit his belly, once he had proven his devotion and bravery, his closest friend was then permitted to strike off his head to end the pain. But the old man had no best friend, as so after he made the deep thrust and long sideways cut, he was forced to bear the pain as best he could, until he could bear it no longer … and then it made no difference. His blood spilled onto the earth.
The next morning the monks came out into the garden for their tea and found him there. They shook their heads, muttering at how the lonely old man had finally ended his life, but that he had not even done seppuku properly. The old gardener had become well known and many people—bringing their donations—would have come to see the death ceremony. The old man had been very inconsiderate not to let them know of his intentions. Some of the monks came to carry him away, and marveled at the beautiful sword they found upon him. No one knew where he had gotten it, and none of them recognized the name of the long-forgotten daimyo written on the blade. The monks cleaned the word, and placed it in their treasury.
But that morning, when the sun rose high enough that its rays struck the old cherry tree, something wondrous happened. The wind picked up. A shiver ran through the ground as a silence descended on the garden. Some of the monks dropped their tea, burning their fingers, scowling at each other. They all looked at the dead cherry tree.
The barren branches trembled, as if the old tree were straining with all its might … and suddenly every branch, even the smallest twigs, brought forth a deep red flower, as scarlet as fresh blood. As the monks watched, gaping in amazement, the tree covered itself with flowers, more than it had ever borne before.
One brash novice crept up to the new flowers in wonder and touched them. He cried that the petals felt wet, then yelped in pain. "It burns! My fingers!" He tried to wipe the moisture off on his robe, then ran to hide inside the monastery.
Word spread quickly throughout the land, and people flocked to see the Blood Tree, as it had been named. The shogun himself came to see the miracle, and when the monks told the story of the old man who had tended the tree, and of the mysterious sword he had used to commit seppuku, another old man from the vicinity recalled the name of the rebellious daimyo and how a previous Shogun had executed the entire family. The others remembered how at the same time the monastery had received a generous donation from the wife of the daimyo … and although they could not be certain, many guessed the identity of the gardener.
The shogun commanded that the monks bring him the ashes of the old man, and they carried out a simple clay urn, bowing their heads in embarrassment that they had not given the ashes a more ornate resting place. The Shogun spoke in his most respectful voice so that all could hear. "If this old man was truly the son of a rebellious daimyo, trapped for all his life in the sanctuary of the monastery walls for his own protection, long after it was necessary, I … I, the Shogun, now pardon him. I set him free so that he need no longer remain inside these walls."
So saying, the Shogun reached into the urn and flung the ashes high in the air, watching as they drifted out to explore the world on their own.
The Blood Tree shuddered, and, with a cracking sound, collapsed into a heap of charred splinters, burned from the inside out. The people gasped, and even the Shogun was amazed.
Many years later, wandering peddlers could sometimes be seen at night, keeping to the shadows and entering houses where the seeds of dissent had already been sown, secretly offering to sell splinters of the Blood Tree which would cause almost-instant bad fortune and possibly even death to one's enemies.
The Shogun caught several of these peddlers, and executed them.