“The ancients believed the rumbling of thunder was the distant cry of a dragon.”
Genzo looked up at the clouded sky as if he was wondering if a dragon might show itself.
“And how ancient was that?” said Simpson. “I thought kaminari was depicted as an ogre-god bearing drums, not a dragon.”
“The Ainu had different beliefs,” said the samurai.
“We should seek shelter before it starts to rain.”
“There is a cabin farther up the mountain.”
“An hour if we hurry.”
“We may not have that long.” The Englishman looked back at the valley below. The village where they started looked like tiny specks in the distance.
“We should get moving.”
Unseen creatures scurried and fluttered behind the leaves at their approach. Boulders overrun with tree roots turned the steep trail into a tortuous stairwell.
In time, they saw the cabin, a simple structure huddled against a moss grown cliff.
“It looks to be of a religious nature,” said Simpson.
“Part of a string of shrines along the trail,” said Genzo. “Take off your shoes when you enter.”
They approached the cabin and Genzo clasped his hands respectfully before entering. A carcass of a grey furred animal was hanging from the eaves. A bearded hunter in a weathered Ainu vest of intricate but badly faded patterns, sitting cross legged, and oiling an old matchlock gun acknowledged the two newcomers silently.
Genzo talked to him cordially to which the gruff man only grunted, consumed with the maintenance of his gun.
“Can you ask him what that animal is, hanging from the roof?” said Simpson.
Genzo asked and got a curt reply.
“It’s a wolf,” said Genzo. “Rare these days. Foreign dogs brought diseases that killed them. Few that remain cause much trouble.”
A heavy rain started to fall on the boarded roof, making conversation impossible. Simon and Genzo opened their lunches and ate. The hunter did not seem to have food with him and drank water from his hollowed gourd. Simon gave him a ball of rice, which he took and ate in silence.
The rain and thunder was brief and soon the sound was no longer deafening.
“Will you ask him how much he would charge for the wolf?”
“What do you want with it?”
“The British Museum would no doubt be interested in a specimen.”
When Genzo talked to him again, the hunter looked straight at Simpson and held up five grubby fingers; a good week’s wage.
“Alright,” said Simpson.
He took out his wallet and gave the hunter five one-yen bills. The hunter gave a stiff smile, no doubt his best effort, accepted the money and packed his things. He put on his coat and hood, a hodgepodge of furs, and he trudged out into the sparse rain.
Simpson looked out at the wolf carcass, a fabulous prize for naturalist, to which he would attach a Latin name and etch his own into natural history.
“He must have been our ogre,” he said into the rain, “or, perhaps, a god.”
(The Japanese Wolf is an extinct species of wolf, associated with a wide range of Shinto gods, believed to have disappeared around the turn of the 20th century.)