Tomoe /toe-MOE-eh/ Hasegawa is an eleven-year-old girl in seventeenth-century Japan who aspires to be courageous like the samurai. After Christianity is banned and persecutions intensify, Tomoe’s Catholic community flees to a remote island. They are pursued by the regional deputy who wishes to protect the nation from the corruption of foreign ideas. Tomoe’s many attempts at bravery backfire and place her loved ones in great peril. On Kuroshima Island, she befriends the island’s mysterious hermit who teaches her to spearfish while modeling a courage different from the show-no-mercy credo of the samurai. When Tomoe unexpectedly comes face to face with the regional deputy, she must choose which version of courage she will use to protect her people.
“Get down!” Papa yelled. The urgency of his words ripped Tomoe from her trance. She wedged herself between wooden chests on the floor of the rowboat. At the bow, Yoshi and Kino flattened themselves on the floorboards next to Mama.
Two shots cut through the air, sending seagulls flapping upwards and away from the boats. Papa’s labored breathing filled the ensuing silence.
Tomoe looked at Kino. His eyes were wide and unblinking as he pressed himself flat against the floorboards.
She peered over the boat’s rim. In the other rowboat, Akimoto-san had replaced Uncle Ikeda at the oars and was rowing with fresh strength. The Ikedas’ boat was considerably farther from shore than theirs.
“Row faster, Papa!” she shouted.
Papa made no reply. He inhaled deeply as he set his weight against each pull of the oars. Tomoe turned toward the beach, mentally estimating how long it would take for the soldiers to reload their weapons. They were already taking aim.
She crouched down and covered her ears. Two more shots rang through the air, followed by two splashes in the water between the boats.
Once more, Tomoe stole a glance at the other boat. Sweat glistened off Akimoto-san’s forehead as he worked the oars with frantic determination. Everyone else was hunched low inside the belly of the boat. Even Sakuma’s grandmother, who prided herself on her elegant posture, must’ve been curled up on the rough floorboards. From the visible flashes of clothing, it appeared Uncle Ikeda was sprawled on top of his family like a protective blanket.
On shore, one of the soldiers poured gunpowder into his musket. The other had his gun raised. Tomoe ducked. Cha-choom! A bullet whizzed through the air. It plunked into the water directly behind the Ikedas’ boat.
Cha-choom! The blast of the second shot was the last thing Tomoe heard before the world fell mute, as if it had been plunged underwater. In that moment of unnatural quiet, Papa’s face contorted and his body buckled. There was a dramatic shift of weight in the boat. Then he tumbled backward in a long, agonizing fall. Tomoe reached for him, but her arms were not long enough. His torso fell away from her and crashed down on a pile of burlap sacks, bounced once, then lay still, even as his legs remained jammed in place between baskets of food.
Tomoe’s throat burned with a silent scream. The only sound she heard was the beating of her own heart. It was chanting Pa-pa! Pa-pa! Pa-pa! Her mind commanded her to breathe, but she couldn’t pull herself from that scream.
It wasn’t until a circle of crimson seeped through Papa’s robe that the world collapsed into noisy chaos. Everyone was shouting. The acrid stench of blood tainted the air. “Masahiro! Masahiro!” shrieked Mama. She was on her hands and knees, crawling her way over trunks and bundles to her husband, causing the boat to rock. She gathered Papa’s body into her arms, cradling him like an overgrown child. Kino grabbed the nearest piece of clothing and applied pressure to the wound near Papa’s stomach.
Tomoe sat, dazed and unbelieving. Nothing her senses told her made any sense.
She turned toward the shore. Deputy Enya pointed to her boat. The soldiers had reloaded their guns and took aim. Two blasts sounded, followed by two splashes in the water, one on each side of the boat. Mama screamed and Yoshi wailed.
“We’re too close to the beach!” Kino shouted above the din. He pushed the blood-soaked cloth into Mama’s hand, then clambered over supplies to Tomoe. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he forced her to look at him. “Where are the oars? Did you see them fall? We need to get out of here!”
Tomoe blinked at him for a moment, trying to comprehend the meaning behind his words. The oars? Her mind replayed the image of her father’s body buckling, his torso falling away from her. In her mind’s eye, she watched the oars slip from his hands and disappear over the sides of the boat.
She pointed toward the sea. Kino scrambled to the stern and scanned the water around them.
The urgency of the situation finally crashed upon her. They had to get farther from shore, out of range of the soldiers’ guns, or risk the same fate as Papa. She gulped in a long raggedy breath and joined Kino at the back of the boat. Together they surveyed the water for the oars. After a moment, she spotted one. It was floating a great distance behind the boat, caught in a scuff of surf that was driving it toward shore. The other oar was nowhere in sight.
“There’s no way we can reach it,” she said, pulling Kino into the belly of the boat with her. “What are we going to do?”
“If we don’t do something fast, we’ll end up on the beach!”
And in the clutches of Deputy Enya, Tomoe added to herself. That couldn’t happen. There would be no mercy for any of them.
“We need a way to push the boat forward with the outgoing tide,” Kino said. “Do we have anything in the boat we could use as a paddle?”
They surveyed the supplies. Wooden trunks, sacks of rice, baskets of food, piles of clothing . . . there was nothing long and flat that could effectively push water. Tomoe peeked over the edge of the boat. They were closer to the beach than they’d been moments before.
She looked at Papa. Rivulets of blood ran down his side and pooled at the bottom of the boat. Mama continued to cradle his body with Yoshi beside her. Mama and Yoshi turned to Tomoe with eyes that pleaded, save us.
In that moment, she knew what she had to do.
The soldiers on the beach had their heads down, loading. She had to act. Now.
She took a deep breath and flung herself over the side of the boat.
Excerpted from Tomoe and the Secret Island, a yet unpublished middle-grade historical novel by Laura J Peterson. Used with permission.
Laura! This is amazing! You quickly draw us into another world, and I can visualize the scene so perfectly with your wonderful descriptions. This is such a powerful scene you bring us into, so of course i want to find out more. Congratulations on crafting such a beautiful scenery and characters! I know you have been working hard on this and it is reflected in your words! So happy for you!
Thanks for your encouragement, Vina. This novel has been a work in progress for a very long time now, so I’m happy to share a snippet of it with the world.
I can’t wait to read more. Exciting.