The Harsh Cry of the Heron

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The Harsh Cry of the Heron
Otori Heron.jpg
Author Lian Hearn
Country Australia
Language English
Series Tales of the Otori trilogy
Genre Fantasy novel
Publisher Hachette Australia
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 630 pp
ISBN 1-59448-923-8
OCLC 70265641
823/.914 22
LC Class PR9619.3.H3725 H37 2006
Preceded by Brilliance of the Moon

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the sequel to Lian Hearn's popular Tales of the Otori trilogy, first published on March 7, 2006. The novel is set sixteen years after the events of the Trilogy, and covers a period of about two years. It chronicles the events that ultimately lead to Takeo's downfall, in accordance with the prophecy spoken of him years before.


Takeo and Kaede are now the prosperous rulers of the Three Countries. They have three daughters, Shigeko, and twins Miki and Maya. Shigeko, the eldest daughter and heir, has been trained as a boy as she will inherit the domain of Maruyama when she comes of age, and the Three Countries upon Takeo's death. Maya and Miki, on the other hand, are seen as cursed not only because of the superstitious beliefs concerning twins, but also because of their Tribe talents, indicated by the Kikuta lines on their palms. They are feared and ignored by many, including their mother, but are well loved by Takeo and Shigeko. Takeo's only fear is that the prophecy concerning his death will be realized - he can only be killed by his son. His first, illegitimate son (by Yuki) has been raised among the Kikuta, to one day be used to assassinate him. Kaede soon gives birth to Takeo’s second son.

A new threat to Takeo has appeared. Arai Zenko and his wife Hana have allied with the Saga Hideki, a warlord who has conquered the rest of the Eight Islands in the name of the powerless Emperor while Kikuta Akio, the Master of the exiled Kikuta family, and the Western foreigners (Portuguese), seeks to destroy Takeo. Muto Kenji, at the end of his years, attempts in vain to negotiate with the Akio and see his grandson, Hisao. Hisao, really Takeo’s son and future killer, has no Tribe talents leading Akio to abuse him, but as Kenji attempts to flee with him he sees that Hisao is a ghostmaster, capable of communicating and controlling the souls of the dead. The soul of his mother, Yuki, is haunting him. Kenji soon commits suicide to avoid capture, eager to see the next world.

Maya, whose Tribe talents go beyond the Tribe's ability to control her, takes the spirit of a cat within her and struggles to assert her control over it, becoming increasingly erratic and dangerous. She and Miki are separated, and Maya must train under Taku. Taku is soon killed on his brother Zenko’s orders and Maya is captured by Akio. Hisao is finally able to communicate with the spirit of his mother when Maya is captured, but rejects his mother's pleas to spare Takeo's life.

Rather than battle the Emperor's forces, Takeo and his retinue travel to the capital to engage in a bowmanship contest: the victor will rule the Three Countries. The Otori win, and Takeo departs in glory, leaving behind an exotic animal, a Kirin (likely a giraffe or an okapi), as a gift. However the Kirin frets, breaks free, and follows Takeo's army, which is seen as an omen and a slight on the Emperor. Saga takes the opportunity and pursues them. In the resulting battle, both sides enduring great losses until Shigeko shoots Saga in the eye, and he retreats.

Meanwhile, Maya, dominated by the cat spirit within her, slips into her parents' house, and kills her infant brother with the Kikuta gaze. Overcome with grief, Kaede slips into temporary insanity when Hana reveals the existence of Takeo's teenage son by Yuki. She orders their house (Shigeru's house) burned to the ground, and goes with Hana and her sons. Takeo finds her and tries to reason with her, but she calls the guards. Knowing he cannot fight his wife, he abdicates in favour of his daughter Shigeko, and retires to Terayama. There, Akio and Hisao come to kill him, but at the vital moment Hisao, armed with a handmade pistol, freezes and refuses to kill his father. Akio grabs the pistol, but it explodes in his hands, killing both him and Maya (who possessed the cat spirit at the time). Takeo, now believing it is his time, puts a knife in Hisao's hands, and falls upon it, bringing the prophecy of his death to fulfillment. He is buried next to Shigeru's grave.

In his abdication, he made an alliance with General Saga, betrothing Shigeko to him in return for an alliance, and for Shigeko to be co-ruler with him in the Three Countries. The combined armies defeat Arai's. Zenko and Hana are forced to commit Seppuku, along with their youngest son, but at Kaede's request, Saga spares their other two sons. She brings them to Terayama to live, and, guilt-ridden before Takeo's grave, she prepares to commit suicide. Only Miki's appearance makes her decide to live on for her sake and for all of Takeo's children.


Otori Takeo was the protagonist of The Tales of the Otori. He is married to Shirakawa Kaede and the wealthy ruler of the Three Countries. He remains hated by the Kikuta clan. He has three daughters, Shigeko, Maya, and Miki, and one illegitimate son: Kikuta Hisao, conceived by Muto Yuki, a past lover. He perishes at the end of the book after abdicating in favour of Maruyama Shigeko.

Otori Kaede (formerly Shirakawa Kaede) is Takeo's wife. She had a reputation of bringing death to all men that desired her, but Takeo had evaded death for some time. Kaede, despite being a woman, is proficient with weapons and a sword. She loves Shigeko dearly, but she harbors mistrust for her twin daughters. Since she was not able to bear Takeo any sons, she is overjoyed when she later gives birth to a boy. But when the child dies mysteriously, her sister Hana tells her about Takeo's brief liaison with Muto Yuki, the son that was conceived, and the prophecy which foretells Takeo's death can only occur at the hands of his own son. Kaede violently rejects Takeo thereafter, only to mourn his death when she regains her sanity and proves that she still indeed loves him.

Otori Shigeko (later Maruyama Shigeko) is the eldest daughter of Takeo and Kaede, a wise and reverent young woman. She had been trained as a boy as a child in hopes of her inheriting the Three Countries as she came of age. She is the heir and lady of the estates of Maruyama. Although she is much her mother's daughter, she loves her father and sisters dearly. Shigeko has always been fascinated by her sisters and always took their side of things. She is an expert archer and is in love with her senior retainer and teacher, Sugita Hiroshi. However, at the end of the novel, she becomes betrothed to Saga Hideki, the Emperor's commander, and inherits control the Three Countries and Takeo's sword, the Jato.

Otori Maya is the daughter of Takeo and Kaede, and the twin of Miki. As a twin, she and her sister have been feared or frowned upon because of superstitious beliefs. She is very mischievous and possesses most, if not all, of Takeo's Tribe abilities. Because her mother fears Maya and Miki being together, one of them was always with the Tribe for training. As revenge for a man heartily welcoming Shigeko and blatantly ignoring the twins, Maya kills his cat with the Kikuta gaze and ends up taking the dead cat's spirit within her. After a great deal of practice, she eventually is able to take on the cat's form, but is continually haunted by cat's spirit threatening to take control of her. She also perishes at the end of the book, when Miki kills her to prevent her being a cat spirit forever.

Otori Miki is the daughter of Takeo and Kaede, and the twin of Maya. She, being the younger of the two, was to be killed after she was born, but Takeo had forbidden it. Although she loves her mother, sisters, and father dearly, her mother is somewhat afraid of her. Miki had always been in the shadow of the more talented Maya, but had been quite comfortable with it. She is less mischievous and daring and more thoughtful and pragmatic than Maya; while she has a fiery temper, her twin is considered the colder and less forgiving twin. When together, they were inseparable. However, at the end of the novel, Miki was forced to kill her sister. Her mother finally accepts Miki at the end of the novel, when Kaede realizes that Miki still needs her.

Kikuta Hisao is the son of Takeo and Muto Yuki, and sixteen years old and, according to a prophecy, will be the one who kills Takeo. He had grown up believing he was the son of Akio, the Kikuta Master. Despite the talents of his mother and father, Hisao possesses no obvious talents like invisibility or the Kikuta hearing and was subjected to harsh training by Akio in hopes of compensating. He is by nature gentle and loves animals, which Akio cruelly punishes him for, and is innately talented at constructing tools, even if it is as complex as a gun. Muto Kenji, his maternal grandfather, discovers only as he dies in Hisao's presence that Hisao is a ghostmaster, a rare talent of the Tribe and that Yuki's spirit remains bound to him as a result. He is not able to hear his mother's pleas until his half-sister Maya aids him in her spirit form. Akio attempts to force him to shoot Takeo with a gun at the end of the novel, but it is Takeo who guides his son's hand with a dagger to kill Takeo and fulfill the prophecy.

Madaren is the youngest half-sister of Takeo. She is an interpreter and lover of a visiting foreigner. After the Hidden were attacked, Madaren had been sold as a servant in one of the pleasure houses. She had learned to take advantage of them, and stole from them, eventually allowing a merchant to take her to Hofu. Returning to the pleasure houses to gain income, she was eventually bought by Don João, a foreigner. Madaren got him to teach her their language, and she soon became fluent. She tried desperately to get her brother to convert back to the Hidden religion, with no success. She teaches Kaede the foreigners' language.

Muto Shizuka is Takeo's cousin and the mother of Taku and Zenko, married to Dr. Ishida, Takeo's personal doctor. A skilled member of the Tribe, she is close friends with Kaede and a surrogate mother to Miki and Maya. When Muto Kenji is killed by Akio and the Kikuta clan, Takeo asks that she take on the role of the Master of the Muto clan. While she is respected by the Tribe, the decision is met with dislike from the Muto, Kuroda, and Imai clans, who feel that it is wrong for the new master to be chosen from outside the Tribe and it goes against tradition for a woman to lead, especially since Taku or Zenko would be eligible. When Taku is killed and Shizuka is betrayed by Zenko, she goes to mourn for Taku and fasts at a temple.

Muto Taku is Shizuka's younger son and spymaster for the Muto, a close friend of Sugita Hiroshi. He is a talented member of the Tribe and well-trusted by Takeo. When Maya's abilities become too uncontrollable, she is entrusted to Taku and his companion (and lover) Sada, who train her to control the cat's spirit and take on its form. His relationship with Zenko is strained and the two do not get along well. Most members of the Tribe feel that Taku should have been the Muto Master instead of Shizuka and his death at the hands of Akio is a heavy loss for Takeo.

Arai Zenko is Shizuka's older son, Taku's older brother, and a retainer of Takeo and husband of Kaede's sister Hana. His relationship with his mother and brother are strained, though he still welcomes them as his family. As an outward gesture of loyalty, Zenko offers his sons Sunaomi and Chikara to be adopted by Takeo, knowing that they would be ineffective collateral against him. He is an ambitious man who still blames Takeo for the death of his father, Arai Daiichi, and conspires to overthrow Takeo by forming an alliance with the Kikuta. He eventually is forced to take his own life at the end of the novel.

Arai Hana (formerly Shirakawa Hana) is Kaede's youngest sister and wife of Arai Zenko, and mother of their three sons: Sunaomi, Chikara, and Hiromasa, who possesses Kikuta lines on his palms. After being rejected by Takeo in her youth, she married Zenko and came to love him and shared his ambition to overthrow Takeo and Kaede. Like her older sister, Hana is unusually beautiful, which resulted in a rivalry between Zenko, Taku, and Hiroshi as to who would marry her in their youth. She reveals to Kaede the secret of Takeo's son and the prophecy concerning Takeo's death in order to create a rift between the two and crush Takeo's spirit. Hana takes her life at the end of the book, along with her youngest son. Her two older sons are saved by Kaede and to be raised at the temple of Terayama.

Sugita Hiroshi is a loyal retainer of Takeo and Kaede, who has managed Maruyama in trust for Shigeko. He is in love with Shigeko, but does not pursue her hand in marriage because of his loyalty to Takeo and has not married any one else as a result. He and Taku have been close friends since childhood. When Hiroshi is badly injured in the battle against Saga Hideki, Shigeko attempts to kill Saga as revenge.

Kikuta Akio is the Kikuta Master, a cruel man who adheres too severely to the traditions of the Tribe and kills all who try to leave the Tribe. He is driven by fact he had to kill the only woman he ever loved, Muto Yuki, who did not love him in return, and his hatred of Takeo to the point of irrationality and demands all members of the Tribe refer to Takeo as the "Dog". While he has raised Hisao as his own son, Akio treats him harshly and with little kindness, brutally killing even a cat that Hisao befriended as an example. He molests Hisao habitually. He forms an alliance with Zenko, who claims mastery of the Muto family, in order to kill Takeo.

Muto Yuki (Muto Yusetsu) is the deceased mother of Kikuta Hisao and the daughter of Muto Kenji. When she was forced to kill herself, her spirit was bound to her infant son by his latent abilities as a ghostmaster. Because she loved Takeo, she continually begs Hisao, who tries to ignore her, not to kill his father. Hisao is only able to communicate with his mother with the help of Maya, but ends up rejecting Yuki's claims and severs her spirit. Yuki later appears to Maya and Miki as "Yusetsu" and becomes a surrogate mother to them as they try to return to Kaede and warn her of Hana and Zenko's treachery. Miki is wary of Yuki's intentions while Maya readily accepts the ghost woman's help until it is revealed that Yuki was using Maya to take revenge on Kaede. Yuki influences Maya to use the Kikuta sleep on her infant brother and steals the baby's spirit away, leaving Maya to give into the cat's spirit, devastated by the weight of her actions.

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