Fire and Honor: Bushido
Blackness. Murky, inky blackness. It fills and swirls in the world around. Nothing and everything at the same time. The living shadows bend and weave as if in wind. Everything, anything and nothing fill this desolate world of void. Two bolts of lighting arc horizontally across the thick gloom. Striking in the center, the somber world awakens to the light.
General Nigiyaka Sakura arises from mediation blinking away the dream-state. The general moves towards the right, raising a hand to touch Hayai. Hayai is the clan's ancestral katana, it is said that ancestors that have brandished the blade before help lead the hand of its wielder. Hayai at one time guided Sakura's father when he wore the mantle of champion. Sakura now holds Hayai and the mantle of authority.
The general picks up the blade placing it in the obi. With a smile, the general walks out of the tent and into the plaza. Smelling the air, Sakura now remembers what it means to be samurai. Even as champion of the clan, Sakura is nothing better than a servant. No one but the Emperor may order something of this servant; the advantages of rank stops there. Even servants may smile or laugh in their free time. Alas, Sakura bears the mantle of authority and champion of a clan. Dedication to the Emperor, clan and family come before laughter.
Sighing, the general stops in the center of the plaza. Surveying the plains below, Sakura observes the army moving about, preparing for the coming of battle. Days of youth have passed on along with the laughter; only duty remands: Bushido, the way of the warrior.
Face hardening, Sakura continues along the plaza. Heads bob as samurai bow acknowledging their leader. Sakura nods in return and the samurai run about their business, war.
"Sakura-sama!" one of the passing samurai calls as Sakura passes through the plaza.
"Hai, Kitsune-san? What is the word from the scouts?" Sakura's rigid demeanor fades as Kitsune approaches.
"The reports are mixed Sakura-sama," Kitsune's face lets out a hint of sorrow.
Sakura knows this to be a bad sign, "Please Kitsune-san go on…"
"Just as the Emperor surmised, the renegade army lays just south of our position. However, many reports have confirmed that the army is smaller than previously thought."
Confused, Sakura replies, "Kitsune-san, I believe this to be good news. What darkens the edges of it?"
"The renegade army is composed of ashigaru."
Sakura's eyes widen at this, "Ashigaru are daring enough to fight an army of four thousand mounted samurai! Have the troops been notified yet?"
"No Sakura-sama. I did not believe it right."
"Thank you Kitsune, please that is all for now."
Kitsune bows and melts into the throngs of samurai.
"Ashigaru…peasants…." As the command tent flap is held open, Sakura enters with a look of apprehension.
"Sakura-sama!" all of the general's advisors call out and bow before Sakura.
Bowing to them, Sakura turns to a lieutenant, "Yama-san, what is the current state of our troops?"
A huge, towering man stands beaming with pride, "General-sama! All of our samurai stand with anticipation of battle; we humbly await your command."
Sakura avoids the eyes of the warrior; he has no idea what we are about to do, she thinks.
" 'Enemies surround us from without and within'," Sakura quotes Nigiyaka Iyani famous proverb; Nigiyaka Iyani is Sakura's mother. "For the coming battles, I must have scouts infiltrate the enemy camp tonight and discover their plans."
One of the lesser generals bows low, "Sakura-sama, I must say warriors could be put to use some other way...."
...Than mucking about with peasants, thinks Sakura, to finish this general's sentence.
"I believe it unfit to underestimate one's foe and their strength no matter the reasons," Yama adds in support of Sakura's reasoning.
Good, let one of these over zealous and pompous samurai see reasoning, Sakura nods towards Yama.
With Sakura's order, the generals leave with minor shame shadowing their faces and in defeat. Sakura sighed, dealing with generals eager for blood and gore is much like trying to play with a rabid dog. One day, Sakura will be bitten and yet today... Quickly, the brooding samurai champion walks towards the supply tent. Pulling forth some old blankets and linens, Sakura strides into a tent to prepare.
The champion feels naked without Hayai in the obi, but tonight is very different than before. Sakura is not just about to order the deaths of six thousand ashigaru without a proper reason. Sakura lives in the world of death, how much more is required to end it?
Most samurai glorify battle and duels; those who question the continuous death can only retreat to the temples, joining a brotherhood of monks. Sakura is caught dangling in the center because of duty. Duty guides every samurai's life and it require to Sakura take up title of champion. As champion, one must not only think and deliberate one's duty, but the duty and survival of the whole clan; weight of duty is not for the feint hearted.
With a silent prayer to the spirits, Sakura leaves her army's camp for to the ashigaru camp. She will be one of the scouts to infiltrate the enemy.
"Otomo! You dog!" a peasant calls out and laughs as his friend falls over drunk. "You know Otomo, sake is the root of all happiness, and a warm belly."
Otomo is hooting and hollering as the two drunks sit by the firelight. "You'll have more than a warm belly as that geisha serves you!" Otomo falls backwards as he rolls in laughter.
As Otomo shakes off the laughter and straightening himself, he turns towards Sakura saying, "No judgment towards you Sakura, but any man glancing in your direction will taste your steel." Otomo turns towards his friend adding, "He'll have his warm belly all over the inn's floor!" and both friends fall back laughing.
Sakura cannot help but smile at these two drunken men, if only they could know the truth, about a clan champion and a ronin switching places. A small soft laugh escapes Sakura as she pictures the Emperor himself running around as a peasant.
Sakura surveys the camp in the dim firelight trying to calculate the chances of the peasant army. Even with a cheap worn katana, she was one of the most well armed warriors in camp. Comparing the many scout reports and the rabble before her, Sakura shivers from the chilling wind. Many of these men have just arrived fresh off the farm wielding any weapon they could scrounge.
How could farmers and their wives hope they could stand any chance against samurai? Comparing the two, the samurai have every advantage, from armor and horses to training and discipline. Samurai could wait until after a battle to warm a cold belly with sake. None of the peasants should know how to wield a weapon; they only know what made up their profession: farming. It does not make any sense to her.
Standing, Sakura excuses herself from the drunks and walks farther into camp. Peering around, she looks for something resembling look like a command tent. After hunting for several minutes, she comes across a fifty-foot square tent; it is largest amongst the tents and she walks towards it.
Bowing and calling out a greeting, Sakura is allowed inside. Viewing the interior, several stools border a map of the out-laying fields.
Sakura bows, "I thought that I might be of service to you." The eyes of the "generals" look intently at her; she must have had more years of tactics training herself than all of them combined.
"Yes, we could use another fellow warrior's suggestions," one who seems to be the leader answers her and bows slightly. Others continue to shift their eyes, unsure of the events unfolding. "Please Gena, take the others and allow me to converse with a fellow ronin on tomorrow's attack."
"Hai General-sama," Gena bows and the rest file out.
After a few moments of silence, "Nigiyaka Sakura, I must know why you show your face in my camp."
Sakura's eyes widen, she reactively grips the hilt of her katana.
"Please Sakura-sama, we both know that you cannot leave this camp alive if you kill me," the roinon, lord-less warrior paused as Sakura considers his words. "I could have also ordered you killed on sight as you entered the camp, so please sit and may I offer you tea?"
The last part confuses Sakura deeply, of course. She risked disguising herself...but how did this man know her identity? In addition, even after explaining how he could have killed her, he offers tea!
"You and I are very much alike in many ways; we are both bound by duty."
Confusion overcomes her as the man goes on: Duty? What, she thinks.
"Your face does not hide emotion right now Sakura; you allow an enemy to use your weakness against you."
"No! It is not-" she is cut off as ronin general spoke again.
"You are correct. I am but one man that knew your father closely and when he died I became a ronin."
"But his line continues through-"
"Yes Sakura, I knew that you would rein as the clan's Champion with his passing. It was because of you continuing the line I left the Nigiyaka clan."
Sakura sits back in the chair now finally understanding the ronin's meaning. "You became a ronin because a female samurai-ko became champion," she whispers as she grimaces.
"You are only partly correct, general-sama. It was not really the fact a female took over the clan, but that I did not believe in her strength. I, with the loss of your father, also lost a piece of myself."
A single tear rolled down Nigiyaka Sakura's face, the first in a long time. Even at the thought of her parents and their deaths, she could not cry tears of sadness. She mourns the man because of his story and pity for him. "As the rest of the clan believed that with my father's death, the clan weakened. To you, the clan did not weaken, you did."
"Yes, you are correct. Your father kept me from falling into the madness of death on the battlefield. It was his command, presence that kept me cool under the press of war. Never could the duty to a clan, family or emperor do this. It was but my duty to my friend I owe."
"You left the clan not because you felt a female champion
weakened the clan. You left because without my fathers leadership, you could not
continue to serve the clan," Sakura pauses as the night becomes cooler.
Silence passes between the two samurai, the Champion of the Nigiyaka Clan and a nameless ronin.
Sakura breaks the silence, "Tomorrow, two miles to the west our calvery charges. It will spilt equally into groups and flank your sides. Archers will sweep in behind you, forcing your troops closer to the center and our lancers will have you."
Sakura views the ronin coldly with a cold, emotionless face.
"It would not have mattered where we decided to stand. Because of your tactics, speed and our lack of everything would you have had us anyway," he states.
She sees him as a soldier in war. They are two circling cats.
"General Sakura-sama," the man kneels, "I wish to request seppuku so I may remove the stain of dishonor I have caused my family and clan."
"Granted, I will serve as your second."
To understand duty is to try and understand the very heart of
a samurai. A samurai, "one whom serves", will give all his skill,
heart and soul for his lord. It is his duty.
Through training does a samurai learn what it takes to fulfill his duty towards his lord. The training allows samurai to understand how to hone his skill so he may make war in his lord's name.
Through a samurai's love for his lord does he give his heart to his lord. A bond of honor and glory allows samurai give his heart to his lord.
With meditation and self-discipline does a samurai touch his soul. Samurai must understand that only with a soul of steel may he hope to fulfill his lord's wishes. Bushido is the hammer that forges the steel soul of samurai. Through the code the warrior, Bushido, does a samurai strengthen and build his soul. Through Bushido does a samurai sacrifice his soul to his duty, and his lord.
- Nigiyaka's Iyani Duty