Flowers in the Sun
A Tale of the Swordmaster

There was no place in the life of a samurai for the embrace of beauty, no words in bushido that condoned or called for love. A bushi lived his life in service to his master; it was a life of duty and sacrifice, and it was for those challenges that a more human life was denied.

All of these thoughts were alive in Kakita Koshin, as he rested in the darkness that the lee of the house's front overhang offered, the soft form of his companion weighing down his right side.

Taehime was quite attractive in the soft moonlight; its rays washed away color from everything, masking the geisha's face as if it was still painted for the day. Short breaths of peaceful slumber made her lips purse and open slightly, and as his free hand brushed her loose white hair (dyed specially for him) the girl smiled…

There was no honor in such things.

Kakita Koshin had never been a man who had considered himself to be an exhalant of all the tenants of bushido; he followed the code, even lived it, but something between self-depreciation and humility held back any further claim. But now, and he felt the girl shift, the Crane was suddenly aware of the things that had been taken from him…

A lifetime of sacrifices, things never noticed, and so left always undone.

And yet there she was beside him, somehow both innocence and a temptation that he had somehow remained oblivious to. Kakita Koshin had never been a man to believe in love.

Not for him.

"Taehime?" he asked softly, not certain whether he really wanted to wake her.

The girl's blue eyes opened slightly, and she looked up at him through the shadows with a guilty grin. "Yes, Koshin-san? I am sorry that I fell asleep; what were we discussing, just now?"

He smiled, but his heart was not in the motion now. "I do not remember. I need to go."

She knew a lot about him by now, and so the geisha was surprised at the abruptness; surprised, but she knew her place well enough to stand, bow and let him go. As the samurai moped down the street amidst the shadow-cut lights of the village road Taehime noticed the moon for the first time since she had awoken.

"How long has it been since Koshin-san and I went out to the porch to talk, Namika-chan?"

The older girl just smiled, not even stopping her evening chores to look up at the young woman in the doorway. "I think that the 'talking' stopped a long while ago, Taehime," she said.

"You two have been just sitting out there, quite quiet and alone."

* * * * *

These were not the kind of problems that he came to the cliff to conquer; feelings of youthful tension and confusion had no place in the distant reflection of the abyss's pool. Koshin could feel his pulse start to quicken as he stripped off his kimono in silence…

A spiritual cleansing, in the fall and the test of the water's call.

Taehime's face and smile were still with him; it was the first time that anything had reached him, balanced on the blade before the darkness of the unknown. Here, where he most needed to be free of it, the samurai was suddenly beset by the friendliness, intellect and passion that so possessed him, and the Crane felt his resolve waver, just a moment, when he closed his eyes and made ready to begin.

"Damn it," Koshin swore as he dressed and returned his weapons to their places on his obi. Crossing his arms against a cold wind that he seldom noticed, the samurai started back down the long path that led to the Dragon's shiro, his mind unprepared for the first time in what seemed like forever.

When it mattered, Kakita Koshin had been afraid of losing Taehime.

At that moment, he had been afraid of death.

* * * * *

Mirumoto Nikkan was much more to Koshin than merely his guide to his mother's clan's strange culture; there was a strange peace and soothing in the strange jokes and quotes of the Dragon. Whatever it was, the Crane appreciated his friend, especially at those moments when torment or despair touched his soul.

"Koshin, sometimes you really are pathetic."

The samurai narrowed his eyes at the Dragon and forced a smile. "Is that a direct quote from Shinsei, Nikkan-san, because I do not think I have ever heard it that way."

Nikkan rubbed his short hair and gave a broad smile, his white teeth a fierce contrast to the Mirumoto's suntanned skin. Looking down over the walls into the valley, the philosopher continued, "It is just that you have been spending the last few last neglecting your swordsmanship; the only part of your character that makes you seem a diligent and worthy type of man."

From anyone else this would have been insulting, but the Crane had learned it was better not to try and bludgeon his companion with proper etiquette…and besides, fighting was for once the furthest from his martial mind.

"I think that it is time for a lesson, Koshin."

For once, the Kakita was listless. "Nikkan, I would rather…"

"Now, Koshin," the Sentinel's voice grew, and suddenly his limp seemed less prominent and his small stature somehow increased in strength and size. Koshin looked on as Nikkan walked to the training ground outside the Mirumoto dojo, retrieved his bokken and removed his ancestral swords.

Koshin set his weapons aside automatically, taking hold of a single wooden weapon, ignoring the daisho techniques as his opponent had chosen to ignore his own. Nikkan was normally not a challenge in a contest even with his daisho…

That was the last thought that the Kakita samurai managed, as the Sentinel sprang upon him and slashed hard, almost striking him, a look of savage calm engrained upon his eyes.

Parrying desperately, Koshin stumbled backwards, overcome by the Mirumoto's ferocity his own mind stumbling over techniques and maneuvers, his hands barely able to match the attacks of that suddenly-deadly wooden sword. The bushi felt the end of the training area suddenly, too suddenly, and the sound of sundered wood thundered from before him, throwing him down in a tumble, his left hand still gripping the haft of his broken sword.

It was only then, as he felt the footsteps of the attacker still upon him that Kakita Koshin again simply reacted, thrusting up with the remainder of his weapon, his eyes widening as he faced the descending curve of the offending weapon, Nikkan's blade falling on a skull-crushing curve.

Both men froze, Koshin's face shocked and Nikkan's filled with a satisfied smile, the Crane's shattered bokken forced up against the Mirumoto's chest, and his own sword a few inches from his opponent's pale face. A single drop of sweat slipped down the swordsman's cheek to fall on his shoulder…

"Flowers in the sun," Nikkan said with a serious expression.

The Kakita's eyes followed his friend's gaze to the edge of the training arena; to a pair of thin red flowers that the gardeners had somehow managed to keep thriving and alive. They were things so fragile and small that the Crane might never have noticed them no matter how many times he had passed them…but there they were in his vision, another beauty that he had never tried to see.

Nikkan was smiling again, but the pain of agitating his leg had become clearer now. "There are many forces in the world that are not defined by bushido, Koshin…beauty and love, to name a few. What you do with them is not a decision of bushido, but a decision that you must make with your own heart."

"A decision without crutches can be terrifying," the Sentinel finished, straightening and extending his free hand with a renewed grin. "That makes it more…true, wouldn't you say."

"I really do hate you, sometimes," the Crane responded as he accepted the hand with a smile.

The Mirumoto just beamed with more pride.

* * * * *

Taehime was watching the sunset when he came to see her, and as the two walked the path of the geisha house's small garden she could not help but smile, feeling the attention of the samurai in his eyes. She had learned that it was better not to use small talk on the Kakita; when he spoke it was with meaning, and his little silences had a deeper meaning as well.

"I should apologize for not coming to see you sooner," the samurai said after another moment, standing on the narrow bridge and watching as the carp swam around their favorite stone.

Taehime laughed, just a little, stifling the rest of the emotion with her long sleeve. "A samurai apologizing to someone like me? You are teasing me, Koshin-san." Nikkan in particular was notorious for playing games with rank and glory during his tea visits; the Crane's jest was less expected, but she had learned that he did have mischief at his core.

It was because of that knowledge that she was unprepared for his hands touching hers in a soft, easy motion…one so strange for the hands of a warrior, callused with small scars on either side. Taehime moved backwards a little, slightly panicked, "Koshin?"

"I did want to be here with you, Taehime," he said with voice stumbling, "it is just that…I needed some time."

At that moment there came a strange weakness that the geisha had never noticed; the young man stood fast despite it, holding her hand and watching her for what seemed to be quite a long time. Then she smiled, thankful for the makeup to hide her lost composure.

"I am happy that you decided to come back and see me, Koshin. I am sure that we will find more time."

Koshin knew that there would be many trials ahead of them; the Empire was preparing for more battles, even here in the mountains of the Dragon Lands. But now, for one moment, the samurai was willing and free to forget those challenges in the red light of evening, as he stared at his flower in the sun.

The Sun Sets...