Chapter Ten: Patience
"The keenest blade is within."
"I will not submit to this! I am the heir to Nitanki!" Tanoshi's voice echoed loudly through the fine house, sending servants scurrying to evade the garden area. Among the finely trimmed flowers and trees, the young samurai was fuming, his young face red with rage after Masanko had explained her plan.
"Brother," Masanko cooed, trying not to make him feel trapped, "It is not the duty of the heir of Nitanki to waste time in a duel…"
"He killed our father, Masanko!"
Koshin stood behind the two, his hands as always playing out a song on the edge of his swords. The ronin spoke up suddenly, his quiet voice cutting between the siblings, "And your death will not avenge your father, Tanoshi-sama. You will end your house, his legacy to you…for nothing but hatred."
Tanoshi's black eyes were flames, and they burned at the ronin. "I will not lose."
Masanko was about to begin again, but Koshin stepped forward, looking down on the younger man with anger all his own, "Your father was defeated by Horii, either fairly or through treachery. I defeated you fairly. You have potential, Tanoshi, but potential will not save you from Horii. If the man is truly a master, then he will finish with you in a moment."
Still, the samurai was defiant. "I do not need the opinion of a man that does not understand duty or honor."
Koshin felt his forearms stiffen, as they did before a draw. Despite the insult, he kept his voice calm, "In questioning my honor, you serve only to insult your own. I wish to help you, Tanoshi-san…"
"Then show me how to kill him, ronin."
Seeing an opening, the sister breezed in between the two men. "Horii returns in three days, brother…surely you cannot expect to exceed our father's skill in such short time. Allow Sensei Koshin to train you; he seems to be a swordsman of great virtue in his own right…and then, in three days, you will see that it is right to permit him to settle our affair with Lord Horii."
Koshin almost blurted out "Sensei" in his own surprise.
Tanoshi hesitated, but Koshin could see that the boy was interested in learning. After a moment under his sister's gaze, the samurai shrugged his shoulders wearily, "So be it, sister. We will see what this man can show me in three days."
Then the samurai was gone, leaving Masanko and Koshin alone in the garden. The swordsman leaned against a large tree, a crooked smile playing over his face as Masanko let go of a tired sigh. "Your brother is a stubborn man, to be certain. It is an admirable trait, given limits."
"He is too young for this burden," she replied, wiping the faint bit of sweat from her pretty face.
Koshin nodded, casting his gaze up into the tree above him. "Why did you offer for me to train your brother? Three days is hardly enough, and I am hardly a real sensei…"
"It is time enough to show him reason. You are a skilled warrior, Koshin-dono. My brother has never seen a battlefield, and Gayu was the first man that he has ever fought in true combat." Masanko walked across the grass to face Koshin, who suddenly noticed how close she moved her face to his.
"You must show him that he cannot win. Only that despair can save him."
Shaking his head, the ronin dodged past the Nitanki woman, his heart suddenly rapid from her presence, "It is not my duty to bring despair into his heart, Masanko-sama. Your brother will understand his limits: I will see that he learns how to see them. In the end, however, only he can step aside."
For three days, Koshin trained the young man, and in the process trained himself. The simplest forms, the stance and the draw; all needed to be sharpened, so that Tanoshi would not be led astray. With each moment, Koshin become more closely connected to the core of his old being. Forms that had once been second nature returned now, though he was only scarring the surface of the pool.
On the eve of the third day, Koshin walked to the center of the empty dojo, a bamboo shinai in his hand. Taking the stance of simply standing, the ronin looked to where Tanoshi waited. "I have taught you for three days; all that you asked for, I have done my best to show you. Is that true?"
"Hai," the Nitanki responded, gripping his shinai with sudden ferocity.
Koshin nodded, "Then show me what you have learned."
Most students would have needed some prodding to attack their sensei, but Tanoshi sprung forward immediately, slicing the air with his practice blade. With a sure step, the ronin dodged aside, his sword still low to the ground, waiting for the moment to strike.
The young man was skilled, but he rushed in too quickly, trusting his skill and not involving his mind. His discipline was lacking, and that was something Koshin had been unable to change in three days.
Tanoshi stopped and turned, too fast for his untrained body, and struck backwards, intending to cleave his new tutor across the chest. Koshin swung his shinai with his right hand, cutting sideways even as Tanoshi's sword hurtled towards him. The sound of the crack echoed through the hall, and the student stumbled from the heavy strike of the former master.
Still holding his sword horizontally from the cut, Koshin looked to where Tanoshi had fallen backwards. The samurai said nothing; he simply stood and waited, watching the younger man silently as he lowered his weapon.
"What is it?" Tanoshi asked at length, his chest aching even from the blow of the bamboo sword.
Lowering his own weapon at last, Koshin moved to better face the young man, "You have learned all that you can in three days. You are a skilled warrior, with great potential for the fight. But you must understand that you are not ready."
Tanoshi's eyes grew fierce again, and Koshin thought that the young man might strike back, but at that moment the shoji slid open, revealing Masanko dressed in a deep red kimono. The two men stepped back from one another slowly, and Koshin bowed as the woman entered.
"This has arrived for you, my brother." She pressed the folded letter into Tanoshi's sweaty hand, her eyes nervous as he considered the fold.
Reading the calligraphy slowly, the heir to Nitanki remained calm. Folding the paper and slipping it into his kimono, Tanoshi nodded once to his sister. "Horii is coming soon to finish this. We must have the house prepared for his visit." There was hatred in his voice, a gnawing anger that had not been there before.
Koshin knew much of hatred.
With that, the young man was gone, leaving the dojo without a bow or a farewell. Masanko watched him go, but Koshin was preparing already himself, setting the shinai aside to return his sakaba to their rightful position, "Will he permit me to fight in his place, Masanko-san?"
The girl nodded slowly, as if unsure of her own motion, "Tanoshi will comply. You have taught him much in these last few days."
"I only showed him what he already knew," Koshin said. "Hopefully that will be enough."
"Horii will arrive tomorrow morning, I would think. He is a man much concerned with appearances, and would doubtless like to finish with this insult quickly." Masanko was turning away from Koshin already, to better hide the fire in her own eyes, "You will kill him then."
"I will fight him," Koshin corrected. "I cannot purge the hatred from Tanoshi's heart; all that I will do is defeat Horii, so that Nitanki may be free of the duty of revenge."
Masanko nodded, "So you will not kill him…"
Koshin felt worry in his heart, "Not if he gives me the choice."
The morning came and went, and there was no sign of the challenger. Koshin was dressed in fine clothes for the duel, gifts from Lady Masanko and her brother, but as the day dragged on, there was no sign of the tessen master. That evening, as the city settled in for a night of weary sleep, Tanoshi stood upon the steps of his home, watching the empty road with great anger.
"He is a coward," Tanoshi spat. "Afraid to fulfill his oath."
"Perhaps," Koshin nodded simply. "I will wait for him tomorrow."
And so passed the next day, without sign. Masanko's friends told her that Horii was still well and in the city, and that the sensei tended to the affairs of his lord normally, mentioning nothing of the duel one way or another. Tanoshi fumed at the insult, at being prepared for nothing.
For his part, Koshin waited silently, again promising another day.
On the eve of the fourth night, Koshin was again seated alone in the dojo, his eyes half-closed in the bliss of the Void. The footsteps seemed like a rumbling of thunder, and the samurai rose even as Masanko opened the door.
"Again Horii has not come. My brother has retired for the evening."
Koshin nodded, tucking his swords into his obi smoothly. It was odd that Tanoshi had gone to bed already; the ronin had expected the young samurai to burst into the room at any moment, venting his pent emotions by playing at the sword or the bow, "Is your brother well?"
The girl smiled, shaking her head and sending her long hair dancing, "He is simply disgusted; losing face for three days of anger has most likely sent him to sleep in shame."
The samurai hesitated; Tanoshi was not the type that respected face as was proper; he would not care whether he leapt screaming at Horii through the Imperial Court, or chased the man's yojimbo into the Temple of the Sun. Something was wrong in the house tonight, in the mannerism of the young bushi. It was a sensation that the samurai could feel, but no longer place.
Then, suddenly, the answer came.
"Where is Lord Horii's house?" Koshin asked suddenly, his hands drifting to his swords.
"He lives on the edge of the Mejiki District," the girl responded. "Why do you ask?"
"Because your brother has gone there to challenge Horii by himself," Koshin said quickly, feeling a mixture of disappointment and fear as he rushed to the dojo's door, "Which is exactly the trap that the man has been weaving."
Too late, Koshin had seen the truth.
The Challenge is Made…