Chapter Two: Yu
"A samurai must have heroic courage. It is absolutely
risky. It is dangerous. It is living life completely, fully, wonderfully. Heroic
courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong."
- From Akodo's "Bushido"
The weapon was called a sakaba, a sword with inverted blade. The item was well balanced, honed of fine steel with the symbols of the creator still etched upon the edge of the handle. Turning it over in his hands, the samurai considered the weapon for a moment, before sliding it into the sheath again.
"Do you have another one of these?"
The Matsu shook his head, "Useless." The sakaba flew through the air, saya and all, to clatter against the wall, ripping open the paper as it fell. Dusting his hands with a deliberate slowness, the samurai stood, casting a dark glance towards the cowering weapon smith.
"Your duty is to make weapons for my lord," the man hissed. "He has no need of such things…he needs weapons!" The big man seized hold of the smith's slender arm, heaving him from side to side as if he were a bag of grain.
"But my lord…! The weapons Lord Hitachi asked for…they are to be… they are for use for the magistrates! I thought…" Sweat beaded up on the little man's face, as the bigger man's tight face stared at him for a long moment, before going back to the fallen sakaba.
"Magistrates need not kill!"
Shaking his head, the Matsu released the smith, causing the old man to crash to the ground with a cry. Walking over to the door where his katana lay waiting, the Lion bent and drew, the light shining from the blade in a deadly way.
"This is the sword of a samurai, little man."
"But my lord," the smith pleaded. "I meant only to preserve lives!"
"This is the third time that men from the city have been served with sakaba swords. You were warned to stop this foolishness." With a keen slice, the samurai cut through the rack of blunted weapons, sending them cascading across the floor. "My lord cannot allow this to continue."
"Take your sakaba," he hissed. "Take them and go."
The road was dusty and dry from the heat of summer; filled with the waves that heat lent to one's vision, and the empty feeling of the listless air. As his sandals stirred the dust to life, Koshin pulled the kasa lower on his head, wondering how long the heat would last.
Walking along the empty road that wound its way to the south, towards Beidan Pass, the samurai was quiet, considering what stood before him. Physically, his body was more where it had been…but the fighting spirit, that thing that all samurai work hardest to cultivate…that was nowhere near prepared.
By the time noon had come, it was too hot to travel, and so Koshin settled for a moment of sleep, leaning against a wilting cherry tree. His sleep was listless and often interrupted; either by Nikkan's accusations, or those of his own.
Mostly he thought of his skills, or the person that he used to be.
There were other dreams, of course…the girl that he had loved, the family he had lost…even a few glimpses of the possibilities of a daughter already grown. But each of these was dispelled with a turn or a groan; only the constant nagging of unrealized potential gnawed at the duelist constantly.
"I will not be flawed," Koshin growled, rising in an instant, his body irritated and yearning for action.
The samurai had no sword, save for his grandfather's wakizashi, but Koshin snatched up a broken tree limb, moving with the ferocity of a Dragon, striking towards the tree in the forms of "The Sword" and "Niten," pouring his frustration into skill.
"I will not lived with unrealized potential," he said at length, observing that the sun was late in the sky over him. Setting the tree limb back on the ground, the samurai continued walking, all hopes of reaching the nearest village gone by now.
Keep your mind about yourself. Toshimoko's voice chided him from the past. You must be more mindful towards your surroundings.
And so it was that the samurai crested the next hill, hearing the soft sound of weeping clearly, and seeing an old man lying in the dirt, more than a dozen swords scattered behind him. The man was thin and frail, his beard long and until recently well trimmed, and he cried unashamed even when he saw the man coming down the road.
"What is wrong tonight, grandfather?" Koshin idly considered the fact that he himself was, in actuality, not much younger than this man was…a thought more than a little unnerving.
"Go away," the man spat with spirit, waving his arm towards the samurai; it was clear that he was not wanting for help. Koshin shrugged, starting to step by, and then something inside him made him stop.
Honor was the heart of the sword.
Leaning down to pick up the strewn weapons, Koshin smiled towards the man, "You should be more careful with your swords, grandfather…these are too fine weapons to lay in the dirt." The man remained quiet as the samurai packed the swords back into the large basket that they had fallen from.
Watching, Koshin was amazed as the old man rebuilt his confidence and strength right before his eyes. A dusty kimono sleeve straightened, a piece of hair pushed back; little things that soon brought the fire back to once-defeated eyes.
"I thank you for your help, samurai. My name is Tamasou, of Kaikon Village."
"What are you doing, alone on the road, with night falling?" Indeed by now the moon has risen, and Koshin's crane emblem tingled at the touch of Hitomi's light. Perhaps there was a look of strangeness that accompanied that feeling, for a moment Tamasou shrank back a little, and seemed afraid.
"You need not worry, I will not hurt you…" Koshin said with a smile, an instant before his breath was knocked free by the hard strike of heavy hammer, the true source of the swordmaker's fear.
The man had not been so quiet; even the old man had noticed the bandits before the strike, if only by a moment. As Koshin fell, he cursed his own weakness, landed and rolling somewhat gracefully, two of the swords nearly leaping from the man's basket and into his hands.
"You didn't kill him, Utomaru," said one of the scoundrels with a laugh; there were perhaps ten of them, equipped with either heavy clubs or stolen spears. Ordinarily, Koshin would not have even worried.
Then again, he thought, ordinarily I wouldn't have been surprised.
The big man with the hammer, a huge brute with more hair than was needed of anything wanting to be considered a man, smiled. Koshin held the swords well enough, but he was not going to convince the bandits to leave them alone; not now. "I'll kill the bastard!"
"Save some of that samurai for us," cried another man, and the dance began.
Stepping forward instantly, Koshin hit the big man with both blades, the strike quick, if clumsy. Surprisingly, the man did not bleed, but instead he crashed to the ground with a moan, dropping his hammer to grip his face with both hands.
"Sakaba?" Koshin cried back to the old man in a free instant. "I'm fighting ten men with sakaba!"
For his part, Tamasou was too terrified to answer, especially when the samurai brought both of the swords down on an extended arm, bringing a brutal cracking sound. The men were disorganized and confused; in his prime the ni-ken no tsuru could have killed them in a moment.
Now, it took a long, drawn siege of arms, which left Koshin breathing hard in the end, his body cut twice, with bandits lying unconscious, or fleeing in pain into the dark fields beyond the road. He had beaten them, though it had taken every memory of tactics, and most of the strength and speed that remained.
The bandits had been skilled; they had known their weapons well, and had worked in some manner of teamwork…but he should not have struggled so long. Now, still holding the sakaba, the Crane sank to the ground with a sigh, "Not yet."
I am not there yet.
Tamasou shook himself, running up to the man, "Are you hurt?"
"Not as badly," came the voice, rough and heavily slurred now, "as he's going to be, old one."
Eyes raised, and Koshin saw the big man with the hammer, Utomaru, standing again, his face a blazing purple from the crossing bruises drawn out from the previous strikes. Removing his kasa with a malevolent grin, Koshin stood up, all the weariness draining out of him as his attacker leveled his hammer to attack.
"Finally…a true challenge."
Utomaru came forward with a heavy side strike, knocking Koshin hard to the left. The Crane moved with the blow, hitting back with both sakaba, knocking the wind from the bandit…but not the will. It was here, under true blows that Koshin noticed for the new limits to his skills.
He concentrated on the moment, and barely survived.
Then the die tsuchi moved again, crashing into the dirt as Koshin dodged forward. The strike had grazed him, and his shoulder still ached from the initial ambush, but the swordsman absorbed the loss and attacked, reaching out with both hands towards the only possible place.
The sword hit the soft spot beneath the jutting chin, and Utomaru's throat was wracked with pain. He fell backwards hard with a gurgling, languishing noise, leaving the samurai standing…barely standing.
Standing in the simple home of the village magistrate, Koshin handed over the four bandits that had survived the ordeal without fleeing, along with the knowledge of the badly-injured Utomaru; too heavy to carry and too weak to walk, and so tied to a tree nearby the road.
Let the laws deal with the scoundrels now.
"Where will you go now?" Tamasou asked, now dressed in clean clothes, his beard trimmed. Koshin had convinced the old man to melt the swords, to make tools for the farmers in the fields, but even now the old smith held two of the blunted blades close to his side.
Koshin smiled, "I'm just looking for someone that can show me more strength than they had."
"Then you will need these," the man said, pressing a finely made matched set of sakaba into the samurai's hands. Each one was plain, simple and elegant. Koshin bowed low, thanking the man, and then he donned his friend's kasa, turning in the road and starting off towards the south, where his future lay. Back in the mountains of the Dragon, somewhere Nikkan was waiting for his answer.
Waiting for the truth.
Shaking his head slightly with his grey eyes on the horizon, Koshin shook his head.
The Lonely Road Continues…