Chapter Thirty-Six: One Life
"Wisdom comes in finding the opportunities that dilemmas
- The Tao of Shinsei
Ujirou did not understand why his mother had brought him so far; even so, the boy was not concerned. The beautiful halls of the takadono amazed the young Daidoji; even now, as he stood in the afternoon gardens, the samurai child was astounded at the simple elegance of the Kakita home.
Something in the air tingled here, and the air was alive with an inner fire. Ujirou started his kata again; though he was only through his first initial years of training, excellence was already his creed. As the shinai flashed through the air, the bushi tried not to spoil his steps by letting his eyes drift to the far edge of the garden, where the lady of the castle and his mother spoke.
Even a dutiful son could wonder at what he could not know…
"He has a profound gift for the blade," Kakita Kaori observed from her place at the garden's edge. The kenshinzen was dressed in a white haori and a deep blue kimono, and her hair rested in the embrace of a jade comb. "I have heard that your kin have suggested the Academies."
The other woman was only slightly older than the Kakita, but her years seemed to embitter her more. Daidoji Gisei's body was small and strong, and the years in the battles of honor had done nothing to extinguish her fire. "As I wrote to you; that is impossible. I require another way."
Kaori nodded, her left hand running along the stones of the building's ancient wall. Ujirou's status as Gisei's adopted son was a legal fiction, designed to preserve the honor of all concerned. His father was a premier warrior of the Kakita School…and he was married to someone else.
"You wrote in your letter that you know of a man that can teach him."
"I do," the Kakita answered softly, her eyes reflecting the pooled rainwater that formed a pond in the small glade. "But he is very different from any man that you have met before."
Gisei's eyes were as granite. "Tell me, Kaori-san."
Their eyes met. "The man is a wandering ronin; a forgotten member of our clan, or a man who has forgotten our clan and is trying to remember. He has trained for years in both the Kakita and Mirumoto techniques, and has made a style from their ways that is his own. You have heard of the man who defeated Hiruma Satsukiru at Torishii Fields." It was not a question.
"Does my suggestion suit you?" Kaori asked at last.
The kenshinzen knew that it did not. Despite Ujirou's predicament, there were few bushi who would allow their own child, adopted or not, to undertake a musha shugyo at such a young age. That was why the Daidoji's answer came as such a surprise.
"Perfect," Gisei said. "How soon can the arrangements be made?"
Kaori blinked a little. And then, knowing that Gisei was not offended by bluntness, she said, "You understand, this man has no dojo. He is a wanderer, going where the Fortunes lead him. He..." she hesitated. "...still has not found his way home."
Gisei smiled grimly. "Sleeping in hedgerows, eating cheap noodles, harassed by magistrates…yes, Kaori-san, I understand the life I am forcing my son into."
"If the decision does not please you, why choose it?"
Gisei looked out over the garden to where her son glided through the steps of an ancient kata, her right hand absently rubbing against the tattoo on her left wrist. "I want what is best for Ujirou," she said quietly, "but there is a cost for such things. For Ujirou, it will be hedgerows, noodles and magistrates. For me…" she drew a long, shaky breath and fell silent. Kaori said nothing, remembering the day she was sent off to Otosan Uchi, remembering her own mother's too-bright eyes and brittle smile.
When Gisei finally turned back to Kaori she wore the calm face of an Iron Crane. "This man you speak of must be a master; you would not have recommended him otherwise. He sounds unorthodox, but the Daidoji are less fussy about such things. If he can develop Ujirou's potential…good enough."
Koshin had barely been brought back to the tents of the Scorpion army when he first saw them. Among the dour Bayushi who stalked death in the darkness, the two Daidoji couriers were like the sea in their pale blue mail. The men said nothing at first, but followed the ronin closely as he was taken by the Soshi and purified; saying nothing, doing nothing, they watched him at all times.
Anukeiko entered the tent and took a seat smoothly, motioning for the tent flap to be closed behind her as the shugenja chanted a healing prayer. "You should have killed him," she said again grimly. "Only a fool could trust a tainted man's honor."
The bushi sighed at her stubbornness; Anukeiko had much to learn about being Akijin's replacement. "I know what Shimekiri is…perhaps more keenly than he does himself. He will not break his code. It is all he has, now." With that, the samurai nodded to the masked Soshi, marveling at the job that the "poison clan" had done in healing the dark one's strikes.
For Scorpion, Koshin thought with a smile, they really could be quite kind.
"As you say," Anukeiko said with a wave of her hand, most likely sticking her tongue out at him beneath her mask. The new sensei of the Bayushi had no time to waste on Shimekiri anyway; there were more than enough monsters to for her bushi to slay. "I am certain that you noticed the Crane," she said as her attendants brought the sensei's tea.
Koshin nodded, accepting the summoned tea with a grateful nod. "They seem interested in me."
She drank deeply of the hot tea, then returned his nod. "Akodo Kaneka has been named a descendant of the Yasuki daimyo by a Kitsuki. He has laid his geisha-blooded hands greedily on the lands already so heavily contested." The Scorpion was smiling, as if the whole thing was a joke yet to be done.
"You think they have come here to court my blades?" Koshin asked with a crooked expression, enjoying another sip of the flavored drink. "The Crane would not fight against an Imperial Heir so hastily, and besides they have many skilled swordsmen to call upon."
"Go and see them," the Scorpion woman said, her eyes narrowing into a mischievous gaze. "I think that you will be surprised at what they bear." Now her glare was pinched together in that same vengeful look, and Koshin almost shivered at what was to come.
The ronin rose with a sigh, and was gone.
Little did he know that it would begin another long road…
The room Koshin was shown to was quiet and well appointed, with tea and cups already set out when he arrived. There was a woman and boy awaiting him, and as he entered they rose to greet him.
"Konnichiwa, Koshin-sensei," the woman said, bowing. "I am Daidoji Gisei, a samurai in service to Lord Daidoji Hitsuyou of Souchong Province. This is my son, Ujirou." The boy bowed also.
At the sound of 'Koshin-sensei' he almost turned and fled, but instead he hid his grimace and bowed to the pair. "Konnichiwa, Gisei-sama, Ujirou-kun," he replied. "I am Koshin…just Koshin. I cannot be called sensei until I actually have a student." He wondered if that sounded as foolish to them as it did to him.
Gisei bowed slightly, her face revealing nothing. "Of course, Koshin-san," she said politely. "Please, be comfortable," she waved at the table, "and we shall have tea."
Koshin made a polite agreement and knelt at the table, using the time to study the woman. She was dressed in the lavishly simple style favored by Daidoji ladies-a kimono and obi of basic color and fashion, cut from wildly expensive fabrics. The drape of the sleeves didn't allow him to see if she had the Daidoji mon tattooed on her wrists, but it didn't matter-he could tell from her movements that she was a warrior, trained in the Daidoji Ryu.
The servant who had guided him in poured their tea and left. Etiquette demanded a period of small talk before the real business was discussed…sometimes this affair went on for hours, and it always had always surpassed the swordsman's patience. Koshin was vastly relieved then when, after some comments about the quality of the tea, Gisei moved quickly to the point. "Koshin-san, I do not know precisely what Kaori-san has told you, so I beg your forgiveness if I cover facts you are already aware of.'
"When my son reached the proper age, I sent him to the Daidoji Ryu to be trained in the way of the warrior. He has done very well there," here she glanced over at the boy and smiled briefly, " but it has become obvious that he has a deep affinity for the sword. While the Daidoji Ryu teaches kenjutsu, it does not do so in a fashion that would bring out Ujirou's full potential."
Koshin listened to the last with interest. Most people would be angry or defensive about admitting a weakness in their school's technique, but Gisei's voice had the calm tone of someone setting out a well-known fact. The ronin remembered Tetsukiko's lesson with painful clarity; accepting a weakness was strength few had.
"Kakita Kaori has recommended you as a master of the sword. Will you accept my son as a student?"
"Kaori-sama is a Kenshinzen in the Kakita Academy," Koshin said, hoping that he was not blushing at the compliment. "Surely with her sponsorship you could send him to be trained there."
"No." Her tone was still calm, but now it held a certain brittleness.
Koshin flailed a bit in the silence that followed. He glanced over at the boy. Ujirou was dressed in the same expensive manner as his mother, and though he was clearly trying to imitate her quiet poise he was also clearly failing. Koshin looked into those bright and hungry eyes and wondered what it would be like to have a gift and to have it denied.
For a moment, the child's eyes were Kakita Shimekiri's eyes, hatred and vengeance filling the voids once full of eagerness and the sword's fierce joy.
"Still…why send him with me, Daidoji-sama? There are other, easier roads…" The warrior's grey eyes were silent, somewhat sad. "For you know no one can teach the heart of a Crane."
Gisei's eyes grew hard and she leaned forward. "So long as I live," she said coolly, "my son will not set foot on the easy road to anything."
Koshin smiled; he knew that kind of answer by heart. "Tell me your expectations."
Now, it seemed, it was Gisei's turn to flail. After some time she said, "I expect that whatever style you choose to teach him-Kakita, Mirimoto, or your own-that you will do so fully and honestly. I expect him to learn that there is no substitute for excellence. I expect him to learn the value of patient diligence. I expect…" her voice wavered a tiny bit, so subtly that Koshin wasn't sure he heard it at all, "I expect that he will be very different when I see him again."
"Yes," Koshin said gently. "Yes, he will be."
The ronin stood silently in the darkness of early dawn. Standing in the courtyard of the takadono, his eyes drifted to the upper windows; to where he knew the Daidoji was watching them go. Gisei had shed no tears, shown no shame as she had handed her child away. Samurai held their wounds on the inside, Koshin knew; and that hurt more than any sword.
Looking down at the boy, dressed in his simple blue kimono and wearing a small set of swords next to his traveling pack, Koshin could not help but smile. Ujirou's face was stern; his large child eyes pinched into a very adult resolve.
"Today your mother has taught you a lesson," the ronin said, kneeling to bring himself even with the child's smoldering eyes. Ujirou did not say a word, making a determined effort not to look back to the doors of the keep.
The samurai turned, quietly, after offering a final bow. "Let us begin,
A Student is Born…