Chapter Forty-Seven: Complicated
"Sincerity is the armor that protects our soul from
Ujirou was certain that the interloper was a ninja, dressed in a long, tattered kimono, their head covered by a jingasa's long shadow. The boy remained frozen where he crouched amidst the brush and brambles of the forest, wondering how fast the shadow could move if he was forced to run.
The young man touched his empty obi, cursing himself for leaving his swords.
At the edge of the small forest pool where Ujirou had come to draw water the newcomer paused. The Daidoji squinted, trying to determine more about the figure, who knelt and set aside a crimson sword. With a smooth motion, the ties of the straw hat slipped down around the figure's shoulders, though this only served to confound the young man more.
The woman's face was dark and ruddy from long weeks of travel, framed by a mass of long, dark hair. Kneeling, she wetted a small cloth and dabbed it over her face and neck, glancing about the clearing with a sweep of tight, wary eyes.
Now more than confused than ever, Ujirou decided to remain where he was. This woman might not be a creature of Shadow as he had expected…first of all, she was far prettier than the only ninja the boy had been unfortunate enough to know. Even so, that was no proof of any safety, and the Daidoji felt better to err on caution's side.
Kneeling down to dampen her towel again, the girl then did something that caused Ujirou's breath to stop. Slipping down over strikingly pale shoulders, the woman's kimono drooped to reveal more of a woman than the boy had ever seen, allowing her to better enjoy the water's cooling touch.
Ujirou's hand sprang free from the water bucket, sending it clattering down the hill. With a snap, the girl's tanned hands had seized upon her katana, eyes flashing up the hill.
Ninja or no, the Daidoji decided, now was the time to run.
Kutsu had spent most of his life in collected meditation, his life beyond the bloodshed quite regular and mundane. Hence, even the seasoned warrior was unsure what to make of it as Ujirou dashed from the forest with the look of a fleeing rabbit, an angry-looking samurai-ko closing fast behind.
It was perhaps the last thing the monk had expected this morning, and from his position near the smoldering remnants of the fire, he simply watched with an amused sigh.
The girl was an attractive young woman, though she looked rather ridiculous with her yukata hanging loosely past her shoulders, leaving her virtues protected by a thin white under robe. Sliding to a halt, the samurai lowered her gaze at the monk as a quick appraisal, then turned back to the hut where Ujirou had fled. She was cautious, and gave the stranger plenty of room.
"Come out of there, you!" The girl snapped angrily into the darkness of the battered house, her voice sharp and harsh. "I know you can hear me, boy!"
"Woman," Kutsu asked calmly, without moving, "what exactly do you intend to do?"
Turning a sun touched face towards him, the girl made a sour face that seemed familiar somehow. "The boy was spying on me. I intend to teach him a little lesson about treating a lady like that."
Kutsu sighed and started to rise and put some kind of end to this, but then the sound of a young throat clearing caused the monk to pause. Stepping out of the shadows, Ujirou had pulled himself to his meager full height, his Crane daisho now ready at his side. The woman and monk both turned to stare at the young warrior as he spoke. "It was an honest mistake, sama. I thought that you were a ninja."
The look that the samurai-ko returned him was priceless, and something that Kutsu resolved to remember until he died.
"My name is Daidoji Ujirou, son of Daidoji Gisei. I apologize if I offended you."
Tucking her sword slowly back into her obi, the girl turned back from monk to young man, a blush somehow showing through her tanned face. Eventually, she found her tongue again, a bit of the insult drained out of her voice. "I suppose that I am satisfied with that, Daidoji. My name is Kakita Kenshuko of Higi Province."
Ujirou bowed. "This man is Master Kutsu," the boy said with a smile, happy to be in the presence of another Crane. "He is here tending to the injuries of my sensei, who is resting inside."
Kenshuko nodded, pressing her hands together and giving the monk a low bow. "I apologize for my rash actions, Master Kutsu. I have been on the road for a long time; I am afraid that it has affected my manners for the worse."
"You do more good with your apology than you know, Kenshuko-san." Kutsu rose, dusting his hands together and glancing up towards the midday sun. He was quite curious to know what had transpired between the two in the forest, but something more important was demanding attention inside, "If you are not too busy, then I would ask a favor of you…"
The woman nodded, removing her katana and gently setting it aside.
A few moments later, Kutsu was off towards the nearest peasant village, his pouch filled with whatever meager coin Ujirou could find. Ujirou hurried down to pick up his water with a smile, thinking about how much better rice and even the cheapest noodles would taste, compared to the flavor of another overcooked frog.
He gave no thought to ninja or shadows, fully content with the idea of food and a friend. In a moment the optimism of youth had buoyed him, adding a spring to each once-weary stride.
When he returned, Kenshuko had managed to smooth her hair and kimono, and had settled herself down in the tilted shade of the roof. The samurai-ko glanced up at the young man with a warm smile, seeing that the boy had collected her cloth from where it fell. "Thank you, Ujirou-kun. I suppose that I should forgive you for spying on me…"
He turned a deep red, setting the heavy pail down next to Kenshuko's sword. "Your sword is a real Kakita katana, Kenshuko-sama…what is its name?"
"Akuraikaze," the girl responded, running a finger through her hair. "It is a very old sword," she said as she drew the katana, allowing the Daidoji to examine its pale blue edge. "My grandfather used it in the Battle of Bloodied Honor and the Day of Thunder."
Ujirou smiled broadly, his reflection wrinkling as she moved the mirrored blade. "You must have trained at the Kakita Academies to have earned such a weapon."
"Hai," she responded curtly, sheathing the sword with a lightning-like turn. After a moment of silence, the girl turned to face the boy again, "I forgot to ask you, Ujirou-kun, who is your sensei? I would have thought that the Daidoji would be too busy with that Akodo ronin to bother with a musha shugyo."
"Oh, Master Koshin is no Daidoji, Kenshuko-sama," Ujirou answered idly, considering how hot it would be to go and continue his morning kata out in the sun. "He is a rather complicated person…"
Kenshuko did not reply as the boy continued his exhaustive description, her hands remaining tightly on the sword.
"All right, Ujirou-kun, attack when you are ready." Kenshuko lowered her katana slowly, gripping it loosely in both hands. The Kakita girl's stance was good, but not perfect, and Ujirou adjusted to use that weakness with a sweep of his own blade. "Whenever you are ready…and before I die of old age."
Breath, hands, posture, Ujirou repeated in his mind. Concentrating on her stance instead of her words the Daidoji adjusted himself, holding his sword lightly in his right hand. Kenshuko's grey-blue eyes moved over him slowly, and the boy was able to maintain his focus only by concentrating on the movement of her hands.
She had very nice hands.
As he struck, Ujirou wondered if Koshin know any tricks he used when fighting pretty girls, and whether there was a polite way to ask such a thing to be passed on.
Pivoting, Kenshuko parried and led Ujirou forward, her saya suddenly free of its obi and in the samurai-ko's free hand. The Daidoji turned to match the Kakita's speed, recognizing something familiar in the technique that she was trying to use. Leaping backwards, the young bushi cleared the reach of Kenshuko's weapon, desperately searching for his next move.
Breath, hands, pos…
The samurai-ko rushed him instantly, her speed making the katana blur before Ujirou's eyes. Akuraikaze rang hard against Ujirou's katana, but the young warrior's arms yielded instead of resisting, sending the charging enemy rushing past him, her strike thrown wide.
Turning, the boy rushed to strike his opponent with the side of his katana, a half breath before Kenshuko's saya smashed into his face. The impact sent Ujirou reeling, the world twisting as his feet swept the air. Striking the ground was always an unpleasant sensation, and Koshin's martial training had never taught how to prevent damage to one's pride.
"I believe that would be match, Ujirou," Kutsu observed from the nearby fire, where he crouched and stirred the warming food. "Twenty four to seven, I believe." The two had been practicing for more than an hour, even though the light had begun to fail.
The boy smashed the ground in frustration, feeling another welt starting to grow. Kenshuko's foot came into focus slowly before him, as the girl knelt to look at him with a smile, "You are a very strong young man, Ujirou-I can see that you have studied hard. I will have to train hard to keep up with someone such as you."
Pulling himself to his feet, the Daidoji smiled at the compliment, the swelling making the expression look distorted and strange. Kenshuko pulled no motions during training; she reminded the boy of his sensei, as he limped over to recover his sword.
"Your style is strange for a Kakita," the monk commented as Kenshuko took a seat across from him, offering her a simple bowl filled with noodles and some simple rice. "I have never heard of your school using a saya, or anything else, as a second weapon."
Taking a long sip of her food, the Crane nodded evenly, enjoying the taste of the simple food. After Ujirou had been served, the girl set her bowl aside. "It is actually an old technique of my school, Kutsu-san. Few among the Academy have the skill to use it, but I find it to be a useful tool. The length of the saya is slightly different than the sword, causing an opponent to misread their defense." The girl jabbed her chopsticks at Ujirou with a smirk, smiling as the boy rubbed his aching cheek.
"I did not misread your stance; I simply failed to see the truth," Ujirou proclaimed defiantly, doing his best to defend his defeat. "Your stance was not perfect; I'll beat you next time."
The girl tossed her hair back with a flourish, shooting the boy a vicious little grin, "As you wish, Ujirou-kun."
Kutsu only shook his head as the two Crane joyfully bickered, chewing his food in silence as he again considered the girl and her sword.
"You never did explain to us what you are doing out here, Kenshuko-san," the big man commented after another bout of pleasant argument, stirring what remained of his meal with an idle hand. "It seems strange to find someone from Higi Province in the middle of Lion Lands, especially a skilled warrior wandering through the woods on her own."
Setting her food aside, the girl offered another glance towards Ujirou, letting her hand settle upon the tsuba of her sword. Her voice was wholly different now, draining of joy and mirth, "I am here…looking for someone, Master Kutsu. He is…I…" she searched for words and conviction, her composure starting to fail. She was aware that both men were staring at her, and took a second to clear her mind.
"I need to ask him a question," the samurai-ko finished finally, Masurao's words still echoing in her mind.
"Only you can make the decision of what you think of him, and only when you have met him. And you shall."
Kenshuko frowned, "It is rather…complicated."
The Search Ends…