The Burden of Knowledge
-(A Swordmaster Saga and Prodigal Prodigy story)-
Kenshuko had been traveling through Scorpion lands, following the few leads she had to her father. She was only a few hours away from Beiden and resolved to arrive there before nightfall.
She came upon a small stream and knelt near the water, cupped her hands and drank some of it. She splashed some water in her face to refresh herself. Suddenly she heard something in front of her, looking up through watered eyes she saw only a large colored spot. After she had wiped the water from her eyes she recognized Masurao standing upside down in front of her.
"Masurao-san," Kenshuko said as she startled to her feet, "you surprised me."
"You have my apologies, Kenshuko-san," Masurao said with a mischievous grin.
Kenshuko frowned and asked, "Why are you standing on your hands?"
Masurao chuckled, "Why are you standing on your feet?"
"Because I am used to it? And I don't have to learn how to walk with them."
"Oh? You were born with the ability to walk immediately then?"
"No, but I was taught to walk on my feet at an early age."
"If we were all taught to walk on our hands at an early age, what then?"
"I have no idea, Masurao-san," Kenshuko said as she knelt to cup up some water.
"Then we'd have quite a difficult time scratching our noses."
Kenshuko sputtered as she tried to laugh with water in her mouth, spraying some over Masurao. Half coughing, half laughing she exclaimed, "Are you serious?!"
"No, there's enough time to be serious, have fun while you can, save seriousness for matters of court, war and death."
"I wish," Kenshuko replied as she tried to regain her breath,"that I… could live like that."
Masurao lowered his eyebrow and asked, "What is stopping you from enjoying your life?"
"My search," Kenshuko said, looking away. "It takes a lot of time and effort and I haven't had many pleasant sights…"
"… You're welcome…"
"… excluding our meeting, Masurao-san," she concluded with a faint grin.
Masurao sighed as he leaped back onto his legs, "You have not looked close enough, Kenshuko-san."
"How so? Explain to me what pleasures I've had? I am without friends and family most of the time."
"The simple things, Kenshuko-san. The smell of a flower, a butterfly landing on your hand, the smile of a child, the sound of a bird, beautiful weather or the taste of fruit. You must take time to admire the simple things in life and then you will see beauty in them, respect them and see the world in a different light."
Kenshuko looked down and shook her head. "How do you know all this," she asked. "How did you become so wise?"
"My life has been very complex. To look upon simpler things was like exhaling, a moment of calm amidst the storm of my earlier years."
"Your life was complicated?" Kenshuko's voice was full of disbelief, as if she thought Masurao was beyond sich 'trifling' things.
"You sound surprised. Is it so hard to believe that I have known all the same difficulties as you might have? After all, I am but a man…"
Kenshuko laughed and said, "Ask any peasant of Masurao and you will be told stories of a legend! Lion samurai spoke in hushed tones of you, even the Matsu! Scorpions consider you to be one of their own, and among the Crane you are known as a swordsmaster."
Masurao chuckled, "I see you have made some inquiries about me. But most of the samurai you'll talk to will dismiss me as a mere heimin legend, if not already then in a year or so."
"Yet the peasants believe in you. I have heard that some even honor you when they pray to the Fortunes, asking for your safety."
"And I would have I no other way. While others may take care of the samurai, the strong arm, or the shugenja, the spirit, I care for the ordinary people, for the soul of Rokugan, and their prayers are more than I would ask in return."
"Do you never yearn for your family?"
Masurao sat down with a sigh, Kenshuko did the same to be able to look into his orange eyes. "Very often," he said, "but only my brother still lives and I do not know who he is."
"So… Would you tell me who your father is?"
Masurao smiled enigmatically, "I don't think you would believe me if I'd told you."
"Try me, Masurao-san."
"Would you believe me if I said my father is a Dragon?"
"Of course! You are a member of the Dragon Clan, right?"
Masurao chuckled, "No, one of the Elemental Dragons, namely the Dragon of Fire."
Kenshuko blinked a few times and looked at Masurao with wholeharted disbelief. "Surely you are joking, Masurao!"
Masurao just looked at her.
For a moment Kenshuko just stared at Masurao, but then the realization came to her that he would not lie to her. She took several deep breaths and then asked, "So, does this make you immortal?"
"Alas, I am afraid that I can very much die, but the Crane tattoo stops my body from aging, just as with your father."
"So you are nothing different from me? I mean, you don't have any strange forms or devastating powers, do you?"
Masurao grinned and chuckled softly, "No, I do not have a monstrous shape. I am trained as a shugenja though, so you could count my spells among devastating powers."
"You are a shugenja? But you bear a daisho, you are known as a duelist, not a shugenja."
Well, yes, I tend to pick up things rather quick. Anything, actually."
"Are you saying that you are both a samurai and a shugenja? Isn't that impossible!?"
"There are only a few things that are truly impossible, and besides I can't help it. Everything I see I remember, it allows me to… imitate what others do. That's the best explanation I have to offer."
Kenshuko closed her eyes and sighed, she had a hard time believing all of this. When she opened her eyes again she asked, "So, what can you 'imitate'?"
"I have trained as a shugenja and samurai with the Dragon Clan, my youth I have spent in a monestary, during my years at the Imperial Court I have learned by watching Scorpion and Crane courtiers, on Kaede-sama's invitation I have attended the Phoenix school to train as an Ishiken; but don't tell them that, I was there in disguise."
"Disguises? How did you manage to go unnoticed? You are so… colorful."
Masurao showed Kenshuko the tattoo of a chameleon on his body, explaining, "It allows me to appear differently, I still look human, but with hair or without tattoos, for example."
Kenshuko stood and turned away from Masurao. She folded her arms across her chest and let her head hang, softly saying, "Why are you telling me all of this?"
Masurao stood as well, then he hopped over the stream and stopped behind Kenshuko. He whispered, "You asked about me and I am thankful for it."
Kenshuko glanced backwards. "Thankful?"
"I trust you implicitely with this secret, which I've kept for many years. It might be a burden for you, I know it has been for me, but at least we now carry it together."
Kenshuko clenched her fists knowing that she did ask to know. She was awash with emotions, on one side she'd like her sadness to be comforted by him and on the other side she'd want to pound her fists on his chest for laying this burden on her, even though it was her questions that made him do it. Then there also was the little fatherless girl who just wanted to huddle in a corner and cry. A tear rolled over her cheek and others were about to follow, but she pushed them back. She almost sobbed, but clenched her jaw. She took a deep breath and exhaled with a shudder. Finally she softly said, "Now I bear the burden of both our families."
Masurao replied, "So do I, so do I…"
Kenshuko rested as she watched Masurao practice his iaijutsu. He drew his katana not only with amazing skill, but in many different styles: with both swords at the same time, one sword, with his left hand as well as his right. If he did remember everything he observed he might very well know some of the techniques of other Clans. He also exhuded a strong sense of serenity and calm, she wished she could somehow see or feel his Chi, but she would need far more training before she could hope to accomplish that. She did not want to disturb Masurao's training, especially since he seemed to be in an almost trancelike state.
Clearing her throat she said, "Masurao-san, I don't want to disturb you, but maybe we should get going? Then we might get to Beiden before dark."
Masurao stopped his blade at midstrike and said, "No need. There's a village ten minutes from here with excellent sleeping spots."
* * *
"You call this excellent!??"
Masurao grinned, "Yes. How many peasants can afford to make such beds?"
Kenshuko's face flushed red with confusion and a little anger, "Beds," she cried out loud, "these are straw mats with a cotton cover! These are not beds!"
Peasants usually sleep on the ground," Masurao said, raising his voice to gain the desired effect with the samurai-ko, "while you can rest in any sort of establishment, paying more money than most peasants see in their life. You have not endured half of the hardships a peasant endures in his or her life. Toil with them in the fields for one day, one day only, and you will gain respect for and from them."
Kenshuko let the words sink in and turned around embarrasssed. "I," she muttered, "I had never looked at it that way. My apologies for my outburst."
"Through our mistakes we learn, Kenshuko-san," Masurao said, his tone now soothing."We are not perfect, we are humans, but so are the peasants and even hinin, something we often tend to forget, or wish to."
Kenshuko said nothing and tried out the straw mat, it was really uncomfortable and it showed on her face.
Masurao laughed heartily, "You really have never slept on a hard surface, have you? Use you obi as a pillow and your kimono as a blanket or for a softer surface.
As if launched by an invisible force Kenshuko shot up and sat up straight, mouth agape and eyes wide. Did he really suggest she'd take off her kimono?!! In his presence!! Maybe he, as an ise zumi, did not wear much, but she was quite accustomed to wearing clothing. Thank you.
Masuaro could easily read Kenshuko's confusion from her face and a lopsided grin appeared on his face, only to infuriate her more. "Rest assured Kenshuko, I do not need sleep, so you have this entire house for yourself. I will personally guard the entrance myself so no one else will enter. You have my word, and with it my bond."
Kenshuko folded her arms in front of her chest and glared at Masurao until he bowed and left her, when he did she smiled.
* * *
Kenshuko did not wake to the expected muscle aches, but to the smell of jasmine pervading the small building. She peeked into the next room and to her amazement there was a bath standing in the room, filled with warm water. Furthermore there were towels, wash cloths, bath oils and a note from Masurao. It read: 'everybody is out at the fields and the door is secured. You can take a bath with the comforting thought that no one will disturb you for several hours.'
Kenshuko decided that this was a chance she would not pass on. After she freed herself from the silken burden she tested the water's temperature. When she was certain that the water wasn't too hot, she stepped in the bath and laid down, relaxing for the first time in days. After a while she started to sing a song her mother taught her a long time ago. She picked up a bottle from the stand and read the label: 'White Cloud Water'. Wondering what it would do she poured a little in the water. Immediately it reacted and the whole surface of the water became covered with a layer of white foam. Kenshuko cried out in surprise and dropped the bottle in the water. Before she could get it out, she, the bath and a good deal of the floor was covered with the foam.
"Are you all right in there?" It was Masurao's voice from outside.
"Just fine," Kenshuko replied, "I'll be ready in an hour or two!"
"You'd better be," Masurao said and walked off laughing.
* * *
Masurao tapped on the shoji screen of the house. It had been three hours and the peasants were about to start on their mid-day meal in the town's 'meeting hall'.
Kenshuko was just drying her hair as someone knocked on the door. "Yes," she replied, "who's there?"
"Masurao. Is it safe to come in?"
Kenshuko giggled, "Yes, it is perfectly safe… for now."
Masurao opened the door and saw bits of foam on the ground and the large amount still remaining in the bath. "I see you've found out how to use the bottle and plug… It was meant to be used sparingly."
Kenshuko flushed a bit, then the regained her composure and asked, "What's this stuff anyway?"
"A little bit of this and that… A trademark of Dragon shugenja. Simple alchemy."
"Aha… And the bath tub? Why does the water stay warm, and where did it come from??"
Masurao's enigmatic smile returned as he said, "We are in Scorpion lands and I am a Dragon. Everything is possible, but allow me to keep a few of my secrets."
Kenshuko shook her head and laughed, "Very well, but at least tell me why you came for me?"
* * *
Kenshuko leaned in closer and whispered to Masurao, "I've noticed no one bows to us, is this normal?"
"Yes," Masurao responded softly, "at least, when I am around. I don't want them to treat me as a superior."
At that point a few women brought in big bowls with rice and set them in the middle of the table, as everybody waited one of the women scooped up some rice for Kenshuko. Then the others were served and Kenshuko noticed she got a substantially bigger portion than the other people, even children. Her face slowly reddened in embarrassment as she realized that these people had to suffer to follow proper etiquette. Purposefully she stood and walked to the children, she sat down and distributed most of her rice among their bowls and left only barely enough for herself. Among the peasants whispers of amazement and gratitude arose, the children smiled and laughed and their parents almost cried behind their simple masks.
As Kenshuko saw all the responses she felt better somehow, a little of the hunger disappeared and the burden she carried lightened. She looked at Masurao to find him smiling contently at her. She looked down and blushed, she couldn't help but feel good about herself and it felt good, better than anything had in a long time.
* * *
Masurao and Kenshuko had left the village after the meal. Kenshuko was showered with "thank you's" and all of the children wanted to hug her legs. She had never been overwhelmed by emotion like this before and it didn't feel bad. While they were walking towards Beiden, Kenshuko asked Masurao, "If it's like this at every peasant village you visit, you must have a wonderful life."
"Those are the usually the best parts, yes. However, you could live like this too."
"Me," Kenshuko asked, "I don't think so, at least, not until I have found my father."
"Until that time, try not to forget what we've discussed. You are on your way to become a great woman, I am sure your father would be proud of you."
"Do you know where he is, Masurao? Do you!?"
"Find the ashes that bring life, Kenshuko…"
Kenshuko frowned at Masurao's words and looked backwards, only to find him gone. Where he had stood, there was a bird with wings spread out burned in the ground. She sighed and wondered if she'd see him again. Something inside of her answered that she would and that he'd probably leave her in this fashion many times. With the new clues she gained new courage and resolve and swore that she would not forget anything Masurao had told her and that she would find her father… her way.
[To be continued…]