The Life-Giving Sword
Part Two: Knowledge and Wisdom
"To perfect this One Weapon, the swordmaster must know
his blade as he knows his own body…"
- The Kouryo-no-Ken
It was nearly morning by the time that Koshindou had his wound tended after reaching Kenshuko's home; by the time that he had rested, washed and dressed in his best kimono, it was obvious that the day's ceremony had already begun. Though the Kakita often spent hours on proper etiquette before a marriage, tardiness was highly frowned upon, and it was certain that the abrupt nature of Kenshuko's wedding would be no barrier for their games.
Resigning himself to a day of formal bowing and practiced sincerity Daidoji Koshindou made his way to the rear garden, trying to ignore his wound's silent ache…
There were bound to be rumors and controversy at this type of marriage, and Koshindou was hardly surprised to find Mirumoto Nikkan at its core. As he approached, the old man's voice could be heard clearly, engaging one of the visiting Kakita in a friendly, if highly noticeable debate.
"I am surprised that you remember Kenshuko's mother, Chokaiko-san; she passed on to Yomi a long time ago, and you do not look so very old."
The comment was made with the gentle speak of an aging diplomat, but by now Koshindou knew when to wince. Kakita Chokaiko was an aging beauty, and Kenshuko's relation by some long-distant lineage; it was common knowledge that she did not wish for the other woman to maintain ownership of the family's ancient shrine.
"I remember everything when it comes to my family, Nikkan-sama," she answered evenly, white bleach and delicate makeup hiding what Koshindou imagined being the effects of time. "To forget the mistakes of our past is to repeat them, after all."
Again, there was nothing but pleasantry, but murder was evident in the woman's eyes. Nikkan's gaze turned slightly, and the old man's face wrinkled into a smile at seeing Koshindou, dressed in greys and blues with his hair tied into a long braid.
He smirked, and suddenly Koshindou was within the game.
"It is always important to have an appreciation of history, Chokaiko, and fortunately for you Koshindou-san here has traveled with Kenshuko's father in training for some time. Surely he can tell you a great deal that is recorded in no history…"
Sighing inwardly, the young man smiled and began…
"You did not have to put me in the middle of the argument like that. Chokaiko is not known for being a skilled courtier."
Nikkan smiled, sipping his sake and looking out at the tall grasses in the evening light. "Neither are you, Koshindou." He turned, looking back to where the young man sat on the steps of the temple, his formal kimono exchanged for the simple grey one he had worn before. "Chokaiko needed a lesson in humility, and I could think of no one better to strike her down. You do tell a…thorough tale."
Koshindou shook his head. "I thought that the ceremony would be here at the temple, Nikkan-sama."
"Things are more complicated than that," the old sensei responded. "That is why Kakita Katsura asked Kenshuko to wed privately, and keep herself from the public eye. I agree with him."
"Even so, my lord wished to express his best wishes, and my gift…"
Nikkan smiled, and behind him fireflies began to blink into view. "I am certain she will make time to see you, Koshindou…now, tell me about this duel."
"How did you know about that, Nikkan-sama?"
He smiled. "Intuition, and a brief discussion with a healer we both know. You are becoming an object of interest among the courtiers of your clan, Daidoji Koshindou. You will find that there is little that escapes their idle debates."
Koshindou nodded, glancing down to his silent swords. "There is not much to tell. I have never seen or heard the name Goseki Gesshin, and his sword technique was strange, like nothing I have seen, or heard Koshin-sensei describe."
"You are not looking hard enough, Daidoji." The Kitsuki-trained monk smiled confidently. "There is always a clue."
Koshindou arched one eyebrow in thought, but Nikkan just leaned back and swirled what little drink remained in his cup. "He has studied the Yotsu techniques for some time. That means that he has dealt with magistrates, or dueled one…"
"Hardly helpful, considering how a ronin often lives."
"There is more." Koshindou smiled. "He complimented me the form of my one-handed reverse draw."
"An unusual technique," the old Dragon said softly to the boy. "Not known to many schools."
"You are saying that I should know this man, Nikkan-sama?"
The old man just chuckled, enjoying another sip of sake before he spoke again. "I am saying that people do not commonly attack a samurai out of the wilderness for no reason, Koshindou. It is not done…unless we are discussing your sensei, that is…"
"He said he wanted to see the Kouryo-no-Ken. I have no reason to doubt his words…" The Daidoji bowed his head in thought for a moment, but Nikkan cuffed him lightly on his right shoulder.
"That fool of a friend has corrupted your judgement," the Dragon moaned audibly, catching a sour gaze. "The world is not all swordsmen and challenges, Koshindou; that is not the world that you have chosen to walk. There is meaning in everything, and most men are not so noble with their skills."
Nikkan's eyes grew hard and serious. "Goseki Gesshin has a purpose behind this conflict, a meaning hidden behind the sword."
The present was the color of faded metal, passed over itself in fold after delicate fold. As it uncoiled, there were a few places in the fine silk weaving that had worn thin from constant movement, marking the obi's right side. It was very old, and had suffered from the elements and time.
"It belonged to my sensei," Koshindou began to explain, "long ago."
"It was made for him by his wife, Kakita Taehime, before he left her side during the War against the Shadow. My sensei's swords wore deep into it, as he traveled the Empire both times. I never knew why it was so important to him until after we parted, Kenshuko-sama…"
She looked up at Koshindou, waiting for him to continue with as much calm as she could spare. Beside her, the stern, quiet face of her new husband Sosuke was silent; of course he knew of the Swordmaster's tale.
"After the duel with Master Kutsu I found my sensei, carefully repairing a tear in the fold. I sat down and watched him…" he paused, remembering the strange gentleness that his teacher had possessed for that single brief instant of time.
"I had never seen him after killing a worthy opponent. He just sat there, amidst the fallen, repairing the damage that he could. At the time, it was a small, simple thing to me…"
His hand slid across the obi, revealing the place where a cut had been stitched with perfect form. "Now I know that is what it means to be a Crane."
Koshindou bowed low before the couple, passing the obi into their hands. "I present this gift in the name of my lord, who wishes you both well. Please, Sosuke-sama, Kenshuko-sama, accept this gift."
"We cannot," Kenshuko managed, keeping her voice perfectly level. "Too precious."
Koshindou continued, his voice shaped to the simple earnest nature that so endeared the Daidoji to their neighbors upon the Wall. "Kenshuko-sama, please accept this gift. It is precious to me, but our bond matters more."
She could not answer him, but Sosuke continued, his smooth face filled with respect for the young boy. "We cannot take your gift, Koshindou-san." His voice was untrained, and he kept with simple words. "Your support is gift enough."
"My sensei gave me all that I needed, Sosuke-sama," the boy said with a smirk that Kenshuko noticed. "I would not want others to be jealous of me."
Kenshuko smiled at him and nodded, bringing an end to the game.
"There is something special about him," Sosuke told his new wife softly on the day of the duel, fidgeting slightly in his high-collared kimono. "And it is not just that he is a prodigy. He has a noble soul."
Kenshuko smiled, but in her heart the samurai-ko felt dread as she looked out from the steps of White Dove. The new couple had come early to find a place beyond the view of spectators, as a flock of the curious had collected, even before the two samurai arrived for their duel.
"He is special," she told the former Mirumoto, folding her hands over her stomach as if to embrace her unborn child. "Sometimes I think that my mother's pain was not meaningless, when I see Koshindou live."
The man's smooth face beaded slightly. "Why do you tell me this?" he asked her, obviously uncomfortable with her words.
Kenshuko smiled, touching his hand with her own; he flinched at the contact, but her gaze held his own. "You are my husband, and I am your wife. I share this with you, Sosuke, in hopes that you may one day share with me what Nikkan would not."
"Why did you agree to this marriage, Sosuke?"
He turned back to the temple grounds, where a large, empty area had been cleared. Without word, the Mirumoto swordsman knew what it signaled. His eyes hardened, pleased to leave his wife's question without reply.
"They are here."
That morning Daidoji Koshindou had dressed simply, choosing his usual collection of blues and greys. As he stood there, looking up at the stairs of White Dove Temple the young man felt his stomach churning; behind him, Nikkan's pony whinnied, causing the boy to turn.
"Are you sure you will not come with me, Nikkan-sama?" he asked for the third time.
The old man smiled, tying his hat tightly as he spoke. "Toturi Sezaru is not a man used to being anything but first in importance, Koshindou, and Kyuden Tonbo is a long way for these old bones. If I could…" he left it unfinished, dismounting as gracefully as he could to stand before the young man.
"I believe in you, Koshindou," the old Dragon said, and then he was
To Be Continued…