Finally a samurai on this story
“I’m thankful,” the samurai said, bowing his head to Tadayoshi. “I believed today I had the ungrateful job of supervising some thugs killing innocent peoples and perhaps burn a few houses. However, thanks to you, I won’t see any meaningless bloodshed.” Despite his words, his voice always had a friendly and cheerful tone. But the bloodlust emanating from him didn’t decrease at all. “But above all, I will be able to appreciate an interesting fight.”
The samurai’s eyes never left the swordsman, not even as he led his horse to a house and tied the saddles. He’s more cautious than he shows, Tadayoshi noticed, his hand itching to draw the katana. Calm down, he said to himself, taking deep breaths. I need to gain some time first.
The samurai took his cloak, folded it a couple times and put it on the saddle. A young man, no more than a few years older than Tadayoshi, with waist-length black hair tied on the back of the head. The blue and black hakama, samurai clothes, confirmed Tadayoshi’s suspicions. With his scar-free face, delicate features and recent shave beard, he almost seemed someone out of a hero’s tale.
But he’s not a hero. Despite his appearance, Tadayoshi could sense it. He’s a samurai, and a strong one too. It wasn’t just the enemy’s bloodlust and calm behavior that made the swordsman wary. The scabbard on the samurai’s waist worried him as well; wood dyed with a vivid red and a gold dragon painted. When he draw the katana, Tadayoshi couldn’t help but close his eyes, pressed his lips and curse his luck again.
The silence grew more still; the villagers were too paralyzed to make any sound. Even the swordsman had trouble finding words. The samurai’s katana wasn’t just unlike the ones left behind. It was a high quality sword. The polished blade reflected the sunlight, the edge so sharp it shimmered slightly. Almost as if looking for a victim… Hope it’s not me, Tadayoshi thought, a hollow laugh echoing in his mind. He stared the blade again, and gulped. With my luck, that’s a Muramasa sword too.
With deep breaths, Tadayoshi took his scabbard from the hole on his clothes. The difference between his and the samurai’s were blatant. The swordsman’s had seen better times; the wood was worn and chipped in several places, and the color had already faded, while the samurai’s shone red. But when Tadayoshi drew the katana for the first time in days, everyone could tell. It was a high quality blade as well.
“Your presence confirms my suspicions,” Tadayoshi said, throwing the scabbard away and circling his enemy. The samurai did the same, always keeping the same distance from the swordsman. “Your lord betrayed his superior and plans to destroy this village to open path to the fortress. Am I right?” Despite hating that kind of people, he tried keeping his voice calm.
I shouldn’t piss him off. At least not right now. I need to buy as much time as I can. “It must be awful serve a disgusting lord. I don’t why you haven’t yet committed seppuku to preserve your honor and those other craps only samurai give a damn.” The words escaped his lips before he could stop himself. Shit… me and my big mouth, Tadayoshi thought, trying and failing to suppress his smile.
The samurai’s face twisted in rage for an instant. He closed his eyes, pressed his lips and took a deep breath. “The words of a mere ronin will not affect me. But I do advise you to not dare speak ill about my lord.”
Tadayoshi clicked his tongue. He didn’t fall for my provocation. Either he’s as composed as he looks or he’s used to this kind of fight… Let’s test him some more. “A ronin?” he repeated the word in the most annoying way he could. “I don’t remember being someone’s dog to be called a ronin.”
Even if the samurai managed keeping his face expressionless, the mocking was too much for him. He jumped forward and covered the distance between them in a heartbeat, aiming his sword at Tadayoshi’s neck.
Fast! Even expecting, the samurai’s speed surprised him, but the swordsman still reacted in time. Tadayoshi raised his sword and blocked the strike, the metal shrieking. Without giving time for his opponent counter, he spun his left leg, aiming the kick at the samurai’s ribs. For a moment, he felt his foot connecting, but before it hit in full, the enemy jumped to the opposite side, reducing the impact. Shit…
“You do, in fact, have some skill to keep up with that mouth of yours,” the samurai said, smiling. “Please, show me how far it goes.”
He resumed his attacks, each one powerful, precise and aimed at Tadayoshi’s vital points. But unlike the bandit from the other day, the samurai’s didn’t leave opening to counter. Diagonal left. Right side. A thrust at the face. A vertical cut.
Tadayoshi defended them all, but it had taken its toll. “So my luck is rotten after all,” Tadayoshi said, defending a blow aimed at his head, almost out of breath. He jumped backward to gain some distance and time to rest. “You’re too strong. I never thought I’d find someone like you here. If someone had told me, I’d turned the other way.” He kept talking to gain more time.
For the first time, the samurai didn’t follow him, nor prepared any attack. Instead, he sheathed his katana. “I can say the same. You are a worthy opponent, so I shall not disgrace myself any longer and present myself properly. The name which I answer is Konkawa Jirou Yoshitada.”
Tadayoshi clicked his tongue again. He’s giving me his full name… “Thanks for the manners,” he said in a dried voice. The swordsman readied his stance and took deep breaths. “I’m just Tadayoshi.”
“It shall be a pleasure fighting against you, Tadayoshi-dono.” Konkawa made a reverence.
Don’t you mean killing me? The samurai thought, bracing himself.
The moment he finished his reverence and raised his head, the samurai ran. Even with his katana still sheathed, he was faster than before. When the distance between them disappeared, Konkawa drew his sword, aiming Tadayoshi’s right side.
Iai? Shit! I won’t make in time! Tadayoshi moved his sword to a defense position and jumped to the opposite side, trying to avoid the attack. But the strike was too powerful, too fast and he reacted instants too late. Though he managed to defend it, the swordsman couldn’t stop the attack completely, and the blade reached his body. The wound wasn’t deep, but it bleed.
Gritting his teeth and ignoring the pain, Tadayoshi raised his defenses again, ready for the next attack… but there was nothing. The samurai had stopped moving. All Konkawa was doing was stare the swordsman, his eyes wide, his face losing some of its color. “That scar… the name…”
Tadayoshi followed the samurai’s sight, realizing almost right away what had made the enemy stop attacking. He closed his eyes and regretted. The blow not only had wounded the swordsman, but it also had been too much for his clothes; the slash had destroyed the right side of his kimono and exposed his stomach. His hand moved to cover it by reflex, but it was too late. Everyone had already seen the six scars, three vertical and three horizontal, crossing each other.
He could almost feel the samurai’s mind working; first, his eyes widened when he understood. Then rage overtook his face. It was only for an instant though; Konkawa managed to suppress it. And then a smile crossed his lips. A dark one, full of contempt, hate and killing intent.
He almost looks like a predator finding the most delicious prey in the world, Tadayoshi thought, a bitter smile on his own lips. But he had no time for that; the swordsman knew what would come next. He wiped the blood from his fingers on the clothes and placed his hand back to the handle.
“The Gods must be by my side,” Konkawa said.
Whether the words were to him or to the heavens, Tadayoshi wasn’t sure. But despite the happiness in his voice, the samurai never showed any opening in his defenses. Shit… even like that, he doesn’t drop his guard, Tadayoshi thought, biting his lips.
“To present me with the chance to regain my family’s honor by killing you, a man so despicable and without a shred of honor or loyalty.” Any trace of happiness had disappeared, replaced by a hate so strong the samurai didn’t try to hide. “Someone who would kill his own master, someone who killed the great Yasuhiro-sama!”
The silence became heavier. The villagers hadn’t made any sound for a while, too stunned watching the fight that was deciding their future. But after the samurai said the words, the atmosphere changed.
Even without looking, Tadayoshi could sense it. I’m risking my life to save them and they look at me with those eyes, the swordsman thought when he glance at the villagers, the anger filling him. Something had changed in their faces. When the fight started, they were full of dread, but there was some hope in them. Hope that he, a complete stranger, could and would save them. But now it was gone, first replaced by confusion and then hatred.
It’s always like this, Tadayoshi thought, full of regret. When people found who I am and what I’ve done… He closed his eyes and breathed out through his nose. I should let them to their luck, the thought crossed his mind, and then he snorted. Too bad there’s no chance he’d let me walk away, the swordsman knew and turned his attention back to the samurai.
Konkawa placed a hand on the handle of his katana and leaned his body forward, but remained where he was. He’s looking for an opening, Tadayoshi realized and made sure his defenses had none.
Neither of them moved, one waiting for the other. Shit… I shouldn’t have wasted that much time with those bandits, Tadayoshi thought, his muscles in pain, his arms heavy and the sweat running down his face and back. His katana never felt this heavy before, but even so, it didn’t tremble at all.
He had no idea how much time had passed. All Tadayoshi knew was that the enemy before his eyes had changed. This samurai doesn’t just want to kill me because of his mission, nor for the reward or fame. It’s not even to regain his honor. This man truly hates me.
Hate wasn’t unfamiliar to Tadayoshi; he knew ever since he was a kid. But after his master found and raised him, the swordsman had forgotten. The last time I saw eyes like his was on that day… when master… when I…
The samurai ran, so fast he covered the distance between them before Tadayoshi realized it. When he was close enough, Konkawa drew his sword, faster than before. And stronger!
Even raising his sword, Tadayoshi couldn’t defend. The katana reached him again, deeper this time. But the samurai didn’t attack again. Instead, he passed by the swordsman and went on. He sheathed his sword, halted and turned around, running again and attacking Tadayoshi right away.
The swordsman managed to defend this time, but before he could counter or even think about anything else, the samurai was already gone, only to turn around and attack again.
Konkawa never stopped, sheathing his sword and preparing the next blow with an incredible speed. Over and over, each time his attacks a bit stronger and faster.
Tadayoshi could barely keep up and raise his defenses in time. Before long, the swordsman body was covered with wounds. Thanks to his reflexes, they were superficial, but they bled so much the samurai’s sword was tainted red. My blood’s making his draws faster, Tadayoshi realized, trying to ignore the pain. It was impossible; just breathing hurt.
Before starting his next attack, the samurai once again stared straight into Tadayoshi’s eyes, watching the swordsman’s defense and adjusting accordingly…
And then Tadayoshi finally saw his weakness.
Konkawa attacked and was gone, but this time Tadayoshi spun and went after him. In a heartbeat, the swordsman was right before his enemy, his sword aiming at the head.
The samurai had already stopped and prepared his next strike, but when he saw Tadayoshi, he drew his sword and blocked the attack with ease.
But the swordsman was already expecting that. He passed by the samurai and spun, putting his back against Konkawa’s back.
Now, Tadayoshi thought. While pushing his back against the samurai’s, he threw his katana to the left hand and put all his weight on the same side almost at the same time.
The samurai reacted an instant later, turning around to the opposite side. “Urgh…” he grunted and stopped. Blood drenched his clothes and dripped on the ground. Konkawa’s hand left the sword and went to his back, his fingers closing around Tadayoshi’s hand and the knife the swordsman held.
“Your eyes are good. Too good in fact,” Tadayoshi said, still back to back, pushing the blade deeper. Even so, the samurai did not scream. “Every time you attacked, you stared me in the eyes. I knew you’d see when I threw the sword, but you’d never see this tiny knife.” Tadayoshi pulled the blade.
Konkawa fell to his knees, his hand clutching the wound. But as he coughed blood, even he realized it was fatal. The samurai lost some of his color, his breathing slowed down and his face twisted in pain, but he still refused to fall on the ground.
As he cleaned the knife with a piece of his ruined kimono, Tadayoshi walked until he was face to face with the dying man. “Is your master the lord of the fortress east of here? Did he betray his liege lord?”
The samurai coughed more blood, but the pain disappeared from his face, and he stated Tadayoshi with all the dignity he could muster. “I may have lost the fight and…” his breathing became shallow, “and my life is about to end… but I won’t disgrace my family and became a traitor.” He took a deep breath. “I will die as my father, a samurai!” he managed to scream, staring into Tadayoshi’s eyes.
The swordsman looked at the samurai with an empty face. “I knew you’d answer something like this,” he said and put the knife back into his clothes. “But I was curious. Then at least answer me this. What’s the name of your katana?”
It wasn’t what the samurai expected, his eyes widening. He understood what Tadayoshi meant a moment later and bit his lips. His body lost the rest of his strength and Konkawa fell backwards.
“Please forgive me, father. The sword you loved will be tainted by traitor,” the samurai said to the skies and then turned to Tadayoshi, crying. “If you have any decency in you, do not dishonor Asahi with your hands.”
He’s more angry by the sword than dying, Tadayoshi thought as he stared the fallen enemy and then the swordsman realized. “Can you move?” The samurai raised his left hand with difficulty. “I can do it for you,” Tadayoshi said, his eyes empty.
The samurai closed his eyes and shook his head. With his left hand, he drew the tanto on his waist and placed it above his abdomen. Taking deep breaths, he stabbed himself, gritting his teeth to hold the scream. Even if his arm trembled, he slid the small blade slowly, opening his stomach from one side to the other, the blood tainting his clothes and the ground.
Konkawa’s arm became limp, the tanto slipping from his fingers. Even if his chest stopped moving and he lost the little color he had left, the samurai died without letting go of his katana.