A new chapter of Samurai NOT
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Samurai NOT 41
“Open the gates!” the scream echoed through the whole state, so loud it was heard from the dojo on the other side.
Tadayoshi, Inori and, Kenshin came rushing at once. At once he knew there was something wrong. That scream was filled with despair and urgency.
The three of them ran to the front gates but a crow had gathered blocked their view and they couldn’t see who was entering.
As the newcomers entered, the people made room, and they finally the cause of the desperate scream; Yasuhiro and Masa were hurt. Badly. They could barely ride the horses, almost falling. The ninja, despite his injuries, rode right beside his master, supporting him with his shoulder. One hand held the reins from both horses and the other pressed a wound on his stomach.
No one moved. No one closed the gates. No one made any sound. Everyone could only watch as the lord of the house and his most trusted and strongest advisor left a trail of blood.
Masa lost his consciousness and couldn’t hold his master anymore. They both collapsed from their horses.
“Father!” Inori shouted and ran to him.
The girl’s voice woke Tadayoshi. He ran to her side and knelt. “Master! Masa!”
Kenshin was too shocked to move.
“Someone call the doctors!” the young noble lady shouted, trying to support her unconscious father. Despite her strength, he was too heavy and Tadayoshi helped her.
The disciple’s blood went cold when he felt a large wound on his master’s back. If we don’t stop this… He pressed it as best he could as he supported his master. Two soldiers helped Masa to stand.
“Bring them to the main hall! You, bring our bags!” one of the doctors who came running shouted to his apprentice.
With great care, they placed the samurai and the ninja in the center of the main hall and stepped back. Under the eyes of practically everyone in the state, the doctors treated their wounds.
Master… Tadayoshi had no idea what to think. His master wounded as something rare. His master with a life threatening wound was something he never believed possible. The worse is the right arm… why is it so darkened…?
Though he was ignorant of plants and poisons, he had never heard of anything that could leave half the arm darkened like that. It’s almost like it was rotting from the inside… and there’s no wound…
By his side, Inori watched with a pale face, wide eyes and no expression. She only looked at her father, and when he had the chance, grabbed Tadayoshi’s clothes.
The moon was already on the sky by the time the doctors finished. Before anyone could breathe out in relief, they said they that while Masa’s wound was bad, he was out of danger. But they had no idea when the master of the house would wake. And what was worse, they had no idea what could be the cause of the darkened arm.
In the end, they could only wait for the legendary samurai to recover.
As the days passed, neither showed any signs of getting better. Thanks to that, the mood in the house got darker. There was no more talking in the hallways. There were no more laughs. There was no more singing at night. The meals were quiet and fast.
With Tadayoshi’s help, Inori managed to keep fulfilling the duties expected of a member of the Horou family. The noble girl had taken the place of her twin brother ever since he left. In those few years, she had become a beautiful young woman with an extremely sharp mind. The extra work and responsibilities were, however, taking its toll on her. She, who always was looked tired all the time. The only time she could a shadow of her former self was at night in her bedroom. Away from everyone’s eyes, she took comfort and cried in Tadayoshi’s arms.
Kenshin, who was technically the next successor of the house, was too depressed to help. Since no one expected much from the youngest of Yasuhiro and Hikari’s children, it made no difference. Ever since Hikari had died, he rarely cared for anything. Even during the trainings, he acted as if his mind wasn’t there. Few remembered the face of the chubby little boy smiling. He spent most days following Tadayoshi and his older sister when she was free.
Even during a meeting with Yasuhiro’s advisers and vassals, Inori spoke in his behalf.
“There shouldn’t be any fights in this area! Was shouldn’t be so close!”
“But it is. There’s no denying it.”
“Because the younger lords have no respect for old alliances! They still respect your father, my lady, but now that Yasuhiro-sama is…” one of the vassals said at the meeting, trailing off and not meeting Inori’s eyes.
“Now that my father is taking his time to recover, they’re trying to take advantage of that and expand their territories… They act as if father is dead,” the girl whispered and closed her delicate fist. Then she returned to her noble self. “I’m afraid the villages under our protection will be targeted…”
“Yes, my lady. I’m afraid…”
The room grew quiet for a moment.
They have no idea what to do without Master, Tadayoshi though. But he couldn’t blame them. He too was feeling the same.
“What’s the latest information we have of strange troop’s movement?” Inori asked in a commanding voice that had no speck of weakness.
She can’t show any… not in front of them… Not as a Hourou.
“There are reports of troops marching at the edge of our territory, and some of our scouts reported they have been traveling with provisions and materials to set up camp,” one of the advisors said, pointing on the map before the girl. “That’s not something for a military exercise, my lady.”
The place wasn’t near close enough to any village to present a real danger. Even so, the girl stared at the map with an empty expression.
Before, Tadayoshi had no doubt no one would be foolish enough to attack a village under the legendary samurai’s protection. But even Yasuhiro’s name wasn’t strong enough to protect the peasants once the ever going war for the control of the country drew closer to them. Some villages had already been caught in the crossfire between armies and fleeing bandits.
Now that the news of the old man’s injury spread like wildfire… Even if Inori showed no expression, he knew she was thinking the same. Some of the new lords who took over their fathers might be bold enough to try their luck and didn’t care who got in the way.
Even though everyone knows the enhanced version of the tales of the old man, they’re from a different generation…
Inori crossed her fingers before her face and closed her eyes. The moment she did that, every sound in the main hall ceased as she concentrated. Even Tadayoshi remained still. Some said the girl had the gift of foresight, just as her mother had. Though Hikari insisted her powers were exaggerated due to her family’s history, whenever she had something to say, everyone listened.
However, Tadayoshi knew the truth. Inori had no power to predict the future like her mother. It was simply the girl’s sharp mind.
When she closed her eyes and concentrated, Inori was considering every information she had. The positions of the troops, the distance from their homes, the distance from the mansion, the villages that existed all around, the provisions the troops had, anything. When she opened her eyes, Tadayoshi knew she had figured out something no one other than she could see.
Guess you can call this a power too, he thought.
“They’ll try to set up barricades in this village,” she said, pointing at the map.
Some of the younger vassals exchanged glances. It was clear on their faces they didn’t believe. The older advisors, who had already seen with their own eyes how much accurate the girl’s predictions were, pondered her words.
“This village isn’t the closest to them, but from here, they can circle the forest and catch us unprepared or use the river and outflank our troops,” Inori went on before anyone could interrupt her.
The men looked at each other. They had many doubts about what the young lady had said, but no one spoke anything against it. It wasn’t the first time they had to rely on her sharp mind. The girl had saved countless lives and prevented the war from entering Yasuhiro’s lands in the past.
“Send our troops and protect this village!” she said in a commanding voice
All the men in the room bowed their heads to her. “Yes, my lady!”
As they left the main hall to start the preparation and they became alone, Inori turned to Tadayoshi.
“I need you to go as well,” she said in a low and regretful voice without looking him in the eyes. “I need someone I trust for this…”
“I won’t go. I won’t leave your side… and also master might need me when he wakes up,” he added quickly in case anyone else was hearing. “Masa’s son can go instead of me…”
She placed a hand on his cheek and looked into his eyes. “I want you to stay, but we have our obligations. And you know father preferred if you saved a life instead of staying here doing nothing.”
Tadayoshi wanted to say it wasn’t true, that his place was by her side. But, as always, he knew the girl was right. If he could, Inori would go herself. It had been a long time since she left the mansion.
“You’re right,” he said with a defeated smile. “The old man would say something like that.”
“I know. Even so, I want you to stay with me tonight,” she said in a low voice, bringing him down for a kiss.
Tadayoshi still felt her lips when they left the next day.
Though the village wasn’t far, the trip felt much longer than it should. As it had been ever since Yasuhiro came almost dead through the gates, no one talked much. Before, there was always conversation and stories about past fights. But just like the mansion, everything was too quiet.
When the troops arrived at the village, all the villagers came running towards them with their weapons raised. Only after they noticed Yasuhiro’s crest the peasants lowered their weapons, though they still kept wary.
They doubt even after seeing the crest… So it’s true, without the old man’s influence, fear took over all the region. Even with Inori doing the best she can, she doesn’t have her father’s presence. He tugged the reins harder. I need to help her any way I can… Even if it’s only a little…
Even after they explain the reason they were there, the villagers only got warier.
“It can’t be true,” the village leader said, shaking his head. “We saw no soldier around here except you lot. I think you guys were wrong. There’s been talk ever since Yasuhiro-sama died, but there’s no danger.
“The old man isn’t dead!” Tadayoshi shouted before he could stop himself.
The villagers and the soldiers turned to him, but he held his stare.
“Yes, he’s right. Yasuhiro-sama isn’t dead… The rumors have been greatly exaggerated…”
The leader and the villagers seemed more at ease with those words. “That’s good… That’s great… Even so, there’s no danger here. Unless you brought with you. Best if you leave.”
That’s a normal reaction. It’s hard for them to believe we’re here because Inori said enemy soldiers were coming here without a single shred of evidence.
However, even if they couldn’t make the villagers believed in them, Inori had said they were in danger. Tadayoshi glanced at Masao, Masa’s son. It was plain in his face he was hesitating.
I understand, but Inori said it. This place is under the old man’s name. We need to protect it no matter what, Tadayoshi thought. That was why Inori said that, in case the villagers didn’t cooperate, they shouldn’t force them.
“I see. Glad we were wrong them. But we cannot leave immediately. We’ve been riding hard and our horses need a good rest,” Masao said in an amiable, though a little strained, voice. Unlike his father, he had a way with people that didn’t require some level of fear. “Can we rest here for a day or two?”
The leader exchanged glances with the other villagers. None of them seemed willing to let strangers, even under Yasuhiro’s banner, stay in their village.
When he realized there was no welcome from them, Masao pulled a rolled parchment from inside his clothes. He hesitated for a moment, then handed it over to the leader. “If you let us stay… You’ll have a tax cut.”
Tadayoshi understood Masao’s hesitation. With war in the neighboring regions getting closer, it was difficult to find willing merchants. Though the last years they were blessed with good rains, this year there was a terrible drought and it was expected much less harvest. Decreasing the contribution of a village could mean problems in the future. Especially if war come to us.
The leader took the paper and read aloud to the others.
That’s a surprise, thought Tadayoshi. He had never met a villager who could read beyond the scavenger boss. Oh, yeah… this is the village the old man lost his clothes to that little girl years ago, he remembered. After that, Yasuhiro became fond of the place and came here from time to time. He ended up teaching the girl how to read. She must’ve taught to the leader so they wouldn’t be tricked.
Even still doubting the soldiers, the villagers accepted in the end. The tax cut, however little, was more than welcome in these days. They allowed the soldiers to set up camp in one of the rice field further away. With the drought, they had lost those crops and concentrated their efforts on the fields that were still alive.
It worked better for them that way. The field was downhill in the opposite direction of the enemy soldiers. If Inori was right, they would catch the enemy completely by surprise.
The next day, nothing happened. From morning to dawn, there was no sign of an enemy army, not even a scout or someone remotely suspicious looking around. So the next day.
For the first time, there was a whisper among the soldiers believing Inori was wrong this time. Most believe that, due to her father’s situation, she had miss read something and was wrong for the first time.
Whenever Tadayoshi heard the whispers, he became angry. But he couldn’t say anything. He believed in Inori, even if there was no proof. She might be under pressure, but it doesn’t mean she’s wrong…
However, those were the best whispers he heard. Other conversations leaned toward a darker place. Some said without Yasuhiro, the region would be taken over, no matter how much talented Inori was.
Everyone agreed it was only through the legendary samurai’s influence that the war had stayed far from the region, even with the rest of the province surrounded by the fights and deaths.
“Even if she’s talent, Inori-sama is just a woman. Women and war don’t mix,” some of the younger soldiers said and some started to agree.
“How can you say that? Without Inori-sama, the Horou family is lost. Kenshin-sama… he doesn’t have the ability to lead… Not even with Masa-sama by his side. We must believe in her…”
Tadayoshi felt relieved he wasn’t the only one who trusted Inori. But he had to agree with the rest. Kenshin can’t lead the house. Not yet… He needs to grow up… But if he loses his father now…
No! Tadayoshi stopped the thought. There is no way the old man can die so easily! He’ll be back… yes… He’ll be back and everything will be like before…
As the second day passed, the mood grew darker and the words against the noble lady grew. By the sundown of the third day, when they were talking about returning, the enemies appeared.
Even catching the enemy by surprise, they had the numbers. The fight became intense and bloodier than it should have been. Unlike the bandits and thugs Tadayoshi was accustomed, the enemies were soldiers. Men trained in the art of war.
In the end, they managed to defeat the enemy. But it had cost too much. What Inori wanted to avoid happened; the villagers were caught in the fight and lost over half their people, even if they stayed away from the fight. And they only had managed to capture ten of them.
When Tadayoshi and the others left, there was no gratitude from the villagers. It was plain in their faces; they blamed the soldiers, they blamed Inori, for what bringing the war to them.
Just like the one the way to the village, there was no talk. They only spoke when they were close to the mansion. Coming out through the gates, Tadayoshi saw a group. It took a while for him to recognize who they were, but the moment he did, he pressed his horse ahead of the others.
“Taichi!” he shouted when he was close enough.
One of the riders stopped and left the group to meet him.
“Tadayoshi…” The priest’s face was one gloom.
“Did something happen…?” The swordsman widened his eyes. “Did master…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.
“No… Yasuhiro-sama is safe for… now. I think he’ll wake up soon,” the priest said in a low voice. “I wished I could stay and take care of him, my friend, but I need to go. Masa will fill you in.”
“My father’s awake?” Masao asked, stopping his horse next to them.
“Yes. He’s better, but should still rest.”
They said goodbye the moment the soldiers reached them. Without waiting, Tadayoshi dashed through the gate, almost jumping down from the horse in his haste. He ran to his master’s bedroom, announcing himself and opening the door.
Inori was sitting beside his father, her face a mixture of relief and sadness. Masa was also in the room, his face unreadable as usual. Kenshin was there, crying without any restraint by his sister’s side.
With a teary smile, Inori informed Tadayoshi her father was getting better. They just had to wait for him to wake up.
Two days later, they a shout crossed the entire mansion.
“All that?” When Tadayoshi and Inori ran toward the voice, they almost wept for joy. Yasuhiro was awake.
“I see,” he said in a weak voice as he heard what had happened. “So the war is finally at our door… Inori, I need you to go with Masao and some of the soldiers. Spread the word in the furthest villagers and warn them to prepare.”
“Father, I won’t go,” she said in a determined voice.
“You must. They won’t believe it if they don’t hear from a member of our family.”
Despite her face being against leaving, she wouldn’t disobey her father’s direct order.
By midday, they were ready to leave. Tadayoshi wanted to go with her, but the old man ordered him to stay.
“When I get back, things will be different,” she said with a mysterious look to Tadayoshi, her hand on her stomach.
Thanks for reading.
Hope you enjoyed SN
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