Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ The Price of Honor ( Chapter 12 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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AUTHOR'S NOTES: After the action in the last few chapters, Chapter 12 was hard to write because finally our heroes have a chance to catch their breath. Then I found the music I wanted, and SHAZAM, out it came. This chapter was written to “Seijo Magdalena” from the anime CHRNO CRUSADE.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twelve: The Price of Honor
Yukino moved listlessly through the Firefly House, directing the servants who were cleaning up after the patrol came through, her mind on other things. All she could think of was Shichiroji leaving with the samurai and the peasants, going off to fight the Nobuseri…
Suddenly she stopped, her eyes caught by a faint movement at the other end of the courtyard. As she looked closer, she saw a figure leaning against the far wall in the darkness.
“Wh… who's there?” she called softly, and the figure's head lifted weakly to look at her, and the geisha was astonished to see that it was a woman.
“Please,” the woman whispered hoarsely, sagging to her knees, and Yukino hurried across the ornamental bridge to the other side of the koi pond, barely in time to catch the woman as she nearly fell.
“You're samurai, aren't you?” Yukino asked, her eyes quickly taking in the other woman's clothes and the sword she wore at her waist. She turned and called for one of the servants to bring her fresh clothes and a bowl of hot water as the samuraiko winced in pain from the geisha's prodding fingers.
“My name is Nasami. And you?”
“I'm Yukino.”
“I came here… looking for a group of samurai and peasants traveling together.” She closed her eyes for a moment as the servant brought the supplies Yukino had requested, and the geisha went to work on Nasami's injury, a shockingly deep gash across her right arm.
Yukino's eyes widened. “You mean Katsushiro and Kambei and the rest?”
Nasami nodded, biting her lip as Yukino cleaned the wound and began to bind it. “Yes… I was supposed to meet them… here in the Village of Respite. But the Magistrate's men had other plans, it seems.” She opened her eyes again and looked around. “I tried to get here before the patrol did… but with my wound and the fact that there were a dozen men looking for me along with the samurai… I couldn't come near the place without getting caught. I hope the others got away safely.”
“Yes, they escaped here by boat along the river. Kambei-sama heard some weird sound that let him know they were coming so he could wake the others in time.”
“Weird sound?”
Yukino frowned as she worked. “Yes, it was like the call of a bird, or a whistle…”
“That was me letting him know the patrols were after them.” Nasami laughed weakly. “And he said such behavior was foolish.”
“After that, Shichiroji… my… my lover helped them escape.”
“Thank the Fortunes,” Nasami said in relief as Yukino tied off the bandage and helped her to rise. Then she stopped and took another look at the geisha, who lowered her eyes respectfully.
“It wasn't just Kambei and the others who left, was it.”
Yukino nodded miserably. “Shichiroji went with them.” And all at once the words came out. “I'm sorry, great samurai, I shouldn't be complaining, I always knew that Roji wasn't done being a samurai, but I had just hoped that he would stay… but then Kambei-sama came, and in an instant, I knew it was over.”
“I'm sorry,” Nasami said softly, and Yukino stared at her in astonishment. Nasami glanced at her and faintly smiled. “You're surprised that a samurai would offer sympathy to a geisha? Don't be… at least not with me.”
“I shouldn't be surprised,” Yukino replied, “not after I saw how kind the others were when they came here for help.”
“It's just that… when you talk about him, even in those few brief moments, your voice changes and your eyes become soft, and though he's been gone just a short time, you miss him terribly.”
The geisha's mouth fell open, and Nasami chuckled. “I grew up in the court, Yukino, I learned to read faces like one would read a book. I would have to be blind not to see how you love him.”
“You don't… disapprove, then?” Yukino whispered. “Not many samurai look favorably on one of their own living in such fashion with a woman who is not his wife, even in times such as these.”
“Life is too short not to love,” Nasami said simply, shrugging, then she winced again as the movement jostled her injury. The geisha's gray eyes met the samuraiko's dark blue ones, and for a moment, they were not separated by the wide gap of class, but united as two women in loneliness.
But then Yukino looked away, trying to hide her tears. “Forgive me, great samurai.”
“There's nothing to forgive. But I have to go after them. Do you know where they're headed?”
Yukino helped the samuraiko back across the ornamental bridge. “Roji said he would take them through the lair of the Shikimoribito, the Guardians.”
She led Nasami down the secret passage to the canal. “There's another boat tied to the docks that the servants use to fish. Take it and go after them.” She pointed off into the darkness. “That way lies the lair of the Guardians. About fifty yards down the canal, it opens onto the lake that flows into their territory.”
“Thank you,” Nasami said quietly, stepping into the boat and lifting the pole to propel herself along the canal. Then she stopped and looked back at Yukino, who stood near the steps, her arms wrapped around herself, her eyes sad.
“Be brave, Yukino. He will come back.”
“But how can you know, great samurai?” Yukino whispered, hope and sorrow mingled in her voice.
Nasami smiled as she began to propel herself forward again. “Isn't that how the best love stories end?”
And then she was gone.

“Great samurai, there's someone else coming!” Honoka was breathless from practically running toward her house, Rikichi coming up behind her.
Kambei reached for his katana, along with Shichiroji, Kikuchiyo, Gorobei and Heihachi. “Someone else? Who is it?”
“I don't know, but one of the other people here said they saw a boat approaching!”
“You don't think it's Ayamoro's men, do you?” Shichiroji said quietly to Kambei.
“It's difficult to say. I gathered that they weren't supposed to be here in the first place.”
“Neither are we, for that matter,” Gorobei chuckled.
“Oh, stop whispering and let's just go pound them!” Kikuchiyo growled, getting to his feet and picking up his sword. “It beats sitting in here and worrying to death.”
Kambei and the others exchanged glances, and cautiously moved outside, taking care to remain hidden in the shadows. Kirara and Komachi also anxiously watched through the windows from where they kept watch over Katsushiro.
“No one move until I say so,” Kambei whispered, and the others nodded. Their hands rested on their swords, while the peasants harvesting the strange sap of the Guardians turned to look at the boat approaching the shore. Slowly the boat drifted up onto the sand.
Heihachi glanced up at the roof of the cavern, and saw that the Shikimoribito were also watching the newcomer with that expressionless look they all had. “I wonder if the Guardians are going to allow whoever this is to stay.”
“There's no telling,” Gorobei replied, his eyes also moving upwards to watch the still figures hanging from the ceiling. “But they let the boat get this far. I guess that's a good thing.”
“Great samurai! Oh, thank the gods you're all right!” Kirara cried when she saw Nasami step onto the shore near the Metal City. Coming out the door, she ran down the path to where the samuraiko was standing at the water's edge, the others coming behind her.
“So, you finally got here, huh?” Kikuchiyo boomed, and Komachi glared up at him.
“Knock it off, Kiku!”
“I'm just kidding, sprout,” he chuckled as Nasami laughed. “I'm glad to see her, too.”
“As am I,” Gorobei said in relief as the samuraiko bowed in greeting to the group. “After you attacked that patrol, we were starting to worry.”
“A minor annoyance,” Nasami replied, waving her hand dismissively, her eyes rapidly looking over the group to make sure everyone was there and all right. “I was more concerned about that train wreck.”
“Well, that plan didn't quite work out as we'd hoped,” Heihachi said ruefully, rubbing the back of his head. “But in the end, we're all alive and well, so I guess it's okay.”
Nasami glanced around and suddenly frowned. “Where's Katsushiro?”
Shichiroji gestured back toward Honoka's little house. “In there, resting. Ukyo took a potshot at him with a crossbow and he caught an arrow in the thigh. It's hurting quite a bit, but he's trying to sleep.”
Nasami studied the blond samurai for a moment, and then smiled. “So you're Shichiroji-san. Your lady was worried about you.”
Shichiroji looked down at his feet. “I hated leaving her like that, but…”
The samuraiko nodded. “You never stop being samurai. She's waiting for you to come home, though, so don't disappoint her.”
Abruptly Shichiroji cleared his throat and turned to look at Kambei. “So aren't you going to say hello to her, too, Kambei-sama?”
The others turned as well, realizing that of all the people there, only the white-clad samurai had not spoken. He was staring at Nasami's arm, where bloodstains from her duel with Kyuzo were still visible. Then he lifted his eyes to hers, and turned away, walking back to Honoka's house.
“Why speak when there is nothing to say?”
Kirara stared at him as he entered the house. “How rude! He could at least have said hello to Nasami-sama!”
Shichiroji suddenly chuckled. “Ah, it's all right, Lady Kirara. Kambei-sama is just as glad to see her as you are.”
“He's got a weird way of showing it,” Kirara said flatly as she and the others also made their way back to the house.
Nasami fell into step beside Gorobei, her eyes on the little house. “Like you said, Gorobei-san… he is most definitely samurai, for better or worse.”

“What happened to your arm, great samurai?” Rikichi asked as Nasami passed him while coming inside, his eyes wide as he took in the bloodstains on her clothes.
She looked down at the injury. “I had a run-in with Hyogo and Kyuzo.”
Kirara glanced at her in alarm. “You mean those two samurai bodyguards of the Magistrate?” Nasami nodded. “You could have been killed! I mean, Hyogo nearly crippled you the last time you fought, and Kyuzo…”
“Kyuzo actually stopped Hyogo from fighting me,” Nasami said quietly, aware that Kambei was watching her closely. Her hand drifted uneasily up to her arm where the stoic samurai had nearly sliced through it. “He challenged me himself, instead.”
“But you beat him, right?” Komachi said brightly, but Nasami shook her head.
“No?” Kikuchiyo echoed in disbelief. “You're telling me you couldn't beat that scrawny-”
“It's not about physical size or strength, Kikuchiyo-san,” Nasami said, cutting him off impatiently. “It has everything to do with bushido. He had no real desire to kill me, or I'd be dead now. And in the end, he let me go.”
“He did what?” Gorobei said in amazement.
“He let me go.”
“But why?”
“I don't know,” Nasami said softly. “Maybe because he owed me for trying to save the Envoy. Maybe because he didn't want to see another samurai cut down by Ayamoro's men. Maybe because he didn't want Hyogo to kill me. I have no idea.”
She got to her feet. “Anyway, I'd like to check on Katsushiro, if he's awake.”
“Of course, great samurai,” Kirara said hastily, getting up as well. “He's in this room here.” She and Komachi led the samuraiko into the other room, where she carefully studied Katsushiro's wound. Kikuchiyo sprawled out on the floor for a nap, while Gorobei and Heihachi began to discuss plans for leaving the caverns and heading to Kanna.
Grinning, Shichiroji sidled over to where Kambei sat. “Well, well, well, old man. You are definitely a master of understatement.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“`A certain charm?' Don't you have eyes?” Shichiroji said in amazement. “Or maybe you haven't realized that by not saying anything, you've spoken more clearly than you ever could have with words.”
“I didn't realize that you gave up being samurai to become a matchmaker,” Kambei said coldly, getting up again with a scathing glance at Shichiroji.
His former mate followed him to the door. “What are you afraid of, Kambei-sama?”
Kambei stopped without turning around. “Myself.”
And he left.
A short while later, Nasami came back out into the main room. “Well, he's starting to run a fever. Kirara's tending to him, but we won't know for some time yet if he'll be all right.” She looked around. “Did Kambei-san leave?”
“He just needed some fresh air,” Shichiroji said casually, and Nasami studied him through narrowed eyes. The blond samurai grinned and tilted his head to indicate which direction Kambei had gone.
“Right. Well, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to look around this place.”
“It seems perfectly safe, great samurai,” Rikichi said respectfully as he also made to rise. “After all, the farmers who live down here seem quite content to be working out in the open.”
“But safe or not, we can't stay here forever. I'll be back shortly.”
She made her way around the cavern, sometimes pausing to talk to the peasants who worked to cultivate the odd trees of the Shikimoribito, other times to look up at the Guardians hanging from the ceiling and waving at them. Her eyes took in everything about the place, instinctively assessing defenses, possible means of attack, other methods of escape. At last, she came upon Kambei standing near the water's edge out of sight of Honoka's house, staring out over the lake at the Metal City.
As Nasami approached, she saw his whole body tense up at the sound of her footsteps, and he didn't turn around as she stopped just behind him. For a while, she stood there and waited for him to say something, but he remained silent.
“Does it hurt?”
His question startled her. “What?”
“Your wound. Does it hurt?”
She shrugged, this time more carefully. “Not as much since Yukino helped me tend it. Kyuzo-sama got past my guard at one point and I wasn't fast enough to dodge. He truly is an exceptional swordsman, and I should think far too honorable to work for someone like Ayamoro. But he didn't get away unscathed either, so I guess in the end we're even.”
Kambei still didn't look at her. “Do you always take such gambles with your life?”
“`A lifetime spent avoiding danger is no more safe nor satisfying than a lifetime spent pursuing it,'” she replied.
“Always quoting.” He sighed and bowed his head, and Nasami gently put her hand on his shoulder.
“Please, Kambei-san, what's wrong?”
For a long time, he didn't reply, and she had just given up on ever getting an answer when he finally turned and looked at her. At first, his eyes roamed over her face, then they dropped to her injured arm, and at last to her hand where it rested on the sword, her fingers unconsciously touching the long strands of his hair that she'd entwined in the guard of the katana.
“You can't come with us any farther, Nasami-san.”
She drew back, startled. “What are you talking about?”
“You have to turn back.”
Angrily she shook her head. “No.”
“I gave Kirara my word that I would fight for her and the other villagers. I can't go back now, it would be dishonorable.”
Please.” The near-pleading tone of his voice stopped her protests in her throat, so that all she could do was whisper.
Then Kambei drew his own hand out from the folds of his clothes, and Nasami could see what he held.
The long tress of hair he'd taken from her during their duel.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “You did keep it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“In my heart, I know that you cannot come to Kanna with us, no matter what vow you have made or how much you wish to help,” he said. “Once we arrive at Kanna Village, we will all be branded traitors. But we are all ronin, we have no lord to answer to, no family to mourn us. But if the Emperor ever learned that you were here, not even your quest for enlightenment will save you if they found out.”
His fingers tightened around the silky white strands. “You and your entire family could be executed, your clan shamed in disgrace. And I cannot allow that to happen, no matter how much your presence might help our cause, no matter how much I…” All at once, he stopped. “You have to go back, Nasami.”
His eyes met hers, and all of a sudden neither of them could look away from the other. Without realizing it, he took a step closer to her. “But I wanted something to remind me of you.”
“Of me?”
He nodded.
“Kambei…” she whispered.
Nasami also moved forward so that their bodies nearly touched. Staring up into his dark grey eyes, she moved her hand so that it was resting on top of his as he held the long white locks of her hair.
“I'm not leaving.”
To be continued