Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Unfriendly Welcome ( Chapter 18 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: This was a rough one... on the one hand, I can sympathize with Kanna's peasants who are caught between a rock and a hard place. But on a personal level, I despise those who bury their heads in the sand and hope that problems will go away on their own. When Kikuchiyo later goes on his rant (which will be in a later chapter), I was rooting for him all the way.
One of Nasami's great and consistent traits is doing what must be done, regardless of personal safety. She started out as a yojimbo (bodyguard) to a samurai from another clan, and in time, became the embodiment of sacrifice in the name of her duty. She has never backed down, never given in, never surrendered.
As eerie and sad as the music is for this chapter, it seemed so appropriate for Nasami's vision that I had to include it. That unrelenting feeling of inevitability as the characters move toward their destiny was so appropriate, it sent shivers down my spine. The music for Chapter Eighteen is "The Whipping" by James Horner from the film GLORY.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Eighteen: Unfriendly Welcome
Kambei, Nasami, Kirara, and the others crouched in the woods on the far side of the bridge leading to Kanna, carefully studying the opposite side.
"So the real trick now is getting into Kanna without getting caught," Heihachi mused. "Not easy with a guard posted."
"He's not the problem," Nasami replied. "He's drunk or slacking off. The real problem is what unpleasant surprises we might be facing on the other side of the bridge."
"So what do you suggest?" Shichiroji asked.
"We'll need to enter Kanna separately," Kambei answered. "We can't all go strolling in together."
Just then a farmer came across the bridge pulling a heavy cart behind him.
"Now, there's a thought," Gorobei said with amusement. "Rikichi, what do you think he's got in that cart?"
"Well, it's hard to say, great samurai," Rikichi said, peering closer, "but I think it's manure for fertilizing the fields."
The samurai all turned to look at him, various expressions of disgust and resignation on their faces.
"On the bright side," Nasami murmured, laughter in her voice, "there's not nearly enough room for all of us, and that doesn't include Kirara and Komachi."
"Komachi, Shichiroji, Kirara, Katsushiro, and myself will cross the bridge in the cart," Kambei said finally. "Gorobei, you will remain here with Heihachi and Kyuzo to make sure that the guard doesn't raise the alarm."
"What about me?" Kikuchiyo asked.
"You'll stay here," Kambei replied firmly. "You'd attract way too much attention crossing the bridge, and you're too big to fit in the cart."
"Ass," Kikuchiyo rumbled under his breath.
Kambei ignored him. "Nasami, of all of us, you cannot be spotted entering Kanna. That's all the Nobuseri would need to destroy Kanna completely. At the very least, you'll need to wait until nightfall to enter the village. Rikichi, you'll need to come back and bring Nasami in so that the guard doesn't notice her."
The samuraiko looked thoughtful. "I might have a better idea. Let me see that map you have of Kanna."
Kambei rummaged through his things and produced it, and she leaned against a tree and peered at it closely.
"It shouldn't be too difficult for me to enter Kanna without getting caught."
"How do you plan to do that?" Katsushiro asked, and she pointed to one spot on the map.
"That's a waterfall, Nasami-dono," Heihachi reminded her.
"I'm aware of that," she said softly. "But considering the only people who come and go from Kanna are peasants, why would the Nobuseri bother watching it? Especially at night?"
She looked over at Rikichi and Kirara. "What's near that waterfall? Houses? Paddies?"
"Just one of the paths around the rice paddies, great samurai," Kirara replied, tracing the route with her finger. "It follows the edge of the cliffs all the way around the village."
Kyuzo said nothing, but his eyes went to her legs. It was no secret among the samurai that Nasami's ability to walk was limited due to previous injuries to both knees. Climbing a waterfall was difficult to begin with. Doing it at night would be nearly impossible. And if she were to fall...
Nasami felt Kyuzo looking at her, and followed his gaze down to her knees. "Don't worry about me, Kyuzo-sama," she said quietly. "I'll be fine."
"Very well, then," Kambei said at last. "Rikichi, are carts kept on this side of the bridge as well?"
"Yes, great samurai."
"Good, then it's time for us to move. Heihachi, Gorobei, and Kyuzo will wait at least an hour before crossing after us. We will meet at Kanna Village itself at sundown."
"We're going to smell awful," Komachi wailed as she trailed after Kirara and the others.
"Poor Komachi," Nasami chuckled as the group left.
Gorobei was peering through his binoculars at the Nobuseri guard watching the pass. "Slacking off... what a surprise."
Carefully he moved back over to where Kyuzo and Heihachi were sitting, watching the progress of Rikichi and the others in the cart. "Have they left?"
"Yeah, just now," Heihachi replied, looking apprehensive. "So um, do we really need to get into that nasty thing?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Gorobei answered. "Kambei-dono just said to wait an hour and then come in after them, he said nothing about riding in the cart."
"Good point," Heihachi said cheerfully, stretching his legs and yawning.
Gorobei continued to survey the area through his binoculars, and then groaned aloud. "That big idiot."
"What?" Heihachi asked, not opening his eyes.
"Kikuchiyo is climbing the side of the mesa," Gorobei said in resignation.
Suddenly Heihachi sat back up and looked around. "Wait a minute. Where did Nasami-dono go?"
Nasami stood at the bottom of the waterfall, staring upward into the slowly darkening sky. It would be a difficult climb, she admitted ruefully, a lot more difficult than she'd first thought.
"However, if I can rock-chimney down a snowy crevasse, I can handle this," she said aloud.
The samuraiko whirled around, her hand going for her sword, when her mouth opened in a silent cry, her eyes enormous in her face. Slowly she began to back away, shaking her head even as she stared.
Standing beside the waterfall, as insubstantial as the mist surrounding her, was the figure of a samurai.
He was slender, not much taller than she, with aristocratic and handsome features, long white hair in a samurai's topknot, and dark blue eyes. He wore an elegant kimono, and a well-wrought katana at his waist.
And the samurai so closely resembled Nasami that he might have been the woman in male form.
She tried to speak but could not.
"Yes, it is I, Nasami-chan." The voice was soft and cultured, with a hint of steel.
"Y... Yoshio?" she finally managed to whisper, and the figure nodded. "But... this cannot be. My brother is dead these past six years."
From the obi around his waist, the ghost drew a shimmering katana. "Tell me this, sister... who else would be wielding the ghostly memory of Sememasu?"
As the truth slowly sank in, tears of joy appeared in her eyes. "My beloved brother... I did not realize how much I missed you." She stepped forward and reached out for his hands, as he did for hers, and although they could not grasp the fingers of the other, for a short while, they could remember the warm touch of the other's hands.
"And I you, Nasami-chan," he said softly, affection in his eyes as he took in the sister he had not seen since the battle that had ended his life.
"But... how? And why?"
"You are in grave danger, my sister. More so now than ever before in your life."
"What do you mean?"
The ghost pointed to the top of the waterfall. "Up there are those who would betray you. Those who care nothing for honor, but seek only to protect themselves."
"You mean... the peasants?"
"Yes... The Nobuseri know that samurai will come. But when the peasants realize that you are here as well, they will hand you over without a second thought."
"I will not let their fear deter me from following the path of honor, Yoshio," Nasami replied, straightening her shoulders, and rested her hand on Mamorimasu.
"That is not all, Nasami. I have been watching you for years. I know what happened that day in Winter Court between you and Kuroshin-san, and saw the tears you did not weep."
She bowed her head, and wished that she could blame the falling water for the dampness on her cheeks.
"Even more so than your life, your heart is at risk."
Nasami abruptly lifted her gaze to his, and the shade of her older brother nodded.
Then his eyes dropped to her katana, and he reached out a ghostly hand to gently brush his fingers against the tsuba, where Kambei's hair was entwined in the guard. Her eyes followed his and she looked away.
"He must be something special," Yoshio murmured, "if my little sister thinks so highly of a ronin outcast." Then he raised his eyes to hers. "You are in love with Shimada Kambei, aren't you?"
She could not make herself speak, but she nodded once.
The ghost sighed. "Does he know?"
Nasami shook her head.
"And your feelings for Mirumoto Kuroshin?"
"He..." The samuraiko swallowed hard. "He will always be dear to me, but I cannot remaining in mourning forever. I must once again follow my heart."
"But I fear that this time, the cost will be higher than even you can pay, my sister."
"How?" she said softly. "How can it be greater than the cost from before? I felt as though my soul had been rent in two, my heart in shattered fragments."
"But you still had your honor, and you still had your life. You risk both now, my beloved sister, as you never have before."
Nasami shook her head. "I will not turn back, Yoshio. Not from my own heart, not even from my own death." She drew Mamorimasu and held it up, and the katana seemed to glow in the moonlight.
I die so others might live...
No life is too small," she whispered.
I die so others might live...
No life is too small," she whispered.
Then she resheathed the blade, bowed to her brother, and began the long climb up the slippery and treacherous rocks along the waterfall.
"An admirable death haiku, my sister," the ghost mused as she climbed. "But from you, I would expect no less."
After dark, the samurai were settling themselves in Rikichi's small house. While they were hardly expecting to be welcomed with open arms, arriving to find the farmers hiding at the Elder's house, the women and food secreted away in the secret storehouses, and their every moves watched was a disconcerting experience to say the least.
"Not the most auspicious of welcomes," Heihachi said with a sigh, stretching out on the floor.
"You expected differently?" Kyuzo said dryly, leaning against the wall and staring moodily at the fire.
"They're frightened, and so they should be," Gorobei said, his voice low. "The Nobuseri can be formidable opponents to armed samurai... imagine how the farmers feel."
"Even so," Shichiroji replied, "this is going to make our job a lot tougher. A group of villagers willing to fight and do what it takes is one thing... but these villagers aren't what Nasami-dono would call 'an army of sheep.'"
"Are you calling farmers cowards, Momotaro?" Kikuchiyo said, preparing to draw his sword, but a glare from Kambei kept the weapon sheathed.
"Why do you keep calling me Momotaro?" Shichiroji said in exasperation.
"That's enough, all of you." Kambei's voice cut through the discussion, and Kikuchiyo rolled over onto his side to sulk for a while.
Katsushiro looked up.
"Speaking of which, has anyone seen Nasami-dono?"
The other samurai shook their heads. "Don't worry, Katsu, I'm sure she's fine," Kikuchiyo said cheerfully. "Nothing stops that woman."
"Well, this one might have been a bit much for her," Shichiroji said uncertainly. "I mean, can you imagine scaling a waterfall in the dark with two bad knees? It's like she's got a death wish."
Katsushiro got up to pace just as Kirara came in carrying a plate with rice balls. "Great samurai, I've brought your dinner... what's wrong, Katsushiro?"
"Nasami's not here yet," he said, continuing to pace.
"Do you think someone should go and keep watch?" Heihachi suggested. "Just to be safe."
"I can go, great samurai," Rikichi volunteered.
"You wouldn't be much help if she got into trouble," Kambei said kindly. "I'll go in case she needs assistance. Shichiroji, Kyuzo-dono, please patrol the woods just in case she needed to come through a different way."
The two samurai nodded and left.
"Gorobei, you'll keep an eye on things here?"
"Sure thing," the street performer grinned. "You just go and find Nasami." His smile faded. "Hopefully not at the bottom of the waterfall."
Kambei turned to Kirara. "About how far is the waterfall from here?"
She walked to the door and pointed off into the distance. "From here, about twenty minutes, twenty-five if walking slow. The path leads behind that small group of houses there, along the edge of the cliffs."
"Right. I'll be back soon." Kambei strode outside, his face somber.
"Do you think she's all right?" Heihachi asked after a few minutes. "After all, if the farmers weren't too happy with us, what would they have done with a lone samurai woman?"
The samurai looked at one another, and then out into the night, concern on all of their faces for the samuraiko.
Kambei followed the path that Kirara had described until he reached the waterfall. In the moonlight, the water glowed silver, its roar drowning out the other sounds of the night.
"Nasami-san!" he called as loudly as he dared.
There was no answer.
He carefully made his way down the path toward the rock that projected out over the falls, and started at the sight of Nasami standing on the rock that projected out over the waterfall, her long white hair blowing in the breeze from the falls. Her arms were wrapped around herself, and for a moment, he would have sworn that there was another samurai standing beside her, his arm around her shoulders. But then he blinked, and the other figure was gone.
"Nasami-san?" he called again, and this time she turned. At first, she seemed not to recognize him, but then she cautiously stepped from the rock up onto the path to stand before him.
"We've been waiting for hours," he chided softly, but he stopped at the expression on her face.
He wasn't certain if it was a trick of the moonlight, but he thought he had seen an incomparable sadness in her eyes, but then it was gone.
"Where is Kyuzo-sama?" she asked quietly.
"With Shichiroji, looking for you."
"When we find him, assign him to guard duty, patrolling the woods and watching the farmers."
"Why, is something wrong?" he asked as she moved past him, heading up the path.
"The villagers are contemplating betraying us," she said, her voice flat, not looking back as she walked. "The Nobuseri know we are coming, and they think our lives will buy the bandits' mercy. I will not let that happen, if I can help it, but I cannot do it alone. I will need Kyuzo-sama's help."
Kambei stopped in the middle of the path. "But how do you know this?"
She stopped as well, but did not turn around. "My brother told me."
Then she began walking again, leaving Kambei looking shaken and confused behind her.
Without stopping, Nasami made her way into the village of Kanna. Several of the peasants were sitting outside, warily talking and keeping an eye on Rikichi's house where the samurai were staying. As it turned out, Kyuzo and Shichiroji arrived back at the same time as Kambei and Nasami.
"Sorry, Kambei-sama, no sign of... wait, is that-"
Kambei quickly held up his hand for silence, and Shichiroji nodded, having momentarily forgotten the Shikimoribito's warning.
He turned to Nasami, who wore the hood of her robes up over her hair, hiding the white tresses. "Are you all right?"
She nodded. "Thank you for your concern, Shichiroji-san." She also nodded to Kyuzo, who nodded back - his version of a bow.
"You mean, there's another samurai here?" Manzo moaned. "This is all we need."
Just then, the other samurai, as well as Rikichi, Komachi, and Kirara appeared.
"Glad to see you're safe," Katsushiro said in relief after seeing Shichiroji's cautious tilting of his head toward the samuraiko.
"Yeah, you had all of us really worried!" Komachi said brightly, running forward and throwing her arms around Nasami's legs.
The samuraiko smiled, although none could see it, and rested her hand on Komachi's head. "I'm sorry to make you worry, Komachi-chan."
The Elder appeared and came to stand in front of Nasami. For a long time, he peered at her hidden face. Then he turned to the other samurai, then to Kirara, Rikichi, and Komachi. "And who is this that you bring to Kanna hidden and cloaked?"
None of them replied, knowing that Nasami's identity had to remain a secret.
But the samuraiko had other plans.
"They did not bring me, Elder."
She reached up and drew the hood back from her head, so that the moon shone fully on her hair and her face.
"Nasami-sama, don't!" Rikichi exclaimed, but it was too late.
"I cannot hide any longer, Rikichi. If we are to help, we must have trust on both sides. The peasants already know that we are just as capable of destroying them as the Nobuseri are. Perhaps what is needed is proof that they can kill me just as easily."
The samurai could only stare at her, astonished at the samuraiko's absolute fearlessness. Her actions would either convince the villagers once and for all of the intentions of the samurai... or it would be signing her own death warrant.
"Nasami..." The Elder stared at her in wonder, his eyes resting first on the mane of white hair, then on the scars on her face, then on the swords she wore at her waist. He then bowed, most of the villagers immediately following suit. "Truly, the prayers of Kanna have been answered if the Wandering Crane herself has come to aid our cause."
"You may in time regret that prayer, Elder," she replied.
"What do you mean?" Gozaku asked.
"Nasami-san is wanted for murder," Kambei said somberly. "Although she had already given her word to Kirara that she would join Kanna's fight, one of the Magistrate's bodyguards named her as the assassin of an Imperial Envoy. The Nobuseri, Ayamoro's patrols, and soon the Imperial Magistrates will be coming for her if her presence in Kanna were discovered."
The samuraiko's gaze rested on each of the farmers, one by one, until at last her eyes met the Elder's once again. "I have saved your water priestess' life, as well as that of her sister. I have sworn to protect Kanna with my life. And I have just placed a terrible weapon in Kanna's hands, Elder. I leave it to you to decide what you will do with it."
Manzo and his fellow farmers looked at one another, then back at Nasami.
And although none of them said a word, the expression in their cunning eyes changed.
To be continued...