Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ To Do What We Must ( Chapter 21 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
* * * * * * * * * *
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Note: As I stated in the last chapter, this was originally all one long chapter. But in the end, I knew that it wouldn't really have the same impact, so I went ahead and split it. Whereas the last chapter is filled with darkness, here we see that those involved are not beyond redemption…
There's a wonderful line in the anime SPIRAL, where Eyes Rutherford is talking about Ayumu Narumi… “Kiyotaka said it best. `The ability to get up after a defeat is far more admirable than the ability to never lose.'” Never more so than now is that sentiment so well expressed in SAMURAI 7.
The music for this chapter is the beautiful “You are the Pan,” from John Williams' score for the film HOOK.
* * * * * * * * * *
THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-One: To Do What We Must
Kambei stood inside Rikichi's small house, holding Katsushiro's bloody sword. With great care, he filled a ladle with water, then held the sword over the waste box and poured water over it. As the water trickled down the blade, it washed away the blood and the filth.
But not enough.
The samurai held up the sword, studying it intently. It still bore stains, and the edge was not nearly as sharp as it should have been. That Katsushiro had been able to slice through the Yakan shell was surprising, but such treatment of the blade could not go on. It almost hurt to look at it, knowing that a samurai like Kyuzo or Nasami, or himself for that matter, would never let a katana remain in such a condition.
First he stepped out of his shoes, leaving them on the dirt floor as he climbed up onto the raised platform. Then he sat himself with his back to the door and the warmth of the fire, and removed his gloves, setting them beside him. From the pack that Kikuchiyo had carried, he drew forth a small stand and a pale whetstone, the tools all samurai carried with them for the care of their swords. Next to them, he set up a small bucket of water. As he did so, he quieted his mind, letting his frustration and concern melt away, leaving only the emptiness of peace.
With the skill of long practice, Kambei started to dismantle the katana. The pins came out first and were laid carefully to one side, then the cord binding the tsuba to the guard was placed beside them. Then he took up a soft cloth, wrapped it around the base of the blade, and slid the tang of the katana free of the pommel, which was also laid aside.
He sighed to himself, a single breath that touched the sword, and then he poured a handful of water over the whetstone he had set up, and set to work.
Heihachi intended for the whole village to see what Manzo had done. This time, he wouldn't let Kambei just quietly convince him not to intervene, or sweep things under the rug. It was time that betrayal was dealt with in an honest fashion.
He dragged Manzo past Kyuzo and the farmers where they were holding archery practice, past Shichiroji and the peasants who were busy building the ballista decoys, past the staring men, women, and children who had never seen the young mechanic looking anything but cheerful.
Ignoring the stares, the whispers, and Shino's desperate begging for mercy, Heihachi marched Manzo right into the middle of the village, his expression hard as stone. By now, virtually all of the farmers were there, or on their way there to see what all the commotion was about.
Manzo was still sobbing and pleading for mercy, trying to excuse his actions. “Please, great samurai, I was protecting my land!”
Shino continued to beg, “Great samurai, please!”
But Heihachi was unmoved. He might not have been able to do anything about Honoka's treachery, but this was going too far. At least Honoka hadn't actually hired the samurai she had betrayed.
Suddenly Gorobei arrived, drawn by all of the racket and Manzo's loud shouts and Shino's tearful pleas for forgiveness.
As the Elder approached, Heihachi's mouth tightened further, and he shoved Manzo forward, away from him. Shino gasped and ran to her father's side. “Dad!”
Manzo ignored her, crawling forward on hands and knees toward the Elder, clutching at him. “Elder, great Elder, save me!”
The Elder looked up at Heihachi with concern. “What is your dispute with this man?”
Heihachi's gaze and voice were both filled with barely controlled disgust. “This man who you're trying to protect sold us out to the bandits.”
The Elder's face fell, and it was clear to all present that he was hoping the samurai was wrong, but when Manzo looked away, it was clear that Heihachi was telling the truth.
And to make matters worse, Kyuzo arrived, followed by Shichiroji and Rikichi… and all four of the samurai present knew that Manzo had already tried to betray them once before.
“Heihachi-dono…” Gorobei said quietly, and the mechanic turned to the other samurai.
“And that's not all… he was going to hand over Nasami-dono as well.”
Kyuzo's eyes narrowed.
Katsushiro arrived at Rikichi's house and stood in the doorway, still covered in blood and grime. He could see Kambei sitting with his back to him, calmly sharpening his blade. The older samurai gave no indication that he knew Katsushiro was there… or if he did, he didn't care.
The young samurai took a few cautious steps inside and stopped just short of the platform.
“Sensei?” he whispered, but Kambei ignored him, the only sign that he'd heard the slightest pause as he worked.
Katsushiro closed his eyes, sighed in despair, and sank to his knees, just as Kirara arrived and stood in the doorway as he had moments before. She stopped, her heart pounding, suddenly realizing what the samuraiko had meant. In the face of Kambei's indifference, the young samurai would need an ally… a friend.
At last, Kambei was satisfied with his work, and he scooped one last handful of water over the blade. Then he took up the soft cloth and ran it down the length of the sword, until the flat of the blade reflected his face like a mirror.
“You must take care of your swords,” he said finally, glancing back over his shoulder. “I have made the blade of your daito sharper. A samurai is one who kills.”
Katsushiro flinched, and Kambei began to re-assemble the sword.
“Why did you come to this village?” Kambei asked him.
“To save it, of course,” Katsushiro said faintly.
“Then you have done your job.” The tang of the blade slid home with a faint snick, and Kambei retied the cord of the tsuba. “If you wish to continue on the samurai path, you must be prepared to carry the weight of those you kill.” Then the older samurai rose to his feet, turned, and walked to stand over Katsushiro, who was still kneeling on the ground.
Suddenly, he drove the katana downward, slamming it point first into the platform in front of Katsushiro, and Kirara gasped.
Then Kambei stepped down from the platform into his shoes, and drew his own katana and saya from its resting place on his hip. He met Katsushiro's gaze, and then ground the point of his sheathed katana into the wound that was still bandaged on Katsushiro's thigh, and the young samurai barely bit back a cry of pain. “Otherwise, the meaning of this wound will be lost.”
With cold eyes, Kambei turned his head to look at Kirara, who took an involuntary step backward. “Peasants lack the fortitude to fight Nobuseri. That is why it is our role.” His eyes and his tone took on the faintest hint of derision and self-mockery. “We are nothing but scarecrows… driving away the bandits who swarm over the crop.”
Rikichi and the other farmers rounded on Manzo, furious at his betrayal.
"How could you do that? They're trying to save us!" Rikichi shouted, rushing forward to grab Manzo and shake him furiously. "You're such a fool!"
"We all agreed to hire the samurai, Manzo. How could you betray the group decision?" Mosuke asked.
Manzo turned away. "I never agreed to anything, okay?"
"You could have killed us!" Rikichi hissed as Gozaku stepped forward.
"What do you mean, you didn't agree?" he asked in disbelief.
"Bandits or samurai, what's the difference? Either one is the farmer's enemy! A-any man who carries a sword is going to treat us like slaves, like animals!" Manzo protested, but Rikichi shoved him away in disgust and got to his feet.
"Are you blind to all the work they've been doing here, trying to get us ready like we hired them to? They saved us countless times in the city, and they'll save us now!"
"But they're going to tear down the bridge, a-and abandon all the homes on the other side!" Manzo wailed, andall of the peasants started. "How is that saving us?"
Gorobei cursed silently. He and Kambei had discussed it with Shichiroji a few days earlier, as part of the requirements for fortifying their defenses. But it seemed that Manzo had been eavesdropping on that discussion, and had now chosen to spread that information without waiting for the samurai to explain themselves first.
"Tear down the bridge? Great samurai, that isn't the truth, is it?" Gozaku pleaded.
"Why would you do that?" Mosuke asked, and Shichiroji and Gorobei looked at one another.
"To have any chance of warding off the bandits, it has to be done," Shichiroji said flatly, and the peasants all looked at one another. Suddenly their confidence in the samurai was slipping away, and the samurai knew it.
Rikichi, however, could not just stand there and let his friends' fear ruin their chances of success. "I know how you all feel, but the samurai have their plan! We have to trust them!"
Manzo was still on his hands and knees, sobbing, "But I don't understand! Those rice fields have been passed down by my ancestors! Deserting them is the same thing as death!" He lifted his head to stare at the Elder, who still stood quietly, watching and listening. "Tell me, Elder, how are they any different from the bandits? HOW?"
Gonzo stepped forward to stand just behind Heihachi. "Sorry, but I won't condemn Manzo. I sympathize with his words."
Kanzo nodded. "Me, too."
Rikichi whirled around, his eyes wide with disbelief. "WHAT?"
Gonzo went on. "I know you went to a lot of trouble to bring samurai here, but maybe it was a mistake. The bandits have already warned us... if they learn we've hired samurai, they'll kill us all!"
Again, Kanzo nodded. "That's right," he agreed, paler than ever.
"You should understand how serious their threats are, Rikichi," Gonzo continued, his voice softer, trying to be persuasive without offending the younger farmer. "We've all seen the bandits' work... what they can take away."
Heihachi, on the other hand, couldn't believe what he was hearing. "So of course, you figured the fair thing to do was talk to the bandits in secret and offer up the samurai you hired to save your own lives?" His brown eyes narrowed angrily. "Right."
And with that, he stepped up to Manzo and placed his hand on his sword. The farmer and his daughter cowered, but there was no compassion, no warmth in the engineer's face... only loathing. And Manzo knew that now, even more so than when Genzo had threatened him, he was staring death in the face.
Until another voice came. "Heihachi-dono."
"Don't say you're actually defending this guy!" Heihachi hissed.
"I'm saying we should let Kambei-sama decide."
Heihachi laughed bitterly. "He'll forgive anything, and you know it! This is war, we can't afford to be soft! This farmer clearly betrayed us... once a traitor, always a traitor."
Shichiroji took a step forward. "Listen..."
The mechanic cut him off. "Cutting him down is like destroying the bridge. It's just the reality of war - you don't let traitors live."
"He does have a point," Kyuzo said dryly from the rock on which he sat.
The farmers stared in horror as Heihachi took his stance and prepared to draw his katana...
... until Shichiroji moved forward and grabbed his sword hand. The two samurai stood staring at one another, neither willing to give in on the issue.
"Maybe you don't care about your own life," Heihachi whispered angrily, "but do you even give a damn about Nasami-dono's? Our deaths would be nothing compared to hers."
Anger flared in Shichiroji's eyes. "She made her own choice to come here, and she knows the risks. Do you think for one second that she would want you to turn murderer for her?"
Kambei stood quietly watching Katsushiro, who was still sitting in a daze on the floor, staring at his sword impaled in the platform.
"Take your sword back now, Katsushiro," he said softly, but the young samurai's hands tightened into fists. "Then get yourself some rice. You'll need your strength to kill again." And with that, he brushed past Kirara and walked outside.
Kirara had seen Katsushiro remorseful, had seen him angry, had seen him upset... but never had she seen such... emptiness in the young man's soul.
Slowly Katsushiro got to his feet, and with tears in his eyes, he reached out and placed his hand on the katana's pommel.
"I'm sorry, Katsushiro," Kirara whispered from behind him.
"There's no need for you to apologize," he replied, although a part of him wanted nothing more than to blame the water priestess for forcing him into this situation. But in his heart, he knew it wasn't her fault... it was his. He yanked hard, and the katana came free. His eyes studied the blade, taking in the care that Kambei had used to sharpen and polish it until it was truly a samurai weapon once again.
"I convinced you to do a horrible thing... take your first life to make a situation easier for me when you had to carry the burden." She lifted her head to look at him. "That's what the scent of battle is, isn't it? The burden samurai carry... the ghosts of the men they've killed."
Katsushiro bowed his head and closed his eyes. Every time he thought he understood what it meant to be samurai, fate constantly proved him wrong. "A true samurai denies his feelings of doubt. I thought I was prepared to kill, but I was naive, and I hesitated." It made his heart ache to imagine any of the other samurai in his place - he knew that someone like Gorobei, Nasami, or Kyuzo would not have paused in fulfilling their duty. But it never crossed his mind that there was a reason for that. Not only were all three samurai older than he, but all three had served in the war, all three had been samurai their entire lives... all three had faced death in their lives and had dealt it out themselves.
He turned back to face Kirara, resheathing his katana as he did so. "If I cannot be strong, the village will fall."
Suddenly Kirara reached out and took his hand in both of hers, clasping it tightly. "Let me sink with you, and share the weight."
Katsushiro stared, his eyes wide.
"Kambei was right... we make you kill to protect us, because we're cowards." Finally knowing in her heart what the samuraiko had meant when she had sent Kirara after Katsushiro, Kirara slid her hands down the young man's arm, feeling the strength there, even as it trembled. "At least let me wash the blood that spills on your skin."
Slowly, she sank to her knees, and pressed her lips to the back of his hand. Katsushiro could not have pulled away if he'd wanted to, only having eyes for the girl he loved, even as his tears finally spilled over and slid down his cheeks.
As Kambei stepped into the center of the village, he stopped in surprise at the tableau before him - Manzo and Shino cowering on the ground, Heihachi and Shichiroji locked in stalemate.
Gorobei glanced over and saw him. "Great timing," he said dryly.
Kambei also saw the Elder standing and watching quietly, Rikichi glaring at two of his fellow farmers, and Kyuzo watching the whole thing implacably.
"Long story," Gorobei began, but then a loud shout drew everyone's attention.
"OUT OF THE WAY!"
Charging like a bull, waving his sword around to drive the peasants back, Kikuchiyo came running straight at the group.
"I said move, you wide-eyed cowardly rice rats! Out of the damned way!" He charged straight up to where Manzo and Shino crouched, and slammed his sword down into the ground, creating a crater nearly six feet in diameter. Shino shrieked and crawled backward, trying to get away from the crazy machine samurai.
"That idiot!" Gorobei groaned. "I've told him countless times not to swing that sword in the village! HEY!"
But before he could step forward, Kambei stopped him. "Only Kikuchiyo can handle this situation now," he said calmly. He vaguely remembered Nasami passing him in the bamboo forest, and he suddenly smiled to himself. Of course... he should have known that the samuraiko would be behind Kikuchiyo's sudden appearance.
"I knew it would come down to this!" Kikuchiyo ranted, getting to his feet and then getting up in Rikichi's face. "We're going to put Manzo on trial, a little village tribunal, right?"
Then he rounded on the samurai. "Or wait! Maybe we should skip the ceremonies and chop his head off now, save some time!"
Gorobei leaned back from the steam that was pouring from the big machine samurai's helmet.
Kikuchiyo pointed a finger straight at Shichiroji. "You know nothing about farmers, samurai, so don't think about handing out verdicts!" He spun to point to Heihachi. "And you! You lay another finger on that man, you'll be dealing with me!"
Heihachi was not impressed. "Oh, really?"
"You're damned right! Just ask the farmers, take a vote! They'll never fault Manzo for what he did, and neither will you!"
He whirled around once again, and stamped his foot angrily, creating another small crater. "Do I think farmers are noble? Oh, they're foxes! Treacherous beasts! They'll stoop to anything that makes their lives easier! That's why they hired samurai to defend Kanna for them! It's your village... put your own stinking lives on the line!"
Kikuchiyo turned back to the samurai. "But oh, no! They'd never do that! Sure, they'd sweat all day in the fields for their darling rice..."
He leaned right into Gonzo's face.
"... but they won't spill their blood for it!"
Slowly, the big machine samurai stalked down the line of farmers, who shrank away from his glare. "They say, 'We have no rice, we only eat millet, we've got nothing!' But they have everything! Dig under the floorboards, search the barns, or those hidden storehouses... you'll find plenty there! Rice! Sake! Salt! Meat!"
Once again, he glanced back at the samurai. "Oh, they pose as meek, but they're all full of lies! If they smell battle, they hunt the defeated! If the winds change, they betray you! Farmers are stinking, foxy, blathering, cowardly, cruel, stupid murderers!"
He dropped down to sit beside Manzo. "Damn it, that's what they are! But who made them into these miserable beasts?" he shouted, hitting Manzo across the back of the head and sending him sprawling. Then he glared up at the samurai and pointed at them.
"You did... you samurai did it to them!" Kikuchiyo growled in frustration. "You burn their villages, destroy their farms, steal their food, force them into slave labour, take their women, kill them if they resist! So what should farmers do? WHAT?"
He looked back at Manzo. "I can't blame Manzo, conniving and pathetic as he is. He just played the odds and the bandits won, that's all. Because farmers are corrupt, the bandits are corrupt, and samurai are corrupt! Why would anyone risk their lives for anyone?"
Then he turned, and saw Nasami standing at the edge of the forest, with dirt on her hands and face, and tears on her cheeks. In an instant, he realized that somehow,she had known. Even knowing the truth, she had kept her own counsel, and she had believed in him enough to encourage him to speak up. And even knowing that the farmers would most likely betray her to her death, she had chosen to remain in Kanna, honoring the promise she had made.
And in that instant, he knew what he had to do... what he had to say.
"But I'll fight for them! I'll kill all the bandits, damn it!"
And he began to sob, his shoulders heaving, his voice breaking even as he continued to whisper, "Damn it..."
For a long, long time, the farmers and the samurai all stood in silence, the only sound being Kikuchiyo's sobs. Kambei glanced up and saw Nasami standing there, her arms wrapped around herself as she watched Kikuchiyo. Tears were streaming down her face as she looked over and her eyes met his. His eyes widened slightly at the sight of the dirt on her face and her hands, and he realized that she had sent Kikuchiyo here, and had finished digging the grave by herself.
And if a samurai was willing to lower herself to a peasant's tasks, perhaps a peasant could aspire to a samurai's duty.
Slowly, he approached Kikuchiyo, who was still quietly weeping. "You were born a farmer, weren't you, Kikuchiyo?"
Kikuchiyo turned to look back at him, even as all of the farmers gasped and the samurai looked at one another.
Komachi and Okara came forward to stand in front of the big machine samurai. "Is that true, Kiku, you're a farmer?" Komachi asked, staring at him.
"You're disappointed," Kikuchiyo said heavily, hanging his head in shame, but Komachi shook her head.
"Who, me? No!" she said brightly. "That just means you can help us with the harvest!"
"What?" The machine samurai looked up at the child who had always believed in him... and continued to do so even now.
"Then my suspicions were correct," Kambei said quietly.
"You mean you guessed it before?" Kikuchiyo asked in dismay, and Kambei nodded.
"From the very first time I met you."
Kikuchiyo turned around and folded his arms over his chest defensively. "Okay, I was a farmer. So what? I figured if I acted like a samurai, people would think of me better!"
"Then do you now think better of samurai?" Kambei asked.
Kikichiyo started to respond, then thought it over, and looked away. "No."
Her eyes shining, Okara came around to look at Kikuchiyo. "Kiku, you can be my new sidekick!"
Komachi, however, glared at her. "Excuse me, he's my sidekick!"
And Kambei smiled, a feeling of satisfaction coming over him. "At last, the seven are complete."
"What?" Kikuchiyo stared up at him, hardly daring to hope.
"I had hoped for this - a fighter with a farmer's heart may help us. But for your samurai spirit to shine through, you had to understand who you truly are." Kambei glanced down at the farmer who still crouched beside Kikuchiyo. "Manzo..."
Immediately Manzo flattened himself face down in the dirt. "Please, forgive me!" he wailed.
"Great samurai, I beg you, spare his life! Please!" Shino begged, bowing alongside her father.
Kambei moved to kneel beside the terrified peasant. It took a great deal for him to try and sympathize with the farmer who had betrayed not only the samurai, but the woman who had risked her life for them, but he could almost hear Nasami's voice, pleading for compassion. There had to be a way to make him understand. "Manzo, you love your land, yes?"
"Yes, yes!" Manzo sobbed.
"But think about it... is it really your land right now, or is it the Nobuseri's?"
At that, Shino and Manzo both looked up. It was clear to all present that neither of them had ever seen it in that light before.
"If you truly love your land, then fight for it," Kambei urged him. "And if you love your daughter, then fight for her! Do what you must! Do it for the whole village, and be honest with yourself! Selfish deeds are the shortest path to self-destruction. Do not forget that this is not your normal harvest season, or village politics as usual. We are waging a war here. And I no longer think of you as a mere rice farmer... you are an honorable soldier of Kanna Fortress."
Manzo's eyes were huge, as were that of all the other peasants. For the first time in their lives, they stood straight and tall, seeing respect in the eyes of the samurai.
Kambei went on. "And as a soldier, you understand why, for the sake of the whole, the bridge must be destroyed, and your home abandoned."
The momentary gleam of hope in the farmer's eyes died away, and he slumped his shoulders in defeat, but Kambei was not through. "Once the bandits are dealt with, fallen homes can be rebuilt."
Then he leaned closer.
"But heed this warning... if you betray us again, I will kill you myself."
"Of course! Thank you!" Manzo cried, flattening himself once again in a bow.
"So the farmers of Kanna are soldiers now," the Elder said dryly, and Kambei turned to look at him.
"Do you disapprove, great Elder?"
Grinning, the Elder shook his head. "No, no. Sounds good to me!"
Kambei looked back at Shichiroji and Heihachi. "So this matter is settled?"
The two samurai looked at one another, then both looked back at Kambei and nodded. If Kambei and Nasami were willing to forgive, they would be willing as well.
Kambei got to his feet and raised his voice. "Then what are you all doing? We've lost enough time already! Get back to your work!"
As the villagers returned to their previous tasks, Nasami approached and came to kneel beside Kikuchiyo. "I'm very proud of you, Kikuchiyo-san," she said softly. "What you did was very brave."
"You really think so?" he asked her, and she nodded.
Slowly, as though afraid of hurting her, Kikuchiyo raised one hand and gently touched the tears on her face. "Why... are you crying?"
"I... I am sorry, Kikuchiyo-san. I am sorry that I doubted you. For the longest time, I was afraid that you would never find your true courage." She reached out and touched the sword that the big machine samurai had driven into the ground, as the other samurai came to stand around them. "A samurai's greatest strength is not found in his sword... it is found in his soul. And as long as you did not recognize that so much of your strength came from who you were, and not who you were trying to be, you could never truly be samurai. But tonight... I..."
The samuraiko bowed her head. "Please forgive me."
Kikuchiyo was stunned. A samurai... asking his forgiveness?
Fora long time, no one spoke. Then with a laugh that sounded suspiciously like him choking back tears, Kikuchiyo reached out and lightly tugged the samuraiko's long foxtail. "Well... you are the only one who hasn't been giving me a hard time since the day we met!"
The tension disappeared as all of them started laughing.
Heihachi, however, was staring after Manzo, frowning as he watched Shino lead her father away. "Are you always that forgiving of people who betray you?" he asked the samuraiko.
"Actually, no," she replied, looking over at him, thinking of Hyogo and Yashiko. "But no one is truly innocent, Heihachi-san."
She looked back the way she had come, where she had finished digging the grave and burying the bandit. And she shivered.
To be continued...