Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Sentenced to Death ( Chapter 27 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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AUTHOR'S NOTES: This was both a tough and an easy chapter to write. On the one hand, the whole samurai ruse is such an awesome stunt (I admit, my first thought was, “GAMER MOMENT!”), but on the other hand, once again I was stuck with how I was going to write Nasami in. But she is devious when she wants to be, and one of her oft-quoted statements in the L5R game was, “How do you fight the enemy that you don't know exists?”
Then of course there's the whole scene with Ukyo, who still just makes my skin crawl. The inspiration for his conversation with Tessai came out while I was at work after a round of office politics, and trying to explain to my supervisor what I was scribbling in the middle of a team meeting was damned difficult…
The music for this chapter is an homage to my favorite non-anime TV series of all time… “The Curse of Fenric,” from the Doctor Who episode of the same name.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Sentenced to Death
At the Mikumari's house, where all of the women and children were gathered, Kirara held her dowsing crystal, sending her thoughts outward to sense the ebb and flow of the events around Kanna. She sensed that the first battle was over, but matters were not yet finished. As her crystal glowed brightly, Kirara's eyes drifted half-shut.
“Behind,” she murmured.
“What, sister?” Komachi asked, startled after Kirara had been silent for so long, and the water priestess' eyes opened once more as the spirits whispered to her.
“The turbulent fog… it calls for change…”
Off to one side, unnoticed by most of the women, Tetsu, Kirara's grandmother, nodded. In her mind, she recalled the symbols and ways of the I Ching, the Book of Changes. “Water over Thunder,” she whispered to herself. “The forces of chaos… difficult beginnings and an unclear way…”
Although her voice was barely audible, Shino heard the old woman, and shivered. Clasping her hands tightly, she bowed her head and prayed as she never had before in her life.
The Elder sat quietly in his house, meditating, communing in his own way with the world around him, when he became aware of a faint rumbling… growing louder and louder. He glanced at his walking stick, which was rattling beside the post against which it leaned, and then he stared off into the distance, as though seeing past the walls of his house toward the fields.
Okara and Komachi both started at the sudden tremor and looked at one another in surprise.
“They're back?” Okara asked softly, peeking up at Kirara for some reassurance. But the water priestess said nothing, only stared straight ahead and listening to the spirits who spoke to her alone.
“Don't worry! We'll be fine, no matter what!” Komachi said brightly when Kirara didn't answer. “Kiku will take care of everything! He promised!”
Okara bit her tongue. Now was hardly the time to remind her younger friend that the big machine samurai's head had been neatly sliced from his body by Kambei's katana… although for that matter, now that she thought about it, she hadn't seen most of the samurai for some time. Not since the ballista had taken down one of the big Nobuseri ships and Kirara had chased them both inside where she could ostensibly keep an eye on them…
Off in the distance, out of the fog came three enormous shapes.
Syusai and Sobei, the Nobuseri leaders in this area, and the remaining bandit transport ship. Behind them came about a dozen Mimizuku, their eyes cold and expressionless.
As the bandits' scanning devices assessed the rice crop, taking into account the height of the rice and how some of the fields had already been harvested, a few of the farmers in the fields caught sight of them, panicked, and ran.
At first, the Nobuseri ignored them, more surprised at what they were seeing in front of them. But they got an even bigger shock as they approached Kanna Village itself.
“Wait! Over there!” Sobei growled, and he and Syusai flew closer. “The farmers…”
And discovered Rikichi, Manzo, Gozaku, and the other men of Kanna Village bundling the latest harvest of rice into nearly twenty bushels.
For what seemed like an eternity, nobody moved. The peasants were terrified at the sight of their oppressors appearing from the fog out of nowhere, their minds filled with sudden and horrifying thoughts of bandit vengeance. The Nobuseri were stunned at the sheer audacity of the farmers for harvesting their rice after killing so many of their men.
Then with a yelp, Manzo fell over, and immediately all of the farmers followed suit, dropping the bushels and prostrating themselves.
“P-please, we beg you,” Rikichi pleaded, shaking so hard that his voice trembled. “Let us explain!”
“Very well,” Syusai said dryly. “You may try.”
The young farmer was profoundly grateful that he was on his knees, because at this point he didn't think he could have stood if his life had depended on it. He stared at the ground, unable to lift his gaze to the bandits, fear paralyzing him like nothing ever had before.
“We realize now that we made a terrible mistake,” he began, trying desperately to steady his voice but failing. “We were hungry, and scared we'd starve! We had no right to do what we did, we had no right to turn against you!”
“And how did you make such an error in judgment?” Sobei asked, approaching slightly, while the farmers pressed themselves closer to the ground, cowering. Despite the Nobuseri's quiet words, every man present could almost feel the anger simmering around the bandits and winced.
Rikichi swallowed hard and continued. “We forgot that we're merely farmers… and that we're tenants of this land, and have no right to it! We hired samurai to fight the Nobuseri for us, but we didn't know how war would be!” His eyes were haunted by the memory of the battle the other day… a rush of fiery arrows and the bridge exploding… the Yakan plunging to their deaths while the samurai watched with cold eyes… He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them again. “And now we owe them too much, and we just want our simple lives back!”
The bandits said nothing.
“We were selfish and greedy, and thought we didn't need you,” Rikichi went on in self-reproach. “Foolish! We should have known we'd never be able to make it on our own! We realize we don't deserve your mercy, but we beg you to believe us! We'll never try to go against you again, we swear!”
Still the bandits were silent, staring coldly at the villagers who shivered beneath their stoic gaze, until the silence became too much for Rikichi, and he glanced up at them, his eyes wide.
“Please say you'll spare us, just this once, great Nobuseri!” He gestured to the bushels of rice that lay on the ground where the farmers had dropped them in panic. “We want to give you this rice as a peace offering! And there's more of it to come! Please!”
“Of course we'll take your rice… whether it's for peace or not,” Syusai said coldly. “But we want more than that. Where are the samurai?”
Rikichi flinched, and glanced to his right at Manzo. The older farmer was ashen, but nodded, and he turned to look behind him and signal at one of the other farmers, who got up and walked toward the nearest house.
The young man looked back at the Nobuseri. “They're here,” he said softly. “We offer them to you also.”
Sobei and Syusai looked up to see two more farmers leading three figures into the midst of the farmers, their weapons gone, and tied in such fashion that their hands and upper bodies were bound.
Kyuzo, Gorobei, and Katsushiro, all looking quietly defiant, their faces expressionless as they took in the kneeling farmers and the bandits that loomed over all of them.
Another farmer approached and handed a basket to Rikichi, then immediately knelt. Rikichi took the basket and held it up for Syusai and Sobei to see.
Inside was Kikuchiyo's head.
“Master Ukyo, I really hate to intrude, but…”
“Then don't!” Ukyo snapped from where he sat playing cards with three of his favorite courtesans. It was bad enough that he had to manage things in his father's absence, which was interfering with his own pleasures, but to deal with these sordid matters was just so… not him.
“It's just that one of our spies has sent back a very… interesting report,” Tessai went on.
Ukyo heaved a sigh. “Fine, you may enter.”
“Thank you, Master.” The door slid open to reveal Tessai kneeling on the floor, but Ukyo barely gave him a glance before going back to his game of cards.
“Well, out with it,” Ukyo said lazily.
“Yes, Master. It appears that war has broken out between the Nobuseri and the villagers of Kanna.”
“And I should care… why?” the young man said with ill-concealed boredom as he discarded one of his cards and drew another, then he smiled. “Ah, just the card I was looking for!”
The courtesans giggled, and Tessai gritted his teeth while trying to hang onto his patience.
“Surely you haven't forgotten already? Kanna Village is where that farm girl came from!”
That got Ukyo's attention at last, and he looked over at Tessai with greater interest. “Ah, my beloved Kirara! So, her village is at war with the Nobuseri… I guess that explains what she was doing with those samurai thugs we saw her with!”
Tessai went on. “We have lost contact with Hyogo and Kyuzo, who were dispatched to follow them. Our scouts discovered a fresh grave in the desert, and we dug it up.” He paused, but Ukyo's attention had wandered again. “It was Hyogo, Master.” He did not mention the broken sword that had been marking the grave.
“Grave robbing? Honestly, isn't that a tad morbid?” Ukyo chided, but Tessai was not finished.
“Hyogo's wound was clearly the work of a skilled swordsman, and since Kyuzo is nowhere to be found, we have to assume he may be… responsible.” The thought galled him - two of the Magistrate's finest bodyguards, and now one was dead and the other missing.
Ukyo seemed to guess the train of his thoughts. “Have you told my father yet?” he asked silkily.
“No, Master,” Tessai replied, and the young man smiled.
“Let's keep it that way. Oh, and I suppose you can call off that samurai hunt now.”
Tessai blinked in surprise. Of all the things he had expected Ukyo to say, that was not one of them, but it was not his place to question orders, and he bowed low. “As you wish.”
Ukyo idly studied the card he held. “So, my Kirara's still alive… hmm.” Then he tossed the card aside and looked at his father's leader of security and smiled coldly. “Tessai, I want you to tell me everything there is to know about this Kanna Village… and keep an eye on them, for a storm is on the horizon that will soon throw the very heavens into disarray!”
“What do you mean, Master?”
The Magistrate's son smirked, and from his pocket produced a letter. “Let's just say that… you're not the only one with resources.”
Tessai stared, recognizing the seal on the outside. “A letter… from Hyogo? But Master, I don't…”
“Understand? Of course not, how could you? But I'll tell you, Tessai. This letter is proof of something that has caused our city no end of trouble… it names the assassin of the Imperial Envoy.”
“What? How is that possible?” Tessai stammered. “All of our investigations… every lead we have pursued… how did Hyogo find out?”
Ukyo grinned mischievously, clearly relishing the effect his news was having on the older man. “Goodness, Tessai, I would have thought you'd be glad! After all, you did send him to follow those samurai brutes, a wise move I should say, and then this arrived. It was meant for Father, but since he's not here, I thought it best if I handled this… little trifle. Now we know who's to blame for all of this mess!”
“And that would be…?”
“See for yourself.” With a flick of his hand, Ukyo tossed the letter to Tessai, who caught it. “And in the meantime, tell me… what do you know about a samuraiko named Nasami, Tessai?”
Tessai paused, startled by the apparent change in conversation. Surely Ukyo didn't mean… “Well, I only know that she is a skilled swordsman, by all accounts, and her family has ties to the Emperor. And I know that many local daimyo and magistrates have offered for her to strengthen their position in the Imperial court.”
“Really?” Ukyo purred. “Is she attractive?”
“I've never seen her, so I'm afraid that I can't say.”
Ukyo sighed in disappointment. “I see… well, I guess even the brightest stars fall eventually.”
“Master?” Then all of a sudden Tessai understood where Ukyo was going with this idea, and nearly tore the letter open. Inside was Hyogo's detailed accusation against the samuraiko Nasami for the murder of the Envoy, and his testimony for her reasons of wanting the Envoy dead, as well as the possibility of his own death if Nasami were to learn of his accusation.
“Tessai? Tessai! You know, Tessai, it's rude to ignore me!” Suddenly he became aware that Ukyo was speaking to him.
“This… can't be,” Tessai said, looking up at the young man.
“Why not?” Ukyo was petulant that his surprise was not having quite the effect he'd hoped for.
“For one thing, with Hyogo dead, and her own reputation to protect her, the accusation is almost meaningless,” Tessai said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, use your brain, Tessai. The man accuses her of killing an Envoy, and then he turns up dead? She couldn't have made her guilt any more obvious than if she'd announced it herself in the city streets.”
“We also have no idea where she is. She fled Kougakyo at the same time as your farm girl and the samurai, and could be anywhere by now.”
“Ah, but I doubt that. After all, you did send Hyogo and Kyuzo to follow them, and if they found out about this along the way, then wouldn't you say it makes sense that she would be on her way to Kanna as well? And to think that my Kirara is running around with such a woman… I hope that association doesn't go on too long, I'd hate for this samuraiko's bad habits to rub off on her.”
“We offer you the samurai as atonement for this shameful display of arrogance.” Rikichi was nearly in tears as he held up the basket with Kikuchiyo's head. “Please accept, and forgive us!” With that, he flattened himself to the ground again.
Sobei grunted in disdain, but then the nagging thought at the back of his mind finally came to the forefront, and he looked closer at the samurai, his sensors carefully studying them until he came to the last.
“Kyuzo,” he said in surprise, “is that you?” He peered at the fair-haired samurai who stared back at him implacably. “I can't believe you've fallen so low.”
“What did you say?” Syusai roared, drawing back his sword. “Is this what you call fallen?”
And with that, he slammed it into the ground mere inches away from the samurai while the peasants scattered. “You're nothing but a stray dog, bought by the like of peasants!” he shouted.
None of the samurai, however, even flinched, so Syusai rounded on the farmers once again.
“Before I counted seven samurai altogether!” he accused. “What happened to the other three?”
When none of the other peasants spoke, Rikichi sat up. “We killed them!” he blurted out. “We shot them down when they tried to run!”
“Really…” Sobei drawled, drawing out the word in clear disbelief.
“They taught us how to use bow and arrow,” Rikichi said defensively, realizing that reminding the Nobuseri of this fact was probably not the best of choices given how he and the other farmers had killed so many of the Yakan soldiers a few days before. “When we realized how wrong we'd been to betray you, we turned on them!” His voice trembled, but he went on. “They were outnumbered, and we shot them as they tried to escape!”
“And the samuraiko?” Sobei asked, looking around as though just now noticing her absence. “Where is she? Or are you claiming that you managed to kill her as well?”
Rikichi shook his head. “No, great Nobuseri. Unwilling to risk disgrace, she asked to commit seppuku. One of these samurai-” he gestured to Kyuzo - “was with her to complete her task. Then, in accordance with her last wishes, her body was burned, and her swords returned home to her family.”
“Prove it,” Syusai said, his voice low.
Rikichi glanced over toward the forest, and the bandits saw the remains of a funeral pyre there. Standing proudly above it like a grave marker was a naginata. One of the Mimizuku approached and carefully sifted through the ashes and debris, and then held up a long fragment of pale grey cloth. Carefully embroidered into it was a mon. He held it up for the Nobuseri leader to see.
“So…” Sobei murmured, “You're saying that Sasuraitsuru is dead.” Then all at once he was shouting. “Do you truly expect me to believe that a samuraiko like her would kill herself to avoid disgrace?”
Rikichi threw himself flat against the ground once more. “We asked her why. Her words were, `I acted without orders from my lord, and have dishonored my musha shugyo.'”
Syusai growled. “That woman has a reputation for doing what she wishes, anyway, why change now?”
Rikichi sat up once again, but kept his eyes lowered. “She also said… `I have also betrayed my lord, in following my heart. A samurai must not love, for to love is to divide my loyalty. Though the man I love is dead, I will not live with that shame. I will go to my ancestors and apologize for staining my family's name.'”
The Nobuseri looked at one another. That was very much what Nasami would say, as honor-bound by tradition as she was.
“And her swords?” Sobei asked finally.
“A Tortoise Express rider passed through here yesterday. As we are forbidden to touch a samurai weapon, the samurai bound her swords in cloth. Then we sent them to her family's holdings as she directed.”
“I see,” Sobei rumbled. “So you were cowardly enough to shoot samurai in the back, but honorable enough to give her a samurai death?”
Rikichi looked uncomfortable. “I suppose… it was because… killing a woman was just something we couldn't quite make ourselves do.”
Syusai gestured to one of the Mimizuku. “You… head to Kyuden Shiden'issen and see if they are telling the truth. If you pass a Tortoise Express rider along the way, confirm that the rider has her swords - no true samurai would ever let herself be parted from her weapons unless she were dead. Stop every rider along the way if you have to. If you do not find one, do not stop until you reach the castle itself. It may be that the rider will have gotten there ahead of you.”
“Yes, lord,” the Mimizuku replied and dashed off. With that, Sobei turned back to the terrified farmers.
“Anything else we should know?”
“No, great Nobuseri,” Rikichi said, bowing once more.
“We're not convinced,” Syusai rasped, glancing down at the ranks of Mimizuku. “Seize them!”
“Yes, sir!” one replied, and several dashed forward. Two of them shoved aside the farmers guarding the samurai and took up the ropes themselves to lead them away, while others shoved a long hollowed bamboo stalk into one of the bushels to reveal the rice within.
“So, you've been hiding rice from us,” they accused, and the peasants whimpered. Then the remaining Mimizuku drew their swords and formed a ring around the cowering farmers. Katsushiro, Gorobei, and Kyuzo heard the sounds of weapons being drawn and paused to look back.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Rikichi yelped, trying to crawl away, but there was nowhere to go. Even if they somehow got past the Mimizuku, the Nobuseri and their ship would simply gun them down if they ran.
“You miserable cheats will serve as a lesson for the other villages!” Syusai hissed.
“Hold on a minute! If you kill us, who will grow your rice?” Yohei called, trying to reason with the bandits, but Sobei shrugged.
“Oh, there are plenty of other villages,” he said bluntly as the Mimizuku advanced.
“We promise you, we'll never betray you again!” Gozaku cried, falling to his knees.
“You may have had a change of heart,” Syusai shot back, “but you've also showered us with arrows and killed our men! We cannot let such defiance go… we have no choice but to brutally punish you for these transgressions against us!”
“Please give us another chance, great Nobuseri!” Rikichi howled.
“Don't do this!” Manzo shrieked, even as he threw his arms over his head and shut his eyes.
“Great Nobuseri!” Gozaku screamed as the Mimizuku closed in…
To be continued…