Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Divided Loyalties ( Chapter 43 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: I was dying to write this scene... and now I have my chance! Samurai never have it easy...
Also, full marks here to Laura Bailey as Mizuki. She and Shino are probably two of my favorite female characters, mainly because they do not just meekly accept that which is. And unlike so many of Kirara's speeches, Mizuki's is filled with the absolute ring of truth.
The music is the wonderfully dramatic and tense "News of Marlowe's Death," from SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Forty-Three: Divided Loyalties
"Forgive me for interrupting, my lord, but a message has arrived from Tessai."
Ukyo set down his wineglass and glanced over at the Imperial Minister. "Really?"
"Yes, your Excellency. He sends word that the team you sent to the Village of Respite have returned, as you have instructed."
"Ah, good," the young man said, pleased, sitting up straighter on the high-backed throne.
The Imperial Minister bowed respectfully, then turned and gestured. Several guards took up positions along the walls, guns at the ready, then the rear doors to the audience chamber opened, and two guards appeared.
With them was Nasami.
"Presenting Kakita Nasami," the Imperial Minister called out, and immediately several of the Envoys began whispering amongst themselves.
"... daimyo's youngest daughter..."
"... saved the previous Emperor's son..."
"... thought she was dead..."
Even under armed guard, the samuraiko walked proudly up to the dais, her eyes focused straight ahead of her, never wavering from Ukyo. So commanding did she appear that one could almost forget that her hands were chained behind her, and that her two guards held their spears pointed at her.
Once she reached the base of the stairs, she stopped, her head thrown back to stare Ukyo in the eyes. Then, she carefully lowered her head and sank to her knees in a polite bow.
"Well, it's good to see that you have manners, at least," Ukyo said at last.
"It is the duty of a samurai to kneel in recognition of the Emperor's status," Nasami said carefully.
Ukyo then frowned at his guards. "If this woman is a samurai of a noble house, why is she in chains? Release her at once!"
"But your Excellency, your safety..." the Imperial Minister reminded him carefully. "Considering what happened the last time..."
"Shimada Kambei was a ronin, with no allegiance or loyalty," Ukyo said with a wave of his hand. "And from all that I've heard, I can't imagine that a samuraiko such as Nasami would threaten the life of the Emperor that she swore to serve. But if it makes you feel better..."
He lifted one hand in a negligent gesture, and the guards along the walls moved to space themselves in a fashion that the woman could be caught in crossfire, but not put the other guards at risk.
"Now, release her."
"Yes, lord." The two guards with her released the manacles from her hands and then stepped back.
Ukyo studied the woman thoughtfully for some time, tapping one finger against his lips. "Do you know why you are here?" he said at last.
"No, my lord," she responded, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground. "But I would have gladly come of my own free will, had my Emperor commanded it. Attacking me and then drugging me was hardly necessary."
From his pocket, Ukyo drew out a parchment and held it up. "Unfortunately, Nasami, I doubt that, when you're here... because of this."
At that, she lifted her head, her expression one of confusion... then as she saw Ukyo smirk, her face went pale.
"Ah, so you do know why you're here," he said in satisfaction. "But allow me to tell the rest of the court."
Ukyo got to his feet and waved the letter dramatically down at Nasami. "This letter was dispatched to me not too long ago, naming this woman as the true murderer of the Imperial Envoy in Kougakyo!"
Outraged gasps filled the audience chamber from all of the courtiers present.
"Yes!" Ukyo shouted. "An accusation made by one of my father's bodyguards, who was later killed by this woman for bringing her terrible deed to light!"
Nasami winced. Being accused of one crime, she might have been able to prove herself innocent. But the instant that Kyuzo had killed Hyogo, he had also signed Nasami's death warrant.
"You see? She doesn't even try to deny it!" Ukyo stared down at the woman kneeling before him. "And yet... that a woman of her history would do something so foul... it almost seems too much to believe."
He descended the steps until he was standing directly over her. Kneeling down so that only she could hear him, he leaned close and whispered, "However, I am curious as to why that other samurai came all this way just to say that he killed the Envoy."
"What other samurai?" she asked, dreading the answer, and praying that she was wrong.
Her prayers were not to be answered.
"Kambei did what?" Nasami was stunned.
"You mean you didn't know?" Ukyo purred, leaning closer and relishing the surprised look on the samuraiko's face. "Oh, yes. Dear Kambei admitted before this entire court that he killed the Imperial Envoy, and then threatened the former Emperor's life as well."
In horror, she realized just how far Kambei had been willing to go to protect her, despite her pleas, and her blood ran cold in her veins.
Ukyo smirked. "Tell me, why do you think he did it? After all, I highly doubt that the high and mighty Shimada Kambei would do something so noble out of love."
Nasami looked away, refusing to give Ukyo the satisfaction of seeing her pain, but the sharp-eyed magistrate was too quick, and he reached out with one hand to take her chin in his hand, and turn her face to his.
"So this is the sort of face that Kambei finds appealing. Hmm... can't say I see the attraction, but then, compared to my lovely Kirara, you're not much to look at, are you?"
Her eyes narrowed, but the spark of fury in them was clear, and Ukyo smiled, then he got to his feet and raised his voice once more.
"Kakita Nasami, I will give you this chance to prove your innocence. Can you tell me who murdered the Envoy? And who killed my father's bodyguard, Hyogo?"
Nasami shook her head, outwardly calm but inside seething with helpless frustration. To tell what she did know about the Envoy's murder would reveal that she had been spying at Ayamoro's palace, and an accusation of treason was hardly better than an accusation of murder... and to admit that she knew who killed Hyogo would implicate Kyuzo in his murder. The absolute irony was that if she were to name Kyuzo as the one who killed Hyogo, chances were that he would be executed for it, which would prevent him killing Kambei. But even as the thought crossed her mind, Nasami dismissed it. It would serve absolutely no purpose for the fair-haired samurai to die, not when he had killed the assassin to save their lives. She knew that silence meant death, but at least then, maybe she and Kambei would be reunited in the next life.
All she could do now was pray that she would be allowed to die as a samurai.
Ukyo sighed dramatically. "Oh, well. I guess even good samurai go bad sometimes. It must have to do with having no war to fight. So be it."
He lifted his head to look at the assembled courtiers. "Very well. I have given Nasami her chance to prove her innocence, but for whatever reason, she is unable to do so. Therefore, let it be known that any claim to succession or inheritance from her family is no longer valid, for the woman Nasami is henceforth to be cast out from her Clan..."
Astonishment and shock rippled around the room. Nasami, however, remained silent and closed her eyes, her lips moving in silent prayer, even when Ukyo gestured to his guards, who hauled her bodily to her feet.
"... as I hereby declare that you are stripped of your samurai rank. For your crimes, you are denied the right of petitioning your daimyo for appeal."
"Then if I may not appeal to my daimyo for judgment," Nasami said softly, still not opening her eyes, "I would beg for the chance to commit seppuku. I must not return my name to my ancestors dishonored in this fashion."
Ukyo shook his head firmly, well aware that by denying her the right to commit seppuku, he was condemning her to a fate worse than death. As terrible and ignominious a fate as execution would have been, for a samurai to be forced to live as a ronin was a far, far worse punishment, and Ukyo knew it.
"No. The Emperor's word in this matter is final." But the young Emperor wasn't yet finished twisting the knife in Nasami's heart. "Additionally, for dishonoring your Clan and your caste, you will surrender your sword, which will be broken before this entire court, and its pieces returned to your former Clan in disgrace."
To keep from giving in to a cry of dismay, Nasami sank her teeth into her lower lip, drawing a trickle of blood that marred the pallor of her skin, and when Ukyo saw it, he smiled.
"From this day forward, Nasami, you are condemned as ronin. Take her away."
Kirara, Shichiroji, and Yukino quietly approached Rikichi, who was sitting in a corner, facing the wall, clutching Sanae's comb in his hand like a talisman.
"Rikichi..." Kirara said gently, trying to get his attention.
"How long do you plan on sitting there like that?" Yukino asked, kneeling down behind him, but Rikichi wouldn't look at either woman.
"I can't do this... I told Sanae I wasn't bothered by what happened to her, but I don't know if I can be the kind of man she needs me to be." The despair in Rikichi's voice was heartbreaking.
"Don't push yourself so hard," Kirara replied, her voice consoling. "Just... give it some time."
"Rikichi, some of us were discussing it earlier..." Yukino began. "And if it's all right with you, we would love for her to stay here with us... for a little while. Many of the other girls she was with will be working here, too. Whether we take in two women or three, it doesn't make much difference to me."
Rikichi rested his forehead on his knees. "I don't know what to do," he said in helpless frustration. "That monster kidnapped my wife and kept her prisoner. How can she say she's in love with him? Was life in the Capital that much better?" He looked up, staring at the wall but his eyes were distant, searching for an answer he could never hope to find.
"I'm sure she was fed all the finest foods, and given all the fanciest kimonos... so now, it's no wonder she doesn't want to come back and sweat in the fields."
"Rikichi!" Shichiroji reprimanded, but Yukino's voice cut across his.
"It may have been just a clone, but she was carrying his child. When you're held captive that long, emotions can do funny things."
Rikichi wished he could take consolation from that, but all it did was remind him that another man had stolen his wife, and he hid his face once again.
"Of course!" Shichiroji blurted out, not knowing what else to say. "Just think about it! I'm sure the Emperer had whole teams of experts finding ways to control her feelings, and make her love him! Like that whole baby angle with the maternal instincts and such! Pure trickery! Yep, Ukyo and his predecessor are exactly alike!"
"That still doesn't help me figure out what to do," Rikichi said without lifting his head, his voice muffled.
Suddenly the door slid open so forcefully it nearly came off its ridges as Mizuki entered. "Pull yourself together, Rikichi!" she snapped, striding into the room.
"Mizuki!" Kirara snapped, but the teenager ignored her and moved to stand beside Rikichi.
"If Rikichi doesn't do something to help Sanae, who else will? She didn't just leave her heart in the Capital, she left her soul there, too. And now he's the only one who can restore them both." She gazed down at Rikichi, and for a moment, Shichiroji was intensely reminded of the many times he had seen the same look in Nasami's eyes... that absolute unbending refusal to look away from the truth no matter how unpleasant or painful it might be.
"Sure, we dined on delicacies we never had in our villages, and yes, we wore the finest clothes every day because there was never any dirt or dust or sweat to worry about. But look!" She knelt down beside him and held out one hand, and Rikichi lifted his head to look at it. "Look at my hand. When I was taken, it was tough and callused. These hands could do anything, they could work any field. But now, after years in the Capital, they've turned soft and fair. They put nail polish and lipstick on me and told me to always smile."
Her mouth twisted bitterly. "But no matter how pretty they made me on the outside, I knew that I was no more than a harvesting field to these people - that I'd gone from working a farm to being one."
"What do you mean?" Rikichi whispered.
"Well, isn't that what we were?" Mizuki cried angrily. "They planted the Emperor's seed in us, hoping to yield a crop of clones. How is that any different from our rice fields?" She got to her feet, tears of helpless rage in her eyes. "Do you know how dehumanizing that it is?"
Rikichi barely managed to stifle a sob and shut his eyes tightly, and Mizuki abruptly remembered who she was talking to.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I guess you know better than anybody." She frowned for a moment. "Maybe I can ask Kambei to help me like he helped you."
That startled Rikichi out of his misery, and he lifted his head once more to look up at Mizuki. The girl's mouth tightened, and she turned to walk over to Shichiroji, her fists clenched.
"I need you all to destroy the Capital," she stated, her voice low but passionate. "Not just for our own sakes, but for my mom and dad who were killed by them, and for all the villagers whose lives were ripped apart. I want revenge."
Shichiroji was reminded once more of the samuraiko, and slowly he nodded. Revenge, he could understand, for he wanted it, too... and unless he was very, very much mistaken... so did Kambei.
And behind them, Rikichi's eyes were alive once more, and now, filled with purpose.
Two days after Nasami's capture, the Capital had just departed from its latest visit to a farming village when Tessai entered the audience chamber from a side entrance and came to stand beside the Emperor.
"My lord..." Tessai quietly cleared his throat to get Ukyo's attention.
"Yes, what is it, Tessai?"
He turned and saw his chief attendant holding a katana with profound respect.
"What's that?" Ukyo asked, swinging one foot idly back and forth, and Tessai frowned slightly.
"This is Nasami's sword, the katana Mamorimasu. You asked that it be brought before you to be broken and returned to her Clan."
"That was two days ago, Tessai. What took you so long to get it?"
Tessai flushed slightly. "Nasami made a request to be allowed to meditate for forty-eight hours to 'bid farewell to her Defender.' As a mark of respect, I allowed it."
"You gave her access to a weapon while she was in a jail cell?"
"She gave her oath in the name of Amaterasu that she would not try to escape, nor take her own life. Whatever else you may think of her, the woman is honorable enough that such a vow is sacred. As one former samurai to another, I ordered that she be given the sword. I apologize if I acted improperly."
"No, I guess it's all right." Ukyo took the sheathed katana from Tessai and looked at critically. "So what's so special about this sword?"
"It is a very old blade, with a great history, my lord. You do realize, however, that her Clan will not be pleased to have it broken and returned to them in such fashion."
"Then they should have taken more care in how they train their samurai, shouldn't they?" Ukyo said petulantly. "Well, let's get this over with."
Gripping the saya with one hand, he drew the sword with the other, but no sooner had he done so than he immediately dropped it with a startled yelp and took an involuntary step back.
Instantly Tessai and his other bodyguards were alert to some danger, their hands on their weapons, while the envoys and ministers who were present began whispering among themselves.
"Lord Amanushi, are you all right?" the Imperial Minister asked in dismay, but Ukyo was waving one hand back and forth as though he'd burned it.
"I don't know..." he said, startled. "It's just that... when I drew the sword, I couldn't seem to hold onto it." He reached down to pick up the sword, but as his hand drew near, he stopped and pulled it away.
"Perhaps one of us should try," suggested one of the guards. "After all, my lord, you do not wish to injure yourself."
"Yes, maybe you'd better," Ukyo said, taking a step away and sitting on the throne once more.
One by one, the guards came forward, but fared no better. Only Tessai was able to even get his hand around the pommel of the katana before even he felt the need to let it go.
"This is ridiculous!" Ukyo shouted at last. "How are we supposed to break this sword if no one here can even pick up the damned thing?"
"It is the katana of a true samurai," Tessai said quietly, his voice tinged with a respect that had not been there before. "It would most likely take a true samurai to break it."
He took a step closer and lowered his voice so that only Ukyo could hear him. "And the only true samurai we can find right now is Nasami herself."
"But I declared her ronin!" Ukyo protested.
"With all due respect, my lord, being samurai is more than just a matter of rank. It is a matter of belief, an adherence to the code of bushido. Just because you threw her out of her Clan does not mean that her heart follows your edict."
Ukyo leaned back in his throne and studied his bodyguard, who stared back at him implacably.
"Then how do you suggest we handle this?"
"You did offer her a chance to prove her innocence," the Imperial Minister said softly. "You can turn this to your advantage by rescinding the command in the name of... spiritual enlightenment."
Ukyo thought that one over, and then smiled. "Oh, I have a much better idea. Summon the court... and bring me Nasami."
An hour later, the entire court was assembled once more, and Nasami was escorted in. The guards brought her before Ukyo, and once more she knelt at the base of the stairs.
Unlike the last time, she did not wear her usual armor and travelling clothes. This time, she was wearing white robes similar to the ones Kambei had worn just before his execution, and her long hair was loose around her shoulders. It was clear that even though she was forbidden to commit seppuku, she had also undergone the ritual of cleansing, in preparation of surrendering her sword and facing expulsion from her Clan. Her face was as pale as her hair, and without her armor, she seemed small and fragile, but her eyes were composed and serene, and her demeanor calm.
For a while, Ukyo said nothing, but then he got to his feet and stepped forward.
"My loyal subjects, two days ago, you witnessed my declaration that this woman was to be cast out of her Clan, sentenced to become ronin. At that time, I asked if she could prove her innocence, and she said no. But today, we witnessed what can only be described as a miracle," he proclaimed. "All of you saw what happened when anyone tried to handle Nasami's sword, the true symbol of a samurai. It would seem that divine providence has made Nasami's true innocence known."
He bowed his head humbly. "I have also only just been told that this woman, in the tradition of many great and noble samurai before her, actually had left behind the wealth and status of her Clan to search for enlightenment, to better understand herself as a person and as a samurai. Learning of this act of selflessness touched my heart, and so I have asked Nasami to be brought here once more."
Through this whole speech, Nasami never once lifted her gaze from the floor, but her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Nasami, I have decided to give you the chance to redeem yourself. After all, a lifetime of virtuous service does speak well of your character, and in this new age of prosperity, we can afford to be lenient. Therefore, I ask you to do one service for me, and your good name shall be restored."
Nasami swallowed hard, and closed her eyes briefly, then nodded. "If that is your command, then that is my task."
Ukyo tilted his head. "You don't look too happy about this," he said in feigned surprise. "I would think that for someone with your skills, this would actually be quite simple."
"Name it, my lord," Nasami said at last, lifting her head and meeting his eyes directly. "It is the duty of a samurai to serve."
"You'll obey, no matter what I tell you to do?" Nasami's lips narrowed at the perceived insult, and Ukyo immediately held up his hands to placate her. "I could, after all, be ordering you to take your own life."
"I do not fear death, my lord. But if my death is what it will take to prove my honor..." She held out her hand to one side, and patiently waited for one of the guards to hand her a weapon.
"And you'd do it, wouldn't you? Commit seppuku right here on the floor if that's what I asked?"
She did not lower her hand from where it waited for a sword, nor did she lower her gaze from Ukyo's face.
"Very well," Ukyo replied, and nodded to Tessai, who moved forward and handed Nasami her katana, sheathed once more. The samuraiko nodded, and rested the katana on the floor before her, bowing low before the weapon as her hands rested on the saya. For a single moment, her shoulders shook with the effort of holding back tears, but then her body went still, and she sat up once more. She carefully unwound the obi that encircled her waist so that about two yards of the material was in her hand, and then with deliberate care, she picked up the katana once more, unsheathed it, and wound the other end around the pommel. Then, ignoring the horrified whispers of the rest of the court, she straightened and moved the folds of her clothes aside to bare her stomach, and lifted the sword to point directly at her abdomen.
But as she prepared to slide the blade into her own stomach, Ukyo's voice rang out.
Nasami froze in place, the very edge of the katana resting against her skin.
"You really would have done it!" Ukyo said in wonder. "I guess Tessai was right - being samurai goes beyond just your rank. Well done, Nasami."
He began to applaud, and the courtiers immediately followed suit, but an angry glare from her to either side immediately had them falling silent.
"However, it's not your life that I want, Nasami," Ukyo said. "But I am convinced of your sincerity, so I know that you will do what I ask of you."
Nasami did not move, but raised her eyes to his once again.
"The price of your freedom, your sword, and your status as a samurai..."
Ukyo smiled at her, and suddenly the samuraiko felt chills race down her spine, but she did not dare look away.
"... is the head of Shimada Kambei."
To be continued...