Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Epilogue: In Search of the Future ( Chapter 52 )

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

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Note: At long last, it's over. Almost a full year after I began writing "The Sword of the Soul," I sat at my computer with my face in my hands, and just cried after typing the last words of the story. Part of me wanted it to just go on and on (and it has gone on and on, hasn't it?), but there comes a time when the story must end. But do the really good stories ever truly end? (Assuming, of course, this is a really good story!) I love the lines from THE LAST UNICORN.
Prince Lir: "The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story."
Molly: "But what if there isn't a happy ending at all?"
Schmendrick: "There are no happy endings... because nothing ends."
The last piece of music for the story is the heartbreakingly lovely track from the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA score, called "Evacuating London."
To everyone who has followed along with my ramblings and so ardently cheered me on, without your support, your encouragement, your reviews and criticisms and suggestions, this story would never have been completed. To all of you, my humblest, deepest, and most heartfelt thanks.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Epilogue -The end of all meetings, partings... the end of all strivings, peace.
“Strange, isn't it?” Shichiroji murmured, looking back over his shoulder as he watched the farmers plant and sing while he and Kambei walked along, leaving Kanna behind them. “Before they hated what they were doing because it all went to the bandits and the samurai. Now they love it, because for once, they can enjoy the fruits of their own labor.”
“Mmm. Ironic that in this instance, the spoils of war are vibrant with life,” Kambei agreed, looking back as well. He absently massaged the scar on his arm. “Death turns to life, as the cycle must go on.”
“Quoting philosophy, sensei?” came a voice from up ahead, and both men turned to see Katsushiro approaching.
"Katsushiro, you're back!" Shichiroji exclaimed with a broad grin, placing a hand on the younger samurai's shoulder. Kambei also smiled, and bowed slightly to Katsushiro, who returned the bow politely, and all three stood and watched the farmers walk among the rice.
"So what brings you back to Kanna?" the blond samurai asked. "Last I'd heard, you'd headed off to find new battles to fight, new chances..."
"And I found them," Katsushiro replied, watching the farmers work. "After leaving all of you, I found service with a lord, one of the daimyo of a nearby province. However, I have one last debt of honor remaining, and I needed to return to Kanna to pay it. So my daimyo has allowed me the time to journey here."
"And do you find it easier now to walk the samurai path?" Kambei's question made Katsushiro turn to look at him.
The young man thought for a little while, and then nodded. "Yes... yes, I do."
"Then I am truly pleased for you," Kambei said softly, and he meant it. "You have grown much while I've known you, Katsushiro-san, and more so since you left."
Sensei… I wonder… if I might have a word with you before I return to Kanna,” the young samurai said hesitantly.
“Of course, Katsushiro-san,” Kambei murmured. “Lead the way.”
The two samurai left Shichiroji standing at the base of the hill and walked slowly up to where four graves lay, swords proudly standing as markers. For a long time, they stood and gazed at them, memories turning over and over in their minds of battle, pain, honor, and glory.
Kambei waited patiently for the young man to speak, but Katsushiro just stared silently at the graves, swallowing hard.
“You look quite serious, Katsushiro.”
Katsushiro did not hear him; his gaze had moved past the four graves and was focused on the rice paddies below, where he could see Kirara singing and planting along with the other peasants.
“Why did you stay, sensei?” The question was blurted out, before Katsushiro could stop himself. He flushed guiltily and stared at the ground, clenching his fists.
"What do you mean?"
"Did... did you stay here because of..."
The white-clad samurai sighed heavily, not bothering to pretend that he didn't know who Katsushiro was talking about. “No.”
That was clearly not the answer Katsushiro expected to hear, and his head came up in surprise. “N-no?”
“But… but why?”
"Why what?"
"Why stay here? We defeated the Nobuseri, as we set out to do, so why remain here in Kanna so long if not for Lady Kirara?"
"It was not for Kirara that I remained here, Katsushiro." Kambei ran his fingers through his long hair, tightening some of it in his grip in a rare gesture of frustration. “For one, I am far too old for her. For another, though she may deny it, her calling as priestess is not yet done. And for a third…”
He suddenly lifted his head as though catching a scent, and then turned to glance toward the edge of the forest. Katsushiro followed his gaze, and saw a woman, dressed much like Kambei, standing at the woods' edge.
“Of course,” Katsushiro said softly, looking slowly from the white-haired woman to the man beside him and back again as Nasami approached, her limping gait more pronounced than before. Although he had watched Kambei struggle for months not to let himself get involved with the samuraiko, after she had almost been killed fighting the Capital, Kambei had rarely, if ever, left Nasami's side. At first, Katsushiro had wondered if it was guilt that kept the older samurai with her, or companionship, or even just an excuse to remain near Kirara, but now he realized that Kambei did truly love the samuraiko.
“Yes,” the other samurai said easily. “Only samurai can ever understand what other samurai feel, think, and need. Kirara, while a good and loving girl, can never truly accept the scent of war for what it is…”
“… whereas Nasami-dono can,” Katsushiro finished. “Because it is as much a part of her as it is for us.”

The samuraiko came to stand beside them and bowed. “Katsushiro-san, Kambei-san.” Then she turned and bowed low to the graves, then with great difficulty, knelt down. The two men saw tears in her eyes as she touched each grave in turn, whispering the name of the samurai who lay buried there. For a long time, none of them spoke as Nasami silently communed with the spirits of the dead. Katsushiro watched her hands shake as she paused and rested her hands on Kyuzo's grave, her eyes on the swords that stood proudly with pommels crossed, then she bowed her head and swallowed her tears.
Then at last she rose to her feet and turned back to the two samurai.
"It is so good to see you again, Katsushiro," she said warmly, holding out her hands to the young man, who took them in his own.
"And you." His eyes went to her legs, remembering how she had spent months unable to walk. "And it's such a relief to see that you're able to walk again! After that last injury of yours..."
"I know," she replied with feeling. "There were times when I didn't think I would ever take another step, but thanks be to Amaterasu, it finally healed." The samuraiko grinned. "So what brings you here? You left... what, a little over two months ago?"
"Yes, I did. I... I actually came here to thank you, Nasami-dono," Katsushiro said shyly. "It was most generous of you to convince Shujiro-sama, your daimyo, to offer me a place in his guard."
"It was nothing," she said softly. "A samurai must forever prove himself, and you needed some place to start."
"Still..." Katsushiro began, but she held up one hand to stop him.
"You need not thank me. All you need do is serve with honor, and I will be more than satisfied."
Katsushiro grinned at her. "I will, Nasami-dono. I will. I promise." Then he looked over at Kambei, who was watching them both with a faint smile.
"Why weren't you invited to join as well, sensei?" the young samurai asked.
"Former commanders don't always do well as bodyguards," Kambei said wryly. "But as it turns out, the daimyo did offer me something else instead, something that was... more meaningful for me, one might say."
Nasami grinned, but then her smile faded as she looked back at the graves.
“It isn't easy, is it?” she asked, turning once again to Katsushiro, who looked puzzled at her question. “Bearing the weight of what it means to be samurai. Knowing that the souls of the slain will follow you forever.”
He stepped back, startled by her perception, and she nodded. “You will learn to live with it, as I have… as we all did.” She gestured toward the graves behind her. “But as long as you remember how to live, even amongst the dead, then the flame of bushido will ever burn brightly within you.”
Katsushiro nodded, and gently, Nasami rested her hand on his shoulder.
“Do not grieve for what is not your doing, Katsushiro,” she whispered, seeing the pain in the young man's eyes. “And do not mourn for what is not dead.”
“I don't understand,” he replied, looking between her and Kambei in frustration and anger. “I never understand, why can't I understand?”
“What do you not understand?” Kambei asked quietly, knowing that at last the questions that had been tearing Katsushiro apart inside would finally be asked.
“I… I can't understand why they had to die! I can't understand why I survived, when I'm not even samurai! I can't understand why, when I kill, part of me glories in it, and part of me dies inside! I can't understand why I love her, and yet she doesn't love me!”
The last sentence came out all at once in a shout, echoing down the hill in the stillness of the afternoon.
Nasami and Kambei stood still and watched as Katsushiro turned away, trying hard to contain bitter tears.
“Katsushiro…” Kambei began, but the young man cut him off.
“Shichiroji-dono has Yukino. Rikichi has Sanae. Kikuchiyo-dono had Komachi, even though she was just a child. Even you… who told Kirara that you were too old for her… you still found someone. All of you are just like me, covered in the scent of war, the smell of the battlefield. But all of you found someone who could accept you. And I'm alone.”
Nasami sighed. “Oh, Katsushiro…” She watched him close his eyes and his shoulders heave as he tried desperately to contain the agony consuming him. Then she walked slowly around him to stand before him and took his hands in hers.
“Listen to me,” she whispered. “Listen, with your heart, if not with your head. Listen well. It is never wrong to love, Katsushiro. Never. Even if that love is not returned. For I once loved as you did, and I knew it would never be returned, not as I longed for it to be. But I would not trade a single moment of that love, for all its heartbreak and anguish.”
Katsushiro was startled, and his eyes flashed up to meet hers.
“You… you loved someone who didn't love you?” Katsushiro said in amazement, his own misery temporarily forgotten.
Nasami nodded sadly. “Oh, yes.”
“But… what samurai would not wish for one such as you?”
“For years, as I traveled the Empire, I fought and lived by the side of a man who walked through my dreams and rested in my heart. As a pair, we were remarkably well-suited for one another, and yet… I was never more than a companion to him. To make things harder, the more renowned we became in our exploits, the less likely my chances became of ever wedding him, even in the name of political alliance.”
Katsushiro was puzzled for a moment, and then his eyes widened. “Mirumoto Kuroshin.”
Nasami's eyes were filled with memory and sorrow. “Yes. And then... came the day that... I stood beside him at court, watching as a woman entered the room. Graceful, lovely, educated, and gentle. In that instant, the look in his eyes changed, and something was there that I had never seen before... and would never see again in my lifetime. And I could see, in that instant, that Kuroshin had lost his heart forever. I stood there and wept inside, where no one could see. Least of all, him. And then years later, when Kuroshin died on the Night of Dark Fire, I wanted nothing more than to die along with him. I begged Lady Sun to let me die, but instead, I went on living...”
Then her eyes turned to Kambei, and the pain in them receded. “But perhaps it was for the best. `The river of Fate cuts a strange and winding path.'”
Katsushiro frowned slightly. "But I seem to remember that you once said, 'For a samurai, to love is to be forever at war with yourself.'"
Abruptly, Nasami smiled. "And yet... when are samurai happiest but when they have new battles to fight?" Then her smile became slightly sad. "Besides, you already have a new battle, but how you fight it will be up to you."
She turned back to Katsushiro. “And perhaps one day… Kirara will cease looking for what could be, and accept what is.”
Nasami leaned forward, cupping Katsushiro's cheek in her hand, and gently kissed him on the forehead, and the young man accepted it like a benediction. “Oh, Katsushiro,” she whispered against his skin, no longer bothering to hold back her own tears. He embraced her tightly, and her arms went around him as Kambei watched. “I wish you joy, and love, with all my heart.”
“And to you, Nasami-dono.” He released her, and stepped back.
"It is good that you returned, actually," Nasami went on. "Any later and you would have missed us. Yukino-san misses her Momotaro, after all, and I... I have finally found the understanding I was looking for. It is time for me to return home."
Katsushiro straightened. "Then I humbly ask that I be allowed to accompany you on your journey. Not that I don't think you can't take care of yourself," he added hurriedly, "but..."
Nasami chuckled. "I understand. And yes, your company would be appreciated. It will be interesting to see what you have learned in the meantime."
His hand tightened for a moment on his katana - the one that Kambei had given to him. Then his eyes widened as he realized that Kambei was again wearing a sword, but this one looked remarkably familiar.
Sensei… that sword…”
Then Katsushiro glanced at a grinning Nasami, who rested her hand on the identical katana in her obi. He looked back at the sword at Kambei's side.
“Is… is that…”
“Yes. The katana Sememasu, the other sword forged when Mamorimasu was first created.”
"You mean..." The young samurai stared in astonishment, first at the sword, then at Kambei and Nasami.
Kambei smiled and lightly touched it.
“A gift from Shujiro-sama. Nasami's father.”
As Katsushiro's mouth fell open, Nasami couldn't stop laughing.
- The End -