Teacher and Pupil
She looked over at her husband and she knew she loved him. His ways were not her ways but she respected the strength with which he held to his convictions. Still, she could not help but think back to her first love and wonder about his fate and how her own had changed so dramatically since then.
“Keep swinging, girl, you’ll succeed eventually. Or fall down on that tiny rump and give me something to laugh about for a few hours.”
The little girl scowled at the portly man as he avoided her strikes effortlessly, his smile never leaving his lips and the grace of his steps defying his bulk. As she swung again, he stepped lightly back and slipped forward, striking the underside of her tsuba with two fingers and launching her sword from her tiny hands.
“Yield, little girl. I mean you no harm. Tell me what has happened to this place.”
Ikoma gestured slowly with his hand toward the village around them, several buildings nothing but ashes, others significantly damaged by the fires that claimed the others. The little girl’s eyes followed his gesture before returning to meet his gaze defiantly. Fighting back the tears that wanted desperately to take her, the child responded with fire and venom coursing through her voice.
“We would not pay. My parents, they would not pay. And they killed them for it!”
Ikoma crouched, letting his eyes meet hers on an equal level before responding softly. “Why did they not pay, little girl? What did they owe?”
The child’s response was violent, and filled with spittle, her voice cracking, “Nothing! They owed nothing! We came to defend this village and those men killed them!” Before she could take a swing, Ikoma reached forward and pulled her close, holding her tight and letting her sudden tears stream into his kimono instead of onto the uncaring ground. Stroking her hair lightly, he spoke in a reassuring voice, the violence of his words belying the gentleness with which they were spoken.
“Don’t worry, little girl. They will come again and when they do, they will die.”
The fight was a month later and very brief. Ikoma took an arrow to the shoulder but it was nothing he hadn’t taken before. Five ronin faced him in the streets of the tiny village and to their credit, it wasn’t until only two were left that they resorted to bows and arrows. Those two died beneath his fists instead of his blade. After bathing, he donned his kimono and grabbed his travelling pack, preparing to leave the village for another adventure and another story. As he reached the outskirts, he heard a scuffling behind him and turned. The child had her own travelling pack on and the sword of her father tucked into her obi. She stopped and looked up at him, no look of a question in her eyes. She was not asking permission. All he saw was resolve and courage. Who was he to turn away such things? Turning back around, he continued to walk and she hurried to catch up, taking her place at his side.
“Well, little girl, you have definitely improved! I may actually bruise from that one!”
Ikoma’s boisterous voice echoed happily through the tiny dojo, causing a slip of a smile to break her lips. She did not let her guard down, however, knowing that the crafty old man was a dangerous opponent, especially when he didn’t seem to be. He slid his boken into the obi he wore, however, and sat down waiting. Understanding that the fight was over, she sat down and placed the boken at her side, letting her attention slip to where he was looking. The sun was setting behind the trees, lighting the sky in reds and purples that artisans would give anything to be able to duplicate. She had no such desire, but she could still appreciate the beauty none-the-less. After spending the last nine years with the rather verbose storyteller beside her, there was no way she could not have gained certain views. She was only half-listening until she heard a specific word crash against her. Daughter. She quickly went back in her mind to recall what he had been saying and her heart dipped when she put it together.
“You are like a daughter to me, little girl.”
Pride swelled through her body, but still she could not keep her heart from sinking. At first she was confused by the contradicting emotions but she quickly grasped what had happened. Her feelings for the man beside her had grown and blossomed in their time together and his for her, though not in the same manner. She knew he was right, that she should look up to him as a father but not all emotions were logical. He had said that before. She had seen him with countless women but had somehow still thought that in the end, it would be her at his side. It was not to be and now she knew that she could not watch any longer.
With an inward sigh, she replied somberly, “I know.”
She turned away from her husband to look into the distance, watching the reds and purples dance in the sky.
“Are you ready to go?”
Ide’s soft but powerful voice penetrated Otaku’s reminiscing, drawing her away from the past gently. She nodded without a word and urged her steed forward, Ide sliding in beside her on his. As she left the scene and considered the gravity of her next task, she couldn’t help but hear an echo from an empire she would probably never see again in this life, “Keep swinging, little girl.”