Campaign of the Month: June 2012
Kumori - Journal Entry 19
A faint, watery sun shone down through a scrim of clouds overhead, casting enough light to make the snowy peaks in the distance shine, but not enough to give meaningful warmth. Kumori had nevertheless broken out in a heavy sweat, and as he whirled through the “Frozen Leaves Falling to Cut” kata, droplets flew from the ends of his shaggy hair and glittered as they froze and fell to earth. They had been fortunate so far in their journey through these lands to avoid the worst of winter’s bite, but the season was deepening as the new year came on. Their luck couldn’t last forever.
Kumori stood in the courtyard of a semi-abandoned local shrine as he practiced. The caravan with whom they were traveling had camped nearby, and the ramshackle little temple provided privacy. Bluebeak had accompanied him, and though he wanted to order the tengu away, he knew it was an order he wouldn’t get his bodyguard to obey. The raven-man shinobi sat carefully looking away, as did Ranya. For all their studious inattention, the samurai felt the weight of their alertness focused on him, and it irritated him.
He drew Satori and his wakizashi back into the Open in Eight Directions Stance, hilts close to hips, shoulders relaxed… shoulders relaxed, he reminded himself. His work had been sloppy and unfocused all morning, he knew. He also knew why, and stifled a grunt of irritation at himself when he accepted it and turned around.
“Bluebeak-kun!” He sheathed his blades and pulled a towel from his belt, wiping sweat out of his eyes. His bodyguard turned around and knelt, head bowed deeply. Kumori noticed Ranya did the same, and stifled a smile. She was learning well. He did not look at her; formalities had to be observed in what he was about to do.
“Sonoda-dono.” Bluebeak addressed him with great deference. Kumori had been on edge for the last several days, and Bluebeak feared he had somehow offended his master.
“I need a partner to properly practice.” He spoke in Kaidanese, and Bluebeak replied in kind.
“Yes, milord.” The Tengu rose, and produced a kusarigama from seemingly nowhere. “By milord’s leave, this one’s student may gain from watching a demonstration of the sickle and chain.” Kumori noted his bodyguard’s extreme formality in language, and felt badly. He nodded, expression unchanged.
The Tengu bowed from the waist, eyes on Kumori, and began slowly spinning the weighted end of the chain in his left hand while holding the sickle loosely in his right. Kumori drew both of his blades, and the two began to circle one another.
Kumori struck first, leaping in to cut at Bluebeak’s head with Satori. Bluebeak drew the chain tight and held it up to block, then had to dance aside to avoid the point of the wakizashi aimed at his armpit. The two leaped apart and began to circle again.
The chain shot forward, and Kumori leaned aside. Bluebeak sprang in the same instant, snatching the chain back in a tight loop and slashing down with the sickle at Kumori’s leg. The samurai shifted his weight and hopped inward, slashing downward with both swords. Bluebeak leaped backward and lashed out again with the chain, catching Kumori’s left arm.
Kumori let his left arm fall and rushed forward to try to put slack in the chain. Bluebeak’s naturally quicker reflexes won out, and the chain stayed taught as he danced aside and pulled his master off-balance. Kumori growled and turned the fall into a tumble. He somersaulted, then planted his feet and pulled back with his body.
The sudden reversal was more than Bluebeak could react to, and the Tengu abandoned his weapon rather than fall over. He drew his own sword and cut at his master’s waist. Kumori blocked with the wakizashi and Satori fell in a glittering arc to stop a feather’s thickness from Bluebeak’s neck. The combatants froze, then bowed to one another.
“Thank you, Bluebeak-san. I hope you did not let your master win?”
The Tengu blinked, and looked up with beak agape, the Tengu expression of shock. “Never, my lord. This one would never do you the disrespect of holding back.” Bluebeak’s head fell again in another bow, and now Kumori knew the question would come. “This one begs your lordship to let this one know if ever offense is caused. This one places his life in your lordship’s hand.”
Kumori looked carefully into the middle distance, and glanced toward the girl. Ranya was openly staring, and Kumori made eye contact long enough for her to remember herself and bow deeply. Kumori let himself smile for a moment, then replied to his vassal in similarly formal language, and loudly enough for Ranya to hear.
“Yama-ao-san, your master acted wilfully and without proper consideration in the leper incident, placing you and your student at needless risk.
“He has since been ashamed of his impetuousness, and has been terse and arrogant. You have served him with great patience and concern, and he wishes you to know he has noticed your loyalty.” The next part would be tricky- to any of the others in the company it would be easy
because they were fundamentally equals in status, but Bluebeak was a vassal. Not only a vassal, but a vassal to whom his status was a source of pride and self-definition. How to do it without undermining any of that? Kumori took a deep breath, sighed, and gave it his best shot.
“Yama-ao-san, your master thanks you for your service. You have given all that a lord could ask of his yojimbo and more. Were your master not at preset an itinerant, he could reward you properly, but for now he hopes that his thanks will suffice.”
Kumori looked down, and to his surprise found Bluebeak looking up at him. He wanted to apologize, but the Tengu would be confused and upset if he did- a lord was not ever required, in the Tengu’s mind, to apologize to a vassal. Before he’d come to these lands, Kumori would have seen things the same way. Now, however, he saw the way western lords, or at least western lords who deserved their positions, treated their vassals with more closeness and affection, and he saw the value in it. he wished he could do likewise for Bluebeak, who had given up so much to follow him, but the Tengu was more set in Kaidanese ways. It would have to be left as subtext that Kumori was sorry, that he admitted he had been wrong.
“My lord, it is my highest honor to follow you. I am humbled by your gratitude, and can only strive to earn it.”
Kumori reached down. “Come, then. You can make a start by teaching your apprentice to cook breakfast.” Bluebeak took his hand and stood. Together with Ranya, they left the shrine and walked down the path toward the caravan camp, from whence the smell of cooking fires wafted toward them.