Chapter 20: book 2 : Requiem

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 50

The purple haze of twilight reluctantly surrendered to the approaching darkness as the sun slowly sank below the western mountains. Night was gradually replacing the light of day as fireflies began to fill the cool air of evening while crickets chirped intermittently. Ahn Sung Ji’s black Arabian moved nonchalantly along the sakura tree-lined roadway leading to the village of Tsukimi. The natural beauty of the sakura blossoms, falling like languid snowflakes in the failing light, was almost breathtaking. The cascading petals drifted lazily, thickly covering the surface of the road and muffling the steady hoof falls of the horse.  The blossoms brought an image of Asako to the samurai’s mind, and he knew that from now until he left this earth, the full moon, aroma of jasmine and the sakura would always remind him of her. Lost in thought as he played an old Japanese melody on the flute, he might have missed the shadowy shape standing alongside the road less than a hundred feet ahead if his mount had not abruptly halted, snorting an alarm. The ‘ka-ge’ (shadow) was bent over, leaning slightly forward. ‘An elder,’ he reasoned, but wondered why an elder would be on the road at this late hour, so far from Tsukimi.

Prompting the horse to move as he placed the flute into a saddlebag, a minute later he pulled back on the reins, bringing the animal to a stop beside the stranger.  Even in the dimness he could see that his first impression was correct; it was an old man, leaning on a cane.

“You’re quite a distance from the village for an elder with a walking stick.”

“My need is great,” declared the man as he raised his head. “I’m searching for someone and can’t be concerned about things like distance or time.”

“Searching for someone?” repeated Sung Ji. “Searching for who?”

“I seek the ‘Left Hand of God’.”

“The mercenary?” questioned Sung Ji. “What need have you that is so great you seek a swordsman even in darkness?”

“That is something I can only tell the swordsman…if you can spare the time.”

Sung Ji laughed. Already he liked this man, who evidently knew he was the swordsman whom he sought. “What makes you think I can help you?”

“I was in the Jade Teahouse last night,” revealed the elder. “I heard the story of the ‘specter in blue’…the girl from the mountain forest. You’ve managed to bring peace to the dead. Can you do likewise for the living?”

Sung Ji dismounted… “We can talk here under the sakura, or we can talk over a table of good food.”

“Here beneath the stars is adequate.”

“Not at all,” argued Sung Ji. “You climb onto the saddle. My Arabian can carry both of us. He needs the exercise, and I need a good meal.”

Something told him it was fruitless to argue with the samurai, who had already grabbed his cedar walking stick. After securing it through the leather straps that held his saddlebags in place, he instructed him to… “Place a foot in the stirrup and grab the saddle. I’ll help you up.”

To his surprise the samurai lifted him up as if he were a child.

“Move back a bit,” said Sung Ji, who afterward sprang from the ground, deftly swinging one leg over the head of the animal, and dropped onto the saddle in front of the elder. He just began to speak when the horse snorted contemptuously.

 “Quiet!” snapped Sung Ji.

“Sorry,” he said, mildly shocked. “I just wanted to introduce myself.”

“Mu Ah (What)?” Sung Ji asked. Then said… “Ah. I was speaking to my obstinate horse, not you.”

 “Ah Soo (I see),” said the elder. “I am Kenji Tanaka.” 

“Kenji…it means ‘wise son’. Man-na-sol pan-gup seum-ne-da (Nice to meet you),” declared Sung Ji.

As they rode a heavy cloudbank was steadily forming in the eastern sky. Intermittent flashes of lightning momentarily revealed the approach of immense black, billowing clouds as the fresh smell of rain permeated the air. The samurai liked a good rain shower, as long as he wasn’t caught in it. Judging from the distance of the clouds, he felt certain they would be in the village and dining long before the rain arrived.

Twenty minutes later they reached Tsukimi and were slowly approaching the stable, clothes soaked by the spring storm. “It seems to rain a lot here,” he complained.

“What was that?” Tanaka asked. “I didn’t quite hear you…with the wind and the storm.”

“It was nothing,” yelled the samurai as the horse toward made its way to the shelter of the building.

“It’s a good night for frogs and fish,” said the stable master as he opened one of the heavy front doors, simultaneously greeting and inviting the pair of rain drenched travelers inside.

“Dea,” the samurai responded, “But not for men who prefer to be dry.”

The stableman laughed. “The fire beside the anvil is still burning. You can dry off there. The Jade Teahouse will be open for several more hours. The food is good there, like the sake.”

“You speak to be speaking from experience,” ventured Kenji.

“Hai,” replied the blacksmith. “After a long day here a cup or two of sake helps me relax before returning home to face the wife.”

“Is she a difficult woman?” asked Sung Ji.

“Not when we were young. We’ve known one another since primary school. She decided then we would marry when older. Before I knew it, we were older, and married. She complains I no longer pamper her, but seems to be oblivious of the fact she bullies me relentlessly. It’s a pity the fires of love dwindle over time, and one who was once so sweet sours with age.”

Kenji Tanaka smiled knowingly… “I understand,” he said, “although I lost my wife years ago to a fever. We had our share of impatience with one another after being together so long. Through it all we still managed to love each other sincerely. Now, I even miss her bantering.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. My wife promised to go before me,” said the stableman. “She said she wouldn’t want to live in this world without me. In spite of her complaints, I know she loves me. I’m grateful I have her to push me, otherwise I would spend every night at the Jade Teahouse drinking sake until I passed out.”

They laughed, and Sung Ji paid for boarding the horse. The rain had stopped and their clothes were dry.  Bidding the stableman a good night they set out for the Jade Teahouse. Moving swiftly, Sung Ji was well ahead of Kenji, who finally voiced a complaint.

“Why are you moving so fast in such a small village? A few more steps and you’ll be on the outskirts of town.”

The humor was lost on Sung Ji, “I apologize,” he said. “I’m hungry.” Having said that he noted the smile on Kenji’s face.

“So you’re teasing me,” said the samurai as he stopped and waited for him to catch up.

“Of course,” said Kenji. “If not you, then who else? We two are alone on this deserted street.”

“Another word from you,” teased Sung Ji, “and I will be eating alone.”

Kenji mumbled incoherently to himself as they went, about the night being young and the young always in a hurry. Sung Ji stopped abruptly, put a hand to one ear and bending over to lean in Tanaka’s direction said… “What was that? Did you say something? Are you still speaking?”

“Me?” asked Kenji. “No, not I. I would never complain to someone who is paying for my dinner.”

Submitted: August 24, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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