The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 21 (v.1) - Heaven's tears

Submitted: August 24, 2019

Reads: 23

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Submitted: August 24, 2019

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The heavy rain had stopped, slowed to a drizzle then became a fine mist. Old Takahashi shivered in the dampness as he sat huddled beneath a discarded bamboo mat he found earlier in the darkened alley behind the Jade Teahouse. Rain dripped slowly now, drop by drop, from the bamboo. In his drunken stupor his eyes strained to watch as the water formed like teardrops in front of his face before quickly falling to the rain soaked stones. In his loneliness he thought of the rain that way, not as water from the sky, but as Heaven’s tears. 

As he sat there brooding he bemoaned having stayed much too long in the teahouse that evening, and drinking far too much sake. He was inclined to do so when daily living became more difficult than usual. If asked why he drank, he replied it helped him deal with the one thing of which he was most ashamed. If asked of what he was most ashamed, he would say drinking too much too often. Those who knew him had long ago decided he was a hopelessly lost cause. Unlike the stable master, Takahashi had no wife to answer to if he returned home late, stumbling, with sake on his breath. So he often drank beyond the point of intoxication. This night being one of those times, because of his unsteady steps and blurred vision, he elected to wait out the storm in the alley.

He was fortunate to find the bamboo mat to shield his head from the shower, and wondered if he would be equally lucky enough to find a stick he could use as a cane. While he sat there considering whether or not he should begin looking for something he could lean on as he made his way home, his attention was diverted by movement at the mouth of the alley. There appeared to be a trio of men walking quickly and with purpose in his direction. They looked like animated shadows in the misty gloom, silhouetted slightly by the golden halos encircling the meager lights of the mist shrouded buildings.

Takahashi marveled at the height of the lead man who stood head and shoulders above the dark figures that followed just behind, one on either side of their gargantuan leader. Awestruck as he watched them approach, he was suddenly overcome by an eerie sensation; a feeling of dread, as if something extremely bad was about to happen. A chill abruptly ran the length of his back, causing him to shudder involuntarily. It seemed an eternity since he was first aware of the strangers, but it was just a matter of seconds before they slowed their pace and stopped within three feet of where he squatted beneath the bamboo. As they stood motionless staring at him in morbid silence, he began to tremble. The giant, eying him intently, appeared to be interested in the cloak draped over his shoulders, a gift from a man Takahashi met earlier that afternoon.

There was little illumination in the alley. The three were still no more than shadows in the mist, but there was sufficient enough light for the old man to notice a movement of the leader’s right arm. Abruptly his ears detected the metallic sound of metal against metal as the tall man withdrew his sword. Takahashi’s total attention was on the weapon as the giant approached within striking distance, raised the blade high above his head, and slashed downward. Before he could utter a sound, Takahashi fell face forward onto the wet stones, his life’s blood mixing crimson with the rainwater. The deed done, the giant flicked the blood from his sword, replaced it in the scabbard secured at his waist and turned to walk away, his silent dark companions at his heels.

 

While the grim incident in the alley unfolded, inside the Jade Teahouse Sung Ji and Tanaka were being served hot ginseng tea by the youngest of the landlord’s three daughters. The petite girl, Asuka, did a bow of respect after pouring the tea. She demurely blushed as her sparkling eyes lowered upon looking at the samurai, after which she turned and briskly walked away. Kenji laughed.

 “Mu-ah (What)?” inquired Sung Ji.

“I think she likes you.”

“Nonsense”, said the Korean. “She’s just a young girl.”

Tanaka looked surprised. “Well now, you may have the reputation of being skilled with the sword, but you seem completely inept when it comes to women.”

Sung Ji’s face flushed. In the company of women he was emotionally awkward and shy. Although he always treated them respectfully, and thought of them as angels or delicate flowers. They brought beauty and life into the world. He was inclined to care for and protect them like an ‘oppa’ (elder brother). His parents taught him that, but when it came to attraction, intimacy or affairs of the heart he was embarrassed and hopelessly lost.

“If you say something like that again,” he warned, “I’m going to run out of here and leave you to pay for our meal.”

Tanaka took a drink from his cup, and uncertain if the samurai was serious, smiled as he deftly changed the subject… “From where do your hail?”

“I was born in Korea,” he replied. “My family moved to China when I was young, then to Japan. Since becoming samurai I really don’t have a home. I don’t know where I belong.”

Tanaka pondered the words shortly before speaking… “Korea; the ‘Land of Morning Calm’. A beautiful country I hear.”

“Dea,” confirmed Sung Ji.

“The place you belong,” said Tanaka, “can only be found in your heart.”

The samurai looked up from his cup. Following a brief pause he laughed. “You remind me of an old shaman I met in China. Perhaps that is why I like you.”

Kenji frowned, took another drink, then placed his empty cup on the table and asked… “Who is old?”

Sung Ji ignored the question… “You said you have need of a swordsman…”

Before Tanaka could reply the landlord’s daughter returned with udon noodle soup, rice, tofu, spicy chicken and shrimp tempura. She kept her head down and her brown eyes lowered as she served them. Sung Ji likewise kept his head down. Tanaka smiled as he noticed, seemingly enjoying every moment. Asuka’s cheeks flushed rose red as she nervously bowed, then hurried back to the kitchen, her long, silk-like black hair trailing in the air as if she were running against a springtime gale. Tanaka kept smiling, until his eyes met Sung Ji’s, who was looking at him sternly. Tanaka’s smile faded briefly, quickly reappearing as he strategically turned his attention to the table and marveled…”Wha! What a wonderful feast. We should show our appreciation for all their hard work. Let’s eat,” he said as he picked up chopsticks, grasped a large piece of spicy chicken and placed it in the samurai’s rice bowl.

“I would wager you are good at chess,” said Sung Ji.

Tanaka dismissed the comment as he sampled the udon noodle soup. The samurai grabbed his chopsticks and tasted the chicken Kenji placed in his bowl. “Ma-shi sey-o! (Delicious),” he exclaimed.

“The landlord’s older daughters are good cooks,” said Tanaka.

Sung Ji eyed him a moment as he savored the taste, then prodded… “You were going to tell me why you have need of my sword…”

Before he could respond the door of the Teahouse opened suddenly and a villager rushed in, pale as snow. The man was more than distraught, almost frightened, as he looked about the room. Momentarily he eyed the landlord, then in a panic exclaimed… “Old Takahashi has been killed!”


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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