The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 22 (v.1) - the mirror

Submitted: August 24, 2019

Reads: 28

Comments: 1

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Submitted: August 24, 2019

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"They are returning..."

The wizard’s voice resonated in the vaulted chamber. Sanada San looked up from his imported European crystal wine glass. “Then it is done,” he declared with a hint of finality.

The wizard, Mazaki, seated before his ornately framed mirror, was silent.

Sanada’s expression turned sour. “Well now… Tell me. Is it done?”

“They have killed the wrong man,” replied Mazaki.

Sanada was furious. “Idiots!” he screamed. “One old man… How difficult can it be?”

“There is more,” revealed Mazaki.

Sanada turned his attention once again to the wizard. “More, you say?” he asked in an ominous tone.

“Kenji Tanaka has employed the ‘Left Hand of God’.”

“What are you rambling about?” yelled Sanada.

“Ahn Sung Ji,” said Mazaki. “A samurai without a master; a lone warrior men have named the ‘Left Hand of God’. He is a wanderer, renowned as a champion of Justice who often aids the weak and helpless. He has never been defeated in battle…never lost a duel. Even the giant, Ichiban, as ruthless and deadly as he is, would be no match for him.”

“That name,” said Sanada, “Ahn Sung Ji…isn’t that Korean?”

“Hai”, Mizaki replied.

“How can a man not born Japanese be samurai?”

“I have no idea,” Mizaki answered.

Sanada fumed as his patience waned. His ire, which made him more than a bit unpredictable, was the only thing about him Mazaki feared. Sanada’s inherited wealth had brought him much power, and because of that he was accustomed to having his way. Following a few moments of brooding and deep reflection, he commanded; “Find someone who can deal with that mercenary. Find me a ninja…the best assassin available. Do you understand?”

“Hai,” said Mazaki.

“Go,” said Sanada.  “And send a retainer to remove the looking glass. These mirrors of yours give me chills.”

“Hai,” replied Mazaki, while backing his way to the door. When he stepped into the corridor he was surprised to find his daughter waiting.

“Ai chan!” he exclaimed.

Brushing her long, ebony hair aside with a slender hand, the intensity of her expression of dissatisfaction was all the more obvious. Her hands were tightly clenched in fists and her auburn eyes were flaming. “Why do you tolerate him speaking to you like that?” she fumed.

Mazaki san smiled as he calmly spoke… “He is my superior.”

“He’s an ego-maniac! A power hungry mad man!” she snapped. “He’s had his own way far too long. He’s become emotionally unstable…maybe he always was. I don’t care for the way he treats you, nor do I approve of the things he demands. Your skills should be used for good. Not to serve the avarice and dark designs of a man like that.”

Abruptly the sound of breaking glass echoed from within Sanada’s chamber. “Come,” said Mazaki. “We can talk elsewhere.”

“Throwing expensive wine glasses again,” declared Ai, “shameful. Such unrestrained hostility. At the rate he sulks, losses his temper and breaks those glasses he’ll be drinking straight from a jug soon. Serves him right!”

As they made their way down the corridor, Mazaki asked; “Where is Tenshi?”

The question brought a smile to Ai’s pretty face. “Kasumi?” she said, her mood suddenly changing. “It’s ‘ka-wai-e’ (cute) that you call her ‘Tenshi’ (Angel). She is with my old nursemaid Aikiko in the rose garden.”

Following a contemplative pause, Ai asked; “Does he really intend to sell her to that Geisha house madam?”

“Hai,” he replied. “That is why he wants her last remaining relative eliminated, rather than chance the possibility her grandfather raises the money to eradicate her father’s debt. If Kasumi is trained as Geisha it will bring Sanada much more money than the debt owed him. Once Kasumi is of age, the price for her first time will be triple what her family owes Sanada.”

“Can’t we help them, father?”

“Heaven is helping them,” said Mazaki. “Kenji Tanaka has solicited the aid of a champion of Justice.”

“A champion of Justice?”

“Hai. The Left Hand of God; a samurai who once served the emperor. Now he uses his skill to aid the downtrodden. Sanada will rue the day that wanderer became involved.”

 “The mirror told you that?”

“Much more than that,” he replied. “I didn’t reveal everything to Sanada. Destiny is at work, closing in on him. He may soon feel the sting of justice and retribution.”

“From the ‘Left Hand of God’?” she asked.

“Not only him, from another as well. One will bring justice, the other retribution.”

Miles away from Sanada’s opulent castle, in the village of Tsukimi, the Jade Teahouse was quiet, as most of the patrons had accompanied the landlord outside to see for themselves what happened to old Takahashi. While he dined, Sung Ji listened intently as Kenji Tanaka explained in detail why he required his service. In the kitchen, the eldest of the proprietor’s three daughters, Midori, was steadily losing patience with the youngest… “Asuka chan! Honestly,” she chided, “I don’t know what you’re doing in front of that mirror while customers are waiting. ‘Mahda-kai’ (Are you ready)?”

“Mada-day-o (Not yet).”

The middle daughter gave her younger sister a concerned glance. Asuka could see Mariko’s reflection in the looking glass, mouthing the word… ‘Hurry’!

Asuka rushed to pick up the teapot, then paused to smooth out wrinkles in her kimono while her exasperated eldest sister stared and shook her head in disapproval… “That after-dinner tea should have already been served,” Midori declared impatiently.

Asuka ignored her as she hurried to the door with the fresh pot of tea, her brightest smile adorning her face.  On the way to the samurai’s table she abruptly stopped, pausing for a moment as the smile slowly faded, replaced by a disappointed and puzzled expression. Sung Ji had his back to her, but Kenji, who was facing her, noted the odd behavior and stopped speaking, his voice trailing off. The samurai turned, only to see the girl swiftly departing.

Mariko looked up from her cooking when the kitchen door reopened. She watched as Asuka placed the teapot on a circular stone atop a wooden table, then turned and folded her arms as she pouted and leaned her backside against the wall.

“Why are you sulking?” asked Mariko.

Asuka’s face flushed a brilliant rose red.

“What is it?” voiced Mariko.

Asuka raised her head… “There’s a girl at his table.”

“Na-ni’ (What)?” Mariko inquired. “The samurai?”

Asuka petulantly nodded.

“Who?” Mariko asked. “A girl from the village?”

Asuka shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t see her face… Her hair is long. She is sitting so close…as if they’re familiar.”

“Don’t fret,” said Midori. “It’s natural for a young girl to have a secret love, but you’ll get over it. Anyway, how can you expect his heart to respond to yours? Sung Ji will most likely be leaving again. He is samurai and has no time for young followers like you.”

Asuka, noticeably shocked, looked first at Midori questionably, then sternly glared at Mariko… “Sister! What did you tell her?” she demanded.

“Nothing I wouldn’t have realized on my own,” declared Midori before Mariko could reply. “He doesn’t know you exist. He can’t even see you.”

“You don’t know anything! ‘Kokoro wo hiraite’ (Open your heart)!” exclaimed Asuka, who suddenly spun on her heels and stomped up the stairs leading to their living quarters.

“Well!” exclaimed Midori. “Of all the nerve! How dare she storm off in that fashion. I just don’t want her creating mirages without substance or become heartbroken chasing after something that isn’t real.”

“She’ll calm down,” Mariko ventured. “But to be honest, even though our younger sister talks to me about her private thoughts, I didn’t realize how far into her heart she had allowed the samurai to go.”

“She talks to you about her private thoughts?”

“Hai,” replied Mariko. “Perhaps because we’re closer in age. I suppose she really believes she loves him.”

Midori, quiet at first, ‘thought’ aloud… “Really… ‘Ai’ (Love)?”

“Hai,” Mariko replied.

“Father said love begins the moment one throws their ego away. I just don’t want her to be defeated by him…” Her words trailed off and she lapsed into reflective silence.

“I told her those things,” said Mariko. “I warned her that he may never care for her. Whatever I said didn’t matter. She said it had nothing to do with her feelings for him.”

Midori remained quiet.

Mariko immediately returned to her chores as if nothing had happened. It was best, she had learned, when dealing with some family matters to ignore the whole thing altogether. Midori, meanwhile, went to the door that led to the dining area. Opening it just enough to peer out she saw the samurai and Kenji Tanaka completely alone. She closed the door, and shaking her head, murmured something about troublesome younger siblings as she walked over to the table for the teapot. After serving Sung Ji and Tanaka she returned to her work.

The samurai had been listening intently as Kenji explained how his son-in-law, orphaned as a teen, had inherited his parent’s rice farm, eventually married his daughter and after a fire destroyed the building where he stored his rice harvest, he borrowed money from Sanada. The unreasonable interest made it difficult to pay off the debt. He made installments but it was not good enough to please Sanada, who sent his henchmen to threaten and beat him, after which he died.  

“His pride prevented him from telling me he needed help,” said Kenji.  He even kept it secret from my daughter Azumi. After he died, Sanada attended the funeral and told my daughter she was responsible for the debt. At that time I gave him my savings, but it wasn’t enough. Azumi chan began washing clothes and tending the rice field of a neighbor to earn money against the debt. Within a few months she committed suicide, shortly after a visit by one of Sanada’s men. She became distant, withdrawn and silent after that. I suspect she may have been assaulted and out of shame and remorse took her own life.”

Sung Ji frowned. He disliked moneylenders who exacted large sums of interest from unfortunates who, having no other option, turn to them out of desperation.

 “Did she leave anything behind? Anything to indicate why she chose death when she had a young daughter and elderly father who needed her?”

Kenji bowed his head, trying to hide the tears Sung Ji already saw forming in the old man’s eyes… “She left a letter,” he said, “expressing the hope that her death would end the debt. But Sanada sent men to take my granddaughter. He said she would be returned when the debt is paid. Neighbors collected money to help but it only covered the interest. Now that swine has plans to sell Kasumi to a Geisha house if I cannot pay him back.”

“Have you gone to the authorities?” Sung Ji asked.

Kenji sighed. “I spoke with the captain of the protective forces, who is bribed by Sanada and virtually under his control. He said they could not get into private matters involving debts. I’ve exhausted every option and have nowhere else to turn.”

“You worry about your grand daughter…” Sung Ji failed to finish the sentence.

“She is the first thing on my mind when I awake,” said Kenji, “and the last thing on my mind when I drift off to uneasy sleep.”

“How far are we from your farm?” asked Sung Ji.

“Three days by horse or wagon,” replied Kenji. “It took me much longer than that to walk.”

Sung Ji studied Tanaka’s face, then looked at the old man’s walking stick. The samurai knew what it was to be plagued by painful memories, and he was moved by remorse and respect, knowing that the elder had traveled so far on foot. Kenji had suffered, but endured, flowing with the oft tumultuous currents of life rather than lying stagnant in the backwater of grief. He assumed Tanaka could not pay for his help, but that was incidental. The samurai could not turn a deaf ear or blind eye to people in need if it was within his power to help. The world was full of people like Kenji Tanaka and Kasumi chan, whose lives were made miserable by evil and corrupt men like Sanada and his hirelings, but neither their deceit nor their injustice can endure forever. Sooner or later they will reap the consequences of Karma.”

“I should tell you,” said Tanaka, “the giant, Ichiban, who leads Sanada’s bullies was a close friend of that man who tried to kill you.”

“What man?” asked Sung Ji.

“The outlaw,” said Tanaka. “Miyamoto.”

 

The door of the teahouse abruptly opened at that moment, following the mention of Miyamoto’s name. A gust of cold wind blew inside, circling the room, making candle flames flicker as the landlord and patrons returned. Sung Ji wondered if the cold that chilled his the back of his neck had emanated from the sudden opening of the door, or just prior. It happened and was over with so quickly he couldn’t be certain. He was shocked to hear the outlaw’s name, and assumed anything to do with Miyamoto ended that rainy night in China at the Moon Temple.

“Finish your tea,” said Sung Ji. “We should get some rest. We have a three day journey before us.”

“Then you’ll help?” asked Kenji.

“Of course,” said Sung Ji.

“I don’t know if, or how I can pay…”

The samurai raised a hand to silence him… “Enough…how can you finish your tea if you keep wagging your tongue? And don’t trouble yourself about my being paid; Heaven repays all our deeds, good or bad. I’m no exception.”

 

While they talked, neither noticed as the landlord led an elderly blind woman to a nearby table.

“Please sit here, Sayaka-sama,” he said as he guided her. “My daughter will serve you in a moment.”

She thanked him, while her sixth sense prompted her to scan the room. Although obviously blind, her eyes stopped moving to stare in the direction of the samurai. Sung Ji felt the intensity of her gaze and slowly turned his head to look her direction. A second chill went up his spine as he noticed her snow white eyes staring back at nothing.

“Na-ni-yo’ (What is it)?” asked Kenji.

“Muah (What)?” he replied. Then shaking his head he declared… “Nothing. Go ahead…drink.” 

 

Once they finished, Sung Ji paid the landlord, after which he and Tanaka San set out for their room at the inn across the street. As they were leaving, the samurai was completely unaware of a forlorn Asuka chan standing at the kitchen door, watching as he hurried after Kenji Tanaka. He was likewise unaware of the frightened expression that masked her face upon the sudden reappearance of the longhaired girl she had seen earlier at his table. Asuka gasped the moment the comely stranger emerged from the shadows; a shadowy shape herself, solemn and serene, moving slowly and with purpose on the heels of the samurai, her long, rose-hued scarf trailing behind as if in a breeze. 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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