The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 27 (v.1) - Sense of danger

Submitted: August 26, 2019

Reads: 25

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Submitted: August 26, 2019

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Sunrise found Silence long gone from the village where the samurai and Kenji Tanaka were preparing to continue their journey. The previous night she had managed to find the room within which her intended targets slumbered, but the girl in white was also there. Watching from outside their second floor window, Silence saw Sung Ji prepare two palettes and help Kenji get under his covers. Afterward he laid down on his palette and instantly fell asleep. The white clad girl never spoke, and after removing her long scarf, stretched out alongside the samurai.  Because she was with them, Silence decided to wait for another time to complete her assignment. They were still leagues away from Sanada’s estate, and she was certain there would be other opportunities. A lot can happen on the journey, she reasoned, as she left the sleeping trio to their dreams.

 

Outside the front gate of Sanada’s castle, Ichiban was angrily pacing back and forth, muttering obscenities and curses as his three companions leaned against the outer wall, one with arms folded and eyes closed. Seeing that, Ichiban swiftly kicked his feet out from under him. Startled, the man awoke as he fell. Too late to react, he struck the hard stone surface of the ground heavily, the impact knocking the breath out of him. As he lay stunned and groaning his fellows laughed boisterously, until Ichiban shouted. “Quiet! You idiots are on guard duty. Stand up straight and stay alert! If that samurai finds his way here you’ll be wishing you were wide awake and ready.”

Since they feared the giant and his infamous hot temper, they obeyed without complaint. He was known to have killed men in a fit of rage. He was physically strong, but weak minded, which suited Sanada just fine. He liked hirelings with limited intelligence that lacked ambition; they worked cheap and blindly followed orders. Ichiban, however, was loyal to a point, sly-minded and self-seeking, like his former companion Miyamoto. They were two of a kind and in the past parted company when their ambitions finally outweighed their weak sense of brotherhood. Even now, Ichiban was inclined to place his personal concerns above duty to an employer. Sanada was aware of that, so made certain he paid the giant well to discourage betrayal.

Ichiban resented Sanada for seeking outside help to deal with Sung Ji; the giant wanted to avenge Miyamoto’s death. It was he who had given him the name ‘Ichiban’ (Number one) early in his outlaw career. Like Miyamoto, if he could not defeat an opponent fairly, he resorted to treachery.  His size, which intimidated most men, worked to his advantage. But he knew better than to assume that would intimidate the samurai. The Left Hand of God was known for his courage, and actually preferred a larger opponent; it gave him a bigger target.

As he stood there, Ichiban began to daydream, fantasizing a confrontation with Sung Ji. He imagined him walking boldly up to the front gates of the castle, sword in hand, planning to fight his way inside. Ichiban pictured himself drawing his weapon, flailing wildly and overwhelming the samurai with powerful strokes until the blade of his left handed sword breaks. He would punish him then, cutting here and there, until he dropped to his knees in defeat. As images like this paraded through his mind, he began to chuckle, his huge shoulders shaking with his evil, snickering laughter. Momentarily he realized his three subordinates were gawking at him with alarmed and confused expressions, obviously wondering if he had taken leave of his senses. A bit mortified, Ichiban suddenly railed… “Na-ni-yo’ (What)!? “What are you imbeciles looking at? Snap out of it. Watch the road! Guard the gate!” 

 

Inside the walls of the castle, Ai was enjoying the shade beneath the garden trees while watching Kasumi at play. The little girl was waving her arms and intermittently kicking as she moved about, as if she were dancing. Momentarily she ran to the trees, breathing heavily as she sat down next to the wizard’s daughter.

“Are you tired, Kasumi?”

“Hai,” she replied.

Ai nodded… “You look tired today. Did you not sleep well?”

“Not very well,” she answered. “I was thinking about Oji-san (grandfather) last night…” her voice trailed off. Finally she confided… “I miss him.”

“Then you should try to sleep good at night so you will look your best when you see him again.”

Kasumi looked up suddenly, her eyes sparkling... “Will I see him again?”

“Most certainly,” Ai assured.  “You know, when I was your age I also had trouble sleeping at night.”

“You did? Why?”

“I was afraid of the dark. When my mother extinguished the candle in my room, I imagined evils I could not see. When I did fall asleep I was plagued by nightmares.”

“Why didn’t you ask your mother to leave the candle lit?”

“I did, but still had trouble sleeping.”

“You did? Even in candlelight?”

“Hai,” she declared. “In the light I imagined I was being watched.”

Kasumi, her face masked by confusion, considered Ai’s reply a moment, then began to giggle. “You’re teasing me,” she said as she laughed.

“Hai. There are times I must if I want to see your angelic smile.”

“If I had the new girl’s energy,” said Kasumi suddenly, “it wouldn’t matter if I slept or not.”

“The ninja?” asked Ai.

“Hai. When I couldn’t sleep I would go to the window. That’s when I saw her.”

“You saw her from your window?”

“Hai. She was dancing,” said Kasumi. “I watched her the last two nights. She danced for hours, moving like the waves at the beach, and the long, wind-blown grass of the fields.”

Ai smiled, moved by Kasumi’s youthful enthusiasm and innocence. Ai had also seen Silence practice her martial art movements. The petite girl did move like the wind; with fluidity, grace and elegance. Ai wondered why she didn’t apply such skill to traditional dance rather than Bushido (Warrior Arts Way). “Yes,” said Ai. “I’ve seen her. I must admit it was beautiful to watch.”

“Can you do that?” Kasumi asked.

“Oh no,” she replied. “Not like that. I learned a little from an uncle when I was your age.”

“An uncle?” wondered Kasumi. “Was he a dancer?”

Ai Chan laughed. ”No, he was definitely not a dancer. He was a foot soldier,” she said, then paused a moment. “I did learn a little karate while in school and trained with the naginata, but it is different from what Silence does.”

Kasumi was puzzled but couldn’t think of the right questions to ask. Finally her young mind found a solution; looking at Ai with renewed excitement she said… “Let’s play together! If we practice good maybe we can dance like Silence!”

“Hai,” Ai agreed, “Let’s do our best!”

“Hai!” Kasumi responded with sincere excitement. “When facing a challenge or problem we must be extremely energetic. That is what oji-san taught me.”

 

Sanada, perched like a vulture, watched the two girls in the garden from a fourth story balcony. “Hymph!” he proclaimed indignantly. ‘Enjoy yourselves while you can,’ he thought. ‘Soon enough that little sprite will be slaving her young life away in Madam Snow’s Geisha House.’ He just finished that evil thought and began to chuckle when something struck him on the left shoulder, making a ‘splat!’ sound as it landed, splashing white residue on his face. His contentedness was shattered when he realized one of the wading birds flying overhead dropped a load of waste. Screaming curses at the herons, he drew the attention of Ai and Kasumi Chan, who stared in his direction as he uncontrollably ranted and raved.

“Come along, Kasumi,” said the wizard’s daughter as she grabbed the child by the hand. “Let’s go visit father.”

 

Not far from Sanada’s stronghold, their second day of riding was coming to a close as Sung Ji rounded a bend in the road and discovered a wide stream just ahead. He stopped his Arabian at waters’ edge, and allowed the horse to drink while awaiting Kenji Tanaka and his little mule. The water was clear enough that one could see the stone surfaced bottom. Fish, some of them huge, followed the current as the samurai watched, already planning on having freshly roasted fish along with the rice and lettuce that Kenji carried in his saddle bags.

The country air was exhilarating and he breathed in deeply as he turned his gaze from the stream to the verdant grassland on his right, then to the lush bamboo forest on the left. It would be an ideal place to build a small rice farm and settle down, he mused. His train of thought was suddenly broken as Tanaka rounded the curve, moaning and grumbling at the mule as he bounced along haphazardly on the animals back. The samurai just shook his head, trying not to laugh at the elder, who was obviously having a difficult time.

 

A couple of hours later, Tanaka was still eating and enjoying the fish Sung Ji had caught and roasted, when he decided he should rise from his comfortable position beside the fire and search for the samurai. A moment later he saw him returning with an armload of wood. Kenji sat back down on one of the rocks near the fire, doing his best to pretend his buttocks weren’t sore. He thought if he let Sung Ji know he would never hear the end of it.

“I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long,” said Tanaka. “Did you cut that wood fresh from a tree?”

“Of course not,” said the samurai. “I walked back the way we had come, perhaps a half kilometer or so.”

“Why did you do that? There is plenty of dry wood lying about here.”

“I wasn’t searching for wood. For some time now I’ve felt someone at my back, and I’m not referring to you and your obstinate mule.”

“You think we’re being followed?” Kenji nervously asked. “Or stalked? Who would follow a samurai and an old man on a buttock biting mule? Robbers who may kill us in our sleep?”

“Not that,” said Ahn. “Something more sinister...”

“What could possibly be worse than that?”

“Sudden death from something silent and unseen,” said the samurai as he stared into the darkness.

“What are you saying?” stammered Kenji… “Silent and unseen? Are you speaking of ghosts or demons? You’re scaring me. I’ve lost my appetite.”

The samurai was deathly silent, standing there peering into the blackness of night as a cool breeze caressed his skin. Overhead, stars seemed to wink out, like candles being extinguished in a temple, as dark clouds moved in from the west. The usual nocturnal sounds were abruptly drowned out by the loud, piercing drone of a locust. Kenji shivered and sulked, frightened by the insect’s sudden, angry outburst as fireflies danced about indifferently on the night winds. 

Less than a hundred yards away, standing as still and quiet as the large bamboo stalks that hid her presence, Silence watched as she marveled at Sung Ji’s acute senses. The tales she heard about him were not exaggerated. ‘He knows I’m near’, she told herself. ‘He is no ordinary samurai’.

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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