Love and Honor
The gardens were the most secluded places in the castle. Since her soon to be husband had arrived, Kaoru had been finding more ways to exclude herself from her family and her duties. She was supposed to be trying on a prototype of her wedding kimono, but she had feigned a headache and retreated to the gardens. She found solace among the rainbow of roses and smelled their delicious scent. She allowed the perfume of the flower to crash over her unstable mind and basked in their loveliness. She reached out and carefully plucked a blood rose, but she still managed to catch a thorn. She realized even the most beautiful things come with cutting thorn or two, but she did not accept the fact happily.
She wandered deeper into the maze with her thorned rose in hand and put her thoughts aside. She felt protected by the garden walls' silent strength and roamed the grounds with out frustration or anger. She happened upon an old wooden door thats she had never come across before in the deepest part of the garden. This area had not been tended to in years: the area was surrounded by undisrupted growth and wildly growing plants and branches attempting to hide the door. No one had traveled this far from the central gardens in years, and Kaoru was fascinated by the unforgiving jungle growing in her backyard.
She picked up a rusty kinfe lying on the ground and cut through the thick underbrush. She ignored the small knicks and cuts she recieved as she fought her way through the jungle. Kaoru enjoyed going deeper and deeper in the heart of the unknown. She was driven by the oversized knob gleeming at her as she approached it. Finally, she came close enough to wrap her tingling fingers around the door knob and turned it with force. Nothing happened. She looked up at the heavy door and sighed. Her power had failed. She turned around and began to go back on the long trail she had followed. It had been a waste of time.
As she walked feeling oddly defeated, she looked down and noticed her red rose lying in the dirt. The flower had been abandoned and trampled, but it left Kaoru with a message. The best things in her life were destined to come with a thorn or two...
Feeling invigorated, Kaoru ran back towards the door. She charged full speed at the door and felt her body collide with aging wood. The rusty hinges popped easily and the door crashed into the ground with Kaoru sprawled on top of it. She had actually done it! But...what had she actually done?
She picked herself up, despite the waves of pain slamming into her. Instantly, a slap of fresh forest air smacked her face. She had entered the uncharted wood surrounding her beautiful kingdom. Kaoru could hear the very faint sound of gardeners pruning the central gardens and knew she should turn back to the protection of the central palace walls... Her feet began to move toward the pull of the wild and free forest. The jungle of the unknown beckoned her and followed its call.
When the full affect of her triumph began to ebb away, new feelings began to form. She was alone. She had no shelter or protection and she had no where to go. She swiveled her head back at the castle and gazed upon it. The large castle seemed to rival even the tallest of trees for height and seemed to be more captivating than anything surrounding it. The world seemed to suffocate in its presence and Kaoru felt like a small child. The castle seemed to be looming over her, watching her every move...threatening her to take a stand. She was too proud to yield to the castle. She turned away and traveled deeper into the blackened forest.
After a few hours of walking in what felt like circles, Kaoru searched for somewhere to rest. She found a dead tree trunk, on its side, with moss growing wildly. She plunked down very sure that a multitude of tiny animals were already crawling over her skin and nipping at her flesh. She slipped off one ruined slipper and cringed at the site. The shoe sole was loosely hanging from the rest of the shoe, and the once handcrafted beading had all been but ripped off. Giving up on her shoe, she turned her attention to the ripped hem of her dress. The skirt was dirty from splattered mud and stank of forest perfume. Twigs and leaves nestled in her once silky hair and her skin was filmed with sweat and grime. She resembled a farm girl. She had no intention on remaining in the forest much longer, but realized she had no money to buy a room. She had never needed money before, and suddenly it was all she could think of. Kaoru was determined to exit the forest that day and stood to press on.
Night had fallen, but she decided to follow the moonlit path and find a city to dwell in. She continued her journey with last drop of sunlight illuminating her way. The cold air of night dropped through her without any warning as the sun died away. The moonlight was bright, but the trees masked much of its light and Kaoru found it hard to know where to place her feet. She pressed on. She traveled cautiously and became one with the quiet clamor of the night. Other animals stayed clear of her and she fell into her thoughts.
A sudden loud rustle in the trees startled her. She swung herself around to find the source of noise. A fawn appeared as frightened as Kaoru and quickly scampered in a different direction. A nervous chuckle escaped her lips as she whipped back around. Kaoru realized too late that she had criss crossed her legs as she moved and found herself parallel to the ground. She grabbed a fallen tree branch to stabilize herself, but did not realize she was on a downward slope. She had not walked in the correct direction and cursed herself as she stumbled on the downward path. From the gentle curvature of the slope, she expected a quick rolling sensation and a sudden halt. As she tumbled downward, her body accelerated at an alarming rate and she flailed her arms to stop the motion or grab on to anything. The gentle slope continued for an eternity before she suddenly crashed into a rocky bottom.
She lay flat on her back for a moment, before attempting to pick herself up. She pushed her soft hands into gravel and propelled herself upward. She tried to regain her composure, despite the thrashing she'd been given. The moon was covered by the large canopies of the tree branches and Kaoru had a small sliver of light. She stumbled away from the rocks still determined to find shelter. As she moved the impact of her head and body injuries kicked her full force. She temporarily forgot to keep her balance and cradled her head. In that moment she toppled over and her head made an imprint with the soaked ground surrounding a small pond. She collapsed instantly into unconciousness.
It was the feeling of water lapping at her face that woke her. She slowly opened her eyes in disbelief as water bathed her bruised body. She could barely recall last night's events and had no care to do so. She sat up and scanned herself. She was dipped in wet mud and her clothes carried the stench of rotting water. Digging her palms in the sinking ground, she hoisted herself and without thought charged fully into the pool of water behind her. The pond was larger than she had guessed and was immersed in ice water. The sun could not reach this far down in the forest to warm it. The frigid scarf bound itself around her and tugged her under. She felt close to closing her eyes and allowing the water to drag her to the muddy bottom, but couldn't imagine her body rotting in the squishy mass of glorified dirt. Her dignity wouldn't allow it. She clawed at the water and broke the water's surface with more ease than she expected. Her vigor for life surprised her.
She crawled to shore and ignored as her weighted body sunk into the weak ground. She took step after step, until she had reached the slope that had forsaken her. In the light of day she noticed rocks jutting out of the slope and decided to climb back up. Her already heavy skirts were unbearable, but she refused to leave them. They were her only clothes and she would not part with them. With a large sigh, Kaoru grabbed the first rock and then the next. She put her foot on the first rock and forced herself upward. The weight of her wet skirts pulled her weak body downward but she fought just that much harder. Despite falling and sliding several times, Kaoru made her way up the land. She slid on to level ground and allowed herself a small victory as her breath returned. She had conquered a moutain (well a small landslide). She was her own person with her own strenght. She didn't need to be saved anymore.
"What a wet mess. Is that thing trespassing on our territory?" a voice laughed. Kaoru instantly propelled herself upward and saw three men weaving effortlessly through the trees...toward her.
"Don't be rude to the lady. She's our honored guest and we should welcome her." a large man snapped as he approached her. He looked familiar as did his companions. Their rough bodies and blunt faces resembled the men who had captured her castle not so very long ago. She prayed they would not recognize her and take her disheveled features for a wandering maid. Unfortunately, her features were too prominent to be that of a maid's.
"I am not a lady. I was sent by master to gather herbs, and became lost in the wood. Will you help me?"
The largest man flew to face her and grabbed her chin. "What fools you have dealt with. Your face is that of the King's. No face is greater known to my people than his and you dare insult me. Your kind is all alike and I will take pleasure in forcing you to pay your debt."
Kaoru slapped his hand from her face and stumbled backward. "I owe nothing."
"For the deaths of my best warriors...You owe everything." He walked toward her and Kaoru stepped back until her back collided with another body. She was pushed face first into the ground and bound tightly. Kaoru lifted her head up and glared at the man standing above her.
"You were attacking my castle and your men died of stupidity." With a roar of rage the leader embedded his foot into her side. Kaoru bit her tongue to keep from screaming. No one would have the satisfaction of seeing her cry out.
"Too good to beg for mercy?" He laughed as he slammed his feet into her ribcage again and again. Iron blood leaked into her mouth as she struggled to hold down her call for help.
"That's enough Kuwaba! She'll be nothing to us dead." Kaoru could faintly hear a voice growl over the pumping of blood filling her ears. She felt herself being roughly snatched up and dragged by her collar. Her head lopped on to her bosom as a trickle of blood escaped her mouth. As she swam between conciousness and unconciousness, the smell of fire roasted meat melted in the air. Kaoru was suddenly reminded that the Akumi Tribe lived on the southern outskirts of the forests that connected her land to another kingdom's. She had believed the nomadic group to have relocated. Apparently they had been biding their time until another chance to conquer her kingdom arose. Her foolish father had not bothered to check that they were gone.
She found herself on a long journey with her captives which lasted no less than four days, but the signs of civilization began to appear as the journey waged on. The smell of meat drenched the air and Kaoru feared they were closer to the Tribe's campsite. "What will we do with her?"
"I have thought of ransoming her back to the King for land, money, or the entire kingdom. When I think of my dead sons I am filled with hate and only want to see her hung by her toes, naked, in her town square."
"I seek retribution as well Kuwaba, but let us steal their lands first then hang the girl." Kuwaba's laughter cracked the forest air as he led the men to camp. The trees began to thin considerably and the sun beamed angrily on Kaoru and her captors. They were on the outskirts of the camp and the stench of camp life mingled with the smell of burned wood and meat.
"May the Gods find favor with you. Your cleverness is my salvation. Come let us throw her in the-" Kuwaba dug his feet into the ground and Kaoru's head bobbled with the impact. The grip on her collar loosened and her upper body fell on the ground. Three unhumane noises erupted from the men as they charged to their ruined camp grounds. A dying fire revealed that their camp had been destroyed. They tore through the ashes to find the blackened remains of their brethren.
Kaoru scanned the devastation with sympathy, despite her captivity. She wondered why the strong smell of meat wafted through the air and found a large bulk of red meat cooking over an open flame. She doubted the panic stricken people had time to cook a full meal in the middle of a fire. A large expanse of land south of the path she'd taken was burned away. A forest fire several miles away had died just after killing an entire way of life. This explained where the tribesmen had gone, but the fresh meat was still a mystery. Through her tired eyes Kaoru spotted a flash of red. The Battousai.
While the last tribesmen ripped through the land in search of any survivors, Kaoru spotted the Battousai creeping up on the group. She could barely comprehend what happened as the Battousai artfully struck the three men. Kaoru almost feared for their lives, before hearing the waves of moaning. He had spared their lives.
Kaoru felt herself being lifted up and tilted her head back to see her faithful masked savior darting through the trees. "You didn't kill them."
"Their tribe was lost. The Gods have punished them, so I have no need to."
Kaoru noticed she was going through the burned forest, rather than away from it. "The castle is in the other direction." she stated matter of factly.
"I assumed we were headed in a different direction. You did abandon your home land."
Irritated and in pain, Kaoru snapped, "I did not abandon my home land! I abandoned you! Leave me alone!"
"When you are safe." A soft voice answered. She stared into his eyes and noticed a flicker of lavender, before dark amber refilled them.
"I have no use for you Princess. Do not think I continue to save you for my pleasure, because I tire of cleaning up your families messes. I can continue my work after you are gone."
"And what work is that?" She countered. Her cheeks reddened with her unfocused anger.
"Were your intentions to marry me, then abandon me?"
"I must complete my task, by any means necessary. I came to your palace to decline the offer. Your abandonment of your kingdom was unnecessary and stupid."
"What is your next task?" she asked numbly.
"Defeating Lord Shishio."
"No!" She yelled to her own surprise.
He looked down at her with confusion, "Why?"
"If you should lose, Shishio will come after my kingdom and force me to marry him."
"I will not lose."
"If you do..." she said with fear. She jerked at his clothing and forced him to a halt.
He stared down at her and she felt hot under his yellow gaze. "I promise to protect you."
"How can you promise that if you abandon me?"
"What would you have me do?" He growled.
"I don't know." she answered before fainting
so you're probably wondering why there are only 5 chapters when their should be 17...call it trimming the fat... I thought the story was dying so I decided to change somethings to revive it. I will finish the story now that its workable. Lovers of the old story...sorry guys...hope you think this is better.