While in the merchant city of Kougakyo, Okamoto Katsushiro and Shimada Kambei continue their difficult search for samurai to join their cause, when they meet a samuraiko on the streets of Kougakyo. But this woman is clearly no down-on-her-luck ronin. On a Musha Shugyo (a quest for enlightenment), her wandering has brought her to Kougakyo... and to the samurai. (Note: for the gamers here, Nasami is a character of mine from the game "Legend of the Five Rings.")

There's a forum under the SAMURAI 7 page about my story, for those of you who are always sending me suggestions and ideas and comments and such (these go beyond reviews). So check it out!

Last but not least, each chapter of the story is written to music. This chapter's music is "O For a Muse of Fire" from HENRY V by Patrick Doyle, while Nasami's 'theme song' is "The PeonyHouse," from HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (kudos to Sleepwalking Dreamer for the suggestion).

Note for all the music hunting fans: all of the music for THE SWORD OF THE SOUL is now available on the Multimedia page of my website as a Windows Media Player playlist file. Everything from Nasami's theme all the way through the latest chapter is now accessible. Enjoy!


The Sword of the Soul

Chapter One

"It's been a long day, sensei," Katsushiro sighed to Kambei as they headed back to the inn where the others waited. "No matter how many samurai we speak to, it seems like none of them are willing to help."

"This is a city of merchants, Katsushiro, everything here revolves around money, not bushido." Kambei gestured to the city around them. "The samurai caste is slowly dwindling away, both in numbers and in ethics. When you have no place in the world, you either learn to adapt or die. It is hard to live on a diet of virtue alone."

"But aren't samurai supposed to live by the code of bushido at all times?"

"In theory, yes. In practice, well, that is a different matter," Kambei said flatly.

"Then they shouldn't call themselves samurai," Katsushiro said in disgust. "It's disgraceful."

"Any more disgraceful than a man calling himself samurai when he is not actually one?" Kambei asked with a raised eyebrow, and Katsushiro had the grace to blush.

"To be samurai is more than just a matter of birthright, sensei… I believe that what truly makes a samurai is what is in his heart. If you follow the tenets of bushido, truly and not just 'in theory,' then that is what makes a true samurai."

"Well spoken, Katsushiro, but it will take more than words to defeat the Nobuseri."

Katsushiro sighed, chastened. "Yes, sensei."

"Such low-spirited words… and from samurai, no less. How disappointing." A woman's voice came from behind them, and Kambei and Katsushiro turned, their hands automatically resting on their katanas.

Leaning casually against one of the pillars stood a woman, barely taller than five feet five inches, wearing pale blue and silver armor, a daisho thrust into her obi. Her dark blue eyes seemed to sparkle with humor, and her long white hair was gathered in a maiden's foxtail that reached her waist.

"A woman samurai?" Katsushiro said in disbelief, and the woman's smile broadened. As he looked closer, he could see faint scar lines across her face, and he was oddly reminded of their companion Katayama Gorobei.

"What, you think that only men can have a heart of courage and a soul of honor? Nonsense."

"She has you there, Katsushiro," Kambei said with amusement. He turned to the woman and bowed slightly, who bowed to them both in return. "Indeed, I have not seen a samuraiko since the Great War, but as I had been telling my young friend here, we of the samurai caste are much fewer since those days."

The woman sobered. "True enough. But just because the war is over doesn't mean that samurai now have no purpose anymore. We just have to look harder to find it." She shrugged and smiled again. "Besides, I could hardly make it as a geisha with this face. Scars and tattoos don't make a woman good marriage material, not to mention that masculine pride often gets in the way when a woman is as strong as her husband."

Kambei smiled in return. "If I might ask, what is your name?"

She straightened her shoulders and rested her hands before her on the crossed pommels of her katana and wakizashi. "My name is Nasami."

Katsushiro finally managed to get his wits about him. "I am Okamoto Katsushiro, and this is Shimada Kambei-sensei. If we might impose on your goodwill for a few moments, we have a proposition for you, Nasami-dono."

"A proposition? My, and we just met." Nasami batted her eyes at the young man and he blushed a bright red. Kambei couldn't help himself, and started laughing.

"You know, I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like you before, Nasami-dono. Would you join us for rice this evening?"

"I'd be delighted, Kambei-san. Lead the way."


"A woman samurai?" Kirara was astonished. "I had no idea that women could be warriors!"

Her little sister Komachi openly stared at the samuraiko. "Well, it's no wonder she's a samurai. She's so old that nobody would marry her!"

Nasami choked on her rice.

Aghast, Kirara lunged at the little girl and clapped her hand over her mouth. "Komachi, hush!"

Rikichi, their companion, immediately prostrated himself before Nasami. "My humblest apologies, great samurai, please forgive our-" His words were cut short as Nasami burst out laughing.

"The little one certainly speaks her mind, doesn't she? And no, Komachi-chan, I'm not that old. My hair has been white since I was twenty-three years old."

Kikuchiyo snorted. "The sprout always says what she thinks. But judging by the look of you, she's in good company there."

Gorobei was assessing the young woman closely. "Nasami… that name sounds familiar. I don't suppose by any chance that you are the same Nasami who bested a samurai twice her size in a… most unorthodox duel?"

Nasami was delighted. "Yes, how did you know?"

"The whole city was talking about it for at least two days afterwards."

"A duel, Gorobei-dono?" Katsushiro was intrigued.

The older samurai's laugh was deep and rich. "Oh, yes. You see, this big samurai, not unlike our Kiku here, had been enjoying his sake a little too much, and started creating a scene in a local teahouse. When the owner tried to stop him, the samurai started waving his katana around and threatened to kill the owner for daring to lay his hands on a samurai. He challenged the teahouse owner to a duel, knowing perfectly well that the owner would lose, but Nasami here volunteered to fight on the owner's behalf."

"Well, someone had to do something," Nasami murmured. "Men like that give all samurai a bad name."

"The samurai was too drunk to realize that she was clearly the more skilled swordsman, or else too proud to admit it. At any rate, she and the samurai stepped out into the courtyard to fight, with the whole clientele of the teahouse gathering to watch, because if she lost, she would most likely be killed, and the teahouse owner along with her."

"So what happened, Gorobei-sama?" Kirara asked breathlessly. "Did she defeat the drunken samurai?"

"Oh she defeated him, all right. She modified the classic Iaijutsu strike before he had a chance to blink, and knocked him out cold!"

"Iau… Iai…" Komachi tried to get her mouth around the big word. "What's that mean?"

Kambei stood up. "Iaijutsu is a dueling strike, where the samurai draws the katana, attacks, and resheathes it in a single move. Like this." With remarkable speed, the samurai drew his katana, made a single slashing motion in the air, and had the katana back in his saya before any of them realized what had happened. All of them gasped in astonishment, even Nasami.

"Well done, Kambei-san, I doubt even my old sensei could have done that better."

"My goodness," Rikichi gasped, looking at Nasami. "And… and you attacked like that, great samurai?"

Nasami looked at the peasant farmer. "Oh, not exactly like that. But the same idea in principle." She also stood up. "You see, an Iaijutsu strike is meant to slash, to attack with the blade in such a fashion as to disable one's opponent, anything from disarming him to beheading him." She demonstrated with an Iaijutsu strike of her own, just as fast as Kambei's, and all of the samurai were impressed. "However, I knew that as drunk as he was, that samurai was expecting me to do that, so I slightly altered the stroke."

This time, she drew in slow, deliberate movements, and Rikichi watched as instead of altering the angle of her stroke to allow her to slash, she kept the angle of the blade consistent. "Instead of slashing at him, I hit him face on with the pommel of the katana and broke his nose. Knocked him unconscious."

Gorobei's laughter filled the room. "And to add further insult to injury, she rifled his pockets and gave all his money to the teahouse owner for the damages!"

"A most unusual samurai, indeed," Kambei said thoughtfully. He and Gorobei exchanged glances, and then he turned back to Nasami.

"Nasami-dono, would you be interested in helping us in a fight against the Nobuseri? Someone with your skill and... resourcefulness, shall we say, would be a useful ally in our cause."

Nasami considered, clearly tempted. "Your offer is a most enticing one, Kambei-san, but it is one I have to think about."

"I understand that it is not the typical offer for samurai," Gorobei stated. After all, the only thing that the farmers can promise you is all the rice that you can eat. There will be no fame or wealth as the spoils of this battle."

The samuraiko shook her head. "It is not money or prestige that I care about, Gorobei-san. I have enough of the former, and no small amount of the latter, either. But I am on a quest for enlightenment, which is why I have left my status and my family name behind me." She nodded to Katsushiro. "However, as your young friend so aptly stated before, one is a samurai in one's heart, even if not by one's name. I cannot leave that part of me behind as well."

She sighed, then looked at the three peasants. "However, who is to say that my enlightenment is not to be found at Kanna Village?" Her eyes fell on Kirara's dowsing crystal. "You, Kirara-san, you are a Mikumari, are you not? A water priestess?"

Kirara nodded.

"From what Kambei-san and Katsushiro-san have said, you have been using your dowsing crystal to determine if the samurai you encounter are ones that will help you. What does your crystal say about me?"

"You believe that my dowsing crystal knows such things?" Kirara was startled. "I… I thought that most samurai disdained such a thing."

"After seeing a companion of mine speaking to the elements, very little surprises me anymore," Nasami chuckled. "Remind me sometime to introduce you to Isawa Ujiro, a fellow samurai of mine."

The white-haired samuraiko glanced back at the samurai. "If your time permits it, give me three days to consider it and to meditate upon my path. If it is my karma to join you, then my sword is yours. If it is not my karma, I can only give you my blessing."

To be continued