Note: So much of the SAMURAI 7 fan fiction is sad, and in a lot of instances, downright depressing. As a result, I decided to do something fun. Well, 'fun' might be a strange choice of words, but you'll get the idea. I'm evil…
The Daimyo's Offer
Kambei knelt outside the door, staring at the paper screens but not really seeing them. He could hear faint voices inside the room, one soft, one firm. Although he could not make out exact words, he could tell that the discussion, whatever it was about, was intense.
What have I done? he thought to himself miserably. I must have been a fool to pull a stunt like this. This is the sort of thing I would expect from Katsushiro, or maybe from Shichiroji, but never from myself.
After their defeat of the bandits, Katsushiro had departed to begin his own search for understanding and his place in the world, and Nasami had left to continue her quest for enlightenment. Shichiroji had remained behind so that he and his former commander could travel together back to the Village of Respite. But then a letter arrived for Kambei, bearing an elegant seal, its message simple.
"Your presence is requested at Kyuden Shiden'issen at your earliest convenience."
"Kyuden Shiden'issen, huh?" Shichiroji had remarked. "You certainly attracted someone's attention, that's for sure."
"What do you know about it?"
The blond samurai had shrugged. "It's the castle of Shujiro, a daimyo with strong connections to the Imperial Court." Then he turned away, and Kambei wasn't certain, but he thought that Shichiroji was trying to hide a smile.
"And what exactly are you laughing at?"
Shichiroji had then openly grinned at him. "Oh, the most likely reason for the invitation."
"Which is?" But no sooner had he asked than he groaned aloud. "No… not that. Anything but that."
But one does not ignore a daimyo's summons, so with resignation, he had gathered his things and bid Shichiroji and the villagers of Kanna farewell.
"I'll meet you in a few days at the Firefly House," he'd told Shichiroji, who looked surprised.
"Do you still always expect the worst from life?"
"Why shouldn't I?" Kambei had answered, and Shichiroji had walked off, grumbling to himself about how the former commander wouldn't recognize a gift from heaven if it hit him over the head with a hammer.
Kambei had ridden for days from Kanna Village, after the grateful farmers had heaped thanks after thanks upon him and the other remaining samurai. It had been a bittersweet victory in the end, but they had accomplished what they had set out to do... free the village from the tyranny of the bandits.
The word had spread, however, of the Seven Samurai of Kanna, and as he rode, peasants, samurai, and merchants alike had stopped him, offering drinks, thanks, flowers (in one embarrassing incident, a man's only cow), anything they could think of. But all he wanted to do was reach his destination and get away from it all.
Finally, after over a week of hard riding, he had arrived at Kyuden Shiden'issen. But before he'd approached, he'd dismounted and stared. Although not very large, the castle was elegantly constructed, its surrounding gardens immaculate. And unlike some of the palaces he had passed along the way, this one looked capable of a sturdy defense, rather than being strictly ornamental in design. Several units of samurai patrolled the lands, some on the roads, others in the fields.
The servants had bowed respectfully and led his mount to the stables, while another servant, more well-dressed, had led him to his chambers. Along the way, they passed a small training courtyard, where several samurai were sparring or training with their sensei. A few were practicing kendo, while others trained in yarijutsu or kyujutsu.
"I'm surprised to see such vigilance in times of peace," he had commented to the servant.
"There is a saying, great samurai, that 'we practice the art of war to defend the art of peace.' And my lord and lady are both still quite active in martial affairs."
At last the two reached a well-lit corridor just off the east wing of the house.
"These rooms have been set aside for you, Kambei-sama. My lord also bid me tell you that he and his lady wife will be expecting you this evening at dinner. I will come to guide you at that time. In the meantime, I will send others to bring you water to bathe, and to provide food. My lady was certain you would be hungry after so long a journey."
Kambei stared at the rooms he had been given. Not even during his time as commander of an army had he seen such opulence. Everything about the room demonstrated gentle serenity and excellent taste, and of a quality he'd never seen before.
"Does this meet with your satisfaction, great samurai?" the servant asked anxiously after a long silence.
"Yes," he said softly. "More than satisfaction."
The servant bowed. "Until later then, great samurai," she murmured, and drew the panel shut behind herself.
In the silence, Kambei walked around the room, pausing now and again to stare at the ornamentation of the room. A lovely alabaster vase held three sweetly blooming violets, pleasingly arranged and filling the room with their delicate scent. Hanging near a window was a remarkable sumi-e rendering of the meeting of the Weaver and Cowherd stars, the lovers who could meet but once a year in the heavens. Beside it was a lifelike tiger carved from a stone he'd never seen before, nearly blood red and streaked with gold. In one corner was an exquisite jade statue of two cranes with wings outstretched in flight, so translucent that it seemed to glow. The tatami mat beneath his feet massaged them as he walked, and he could tell that his futon would be the most comfortable he'd ever slept in.
Suddenly the idea of meeting the daimyo seemed a lot more intimidating.
"What have I gotten myself into?" he asked aloud, gazing around him.
Later that evening, the servant had returned, summoning him for the evening meal. Kambei had bathed and changed into fresh clothes, but still felt distinctly dowdy next to the servant's rich clothing. It seemed almost laughable that a servant was better dressed than he, but considering the servant's lord, it was only appropriate.
"Your lord's estates seem prosperous," Kambei remarked as they walked along one of the corridors, and the servant nodded.
"Indeed. Shujiro-sama and his lady wife are generous and kind, much loved by those who serve them."
Kambei nodded thoughtfully. He had noticed that upon arriving at the daimyo's lands. Here, unlike in Kanna, the peasants seemed happier and better cared for, and of course, the lands were rich and vast. Here he'd been confronted by the reality of the dreams he'd longed for as a younger man – to be daimyo over lands such as these.
At last, they arrived at a large hall, but the doors were still closed.
The servant turned and bowed to Kambei. "If you will, great samurai, my lord's affairs have not yet been concluded, and he asks you to wait."
Kambei nodded. "Of course, I await your lord's company at his convenience."
The servant bowed again, and Kambei knelt outside the door as she hurried away.
Now Kambei found himself thinking again of the almost foolhardy courage that had brought him here. Ironic that I've come through wars, battles, near death experiences, and this is almost more frightening than any of them.
"Kambei-san, please, come in."
The screen was slid open from the inside by a kneeling servant, and Kambei bowed politely.
"At your command, my lord."
"So this is the famous Shimada Kambei, leader of the Seven and defender of Kanna," the daimyo said, his voice cultured yet commanding. "You may enter, Kambei-san, I wish to look more closely at you."
Kambei carefully got to his feet and approached. "I am most grateful for your hospitality, my lord."
As he walked nearer, he carefully studied the daimyo and his wife. A man of about fifty, Shujiro was a slender figure of a man, but lithe and sinewy, with white hair that reached his shoulders. As well-dressed and elegant as he appeared, Kambei could see the calluses on his hands that indicated a lifetime of pursuing the art of kenjutsu and bushido.
His wife, however, nearly made Kambei stare in amazement. Nearly as tall as her husband, she wore her white hair barely to her shoulders, a vast departure from the courtly tradition of long hair on a noblewoman. Like her husband, she was slim yet strong, and carried herself with the air of a warrior as well as a wife.
"My lady wife, Noreiko," the daimyo said, gesturing to his wife, who bowed slightly.
Kambei bowed more deeply. "Lady Noreiko-gozen, I would like to thank you for your earlier consideration and generosity."
And try as he might, he could not shake the feeling that he had seen her somewhere before.
"I remember how it felt to travel, Kambei-san," she said, her voice husky but filled with humor. "I see no reason to deprive my guests of their comforts while within the walls of Kyuden Shiden'issen." She clapped her hands, and the doors slid open again to reveal several servants bearing trays of food.
Shiden'issen, Kambei thought. The flash of lightning… or else the flash of a sword.
"Please be seated, Kambei-san, and share a repast with us," the daiymo said, and Kambei took a seat at their table. He was intensely reminded of the banquet Shichiroji and Yukino had provided at the Firefly House, but this put that memory to shame.
"A most unusual name for your castle, my lord," Kambei said thoughtfully as they ate. All at once, he was grateful for the rice and firefly fare that the peasants had provided, as he could appreciate this meal far more as a result.
The daimyo smiled. "Indeed, but an appropriate one. Ours is a family that takes great pride in the art of the sword, and the Emperor himself bestowed the name upon the palace when it was completed."
"I suppose you're wondering why we asked you here, Kambei-san," Noreiko said abruptly, and Kambei remained silent for a moment.
"In all honesty, yes, my lady."
"We have heard much about you," the daimyo remarked.
"I can imagine," Kambei said quietly, but with amusement.
"Indeed. But our family is used to being the subject of discussion, due to our position and my children's deeds in the Emperor's name." The daimyo sat back slightly and studied Kambei intently. "You see, our youngest daughter is of age, but has yet to choose a husband."
Kambei sighed to himself. I was right.
The daimyo went on. "While I realize that for the last several years, you have been wandering as a ronin, I know that you still have noble traits. The soul of bushido is still strong within you. If you were to wed my daughter, you could take back that which you lost during the Great War."
The chance to again rejoin a noble house, to serve a daimyo, was something he'd never let himself believe in again. But the thought of having to marry to do it was not something he relished.
Although he tried to hide his reaction, the daimyo's wife noticed. "You disagree? Most samurai would be quite pleased at the notion of marrying my daughter. She is intelligent, charming, and quite lovely."
"With all due respect, my lady, I can think of several reasons why your daughter would not have me." And one why I would not have her, for that matter.
"And they are?" Noreiko leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand.
He swallowed hard, but it was too late to back down now. "For one, I am most likely too old for your daughter."
"A difference in age is commonly accepted practice at court, Kambei-san," the daimyo reminded him.
"Perhaps. Second, I have served extensively during the Great War. Most young women cannot abide the scent of the battlefield."
"That is true," Noreiko agreed. "But that is also not a sufficient reason."
A slight flush colored Kambei's cheeks. "There is also the matter of my lesser rank. Without a doubt, even if she had never achieved greatness in the court or on the battlefield, your daughter's status warrants a husband of higher rank."
"That is also true," the daimyo said smoothly. "However, as you say, my daughter is of higher rank than you, and instead of being a nobleman's bride, you would be a noblewoman's husband." He arched one elegant eyebrow. "Or would your samurai pride forbid such a notion?"
Kambei wisely remained silent, and Noreiko tilted her head and studied the samurai closely. Then her dark grey eyes widened. "I believe, my husband, that Kambei-san actually loves another."
"Is that true?" the daimyo asked, and though Kambei said nothing, the answer was clear in his eyes. At last, the daimyo sighed.
"Very well. I regret that you will not reconsider my offer, Kambei-san, but far be it from me to order a man who does not serve me."
"I am truly sorry, my lord," Kambei replied, and in his heart, he was. But only one woman in the world would have made him truly happy to take her to wife, but she was so far beyond his reach that he'd given up on the dream.
At that moment, another servant's voice drifted in from the hall. "Daimyo-sama, your daughter has arrived."
"Very well," he replied. "Send her in."
Kambei winced inside. He had hoped not to be here when the daimyo explained to his daughter that he'd refused to marry her, but it was too late now. At the very least, however, he was curious to see what the daimyo's daughter looked like.
As the screens slid open, Kambei turned to look at the newcomer, and he felt his mouth fall open in astonishment.
In walked a woman with the same graceful and commanding air as her mother, her long hair falling to her waist, her kimono sleek and elegant around her body. Although slightly petite, she carried herself with confidence so that she seemed taller than she actually was. While not classically beautiful as some of the women at the court, she had high, elegant cheekbones, full lips, and wide set eyes. Even with her eyes demurely downcast before the daimyo, he could almost sense the sharp intelligence behind them.
She stopped precisely ten steps from the daimyo and his wife, and sank into a fluid bow. "Honored father and mother, I thank you for acceding to my request, although I had no idea you would actually take me seriously."
"Welcome home, my daughter," the daimyo said, fondness in his voice. "You should know better than anyone that you always seem to get away with the impossible. However, it would appear that you have stolen away the voice of our guest. Perhaps you should greet him properly as well."
The woman straightened and turned slightly to face Kambei.
And he felt the whole world stop and start again as his eyes met hers.
"Welcome to Kyuden Shiden'issen, Kambei-san," she said, her voice filled with barely contained laughter.
"Nasami?" Kambei whispered, struggling to breathe at the sight of the samuraiko.
The daimyo and his wife were surprised, glancing first at one another, then back at the samurai. "You did not know?"
At first he was unable to speak, and could only shake his head, never taking his eyes off the young woman.
But all at once, everything fell into place.
Long white hair, just like her parents'.
Exceptional kenjutsu skills, just like her mother's.
Courtly manners, just like her father's.
Her always-hinted-at but never-flaunted wealth, and all the stories Gorobei and Shichiroji had told him about her supposed past.
Suddenly he knew why Shichiroji had been smiling. He had known who Shujiro was... Not only as a daimyo.
But that he was also Nasami's father.
Finally he found his voice. "No, my lord. Nasami-san never discussed her family, saying only that she had left her clan behind while undertaking a quest for enlightenment."
"Ah, I see," Noreiko replied with amusement, her sharp gaze taking in the flame of hope in Kambei's eyes, the faint smile playing around his mouth, the way his hands were clenched as though restraining himself from reaching out for Nasami. "I take it, then, that you have changed your mind?"
A chance to rejoin a clan.
A chance to once again distinguish himself in a daimyo's service.
A chance to marry the woman he loved more than life itself, and who loved him in return.
"Most assuredly, my lady," he whispered as he moved to kneel beside Nasami, taking her hands in his. "Most assuredly."