Note: I had slightly reworked this story for submission to a short story contest; unfortunately, I missed the deadline for submission (oops). However, I decided to pull down the original version of 'For Loyalty, For Love' and replace it with the updated version.
This story is the darker companion to my other story 'The Daimyo's Offer.' And I owe a brief nod here to John Wick for writing The Way of the Scorpion for the 'Legend of the Five Rings' game, as he sparked the idea that you see here.
The music for this story, "The Farewell" from the film CLASH OF THE TITANS, is available for your listening pleasure on the SamuraikoProductions dot com website.
For Loyalty, For Love
"How dare you!" The shout echoed around the room, and it took everything Nasami had not to flinch. "You have disgraced our house, our Clan! Have you no shame?"
The samuraiko remained silent, only the tension in her shoulders and the slight clenching of her hands indicating her frustration and anger. But she could not stop her eyes from following her father's pacing back and forth across the dais.
"While our Clan's daimyo negotiates for a suitable husband for you, you run off with a…" He was so angry that he couldn't make himself say it. But Nasami could, and did.
Shujiro turned to glare at his daughter. "And you threw away a lifetime of honor, a reputation of integrity, for that outcast?"
At that, her head came up, and totally disregarding the dictates of courtesy, she stared her father straight in the face. "I have done nothing wrong. I have said as much before, and I will say it again." Angrily, she got to her feet and advanced on her father, her voice as cold as his. "I will swear it before Lady Sun herself that I am innocent of any wrongdoing. And if following my heart, and listening to the truth of my soul, is wrongdoing, then let me be damned for it, and let me be."
As angry as Shujiro was, he knew his daughter well enough to know that such a vow was sacred to Nasami. Although, as a warrior, she revered the Tao and the code of bushido, Nasami held Amaterasu the Sun Goddess highest in her heart. To swear an oath in Amaterasu's name told him just how serious she was.
"You know that cannot be," her father said softly. "You have come too far, done too much. The Clan will never let this go, Nasami, and neither will I."
"I do not want to marry!" she cried in frustration. Even at the age of thirty, she had the irrational urge to stamp her feet as if she were a child, a futile way of venting the helplessness she felt within her.
"What you want is irrelevant."
"But my quest for enlightenment was never completed. You called me home before I finished my musha shugyo."
"And our daimyo will not let you use that excuse twice."
"Excuse?" Nasami was aghast. Her decision to pursue enlightenment as a wandering ronin had only been undertaken after obtaining permission from the daimyo and the Emperor, for they had recognized her spiritual calling.
Shujiro grimaced in apology.
"A poor choice of words, perhaps, but nevertheless, it is his command, and through him, the Emperor's, that you take a husband at this year's Winter Court."
"I will not marry some anonymous samurai, not even to satisfy the daimyo's whims. If he is so eager to see me married, he can offer for me himself," Nasami said dangerously, resuming her seat on the floor.
Her father glared down at her. "Have you any idea who has offered for you?"
She shook her head. "I have been away from home these last several years, and even when I was here, I had better things to do than listen to gossip. If you had chosen, you would have told me."
"It was not only your comrade from the war, Saito-san," her father said. "Yukihara-sama asked for your hand as well."
"The general of the Mirumoto?" Nasami said, amazed. "But…"
"Not only him. Ujimutsu-sama's hatamoto. Not to mention the second son of the Emperor's Champion. Rumor has it that even Yakamo-sama has expressed an interest in you, after your feats in battle by his side."
Her eyes widened as her father went on, naming several prominent daimyos and their sons as possible suitors. "You cannot be serious."
"That you have attracted the attention of the sons of many great houses? Or even their daimyos? Yes, my daughter, I am completely serious. But if even a hint of this became publicly known, you would become a pariah."
"And instead, you would make me a go piece for the daimyo's purposes."
"You did that yourself the day you saved the life of the Emperor's son."
The samuraiko scowled, knowing that her father spoke the truth. Five years earlier, the Emperor's son had been abducted by traitors to the throne, but Nasami, along with a handful of samurai, had succeeded in saving the boy when even the Imperial Guard had failed. On that day, she had won the respect and gratitude of the Emperor himself, and many of the noble Clans took an interest in Shujiro's youngest daughter.
"Then if I am so well-respected, why can I not at least choose my own husband?" Nasami pleaded. "He was once samurai, he can become so again. Or has the Emperor forgotten those who served him during the Great War?"
"He is ronin, Nasami. You are samurai, not only by training but by birth."
"So is he!"
"You can not marry him," her father thundered.
She shook her head, her long white foxtail swaying against her shoulders. "Father, I cannot go through with this."
Shujiro sighed, and stepped down from the dais. In a rare moment of warmth, he rested his hands on her shoulders. "Believe me, Nasami, it gives me no pleasure to see you this distraught. But it is by imperial edict that you must marry, and in a month's time."
Nasami said nothing, but Shujiro could see the frustrated anger and sorrow in her eyes as her heart wrestled with her sense of duty to her lord and to her family, and at last, she bowed her head in acquiescence.
"There is one more thing," he said finally.
"And what is that?" she asked, her voice dull, not lifting her eyes.
"What about him?"
"You are to never see him again."
Her head came up to stare at her father in dismay. "No… Father-"
He held up one hand to stop her from saying anything else. "Out of respect for you, I have requested that he be permitted to join the ranks of an allied house. It is, perhaps, the only thing of consolation I can give to you, but you must abandon him, Nasami."
All of the color drained from her face until it was as white as her hair. "So I am to buy his status with my marriage, and my misery," she whispered. "Perhaps then, it is for the best."
She bowed and left, but instead of returning to her rooms, she went outside to walk in the gardens.
The last of the autumn flowers still scented the air, and she drew in a deep breath, then let it out in a ragged sigh. She came to a stop beside one of the ornamental fountains, listening to the soft susurring of the water, but for once the tranquil beauty of Kyuden Shiden'issen, the castle given to her ancestors by the Emperor himself, gave her no peace.
"Why so unhappy?"
Nasami turned and saw Kambei emerge from behind a tree. "You shouldn't be here," she whispered, even as joy lit her face and she moved toward him, her hands outstretched. "But I think that the sight of you would ease any sorrow in my heart."
But as the dark-haired samurai drew her into his arms, he could see the glimmer of tears in her dark blue eyes turned silver by the moonlight. "It's not like you to cry. Tell me what's wrong."
"A command from the Emperor. My father says that in a month's time, I must marry at Winter Court. And I can never see you again."
"I can't say I'm surprised. For that matter, I would not have been surprised if he'd ordered my execution and your seppuku."
"Suicide would be my preference over marriage," Nasami said bitterly, but Kambei stopped her words with his fingers over her lips.
"While there is life, there is hope," he said quietly. "Believe me, Nasami, the thought of you marrying another is enough to break my heart, but even more painful than that is the thought of your death."
Nasami sighed. "Father did arrange, however, for you to join the ranks of a Clan once again… one of our allies. As a… a favor to me."
She rested her head against his chest, listening to the reassuring beat of his heart. For a long, long time, they stood that way, a single shadow in the moonlit gardens, listening to the song of the wind through the trees.
"Take me away from here, Kambei," she whispered. "By tomorrow we could be far away, beyond the reach of daimyo or Emperor."
"But then where would your honor be?" he replied, stroking her hair. "It was that unyielding honor of yours that first won me over. And I can't let you just throw it away for me."
She tilted her head back. "Do you love me?" she asked.
"With all my heart and more." Kambei knew there would never be enough words, enough time, for him to tell her what she meant to him, but she knew the depth of his feelings every time she looked into his dark grey eyes.
"And I love you. You are my life, and I, yours." She drew his head down and kissed him with all the passion she'd held inside for many years. "I will never marry, if it is not you. I will die first."
"You would leave me behind?" he said quietly. "To mourn you in silence for the rest of my days?"
Gently he pushed her away. While it would break his heart to see her wedded to another man, a world without Nasami in it would destroy his soul. "You cannot kill yourself. Not by seppuku, not by jigai, not by any means."
"Then what can I do?" It was completely unlike her to be so upset that she could not think straight, but the shock still had her reeling.
"You must accede to your father's wishes. It is the only honorable thing to do."
Suddenly she stilled. "No… it is not the only honorable thing."
And even as her tears began to fall, she looked up at him and smiled.
For three weeks, Nasami went about her life as though nothing had changed. She still saw Kambei occasionally, and said nothing to her parents about her upcoming marriage. The Clan daimyo was still negotiating for which samurai would claim her as a bride, but Nasami's only response whenever her parents mentioned the subject was, "I await my destiny."
Then two days before she was to leave for the Winter Court with her parents, Nasami approached her father.
"What is it, my daughter?" Shujiro asked. He had noticed Nasami's unusually somber mien over the last several days, and it saddened him to see his carefree child so downhearted. It was not until he noticed the absence of her perpetual smile and cheerful serenity that he realized how much he missed them… and how much he would miss his daughter when she joined the family of her chosen husband.
For a long time, Nasami sat silently, her fingers clenching and unclenching in her lap. "I would ask for a favor, Father. A lifetime boon."
Shujiro knew then that his daughter was at her most serious. "I cannot permit you to decline to wed, Nasami."
Strangely enough, that thought had never occurred to the samuraiko. "It's... not that."
That surprised him. "What is it?"
Her eyes met his. "When I was traveling with Kambei, we dueled. But in a way, it was never truly resolved. I would duel him one more time, as Sasuraitsuru, before that part of me is lost forever when I become a wife."
The nickname Nasami had earned over her years of service to the Emperor was a source of mingled disapproval and pride as far as her family was concerned. She had traveled the Empire from one end to the other, so often away from home that she had gained the epithet Sasuraitsuru, or Wandering Crane.
"It may happen that you will marry into our Champion's family, Nasami," Shujiro reminded her. "You would still be a daughter of the Crane."
"But Sasuraitsuru, the Wandering Crane, will be lost," Nasami said quietly, her eyes far away and sad. "Wives do not wander the Empire in service to their Emperor. Wives do not pursue glory… or enlightenment." Nasami's voice dropped. "Please, Father."
At last, he nodded.
"Very well. I grant to you this boon, as the last favor you will receive as a daughter of my house. In two days' time, we travel to the Emperor's court for you to marry. But tomorrow evening, you will duel him, and then you will depart with us in the morning."
Nasami nodded her assent, and rose to her feet. "Good night then, Father."
Early the next morning, Nasami rose early, and took nearly an hour bathing to purify herself. After that, her maidservant carefully brushed out Nasami's long white mane until it shone like the first snows of winter. Then Nasami donned the clothes that had been carefully laid out for her - first her underclothes and a clean silk length of cloth to bind her breasts, then a dark blue kimono, worked with silver and embroidered with a multitude of cranes in flight. Around her waist went a sky blue and silver obi, trimmed in gold. Next were a new pair of sandals, and finally her swords, freshly polished and sharpened, their ebony sayas gleaming, were placed carefully in her obi.
She then spent the entire day in meditation at the shrine in the garden, praying to Amaterasu for courage. Servants came occasionally to check on her, but the samuraiko never moved, her hands folded in her lap, her head bowed in respect. For hours, she sat, emptying her mind of everything and focusing all of her attention within.
However, as the sun slowly began to set, Kambei appeared in the doorway of the shrine. Like Nasami, he had bathed and changed into the fine clothes she had provided for him. At his side was a sword - the katana Sememasu.
"I cannot accept this," he had protested the night before when Nasami had presented him with the ancient katana. Kambei knew as well as she did the lineage and value of Sememasu, the sister sword to Nasami's own katana, Mamorimasu. As the rightful heir to her brother's sword, Nasami had arranged to take possession of it for the purpose of her duel with Kambei.
"You can, and you will," Nasami had told him, offering him the katana again.
"But this is your brother's... it should only be wielded by a member of your family, not a ronin outcast."
"It should be wielded by those of my blood and my line, and if I'd had my choice, that would have included you," she'd said softly.
"Sememasu and Mamorimasu should never be used against each other," he had replied at last, his eyes on the sword that had rested in her own obi.
For a long time, she had said nothing, then at last she sighed. "If they must be, then let it be for this. Let them be wielded by two who love these swords as they love each other."
And he had finally given in.
"It is time," he whispered. Her only indication that she heard was a nod.
Then he moved to kneel beside her. Like her, he bowed his head and folded his hands.
"I love you," she said at last, lifting her head and turning to look at him. Her heart felt as though it would break as she studied him, admiring him in the formal dress of a samurai that should have been his right every day of his life.
"And I love you," he replied, reaching out to brush his fingers across her cheek. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch, then she took his hands in hers.
"Forgive me, love," she whispered.
"There is nothing to forgive, Nasami." He stood, then gently drew her to her feet. "But we must go."
Then he saw the tears on her cheeks, and he held her tightly, even as his own eyes filled with tears.
The entire household, servants, guards, and relatives alike all turned out to watch their lord's youngest daughter duel the man she loved. Whispers filled the air as Nasami and Kambei entered the courtyard hand-in-hand, their heads held high, their faces serene. Together they walked over to face the lord and his wife, who sat on cushions on a dais placed in the courtyard. Slowly, Kambei and Nasami bowed in unison to her parents.
"Are you ready?" Shujiro asked softly of the pair, and they nodded. "Then finish what you have begun, in the name of honor."
Nasami and Kambei bowed again, then rose to their feet and took their places across from one another.
As the last light of the setting sun touched their faces, time seemed to stand still. The longing in their eyes made the hearts of all present ache, but never once did either one look away. For ages, they stood and gazed at one another, and then at last, they bowed.
"Goodbye, my love," he whispered, and for an instant, she closed her eyes in pain.
"And to you, my heart," she said so softly that only he heard her. Then she opened her eyes again and straightened, as did he, and their hands went to their swords.
"Don't hold back this time," she said.
To everyone's surprise, the samurai gave Nasami a crooked smile. "I won't if you won't."
And an answering smile touched her face.
In that instant, they both struck, their focus absolute, their technique perfect.
For a long moment, there was only silence from the crowd.
Then the screaming began.
And the daimyo and his wife could only stare in horror as Nasami and Kambei lay together on the blood-soaked ground, hands clasped, and hearts pierced by the other's sword.