A/N – Short vignette, probably inspired by one too many episodes of "Lone Wolf and Cub".
Disclaimer – Alas. I own most of the DVDs and some of the manga. Nothing else.
A slow-walking ronin, down on his luck, dressed in ragged, nondescript hakama and gi. A wide-brimmed straw hat provides shelter from the sun, casting his face into shadow and hiding his identity from curious passers-by. He moves slowly but surely, without any overt arrogance but with all the confidence in the world – at his side, part of him, is his sword, black-sheathed, with a braided, wrapped hilt that has seen much use.
But when he takes off the hat, when his long, shaggy hair catches the light and blazes copper and his face is revealed to be young, pale, almost delicate – that is when the contradictions begin, and the image is shattered. His hands are slim and delicate, but calloused, and his sword has seen hard work. His face is young, his voice light, but his eyes are ancient and his cheek bears an old, terrible scar.
He steps with all the confidence of a master, a seasoned killer, but he speaks humbly and his sword, some few people are knowledgeable enough to notice, is of a very strange making. He has sworn, he admits, his eyes lowered, that he will not take another man's life –
But he is no pacifist.
There were four of them. They had been guests at the roadside inn the night before, had watched him speak so humbly, smile so guilelessly. They had seen his slender, delicate grace, glimpsed the extraordinary colouring – they were low, contemptible men, and their thoughts were all too predictable.
He watches them as they crouch, whispering amongst themselves, gathering up the courage to attack. Slowly, very slowly, his hand lowers to his sword hilt, freeing the blade with only the slightest "shick"; eyes narrowed, he continues his slow, measured tread, falling into a rhythmic, balanced cadence.
Let them come.
It would not be the first time – no, nor the last – that his physical appearance has gained him unwelcome attention. But he is no longer a vulnerable child; he is the predator now. Most men never se danger in youth and beauty until it was too late.
They spring out of the trees, encircling him, hoping to intimidate him into surrender. He turns, very slowly, to meet them, measuring their resolve and noting their crude stances and pitiful footwork.
He tosses the hat aside, and allows them to see what they are confronting.
It is all over very quickly.
Four men lie on the ground, groaning and whimpering. One of them will never walk again, his knee and hip smashed beyond all hope of repair. Another has five shattered ribs and a broken collarbone, and a severe concussion from the sheath, smashed into the back of his head. The third clutches his crushed, mangled right hand, coughing up blood with every painful breath. And the fourth babbles, terrified, of red demons and cross-shaped scars, his nerve broken and what little animal courage he had destroyed forever.
The young ronin performs an absent-minded chiburi, habit long ingrained, and then sheathes his sword almost daintily before bending to pick up his hat. As he slaps it against his hakama, raising faint clouds of dust, he looks over at the wretched group and a strange emotion darkens his eyes.
But only for a moment.
At least they are still alive. It is more than many others can say.
He puts the hat back on, casting his face – and his identity – into shadow once more. And then he turns his back on the bandits, resuming his slow, deliberate pace –
And fades into samurai myth.
A/N - Please tell me what you thought. Comments and feedback are always warmly appreciated.