Chapter 1

Mizuki watched as the men in the village practiced their swordsmanship. She longed to be down with them, to fight with the passion of a samurai. But if she ever touched a sword, her guardian would beat her. She shuddered at the thought. He would take a bamboo staff and beat the marks into her back, so that all would know that she was a disgrace to the family name. She turned back to the hut where she lived under her foster father. It was time to prepare dinner. As she turned and her kimono fluttered in the air, a young boy about her age of thirteen looked up at her back and stared with wonder. He watched the hill, until his father called him back to practice.

A year later, Mizuki had found an abandoned katana by the forest. She held it with great reverence. Always she had prayed for a sword to help her practice her technique and to enable her to become a great samurai. She practiced with her rusty old katana day after day for months. She had cleared an area of her field to practice as the sun set. As she improved and became stronger, the piles of laundry began to build up and the garden overgrew with weeds.

Kaemon looked out into the small piece of land that he owned and noticed the neglect that was spreading throughout it. He called for Mizuki and heard nothing in reply. Kaemon stood quietly at his porch and listened for a sound to alert him to Mizuki's presence. A small noise from the woods drew his attention and he ran off into the woods.

Mizuki stood in Kaemon's old clothes hitting a sturdy tree with the katana. The marks of her training were cut in to the bark of the tree marking her strength and growth over the months of practice. A snap of a twig caused her to turn; as she looked into Kaemon's furious stare.

When the sun rose and the warriors of the village went to the field to practice, Kaemon was already there. In one hand, he held a bamboo staff; in the other he held something else. By one bruised arm, Mizuki hung limply; in her other hand was her rusty katana. Kaemon's face was sour and angry. He threw her down onto the field. She fell with at thud; no sound escaped her lips. She was silent and doomed.

Katsumoto called out to Kaemon. "What has she done to deserve this?"

Kaemon gripped the staff with a rigid fist and yelled back at him. "She has practiced with a katana! The honored weapon of a samurai! She is a disgrace! I want nothing to do with a female that will not make a good wife! I will teach her a lesson that she will never forget. She will learn to be disgraced in the face of the samurai; she holds so dear."

Katsumoto nodded his permission.

"No!" The sound of a young boy rang through the field. The small figure ran to the group of men in the middle of the field. "No. Please do not hurt her! She is only a girl!" As he tried to push his way to her, Katsumoto stopped him with a hand.

"No, my son. She must be punished for her actions."

"Father…." The protest died off into a breath.

Then the beating began. Mizuki lay on the field as Kaemon beat her till her back ran blood. She whimpered and sobbed out pleas to stop, but all ignored them. The only tear shed for her was from a boy named Nobutada.

Mizuki crawled back to the house, with a bloody back and a ripped shirt. Clutching her shoulder to ease some of the sting that burned through her back, she gasped in pain. Mizuki stumbled up the path to the house, her line of sight wobbled and her eyes watered until she couldn't see anything at all. Finally the house was in sight, she ran unevenly to the door. As she passed through the threshold, Mizuki tripped and fell onto the tatami mat at the front of the hall. Shakily she got back on her feet. Groaning and crying, Mizuki ran into her room and fell on to her cushion by the edge of the wall.

After a few minutes of immense pain, Mizuki crawled toward her cabinet. Reaching toward the right side of the furniture, she knocked twice and a secret drawer popped out of the left side of the cabinet. Stretching out into the drawer, Mizuki pulled out a roll of linen. She shrugged out of the useless kimono and gently wrapped the linen around the bottom of her stomach to the top of her breasts. Sighing with relief, she pulled out her futon and stiffly lay down upon the futon. Gradually Mizuki fell asleep lying on her stomach.

Outside in the field, Kaemon continued to rant about the disgrace of the idiot of a female he had taken into his home. His face turned bright red as he screamed his fury to the sky. His hand gripped the rod until his knuckles turned white. Cautiously his fellow samurai approached him.

"Kaemon, have you no consideration for the girl? You do not show the child compassion. Are you not a samurai to serve the people?"

Kaemon turned to his fellow, "I have no sympathy for the girl. I have taken her into my household to protect her and to shield her from the world. I was the only one in the village who wanted to care for her after her father and mother died. I have given everything for this girl! I have given her my good name! The name of Yamamoto; an old samurai name! All for her!"

Steadily, yet majestically, Katsumoto raised himself from his kneeling position to face Kaemon. "I will take the full responsibility of the girl's punishment. For I am the head chief of this village until my son is old enough to take charge of this village. Enough! Do not trouble Kaemon with the burden of this mark against bushido." Katsumoto, with cat-like movements, walked to the temple to meditate and pray.

Nobutada sadly trudged back to his house. As he reached to porch of his house, he checked to rooms carefully to see if they were occupied. His feet padded silently on the wooden floor as his eyes moved from side to side. Sighing with relief at the fact that none of the rooms where in use, he ran to his room and shut the door behind him. Hot tears streamed down his face. His thoughts kept going back to the girl and how one as delicate as her could have dealt with that punishment. Gradually his breath came in raspy loud sobs. Nobutada fell to the floor - the only sound coming from the curled up boy was the hash breathing.

With slight light steps, Taka entered her brother's home. She knew that her brother was not in the house; he was in the temple as usual. She had seen the beating of the girl and seen Nobutada enter the house in a distraught state. Taka faintly approached Nobutada's room; she heard the heavy breathing and gently slid the door back. Nobutada looked up at her with sorrow filled eyes.

"Oh, Nobutada…" Taka sighed. Her eyes reflected his thoughts exactly.

Crying out, Nobutada launched himself in to Taka's arms. Gently stroking his hair, Taka shushed and crooned soft words to him. She just held him and gave him all the comfort that he wanted. After a good while, Nobutada stopped his tears. He looked up at Taka with a man's eyes. Taka drew back with shock. Nobutada stood straight and walked to the door. At the door, he turned and looked back at Taka.

"Aunt, if you tell my father of this…" Nobutada glared at her.

"Nobutada, I will not. Not if you do not wish it." Taka smiled understandingly up at Nobutada.

He stalked out of the room and out of the house. He walked out to the porch of the house. The wind blowing in the countryside dried his tears away. He steadily built up a wall his heart. I will never show weakness again! I have to become a samurai! I will dedicate my life to be exactly like my father. I will be strong, unwavering, and honorable.