Note: Sometimes, you just don't want to let something go. I so loved writing for SAMURAI 7, especially writing 'The Sword of the Soul', that I decided to do a sequel for it... this one, set twenty years after the ending of the series. (As for why twenty years, well, everyone always does fanfics of 'five years later,' 'three years later,' 'ten years later,' etc. I wanted to be different.)
In Japanese culture, the seven flowers of autumn are hagi (bush clover), obana (Japanese pampas grass), kudzu, nadeshiko (large pink), ominaeshi (valerian), fujibakama (boneset) and kikyo (Chinese bellflower). In my story, the Festival of Aki-no-nana-kusa is celebrated approximately mid-August on the night of the full moon, known in Chinese mythology as "the Harvest Moon."
The title, "The Seven Flowers of Autumn," is also the name of a wonderful short story by Claudia O'Keefe.
The Seven Flowers of Autumn
"Come on, Taso-kun! Hurry up!" The young woman urged her mount on faster, her long hair blowing behind her in the breeze, even as her companion groaned aloud and called after her.
"It's all right for you, Shino-kun, you're the better rider! And once again, you've chosen the better horse!"
She shrugged elegantly. "It's not my fault you would rather study in the libraries of Niwa Shita no Kage Toshi all the time."
"Well, you know what sensei says... 'Without knowledge, there can be no defense.'"
"But we really should get there before nightfall! Just because I can sleep outside doesn't mean I want to!"
"And I thought all of your time training at Shiro Mirumoto would have turned you into an ascetic by now. I'm reassured to know that your nature remains the same," he laughed, and she wrinkled her nose at him. "You're getting more and more spoiled every day, you know that?"
But he smiled at her to take the sting from his words, and she grinned back at him.
"Why do I put up with you, Taso-kun?"
"Because you're my sister, and it would offend our great ancestors-" For a moment Tasogare paused and bowed his head, the picture of humble reverence until one saw the twinkle in his eyes. "-if as twins, I did not tease you every chance I was given."
"Somehow I don't think that Kiyamori-sama, may her soul forever be honored, had a brother quite like you," Shinonome said dryly, and Tasogare laughed aloud and tugged at his sister's long foxtail.
"You're just jealous because I'm an hour older than you, little sister. But far be it from me to offend your delicate nature by having you sleep in the wilderness. By sunset, we will be at Kanna."
Tasogare was just as good as his word, and as the sun was setting, he and his sister arrived at the bridge that led into Kanna Village.
"We're really here, aren't we, Taso?" Shinonome whispered, drawing to a halt. Her eyes studied every detail of the village in the distance.
"Yes," her brother replied, equally reverent. "For so long, we had only heard tales of this place, but now to be here..."
On their side of the canyon, beside the bridge, was a small shrine, beautifully carved of white marble that seemed to gleam in the sunlight, and several kanji engraved on it.
Tasogare leaned down to look at it, his eyes tracing over the characters.
"Sunlight on the rice
The wind blows free through Kanna
Even kami die"
For a moment, he shivered, and Shinonome moved closer to look at the shrine as well.
"It's beautiful," she whispered. "But so sad..."
By unspoken consent, they both dismounted, and walked their horses across the bridge. Halfway across, however, they paused, and then both looked down. Barely visible at the bottom of the canyon was the remains of the wrecked Capital ship that had nearly destroyed Kanna Village so long ago, and they shuddered.
"It's almost impossible to imagine stopping something that massive from wiping out Kanna Village," Tasogare murmured, peering down into the crevasse. "Especially the size of a Citadel-class airship."
"And yet, the samurai did it," Shinonome reminded him.
"Yes," her brother said softly. "Yes, they did."
On the far side, the peasants were just coming home from a day of tending the fields when they saw two samurai approaching, hooded and cloaked and leading their horses. Immediately, they prostrated themselves on the ground respectfully.
"We welcome you to Kanna, great samurai," one farmer said. "Your presence here honors our humble village."
"We are grateful for your welcome," one of the samurai said, nodding to him, and the farmers rose to their feet. "I am Tasogare-san, and this is Shinonome-san. My sister and I have come a long way, and we will need shelter for the night."
The peasants looked slightly embarrassed. "I am afraid that the lodgings we could offer you are far beneath what you deserve, great samurai, but it is yours, for as long as you wish to stay," the farmer said quietly, staring down at his sandals.
"We require nothing fancy," Tasogare said politely, pointedly looking over at his sister, who was doing her best to ignore him. "In fact, we have come here to pay our respects... to your village, and to the memories that were created here twenty years ago."
At that, the farmers stood taller, and some of the older ones smiled.
A woman approached, dressed in the traditional garb of a Mikumari, her reddish brown hair cut short around her face. "So, they still tell tales of the Seven Samurai?" She stopped a few feet away and bowed, then turned her eyes to the battle flag that hung proudly at the entrance of the village.
Shinonome smiled slightly at the water priestess' words, and her brother caught the subtle change in her mood, then he glanced back at the Mikumari.
"Yes, priestess," he replied, nodding respectfully to her. "In fact, many samurai consider Kanna Village to be the place from which bushido once again spread forth across the world."
His eyes went to the flag as well. "If you would be so kind... what does it mean?"
"The character for 'rice paddy' represents the farmers," the priestess explained. "Six circles... one for each of the samurai - Shimada Kambei, Okamoto Katsushiro, Hayashida Heihachi, Katayama Gorobei, Shichiroji, and Kyuzo. The triangle for Kiku... I mean, the machine samurai Kikuchiyo."
Tasogare paused for a moment, as though about to say something, but then looked away.
The one who had addressed them first bowed once again. "Then on behalf of Kanna Village, and in honor of those samurai who freed us from the bandits, I welcome you, great samurai. My name is Rikichi."
"The one who traveled with Kirara-san to Kougakyo to recruit the samurai," Shinonome said at last, her eyes alight as she stepped to her brother's side and studied the older man. "Husband of Sanae, and father of Gorobei."
He started, as did several of the other farmers. "Y-yes, but... how did you know-?"
"We bring greetings to you, Rikichi of Kanna," Shinonome said with a smile, pushing back the hood of her riding cloak to reveal a long mane of white hair, as did her brother. "From Lord Shimada Kambei, and his wife, Nasami-gozen... our parents."
To be continued...