Note: In my own version of the world of SAMURAI 7, Kakita Nasami was not the only woman that Shimada Kambei ever loved. As he told Nasami shortly after they had met, once, during the Great War, he had been in love with a woman who had died while he was away at battle. Shichiroji also knew of this, and knew that to some degree, Kambei blamed himself for not being able to save her.
Originally when I had written those scenes, I didn't know much more about her than that. But then I wondered to myself at how little of Kambei's life BEFORE the series is ever really explained, or even hinted at.
And from that came this tale.
That Which Breaks a Man
Tsume Shiori was sitting quietly at the window of her room, staring out over the grounds of the family compound. Her hands were demurely folded in her lap, the folds of her kimono neatly tucked beneath her, nothing out of place. From the placid expression on her face, one would imagine she was enjoying a serene spring day, thinking only peaceful thoughts.
Her eyes told a different story.
Reflected in their dark brown depths were the brilliant flames that engulfed the compound, the swirling darkness of the smoke that billowed toward the sky... and tears that would not fall.
He is lost to you, she thought dully as she watched the huge mechanical samurai and their Yakan patrols come swarming over the courtyard toward the palace. You may tear this place down stone by stone, but you will not have him.
Three nights ago...
The courtyard was decorated with lanterns, twinkling brightly amongst the shadows of twilight and shining on the fountains like fireflies. As the evening breeze moved through the courtyard, it set the windchimes on the arches ringing, and made the leaves of the trees rustle. Soft laughter echoed from behind one of the trees, fading into gentle sighs.
"Must you go so soon, Kambei?"
"Yes, my love. The daimyo has entrusted me with a great responsibility - I have been promoted to shireikan." Her delighted gasp brought a wide smile to his face, and he lifted her into his arms and swung her around before setting her on her feet once more.
His eyes shone with pride, and Shiori had to smile at him, even as the thought of him leaving saddened her. As he leaned back against one of the cherry trees, still holding her, several blossoms came falling like scented snowflakes, covering his long brown hair and the shoulders of his dark uniform.
Quietly she chuckled as she brushed them away, letting her fingers linger against his cheek, and he caught her hand and lifted it to his lips.
"This is the chance we have waited for, Shiori," he said, his voice low but filled with barely controlled excitement. "Being honored in this way by the daimyo, there is no reason either of our families can object to our wedding anymore. And once I return, we can begin our lives together, away from all of this."
"Then I will pray every day that the Fortunes watch over you, my dearest." She rested her cheek against his chest, feeling the warmth and strength of his arms around her. "After all, we have waited over a year now..."
"I know, my love." He lightly brushed his lips against hers. "And every day has been an eternity. But our time will come."
Screams echoed across the compound as the Yakan opened fire on the guards' barracks, slaughtering them as they came dashing outside, wielding swords against firearms as though in defiance of the enemy's cowardice.
But the samurai would not fall. Every moment they held off the enemy, every life that they took while their own were stolen away, was another chance for their lord and his family to escape.
But Shiori knew that there was no escape. The enemy had planned well...
... but not well enough.
Two nights ago...
"Honored Takage-sama, I come before you to formally request the hand of your daughter, Shiori."
The aged lord looked at the young soldier, kneeling proudly before him, grace and strength evident in every line of his posture. Beside him, his daughter knelt demurely, but her father had already seen the hopeful glow in her eyes.
"Judging by your demeanor, Kambei-san, I take it that the news from your daimyo was favorable."
"Indeed, Takage-sama. My lord has entrusted me with the rank of shireikan."
"Ahhh, to be young and fearless in battle once more," Takage mused, his eyes nostalgic. "Yes, I remember how once I lived to fight for the glory of my daimyo. I almost envy you, Kambei. You have a chance to do much good."
"I hope so, Takage-sama."
The lord nodded. "Very well, then. When you have returned from your service to your daimyo, and if he is in accord, you have my blessing to wed my daughter."
Mimizuku raced through each building in the compound, hurtling explosives as they ran, bringing house after house down around them. Those that were not bombed were set to the torch, until night itself seemed turned to day by the light of the flames.
As though from a distance, Shiori was aware of a loud booming side, where a group of Yakan were attempting to break down the main doors of the lord's home. She heard her father shouting to his honor guard, directing some of them to guard her room, to escort her to safety...
... but there was nowhere safe left.
Shiori sighed and bowed her head, tears sliding down her cheek to stain the silk of her kimono.
The dark-haired samurai looked up to see another man, blond and lanky, striding toward him.
"Our orders have arrived. We're to leave at once, and rendezvous with the daimyo and his divisions at Beiden."
"Is the ship ready to go?"
"Just about, the mechanics are finishing up pre-flight checks and we can be gone in an hour."
Kambei saw Shichiroji's eyes move slightly past him, and he heard Shiori's footsteps approaching. Turning, he bowed politely to her.
"Unfortunately, love, duty must prevail. Permit me a moment to speak to Shichiroji in private, and then I will bid you farewell."
"Of course, Kambei-sama," she said softly, bowing to him, and Kambei drew Shichiroji off to one side.
"There's more, isn't there?"
"Yes..." The blond pilot glanced toward the horizon. "There's a large enemy division mobilizing near Beiden. And when I say large, I mean 'large.'" He looked uncomfortable, then took a deep breath and met Kambei's gaze directly. "And they're going to be heading this way."
Kambei went pale.
"That''s why we're leaving so suddenly. The plan is to halt their advance before they get out of Beiden Pass, but it's not going to be easy. And in case of enemy informants, we can't tell them, either."
The dark-haired samurai swallowed hard, summoning every ounce of will that he possessed not to turn and look at Shiori, who he could sense was watching him.
"I'm sorry, Kambei-sama. You have no idea how much." It made Shichiroji's heart ache to see the turmoil in the eyes of his friend and commander.
"I know, Shichiroji. I know. I will say nothing to her."
The blond samurai nodded and bowed, then turned to Shiori, bowed to her as well, then left to make certain everything was ready for their departure.
"You have to leave." Shiori's words were a statement, not a question, and she rested her cheek against his chest, her arms going around him. "I know, love. The war will not wait for you." Shiori looked up at him and smiled through her tears, then she lifted one hand and brushed her fingertips against her tears.
Then slowly, she traced a character on his forehead.
He frowned slightly, trying to imagine what she had 'written,' and looked at her in confusion.
"'Promise,'" she whispered. "It says 'promise.' To remind you of me."
"As if I could forget you," he said, his voice rough with emotion, and he gathered her close and kissed her hard.
"Stay alive, my love," she begged him. "Stay alive."
And you, my love. For a second, Kambei didn't think he could go through with his plan to not tell her, but then he kissed her again, and stalked away toward his ship.
On the other side of the door, Shiori could hear the guards screaming as they were slaughtered. She had already heard her father damning the enemy for their cowardice, even as he had been cut down. In moments, the Mimizuku would reach her room, looking for her... and for him.
From within the sleeves of her kimono, Shiori drew a gleaming wakizashi, the short sword that all samurai wore as a mark of their rank. Slowly, she unsheathed it, and carefully set the saya beside her on the floor. She would have no second, no one to spare her the final pain.
But that was a small price to pay.
They wanted her - if she were alive, she could be used as a bargaining chip against him. If they were the ones that killed her, it would break his spirit. And that she would not allow.
Shiori's tears slid down her cheeks onto the steel of the blade as she lifted it in her hands.
The next day...
There was no sound of battle, no crackling of fire, no explosions or screams or curses.
There was no birdsong, no rustling of the wind in the trees.
There was no gentle murmuring of the fountains, or the soft ringing of windchimes.
There was only the sound of one man's heartbroken sobs and the sound of one woman's name.
And then there was only silence.