For Pine-chan! "huggles"
Author's notes: Special thanks to Jen for giving me a title/prompt. This was a hard one to come up with, especially since it's a gift fic.
FYI: A bokken is a wooden practice sword. The title is simply a play on the name of Bankotsu's halberd, the Banryuu.
A guandao is a Chinese halberd. It looks something like a naginata, which is a Japanese pole weapon, and it has a thicker blade.
Yugataryu, the name of Bankotsu's father's guandao, means "evening dragon."
A bourei is a ghost.
Bankotsu makes an allusion to an event that happened in my story, "Dreamscape."
Oshishou-sama is a term of respect for someone proficient in martial arts. So is shishou; having the "o" in front gives it an extra level of respect.
The hour of the snake is 9:00 am to 10:59 am.
Bankotsu sat quietly watching his older brothers spar with each other. Their wooden practice swords clacked loudly against each other as the brothers parried the other's blows. The five year old lived for moments like these, the excitement of their battle making his brothers forget he was there. His eldest brother, Shinichi, loved to make his life a living hell because he was jealous of all the attention their father lavished on his baby brother. Kazehiro was also known to torment him as well as his other brother, Arata. The only ones who left Bankotsu alone, unless Shinichi or Kazehiro was around, were his twin brothers Kiyoshi and Yoshinori.
After a while, Shinichi and Kazehiro called a brief truce. Resting their bokken against the low porch on which Bankotsu sat; they went to go refresh themselves with a drink of water from the courtyard fountain. The five year old crept closer to the wooden swords. He longed to pick one up and hold it, but fear of his older brothers kept his hands rooted firmly in his lap. But the longer the two laughed and joked in the courtyard's garden, the more the bokken called to him until he could not stand it any longer. After giving his brothers a quick look to see what they were doing, Bankotsu stood and picked up the nearest practice sword, knocking the other one to the ground.
He froze, hoping his brothers would not notice, and as luck would have it they were more interested in themselves than him. He waved the bokken around, trying to imitate their moves and failing miserably, but it was close enough to amuse the five year old. He became so engrossed in battling his imaginary foes that he never heard them coming until it was too late.
"Hey, Runt! Who said you could play with that?" Shinichi demanded as he started to step up onto the porch.
"Umm…" Startled, Bankotsu turned around in mid-sword thrust, whacking his eldest brother hard on the knee.
"You little shit!!" Shinichi swore. "I'm going to kill you for that!" He tenderly rubbed his rapidly bruising knee.
Kazehiro cracked his knuckles. "And I'm going to help!"
The five year old briefly hesitated, before throwing the practice sword at his other brother, and taking off into the palace. He was headed for the one place where his brothers would think twice about harming him, his sister's room. Fumiko may have been half a head shorter than their mother, who was also not a tall woman, but her quiet gentleness had a way of stopping them in their tracks, especially when she gave them the "look." So he ran as if his life depended on it through the maze-like corridors of his father's palace.
Unfortunately his brother's had anticipated his moves and met him there, having taken the shorter route along the outside of the buildings that made up their home. Kazehiro lunged for him, grabbing Bankotsu by his braid as he tried to slip past them and head towards his mother's rooms. The seventeen year old yanked it hard, pulling his baby brother off his feet as he howled in pain.
"Lemme go!!" Bankotsu cried. "That hurts!!"
"Oh, we're going to do more than hurt you," Shinichi drawled as he limped towards them.
"Yeah… You're gonna wish that's all we did when we're through with you," Kazehiro added, tugging sharply on Bankotsu's braid for emphasis.
"OWWWWWWWWWW!!" the five year old wailed.
"And don't think Fu-chan is going to save you this time, Runt!"
Just then the shoji leading to Fumiko's room slid open, however, neither of the brothers heard it or the soft cough that soon followed.
"What is going on here?" their mother, the Lady Sayuri asked as a deadly silence descended.
"Nothing…" her eldest sons chorused.
"Nothing, hmm…" Sayuri purred. "Then why is Ban carrying on like he's being murdered?" she asked, quirking a delicate eyebrow at them.
As her sons slowly turned around to face her, Kazehiro shifted his grip from Bankotsu's hair to his shoulder, digging his nails painfully into the five year old's shoulder.
"Oww!! Haha-ue, they're hurting me!"
Sayuri simply folded her arms neatly across her chest and said nothing, although the look she gave her eldest spoke volumes.
Seconds later, Bankotsu was released and he hurried over to his mother. "Haha-ue?"
"Go to your sister. You two come with me."
"But Haha-ue, we need to get back to our sparring," Shinichi said.
"If it was that so important you wouldn't be here. Now let's go." Sayuri pushed past them and head towards her room, fully expecting her sons to follow. "Shin-kun, what I have told you about forming alliances and maintaining a good relationship with your brothers? All your brothers," she added pointedly. "And it wouldn't hurt to be nicer to your sisters as well."
"That I should treat them all favorably, and that I shouldn't rely so much on Kaze-kun. That Ban-chan will one day be useful in a making a great political alliance through marriage as well as my sisters," Shinichi rattled off.
"Good, you're learning." His mother smiled, before whacking him upside the head with her fan. "Remember, he could turn out one day to be more powerful than you and then where will you be? Especially if he decides to overthrow you! Hmm?"
"Yes, Hah-ue, you're right; I hadn't thought of that."
"And you!" Sayuri turned her attention to her second eldest son. "You are supposed to advise him and help him keep his head when he's angry, not encourage him."
"Sorry, Haha-ue, I will try to be a better advisor to Shin."
Holding his sister's hand, Bankotsu watched them turn down the corridor leading to the mother's rooms. He let out a sigh of relief over his narrow brush with death.
"Why was Shin-kun so mad you?" Fumiko asked as they turned and entered her room.
"Ummm…" The five year old gave her his best cute and adorable look. Normally that would have worked, but this time his sister stared expectantly at him. "I was playing with his bokken when he scared me and I hit him with it…"
Fumiko's hand flew to her mouth, quickly trying to suppress her giggles. "You didn't?"
Bankotsu nodded. "Yup!"
"That's so naughty, Ban-chan."
"Why? He scared me! He's naughty for trying to kill me!" The five year old pouted.
"Shin-kun wouldn't kill you."
"Yes he would!"
"Ban-chan, I'm not going to argue with you," Fumiko said. "Why don't I make us tea and we can have dango. I some left over from last night."
"Okay!" Bankotsu's pout quickly became a smile.
They lapsed into a companionable silence broken only by the sounds of a hungry five year old eating while his older sister made them some tea.
"That was good, Fu-chan."
"I'm glad you liked it," she replied.
"I wish I had my own bokken…"
"Yeah! I want to be a soldier like Shin and Kaze when I get bigger."
"I think you'll be a fine soldier one day, Ban-chan." She looked up at the sound of her shoji being slid back, seeing it was only her father, she turned her attention back to her baby brother.
Smiling, Bankotsu said, "And I'll have a big palace like Chichi-ue and you can come live with me- HEY!"
"Who's going to have a big palace like his Chichi-ue?" their father asked as he picked up his son.
"ME!" Bankotsu laughed.
"Yup! And it's going to be bigger than Shin-kun's too!" The five year old grinned.
Lord Yuudai chuckled. "Bigger than mine too?"
"Yeah!" Bankotsu giggled as his father laughed along with him. "Chichi-ue…?"
"I want a bokken too."
"Aren't you a little young for one?" Yuudai asked as his daughter poured him a cup of tea.
"Nah anh!! I want a big one like your sword!"
"I think he should have one too, Chichi-ue, that way he'll leave Shin-kun's alone."
"Ah, yes… I heard about that. So you wounded your big brother, hunh?"
"Good boy! I'll see about having one made for you and I'll teach you how to use it too. If you're good enough, maybe I'll ask Oshishou-sama to teach you as well."
Bankotsu's eyes went wide like saucers. "You will…?" he said breathlessly, unable to believe his good fortune at not only escaping punishment, but he got a special present from his father too.
Lord Yuudai nodded. "So you want a bokken that looks like my guandao, Yugataryu, eh?"
"Yup! I want to be the best like you, Chichi-ue!"
"Is that so?"
"Uh hanh! I'm going to be big and strong and have a big army too! The pretty bourei said so!"
"A ghost said this?"
"Yes, Chichi-ue, apparently there was a bourei in one of the gardens where he likes to play and she spoke to him, right, Ban-chan?"
"Yup! She was really pretty like Fu-chan and she said she was my betroved and we'll kiss and do stuff together when I get big…" The five year frowned as he tried to remember the details. "She said I call her 'Sweetness'…" He shrugged.
Lord Yuudai tried hard to keep his alarm hidden as he asked, "She never came back, did she?"
Bankotsu shook his head.
"You'll tell me if she does?'
"Uh hanh! So when can I get my bokken?"
"Tomorrow, my son," his father replied as he made a mental note to have a monk come and exorcise any malignant spirits from his son's room.
It took one of Lord Yuudai's best woodcarvers a little over a week to carve a wooden blade to sit atop a Bankotsu-high piece of bamboo and turn the whole thing into a wooden practice guandao for him. A couple of metal rings helped evenly balance the oddly shaped bokken. Bankotsu could hardly believe it was his when his father presented it to him. Because of the design the practice weapon made it weigh nearly as much as the five year old, he had a hard time picking it up. However, that did not stop Bankotsu from wanting to play with it.
The five year old struggled to pick it up with one hand, failing miserably, so he tried using his other hand as well, with similar results.
"When you can pick it up, my boy, then I will show you how to use it," Lord Yuudai told him as he bent over and easily picked the practice guandao.
The five year pouted, but said nothing as he trotted off after his father. His beloved Bokkenryuu, which he decided to name his practice sword, was being carried off somewhere and he want to know exactly where. "Where you going, Chichi-ue?"
Lord Yuudai smiled. "To the doujo."
Bankotsu's eyes went wide as saucers. "The doujo?!" he repeated happily. The whole area had been declared off-limits to him and he could not believe his father was actually bringing him there. Grinning happily, the five year dogged his father's footsteps. I wish Chichi-ue would move a bit faster! I don't Haha-ue to see me there… he thought as he wondered how he was going to be able to slip away in order to practice lifting his Bokkenryuu.
"Oshishou-sama!" Lord Yuudai called out to his master of arms over the grunts and shouts of the men in the courtyard, who were practicing various martial arts under the watchful eye of the weapons master.
The two men greeted each other warmly.
"Shishou," Lord Yuudai said, using a less formal mode of addressing his friend, "This is my youngest, Bankotsu." He motioned for the five year old to step forward.
Bankotsu bowed. "Oshishou-sama…" he said softly.
"Waka-sama." The weapons master returned the bow.
"Shishou, my son wishes to master his-"
"Bokkenryuu, Chichi-ue," Bankotsu interrupted. Both men looked at him and he could feel his cheeks heating up. "I'm sorry."
"I see… Have him be here tomorrow at second half of the hour of the snake. If I may?" the weapon's master looked over at his students.
"Of course, Shishou."
It took Bankotsu a year to master the basics of his weapon, which included gaining the strength to pick it up, caring for it properly, as well as some rudimentary defensive techniques and offensive ones. When he turned six, he was given a new guandao and the process started all over again, except this time he was taught a bit more techniques for wielding it. It was a pattern that was continued until he was about thirteen, at which time Lord Yuudai determined that Bankotsu was ready to go to the military school that was run by one of his allies. To celebrate that, the thirteen year old was finally given a sword of his own, a huge monstrosity of a guandao he called Banryuu.
It was at that time that Bankotsu met with the bourei, whom he had first seen when he was five, who reminded the young warrior of his destiny. The ghost's presence also called to mind something his beloved sister, Fumiko, had once told him about his true love and it left the thirteen year old feeling cranky and confused. Channeling that energy, he took the first steps towards making a name for himself in the two years he was there until he returned home to face a disappointed father, who was angered by his savagery.
"What's wrong, Ban-kun?" Fumiko asked. Word had traveled quickly through the palace that her baby brother and father were at odds again and it saddened her.
The fifteen year old glared at her briefly. Looking away until he had reined in his anger, he said, "I hated that place, Fu-chan. It was full of nobles' sons who had no idea what it is to command an army and win! I don't care what they say, Fu-chan! There's no honor in losing!" He stopped and turned to face her since she had also halted. "We used to recreate these famous old battles and damn it if I couldn't see where things went wrong! And I knew how to fix them, but did anyone listen? No!"
"I see…" she said soothingly.
"I used to get in trouble for being insubordinate all the time too…" Bankotsu said sheepishly. "I want my own army, Fu-chan! One where I decide the strategy and I tell people what do! But no one wants to listen to a fifteen year old… They act like I'm stupid and don't know anything!"
"I listen to you."
"I know you do… You're really good at it. Daisuke would have been a lucky man to have you as his wife, hell any man would!"
"Thank you…" Fumiko sighed softly. "I loved him very much; I think I was lucky in that we knew each other since we were babies. It made the thought of leaving home much easier…"
"So why didn't you marry someone else when he died?"
Fumiko was surprised by his question. "I umm…" She thought it over. "I guess I never gave it much thought at the time. Then again, I had the most adorable baby brother who helped me get over my sadness, so how could I leave him?" Fumiko smiled at him as she brought her hand up to briefly cup his cheek.
Bankotsu blushed and looked away.
"Seriously, Ban-kun, you need to control that temper of yours. I'm afraid you're going to do something reckless that will get you maimed or worse…"
"I won't! You'll see, Fu-chan! I'm going to make a name for myself and when I do, if you want, you can come live with me instead of Shinichi."
"I don't know, Ban-kun… I might become a nun. I certainly live like one," she said.
Bankotsu could see by her appearance that it was true. Fumiko wore muted greys instead of the bright colors she once wore. She also spent a lot of time with the traveling monks, who wandered by and sometimes spent more than a day or two in the palace. Oddly enough, instead of detracting from her beauty, her quite spirituality added to it. Since she could have the pick of their father's men as a husband, Bankotsu often wondered why she chose such a lonely life for herself. "I still don't see why you won't get married, Fu-chan."
She laughed. "Let's just say I'm as stubborn as you are. Seriously, I want you to promise me, you'll apologize to Chichi-ue and-"
"I can't, Fu-chan! I'm tired of kissing Chichi-ue's and Shin's asses!!" he shouted, his anger getting the better of him. "I'm sorry, but I'm leaving. I can't be they way they want me to be, a mindless idiot who blindly follows Shin's orders! If anyone's an idiot, it's Shin! He's going to get himself killed on the battlefield, or someone with more brains is going to come along and swallow this all up once Chichi-ue passes on! And don't tell me to stay put and help prevent that! I can't because Shin won't listen to a thing I say! He never has and never will!" Bankotsu turned away and punched one of the wooden beams supporting the walls of the palace. The pain shot up his arm, cooling his head. He sighed, and softening his tone, he added, "Fu-chan, I want you to have Bokkenryuu to remember me by. I'm leaving…" He winced at the hurt look on her face. "I'm sorry, Fu-chan, but when I leave, I'm not coming back." Bankotsu took his sister's hands in his. He held them briefly as she struggled not to cry. Letting them go, he turned and without a backwards glance, he walked away…
Jakotsu came over and sat down next to his best friend and would be lover. The cross-dresser peered anxiously at Bankotsu, who appeared lost in thought as he polished the same the area on Banryuu's blade over and over again. Coughing softly, he said, "Are you okay, Aniki-chan?"
The cross-dresser's worried inquiry pulled the younger boy from his reverie. Bankotsu frowned, silently nodding, before looking over at his friend. "Yeah…"
"You sure? You looked kinda lost and yet, you're polishing the same spot over and over again on Banryuu and you only do that when you're mad," Jakotsu rambled on. Suddenly getting serious, he added, "Are you mad at me?"
"No… I was just thinking about an old practice sword I had when I was little." The fifteen year old grinned sheepishly.
"Yeah?" The cross-dresser smiled.
"Yeah… I was five, I think, and I remember hitting my older brother on the leg while playing with his and somehow I got my father to make me one. He had this huge guandao, it's a Chinese weapon that looks a bit like my baby." He patted the Banryuu lovingly as the cross-dresser giggled. "And I always wanted a sword like that. Hell, at that age I wanted any sword so I could be like my older brothers…"
"You miss them?" Jakotsu asked softly.
"Nah…" Bankotsu replied, surprising them both. Although, I do miss you, Fu-chan… As he pulled the leather cover over the blade, he said, "Wanna hear the story?"
The fifteen year old stood up to leave. "Come," he said, holding his hand out for Jakotsu to take. "Let's go get something to eat and I'll tell you."
"Okay!" the cross-dresser replied as he took the younger boy's hand, letting him pull him to his feet.
As they walked along, the Banryuu balanced delicately on his shoulder, Bankotsu continued his story, "Well, like I said, I remember being five, and I also remember watching my two older brothers sparring with their bokken. And when they took a break, I picked up my brother Shin's sword and I remember playing with it. Well, he came up behind me and startled me when he yelled at me for touching it and I whacked him hard on the leg."
Jakotsu laughed. "And…?" he prompted.
"And they chased me through the palace and I nearly got away with it too."
"Yup. My sister, Fumiko, rescued me from the worst of their wrath and my father heard the commotion, so he came over to see what happened and somehow I wound up with a practice sword of my own. And I remember his weapons master drilling me every day and how hard it was…"
"And now you're the best damned swordsman ever!" the cross-dresser quickly asserted.
"If you say so…"
"I do! So what else happened?"
And as Bankotsu told him about himself, he wondered whatever happened to the old wooden bokken he called Bokkenryuu and if his sister had become a nun. He smiled inwardly at the thought of her insisting she be allowed to keep it with her, despite having to give up her other possessions. Maybe you changed your mind and got married. I hope so; I think you'd make a better wife than a nun even if you are old…
"Did you give your bokken a name? I remember you once told me every good sword needs one."
Bankotsu laughed. "Yeah… I called it 'Bokkenryuu...'" he said as Jakotsu dissolved into a fit of giggles at the name. And what a great bokken she was too…