Age of Edward Contest

Your pen name: bookjunkie1975

Title: Ichirou and the Cherry Maiden

Type of Edward: 16th Century Samurai

If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit The Age of Edward 2010 C2 Community.

*There is a brief glossary of terms included at the end of the story*

Now

"Do we get to see the mummies again?"

"No Mike, I told you before we left the school: Dr. Cullen has something special to show us today."

"But Ms. Swan, mummies are special."

"I agree Mike, but we're finished our unit on Ancient Egypt. This week we start something new. Don't worry, I'm sure that whatever Dr. Cullen has to show us is going to be very 'cool.'"

"Nothing's cooler than mummies," the boy grumbled.

Edward watched in amusement as Bella Swan ushered her young students up the wide staircase that led to the museum's central gallery where the group of 12 year olds met every Wednesday for the last 4 weeks. Edward stifled a laugh; the acoustics in the central hall were very good.

"Good morning, boys and girls…Ms. Swan." Edward smiled at the pretty brunette and was delighted to see the faintest blush of pink bloom across her cheeks as she smiled back at him.

"Good morning, Dr. Cullen. As you can see, my students are very eager to hear all about whatever you have to show us today." She gave a pointed look to the blond haired boy.

"Oh, I think you're all going to be very interested to see this. Today I'm offering you a sneak peek at the museum's brand new exhibit. It's not even open to the public yet."

"Is it mummies?"

"Michael." Ms. Swan's voice held an unmistakable reprimand.

"No. It's not mummies. But I think it is something that you will be just as interested in. Do any of you know what a samurai is?" Edward asked.

The children shuffled their feet, most of them shaking their heads, while one boy in the back tilted his head and moved cautiously forward.

"Is that like a ninja?" he asked.

"Not quite, Tyler." Edward smiled at him. "The samurai were Japan's great warriors and they defended their people and their land for hundreds of years. They lived by a special code of conduct - The Bushido- thirteen rules that governed every aspect of their way of life. These rules emphasized virtues such as loyalty, honor, obedience, duty and self-sacrifice. A samurai warrior had nothing if he did not have his honor."

"So those were the guys who would, like, kill themselves or something, if they thought they were dishonored?"

"Sometimes, Jessica, yes." Edward smiled encouragingly at the girl. "The samurai believed that there was nothing greater than serving their masters, whether those masters were the great military leaders, noble men or the Shogun himself. Nothing could be worse for them than to fail in their duty to their master and bring shame upon their family name."

"So they would kill themselves because they didn't die? That's just stupid."

"Maybe, Lauren, but that was the code they lived by."

"Yah. Death before dishonor!" Mike's voice echoed through the gallery.

"Leave no man behind!" Tyler joined in enthusiastically.

"Bros before hos!"

"Eric Yorkie! That is entirely inappropriate."

Edward watched Bella chastise her student, secretly enjoying the way her dark hair brushed past her shoulders as she turned to face the boy. Watching the pretty brunette interact with her students had quickly become the highpoint of Edward's week and he took every opportunity to observe the young teacher.

"Sorry, Miss Swan." Eric mumbled as the other students giggled.

"I apologize, Dr. Cullen." Bella turned to Edward. "The students will behave themselves. Please continue."

"Actually, I think that's enough information for now. If you'll all follow me, we can go check out the exhibit."

Edward turned and led the small group through the museum, past the displays on long dead civilizations, through the gallery of modern art and towards the far wing that housed the museum's special collections. He stopped in front of a pair of delicate silk screens, decorated with intricately detailed scenes. The screens effectively blocked the entrance to the room in front of them and the students shuffled impatiently as they waited for permission to go in.

"The exhibit I'm about to show you details the life of a samurai warrior from the Muromachi period. That's roughly the time between 1300 and 1575. Now I want you all to gather around the screen here." Edward beckoned the group forward.

"The paintings on these screens have a great deal of meaning," he told the group. "If you look closely you will see that the same samurai figure appears within every scene. That's because these particular screens actually tell the story of Ichirou and the Cherry Maiden." Edward smiled as the students shuffled closer to the screen, each face peering intently at the scene that played out across the pane of silk. He watched Bella's eyes narrow as she studied the artwork intently.

"This," he pointed to the first image of the armor-clad samurai, "is Ichirou, the samurai warrior."

"He has green eyes. Just like yours," Bella murmured.

"He did." Edward smiled, ridiculously pleased that Bella had noticed the color of his eyes. "Many of the people thought he had been touched by an ancient spirit and he was greatly feared on the battlefield because of those eyes." Edward told the group.

"Did he have special powers?" Fifteen heads turned to look expectantly at Edward.

"Maybe. Would you like to hear the story?" he asked.

The students nodded eagerly. Edward cleared his throat and settled his glasses firmly in place as he prepared to tell the story.

"Well it begins like this: Once, long ago, before the great city of Tokyo was the kingdom of Edo, before the reign of the great Tokugawa Ieyasu, there lived a young warrior by the name of Ichirou. Ichirou's greatest desire in life was to serve and bring honor to his master, Masayoshi. And indeed, Ichirou was very successful, quickly moving up the ranks of Masayoshi's samurai to become his second in command. Now Masayoshi was a very prosperous warlord. He had built his castle under the shadow of 'The Three Cold Ones,' three mountain ridges that rose high above the valley, and the people who lived under the protection of his castle were well pleased with his fair and just demeanor. For a long time, the city flourished."

"There were castles in Japan?"

"Please let Dr. Cullen tell the story, Austin," Bella admonished.

"There are many, many castles in Japan, Austin. A castle was the strongest and easiest way to defend a warlord and his people against marauders. And there was always someone who wanted to take what a warlord had gained. Ichirou went up against such marauders and invading armies many times, and always with great success. Masayoshi was well pleased with Ichirou's devotion and gifted him with land and silk, but his greatest gifts to Ichirou were of a more valuable nature to a warrior. He gave to Ichirou, Emetto, the finest war-horse in all the land, and Jasupa, a katana, or sword, with the sharpest, most deadly blade any samurai had known. Ichirou valued both these gifts greatly and pledged his life gladly to the service of Masayoshi. He never considered that something or someone would ever come above his desire to serve his master…

Then

Ichirou rode hard towards the outlying borders of his master's lands. Some unrest had been reported and Ichirou had been dispatched to put things in order as quickly as possible. Peaceful times were always hard won and Masayoshi's people had enjoyed more than their fair share of it. Ichirou meant to make sure their prosperity would continue.

He was two days away from the high castle walls of home when he came across an unexpected sight. Ahead of him, spread haphazardly across his path, was the wreckage of what appeared to be a caravan of some sort. Wood, silk and bodies littered the land in front of him. Ichirou looked in vain for any sign of lingering marauders but saw none. Still, he was cautious as he dismounted and drew Jasupa from its resting place at his side.

Picking carefully through the debris, Ichirou was startled to discover a rolled parchment, miraculously intact and sealed with a crest depicting a crane. Ichirou recognized it at once as belonging to the neighboring Warlord. He stowed the parchment carefully within the leather bag attached to Emetto's saddle and returned to investigating the debris.

After some time of deliberate searching, Ichirou had come to some unsettling conclusions. The bodies and debris left amongst the wreckage seemed to indicate that a wealthy party had been set upon by marauders, their valuables and horses stolen, and the people left for dead; a regrettable but not uncommon happenstance. However, Ichirou had some doubts. He did not like the deliberate and methodical wounds he saw on the bodies. He was even more troubled when a ribbon of red silk caught against a heavy plank of wood caught his eye. Ichirou pulled the heavy wood aside only to be dismayed at the sight before him. A young woman, barely more than a girl, lay lifeless on the ground, the shredded silk of her elaborate kimono fluttering eerily against her unnatural stillness.

Ichirou was deeply unsettled. The richness and elaborate detailing of the girls kimono suggested that this was no ordinary caravan. Indeed, the body before him, coupled with the parchment scroll led Ichirou to believe that this situation could be very problematic.

It was not uncommon for feudal leaders to curry favor with one another. Often neighboring parties would send each other gifts of spices, silks, linens, gold…and sometimes even concubines or wives. Ichirou had the very unsettling feeling that what he had just discovered was the murdered body of just such a gift. He gently moved the fold of the girl's sleeve from where it lay across her midsection. A deep, black Obi wrapped around the girl's waist, and embroidered across the width of the silk wrap was a golden crest containing the image of a crane; the same symbol graced the seal on the scroll. This was indeed a troubling situation.

By this time the sun was high in the sky. It was the season of the cherry blossoms and the heat of midday was beginning to press down on Ichirou. He removed his helmet and led Emetto towards the nearby river to drink while he thought through the situation. The murdered girl was most certainly a gift from their neighbor and the crest she wore indicated she was very likely a daughter of the house. The fact that she had been accosted on Masayoshi's lands would be problematic enough, but that she was killed? That was just cause for an outright war. Ichirou sighed and rubbed his hand tiredly along the scruff of his jaw.

At just that moment the wind shifted, and Ichirou was accosted but the most horrifying scent. It smelled of muck and refuse and river sludge, all combined. His nose wrinkled in distaste as he turned his face away from the breeze and drew a deep breath of clean air. Turning back towards the noxious odor, Ichirou waded along the riverbank and towards the wavering clump of reeds from where the foul smell seemed to be originating. Ichirou grasped Jasupa firmly in his hand as he drew closer to the blind.

Suddenly a terrible, brown figure rose up out of the reeds, screeching wildly and waving its arms about madly, before it launched itself at Ichirou. He barely had time to steady himself before the creature was upon him, hissing and scratching. Ichirou raised his arm for a killing blow when he was struck still by a sudden realization. A patch of pale skin flashed in front of him as the creature took advantage and wrapped its long fingers tightly around his throat. Ichirou flung his blade towards the riverbank, wrapped his arms around the slick form and pulled them both into the river.

When Ichirou rose out of the water, the slight form hanging limp in his arms, he was able to see clearly what he had guessed at moments before. The 'creature' was no raving monster. It was merely a terrified young woman, slathered head to toe in muck from the riverbank. She stared at him, wide-eyed, and he could feel the thin bones beneath his fingers practically tremble in his grasp.

"Your eyes," she gasped. "What is wrong with your eyes? Are you a Spirit?" Her voice wavered as it dropped to a whisper.

"Perhaps I am," Ichirou's pointed gaze froze the girl in her place and he took a step backwards to better survey her. Mud still clung to her linen robes and caked her hair and face but he could see a round curve to the girl's cheekbone and delicate wrist bones beneath the long sleeves of her kimono. She held herself proudly, shoulders straight and head tilted defiantly upwards, even as her body trembled before him. Ichirou took pity and beckoned the girl towards the riverbank.

"Perhaps you should explain yourself," Ichirou demanded sternly.

"You're not going to kill me?" Hope blossomed across the girls face.

"You have nothing to fear from me, little maiden. Answer my questions well and I promise to see you safely on your way."

The girl raised her gaze to meet Ichirou's. She seemed satisfied with what she saw there and began to speak.

"My name is Mika. I was traveling to the great palace of Masayoshi-sama when my companions and I were set upon by bandits. I managed to escape the caravan unnoticed when the attack began and hid in the river until you came. That is all."

"And why were you and your companions traveling so far from home, little Mika?" Ichirou pressed.

"We came bearing a gift for Masayoshi-sama from my lord and master, the esteemed Norio-san. He wishes to make peace and establish good will between our two lands."

It was just as Ichirou had thought. He stared into the distance for a moment, contemplating his next course of action. There were duties to attend to at the border lands, it was true, but this matter certainly took precedence. It was clear that someone was attempting to cause serious mischief, with the very probable end result of two warring nations. Mika was the only living person who could bear witness to the slaughter. It was on her word alone that the fate of two nations now hung.

His mind decided, Ichirou led Mika up the embankment and towards the waiting Emetto.

"Stay here, little maiden, I will return in a moment with some proper attire," he told her.

Ichirou made short work of his search. In truth, there wasn't much left that hadn't been torn or trampled on, but he did manage to find a pleasantly colored silk kimono and its various accoutrements for his charge. He stopped once more to retrieve Jasupa from the riverbank before returning quickly to find the girl talking softly to his horse. The image before him of the tiny, bedraggled maiden quietly petting the enormous, fiercely dressed war-horse caused the corners of Ichirou's mouth to tilt up. The girl was in possession of an incredible amount of spirit, there was no denying that.

"This was all that was left that was serviceable." Ichirou held the delicate silk garment towards his charge and watched the smooth skin across her forehead wrinkle as she frowned.

"I can't wear that," she said.

"I'm afraid there's no other choice, unless you would prefer to enter the castle walls dressed as you are and reeking of filth." Ichirou frowned at the girl's waywardness.

"Of course not," she said. "But neither can I damage such precious material by wrapping it around this." Mika held her hands out imploringly and Ichirou understood her dilemma.

"Perhaps we have time for a quick wash in the river," he suggested.

"I couldn't. It wouldn't be proper." Ichirou noticed how Mika's hands twisted together nervously at the thought of such impropriety.

"Perhaps if Emetto were to stand between us as a screen of sorts. Then you could bathe unhindered while I stand watch," he suggested.

"Stand watch? You think the bandits will return?" Mika's eyes widened in alarm.

"I think it's a possibility. But I give you my word, little maiden, no harm shall come to you."

"And a samurai's word is all," she nodded and turned to step towards the river.

"One moment, little maiden." Ichirou walked around Emetto and pulled a long, dark robe from his pack.

"It isn't much, but it will help to dry you when you finish." He passed the garment to the girl and returned to his side of the horse. He intended to pass the time strategizing but his attention was diverted by the first gentle splash of water. Ichirou found himself unable to concentrate on anything other than thoughts of the girl behind him. She was strong, he noted, and brave. The fierceness with which she had attacked him was impressive, even to a seasoned warrior such as himself. And yet she seemed so delicate to look upon. Ichirou thought of the pleasing line of her cheek and the gentle curve of her lips. And even after he had schooled himself to think no more on Mika, he could not stop himself from imaging how she would look wrapped in his robe, her hair loose around her shoulders.

Ichirou's thoughts were interrupted by a splash, followed by the unmistakable sound of footsteps padding up the riverbank and towards him. There was a soft rustling behind him as linen was rubbed vigorously against skin and then discarded.

"I'm almost ready," Mika's voice was muffled behind the sizable bulk of Emetto.

"It's just that, well, I'm having a little trouble…" she emerged from behind the horse, struggling with the cumbersome length of her obi. "Do you think you can help me?"

Mika looked up at him through a veil of thick, dark hair and Ichirou was lost.

"Help you?" he repeated.

"Yes. With my obi. I can't seem to wrap it properly, you see?" she twisted to the side so that Ichirou could take note of her problem.

"Of course." Ichirou shook his head slightly to clear his thoughts and went about his task. He wrapped the long black fabric around Mika's waist, noting how many times the band of silk encircled the tiny girl before tying it securely in place. Ichirou let his hands linger a moment, reveling in the feel of soft silk and the warmth of Mika's body combining so temptingly. His fingers twitched as if they longed to unwrap the girl and slide into the folds of the robe, seeking the smooth, pale flesh that must surely wait within.

Ichirou jerked away from Mika as though he had been burned. It seemed he could no longer control the course of his thoughts but he would control the actions of his body. He turned and strode quickly to the other side of his horse.

"We should be leaving," his words were brusque. "It is a few days journey to the castle from here and that is by horseback. If we leave now we should be able to travel some distance still before we must break for the night."

"Of course." Miko bent her head meekly as she followed Ichirou over to Emetto's side and allowed him to help her mount.

Ichirou retrieved his helmet and placed it securely atop his head before leading Emetto away from the carnage and back towards the castle and home.

There was much for Ichirou to ponder while the trio traveled and Mika remained silent next to him. It was some time before Ichirou realized that the stress of the day had finally caught up to the girl and she had fallen asleep. Ichirou chastised himself for his thoughtlessness and wasted no time in finding them a place to rest for the night.

In very little time a fire was lit and Mika was as comfortable as he could make her, leaning against a fallen log. Ichirou watched the light from the fire flicker across the girl's face, bathing her in shadow. She made a small mewling noise and wrapped her arms tightly around herself, although the action seemed to offer little comfort. A deep crease spread across her forehead as the soft sounds escaping from Mika's throat became words.

"No. Please, no. Don't hurt them. It's because of me. It should be me."

The words made little sense to Ichirou but he was sure she was dreaming of the attack. The girl's restless motions became more frantic and Ichirou was sure she was going to hurt herself. He stripped quickly out of his armor and moved to lie beside her. Taking her in his arms, Ichirou smoothed the dreaming girl's hair as he hummed a tuneless lullaby to sooth her. Soon she had settled peacefully against him, her long, slender fingers wrapped around the sleeve of his own kimono.

Ichirou felt a quickening from within as he watched over Mika's sleeping form. He had spent his whole life practicing the art of war. As a result, Ichirou knew very little of the ways of love. But he thought that perhaps these feelings he was experiencing could be something akin to that particular affliction. He spent the long night pondering this discovery. It was true that Mika had awakened new feelings within him: the desire to protect her, the incessant need to think of her, the desire to touch and to feel her skin next to his. But more than that, even, Ichirou longed to know and to be known by her.

Ichirou was unsure what to do next. If this were a battle or a problem of State, Ichirou would be busy strategizing, finding solutions and mapping out a plan. But it seemed to him that one could not approach love as one approaches a battle. Instead, Ichirou resolved to give Mika some time. He would take her to Masayoshi's court where she could feel safe and protected, and only then would he attempt to woo her.

Ichirou felt confident in his decision and Mika awoke to find a freshly skinned hare roasting on the fire and Ichirou determinedly cleaning his armor. They were soon ready to continue their journey.

Ichirou set a steady pace and the trio made good time. It was barely mid-day when they reached a small orchard of cherry trees, their branches thick with blossoms. Ichirou could see that Mika was beginning to tire. He gave the command for Emetto to stop and Mika slid wearily from the great beast. Ichirou moved quickly assist the girl, relishing in the feeling of her hand in his as he helped her down. He noticed how her fingers lingered just a moment too long and looked up in time to catch her eyes fixed upon him. Mika quickly lowered her gaze and Ichirou watched in delighted fascination as a soft pink blush spread slowly across the apple of her cheeks. All his careful resolutions fled and he wrapped his fingers around hers. The air between them seemed to thicken and still. Ichirou thought that perhaps time itself had slowed to a stop. The two stood locked in their moment, barely touching, barely breathing. And then Mika looked up.

"May I ask you something?"

"Anything, little maiden," Ichirou's voice rang with conviction.

"Kiss me?" The words were barely a whisper past her lips, but Ichirou felt them reverberate throughout his entire body and to the depths of his soul itself. His fingers tightened around hers, and he reached slowly forward with his other hand to pull a cherry blossom from her hair.

"Sweet cherry maiden," he said. "I would not bring such dishonor upon the woman who owns my heart. I shall kiss you, be assured of this. But it will be on our wedding day."

Tears filled Mika's eyes as she looked up at him and Ichirou pulled her swiftly into his arms.

"What is this? Little maiden, please don't cry. Please, Mika-chan." He traced his thumb tenderly along the path of the lone tear that had spilled over. "Did you not hear? I wish to marry you."

Mika sobbed and clung to Ichirou, burrowing herself into his embrace. He tried his best to sooth her as he had the night before, holding her gently and humming the same simple melody. Finally Ichirou felt her take a deep, shuddering breath. She stilled and then stepped back, out of his arms to stand alone.

"Ichirou-san," she began. "There is something I must tell you. I was not entirely honest yesterday. That is, everything I told you was the truth, but it was not the whole story. My name is Mika, just as I have said. I am the daughter of the honorable Norio-san and a gift to the great Masayoshi-sama. My father feared for my safety, traveling so far from home, and so before I left on this journey he had me dress as my servant girl while she assumed my identity. I thought it a silly precaution. I traveled with 5 of my father's best warriors. And yet they were so quickly felled when we were attacked."

"How did you escape?" Ichirou asked.

"When the fighting started the oldest of the guard grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the river. He was always a clever man and when he ordered me to slather as much muck about myself as possible and to hide in the reeds I thought nothing of obeying him. He commanded me to stay there until he returned for me. But he didn't return. And then you came."

"And so you are a gift for my master." Ichirou's voice was dull. Inside he felt as though his chest had split and cracked in two.

"Yes. I am a gift for him to do with as he pleases. But how can I bear it Ichirou? How can I bear to sit next to him while every single piece of me longs to be with you?"

"You will not have to, little maiden. I will deliver you safely to Masayoshi-sama and then I shall leave. I will not bring shame nor be the cause of pain upon the people I love. And when I am gone you shall forget me, sweet Mika-chan. That is my promise to you." Ichirou made to turn away but Mika grasped his arm with both hands and pulled him to her.

"Never!" She declared. "I will never forget you and the life that we should have shared." She moved her hands to frame his face and looked up to meet his eyes determinedly.

"I give you my heart, Ichirou. It is yours now and yours alone."

Ichirou couldn't think. He wanted desperately to take Mika in his arms and tell her all would be well, that they would have their happiness and that he would guard her heart with his very life. But he was samurai and his first and last duty was to the house which he served. He moved to pull her close, one last time, when a sudden breeze whipped by his cheek, followed by a sharp thunk. Ichirou would recognize that sound anywhere. Arrow!

Ichirou sprang into action, throwing Mika up onto Emetto and barking a sharp command to the horse.

"We're under attack. Emetto will take you safely to the castle, you have only to hold on and stay low."

"What about you?" Fear shone from Mika's eyes as she clung to Emetto.

"I will stay and ward off the attack. Ride now, Mika." Ichirou barked a new command and Emetto took off.

"Be safe," he whispered desperately as he watched the fleeing figures disappear and then the fight was upon him.

Three dark clad warriors drifted soundlessly into the orchard. Ichirou recognized the lightweight armor of the shinobi assassin instantly. He wondered momentarily what they were doing so far from their own land across the western sea.

Pulling Jasupa from its place at his side, Ichirou readied himself for attack. He had trained his whole life for moments such as this and his body moved from instinct as much as from skill and training. The orchard filled with the sounds of fierce combat as Ichirou met his assailants head on. Jasupa struck true, time and time again, its blade of sharpest steel sliding with deadly precision through the weak points in the shinobis armor.

Soon Ichirou had defeated all but one warrior. This one Ichirou meant to take alive. Someone had plotted the attack on Mika's caravan very carefully and Ichirou meant to have answers. He would not rest until he could be assured of both the safety and protection of Mika and his master's people.

Ichirou stalked forward, a fearsome scowl twisting his lips as he planned his attack. The shinobi stood quietly at the edge of the orchard, looking as if he had nothing to fear. Ichirou stopped his forward advance. A feeling of deep paranoia swept over him as he surveyed his surroundings. It was only him and the shinobi and yet, Ichirou could not shake the feeling that a second set of eyes watched him. A deep, unnatural mist snaked its way between the trees, blanketing the orchard in a dense fog. Ichirou heard the shinobi laugh and he rushed forward in attack. He met nothing but thick, swirling air. He thrust his sword around him in frustration, moving from tree to tree with fierce determination. And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the extraordinary fog dissipated and Ichirou found himself alone amongst the cherry trees. Not even the bodies of the two fallen assassins remained.

Ichirou was deeply unsettled. As hard as he looked he could find no trace of the shinobi assassins - no hint of the path they had traveled. It was with much shame and a great sense of foreboding that he turned and headed towards the thick castle walls of the castle, still more than a days distance by foot.

He raced through the night and as dawn broke Ichirou was met by two fellow samurai, each bearing the crest of Masayoshi. They brought with them a fresh horse and the news that Mika had arrived at the castle hours earlier, making an impressionable entrance as she burst into the castle courtyard still astride Emetto and shrieking loud enough to be heard by the 'Three Cold Ones' themselves.

Ichirou smiled at the thought of his little maiden braving the fearsome samurai guard to demand aid. He spurred his horse onward, anxious to reach the castle walls and see for himself that Mika was unharmed. He remained resolute in his intention to remove himself from court life but not until he could be assured that Mika would be safe and war would be averted.

Upon his arrival at the castle, Ichirou went immediately to Masayoshi to confess his failure. He knelt in front of his master, head bowed and holding his sword in front of him as an offering.

"An attack was made and the enemy has escaped. I regret that I have brought shame upon this House. I have failed you, Master."

"Get up, Ichirou," Masayoshi's deep voice was sharp with impatience. "We have no time for such dramatics. Young mistress Mika has been abducted from these very courtyards. With her absence, war is all but guaranteed. We are in a very difficult position, Ichirou."

Ichirou stood slowly, stunned by the news his master had delivered. Mika was gone. The palace was in turmoil and war seemed imminent but Mika was gone. He couldn't think beyond that.

"Tell me," he said.

"It seems the girl came out for some air and to settle herself from her rather unorthodox entrance. Reports are that a great winged beast swooped out of the sky and carried her away. It was fast, Ichirou, and seemed impenetrable. None of the guard's swords could breach its skin. It flew west, towards the highest peak of "The Three Cold Ones." I think that perhaps it is The Brothers who are behind this mischief and I fear she is lost to us."

It had long been believed that there were three miserly brothers who lived in isolation atop the highest peak of "The Three Cold Ones." The brothers, it was said, were jealous and covetous and hated to see anyone prosper besides themselves.

"I will find her. I will find her and return her to your side, Master." Ichirou's vow rang strong and true through the halls of the great castle. He turned and strode out the doors and towards the stables where Emetto waited.

Ichirou made his preparations quickly and it was not long before he was riding out of the castle walls and towards the mountains. He rode for days, stopping only when absolutely necessary or to question any passerby whom he met. The farther into the mountains he ventured the less frequently he came across fellow travelers until eventually he had gone three full days without meeting another living soul.

He was traveling through a dense thicket of trees when he heard a terrible sound. It was a noise filled with despair. Ichirou felt the immediate urge to help, but he remained guarded. He drew his weapon and continued cautiously towards the sound. Finally he reached a small clearing and saw, to his dismay, a small white fox, trapped in a snare.

"Hush little fox," he coaxed as he dismounted and approached the creature. "I mean you no harm. Hold still and I'll see if I can free you." The fox quieted as he moved closer and waited patiently while he cut the rope from around its paw.

"Thank you kind warrior," the fox said, once she was free.

"Kitsune!" Ichirou gasped and stepped backwards, Jasupa held out in front of him defensively.

"Do not be afraid, Brother Warrior, I bear you no ill will," the fox spoke softly to the frightened man.

"I am no kin to you, little spirit animal."

"Are you so sure, green-eyed samurai? Well, it is no matter. I owe you a debt and it is one I will gladly repay. You seek someone who is missing. Someone who is dear to your heart, do you not? I know where she is and I shall lead you to her."

"Do not deceive me, Kitsune," Ichirou warned.

"I give you my word, Brother Warrior. I will lead you to your beloved, on the honor of my family, all who have come before and all who will come after," the fox pledged solemnly and Ichirou was moved to believe her.

"Lead on, Kitsune," Ichirou beckoned the little fox to move ahead of him and followed her path through the woods. As they traveled he questioned the spirit animal.

"How did you know that I seek a maiden?"

"I am Kitsune. I see many things, Brother Warrior," she answered cryptically.

"Is she safe?"

"As safe as she can be."

"What do you mean by that? Speak, Kitsune," Ichirou commanded fiercely.

"The one you seek is under the care of the Witch Twins, disciples of The Brothers. They are keeping her in a cave, isolated and alone. She waits patiently there for her green eyed samurai."

"How do you know these things?" Ichirou whispered.

"I told you," the fox said simply, "I am Kitsune."

They made their way steadily up the mountain, stopping occasionally to eat and to rest. The Kitsune assured Ichirou that he must have both his wits and his strength about him if he wished to best the Witch Twins.

"They are wicked creatures, Brother Warrior, for they thrive on the suffering of others. They love nothing more than to creep into the beds of the sick and the elderly and twist them into misshapen things full of pain and bitterness."

"How can I best such evil?" Ichirou asked.

"They will try to undo you. The girl would love nothing more than to see you writhing in agony while the boy will bring you such despair. You must remember, Brother Warrior, it is only illusion. Much of what you will see, no matter how real it seems, will be nothing more than illusion."

The Kitsune stopped their progress. She eyed Ichirou up and down and gazed at him intently.

"I must leave you here," she said. "You must remember what I have told you, Brother Warrior. Trust your heart and have faith in who you are and all will be well."

"Thank you, Sister Fox." Ichirou bowed his head in thanks. The Kitsune gave a soft yip and touched her snout gently to his cheek. And then she was gone.

Ichirou and Emetto moved onwards, even as their trail wound higher and higher up the mountainside. The weather grew colder. A fierce and bitter wind raged against them, but still the moved onwards. The pathway narrowed and Ichirou was forced to dismount.

"Wait where it is warmer, Emetto. I will return for you as soon as I can," he instructed the faithful horse.

Ichirou continued his journey through the raging weather until finally he reached two towering rocks that marked the entrance to what he presumed was the Witch Twin's cave. Somewhere within was the woman he loved. He would not leave this place without her. Drawing out Jasupa, Ichirou crept into the cave and looked around.

The entrance of the cave was narrow and long and Ichirou grew more anxious as he followed the passageway. Finally his path curved and then opened up into a tremendous chamber. The walls of the cavern glittered with crystals and looking up Ichirou could see the sky above him. He realized that he must be inside the top of the mountain itself. At the far end of the chamber the walls widened and opened out, and Ichirou could just make out what appeared to be a snow covered meadow. And there, kneeling on the ground and dressed still in her pink kimono, was Mika.

Ichirou rushed forward, forgetting for a moment that anything existed but the lovely maiden at the end of his vision. He was stopped abruptly by what felt like a wall of pain. Jasupa fell to the ground with a clatter and Ichirou dropped to his knees. The air around him was alive with a thousand tiny needles, each one stabbing over and over against his skin. Despair and regret, heavy and insatiable, pressed into him and he was overcome.

As Ichirou writhed on the floor he remembered what the Kitsune had told him. The pain was like a living thing, digging deep into the marrow of his very bones. But the Kitsune had said it was illusion and with that thought came a little clarity. Ichirou became aware of two voices above him.

"He's really no fun at all, is he Brother?" a high, feminine voice complained.

"Now, Sister, don't be impatient. We have all the time in the world to play with our new toy," the other voice admonished.

"But really, he should be screaming by now," the girl pouted. "This is no fun at all."

"Patience, Sister. Practice, after all, does make perfect."

"I suppose. Or perhaps I could play with the girl now. Surely The Brothers wouldn't mind if I only hurt her a little."

A blank rage stole over Ichirou at the girl's words and before he could think he had grabbed Jasupa and was leaping to his feet.

"You. Will. Not. Touch. Her."

"Oh look, Sister, he's going to fight." The boy seemed amused as Ichurio stood facing them. He was surprised to find that the fearsome Witch Twins appeared to be little more than children. Their fine hair hung long about their faces and each wore the same petulant expression on their bright red lips. Then the girl smiled and it was filled with such malice that Ichirou felt his whole being grow cold.

"Is that true? Are you going to fight, brave samurai," she taunted. "This may be entertaining after all."

The cavern filled with a ceaseless buzzing and the pain against Ichirou's skin intensified. He lowered his head and charged blindly at the boy, throwing his arms around the small form and pulling him close. The air filled with the boy's hideous shrieks as he twisted in Ichirou's arms, sharing the agony his sister was inflicting on Ichirou.

"Brother!" The buzzing stopped abruptly and Ichirou fell to the ground in relief. The boy crawled slowly towards his sister and she pulled him into her arms, petting and crooning to him as she glared at Ichirou.

"That was unfair!" she shouted.

Ichirou raised an eyebrow in disdain as he rose to his feet.

"You talk of fairness? You, who wreak havoc and sow the seeds of war amongst my people for sport? You speak to me of fairness?" Ichirou laughed bitterly.

"We follow The Brother's bidding. They are our masters and we serve them faithfully, just as you serve yours," the girl shot back.

"And do your masters bid you to torment the sick? Do they tell you to inflict misery on all you touch? Do your masters instruct your enjoyment of such sick fancies as well?" Ichirou stalked towards the pair.

"We serve our master's faithfully and willingly. We would die for them." The girl pulled her brother up to stand with her. Ichirou watched as they clasped hands and began chanting unfamiliar foreign words. A strange, thick mist rolled into the cavern. Ichirou remembered just such a mist from the orchard. He steadied himself, his sword clutched tightly in his hand and his stance prepared for battle. A mighty roar suddenly filled the cavern, echoing off the walls and around Ichirou. A great wind accompanied it and as the mist cleared Ichirou saw before his eyes, not the two small children, but a great, two-headed beast, rising up to block the sky.

The beast had wings that stretched from nearly one end of the cavern to the other. Its body twisted and coiled like some great serpent and it possessed the talons of a lion. Ichirou recognized the eyes of the witch twins staring back at him. He feinted to his right as the beast dove towards him, snapping its jaws at his retreating figure. It had little room to maneuver within the confines of the cavern but it's heads moved like a cobra, quick and deadly. Ichirou slashed at the beast, moving as quickly as he could, searching for a point of vulnerability. One head crashed down towards him and he rolled instinctively, finding himself directly beneath the monster. With one quick thrust, Ichirou slid his sword deep into the underbelly of the creature, slicing a wicked gash across the length of the creature. It shrieked and twitched, throwing Ichirou across the cavern. He watched in amazement as the wounded beast transformed before his very eyes, seeming to melt and morph back in to the Witch Twins.

"You have killed us," the girl gasped as she crawled to her brother who was lying still on the cold ground.

"You deserve no less," the warrior replied.

"Who are you to judge us? Are you not beholden to your own master? Would you not lay down your life for his? Have you not killed for him?"

Ichirou leaned against the cavern wall and drew a deep breath. "I am pledged to his service, yes. And yes, I have killed many men upon his orders. But I take no joy in death, Witch Child, nor do I take pleasure in their pain. I ensure my opponents death is an honorable one."

The girl laughed and the sound was thick with liquid and other things.

"Death is death, brave warrior, whether it comes to us on the battlefield or at home in bed; honorably, or on our knees. In the end, it is all the same nothingness."

"I don't believe that," Ichirou shook his head.

"Then you're a fool." The girl's laughter grew wild.

"You know something else, foolish samurai?" she gasped. "After all this, you still won't save the girl."

Ichirou jerked upright. The girl's laughter cut off abruptly. She lay motionless on the ground, her arms wrapped around her brother. Ichirou spared her a glance as he moved to cross the cavern and finally reach the open clearing where Mika waited. His gaze settled on her, kneeling in the snow. Slowly, as if she were a doll coming to life, Mika's head raised and her eyes fixed on Ichirou. He watched as her lips parted and she stumbled to her feet.

Ichirou dropped his sword and pushed forward, anxious to feel the weight of her in his arms at least once before he returned her to Masayoshi. He was halfway across the great chamber when there was a sudden whoosh and the entwined bodies of the witch twins erupted into flame. The explosion pushed Ichirou back across the cavern and shook the entire chamber. Shards of crystal fell from the walls and embedded themselves in Ichirou's armor and his skin. He watched in disbelief as the fire spread to form a wall between himself and Mika. The flames danced before him, copper and bronze in the strange wavering light of the cavern. They seemed to taunt him as he stood before them.

Mika was on the other side of those flames. She was alone and frightened. Ichirou's heart told him what to do.

Ichirou closed his eyes. He conjured up the happiest memory he could. In his mind, he stood with Mika under the cherry trees, her hand soft and warm in his. Lowering his head Ichirou walked straight into the heart of the fire.

Ichirou burned. The fire scorched. It caught at Ichirou, igniting his armor until it seemed to melt against him. He pressed on. The pain and the searing heat and the roar of the flames that filled his head seemed endless, but Ichirou kept the picture of Mika in his heart and moved forward. Finally he stumbled through the wall of flame and into the clearing.

Mika was curled in a ball on the ground, her body shaking as she sobbed.

"Mika." Ichirou pushed her name through his parched throat with great effort. Mika's head shot up at the sound of her voice and she gasped.

"You're on fire!" She rushed to his side and pushed him down into the snow.

Ichirou sighed in relief as snow cooled his flame kissed skin. He sat up and Mika helped him to carefully remove his helmet and chest plate. The strange, unnatural fire had burned his armor and left him seemingly untouched. As he looked around, Ichirou realized the great wall of flame had disappeared, leaving the opening to the cavern free and clear. His gaze fell on Mika.

"Little maiden," he said, "I have come to rescue you." Then he smiled.

Mika threw herself into Ichirou's arms. They clung desperately to each other for what seemed like both days and no time at all. Finally Mika drew back.

"I knew you would come," she told him.

"I promised to keep you safe, little maiden. I would never break my word."

"A samurai's word is all," she placed her hand against his cheek and Ichirou bent his head to hers and closed his eyes. For one perfect moment she was in his arms and all was right in the world. Soon they would return to Emetto and make their way back to the castle. War would be averted and Mika would begin her new life at the side of Masayoshi. Ichirou didn't know where his fate would take him but he did know that this memory would live in his heart until the end of his days.

Now

"What? You mean they don't even kiss? What kind of bullshit ending is that?"

"Lauren Mallory, we do not use that kind of language!"

"But really, Ms. Swan, the poor guy went through all of that just to get a thank you, see you later? Talk about a slap in the face!" Mike shook his head.

"I gotta agree, Ms. Swan. It seems a little cold. I mean the dude walked through fire for the chick." Tyler added.

"Totally. And what was the deal with those Brother guys? Did they just attack Mika for the heck of it? It's kind of random don't you think?" The group of students nodded their heads in agreement.

"Class, this was a fable. The Brothers, the enchanted fire, the dragon and the Kitsune, these are all common elements you'll find in Japanese fairytales," Bella explained to her disgruntled class.

Edward smiled in amusement at the student's ire. He cleared his throat and every head turned back in his direction.

"Actually," he said, "I wasn't quite finished. You see, once Ichirou and Mika returned to the castle there was great celebrating. Masayoshi, who I'm sure you will all remember was a wise and benevolent master, saw the love blooming clearly across the faces of the young pair. Being childless and in need of an heir, Masayoshi adopted Ichirou, naming him his successor. He gave the young couple his full and fervent blessing and they were quickly married in the orchard, under the cherry trees."

"And then they finally kissed?"

"Yes, Jessica. And then they finally kissed." Edward smiled as the young girls sighed happily.

"And you know what happened next…"

"Eric!"

"Sorry, Miss Swan."

"So that's the tale of Ichirou and the Cherry Maiden. Now if you'll all move forward," Edward paused to slide the silk panels open and the students gasped. Behind the panels the room was set up as an exact replica of a 16th century home. Rice paper covered the walls and bamboo mats adorned the floor. A tea set was laid out and several kimono's were encased in glass and displayed against the wall. At the far wall a full set of samurai armor as well as a set of samurai swords.

"This is exactly the kind of home Ichirou and Mika would have lived in all those centuries ago. Take a look around. I hope you enjoy the display."

"Dr. Cullen, this is incredible," Bella moved to examine the kimono display more closely.

"You think so? I'm glad you like it," Edward was extraordinarily pleased by Bella's interest.

"These kimono's are so beautiful," she sighed.

"You like them? We have so many more in storage. Perhaps…that is…maybe… I mean," Edward paused, unused to stumbling over his own words. He cleared his throat, adjusted his glasses and tried again.

"What I meant to say is, would you care to see the rest of them? After school, maybe? I'd be happy to show you."

"Like my own personal tour?" Bella's eyes widened and a smile curved her lips.

"Exactly that," Edward smiled back.

"I'd like that very much. And maybe afterwards we could go to dinner?" Edward could have sworn his breathing stopped as he watched Bella pull her bottom lip between her teeth and worry it as she waited anxiously for his answer.

"Only if you'll agree to call me Edward."

"I think I can manage that."

The backs of Bella's fingers brushed against his and he inhaled sharply. They stood together, barely touching but entirely connected, and watched as the students examined and exclaimed over the objects Edward had meticulously arranged, the history alive in front of them.

"So Mike," he called. "Cooler than mummies?"

"Dr. C, nothing's cooler than mummies."

The End

Notes:

Names: Ichirou and Mika were carefully chosen to relate in some way to Edward and Bella. Ichirou means "first son" while Mika means "beautiful fragrance." Emetto and Jasupa are the literal translations of Emmett and Jasper and Masayoshi means "flourishing goodness."

Honorifics: There are several different honorifics in use in this story.

San is the most common honorific and is a title of respect similar to "Mr.", "Miss", "Mrs.", or "Ms."

Sama is a markedly more respectful version of san. It is used mainly to refer to people much higher in rank than oneself.

Chan is actually a diminutive and used as an expression of endearment.

Additionally, many of the elements I used in this story can be found throughout Japanese folklore. If you're interested in learning more I've included a link to several popular fables at the bottom of the page.

Thanks, as always, to my amazing betas, javamomma0921 and Just Shireen. They improve the quality of my writing more than I can say and they are both incredible writers. Thank you also to swimom7, fngrcufs and miaokuancha for offering their considerable pre-reading skills. I am so lucky to be supported by such talented women.

www . pitt . edu / ~dash / japanlove . html

www en . wikipedia . org / wiki/ Japanese_folklore