Reijiro had wanted to die.
Though he had discovered the greatest pleasure in fishing, it was not what he felt he had been created to do. His soul was restless. He’d already established a legendary status, but it did little to satisfy his ennui. His name had been recited in haiku and sung by geisha during ceremonies. Those who tried to challenge him had been quickly eradicated. He got little pleasure from fighting, though; it was merely the means to an end. He’d seen some who’d fed on the bloodlust. Ability with the sword was only a small part of the code. However, if he were to die honorably in battle, against a worthy foe, it would cement his legacy.
Reijiro heard the boy before he saw him. The boy’s feet had hammered the dirt road and echoed across the valley. The boy drew closer, caught his breath, held it, and stopped. He would not address his superior until he was acknowledge.
“What is it?” Reijiro finally said.
The disruption angered him, mostly because after two hours he hadn’t pulled anything from the stream. The boy approached as one would a wild animal. Nervous, and out of breath, it took him almost a minute before he could get the words out.
“You have been summoned,” the boy said.
“The swiftest reckoning of justice.”
Venom had laced each syllable. He was no longer an adolescent, but The Daimyo still erupted in a tirade when he got angry. His face had become flushed and turned a deep red, the color of a beet, and hid the acne which still decorated his face.
“I will not be made the fool so easily,” he said.
Reijiro refrained from smiling. The Daimyo was not fit to hold the title he now exploited, but Reijiro had served The Daimyo’s father who had been an honorable and just ruler.
“Yes, my lord,” Reijiro said and bowed.
“See to it everyone involved suffers!”
Already an erratic individual, this outburst was just the latest demonstration of his short temper. His subjects had been charged for minor infractions. Higher taxes had been levied, and other impossible demands had been placed upon the populace. This latest incident had sent him over the edge. A group of bandits had been terrorizing the countryside. Recently, they had attacked a tax collector. Rumors had spread they were commanded by a man who favored a knife and hatchet; similar to the natives in the Americas. His skill was unheralded. The bandit leader also wore a mask. Some suggested he was the embodiment of Akuma, the devil. The Daimyo’s diatribe continued. From time to time, Reijiro would interject by agreeing, and eventually, after he’d been winded, the Daimyo collapsed onto his cushioned mat.
Later that evening, Reijiro called together his subordinates. He instructed them of their mission and suggested they get a good night’s sleep as it might very well be their last. If they were lucky, they too would die in battle. As was his custom, Reijiro practiced kendo for a few hours until well after the sun had set. When he finished, he enjoyed some sake and the company of a woman. He awoke once during the middle of the night plagued by a strange dream in which he had the chance to fight the incarnation of death. Covered in sweat, he rose from his bed, while his companion stirred but did not wake. Outside, the night air had been cold against his skin. He approached the shrine in the center of the courtyard and lit an incense stick at the base. He’d lost count of how many times he’d performed this ritual and wondered whether this would be the final time.
The battle had commenced at sunrise.
Reijiro spotted the bandit leader in the mask. As dictated by custom, Reijiro called out his own name, his lineage, and a few of his conquests. The bandit leader approached. When he got closer, he shed his mask. Reijiro walked forward; he’d longed for this moment.
The bandit leader had been ravaged by leprosy. His missing nose revealed a portion of his nasal cavity. Patches of skin on his cheeks and forehead had worn away. His lower lip had decayed, so the bottom row of his teeth was visible.
Reijiro bowed, and as they began his dream from the night before returned to him.
Both sides were captivated by the spectacle. Reijiro and his adversary were flawless in their movements. After ten minutes, both combatants were disheveled and spent. Each of them was unable to operate at full speed. Their strikes, once so precise, were now inaccurate. They embraced each other and gasped for air. Then, just as suddenly, they broke apart. The bandit leader stumbled backward. He dropped both of his weapons and placed his hands over his stomach. Intestines poked through his fingers like newly born reptiles emerging into the world. No words escaped his mouth as he pitched forward onto the sand.
Reijiro had now caught his breath, and he tied his hair back into a topknot. The wounds of his body would take time to heal, but the adrenalin kept him mobile. He flicked the blood off his sword. He tried to speak but found the words challenging to summon. He looked down at his feet, and he noticed blood had been streaming down his leg and pooled in a maroon puddle. A smile found its way onto his face.
Perhaps, he was not able to defeat death after all.
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Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found on his website: andrew-davie.com
Great story, Andrew!