Read Casca 19: The Samurai Online

Authors: Barry Sadler

Casca 19: The Samurai

 

This is a book of fiction. All the names, characters and events portrayed in this book are Fictional and any resemblance to real people and incidents are purely coincidental.

CASCA: #19 The Samurai

Casca Ebooks are published by arrangement with the copyright holder

Copyright © 1988 by Barry Sadler

Cover: Greg Brantley

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DEATH MATCH...

Knowing the man was quicker than he was, he did the only logical thing – something illogical. He threw his weapon straight at the samurai's grinning face. Instinctively, the man had to duck, blink, and block all at the same time. When his eyes opened, Casca had his sword wrist in one hand and his other arm around his back, twisting both. The samurai's arm
came loose first at the shoulder as the sockets separated. Releasing his grip on the now useless and empty sword arm, Casca transferred his grip to the man's head. Grasping the samurai's topknot in his hand, he held the body rigid as he twisted, turning the man's head to an impossible angle. It gave way. The neck cracked...

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

The heavens broke open with the un-chainable fury of the gods. To the east, thunderheads raced like black stallions draped in harnesses of lightning across seas swelling to the height of ten tall men on horseback. They rode the force called the Tai fun. They had been sired deep in the wastes of the unknown seas where only barbarians and beasts dwelled. There they had gathered their strength and then sped across the vast gray waters, devastating all in their path, trampling all under their dark waves. Nothing was spared, for they had not the mortal weakness of mercy or the compassion for man, woman, child or animal. Alive or inanimate, all felt the power of their storm driven hooves.

The cries of dying men had long since been silenced, swallowed up by the deep dark waters of the seas. Only bits of wrecked ships and the bloated bodies of men and horses wallowing in the swells gave any evidence that this place had once teemed with life. Those who had somehow made it to shore alive found no shelter from the winds that raged for three nights and then passed on across the waters to the land of the meat eaters and unclean ones.

 

The waters of Hakata Bay had long since been washed clean by the seas and by time when Jinto Muramasa stumbled over the black rocks seeking shelter for the night. His robes were of common weave cotton fibers with the symbol of a mantis on the back. Dark stains and tears were evidence of recent battle. The Heiju Uprising against the Taira family had been crushed. All those who had supported the uprising were either dead or fleeing to await another day. He was one of those wandering mercenaries, a
ronin
who had cast his lot with the Minamoto clan and had lost, but then such is one's karma. The wheel of life would spin again and who knew what lots it would cast on the next turning. For now he needed a place to rest and something to eat. But shelter must come first. He knew these rocky shores from when he was a child and had played upon them more than once. There were many small caves set back from the waters in which one might rest and regain his strength. From the sea he would find the food he needed.

Spray whipped into
a froth by the incoming tide washing ashore brought his eye to the sea and jagged coast. He squatted to look. Letting his eyes scan, forcing his body to relax, he opened his mind to the elements about him for a moment. It was empty; all was right. The birds flew as they should, diving and swooping to feed upon small fish and then returning to their nests in the rocks. Later he, too, would feed on the small fish and the eggs of the birds. Wind blew his hair, which hung loose. His
akagane
had long since been lost during his flight. The cone shaped helmet of poor metal was no great loss except for the value it could have had to heat some water to cook and wash in.
Aiie!
a hot bath. To be massaged and rubbed, cleansed once more back into a semblance of dignified humanity. He scratched at fleas in disgust.

Scrambling crab
-wise over a clump of boulders, he found that which he sought. There in a crevice where the waters at high tide were stopped was a shadow. His shelter. Bending low, he climbed inside the small cave. It was big enough for him to stretch full out and still have room for two more men. Squatting, he removed his robe, returned to the outside with it, and washed the poor cloth in saltwater. Then he did his body. He stood, naked in the knee deep tide pool. He was short and dark with the beginnings of a thin mustache. His arms were unusually muscled, proof of his heritage, of twenty five years at the forge, for his father had long ago taught him the art of sword-making and the ways of steel. His face was angular, sharp corners etching out prominent cheekbones and dark eyes slightly bulbous with deep brown black centers. The marks of honorable wounds were in evidence, though none were very deep. Along with the skill of making swords, he had learned well the craft of using them, though he was not samurai. Perhaps one day? If the Minamoto had won, that is what he would have requested – the right to wear the
dai-sho
, two swords instead of his one good
jinto
, the war sword made by his father for him. Those who made the steel knew perhaps more than those of noble birth the true meaning of the
bushi
, the warrior's way and the mystic relation between a warrior and his blade.

Picking among the rocks, he caught several small scuttering crabs that he broke open and ate as he washed. The sweet flesh was still firm and vibrant. Raising his body, he returned to his cave. He placed his robe where it would catch the breeze and dry and then lay naked on his side, his
jinto
in his hand. He slept instantly.

It was three days before he felt his strength returning. The birds' eggs and the gifts of the sea had replenished his strength and the long
sleep had given his body and spirit time to rest and heal. He avoided the few villagers he saw who came to fish on the coasts. It was not yet time to come out into the open. The warriors of Taira no Kiyomori, the
daidodaijin
, would not finish with the killing of those who supported the Minamoto for a long time to come. He thought for a time of stealing a boat to cross the waters to the land of the Chin where the Mongols ruled. But as with most of his race, he was not a good sailor, though he had made the journey once long ago with his father to buy iron of a special nature with which to make the prized katana blades for those of noble name. There they had spent over one year while his father visited with other sword smiths of the Kure, or as some called them, the Chin, and watched and learned. From this journey he had a bit of the tongue and could make some of his more basic wants known in the strange, lilting language.

Scavenging along the beach for what the morning tide might have brought in for him to
eat, he saw a shape lying upon the dark sands. Covered with kelp, it was a form that he could not quite put a name to. There were bits of lighter color among the sour yellow green of the giant seaweed. Moving closer, his hand close to his hilt, he stopped at a distance to watch. One never knew what lived in the depths of the sea. His trip to Chin had made him vow never to take the life of a seaman for his own. The thing twitched but made no other move. A wave came in soft and gentle, moving the kelp aside a bit.

Ah so deska!
There was a hand under the kelp. And from the shape, now that he could see, it would appear also that there was a body to go with the hand. Perhaps this day would bring him good fortune. Perhaps the body would possess something of value to him. Almost anything would be of value now that he was in such dire straits.

He carefully checked the beach.
No one. Moving over to the body, he removed the kelp, covering his nose from the odor. Beneath the soggy, greenish blanket was a man such as he had never seen before.

Almost like the Ainu of the northern islands, but different. The clothes were as those worn in Chin, a once simple and good robe of silk, but now rotted by salt and sun. His feet were bare and around his waist was a sword belt holding an empty sword sheath and a smaller one with a dagger in it. The
body was disgusting. It was as bloated and pale as the belly of a sick fish. The flesh looked as if it would burst open if he pricked it with the point of his blade. And there were scars upon it. Many, many scars. The man had to have once been a powerful warrior to survive so many grievous wounds. But now that he had gone to whatever heaven or hell he believed in, he would have no further use for the small dagger. Twisting the body over to where he could better get at the grip, Muramasa saw the face. For a moment he thought he saw a muscle move in the mouth. But no. This one was long dead, probably three or four days.

It took both of his hands to roll the body over to where he could reach the handle of the dagger. Pulling the blade free from its sheath, he examined it with care and approval. He had not seen metal like this before, and the design was alien to him. He tested the point, careful not to draw blood, for there could be poison on it. And then he tested its flexibility. He was nearly able to bend the thin, pointed poniard in a quarter
moon. The steel of Toledo was noted for its elasticity. He sucked in his breath in approval and started to put the dagger in the waistband of his
obi
.

Pain caused uncontrollable tears to come to his eyes. It was so unexpected. Then fear. His hand was held in an ever tightening grip by the corpse. Pale, dead flesh touched his and squeezed. Revulsion and terror raced through him. The thing on the beach was not man but an evil spirit and
iki-ryo
.

Forcing
himself to look at the corpse, he saw the crusted lids open a fraction and pale eyes stare out at him. The mouth tried to force out words. There came only a thin; cracking sound. The grip on his wrist eased. The hand set him free and gently patted the back of his wrist as one would a well-loved child. It was not a threat, nor was there a threat in the eyes. Muramasa felt a great sadness in those strange colored orbs. The dead man's hand dropped back to his side and the eyes closed.

Muramasa sat back on his heels, perplexed by this mystery. He could have simply taken his sword and hacked the man to pieces, but then the questions rolling around in his mind would never have an answer. His father had said long ago that he had been cursed with overweening curiosity. As he sat and pondered his dilemma, the man's body went into a spasm. The mouth opened and fluid poured forth, not only from the mouth but from the nose also. As it did, the scarred chest heaved and sucked in a great breath of air that sent shudders through it as though it had not breathed in a long time and had to learn the practice all over again. With the breath of air came a bit of color to the pale flesh as though once more the heart was pumping warm blood through long still veins and arteries. Whatever this body was, it most assuredly was not dead any longer.

Muramasa sat beside the man for two hours, and with each minute the
gaijin
, the foreign one, seemed stronger. At last, unable to decide the issue, he contented himself to wait for the man, or whatever he was, to once more open his eyes and try to speak to him. He knew that the man would then be in need. Muramasa scrambled back along the beach into the rocks, returning to his cave. He brought back with him his water bottle, along with a few small crabs and a bit of fish caught the night before in a tidal pond, Settling back down, he resumed his vigil.

It was the time of the setting sun before the pale one opened his eyes again. His body moved with stiff limbs and the mouth opened dark as a demon's cave, his lips dry and cracked. Into that dark cave Muramasa poured a teacup amount of water, then waited and repeated the process several more times before the lips formed a strange word.

"Thank you."

He didn't understand the word but felt the meaning. He fed the man the fish and crabs in small pieces, one sliver at a time. The food seemed to work wonders on the pale one. In a matter of minutes, it was obvious that he was gaining his strength back. Soon he was sitting up and feeding himself, albeit with shaking fingers.

As much as he disliked touching the man, Muramasa forced himself to give him assistance in rising to his feet. Then he half led, half carried him back to the sanctuary of his cave in the rocks. Once there, the pale one again fell into deep sleep. Unsure of himself and why he had done what he had, Muramasa sat at the mouth of the cave with his sword. Bare legs crossed, he dozed knowing that any sound, even the smallest movement, would wake him instantly. He slept, comforted by the feel of his sword across his lap and the new knife of strange metal in his
obi
.

 

 

 

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