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Authors: Barry Sadler

Casca 19: The Samurai (11 page)

BOOK: Casca 19: The Samurai
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

When Tomomori fell, a groan ran through the ranks of the Taira. Another flashing sweep of
Well Drinker
and his head was held aloft by his samurai topknot. Sheathing
Well Drinker
, Muramasa took up the
wazakiri
sword
Dojo-kiri
and marched to Yeshitsune. Kneeling in front of him, he bowed his head holding his arms outstretched, each hand bearing a gift. In one hand was
Dojo-kiri
and in the other, Tomomori's head.

"Lord, it is my most humble honor that one as unworthy as I should be permitted to return to you the sword of your honorable ancestor."

Yeshitsune took the sword from Muramasa's hand, touched the weapon with a carefully tended nail, bowed over the legendary sword, and handed it with reverence to an attendant. "Take this to my brother, Yoritomo, as a token of my affection. He is the leader of the clan. The sword must be returned to his care. Should anything happen to the sword, you are ordered to immediately commit
seppuku
. It must not be lost again."

He held the head of Tomomori for a moment, looking into the eyes as if seeking the answer to a deep mystery. It was said by certain magicians that the head of one such as he now held in his graceful hand sometimes spoke immediately after death and told of things to come. H
e held his ear to the gaping mouth and nodded his head. All eyes were on him, both the Taira's and the Minamoto's. Raising the head above his own, he cried out, "Death has spoken to me. And the message is: Death to the Taira. Attack!"

His warriors surged forth in a rush, a raging tide of murderous, brilliant butterflies with shining steel. They advanced under a rain of shafts shot from the eager hands of the archers. Directly behind the advancing swordsmen, light lances were held in readiness. Still they neared the Taira ranks. Then seconds before the Minamoto reached the despairing Taira, they cast their lances over the heads of their own men, battering down the first rank of the enemy.

The screaming eager forces of Yeshitsune threw themselves on the Taira. Casca was passed by in the rush. He had no desire to join what was not even a battle anymore. It was slaughter.

The Taira were being beached even as their ships were being driven onto the
shore. Their surviving ships were being driven to the land. Most had been cut off by the fickle currents and winds. The last he saw of Muramasa was when the little man raced past him,
Well Drinker
above his head held in both hands. The sword maker and his cursed blade thrust themselves into the hottest section of the fight.

Casca left the battlefield moving to the right flank away from the killing, closer to the beach. From there he could see all that was happening. The Taira were bunched up. The original plan of Yeshitsune to have his personal guard split the Taira in two was not applicable anymore. Since Muramasa's victory over Tomomori, the Taira were completely demoralized, even though they were ready to die.

Cavalry hit the Taira on both flanks, pushing them closer to the beach, driving them in tight where they had no room to maneuver as a rain of mows fell on them in sheets. The pointed shafts penetrated armor and sank deep into eyes and throats. The Taira moved back again and again, closer to the edge of the water where once there they would be killed at the leisure of the victorious legions of the Minamoto.

At sea, clouds of smoke were rising to the heavens as Taira ships were burned with all on board. Those who went into the sea drowned immediately, except those few who could swim; they served as target practice for the archers on board the Minamoto ships. No prisoners.
Victory or death. Gods, what a stupid way to do business! It left no options for anyone.

The
kubibukuro
were filled time and again as heads were taken by the victors. Arms, hands, even legs lay everywhere, mute evidence of the vengeance the Minamoto were taking on their enemy. They would not make the same mistakes as the Taira did and leave anyone alive who might challenge them in the future. No one would be spared.

A ship began to founder on the rocks where Casca watched the battles. It bore the pennant of the Emperor Antoku. He wondered what the eight year old boy was thinking at this time, when he should have been at play or learning his lessons. It was not always a good thing to be king.

Suddenly, from a cluster of black seaweed draped boulders to his right, he saw a group of men break out and race for the beach. They were all stripped down to loincloths with their weapons slung on their backs or in their teeth. They struck out without hesitation into the water. With strong strokes they swam for the ship of the boy emperor.

That was most unusual. All of the men could swim and even
more odd, none of them wore the topknot of a samurai. What were they doing? Shading his eyes to see better, he saw that the ship had struck submerged rocks and was breaking up. Most of the warriors on board were cast into the sea by the force of the tides ramming the ship onto the rocks. The rest were clinging to whatever chunk of wood or flotsam they could find. The swimmers were coming nearer to them. He didn't know who they were but something was not right. The emperor was sacred to all in this strange land. No one would kill him. It was unthinkable. At least Muramasa had told him so.

Then who were those men? And why were they even now slaughtering the few among the samurai who could swim or were clinging to bits of wreckage? He could clearly see their knives rise and fall as they finished off the
jitonari
guards of the emperor.

Straining his eyes, he saw a small gilded figure clinging to the main mast, hands clutching a line as the ship swayed and rocked beneath him. The timbers of the hull were giving way with each movement of the currents, letting more green sea into the holds, dragging the ship under.

Giving a lurch, the ship broke in half, its spine snapped by the rocks beneath. The boy Antoku was rolled into the sea. Casca saw his head surface as the youngster grasped at a line hanging over a splintered timber and hauled himself to it. Two men, samurai he knew by their topknots, were also on the heaving timber. They helped the emperor onto the timber, trying to surround him with their bodies and protect him from the sea.

Casca found himself running to the beach, casting off his clothes, armor, and weapons. Naked, he plunged into the waters and struck out for the timber that bore the son of heaven, Antoku Tenno. He didn't know what was going on, but there was no time to ask
himself the question of who would order the death of Antoku and would he be interfering with someone's important plans. He didn't think, he just knew what he, was doing was something that had to be done.

He didn't notice the temperature of the water as he forced his body through the surf. Striking out with strong pulls of his arms and legs, he fought the sea to reach the emperor before the swimming assassins did. He was aided in this by the samurai who surrounded Antoku. When the first two swimmers reached them, the samurai cast themselves loose from the timbers, each one grasping a swimmer in a death grip so that even if they went down under deep green waters, so would the assassins.

The
jitonari
of the imperial guard did take two of the naked swimmers with them, but the others were nearing Antoku. Casca buried his face in the saltwater and, holding his breath, stroked facedown as fast as he could to close the gap before they reached the emperor. His first contact came as a shock when one of his outreaching hands touched a wet, naked body. He didn't stop moving. Grasping the man's shoulder with his hand, he pushed him under the water, changed his grip, placed a thumb on the Adam's apple, crushed the esophagus, and moved on. The sound of the man choking to death was not heard on the surface. Casca went after the next one.

He heard a cry of alarm over the rush of the waves. Antoku was calling for help. He redoubled his efforts catching up to another of the nude swimm
ers. The same technique worked again. It was silent and swift. The swimmers didn't appear to have any idea that anyone would come up behind them.

Raising his head as far as he could, Casca tread water, having to wait until the waves rose up high enough so he could see the timber. Five of the swimmers were nearing the young emperor who had by now crawled to where he could straddle the timber. In his hand was a small ceremonial dagger. He held it as if he knew how to use it. The boy was prepared for what was to come. Casca could see the fear had left his face. It was as stern as that of an eight year old child could be. He was ready to fight and die if that was his karma.

It looked as if Antoku would die. He was too far away and the other swimmers were even now reaching out to touch the timber. Antoku's knife flashed once, then twice. Casca had the satisfaction of hearing two screams. The boy had nearly severed one man's hand at the wrist and given another a good slice across the face. Then hard callused hands grabbed the emperor and dragged him off the timber. The eager strong hands held the emperor under the water. Casca stuck out with all the force he had in his body. He reached the swimmers as the last air bubbles rose to the surface from the emperor's water filled lungs. He grabbed one by the hair, caught him under the jaw with his other hand, and twisted. The neck snapped. Seeing him, the other swimmers pushed away from the timber, striking out for shore. Their job was done. There was no need to fight a madman in the ocean. Casca wanted to chase them but instead dove under the water and brought up the body of Antoku.

The small form was still. He had gone to his karma. Casca wished him well, for he had fought as bravely as he could and died better than many full grown men he had known over the long years. A thin cry for help turned his head around. Not all of the swimmers had gone. One clung to a line on the timber, the man with the nearly severed hand. He begged Casca to help him. Hoisting the body
of Antoku over the timber, he grabbed the other man's wrist in a tight grip in order to stop the bleeding.

"Tell me who ordered this and I will let you live. I'll take you back to shore and turn you loose."

The man spoke, his eyes wide with fear. His face was squarer and broader than most
Nihonjin
and his accent told him what the man was. He was
ito
, a Korean, probably some noble's slave. They were the ones who handled the dead and the butchering of animals. It would have had to have been one like them to have dared to kill the emperor, but who had given the order?

Frantic, the Korean gulped seawater.
He retched and spat it out with Casca's answer in the same breath. "Yoritomo!"

C
asca let his wrist go. The bright flow of arterial blood began again. The man cried out in shrill terror. "You promised you would help me!"

Casca ignored him. He had other things on his mind at the moment. Pushing the Korean off the timber, he placed himself behind it and began to paddle for shore. The Korean's last cries for help were unheard as he moved the timber with the body of Antoku lying across it to the shore.

When he broke through the surf on the beach carrying the body of Antoku, he was immediately surrounded by samurai wearing the colors of Minamoto. He was under arrest. Two of them gently took the body of the boy emperor from him. Wrapping it in costly silks, they carried it away. He saw that the

Koreans who had
swam out to kill Antoku were already being lined up, kneeling on the ground, their heads extended to await the heavy slice of the
kibukiri
head cutting swords.

Over his guards' shoulders he saw Muramasa. No one could get to him. He was surrounded by hard faced men
With the smell of recent death on them, and they wanted to use their swords again. He shook his head, indicating to Muramasa not to interfere. His hands were bound behind him and he was dragged up the beach and thrown down face first in front of Yeshitsune who sat on a soft cushioned chair of carved teakwood.

There was something about Yeshitsune's eyes as he looked down at Casca.
"You offend me by your presence,
gaijin
. You offend me by my having to make you samurai so Muramasa-san could kill Tomomori. And now you offend me by having dared to touch the body of the Son of Heaven. Whether you were involved with these beasts," he indicated the Koreans, who were by this time totally detached from the proceedings as were their heads, "or not is of little import. Because you offend me with your ugly , looks, your pale scarred body, and your bad manners, and because you offend me for touching our emperor, and because there is a remote possibility that you may have been connected with his treacherous death, I am going to punish you."

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Wreckage was beginning to pile up on the dark beach. Not all of the ships were in bad condition. Many could be salvaged. They had been driven on shore by their masters when they sought to escape the slaughter on the waves. It availed
them naught. This had been planned for. This was the day when the stain of the Taira and all their ilk were finally put to an end and the death of Yeshitsune's and Yoritomo's father, Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, was avenged. He would send word of the victory by carrier pigeon at once to Yoritomo in Kamakura.

Also the death of Antoku Tenno would be reported. He had drowned at sea along with his mother and retainers.
Very sad but very necessary. He was of Taira blood. And what did it matter whether one was eight years old or eighty? Time meant nothing, only honor. And at any age, man, woman and child were bound to honor before anything else.

Yeshitsune
-sama of the Minamoto was pleased at the heads which were piled at his feet. With this he had achieved everything. His family was supreme.

The Battle of Dan
-no-ura would forever be remembered with reverence among his descendants as the day of greatest glory to their name. Through him, he had guaranteed they would rule. Yoritomo Minamoto would establish the shogunate. He would be the first of his line to be shogun, military overlord of
Jipongu
. That was sufficient. He had served his brother and master well.

There was now nothing to be done except to take care of one small matter.
The
gaijin
who had behaved with such bad manners. It was time for his judgment, and there could only be one. He would die. There was no other punishment for him, which, of course, made things so much simpler. The sword. It was all. It was everything. The beginning and the end. For at birth did not a blade sever the ties that bound one to the dark of the womb and permit him to enter the light of the sun? Without the sword there was no honor, hence no life. And with the sword came the great peace of the endless dark during which time the soul would search for rebirth. Did
gaijin's
have souls? An interesting question but of no great import. Only the
gaijin
would find the answer to that riddle.

The heavy odor of blood washed over him. Breathing deeply, he sucked the texture of it deep into his lungs, for it was the scent of absolute power. There could never be a richer more luxurious aroma in
all the world in all of time. This night he would try to find the time to write a poem to honor the occasion.

Rising gracefully from his
tatami
, he strode purposefully toward the beach, his right hand where it always was, at the hilt of his
katana
. For it to be elsewhere would be unnatural. His bodyguards surrounded him, their faces still flushed from the heat of battle. In their hands were bared blades that had only recently been wiped clean of unpure blood. Clean steel sparkled bright in the light of the day.

All fell to their faces before Yeshitsune. Only the dead of the Taira were not moved to obeisance, and this he forgave for they were no longer of import or
value save in the message of their severed heads.

Muramasa watched the approach of Yeshitsune with care. He felt the power of the man in his confident stride, the feet splayed wide for better balance. The flowing of his robes all about him said
this was power, final and absolute. As for the man bound at his feet, he knew there was no future for Casca-san. This was not a day in which forgiveness would be shown for even a minor offense, much less for what the barbarian had done. There was nothing for it but to bow to one's karma.

The touch of Yeshitsune's eye on him was like ice. He knew he had been singled out. At the proper distance he knelt, lowering his head to the earth before the master of the land of the gods. He waited. This day one never knew what would come next, the command to slit one's belly or a reward.

"Muramasa-san. Rise. I have seen your work this day."

As Muramasa rose he felt a slight pressure on his shoulders. Yesitsune had taken, off his own blood stained cloak and laid it upon his shoulders. About him he could hear the hissing of awe and wonder at the honor being given him. He was most favored.

Carefully he raised his eyes to the stern tightlipped face of the master. "Ah, Yeshitsune-sama. It is too much, this honor. I have done nothing to warrant such honor." He bowed lower, hissing between his teeth.

"Muramasa
-san. I have seen few in my life with such sword work as you have shown this day. I knew that the
shini-mono-gurui
, the hour of the death fury, was upon you. I saw your blade drink many times. Is it true that the
katana
which you so aptly named
Well Drinker
was made by yourself?"

Again the gasps of awe at the recognition their master was showing this
ronin
.

"Yes, Lord. It is so."

"May I see the blade,
Muramasa-san
."

In spite of himself he felt the pride well up in his breast. And his face flushed as he fought to control his emotions. To show such would demean the moment.

Dropping to both knees in the formal kneeling position, he withdrew
Well Drinker
, leaving it in its scabbard, with head bowed, arms extended. he offered it to Yeshitsune.

Taking the
katana
in its engraved sharkskin scabbard, he pulled the blade out a few inches and sucked at his teeth in appreciation of the workmanship. "May I take
Well Drinker
out of its shelter, Muramasa-san?"

"I would be honored, Lord." Muramasa bowed deeper. Carefully, with extreme grace, Yeshitsune bared the blade. With the eye of a master, he examined the detail of the work, the delicate watering of the patterns of the blade. The sword was alive in his hand. It was indeed one that would have to drink from the well of life and drink often. It moved with a life of its own, a life that transmitted itself up his arm with a shiver. It lived and was more than anything he'd ever experienced. He would almost trade this day to possess such an article of beauty and life.

Catching a look at the face of the master as he dared to raise his eyes a fraction, Muramasa saw the expression on the daimyo's face as he held
Well Drinker
in his hand. He knew what was happening, for had it not been the same for him? The blade was claiming another. In life as in death, the
Well Drinker
could not be denied.

Hardly daring to speak, he hissed between his teeth, "Lord.
If I may speak?"

Absently, Yeshitsune nodded his head.
"Of course."

"There are few times in one's life during which a thing or a life is absolutely made for another. I feel that
Well Drinker
no longer calls to me, that he has found a new master. Am I not correct in this matter, Lord?"

Raising the blade over his head to catch the light, he moved it in one swift graceful arc. He made the
jumonji
, the crosswise cut.

The Korean slave blinked, opened his mouth to cry out, but nothing came forth as the upper half of his body separated from the left shoulder to the right hip. It slid slowly apart.
Well Drinker
had gone to the fountain again.

The escape of held breath was heard all around. Heads bobbed in admiration at the cleanness of the stroke, the gentleness of the cut that slid through the man's bones and flesh as if through the belly of a fat woman.
Well Drinker
most assuredly was a work of art.

Yeshitsune removed a scarlet silk scarf from his sleeve and cleansed the blade with care before returning it to its scabbard. Never had the feel of a cut been so sensuous, so... so right. This blade was made for him. Never would it leave his side.

"Muramasa-san.
Domo, genki desu
. I accept your gift. Knowing that I have nothing to offer you that could be its equal, I am therefore eternally in your debt. I would like, however, to let all present know that from this day forth I shall request of my brother that you shall be
Hogen
."

Muramasa felt his legs tremble. He feared he would lose consciousness. He had been given the highest of the three honors that could be conferred upon an artist.

Yeshitsune felt expansive. Yet not to reward such a gift greatly was to demean the gift.
Well Drinker
would not be shamed. He continued, "In addition I make you
To-zama
." It was the third rank of nobility. He was now samurai.

"We shall discuss your fife and the amount of
koku
you will need later. Now is there any other wish that I may grant you this day?"

Yeshitsune's hand helped him to his feet. Muramasa kept his eyes lowered to avoid Yeshitsune's being able to read anything in them.

"Yes, Lord. Now that you have honored me with glory and gifts of which I am not deserving, I must as always serve you the best I can. Let me judge the barbarian's punishment, for he has by his actions betrayed me as well."

"You wish to take his head Muramasa
-san?"

"
Aiie
, no, Lord. He is a foreign animal. I would not wish to stain the sword of a samurai with his unclean blood. It was I who found him on the beach washed up by a storm. The sea brought him to this land. Let it take him back. Let us tie him to a timber and set him upon the tide. There the sun, salt, and beasts of the dark waters may claim him. His death might take days, for he is very strong. And he will have plenty of time to reflect upon his lack of manners. Let the seas and the birds have him. He is not worthy of a quick death."

Yeshitsune almost smiled. That was good. This new samurai sword maker of his had imagination
, and it was poetic in its way. It was fitting that the barbarian should be sent away in the manner he had been brought to them. That he could survive such a punishment was so remote a possibility as to be impossible to calculate. However, if by some miracle he did live, then that, too, was his karma to do. "As you say, Muramasa-san. It is fitting. The beast is yours. Take him."

Muramasa bowed, torn by his feelings. Casca
-san had been a good companion to him. He had fought well and never failed him until now. Or had he? What he had done was most strange. Not that he believed for an instant that Casca had planned on killing or was even involved with the killing of Antoku. No! He had gotten in the way of Yeshitsune who had never liked him and who was using this as an excuse to get rid of him.

He, too, had witnessed the rapid executions of the Koreans before they had a chance to talk to anyone. He did not like what had to be done but he was certain of two things. Casca
-san did not belong in these islands. The other was that he had the feeling Casca san would survive. The scar faced, gray eyed man would not die, though his suffering would be terrible.

The guards kept Casca's hands bound as they led him back to the beach where Muramasa supervised the tying of his body to a broken beam, the same one he had brought Antoku to shore with.

During all this, Casca said nothing, only watched the eyes of his sword mate.

The beam would be taken in tow by one of Yoritomo's ships and hauled out to the open seas beyond the straits where it would be cast loose upon the waves. Casca was aware of this and still he said nothing.

Muramasa pushed the mast out beyond the surf by himself as he entered the water to where his chest was reached by the foam. His hands made rapid moves beneath the waves. The ropes binding Casca were nearly severed by a stroke of his knife. With Casca's great strength he would have no trouble in setting himself free.

As the towing ship took up the slack and hauled the beam out, Muramasa said in a voice that none but Casca could hear, "Go away from us and do not come back. There are enough curses in this land. Today I am free of two. Go away, my friend."

The waves lapped over him as the distance grew between him and Muramasa. The last thing Casca heard as he drifted over the rush of the waves was:

"Take this with you, Casca
-san, wherever you go. You are now and will always be SAMURAI!"

 

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