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A Time Traveller's Guide To Feudal Japan Chapter 33 - A Harsh Lesson

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"Who taught you?"

Came the blunt question, as the old man paused and turned to look Gengyo in the eye.

Given the situation, the young man had been prepared for something odd to be said.

"I've been asked this before. There is no one - in this life - that has taught me."

The old man squinted slightly, put off by the unusual phrasing of his reply. But after a short examination, he could only sigh, and continue walking.

"You are an odd individual, Miurkun. It seems young Nakatane sensed that too."

"I see…"

"Your strategical mind is most developed for someone of your age. It was I who taught the master what he knows of strategy, and he has an apt.i.tude for it. Alas, his problem is that he cannot formulate plans under stress."

"You've served Niwsan for a long time, then?"

Jikouji responded without inhibition toward the casual question, seemingly relaxed in the young man's company.

"I have served the Niwa's for 50 years, after pledging my life to Nakatane's father."

Gengyo whistled through his teeth, impressed by such a number - it was even longer than he had been alive.

"Ah, this way."

The old man corrected him, as he was about to turn right down the new corridor, but instead they were to continue on.

After a short time longer, they arrived at a small set of sliding doors - deceptively so - for once they opened it, a sizeable dojo - with beautifully polished wooden floorboards - came into view.

Without a word, the old man slipped out of his tabi, and slowly put them to one side. He moved purposefully, but slowly, as though he was taking part in an age-old tradition.

The young man beside him deemed it appropriate to do the same, and attempted to copy the tranquillity with which the old man moved.

They stepped inside. Jikouji moved to the corner of the room, where a row of bokkon were held neatly in a stand.

He withdrew two, before handing one to Gengyo, who was hovering a short distance away.

As soon as the younger man's fingers wrapped themselves around the smooth wood, a strike was sent toward his head. This was no warning, and it travelled with a terrifying swiftness.

Thoroughly caught off guard by such a strike, he barely managed to stumble backwards out of its path, but as a result he landed hard upon his bottom.

"What the h.e.l.l old man?! Wasn't that a bit dangerous?"

The sudden strike had fl.u.s.tered him, and he forgot to show Jikouji the proper amount of respect.

"The way of the warrior waits for no man."

Came the curt response, as he resumed his stance, allowing Gengyo to his feet.

"Way of the warrior? I never claimed to be a warrior…"

The young man protested.

But the grace period had already ended, and before he could resume an upright position, a perfectly straight downward strike was sent in an attempt to spill the juices of his head.

A little more prepared for such an attack this time, he blocked the strike with a single arm on his bokken. But one arm was not enough to negate the force completely, and the wood still rebounded off his head at a decent speed.

"We are not what we claim to be, rather we are the picture formed by our actions."

Gengyo rubbed his head furiously, trying to ease the pain quickly so that he could focus. He did not know the intent of the old man, but he sure as h.e.l.l would not suffer a beating freely.

"I'm not certain I agree with that philosophy of yours, old man. The emperor is born the emperor, is he not? His actions held no part in his birth."

He offered a strike of his own to punctuate his point, lunging deeply, using the full extent of his reach.

Jikouji turned side-on, allowing such a strike to easily slip past him, and in the meantime, he slashed toward one of the outstretched arms that had yet to retract, solidly hitting the meat of Gengyo's forearm.

"Arghh!"

The young man grunted in pain, dropping his sword almost immediately.

His opponent showed no hint of guilt, and instead chose to refute the earlier statement.

"An emperor that does not act like an emperor will soon be a dead emperor."

Gengyo grimaced, deciding to concede the point as he reached down for his sword.

"Fine, let's say that philosophy is viable. But how does that serve as an excuse for striking me before I was ready?"

His sword was quickly struck from the loose grip in which he was holding it, and it fell to the floor with a clatter.

"A warrior must train, and be willing to suffer."

The younger man tutted, feeling as though he was holding a different conversation to the old man in front of him.

"As I said, I'm not a warrior, nor would I like to be."

This time Jikouji did not wait for him to pick up his sword, and instead struck toward him, despite him being unarmed.

Panicking upon seeing the solid wood that was being sent toward his ribs, Gengyo darted backwards, putting even further distance between him and his sword.

His opponent was not so forgiving however, as he chased after him, speaking as he did so.

"You think you can kill and remain unchanged? That is the height of ignorance - you must honour the dead."

Gengyo gritted his teeth, finally realizing the meaning behind this. Still, he had no sword in his hand to fight back with, and he was being driven even further across the room by the old man's furious onslaught.

"How is that honouring the dead?"

He tried to step around the old man - now that he had reached the wall of the room - so that he could retrieve his sword.

His attempt was cut short by the shaft of Jikouji's weapon. The wind was forced out of his lungs, and he collapsed to the floor like a trampled balloon.

"You are letting them know that they died at the hands of a warrior, and therefore with honour."

He struggled to get up, though was only able to crawl on his hands and knees as he struggled for breath.

"They… don't… deserve… respect…"

He managed to force out in a voice that was all but a whisper.

A merciless strike to his back forced him back to the floor.

"False. It is our duty to show them that honour."

This time he did not move until he had recovered fully. And then, he scrambled to his feet in haste, sprinting past Jikouji, and throwing himself toward his weapon.

The old man watched all this without a hint of a reaction, almost making Gengyo feel foolish.

"Why?"

He closed the distance and struck from overhead, aiming for the top of the old man's skull. His strike was sent sideways by a casual tap of the old man's sword, and a turned foot found its way into his gut, before a second strike spun round and clattered again his temple, sending the young man collapsed on his back to the floor.

"The G.o.ds chose to protect you and your family. You must show them that they saved an honourable man. If the wind had been but a bit stronger, your arrow might have missed."

Gengyo lay on his back, his grasp still on his sword. His head bounced with a dizziness, and a trickle of blood ran down his nose.

"You must come to terms with the fact that you have taken lives. And no matter who they are, in your heart you should grant them honour."

Still feeling dizzy, he unsteadily moved to his feet, using his free hand to wipe the blood that was trickling down from his nose and onto his upper lip.

"What… happens then?"

He did not attack this time, and merely stood in his stance stoically as he gave his reply.

"Then, you will have understood the foundation of bus.h.i.+do, and what it means to be a samurai."

He charged in, yet this time Gengyo was ready for him, and blocked the sideward strike. Unfortunately, he was totally unprepared for the elbow that found its way to his stomach as the old man closed the gap before knocking the sword from his grasp, and kicking him to the floor.

"I am not a servant. I am a samurai that serves under the Niwa. By birth and by heart that is my rank."

He crawled toward his bokken that was a few metres away, and carefully got to his feet, wary of any cheap strikes.

"Then, what do you mean by telling me all this?"

"The master has placed trust in you. You must carry yourself with the heart of a samurai, least you let him down."

"The master has been good to be me. But what is it you say that I must do? Walk the path of a warrior? How?"

The old samurai lunged forward, slas.h.i.+ng toward Gengyo's neck. He countered it lightly, swinging his sword in preparation to block the next strike, leaving them at a stalemate, with their swords locked against each other.

"Investigate the matter of Bus.h.i.+do daily, and come to terms with your status as a warrior, and take responsibility for those whose deaths you have caused. A samurai must also dedicate part of his day in grasping the long and short sword."

"And in doing that, I will repay my debt to Niwsan?"

He pushed hard against the old man, ending their deadlock, and slas.h.i.+ng toward his side.

Such a strike was easily blocked by the old man however.

"No, but it is a start."

Similarly, Gengyo blocked his strike also.

"Then that is what I will do."

He began a series of attacks of his own, aiming high above the old man's head - but lightly - before hurrying into a strike toward his side that was easily blocked, and then, he mimicked Jikouji's move from earlier, and sent a spinning kick toward his stomach.

The old man twisted to the side, barely avoiding the kick, but Gengyo regained his balance faster, and quickly struck down on his sword, hard, sending it flying from his grasp.

It clattered loudly across the wooden floor, as the old samurai looked toward his empty hands with surprise, and then a flicker of a smile emerged as he looked toward the younger man.

"You learn quickly young man. If you master your mind, and heart, then it would be my honour to serve young Nakatane alongside you."

He bowed lightly toward Gengyo, indicating his respect.

The younger man reciprocated by bowing deeper, showing even greater respect.

"Will you teach me the sword, Jikouji-san? There is much that I have to learn."

He shook his head lightly.

"The sword is a spiritual pursuit, as well as a martial one. I can teach you strikes, but not the meaning behind them. It is up to you to find your own sword style. Though I will oversee your training from time to time, to make sure that you are not deviating from the path."

"That's good enough for me."

Came the response of a grinning Gengyo.

It was only then - now that the adrenaline had begun to wear off - that he started to feel the bruises, and winced slightly.

The old man noticed this and laughed.

"Haha, worry not. You'll be right as rain in a few days."

He then retrieved both their swords, and stored them away neatly on the rack, before exiting the room and gently closing the door behind them.

"You can come and train in here whenever you wish, though you might find more meaning in training elsewhere. I have matters to attend to now, I recommend that you go and see your family. They're in the third servant building from the gate."

Gengyo bowed again toward the departing Jikouji.

"Thank you very much."

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