Tetsuko stared the wooden ceiling when she heard a commotion outside the prison.
Voices… Someone’s coming, Tetsuko realized, concentrating. I recognize that voice…
It must be the man who kept crying whenever he visited me, Lia said into the woman’s mind.
Souichirou is still loud as ever, Tetsuko thought, smiling. Even though it hadn’t been long since she had left this world, it had been too long since she saw the face of the man she loved.
As the voices grew, Tetsuko gathered all her strength. She didn’t want to meet him while lying on the floor just waiting for her death.
“Tetsuko!” the man screamed the moment he entered the prison.
With a great and painful effort, the blacksmith managed to drag her body near the door and sat up. Then she leaned against the bars as she waited.
“Tetsuko,” Souichirou said her name again when he was closer.
There was a smile on his lips when he saw her, but there were tears in his eyes. He crouched and grabbed the bars with both hands.
“The guard said you were moving your arms… and laughing,” he said, his voice filled with hope and anxiety. “Can you speak? Do you… recognize me…?”
Testuko raised her head to look Souichirou in the eyes. There was a moment of silence and then the woman smiled weakly.
“You wouldn’t let me forget even if I wanted,” she said, chuckling.
But soon she stopped; even laughing hurt her.
“Don’t push yourself,” he said, concerned. Despite his words, even he was smiling after hearing that voice. “Your wounds might reopen if…”
He grew silent and his tiny smile was gone as fast as it had appeared.
“It won’t make a difference, will it?”
She looked him in the eyes, but he avoided meeting hers.
“Don’t make that face. I know I don’t have much time left in this world. I’d like to talk to you like in the old days.”
Souichirou bit his lips and closed his fist, holding back his tears. Then he forced himself to swallow his sadness before looking at the blacksmith.
“I captured the one who did this. The last one alive, I mean. I killed him with my own hands,” he said in a dark and cold voice.
Tetsuko showed a sad smile. Ignoring her pain, she reached out to touch his hands with the fingers she had left.
“I wished you didn’t. These hands are meant to write, to hold a book. Not a sword.” Tetsuko took a deep breath to keep talking. “You’re meant to create a better world, a better future, not bring more deaths.”
The man let out a hollow and short laugh.
“You never believe I had it in me.” Souichirou’s eyes blurred with memories of a distant past. “But even if you think don’t have what it takes, I’m a samurai.”
“You’re right. You’re a samurai. And a noble samurai shouldn’t be here with a maimed and useless blacksmith.”
The man widened his eyes and shook his head.
“You’re not just a maimed and useless blacksmith!” he shouted. “You’re the woman I—”
Before he finished speaking, Tetsuko brought her remaining finger to his lips. She was on the verge of tears, but managed to hold them in.
“You have no idea how happy I am with your feelings. But you shouldn’t be saying that. You have a wife. A noble wife who gave you two sons and two daughters and many more on the way. She gave you something I could never. A family. How would she feel if he heard you now?”
Souichirou couldn’t stop his tears this time.
“But I love you,” he whispered loud enough for only the woman to hear. “Ever since we were kids…”
“I know,” she said, holding the same words.
It will only hurt him to know.
Time passed and the only sound was of the man crying.
“If I knew this would be the end of my path, I might have taken your offer of being a concubine.”
“What?” He cleaned the tears to look into her eyes. “But you said—”
“That I had no interest in being your second wife,” she interrupted him. “But I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. About abandoning the forge, abandoning who I was just to be with you.”
“Then why you didn’t?” He pressed his head against the bars. “We could’ve been together… and you wouldn’t be dying…”
“Because I was born to make swords,” the blacksmith said, her voice full of pride and strong for the first time. “Besides, I didn’t want you to suffer from the decision. I always knew you had to marry that woman for the sake of your family. If you didn’t, how many people would’ve suffered?”
“That’s not for you to decide, idiot…”
Those words made her smile. He hasn’t changed since those days. When he was just a samurai’s kid amazed as I forged a sword. In another world, we could’ve been together. If not for this… Tetsuko put the handless arm on her belly.
“But there was something else you didn’t know. When my father died… when we were attacked on that battlefield, I was stabbed and… lost the path of motherhood…”
Souichirou widened his eyes. “Why you didn’t tell me?”
“What difference would’ve made? I’m a blacksmith. Always have been. Even if I couldn’t have sons and daughters, my swords were my children. I don’t regret the path I chose.”
It took a while for the man to stop crying.
“Now that you’re awake, you’re to be… to be…”
He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.
“Executed,” Tetsuko said in a strange empty voice.
From Lia’s memory, I could tell. Even if she didn’t understand the words, I could tell what was my destiny.
“You don’t need to cry anymore. I don’t have long either way.”
She smiled at the man, but he shook his head.
“You don’t get it… you’re are to be executed as a traitor for selling weapons to our enemies…”
Tetsuko grew quiet.
“I knew my name would go down in history tainted for making weapons that took many lives, but I never thought I’d die as a traitor…”
“I’ll try to do something about it. I promise,” Souichirou said in a determined voice.
“I’m happy, but no matter what you do, I’ll die. So instead of trying to change what cannot be changed, I’d like you to do something.”
“Take down the man who planned this,” she said, showing her maimed hand. “You know who I’m talking about. He sold my weapons and then gave weapons and manipulated those peasants into taking revenge on me.”
Despite his tears, the man nodded once. A determined nod.
One that made the woman show a smile proud of the man she loved.
“Good. Now I can die in peace,” she said closing her eyes. But then she opened them again. “Please, don’t kill him yourself. You’re not meant for that. You’re meant to command. To use your mind to create a better world.”
“Wouldn’t that be a world without swords?”
He let out a weak chuckled.
Tetsuko laughed despite the pain.
“Maybe. And if it is, I’m glad I won’t have to live in that world anyway.”
“And take care of my disciple. He’s a stupid boy, but he has talent.”
Even if there was nothing else to be said, Souichirou stayed by Tetsuko’s side for a long time.
There was only silence between them, but neither wanted to end.
Because the next time they see each other, it would be Tetsuko’s final moment in this world.
You broke his heart, Lia said after the man was forced to leave by his advisor.
Yes… but it’s for the best… Nothing good would come if he proclaimed his love for me…
You also broke yours.
Tetsuko cried and showed a sad smile.
I know… But I died… I don’t know why I’m back… But I’ll die again…
Better to leave this world without lingering feelings…
The next day, when the sun stood right above their heads, Tetsuko was brought to the castle main patio for execution.
“Tetsuko. You’re a traitor who sold weapons to my enemy,” the lord said in his commanding voice. The peasants who had gathered to watch cheered the lord and booed her. “Thanks to your actions, many of my people died. I hereby sentence you to death.”
The noise and the excitement from the crowd grew.
Tetsuko was on her knees and with her arms tied behind her back, feeling her entire body scream with pain.
But even so, she refused to let it appear on her face.
I won’t give them the satisfaction, she thought.
Even though Lia said nothing, she could feel the other woman’s approval.
The lord kept speaking, but Tetsuko only half listened.
Hurry up and get to that part. I don’t have much time…
“What are your last words?” the lord finally asked after all the formalities were finished.
“I’d like to say something,” she said, looking at the lord.
The noble samurai stayed quiet for a moment, then nodded once.
Tetsuko turned to face the faceless mass before her. Even though she didn’t recognize any of them, each and everyone felt some hatred for the woman.
I’m really hated, she thought, holding back a smile.
“I’m but a blacksmith. You hate me, but I haven’t harm none of you,” she said, her voice strong and loud so everyone there could hear her.
Tetsuko kept quiet for a moment, letting her words sink in.
The silence was almost unbearable for all.
“You hate me because I dedicated my life to the swords. You blame me, blame my swords, for killing your beloved ones. But you’re all stupid if you believe that even for a moment. A sword cannot kill by itself. It’s the man, the woman, the person who wields it, who kills.”
“Shut up!” someone from the crowd screamed, followed by a murmur of agreement.
“If you hadn’t made those swords!”
“You should regret at the end!”
“Apologize for all the lives you’ve taken!”
Tetsuko looked around. They’re all pathetic, she thought, smiling.
She felt her end was near and took a deep breath.
“A sword is a sword. It can kill, it can protect. I have made both swords. I do not regret my life. If you can’t live your miserable lives without blaming someone, blame the Gods for creating this world. Blame your destiny. Blame yourself for being weak,” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
She felt her wounds opening. Felt the blood filling her mouth. She spat and kept screaming.
“This is the country of the samurai. Of the sword! As long as the people never forget this, this will remain the country of swords! Not those guns, not arrow, not spears. Swords! As long as people remember, this country will live!”
The silence that followed was too satisfying for her.
The lord was taken aback, but he still managed to nod to the executioner.
I do not regret anything, she thought, closing her eyes as the blade above her head lowered.
Feeling in peace, Tetsuko left this world once again.