The samurai only stared at the dead body on the floor in silence. He looked at the face he knew for his entire life with his mind blank.
He knew he should be crying, on the verge of tears. But on the inside, there was nothing. He was empty.
“Honey,” his wife spoke in a low voice. “You can’t stay here forever.”
Ichirou made no sign he had heard. All he did was sit, look and breath.
Instead of insisting, the woman realized nothing she said would make any difference. The only thing she could do was stay by his side. Because, before anything, her husband had to accept the reality first.
Because now, Ichirou had to live in a world without his brother, father, and mother. All the people he grew up with were in a place where he could not reach.
The samurai touched his brother’s cold hand, not sure what to think or what to feel. But then, there was something in his mind. His brother was no longer in this world. He has gone to where father and mother are, Ichirou thought. And then, for the first time since he heard the news, he cried.
“It should have been me,” he said in a low hoarse voice. “I… I should be the one serving our Lord… not him…”
“Don’t blame yourself, Ichirou,” his wife and mother of his son said in a comforting voice. “This is not your fault.”
“But… If I just had been firmer that day… when father…” The memory of the day of his father’s death was too much for him. Ichirou let out more tears, not bothering about honor or behavior. “Jirou was so strong. He should’ve been free to serve whom he wanted. He should’ve followed his dream of traveling the country and meeting strong opponents. Just like Yasuhiro-sama… But he went to serve the Lord in my place. The life we have now is thanks to him… and I never said that…”
“He knew,” the woman said in a low voice, holding back her own tears. She knew very well the sacrifices her husband’s brother had done for them. She had always been thankful for that. “He knew…”
Those words made Ichirou cry louder.
“I always had some resentment about this. I knew he was stronger. Always knew. But when he said he’d be serving in father’s place, I… I thought I couldn’t live with the shame. How could the younger brother server instead of the eldest? But as I saw how much serving such low Lord was killing him on the inside… I knew he did all that for me… So we could have a happy life…”
There was nothing comforting his wife could say. She gave up words and got closer to him, wrapping her arms around his.
“Thanks to me, Jirou will now have his name tainted forever. He will always be known as the samurai who served a traitor…”
His own words only made the man cry even more. And now the woman couldn’t hold her tears anymore.
They lost track of time as they mourned the dead samurai.
After a long time, Ichirou allowed the people to prepare his brother.
“Where’s his sword?” he asked the man who had brought the news and his brother’s body. His voice was barely a croak, but even so, it was loud enough to scare the man. “Where’s Asahi?”
The man trembled and gulped. “According to the reports, your brother’s sword was… taken by the swordsman who defeated him,” the small man said, closing his eyes, afraid of the samurai’s reaction.
But the samurai didn’t react right away. The words took time to sink into his mind. “A swordsman?” he repeated in a slow voice, having trouble to grasp the idea. “An unknown swordsman managed to kill my brother…?”
“Yes, and that swordsman…” the man read the report again, gulping even louder. He held his breath for a moment before speaking again. “The reports say that your brother said his name was Tadayoshi… and the swordsman didn’t deny the name…”
Ichirou widened his eyes. “Tadayoshi…? Are you sure…?”
“Yes… He had… the scars on his stomach…”
“Tadayoshi…” Ichirou felt his mind working again. At the same time, he felt his emotions coming to the surface. “You’re telling me that the man without loyalty, the man that killed his own master, that kill Yasuhiro-sama, killed… my brother… and took his sword?”
The man who brought the news lost his voice and could only nod.
Ichirou felt the rage boiling inside him.
“A man who betrayed one of the greatest men in this country has my brother’s, has Asahi now?” he howled.
The man before him trembled and cowered in fear of the samurai’s fury. The people near them froze. Everyone in the region knew the samurai was a kind-hearted man. But when they heard or saw him in fury, there was no one who would stand in his way. No one dared to stop a man so huge.
There was only one person who could calm him.
As Ichirou had trouble breathing due to his rage, his wife put a hand on his arm—he was too tall for her to reach his shoulder. That eased the man’s fury a little.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said in a dignified voice. She turned him to face her husband in the eyes. “Will getting your family’s sword back bring any peace to your soul?”
The samurai nodded. He was too enraged for words. With a blank expression, she tugged his sleeve so he would lean forward.
“Then, please, make sure you don’t die,” she whispered only to him.
In that moment, Ichirou finally realized. She wasn’t just some low noble’s daughter. She was a daughter, a wife, and a mother of a samurai. She too carried the weight he carried. She too mourned Jirou. Not because of he was her brother-in-law. Not because of him. But because she too had the soul of a samurai.
As he stared into her eyes, he saw. Her eyes showed her decision, but behind them, there was worry. She doesn’t think I can kill Tadayoshi, Ichirou thought, feeling a cold stab in his heart. And she’s right. I cannot compare to my brother. How could I fight against the traitor that killed him?
“There’s only one way you can fulfill your wish.”
Without any more words, she led the way towards the dojo in their state.
On the corner where the sun didn’t touch, there was a wooden closet. Inside, there was an armor. An armor that only he, only a man of his size, of his strength, could use. The only way he could fight Tadayoshi.
After his wife opened the closet, she stepped away. The samurai ran a hand over the armor. Despite not being used for a long time, there wasn’t a single dust nor a single rust on it.
I need to train to use it again. I need to train and become just as strong as my brother. No… To kill Tadayoshi, I need to be stronger than Jirou!
The samurai knew it was impossible. He had been chasing his younger brother his entire life.
Even so, with the help of his wife, he donned the armor for the first time in years, feeling all the weight of his brother’s honor on his shoulders, on his soul.