Tadayoshi could hear. He heard leaves blowing in the wind, the waters of a small stream, birds flying. But the sound reaching his ears weren’t from the forest. He knew what it was right away. Had heard his entire life. The low sound of metal clanking. The sound of a sword.
The sun shone brightly and the rays passing through the treetops created a beautiful scene. But the man wasn’t paying much attention. He walked leisurely on a small path in the forest, but two shadows followed him, hidden between the trees. Or at least they believed, since Tadayoshi noticed them immediately.
He wasn't worried enough to stop though. He wanted to meet someone. It didn't matter whom they were, or their intentions. It had been a long time since he talked to someone, unless if he counted those after his head. If it were they, they’d have already attacked by now, thought Tadayoshi.
“Stop!” one of the shadow screamed and two men jumped from their pathetic hideout, blocking Tadayoshi’s path.
The smaller one had two front teeth missing. The other had a scar on his cheek and the raised tip of his nose made him look like a very ugly pig. The swords on their hands were too shabby to pose any threat; small scratches on the surface, chipped along the edge and rust had begun its work.
Their appearance and the pathetic weapons would make Tadayoshi laugh, but the twisted and somewhat desperate expressions made him uneasy. A cornered man is a dangerous enemy his master had taught him.
“Give everything you have!”
The man almost laughed, all the apprehension leaving him. It was the last thing he expected. Do I look like someone who has anything of value? Me? His clothes were proof of that; a very baggy one-piece kimono made for a man three times his size. It was so torn and patched up with pieces whose colors didn’t match, with pink, green and flowers stamps, you couldn’t tell the original color.
Even so, they’re trying to rob me. Now Tadayoshi could barely keep himself from laughing. He raised his right arm and stared clothes intently, as if making a deep and serious self-evaluation of his state.
“Thank you very much. You two made my day,” he said, making an exaggerated curtsy to hide his smile. “Wherever I go people treat me as last class citizen. But you guys consider me important enough to have something of value. Thank you!”
The bandits exchange looks. From the dirty and dust, it seemed they have being hiding between trees ever since the sun was up, waiting for someone and rob their money and valuables. But the path through the forest wasn’t much used, and since war started approaching the region, travelers rarely chose this path.
“What’s that?” The smaller one pointed his sword to the man’s left hand.
Tadayoshi’s hand was on the shoulder, as if massaging the neck. Looking closer, you could see a sash, and tied to the other end, a discrete package on his back. Like his clothes, the cloth wrapping was in the same shabby state, and most wouldn’t notice. Not these desperate bandits though.
“This?” The man slowly held the long and thin object before them. With one hand, he pulled a bit of the almost torn cloth and revealed the handle of a katana. “Just a memento of my old life,” he said, his smile disappearing at the same time.
“A samurai! Brother, let’s go!” The fear in his voice and the tremor in his body made the man chuckle. He was even trembling a little bit.
I can’t blame them, Tadayoshi knew the reason. The only samurai around probably either worked for the local lords or were ronin, the samurai without a lord. Either case, the bandits weren’t stupid enough to mess with those who had mastered the sword.
“No, no, no,” the man replied, shaking his head, the smile back on his lips. “I’m a lot of things, but samurai isn’t one of them.”
Tadayoshi wanted to calm them and maybe keep the conversation going. But seeing the bandits exchange looks, he knew he had failed. Do I look too calm for someone being robbed? He wondered.
Suddenly a smile almost as ugly as he appeared across the older one’s lips. Tadayoshi’s words didn’t contain any lies, and the well-accustomed ears of the bandits picked up on that. The man could almost see his mind working. He knew nothing about swords; the one he and his brother used were garbage. However, everyone knew a real katana was worth more money many would ever have.
The greed of such wealth spoke louder than their good sense. Someone travelling alone in these days was an idiot. Unless the person knew how to protect himself. Carry a weapon was their number one rule. But this man, not only appeared weak, with his idiotic face, said he wasn’t a samurai, which the bandit judge to be true. The fear of a ronin disappeared immediately. Scar looked at his brother again and nodded his head. The younger one gulped and agreed.
I’m guessing we’re done talking, Tadayoshi thought, sighing.
“Then you can give us that sword.” The bandits circled the man, each one going in different directions, brandishing the piece of metal few would call a sword. When they were on opposite sides of the man, they pointed their weapons towards Tadayoshi and ran at the same time.
All this time, from the time the bandits jumped from their hideout, to the moment they were at his side, the man hadn’t moved. Even when they ran, Tadayoshi was a stone. But when the swords were about to reach him, he gave a quick step backward.
The bandits almost cut themselves trying to avoid each other, but couldn’t stop the collision. Tangled and without balance, they could do nothing while the man, laughing, pushed them with his foot. Still together, they fell without putting up any resistance.
Tadayoshi waited until they to get out of the entanglement of arms and legs, anger in their faces. When they finally got out and stood up, the smaller one ran towards the man with his weapon above the head, summoning all his strength to attack his victim.
The sword made such a big and slow arch the man only had to tap the side of the bandit’s piece of metal with his still sheathed katana, easily changing the trajectory of the attack. The blade dug on the ground and Tadayoshi kicked it lightly, breaking it into several small pieces.
“The sword really did seem third rate, but to break with a little kick…” he was genuinely surprised.
He crouched and picked up the biggest piece, analyzing it while the bandit backed away in fear without standing up. His brother grabbed him by collar, forced him up and handed his sword. But Scar wasn’t unarmed for long. He pulled a knife from inside his kimono.
Tadayoshi dropped the piece of metal and stood up, the smile gone completely. became more alert and stood up, dropping the piece of metal on the ground. With the smaller blade, the bandit seemed more dangerous. The weapon he’s used to, he realized, the instinct to draw his own sword growing.
Again the bandits went to his opposite sides, preparing another attack. But there was something different this time. Both didn’t run at together. The bandit with the knife didn’t move and his brother did everything to get Tadayoshi’s attention. Scar’s waiting me to focus on the other.
The younger charged and stretched his arms, attacking with the same thrust as before. The momentum was too big and all the man had to do was hit the sword with his sheathed katana. The bandit lost his balance and fell again. But now Tadayoshi had no time to laugh. The moment his attention shifted to his brother, Scan rushed, much more confident with that blade than with the sword. He used the knife with a terrifying precision, each stab powerful and aimed at a vital point.
How many people this man robbed or killed with these abilities for a few coins? The man thought, dodging each attack. Knowing it could get dangerous when the younger got up, he had to think something. Tadayoshi watched the stabs, analyzing the patterns and looking for the quickest chance to end this.
The bandit attacked again, this time aiming for left side near the abdomen, where Tadayoshi’s scar was. His instinct acted for him before he realized. The man advanced, avoided the stab and grabbed the bandit’s hand, twisting it hard, almost turning the hand backwards. With another quick move, the man put the bandit’s arm at his back, Scar’s face twisting in rage, his screams echoing through the forest. The bandit dropped the knife, but Tadayoshi didn’t let him go.
The younger one finally stood up and charged in blind rage. The man spun and put his brother between them, turning the bandit into a shield. Tooth couldn’t stop the attack, but managed, if barely, to change the arch. The blade almost took the brother’s ear and struck the ground hard. This time without the need of a kick, the sword shattered. The man finally released the hand and the bandit fell on his brother, rubbing his wrist.
Finally Tadayoshi let the bandit go and he fell on top of his brother, rubbing his fist. It’s over, the man thought, but when he released Scar, his baggy kimono fell, revealing his scar for a heartbeat. He quickly pulled his clothes, trying to conceal it.
Shit! Did they see it? I finally managed to mislead the idiots after my head, pretending to go north. If theses idiots saw it, I won’t have a moment of peace. Tadayoshi had troubled to hold his instinct, his right hand trembling a bit, looking for the handle of his sword. He needed all his self-control not to kill them right away.
The bandits exchanged looks, stood up and ran. I must kill them. He was ready to draw his sword. “Liar! You’re a samurai!” They screamed, their voices already fading. Their faces were full of terror when they turned their head to check if he was following them.
They didn’t find out…? When Tadayoshi realized that, he almost laughed in relief, all the tension leaving his body.
“I said I’m not…” He to the bandits’ back, but their silhouettes already were two indistinct shadows. The man picked the knife and waited, giving them some distance and finally went on the same path.
It wasn’t long before he felt hungry. I shouldn’t have played with them, Tadayoshi thought, his eyes scanned the trees looking for fruits. He saw none and couldn’t postpone any longer. Since morning, he hadn’t eaten anything.
Getting out of the road and walking between the trees, Tadayoshi looked carefully at the branches until he found what he wanted; a tall tree with delicious-looking peaches. The knife in his hand flew, hitting a fruit. When it fell, he saw juice flowing from where the knife hit. It’s very ripe. He threw the knife again and again, until he had so many peaches he couldn’t hold in one arm.
Looking around, he found a comfortable-looking patch of soft earth covered with leaves. Tadayoshi sat, chose the biggest peach and gave a generous bite. It was delicious. Juice was still falling from his mouth when ate the second. One by one, he ate all the peaches until he was satisfied for the first time in weeks.
Tadayoshi was ready to stand up and go back to the path, but his eyes became heavy and his conscious started going away slowly. No… I can’t sleep now, he thought, shaking his head. He took a deep breath and forced his mind to work. From the last map he saw from this province, there were two castles and a couple of fortress in the region, which he avoided with all his strength. There were a few village around here as well, but he didn’t know if they were close or not. It’s better to rest now… there could be more bandits on the road.
He gathered enough leaves to fill the small space between the tree’s roots. The man rested his head on the fluffy pile and watched the tiny piece of sky he could see. With his mind fading away, he placed a hand on his belly and the sword at his side, holding the handle with the other hand. This is nice… He never expected to find something like this in the middle of the forest, especially with his recent luck.
Two days ago, a downpour caught him. The weather was clear but in just one instant, it seemed the fury of the gods was falling on the world, on him. He sought shelter under a tree, trying to get a little bit less wet. In the end, it made no difference and he was walking naked for half a day.
When his clothes finally were dry, he went look for food and got stuck in a bush, which did the favor of ripping his kimono a little more. Luckily it didn’t rip his clothes completely, so he needn’t to walk around the way he was born until the next village.
And today’s pathetic robbery attempt. At least he was still laughing with that, unlike the other ones. But there was something a little nostalgic. It felt a lifetime ago now, but his life changed when a few idiots try to rob the sword he had.
Thank the Gods those bandits didn’t find who I am. I went to a lot of trouble to fool everyone. I don’t want to look over my shoulder even when nature calls.
A few weeks ago, a shinobi attacked while Tadayoshi was defecating. There wasn’t even time to finished what he had already started. Fighting with his manhood expose wasn’t an experience he would like to repeat. The shinobi was aiming his weakest point all the time and almost got close with his kunai.
Even with his mind almost drifting away, even while enjoying the unexpected resting place, Tadayoshi was aware of his surroundings. He heard when someone step on a leave. It could be just an animal, it could be nothing, but the man was alert at once. He remained with his eyes closed and his face relaxed, but sharpened his senses to the maximum.
A man…? No… the presence is too small. A child… trying to sneak up. There’s no killing intent or similar though… Let’s see what he wants.
“Don’t you know it’s dangerous approach strangers?” Still with his eyes closed, Tadayoshi spoke just above a whisper when the child was close enough.
He was expecting to scare the child at least. He appeared to be sleeping, and talking so suddenly would caught anyone off guard. But the child didn’t change at all. There was nothing, no so much as a reaction. That surprised him. And made him suspicious. There’s something odd.
“You’re a thief.” It wasn’t a question and the voice had no emotion