I found that there was so much wrong with the code. A life was forfeit the moment you were under their service, but there was a strange beauty in it. Kneeling that way, bowing in respect and leaving one open to attack. It would have been so easy to have the instructor kill us all then and there. By our code and nothing more we would die with honour. The beauty is that we offered our lives so willingly, to be taken or accepted by our superiors.
Of course, the time soon came for us to do training with real swords. Despite the current climate, invaders and open war, training samurai was never rushed. We practice with sticks, then bamboo, then practice swords, cheaper katanas and the greatest of us received katanas crafted by the finest swordsmith. It was an honour above all other to receive a place amongst the highest ranking samurai.
However, that was not my place. My mind was untame for the trials, but I did well enough to earn a place amongst the samurai. It was fulfilling in its own way. There was a strangeness in my heart, but my heart was still filled with gratitude to notice. I was being placed in patrol, protecting family members less important to the royal bloodline. It was a distinct honour to live in such fantastic palaces, but still, the room I lived in was plain, simple and bare.
It had a bed, a place to keep the armour, a place for clothing and a chest for payment. No more was necessary and no more was asked for. I was given a home and all I could need, but the only time I would see it was when my shift was over. I slept soundly, but as the days passed my mind became hardened to the idea of the approaching threat.
My master, an old woman, cruel in might, but soft in nurturing, was living in a palace that would soon be taken by the invaders. We were then placed in a convoy of horses and carriages that would take us back to the royal palaces closer to the centre of the city. I don’t remember much of the journey save for watching the grass blow and my eyes darting from tree to tree as we moved through the forests.
Nothing happened, until we neared the city. Before we could come into view of other guards we were attacked by bandits. Looters who grew desperate in times of war, forsook all honour and murdered in cold blood for the chance of fortune. It so happened they attacked the right convoy as my master had enough gold chests at her feet to supply the thieves with fast access to their own royalty.
The attack was surprising to the others, but not to me. I drew my sword and fought them. My katana cleaved them to pieces, but my attention was drawn too much by the bandits I didn’t notice the one with a knife climb into the carriage. I heard the old woman yell and then stop short. My fury was intense and I laid waste to the last of the vandals. She lay there, amongst her pillows and gold, throat slit and heart pierces. There was no purity in her eyes, there never was, but I still felt the sadness of losing someone so renown.
The worst punishment hovered in the air now. Two guards stared at the old woman and then at me. I knew what had to be done now that I failed. I could return to the palace in shame and let the others do it for me, or I could do it myself. Sheathing my sword I knelt and prayed my last before drawing my short sword. The guards watched knowing, but in them they found no peace in doing such a thing.
It could be understood their disdain for something like taking one's own life, but there was no evil in it. There was only redemption for one's mistakes. A moment to die with peace, acceptance of all that has been done.
As I took the sword in both hands one stepped forward and struck my hands with a swift kick. In that moment I gasped in pain as the sword was flung into the grass. I stared up at the guard and he shook his head.
“You fulfilled your duty, but you are not a god,” he explained. “There is still children of the emperor in need of your help. Your honour is to protect the bloodline now, not an old woman undeserving of protection.”
I drew my katana instinctively and the guard struck me again. I could not allow such disrespect. It was not out way. The guard gave me no chance to fight back, the other watching the beating take place. Eventually, my hands and legs were in agony, torso bruised with multiple strikes. I could not stop the guard from unfastening the katana and slinging it over his back
“There is a child, a last hope and newly born son of the emperor,” the guard explained. “Few know of her existence, samurai and as such few protect her. If this war reaches a dark end it will be only right that the girl becomes empress. I join this guard..but…”
With that the guard suddenly drew the katana and removed the head of the other.
“...he was not in the circle,” the guard explained. “We could use a samurai, one who would stay hidden, ever watching, ever protecting the princess. If you wish to regain honour do so by defending your new master, not by wasting your life in the enemies favour.”
Completely disarmed of weapons and words I watched as the guard began to remove armour and badge, bringing him down to the appearance of a peasant. He waited as I struggled with my armour. Once free of our old burdens we buried our uniforms and I followed him to the princess. Even broken in my code, I still found honour in what I was doing. Perhaps there was more this guard could teach me in our journey.