Shinkyo Bridge. Part Nine. Horror Fiction
Gen made sure to knock this time before entering Musashi’s room. Ignoring the untouched bedroll, he turned to face the wall, placing the tray he was carrying before the seated samurai.
Still in his borrowed kimono, Musashi sat in the same spot Gen had found him in that morning. So much had happened since then it seemed to have been years ago. A small oiled whetstone lay next to him, his drawn wakazashi in hand as he scrutinized the blade. The only indications of his brush with death were the purple bruises on his wrists where the demon pinned him, as well as a growing knot on his forehead.
‘The hannya’s skull was harder than I thought,” Musashi said, indicating his short sword. “It nicked my sword.”
“I’ve brought your dinner.”
Musashi looked at the tray. “Not rabbit stew,” he said, relieved. The memory of what happened to Tokoemon was too fresh in his mind for him to have been able to stomach it.
Gen smiled. “That ran out an hour ago,” he said. “We’ve been swamped with customers all night. They’re busy talking about what happened. The story gets better every time it’s told. Soon you’ll have bested an entire army of demons if they keep going on like they are.”
‘They wanted me to fetch you to recount the fight,” Gen continued, “but I told them it was late and waking you would be a bad idea.” He nodded at the unused bedroll for emphasis.
“I thought they would be angry now that the bridge is gone,” Musashi said as he picked up the whetstone and began to work it down the length of the blade. “They’ll have to build another.”
Gen shrugged. “I imagine they will be angry in a day or two,” he said. “For the moment, they seem content to celebrate. Most people tend not to think very far ahead.”
They sat in companionable silence, the rhythmic swooshing of the whetstone punctuating the quiet murmur of voices coming from downstairs.
“Musashi?” Gen said, feeling a little hesitant to recall the event. “Why did my knife cut into the demon’s hand at the bridge? When I stabbed the demon earlier, the blade simply bounced off.”
Musashi continued to work quietly, holding the blade up to catch the lamplight. “You’ve heard it said that a samurai’s sword is his soul?” he said, examining the edge of his wakazashi.
“This isn’t literal, of course. It’s a metaphor for the sword representing all that a samurai is; our function, our duty. We devote our entire lives to warfare. When we’re not at war we train to hone our skills further. Focus. Singularity of purpose. As a result, our spiritual energies combine with our physical energies.”
Gen stared at Musashi in incomprehension. The samurai saw this and tried to explain.
“When I stabbed the demon,” he said, “when I took its hand, I struck it on the spiritual plane as well as the physical. Such beings are as much things of the soul as they are the body.”
Gen nodded, thinking he understood. “When I stabbed its hand,” he said, “my spirit and body were united in the attack.”
“Hai,” Musashi confirmed with a nod. “Such a state is the mark of a warrior.”
Gen smiled. He puffed out his chest, his face beaming at such praise.
Musashi sheathed his sword and pulled the tray closer, pouring himself some sake. “If you’ll pardon me, I think I’ll get some sleep as soon as I’ve finished dinner,” he said. “I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“No you won’t.”
The samurai tensed, looking over at Gen, wary.
“We’ve been so busy, my wife hasn’t finished mending your clothes,” the innkeeper said.
Musashi shifted uncomfortably, not meeting Gen’s eyes as he confessed, “I don’t have enough money to afford another night’s stay.”
Gen laughed. “After all you’ve done for us, all you’ve risked, you think I would accept payment?” he said, flashing an infectious grin.
Musashi was still for a moment as the prospect of another day's rest eased its way into his mind. He heaved a theatrical sigh as he sipped at his sake. “Oh well,” he said. “In that case I should think there are worse fates.”
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