Shinkyo Bridge. Part One. Horror Fiction
The history of ancient Japan is rife with tales of legendary men and their deeds. Samurai, whose martial prowess, self discipline, and flashing razored steel, were prominent in these stories. These men, who dedicated themselves to live and die by the sword, were both loved for their vows to protect the common people and feared for their right to act with complete impunity.
Though many thousands fought and died in accordance with the samurai code of Bushido, a precious few have been elevated to immortality by the telling and retelling of their exploits.
There was Yagyu Jubei, the one-eyed warrior who fought for the honor of the criminalized Yagyu clan during the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate. His father, the personal weapons instructor to the shogun’s household, had been implicated in treasonous activity and it was up to Jubei to exonerate him through the judicious use of both his blade and wit.
There was Okita Soji, a minor nobleman, born sickly and frail. Though not even having reached the age of twenty, he willingly gave up his humanity to gain the title “Demon of The Battlefield.” He fought with all the inhuman ferocity of a wild beast in the name of the Emperor, killing the lackeys of a corrupt government in hopes of bringing about change to a stagnant, isolated Japan.
Of these great men and many more, perhaps none is so well known as Miyamoto Musashi. He came from the backwater Harima Province, born to the Shinmen Clan in the twelfth year of the Tensho era. He was the first child of Miyamoto Shinmen, a distant relative of the lord of TakeyamaCastle, known as the “Gate to The West” for its tactical importance.
Trained in the ways of blade, spear, and bow from an early age, Musashi was a consummate swordsman and duelist who pioneered the two-sword combat style which came to be known as Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu. With his skills Miyamoto Musashi became a retainer to the Fujiwara Clan and served as bodyguard and first spearman to the clan head, Lord Kousa. Such status was an unheard of privilege for a young man barely seventeen years old.
He served at the Battle of Sekigahara, a grassy plain where the mighty twin armies of the ruling Toyotomi and the challenging Tokugawa clashed in a full day of fighting, soaking the land with the blood of over 30,000 dead. Lord Kousa was himself a vassal to the Toyotomi. He and his men were betrayed during the chaos of the battle by long time allies who vied for position and favor with the Toyotomi. Though Musashi fought valiantly and took the lives of many foes that day, he was unable to protect his lord from a traitor’s arrow.
Before he died, Lord Kousa gave his loyal retainer one final order; he forbade Musashi from committing Seppuku, ritual suicide. Such an act was the required course of action in Bushido for a servant who has failed his master. Instead Kousa told Musashi to flee, and live to fight another day.
In the Land of the Rising Sun, one’s honor was one’s life. Musashi was torn between taking the easy way out; opening his belly, his life’s blood washing the shame of his failure from his family’s name; and obeying. He was not afraid to die. To live in dishonor as a masterless samurai, a ronin, was far more daunting. He knew he would be scorned as a coward by all those who knew him, unwelcome even in his own home.
Such was Musashi’s mettle that he carried out the most difficult order that a samurai might receive. He fled, and he lived. The Fujiwara Clan, the only world he’d ever known, died that day.
Even if word of his shame had not spread, Musashi would not countenance putting himself in the service of another lord. He’d lost his stomach for inter-clan politics.
He moved to a province far from the place of his birth and put up his swords, attempting to live the simple and honest life of a dock worker in a bustling port town under an assumed name. It was during this time that he saw how terribly the people of the lower castes were being oppressed. Merchants were expected to bribe corrupt government officials in order to maintain the permits to run their shops. Artisans who worked for samurai often went penniless when their employers refused to pay for the result of their sweat and toil.
Musashi stubbornly refused to intervene, though his heart demanded justice be done. Things came to a head when a group of ronin passed through town, raucous and spoiling for a fight. They drank the local innkeeper dry, demanding more sake despite the fact there was none left in town.
When the ronin were told there was no more sake to be had, they became enraged, accusing the innkeeper of lying to get them to leave. They dragged the hapless man out into the street and proclaimed they would cut off his hands for his insults, making a show of the man’s terror for a horrified crowd.
Musashi could no longer ignore such an abuse of power. He took up his twin blades once more. When the bodies fallen in the trampled dust before his lightning fast steel had ceased to move, he was both astonished and overjoyed to receive the adulation of those he’d defended. They cared nothing for his past failures, only that he fought for what they all knew in their hearts to be right.
And so he decided to make use of the life his late lord granted him and embarked on a musha shugyo, a warrior’s pilgrimage. He wandered the war torn land in search of himself; taking on many roles to see all the facets of the world, honing his warrior’s skills, and living by his blade for eight long years. Though he lived a long, rich, and varied existence afterward, writing a seminal work on swordsmanship and tactics as well as contributing to the arts, it was his time wandering the many rocky roads of Japan that stand out in legend as it is told from one generation to the next.
Miyamoto Musashi was known for his fearlessness, humility among the lower classes, and intolerance for the excesses of his peers. Stories told of his exploits battling man, beast, and demon are without number. His ultimate fate beyond that, though well documented, is inconsequential. It is far more important that the tales of his deeds which live on to this day reflect the indomitable human fighting spirit, ready to face down all the world’s evils, be they mundane or supernatural.
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