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2005 Samurai Fiction Entry

Kojiro

By A. Porter

The sun rose and the hour of the dragon, the hour of our duel, passed. He would be dead now if he weren't a coward! I stand on the Beach of Funashima Island and wait. That arrogant bastard will pay for this insolence with his life. He disrespects my ability and will meet his doom under my blade just like many others have. Even a beginning student of the sword can see there is little defense against my swallow counter technique! He is barely worthy of being called a swordsman, as he is more like a wild animal. All of his duels have been against drunks, womanizers, and old men. His opponents have been fools that have strayed from the Way, surprised when his size and strength overpowered their sloppy techniques and their unwarranted pride. To the untrained eye his technique might appear impressive, both swords flashing through the air, but to a true swordsman it is nothing more than posturing. He holds no certificates of rank and doesn't even have a teacher! He fabricates his own style like a little boy playing at being a warrior. This is not how it is done. Anyone who has seen my skill knows I have few equals. I sometimes train by standing on the Kintaibashi Bridge and cutting the tail feathers from swallows as they fly past! How many other swordsmen could do the same? Certainly not the fool I am to face on this day.

Across the country people talk of the defeat of the Yoshioka School at his hand. "He defeated an entire school! All of their swordsmen at once were no challenge for him!" What nonsense! The Yoshioka School had been in decline for many years and was a laughingstock with their outdated techniques. The head of the school was a mere child. I am surprised they weren't destroyed long ago the way they paraded around with their undeserved swagger. Had the opportunity arisen, I would have destroyed them myself.

In the distance is the dark speck of a rowboat on the water. It appears no one is on-board but the oarsman. Surely he is coming to inform the judges the coward has disappeared. I heard a rumor my opponent left his lodging last night. He has fled for his life and forsaken his honor rather than taste my steel. He is not a warrior forged of combat, but rather an overrated farmer unworthy of being called a samurai.

I curse the coward! No matter where he goes I will find him. He will eventually have to fight me or take his own life. In either event his name will not be treated with such undeserved reverence in years to come.

The boat is closer and there is nothing I can do now but wait. The oarsman will beach his boat and inform the judges of the coward's treachery. I will be declared the victor and soon even the heavens will know my name. Sasaki Kojiro will be recognized as the greatest swordsman of his time! I am the "Demon of the Western Provinces"! I am so fearsome that a wild beast, the destroyer of the Yoshioka School, refuses to face me! That's what the coward is. He is a beast. I heard he never bathes. He doesn't even shave the top of his head, letting his hair grow long and matted like some mountain savage. He probably drinks his wash water.

I see something rise from within the boat. Is that the beast? He must have been sleeping! The fool will soon sleep forever, and he spends his last moments sleeping. A true samurai would have been composing poetry or reciting a sutra to prepare for his demise, but he is not a true warrior. He is unworthy of this duel, unworthy of my time.

The boat is in shallow water now, only a few yards from the shore. The beast leaps from the boat into the surf and I notice his shabby clothes. I would expect no more of him. What is that he is carrying? It appears to be an oar that has been carved into some crude weapon. I would laugh if it weren't so pathetic and disrespectful.

The fire of my spirit overcomes me. I have had enough of his impertinence and his very existence is an insult that ends now. As he advances I draw my Bizen Osamitsu blade and toss the scabbard away to show my commitment. My opponent speaks. It is the first time I hear his voice and I am surprised it is not the growl of a mountain creature, but full of presence. It seems to overpower the surf that rolls onto the beach.

'You are defeated, Kojiro! You toss away your saya as if you expect to lose!'
Before I can answer, he raises the oar over his head. Why doesn't he draw his swords? He is the supposed master of some mythical two-sword technique and he challenges me with a piece of wood? Does he not realize the extent of my skill? He underestimates my ability and it will be his downfall.

I hear his rapid footfalls as he closes the final distance. He doesn't realize these steps will be the last he ever takes. My sword rises and I prepare to unleash its might. Years of practice and training have prepared me for this precise moment. My muscles are not tense, but I am immovable. I don't need to think. No mind. This will be far less of a challenge than most I have faced. I am a tiger facing a lamb. As soon as he is in range he will fall before me. His end will come in less than a heartbeat and he will die before the recognition of defeat even enters his eyes. The pity is I want him to know he is defeated. I want him to realize he has fallen under my sword, and that he is a fool. That is the price he should pay for his disrespect and the satisfaction I deserve!

He is here. He is within range. He is mine. I make my strike a fraction of a second before my opponent. My sword leaps on its own accord and slices in an arc toward the earth so rapidly my eyes barely recognize it. I have hit my mark and victory is mine! I see his headband fall to the ground in pieces and know his blood will soon follow. Ah! Perhaps my wish has been granted! He will live long enough to fall at my feet, and the last sight he will see in this world is my face staring down at him with contempt. His last thought will be of my unconquerable skill.

A lifetime passes and he doesn't fall, nor does he bleed. How can this be? My aim was true as ever. How does he still stand?

I try to raise my sword again to finish him, but my arms refuse to comply with my wishes. I am suddenly dizzy for the first time since I was a child and I am quickly overcome by the urge to sleep. I feel the smooth, wet sand against my face. When did I fall? I don't recall falling. I try to get up, but my limbs won't respond. I am heavy as a mountain and my breath leaves me, but will not return. I lay on the beach as time stops. I can see and hear the waves rolling just a few feet away and with my ear pressed to the sand the surf sounds like distant thunder. I feel the warmth of the April sun on the side of my face. Everything is so much brighter now. My vision has a clarity it has never known before this moment. I can smell the sea air and taste the salt of both ocean and blood on my lips. The wind mocks me.

My attack is revisited in my mind, and I realize I am a fool. His blow hit its mark, while mine fell just short. He used the perfect strategy, the correct weapon and flawless technique. I was defeated before he left the mainland, before the sunrise, before I first learned to wield a blade. I was defeated from the moment my opponent first picked up a sword. Only now do I realize that he is truly an incredible swordsman. My jealousy has cost me my life.

I look up at Miyamoto Musashi as all the colors in the world are reduced to gray and crimson. I attempt to speak, but I am unable. I want to thank him for my final lesson in swordsmanship, my final lesson in humility. Sasaki Kojiro, 'The Demon of the Western Provinces', crushed with a stick of wood the way a child crushes a snake.

The last sight I see in this world is his face staring down at me. Sorrow and invincibility fill his eyes.