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2005 Samurai Fiction Entry

Noriatsu no Usotsuki
Noriatsu the Liar

By Mike Maikeru Baker

Hirada Akimasa knelt at the hearth, in the middle of the wooden floor; he was breaking up some kindling and tossing it into the fire. An iron kettle sat on top of a grate, over the fire, the water inside reaching a boil. Akimasa was a young boy; his genpuku ceremony had already passed a year earlier. He was dressed in a modest gray kamishimo; his black hair was made up in a topknot, the extra hair ending in a ponytail. He knelt in front of the fire moving fresh kindling to the flame. Akimasa's mother was in a separate room, preparing the evening meal, both of them awaiting the arrival of Akimasa's father. The sound of the outer shoji door opening, echoed through the house. Akimasa quickly got up, leaving the pile of kindling by the fire; he quickly made his way over to the entryway. His father Hiramasa was sitting on the outside platform, taking off his straw sandals, his back to Akimasa. Leaving his sandals outside. Hiramasa stepped into his home, the soles of his white tabi socks padding on the straw tatami mats. "Chichi ue." Akimasa exclaimed, stepping forward to greet his father, bowing as his father turned. Hiramasa smiled as he nodded his head down at his son, he looked over to see his wife come in from the other room, bowing in greeting.

The Hirada family had sat down at the low wooden table, to enjoy their evening meal. Akimasa looked at his father, who had sat with his legs underneath him. Being a low ranking guard for the local clan lord, Hiramasa would often be away from home while on duty. But in the autumn months was when Akimasa was most excited. As a Jizamurai, Akimasa's father was exempted from having to leave the city, so he could harvest the crops that were planted in summertime. This allowed a chance for Hiramasa to be with his family. And after coming home from serving with the Eastern army, and surviving the devastating battles of the Sekigahara campaign, Hiramasa's presence was much more valued.

After the evening meal was finished, both father and son stayed at the table, while Akimasa's mother cleared away the empty bowls. Hiramasa stuck his hand into the fold of his navy kimono, retrieving a piece of folded paper, unfolding an opening it, revealing writing and Hiramasa's own signature. Akimasa sat there with downcast eyes, as his father spoke.

"Akimasa I need you to bring this letter to Noriatsu, early tomorrow morning. As of tomorrow you must see him every morning."

Akimasa was taken aback by his father's words; he was intending to be with his father while he was home from service to the clan lord. The young boy mentally worded what he was going to say, as not to anger his father by questioning him. "Father, what will I be helping Noriatsu with?"

Hiramasa smiled at Akimasa and replied to his son's query. "It has been a year since your genpuku, and now in everyone's eyes you are an adult. As samurai it is now your obligation to take up the sword. Your duty to the lord, the clan and your family, require that you train in the sword, without question."

"But why must I go to Noriatsu, why can't I stay and learn from you father?"

Hiramasa took in a deep inhalation, and exhaled sharply before he spoke. "I must stay here and tend to the rice harvest, and after that I must return back to my service at the castle. Being in the position I am in, I cannot be here long enough to teach you. But fortune favor us, when I was coming home I had stopped and talked to Noriatsu at his home, after talking I eventually told him this story. He offered to take the role of your
Sensei, and he only asked for a few silver pieces a month for his service, and that is a bargain considering our situation. So make sure you rest up for tomorrow, you will need it."

Akiamasa bowed while still seated. "Yes father, I understand."

The next morning Akimasa woke to the sounds of a rooster. After getting dressed and getting his training gear ready, he sat on the porch, tying his waraji onto his feet. He then made his way down the dirt road, his wooden training sword held in his left hand, a cloth headband worn on his head. Akimasa paused at the small shack like home next to his families home. There was a man much older than his father sitting in the front of the home making straw sandals. Akimasa knew him as Fusahito. He was an old farmer who often traded goods with Akimasa's family; he was the one who made the sandals Akimasa wore. Akimasa bowed to his neighbor, who had returned the bow. Akimasa continued on with his walk to Noriatsu's home.

Midway through his trip he was stopped in the road by another youth, who also had with him a training sword, and head towel. Akimasa knew the other boy his name was Shinjo Toshimori.His father was a wealthy samurai, who afforded many luxuries, especially ones such as sending his son to a good kenjutsu teacher.

Toshimori spoke slyly to Akimasa. "So it looks like your out to learn kenjutsu also. Tell me, who is your Sensei?"

Akimasa looked at the ground, and answered so lightly, it came out almost as a whisper. "Katsura Noriatsu sensei."

Toshimori laughed at the response. "Noriatsu the liar, the only person your father could send you too was that old man? My father paid to have me train under Sejima Sukemoto sensei, a great teacher from Edo. I will learn great things from him, and get great honors when I am older. But you will get to work the farms next to your father." Toshimori laughed again and then walked away from Akimasa. All Akimasa could do was continue on down the road, with his head hung low.

Akimasa stood outside the dilapidated house. The thatched rood was messy; there were many small holes in the shoji screens. Akimasa pictured the house falling on him while training. He took a deep breath and stepped onto the porch, knocking at one of the sliding doors. A voice came from the inside. "Who is it?"

"It is me Hirata Akimasa, my father sent me."

"Oh yes please do come in." Akimasa took his sandals off, leaving them on the porch; he slid open the wooden shoji doors, and stepped into the house, bowing as he came in. The young boy looked to the center of the one room house, there sat a much older man, his hair and beard almost completely white. His face glowing from candlelight He quickly got up from sitting, returning Akimasa's bow with a nod. "Your father sent you with a letter correct?"

Akimasa quickly retrieved his father's letter from the fold of his kimono. "Yes, I have it here."

"Good, bring it here so that I may read it." The young boy slowly stepped forward to the old man, handing him the folded paper. Noriatsu opened and read the letter. He then looked at the boy. "So I am to teach you, correct?"

"Yes." Akimasa responded, bowing his head.

"Very good, let us get started with your training. Go outside behind the house there should be a pile of logs in back; next to it should be an axe. You can start by cutting that entire pile and stacking them. When you are done I may need you to prepare our lunch" Akimasa was shocked by the old mans request; he felt insulted since he came to learn how to fight, not to do menial chores. He could not challenge his new master, all he could do was bow and go to his tasks.

For the next several days Akimasa followed the same routine of going to Noriatsu's house and completing various chores. He spent most of the day chopping firewood, patching the holes in the rice paper on the doors, cleaning Noriatsu's home of debris and even cleaning and drying his teacher's clothes or cooking his meals. Even though he would try and find shortcuts to his chores Akimasa would often finish these tasks late; he would barely make it home in time for dinner. He barely got to speak to his family anymore except at diner, his father only asked about his training mostly. When asked about his training with Noriatsu, Akimasa would tell his family it went well or he learned some techniques. Except in the time that Akimasa spent at Noriatsu's home, not once did the old man show Akimasa anything about sword work.

On the 8th day of going to Noriatsu's, Akimasa was stopped in the road again by Toshimori. He had with him a newly polished training sword; it appeared to be of a high quality. "Oh, it's poor Akimasa, going to train with that old man today? Did you even learn how to use that thing?" Toshimori pointed to the training sword Akimasa's father gave to him to use. The other boy's ridicule was making Akimasa's face turn red, Akimasa hide his face by lowering it.

"I didn't get to learn much, we had just started." Akimasa responded, lowering his head.

Toshimori just laughed at Akimasa. "That is too bad, Soejima sensei taught me many things this week, if I keep training with him, I will be a great sword fighter, and make a name for myself. While you stay with Noriatsu and tend your farm."
Toshimori walked away laughing, leaving Akimasa alone with his thoughts.

Standing on the porch to the old mans house, Akimasa knocked on the door again. "Yes, Akimasa please do come in." Noriatsu's voice emanated from the house. Sliding open the door Akimasa stepped into the house. "Good, you are here. I have a task I need you to do for me."

For the first time he started going to the old man's house, Akimasa questioned his request. "Sensei, but why should I?" Noriatsu looked at the young boy, the pleasantness disappearing from his face.

"What do you mean by why?" Akimasa looked down at the floor before replying.

"I have been doing chores for you all this time, I haven't learned anything at all. Sometimes I wonder if you know anything about martial arts. Besides how would I get a name for myself by doing chores?"
Noriatsu got up from his floor cushion, picking up a beaten old training sword that was next to him, sliding it into his belt as though it was a real sword. Slowly he walked up to Akimasa, until he was a few feet away. "You want to know what it is to fight?" the old man asked, placing a hand on the hilt of his training sword.

"Yes, Sensei I do." Akimasa replied, getting a bit nervous by the Noriatsu's imposing tone and posture.

"Draw your sword Akimasa, I will teach you what it is like to fight." Akimasa held his training sword, his right hand closer to the guard. The long piece of wood shook in his hand like an unsteady house in the wind. Noriatsu held out his sword the tip of his touched Akimasa's sword. The old mans sword was steady and imposing much like a mountain. "Attack me anyway you can Akimasa." The young boy was shocked at Noriatsu's command, but now he had no choice. He lifted up the training sword over his head and came forward at the old man making an attempt to hit him in his head, using his sword like he would an axe. With the quickness of a gust of wind, the old man stepped back, parrying the strike to the side with such force that it strained Akimasa's arms so much he felt the muscles and tendons were going to snap. Akimasa tried to regain his balance, lifting his sword up in defense, but it was futile. Noriatsu stepped forward with his right foot, making a diagonal slash with his sword, striking Akimasa in the side of his arm. The young boy cried out in pain, dropping his sword, his arm felt as though it was thrust into fire, the pain spreading from the strike all the way to his hand. He dropped to his knee clutching his injured arm, the bruising and swelling almost instantaneous. Noriatsu raised his sword again, ready to strike.

"Stop! I yield Sensei." Akimasa raised his free hand fearful that he would be struck again. But instead the old man lowered his sword, sliding it back into his belt.

"You see Akimasa, that is what it means to fight, to cause suffering and pain to someone. Is this what you want to learn" Akimasa shook his head, fighting back the tears.

"No Sensei." Noriatsu pulled out a length of cloth from his kimono; he soaked it in a bucketful of water sitting in the corner of the room. He returned over to Akimasa, kneeling, binding up his swollen arm with the cold cloth.

When Noriatsu felt that he had finished tending to the boys injury, he went and grabbed an extra seating cushion form next to his bed, placing it in front of his own, then he took a seat at his cushion. Akimasa grabbed his training sword, sitting at the cushion set by his teacher, placing his training sword on his right side.

"Akimasa my boy, it is so easy to injure or kill anything. Noriatsu looked towards the ceiling, the candlelight illuminating the pained features of his face, he looked back at Akimasa. "It is easy to snatch a life away from someone, especially with a sword, but using your sword to cut down the enemy inside yourself, and use your skill for preserving life, that is where real power comes from."

Akimasa bowed to his teacher. "But master, I don't understand."

The old man placed his hands on his knees. "Someday you will. Now if you wish to come back and train, I will promise to teach you. But for now though go home and tend your arm."

Akimasa did a deep bow from his seat, though his arm was still sore from the hit. "Sensei?" Akimasa spoke looking at his teacher.

"Yes Akimasa?"

"If you intended to teach me the sword, why all the chores?" Akimasa winced waiting to get struck again.

Noriatsu gave a slight laugh. "The chores I handed you were to teach you the sword. You see if you put the amount of effort into your sword training, that I have seen in your chores you would have failed. Not only that but would you have back talked your lord if he gave you a command, much like you did to me? He would have had you killed in that instant. Now I hope you put the effort necessary to learn what I wish to teach. Now go home Akimasa take a break from your training today." Akimasa bowed to his teacher, and stood up leaving his teachers home. Akimasa felt assort of relief from his teacher's talks.

For the next few months Noriatsu trained Akimasa like he said he would. Akimasa started from the basics. Learning the different stances and various vertical cuts, thrusts and some horizontal and diagonal slashes. He would do each of them in repetition, while Noriatsu stood counting off each cut. The young boys arms ached and felt on fire from the nonstop cutting. At first he could only do 20 or so of these cuts each time before the ache set in. Often Noriatsu paused his counts, forcing Akimasa to hold himself in his stance, this caused the rest of his body to ache. Everyday for the first few weeks Akimasa would find it difficult from the aches, to kneel at the table at his home. When his father questioned him about his training, Akimasa talked nonstop about his routine. When Noriatsu felt his pupil was comfortable enough from his lessons, and he could do the various cuts as natural as he could walk, he then began adding new things to Akimasa's training. Noriatsu began sparring with his student. Teaching him to be fluid in his actions and forcing him to improvise in the heat of moment. Akimasa soon learned what "in the heat of the battle" meant. Often Akimasa would alternate between doing his sword training and doing chores for Noriatsu, he would clean the house before every practice, and he would often cook lunch for both Noriatsu and himself. At one of the days where both teacher and student were enjoying some rice and tea, Akimasa had to ask Noriatsu something that had been on his mind, since the first day of his training.

"Sensei, your are such a humble warrior, and an excellent teacher and great man. But why do people in the village call you "Noriatsu the Liar" and say you are untrustworthy?" Noriatsu bowed toward his student.

Akimasa bowed back, a burden on his mind had been lifted, from his teacher's story.

Noriatsu looked at his pupil and smiled. "When I came to this village, people had heard of the name of Noriatsu as some great swordsman. A rich samurai named Yushimori offered me a position in teaching him my secrets and the secrets of my teacher. So I started his training the same way I did yours, to teach him humility, he lasted a mere 2 days before firing me, he then told the entire village that I was not the true Noriatsu, but a ronin, a beggar coning students for money." Noriatsu laughed, "Money can influence a lot of things, but it will never influence how I teach."

For the next week Noriatsu continued teaching Akimasa the various cuts in swordplay. Akimasa did these various techniques in repetition, ingraining them into his body to the point where he can do them without thought; it was as natural as walking to him. Noriatsu continued sparring with Akimasa, these one on one "competitions" were like a conversation between teacher and student. On a few occasions the young student found he almost bested his teacher. Though often the old teacher would move sluggishly or have to stop periodically to cough and relive some mucus; the sound of his coughing was thunderous, not like when you clear your throat this was more internal.

The seasons had passed again, and Hiramasa had returned from duty to tend the rice. This year Akimasa had joined him in sowing the rice. Akimasa had grown into a strong young man. Both men had their hakama lifted up and tucked into their obi. Akimasa was wearing a headband to collect the sweat from his brow. He was helping his father load rice bails into a cart. As father and son worked together side by side they got into conversation. They spoke mostly of Akimasa's past training the topic of most discussion was of Noriatsu.

While working Akimasa asked his father "Chichi ue?"

"Yes what is it Akimasa?"

"You known Noriatsu sensei for a while, right?"

"Yes, I known him for a long time."

"What was he like before coming to the village?"

Hiramasa let out a deep sigh while lifting in another bail. " I met Noriatsu sensei a bit after my genpuku. My father had sent me to him for my training, much like I sent you. I trained with him for many years as a young man, and he used to tell me many stories. He used to talk about his past life, before coming to the village."

Akimasa did not slow his work one bit, but listened contently to his father. "What kind of life?"

"Before he came to the village, Noriatsu had served as a samurai under the Takeda. He told me of how he fought for his lord Shingen and later his son. And how he his lord without question, but how that would lead to his downfall."

"I don't understand father."

"Takeda Katsuyori was a brash lord, often headstrong. From what I know, all he cared more about was getting out of his fathers shadow, and ignored the lives of his men. Noriatsu sensei told me about the incident at Nagashino. How while trying to take Nagashino castle, the Takeda armies were faced with a large army. Even outnumbered Katsuyori thought he could surpass his father by fighting the odds. Without hesitation and without listening to his men, he forced to charge the enemy with their teppo aimed at them. They were instantly cut down by gunfire, what was left of the battered men fled with Katsuyori. After the incident Katsuyori had been easy to destroy, leaving his men to the world. Noriatsu sensei, became ronin after that until he made his way here, that is when I met him."

Akimasa lowered his head pausing for a moment, and then he looked at his father. "You sent me to Noriatsu sensei because you knew about him, and trusted him, even when no one else did?"


Akimasa stopped loading for a moment and went into a deep bow his hands at his side. "Thank you very much for what you did father."

Hiramasa returned the bow with a nod of his head, and went back to loading rice. "I believe it is time to go back to your sensei." Akimasa bowed again to his father, he un-tucked his hakama, brushing the dirt off of it. He grabbed his katana that was leaning on the cart, sliding it into his obi. Taking his bokken that was next to the sword he was on his way down the dirt road.

He made his way down the road the same as he did for the last year, the same worn training sword in hand, and a simply decorated katana in his belt. He made his way down the dusty street to his master's house. On the crossroads in the middle of the village he saw a young man in an expensive looking kimono, his hair made in a topknot. In his hand he held an expensive practice sword, made of polished wood, thrust through his belt he had a beautiful pair of swords, in a dark red, lacquered saya.

The young man stepped in front of Akimasa. Akimasa barely recognized the young samurai in front of him. "So Akimasa, enjoying your life as a farmer." Toshimori looked up and down at Akimasa's dirt stained clothes.

"It is fine, I enjoy the hard work and being outside." Akimasa spoke without staring at Toshimori, showing respect out of requirement, instead of merit.

Toshimori was stunned by Akimasa's remark, but regained his composure. "Well if you are going to spend the rest of your life as a farmers son you may as well enjoy it. With my father's influence I was granted a position serving our lord. With my skill I should be able to serve my lord and gain renown under him." Toshimori smiled at his self-praise. "Speaking of skill I see you are still seeing that old bat Noriatsu. How is that worthless ronin doing?"

Akimasa refused to let the remarks cut into him, today he did not mind having a duel of wits with an unarmed samurai. "He is doing well, I am going to meet with him this morning. I have learned much from my teacher, more than I could from most sensei in the area."

The young samurai was struck by Akimasa's words. Akimasa knew that he hit a cord in Toshimori, by mocking his sensei. Toshimori's face twisted in part anger and part confusion. His unsettled nature was apparent to Akimasa.

Toshimori lifted up his wooden sword vertically shaking it. "You wish to disrespect Soejima sensei? And you wish to insult my training?"

Akimasa lightly bowed to his rival. "I apologize for my brashness but you may be disrespecting your sensei and your training with your attitude."

The young samurai could no longer take any more insults from a simple, lower class samurai. He quickly leaned his swords up against the wooden fence bordering the street he held out his wooden sword like a real katana, his stance was meant to be threatening towards Akimasa. "You wish to insult me? Now you must fight me Akimasa. Draw your bokken."

"Toshimori, I did not mean my words to be insulting, I merely wish to point out an error in your thinking. I also do not wish to fight you; it may lead to more trouble for either one of us. Please lower your sword and let us go on to our teachers." Akimasa gave a deep bow to his rival.

"NO! You will not disgrace me out in the open, and then try to talk your way out of it. Stand there all you want, I will come at you regardless." The eager samurai tightened the grip on his training sword, his face turning red with anger.

Akimasa exhaled deeply looking up at the sky, then looked back at his opponent, he noticed how off balance he was both physically and mentally. "Some things just cannot be taught." He held his training sword with his left hand, the point behind him.

Toshimori lifted his sword straight up his left hand almost touching his forehead, he stepped forward bring the sword down towards Akimasa's head, ready to break open his skull. With a quick step Akimasa stepped to Toshimori's right side, the blow missing him, he quickly wrapped his fingers around the handle of Toshimori's sword, in the space between his rival's hands. He brought up his left hand clutching his own sword and pushed Toshimori back, making him lose grip of his sword. Toshimori was pushed backed a few steps, his wooden training sword was held in Akimasa's hand. Akimasa walked over to the fence and placed the training sword next to his opponent's daisho. He did not wish to have this confrontation escalate, but Toshimori obviously thought differently. He made his way back down the street, towards Noriatsu's house. Toshimori quickly went to the fence and grabbed his bokken. He again lifted it up and ran towards Akimasa, who's back was to him. This time though Akimasa quickly pivoted around, holding his own sword out straight. As Toshimori came, he dipped the sword a bit to his right, making an opening, inviting Toshimori in. As Toshimori's sword came down Akimasa slid to the left, raising up his sword horizontally, blocking Toshimori's strike. Using the force of the blow Akimasa's sword swung behind his head, he turned facing Toshimori, the artery in his opponent's skull was wide open for a strike. Akimasa thought he could easily get rid of his rival with one quick hit to the side of his head, breaking the artery and killing him. But there was a brief flash in his mind of Fusahito and Noriatsu. Instead Akimasa went for a different target, he brought his wooden sword straight down on Toshimori's exposed wrist, a loud crunch emanated from the strike. Toshimori's sword dropped as he screamed, Akimasa raised his sword up again, brining it down towards his rival's head, stopping it a hairs length from the samurai's skull. Toshimori stood frozen like a statue, his eyes watering from both pain and shame. Akimasa simply put his sword in a non-threatening manner and walked away, he walked towards his master's home, with his head held up, and a smile broke from his lips.

Akimasa knocked on the door as he always did, waiting for a reply. Akimasa was excited he wish to tell his teacher about the encounter. But for the first time in a year since he came to the house, Noriatsu had not responded to Akimasa's knocks. Slowly sliding the door open Akimasa stepped into the home. He noticed that his teacher was lying on hisbed. The old samurai was wearing a fine looking kamishimo, one that rivaled even the rich families in the village. Next to him laid a magnificent pair of swords. The ornaments on them almost glowed in candlelight. Akimasa slowly crept up to his teacher's bedside, kneeling next to him. Noriatsu opened up his eyes; they seemed pale in the candlelight. "Oh Akimasa, I am sorry I did not hear you at the door, I do apologize." Noriatsu smiled for a moment and it was broken by an abrupt cough.

"Sensei, sensei are you ok, shall I make you some tea?" Akimasa placed his hand on his teachers shoulder. It was met by his teacher's hand.

"I am afraid not, I feel that my time is coming. But I am glad I am able to see you one last time. I remember a young child who came into my home to be taught. Eventually you became an excellent pupil, like metal tempered in fire you were forged into something good. I am happy and honored that I was able to give you the tools necessary for your training. Now the rest is up to you."

Akimasa bowed deeply, gazing at the dirt floor for a moment, the tears burning his eyes. "Thank you. Thank you for everything sensei." Looking up and noticed that Noriatsu was not moving his eyes were closed. The young student's words were barely audible "Sensei, sensei." Akimasa shook his teacher. "Noriatsu!"

Akimasa had spent the entire day digging a grave so he could lay his teacher to rest, behind the small house. He had erected a makeshift grave marker out of a split log. On the marker he carved out "Noriatsu the wise." After saying a few prayers for his sensei, Akimasa stood up. The sun had almost completely fallen behind the tree line the young samurai then walked towards home, his head held high.

Again the seasons came and gone, rice was sewn then harvested, a middle-aged samurai at on a cushion in the middle of a small home, enjoying the sounds of birds chirping outside. He had on modest attire, his hair pulled into a topknot the end splayed like a tea whisk. He looked over to the front of the house, seeing a figure walk up to the shoji door. Hearing a knock on the wooden frame, the samurai answered.

"Who is it?"

The small voice from outside replied to the samurai. "It is Uji Akimora, my father had sent me."

"Oh please do come in."

The samurai looked at the young boy in his doorway, he was dressed in a youth's kamishimo, his clothes looked cheaply made, his topknot ended in a ponytail. In his left hand he held a battered training sword, it had obviously been a hand me down.
"You were supposed to have something for me?"

The young boy bowed, stepping into the home, pulling out a letter from his kimono. "Yes Hirada sensei."

Akimasa took the letter from the young boy smiling as he read it. "So you came to learn the sword."