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Under the Yoka Hazakura

by 'Neesan Cho

*Chapter 1* The Art of Bushido

EARLY MORNING, the golden light of the sun hardly lit up the ever fading night sky, as the stars started to burn out, and the moon beginning its own sleep. A slight breeze blew the ever present sent of the Sakura blossoms into his face; a young boy, of thirteen, stood on the porch of his father’s house. The wooden wind chimes knocked into each other, their rhythm was lively and promised another day of hard training, not that Masuyo Kiyoshi minded.

Raven silk hair had been tied into a high pony tail, a practice sword was held loosely in his right hand, he wore a dark grey hakama, and a black gi; around his neck was a thin leather string, on this string hung the kanji of Tora; the Tiger was a strong animal, he was cunning and Brave, though Selfish at times, but nonetheless, cared deeply for his family.

That was partly why Kiyoshi was referred to as ‘Dragon of Purity’ though, Kiyoshi had a slight thought purity was overrated; at least to a point, and didn’t like the fact that some of the elder boys in the small Samurai village would tease him by calling him 'Baka' or 'Ahou' some times, 'Pure Ahou'. Kiyoshi hated that they would degrade him, a son of a Samurai, in such a way, but, he understood that sometimes, these elder boys were jealous of him.

Jealousy was not in the Samurai code; in fact, it was looked down upon, and so, dishonorable in many ways. If their Outo-san ever found out, well, Kiyoshi did not want to find out what punishment those boys would go through. No doubt their father’s would beat the jealousy out of them, but, Kiyoshi did not want to be considered a ‘Snitch’; so, he decided to put up with it, until that is, he was skillful enough to take one of those boys on and beat the crap out of him.

Suddenly, Kiyoshi noticed that the sun had begun to descend into the sky, and that the golden light was stronger than it was a few minutes before; he heard the sound of a shoji opening and then closing, the soft footsteps of another came towards him, then stopped, two feet to his left.

'Ohayou Nechan,' Kiyoshi greeted his little sister. Hitomi was dressed in her sleeping yukata of a deep red. Her midnight black hair was in a lose braid, and she rubbed the sleep out of her eye’s as she watched her brother, and then turned to the sun rise herself.

'Ohayou Ki-Oniichan,' Hitomi replied quietly; she yawned as she tried to wake up more fully, Kiyoshi turned to her and watched; his little sister was only nine, but, she was small for her age; she looked like any other little girl in the village, except for her wonderfully light blue eyes, they shone light when she was happy.

The sound of a soft cough brought Kiyoshi’s attention back to his sister; 'You should go inside where it is warm,' Kiyoshi said softly, bringing Hitomi’s attention back to him.

'Demo, I’m fine,' she replied, and then a beaming smile was turned upon him. Kiyoshi sighed silently to himself, wishing that he did not worry so much for his little sister. She had been sick the winter before and had hardly lived through it.

‘I guess you can stay, but only for a few minutes, I don’t need ‘Kaasan yelling at me if you get sick again,’ Kiyoshi joked, he smiled softly at his sister.

‘Yosh!’ Hitomi replied happily, then sat herself down on the top step of the porch. Kiyoshi then once again turned his attention back to the sun rise. Soon; the other’s of the village would be up, it would be another warm summer day, which was good for Hitomi, summer was always good for her; at least, she acted more like the child she was, than the sick, quiet one she had been during the winter.

*~*~*~*~*

Hitomi watched her brother, and another boy run around the yard, waving their bamboo sticks around, trying to get in a hit on their ‘opponent’; though, each strike from one of the boys were either blocked or dodged.

Almost half the day had gone by, the chores that Kiyoshi had were done, and he wa snow practicing what he knew of Bushido; his best friend, Suray Etsuko was losing ground fast, and he knew that this would be another of those times that he had wished he had kept his big mouth shut.

Etsuko was about the same height as Kiyoshi; his black hair was of a more dull shade than his friends, and his eyes were more of a mud brown than a deep black. He swung his bamboo ‘sword’ in an arch, but Kiyoshi had just rolled his eyes, and kicked his friends knee’s out from under him.

‘Chikusho! Why the hell did you do that?’ Etsuko asked as he got to his feet.

‘Do you expect to win a fight from little tricks that any man can do?’ Kiyoshi asked.

‘Masaka, I only want to have some fun!’ Etsuko replied.

‘We can have fun later, you still need to practice you’re swing,’ Kiyoshi shook his head, even if he was only thirteen years old; he understood more of the Bushido sword technique than the other boys of the village.

‘Dooshite?’ Etsuko asked.

‘Because, I could have killed you san times in our play fight,’ Kiyoshi replied with a shake of his head.

‘Hai, I guess I need to guard a little more,’ Etsuko laughed embarrassingly.

‘Iie, you need to find your own rhythm, your own style in the sword,’ Kiyoshi replied.

‘I guess you are right, but, that is so hard to do with so many Senseis’ sitting on you for the smallest mistake,’ Etsuko said.

‘The smallest mistake can take you’re life, Etsuko-chan,’ another voice said from the porch.

‘Oh, Masuyo-sama, Konichi wa,’ Etsuko said, both boys bowed to the elder man. Masuyo Nibori wasn’t a huge man, he was lithe in body, but he was strong; which came from years of serving the Emperor and the Daimyo. He had long black hair; that was twisted into the warrior’s top-knot; he wore a black hakama with a midnight blue gi. His Katana was by his side. Midnight black eyes shone brightly as he looked at the two boys before him; waiting for him to speak.

‘I am glad to see that you are practicing, keep it up and someday you will be proud to be called Samurai,’ Nibori said before taking his leave of his house and the children.

‘Arigatou Outo-san!’ Kiyoshi waved after his father; it wasn’t all the time that his father praised him for a job well done; so, when his father did tell him something of the nature, Kiyoshi hung onto it and committed the words to memory. Such words got him through many training sessions that had gone wrong and were almost complete torture for him.

‘Come Kiyo-kun, Yosh!’ Etsuko said, and then swung his ‘sword’ at his partner; Kiyoshi pulled away from his thought’s, he smiled a little as he once again, bested his friend after a few swings.

‘One of these days’ Etsuko growled, picking himself up from the dirt once again.

‘You will beat me in our play, I’m sure,’ Kiyoshi said, trying not to laugh, which put a frown on his friends dirty face.

‘Yosh, the waterfall will be abandoned,’ Kiyoshi laughed.

‘Can I come?’ Hitomi asked, standing from her spot on the porch.

‘Only if ‘Kaasan says you can,’ Kiyoshi replied.

‘I’ll meet you there,’ Etsuko said, then ran off to his own father’s house.

‘Ja ne!’ he yelled, Kiyoshi waved his friend off.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Hitomi was glad that her ‘Kaasan had let her go to the waterfall with Ki-Oniichan and Et-Oniichan; however, they weren’t the only children to get the idea to go to the waterfall. Ai-chan and her elder brother Akira-kun had joined the three as they were also on their way to the waterfall. Their father was Sakamotto Rokuro; another Samurai of the small village.

Sakamotto Ai, was a girl of eight, she and Hitomi had been friends ever since they could remember, in fact, they had only been born about a year and two days apart; while Akira was only three years older than Kiyoshi. They got along, Akira was more of the mind that he was in charge, but, that was fine with Kiyoshi, he knew that he could learn from the elder boy. Akira wore a white Hakama, with a light blue gi. His hair was held in a lose pony tail at the nape of his neck; he wore a gold medallion with an imprint of a wild stallion.

‘Konichi wa, Ki-kun,’ Akira had greeted when they came up to them.

‘Konichi wa, Akira-kun,’ Kiyoshi replied with a smile and a small bow.

‘You san going to the waterfall too? Can we join you?’ Akira asked.

‘Of course, we can all have fun together,’ Etsuko laughed; Akira chuckled a little and made sure that his own little sister and Hitomi were by them. He was protective of the smaller children and more times than not, had gotten Kiyoshi out of the clutches of one of the village bullies.

‘I’m surprised that you’re ‘Kaasan let you play today,’ Ai said.

‘She looked sad when I asked, but, she knows that I want to play,’ Hitomi smiled.

‘Look! My ‘Kaasan made me a new doll!’ Ai said, holding out her doll. The doll was about two feet tall, she had black yarn for hair, that was wrapped in a bun, the doll wore a white kimono with pink sakura blossoms embroidered on the sleeves and hem of the kimono. A dark pink obi was wrapped around the dolls waist.

‘I named her Cho, ‘Kaasan says that she will make me a kimono just like Cho’s,’ Ai smiled happily.

‘Kawaii!’ Hitomi laughed and admired the doll.

**Chapter 2 – Waterfall Fight**

“K’so! Look!” Akira growled when he saw the band of boys, who had gotten to the cool water before them. There were six all together, two were the twin’s of Takeda-san, second only to Masuyo Nibori; Hotaku and Isamu both wore a grey hakama, but, Hotaku wore a dark forest green gi, while Isamu favored black. Their eyes were both dark shades of a summer sky, and their smile’s denoted pride.

“Well, well, look at what the cat dragged in,” the leader of the group said, he was a foot taller than Kiyoshi; a boy of about sixteen; who had light ice green eyes. His hakama and gi were the same color of slate grey; and his smile was cruel.

“Kazuki-kun, the meaning of you’re name misses you,” Akira replied evenly, his tone giving nothing away of his earlier anger.

“Honto? Akira-kun, you should know me better than that,” Kazuki laughed.

“Look, they even brought the play things!” another boy, Kazuki’s second and long lost cousin, Tekka Kenchiro; only a year younger than his elder cousin, wore a dirty white Hakama, and an open sick yellow gi, his chest was muscular and his skin was a deep bronze gold.

“Don’t you dare touch Hitomi-chan!” Kiyoshi growled, standing in front of his sister.

“One of these days Kiyoshi-kun, you are gonna watch me take her to my bed,” Kenchiro laughed. That was that for Kiyoshi, he had promised himself that he would never see his sister married off to that boy.

Kiyoshi still had his practice sword in the belt of his hakama; without further thinking of the situation and what his actions consequences would bring him; he had launched himself at Kenchiro, who was still laughing, and whacked him hard on his right shoulder.

“Itai!” Kenchiro howled, and then twirled to face Kiyoshi; he glowered at the other, one of the younger boys of the group, threw a straight wooden rod to Kenchiro. He held it in a guard position in front of him.

“You think you can beat me?” Kenchiro asked; then he launched himself at Kiyoshi, who side stepped the other boy and whacked him mid-back.

“I know I can,” Kiyoshi growled. Kenchiro was on his feet now; he held his stick in a low gourd, while Kiyoshi had most of his weight on his back left foot, his sword held high above his head but in a horizontal line. His left arm extended in front of him, with two fingers straightened.

“Enough talking, lets fight!” Kiyoshi said hungrily. This was a fight long in coming, and one that Kiyoshi wanted to win. He waited warily as Kenchiro and himself circled each other; not daring to turn their backs to their enemy.

Kenchiro attacked first; his thrust was parried aside by a side swing from Kiyoshi’s practice sword. Kenchiro growled and glared death at Kiyoshi, who paid the glare no attention whatsoever.

“Do not get distracted by you’re opponent; concentrate on their moves,” Kiyoshi heard his Father’s words pass through his mind. His face was set in dim determination. There was nothing that would stop him now.

Swing. Parry. Thrust. Thrust. Thrust. Attack. Dodge. Disable.

Kiyoshi stood above Kenchiro; his practice sword held above the elder boys neck like he had been taught when an enemy would go down. If it was a real sword, no doubt that Kenchiro would have been dead by now; he had not been able to dodge most of the Attacks from Kiyoshi.

“Go, get out of here,” Kiyoshi said. Slowly letting Kenchiro up.

“I will get my revenge,” Kenchiro said before walking back towards the village. The other boys in the gang also followed, nothing was said, but glares were exchanged.

Akira looked at Kiyoshi with pride; “You were good; pays off to practice I see,” Akira laughed.

“You shoed him!’ Etsuko laughed as well.

“It was a fight I should have walked away from,” Kiyoshi said.

“Demo, you did well, besides, Kenchiro no Baka was asking for it,” Etsuko tried to cheer his friend up.

“Let’s go swimming before it gets too late,” Akira said; bringing the group back to why they were at the water fall anyway.

*~*~*~*~*

Nagamori Akemi sighed wearily as she read over another marriage proposal from another Lord’s son; this time a Daimyo of the Masuyo Samurai clan in the North-Eastern mountains. Akemi’s dark black eyes narrowed a bit; she did not want to be a wife of some Lord’s son, who lived far away from any sort of civilization. It would take two months, at least, to get to that small village of the Masuyo clan.

“Akemi-chan, isn’t this wonderful?” Sarori asked her Daughter.

“Hai, demo, I don’t think I could get along being so far from you,” Akemi said; putting the paper aside.

“This would be a wonderful experience for you,” Sarori sighed happily at her daughter.

“We shall send a reply right now,” Sarori said; taking a piece of paper and writing the reply to the proposal. The wedding would be held at the Daimyo’s residence; but, Sarori herself, was far to sick with a hard cough in order to travel that far.

Akemi nodded her head; she had been arguing to stay single for just a while more; but, it was not to be, she was all ready of age to be married, and she had an extra year in order to get used to the idea. Akemi had feared that she would never get used to it. But now, she saw no way around it.

She left her Mother on the porch of the huge house she had lived in all her life; She loved the garden the best. There were dozens of Sakura tree’s leading up the paved path to the shrine where the family went to pray. Akemi went there now; she always found peace in the shrine.