The long-anticipated battle took place at the break of dawn. I had been training the previous night with Master Kaemon, and, tired as I was, I nearly slept through it. The night before, Master Kaemon had said to me, “Always remember that you are a member of the Haki clan. And remember that I want you to live through the impending battle.”
I nodded firmly. “I swear that I will live through the battle and see Master Kaemon safe.”
“Me?” The master sent me a dubious look. “What will you do to see that I’m safe?”
“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully, “But I will.”
I could have sworn that, if Master Kaemon even knew how to smirk, he would have smirked right there—but he didn’t. It was only in his tone. “I see.”
In the early morning, I woke to the sound of blades clinking against one another, blood splashing onto the floor, and men yelling. My blood froze in their veins. I was scared, but it was time. I took my katana, and slid open the door. Master Kaemon was standing at the doorway, while people battled one another in the hallway. Next to him was Mistress Nara, with a purple veil over her face, showing only the cold blue eyes that sometimes seemed to freeze me to death. Both of them had katana in hand. Seeing them stand side by side like this, it reminded me that my feelings for the master were illegitimate—and indeed, even if it were legitimate, I was unfit. I was just a scrawny boy, too scared and timid to protect anyone, while Mistress Nara was a gallant warrior despite her gender; I was too dense to hide anything, but Mistress Nara was cunning. From the first time she saw me, in the dining hall, when Suzu told me that she was the master’s wife, she had already known to glance at me with a belittling look. Above all else, I feared the mistress, but at this moment, I knew that there was none better suited than her, to stand beside the master, to fight alongside him……
“We are here!” Master Kaemon thundered. Two people among the crowd turned particularly sharply—a man and a woman. When they fought their way to the master and mistress, the rest followed. Probably, they were the leaders of the Senwan clan. Master Kaemon shot me a look before heading out.
For a moment, I fantasized that he was leading the fight away from me, to protect me from it.
The next moment, I realized that if that was the reason, Mistress Nara probably wouldn’t comply.
I sighed. Now wasn’t the time for such sentimentality. Gripping my katana tightly in my hands, I stepped out to the open grounds as well.
After a while of fighting, I was forced to acknowledge the truth, the center of my weakness when it came to battling: I couldn’t bring myself to kill anyone. It took a lot of determination just to wound someone fatally.