“Innkeeper! Two more bottles of your best saké!" the Samurai yelled, his voice deep and guttural. He was a solid man, broad of shoulder with a jaw that could have been carved out of solid oak, framed by a pair of wild sideburns. He reclined with his legs akimbo and a large grin on his face. As the innkeeper shuffled in with the saké, the door to the inn slid slowly open.
“Welcome monk" the innkeeper said graciously, as he motioned his hand towards an empty table opposite the Samurai “We don’t see too much of your kind in here". As the monk took a seat and removed his domed, straw hat, the samurai raised his glass. As is typical of his kind, the Buddhist monk appeared to be almost indistinguishable from his brethren. A sombre bald head protruding from orange robes. Apart from the innkeeper, the samurai and the monk, the inn was empty, and the samurai was in a talkative mood.
“Can I fix you anything monk?" the innkeeper asked.
“Tea please" the monk replied solemnly, after which the samurai roared to life.
“I will have nothing of it! Innkeeper, set my friend up with a bottle of saké!"
“I apologise, I must refuse your generous offer Samurai, for I do not drink alcohol"
“Ah don’t be so formal! Celebrate with me! Soon my comrades will return to join the party! Tonight we celebrate, for tomorrow we become rich men! Hahaha"
“Oh, how so?"
The Samurai walked over and planted his imposing frame down at the monk’s table “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I can see that you’re a man of honour like myself. Have you heard of Okami Shiro?"
“I think not"
“I didn’t think you would have, being a monk, but amongst warriors like myself he is the stuff of legend! Listen and while we wait for my friends, I shall tell you a tale that would make even the hair on your bald head stand on end!" The samurai leant forward as if telling a secret. It was clear to the monk that he had rehearsed the telling of this tale, at least in his head.
“Many years ago, Okami Shiro was an illustrious General, who presided over the lion’s share of our lord’s armies. He was as cunning as a fox and ferocious in battle. However, despite his rank he remained humble and was honourable at heart. He rarely spoke to anyone outside of his ranks and was regarded as eccentric by most people in the Lord’s court. However, on the battlefield… his skill and strategy were second to none my friend! Why even now, some soldiers have taken to engraving his name on their swords before going into battle! Are you sure I cannot interest you in some saké?"
“No thank you, please allow me to pour you some though" The monk politely poured some saké into a small ceramic cup and passed it to the Samurai, head bowed. “This warrior you speak of, he sounds like a great man"
“Indeed he was, and what’s more he wielded the greatest sword ever crafted by mankind! The sword of the white lotus. Rumour has it that it was made by the legendary sword maker Kazumi Tanaka himself over 200 years ago. Tanaka made this sword with a special purpose, to reap vengeance on the man who murdered his wife. He went missing soon afterwards, but ever since then the sword has been said to contain both a terrible curse and a terrible power."
“Oh and what happened to the noble warrior who wielded this sword?"
“He fell in love" the samurai’s tone changed “It is said that love makes fools of even the greatest men and this is surely the case here. The great Okami Shiro was felled not by a warrior’s sword, but by a woman. And not just any woman, for she was the Lord’s niece!"
“Indeed. For a while they managed to hide their relationship from prying eyes. But love made Okami careless, he lost the focus he was renown for and was eventually caught out. As you know, our Lord is a conservative man, he was furious and put a 10,000 ryo bounty on the heads of both Shiro Okami and his niece. The couple fled into the mountains and were never seen again, at least not until a few days ago anway."
“You saw them?"
“I killed them!"
The monk recoiled, aghast. The samurai leant back and bellowed into the kitchen “Innkeeper! More saké!"
Seconds later the innkeeper appeared, carrying a bottle of saké on a thin black tray. The Samurai continued with his story “I have been tracking them for some time. Finally, after a chance discussion with the local fishmonger I discovered that a middle-aged woman who appeared to be of noble blood was occasionally seen in the marketplace. They say she was sometimes accompanied by a man in his 60’s with a large mop of snowy white hair!
For weeks I waited at the markets until finally I saw her. The Lord’s niece! She was older and dressed as a peasant, but you can’t hide a proper upbringing under dirty cloth!
I followed her back to a secluded shack in the mountains. Later that night, I returned with my comrades, Sasaki, Koyama and Akimoto. All three skilled swordsman and Yojimbo like myself."
“And the four of you faced this great legend in combat?"
“Err, not quite. While the couple slept we set fire to their home, then it was a simple matter of slaying them as they exited, unarmed and blinded by the smoke. .. But it matters not! Tomorrow, the man you are looking at will be 2,500 ryo richer! My friends have just gone to organise horses for the ride home and embalming for the heads. We do not want to smell like rotting corpses on the ride back to imperial palace!"
“You are very fortunate Samurai. I have not been so lucky today." The monk replied.
“How’s that? Did someone stain your robes? Hahaha!"
“In a way. I returned home from the monastery this afternoon on the eve of my parent’s anniversary, only to find our home burnt and my parents brutally murdered."
The Samurai gasped and breathed in some saké, he coughed and spluttered violently but the monk continued his tale seemingly without noticing.
“My father grew to hate war in his old age. Still, a part of the soldier remained. He took precautions. He hid his legendary sword in the woods near his home and trained his only son in it’s use since he was old enough to hold a stick."
The samurai regained his composure and stared at the monk, entranced. “After retrieving my father’s sword I tracked down the Yojimbo who were responsible. I found one bartering with a farmer for horses. I killed him. Two more I found in a nearby merchants hut, they died just as easily."
The samurai stumbled to his feet and drew his sword, his entire body livid with rage “You! I’ll kill you!"
“I think not, for I already killed you ten minutes ago" the monk slowly reached into his sleeve and produced a small empty vial marked ‘Fugu’ (blowfish).
As if on cue the samurai’s hands started twitching, he dropped his sword and clutched his throat “Ack! You demon!" he sputtered painfully as he fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
The monk took the remaining half bottle of saké and poured it over the samurai’s twitching body. He looked into the Samurai’s rage filled eyes and stated calmly “A dishonourable death for a dishonourable man."
As the monk turned calmly and walked outside, he noticed the innkeeper standing shocked in the corner. The innkeeper noticed something too, barely visible, buried beneath the robes of the monk was a sword. The sword of a legend…