A Blind Swordsman
January 9, 2012
Another short piece today, like yesterday. It’s another one I’m rather proud of though. I may expand it later but it’s a story that’s been told so many times before, this is mostly just character and scene practice. But, like always, don’t hesitate to tell me what you like or dislike so I can hone my writing more.
This one is untitled.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~There was always something wonderful, beautiful, about the smell of the barley on the wind, the air’s caress on his face and around his legs. There was also something comforting about the smell of steel in the air, the fine metal shavings invading his nose and filling it with the tang of metal before the onslaught of iron and wet mortality from the spilled blood.
Today, though, it was just barley. He heard the voices far off, soon it would be more than that, but now, in this moment, he was at peace.
His straw sandal ground into the dirt, feeling the moist wetness of spring soil against the toes of his sock, the soft give against the ball of his foot. He slid his other foot back, practiced and calloused hands gently holding hilt of his sword. Not old, but not young, like its bearer, it slid comfortably out of the metal ring around the scabbard, softly letting the flowing wind into its wooden casing. His feet planted into the ground, his posture quickly turning him from man, to castle, to ancient tree rooted deep to the earth and his clothes whipped out in the growing wind, like a flag that few would ever see.
Two, no three, came at first. Together, trying to hide their sounds and movements. Swords drawn already, he tasted the steel, the dried blood, whistling on the breeze. He could smell their sweat, the baked in dirt of days on the road. The first was young, heady. The musk of his training hung thick around him, his body creaked with the changes a boy feels as he grows into a man. No more than twenty summers, he thought. There was a soft thud, a heavy step, belying how close the child was. Like lightning then thunder, his foot rotated around his waist and the boy’s kneed cracked and gave under his own weight. The child thudding to the earth, he cut the poor boy’s throat before he was conscious he was prone. Without pause, he lashed out at the two older men, dressed in tighter garments, both rubbed with the earth beneath their feet. Smart, but not fast. Quickly, they fell as well, blood feeding the bread about them.
One, he thought, out by the trees to the east. A warrior, a hunter. All he had was mere moments before he heard the whistling. Scant steps saved him from the silent shaft, an expertly placed arrow from the treeline. He tilted his head and listened.
Another soldier, two swords. Reeked of blood. There was a quick stoccato of blows exchanged, blade to blade. Jarring and loud, it was unlike the other three warriors, silent and considerate. He put down this ruffian with a quick thrust through the temple, using the falling body to absorb another arrow.
His sandals slid across the earth slowly, feeling the ground sigh as he stepped. Another arrow, this time he deflected it. A turn, a slice, and it was but kindling on the wind. He was growing impatient with the marksman. Slowly he drifted closer, his back to the bow. Two more children, full of fire and thunder. Chains, he heard, whistling overhead. Toys, he thought, as a change in footing permitted him to cut both their throats in a smooth, spinning kneel. Another arrow flew over his head. The archer, it seems, thought that he could not listen to both him and an assailant simultaneously.
He stalked softly to the trees, back bowed to the marksman, in reverence of his skill, but also in preparation of his assault. He knew others were out there, two more children chomping at their bits, their handlers clad in black and smelling of soot and poison, and foot soldiers carrying broken swords and the smell of the road. The were watching him, trying to coral him like a beast. They could not know how he saw them around him, they could not know how he understood them.
To ensure they could have an idea, he knelt as another arrow whistled out of the trees and threw a knife from his voluminous shirt, the small thing blade tumbling as if in slow motion before releasing the heart’s blood of the archer. Like a small, violent fountain, liquid life sprung up and dashed upon the soil and it was over. Silence. The sound of birds. The taste of iron and steel on the air.
The children came first, as a wave. Inexperienced, they all struck at once. All but one were dispatched by their brothers and sisters at arms. The last bowed back from the carnage and bowed his head in reverence. He smiled to the young woman and patted her shoulder as he stood up, softly groaning at the exertion.
Two warriors came out. The first he had to be rash about, taking an arm and then his belly before the monster could kill the young woman prostrate on the ground. The other two stepped back before the same fate befell them. Unluckily for them, it was merely a matter of heartbeats and poorly directed thrusts that brought them to their knees anyway.
One remained, standing with pride, the others had either run or would surely die should they attempt anything.
“We have you, old man. Do not think you can get away again.”
The bull charged him, his blades ringing in the air as he drew them. Two, thin, long. Swords from a far away land, swords of both brutality and simplicity, of both strength and subtlety. Swords not designed to fight his blade, but to kill another. Pangs of lightning flashed between them. Sparks flew as his blade ground against the sabres of the bull, the bull’s blades ringing as he blocked the heavy slashes from his sword. Already starting to tire, the bull rushed him, thudding into the blade with imperfect but fast attacks. However, youth could only beat experience for so long. Just a moment, not even a complete heartbeat, and the bull’s horns parted and exposed his wrists. Soon, he had but one hand. To his credit, he did not scream nor falter, but adjusted as a warrior should.
However, without both swords, he stood no chance against the expert assassin. He cleaned his sword on the bull’s shirt as he heard the other warriors break and run, not wanting to fight him. He smiled to the young woman.
She stood, trembling, in reverence. “Zatoichi, you are a demon.”