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Authors: Jessica Amanda Salmonson

The Golden Naginata

BOOK: The Golden Naginata
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The Golden Naginata

The Tomoe Gozen Saga, Book Two

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

DEDICATION:

to Junko Fuji, Michiyo Yasuda, Yoho Matsuyama,

Junko Miyazono, Keiko

Nakamura, Meiko Kaji

“and many other stars”

also

to Susan and Terri

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

by Wendy Adrian Shultz

Tomoe Gozen with Inazuma-hime

The Gaki Spirit Seeks Tomoe

The Fortuneteller and her Companion

The Tengu and the Magic Toad

Ushii at Shigeno Valley Cemetery

The Holy Kirin

Tomoe in Emma's Hell

Dream Eater of the Dark Land

At the Battle of Fuhara

Lord Kiso's Dance

Death-Poem Ceremony

The Reluctant Encounter

PART ONE

The Vengeance Swords of Okio

Azo Hono-o awaited Tomoe Gozen where two rivers forged themselves into one, north of Daki village in the province of Heida. Azo wore a pair of baggy trousers or split skirt called
hakama,
printed brown on black, over a short kimono of blue slik. Her family seal—a gingko leaf—was printed on the back of the kimono and in the front at each shoulder. Through her sash or
obi
she bore two swords: long and short. Around her head was tied a towel, symbol of her readiness to meet with Tomoe.

She watched the two rivers blend, as she and her sword would blend to become a mighty machine by which another samurai might fall. One of the rivers was smaller than the other. It was overwhelmed by the turbulence of the larger one. The froth and noise of the clashing rivers vanished into serene greatness further on, beyond the destruction of the smaller.

There had been too many occasions when Azo heard it said that among the women warriors of Naipon, only Tomoe Gozen could defeat Azo Hono-o. Azo disagreed; no samurai, be he man or be she woman, was match for Azo's blade. She believed this devoutly. She would demonstrate the truth of her belief. It was a matter of pride.

Tomoe was more famous, it was true; she had slain the Shogun's champion Ugo Mohri and won reestablishment of the Shigeno clan. The clan's only heir was a woman named Toshima-no-Shigeno. It was rare that a clan survived the lack of male heirs. The fact that a woman samurai championed a woman Lord was naturally a fascinating incident. To Azo, none of this meant that Tomoe was special. It grated that Tomoe should become so famous because of unusual circumstances. Defeating her would bring Azo deserved recognition, and bring honor to her family and her sword instructor.

The violence of the two rivers provided a monotonous roar which soothed Azo's anger over having to wait. Tomoe Gozen had not arrived within the time allocated! It would do Azo no good to succumb to rage. When the duel commenced, she must apply herself with calm precision and not be daunted by the cheap maneuver of disrespectful tardiness.

More time passed. Despite her resolve, Azo began to seethe. It was inconceivable that an honorable warrior should accept a challenge and then keep the challenger waiting so long! A good fighter would never stoop to it. Therefore, Tomoe Gozen was not a good fighter. Deciding this, Azo let herself experience the rage after all. She let it sweep over her, and what matter if it weakened her, when her nemesis was famous without warrant!

Enmity peaked. It washed away like silt to a distant delta. If anger was meant to weaken Azo, Tomoe had waited too long to reap the advantage. After a while, the only thing the waiting woman felt was contempt.

Shining Amaterasu passed Her zenith and began the long descent toward twilight. Azo paced along the upper banks of the rivers. She began to suspect Tomoe would not come at all. This was even more inconceivable than tardiness, that Tomoe was a coward.

Azo reeled about, thumb pushing her sword a little ways loose of the scabbard.

There was a thrashing among the bushes along the smaller of the two rivers. Azo caught a glimpse of a varnished straw hat. Tomoe Gozen burst from cover and scrambled up a steep bank. She wore a long kimono, tied up between her legs to allow for running and wading. She was soiled and wet, scratched and sweaty. Her sword was drawn.

Azo drew her sword, though puzzled by the dirty specter who earlier that day had been a regal warrior, wholesome and beautifully dangerous. As Tomoe topped the hillside, she stopped, fell to her knees, and said, “Please accept my apology. Trouble kept me from your commission.”

Along the river from the direction of Daki village there came the sound of splashing feet and shouting samurai.

“You were detained?” asked Azo, trying to see who was coming in a loud hurry.

Tomoe bowed to Azo, humbled and ashamed to be so late. “My father decided my marriage! I was not informed until shortly after your challenge that I was to meet the man today. I refused, saying that my duty was to the Lady of Shigeno Valley, to whom I am a vassal. My father knew of my commitment and previously honored it … but … intrigues! Even the Shogun's concubines become rambunctious knowing that one woman killed his Champion and another woman is overlord in a distant valley. My master, Toshima-no-Shigeno, is politically powerful and cannot be compelled to marry. But I am vulnerable through my father. The Shogun's agents hinted that a dutiful daughter should be married. He bowed to the pressure and said I must accept betrothal and not be so famous as a bachelor. When I refused, my father grew wroth. He said no woman can place her career first, that all women bow in youth to the father, in prime to the husband, and in old age to the son. I disagreed further, saying a samurai's duty is first to a master and to family second. It made him furious that I spoke so boldly. He turned his retainers on me; I killed many of them. Then I realized I was late in coming to you. I came as fast as I could run, but have been followed. My father's men have orders to bring me back to meet with my fiancé, or, if that is not possible, to kill me for my disobedience.”

“A harsh father!” said Azo.

“A difficult daughter,” Tomoe confessed. “He and I both are at an impasse. He too must act according to a master; family ties are indeed secondary.”

Azo Hono-o barely had time to consider Tomoe's situation when six men burst out of the brush. They stopped at the foot of the hill and spotted Tomoe at the top. Tomoe leapt to her feet and sprinted alongside Azo to a stand of trees.

“Before we can have our match,” said Azo, “it seems we must first kill them. I will wear your hat. It will confuse them.”

Tomoe exchanged her varnished hat for Azo's towel. The six men saw the two women separate in opposite directions. Three of them followed after Azo and three after Tomoe. Azo led her three through a ravine, turned quickly to slay the foremost pursuer with a surprise sweep of her sword. The trick could only work once. She jumped up from the ravine and took a stand by a tree, so the two men could not get her between them. They immediately saw their mistake. “Not Tomoe!” one of them said. The other said, “Good. We needn't hesitate to avenge our friend murdered in the ravine.”

They charged together. Azo caught both their swords on her one. When they fell back for another run, she did not wait against the tree as would be expected. She became the aggressor, following them several paces. A quick downward slice cut through shoulder bones, continued through ribs, and found a man's heart. She did not see him fall, already having turned to her third and final opponent.

“Who kills me!” cried the final man, backing away and shaking.

Azo pursued him to the edge of the ravine. “Azo Honoo,” she replied. Her sword cut through his forehead, and he fell into the ravine without another sound.

It was quickly done. She did not hear the sound of fighting elsewhere, and presumed the other battle was finished as quickly.

“Tomoe Gozen!” she called. There was no answer. Azo Hono-o rushed toward a figure half hidden by brush. It was Tomoe, sitting on her knees cleaning blood from her sword. Three corpses lay around her. She looked up and said to Azo,

“You make a lot of noise killing. I finished these three at one stroke.”

“Stand up and duel,” said Azo. “It is our turn.”

Tomoe stood, sheathed her sword, and left the three corpses. She returned to the bank overlooking the two rivers, then sat down upon her knees once again.

“What are you doing?” demanded Azo. “We will fight now!”

“I won't,” said Tomoe.

BOOK: The Golden Naginata
11.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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