I’ve never been offered the position, but I would think that I’d greatly enjoy being some manner of deity associated with Chocolate. Demigod of Chocolate has a nice ring to it. I would be able to cultivate vast orchards of the finest Cacao trees and have the harvests turned into the most exquisite Chocolate blends in the world. I’d be associated with Chocolate like…Dionysus with wine, John Chapman with apples or Colonel Sanders with chicken. I can happily imagine having to eat no other food and making yummy noises all day long.
I suppose if I handed it out, I could gather quite a following of devotees, their eyes rolling back in their heads with every bite. Sounds a lot better than communion wafers.
Anyway, other imaginings await. Enjoy.
Her father and twin brother had also been samurai, but they were accused of disloyalty to the shogun when they refused to slaughter a village of innocents, something they knew to be wrong. The shogun’s word was law, however, and far less defiant acts had been known to incur serious punishments. As warriors, the disobedient samurai saw the unnecessary massacre of defenseless peasants as a gross violation of their code. The very word “samurai” originated from “sameru” which meant “to serve”, so their defiance was inherently unconscionable. The punishment for such insubordination was that their entire family be put to death.
An illness had claimed her mother the year before and sped her on to yomi, the land of spirits, making her quite safe from the shogun’s corrupt will. Her father and brother committed hara-kiri, each facing death with honor. Okami was all that remained of the family and it was her intention that she not join her family any sooner than she must.
To carry out her execution and complete the destruction of her family, the shogun had sent Jiro, one of his finest warriors. He had come to her family’s home, in the hills beyond Edo, intending to slay her and then himself. She greeted him in her dark warrior’s garb. At her side were two finely crafted swords, crafted by the master swordsmith Munochicka Sanjo, formerly her father’s. Though she had been trained by her father, she was not a samurai and for her to openly wear the blades that were their badge of honor was yet one more violation of law by which to justify her death.
“Akiko,” Jiro said, facing her outside the small yet comfortable house, “my love for you is such that I would not have you die at the hand of another. Though I wish there were some other way for--”
“I understand, my love,” she said, “and I have come prepared to offer you another way, Jiro-chan. If you will not leave with me, I cannot allow you to dishonor yourself by striking down a defenseless girl merely to satisfy the ego and cruelty of the shogun. I will fight you, with all my heart and skill, and if you should kill me, I will go peacefully to the banks of sanzu no kawara and wait to join my ancestors in yomi.”
“Akiko is no more,” she told him, drawing her katana. “From this moment, I am Okami and I gladly walk meifu-mado if I must, but your shogun will not claim my life without effort.”
As she readied herself to fight, her hand taking hold of her longsword, Jiro recognized the footwork of the fencing style used by her father. Women could not be samurai, but her father had trained both twins in the ways of Bushido, the way of the warrior, from the time of their childhood. She was breaking the ties to her past and relying on her unproven skill to carry her along meifu-mado, the dark road to Hell, even taking on the name her brother used to call her in jest. Looking into Jiro’s eyes, she could tell he saw no trace of the girl he loved. Akiko had been buried beneath the fearsome veneer of Okami, the wolf, and she projected an aura of death.
She did regret killing him, but there were no tears in her hard eyes as she lit the torch and set her family home ablaze. A part of her wished he had not fallen to her blade and taken her life instead. Then, she could have been spared the memories weighing upon her as she carried on her work of surviving alone. Still, it was done. She had trained with him too often and come to know his movements too well. As always, his feelings for her made him hesitate against her. She did what she could to keep him from suffering.
Gathering her bundle of food, longbow and arrows, Okami began walking off in the snow toward the mountains to the north. She counted the weight of her supplies as a blessing rather than a burden. In fact, she would have carried more had more been available. Likewise, she thanked her father for the extra layers of clothing that were designed to keep her warm without too much restriction of movement.
As she walked away from her burning home, she knew it would be days before she could reach the nearest village. The tracks she walked in were dangerously larger than her own feet even bundled, but they led away from those who might follow Jiro so they would serve for a time. Unfortunately, the tracks also told her that food would be hard to come by in the wilderness. Extreme hunger was the only thing that ever drew predators so close. These tracks must have been made in the hours while she had been away with her family on their last journey into Edo. With food in the mountains growing scarce this Winter, animals were growing bolder and chancing closer contact with humans.
Okami felt compelled to follow the tracks into the forest and back toward the cold mountains. Moving deeper into the wild seemed more logical the more she walked. Even if it were suspected that she was not among the bodies she had left behind, she felt confident that no one would think that she had traveled such a perilous path. Dangerous as it was, she only felt safer with each step that carried her away from Edo and the han of the shogun. Okami continued on, even after losing the track of the beast she had followed. The irony was not lost on her as she pressed forward without any clear path through mountain forest and rocky terrain. She decided her journey would be the perfect subject of a haiku that she could compose as she walked.
With the passage of hours, the overcast sky grew more dim. It was nearly sunset when she paused to rest. Sitting under a naked tree, beautiful even when devoid of leaves, she opened her bundle of food and water. For the time being, she was tired of eating snow.
With a few deep breaths, she tried to lessen the pressure from her heavy heart that had been sitting like a great rock on her chest. The cold had been some distraction, but she had not been able to keep her mind from returning to her family home; to the fire she had set; to the loved ones forced to kill themselves in the name of honor; to the honorable man whose life she had taken so that his honor could also be preserved…
“Honor,” she mumbled, the simple word leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. “More than merely a word…it has such weight to have cost so many lives. Living in the name of honor,” she said grimly. “Dying for the same honor. Serving and defying, all for honor…How can we all be right? Perhaps, we’re all mad…doomed to drown in our own blood.”
As she reached for a bag of rice, she hesitated. Okami’s senses told her of something out of place. There was a scent on the cold, gentle breeze and a sound as soft as falling snow. She rolled to her left, her hands reaching for her katana even as another’s blade buried itself in the trunk of the tree.
Gaining balance on the fresh snow, Okami sprang to her feet and grabbed for the grip of her sword. Her attacker’s foot landed a powerful kick to her face, sending her tumbling downhill.
“Weak, prattling girl,” she heard the contemptuous accusation follow her as she fell.
At the hill’s bottom, she was painfully aware of the effects of the kick and the sharp rocks beneath the snow, even through her heavy clothes. Okami dismissed her pains and rose to meet her charging adversary. He yelled fiercely as he ran at her, his katana coming her way in an overhead downstroke. The metal of her finely crafted blade sang as she drew it from its saya, clanging against the incoming sword as she spun out of the samurai‘s path.
“Your life’s road has reached its end,” her attacker said, turning back at her with a slicing swipe of his swift blade.
“That decision will not be made,” she said, parrying his cut with practiced ease, “by such as you. I shall set the terms of my own journey.”
She was skilled not only in iaido, the way of fast drawing the sword, and kenjutsu, the use of the sword in combat, but also iaijutsu, the way of quickly and efficiently dispatching enemies by the sword. Still, even though she recognized her would-be killer as another of the shogun’s retainers, she felt hesitation in herself.
“You are no samurai, girl,” he snarled.
“I have never claimed to be,” Okami said, lowering her sword. “In truth, I have seen enough blood this day.”
“You should have had the strength to redeem your clan’s honor and taken your own life.”
Honor. There was that word again, this time burning into her with the sting of a hot blade.
“You are weak,” the samurai continued, “and your father was a fool not to have dispatched you himself.”
“You go too far, Shingen,” Okami warned, seething as her muscles tensed.
“Every man who has died for you today, defying the will of our shogun, has proven himself a weak-willed peasant, unworthy to have ever even held a blade let alone served--”
“Enough! If you would kill me,” Okami challenged him, “be done with it already. I weary of your voice.”
He was skilled enough that he had hurt her already, but he was arrogant and overconfident as he renewed his assault. His prodding made her determined that he would pay for his insults, but she had moved beyond caring for her own life. With nothing left to lose, she rapidly went from countering his attacks to overwhelming his defenses with relentless savagery. Before he was even fully aware, Okami took more control of their battle from him with each successive movement. From her pains, she drew power. Sakki, the bloodlust, made her swifter and stronger than Shingen had thought possible.
A step too close bought the proud samurai a thrust through his abdomen. An anguished cry through clenched teeth turned to blood, coughed out to paint the snow as his body buckled. Her leg swept both of his from beneath him and slammed Shingen to the crimson snow and cold, hard ground. He lay in a sprawl, seeking the strength to hold his gut closed. He could feel only pain and fear…and cold. Then, he felt the wolf at his throat as Okami placed the edge of her blade to his flesh.
“You thought your rank as a samurai made you my better,” she said to him coldly. “You thought you would easily best a mere girl, just as you slaughtered the villagers my father and brother would not harm for daring to feed their families rather than the shogun’s men. It is neither defiance nor treason to deny food when there is nothing left to give.”
He could only cough more blood and groan in response.
“You ceased being a samurai when you lost sight of the true meaning of honor,” she told him, “when you killed harmless villagers in the name of ego rather than defend them as was your duty. My father taught you better and you turned on him.”
She had cut him open and watched his blood stain the snow far more than her own had done. Her skills, like her brother’s, rivaled those of her father and, though she was also stained with blood, this samurai’s agony proved Okami was to dangerous to underestimate.
“You were a fool to pursue me, Shingen,” she admonished, her voice chilling him more than her eyes. “You’ve thrown your life away for an honorless dog.”
“The shogun…ordered your death,” he said, gasping for every pained breath.
“Your shogun has shamed himself and made others suffer for his evil,” she said, her voice deepened and thick with a contempt that she made no attempt to mask.
“You know nothing, girl,” he moaned. “Your--”
“You have brought your shame upon yourself,” she told him angrily, wiping his cooling blood from her silvery blade and fixing him under her loathsome glare. She refused to let him see that he had inflicted any injury upon her, rising as she said, “You are a coward, Shingen, who can only attack from behind.”
“Your…father and brother--”
“Did that which they had to do,” she said, pointing her sword at his heart, “as I have done. Beyond that, I will not have them spoken of by your foul lips.”
She turned to leave him, sliding her katana back into its saya.
“At least…you must end…my life.”
“You are still no samurai.”
“I’m not,” she confirmed. “Still, you are beaten.”
“Worse, I have failed. You must…”
“You would welcome that release, wouldn’t you, Shingen? Would you take your own life if I gave you the means?” she asked, picking up his wakizashi from the snow and crouching beside him with the short blade. “I think you would not. One touch of its cold steel to your throat and I can see the fear in your eyes.”
“I…curse you,” he said bitterly.
He did not want to admit, but could hardly deny, that this girl had embraced death with the worthiness of any samurai.
“Do as you will,” she said, standing and tossing the short sword away, “but what you claim to want is a privilege reserved for worthy foes. It is one you will certainly never earn,” she said, turning to leave him once more. “You disgrace your clan every moment you draw breath.”
She heard a snort and a grunt nearby and glanced to her left to see the bear whose tracks she had followed earlier foraging in the brush a few yards away. She almost felt herself smile, more certain that one way or another Shingen would cease to be a problem. Okami ascended the hill in silence, never looking back even as she heard the failed samurai begin to sob weakly. Injured though she was, it took the young woman only a minute or so to reach the tree where Shingen had found her.
The sun was setting and Okami, still hungry, shoved a piece of dried meat in her mouth as she quickly gathered her belongings. Though she knew she would have to stop soon to rest, she wanted to gain additional distance from the bear. With a bit of luck and skill, perhaps she would even be able to put an arrow through a rabbit’s heart before she stopped to build a fire.
Once again, she thought, her survival entwined with fire and blood.
She could not get free of them. The irony was not lost on her. The night and more snowfall were approaching, though, so she knew she would have to hurry as she stalked off through the snow once more.