Whilst getting ready for my first L5R game in almost 15 years, I came across some older fiction on my harddisk I wrote almost 20 years ago when I first discovered L5R. I thought I would share it here. I tried to intertwine current and past narratives in one story, and I think it worked okay.
The Space Between Two Heartbeats
He stood, staring into dark, cold eyes.
Memories, as clear as yesterday. The young man looked down the hill toward the castle where he would lodge for one year, to learn more of the honourable ways of his clan’s northern neighbours. He spurred his horse down the hill and into the outer courtyard of his host. As he passed over the sparkling blue moat he saw a woman as lovely as the mother of the Kami herself stood on a balcony high up in the main palace. Their eyes met briefly, and he knew then that he would love this woman, whoever she may be, forever.
In his mind he could see her watching him from the crowd gathered at the courtyard’s edge, though he knew her to be far from him, and grieved that her heart could be closed to him by his own foolish actions.
Memories, burned into his heart. An old man watched two young lovers walk by a stream in the large, perfect gardens of Shiro Shiba. They stopped for a time, beneath a tree alive with the colourful riot of spring. The man, dressed in his fine blue and white, reached up and plucked a blossom from the lowest branch and cast it onto the bubbling waters. Although the old gardener could not hear the words the handsome samurai spoke, the lovely maiden raised her fan to hide the blush that followed them, her pale face lit as crimson red as the mon on her golden kimono at the eloquence of his praise. They looked briefly into each other’s eyes and for a moment time stood still as a perfect love was shared.
The crisp wind began to stir and slowly, the first few flakes of the day’s snow began to fall around him, and the other who stood near him. The news had arrived at his father’s court earlier that day. From the north a rider had come, through the cold depths of winter, a rider with wrath in his voice and vengeance in his heart.
The evening breeze cooled the young monk as he knelt in silent supplication at the shrine consecrated to the Lady of the Sun. Breathing deeply, he immersed himself in the scents of the summer. A strange, sweet perfume hung at the edges of the young man’s perception amid the scents of the flowers and sweet grass and returned his mind to the mundane around him. His ears, previously hearing only the glory of Ammeratsu, caught the soft tread of a sandal as a woman passed, walking quickly but gracefully toward the quarters used by the guests of the master of this pious house. His eyes opened slowly and he saw her, alone, enveloped in an aura of beauty, entering a door almost lost to sight in the shadows of the dusk.
In his hand he felt the solid hilt of his grandfather’s sword. He sought for the usual reassuring strength it imparted but in his mind he could only see the crumpled body, dark, rich blood staining the bright red hue of its kimono. A kimono raggedly torn by his dishonourable, anger-fuelled action, using the very blade whose spirit now shunned him.
The daimyo looked across the small table at the elderly woman knelt on the cushion opposite him. She had come from the south, travelling a long road through the beginning of autumn’s chill, to present him with a request of marriage, for his own daughter’s hand. The request came from a fine family, with a long tradition of honour and glory. Though it pleased him, and he knew his daughter’s heart on this, it could not be so. His precious flower was promised to another.
Slowly the chill of the air bit into his muscles, and he felt numb, isolated from those who once had stood beside him, who now stood sheltered in the eves, waiting to condemn him. Even his father had turned away, awaiting his son’s proof by arms that he told no lie. The lie that he knew weighed down his very soul.
He stood in her visiting room, waiting to present himself to her, to take her from here before the first snows of winter fell on the castle of her lord. How could it happen? How could her father dare to belittle their love like this? The door opened. Instead of the tall slender beauty of the daughter of Shiba, he saw her brother. In his eyes he held a look of hatred and contempt, and in his voice the fury of the elements. Before the screen behind the warrior closed, he saw the shape of his beloved, altered by belly that held new life.
His opponent stood impassive, unmoving, like a statue carved only to face him in this yard. He forced down his fear and vowed that he would stand true, like all those who had learned in his school, the very school that had trained the Son of Heaven himself. Slowly he concentrated on the beating of his heart.
His eyes settled on the man standing between him and his love. The blade sang as it rushed from the saya and the arrogant, blustering fool fell, victim to the sword’s deadly song. The warm blood sprayed across his kimono and splashed hot crimson on to the cold white screens. The anger in his heart slowly drained away and he realised what he had done, that he must flee this place.
Something in his silent opposite’s eyes changed and the young man knew that soon he would be facing more than just a steely stare, but instead a fine steel blade that meant to take his life. His grip tightened on his own sword. His heart beat strongly in his breast.
A rider came, through the cold winter, riding when no sane man would. Thunder on his lips, a blood feud guiding his words. He knew he was trapped by his lies. A challenge. Live or die by his choices.
He sought the clarity of the Void, the certainty of action and purpose of spirit. It eluded him. His opponent stood serene and pure. His heart beat strongly in his breast.
A young peasant boy, hidden in the bushes in the cold, snowy courtyard saw the two men facing each other, their hands on their swords. In the blink of an eye a blade was drawn and a man fell, his life taken from him by the lightning strike of his enemy. As blood slowly ran into the snow, colouring its pure white like paint on a canvas, the boy turned his head away.
And his heart beat no more. He looked around and saw that he stood in an ephemeral countryside, one almost lost to his sight whenever he looked upon it. All around him faceless figures walked past, headed to some unseen destination, following a path that called to them from within their souls. He looked around again. He could see no path.