Kumori - Journal Entry 4
Meditation on Mortality
The group had made camp in the lee of a low rise; the location had the twin advantages of offering a shelter from the wind, which had picked up as the sun had set, and hiding their fire from any wandering bands of bakemono who might otherwise have been drawn to it. Kumori was glad they could safely light a fire, as the wind carried a bitter chill, and despite a lack of snow the winter bit with no less force than it had in Minamoto Province back home. The folk of the Villa had been generous with what little food they had, so the company’s meal that night was better than a usual camp supper. Kumori found he had started to develop a taste for the strong flavors of Espasian food, and the garlic-heavy sausages and sharp, smoky cheese they had gotten filled the belly well after a day’s ride. He’d have liked to have a pickled plum, or a bowl of rice, or (since he was daydreaming, he might as well really go for it) a bottle of sake, but with a fire before him and food in his belly he had little to complain about.
…and yet, the complaints would not leave him alone. The wind carried grit on its shoulders, dust out of the depths of the badlands that got into everything. The same wind cut like the steel of a knife through gaps in armor to annoy the back of the neck and make one shiver. The ground was rocky and uneven, and even with his bedroll down, sitting was uncomfortable. Dorak sat on the far side of the fire, going over an accounting ledger of some kind, and his grumping about the poor reward they had received for killing the Bugbears grated on Kumori’s nerves. Dusky kept not-so-subtly trying to push him into another conversation about religion, and seemed hurt no matter how gently he tried to beg off.
It all made him feel more like a vagrant, uncultured ronin than a true samurai, who was supposed to be above such things. He realized with a start that he was rummaging in his pack for another sausage, trying to feed his belly rather than working to calm his mind. He pulled his hand from the bag with a guilty jerk, and frowned thoughtfully. Iz, sitting beside him, noticed, but said nothing. Her interest was piqued, however, and she watched with fascination as he reached to his belt and removed his rosary. He shifted to sit in the lotus position, clutched the rosary in his left hand, and closed his eyes.
He breathed deeply, focusing first on the warmth of the fire radiating on his face and hands. He remembered a skirmish years before, one he’d fought in just after his manhood ceremony, in which he had been struck by a fire arrow. The arrow had struck him in the left arm, and the pain had been like nothing he had known before that moment. He remembered it, and thought of being struck by not one, but many arrows at once…
“Kumori?” Iz asked in a whisper, as though afraid to speak to him. He opened his eyes, and regarded her expressionlessly.
“What are you doing?”
“Meditating.” He gave her a half-nod, then shut his eyes again and thought more about arrows. He imagined the feat of his great-uncle Nobukayo, who had been struck by an arrow in the left eye at Seki-hara. Nobukayo had plucked the arrow from his eye socket, while galloping at full speed, and fired the same arrow back into the Taira forces, killing Takeda Hiragashi, before charging into the Taira lines and slaying six men. Kumori imagined the pain of an arrow, and thought of that pain in his eye. He thought of the fight by the river in Gran Rio, imagined charging out into the cloud of arrows the nobuseri had been firing.
But there would have been no glory there; facing that death would have earned nothing. He thought instead of the Bugbears, and the leader’s great spear. He remembered feeling the point of the weapon pierce his belly, the slickness of his own blood under his feet. He remembered another ancestor, his many-times-removed cousin Hojo Fujimori, who had faced Taira no Masachika at Ichitani, and taken the Taira champion’s spearpoint captive with his body, so that Yoshitsune, Kumori’s own many-times-great-grandfather, could close for the kill. That was the death of a worthy samurai…
“Meditating on what?” Iz’alma somehow stood in his mind’s eye, over Taira Masachika’s shoulder. Sighing, he opened his eyes again and regarded her with a narrow, slightly strained smile.
“On my death.” He closed his eyes again, but was hardly able to start imagining his heart stopping and the light fading from his eyes before Iz interrupted again. “Wait, did you die while I was in the lamp? But you’re a nonbeliever! Is that why Dorak’s so obsessed with money right now?”
He didn’t bother opening his eyes, this time. “No, Iz, I did not die while you were in the Impossible Palace. I am meditating on how I might die.” Falling from a height; that had nearly happened just yesterday. He thought of the gut-clenching moment of weightlessness, the wind rushing past-
“Well, why? I mean, isn’t meditation supposed to bring you peace of mind, or something?”
Even Kobodaishi wrote wrong, he reminded himself. “By thinking on my death, whether by sword or spear or fire or fall, I prepare myself to face all those possible fates. Imagining my death takes the fear out of facing it in battle. Thus may I sell my life more dearly when called on to do so. Also, by thinking on the pain of the wounds, I remember how fortunate I am to have a fire and food in my stomach. ‘When a samurai is hungry, he picks his teeth.’ I found myself complaining in my own mind about the weather and… other things. It was unbecoming of a warrior, so I chose to meditate to re-center my mind.”
“Oh.” Iz’alma seemed genuinely taken aback. She looked into the fire for a moment. Her expression prevented Kumori even trying to return to his meditations- she clearly had something to say, but was fighting the urge not to.
Predictably, the urge lost. “It just seems so morbid, is all.”
From an Oracle of Death. O gods, you send your lessons in unexpected ways. Kumori blinked, then smiled, shook his head, and began to laugh. As he threw his head back, his laughter carried with the fire’s sparks into the heavens.