L5R : Jade Winds
Yonaka and Earth
One does not climb to attain enlightenment.
“Go”, grandfather had said, “your gempuku is not this winter, it is now and your grandmother awaits!”
He had thought they were merely visiting Iron Mountain dojo, but now he understands.
This morning in practice when Tenko Sensei had him demonstrate with perfect form the 5 Elemental Kata to the new students, and shortly after class when Yoshi Sensei had him recite and expound upon the Seven Virtues. The unexpected audience with Nana and Kiki. The gift of the tattoo…
It still stings of course, worse now that he sweats through the juban under his kimono as his fingers seek for new purchase on the face of rock leading to the peak his grandfather Kato had indicated. His back and shoulders ache and his hands have become numb a few times during the long climb. This test is not, he reminds himself, merely a demonstration of skills and knowledge. It is a measure of pain and endurance, a test of will and spirit.
He goes on. “Left hand, across and up. Right foot, ease over to the ledge.” he whispers quietly to himself to focus and help him keep his attention on the task at hand. “Right hand, out from under and together with the left. Ease the left foot over… now up to rest beside the right. Breathe. Keep your eyes open. Breathe. Ready. Good. Now push with the legs and pull with the arms. Left hand, reach up to that hold…”
As he reaches the crest he slowly eases his body onto the plateau, wishing he could close his eyes and rest for just a minute, but the wind has picked up just enough and he is not alone. Carefully, slowly, and resisting the urge to whisper the words to tell himself how to get up from his hands and knees he rises and bows to his grandmother.
She looks upon her grandson with stern eyes, assessing him, deciding wether to deem him worthy. With a slow nod and a gesture she indicates a pile of large rocks amidst the other stones scattered about.
He goes over to the rocks and waits, only then noticing the lacquered stand holding the saya of the katana and wakizashi. Old blades sleep in those scabbards, the tsuba a design of clouds and mountains with the dragon swimming between both, the hamon pattern on the blades a series of hills amidst the flames. “Between mountain and sky.” a reminder of all that is unseen, and that the Dragon is part of The Way.
“They would have gone to your brother and sister. Somehow they would have had to work it out. Maybe they would have taken turns, always being near each other. Maybe each would have taken one sword. Maybe there would have been disagreements, arguments, fighting between siblings.” Grandmother says, “That trouble has been saved for us all, but still the Clans need the Dragon.”
Grandmother pauses, for a brief moment the years show as she bends to the ground and reaches a weathered and calloused hand to touch one of the rocks. “We built no shrine for them when they died, it was too soon and your parents and I were no longer close. My own words would not have honored their memory.”
“So I leave it to you. Start with the one on the top of this plateau. Build it. Honor it. Take their names into your heart as you would a lesson from your Sensei. Then go, go to the next one, and the next one, walk through the Empire and honor the names you find until you have found something more important than the past.”
The young man nods and offers an arm to his Nana, but instead she hands him a small hammer and chisel as she rises on her own and walks to the far edge where the cliff face drops down into the early evening mists.
“I am no artist or philosopher, but think on this, my grandson.”, Mirumoto Naoki says as she looks back over her shoulder,
“What is a samurai without a sword?”
She smiles for the first time that the boy can remember before she starts down the other side. The sun is in the boy’s eyes as it sets over the crest of Iron Mountain and makes him squint for a moment against the brightness.
When he opens them again to look there is no one to be seen. Only the clouds between him and the valley below. But then, he thinks, this is part of the riddles. Answers will come when they will come and like buckwheat in the fields there will be no harvesting before it is time.
The Daisho. A pile of rocks. A hammer and a chisel. A test of will and spirit.
It will take all night.