The sound of metal on metal stirred her from her sleep. The alarm had not been raised, so it probably meant one thing.
The Shining Princess of the Radiant Moonlight Kaguya (to give her one of her shorter titles…) rose from her bed and made her way over to the veranda overlooking the inner courtyard. The head of her personal guard hated that she slept in such an exposed room in the castle, but she enjoyed the view in the mornings and would insist. He, in turn, would insist on posting twice the standard amount of guard around her chambers when she did so. One of these moved towards her now, to chastise her, to move her back away into the relative safety of the room, but she waved him away with a dismissive flick of her hand. He hesitated, but obeyed.
Down in the courtyard, her aforementioned Head of Guard was sparring with her Lady-in-Waiting. It was a scene rarely played out even within the walls of her own castle, where women were given equal rank and responsibility to the men, let alone seen anywhere else in all the land, she supposed.
In the bright light of the full moon she could see they were sparring with katanas, and not just training ones made of oak and bamboo, but proper steel weapons with edges honed to the finest point. This was, again, unusual for most samurai.
The katana was Lady Tsunami’s specialty and she definitely had the advantage over Lord Kuroi Tsubasa, who preferred the longer reaching and heavier O-naginata pole weapon. Princess Kaguya noted, however, that neither warrior was using their signature weapons, the sacred blades crafted from the mystical Blood Steel. That was how you could tell this was just a practice fight.
There was a kind of poetry to their moves, an elaborate dance between the two of them. Lord Tsubasa’s movements were slower, more methodical and determined, the Lady Tsunami’s lighter, quicker, almost as if she was floating around her opponent. She was never able to linger long enough in one spot to score a decisive blow, however; Lord Tsubasa was just quick enough and more importantly, that much stronger than her that if he managed to lay a blow on her, it would be the end of the duel.
So it went. The small, delicate but deadly swords-woman darting in and out in graceful yet furtive movements, a micro-satellite caught in the orbit of a gas giant that hardly moved yet was able to parry blow for blow, neither one gaining ground. What had the Dutch visitor called it when he had been witness to this spectacle? Oh yes. An endless waltz of violence, set to an symphony of steel.
A dance which came to an abrupt end when Lady Tsunami came to a sudden halt. Sensing his opportunity, Lord Tsubasa brought his blade slicing through the air, aimed squarely at her exposed neck. When she made no move to block or dodge the attack, Princess Kaguya couldn’t help but scream and turn away.
When she didn’t hear the hissing sound that came with blood rapidly departing the body, followed by the wet thump of the head bouncing off the stones, she turned back to look.
Lord Tsubasa’s blade was less than an inch from Lady Tsunami’s neck, humming softly from the vibrations that occurred with it’s almost instantaneous cessation of inertia.
Her eyes betrayed no fear, no defiance. Just acceptance. Like she had foreknown this to be the outcome of her actions.
Lord Tsubasa’s eyes narrowed. He slowly withdrew the blade from her neck and lowered it to his side. She had not yet sheathed her blade, so neither did he.
“In a real battle, mi’lady,” he spoke, slowly, “that move would have been tantamount to suicide.”
“With respect, mi’lord,” she replied, coolly, “I think we both know that in a real battle, your blow never would have hit me.”
“So then why-?”
“A lesson. That sometimes the most powerful attack is knowing when to sheathe your sword.”
They eyed each other momentarily, then, at the same time, bowed to each other with equal depth, and stowed their weapons back in their scabbards.
“A powerful lesson indeed,”
Both samurai whirled around at the sound of the Princesses’ voice, instinctively going down on one knee in the abbreviated bow used on a battlefield.
“Princess. Forgive my absence from your side,” Lady Tsunami kowtowed. “I had not expected you to wake until the sun’s rise.”
“That might well have been the case, my dear Lady, had not my slumber been disturbed by your duel with my Captain of the Guard. Fortunately he has seen fit to supply me with surplus men to come at my beck and call in your absence.”
“Princess.” Lord Tsubasa probably caught the sarcasm in Princess Kaguya’s voice, but chose to ignore it.
“It is no matter. I both enjoyed the spectacle of the duel and found much wisdom in the words of Lady Tsunami. May I be so bold as to offer some words of wisdom of my own?”
“It is your Highnesses’ prerogative to share what she will whenever she sees fit to do so.” Lord Tsubasa replied.
“Much as a stone sharpens the blade, and practice hones the skills to use it, so too does repose sharpen the body and slumber hones the temperament of the spirit that uses it. Especially if that slumber is undisturbed?”
“Princess,” both samurai responded in unison, their liege’s meaning clear.
“Very good. Good Night.”
“Good Night Princess.”
Princess Kaguya disappeared back into her room.
“No rest for me for several hours more I think.” Lord Tsubasa said, pulling the swords from his sash and replacing them with his personal weapons. “I have to oversee the changing of the watch.”
“In that case I will turn myself in.” Lady Tsunami replied. “Knowing when to sleep is almost as strong as knowing when to sheathe your sword.”
“You have much wisdom to share with us tonight it seems, dear Lady.” Lord Tsubasa smirked. “It was a pity to have ended the duel like that just when I was about to win, however. You are not a sore loser, are you?”
“If believing that is what helps you sleep soundly tonight, dear Lord, then who am I to say otherwise.”
She bowed, although it was shallower than the previous bow she had given him.
“Good Night, Lord Kuroi Tsubasa,”
“Good Night, Lady Tsunami.”
She turned and left the courtyard, her own weapons glinting in the moonlight like a single drop of blood on an unmarked field of snow.
* * *