His thoughts drifted as he lay on the impossibly comfortable bed, his body relishing the feel of clean sheets against his now soft fur. The sake had warmed him further, every inch of him now clean, calm, well fed and relaxed. However, the gentle peace that had settled over him did not last long. Images floated through his mind as he reminded himself of the reason he was on this path. A sudden, fierce rage rose within him, causing his lips to lift in a near growl, baring the glinting teeth behind them. The band of weasels had delayed him further, and although this place was a welcome, if not needed, distraction, he knew he would not stay long. The force that drove him on still beat strongly within him, his rage, and his guilt, feeding it. Faces drifted past his minds eye, familiar and welcome. Each one sending a pang of loss through him. It was time. The debt was long overdue, and it was to be repaid, very soon.
Kitsune had not always been samurai. His life as a cub was full of happiness and carefree days, his family close and caring. His father
, a farmer in the paddy fields, was strong, honourable and kind. The love he showed Kitsune's mother
was true and pure, unfettered by the expectations of behaviour and society. He did not expect her to wait on him as most other women in his village did on their husbands. He helped in the house, even after long days in the fields, feet sore and blistered from standing in water all day, despite the protection his pads and fur gave him. And he encouraged this behaviour in his son, teaching him the values of respect and honour, but without the assumption that women were to be taken for granted.
It had been a day like any other, his father leaving the ramshackle bamboo hut
they called home before dawn, lovingly cared for and kept clean by his mother. The fields were not far from the village, and Kitsune often played within sight of his father as he worked, using branches from the nearby trees to challenge his friends to battles. Their village was one of many under the protection and ownership of a popular but weak Lord, and his Samurai would often be seen riding through on their way to or from his castle. That day, thrusting and parrying with his wooden 'katana', Kitsune was puzzled by the arrival of large clouds on the horizon. They were neither white nor grey, and they seemed to cling to the ground, drifting with some speed. As the clouds drew nearer, he realised they were following the dirt track that lead towards the castle just a days walk away. The sound then reached his ears, quietly at first and then, as it drew nearer, the rising sound of thunder. And there, in the brown dust of the billowing cloud he saw. Hundreds of Samurai on horseback, but not clothed in armour he recognised.
Sudden screams from the far side of the village, the quick movements of foxes flitting between huts and trees, and then his father ran past him, water and mud trailing behind him, snatching him up as if he were a bag of flour and running to their home. As they neared, he saw his mother's face, pale, scared and wondered what it was that was making her so frightened. Passing him to her, his father rushed inside to return moments later with something he rarely saw, as it was a hidden thing, a secret thing
. He had found it once, and had been scolded severely for doing so. His father had said something about it being outlawed or forbidden, and that bad things would happen to him should anyone know he had it in his possession. This length of black ebony, seemingly no break in it's surface was now in his father's hands. With one swift movement, he drew a shining length of steel from within it's sheath, the sun catching on it's surface, making Kitsune squint.
"Take him, hide, run to the caves!", his father almost whispered to his mother, her eyes wide. He could feel her shaking as her arms gripped him tightly. He wrapped his free arm around her, brought her close and kissed her, a long, lingering kiss, his mother gripping the cloth of his shirt tightly as he did so. And as he pulled away from her, she would not let go, her fingers wrapped in the folds.
"No, no, Hideko, no! Don't! I don't want to lose you!", her voice filled with sobs, loss, knowing well that her words would go unheeded.
He turned, gave her a calm, peaceful look, a gentle smile,
"I will always be with you Nanami, wherever you are", and with those words, he threw his scabbard to the floor and, with a few of the other men of the village who had also armed themselves, ran toward the storm of horses that approached.