The old hermit sat at the mouth of has cave, the scabbard of his sword across his knees. His hair had thinned, over the decades, and was now white and wispy. His forehead was drawn in an almost perpetual frown. But that was the way that it had been for many years.
The enemies of the Satori clan were coming up the valley towards this isolated cave. Yukio knew that, even though he could not see them. He had been born able to know certain things; it was a strange strain which had run through the Satori clan for as long as anybody knew. Sometimes it had skipped a generation. But the power to know things was within the blood of this clan.
For five years the forces of the shogun had been looking for him. He had never bowed down before Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he never would. His clan had fought against the Tokugawa clan and their allies. But they had lost, and Ieyasu had become shogun. It was then that his men had begun hunting down the remnants of the shattered Satori clan.
Yukio had hidden himself away in the cave, living off fish in mountain streams and wild berries, and spending time in silent contemplation. He had killed many people in a long career. But now he only wanted to live his final years in peace.
He had masked his presence in the valley with the power of his mind. But, as he had got older, it was clear that his power had faltered. Somebody must have remembered seeing the crazy old man who lived on the mountain, and reported his presence to the forces of the shogunate.
Yukio glanced down at the lacquered scabbard of his sword. The main colour was black, and the design was of a tatsu – a dragon – flying up and around the scabbard. The dragon was a symbol of the Satori clan. A stylised head of the wise creature appeared on the mon which soldiers of the clan had used to carry into battle.
Yukio could sense the minds of the men searching for him. They had only sent a dozen men. Nowhere near enough.
He drew his katana out of its scabbard, and he gazed down at its mirrored surface of the Tamahagane steel. The reflection of his eyes gazed back up from the blade. At first Yukio did not know whose eyes they were. They looked like the wild eyes of a madman. It took him a second or two to realise that they were his.
The sword was one of the finest in all Nippon. It had taken weeks to make, by one of the finest smiths who had ever lived. The steel of the blade had been folded some twenty times. It was so sharp that Yukio had dreamt, once, that it could even cut the air in two. A leaf falling on the edge would be divided, two halves falling down onto the ground.
Yukio walked forwards from his cave, choosing the point where he would fight. Only a foolish warrior lets the enemy choose the battleground. He waited, at a small rise is the ground, for the soldiers to show themselves.
“I have found the way
Of the noblest warrior
Is to accept death.”
Yukio mumbled those words, a restatement of the hagakure. He had not really understood them until now.
He could see the twelve warriors, now, as they climbed up the valley. They were only yamabushi – mountain warriors, rather than samurai. They were armed with a variety of pole arms.
Yukio shouted a challenge and charged.