As Mikio sat across the mat from his wife and young daughters, the sun hanging low on the horizon cast the scene in an amber glow, which was something Mikio always enjoyed this time of year.
A knocking at the door and his name being called returned Mikio to the present.
“Mikio, San?” Came the call.
Slowly getting to his feet, Mikio approached the door as his wife started to clear clay bowls in which the evening meal had been served, simple but long reliable, just like his wife. As Mikio slid open the door, on the porch stood Nobou, the village blacksmith. He was a stout man, muscled and stocky with a slightly greasy look from working in the heat of the forge. Soot and ash for the kiln gave him the look of never really being clean.
Looking past Mikio and seeing the family clearing away the meal Nobou apologised for the interruption, bowing low.
“No need to apologise Nobou, what brings you to my home so late in evening?” Replied Mikio, stepping out onto the porch and sliding the door shut behind him.
“I am afraid we may be in need of you, Yoriki,” said Nobou in an apologetic tone, raising his head from his bow.
Mikio, tilted his head quizzically and raising an eyebrow prompting Nobou to continue.
“This afternoon a pair of Ronin entered the village, they were friendly at first entertaining Wong sen with tales of The Dragon war, unfortunately I fear they have now had too much Saki and Wong sen doesn’t know how to tell them she’s closing for the evening,”
“I see, well it sounds like I should explain that just because we are a small village in the Whispering woods we still have the same laws as if we were Ryu herself,” proclaimed Mikio, waving his finger towards to sky as he spoke to add effect.
Mikio informed his wife he had to attend to something in the village and set off the five hundred or so paces down the track to the main square of the village. Kinimoro was little more than a way station, situated between Jyoto and Akata, merchants and travellers would often stop to rest horses or weary feet and relax in the leafy little village. The centre of the village comprised of an old tea house run by Wong sen, she had run the house since her husband had been killed in The Dragon Wars some ten years earlier. The blacksmiths kept a steady trade for Nobou and his family. That left the Inn and a small Shrine to the Kami of Whispering Woods, although rarely would any of the families worship as often as they should.
Nobou, reassured by Mikio that he wouldn’t be needed. Nobou, bowed and left Mikio to return to his home leaving Mikio stood alone in the dusty square, the sun setting behind the Ro-Kan Mountains in the distance.
Mikio was no stranger to conflict. He had not taken the usual route in becoming a Yoriki. In fact it would have seemed unthinkable to Mikio growing up on the lively and bustling streets of Jima that he would now be Yoriki, a law man, in a sleepy hamlet, with a wife and children. That he would read to his children, observe religious holidays and that most cycles the closest he would come to conflict was telling Horimora San he’d had too much to drink and that the rest of the village didn’t appreciate his rather vocal stories being recounted in the village square during the night.
The sounds of breaking tables and shouting interrupted the peaceful square. Strolling purposefully up to the Inn he slid open the fusama, filling the Inn with the evening sun.
The two Ronin stood over a rather shaken looking Wong, laying amongst the debris of a table. Neither party spoke as they weighed up the others perceived strength. Wong took this opportunity to move her portly frame off the floor and out of the way of the trouble makers.
“What do you want, Batu?” said the slightly taller and older Ronin, with a broad smile.
“You deaf, Batu San?” His partner fired off, elbowing his friend, appearing quite pleased with his quip.
Mikio knew that even drunk the ronin were trained and able warriors.
“The hospitality of Kinimoro is no longer extended to you, Sans,” Mikio announced loudly, hands on his hips and elbows out to make his width even more imposing.
The reply obviously wasn’t what the Ronin had expected as the smiles disappeared from their faces.
“Be careful to whom you give orders,” The older man said proudly, puffing out his chest.
“I am Mikio, Yoriki to the Magistrate of Jyoto. My word is final!”
The two Ronin edged closer. Mikio could sense the time for talk would soon be over. The Ronin were in no mood to accept instruction and paid no respect to his rank. Mikio could feel his pulse quicken, making sure he kept both Ronin in his field of vision he stepped forward knowing the Ronin would have left their swords at the door as they weren’t secured to their waists. Although considerably smaller than he had been in his prime, Mikio was still strong as an Ox.
Quick as lightning the younger of the two darted forward.
All of the warrior castes were trained in unarmed combat, Mikio’s advantage was that the Ronin didn’t know of his past and that years as a Jumo fighter made him easily their equal in skill.
The man attempted to strike at Mikio’s head, obviously attempting to end the fight quickly. Mikio span with a speed that took the smaller man by surprise, raising and parrying with his left arm before thrusting his huge mallet like fists into the man’s solar plexus. With a groan the Ronin, crumpled to the Inn floor.
Before Mikio had the chance to breathe the second older man was upon him. A flurry of strikes aimed at Mikio’s vital areas in the form of strong kicks and forceful punches. None found the mark as the larger man deftly backed away or sidestepped the ronin’s attacks.
The frustration on the ronin’s face meant that he would not back down. Mikio would have to end this before the other man recovered. As the older Ronin manoeuvred into striking distance, Mikio made his move. With two quick strides Mikio closed the distance, removing the option of his opponent to use kicks and pushing him back and off balance. Next a quick strike to left shoulder spinning the man. As the man span exposing his back, Mikio turned and grabbed the back of the man’s neck with his meaty fist whilst hooking his right leg between those of the soon to be defeated trouble maker. With a quick rocking motion Mikio took himself and Ronin back and then forward smashing his face into the lacquered bamboo floor. The Ronin groaned loudly and spat out some teeth before passing out. With surprising athleticism for his size Mikio sprang to his feet turning to ensure the other ronin was still down. Relaxing his fists when he saw the man still struggling to catch his breath. Mikio stooped and gripped the older man at his feet by the collar of his old kimono. Dragging him along with little effort over to his partner. Mikio hauled the other man in the same way to the sliding fusama doors and with a heave launched the stunned and defeated bullies into the small square. Out of the corner of his eye Mikio spied Wong, who had been anxiously watching the confrontation, emerge from behind the porch of her establishment.
The two ronin struggled to their feet, Mikio crouched down and retrieved their weapons from where they had left them by the door.
“I Mikio, Yoriki to the Magistrate of Jyoto order you leave this village, should you not heed my words my justice will be swift and final,” as he spoke the last words he lowered his voice and levelled his gaze squarely at the older ronin. Mikio could see in his eyes the message was understood. He threw their weapons into the dirt at their feet.
As he watched the two men, as quickly as there beating allowed, hasten from the small hamlet he now called home, Mikio felt a strange feeling. He couldn’t place it but it made him uneasy.