What most I remember is first standing across from Okano ... our eyes
met then locked. His were ice ... thru which veil lay emptiness.
I made the challenge, he nodded, grunting an affirmation, asking, “Where ... when?”.
“The field beyond the pagoda, we’ll start as the
setting sun touches the horizon, on the day of the full moon.” He nodded then left.
Springing this trap proved simpler than anticipated. This would be my day! Vanquishing Okano promised to assure my wealth and
prestige for years to come.
My plans were many, I had already scoped and studied the terrain and the conditions of light, I would approach from a direction guaranteeing advantage to me. Every possibility was
He was there as agreed, back turned to me as I arrived ... oblivious to my machinations, and clearly ignorant of my plan to steal the advantage. I stopped a respectful 10 paces away, then drew my weapon
and waited. He turned about, carefully setting down his rice and chopsticks then casually lifting his weapon, letting its sheath drop from the blade, as he positioned across from me.
This was all wrong! Where was
my hoped-for advantage, my assurance of victory? He stood unassailable ... but looked no different than any other swordsman of past encounter. What was I missing?
I froze, unable to move sensing his unfathomable
skill and feeling his energy closing like a shadow reeling in the distance between us.
As the shadow’s web enveloped me, all burned deep within, even while the eclipse blanketed my agony. My spirit stood locked
within his fiery surround, ... I, the dragon’s meal soon to be.
Everything on which I planned to rely thawed into uncertainty. What remained to actualize my strategy, as I stood exposed at the precipice?
Why did I ever throw the challenge? When is enough, enough?
Time stopped as I drifted without hope into his gaze, uprooted and torn from reality.
Eventually I broke ... no longer able to stand, I crumbled
to the ground and submitted. The full moon glimmered over the the pines. Nausea erupted, held in check only by my locked jaw.
I expected nothing but death. It’s what I would have served my opponent.
He stood motionless for what seemed an eternity, then turned about and left, leaving no words.
I expected ridicule and ruin on returning to town, my life as a warrior and protector surely ended, I would be left
to wandering and catering to the vices of patrons for sustenance.
As it turned out, he had said nothing, told no one ... in fact, he had not even returned to the community.
Those who had wagered pressed me
for a full account. At first, I gave no report, my inner shame unbearable. Finally, I told them to seek out Okano, he would give them what they sought (as perhaps he had to me).
Several months afterward,
travelers found Okano’s body in a remote woods. He had been killed, apparently by a savage beast ... I like to think it was a bear, or perhaps a tiger ... either would account for the terrible wounds reported.
But it posed a riddle, to which I have yet to find an answer ...
Was not Okano able to effect his enormous power and influence over the beast, as he had done with me?
Is it possible the beast did not know how much I knew about what Okano knew?