In a far-off land, a faithful soldier of the common rank of bushi stood watching his tiny son, wondering over the boy’s origination and destination. He was a good soldier and practiced Bushido, the way of the warrior, in all of his affairs. At the birth of the boy, he had rejoiced. It was his second child but his first son. The baby had been healthy and strong at his birth. He is like me, thought the warrior.
In the beginning he assumed that his son would be filial, attaining and maintaining the rank of bushi in honor of his family’s name, as the bushi himself had done. For the first two years there was no question of this. The other soldiers commented frequently upon the baby’s robust frame and nature. The warrior was very proud and certain then of his patronage. But a strange and discouraging thing came to pass when the warrior’s young wife gave birth to their third child, a daughter.
Soon after the birth of the third child came the ceremony marking the bushi’s son’s third year of life, a festive celebration of survival. It was then the bushi’s son, for the most part, ceased eating. No one could encourage, cajole, nor even coerce the boy to allow himself proper nourishment. The boy grew frail and his parents dreaded, silently, the coming winter.
The warrior foresaw trouble. For he now saw with his eyes and sensed with his heart that his child was not like him. For a bushi, any divergence, be it from rank or form, was potentially a grave error, and so the father’s heart was grieved. He suffered in the anticipation and eventually the realization that his son was not bushi. And, within the poverty of his own heart, he felt dishonored.
The young mother believed that her son resented the new baby, and so he refused food, to punish her for interrupting the perfect harmony of mother and son. This misconception grew, knotting itself within the mother’s womb. She feared that her only son would die, and she believed herself to be guilty.
The bushi sensed his devoted wife’s guilt and began to silently question her fidelity, as the boy, who had begun life so much in his own oaken image, took on a refined appearance. Though, he reminded himself, my son’s face was always beautiful, like his mother’s.
The boy appeared oblivious to the secret distress of his parents deep and separate concerns, but he was not. He merely dismissed their emotion and concern for what it was: Delusion.
Upon his sister’s arrival, he smiled into her impish newborn face and welcomed her.
Her arrival allowed him to begin his journey. She had come willingly to intercede and replace him in their mother’s arms and at what would have been her lonely breast. His mother was forced to release her hold upon his being. He could now begin. For love of his mother he had delayed his purpose this long. So began the little monk’s pilgrimage, with a fast.
His father’s misconception slid like a raindrop off his button nose. His mother’s worries were but a cloud passing across the blue sky. He would grow someday, indeed, to be a great and filial warrior in a dimension his father had not yet even glimpsed, in service to a lord far greater than the bushi’s.
Still but an infant in his own right, the child was no bastard, let alone, a resentful bastard. The demon of resentment had been exiled to his future, being forbidden to duel with him until the appointed hour, after his first gempuku, a ceremony marking the name he would choose for himself as a man. The child was a monk, an aesthetic in its original and purest form. Yet his parents knew him not.
Eight years passed, and the child grew, as did the misconceptions of others. Under a late afternoon sun, on a lush hillside of conquered, foreign soil stood the bushi, again watching his son, this time scrutinizing him. The bushi had been called again to war, and on the morrow, he would travel across the ocean to defend the honor of his lord. His family would, of course, remain behind, as they always did. The bushi did not believe he would return. As a bushi, to express emotion was unthinkable. His emotions were a burden which was nearly unbearable.
Believing this to be his last chance, he voiced a prayer for enlightenment and waited, hoping that the great mystery of this child would be revealed to him, perhaps in the warm breeze upon his face or in the song of a bird. He loved the boy, but he would not accept him. The boy was graceful, supple, expressive and artistic, unlike his forbearer or any other bushi the father had ever known in every way.
Not only had the boy remained a stranger to his father, he was proven headstrong, a quality that had bloomed into defiance under his teacher’s misconceptions and his father’s well-used and heavy staff of punishment. Much like in his fasts, the little monk refused to acquiesce or perform for others, unless, on rare occasion, it suited him. When it did, the radiance of his keen intelligence enticed every one of them to distraction. Yet always the elders were met with resolute obstinance, which infuriated them. Eventually, his teachers would say, “He is brilliant, but hopelessly lazy.”
“I am not a monkey,” the little monk would say, “And the gymnastics of intelligence is but a game for the unwise. I did not come here to memorize what is important to you. It is far more important that I learn to fly.”
They tempted him, baiting him with pride and scorn to rely on his intelligence. This grew intrusive to the boy. So, during his eighth year, he took a vow of silence, speaking only when necessary absolutely. “He is insane,” they said, but the boy said nothing.
His elder’s punishment was so severe that it was like torture to his gentle soul. “Who are you?” they asked of him.
“I do not know,” he would answer, “I am waiting to see.” They began to define him, confuse and belittle him. Deception, the demon, had been loosed already down upon him.
His Creator looked down upon these inquisitions and smiled tenderly. He had created the little monk like a willow, that would bend at his father’s firm hand, and yet withstand typhoons. He had created his lithe form to survive far greater tests than these, and the shoulders of the little monk’s spirit he had made resilient and broad, well beyond his slender frame. These cruel winds were essential to the child’s development, lest he easily become proud and ego-reliant as a man. If the boy became so, he would be useless to the Creator and of great use to the Dragons. Without cease, the Creator watched over the boy, guiding and inspiring him.
It was thus that the Creator heard the prayer of the bushi that spring afternoon, as both father and Creator watched the boy skip and study the hillside all at once. Hearing the silent prayer, the Creator took pity on the perplexed father. He had, after all, placed the boy carefully alone, where no one would recognize him, wanting no interference and the little monk’s ultimate and complete reliance upon Himself.
So, as the child meandered, as if carried by the breeze down the hillside toward his father, the Creator whispered into the warrior’s soul. As he did, the bushi was struck with an overwhelming reminiscence of the Cherry Blossom Festival of home. He could smell the beautiful, weightless blossoms and saw the blush of them on his boy’s fair cheeks as the child passed by him.
He was overwhelmed to a rare tear, but he would not comprehend the offer of enlightenment, for he was afraid to leave the universe of his own consciousness. Thus, the bushi turned away, tears streaming down his face, to go home, probably for the last time, he thought. For surely where I am going, I will die. In a manner of speaking, he was correct.
That the falling cherry blossom is the eternal symbol of the samurai, the artisans of war and the sword, did not crystalize in the bushi’s mind. If it would have, he would never have connected it to his skinny enigmatic son. Of this, the Creator was understanding. For though the warrior, indeed, had glimpsed moments in the presence of samurai during his long career of war, he had never seen one half grown, half naked, skipping on a hillside. It was in this way the bushi went to war for the last time.
The next morning the little monk awoke, his face warmed by the midmorning sun. Stretching like a Manx, he crawled off of his bed on the tatami. The Angel of Silence descended upon his home when his father travelled.
The little monk sauntered, stomach growling, into the kitchen and awaited his mother to serve his breakfast. A smile brightened his delicate features as she crossed the threshold. He liked waking up in his own time, warm and dry. It was the bushi’s practice to snatch his son from his dreams with a cup of cold water in the early morning. His father believed him indolent, for he did not know his son had begun to spend the nights in quiet contemplation. The boy could now be soothed only by the moon and his own solitude.
The little monk spent four summers prowling and exploring the countryside and the affection of his mother, in his father’s absence. It was the mother’s unvoiced opinion that her husband’s treatment of their son was vicious. She resented the bushi for it and felt ashamed for not producing an heir acceptable. She believed she was being subtly reproached by her husband.
She felt punished herself. After all, he was so strong, like his father, in the beginning. It was the birth of my last born. I was desperate to bear another son, so it was I who did this to my son and to my husband. Thus, she suffered this delusion, even nursed it, as the years passed.
She was a soldier’s wife, but a farmer’s daughter. She had followed her husband, faithfully, lovingly, and fearfully far and wide. Though many times away, only once before had he been away at war, and not like this war. This was different. This time was worse. When lovers separate with great longing they meet in dreams, desperately glimpsing one another, ever so briefly.
Far across the oceans of time and space, the bushi’s hands were stained red. Sweet, sticky blood dripped unceasingly from his fingertips, coagulating under his nails. It was the blood of his enemies, the blood of his comrades, and the blood of innocents, comingled.
He had tried many times to wash them, washing them in duty, honor, indifference. Even Bushido would not wash away the horror, and so he washed his heart when he could with the reminiscence of his wife, the only beautiful thing he could remember. The bushi did not realize that in so doing he had saturated her sleep with a hopeless and endless sea of wreaking, gruesome carnage.
Having come from her father’s house to her husband’s arms, the woman was terrified and lonely. Always in her husband’s absence, she had granted her son freer reign. Neither son, nor mother, realized the cruelty of her affection nor of his freedom, for both would end swiftly upon the bushi’s return to husbandry. The warrior was not without intuition. Upon his return he would sense their strengthened bond. The pampering produced an ease about his son, the little monk, that the warrior could smell, and which maddened the him.
Like his wife, he too nursed a delusion. Like his wife, in fear he had refrained from calling out its name, never bringing it into the light. Neither of them knowing it was these delusions that had separated the couple spiritually and not the son they both loved and misunderstood.
The bushi believed that his wife, the beautiful woman he loved truly in every fiber of his being, had born this son for another, a man very different from the bushi, a man who was like this boy.
She is ashamed for what she has done to me. Yet, she obviously loved this man far more than she has me. Were it not so, she could love the boy openly in my presence. This delusion was fed by a dragon. who through his powers of darkness with this delusion, turned a portion of the bushi’s heart into a wolf.
Even so, his love for her had only grown stronger, and his thirst, unslaked, for oneness with her seared his heart like a red coal through fresh snow. So it was, the wolf would return from the hunt, starving, wounded, to find her feeding what he believed to be the cub of another.
On this occasion, however, the bushi and the wolf were to return to a greater dishonor. For while he had been away, the little monk had grown taller, wiser, and bored with childhood. His mother in her terror and loneliness had made a grievous error. She had anointed the little monk, her son, Oma-ya-sama, the man of the house.
Thus, it was with mother and son when word came at last that the bushi was on his way home and would be in her bed again in a fortnight. On the afternoon of the bushi’s arrival, she stood at the gate with her brood in formation, the winter’s first snow falling down upon them, numbing their fingers and toes. House, garden, and family, neatly manicured, awaited the bushi to appear through the grove in the distance at the top of the hill. As the group stood at ease, the youngest fidgeted next to her brother. She was an imp. “Mother, why must we wait in the cold like this? My nose is frozen.”
“We are waiting here so your father will see you as soon as he comes over the hill. We are waiting here to welcome him home properly.”
The little monk faced forward, looking at his mother from the corner of his sharp eye. Ridiculous, he thought, It is a surprise inspection, but he said nothing. His mother, feeling his eyes upon her and her euphemism, began to hum, uncomfortably.
At last the bushi on horseback rose, seemingly out of the earth, from the crest of the hill, emerging through the grove of leafless trees down the path. This time it was the boy who scrutinized his father.
The little monk, now three-quarters grown, stood motionless, fascinated. For what rode on horseback was not his father. At first glance he had thought it a stranger alone. But his mother called out, through her tears, “There he is. Your father has returned at last.”
Indeed, it was the body of the bushi, but what lurked behind the eyes was the wolf and with him, the wolf brought a creature, an imposter. An eerie stillness fell over the children as the Angel of Silence departed to report back to the throne of the Creator. The boy could smell his younger sister’s momentary, instinctive flicker of fear, but he was unmoved.
It was for his father alone that the little monk was afraid. He needed something from his father he had never been given. The little monk was not afraid of the wolf, nor of this abomination that had joined him.
The snowflakes whispered in his ear, “Beware… Beware…” until the clippity-clop of the black stallion’s hooves drew nearer and louder, until they echoed in his ears, until the man stepped down from its mount.
Mesmerized, entranced, the little monk watched his mother run, crying, and heard his sisters squeal, skipping, into the outstretched arms of the wolf and the imposter.
With the females in his jaws, their pretty faces nuzzling his fur, the wolf looked up and stared into the eyes of his enemy, the boy. He saw the prowess of succession in the youth’s eyes, and he was enraged. Unlike the bushi, the wolf sensed, and the imposter knew who the little monk was, and they sought to destroy him. In fact, across the ocean, the wolf enlisted the imposter to return with him and to banish the soul of the bushi into darkness and return with the wolf hastily to destroy the child, lest he become a man.
The females did not hear the snow falling, nor the dialogue in silence that ensued.
“So, bastard, you have dethroned me in my absence.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the wolf.”
“Not you, cur. I recognized you. Who is it with you?”
The imposter answered. “I am the Dragon. I have come to destroy you.”
“I would know a dragon if ever I met one. You would be lucky to be called a lizard.” The boy stood his ground firmly, unshaken. “Tell me your name, and where is my father?”
“You do not know my name, and I will not tell it to you. The bushi is dead,” smirked the imposter.
“Liar, not even a clever one. Were my father dead, you could not inhabit his body.” The little monk summoned all of the fire in his belly, stared deeper into the black eyes before him, attacking spiritually with all his force. “Tell me now your name and where you have hidden my father.” But his talent was raw and unrefined.
It was the wolf who snarled back. “Bastard, skinny whelp of my bitch, this demon I have summoned is far more powerful than you and need not obey your commands. He has come to devour you and share the meal with me.”
Fearless, the young monk held his stance, awaiting a sign. He had released a prayer for direction before the dismount of the two-headed abomination. As yet, no answer had come. If he remained still much longer, he would lose the dialogue, an important battle.
The answer came. Gempuku. He must change his own name. It was time. The revelation exhilarated the child, releasing adrenalin into his blood. He must choose the name he will be known by as a man, and he did.
“Have we silenced you, little monk?” grinned the maniacal imposter, thinking he had so easily prevailed.
The youth’s heart galloped suddenly in anticipation of the unknown that lay before him, as he spoke. “You are insipid and ugly deformations. You cannot trap me so easily. To destroy me, you will need a dragon”
The wolf was stunned, but the imposter spoke in true surprise. “I have called you by your true name, little monk. You must submit. It is the Law of War of the Seven Dimensions.”
“You are too late. I have already changed my name, and I will speak it first. I am the Traveler, and beware, for I am coming in after my father, and I will come out with him and with your name.” Alas, no one had taught the boy that one cannot find their father by walking in his footsteps.
So it was, on a quest to retrace the battlegrounds of his father, in search of the bushi went the Traveler, that he might realize and actualize his purpose. So it was as it had to be. The Traveler descended into the abyss, into the Valley of Shadows, and the Dragon awaited him there.