(Nobu's story to this point can be read here:
Why Die, Samurai?
Diary Of A Mad Samurai
Descent Of A Mad Samurai (Part 3) )]
Free at last, but alone. Is any man truly free alone? This I had not realized! If Kimiko were here now I'd feel a thousand times better. Instead, I am pitiful and do pitiful things leading a pitiful life. In the perverseness of my existence, I've made her presence a fear to me, for I do not ever wish her to see me thus.
I reversed my salvation into my enemy. Part of me cannot hate myself enough for that. I do verily believe if she were here with me this mountain of troubles would wash away and if I died I would die while living. But this...this is just living death. I can see no way before me without her. The nighttime cold aches deeper.
Now I see her face,
the old woman, abandoned,
the moon her only companion.
A wild inspiration flashed before Nobu.
What if I have it wrong? She does not hate me in burning vengeance. Perhaps to see me she would say, "Ah, look what has happened to you without me!"
Day of Doom:
Not many travelers came through this time of year. Those that did were hard driven to be making their way through the heavy snow and ice. No sightseers or idle journeyers. The noodle shop owner had warned Nobu of the strange creatures that entered on winter evenings; secretive men, grave men. Nobu could not explain he did not fear such men being one himself.
But the two that entered that night remained yet in Nobu's head as he later lay upon his straw mattress. His little voice was telling him something.
The pair entered the room quarreling - the lot of miserable souls. But these two had an edge. If one knew not the language and heard only their sound, a sinister tone one would hear. The argument was trivial in name if not in nature. Nobu felt something ugly welling up inside as he listened, greatly bothered as a crisis point headed for him direct as an angry arrow. Then Nobu exploded in consternation.
But he was not alone in his eruption. The short traveler had stabbed the other, his eyes blazing in satisfied hatred, in this singular moment feeling alive. He hesitated to pull the knife out even after death lest the moment end too soon. Nobu, too stunned to move, stood paralyzed and spellbound behind the counter. Only he and the killer were present in the smoky embered enclave.
Still in sync, the killer returned to animated life in the same instance as Nobu, fleeing out the door, melting into the darkness. Pursuit was pointless. But Nobu was the one who felt guilty.
It was his plan to live as an assassin after the winter melt. Those two men tonight, they were just itching for an excuse to kill. Like Nobu, they were part of the living dead. For them, life was death and death was life. That was the real reason Nobu wanted to assassinate: just to feel alive, same as the dreaded killer tonight. It's the only reason to become an assassin.
"Oh, dear Buddha, is this what I've become?"
Day of winter dark...
Oh, this is horrible! Horrible news! The worst possible! How black the sun? How stolen the night? How did this come to be? Treachory! Treachory of the highest order! In this I witness the ultimate betrayal. How can I give pardon? If only this had remained unknown to me, to have died in ignorance...
Love...there's only love...
This long cruel winter darkness, it leaves me too much...to myself.
Day of winter grey...
"Oh, what I could be if I could be..."
No way forward, no way backward. Perhaps I'll just fade away.
The words rang out like a command striking his face, yet Nobu's instinctive reaction to bolt upright remained mostly concealed. Still, the words shot through him like an arrow. He had no choice but to respond to the man spearing into him from the corner table.
"You accuse every noodle maker of being samurai?"
"No, just you!"
"And why is that?"
"Because you try to hide it."
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! How to deflect? "Yes, I was shogun once but now they come to me for noodles."
"That is a waste! I can use a man like you!"
Too desperate to ignore any chance, Nobu turned to observe the man. His manner was focused and direct. This Nobu found refreshing and knew others would follow a man such as he. But this was an obvious brigand, using his charm as another weapon in his arsenal. Any priest in the land would envy his recruiting skills. The brigand moved to the counter to speak in conspiracy.
"I am Itikawa. I've been studying you. You can't tell me you see a future in this dump - or any like it. My men roam free, doing what we want, taking what we want. Stay here and you will suffocate!"
Sharp truths in those words, Nobu knew. Strong was the pull: no longer a loner and a liar, a safe haven. But ultimately, where would it lead?
"I cannot go with you, regardless of how you might reassure me. At the end I would find betrayal."
"Bakana! Never! Loyalty is our lifeblood. How else can our kind trust? You know this. I see it in your hunted eyes! Is it government officials you fear? Ha! We pay off half of them as one of our own. There is no authority higher than we who take."
Nobu was well aware of bands of outlaws who'd never come fully under control. Corrupt district inspectors found it easier to be bribed than to fight, peasants be damned. And these bandits felt no awe for the shogunate.
Nobu stirred the noodles in the great steaming pot, talking as if passing the time of day. "And yet, betrayal is certain." He looked up with a resigned smile. "You have no love in your life."
Itikawa reflexively opened his mouth to speak, then reconsidered. He'd never been foiled in a verbal fencing match before. How had he misread this man? A streak of honesty? Honest men are useless!
"Yes, you are right. I cannot use a man like you: a noodle maker dead to the world. I leave you to your unattended funeral!"
The brigand flipped a disgusted coin on the counter before quickly departing. But his final words wounded Nobu seriously, leaving pangs of shunted desire.
Nobu's mind raced as the shivering night air closed in on his helpless bed. 'Stay here and you will suffocate!' Damn him for saying that! 'I leave you to your unattended funeral!' Bastard! His arrows aimed true. I'm in deep, terrible trouble. Would the outlaw life be better? Men in trouble must stick together, I suppose. Oh, this is agony! No road leads home and the freezing night never ends...