As the Edo era progressed, so did the rot in the central Shogunate. High officials ransomed their office for bribes of money and concubines while outlying magistrates took their cue oppressing the locals under their thumb in sheer treachery. Since closing her borders in the 17th century, Japan stagnated her way into the 19th century while the world advanced in terms of both social and technological progress. Futility fouled the Japanese soul.
With democracy never a thought, the Shogunate's only direction was to increase its power by dissolving clans on the flimsiest of pretexts and then confiscating their lands. Japan had become a land of gangsters from top to bottom. In a couple of decades the final implosion would occur forever knocking the ruling samurai from their perch at the top. This was their twilight time, the clock of extinction ticking louder every day.
As courts and castles concocted conspiracy, ronin samurai without a clan wandered the land in callous desperation. By custom and mandate they were not allowed to earn a living but by serving a clan. As more and more clans were dissolved, outcast samurai roamed the land searching for whatever meals they could find. By this time the lowly merchant class used their monetary leverage to live lives of ostentatious luxury that infuriated the samurai, who then demanded merchants scale back their lifestyle.
But of these wandering samurai, there was only one who actually referred to himself by the name Ronin. This was because he'd outcast himself.
The tragic murder at Utsune bridge caused him to burn down his own house and live in perpetual torment, restlessly roaming. He'd become a sword for hire, striking down five men in his time. For a man gone bad these were fortuitous times. Secrets meant loose ends. Loose ends meant killing. Though never spoken, a lurking feeling was emerging that one day all this would end very, very badly. The price of that repression would be nuclear.
But under a watching moon, beneath a country bridge, Ronin crouched in tears. His visit to the scene of his crime had shaken him more than he realized. In a country hardened by its molting state, he yet could not hide his emotions any longer. He could not escape his love for Osaya, trapped as her secret prisoner for life. He knew the danger his condition caused in these rough times. He must find an inn where he could hide and calm the storms within.
But a change in geography provided no solace. The Argument raged as ever on the room's hard bed.
Can there be hope?? There must be hope! There can't be hope after losing the one love of my life. You must make something of yourself! You are nothing! You ruin everything you touch. How can I make things better? How can someone like you make things better? Would she had loved me if I said something? Could she ever -
Ronin's emotions could not be resolved. Bursting with pain, he stumbled out the door, blustering his way to a local drinking hole - though he'd not taken a drop of sake since that fatal night of the Ebisu Feast seven years ago. But the company would distract him from his warring factions within.
A man pleaded with his friend at a nearby table. "But why not? She's not that bad. Do you want to die alone?"
"I'm not going out with your stupid sister. Quit asking me. I'm not meant for marriage. You know that."
"Everybody is meant for marriage!"
Ronin rooted for him to stand firm in his refusal. Do not surrender! Never give in! Stay alone and miserable. I'll die if I'm the only one fated to this hell.
"But what about love? You can't live without love. Nobody can!"
Love? scoffed Ronin. Love is evil. It brings death and destruction and ruin. One must never love!
"Don't worry about me. Keep to yourself. Besides, I can't believe you don't want somebody better for your sister. Do you want her to hate you for life!"
Ronin could write a book on being hated for life. There was a time after his monstrous murder he came to confess his crime to whomever he met. But it was if no one wanted to admit his criminality, Ronin finding himself part of a larger, unknown conspiracy of broken lives.
"So you killed some scumbag merchant? What of it? They are nothing but dirty traders who'll swap the soul of a samurai for a gold coin."
"You made a mistake. You wouldn't have killed him had you known it was her brother. Move on. The magistrate had a man beheaded last week for sleeping with his prized concubine - whom he forced from a helpless farmer! No one says the worse of him."
"I killed a man too. I was proud and wanted to prove my skill. I goaded him into a fight. Back then I was weak-minded. You have to forgive yourself or quit life altogether. Simple as that."
Ronin's mistake had been in confiding only to other privileged samurai. He dare not hear the reaction of an ordinary person forced to live at the mercy of a men like them. At that time a great sorrow began to weigh on him, dragging him down to sunless depths.
In his fights to the death, it was not skill that saved Ronin. Rather, it was his drive to exorcise his demons, cursing his opponent on whom he projected his rage. "You bastard shit! I will kill you!" Since these were men of conspiracy he faced, they held secret guilt that became unnerved when hearing Ronin's sincere outrage. Little did they know it was himself he was trying to strike down in self-revenge.
This gained Ronin a reputation but also distanced him from a misunderstanding world. He was no master swordsman, simply a man on a death trip. A boy who'd witnessed a killing of his rushed up to Ronin afterwards in awe, praising his deadly deed. Ronin told him he was the stupidest person in human history. "Who could ever wish to walk in my sandals?"
Then a loud voice in the drinking establishment disturbed his ruminations. "You, ronin, come join us!"
Four ronin sat at a table with many empty sake bottles. Ronin had met these kind before, violent men without honor. He'd done business with that type with regularity. But tonight, filled with emotion he could not explain even to himself, he was in no mood for their contaminating company. Ronin still felt the need to punish himself, to wallow in the mud, in order to make any moral claim but he could not bear the filth of these scoundrels.
"Not tonight," was all he could utter, realizing what monumental effort it was even to speak in his immobilized state.
The man kept after him. He was clearly the leader of the four with his slick charm. They no doubt wanted to recruit him for a job, or even have him take the fall in the aftermath. Ronin had no illusions of the world he'd chosen. A Zen monk once tried to talk to him of serving a greater purpose but Ronin would have none of it.
"There is only merchants' money. I've heard of fools who speak of an all powerful god but there is only money. Have you ever seen a man who eats and sleeps well without money? So if there is a such a god, it too lives under the thumb of money. Who needs a god like that?"
It was closing time before Ronin left, he'd barely noticed the time passing. Emotionally disabled, he'd refused the company of bad men he'd normally take up with. Since he never felt above even the worst of the worst, this was a new experience even though he only appeared to be rejecting their company. He feared in great dread his alone time in the clutches of his waiting bed. Then a woman's voice spoke beside him.
"So that's what you've become: a killer. That certainly suits you. It's all you know how to do! Go on! Keep killing, harming your life and everyone else. See where it gets you, you fool. Just what the world needs: another lost idiot."
Ronin woke up in shocked dismay. The voice had seemed so real, with words he could never have concocted. She chastised him as if he still had something to offer. She whom he'd so very deeply wronged urged him to live. Outside, a grateful summer rain began, hiding the sounds of a sobbing samurai. He dare not question her words.
Ronin returned to the road alone in the night, under a sheltering moon and merciful rain.