Gonji: Red Blade from the East
pursed his lips and nodded in quiet satisfaction.
    Navárez was pushing men back, calming them, the sycophant Esteban dogging his steps. The captain advised with snarling arrogance that if any blood was to be spilled in this camp, he would do the spilling. Gonji cast him a scornful glance, then sauntered back to the serving line to refill a plate.
    “How ‘bout some o’ this stew fer that bugger—that’ll bring ‘im around!” Jocko was calling to the two men who were helping the injured Mongol to his feet. They paid him no heed, and the mule packer’s raucous laughter rose to the skies. He leapt about and clapped his hands like a drunken gnome, kicking at the casks in his mirth.
    Gonji found a quiet spot under the pines fringing the camp and sat down to his meal. Night had fallen, layer upon layer, during the course of the incident, and he found the thickening gloom of the camp’s perimeter somehow more comforting than the bonfire near which most of the men drew. He was glad for Jocko’s churlish good humor, which cut through the sinister muting of the campfire banter.
    He knew he was being discussed.
    The tall man who had sided with Gonji sat alone under the trees at the far end of the glade, his back to the camp as he sipped his ale. Gonji hadn’t noticed the warrior before, but he wasn’t surprised: Loners who drifted into mercenary camps generally made themselves scarce. One simply steered clear of them out of respect for whatever private misery they suffered. And although Gonji ached for pleasant conversation, he left him to his solitude.
    Gonji turned away from his view of the unfortunate belly-wound victim, who had begun to moan pathetically. He thought melancholy thoughts, his spirit at low ebb.
    Another compromise. Again I let a man walk away from me after insulting me to my face. Hai , but he’s not walking very well, as far as I can see! He’ll think of me whenever he feels his belly in the next few days, that’s sure. I should have lopped off the fool’s head. Him and all his gibbering ape friends. I wish they’d start something right now—Come on, you bastards, I’ll drop you like.... No, fool, you’ll do nothing. Just like before, just like in Spain and France. You’ll let them squat on your honor and you’ll strut away with a great show of manliness because it isn’t worth dying for, isn’t that what they say here? Honor means nothing, does it? Bushido is a joke to you, neh, samurai? Neh? Samurai—Hah! You’re nothing. Nothing but a dung-eating ronin , a landless insect, a dishonored beast who can’t even stay duty-bound to himself, so he plays at duty for every scum who tosses him a filthy bag of gold! My spirit is crushed by karma. What will become of me? I’m just like the rest of the dregs on this squalid continent, a filthy barbarian—why why why? I preach bushido and pretend to live by it but it’s a lie, all a lie. I’m nothing but a half-breed ronin in whom the ugly half holds full sway—Mother, did you birth me for this? Why? I hate my heritage here and yet.... Yet it’s all I have left, isn’t it? Funny. I kill a man I felt honor-bound to kill (her sword arcs) and it was right and fitting at the time and—gods!—it destroyed my life (I’m bleeding) in the land I love (she raises it again) and then I come to this land of pestilence and monsters and hunger and (she is samurai) death where they perversely believe the life of every louse-ridden beggar has value (she weeps) and I let a man spit in my food and walk away (she guards his body) because there will be consequences to pay for killing him—what honor is there in this land? What is my lot here? I spurn the things that should have meaning to me and seek meaning in the meaningless (she hates me now, hates me). Oh, you’re a fine samurai, you are, Gonji-san! Old Todo, if you’re dead, I pray your restless spirit wanders elsewhere! Or if you’ve become a viper in rebirth, as your enemies swore you would, then

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