A Letter written by Akodo Rujo to his Younger Brother Hiju at the Site of the Battle of Blood and Snow
My Brother –
I am on a tall hill, overlooking the remains of the battlefield our army has successfully acquired from the Scorpion. It is difficult for me to believe that only five years ago, I was where you are now, reading a letter from my older brother, written on a battlefield, reading the same words I am about to write to you.
I think back now, remembering the voices of our ancestors, singing in my mind: so beautiful, so powerful, so overwhelming. There are countless numbers of them, a perfect chorus, and their words seem so frightening, and yet…there is something else. Something I could not find. Something I could not express until this very moment, as I write these words to you.
The battle against the Scorpion was not as we planned it. The valley offered us little cover from their arrows, as they held the hill that I now sit upon. As our first line marched forward, holding their shields up against the arrow fire, their shugenja sent down the fire that blasted them back, knocking many of them into the ground. Even more were blasted from their armor, and I heard the snap of bones and the screams of young men – younger even than myself – as their bodies were burned by the mystical fire.
Then the second rank advanced, their spears leveled and their lips as tight as traps. As they marched, the arrows fell. I saw one man so riddled with arrows that his face was ripped from his skull. Another was falling backward towards us, his movements pushing the arrows even deeper into his body, and his screams echoed in my ears.
At that moment, I heard the general call our battalion’s name. On pure instinct, I fell into position, but then looked to the left at the row of men who stood with me. For five years I have trained and fought with these men, and as we looked up at the hill at the pile of men who had fallen before us, I felt something surge inside of me.
It was fear. Pure, hateful fear, pulling at my guts and my legs, urging me to stand still. It pulsed through my body like a disease, calling me a fool, telling me that no man would be stupid enough to charge up a hill where hundreds of others had already fallen. But I looked at those men who stood beside me, and I suddenly realized they were looking at me.
They were looking at me.
They were looking at me.
Suddenly, I remembered who I was. Not who I was at home, with you and mother and father, but who I was to them. And what I meant to them.
I heard the general’s order for charge, but even though I heard the words, I felt something else. I felt my soul fill with a song. A beautiful and terrible song. It was a song of wars long gone, and of deaths that no man will ever remember. It was a song of futility and of pain. So many dead. So little accomplished.
I heard the song of Akodo Jingawa, and the three hundred men who died to hold a mountain pass so a handful of Scorpion spies could pass through on their way to poison Iuchiban’s second lieutenant.
I heard the song of Matsu Hiruko, and the two thousand Matsus who charged against the gaijin at the Battle of the White Stag… all dead, killed by a magic we still do not understand.
I heard the song of Akodo Rinujo, and the five hundred who charged against the Unicorn and died, all to protect the villages against a threat they did not understand.
And all the songs made one great Song, and it sang to me this:
We have bled
We have suffered
We have burned
And we did this all
A hundred thousand souls, all singing, all in pain, all watching. It is a Song whose words are too much for any man to hear. A Song whose demand is too much to ask any man.
But I am not a man.
I am a soldier.
I look at the men next to me, the men who call me gunso. Who follow my orders, obey my commands and look to me for the courage they cannot find.
I cannot show them my fear. I cannot tell them my fear. If they feel even a hint of what is rumbling through me, we will never make it up that hill, and we will join our brothers bleeding and dying and screaming.
I look at them, and let my eyes show them the fire they know is there. The Song resonates through my soul and into my voice as I call out the command. It is not my voice that speaks; it is the Song. The hundred thousand voices that they all hear in their own hearts, resonating on the battlefield. They hear that Song and their own eyes shine with the same brilliance I feel growing in my stomach.
The Song fills the air and it echoes in their voices. And suddenly, I cannot control my own heart. It pounds beneath my chest with a painful ache. My feet move without any command from me. My hands grip my spear and the man beside me lifts our colors high into the smoky air. They soar out above us and our cry is in unison; the voices of every Lion that has ever lived cries with us.
And we charge.
I remember the sand slipping beneath my feet and I remember clawing at the earth with my left hand while I pushed myself with the spear in my right. Men fell behind us, and men fell beside us, but whenever one of us fell, another was there to stand in his place. The Song filled my head, and I thought my ears would bleed with the sound of it. I felt two arrows hit my body, but the Song would not let me fail. Nor would it let me fall.
The climb lasted forever. For every step we took, it seemed the Scorpions add two more to our ascent. We pushed, we fought, we screamed each other’s names. I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. Even if I died here, even if my soul were burned by the Scorpion’s fire, I knew then, right then, that I would never again live a moment like this one. Death was there before me, looking me in the face, and there were tears in my eyes and a Song in my heart. And the Song was not greater than the fear.
But I was.
Right then, at that moment, I was.
We hit the Scorpion wall like a storm. They dropped their bows and picked up their swords and steel sliced through flesh and men fell, grasping at the remains of their bodies as they did so. The Scorpions retreated a step and we pushed on. The Song in my head burst through my lips and I heard my men’s cries mirror my own. The Song hit the Scorpions, blasting them back like the shugenja’s fire. My sword sliced through three men before another arrow found my sword arm. I screamed and charged the man with the bow, the fear making his eyes quiver like the skin of a jellyfish. One slice. I never paused.
More blood. More bodies. The shugenja threw his fire again. Half my men were consumed.
But then, the Scorpion lines broke and they were divided. The men behind us charged up the hill and the men to the left and right flanks followed their movement. In a matter of minutes, it was over. The Scorpion fell under our blades.
Then, as suddenly as it entered me, the Song was gone. Gone.
I fell to my knees as the carnage continued around me. I felt hands on my shoulders and water at my lips. “Drink this, sir,” I heard a voice say and I looked up. I saw Matsu Ujinoko kneeling above me, her eyes moist. “You rest now.”
I shook my head. “No. Call an Ikoma. Now.”
That was nearly five minutes ago.
I have recited all of this to him as he listened and nodded. He will remember my words, that much I know. Then he will write them down for you to read.
I am almost finished now. Almost ready to join the Song that carried me here. Almost.
I have one last thing to say. One last gift to give you, my brother. You are almost ready to become a man. Almost ready. But even after the ceremony, you will not have achieved that. No, there is much more. It is a much longer journey than that.
The Song. Someday, you too will add your voice to the chorus of our ancestors. When you do, you will feel as I do now: that what you add is not enough. The voice you bring with you will sound feeble and impotent when compared to the great chorus that sings to us from beyond this world of flesh.
But remember this. No man could have climbed that hill. What I did this day was greater than anything I have ever done, and it is because the men standing beside me would not show me their fear. They loved me too much.
When you bring your voice to the Song, it will sound like a cricket’s chirp. But when you sing with it…O, my brother…there is no sound in the world that can compare.
I go now. My last breaths.
I am so proud of you.
Do not forget me.
I am watching –
And waiting –