Welcome back! I'm sharing another scene from The Samurai's Garden, scheduled for release in November at Astraea Press. This scene is a flashback. Hiro, a former samurai now working on a tiny farm in northern Japan, remembers how his famous warrior father taught him about compassion:
The tiny kitten lay on the roadside, injured and abandoned. Ten-year old Hiro couldn't leave the animal in the road to die, so he brought her home, cleaned her up, and nursed her back to health. He found an old basket, lined it with a soft blanket, and hid the kitten in his room. Each day, after completing his studies and exercises, he sneaked back to his room, gently petting the fur ball and crooning to her softly. Always a dutiful son, he was careful to complete his tasks before indulging himself in the luxury of cuddling with his pet.
One day, the kitten fell ill. Hiro’s heart ached for the tiny being as she lay listlessly, refusing to eat, not wanting to play. He feared for the kitten’s life, but didn’t know how to help her. Chores were done quickly, and he hurried back to his room to check on his charge. He sat on his ofuton, gently petting her, when the shoji screen opened and his father walked in. In his hand was a piece of armor. Hiro had been instructed to polish the headpiece, but the lack of shine attested to his carelessness. Hiro looked up, up, up at the man he loved and feared more than any other. Not only had he failed in his duty, he was harboring a pet. What would the great samurai do? Could he stand by and watch his father callously discard the kitten?
He clutched the kitten to his chest, trembling. The pet squirmed, but thankfully remained quiet, as if understanding that her fate lay in this powerful man’s hand. Hiro struggled to contain the tears that filled his eyes and fought to keep from pleading for the mercy he knew would not come. Duty came first to a samurai. There was no time for the frivolity of pets.
And then the great warrior spoke. Hiro mentally prepared himself for the lashing he knew would follow.
"I wondered about the noises I heard coming from this room when you weren’t home. But you have not come here during the day before now. What caused you to abandon your duties today?"
Hiro’s heart held to a thread of hope. Was it possible that his warrior father understood? He struggled to find his voice. "F-forgive me, otousan. She — she seems ill. She is not eating."
Otousan said nothing, but one brow raised. He held out his hand and waited.
Dutifully, Hiro handed over the kitten, though his hands trembled, and he feared he might drop her. Otousan took the tiny bundle in his large hands and examined her closely. "It appears she has a cold. See, her eyes are watering, and her breathing seems labored. Let’s see if we can help her." He turned and strode to the ofuro, the bath area with Hiro following closely on his heels.
In the hot, steamy room, Otousan lay the kitten on a soft, clean towel. Gradually, the kitten settled in, her breathing calmed. Hiro’s anxiety also eased as he realized she was going to be all right.
Father and son brought the pet back to Hiro’s room to rest. "You should bring her back to the ofuro three or four times each day to clear out her lungs." He turned a stern eye toward his son. "Of course you will do this in between your chores and lessons." Hiro nodded in understanding. "And now that she is resting comfortably, you can return to polishing this armor properly."
Hiro bowed low, thanking the gods he would not be punished today. "Yes, Otousan. I will polish until it gleams."
The beloved pet had lived until Hiro left for the university, and he never forgot his father’s compassion that day. He had learned it was possible to be both a fierce samurai and to have a tender heart. And he realized that strength used to care for a weaker being showed a greater nobility than strength used to take from those who could not fight back.
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