It all seems like some horrible dream. Had I loved him? Had I hated him? Had I even met him at all? It feels like it happened forever ago, but the stitches and bruises that cover my body tell me otherwise. And of course, there is the pain in my heart that I know will never heal, even when the rest of my injuries have.
Harsh threats came and went, but I don't think I ever believed Lord Mitsuhide was capable of ever doing me any harm until the moment he lunged at me with his sword drawn. We had fought before, but never like this. This time, we both knew, was the last.
When the strike came, it was not as passionate as his usual style - he wanted me to block it, he wanted to give me one last chance to see things his way before the next strike... when he would not be as forgiving.
I could tell by the sadness in his eyes that he didn't want to fight me, but I also knew him well enough to know that his sense of justice would ensure that he had to. He would slay me for a belief that he had instilled in me! How could I possibly see things his way?!
Yes, there had been so much more killing than any of us had ever planned, but surely if there had been a better way to gain peace, Lord Nobunaga would have done it.
Lord Mitsuhide accused me of not understanding him, and the way he spat his words broke my heart. But he was correct - I didn't understand him. He truly believed that what he was doing was right, which made the path he had put me on so very wrong. He never explained his reasoning, only telling me that if I didn't already know, then he wasn't going to enlighten me. But all I wanted to know why he would turn his back on what we had started together.
I kept asking myself - How? Why? We were once so close... How did we let ourselves become such reluctant enemies? Why were we forcing ourselves to kill each other? At the time, we both claimed it was for peace. But what peace do I have now, knowing that I murdered the only person who ever truly cared about me?
No, I could not - and still cannot - see what it was he wanted me to see. I looked up to him, I loved him... and he lied to me. He made me believe in the things I fought for, little knowing that one day I would have to fight him for them. We both wanted peace, I don't understand why he betrayed us like that... why he betrayed me like that.
The force of his second blow pushed me against the wall. I narrowly managed to parry his blade from my throat. And perhaps even then I still could not allow myself to believe that he would actually bring himself to kill me.
Spikes shot out from the wall beside me, tearing my sleeve and scratching my arm. The castle he had chosen as our final battleground was littered with traps and other surprises. I had been lucky a little scratch was all I had received, but it bled - a lot.
His eyes dropped to survey the wound, and a look of concern spread across his face. He had a sword in his hand that would rip me open in a heartbeat, and he worried about a scratch? Why did he keep fighting - knowing that one of us would inevitably end up with so much more than one tiny scratch?
His body was pressed against mine with uncomfortable familiarity, his forehead bowed so he could touch mine to it; our crossed swords between us the only sign that we were not together as lovers. And for a moment I honestly thought he was going to kiss me.
A kiss like the old days to take away the new days. I would have forgiven him for one last kiss.
His breath was as ragged as my own, not only from battle, but from our bodies' need to be together. We had been so perfect for each other. Once, we would have laughed at the absurdity of our situation. When I laid in his arms all those nights that seem so long ago now, I never thought the day would come when I would have to kill him - or be killed myself.
He was my friend, my teacher... my lover. I wanted him so badly, and at the same time I wanted to get away from him. The musky smell of his sweat, and the heat of his breath on my face; it reminded me of times we were never to have again.
He stared at me with half-lidded eyes, and I imagined he was drinking in my own scent, remembering what it was like before we were enemies. My hands never moved from my sword, but I ached to run my fingers through his long black hair... like I used to.
I thought I heard him whisper my name. Ranmaru...
I answered him with my sword, since I did not have the words I wanted to say to him. Treacherous dog... I don't understand what you're doing, but I'd forgive you if you kissed me? Gripping the hilt in one hand and bracing the back of the blade with the other, I shoved him away with all the strength I could muster.
I was envious of his hand as he brushed the rogue raven strands from his face, and then flicked the offending hair over his shoulder with one fluid movement. I used to adore how he did that.
And now... now I would give anything to see him do it again.
He smiled at me. I think it was because he was impressed I could fend him off like that. I took my fighting stance again, and waited for his move. The seconds seemed like hours as I stood, staring at his beautiful form. And when he launched his next attack on me, I suddenly realised I was terribly afraid of him.
Afraid of him, or afraid of what I would do to him? Until I could figure that out, I ran, dodging his sword as it swung toward me. I felt pathetic... like so many of the peasants I had been ordered to cut down under the banner of peace. They had run, they had screamed, and I had indiscriminately butchered them alongside my dear Lord Mitsuhide. Would he now do the same to me?
That fateful day, when so much blood spilled to quell those who stood against our peaceful ideals, was the last day I ever spent with him as my friend. He had never enjoyed battle - he was a talented swordsman who did not want his gift - but I never thought he would turn against Lord Nobunaga simply because he did not agree with his strategy... surely, he could see beyond the battle to the final goal?
He came to me that night whilst I was outside wringing the blood from my clothes, and somehow I knew in my heart it would be the last time he visited. I could see the fire of rebellion in his eyes; the way he looked at me with a mixture of love and hatred. He made no secret of his disgust in my behaviour earlier on the battlefield. How could I kill so many innocents? Etcetera, etcetera...
How? Because it was my duty. It was not my place to question my lord's will, only obey it - and what Lord Mitsuhide was speaking was bordering on treachery. I hurried him inside, fearful that someone might have overheard us. He did not say any more on the matter, and I did not press him to.
He hated what I had done, he hated what I believed in, and yet he touched me as though he loved me - and in the gentle acts that followed, he showed me just how much. It was his farewell gift, a night so loving and tender, it could well have been our first time together all over again.
I moaned for him, louder than I should have, in the hope that he would see what his leaving would do to me, and he silenced me with a rain of kisses. Always wanting to look so pious - heaven forbid someone should hear me cry his name in the throes of heated passion. But in this age, what officer does not have a boy by his side to provide him pleasure when he is not on the battlefield?
He was always so gentle with me. I loved him for that more than anything else. My lord often ordered me to give myself to other officers to sway their allegiance, and whilst they ogled, groped, and ravished me, I always thought of Lord Mitsuhide - and how his touch alone could take away my pain.
When he was inside me, I knew what it meant to be loved. He wanted me to feel as much pleasure as he did. When it was too much for me, and I dared to close my eyes, he would ask me to look at him. He said he loved to watch how much I was enjoying what he did to me.
I didn't want to look at him that last night we were together. I didn't want to see what I already knew. I just wanted to feel him, as perfect as he had always been, thrusting himself between my thighs.
I just wanted to hear him whisper my name between hard breaths.
I just wanted to touch him...
Just grip his shoulders and never let him go.
I didn't want to open my eyes and show him that I was crying.
He caught my leg with the edge of his blade. I cried out as the initial tingle gave way to a searing pain that shot through my veins as they mourned for the loss of their precious blood flow. Backing away from him, I released the grip on my sword to slap my hand on the wound.
At first I didn't want to look at what he had done to me. I didn't want to see the proof that he really had hurt me. But when I dared to glance at my own blood dripping from my hand, something inside me snapped.
You would betray me?
You would kill me?
All of this is your fault!
I hate you!
With a battle cry unlike any I'd ever made before, I spun my sword into him with all my might - again and again until I was dizzy.
He attempted a hasty defence, but he had honed my swordplay too well - my blade cut into his flesh just as easily as I would slide it into its scabbard. Everything went cold despite the fires around us, as he lost his footing and stumbled. I'd done it - I'd surpassed my teacher, killed a traitor, and lost my only love in one perfectly timed attack.
Why did he have to say those things to me as he lay dying? Why did he have to fight me if he believed in me so much? Did he want me to kill him... did he need to prove what I was capable of by sacrificing himself?
His skin, once so warm against my own took on an eerie stillness as the last breath escaped his perfect lips. I'd taken many lives under the noble claim of peace, but I never shed a tear for the loved husbands, fathers, brothers and sons that had fallen to my blade... until then.
How could I raise my sword to another knowing that kind of loss? But thoughts like that are treacherous.
I don't know how I escaped the castle. Perhaps I was dragged out by one of my bodyguards, or maybe in a dream-like state, I found my own way out? I remember not wanting to leave his beautiful body to the ravages of the fire, but looking over the charred ruins, I know that he is in there... somewhere.
The war trumpets stir me from my thoughts. The enemy draws near, and my duties do not stop because I am racked with injury, nor because I do not want to fight any more. I take up my sword and hurry to my lord's side.
I am a subordinate warrior; it is not my place to entertain my own feelings. Perhaps if I did, I would have been in ashes by Lord Mitsuhide's side... and perhaps I would have been happier there.