Here is chapter three of the four chapter series, “Apostle’s Sword.” This is the penultimate chapter, with the final one coming next Thursday. If you can’t wait, you read “Apostle’s Sword” in it’s entirety now at Fanfiction.net.
Even if you didn’t read the previous installments, I beg you to give this story a shot. There are quite a few fan fics out there related to both anime and Christian spirituality, and most are poorly written. However, this is one is good – really good. “Apostle’s Sword” is a retelling of the first two Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (which are stunning pieces of work, by the way) using a Christian background based in history and the Bible story of Saul’s conversion from a zealous anti-Christian to a follower of Christ. The story is written by a freelance writer, melcon, who is amazing. It also doesn’t preach, so I highly recommend all readers out there, believer or not, to take a read.
Our house was slightly removed from the rest of the villagers, and I was glad of that. The bustle and noise of the village did not often reach our ears; instead we heard the crying of birds on the hill and the rush of wind whipping against grass. Often I would spend whole hours outdoors simply listening. Ever since I had left my master Seijuro, my life had been filled with noise: noise from the training camps, Kyoto, other soldiers, and the screams of the dying. Here there was a silence of the ears and heart that was most welcome. Although I still slept propped up against a wall with my sword at my side, my nightmares grew steadily less and my sleep increasingly restful.
Tomoe, I observed, also seemed to thrive in our new home. She seemed pleased to have her own house and treated it with the meticulous attention any good wife would give. Towards myself, she was kind and attentive, and I do not think anyone, even Barnabas, suspected that we were only pretending to be married. Tomoe showed no sign of wishing to change this, and indeed, I did not as well. Her presence in the house made it a home, and part of the peace I felt emanated from her.
Although we were a little separate from the other villagers, we began to mingle with them more and more as they gradually lost their fear of Battousai the Manslayer. The children were the first to accept us. I had always liked children but had encountered them very little in my former life. Among the children of the village, I discovered what delightful companions young ones are. They showed no hesitation in clambering all over the Slayer of Christians, tugging at my hair and demanding that I play with them. As the children accepted us, their parents and elders also did.
Barnabas continued to be a great help and a friend. He was cheerful and always had a laugh or a joke ready. I discovered that he was an instigator of practical jokes when I once received a bowl of soup from him to find that what I assumed were herbs were actually tadpoles that vigorously swam away from my spoon. A good-natured uproar broke out at the joke, and I laughed along with them in a free, easy-hearted way I had not laughed in many years if indeed I had ever laughed that way.
The villages gathered almost every evening to pray together, sing, and listen to the elders teach about the Jesus of Nazareth. As time passed, Tomoe and I began to attend these gatherings. Often, I would sit with the elders and speak with them: they were not afraid to answer my questions and hear my confessions, as gruesome as they were. Yet, there words were often hard for me to accept. Through Ananias, Barnabas, and the village elders, I had learned that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God and that he had died in order to atone for all human sin, mine included. However, as much as my ears and mind comprehended this message, my heart could not embrace it. How could anything or anyone cover over the guilt of my sins? How could it be that I merely had to ask forgiveness and receive it without restitution or penance on my part? This I could not accept, much as I grappled with it and the elders tried to reason with me.
At times, the nonsensicalness madness of it all drove me away from the others: there were days I could only bear Tomoe’s company, and I stayed away from the village. The elders, I think, respected this, and Barnabas became particularly apt at reading my moods and chi. “Your eyes change color when your mood changes, my friend,” Barnabas had said one day. Barnabas, friend and encourager, was becoming almost as dear to me as Tomoe. This both reassured and worried me – it was both a comfort and a concern to know that there were people whom I cared for a great deal. As Battousai the Manslayer, I had killed to make people happy, thinking that my efforts would secure the peace and prosperity of others. But these people had always been abstract and far removed: indeed, I had never been faced with actual, living people who knew me and whom I could observe my actions affecting. Slowly, I began to learn how to not live as a hitokiri, detached and alone, but as a connected member of a unit.
Some of this attachment came in the form of work – the village people had very little to spare, and the addition of three extra adults placed a strain on the food supply. As a result, I threw myself into helping Barnabas and the others in the fields. The little I remember learning from my father about farming came back to me, and I found a strange joy in helping grow crops. With Barnabas’ encouragement, Tomoe and I planted our own garden and watched anxiously as it slowly grew. Barbabas and a few other young men from the village often took me with them fishing and I was pleased to see my skills grow and to help supply the village with extra food. On one momentous occasion, we took down a wild boar. A few of the men narrowly escaped injury, for the boar fought more wildly than some men do on a battlefield, but in the end, we carried its corpse back to the village, and the village feasted royally that night.
With all the work we had to do, months passed very quickly. Harvest time grew near, and Tomoe and I were pleased with the first year’s crop we gathered from our garden. The villagers spoke often of the harvest we all gathered and were enthusiastic that our work would net us enough to cover taxes for the year and plenty to see us through the winter. Once the harvest was over, Barnabas began speaking about returning to Tokyo – he did not wish to burden the village’s food supply over winter, plus he had work waiting for him back in the city. Although I knew that he could not stay with us, I was painfully aware that I would be sad when he left.
We were speaking of this one day when we returned to my house to find Tomoe sitting with a boy at her side. When we opened the door, the boy whipped his head around, snake-like, and glowered at me with eyes that were too old for his age. Something malevolent glittered in the dark recesses of his mind. I instantly thought of young boys I had occasionally seen in the Inshin ranks, many of them orphaned through violence that swept up their parents and all of them dark with rage and grief.
Tomoe placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Kenshin, this is my brother, Enishi,” she said quietly.
I stopped in surprise, wondering about both the news that Tomoe had a brother and astonishment that he had found us. Behind me, Barnabas made an inquiring noise. I ignored him, “I see,” I said, “In that case, we will let you keep talking.” I turned and pulled the door behind me, Barnabas falling in step besides me as we walked away from the house.
“Brother, huh?” Barnabas said quietly. “How did he find you here, my friend?”
“I don’t know,” I said worriedly. I had thought we were well-secured in this village and that no one outside of Barnabas and Ananias knew where we were.
Barbabas’ brow furrowed in an uncharacteristic frown. “If the boy has tracked you down here, it might be best if we arrange another safe house for you and Tomoe. I don’t want the Ishin tracing you here, for your sake and the sake of the villagers.”
“I will speak with Enishi later to see how he found us,” I responded, but the time never came. Not too long after Barnabas and I had left the house, we saw Enishi barreling down the road stormily. I called out to him, but he merely shot a furious glance in my direction and continued on his way.
“I wonder what that was all about?” Barnabas said inquiringly.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I will go talk to Tomoe and see.”
Barnabas gripped my shoulder briefly. “I will go speak and pray with the village elders. I sense that something big is happening, my friend.”
Tomoe was kneeling near the fire, adding wood to it. When I entered the room, she flushed slightly and dropped a piece into the fire. I seated myself near her, and she placed a cup of tea at my knees.
“Enishi left quickly,” I inquired of her.
She nodded and I noted with surprise that a tear threatened to fall from her eyes. “There is…” she began, then bit her lips. “There is much I have to tell you.”
“Tell me,” I said, “I will listen.”
Tomoe was silent for several moments as if she was fighting with herself for control. Finally, after exhaling slowly, she began. “I told you once that I did not have a family. That is not true. The truth is, I left my family behind in Edo nearly a year ago.”
She stopped, then closed her eyes for a moment. “My mother died after giving birth to Enishi and left the two of us to our father’s care. Our father is not a rich man or a learned man, but he took care of us and loved us very deeply. Since Enishi never knew his mother, I became both mother and sister to him. We are…we were…very close. I loved him deeply and he was quite attached to me. Until my engagement.”
I was surprised, both at her last statement and the spark of shock and jealous that struck me. The though of Tomoe engaged was not a welcome picture. She continued, “Enishi was extremely angry when he found out I was engaged. I think he wanted to keep me to himself. But I was so happy with my engagement that I paid Enishi’s anger little heed. I think,” she smiled faintly, “I think that made him even more angry.”
Tomoe continued, “My fiancé was a kind man, a childhood friend, and I knew we would be very happy together. Yet, despite my joy, I could not express it to him. It has always been hard for me to show my emotions, and I fear that he thought I was not pleased with our engagement.”
She paused for several moments as tears began to slip down her cheeks. “He wanted nothing more than to make me happy, so he took on a position as bodyguard to a Christian printer who was distributing copies of the Bible around Japan. My fiancé thought that if he could be a strong, brave fighter, that I would be happy as his wife. Instead…” her voice began to break, “instead, he was killed during his first assignment by, by you.”
Like a tsunami, her words slammed into me and stole the breath away from my lungs. Involuntarily, my hand raised to my scarred cheek. No, it could not be!
A pale, frightened, but defiant young man stood before me, clenching his sword in determined hands. “I’m not going to lose to you!” he screamed. “Not when I finally have everything I want! Not when I have everything to live for! Die, Battousai!” His charge was almost comically inept; he left himself wide open, and I could read his every movement moments before they happened. But when he charged past me, and my killing blade sliced through his torso, I was astonished to feel a slash of pain on my face. How he had marked me, I do not know, for his skills were pathetic. But even after half his torso was gaping open and the lifeblood pouring out of him, he still continued to move, to strain towards me, to cling determinedly to life. Only when I drove my blade into the back of his neck did he finally lie quiet.
Dumbfounded, I could only stare at Tomoe, disbelief pounding on every nerve in my body. She was crying in earnest now, and I could barely hear the words that emanated from her trembling lips. “I, I could not stay in Edo, not in the village we grew up in, not surrounded by people who tried to tell me Kiyosato was in heaven, that it was the will of God. I…I hated myself for what I had done, for what drove him to be a bodyguard. But..but even worse, I hated you.”
She raised wet eyes to look at me, but there was no malice in her gaze, only deep, profound grief. “I…I knew I should have forgiven you, but I couldn’t. All my hatred towards myself, I directed towards you. I had heard of Battousai, Slayer of Christians, but I did not think that his evil any worse than what the other Ishin warriors were committing. But when he, when you, killed my fiancé, a gentle man with no thought beyond loving the Lord and myself, I realized the full magnitude of what the Battousai could loose upon the Christians. I hated you with everything in my soul. So, so I entered into a plot.” Tomoe paused for a moment and looked at me with tired honestly. “A plot to kill you.”
I listened. So many extraordinary things had been brought to the light in the past few minutes that her last confession did not particularly surprise me. I only felt a great and profound sorrow for deeply hurting the woman I had come to love. Love? Yes, I knew in that moment what I had known for quite some time, what I had been fighting against with increasingly less success, that I did indeed love Tomoe.
Hesitantly, I stretched out a hand to her. “Tomoe,” I said but she was already moving towards me, falling into my arms, sobbing. Clumsily, awkwardly, I wrapped my arms around her, cradling her to my chest and feeling the soft weight of her body press against mine. She clung to me without reservation as a woman clutches her lover to her when she is distressed. Around us was the scent of white plums.
At once a great weight was taken away from me and a newer, more poignant one was added. I felt both a relief that all our secrets were out and grief at knowing what I evil I had cast upon this woman I loved. Long minutes passed with neither of us saying anything, merely sitting on the ground, me cradling Tomoe to myself as I had desired for a long time. Her sobs eventually quieted and she lay silent, contented even, in my arms.
Finally I spoke, “Tomoe, listen to me.” She made a stirring movement against my chest. “I killed many Christians thinking that it was the right thing to do. I saw them only as people who were destroying Japan and causing the death of others. I wanted to make a world where people could live in peace and happiness. But I now see how wrong I was.”
In this moment, it only seemed right to tell her about my experience with the Jesus of Nazareth. She had heard bits and pieces beforehand, but before this night I had felt strangely reluctant to tell her the story in its entirety, choosing to share it only with other men that I trusted such as Barbabas. Tomoe listened quietly. When I was done, she said, “I am glad He spoke to you. I wish…” she sighed, “I wish in a way that He had spoken to me in such a way. But His words to me have been quieter. This year, this year with you, He has been telling me that my heart is hard and that I needed to forgive you. I rebelled, many times. I thought I could be at peace only if I saw you dead at my feet and Kiyosato avenged. But I now know that revenge can only cause more revenge and it does nothing to help the heart heal. Forgiveness and redemption are better than revenge.”
“Tomoe,” I said, taking her hand. “I don’t know if there is any redemption for me. My sins are very great and I do not know if anyone but me can carry them. But,” I laid her hand on my chest. “I can promise you this: I will do whatever I can to protect your happiness. And,” I stuttered slightly as nervousness suddenly struck. “I want to do so as your husband, a real husband, not a pretend one.”
Tomoe lifted her head to look into my eyes, and I saw that her face, still wet with tears, was radiant with joy. “Yes,” she said in a whisper, “Yes, Kenshin.”
If you can’t wait for next week’s final installment, read the rest at the Fanfiction.net website.