The Legend of Kujaku
By Anon Author
The heimin straightened and turned towards the excited voices with a look of annoyance. Two men in drab, dirt-brown clothing were racing towards him, their rushed steps laying waste to the careful rows of beans he had spent the past hour planting.
“You fools!” he yelled, waving them to the side. “Don’t run through the fields! Have you gone mad!”
The first man – the one known as Kappa – adjusted his path and slowed down, sparing the beans any further damage. His companion Chugo, however, merely slowed down as he plowed through all of Hojo’s careful work. “Hojo,” he shouted, “you must come back to the village! There’s a samurai staying in the headmaster’s hut!”
Hojo glared at the two men as they drew closer, and spoke only once they had reached him. “You ruined my beans to tell me of a samurai What news is that There are samurai passing through the village every week.”
Kappa shook his head as he leaned forward, hands on his knees, and worked to regain his breath. “Not like this samurai, Hojo. This one is a peacock.”
“A peacock” Hojo’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s so special about some minor clan samurai”
“No,” Kappa insisted, straightening up. “A peacock. With wings and feathers and a beak and everything.”
“They say his name is Kujaku,” Chugo added, his voice betraying his excitement. “and that he wanders the Empire seeking to take the life of the man that killed his father.”
Hojo stared at Chugo for a long moment, and then turned back to Kappa with a slightly worried expression. “Have you two been eating the purple mushrooms in the south field The headmaster isn’t going to be very pleased with you two if you have.”
Kappa rolled his eyes as Chugo started to walk backwards towards the village. “You don’t believe us” he laughed. “Come see for yourself! If it is not as we say, I’ll finish planting this field myself.”
Hojo looked from one man to the other, and then sighed in defeat. “Fine, let us go see your peacock,” he said as he motioned for the other men to lead the way back to their village.
By the time the three men arrived at the village, a crowd had begun to gather around the headmaster’s hut, leaving only a small clear area at the center. Hojo pushed past those at the back fo the crowd as he strained for a better look at the visiting samurai, who was no doubt at the center of all this commotion. The only thing he could see through the press of bodies, however, was the headmaster, his tanned face scrunched up in an expression of barely contained anger at the behavior of the villagers.
As he pressed forward, he could not help but overhear the whispers of his fellow villagers.
“They say he is an animal spirit, come into the mortal world to show the displeasure of the heavens towards the samurai!”
“No, that’s not it at all! He is a noble Crane samurai, placed under a terrible curse by a maho-tsukai!”
“That’s ridiculous! Everyone has heard the story of Kujaku, and how he was trained on a bet between a kenku and an ogre!”
“A kenku My sister said that he was trained by an old Crane duelist that went mad and retired to a cave in the hills.”
“You’re all mad,” Hojo hissed under his breath as he continued to press forward. “There’s no such thing as a…”
And then Hojo had pushed forward to the front of the crowd.
His first thought was “where did the peacock find a daisho of that size”
The bird stood on the ground in front of the reddening headmaster, its plumage brightly colored and laid back on the ground behind it in a dazzling train of colors. A daisho hung at the bird’s side, and someone had placed a tiny straw hat on its head. Hojo stared at the dumbstruck at the bird for a moment, and then began to chuckle. No wonder his idiot neighbors had thought the bird a samurai; someone had obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to dress the bird up and embarrass the headmaster.
Thinking to end the situation before the joke got much more out of hand, Hojo stepped forward into the cleared area and began walking towards the bird, arms open to catch it in case it tried to run.
The peacock, no doubt noticing the heimin approaching it, tilted its head just enough to make eye contact from beneath its tiny straw hat. In that instant, Hojo froze; he saw nothing but death in the peacock’s black, glossy eye, and in that moment he knew, with absolute certainty, that the peacock was a samurai.
And that he was very, very dead.
“Kujaku-sama!” The voice seemed to Hojo as if it were coming from far away. He would have turned towards it, were he still not trapped by the peacock’s intense gaze. “Please,” the voice continued, its tone pleading, “he is but a foolish peasant! Please spare his life!”
The moment seemed to last forever, and then the peacock tilted its head once more, breaking eye contact and freeing Hojo from his paralysis. He could feel his knees grow weak as hands appeared to pull him back into the now fearful crowd, and he could see the headmaster bowing deeply to the peacock, as if in great thanks.
When he fainted, Hojo was still wondering where the peacock found such a tiny daisho.
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