Chapter 9 – Impossible Task
They walked towards a part of the city Haru wasn’t accustomed too. He was looking around a little wide eyed as was Lily as they saw beautiful architecture and treats being sold on the streets.
“You know Haru. If it turns out to be too much, I don’t want you to push yourself. Your well being is far too important, if it doesn’t work out we’ll find another way.” Eve mentioned in passing.
“Pshh. No mom, I’m going to become strong and this is a great opportunity! There’s no way I’ll allow myself to fail.”
It wasn’t a huge city, but it also wasn’t small. It took them over half an hour to reach their destination.
It was a moderate sized one floor building. Unlike some of the ones around it, it didn’t seem particularly special. In fact, it was the only one that looked plain – a single sign hung on the door with four lines:
“Death is a result of the sword.
This is a place of learning for the sword.
Learning the sword means learning the art of death.
Art can be found anywhere. Death can be seen everywhere.”
Eve grimaced at the sign ‘His sense of aesthetic hasn’t changed.’
Eve knocked on the door and held Lily’s hand with one hand and Haru’s with the other. They waited in front of that door for a few minutes before it opened and Erith stood there with a smile on his face “You’ve come. How good.”
“Uncle Erith” Haru called trying to appeal to his new teacher.
“Hahaha smart child. We’ll see though.” He waved for Haru to come over.
“Be careful.” Eve said in a low voice.
“Of course mom.” Haru said as he walked inside, not noticing Eve’s gaze as she stared at Erith. An unheard-unsaid conversation was had in that brief moment as Erith rolled his eyes and closed the door in her face.
“Will Haru be okay mom?” Lily asked looking up at Eve.
“Of course he will.” Lily said as an automatic response half forcing that belief onto herself.
Lily was even younger than Haru but she was a bright child too. She could feel her mother’s hand clenching hers slightly tighter, and took it as a sign of concern.
“Big brother is really strong! He’s going to be okay mom!” Lily said with her high pitched voice.
Eve smiled as she heard her daughter. ‘My own daughter trying to reassure me. I need to do better as a mother.’
“I know what’ll cheer you up mom! Why don’t we go get sweets?? Hehe” Lily yelled with a wide smile.
Eve rolled her eyes as she squeezed her daughter’s little cheeks but didn’t say no as they walked away. Her anxiety melting away at seeing her daughter’s smile.
Erith gave Haru a glance before walking deeper inside, Haru decidedly chose to follow along.
Along the short cooridor Haru came to realize that the entire building was not what he expected. Unlike most of the places in their surroundings, all of the large space taken up by this building seemed to be in this large open courtyard visible already.
‘Wow’ was all Haru could think as he briefly thought about how much this large chunk of space would cost.
Erith walked all the way to the middle of the courtyard and sat down cross legged on a patch of grass. At the center of the enormous courtyard was a small garden area, that was very beautifully kept. It would be obvious to any passerby that it was well looked after and meticulously up kept.
Haru came to stand next to Erith and stood still waiting for instruction. He wondered whether he should follow Erith’s lead and sit down as well, and just as he’d made up his mind and was half way to sitting down Erith spoke “What is Swordsmanship?”
Haru immediately stood up straight like a rod and racked his brain for the right answer before speaking with certainty “The skillful use of the sword.”
Erith gave a half-smile but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “A smart response. I suppose it’s what any child would say in your shoes if they had some sense, but it’s a mundane response. It’s true but it lacks any thought. It’s true, but it lacks soul. It lacks the essence of a swordsman.”
Haru looked a little confused but he could feel a growing sense of alarm.
Erith put his half underneath his chin to hold it up as he gazed away from Haru “Your father is my brother. You couldn’t imagine the things he’s done for me and the things I’ve done for him. There is little we wouldn’t do for one another.”
Haru felt as if he should be comforted by those words but that alarm in his head kept telling him something was wrong.
“He’s my brother, but the sword is my way. It is my path, my choice, my way of life.
I have had many people bring me diciples, each of which have disappointed me time and time again. I once refused to allow others to bring me their picks because I wanted my say, but after repeated failures. I had to concede this point in order to gain more options, even then I was disappointed. I told your father that I would teach you, and I will. That is, if you can prove to me that you are a swordsman.”
It was then that Haru finally understood why he was feeling so alarmed. ‘He doesn’t want to teach me. He truly doesn’t.’ It suddenly sunk in that despite what his father had said, and even the words coming out of Erith’s mouth… The man before him truly had no intention of teaching him anything.
It suddenly felt like something else was suddenly within his grasp but still so far, unable for him to reach. An overwhelming sense of shame and pain started spreading from Haru’s chest and his eyes reddened but he didn’t say a word.
Erith wasn’t looking at him but he could see the expression on Haru’s face and a small twinge of disappointment started welling up inside of him ‘Already he looks like he’s going to break.’
Taking a deep breath Erith stopped thinking and stood up. A sword appeared in his hands leaving Haru speechless wondering where Erith had possibly been hiding it.
Erith lifted the sword up with both hands above his head and then swung down with full force stopping the blade at his waist.
Haru’s mind went blank as he saw the huge gale resembling a whirl wind that Erith had just created with but a simple swing of his sword.
There was no technique, no style, absolutely nothing amazing about that swing but the power was amazing. It took a moment for Haru to think about it and although he was still a child he quickly recognized that if just anybody swung a sword there wouldn’t be such a huge effect without employing some sort of technique.
The sword in Erith’s hands disappeared as if it had never been there as he pointed with his thumb behind him “On that rack are a variety of different swords. Grab one from the bottom rack and pick a place outside of the garden. Emulate my swing. I will correct you until you swing it correctly for the first time. Then I will leave you to your own devices. Your task is simple, swing your sword to my standard 1000 times.”
Haru’s face had lightened as he’d heard Erith mentioning personal instruction until he’d heard the words ‘my standard’ and ‘1000 times’
1000 sword swings was not an easy task by any standard. This would be the amount of swings an experienced swordsman would do per day, and moreover the keywords in Erith’s sentence were “to my standard” clearly he wouldn’t be letting Haru off with a mere childish sword swing.
As a child of only 10 years of age, he was requesting something near impossible of Haru. It would be a miracle if Haru could swing one of the swords of the rack a 100 times.
Unlike what Erith was expecting, his words had not dissuaded Haru but rather they had motivated him!
Normally a child faced with an impossible task would take a heavy blow, enough so to lower their morale to the point where the improbable-impossible task would truly become impossible. Haru on the other hand was inwardly screaming for joy. ‘I can’t change my bloodline, but this is something I can do. This is something completely within my power to do. I will succeed with my own two hands.’
Haru merely nodded in acknowledgement and walked towards the rack to choose his sword. There was no argument, and not even the slightest look of complaint in his eyes
Ertih’s eyes slightly squinted at Haru’s unexpected response, but said nothing at all as he watched him carefully.
Haru looked at the rack and wasn’t sure if he was missing something. Every single sword on the rack, whether it was the bottom, middle or top looked the exact same!
The length, the style, the width, the handles, every single one looked like a carbon copy of the one before it! Each single sword was straight, with a glint to each blade. The handles were all stock wood and they all seemed like the epitome of minimalistic craftsmanship. Looking at the swords that were seemingly all the same, Haru picked one up at the random and studied its composition. It was fairly long for him at about 20 inches for just the blade, but he could tell it would be considered a short sword for a man and not a child.
Haru felt the weight of the sword and although it didn’t feel heavy, it was certainly not light. ‘Heavier than I thought’ it was the first time he’d held a sword in his hands.
Haru picked a second one up to compare and realized he couldn’t feel a single different. Considering the weights were the same and there was little choice in the matter, he wasted no more time and kept the first one he’d picked up and walked outside of the garden.
Erith followed and sat at the edge of the garden watching Haru.
Haru took a stance as he adjusted his body and tried to recalling every detail of what Erith had done earlier. After adjusting his balance, he lifted the sword above his head and brought the sword down with all his strength until he felt himself losing control and having the sword smack the ground.
Haru’s hands were trembling and he still felt the shock from the impact going through his muscles ‘So much slower. So weak’ was his first thought. He was mentally comparing himself to Erith and couldn’t believe that there was such a difference, but that shock immediately faded away. ‘He’s a master and this is my first time picking up a sword. How can there even be a comparison? This is just the start for me.’
Erith was about to chastise him when he noticed Haru going through a range of emotions in the blink of an eye as he almost instantly steadied himself and calmed down. There was no shock in his eyes, only thought. Erith couldn’t bring himself to speak as he continued to watch.
Haru continued trying to swing the sword but every single time there would be huge a vast difference, in his control and power.
Haru must have swung that sword over 40 times as sweat was already pooling on his forehead and back, but still he hadn’t made a sound.
‘What incredible technique…’ It took 40 swings for Haru to realize the vast amount of technique necessary to merely swing a sword without recoil, without fault, with complete mastery of his own body much less the sword. After every single swing he would mentally recall the image of Erith’s swing to his own and he didn’t adjust, but rather learned. He was distinguishing the differences between himself, Erith, their swings, their bodies, their strength, technique.
He was teaching himself!