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A Matter of Honour

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A Matter of Honour

Sean Austin

They had him. He had led them a chase for far too long, up high into the mountains to where the late autumn snows already lay thinly on the cold ground. The dusk light fell into the clearing around them, casting the mask the warrior wore in stark and vivid colour. Kotoha glared at the snarling demon mask contemptuously. The warrior wasn’t as large as he had expected, his frame under the light armour quite small. Not much more than medium height but slender. He would never be any good in a battle line Kotoha thought dismissively, not enough bulk to him to stand firm. He couldn’t understand how such a small man could have cause so much trouble for the family over the last six months.

Kotoha’s eyes broke from the warrior to rake across his four companions who now surrounded the warrior on all sides. It had taken them hours of stalking today to corner him and now their long hunt was at an end.
“Admit defeat now.” he ordered the warrior. “Admit defeat and we shall give you a clean death. There is no dishonour to die at our hands.”
The warrior inclined his head but remained silent. The silence and the demon mask seemed to mock him and Kotoha growled in disgust.
“You have not even drawn your sword to defend yourself. You already know your cause is lost, you have no chance against us. Kneel before me and admit your defeat!”
The warrior answered with a light breathless chuckle and shook his head. The sound through the mask taunted him and Kotoha snarled, giving in to his anger.
“If you won’t submit, remove your mask and face death with honour.”
The warrior laughed again, his hand drifting to the hilt of his sword. Kotoha’s hand tightened on the hilt of his own drawn sword, scowling in anger and disgust at the silent warrior.
“So be it.” he ground out.
His men moved without a signal from him and Kotoha closed in, a grim smile already creasing his dark face at the thought of his impending victory. His promise to his father to bring back this warriors head before the first winters snow fell would soon be fulfilled.

Kotoha’s smile disappeared quickly as he realised why the warrior was so small. The hiss as the warrior’s sword swept from its scabbard sounded loud in the still air and was followed by the bright flash of the blade in the red sunlight. The warrior’s small stature had given no hint of their speed and deftness that was unhindered by bulky muscle. After several seconds where the clash of steel rang across the clearing, Kotoha dropped to his knees, staring in shock at the blood that spurted from where his hand had so recently been attached. His four companions sprawled on the dusting of snow, their blood and his staining the crisp whiteness crimson. The head of one companion tumbled across the snow, coming to a rest against Kotoha’s knee, empty eyes staring up at him in confused surprise. The last flickering of life died in those eyes and Kotoha slowly looked up at the warrior.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
The warrior’s free hand rose and pulled the mask away to reveal the soft and unbearded features of a woman. Recognition flooded through his pain wracked mind and Kotoha frowned.
“But you are dead.”
She shook her head, an amused smile playing across her face.
“You may have killed my father and brother. I watched your men kill my mother and sisters but I remain.”
Kotoha’s eyes fell on the sword in her hand, the almost blue steel blade sheened with blood. His frown deepened.
“You bring disgrace upon the family by taking up your father’s sword.” he spat weakly. “The sword that by rights is mine.”
The woman laughed softly, even as her eyes hardened.
“You and I have very different views of what brings disgrace upon the family, Cousin.” she told him. “It may have taken me eight years to be able to avenge my father’s death but I am nothing if not patient.”
Kotoha summoned what little strength was left in him, stumbling to his feet to face her.
“Then kill me. I shall die with honour, on my feet.” he told her defiantly.
The sword in her hand shook as her smile dropped. Without warning she kicked him in the chest, sending him to the ground on his back.
“You have no honour.” she snarled.
The sword rose and fell, Kotoha’s pitiful scream rising weakly in the cold air. She stared down at him in disgust.
“The wolves will be here soon enough.” she informed him. “It is a pity you will have bled out before then.”
Kotoha sobbed and stared at both his severed hands lying in the snow nearby as she turned her back on him and walked away.