I stood in shocked awe, at the beautiful blades being presented to me my Yoshi. One was a blade of blue steel, the other was of burnished gold. Both with a bright silver, diamond hard single cutting edge. They were a little over twenty inches long, with handles that would allow a two handed grip if needed. With a smile, Yoshi turned the blades over, and showed what he had been doing throughout the previous day and night. Etched into the blue steel, was a golden wolf’s paw. Etched into the golden blade, was a blue paw. Both were a match for the tattoo’s that Hiro and I had gotten when we were allowed them. When I held them, the balance felt perfect, and after a couple of practice swings, they felt like an extension of my arms.
“Yoshi-San, I don’t know what to say! They’re beautiful!”
“You make an old man happy Taylor. I confess, I never thought I would part with them. I made them with the intention of giving them to Hiro, but, fate decided it was not to be. It is an honour to pass them onto you.”
I sat by the lake, the blades across my lap. When I had first come here, when I was recovering both mentally and physically after the end of the war, I would sit for hours watching the fish swimming in the lake. Life was so much simpler for them it seemed. I would spend hours trying to forget the things I had seen, wondering if I was going crazy.
River appeared next to me. Her approach had been so silent that she actually startled me. That, or I had been so far into my own mind, I hadn’t heard her.
“Penny for your thoughts…”
“You can have ‘em for free. In fact, you probably know what I’m thinkin’ most of the time, so I could say you owe me loads of pennies already…”
The smile she gave me made me forget the sadness that had been welling up in me. With a last look at the koi in the lake, I closed a chapter on my life that had been open for far too long.
“Yesterday, you told me of the members of your crew. I have some gifts for them, that I would like you to pass on. Friends of yours are now friends of mine. Please tell them that if they are ever passing this region, that they are most welcome to stay as long as they wish. I have also had one of the students make you this harness, to allow you to wear the twin blades across your back.”
He presented me with tanto daggers for the male crew, and silk mandarin dresses for the female members. For River, he gave 3 more dresses, coloured red, blue and gold, as well as the green one from last night. His generosity didn't stop there though. Any need to go looking for supplies vanished when we arrived at the field where Wash was due to pick us up. Boxes of salted fish and meats, rice, fresh fruits, bottles of his own brewed sake rice-wine.
“Yoshi, I don’t know what to say…you really didn’t need to do this. I’m not going to say no though…but I don‘t know how I can ever repay you…”
“Taylor my friend, you can repay me by coming back here more often, and by bringing River with you.
River, my child, it has been an honour to meet you. It gladdens my heart to see how happy Taylor is when he is with you. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you many more times in the future.”
“It has been an honour to have met you Masamune-San. I too hope to have many visits here. And please say hello to Takeda-San for me. I hope that he will permit a rematch when we return?”
“Ok, you 2, quit it will you? River, you’re gonna have to help me practice Japanese…”
By the time we were docking back on Serenity, Wash could tell that something had ‘happened’ between me and River during the stay, but aside from raising an eyebrow and grinning, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he spent the short journey telling us about what we had missed. It seemed that Simon had yet again managed to offend Kaylee by trying to give her a compliment that had backfired, and she was now not speaking to him…“…my brother is such a boob …”…Mal had managed to offend Inara when she had sent a wave…Zoe had been like a bear with a sore head despite the pre-emptive hangover cure from Simon.
“At least WE had a good time then…”
The look from the corner of his eye, and the grin on his face when he heard River, left Wash in no doubt that things had indeed changed between us.
“What’s so special ‘bout this little knife? I got me a few knives already, an’ they're all bigger’n this one.”
“Could you spend the day choppin’ bits of wood, or hackin’ at people should you feel the need, or even cut through metal sheets for whatever reason, then have a shave without needin’ to sharpen one of your ‘big’ knives?…”
“Well, with this knife, you could. That, an’ it's free.”
“Also, it is sharp enough to be able to use as a scalpel should I need to improvise, I suppose…”
“The dresses are so pretty! Can I take my pick of any one I want? An’ he gave you strawberries too!!”
The entire crew were happy with the gifts that Yoshi had provided. Mal didn’t know whether he preferred his knife or the sake. Kaylee was eager for any excuse to wear her dress, and was eyeing the strawberries with predatory glances. When Inara finally docked, she made a point of greeting everyone except Mal, and when she came into the kitchen for dinner, wearing the dress she had picked, every one had been blown away. Mal was left speechless, and I swear, I saw a little grin of satisfaction on Inara when he didn’t know what to say.
After dinner, I forgot that we were in the crews company after spending twenty fours hours being able to hold and touch River to my hearts content. When she had been doing the dishes, I stood behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. The conversation around the table halted like a door had been closed, and when I looked up to see everyone looking at us, the heat from my blush could have melted all the ice and snow on St. Albans. It was with relief though, that I saw everyone was smiling at our openness.
When Mal called a crew meeting, nobody looked at us twice when River sat on my lap instead of a chair. Well. Almost nobody. Simon did look like he was still trying to come to grips with the fact that we were an obvious couple now…
“Book had a wave yesterday, from a fellow Shepherd on Avon, the largest moon ‘round Salisbury. It’s about a 12 hour hard burn from here t’there. Book, maybe you should tell ‘em what you told me.”
Shepherd stood, and moved so that everyone could see him clearly.
“A former Abbey brother heard I was close by, with the crew. He has asked for our help. It seems that the hamlets in his parish are being terrorised by someone or ‘something’…
In the last few months, farm stock has been slaughtered, and worse, in the last few weeks, 2 of the outlying farms were completely destroyed. There were no survivors from the 2 families that lived in them…”
“Why don’t the Fed’s or the Alliance sort it out? Why should we get involved?”
“The local Fed’s do not care about the hamlets, because they are at the very edge of their jurisdiction. And the Alliance would require more than a few deaths of locals to become involved Jayne, unfortunately.
Avon was one of the first moons to be colonised after the core planets, and being so far out on the rim, the inhabitants have led a very secluded existence since. I’m afraid that they make places like Jiangyin and Triumph seem like core planets. Shepherd Luke has his work cut out just bringing the word of God to the people. He doesn’t know who else to turn to for help.
What concerns Luke is that he thinks that the attacks are not from an animal.”
“When you say ‘attacks’, and ‘no survivors’, exactly what sort of attack could be confused with an animal attack?”
“He didn’t want to go into details, but from what he did say, I think that dismemberment was a large factor…”
“What, you mean like bein’ pulled apart? Lao tyen yeh!…So, what ‘bout payment? Last time we helped out on a rim settlement, I got a stick that made me wana pee, an' Mal got a wife…we gonna get some real coin this time?”
“Luke has said that he will give us as much fresh goods as they can spare, but they have been hit hard the last 3 years, harvests have been low, and they have very little…”
“So this is ‘nother chance for us to die for no pay? Then count me out!”
Jayne stood, ready to leave the table. What Mal said next, stopped him in mid stride and drew gasps from everyone except Book.
“Jayne. The ‘no survivors’ from the 2 families, included 6 kids, aged from a 6 month old baby girl, to 14 year old twins. If you wana leave, then you can get your gear now an’ hope there’s a ship gonna be passin’ here some time in the next few months…”
Jayne sat back down, and spoke for us all.
“If it’s a 12 hour burn, why’re we sat here talkin’?
Thirteen hours later, we were stood in the small dirt square that acted as the focal point for the small hamlet of Hopeford. As we had walked into the hamlet, the villagers had looked at us with a mixture of wonder and fright. The only member of the group not armed was River. Book, Simon, Kaylee and even Inara carried rifles. Mal and Zoe were carrying rifles as well as their usual side arms. As for me and Jayne…we looked like we had tried to outdo each other in what weapons we could bring. Jayne was a walking arsenal. His prized Vera in his arms, a smaller repeater strapped across his chest, pistols on both hips, knives and grenades… in comparison, I had my usual handguns, and now carried my rifle, and across my back, were my Masamune swords.
As Mal and Book stood talking to Shepherd Luke, Zoe gave a slight nod to me and Jayne, and we walked away from the group that had formed in the square. We knew what to do, words were not needed in a situation like this.
As I walked around the far end of the hamlet, my experienced eye showed the vast problems that we would encounter in trying to defend this place. Nothing like a barricade existed. No ditch that could be enlarged into a moat. No fence that could be extended. The closest thing I found that could be used as a defensive line was the open ground where the hamlet’s cattle grazed.
A small child looked at me from a window. I grinned and poked my tongue out at her. She giggled and waved to me.
“Are you here to save us from the monsters?”
“If there’re any here, then we’ll chase them away. If you see any, you be sure to tell me, ok little one?”
“My brother’s a meanie, will you chase him away too?”
My grin grew into a smile. Innocence in a child is a wondrous thing.