This is a tale of Japan and the old West, in that order.  The
time is about mid-nineteenth century, when two cultures first
clashed.  For now, I won't say what the acronym YWSD represents.
Let us say it's a sort of superstition, keeping it a secret.
If title you must have, use the working title, 'The Sunset
Barbarian'.  No direct tie-ins to either manga or anime, unless
it be a subtle bow to 'Kamui - Dagger of the Gods'.


>>>>>>>YWSD Teaser:

------It begins

Bandits rarely frequented this stretch of road, between Hokkaido
and the pennensula.  It was not because there was no one to rob,
for wealthy folk came through here all the time.  It was not
because there were no vagrants willing to deprive others of their
possessions.

It was because of the 'accidents' that seemed to happen
occasionally, to anyone who tried to be a brigand or a highwayman
along this particular route.  One man was found dangling from a
tree with certain unmentionable parts of his body exposed to
passersby and stained a bright red.  Another, known to be abusive
to his fellows and cruel to children, was found near death in a
ditch, with both legs broken.  He never walked again and had to
rely on children to bring him water and scraps of food to keep
from starving.

It was down these ruts the stranger rode, straight in the saddle
but carefully accomodating his passenger.  The passenger was a
bright-eyed girl, alert to the songbirds in the trees and the
rabbits which bounded away from the gravel path.  She spoke
softly, if at all, but pointed out the interesting things she saw
to the man.  He would nod and return his attention to the road,
while she went back to watching.

Eventually, they came to the gates of a repectable estate, a
samurai known for his attendance to the daimyo of the region.
Leaving the horse with the guards, the man led his charge up the
stones of the path and to the main house.  Eventually, he was
placed upon the cushions of the most respected seat in the house,
while servants stirred about and murmured quietly to themselves.

Yes, he was a mysterious visitor, one whom they had never met
before.  Yes, the girl might be his daughter, but why was she
dressed in such cheap, gaudy rags?  He was obviously a person of
some esteem, with his fine wrap and the beautiful weapons he
carried.  Perhaps he had bought her somewhere to use as a slave,
but such a blatant violation of her person would never be
condoned by the master - not in his own house!  See the way he
responds to her?  Such affection!  Yes, she must be a daughter...

Lord Suzuki sent for his chief vassal.



------In the Chamber


Perhaps he had gone too far.

Chief of the Vassals Hiroto quickly lowered his face to the
floor, quaking in apparent fear of his lord and master, Lord
Suzuki.  As he was this close to the floor, he inspected it,
simply from habit.  The varnish on the floor was checking, and
there was a patch of dust someone had overlooked.  He would
instruct the carpenters in the proper way to put a finish on a
hardwood floor, tomorrow.  As for that lazy Suquio, slapdash with
the dusting mop...

At the moment, however, he had other troubles.  Lord Suzuki had
been quick to correct him when he had entered the hall in an
informal manner.  He had not been as jovial and tolerant as
normal.  And then when lord Suzuki had shown the girl to him, and
Hiroto had had the offrontery to *insult* the child....  What had
he been thinking?  Of course the girl was not a member of the
household.  She was dressed in lowranked travelling clothing.  He
had taken her for an underaged trollop of the entertainment
guilds who frequented the local villages.  When Lord Suzuki had
asked him what he thought, Hiroto had said, "She looks like a
delectable morsel."  In a joking manner, of course.  Surely he
understood that it was meant in a joking manner?

Hiroto finally dared raise his gaze from the sanded wooden planks
to his lord and master.  There was no humor in those eyes.  Not
death, praise Buddha, but Lord Suzuki could deal worse than death
by a simple gesture.  No humor.  And very little forgiveness.
Then Hiroto followed his lord's gaze, and the breath within his
chest turned to ice.  There was another within the room, a
shadowy figure in somber black, wearing the symbols for the Yagua
clan.  Two swords - a samurai, then.  A calm face, but that
foretold nothing.  Other than that, unfamiliar, menacing.
Something about him renewed the quaking in Hiroto's joints.

The old man on the raised platform spoke.  "Hiroto, I shall trust
you to find a suitable person to guard this child."

Hiroto bobbed his head like a cork on a pond.  "Yes, I shall do
so!" he almost babbled, then caught himself, "I shall find a
member of the house staff who is competent and can act as her
servant."

"Not good enough.  I said I wanted a guard, not a wetnurse!"

"Yes sir!  Yes sir!  Aahhh..." Hiroto's thoughts raced, "Perhaps
we could have one of the men from the house guard..."

"I have seen those buffoons!" shrilled the old man, "And I'll
have you know they would not recognize an invader if they
stumbled over him!  I said *suitable*!"

In a near panic, Hiroto reached into his inner thoughts and found
a scapegoat... or, as he prefered to call it, a suitable
candidate.

"I have just the person, honored Sir!" he cried, "I will have the
gardener removed from his duties and assigned to look after the
young lady."

"The gardener?"  Lord Suzuki appeared ready to explode like a
toad thrown into a fire, "You would expect a *gardener* to
protect anyone from harm?"

"Please, Lord!" hurried Hiroto, "Do you remember when the farmer
Squatcho was injured by a wagon wheel last year?  You yourself
assigned him to work in the garden because you were kind and
generous."

"I remember him.  Explain."

"He appears to have recovered from the injury except for a limp,"
Hiroto's words came out in a rush, "But for one thing.  He thinks
he is the reincarnation of a great warrior.  Despite this mental
abberation he is very stable and is good to work with children."

"What general?"  Lord Suzuki, while not a devotee of Buddha, was
tolerant of anyone who believed in reincarnation.  He seemed
interested, which eased Hiroto's fears of being roasted on a
spit.

"He calls himself Hojo, my lord."

"That general?  This I will have to see," said Lord Suzuki, after
glancing at his visitor.

Hiroto smiled shakily and hurried to send for the man who tended
the Lady Oshiro's flowers.  "Let him be subservient," he said to
himself, "Oh, please, let him be respectful!" His hopes were
dashed and his fears realized as Hojo strode into the hall still
wearing his soil-stained breeches from the morning's labor.

Hojo strode before Lord Suzuki and bowed slightly, an
acknowledgement to an equal.  He then repeated the gesture to the
guest seated in the shadows.  This was intolerable enough, but
when he knelt before the girl and lowered his head, Hiroto could
stand no more.

"Show some respect, you mudclod!" he cried.

"Be easy," smiled the old man, "He has just done so.  I think I
like him already."

"My master commands?" Hojo spoke to the shadowed figure.

"He is not your master!" cried Hiroto, "Lord Suzuki is your
master!  Do I have to have you beaten?"

"I said, be easy."  Lord Suzuki's voice was gentle but contained
a thousand variations of threat, "You have just seen a
discernment rare in the most observant of men."

Hiroto gulped for air and rested back on his heels.  Very well.
If they allowed insubordination, let it be on their heads.  He
had tried to call the cur down.  He had spoken his piece.

The shadowy person spoke, in a deep resonant male voice, to the
gardener, "You call yourself Hojo."

"I have that honor."

"*The* Hojo."

The gardener grinned, sharing a joke with an equal, "Is there
another?"

"How do you explain yourself?"

"My Lord?"

"How did you...get to be here?"

The gardener settled crosslegged, favoring his injured leg, "The
priests tell me it is reincarnation, my lord.  Because of my
previous stressful life, I was rewarded with a peaceful, quiet
existence.  Gardening suited me."

"Would you prefer to go back to your restful flowers?"

Hojo bobbed in an imitation of Hiroto.  "Ah, no.  I have had
enough, I suppose.  Now, a change of occupation would suit me
fine."

"What can you recall of your ... previous existence?"

"What would you like to hear?  I must remind you that I have
slept since then, and some of the battles blur together.  But
there are some things which will never die away."  He used his
calloused hand to swat at the flies buzzing around.

The person in the shadows paused, as though deep in thought.
"Tell me," he said, "How can I test you?  *Should* I test you?"

The gardener smiled, "As you can see, this body is not as agile
as I would prefer.  However, if I were in your place, I would
hurl something deadly.  An able person would survive.  A liar
would succumb."

"I already have," said the shadowy menace.

"Ah," said Hojo.  "You mean these?"  He opened his hand to
present the two small darts he had grabbed while apparently
swatting flies.

Hiroto goggled.  "But he was a simple farmer!" he exploded, "He
must have been training secretly!"

"Perhaps the injury, and a blow to the head, made him into
something he was not before," suggested Lord Suzuki.

"He will do," said the shadowy figure, and he was gone without a
sound.

Hiroto's heart quavered at the ease with which he vanished, and
he looked from the empty shadows to the face of the girl.  There
was something in her eyes, something that looked familiar.  Then
Lord Suzuki made as though to rise and had to be helped because
his feet had fallen asleep.  Hiroto realized where he had seen
those eyes as he helped his lord and master to his feet.  "Yes,
Lord Suzuki," he promised, "We will take care of her!"



------And the end is near

There were seven of them to one.  The lone outsider debated the
odds, then manufactured a weapon by grabbing a broom and snapping
the head off.  The sturdy handle lessened the odds by a fraction,
but the opposition was going to be tough.

Darkening clouds blotted out the sun, while a rising wind scudded
loose brush and leaves across the sandy street.  At the end of
that street, the general of the opposing forces was marshalling
their forces.  They intended no retreat, no mercy.

The outsider caught a glimpse of furtive movement atop the livery
stable, a darkened form slipping behind the false front.  The
assassins were here, as well.  They would attack when the battle
frenzy was at its worst, striking while attention was diverted.
This was not turning out to be a good day.

And within the church, bound by law and honor not to interfere,
love had to await the result.  To succeed was to fail, for honor
forbade the battle while duty proclaimed it inevitable.  Win or
lose, the result would be failure.

The general of the forces raised a hand, thrust it high into the
darkening air, then dropped it, pointing at the outsider.  The
order to advance was given.

"All right, ladies!" said Mrs. Vandiver, "You know what to do.
No matter what, she does not cross that line!"

Suzuki Mihishini brushed a wayward, windblown strand of hair out
of her face and lifted the broomstick.  It was time to fight.


>>>>>>>YWSD Teaser:  END