Sampei Shirato's - Kamui-den
カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #1
It is the year that our story is set in, and nature is in full bloom. In the mountains and along the streams, weasels eat mice, hawks eat weasels, birds knock seeds from the trees that are eaten by deer, and the deer get eaten by bears. One rabbit gets hit and killed by a stick thrown by Mountain Man (a big, hairy, dirty sasquatch-like guy with little vocal ability). Mountain Man holds up the dead rabbit and says "kamui" before shuffling off. In Hanamaki Village near the base of the hills, work proceeds on harvesting rice, when the village headman comes up looking for Danzuri, one of the villagers who's carrying in rice stalks for processing. The headman asks a small boy - Shousuke - where his father, Danzuri is. Danzuri is found and requested to represent the village for something coming up.
At the main castle, the feudal lord and a number of ranking samurai are riding horses in the courtyard, shooting arrows at dogs for archery practice. They kill the last of the dogs, and the lord orders a vassal, Yokome, to find more. He and the dog handler go into the seedier part of the village where the vagrants live, and the handler is forced to take his family's pet Akita back to the castle for the practice. Yokome notices an ugly-looking creature in a cage, and ignores the handler's protests. They bring the two animals with them. In the courtyard, the Akita just sits there obediently as the archers turn it into a pincushion. The handler cries silently, while the retainers complain that that was really boring. The lord demands that a brute with real fight in him be brought out. Yokome drags out the second animal, which turns out to be a grizzled, wounded wolf. When the first arrow flies at him, the wolf springs, killing several retainers before escaping back to the mountains. The feudal lord is shaken, not having wanted something with quite that much fight in them.
Danzuri is next seen running into the village, establishing Hanamki as the town with the fastest runner for another year in a row. To celebrate, the headsman invites all his friends and lower-level samurai to a banquet. Danzuri, being a mere villager is relegated to the stables, where a servant gives him and a couple other villagers a stack of rice cakes and a jug of sake. Shousuke protests this treatment, but this is just one more example of the kind of class-level behavior that he'll have to learn to live with. One topic of conversation that comes up between the villagers is that Danzuri had seen Kichibee hiding out in the woods, and the other two go silent. Shousuke asks what a Kichibee is, and his father tells him that there had been an insurrection against the samurai 3 years earlier, and Kichibee was its main leader - there's a death sentence on his head, and the villagers hope that he'll remain free.
In one of the samurai houses, Ikkaku is the head of a kendo dojo, where he teaches his sponsor's son, Ryounoshin, the art of sword fighting. At the end of one bout, Ikkaku tells the boy's father that Ryounoshin shows some promise. After the two leave, Ikkaku starts nursing the huge bruise on his ribs that the boy just gave him. Nearby, Shibutare goes to one samurai retainer and tells him that Kichibee has been spotted in the woods. Shibutare is a professional snitch, and this tale nets him a few coins. When he, and the retainer's messenger, leave the household gates, Yokome, who is spying nearby, figures that something is up. The feudal lord is told that Kichibee is still alive, and the order is issued to have him captured. The villagers are told to do the grunt work, but they don't try very hard. Yokome then suggests that the vagrants be enlisted to sweep of the woods. Kichibee is quickly hunted down and imprisoned. The villagers accuse the vagrants of being murderers.
At Ikkaku's dojo, there's a disturbance. A swordsman, Ukon Mizunazuki, is issuing a challenge to see if the dojos, which teach using wooden swords, can really compete against seasoned samurai with battle experience. Ikkaku accepts the challenge and gets thoroughly defeated. When Ukon goes outside, he's challenged by Yokome, who uses a chain and sickle attack. Ukon gets faked out by the chain, and the sickle bites deep into his right ankle. As Yokome drags him in on the chain for the finishing blow, Ukon cuts off his own foot and escapes, screaming in pain.
Finally, out in the mountains, life goes on, with the various animals preying on each other. With one exception. An old wolf lies in a cave, waiting for his arrow wounds to heal. Days pass, and when he can move again, he starts taking out deer with one bite to the neck, and eats only the best parts, leaving the rest of the carcass to the scavengers. He climbs up a hill and calls out to his old pack, which soon gathers up. Winter comes, then turns to Spring. The day of Kichibee's execution arrives and the villagers press up against the barricades to watch in protest. The vagrants are ordered to raise up the wooden cross that Kichibee is tied to, and they're the ones that have to run spears through the man's body to kill him. During this, Kichibee remains silent. Afterward, one of the vagrants that had been handling the spears, Yasuke, sits in the storeroom, thinking that Kichibee had been a great man. Yokome finds him and orders him out. As Yasuke returns home, he's pelted by rocks by villagers that call him a killer. Back at the vagrant village, Yasuke is told to hurry, his wife has just given birth to a son. The man stands there with the infant in his hands, wondering what this world needs with one more vagrant. While, up in the mountains, a female wolf has given birth to a new litter, including one rare white pup.