“Tell it again.”
Zafled rolled her eyes. “I have told that story enough times. The children know it by heart.”
“They do, and it is because they love to hear you tell it.”
“There are many other stories, better stories. The children should hear those instead.”
Rehg cast his eyes toward his wife. Despite her gruff tone he could clearly see the sparkle in her eye and the beginnings of a smile at her lips.
“Very well,” he declared. “I shall tell them of my wrestling match with Tamagaki.”
“Tamagaki was blind in one eye,” Zafled sniffed. “That story does not inspire.”
“Then I shall tell the children of my duel with the tengu Amanozako.”
“That story ends with the two of of you drunk and stealing melons. It will teach bad morals.”
“Fine. Then I shall simply tell them of the night under the cherry blossoms when we first…”
“That story is private.” Zafled let out a deep sigh. “It seems there is no other choice. I will need to tell the story.”
“What ever you think is best.” Rehg wisely waited until she was out of the room to start smiling.
Outside, in the cooling dusk air, the children were gathering around and chattering about those things of grave importance that only children understand. They fell silent as Zafled approached.
“There he stood,” she began. The assembled children all knew who “he” was. “He told all of us that we were not to leave his camp. That if we even dared think of such treason, he would cave in our heads with his tetsubo and let the ravens pick our bones bones clean of flesh.
“‘Who are you to make such threats?’ I challenged him.
“He drew himself up to his tallest height. He flexed his bared muscles and beat his mighty chest. ‘I am Throx of the northern Oni. I am the largest of our clan. My horn is the tallest. My testsubo has claimed the most lives. I am the leader and you are all mine to command!’
“He roared deeply, and I could feel the courage shrinking in those gathered beside me. But still, I stepped forward. Though the tip of my horn did not even reach his beard, I rose up to my full height.
“‘You are nothing but a wastrel and a fool,’ I shouted at him. ‘What is that around your waist?’ I demanded. ‘What is it that makes up your skirt?’
“‘This,’ he said, petting the skirt in question, ‘is lion fur. I killed the beast myself.’
“‘You would kill the great lions that roam these mountains?’
“‘Every last one. Does that frighten you?’
“‘No. I would rather tame them.’
“With that, I gave a whistle. The great best pounded free of the surrounding brush. Throx’s eyes grew wide, wide enough so that all could see the reflection of teeth in them as the big cat pounced.
“Out people were free that day. And in the distance, humanity shuddered, for somehow they knew we would come for them next.”
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