“Even in times of trouble, remember this: there is no evil in nature. What is now has been before and will be again. It is the shortsighted and foolish who believe that life has no patterns, no purposes. All that is now is part of what has been and what will come to be.”
-The Tao of Shinsei
Just ahead of them, a young man approached. When he was within speaking distance, he fell to his knees, his face to the ground. “Lord Hotoyuri, I bring news from your father’s court.”
The samurai turned to his wife, his eyes saying all. “Tell me this news,” he said to the messenger, his eyes still fixed to his wife.
“The Clans Lion and Phoenix have already clashed upon hearing the Emperor’s illness. They say armies bearing the standards of the Unicorn and Dragon were seen moving towards the lands held by Shoshimi of the Clan Crab.”
His eyes shut tight. He felt her hand squeeze around his own. Then he turned back to the messenger, his face stern. “Very well. Tell my men we shall be ready to leave by nightfall. We shall have to go to my father and aid him in this . . . dilemma.”
The messenger rose, his head still bowed and turned, returning the way he came.
The two walked a little farther, then turned toward the house. Inside, he made ready to make a pack, but found that all he needed was already waiting for him by the door. He smiled.
He walked through the halls to their bedroom. When he slid the door aside, he smelled brewing tea and heard the sweet singing of the pot. She was there, sitting before the table, her eyes cast down at the cups as she poured. He slid the door back into place and walked to the table, sitting quietly.
“You are leaving, then?” she asked, her eyes still low.
“Yes. I must go. My father will need me.”
“You do not need to explain duty to me, my husband.” Her eyes rose then, and he found his own gaze lowering to the table.
She placed his cup before him and took her own in her hand.
“Do you remember the first time we met?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes. It was in my father’s court.”
“I remember seeing you and being glad that I was to be married to such a handsome man.”
“I was happy, too.” He raised his gaze and saw her own eyes beginning to swell with tears. “And I am happy, even onto this day.”
He watched her lips tremble into a smile. “I, as well.”
When the tea was done, they rose up and walked to the door where his pack was waiting. The sun had set low in the sky and nightfall was close at hand. He slid open the door and lifted the pack to his shoulders. Below the house, seven men and their escorts waited. On the escort’s shoulders were the standards of the Crane Clan, all blue and white.
He turned back to his wife. “If there is no way to settle this, we must go to war.”
“If Lord Tsugenja has been attacked by Dragon and Unicorn, war is already here, my husband.”
He nodded. “The Crab Clan is not known for its capacity to forgive, that is true.”
They stood there in the doorway, silent, only watching each other.
“We have been together for many years now, my wife,” he said. “And now, we may be apart for years to come.”
Her eyes fell once again. Then, her hand moved slowly to him. He moved his own to take it, but her hand fell to where his short sword lay. He tried to move back, but her hand moved quick and before he could object, the wakizashi was in her hands.
He dropped the pack, his voice lost in panic. She stepped away from him, her eyes calm as a summer sea.
“No, my husband. Wait,” she said to him.
She raised the blade with her left hand and took her long braid into her right. The blade cut and the braid came away from her head. Then, she stepped forward, the wakizashi to her husband. He took the blade from her and placed it back in its sheath.
He watched as she took the braid’s loose end and tied it. Then, she placed the braid in his belt and tied it again. All the while, he felt his sorrow push his insides up into his throat.
When she was done, she looked up into his eyes and took his body in her arms. “Take this with you into battle, husband. And when the sky is dark and you are alone, touch it with your fingers, and remember me. Remember that I am waiting for you here.”
He touched his lips to hers and held her as tight as he could. Then, he let her go and turned away. He walked down the path down the hill to where his seven bushi awaited him. He climbed up onto his horse and looked each one in the eye.
“She wants you to come back, Hotoyuri-san,” an old voice said.
He turned, knowing exactly who spoke. “Yes, venerable Toshimoko-san, she wants me to return.”
The old man laughed, his gray eyes shining in the twilight. “That is the way of women. They weep to make you strong.” The old samurai nodded at the braid in his belt. “If you value anything, value that. It will keep you alive as sure as your blade.”
Hotoyuri smiled. “How would you know anything, Toshimoko-san. You have never even had a single wife.”
“Hah!” The old man spat. “One needs a wife to know the ways of women?” The old man moved his horse closer to his lord. “I tell you this now, my young master. You may know the ways of the court and you may be a master of that blade at your side, but you know very little of the ways of the world.” Toshimoko winked. “Stay by me and I will teach you.”
They laughed then, all of them, and Hotoyuri had forgotten for just a moment that he was on his way to his father’s court to prepare for war. They rode away and he rode next to the old samurai, and as he crested the top of the last hill, he stopped. Toshimoko stopped as well.
Hotoyuri looked back to his home. The door was still open and he could just barely see a figure standing in the doorway.
The old samurai chortled. “You worry too much. Worrying is what will get you killed. That’s why she gave you what she did. To bury the worry.”
Hotoyuri shook his head. “I cannot help it, Toshimoko-san. I know how things will go. I have spent too many years in the court not to know.”
“Then accept it. This is the way of the world, Hotoyuri-san. No one man can change the world.” The samurai placed his hand on his katana. “Over seventy men have I faced in duel and each time have I faced death. If I allowed fear into my mind even once, I would have died. For it is as the Wise One says, ‘You are concerned with life or you are concerned with death.’ Which will it be for you?”
Hotoyuri was quiet for a long time. Then he turned his horse toward the rising moon. “Let us go, my friend. We have a long road to travel.”
The swordmaster nodded and turned his own horse as well. They rode toward the Lord of the Crane Clan’s home, the moon rising up before them.
Far behind them, the bride of Lord Hotoyuri looked out to the moon, her eyes full of tears.
She would never see her husband again.
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