It could have been a perfect day. A half-day's walk away from the port of Otosan
Uchi and the ruins, the world was green-well, as green as it gets in our lands.
More accurately it was a shade of dried, unhealthy green that reflected the
nature of the land-the climate good for sustaining life, but because of the lack
of the spirits incapable, so that what did grow grew sickly, if at all. It was
late afternoon, the perfect time for a hunt. To the left, a copse of trees
swayed in the slight breeze. It was warm, hinting at the weather to come. Upon
my gloved right arm my falcon sat hooded, though unsettled. We were hunting
today, with birds from my father's, Yotsu Takajin's, mews. The one on my arm,
Haya-ko, was my favorite. How I wish she could be mine always!
Father's birds, unlike the peasant falconers' birds, were never used through a need to survive. The prey they caught, if worthy, was always exclusively for sport, and a treat for the birds. They were also for show, their feathers immaculate. Even the Daimyo asked after father's birds when the desire to hunt took him, so well bred were they. They were a samurai's birds, and they had their own sort of honor.
"Hai Haya-ko. I am disturbed as well." I whispered to her, involuntarily
readjusting my pack and bow. Haya-ko danced on my arm. I stroked her back,
calming her beautiful feathers. In her indignant protest, she dug her beak into
my arm. I winced, but did not cry out. It had been my fault for moving, after
"Hoi! Sui Fon-sama!" Cried a rough voice behind me. I winced as the honorific washed over me. It was not that it was not welcome to be called so; it was simply the tenor of the voice using it. It set my neck hairs on end, that voice.
"You trouble? Bird-ka damage, hurt much?" Not half as bad as your accent you stupid Thrane barbarian. I thought to myself, the words of that very sharp retort tingling upon my lips. How badly I wanted to utter them! Damn my orders! I was glad for the mask that covered my face; glad, because he would not see the slip in my serenity, the flash of malice I wished I could act upon. In my mind, I dreamed of flying my Haya-ko-chan at his eyes and watching as he screamed for mercy. The man's insults were unceasing. It seemed to be a gift for him. How I would enjoy the freedom to feed Haya-ko-chan his tongue next . . . and then . . . letting him keep his worthless life. What a glorious insult that would be, even to his ignorant mind!
Silence yourself, Sui. Your dreams are nothing! This is a dangerous thought. I admonished myself, but oh! How I wished this Thrane was my prey instead of my charge. How I would toy with him, stalking him as a tiger stalks a boar. . .
His face was a hideous ugly nightmare, like all Thrane. This one was fond of wearing an unkempt, scraggly beard to hide a fat-lipped mouth and a double chin. He wore spectacles that were too small for his face and his gaijin clothes, which were theoretically considered to be finely made in his barbarous land, were a bit too small for his girth. His bulbous nose was red, hinting at an addiction to alcohol. His skin was pocked with past disease, his teeth were yellow, and his greasy hair was pulled back at the base of his skull with a red ribbon, curling around itself in a disgusting spiral like a pig's tail. He stank of old Gaijin food, sweat, and opium. One huge, meaty hand took my injured arm. I resisted the urge to jerk away or shout, as that would further upset Haya-ko, and would destroy the hunt. Haya-ko had torn through my kimono, and gouged my arm. It stung, but it was nothing. It was a simple hazard of handling such a creature. I retreated in my mind to find my center, trying to block out the Gaijin's insult.
Stop shaking hand, stop wanting to reach for your sword. I demanded of myself.
But he's touching you! Kill him for this insult! I answered.
No, follow the orders set. The gaijin will get himself killed anyhow. One day he will do that and one with the freedom to act will take his ugly head. For some reason we have to watch this fool brother, perhaps to keep his insults from shedding blood for his superior. I don't know . . . oh!
But oh! The insult! What have we done to deserve this? What dishonor have I brought upon the clan that I was ordered to take on this duty? If only the money had not been right. . .
Yes, the money. You just had to be swayed like a fool ronin, didn't you?
Hey, now. I am no man to supposedly be above such things. It is a woman's duty to tend to the finances and the family is short of funding right now anyway. . .but It's not really the money . . . its . . . the hunt. I just didn't know the person we were to take on this venture. I hope his skill's worth the effort.
It is a lesson in patience, neh? Just like father counseled last night. Pray for patience.
Yes, I can only pray. I concluded, praying for serenity.
"Pardon me, Tsurai-san." Said a much older voice, just as I was about to demand that he release me. I looked up to see old Kasuga Katsuhiko-san hovering over the barbarian, his hand very tightly upon the Thrane's arm. Poor Katsu-san to have to sully his only hand on my behalf! And how lazy of Buntaro to let him! What remained of his left arm was shrouded in his kimono. He gave me a look that I understood, for it echoed my other thoughts.
Endure him, Sui-san. That look seemed to say, it is unbearable, I know.
"It is. . .very great insult in our land to touch a samurai without permission. Especially. . .a woman." He instructed the Thrane in his own language.
"Eh? That flower-sama's a samurai? Well don't that just puddle the piss in my boots!" For that analogy, I couldn't help but curl my lip. I understood perfectly, but I had not yet revealed that I was also fluent, both to speaking and understanding. Most others would know quite well; word usually traveled fast around Otosan Uchi and my fluency was hardly a secret, but this man was new and did not know much of anything. I could only hedge my bets and hope that the good kami were watching, and he had not heard from the local gaijin about his hunting escorts.
The Thrane called himself Zorion. Unlike most of their foreign names, it was not too terribly hard to speak it, but sometime during his stay here, it had been softened and shortened anyway. He was even answering to his adapted name, but he was still trying to teach the inflections of his language to the peasants and eta as we walked. To their credit, they were treating him with an equal amount of insult. He probably didn't understand yet what was happening, but I took a private piece of humor from it.
Kasuga Katsuhiko, Seppun Senshou, my older half-brother Yatsu Buntaro and I had been assigned to keep him distracted, to take him hunting. His brother was talking with the tortoise clan for one reason or another. It didn't matter to me or they would have revealed it. The orders had indicated that this foul-smelling, foul-mannered beast of a man fancied hawking. And so. . .
"Sui Fon!" I groaned, the grating, creaking, hair-raising shriek of my ancestor Ochiyo-sama rang in my head. By the fortunes, not now! Around me, my perception dimmed. It felt darker as the spirit distracted my attentions. "Don't think those thoughts about me Sui-ka. I hear everything you think!" oh ko! She only wishes she could! "You're being insulted because you are a disgrace!" By all the fortunes and kami, why now? I rolled my eyes. This was, of course, a mistake. "Don't you roll your eyes at me you little ingrate! If it wasn't for me, you'd never exist!"
"Yes Ochiyo-sama. I am grateful." Please, respectfully go away. . . I thought, but again she heard my thoughts; those thoughts, directed at her, which I let slip.
"Don't you tell me to go away! Why don't you have a husband?!"
"It has not been arranged yet Ochiyo-sama. Please allow me to--"
"Don't you try to placate me with food, prayers and incense you little brat. Why haven't you requested it as a favor from your father, that worthless, lazy Takajin-ka? Honestly, I don't see what your grandfather saw in him to give her to that gods-forsaken man. You're so like your father. How worthless. I told your mother that no good would come of him or his family--"
"It is not my place, honored ancestor." I said, smiling. One trick I could always play was upon the decorum and manner expected of a woman of rank.
"Don't you interrupt me. Honestly. I've never seen a less respectful child! If only your mother had lived."
"Hai, Ochiyo-sama, but . . ." My mother, Yatsu Yoko-sama had died in childbirth with me, but father said that she was haunted by Ochiyo-sama, just as I. Poor mother-sama! What a cruel twist of kharma to die in childbirth after a lifetime of this kind of haranguing. I found myself praying for her to rescue me from this annoyance.
"Don't interrupt me and don't you go praying to Yoko now. It is a woman's place to be at home, not hunting all over the countryside like a man! As a samurai you're supposed to be increasing the honor of your family by having children! It's your duty! YOUR DUTY!!"
"Yes honored ancestor." I said, shuddering at the prospect of that very antiquated but technically still honored philosophy. Truth be told, I was not interested in a marriage, let alone having children by that marriage, but I couldn't very well tell that to Ochiyo. I would, of course follow any arrangement made with all honor but. . .Ai, that cantankerous spirit! I had been placating her with that excuse since I turned fourteen, which was evidently the age that she had been married.
"And to think that I gave birth to seventeen glorious children, and endured the honorable deaths of all save one for the glory of the empire just to have a spoiled brat of a descendant who would be so disgraceful! By the time I was your age I had five children. Five sons! Look at you, you lazy girl. Not an adult until sixteen? You didn't get that laziness from MY side of the family. "
"Hai, Hai." I said in a whisper. I never quite believed her on that. Five children by age sixteen? Improbable! Besides, sixteen was a respectable age to reach adulthood. Entirely respectable. Oblivious to my affirmations, she continued.
"…but no. YOU had to become a bushi. . .and what about your mother, dying honorably to give birth to you? Would you continue to so dishonor her sacrifice by letting your fertility dry up? Why don't you inquire after that Seppun boy you are with right now? He's from a good family, an excellent family! Imagine, with him you'd never want for money again! You'd be a Seppun, dear! How honorable! How glorious!"
"My apologies to her, honored ancestor, and to you, but no." Senshou's mother was a. . .of the Crane Clan, Ochiyo-sama, so sorry. Senshou inherited epilepsy. I couldn't believe it! Ochiyo didn't know that about the Seppun! She is usually oh-so-very observant, for a spirit, about the men around me. For pity's sake, even though he was Seppun, he looked, dressed, and acted like a Crane. It should be blatantly obvious! She took that excuse for me to place him slightly lower on the list of prospects, but wouldn't completely concede to me, instead changing the subject and haranguing me about what seemed to be a thousand tiny flaws.
I've heard it all before. I have found that I cannot pacify this ghost. I can never live up to her expectations unless I abandon my path and become a proper wife. Ochiyo is completely unreasonable. Ah, I can't tell her that either. . .Well . .I did, once. . .I lost my Wa for four days afterwards from her long winded lecturing. She continued to prattle on and on, and I could do nothing but respond to her with reverence. How I wished that the spirits would be silenced to me as they were to father! Ochiyo could turn me into a shameful puddle of emotion, and had done so on several inconvenient occasions.
"Sui-kun. . ." said Katsuhiko, and suddenly Ochiyo was gone. Katsu's prayer beads were out and dangling from his palm. His diminutive startled me, because I didn't recognize his voice at first, after Ochiyo's attentions, but I calmed when I saw his weather-worn face. I didn't mind it, at least not from him. He was grandfather's twin brother--that is to say, my mother's uncle, and he was a maimed shugenja on the verge of donning white. He wouldn't have to shave his head at least, for his hair had fallen out on its own long ago. Suddenly the day was bright again. Haya-ko sat quietly upon my arm, her hooded head tilted in my direction, and her wings held tight against her body as if trying to protect herself.
"Katsu-san." I breathed. He looked at me with concern, his face drained of color.
"What happened just now?" he whispered quietly so none would overhear.
"Oh, ah. . .my illustrious ancestor had a . . . request of me, that is all." I sighed, knowing that he would understand. He had tried and failed to permanently dismiss her from not only me but mother in his lifetime and possibly even grandmother, whom I have never met. "She was particularly. . . insistent this time." I tried desperately to regain control of myself. Buntaro, Senshou, the peasants and the rest of the hunting party were far ahead of me, and the eta were staring in fear. The others were discreetly ignoring Katsu and I, but they also were pale despite their courtesy. Even Zorion had gone pasty, the red of his nose dimmed to a dusky pink, rudely gawking at my unfortunate circumstance. The answer restored the color to Katsu's face, though he retained the look of concern.
"Oh is that all. . ." he grumbled. I sighed. I wondered how long she had distracted me, but I resolved myself.
"Well," I said, changing the subject. "Let's run the dogs and see what comes out."
"Hai!" he said, brightening. He made the signal to the peasants, who released the dogs. I took the hood off of Haya-ko, who screeched impatiently and appraised me with her yellow stare. I held her jesses tight, the little bells with their jade clappers jangling. Zorion released his hawk first, a huge creature almost the size of an eagle. I had sneered when he picked it. He obviously had no finesse or poetry in his entire being to want to choose that thing for hunting small game. Father only had it on the rare occasion that he wished to hunt fish. Katsuhiko had declined to fly one, preferring his remaining arm open in case he needed to do his duty. Buntaro was more interested in the dogs, and Senshou, though he would probably rather be doing something else, had a bow ready in case larger prey was flushed.
With a cry, the hawk spread its great wings, and launched itself into the air. As it wheeled to the height of its climb, a cock pheasant broke out from the cover of the sickly trees, flushed by the dogs. The kill was efficient and brutal, and rather than let the servants run after it, he went out himself to retrieve the kill. He came back, holding the bloody carcass in one hand, while the hawk sat on the other, eyeing the prize. He looked as if he was about to present it to me, creating an awkward situation, but fortunately, Katsu interposed.
"Please, Tsurai-san, the lady has not flown her falcon yet." He said making a very good excuse, "put it in your bag, please. It is a very good catch." This second. . .no third act in such a brief amount of time peaked my ire towards Buntaro. He was supposed to be protecting my honor, not Katsu. Even as I was thinking it, Katsu was casting a hard stare at my half-brother. Just what the hell was Buntaro doing? I would have to report him. Buntaro was seemingly ignoring me altogether.
"Damn straight it's a good catch! Hell'd you see it? Hey, maybe you'd all come over for some roast pheasant. I've got a recipe my mom used to make. I just got to clean it, is all." I lowered my mask and smiled, though my stomach was in turmoil, threatening to upset. Zorion's suggestion was abhorrent.
"I saw it, Zorion." I said quietly in Thrane. "Indeed, a very good flight." With the calmness that the hunt always brought, I launched Haya-ko, even as Zorion looked at me with shock, realizing what he had said to me, thinking I did not understand. Apparently he knew he was rude, even by the standards of his own culture.
But I put him out of my mind for the moment. This was a sacred moment, the releasing of Haya-ko. I loved the way she flew, the way she dove. Like an arrow or a lance of lightning. Haya-ko Chan, how I wished I had wings! My wishes went to the wind as she took flight and I could not help but say something in honor of the occasion.
The wind catching her feathers
Swift death on the wing"
I spoke reverently, watching Haya-ko. Katsu-san smiled at me, considering the falcon's flight. It was a challenge to him, he, who was one of the unspoken masters of the art of poetry in his clan. In poetry we were as student and sensei. He had taught me everything I knew.
"Beyond human reach
She seeks her prey silently
Hidden by the sun"
Ah, ah, what a master! Senshou watched me with expectation. Buntaro was trying to hide his sour face. I believe he has no real art in him. Sometimes I believe, so barren is his soul of the higher pursuits, that his past life must have been as a Hida. Zorion looked on, obviously a bit embarrassed that his kill was not receiving the same amount of attention. Even the peasants were watching and listening.
"Yet as down she stoops
Does the prey she seeks tremble
Before its life ends"
As I spoke the last words of my poem, Haya-ko found her mark, but it was not a creature of the forest. From this distance, it appeared to be a domestic pigeon, breaking from the heights for a reason I could not see. It was certainly too high in the trees to be flushed by a dog, but out it flew, its wings beating impossibly fast. It knew its peril.
"See, how she now comes
Death, falling mercilessly
Like a ray of light"
As if it were choreographed with Katsu-san's words, Haya-ko impacted with a burst of grey feathers. The two plunged toward the ground. Everyone held their breath. The pigeon was a large one. Could she pull out of her dive? Down, down, they fell together, entwined in blood, claw and feather. Was the pigeon fighting? Could Haya-ko release it?
The pigeon landed in the brush. In a flash, a dog was released to fetch it. Hiya-ko screamed in rage, upset at being forced to drop it as she banked and wheeled for the heights. I pulled out a lure--a bit of meat on the end of a thick string--and swung it over my head, calling to her with the promise of food. Trained as she was, she came to it, and I fed her. She had taken meat no other way, and though her instinct was to kill, she had learned to eat only from my hand.
"Then after battle
She returns in honor
Her duty fulfilled"
Senshou applauded, along with the others listening. Even Zorion put his hands together, though I knew he had no clue why he was supposed to clap.
"How poetic Katsuhiko-san, Sui Fon-san. Beautiful, neh Buntaro-san? I expected such poetry from Katsu-san, but Buntaro, you did not tell me your sister is as poetic as she is pretty!" I dropped my head and blushed demurely at the unexpected honor he did me. I could not help it.
"Forgive me Seppun Senshou-san. My crude words do not deserve such praise." "Oh ko, so modest!"
"Tsch. Why not?" said Buntaro, rudely interrupting and spoiling the mood. "She is his grandniece, after all." Buntaro had always been bitter that he was the oldest son of O-Fukiyo, father's formal consort, and not Yoko-sama, father's lawful, now deceased wife. I could tell by the slight tightness in Senshou's demeanor that he was mildly offended.
"Ah So! I had not realized!" he frowned, acknowledging the fact, but ignoring the delivery, "And you do this often? Perhaps I should come to a formal exhibition of your father's birds!"
"We would, with my father's permission of course, be honored to extend the hospitality of our home to the Seppun, and one who so appreciates the art of the hunt." I said quietly and sincerely. His attentions were not really something I wanted, but I had to be polite. Buntaro had lost his face in this regard. His foul mood and manners threatened us. Unlike him, I would not forget our place and Senshou's place.
"Oh indeed, I enjoy art of all kinds. . .I was not aware, Sui Fon-san, of how artistic the hunt could be."
"Oh hai, Senshou-san. The hunt is one of the most beautiful things in the world." I said dreamily.
"It is a pity I did not bring my paper. I hope I can remember that poem long enough to write it down."
"No need, Senshou-san. It was a rare and ephemeral pleasure. To write it down would destroy its beauty." I said. Katsu-san's eyes registered approval at my answer, though he said nothing.
"Ah, you are right, and so wise Sui Fon-san, but it is cruel, neh? That such beauty must go unrecorded."
"Life is cruel, Senshou-san, and cares not for beauty or honor." As I said this I glanced to Buntaro, who was cleaning his sword, oblivious to the word play.
"Indeed, how very true." He said distantly. Senshou paused to take in every meaning of the statement and its implications for a samurai--the proper conclusion, of course, being that we have given our lives up already, and so we are free to appreciate and participate in such things as followers of bushido. Senshou smiled wryly, briefly, as he recognized within the context of that philosophy, the full meaning of my sedane upon Buntaro. I almost wept as I examined Haya-ko, who was huddled, her breath rapid and her eyes half closed. She was in incredible pain. I held her close.
"Look, see the price of our poetry. . ." I showed him how the pigeon had done damage to her. Several patches were bare and a few pinions were torn and bent. The tip of her beak was broken off entirely. It was only because she knew my hand and my comfort that she did not die from the shock. She was she was even bleeding in spots. It was just as I was finishing that I noticed Katsu-san looking intently at my fist. "Katsu-san. What troubles you?" Katsu pointed at the jesses. I looked down, realizing that they were no longer tinkling. Now the color drained from my face.
At that moment, having taken the kill from the dog who had retrieved it, the pesant screamed in fear and came running back at me. Even as I noticed him, he tripped. His uncontrollable momentum would certainly make him stumble into me! I readied to attack him or dodge, but Buntaro was quicker. His sword was out in a flash, and the peasant fell in two pieces before he reached me. At last! That lazybones does something worthwhile!
"Clumsy peasant." He said, spitting on the corpse. "There's your poetry, Seppun." Senshou ignored him, already noticing what Katsu had pointed out, but Buntaro was oblivious. He had simply killed the peasant out of bloodlust. "Hoi, Sui Fon-nee, that'll show our barbarian friend the consequence of touching, neh?" his familiar tone made me grit my teeth.
"Ah, so." I said coldly, turning to reprimand him, but as I turned, I caught Zorion attempting to rescue the bag from the pool of blood forming around it. "Zorion Iye!!" I cried, my own sword out in an instant, and at his throat, slicing the surface of his flesh. I could have pulled my strike farther away, but even now I relished the opportunity to shed even a little of his blood. It certainly saved me the trouble of slicing my thumb. Zorion stopped, just stopped, as did everyone. A dark stain spread at his crotch. Haya-ko screeched and chided me, her wings buffeting my face as I held her away and over my head by her jesses until she calmed, not allowing her to fly. Now, I thought with satisfaction, now this is something worthy of 'puddling the piss in your boots,' neh, Zorion-ka?
"S-sui F-fon-sama?" he asked, his voice trembling. I looked down at him with cold eyes, wiped of emotion. The situation was now far too serious. Buntaro signaled to an eta to open the bag. That one refused and he too died, falling alongside the peasant. Buntaro demanded it of the next one, who went to his knees with trembling hands, right in the ever-increasing pool of blood, to open the bag and dump out the contents.
The creature had indeed once been a pigeon, but it was tainted and warped. I understood now why Haya-ko had trouble with this thing. Attached to its swollen leg was a tiny message tube, hinting that it was healthy when it left its owner's hands.
"Katsuga-san, where. . .where could this have come from?" Senshou asked; his already pale face now drained completely of color. He was trembling slightly, and I worried that this stress might bring an epileptic attack on the poor Seppun. Katsu crouched, looking at the thing.
"Impossible to say." said Katsu, "Its leg was not as thick when that tube was attached. Look how it has dug into the flesh. You!" He demanded of the closest eta and handed him his tanto and a finger of jade. "Cut that tube off that creature." Given the jade, the eta did as he was told, and humbly handed the knife, the jade, and the tube over to Katsu when he had finished. Katsu carefully took a bit of string and bound the jade to the small tube. "The bird could have come from anywhere; picked up the taint from anywhere. It could have been here in the forest, the hands that sent it, the places it's flown. . .but we had better take this message. . .let me do it. Even if it is inconsequential, the thing carrying it was not."
"Iye, Katsu-san. I must also go. This must go to my clan, not yours. Besides. Was it not my Haya-ko-chan who did her duty so brilliantly?"
"Hai, I suppose you are right."
"Should we go search the forest, Katsuga-san?" Asked Buntaro.
"Iye." Said Senshou, "No, we are not suitably prepared if there is anything of note. In addition, we have the Thrane, Tsurai-san, to think of. Our orders were to entertain him, not put him in danger."
Senshou-san raised an eyebrow at me. I was still holding the Thrane's life in my hand. Zorion could have moved away at any time, but he was too lost in his sins. In his fear from the sudden, unexpected attack, he had frozen like a little deer when he sees the tiger's eyes. I had initially used my sword to stop him abruptly, with no intent to kill him, but now that I had him revealing his sins, it was just too tempting not to watch them bloom.
"Zorion." I said very carefully, quietly, and coldly, letting my hand tremble ever so slightly. It would be ignored, of course, a hand trembling when the arm is fully extended, but I knew well that I could hold it steady for far longer. They would excuse my holding him there. The Thrane might not understand his peril, and therefore move as he shouldn't when I removed my sword. To Zorion, who was already bleeding from my shallow cut, the shake must seem like a thousand moments of careful sawing. The scent of feces wafted from the man, and I knew I had achieved the pinnacle of his terror within the bounds of my orders and within keeping my secret pleasure hidden. So easy! How wonderful. "Please excuse my sudden movement. I humbly beg your forgiveness for cutting you, but I had no other choice to stop you from putting yourself in peril. So very sorry I stopped you thusly, but you were not allowed to touch that bag for your own safety." I removed my sword from his neck. His hand went instantly to his shallow cut.
"You drew on me? You cut me?? Help! Katsuga-sama! She tried to kill me!" He fell backward into the blood-sodden grass, ruining his clothing. All of us involuntarily looked away from him, ignoring his shame. How I loved my mask then! I could so easily hide my pleasure while I superficially continued inspecting Haya-ko. I still watched him from the corner of my eye.
"She possibly saved your life, or at the very least your soul, Tsurai," said Katsu with disgust, "Sui Fon-san does you honor in apologizing so humbly when it is you who should be humbly thanking her with all obligation."
Oh ko, he said it backwards! But wait, no, was he not simply listing first what the Thrane valued more? Did they not stupidly value their life above all things, even their soul? It must be so, or they would not so glibly reach for and handle dead things. Katsuhiko continued quietly, seriously, "You were about to touch a tainted corpse." Zorion looked at the dead bird with a different kind of fear--a fear born of knowledge and wisdom. The bells on the hawk's feet were still jingling, a welcome noise, as its peasant handler tended to a spur wound. Meanwhile, I'd had my little sport, and my On and honor were untouched; nay increased, because as Katsu said, I did save his soul--as worthless and stained as it was by his wallowing in the bloodied grass. Despite the circumstances, I was pleased.
"Which of these dogs touched the thing?" asked Buntaro. The dog in question was brought forward. In a flash, its life was ended as well. Buntaro was really itching to use his sword today!
"Ah, well, then that ends the hunt." He said, cleaning his blade, seemingly unconcerned that he had ended three lives in short order. "Gather the dogs! We'd better go and report. If they want to send a hunting group out here, then they better do so, and quickly." Buntaro looked intently at Haya-ko, and I knew he was thinking about killing her as well.
"Hai." I agreed, acknowledging the fact but otherwise ignoring him. How insufferable he was! But I did need to have her assessed. I looked at poor Haya-ko. "W-will she. . .is she . . .tainted?" I lifted her away from me and Haya-ko spread her wings reflexively, but did not otherwise move. Patiently, Katsu examined the falcon.
"No, she's just wounded. She'll heal, though you'll not be able to fly her for a good month. Your father's jesses probably saved her life this time. You be sure to thank Takajin-san for making sure these were made to his specifications." He said, rattling the useless bells.
"Hai, domo." Good then. I turned away as Katsu ordered a peasant to strip so that Zorion would have something decent to wear while he tended to him with his abilities. It would not be seemly for our charge to come back to town wounded and covered in blood and filth, after all.
Yet still, the air was crisp and the sky bright with the light of early evening. Father sun smiled down upon us and to the east, the shadow of the full moon with its hare's face peeked through the sunlit sky, promising a bright night. As we left the wild for the safety of the emperor's road, I concentrated on that, and not on the air of foreboding. That could be tended to later. For the meantime, there was a long walk ahead, and a bath and a meal at the end.