Sakura wiped at the sweat on her brow as she carried on, her heavy kimono not helping in the least. She couldn’t wait to slip out of this one, with its blood stains, and into the much lighter, finer silk one which wouldn’t keep her so hot.
A bath first would be nice, she thought, instantly feeling guilty that she wanted to bathe when people in the city were being killed or forced to flee their homes.
She turned to the mage as they hiked on, the terrain beginning to become a little more hilly. She was beginning to breathe a little harder now. “I would like to know more about you, Lawrence.”
They hiked on for a few moments getting past some of the harder terrain, the mage evidentially deciding where to start. Finally he said, “Before the war I was supposed to marry Princess Miho.”
She couldn’t help but flinch at the statement. “What? Princes Miho? Of Omosaku?”
“How is that possible?”
“I was on very good terms with the royal family,” the mage said. “Their holdings had been under siege by Xai Qi for some time. They found me useful and loyal, so they bestowed boons upon me.”
“The Princess? But you aren’t of royal blood.”
He smiled to himself.
“Are you? Wait, did you say they had been under siege?”
“Yes I did,” he said. “We fought our last battle just days ago. That’s why we came to Mikuma. Ishi and I were fleeing capture.”
“Gods,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Word about it should be spreading by now. If it were not for what’s happening here, I have no doubt you too would know.”
“Still…” she said. “It’s a shock. Omosaku has been resisting Xai Qi for years. And I know they were getting close to capitulation—everyone has, but it’s still hard to believe when you actually hear about it.”
“And you lived it.”
“What are you going to do now?”
He stepped over a log in front of her. “Here,” he said, offering his hand. It was hot and sweaty, the calluses there hard and many. They were the hands of a swordsman.
He lifted and she was able to get better purchase on the tall log. After she crossed it, he said, “I suspect that I will begin renewing my fortune. When this”—he gestured widely to indicate everything that had happened since last night—“when this is all over with.”
“Will you move on?”
“Perhaps,” he said. “If things here go poorly, which they probably will.” He glanced at her suddenly. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “You don’t need to cover the reality of our situation here.”
She thought about that for a moment. She hadn’t had time to take stock of what would happen should what he described come to pass. Where would they go? The Nakamura family wasn’t poor by any means. They were a noble samurai family.
My brother and father… They won’t have masters. They will be rōnin.
She thought of him as she thought of the mercenary mage hiking beside her. He too was breathing more heavily, though not as heavily as she was.
“Do you need to rest?” he asked.
The dancer glanced toward him. She did need to rest, but if old women could hike this trail, then so could she, kimono or not. It being a costume for her performance, she thought it should have been light and breezy, but then, a performance was much shorter than a trek through the hills in the middle of the summer time.
“Are you all right?”
“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I was thinking. I’m fine. I can go on.”
“Are you certain? You look like you need to catch your breath.”
She smiled, nodded and reassured him that she could indeed continue. “I was just thinking about what would happen if Yukai City was taken by this invader.”
“What do you think?” she asked.
“I think that Emperor Kurosawa will retreat to a safe place and wage a war of attrition,” he said. “If he does that, it will be long and it will be bloody.”
“A good time for mercenary work,” she said out loud. It was more of a thought that she uttered verbally, and so she was slightly started when he answered her.
“Indeed,” he said. “Or, Mikuma becomes part of whatever nation has attacked her.”
“We still don’t know?”
He shook his head. “This attack was well timed, it seems.”
She nodded, feeling a deep-seated fear in her belly. It was impossible to know what might happen. Her father was an old samurai, practically retired, though samurai never truly retired.
He might take up his sword in service again, she thought. They could both be killed, leaving mother and us alone.
She could hardly bear the thought of that. Not because they wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves. The Ikaima Dancing Fans was practically renowned. She could easily get work in another troupe.
She simply did not want to lose her father and brother in a war. She had already lost Umo. Mother seemed cold about that, but Sakura knew she was holding in her anguish. Perhaps it was inappropriate to be too broken up about it? Had Umo been a suitor to her in the past? She didn’t know.
Sakura practically blurted out her next question, having not thought about it at all. “Would you work for them?”
“No,” he said quickly.
Was he lying? “You answer quickly, Kazu-wikku-san.”
“Because I knew you would ask me this question.”
“Are you lying to me?” She stopped, and he stopped too. He turned to meet her eyes, and she studied his, looking for the sign of a lie as he answered.
“When one works for cloak and dagger campaigns utilizing treachery as a method of attack, it builds a reputation,” he said, “one I do not care for. For all their talk of honor in this part of the world, treachery is still ever present.”
“Is it not so in your own part of the world?”
He nodded. “It is. Honor has softened the face of war in many ways, but it hasn’t eliminated the harsh realities it brings—and never will.”
She watched him, both of them completely silent as they were passed by other travellers in the group.
I couldn’t see any lie there, she told herself, and everything he’s done up to this point has spoken of a man of honor.
Because of that, she chose to trust him. “I believe you.”
He nodded, a subtle smile coming to his otherwise serious expression. “Thank you.”
“Now what do you say we help these people?”
“I’m here to help you, Sakura,” he said, looking into her eyes. “You and your family, should you have me?”
It was not lost on her that his statement bespoke of something. She couldn’t help but smile then. “Very well. I accept your offer.”
Ho nodded somberly, and they continued hiking together as she wondered how she would get her mother to look favorably on Lawrence.
He being noble born would help a great deal.
"I’m a businessman. My family has a seat in the Dwarven Merchants Guild. Merchants buy and sell goods. Businessmen buy and sell stores. In my spare time, I manage a spy network. And occasionally, I write books."--Varric Tethras
Wakiagaru is complete.
The Reconnoiters is complete.
More stories on the way.
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