He was pleased to see Saburo, the Yasuki merchant who had helped them during their last visit to Shuho. It had been over a year, and the war had cost many their lives and many others their livelihoods. But he was momentarily startled when Kaito — no, Masamune, he reminded himself yet again — had asked to be introduced. After all, she’d been here with him — surely she remembered — Oh. Now he remembered. She’d been disguised as a ronin, a rough-looking lout called Rokugo Ato. In fact, at the time he hadn’t even known she was a woman. He felt his face go hot with embarrassment and he stumbled over the introductions, but Lady Masamune smoothed things over with the perfect courtesy she was becoming known for. Many things had changed since the last time they had visited this town.

With a little thrill, he realized that Masamune wasn’t the only one who had undergone something of a transformation. It was foolish, he knew, but he suddenly felt the urge to show her that even a Crab could be more than he seemed. After the usual courtesies had been exchanged, which the Yasuki kept mercifully brief, almost certainly for Nakamuro’s benefit, he questioned the merchant about his stock. His Lord, Mirumoto Yonaka, was in need of supplies to restore Last Light Castle to its former condition. He jotted down a list of what he considered most necessary, and as he did so, he inserted a message encoded in the Yasuki cipher, which he had learned during the months he spent serving the Yasuki in Shiro Kaotsuki no Higashi (Face of the East Castle). It was brief but to the point — “Are we in danger here?” — and something he would have asked the Yasuki more directly if secrecy had not been an option. He feared that he would make some error, as he had previously used the cipher only as an exercise. But Yasuki Saburo took his list and excused himself with some bland comment about needing to check his inventory, and Nakamuro knew he had been understood. No Yasuki worth the name would ever be in doubt as to the contents of his stores.

In just a few minutes he was back, having annotated Nakamuro’s list. While Saburo and Lady Masamune discussed the possibility of having the Yasuki travel to Last Light Castle for a day or two every month to ensure a steady flow of goods, Nakamuro laboriously interpreted the message. He had never been quick with ciphers, but this one was clear enough. The Taisa of the northern district, Lady Hoshi, was having secret meetings with ronin in the area. And it had been ronin who had been responsible for the attack on Last Light Castle.

Well satisfied, he waited impatiently until Lady Masamune had concluded her negotiations, which he noticed included a gift of elegant and expensive hair sticks. Yasuki Saburo must see an opportunity here, which bodied well for Yonaka’s ability to obtain supplies of good quality, and possibly information as well.

When they had finally said their farewells and begun to retrace their steps to the inn, Nakamuro said quietly, “Lady, I need you to take a message to your Lord. Lady Hoshi is having secret talks with ronin.”

The stunned look on her face made it all worthwhile — the tedious hours of guard duty, the endless security procedures that must be followed exactly, the frustration inherent in learning a code that had nothing to do with important things like killing Shadowlands creatures. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning as she stared at him, mouth slightly open, eyes wide.

“Where — How — " She stopped and got her expression under control, and then leaned in and said, in a purring whisper meant only for him, “We must have a little chat.” Cold sweat trickled down the back of his neck, but he managed to keep his own face neutral as gave her the barest nod. Then she smiled brightly up at him, and said, in her usual bubbly voice, “Let’s go find Yonaka! He has to see these lovely hair sticks!” She ran an appreciative finger down the length of the smooth sandalwood, then turned on her heel and walked briskly towards the inn.


L5R : Jade Winds ednoria