Meanwhile, back at the Wall…

The ceremony for the Stolen had been short, as these things were measured. Only 33 samurai to be named, celebrated and inscribed in the ledgers of the fallen. Only 33 samurai who had died beyond the Wall, and had never been found. Kaiu Fuyuki could remember ceremonies in previous years when the list of names had been twice as long, or even longer. Those were bad times.

Threading her way wearily through the crowd of samurai, she approached her daughter-in-law, murmuring a greeting that was not at once returned. Belatedly she recalled her recent troubles with her hearing, caused by an ill-timed explosion during a recent attack. She cleared her throat and spoke in a louder voice.

“Hida Natsumi.”

With a start, the younger woman looked up. Her eyes, at first distant, slowly focused on her mother-in-law’s face. “Oh! Kaiu Fuyuki-san!” She bowed respectfully. “Please forgive me, I did not see you there.”

Kaiu Fuyuki waved away her apology and clasped her daughter-in-law’s hands in hers. “Never mind that. Are you well? I know this must be difficult for you.”

Hida Natsumi lowered her head. “Thank you, I am well. But it is very difficult. I don’t understand what could have happened.”

Kaiu Fuyuki sighed and led the younger woman to a small stone bench in the nearby garden. The other samurai were breaking up into smaller groups, most speaking in subdued voices. There were exceptions — an older Hida was loudly regaling a group of three younger samurai with a story of a battle he had been in with his friend. But this was to be expected. The dead could only be honored by such tales.

“It does not make much sense, does it? We have no word of him for months, and then he appears at the Wall with a group of strange samurai and asks to be allowed to cross. And afterwards, nothing. No word at all of any of them. It is unsettling.”

Hida Natsumi nodded, biting her lips. Finally, she said, “I was pleased that Hida Takeshi was willing to speak for him. It was kind of him to do so.”

Kaiu Fuyuki put an arm around her daughter-in-law’s shoulder and hugged her. “Yes, it was kind.” She hesitated briefly, and then asked, “What will you do now?”

Hida Natsumi shook her head, slowly, and absently fingered her right ear, the one that had been injured. The upper half was missing, and a new scar ran up into her hairline. “I don’t know. It’s not as if this changes anything. He has been gone since… since the accident. I suppose I will go on as before.” She dropped her hands in her lap and stared down at them.

Her mother-in-law had tensed at the word “accident”, but her voice remained even as she spoke. “Please, I would consider it a kindness if you would visit me when you can. It has been some time since I have looked at your work, and I remember it being very fine.”

Her daughter-in-law looked up at her and smiled. “Yes, I would like that. I will come.”

Kaiu Fuyuki rose, only a little stiffly, and the two women bowed to each other. “Be well, Natsumi. Please take care of yourself.”

“I will, Kaiu Fuyuki-san. Thank you for your concern.”

As Kaiu Fuyuki turned to go, she glanced back once more at the courtyard, where a white banner marked off an empty square. Offerings and gifts were placed around it, but where the bodies should have been, there was nothing. She shook her head. It was not pleasant to think that her adopted son had no one to perform the funeral rites over him, but he was Stolen, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Nakamuro-chan,” she thought, and got no further. Sudden tears blinded her and she hurried away.


L5R : Jade Winds ednoria