Chapter 1, Part 2

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Time In Remission (cont)

Izumi pulled her sleeve back so it wouldn’t get bloody and reached out to check Tomoe’s pulse. It beat, weak but steady. She leaned back, taking in the woman’s strange, somehow mannish clothes. What she took, at first, for silk was something else entirely. Just as soft, but less smooth to the touch. The quilted jacket was in shreds and she could see Tomoe’s pale skin beginning to shiver.

She called out for Jiro to bring his son and carry the woman into the house, but there was no answer. It annoyed her, but for now it was more important to get Tomoe inside where it was warm. She would decide whether or not to send Jiro for the local officer when she had heard the woman’s story.

Izumi grabbed her by the arms and pulled her inside the house. She found an old futon in the storage room and placed it by the edge of the floor near the fire pit, rolling Tomoe onto it and covering her with a heavy sleeping jacket. She added some wood to the fire and went to find the servants, only to discover she was alone in the house.

This disturbed her, not because she feared being alone, but because it was so unfamiliar. She could hardly remember a time when help was not within calling distance. Yet, here she was, alone with this strange woman who had come from the shadows around the small house where Izumi had stopped for the night.

It occurred to her, then, that she could not remember actually stopping, or why the trip back from Kyoto should have been interrupted. She felt a moment’s dizziness, as fear swept through her and she wondered if she were losing her mind. Nothing made sense after the mid-afternoon stop to water the horses and let the palanquin bearers rest. It was all as blurred and indistinct as the woods that surrounded the house.

Indeed, the house seemed the only thing sharp and distinct in the world. The house and the moon. Everything else lacked detail and substance. Like a ghost story, she thought and, after a moment, shook her head. Nonsense, she muttered. I’m just tired. And worried.

For close to ten years she’d managed the family tea estates in Uji and looked after her invalid father. She had found a kind of peace in learning new ways of working the land, or inventing new blends of the pale green leaves. The Emperor himself drank tea they had grown and had once taken the time to compose a poem in its praise. She felt no desire for a husband who might come between her and such satisfaction, but if she did not find one soon, the choice would be made for her.

Tomoe had stopped shivering by the time she returned and Izumi started peeling the bloody rags from her body. Even before she started, she knew what she’d find. Sword cuts crisscrossed Tomoe’s back and the outsides of her arms. Two long parallel ones marked her face and were not likely to heal well. Izumi felt the scars that crossed her own cheek. Yes, they would look a lot alike in time.

More than alike, for there was a kind of family resemblance between them. More alike than cousins, though she felt sure she would have heard of any kinswoman that held to a sword with Tomoe’s grim determination. One warrior maiden in the family was enough, two would have sent her relatives into epileptic fits.

Izumi was no stranger to blood, but she found herself shuddering as she dabbed away at the cuts on Tomoe’s back and began to realize just how many there were. Never had she seen cuts made, less to kill, it seemed, than to hurt. Only a single thrust had gone past the ribs and into a lung. If she did not drown in her own blood during the night, she would survive, but to keep her lungs clear, she would need to be awake.

When she had finished cleaning the wounds, Izumi wrapped Tomoe’s body in clean cloth and sat her up. She tugged on Tomoe’s ears until the woman regained consciousness and then made her drink a large ladle of water followed by hot tea and sweet bean paste.

“You must stay awake.” She said.

She brought Tomoe a mat and folded the futon so she could lean sideways against it. “We will sit here and drink tea. And talk.”