Chapter 1, Part 6

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Time In Remission (cont)

Tomoe started. No wonder she’d recognized the story! But it was impossible!

“That story! My grandmother used to tell it all the time, how she was descended from a warrior woman who fought in the Onin War. But that was four hundred years ago!”

For a moment, all Izumi could hear was the beating of her own heart.

“Nonsense. The war has been over less than ten years. You’re mad!”

Izumi stood up and walked to the doors, slid open the screen and raised the shutter so she could step out onto the veranda.

The woman had to be mad, or at least delirious from her wounds. Her talk of purges and foreigners invading the country was ludicrous.

She took a deep breath of cold air to clear her head. She would find Jiro and have him send his son for an official. Let him decide what to do with this madwoman.

She started down the veranda, calling Jiro’s name, her voice echoing sharply in the still night air. Behind her, Tomoe came out, sword in hand.

“What are you doing?” Tomoe shouted.

“You’re mad!” Izumi shouted back. “Or you’re delirious from your wounds. I’m sending for a doctor.”

Tomoe came down the veranda after her. “You can’t!” She cried. “If I’m found I’ll be killed.”

Izumi hitched up her kimono and stepped off the veranda, the cold ground numbing her feet. “No, I promise, nothing will happen to you,” she said, throwing the words over her shoulder as she headed toward the road.

“You don’t know them!” Tomoe shouted, leaning against a post to steady herself. “They don’t want to admit a woman had anything to do with their precious revolution.”

Tomoe’s legs almost gave way as she stepped off the veranda. “I lived with them. For eight years I lived with them. Drank with them. Killed with them. Now they’re offended by my presence. Now they tell me I’m supposed to go back home and be someone’s good little wife. Do you think I can do that?”

Izumi stopped. Hadn’t she cried herself to sleep with those same words?

“No.” She said at last. “But this is madness. You are mad. Or an evil spirit sent to make me mad, to punish me for my – ‘sins’.”

“The sin of being a warrior.”

“Yes. And the sin of taking pleasure in my work. And the sin of holding my own opinion. All of which were fine while the war raged and men had other things to do.”

Izumi felt her chest tighten. She did not want to fight with this woman.

“One of us,” she began slowly, “is mad.”

Tomoe nodded. “It would seem so.”

“Then let us go to Kyoto in the morning and see who’s city is there.”

“We need not go so far. The Bungo bridge will do. There was a battle there, what, two days ago?”

“Now I know you are mad. I passed over that bridge this afternoon.”

“Or four hundred years ago.”

Izumi looked up at the cold winter stars and wondered if four hundred years would make a difference in them. Could she look at the sky, here, now, and know the truth? Do the dead know when they are dead?

She rubbed her hands against the cold. They felt real enough. Tomoe felt real enough. Or perhaps she was mad. Perhaps she’d gone mad trying to escape her fate.

“It’s cold out here,” Tomoe said after a while. “Let’s go back inside.”

“Don’t you want to know?” Izumi asked. “Don’t you want to know if we’re mad or possessed?”

Tomoe coughed and shook her head. “I want some more tea,” she said and turned back toward the light.

Madness, Izumi thought. If I can’t find Jiro I should go myself. She walked out to the road, hugging herself for warmth. The road seemed real enough, but it was empty and the only marks on it were her own footprints leading back to the house. No sign that anyone else had ever passed along this way.

She looked up the road toward Kyoto, but it simply faded into the distance, an empty grey ribbon winding its way into the woods. What would she find, she wondered, if she wandered up that road.

She stood there until she was shivering with cold and fright, then turned and walked back to the house.