Out-take — Crossing the River

Out-take — Crossing the River & Meeting the Mountain

Here are two chapters that were cut from the original manuscript of Risuko. This out-take — Crossing the River and Meeting the Mountain — was originally placed between what are now chapters 7 (“The Wind“) and 8 (“The Mountain“—you may recognize one bit of dialogue between Risuko and Masugu from that chapter). I cut them because it was taking too long to get to the Full Moon — to the heart of the story. But there’s some fun stuff, including a meeting with a major historical figure I’ll be talking about soon! (There are a few characters that I’ve cut out as well.)

At the beginning, Masugu and his riders have just found Lady Chiyome’s party at the Mt. Fuji Inn. Masugu offered to let Mieko ride wide him, but she refused, and so Risuko is sitting in front of the Takeda warrior on his stallion as the chapter begins.

By the way, if you read through to the end, there’s a question; be the first to answer it and win a free Audible download code!

Chapter 10—Crossing the River

The whole world seemed to roll and rumble as the great beast leapt ahead, charging down the one street of the town toward a distant white triangle that peeked up over the horizon: Mount Fuji. More Imagawa soldiers lay scattered like deadwood along the street, and several of the tiny houses were burning.

Waste. Such waste.

The rest of the squadron had formed up behind us, and so I felt as if a flood of thunder was pushing me forward. The icy wind whipped the horse’s mane and my own hair across my face until cold tears flooded my eyes. I lowered my head and cleared my vision.

Between my arms I watched grass, ice and rocks fly by in an almost liquid blur. The speed was dizzying. I was told later that were going no more than a brisk trot, but it felt as if we were going much faster. I bounced on the animal’s neck. All of my attention was taken up in simply not falling to the ground.

In the back of my mind, I was counting corpses. How many dead men? Inuji, of course. Then there were the two who tried to attack Mieko and the three out in the hallway. Another four or perhaps five in the courtyard. At least ten dead soldiers just at the inn, not including those who had died in the street—men whose wives and sweethearts and daughters would be waiting, waiting for a stomp of boots and a laugh that would never come.

And for what? For nothing. The Imagawa soldiers were stung by their defeat at the hands of the Takeda, and decided to plunder their own village. But instead of easily cowed villagers, they’d had the bad luck to stumble into Lady Chiyome’s peculiar little army.

I thought about Father, about watching him wrap his swords for the last time, putting them away and hugging you and me, then walking out the door, leaving us waiting.

I began weeping onto the horse’s warm neck, my tears mixing with its sweat. And I slowly fell asleep.

After some time, the sound of thunder seemed to dim slightly. Masugu’s stallion had slowed, as had those behind it. I lifted my head to see where we had come to.

“I’m glad you’re awake, Murasaki-san. We’ve come to the Little Nephew River. We’re crossing into Takeda territory now.”

I looked up and was startled by the change in the landscape. The village where we had spent the night was in hills, well inland, and now, less than a late-autumn morning’s ride away, we were back on a long, flat coastline, not sandy and barren, this time, but rich, brown and green. A broad river, its surface pocked by sandy islets, poured quick and sleek into the ocean. Bright morning sunlight danced off of the river current.

“It’s still morning?” I asked, squinting out to sea. A low dark smudge lay across the horizon.

“We move fast, Murasaki-san.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “Can you see the peninsula out there?”

I nodded.

“That is Izu. What’s left of the old capital at Kamakura’s at the upper end.” His arm extended past my face as he pointed toward the north, where the bay disappeared into silver haze. "My grandfather was there when the old shogun’s army was destroyed. He used to say that destroying Kamakura and the Kamakura shoguns was like letting the ogres out of the cave.” He gave a very unsoldierlike sigh. "That until we had a leader who could hold the country together, the bloodshed and misery we’ve seen for the past hundred years would never stop.”

We came to the edge of the river, a few hundred paces from where the wide brown stream met the green sea. Our steed walked until its hooves had just entered the water, and then it stopped. Leather creaked as Lieutenant Masugu turned in his saddle. The wooden thud of hooves behind us slowly settled into silence, a silence as full as when our cat Ama had crouched in the sun outside a woodrat’s nest, waiting.

Masugu seemed to be counting, making sure all of his soldiers had kept up. I twisted around, bending to see past the lieutenant’s armor. A few horses back I saw Emi, face frowning as always, but bright—whether with excitement or with fear I still couldn’t tell. Not far from her, Mieko sat, still lovely and seemingly at ease. The only sign that she had been riding at since day-break were a few strands of hair that had broken free and settled themselves elegantly around her cheek.

Far at the back, through a forest of horses, soldiers and spears, I could just make out Chiyome-sama’s palanquin, carried by the Little Brothers, their faces pink and spattered with mud, steam wisping up from their foreheads.

“Forward!” called Masugu, his voice like a slap in the crisp, frigid air. And the entire company surged forward into the fast-moving stream.

I must have gasped. I had visions of the quick flood sweeping us all out to sea.

“Don’t worry, Murasaki-san,” said Lieutenant Masugu. “The river is shallow, and the horses strong and heavy enough that we will be able to cross easily.”

Even so, I was staring down at the water that swirled white around the horse’s knees and then its flanks as we moved slowly into deeper water.

“Look!” Masugu-san whispered, clearly trying to divert my panicked focus. “We’re going to the mountain.”

Confused, I looked up. His arm was pointing right past my ear. There, rising up distantly from a long range of low, fertile hills, was a tall cone like a perfect sand-mountain one of us might have made at the beach, only frosted to more than half-way from the top with snow. Mount Fuji. It was just like one of Oba-san’s sketches—perfect and symmetrical.

“Fuji-yama,” I hissed, awestruck. As we rode, the lieutenant’s fingertip seemed to be bouncing on the summit.

“Yes,” said Masugu. “That is the mountain, all right. But do you see the camp at the top of the closest hill, just in front of Mount Fuji?”

A small city of white tents and brightly colored banners was clustered at the crest of the hill. I nodded. “That’s our base. I’m going to present you to our general there, Lord Takeda. When I said I was going to bring you to The Mountain, that’s what I meant.”

The horse was more than mid-stream, walking slowly and sure-footedly between the sandbars, utterly unconcerned with the water swirling beneath its stomach.

“Do you know what the Takeda battle flag means? The four diamonds?” Masugu asked.

I shook my head, still staring up at the camp, and at the mountain, so far beyond it.

“Well, it’s the clan motto: Be swift as the wind, silent as the forest, fierce as fire, steady as a mountain. My lancers and the other companies like us are the wind, sweeping all enemies ahead of us. The infantry are the forest, impenetrable and overwhelming. And the heavy cavalry are the fire, smashing and consuming any obstacles an enemy might try to put in our way.”

“And the mountain?” I asked, as if he were telling me a bedtime story, and this were an expected question, like “What did the Peach Boy do?” or “How did the Sword Girl escape?”

“The mountain, as I said, is Takeda Shingen himself. Like Fuji-san, he is unmovable, untoppable. He has nerves stronger than any sword, and a mind as sharp. He can out-think any general.”

The stallion was carrying us up onto dry land, water streaming from its sides. Lieutenant Masugu encouraged it up the slope a little way and then wheeled around to survey his troops as they crossed. A light breeze was kicking up, swirling the river’s flow like a cat’s fur that’s been stroked the wrong way. Our horse’s legs shivered.

Among the black-clad soldiers crossing the water, the few women and children dressed in blue stood out like forget-me-nots. The Little Brothers had found a square mat somewhere—perhaps on the packhorses—on which they had floated Lady Chiyome’s little box.

I looked across the river at the now-empty shore. I realized that, for the first time since I was a baby, I was outside of Totomi. And it struck me as funny because I didn’t feel any different at all.

I should have known. I should have felt it. Everything had changed. I simply didn’t know how much.

Chapter 11—The Mountain

Lieutenant Masugu galloped us into the camp in one last burst of speed—just for the joy of it, it seemed. We flew past sentries with long rifles, through a gate in a wall of logs and dirt, into the wind-swept compound of white tents and brightly colored banners: red, blue, and green, like Masugu’s troops. At the center of the camp, we stopped beside a circular, roofless enclosure of white panels that seemed to be made of silk. Two massive looking warriors stood, impassively watching, as we stormed up.

Masugu leaped from the horse’s back and strode forward to speak to the guards. “Lieutenant Masugu reporting as ordered, with some unexpected guests for the General,” he said, sounding very pleased with himself. I became aware that I was alone on the stallion’s back. It began to whip its black muzzle back and forth, in part, I was sure, in order finally to fling me from its neck.

The lieutenant must have seen my anxiety, because he walked back, patted the horse above its nose, and plucked me down, as if I were merely a baby. “Welcome back to earth, Murasaki-san,” he said.

I tried to walk, but my legs wobbled, and Lieutenant Masugu held my arm to steady me. I looked up into his face, sure I would see him laughing at me, but his smile was kind. “You rode well. A long, hard ride like that takes some getting used to.”

One of the soldiers led the lieutenant’s horse away, and within the time it would have taken you to count to twenty, the cavalry had disappeared, leaving only Lieutenant Masugu, and the members of Lady Chiyome’s little band.

The lady herself stood, looking as immovable as ever beside her palanquin. The Little Brothers were soaked with sweat, and red with exertion, but to judge by their faces were as calm as always.

“Lady,” said Masugu, “your carriers are amazing. You know that my riders would have stayed with you if they had needed to travel more slowly.”

“Then it is just as well,” said Chiyome-sama, “that they didn’t need to travel more slowly.”

One of the enormous guards stepped back out from the flap in the enclosure. “Lieutenant, the General is waiting for your report.” As Masugu bowed and walked through the opening, the guard left the panel unfastened. At the time I thought he was being lazy, but knowing Takeda soldiers as I do now, I am fairly certain that someone inside had wanted the panel open, in order to look at us.

I could see a group of magnificently armored samurai sitting in a circle within. Mieko and Kuniko walked to either side of me, and I felt the rest of our party come up behind me. Lieutenant Masugu was talking to a bald man seated on a raised platform. They were both peering back out the opening toward us. The seated man gestured, and the two guards stood back, inviting us in.

Lady Chiyome strode forward, and we followed her. As we walked in, the eyes of perhaps forty men—all hard-faced warriors—followed our progress. When we reached the platform, Lady Chiyome bowed low, and we all kneeled and touched our heads to the ground.

“Chiyome, it is as always a pleasant surprise to come across you,” said the low, rough voice of the man before us. “Is it true that you have found some very special students for your school?” He gave the last word an emphasis that made me shiver.

“My lord,” said Lady Chiyome, “Let me present you these three young samurai maidens that I have gathered up to serve the nation’s needs.” She all but purred as she spoke each of our names, just as she had to Masugu that morning: “Tarugu Toumi, Hanichi Emi, and Kano Murasaki.”

Then she turned to us. “Girls, bow to Takeda Shingen, the Lord of Kai, your new patron.”

We were already prostrate, our heads dutifully pressed to the dusty straw tatami mats that had been thrown down on the dirt to create a floor.

"You,” Lord Takeda growled, "Kano girl, come here.”

I shuffled across the straw on my knees, my gaze still down.

"Look at me,” he said.

I did, though it was the last thing I wanted. I was a little shocked by what I saw.

Lord Takeda was smaller than I had expected. He was leaning on a small table—a writing desk—peering down at me. His face was a perfect oval, kindly, though his eyes were cold. He was almost completely bald—a dark stubble showed that he shaved, like the Little Brothers—but over his mouth he wore a thick mustache. "Mukashi, mukashi,” he said, "long, long ago, Kano Kazuo was a great samurai. Are you truly his daughter?” His eyes stabbed into me.

"I hope so, my lord,” I said, looking back down at the mat, with no idea whatsoever why he might have asked a question like that.

Takeda-sama gave a grunt and then a short laugh, and the circle of soldiers laughed too. "Go,” he ordered.

I shuffled back to Emi and Toumi and put my forehead back to the mat. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Toumi’s face, which was twisted in spite.

We spent the night in the camp: three girls and three women among perhaps fifteen or twenty thousand men.

The food was much better than at either of the inns, I had never felt so tired—or sore—in all of my life, and Mieko and Lieutenant Masugu seemed to be spending a lot of time not noticing each other. Toumi wouldn’t talk to me, but I had gotten used to that. In fact, I preferred it to the snide attacks that she usually aimed at me.

The next morning, we woke to find the whole camp in movement. Tents were coming down, cannons were being prepared for transport, soldiers were packing up their gear, preparing to march. It felt like being inside a termite colony that had been prodded with a stick.

The wind continued to whip down from the mountains, but it was not a freezing wind now; it smelled wet.

Bugano came back from the stables leading the horses, along with Lieutenant Masugu and ten of his lancers.

"Lord Takeda is worried that you should be traveling in these dangerous times without a full complement,” the young man said. "He has asked me personally to take the place of your slain soldier and accompany you to Mochizuki. My fellows here will leave us there, and I will stay with you until the spring.” He glanced quickly in the maids’ direction. "That is, if this offer meets with your approval.”

Lady Chiyome looked around at her servants, then back at Masugu. "I think,” she said, "that that would be most amusing.”

What do you think? None of this is essential for this book (and we’ll be meeting Takeda-sama in a future volume 😉 ), but I like the description of the ride and of meeting the Mountain. I like that the trip to Lady Chiyome’s “school” is quicker, but I miss some of this.

Also, you may have noticed that there are several references to the person to whom Risuko is telling the story. Who do you think that is? (First person to guess that right in a comment gets a free download code at Audible!)

Hey! I’ve also posted a prequel story, “White Robes,” that features the meeting of Lady Chiyome, Mieko, and Kuniko! It’s the first in a series of what I’m calling Kunoichi Companion Tales — sign up now to read it!

2 thoughts on “Out-take — Crossing the River & Meeting the Mountain”

  1. Interesting chapters! I may not be qualified for the prize – I feel like I’ve read the answer somewhere already – but I believe she’s telling all this to her sister.

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